My six year old Thomas is reading Star Wars books designed for six year olds. He's actually very good at it, but he does consistently misread the word "universe" as "university." Since it occurs quite a lot in these books, he's constantly telling me things like the following:
My name is Qui-Gon Jinn.
I am a Jedi.
The Jedi are a very special group of beings.
For many thousands of years, we have worked to promote peace and justice in the university.
Nice essay here at salon dot com by Vishavjit Singh, who has been handed the torch by one Steven Rogers to become Sikh Captain America (AKA Nomad, The Captain, Yeoman America, Cap, The Sentinel of Liberty, Star-Spangled Avenger).
If you are even the least bit religious, please join me in praying that Montrealians are included in the huge number of cosplayers who are inviting him to conventions.
As a follow up to the discussion prompted by this post, please see the fascinating article in Nature (here) which chronicles a rift between pure and applied mathemeticians about NSA's paying pure mathemeticians to help breach global internet security standards.
Another great article from Slate can be found here on how strange it is that the NSA has convinced mathemeticians not to share the results that have been useful for NSA's dangerous gutting of internet security. Not only does this prevent people from building a more secure internet, but also (according to the author) represents a betrayal of mathematics itself. The conclusion could not be more apposite:
You can hide a formula, but you can't prevent others from finding it. One might only need a pencil and a piece of paper to do that. And once the secret is out in the open, it’s not just Big Brother that will be watching us—other “brothers” will be spying on us, intercepting our messages, and hacking our bank accounts.
We live in a new era in which mathematics has become a powerful weapon. It can be used for good—we all benefit from technological advances based on math—but also for ill. When the nuclear bomb was built, theoretical physicists who had inadvertently contributed to creating something monstrous were forced to confront deep ethical questions. What is happening now with mathematics may have similarly grave implications. Members of my community must initiate a serious discussion about our role in this brave new world. We need to find mechanisms to protect the freedom of mathematical knowledge that we love and cherish. And we have to help the public understand both the awesome power of math and the serious consequences that await all of us if that power is misused.
Yesterday I had one of those thank God for tenure moments.
At a meeting of the"Assessment Officers" of over 100 LSU programs as well as most of the relevant deans, I blurted out, "Well, that's perfectly silly," after a dean announced that she would send back for substantial rewriting annual report that did not interpret the assessment "data sets" to entail problems that would be rectified in the "action plan."**[Please read notes ** and **** below to get some idea of just how much make-work this is.]
Then, when the hundred plus group of otherwise intelligent people looked at me, I didn't do a very good job articulating why this kind of thing was stupid during the cultural revolution in China and just as stupid today. I just said that if a unit is doing well there's no reason to find problems and that you can't expect units to get better to infinity.
This precipitated another long speech by the poor man in charge of LSU's compliance with SAAC's accreditation mandates involving assessment.*** This speech reiterated how there's always room for improvement and how this process should be helpful.**** I wanted to explain to him that he had John Calvin's doctrine on the depravity of man dreadfully wrong, but didn't say anything. Besides, everyone present needed guidance on the constantly changing computer interface that makes us enter data in all sorts of new ways and also at six months intervals recursively assess how well we are assessing.
Herman Melville got it wrong. Bartleby the Scrivener did not in fact die in that prison cell. Instead, he was awarded tenure.
Of course today's Bartlebies cannot just say "I prefer not to" when asked to run the committee charged with collating all of his colleagues' TPS reports* (and entering into a fairly inscrutable database the raw data, the collated reports, and lies about how this data will improve the department to infinity, as well as attending brainwashing sessions about how the TPS reports and database is changing, and then doing all the work over again when the people at the TPS office find something wrong with the formatting, etc., etc. etc.)
Instead what today's Bartlebies do is just make sure that every time they are asked to do service, they do a horrible job. And they do a horrible job with so much unapologetic aplomb that the resulting cluster-**** becomes the fault of the person who actually asked them to contribute to departmental service. If you are really good at the jujitsu, you make it significantly more work for others whenever you are asked to help them with anything, and soon they stop asking.
Everyone reading this has at least one colleague or professor who has made an art form of this very kind of passive-aggressive jujitsu. And the learned helplessness is always a bit of a con. If your organizational skills are good enough to do all the things necessary to get tenure, they are good enough to do your bit of the soul crushing meaningless labor handed down by the administrative class.
Prior to the reign of "assessment," (I am *just* old enough to remember those halcyon days) I was significantly bitter towards the Bartlebies among us. I mean, someone has to do the administrative work and passive-aggressive helplessness is taking advantage of people who are willing to do it (plus, it shows that anarchism probably won't work, which is a sad commentary on humanity).
But in the era of TPS reports, I can't help but admire the Bartleby.
One of the saddest and scariest things about human beings is how we can work so damned hard for year after year and then derive so little satisfaction when things actually come to fruition. I don't know how ubiquitous this is, but it is somewhat pronounced both in academia and the music world, two fields that typically require a nauseating amount of effort for years on end just to make a bare living.
Consider music. There's an overwhelmingly affecting point in the recent Ramones documentary where the original bassist and songwriter (who later died of a heroin overdose) is reflecting on his bulimia and massive intake of anti-anxiety medication; he says something to the effect of "All my dreams came true. Why can't I be happy?" This isn't just rock music either. There is a small literature suggesting that successful orchestra musicians (with a job market very similar to academia) have pretty low job satisfaction when compared to other fields.
In academia I've noticed in particular two kinds of virulently unhappy successful people. The first is the person who just got tenure and all of the sudden faces an overwhelming existential crises, analogous to when deep sea divers come up too fast and their bodies can't handle the depressurization. That is, at every point prior to tenure, from gradeschool through being an Assistant Professor, there is ususally a ton of outside pressure to do specific tasks to get to the next point. And some people who thrive when being told what to do find it horrifying to be any other way.
This is a weird thing, because the pressure of going through tenure review is itself so harsh. I know plenty of people who actually went on prescription happy pills for the first time in their life during tenure review, only to get off them after the tenure was resolved and move on unscathed. But two people I cherish did just fine during the tenure review only to completely fall apart afterwards. One was institutionalized and is no longer an academic and the other is dead.
I've been to four on-campus Barnes and Nobles across the country in the last six months and at this point all of them have two distressing things in common: (1) no matter what the floor-space, far less than 1/4ths the amount of trade books as a regular store, and (2) televisions all over the place (both in and outside the cafe) droning insidious submental crap.
Who decided that it would be a good idea if one of the primary places students, faculty, and staff gather on college campuses should be horrible in the same manner as an American airport? I'm serious, who made this decision? And by what possible reasoning? It's not like they are doing this with their regular stores (yet).
I know for a fact that the faculty didn't get input on this. At LSU the Faculty Senate twice had drawn-out struggles with Barns and Noble to get them to turn the volumes of the televisions off. We finally won both of those because they were in the student union building at the time. But since they've moved to their (much, much bigger but with a fraction of the trade books) new campus building no longer being rented from the student union they've broken the agreement yet again, and instead of the loop tape of T.V. commercials they now have advertising on in the cafe and Fox News throughout the rest of the store. What used to be a cafe where people would talk about actual stuff they might be studying is now one where everybody sits solipsistically immersed behind protective earbuds. Welcome to college, lemmings! You are all individuals! Now stare gape-jawed at this blue jeans commercial that tells you so.
During the Second World War, three prominent members of the Frankfurt School--Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and Otto Kirchheimer--worked as intelligence analysts for the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime forerunner of the CIA. This book brings together their most important intelligence reports on Nazi Germany, most of them published here for the first time.
These reports provide a fresh perspective on Hitler's regime and the Second World War, and a fascinating window on Frankfurt School critical theory. They develop a detailed analysis of Nazism as a social and economic system and the role of anti-Semitism in Nazism, as well as a coherent plan for the reconstruction of postwar Germany as a democratic political system with a socialist economy. These reports played a significant role in the development of postwar Allied policy, including denazification and the preparation of the Nuremberg Trials. They also reveal how wartime intelligence analysis shaped the intellectual agendas of these three important German-Jewish scholars who fled Nazi persecution prior to the war.
Secret Reports on Nazi Germany features a foreword by Raymond Geuss as well as a comprehensive general introduction by Raffaele Laudani that puts these writings in historical and intellectual context.
After burning part of my summer writing "assessment reports," it is a relief to find kindred spirits. In the middle of an epic rant about E. Gorden Gee, Paul Campos writes:
One thing that rarely gets asked in the context of all this getting and spending is: What exactly is that money supposed to be for? In theory, of course, it’s for “education.” In practice, a whole lot of it goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine after being on a research university’s faculty for nearly a quarter-century, consist of inventing justifications for their own existence, while harassing faculty to fill out evaluations of various kinds (in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, many of these evaluations are supposed to be of the administrators’ own job performance).
The thing I hated most about church camp when I was a kid was feeling pressured to partake in totalitarian pretend happiness. Everybody is singing an overwhelmingly hokey and in fact manifestly stupid song like "Rise and Shine" (I refuse to provide a link) while vying with themselves to exceed one another in amounts of phoney enthusiasm for Dear Leader.
As an adult I actually don't feel this way in church any more (the purpose of liturgical conservatism is to prevent the kind of thing manifest in the song to right). And I'm sure part of the reason I became an academic is because it's one of the few places where you might find yourself colleagues with an older Holden Caufield (and s/he's thriving, doing cool stuff and with an equally grumpy spouse). But my God these assessment meetings bring back unhappy memories. Too many otherwise intelligent people go to ridiculous links to demonstrate that they buy into the pretense that God Assessment could possibly intervene to improve the lot of their unit. It's submental.
James argues that what is characteristic of assholes is that they systematically "act out of a deep-rooted sense of entitlement, a habitual and persistent belief that they deserve special treatment." He develops a typology of different kinds of assholes, and also theorizes about the rise of "asshole capitalism," which is where:
As an outsider, it's pretty depressing how "new Labor's" cult of rule by "management experts" (as if one could be an expert without actually having any particular expertise) just added another layer of awfulness to the Thatcher educational depredations. Some of my British friends had minor hopes that the new conservative government would actually do their job and stand up for what was valuable in Western culture, but as far as higher edumacation, all they seem to be good at is following Napoleon Bonaparte's demand that the bureaucracy must expand to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.
Anyhow, Critchley brilliantly describes how this played out while he was in the U.K. and also how it relates to his experience in New York. He also describes what he's done with the New York Times and some of his more recent philosophical work. It's a great interview. Joe Bob says check it out.
Nice background on his history of Regnerus' almost unbelievably foul misogynistic "research" and punditry HERE. The story's punchline:
What do we need with a retrograde researcher who instructs young women to reorder their lives according to men’s “market value”; who treats women like a uniform mass of economic actors seeking only to turn their relationships into marriage with kids; who can’t quite imagine a world in which women have sex for sexual reasons (once describing female consent as “sexual strategies for making men 'fall in love’”); and who traffics in the mid-century notion that the timing of marriage should be arranged around a woman’s “most fertile years”? Now that Regnerus has definitively added “provider of ill-conceived research to Focus-On-The-Family types” to his CV, here’s hoping that more news outlets will decide that his isn’t a voice we need at all.
Article HERE. It's nice to see Corvino eviscerate Mark Regnerus, though his conclusion is almost unbearably depressing:
None of this knowledge, sadly, will prevent same-sex-marriage opponents from citing the study as evidence for their position. That’s unfortunate because it’s illogical and unfair. But it’s especially unfortunate because it misses yet another opportunity to focus on actual child welfare.
But the depression is mitigated somewhat by the fact that one of our magazines of record has posted such an effective takedown.
It was a rather strange situation because the war was over. Before the war there was quite a strong fascist party led by Oswald Mosley and he and his cohorts were put in detention (jail) during the war by Churchill. After the war they came out and immediately started up again with their anti-Semitism and running through the streets and having meetings, it was quite ridiculous. Many truly brave Jewish ex-servicemen started the “43 Group” because there were 43 people at the first meeting they had. These were tough men who had been through the war. Of course volunteers were needed, I was 16 or 17 at the time, most of my friends joined the 43 Group and there were quite a few hundred of us. Truly the fascists were smashed in the streets and yes if you were scared at times because it was scary. But after we saw the pictures that came out and the whole story of the Holocaust, there was actually no way we could allow fascists to run through the streets. I was arrested one night and put in jail, the following day the judge told me ‘to be a good boy’ and let me go. That was our life in those days, we decided that we were absolutely not going to allow what happened pre-war when Jews were just beat up indiscriminately in the streets. It worked beautifully because of mainly the tough Jewish characters that were in the British armed forces during the war, they were the people that did it. But also there were quite a few gentiles who had seen the camps, the horror of Europe and fought with us.
You owe it to yourself to watch the video (below the fold):