29 November 2006
I also concluded that I don't know why I'm subscribing to the Atlantic, though I usually like it okay (it's no Harper's, but it'll do.) This month's cover story is on the one hundred most influential Americans. They amassed a panel of historians to put it together. It shames me that these are my people. And some of them I respect a great deal, so I'm just hoping they got outvoted by the overwhelmingly white maleness of the rest of the panel. Yeah. 82 out of the 100 "most influential Americans" are white men. Malcolm X doesn't even appear, and there are no women of color of any kind. Fannie Lou Hamer? Sojourner Truth? Seriously, nothing? No Cesar Chavez? Bayard Rustin totally unmentioned, so they can tokenize MLK as the sole non-white man in the top ten?
Nor, as one of the women historians acknowledged, are there any Asian Americans, Native Americans, or Latinos at all. Are we supposed to conclude that not a single Native American influenced our history? At least not "majorly"? J.P. Morgan, Walt Whitman and Walt Disney are ranked well above W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass? I know I'm probably taking it too personally -- it's a magazine! -- but, as is constantly being pointed out to me, I am the eternal optimist. I expect better of people. The fact that the inside story begins with a full-page spread entitled "They Made America" kind of says it all. And here I thought slave labor and Chinese railroad workers and immigrants made America. I really hate the great man theory. I don't think there's any way to do an arbitrary exercise like this list without it becoming a pointless reiteration of the majority culture's self-absorbed idol-worshipping. Rant over.
27 November 2006
This is very exciting, given that we got basically no snow last winter at all. Those of you on the East Coast are rolling your eyes right now. All both of you. It's very exciting! A blanket of sparkles! It's like flair for the earth! OK, I'll stop now.
In honor of the upcoming World AIDS Day on Dec 1st, Bristol Myers Squibb will donate $1 for every person who goes to their web site and lights a candle (simply clicks) to fight AIDS, up to a max of $100,000.
Please go here.
You are The Tower
Ambition, fighting, war, courage. Destruction, danger, fall, ruin.
The Tower represents war, destruction, but also spiritual renewal. Plans are disrupted. Your views and ideas will change as a result.
The Tower is a card about war, a war between the structures of lies and the lightning flash of truth. The Tower stands for "false concepts and institutions that we take for real." You have been shaken up; blinded by a shocking revelation. It sometimes takes that to see a truth that one refuses to see. Or to bring down beliefs that are so well constructed. What's most important to remember is that the tearing down of this structure, however painful, makes room for something new to be built.
What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.
26 November 2006
But what I've found most interesting is that the majority of craftspeople who sell there do this as their full-time job and are otherwise living in pretty much total poverty. Like, in a warehouse without any heat, or raising three kids on 12,000 a year from disability. And none of them charge for their labor. I mean the hours of time they put into making the item they're selling, I'm not even going to go there with the hours of time sitting at the market. You literally cannot charge anything for your labor costs and have a price that most people will find anywhere near acceptable. So they make a dollar for every hour of labor they put in, not including selling time. Yet again, the globalization of capital screwing over the ability of local groups to form productive, supportive economies of their own.
24 November 2006
22 November 2006
Hope you all have a happy holiday and safe travels in the next several days!
21 November 2006
In a completely random link, this article is hilarious. Which of our grad cohort will channel the themes of our thesis/dissertation into a subversively offensive comedy routine in the future? I'm guessing Matt, he's already started with his shockingly inappropriate performance of Smokey the Bear. If Chris dresses up as Simone de Beauvoir next Halloween, though, he might be another strong contestant. Actually, I think it could be almost any of us. What does that say?
20 November 2006
2) The Rambunctious Unicorn
3) Jewelris Doctoris
4) Spiritual Materialism
5) Truth or Flair?
6) Narcissus' Mirror
7) Little Miss Moonshine
8) Veritas Earrings
Sample of the merchandise:
Kitty investigates, mid-setup:
P.S. Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's are HIGHLY recommended. Little bits of candy cane inside a mock-Oreo cookie. I don't know why a cookie like this hasn't been created before.
19 November 2006
17 November 2006
1. This story about neanderthal DNA reminded me of some highly enjoyable books that everyone should read and I should totally reread soon: The Eyre Affair (and three follow-ups -- apparently the fifth book will be published next year and set around Pride and Prejudice) -- set in an alternate history of England in 1985 where characters can be kidnapped from novels and there is a whole branch of police that deals with literature crimes. Cloning is normal -- people clone dodos and Neanderthals, the latter of whom they then oppress and exploit, in a nice nod to realism. If you enjoy wit, clever literary allusions, silliness and smart, non-cliche characters, you'll enjoy it. Um, if you don't like those things, I don't know what to tell you. Read something else.
2. Last night Jeff and E. and I, with roommates joining later, had a mini "yearbook-party" -- gin was involved. Mostly it just made both Jeff and I feel old. However it also highlighted some seriously ridiculous hair in the 80s, and how, in small towns, that got carried happily right through the 90s without much change. When you've reached the point where you identify the people who've died in your yearbook pages (as both Jeff and I did), I think it's time to put it away and never open it again. Because that number is only going to get higher as you get older.
3. And just so we're all clear: "less" and "amount" refer to noncountable things (like stress or hunger or gin) while "fewer" and "number" refer to countable things (like papers or french fries or bottles). My tutoring student yesterday argued with me about this for a good half hour. You don't say "there were less students in the room." You just don't! I'm not the grammar dictator by any stretch, but if I tell you something AND it's printed in many places in the book, believe it! Apparently I seem very untrustworthy, or perhaps I have a reputation as someone who makes up false grammatical rules just for fun. He already suspects me of doing this with math, though, so I guess it's no surprise. Maybe he's related to my fifth-grade friend Cindy's mom who had a deep and violent distrust of redheads. Seriously, we couldn't be friends anymore after her mom met me and saw my hair.
15 November 2006
1) My minor field syllabus. Submitted in draft form yesterday. In keeping with my running cycle of spending every fall quarter for the past four years studying slavery (unintentional, but it just keeps happening, and once I start actually teaching U.S. history, it will probably keep happening for the rest of my professional life), I spent this quarter writing my own syllabus on slavery in the Atlantic world. Sure, it gave me nightmares (I probably need to stop engaging in sixteen-hour-straight work binges on topics like this), but it also reminded me every single second of how fucking fortunate I am. It was a little disturbing that I've reached the point where I watch videos on the Middle Passage with an eye to what they're leaving out, not to mention sipping my cup of sugary caffeine (irony!) while doing it, but it's one of those topics I always come back to studying. All things can be traced back to slavery, as far as I'm concerned. Capitalism? Slavery. Enlightenment philosophy and modernity? Slavery. Race? That's the more provocative chicken and egg question, but definitely modern notions of race. OK, I'm a little obsessed right now.
2) Preliminary dissertation proposal. Out of nowhere, I have a lot to say, and opinions likely to piss off many people. This is undoubtedly astonishing to most of you. Anyway -- I totally have a topic! And it's...not really even that different from my thesis topic! Just broader and allowing me to do lots more of my patented "law is crap" analysis. The people, I give them what they want. Plus I'll probably change it twenty times in the next year or two.
3) All LSAT students. You will shut up and listen. Especially the old-man ones who try to challenge my authority and make serious comments like "white men get screwed by the system!" (see #1, above) I have no patience for that crap.
4) Finally quitting a job that is sucking up too much time. As roomie said, "He wasn't terribly abusive, but you could do better." I am now shockingly left with enough time to actually do my comps reading. Part of me will miss putting on the standardized-test dominatrix persona several times a week, especially since it was a nice break from the kicked-puppy persona that is standard-issue to all grad students. But who am I kidding, I'll totally go back to him in the summer when I'm broke and desperate.
5) Algebra. My math students are always acting impressed at my "quick and dirty" version of math, even though I think they know might the "names" for the the legitimate versions of what I do. Initially I reacted with "crap, maybe I should be teaching them the 'real' stuff, except I don't know it" but this week I am temporarily convinced I have all the answers, so I am totally the boss of algebra right now. I crack my whip at you, quadratic equations!
Whose ass have you kicked lately?
14 November 2006
I also find the tale of thirteen children broods extra-disturbing in relation to one of the countless sociological studies I've been reviewing, this one about intelligence levels in children (I know, I know, sociology -- pah!). Apparently if you have more than three siblings your intelligence is lower, though the oldest and youngest are still at the expected level, due to more attention, presumably. So we're just generating armies of patriarchal, fundamentalist, war-happy kids with sub-par intelligence. Great!
13 November 2006
12 November 2006
1) The first study examined the effects that a belief (or disbelief) in the meritocracy had on women subjected to gender discrimination. Women who experienced gender discrimination but didn't believe in meritocracy had higher levels of well-being after the event than those who did believe. Unsurprising. And, in the control group, those who didn't experience any discrimination and did believe in the meritocracy had higher levels of well-being. I'm just going to sum this up for future students as, if you believe in the meritocracy, it's because your life has been a big fucking cakewalk. I'm such a great teacher.
2) The second study, from a law review article on behavioralism I read a few weeks ago, examined people's reactions to watching other people be subjected to painful shocks when they answered various trivia questions incorrectly (this is, by the way, how I envision the comprehensive exam process working). In one group, the observers were allowed to give input into the process, in other words they were allowed to tell the shockers to use non-painful positive reinforcement stimuli instead in order to encourage the test subjects to learn and remember the material. When given this oopportunity, all the observers choose the positive reinforcement option (that's the part I actually find shocking). Their opinions of the test subjects afterwards were also positive, they found them likeable and intelligent and able to learn.
The second group of observers was given no option of input. They just had to watch the test subjects get shocked, painfully, repeatedly. At the end, their opinions were negative. They believed that the subjects were, essentially, to blame for their own pain -- they weren't smart enough or were refusing to prevent themselves from getting shocked. Basically, the conclusion is, if we feel like we can actually change something, we're more likely to have empathy for the victims, but if we feel like we can't do anything? We blame them for their own situation.
Confirming what we already knew, at least about Americans, but in a creepily scientific way.
11 November 2006
"There are two principal ways in which reflective human beings try, by placing their lives in a larger context, to give sense to those lives. The first is by telling the story of their contribution to a community. This community may be the actual historical one in which they live, or another actual one, distant in time or place, or a quite imaginary one, consisting perhaps of a dozen heroes and heroines selected from history or fiction or both. The second way is to describe themselves as standing in an immediate relation to a non-human reality. This relationship is immediate in the sense that it does not derive from a relation between such a reality and their tribe, or their nation, or their imagined band of comrades. I shall say that stories of the former kind exemplify the desire for solidarity, and that stories of the latter kind exemplify the desire for objectivity." -- Richard Rorty
Though I don't agree with Rorty on everything, and though we could always problematize the project of binaries, this speaks with nice clarity to a powerful (constructed or not) division. Since I've alternated between spending my life with revolutionaries, then law students -- or with activists, then academics -- I'm always wishing for a way to break down what feels like a very real barricade between these conceptions. Solidarity!
10 November 2006
I start off with a cup of yerba mate and almond milk and finish my slave trade syllabus movie-screening with the rest of Quilombo, about the Palmares maroon community in Brazil. It was OK, but the production quality wasn't as good as La Ultima Cena, still my favorite.
Paola decides that if I'm not going to fold my laundry, she's just going to snuggle up in it and be cute.
Waiting for my bus. The gray sky will remain until approximately June. At least the torrents slowed down in the last few days.
I love my green wool plaid coat.
Passing by the Red Barn in the lively downtown area. This is shortly before I spilled water all. over. my. lap.
The glorious hallway leading to my glorious office for glorious office hours. No students come for the first hour. I'm OK with that.
Reading for my subaltern seminar tomorrow. This is the founding statement of the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group -- this paragraph talks about "uncovering the social semiotics of the strategies and cultural practices of peasant insurgencies" and that the subaltern while "not registrable as a historical subject capable of hegemonic action...is nevertheless present in unexpected structural dichotomies." Really, it's one of the clearer documents and I like it. But then I like theory generally, while simultaneously having a deep distrust of my liking for it. I'll never leave my trailer park anti-intellectualism behind. Nor should I, probably.
I go to lecture for my grading class and come back. My office is the same. Tiny. No elves have come to finish my reading for me. We discussed Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and the Virgin of Guadalupe in lecture, and I have stories about both, for another time. Three students come see me, nervous and seeking grade changes. Mostly, they just need to be talked out of it. I feel mean.
I grab some devil juice to help stay awake during the lecture at the library on memory and forgetting in Pinochet's Chile. Fittingly in line with Esperanza Rossi's kick-ass post on history and memory yesterday. It's a great lecture, but unfortunately the caffeine doesn't fully kick in, so I'm kind of in and out. Until he played the 80s Chilean pop group "Los Prisonieros." Wild to think that the 80s were a decade of revolutionary movements and protest generations in other countries. Not so much here.
The grad students all showed up for the free food at the end anyway. This is why they pay us so little, to ensure we come to all the lectures.
The fancy bar/restaurant/hotel I walk past every time I go to my teaching gig. I've never gone in, so I have this whole Little Match Girl, nose-pressed-to-the-glass obsession with going there someday. It'll probably be a total disappointment.
Post-formal logic equations for 3 1/2 hours. My hands are covered in those damn markers, like my middle school algebra teacher. My students are sleepy and whiny. I take my use of the Socratic method to new heights, which is fairly hyprocritical of me.
The heel of my boots snapped right off in the middle of LSAT class. I didn't fall on my face or anything, but I did have to maintain my authority while balancing on one foot and holding on to the podium for the last hour. Yeah, that's what I get for trying to be taller than I already am (or so my friend Courtney would probably say). They were my favorites too! I demand a refund.
I come home (finally! it's 9:30!) to have my boots pulled off by one person (I can't do it myself!) and a plate of freshly made pad thai put in my hands by another. E., who has stopped by to borrow something, calls me "pampered." It's true. I love living in a community that takes care of each other. Then we watch that Deal or No Deal show and marvel at how the entire thing relies on powerless people not being able to calculate their own interests when they are in a perceived position of power for the first time in their lives. Under any kind of cost-benefit analysis, that lady should not have kept saying "no deal." Whatever.
That was it -- incredibly prosaic, as are most days. Next time I'll take the camera along with me to the WinCo, which is a good time.
09 November 2006
In other news, I highly recommend the following movie for any film/history connoisseurs: La Ultima Cena (The Last Supper), directed by Tomás Gutiérrez-Alea. Here's the Times review from 1976, when it came out. I've been screening various movies over the past few days for my minor field syllabus on the Atlantic slave trade, and it's one of the best. The owner of a Cuban sugar plantation invites twelve of his slaves to feast with him in order to teach them about Christianity -- you can imagine what happens from there. The political, social and religious parable elements are subtle and impressively done and it raises many of the most important issues/questions regarding New World slavery and its inherent contradictions. My imaginary students for this imaginary class are so going to be watching this. Putting together a syllabus is hard, but I have to say it's pretty fun, too.
08 November 2006
Roomie's birthday festivities were a success last night -- there was some 80s dancing (sadly my photos of that are too blurry, but E. showed off some very nice moves), some Thai salad roll and pad see ew munching, and, thanks to my paranoia after the pot pie incident, I didn't even drop anything on the floor.
The black forest cake, four kirsch-soaked layers of dark chocolate gateau, layered with buttercream frosting and sour cherries and frosted with whipped cream, was the real German version. That supposedly means, if made correctly, the room should spin when you stand up. It did. The "cherry blossom" cocktail invented for the occasion (roomie loves cherries) probably contributed to that as well. Liquored-up by both cake and drink, after the company left the B.C.C. started brainstorming about potential holiday card images for this year. Don't be surprised if something involving the following disturbing image reaches your mailbox this December:
We're going straight to hell. But at least the Monty Python cast will be there to keep us company.
07 November 2006
I am not going to discuss the elections today. I've expressed my feelings on that subject, in probably tedious detail. Anyway, today happens to be the day on which three of my favorite things happened:
1) In the current Gregorian calendar, the October Revolution of 1917 started today, November 7, when the Red Guard in Petrograd took over government facilities in a virtually bloodless overthrow of Kerensky's regime. The act of workers rising up to overthrow the exploitative ruling class -- and successfully maintaining their own state, however deformed it became -- has given hope to other oppressed groups for decades. RIP.
2) Fittingly, Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Leon Trotsky -- he took the name of a former jailer whose passport he stole when he escaped) was also born on November 7, 1879 in the Gregorian calendar, and went on to lead the Petrograd Soviet during the Revolution and become head of the Red Army. This is a picture from when he was sentenced to four years in Siberia, before the revolution. I think of it as "foxy Trotsky." Yeah, I'm a little twisted.
3) My roomie was born today, a lot more recently. She has not led any revolutions (yet) but I don't doubt she will at some point. She has a pretty powerful loathing of the bourgeoisie. After the pie-dropping incident of last weekend we decided that the world can be divided into the people who would eat the pie off the floor and the people who wouldn't, and that we didn't really have time for the people who wouldn't. She added that she can also make this decision "as soon as someone says the word 'golf.'" We get along very well. :) I'm alternately finishing this post and frosting her cake while humming the Internationale. That may be a little Marie Antoinette of me, but you can't live an uncontradictory life under capitalism...
06 November 2006
I find this BBC article hilarious. Don't dwell in blue-sky thinking! We need to drill down until we're outside the box and we can push the envelope into the helicopter view! It's sad that this actually makes anyone feel inferior. It should just make you feel like you work for tools, which I guess in a way also makes you feel crappy.
As my (blissfully) brief re-entrance into the world of office work yesterday showed me, I am very very very lucky to work in academia. Sure, instead of this jargon we use phrases like "heteronormativity" or "syntagmatic relata" or "diachronic versus synchronic" -- um, where was I going with that? Right! Well, at least I only find academic-speak to be embarassing sometimes, as opposed to the full-time absurdity of management-talk.
I think the test should be that unless you can explain an idea to a drunk Irish guy in a crowded bar and actually make him understand (S. is the queen of this), you shouldn't get to talk about it, period. In order to play the career game you have to use academic-speak and I will be the first to admit that it makes many ideas both more nuanced and more direct -- for those of you not in academia, I know that's hard to believe, but it takes a lot more words to explain the dialectic or hegemony than it does to just say the word -- but if we're only talking to ourselves, we're losing the war. Plus, you know, mark of insanity and all. We need more joined-up thinking in order to pick the low-hanging fruit!
Basically, I've got nothing. Time to go make a cake! A real one, not a metaphorical one.
05 November 2006
I'm not! I'm at work, have been tutoring math for the last several hours as a favor and will now be receptionist-ing for the next several hours as another favor because our front desk person just had a sudden illness in the family. And I'm a nice person. But not so nice I don't feel like channeling Dante. Not the vengeful one, the whiny one. Seriously, I don't even think I'm that nice. Why am I here again? Normally I identify far more with the vengeful Dante. I would offer some Smarties from the jar on this desk to whoever can name the quote, but I doubt it's that hard and frankly, I don't want to have to mail them. They'd end up powder anyway. No candy for you!
After reading several essays with variations on the theme "the Spanish conquest was necessary to create our wonderful modern world" with a range of kickers like "if the natives hadn't resisted Christianity, there would not have been the need for so much bloodshed," I have a few reactions.
I teach math for the GRE and GMAT and verbal/reading/writing skills, as well as logic problems for the LSAT, and I am well acquainted with the feeling when a student doesn't grasp a concept or can't seem to learn it in the way I would prefer. It can be frustrating, but it's not taxing in the same way that reading crap like that is or attempting to find a response to it that will actually challenge the student to learn or open their mind a crack. There is a real difference in the nature of the work, and it is rarely addressed in the academic community.
This reminds me of a conversation I had a week ago with a friend who teaches Ethnic Studies at the local community college. She commented that she often feels like she should be getting hazard pay for the personally grueling work of having to (as a woman of color) teach the mostly white classes of hundreds about racism or sexism or classism. I'm the last person to get on board with a "grad students/professors' lives are so haaaard"-fest, because we are incredibly privileged, comparatively, but the treatment of the humanities in relation to the sciences is pretty disturbing. What is our real goal in providing an education? Frankly, I enjoy math and I may like getting a faster computer every few years but I wouldn't really give a damn if everyone in the world completed their education unable to calculate the area of a cylinder. Especially if they did graduate with a comprehension of their privilege or the resources to organize resistance, an understanding of the implications of their choices, and enough knowledge of the history of capitalism, imperialism and oppression to make different choices in the future. If we actually graduated people that had become better human beings with empathy and a comprehension of their position in a larger community, I wouldn't care if they couldn't chart formal logic problems or reverse-FOIL a quadratic equation. The first set of qualities is simply more important.
But creating better and more socially responsible human beings is not our goal. So the humanities teachers -- who do the actual work of making citizens, as best they can -- not only don't get supplemental pay to recognize the importance of that work, they actually get astronomically less funding and resources than the sciences. And as per the comments from A. yesterday, with the current funding situation all we can do is teach giant lecture courses that are by nature designed to limit or destroy any possibility of critical thinking. Again, I'm not trashing the sciences. But our priorities are all kinds of fucked-up if this is the kind of "education" we think is the most important to provide. I seriously question whether it is possible to work towards revolutionary change while also working within an education system that is designed to maintain the status quo.
Don't even get me started on the grade inflation and consumer commodification of education that means that these racist or otherwise narrow-minded students will still graduate with a degree in liberal arts having never opened their minds an inch.
04 November 2006
03 November 2006
On another topic entirely, I beat a large group of LSAT students with my giant formal logic stick last night. That just sounds dirty, but it's the most appropriate metaphor for what happened. They were like deer in headlights. I felt bad for them and kind of wickedly enjoyed it at the same time. Now I need to beat up these midterms today. Formal logic goes back in the drawer, because using that standard...weeeelllll, let's just say they'd pretty much all fail. I'll just use my consistency twig and my accuracy wrist-slap. They still better watch out! Happy Friday!
02 November 2006
Maryland Court Rules Consent Only Needed Prior to Sexual Act in Alleged Rape
I cannot believe the sick appropriateness of this, but Maryland's state motto is "fatti maschii parole femine," loosely translated as "manly deeds, womanly words." In the sense that "womanly words" have no ability to stop "manly deeds," I guess this ruling is consistent. The only word this court is able to hear from women (yes, I'm essentializing) is "yes." Can they not conceive that you cannot say a meaningful "yes" unless you can also say a meaningful "no?" It reminds me of the rape case in Italy when I was studying there where the judge said rape could not have occurred because the woman was wearing jeans. Jeans = consent. Yeah...I have no words. Which I guess is really their goal, in the end. Fuck you too, Maryland.
"After the concering (sic) of the Inca people and the transport of the gold to Europe the Spanish wanted more. You could say that they were greedy."
Love the understatement. I'm still waiting for one of them to discuss the religious reasons for the conquest. I guess they'd like to pretend that wasn't part of it.
01 November 2006
On the other hand, skepticism that is not also skeptical of itself risks becoming its opposite. I don't want to be like the abolitionists who refused to donate some of their money to buy Frederick Douglass and other runaways out of slavery because doing so would "taint" them with participation in the slave trade -- that smacks of a self-indulgent, bourgeois (you knew it was coming!) need for purity, something most people in dire situations cannot afford. So I never entirely know what I'm going to do on the individual elections until it's actually time to mark the damn ballot. Unless it's the presidential election -- then I just write in Jon Stewart.
So that brings me, on the day of the dead, to the question of who, alive or dead, I would actually vote for with all my beliefs at least mostly intact? Nelson Mandela and bell hooks are about the only ones I can come up with who are alive. As for the dead: Trotsky, Lenin, Che, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin (nonviolent, sure, but at least he'd end the war), Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxembourg, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Toussaint L'Ouverture...all activists, I left the theorists off because much as I love them, they can be unpredictable and, let's face it, academics are soft. I am bizzarely tempted to add Jane Austen -- what can I say? -- I have an inexplicable love for her. Anyone with that much ability to see through the BS would be nice to have around.
Who would be on your dream team ballot?