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.

An Old School May Day

May 1, 1886, became historic. On that day thousands of workers in the larger industrial cities poured into the streets, demanding eight hours. About 340,000 took part in demonstrations in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other places. Of these nearly 200,000 actually went out on strike. About 42,000 won the eight-hour day. Another 150,000 got a shorter day than they had had before.

Chicago workers supported the movement most vigorously. To combat labor organization and activity, Chicago employers organized and acted. Pinkerton detectives and special deputies were in evidence. Policemen were swinging billies and breaking up knots of workers on street corners.

At the factory gates of McCormick Harvester Co., where a strike meeting was being held on May 3, policemen swung their clubs and then fired into the running strikers....The speaker at the meeting was August Spies, a member of the Central Labor Union, which had supported the May First strike. He was also a member of a militant labor group that was at the time influential in the Chicago Labor movement. Six workers were killed that day and many wounded.

Anger ran high through the Chicago labor movement. About 3,000 attended a protest meeting the next day at Haymarket Square....The Chicago press reported the speeches were less "inflammatory" than usual. Mayor Carter H. Harrison who was present testified later that the meeting was "peaceable." But as it was about to adjourn, policemen swooped down and ordered the audience to disperse. Then some unknown person threw a bomb. It exploded, killing a police sergeant and knocking several core to the ground. The police opened fire. At the end of the day, seven policemen and four workers lay dead.

At once several Chicago labor leaders were rounded up and thrown in jail. Eight of these finally came to trial--Albert Parsons, August Spies, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fieldon, Adolph Fischer and Oscar Neebe. The presiding judge helped pick the jury which was strongly anti-labor and hostile to the defendants. The trial lasted 63 days. All of the men were declared guilty of murder. All were given death sentences, except Neebe who got a 15-year prison sentence.

A nationwide defense campaign won wide popular favor...At the last moment, as a result of widespread protests, the Governor of Illinois commuted to life imprisonment the sentences of Fieldon and Schwab. It was reported that Lingg "committed suicide" in his cell.

On November 11, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged. On the gallows Spies cried, "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today." Straightway the defense movement, now led by Albert Parsons' widow, Lucy Parsons, turned to efforts to have the remaining three men freed. Fieldon, Schwab and Neebe were finally pardoned by Governor Altgeld in 1893. He was fully convinced, he said, of the innocence of all the eight men.

Out of the eight-hour struggle which culminated in the strike of May 1, 1886, and its aftermath, the Haymarket tragedy, came international May Day. In Paris, France, on July 14, 1889, leaders from organized proletarian movements in many countries came together to form once more an international association of workers....At the first congress of the Second International, delegates listened to the story related by the United States representatives, considered a request from the American Federation of Labor for support of their eight-hour fight, and voted to make May 1, 1890, a day for an international eight-hour day demonstration.

Demand for the eight-hour day became the main slogan of the international May Day celebrations. At a later congress, the International extended the purpose of the day to include wider labor demands and world peace.

The History of the Shorter Workday, pp. 20-22.

The Internationale

Stand up, all victims of oppression
For the tyrants fear your might
Don't cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
The Internationale
Unites the world in song
So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place
The international ideal
Unites the human race

Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We'll live together or we'll die alone
In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations
We've but one Earth on which to live

And so begins the final drama
In the streets and in the fields
We stand unbowed before their armour
We defy their guns and shields
When we fight, provoked by their aggression
Let us be inspired by like and love
For though they offer us concessions
Change will not come from above

Words: Billy Bragg Music: Pierre Degeyter