Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bizarro U

Here is another timely post from the Tenured Radical. Sadly, I seem to be working at the bizzaro world opposite of the institution TR inhabits. TR writes:

Here's the good news: my dean (I think of him when he does good as *my* dean) is trying to get the provost to approve putting tenure-track lines in programs. This is a very good move ... making The Program less vulnerable to departments screwing up or getting shirty on us or not tenuring people because they only hired them as a favor to us in the first place but they don't like them enough to really want to keep them. And frankly, most departments don't "get" interdisciplinary work and we have to spend endless hours explaining what The Program does, and that it is really A Field, with Journals and Graduate Programs and Stuff. I don't know why they don't ever seem to understand this, but they don't. Or they do, and then they say, "Yes we'd be happy to hire with American Studies as long as the person can teach two sections of statistical analyis." It's a lot like saying, "I'd love to hire someone who can teach History. And Physics. Whaddya say?"
Tenure-track lines in programs IS a very good idea.

Sadly, at my bizarro world university, the Dean and Provost are busy dismantling and demoting our interdisciplinary department, with its own tenure-track lines, into an assortment of disconnected programs with no tenure-track lines. The current faculty is being dispersed and sent back to our various disciplinary homes where no one will "get" interdisciplinary work, and where hiring, promotion and tenure for interdisciplinary work will take a backseat to disciplinary requirements and needs.

I'm not picky about the titles given to our interdisciplinary programs -- they can call us a department, a program, a center, an institute, or a posse for all I care -- but without faculty control of hiring, promotion, and tenure the academic quality of these interdisciplinary programs will suffer as will the simple quantity of hours devoted to teaching and research in these areas. It's a real loss for our institution, and a giant step backwards for faculty governance on our campus.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Red Under Every Mortarboard

From Rate Your Students. What will those wild and crazy students write next?

"The most alarming thing about this argument is the author's comparison between a person with a PhD to a communist. I understand the author was trying to reiterate how American citizens feel threatened by professors expressing their views. However, it is extreme to compare people with PhD's to communists. Because communism was a very serious thing and no matter what the professors do, they will never be as bad as the communists were in the fifties. This is a shameless play for an emotional response out of the audience."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tag Cloud Poetry

I wandered lonely as a tag cloud...

By way of academhack and writer response theory, here are some lovely posts on tag cloud poetry.

"In the world of tag metadata - folksonomies, fauxonomies, etc. - there are a few high-profile services and a million up-and-coming. ... Many pieces of digital text art in the last two years have centered around the use of publicly available tagging - in particular search visualizations and generators."
I enjoy this found art in much the same way I enjoy the recycled words of the spamland videos which take as their text the "semi-sensical text found in the filter-busting portion of spam messages."

Oh, dear

Jon Swift: Conservapedia

"For years homeschooled children have had to rely for all of their information on Wikipedia, which is full of dangerous ideas that homeschooling was supposed to prevent from seeping into the home. Now, finally, there is an alternative, which doesn't have any controversial ideas at all: Conservapedia. Conservapedia is based on good Christian values, unlike Wikipedia, which I gather from the name, is based on Wiccan."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wilde Cosplay

Kids today are much cooler than when I was young. Oscar Wilde. And Cosplay. How cool is that?

Obama's New Hat

Here's a great pic from the Texas Observer of Barack Obama at a rally in Austin, Texas yesterday. 15,000 came out to the rally on a rainy day. That cheers me up. I'm actually starting to look forward to the upcoming media orgy of primaries and political spectacles. This should be fun.

I confess a weakness for the theater of politics. There's a strange element of electoral cosplay and political cross-dressing that takes place each election season. Already Barack Obama looks much better in his black hat than John Kerry ever did in his bike helmet. I'm looking forward to seeing the next act in this drama.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Academic Mean Streets

This makes me happy:

That's the link to this blog from my long time friend and compatriot at Limited, Inc. along with a nice shout out inviting LI readers to check out lumpenprofessoriat on the love boat to mesopotamia. lol.

Even though I recognize the horrible irony of it all, I'll still find it necessary to complain about getting tenure and about all my tenure woes for at least a few more months here until it's out my system -- that's the main therapeutic reason for this blog right now. I complain here, so that I'm not that boorish in real life.

However, I promise I'll try to move on to complaining about things other than getting tenure as soon as possible -- things like how my wallet isn't big enough to hold all my $100's and how too much rowdy sex keeps me from getting enough sleep. Important stuff like that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Space Child's Mother Goose

The Space Child's Mother Goose

Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner
Sits in a corner
Extracting cube roots to infinity,
An assignment for boys
That will minimize noise
And produce a more peaceful vicinity.

Originally published the year before sputnik was launched, I find it oddly reassuring that this very strange and wonderful book by Frederick Winsor and illustrated by Marian Parry is still in print.

You can read a few more of these pre-space age rhymes for future space children here and here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Love in Iraq

Continuing the speculations on Zizek, Freud, and the evils of love, this photo was taken Mardi Gras day in Iraq.

The most benign formulation I can give for the current horrors in Iraq is that they emerged out of love. Love of country, love of family, love of god, love of freedom, love of peace. If it is true that love is always unjust and does evil by excluding others from the focus of our care and concern, then certainly the outpouring of love by the citizens of the United States in the wake of 9/11 finds no more spectacular expression than in the injustice and evil of the carnage in Iraq. Iraq is the place where love goes to die.

Love of country, love of freedom, love of the troops, and love for the victims of 9/11 becomes transformed into the injustice and evil of shock and awe, of Abu Ghraib, and of the hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq. This seems to fit well with both the experience and rhetoric of the war to date where noble sentiments and endless shit have marched hand in hand.

Evil as the result of a good heart is, of course, what makes for truly magnificent evil. It is much easier to avoid evil when it confronts us naked and undisguised. Evil expressed as love is much harder to resist, and much harder to stop. This is because resistance to expressions of such love may be portrayed as folks who do not love their country, their troops, their commander-in-chief, or their freedom.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Mardi Gras!

Since this is an academic blog, here's a lesson for you from the late great Professor Longhair. Get your beads on and enjoy the day.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Loving Evil

The post below on Zizek and the evils of love reminded me of a wonderful post from Limited, Inc. on the world's most dangerous man:

"The most dangerous man the world has ever known was not Attila the Hun or Mao Zedong. He was not Adolf Hitler. In fact, the most dangerous man the world has ever known died without having an inkling that he was the most dangerous man the world has ever known. He wasn’t a politician, or a general, or a bandit, and the most publicity he ever received was when he was elected president of the American Chemical Association in 1944. His name was Tom Midgley."
Thomas Midgley was the inventor of both tetraethyl lead and freon. Tetraethyl lead is the additive used to make leaded gasoline. In addition to helping engines run smoothly, it also caused the most wide spread and dramatic increase in environmental lead pollution and lead poisoning in history. (The EPA has a bizarrely defensive history of lead poisoning on its website which is almost nostalgic for the good old days of smooth burning leaded gas and laments the advent of automobile emission standards which required catalytic converters that inadvertently prevented cars from being able to burn leaded gasoline.) Midgley also pioneered the use of freon and chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration systems and air conditioners. These same chlorofluorocarbons have depleted the ozone layer and helped usher in global warming. (In a strange twist of fate, Midgley contracted polio and died from being strangled by the system of wires and pulleys he used to raise himself out of bed -- another device of his own invention.) It is the first two inventions, though, that put Midgley in the running for the title of world's most dangerous man. However, we were speaking of love.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes that the injunction to love thine enemy does an injustice to those we have more reason to love. If our love is universal and extends to everybody and everything, then those who give us special cause to be loved are short changed and cheated. In Zizek's gloss, the evil that love does is to discriminate against all those others we withhold our love from; for to invest love in one special object is also to deprive the rest of the world of our love. These two formulations of who gets cheated by love describe exactly the same situations, so I see no need to quibble over whom love does an injustice to. Love is unjust. This is why Zizek can describe love as a "cosmic imbalance" and say that "in this quite formal sense, love is evil."

Perhaps Tom Midgley's inventions are simply another face of the injustice of love. To love engines that don't knock and beer that is cold does an injustice. It does an injustice to all those other engines that ping and all that other beer that is warm. It also does an injustice to all those who wish to live without environmental holocaust and to the rest of the planet which is deprived of this particular love. Midgley's evil is not one of premeditation and malice aforethought. His aim was not cataclysm. His aim was quiet motors and cold drinks. Loving these simple things, though, does an injustice to the rest of the world. This love is also evil. It may be that love always brings with it this risk of loving "not wisely, but too well."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Love Is Evil

Zizek arguing that "Love is evil." I love this guy. Srsly. I'll need to write more about him soon.

Scholars & Students

This post on A Compendium of Professorial Magic from The Little Professor makes me smile.

  • RENDER LEGIBLE. When cast on bluebooks, turns illegible cursive legible. Professors will be able to read illegible cursive written in pencil with a DC 12 Interpreter check.
  • STAPLE. Reminds Students to use the stapler in the department office before handing in papers. May be blocked if multiple Professors utilize the spell within +2 hours of each other.
  • DETECT BOREDOM. Allows Professors to pinpoint daydreaming Students. Professors at 0-Level can only Detect Boredom in students with two hit dice or less.
  • CAUSE PARTICIPATION. Provokes silent students into contributing to classroom discussion. Eliciting intelligent classroom discussion, however, requires a DC 10 Course Management check; DC 9 or less may produce random comments or out-of-place queries. Add 2 to the die roll for students with 3 hit dice or more; add 1 for each Professorial level over three. ...
  • CAUSE STUDYING. +3 to Student Concentration and Reading rolls. May be blocked if cast on Friday nights, at the end of finals week, during Homecoming Week, or before Thanksgiving.
  • CANCEL MEETINGS. Professors at Level One may cancel department meetings only. (See Appendix 253 for a full list of levels and corresponding meetings.) This spell may be countered by another Professor's Spell of Urgency, and will always be blocked by a Department Chair's Reminder of Contractual Obligations. ...
  • CHARM CLASS. +3 to Professor's Charisma. If the spell is cast while returning graded exams or papers, Students receive +5 bonus to Resistance.
  • DETECT PLAGIARISM. All instances of plagiarism will be highlighted; recommended for use in conjunction with Accept Grades. If a paper has been plagiarized using books instead of Google, however, perform a DC 14 Professorial Dedication check. ...
  • HAND OF TECHNOLOGY. Enables Professors to operate electronic equipment, including DVD players, Smart Carts, and projectors. Lasts for one class period.
  • SPEAK POP. Temporarily grants Professors knowledge of contemporary music, television, film, and video games. The Professor must perform a DC 13 Poseur check each time he or she makes an allusion; failure results in -8 Charisma rolls, plus +10 to Students' Resistance rolls.


T E N __ __ __

T E __ __ __ __

T __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __ __ __ __

My progress towards tenure and promotion:
T = Departmental recommendation
E = Chair's recommendation
N = Dean's recommendation
U = Provost's recommendation
R = Chancellor's recommendation
E = Board of Trustees' approval
Although this may seem a little macabre and more than a little juvenile, I find it funny and strangely relaxing as well. Plus, I think I deserve at least some credit for posting this here rather than on my office door.

Congratulations and/or condolences are both welcome and appreciated.

Rereading One's Writings

Here's a very nice post from Historianess, "On Rereading One's Dissertation." I often still have these reactions to rereading things I've written -- even to things much more recent than my dissertation.

Rereading went something like this:

Ooh, look at the title page. How nice!

I made a table of contents? Really? I have no recollection of doing that.

DOOM! There's a conspicuous typo on page 19!

Reading...reading...reading...hey, this is really interesting! I didn't know I knew about these things!

The Game

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Machine Language

A very interesting viral video by way of s0metim3s. The video is by Michael Wesch and is part of his Digital Ethnography Working Group at Kansas State University.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tenure Woes

This timely post from Tenured Radical exactly describes my current feelings and situation with regard to tenure:

I don't think it is going too far to say that it isn't just the intellectual energy we use in the tenure process now -- it's the spiritual energy. And getting tenure is less the celebration it used to be than a moment where people end up cynical and rightly self-absorbed because they have been put through too much. Or feeling like they got pulled off the embassy in Saigon while their peers waved their arms helplessly below.
There is no joy and celebration involved in getting tenure. I am emotionally and spiritually drained by the tenure process, and despite having resisted this all too common fate for decades, I have ended up more cynical and disaffected than I ever imagined possible.

The creation of this blog, in fact, is my own modest therapeutic response to the disenchantment and depression which are now occupying center stage during my seemingly immanent tenure triumph. The current artwork adorning the blog to the right struck me as an apt depiction of the tentacles of tenure dragging me down into the depths, even though I certainly don't style myself an academic whale -- perhaps more of a scholarly trout living in some smaller pond. The darkness and despair, however, has been deep and real.

My own case has been unusually stressful, if not for the levels of rancor and acrimony generated, then for its duration. I have been either on the job market, up for contract renewal, or up for tenure continuously for the past 15 years. In fact, I have managed to be up for tenure four times at my current institution, most recently for two years straight. This is not a tenure process I recommend. Now that there is light at the end of that very long tunnel, though, I am only now beginning to recognize the signs of the damage done and to feel the first pangs of the post traumatic stress that is lying in wait for me.

However, for all that, I recognize that I'm extraordinarily fortunate. I get to do something incredibly rare and wonderful. I get to be paid to teach, write, and think. Despite the very bad taste my own tenure process has left in my mouth, I am not tempted to do away with tenure. The abuses faced by non-tenure track faculty are at least equally stressful emotionally, and much more stressful materially. Right now, I'm hopeful that in the coming years I will regain some measure of the energy and optimism that was consumed in this hateful process. If some leftover bile occasionally spills out on the pages of this blog, perhaps that means less will spill out in the classroom or come home with me at night. We shall see.

Valentine's Day Limericks

Take a look at metamorphosism's Annual Valentine's Day Limerick Contest. Here's one of my favorites from years past:

Youth thought meaning was what you inferred
From your reading or what you just heard
But Lacan said such wisdom
Comes from outside the system
So True Meaning is ever-deferred

Posted by: Scott Partee at February 16, 2004 11:49 PM

I typed 'Youth,' meant 'You.'

I especially like the typing parapraxis.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Academic Hobo Names

For reasons I can't fully explain, I'm strangely drawn to John Hodgman's recitation of 700 hobo names with Jonathan Coulton's accompanying guitar strumming of Big Rock Candy Mountain in the background. On hearing #40: All-but-Dissertation Tucker Dummychuck, however, my mind started wandering to possible academic hobo names. Hodgman's list also includes such notable academic hobo names as: Hobo Zero, Del Folksy-Beard, Thanatos Koch, Not-Only But-Also Pete, and Iowa Noam Chomsky. However, here is my own starting list of possible academic hobo names for all those past, present, and future itinerant professors, produced purely for therapeutic reasons. Please hum Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance to yourself as you read:

1. Elbow Patches McGee
2. Dr. No
3. Simon almost Endowed Chair
4. Would-you-like-fries-with-that the Proust Scholar
5. Philosopher Jack
6. Lecturer Louise
7. Non-tenure Track Jones
8. Publish and Perish Carmichael
9. Education Eddy the Migrant Ed.D.
10. Schumpeter's Swan
11. Zeno's Pariah
12. Will Teach for Food Steve
13. Nobby Post the Structuralist
14. Symptoms-to-Enjoy Lars
15. Sylvia Plath's Tenure Committee
16. Chrome Pate Pete
17. Mille Papers to Grade
18. Office Squatting Orwell
19. Dismal Science Dan
20. MLA "Meat Market" Mike
21. Catachresis Chris
22. Homer Headroom
23. Caffeine Canetti
24. I am Jack's Post-Tenure Depression
25. Committee Work Cathy
26. General Ed
27. Big Science Little Budget Beckett
28. Ramen Noodle Rick
29. The Dean of Down and Out
30. Sallie Mae's Bitch