Monday, July 30, 2007

The No Asshole Rule: A Reflection

As you know if you make a close study of Tenured Radical 2.0 in all of its features, I have been reading Robert I. Sutton's The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. And to get to the punchline quickly: you should read it too. It is short, it is well written and Sutton -- a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University -- has written a book that nicely bridges the worlds of business and intellectual work.

What occasioned my purchase of this book? Well, it doesn't really matter, does it, because I loved it and I wish something like it had been available to me years ago. I would also say that the bulk of my labor this year will be administrative, and because there is no formal mentoring in this kind of work, I do what I can to learn management techniques, either by observing adminstrators at Zenith closely and seeing why they do or do not succeed, or by reading. This is the point at which the post could sprawl and take all morning but let me give you a few highlights that should get you to read this book, whether you are an administrator or a faculty member, whether you are an administrative assistant, a full professor, a student or a dean.

First, Sutton emphasizes that we can all be prone to acting badly, and that it is important to distinguish between temporary assholes who exhibit nasty behaviors occasionally (losing one's temper, telling a gossipy story as passive-aggressive revenge or as a self-agrandisement strategy, glaring at and belittling others, yelling) and certified assholes, who deploy bullying, intimidating and demeaning behavior toward others as a matter of course. He also notes that the first step in thinking about this is to categorize oneself. Be honest: are you an asshole? What have you done in the past that resembles this behavior, and how often in the course of daily life do you behave like an asshole? One of the differences between temporary and certified assholes is not just frequency of behavior, but that temporary assholes have enough objectivity and empathy to perceive the effect they have on others, understand that what they have done is wrong, apologize and change. Certified assholes believe that they are always right, often do not remember what they have done, and if they do, justify it as a normal response to being in struggle with stupid people who are a threat to them, their values, and the good of the institution. They don't change: they force the rest of us to accomodate to them, and because of this, create an atmosphere of fear and loathing among both the direct objects of their bullying and those who observe it second hand.

We'll start here: I can be a real asshole. Read some of the posts on this blog, prior to the 2.0 edition and when I thought I was anonymous, if you don't believe me. Better yet: don't. Just believe me.

But that said, I am not a certified asshole, and because it is too self-congratulatory -- even for me -- I'm not going to tell you why I know this. But here are some asshole behaviors that are particular to the academy, in my experience, and at one time or another I have been guilty of several:

1. Yelling at people to win an argument or force everyone to do things your way. Now, we all yell at people occasionally -- often when provoked by an asshole or an airline employee -- but not uncommonly yelling occurs in meetings, because that is where faculty do most of their business. Certified assholes use this as a consistent tactic, and it sometimes extends to tantrums. I have a friend elsewhere who has described a colleague that, when on the brink of losing his temper, begins to turn a different color, become physically tight and tense, and then, immediately prior to the explosion, appears almost to levitate. The threat of what is to come, she argues, is as oppressive to the atmosphere as the eventual outburst itself, and often results in people strategizing what they say in order to prevent the tantrum, not to discuss the issue at hand in the most open possible way.

2. Physical intimidation. This means getting in someone's personal space while yelling, saying intimidating things that threaten someone's future directly or obliquely, commenting on someone's appearance and/or weight relentlessly, and inappropriate or unwelcome touching. It can include telling people to shut up, interrupting, name calling, and persistent profanity. It can also include trapping people: demanding that someone "report" to your office, or entering theirs (worse in my view), and closing the door without permission.

3. Describing people as "not smart," and dismissing their intellectual work because you don't like them or you don't like their politics or they are in a field of which your disapproval is so vast that you read nothing in it. I am sorry to say that people on the left are just as guilty of this as people on the right, with the difference that people on the left --perhaps as the residue of feminist consciousness raising, historic leftist sexism and homophobia and Marxist criticism/self criticism sessions -- do it to each other as well as to their political opposites, whereas people on the right, in my experience, are willing to excuse a range of sins within the group in order to keep everyone who is conservative voting together.

4. Lying. Certified assholes use this as a consistent strategy to get what they want, which includes lying on behalf of their allies to promote their interests over the interests of those who are not their allies. They excuse it because they think what they want is always right, and when other people get in the way, they should be defeated by any means necessary. George W. Bush and Nanny Dick are like this, I think. And let me say -- I think lying can sometimes be a subset of gossiping, because often when people spread gossip, for whatever reason, they are often spreading damaging information that is not true, or has been twisted for a particular effect. When I was a newbie at Zenith, a friend told me that she made it a point never to gossip, and although I thought at the time it was kind of prissy -- I was in an information-gathering stage of life after all and needed gossip desperately -- much later in life I came to understand that this was, in fact, a highly ethical position. And by the way, if you are well-known as an indiscriminate gossip, you will also be well-known as someone who cannot keep a secret and should not be brought into a position where secrets need to be kept.

5. Accusing someone else of lying, publicly or to a third party, without confronting the other person privately. This is also something of which I do not believe I am guilty, but I have been accused of lying by others, and I have seen other people accused. At its best, it is a careless act; at its worst, I think it is one of the nastiest things one academic can do to another because personal integrity is so crucial to the scholarly world. Now, if someone has committed a serious ethical breach, that is one thing, but the things I have most frequently seen classified as lies are often far better characterized as misunderstandings, miscommunication, or someone leaping to a conclusion. Most frequently, in my experience, it is faculty accusing administrators of lying, in a conscious or unconscious move to disempower and humiliate in retaliation for some real or imagined slight.

6. Hitting on people sexually when they have evidenced no interest in either recreational sex with you or romantic love towards you. I would extend this to hitting on people sexually who have expressed this interest, but are interested in a kind of short-term personal gain or thrill that you know perfectly well will lead to tears. I would extend even this further to the whole question of responding to advances from those -- students, very junior faculty -- whose attraction to you is really an attraction to power, or some idealization of what you are or could be in their lives. Long-time readers might recall a series I did on the Pokey Chatman case, in which Chatman, a very talented basketball coach, appears to have had her resignation forced because a tangle of affairs with players and assistants came to light: click here and here. Several of my readers chastised me for not being hard enough on Chatman for this: well, I still don't think she should have had to leave her job. But there is no question that she was an asshole, and that LSU was willing to tolerate her messy love life until it became public information. That's the part that I think is a little more complicated, and needs to be examined and discussed, because Chatman may not have been an asshole in other ways. And other asshole behaviors persist at LSU that are not stigmatized, including what is commonly called sexual harassment, because the institution clearly tolerates assholes -- as nearly all academic institutions do.

7. Students can be assholes, to each other and to their teachers: it is a large, and ugly, subtext of the academic blogging world. And of course, some graduate students are assholes in training, and they learn to do it by watching professor assholes gain advantage over others through the range of tactics described here. Student asshole behaviors include: passing notes, giggling and whispering while other students are talking; repeating what someone else just said as if it were your idea; directing their remarks only to the teacher and not acknowledging the other students; interrupting; telling other students that something they have said is "wrong" or interrupting with a loud "no" when someone else is talking; publicly calling someone a bigot as a routine way of commenting on their lack of sophistication, their analysis or their apparent ideological position; saying thoughtless things about identity groups represented by people in the room; delegitimizing other students' right to speak because of their identity position or lack of sophistication in the field; and -- my favorite --anonymous, cruel attacks on others that are justified by a self-professed or actual lack of social power in a given situation. There is no justification, except perhaps being invaded and/or colonized by a foreign nation, for an anonymous attack, and what it expresses is rage and fear of the consequences, not actual powerlessness.

What is great about The No Asshole Rule is that Sutton's examples help identify the asshole behavior that is particular to one's own workplace, how to identify it in oneself, and how to resist it. He also demonstrates the damage caused by assholes, several of which seem particularly relevant to academic institutions, in my experience. One is that asshole behavior is contagious: if effective interventions are not made, people who are not certified assholes become more prone to temporary asshole behaviors as they try to resist domination and seizures of power.

Potentially, entire departments and faculties can be taken over, by assholes and by people who are forced into asshole management. Another crucial point -- and of course this resonated to my experience during the Unfortunate Events -- is that people who must resist being constantly demeaned and emotionally battered pay a terrific price in their energy and creativity, and do less and less well professionally, are less able to write, and often less able to function as teachers, scholars and colleagues on a day to day basis. Thus, what is often touted as a hierarchy of merit can also be a hierarchy of - can we say oppression? - where decent people are subject to the rule of the ruthless, and as a result their talents become hidden or submerged, and their capacity to function as university citizens who can and should be rewarded is severely eroded. Very often they simply withdraw and focus their lives at home: they come in, teach their classes and leave; do not come to meetings; and are not available for the work of running a department or a university. One of the benefits of going through a period of being bullied relentlessly by assholes is that you develop a kind of compassion for people who of whom you may have been previously dismissive.

Sutton can be visited on line at his blogs: click here and here. You might also want to look at a report on a conference on academic leadership, where a colleague of mine is quoted on the topic of "academic bullies."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dogs, Violence and Popular Culture

Last night I was watching the pilot episode of Damages, the new Glenn Close series on FX about a Manhattan litigator who sues corporations for the Big Bucks when they do dirt to the little guy. Ted Danson plays the evil Kenneth Lay-type CEO who has encouraged his employees to invest in the company, then dumped his stock, killed the company and voided their pensions. I think it's going to be a pretty good series, in part because, in true Fox News style, the producers are not going to let Glenn Close -- a torts attorney, one kind of right-wing whipping boy -- be a heroine. It appears that she has constructed an elaborate deception to get a witness to testify for the case against the robber baron by killing the witness's dog, a large friendly mutt named Saffron, and framing the "bad guy." The witness was willing to let five thousand people's pensions go down the drain, but her moral compass has been aroused by the need to avenge her dog's death.

Sounds right to me.

I had a friend once who said she couldn't watch Hitchock's masterpiece, Lifeboat, because they throw the dog out of the boat and row away as the camera follows the dog, paddling frantically after the boat and thinking that this must be some terrible mistake. And I feel very much the same way: as I watched last night, I knew they were going to find a dead dog in the apartment, and as I always do, I chanted silently in my head "Pleasedontkillthedog, pleasedontkillthedog." But they did.

I hate it when they kill the dog. And of course movie and TV people know that, and they are able to make us feel feelings -- fear, rage, grief -- in relation to an unknown dog that we tend not to feel when seeing people killed on screen. Every time I watch The Shield I see three or four people killed, maimed, choked -- Aceveda, the precinct captain, was forced to fellate a gang banger at gunpoint, and while I was glad I wasn't him, I happily ordered another DVD from Netflix to see how he would get over his feelings about being, well, raped.

But I can't bear to see them kill the dog, hurt the dog, threaten to hurt the dog -- and you could pretty much substitute cat, or any domestic animal, for dog. Funny, isn't it? And I guess a lot of people feel that way. Even if, as a few lone voices have pointed out in recent days, this verges on the hypocritical. As someone who loves thoroughbred racing, eats meat of all kinds that is raised and killed "humanely" (Ha! I do wish I believed that), has been known to poison and kill rodents invading my home, and does not believe that abortion is murder, I cannot comprehend why anyone would knowingly harm a living animal. I know this is really strange. But I am particularly disgusted by dog fighting. In part, I am convinced, in a beyond rational way, that dogs are more social beasts than people. I also believe that, like people, all dogs are good dogs if they get the love and respect they deserve as puppies.

Even pit bulls: go here to read about the American Staffordshire Terrier. Because I lived on the Lower East Side of New York for many years, I learned not to trust your average urban pit bull, many of whom were trained to be aggressive, and now I try actively to introduce Breezy, my dog, to pits with responsible owners because when I don't it feels a lot like bigotry.

I am sparing you the pictures of the maimed and brutalized dogs I came across on line in order to get these nice pictures of pits raised by decent, responsible people.

That's right, I'm getting to the ongoing investigation in which it is alleged that Michael Vick is an investor in a dog fighting syndicate recently busted on a property he owns in Virginia. Vick plead not guilty yesterday in a courtroom surrounded by a few fans and many, many animal rights people (augmented, perhaps, by people with other motives or those who were just grossed out) demonstrating against him. Atlanta Falcons training camp opened yesterday as well, and someone hired an airplane to circle the practice field with a sign condemning Vick. You can read about it here in the New York Times. A young player said to a reporter that this would just be a bump in the road in their season: ex-Patriots linebacker and veteran defenseman Lawyer Milloy stepped in (one imagines him smacking the rookie on the helmet on his way to the reporter) and said "Yes, a big bump."

But initially I wasn't going to blog about this case, in part because there are so many issues to address, many of which are quite morally vexed. Is the prosecutor going after Vick because he can, in what is now a familiar career move for an ambitious attorney in the public service? Republicans seem to have forgotten, for example, that Rudolph Giuliani originally came to prominence in New York by being one of those "overreaching prosecutors" who conservatives claim to despise, unless they are putting men of color in jail for murders and rapes they did not commit. Does Michael Vick being a famous black athlete make him a convincing target for a public that has a love/hate relationship with celebrities? Is it partly a good opportunity for animal rights people to get their message out whether it is Vick who ought to be carrying it or not? Certainly the bootstraps, millionaire athlete surrounded by a posse of rough characters who bring him down through their wild ways is a common popular culture narrative, in life and on shows like CSI. It's easier to connect to than the 40,000 other people estimated to be actively involved in dogfighting, who are poor, working class and anonymous.

And what can anyone just reading about the case know about what Vick knew about the dog fighting ring-- or whether he was connected to these people at all? We can't and we don't, and what people now call the "rush to judgement" is something to be aware of because things are not always what they seem. We project various kinds of rage on people we don't know, often the wealthy and privileged, among whom carelessness and poor judgement can easily result in harm to others less powerful than they: cocaine and booze-fueled white women running over folks in their SUV's, for example, or young men at prestigious universities who think that because it is legal to amuse yourself with a stripper it is ethical to do so and treat her like the trash you think she is. We are not mistaken to feel quite viscerally that such things might have been prevented, and that they are wrong, even when no laws are broken. We expect more of people who have had advantages and education, whether that is fair or not. We expect them to be aware of their responsibilities to others, and we expect them to do good and not take advantage of other people's poverty, ignorance and venality. We expect them not amuse themselves at the expense of people, or animals, who are weaker. It may not always be illegal, but it is wrong.

And in the end, this does work to the disadvantage of the privileged when they stumble or make stupid mistakes. For example, if a machinist working for United Technologies up here in Shoreline were busted as the owner of a Bridgeport slum property where dog fighting occurred, there probably would not be general calls from PETA to boycott Otis Elevators and those who used them. That is not fair, but it is true.

Which is why -- much as I am repelled by dog fighting -- I think it has to be put on the table that I , at least, think it is credible that Michael Vick may not have known about it. In other words, the idea that he must have known needs to be distinguished from the fact that he should have known. This turns on what seems to be the central fact of the case: that he owned the property. But I would like to put this in context. I have an old college friend who lives in Shoreline who had a more than moderately successful career in the NFL, and one thing I do know because of this friendship is that Vick owning real estate in a variety of places is not unusual, and not necessarily a sign of conspicuous consumption or careless habits. Quite the opposite, in fact. Football players who make a great deal of money in a short period of time - and they can never know how short their careers are going to be -- if they are smart and get good advice, buy things that will more or less protect their money over the rest of their lives, produce a little ongoing income, and allow them to transition into a useful, productive life after football at a moment's notice if they must. My friend owns real estate and fast food franchises in at least four states that I know of, and he could not possibly know or be responsible for what goes on in all of them, even the properties in Shoreline. There is no question in my mind that Vick should forfeit the property if that is how the law is written, as he would have to in a drug case, but whether he actually knew about the dog fighting and should be prosecuted as a co-conspirator is an open question in my view.

So the whole case will turn on if Michael Vick knew, if he was an investor in the dog fighting ring itself, and if he could have and should have known what was going on in Virginia; whether these were regular associates and whether he visited the property. What I would say is that if Vick did not have an agent who regularly dropped by all his properties to make sure they were being maintained properly, and who ascertained that what was going on there was legal, he was very, very foolish. But not, perhaps, a criminal, or even a bad person. And I doubt seriously that the prosecutor would have brought these charges in the first place if one of the so-called tenants were not prepared to flip on him in exchange for immunity. That tends to be the way the cookie crumbles. So it is going to be very ugly for Michael Vick, for a while at least, and whether he is exonerated or not, this moment will change his life and alter his professional prospects because -- rightly or wrongly -- I doubt that he will ever really be perceived as reliable again.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Ten Commandments of Moving

I woke up this morning ready to launch into the second half of the summer, until it was pointed out to me that there are only three working weeks of summer left. School starts the last week in August, and there is Vacation By The Lake for ten days before that.

Sigh. Now is the time for triage: figuring out what can and cannot be done, re-negotiating deadlines if necessary, planning a very busy fall, realizing that I have only made a dent in the reading I meant to do, since this is what happens when a person writes too much. So maybe I can just finish reading the journals....

And yet there are two things I am not doing. One is packing -- the other is moving. But you are: all you post-docs and one-year visitors on the move, packing while you try to finish your dissertations at the same time; people moving to Real Jobs in Real, and sometimes not so Real, places, maybe just beginning your careers or maybe beginning them all over again elsewhere. Then there are all you newly Distinguished Chairs, flying down Just for the Closing, and flying back to close on the house here before you head off for a glorious three weeks in Bellagio. You are all either packing or beginning to pack. You are renting U-Hauls or getting bids from movers, movers who will drive around the country in circles and figure eights with your belongings while you sit in your empty apartment or house in New City and weep, camping out with the pillow, coffee cup and towel you had the wit to bring with you in the car.

N. and I once figured out that in our time together, which now spans over twenty years, we have moved about a dozen times, and this does not count the end of summer flurry that a commuting relationship produces (otherwise known as the Mini-Move), an odd phenomenon in which you calm your anxiety about commuting by filling tote bags with the things you know you are going to need in September because there is no point in putting them away again at the end of July. Due to the peculiar circumstances of my life I have, in over two decades of constant motion only recently come to a halt, developed the Radical's Ten Commandments of Moving, which you can either read here, or you can go to a field in upstate New York and receive them on Golden Tablets, which will authorize you to begin a polygamous evangelical religious sect that will move constantly for several decades until you get somewhere and say: "This is the place."

It's your choice. So without further ado:

1. Let no trash day goeth unremarked. Every night before the trash trucks come, fill bags, barrels and bins with everything you can think of that can be recycled or tossed. The trash on the last day before you pack the car will still be overwhelming, of course, but you will know that you tried.

2. Setteth thou a deadline of two weeks before the move as the last day anyone in your house is allowed to put something on Craig's List. The amount of energy that goes into selling your old computer is simply not justified by the $50 you will get for it as people make and break appointments with you.

3. Giveth the clothes you are saving for when you are thin enough to wear them again to the Goodwill. You will never be thin enough to wear them again. It is a brutal truth, but someone had to tell you.

4. Arrangeth for all pets to go to the kennel, or stay with a friend, for the last two or three days before you really move. The last thing you need while getting ready to go to a new job is to wonder where, exactly, in the U-Haul, Kitty is, and whether she will dehydrate completely as you cross Death Valley. And your dog -- oy. Dogs suffer from moving more than you can possibly know.

5. Stoppeth taking books out of the library now and return any you have. In the last couple days of packing, you will be so insane that it will seem easier to pack library volumes along with all the other books and then mail them back when you get there. And you know, it really isn't. And those library books will haunt you the rest of your days. When you are pulled over for a speeding violation ten years from now, you will find yourself chanting, "Please don't let them check the computer and find out about the overdue books."

6. Shouldst thou haveth movers --if you can possibly afford it, pay them to pack too. None of us can resist packing randomly in advance, but that last day or two is hell. Packing things like dishes, lamps and pictures is something professionals do particularly well. They are also really good at packing Mystery Items: imagine the fun when you get to your destination and realize you paid $3.50 for a cardboard box and packing paper, and when you open it you realize that the movers have carefully packed your catbox, with sand and cat droppings, and a jug of Drano, lovingly wrapped.

7. If there art two of you, only one person is allowed to be upset at a time. I suggest you reverse roles once in a while.

8. If you haveth children, and you are getting rid of all kinds of toys and kid things that they will never play with or use again, do not put them on the street for the trash man. A relative of mine once found his children howling inconsolably at the window as their discarded, forgotten belongings such as games, broken car seats, befouled crib mattresses -- transformed before their eyes into Precious Things -- were being scooped up into a dump truck on the special pick up scheduled prior to moving day. Such things must be spirited off in the dead of night after the children are in bed or when they have been sent off on a sleepaway. Or there is freecycle.

9. Do not taketh any furniture you bought at IKEA. If you have already moved furniture from IKEA once, do not do so again. Longtime readers of this blog know that the Radical is a huge fan of IKEA, but furniture made of pressboard and wooden pins is not designed for being banged around in vans, regardless of how well padded and packed the items are. They will come out at the other end looking -- distressed. There is a reason they send this stuff from Sweden disassembled and wedged into place with blocks of styrofoam.

10. Seeth your friends. Everyone will want to see you before you leave. There is a reason for this, even though no one will say it: about half of the people you now know in the place you are leaving you will speak to again a few times, and that will be it, except for conferences, birth announcements, political email lists and such. Five years from now, that list will be whittled down to two or three that you really keep up with. So have a party. Honor your friendships. Swear undying affection, and make a mental note to put the whole dissertation group in your acknowledgements.

Then click your ruby slippers and go. Good luck with your new life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In Memory of Sekou Sundiata

Today this blog honors Sekou Sundiata, born Robert Feaster, an African-American poet and spoken-word performance artist. Sekou was born just after World War II and he left this world at 5:30 this morning. I believe he was about 60: he died of natural causes.

A review of his CD, the sound of memory by Salon in 2000 noted that: “Harlem-born poet Sekou Sundiata's work is grounded in African-American culture, including its music. Sundiata came of age as an artist during the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movement and his work is informed by the art of the 1960s and 1970s. His work is filled with the sounds of blues, funk, jazz, Afro-Carribean percussion and reference to musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He is a teacher of literature at New York City's New School University and has inspired the work of artists such as Ani DiFranco and M. Doughty of Soul Coughing.” You can hear an interview with Sekou that originally aired on National Public Radio on November 20, 2002 if you click here. He received multiple fellowships for his work; among other places, he was an artist in residence at Stanford University and Sundance.

Perhaps one of the most memorable performances I have seen in my life was one version of what Sekou called The Talking Book. In this event -- the first piece of his work I ever saw -- he performed with poets Amiri Baraka, Jessica Hagedorn and Ntozake Shange, blueswoman Nona Hendryx and jazz musician Craig Harris. And at the end of the show, everyone was on stage jamming together. It was breathtaking.

One of his most recent works, blessing the boats, recounted Sekou’s struggle with kidney disease, which led to a kidney transplant in 1999: a reflection on his own mortality, Sekou also took the opportunity to work to publicize the fact that kidney disease is a leading cause of death among black men.

Sekou's most recent production, the 51st (dream) state reflected on American and global citizenship after 9/11: it was produced, among other places, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the spring of 2006.

Because this post is not authorized by his family, I will not presume to recount the many people who will mourn Sekou, but I can say more generally that he will be very missed by his friends, colleagues, students and many admirers who have lost his humor, genius, artistry, grace and insight.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Big City Comes to the Radical: Notes on Shoreline, New York and Change Over Time (Also Known As History)

One feature of middle age for me is not just being able to reflect on my youth and see the turning points, but also to see turning points as they are occurring. Historians will recognize this as "periodizing," something we are taught to do when we prepare for our general exams as graduate students, and which is a traditional way of organizing historical knowledge: i.e., the Age of Jackson begins here, with this event, and ends here with this event. The events on either end are turning points in which something fundamentally changes, and that change is something that the Jacksonians perhaps did, or did not, perceive as something very significant at the time. So for example, probably everyone who was sentient and following politics knew that it was a Big Deal when Andrew Jackson successfully intimidated South Carolinians into paying federal taxes and resolved the Nullification Crisis in 1832-3 by threatening to deploy the greater military power of the State against the lesser military power of a state. But who knew that at the very same time immigrant white working class identities were consolidating around a contest over the exchange value of whiteness? And who knew that South Carolina would pick up exactly where it left off, twenty-seven years later? And get twelve other states to agree to their version of history?

So on the personal history front, when N. and I moved to Shoreline three years ago, and then subsequently sold our New York apartment, this was clearly a turning point, but I now know that we were not aware that we were participating in a larger process of Historical Change; nay, we were on the cutting edge of it.

This is what I knew at the time, other than that I was sick to death of commuting and could no longer live in two rooms with another adult: that there were all kinds of things to say about why one would regret leaving New York, and why one might welcome it. On the regret side, New York is:

1. Exciting.

2. A Metropolis of unparalled pleasures in art, politics, letters, food, parties, public transportation, and fun stuff to do.

3. Very gay.

4. Internationally and racially diverse.

5. The home to at least five top-flight universities, about a zillion archives and an outstanding, varied and public intellectual life.

6. A place where it is eternally possible to imagine that one might become rich and famous, either through conscious effort or by chance.

7. The home of my youth.

But on the debit side, and I would say this is a more general phenomenon you can read about in the newspapers, those of us who decide to leave -- particularly those of us who moved there in the first place to live the sophisticated, liberated life of our dreams -- recognize that New York is also:

1. Expensive. Easy to live in if you are doing something overvalued, like writing books about how to spend the year living on other people's garbage or selling antique Bakelite tchotchkes to the Rolling Stones, but hard to afford if you do something undervalued, like teaching or working with the disabled.

2. Increasingly geared to a homogenizing tourist market and the desires of very wealthy people.

3. Young.

4. A place where the bulk of full-time academics get paid less than many of us are paid elsewhere, for reasons that are a little mysterious; where the majority (as high as seventy percent) of faculty are contingently employed; and all faculty are at least as unhappy and complain as much as faculty elsewhere, if not more so, even though most of them either came to New York deliberately or refuse to leave to find satisfying work because they can't imagine living anywhere else.

5. Home to a gay and lesbian community that has no politics to speak of beyond marriage; is either in its twenties and utterly punked out, or older and consumed with insemination dilemmas; and manages to support exactly one lesbian bar in a city of many million people, probably 300,000 of whom are lesbians.

6. Home to a hospital system that is overly stressed and underfinanced, to the extent that taking your own life after a severe ankle sprain might seem like a reasonable alternative to going to an emergency room.

This is all to say that moving to Shoreline was a quite conscious turning point for me, in the sense that it was time to take account of the fact that most of the things I had gone to New York for were either Over, or I was Over Them. For example, it ceases to matter whether there are one or twenty lesbian bars (Shoreline has one gay men's bar, a gay men's bar that goes lesbian one night a month, and a pizza restaurant that goes gay one night a week) if you go to bed every night at 11:00. And if you leave New York, you have a great deal more money, so you end up going back to New York to do things you couldn't really afford before, like seeing concerts and plays.

But dig this. I noticed yesterday that New York is coming to Shoreline. For example:

This summer, three movies have been shot here, including one for which my nephew Von Liktenstein ( formerly known on this blog as Extravaganza, and known to his friends as simply Von Likt) has auditioned. Eleven movies and TV shows are waiting for permission to shoot here. This means that we have all the inconveniences of New York movie making as well, compressed into about fourteen square blocks. Many of my friends grump about this. However, since I put up with NYPD Blue in my New York neighborhood for over a decade, I am not fazed.

I was reading the New York Times today and discovered that the Lifetime channel is premiering a new television series tonight called State of Mind that actually takes place in Shoreline. The ongoing plot concerns what Shoreline is perhaps most famous for, other than Oligarch University, which is its vast community of psychotherapists. Tonight, in the premier, our therapist heroine discovers that her husband is having an affair with their couples' therapist. This is the kind of thing that could happen in New York -- or Shoreline, actually, since most days, in most parts of town, you could throw a stone in any direction and hit a squirrel or a therapist.

I realized yesterday that Oligarch, for reasons that are not quite clear to me since for many years they were happily engaged in offending a difficult but extremely wealthy alumni donor by their refusal to do this, has assembled quite the group of queer scholars. Yesterday at our neighborhood Farmer's Market (another feature of Shoreline Life that means we can be foodies too just like bourgeois folk everywhere), I ran into my old friend George Chauncey, who came to Oligarch from the University of Chicago last year, and who used to live in New York when we were both young and jobless. He was coming from Joanne Meyerowitz's house, which is right across the park from mine. Joanne and her partner moved here two years ago, from Indiana. But when I realized that I might be in the midst of one of those turning point moments was when a neighborhood friend, Patty, mentioned -- subsequent to me saying something typically snotty about gay marriage -- that a new Oligarch faculty member had bought the condo around the corner from us, and that he was against gay marriage too. Huh? Who? Well, it turns out, it's Michael Warner, who also used to live around the corner from us in Chelsea and worked at Rutgers. We actually thought he had followed us to our building on the Lower East Side, but later decided he just had a friend there. Clearly, however, he has followed us here, there is no question about that. And to seek a similar critical mass of queer scholars concentrated in the same way, you would have to go stand in the middle of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

So my current analysis is this: we left New York for Shoreline, only to discover that Shoreline is becoming a boutique New York. Isn't history strange?

(This picture of the Smoothie Factory, now condominiums, in the Wooster Square neighborhood of Shoreline, was taken by Steven Severinghouse. On the left, you can see a corner of the neighborhood train station, a five minute walk from our house, that takes you to -- New York!)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Politics Today: A New Feature on Tenured Radical

I am toying with thematic formats that will allow me to blog in a more moderate way on a few days of the week -- rather than devoting half a day to a blog post, or swear off blogging entirely so that I can get a chunk of work done before lunch. Moderation is what the Radical strives for, at least in some things. The truth is, part of my problem is that I begin the day by reading the New York Times, reading everyone else's blogs, and doing my email -- which transports me, mentally and intellectually, about as far from the nineteenth century and Civil War historians as I could be transported. It can take a while to get back, believe me, when my head is swirling with political scandal, academic gossip, wicked humor from my mostly pseudonymous colleagues, and the current plight of the Philadelphia Phillies.

But this morning I received a terrific video from a friend. I have tried to upload it here and failed (so do not click on the image and expect anything to happen) -- due to some combination of my technical inability and the fact that it would violate copyright six ways to Sunday. It is Walt Handelsman, the Pulitizer Prize-winning New York Newsday cartoonist, commenting on the political style of Nanny Dick:

Click here to view the video legally. Oh yes -- and Handelsman does comment on the archives question.

Could he be reading the Radical?


For more political news of interest to historians in today's New York Times, see Enid Nemy's wonderful obituary of Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, otherwise known as Lady Bird because she was "purty as a lady bird." For the real skinny on the Johnson marriage, and what Lady Bird actually put up with from the man who co-directed the last unwinnable war, you must go to Robert Caro's wonderful, readable, now three-volume biography of LBJ. In today's Times you can also read the latest on the transfer of the Nixon Presidential Library to NARA, including descriptions of eleven more hours of White House tapes released by our heroes, the archivists.

Oh for the days that President's taped themselves! Does anyone but me wonder who the first blogging President will be?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Blowin' In The Wind

It looks like Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) are the most recent defectors from the War Party to join their Democratic Party colleagues in asking for a draw-down of U.S. trooops in Iraq that would begin in four months: read about it here. Pete Dominici (R-NM), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) beat them to the punch; John Warner (R-VA) is apparently involved in shaping the Republican insurgency, and will publicly break with President George "What--Me Worry?" Bush any day now. You can read the New York Times story here. Just to be nice let's call them Peace Republicans. Or Late to Dinner (did your mother ever say that -- "Call me anything, but don't call me late to dinner?") At least they finally got to dinner, which is more than many of our soldiers will ever do again.

As of today, the body count of U.S. soldiers alone (no Iraquis, no Coalition forces from other countries, no contractors) is 3,607, with three deaths pending confirmation: read about it here, Senators.

I guess the Republicans dropping over the side of the ship put the "grand" back in Grand Old Party, didn't they? Better late than never, is what I say. The fact that several of them are up for re-election next year -- Dominici is the most prominent -- should not exactly classify this as a cynical move, I suppose. But it does make you wonder whether they watch the Lehrer News Hour: I know Snowe and Hagel are sometimes on it. Those of us who see the casualties reported in silence day after day, week after week, month after month, would have voted to leave Iraq several years ago.

I also don't want to get snarky about the fact that both those advocating withdrawing our troops and those advocating that we fight until the last U.S. soldier is left standing, keep demanding that the "Iraquis" take "responsibility" for "their own country." When I try to parse a thought like that, I think of other phrases like, "Why do the gays have to flaunt their lifestyle," "Black men need to take responsibility for their actions," and "The government should stay out of people's lives." The subject of each sentence is so inclusive, and the action being taken so obscure, that such phrases inevitably say more about the speaker than the group or entity that is being spoken about. Another analogy might be the colleague who gets a bad set of exams and gets angry at the students rather than asking first what it is s/he hasn't taught them.

I don't mean to trivialize a horrible situation. But is the bipartisan coalition that finally gets us out of Iraq (and not, by the way, Afghanistan -- our next Iraq) really going to blame the people of bleeding Iraq for this? Really?

Stay tuned: this could be the most riveting summer since Watergate.


While we are talking politics, did anybody read Joe Klein's piece in the June 7 issue of Time Magazine Beware the Bloggers' Bile? It's all about how he made a mistake on his blog about which way a congressperson would vote on the recent bill to (de)fund the war -- actually, she told him one thing and then changed her mind ("Women!") -- and left wing bloggers "blasted" him unmercifully. I'm sure they did -- it's a strange atmosphere, blogging, and it is uncivil and unpretty when in the wrong hands. But does this conclusion follow? "The spitballs aimed at me don't matter much," Klein writes. "The spitballs aimed at Harman, Clinton and Obama are another story. Despite their votes, each of those politicians believes the war must be funded. (Obama even said so in his statement explaining his vote.) Each knows, as Senator Jim Webb has said repeatedly, that we must be more careful getting out of Iraq than we were getting in. But they allowed themselves to be bullied into a more simplistic, more extreme position. Why? Partly because they fear the power of the bloggers to set the debate and raise money against them. They may be right--in the short (primary election) term; Harman faced a challenge from the left in 2006. In the long term, however, kowtowing to extremists is exactly the opposite of what this country is looking for after the lethal radicalism of the Bush Administration."

Oh. Please. Left wing bloggers are responsible for the incoherence and shilly-shallying of the Democratic party on this war? And it's not like writing that nasty novel about Bill Clinton was a huggy-kissy thing to do, Joe.

Might I also add, for those of us who have had to deal with right wing bloggers and their wacky poison-pen followers, Klein's view that the left is particularly prone to Extreme Blogging is just wrong and deliberately misleading.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Saigon. I'm Still In Saigon. Or, It Sucks To Work On My Book

I bet you all have been wondering: with all of the Radical's interests on display in the last month, is she really writing her book? What was all that fuss and bother about at the beginning of the summer? Has she just gone underground? Is there a book? Or is this "book" a blogosphere fiction?

Well the answer is, I am finishing my book. And it sucks. Utterly. It is like the last three weeks of pregnancy in August when, it has been my observation, it is relentlessly hot, peeing has become an hourly event, and my pregnant friends are weeping hysterically and saying, "Just cut it out, OK?" So in the interests of getting to work today (and not extending the childbirth metaphor), I would like to purge my mind of everything self-destructive, poisonous and distracting with the....(drum roll) "Four Reasons Why It Sucks To Work On My Book" post. I am giving you only the four top reasons (rather than the dozens that there really are) so that this does not take up the entire morning and so that you retain some respect for me.

Reason Number One:

It is July, and the summer is approximately half over. More than half over if you figure that on August 13 I am going to a lake in Minnesota for ten days, and when I get back, I will have to leap into school business immediately. Hence, there is enough time left to know that I can get most of the manuscript revised if I really apply myself in a reasonable way, and not enough time to actually know, for sure, that I will finish. Having done book-finishing once before, I know that I cannot package this up and send it away on Labor Day (ha -ha) without going through the kind of pain and anti-social isolation that a person of fifty simply can't muster the strength or will for anymore. Hence the agony may continue into September, when I had hoped to be book-free. I must come to terms with this possibility and keep writing at the same time, as if I were finishing. This sucks.

Reason Number Two:

This book is all about men in the nineteenth century, and my new project, where all my reading is focused, is about women -- feminists -- in the mid- to late twentieth century. This means that my secondary reading (focused on project 2) and my writing are fighting each other for supremacy in my brain. It's kind of like Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots, which is a violent game children of my generation played instead of Grand Theft Auto, and were equally vilified for by whatever parents caught us doing it. Here's an idea: what if I stopped writing my book and marketed a knock-off toy called "Rock 'em, Sock 'em Historians" and marketed it to graduate students at the AHA in January, with exchangeable bobble-heads of famous historians, past and present (which could be ordered - and paid for -- separately)? It's a concept, isn't it? And I bet I would make more money than I would make on this book. The amount of money I will make on the book will suck.

Reason Number 3:

It's getting hot, and that only aggravates my love-hate relationship to revising a manuscript that I would have been happy to publish two years ago to massively contradictory critical acclaim. But I have acquired too much creative and intellectual distance on it and its flaws have made themselves apparent in hideous and gruesome detail. So now I have to totally revise and restructure it so that I can at least have a chance of publishing something unique and different in the field that will cause people to talk about me in a wondrous way. So heat, or no heat, I am tromping through it line by hideous line, 'graph by hideous 'graph, and by the end of the day I am in an utterly foul mood and no fun to be around. And the ceiling fan is thumping overhead, causing me to imagine that I am Martin Sheen in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now: "This is the end/Beau-ti-ful Friend/This is the End...." The Horror. The Horror. Which is another way of saying: this sucks!

At least Martin Sheen eventually got to be President.

Reason Number 4:

If I abandon this book, I can never apply for a job or a fellowship again. If I finish this book now, I can apply for jobs, fellowships, a crown in heaven, a mortgage in another city, and a new passport for a trip to Paris next summer, for which we just purchased tickets with some of our three trillion airmiles. The balance of interests is clear: I must finish the book, whether I am having fun or not, whether it is summer or not, whether the war in Vietnam is a good idea or not. And I detest being in a position where anyone is telling me what to do, even if it is Fate telling me what to do. It totally sucks.

This should be a lesson to all of you: Never Get Out of the Boat.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Eight Questions Meme: From Squadratomagico

Squadratomagico has created an offshoot of the Eight Facts meme called the Eight Questions Meme. Unlike the original meme, it has no rules that need be published, and the questions are idiosyncratic enough that tagging up is a very difficult thing indeed. You can read Squadratomagico's answers to her own questions here.

Question the first: How different are men and women really? Such a good question. When I was in my Marxist-lesbian-feminist phrase I would have been shocked that this was even a question. Nowadays, when sometimes I can't tell whether the wedding pictures in the New York Times are two women or a heterosexual couple (unless I look closely at the names), I'm not so sure whether I have changed or whether men have changed. Three things I do know are that: in academia, at least, women are not inherently nicer, better feminists, or fairer people than men; that many young FTM transgender folks look like butch women to me (and don't even seem to be trying to look like men at the same time that they are clear that they are men) which suggests that gender isn't even about performativity any more; and that, as a person approaching 50, I have more in common with people of both genders who are my age than women in their twenties and thirties.

Question the second: Why do academics believe that they must work 24/7? Easy-peasy. Because we think everyone else is, so we should say we are working 24/7 even if we are not, and then others think we are, and so on. It's like a hamster on a wheel. Also, we waste a lot of time ditzing around while we are supposed to be working, so everything takes longer: for example, revising a book review and watching Wimbledon at the same time. Also, we love to read, so we are constantly reading even when we don't have to, and we pretend we are working when we are not.

Question the third: Why are cats' covered litter boxes designed with the cover nestling over the bottom tray (so that the pee hits the wall and trickles out)? Because they are designed and sold by the same people who sell Absorbing Cat Mats for under the box, Cat-Pee-Go for the floor, plastic dishliners that the cats claw through instantly, and those hideous plastic scoopettes for plucking the poops out. After our last cat moved in with our friend Wesley, following a variety of misunderstandings with the dog that resulted in a Grooming Strike and a demoralized cat covered with a large mat of orange tabby felt, I realized that the litter box was the main impediment to ever having a cat again.

Question the fourth:Why do I absolutely melt when I see a baby animal, but have a minimal response to baby humans? As an aging lesbian, I switched gears on this: once I realized no one was gonna make me have a baby, I began to take an interest in other people's babies, found them more or less as charming as puppies and kittens, and started to request their presence in my home as loaners. Baby animals, however, contrary to popular opinion, are not surrogate babies. They are animals, and their adorableness is enhanced by the fact that they more or less take care of themselves, do not have to be educated for a minimum of twelve to sixteen years, do not generate endless laundry, and do not require a government-sponsored savings plan for college and medical school. So their cuteness is unencumbered by things like physical pain, debt, endless birthday parties, tears, and socializing with their friends' parents whether you like them or not.

Question the fifth: Why do people enjoy high levels of conformity? Because no one wants to be that person on the kindergarten playground (or be that person again) who gets noticed, and all of a sudden people are pushing up against her and saying, "EEEEE-yew! Why does YOUR mother give you LIVERWURST? EEEEEEE-yew! Liverwurst girl! Liverwurst girl!" And all of a sudden you become "Liverwurst Girl" until you move to another school or your entire class goes down in a plane.

Question the sixth: Why does astrology makes sense to me practically, if not theoretically? Beats me, Chief. Particularly since we know that having a star chart was mandatory for the Aztecs, but if you didn't like how it turned out, you could pay the astrologer more and get another, better one.

Question the seventh: Lately I've been wondering -- should I get dreadlocks? You ask this of a woman who practically shaves her head? OK: I have an answer, but it may be upsetting to those who believe that Fashion is Blind to race. Yes, if you are Black. It would be gorgeous and hot. No, if you are White. White hair starts coming out of the braids almost immediately, and the dreds get this grimy, greasy, matted look that I think is a little gross. You might get away with it if you are White and tall, but definitely not if you are White and short. If you are Black and short, yes, but if you grow them too long it will only emphasize your shortness, so beware. But don't ask me. I'm almost fifty and I know nothing about fashion: I buy my clothes at the Gap for Men. And I've never even gotten a tattoo. So ask someone your own age.

Question the eighth: Why do people believe in "rational choice" theory? For the same reason that they believe that they aren't really smokers if they only bum ciggies off other people at parties and never buy a whole pack. It's comforting. If we really faced the fact that many choices were irrational, we would have to come to terms with how flawed we are and how unpredictable the world is.

Having just completed this, it occurred to me that perhaps I was supposed to ask my own questions, but nuts to that. My tags go to: Barnet Bound, professorial confessions, Ph.D. In History, Prone to Laughter, Dr. Crazy and The Proletarian.


Update for those who were tagged: ask your own questions is the rule, but I am giving myself dispensation.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Update: the James Sherley Tenure Case at MIT

You may recall this post that I wrote in February about James Sherley's tenure case at MIT. Since he ended his twelve day hunger strike in February Sherley, whose research is on adult stem cells, has continued his activism. He has acquired at least one ally, Frank L. Douglas, executive director of the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation, who resigned a few weeks ago to protest MIT's failure to reconsider the Sherley decision. I believe that Sherley has been on hunger strike at least one other time this year, and he has been holding daily vigils in front of the administration building.

The current struggle, as you can read in a Boston magazine article written by John Wolfson and e-mailed to me by an editor, Jamie Bellevance, is that MIT considers the case closed and wants Sherley to leave the campus. Sherley does not consider the case closed and does not plan to leave campus, at least of his own volition: you can read about it here. If you are hungry to see a great deal more documentation and news coverage, you can go to a pro-Sherley web page. The page also invites us to "PLEASE JOIN James Sherley EACH DAY AT NOON AT MIT 77 MASS. AVE. TO 'SAY NO TO JUNE 30' AND SAY YES TO FAIR INCLUSION AT MIT!" So if you really have strong feelings for Professor Sherley, and wish to help him retain his office, and you live in the Boston area, do so. Anyone who goes, pro or con, is invited to report back to the Radical: I would be happy to consider posting your report as a news item. Truly partisan, and of course civil, remarks belong in the coments section.

I have deliberately not called friends at MIT and Harvard to ask them what they think about this because I don't want to develop an opinion about something I can't know much about. I suspect that Professor Sherley and I may have a great many intellectual disagreements, the central one being his insistence that life begins at conception, which causes him to oppose the use of fetal stem cell lines. As a pro-choice feminist, I disagree profoundly with this as an ethical and as a factual position; however, I am persuaded by Sherley's insistence that his views on the sanctity of human life may well be part of what is actually at stake in his belief that he was persistently marginalized and his work misrepresented prior to having been fired. I say "actually" because I don't think MIT has admitted that this was an issue, but it is certainly believable. What is a philosophical and political difference in my world is a question of fact and a politicizing difference in Sherley's world, and one that puts him in a position to be seriously critical of a majority view at MIT and probably the major thinkers in his field. And what Sherley is arguing about the significance of his views on life to the tenure case I also find believable -- that although a white man would have been permitted the luxury of iconoclasm, perhaps even praised for his courage, a black man whose views are consistent with evangelical conservatism was not.

As I noted earlier, although I don't know whether this was the central issue in the Sherley case, I do not find this argument inconceivable as some people clearly do. I don't. Nor do I find it inconceivable that as Sherley struggled unsuccessfully for resources and for the respect of his colleagues that angry, sarcastic or aggressive behavior that would have been seen as a reasonable response in a white man was seen as uncollegial in a black man and became an excuse to further marginalize him.

Part of what I find intriguing about this case is Sherley's refusal to acknowledge that the process is complete, even though MIT keeps telling him that it is. Of course, I have personal reasons for being interested in this approach: during the Unfortunate Events, both allies and -- shall we say others? -- continued to invoke "the process" as if what I was undergoing was knowable and rational, when in fact it was not. And the purported rationality of the process was an illusion that was, and is, integral to why tenure and promotion processes are so often profoundly screwed up. As I now understand, with distance, many of my colleagues did not perceive the way my case was manipulated at various stages because manipulating how the case is presented -- benignly and maliciously -- is foundational to the "process." Furthermore, promotion and tenure processes -- and here I completely get what Sherley is saying -- are designed to take little or no account of the events and/or conditions of labor that actually occurred before the promotion dossier was assembled and presented. The person who teaches eighty students a term is expected to meet the same scholarly "standard" as the person who teaches twenty students. The person who enjoys the full support of powerful colleagues, and is given discretionary opportunities to publish, sets the "standard" for scholars in marginalized fields, who are criticized and often demoralized by that criticism and by being assigned to low-status work. The allies of marginalized scholars are also not only in the minority but are often themselves seen as a detriment to the candidate because of their own difficult promotion processes, and the scorn to which they have been persistently subjected. The notion of a "standard" -- a word that plays the same obscuring function as the "process" -- also does not take account of what is always at stake in a tenure case, which is that, at various stages, many cases turn on the judgement of individuals who are not in the least independent or objective, who have genuine likes and dislikes that they activate in the language of the "process," and who are often because of their own intellectual preferences or prejudices, unable to perceive the worth of scholarship to an audience of scholars unlike themselves.

We all have likes and dislikes, and the fact is that it is possible for some people to vote positively for someone they dislike or disagree with, and it is impossible for others to bring themselves to vote positively for such a person. It is also possible for people who are prone to the unethical exercise of their own influence to overcome their prejudices in relation to some candidates, but not in relation to others. Has James Sherley been misjudged? I don't know, and none of us not acquainted with this case can know for certain: I have never known someone turned down for tenure or promotion who did not feel deeply wronged and who did not have allies who mirrored the outrage that accompanies feeling wronged. But a contested tenure case brings these questions about how we judge scholars and scholarship to the forefront. If we could own them, as a community, it would be a basis for thinking about how to reform the tenure process itself, or whether in fact, it is reformable.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Summer Fun: Go Listen To My Sister's Band

The Sister of the Radical (hereafter known as SORor, or by her real name, which is Dorothy) is on tour with her band, which is called The Gilmartin Potter Band. She and her bandmate, Aaron Gilmartin, have just come home from several years in Europe, where they have been composing and performing like mad. Aaron is in front; Dorothy is in the middle; and I am supposed to know who the guy in the back is, but I don't. I think he was part of the band that recorded their songs in Germany.

They are really, really good. And if you click on the link above, you can also buy their album which is also really, really good.

Im trying to post their schedule on the bar to the left, but so far Blogger is denying me. SO -- go to their website for a complete list of tour dates near you. And if you live in or near any of those places, beginning with Liberty Village in Union Bridge, MD this Tuesday, July 3, you should go see them and take your friends. It will be a fun evening, and except for a small appearance fee they pretty much only get paid on the door, so having a large crowd is not only more fun for them but it has some bearing on their day-to-day well-being.

Go! Have some fun this summer, for God's sake!