Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dear Dr. Jones...

This seems appropriate to my week, somehow*.


(Found in the comments at Crooked Timber.)

*I have just spent the past 3 days, including most of today, Saturday, working almost exclusively on my promotion portfolio.  But hurray, y'all -- I am all but done.  Just the final proofing / read-through remains.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


My promotion portfolio is due next Tuesday.

That is right.  We are T minus seven and counting.

And I am just curious -- does any other profession require anything equivalent to this?  Not just that, along with doing the basic job of teaching four (and sometimes, as with this semester, five) classes a semester, the professor accomplish a mountain of other work (service to the university, service to the community, research and publication), but that each year she document all this work (the teaching, the service, the research, the publication) to her chair, her dean, her provost, and her chancellor.

Which, that's literally true: every year, once a year, we're required to turn in an annual review, documenting what we've done in those areas.  We get performance scores based on what we've done.  So, you know, every year this is documented already.

So it's not like anyone is in doubt about whether this work has been done.  It's documented.  Our scores are a matter of record.

But nevertheless, when we come up for promotion, we have to massively reduplicate this work, creating an immense portfolio with all this once again documented -- our teaching record; our service record (to the university, to the community); our publication record.

And besides the documentation, the portfolio needs to include narratives, which explain all this: how our work fulfills university goals, as well as our own research and service goals.

Also we have to include narratives, showing how we have responded to feedback given to us in all of our critical areas (that would be teaching, service, research and publication).

Also it must all be in a nice folder, with a nice table of contents, and dividers, and color-coded labels, and that thudding sound you hear is me banging my head on the floor.

(Disclaimer: I know this is whiny and petulant, not to mention a first-world problem.  Ignore me until Wednesday, that's my advice.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Freedom of Speech: Some Restrictions May Apply

You're allowed freedom of speech, as the OWS protests showed, and as those objecting to Petraeus now show us, only so long your protests actually don't annoy anyone who has actual power.

Once you actually start to make your point? Yeah.

Writing Cursive, Cursing Cursive

So my kid just came and asked me how to writing a cursive I.

"Now what now?" I asked, not even understanding this question, since she never writes anything by hand anyway, so why....

"I'm lettering," she said impatiently.  "My comic, I need --"

"Oh."  I looked around.  But of course I never write anything by hand either anymore, so there's no pen or paper or pencil or anything anywhere around here.  (It is one of the common cries you hear in our household, me lamenting, when it comes time to pay the bills, because I still do pay a few bills by check, how is it possible, I will lament, that we have two writers and an artist living here, and there is never a pen anywhere in the house?)

Anyway.  What I finally did, I took her to Wikipedia and found her this chart, which shows what all the cursive letters are supposed to look like, though as I recollect mine never did, and certainly do not now.

But this page is even more interesting.

It tells us that on the SAT in 2006, only 15% of US students wrote their answers in cursive; and that although most schools (90%) still require that cursive be taught, most teachers have no training in teaching it.

I'll tell you my kid has abysmal handwriting, though she did get a ton of handwriting practice at the Montessori school. (I have no idea whether her teachers had formal training in the teaching of cursive writing.)

I'll tell you also that I'm not much worried about it, because she literally almost never had to write anything by hand.  Even this "cursive I" that she is "writing," she is actually drawing with a pen and a tablet on a computer screen.  Which I suppose is a kind of writing.

I'd say we're maybe ten to twenty years from everything being done on keyboards.  Indiana and Hawaii have already dropped the requirements for teaching cursive, substituting keyboarding proficiency instead.

I understand there's a theory that learning cursive develops pathways in the brain that keyboarding doesn't.  But I imagine teaching art and music would develop those pathways as well.  Instead of spending hours learning an archaic technique students will never use, spend those hours on art and music.  Why not?

I know my kid would be happier.  Well, about the art, anyway.

(She's still resolutely refusing to learn to play a musical instrument.)

Jump, Batman!

SEK over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has given us a thread as epic as the epic Fuck you, Clown thread of yore, over there on UnFogged.

Attention: New Internet Tradition.

For this one, you must read the comments.

My favorite so far:

CD says:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
Batman jumping,
Or just after.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Going Up For Full Professor

I'm trying to think of how to express to you how incredibly frustrating and annoying I am finding this process.

I mean, yes, it's lovely to be up for promotion, and it's lovely that I have a real shot at making it.

(Rah, rah, me!)

But oh my, the endless BALES of crap I have to put together to justify the promotion.

Also some of it is math.

I propose that from now on promotion rely on a Hunger Games like process: out on the university green, they build a giant cage, take all of us who are going up for Full this year, give us various weapons, and voila!

Six professors enter!  One professor leaves!

(I think I might be mixing my movies here.)

Then they could repeat for the assistant to associate jump.  And so on down the ladder.

Plus, think of the money they could make on concessions!

And save on all this copying.

(Also, I am almost sure I could take the other Associates around this heap.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Blogoversary! Happy Nine Years!

Nine years ago today, by happy accident, I started this blog: September 15, 2004.

I had just discovered the blogosphere (I don't even think we called it that then) and was actually trying to comment on another blog (The Dark Window, who sadly went truly dark not long afterwards -- I still miss you, Pete) and in trying to register to comment, hit the tab to CREATE A BLOG instead.

Pete encouraged me to keep blogging, on the strength of my comments at his place, and the rest is blogosphere history.

In commemoration of this, my 9th year of blogging, I give you some of my favorite posts so far.

From 2004: Happy Meals and Heroin.

From 2005: Poetry From the delagar household

From 2006: Halloween.

From 2007: Men Made The World.

From 2008: What's That Word Again?

From 2009: (Still my favorite) The Kid Amuses Me

From 2010: Hey! Look!

From 2011: My Book!

From 2012: Rereading L'Engle.

From 2013: Teaching Our Bodies, Ourselves

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back In The Game: Review

We subscribe to Hulu Plus, since we're too broke for any more expensive entertainment options (like cable TV or weekends in Tulsa) and recently I caught a preview of a show, Back in the Game, which will be on ABC this fall.

The preview which is up on YouTube makes it look like savagely weak tea, and if I had seen that first I would never have watched it.  But the pilot episode itself is quite strong.

First, bam, almost right off the bat we've passed the Bechdel Test -- our main character, Terry, a newly single mom who's had to move back in with her dad, is chatting with another single mom (who I think is going to be a main character), and although technically it's about men since it's about their male children I'm counting this as passing. Also they go on to talk about things that aren't their kids, so.

Plus, Terry is a character I like more and more.  I'm not giving you spoilers, but she acts.  Boy, does she.  At the climax of the episode, she takes an action that had me literally yelling with delight (alone in my living room at two in the morning).  She did what Orwell said the oppressed must do when the oppressors owned the rules.  She fucking cheated.  And won.  In a sit com. I mean, hot diggity.

And that's the other thing: this is a show about feminism.  I mean, yes, it's a show about Little League, and it's Bad News Bears Redux and I can see where we're going with the Field of Misfit Kids (though I hope the show surprises me as much as this episode kept doing) but it's also about the oppressed (feminists, immigrants, gay kids, fat kids, geek kids) refusing to be oppressed: taking what is theirs, instead.

Monday, September 09, 2013

This Is Too Good

Okay, I was having a kinda sucky day.

But this cheered me right up.

You gotta listen.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Conservative Art, Conservative Notions of Culture

(Updated a bit for clarification of some points)

Over at Rod Dreher's blog, he muses (once again) on why it is that Conservatives don't seem to make good story-tellers.

Where's all the good Conservative fiction? he asks plaintively.

Of course, the problem lies in the way he asks the question.  Conservative fiction does not exist, not anymore than progressive or libertarian fiction exists, except in a few very odd and malformed cases. (As, for instance, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and most of her other words.  Rand set out to write libertarian propaganda, rather than actual fiction, and that's more or less what she succeeded in doing, though you can even today find people who like these items as novels.)

This is not to say that you can't find political elements in fiction.  I'd argue that Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books have some strong libertarian themes, though they also have progressive themes. And I'd argue that books like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird work conservatively, despite how they glance at an acknowledgement that racial abuses and eugenics are wrong (in Gatsby, it's a very tiny glance).

Despite this glance at racial social justice, both texts essentially see their cultures as just fine. Oh, Nick Carraway leaves the wicked, wicked East at the end of the novel, having learned his lesson about the excesses of Capitalism -- but he does not believe there is anything wrong with Capitalism per se.

And Atticus Finch is sad that Tom Robinson has been such a fool as not to trust the white man's justice to act right (when it has never yet acted right in the past 400 years), but he doesn't quit the law profession; and in fact the last scene we get in the novel is the law acting right: doing the right thing for the (white) community.  The take-away, in other words, is that despite a few hiccups and dead young black men, this is a civilization that works.

Fiction that works this way -- to reassure the reader that their culture is okay, and that they don't have to change it -- works, essentially, as conservative fiction, whether or not it was meant that way.

Fiction that interrogates the culture, that probes the conventions and shows that the cultures is not, in fact, working just fine, and needs to be changed if it is to continue working: that's going to be working as progressive fiction.  Good science fiction works this way, by showing either the dystopian nature of our culture, or a better way at work.

I had a brief, though friendly, argument with one of my students after WLIT class Wednesday.  We're reading Fredrick Douglas's Narrative of the Life, and I pointed out how much a single slave cost at this point, and how much the South had invested in slaves (information I first learned from Ta-Nehisi Coates' wonderful series on slavery) and what this meant, in regards to why the South was not going to just walk away from slavery.  My point was that Narrative of the Life, as an abolitionist document, was revolutionary: it was fighting to make (white) people in America see that slaves were people, and that as people they had rights and they deserved to be freed.

Anyway, this student wanted to argue that the Civil War didn't need to be fought; that the South would have transitioned to a machine economy within a few years; that the plantation owners would have freed the slaves of their own free will within forty or fifty years if they had just been left alone.

I gave him various points of evidence to counter this interesting view of history (which I am sure is one that is being taught in some local high school around here) but it's what I'm talking about: the Conservative view of the world seems to be that one: things as they are work fine.  Nothing to fix here.

See this comment here, for instance, from Rod's blog:

David in MN says:

For a story to be “conservative,” it should be cautionary, warning its readers against having unrealistic expectations or fantasies. It warns against the human tendency to dream, to rise above one’s pre-ordained station in life, or usurp the natural order of things. The moral of a conservative story should be Be humble and stay in your place. So if conservatives wish to revive the “conservative” story, they [sic]  no shortage of stories from the ancients that follow this convention.

That's a point of view that looks fine if you're Atticus Finch, or Nick Carraway. It's less attractive if you're Tom Robinson, or Calpurnia (who doesn't even get a last name), or Myrtle Wilson, that slut.

And fiction -- which should, of course, primarily work as fiction, or it fails (that is, it must be art first, and not propaganda) -- fiction can either speak for Atticus Finch, or it can speak for Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell and Walter Cunningham and Calpurnia.  Right now almost all of our art speaks for Atticus Finch, so when Rod Dreher wonders with his touching innocence just where in heavens name the conservative art could be, well.

(Can it speak for both?  That would be a piece of art. That would be a book indeed.)

I still remember the day I realized I was one of the trashy poor whites Atticus Finch called common. I mean, he was nice about it and all.  He let the little sharecropper boy eat at his table, and talked farming with him. Because noblesse oblige.  But you know that was as far as it would go.

Well, here's my point, and I do have one: from over here on this side of the tracks, this culture of yours? It ain't look so nifty, frankly.

And no.  I don't think I will keep my place.

Time for some true progressive art, maybe.  That's what I say.

Update #2: Check out this post on Oz, from Kiss My WonderWoman, on what else is wrong with conservative art: the thesis: Hollywood is afraid of change, and being afraid of change creates crap (and in this case racist) art.  True story, y'all.

WTF? Syria?

Back in the run-up to Iraq, as I recall, about 80% of the country was on-board and war-hungry.

I remember how few of us were sane in those days.

I remember the horror that filled us as we watched our fellow citizens froth and rant and -- frankly -- say the most appalling things, give the most bizarre justifications for going to war against a country that obviously had nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11, and obviously had no Weapons of Mass Destruction, and obviously had done nothing to justify being attacked.

I remember those of us arguing against the war being called traitors and (this one by my own brother) terrorists.

Well, this time it is not even that.

This time almost everyone in the country is opposed to this war -- another useless, unjustified, unfunded, destructive war, which will kill thousands (if we're lucky) or hundreds of thousands of innocent people, for no good reason -- except, I suppose, to make a few already disgustingly wealthy men even richer.

And even I, as cynical as I am, can't actually believe that's why we're going to war -- to make Halliburton richer? Really?

But on the other hand, I can't see any other justification for this war.

The reasons we're hearing from Obama and McCain and the rest being such transparent bullshit, I mean.

If anyone can give me a real reason, I'll listen.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Rosh Hashanah

This evening is Rosh Hashanah.

We've already been down to the river to throw the bread in the water and cast away our sins (though technically we should have done that tomorrow evening).  Now Dr. Skull is making us a fine dinner to eat at sunset: chicken and kugel, asparagus and challah, which we will eat with honey.  (You must start the New Year with honey of some sort, and Dr. Skull hates honey cake, the traditional New Year's dish.)

In a bit I will go and buy some wine to have with the meal.

L'Shanah Tovah, y'all.

Monday, September 02, 2013

But Why Is It Called Labor Day?

"Why do we call it Labor Day -- hurr hurr hurr -- when we don't have to go to work?"

Every year someone makes this joke.

Last year I heard someone on the radio make it.  I cussed for three blocks, using all my worst words, and making the kid bounce in her seat. (She hates some of my worst words, because they're very gendered, and she does not allow me to use gendered swears: "Mom!" she yelled.  And: "MA!")

But seriously. I try very hard not to be paranoid about this fucked society we live in, but what is going on with out education system that people seriously don't know what this holiday Labor Day is about?

That when I teach a class in Working Class Literature, to a classroom filled with Working Class students, I get push-back on whether raising the minimum wage might be a good thing, and on whether Unions are worth having ("Sometimes Unions are corrupt, you know," one of the students told me earnestly), and on whether people living in poverty deserve that fate ("Oh, they all have iPhones," one of the students said).

Here are some links for your Labor Day reading.  Reminders of why we have the holiday, and why we fight, and why we cannot quit.

From Kiss My Wonderwoman: "Big Damn Workingclass Heroes (Firefly)"

From Mike the Mad Biologist: "Marching for a Minimum Wage."

Erik Loomis, over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, with one of his excellent Labor History series: "The Great Railroad Strike."

All the other labor posts from Loomis's series here (very much worth reading).

And this too: "Why Is This Middleclass Disappearing?"

And this!  Eleanor Arnason's post on the 1963 Civil Rights March.