a_d_medievalist: a gift from ancarett (tea)
Over at Blogenspiel, talking about contingent faculty, etc.
a_d_medievalist: (fredegund)
I have returned to the writing of essays. If anyone who knows what has been going on lately reads the post and thinks I've not hit the right level of objectivity, please let me know! Otherwise, I give you Accounting for culture.
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There is a discussion going on over at In the Middle and at xoom about boycotting the Medieval Academy of America meeting in March, rather than giving any support to the government of the state of Arizona and their reprehensible anti-immigration legislation. Please go and read, and keep an eye out there for a link to an upcoming petition.
a_d_medievalist: (fredegund)
Oh, look! Men's Studies isn't enough. We need Male Studies, because...girls are MEEEEEAANNNIES!!!!M/i>

Seriously? What. the. fuck.


It's not that "it’s widespread in the United States that masculinity is politically incorrect."

It's certainly not that feminism is "a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon.”

It's that some men (apparently far too many of them) can't hack the idea that other people are now playing on their turf, that they have to compete for the things to which they think they are entitled.

I would insert a cricket analogy, except for that it always seems to me that white Brits still see triumphs by teams from ex-colonies as a sort of extended triumph for the imperial ghost, and tend to blame white Brits for their own poor performance. So maybe that should be an appropriate reaction? hmmmm.
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I have blogged on it at Blogenspiel, with regards to the news-scraping/non-attribution habits of Medievalists.net
a_d_medievalist: a gift from ancarett (tea)
I have continued my post, mostly due to long comments that needed addressing, at Blogenspiel
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From the Cranky Professor

I was talking to a friend tonight....she's interested in music and dissonance - and sound. She has a long-standing interest in science fiction and cyborgs.

So I am remembering a short story that couldn't have been published (given my life and my high school library) after 1975.

The mute-but-not-deaf protagonist works for a service that sweeps for left-behind sound. In this world sound keeps reverberating - and one client is a failed or retired opera (?) singer. And he can here the sounds that he's removing.

Any help?

Update: a LJ friend claims it's "The Sound-Sweep," J.G. Ballard, 1960.


On Avatar

Dec. 31st, 2009 05:12 pm
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I saw Avatar last night. There's a lot to say about it. First, let me get the whole race thing out of the way. Not because it's unimportant -- it's not, and the critics are right and correct in their complaints. It is sort of Dances With Wolves or any other film where the white folks are evil colonialists and the blue folks are going to teach them something. And it is told through the POV of the Earth person, rather than the people who adopt him. And yeah, he saves them all. Even more importantly, though, is that this particular trope is included mindlessly in the service of another one, that of technology and modern values against pastoralism and valuing the natural world. I think that this is really the kernel of all the race issues people have noticed, but haven't mentioned. For me the real problem is that, in setting up the dichotomy of 'people in touch with nature' vs. 'people who have destroyed their world through greed and technology,' Cameron et al. have clearly not considered that race and questions of race will exist in the minds of the audience. TO me, that's something worse.


I'm not sure how I feel about this film, because there's a lot more to it, or maybe I'm just wanting to read more into it. At any rate, I'm going to go through it point by point, so if you don't want to read about the film, stop here. Read more... )
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I start teaching a prep for the second time next term, i.e., in TWO WEEKS(!!!!!), and I have no effing idea what I'm doing. This is in part due to where I teach, in part due to the outcomes I've been driving for my department, which are more skills- than content-based, and in part from the resulting attempts to try to balance content and skills when I am the only damned medievalist in the department, and I am not sure what content is all that important anymore. No, seriously. This is the problem with not being able to teach one's own field very often. I seem to have lost a survey-level grasp of it and what my colleagues would consider important. (Hmmm... I have just realized I can search for syllabi online, and have done so, and haven't found a lot, but thank goodness for Jacqui Long and for Steve Muhlberger, who put up lots of sources at ORB). It doesn't help that I'm using the Innes textbook (which I like in many ways) and the newest James, so I'm sort of heading into uncharted territory. On the other hand, this means that I'm sort of caught up in the question of letting the texts dictate the shape of the course, or the ideas of what I want to teach dictate the ways I assign reading.

In my ideal world, I would have a list of topics, and then assign the readings as appropriate (and yes, I'm using primary sources -- the Rosenwein reader, possibly Tacitus, Beowulf (the dread Heaney translation, because it's in a Norton edition with good essays), Two Lives of Charlemagne, and probably some selections from the Tierney and Geary readers, as well as some stuff from the Fordham site. But my students do not have the narrative. We teach World Civ here, so there isn't a lot of time for Rome and the MA. Moreover, my students are not particularly likely to go find simple narratives for themselves, and they are also very likely to need to rely on the textbook for a narrative crutch. So somehow, I have to figure out how to balance narrative (possibly podcasts?), topical approaches, and the heavy discussion of primary sources that most of my courses rely on.

Now, this might be easy-ish if the course had worked last time, but in some ways it didn't. This was in part the composition of the class -- only two students really accepted the ideas that they were responsible for learning the narrative and that, for us pre-modern folks, a working knowledge of some basic primary sources and of types of primary sources is fundamental. Most of the people in the class saw the primary sources as being no more than those little boxes in big survey textbooks -- things that illustrate what the authors tell us, rather than the information the authors work from. I think this time, that will be less of a problem, if only because the students are all used to me and many have taken courses with me from the very beginning of their uni careers.

Still, I'm trying to work the balance, and also they sorts of assessments I'll be using. There will be a review essay, and I think a presentation each (how I'll fit those in, I'm not sure, but the topics will be biographical, I think -- Augustine, Gregory (of Tours, but maybe the Great), Bede, Boniface...suggestions?

Well, hell. I just got sidetracked by responding to some ideas about our thesis seminar syllabus, which a colleague and I have entirely re-written... what was I saying?

Oh, right. So does anybody have any brilliant ideas about this balancing act? I'm really thinking of sticking to Innes for a chronological (mostly) narrative, but taking in a break for James and then, within that chronology, pulling out some topics that I think need highlighting, and just forcing the students to work the topics into the larger narrative. Like wot I had to do.

Oh. And then there is geography. gotta work that in, too. bleargh.

This post brought to you by thinking online and blegging.
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In case you have not been watching, the sf blogosphere has been full of righteous anger on behalf of author Peter Watts, who was arrested and beaten (beaten and arrested?) by US Border Patrol Officers last Tuesday.

There is a defense fund set up. Links are at the Scalzi post and at Making Light, I think.

I'm not going to get into arguing the fine points. I'm not really worrying about "he should have known better," for example, because US police procedures are not standard around the world, and also? No US police agency that I know of justifies using more force than is necessary to subdue a person. In other countries, it is perfectly normal to question the police as to the reasons for a search of a vehicle. Me, I'd have just done what the cops said -- not because I fear the police, but because I have known enough cops over the years to know that people who don't follow their orders can make *some* cops jumpy, and I don't like to be around jumpy people carrying loaded guns.

The sad truth is that we live in a country where people in positions of authority feel no need to justify their actions. One would think that the border folks might have thought about the fact that borders are places where cultural norms cannot be assumed to be the same. One would think.

More importantly, one would think that people who apparently posed no real threat wouldn't get pepper-sprayed, beaten, and arrested.
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For those of you who don't read Whatever, you may have missed John Scalzi's recent post on the pay offered by Black Matrix Publishing, or his follow-up post that rounds up the responses of lots of pro writers and editors. Today, Scalzi points us to a very cranky response by MFA student and aspiring pro writer Jenn Brissett. The comment thread is wonderful. It's useful. It makes clear that Brissett doesn't get it.

So why do I care? Scalzi is not my friend, although I would love to hang out with him some time. I do know some professional sf writers and editors, though, and have been on the fringes of fandom for a long time. I don't see myself writing professionally, because I think I'm not really imaginative enough to write something that isn't jejeune and embarrassingly full of the Mary-Sue-ness that, even though it can sell (I'm looking at YOU, Stephinie Meyer), is not really very good. And if I wrote sf or fantasy, I would want it to be good, because I don't want the people I respect as writers to laugh at me. So yeah. Don't look for fiction by ADM anytime soon.

Right -- so this is why it concerns me at all. There are really a couple of reasons. The first is that, well, I have friends who write, and I want them to be writing for markets that pay relatively well. The second is that, well, I do write. I mean, I write really slowly, and I don't get paid in anything but CV credit, but in some ways I think that's relevant to the larger conversation. One of Brissett's arguments is that publishing with businesses like Black Matrix is still better than not publishing, because it can give a writer pro credits. The counter-argument is that some publishers are better than others; while the publishers who pay well tend to be the best-known and have the big pro reputations (hence good publication credits), many of the smaller and badly paying venues are also not places where the credit will count as much. This is not true for all of them, and I can imagine that, given the right publisher and editor, it might be advantageous for a newbie author to publish for free.

That seems pretty sensible to me, because the same is true for academic publishing. We rank our venues. A peer-reviewed publication is the bottom line, and from there there is a hierarchy of journals and publishers. Oxford UP or Cambridge UP will publish your book? Gold standard for many of us. Non-academic publisher or publisher with no guarantee of peer review? Not so much. There is an assumption of quality based on venue.

The second issue that strikes me about all this, though, is the one of payment. Academics don't expect to make tons of money from their books (although some do bring in some good royalties). To the best of my knowledge, most sf/f authors also do not make ginormous profits. Brissett argues that, by calling publishers like Black Matrix on their sweat-shop like wages, pro authors are acting as gatekeepers who don't want the newbies to get a fair shot. I call shenanigans on that. I may be a medievalist, but dammit, I teach the modern survey, too, and passed macroeconomics. I am familiar with Ricardo and his Iron Law of Wages. It's not about gatekeeping as much as it is looking around us and noting that, when we live in a society that undervalues labor, everybody's wages suck. This is true whether we look at people working at places like Walmart or in the kitchens of restaurants, or at humanities faculty. When people undersell themselves, they make it possible for employers to underpay them. Not only does it drag the wages of everyone else down, but it also encourages people to see what we do as having little worth. Unions can sometimes mitigate that, but honestly, they can't prevent state budget cuts and furloughs, which would not pass if people were properly infuriated and placed a high value on what we do.

Yeah -- that's getting a little close to blaming the victim, and I don't mean to do that. But this also connects back to our discussion of Bennett's History Matters, in terms of women and their occasionally willing participation in the perpetuation of the patriarchal equilibrium. Actually, it just connects back to feminism, plain and simple. If we aren't part of the solution, we are part of the problem -- and Brissett not only is part of the problem, but her arguments are so self-interested that she seems unable to see the same problem the rest of us do, i.e., that a poor wage structure, especially coupled with a venue that does not supply any particular cachet to its writers, is a sucker's game.

A final issue, which make it three for the promised two, is that ... WHAT? As I said above, I'm really sort of on the fringes of fandom. I don't drag myself to cons, even though I am starting to explore options there (Readercon, Sirens, and Wiscon are on my radar these days, although often they are not at convenient times for me to travel). But my overall impression, from being on those fringes for the past 30 or so years, is that the world of sf/f writing and editing is really not one of extraordinarily high, multi-bolted gates. There seem to be an awful lot of pros who got their start writing fanfic or editing fanzines. Smart people with something sensible to say seem to get put on con panels, and get worked into the system, although there does seem to be a flexible, but existing, frontier between the pros and the fans. But by and large, it seems to me to be a world where the talented can reinvent and establish themselves in ways that are not nearly as possible in many other professional areas.

You may wonder what all this is in service of. First, it's my blog and I had too much to say in a comment. Also? I've just successfully avoided marking essays for about 40 minutes! Guess it's time to get on that...

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(NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 27)

A friend pointed me to this essay by Patrick Stewart on domestic violence. It's a hard read, but a good one. Some of you know that I was raised by a woman with a violent temper. I never had to witness the sort of thing Stewart mentions, but the rest, barring the alcohol, sounds eerily familiar.
cut for possible triggery things )
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(NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 25)

I'm not all that fond of talking about how thankful I am for stuff, because so often it sounds like a bunch of mealy-mouthed platitudes. And yeah, I'm happy to have a job I love (IN THIS ECONOMY -- that's for New Kid), health, yada, yada, yada. But those are just sort of normal things, aren't they?

But here's a thing. I'm single and my family are all thousands of miles away. When LDW and I were together, he was a couple of thousand miles in the opposite direction. Holidays have always felt a bit iffy and worrisome. Not Christmas so much -- I'm actually a bit better at ignoring Christmas, which I really only like when there are kids and lots of family, and then I sort of hate the stress that can come about with lots of family :-)

No, really, I used to have to start my mornings with my best friend and her mom, with whom I lived for a time, then off to my grandparents for dad-family breakfast, then off to the maternal family (two at one point, as my grandparents were divorced), then to the dad house for dinner in the afternoon, then back to the friend house for dessert and carol-singing. That's a lot of running around. Christmas with my married family, or my mom and sisters, can also be a joy -- there is always a tantrum and always some sort of tension because someone will inevitably be late, or stressed at having to be the one who had to drive, or whatever.

So yeah, holidays alone are not the worst thing in the world.

One of the cool things about SLAC is that holidays alone don't necessarily exist. Part of it is that I do have family of sorts about three hours away. So I've had two Thanksgivings with them. And one in fabulous European Capital with LDW (I'm still sorry about that roast ...). And this year, I'm staying in town and eating with friends. Feeling a little guilty about not going to the family, especially because we need to see each other, but happy to hang out with some of my favorite colleagues. The best thing of all of this is that I don't feel like I'm included out of charity. That's a nice feeling.

This year, I can't get back to the left coast till New Year's. The fabulous European Capital option no longer exists. But I have bunches of friends who will be around for the holiday season, and I have tons of people to visit on all the days before and after Christmas itself. For the first time, I haven't had time to think about what to do during break besides working, because I know I have stuff to do. Same for Spring Break. I should stay home and work, but there may be a chance of a camping trip in an as-yet undecided locale.

Naturally, my life decides to have a social aspect exactly when I should be working harder and producing more. Life's funny that way. I expect there's an appropriate Terry Pratchett quote, but I can't be arsed to look it up. I've got baking, laundry, and marking to do tomorrow before I go and eat turkey.
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NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 23

I have finished my teaching obligations for the week. I have finished my service obligations for the week. And all I can think is that I have several days in which I can actually get some damned work done. I have a big pile of marking to do -- essays for all classes, and catching up on all the online marking. The plus is that I will only have one set of papers to read the weekend before finals, and then the finals.

I am so looking forward to break, when I can ... ok, take a little break. I'm going home to visit The Kid and X and friends for five days, and there are a couple of parties and maybe some hiking, too. But mostly I will be looking forward to re-reading LDW's latest book, which I'm using for class, and at least one of his other books, and working on my damned book project (about which Superdean is nagging me) and also perhaps on my article for TenthMedieval. And going to the gym.

Maybe I'm just like this because I'm hopeless about time and balance. Maybe other academics spend their holidays actually having holidays. But I have this weird feeling that I'm not the only one who sees non-teaching time as a way to catch up.

On the other hand, I expect that it's a good thing that I've got to the point where I see these breaks now as real breaks, mental breaks, opportunities to do things I want to do, rather than as something I resent because I won't have a break. Still, I think I'd like to get more writing done in term time, and actually have a holiday, too.
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(NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 22)

ProfGrrrl posted the other day about hiring committees and it got me thinking. I'm on a search committee this year, and it's going to be interesting. Politics and an inside candidate. I hate inside candidates. I try to stay away from committees where there is one. I don't know that this is true, but I don't feel I can speak freely about the inside candidate, because there will always be people who simply expect that we are supposed to hire the person they know, regardless of the other candidates. Ugh.

But that's not what I wanted to say. Mostly, what I wanted to say, not very delicately, is:

Dear Applicant and Applicant's Advisor/Referee,

Are you taking the piss? Because if you are, you have wasted a bunch of people's time. If you are not, you are friggin' morons. What the *hell* did you think you were doing? Our position is pretty specific. There's a chance that we won't find anyone who meets all the criteria, but we have a good chance of meeting someone who comes close. But you... I do understand that you come from a big and reputable research university, but really, you aren't all that, let alone a bag of chips.

Let's start off with your cover letter:

Nowhere does your letter address your suitability for the job we advertised. It doesn't show that you have the first clue about SLAC, a campus that has not only undergrads, but also several specialized schools that have very special needs. Some of those needs were outlined in the ad, but strangely, you didn't think you needed to mention how your very fancy-pants dissertation addresses the 4-3 teaching load and the classes you would teach: classes that have NOTHING to do with your fancy-pants dissertation. Now, to be fair, you do mention your teaching. Sort of. You've taught a lot, mostly as a grad student, and it's hard to tell how many of your courses were as a GA and how many were independent. But that's OK. And incorporating your philosophy into your cover letter is not a bad idea, either. But seriously, it's better to give us a clear idea of what you actually do than it is to include posh phrases in Italian and French -- I suppose it's at least a blessing that the Greek was at least transliterated. However, when you mention that you try to impart X's ideas of Y, where Y is theory, then really, you come off as a pretentious little git who thinks he's not only the gods' gift to the students, but oh, so much better than the people you'll be working with. Either that or no one has ever explained that, in a department that's hiring two people and only has four full-time faculty, that there will be at least two non-specialists on the search committee.

Also, it's good to sign the cover letter and to make sure that, when you cut and paste from your teaching philosophy, you at least try to re-word the most outstandingly precious phrases. I'm just sayin'.

Of course, I can't blame you entirely. You've been allowed to do all your work at the same BigName institution, from when you walked in the door as a freshman. No wonder your letter is so much like the one your advisor wrote for you. You might lose hir, by the way. The letter zie sent was even more pretentious. David Lodge couldn't have made that one up. Bespeckled with the droppings of name and reference to theory, the letter told us far more about your advisor than it did about why you were a suitable candidate for our job. This was a letter all about how erudite your advisor is -- why surely, we should hire someone purely because you are clearly the genius sprung forth from hir loins. Your publishing career, based on the sheer brilliance of your thesis, so carefully directed by the advisor, will allow us to bask in the glow of your reflection. Oh -- by the way, I still can't tell exactly what the point of your thesis was, because you defined yourself entirely in terms of the scholarship of others, without so much showing your own contribution to your field. If you're going to focus on research you'll never have a chance to do or teach while at SLAC, at least let us know how tragic it will be five years down the road when you die under the crush of our loads and your own bitterness. Except it's unlikely we'll be interviewing you, because, well, there's nothing you've told us about yourself but that you would be the last person we'd want to teach our students, who really want us to focus on them and teach them without making them feel stupid.

And to you other advisors out there? Please, do think about it before sending us two candidates from your program. Or at least in some way acknowledge that you are sending two students who have the same committees, and that each of them has hir own strengths. Maybe even make sure that the applicant letters aren't based on the same template, and that your letters are not formatted and written to say almost the same things in the same order. It makes you look sloppy. It doesn't help the person whose name comes alphabetically second. It makes me wonder what you've taught them about dealing with other academics. Having said that, I do like your candidates, and part of it is that the package looks solid -- it's just that seeing the same package (more or less) twice really does weaken the impact.

And for the rest of you people: this is not a bad job. It is a job in a field with not nearly enough openings, and it is tenure-track. Some of you should have applied. And some of you? Really. If you can't be bothered to tell us how you can fill the job we advertised, rather than the job we need to fill, stop wasting my time.

Long Day

Nov. 19th, 2009 10:37 pm
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(NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 19)

I can't honestly think of anything substantial to say today, because my day just ended. Email, Doctor, tidying desk, lunch with guest speaker, guest speaker to class, office hours packed, more email and reading of Tacitus, grocery store, mad tidying of house, book club, now to clean up. Cannot wait for the weekend, except that I realized I have a meeting with my professional organization colleagues Saturday for between 4-6 hours, probably. Monday will start at 8 am and end at 10 pm, unless there is also beer. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving!