Jon Christian

Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

Category: Crossposts

Groupmuse: Crowdsourcing classical music house parties

I wrote this story for the Boston Globe on Groupmuse, a social network that lets people volunteer their homes for free classical music performances. There’s a fun party atmosphere and the musicians at the events I attended were excellent.

Kayana Szymczak provided the photography, which is larger and more beautifully laid out in the physical edition, which is on stands today.

There is clapping between movements, as well as whistling, shouting, and even cat-calling.

It probably helps that the alcohol started flowing an hour or more ago, as guests and musicians began to trickle into this cozy Jamaica Plain apartment. But there’s something else going on: This living room is full of 20-somethings — some in their socks, others recording the performance on their phones — who are genuinely excited about chamber music.

The unorthodox party was organized by Groupmuse, a website that matches up people who want to volunteer their home for a semi-public classical musical performance with musicians and guests. Tonight, a string quartet is playing a selection of works by Mozart and the “Notturno” from Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D major, to a rowdy crowd of about 30, mostly people in their 20s. Some knew the hosts previously, others are strangers who signed up online. To the right of the performers is a set of bongo drums on a minifridge.

Full story: Expanding minds, social circles through classical music


I recently wrote about coderpreneur/hacktivist/internet-person Rich Jones’, a marketplace for programming jobs. Then, he posted the entirety of our email interview on the blog. I think it’s fun to look at the source material for a story, even a straightforward one like this, and think about the different directions it could have taken.

And of course, *sigh*, how is funded and do you intend to monetize it?

I’m funding out of my own pocket right now. ‘Bootstrapped,’ they call it.

Currently, it costs $99 to post a career opportunity and $25 to post a freelance gig (though it’s free for open source projects!). I’ve been giving out a lot of free-post key codes, though. I’m hoping that there’s some kind of critical mass out there, and once the community reaches that point, gigs will come in at a rate fast enough to support the site.

The site is growing at a rate I’m happy with, but it’s a huge marketing challenge, which is something I don’t know anything about. I’m learning a lot about it, but I still don’t know anything. I’m a hacker by nature, not a marketer, so I keep trying to solve marketing challenges with technical solutions, which isn’t how things really work in the marketing field. Still, I’m happy with the site and the way things are headed. Fingers crossed.

As for the cowyboy motif.. I just like to zig where everybody else is zagging. I’m sick and tired of shiny blue and white websites with cartoon characters everywhere. That’s just not who I am, and I don’t think I’d be able to put as much energy into a project that looked like every other stupid startup website. The aesthetic of the site is much more what I’m about, dust and whiskey and pistols.

[Read the whole exchange at]

I’m going to be writing regularly for, formerly known as Flyover Geeks, a new webmag that covers technology, startups, gadgets and innovation.

Stop by and say hi!

CampusProgress: #OccupyColleges

Students at a number of universities nationwide staged walkout demonstrations at noon on Wednesday to show support for the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City.

On most participating campuses, demonstrators walked out of class and marched to an administrative building to voice their complaints, which predominately focused on tuition hikes, the job market, and student debt. The protests were affiliated with Occupy Colleges, a hub for college organizers who want to get involved or express support for Occupy Wall Street.

“The reason we’re doing this is because students are riddled with debt,” Natalia Abrams, an Occupy Colleges organizer and University of California—Los Angeles alumna told Campus Progress. “We are the 99 percent, and we are in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.”

A robust student turnout across New York is likely due to cooperation between Occupy Colleges organizers and members of an organization called New York Students Rising, which mobilized demonstrators at a number of State University of New York campuses.

Thousands of students were expected to turn out in New York state, according to a statement by New York Students Rising.

The demands of Occupy Colleges are identical to the demands of Occupy Wall Street, according to Abrams. Occupy Wall Street’s proposed list of demands, which have been criticized for remaining murky during the ongoing demonstrations, will be voted on in general assembly, according to Abrams.

However, some organizers are specifically concerned with student wellbeing.

University at Buffalo student and walkout organizer Cayden Mak said a primary concern for students in the SUNY system is a recent tuition hike. Mak described a bawdy scene involving a march to an administrative building, call-and-response chants, and local media coverage.

Demonstrators at the University at Buffalo, which is a SUNY school, presented administrators with calculations on how the SUNY system could cover its budget shortfall through administration pay cuts instead of tuition hikes.

“We’re really thrilled that it’s gone national in the way that it is,” Mak said of the Occupy Colleges movement.

Abrams said a number of faculty members have expressed support for the walkouts via Twitter.

According to a list available on the Occupy Wall Street website, 75 colleges and universities planned to take part in the walkout. However, some student organizers contacted by Campus Progress reported that nothing had taken place at their schools. It’s not clear how many colleges participated nationwide.

“We plan to have more protests until Occupy Wall Street’s demands are met,” Abrams said. “We are going to continue this fight as long as we need to.”

[Via CampusProgress]





The sorry state of student debt

I wrote this article about debt and the structure of higher education for Campus Progress.

Growing evidence supports the concerns of critics like Collinge. A recent, glum report [PDF] on the state of student debt by Moody’s Analytics details a system in stagnation. While delinquency and loss rates on outstanding student loan balances have held steady during the recession, the report finds, there have been few signs of recovery in tandem with other loan segments.

Higher education is an unusual investment, according to the Moody’s report, because under normal circumstances it makes sense for a student to enroll during an economic recession. That way, she can gamble on riding out the tough job market while picking up new skills.

But that model starts to fall apart when the risks begin to outweigh the benefits.

“With the cost of education continuing to rise rapidly, the value of schools’ endowments still well below their peaks, and state funding to universities being cut, students are being asked to shoulder an even larger share of tuition and fee increases,” writes Moody’s Cristian Deritis. “Unless job market uncertainty turns around quickly, the outlook on school enrollment and consumers’ desire to borrow to fund their educations will further weaken.”

Wonk love?

Nobody sang “Kumbaya,” but it was startling to see progressives and libertarians establish so much common ground just weeks after the debt ceiling crisis highlighted ugly ideological divisions in Washington.

The scene was a Cato Institute-hosted forum Thursday on national debt and the millennial generation, which featured the Mercatus Center’s Matt Mitchell, The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle and the Center for American Progress’ Matt Yglesias. Cato is a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The remarkably cordial discussion, titled “U.S. Debt and the Millennials,” was structured as a debate but seldom felt adversarial. Without exception, panelists waited patiently for their turn to speak, repeatedly expressing support for co-panelists’ conclusions across the political spectrum.

McArdle summarized concerns that the millennial generation faces an uncertain economic future in the wake of rising debt.

“Younger people are going to be paying higher taxes,” she said. “They’re going to be working longer. They’re going to be working harder, just because there are more people in the workforce.”

A recurring theme during the evening was the notion that it’s unrealistic to balance the budget through either spending cuts or tax increases alone.

“It is perhaps undesirable, but certainly possible, to cover the Social Security actuarial deficit,” McArdle said. “You could raise taxes, you could cut benefits.”

Yglesias emphasized the historical roots of the budget crisis.

“It’s almost impossible to understate the unique, sort of personal role that George W. Bush and his administration played in this,” Yglesias said.

Moderator Dan Mitchell tried a few times to provoke controversy. On several occasions, he interjected with what he called “editorial comments,” breaking from his neutral tone.

He took a good-natured jab when he introduced Yglesias, as well.

“I really think [Matt’s] secret thing in life is that he’s married to me. Why do I say that? Because no one has said so many mean things about me since my ex-wife,” Mitchell said, to laughter.

But the panelists didn’t seem to have anything mean to say about each other. All three expressed bemusement at the audience suggestion that a faltering economy or high tax rate could force a significant number of U.S. citizens to emigrate away from the domestic job market.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m not painting some terrible dystopian future where we all go off to work in the Soylent Green mines, before we come home to our dish of Soylent Green,” McArdle said. “Life is still going to improve in many ways. I think the economy and the country are still going to be getting better. But it’s going to be getting better more slowly, and more unevenly.”

Yglesias suggested that some portion of the apparent solidarity was due to not discussing specific budgetary concerns.

“The reason there hasn’t been that much disagreement, I think, is that we haven’t talked about the specifics of how we might change Medicare,” Yglesias said. “Among people oriented toward policy questions, there’s a lot of consensus about quantity, and a lot of disagreement about how.”

[Crossposted from Campus Progress]

Tuition Assistance for Active-Duty Service Members in Jeopardy

Tuition assistance for active-duty military personnel will likely be reduced in the near future due to cuts in the federal defense budget, according to a report by for-profit educator American Public Education, Inc.

“[The] Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program may be adversely impacted by Department of Defense budget cuts,” reads the report, which was delivered as part of a second quarter earnings conference call this week.

Though the tuition assistance changes are purely speculative at this point, there’s a feeling among insiders that a reduction in benefits is inevitable.

“We all think this is going to happen,” American Public Education’s Jim Sweizer told Inside Higher Ed.

The military has paid 100 percent of tuition costs—up to $4,500 per year and $250 per credit hour—for active-duty service members since 2002. The increase from 75 to 100 percent has since become a central talking point for military recruiters, and spending on the program has nearly tripled in the past decade, to a high of $542 million last year, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Changes in tuition assistance regulations would likely be in response to increased fiscal pressure to reign in military spending. As part of the last-minute debt ceiling deal reached late last month, the military will need to curtail defense spending by some $350 billion over the next decade.

There is also concern that some service members are spending their tuition assistance on poorly-regulated for-profit colleges, many of which cater to military personnel. A March report by the Government Accountability Office recommended that Department of Defense officials increase oversight of institutions eligible for tuition assistance spending.

“Specifically, DOD could benefit from a systematic risk-based oversight approach, increased accountability in its education quality review process, and a centralized system to track complaints,” the report read.

Should service members shoulder the burden of budgetary concerns? With two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spending cuts that could jeopardize the safety of service members or domestic national security are frowned upon.

Regardless, legislators continue to look for cuts elsewhere in the military budget. There’s a staggering $80 billion, for example, of projected spending for military research in 2011—more than 51 percent of the personnel budget over the same period.

A likely compromise would return to the 75-25 split of tuition fees, with students shouldering the smaller portion, which was standard practice before the 2002 increase. Recruiters may struggle, though, to replace the 100 percent tuition assistance as a talking point for wooing students considering military careers.

News of possible tuition assistance reductions comes on the heels of research showing that veterans in college are at an elevated risk for suicidal thoughts and acts compared to non-military students.

A previous version of this story implied veterans who continue their education are at a higher suicide risk; the recent research did not account for education level or duration.

Crossposted from [Campus Progress]

Campus Progress: In College and Homeless

The regular stresses of college life aside, some students are burdened further by the knowledge that they’ll have nowhere to sleep at the end of the day. The burden proves too much for some, as evidenced by the steep dropout rates among homeless college students around the cold winter break.

There has been little comprehensive research on the number of homeless students in the United States, but there’s a growing consensus that the population of homeless students has expanded during the recession. Increased attention to the epidemic at the state level is driving policy questions. For one, what can college administrators and education advocates do to address the unique challenges of homeless students?

“The challenge, of course, is that in many cases these youth are not detectable,” said Diana Bowman, program director of the Center for Homeless Education. “They don’t know that they fall into the technical definition of homelessness, and they may not know what services they are eligible for.”

The legal criteria for being homeless are widely misunderstood, even by individuals who are technically homeless. Students who are alternating their nights between friends’ couches and college common areas, for example, often are not aware that they are eligible for federal or university aid.

Critics charge that a network of academic and social support, including reliable housing, is crucial to academic success at all levels.

Advocates distinguish homeless applicants from students who have slipped into homelessness, though the two groups have interrelated needs. Individuals in both categories frequently suffer from a lack of information or guidance as they navigate resources that could help them succeed, experts say.

“An obvious challenge is that homeless students rarely will have an adult in their lives who can walk them through or navigate the process” of applying to college, said Marcia Weston, chair of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth’s Committee of Higher Education.

And a galling roadblock to success, Weston says, is often the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which doesn’t contain a single, clear check-box to indicate a student is homeless. And financial aid administrators can sometimes be reticent to enroll homeless students in a course of study likely to accrue significant debt.

College financial aid departments are in a position to connect students with crucial resources, but they often struggle to address the needs of homeless students and applicants. One of the greatest challenges, Weston said, is establishing a reasonable burden of proof for homelessness which can be used to demonstrate need without causing unnecessary trauma.

“Homeless students should not be made to jump through hoops to prove that they’re homeless,” Weston said. “I understand that there need to be guidelines on who can get financial aid. But these students are sometimes made to do horrific things: If they’ve been thrown out of their homes, or left because of abuse, they can be sent to the police station to get a record of that abuse, or asked questions about the type of abuse.”

Bowman and Weston agree that while increased awareness of homelessness on college campuses is helping some students, there’s still a long way to go.

“It is slowly getting better,” Weston said. “But for the homeless student who cannot get financial aid, it’s not there yet.”

[Campus Progress]

Suicidal Thoughts, Acts Widespread Among Veterans at College

College students who are military veterans are significantly more likely to consider suicide than college students in general, according to a study by the National Center for Veterans’ Studies at the University of Utah.

“These alarming numbers underscore the urgent need for universities to be adequately staffed and prepared to assist and treat student veterans,” wrote lead researcher M. David Rudd.

Researchers surveyed 525 veterans with backgrounds representative of the U.S. military, and found that 46 percent of respondents reported suicidal thinking at some point. 20 percent reported having suicidal thoughts with a plan to end their lives, and a sobering 7.7 reported a suicide attempt.

The study is representative of the current generation of active service member, who have taken part in this decade’s wars in the Middle East. 58 to 60 percent of veterans surveyed had experienced combat, and 98 percent had been deployed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Those rates contrast with much lower rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts in the general population: In 2010, 6 percent of college students report seriously considering suicide, and 1.3 percent report attempting to commit suicide, according to the American College Health Association.

These results shouldn’t be at all surprising in light of existing research on military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a2007 study by Portland State University, male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as civilians in the general population. And foreshadowing the survey by the University of Utah, veterans with the most education are at the highest risk, according to the Portland study.

Elevated suicide rates among veterans are no doubt connected to the enormous pressures to which military personnel are subjected during combat. The crushing new anxieties of insurgent warfare that have characterized the theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan may be especially conducive to post-traumatic stress disorder, which is in turn correlated with suicide risk. And with the additional stress of a poor economy and extended tours of duty during the wars of the last decade, many service members are concerned about their families back home as well.

The University of Utah survey brings the horror of war home by directing our attention to the suffering of student veterans, but for veterans whose lives have been disrupted by unnecessary, interminable combat, those struggles were already far too real.

Veterans and concerned family members can call Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 at any time to receive free, confidential support.

[Crossposted from Campus Progress]

Michigan Eliminates Food Stamps for 30K College Students

Michigan officials recently eliminated some 30,000 college students from the state’s food stamp program in an effort to reduce spending. But anti-poverty advocates say they’re worried the most vulnerable, low-income students will be hit the hardest by the changes.

“A consequence of it is that very needy college students who are living at home with parents who are low income are also ineligible for food benefits, simply because they are college students,” said Judi Lincoln, a policy analyst with the Center for Civil Justice, an advocacy organization for low-income persons in Michigan.

During the planning phase of the changes, Michigan officials estimated that between 10,000 and 18,000 students would be deemed ineligible. Lincoln worries that some of the extra students, who bring the total figure to 30,000, may experience undue hardship.

Read the rest of this entry »


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