Monday, December 29, 2008

Terry Pratchett Nation

*ahem* (Sir) Terry Pratchett, Nation (2008)

In lieu of a post I'm working on on identities, in response to something at In the Middle, I'm posting something that is more thoughts than actual review. I don't know that there are many spoilers, but be warned, just in case.

I got this from X for Christmas, and obviously I started reading it pretty much as soon as I could. Nation is possibly the most thoughtful Terry Pratchett book I've read. What this means, I suppose, is that I think it's his most thoughtful book, full stop, since I've read all his books.

It's not a Discworld book, in case you didn't already know that. I've seen it labeled as YA, too, but if that's true, then it's yet another case of a YA book that is far more grown-up than most novels meant for grown-ups. It's also not as funny as most of his books or, if it is, it's a much gentler sort of humour. I've read short reviews that say it's about imperialism, but I don't know that it is. I mean, there is a British Empire, more or less. And there are Remarks made about Empires, and they are not always complimentary. But to say it's a critique of imperialism or, as I saw implied (IIRC) on Visual Bookshelf, a critique of US imperialism, is doing the book an injustice. There's no doubt that there is some of that. Over and over again, we see examples of how there is no equity in the world, and how smaller, less technologically developed nations are often subject to the whims of larger nations. But somehow, in Nation the message is not so much that the larger nations, or empires, have gained their strength by exploiting the smaller ones. We have to think about these things, but they are only part of the story.

The greater part of the story is about dealing with loss, and life, where life is just what happens when you're getting on with the more important things that have to be got through. Mau just gets through. And so, in her way, does Daphne. Pratchett often writes characters who are hurt, or damaged, but almost every character who winds up on Mau's island is actively suffering, and visibly damaged (although there are some characters who are just plain damaged in an icky kind of way). The ghosts are always present, and the people just get on the best they can, most of them by just shutting down the parts that can't deal with the pain. Mau loses everything and everyone he ever knew; Daphne's entire life is framed by the death of her mother and baby brother. But everything they do in fighting back the pain of their own losses helps to heal the losses of the other people who wash up on the island, and the ghosts who live there. It really is a story of fighting back against the darkness. And in the end, there is no clichéed reward, only sacrifice and duty.

It sounds grim, put that way. But really, it's one of the kindest and most hopeful books I've read in a long time. Mau and Daphne, and all of the (nice) people who come to the Island find what they are looking for because they make it for themselves. Mau refuses to accept a world where bad things happen, if he can keep them from happening, and the others follow him. What is especially lovely about the book is that it's never mawkish, and it's never trite. Even when good things happen because of the quirky twists of fate, or coincidence, or freaks of nature that can only happen in a Pratchett world, even when it is that exactly one in a million chance, it is always down to the people in the end. And Pratchett's people are people we know, or at least people we want to know, and want to be like.

ETA: As I dropped off to sleep, it occurred to me that there's a lot of Dunkirk and the Blitz in this book. That is, Mau is sort of like the ordinary guy that is part of the popular mythical memory of Dunkirk (did Michael Portillo do one of his 'Things We Forgot to Remember' shows on Dunkirk?). Daphne is the evacuee in a strange place, and the royal who stayed, all wrapped up on one, sort of. Or at least that's what my evening pint or so told me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Whatever

Happy ...

Happy Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, or Festivus, or Newtonmas, or whatever you are celebrating this year!

WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) from Yoko Ono on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Power and Privilege

Power and Privilege

Some of the things I've been going through lately have made me think a lot about power and privilege. One of those things is teaching World History, where I occasionally flash back on my favourite Classics prof at Beachy U who, with fave Late Antiquity prof, drove it into my head just how important appearances could be to the Romans. I think of this a lot. On the one hand, this can be a base for hypocrisy: we know that, even for the Romans, there were plenty who talked a good moral and ethical line, and maintained that public appearance, but didn't manage to follow through in private. On the other, I do believe that not wanting to look bad in front of others, of wanting others to think well of us, is not a bad thing, and can be a good motivating force. Obviously, I like it best when people walk their talk -- one of my personal grievances lately is wrapped up in trusting someone who didn't -- but I think there is even something to be said for knowing that others notice if you don't. Me, I try to do it. It helps that I've been told I have a reputation for integrity and fair-mindedness. It makes me not want to lose that reputation. Actually, I've been really cranky lately and not as discreet about my crankiness as I'd like. So I'm trying to work it out by speaking very generally.

When I worked at public institutions, there were always these ethics laws that I thought were incredibly lame. I thought that because they often got in the way and cost more money, and because I really thought that some of the rules were no-brainers. Obviously, you shouldn't take gifts from students while they are in your classes. Duh. I learned all of those things in teacher-training and by watching my professors, especially Doktorvater and his wife, at Grad U. One of the things I especially liked was that they modelled behaviour that made it clear that there were different standards depending one one's relationship and on the level of the student -- rules were stricter when dealing with undergrads than grad students, for example.

But now that I'm meeting more and more people at SLAC and other private institutions, not to mention institutions in other countries, I'm noticing that these things are not universally understood. One of the first things I encountered was that colleagues had no problem hiring undergrads as babysitters. To me, this is just stupid -- although I have lots of colleagues who see it as a grey area. After all, the students you are probably most likely to trust are your really good students, and if you have to shoot money towards a student, shouldn't it be a student you like? Me, I think it's only ok if you pay them, and even then, I'm not so big on it, because what if a student doesn't feel that they can refuse a person who is still grading their work? More importantly, I really don't want other students wondering why I play favourites, and only ask some people to work for me. I don't want students to think that I give those students who do things for me an unfair advantage. After all, it was once an honor to help the king with his toilet, because it gave a lot of private access, right? Anyway, I'll accept that many people feel this is a grey area, and usually all right. I won't do it, but that's me.

Even though that's a grey area, there are some I think are more black and white. So, for example, what about meeting outside of class time? This is true for both contingent faculty and students, by the way. At my old union campus, if you required contingent faculty to be at a meeting, you paid them. But even if they weren't required and paid, I know department chairs and administrators who often didn't bother inviting contingent faculty, because they did not want them to feel that, if they didn't attend, and others did, they would be in some way penalised. What if (as is true with a couple of my more distant colleagues) a student has a crush on a prof, and the prof asks for, or even simply accepts an offer for, housesitting/child care/pet care/errand running? To me, that's just stupid. But again, a grey area for many people.

To me, it's the same with students. I know that many of us would like our students to attend more extracurricular events, especially when we go to the trouble of inviting in guest speakers. To some extent, at SLAC we can substitute a class for a meeting at an alternate time, but really, we can't require students to come at times they might have to work or be at practice. I see nothing wrong with that. Me, I encourage students to come to such things, and I often offer extra credit (very little, but enough that students will often take advantage of it) for those who attend and write a couple of paragraphs on it. But I make it very clear that this is open to all of my students in the surveys. I don't do this for my upperclassmen. I mention that there's an event, and that majors ought to be interested in going, but that's about it. They usually go. And here's the issue -- are they being coerced? Am I abusing my power?

The long answer is no. There are no penalties for nonattendance. But I'm the prof. I grade them. When I was their age, and one of my professors suggested coming to a talk, I did. I never thought there was much of a choice, and I always felt I had to go, but I never felt I'd receive anything but mild disappointment from my professors. What can I say? I like the approval. I think that my students have the same understanding that I did. And they see me going to programmes that my colleagues put on, even when I'm not thrilled, and learn that to me, that is part of supporting my colleagues.

The short answer is yes, though. Whether or not my students feel coerced, I'm in a position of power, and I have to respect that dynamic.

But not everybody does. And my anecdotal experience is that the people who recognized it least as students (perhaps because their own profs didn't model behaviour that separated the overlapping relationships between student/prof and very junior apprentice colleague and senior colleague?) seem to be least aware of these things as professors. They blur a lot of lines. They seem to think that their personal and professional connections have meant nothing, and therefore when they decide to treat their students as friends, they deny that it means anything. And to them, it may not be. But to me, it often smacks of needing constant ego-feeds. And to an extent, it denies the reality of the situation. Students depend on our patronage, they are graded by us, and frankly, we have a lot of power over them. It's a privilege. And to deny that privilege and to assume that students are motivated by friendship or by intellectual interest is to me on the road to an abuse of power. It may not get there. But honestly, it's not somewhere I want to go.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

AHA bleg 2

AHA Bleg 2

anybody need a roommate for the night of the 2nd? or possibly the 3rd?

update Huzzah for adopted big sister and BiL. I'm staying about an hour out of NYC and taking the train in. So I'll only be there on the Saturday, but still hope to see some of you folk there!

Monday, December 15, 2008

AHA bleg

AHA bleg

Um, does anybody know which airport one should fly into for AHA? Because I think I'm going after all. And also, does anybody need a roommate for the 2nd? I've never been to NYC, so am totally clueless, and also, do not have money for this trip, so any advice is good. Oh -- and I am looking into taking the train in from Newark, DE -- after I see if friends there can put me up for a night, so any advice there is good, too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I have no words

I have no words

This does not make me happy, because really, it says too many things all by itself. I don't envy the next several US Presidents.

Just wow

sunday memeage

Sunday Memeage

Via New Kid and Dr Virago and lots and lots of other folks:

Things I’ve done are in bold.
Things I am indifferent towards or actively would like to avoid are crossed out.
Things in normal type face are things I’d like to do (or at least, that I'd rather do than not).

Comments in parentheses are my additions.

Start my own blog
Sleep under the stars
Play in a band (if an air guitar band when I was 8 counts)
Own a cell phone
Visit Hawaii (although I expect I will, since I have family there now
Watch a meteor shower
Give more than I can afford to charity
Visit Disneyland / Disneyworld
Climb a mountain (I would hike a mountain, as long as there were no narrow cliff paths)
Sing a solo
Bungee jump (No. Effing. Way)
Participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony
Teach myself an art from scratch
Adopt a child (not legally, but I think The Kid counts after 15 years)
Purchase real estate
Had food poisoning
Visit Parliament / Capital Hill (well, to the buildings, at least)
Grow my own vegetables
See the Mona Lisa in France
Sleep on an overnight train
Have a pillow fight
Hitchhike (not something I'd advise)
Take a sick day when you’re not ill (Once, but I'm not counting real mental health days)
Build a snow fort
Hold a lamb
Go skinny dipping
Run a Marathon (but I'd kind of like to run a 10k and maybe even a half-marathon)
Been on television (unless there were some good academic reason)
Ride in a gondola in Venice
See a total eclipse
Watch a sunrise or sunset
Hit a home run (I think my best is a double)
Go on a cruise (except maybe a very cool eco-friendly one to Alaska, or maybe the Danube)
See Niagara Falls in person
Visit the birthplace of my ancestors
See an Amish community
Teach myself a new language (not to say taught myself, but I've learned to fight my way through a couple)
Have enough money to be truly satisfied (not so much satisfied, as to feel safe)
See the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
Go rock climbing (unless you can to this without any possibility of looking down and/or falling)
See Michelangelo’s David
Sing karaoke
See Old Faithful erupt
Buy a stranger a meal at a restaurant
Visit Africa
Walk on a beach by moonlight
Be transported in an ambulance
Have my portrait painted
Be arrested
Go deep sea fishing
See the Sistine Chapel in person
Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (hello -- a high place? But I would do it with a loved one, if he wanted to and held my hand tightly-- that's how I got up the Space Needle the last time)
Go scuba diving or snorkeling (I'm willing to try, but the idea scares me a little)
Kiss in the rain
Play in the mud
Go to a drive-in theatre
Be in a movie
Visit the Great Wall of China
Start a business
Take a martial arts class (aikido, off and on -- wish I still were going)
Visit Russia (if only for the Hermitage)
Serve at a soup kitchen
Sell Girl Scout Cookies
Go whale watching (and yes, we stayed at the recommended distance, not just the required one)
Get flowers for no reason (well, for myself -- not from anyone else)
Donate blood, platelets or plasma (no longer eligible because of the regular eating of British Beef, but before that)
Go sky diving (No. Effing. Way.)
Visit a Nazi Concentration Camp (I have seen many very detailed Holocaust exhibits, and don't know that visiting an actual camp would change my feelings about the Holocaust in any way -- I wouldn't not go, though)
Bounce a check (totally an accident)
Fly in a helicopter
Save a favorite childhood toy and somehow, my dad managed to dump several boxes of my stuff
Visit Quebec City
Eat Caviar
Piece a quilt
Stand in Times Square
Tour the Everglades (I think. I was about 6, so I'm not entirely sure if we actually went into the Everglades, but I think we did)
Been fired from a job (once -- but I've been downsized a couple of times)
See the Changing of the Guards in London (I always feel like I should, but never have bothered)
Been on a speeding motorcycle (because crashing at scary speeds with virtually no protection is such a good idea)
See the Grand Canyon in person
Published a book (ok, it's still in Vorbereitung, but soonish)
Visit the Vatican
Buy a brand new car
Walk in Jerusalem
Have my picture in the newspaper (I've lived in some smalllll towns...)
Read the entire Bible
Visit the White House
Kill and prepared an animal for eating (although I feel that I should, in some ways)
Had chickenpox
Save someone’s life (I'm not averse to this, but I guess I'd rather not have to, in case I screw up)
Sit on a jury (I've been called to sit several times, but they never put me on the panel)
Meet someone famous
Join a book club
Lose a loved one
Have a baby
See the Alamo in person
Swim in the Great Salt Lake
Been involved in a law suit
Been stung by a bee (even a dead one)
Ride an elephant


Friday, December 12, 2008

Petition to save Marc Bloch institute

Petition to save the Marc Bloch Institute

Via H-German:

Sorry -- I don't have time to translate it, but if you're a European Historian, you should be able to fight your way through!

Liebe Leserinnen und Leser,

das Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin ist im Jahr 2009 von massiven Mittelkürzungen durch das französische Außenministerium bedroht. Seine Arbeitsfaehigkeit, ja sogar seine Existenz stehen auf dem Spiel.
Der folgende Offene Brief formuliert den Protest von Wissenschaftlern aus Frankreich, Deutschland und vielen anderen Ländern der Welt. Wir bitten auch um Ihre Unterschrift und haben dafür auf der Website ein Formular bereitgestellt.

Mit freundlichen Grueßen,
Die Direktoren des Centre Marc Bloch

Prof. Dr. Pacale Laborier
Prof. Dr. Yves Sintomer
Dr. Daniel Schuenpflug


Sehr geehrter Herr Außenminister, sehr geehrter Herr Botschafter,

dem Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin droht eine massive Budgetkuerzung seitens des französischen Außenministeriums, die gegebenenfalls zur Schließung oder zumindest zur drastischen Einschraenkung seiner Aktivitaeten schon ab Beginn des Jahres 2009 fuehren würde. Die Unterzeichner dieses Briefes haben in den letzten Jahren eng mit diesem deutsch-franzoesischen Zentrum fuer Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften zusammengearbeitet und dabei seine Dynamik und die große Qualitaet der dort entstandenen Forschungsarbeiten zu schaetzen gelernt. Sie sind daher davon ueberzeugt, dass die Schließung des Centre Marc Bloch einen enormen Schaden fuer den deutsch-französischen Wissenschaftsaustausch bedeuten würde.

Die fuer das Centre Marc Bloch geplanten Streichungen stehen in voeligem Gegensatz zu den Grundsaetzen, welche der franzoesische Staat fuer die Reform der Forschung und der Verwaltungen formuliert hat: Soll nicht akademische Qualitaet belohnt und die Effizienz oeffentlicher Politik gefoerdert werden? Das Centre Marc Bloch kann eine bemerkenswerte Bilanz vorweisen. In rund fuenfzehn Jahren hat sich dieses bescheiden ausgestattete Institut fest in der franzoesisch-deutschen Forschungslandschaft etabliert und verfuegt ueber eine große Ausstrahlungskraft und Autoritaet. Die Zahl der wissenschaftlichen Veroeffentlichungen, der abgeschlossenen Promotionen, der wissenschaftlichen Projekte, unterstützt vor allem von der Agence Nationale de la Recherche, dem Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung und den großen deutschen Stiftungen, ist beeindruckend und waechst weiterhin. In den Evaluierungen wurden die Exzellenz und die Innovationskraft des CMB begrueßt. Darf die Politik einen solchen Erfolg bestrafen? Entmutigt sie damit nicht die Wissenschaft? Ist es legitim, eine solche Politik des Rotstifts als Modernisierung auszugeben?

Eine Abwicklung des Centre Marc Bloch stünde auch im Widerspruch zu den vielfaeltigen Bestrebungen, die Forschung in Europa zu internationalisieren. Das Centre Marc Bloch stellt ein anerkanntes Forum fuer internationale Forschungen weit ueber Deutschland und Frankreich hinaus dar. Hunderte von Doktoranden und Forschern haben von der Unterstuetzung und der anregenden Atmosphäre des Centre profitiert. Sie konnten Arbeitsgruppen und Veranstaltungen des Centre Marc Bloch nutzen, um ihre Projekte in einem multinationalen Umfeld zu diskutieren. Hat nun die Stunde des Rückzuges aus der europaeischen Forschung geschlagen?

Schließlich steht die Bedrohung des Centre Marc Bloch auch im Widerspruch zu den aktuellen Weichenstellungen in Europa. Frankreich und Deutschland sollen ein Motor der europaeischen Integration sein. Doch vollmundige Erklaerungen auf Gipfeltreffen reichen fuer solche Zwecke nicht aus. Europaeische Identität muss in einem gegenseitigen Verstaendnis der europaeischen Gesellschaften verankert sein. Das Centre Marc Bloch hat Personen und Gruppen weit außerhalb akademischer Zirkel angesprochen. Es hat seine Forscher angeregt, die Ergebnisse ihrer Arbeit mit Politikern, Kulturschaffenden, Journalisten, Studenten zu diskutieren und so zur Entstehung einer europaeischen Oeffentlichkeit beigetragen. Sollte diese Dynamik, in einem Moment, in dem sie noetiger scheint als je zuvor, wirklich gestoppt werden?

Aus diesen Gruenden bitten wir Sie nachdrücklich, dem Centre Marc Bloch die finanziellen Mittel zur Verfügung zu stellen, die zu seinem Weiterbestand im Jahr 2009 noetig sind. Nur so kann den verschiedenen Traegern in Frankreich und Deutschland die Zeit bleiben, dauerhafte Loesungen für die Zukunft zu finden.

Die ersten Unterzeichner des Briefes:

Jutta Allmendinger, Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin fuer Sozialforschung Etienne Balibar, Université de Paris 10 Nanterr) Jean-François Bayart, Institut d́études politiques de Paris Olivier Beaud, ĺInstitut Universitaire de France Helmut Berding, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen Luc Boltanski, ĺEcole des Hautes Etudes en sciences sociales Jean Boutier, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Grünen Partei Catherine Colliot-Thélène, l'Université de Rennes Vincent Duclert ĺEcole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Christophe Duhamelle, la Mission Historique Française en Allemagne Patrice Duran, l'École Normale Supérieure de Cachan Wolfgang Engler, Hochschule für Schauspielkunst "Ernst Busch"
Etienne François, Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) Ute Frevert, Max-Planck-Instituts für Bildungsforschung) Saul Friedländer, University of California, Los Angeles Carlo Ginzburg, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa Gert-Joachim Glaeßner, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Alfred Grossen, la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques Gérard Grunberg, ĺInstitut d́études politiques de Paris Isabell Hoffmann, Bertelsmann Stiftung Rainer Hudemann, Universität des Saarlandes, Dr. Christian Ingrao, ĺInstitut du Temps Présent Konrad Jarausch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Hartmut Kaelble, Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin Wolfgang Kaschuba, Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin Jürgen Kocka, Freie Universität Berlin, Hélène Kohl, Korrespondentin von Europe 1 Sandra Laugier, l'Université de Picardie Jules Verne, l'Ecole Doctorale en Sciences Humaines et Sociales Jean-Louis Lebrave, ĺEcole Normale Supérieure Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, Ecole Normale Supérieure) Christoph Markschies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Matthias Middell, Zentrum für Höhere Studien Leipzig Marie-Claude Maurel, ĺEcole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Karol Modzelewki, Polnische Akademie der Wissenschaften) Martin Nagelschmidt, Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences Eric Neveu, ĺInstitut d́études politiques de Lyon Paul Nolte, Friedrich-Meinecke-Instituts der FU Berlin Pasquale Pasquino, Centre de Théorie et Analyse du Droit Kiran Klaus Patel, European University Institute Bertrand Perz, Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte der Universitaet Wien Gilles Pollet, ĺInstitut d́études politiques Lyon Jacques Revel, ĺEcole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) Karl Schloegel, Europa-Universitaet Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder Gesine Schwan, Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für die deutsch-polnische Zusammenarbeit Joachim Vannahme, Mitglied des Haut-Conseil Franco-Allemand pour la
Pascal Vennesson, Institut Universitaire Européen Florence Sabine von Oppeln, Freie Universitaet Berlin Jakob Vogel, Universitaet Koeln Michael Werner, Centre interdisciplinaire de recherches et études sur ĺAllemagne

Sunday, December 07, 2008

End of Semester Blues

End of Semester Blues

It's that time of year, the quiet before the storm of finals. I'm trying to tidy up all the bits and pieces of the semester, so I can get to work on a bunch of stuff for our accreditation report and for taking over as department chair next semester. Not to mention a re-vamped survey and a brand-new prep, plus the book. Oh, and Christmas cards and shopping. Meanwhile, I've been dealing with something for several months that has just been very hard. Last year at this time, I was in a place where I probably was the most happy and secure in my life than I've ever been. This year, everything is changed, but without any kind of (aaaargh -- warning! pop-psychology alert!) resolution or closure.

Professionally, my life is going very well -- I'm on the right kind of committees, I'm going to have a book out within the year, I'm giving a paper at Leeds (more on that later!), and my T&P file has made it past the first hurdle. I have colleagues I really like, and some major administrative changes at SLAC fill me with hope and make me excited about being there to help change the place for the better. And I've also still got an application in for Dream Job, because I'm not a fool, and there are real advantages to it. I don't know that I'll get an interview, but I hope so. Anyway, between the busy and the sad, I've rather been neglecting this blog. So one of my New Year's resolutions is to try to blog more often and with more purpose. And in the meantime, I'm going to leave you with something I wanted to go back and read myself, because I need to remind myself of this more often than I'd like these days:

How to do College

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Power, Privilege, and Special Snowflakes

Power, Privilege, and Special Snowflakes

Hello, all. I have much to say, but am trying to come up with words. The ones I have all have to do with the above topic. I anticipate a couple of essays. After finals.