Archive for July, 2008

July 21st 2008
Deciding against planting an acorn is not the moral equivalent of chopping down an oak tree

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Duh.  (And where are Senators Obama and McCain on this?  Inquiring minds want to know!)

Sign the petition, in the name of all that is right and just in the world.  (H/t Lambert at Corrente.)

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July 21st 2008
Memo to Sir Paul: colonialism is invisible to the colonizer

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TO:  Sir Paul McCartney

FROM:  Historiann

RE:  Comments concerning your performance in Québec

Congratulations on the successful show, sir–it’s wonderful that you were greeted by such a warmly enthusiastic crowd yesterday, and addressing it in French occasionally was a very nice touch.  But in the future, in the course of mollifying one Canadian ethnic group, it would be best if you would try to avoid pissing off another ethnic group.  Please be advised that comments like “I think it’s time to smoke the pipes of peace and to just, you know, put away your hatchet because I think it’s a show of friendship,” (emphasis mine) may reasonably be interpreted by the First Nations peoples as invoking outdated stereotypes about Native warriors and First Nations cultures.  Both First Nations peoples and Francophone Canadians have heard it all before when it comes to displays of “friendship” by English people and other Anglophones.

Please also be advised that your performance was on the site of the battle where the people of Québec were conquered by the English and Anglophone Canadians, at least for the following 249 years.  Therefore, perhaps it would have been wise to avoid overtly militaristic metaphors lest you be suspected of not respecting Québecois politics or of not appreciating that the Plains of Abraham is not just a pretty park now, but also a sacred space in Québec history, not to mention a graveyard for many of the soldiers who died there in 1759.  This impression was only reinforced when you said, “The kind of thing I read about in the schoolbooks when I was a kid was … who was General Wolfe?. . . . I still haven’t figured it out.” En Anglais, they made you sound like a condescending jerk, especially since your performance was part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of Québec history!  (French Canadians know that the vast majority of Anglophone Canadians, Britons, and U.S. Americans don’t really know much or care at all about Québec history, but let’s try not to rub in in their faces, m’kay?) 

Always looking out for you, baby!  Your pal, Historiann. 

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July 20th 2008
Back-to-school report: just the vax, m’am

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Maybe because it’s almost back-to-school time, but vaccinations are in the news on my blogroll.  Pal MD has an unintentionally hillarious post about some scandalously stupid reportage on a so-called “victim” of Gardasil.  (Longtime readers will recall that support for inoculation/vaccination are just about the only thing that Historiann has in common with Cotton Mather!) 

She reports that she went to the ER and was told she was likely having a stroke, and was sent home to return if it got worse. Now, I realize we’re getting third-hand information, but a reporter is supposed to clarify this. No one who goes to the hospital with a “stroke” is sent home to see if it gets worse.

Uhm, wouldn’t a real reporter dump the lady boo-hooing about her off-label use of Gardasil, and instead, you know, figure out which local hospital is sending home people suffering from strokes?  Now that’s a man-bites-dog story if I’ve ever heard one!  Just go read the whole thing to feel teh stupid and how it burns.  He’s got another recent post about how people with medical degrees need to take back vaccination education, instead of leaving it to the cranks, the quacks, and the religiously insane anti-vaxers.

And speaking of quacks and cranks, our friend Knitting Clio (who is not herself a crank or a quack at all) reported last week that her friendly neighborhood chiropractor–who has been of great assistance with her back pain–is now giving helpful seminars in local tea-shops about the dangers of vaccination.  She writes about the hazards of this woo-peddling:  “Take Colorado [ed. note-- please!], where the rate of vaccination (75%) is below what is needed for herd immunity.  Between 1996 and 2005, 208 adults and 32 children in Colorado died of diseases that could most likely have been prevented by vaccinations. The state spends millions of dollars per year caring for children and adults with diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, and measles that could have been prevented by vaccination.”  (Side note:  why do chiropractors hate the vax?  I’ve seen and heard of it before, but what’s the reason for it?)

The struggle over knowledge about vaccination is a cautionary tale about the dangers of professional complacency in the face of overwhelming success.  This is a paradox:  when an evidence-based consensus emerges within a profession and there are no professionals who truly disagree with the consensus in the main, that’s when movements propelled by outsiders (but legitimized by disgruntled or marginalized insiders) feel emboldened to challenge the consensus.  It’s not just primary-care physicians who have to worry about this–it’s also anthropologists and biologists, whose professional knowledge of Charles Darwin and the significance of his theories have been vigorously challenged by people outside of universities and without any professional credentials.  Historians also have had strange ideological struggles emerge out of what was a well-documented consensus on the facts of, for example, the Holocaust, the causes of the U.S. American Civil War, and the history and meaning of the Confederate flag. 

In all of these cases, a hardy band of conspiracy-minded and/or magical thinkers was able to gin up enough popular support to convince other neutral observers that there might be a scholarly “controversy” where none in fact existed among the actual scholars.  Does this happen because there are a few determined cranks and quacks still inside each profession, and they’re just very good at finding allies outside the profession because they no longer have allies within?  Or do political movements seize upon those few disaffected professionals, flattering them and giving them an appreciative audience so that they’ll serve as scholarly figureheads?  In all of these cases, it seems that there are a few professionals who are willing to sign on to provide a “respectable” face to the fake controversy–David Irving in the case of Holocaust denial, for example, or Michael Behe for “Intelligent” Design?  These credentialed intellectuals were happy to provide a presentable face to deeply disreputable, and even dangerous, ideas. 

Fight the woo, within and without your profession, and remember that things like “evidence” and “overwhelming scholarly consensus” mean nothing if we don’t continue to explain exactly what the evidence is and what the consensus means.

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July 19th 2008
Saturday morning funnies

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Well, imagine my surprise when I returned from my recent short vacation to find this little invitation in the mail from the University of Colorado.  (While I live in Colorado and work at a university, CU is not my employer–I work at the old aggie school I affectionately refer to as Baa Ram U.)  My surprise turned to delight when I opened this fine, glossy card, to read that I am invited to meet the new president of the University of Colorado, about whom I’ve blogged quite a bit here, here, and here.  (My overall take on uncredentialed politicians who presume to lead universities is here.)  Check it out below–the party is at the Potterville Country Club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side note:  I’ve never seen an academic’s spouse advertised like a warm-up act, but I guess it’s just further proof of the different ways that politicians think compared to people in academia.  (I don’t even know if my current Dean is married, and although one of her predecessors was married, I never met his wife, even when he hosted a nice luncheon for junior faculty at his house.  And, I’ve never seen or heard anything featuring the presence of the wife of the current president of Baa Ram U. or his immediate predecessor.)  Does anyone else think this is strange?

Five years ago, I donated a modest sum to a scholarship in memory of the historian and CU Professor Emeritus Jackson Turner Main upon his death, and I suppose a good deed sent to the development office never goes unpunished, which is why I get invitations to all sorts of parties for fancy donors to CU.  As if!  It reminds me of the Christmas card I got from George W. Bush and family in 2004–I had been a major donor to Kerry, so I wonder if the Bushies were just reaching out in case I wanted to make friends with the other team in victory.  Yes–it was the official White House Christmas card.  I also wonder if they sent the card out to Kerry donors to gloat!  (Maybe that’s what Benson is doing to Historiann?  Probably not–as they old saying goes, money talks, bull$hit walks, and they don’t know about my secret identity as Historiann.)

So, anyway, back to the current invitation on my desk:  what do you think I should wear?  (The invitation says “business casual,” but I don’t even know what that is any more.)

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July 18th 2008
Imaginary problems department: faculty “freeloaders” for using e-mail and letterhead?

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Call me a freeloader, but this seems totally ridiculous.  Since when is it inappropriate to use a university e-mail account and letterhead to apply for another job?  Over at the Chronicle blog “On Hiring,” Gene C. Fant, Jr., writes,

When I see applications coming in, I really like to see people using their own private e-mail accounts, home or cellphone numbers, and “From the Desk of” letterhead. The use of campus e-mail and phone numbers doesn’t spoil me on a candidate, but I have to say that, for the sake of both stewardship of resources and confidentiality, I like to see personal materials used.

Good grief!  Tom Benton had a good reply in the comments to the post above:  “There is no generally accepted rule that graduate students and faculty should not use university letterhead and email addresses for job searches, and in fact some encourage graduate students to do just that. In my view it is unethical to start setting ad hoc ethical traps for people at other institutions who are acting in good faith.”  In my first non-tenure track job, I was urged by the Chair of that department to send out applications on department letterhead–so long as I was using it for professional purposes and not my grocery list, I was told that it was not only acceptable but one of the perks of employment.  Many fellowships include an e-mail address and the use of fancy letterhead, which is a big bonus for otherwise unemployed graduate students and recent Ph.D.s–why shouldn’t an actual employer offer the same? 

Furthermore, applying for other jobs is very much a part of professional life and development in modern academia, whether or not one has tenure or a tenure-track job.  Please advise me if it’s different where you work, but at Baa Ram U., the only way to get a substantial raise is to attract an outside job offer, so the university’s own incentives clearly encourage us to apply for other jobs.

I’d also like to note something that Fant overlooks:  affiliations don’t just work one way.  I’m not just affiliated with an institution, Baa Ram U., Baa Ram U. (Sheep be true!) is also affiliated with me.  The university gets to list me and all of my colleagues on its website and use our names, publications, grants won, and areas of specialization to attract interest from students and impress the taxpayers, so I fail to see why faculty should hide their affiliations in the name of not “misusing campus resources.”  I’ve chaired a search committee and served on several others–if someone claimed to be affiliated with an institution but didn’t use their campus e-mail, contact information, and letterhead, that would suggest to me that they’ve got a good reason to seek employment elsewhere if they feel that unsafe from spies and retaliation.  It would strike me as eccentric in the extreme to see an application on blank paper with only home or private contact information from someone with a job and an affiliation.

But, let’s pretend this is just a bean-counting exercise.  Imagine, if you will, that you’re a department Chair or a Dean.  How many job applications would your faculty have to send out every year, year after year, that it would make a serious dent in your stationery budget or server space?  (Psst:  if your faculty are sending out that many job applications, wouldn’t that suggest that you’ve got bigger problems?)  Duh.

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July 17th 2008
Welcome to the working week…

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Welcome To The Working Week“I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you,” as the old (very old!) song goes!

Well, Historiann is back from vacation.  (Why can’t famille Historiann just rent a beach house somewhere like normal vacationers, instead of doing the Indianapolis 500 from southern New England to Northern New England and back again, from the Green and White Mountains to Narragansett Bay?)  But, it was lots of fun, and full of family and old friends, so who’s complaining, eh??  What did I miss while I was drivin’ fishin’?

  • I watched from afar, far far away from my own New Yorker subscription and wireless connection, as “covergate” exploded this week.  Diary of an Anxious Black Woman explained it all nicely here and here–after all, what can you say about such colossal cluelessness about African American history and the history of how the white media portray black people?  Do you think that if The New Yorker staff writers included more than just their overwhelming majority of white northeastern men over the age of 50 that somebody might have pointed out that there is more than one way to read those “satirical” images than the way that David Remnick and the rest of his sheltered band of naifs read it?  As always, le dernier mot goes to Bob Somerby, who derides Remnick’s “High Gotham Clueless” response to the outcry.
  • Driving home from the airport, I heard that the horrible Bill Clinton is in the news again.  Typical!  You know, the Clintons will do anything, absolutely anything for power, even try to cure a disease that disproportionately afflicts children under age 5 and pregnant women living in developing countries!  What will this evil genius think of next?  Oh yeah–his loser Vice President will probably do something else ridiculous and self-aggrandizing, proving once again that you’d have to be crazy to want to have a beer with him!  Why won’t these exceptionally competent, smart, and compassionate individuals go away when the Democratic National Committee and the corporate media tell them to?  Why can’t they just hit the links and stick to the for-profit lecture circuit like Republican ex-Presidents?
  • La famille stayed in a hotel with cable television (supreme luxury!) last night, and I awoke dumbstruck to the never-ending train wreck that is “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.  In every way, the show is a worthy successor to Don Imus, whose “nappy-headed” insults to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team got him fired last year.  “Morning Joe” has better production values than Imus’s show, which was essentially watching him do his morning radio show, but it’s still a production that more resembles a “morning zoo” in the local AOR radio station than a proper news program.  (What was I thinking, looking for news in the vast wasteland of MSNBCNNFOX?)  Seriously–who watches this stuff?  They had REO Speedwagon and the Eagles for bumper music (I think I turned it off before they played Styx), and of course, a woman on the show they can patronize and talk over constantly who goes by the name of Robin Quivers Mika Brzezinski.  I don’t usually watch this crap, but perhaps those of you with better cable packages can enlighten me:  does she ever not get interrupted, talked over, or all-around patronized?  The camera work supports the frat house atmosphere that the titular host Joe Scarborough encourages–when Brzezinski makes her ineffective and inarticulate interjections–usually to the effect of “no, no, I just…I mean…no,” the camera continues cutting back and forth between the male regulars and the reporters they invite on as guest experts on a given topic.  Even when they need to break for the news–Brzezinski’s apparent job is to be the resident newsreader–she had to make several starts at reading her news script this morning, because she was still being talked over!
  • Mmmmm…Dunkin’ Donuts!  (We don’t have them in Northern Colorado, so it’s always a treat to visit the land of 3 Double-D’s on every corner!)  I even got to hear a local order a “regulah” this morning–it brought tears to my eyes!  (You New Englanders know that that’s a DD coffee with two shots of cream and two spoonsful of sugar, but you must know that that’s just a regional thing, right?)
  • I’ve been getting offers to monetize this website.  Do any of you fellow bloggers have thoughts about this?  (I’m not really interested, but then, when do I have the chance to monetize anything I do, or even to use the verb “to monetize?”)  Is this just the kind of thing that happens when you have more traffic than just your mom and your friends (and maybe your mom’s friends) reading your blog?  Please advise.

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July 10th 2008
Gone Fishin’

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The entire Historiann household has packed up our wagon and we’re on our way east for our annual trek through New England.  Regular posting will resume in mid-July! 

 

 

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July 9th 2008
Lambert, your pony has arrived, and man, the barn really stinks now!

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By coincidence today, amidst the news of the Senate’s capitulation on the FISA vote, I stumbled upon a new installation on collaborative art in the main library at my university, Baa Ram U.  This is a mixed-media merry-go-round of four ponies with questions and answers typed on them that lead the reader/viewer into some excellent circular logic.  The artists are Stefani Rossi and Chloe Leisure.  Well, imagine my surprise when the first pony said:

In case you can’t see it, the last photo shows a close-up of the question typed onto the pony.  (This is also the title of the piece.)

 

 

On the FISA vote, please see also this post by Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft.

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July 9th 2008
Pettifoggery, or sweet, sweet revenge?

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The Chronicle’s blog “On Hiring” draws our attention to a news story there (based on a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal) about the dozens of lawsuits by former employees against the University of Nevada, Reno.  Most of the plaintiffs are represented by the same lawyer, Jeff Dickerson.  Is Dickerson engaging in pettifoggery, or is he a crusader against endemic bullying at UNR? 

A commenter over at the Chronicle’s news story provided a handy link to a database that summarizes all of the complaints and their status or outcomes.  There are a number of unlawful termination suits (in particular against the Physics and Economics Departments and the Medical School), first amendment lawsuits, and suits over gender, age, and disability discrimination.  There’s even a lawsuit over a hidden camera!  Yikes.  Many of the lawsuits filed in the early to mid-2000s were settled; some were won, others dismissed or are still on appeal.  Many of the more recently filed cases have been dismissed, while most are still pending.  (This is based on just a brief skim of the summaries, not a systematic investigation–those of you who are lawyers will undoubtedly have better informed opinions about this.)  I don’t think it’s incriminating that one attorney is representing most of the plaintiffs here–Nevada is a very small state, Reno is a small city, and if you had a claim against the University, wouldn’t you want to go with the guy who’s proven his mettle in going up against the U?  Attorneys live or die by word-of-mouth recommendations (or warnings away), so it makes sense to me that plaintiffs would sign up with Dickerson since he’s had some modest success in suing the U.

As regular readers can probably predict, my instincts are to side with the little guy against large institutions, and given the difficulty of proving any discrimination claims or violations of first amendment rights by an employer these days, I’m wondering if we should shine up a chestful of medals for counselor Dickerson.  It’s possible that the guy is a pesky pettifogger–but then, that’s what a guilty university would say, wouldn’t it, when trying to explain to the taxpayers why $1.7 million of its money has gone to fighting and settling these lawsuits?  As many of us know from bitter experience, Universities aren’t always grateful to whistleblowers who let them know where the problems are.  They count on having more time and money to pursue these claims than any individual has, which is why they win so often.

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July 8th 2008
Poor Napoleon

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UPDATED BELOW–IT’S A MUST-READ!

I’m as much into the corny pageantry of politics as anyone–I marched with the Weld County Dems last week in the Stampede Parade, after all, dodging horse poop with Congressman Mark Udall, and I’ll probably park myself in front of the TV to watch the next president’s inauguration, as I have ever since Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985.  But, does anyone else think it may be a little risky for Barack Obama to ditch the many millions of dollars for rent and renovation of the Pepsi Center in Denver in favor of renting out the even bigger venue of Invesco Field (formerly Mile High Stadium) for his acceptance speech?  (This is the convention that’s already having fundraising problems, after all!)  If he wins the election, this move may look providential, or even presidential–but if he doesn’t win, what will this stunt look like?

Has Obama learned nothing from Commander Codpiece’s ridiculous “Mission Accomplished” speech on May 1, 2003, when he announced that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended?”  The photo at left is the image that embodies the arrogant faux-masculinity, incompetence, and all-around a$$hattery of George W. Bush.  (The photo of him surveying the damage of Hurricaine Katrina from 37,000 feet is a close second, and I must admit, there are plenty to choose from, h/t Susie at Suburban Guerrila.)  This picture confirms what so many of us knew all along about Bush:  that he was a boy playing at dress-up, not a man capable of being President.  Will the Obama campaign announce next week that they’ve invited the pope to crown him Emperor, so that Obama can grab the crown and perform the second autocoronation in world history?  Napoleon was a successful emperor, at least until he wasn’t, and this painting by David below (The Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I Bonaparte) still makes him look like a presumptuous jerk, more than 200 years later:

The images of U.S. Presidents and presidential candidates that become iconic are those that capture a widely recognized idea or set of ideas about the person in question.  (Please note that I didn’t say these photos capture a truth about these men and women, although they may do that, too.  In some cases below, the photos capture a moment that’s used to caricature the men in question, and have little if anything to do with the truth of their character or their performance as president.)  Thus, the iconic image of Lyndon Johnson holding his beagle Him by the ears–everyone knew Johnson was a crude man and a bully, and this photo summed it all up:


When Michael Dukakis stepped out of that tank 20 years ago, the iconic photograph of him (at right) sealed his fate.  He looked too goofy to be a “Commander in Chief,” although the photo opportunity was originally intended to beef up his military credentials.  So much for good intentions!

Bob Dole’s fall off of a speaking platform during his 1996 presidential campaign cemented his image (unfairly) as a bumbling older man who may not have the stamina for the presidency.  In this case, it’s an iconic video of the pratfall, rather than a still photo.  Similarly, the iconic image of Bill Clinton as president was probably a video of him shaking his finger and proclaiming, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”  Everyone knew he was a tough dog to keep on the porch–and most suspected that he was untruthful.  (Lying about sex?  Who does that?)

The iconic image of the John F. Kennedy presidency was perhaps not one of the president himself, but rather the photo of his family with his little son John Jr. giving him a final salute as his casket passes by.  The image at left captures the feeling of lost opportunities and lost innocence, for both the young family and the nation.

I suppose that if Obama avoids pseudomilitary clothing, animal cruelty, and leaves his sceptre and main de justice  at home, the Mile High acceptance speech will probably work out just fine for him.  But, it seems to me that in a time of war, global environmental crisis, and economic peril for most Americans, a little modesty and humility would go a long way, especially after the breadless circuses we’ve been treated to for the past seven and a half years.  Being photographed speaking to a stadium filled with 76,000 people, after a warm-up by Bruce Springsteen or Stevie Wonder–well, that seems to confirm a lot of suspicions about Obama that even many Democrats have–that it’s all about him, Barackstar Obama, and that it’s not about the greater good of the Democratic Party or the country. 

A friend of mine who has volunteered for Obama and has regularly donated to his campaign sent me some initial thoughts about the Mile High speech, after receiving an e-mail from the campaign offering her a chance to win tickets to the speech if she donates still more money:

I feel like the Obama folks are convinced that his supporters require nothing but being able to bask in his presence. We’re not concerned with silly things like his policy decisions, or a sense of his stance on key issues, like abortion or gun control. Give us the possibility of 15 seconds in the man’s presence, and we’re satisfied. Its demeaning and irritating.

Whose party is it, anyway?  I mean both the one in Denver next month, and the one that calls itself “Democratic.”  (But, I will give Obama bonus points if his first words at Mile High are, “Hello Cleveland!”)

UPDATE, Tuesday afternoon:  Chris Bowers at Open Left reports (via Iowa Indepdendent) that “the the Obama campaign is not integrating downticket campaigns into a ‘coordinated campaign’ structure. Instead, local Democratic staff are being fired and replaced with Obama staff.”  Chris continues, “As such, what is really disturbing about these charges is that the promise Obama’s campaign and movement held out for a fifty-state strategy that supported downticket candidates everywhere could be a mirage. If local staff are being fired, coordinated campaigns are being abandoned, and everything is replaced with Obama-focused infrastructure, then this isn’t really party building, it isn’t really a fifty-state strategy, and it isn’t really a movement. It is, instead, an entirely top-down organization serving a single purpose: electing Barack Obama.”  Now you’re catching on, Chris!

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