Archive for July, 2008

July 31st 2008
Dear Pony, please come back. Love, the Barn.

Posted under American history

Pony by Stefani Rossi and Chloe Leisure

It looks like The Nation is starting to fear that they’ve backed the wrong pony horse.  Via TalkLeft, we learn that they’ve written a forlorn letter and petition to Barack Obama begging him please, pretty please, to be a progressive:

You stand today at the head of a movement that believes deeply in the change you have claimed as the mantle of your campaign. The millions who attend your rallies, donate to your campaign and visit your website are a powerful testament to this new movement’s energy and passion.

. . . . . . .

Since your historic victory in the primary, there have been troubling signs that you are moving away from the core commitments shared by many who have supported your campaign, toward a more cautious and centrist stance–including, most notably, your vote for the FISA legislation granting telecom companies immunity from prosecution for illegal wiretapping, which angered and dismayed so many of your supporters.  (Ed. note:  And how did the junior Senator from New York vote on that?  Oh, yeah–the way The Nation wanted everyone to vote!)

. . . . . . .

Here are key positions you have embraced that we believe are essential to sustaining this movement:

§ Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable.

§ A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country’s collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry.

§ Universal healthcare.

§ An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs.

§ An end to the regime of torture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era.

§ A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services.

§ A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures.

§ An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here.

§ Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail.

§ Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people.

. . . . . . .

Stand firm on the principles you have so compellingly articulated, and you may succeed in bringing this country the change you’ve encouraged us to believe is possible.

Which of these principles, aside from withdrawal from Iraq and reform of the political process, did he ever espouse during the primary?  Certainly not universal health care!  I feel like Alice in Wonderland, only I stayed awake on the river bank this primary season while everyone at The Nation fell down the rabbit hole.  They were just too busy publishing malicious and dishonest articles like this one and this one about Hillary Clinton to pay attention to what Obama was actually saying and doing, because he was just the guy they hoped would finally beat the bitch.  If the editorial board and columnists had come to a reasoned decision to back Obama, fair enough–but why the constant, nasty, unfair attacks on Clinton?

Lately, my e-mail inbox and my home telephone have been barraged with messages from Katrina vanden Heuvel, Victor Navasky, and paid telemarketers begging me to renew my subscription and to donate still more cash to fight a big postage increase that may crush many smaller circulation and independent magazines.  Well, sorry Katrina and Victor:  I guess you should have thought about that before you alienated at least half of your readership by repeating right-wing smears against Clinton and talking yourself into fantasies about Obama becoming “America’s most progressive President in more than half a century.”  (Good night and good luck, indeed!)

Oh well, you know what they say:  sow the open barn door, and reap the piles of crap left behind.  (The headline from this post was inspired by commenter kredwyn here at TalkLeft.)  And Historiann says:  Oh, yeaahh!


July 30th 2008
Dead wood: a person, a place, or a state of mind?

Posted under jobs

Related to the various debates over tenure at MoneyLaw, the kids over there have spent some of the summer in their tree house talking about dead wood, as in, the lazy and/or destructive faculty members that the institution of tenure protects, unfortunately, along with the fabulously productive and generous colleagues like us.  (Don’t ask me about all of the hockey stuff over there–it must be a law proffie thing.  Wev.)  Historiann would like to offer a few thoughts inspired by Jefferey Harrison’s recent post on the subject, “Wood.”  I like the way he debunks the notion of “dead wood” somewhat, and goes with the metaphor to describe things much more destructive of faculty morale:  dry rot and pulp. 

It occurs to Historiann that in common usage, “dead wood” is always someone else.  No one wakes up in the morning and trots off to work happily thinking of themselves as dead wood.  No one embraces that label–it hasn’t been reclaimed, like “queer.”  It’s more like “feminazi:”  a weapon that people (other faculty, administrators, and maybe some students) use to demean and undermine other people and their work.  Let’s be honest:  most of us faculty types who have been successful (so far!) think we’ve got the exact right balance of work on research, teaching, and service down.  Most of us walk around believing that many of our colleagues do not.  Why did he agree to serve on that committee when his book’s not even finished?  She needs to teach that course again–the rest of us have been stuck teaching it, so she should, too.  That teaching award was nice, but he really has to get his research agenda going again or he’ll never get promoted.  Why am I always stuck chairing a search committee, when I’ve got a second book under contract, too? 

Historiann wonders:  is “dead wood” what we call colleagues who have gray hair (or no hair) and too many wrinkles?  Is “dead wood” the reward that our senior colleagues get for agreeing to chair a department or serve as a dean when they didn’t really want to, but there was no one else to do the job?  Is that their reward for offering to chair and serve on time-consuming committees so that their junior colleagues could finish their books and articles and get their tenure files ready?  Is that what they get for being mensches, and teaching an overload so that their untenured colleagues don’t have to?  For a bunch of people who spend a lot of time in the past, there’s not a lot of honoring of our elders going on in this profession.  (And no, this is not a personal complaint–Historiann is ageless, miraculously unmarked by gray hair or wrinkles!  She’s never done any of these selfless things for her department, either, except chair Graduate Studies for a year.)

As we slide into August, that beautiful, awful month in which we face the return of the faculty meeting, please reconsider the next time the phrase “dead wood” pops into your mind.  Those senior faculty may not have published a book recently, but their work has value that you may not fully understand or appreciate, although others surely do–the students they mentor, that class they’ve been teaching for twenty years that’s a legend on your campus, that wry humor and good judgment that gets everyone through those T&P committee meetings without unduly damaging anyone’s career or anyone else’s relationships with one another.  Please also recall “dead wood”‘s usefulness to people outside of the university who don’t want to fund higher education.  “Dead wood” is everyone’s favorite rhetorical bludgeon when arguing to end tenure, but how many truly worthless faculty do you know?  How many people can you name whose immediate retirement would be a net benefit for your department, institution, or academic field?


July 29th 2008
Baa Ram U: we don’t want to talk about it

Posted under jobs & local news & students

Well, the local news is all het up about the Princeton Review rankings for colleges and universities in my state.  The headline for the story in today’s Denver Post (both in print and on-line) is “Higher, headier ed on campuses in Colorado?”  Well, only two of our colleges apparently have that reputation, and they’re pretty much the ones you would expect–the University of Colorado, Boulder, came in at third for pot use, thirteenth for party school, and fourteenth for liquor use; and Colorado College is seventh for pot.  Dog bites man, anyone? 

Fortunately, Baa Ram U. is not listed among the top drinking or drugging schools, but has the dubious distinction of ranking seventh in the category of “class discussions rare.”  That’s unsurprising–the other top schools in that category are also old Aggie schools whose traditional emphasis is science, engineering, and technology.  Still, it makes Historiann something of an eccentric in offering comparatively few lectures and spending at least half of class time on discussions.  My students aren’t that difficult to engage in class discussion, but then, they don’t act like they’re just dying to talk in class, either.

How did your schools rate?  Are you pleased, or were you dealt rank injustice this year?  Check it out here, and report your results in the comments.



July 28th 2008
John Bohstedt: British historian, tough guy

Posted under European history & GLBTQ & unhappy endings


An overlooked detail in yesterday’s terrible shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee is that one of the heroes who tackled the shooter is UT-Knoxville historian John Bohstedt.  According to the New York Times, Bohstedt jumped on shooter Jim D. Adkisson while he paused to reload in spite of the other dangers Bohstedt and the other congregants might have faced.  According to church member Sheila Bowen, “[Bohstedt] moved very quickly and he assessed the situation very quickly. . . . He’s sitting on this guy. [The shooter] had a package with him, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and John was afraid that that might be a bomb, so John was screaming at everyone to get out.”

Melissa at Shakesville notes that the Unitarian Univeralist church was targeted by Adkisson because he hated liberalism in general, and gay people in particular.  (The UU church is very progressive, invites gay members, and ordains gay ministers.)  Looks like you might want to start wearing that high-fashion kevlar vest pretty much everywhere in the U.S. these days, my friends. 

When I hear news of the latest (yes, sadly, we can only assume this is the latest, not the last) shooting in a school, a church, or other public spaces, like many of you perhaps, I wonder how I would react and if I would muster the kind of metal clarity and physical courage that Professor Bohstedt showed.  His example is very inspiring, but what a world we live in where that kind of bravery is called upon so frequently.  My heart goes out to the TVUUC community and their friends and allies in Knoxville and beyond. 

UPDATED, 7/29/08:  See this description of the attack at TVUUC by a church member who was present Sunday morning.  She gives a moving account of the heroism of Greg McKendry, the first shooting victim who was shot at point-blank range trying to shield others from the bullets.  She also reports that other people saw John Bohstedt take down the shooter in a “flying tackle.”


July 28th 2008
Monday Morning Roundup: troll patrol edition

Posted under Gender & jobs & wankers & weirdness

Historiann spent the last weekend riding Old Paint around the Sonoma and Napa Valleys and attending the birthday luncheon of dear friends here.  (Beautiful setting, incredible wine and food, but short on hitching posts, amazingly enough.)  Happy birthday to JPZ and RJM!

So herewith is a feminist academic news roundup, the bad news/good news/bad news edition:

  • Here’s the latest example of a sectarian university shedding women and feminist scholars like they have cooties:  Rosemary Radford Ruether, a married woman in her seventies, was apparently too terrifyingly radical to hold the one-year visiting appointment as the Monsignor John R. Portman Chair in Roman Catholic Theology at the University of San Diego.  You can see Professor Ruether’s frighteningly accomplished record here, if you want, or you can just go along with the church’s judgment that women are closer to animals and are therefore incapable of serious theology and unworthy of ordination.  And how’s that working out for you in Western Europe, Canada, and the U.S., boys? 
  • This story about girls’ and boys’ math equality was reported everywhere in the world, but I saw it first in the Denver Post, print edition.  That’s the good news–or, should I say, the “duh” news?–portion of our roundup.
  • Mary Hatcher-Skeers has a thoughtful commentary on the “brain drain” of women in science.  Go read the comments to her article–is it any wonder so many talented and smart women run screaming away from jobs where they may have to work with “Robert,” “Frank,” and “Assistant Professor?”  Nice work, a$$holes.  Arguing like that will prove once and for all that women face no barriers to careers in science!  Kinda like the little troll infestation at this blog, when I posted on the problem of antifeminist commenters on women’s blogs.  P.S. to all trolls:  please master the rules of effective sock puppetry!  When you post under different names but from the same IP address, you pretty much give away your little secret.  Putting on dressup clothes and talking in a funny voice when you post under a different name doesn’t really do it!  Also, special note to the banned commenter, who keeps trying to post stalkerish and obsessive comments:  guess what?  You’re still banned–consider it a life sentence, and just go away.  Or do you think you get to play by insurance company rules here?  (H/t to Susie at Suburban Guerrilla.)


July 26th 2008
Saturday morning funnies

Posted under art & fluff & the body & weirdness

Cakewrecks is the most hillarious website I’ve seen in a long time.  The photo at right comes from this post.  (Thanks to Susie Madrak for linking to Cakewrecks last week.)  Don’t you wish you could have been invited to that wedding?

I’m really impressed (in a queasy sort of way) by the large number of professionally decorated cakes there are in the world in the shape of body parts and/or bodily traumas.  Don’t miss the extremely weird baby shower/childbirth cakes.  Today’s post is a cake in the shape of a bound foot.

Cakewrecks is internet crackrocks if you’re looking to fritter away some time on the world wide timewasting web. 


July 25th 2008
Schadenfreudelicious! Baylor Prez canned Thursday

Posted under Gender & happy endings & jobs

Via Inside Higher Ed, we learn this fine summer morning that Baylor President John Lilley, who merrily tried to fire so many junior faculty this year (and disproportionately women faculty, natch!), was himself $hitcanned yesterday.  It so rarely happens that we get to see an administrator so destructive of faculty hopes and dreams get his comeuppance–so let’s savor the moment.  (See these old posts on Baylor, for more background.)

IHE reports that “the regents had offered Lilley the opportunity to serve out his five-year contract as the board began a search for a new president. He rejected that offer.”  Well, good on all of them for not prolonging the misery.  But, check this out:  “Lilley, 69, said he was retired ‘as of this morning’ and returning to his home in Reno, Nev. Prior to coming to Baylor, Lilley had spent four years as president of the University of Nevada at Reno.”  Hmmm…remember all of those lawsuits by current and former staff and faculty at at UNR I told you about a few weeks ago?  Well, let’s hope he stays good and retired as of now. 

Time’s up, cowboy.  You fell off the bull.  No points for you.  (But welcome new readers from Inside Higher Ed!)


July 24th 2008
Limp “satire” begets more limpness

Posted under American history & art

Sorry, Vanity Fair–some people have a way with satire, and others, well, not have way.  (See a larger image here–h/t Talk Left.)

The bad New Yorker “satire”of Michelle and Barack Obama took lies about the Obamas and created images of them as if they were true, in the service of making fun of the lies.  (Are you with me?  Good.)  This image at left, however, takes truths about the McCains, and creates images of Cindy and John McCain showing those truths, without even exaggerating (much, anyway).  Cindy had a pill problem–that’s true.  John is old and has had skin cancer–that’s true, although perhaps the walker is a slight exaggeration since McCain doesn’t use one (publicly, anyway).  John McCain’s campaign is all about continuing George W. Bush’s policies, so its not an exaggeration to show his portrait above the mantle.  For many people, these facts are neither disqualifying nor damning.  The only image that McCain might complain about is the U.S. Constitution alight in the fireplace–that’s a debateable political point, but hardly more incendiary (sorry!) than the image of the U.S. flag in the fireplace in the New Yorker cover.

This either proves that Vanity Fair believes that the truth about the McCains is so damning that it’s irrelevant or pointless to exaggerate those truths or make up lies.  (Think about it–I don’t know of any insinuating lies in the 2008 campaign about McCain designed to shake people’s confidence in him, his patroitism, or his wife’s patriotism.  Karl Rove’s smear on McCain’s sanity because of his Vietnam experiences in 2000 is a notable exception, but please note:  it was pushed by Republicans, not Democrats.  And, please–who would you rather be:  Michelle O. or Cindy M.?)  Or it proves that people will say absolutely anything about Democratic candidates for the presidency (and their wives), and it will get covered by the craven corporate media as though those lies are things the candidate needs to respond to or worry about.  (Or, maybe both?  I now realize they’re not mutually exclusive possibilities.)  Think about it, in descending order of election years:  John Kerry lied about his wounds from his service in Vietnam, Al Gore invented the internet and discovered Love Canal, Hillary and Bill Clinton trafficked cocaine out of the Little Rock aiport and killed Vince Foster.  And, by the way, Bill’s a serial rapist and Hillary’s a dyke who also was having an affair with Vince Foster before she killed him.

What does this say about the corporate media’s strong interest in circulating and talking about lies about Democratic presidential candidates, and its attempts at “satirizing” the truth about Republican presidential candidates?  “Oh, we’re so edgy and daring to write about the facts about McCains, sometimes anyway, when we get back from summering with Jack Welch up in Nantucket!”  


July 23rd 2008
Please don’t stand so close to me

Posted under art & Gender & weirdness

Historiann went to see Elvis Costello and the Imposters and The Police last night at Red Rocks.  (Photo by John Leyba for the Denver Post.)  This was my first show at that venue–it’s a gorgeous setting in a natural red rocks amphitheatre, very beautiful as the sun sets behind you and the lights of Denver appear.  I never went to any really big acts back in my youth in the 1980s and 1990s–I was more of a cult-band in a nightclub kind of person than an arena rock fan.  But, a very generous friend had a free ticket, and it was a great show.  Elvis performed a few of his newer songs, but mostly golden-oldies like “Watching the Detectives,” “Radio Radio,” and “Alison,” with a few of his quirkier old songs like “Beyond Belief.”  (I was hoping he’d play something from my favorite album of his, King of America, but no such luck.)  The Police performed their oldies too, completely without any of Sting’s solo act numbers.  It was interesting to be reminded, in their versions of “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” of when the band was more sonically connected to The Specials, English Beat, and other late 70s/early 80s British and Anglo-Caribbean ska band than they were to the emergent 80s power rock acts.  The Denver Post reviewed Monday night’s performance here yesterday, which turned out to be an exact prediction of the show we saw last night.

Aside from my first show at Red Rocks, it was also my first “nostalgia act” show.  Man, was it strange to be surrounded by old people at a rock concert!  The only shirtless young guys were in the parking lot outside of the venue hawking cans of beer and bottles of water.  The men inside the theatre kept their shirts on–thank goodness!–since most of them were in the 35-to-55 age range.  The men in the bands looked pretty good–or at least, no worse for the wear, since they’re all in their mid-fifties too.  The crowd looked like a giant twentieth or twenty-fifth high school reunion!  Sting was as handsome as ever, although he is manorexically thin and rather Alfred Packer-ish with a short, scruffy, gray beard that crept down his neck practically to his shirt.  Elvis looks pretty much as he did the last time I saw him, in Philadelphia in the summer of 1989:  pudgy, sweaty, and overdressed in a suit with a cravat, but his “new” band (which consists of his former “Attractions” bandmates Steve Nieve on the keyboard and Pete Thomas on drums, with Davey Faragher on the bass) was tight and fun.  It was especially great to see Elvis with Nieve, who ended the set with a flourishing homage to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Why the title “Please don’t stand so close to me” for this post?  Interestingly enough, after writing about men’s presumptions on women’s bodies, time, and space yesterday, I had a related real life experience.  Towards the end of the main set, Sting was setting up a call-and-response (one of those ay-oh, ee-yo-yo-yo things that he does) with the crowd.  I wasn’t really into singing along, but was swaying and enjoying myself.  Apparently, that was insufficient for the middle-aged stranger standing behind me in row 28, seat 98 or 99, who decided to reach over and rub his hands all over my neck, back, and shoulders, and admonish me to do better!  And, did I mention that I was wearing a mostly backless yoga top, because it was 100 degrees in Denver yesterday?  Eeeeeeeeewww!!!!!1111!!!!eleventy-ones!  It was made even creepier by the fact that this was during an extended version of one of those obsessive breakup songs (perhaps “Can’t Stand Losing You?”)  What made him think that that was appropriate behavior, aside from good, old-fashioned male privilege?  I know he was feeling the music and all excited, but please.  (And, his female companion/girlfriend/wife thought it was all in good fun, when I turned around in stunned horror to see who on earth was manhandling me!)  I’ve been in clubs where everyone was hot, sweaty, and jumping on each other’s feet all of the time, but this wasn’t one of those situations.  Well, I’m not a large person, nor am I a male person, and (I think this is key, too) I wasn’t with a man, but with a woman friend.  Ergo, random men think it’s OK to put their hands on my body?

If you know Historiann in real life, you know that although she’s a petite-ish woman, she’s not the kind of person who hugs new acquaintances (or even old ones!) or otherwise sends out vibes suggesting that its OK to touch her body.  Ugh.


July 22nd 2008
Gender, sexuality, and commenters on feminist blogs

Posted under Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & wankers

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gendering of the internet, and the ways in which women’s blogs (and feminist blogs in particular) are subject to more intense and more personal attacks by male commenters on the blogger and other blog commenters than blogs by men or that don’t address feminist issues.  Since we’re all feminists here, we probably agree that men (in general) are much more presumptuous about monopolizing or claiming women’s bodies, time, and space (in general) than vice-versa, because that presumption is a large part of the definition of male privilege.  Although it’s no longer technically legal in most cases, male privilege thrives and it it enforced by many men, and women too (sadly).  And this presumption works in similar ways in the blogosphere, as it works in real life.

Historiann was forced to ban a commenter here a few months ago, and in order to clarify things I instituted some rules for commenting.  (Rules which were implicitly understood and observed by the rest of you as the rules of civilized discourse by all but the banned commenter, and an occasional troll here or there who never came back.)  Unsurprisingly, other feminist blogs suffer periodically (or chronically) from one or more presumptuous commenters who identify themselves as male and then go on to lecture the blogger (and/or fellow commenters) about what feminism is, what the problems with feminism are, why her post is totally wrong about X or Y, or her/their utter and complete misunderstanding that men are equally oppressed, etc.

The comments on this post at Echidne are very instructive about how some male commenters can be extraordinarily presumptuous (see the comments by “swampcracker” in particular).  The main techniques are these:  1) assuming that if someone makes a comment that doesn’t exactly describe his life or his point of view, that it’s totally without merit, and 2) being blithely content to jack the thread away from its original point to talk about the issue that he knows he’s right about, no matter what any other (women) commenters have to say about it.  (Other popular themes:  “I’m the father of daughters/a daughter myself,”  “My feminist friends agree wtih me”–a variant on the ever-popular “some of my best friends are feminists”–”I’ve been discriminated against too,” and the always popular tactic of writing longer, angrier, and more patronizing comments the more your comments are mocked or disagreed with.)  This was also a big problem over at Shakesville this spring, where comments on one post in particular about misogyny in the Democratic primary were taken over by men who apparently just couldn’t stand to let feminists talk it over amongst themselves.  Interestingly, I haven’t seen obnoxious or patronizing comments from men who identify themselves as gay–overwhelmingly, the problem commenters seem to be men who identify as straight.  (Maybe my gay men friends and commenters are just especially down with feminism, because they tend to be all scholars in the humanities, but I haven’t run into femophobic or antifeminist gay men on the feminist blogs.)

I guess my question is this:  since these guys can’t just agree to disagree, why don’t they start their own damn feminist (or antifeminist) blogs, if they’re such experts on feminism and gender issues?  Why bother feminist bloggers and their other commenters, when we clearly disagree?  Do you really think you’re so smart or so important that you’re going to change my mind about the most important intellectual issues in my life?  Yeah, nearly 40 years of life experience as a girl and a woman, and twenty years of academic training in American history, women’s history, and feminism, and I’m going to see the light because of an anonymous a-hole on the internet?

That seems to me to be pretty much the definition of male privilege on the world wide timewasting web–the earnest belief of random a-holes that their superior knowledge and rhetorical skills can change the minds of all of us silly, deluded women out there–but I’d like to hear from the rest of you about this.  What are your experiences as either a blogger or a commenter on blogs, and how do you think your sex (or perceived sex/gender identity) has affected the way you’re treated in cyberspace?  What are the other issues that come up for out gay and lesbian bloggers?  Do white commenters plague African American and Latin@ bloggers with patronizing lectures on race?  (I think I know the answer to that one, since so many WOC/POC bloggers moderate their comments…but I’d like to learn more.)  What have you seen or heard?  Sing it, sisters and brothers.


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