Saturday, October 25, 2008
On the one hand, the proper reaction to this is "WTF?!?!" On the other, a lesser salary with benefits beats the hell out of unemployment.
Meanwhile, they are anticipating increasing enrollment as people turn to community colleges to retrain for other careers. Although, I wonder how that will actually work out, given the rising cost of tuition and the crisis in banking that could affect loans. I also wonder how much four year colleges and universities are feeling this, as well. Is anywhere safe?
So, I ask once more, how are we not in a depression? Is there no end in sight; and how do we survive in the meantime?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Over the weekend, I attended the Great Lakes History Conference, which had women's history as its theme. More on that later, this post has a point -- eventually.
One of the papers on one of the panels that I chaired focused on the legal arguments surrounding the fight for woman's suffrage. One of the stragetgies of the movement involved an attempt to set a legal precendent by procuring an interpretation of the 14th Amendment. When that not only did not work, but also backfired as the courts began explicitly excluding suffrage from an understanding of citizenship in decisions that also lay the legal groundwork for Jim Crow.
The author of this paper, Annmarie Valdes, opened by drawing a connection between the rights of citizens and gay marriage. While the woman's suffrage movement had voting rights as its goal, the underlying argument for it and for later civil rights' movement relied upon the definition of "citizen," and the rights conferred with citizenship. With marriage seen as a contractual union -- also a 19th century development that another panelist examined -- and the right to enter into contracts seen as a civil right, the exclusion of a whole segment of the population from this right to enter into this marriage contract is, in fact, an infringement upon gay people's rights as citizens.
Which brings me to the point of this post. As you may know, the right of California gay couples to enter into this contract of marriage, to arrange their private lives with all of the same protections that straight couples have, is at this very moment being threatened, and threatened with all due prejudice and not a little hate. The tool of this hateful prejudice is Proposition 8.
Look at the language of the ballot, courtesy of the fabulous Lori Hahn, of Hahn at Home: "Changes California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California." In cold terms, a right is being eliminated. A right.
Sadly, the forces of ignorance seem to be ahead in California, having $10 million more to organize and "educate" support for Proposition 8, according to Equality California (as quoted in the "8 Against 8" press release by Lianne Stokes). To fight the hate, 8 lesbian bloggers -- bloggers whose civil rights are directly at stake in this election -- will be blogging about Proposition 8 for the next 8 days in an effort to raise $8 million.
Since we all can't vote in California (which suggests sort of a states' rights question waiting to be asked there), we can still demonstrate our opposition to Proposition 8 in a few ways.
First, go to Equality California's 8 Against 8 to throw a little cash their way. Every dollar counts.
Second, pass the word on to your readers.
Third, go read the blogs. You may even want to add them to your blogroll, if you haven't already:
- Lori Hahn, Hahn at Home
- Pam Spaulding, Pam's House Blend
- Dorothy Snarker, Dorothy Surrenders
- Grace Rosen and Grace Chu, Grace the Spot
- Kelly Leszczynski, The Lesbian Lifestyle
- Sinclair, Sugarbutch Chronicles
- Renne Gannon, Lesbiatopia
- Riese, This Girl Called Automatic Win
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Last year, in my second half history class, I had a student who is a member of one or the other of the two or three socialist political parties that appear in big cities. He exhibited all of the traits of socialists that I had once known back my semi-activist, wannabe-radical days. He was wicked smart, very well read and informed on working class issues, an excellent and fearless speaker, and a prosteletyzer.
This semester, he contacted me about being the faculty sponsor of a student event. He and some student recruits wanted to hold a panel discussing capitalism and socialist alternatives. I also think that they wanted to drum up interest in creating a student group, never an easy task at a commuter, community college.
I agreed. After all, this is a rather timely subject given the current nosedive in the economy, many of our students to feel politically disempowered even as they have this burning desire to "do something," and, like I said, the socialists tend to be very informed on the types of working class and immigration issues that directly affect our students. Plus, for myself, I felt like I would be using my own position within the system to help the students empower themselves, should they so choose.
As the young folks say, "it's all good."
Again, my naivete rears its clueless head.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
If you will recall, the night before I left for the Little Berks, a visitor appeared at the door of the Gargoyle's Nest and did not identify him -- or her -- self, which resulted in me calling the police. The police had told me that several other people in my building had reported similar incidents.
Yesterday, I returned home to find one of the little memos that management likes to stick under our doors. This one reported instances of intruders entering unlocked apartments, often while the residents were at home. Although they gave no reports or advice on strangers at your locked door, they did advise use to lock our doors and beware. This, after I had to park on the far side of the property due to lack of above ground parking spaces. Why do we have a lack of parking? Management points to high occupancy rates. Residents point out that the parking problem presented itself the month that management doubled the rates for garage parking, so people willing to pay $35/month but not $75/month decided to take advantage of the free parking above ground.
I digress. This was the bitch of the day, not the drama of the day.
The drama of the day involved my irate student from the summer. The one who started yelling at me in my office? The one who caused me to call security? The one who still had an incomplete with me to finish? Yeah, him. He showed up again, albeit via e-mail, and I am violating my newfound ethics of talking about students because this case is one of calling out his bad behavior and discovering that I've gone way past my limit on sympathy.
A few weeks ago, I noticed the impending deadline for the incomplete that the student took in one of my classes. Part of me wanted to be an asshole and ignore it, passively allowing the I become an F. "Nah, you better not do that," I told myself. "You will not only be an asshole, but you could be held culpable for his failure because you did not remind him of the deadline."
The policy for incompletes is that the students have until four weeks into the following semester to finish the course before the I becomes a failing grade. That means that students receiving Incompletes for the spring have until four weeks into the fall to finish. That actually means that the students have the three months of the summer in addition to the four weeks into the fall. In other words, he has had plenty of time. Still, you want to be fair and to cover every eventuality.
So, I sent him an e-mail reminding him to take the final and turn in the paper by the due date. "He'll get that C (the highest grade possible for him at that point) and he will be out of your hair for good," I thought. All lessons learned.
Two weeks later, on the last day possible, he responded. He would go right in and take the final that very afternoon, and send me the paper by 6 pm that day.
To his credit, he did. My plan was to grade his work fairly, have my chair look it over to ensure that I was being fair, and end this sordid chapter.
Of course it didn't work out that way. How could it?
Blame the full moon.
The student plagairized part of his paper.
"Goddammit!" I said, out loud. "Don't do this to me!" But, he did; and I knew this was going to end in a big mess.
Sure, I could have overlooked the plaigairism. It was only a few sentences. I was already pretending that I didn't see that much of the rest of the paper was simply the same online article, but with enough of the words switched about that he could make a case that he had not actually copied the article. I could have just pretended that I didn't see the passages that were, in fact, directly copied, given him a passable (if not good) grade, and moved on.
Except that I had busted other students in the class for plaigairism. Should this student get off simply because he behaved so badly that I didn't want to deal with him anymore?
No. Of course not.
So, I turned to my department chair. "Look," I said, presenting him with the paper and the unattributed source.
"Ooooh, send him to me!" said my chair. "I'm ready to read the riot act to someone! I have my plaigairism spiel all ready!"
"This is the guy from the summer," I warned.
"Oh, him. Absolutely send him to me," said the chair. "You don't need to deal with him any more. Maybe I can talk some sense into him."
"Have at it," I said. I gave him the paper, the three different webpages where I found the exact same language, and my plaigiarism policy. Then, I wrote to the student that I had detected some copied sentences in his paper, that this is a serious matter; but that I was not notifying the dean of students, my dean or anyone else because I did not think that he had intentionally meant to do anything wrong. Instead, he could speak with my chair and, after speaking with the chair, he could redo the paper.
"Essentially, I'm sending him to the principal's office," I told my chair. "And you are the principal."
"Oh god, I am, aren't I?" he said. "How did I come to this wicked end?"
Within a day, the chair received the response; and what a response it was!
First, the student did not refer to me by name or title. I became "the facilitator."
That sounds sort of like the Terminator, only nicer. The Faciliator: She'll mediate your classrooms and meetings! Hasta la vista, baby!
"What's that about," I asked the chair. "The 'facilitator'?"
"I have no idea," he said, "but it really bothers me."
The e-mail went on. The student insisted that I was persecuting him due to some unknown prejudice that I held against him (possibly for his openly hostile comments against homosexuals in our class) and that he would absolutely not redo a paper or accept a 0 for the assignment simply because he did not include punctuation marks.
Sadly, he honestly thinks this is an issue of grammar, of simply failing to include quotation marks. He does not realize that his failure to use those quotations marks in addition to his failure to cite any source turns this into a matter much larger than one of forgetting to hit the proper keys on the keyboard.
This student has had issues with citation before. In another class, he refused to accept that a research paper requires some sort of apparatus -- like a bibliography, list of works cited, footnotes, endnotes, and so forth -- to indicate the sources of the research. He insisted that, because there was no way that he could have made up what was in the paper, that of course he had done research. Therefore, he should not have to indicate that he had, in fact, done research. In other words, the fact of the research should be self-evident, and therefore not require citation.
No amount of explaining would convince him otherwise. No appeals to his desire to produce scholarly work. No displays of examples of the work of authors that he respects. No requests that he demonstrate respect for those authors by giving them credit for their words and ideas. He did not beleive that citations were necessary, therefore any requirement of citation could be ignored as ridiculous. In fact, he seemed to understand citation as some sort of punishment directed at him and intended to obscure his own ideas and intelligence.
This student has been in four of my classes, and I've discovered that this is his biggest problem: He doesn't know what he doesn't know -- cannot conceive that there is something out there, other than raw data, that he does not know. Knowledge, to him, seems to be the accumulation of more facts. Theory, ideas, critique, and all of the higher level thinking skills do not figure into this model of education. Therefore, when confronted by a theory, an idea, or a critique that contradicts what he already feels that he knows to be true -- and he knows that what he knows is true because what he knows are all facts -- he grows belligerent. Even when he encounters new facts that makes him uncomfortable, he rejects those facts and attacks the person who presented them.
I always say, half in jest, that teaching is sometimes like leading a horse to water; and that my job is to lead, drag, cajole, push, and do everything possible to get that horse to the water, but at some point the horse has to do the drinking. Usually, the problem is simply structural. That is, the student just doesn't show up to class or doesn't do the assignments or doesn't study, regardless of consequences. Those are the usual ills, and some bad grades, bad jobs, and maturity tend to cure them.
But this! How do you combat this? How do you deal with it? How do you get past that wall of arrogance and belligerence to show the student how to become a better scholar? How do you explain to the student that he or she is not suceeding because they have not met certain criteria when that student refuses to accept that criteria in the first place?
Normally, the student just moves on, grumpy, dissatisfied, and posting a slam about you on Rate My Professor. This one, however, has told my chair that he is filing a discrimination complaint against me.
According to him, my call to security about his behavior in my office over the summer directly led to the removal of his financial aid and his ability to register for classes*, that he has subsequently been treated as guilty until proven innocent, that my "pettiness" and "prejudice" have interfered with his ability to get an education, and that this is all a violation of his rights as a student.
A discrimination complain. That's serious business.
Normally, I would begin to dissect my own behavior in this. I would examine every move that I made, try to find my responsibility in the matter, try to understand the situation more objectively; but, you know what? Been there.
This student came into my office, demanded a higher grade, yelled at me, interrupted me, talked over me, accused me of racism, mocked me, and generally behaved in an uncivil manner. I may be the professor, the one with the institutional power, but he is behaving badly. So, since I AM the professor, the one with the greater institutional power, it is my job to be the grown up and not let him behave like a brat. It is my job to hold him accountable for his behavior in my classroom, on his assignments, and toward me.
It is also my job, as the professor who knows the field of history and the required skills for his level of engagement in the field of history, to determine his mastery of that field and those skills. He has not recognized the some of these skills exist, much less mastered them. He has not even recognized that I am in an earned position to make these judgements. Therefore, it is my job, as the professor, to give him a failing grade, whether he accepts the reason or not.
He may just be popping off, as he did over the summer when he was threatening lawsuits; but if he is serious, my ducks are all in their necessary rows.
*Which is patently untrue, because, at the time, he told me that his registration and financial aid issues resulted from his poor grades in my classes. Why can't I just use my power for good!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Last week, I dog sat for Fyodor (the pilot who doesn't give me lessons) and his wife, Elle. They have a small little pooch of some sort of terrier breed that looks like someone shrunk a doberman pincher. Although completely adorable, this pup has two very unfortunate features. The first is his name, which doubles as a slang term for a joint. The second unfortunate feature is his Napoleon complex.
The first feature is only unfortunate in that, when children pet him and want to know his name, the parents often aren't to happy with the answer. Other people might have problems with the name, too, as this story will bear out.
The second feature, however, can end up landing the pooch and his walker in some very tricky situations. Like all dogs, this one defends his territory with gusto. If anyone walked by on the sidewalk outside of Fyodor and Elle's townhouse -- if anyone walked on the sidewalk across the street from Fyodor and Elle's townhouse -- he would go into conniptions of barking. No squirrel within three blocks was safe from his protestations, either, and he about threw himself into a seizure of barks at the scent of another dog on the street.
Unlike other dogs, however, this one wanted to expand his territory. Hence, the Napoleon complex. When we went on walks -- better described as "drags" -- he no longer concerned himself with mere humans. Instead, he focused on any pole, tree, bush, or tire previously claimed by another dog. In some instances, a dog had clearly claimed a corner of a building only seconds earlier. This did not deter our four-legged hero. He peed right on top of that other dog's mark.
He would also challenge dogs much larger than himself. On one walk, he tried to take on a standard sized poodle -- a dog that, if he stood on his hind legs, would have been taller than me. My little charge -- who would barely reached my waist on his own hind legs -- wasn't the least bit frightened. In fact, he saw the poodle as a challenge.
When I pulled my little Bonaparte away from his nemesis, he promptly darted to the nearest tree. Keeping a firm eye on the poodle, he made four very deliberate passes against the trunk, squarely faced the poodle, lifted his leg, and pissed. Then, he turned his tail, kicked dirt in the poodle's general direction, and trotted to the next tree. If that wasn't a doggie "fuck you," then I don't know what is.
In general, all went well until Sunday morning. With Fyodor and Elle expected back that evening, I decided to start loading my own gear into my car, parked just around the corner. The dog and I had already taken our morning walk, but he is such a slut for the leash, that I decided to let him trot along with me.
To repeat: the car was just around the corner, so I left the windows to the townhouse open when we left. When we returned, a cop car sat out front. The officer stood in the driveway.
"Oh, shit!" I thought. "A burglar broke in. Fyodor and Elle will hate me."
"Is this your house?" the officer asked.
"No," I said, tightening my hold on the leash against the low pitched growl coming from somewhere near my ankles. "I'm just the dog sitter."
"Well, you shouldn't leave the windows open when you are away," he said.
"I was just going around the block for a minute," I said. "Did something happen?" The growl grew louder. I tugged the tightening leash behind me.
"Someone could break in," the officer said, and launched into a lecture on home safety and crime tips and so forth. "See up there?" The officer indicated the front window. "A thief could come out here with a painter's cap and a ladder and climb in."
Then, the dog bit the officer.
He used what little slack I had left in the leash, jumped forward, and chomped.
"Shit!" cried the cop.
"Shit!" said I.
"That little sonuvabitch bit me!" the cop said.
"Bad boy!" I said.
The cop lifted up the hem of his pants. No blood. Blood would have meant a fine.
"That's gonna bruise," I said. I lifted the hem of my own pants to show the bite-shaped bruises about a foot up my calf. "See, he got me too." I hoped my sympathy would defuse the situation.
It did not.
"Damn!" said the cop. "They need to get that dog a muzzle!"
"A muzzle?" I echoed, thinking, "Shit! Fyodor and Elle are not going to like this one bit."
"Yeah," said the cop. "A muzzle. He's too ferocious."
The cop's partner showed up at that point, and the two of them began to lecture me on home safety, crime precautions, and the dangers of a dog who might bite a kid and create a lawsuit.
"What's that dog's name?" asked the partner.
"Doobie," I said.
"Like the Doobie Brothers?" asked the partner.
"Um, yeah," I said. "Like the Doobie Brothers."
"They must be big fans of the Doobie Brothers," said the cop.
"Big fans," I said.
"Well the owners need to take that Doobie brother to the pound," the partner said. "He should be put down."
"Put down?" I echoed.
"Yeah," said the cop. "You can't have a ferocious beast like that running around."
"Shit!" I thought, "I've consigned their dog to death row. Fyodor and Elle are going to hate me. "
Eventually, after more lectures on home safety, crime precautions, and the dangers of a dog whom might bite a kid and create a lawsuit, I felt I had been dismissed. "We'll be back tonight to talk to the owners," both cops said.
Doobie and I went into the house.
The cops stuck around outside. Meanwhile, I remembered the drying leaf on the liquor cabinet. And the enormous hookah in the backyard. And the horticultural experiments that I knew were probably growing in the garden, but that I didn't want to investigate in the hopes of having some level of plausible deniability.
"Shit," I thought. "Not only have I consigned the dog to death row, but now I'm going to get them busted for possession. Fyodor and Elle will never speak to me again."
So, Doobie and I sat chastened and quiet for the rest of the day, hoping not to attract any more attention from the law, who continued to site outside for the next two hours.
Eventually, nature called. Doobie and I went out for a walk. I tried to give him some obedience lessons. He flunked. then, I practiced what I would tell Fyodor and Elle when they got home.
But, of course, given the clues about their lifestyle that slip out in this narrative, you can imagine that they were not the least bit upset (although I left out the officers' suggestion of putting down Doobie -- that was just too harsh). They found the whole story hilarious. I was still a bit worried about the kid issue, but they assured me that he only get toothy with intruders and people in uniform. The post man is his mortal enemy.
"Doooobie!" they chastised. Then they apologized profusely to me for the behavior of their pet. I apologized profusely for catching the attention of the cops by leaving open the window. "Like no one ever does that around here!" said Elle. "We do that all of the time!"
Summing it all up, I told them, "at least you will might have extra police protection for a while."
"By the way," I said, "if they ask, you are huge Doobie Brothers fans."
I'm a bit dubious about the safety of others while Doobie walks the streets -- and of Doobie, should he get toothy around another officer or someone who doesn't find charm in his chompers. He might need some intensive dog therapy about his uniform issues; but that's not my problem unless I watch him again.
The cops, incidentally, never returned.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
"Thursday, 11 October....
After sunset steered their original course west and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight, going ninety miles, which are twenty-two leagues and a half; and as the Pinta was the swiftest sailer, and kept ahead of the Admiral, she discovered land and made the signals which had been ordered. The land was first seen by a sailor called Rodrigo de Triana, although the Admiral at ten o'clock that evening standing on the quarter-deck saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land; calling to Pero Gutierrez, groom of the King's wardrobe, he told him he saw a light, and bid him look that way, which he did and saw it; he did the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the squadron as comptroller, but he was unable to see it from his situation. The Admiral again perceived it once or twice, appearing like the light of a wax candle moving up and down, which some thought an indication of land...
Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits. The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing. Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral: '.... It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion....." -- from Medieval Sourcebook: Christopher Columbus: Extracts from Journal (a full version of the journal can be found at the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library.)
The description that follows (and that lies within the ellipses) details the appearance and reaction of the native people, as well an accounting of all traits of the people and land that could profit Spain.
And went to look up this:
"1) n. to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. "
Friday, October 10, 2008
Having once held a job that was funded (when it was funded) primarily by both the NEH and the NHPRC, you could say that I'm a bit biased on the issue; but, really, do the people who criticize government spending (and I'm using the term broadly to include federal, state and local governments) realize what they are saying? Is government spending really that hideous?
First of all, I'm kind of shocked that Obama and Biden did not make an explicit connection between government spending, government deficit, and an ever-expanding war and decreasingly-popular war on foreign soil.
Maybe they have and I'm too dense to recognize it without one them explicitly saying so. They get to it in a roundabout way by referring to the dearly departed surplus; but I desperately want them to look at McCain and say, "you dumbass, don't you think all of this money going to this ridiculous war might have something to do with how broke our country is?" Or: "we spend lots of money on a losing war and now we have lots of debt so maybe we should re-think this war thing as a means of using our financial resources more efficiently." Or "maybe we should move the costs in the line that says 'war' to the line that says 'health care' or 'schools,'" or something of that sort.
Second, I wish someone important would ask what our country would look like if there were no government spending. No -- actually, I want to cut closer to the bone than that -- what would an individual person's life look like without government spending?
Indeed, if I were an investigative reporter, I would go out and gather the specific data of the ways that any individual's life benefits from government spending. Then I would find a subject to use as the human interest angle. I would make sure that this subject was unimpeachable to the opposition -- a white, home owning, college educated, male living in the suburbs with a job in the private sector. I might even choose a Republican who cheers McCain's odes to the Evils of Government Spending. Then, I would find the ways in which government spending has enhance or enabled this person's life. I would want to show how American lives are subsidized by government spending in ways they may not even realize.
I'll use my own life for example; although I will grant that we had many government employees in our family, which would skew my own personal data toward more government money in my life.
In my own life, my father worked for the government. First, he was in the service, then he was in the bureaucracy. A part of the bureaucracy, by the way, that was formed in the New Deal and supplemented by the Great Society as a way to help the working and middle class move into home ownership.
My mother was a school librarian in her second career. Both she and my father went to state schools as undergraduates, and she went to a state school to get her graduate degree. She then worked in public school libraries. Both of them are retired and a bulk of their retirement funds come from the government.
My grandmother also was a public school teacher and principal, and educated in public schools and state universities. She once told me that her family, sharecropping in Mississippi in the Depression, sent her to live with relatives in Louisiana because Huey Long was ensuring that public school children did not have to buy their own textbooks (I still have to check out this story -- she's been know to play a little loose with historic facts in her reminiscences.) Her retirement funds are also from government spending.
Her husband, my grandfather, an unskilled worker with an 8th grade education before his service in World War II, was able to get training as a skilled worker from the G.I. Bill after the war. He spent the next 30 years working on the locks on the Intracoastal Waterway. Government spending helped him to do this. Their position in the post-war middle class gave them the prosperity to send my mother to college, and lay a foundation for my own good fortune in living a materially comfortable life.
My other grandfather did not benefit from the G.I. Bill because he had finished college before the war. He did, however, attend a state college. He also volunteered for a government funded charity that taught adult literacy classes. As a paid employee, he worked as an Exxon executive. Do we want to go through the ways that the government subsidized the oil industry now?
My aunt worked at a university press, at a state university, and she now works at a publicly funded museum.
I attended public schools from first grade through my PhD. We didn't have kindergarten in the public schools in those days, so I did attend private institutions for kindergarten and pre-K. My mom wanted me out of her hair so she could deal with my baby brother, and my parents could afford that arrangement from my father's salary, paid for by the government. Then, when I went to a private graduate school, I paid my tuition with government-subsidized loans. Thus, the private school received government money. Additionally, in that program, I served as an intern at institutions that received government funding to operate and to conduct research.
Government money has been ever present in my professional life. As a teacher, I have worked at public institutions from community colleges to public universities. My brief foray into administration was at a public university. As an editor, I worked at projects funded by the NEH and NHPRC. As a researcher, I used institutions also funded by those agencies and funded by public money, such as the Boston Public Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the National Parks Service.
I have always driven on public roads, from the moment that I received my license. The U.S. and interstate highway systems were both products of government spending, and are maintained by that same government spending. I seriously doubt that anyone outside of the military regularly thinks of them as part of a defense measure anymore, and everyone gets really pissy when the roads aren't maintained or cleared of snow in the winters. I have also used the T, the Subway, and the Metro, as well as the Monorail; all three being public forms of transportation that got me to school, work, and research, and which enable whole populations of people to live without cars.
These are only a few very direct examples of the ways in which I use government spending to my advantage. They only apply to me, but the institutions that I attended and at which I worked, as well as the facilities that I have used, all point towards the patronage of thousand or even millions of other people in this country who benefit from government spending.
So, I'm asking all of this out of curiosity, and a potential research project (but not for me, since I have about a thousand other projects -- maybe a collective blogosphere research project). How much of our individual lives are affected by the spending of government funds? We could also extend this question to private corporations and businesses, as well.
Furthermore, since these government funds come from tax dollars, what is the difference between what a person (or business) pays in taxes and what they receive in benefits from public services?
I think I myself come out way ahead on that one.
Crossposted at Progressive Historians
Thursday, October 09, 2008
I read the book on a lark about four or five years ago, as an escape from the hell that was my daily life at the time. I thought, "wouldn't that be nice, to have a place to runaway to, where strong maternal black women take care of you and let you eat lots of honey."
How very white of me to think so. Mine may have been the intended reaction to the story. I imagine book clubs across the country sitting down and saying the same thing.
Last week, the trailer for the the film came on t.v., and Anxious Black Woman's analysis of Jennifer Hudson's character in the Sex and the City movie came immediately to mind. (Hudson, by the way, is also in Secret Life of Bees.)
In the book, a little girl runs away, with a young black woman in tow, to her mother's childhood home. She throws herself on the doorstep of a trio of black sisters, who take her in. The little girl faces difficult truths, grows, becomes a better person, and blahblahblah onward to healing and redemption. All with the help of these sisters.
The novel takes place in the 1960s, with Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement on the periphery of the story. They add a touch of social consciousness to a plot that otherwise treats the black women as vehicles for the white girl's self-actualization. They, like the Mammies of the past, exist in the story to raise the girl and (if I remember correctly) her mother before her.
Today in class, we discussed various stereotypes of African Americans. When we got to "Mammy," (via Aunt Jemima, via "why are black people always associated with pancakes and waffles?", via Little Black Sambo, via a discussion of African naming practices that survived the Middle Passage -- we sometimes have stream of consciousness class meetings) I introduced them to the Mammy 2.0 idea. They all laughed at the name, but the women became dubious and silent at the explanation. That should have been a clue that we were entering uneasy territory.
I blithely blundered on and mentioned this movie, suggesting that it might contain instances of Mammy 2.0. All of the women in the class swooned. "Ahhh, Secret Life of Bees!" they exclaimed. "Queen Latifah!" "Alicia Keys!" "I can't wait to see that!" (The guys, incidentally, rolled their eyes as if to say "chick flick.")
This was not the reaction that I expected; but, then, I was also placing my interpretation and experience onto them. I was critiquing the types of characters with which they had formed some sort of identification. Given the paucity of meaty, solid roles for black actresses, and given the rigid and racist beauty standards of Hollywood, these young women wait a long time to see an interesting story starring women who look like them as the protagonists.
Since the characters are not blatantly stepping and fetching, since the author wrote characters who are sympathetic and, to some degree, more fully imagined and empowered than Margaret Mitchell's Mammy, and since such popular and charismatic actresses can bring depth and dignity to these characters, these students are not seeing this as a white movie with black characters. They see it as a black movie, or a white movie that has a population of black characters large enough to make it seem like a black movie. Furthermore, they see that the main character is, in fact, a child. The adults with responsibilities, wisdom, and power within the plot are the black woman.
I'm not sure exactly what I did when I connected the movie with Mammy. Did I do a bad thing, now raising doubts about the movie for them? Did I do a good thing, pointing out a stereotype? (As if they remember a thing that I say when they walk out the door.) I did rather hope that they would become more conscious of images in the media, but that can be a disturbing consciousness, and teaching requires a fine hand in causing that disruption. They were willing to de-construct Aunt Jemima; but an analysis of characters played by Queen Latifah, Alicia Key, and Jennifer Hudson (not to mention the beautiful Sophie Okenedo) cuts a little too close to home.
Should a good teacher know how to make that cut a little less painful?
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
A. Why I started to blog
1. I was bored and held a $15/hour job in Mystic, where I was replaced by a volunteer.
2. In other words, I needed and intellectual outlet.
3. Admired Bitch PhD and her desire to represent and examine the intersection of her personal, political and professional lives.
B. Why I chose a pseudonym
1. To keep my personal writing separate from my professional identity.
2. Age of Google, control what is front and center and connected to my professional name in a search.
II. Observations on blogging
1. How to (or not to) blog
a. Nasty and controlling voices (often male)
b. Don't use a pseudonym
c. Don't blog
2. Advice on how to blog better, given a particular intent. These are best because they are intended to help the blogger become more effective, not work out some personal issue through castigation.
1. Why do people blog? The experience and interpretation of bloggers as bloggers and by bloggers. The old proscriptive literature vs. lived experience common to the study of women's history.
2. Observation of bloggers' desire for self-definition, and to describe their lived experiences as a whole, not as compartmentalized roles.
3. Research by Tedra Osell, "Where Are The Women? Pseudonymity and the Public Sphere, Then and Now."
III. Professional vs. Personal blogging
A. Professional: Tenured Radical and Knitting Clio blog from a professional position, as historians, reporting on professional matters.
1. I blog from a personal position, which includes but is not limited to the professional. I want to describe my lived experience and want the freedom to discuss that intersection of my personal, professional, and political roles. I want the freedom to examine teaching, research, odd interests in history, odd interests such as flying and acting. Where I came from, if you had even a pulse outside of work, you didn't want anyone to know about it because that meant that you weren't "serious about history." You see that same attitude in the proscriptions against blogging or the nastier ones about the appropriate way to blog.
2. Many blogs that I read are similar to mine, and I see this as a wonderful community (see blog roll on right side of screen for examples)
B. Verbal (that become physical) assaults
1. Edwards campaign: Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte
2. Technology blogger Kathy Sierra
3. Women of color blogs: Blac(k)ademic and La Chola (no links because they shut down after long periods of attacks and harassment)
C. Attacks reminded me of this book: How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanna Russ. Silencing women by excessive rules and dismissals is as old as time.
V. Research (i.e. more data and analysis) that I would like to see:
A. How and why women blog
B. Connections between gender and pseudonymity
C. Attacks: who, how often, by whom, and why
1. Extension of professional roles as advisers and as community of historians (Knitting Clio and Tenured Radical)
2. Play, rather than work -- fun (Tenured Radical)
3. Distinction between "anonymity" and "pseudonymity" (My contribution: "anonymity" hides the person and the persona. "Pseudonymity" is an identity).
4. Uses of anonymity to protect and enable the powerless to come forward. (Tenured Radical's experience)
4. Publicize work (Knitting Clio)
5. Repeated mentions of community (Especially Knitting Clio's desire to use the Berks blog)
6. Use and frustrations of such a technology in extending the classroom. (Knitting Clio)
7. Create an ethical statement and stick to it. (Tenured Radical)
Other bloggers' talks: I'll let Tenured Radical and Knitting Clio (outline and report) represent their own contributions.
Lessons and Duh!-moment-revelations:
1. Other people don't want their dinner conversations reported upon in blogs. I get that, and I will respect it from now on. It's sort of like being a member of the press: people don't want their words taken out of context, especially when they are relaxing and having a good time with old colleagues. (Oddly, this makes my narcissism a more ethical position than a position of observation and description.)
2. There is a power to blogging. When you blog, you must be aware of that power. If you are in the powerless position, such as a student or untenured professor, then you need more protection in the form of anonymity or pseudonymity in order to represent your experience, including to speak truth to power. If you are in the powerful position, such as a tenured professor, they you have a greater responsibility to those who are vulnerable around you. As Tenured Radical put it, you should not mock them.
This last point really has me thinking about blogging about students. Part of me whines that my interactions with them are MY experience, too, and therefore I have a right to discuss them. That is an irresponsible attitude when taken into the public. I am in the powerful position of both having my own forum and over their grades, they are not.
Sometimes, especially if you have had an abusive mentor relationship early in your career, and especially after you have been in an abjectly powerless position for overly long, you miss your transition into a powerful position or become blind to the power that you do possess. In fact, most people exist in both powerful and powerless positions simultaneously. Responsible and ethical people are aware of this complexity, and behave accordingly. I have not, at least in relation to students.
I tend to have have two purposes in blogging about students. First, to blow off steam; and, second, to try to understand what they are thinking and why they are behaving the way that they do. I don't mean the second rhetorically. Ultimately, I see many of my frustrations with students as stemming from our differences in ages, backgrounds, and positions in relation to one another and the institution. I want to understand and minimize or utilize those differences. The focus has to be on the interaction and on my process, not on the individuals on the other end.
The first purpose MUST be abandoned. I have no right to blow off steam on my blog when it comes to people who are less powerful than I, and for whom I should care -- not in the mommy sense, but in the sense of protecting their well-being in order to create a safe environment for learning. Knowing that I might blog about them would shut them down in a heartbeat; and, now, realizing that they don't know that I have a blog and write about them individually seems like an act of betrayal.
3. The more of an audience you have, the more aware you become of your own words.
4. This is an incredible group of generous women. I am sure there are differences, disputes, arguments, and so forth, but the general spirit was that we must, as the National Association of Colored Women said, "lift as we climb." I felt that at the big meeting, too.
Monday, October 06, 2008
And Sarah Palin: Peggy Hill may appear more dour, but she is kinder and more articulate. She'd probably still vote for McCain, however, and partly because of the Palin nomination. The real Peggy Hills out there are the reason that the Palin nomination was a smart move.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
After a lovely weekend, I turned my car homeward. First stop? Radio Shack for a GPS device. This is it:
One of the women at the conference told me that she had named her GPS device, as had a friend of hers. I felt compelled to do the same. I was going to name it "Charley," after the standard poodle who accompanied John Steinbeck on his journey in Travels With Charley. Maybe because I am closer to the age that he was when he wrote that book, and interested in the historical changes in the landscape, as he was in that book, I found it a much more compelling road story than Kerouac's On the Road. For me, anyway.
In any case, "Charley" just did not fit this device. I kept thinking "Kinda free, kinda wow! Charlie" and not Steinbeck. Also, the device has a female voice. So, I thought of dogs that I have know who would have made good traveling companions, much like Charley.
"Klyde" might work, if the device had a male voice, preferably an older sounding, black male voice, like Morgan Freeman. Klyde looked like that would be what he sounded like if he spoke.
Gretl came after Klyde. Gretl was a mini-dachshund. She wasn't so much my pet as my familiar, like a witch's familiar. She traveled very well, sometimes sitting on my lap to help me drive. She might also perch in the passenger's seat, earnestly looking out of the side window as if she couldn't absorb every sight fast enough. You could always tell when she had ridden in the car because her little nose prints covered the window about an inch above the sill.
Plus, the Gretl in the fairy tale went on adventures into the forest, and adventures in the forest (albeit with a road and a not very good map) led me to purchase this device. So, the device is named "Gretl." Silly, I know!
Gretl led me across the Berkshire mountains to the Taconic Parkway. Past one of many, very huge barns:
Here are some of the sights on the Parkway:
"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.": Ossining, home to Don and Betty Draper on Mad Men, and to a big old prison.
The next exit south? Pleasantville.
A gang of Honda convertibles. Bad ass.
A big gas-guzzling, black truck, with "Black Gold" painted on the tailgate. Kind of ironic.
And here is where my journey ended for the day:
I called 911, and the Yankee version of Bubba -- and I say Bubba with the utmost affection in this instance -- showed up with his tow truck a few minutes later. Had the accent been different, from a warmer climate, but no less pronounced, Yankee Bubba could have been my brother or one of his buddies, or any number of the guys that I grew up around in Texas. He shared with me his hatred of the Red Sox, and I earned butch points by knowing more than a smallish, graying woman might expect. After all, I was tear-gassed in the crowd around Fenway when the Sox won the Series.
Yankee Bubba took me to a mechanic, where we left my car and the broken belt. He didn't charge me to drop me off at a motel.
So, this is where I sit, lost in Yonkers, awaiting the repair of my car so I can return to Maryland before my acting class tomorrow night. (Fortunately, I don't teach until Tuesday morning.)
Here it is.:
What do you get when you play the Sopranos theme backwards?
A smallish female professor driving north on the New Jersey turnpike to a women's history conference. (As opposed to a big mob boss driving south to go to his big suburban home. Geddit? Hello? Is this thing on?)
Getting into New York. See the green sign over there on the right. It says I-95, exit. That's were I was going. I had to get over four lanes of this traffic to get there. Surprisingly, I did it. New York drivers aren't as bad as you'd expect. They let me in when I signalled. No cussing, horns, or birds involved. Nor did their world end. Hear that Boston drivers?
By the time I could take pictures again, it was the next day.
Leaf Peeping! I'd have taken more leaf pictures, but I used to live in New England. I have leaf pictures. The pictures seldom capture the sense of being in all of that light shining from the sky and the leaves.
NEXT: Lost in Yonkers.
(After I get some sleep.)
P.S. Vuboq, Tenured Radical really is THAT cool.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
My new computer came this week. Why did I ever opt not to have my last computer be a laptop? Being able to take my computer with me is so liberating. Even more liberation -- almost to the point of decadence -- is having a wireless connection.
Where am I? I'm in a motel in western Massachusetts. Why am I here? Well, I'm attending the Little Berks meeting of the Berkshire Conference of Women's Historians. This is a smaller version of the big one that I attended in Minnesota this past summer, but about which I failed to blog because the whole airplane drama overshadowed it.
The drive up here was long, but Kunta Kinte accompanied me on CD. My late start meant that I ended up in rush hour traffic in New York City, which didn't differ too much from the traffic that I've encountered during non-rush hour times there. My late start meant also that I hit the country highways in the late day golden sunlight as it hit the changing leaves. I'll do a photo essay when I get the pictures downloaded later. I'm a bit too tired now.
Then, the sun set, and I was left on those unfamiliar, winding, country highways alone and with my rather convoluted Map Quest directions. After driving up and down a highway that involved a number 4, looking for a street name that was associated with another highway that involved another number 4, I found the lodge for the opening part of the meeting. I think I got the schedule mixed up because I thought that dinner was at 5 and the talk was at 7:30. I figured that I would get there just in time for the talk, or at least withing 20 minutes after the talk began.
I remember the times wrong or something because, when I got there, everyone had just sat down to dinner. So I made an entrance, which meant that I also did not look my best. Everyone welcomed me right away, and made a place for me at one of the two big tables. The fabulous and wonderful Tenured Radical was at mine.
Dinner was lovely, as was all of the conversation. All of the women around me seemed to have known each other forever but were not the least bit exclusive. "Damn!" I thought. "Look at me with these proper historians who went through graduate programs that actually educated them, and work at major institutions. This is so cool! I'm such a fraud!" Although I revealed my actual first name, I think I prefer being Clio at these functions. My real last name can stay off the record for now because she's sort of embarrassing. Clio is a bit more interesting if for no other reason than that she blogs.
Since I promised not to blog about what went on at dinner,* I'll skip that part and jump to the talk, "'A Woman that is Willful is a Plague of the Worst': Gender and the Black Death in England," by Sandy Bardsley. Willful women and infectious disease? Count me interested!
To be honest, I have never, in my entire academic career extending all the way back to Montessori school, had the opportunity to learn anything about Medieval history beyond the bits mentioned in English literature classes. Prof. Bardsley made me quite aware how deprived I've been. Her talk was fascinating.
According to Bardsley, in the dominant narrative of the plague's impact, women gained greater status through wage labor and property inheritance in the wake of high male mortality. In her own research, however, Bardsley found that the plague actually did not necessarily improve the lives of women. Their wages were not always better, and the work that they did was often the grunt labor. Nor did the move to wage labor necessarily mean a better life for the women.
Her interpretation on this point reminded me of a book that I read about women in the Civil War, by George Rable. In his concluding chapter about the aftermath of the Civil War, he interpreted southern women's entrance into the workforce as a positive change. I disagreed with that interpretation because, to those women, working meant declining status. Not long ago, I reviewed an edited volume of Sarah Morgan's post-war correspondence and essays. She, terrified by the need to work but also thrilled by the prospect of profiting from her writing, tried to find some synthesis in this conflict. She, being educated and possessing an enamored and connected friend (later husband), had the means to earn a satisfying living and to leave the documents that detail the ways in which she herself interpreted her situation. Most other women did not. That is a very frustrating wall to hit.
I digress. Back to Bardsley's talk.
She also found that there were not significant changes in the types of property that women inherited from their fathers before, during and after the plague. Men continued to inherit the property, even in the absence of a direct male heir.
Furthermore, she found that women's public voices were meeting with stricter prohibitions or punishments. This sources for this last one fascinated me. She used instance of women raising "hue" -- that is, calling for help when witnessing a crime. A false hue led to penalties. When women raise a hue, they more likely to be believed. She also looked at cases of scolding. The graph she handed around told the story: the bars representing women accused of scolding went to the top of the page. The bars representing men might be missed if you weren't looking for them. Finally, she looked at depictions of gossiping women, particularly the figure of Noah's wife in morality tales. Needless to say, these were all negative, although they invoked the immediate sympathy of the audience! So, over the course of the period that she studied, women's public voices seemed to transform for one assisting the community to one damaging the community.
One of the audience members pointed out that this last point -- about women's public voices -- anticipated tomorrow's panel on blogging. One of the points that I want to make on that panel is related to the abuse that many female bloggers have endured sometimes simply by daring to venture a voice into the public. This seems so cliche and expected. Of course when women venture into the public sphere, they sustain vicious attacks. Of course, when they protest sexism, they are told to suck it up. They should, in other words, to be a "man" about it. What original can I bring to this conversation, especially in the absence of some concrete data? I'm rather hoping that all of these wicked smart women can offer some insight!
*O.k. dudez, I confess, it involved brushing each other's hair and eating lots of chocolate, then we all had a pillow fight and practiced kissing. Satisfied? Tomorrow we burn the bra.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Man or woman, black or white, I don't know. They wore a dark brown hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled way over their head, and stood to the side facing away from the peephole. I couldn't see any part of their body. I waited a moment. They didn't turn. They just stood, rocking from side to side, deliberately keeping their face hidden. I heard the crinkle of a plastic grocery back.
I held my breath and glance at the lock. It seemed so fragile and the door so thin. This person stood only a hand's breadth away from me. "The phone," I thought. "Call 911."
"But he will know you are in here," I told myself.
"Go in the other room and call," I replied.
"I don't want to let him out of what sight I have of him," I returned.
The person swaggered a step, as if to say, "fuck her! She won't answer," then crossed the hall to my neighbor's door. She had just moved out the day before, as did the two guys living next to her. The person didn't knock, they just reached out and flipped up the door knocker, then walked off down the hall.
I wanted to open the door and look out, but wouldn't. I listened for the sound of another knock on another door, but didn't hear it. Then, I called 911, feeling slightly foolish, but also not knowing what else to do.
About an hour later, the police showed up. I didn't expect them to do anything much because I didn't have anything to give them beyond the brown hoodie, the grocery bag, and the incidents. I might have also been able to estimate a height. I did expect them to write something down or at least ask my name. Maybe they just log in the incident back in their car?
They did tell me that they had "other reports" of someone knocking on doors on another floor in my building. "Did you ask who it was?" they wanted to know, as if by my asking the guy would have said, "I'm your rapist for the evening!" or "Robbery, ma'm" or even "Land shark."
"I didn't want to let him know I was at home," I said. The "duh!" was implied. The male cop looked disappointed for a second, giving the female cop a look that said, "typical!" He caught himself and said, "o.k., yeah, I can understand that." Then they left.
While I waited for them, I tried to imagine how this person got into the building. Not that entry would be difficult, even with the concierge. I realized that I had foolishly thought of the building as an extension of my home. The predators lived "out there," outside the gates. "How naive I am," I chastised myself. "This person could be someone living in the building!"
I'm not disturbed by this. What's "out there" seemed to have knocked on my door. It was my turn. I didn't do the "nice girl" thing and ask "May I help you?" like I did those near 20 years ago when I was held up. My instincts knew that this was a bad guy, and I responded appropriately.
I feel a little frivolous writing about my own little semi-drama when The Debate will be the big subject today; but what more can I bring to that discussion? I'm a jaded yellow dog, alienated even from the Democrats, who I see as merely keeping the country from becoming completely fascist. Part of me was expecting Palin to babble her way through the exchange; but was glad that her babblings were at least coherent sentence even if they didn't answer the questions and became campaign speeches with the cheapest appeals to "patriotism." She plays a mean Mr. Smith.
I was glad because, although I despise all that she represents, she is a woman, and if she had totally fucked up, then that would ultimately be used as a "see what happens when you send a woman in to do a man's job" moment. Otherwise, I cringed the whole way through.
I fell asleep with the t.v. on, playing the rerun on CNN with the little graphs of Ohio voter interest. In my dream, Palin was speaking to a large group of people. I stood up and yelled to her, "You appeal to families, to this Main Street thing, to people who allegedly want no government spending, as if this is everyone. That's not me. I am single, I work at a public institution that is funded by those government dollars, I do research that requires public repositories and grants. I can name more than one major, wrong Supreme Court case. I see battle fatigued young men and women everyday, and some of them haven't even left the country. Their lives are being wasted. Yes! I said it, WASTED. I see the bullshit of your words, like 'playing politics' and 'gee whiz, I'm an innocent outsider,' while you yourself are playing politics in order to be an insider. I'm not of your party, but if your party wins you will be the vice-president of the country in which I live. How will you protect me? How will you protect those of us who don't fit your description of America?" But, of course, she ignored me, smiled and waved, while the crowd roared and crushed me.