Friday, February 29, 2008

Being "Diverse" in the Middle Ground: Thoughts on Racisms, Sexisms and the Many Phobias

Gayprof, who is a continual inspiration to my desire to write and think better, recently put up this post on being a "minority" in a humanities department. In "Enough Minorities? Minority Enough? (Part I)" he responds to Oso Raro's thoughts in his this recent post at Slaves of Academe (which, if you have never visited it, is also one of the most beautifully written blogs I know.) In addition, Gayprof is following on a previous post of his own about so-called diversity hiring, and presumably since "Enough Minorities? Minority Enough?" is labeled "Part I" there will be at least one more follow up. I'm looking forward to it. And for those who want to read a really great piece on similar questions, turn to my colleague Indira Karamcheti's classic article,"Caliban in the Classroom." Originally published in Radical Teacher, it is anthologized in Pedagogy: The Question of Impersonation, Ed. Jane Gallop (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.)

Indeed, this was a good week for White Lesbian Semi-Tranny Me to read these provocative posts about the perils of embodying one's "culture" for others. Each post articulates the burdens of those who constitute the "difference" offered (marketed?) by a twenty-first century university as dilemmas that need to be at the center of the discussion. But also, to cut to the chase, I was, this week, for the umpteenth time in my career, accused of being a racist. Mostly deployed as an implicit rather than an explicit attack, it always raises questions for me about how those of us who embody "otherness" can also become entangled and implicated in the system that creates "others." I raise this because, while I don't think I never screw up, the real racists who walk my little part of the planet virtually never get told so to their faces, although they have plenty to say to me about my apparent inability to see the world with their scientifically objective eyes.

Familiar as being called a racist is (for reasons that will become clear below), it always leaves me speeechless, which is probably a good thing, because being caught in a shouting match with someone who is makig accusations of any kind is not something you come out of with your hands clean. It does not hurt as much as it used to -- or as much as it is intended to. And before I proceed, I would like to add that I am not claiming victim status from these difficult moments. Although it does not cancel out real errors I have made or have been perceived to have made, I have also been privileged with colleagues, students, friends and relatives of color who have gone out of their way to recognize my record as a comrade, and this matters too.

In my seventeen years of teaching, I have not only been accused of racism, explicitly and implicitly, I have been called names that identify me with historic figures in the history of white oppression. And racism isn't the half of it. In other heated encounters, I have also been accused of being a homophobe, a transphobe and anti-male (another version of this is "anti-whitemale.") I have been called what we might call a "heterophobe": in other words, students writing in anonymous teaching evaluations that I like queer students best; that I don't like them because they are straight (who knew? you looked so gay!); or, in a nasty dig at the fact that I am an out lesbian, some version of "although I did not feel listened to, Professor Radical loves the ladies in the room."

That's me, cruising my own office hours for innocent young things to use and throw away like Kleenex.

Two white students once accused me of sexually harassing a woman in our class by winking at her (the student took it as it was meant, as recognition of her achievement of having talked in class for the first time ever, but the Homo-Sexism Patrol had not been informed in advance.) A student once accused me of racism for bringing a plagiarism case in relation to a paper that was, in fact, copied from several books that s/he had helpfully returned to the library. Several male students have said up front prior to beginning classes with me that they don't expect to do well in a class where "white males aren't welcome." This is presumably because the class is taught by me, who does a good imitation of a white male but isn't one -- although many white males I have taught have not only succeeded in my class, but gone on to get Ph.D.'s, prestigious law degrees, and whatnot. A parent once accused me of racism because hir child was failing a tutorial, having not turned in any work all year, because, as s/he pointed out, I would "not have allowed that to happen to a white student." When I replied that a student not turning in work is not something you "allow," and that I had repeatedly asked the student to drop the honors project because s/he so clearly did not want to do it, the parent lectured me that no white student "would have ever been asked to drop an honors project."

Just to complicate things for you, like Gayprof, I get a lot of crap from faculty too, which I won't go into at length because students come and students go, but tenure is 4-Evah and there are any number of colleagues who could and would read themselves into stories that aren't even about them. OK, since you beg, just one. There was the individual, years back, who told me that there was concern about me having been appointed as chair of a search committee because I was widely perceived as being "prejudiced against white people." In the course of this conversation a racial epithet was used which I think was intended to give me an opportunity to disidentify with faculty of color and demonstrate that I was really on the (white) team. Instead I went home and cried and didn't tell anyone about it for several years. Here's a lesson for you: you tell people shit like this and they mostly don't believe you. But that is just a taste of what I have had to put up with over time because of my work on behalf of the scholarly projects on race that I have worked on at Zenith. How many searches have you participated in where all the finalists were white? Nearly all of them, did you say?

Now, this narrative compresses a very few incidents (but certainly not all) in a university life that has lasted almost twenty years: the two previous paragraphs read as though I am continually under attack, and that is not the case. Most of my life is lived as other people live their lives, and things get difficult when I have to deal with structures of power to which, regardless of my whiteness and class background, I will always be an outsider because of my politics. And I don't think the burden I labor under comes anywhere near that of my colleagues of color, who are too few, too beleaguered, and the object of too much projection and expectation from all sides. But I would like to say that I think I do catch more flak than most white people, and I do not actually think these things would happen if I were not so fully engaged with race, gender and sexuality in my teaching, scholarship and institutional work.

Here is where I am often left. I have my allies, it is true, and they are good ones, and we accomplish good things together despite having to do so on the margins of what constitutes power and influence in a university. But it is rare, as a white person, that one is fully trusted by a critical mass of faculty of color among one's own colleagues. That is simply a fact, although there are transient moments that give you an idea of what it would be like to have access to a more permanent sense of inclusion. Simultaneously, if, despite this problem, (which is a structural one, not a question of so-called "reverse discrimination" as the conservative critics would have it) should you manage to maintain fragile, but successful friendships and alliances over time with faculty of color, and should you invest seriously in race as an epistemelogical field, there is a surprisingly large group of white colleagues who make it clear, in word and deed, that you are not worthy of their trust.

Being labeled more or less a race traitor is simultaneously painful and liberating. It is painful because being misunderstood sucks, and because all of us who are women, queer, of color have -- consciously or not -- spent our entire careers trying to overcome the social barriers to our success by doing anything we can to be perceived as the intellectual equal of anyone in the room. This often means, by the way, being more or less a habitual overachiever, knowing all the conventional knowledge as well as your own undervalued field, which queer people, women and scholars of color who work on so-called "minority issues" have to do to get into the room in the first place. But it is also simply the case that you will not be acknowledged as an intellectual equal unless you conform, more or less, to dominant prejudices about what constitutes knowledge; or if you don't or can't conform, you must implicitly agree to leave those prejudices undisturbed and consign yourself to a status of permanently marginal critique.

Which is why becoming a race traitor, as opposed to being called a racist, can be liberating: it opens the door to saying and doing radical things. And at least if you are taking shit for it, you are taking it from the right people. But frankly, I think we are at a place in the history of the university life -- a place where, for example at Zenith, instead of affirmative action, we have a document that gives us helpful hints on how to "Avoid Discrimination" -- that this needs to be addressed far more openly by those of us who were there yesterday, and will be there tomorrow, to do the radical work of what has come to be called diversity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meetings: Which Ones Do You Go to? What Do You Do When You Are There?

I got home last night, after a particularly hectic and brutal start to the week that had caused me to sleep very little the night before. But strangely, I was in an excellent mood, in stark contrast to my feelings about my job when I had left the house that morning. Why? Because I had been in a meeting of chairs of departments. Strange, but true. I felt better because I went to a meeting. This is not just because, for the first time in my memory they took attendance at the chairs meeting and I happen to know that there was at least one person who was absent who is always criticizing me for various sins of commission and ommission. Well, let's see who gets a demerit now, shall we?

Unfortunately, I can't write about what happened at the meeting, although I doubt any of you would find the story as entertaining and fulfilling as I did while mulling it over later. I tried to tell N, who was happily watching the Lehrer News Hour when I got home at my now customarily late hour. Her expression indicated that my amusing experiences quickly took on the "you hadda'uv been there" quality of insider humor. I desisted and lumbered off to make a drink and whip up some dinner.

But without revealing all, let me explore the lightness of being that returned to me because of this meeting, a meeting which followed a number of difficult institutional blows to the Progress of the Radical that may, or may not, be resolved without reliquishing another pound of flesh. First, I was reminded that our academic administration has a preponderence of gentle, decent people in it right now: it is much easier not to get what you want when you really believe that the people making decisions are trying to be fair. And I get more satisfaction out of what they can give me, even though, like all faculty, I would have liked more, and I would have liked to have had it sooner. But more importantly, I looked around the room, and all these other people who are chairs are also (mostly) gentle, decent people with whom -- whatever our differences on any given topic -- I have a long history and a lot in common. In other words, I like them. I cannot overemphasize the sense of warmth this gave me about my work.

In addition, at Zenith the administration now serves coffee and cookies at afternoon meetings. My favorites are the oatmeal ones with dried cranberries and white chocolate chips. More of those, please.

We go to many meetings that are not so nice at Zenith. I actually think that one of the difficult jobs as a chair is to strike a balance between having meetings where people can discuss things and keep cohesion as a community (a particularly different task if you mostly run on borrowed faculty as I do) and doing most of your business on e-mail, because it is more immediate and most people don't want to come to meetings. And in interdisciplinary programs -- a striking difference from departments, in my view -- although consultation should always be the norm, in fact, most of your faculty would prefer that the chair make most decisions without troubling them. In departments, the slightest change causes that dreaded word -- "policy" -- to hove into sight, and all of a sudden you have a room full of people playing "Lawyer for a Day."

There are other meetings that you must call and must go to. And frankly, much as I dislike them, I think faculty should come to meetings when they are asked to. I don't think, for example, that colleagues should have to be enticed to meetings of the full faculty by life-changing institutional business, nor do I think faculty have any right to be outraged when legislation is passed in their absence.

As my niece Elizabeth once said, You snooze, you lose. I myself think this is axiomatic, but others do not always agree. The argument is often made by those asking for what is, in playground terminology, a "do-over," that had an action item been on the agenda, they would have known that their very important presence was vital to the outcome. Unproven. But my real problem with this is that habitual no-shows assume that the other items on the agenda, and meetings in general, are normally just horse shit that is not worth their valuable time, which in fact, is not the case. There was a time, after the Unfortunate Events, that I stopped attending all meetings for mental health reasons, but once I started again, I realized that there is a category of information that you get from meetings -- and can ask questions about -- that you wouldn't get to engage or learn about in any other way. And if you stop going to meetings, you get very little feel for the personality of administraion, which makes it harder to do business when business arises.

Some meetings are seen as unnecessary because they are merely practical, or skill oriented (as opposed to a useful meeting that would teach me how to read Lacan without my eyeballs rolling into my skull.) I warn against this view because the university is changing so fast that you can become incompetent quickly. Example: I went on sabbatical, and when I came back I had no idea how to enroll students in my classes. And recently there was a history department meeting I almost didn't attend because the sole purpose was to introduce a new technology. I read the description and thought, This has nothing to do with me. Then I thought, But suppose I need to cut a department meeting down the line? At least I'll get credit for this one (which leads me to the observation that many of us are still undergraduates in our hearts.) At any rate, it turned out the technology was very useful, I got to ask a few questions, and two weeks later I have already seen ways to use it in my daily work. Tra-la.

But what if this is not the outcome? What if you are worried that this hour lost will just tank your day? Well, if you can't listen to the whole meeting, bring something to do that doesn't get in people's faces. For example, surreptitiously bringing booze in a coffee cup and getting drunk -- not unheard of!-- is kind of in people's faces. Grading papers is also a little obvious, as is reading. You don't want to telegraph contempt to people: just insulate yourself from your anxiety that the meeting is a waste of time. Which it might or might not be, but you won't know if you don't go.

Successful solutions to the problem of staying busy in meetings that I have seen: knitting (knitting is actually a form of listening in my book, although keep the clicking down if you can); the New York Times crossword puzzle; translating Chinese poetry; sketching out your next lecture (hint to the untenured eager to make a good impression: this looks like you are taking notes!); passing notes with friends; playing hangman (there is one Zenith administrator who is a killer hangman competitor); discreetly making faces at a friend and seeing who laughs first (really only possible in large meetings); and doing email or reading the newspaper on your Crackberry. When I was in a position in life where I had to go to lots of meetings, I would handicap thoroughbred stakes races. In Board of Trustees Meetings, where they give you a large book with all the topics in advance, you can interleave the Past Performance Sheets, previously downloaded from the internet, into the binder. If you remember to look up every once in a while, you acquire the appearance of someone who is paying very intense attention. I once handicapped the entire Kentucky Derby undercard in an afternoon when my presence was required for a ten minute presentation, but leaving the room afterwards was not an option.

I am not suggesting that one should go to all meetings, but my response to last night's meeting makes me think that the risk of becoming isolated, alienated and powerless might increase if you don't go to meetings. Those who run meetings have a responsibility to make them substantive, but those of us who are called to meetings have an obligation to try to go. That's our part of creating community. And whatever you have to do to make yourself go -- do it.

Just do it quietly.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

College on $50 a Day: It's a Great Way to Fly

In "The Skies Are Alive With Fees", the New York Times' Joe Sharkey writes about Irish airline Ryanair's cutthroat pricing system. Boasting fares as low as $30 round trip on some European routes, Ryanair is also "the world champion among airlines in generating extra cash by charging customers fees for services and products that most airlines include in the ticket price: checked bags, beverages and — for a time before the idea was dropped amid public outcry — even using a wheelchair." What is called in business-speak "differential pricing," I believe, is not unknown to American travelers. Recently United offered me the opportunity to pay $25 extra for more leg room; there are special travel categories where travelers who pay more are checked in faster; and instead of the cute meals in little plastic dishes we used to get before 9/11, as Sharkey points out, flight attendants sell snack boxes that are full of all kinds of things only David Sedaris would eat.

Sounds undemocratic, doesn't it?

But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. This is a concept worth thinking about at the corporate university. Given rising tuition, faculty salaries that are barely keeping pace with inflation, and the inevitable accusations that some faculty work harder than others -- how about differential pricing for college students? Is it not true that some students do not ever feel the need to go to office hours? Is it not true that some faculty advise many students while others advise none? Is it not true that some faculty come in one day a week and others are on campus three to five days a week? Differential pricing could resolve all of these issues by creating a base price for college, and then giving undergraduates the opportunity to pay more for the frills. Those fees could then go directly to the faculty members providing the various services, thus permitting those faculty doing the most work to get paid for it.

The benefit to the budget-conscious student would be clear, since we know that many students' college experience is more about their friends and co-curricular experiences than any contact with faculty. How many generations of budding scholars have said romantically, "I learned so much more from conversations in the dining hall than I ever did in class?" Well, let's use this insight, and the Ryanair business model, to produce the leaner, meaner university. At Differentially Priced U. faculty attention would be a commodity, separated out from meals, dormitory, student fees, and whatnot, that students would pay for as needed. Not going to graduate school? Why pay for letters of recommendation you won't be using? Never go to office hours? Why should your tuition go to pay faculty to sit in their offices so other students can get help? Don't really give a damn about the comments on your papers? Well, why pay for them? Have the paper read quickly and processed for a grade, at the low-low price already included in your tuition.

You can see what I mean: this is a brilliant idea. And the reason this is a perfect system for students is that faculty who never attend their own office hours, don't put comments on papers anyway, and can't be trusted to write a letter of recommendation because they don't know your name -- won't get paid for it. Those who do know your name and can write for you will get paid. This also makes it the perfect system for popular faculty besieged by requests for letters of recommendation, whose only reward for teaching well is more students, and who complain that they are overwhelmed by grading and advising while other colleagues, who blow their students off, are home writing articles and getting more merit pay as a result.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Notes from New York

It has long been my belief that the best way to get a piece of writing done is to go someplace where writing is the only option. Because of this, I am using a portion of my weekend in New York to come to the main branch of the New York Public Library, one of my favorite institutions in the world, to finish off a chapter of my book. I started coming here regularly when I was in graduate school at Potemkin University. One day in the reading room back in the 1980's, prior to the invention of laptop computers and a set of rules imposed by the Giuliani administration to prevent vagrants from coming to the library in the winter to thaw out, my friend Barbara pointed out a number of people sitting at one of the long tables and said: "Just try to guess which are the historians and which are the homeless." And indeed, each person at the table was wrapped in odd layers of grimy clothing and shuffling index cards and scraps of paper around. Upon closer inspection, some were scholars and others were -- well, just shuffling scraps of paper, trying to find a pattern.

It is snowing today, and rivers of gray slush are coursing down Fifth Avenue. Waiting outside the Metropolitan Museum (where I had stopped off to see the Jasper Johns Gray exhibit), I realized I have lost a lot of my New York skills since we sold the Lower East Side apartment almost two years ago. Focused on nothing in particular, I saw a huge tour bus filled with people from Scarsdale or Roslyn or wherever bearing down on me, and I had one of those slow motion thoughts that failed to fully form before, to my horror, the giant left wheels kicked up a tidal wave of grimy ice water that heaved toward me. I did have time to both turn and take one giant step backward, but got nailed below the knees all the same.

I do recommend the Johns exhibit if you are in or around New York any time soon: it's up until May 5. A little aimless wandering in the museum (which I honestly don't think I have visited since all my artist friends died of AIDS twenty years ago) also caused me to turn the corner and suddenly come up in front of Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein in her thirties, of which I had only seen reproductions until this moment.

OK. Now off to work. Lucky for my book-finishing ambitions, there are no electrical plugs in the Periodicals Room (where they have free WiFi) and there is no WiFi in the Reading Room (where they do have electrical plugs.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

They're Not Going to Have Fidel Castro To Kick Around Any More

At the age of 81, and looking not so good of late, Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba, is retiring. There is hope for [enter the name of your discipline] departments everywhere.

It must have been getting so boring to vote for Fidel over and over again for nearly fifty years (you think our election cycle in the United States has become endless!) The transition to a new dictatorship seems to have been accomplished smoothly nineteen months ago, as the sprightly 77 year-old Raul Castro has been running the government since his big brother had a debilitating operation in the summer of 2006. Dubbed "the practical Castro" by Time magazine in August 2006, Raul (above, on the right), who was put in charge of executing all sorts of folks who needed executing after the Cuban Revolution, is thought by some to be the leader that could bring Cuba in from the cold.

And turn it into another Club Med perhaps. The Bushies are not announcing plans to end the embargo any time soon, but when they do, my guess is that it will be Goodbye Guantanamo, Hello Carnival Cruises. Wouldn't it be a hoot if George W. Bush were able to claim the fall of Communism in Cuba as the "lasting achievement" of his administration? Tremble, Democrats. Life could get even stranger than it is already.

Hat tip.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sticky Wiki

Cruising around the blogosphere as one does, and following link to link, I ended up on Academic Cog's December post about the academic job wiki. My favorite Cog was upbraiding midnight raiders who erased sections of the wiki, claiming that they had done so as a "political act" to protest the oppressions of the job market. I agree with Miss Cog, mutilating the wiki was a mean thing to do, although I think it was probably a function of wiki-madness itself, perhaps enhanced by drink, that gave some jerk the idea that hir own rotten year on the job market could be made better by destabilizing other people's peace of mind. Having never really thought much about this job market wiki before last year (when I stumbled upon it and, to my horror, found a colleague's divorce detailed by a disappointed job hunter as the reason why s/he was given a job, purportedly by sympathetic friends, that "should have" gone to someone junior), I have now encountered it accidentally several times in the last six weeks.

The first was at the AHA, where I had an exchange with another colleague who I don't know particularly well. Both of us are tenured full professors at SLACs, so neither of us (I think) fall into the category of people who might justifiably be enraged on our own, or our students', behalf by the state of the job market. I mentioned the incident I have sketched out above as a reason why I thought the wiki was not so great (not that there is anything one can, or should, do to stop it, as it is a wiki.) My colleague got fighting mad -- or at least it seemed so to me -- because, as s/he pointed out, the job market is so stacked against the job-seeker, anything that could give a candidate more information was justified.

OK, I said, trying to de-escalate, but any and all information? Including putting the personal business of strangers up? And how did more information about others really help a job seeker? (Academic Cog, by the way, makes a good point that being allowed to deal with disappointment privately is a benefit of the wiki.) As I also pointed out, one had to rely on the good will of other strangers that the information posted was accurate. And, although some of it seemed to be good sharing - "received phone interview 11/21" - some of it was bad sharing -- "I hear that there is a short list already." "I hear there is an inside candidate." Well, from whom did you hear that?

My colleague was unmoved by my skepticism and we agreed to disagree. I shimmered across the room to get another beer, and forgot about the wiki for another few weeks.

But once I started to ask around, I found that people actively on the job market give the wiki mixed reviews. For every jobless soul I have talked to who finds it helpful to have "more information" there is another who is made anxious by the compulsion to check the wiki and its inevitable failure to offer any concrete help in the job hunt. "I try to stay off it," more than one has confessed. "It makes me anxious, but I keep checking anyway," said another a few weeks back. And I get that: if you are a blogger, how many times a day do you check to see if there are any comments? Any comments responding to your response to a comment? A visit from the Diva that might need to be purged? (nb: the Diva has been very civil of late and we at Tenured Radical appreciate it.) How could you help but go on the wiki if you were on the market?

Okay, so when I decided to write about the Academic Job wiki, I went to the original wiki, and then followed Academic Cog's link to the scratchpad version that was established when the Raiders of the Lost Wiki took a number of pages down from the real one. And I found, in relation to my own American Studies searches at Zenith:

NB to candidates: Caution when applying here. Institutional cultures vary by department, last year's search for a [field censored by TR] specialist in [department censored by TR] was tanked by a hostile admin, and several junior fac of color were not granted tenure. Research well, ask around, and get the specs.

Now, this information is only partially accurate, to begin with. Furthermore, as neither of our American Studies searches were partnered with the named department, or in the designated field, and the search chairs are reporting to an entirely different administration (president, provost and divisional dean are all different people), I ask you: what did this have to do with the actual searches that candidates would be participating in? What does the wiki tell them that helps them be better candidates for our jobs? That there is racism at Zenith? Well I could have told you that if you had asked. And those who work at universities where there is no racism might want to write a comment for this post about what it is like to work under those conditions. Enquiring minds want to know.

I suspect that the person who wrote the wiki post is the same anonymous commenter who occasionally shows up on this blog to hint darkly about my naivete about the "troubles" at Zenith. I don't mind the insinuation, although as regular readers of this blog know, having been among the first round of casualties in those troubles, aka, the Unfortunate Events, it is not I who needs to be reminded that the past is not always a place we want to visit. But at what university or college have these things not happened? Where have deserving people not been misunderstood? Welcome to the academy.

Furthermore, I wonder -- is such a comment actually intended to hurt rather than help? Certainly suggesting that job candidates ask directly about whether the tenure process is biased against candidates of color seems like a bad strategy. Ask me that and you are asking the person who will be candid and think it is a reasonable conversation in a recruiting situation; ask some other search chair and they might suggest you pick up your dossier on the way out the door. You really have no way of knowing. But let's assume encouraging people to make themselves conspicuous by collecting gossip that they have no way of evaluating is not malicious: how would a candidate act on that advice? Not apply for a job s/he is qualified for and increase the risk of remaining an adjunct instead? Or apply for the job, perhaps get it, and then be permanently vigilant about what terrible thing will happen next at the hands of unknown enemies?

Alright, I'll stop fulminating. I know that it was a spiteful attempt, probably by someone who has all the reasons in the world, to slam Zenith more generally in response to having been slammed by the Zenith personnel process. But as to whether such comments "help" others? Let's not be naive. And this leads me to the problem with the wiki: there seems to be no wiki administrator who is in a position to address the question of whether a post, disingenuously claiming to be helpful, actually hurts job candidates in the end by complicating their feelings about places that people inevitably experience differently and search processes which do not privilege the individual.

As to what I learned from the wiki, I think it would be helpful for people running searches to read it to think about what not to do and how to be as respectful of candidates as possible. As Academic Cog points out, search committees keep candidates on the string for far too long. Candidates receive interview requests so much at the last minute that even knowing whether to pre-register for the convention is impossible -- a convention you really might not be able to bear going to if you have no interviews. (The Radical once received such an invitation on Christmas Eve.) These endless timelines are something we need to re-think, since job searches may be disappointing on many levels, but they don't have to be gruesome or dismissive: to this extent, I agree wholeheartedly with my AHA colleague that more transparency would help. Reading the wiki comments should be sobering about the level to which those running searches do not feel bound by common courtesy. Not returning response cards included in the application by the candidate; not acknowledging the receipt of applications; not letting people know they are out of the running; personal rudeness on interviews: the list is long, and these careless things happen everywhere, including Zenith, I am sorry to say.

After my own search is over, I will do a post about how to do a search that will include some things I wish I had done better this year -- maybe an article for AHA Perspectives. Someone should, at any rate, and I hope some of the comments on this post will give advice on that. But let me say that although the wiki does no terrible harm, the good it does may be undermined by the level to which it incites insecurity among job seekers and distributes questionable information (some of the clothing advice is truly useless obsessing: no one does-- or doesn't -- get a job because s/he did -- or didn't -- wear a dark suit.) What might make sense is if, alongside the wiki run by job seekers, each professional assocation maintained a wiki in which search chairs who had advertised with that association's newsletter posted a tentative schedule at the time of placing the ad, and were asked to either maintain that schedule or alter it if circumstances dictate. Comments about discourteous or unprofessional treatment that go directly and confidentially to the Vice President of the Professional Division of that association could also be a feature of this page. Job seekers have a perfect right to do what it takes to feel empowered, but having information made publicly available by the search committees themselves strikes me as an intervention that would allow those who want to get off the wiki to do so.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Freedom of Thoughts: Some Radical Perspectives on Publishing

For a truly radical idea, take a look at Manan Ahmed's post at Cliopatra, praising the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences in their move to make their research accessible. Ahmed, who has cross posted from the blog to which he is also a regular contributor Chapati Mystery, challenges JSTOR to make itself available to all, and makes a good argument as to why access to published research should be distributed to as wide an audience as possible.

Indeed, although I know that academic publishing has been squeezed by shrinking educational budgets on one side and the troubles of the publishing industry on the other, I have often wondered why other people make money, paltry as it might be in the scale of things, from articles and reviews from which I receive no direct compensation. And I am not even going to start about the so-called "journalist" who re-wrote my first book with made-up conversations, published it to a mass-market, and then sold it to Hollywood. The movie, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, is now in production, which I know because an assistant designer (who also worked on Titanic) called to see if I wanted to give them free advice about the authenticity of their costumes.

I declined, and was unpleasant enough that I have not heard from the production company since. But as I have already pretty much given my book away without a fight, it does make me feel a little breezier about giving other things away too -- and why should that process be hindered by having my work hoarded by entities like The Johns Hopkins University, that started Project Muse on grant money, and now sells access to it, when Hopkins has all the money in the world? I ask you.

Of course, as one of my more radical senior colleagues at Zenith pointed out when that first book of mine saw the light of day, a well-received monograph that secures tenure does also secure several millions of dollars in lifetime income, pension, healthcare and whatnot, and none of these things are to be sneezed at. Furthermore, in the years when I publish, Zenith then has reason to bounce my salary into a slightly higher range in July, and that does result in an enhanced income stream that compounds itself upward over time. So one can make an argument that uncompensated publication of one's intellectual labors has exchange value. But if it weren't for publications like the Women's Review of Books and the small but steady checks I receive from Rutgers University Press (thank you Leslie Mitchner for simultaneous paperback and on-demand publishing! Thank you Amazon for inventing yourself! Thank you History Channel for occasionally putting my mug up there and causing people to look for a book on the New Deal they would not otherwise know about!), and the occasional speaking gig, I would make no direct income on my intellectual work at all. And the vast majority of scholars make far less than I do.

Manan suggests that we all begin to retain copyright to our published work so that we can re-publish in ways that benefit a larger audience. Here's two suggestions: that the AAUP and professional associations that do not do so already make access to JSTOR part of the benefit for unaffiliated scholars (while we're at it, access to health insurance would be good too). But for those of us who are affiliated with institutions that reward us for publishing, it would make sense to establish web pages where we upload PDF's of our published work to our web pages as a gesture towards those who need and want to read it.

For another radical take on the sale of knowledge, check in with Siva Vaidhyanathan at Siva's books have been groundbreaking in discussing these issues, and he is an important voice in the current discussion about Google.books and their ambitious and controversial attempt to upload all published knowledge to the web.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Political Notes: Of Kings, and Kingmakers

Several summers ago, following George W. Bush's re-election, I had the pleasure of sitting down informally with two progressive Democratic party activists. Over evening drinks, a group of us discussed plans for the next election. This couple -- who are well-to-do but not mega-rich fundraisers -- were quite confident that Hillary Clinton would be the party nominee. I remember feeling both a great thrill that I had tapped into this insider conversation, and pretty annoyed that it was all over before we had begun. My annoyance was tempered, to some extent, by the fact that these two activists were genuinely interested in how Clinton would play back in New England, what our issues were with a potential Clinton presidency, and so on.

As the Clinton candidacy teeters on the edge of Big Trouble, I look back on this conversation, and think: "Well." (This is how Radicals sometimes verbally mark an unexpected turn of events. Sometimes a twist of fate is also signaled by "Ahem." Or "My goodness.")

But I also wonder whether there is a historical change in how national politics work, and whether it is a change being created by the candidacies themselves, as the Obama people want to persuade us; or whether it is being forced by shifts in media, the proliferation of arenas for activism and perhaps increased voter sophistication. Here are some things that seem different to me.

Announcing early can significantly damage a candidacy since, as time passes, the capacity of the candidate to say something new (or have policy shifts perceived as distinctly fresh) diminishes. Historically, we might also look at the Nixon campaign for hints as to how this works. That's a difficult comparison, however, since although it was assumed from election day 1956 on that Nixon would be the next Republican candidate, Eisenhower simultaneously made it clear how little he liked his vice president for the four years that Nixon worked to persuade the party base to turn out for him. Which they didn't, at least not in sufficient numbers to defeat a relative upstart.

Now Clinton, although her husband's presidency sometimes hangs like a lodestone around her neck, has altered and expanded her talking points since she announced her candidacy, many months and millions of dollars ago. A die-hard centrist, she has also moved left as the discussion has moved left. So I would say there is no question that she has grown into her candidacy. But Obama gives the impression of having grown more as a candidate, in part because his transformations, in some cases less progressive than hers, have occurred in a drastically shorter time frame. Thus, although I am not sure that he is genuinely more dynamic, he appears to be so. Furthermore, to announce early, I would argue, is also to give a false sense of one's actual support among voters. In the absence of other candidates, the poll numbers may represent supporters, who, in reality, would vote for anyone reasonable compared to the president they have had for the past eight years. Those being polled had no one else to choose except perennial outlying contenders like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader. If you had asked Democrats if they would agree to change the constitution and make Arnold Schwarzenegger President, they probably would have said yes in lower, but significant, numbers.

My point is that the Clinton candidacy could only have degraded over time, barring no challengers at all, and that gives the false impression that she is less and less vital as a candidate, when in fact that is not the case. Her positions have become more complex, and more progressive. Obama's positions continue to mimic those of other candidates. He too has moved left, but his policies are unoriginal and less well framed, particularly since he has chosen to differentiate himself from Clinton by articulating himself as the voice of a movement (a people person) rather than a policy maker (politican.) People who believe that movement politics are the way out of a neo-liberal impasse in the Democratic party (my friends, to whom I dedicated my primary vote for Obama) have faith that the innovative policy making will come later. I hope that this is right. But it also creates the danger that should the "movement" not push Obama into the candidacy, that they will have little left in common with each other or with the Democratic party.

The candidate with the most money does not necessarily win.That big money donors bypassed the electorate to hand-pick candidates was a central criticism in the next to last chapter --"Who Are the Secret Kingmakers?" --of Phyllis Schlafly's 1964 blockbuster, A Choice, Not an Echo. Ironically, the conservative movement Schlafly spoke from and to revitalized the Republican party in the 1970’s and 1980’s by replacing one set of kingmakers (northeastern liberal Republicans like the Rockefellers) with others (rabid right-wingers like Richard Scaife and Adolph Coors.) One thing that has changed the terrain is grassroots fundraising, which I would suggest makes it possible to level the playing field somewhat. This has helped the Obama insurgency, not just because small donations add up, but also because a campaign can use its data on small donors -- who are they, how many, where do they live -- to go to big donors and get them to pony up for a candidate who is developing a powerful, demonstrable base: small donations simply give you better data on actual voters who are supporting a candidate than large donations from the same old party fundraisers can. Hence, I would argue, the small donors can alter the giving patterns of the "kingmakers." Big donors who originally gave only to Clinton are now hedging their bets and giving to Obama as well because of the traction he has demonstrated, not just through primary victories, but through small donation data.

Another hypothesis that needs to be tested is this: that if there is something slightly noxious about a candidate, being rich makes it worse. The Romney candidacy seems emblematic on this point. I know, we have to control for the fact that the Mormon thing made him odd to people, and that he was a shape-shifter as a conservative. Also, as Paul Begala said on National Public Radio, that he is widely perceived as a "big phony." George Bush seemed like a big phony to slightly more than half the voters in 2000, and not to slightly less than half, so this might be less of an issue by itself. However, Romney -- unlike Bush, Jon Corzine, Mike Bloomberg, and others -- was not able to buy the nomination, nor did his deep pockets persuade the party apparatus at any juncture that his candidacy was viable.

The pollsters can't give us reliable, hard numbers the way they used to. One feature of this, as my historian colleague Dr. Victorian pointed out, is that there are large numbers of young and not so young people who no longer have land lines, and that pollsters have no way of getting to cell phones systematically. This becomes a huge issue with a candidate embraced by the young since those of us who have done phone-banking know that it's not "Who do you like?" that is always the most important question. "Do you plan to vote?" is at least as important. But has anyone but me noticed that, while white people are consistently being broken out by gender, black voters are not always broken out by gender, and Hispanic voters and working class voters rarely are? This suggests to me that pollsters are unfamiliar with how to work with gender difference except among the group they have been working with since telephones made polling possible in the 1920's, comfortably well-off white people. Or middle-class white people. Whatever you want to call them. And in the same vein, it seems that the activism of people of color, as voters and donors, is outpacing the knowledge of pollsters and political scientists about how to discuss these groups as necessarily internally segmented audiences. Catch up, boys and girls.

Conservatives are just as worried about weirdos as liberals are worried about weirdos or conservatives. Frankly, I find this comforting. McCain's surge to the candidacy, when he does not poll well among conservatives at all, suggests that conservatives are working actively against a Mike Huckabee candidacy at this point. Yes, conservatives tend to want lower taxes and less government. But it's rare that they suggest eliminating revenue collection altogether. If you watch CNN you have probably seen the Huckabee ad where he tells you dead seriously that he plans on closing the Internal Revenue Service by Presidential order as soon as he is inaugurated. In itself, this is a wacky idea, and makes you wonder how he intends to either continue prosecuting the war in Iraq or bring the troops home (heck, maybe we'll just leave them there!) But it also makes you wonder -- what else would he close? Is it time to start stockpiling canned goods again?

A final note: this is utterly impressionistic, but have you noticed that while both Obama and Clinton are battling for a very active demographic of poor voters, each of them still talks relentlessly about what they will do for the "middle class?" It is a truism of American history that, since the 1950's, working class and wealthy people have collectively identified as "middle class," but do poor people working three to five jobs as a family still identify as "middle class?" What's the deal here?

A final, final note: which candidate will be the first to say that FEMA is lying when they say they didn't know that people living in trailers filled with formaldehyde and other chemical products were in danger?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why Do We Support the Troops? A Meditation and a Challenge to Those Who Are Against the Iraq War

I originally conceived of this essay back at the American Historical Association convention in January, when Marilyn Young pointed out that one of the "lessons" learned from the Vietnam war was that even if you don't support the war, you must support the troops who are fighting that war if you want to be perceived as an ethical person whose voice deserves to be heard. Indeed, supporting the troops has been a crucial legacy of Vietnam for the Iraq war, since it essentially means we are not allowed to oppose war funding, and those funds hide their purpose -- the murder of Iraqi freedom fighters and civilians, as well as the inevitable death and maiming of U.S. soldiers -- behind the lie that those funds are only being appropriated to "protect" Americans in a war zone. Hence, one of the reasons the United States is able to keep fighting the war is that those in Congress who claim to oppose the war continue to vote for appropriations -- not to support the war, mind you, but to "support the troops." Hence, when we support the troops (and this was Marilyn's point) we support the prosecution of an illegal and immoral war, and we pretend that we have no other choice as responsible citizens.

This is nonsense and it is a lie. Let me start with a little historical context.

What is being called on here is some version of several famous, and false, narratives. The first is the "stab in the back theory:" i.e., that Imperial Germany would have won the Great War in 1918 had Jews and Communists not undermined the war effort on the German home front. It was a lie, of course, a lie told in the service of nationalism. But the stab in the back theory, in turn, later became a narrative engine that justified, not just the rise of Fascism, but the suppression and extermination of Jews and Communists more generally in the interwar period.

The second is related to the stab in the back theory, and comes in two parts. Part one -- repeated in classrooms everywhere -- is the shameful scenario of soldiers returning from Vietnam who were spat upon by ignorant and angry Americans, unwilling to acknowledge veterans' sacrifice, desirous of degrading their honorable military service, and desecrating the memory of fallen comrades. But Jerry Lembcke, a Vietnam veteran and sociologist at Holy Cross argues in The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam that these stories cannot be documented. Except for a few incidents that he did verify, of Veterans of Foreign Wars members spitting on veterans who demonstrated with antiwar protesters upon their return, Lembcke argues that veterans were not, in fact, spat upon, either as a general phenomenon, or even once in a while by the occasional, hair-brained anti-war loony. You can read a short account of Lembcke's research here in a little piece he did for The Veteran, an online newsletter hosted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Part Two of this late twentieth century stab in the back theory continues to circulate among those who believe -- without proof and against all evidence that Vietnamese guerillas were willing to fight another hundred years or so if necessary -- that had politicians on both sides of the aisle possessed the courage to continue to pour American lives, money and bombs into Vietnam, or maybe used a well-placed nuclear weapon or two, that the United States would have actually won that war. Since it didn't happen, it is hard to know what "won" would have meant. What victory would have most likely meant was, as Barry Goldwater is said to have once remarked in his support for the nuclear option, was turning all of Vietnam into an uninhabited "parking lot." But -- and here's where we get back to supporting the troops -- this would have supported American troops by providing the "victory" that, in turn, would have proven to all that those who died did not die in vain. Ergo, political cowardice caused fallen veterans to be metaphorically "stabbed in the back," or, in other words, caused them to be robbed of the victory that would have made them happy to be dead.

So when those of us who are against the war in Iraq talk about how we wish to end the war while still supporting the troops, I think that is, as we used to say in the 'sixties, really fucked up (this phrase was how we indicated the failure of critical analysis to truly address the issue in all its details.) But let me rephrase that in the language respectable college professors use: supporting the troops while ending the war is a problem. I think it is a problem for a couple of reasons that need to be woven into anti-war strategies so that we can help support "Americans" in not becoming "troops" in the first place. That, I think, should be the goal and here are a few of my ideas.

We must go on the offensive to actively persuade people not to join the military. This means camping out in front of recruiting stations as the anti-abortion people camp out in front of women's clinics and holding daily teach-ins to persuade potential recruits not to sign up. One huge difference from Vietnam is that there is no draft. You have to actively enlist to get into the military. And while no one is more sympathetic than I to the ways in which education and job training have been linked to military service for the poor, you have to return from Iraq alive and unharmed to use those benefits. And even if you do -- is it moral to purchase those benefits at the cost of Iraqi lives? In fact, taking a leaf out of the book of those right-wing protesters, why not stand outside recruiting centers with large pictures of hideously wounded people who are now battling the government for some kind of benefit so that they don't become homeless? Or a picture of one of those guys who lost three out of the four limbs he was born with, but is only eligible for two prostheses, like the twenty-year old vet I met while on vacation last year?

We must work to get military recruiters out of our public schools. The government is not entitled to proselytize violence in our schools, turn our children into soldiers and kill them. Our efforts in this direction should include protesting the presence of military color guards at athletic events, rejecting military sponsorship of all youth activities, and lobbying local media outlets and movie theaters to turn away military advertising. In fact, like drug dealers, porn parlors and sex offenders, military recruiting stations should, through the judicious use of local zoning ordinances, not be permitted within a mile of any youth facility. The military is far more of a danger to these children than sexual predators or pornographers are, since one out of every five soldiers who actually returns from Iraq does so with a brain injury.

We must organize to get military recruiters off college campuses when they are there against our will and contrary to non-discrimination clauses in our bylaws. I thought of this last week when the information went out over our peace network at Zenith that the Connecticut National Guard might be coming to recruit on campus. Zenith explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of many things, including sexual preference and gender identity, and the United States military discriminates. Hence, they should not use our campus to recruit. But by federal law, we must allow them to do so, or risk losing federal funding, including federal financial aid. But we do not have to allow them to recruit unopposed. We can surround them, we can chant, we can sing, and we can challenge the lies that they use to recruit people into a war where they will be killed, maimed and likely to commit acts of criminal violence.

Gay, lesbian, bi and trans people should organize against the military rather than insisting on their right to become part of it. Support our queer youth. Let them live.

But, you might ask, what about those who are already in the service? Should we not support them? And my question is -- what do you mean by this? I cannot support their presence in Iraq, in an illegal war, where many of them are committing acts of criminal violence against innocent people. I really can't. I can support them exactly one way:

By bringing them home. Now.

Not another penny for this war, unless that penny goes to bring our troops home or to help those damaged by this war, in the United States and in Iraq, rebuild their lives. This is what we must work for: war spending bills that are dedicated only to the return of our soldiers, their reintegration into society and the dismantling of the war state.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Letter to an Old Friend: With One Day to Go, It's Obama for This Radical

Dear Old Friend,

Thanks for your passionate email yesterday about Barack Obama. I keep missing something about him that makes everyone else excited and ready to cast this historic vote: perhaps it is that I haven't seen him in person, as so many have. But I would also say that my problem is more intellectual than visceral. I think that, in his policy positions, he is sending all the signals that he will not depart from neoliberal Democratic policies. In particular, as Paul Krugman wrote today in the New York Times, he is advocating a national health policy that only covers people who elect to be part of it. This is a biggie for me, since we know that a range of people will make the choice not to be covered when they are poor, or unable to understand how to complete the paperwork, or --like a lot of healthy young freelancers with great educations we know who were raised with good health care, simply don't believe that they will become sick. And then we will chastise and penalize such people for having made an unwise or an uneducated decision rather than enroll them and care for them. This strikes me as awful, uncompassionate and no departure from the bourgeois Progressive ideologies that the twentieth century welfare state in the United States was founded on, and that have brought us to this pass in the first place.

In other words, Obama misses the point of a national health care policy entirely. It isn't just that every American doesn't have access to the same rational choices, it's that good health care shouldn't be about choice. And national policy shouldn't be about individuals. This is a fundamentally conservative position, and it needs to be recognized as such.

That said, I am going to follow your lead, dear friend -- and the lead of many people whose opinions and values I respect, and vote for Obama anyway. This is my own version of Hope. I can't escape it that practically everyone I love and care for (you and the range of voters in your household included) believes an Obama presidency is a move in the right direction. I can't make the argument that Hillary is demonstrably "better" since she and Bill were the architects of the neo-liberal turn in the first place. You are right: welfare as we knew it -- the system that put women in college instead of putting them to work cleaning the streets -- flawed as it was, was dismantled under Clintonian neoliberalism, and has relegated hundreds of thousands of families to permanent poverty and homelessness. In place of education, we offer women marriage training programs as a strategy to pull themselves out of destitution. Furthermore, I very much fear that a McCain-Clinton contest could become a centrist struggle for independent voters, and a competition to swing liberal Republican and conservative Democratic votes into the opposite party. This could really solidify national policy in the ugly middle, and leave those of us pushing for leftist reforms out in the cold. No one could miss how different a Democratic ticket with Obama on the top is from the old, stale political contests where both parties are fighting for four percent of the vote in three states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

So no, I don't believe in Obama the way others do -- I hate the "Change and Hope" rhetoric that is utterly devoid of any plan for what changes will occur and what we are hoping for from this man. You have to go to his website -- have a computer, be literate -- to go beyond a mass media display that has crafted Obama as our latest Man for All Seasons. But I would like to believe as others do, and I don't suppose I will have a chance to even try if he isn't nominated.

So here goes! I'll do what I can to get the Nutmeg State's 48 democratic votes into the Obama column.

Love, and thanks for the conversation,

your devoted friend,

The Tenured Radical

PS. And yes, I wanted very much to vote for the first woman President. Very much.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Saturday Blues: Of Postings, Powerpoint, Periodontia and Presidential Candidates

The good news is that, as of last Tuesday I published my 200th post. The bad news is that I have had no time or inclination to post since last Tuesday, and then only a video. OK, it was a funny video, you've got to admit. Hence, although I cannot report bloggers' guilt (some of my fellow internet pioneers do claim to feel these burdensome obligations to their readers), I do have the Saturday Blues. If I had had time to either practice my guitar, or go to the lessons I was gifted for Christmas at the Neighborhood Music School, I would set this to music, but a post will have to do.

The Saturday Blues often follow a long, difficult week, after which I look back and have trouble remembering anything I did that met my own life goals and ambitions. But the Blues can also be connected to the temporary necessity of -- in addition to abandoning exercise, decent sleep, and therapy -- stepping out of my life as the Radical. One of the downsides of blogging, for those of us who lock onto it as a creative and intellectual outlet, is the loss of blogging when life closes in, as it can do for academics engaged in the sundry tasks for which we are responsible. When there is no time to blog, the absence of an intellectual and creative life is felt perhaps more keenly than it would otherwise be, were blogging not a solution to the evasiveness of intellectual and creative life that accompanies the often endless bureaucratic tasks of a senior member of the faculty.

Do I make sense here? Does it resonate?

In fact, I just had time a few minutes ago to sort the mail received at the house this week. In addition to the bills and offers to use my terrific credit rating to go into debt, I have: at least six flyers from the Clinton campaign (two women do live here after all) and none from the Obama people (which makes me think they are thrifty in some ways that could be good for the national government); a (small) check from my mother repaying me for a Christmas gift that we all agreed would be better purchased locally; and a tiny postcard informing me that the Radical Family (two aging lesbians and a dog) is being offered congratulations for having been selected as a "Nielson household." We are told that we should expect to be called shortly to respond to an exciting survey.

See if I answer the phone this week. As if a household that watches only Netflix, HBO and Showtime programming, Friday Night Lights, The Lehrer Hour, and re-runs of CSI is honestly worth talking to anyway. We have a television with a twelve inch screen. Call my nephews instead with your faux social science.

Now, I do have to admit that other good things have happened in the past five days as the mail and the blues accumulated: it's just that I have been too overwhelmed to notice and appreciate them, so without breathing space am I (imagine my brain as an overstuffed closet full of other people's coats, tennis rackets, book bags and outgrown boots.) And as I pause to write about them, even the bad and depressing things that happened this week have a good side. To wit:

*An article that I knew wasn't very together when I sent it was definitively rejected by the journal that solicited it in the first place. Of course, other than rejection, the unhappy side of this is that two anonymous readers may think I am stupid rather than overworked. Up side? None of that namby-pamby "revise and resubmit" nonsense: I respect this journal so much for rejecting me outright I may send them another piece some day. In addition, I don't have to do extensive revisions on a tight calendar at a moment when I have no time to think, much less restructure an article. Instead, the manuscript can sit in my inbox and ferment, along with the last half of my book manuscript. And maybe someone else will finish both of them when I am not looking.

*I have been invited to take part, along with two other people who I have always wanted to meet, in an Exciting Event that will garner National Attention. I cannot reveal what it is, however, nor be completely happy about it, because I am not sure it will happen. Yet.

*After watching The Wind that Shakes the Barley last night, a movie I had looked forward to, I am disappointed to say that I thought it was boring and poorly plotted, although in addition to narrating the brutal British occupation of Ireland following the uprising of 1918, it is probably quite relevant as a thought piece about more contemporary colonial occupations -- say in Iraq, just to pull one out of my hat. Other up sides? No matter what happens to me this semester, I will not have all of my fingernails pulled out with a pair of rusty pliers while Cockney noncoms shout at me to give up the names of my accomplices. Which of course, I would never do, since if my associates are like the good people in the movie, they would shoot me on the heath afterwards, honoring only my wish not to be buried next to the English lord they had executed a moment before. In fact, I am happy to say that the names of all my accomplices are already printed in an alphabetized list in the faculty directory. Some with home addresses! No interrogation necessary, thank you!

*I finally used Powerpoint in my classroom. Frankly, it was not an entirely emPowering experience, and left me feeling dull and listless, which I do not feel when I know I have taught a Very Good Class. But the up side: I have broken through the psychological Powerpoint barrier and, although time will tell, I think it will help rather than hinder my teaching in the end. Like everything else, it takes practice, doesn't it?

*I finally made it to the dentist, an appointment that I have had to reschedule twice because I have had No Time. This is a good thing, because it still weighs on me what damage I did to my teeth -- and how much money I ended up spending on them -- because I had no dental insurance in graduate school, and hence, never went to the dentist. Of course, going to the dentist also pretty much wrecked the only free day I had this week. Furthermore, the dentist comped me on some Sensodyne toothpaste, a sure and depressing sign, from my perspective, that I am on the Downhill side of life (memo to self: do those revisions on the Untogether Article sooner rather than later.) Up side: I did not have cavities in the places where I was feeling pain; am not being scheduled for gum surgery, the latest payment plan for sending the children of dentists on to college; did not have to replace an aging, cracked filling with either a new filling or a thousand-dollar crown; and the fact that my jaw dislocates from time to time is not due to incipient bone cancer, but rather, as the dentist reassured me, "probably nighttime tooth-grinding due to stress." Well, yay. The other piece of good news is that the way my jaw dislocates is all good. Dislocating forward makes it possible for me to snap it back in on my own (actually it feels more like a mildly painful "thump" than a snap), whereas were it dislocating in the other direction, my mouth would be stuck open and I would have to have surgery. Double yay.

*I lost my Presidential candidate, John Edwards (many thanks to those of you who wrote in sympathy), which was a royal bummer. Once again I have had to come to terms with the fact that if Americans care about resolving poverty, they see it as a mere happy side effect of giving more goodies to that "middle class" we hear so much about, and/or tax cuts for the wealthy, and/or the enhanced capacity of the poor to attend wealthy universities and SLACS while their families stay home and try to figure out how to eat, heat their homes, get child and health care, educate the other children and reduce the number of jobs they hold to the desirable "one job." But the up side? As Paul Krugman noted in yesterday's New York Times, Obama and Clinton have been pushed to the left because of Edwards, toward better social policies, or even speaking about social policies in a comprehensive way, and that is a good thing. Another up side is that, dreamer though I am, I knew perfectly well that the Edwards candidacy was not going to make it and that I was going to have to shift my allegiance in the end. Who I will vote for on Super Tuesday will provide grist for another post: I have decided that question definitively even though my heart is with the undecided at this point. And as it turns out, Connecticut will matter after all!

And finally, one of the two Commencements I have missed in my years at Zenith will have Teddy Kennedy as the main speaker. I have always wanted to meet Teddy, and even more so now, since a former Hill staffer I met in the park the other day in Shoreline told me that Teddy takes his Portuguese Water Dog Splash to committee meetings and hearings and whatnot. Up side to missing this once in a lifetime, glorious event? While everyone else is either broiling in the sun or dripping in the rain at Zenith, I will be in Paris celebrating my receding gumline -- er, I mean, my fiftieth birthday, and the end of a long and difficult year.