Archive for February, 2014

February 28th 2014
What I learned from the comments thread at Tenured Radical

Posted under American history & bad language & Bodily modification & class & Dolls & Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

barbies31508

Why weren’t we on the cover?

Did any of you see Tenured Radical’s post yesterday about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue 2014, “Happiness is a Cold, Plastic Doll?”  This year it features Barbie on the cover, but the same old soft-core porn inside.

The point of TR’s post was to comment on the cultural significance of SI’s annual swimsuit issue.  She noted her confusion when she first saw it in the 1970s, a decade in which porn was pushing into the mainstream, and Playboy had come to her campus to take some photos for “Girls of the Ivy League.”  (This was 1978; recall that most Ivies hadn’t admitted women until the early 1970s.  Welcome to campus, ladies!)  TR writes that the swimsuit issue wasn’t porn, but yet it “wasn’t not porn, because everything was exposed except, as Monty Python would say, the ‘naughty bits.’”  And yet–

The women were definitely chosen for their porny qualities. No model was included who didn’t have (as they used to say back in the 1970s) a “great rack,”  or was not able to spread her legs, tip her butt up alluringly for potential rear entry, or cock her head back in that time-honored fashion that says, “Come and get it, Buster Brown.”

But like those who reject changing the name of the Washington Football Team, the swimsuit issue is spoken of as a tradition. Hence it is harmless, right? Wrong. The swimsuit issue is the porn that gets circulated in public, as if it were not really porn, which to me – makes it more sexist than the tabletop magazines that just say brightly: “we’re all about porn!” It’s the porn that gets delivered at the office, and it’s the porn that people think it’s ok for little boys to have, like the Charlie’s Angels and Farrah Fawcett posters that were so popular back in the day, because it helps them not grow up to be fags.

This is not what all but four or five of us commenting on the post learned.  Instead, several porndogs wanted to turn the comments thread on this post into a strange personal porny fantasy involving fetishizing women’s bodies and insulting feminists and feminism at the same time.  This is a fair summary of their threadjack: Continue Reading »

31 Comments »

February 25th 2014
MOOCs vs. House of Cards smackdown

Posted under American history & art & happy endings & jobs & students & technoskepticism

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

The usually techno-utopian Joshua Kim is channeling our pal, MOOC skeptic Jonathan Rees!  It’s almost unbloglich!  (I’ve jumped on Kim before and was kind of a jerk, but he was a thoroughly decent guy about it all, contacting me in a personal email.)  In a post published yesterday at Inside Higher Ed, Kim reports that he was doing so well watching recorded lectures in three different MOOCs when Netflix released the entire new season of House of Cards recently, enabling Kim’s penchant for immersive binge-watching.  In “How House of Cards killed my MOOCing,” Kim writes:

Access to media, from games to videos, is now as close as our smartphones.

The quality of compelling content available on our phones is only increasing.

House of Cards comes from Netflix.  Amazon is releasing original programming. Some folks are lucky enough to have passwords to HBO Go accounts.

And this is only video. The real action is probably in mobile games and mobile social media platforms.

As higher education content migrates to our smartphones, as it surely will, this educational material will be competing with entertainment available on the very same platform.

The answer, of course, is that I was not really missing out on an education by missing out on my MOOCs.  

An open online course is a wonderful thing for many many reasons, but participating in a MOOC is not the same thing as investing in an education.   Continue Reading »

8 Comments »

February 22nd 2014
Jeffrey Toobin: Clarence Thomas’s silence is contemptuous

Posted under American history & unhappy endings & wankers

Toobin writes that Clarence Thomas is the most petulant colleague in the world:

Thomas. . . is physically transformed from his infamous confirmation hearings, in 1991—a great deal grayer and heavier today, at the age of sixty-five. He also projects a different kind of silence than he did earlier in his tenure. In his first years on the Court, Thomas would rock forward, whisper comments about the lawyers to his neighbors Breyer and Kennedy, and generally look like he was acknowledging where he was. These days, Thomas only reclines; his leather chair is pitched so that he can stare at the ceiling, which he does at length. He strokes his chin. His eyelids look heavy. Every schoolteacher knows this look. It’s called “not paying attention.”

.       .       .       .       .       .

By refusing to acknowledge the advocates or his fellow-Justices, Thomas treats them all with disrespect. It would be one thing if Thomas’s petulance reflected badly only on himself, which it did for the first few years of his ludicrous behavior. But at this point, eight years on, Thomas is demeaning the Court. Imagine, for a moment, if all nine Justices behaved as Thomas does on the bench. The public would rightly, and immediately, lose all faith in the Supreme Court. Instead, the public has lost, and should lose, any confidence it might have in Clarence Thomas.

Why doesn’t the big baby just resign and have done with it if he’s so miserably bored?  OTOH, he could try coffee after lunch and attempt to wake up and act like he has a job.  (Let’s face it:  appearing at oral arguments is the only part of his job he can’t hand off to clerks.)  Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

February 18th 2014
Shocking news: grades, not test scores, more predictive of college success.

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & class & happy endings & students & technoskepticism

Historiann1990Can we all just hold hands and shout “DUHHH!!!!” together?  NPR reports on a new study this morning:

Today, some 800 of the roughly 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in America make SAT or ACT submissions optional. But before a new study released Tuesday, no one had taken a hard, broad look at just how students who take advantage of “test-optional” policies are doing: how, for example, their grades and graduation rates stack up next to their counterparts who submitted their test results to admissions offices.

.       .       .       .       .       .

[Former Bates College Deanof Admissions William] Hiss’ study, “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” examined data from nearly three dozen “test-optional” U.S. schools, ranging from small liberal arts schools to large public universities, over several years.

Hiss found that there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “non-submitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “non-submitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

How now?  It turns out that “high school grades matter–a lot:”  Continue Reading »

13 Comments »

February 16th 2014
Poor management at CSU-Pueblo means work speedup for the proles

Posted under American history & class & jobs & local news & students & unhappy endings & wankers

You might well think that.

Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk publishes CSU-Pueblo President Leslie Di Mare’s letter explaining that professors who teach a 3-3 now will be teaching a 4-4 load in 2014-15.  He also links to this article in the Pueblo Chieftan which publishes Professor William Brown’s analysis of the situation:

“On this new 4-4 plan some of us would go from teaching nine (credit) hours a semester to 12 hours a semester and as a result, we would be paid the same small amount,” Brown said.

“If you do the math it turns out that we would be getting a 25 percent pay reduction.”

Brown said the school’s managers, who he said were responsible for the budget crisis, are not taking pay cuts.

“I don’t know why we as faculty members and teachers, who have had no part whatsoever in this financial problem, why we should have to pay the primary price,” Brown said.

Go back to that link at More or Less Bunk to Di Mare’s letter.  It’s very strange.  The almost exclusive use of the passive voice and the subjunctive tense is striking:  faculty “are requested to teach a 12/12 credit hour load.”  Requested, not ordered?  Not required?   She continues:  “Contact hours relating to labs and clinicals should be taken into consideration in determining the 12/12 workload. Faculty may be assigned by their respective chairs to teach US 101, recitation sections, or general education courses, etc., when necessary.”

But wait–there’s still more indecision and doubt!  Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

February 15th 2014
Lucky Lucy wonders: can I break my agreement to return after sabbatical?

Posted under happy endings & jobs

elvgrenmailHowdy, friends!  Historiann opened her mailbag this afternoon and found a question from a tenured, early mid-career humanist.  She’d really appreciate your advice and assistance with her situation, which involves a job offer received while on sabbatical:

Dear Historiann,

I’m on sabbatical this year and have been offered another job!  My question is about the “repayment” of one’s sabbatical year. I signed something saying that I owed my current employer a year of work after my sabbatical. Some very knowledgeable people have told me that those clauses are rarely enforced or enforceable, but a colleague of mine who used to be employed at another university tells me they routinely sued people who didn’t return after a sabbatical.

So first, I’m wondering what your readers’ experiences are: do they know of faculty members who just left without repayment, or who were forced to return for a year–or was there some compromise or workaround? And second, I’d love advice on how to handle this clause in any possible negotiations with either party. It seems to weaken my bargaining position with both my current employer (they know I have to stay, at least for a year, and might be less willing to better my position) and my prospective employer (they’d be passing up a bird in the hand). Continue Reading »

20 Comments »

February 14th 2014
MSNBC makes a Valentine’s Day funny

Posted under art & fluff & unhappy endings

I watched Hardball last night, and as usual those folks at MSNBC are on Chris Christie and his traffic-on-the-bridge scandal like a dog on a bone.  I noticed that the squib for the first segment, “More subpoenas, more questions,” was “Tainted Gov.”  Tainted gov?  I didn’t get it.  Is that a food poisoning joke or something?  Then I figured it out–I think it’s a reference to Soft Cell’s 1981 new wave remake of the classic:

HA-ha! Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy weekend!

10 Comments »

February 13th 2014
Free speech and bad art at Wellesley

Posted under American history & art & Gender & students & the body & weirdness & women's history

Wake up!!!

Wake up!!!

Have any of you been following the fracas over the temporary installation of Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker” statue on the Wellesley College campus?  Lenore Skenazy published a faux-outraged commentary in the Wall Street Journal that summarizes the controversy and predictably makes fun of the campus feminists who object to the statue, rather than questioning the aesthetic judgment of the art museum director who decided to put up this crummy piece of art in the first place:

“Wellesley should be a safe place for their students, not a triggering one,” wrote one petition-signer, as if the statue actually made the campus dangerous. That’s a brand-new way of looking at—and trying to legislate—the world. So I checked in with Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, about the Wellesley panic. “It’s the idea that any kind of discomfort is a form of assault,” he noted.

Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete, since anything a person does, makes or says could be interpreted as abuse.

Lisa Fischman, director of the art museum on campus, wrote an open letter to students explaining that, to her, the Matelli statue depicts a vulnerable, pathetic stranger. (He’s sleepwalking in his skivvies in the snow, after all.) But to the petition-signers, her point of view is apparently not worthy. One wrote that Ms. Fischman’s letter, like the sculpture itself, “should occupy a less intrusive place.”

Yet another wrote: “A school endorsing the decision to expose its female students to this . . . violates civil rights laws.” I’ll stop quoting these petition-signers now—their words are triggering some of my own fears.

Since when is it a “civil right” not to feel disturbed by a piece of art? And who gets to decide which art we chuck? You don’t like the “Sleepwalker,” but I don’t like “Winged Victory.” It stirs scary thoughts of decapitation. Dear Louvre, please stash that headless gal in the attic.

Yes, it’s over-the-top to describe an inanimate piece of sculpture as an assault.  But it’s also ridiculous to say that questioning Fischman’s judgment assaults liberty of speech as well.  (They submitted a petition; they didn’t occupy the museum and hold her at gunpoint in her office until she had the sculpture removed.  What the hell–it was a good effort to try to sell more copies of Skenazy’s four-year old book!) Continue Reading »

16 Comments »

February 9th 2014
Victorian Secrets by Sarah A. Chrisman (2013): perhaps some things are better kept under wraps.

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & Gender & the body & wankers & women's history

victoriansecretschrismanBecause of my clear fascination with historical shapewear and undergarments, a number of people have recommended that I read Victorian Secrets:  What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself by Sarah A. Chrisman (New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2013).  Although I am deeply interested in clothing and historical costume, and although I incorporate this kind of material culture into my work as a historian, I have never been tempted to become a historical re-enactor.  Ever.  Perhaps because of my utter disinterest in wearing historical clothing myself, I was eager to read Chrisman’s book, which is an autobiographical account of a relationship between a 30-year old woman  and her corset.  Chrisman is very insightful about the ways in which corseting herself forces changes in her body, posture, and wardrobe.  However, she is much less thoughtful about how the people of Seattle respond to her experiment in corsetry.

Chrisman and her husband Gabriel enjoy wearing real vintage clothing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and she describes their growing involvement with the reenactor community in Washington state.  In wearing a corset, Chrisman reports that she was able to leave her tall, slouchy, not model-thin body behind and finally to feel at home in her body for the first time in her life.  Her breasts were relieved of the pressure of her bra straps, and for once her curves were flattering.  Furthermore, her corset limited the amount of food she could consume at any given time, removing another source of anxiety about her body:  “It was no longer a matter of biology, but of simple physics:  my stomach could not expand past the diameter of my corset.  If I started the day with my corset at twenty-eight, or twenty-four, or twenty inches, as long as I did not loosen it, I would have the exact same measurement at the end of the day, no matter what I ate or what I did in the interim.  I could eat until I was full at every meal,” (120-21).

However, Chrisman approaches her interests in corsetry and historical costume like a buff, not a historian.  And like many buffs, she displays an astonishing intolerance for any fellow buffs whose interest in historic costume isn’t as accurate as Chrisman believes it should be.  Continue Reading »

24 Comments »

February 8th 2014
Sochi 2014 opening ceremonies: the fashion beatdown

Posted under American history & art & fluff & O Canada

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY

Lifties, terrorists, or Team Ireland?

You have to feel some sympathy for the designers of the team uniforms for the opening ceremonies for the winter Olympics.  After all, it’s an all cold weather sports event held at midwinter in the Northern hemisphere, so the team look has to be built around parkas, and perhaps accessorized with touqes and mufflers.  Aside from that, you need to find a look that’s flattering (or at least not deeply un-flattering) to people whose body types range in both sexes from tiny figure skaters to thick-thighed speed skaters and to ginormous hockey players and curlers.

But, honestly friends:  can’t we do any better than to make most of the international teams look like lifties or Teletubbies (see Argentina for the former, and Germany for the latter)?  And Ireland:  did you want to make your team look like IRA terrorists?

sochimexico

Team Mexico: kind of awesome

Mexico is getting slammed by some, but I thought their getups were pretty stylin’.  I like team uniforms that try to connect to the national identity of the country represented, and it’s quite a challenge when you have a tropical or subtropical country.  Cross your eyes a little bit and they look like matadors in traditional costume.  The U.S. uniforms probably seemed like a good idea when viewed in isolation, but having 200+ people in a great mass wearing that getup was just ugly and confusing. Continue Reading »

13 Comments »

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