December 11th 2013
Philanthropy: nostalgia, disgust, and objective value

Posted under: childhood, jobs, local news, students, unhappy endings, weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been a semi-regular donor to my private undergraduate college.*  I write some pretty big checks in reunion years, and while I sometimes miss a year or two, I’ve given that institution between $1000-1,500 in the past four years.  On the other hand, the pleas from my graduate institution go right into the recycling bin, as does their monthly alumni magazine.  (Honestly:  what a waste of paper and fuel!)  When I get mail from this university, I am disgusted that this large, private research university (which benefits from all kinds of government contracts, including morally objectionable work for the Pentagon, etc.) dares to ask me (me!)for a share of my modest income.

But let’s think about which institution has done the most to help me earn that modest income:  clearly, it’s my graduate institution, which granted me the Ph.D. that made me eligible to work as a tenure-track historian in the first place.  Besides:  my undergraduate college charged me and my parents thousands of dollars a year for the honor of matriculating, whereas I went to grad school for free!  It’s true:  I had a T.A.ship and two years of dissertation support, so I not only didn’t have to pay or even borrow a dime, they paid me!  So why do I react with such disgust and resentment when my graduate institution asks me for money?  That seems pretty unfair, doesn’t it?  But the fact of the matter is that I was happy in college, and I was (mostly) unhappy in graduate school, at least in my first year there. Continue Reading »

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December 10th 2013
A case for the Oxford comma (as if it needs to be made in the first place.)

Posted under: bad language, fluff, GLBTQ, weirdness

Love at first sight! Now that would be a big news day.

I had never heard of “the Oxford comma,” but apparently it’s just a serial comma, the use of which many find duplicative. However, it can clarify the meaning of a sentence: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, boys, and girls,” versus “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, boys and girls.” To me, NOT using the serial comma makes sentences look like a spreadsheet formula with a missing parenthesis, but to each his own however stupid or illiterate it looks I guess. Continue Reading »

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December 7th 2013
It’s that time of the year, plus cold, the Louds, and the Mumps

Posted under: American history, art, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, jobs, local news, students

emptyskullI am sorry for the absence of activity at Historiann lately–I’d like to say that it’s because I’m writing 3,500 words a day, but alas!  I have fallen woefully behind in my scheme to finish one draft chapter of my book per month this autumn.  The year isn’t over yet, so I’ll wait to report on the final results, but let’s just say that mid-semester business plus a few trips out of town got me out of the habit of rising at 4 a.m. to write.

It’s cold here, as it is pretty much everywhere in North America, but we don’t have the disabling ice and snow that afflicts the middle of the U.S. now.  I actually took a (short) run yesterday.  I think it was probably my coldest run in 23-1/2 years, as for the first time ever I thought a balaclava would be nice.  My face was cold–no broken blood vessels, so we’ll call it good.

In the History of Sexuality class I’m teaching again with my colleague Ruth Alexander, we’re reading Heather Murray’s Not in This Family:  Gays and the Meaning of Kinship in Postwar North America, which is a really interesting attempt to historicize the “coming out” process that characterizes the post-Gay Liberation era and injects a great deal of nuance into our understanding of how heterosexual parents dealt with gay and lesbian children from 1945 to 1990.  In trying to find some video primary sources, I came across this interview with Lance Loud of the Loud family from An American Family. (Tenured Radical explains it all here.)

Our students didn’t seem to know quite what to do with Lance, which surprised me.  Continue Reading »

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November 29th 2013
Troubled son or abusive partner? Or, when does caring for become enabling?

Posted under: American history, Gender, unhappy endings

Ruth Marcus writes about the Connecticut state’s attorney’s report on the Sandy Hook murderer, and in particular Nancy Lanza’s home life with her son:

“The mother did the shooter’s laundry on a daily basis as the shooter often changed clothing during the day.”

That matter-of-fact recitation, from the just-released official report on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, encapsulates the enduring contradiction of Nancy Lanza, shot four times in her bed with her .22-caliber Savage Mark II rifle.

.        .       .       .        .        .        .

The state’s attorney’s report documents this dogged maternal determination: “The mother took care of all of the shooter’s needs. The mother indicated that she did not work because of her son’s condition. She worried about what would happen to the shooter if anything happened to her.”

Nancy Lanza structured her life around her son’s peculiarities. Workers at the house “were instructed never to ring the doorbell and to make prior arrangements before using power equipment as her son had issues with loud noises.”

Adam Lanza “was particular about the food that he ate and its arrangement on a plate in relation to other foods on the plate. Certain types of dishware could not be used for particular foods. The mother would shop for him and cook to the shooter’s specifications.” When Nancy Lanza considered moving to Washington state so that Adam could attend a special school, she planned to buy a recreational vehicle “as he would not sleep in a hotel.”

Birthdays, Christmas and holidays were not to be celebrated. “He would not allow his mother to put up a Christmas tree.The mother explained it by saying that [the] shooter had no emotions or feelings. The mother also got rid of a cat because the shooter did not want it in the house.” Continue Reading »

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November 27th 2013
Occasions for thanksgiving, 2013

Posted under: American history, happy endings, women's history

thanksgivinggreetingsAn incomplete list:

Who or what is on your list?

10 Comments »

November 26th 2013
More or Less Right On

Posted under: happy endings, jobs, students, wankers

Jonathan Rees, commenting on Coursera’s Daphne Koller’s comment that cognitive learning can only be taught at actual, real-life universities:

So pardon me if I’m less than impressed by Koller’s new-found defense of face-to-face interaction between professors and students. Say what you will about Sebastian Thrun. At least his company will soon only be shortchanging customers who won’t be wiped out by the experience. Continue Reading »

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November 23rd 2013
JFK puts the zap on Peggy Noonan’s brain

Posted under: American history, class, Gender, the body, unhappy endings, weirdness, women's history

Peggy Noonan desperately tries to find something nice to say about John F. Kennedy, because he was assassinated and because he was the only Roman Catholic U.S. President:

Two small points. It is interesting that JFK was celebrated as the first modern president, the first truly hip president, and yet the parts of him we celebrate most are actually the old virtues. He lied to get into the military, not to get out of it. He was sick, claimed to be well, and served as a naval officer in the war. In the postwar years he was in fairly constant physical pain, but he got up every day and did his demanding jobs. He played hurt. He was from a big, seemingly close family and seemed very much the family man himself. What we liked most about him wasn’t hip.

And he was contained. He operated within his own physical space and was not florid or mawkish or creepily domineering in his physical aspect. Continue Reading »

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November 22nd 2013
MOOC meltdown!

Posted under: happy endings, jobs, students, technoskepticism, wankers

Pthbbbbtttttt!

Pthbbbbtttttt!

I assume you’re all familiar with Sebastian Thrum’s “ooopsie–my bad” last week on the argument that MOOCs can educate the uneducated masses and at the same time make money for his deluded investors.  I haven’t had the time or energy to say “I told you so,” especially because Jonathan Rees has a nice round-up (with a bonus Monty Python joke and clip) of the issue.

However, I’ll chime in this morning to note this survey of MOOC users at the University of Pennsylvania:  80% of them already hold advanced degrees!  This makes perfect sense in terms of what Jonathan, I, and every other critic of MOOCs has pointed out from the very beginning, which is that the people who really need college educations also–unfortunately for the edupirates like Thrun and Daphne Koller–need human beings to teach and guide them. Continue Reading »

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November 20th 2013
An update on the “death of an adjunct” story at Duquesne, and a jeremiad against self-sacrifice.

Posted under: American history, jobs, students, unhappy endings, women's history

L.V. Anderson has done some new reporting on the death of adjunct French instructor Margaret Mary Vojtko in Pittsburgh this summer.  The real story turns out to be more complicated than just “adjunct work killed Professor Vojtko.”  She earned a nursing degree but preferred medieval studies.  However, she never finished her Ph.D., apparently had signs of mental illness for years, and individual members of the Duquesne University community (NOT the institution itself) had repeatedly reached out to offer her help, appropriate housing, and similar assistance.  (It’s interesting that Vojtko once wanted to be a nun; she remained a devout Catholic, and to the end of her life lived like one–but more on the self-sacrifice later in this essay.)  UPDATE. 11/22/2013:  Last night, to my chagrin and embarrassment, I discovered that Flavia at Ferule & Fescue had already commented on this story in a post earlier this week, after having written about the story when it first broke this summer.  She offers some interesting thoughts about the Catholic perspective, hers and Duquesne’s.

This reminds me of the simplistic moralizing that flowed from the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the illegal downloader targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice.  The larger story, as Larissa McFarquar reported in The New Yorker earlier this year, also included a history of mental illness and quite possibly chronic malnutrition, neither of which help people make informed decisions about their futures.

In addition to her reporting on the Vojtko story, Anderson published an essay explaining “Why Adjunct Professors Don’t Just Find Other Jobs” that I found pretty nutty.  She explains that adjuncts must teach such a heavy load that they don’t have much time left over for writing, publishing, and applying for jobs–all true.  But then she also explains–through the help of some adjunct faculty correspondents–that the academic calendar somehow prevents them from looking for work: Continue Reading »

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November 18th 2013
Dead feminist Nobelist novelist’s work described as “seminal.” Srsly?

Posted under: art, book reviews, captivity, European history, Gender, women's history

Doris Lessing died yesterday, as you may have heard.  As I was making sandwiches for lunches this morning, I heard the NPR top-of-the-hour news announcement about her death, and it actually described her work as “seminal.”  SEMINAL!  I am serious, as well as seriously disgusted. Dr. Crazy offers some thoughts on her post-graduate discovery and appreciation of Lessing, both The Golden Notebook and her later works.

Last night I finished semi-binge watching Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black and am totally jonesing for season 2.  SPOILER ALERT:   Continue Reading »

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