Archive for August, 2008

August 11th 2008
Reader, she nailed him!

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & race & wankers & women's history

Echidne nails Amitai Etzioni (not that way!) with this post on why communitarianism is about as popular with most feminists as yeast infections at a pool party.  She dispatches the unspoken assumptions of communitarians, most of whom assume that women will stay out of the paid labor force to look after the communibabies and see to the communicooking and communicleaning.  Feminism is low on the list of communitarian values, because of all of the free work that men used to get out of women before.  She explains:

[As communitarians argue, n]ow that many women work for money nobody is doing that important charity [work] and therefore the past might have been a better time for the community. Surprisingly, the chapter had nothing about charity being a task which men, too, could practice.

This whole treatment made me uncomfortable, because it appeared to construct “the community” as somehow not including the women whose free labor was perhaps semi-forced into charitable uses.

Interestingly, as she notes, “many communitarians want other people to have good unselfish values while they themselves continue working as professors or whatever they do for money. It’s a neat trick, that one, because the only way you can really be a selfish communitarian is by leading the movement.”  Some people are more equal than others, natch!

But there are other reasons to cast a skeptical eye at Etzioni and his ilk.  Communitarianism rests on the delusional belief that it’s “identity politics” that divide Americans from each other and not, you know, income inequality or other material measures that the have-nots are still very much among us.  As Etzioni argued in a recent article at The Huffington Post (h/t Echidne again),

Identity politics led to attempts to form a ‘rainbow’ coalition, composed of various groups who considered themselves victimized — against the declining white, male majority. Other forms of identity politics pitted citizens against immigrants. Some of the more radical versions of multiculturalism also contributed to this kind of divisive politics.

(Howd’ya like those quotation marks around “rainbow?”  “Bite me,” Professor!)  That’s right:  the problem is not that you have less than I, and worry about it constantly to the detriment of your health, and are discriminated against because of your lack of resources and outsider status every day–the problem is that you keep pointing it out!  So shut up and sing Kum-Bye-Yah a little louder for me, m’kay?


August 11th 2008
“I’m so totally complaining to my parents about you!!!”

Posted under students & wankers

How often do I get to report good news?  (Not often enough!)  While my computer is in the shop, being debugged and re-rigged with new software, I can happily pass along news from Inside Higher Ed that two students on Semester at Sea got kicked out of the program for plagiarism!  Ha-ha!  Schadenfreudelicious!  Kudos to the University of Virginia for not backing down on enforcing its Honor Code.

I guess it’s not enough to be on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean  while occasionally reading books, writing papers, and reporting for class–some students apparently want to be relieved of all intellectual labor.  (Ed. note:  fine with me!  Cruise your tragically overworked hearts out for a semester–just don’t expect college credit for it!  Duh.)  The sad thing is that parents of the poor dears may well side with their little cheaters–after all, they paid good money for those grades! 


August 8th 2008
Noted without comment

Posted under American history & weirdness

“‘Our goal is to see a crowd of 75,000 people at [Barack] Obama’s nomination speech holding their hands above their heads, fingers laced together in support of a new direction for this country, a renewed hope, and acceptance of responsibility for our future,’ says Rick Husong, owner of The Loyalty Inc.,” a Los Angeles “creative agency,” according to Washington Whispers.  Please note–The Loyalty Inc. produced the image above and is pushing this new “salute” independent of the Obama campaign, and if the Obama campaign is smart, they’ll stay away from it.

Put your hands in the air and make a big zero!  There’s absolutely nothing creepy or cultish at all about “a movement where even while walking down the street, people would hold up the O and you would know that they were for Obama.”  How could Republicans possibly mock that?  As they used to say in Scooby-Doo cartoons, it’s so crazy, it just might work!  (Historiann wonders:  is The Loyalty Inc., with its clumsy, Orwellian name, a Republican plant?  I’m just sayin’…)


August 7th 2008
Things that may make one feel old

Posted under art & childhood & fluff & the body & women's history

Although still a dewy young thing in her 30s (for a few precious, precious weeks, anyway!), Historiann feels a slight chill in the air when she contemplates these harbingers of old age and mortality:

  • Kelly Bundy has breast cancer.  (Seriously–send good wishes to actress Christina Applegate, who is being treated for breast cancer at age 36.  Breast cancer is never good news of course, but being diagnosed before your 40s is very alarming.)
  • Brandon Walsh is seriously pushing 40.  (He turns 39 at the end of this month!)  Donna Martin graduates!  Donna Martin graduates!  Donna Martin graduates!
  • Check this out:  Marcia Cross (“Bree Van de Kamp/Hodge”) and Kristin Davis (“Charlotte York Goldenblatt”) used to play bad girls, and Courtney Thorne-Smith (of According to Jim) used to have attractive male co-stars!  (You tell kids that today, and they just won’t believe you!)
  • Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth got her AARP card in the mail five years ago!  Sigh.  (See this new history of the band:  David Browne, Goodbye 20th Century:  A Biography of Sonic Youth, just released in hardcover in May.)    Rock-and-roll band biographies are a really strange genre of writing–written by and for superfans, with very few clues or ways into the book for anyone who’s not a superfan.  (Kind of like the most hagiographic biography you can imagine!)  But, if you want to spend 15 minutes laughing and shaking your head, look up “Love, Courtney,” or “Lollapalloza 1995″ in the index and go straight to those pages.  Ahhh, my misspent (sonic and otherwise) youth!


August 6th 2008
Nice work if you can get it

Posted under American history

Mount IWUS by erikrasmussen.Gail, as you know, I spend most of my waking hours thinking about Human Greatness,” and contemplating bad public art at the same time.  Because, you know Gail, until a President’s or treasonous general’s face is carved on a mountain, he’s just not that great.

She replies, “David, a long time ago my husband and I decided we’d have a vacation where we’d just go to places that had canals. After Bruges, Amsterdam and Venice, we sort of slacked off.”  All those other canals full of human waste in India, Africa, Central America, and other colonized regions of the global South were kind of icky, David.

Who talks (or writes) like this?  Oh, and did I mention:  they wrote these sentences in an article in which they mull over the troubling character flaws of Barack Obama and John McCain!  Can someone pass me that quart-sized mason jar of Pisco Sours now, and sober me up at Thanksgiving when this election is all over?  Here’s one blogger who has packed it in, disgusted by the substance-free presidential campaigns and the even more trivial press coverage thereof (via TalkLeft).  Four years ago, I gave thousands of dollars to John Kerry, a congressional candidate, and a candidate for the Colorado house, and volunteered for all three campaigns.  This time around?  Eh.  The prospect of getting rid of George W. Bush was incredibly energizing for the Democratic Party, but sadly, most American voters were still too easily manipulated by fear four years ago.  I also worked hard and gave away lots of cash in 2006, so it’s very disappointing that the Democrats we helped put in charge took impeachment “off the table” and have been happy to cooperate with Bush on most things that really mattered. 

Bush is done in January, no matter who is elected in November, and he’s already crumpled up like a used tissue and ready for his layup into the dustbin of history.  I’m not saying I’m completely apathetic about the outcome of the presidential election–I thought that those who made the argument in 2000 that Bush and Al Gore were the same and that it didn’t matter which one was elected were out of their minds, and we all have suffered because of the purist sensibilities of the Nader Traitors.  But, I’m just not feeling the need to do much more than show up and vote this time around.  How about the rest of you?


August 5th 2008
Greenhorns, please stay home in your cities

Posted under unhappy endings


Here’s a story that we get several versions of here in Colorado each year:  Mountain lion snatches dog from owners’ bedroom.  Sometimes it’s a story about a not-so-cuddly bear that breaks into an unsecured kitchen and rips it up looking for food.  More frequently, it’s an item in a local newspaper about house pets being carried off by coyotes, foxes, or cougars.  In every case, these stories come from the zone known as the urban-wilderness interface that surrounds Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins–people who live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just outside of cities they can commute to daily.

Is there something about having a mountain home that makes people stupid?  Is it the thinner air up there at 7,000 or 8,000 feet?  Urban people would never leave the French doors to their bedroom wide open in the city (as the aforementioned poor doggie’s family did Sunday night before bed), for fear of thieves, kidnappers, or peeping toms–why do they so often assume that life in rural areas is safer?  (My other favorite idiot move:  people who feed the wild animals, like they’re the spectators at a zoo exhibit on the fauna of the Rockies.  Don’t be surprised if the local bear or mountain lion family expects the same hospitality!)  So many city people cherish utterly ignorant fantasies about rural and mountain life.  They should just stay home, and visit on the weekends instead of moving into the bears’ and cougars’ neighborhood and then kicking back, suburban-style, letting their housecats roam free (and being shocked and distressed when Fluffy doesn’t come home for dinner), and leaving their backyard grill outside (and being surprised when the cooking grease left on it attracts a bear to dinner).

These are only the animal hazards of living in the mountains and foothills.  I don’t know about you all, but I never felt unsafe jogging the streets of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., or Boston/Cambridge at all hours of the day and night, but I surely have my guard up when jogging in rural America.  In cities, people can hear you scream, and may witness an attack on you and respond to your call for help.  In the country–well, good luck with that.  More people around make you safer.  Fewer people, and more not-cuddly animals, makes you less safe.

UPDATED 8/6/08:  Via the Denver Post again, we learn that the 130-pound mountain lion above has been caught and killed (H/t to Fratguy, who’s working for the man back in Colorado).  The dog in question was a twelve year-old, so that’s a pretty good run for a family pet.  According to the article, the homeowners have owned their home for 32 years and have seen mountain lions in the area before, making their decision to leave their bedroom doors open like barn doors even more bizarre.  One of the homeowners quoted in the story said, “It was pretty bizarre to wake up at 4 a.m. and find a mountain lion in your bedroom.”  Yeah?  Not as weird as if you had actually closed your doors before you went to bed–you might have thought you discovered a species of wildcat with opposable thumbs!


August 4th 2008
In which Historiann throws her yellowed index cards from 1967 in the air in indignation

Posted under jobs


Is it just me, or is anyone else a little bewildered by this post at Inside Higher Ed called “Homework for Profs:  Perfect the Art of Teaching?”  In it, Kim Mooney says that:

  1.  Liberal Arts educators “need to talk more about what and how we teach college students” so that we can “engag[e] 21st century college students in the kind of learning that will lead to success in life, work and citizenship.”
  2. “[E]veryone’s teaching needs regular rejuvenation and context.”  (Ed. note:  “context?”)  Mooney explains:  “context means understanding how you can use your course to help students develop in ways that will serve them well in their lives.”  (Not sure that that really clears things up, but wev–she’s the Liberal Arts teaching expert!)

Mooney goes on to explain that at her liberal arts university, “our experience is that the best time to think about teaching is right after commencement, before faculty go abroad with students or start teaching summer courses. May College, as it is called, has been held for several years during the week after graduation.”  Yeah–isn’t that what you all want to do with what’s left of May after getting your final grades in?  (Do they serve Dirty Martinis and Pisco Sours in quart-sized mason jars at May College?)

I write this not as a skeptic of the value of thinking about pedagogy and of improving one’s teaching–but, and level with me, dear readers–isn’t that what we do all of the time, throughout the year, without going to workshops or special “colleges?”  Isn’t this what we do, when we assign all or mostly new books to our classes each term, so that we can keep up with the current literature in our fields (and not incidentally, avoid boring ourselves with the same old readings)?  Isn’t this what we do when reviewing previous drafts of lecture notes to see what’s outdated or less useful, and to add new material based on your current readings and research, or to speak to the specific themes we;re emphasizing in this or that semester?  Aren’t we always adding new visual images, new ideas, and new slides to our PowerPoint lectures?  Do any of us set out intentionally to bore our students to death?  Do we enjoy being out-of-date and out-to-lunch in public?

I remember hearing about that legendary college professor who worked from yellowed note cards, or off of lecture notes on legal paper from the 1930s that hadn’t been revised since they were first drafted.  Remember him?  Me neither.  I never met that guy or took his class–it was always someone’s brother’s roommate, or someone’s girlfriend’s sister who was in that class, and usually at another college or university.  That professor is largely an urban legend, but “Centers for Teaching and Learning” are set up and funded to guard against him in universities across the country.  (Do they also sponsor a “Center for Defense Against Unicorn Attack?”)

Historiann’s college experience is lost in the mists of time, back in the late twentieth century, but I don’t think that things have changed all that much in the 21st century, and especially not with liberal arts education.  Unless I’m grievously mistaken, reading books, grappling with ideas, and writing essays and research papers are still central to liberal arts education.  As I wrote some time ago, we all know what works–we don’t need clickers or Blackboard or even PowerPoint, although if you’ve figured out how to make those technologies work for you, that’s great.  The question is, do even small liberal arts colleges (let along large universities) give us the resources we need to make liberal arts education effective?  In sum, why are there so many workshops urging faculty to learn to teach better, and so few workshops urging universities to hire more regular faculty and dramatically improve the faculty-to-student ratio? 

Whose interests are really being served here, in advancing the notion that liberal arts professors need to be taught how to teach?

After all, liberal arts colleges should be broadcasting the good news that liberal arts faculty are cheaper than business, engineering, and science professors–universities can get so much more for their money if they’d hire some more regular liberal arts faculty, instead of sponsoring these numberless workshops that imply that liberal arts faculty don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and need to be “rejuvenated” to cope with the twenty-first century. 

UPDATED 8/7/08:  Since many commenters here, and Paul Harvey over at Religion in American history, have introduced “assessment” into the discussion (which is different but clearly related to CTLs), I thought many of you might enjoy this discussion of assessment at Inside Higher Ed today called “Do We Assess Learning?  Pull up a Chair…” by Bernard Fryshman.  He very patiently explains the difficulty in assessing learning in any easily quantifiable way, and pays admirable attention to the effort students put into learning, too.


August 2nd 2008
Here comes the new, improved job market for Ph.D.’s!

Posted under jobs & O Canada

Well, actually, there it went–you missed it!  And you didn’t even know how great you had it back in 2006 and 2007, did you?  (Via the evil geniuses at RYS Hall.)  Looks like we’re going to party like it’s 1979.

Don’t be fooled by those projections of future faculty hiring trends based on anticipated retirement of current faculty, or anticipated student enrollment growth.  Universities don’t replace retiring faculty with new tenure-track faculty–they’re replacing them with adjunct and “special” faculty–faculty so *special* they apparently don’t need to be paid or offered benefits like regular faculty!  See here for the real story.

Good thing this is news from a foreign country!  Like, totally different from this one.  Right?  Right??


August 1st 2008
Gone fishin’ again, in Michigan (again!)

Posted under Uncategorized

It’s hotter than heck on the Western prairies right now, so famille Historiann is off again to spend time with family and friends on a clear little lake in the old Northwest Territory, on old Ottowa, Sauk, and Fox lands not far from were Pontiac’s Rebellion got its start back in 1763.

I may check in occasionally, but regular posting will resume later next week.  Happy trails, and I hope you all get some vacationing in before your summer ends.


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