Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Lemon Demon

Ortho seemed to enjoy last month's Lemon Demon song about Barack Obama and Pokemon and asked what else my littlest lumpkin listens to. I finally got a chance to quiz her over the holidays and her answer seems to be that Lemon Demon rules.

Lemon Demon is a muscial group formed by Neil Cicierega of Potter Puppet Pals fame and I confess a weakness for them too. Their hit single seems to be "The Ultimate Showdown," but for your New Year's Eve enjoyment I'm also including "Dance Like an Idiot" for your listening and dancing pleasure.

Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

Some of the lovely gifts the LumpenProf received this year. Have a joyful holiday!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bye Eartha

Eartha Kitt, one of the most amazing voices of all-time, died on Christmas day today. She was so much more than just Catwoman, but she did do evil awfully well...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice

Tyrrhenian Sea and Solstice Sky

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaching, Learning and New Media

Via. A talk by Michael Wesch.

A companion lecture to this much shorter video:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Jam

A video from Wayne Henderson's 2007 Christmas party featuring Doc Watson and a cast of thousands. Let the holiday cheer begin...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Academic Austerity

As a follow-up to the scattered notes on academic labor below, here's a link I missed to a very helpful post by Marc Bousquet over on How the University Works:

On the one hand, yesterday’s major AFT report on the permatemping of the faculty urges the necessity of reversing course on academic staffing. That would imply a greater investment in higher education, almost certainly including substantial federal leadership and funding. ...

On the other hand, as education “leaders” across the country have already made clear, their intentions aren’t really to get together and demand a “bailout” or a “new New Deal for higher ed,” etc. Why not? Instead they seem all too ready with even more grandiose plans for austerity.

That’s because administrations have found four decades of austerity useful to establish greater “productivity” (more work for less pay) and more “responsiveness to mission,” which is to say, more control over curriculum, research, and every dimension of teaching, from class size to pedagogy.

This tendency can certainly be seen on my campus. Nothing shifts decision making from shared faculty governance to administrative fiat quite so quickly as a good budget crisis. The fact that, as Bousquet writes, "many administrators welcome austerity" seems all too likely. It is certainly true that many university administrators have had significantly more experience at successfully implementing austerity measures than they have had at successfully resisting such measures.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Random Bullets on Academic Labor

There's been an unusually wide assortment of blog posts, discussions, and news items on academic labor issues this week. Due to the conditions of my own academic labor, and the size of the stacks of papers and exams to grade on my desk, I can't do more than briefly list them here:

  • Dean Dad takes umbrage at the AFT report. It calls for paying adjuncts significantly more for the work they already do. Dean Dad notices this would be bad for budgets. LumpenProf takes umbrage at Dean Dad's umbrage. When workers are paid below the poverty line the way to fix this is to pay them more, not work them harder. This always hurts budgets. And just as unions managed to cut the work week in half and keep their pay the same during the depression, look for academic workers to aim at increasing wages while keeping their hours the same during the coming depression. Never waste a good crisis. Academic labor needs to come out of this crisis stronger and better organized than ever.
  • And I've been having an intriguing, if somewhat vexed, discussion over on Dead Voles about the status of the lumpenprofessoriat. When you can't even get the Marxist profs on board with the idea of unionizing, it starts to look like a long row to hoe.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Gandhi In Gitmo

Via. Here's a very interesting cyberactivist/art installation: Virtual Gitmo on Second Life, including a strange interaction with a second life reenactment of Gandhi's Salt March to Dandi. Amazing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

5028 Words

I made it to 50% of my 10k InaDWriMo pledge. However, I've decided to treat writing stats like baseball stats and consider my .500 average for the month to be awesome. Honestly, I'm very happy about what I wrote this month. This is by far my most productive bout of writing in a long time. I want to thank Dr. Brazen Hussy for organizing InaDWriMo again this year. It has been a huge help to me.

However, since I didn't make it to my goal, I will make a further pledge. I pledge to keep at it until I manage a 10k month. That may take me until next November, but it will mean a lot of good writing gets done between now and then. Here's the final wordle pic of the manuscript so far:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Wow. From Matt Cornell and the Folsom Street Fair in SF, this is my favorite Obama poster of all. I wish I had had one of these for my office before the election.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old-Time Chocolate Drops

The Carolina Chocolate Drops
are one of the LumpenProf's newest favs, although an African-American old-time string band seems about as likely to me as an African-American President. Evidently, we live in amazing times. Just because they are so much fun, here's one more. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

4027 Words

I'm at 40% of the 10k goal. I have my work cut out for me next week. This week's wordle pic was pretty at least:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Valuing Academic Labor-Power

A very brief exchange over on Bardiac about the problem of low adjunct pay has been bothering me this week. Since it also touches on material from Marx I have been teaching this week, I decided to write a bit more on the topic.

In Marx's terms, the issue revolves around the difference between "labor" and "labor-power" and the way the wage tends to obscure this difference. I find this a difficult point to explain to my students. I find it an impossible point to explain to my colleagues. Here's why:

In the original post, Bardiac recounts baiting one of her lefty colleagues with the following provocation:

I was having a conversation the other day with Super Rad, one of my colleagues who's just too radical and cool for school, if you know what I mean. Super Rad talks a lot about interventions and commitment to revolutionary action. Standing in the hallway, leaning on the door jamb, Super Rad was complaining about how poorly the adjuncts are paid.

So I said that we could go a long ways towards solving the problem if everyone with tenure in our department (including both of us) agreed to take a 20% paycut and redistributed the money to the adjuncts. You should have seen the look of abject horror that passed his face. It was worth it.
Fine. Super Rad should be able to handle a little idle hallway banter, and the idea of spreading the wealth around is currently much in vogue. However, Bardiac then goes on to try to explain her own higher salary as compared to adjuncts in her department and concludes:
I think I bring significant skills and qualities to my work that our adjuncts don't bring. And so I think I'm worth my salary.
This bothers me. Beyond the fact that it seems to imply that adjuncts may be worth their miserable salaries too -- which is a very harsh judgment to pass on any fellow human being -- this remark also reflects a very commonly held misperception that one's wage correlates with one's labor. The more and better work you do, the higher your wage. In Marx's terms, this would mean you are paid for your "labor" -- for the actual work done. The form our wages take and the way our raises and promotions are structured encourages this view at every turn, but it is always wrong.

Instead, Marx demonstrates that what the wage actually pays for is our "labor-power" -- our capacity to do work. The wage pays a value equal to our means of subsistence -- our house, car, food, clothes, cable-tv, health care, and kids -- so that we can continue to come to work. This means that there is always a difference between the value of the wage paid and the value of the actual work done. The greater this difference, the better it is for the employer. This means that the difference in wages between tenure-track and adjunct faculty is not really about the amount or quality of work done, it is just about how well they eat.

Anastasia adds this eloquent comment to the original post:
Honestly, the original post says "I think I bring significant skills and qualities to my work that our adjuncts don't have" not "I do work that adjuncts aren't paid to do." Obviously, I know t-t faculty have responsibilities I don't have. But am I less qualified? Less skilled? Less worthy and that's why I'm paid $3,000/semester and I feed my kids government funded cheese?

No. Fucking hell.

Monday, November 17, 2008

David Harvey's Reading Marx's Capital

I must make lots of popcorn:

About the Course

A close reading of the text of Karl Marx's Capital Volume I in 13 video lectures by David Harvey.

David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of various books, articles, and lectures. He has been teaching Karl Marx's Capital for nearly 40 years. Read his CV.

Discuss the course.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

3354 Words

This has not been the most productive week. Only 315 new words were written towards the 10k goal. However, the very coolest thing that happened this week was being invited to contribute an open letter to Barack Obama for an online journal edited by Amitava Kumar. This marks the first time my blog pseudonym has been invited to contribute to an academic publication. I love blogging.

Here's this weeks wordle pic of the new project so far.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NYT: Yes Men Edition

Click on the ad below from The Yes Men's wonderful future New York Times edition:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Worst Pay Ever

From IHE:

The Tennessee Board of Regents has a very simple policy that allows its constituent institutions to decide in which of four categories to place adjuncts. Colleges can devise systems based on educational experience, market differentials and so forth. But the policy is strict on one thing: It sets maximum levels of pay per credit hour. Because the colleges typically avoid classifying people as being in the most “lucrative” pay category ($700 per credit hour), most earn much less, and a college would be correct in saying that $1,800 is the maximum allowable pay for a three credit course of someone in the second level of adjunct classifications. Paying more would violate state rules.
The LumpenProf worked for a semester at a Tennessee school as an adjunct about ten years ago. It was my worst pay ever. Today I read that the rates for adjuncts at Tennessee schools is unchanged after 11 years and that:
After two years of encouraging meetings organized by AAUP leaders in Tennessee, the board — through its presidents council — decided this month that the current policy works just fine, and that there will be no increases in pay maximums.
I am unsurprised. However, I was chagrined to learn that I was paid about a third less than the maximum allowed rate for even the very bottom tier of adjuncts. Fuck.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Class of 2008 Mugshots

Via. The Rocky Mountain News published this 128 mugshot slideshow of protesters arrested at the Democratic National Convention last August. It looks as if the Denver police managed to arrest a good sized college class -- give or take a priest or two.

Friday, November 07, 2008

3039 Words

I wrote. Not all of it is pretty. But I wrote damn it. Here's this week's work in wordle:

One of these words is not like the others. Can you tell which word doesn't belong?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

At Last

"Who Is Bill Murray?"

This morning, on the way to school on this most auspicious of election days, my littlest lumpkin asked me out of the blue "Daddy, who is Bill Murray?" I said something about him being a comedian and actor. Then, curiosity got the better of me and I said "Why do you ask?" She replied, because I have this song stuck in my head, and this is what she sang for me:

123456 Pokemon, Pokemon
123456 Pokemon, Pokemon

Who ya gonna vote for? Barack Obama
Who ya gonna vote for? Barack Obama

Don't worry, Bill Murray
Don't worry, Bill Murray
She knew Pokemon and she knew Barack Obama, but the Bill Murray reference escaped her. I confess it escapes me a bit too in this context. However, the song was stuck in my head too now.

I went to vote shortly after this surreal pop-culture and politics exchange with my grade-schooler. I voted for Barack Obama.

This has been my very favorite election day ever. I'm looking forward to staying up late tonight with my daughter to watch history be made. I'm going to make us root beer floats. 123456 Pokemon!


Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote VOTE VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE Vote vote VOTE vote Vote VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE

Saturday, November 01, 2008

344 Words

InaDWriMo 2008 has begun. And with an awesome 344 words written on a Saturday afternoon too gorgeous to be stuck inside, I will count this as a moral victory. Plus, as a bonus, here's a wordle picture of the writing so far. I like these pictures, so I'll be posting one each Saturday as I march towards my 10k goal. Care to guess my topic?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Season's Greetings

Happy Halloween! Here's a clip from the disturbing upcoming release of Repo: The Genetic Opera. The film is a rock-opera starring Anthony Stewart Head, of Buffy the Vampire fame, as a Repo man whose job is to repossess the transplanted organs of those who fall behind in their medical bills. Ick!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Communication Professors Speak Out

Here's a fine statement from a group of Communication Professors condemning recent Republican racist campaign rhetoric:

We wish to express our great concern over unethical communication behavior that threatens to dominate the closing days of the 2008 Presidential campaign. ...

In recent weeks, the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin has engaged in such incendiary mendacity that we must speak out. The purposeful dissemination of messages that a communicator knows to be false and inflammatory is unethical. It is that simple.

Making decisions in a democracy requires an informed electorate. The health of our democracy and our ability to make a good decision about who should lead our nation require the very best in communication practices, not the worst. ...

We see an effort to color code the election as between an urban, African-American Obama falsely linked to terms like “terrorist,” “unpatriotic,” and “welfare” versus small town, white, “patriotic” Americans like the mythical Joe the Plumber. “Intended” or not, the message is getting through, as reports have emerged of ugly scenes at some Republican rallies and racists hanging Obama in effigy in Oregon and Ohio. In an echo of McCarthyism, Representative Michelle Bachmann has called for investigations into un-American members of Congress, pointing to Senator Obama as the prime suspect. Speaking to warm up the crowd before a McCain rally, Representative Robin Hayes continued the theme: “Folks, there’s a real America, and liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God.” The official website of the Sacramento County Republican Party compared Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and urged people to “Waterboard Barack Obama.” The October newsletter of the Chaffey Community Republican Women in California depicts Obama on a food stamp surrounded by a watermelon, ribs, and a bucket of fried chicken. The McCain/Palin campaign has not repudiated such actions taken on its behalf, nor has it done enough to respond to reprehensible behavior at rallies. ...

The statement is signed by 155 Communication Professors from around the country and documents an appalling assortment of racist campaign images.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Via. In the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, November is also evidently International Academic Writing Month, InaDWriMo. Who knew! Although I can't quite decide how to pronounce the acronym -- is it In-aD-Wri-Mo, or Ina-D-Wri-Mo, or just I-D-Wri-Mo? Whatever it's called, though, it's brilliant!

The LumpenProf has a book project sitting in front of him, but I haven't been able to make myself start writing on it in earnest. This is just what I need to force myself to dive in. I have a sabbatical coming up in the spring. After fourteen years of continuous teaching, this will be my very first sabbatical ever. Evidently, I must have misplaced one somewhere along the way. My fondest hopes for the sabbatical are that I will 1.) heal my post-traumatic stress wounds from tenure; 2.) get buff and tan; and 3.) finish a book manuscript. None of these are terribly likely, but I would like to give them each my best shot.

I'm setting my writing goal for the month of November at 10,000 words and I'm declaring it here publicly and posting a word meter over on the right to help me not wimp out. Encouragement and/or derision, as appropriate, from this blog's visitors throughout the month will be greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mrs. Palin

They aren't really Russian, but they are really funny...

Hello Sarah Palin we wrote this song for you because we see you from Russia! Plz respond to our emails!! We like to hear from you!!

words 2 song
soon as i wayk up in the morning
i go to my window
i made this teliscop myself out of duck tape and the thing that holds the rapping paper

so i can see if ur there
i fix it on ur howse in Alaska
my next door neybor here in moscow

what r u doing rite now lets see
r u and todd ok?
u say u can see me and my country from ur state well im looking at u evry day!!!

misses palin!
i want to fly into ur Airspase!
misses palin!
i want to reer my little Head!
misses palin!
why wont You reply to my Emails?!!
I made a teliscop for YOU and i luv u so

we share a small merry-time border but the borders of r harts is thick
u dont like news-papers well neether of us can say or reed english

we are madw for eachuther!!!
so fly ur playn my way
i live at 45454 RUSSIA AVE

repeet misses palin chorus

I say dog gone it you betcha you betcha dog gone it you betcha dog gone it say it aint so joe you betcha dog on it etc

i luv u

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obamacans for Change

Here's a very nice short documentary featuring conservatives speaking about the reasons they are voting for Barack Obama. Strangely compelling.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wolff Crisis Lecture

Via. Here's a very accessible Marxian economics lecture on the current crisis from Richard Wolff.

Wolff's basic argument is that the current U.S. economic crisis is due to the decline of real wages in recent decades coupled with unchecked consumption fueled by increases in credit rather than increases in wages. This strategy for accumulation has now run afoul of its own success and produced a crisis every bit as epic as the exploitation, inequalities, and profits it produced.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Via Professor Zero, here's an intriguing blog-based digital art project: We Feel Fine.

Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world's newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling". When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the "feeling" expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.
Read more.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tea Leaves

I read way too many polls and political blogs. It's a neurotic habit, a belief in a sort of sympathetic magic where if only the tea leaves and the stars align, then good news will follow. I try not to read too much into polls. But this one gives me hope.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How True

Via.Interdisciplinary work seems to be particularly plagued by this dynamic. Each academic unit added into the mix requires yet another set of meetings. So the more interdisciplinary your project becomes, the less work actually gets accomplished. Let's call this the law of diminishing collaboration.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Offshoring Data

Here is an article speculating on Google's plans to literally offshore its servers:

Google may take its battle for global domination to the high seas with the launch of its own “computer navy.”

The company is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles (11km) offshore.

The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres.
This plan seems to be the result of a strange confluence of large-scale computing, environmental, and tax accountancy concerns. It seems a very strange solution to any of them.

It also may give a whole new meaning to "computer piracy."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Not Forbidden

"Whatever is not forbidden is mandatory" -- George Orwell.

I've been working at talking with students about the current financial crisis in these terms. In part, as an effort to counter the idea that somehow the fault lies with individual "greedy" capitalists and CEO's.

What the striking lack of regulation in these strange new markets trading in mortgage debt has meant is that every risk becomes not just possible, but mandatory. The competition to produce the highest rate of return possible insures that those too squeamish to pursue unforbidden risks will fall behind. This is different from individual greed. It is institutionally required greed. This line of thought has been spurred on by a recent post from Rough Theory and a reminder of this passage from Marx:
I do not by any means depict the capitalist and the landowner in rosy colours. But individuals are dealt with here only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, the bearers of particular class-relations and interests. (Preface to the First Edition, Capital, Volume I.)
Capital makes mandatory all that is not forbidden. Capitalists just carry out these mandates.

This line of explanation seems to have been somewhat successful. It has worked to tie these recent headlines back to other areas where students also tend to see individual moral failings rather than institutional requirements: sweatshop labor, greenhouse gasses, polar bears, child-labor, mountaintop removal, genetically modified food, pesticides, nuclear power, health care reform, etc. All of these areas can be discussed as a result of the imperative to maximize capital accumulation, rather than from the simple moral ignorance of individual managers and capitalists that can be remedied by forceful enough moral arguments.

The impulse seems to be to try to excuse capitalism by blaming its failures on the "imprudent bearers" of its class-relations and interests. Finding ways to move beyond these moral arguments is always difficult.

Note that this makes the current crisis very different from the Savings and Loan scandal and the Keating 5 which was garden variety forbidden fraud. Capital, though, never does very well at obeying the restrictions placed on it. In note 15 the end of Chapter 31 in Capital, Volume I, Marx reproduces this amazing quote:
With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulance and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both.
This seems a salutary quote to consider this month in particular.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A's All Around?

I'm teaching Marx this semester. My students have been, understandably, absorbed by all the news coverage surrounding the current financial crisis. Two weeks ago, I glibly announced that should global capital collapse this semester everyone in the class would get an A. I explained that they should really keep studying, though, since I was confident that the cost of the market failures would be speedily passed on to us, the citizenry, and that capitalist accumulation, newly emboldened, would continue apace. I still believe this will happen. But today's news that the bailout package failed in the House makes me wonder if maybe I won't be giving out a lot of A's this semester after all.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Great Schlep


"The Great Schlep aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor." In the video, Sarah Silverman describes "some ways to talk to your grandparent about Obama ... besides loudly."

Global Education: A Modest Proposal

Here is a lovely bit of snark by Paul Youngquist entitled "Thinking Outside the Quad."

i’m writing with a bold new idea i believe can save the college large sums of money that might be better directed toward funding faculty research or alumni reunions. it fits perfectly with the new initiative announced last week by the associate dean for alumni development and undergraduate education to encourage all students to spend a semester studying abroad. while I fully support that proposal, it think it’s far too modest. why not push it to its logical conclusion? why not require every student in the college of the liberal arts to spend his or her entire undergraduate career studying abroad, preferably in the developing world?

i’m sure you can appreciate the appeal of this initiative (I call it the GLOBAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE), but allow me to describe it in some detail. as i see it, there are several compelling reasons to relocate all aspects of undergraduate education offshore. the first is economic, and even if there were no other reasons (but as you shall see, there are!),this one would justify the whole initiative. we are all familiar with the regrettably uneven distribution of wealth across the globe. as corporations have been quick to realize but universities have not, this unfortunate fact produces a similar unevenness in costs of production. considered as a commodity, higher education requires the same outlays in labor and overhead as a pair of air jordans. it seems reasonable therefore to follow the nimble lead of the nike corporation and implement a business model that redistributes the cost of producing undergraduate education to offshore locations notable for low wages and property values. I would recommend india and malaysia. both are attractive for robust telecommunications networks and deteriorating but serviceable physical infrastructure, minimizing direct costs to home institutions for internet access and student housing. even including overseas transportation, the per capita investment in offshore education falls far short of current tuition levels, accruing to home institutions a handsome increase in revenue with absolutely no adjustment in price. ...

maybe the single most attractive aspect of global education today, however, is the effect it will have on undergraduates. they will be as well-rounded as they are well-traveled. they will be, in the noblest sense, cosmopolitans as they experience first hand the dynamism and energy of life in a developing country, its collective creativity in the face national underinvestment, the everyday struggles of its brave, brown indigenous people. it is impossible to put a price tag on character, of course, but this much is incontestable: four or five years of undergraduate education abroad will enrich the souls of our nation’s youth, preparing them through extensive personal experience to live as global citizens in a world that one day will be as diverse and as highly leveraged as america.

finally, an outcome that is no less a boon for being obvious: students who study abroad do not study here. they do not clutter our classrooms. they do not damage the grass. think of the savings of manhours and womanhours spent preparing lectures, advising students, leading discussions, grading papers, filing grades, managing complaints — all the distracting inanities of undergraduate teaching. let them fall to the parochial ambitions of the offshore workforce. let us reserve the vision and energy of home institution faculty for the higher calling of research. it would be a truism to say that distinction in academic research correlates inversely to time teaching.

I'm almost afraid to circulate this modest proposal for global education. It fits the ruling administrative ideology at my own university all too well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Zizek on Politeness

... which is a little like listening to Miss Manners on waterboarding. Zizek was recorded at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon on September 9, 2008.

"The Giant of Ljubljana" speaks on Sarah Palin, nature, ideology, Marx, psychoanalysis, terrorism, the RNC, Hegel, The Dark Knight, Israel, golf, Kung-Fu Panda, Niels Bohr, chicken, Stalin, Lacan, underwear, Casablanca, Harvard, breasts, Gore Vidal, pornography, fundamentalism, John Carpenter's They Live, charity, organic food, global warming, torture, Karl Rove, more chicken, love, Darth Vader, etc.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ballad of the Dissertators

By way of Marc Bousquet, here's a sad, sad ballad about the tragedy that is grad school:

So we took on jobs a teachin'
and we worked our brains full sore.
Then we looked into our pockets
and we went to teach some more.
But when our paychecks came
there was almost nothing there.
You had spent it all on school fees
and on your own health care.

And so we got together
and we asked for better pay.
And so we got together
and we asked to have a say.
In all the ways that's schools run
right now and long to come.
So all you coming students
won't have to do like we have done.

The Paulson Scam









Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rejecting Rejection

By way of Amitava Kumar from the Kenyon Review. This is brilliant!

One of the very best: a rejection note sent by the writer Stefan Merken to an editor who had rejected one of his short stories. “Please forgive me for not accepting your rejection letter,” wrote Merken. “At this time I cannot accept a rejection of my short story. I accept more than 99 percent of the rejections I receive. Many I don’t agree with, but I realize that accepting a piece of fiction for publication is a very subjective judgment call. My acceptance of your rejection letter is also a subjective process and therefore I am returning your letter to you. I did read your letter. I read every letter I receive. Your letter was well-written, but due to time constraints from my own writing schedule, I am unable to make editorial comments. I do make mistakes. Don’t you, as an editor, be disheartened by this role reversal. The road of publishing is long and tedious. You need successful publications and I need for successful publications to print my stories. I will expect to see my story in your next publication. Good luck in the future.”

Monday, September 22, 2008

Inequality Crisis

Our friend Limited, Inc. has been posting away on the current economic crisis in his usual clear-sighted way. Here's the best paragraph on the subject I've read anywhere:

It isn’t a credit crisis. It isn’t a liquidity crisis. This is an inequality crisis. The massive increase in the inequality between the wealth of the working and middle class and the upper class is the sole perpetrator of today’s implosion, and of tomorrow’s implosion too. You can’t run a consumer economy on extended credit and frozen wages. You can’t trade the residual. You can’t make the financial sector, of all sectors, the engine of the economy ... As the government transfers appalling hundreds of billions to the plutocrats and assures the CNN viewing audience that it is for the good of all, the spectator must wonder if the servility of the general population, its inertia, its ignorance, its general incapacity to chew gum and walk, will allow this, too, to pass. So far, it does look like the hugest robbery in history will proceed without a hitch, and with no suspense, even. Why dress all in black and map out the sensors that guard the vault of Fort Knox when the treasury secretary gives you a key and your own gilded wheelbarrow?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Despair Wear

I like this shirt. I may need it.

I even like the name of the company selling it. DespairWear. Clothes Make the Man. These Clothes Make the Man Sad. :-(

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Work Study

Curtis Bowman has posted a very interesting review of Marc Bousquet's How The University Works. The review is wide-ranging and I recommend the entire article to you. One passage in particular, though, struck a chord with me. Discussing Chapter 4: Students Are Already Workers, Bowman writes:

The growth of work-study jobs, as is to be expected, has come at the expense of full-time staff members, i.e., secretaries, library workers, and the like. Consequently, an ever greater percentage of staff-related work is performed by students.
The LumpenProf's oldest Lumpkin has just started college, and along with a host of other brand new experiences has come the new experience of a work-study job. She's working in the dining hall during lunch twice a week. This is part of her financial aid package, and has been a welcome alternative to student loans. But the notion of work-study has always made me uneasy, in much the same way that using prison labor makes me uneasy. The goal of teaching students, or of rehabilitating prisoners, does not fit easily with the notion that an institution might also benefit directly from the cheap labor of these populations. That there is a conflict of interest here should be obvious. And even though Karl Marx himself writes in The Communist Manifesto, that there ought to be a "combination of education with industrial production," I have never been terribly impressed with the revolutionary potential of that particular goal.

Faculty, parents, and students themselves, often tend to focus on the positive aspects of these work-study relationships -- building character, job skills, minimizing student debt, etc. But as Bowman correctly notes, it also means universities are free to hire fewer full-time staff. This union-busting aspect of student work-study perhaps should be an issue in much the same way prison labor is when used to compete with outside workers. And parents and students might also notice, as Bowman writes, that "such steps obviously lead to a decline in the quality of the very institutions that cut costs in the above fashion. Such measures are really little more than a form of slow-motion institutional suicide."

There is also a downside for faculty that often goes unnoticed. Each semester at my institution I meet the new cohort of student workers manning the phones and copy room. But after a recent three-day back and forth over how to send a fax (that ended with me sending the document by snail mail), I begin to suspect that I may be disadvantaged by not having more full-time professional staff helping me in my day to day work.

I was initially very happy about my daughter's work-study arrangement. But now I'm starting to have second thoughts. I think work-study may just be evil. It's difficult for me to imagine, though, turning down the work-study offer and taking out student loans instead. It's equally difficult for me to imagine going on a crusade on my own campus against the use of student workers. I don't think students, faculty, parents, or even staff would support it. What do others think about this? Is this a real issue? Or is the LumpenProf just worrying too much?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Buying College

The LumpenProf's oldest lumpkin has just started college this Fall. She's attending a SLAC (that stands for a Snowy Liberal Arts College). And I'm ridiculously proud of her.

The process of searching for, and applying to, colleges has been extraordinarily stressful -- both on her, and on her poor family. So stressful, in fact, that I haven't even been able to bring myself to blog about the process until now when things have, more or less, been successfully negotiated.

She is now moved into her dorm halfway across the country, has a very cool schedule of classes, and is currently just dealing with the parts of first-year student angst and stress that I'm more familiar with. This is the part I see in my own students. I'm even one the folks that inflicts some of that anguish in the form of impossibly hard readings, incomprehensible lectures, and soul-crushing exams -- the staples of academic life.

But despite the fact that I'm fairly knowledgeable and savvy about academic institutions, being on this end of the transaction has been eye opening.

Let's start with paying for college. OMFG.

First off, forget about that quaint notion of "saving for college." This is just a bizarre idea. I can not imagine any scenario where saving even a fraction of the enormous sums involved would have been possible on a professor's pay. But even if by some super-human feat of scrimping and saving we had amassed such wealth, we would have been screwed. Any money families manage to "save" for college is taken first. Then, they look at the rest of your income to see how much how you can pay. Anything beyond this is your "financial need" and is the basis for any need-based financial aid awarded. That is, saving for college actually reduces the total financial aid award. You will have to pay just as much as before -- up to the bleeding edge of what can be squeezed out of your income. And you will pay that amount for four years. The rest will be covered by the college's financial aid award. The money you "saved" for college will simply be a gift you pass on to the college that first year, which they will happily accept and then deduct from the total amount of financial aid awarded to you. You will have succeeded in saving the college money, but not yourself. "Saving" will actually cost you. Fortunately for our family, we were already mortgaged up to our ears with no real savings, so our financial aid packet was great!

So here's the LumpenProf's advice if you have a kid about to go to college. Do not save. In fact, buy a new Lexus instead. That increased debt will actually increase the financial aid you are awarded. Plus you get a Lexus.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Found On YouTube

I ran across two wonderful digitized shorts of two of my very favorite philosophy professors from college. Both have passed away now, so I was touched to find them still lecturing on youtube in animated form. The first is Robert C. Solomon talking about existentialsim, and the second is Louis Mackey. I miss them both.

The clips come from the film Waking Life, a film by Richard Linklater, the director who brought us Slacker and A Scanner Darkly. Louis Mackey was a huge Philip K. Dick fan.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Horrible Songs

Here's a wonderful web musical from Joss Whedon. Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Scary Clowns

I saw the Dark Knight yesterday and was a little creeped out. But then I saw this picture online and was even more creeped out. Clowns ARE scary.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Monday, June 02, 2008

Bye Bye Bo

The man is gone.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Academic Transgressions

Transgression is a prerogative of rank. We in the lower orders have to obey. Sometimes it just gets a little frustrating.Confessions of a Community College Dean
This wonderful line is in response to a post from Easily Distracted on re-imagining the liberal arts curriculum (this discussion also continues on Reassigned Time as well). CCCD notes that his own community college isn't free innovate or experiment with ways to reinvent the college curriculum because of its place within the academic food chain. Instead, it is constrained to fill the requirements set by four year institutions. CCCD is exactly right: "Transgression is a prerogative of rank."

But this insight holds true not only between institutions, but also within institutions.

At my own Bizarro University, we are currently in the midst of a "reorganization" which has meant that faculty who for decades had been able to envision and implement an interdisciplinary program of study not unlike the one imagined by Easily Distracted, have instead been disbanded. The ability to transgress and innovate has been moved higher up the chain of command and is now the demesne of Provosts and Vice Chancellors. This is simply one of the most recent manifestations of the corporate university structure as it is being played out on my campus. Now, rather than curricular decisions about interdisciplinary programs being made by the faculty and implemented by the administration, the order has been reversed. The administration decides, and the faculty is supposed to implement.

The problems with this structure will no doubt plague us for many years to come. And as CCCD correctly notes: "Sometimes it just gets a little frustrating."

Monday, May 12, 2008


Now that grades are finished and classes are over, I've become interested in a closely related topic – the subject of "Hope."

It's in the news almost constantly, and even otherwise safely sane and cynical folks are starting to show signs of occasional outbursts these days, so I feel the need to do some studying up on the subject.

My plan is to start with Ernst Bloch's The Principle of Hope and see if that helps. I've never made much progress with this work in the past, since given the density and size of its three volumes, I've always taken the title to be somewhat ironic. I have a good working grasp of the the principle of irony, though. But the principle of hope remains a more obscure and alien concept to me. However, I'm willing to learn.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Peaches

Happy Mother's Day! Some music of the day, "Peaches En Regalia" from the Mothers of Invention.

Friday, May 09, 2008

All Downhill

This was one of the LumpenProf's birthday presents today. I like it lots.

There is one song on the CD that struck me as a fitting birthday post, so here is Lyle Lovett performing an acoustic version of "All Downhill." Although, personally, I think probably the best is yet to come...

Lyle Lovett, All Downhill

Life’s been good to me
I thank the good Lord for the way things are
Good friends and family
Well God is good as good can be

I've had an excellent time so far
There's only one thing that I fear
I've been up so long on this lucky star
It could be all downhill from here
It could be all downhill from here

Well I've been the whole world 'round
I've been up and I've been down
I've been good and I've been bad
Mostly I've been bad

I've had an excellent time so far
There's only one thing that I fear
I've been up so long on this lucky star
It could be all downhill from here
It could be all downhill from here

I ride a good horse
Well, I like him, of course
I've got a beautiful girlfriend
Sometimes we stay in

I've had an excellent time so far
There's only one thing that I fear
I've been up so long on this lucky star
It could be all downhill from here
It could be all downhill from here

Obscene Interiors

I find this project bizarrely funny so, therefore, I must share it with you. It's a book and companion website entitled Obscene Interiors: Hardcore Amateur Decor, by Justin Jorgensen, and consists of "a collection of real online male personal ad photos and my critique of the decorating found within" with the provocatively posed male bodies tastefully photoshopped out. Amazing.

From the tiny mid-century modern bed to the craftsman lamp to the neo-classic chair this room is a mish-mash of styles. Sometimes that works, this time it didn't.

Meme: Passion Quilt

Read More Marx!

Philosopher's Playground tapped me for this quick and easy blog meme:
Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.

Give your picture a short title.

Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."

Link back to this blog entry.

Include links to 5 (or more) educators.
I've been looking for an excuse to post this picture. It's from Hugo Gellert's 1934 Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs – an early graphic novel retelling of Capital, Volume I through Art Deco prints – a marvelous artifact. Perhaps one day I'll break down and have this picture done as a tattoo.

By far the most important public service I do for my students is to make them read Capital, Volume I. I've come to find that whatever else they may be studying or thinking about, it is helped along by a liberal dose of Marx. And, evidently, some of that passion seeps into my lectures.

Now I get to inflict this meme on five unsuspecting victims, so I will tap:
  1. The Doctor Isn't
  2. Rough Theory
  3. Professor Zero
  4. Citizen of Somewhere Else (again)
  5. A Gentleman's C (just to see what happens)

People of Corn

An inadvertent birthday present for the LumpenProf:

I've just started reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, but I've enjoyed his opening riff that the real people of corn are no longer the Maya, but those of us who live in the US and subsist on an industrialized monoculture diet based almost solely on processed corn. Pollan writes:

When I started trying to follow the industrial food chain – the one that now feeds most of us most of the time and typically culminates either in a supermarket or fast-food meal – I expected that my investigations would lead to a wide variety of places. And though my journeys did take me to a great many states, and covered a great many miles, at the end of these food chains (which is to say, at the very beginning) I invariable found myself in exactly the same place: a farm field in the American Corn Belt. The great edifice of variety and choice that is the American supermarket turns out to rest on a remarkably narrow biological foundation comprised of a tiny group of plants that is dominated by a single species: Zea mays, the giant tropical grass most Americans know as corn.

Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia, and, increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are reengineering to tolerate corn. The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.

Head over to the processed food and you find ever more intricate manifestations of corn. A chicken nugget, for example, piles corn upon corn: what chicken it contains consists of corn, of course, but so do most of a nugget's other constituents, including the modified corn starch that glues the thing together, the corn flour in the batter that coats it, and the corn oil in which it gets fried. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di-, and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget "fresh" can all be derived from corn.

To wash down your chicken nuggets with virtually any soft drink in the supermarket is to have some corn with your corn. Since the 1980s virtually all of the sodas and most of the fruit drinks sold in the supermarket are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – after water, corn sweetener is their principal ingredient. Grab a beer for your beverage instead and you'd still be drinking corn, in the form of alcohol fermented from glucose refined from corn. (17-18)
That even beer has been sucked into the corn-industrial-complex seems like adding insult to injury. What ever happened to those German purity laws of 1516 where: "the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water" and that "Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail." Surely there are some authorities out there who would love to confiscate all the barrels of Budweiser some weekend to protect the sanctity of our beer.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Farewell Yodel

Eddy Arnold passed away today. I confess a weakness for cowboy yodelers and I'm saddened to hear that he's gone.

Recorded by Eddy Arnold
Written by Tex Owens

[D] Woo - hoo - woo - ooo - ti - de
[A] Woo - hoo - ooo - oop - i - de - de
[D] Woo - hoo - woo - ooo - ti - de
[A] Yod-el - od-el- lo - ti - [D] de.

[D] The cattle are prowlin' the [G] coyotes are howlin'
Way [A] out where the dogies [D] bawl
Where spurs are a-jinglin', a [G] cowboy is singin'
This [A] lonesome cattle [D] call.


He [G] rides in the sun 'til his [D] days work is done
And he [E] rounds up the cattle each [A] fall
[D] Woo - hoo - woo - ooo - ti - de
[A] Singin' his cattle [D] call.

For hours he will ride on the range far and wide
When the night winds blow up a squall
His heart is a feather in all kinds of weather
He sings his cattle call.


He's brown as a berry from ridin' the prairie
And he sings with an ol' western drawl
Woo - hoo - woo - ooo - ti - de
Singin' his cattle call.


Excellent News!

Baudrillard's Bastard has favored Lumpenprofessoriat with the coveted, viral E for Excellent award for my provocative blogging. I am touched. Truly. Thank you. Given the source, I will display my E with pride.

I get to pass on the award now and I'll follow Ortho's example and select four, rather than the original ten, excellent blogs that I read and enjoy.

  1. Limited, Inc. who is still the smartest man I know.
  2. Amitava Kumar who's writings I've been a fan of long before there were blogs.
  3. LesobProf for sanity and clarity.
  4. Citizen of Somewhere Else for managing to post on both Hawthorne and anime.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Black President

Wouldn't this photo be a great starting point for the official portrait of our next President?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Meme Chain

Excellent! As I prowl around blogs searching for something to post, I see that Baudrillard's Bastard has tapped me for blog meme. That will make today's post much easier.

The rules:

  1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
  2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
  3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
  4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
1. What was I doing 10 years ago?
I was unemployed and filing for unemployment insurance. This was following a dispute with a department chair over a one-year position for which adjuncts were not being considered since the department "couldn't afford" to replace us. omfg.
2. What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):
Vote! Grade. Deal with Emails. Write a recommendation letter. Blog. (At least two of these will get done today.)
3. Snacks I enjoy:
edamame, chocolate covered espresso beans, krispy kremes (damn it).
4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Ha ha ha ha! Good one.
5. Three of my bad habits:
playing the banjo, procrastinating, answering blog memes.
6. Five places I have lived:
Texas, Texas, New York, Maine, Saudi Arabia.
7. Five jobs I have had:
TA, Adjunct Faculty, Visiting Assistant Professor, primary childcare provider, unemployed.
8. Six peeps I wanna know more about:
I tap the first six to volunteer for this meme in the comments below. Don't be shy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

Some music for the day from Los Lobos. Mas y Mas...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Guns, Teaching, and Academe

This is by way of Workplace Blog and the Times-Picayune:

BATON ROUGE -- Despite opposition from student government leaders and top state education officials, a House committee Thursday took the first step toward allowing authorized concealed weapons on college campuses. ...

The panel rejected an amendment to exempt private colleges from the bill. The measure heads to the House floor for debate.

State law now bans guns from being carried onto college campuses as well as other sites, such as the State Capitol, police stations, courts, churches and governmental buildings. ...

Joseph Savoie, president of the Board of Regents, the agency that oversees all higher educational institutions, said that similar bills have been killed in 15 states this year; only two states are still in play: Arizona and Louisiana.
I've been trying to imagine what impact the knowledge that some of my students may be carrying concealed weapons would have on my teaching.

How exactly would that bit of information change the polemics I might use? How might the possibility of a loaded gun alter the class dynamics surrounding a lively discussion on abortion rights? And what would be my responsibility as an instructor in such a situation? How am I to protect students from an agitated adolescent who is also potentially armed? Do I need to start packing too? Am I supposed to be able to "draw down" on a student that pulls a gun in class? And even if I were inclined to try such an absurd thing, do students really want their professors to be armed and dangerous? What sort of chilling effect does the threat of the free exchange of hot lead have on the free exchange of ideas?

I'm reminded of the joke about the statistician who was concerned about the threat of bombs on airplanes. After calculating the long odds of traveling on a plane with a bomb the statistician was somewhat reassured. Then, just for fun, he calculated the odds of two bombs being on a plane. The odds of that happening were astronomical. So in the future, just to be safe, he always packed a bomb in his suitcase when he traveled...

I think the logic of this Louisiana law is similarly warped.

I already have a little frisson of fear the first time I meet a large class. Believe it or not, as the local Marxist prof, I do sometimes draw students who are a little on edge. Adding guns into the mix will not help.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Free Arizona

Center of Gravitas and WOC PhD have very good recent posts on the current attack on academic freedom going on in Arizona. You can sign a petition against the effort here.

Bill SB 1108 would prevent public universities in Arizona from teaching any courses that would

denigrate or overtly encourage dissent from the values of American democracy and Western civilization, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism, and religious toleration.

And all this time I thought the right to dissent was an American value.

As Center of Gravitas wryly observes:
Republicans give faculty way too much credit... I have no special power to brainwash my students into being radicals. Heck, I can’t even convince my students to use the spell checker on their wordprocessor before submitting a paper. Just imagine how little power I have to foment revolution.
The LumpenProf hears you brother.