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July 27, 2007

Scott Thomas, TNR, WTF OMG BBQ

If you're not up on this ongoing saga, here's the deal in a nutshell: TNR publishes one of those first person SHOCKER stories about American troops going all Heart of Darkness in Iraq. There are questions about veracity. And away we gooooooo!

That'll all shake out eventually, and it's not what I'm interested in. But the academic angle, and the types of writers our overly-insular, MFA circle-jerk programs are turning out, are what I'm interested in. Mainly because those people are RUINING MY LIFE by getting twee, pretentious and utterly useless fiction and nonfiction inserted into magazines that I used to enjoy--arg. I digress, sorry. It's a sensitive issue with me.

Anyway, during the course of following about ninety million links in order to determine what sort of serial miseducation results in the production of prose like this:

"Sliced writsts recovering from barbwire night mission in a furnished 1600's bedroom window open to the stars strained notes The Magic Flute from further down the hall when I'm off work early she brings me coffee and a fresh stack of freshly pressed laundry while struggling through The World According to Garp auf Deutsch...warum? you are a citizen of the world, son, so she rents a car to take me to Bamberg this weekend and maybe plane tickets to London the next because through a month of silence and guilt and regret, reciting the Zarathustra quote over and over in your head, "I've always carried a disdain for creatures who considered themselves kind merely because they were clawless"..and you "get it" and you "understand" and you see yourself maybe not for the first time and finally a perfect rearrival of yourself..."

Holy God. Sorry, just had to pause for a moment to clear my head.

As I was saying, in my search for something academic to blame for craptastic modern writing, I came across this bit of textual analysis from a semiotician named John Barnes. Don't know much about semiotics as a profession (he explains it in the blog entry), but the dude does a killer analysis here. Here are the money graphs, but read the whole thing--it's worthwhile.

"He (it is always a he) is an MFA candidate or recent graduate at one of the big-name creative writing programs in the USA, sometimes in poetry, usually in fiction, and increasingly in "creative non-fiction" (the litsy byline that "feature writing" took on when it moved uptown, became significant, and stopped having lunch with its old buds at the newspapers). Usually he is in his mid-twenties and is probably among the bright stars in the tiny constellation (and complicated pecking order) that MFA programs create. His particular niche in that social ecology will be the Big Talent With Big Balls, a role that requires some claim to a "dangerous" or "edgy" past, meaning some connection to interpersonal violence and to having seen some gruesome sights. (Being recently back from combat duty in Iraq, particularly if the young man is a reservist who will be going back for another hitch there, would certainly fit the bill nicely – at various times I have known such characters to claim to be motorcycle gang members, to have smuggled cocaine into the US in small boats, and to have competed as Ultimate Fighting professionals)....

"Scott Thomas", however, writes exactly like the mid-20s macho MFA student who is lying about an adventurous background. That list of symptoms I gave above is what every one of them I have encountered – probably around 50 in my lifetime – has written like. The point of those stylistic tics and content-fetishes is the same as the point of all the bizarre stories of mayhem, cruelty, and sheer shit-headedness that they tell in the bar after writing workshops: to confirm their role in the MFA program social system. Among the benefits of that role are free passes on certain kinds of bad behavior in class, sexual attractiveness to some other grad students (those with a thing for bad boys), and the maintenance of their interior movie in which they are played by some combination of James Dean, Bob Dylan, the younger Norman Mailer, and Hunter S. Thompson."


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:53 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 25, 2007

Let the Lawsuit Commence!

Ya know, it's probably bad of me to deliberately wait until Inside Higher Ed publishes its version of the Ward Churchill Gets Fired story to post a link, but the usual suspects on that comments forum simply leave the regulars at the Chronicle in the dust.

So read and enjoy.

Oddest bit of "this question cannot be answered" logic from a blog referenced at the end of the article:
“Should the fact of a witch-hunt be enough to bring academia to the defense of one of its own? The knee-jerk answer is ‘Yes.’ But what if it turns out that the person in question (the details of the Churchill case aside) really wasn’t qualified for the position, by background or by scholarship? What if it turns out that there certainly was dishonesty going on? Should the defense be continued?” Barlow wrote. “The results of the Churchill case will not answer these questions..."

Why won't they? What academic institution would want to continue to place its own reputation on the line for someone who should never have been a member of the faculty--according to both the institution's and the discipline's standards--in the first place? Either you're qualified or you aren't. Either you plagiarized or you didn't. Some things just aren't subjective, particularly if you're trying to maintain trust in the integrity of higher education.

The comments are the usual bag of laughs. The upside? If you make political hires, you'd best be prepared for political fires. Because for all the vaunted talk of academic freedom, your butt is totally at the mercy of donors, trustees, and nervous fundraisers with the administration's ear. And if you're a professional "provacateur" whose credentials and ethics are, shall we say, less than stellar, a low profile is your best friend if you want to stay at the higher ed trough. But that's a life lesson for another day, kids.

Cynical? Me?

Shut your mouth.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:59 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 06, 2007

Marching Toward Oblivion

From a course description in Women's Studies, an example of why institutionalized feminism in the US is no longer being taken seriously:

The final set of interrelated questions attempts to think about the great apes—and animals in general—from a feminist perspective. On the one hand, it is interesting to note that the majority of published primatologists are women. In the world of science where women are almost always underrepresented, what kind of story do we want to tell about that fact? Is it the case that primatology is a field ignored by male scientists and so an opening was left for women? Is the connection between women and apes (and all animals?) different, or deeper? How would we talk about this without falling into essentialized assumptions?

Yes, how would we talk about this? I, for one, am left speechless.

Perhaps my essentialized assumption that I neither want nor require a connection between myself and an ape limits my rhetorical feminist potentiality and means that I am merely an oppressed tool of the speciesist (white)man!

Or perhaps I could draw on my inner english major and note that this professor's fascination with women and apes only serves to demonstrate that she has internalized the existential brainwashing of post Civil War anti-miscegenation propaganda and is expressing her (white)womyn's internal turmoil about race, class and gender relations in the postmodern era through the lens of the primate, in the process objectifying and demeaning the very thing she wishes to liberate--proving that the patriarchy is all-powerful, inescapable, and that maybe we should all just take a load off and have a 3 appletini lunch at the local organic whole food commune/tapas bar.

Or maybe I could have a beer and a hearty laugh.

From here.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:00 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 26, 2007

Still MIA

So once upon a time there was a scientist who found a really freaking huge fossil of a flightless bird.

And there was a science writer at the scientist's university, who had to write about the fossil's discovery, and prepare the scientist for the resulting publicity--of which there was Quite A Lot.

And lo, all of the poor science writer's time--including free time, because of those pesky time differences and the Global Hunger For Giant Flightless Bird Fossil News--was sucked into the vortex of really freaking huge flightless bird fossils, resulting in the science writer being forced away from things she liked, such as blogging.

But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, and perhaps tomorrow will find the science writer once again able to indulge a hobby.

Or the writer's article might get translated into Chinese, as promised by the Giant Science Funding Foundation, in which case she may never be heard from again.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:04 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 22, 2007

Brain Eaten. Back Later.

Wanna know why I haven't been posting?

Because I'm obsessed.

Shamelessly obsessed.

Not even Hublet can free me from my obsession.

Why? Well, since my brain has been eaten, I'm having a hard time explaining why this thing has its hooks in me, but the best reason I can come up with is that it's like the total package of postmodern political and social and academic tensions all wrapped up in one case. And it's fascinating. And also kinda scary.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:49 PM | Comments (1)

May 29, 2007

Christmas in May

Ahh, finally. Another article at Inside Higher Ed about Ward Churchill.

My humble .02 - He's done. Now there will be lawsuits, etc., but he's not going to win those, either. His lawyer, however, will insist on taking this thing ever higher, because, well, paycheck.

But that's neither here nor there. The important thing is this: I am positively giddy at the wonders that the comments section will hold!


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 04:53 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 16, 2007

Ward Who?

I can't believe it's been two years since the Ward Churchill brouhaha took place.

Especially since the Privilege and Tenure Committee at UC Boulder has only just given its recommendations on discipline for Churchill to the powers that be at the university. On May 8, in fact. 2 years later.

But commentary on the slow-moving (or barely-moving, your pick) nature of academic committees aside, the recommendation is interesting:

"Ward Churchill’s lawyer said today that a faculty committee at the University of Colorado had recommended that the ethnic-studies professor on the Boulder campus be suspended for a year — not fired."

Okay, let's recap.

Last May, almost a year ago exactly, a committee at Boulder delivered a 125-page report that reviewed "charges of misconduct," including:

"...misrepresentation of federal laws regarding American Indians, fabricating material regarding a smallpox epidemic in 1837, and several instances of plagiarism."

And here's where it gets hinky. If undergraduates can be expelled for plagiarism--and I would think that repeated instances of plagiarism (which is what the committee found that Churchill did) would result in expulsion--then shouldn't professors be held to at least that standard, if not a higher one?

Of course, as the original article noted:

"The investigative committee emphasized that it was uncomfortable with the timing and the motives of the accusations against Mr. Churchill, noting that several of them had been well known by scholars years before but had not been brought up formally until after the professor became publicly reviled."

So, what to make of this? The still, small cynic inside my head is telling me that the committee's recommendation is likely based more upon their reluctance to be seen as "kowtowing to the man" than to upholding academic standards.

I hate it when I agree with the cynic in my head. Darn thing starts getting all smug about being right all the time.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 04:25 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

May 14, 2007

News Flash! High Schoolers Not Necessarily Morons!

Came across this article in the Chronicle today which announces that the majority of high school students avoid MySpace and Facebook when doing research on which colleges to attend. "Fewer than 10%" use networking sites, in fact.

Well, thank God, but again - who the hell would look for info. on a college at MySpace?

Yeah, you might post to your friends list and tell them what schools you're looking at, and you might ask if anyone on there attends or is planning on attending, but fortunately it seems that most college-bound high schoolers are at least intuitively able to distinguish between anecdotal and factual information and the relative values thereof.

You may allow yourselves a small sigh of relief concerning the intellectual acumen of those who will be wiping your butt in your dotage.

I may print out a copy of this article and wave it about the next time we are forced to attend a "webinar" (and just typing that word makes my skin crawl) on "Reaching Generation Next" or whateverthehell the marketing wonks are calling it this week. Perhaps I will be saved from a 2-hour brainstorming meeting on "leveraging the marketing power of MySpace" to increase enrollment.

Or rankings. Because anytime higher ed folk start talking about leveraging the marketing power of anything, the only thing they're really looking to do is increase rankings.

This helpful factoid brought to you by BAW, Inc. - distilling crap into soundbites, so you don't have to!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:20 PM | Comments (1)

May 09, 2007

Bullies on the Courtyard

Came across this blog today, via a link from this short article in the Chronicle (I think the content is free--if you can access it, read the first comment at the end of the article, b/c I can't figure out if it's for real).

Anyhoo, the blog deals with academic bullying and "mobbing," which is the PhD equivalent of all the chickens in the barnyard ganging up on the wounded one and pecking it to death. Fascinating reading.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:06 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 24, 2007

Chaucer Tuesday

The more I hear about carbon offsets, toilet paper conservation, and other schemes that Our Betters have devised for saving the planet while they continue to purchase palatial manses and jet hither and thither on private planes, the more I am reminded of this fellow:

But of his craft, fro Berwyk into Ware,
Ne was ther swich another pardoner
For in his malebag he hadde a pilwe-beer,
Which that he seyde was Oure Lady Veyl:
He seyde he hadde a gobetpiece of the seyl
That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente
Upon the see, til Jhesu Crist hym hente.
He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones,
And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.
But with thise relikes, whan that he fond
A povre person dwellynge upon lond,
Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;
And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes,
He made the person and the peple his apes.
But trewely to tellen atte laste,
He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.

The Pardoner is Chaucer's most contemptible character. I think he'd be right at home among the wealthy greenies, selling fake peace of mind to folks whose talents lie more along the "talking a good game" end of the environmental spectrum.

And I have to admit I'd have a good old-fashioned schadenfreude moment while watching a hypocrite fleece other hypocrites. I wonder if the modern-day Pardoner would make the pilgrimage to Canterbury in a private jet?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:43 AM | Comments (11)

April 06, 2007

Bust out the Crystal Ball, Y'all. Admissions are going holistic!

I realize that I am prone to cynicism. However, I don't think my cynical nature is solely responsible for the fact that when I read something like this (may be subscription only, so I've excerpted below):

After adopting a new, "holistic" approach to reviewing applications, the University of California at Los Angeles has reversed a decline in the share of black students in the freshman class it has admitted for the fall, university officials said on Thursday. ...

Prior to the university's adoption of the new admissions policy last year, two application readers reviewed each prospective student's academic records while a third took into account the applicant's outside achievements and any challenges he or she might have overcome. Under the "holistic" approach, every application is read and considered in its entirety by two readers, and the readers give more consideration to the opportunities that had -- or had not -- been available to applicants.

My "cut the academic crap" detector translates it like this:

Okay, we can't overtly take race into consideration in admissions anymore, and we're in trouble because our numbers are askew. Hmmm. Perhaps a new approach is in order, whereby we "closely examine" each and every application, which will give us details about where the students lived and attended school...not that we can figure out someone's ethnic background just from that information or anything. And then we can sort of subjectively triangulate advantages versus disadvantages, and "correct" for the "imbalance," and then, based upon that information and the signs and portents that the Provost sees in the weekly reading of chicken entrails--we make admissions offers!

The mental acrobatics involved here are astonishing. If administrators spent as much time trying to fix the public education machine that perpetuates these problems as they do trying to fix their admissions numbers, maybe they wouldn't have to tie themselves into holistic knots anymore.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:11 AM | Comments (5)

March 29, 2007


This is why certain programs on campus will never, ever be taken seriously.

Because if just showing up to WATCH a game qualifies someone to do sports management professionally, well then, I should be running a franchise and raking in the dough.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:19 PM | Comments (1)

February 15, 2007

Ego, Thy Name is Scientist

You'd think that the hardest part of this job for someone with a humanities background would be having to assimilate, condense and translate information about theoretical nanophysics or chemisty or genome sequencing into engaging prose for the masses.

You'd be wrong.

It's the politics, and I don't mean that in the donkey/elephant sense of the word. See, the scientists are competing for grant money, and the development people are competing for alumni donations, so they want the scientists to get the grant money so they can say "Look at our cool research!" to the donors, and the deans want their colleges to be firstest with the mostest so that both streams of revenue keep a rollin' in, and the grand high muckety-mucks just want the national rankings to go up, because then you get better grad students and better research and--yep, more funding.

Now, if you're dealing with just one scientist working solo (or with a bunch of grad students, which is pretty much the same thing), this is not a problem. But introduce colleagues, either from other universities or, God forbid, the same department, and some of these folks can give Hollywood stars who demand top billing a run for their money. Here is a sample conversation I had with a college communicator/development type over some research that the media were actually asking for--a rarity, btw.

Me: "Okay, I've gotten 2 or 3 queries about Science Project X. Who's the official PI on the work, Aged Politico, or Young Upstart?"

Communicator: "Aged Politico."

Me: "He's not available. He's never available because he's too busy politicking."

Comm: "I know."

Me: "I'm going to give them the Upstart."

Comm: (Sigh.)

Me: "What?"

Comm: "It's complicated."

Me: "How is this complicated? They both know the research and can talk about it to media."

Comm: "Well, Politico thinks that Upstart is trying to take credit for work he didn't do."

Me: "But Politico didn't do it either, right? The actual WORK was done by Unappreciated Foreign Grad Flunkie."

Comm: "Sort of."

Me: "We can't do phoners on this one - they want video. Can the Flunkie speak on camera?"

Comm: (hysterical laughter)

Me: "Scratch that, then. Look, this research is a big deal and we've missed opportunities to let folks know about it before because of their infighting--I have a folder full of passive-aggressive email back-and-forths between these two--and can I remind you that this is big picture stuff here? Promoting the university, not individual scientists or departments?"

Comm: "You don't have to sell me."

Me: "So what will happen if I give them the Upstart."

Comm: "Politico will complain to the Department Head. Who actually hates Politico because of something Politico did to him long ago, and Politico knows this, and then Upstart will say that Politico is trying to undermine him and poach his students, and the whole thing will devolve."

Me: "The odds of the Dean telling these two to play nice?"

Comm: "About the same as you getting hit with a meteor in the next 2 minutes."

Me: "And thus we are all doomed to obscurity."

Comm: "Welcome to the university."

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:00 AM | Comments (6)

February 07, 2007

Oh, Look! The Bottom of the Hole! Keep Digging!

You know, the thing that I find most tiresome about each and every instance of Academic Overreach Versus The Public is how it inevitably becomes a ginormous whinefest of epic proportions, with keening cries of "Oh, I've been silenced!" and "Oh, the dread Chilling Effect!" being given air by every public and media forum around.

Look, it's my old friend Irony! How ya doin'?

Irony: I demand beer. Copious amounts of beer.

Me: Why? Because it's Wednesday?

Irony: No, because I am working my ass off with this whole Group of 88 "we're so oppressed we have to have a public seminar about it" crap, and not ONE PERSON in the group has bothered to recognize me. Seriously, is it too much to ask that a "silenced" academic take one or two minutes out of his or her full slate of media interviews to thank me? IS IT?!?!

Me: I'm detecting bitterness, I.

Irony: You bet your bippy! I mean, it's one thing when a bunch of "silenced" singers releases AN ENTIRE ALBUM ABOUT HOW SILENCED THEY ARE, because hey! I don't expect artistic types to be able to pull their heads out long enough to recognize my presence, but these people are PhD holders in the humanities! They should at least have a passing familiarity with literary terms! WHAT is the university coming to?

Me: Do you really want an answer to that?

Irony: No. I'm depressed enough. Beer me.

Me: Done. Mind if I join you?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:05 PM | Comments (10)

February 01, 2007

Syllabic Self-Justification

Over on the Durham in Wonderland blog, KC Johnson has posted a lengthy description of a course being offered this spring by one of the faculty members who signed the "Group of 88 Listening Statement" last April. The course is called "Hook-up Culture at Duke," and is fairly representative as far as these things go; i.e. it's largely a useless conglomeration of specious cultural studies that are conducted through the almighty lenses of PC culture: race, gender, sexuality and power.

The interesting thing about this class isn't so much the fact that it exists primarily to condemn Duke lacrosse players (read KC's post for those examples), but that it seems to serve as more of a vanity project for a professor who wants her personal viewpoints validated than as an opportunity for critical inquiry.

See, here's the thing - it isn't that you CAN'T have valid discussion and analysis about power relations and how groups of people interact with one another, it's just that professors like Anne Allison WON'T do it--reading her syllabus, it's pretty apparent that her arguments are one-sided, which I think gives me legitimate cause to believe that her discussions won't be much more balanced. And I blame that on a campus culture that not-so-subtly teaches its PhD candidates that it's okay to use scholarship for personal vindication--as a means to a political end.

No, I'm not saying that you should separate politics and scholarship. But when the approach to scholarship is taken from a political angle, rather than from a starting point of apolitical inquiry, what you end up with reams of inaccurate scholarship (Bellesiles, anyone? Churchill, anyone?), and departments filled with crusaders for whom the truth is what is most politically expedient.

And they should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:46 AM | Comments (5)

January 29, 2007

Dumbest thing I've Read Today

From a psych professor, of all people, explaining why understanding human consciousness will magically end all yuckiness in the world:

As every student in Philosophy 101 learns, nothing can force me to believe that anyone except me is conscious. This power to deny that other people have feelings is not just an academic exercise but an all-too-common vice, as we see in the long history of human cruelty. Yet once we realize that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other people have brains like ours, a denial of other people's sentience becomes ludicrous. "Hath not a Jew eyes?" asked Shylock. Today the question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew--or an Arab, or an African, or a baby, or a dog--a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to deny our common capacity to suffer.

Why on God's green earth would people who--as the author correctly points out--have managed for centuries to ignore their shared humanity based upon things like eyes and shared impulses toward family, love, etc., suddenly beat swords into plowshares upon confronting the fact that everyone is sentient?

They won't. The excerpt is from this longer piece in which yet another academic extols the virtues of scientific knowledge as the panacea for our times. And you know what? Scientists may one day be able to talk about the ways in which genes and electrical impulses control our thought patterns, but unless you're gonna start practicing active eugenics on every child in utero, you won't ever be able to correct for human nature.

And no, over-excited psych professor who has faith that this research is the true path for getting rid of that pesky "God" guy, that wasn't a suggestion. Sheesh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:31 PM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2007

Read it and - I don't know, freak out?

Came across the latest 3-part piece by Charles Murray in the WSJ that basically states that too many folks who shouldn't be in college are. I agree with that general assertion, based on a lot of the kids I saw when I was a TA. You could predict who would wash out after the first semester, and you wondered why they wasted their time--they seemed dispirited and uncomfortable from the start, and beyond a certain point, there just wasn't much in the way of remediation that would benefit them. To put it bluntly, they just weren't smart enough to do the work--it wasn't a socio-economic thing, a home environment thing, or anything else.

I admire anyone who wants to get a college education to better him or herself, but watching the struggle and subsequent depression some of these kids experienced was painful. So I'm down with the whole "everyone doesn't necessarily need college" argument, and no, I don't mean that those folks without degrees should be doomed to low-paying jobs. Murray argues much the same way, but he will inevitably be called a racist, or sexist or elitist, because of what his argument is based on.

Murray's assertions are based on simple math formulas and IQ scores, which is what makes them so controversial and unpleasant. And I wonder what reaction other folks had to reading these pieces?

For me, I understand that not everyone is created equal, not intellectually or physically. But as someone raised in the fullness of the American dream--trust me, I could totally run as a populist and tell horror stories about my mill-worker grandparents with the elementary school educations while shoveling muck in the aftermath of some natural disaster, blah, blah, blah--it grates on me to hear that IQ determines educational success. "What about good old-fashioned elbow grease and spirit and bootstraps?" cries the tiny voice in my head.

Murray points out that high IQs don't necessarily lead to prosperity, and that low ones don't lead to poverty. And he's right. So why am I so disheartened by this? Is it because it seems awfully deterministic? Or am I so sensitive to things that seem deterministic because I was raised in the age of "you're a special flower of individualism"?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:31 PM | Comments (4)

January 17, 2007


Hublet wanted to chime in on the whole "Theory, has it destroyed the earth?" debate, in response to Michael's comment that referenced Berube, by referencing an interesting review of Berube's book.

Everyone clear on that? Good!

Anyhoo, read it--Hublet's post, not Berube's book--here

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

This One's for You, LB

Further thoughts on the post below, brought on by Locomotive Breath's request in the comments to be told how, exactly, this whole theory thing works. And by a post I came across yesterday that seems to be dealing with some of the same issues I am in terms of the "whither the humanities" or "withered humanities" debate.

And so, let me enlighten some of my hard sciences brethren and sistren. Caveat - this is going to be pretty darn general, so cut me a bit o' slack, english folks.

Back when God was a child, in the days before the Rise of Theory, most English majors participated in straight textual analysis or reader response - you read a book and dissected the language the author used, the metaphors, word choice, tropes, etc., looked at the larger themes, discussed its relevance to the human condition, blah, blah, blah. Scholars often focused on painstaking dissections of the text, particularly when dealing with older works, or they did research on the author's life and times. Some people even dared use the phrase "authorial intent" unironically! All very interesting, and an English degree was a pretty good way to get a handle on history, the arts and the human condition in a "big picture" sort of way. It honed mental acuity and analytical/communication skills. In short, if you were an English major, you could apply those basic skills to any field you ended up in. It was a good, solid, all-purpose education for smart people who didn't have a particular career path in mind after college.

The obvious drawback, as most college freshmen point out, is that eventually you kind of run out of new things to say about Shakespeare. Now, this isn't actually true, because the best literature is "living," in that its lessons are applicable to the human condition in whatever new configuration it finds itself, and the study of language is always relevant to people who use it, but I think that those thoughts helped bring about the rise of theory, which was originally proposed as a useful way to open texts up to new interpretations.

Well, okay. I don't have a problem with situating a text in history, or looking at it from different perspectives, or even playing around with the nature of language and meaning, but here's where it went pear-shaped: english stopped being about analyzing a text, which implies that you will form your our own ideas about a text, and became all about applying someone else's ideas--or theories--to texts, which led inevitably to making the text fit the theory. And somewhere along the way, critical thinking gave way to parsing, and sometimes, to deliberate misinterpretation, in order to make the theory "fit."

So now, instead of just being asked what literary era or genre you specialize in, you're also asked "the theory question"--which theoretical school of thought do you subscribe to? Are you a marxist? A feminist? A new historicist? Lacanian?

And the balkanization of theories has gone hand-in-fist with the balkanization of literature. Where it used to be large chunks of eras in lit, so that you were exposed to the big picture and conversant in all of it even if you later specialized in a small area of it, now you have subgroups based on regions, races, religions, political ideas, and literary theories. And within those balkanized subgroups, smaller subgroups exist; for example, if you're a feminist, do you follow the French or the American feminists? If so, which one? And this being academia, the inevitable, tired politics of the academy ensue, so that the discipline is now politicized, and balkanized, and snippy about it.

So you have a bunch of PhDs who come out of the educational process pigeonholed into a tiny area of expertise, training students who don't have a broad enough base of knowledge to understand that what they're learning is only a fraction of reality, or a particular view, and so you get people with English degrees who have a bit of surface knowledge about the entire discipline, and a lot of narrowly focused knowledge in one tiny area, and that area tainted with one particular theorist's ideas. It's knowledge in a vacuum, as opposed to the university's original ideal of "unity from diversity"--all areas of learning building upon each other. (It probably doesn't surprise you that I subscribe to the latter notion.)

I think the end result has been that it's very difficult to get a solid, broad-based education in english anymore, and I think that our communication skills have gone down the toilet as a result. We're focused on being glib, on parsing the language and twisting the texts, on questioning whether meaning exists instead of finding it, and you can see the end result of that when people start asking you to define "is." In other words, we're not doing anyone--least of all ourselves--any favors.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:01 AM | Comments (15)

January 10, 2007

How to Get a Decent Education in English

Step 1: Decide to specialize in either Medieval or Renaissance writers.

Step 2: Obtain an advisor who matriculated before 1980.

Step 3: Remain strong in the face of temptation to apply any of the following theories to Medieval or Renaissance writing: feminism, marxism, post-colonialism. New Historicism might do in a pinch. Yes, I realize that by doing this you will actually be forced to think, as opposed to excising passages from different theorists' books, inserting them block-quote style into your paper for maximum page-wasting impact, and then ignoring the actual text in favor of performing a series of simplistic mental gyrations that magically transform Troilus and Criseyde into a Marxist pamphlet, but trust me - the extra work will be worth it, because you'll actually learn something useful.

There are a number of additional tips that I could pass along to the determined English major on which classes to avoid at all costs, and which are unfortunately predicated on simply looking at the professor's door decorations and sartorial choices--yes, I realize that this probably makes me guilty of "obeying the imperative of the objectifying gaze" OMG--but it can really be summed up like this: If the syllabus contains any of the following words - hegemonic, privilege, the Other - or more than 3 words ending in the suffix "ist" that precede the word "analysis," RUN. RUN, AND DO NOT STOP UNTIL YOU FIND A COURSE IN READING BEOWULF IN THE ORIGINAL OLD ENGLISH. PREFERABLY ONE TAUGHT BY A PROFESSOR WHO IS OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE KNOWN GRENDEL PERSONALLY.

Wondering what brought this on? This did.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:30 AM | Comments (11)

January 08, 2007

Grant Proposals I Wish I'd Written

Everyone always complains about the lack of research funding in the humanities. Piffle! The money's there, but you have to do relevant research--you know, add to the larger body of human knowledge and experience and stuff.

Relevant and important research! Like looking into the cultural phenomenon of punk! (Scroll down to entry for Noah Eber-Schmid.)

Yes, you too can get $25 grand to study punkology--25 years too late!


But that's not all - you can study surfing as advocacy, learn why people braid stuff, and discover whether basketball is a force for change in the world.

Just so you know, I would gladly take $25 grand to study its effects on my 5 year old's college fund, but unfortunately I doubt that a) the money will make much of a dent in what it will actually cost to educate him, and b) the education will be worth a quarter of what we end up paying for it.

Maybe I can propose a trip to Cozumel instead, to study the effects of too much sun and bottomless margaritas on me.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:49 PM | Comments (4)

January 05, 2007

Recontextualizing the Argument

Yeah, sorry I'm doing consecutive posts on the lacrosse thing, but it's like watching a slow-motion train wreck and I'm fascinated. And extremely glad that I don't have to handle Brodhead's p.r., but that's another story.

So yesterday the first civil suit was filed against a prof accused of deliberately failing 2 lacrosse students in "retaliation." The fact that the university changed the students' grades after the semester means it might not look too good for the prof.

Then today I was treated to an extremely long-winded op-ed from one of the authors of an ad that appeared in the student newspaper at Duke after the party--signed by 88 Duke profs--that's full of weeping and lamentation about the fact that hey, the world isn't a very nice place.

The op-ed is, well, long. And manages to do the thing that only the rarest of op-eds can do: make everything worse. There's puling of the high-minded "We had no IDEA that we'd make things worse" variety:

The ad we signed explicitly was not addressed to the police investigation or the rape allegations. The ad focused on racial and gender attitudes all too evident in the weeks after March 13. It decried prejudice and inequality in the society at large. "It isn't just Duke, it isn't everybody, and it isn't just individuals making this disaster," the ad insisted."

There's the retreat to moral high ground of the "I'm a brave professor saving the world 'cause God knows no one else on the planet is aware of racism! Or sexism! Or that strippers can actually be hired--of either gender--pretty damn easily! And I'm gonna shoehorn every social cause I can think of in here, because I'm an english professor who wants you to know that a bunch of stupid drunk jocks are a METAPHOR for all this stuff!" :

We are in the midst of a social disaster where 18 percent of the American population lives below the poverty line and a disproportionate number of those are African-American. We live in the midst of a social disaster where 30 percent of our students do not graduate from high school (making the U.S. No. 17 in the world). We live in the midst of a social disaster where women's salaries for similar jobs are substantially less than men's (and, as of this year, starting to go down again, not up). We live in the midst of a social disaster where we do not have national health care or affordable childcare. And we live in a situation where a group of white athletes at a prominent university can get drunk and call out for a stripper the way they would a pizza.

And finally, the coup de grace - the "Now I'm going to name-call everyone who disagrees with what we did and paint them as mentally unstable, or worse--violent--or EVEN WORSE: REPUBLICANS, so that no one can actually address the argument itself without suffering the taint of my mischaracterization, plus it makes me seem even braver! In literary terms, that's what we call 'creating a foil!'" paragraph:

On the other hand, most of my e-mail comes from right-wing "blog hooligans." These hateful, ranting and sometimes even threatening folks don't care about Duke or the lacrosse players. Their aim is to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring. They deliberately misrepresent the faculty and manipulate the feelings of those who care about the lacrosse players in order to foster their own demagogic political agenda. They contribute to the problem, not to the solution.

Wow, bitter much? No one is making you look ridiculous. You're competent professionals, and I'm sure you're more than capable of accomplishing that all on your own.

See? I still have faith in the professoriate.

But why, why, WHY, is it always the English profs? Sigh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:54 PM | Comments (6)

December 14, 2006

English is Important, People.

Like I told Hublet's sophomores when I spoke to them on Career Day, English is vital to your ability to get a job. Why? Because people like me will be reading the cover letters and resumes that you send in, and when people like me think you're an illiterate douchebag, your chances for successful employment in our companies will decline substantially.

Cases, many, many cases, in point.

My favorite? Living proof that self-esteem building efforts in education are working, even if actual education in academic topics isn't:

"I need real world experience and after reviewing your web site I get the impressing that your company believes in maintain a lax work environment while efficiently meeting the needs of it's customers (right?)." [We replied to this college senior, on an ill-advised rescue impulse, gently suggesting he get some remedial help with his writing, since he had an error in every single sentence of his three-page letter. His furious four-page reply included some amazing stuff, such as]

" should be straight forward and ... simply state that your company is seeking a grammar teacher who lacks creativity but knows how to properly write a letter and knows exactly where to place punctuation. If your company takes such a serious position towards proper grammar then I think you guys are in the wrong profession. I believe even the leader of this country that we live in lacks proper grammar yet he is still our leader. I can assure you that he leaves grammar and punctuation to the proper authorities such as his receptionist or grade school English teacher. ...I am not precisely sure why you choose to take such a stance perhaps because you have nothing better to do, or maybe because you have personal insecurities that seep out and you feel the need to degrade or target others based on stupid little infractions to make yourself feel better, I don't know what the case is ... if I am out of line please let me know but if I recall properly your companies web site is not the most professional site there is. If you guys are trying to project a laid back yet hard working image through your site and request the same from prospective employees then you should not be so prudent about minor infractions such as punctuation and grammar.... (I reread it before sending it and it states my point clearly and unless you lack the mental capacity to make out the meaning without having exact and precisise grammar maybe you should seek a new proffsion, I hear this country lacks alot of grammar school teachers perhaps that would be a better fit for you) In conclusion I have indeed made many mistakes in this e-mail many on purpose and many accidentaly I did not have the time nor the patientce to deal with it I will leave the grammer checking to the professionals such as yourself." [Editor's note: although his response fascinated us, you can understand why we no longer reply to the Differently Stable.]

Shamelessly stolen from the Cranky Prof.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:45 AM | Comments (5)

December 07, 2006

Snipers R Us

So I came across this article--well, more like a straight transcription--yesterday in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Seems that Michael Berube and David Horowitz had lunch.

Were salads flung with great pique? Soup spoons wielded with extreme prejudice?

Not so much. Basically, it was your typical academic conversation, which is to say it took a whole lot of words for Horowitz and Berube to get to the point, which appears to be, um, well, Horowitz called Berube a crazy radical and that apparently made Berube all mad but Horowitz promised to retract that, so yay. Oh, and professors should, you know, teach and not be nuts about it. Your definitions of "teach" and "nuts" may vary according to your political leanings, of course. As do your definitions of pretty much everything else, nowadays. Sigh.

Really the most interesting part of the whole thing was the fact that when face-to-face, the fiery rhetoric and glib insults that are so much a part and parcel of Web life were notably absent. You could argue that decorum won out, but the still, small cynic in me thinks that maybe it's a little harder to be a total asshole in person NOT because humans are bred to politeness, but because humans have been bred to fear a punch in the nose.

Maybe I'll give Don King a call--I bet there'd be a lot of interest in a series of Blog Rumbles.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:39 PM | Comments (3)

November 08, 2006

Best Part of Today?

Well, it's a toss-up between showing up for a dental appointment an hour early and having to reschedule and suffering an opthalmic migraine in the midst of discussing genome sequencing with a professor. I report, you decide.

I recently exchanged a few emails with a buddy from high school who is now an entomologist, and as usually happens, we started talking about academia and "collegiality" within departments. He had noticed that english departments seemed to be (as he put it) "snake pits" no matter where he was, and wondered why that might be the case.

Naturally, I prepared to leap to the defense of the beleaguered humanities, but then I started thinking about it, and came up with a possible explanation--which, since I came up with it, I rather like. Warning: sarcasm ahead! Like you needed that warning, but still.

Why are English departments the way they are? It seems to me that the explanation for their behavior is simple: you spend decades of your life studying something that's essentially static, and trying to come up with new reasons for it to be relevant, because it's simply not hip anymore to insist on the value of literature for its own sake. And really, there's only so much post-feminist Lacanian theory that you can apply to Chaucer before it becomes patently absurd. So you know you're smart, and you know that literature has value, but you're always having to justify your existence to each other and the world at large. It will eventually either drive you insane or turn you into an embittered scheming husk of a human. Which is why I do science writing.

You know, the irony is that English departments were the main proponents of the post-modernist theory that essentially gutted the "lit for lit's sake" position. What's that saying? Hoist by their own petard? Yeah.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:44 PM | Comments (5)

October 05, 2006

The End is Nigh

You know, between listening to Hublet's laments about his 10th grade honor students who can only write at a 7th or 8th grade level and then reading about this nonsense at a supposedly Ivy League campus, I'm done. Apparently, teachers gave up on teaching reasoning and logical argument in about 1972.

"Why whatever do you mean, BAW?" I'm sure you're asking.

Let's let the students speak for themselves, shall we?

First off, we have the brilliant deductive and reasoning skills on display (literally) on this banner:

Two students in the International Socialist Organization unfurled a yellow banner reading, "No one is illegal!" which prompted other protestors to rush the stage.

Hate to break it to you, wee socialists, but a whole hell of a lot of people are illegal in this country, according to our laws, which apparently you haven't bothered to READ, because it's only COLLEGE, after all, and we shouldn't go around getting all hysterical and requiring COLLEGE STUDENTS to, you know, DO RESEARCH or anything. Everyone knows it's all about the beer and feeling good about yourself on your parents' dime! Jesus.

And then there's this charming bit of rationalizing sanctimony from a student whose ONLY good decision apparently is to remain anonymous--perhaps he or she subliminally realizes how stupid he or she is?

"We were aware that there was going to be a sign and we were going to occupy the stage," said a protestor who was on stage and asked to remain anonymous. "I don't feel like we need to apologize or anything. It was fundamentally a part of free speech. ... The Minutemen are not a legitimate part of the debate on immigration."

And why aren't the Minutemen legitimate? If a random group of socialist weirdos can make ignorant banners and act like 12 year olds in a place where such behavior was totally uncalled for, then why doesn't the person invited to speak at a specific event have the right to finish his speech? Ah, yes, the old "Because I'm RIGHT and I SAY SO!" argument. Which is always grounded in logic and cool reason. Idiot.

Here's a tip for the Ivy Leaguers: If you're gonna get all het up and exercise your 1st Amendment rights, you might want to exercise some reading comprehension at the same time.

Because otherwise you just end up looking dumb.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:45 AM | Comments (9)

October 04, 2006

Your Wednesday Dose of Camille

Paglia, that is. She's written an article on our current rediscovery of Marie Antoinette and parallels to our own time--frankly, it goes further toward explaining the weird feelings of surreality I've been experiencing over the past few months than anything else I've read.

The first half of the article is a pretty straightforward reviewing of the current spate of Antoinette-themed media offerings; skip to the bottom half for the interesting analysis.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:19 PM | Comments (7)

August 30, 2006

Tiny Tantrums

You know, for all the mocking of the silly in academia, the only thing that actually really makes me angry when dealing with academics is when the person in question has an undeserved sense of entitlement. Actually, that makes me angry when I see it just about anywhere, come to think of it, but it's particularly galling when I have to deal with it as part of my actual job, and so the option of hitting someone with my shoe is not on the table. Not that I regularly whack people with my super-cute summer slides, but you get the idea. Restraint is not really a friend of mine.

And when the sense of entitlement is conveyed via an email tantrum over a TINY FREAKING ISSUE, it just makes my head explode.

Case in point - we updated our website, and in an attempt to drive traffic to the new, improved site, made a temporary change to our homepage. Now, our campus has a population of 30,000 souls, give or take. Out of those 30,000 people affected by this--let me reiterate--TEMPORARY change, 28,998 seemed unbothered.

Can you see what's coming? If you have ever worked in, around, or near a university I bet you can.

Yes, our TEMPORARY disruption caused trauma to exactly two people, both of whom were professors. Interestingly enough, one was a Humes type, and the other a Science type, and they were both just beautiful examples of self-important, humorless idiocy.

Let me summarize the emails we received: We had created an aesthetic NIGHTMARE! Who gave us the authority to do such a thing?! It was TOO MUCH INFORMATION and might result in one of the professors NOT READING THE NEWS!

Now, I am uncertain as to how his not reading the news was going to be detrimental to anyone besides the professor making the threat, but I don't have a Ph.D., so perhaps I just don't get it.

Irony would like to point out the academic tendency to show disdain for all types of authority EXCEPT that authority which might help an academic get his or her way in a situation. Irony would also like to point out the humor inherent in an academic complaining about receiving too much information.

The most annoying thing was the tone in which the emails were written--like it never occurred to them to send a missive that politely inquired about the reasoning behind the changes, they just immediately launched into threaten/attack mode. One would think that people who have to communicate for a living might understand the importance of reasonable discourse. But I suppose that if one is a professor, his or her pronouncements should simply be taken as gospel. Sigh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:16 AM | Comments (7)

August 28, 2006

A Typo is Worth 1000 Words

From the last line in today's Chronicle story about UCLA's response to the animal rights terrorist group in their midst:

A spokesman for the university said on Sunday that the primate and other animal research conducted at the university was tightly regulated by state, federal, and university officials.

"UCLA takes very seriously the human treatment of animals," the spokesman said. (emphasis added)

Yes. And that does seem to be part of the problem, doesn't it. Because it's only after a bomb doesn't go off that UCLA decides to "explore" legal avenues against crazy idiots who are USING UCLA's NAME while trying to kill people. I'm sure the ALF is quaking in fear. Quaking!

Animals aren't people, no matter how much we anthropomorphize them. If my beloved feline were the size of a tiger, she would have no moral qualms about devouring my entire family, no matter how loving we were to her. See Treadwell, Timothy, for further clarification on this score, as well as for an explanation of what eventually happens to folks who over-identify with animals and who forget that nature is "red in tooth and claw."

See also 28 Days Later for a fun exploration of the role of animal rights activists in the apocalypse.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:58 AM | Comments (4)

August 24, 2006

It Figures

You know, it would be cynical even for me to admit that I was waiting for the "official story of the demise of Easter Island" to be contradicted, but I totally was.

And now it has. T'wasn't short-sighted human deforestation that killed Rapa Nui, 'twas rats and people.

See, eco-suicide is a neat little theory to put forth--especially when you've got a book to sell--but reality is that eco-suicide just takes too damn long, especially when you've got an opportunity for human beings to do what comes naturally and destroy each other. Guns, smallpox, and rats eating all the native plants work a lot faster than stone axes to decimate a civilization.

On the bright side, this new revelation will at least sell books for the post-colonial screw whitey crowd.

And maybe it'll open up a heretofore untapped market in the "rats are evil tools of The Man" school of social theory.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:07 AM | Comments (4)

August 23, 2006

Things I Learned Today at Inside Higher Ed

David Horowitz will EAT YOUR BAYBEEZ! Yes, perhaps that seems a bit overstated, but while perusing the two pieces on solving the culture wars in academe, his name appeared quite a bit, both inside the editorials and in the comments following.

The part of me that secretly wishes to be an evil overlord is envious of the Horowitzian ability to make academics wet themselves.

I also have learned that academia leans left because only liberals a) like to think critically, and b) are focused on helping others by taking, say, lower-paying jobs like teaching. Really. I suppose I should tell Hublet that he needs to get out of education Right Now and start working on that whole "screw you, every man for himself" Godon Gecko personality thing. Glad I discovered that before he wasted his life or something.

And Inside Higher Ed gave me another example of something I already knew--PIOs and department heads are paid to be paranoid. Unfortunately, it looks like some PIO is probably no longer on the payroll after that particular debacle. Paranoia only works properly if paired with a modicum of smarts.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:52 AM | Comments (4)

August 10, 2006

Bridging the Gap

So a pretty big part of my job consists of talking to scientists and then translating their research into "real words." Please don't go all deconstruction-y on me here for that terminology. Basically, I make the research lingo accessible to the general public. This is not without its challenges, but it's fun, and I get to learn all about cool science without ever having to balance another chemical equation, so I like it a lot.

The flip side of this is talking to the media and then trying to locate a scientific "expert" on a particular subject for them to interview. This is much harder, because media always want what I call "bare bones" science, and since our faculty are all research scientists, the bare bones science has disappeared under years of complex specialization. In short, it's hard for a lot of these folks to come down to the level that the media wants.

Today is a perfect example. What do the media want? Someone who can talk about "liquid explosives"--what they are, how you make them, etc. What are our faculty members working on?

New synthetic methodologies, strategies for asymmetric synthesis, directed metallation reactions, stereoselective reductions, catalytic asymmetric synthesis, new chiral auxiliaries; Development of nanostructured materials and studies of their electronic and optical properties; metalloprotein (re)engineering via incorporation of unnatural amino acids into enzyme active sites; Development of novel organometallic complexes for catalysis...

You get the idea. Still, it beats applying Lacanian theory to Middlemarch.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:20 AM | Comments (2)

August 08, 2006

When Administrators Attack

Or equivocate, or ramble wildly on in a blind panic because a random faculty member has suddenly revealed himself to be a bit nutty in a very public way.

Just a couple of Barrett-related items I found amusing, because nothing is funnier than silly academics except panicked administrators.

Based on this quote, lifted from this post about the Barrett hoo-ha, wherein the Provost opines:

“I think the political correctness — or non-political correctness — of his views outside the classroom … should not have an impact on whether or not he’s allowed to teach."

Umm. We're not talking about whether or not Barrett is using "charged or offensive language," dude. We're talking science.

And then the provost, bless his heart, wants to stand up for academic freedom and freedom of speech, provided that the freedom isn't too, you know, loud or noticeable:

UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell also warned Kevin Barrett to stop associating himself with UW-Madison when he advocates his views. Otherwise, Farrell wrote in the July 20 letter, he would reconsider his decision to allow Barrett to teach a course on Islam this fall.

``In summary, if you continue to identify yourself with UW-Madison in your personal political messages or illustrate an inability to control your interest in publicity for your ideas, I would lose confidence ... ,'' he wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press in an open records request.

Good Lord. Here's a free tip for all you aspiring administrators out there:

Rule number 1 for Provosts Attempting to Walk the PR Tightrope of Embarrassing Weirdo Faculty: DON'T SEND EMAILS, MEMOS OR LETTERS ABOUT OR TO THE WEIRDO! The open records request is not your friend. When the shit hits the fan, the shat-upon would do well to pick up the phone, or something like that.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 04:18 PM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2006

Totally Radical

So I read this article, over at Inside Higher Ed. It's written by a professor who teaches rhetorical studies, but the entirety of the article is about the challenge of teaching queer theory to Texans, and whether or not he has somehow compromised his radical street cred by relying on liberal humanism.

Well, fine. I'm a traditionalist, so I'm not gonna waste time arguing about it--just call me a pawn of the phallocentric culture, yadda, yadda, yadda. But that's not even my point.

The writer spends some time lamenting the death of academic freedom and growing public hostility toward the professoriate at the same time that he creates an interesting meta-example of why these things may be the case.

First off, the paragraphs wherein the professor describes the subject matter read like a parody of an academic written by someone like, well, me. When you start a paragraph with

The day after I lectured on heterosexist norms in heavy metal music videos, I was summoned to the principal’s office to get a talking to.

you might be inviting some ridicule from the outside world. I read the prof's email to his class, his explanation as to why he's doing what he's doing, and have to wonder what would happen if he sent it to the parents of the students he teaches.

Because here we see the disconnect between the real world and academe. Like it or not, the image of the ivy-covered walls that the public has of academia does NOT include a classroom full of co-eds involved in a discussion of The Man forcing his phallus on society via Warrant's Cherry Pie video. Seriously.

It's obvious that part of the university's job is to expose students to different points of view and to force them to examine rhetoric and rhetorical strategies. It's also apparent to anyone who's been in academe and then left for the "real world" that the compartmentalization and obsession with minutiae that serves professors so well in getting published and getting tenure doesn't translate well outside the academy; in fact, it tends to seem like so much meaningless mental masturbation. And when you're paying someone up to six figures a year on the taxpayer's dime to talk about interchangeable sex organs as represented in the music of a "polyamorous figure" named Peaches--well, I can see where the public hostility is coming from.

There's room in the university for both academic freedom and the ability to fire hacks, proselytizers and plagiarizers without apology (not that this professor is any of the latter). But I don't exactly trust academia's leading lights to figure out how to do this any time soon. How's that for radical?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:26 PM | Comments (5)

July 20, 2006

Two Bits, Four Bits...

Interesting post on the latest goings-on at Duke here, with the focus on silliness by the usual suspects, and I'm not talking athletes or overly ambitious DAs. When the facts come out--whichever way it turns out--this will not end well. Durham is a tense town on a good day.

Now that the academic update is out of the way, I would like to declare my love of William H. Macy to the world*. Thank you.

*The above love-fest has been brought to you by TNT's airing of Nightmares and Dreamscapes.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:37 AM | Comments (2)

July 12, 2006

Holy Cow.

I think I need to put down the keyboard and back slowly away from the internet, because the crazy? It seems to be catching.

I've followed the Goldstein/Frisch thing with my mouth hanging open in dumbfounded astonishment. Although I have to admit that I've learned a few things, like if I decide to go over to Daily Kos and start flinging random threats and nonsensical insults around that have nothing to do with the topic at hand I wouldn't be "trolling," I would merely be "engaging in provocative debate," or "sharing my fantabulously fabulous super-brained academic knowledge with the great unwashed--damn them all to hell." So that's good to know, I guess.

And I see that U-W Madison will allow the teaching of "911 is a conspiracy" in the classroom in the name of academic freedom. Which, okay, except have they thought this through? Because courses like "Intelligent Design 101," "We never went to the moon," and "The Holocaust--Just a big fat lie!" cannot therefore be far behind. You know, the idea that the truth is subjective? It's fun when you're discussing Joyce or Faulkner, but it doesn't really apply to stuff like GRAVITY. Just sayin'.

By the way, I really enjoy the fact that any time someone mentions Barrett in an article, the comments immediately get spammed by "OMG YOU IGNORANT SHEEPLE GEORGE BUSH TOTALLY DETONATED THE WTC AND IF YOU DON'T THINK SO YOU'RE JUST A BIG DUMMY!" types. It's fun!

For a slightly more cerebral take on what exactly it means when administrators adopt an "anything goes" attitude under the guise of "academic freedom," check out Erin O'Connor's blog.

I don't think that the freedom folks were describing when they defined academic freedom was "freedom from logic, sense or quality," but there I go again, making a definitive judgement about what words MEAN. Damn. Grad school must not have been as effective as I thought in teaching me how to think.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:00 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 29, 2006

Not a Parody

An actual excerpt from an article at the Chronicle on "fat studies:"

By the time she earned her Ph.D. in 1998, the 100 pounds she'd lost had begun creeping back on. Ms LeBesco, who earned tenure at Marymount Manhattan two years ago, began writing more about her identity as a fat person. At the National Communication Association's 2004 meeting, she delivered a talk called "I'm Here, I'm a Sphere, Get Used to It: Being ‘Out' as a Fat Professor." Her 2004 book, Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity (University of Massachusetts Press), is a seminal work in fat studies. "Katie is trying to erase the line between fat and thin," says Marilyn Wann, an activist who started a fat-studies e-mail list last year that has 120 subscribers. "Her work is foundational."

The field takes its cues from queer studies and disability studies — subjects pursued primarily by activists who feel they have been discriminated against because of their identity. Scholars held the first academic meeting on fat studies two years ago, and the first fat-studies reader is in the works.

At a joint meeting of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association in April, Ms. LeBesco picked up a fuchsia-colored notice that she now keeps tacked to the bulletin board in her college office: "Weight diversity is welcome here. Kindly refrain from diet talk, body disparagement, and other unpleasantries."

You know, I don't care if people are fat or thin. I do, however, care that universities are spending money on scholarship about the "politics of fatness" when half of the freshman class can't read or write at the college level.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:44 PM | Comments (10)

June 27, 2006

When a 4-year old does it

It's annoying as hell, but when a grown man and alleged academic does it, I become enraged.

What am I talking about? Simple. Failure to accept responsibility for your actions.

Yeah, yeah. I realize I should be all jaded and "oh, but civilization has sunk so low what do you expect," yadda yadda yadda, but I refuse to go gently into this particular good night, dammit.

So let's get this straight. A year-long academic inquiry finds that a professor has plagiarized and fabricated substantial amounts of his research. The professor is fired. Who is at fault?

Why, the university of course! The public at large! The evil philistines who don't understand the greatness that is the professor! The evil political cabal who just wants to silence his brave dissent! Anyone, in short, except the psuedo-intellect in question, who--by the way--PLAGIARIZED AND FABRICATED HIS RESEARCH!

And he's gonna sue until they agree with him, golly gosh darn it!

Yeah, Ward Churchill again.

That annoying buzzing sound you hear in the background? Me, grinding my teeth down to a fine powder in a fit of rage.

True, the university of Colorado should never have hired him, as any research into his background and qualifications would have raised several red flags. But so what? Just because you can pull a con-job during the hiring process doesn't mean you should. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling teenagers--oops, I mean if it weren't for his inability to follow the first rule of thumb for con-artists: stay below the radar.

Plus, the cabal of anti-Churchill conspirators didn't write his papers--actually, he didn't either, apparently. He cheated, he got caught, and he got the grown-up equivalent of time out. And so now he's throwing the grown-up equivalent of a tantrum, and so out of the goodness of my heart I will share these words of wisdom in the form of a letter to our errant ex-academic:

Dear Ward:

Grow the hell up.


And as for the cries of "it was politically motivated!" that resonate throughout Inside Higher Ed and the AAUP--Irony is holding for you guys on line one.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:51 PM | Comments (3)

June 19, 2006

Ha! It's Not Just the Humanities!

One doesn't normally associate physics professors with conspiracy theories--what with them being the traditional milieu of humanities types--but the gods have smiled upon us all today with this article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed. It's subscription only, so let me quote and summarize:

"Last November Mr. (Steven E.) Jones posted a paper online advancing the hypothesis that the airplanes Americans saw crashing into the twin towers were not sufficient to cause their collapse, and that the towers had to have been brought down in a controlled demolition. Now he is the best hope of a movement that seeks to convince the rest of America that elements of the government are guilty of mass murder on their own soil.

His paper — written by an actual professor who works at an actual research university — has made him a celebrity in the conspiracy universe. He is now co-chairman of a group called the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, which includes about 50 professors — more in the humanities than in the sciences — from institutions like Clemson University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin.

But even as Mr. Jones's title and academic credentials give hope to the conspiracy theorists, his role in the movement may undermine those same credentials. What happens when science tries to function in a fringe crusade?"

Short answer? Real scientists pretend you don't exist, and crazy people hold conferences in hotels, engage in circular reasoning and send mean emails to the scientist who's debunked your theory. Business as usual, in other words.

Fun random quotes:

"Usually, Occam's razor intervenes." Unfortunately, Occam and his razor are less successful at whacking errant pixels than you would think.

"By many accounts, scholarly contributions to the movement began with Mr. Griffin, who retired from the Claremont School of Theology in 2004. About a year and a half after September 11, Mr. Griffin began reading books and Web sites arguing that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks. Eventually, they won him over." There are only FOUR LIGHTS!!! FOUR LIGHTS!!! Sorry, Star Trek reference. In other words, if you spend enough time reading crazy crap, eventually it will start to seem less crazy. RE: The existence of scientologists even AFTER they've been introduced to the concept of Xenu.

"You can't just appeal in terms of straight argument," he [Griffin] says. "You've got to do something to break through, to get people to look at the evidence." Yes, when your straight argument is CRAZY, then I guess you do have to get a little bit out there to make folks pay attention.

Some people just aren't happy unless they aren't happy. At least I can take cold comfort in the fact that this trait isn't just prevalent in sociology departments.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:23 PM | Comments (4)

June 16, 2006

For Weekend Pondering

I didn't get to this yesterday, what with my astonishment at the Slate message boards, so I will post it today: a discussion on what effect, exactly, Ward Churchill, ACTA and all the factions involved in the "Humanities are a roiling cess-pit of (pick one) a) communists, b) brave dissenters, c) ignorant hacks, d) pseudo-intellectuals, e) race-baiters and permanent victims" war are having on the academy and the public perception of same.

This particular set of arguments only takes a backseat to the mommy wars for me because, well, the mommy wars have a larger margin of carnage, and a smaller tendency to use words like "hegemony" in the arguments.

But I digress. Read and enjoy.

My super-short opinion? I think it's valid, given the Churchill case's exposure of sloppy hiring and self-policing on the part of the academy, to ask how many more frauds there may be out there exploiting the uber-PC campus culture for their own benefit. I also agree with many of the commenters who believe that the real crime against the humanities here isn't so much the political nonsense that professors may or may not spout in the classroom, but in the degeneration of real critical thinking in the classrooms. My grad school experience was illustrative of exactly this point: when you can memorize the basic tenets of a particular "flavor" of theory and slot them into any piece of literature as though you're constructing an Ikea bookshelf, then I've gotta say that something's a bit awry. At the very least it certainly sucks the fun out of the humanities.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:35 PM | Comments (4)

May 17, 2006

How (Not) to Argue

Well, it's here in all its pixellated glory. The verdict is in on Ward Churchill, and it isn't surprising. Here's the full report.

And here's the Inside Higher Ed story. The comments, as always, are far more entertaining than the story itself, and for the most part are sane and logical. However, there are quite a few folks out there who need to take Remedial Argument 101. Read and be entertained, and notice my extreme forebearance in resisting the temptation to point out that the least literate commentary comes from those who self-identify as being in the field of ethnic studies. Oops. Okay, so maybe my forebearance isn't that extreme.

I would, however, like to point out to the unfortunate commenter crowing about Churchill's "authoritative body of work" that citing your own (plagiarised) work in support of your own (plagiarised) work does NOT, no matter how fondly you may wish it, make your work "authoritative" in any way. At least not on planet earth.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:57 PM | Comments (12)

May 02, 2006

Couple of Academic links

Everyone is linking to this piece. Not sure why, other than as a perfect example of academic verbal diarrhea. Let's see...19 paragraphs to say "Hey! Academics are too busy engaging in an intellectual circle-jerk to have any real impact on America!" with a whole lot of unintentional irony thrown in for kicks and giggles. Sheesh. Tell me something I didn't know circa 1996, dude.

And via Erin O'Connor, the Sheldon Awards. Read 'em and weep.

ETA: Fixed second link. Sorry about that!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:34 PM

April 12, 2006

This is Going to get Ugly. Well, Uglier.

Okay, so now there's no DNA match in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case.

Oh, boy. Let's review, shall we?

Drunken lacrosse players invite strippers to beer bash. The stupidity of this is glaringly apparent to everyone except the drunken lacrosse players.

Now, according to who you believe, either
a) The strippers, who were paid for an hour of stripping, decide to take the cash and leave after three minutes, resulting in the liberal use of ethnic slurs and threats of violence but no actual violence by aforesaid drunken lacrosse players, or

b) The strippers are physically, verbally and sexually assaulted, or

c) Possibly some combination of a and b.

Result? No more lacrosse, lacrosse coach, or student who sent stupid email after the fact; sit-ins, candlelight vigils, calls for heads on stakes; DA with political ambitions making the most of photo ops; and, in keeping with Durham's fine traditions, racial tensions out the wazoo--or more accurately, the same old omnipresent racial tensions back on the front page.

Let's set aside the question of what actually happened here for a moment, because frankly I think it'll take longer to figure out than we tend to have patience with in the Age of Teh Internets, and concentrate on this quote from a young co-ed upon discovering that the DNA evidence was a bust (from The Chronicle of Higher Ed--may be subscriber only, so I'm reproducing the quote here):

Ashley K. Bateman, a senior sociology major, expressed concern that students may lose sight of the questions of race and gender that the incident raised. "My hope would be that people wouldn't just kind of drop the issue," she said. Ms. Bateman, who works with Duke's Center for Race Relations, said she worried that because of the negative test results, discussions about broader issues would "lose momentum."

I will pause for a moment while you make the obvious jokes in your heads. All finished? Good. Now on with the show.

Oh, dear lord. So the fact that a young woman apparently wasn't sexually brutalized is bad news? Because it may mean that your personal crusade might "lose momentum?" And yes, the cynic in me tends to substitute the word "funding" for "momentum," but I'm evil, so there you go.

See, here's the crux of my problem, and why I cannot take campus politics--the external variety, not the internecine internal position jockeying--seriously anymore: these groups are parasites, more concerned about getting enough butts in seats at the rallies and facetime on tv to "raise awareness" than they are about the victims, real or alleged.

And I'm not even gonna go near the implications for the consciouness raisers if this turns out to be a false report --mainly because there won't be any, not really, if you don't count the fact that the folks whose consciousnesses (consciousness-i? consciousness'ss'ss, gah.) they're trying to raise will stop listening.

But I don't count that, because I'm not convinced that the great unwashed is really the intended audience anymore. If it ever was.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:24 AM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2006

But, it isn't our fault!

So, students aren't prepared for college?

Blame the school boards! Not the teachers, and ESPECIALLY not the teachers who are products of education schools, those fine institutions of pedagogical research that have IN NO WAY affected curricula across the country.

Boys not performing? Surely it has nothing to do with the 20 years of changing teaching methods to favor girls, and even if it does, well, the education schools didn't do that! Much! Really...

Seriously. Broken homes effect scholarship? Sure. Colleges admitting students who they figure will wash out in order to get that first year's or semester's tuition? Yeah. High school teachers underpaid? I'm down with that, though given Hublet's profession and my unrealistic dreams of glassed-in bookshelves and leather armchairs for a study in a larger home I could be biased.

But you don't get to have it both ways--touting your educational research but not accepting blame for the goofier stuff that happens in the classrooms, like putting the kibosh on marking papers in red pen for "self-esteem reasons." 'Cause that just sounds like whining.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:47 AM | Comments (3)

March 20, 2006

I Ain't No Houellebecq Girl

Related to my previous entry, the New Criterion has a great article on one of the more colorful characters in modern lit (I'm hoping the link lets you read it--let me know if not and I'll do a longer summary).

Fun introductory paragraph:

Novelists today tend to be pretty bloodless creatures. Look at their bios: They’re mostly workshop professors or M.F.A. hatchlings. They review their peers’ books, sit on grant panels, give readings and interviews, and, during their free time, cook up soft-boiled bores to pay their children’s tuition.

Basically, old Houellebecq has made a name for himself in French literary circles by wallowing in degeneracy and despair, and bemoaning the meaninglessness of life and death while cashing his checks and continuing to write.

Irony and I had a chuckle and some beers over that.

Unrelated aside - watched Grizzly Man this weekend, and was amazed. Not at the self-delusion and myriad mental problems of Timothy Treadwell, because duh, but at the way Herzog put the film together.

My favorite technique was the way he kept the camera rolling just a bit too long at the end of each interview, so that the subject didn't have anything rehearsed to fall back on, and was just--exposed. It was very uncomfortable in some places, but interesting to watch.

And the cast of supporting characters were awesome! The matter-of-fact pilot who found what was left of Treadwell and his girlfriend, the search and rescue guy who opined that the bears must've left him alone as long as they did because they probably thought "he was mentally retarded," and the World's Creepiest Coroner were every bit as fascinating as the subject himself.

The contrast between the folks who actually deal with the reality of nature and its place in the world and the people who can't seem to is really well drawn.

And Herzog's impromptu German doom and gloom soliloquy was great as well.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:36 AM | Comments (3)

February 28, 2006

Tuesday's Exercise in Pointing and Laughing

No matter what you think of him as an intellectual, you can always trust David Horowitz to bring out the academic wankery.

Here we have a Horowitz rebuttal to a review written by Inside Higher Ed's Scott McLemee. Now, if you've ever read anything by McLemee, you'd know he tends to go for the snark, which is fine as far as it goes, I guess, but that's neither here nor there.

Hilarity ensues in the comments following Horowitz' rebuttal, complete with the academic equivalent of "Shut up!" "No, you shut up!" "You're a poopy-head!" "No, you are!" And at least one weird-ass comment about black helicopters, but I didn't bother to try and decipher that one.

It would be amusing, if it weren't for the fact that these folks are completely missing the point, which, as one commenter remarked, isn't about Horowitz at all. It's about the changing public perception of the university, and what may happen as a result.

Tuition costs keep rising at a higher rate than salaries. We've got kids coming out of school with more debt load than I have with a mortgage and a family. It seems pretty natural for folks to start questioning the value of college education, and to start paying attention to what, exactly, these tenured "untouchables" are doing in their classrooms.

Academics should be worried, and not about David Horowitz, because it seems to me that--fair or not--we're heading toward a place where "learning for its own sake," no longer justifies the expense, and the consequences will be dire indeed--and not just for the academics.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:35 AM | Comments (19)

February 23, 2006


From the "If I could make stuff like this up I'd be a much wealthier person," files:

This is a somewhat truncated transcription of a voicemail that our office received yesterday. Name has been changed to protect the dangerously stupid, and drunk, recent graduate who left it. Read it and weep--weep!--for our future.

Voice Message received at 6:49 a.m.

"Um, hi. This is Cynthia, C-Y-N-T-H-I-A Simmons, S-I-M-M-O-N-S, but really my friends just call me Cindy, C-I-N-D-Y. And yeah, your voicemail system is good with the emergency number to call and everything even though I haven't spoken to a human being."

"I graduated in 2002, if you need to look that up. I majored in Philosophy and Business."

"But I'm calling because I need to talk to someone about a refund? Because I only work 15 hours a week at this job that pays $7 an hour and it's just not working for me because who can live like that? So I want a refund of the money I spent because it's not helping--like, I want all my tuition money back."

"So someone needs to call me, Cynthia, C-Y-N-T-H-I-A, Simmons, S-I-M-M-O-N-S back at 111-111-1111. Or if you could tell me if your office is hiring, because I need a different job. Thanks."

Ah, Cindy's got her crunk on. It could explain why she's working 15 hours a week for $7 an hour. Although the more likely explanation is the fact that she got a Philosophy degree from a land grant university that specializes in agriculture and engineering.

So maybe the next time Davidson calls me for a donation I'll ask for a refund. Because obviously I should be pulling down 6 figures simply because I went there and got a degree! My own ambition, work ethic, and abilities have nothing whatever to do with it!

Just think! Cindy, C-I-N-D-Y, and her buddies will be running the country when we're old!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:15 PM | Comments (13)

February 22, 2006

Dumb Quote of the Day

And it has nothing whatever to do with the Summers ousting at Harvard. My take on that boils down to "typical." Interpret it however you see fit.

No, the dumb quote of the day comes from a local story on schools separating middle school boys and girls for the core classes, ostensibly to remove the distraction of those burgeoning hormones and the self-consciousness that entails and to tailor the classes to the learning patterns of boys and girls.

Personally, I think that's a great idea. But it wouldn't be journalism without the obligatory "dissenting view," (and don't get me started on the number of professional cranks this particular journalistic practice has created--grr) and so we have this little "I'm totally missing the point but I'm on auto-pilot and it's a decent soundbite" gem from the local NOW dingbat:

Groups such as the National Organization for Women have likened classes split by sex to the unconstitutional "separate but equal" reasoning used to keep schools racially segregated.

"I really feel this is dangerous," said Anna Worthen, president of North Carolina's NOW chapter. "What if you're a little girl that doesn't learn the 'girl way'?"

Teachers should challenge assumptions about sexes, she said, not cater to them.

"When kids say science is for boys, that's just what society has told them," said Worthen, who works in the technology field mostly around men. "If I had not learned to interact with men, how could I go into my workplace and encounter them every day?"

Anna, WTF? Did you even pay attention when the reporter explained the article to you? Let's break down the stupidity bit by bit, shall we?

1. Ooh, the eeeeevilllle spectre of "separate but equal." Let's see...they're in the SAME school, being taught the SAME subjects by the SAME teachers. Yep, it's practically apartheid. Man-de-la! Man-de-la!

2. Girls being shortchanged because they DON'T learn "the girl way?" Then they're being screwed right now, sweetie, largely because organizations such as yours have been instrumental in changing the pedagogy so that everyone is now learning "the girl way," with the result that boys are suffering. Or didn't you read that article, because it didn't portray girls as helpless victims of the patriarchy? Do you hear the words that come out of your mouth, Anna, or are you just reading the talking points memo aloud again?

3. Where in the teacher handbook does it say that in addition to managing classrooms full of unruly teens, piles of useless administrative busy work, psycho parents, and school politics, teachers should be "challenging assumptions about the sexes?" When exactly are the teachers supposed to TEACH THE SUBJECT MATTER, Anna, before or after the Up With People fireside singalong?

4. Oh no, these poor stunted middle schoolers will have no idea how to get along with the opposite sex if they don't diagram sentences together! Again, Anna, did you pay attention? The sexes are only separated for a few classes. There's plenty of time to interact both inside and outside of the classroom.

Grr. My tolerance level for the stupid has decreased exponentially today. Just...between reading this tripe and dealing with a shirty reporter from a large Yankee publication, I'm done for the day.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:51 PM | Comments (6)

February 06, 2006

Flop Sweat and Economics, Oh My!

So here at the U., we have a yearly forum-y hoo-ha in which movers and shakers from academe and politics convene to solve the world's problems! Fun (and a free lunch, if our office plays its cards right) is generally had by all.

This year's topic is economics, with all the excitement that entails for me.

But the highlight of this year's forum was definitely the high-profile lunch speaker, whose name rhymes with Saul Moogman.

I have never witnessed a professional academic with less public poise, ever. Seriously, I don't even remember what he was talking about, except that it obviously was geared toward policy wonks and not a lay audience, but I do remember the copious amount of sweat he produced while at the podium.

It was a LOT of sweat. And his hands were all trembly. And then he spilled water on his laptop. And did I mention the nervous cough that prompted some kind soul to give him the water that he then spilled on his laptop?

The coup de grace was when he let fly one final cough into his hand, which he IMMEDIATELY offered to our former governor and the host of the event. Hee!

All I could think was, "Dude, you're a professor! And a much-ballyhooed columnist for a high profile Yankee paper! Surely public speaking isn't new!"

But maybe he was afraid that the red state minions of North Carolina would rise up as one and set him ablaze for his heretical ideas. Of course, the red state minions would have first needed to rouse themselves from their stupor--oh, and stop laughing at the flailing economist.

As a counterpoint, the former presidential candidate and scion of publishing whose name rhymes with Jeeve Morbs was clear, concise, and used real-world examples. Also, he didn't sweat, spill water, or infect our former governor with whooping cough. However, he was a bit, erm, forceful in his delivery, which is why he will never succeed in politics. Motivational speaking, perhaps, but politics? Oh, hell no.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 04:20 PM | Comments (4)

January 23, 2006

When Method Acting Meets Scholarship

Nothing good can come of it.

Here's a novel approach to historical research--become the thing you're researching! Which, okay, if you're doing a dissertation on the inner life of waiters, should be no big deal.

But if, like Professor Pluss, your topic is neo-nazism, I even have to finish this sentence?

Alas, given the prevailing views of the day, I probably do.

See, Mr. Pluss thought that only by immersing himself in the neo-nazi experience could he understand it. Uta Hagen--the lady who put the "meth" in method acting--would weep with pride. But historians aren't thespians, and I would argue that pretending to be something you aren't (and I'm giving Mr. Pluss the benefit of the doubt here) doesn't get you any more "authentic" information than regular research would. It does, however, get the perpetrator a lot more press...not that I'm waxing cynical or anything.

I'm thinking that maybe the professor in question has spent a little too much time watching James Lipton fawn over celebrities who detail their Method-heavy "preparation" for roles in films like Dawn of the Dead ("Well, I had some steak tartare, and let the juice dribble down my chin and imagined myself as a flesh-eating zombie, hee hee!"), and too little time doing plain old boring research.

Although this could spawn a whole new genre of research--Xtreme Scholarship! Criminologists committing crimes! Psychologists self-inducing insanity! Sociologists forming primitive cannibalistic tribal groups on the Quad!

It would definitely put some oomph back in the humanities, that's for sure.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:11 PM | Comments (4)

January 09, 2006

Fun with Speech Codes

Been a while since I've hung out at FIRE, but here's a real gem of a speech code from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts ["Oh, that's rich!" - Irony]:

“There shall be no interference with a demonstration on the grounds of content of speech, except for any speech or demonstration, which…victimizes others because the speech contains offensive language and/or is motivated by hate or bias.”

To be fair, this probably was added to avoid altercations like the infamous Greensboro, NC Klan/Nazi rally that devolved into a gunfight. This is apparent if you read the whole thing.

But still, rife for abuse much? You could eliminate any demonstration ever on the grounds that it offends someone.

Which, come to think of it, would save the college's administration a lot of time and paperwork...

Clever bastards.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:37 PM | Comments (1)

December 06, 2005

submitted for your approval

Or astonishment, pick one.

Via reader Naomi, an academic defends C.S. Lewis against Philip Pullman, who I do believe has recently become unhinged.

I read the His Dark Materials trilogy and I frankly grew irritated early on at Pullman's ability to ruin a good yarn with his hamfisted--and by now extremely trite and predictable--digs at organized religion. Oh, the Church is oppressive! Oh noes! The priests are the assassins! Oooh, God is old and weak and out of touch! How very transgressive of you, Phillip--in 1967, maybe. And he calls Lewis a propagandist? Puh-lease.

And I also hated that stupid Lyra girl. A lot. Which was unfortunate as she was the main character. Her mother should have chopped her soul off, or whatever the hell, and spared me several hundred pages of her "preternatural" antics. More armored bears, please, and the rest of you can go blow.

Huh. Apparently I've needed to vent about that series for a while. Better now.

My other problem with Pullman is that his criticisms of Lewis are also just a predictable litany of p.c. sins, attaching 1990s mores to works written decades earlier, and inaccurately at that. One gets the unfortunate impression that Pullman's a tad envious, and when your critique of a fellow author's work can be reduced to a playground truism, you're in trouble.

And finally, evangelical atheists always piss me off, mainly because they are so blind to the irony of being an evangelical atheist.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:44 AM | Comments (11)

November 21, 2005

Discussion Topic

So I was all set to compose my post on why putting a car customization shop next to a dance studio is a very bad idea, but there was rain, and traffic, and mucous-induced yogurt vomit--though, thank God, the Batman shirt was spared--so I'm punting, although only a little bit, because I find this topic interesting.

Here's your topic for the day:

The tenure review process as it stands is too susceptible to corruption and bias.

Discuss. And here's what brought this on.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:16 AM | Comments (8)

November 17, 2005


So Hublet was grading some essays from his sophomores on what high school means to them.

Apparently, my youthful doppelganger is in Hublet's class, because her essay is exactly what I would have written whilst in the throes of my slightly pudgy, slightly pimply, unfortunately permed sophomore year. Yech.

And so, for your entertainment, here's an excerpt from my very own Mini Me's essay:

When I think of high school, I think of all the annoying people there. There are a lot of people there that just annoy me to no end. Most people in high school are so immature and crazy that it has driven me to the point of pure insanity.

First of all, most people are overly obsessed with being in superficial relationships. They feel they must have a boyfriend or girlfriend to be somebody or to live life. I am so sick of it. Why can't people just get over the boyfriend or girlfriend thing and live life? There are more important things to deal with and better things to waste time with. I'm so tired of people coming up to me, telling me about their shallow relationships when no one really cares. No one wants to hear how happy you are because you have a cute boyfriend of a girlfriend who's a jerk, though to you they're the best thing on the planet. It's weak-minded, pathetic, stupid and no one wants to hear it.

I've learned a lot from my high school peers. I have learned what not to do from them. I look around and I think to myself, "How do these people not get on their own nerves?" I wouldn't be able to stand myself if I was that annoying.

This prepares me to be able to deal with things after I finish school. I know that people get stupider and more immature down the road. If you disagree, you really need to turn on your television. So now you know what I think about high school.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:06 PM | Comments (3)

October 26, 2005

Best Review Ever

Of The Grapes of Wrath:

“While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.”

Go here and read more.

Shamelessly stolen from Emily, who got it from this guy.

Runner up for the funny? This one about The Great Gatsby:

“It grieves me deeply that we Americans should take as our classic a book that is no more than a lengthy description of the doings of fops.”

Damn those fops and their doings! DAAAAAAMMMMNNNN THEEEEEMMMMMM!

UPDATE: Oh, and a special update for Hublet, who insists on loving A Separate Peace. Here's a couple of Amazon reviews just for you, dear!

This book is a vile tool of sadistic English teachers who are too inept at their jobs to teach AP classes and are thus stuck with Freshmen English and who cannot understand even the Cliff's Notes versions of real masterpieces and must therefore stick with trite coming of age stories that turn off generations of adolescents from reading.

This book is a prime example of why Americans no longer read.


On the back of "A Seperate Peace" the summary includes the words,
" tortured world of adolescence". This book is not close to being about the tortured world of adolescence, this book is about a book who did something stupid and then it haunts hiim for the rest of his life, and we are forced to hear him whine about it. I consider myself well read and open, and I am not enjoying this book. I am sorry for freshman english students who have to these 196 page of whining.

Okay, so maybe it's a bit sad of me to look for vindication in the rantings of high schoolers, but still.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:34 AM | Comments (10)

October 25, 2005

Tuesday Food for Thought

I found this article interesting, mainly for the larger question it poses:

Can we "cure" aging? Do we really want to?

My preliminary reaction is this - a longer lifespan if I'm in reasonably good health would be okay, I guess. But how would I fund my retirement? What about having a kid? If folks aren't dying at the same rate, then the overpopulation thing folks yelled about in the 70's would become a reality. I don't want to work forever, people.

And then I flash to Anne Rice again, of all people. Her vampires just get bored after a couple of centuries. Heck, my musical tastes ossified when I was 14. The rut I'd be in at 214 would be amazing to behold.

Bottom line - I'm just too damn dull to live forever.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:28 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

Look! A Dead Horse! Get a Whip.

I'm tempted to submit a proposal to this "call for papers." Scare quotes intentional; perhaps the phrase "call for polemics" would have been a better fit?

Also, Hypocrisy would like to take a minute to address my readers:

"Um, hi everyone. Hypocrisy here. Look, I'm just gonna get straight to the point. I am TIRED of being the used as representative of the root of all evil, because I'm NOT. Yeah, yeah, I give a pass to hormone-addled goth wannabe teens who think that they're the First Person Evah to discover that sometimes (gasp) people behave differently from how they say they should. Because they're FOURTEEN, and HORMONE-ADDLED, and frankly, they grow out of it."

"Or, they used to, but not anymore. Look, here's the thing. Every single one of you knows me, up close and personal. So stop trying to use me to flog your political points of view, because there's no winning. Really. I promise. When I'm your only argument; well, your argument is weak, is all I'm saying."

"I mean, disdain for me is cool. We all want to be better than we are, and we should be bummed out when we turn out to suck. But by myself, I'm not the root of all evil. I'm really more of a poignant commentary on the fallen nature of humanity."

"Please try to keep that distinction in mind. Thanks."

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:41 AM | Comments (5)

October 04, 2005

Light Tuesday Reading

Sigh. As much as I like to mock the academic tendency to say simple things in as many words as possible, sometimes boiling it down to brass tacks just loses the funny.

Like in this article.

5 points and a smiley face to the pithiest summary. And "giant load of crap" or "the second coming of Chicken Little" don't count.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:56 PM | Comments (12)

October 03, 2005

Leadership, Bad Writing, and My Pounding, Throbbing Head

Unfortunately, this entry may not end up being as long as the title. Woe.

Finished the scholarship candidates' leadership essays last night. What stands out in my mind?

Well, good news! Four years of college really does make a difference in your writing ability. The scholarship I was grading for doesn't have an age limit, so I was reading stuff from freshmen to fifth year seniors. The seniors had greater clarity of thought and superior organization skills, as well as cleaner grammar. HA! So it is true--people can learn stuff. From time to time I find it necessary to remind myself of this fact.

I ended up awarding my highest grade to probably the oldest--or at least most mature--student. This candidate had a clear grasp of what he or she wanted, and argued convincingly about the ways being an RA fulfilled the role of leader in a diverse community. Since the student allowed that he or she was 22 when starting college, I am wondering if a military tour was involved. At any rate, it was a very well done piece.

I was also impressed with the couple of students who defined diversity to fit their unique circumstances. Not everyone can found a chapter of the NAACP on campus as one entrant did, which is part of the reason I hate these narrow one-size-fits-all topics.

Seems that administrators would want a little more diversity than that...

Oh and by the way, this month marks the completion of three years of blogging. It's almost like breathing now, except a more circumspect kind of breathing than formerly, because my Mom told me she reads my blog and complained that I cuss too much.

No, you never do truly escape being someone's kid. Damm--I mean DANGit.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 04:12 PM | Comments (4)

September 30, 2005


So I'm out of control busy right now with real life, part of which involves looking over essays that have been entered in a campuswide competition for a scholarship in leadership. They've been culled by our Student Affairs professionals into 15 finalists. The finalists were all required to write a 750-word essay, and the theme (I know you're going to be shocked) is diversity. Specifically the applicants must describe an experience where they demonstrated leadership that affected or increased inclusivity in the campus community. Let's just say my "buddy" M. OWES ME.

When I got the essays, I was joking around with Hublet saying, "Let me guess. We'll have The Gay Experience, The Black Experience, The Frat Experience, The Female Experience, The Latin Experience and The Republican Experience."

Just call me Cassandra, people. But it doesn't take a Kreskin to predict Student Affairs types.

Thus far I have soldiered through 4 of the 15 essays. Sure enough, the first one I picked out of the pile was The Gay Experience, which included more acronyms than the entire product catalog of IBM. It doesn't help that the acronyms are undefined, or that the main one--which I do understand, by the way--is unfortunately reminiscent of a really tasty sandwich. As I read I kept getting distracted by mental images of bacon.

The next one was a little weirder, because it was totally vague about what, exactly, the diversity challenge was, but I finally figured out that it could probably be subtitled "A White Chick Discovers Black People," although the chick in question never mentioned any overt differences in anything. Perhaps she is too afraid to type the words African-American or Black, lest she be labeled racist? Who knows? I sure as hell don't. Although I must commend her--not since Umberto Eco have I read anything that oblique, with strange veiled references to "enemies" and "divergent life experiences." The hell?

The next essay was The Frat Experience; specifically A White Frat Boy Discovers All Sorts of Brown People and is Amazed! Amazed! That They Can All Drink Beer Together!

And finally, I got to The Republican Experience, wherein one hapless soul who helped found a chapter of the ACLU on campus was actually surprised and bummed out when said chapter was co-opted by the more radical lefty student groups on campus. It seems he got involved mainly to counter the banning of an off-campus drunken bash that the city council had passed ordinances against. So he helped found them, served his term and left the chapter--not exactly a stellar leadership experience, if you ask me, but the most clearly written essay so far.

What I've noticed about these essays thus far is that we have a whole bunch of really earnest kids trying desperately to give me what they think I want to hear, and so we end up with 750 words worth of platitudes about diversity, and very little about the leadership capabilities of these students. Why? I think it's because most of these kids look for leadership roles because they genuinely want to help out and give back, and that ideas about "diversity and inclusivity" don't figure into that--helping is helping, right? So when they're asked to expound upon diversity, they twist and pad their experiences with pull quotes from Warm Fuzzy-ville, and completely obscure their own actions.

And so I soldier on, trying to (literally, in some cases) read between the lines to divine what sorts of leaders these students might be.

On the bright side, I've discovered I don't miss grading freshman comp essays anymore!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:50 PM | Comments (16)

September 26, 2005

Mondays with Hublet

Things here have been out of control for about a week, so I'm relying on my favorite guest columnist to fill in...So heeeeeeere's Hublet!

I serve on the Scholarship Committee at my school, and we have to interview certain candidates for certain scholarships throughout the year, and pick nominees/winners for some of these awards. Last week our task was to interview the candidates and nominate two students for the prestigious Morehead Scholarship, which gives a full ride to the University of North Carolina, a bloated-ego of an institution which, nonetheless, is a place most folks would be pleased to send their kids to (there’s my back-handed UNC compliment for the year).

Each committee member is charged with asking two questions pertaining to leadership, moral fiber, academic rigor, or physical vigor. We get some guidance on this, but basically have to come up with our own questions, and make sure no one else is asking them. Well, one committee member (the youngest, natch) decided she HAD to ask a current events question, and that question HAD to be the following: “If you were a governor or mayor, what would you do to protect poor people from being devastated by a disaster the way they were in New Orleans?”

My first thought was, “O.k., someone has an axe to grind, and has found the perfect venue for it: a scholarship interview session – NOT!” My second thought was, “Phrased that way, they will all answer the question the same way.” But I’ll admit my curiosity was tapped, and I wanted to see how the four candidates answered. Sure enough, and much to the aforementioned committee member’s chagrin, I think, they all offered platitudes about having an evac. plan, calling in assistance earlier, having transportation ready, etc. But after they left the room, she seemed disappointed with their answers for not being thoughtful enough, as if these 17 year-olds should have come in with flow charts and a circle graph entitled “The Governmental Way to Transcendental Security, Fairness, Justice, and Invincibility for the Poor During a Natural Disaster.”

The impish (perhaps evil) side of me would have loved, however, for one of the kids to answer with something like this:

“Nothing. I would let them drown and starve to death.”


“I would drive to the coast, stand on a pier, and command the approaching storm to turn back, saying, like Gandolf (or Leonidas?), ‘You shall not pass!’”

Either answer would have automatically gotten a kid my vote, just for originality.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:22 PM | Comments (6)

August 19, 2005

Paglia Friday

This is a long interview with Paglia about what's wrong with the arts today, but read it. It's well worth your time. Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

CP: ...I felt this was a cultural necessity to do something. I have done all those attacks on post-structuralism in Arion and junk-bond corporations and corporate raiders in the early ‘90s, now I want to go directly to the general readers and also to young people and also, as I say in the introduction, I am going to adjuncts and the people who are out there teaching and being condescended to by the theorists, who think they are doing important work. I’m still fighting [deconstructionalist philosopher Jacques] Derrida at this point. And also the embattled teachers who are always writing to me saying how they are silenced in their departments when they just want to do literature and art. There has been a tremendous flight from the grad schools of people who wanted to devote their lives to teaching literature and were driven out when they were forced to read post-structuralism. I got letters over the years. But, oh my God, I have been on the road only two weeks but people are coming to the signings and the Q&A;, how many people multiplied by hundreds and thousands have left the grad schools, our future teachers. Our future generations, people who are teaching our young people—all these drones that are teaching post-modernism—

RB: Match that up with the boom in writing programs.

CP: Creative writing programs?

RB: Yeah, who taught these people literature?

CP: The thing is there is an up- and downside to those things. On the one hand it’s producing a kind of antiseptic writing, a certain kind of polished professional writing, and on the other hand people who are interested in writing in this period of media and the web and so on, they find it very sustaining to go to a place to meet other people who are similarly interested in it. That’s the upside but the downside is that to be a good writer you can’t just study writing. You have to live, OK? That’s the problem. The best writers have drawn from actual experience, have had some experience. What experiences do people have any more?


CP: I’m on a crusade—it’s to say to the poets and the artists, “Stop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didn’t vote with you in the last election.” This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotyping—

RB: They started it.

CP: Wait a minute. The far right wouldn’t have any opinions about art if it weren’t for those big incidents in the late ‘80s to the ‘90s when some stupid work was committing sacrilege

RB: You’re referring to Andres Serrano?

CP: Yeah, some 10th-rate thing. It’s always Catholic iconography, I might point out. I am atheist, by the way. It’s never Jewish. It’s never Muslim. So I am saying this is a scandal. The art world has actually prided itself on getting a rise out of the people on the far right. Thinking, “We’re avant-garde.” The avante-garde is dead. It has been dead since Andy Warhol appropriated Campbell’s Soup labels and Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe into his art. The avante-garde is dead. Thirty years later, 40 years later, people will think they are avante-garde every time some nudnik has a thing about Madonna with elephant dung, “Oh yeah, we are getting a rise out of the Catholic League.”

UPDATE: Now with new, improved actual LINK to the story! Gah. Long week. Long, boring story.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:10 AM | Comments (36)

August 03, 2005

Wednesday Reading

When is a statement supporting academic freedom utterly meaningless? Why, when it comes from the American Association of University Professors, silly!

Trusting the folks who brought speech codes to campus with drafting a statement supporting academic freedom? Fox/Henhouse, anyone?

Read this little op/ed, and the comments following, for more info.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2005

The Best Thing Here is The Headline

And it does a very nice job of describing both the perpetrators and their most salient features:

Animal militants set fire to Oxford boathouse

Hee. I could go on a rant here about how domestic terrorism isn't really the best way to accomplish animal rights goals, but I think I'll settle for sending their headquarters a copy of 28 Days, wherein militant animal rights activists bring on a zombie attack.

Somehow, I doubt they'll get the message.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

If Stanley Fish and Noam Chomsky had a Love Child

It would be Geroge Lakoff, he of the great "framing" debate. I was curious as to what this was all about, so I read this article. And what I discovered is that framing is what those of us outside of academia like to call "spin." Of course, according to Lakoff it's all much more scientifical than that, having to do with with fact that long term repetition of a particular "frame" will reprogram the neural pathways of the listeners so that they accept the frame as fact. We in the marketing profession refer to that as "brand recognition," but I guess that one was already taken.

Reading the article, I am not sure which portion astonishes me more--the fact that "framing," or "spin," or "brand recognition" seems like such a brilliant new concept in Washington (Hellooooo! What was Clinton, chopped liver?), or the fact that everyone seems anxious to accept a theory that reduces people to tiny little machines that have to be properly "programmed" in order for them to "understand the message." From the article:

According to Lakoff, Democrats have been wrong to assume that people are rational actors who make their decisions based on facts; in reality, he says, cognitive science has proved that all of us are programmed to respond to the frames that have been embedded deep in our unconscious minds, and if the facts don't fit the frame, our brains simply reject them.

No, wait. The above paragraph DEFINITELY astonishes me more. And I'm fairly certain that my old speech and debate teacher would tear out her remaining hair if she read Lakoff.

And here I thought that ideas, facts and cogent argument persuaded people. Guess I'm guilty of thinking outside the frame.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:20 PM | Comments (5)

July 12, 2005

Oh, Dear.

A cautionary tale for all y'all wannabe academics slash bloggers out there via The Chronicle:


It's subscription only, so brace yourselves for the cutting and pasting. Seems that the delicate flowers of academic hiring committees are not mentally equipped to deal with the revelatory nature of blogs. Well, okay. It does make sense that if you're spending all your online time kvetching about your ovaries or picking fights with the blogatrice across the way that maybe you shouldn't consider your blog part of your academic output. Point taken. Also, if you're spending all your time fantasizing--in writing--about how you'll get your revenge on that ass of a department head or your own unique sexual predilections--well, could you blame a university for being a little bit cautious?

But once you get past the article's eight paragraphs of "humorous" observations such as:

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed that a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

You reach the crux of the matter:

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.

The "Oh dear! We might get blogged about! And people outside our influence might find out what we're really up to!" reaction. Imagine! New faculty might be autonomous! They might have--gasp--opinions! Or personal preferences! Or they might not be willing to shut up and go along like a good little peon! The horror! The nerve!

In other words, if you wanna be an academic, you'd better shut your mouth and get on the reservation, baby. No freedom of expression for you!

Unless you blog anonymously. And for the love of God, don't put your web address on your resume.

Via reader Kathy.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:48 AM | Comments (4)

July 06, 2005

Academic Strategy Tips for the Embattled Professor

a.k.a, When the long knives are out, it's best not to act like a smartass.

I wasn't sure whether to title this post "Ward Churchill Reveals Academic Inspiration: Madonna!" or possibly "Your 15 Minutes Were Over Six Months Ago" or even "Shameless Media Whore Milks One Trick Pony Live On Camera--Admission Fifty Cents," but I settled on the above because while I admit that I'm beyond tired of the one man freakshow that is Ward Churchill; like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, I can't look away. Perhaps Mr. Churchill would be so kind as to remove the eye clamps from our collective lids by acting like a rational human for, oh, five minutes? My fellow malchicks and I thank you.

But that would force Ward to give up the limelight. And as this article demonstrates, he's loath to do that. In fact, whenever the limelight is in danger of fading, Churchill does his damnedest to gin it up again, because while he's a crappy excuse for a scholar, he's at least savvy enough to know how to work the system (this ability pretty much explains his entire career, in fact). This time he's filing a complaint against himself, which is exactly the sort of thing those cocky counter-cultural kids did in 1969! Woo. Cue the cutting edge! Cue the revolution! Cue the self-absorbed baby boomer who hasn't quite come to grips with his total irrelevance! Seriously, dude. Grow up. You had a good run as a fake Indian, brave revolutionary, speaking truth to power charlatan in the academy--which incidentally is the only place on earth where you COULD have a run as a fake Indian, brave revolutionary cum con man. And now you're all set to translate that into a mediocre living gleaned from speaker's fees at anarchist dinner parties. But let's not pretend that what you're doing is intellectual, or original, or that the University of Colorado, in acting to save its reputation and its bottom line from the likes of you, is somehow persecuting its only authentic Cultural Critical Cassandra, or whateverthehell.

They're going to give you the boot, Ward. That's the way the academic cookie crumbles. And they're not going to suffer any consequences beyond a drop in enrollment from Anarchists R Us, because you'd better believe that the Board of Regents will have an army of lawyers on board every step of the way. You fought the law, and the law's gonna kick your ass all the way out of Boulder. You might not want to help them out by handing them the steel toed boots.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:34 AM | Comments (11)

June 30, 2005


Today we have an exclusive--an insight into the inner workings of academe as it pertains to handling unfortunately outspoken members of the professoriate. Yes, I have managed to get my hands on a series of memos from Colorado that discuss the latest wackiness from everyone's "favorite" "Native American" "professor," Ward Churchill. Read and be enlightened...


From: Interim Chancellor
To: Chair of Ethnic Studies

RE: Churchill's latest
The golden boy is at it again. Please advise regarding official reaction to this statement:
"...Conscientious objection removes a given piece of cannon fodder from the fray. Fragging an officer has a much more impactful effect." -


From: Chair of Ethnic Studies
To: Interim Chancellor

RE: Churchill's latest

While I agree that the word "impactful" is troubling, I'm not sure why you think the awkward use of an adjective in a sentence should necessitate an official response on our part.


From: IC

RE: Churchill's latest

You're kidding, right?


From: CES
To: IC


What? Was it the use of military slang? I think "fragging" is common enough in everyday vernacular so that most folks understand the meaning.


From: IC

RE: My exponentially increasing headache

May I remind you again that I'm not kidding? And ask you again if you are?


From: CES
To: IC

RE: Your need of medication

Per your somewhat oblique request, I have gone over the statement again and stand by my first assessment. The use of "fragging" and "impactful," while grammatically informal and structurally awkward, in no way obscure the meaning of professor Churchill's statement.

On a lighter note, looks like the stress of the new job is finally catching up with you! Perhaps a nice drink after work will help. Our department likes the local mexican joint--El Gringo Sucio--and tonight is 50 cent margarita night. Care to join?


From: IC


Has it occurred to you to ask WHY I am the interim chancellor? As in, why the previous one had to leave, and which department's ill-qualified, illogical spoutings contributed quite a bit to that situation? Are you all, as the Provost has intimated to me on numerous occasions, actually HIGH?


From: CES
To: IC

RE: Dude

Seriously, you need to chill. We're all just academics doing our thing to promote racial harmony and understanding. You are way uptight.


From: IC

RE: Dude

I hate you.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:22 AM | Comments (4)

June 29, 2005

Hublet's Book Review Corner

Hublet has recently finished reading Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, and since he is on a school break and his free time is plentiful, he has composed a brief review. Sort of. So without further ado, here's Hublet's take on Charlotte.

Since (a) I have time on my hands on this rainy day, (b) BAW’s blog is (ostensibly – wink, wink) about the academic world, and (c) I just finished I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe, which is set on university grounds, I thought I would offer up a 10-point assessment for thought. If you haven’t read it, I don’t think I give away much, but the main themes, I should point out, are identity, sexual predation, the death of “the life of the mind” on campus, biological predetermination vs. free will, pc gone wild, and the curious (and corrupt) college sports “industry”:

1) I do have some criticisms (see below), but I cannot figure how the novel was so often panned, unless there were hidden critical motivations. It consumed me for two weeks (I’m slow), it made me laugh out loud, it made me a nervous wreck at one point, the writing is fluid, and it is lavishly detailed; none of these necessarily make it an all-time classic, but certainly these are signs of a good novel.

2) Much of the criticism seems to run along these lines: “No one who is so smart (Charlotte Simmons) could be so naïve,” and “Big deal. Tom Wolfe has discovered what everyone already knew about university life.” I think this is bunk; it is perfectly plausible for a girl from rural NC to be overwhelmed by the reality of such a life. I experienced it in small doses myself, and I’m not even from a very rural part of NC. And while many of the rural kids I teach are already too familiar with vice, there are pockets of them who are very much like Charlotte, and who I could see having a very hard time with the atmosphere Wolfe depicts. When rumor turns to reality, there can often be a much bigger shock than imagination prepares you for. Charlotte has some vague notions of these things, but really seeing them changes everything. Hey, I spent many a year on campus, and even with my own experiences in tow I felt overwhelmed by the book.

Now, a lot of kids like Charlotte are already (by necessity) independent-minded enough to not let themselves be taken in by sexual predatorship, drug use, etc., but they will still be shocked. Having already been toughened a little by ostracism in high school, maybe Charlotte should have a thicker skin, so Wolfe walks a fine line. But even among kids like her (and she is attractive, we are told), it is certainly plausible (if not probable) that some will not be able to hold the peer pressure off. The thought deeply saddens me, and also makes me want to thrash the next frat boy I see (yeah, that’s a little unfair).

3) I wish Tom Wolfe would speak more on what he actually thinks about the new neuroscience and neurobiology (maybe he has?), especially the paradigm many in these fields are guiding themselves by: we are not in control of anything, consciousness and free will are illusions, our genes predetermine everything. The novel is very ambiguous, which was an artistic choice. But I still want to know what the man himself thinks. In public, he seems to just want to define what the paradigm is.

4) The long seduction sequence, about 2/3 through the novel, was PAINFUL. I never skip or skim when I read, but I admit to doing so this time, and not b/c the writing was bad. I just couldn’t take it; I was literally groaning and grimacing, and my heart was working overtime, even though I knew what was coming. I had to call the lovely BAW at work and vent after this section. And the first couple of aftermath chapters were almost as bad. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so emotionally wrenched during an act of reading.

5) Having said that, I don’t think the pain had to go on so long, and one of my criticisms is that parts of the novel get bogged when they should move more swiftly. Both this section, and Charlotte’s visit home would have been better if compressed. Sometimes the detail accumulation is too much. I think the novel on the whole would have been just as good if it had come in 50-70 pages under (still would have left 600 pages! – and yes, I should have probably compressed this post, too).

6) It would be hard to find less sexy sex-scenes than Wolfe depicts, and that was purposeful, and well done. Sex pervades almost every page of the book, and yet nothing could turn you off more.

7) I would love to know what a word count on the “f-word” would turn up. Maybe 2,000-3,000? More?

8) No to wade too far into the Wolfe vs. Updike/Irving War, but why aren’t there more novels like this, that immerse us in sections of American life? Shouldn’t there be?

9) I’ve always been a huge college basketball/football fan, but I have to admit that my enthusiasms are dampened. If even a portion of the athletic shenanigans that go on in the novel are true, it is very hard to defend being a fan, much less a real booster. Again, there is the whole “rumor vs. seeing reality” shock thing – you know this stuff happens, but when it’s in your face the impact is greater. My favorite character, though, is the b-ball player JoJo.

10) I love the way he handles university/pc issues. He does not deliver a polemic, he humanizes everyone (while still making them hilariously outrageous), but he lets hypocrisy speak for itself.

I put BAW in a cobra-deathlock hold until she promised to read the novel after her precious Harry Potter, so I’m sure she will soon have her own thoughts to share.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:07 PM | Comments (2)

June 22, 2005

We're English Majors, not the Second Coming

Oh, dear. Just when you think it's safe to admit to people you have an english degree, another professor comes out with a piece calculated to reinforce every negative stereotype of the discipline (The Chronicle link has links to the full text on the prof's website). On behalf of my discipline, I would like to say that english professors who feel compelled to portray english majors as somehow brave or noble because they don't go for the "money disciplines" tend to be those professors who haven't entirely come to terms with the fact that the english major is not the same as the physics major. They aren't at all the same, and the fact that society privileges folks who are working on actual physical "things" that can help mankind over the folks who stand back ironically observing mankind and then writing the observations down is not a negative thing. It's a practical thing. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, just like there's nothing wrong with opting for being the writer over the scientist. Unless of course opting for writing makes you feel inferior to the scientist, in which case the problem is you, not Shakespeare or Yeats or eeevillle post-911 society holding you, like, down with their, like, bourgeois expectations, dude.

English majors are not "continuously questioning outsiders." They're people who like books--reading them, discussing them and writing them. They tend to be good at reading and understanding, which makes them eminently trainable in any number of unrelated disciplines. My english degree made me a pretty good webmaster, because I knew how to communicate visually and was able to use my reading and learning skills to do things like learn programming. The only "continuously questioning outsiders" I encountered in the discipline were the ones who were desperate to become academic insiders by continuously questioning only those subjects approved by their faculty mentors. The rest of us got the degrees and got jobs. Total bourgeois sellout, I know. And I'm happy about it, damn the luck!

English majors also aren't going to save the world by going around and digging through the muck of human stupidity looking for definitive evil and being surprised that it isn't out there and then patting themselves on the back about their sophisticated "nuance" which has no doubt been brought about by their years of "questioning." Jesus.

Look. I'm an english major. I don't suffer from "existential dread." I have a decent job but will never be rich. Of course, that wasn't ever my expectation. I also didn't expect society at large to bow down before my large, egg-shaped head and obscure Beowulf knowledge because I felt they somehow imparted to me a greater mental clarity than that attained by lesser souls in the sciences or, God forbid, the great unwashed. We english majors have a word for that attitude: insufferable. See also: stupid, ego-centric, and Berkeley.

UPDATE - Jeff pointed out the Chronicle link was subscriber only. I've changed it to a direct link both in the first paragraph and here.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:40 AM | Comments (10)

June 21, 2005

Magnum Farce

If Dirty Harry worked at DePaul University, he probably would have had the following advice for unfortunate adjunct professor Klocek:

"Do ya have tenure, punk? Well, do ya?"

The unspoken portion of the warning being, "if you don't, keep it shut." Now we all know that this is patently obvious advice while in the classroom or in faculty meetings, but who knew that it also applied to after-hours interactions? Professor Klocek didn't. Fortuntately for him, neither does FIRE.

I think we'll be seeing a lot more of this as universities are forced to deal with the tension that they created by simultaneously privileging speech codes and free speech. If you're going to take the stance that you're all about academic freedom and exposing people to different points of view, then you can't go around suspending your adjuncts because some delicate flower had his or her freedom "demeaned" at an event outside of the classroom. As was pointed out in the comments at Erin's blog, your guess is as good as mine regarding how exactly freedom gets demeaned when someone provides an opposing point of view. Your guess is also welcome as to how someone who describes freedom as "demeanable" got a position as a dean.

Which begs several questions, but the most salient to me is this: would Klocek have been suspended if he'd had tenure? Since I am a very cynical person and Klocek was making an argument contra a pro-palestinian position, I would have to hazard a "yes" guess.

Tenure is only half the protection it used to be. The other half consists of negotiating that weird tightrope between freedom and offense. I'm hoping the tightrope gets removed completely--a university culture based on being inoffensive doesn't offer much to anyone in the way of freedom.

And if you're an adjunct--well, you're pretty much screwed whatever you do.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:36 PM | Comments (3)

May 25, 2005

Fiddling While Rome Burns

The Boy has one more year of daycare before he traipses off to Kindergarten. As his birthday is at the end of August, I've had more than one furrowed-browed mom express concerns about whether I should "hold him back so he'll be ready for Kindergarten." This makes me wonder about a number of things, but mainly it makes me wonder why the hell a Kindergartener has to be six years old nowadays to do a five year old's work. Kind of defeats the purpose of having Kindergarten, doesn't it?

FYI, The Boy will start Kindergarten as a young 'un. If he can't hack it, he'll just redo Kindergarten--either way he'll get more intellectual stimulation than he would in a standard preschool/daycare environment, and have a year of "practice" under his belt.

But here's the thing--when you start paying attention to all the education hoopla, and believe me, there's no shortage of the hoopla, you are left with the impression that no one, either inside or outside of the American Educational Monolith, has even the foggiest notion of what the hell is going on. Instead, you have a whole bunch of people with competing agendas vying for air time. And this teaches my kid to read how, exactly?

My mom taught high school for thirty years and the accepted knowledge was that the folks in central administration--you know, the people deciding what textbooks to buy and developing curricula--were the folks who were too incompetent to actually teach. Unfortunately, when I come across articles like this one, I suspect that my mother is correct.

Don't just read the article, though, because that's not even really the point. Read the comments BELOW the article. Again, I am curious as to how Karl Rove, Iraq, Al Franken, and/or the outcome of the 2000 presidential election are responsible for the use or non-use of phonics in kindergarten. And yet, those seem to be the preferred topics when ostensibly discussing how our teachers get trained to teach.

I want teachers with knowledge of their subject matter and enough street smarts and conflict management training to be able to keep control of their classrooms. It's sweet that people are focused on "social justice" but the reality is that training in high-flown concepts goes straight out the freaking window when you've got a classroom full of people with no respect for you, much less some abstract idea of how the world "should work."

Homeschooling just gets more damn attractive with each passing year.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:00 AM | Comments (14)

May 20, 2005

Hard Question

For any of you out there in science land. This whole cloning thing is so rife with polite euphemisms in the press (wouldn't want to panic the little people, now, would we) that I cannot exactly figure out what the hell is going on. My inner nutbar conspiracy theorist jumps up and down at that, shrieking "Of course! THEY want your ignorance!" and I am tired of beating him into submission with a tire iron. SO...

Can anyone explain exactly HOW we get from "female egg" and "skin cells" to "blastocyst" which, if I recall my college biology correctly is an early stage human being, simply by "stimulation?"

The article I read in the WSJ made it sound as though adding material from the skin cells to the egg and then magically stimulating it had the same effect as fertilizing the egg with a sperm. What the hell? That can't be right! Unless "stimulating" is some weird euphemism for "fertilizing." In which case I want to euphemize me some dumbass reporters.

Seriously. I don't get that at all. Are the eggs pre-fertilized, as in, are they frozen embryos? That would make more sense, but that isn't what the article stated.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:43 PM | Comments (10)

May 18, 2005

And in Academic Matters

Here's some good commentary from
Erin on a good Chronicle article (subscription required, sorry).

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2005

Don't Make Me Come Over There

With my English major hammer and get busy. Seriously. As an English major--with all the elitist word snobbery that implies--I have always felt that people who demand we change the language for purely political reasons are, to put it politely, pissing into the wind. Changing "women" to "womyn," for example, does not eradicate centuries of misogyny, nor does it empower the female of the species in any way. I promise. It does, however, mark its users as self-absorbed idiots who really think that spelling, not getting off their asses, is the key to "making a difference."

And now there's apparently an "outcry" (if by outcry you mean one person writing about a controversy that no one outside of Oregon has ever even heard of) concerning the use--or lack thereof--of ze/hir, the magical non gender-specific pronouns. According to the author, a linguistics major (don't get me started on the inter-disciplinary tensions between English and Linguistics majors), there's no other way to refer to a transgendered or otherwise not easily identified by "traditional gender norms" person without resorting to words that resemble a writer's attempts to represent a bad French accent in prose.

Umm, how about using the person's name? Or title? Or another descriptive phrase, such as "the writer," "the student," or "the crazy person who lives in a box?"

But no. We must use ze/hir because to NOT use it means we are FASCISTS! MEAN EVIL LANGUAGE FASCISTS BEING ALL FASCISTY ABOUT PRONOUNS!

Money quote:

Fights about pronouns are nothing new. Most, if not all, English speakers use "they" as a third person singular gender neutral pronoun, even though grammarians attempting to reinforce class hierarchies through language have tried for hundreds of years to convince us that this is impossible.

DAMN THEM! DAMN THEM ALL!!!!! Oh, wait. Did I use "them" properly in that sentence? And by "properly," I mean "did I correctly reinforce class hierarchies via a PRONOUN?!?!?"

Your tax dollars at work, people. And by "people," I mean everyone. Yeah, that's so egalitarian and populist of me, I know. See? I can fight the power, and I don't have to make up words to do it!

Link via Joanne Jacobs.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:13 AM | Comments (8)

May 06, 2005

Class. It's not just a location on campus

See, here's the thing. If you want to be taken seriously as someone who's (pick one) fighting the power, standing up for the little guy, or even presenting an alternate viewpoint, it might help if your major talking points didn't come from the Wonkette "how to work references to teh buttsex into everyday conversation" manual.

If, however, you're an immature ass who sincerely believes that only people who think exactly like you do are capable of "nuanced thinking" or goodness, and that everyone else must be stopped by any means necessary, then go ahead and disrupt a campus speaker by shrieking about anal sex. You won't change any minds, you won't win any reasonable middle-of-the-roaders over to your side, but maybe in ten years YOU can be a controversial campus speaker who is shouted down by vulgarity-spewing, immature idiots.

It's like the Circle of Life for knee-jerk, reactive idiots, and it's a beautiful thing.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:55 AM | Comments (9)

April 15, 2005

Fight Spam with Academic Gibberish!

This article is everywhere today--the MIT hoax paper that was accepted to a scholarly conference despite being nothing but computer-generated gibberish.

The best part, though, is the students' explanations for why they did what they did:

Stribling said the trio targeted WMSCI because it is notorious within the field of computer science for sending copious e-mails that solicit admissions to the conference.

"We were tired of the spam," Stribling told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that his team wanted to challenge the standards of the conference's peer review process.

I'm sure there's an English paper in here somewhere about the subjective reality of meaning, sliding signifiers, post-modern parody/pastiche, and Bakhtin's carnivalesque. This fact does not give me any comfort, however, nor does my continued ability to come up with such paper topics on the fly.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:40 AM | Comments (3)

April 06, 2005

Do Your Own Research, Fatboy!

Or, more from the "Death to Plagiarists" files, via The Cranky Professor...

I'd heard about this site before, which sets out specifically to tweak students too lazy to read Tolkein. Ahh, Pipsqueak. We hardly knew ye! And who could forget the army of tarantulas from Mordor who fought so bravely for Frodo and Sam? Hee!

I'm thinking it might be fun to do some "plot summaries" to help out our beleaguered (read: lazy) students. Here's my contribution:

Beowulf, by Anonymous

Beowulf is the epic Viking poem about a warrior, Beowulf, who sets out to help the Danes--a tribe of warlike Vikings who are being harrassed by an evil monster named Grendel.

The King of the Greats, Hygelac, sends Beowulf to kill Grendel so that Hygelac can marry the King of the Danes' daughter. Beowulf and his army arrive in Daneland and have a big feast during which the King of the Danes, Hagar the lord of the rings, promises everyone magic rings if they kill the beast. Unfortunately, everyone over-indulges in mead and passes out in the hall, allowing Grendel to come in.

A huge fight ensues, with everyone being killed except Beowulf, who chases Grendel all the way to his home at the bottom of a lake. There Beowulf encounters Grendel's mom, who is so angry at her son's inability to kill Beowulf that she rips off Grendel's arm and tries to beat Beowulf to death with it. Beowulf cuts off her head and takes it back to Hagar's palace to prove that the monsters are dead. The greatful Danes make Beowulf their new king.

Things are happy for a while until one day a dragon comes into the kingdom and steals all the gold. Beowulf, who is now about eighty years old, goes out to fight the dragon and is killed, leaving the kingdom to his son Wigwam. Wigwam defeats the dragon by using the magic ring that Hagar had given his father, and then gives his father a proper Viking burial by setting him on fire on a boat.

Beowulf is remembered as the most popular story from the Viking oral tradition. Families passed the story down over the generations to instruct their children in how to fight and live bravely.

The End

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:49 AM | Comments (6)

April 05, 2005

Speaking in Tongues

Got this article sent to me by a fellow over at the Chronicle, on legislation aimed at making sure that the foreign TAs and professors who teach in America can, you know, speak English.

Frankly, I'm torn. I've spoken with scientists here who hail from Italy, India, Pakistan and China, and I'll admit that understanding the concepts they're articulating--concepts that I have to really pay attention to understand, as they tend to be high level hard sciences stuff--is made more difficult when I have to concentrate not only on what they're saying, but how it's being said. I can imagine that a student in a "weeder" course would have the same problem.

But the article also implies that physical perception of a teacher as "foreign" also plays a role in understanding, and my personal experience would seem to back that up. One of my dear friends and fellow TAs in grad school originally hailed from Puerto Rico. Her english, however, was excellent--she had the barest trace of an accent--Rosie Perez sounds more "ethnic" than she did. However, my friend had a horrible time as a TA--students didn't repect her, and complained bitterly in the end-of-term evaluations that she "couldn't speak english." This wasn't true! Hell, most of her students had regional accents that were harder to understand than hers was. I've often wondered if the lack of respect stemmed from the perception of her as a foreigner.

And for what it's worth, regional accents are sometimes just as confusing. I had a history prof in undergrad, an elderly southern gentleman who insisted on addressing his students as Miss and Mister, and whose drawl was quite pronounced. I spent a full 3 class periods taking notes on the Great War for Empah, without knowing where the hell this "Empah" was. My friends were in a similar situation, and we were trying to figure out how to spell Empah correctly when Dr. Lester finally wrote the topic he was speaking about on the board:

The Great War for Empire.

And I'm a southerner!

It appears that the original legislation has been watered down somewhat. I understand the "paying customer" argument, but I'm also down with the "getting the best folks for the job and dealing with the accents" folks. It's called middle ground, people. And it's out there, I promise.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:22 PM | Comments (17)

April 04, 2005


Student elections are upcoming, and for once it looks to be an interesting fight. Enter the dark horse candidate--the Pirate Captain!

And be sure to read his platform, err, plank.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)

April 01, 2005

Not A Joke

I'm with Andrea in the "hating with flaming bitter hate the passive agressive stupidity that passes for April Fools 'tomfoolery and japery'" camp. And it's not because I have no sense of humor--for example, I found Kill Bill 2 hilarious. So there. It's just that April Fools jokes are...lame. The way whoopee cushions and hand buzzers and Soupy Sales getting hit with a creme pie are lame.

But I digress.

Here's a link to the (by now probably well-known by everyone) story of a fellow who engaged in a bit of vigilante anti-plagiarism justice. What he did--while vaguely amusing in a mean-spirited way--isn't as interesting as the reactions in his comments. The plagiarising rip-off artist got what she deserved, though I doubt she learned anything beyond "be more careful next time I try to con someone."

But then other plagiarists (most probably, judging from their comments) and indignant anti-plagiarizing academics get involved in the comments. Hoo boy! Wank city!

Thrill to the accusations of meanness!

Yawn as the Dana Scullys of Anti-Hoaxdom appear!

Gasp as the karmic wheel is invoked over and over again in a--dare I say it--endless cycle of pseudo-clever circular argumentation!

Roll your eyes at the cries of "classist/racist/misogynist!"

Give a hearty WTF at comparisons of the blog author's actions to Abu Ghraib!

Give another hearty WTF at exhortations to kill the plagiarist, who is obviously the anti-Christ!

The entries start here, and then continue. Be sure not to miss the final entry. And bring a six-pack and popcorn. This thing is Looooong!

Via the Cranky Professor and reader Naomi.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:22 AM | Comments (5)

March 29, 2005

In Other News

College Campuses Succumb to Attack of Agnostic Alan Aldas!

The fact that campus faculties are full of liberal men who tend not to go to church shouldn't surprise anyone. This is no longer news, I promise. Once upon a time I thought that left-leaning politics were more part and parcel of the humanities faculty, but my new job has disabused me of that notion. When you have folks asking you about the politics of a media personality before agreeing to free, non-confrontational publicity, and telling you that conservatives need not apply--well, to say it's stupid is both patently obvious and a waste of time. And it assumes that I have Kreskin-like abilities of political persuasion prediction: Ahhh, I can see by the amount of hairspray that you're wearing that you're a COMMUNIST!!!! Puh-leeze.

The most annoying aspect of all of this, however, is the underlying assumption on the part of people who should know better that no one is capable of doing a job that isn't politically biased; you know, that people can't exist apart from politics.

Sigh. Brace yourselves for the predictable "The reason there aren't more (fill in the blank with underrepresented political persuasion here) on campus is because they're Big Dummy Stupid Poopy Heads and We Hates Them, Precious!" soundbites from predictably ponderous blowhards.

Ah, academia. Where it's only surprising when the level of political discourse rises ABOVE the level of Fark flame war.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:57 PM | Comments (2)

March 24, 2005

Homeschooling just looks better and better

This article is hilarious, in that "holy cow!" kind of way. Best quote:

The fact that the scheme progressed as far as it did indicates "inadequate" safeguards against fraud in the city's certification process, said Schools Investigator Richard Condon.

Ya think?

It brings to mind my favorite public school horror story. Senior year I had a "free period" or extra elective, because I had already fulfilled all my course requirements. So some friends and I decided to take typing, because hey! It filled the time, didn't require homework, and had the slackest teacher at the school.

I realized WHY the teacher was so slack about 15 minutes into the first class--she was drunk. REALLY drunk. Now this was my sixth period class, so she'd had all day to get sauced, but still. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and I was stuck in a classroom with a wobbling, blearily smiling woman who reeked of whiskey and kept making excuses to sip from her thermos of "coffee." Toward the end of the semester she got rid of the thermos and just strolled around the classroom with a mug of the palest brown "coffee" I'd ever seen. It was like being in a National Lampoon version of high school, except the joke was on us.

Needless to say, no one did any work and we all thought we were really pulling one over on "the man" (our principal) by not saying anything. Our high school's principal was perhaps the biggest jerk ever in the history of high schools, primarily because he seemed determined to use his position to make sure that no one was ever allowed to be anything other than average, ever (think Syndrome from The Incredibles, but with worse hair). There were no superlatives allowed in our yearbooks, no homecoming queen or king, no prom king or queen, and God forbid you were in the AP courses--he really seemed to hate smart kids. I guess being principal was his revenge for all the wedgies he got when he was in school. To this day mentioning his name makes my mom's (a teacher herself, but not at his school) head explode with rage.

But back to the typing teacher. She was drunk every. single. day. I wonder how she made it home. Oddly enough, no one in any of her classes (not just ours) reported her--I don't know if that says more about the fact that 17-year olds are oblivious, unaware of real world consequences for that sort of behavior, or just suffering from really low expectations concerning their education.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:56 AM | Comments (11)

March 23, 2005

Big Arm Woman's Helpful Meeting Tips

Part One in a Series:

If you must preface your comments with disclaimers such as "Please don't think I'm being an asshole for mentioning this," odds are you shouldn't be mentioning this.

Addendum - If you're the head honcho in charge and you feel compelled to use such disclaimers in a large meeting, the above rule still applies. In fact, the above rule becomes even more important.

This public service message has been brought to you by Big Arm Woman.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:52 PM | Comments (3)

March 07, 2005

Colorado Monday

Yesterday, Hublet and I had to keep "extended session," which translates thus:

Babysit 14 three year olds for an hour to an hour and a half while their parents go to church.

I must say that three year olds? About a MILLION times better than two year olds. Still, after 30 minutes of hoisting and pushing two toddlers at a time on the swings, I can no longer lift my arms above my head.

So, here's a nod to academic news as viewed through fad's filter. Be sure to read the referenced entry, which explains why that particular description was given to the female in question.

I shall be sure to refer to all my female friends as "stand-up cunts" in the future, because frankly? That makes me giggle. A lot.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:49 PM | Comments (6)

February 04, 2005

Churchill's Last Stand

Okay, so he's a fake Indian. Real Indians are justifiably pissed off. Holy cow.

You know, the more time I spend with scientist types who are actually producing research that affects the way we live, the less proud I am of my humanities degree. Seriously folks, what are English departments producing nowadays? Other than reams of ponderous, self-absobed post-modern angst-o-grams that appear in the New Yorker's fiction section, or incomprehensible babblings about the incomprehensible babblings of some French guy who enjoyed fisting? Maybe the constant complaints about the politicization of academia are the natural result of decades spent segregating and hair-splitting and condemning a body of literature until the beauty of the canon is buried under a pile of "issues." Well, when there is a "canon." We're too busy arguing about the validity of privileging one special interest group over another to even agree on what that is anymore. I'm not feeling the fluffy lit-crit love, people. Seriously.

I apologize in advance for the comment wonkiness. I suppose I need to just bite the freaking bullet and upgrade to the latest version of MT and TypeKey comments. As I have no idea when this will happen, you'll just have to send your flaming flame-o-grams to my email, which I really suck at answering.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2005

Churchill Update

Because I'm sure you just can't get enough of this story, the latest on the Churchill imbroglio (I love using "imbroglio" in a sentence, hackneyed as it is. It is second only to "boondoggle" in my lexicon of "words I love but that have been beaten to death by journalists, damn them all").

While still a professor, he has stepped down from his position as department chair. Official college statement here.

NY Times article here. Predictable statements from predictable sources saying predictable things.

Frankly, the entire trajectory of this story has been predictable, except for the resignation as chair thing. If I had been laying odds, I would have put money on Colorado using the "academic freedom" argument to keep him in his post. Most likely some nervous admins figured the best way to deflect the heat was to bump him from chair and keep him on staff--demonstrating their committment to both "academic freedom" and "common decency."

But then, I'm cynical that way.

And just a note to academics looking to "shake things up" on campus by inviting "controversial" speakers: do your research. And here's a good rule of thumb: even though it's 2005, it's still not cool to compare dead innocents to dead Nazis.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:26 AM | Comments (6)

January 28, 2005

Irony and Hypocrisy on Lines One and Two

So, imagine that a cadre of paramilitary types stormed a university and systematically executed all of the professors it found there.

Then imagine that a couple of years later a business forum hosted a speaker--a Fortune 500 CEO, for instance--who had this take on the whole thing:

"Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed an intellectual corps at the very heart of America's youthful indoctrination program--the 'mighty engine of brainwashing' to which the intellectual sector of the U.S. has always been enslaved--and they did so both willingly and knowingly. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the ivory towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it."

I imagine folks like Ward Churchill would be up in arms about the fascists! Evil fascists! Who should never, ever be allowed to say such things in public! Offensive fascists that they are!

So I wonder how anyone can consider himself an intellectual or even intellectually aware when he can say crap like this without blinking an eyelash:

"The [Pentagon] and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center: Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire--the 'mighty engine of profit' to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved--and they did so both willingly and knowingly. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it."

But then, Ward is "sticking it to the Man," so I guess that makes it okay. After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, right?

And one man's intellectual is another man's mouth-breathing, sanctimonious, thoughtless asshole.

I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to determine exactly which one I think Mr. Churchill is.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 04:14 PM | Comments (15)

Something Academically Related

Yes, content has been sparse lately, which is ironic considering that I spend all of my time discussing research projects with professors on campus. Ah well...

So, over at The Chronicle, there's a colloquy transcript worth reading, dealing with FIRE and its role in bringing suit against universities that bar Christian student groups for being "discriminatory."

Especially interesting is the explanantion of the 1st vs the 14th amendment line of argument.

Read and be edified. And if you want a laugh, pop over to the post-Summers forum on wimmen in science.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:56 PM | Comments (3)

January 21, 2005

Don't Cry for me, Steven Bochco

After reading your statement that you believe a show like NYPD Blue would no longer be greenlighted, I have only this to say:

If a crazed FCC means that we are spared Dennis Franz' naked ass in all its glory, well, I for one welcome our power-mad censorious overlords. My retinas have no love for flabby male butt-cheeks, particularly when male viewers are not expected to endure similar flaws on the part of the females filmed au natural.

Besides, in a couple of years you'll get some wacked-out, gritty, "street" version of Oh! Calcutta! greenlighted, and then you'll once again be able to tout your "bold, transgressive, adult-themed drama making genius."

I'll be resting my retinas in preparation.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

Choose Your Own Adventure - Academic Version

You are a disgruntled scientist, pissed off because your department was denied the funding to hire a replacement for a retiree. One day, a series of unfortunate events occur that place your particular department in the spotlight as your expertise lies in the area of the unfortunate event. The media come calling, looking for answers and angles and TV talking heads. What do you do?

A) Whine that it's not really your area of expertise, complain that the staff member who would be perfect for the segment retired and that you don't have a replacement, being sure to lambaste the powers that be for acting like cheapskates, and refer the media to the competing university down the road.

B) Smile for the cameras, answer the questions (which you actually do have knowledge of) and gain a high media profile for your department, which you may later leverage into a request for replacement staff.

I know which one I'd choose. And I know which one actually got chosen. Ah, academic ego. No better weapon has yet been created for shooting oneself in the foot.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:42 AM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2004


So last night I'm sipping Irish coffee and watching Dawn of the Dead, when Hublet returns from his movie night with a pal (he saw The Aviator and recommends it, btw). As he paused in the den to stare at the onscreen carnage, he remarked, "So what is up with all the zombie movies, anyway?"

"Oh, I don't know," I said, "you could probably do some sociological study about the hidden fin de siecle fears of the late post-industrial 20th century American society and the zombie's embodiment of those fears as regards imminent societal collapse, or something."

I was half kidding. And feeling pretty mellow, what with the Irish coffee.

I suppose the mellowness explains why I totally overlooked the Marxist aspects of the genre. Gotta love the internet. And zombies.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:03 AM | Comments (4)

December 29, 2004

Oh, Stop It.

Why is it that whenever a "public intellectual" dies, we must be subjected to overwrought hand-wringing crap like this:

"One of the things so sad about her death is she represents something that I'm afraid that's passing," said fellow author Francine Prose. "I don't think that many people these days say, `Oh, I want to be an intellectual when I grow up.'"

Right. The barbarians are at the gates, Francine! The last champion of terrorists as "courageous" has perished, and no one's lining up to take her place. It's the death of culture! The death of intellect! The death of D33P Thoughts! OMGWTFBBQ!

Maybe it's just the death of an execrable set of ideas by a person who was so enamored of her own intellect that she became immune to such "abstruse concepts" as morality. And maybe no one's trying to take her place because they've figured out that "intellectual" isn't necessarily a noble title anymore.

But I have faith that the void left by Ms. Sontag will soon be filled to overflowing. Guess I'm just a cock-eyed optimist.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:45 AM | Comments (8)

December 13, 2004

Lame Excuses

Back in the day, when I was but a lowly TA riding herd on my clueless Freshmen, I encountered some clumsy attempts at plagiarism. When the students were caught, because they believed for some strange reason that TAs would never, EVER compare notes, they came up with predictable, lame excuses, like:

"...I'm not saying the ends justify the means, but maybe it's a shortcut, using someone else's words."


"Maybe it sounded good."

Or, if they were particularly brazen, they would proclaim their innocence or say that they were "confused" or the "forgot" to cite their sources.

Mm-hmm. It didn't fly with me then, and it's particularly galling now when the plagiarists are professors, not students. The quotes above are from a Chronicle article (kindly sent to me by David) dealing with the issue of un- or under-reported academic plagiarism. Read the whole thing.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect is the reluctance of academia to reveal (and revile) the plagiarists. "You could ruin careers!" runs the lament. But didn't these folks sow the seeds of their own demise? We're not talking about a paragraph or two, here.

It's called accountablilty. And it seems as though in an age where academics (particularly in the humanities) are being increasingly marginalized and dismissed, they'd want to take action to regain their credibility.

But maybe they're just "confused" about what credibility is.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:37 PM | Comments (6)

November 30, 2004

Just Being Difficult? How About Just Being Anne Rice?

So the academic side of blogovia is all a-twitter about the new book Just Being Difficult, written as a fairly belated response to a Bad Writing Contest which mocked, well, some bad writing on the part of academics.

Everyone--duck! That whooshing sound you just heard was academia missing the point. Again.

So Erin O'Connor links to a Bauerlein review of the book, and both of them make some good points about Just Being Difficult's failure to address the underlying critique of academic writing that was implicit in the Bad Writing Contest from the beginning, and then various commenters weigh in defending the prose of theory-heads, or mocking it, or whatever. Blah-blah-blah navel-gazing cakes.

That's great. I'm here to submit a much more humble thesis for the existence of silly prose in the theory-laden humanities: the Anne Rice syndrome.

Anne Rice is (in)famous in fannish circles for her lofty pronouncements concerning her disdain for the editorial process. She disdains editors entirely, in fact, which, if you've read anything she wrote post-Queen of the Damned, is glaringly apparent. It is also glaringly apparent that Ms. Rice not only would benefit from an editor, but that she needs an editor who will lock her in a basement until such time as she learns that "more" doesn't always equal "better" in terms of descriptive prose. But I digress.

It seems that Anne Rice syndrome has taken hold of the humanities with a vengeance. This is not to say that editors don't exist--throw a rock toward any humanities gathering and you'll hit two or three of them--but that since the advent of the Theory Star editor-types are perhaps a bit more reluctant to curb the prolific prosody of these folks than they would have been previously. And it probably doesn't help matters that these editors have spent their academic careers reading (and writing) in the same style. I humbly submit that many of them may no longer recognize turgid, overblown, practically nonsensical prose as such.

And no, I'm not saying that as a luddite who has "never approached anything difficult," or who "doesn't understand that difficult subject matter must be addressed in similar language, making it therefore difficult"--I'm not looking for See Spot Deconstruct or its ilk. I've waded through the theorists and understood their concepts, often in SPITE of their prose stylings, not because of them.

What I'm saying is that theorists are human, and therefore just as subject to human failings as, say, a newly-minted movie star. When you're surrounded by people who tell you you're fabulous, that your thoughts are as manna from heaven, that you're "provocative, avant-garde, challenging, et al," you cannot be entirely blamed for believing it. And neither can other people, who will ape your style, or be a bit too in awe of you to curb it. And so a vicious cycle begins, which culminates in mocking and haughty self-defense. Just check out Anne Rice's homepage or do a search for her on Fandom Wank for the proof.

So what to do? Well, I'd suggest Remedial Writing 101, except that nowadays it's taught by the same Theory Star Wannabes who clutter the humanities with dense--not challenging, just densely structured--prose.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:56 AM | Comments (4)

November 23, 2004

FIRE Update

So, you'd think that an academic bill of rights that featured the following language:

"...sections stating that faculty members should not be hired, fired, or denied promotion or tenure because of their political, religious, or social beliefs; urging that students be included on tenure committees; and specifying that grades should not be based on students’ political beliefs."

would be widely embraced by our diversity-seeking academic brethren, right?

Not so much.

Enter FIRE. It's kind of sad to watch the generation that continually lauds itself on "fighting the power" BECOME the power and unironically bash those who are merely following in their footsteps.

Eh, I lied. It's actually kind of funny--well, Irony thinks so, anyway, and who am I to argue with her?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:05 AM | Comments (3)

November 22, 2004

Monday Reads

For your Monday enjoyment, amazement, and that moment of "Well, I don't know if I could do that," there's this entry in the continuing saga of an American english teacher in China.

Just read it.

Speaking of propaganda, the latest dispatch from the "it's my classroom and I have free speech" "we're the administration and you're a tool" wars is here. The culture wars come to Salisbury, NC. Woo.

And finally, I think that whole Pacers/Pistons thing could have been avoided if only the arena security had dealt with them the way Wake County school officials may start dealing with unruly students: TASER EVERYONE INVOLVED!!!
Good grief. Well, it would certainly shift the focus of the mob from "inciting violence" to "getting up off the floor and changing their soiled underwear," so maybe it's worth a shot.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:19 AM | Comments (2)

November 17, 2004

Taking Toys, Going Home

Irony just dropped by bearing this article from Chicago University's online newspaper. It seems some people have interesting ideas about what actually constitutes "interesting ideas."

CF one Saskia Sassen, whose definition of "academic discussion" seems to include "storming off in a huff," but not to include, you know, listening to the other point of view, or even sticking around to further argue her own.

Even though, as she herself admitted, she had "no special expertise" in the portion of the panel discussion that so disgusted her.

The fact that you can't make this stuff up makes me kind of sad.

via Instapundit

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:15 PM | Comments (2)

November 16, 2004

Tuesday Links

Work has exploded, again, and may I just say that lawyers and politicians got NOTHIN' on bureaucrats and academics when it comes to ass covering.

So, whilst I labor in the mines, here's an interesting link for you that relates to the Bauerlein article I linked last week.

The author wonders if perhaps he is being too thin-skinned in the wake of "compliments" he has received from colleagues. I'd say no. Read them yourself. And wish him luck.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:42 AM | Comments (2)

November 11, 2004

Umm, Wow.

I'm off to shoe shop with The Boy of Burgeoning Feet, so read this item (by an English Professor, no less!) about the perils of groupthink.

Yeah, it's been linked everywhere, but it's good.

On dialup, so too lazy to Google: is the author the same guy who's been trying to actually reintroduce stuff like Shakespeare into the NEA?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:05 PM | Comments (1)

November 05, 2004

The Usual Suspects

I was going to do a humor post mocking the "ohmygodtheskyisfallingrunhideavoidthejackboots!" post-election squealing, but I find my heart isn't in it. Why? Because when I read these actual listserve postings from our "Academic Bettahs" (read with Bette Davis accent), I'm not so much with finding the funny.

And here's a thought for your Friday, vaunted members of academe: You each have a PhD in a particular subject. Within that subject, you have necessarily specialized in order to find your "niche." Please, PLEASE keep in mind that knowing everything about .001 percent of your chosen discipline does not translate into knowing everything about everything. You are the master of a tiny domain, not the God of All Understanding, and making ignorant snarky comments about the intellect and intent of The Other doesn't really bolster your reputation as being smarter or better-informed. In fact, it kinda makes you look like small-minded morons. Might want to keep that in mind, folks.

Big Arm Woman

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:27 AM | Comments (18)

October 27, 2004

Deconstruction Slapfight!

No one brings the wank like academics bring the wank. The Chronicle recently posted its paean to Derrida, Father of Deconstruction, blah, blah, blah lookwhatyoudidtomyEnglishLit-cakes.

I get the feeling that the folks at The Chronicle enjoy laughing at academics as much as I do, because the article was posted on their colloquy forum, with oh-so-predictable (and hilarious) results.

Seriously, you don't even need to read the article. Just go straight to the comments, which include:

  • An excoriation of Derrida in verse

  • A pissed off student of the versifier, excoriating the excoriator in verse--umm, bitter much, dude?

  • Endless litanies of "you don't like him because you're simply (pick one: too stupid, too ignorant, too republican) to get it!" including a weird rant by some euro-trash or euro-trash wannabe who manages to link dislike of Derrida to "deserving a president like Bush." Umm, SOMEONE just ran out of Xanax! Because no one who's READ Derrida and UNDERSTOOD him could ever, you know, still disagree. Dork.

  • A big fat Irony alert for this poster, who writes:

    This shock-infused thread shows nothing but intellectual immaturity, the equivalent of a 6 year-old screaming, "You're NOT smart! You're NOT! And nobody likes you anyway!" Derrida's legacy is somthing that a "literary criticism survivor" will never understand because he/she has not yet mastered the idea of philosophical and intellectual respect for thought, questions, and the written word. There are such big chips on the shoulders of those with such small minds.

    Poster and his/her gigantic shoulder chip excluded, of course!

  • An anti-Levitt PILE ON! Threadjack!

  • And a final trolling masterpiece which manages to bring in Abu Ghraib, the draft, and, well, just read it.

I heart the Colloquy. Every time I long for the days of teaching semi-literate freshmen, all I have to do is spend five minutes there and the nostalgia quickly passes.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:28 AM | Comments (5)

October 21, 2004

Note to School Admins:

If your school policy shows up on Fark with a STUPID tag, it's not, you know, a compliment.

Here's the article.

Here's the Fark commentary, which brings the necessary snark quite nicely. Favorite comment so far:

I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better way to ensure Wiccans are never discriminated against than to make them the primary reason for the cancellation of all Halloween activities.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:57 AM | Comments (4)

October 19, 2004

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's A Giant Radioactive Lizard!

I fear I have been remiss in not alerting my more high-minded readers of a major cultural and academic phenomenon that will take place next weekend:

"In Godzilla's Footsteps," the first-ever cross-disciplinary scholarly conference about a large, scaly, green, radioactive lizard. Yes, I know. In these trying times, it is important that the leading lights of academia keep our intellectual eyes on the prize, and what better way to accomplish this feat than with a series of star-studded panels and lectures with titles like:

  • "Mobilizing Godzilla: Mourning Modernity as Monstrosity"

  • "Godzilla's Sound: Tuning the Monster to Twentieth-Century Noisescapes"

  • "Godzilla as Postwar Media Event"

  • "Godzilla vs. the (Colonial) Thing"

  • "Hybridity and Negotiated Identity in Japanese Popular Culture"

  • "The Heirs of King Kong: The Godzilla Cycle and Transnational Image Flows"

  • "The Selling of Godzilla: The Diffusion of a Japanese Cultural Icon in Cold War America"

Note the spectre of post-colonialism and the trendy overuse of colons and parentheses in the titles--sure signs that this is A Very Serious Academic Undertaking. We don't whip out those colons for just anybody, you know! Just ignore the fact that a couple of those titles make absolutely no sense: that's merely a convention of the discipline, and in no way reflects upon the actual content (or lack thereof) in the presentations. And that's just Day 1! Of course, not everyone shares the sentiments of Bill Tsutsui, a history professor at the University of Kansas, who "would like people to take Godzilla more seriously."

"Takao Shibata, the Japanese consul general in Kansas City, Mo., said the meeting will help educate people about his nation but acknowledged: "The idea of this kind of serious analysis of the evolution of Godzilla - it never occurred to me." "

For shame, Mr. Shibata! For. Shame.

Thanks to reader Sally for the article and link...

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:09 PM | Comments (2)

October 06, 2004

The More Things Change

Blah, blah, blah. The more I read about what's going on in Putin's Russia, the more I hear that tired cliche' in my head. Or maybe "One step forward, two steps back" is more appropriate.

Here's a fun read for your Wednesday, via The Chronicle.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:02 AM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2004

I Wanna Work for the History Channel

No, really, I do. Hublet and I regularly TiVo all their little History Channel Home Movies about The Alamo, the War of 1812, and the Revolution, and find them to be a good "fill in the blanks" exercise for us about stuff we either learned and forgot or were never exposed to. They also tend to inspire us to buy lots of history books, which could be part of an eeeville capitalist conspiracy, but whatever. Books Good!

These home movies also contain a preponderance of reenactors and "living history" folks, which adds to the verisimilitude in some ways--having a cheap source of folks in period appropriate clothing to act out the events being described is a good thing--but which also adds to the cheese factor. And adds to it in a big, big way, because a lot of the reenactors--bless them--have some distinctly Modern American features that they cannot shed: namely, Modern American Girth. Which, okay, I know there were portly folk in the 19th century, but not this many. Woah.

It is difficult to retain a willing suspension of disbelief when you hear about the poorly fed and clothed American militia and the camera pans down the lines of militia men standing at attention, the buttons on their coats straining to contain them. Frankly, if Washington's troops had looked like that, they could have stopped the British merely by sitting on them.

Last night Hublet and I were watching the War of 1812, which thus far has been nothing but illuminating. We declared war on England and attacked Canada! Why? Apparently it seemed like a good idea at the time; oh, and by the way, the fact that we didn't have a real army at the time we declared war? No problem! Since I am completely ignorant about this war, I am immensely entertained by the documentary and cannot wait to see how it all turns out. I mean, obviously something happened to make the British go home, but I doubt it had much to do with American military prowess--don't spoil the ending for me, as I am all excitement!

My only quibble is with the guy they got to portray Madison, who is continually described as a tiny, tiny little man: 5' 4", 100 lbs. This actor's JOWLS are 5'4" and 100 lbs., and he has the unenviable job of portraying "brilliant intellect" without speaking, so what you get is a lot of superimposed images of jowl boy with a furrowed brow or a hand to his forehead in a "thoughtful pose." James Madison has never been funnier, although I doubt that was the intent of the documentary, and so I am giggling my way through American humiliation, carnage and war crimes, which is so very, very wrong.

But still, I heart my History Channel Home Movies, $2 production values and everything. And may I just say that the current White House looks much better than the one they burned. Or maybe the old one just had a bad computer rendering...

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:28 AM | Comments (6)

September 28, 2004

Trickle-Down Academia

There's been a question niggling at the back of my mind for some time now, but I've been reluctant to face it head on due to its unpleasant association with post-modern literary theory and the attendant scars to my psyche, but after perusing my blogroll this morning, I have to ask:

When did it become acceptable to just make shit up and pass it off as objective fact in the service of some "higher truth?"

I first confronted this issue a couple of years ago, when the Bellesiles scandal hit. He made stuff up about the history of gun ownership in America in order to serve his "higher truth," which was essentially "Guns are evil and I'll prove it by showing that we didn't really need them to tame the frontier, feed ourselves or assert our independence--pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! Hey! You kids! Cut that out!" Bellesiles got burned for that, albeit not as burned as he should have been due to the reluctance of others in his profession to expose what I believe (based on my own academic experience) is a fairly widespread practice: "stretching" and "interpreting" reality in order to make it fit a foregone conclusion, to gain brownie points with peers and superiors of a certain political stripe, and to thus assure your success in the profession. Notice the awards and accolades Bellesiles had garnered before the inconvenient truth came out.

In retrospect, Bellesiles was the dead canary in the mine, the warning that our academic surroundings are not perhaps as healthy as we'd like them to be. It's still pretty easy for us to dismiss discredited academics; after all, they're "out of touch" and "stuck in that ivory tower" and don't really affect the rest of us out here in the real world, right? Wrong. You can debate the efficacy of trickle-down economics all you want, but I'm here to tell you that "trickle-down academia" is alive and well and can have a rather pernicious influence on society when the ideas that are trickling down are bankrupt. Bellesiles' increasingly weak defenses of his "research" and conclusions boiled down to "Well, it should be true, anyway," and doesn't that have an interesting resonance with what's going on in some newsrooms nowadays?

I'm not saying that there's some sort of grand conspiracy out there to coerce the benighted masses into proper Groupthink, but I am saying that laziness and partisanship in academia have leaked into society at large, and that it is not a good thing. I learned early on in grad school that it is much, much easier to approach a text with a foregone (politically popular) conclusion and then pull quotes slightly out of context and paper them over with the blatherings of some hip theorist that incidentally is a favorite of the professor I'm writing for than it is to pursue an independent line of thought or to, God forbid, attempt to get to the "truth" of something. The former gets you A's and recommendations. The latter gets you dismissed as hopelessly unsophisticated. Plus, it's hard, and it may force you to revise your worldview, and well, that's just uncomfortable! Eventually, the pattern--create conclusion, remake reality accordingly--gets so ingrained that you don't realize you're doing it, or that it might be morally suspect, and if someone points out that you're playing a bit fast and loose with the facts, you can come back with, "but I'm interested in exploring the meta-narrative" or some such crap which basically boils down to, "Well, it should be true, anyway."

Enter Dan Rather, who has the distinction of being by far the biggest celebrity to use the "Well, it should be true, anyway" defense with the infamous "Fake but True" meme that swept newsrooms across the country. The meta-narrative being explored here seems to be that the document forger had the Amazing Kreskin's ability to divine the innermost thoughts of a man who is conveniently dead, if not an entry-level secretary's knowlege of Word. And now it's not just some grad student peon taking indecent but ultimately meaningless liberties with the text of Absalom, Absalom, it's the figurehead of an organization which purports to give the nation "the facts." Not "the facts that we could gerrymander to point to the larger truth as we see it through a particular political filter," but The Facts.

The amount of damage this does to our ability to believe anything anymore is simply amazing. I can no longer read, watch, or listen to anything without playing the "what's their angle" meta-narrative analyst in my head. There follows the "can I trust this person and their facts" question, and the answer which increasingly is "no." So where do I go from here? I am not optimistic about Big Media's or Academia's abilities to heal themselves, to shake off the "well, it should be true" fog and get back to staring objective reality in the eye, unless it turns out that there's a "trickle-up" process of honesty, objectivity and fact-checking out there somewhere.

NOTE: the posts that prompted this one are not necessarily directly related, but are still good reading:

and Here

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:44 AM | Comments (6)

September 21, 2004

Half Past Drunk, Heading Toward Hungover

Time was, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash at this chick's dissertation topic, other than to snarkily note that it lacked a certain je ne sais quois in terms of originality. "Bats as phalloi!" I would have sniffed to my equally snarky pals, "Why how EVER did she make THAT connection?!" And we all would have laughed. The larger stupidity at play--that we were treating this crap like a worthy topic at all--was just the forest which we'd carefully covered over with trees. After all, phallic bats are much easier to write about than, say, actual literature, as a statement like "bats are obvious phallic symbols" requires no research or proof beyond, "Well, just look at them! They're, like, all long and round and hard, hard wood!"

Nowadays, far removed from the reaches of the feminist lit crit brigade, my snark-o-meter still goes to eleven when I read stuff like this, but it now encompasses the whole forest, not just a tree or two (and how's that for an extended phallic metaphor? Wood. I said "wood." huh-huh). In 2004, it seems that PhDs in literature are apparently all about taking the easy road.

Seriously, what sort of intellectually lazy, half-assed professor wannabe greenlights something like this as a legitimate topic of inquiry? Is he or she drunk? Is the student drunk? Is EVERYONE DRUNK?!

Unfortunately, they're probably sober but suffering from acute "closed social circle-itis" in which no-one bothers to point out the pointless intellectual onanism they're all engaging in, because no one thinks it's in any way out of the ordinary. It simply is "the way things are done here." Gah.

Academic departments like the one referenced in this post are the intellectual equivalent of a very small community in a hillbilly backwoods holler--in desperate need of an infusion of fresh genetic material. Perhaps one day the lady in question will awaken from her four to six year drunk and realize that the lampshade on her head is her dissertation. Perhaps one day literature departments will have the grace to be embarrassed by the excesses of foolishness they've succumbed to in the last decade. Yes, and perhaps monkeys might fly out of my ass.

But a girl can dream, you know? And not about the monkeys. Ouch.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:22 PM | Comments (11)

September 17, 2004

Revenge of the Picnic Planner

3:15 a.m. A thump, followed by a plaintive, "Mommy, I fell outta bed!" Followed by an hour and a half of retucking in, fidgeting, switching beds, talking about the cat, forcing Hublet to simultaneously toss the cat outside and fetch milk for the Boy, and finally, blissful slumber occasionally punctuated by flailing limbs. I am bruised, sore, and in need of a coffee IV. But The Boy is feeling quite chipper in his backward underwear, mismatched clothes and orange socks. So I soldier on.

Sorry for the lack o' post yesterday, but as you may know, today is the Dreaded Annual Picnic, and I have somehow become the de-facto chairperson of the committee. This ALWAYS happens to me here, and it ain't because I am the lone competent person awash in a sea of morons. No, it's because in this case I am the lone "professional" on a committee of administrative assistants and manual laborers. Just in case you thought that intellectual snobbery was relegated to the mainstream disciplines, let me clarify that for you right now: it's not. And it's annoying as hell. All the grand high departmental muckety mucks come to me with questions about the committee's doings, EVEN THOUGH they got the email clearly naming someone else as the chair AND they get weekly update emails from that very chairperson. But since the chairperson just happens to be an administrative assistant--you know, someone without a Master's degree, and therefore someone not to be trusted with matters of dire import like, for instance, the freaking picnic--they come to me, the "kindred spirit," the "person who understands the aforementioned crucial nature of the picnic," the "at least marginally competent chick if you overlook the fact that she terminated her degree at the MA level." Yep, that's me, the appropriately credentialed go-to girl for party planning. My mother must be so proud.

To say that intellectual snobbery is a pet peeve of mine is akin to saying that Godzilla was a somewhat larger-than-normal reptile--an understatement of great and abiding magnitude. It irritated me when I was "in the club," and it irritates me even more now, because it is completely pointless. Yes, I suppose it's human nature to want to build yourself up and feel good about who you are, but I was under the impression that intellectually gifted people possessed enough self-awareness to understand that the ability to bullshit your way to an advanced degree doesn't make you anyone's benevolent overlord. In the humanities, it just means that you're good at reading, synthesizing information, and writing it down. Nice skills to have, but not necessarily superior to everyone else's. Let's put it this way--if I'm stranded, post-apocalypse, with a history professor and a plumber and there's only enough resources to feed one of them, well, I'm feeding the plumber. I prefer avoiding dysentery to a dissertation, thanks.

I sometimes think that intellectual snobbery is replacing old-fashioned class warfare. Actually, that thought process got solidified for me when I read Bobos in Paradise, which dealt quite skillfully with the resentment that the impoverished intelligentsia feel toward the rich and under-degreed, and watching the leading lights of our professoriate foam at the mouth about W has only reinforced that view. Here's the thing, folks: so you're smarter than the average bear. So what? In America, it's not what you know, it's what you do with it that counts. And I hear that lately there's not much of a market for snobbery and bitterness, what with Dan Rather having it cornered right now, you know?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:24 AM | Comments (7)

September 02, 2004

Give and Take

Response to a response to a blog entry over at Wormtalk and Slugspeak.

Good reading, and pinpoints the cause of much of my frustration with the "Academic Expert" class in the media.

I like Michael's suggestion for disallowing "experts" to slide when they get it wrong. Anyone want to formally establish a "Bonehead Patrol?"

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:04 AM | Comments (3)

August 26, 2004


The Chapel Hill vs Alpha Iota Omega case goes to the next level with a lawsuit being filed. Both FIRE and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) are on the case.

Here's FIRE's soundbite:
"UNC continues to argue falsely that federal law requires it to discriminate in this way against religious groups. The U.S. Constitution demands exactly the opposite, as it provides these students with freedom to associate according to their beliefs. UNC has made the decision not to allow a Christian group to remain Christian in defiance of the Constitution; now it must defend its decision in a court of law."

Here's UNC's soundbite (from the local rag):
Chancellor James Moeser and other campus administrators declined to discuss the details of the lawsuit. Instead, Moeser reissued a statement from earlier this month.

"We are a public institution, and we cannot discriminate," Moeser said in the prepared statement. "That's the law. And that's why we are very comfortable with the position that we've taken on this issue. Membership in recognized student groups must be open to all students on a nondiscriminatory basis."

Most intriguing thing about the case so far? Unsurprising and gratuitious use of the term "religious right wing" by the local rag. Sigh. Hopefully they'll at least get the facts of the case straight, though based on my past personal experience with the fine writers at the N&O;, I'm not too optimistic.

Any bets on how long it's gonna take the politicians to start giving soundbites?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:55 AM | Comments (5)

August 25, 2004

Overreaction of the Week

Apparently it's now de rigeur for profs to be speech cops on campus, and regulate private conversations that they aren't even present for. At least that's what Rhode Island College would have us believe...

Professor Lisa B. Church, who was a coordinator for RIC's cooperative preschool program, was not even present when two adult participants in the program allegedly made comments that another adult participant considered racially "offensive." Professor Church refused to punish the offending participants based on a third-person report of constitutionally protected speech, or to make the private altercation into a school-wide issue. Yet due to a complaint filed with RIC by the offended person, Church faces formal hearings for her decision.

FIRE is on the case. Perhaps we should give their reps shin guards, what with all those jerking knees on the RIC campus.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:20 AM | Comments (1)

August 18, 2004

FIRE vs UNC-CH Update

Well this is interesting. Chapel Hill has decided to defend its position against the Christian fraternity by using the Fourteenth Amendment, so now we've got a rock-paper-scissors thing going with the Constitution: does the First Amendment trump the Fourteenth?

My other question is why did it take Chapel Hill (which has a law school) two years to come up with this defense? A couple of years ago when they tried to de-fund a Christian group and FIRE called them on it they backed down. This year they're all Fighty Mc Fighty-pants. Sounds to me like they used the hiatus to flip through some stuff in the law library. Unfortunately, it looks like they forgot to read their own policy. Bummer.

And the local politicos are getting involved as well. This could turn into a most embarrassing situation for Chapel Hill, not that I am in any way hoping that will happen...

Erin O'Connor is also following the story.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)

August 17, 2004

Review with a Twist of Lime

There is nothing more refreshing to read than a British book review, particularly when the reviewer is eviscerating the book in question. The fact that the author being so dissed is Terry Eagleton is in no way icing on this particular cake.

Ahh. Crisp, refreshing and slightly bitter. The gin and tonic of book reviews.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:48 AM | Comments (5)

August 13, 2004

Welcome Back

Well, you can tell school's about to start again, because the flow of academic goofiness has already resumed.

From FIRE, the morons at Chapel Hill have decided that one lawsuit was insufficient to deter them from their goal of eradicating discrimination within Christian groups by not allowing the Christian groups to require that their leadership be, oh, Christian. Umm, guys? Contrary to your interpretation, losing the first lawsuit doesn't give you an automatic "do over." It means you should stop using the bureaucracy to beat up the folks you don't like. Just so we're clear.

In my more cynical moments (what, I have some wide-eyed wonder left, I do! Oh, fine.) I think that savvier academics understand the best way to raise your cache' amongst the moving and shaking intelligentsia is to come out with statements that are so over-the-top, outlandish, and patently wrong to anyone with at least one foot on planet earth that you create a backlash of epic proportions. And then I read this, (via the Esmay collective) and realize that my cynicism, as usual, is completely vindicated.

Seriously, what other purpose could someone have for publishing an article like this except to create a furor and get some name recognition? Unless of course she actually BELIEVES the tripe she's typing. See, that's where I get confused.
I mean, read this and decide for yourself:

The new stay-at-home motherhood movement parallels the movement to create the "perfect" child. It's not just that mothers are home with their children; they are engaged with their children constantly so they will "develop" properly. Many middle-class parents demand too much of their children. We enroll them in soccer, religious classes, dance, art, piano, French lessons, etc., placing them on the quest for continuous self-improvement.

Many of these youngsters end up stressed out. Children should think it is all right to just hang out and be kids sometimes. They should learn that parents have interests separate from their lives as parents. And we should all learn that mothers are not fully responsible for who their children become — so are fathers, neighbors, friends, the extended family and children themselves.

Finally, the stay-at-home mother movement is bad for society. It tells employers that women who marry and have children are at risk of withdrawing from their careers, and that men who marry and have children will remain fully focused on their careers, regardless of family demands. Both lessons reinforce sex discrimination.

It goes on. And on. We get the usual nod to class warfare, because apparently only rich white chicks stay home with their kids--which is news to my neighborhood, I'm sure. Bottom line, stay at home moms are "bad for children." Wow, good thing we came to our senses in the 1960's then--by her logic we should have destroyed ourselves in a neanderthal gender-stereotyping frenzy centuries ago. Idiot.

So what is this article? A post-modern parody of the passe militant feminist? The ravings of a lunatic who forgot her thorazine? Or the true colors of a true believer? The english major in me would appreciate option one, understand option two, and try to resist the urge to put my eyes out with a fork over option three.

Welcome back to school, people! Let the crazy commence!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:33 AM | Comments (13)

July 27, 2004

Honey, Vinegar and the Bitter, Bitter Elite

Some of the more cringe-worthy memories I have from my time in academia concern the attitude we self-appointed "elites" held toward the "great unwashed;" namely, the undergraduate population, and those poor benighted souls who didn't go to college (insert horrified gasp at the ignorance of the proles here). Now I get that unfounded feelings of superiority are just part of human nature, but it doesn't make those feelings appropriate. And when the "because I'm smart and I said so and you don't think like me so you suck" attitude is front and center in the making of an argument, well, maybe the smarty-pants making said argument shouldn't be surprised when his or her pearls of wisdom are trampled under the feet of the gap-toothed swine he or she is trying to "help."

Case in point. I found this review over at A&L; Daily, which often points to befuddled articles of the "but if you were only smart enough to SEE the ONE TRUE WAY and THINK EXACTLY LIKE ME then we could all live together in peace and harmony tra-la-la" type. The author is genuinely shocked and saddened (elite code for "damn those ignorant hicks to hell for not swallowing this crap") that the populace of Australia didn't respond to a racist polemic against eeeeeevillllee whitey--complete with name-calling, guilt heaping calumny and the Indisputable Truth that Civilization is Much, Much Worse Than Squatting in A Cave in Your Own Filth--by immediately donning hair shirts and kowtowing at the shrine of Oh My God You Are So Right, Brave Truth Teller! Yes, this review is in The Guardian, but enumerating what I find to be misguided (or even crazy) theories isn't what annoys me here--that's just more of the same old, same old.

The offensive part is the attitude. The hand-wringing and crocodile tears of intellectual martyrdom that barely mask contempt for the folks that both the author of the book and the reviewer so desperately want to "educate." Did neither of these people receive what we southerners refer to as "home trainin'?" You know, the whole "more flies with honey than with vinegar" thing? Seriously, Ms. Greer wrote an end-of-the-world book (and essays beforehand) basically blaming white Australians (and by extension, Britain and the US, because as you know we are the root of all ev--ooooh, shiny!) for ruining everything, damn them, and then had her delicate sensibilities shocked when said Australians took exception. Lady, if you're throwing dung-bombs at people, don't be surprised when the recipients toss 'em back. And for the love of God, don't retreat to the default "I'm just misunderstood by these hopeless idiots, I'm shocked! And saddened! And just wanted to debate the issues!" position when your original piece wasn't about debate at all.

Of course, if she followed that advice, we would miss the humor in quotes like this:

But one gets the sense in the "The Last Word" section, where Greer replies to her critics, that the sly and mean-minded nature of what they said has shocked and saddened her. "English readers will now have the opportunity to see the essay in the context of the responses it elicited," she writes, and may "understand why I choose to endure the manifold disadvantages and discomforts of life in England rather than to return to my birthplace."

This is a powerful polemic, skilfully organised, thoughtful and beautifully written. How can anyone not be moved by Greer's final plea on behalf of a country she loves? "Australia doesn't owe whitefellas (including me) a living. They should stop ripping its guts out for a pittance, and sit on the ground. Sit on the ground, damn you, and think, think about salination, desertification, dieback, deforestation, species extinction, erosion, suburbanisation, complacency, greed and stupidity. As if."

Ah, intellectual adolescent hissy fits, a sure sign of the advanced thinker. Yep, that'll help. Perhaps Ms. Greer should take her own advice and sit on the ground, dammit, and think about what happens when you're more interested in venting your spleen at the ignorant masses than fostering change. As if.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:35 AM | Comments (7)

July 20, 2004

Poetic Grief

This made me laugh, laugh, laugh (This is excerpted from a much larger piece).

Here for your amusement, are Joan Houlihan's Five Stages of (Poetry) Reader Grief:

Given a reasonably intelligent reader, the default explanation for his or her not being able to understand even a smidgen of the poem cited seems to be that they have not been properly educated in the art of reading. Therefore, their reading takes a predictable course, one that follows Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief:

1. Denial

This stage is filled with disbelief and denial. You can't believe someone seriously wrote these words and presented them as something worthy of your attention.

2. Anger/Resentment

Anger at the situation, the baffling words in front of you, the poet and his or her poem, perhaps others-- reviewers, editors or book publishers--is common in this stage. You are angry at them all for causing the situation and for causing you pain.

3. Bargaining

You try to negotiate with yourself to change the experience of reading this poem. You see the poem as an isolated instance, something idiosyncratic and not likely to recur. You make deals with yourself to “work harder” and “read more” poems of this type, to “give them a chance” when you're not so tired. You might bargain with God, "I'll be a more disciplined and patient reader if you'll just give me a hint as to what this one means."

4. Depression

You realize the situation isn't going to change. The poem happened, it was published, you will never understand it or why anyone sees value in it, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Acknowledgement of the situation often brings depression. This could be a quiet, withdrawn time.

5. Acceptance

Though you haven't forgotten what happened, you are able to begin to move forward and approach another poem, try to begin again.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:25 AM | Comments (3)

July 19, 2004

Yelling FIRE in a Crowded Blogosphere

FIRE does good work, and so I link it whenever I get a news release (I'm on their email list).

Here's the latest, a doozy even by my cynical standards.

Perhaps Ms. Goldberg, et al, should read this and see what it's really like to be abused by authority.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2004

A Swing and A Miss

The beauty of studying English Lit. is the wealth of interpretations that individual readers bring to the work. Argument, analysis and exegesis help us to refine these interpretations and add levels of enjoyment and intellectual stimulation to our reading experience. That, to me, is really what the discipline is all about, and it explains the appearance of modern Lit. Theory and its various schools.

But as with anything good and interesting, excess tends to creep in, and when the folks in charge aren't vigilant, well, the whole thing just gets silly.

Here's an example of the silly, which only adds fuel to the "anything goes nowadays in English, so why even bother with the discipline" argument. Thrill to the diametrically opposed analyses of the work that both somehow miss the point! Gasp at the underlying, "it's all about FRANCE!" attitude in criticisms of a british work of fiction! Have a beer with Irony while re-reading Prisoner of Azkaban! And then continue with your life, secure in the knowledge that no matter what your flaws, you've never been publicly connected to a treatise arguing that a series of fantasy novels are preaching anti-globalization.

Actually, I think we should start a new school of Lit Theory, called the reader's reader response, in which we read literary criticisms with an eye toward a greater understanding of the motives and biases of the critique's writer, not the work of literature being analyzed. At least it would be interesting, and about as accurate as what folks are doing nowadays in "real" literary theory.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

Hot. Just...Hot.

Walking outside is like trying to push a 400 lb sumo wrestler composed entirely of humidity out of your way. It's a heavy heat, a heat with Presence, and it has completely sucked my strength, will, and intellectual faculties out of my body. I can see them lying right over there, pitiful little tongues all lolled out but too weak to move. Ugh.

So forgive my lack of coherence. First up, the latest fight from the FIRE, concerning a philosophy professor who got in trouble for letting students know that he was Catholic. Next up, government attempts to legislate intellectual diversity. Because government always makes everything it touches better, clearer, and healthier for everyone. Oh, dear God. It's called the First Amendment, folks. Just stand back and let it do its work, okay?

Let me clarify: Freedom of speech = good thing. Speech codes = bad thing. Legislation that can and will be abused and that isn't really necessary if you're paying attention to the whole freedom of speech thing = very bad thing. Intellectual diversity = good thing. Government attempting to legislate said diversity with results that will probably make the Title IX kerfuffle look tiny = bad thing.

In short, tell students where you're coming from, and then deal fairly with differences of opinion and point of view. Doesn't seem like it would be that hard for the intellectual types, does it? Yeah, I'm checking my butt for those flying monkeys right now.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:42 PM | Comments (2)

June 30, 2004

Here's A New One

You know, I might be a bit more inclined to read this article sans eyerolling if it came across a bit more like a research piece and a bit less like a whining polemic of doom.

Let's see: Conservatives are money-grubbing bastards? Check.

Capitalism is ruining everything! Everything! Check. (Bonus points for tiresome Thoreau quote. Thanks, English major! You get a gold star!)

Corporate culture makes us mindless sheeple! Brainwashing! WHERE IS THE REVOLUTION, MAN?! Check.

Liberals are only doing it For The Children! Check.

Condescending attitude toward the poor, ignorant, and even (gasp!) religious students he's trying to drag out of the conservative quagmire? Check.

It's an assault! Gulag! Re-education camps! The end of the world as we know it! Yeeearrrrggghh! Check.

See, I do worry about the rising cost of college, the seemingly diminished return on the investment, and the ways in which students view the piece of paper as merely another rung on the job ladder, instead of as a valuable learning experience.

But using these very real concerns to just grind the same ol' partisan axe? Not. Helping.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:40 PM | Comments (8)

June 23, 2004

Call for Canon

Over at Erin O'Connor's blog a post about a call for papers has turned into a debate of sorts about what falls under the purview of the English scholar. At issue there is whether video games, as a visual storytelling medium, are worthy of serious scholarly study and debate and if they are, whether English majors should be doing the studying.

I have a rather jaundiced view of this whole "all media is literary" approach, primarily because my experiences with it were, if not negative, then hardly intellectually stimulating. In our grad department, the folks who wanted to quickly get a paper accepted to a conference or by a journal to pad the vitae wrote for the "emerging media" studies audience, or for the "marginalized groups" audience. Everything else was just too hard to get into if you weren't an established scholar. So in terms of helping lowly MAs cobble together an impressively long list of scholarship, calls for papers like the one Erin refers to were useful. Whether they are academically useful is harder to prove.

Here's UPenn's CFP index, which helpfully categorizes submission requests. The diversity of English scholarship is astounding, to say the least, but I detect more than a little "mission creep." Science and Culture is an entry. Well, okay, but one would hope that those within the sciences would be able to address those topics, and while a different point of view might be interesting, how exactly does it add to the study of English? Is it because scientists write down their findings that the English major feels compelled to weigh in? Same thing with Gender and Culture Studies. Why is this here? Because someone wrote about being gendered and coming from a particular culture? Perhaps I could do a call for papers on the Culture of the Office Post-It Note. It's a written medium, and you can argue that they accurately reflect a particular corporation's communication culture.

Where does this stop, then? If communication isn't just written, but visual (see film studies), then why not do a call for papers on Weeble and Bob's contribution to our culture? It would be fun, sure, but how does it add relevance to the discipline? How does it advance knowledge in a meaningful way? I can list every Star Trek the Original Series episode for you, in chronological order. It's knowledge, but not terribly meaningful to anyone but me and some other hardcore Trekkies (or Trekkers, as modern usage prefers). The expansion of the English discipline seems to be creating the same effect: little enclaves of scholars merrily pursuing increasingly esoteric avenues of scholarship while insisting that "No, really, this is a metaphor for our culture at large! This is Really, Really, Important!" To which the rest of the world replies, "Well, okay, if you say so," and kvetches over spending 100 grand on junior's degree in "underwater basket weaving."

I'm not asking this just to be facetious. Part of the reason I left academia was because I was too "teaching focused" to really embrace the po-mo movement and its attendant "anything goes" attitude toward scholarship. I had students with no concept of sentence structure, no idea how to frame an argument verbally or on paper, and no ability to read critically. And our ever-brave department wanted me to introduce Derrida to them? They needed four years of remediation to begin to be able to approach cultural and literary theory properly, but they probably left college with a BA or BS and no idea how to construct a sentence, since we were too concerned with the semiotics of the body to stop and diagram a freaking sentence or define "ad hominem argument" for them.

That's why the expansion of the discipline bothers me: not because I don't think there's room in the canon for people other than Milton, but because the more we toss in, the less focused we get, and the only people who suffer are the students we're supposed to educate.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:12 AM | Comments (12)

June 16, 2004

What's a tempest without a teapot?

So I was reading the article and colloquy about the big University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign mascot controversy. When I read these colloquys, particluarly when they're about PC issues, I always like to play "Spot the English Major, " and its companion game, "Pick the Theoretical Concentration." This time, the pickings were particularly easy to make. Here's my favorite response in its entirety:

There is no way that a colonizing nation can respectfully represent those that it has deracinated in the act of colonization. To represent the Illini accurately as an essentially peaceful plains tribe is to beg the question of why we felt the need--or felt we had the authority--to drive them from their ancestral lands. And to represent them as a bizarre caricature of Native Americans is to disrespect the sorrowful history that we compiled.

The continuing use of Chief Illiniwek as a symbol of Illinois-UC sports should only be allowed if it is possible to find a living descendant of the tribe willing to play the part, which would no longer be dancing or cheerleading, but merely bearing witness to the lands and way of life destroyed to validate America's manifest destiny. Alternatively, the figure could be a living person or a representation, so long as the latter was rendered by Native American artists. With all respect, retaining the name without the symbol has the effect of emptying the name of its historicity, sort of like having a cricket team named the Slugging Sepoy in the days of the British Raj.

English major? Oh yes, definitely. Self-proclaimed, even. Theoretical concentration? Could it be, oh, I don't know...Post-Colonialism? Let's see, Said and Bhabha's ideas about the colonizer never, ever, ever being able to understand or communicate The Other? Check.
Hand-wringing over the numerous past offenses of whitey? Check. Gratuitous mention of England and India, the template from which all post-colonial discourse is drawn? Checkity McChecky pants!

The only thing missing is the use of "hegemony," though the author does manage to work "manifest destiny" into his breast-beating solliloquy.

God I love the Chronicle, mainly because it reminds me that I no longer have to spend hours each day donning the post-colonial hairshirt when discussing things of earth-shattering import like SCHOOL MASCOTS. Yeesh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:09 PM | Comments (8)

June 08, 2004

I Thought the Hard Sciences Were Supposed to be, You Know, Hard. And Scientific.

And that papers written for their journals were supposed to undergo rigorous peer review. I guess everyone has an off day now and then, but WOAH.

And it's not like the "study" was published in The Journal of New Agey Tripe Today, either.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:47 AM | Comments (8)

June 04, 2004

Lawyers with no concept of academic freedom or free speech. How very heartening.

Of course, this example is from Boalt law school, which has a tradition of, well, problems with recognizing the reality of free speech, and a tendency toward witch hunts--but still. Neglecting the stupidity of the activism in question, which is, as the article points out, " if someone writes an opinion you don't like, they're breaking the law," I'd like to focus on the bald assertion made by these law students that:

"...their attempt to drive Yoo from academia did not 'constitute an attack on academic freedom.' "
'The choice is up to (Yoo). He is free to do what he wants,' explained petition circulator Michael Anderson, 35."

Professor Yoo is free to do what he wants, except that he shouldn't be allowed to do what he wants (teach law) because he offended one Michael Anderson, and now Michael is attempting to drive Yoo out because Yoo apparently committed ThoughtCrime. Besides, we all know the best way to counter ideas you disagree with is not to debate them, but to immediately campaign for the removal of the person espousing the ideas. Nope, no assault on academic freedom there. Nothing to see here, kids. Move along.

In the World According to Michael, writing an opinion is an illegal act, and he is the arbiter of all that is right and just in academia. How precious. And these kids are going to be interpreting real law in real life? Oh, I'm sorry. The "kid" in question is thirty-five. Hey Michael? Here's a ladder. Get over yourself.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2004

Public Relations Primer for Principals

I know it's the end of the school year, and I know that it's important to be sure that all of your accounts are firmly in the black, but there's gotta be a better way of collecting lunch money than by yanking an elementary schooler's hot lunch and giving him or her a peanut butter sandwich as a non-payment penalty.

The principal of Princeton school did just that. Naturally, parents were a tad peevish. According to the principal, letters were sent home with the children concerning lunch accounts that were in arrears. He stated that they didn't mail the notices to save on postage, and admits that sometimes when you send information home with a five year old, it tends not to make it.

The county sherrif (whose child attends the school) posted some deputies outside for a couple of days after the incident. Now, the parents had a right to be upset, but that's a bit much, although the article didn't specify if there were threats of physical violence against the principal in question. Nowadays, however, I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, as one mother stated, the incident "hurt (her son's) feelings!" Well, break out the Smith and Wesson, then!

It was stupid, the principal apologized, and life goes on, hopefully without either forced PB&J; consumption or grievous bodily harm.

I love my county. And I think The Boy will take his lunch when he starts school...

Alas, the Smithfield Herald doesn't have the article online, but it was a fun read.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2004

Would Someone Please Stop the Sociology Professors Before They Speak Again?

You know the wrongest (most wrong, wronger, wrongishest) thing about this whole EL Doctorow commencement speech booing article?

This quote:

Some Hofstra professors said Doctorow was on target in discussing the war. "I thought this was a totally appropriate place to talk about politics because that's the world our students are entering," said sociology professor Cynthia Bogard. "I only wish their parents had provided them a better role model."

Of course, it does come from a sociology professor, but it's a lovely combination of arrogance, disdain and inaccurate perception nonetheless. I had no idea that every single graduate of Hofstra was entering the world of politics. Or that the entire world is just politics. Let's dip our toes into the icy water of reality, okay? Machiavelli to the contrary, life isn't just politics. I mean, that sounds really deep at 2 a.m. when the beer is flowing and you're discussing Big Ideas, but a lot of things that aren't remotely true sound good when you add beer to the conversation. Like flying cars. Then you sober up and hope no one else remembers the drivel you were spouting.

Unless you're a sociology professor, in which case you will be compelled to repeat your stupidity to a member of the press. Hopefully the majority of those graduates have been spared that fate.

And that's not even mentioning her ideas about the poor role models these benighted students had in parents who loved and raised them. Those parents failed because they didn't teach their kids to lay down and take it when a commencement address was turned into a party platform! The horror! Beasts and infidels, the lot of them. Thank God the ivory tower keeps their ilk out of the sainted halls of academe...oh, forget it.

Professor, you're a tool. A female tool. A toolette, if you will.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:17 PM | Comments (6)

May 13, 2004

The Tenured

As I've said before, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, the most annoying thing about graduate school is dealing with The Tenured. Not all tenured full professors are members of The Tenured, by the way. No, The Tenured are a special subset of academia, unfortunately much more prevalent than they should be, and they are the ones the dissenters both inside and outside of academe hold up to ridicule. The Tenured personify the pompous insulated arrogance that sends intelligent non-, ex-, or fellow academics completely around the bend. On the positive side, they're really easy to make fun of. On the negative, they completely lack the humility and self-awareness to appreciate a little self-deprecation. They're over-intellectualized pricks, basically, and respond to each and every criticism by calling the attacker an anti-intellectual or by implying (particularly against a non-tenured adversary) that their opponent "couldn't (or can't) hack it," or has a "case of sour grapes."

So why am I revisiting The Tenured? Well, because it's easy to forget how completely overbearing and socially inept they are when you aren't dealing with them on a daily basis. Lord knows I did, until I ran into one at a recent social event. The soiree in question contained folks from all walks of life--plumbers, teachers, doctors, IT folks--and The Tenured. How do I know this? Because The Tenured spent the entire evening doing the same tired name-dropping of institutions, degrees, programs and "colleagues," that I would expect to hear at an MLA conference. To my chagrin, my first impulse was to counter with a little degree and institution name-dropping of my own (particularly on the BA level--dear God! She went WHERE?), but I recognized the incipient symptoms of Academic Dick Swinging before I succumbed, and squelched the impulse.

Look, we were hanging out and eating finger food and discussing family pets and toilet training. I have to admire her ability to work the names of the leading lights at such-and-such U into the conversation, but "work" was the operative word here. No one else was talking about their work. It wasn't like the plumber was pouncing on every conversational pause and remarking, "You know, that reminds me of something a colleague told me just the other day. I had my head stuck down so-and-so's toilet, and Bob (you know Bob, he's tops in his field over in Garner and leading the research into hair clog removal in kitchen pipes) let fly such a witty riposte that I nearly concussed myself on the porcelain rim! Post-modern plumbing theory is just so rich and layered!"

But The Tenured was. And while I was secretly amused by her antics, I was also more than a little pissed off, because it wasn't like this prof was just looking for a little ego stroking. It was more like she was trying to put everyone else into some sort of pre-defined "place," where rank was determined by an actuarially unsound conflation of job description and perceived IQ. I have a problem with snobbery generally, but intellectual snobbery really pisses me off, mainly because it forces me to revisit the portions of grad school that I found most infuriating (and it forces me to do a bit of uncomfortable self-examination: I defy anyone to look back upon year 22 of their lives with nothing but righteous pride about the ideas they held).

I often wonder, now that my hindsight has that lovely 20/20 quality, if folks in the increasingly incrementalized and politicized courses of study in the humanities know that a lot of the research they do isn't as earth-shatteringly useful as they think it is? I wonder if they question the validity of their pieces of paper, if they see through the sham studies that a lot of Universities are funding and that they're benefitting from, if they realize that their positions often owe as much to judicious ass-kissing and the "right kind" of scholarship as to their own intellects, and feel shame? And I wonder if that's why they need to constantly prove their superiority--not necessarily because their IQs may be a few points higher than someone else's, but because they've spent a lifetime pursuing work that no one deems as important as they do? And they fear that the great unwashed might be right about their work? Insecurity is a horrible thing, and impossible to hide.

Methinks The Tenured protest too much.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:23 AM | Comments (5)

April 28, 2004

Commencement. Who Needs It?

Ah, May. Spring in full flower, students finishing up the course work, and campuses girding their loins for the annual commencement speaker kerfuffles. Every year administrators anxious to wow parents with their institution's "pull," invite celebrities or political bigwigs to spend 30 minutes or so offering insight and relevant exhortations to a bunch of hyperexcited (and here in the South), sweaty matriculatees. And every year, some administrators screw the pooch with speaker choices that are inappropriate or downright bizarre, sparking controvery, protests, and even walkouts from graduates DURING commencement.

So let's do a little roundup of this year's Speakers Most Likely to End Up on the Evening News:

At Emory, the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, will be speaking. I wonder what she'll speak about? Anti-semitism? Some folks at Emory seem to think she should.

Villanova attempts to avoid controversy altogether by inviting Big Bird to speak. It doesn't work. Who doesn't like Big Bird, you may ask? These people. And your humble correspondent, but since I don't attend Villanova the point is moot.

Oh, and in a strategy guaranteed to make commencement memorable, UCLA proposed Laura Bush as speaker. Predictable kerfuffle followed announcement. As an interesting aside, the First Lady will be speaking at Miami-Dade College's commencement.

Granted, most schools tend to go for the staid, credentialed speaker, so it's not like every year turns into some nationwide graduation freakout. Still, you've got to wonder what went through an administrator's head when, for example, she chose Phil Donahue to speak at a pretty conservative college's commencement. You've also gotta wonder what went through Donahue's head when he decided that the speech should be all politics all the time. Helloooo? Graduation? Not about your politics, dude.

Of course, it doesn't help that we seem to be turning out entire legions of students whose delicate constitutions are overwhelmed by the merest whiff of an ideology that differs from theirs, and who believe that anyone espousing said different ideas must be stopped, or protested, or univited, or what the hell ever and proceed to turn commencement into a temper tantrum.

Maybe we should screw the message, shoot the messenger and just mail these kids their damn pieces of paper. It would save time and trouble, and we'd all be spared the annual parade of professorial funny hats. And I think everyone can get behind the "no more goofy headgear" sentiment.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:20 AM | Comments (11)

April 23, 2004

Money Where Their Mouths Are

At Rutgers, where they actually seem to stand behind the First Amendment. Of course, on reading more about the paper in question, The Medium, it becomes clear why the university has an entire Q&A; page dedicated to explaining the First Amendment and university policy as it applies to this particular publication.

Disclaimer - Haven't seen the pub in question, and therefore don't feel qualified to judge its content. Still, it seems safe to say that it's controversial on a pretty regular basis, but that thus far no local mayors have stolen the entire press run, nor has the University pulled funding to shut it down.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:20 PM | Comments (3)

April 22, 2004

The Queen is Dead

Long live the Queen!

From reader podwall, comes this article about wasteful spending and chancellor salaries. Yes, I realize you're shocked that public universities aren't being good stewards of students' monies. Let me just give you a moment to recover.

Here at State, we laborers under the SPA heading (basically, non-teaching permanent employees, or Eeeeevilllleee State Government employees) haven't had a raise in two years. And the benefit costs have increased. Oh, and so has the cost of living. Ah well, life in the big city, right? We're all tightening our belts in these tough economic times, blah, blah, blah, so-why-are-EPA(faculty)-employees-getting-a-raise-again cakes. It's the whole weird State-Government-Versus-Free-Market dynamic, which makes the whole competetive salary thing a tad schizophrenic when you're at a public university.

Yeah, it'd all be a little easier to take if I felt as though we were all being asked to tighten our belts equally. But I guess I'm just more equal than some other folks. Go, me.

At State, the best "what the HELL are you doing with our money?" moment came a few years back, when the current-but-leaving-soon-for-USD-'cause, hello? More Money! Chancellor (Marye Anne Fox) thought it would be a good idea to have our bell tower (the landmark most associated with State--other than cattle or computer chips, that is) equipped with red lighting, so that when we won an important sporting event or wished to commemmorate something, the bell tower would glow red.

Never mind that red lighting can be somewhat off-putting and reminiscent of Hell. So anyway, how hard could it be to add another color bulb to the already existing bell tower lighting? Pretty hard, apparently. About $150,000 worth of hard, when all was said and done. For red lightbulbs.

And then there waas the whole Public Safety Tricks Out Their Homes With New AV Equipment scandal, which was a tad embarrassing for Chancellor Fox when she arrived at State. Oh and by the way, her current salary is $248,220 per annum, in case you're interested.

Is it any wonder that students tend to get a tad prickly when tuition goes up?

Yeah, well. Guess there's nothing for it but another piece of that cake. Yum.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:22 AM | Comments (3)

April 21, 2004

Well, At Least this Time it's not an English Professor

Proving that out-of-touch, smug and crazy aren't just the domains of the lit. nerd, there's this guy.

With footnotes.

Drama dude, indeed. There's a whole lotta manning the ramparts going on in this piece. Tom Stoppard references notwithstanding--I'm thinking the author's seen Les Mis one time too many.

Via Allah.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:54 PM | Comments (3)

April 19, 2004

The Revolution will be blah, blah, blogged

So, Erin O'Connor links to a post by John at Crooked Timber that is, to distill it down to an extremely bare bones level, about the immediacy of blogs and how they may be the perfect tool for injecting a bit o' life into the moribund corpse that is lit. studies. Okay, so maybe moribund corpse is a bit over the top, but it rolls trippingly off the keyboard, so there you go.

Read both posts, plus comments, plus links for the big picture if you're so inclined (and if you have some time on your hands). I came away from the discussion with the definite feeling that the most enthusiasm for lit-blogging comes from those currently outside the system: academics who left or who are a bit disillusioned, aspiring academics (who'd like to go back but cannot at present do so), and the generally intellectually curious.

Since I fall into the first category, I think it would be a great idea: a way to flex mental muscles I haven't used in a while, an opportunity to revisit literature that I missed or deliberately avoided like the plague when I was a time-pressed grad student with an agenda and a need to find a "specialty," and hopefully an environment devoid of the underlying political position jockeying that is everpresent, no matter what level of the ol' ivory tower you're on. In short, it would be a lot like my fondly remembered grad student lounge, where, among the clouds of cigarette smoke and gallons of coffee, we managed to occasionally have some very bright ideas, indeed. And no one in the lounge freaked out or looked at you askance if you whipped out some Terry Pratchett after you finished your Dreiser or Chaucer.

Would such a thing be useful to academics currently "inside" the system? I would think so, for all the reasons enumerated by Erin and John, and for the possible additional benefit of making it easy for insiders to get outside their narrowly defined specialties. Let's face it: to keep up with your area of the discipline nowadays, the required reading can be quite overwhelming. Enter the blog, the quick click, the sound bite--it doesn't have to be a dissertation to be provacative, and what's wrong with provacative sound bites if they stimulate your curiosity? Heck, maybe you could get a publishable article out of it. Heh. Yeah, that does sort of defeat the purpose of using blogs to thin the reams of printed crapulence that occur, but I'm a realist.

As to whether the lit studies blog would replace or cull the sheer volumes of stuff that get published nowadays: doubtful, and not necessary. There will always be grad students looking for cites to give their ideas about colonialism in Puritan literature relevance, and the tenure system's insistence on quantity (often at the expense of quality) will guarantee the supply.

But it could be an interesting experiment, and fun. Remember fun? That thing you used to have when you discussed great books with your buddies? The reason you wanted to be a professor, to share these ideas with others? No, I don't remember it either. But I could...

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:03 PM | Comments (1)

Dispatch from War-Torn...Iowa?

Okay, guess what prompted this heartfelt plea:

"I see people crying out for justice, and they do it the worst way. I stay because my heart will not let me leave."

A brave freedom fighter in some war-torn country? A would-be refugee? A victim of political violence?

Umm, no.

Fight the power, brave little rioter for justice and beer!

Dear God.

via Drudge--your source for the funny!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:55 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2004

Bad Poetry Thursday

I've spoken before about my problems with modern poetry: the ridiculous affected punctuations, the senseless liberty with capitalization (referred to as e.e. cummings disease), and the fact that a lot of modern poetry isn't really poetry at all--just a paragraph broken into artsy looking chunks to RESEMBLE poetry.

Of course, I could spend pages on why modern poets have such misguided and stupid ideas about what constitutes poetry, and thus explain why it is that "just anybody" truly CAN write a "poem" nowadays, but such an essay would be at best humorless and at worst a venting of spleen the likes of which hasn't been seen for centuries, so let's just keep it light and mock some bad poetry instead, okay?

Lately, the best place to go to mock what's wrong with modern poetry is Poets Against the War, which is a catchall for every sin against rhyme, meter, and composition. Don't get me wrong--it's not impossible to write excellent poetry of a political stripe. Anthologies have long included thoughtful, politically-themed poems. But this site isn't an anthology so much as a vanity project, and it shows.

My selection today is based upon the "Why exactly is this called a "poem" again?" criteria, because it isn't. A poem. It's an unfinished work, a truncated short story from a writer who came up with a metaphor he or she really liked and spat it forth, form be damned. Yeah, that rhyme, meter and form stuff? Tools of the Man. Fight the power!

Bottom line, though--this is NOT A POEM! DO NOT CALL IT A POEM! GAAAAHHHHHH! Just put up a sister site called, "Really, really short essays and stories and other pieces of mental effluvia against the war," file it there, and be done with it. There may be good poetry on Poets Against the War, but no one has bothered to sort wheat from chaff, so after reading that linked poem, a couple of treatises from a pissed off 14 year old (is there any other kind?) with a penchant for using "bullshit" in his verse, and eight to ten sufferers of "cummings disease," I was driven to "look on (these) works...and despair."

Yeah, I am a nitpicky, schoolmarmish purist when it comes to poetry. Wanna fight about it?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:15 AM | Comments (3)

April 13, 2004

If I Had Known About This Option

I would have continued with my PhD. College faculty with short-term renewable contracts and an emphasis on teaching? That would have worked out perfectly for me in a lot of ways: less pressure to perform in the areas I wasn't interested in; the ability to focus on what I really loved about the discipline: teaching and interacting with students; and probably more flexibility about having a family. Let's face it--if I had done the tenure-track thing, having The Boy would have been postponed until afterward, which could have easily turned into Never.

Read the article and check out the discussion. I also find it interesting that the highest concentration of the "professors of the practice" are found in the humanitites. Seems to me that Humes is very well-suited to this sort of thing.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:51 AM | Comments (2)

April 08, 2004

In Other News, Hell? Frozen Over.

Perhaps it is merely an indication of how very cynical I have become, but this actually surprised me:

Heels release Curry
UNC basketball coach Roy Williams announces that JamesOn Curry, who has pleaded guilty to selling drugs, won't be playing for the Tar Heels.

Of course, I won't go so far as to say that it's because they are committed to doing the right thing. After all, it's taken them a while to come to this decision because:

Under university policy, an athlete who is convicted or pleads guilty to a felony is automatically ineligible and has his or her scholarship revoked, team spokesman Steve Kirschner said. However, "We don't have have policies [for recruits] like we do for current student-athletes," Kirschner said.

Ah, so recruits who are athletes in all but residence wouldn't necessarily be subject to the same rules? On what planet? Right, planet "gotta win the NCAA."

And then there's this, which probably explains UNC's sudden committment to playing by the rules:

The decision to rescind Curry's scholarship actually solved a potential problem for UNC.

With 10 scholarship players expected to return -- barring any early defections to the NBA -- a recruiting class of four would have put the Tar Heels over the 13-scholarship limit for next season. Now, Carolina is left with a three-member recruiting class that includes McDonald's All-Americans J.R. Smith and Marvin Williams, and is at its scholarship limit.

Ahhh, cynicism concerning collegiate athletics restored. All is once again right with the world.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

April 06, 2004

I'm a Professor! pH34R ME!

Ya know, a body can only type so much about cultural elitism in academia before a body's fingers get kinda crampy. Particularly when the body in question is typing on a replacement keyboard without a working Shift key and a very sticky M. So, I'll let this fabulous cultural critic speak for himself:

So when I add that the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy is, as a work of cinematic art, ham-fisted, shallow, bombastic and laughably overrated, don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking Jackson and his hard-working team. The larger issue is Hollywood and the degraded state of big-budget movies.

Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" represents the victory of special effects over dramatic art.

Take away the frenetic effects from this unremarkable action-adventure fantasy and there is not enough on screen to keep even a subnormal human mind alive.

Looks like SOMEBODY didn't get invited to play dungeons and dragons with the rest of the boys when he was young. What you're talking about here is called "personal taste," bubba, don't make me get my medieval geek on and come after your philistine ass.

Amazingly, though, I'm not that freaked about the LoTR diss (don't tell Emily!)--that's been par for the course in academia (and Hollywood) forever--just ask this guy.

No, I'm irritated by the completely predictable pedantry that follows this excerpt. You know, where the fine educated gentleman bemoans the proliferation of those execrable penny dreadfuls. Damn that Dickens and his "popular fiction!" Oh, wait. Wrong century.

The problem with longing for a medium to "live up to its potential" and to produce "high art" is that the folks doing the longing tend to be a little more interested in making themselves look intelligent by boostering for the Proust film Trilogy than in actually going to see such a creature.

And really, if we did make such art, poor cultural snobs like Mr. Dutton would no longer have a public forum for their ham-fisted, shallow and bombastic essays.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:30 PM | Comments (5)

April 02, 2004

Friday FIRE Stuff

I like to check FIRE for the latest in on-campus free speech kerfuffles, and so I thought I'd share one with you.

Seems Southwest Missouri State University is all in an uproar about a cartoon published in the school paper. Go here to read the article, see the cartoon, and check out the university's "measured" (read: slightly hysterical) response.

Then go here and read a student's response to the cartoon, which more closely resembles an essay from Whitey Sucks 101 than a response to a cartoon. Did I mention that the cartoon was drawn by a Native American? Yeah.

Ya know what's missing from our universities nowadays? Well, aside from the ability of students to actually express themselves without fear?

Thoughtful debate and discourse, that's what. Of course, for something to be thoughtful, it must by definition include a little more than a knee-jerk response by everyone involved. I wonder whose responsibility it is to teach the future of America about thoughtful discourse?

Oh, right. Nevermind. Perhaps in an environment where there is no rational discourse, speech codes are the only solution.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2004

Blatant, Much?

Ya know, if you're a university administrator who's terrified that icky Christians might want to be a recognized group on campus, there are probably more subtle ways to deep-six their applications for recognition than by stating that:

the Christian group's requirement that its leadership be Christian was "discriminatory."

Because not only is that stupid, it also opens the door for men to demand leadership of the Women's Law Caucus or for white folks to demand equal representation in the Black Law Students Association. 'Cause, see, a requirement based on skin color or genitalia is every bit as discriminatory as one based on religion, now, isn't it?

You'd think a LAW SCHOOL would be cognizant of that fact, but I guess they've spent so much time "interpreting" fairness, they can no longer see the real thing.


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:04 PM | Comments (2)

March 17, 2004

Delicate Flower Crushed by Oppression!

The beauty of academic wankery stems from the fact that the wankers in question are completely oblivious to their complicity in the messes they make.

Take, for example, the case of a Dean Vera Rorie, whose temper tantrum in light of an anonymous email is truly an event to behold.

You see, brave Ms. Rorie, champion of Emory University's ongoing fight against "I'm not terribly sure what although if white republicans are doing it it must be bad, bad, bad!" recently called off a meeting with the Emory College Republicans to help them get a guest speaker on campus, because someone somewhere sent her a rude email.

Let us all pause here and recoil in horror at the thought--the very thought!--that a delicate flower such as Ms. Rorie should be subjected to language such as "buffoon." I'm sure her tapered fingers trembled over the dictionary as she looked up its meaning. Poor soul. It probably took several vials of smelling salts for her to recover.

Of course, the trauma of this non-event probably goes a long way toward explaining her obviously mentally addled subsequent behavior. Because only someone suffering from post-traumatic stress or a brain hemorrage would hold an entire campus group responsible for an anonymous email that wasn't EVEN THAT RUDE!

Well, either mentally addled or ideologically vindictive and possibly a tad racist. If I were Ms. Rorie, I'd probably stick to the head injury argument--it's a whole lot more flattering.

Via Erin O'Connor.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:04 AM | Comments (9)

March 16, 2004

Understatement of the Year

You know, I spend some time on this blog complaining--and rightly so, I believe--about the tyranny of speech codes that treat every non-verbal nuance and accidental bodily tic as deserving of death, but I have finally found a speech code that manages to find that capital murder is merely a violation of the racial harassment policy. From the Code of Student Conduct for Oklahoma State University at Stillwater:

Racial Harassment may be defined as: An unwelcome or hostile act or series of acts carried out on racial grounds.

This covers actions ranging from rudeness to murder, it is also aimed at individuals, groups or whole communities.

So if you kill someone at Stillwater, not only will you go to jail, you'll be (gasp, shudder) EXPELLED!

Sometimes those broad brushes? Not really helpful to the cause of justice much. Just sayin'.

I love That site just keeps bringing the funny.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:32 AM | Comments (4)

March 03, 2004

If It's March, It's Time for Pointless Womyn Affirming Crap

What? Do I sound bitter? Just because every freaking spring I am forced to attend the "Women's Professional Development Conference" sponsored by our campus Council of the Status of Women and the Provost?

Yes, dammit, I am bitter. Let me share the myriad reasons why:

First of all, WHY do we still need a Professional Development Conference specifically for women? No, really. I want to know exactly how we are to benefit from sessions entitiled, "Dr. Atkins, Dr. Phil, Dr. Who's Next? What do we really know about healthy eating?" in our professional lives. I am also curious as to our need for the "Communications Doctor" who will help us address the "unhealthy epidemic of interactions in today's society, and will share precscriptions that will help us all obtain the BALANCE that we need." What the hell does "unhealthy epidemic of interactions" even mean? Are we all to retreat to antebellum modes of communication, sending secret signals via our demurely lowered eyelids to our fellow office mates that perhaps their interactions are unhealthy, and collapsing in an attack of the vapors if they don't immediately cease and desist?

This is the most condescending, bullshit laden piece of crap excuse for a "conference" ever created, because it's assumed that we girls can only attend a conference if it's primarily about weight loss and learning to "gently motivate" our co-workers. Gently motivate--that sounds like a laxative description, not an office tactic! You think I'm exaggerating? Okay, out of nine sessions and one general session (featuring the aforementioned "doctor"), only 2 deal with real women's issues on campus: a round table discussion on Promotion and Tenure and a lecture on the Climate for Women on College Campuses. Of these two sessions, one will most likely degenerate into a complaining bitch-fest, and the other a reaffirmation of our victim's status and how we still have "far to go," with nods to all the appropriate sub-groups in the room based upon skin color and sexual preference.

If I recall correctly, the original women's movement was based on the idea that we were equal in ability to men and didn't need to be coddled, affirmed or treated as victims. We also didn't require all day conferences on diet, how to "soften our messages" or our need to find "balance" in our lives. Crap like this sends the message, intentional or not, that somehow we ARE second best because we need all this extra specially tailored "help" that the menfolk don't. In which case, titling the conference "Balance" is not only a misnomer, it's a pretty cruel joke on women.

Whaddya want to bet Naomi Wolf's been to more than a few of these sessions in her day?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:45 AM | Comments (8)

February 24, 2004

Battles Fierce, Stakes Low. REALLY Low. As is the Rhetoric.

Inspired by the ongoing "dialog" between this guy and this guy.

As far as I can tell after reading Feser's articles and the response and updates from Leiter, the main conversation boils down to this:

Feser: Here is my big long essay. Academics are all left, left, left! yARGH!
Leiter: That's not true! And not only isn't it true, if you think it is, you're crazy! You have significant psychological illness, because I say so and that's all the evidence I need! Because EVERYBODY KNOWS that's crazy--or at least everybody I talk to, and they're the only people that count. You can't possibly have a grasp of the entirety of academe, because only I do! And everyone who thinks like you, or has experienced professors who malign them to an entire class via email when they're powerless to respond, or has been written up on speech code violations or made a pariah by their departments due to politics, is ALSO crazy! You write like a nutbar! You'll never eat lunch in this town again! Unless this is all a vast right wing conspiracy because there's lots of money out there for stuff like this! Oh, and here's my friend, the noted science guy, to offer more evidence!
Noted Science Guy: Feser sux0rz! Totally!
Leiter: HA! And by the way, what he says I said? I totally didn't say! Or mean that way! So I didn't call him crazy, except that maybe I was right to after all! Again I say, HA!
Feser: Oh yeah, well disprove these amazingly sweeping generalizations that I'm probably making in part to provoke people like you to suicide!
Leiter: You're crazy! Crazy, crazy, crazy! AAASRRYYYRYRGHGH!!

Irony just wanted me to point out that perhaps this argumentative tactic isn't the best way to prove that campuses aren't full of crackpots. And also, that advanced logic and rhetoric courses are available on most college campuses. Just sayin'.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:19 PM | Comments (5)

February 20, 2004

Losing it

I have the end-of-winter doldrums. I'm tired and uninspired, and spring needs to hurry up and get here so that what's left of my sap can rise, because I'm awfully close to losing my mind.

Yesterday I wrote a post describing my antipathy toward election years. Wrote it, posted it, then decided to do a followup linky post because the tone of the first one was a little too "Oh, lookit little miss whinypants! Whine, whine, whine!" Then I noticed that the first post was gone. Poof! Away, foul post! I chalked that one up to the blog gods being kind and went on with my life, but I have no recollection of deleting it. Odd.

And so this morning I get up and get ready to leave. Everything's going well--no tantrums, we're on time--and I pick up The Boy to tote him to the car.

Halfway there, I hear, "I take shoes off." Knowing there's no way he could do that while being toted, I glance at his feet. His sad, shoeless, green sock-clad feet. I had forgotten to put shoes on my child. I'm glad he said something before I got to work and hilarity ensued--shopping for shoes at 7:00 a.m. is not my idea of an exciting beginning to the work day.

And so I believe I'm starting to lose my mind. It's the little things at first, you know? Remind me to check myself in the mirror from now on--it's entirely possible that I could forget to dress myself before leaving the house.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:53 PM | Comments (1)

Step Off, Naomi

I have mixed emotions about Camille Paglia, but when she nails something, it stays nailed. And boy, does she nail exactly what bothers me about Naomi Wolf:

"At the beginning of the 90’s, people said, ‘Oh, Naomi Wolf, this great thinker,’" said Ms. Paglia. "But what she’s managed to do in 10 years is marginalize herself as a chronicler of teenage angst. She doesn’t want to leave that magic island when she was the ripening teenager. How many times do we have to relive Naomi Wolf’s growing up? How many books, how many articles, Naomi, are you going to impose on us so we have to be dragged back to your teenage-heartbreak years? This is regressive! It’s childish! Move on! Move on! Get on to menopause next!"

This is, of course, in reference to Wolf's attempt to retroactively file harrassment charges against Harold Bloom for an incident that allegedly occurred 20 years ago.

I don't suppose that this kerfluffle would have anything to do with the fact that Ms. Wolf hasn't been in the public eye for a few years, would it? See, when your career is based upon navel gazing and the obsessive study of youthful sexuality and you just happen to be an attractive young woman and you get a whole lot of attention for it and then you get older and less relevant, well, Madonna or Janet syndrome, anyone?

Perhaps Ms. Wolf could do a feminist study about aging attention whores.

Read Joanne Jacobs' post on the subject for more info and linkies.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:54 AM | Comments (3)

February 18, 2004

Don't Forget

The Chronicle has a live discussion going on right now (1:00 p.m. EST) with David Horowitz about the Academic Bill of Rights.

Scanning the questions, I've already noted dogmatic pronouncements and scare quotes in use. This could shape up to be a good old-fashioned wank fest!

Oh, and some of the questions are thoughtful and well put/argued. Who knew?

Here's the link.

Update: Wow, the "Orwellian" is flying fast and furious. Followed by a liberal sprinkling of McCarthy (ha! get it?) invocations. But the best are the snippy comments that don't ask for a response. People, grind the axes if you must, but disallowing the interviewee to respond to you? On a topic concerning the suppression of alternate points of view? Hey Irony, pass me another beer! This is the best lunch hour I've had in weeks!

Update Update: I can't decide if this is a troll, but it's definitely, umm, odd.

Comment from anonymous:
Since my writing involves the role of drugs in ancient, medieval, and renaissance religion and culture, the topic is too controversial for my colleagues, who fear contamination from me or problems with parents. Hence, no one ever speaks to me about my research; and about a decade ago, graduate students who were writing theses under my direction were told that they would never get the degree unless they changed directors; nor could they ever expect to find employment, even though their topics were not drug related. I never emphasize my interests in lecture courses, but on occasion a disgruntled student in the course evaluation has accused me of talking about nothing else, as a way to injure me.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:28 PM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2004

If it weren't for Stanley Fish, my blood pressure would be normal

Well, seems that the can of worms that is intellectual diversity on campus has been well and truly opened, turned upside down, and flung wildly into blogland. Let me pause a moment to pluck one or two of the meatier specimens from my hair (thanks, Dr. Brandon), and then call your attention to the intellectual diversity debate as it is being played out in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

To recap: David Horowitz creates an Academic Bill of Rights. Read it yourself. This prompts some students to create their own bills of rights. There is debate, which rapidly degenerates into name calling and the magical ability to divine the evil dark motives of those on the other side. I could write another rant about the dearth of logical argument in any academic setting nowadays, but I fear my head would explode from rage during the composition, so let's leave that for another time. Enter Stanley Fish, an academic whose most admirable quality nowadays seems to be the ability to remain in the limelight by co-opting any current issue and turning it into a discussion about sliding signifyers, while simultaneously urging everyone past post-modernism. Stanley Fish: the Madonna of academia. And I don't mean the demure lady with the halo, folks.

Here's Mr. Fish's latest take on intellectual diversity. It's fun! It's pithy! It makes some decent points! And then it takes those points, turns them on their head, and concludes not only that the Academic Bill of Rights can become politically tainted, but that intellectual diversity is a "non-starter." Here's where I must offer an unqualified "Whaaaa?"

Yep, I'm sure that the Academic Bill of Rights will be politically tainted. Just like all the programs Fish lauds as champions of the leftist cause are politically tainted: it's a fact of life, and something that Horowitz understands the universities will wrestle with themselves--my criticism of Horowitz here is with the "pie-in-the-sky-everyone-will-be-rational" idea of academic debate. We all know better. But I digress. Here's the meat of the "intellectual diversity is a silly idea" argument:

But it is a mistake to go from the general assertion that no humanly accessible truth is invulnerable to challenge to the conclusion that therefore challenges must always be provided. That is to confuse a theory of truth with its pursuit and to exchange the goal of reaching it for a resolution to keep the question of it always open.

While questions of truth may be generally open, the truth of academic matters is not general but local; questions are posed and often they do have answers that can be established with certainty; and even if that certainty can theoretically be upset -- one cannot rule out the future emergence of new evidence -- that theoretical possibility carries with it no methodological obligation. That is, it does not mandate intellectual diversity, a condition that may attend some moments in the pursuit of truth when there is as yet no clear path, but not a condition one must actively seek or protect.

To put it simply, intellectual diversity is not a stand-alone academic value, no more than is free speech; either can be a help in the pursuit of truth, but neither should be identified with it; the (occasional) means should not be confused with the end.

Oh, that's a forest? All I see is some trees. Fish is picking some seriously bizarre nits in light of what the actual Bill of Rights states. Nowhere is Horowitz stating that every class MUST offer the opposing viewpoint as equally valid when the opposing viewpoint is objectively silly: the best (and most tired) example here is being forced to present Nazism sympathetically in a WWII course. Of course, Fish is setting up his later argument here, that those evil oppressive conservatives will try and mandate intellectual diversity:

Now if intellectual diversity is not an academic value, adherence to it as an end in itself will not further an academic goal; but it will further some goal, and that goal will be political. It will be part of an effort to alter the academy so that it becomes an extension of some partisan vision of the way the world should be.

And while I'm not naive enough to assume that this won't happen, I also find it amusing that the person warning us most vociferously against intellectual diversity is exactly the same person who used a political agenda to ensure that diversity he finds more politically palatable was mandated and incorporated into the university: If victory for the right meant turning back or retarding the growth of programs like women's studies, African-American studies, Chicano studies, Latino studies, cultural studies, gay and lesbian (and now transgender) studies, postmodern studies, and poststructuralist theory, then the left won big time, for these programs flourish (especially among the young) and are the source of much of the intellectual energy in the liberal arts.

Goose, meet gander. The university system is a perfect example of a partisan vision of the way the world should be. It's insular and political, and right now those politics are tilting left. So, while Fish seems to believe that diluting the academy by creating whole new departments of a certain political slant that might have been better incorporated into existing ones (in the interest of intellectual diversity, yet) is a means of ensuring "intellectual energy," if someone comes along and says that there should be equal time given to opposing viewpoints, then they are partisan, and advocating a position that is a "non-starter."

There are criticisms to be made about the Academic Bill of Rights. Discounting the entire exercise from the get-go as a tool of eeeeevillleee is frankly evidence of a partisan position. To my mind, that's the non-starter.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:05 AM | Comments (8)

February 10, 2004

No, You Didn't

Via Andrew Sullivan, this gem from one of our storied Duke professors on the lack of intellectual diversity at that fabulous institution:

"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.

"Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."

Burness also noted that the humanities may be particularly oriented toward Democratic minds. "If you were to look at most business schools, you might find more people that were Republican than Democratic," he said. "If you look at the humanities in general, there's a great deal of creativity that goes on. In a sense it's innovation, and a perfectly logical criticism of the current society, in one form or another, that plays itself out in some of these disciplines. It doesn't surprise me that you might find people in humanities are more liberal than conservative."

I mean, why attempt to look at the problem from the perspective of the student? You know, that perhaps humanities courses turn off other points of view precisely because in the current climate no other real points of view are offered? I like to call that the circle jerk approach to academics: "We will only teach theory-based literary analysis, therefore students interested in reader-response will go elsewhere, therefore they are not creative/innovative/bright enough to study literature, QED."

It's stuff like this that makes me glad I turned Duke down for my undergraduate work. Of course, Professor Brandon does have a point about one thing. It takes excessive amounts of creativity and innovation to get your head that far up your ass.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:21 PM | Comments (11)

February 06, 2004

The C Word

Well, it's happened. The suits have whipped out the "c-word" in response to the uber-boob and subsequent panic attack.

Yes, it's true. If the FCC fines you for indecency, then the only result is, "a serious risk of chilling free speech."

Okay everyone, deep breath. It was an inappropriate tit. Those responsible (and by that I mean Jackson, Timberlake, and MTV) should be fined and issue an apology. Then we can all move on. And trust me, we'd like to move on.

For those of you following along at home, moving on does NOT include freaking out, banning the owner of the aforementioned inappropriate tit from ever appearing live on tv again (OMG! Like, stone her!), putting kill switches all over every piece of live broadcasting equipment ever made, or declaring that a monetary penalty by the FCC is the Death of The First Amendment (OMG OMG OMGWTF!). Additionally, moving on does not include desperate finger pointing, baldfaced lying about how "shocked and appalled" you and your ENTIRE FAMILY were, and modelling the latest in hair shirts for the enjoyment of the ATONE NOW police.

Repeat after me: It was an inappropriate tit. A publicity stunt perpetrated by an aging sex symbol, a man-child desperate to one-up his ex on the "shocking" scale, and a broadcasting company so mired in sleaze that it never occurred to them that turning the Super Bowl into a titty bar might be a little over the top bad taste-wise.

Hey, networks? Pay the fines. Then dig deep and TRY to remember that while dropping the f-bomb on a bunch of eight year olds during prime time might be within the purview of free speech, it is certainly not within the purview of good taste and as such, you might need to pay a little cash to the FCC if you're bound and determined to do it. If the thought of losing cash chills you, then it's merely filling the role once played by self-restraint.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:45 PM | Comments (5)

February 03, 2004

Well, I'm So Glad You RECOGNIZE the Problem

Coming off a three-day tantrum bender (the Boy's, not mine), so let me quickly direct your attention to's Speech Code of the Month Winner: Macalester College. Read it all--it's fun!

But for me, the best part is the first excerpt, in which the college handbook states:

The College recognizes the complexity of defining language and actions that are not acceptable in a community which values freedom of expression.

And then goes on to meticulously remove every form of physical or verbal expression that isn't "Eyes Forward! Head Up! Shoulders Back! No Talking!"

My old buddy Irony got a big kick out of this one, too.

In serious moments, I sometimes wonder whether it bothers the keepers of the hive mind when they are mocked by the great unwashed. But then I get over it--mainly because the kind of people who can seriously commit these silly sorts of regulations to paper wouldn't understand mockery or a sense of humor if it bit them on the ass.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:40 PM | Comments (3)

January 15, 2004

Navel Gazing

Came across this entry at Critical Mass, discussing the high rate of grad school attrition, and calling for personal anecdotes about why folks discontinuted their grad schooling. I don't know that my graduate experience will be particularly revealing, but here it is anyway.

I finished my MA but decided not to pursue the PhD. I know quite a few folks who didn't even finish the MA, and this was among the TA group, supposedly the "up-and-comers" in the department.

For the record, I never felt exploited, overworked, underappreciated, or that my professors were attacking me. I was a very good, astute student, and I got along with pretty much everyone in the department, so it wasn't a matter of not "fitting in" to the culture or being pegged as a troublemaker. It wasn't even the poverty and tiny stipend. I still managed the degree without resorting to any student loans. In short, the only thing preventing me from getting the PhD was me.

So why did I stop? Bottom line, the reality of the profession became clear to me and I decided that if I really wanted to teach students about literature, I would be better served teaching AP students in high school. Spending large chunks of my time churning out articles and books that used the latest au courant theories when I had no real interest in them and kissing the proper asses in the department to get tenure and be able to do what I really wanted--teach Beowulf to undergraduates--made me feel more than a little like Sisyphus. So I would spend an additional 3 years in school, MAYBE get a job God knows where that MIGHT lead to tenure in another however many years, bust my ass to publish "the right kind of articles and books" so that I would look good (but not too threatening) to the theory heads and then be free to spend a little bit of time doing the thing that animated me to pursue the PhD in the first place? I don't think it's selfish to ask where the payoff is in that situation. And it's not like my ambitions were to be head of Harvard's English department or anything, either. All that for a shot at a mid-level position in a mid-level university? Hmm. No.

And before you dismiss this all as starry-eyed dreaming about the reality of life in academia, remember that I got my BA at Davidson College, a small, highly-regarded liberal arts school that had managed not to succumb to the siren's song of theoretical rigidity, and whose professors were expected to publish, but not at the expense of their teaching. Then I got to the MA program and realized that Davidson's air was rarified indeed, that the odds of finding a job like that were extremely tiny, and that politics and theory, not teaching, seemed to be the focus of the field. Talk about sucking the love of literature and learning right out of a person.

I don't know if attrition rates are fixable, or if they're even necessarily such a bad thing, since it's not possible for all the folks who finish the PhD to get a good job anyway. But I do think that if the humanities in particular continue to lose bright and committed students because the BS factor (and I don't mean Bachelor of Science, kids) outweighs the joys and challenges of learning and teaching, then departments as a whole will suffer. Right now, the track for a PhD in English Lit seems designed to turn out an endless line of rigidly uniform scholars, and I can't see how that could possibly serve the idea of the university (unity in diversity--of thought, not just ethnicity) well.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:48 AM | Comments (7)

January 12, 2004

Well, Whaddya Know? The MLA is a Catalyst!

But probably not the kind of catalyst they would want to be, alas.

It seems the MLA-bashing of '03 just won't die down, but that's fine by me, because it looks like we're actually getting some interesting discussion going. And for once it appears that analyzing the "root causes" of something might be more than just intellectual onanism or column filler.

I think Roger Simon is right when he says:

The Boomers who have inherited the universities, and are cocooned in a sinecure not dissimilar to civil service, have hardly any outside pressure to reconsider or even question their values (except for today's students, many of whom, apparently, are getting sick of them).

And I agree with the commenter on the thread who adds:

We definitely shouldn't leave it to students, columnists and bloggers, because all of these groups are too easy to discount (as intellectually immature or reactionary cranks) or ignore (not like any of my grad school professors are reading National Review or Roger Simon).

Just check the comments on the previously linked Invisible Adjunct post to see that mentality wide awake and hard at work. Yep, when all else fails, be a snob! It works so well, and besides, it's patently obvious that ANYONE who chooses to leave academia does so because they can't hack it, or because they aren't worthy of a PhD...
A smaller example of the same is in the response Erin O'Connor is getting for posting what I believe to be a cutting but kinda fun take on the MLA (authored by an anonymous contributor), which I'd describe as sorta Trollopian, but with more pr0n. It's a nice illustration of the guiding principal of academia as seen by outsiders - the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low.

Which leads me to this post over at Wormtalk and Slugspeak, (pardon the appearance of blogcest here) because I think that Michael nails the problem with:

So what is the problem? I think, as much as anything, it is a matter of style, and that humanities professors are, on the whole, in the wrong. You only have to read the comments on Invisible Adjunct, where the academics rather pathetically try to defend the MLA, to realize that way too many humanities academics don't know how to debate. They only know how to sneer. ...

If academics would recognize that there are a lot of very, very smart people out there who put their considerable brainpower into trying to understand things like packet-switched networks or football formations or concert hall sound dynamics, and if they would force themselves to recognize that such things are just as important as understanding literature (though they're not quite as important as knowing the date of the composition of Beowulf. Nothing is that important), they'd be able to carry on conversations with other folks in which they didn't come off as pompous, sneering jerks.

But jerks they do appear to be. Which is sad, because I know a lot of humanities academics and as individuals they are generally not jerks. But there is a deep, deep insecurity in humanities academics that makes them over-reach with their theories and their literary analyses. Tom Wolfe (I think) makes the point that, think what you want about Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionist artists, they never doubted for an instant that what they were doing was important and justified in and of itself. But the newer generation of 'political' artists give away, by the very lack of subtlety in their work, that they have no confidence that doing art is really justified. They have to make their art accomplish some other work such as solving the homeless problem or fighting racism.

When the art -- or the humanities scholarship -- fails to solves those problems, the artist is forced to deal with the cognitive dissonance of the claim of importance and the actual results. This kind of dissonance leads, I think, to the attitude the everyone who disagrees must be stupid. Thus, the sneer elevated to the most commonly used tool of rhetoric.

So, 'why do they hate us?' Because we tend to act superior, and people loathe people who act superior.

To paraphrase Instapundit, "Indeed." I remember well the days of yore and grad school, when we up-and-coming TA's sat around the grad students' lounge, smoking affectedly and mocking the "unenlightened;" i.e., anyone who had the misfortune not to be conversant in Derrida. Makes me cringe a little to remember, but I at least have the luxury of chalking it up to the arrogance of youth. I doubt that a majority of PhDs have the same excuse, or that they would even feel ashamed enough to desire one.

Leave it to a medievalist to get to the heart of things. Not that I'm biased.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:49 AM | Comments (2)

January 07, 2004

Call for Papers

I was watching Thomas Gets Bumped the other day (approximately my 4,127th viewing of this video since Christmas Day), and during the segment entitled "Diesel Does it Again" something occurred to me:

Sir Topham Hat is a labor-exploiting robber baron.

See, in "Diesel Does it Again," poor Percy and Duck are being severely overworked down at the docks, so Sir Topham Hat promises to get them help. He does, but the help arrives in the form of Diesel, a nasty, bullying, bad-tempered engine who wreaks havoc and gets into trouble wherever he goes. Naturally, Diesel screws up, so Duck and Percy attempt to go on strike. Sir Topham Hat busts the strike, Diesel screws up and gets sent away, and Duck and Percy happily agree to continue doing twice the work themselves, so long as Diesel never returns.

Very clever, Topham Hat, you money-grubbing capitalist bastard! If I were in a more lit-crit frame of mind, I could discourse at length over the portrayal of the worker as mindless machine, the post-colonial themes inherent in the Percy/Duck/Diesel Topham Hat dynamic, complete with sub-chapter on the semiotics of skin color and the sea...but I won't. Suffice it to say that someone should alert Terry Eagleton to the exploitative capitalist propaganda inherent in this British children's series. Help! The Man is indoctrinating our children to become mindless cogs in the labor machine! Power to the People! Revolution Now!

The saddest thing about all of the above is that there's probably an MLA panel in there somewhere...

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:53 PM | Comments (2)

Homage to the MLA

Checking the academic side of the blogroll I find the yearly MLA hullabaloo has come and gone and been discussed, dissected, dismissed, distorted from every possible angle and that the flap is now dying down. My word, folks are touchy! Check the comments thread on the Invisible Adjunct's MLA post for proof of that.

In the spirit of fairness and affability that animates this blog--hey! You with the smirk! Knock it off!--I'm going to describe my one and only foray into the world of the MLA, where I, as a lowly grad student, was forced to give a paper (my thesis advisor chaired the session, and I know she was trying to help me out. And she did help me out--right out of academics, as it were, but that wasn't her fault, nor the fault of the MLA.).

I think I began to realize that I would rather be stabbed repeatedly in the eye with a fork than be an academic when I went down to the open bar. I had friends and acquaintances there, so we hung together and observed fawning and politicking that would be perfectly at home in Congress. It became apparent that my inability to smile and attempt to act like I care about big star so-and-so, coupled with my complete lack of recall when it came to names would definitely be a hindrance in the job-finding department. I've always been more of a point and laugh observer than a shmoozer--a quality that comes in handy when you're teaching literature, but not so much when you're trying to make a good impression.

Anyway, aside from the same tiresome observations about boring academic culture, my MLA experience was a non-event. Went to hear some friends give papers, delivered mine to a polite (and probably very bored) audience who took their boredom out on the presenter immediately after me--it was frankly surprising, the savagery of the attack on a paper about Chaucer, but sometimes I think Medievalists take some of the more martial and austere aspects of the Middle Ages to heart and use them in debates--and then came home convinced that if I had to present papers and go to conferences to get a tenured job I would kill myself. And it wasn't even a nightmare experience! Just...kind of banal. And a bit of a letdown.

Since then, in the course of jobs I've had, I've attended Higher Ed conferences, marketing conferences, tech trade shows, you name it. Know what? They're all the MLA, just with different jargon--deadly dull political fests where perhaps one interesting idea can be salvaged from endless sessions filled with dreck. I know why these associations exist, but I wonder if any of them are really fulfilling their charters in a meaningful way. It's not surprising that folks try to liven them up with goofy panel titles and punny papers, but I think that the only thing that could save the MLA at this point would be the Oh! Calcutta! All Live! All Nude! MLA conference. And that is frankly too terrifying to contemplate. Or funny. Pick one.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2003

Hey UC Santa Cruz? Yo Mama!

Erin O'Connor has a nice post up about the important work FIRE and are doing. So pluggity plug plug.

She (and highlights the UC Santa Cruz speechcode which:

"warns students that 'actions of disrespect, intolerance, or any behavior (spoken, written or physical) which maligns another individual or group of individuals on the basis of age, creed, ethnicity, race, gender, gender identity, physical ability, political views, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other differences will not go unchallenged.'"

This is all amazing enough on the surface. But do you know the real tragedy here? Under this speechcode, that most revered and vaunted of spoken word traditions--the "Yo Mama" joke--would be considered a speech code violation on the basis of age, ethnicity, race, gender, and socio-economic status, to name just a few.

I submit that depriving the youth of America of the Yo Mama joke is a blow not just to the Bill of Rights, but to one of the most important Rites of Passage in our nation: one which hones the important skills of mental quickness and verbal dexterity.

Good God, UC Santa Cruz, can you not think of the CHILDREN?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:49 AM | Comments (3)

December 05, 2003

Tempest, Meet Teapot

Whee! This O'Connor/Berube/Chronicle/student thing is getting interesting! I'll let you read and enjoy that stuff--I just want to clarify a few points I made in my earlier post, which, after reading commentary, obviously need clarifying.

Angie asks me some valid questions about my post. I'll reprint her comment here, because her points are well-taken:

Did you read Berube's article? He doesn't say anything about mental illness until the very end, which is the first section O'Connor quotes. At no time does he imply that the student is mentally disabled, as shown by his conservative views or any other reason. That's O'Connor's gloss.

She also says, "But as the essay unfolds, Berube loses track of a crucial distinction, that it was not the student's conservatism that was disruptive, but his disruptive behavior that was disruptive..."

I'm not sure that this is true either. The point of Berube's essay (which he makes largely in the title), is that maybe possibly perhaps there's a point at which you have to stop reasoning and understanding and pandering to a disruptive element, and just force it to pipe down. I'll bet his conservative student could've told him that in the first place.

Here's my response:
I read it, and for the purposes of my commentary I focused on the most inflammatory aspect of it. No, he never comes out and says, "This kid is a conservative, ergo he is mentally ill," but the underlying assumptions--where I will admit I agree with O'Connor's "gloss"--in paragraphs like these:

"When the semester was over, I wondered whether John's story was the stuff of which right-wing legends are made. Would he remember the seminar as the class in which his right to free speech and debate was trampled by politically correct groupthink (even though he spoke more often than any other single student)? He couldn't possibly contend that I'd graded him on the political content of his remarks, because he'd gotten an A for the course. But there was no question that he felt embattled, that he didn't see any contradictions in his argument about the internment camps, and that he had begun to develop an aggressive/defensive "I'm not a racist, but these people . . ." mode of speaking that would someday get him either in serious trouble with some angry hyphenated-Americans or the job Dinesh D'Souza held at the American Enterprise Institute. In the last couple of weeks of the term, I found myself speaking to him almost solicitously, as if to say, "You know, if you understand so little about how some of your remarks might be taken by members of racial minorities, and yet you say so much about them, you could be in for some rough times. You might want to read a manual on tact, perhaps."

But who am I to say such things? For all I know, John might be able to craft a life in which he can deride African-American ambivalence about integration and defend Japanese-American internment camps without ever confronting anyone who disagrees with him."

demonstrate the larger point in my essay so well that I could have probably just reprinted them with a "Look! Another elitist condescending goober!" tag and left it at that. Isn't it a little bit breathtaking that he simultaneously takes pains to demonstrate his heroic forebearance while implying that such an obviously belligerent and ignorant borderline racist could only get a job with a conservative think tank?

Do I agree with Berube that this kid is a professor's nightmare, in whatever context? Oh yes, yes I do. I've been in classes with folks like this on both sides of the spectrum (including a graduate seminar with a femist so militant that we couldn't refer to a work of literature as "seminal" without an outcry), and was fortunate in my teaching not to have to deal with it to this extent.

Do I also agree with O'Connor that perhaps part of the shock Berube experiences is due not just to the conduct of the person in question but also to his stance? Yes. The condescension apparent in the above excerpt does it for me, because I've heard sardonic comments just like it in TA lounges and graduate level courses on how to be a TA. It's ingrained, it's pervasive and I think arguments pointing out the underlying elitism and leftist mindset inherent in stuff like that--and how they color "innocent articles on teaching" are well taken.

I am also fond of this little excerpt:

"Few critics of academe -- and even fewer critics of liberal-left professors -- have any idea what kind of work that entails, which is one reason, surely, why headlines like "Conservative Student Punished by Stalinist Campus Orthodoxy" strike those of us who teach as so surreal."

Which frankly pushes the whole thing over the top for me. Excuse me, Mr. Berube, would you mind getting down off of your cross for a moment so that the rest of us can ask you to GET TO THE POINT here, which is ostensibly what you need to do to handle a disruptive student, not how misunderstood you are, or how conservative this kid was, or Asperger's syndrome which you don't know for sure if the student even has, or any of the rest of it.

In my reading, Berube derails himself with stuff like this. He could have written an effective and helpful essay without any of the incidental commentary, commentary which only reinforces my point about supercilious elitism.

So yes, I think I did focus on the extreme interpretation of this essay, in part because I am sensitive to it, but the textual evidence for the more radical interpretation, as they say, is there.

Ain't lit crit grand?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:36 AM | Comments (4)

December 04, 2003

Move Along, Move Along, No Elitism Here, Folks

I must say that I find the increased attention being paid by folks outside the university to what goes on in college courses and the academic response to this increased attention amusing.

A couple of links first: academicgame fisks a Stanley Fish article. Full disclosure--the man always has and will chap my ass, because every article of his I've read and every public appearance he's made has convinced me that he is the poster boy for the "condescending prick" model of academic. He has nothing but contempt for students, especially when they have the temerity to question his practices. I wonder if all of that condescension dripping from his keyboard affects his ability to type?

Erin O'Connor highlights an article by a fellow who determined that the reason a conservative student so disturbed him and his classroom was because the student himself was disturbed. Mentally, that is. Ah yes, the old "conservatism as mental illness canard." What a very evolved response.

This amuses me because the more academics and universities get up in arms to defend their economic and classroom practices the more they expose the prejudices which contribute quite a bit to the problems they're having--and the biggest problem appears to be their unfounded belief in their own unquestionable position as the great unwashed's intellectual superiors.

Let me clarify--I am more than willing to accede that someone with a PhD in a particular subject has more knowledge of that subject than I, but that doesn't translate into any sort of overall superiority of intellect, particularly since in the humanities a PhD is obtained after focusing research to such a narrow degree that a professor effectively corralls him or herself into a tiny academic space and becomes the master of that domain, trading ideas and papers with the other hundred or so people in the same domain. In short, a PhD can be seen as a one-way ticket to stagnation, and it's the rare professor I've come across who successfully combats the research rut.

In addition, while the depth of knowledge is impressive, the breadth is often lacking, as is apparent in the Berube article (by an English professor, no less--WHY is it always the English professors?) which diagnoses someone with a different political viewpoint as disabled.

The companion to the intellectual superiority pose is the "You can't criticize me if you don't do what I do for a living" argument, which is a load of bull. Certainly there will be things a layperson is ignorant of in any profession, but not knowing the inner workings of departmental politics doesn't affect an outsider's ability to tell if a professor is doing a good job. Talk to the students. Read his or her output. Go over the syllabus--none of these things require either teaching experience or a PhD; it's almost the same thing as consulting a copy of Consumer Reports before purchasing a car. I don't work in the auto industry but I can judge a good car. I'm not a doctor but with a phone call to the medical board and an office visit I can make informed decisions about which ones are best. Similarly, if I read an article in which a professor diagnoses a problem student as disabled, and it turns out that the disability is a political point of view, I don't need to be a department head to see a problem with the fellow's reasoning and perhaps with his teaching.

I thought that the point of a university for an undergraduate was to gain exposure to a breadth of knowledge--to have ideas challenged without being belittled or labeled in the process. Professors who cry foul when their students or the public critique them, or try and diagnose away different points of view have completely missed the point of the university.
Their cries of "no fair!" or "how dare you!" will only result in more criticism, and mark my words, it'll be less and less constructive and more combative as time goes on.

Sort of like Stanley Fish.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:17 AM | Comments (9)

December 03, 2003


Since I spend an inordinate amount of time mocking other people's academic faux pas (faux pases? fauxes pas? Oh, screw it. I took Spanish since I figured it would actually be a USEFUL language.) I feel that it is only fair I subject myself to the same scrutiny. We can subtitle entries in this category - Dumb Stuff I Did That Makes Me Wince. Here we go:

I was a TA during the 1992 election cycle and, like most of my peers, all excited when Clinton won. Ah, dewy-eyed youth...anyway, I remember seizing upon Maya Angelou's inauguration poem as a great example of homage to Walt Whitman, the first real (albeit self-proclaimed, at least in the beginning) American poet. The symmetry! The style! The sheer teachability of the moment! I burned with enthusiasm to demonstrate the uniqueness of American poetic themes to my Intro to Lit classes!

Oh, dear God. Compare and contrast for yourselves, dear readers.

Let's see: Exhibit A opens with a pean to dino turds. Exhibit B opens with transcendental self-centeredness--tiresome perhaps by today's cynical standards, but at least readable without asking yourself, "WTF is this person doing talking about dinosaur feces at an inauguration, for crying out loud?"

Whitman uses his being as a metaphor for the universal. Angelou describes a multicultural dream world that apparently had been brutally oppressed until that glorious election day. And for God's sake, woman, just STOP WITH THE MASTODON ALREADY! Your heavy handed non-symbolism makes me want to beat people with the jawbone of the aforementioned animal. Or with that damn rock that keeps talking. This is turning into a bad flashback, people.

Ya know, this is a lot like last weekend, when just for kicks I watched Xanadu on TV. I LOVED Xanadu. When I was TWELVE. I owned the soundtrack and skated to it constantly. It is a truly horrific movie, and when I saw it again all I could think was, "Gene Kelly! Were you that hard up for cash?"

Sigh. I hope I didn't do any lasting harm to the young minds of the nineties with this crap. The poetry, not the Olivia Newton-John movie.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's not like they were paying attention anyway.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:16 PM | Comments (6)

December 02, 2003

One to Watch

Okay, this discussion hasn't even happened yet, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict lots of fun wanky goodness, if the Chronicle's previous discussions about women, family and tenure are any indication.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2003

And Now for Something Completely Academic

What with all the hullabaloo surrounding The Guardian's recent discovery that International ANSWER is backed by (gasp) communists, this article seems apt, if only to demonstrate that our friends in the British press aren't the only folks who are somewhat clueless and out of touch.

Seriously, it is conferences like that one, coupled with bad publicity about draconian speech codes, course descriptions that defy description and general academic asshattery that will leave schools and universities open to the incursion of the private sector.

Getting misty-eyed about Marx and Lenin won't save education, kids. Try pulling your head out of your ass and teaching facts, not ideology. That would be a glorious revolution, indeed.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:23 PM | Comments (5)

November 18, 2003

Tacky? Yeah. Harrassment? Umm, Are You on Crack?

So a Texas frat decides on a poor theme for a frat party, some folks get pissy and make inappropriate fliers (said folks aren't even in the frat in question) and now the fraternity is being investigated for code of conduct violations.

Let's see...I did a bit of Googling, and the pertinent passage in the IFC Code of Conduct states:

All Chapters and/or their representative members are not to engage in any form of
harassment of any individual or group. Harassment is defined as extreme or outrageous acts or communication that are intended to harass, intimidate, or humiliate an individual or group.

A party which makes light of a war is in poor taste, but who exactly would it be harrassing? If anyone (and this would be a stretch, since the stated purpose of the party was to support the troops--yeah, misguided and lame, but there you go), it would be people IN Iraq who, by virtue of being in Iraq, probably don't know or give a rat's ass about a bunch of stupid frat boys in Texas.

This is what we on earth like to refer to as overkill. Or rampant paranoia coupled with Cover Your Ass syndrome. Or maybe fiddling while Rome burns--there are so many possibilities here, and wouldn't you know it? None of them are good.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2003


The French try hard, they really do, but for good old-fashioned disdain, they cannot compete with the Brits.

Example - this review of the latest Eagleton tome.

As someone who suffered through every theorist named in the review, I cannot help but read this article with barely suppressed glee.

My Friday's looking brighter already. Now I'll go home and finish the latest Florence King collection and sleep like a baby, my thirst for witty vitriol slaked.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:54 AM | Comments (3)

November 07, 2003

Thar She Blows! A Hump Like A Snowhill!

It's the Moby Dick of academic wank, and it just. keeps. going!

I posted on this before, but I am compelled to point it out again--if you want to see how low the standards of "academic discourse" have fallen, check out the ongoing wanktastic thread about Suicide Bombings over at the Chronicle.

I've seen more coherent arguments in old Usenet flamewars about the X-Files. Watch as the usual suspects trot out the usual canards, as though repeating these assertions often enough will cause them to become reality.

There are some folks who try to have a reasonable argument, but really, why bother at this point? The Chronicle's discussion boards have become nothing more than a lovely display case for different academic prejudices. Reading them is like looking at a collection of butterflies pinned to felt--once you get past the pretty colors, it's just dried up dead bugs.

Or something...

It's Friday. Don't expect good similies from me today. But do go read. And point. And laugh. Because really, that's all that's left to do.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:11 AM | Comments (2)

November 05, 2003

My New Favorite Site

I've plugged it before, and will continue to do it until you're sick to death of
They feature a "speech code of the month" on their homepage. Here's a fun excerpt from this month's honoree, Hampshire College:

Hampshire College prohibits "name calling" as well as "psychological intimidation, and harassment of any person or pet."

Yeah, I can cope if you call me a white devil cracker bitch, but when you insulted my pet snail, well, what choice did I have but to sue?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:43 PM | Comments (4)

October 31, 2003

Wanna See Something REALLY Scary?

I was all set to do a meaningless pop culture post about pumpkin carving, a fastidious Boy, and my burning need to see 28 Days Later, but reader Christine sent me this link, and it's much scarier than some maneating zombie movie could ever be.

Thrill to the sanctimonious, yet nostalgic tone of the radical alliance's mission statement, with its invocation of empire, imperialism and lies, oh my!:

We are radical scholars and intellectuals. Many of us are activist-academics who work in, around, and in spite of institutions of higher education. Many of us are activist-scholars and activist-intellectuals who work in non-academic settings. Some of us are veterans of the sixties, and some of us are younger; all of us are active participants in today's new movements. In 2002-2003, we came together in the streets, the teach-ins, the academic associations and elsewhere in opposition to the war in Iraq; we oppose the governmental lies that brought the U.S. into the war, and we oppose U.S. imperialism and the emerging U.S. empire. We are deeply concerned about growing repression and, in particular, its impact on critical thought and expression.

Gasp at the hysterical tone of every. single. thing. on. the. site!

Reel in horror as the dead come to life!

Finally, leave screaming at the irony of conspiracy theorists complaining about misinformation, half-truths, and mind rot!

The horror, the horror!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:13 AM | Comments (3)

October 30, 2003

I Stand Corrected.

Remember this post, in which I quoted an excerpt from Derrida?

Well, it turns out that the excerpt in question, featured in Harper's magazine, was severely truncated. Truncated and edited enough, in fact, to change the overall tenor of the quote.

A reader emailed me to say:

I thought you might want to know that you have been duped by journalistic fraud perpetuated by Harper's magazine.

Jacques Derrida never wrote the excerpt about 9/11 that they lampooned in their October issue. What Harper's did was to take a very long
written answer that Derrida gave to an interview question about 9/11, randomly removed about 300 words of his prose in random places, and
then reassembled the text to make it look as ridiculous and nonsensical as possible. If you want to know what Derrida actually wrote, you have to look at the book Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, published by U of Chicago.

The University of Chicago has contacted Harper's about their fraud, by the way; but its editor, Lewis Lapham, did not run a correction in this
month's issue, nor even make reference to the "error". So apparently it is normal journalistic proceedure in Harper's to present a completely reassembled text as a direct and unmolested quotation.

The whole episode is a perfect example of the level of "scholarship" involved in people who have strong opinions about Derrida and other
writers, but have never read their works. As one writer on your site put it, it is much easier and much more gratifying to have one's "suspicions confirmed" by lazy and misleading journalism than to do research oneself. The whole anti-Derrida industry is comprised of people who have strong opinions about writers, but who simply refuse to do the work of reading.

I didn't buy the book--didn't have to, as the pertinent excerpt is included here (scroll down to the Derrida portion). Read it for yourself and you'll notice a more in-depth explanation by JD of his ideas about words as ineffectual in communicating the enormity of an event like 9/11.

Of course, as I responded to the reader in an email:

I'm all about the mocking, but my main point about the mocking is that academics are often silly enough without any "outside help." And my mocking of Derrida is and always will be that his ideas--while interesting--are expressed in a style that seems determined to alienate as many readers as possible. I've always wondered if he's just a bad writer or if he feels that his style is a litmus test to limit the number of those "worthy" of his intellectual gems.

That said, I can see why an editor would chop the passage; however, the chopping in question does change the tenor of the quote--and to do it without indicating that it was done is indeed wrong.

So there you have it. As we say here in Big Arm land--the best thing about mocking silly academics is that they write the comedy for you.

So the least I can do is get the quotes straight, right?

Thanks for the email.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:21 AM | Comments (4)

October 20, 2003

Why I Didn't Major In Philosophy

I took the required Philosophy courses in Undergrad. And by required, I mean REQUIRED, as in, "in the Religion and Philosophy area, 3 courses are required for successful completion of an undergraduate degree." So I took American Philosophy, from which I vaguely recall the tenets of Pragmatism, and then I took a course in Existentialism. Oh, dear God. The only interesting thing about Existentialism was that the professor, a suitably moody little man with John Lennon glasses and an annoying penchant for striking Poses Of Deep Thought (think "hand to temple, affected grimace of rumination) had us over to his house for the final pre-exam review and discussion. During the course of our philosophical musings, as we sat upon the professor's hardwood floor whilst he pontificated from a leather armchair, one of the basketball players amazed us with a display of flatulence made all the more remarkable by the reverb caused by the aforementioned hardwoods. So that's pretty much it for my education in philosophy, or as I like to call it: My Time With the Existential Fart.

So when I say that I don't quite get how this fellow is getting all self-righteous and defensive, I'm serious. I don't get it. See, if you do an interview and say,

"In the book what I say is morally permissible is the terrorism of the Palestinians in the present situation"

then compare it to other morally permissible acts of terrorism (in your view), then why are you surprised that readers and listeners might make the appropriate leap of logic, to wit:

The Globe also said I assert what I explicitly deny, that acts of terror generally are morally justified.

In the English major, we call that parsing, and it's basically a Cover Your Ass ploy when you realize that you've shown more about yourself (and in an unflattering way) than you intended. I mean, he's asserted that two discrete terrorist movements are morally justified, so I think a reasonable person might wonder exactly how he's gonna differentiate between Palestinians, South Africans, and, oh, pick a South American guerilla group. I mean, they can all be thought of as "freedom fighters," can't they? Where's the line? A reasonable person might conclude that perhaps this fellow is an apologist for 21-year old women who strap explosives to themselves and blow up buses. On purpose. To kill little kids and their moms and dads. On purpose.

The anti-semitism thing he rails against on his homepage may have been blown out of proportion, but it may also have been the only straws those publishers could grasp to get out of a contract with someone who, for all of his high-toned deterministic ideals about terrorism, is just an existential fart writ large.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:21 PM | Comments (8)

October 16, 2003

The Eagleton Has Landed

Sort of. I remember Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory as the shorthand guide to all that theoretical hoo-ha we were supposed to insert into our English Lit papers. Eagleton's book was popular because it distilled Lacan, Foucault, et al down into basics. A clever and pressed for time grad student could grab Eagleton, flip through and pick a likely theoretical suspect, figure out how to work him or her into a thesis concerning Faulkner, and go directly to the theorist only to grab a couple of sound bites to lend authenticity to the essay. Wham, bam, here's your theory, ma'am, and thanks for the A on my "clever and insightful" work. Except the work was nothing more than distillate of a distillate, which is to say, pretty dang weak.

Now Eagleton's issued forth with a follow-up, After Theory, which I believe I may actually purchase and read, because according to this article, Eagleton has recognized that:

Students today, he asserts, are engaging neither with history nor with post-structuralism. "What is sexy instead is sex," he announces, in the first chapter, on "The Politics of Amnesia": "Quietly spoken middle-class students huddle diligently in libraries, at work on sensationalist subjects like vampirism and eye-gouging, cyborgs and porno movies." Cast adrift in the stormy currents of postmodernism, they prefer to focus their energy on "the history of pubic hair" or the evolution of Friends, a trend that Eagleton regards as "politically catastrophic".

I'm sure that Professor Eagleton and I probably don't share a lot of ideas politically, but he's right, at least about the catastrophic part. I'm more of the opinion that the catastrophe of studying pubic hair in a literary context occurs because such studies destroy literature as a legitimate course of study, not because they no longer further some political cause. Erin O'Connor recently opined on this very issue, stating that:

I do think that the academic English department is committing slow, unwitting suicide. I do think that it is only a matter of time before budget-conscious administrators realize that at many schools, particularly at elite ones, there is very little, if any, actual "English" being done in English departments, and that there is thus no clear rationale for preserving English departments as such. If the people who work in them can't agree that literature is their purview, and continue to craft themselves as incoherent mishmashes of off-topic hyperspecializations (sexuality studies, postcolonial studies, material culture studies, and so on), then they are asking to be merged and consolidated with other disciplines. Under the guise of a largely irresponsible and anti-intellectual "interdisciplinarity," a great many English departments are making forceful arguments for their own dissolution.

And ya know what? It's already starting.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:09 PM | Comments (7)

October 06, 2003

Pod People

I've been following the excellent commentary over at Critical Mass concerning the treatment of academic non-conformists. I use "non-conformist" here instead of "conservative" because in fact a number of the folks being discriminated against aren't conservatives per se. Go and read and let what's left of the scales fall from your eyes.

I could point out the hypocrisy inherent in claiming to be "open minded" while persecuting those who think differently, but Irony, who dropped by to have a few beers and get away from it all, tells me it's too obivous for words. So we'll just move right along to the meat of this little treatise, which involves my adventures in academe and last night's episode of Surviving Nugent on VH-1. Looking back at that sentence I must grudgingly admit that post-modernism makes such a comparison felicitous--which could be either a compliment or an insult. Read on and decide.

First off, let me make a damning admission--in graduate school, I was a mercenary and a hypocrite and I didn't have a problem with being either. I was one of those students who had the unerring ability to read a professor's mind and give him or her exactly what they were looking for in scholarship--and I'm perfectly aware that this ability is probably something of a prerequisite for any student who is successful. The ability isn't a bad thing in and of itself; sometimes it comes in handy for pulling your GPA out of the fire of an unbalanced or hostile professor. But I used my power for evil, twisting texts to fit a theory and parroting theories that I found foolish, repugnant, untrue or only mildly interesting and treating them as though they were not only divinely inspired, but as though I agreed with them wholeheartedly. And you know what? I got A's, I got to present papers at the MLA, etc., etc. I mentally kept track of the hatch marks on the toteboard of scholarly success, and getting those hatch marks, not interacting with literature, became my main motivator. With a little more effort, I would have been on the fast track to PhD-ville.

Unfortunately, I fell in with the "non-conformists," the folks who openly questioned the sillier points of the theories we discussed in class, the ones who stubbornly insisted that the points they had to make about a particular work were valid even without the Homi K. Bhaba Stamp of Post-Colonial Approval, and the ones who either a) Turned to New Historicism as a last theoretical resort in order to get the damn MA, or b) Got MFAs in creative writing so that someone ELSE could do the theory thing on them later. I woke up and realized that the reason I had gone into the MA program--to be able to teach college students to love the literature I loved--had vanished. I felt empty, sad, and betrayed, and it took me the better part of a year and a half to finish my thesis because I could no longer stomach what I was doing. It wasn't fun, it wasn't challenging, and it was kind of a pisser to realize that the career I had envisioned probably wasn't going to happen.

I came to view my actions in grad school as a sort of innoculation against non-conformity. Let me clarify: You know the last scene in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when the last survivor runs up to Donald Sutherland, her ally, and her relief turns to horror when he points at her and shrieks? I felt like that--like I had to pretend to be a pod person in grad school in order to avoid the unearthly screeching of the indoctrinated if I dared dissent. Was this a life-threatening position I was in? No, but it took a toll when I realized that in order to succeed I would have to live a lie until I got tenure. Thank you, no, academe.

And for those of you who are wondering how I'm gonna tie this into Ted Nugent, I was reminded of how tiresome and uncomfortable it is to be on the receiving end of the pod people's screeching last night as I caught some of VH-1's Surviving Nugent. For some reason that totally escapes me, an animal rights activist decided to take part in the challenge. Perhaps she thought she could Change The World by confronting The Nuge with the Eeeeevilllee of his ways, and she always had bon mots prepared for the camera, like:
"If you want to hunt and kill, you should do it naked with your bare hands. Otherwise it's hypocritical." This culminated in a shouting match replete with profanity about our "beautiful fucking planet" and some earth mother gang sign because some dude yelled at a chicken. Truly, it was amazing to behold. And the fact that it reminded me vividly of a theory class I took with a rabid feminist--screeching, hand signals, profanity and all--should convince you that I do not exaggerate with the Pod People comparison. I promise.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:51 AM | Comments (3)

September 25, 2003

I won't speak ill of the dead

But read this obituary. To my way of thinking, it speaks ill of him for me.

Via Instapundit.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:32 PM | Comments (4)

Well, That Didn't Take Long

For those of you following the Cal-Poly Steve Hinkle Flier Posting Kerfuffle, the situation is coming to its inevitable conclusion--lawsuit!

Frankly, I'm surprised it took this long.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake

Baker's man. Piss people off and get your bake sale shut down...

Best sentence from this article, demonstrating the amazing amount of irony-free self-contradiction rampant among the enlightened on our campuses:

"My reaction was disgust because of the ignorance of some SMU students," said Houston, who is black. "They were arguing that affirmative action was solely based on race. It's not based on race. It's based on bringing a diverse community to a certain organization."

Perhaps Mr. Houston is referring to the portion of his college application where he was invited to check off whether he played football, lacrosse, golf, soccer, or liked to skateboard? Or maybe he meant to point out the portion of his entrance questionnaire where he was required to list instruments played, his sexual preference, eye color, languages spoken, and taste in music and literature, so that those things could be taken into account in the university's big Diversity Toteboard.

Oh, wait--they don't do diversity that way on campus? It is race and gender based? Well dang. Maybe someone should enlighten Mr. Houston. He seems to be laboring under a misconception. Or perhaps he's just ignorant of reality. That probably explains why he's in college--he definitely has a lot to learn.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:44 PM | Comments (4)

Speak for Yourself, Jaques

Found this gem via Andrew Sullivan. If you substitute the pronoun "I" for the "we" in the last sentence, you will get to the one nugget of truth in all of Derrida's writing:

Derrida: Le 11 Septembre, as you say, or, since we have agreed to speak two languages, "September 11." We will have to return later to this question of language. As well as to this act of naming: a date and nothing more. When you say "September 11" you are already citing, are you not? Something fait date, I would say in French idiom, something marks a date, a date in history. "To mark a date in history" presupposes, in any case, an ineffaceable event in the shared archive of a universal calendar, that is, a supposedly universal calendar, for these are - and I want to insist on this at the outset - only suppositions and presuppositions. For the index pointing toward this date, the bare act, the minimal deictic, the minimalist aim of this dating, also marks something else. The telegram of this metonymy - a name, a number - points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about."
- from "Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida," by Giovanna Borridori. Excerpted in the latest Harper's magazine.

In which case I must heartily agree--you have no idea what you're talking about 99% of the time, J.D. And yet you keep talking, to the point of self-parody. Of course to be fair, we should probably examine the question of language as it applies to the concept--the supposition, really--of

Oh, for God's sake. Can someone slap a word limit on this bloviating mass of a scholar?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:11 AM | Comments (12)

September 19, 2003

I Love the Smell of Diversity in the Morning

Via Erin O'Connor, the latest progressive salvo against individual rights and true freedom of speech on college campuses.

Erin makes the point that even if the online diversity training requirement passes, it won't do much to change attitudes about race, but probably will continue to engender cynicism about the educational process. Based on the things I and my fellow students did and said just to get a MA, I can only agree with her.

Here's hoping the current crop of students are ballsier and less cynical than my sad little generation.

Here's the IRC's website.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2003

Reason #1,198 for not getting the PhD.

Read this and weep.

I'm thinking the real "prick" here isn't the professor in question--neat how a couple of people who don't like you personally can destroy your entire academic career, isn't it?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:49 AM | Comments (4)

August 12, 2003

The Perils of Appropriate Instruction

The latest trend in academics is the idea that only specifically qualified instructors can teach in a given discpline; for example, only black instructors can teach black history. Erin O'Connor points to an example of criminals teaching criminology. I wonder if the department's hiring committee had a conversation like this one:

Dept. Head: Okay, we're here to discuss the new faculty hires for the upcoming school year. As you know, we've been extrememly fortunate to fill most of our slots with appropriate personnel, but we still have one very important opening to fill and frankly, I'm out of ideas. Yes, Dr. Wyrm?

Wyrm: Which opening is left?

Head: Advanced Criminal Behavior. We've had a few candidates apply, but they just weren't what we were looking for...Yes, Dr. Wyrm?

Wyrm: I personally reviewed the ACB applications: we had over 250 applicants for the slot! Why didn't you go with my recommendation?

Head: Ah, yes, you recommended a Mr. Eric Robert Rudolph. Frankly, Dr. Wyrm, I was surprised.

Wyrm: Why? He has excellent credentials!

Head: Excellent? A couple of small time bombings and death by collateral damage? Please. I hardly think that someone dropping dead from a heart attack counts as a casualty in a bombing. And bombings are so declasse'. We are a prestigious private university, Dr. Surely we can do better than Eric Rudolph!

Wyrm: I know the department was leaning more toward serial killer than domestic terrorist...

Head: Exactly. We don't want too much overlap with our Arabic studies professor, a Mr. Muhammed something-or-other death to America.

Wyrm: That last part isn't his name, it's just the way he ends all of his sentences.

Head: Whatever. I simply find it difficult to believe that out of 250 of the top criminals in the US, we couldn't do any better than Eric Rudolph. I mean, he's a white Southerner, for heaven's sake!

Wyrm: I thought that might be good for the diversity requirement.

Head: Really, Dr. Wyrm, your attempts at humor don't help the situation. What about this fellow, here--Latino, had a good thing going along the railroads?

Wrym: He's possibly insane, his english isn't so good, and he might be innocent.

Head: And? I know that the department had its heart set on a female African-American serial killer to fill the slot, but we can do with a male Latino schizophrenic murderer in a pinch.

Wyrm: Statistically, serial killers tend to be white males...

Head: That's just because they've oppressed everyone else, and it's our duty to show our students the beauty of diversity!

Wyrm: What about teaching them about crime?

Head: Yeah, yeah, that too.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:36 AM | Comments (2)

August 11, 2003

Monday, Monday

Okay, I'm suffering withdrawal. WHERE is Critical Mass? No, seriously. Arg!

In other news, apparently walking while white can be considered "disruptive behavior." I think the most disappointing thing about this whole kerfluffle is the disdain the Cal-Poly staff has for, oh, EVERYONE IN THE COUNTRY. Read the form letter boilerplate response to concerns here. Then read what actually happened. Brazen, much? Yeah, well, also par for the course in Student Affairs, where the fear of being labeled "insensitive" drives everything they do. Hey, Student Affairs types? You don't have a real discipline. Accept it and move on.

I think that this is a good idea. Wait for predictable outcry from predictable sources. Hublet is a teacher, and I know that a lot of whiny oblivious parents would finally be forced to come to terms with reality if they were faced with audio/visual evidence of their "little angel's" behavior. Of course, it also means that teachers would have to be, well, competent. The NEA will freak out, no doubt. And yes, I do recognize the irony of being all pro-surveillance now that I have a child, when I would have been all "Dude! Leave them be!" beforehand. I call it "growing up."

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:19 PM | Comments (2)

July 30, 2003

What are They Afraid of?

In a time-honored but often ignored tradition of university management, the President of Cal-Poly has determined that if he just ignores a problem long enough, it will go away. Granted, he's got a pretty good chance of that happening, since the whole "flier posting incident" story broke during summer break. Attention to campus news disappears along with the students. That's why UNC-CH tends to announce its "stupid required reading project for the year" in May or June, after acceptance letters have gone out and students are more excited about Todd Oldham's Dorm Room Decorating collection at Target than about the fact that they're required to read politically biased puff pieces instead of useful literature or theory--oops! Wrong rant. Moving on...

My real point here is to ask why Warren J Baker, the aforementioned Cal-Poly prez, would adopt this tactic in a pretty simple, clear-cut case of First Amendment rights. I mean, okay, university administrations HATE to go back on decisions or reverse themselves or admit that they may have been hasty or in error. Even when they do, they're often petulant and whiny about it. But that's just human nature with an added dash of academic hubris, and in most cases, the fastest way to kill a scandal is to admit wrongdoing and move on. Reasonable folks will drop it at that point. Unless, of course, the case involves race.

What do university administrators REALLY hate? And by hate I mean secretly fear and panic about. Anything that has a whiff of racial tension about it, sort of like this whole Cal-Poly kerfluffle. Brief recap: white kid posts flier for black conservative's speech in the Multicultural Center, black students charge race-baiting, white liberal administration loses its freaking mind, overreacts, then finds itself in a rather awkward position. See, if Cal-Poly actually does what it says it's committed to in its Mission Statement:

Cal Poly is dedicated to complete respect for human rights and the development of the full potential of each of its individual members. Cal Poly is committed to providing an environment where all share in the common responsibility to safeguard each other's rights, encourage a mutual concern for individual growth and appreciate the benefits of a diverse campus community.

and protects a student's right to free speech about a UNIVERSITY SANCTIONED EVENT, then the forces of multicultural grievance would come to bear upon the school, and Cal-Poly would be labeled "insensitive," which REALLY freaks out a white liberal college administration. Whereas if they just ignore the first amendment, screw the white kid and shut up about it, the likelihood of Al Sharpton showing up on campus is signifigantly lessened. And while I can definitely get behind the idea of avoiding the Sharpton--because ewwww--it doesn't change the fact that Warren J Baker, as we say around here, "done screwed up reeeeeeeal good." Look, if the students at the Multicultural Center are that freaked out by the existence of a black conservative evoking the image of slavery in his arguments, perhaps they should go to the speech and address the problem through reasoned debate and exchange of ideas, you know, like you THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO DO AT AN INSTITUTE OF HIGHER LEARNING, YOU PHILISTINES! Shooting the messenger is immature, wrong, thoughtless, and an example of knee-jerk racial reaction masquerading as a "commitment to diversity." Which, come to think of it, is a really good description of the Cal-Poly administration's reaction to this whole thing.

My undergrad institution has a great motto: Alenda lux ubi orta libertas, or "Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen." Perhaps Cal-Poly should re-examine its mission statement in light of those words. Oh yeah, and re-read the Bill of Rights. Of course, first we need to get Mr. Baker out from under his desk, or whereever he's currently hiding.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:48 AM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2003

Irony Watch

Okay, if you haven't been living in a cave you've probably heard about the recent Cal Poly kerfluffle in which a white kid was punished for posting a flier in the multicultural center. FIRE has all the details.

So, because I wanted to see if the University had done any responding to FIRE in the media, I Googled the president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Warren J Baker.

Didn't find anything new, but did run across this little blurb, which made my old friend Irony fall off the sofa laughing.

Look, it's Diversity Day! Notice anything odd about the picture of the Minority International Research Access Progam?

I'm sorry, but the photo of the white folk standing around congratulating themselves on promoting "diversity" just makes me think that the easily offended denizens of the Cal Poly multi-culti center missed out on a program that they Really. Should. Have. Attended.

The name of the program, again, was "It's Okay to Leave the Plantation."

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2003

RE: Your Application

Professor Wilkie -

Thank you for your application to join the human race. Unfortunately, I am unable to accept your application at this time for the following reasons:

I have a huge problem with the way that British geneticists like yourself try to take the intellectual and moral high ground on an issue by subjecting others to hypocritical screeds which barely conceal your underlying racism.

I am sure that you are perfectly nice on a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody whose objectivity flies out the window at the mention of the word "Israel," and who is incapable of judging a human being without being a racist prat.

As you may be aware, the human race is already full of racist prats, and we really don't need any more. I am sure you will find another suitable planet, with inhabitants who share your background and world view if you look around.

May I suggest Palestine or France?


Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:33 AM | Comments (1)

July 01, 2003

If it's Tuesday, I Must be Pissed Off.

Note to administration at Cal Poly:

Perhaps you might want to explain to some of your students that it is important to actually READ AND UNDERSTAND something before getting all het up about racism.

Of course, making the suggestion that college is about learning and not activism might be construed as insensitive or oppressive, so I can see why you'd take the easy target.

Yep, I can see exactly why. Says volumes about your commitment to providing an environment where all share in the common responsibility to safeguard each other's rights, encourage a mutual concern for individual growth and appreciate the benefits of a diverse campus community.

Well, unless you're a conservative white guy, obviously.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:14 AM | Comments (1)

June 30, 2003

That's Not Poetry. No, I Promise.

Just when I thought that the poetry world had hit rock bottom with Amiri Baraka's craptastical non-versical freestyling hate spew on dead tree, I run across some free verse excerpts from Daniel Libeskind in a National Review article about the new WTC blueprint.

While I agree with Murdock's basic premise that the new design is garbage, the most interesting part of the article was the "free verse" of Libeskind.

For the uninitiated, "free verse" is a way for poets to call run-on sentences poetry. You can try to scan the lines for metrical sense, but aside from the stray iamb, you'll be hard pressed to find more "verse" in free verse than in, say, Johnnie Cochrane's famous pronounciation, "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit!" Actually, compared to Libeskind, Cochrane is freaking Shakespeare.

My favorite example of the Libeskindian genius? So glad you asked!

America turns its mass-produced urine antennae toward Caesar's arrogant ganglion, while history is advocated by utopians as a substitute for defecating.

Hey, buddy, what my urine antennae and the arrogant ganglion do on their time off is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

But really, what am I missing here, aside from the tab of acid required to make sense of this crap?

Fortunately, you don't need acid to understand Libeskind; I've created a lovely shorthand translation for you. Every time you read his "verse," just picture him saying this to you:

"Ha-ha, arrogant, ignorant, bourgeois pig-dog! I spit in your stupid face and take your money, writing nonsense that your elites will proclaim 'deep and meaningful!' I laugh as I go to the bank! I hold you in utter contempt! HA!"

If the verse still doesn't make sense to you, re-read the above paragraph and add an extra "HA!" or two until you've constructed a stream of loud laughter. Continue laughing as you walk away from the Libeskind and move on with your life.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:20 PM | Comments (1)

June 25, 2003

Massive Run-on Propaganda Sentence of the Week

From Edward Said's Rachel Corrie screed, about bulldozers:

Mr. Corrie told me that he had himself driven bulldozers, although the one that killed his daughter deliberately because she was trying valiantly to protect a Palestinian home in Rafah from demolition was a 60 ton behemoth especially designed by Caterpillar for house demolitions, a far bigger machine than anything he had ever seen or driven.

That sentence is what happens when, in one's eagerness to get to the crunchy political center, one tries to cram too many details into one's sentences.

It's also what happens when one has somehow managed to become too important for proofreading or editing.

I won't even go into the rest of the article; as usual, the subject matter is more about Said than it is about Corrie, particularly when he contributes only one parenthetical aside in a couple thousand word essay to the fact that suicide bombings are bad, but manages to conclude with this:

Isn't it time we caught up with our own status and made certain that our representatives here and elsewhere realize, as a first step, that they are fighting for a just and noble cause, and that they have nothing to apologize for or anything to be embarrassed about? On the contrary, they should be proud of what their people have done and proud also to represent them.

Being embarrassed is SOOOOO 19th century, you know?

Link found via Tim Blair

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 03:10 PM | Comments (7)

June 24, 2003

That Went Well. Not.

Remember how our commencement speaker was Donahue, and how that didn't go over too well at a large, agriculture/science university? Well, here's the text of Donahue's speech. Again, compare and contrast with Bill Cosby's speech over at UNC-CH.

Note to Phil: in the future, you might want to use the commencement speech to talk about, oh, I don't know, ANYTHING OTHER THAN YOUR POLITICAL VIEWS. How bizarrely self-important and self-absorbed do you have to be to think that college grads want to spend the one of the most important days of their lives listening to a partisan screed?

It's called being audience-appropriate, Phil. Maybe if you could actually DO that, you'd still be on TV.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 02:29 PM | Comments (6)

Yeah, I'm White. Sue Me.

Read this article, then join me in expressing my non-surprise at the fact that academia can always be counted upon to make the stupid even worse.

This past semester I attended a seminar on the "invisible knapsack of white privilege," in which the unfortunate impression I left with was that the speaker desperately wanted to curry favor via self-flagellation. These courses are from that same mold. While I agree that it's a topic that can and should be broached, the approach leaves me cold.

Here's the ostensible goal of the course:

Winant said whiteness studies advocates must be careful not to paint white heritage with a broad brush, or stray from the historical record. Generalizations, he said, will only demonize whiteness.

So what do you get? Books like "Theodore Allen's "The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control," which argues, in part, that the collection of European immigrants into a white race was a political act to control the country."

Hey, here's a radical thought. Maybe everything isn't a political act or a conspiracy. Maybe people, when left to their own devices, kind of suck. Maybe they form groups based upon shallow attributes like looks, maybe they pick on and exploit the weaker groups, and maybe all of this has been going on longer than than the 160-odd years theorized in this article.

And if that's the case, then maybe the way to address it ISN'T to perpetuate the groupthink by separating students into courses of study based on their genitalia, color, or who they like to bump uglies with. Maybe we should spend time studying the actual historical record, and have a little faith that free thinking individuals, when presented with facts, are capable of pointing out past injustices and working to right them.

Yeah, I know. Crazy talk.

Thanks to Jim for the article.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:45 AM | Comments (2)

June 16, 2003

Academic Introspection

First things first: For some really good navel-gazing about academia (yes, there is such a thing), head over to Critical Mass and give those entries/comments a read. Brings back memories...for me, the grad school dealbreaker was the realization that teaching college students to love literature--the reason I wanted the PhD--would forever take a backseat to the politics and theoretical mental masturbation rampant in the discipline.

UPDATE: Fixed link--it should go to the right place now! Thanks Erin and JD for pointing that out.

That realization was especially depressing to me because my undergraduate experience had not prepared me for that reality. My ideas about the life of the mind were encapsulated by a conversation that my advisor had transcribed between herself and a student and taped to her office door. I still remember it:

Student: So what do English Majors do?

Professor: We read books and talk about them.

Student: That's it?

Professor: Yep.

I thought that was a noble goal, primarily because that's what we did in my "untainted by theory" undergrad program, and it cemented my belief that a good humanities-centered education could prepare people for any intellectual challenges that might come their way. Needless to say, my desire didn't survive my disillusion.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:33 PM | Comments (1)

June 11, 2003

Look - A Forest! Would

Look - A Forest! Would have seen it earlier, except for those dang trees...

In one of the more amazing recent examples of what I will henceforth refer to as "academic wank," the ability of an academic institution to completely miss the simple in its pursuit of, well, I'm not entirely sure what, I present for your inspection the ongoing saga of Professor Sami Amin Al-Arian, the USF prof currently awaiting trial on charges of terrorism.

The main story here (thanks for the tip from J, over at nowatermelons) is ostensibly the American Association of University Professors' inability to understand why Al-Arian might lose his job when he's, you know, currently in prison awaiting trial for an amazingly long list of terrorist activities. Read the article yourself for some fun snarkiness at the AAUP's expense. But the real story is in the details, garnered from the AAUP's very own site.

It seems that FSU had a bit of trouble trying to figure out exactly what to do with Al-Arian back when all this started, and it subsequently put in motion one of the wankiest lawsuit/dueling academic institution/competing high-handed press release wordfests I've seen in a while. Back in 2001 when all this started, USF was all about the "academic freedom" where Al-Arian was concerned:

Regarding the disruption within USF that he was alleged to have caused, the response stated that "Dr. Al-Arian is simply not responsible for the unlawful conduct of those who would threaten to do violence to him or to the university because they disagree with his beliefs" and that his "exercise of his constitutionally protected rights cannot be curtailed because a mindless few have chosen to retaliate against him and against the university because he has spoken out about matters with which they disagree."

Yeah, funny how some folks get touchy about other folks wanting to exterminate them. Philistines.

But then, USF seemed to change its position (I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that they actually paid attention to what Al-Arian was doing with the money laundering and the blood on his hands, etc) and started looking for ways to lose this particular albatross. Enter the shining knights of the AAUP:

At its spring meeting on June 1, 2002, Committee A approved an interim statement on the Al-Arian case which it presented a week later to the Association's 2002 annual meeting and released to the media. The interim statement conveyed the investigating committee's beliefs that it had all the information it needed for a full report on the charges against Professor Al-Arian as they had been articulated in December and, with respect to these charges, that Professor Al-Arian's statements that allegedly injured the university "fell well within the ambit of academic freedom" and that the other stated charges were "too insubstantial to warrant serious consideration as adequate cause for dismissal."

The USF president, after much waffling and meeting, and trustee-ing and lawyering, finally decided to try and cut the cord. Admittedly (read the whole process--it's a doozy!), their grounds were shaky, but that's because they were so interested in covering their asses and being all PC at the beginning that they didn't have a strong history to base their subsequent cases on. At any rate, they looked for constitutionally/legally appropriate ways to axe Al-Arian, and the AAUP got all huffy about it:

President Genshaft's August 21, 2002, announcement that USF was taking legal action against Professor Al-Arian in an effort to obtain a judicial ruling on considerations of academic freedom in his case drew a strong reaction from AAUP general secretary Mary A. Burgan. In a statement issued the following day, she said, "We are stunned that a university would take one of its own faculty members to court on an academic freedom issue. We certainly recognize the difficulty that President Genshaft has faced in dealing with these issues in the midst of intense political controversy; but that's the very reason that we strongly encourage universities to adhere to nationally recognized standards of academic due process . . . . We are baffled by President Genshaft's continuing efforts to evade normal academic due process, especially in this politically sensitive case. . . . 'Pre-suing' faculty members as part of an effort to dismiss them is an extremely rare tactic, with ominous and chilling portents for academic freedom." (emphasis mine)

Wanktastic! Note the insertion of "ominous and chilling portents," the magical witchy-words guaranteed to make any wrongdoing academic wet himself and try to correct the mistake. Now let's leave the enchanted forest of higher ed for a moment and imagine that you or I are currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of terrorism. Ya think we'd have committees and teams fighting to keep our jobs in the name of academic freedom? No, really. Stop laughing. I'm serious!

There's "innocent until proven guilty," and there's "freedom of speech," but neither of these concepts carries the caveat that "by the way, you get to keep your job while you languish in prison on extremely serious charges that definitely go beyond making a few speeches here or there." And then there's reality, in the form of the charges and the stacks of evidence just waiting to be piled on Al-Arian when he does come to trial. But academia is a wilderness where reality fears to tread, and so all that's left to the rest of us is to point and laugh. Or else die of the resulting high blood pressure--whatever.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:33 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2003

Ah, Students So I'm talking

Ah, Students

So I'm talking to one of the Housing Assignments staffers yesterday, and she's having trouble placing a student. The student's got a medical necessity form for a single, but the only building with singles available isn't up to this student's standards, because the rooms are Too Big. Say, that's not a complaint you hear every day. When I asked why that would be a problem, I was informed that the student suffers from agoraphobia, defined as "Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets. Fear of leaving a safe place."

Ooookay. Do I even need to type the jokes here, or can you fill them in on your own? NC State has 28,000 students, lots of big, roomy auditoriums, and oh yeah--there's the whole thing with the SKY when you have to GO OUTSIDE to GET TO CLASS!

See? Students are intelligent. They just tend to use their brains for small things, like getting a single in what happens to be the nicest dorm on campus (because coincidentally that dorm has the smallest single rooms).

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:28 AM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2003

Ah, Screw It. Seems to

Ah, Screw It.

Seems to be the attitude of the American Historical Association (AHA) these days. My pal Jim sent me an article from The Weekly Standard (no link) with this news:

Following a series of scandals involving high-profile historians, the leading professional organization in the field, the American Historical Association, is reducing efforts to investigate claims of dishonest scholarship. The AHA said last week it would no longer evaluate claims of plagiarism reported to it, as had been its practice, despite the dishonor brought to the profession by such recent cases of plagiarism as those of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose and by Michael Bellesiles's discredited history of gun ownership in America.

So, I decided to check the horse's mouth, as it were. Sure enough, on the AHA homepage is this press release, which states:

The AHA has ended fifteen years of adjudication because it has proven to be ineffective for responding to misconduct in the historical profession. In place of adjudication, the Association will mount a more visible campaign of public education, explaining why the historical profession cares about plagiarism, falsification of evidence, and other violations of scholarly integrity.

There follows a laundry list of "initiatives," which is basically scholar-speak for committee meetings which will produce documents that no one will read. I read the press release several times, looking for the part where the AHA explains how disassociating the profession's national professional body from investigating and adjudicating cases of professional misconduct is a GOOD thing. Alas, I couldn't find that part. I did find this, though:

The Council does not believe that the modest benefits to the profession justify the time, energy, and effort that have gone into the process.

Oh, dear God. I will leave it to you to insert the incredulous ironic comments about the "benefits to the profession" that came from folks like Bellesiles--and while you're at it, add something about truth being a noble pursuit...I'm getting blurred vision here from the twin assaults of Irony and Rage and need to get more coffee. And possibly some heroin.

The AHA defends its actions with a list of "unintended consequences" that their involvement in adjudication had brought about. The upshot is that because they couldn't be everywhere and do everything, and because their sanctions essentially had no "teeth," they must now wash their hands of the whole process. Right. Because they couldn't work to give some weight to their sanctions. And because obviously, being sanctioned by the professional organization of historians bears no signifigance to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, EVER. And because they could never, ever, simply adjust their procedures to be, oh, I don't know--effective?

The boilerplate at the end of the press release concludes with this lovely sentiment:

Over the years, the Association has changed as the discipline and profession have changed, but its central mission has remained unaltered: the advancement of historical knowledge.

To which I would add the following caveat: as long as advancing historical knowledge doesn't include verifying its accuracy. 'Cause that might be, you know, hard.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2003

Walden School? You're all Wet.

Walden School? You're all Wet.

Apparently the administrators of Walden school got a little carried away with this quote Thoreau included in Walden:

"I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute."

And have taken it to mean that they don't have to deal rationally with legitimate parental concerns. Unfortunately for the Chafee family, moving to a pond in the middle of nowhere to ruminate on the situation isn't an option. Neither is tossing the school's administrators into a pond. More's the pity, since they seem to be all wet.

Via Number 2 Pencil, which has more on the issue.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2003

Help! I'm Being Repressed by

Help! I'm Being Repressed by SPAM!
Got an email yesterday from Didn't have to open it to discern the contents; check out the spelling of womyn. But, because I sometimes like a good laugh, I opened the email. Nhulse does a series of multimedia, "SPOKEN WORD" (caps hers) performances about--wait for it--violence against women and rape. Both important issues, to be sure, but I had some questions about her treatment of the topics given the following excerpt from an article she references in her email:

Hulse's "A Rose by Any Other Name," is a multimedia performance dramatizing the forms of rape in our culture. It's graphic, driving home the evils of the crime like a jackhammer. The presentation features dance performances by Hulse, the music of artists such as "Marilyn Manson," "Garbage" and "Hole," scenes from films such as "The Accused" and "Animal House," and telling statistics on such crimes as incest and date, acquaintance and stranger rape, "A Rose by Any Other Name" tells the story of our "rape culture."

Uh-oh. Rape culture. Buzzwords for the radical branch of the feminist tree. I wonder if she considers all acts of intercourse rape? No way to tell, but I thought I'd check out her homepage.

Oh, look! Andrea Dworkin's greatest hits! Plus a list of factoids--many of which have been debunked for almost a decade. The newspaper article also said this:

Hulse noted that she meets with a lot of resistance in her work to educate the public about rape. And, she added, women who have performed with her in the past have even been beaten for their participation.

She doesn't say whether the beatings came from victims who don't appreciate their trauma being hijacked for a cause that ultimately injures rape awareness and prevention efforts by making hysterical claims and polarizing male/female relations. But more importantly, I wonder how long before our campus hosts a performance?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:18 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2003

Tunnels, Oppression and Programming, Oh

Tunnels, Oppression and Programming, Oh MY!

Erin O'Connor posts a letter today from a student organizer of a "tunnel of oppression"--a travelling exhibit that attempts to educate people about the horrors of oppression through photos and graphics and multimedia hoo-ha. The letter was earnest, and asked for comments on how to better the program. In truth, the best way to do that would be to eliminate it utterly, as several commenters on Erin's site point out, with varying degrees of civility. But that is neither here nor there. To me, the most remarkable thing about the entire communication is this section:

I have helped in the organization and facilitation of the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire version of the Tunnel of Oppression for three years. I agree that it is probably a very unintelligent and mindless method of educating the general student population. However, life in Eau Claire consists of a mostly white, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, suburban, upper to middle-class society. Most of the students that attend the University come from backgrounds that follow this same societal structure/pattern.

The Tunnel is aimed at the students that don't realize that life elsewhere is any different from the Suburbia that they grew up in. Ignorance is dangerous. The goal of any baccalaureate is the irradication of the ignorance that they still harbor, though in most cases the targeted ignorance is solely "book knowledge."

Look at the assumptions here. As one commenter on Erin's site pointed out, participants in the tunnel of oppression may tend to display apathy toward it precisely because of the organizer's attitudes, and wonder where they (the presenters) got their "special", enlightened point of view. I don't know this student, or his/her course of study or background, but s/he has certainly internalized the old "bourgeoisie bad" idea--the only things missing are the sneer quotes.

The writer admits to the stupidity of the program, but defends it because he or she has so little regard for the "white, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, suburban, upper to middle-class society" types on campus that the only way "those people" can be educated about evil in this world is by dumbing everything down to pictograms. I'm surprised that the students at Wisconsin - Eau Claire are even capable of locating the exhibit, much less appreciating it. After all, with a background such as that, we should all be amazed that they've dragged themselves far enough from the primordial ooze to walk upright.

And get the misspelled Orwell-speak at the end. The goal of a baccalaureate is not the "irradication" of ignorance, it is the development of the mind. One may lead to the other, but please don't get this particular cart before the horse. Traditionally, books, lecture, and discussion have been more than adequate to the task of mental development and its corollary in the eradication of ignorance. I suppose the real question here is what has changed about college education that makes these approaches seem inadequate, and why proselytizing has taken the place of encouraging the natural intellectual curiosity of students.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2003

Refreshing Quote of the Day

Refreshing Quote of the Day

From Pay-Per-View only Chronicle, an interesting article by an English professor among physicists, in which he explores the differences in collaboration and collegiality between the disciplines. Reading this explained to me the faith my hard science pals had in peer review versus my scepticism about the process in the humanities. But beyond that, there's this quote:

The story of the Bell Labs physics scandal initially intrigued me because I thought it might turn out to be a scientific version of the culture wars, with scientists coming under attack from groups that help finance them. It didn't turn out that way. ... But humanists have long been embroiled in their own conflicts with the society that finances them--and one of the reasons lies in the way that we raise roadblocks and bar the world from entering our neighborhood. That's the opposite of what we ought to be doing, and it's all the more shameful because humanists are in an unusual and enviable position: The nature of our work makes it easy to open our doors and share that work.

Thank you, professor Cassuto. Part of my extreme disillusionment with the English discipline came from the desperate attempts of faculty to justify its worth by making it more "scientific" and thereby more exclusive. I believe that the worth of humanities education is in teaching subjective versus objective analysis, and in learning how to read, comprehend, ENJOY, and make cogent and accessible arguments about a text. There is value in those skills--the declining quality of debate in this country demonstrates that when the humanities give in to their insecurity and try to add "science" to their field, the students--and by extension, the populace at large--suffer.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:13 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2003

The Post-Modern Anti-Intellectual Hublet and

The Post-Modern Anti-Intellectual

Hublet and I often spend time with a fellow ex-grad student who also happens to be our "token uber-liberal friend." He's a nice guy, but the views he espouses remind me why I decided that getting a PhD in literature would be the intellectual equivalent of becoming a two-dollar whore--selling myself cheap and pretending to be whatever the customer of the moment wanted in order to survive. One of his favorite topics is the "rise of anti-intellectualism" and its pernicious effect on society. I've always disagreed with this idea, but it's only recently that my reasons why have crystallized into any sort of cogent argument.

In order to hold the position that America is a nation of anti-intellectuals, you must begin with the belief that the average American is stupid. This belief is widely held in academia--to point out to these people that professors are merely "average Americans" with degrees is a non-starter, as you will be subjected to a lengthy diatribe the upshot of which is that their intellectual curiosity is a rarity, and thus establishes them as members of the intellectual elite. It's a circular argument, and one you cannot win, but it is a useful illustration of the attitude that Den Beste points out in his recent essay: they're in the club, and they OUGHT to be in charge.

When you persist in arguing that there is no inherent superiority in being able to apply post-colonial theory to MacBeth, because the theory itself is as questionable as its application, you get the Stanley Fish answer: the theory is merely misunderstood and misapplied by rubes and enemies of the intellectual left. Never mind that the majority of the folks "misapplying" the theories are being published in journals edited and distributed by the intellectual left, or that these writers are intellectual lefties of impeccable credentials. If you point out that there is a sense of entitlement among the humanities professoriate based entirely on ephemera and circle-jerking self-congratulation, you are charged with the greatest of all crimes: anti-intellectualism!

It is not anti-intellectual to question the truths held to be self-evident by the PoMos. It is not anti-intellectual to hold theories of education up to rigorous scientific investigation; in fact, it is classical intellectual investigation. The only objections the PoMos consistently raise to standardized testing, to the teaching of the Western Canon, and even, in society at large, to what are considered "traditional" values, is that they might be offensive or discriminatory. Instead, the enlightened view goes, we must replace these old offensive and discriminatory ideas and practices with new ones--which are equally offensive and discriminatory, but only to the average (read: stupid) American. When there is an outcry, when the real damage being done to the minds of our young people by failing to insist upon excellence is pointed out, they go underground, hijacking textbook approval panels and inserting their agenda behind the scenes (thanks, Jim, for pointing out that article). Because they know best, after all.

If anti-intellectualism means standing up to smug, insulated, self-righteous intellectual hacks with weak theories and even weaker defenses of those theories, then by all means, call me anti-intellectual. A post-modern anti-intellectual, in fact.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2003

Reality 100 - A Remedial

Reality 100 - A Remedial Course for Professors and Administrators

Reality 100 seeks to address the cognitive dissonance experienced by many of today's college professors and administrators when faced with modern student protests against their policies or instruction.

The majority of class discussion will focus on the conundrum faced by many who spent their college careers railing against the status quo created by those over thirty, only to find themselves both over thirty and in the position of defending their own status quo. Topics covered will include:

  • Those miserable ingrates--don't they realize that we're trying to save them? A primer for dealing with professorial frustration.

  • No, see OUR parents were wrong about everything, not yours; we FIXED all that--guiding Gen Y through the rebelliousness of youth with an eye toward accomplishing the glorious revolution we dreamed of.

  • Dealing with in-class dissent without showing up on

  • Damn you, Reagan! DAMN YOU!--A weekly therapeutic roundtable for addressing the root causes of the malaise affecting today's youth.

Reality 100 is a for-credit course only, as the administration feels that grades are an abitrary and restrictive tool of authority, and thus counterproductive to freedom of thought and creative expression. Power to the people!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:43 AM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2003

The Rub I remember taking

The Rub

I remember taking my first theory course--it was, interestingly enough, in grad school, because my undergraduate institution focused on reader response when it came to literary texts. I am glad of that approach, as it seems to me that familiarity with the words on the page is essential when you start delving into theoretical schools of thought--there are so many that often students get overwhelmed by the need to apply the theory to make their point and forget what the text itself says. I think this is why so much academic output is so easy to mock--it's become an exercise in pushing the envelope, not in reading the text, and the envelope gets pushed right into (unwitting) self-parody.

I also remember moving rather quickly from the glow of "what interesting ideas" to a jaded "this is stupid, but I need an "A"" approach to my own writings. When I try to pinpoint the reason, I realize it's more a combination of factors than One Big Flaw in Education. I was reminded of this when I reread a Stanley Fish piece (slow day at work, okay?) in which he spends a LOT of type to make the point that postmodernism isn't to blame for the vapidity of much scholarly debate or the insipid nature of students, but that the failure of intellectuals (and society at large) to properly understand postmodernism leads to these problems. Well okay, Stanley, I get that. But it doesn't actually solve the problem, does it?

And here's the rub: when confronted with the negative consequences of a particular school of thought or philosophical movement, intellectuals almost always fall back on the "it isn't properly understood" defense. Which can almost always be true, based on the myriad interpretations of any given idea, theory or approach to life. Real life example--I made a post mocking a particularly vapid proclamation by a professor, and pointed out that his views were unsurprising, given his penchant for decorating his website with Che Guevara posters. I received an earnest non-flaming email from a lady who informed me that I didn't properly understand what Guevara was about--he was a freedom fighter, etc. etc. Okay, I'll admit to deficiency in my Guevara knowledge, so I did a little research. And what I came back to, and what I pointed out in my reply to this emailer was that at the end of the day, there was blood all over Guevara's hands, and not because he was "misunderstood," but because he did precisely what he said he would do. In addition, Guevara shares in the blood on Castro's hands, because he gave the fellow a "leg up," so to speak. As such, my contempt of those who hold him up as a paragon of virtue is defensible.

Proclaiming and preserving someone's innocence because they've been "misunderstood" even when their own actions and history point to the opposite conclusion is wrong. Ideas do have consequences, but it's almost impossible to see what they'll be when the ideas are being put forward. So it's back to the rub. Philosophies will almost always be misunderstood, misused, and abused. The question is, what do we do about it?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:18 AM

April 21, 2003

Oh, and Here's Something Actually

Oh, and Here's Something Actually On-Topic for the Blog

This article, which proclaims the death of post-modern theorizing. Amusing, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the rest of the scions of modern-day academia at large to admit these truths (they can't afford to lose the publishing deals):

"...Sander L. Gilman, a professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, replied instead. "I would make the argument that most criticism — and I would include Noam Chomsky in this — is a poison pill," he said. "I think one must be careful in assuming that intellectuals have some kind of insight. In fact, if the track record of intellectuals is any indication, not only have intellectuals been wrong almost all of the time, but they have been wrong in corrosive and destructive ways."

Mr. Fish nodded approvingly. "I like what that man said," he said. "I wish to deny the effectiveness of intellectual work. And especially, I always wish to counsel people against the decision to go into the academy because they hope to be effective beyond it."

So Stanley Fish arrives at the only destination made possible by deconstruction--deconstructing deconstruction. Wheeeee! Come join the intellectual circle jerk; just be sure that you understand that Nothing. You. Do. Matters! Of course, you should still expect a nice salary and the perks that come with draconian thought control inside your classroom--gotta have that stuff or there's no point!But wait, there's more:

If theory's political utility is this dubious, why did the theorists spend so much time talking about current events? Catharine R. Stimpson, a panelist and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, offered one, well, theory. "This particular group of intellectuals," she said, "has a terror of being politically irrelevant."

You know that hackneyed old saying, "The truth will out?" Yeah.

(via NRO)

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:28 AM | Comments (1)

We Interrrupt the Familial Mockery

We Interrrupt the Familial Mockery to Bring You This Public Service Announcement:
What the Hell is WRONG with You People?

Okay, I would have considered this article to be Swiftian, except for the inconvenient fact that it's not a satire, but an actual report. By and large I stay out of the abortion debate, but this is just over the freaking top. When you're so subsumed by a political issue that you cannot ever see a reason for an exception for fear of some damn "slippery slope," even when the exception is obvious, sensible, and done in the name of freaking JUSTICE, then you've crossed the line from fanatically stupid into actually evil.

An (almost) full term baby, who was capable of life outside the womb and who was WANTED by the mother, died, because his father murdered his mother, and because, to put it scientifically, a chemical had not yet been released by the baby's body that would start labor. To split hairs over whether the baby had actually been "born" in order to prevent your politcal opponents from gaining some sort of "advantage," is evil. No wait, let me rephrase that. It is Fucking Diabolical. Stupidity is no excuse here, lady. Neither is the slippery slope. For justice to be done in the Laci Peterson case, the prosecution should bring a double homicide charge against the murdering asshole responsible. If you can't see the depravity inherent in coldly calculating the worth of a human being in order to preserve the political status quo, then I've got nothing left for you except contempt.

In the real, nuanced, shades-of-gray world, exceptions exist. Sometimes, there is a higher good than political gain. Not that I would expect the current NOW flunkies to understand something like that--it's too abstract and smacks of morality. And when you start talking about morality, it means you have to actually examine your actions. Can't have that, NOW, can we?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:16 AM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2003

True Colors I considered not

True Colors

I considered not blogging about the Burk-Augusta non-protest fiasco last weekend, mainly because it seems the only thing keeping all this stupidity going is the media hoopla, and I didn't want to add to it. But then I realized how stupidly pretentious that was--I mean, come on people, this ain't USA Today, and besides, this stuff has passed annoying and gone straight to knee-slappingly funny. Well, if by funny you mean wasting everyone's time and being really annoying but not much else. Guess I have an odd definition of funny. But I digress...

Look, if you really think that Burk's whole Masters protest is about anything except self-aggrandizement and publicity, then let her speak for herself and put an end to that silly notion (from USA Today via Instapundit):

So will Burk march on Georgia again? "I don't think so," she said Sunday.
Her term as the NCWO's chair expires at the end of 2004, and she's already thinking about her future plans.
"But if Hootie thinks he's going to outlast me," she said, "he's going to have to wait a while yet."

Yeah, all that talk about injustice and inequality? Piffle. Here's what she's after--power and publicity, and she's willing to not only beat that dead horse, but tapdance on it naked if that's what it takes to obtain her objective. Hootie can't win! That's not fair! Who cares that it's a PRIVATE CLUB, who cares that most women aren't even interested in the issue, and that those who are probably couldn't afford a membership--the important thing here is that Martha Burk will not be bested by some upstart southern MAN! Burk will keep on until she pushes herself into irrelevance, because she's a publicity hound and an idiot. And I will laugh and laugh and laugh. Because the only antidote to idiocy like this is ridicule.

By the way, where do I go to join this group--they're right up my alley:

A local group called People Against Ridiculous Protests carried out the day's most tasteful protest. Founder Deke Wiggins appeared at his designated protest site in the morning, planted a sign, then departed. The sign read: "Look at all these ridiculous people."

I see big things ahead for PARP. Maybe I'll start a local chapter. That's a protest group I could really get behind.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:56 AM

April 15, 2003

Go Here. Speak Up. It's

Go Here. Speak Up. It's Important.

Via everywhere, this lovely notion by the folks at the University of California that if students start speaking out against their classrooms being politicized, well, just change the rules on them so that they can't. Clever, no?

Oh, look everyone! It's Irony again! I think I should just have the guestroom on permanent standby for you, old pal. What? You tried to talk to the UC folks and point out that they were some of the biggest agitators against oppression by the over thirty crowd in their pot-scented heyday? And that maybe your presence as they try to rewrite speech codes to squash student dissent was appropriate? Good for you, I. Glad to see you've been keeping up with that assertiveness training. What happened? Oh, is your foot okay? I understand that doors can really hurt you when they're slammed on your foot. Bummer. Keep fighting the good fight, I. Here's a beer.

And for the rest of you--head on over to and work up a righteous head of indignation. It's for a good cause. And being indignant on a regular basis leads to long life, good health and improved virility. No really, I'm serious.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:33 AM

April 10, 2003

Why Does Edward Said Continually

Why Does Edward Said Continually Chap My Ass?

Well, aside from the fact that I had to actually read and make use of his theories to get through grad school? Because he's created an image of a people and a region based upon the false nostalgia of youth, and instead of recognizing that reality differs from theory, continues to insist on his worldview to almost the point of madness.

Here's what set me off this time. I recently came across an old article by Said, a defense of the autobiography he wrote in 1999. The idea that leapt out at me was his nostalgic view of life in Palestine (I believe he was 15 when he lived there/left), and his subsequent construction of self-identity as brave rebel, struggling against his parents' expectations as well as those of his adopted country. This isn't unusual, but I was left with the impression that Said's need to fulfill some leftover adolescent fantasy of rebellion fueled his theories. At the very least, it painted an unflattering picture of Said as an egomaniac, and this was in an article WRITTEN by Said to DEFEND HIMSELF against attacks on his AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Irony stopped by as I read the article, and we shared a special moment of laughter, as well as a beer.

I was going to just file that under Well, No Wonder and move on with my life, until this morning when I came upon this special quote (Via Sullivan):

The idea that Iraq's population would have welcomed American forces entering the country after a terrifying aerial bombardment was always utterly implausible ... One can only wince at the way weak-minded policy hacks in the Pentagon and White House have spun out the 'ideas' of Lewis and Ajami into the scenario for a quick romp in a friendly Iraq.

I hope that yesterday's reality created some cognitive dissonance for Said. I find it amusing that he uses sneer quotes around the "ideas" of others, when his own are ripe for the same treatment. And I finally wonder how long it will be before he authors a screed bemoaning the post-traumatic stress disorder of the Iraqi citizens, claiming that their euphoria was caused only by the cessation of bombardment and that it was actually just pragmatic self-preservation for these victims of white hegemony.

I used to think that adolescence was something we experienced and got over. I now find this theory increasingly disproven, especially among those whose only sense of self-worth comes from being seen as a "rebel." I'd be angrier if it weren't so pathetic.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:47 AM

April 09, 2003

FIRE is on, Well, Fire.

FIRE is on, Well, Fire.

Got two emails from Thor Halvorssen yesterday--yeah, I know they're mass emails, but I just like saying that I get mail from a thunder god--about cases at Harvard and Rutgers which FIRE calls "victories for fundamental fairness and freedom of conscience." Go read both case studies and be very very glad for the existence of this watchdog group.

I also noticed they're working on a new endeavor, Site isn't up yet, but I intend to check back.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:55 AM

April 08, 2003

Hi, I'm the Most Overwrought

Hi, I'm the Most Overwrought Person Ever.

In the latest Chronicle (sorry, subscription only), we have a lovely first person account of the "chilling effect" of the Patriot Act on scholarship. And who, may one ask, is the academic experiencing the chill? Perhaps an outspoken pro-Palestinian political science professor? Maybe a high-profile critic of imperialism, like Edward Said? Why no, not at all. Just plain ol' Judith Grant, associate prof at USC who teaches poly sci and--wait for it--women's studies.

Far be it from me to paint with the broad brush just by looking at Judith's disciplines. Let's allow her to speak for herself:

"I am now experiencing what American legal scholars call 'a chilling effect' and I was indeed first aware of it as a sort of chill running up my spine--a half-second of anxiety, almost subconscious, the moment I heard the act had been passed. I feel that chill again when I realize that I now pause a moment before I write almost anything."

Well, the case could be made that the pause is a good thing, in that it might let you actually EXAMINE the self-absorption apparent in this article and perhaps develop a sense of embarrassment about writing it, but I guess the chill isn't yet that pervasive. Why, may you ask, is she feeling chilled?

It seems she gets emails about politics from former students who are now abroad. They run the gamut from the reluctant American soldier to the Israeli citizen puzzled by her increasing feeling that many Arabs in the region are "crazy extremists" to the South Korean who wants to know if capitalism caused the mental illness of a mass-murdering countryman. Our good professor thinks of contacting other former students in Saudi Arabia and China, to see how they're doing, but she doesn't. Why? Well, that pesky chilling effect, why else?

"Is my email monitored, now that I have been in contact with people in countries that border the 'axis of evil'?"

Short answer: no, you self-important hack. But it goes on in this vein, concluding that:

"I hear President Bush tell the nation that the number of protestors against the war with Iraq doesn not matter, that the opinions of American citizens are irrelevant."

I must have missed the "Fuck You, Hippies" speech. Or perhaps they only aired it on Planet Judith.

Okay, so she concludes that she must now stand up and speak out about the eeeville Bush while she still can, dammit, or else she won't be able to hold her head up in class. What. Ever. This article is most instructive as an exampe of the sanctimonious hysteria and egoism that thrives on campuses. Obviously, the eeeeevillle hegemonic imperialist mental-illness inducing capitalist globalizing Bush junta will not be appeased until it can read every trite email from a no-profile academic with the hopes of crushing her freedom.

I get the impression that secretly she yearns for just a taste of real oppression, perhaps to lend legitimacy to her persecution complex. And what better indicator of a free society is there than a complete lack of understanding of what oppression actually means? Hey Judith? Chill.

Caveat: I'm not addressing the whole good/evil issue of the Patriot Act. Here's the text of the Patriot Act--read and decide for yourselves. Here's my short take: can it be abused? Yep. Can every law written be abused? Theoretically, yes. Example: NARAL's attempt to prosecute pro-life protestors with RICO. Didn't work. Why? Courts. Overly simplified point here? Probably. Do I care? Not really, because I'm more of a "wait and see" person when it comes to this stuff. And anyway, I'm all about the mocking. I'll leave that legal analysis to folks who do it for a living.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 08:30 AM

April 04, 2003

Noooooooooooo! (Pause, Deep Breath.) Noooooooooooooooo!

Noooooooooooo! (Pause, Deep Breath.) Noooooooooooooooo!

In an example that chaos theory is alive and well, the commencement speaker for NCSU will be (drumroll please) Phil Donahue.

Collective campus response: head-scratching, followed by "The Hell?"

NC State is best known for engineering and ag science. This has what to do with a Notre Dame alum and random sensitive yankee man? If your answer to that question is "nothing that I can think of," you win a prize.

I words. Too random.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:58 AM

April 01, 2003

You Suck, Edward Said Here's

You Suck, Edward Said

Here's a fun quote (via Campus Watch):

Edward Said, university professor, calls the U.S. policy in Iraq a "grotesque show" perpetrated by a "small cabal" of unelected individuals who hijacked U.S. policy. He accuses "George Bush and his minions" of hiding their imperialist grab for "oil and hegemony" under a false intent to build democracy and human rights.

Said deems Operation Iraqi Freedom "an abuse of human tolerance and human values" waged by an "avenging Judeo-Christian god of war." This war, he says, fits into a larger pattern of America "reducing whole peoples, countries and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust."

Look on the mindless parrotting of unproven tropes, ye mighty, and despair! Let's just count them up, shall we?

1. The amazing "unelected" myth. Yawn. Check out US History, as well as every paid and unpaid recount from 2000. This idea only survives among professional nutjob conspiracy theorists, race baiting rabble rousers, and those with no actual intellectual might. Which one might Mr. Said be? You can pick more than one, in case you were wondering.

2. Oil and hegemony together again! I'm thinking we need a corollary to Godwin's law just for the War on Terror--the Hegemony Corollary. It should hold that anyone using the word hegemony in reference to US Government has already lost their argument, just because they've demonstrated a complete lack of independent thought. The word is often overused in Post-Colonial studies, and its meaning runs the gamut from "evildoing white people" to "evildoing white people," no matter the context or the actual definition of hegemony. Same thing goes for "imperialism," as if only democratic societies can be imperialistic and there never was a Caliphate. Perhaps Mr. Said means that only successful cultures are capable of imperialism? Maybe we should ask him, just to watch his tiny head explode.

3. The Avenging Judeo-Christian god of war. Wow, he sure knows a lot about my religion, doesn't he? And history, too! Why, just this past century America was involved in a Holocaust. No, wait, that was Germany. Well, then we were being all imperial--no wait, that was Japan! Well, I'm sure we were involved somehow--oh, right. We fought AGAINST those things. Such an easy mistake to make, particularly if you're distracted by visions of hegemonic crusaders intent on feeding oil to babies before sacrificing them to Jesus...wait, something's not quite right there. Well, that would require thinking instead of knee-jerk hate spew, and we high minded intellectuals are simply too busy for piffle such as facts.

Edward, your sustained years of raging against the machine are taking their toll and you're finally coming completely unglued. While it's fun to watch, I'm thinking we should remove all sharp objects from your room for a while. Here's a nice crayon--why don't you go draw a diagram of hegemony on that soft, padded wall?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:05 PM

March 26, 2003

Self-Absorption 220: Advanced Topics in

Self-Absorption 220: Advanced Topics in Puling

Course Description: This course seeks to emphasize the importance of self-aggrandizement over all other concerns, even in moments of national crisis. We will discuss the place of the peace protestor in society at large, with particular emphasis on his/her response to being ignored by all rational people. Discussions will revolve around the following sentiments:

"We aren't being listened to, so what do you do?"


"One day of disruption in people's lives is nothing compared to the $1.1 billion a day that the US is spending to fight this war. If this is the only way that people are going to start listening, it's worth it."

The instructor's focus will be on making students feel better about themselves, and ignoring or justifying vandalism, violence, and the real consequences of taking resources away from those in need of emergency health care or protection.

Students' grades will depend upon class participation in frivolous and ultimately self-destructive activities such as:

  • Creating convincing papier mache missile dildos

  • Stilt-walking for peace

  • Making protest signs that cobble together no fewer than 4 unrelated causes in support of a brutal dictatorship

For the final, students must demonstrate competency in treating road rash received from naked die-ins, mental agility in avoiding actual debate about the issue at hand, and evading reality by shouting doggerel rhyme. In addition, a final self-esteem test will be administered. Passing grades will be given to all those who still manage to hold their heads up and retain their belief that they are acting "for peace" or in the best interests of "the people" or "the majority."

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:28 AM

March 18, 2003

Anatomy of an Academic Bloat

Anatomy of an Academic Bloat

Ever wonder how new courses of study pop up in academia and rapidly become entrenched, even when, to the casual observer, they seem pointless?

This article, on the free version of the Chronicle, provides insight into just that phenomenon, even though I don't think it's the article's intent to do so. The subject is the development of the "field" of Comp-Rhetoric, which is basically teaching college students to write (At State, the course for Freshmen is English 111, which I taught for a couple of years while I worked on my MA. Interestingly, I had no idea that there was a Comp-Rhetoric discipline, or if I did, I didn't care. But I digress).

Apparently, the field is gearing up for a big "theory war." But the more interesting angle is that the development of this discipline is evolving in the same way that most twentieth-century additions to the curriculum have:

  1. Federal cash flows into universities in the '60s to address a "problem"--in this case, it's poor writing skills.

  2. Educators follow the money, and create a new sub-cateogory, "rhet comp," which has a decided lack of a curriculum. Professors fill the void by dumping linguistics, developmental psych, sociology and anthropology into the "rhet comp" field of study.

  3. Newly minted PhDs begin to take up "theoretical stances" pertaining to their discipline.

  4. Intra-discipline debate becomes Pythonesque, as the intellectual equivalent of "Follow the Gourd" versus "Follow the Sandal!" ensues and the whole discipline just gets goofy.

  5. Someone finally admits the truth, "It may very well be composition's dirty little secret that many of us who teach writing would rather talk about cultural studies or critical theory and not trouble ourselves with the writing that our students do,"

  6. The truth, however, doesn't have the power to stop or change anything, because professorial ego, cash, and prestige are now involved, the field has reached critical mass, and its own inertia keeps it moving inevitably on. When you think about it, it's kinda like a Usenet thread...

  7. Meanwhile, actual Freshman Composition is being quite adequately taught--by graduate students in the Lit. field.

For a fun exercise, substitute "Women's Studies," "Higher Education," or any other new discipline for "rhet comp" and then ask yourselves again what you're paying for when you send your kids to college. Whee!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:58 AM

February 24, 2003

The Wages of Sociology See,

The Wages of Sociology

See, this is what happens when an otherwise talented student is exposed to 4 years of unmitigated sociology--they get all huffy and release self-important statements like this one:

"For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government's priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag,'' Smith said in a statement released Thursday.

To which the soc-whipped administration must reply:

Manhattanville President Richard Berman said he told Smith "what she's doing is courageous and difficult.''

No, no it's not. This is America, and the worst thing that will happen to Ms. Smith is that she'll be mocked. Not stoned to death, not imprisoned, not prevented from pursuing a career in sports or the private sector, just mocked. Of course, in a world where our students are so sheltered that the occasional appearance of snow porn is enough to cause PTSD, this could be construed as an horrific punishment, but your mileage may vary. Mine sure as hell does.

Life is inequality, Ms. Smith. I'm sure that I would enjoy being able to play basketball as well as you do, but alas! I cannot. How do you propose we address this inequality? Oh, I get it. Inequality only counts in cases where the government can step in and intervene through preferential treatment for the oppressed. But doesn't that create a different kind of inequality? Ah, that inequality doesn't count. It's all so very clear to me now. Thanks for the help.

Via Campus Nonsense.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:52 AM

February 16, 2003

Bugs in Amber In undergrad,

Bugs in Amber

In undergrad, there was a running joke at my school that you could tell in which year a professor received his or her PhD by the way he or she dressed. It was particularly true in the Psych Department: the two professors who matriculated in the seventies--one male, one female--still wore lime green leisure suits and peasant blouses and skirts (with knee socks!), respectively. And the newest addition to the faculty (this was in the late 80s) was all about the Capezios shoes and parachute pants. At the time, I chalked it up to "absent minded professor syndrome"--they were so busy thinking deep thoughts that they never looked around and noticed that things change.

Fast forward a decade plus three, after more schooling and a university job, and I realize that my first analysis was at least half right. Those professors and a lot of the ones I ran into subsequently didn't notice that things change, but it wasn't because they were thinking deep thoughts, it was because they were repeating the same thoughts that they had in grad school (or earlier) over and over until the thinkers became completely paralyzed--trapped in one mindset and preserved like bugs in amber, unable to recognize or react to the outside world.

How else can you explain the disproportionate number of academicians who cling to the rhetoric of class warfare and who still believe that Marx holds the answers when human nature and real world regimes have proven this false? How else do you come to terms with ideologies that are all about "shades of gray" until someone offers an opposing viewpoint, and right and wrong suddenly solidify into darkest black and starkest white? And how else can you begin to understand a worldview in which the academic alone holds the key to correct knowlege and the greatest sin is hypocrisy, not the consequences of actions undertaken in the real world, where those shades of gray are much more apparent than in a classroom?

The "explosion" of critical theory in the last couple of decades is simply the application of popular late-nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophies and causes--Marxism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Feminism--to literature. The ideas are recycled, the concepts are nominally "freshened up" by adding a dash of race or sex, and voila! Post-Colonial theory, Queer theory, and New Historicism magically appear. Yes, part of the joy of literature is finding universally relevant themes. But turning the themes that you find into courses of study all their own just leads to an overabundance of specious research and poor writing, as each little critical theory sub-group fights for a piece of the pie. And for all of their writing and research and scholarly production, these folks are still basically talking about Marxism, the academic cause du jour when they were up and comers.

This watered down Marxism pervades academia to such an extent that it is every bit as unquestioned as the old-fashioned reader-response approach to literature used to be. Incoming students are fed it, learn to regurgitate it back, and even if they don't necessarily buy into it, they learn how to play the game if they want a career in academia. Until recently, no one bothered to question the politicization of literature courses--it was simply accepted that your english professor was probably going to make a snide comment about Reagan, and no one batted an eye when he or she did. What was that old chestnut? The battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low--that about summed up the student attitude toward politics in the classroom.

But the world has a stubborn tendency to change, and so for whatever reasons--the end of the cold war, the rise of the internet, 9-11--students, scholars, and those outside the academy are a little less apt to swallow the old line. This is a healthy thing, I think, for the university, provided there is energetic debate about the issues involved. However, I am not encouraged by what I've seen thus far. CampusWatch and are being held up as the new McCarthyism, as though anyone with the temerity to question a professor's tactics or beliefs must automatically be an imperialist troglodyte and tool of the man. We have professors writing course descriptions in which those students who aren't "right thinking individuals" aren't encouraged to attend. And we have universities implementing draconian speech codes, to protect the young from the consequences of speaking their minds, one would assume.

These responses are ridiculous and out of touch, and expose the universities and scholars who hold them as fearful, inflexible relics, unable to fulfill the basic definition of a university: unity from diversity. The folks in charge of academia today are, by and large, the youthful rebels of the sixties, who wanted to get rid of the old strictures in the name of freedom. I submit that they have become what they once beheld: rigid rule-makers, or to put it metaphorically, bugs in amber.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:16 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2003

Paging Irony...Irony, Please Dial 11

Paging Irony...Irony, Please Dial 11

From the Corner, this little blurb about Martha Burk and her opinions on Augusta. Let me make this perfectly clear, in case any of you were wondering: I think that perhaps feminism, if it's serious about making the world a wonderful place for women, might be better served by spending less time whining about a country club and more time focusing on issues like, oh, I don't know, forced prostitution and slavery, genital mutilation, and regimes that brutally oppress women. Just a suggestion. But that's not my main point, this quote from Miss Thang is:

"It is because, when men get together, denigrating women is often a part of the social interaction. When women get together, denigrating men is rarely done. It's just not even on the radar screen. Even among the so-called strident feminists of the women's movement. We don't have anything to hide in that way, and men seem to."

Okay, now aside from the obvious fact that this is a lie if you live on this planet and have ever had any relationship whatsoever with the opposite sex, and that it presupposes omniscience on the part of Ms. Burk (unless she spends a lot of time in drag, eavesdropping on men's private conversations), it also--drumroll please--denigrates men by assuming that their motives are commonly base, sinister, and hidden.

Oh, hello irony! How are you today? Care for a cup of coffee while we discuss a moron? Nah, me neither.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:23 AM

January 28, 2003

If You Think Stanley Fish

If You Think Stanley Fish Chaps My Ass, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Enter Edward Said, Grand High Muckety-Muck of that tired cliche' of lit. crit: Post-Colonialism. Mr. Said has spent his entire scholarly career lamenting the fact that his people have been marginalized by Western oppressors, until they have come to internalize the values of the colonizer and thus, have destroyed themselves through inculcated self-loathing and its resulting impotence.

Let me be frank: in grad school, I found Said's stuff to be useful, mainly because it was simplistic, easy to plug in, and politically en vogue, thus guaranteeing me an A on every paper I wrote using the theory. As long as you stuck to the formula white=imperialistic evil, the Other=purity and fabulousness, you were golden. And since most of the Western Canon was authored by the dreaded DWEM (Dead White Euro Male), why, Post-Colonial theory could apply to everyone from Chaucer to Faulkner. Woo-hoo! Plug, type, get an A. Repeat process as necessary, and still have plenty of time left for bar hopping later on.

Of course, Mr. Said would probably be horrified that I treated his ideas so cavalierly, but what else can one do with racism and self-loathing disguised as critical theory? Yep, I said racism and self-loathing. Mr. Said is guilty of projection. He suffers from the enraged impotence of the Westernized intellectual, and he's dying to take it out on EVERYONE ELSE. My case in point is this little screed in The Guardian, where he begins by delineating the imminent demise of America, but only sustains it for a couple of paragraphs before his real target is revealed: the Arabs themselves.

For Said, America is evil because it wants to impose its will on others. That can be our only intention, regardless of stated reasons. Why? Well, because we're inherently evil, but we're only evil because white folks are in charge. Sucks to be us, I guess. Palestine=good, Israel=evil--we've all heard these arguments before, so read them yourself. They aren't the point here--paragraphs like this one are:

Only what we and our American instructors say about the Arabs and Islam - vague, recycled Orientalist clichés repeated by tireless mediocrities such as Bernard Lewis - are true, they insist. The rest isn't realistic or pragmatic enough. "We" need to join modernity - modernity in effect being western, globalised, free marketed, democratic, whatever those words might be taken to mean. There would be an essay to be written about the prose style of licensed academics like Fuad Ajami, Fawwaz Gerges, Kanan Makiya, Shibli Talhami, Mamoon Fandy, whose very language reeks of subservience, inauthenticity and the hopelessly stilted mimicry that has been thrust upon them.

Or this one:

Why is there such silence and such astounding helplessness? The largest power in history is about to launch a war against a sovereign Arab country now ruled by a dreadful regime, the clear purpose of which is not only to destroy the Ba'ath regime but to redesign the entire region. The Pentagon has made no secret that its plans are to redraw the map of the whole Arab world, perhaps changing other regimes and borders in the process. No one can be shielded from the cataclysm if and when it comes. And yet, there is only long silence followed by a few vague bleats of polite demurral in response. Millions of people will be affected, yet America contemptuously plans for their future without consulting them. Do we deserve such racist derision?

Here's where Said slides right off the rails of sanity. It's not racist derision to get rid of a bad guy. No one is sitting around thinking, "Ya know, those swarthy desert dwellers need the firm guiding hand of whitey to set them straight." Our thought processes are more along these lines: "Hey! A bunch of assholes want us dead! Knock that off, you!" We take exception to being murdered, regardless of the races involved. But to Said, anyone stating that idea--particularly if they are of Arab derivation--is "inauthentic," just a subservient tool of the man. Yes, everyone has been hyp-mo-tized by the evil Western colonists. Oh, the horror. Said is angry that his culture isn't strong enough to resist outside influences and remain pure. He is then put in the awkward position of being resentful that brutal dictators are being removed in favor of more freedoms, and trying to state that while freedom isn't bad, it shouldn't be forced on Arabs by outsiders. At this point, most reasonable people are completely justified in this reaction: The HELL?

In order to hold this position, you have to believe that any humanitarian or self-preservation based operation by America is a mere front for those who want TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. In this equation, we're The Brain, and the UK is Pinky. And the argument is just as ridiculous as the metaphor. The reality is that America will consult with the future leaders of Iraq, will lend humanitarian and military aid, and then will want to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. John Kerry will not be the new Governor of Iraq, installed by coup to rape the land and pillage the mosques and send the booty to Fort Knox on the backs of camels whilst ladies fair wave lace hankies at the brave conquering soldiers. Said's entire idea is based upon traditional models of colonialism, and they no longer hold true. Well, unless you're France, but that's another story.

So let's wrap up. Look, EDWARD. I'm thinking you need to address some personal issues first, before you start attributing differences of opinon among those who share your heritage to creeping Uncle Tom syndrome. Unless of course your aim is to be classed among the fine thinkers of the world like Harry Belafonte. When you make the argument that liberty and equality are inherently wrong, not because of what they are, but because other countries who don't share your skin color bring the ideas to your shores and people from your culture then EMBRACE those ideas--well, you may want to rethink your arguments, is all I'm saying. Come Mr. Tally Man, Tally Me Irony.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:17 AM

January 24, 2003

Okay, if it Isn't the

Okay, if it Isn't the English Profs, it's the Sociology Profs,
Yet Another Reason Why I'll Never be Interested in Sociology

From Critical Mass, Duke Visiting Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies (a deadly combination of specious reasoning masquerading as advancing the cause of that elusive animal, "social justice"), Becky Thompson, has stirred controversy over including Laura Whitehorn as an on-campus speaker.

Ms. Whitehorn (Hey! I only detonated the bomb when I didn't THINK there'd be anyone around), who did time for planting a bomb in the US Capitol, "expressed shock at the negative press." And professor Thompson, demonstrating her Soc/Women's Studies "parse the hell out of reality until it reflects what you want it to" mad debate skillz, had this to say:

"'Her work was actually the opposite of terrorism,'" she said, adding that it was protesting other acts of perceived terrorism. "'Part of being patriotic is trying to encourage the government to stand by principles of equality and democracy.'"
The debate is a free speech issue and the definition of patriotism does not exclude dissent, she said."

Okay, out here in the real world, you know, the one where the laws of space, time and physics apply, "free speech" is generally taken to mean, well, SPEAKING. WITH THE MOUTH OR VIA CUTESY LITTLE SIGNAGE, NOT C-4. Furthermore, in this same dimension, governments are not usually persuaded to uphold principles of democracy through explosions. That's why the first Tuesday in November is called Election Day, not Armed Resistance Day.

The tragedy here is not that Whitehorn (who, by the way, still doesn't see the problem with trying to blow up the Capitol), was invited to speak. After all, she's done her time, and in the eyes of the law her debt is paid. It's that people like Thompson can parse and twist reality to such an extent that bald-faced acts of violence against the government become our God-given right in the name of "free speech and patriotic dissent." Evil is making the foul seem fair (to mangle some Tolkien). The greater evil is not just that someone would do that on purpose, but that they would believe their own lies.

But hey, what am I upset about? They're only words, after all.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:51 AM

January 14, 2003

Arrogance, Thy Name is Scholarship

Arrogance, Thy Name is Scholarship

From this article about the recently "discovered" writings of Tolkien on Beowulf:

A common opinion among modern scholars of Beowulf is that Tolkien misunderstood the poem, despite studying and teaching it his entire life and drawing heavily on it for his own fiction, referring to the poem in letters as "among my most valued sources." For example, Frodo's relationship with Sam in the Rings trilogy mirrors that of Beowulf with his companion Wiglaf in the poem.

But modern theorists believe Beowulf is best understood as a study in iconography, rather than as a tale of moral struggle. Its greatest insights, they say, are about how we describe the heroes of the past, not about how we triumph over evil.

Riiiiiigghhht. And all that stuff at the end, about Beowulf's eventual decline and the results of greed leading to sorrow and death is merely an Anglo-Saxon version of our posthumous deconstructions of historical figures like Jefferson. Hey, modern theorists? You Can Bite My Fat White Ass. Study the time period. Take a moment to research the ancient tropes of the warrior code. Now re-read the freaking poem. Notice anything, like, oh, I don't know, Judeo-Christian morality? Now pull your head out of Derrida's ass and listen to me:

Just because "modern scholarship" has declared certain subjects "unfashionable" or "simple-minded" does not mean that these subjects do not, in fact exist, or that anyone who dealt with them before you must be wrong, due to his or her unfortunate situation in the timeline. Tolkien was not a moron, and neither is anyone who finds moral themes in this poem--know why? Because they're IN the poem. You don't have to be a christian to recognize the content, people, and mentioning it in polite society does not make you some sort of religio-fascist.

Modern theorists and scholars are so concerned with "making their mark" on the discipline that they have completely lost sight of, well, reality, not to put too fine a point on it. Stop trying so hard to be revolutionary and to prove your intellectual superiority, and focus on the damn task at hand, which is reading and understanding a great literary work. There's enough there to keep any intelligent person busy for quite some time. Yes, it's been done to death--but so what? It's not like the world as a whole has suddenly reached the limit of knowledge re: Beowulf. See those freshmen? They've never read it. You want their only encounter with Beowulf to focus on your cynical deconstruction of morality to the detriment of the poem itself?

Oh, wait, what am I saying? Of course you do. Beowulf isn't nearly as morally complex as, say, Amiri Baraka. Hey theorists? On second thought, I retract my ass. You can bite Beowulf's instead.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2003

You Say Intentional Strategies, I

You Say Intentional Strategies, I Say Gobbledygook

Inspired by this blurb from The Corner, I think I'm going to start a new weekly feature in which I bring you an example of complete gibberish masquerading as sophisticated rhetorical eloquence within the higher ed milieu:

Example #1: Intentional Strategies.
At first glance, it looks impressive. When used in a sentence, such as in a description of an enrichment program, like this: "Social ease and interaction can be facilitated through intentional strategies that enhance self-understanding and relationship building," it looks mighty impressive indeed. But let's pause for a moment and dissect the phrase "intentional strategies." What do we discover?

Well, for starters, that it's redundant as hell. Has any strategist ever sat down to create an "unintentional strategy?" No, because if you think about and create a strategy, you've intended to do it. If you do end up with something that can be referred to as an "unintentional strategy," then that would be what we call an ACCIDENT, and probably not something you'd want to crow about in a publication. So why not just call it a "strategy?"

Because it doesn't sound impressive enough, and because people who read a sentence like this one: "We'll help your kid make new friends in college by doing some role-playing in a classroom" might think twice before committing junior or juniorette into the capable hands of the college administrators, secure in the knowledge that these people Know What They're Doing. Well, that, and the fact that the grant money might stop flowing like water if the folks reading the proposals actually understood their fatuous nature.

Good to know that all the bs skills I picked up in college are being put to good use by my fellow educators, isn't it?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:35 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2002

Men Are Evil, and Other

Men Are Evil, and Other Lies My Mother Never Told Me

Because she wasn't a freaking idiot. From the always excellent Critical Mass, this illustration of the politics and profitability of sexual harrassment cases. It's about an elementary school, fer cryin' out loud! When I was in elementary school, we had "kiss dares" that today would probably result in suspension due to the creation of a "hostile environment." Oh wait--let me correct that statement--it would result in the males' suspension. Did I mention that the girls were the ones doing the kissing back in my misspent youth? Yeah, well, I guess we hadn't been told that we should be hapless victims by the militant feminist industrial complex yet.

Here's the thing--we insist on sexualizing increasingly younger and younger generations of girls (just go to any department store and TRY to find a shirt that actually covers your six-year-old daughter's navel), we saturate the media and airwaves with sexual images, and when children see and imitate the actions that these images portray, suddenly it's sexual harrassment and somehow all the fault of men.

I get the sad, sinking feeling that I'm gonna be a bit of a pariah in my neighborhood school system, because I'll be damned if they're going to tell my son that he is evil or weak or too "male" to know better simply by virtue of the testosterone in his veins.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:42 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2002

Always the English Professors, Part

Always the English Professors, Part Deux.

I'm reading the discussion forum over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, about that subversive new force I am heartened that most of the posters see the site for what it is--a place for students to air views that could do them material damage if they were expressed to the professors in question. But then I read this post, and OF COURSE it was penned by an English Professor:

Some parents should send their children directly to church and skip college. This way they can ensure a proper message is being sent. Isn't this what they do in the Madrasa in Pakistan? It worked for Bin Laden, why won't it work for them.

Mary Gravitt
Department of English
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Oh, for crying out loud, Mary, maybe you could have tried a little harder to prove the point everyone's been making about the close-minded hubris of the intellectual elite? Maybe it was a troll or a joke. So let's just Google Miss Thang, and see if she's real. Yep, listed as teaching an introductory comp course. Let me pause here and heave a great world-weary sigh. The good news is that she got slammed for being a moron in a public forum; the bad news is that she's still teaching. English. And that she seriously believes that pointing out problems in a curriculum is the sole domain of close-minded fanatics. I won't even go into her automatic association of close-minded fanaticism with religious faith. Whatever, Mare. Thanks for further sullying my chosen subject with your sanctimonious, supercilious presence. Oh, and for being sure to include your name and your area of discipline, so that there can be no doubt that English harbors the greatest number of bozos. AND for leaving the question mark off of the rhetorical question in your post, so we can add "failure to grasp the fundamentals of proofreading" to the crimes of english professors against education. No, really. Thanks.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2002

Well, at Least He's Not

Well, at Least He's Not an English Professor

But that's all I can say for Professor Farley, he of the brave revolutionary stance against the word "Confederate." Here's the essay he wrote that's adding to the furor over changing the name of a building. Good grief. Let me break a few things down for the kind prof, shall I?

Erasing a word will not erase history. Of course, as a math professor you may not realize that, so I'll type slowly. If you seriously believe that all confederates should have been executed, then you're just a sad, addle-pated little man. History is unpleasant, but we're supposed to learn from that and move on. You cannot eliminate hatred by advocating it yourself.

And one more thing--what is up with the Che Guevara poster? He helped bring about modern day Cuba, which is obviously such a paradise for modern day Cubans that they're dying trying to leave. You're ranting about a system in the US that oppressed, tortured and killed slaves, and yet you're celebrating a man who helped install an oppressive regime in Cuba. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? Ah well, what's a little intellectual dishonesty, particularly when the photo looks so nice on the web?

Here's a fun quote from an interview with Farley:
''If I had written this essay in 1952, I'd be dead right now,'' Farley said, adding that he did not abide by Martin Luther King Jr.'s doctrine of passive resistance.

And yet, Martin Luther King did more to make it possible for Farley to hold his current position and spout this nonsense than any other African-American leader, or Che Guevara, for that matter. It's called irony, Farley. Look it up on your way back to math class.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 06:48 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2002

Staff By Numbers Causing a

Staff By Numbers

Causing a mild hullaballoo 'round these parts is this article about diversity recruiting on NC campuses. I'll say this--if you're an African-American professor, you are sitting pretty right now. My concern is that pushing for a higher percentage of professors than currently exist in the general population may degrade the quality of education--both of and by the professors in question.

And an aside: it is generally agreed that Henry Louis (or "Skip" as we call him down here) Gates didn't leave Duke because of racism, unless you think his affinity for green constitutes a racial bias.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2002

"You're the worst kind of

"You're the worst kind of snob. You're an intellecutal snob." Katherine Hepburn to Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story.

The Philadelphia Story is my favorite movie ever. It has my three favorite actors--Hepburn, Stewart, and Cary Grant--it's funny, and the main character is named Tracey. What's not to love? My favorite scene in the movie is the one the above line comes from: Jimmy Stewart is the cynical journalist out to expose the foibles of the rich, and who finds himself increasingly attracted to his subject, much to his dismay. When he accuses Hepburn of the "crimes of the rich," she turns the tables with a spot-on analysis that forces Stewart to see that snobbery and disdain are not just the domains of the wealthy. The idea of the intellectual snob has stuck with me over the years, and Hepburn's line has rung increasingly true with me as I've travelled through the ranks of academia and self-proclaimed cultural elites.

Intellectual snobbery is the only real weapon left to those whose ideas are morally indefensible and intellectually bankrupt. When academicians, journalists, and politicians find their views met with scepticism or rejected outright, they tend to respond by wrapping their mantle of "greater understanding" around themselves and hastening to point out that their opponents simply don't have "the entire picture," or "a full understanding of the issues involved." Sometimes, they get a little carried away and go straight into the vicious invective category--like the movie review of Harry Potter that sums up the film by calling George W Bush a retarded monkey. That statement is indicative of a mental disconnect that I cannot begin to fathom--did someone forget his lithium?--but it's also an example of intellectual snobbery at its finest (if by "finest" you mean "most amazingly ridiculous").

Which brings me to the latest example of intellectual snobbery masquerading as thoughtful analysis--Daschle's idea that

"What happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people aren't satisfied just to listen," Mr. Daschle said. "They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically and — on our families and on us in a way that's very disconcerting."

"If entertainment becomes so much a part of politics," he said, "and if that entertainment drives an emotional movement in this country among some people who don't know the difference between entertainment and politics and who are then so energized to go out and hurt somebody, that troubles me about where politics in America is going."

You don't even have to read between the lines to see that Daschle has managed to salve his own ego by clinging to the belief that he simply doesn't have a chance to be the voice of reason in a land of mouth-breathing inbreds who "selected" a retarded monkey as president and who can't distinguish between reality and fantasy. To which I must reply, "Shut up, you fatuous pissant." Here's what you should be doing--analyzing reality. But it's much easier just to cling to the idea that no one else gets it and everybody who isn't a Democrat is just stupid and heavily armed and irrational and EEEEEEEK! Run away, for the Limbaugh barbarians are at the gates and they want to EAT MY CHILDREN!!!!! WITH RELISH AND ONION!!!!

The only bright side to all of this is that, like Katherine Heburn's character in the movie, Americans aren't fooled by this crap. I just hope that the snobs in question possess the presence of mind that Jimmy Stewart did, to understand their own foibles and relax their prejudices. Only, I don't want the debate to end like it did in the film, with a kiss. The idea of a big wet smooch from Daschle makes me feel the need to go gargle.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:11 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2002

WHY is it ALWAYS the

WHY is it ALWAYS the English Professors?

For unparallelled stupidity, knee-jerk uber-liberal spew and all around myopic boorishness, you can always count on the English Department. Couple of examples:

Via Campus Nonsense, a story about a visit by Dinesh D'Sousa: The reaction of one faculty member, however, was intolerable. English professor Kari Winter spent an entire class period 'discussing' Dinesh D'Souza and the College Republicans. She distributed a flyer that pulled quotes out of context and prefaced them with labels such as 'White Supremacy = Meritocracy.' Affixed to a wall, this flyer constituted borderline slander; distributed to a class, it was far worse. As if this was not enough, Dr. Winter accused the College Republicans of harboring 'racist tendencies.'

This professor is no stranger to controversy. Last semester, she interrupted a private conversation between a professor and a student to express her wish that the political science faculty 'stop training Nazis.' To toss this repulsive epithet at one of UVM's finest departments is to insult each and every faculty member and student. Likewise, to hurl accusations of racism at a student organization, particularly one that has striven to further rational discourse on campus this semester, is disgusting. Well said, UVM student. This prof is a grotesque parody of Orwellian excess, except without the funny.

And from a report on a war roundtable held at Duke: (UNC-CH professor of English Rashmi) Varma discussed the exploitation of Iraqi women and children by the Western world. She stressed that the living conditions of these individuals are used by the United States to dehumanize Iraq and other Islamic countries in order to justify unilateral actions against those nations.

"The United States fights in the name of human rights, but not those of the Iraqis, because they are viewed as inhuman," Varma said. This is willful ignorance, plain and simple. We may be guilty of dehumanizing Saddam Hussein, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his actions against his own people play a pretty big role in our perception of him as an inhuman monster. Children's prisons, anyone?

There are more, but I can't be bothered to document them all--just check out campus newspapers and you'll notice that whenever there's some cockeyed protest or PC controversy there's usually an english professor spearheading the stupidity or shooting off his/her mouth in predictably irresponsible ways. Why? Literature used to be associated with culture; now it's the bedfellow of spurious "cultural criticism." English departments were the first and most eager to embrace all the anti-reader response lit/crit theories, but it appears that they did so uncritically, and now they've internalized post-colonial, deconstructionist, marxist, feminist theory to the point that they approach every aspect of their lives from a theoretical perspective. I know I'm generalizing, but I'm amazed at and disappointed in a discipline that has stopped focusing on the universally human aspects of storytelling and has balkanized and politicized everything to the point that reading it in a classroom context isn't mentally stimulating or even fun anymore.

When you stop looking at a story for the pleasure or revelation it provides and start looking for the "angle" you can play to get published or get an A, then you're doing the literature and the author and yourself a disservice. And when you begin BELIEVING all the theorists and acting as though the only evil on earth is people who don't think exactly as you do, even when you're confronted with evidence to the contrary, then I submit you are no longer intellectually curious or rigorous enough to be in a position to mold young minds. Literature is important and enduring--I only hope that modern lit. theory proves itself the opposite.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2002

Hi, My Name is Peter

Hi, My Name is Peter Kirstein and I am Everything That's Wrong With the Academic Class

So Instapundit and Neal Boortz are all over this story. Mike at Cold Fury posted the kind prof's website, where he has graciously put his academic philosophy in writing for all to see. Shall we peruse the top 11--apparently, his vision of scholarship is just too dang expansive for a mere top 10:

1) Teaching is a moral act. No, it's not. Not the way you want it to be, because by "moral act," you mean "indoctrination to the truth." And what is the truth for Dr. Kirstein? Read on...

2) Teach peace, freedom, diversity, multiculturalism and challenge American unilateralism. Ahh, a bunch of catchphrases that have nothing whatsoever to do with his specialty, which is ostensibly recent US History.

3) Move beyond the ideological confines of academe. I was unaware that academe was ideologically confining, unless, of course, you're a conservative, in which case you aren't really encouraged to express your views at all.

4) Instructors should be secure and unafraid to express their opinions. They have every right to do so and should be free to engage in academic revisionism in their field. ACADEMIC REVISIONISM?!?!? Pardon, have to retrieve and reassemble my head post-explosion. He's admitting to being a revisionist--look, new facts come to light all the time in history, and that's fine. But are you completely unaware that revisionist history is a Bad Thing?

5) When emphasizing key concepts in your field, confront the canon so that your "discipline" is challenged by questions and not affirmed with answers. Why is discipline in scare quotes? Is it not real enough for you? Do you hold it in the same contempt as, say, the armed forces?

6) Be demanding and have high expectations for your students. They will respond positively if they sense you are hard working, love your subject matter and are dedicated to their learning. Sure, and if they think you're a nutcase, they'll smile and nod and back away slowly.

7) Encourage student discussion and debate. Let them know you like to be challenged and that your ideas and values are not a form of proselytizing or domination but a honest effort at conversation. Bwaaahhaaa! Haaahaaahaaahaa. Ohh, that's a good one. Have you looked at your own homepage lately?

8) Teach what interests you even in a required "core" course. Yeah, pesky course guidelines are always secondary to professorial designs.

9) Publish papers and attend conferences that interest you. They always energize me and give me new ideas and fresh material for my teaching. They also help you keep that pesky thing called Tenure, just in case you're wondering.

10) Be prepared for occasional frustration when students don't always respond to your enthusiasim and dreams. Meaning, when they think that you're a crazed relic of the 60's who needs to be put away.

11) Be who you are; don't try to reinvent yourself should you possibly be challenged by institutional culture. While you should be receptive to new ideas and respond affirmatively to formative and creative criticism, teaching is an intensely personal act-despite its public posture-and one should be true to one's beliefs and ethics. And you should take every opportunity to ram them down the throats of everyone around you, too!

The sad thing is that picking on this guy is probably what he wants, so that he can live out his fantasy of the Brave Radical, taking on the Industrial Military Complex. What a loser.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 01:06 PM | Comments (3)

November 04, 2002

Grade Inflation and the Hot

Grade Inflation and the Hot Air it Inspires

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (free section, so you can read it yourself!) which purports to debunk the whole grade inflation myth. Couple o' relevant paragraphs for you:

However, even where grades are higher now as compared with then -- which may well be true in the most selective institutions -- that does not constitute proof that they are inflated. The burden rests with critics to demonstrate that those higher grades are undeserved, and one can cite any number of alternative explanations. Maybe students are turning in better assignments. Maybe instructors used to be too stingy with their marks and have become more reasonable. Maybe the concept of assessment itself has evolved, so that today it is more a means for allowing students to demonstrate what they know rather than for sorting them or "catching them out." (The real question, then, is why we spent so many years trying to make good students look bad.) Maybe students aren't forced to take as many courses outside their primary areas of interest in which they didn't fare as well. Maybe struggling students are now able to withdraw from a course before a poor grade appears on their transcripts. (Say what you will about that practice, it challenges the hypothesis that the grades students receive in the courses they complete are inflated.) I have a problem with his statement that lower grades are an "attempt to make good students look bad." The myth of the evil professor out to destroy your soul by refusing to give out A's like candy is just that--a myth. It is also telling that he's invoking the old "concept of assessment has evolved" idea. In public high schools during the 70's, assessment "evolved" to the point where spelling and grammar became secondary to self-expression, to the detriment of communication everywhere. Perhaps THAT'S the sort of evolution we're seeing here?

The bottom line: No one has ever demonstrated that students today get A's for the same work that used to receive B's or C's. We simply do not have the data to support such a claim. Actually, funny you should mention that. I can climb up to my attic and retrieve my TA training kit, in which we were able to practice grading standards for freshman comp. In prior decades, the grading scale for the grammatical content was like this: every grammatical flaw = one letter grade lower. By the time we got there, we had a "holistic" approach which largely disregarded grammar. In FRESHMAN COMP. I can show you essays that received B's or C's that were largely illiterate, which I graded according to the set standards, and which would have been grounds for repeating the the course in years past. Other interesting aside--students here have a "free pass" for Comp if they get a D or below their first try. They can retake the course and the first grade won't appear on their transcript. So basically you have a free do-over and much more lenient grading sanctioned by the department. Nope, no proof of inflation here! Carry on...

But here, buried halfway down a very lengthy article, is the writer's point:

To understand grade inflation in its proper context, we must acknowledge a truth that is rarely named: The crusade against it is led by conservative individuals and organizations who regard it as analogous -- or even related -- to such favorite whipping boys as multicultural education, the alleged radicalism of academe, "political correctness" (a label that permits the denigration of anything one doesn't like without having to offer a reasoned objection), and too much concern about students' self-esteem. Mainstream media outlets and college administrators have allowed themselves to be put on the defensive by accusations about grade inflation, as can be witnessed when deans at Harvard plead nolo contendere and dutifully tighten their grading policies. Damn. I should have known. It's those eeeeevvviiiil conservatives again, determined to oppress the masses! Dood, we just, like, wanna educate people, maaaan! Grades are totally the tools of The Man! Fight the power!

The rest of the article explains in detail why competition is bad, and why grade inflation is a lie. Look, here's reality, at least as I experienced it as a lowly instructor: universities need cash, so they're letting kids in who really cannot hack college life. But if they flunk, the university must replace that tuition, so it makes sense to try and keep them in as long as possible. So, we tweak the standards to do it. A cynical view? You betcha! But you didn't have to read the dreck I got from these "college level" students who could not identitfy thesis statements, much less create them, in classes designed to hone argument skills and prepare them for writing in the collegiate milieu.

Ultimately, universities must work with what public education sends them. To me, the grade inflation controversy in colleges points to ills in grammar school. Railing against the idea that "grades just don't mean what they used to" in order to villify the "other side" is an amazing example of how adept we've gotten at ignoring the elephant in the classroom. Did I mention that the elephant can't read? Not that it matters, since we're all ignoring it...

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:21 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2002

Budding Academic, Installment 2: Budding

Budding Academic, Installment 2: Budding Journalist

It's Friday, I'm coming down off a sugar high, so I submit for your approval a column written by a young lady in her university's newspaper.

FYI - her weekly column (I've read her before) is called A Dream Deferred. So when that old axe starts grinding, please contain your astonishment.

This week's submission: Race Colors How Americans React To Newsworthy Events

Ladies and gentlemen, start your duh-ometers.

I will not quote the entire article about the coverage of the sniper attacks, the gist of which is completely predictable. But I will pull a few memorable quotes for you:

If you look at this case's coverage in context to how most cases are covered, one recognizes that the race card being played up so much is not only typical, but what most Americans expect and what many desire. Huh?

Let us not underestimate that even before the discovery the case was a national press phenomenon. Murder, mystery and paranoia will always catch America's attention, and this case has all those aspects, but it takes more than that to make a lasting impression. Yeah, murder, mystery, paranoia--yawn. Pass the remote, Clem, not a damn thing on teevee tonight!

Even when the profilers' predictions of a white sniper were being accepted, the case was front and center on every station. Therefore, with or without the race feature, we certainly would have another infamous serial killer story.

But with race added into the mix, we have notoriety and a case that will be added to the top-10 list of the infamous cases because of the peculiarity of a black serial killer alone. Okay, just stop. This will go into the Top 10 list, as you say, because apparently these guys have killed a whole damn lot of people, and isn't it interesting how many coincidences there are between the snipers' actions and the whole jihad thing? Just a thought. So maybe you want to think before dismissing it as a serial killer case that's gonna get a lot more play because the killer is black. No? Well all righty then, let's continue.

It is important to look at the sniper case through the lens of how most major cases are profiled. One must remember that all forms of media are businesses first and protectors of reader interest second.

Heads of major news companies want money and ratings and will produce whatever will achieve those ends. If you consider other prominent cases in the past decade, you will find easily that murder, race and public fear work together harmoniously and that they generate the ratings and readership the media is looking for.

Of course, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks serve as the most obvious example of this blend. Yeah, those reports about the DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER were all about ratings. I mean, who cares that 3,000 people died? It was just a fortuitous blend!

It left widespread paranoia and thousands dead. But race played no less of a part in the story's appeal. If the event truly mirrored the threat on American freedom regardless of race, the backlash against Muslims, especially on American soil, would not have ensued. And we all remember the backlash--riots in the streets, burning of flags--oh, wait! That was in the Middle East! Simple mistake, really, as our societies are so FREAKING SIMILAR. As the Islamic faith and Afghanistan came under public scrutiny, racial, ethnic and religious differences were present. Ahh, the glories of a public education are always so apparent in this kind of incisive commentary.

Paragraphs omitted--OJ Simpson. Hey, think he's found the real killer yet?

There was also a disparity in the reactions to both the sniper and Sept. 11, 2001. While almost everyone was disheartened by the terrorist attacks, blacks were reported to be more susceptible to understanding the apparent hatred toward America than whites were. Yeah, I was sure disheartened as I sat in my living room nursing a 2 week old infant and realizing that we were AT WAR. And, sweetie, think you might have some facts to back up that whole passive voice thing about black susceptibility to understanding? While we're at it, maybe we can talk about the word choice--susceptible to understanding? Like understanding is some sort of flu bug...I can't even touch that sentence--we'd be here all weekend.

While the mainstream press focuses on the race issue in the sniper case mostly in reference to profilers being wrong, the black press is addressing the question of what the suspects' race means for blacks in America. See, there are these things called examples. I'd have liked some, because the mainstream press has tried their damndest to avoid attaching any meaning to this event whatsoever.

So on all avenues, we as Americans are divided, and the press plays on it. America to this day has an obsession, good and bad, with racial identity. As long as the interest is there, it will always be played up. And even though race itself does not make for an intriguing story, it makes an already-intriguing story more so when it is added. Yeah, that sniper story sure needed spicing up--lord knows it wasn't holding my interest before race was added!

This is perhaps the most narrow minded, self-serving thing I've read this week, and that's saying something. Of course, she is correct about the racial identity obsession--she's definitely suffering from it, and she's already made her mind up that Americans will never be able to relate to one another across racial boundaries. That slamming sound you hear? Her mind, closing. Fortunately for her, she can work out her underlying psychodrama in a public forum where, completely insulated from reality, she's free to reduce global conflicts to her pet issue. Hoo-ray for the university!

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2002

The Truth is Whatever We

The Truth is Whatever We Want it To Be, or
Surprised by Bellesiles? Umm, No.

The Bellesiles case has something for everyone involved in or critical of academia--sloppy, made up research, sloppy or non-existent peer review, lies, denials, political embarrassment, and resignation under duress. Practically the entire blogosphere has weighed in on this one, so I feel compelled to do the same, although hopefully from a different enough angle for it to be interesting.

I'd like to focus on this quote from Bellesiles (taken from a National Review article):
"All that remains in question are the few paragraphs and table on probate materials. On those paragraphs, Emory's committee of inquiry found no evidence of fabrication, though they do not charge evasion. … I adamantly deny both charges. I have never fabricated evidence of any kind nor knowingly evaded my responsibilities as a scholar. I have never consciously misrepresented any data or evidence. …I will continue to research and report on the probate materials while also working on my next book, but cannot continue to teach in what I feel is a hostile environment."

It is not surprising that Bellesiles would defend his work in order to salvage his scholarly reputation; however, I think that Bellesiles actually BELIEVES that he did nothing wrong, and that the current academic culture in the humanities nurtures such belief among all its adherents. At the heart of such self-delusion is the postmodern thought that pervades every campus.

When you arrive in a graduate program, particularly in humanities, your emphasis shifts from reader-response engagement and moves to critical theory. This is sensible--you spent four years coming to terms with the content of your major, and now you must engage not only the basic texts but the theories of those who are shaping the current debate. Enter post-modernism and moral equivalence. In anthropology and sociology, Clifford Geertz redefined the debate to make it impossible for a culture's observer to make any critical comment about that culture unless he or she is a part of it. In english lit., Derrida and deconstruction make it impossible to make a definitive statement about meaning of any kind. For a fun example, read this intro to the Derrida Online Website. Makes your head spin.

These theories cross-pollinate and their immediate result for the average student is the idea that not only can't you decide what certain texts mean, you can make up any meaning you want to as long as you quote a plausible theorist. In my case, I applied post-colonial theory to Faulkner, and was assured an A on every paper, because I overspread the underlying popular Fuck Whitey thought with a thin veneer of scholarship provided by Homi K Bhabha and Edward Said. Now, I knew good and well that Faulkner wasn't about any of this, but it didn't matter! I was basically encouraged to distort reality and for lack of a better phrase, make shit up. And I was rewarded for it! We were all doing it, and telling ourselves that playing fast and loose with what we knew was the truth of a text was okay, because we were "opening the text to exploration." It also came in handy when dismantling arguments we didn't like--our enemies couldn't argue against a point when the point itself kept shifting. Or, you could just skip the verbal sophistry and go straight to the "racist oppressor" argument--the one in which you claimed your opponent was a lemming-like product of the evil white man and thus was blind to other points of view. That one always worked. Eventually, anything you saw fit to pull from a text, no matter how out of context or patently absurd (my MA thesis is a great example of this: Medieval Passion Plays as sites of political struggle. Umm, no. But it got me the degree!) was a go. Reality was whatever you said it was, provided you could pull enough quotes out of context. And if your politics were correct, no one was going to look too closely at the research, source material, or thought process.

Now back to Bellesiles. He's guilty, and I'm not trying to exculpate him, but to me it seems like he was just continuing to do what he was trained to do by the system--look at a subject, determine the conclusion you want to reach, and manipulate the data accordingly. After all, he was just "opening the facts up to new interpretation and exploration." And it would have worked, too, if not for those pesky kids at the NRA! His politics were correct, thus no one reviewing his work looked at his research, source material, or thought processes. But here's the kicker: the fact that he continues to insist that he's going to keep researching probate materials when half of the ones he said he looked at DON'T EVEN EXIST! Bellesiles has completely surpassed me and my fellow students in shaping reality to his own ends. In the current academic envrionment, Mr. Bellesiles gets a gold star.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2002

Budding Academics As an aged

Budding Academics

As an aged veteran of the university, I often like to look around and see what those precocious whippersnappers, the future shapers of American minds, are up to. Here's an exciting example of modern thought. This young lady writes for her school's paper, and has created her own major in "Cultural Politics and Social Protest." Oh, you tiny socialist scamp! She has a recent editorial entitled, "Capitalism is not Democracy." Here are a few gems:

Democracy is a funny word. It doesn't have a universal definition; rather it is defined by different groups of people for different interests. The U.S. government, for example, uses the word democracy to mean neoliberal economics. I would like to try to imagine a different definition toward a different end. Especially in a time of silencing dissent, it is imperative that we try to understand what the potential of working democratically for democracy is. Yep, that dissent sure is silent. That would be why every paper and news outlet feature protests on a daily basis, even if only 5 aged hippies bother to show up.

Paragraph removed...Weird aside about Zapatistas and their benign idea of rulership ...

Racism, sexism, homophobia and the existence of social and economic classes are all obstacles to democracy. These oppressions silence voices and undermine economic and political freedoms. Hierarchies, whether formal or informal, often impede on freedoms and dehumanize those are disenfranchised. Blah, blah, blah. Swiped this straight from her feminist studies manual, no doubt.

The concept of democracy is so warped in our minds right now that we cannot even imagine what it would look like. Democracy does not simply mean representation, but rather reaching consensus and doing what is best for the collective group. Which is what we are doing here. It is the exact opposite of a capitalist system, the dominant definition in the United States--that would be her dominant definition, in case you haven't caught on yet, and that definition isn't anchored in reality.

We cannot quickly transform our culture into one that is truly democratic. Nothing short of a total and complete revolution in our economic system and the way we function could. However, we can try, practice and experiment with democracy at every chance we get. We can question authority, make change within oppressive structures and take power for ourselves. Ahh, I love the smell of nascent fascism in the morning--let's all take power. There is no sharing here! That's REAL democracy, baby!

One of the best ways to begin this process is within the classroom. Children are socialized into the world through many ideological outlets, including media, religion and family. However, many times school is the first opportunity for children to interact with their peers and to face an authority figure in a "professional setting." Children are taught from their first day in kindergarten to listen when the teacher speaks, to raise their hands, to be deferential and to allow authority to define their learning process. If we could begin to change this process, perhaps we could change the way we participate in our society.Ya know, some other great leaders of our time thought that the best way to inculcate change was by "re-educating the children." Hmmm, I wonder who they could be? Suddenly I'm in the mood for bratwurst...

Paragraph removed. Odd blather about trust. Did this poor child never watch The X-Files?

While the United States prepares to launch preemptive strikes on Iraq, we should question who would benefit from this action. Iraqis who are killed will not benefit. Americans in the military who will die will not benefit. Americans who rely on social programs that get cut due to the military budget will not benefit. I will not benefit. And there, in a nutshell, is her argument. It's all about Jessica! She wants to grab the power, re-educate the children, and get rid of any war that doesn't immediately benefit her interests. There is no big picture--there is only Jessica! Whee!

Oil companies, the military complex and President George W. Bush might benefit. But if we are working for democracy we need to assert that this war is not good for the people of the United States, nor the majority of people in the world. Let's see...democracy is kind of about freedom from oppression, terror and fear. Freeing the people of Iraq from an oppressive dictator and the people of the US from, never mind. She makes me tired.

Wow, that was amazingly naive and ill thought out. In all fairness, however, this is a college sophomore, and she's just toeing the party line and regurgitating what she's been taught. The most salient feature of this garbage is not that a 19 or 20 year old thinks it, but that more than a few tenured professors and assorted academic intellectuals do, and that they are spoonfeeding this crap to generation after generation with no real opposition. Just think, Jessica will soon be in a position to teach those who are going to take care of us in our old age! Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2002

Being Trained in Diversity As

Being Trained in Diversity

As part of this university, I am required to attend two "diversity events" each semester. My attendance is duly recorded and submitted to the Vice Chancellor every year. I've been employed here for five years, so that's, what, 20 diversity sessions? And you know what? With two exceptions (one class on Exploring Chinese Culture and one lecture by the fellow in charge of the Mexican consulate in Raleigh), they've all been on race relations. And race relations is always code for black/white relations. The attendees are always the same--folks from my division there to fulfill the diversity event requirement, a presenter (usually African-American), and a smattering of faculty and students. The subject matter is always the same, too: Racism on campus is overt and covert.

Now, overt racism I get. It's happened to staff members here, so I'm not ever gonna say it doesn't exist. Yeah, we've had students with swastikas painted on the ceiling of their dorm room complain that they don't understand "why that n***** had to come in my room and give me a hard time" when the person in question was a staff member enforcing campus regulations. Okay, it's here, it's hurtful, I get it. But I can only police myself in terms of what I think and feel and say about other folks, and I was raised to respect people (or make hideous fun of them) based on their actions, not their race. Sitting in a room for half a day being lectured on racism doesn't contribute anything new to my understanding or change my behavior. It's preaching to the choir. Let's put it this way: Joe skinhead with the swastika on his ceiling is probably not gonna be at the race relations forum.

So then we move on to the other subject, and this is where things get weird and PC and the whole idea of meaningful dialogue on race goes down the toilet. Racism is covert. What does this mean? That there is such a thing as white privilege and it's so ingrained in our culture that black people must always fight it and it's just as hurtful as swastikas on the ceiling and the "n word." This is where the white people start calling "bullshit" and the black people reply that white folks aren't there and can't understand and that's that. Maybe we're both right, maybe we're both wrong, maybe one is right and the other is wrong but you know what? We'll never find out, because as soon as the covert racism subject comes up on a college campus, people start speaking in PC code and dialogue shuts down. Let me use examples from this article on a recent NC State race roundtable discussion:

Nacoste opened the discussion by saying, "The point of this dialogue was to get into the social fabric of N.C. State and find out what's really going on."
With that in mind, he first posed a question to the audience and panelists.

"Is NCSU racist?"

"Based on the students and colleagues that I interact with, I see no evidence of racism [at NCSU]," said Thomas Stafford. (White guy.)

In contrast to Stafford's opinion, Al Headen said, "There are problems here. NCSU implies racism because it was relatively slow in removing the vestiges [of racism]." (Black guy--there is no elaboration on what these vestiges were.)

Both sides continued to debate. (White consensus--not a racist institution. Black consensus--racist institution)

In regard to NCSU's approach to racial issues, Monica Leach said, "We are addressing issues head on." (No, we're not. Not if this "dialogue" is an example of how we "address issues head on." We're talking around the problem.)Leach added, "Focusing on the institution takes the focus away from the individuals who practice racism." (So, the issue being addressed--is NCSU racist--is not the real issue and we aren't addressing anything).

Nacoste then posed the following question to the panelists: "What was on your mind when you moved in this direction [either supporting or objecting that NCSU was a racist institution]?"
"Students choose to be more proactive than faculty. They look at issues," said Headen. (This doesn't answer the question)
"[Students] live, learn and grow here, not just work here," said Tony Caravano. "That's the difference." (Neither does this)
"Students are very proactive but only a select few are," said Melissa Lampkins. (Again, we're sidestepping)

As the dialogue proceeded, panelists covered other points.
"[Racism] is everyone's issue, not just African-Americans' issue," said Kathy Hamilton-Brown.
(Well, hellooooo captain obvious.)
Lampkins brought up the issue of "white privilege" acknowledging its existence. She added, "To be nonracist is to be actively anti-racist, not just toning down racism." (Okay, but weren't we talking about whether racism exists--have we established that it has, what the parameters are, and how to be actively anti-racist within those parameters? No? Why not, I wonder? Could it be because if we actually sat down and started dissecting this issue tempers would flare, and our happy little veneer of PC racial harmony would crack? Naaaaah.)

"Individuals don't make social change," said Barbara Risman. "Collectivity makes social change." (This diversity roundtable brought to you by the Borg. You will be assimilated.)Soon after, Nacoste invited the audience to participate.

Audience members addressed several issues, such as contemporary segregation and racism, the power to influence intolerant minds and racial identity versus human identity.
"N.C. State is racist. Why is it racist? We have two types: overt and covert racism," said Brett Locklear.
(Examples, Brett? We're just parrotting the party line here, guy.)

Another audience member approached the microphone and said, "I think everyone is inherently racist." He noted, "We're talking but we're not really saying anything." (FINALLY! Someone hit the nail on the head! All these pretty words don't address any real issue.)

"Let's find commonalties among the races," suggested one audience member. (Look! Captain Obvious brought her sidekick, Platitude Boy!)

A female Native American student acknowledged that she hangs out with only Native Americans. She said that it was hard not to.
"[Racism] starts at home," she added.
(Well, so far we've discovered that folks tend to hang out with those like them, and that your childhood experience influences your attitude. Consider me enlightened.)

As the discussion came to a close, announcements were made about additional dialogues that are planned for 2002-03, the Study Circles Program that will allow faculty, staff and students to continue the discussions of race in a structured setting and the campus climate survey.

"I think [the dialogue] was a good start," said Kyle Huff, a doctoral student. "However, there really is more to be discussed." (Thanks for pointing that out, buddy.)

The campus dialogue was "a joke," said Locklear. "It's a vehicle being used to appease students, and there's no real accountability to the institution to make sure they address issues and needs of the community." (But how do you address the amorphous term "institutional racism?" Lobotomies for everyone? There is more going on here, but you haven't articulated it and even if you did, no one would debate it.)

"As a student leader and member of the international community, it seems that many of these events are focusing on issues that are just black and white. It's imperative to move beyond just black and white issues," said junior Crystal Young. "It was a productive dialogue on race." (I'm being obvioused to death, but thanks for that final twist of the "duh" knife.)

Nacoste left both the panelists and the audience with one last thought. "The message is there has to be institutional change. The institution has its responsibilities." (What? What are they? What the hell just happened? We spent two freaking hours talking about nothing--it was absolutely Seinfeldian in its nothingness!)

Alas, this is the state of dialogue. Everyone gets together and says that racism is bad. The black attendees talk about institutionalized racism and the white attendees nod sagely while no one gives any examples of anything or poses any constructive suggestions for improvement or bothers to mention anything that might have an emotional component, and then we all leave and promptly forget about the entire experience until the next two hour session of talking about nothing.

What would be my idea of a constructive dialogue? Well, for starters we'd talk about concrete campus examples of racism. We'd define "institutionalized racism" and talk about examples of that. We'd talk about the hidden assumptions of whites and blacks about racism. And if folks were absolutely honest, it would probably degenerate into a shouting match. But that'll never happen here, because the PC culture makes it impossible to talk about race. Because to talk about race would mean leaving behind the PC behavior codes, and no employee will do that because of the extremely high likelihood that he or she will end up labled racist and that there will be a huge controversy and you know what? It just ain't worth it. So we'll all just mark our calendars for the next roundtable discussion on race where the above scenario will be repeated, turn in our attendance forms, and get a gold star next to our names in the Diversity Training category.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2002

Campus News Submitted for your

Campus News

Submitted for your perusal today, a couple of items from Duke University's newspaper. The first is an editorial about freedom of speech on Duke's campus--the rhetoric is presented in the typical overblown senior english major more-and-bigger-words-are-always-better writing style, but the argument is well-ordered. The second item is a letter that touches on the same stuff--shorter, less wordy, but you can see the beginnings of the overblown style (this writer is only a junior--give him a year). Encouraging.

However, lest you get excited about the fact that there are those on campus willing to challenge the exisisting hegemony, read this editorial from NC State's premiere African-American publication. Yeah. It really says that. And it isn't a parody.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 05:44 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2002

Stanley Fish Chaps My Ass;

Stanley Fish Chaps My Ass; Or, Is There A Course in This Course?

Stanley Fish first came to my attention as the professor of a course entitled "Is There A Text in This Class?" which was most remarkable for its stupidity. He has since come to represent everything silly about taking postmodern or deconstructionist thought to its logical conclusion. After running Duke University's English Dept. into the ground he departed and is now ensconced at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is teaching the following course: The University and the Public Sphere: Public Intellectuals and Their Social Influence.

Course description, anyone?

Course Organization
This course is organized around a "contested concept," a concept the definition and shape of which are in dispute. The phrase "public intellectual" is often encountered in conversation and in writings, but no one quite knows what the category includes, or who are and are not its members, or if there is a strong connection between the flourishing of public intellectuals and democracy, or if the age of the public intellectual is over, or if it ever began, or, if it did begin, whether or not it was and is a good thing. (Or if you can read this giant stupid sentence without committing suicide.) Was Socrates a public intellectual? Was Shakespeare? Moliere? Francis Bacon? Thomas Jefferson? James Madison? Jonathan Swift? Goethe? Byron? Oscar Wilde? Disraeli? Walt Whitman? Daniel Webster? Frederick Douglass? Carrie Nation? Woodrow Wilson? Lenin? Churchill? Gary Wills? George Will? Charlie Rose? Mohammed Ali? Robert Redford? Ralph Nader? Al Gore? Rachel Carson? Margaret Mead? Gloria Steinem? bell hooks? Regis Philbin? John Lennon? Bob Dylan? Sting? Bill Maher? Hilary Clinton? Stephen Ambrose? Homer Simpson? If some of these are and others are not, what are the criteria? If all of these are, is "public intellectual" a real category or just a label we apply to people we've heard of? Would you want your children to grow up to be public intellectuals? Would you hire one? To do what? Is public intellectual a career choice? Can you get a degree in it? Is there a market for it? Does the country need public intellectuals? For what? What good are they? Have they been of any use in the aftermath of September 11th? Are they important enough to serve as the focus of a course?

Could we have more questions? Could the list be longer, and perhaps lend an air of "studious inquiry" to a course that appears to have been pulled out of your ass because you just HAPPENED to write an article for Harper's on this same theme and you'd like to increase your profile as a Public Intellectual by requiring it as reading? More pertinent questions, to my mind are:

Why do you still have a job? And, when will universities realize that pointless sophistry isn't really furthering the cause of intellectual development?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:30 AM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2002

Bad Subjects, Indeed Ahh, scholarly

Bad Subjects, Indeed

Ahh, scholarly publications. Takes me back to the days when I frantically spewed forth reams of, well, crap really, in the interest of getting the almighty A and maybe fodder that could later be turned into an article for publication. In the desperate rush to publish or perish, tons of tiny little journals have appeared to make it easier for aspiring academics to get their stuff into print and pad their vitae. Think I'm being too hard on myself and my fellow students? Well then, let me direct your attention to this little foray into academic publishing: Warning: the following excerpts contain specious logic, willful misinterpretation of reality buried under popular pseudo-academic or scientific terminology, and a large volume of over-cutesy "irony," in which "terms" that are "supposedly" up for "discussion," but which are "really" being "defined" within the "rubric" of the writer's "politics" will be set aside in "loaded quotation marks" so that "we" are "in" on the "joke."

From Bad Subjects, a journal of Political Education for Everyday Life :

BAD SUBJECTS promotes radical thinking and public education about the political implications of everyday life. We offer a forum for re-imagining progressive and leftist politics in the United States and the world. Whenever you see "re-imagining," they want you to think of it in terms of radical, risk-taking intellectualism, but it's basically just redefining stuff they don't like until it fits their world view, or twisting it around to make previous arguments against it seem silly or obsolete. We invite you to join us and participate in the Bad Subjects project as we enter our eleventh year of publishing.

Okay, the latest issue is on violence. The editors have this helpful forward (I'll link to the entire intro here, because it's long, and really a paragraph or two will give you the flavor of the thing).

The Aesthetics of Violence
The urge to violence is deep-rooted in the human psyche. Theoretical explanations invoke bio-mechanicism, social territorial defense, sexualities and gender construction, displacement of social anger, economic causes, class hierarchies, or other plausible and implausible motivations for violence.
If a motivation is demonstrated as having been responsible for a violent act, how is it then implausible? Nowhere would anything as simplistic as a notion that sometimes big people take stuff from little people because they can make an appearance. Nor would any conception of good and evil. These thoughts are classified as reductive and don't exist among the thinking class--they are implausible.

Many of these explanations have potential explanatory power. as explanations often do, damn their obstinate, redundant little hides.

This issue of Bad Subjects employs not science, but cultural criticism to search for an interpretive skein within that overburdened word 'violence'; this issue examines the phenomenon's representation and aesthetics. Yep, need that skein. 'Cause violence as a word just doesn't really mean violence anymore, or at least not what we want violence to mean, which is: US capitalism, which has historically been predicated on the instrumentalization of violence to achieve it systemic purposes, has learned to commodify violence as a global media product. "Buy McDonald's cheeseburgers or I'll beat your damn head in!" was a very effective ad campaign in China. Every Hollywood action film draws on a long-developed visual vocabulary of violence, and as audiences we have cultivated tastes for the narrative possibilities behind a swift kiss of lead. This aesthetic permeates US cultural products and their sponsoring national narrative. This bar of Dove soap brought to you by Die Commie Scum! The official sponsoring narrative of the United States of Amerikkka.

Simple-minded condemnations of violent aesthetics are useless; they lead to Tipper Gore-like campaigns against rock lyrics. And it's always bad to call parents' attention to what their children are consuming--I mean why do that? A steady diet of violence couldn't possibly influence behavior, never mind that the first three paragraphs of this introduction (see link above) establish exactly that. It's always better to sit around and think about WHY the violence is pervasive, rather than attempt to do something about it and risk being thought of as simple-minded.
Besides the obvious point that we enjoy a well-done indulgence of obscenity-filled music or blow-up-the-bastards filmmaking, the politics of condemnation are anti-progressive. The US right wing has staked out an oppressive cultural politics that opposes the public representation of violence in a world where the violence propagated by American policies is on everyday exhibit, at home and abroad.
Okay, there it is. The official "WTF" moment of this screed. Read it again. And again. Make sense yet? Nope? That's because it doesn't. It is meant to hypnotize you with its run-on conglomeration of trendy post-mod catchphrases like "politics of condemnation," "oppressive cultural politics " and "public representation of violence." Oh, and let's not forget the misuse of "everyday." It's TWO WORDS in this instance, MORON! But grammatical trauma aside, what does this mean? Basically, that America, its culture, wealth, and citizenry, all thrive because they violently crush anything in their path under the hobnailed boot of capitalism. And the countries that have tried to adopt capitalism are all worse off now than they were when they were all happy little cave dwellers--never mind what the citizens of those countries reply when you actually ASK them whether they're better off. And the Eeeeevillll right wing won't let anyone talk about it! See how brave this tiny little journal is? Rock on, tiny journal! Free the masses!

It goes on to list the submissions to the journal which are the predictable, tiresome produce of mental masturbation. No coincidence that this publication's initials are BS.

Important Update: I mistakenly originally attributed the above publication to University of Pittsburgh's Communications Department. This is wrong. Jonathan Sterne writes to tell me that: "It's published by
a collective of volunteers that was at one time based in the Bay Area
of California, but is now spread all over." Apologies for the confusion, and the article has been edited accordingly.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:47 AM

October 09, 2002

Critique of Critical Issues Last

Critique of Critical Issues

Last week, I attended a 2 hour session on Critical Issues in Higher Education, in which learned specialists in the field presented the findings of a study they conducted last year. We were given a handout which delineated the Fourteen Critical Issues Facing Today's College Students, and asked to discuss how these applied to our experience with students (Note for non-campus folk--Higher Ed as a discipline and theory is used in just about every non-academic department on campus, everything from Housing to Student Health to ROTC. It's a strange animal...but more on that at a later date). Here's the introductory paragraph for the handout:

The Task Force (there's ALWAYS a Task Force--never a committee or a group. Gives them that ominous inquisitory air of authority from on high, doncha think?) derived these critical issues for today's college students from the voices they heard (Where? In their own heads? Nowhere was there any information on statistical sample, number of responses, participating campuses, nada.)

They are not intended to represent all student voices nor are they listed in order of priority. (Okay, so we have a list of some stuff from the five student workers in the office where the task force sat around eating doughnuts? No priority is given--by the students. This will be important later. Nor does this information even necessarily represent everyone. So WHY am I wasting two hours of my day sitting here talking about it? Can I vote on a change of subject? I hear there may be a war on....what? Oh, right. That subject's not on the non-representative, non-prioritized list of issues you just pulled out of your ass, and thus irrelevant to all students everywhere. Sorry. Carry on.)

These issues are not, of course, discrete. (No, I hear that they flaunt themselves shamelessly all over unsuspecting campuses. Harlot issues! Put some clothes on! I know, I know, discreet, not discrete, but you have to admit it was too hard to resist.)

There is considerable overlap among elements of these issues. They were treated as separate in an attempt to fully describe the student concerns regarding each. (Whatever. This list bears absolutely NO coincidental resemblance to the issues that Higher Ed theory has been all over lately, right?) Let's take a look at the top three:

1. Multicultural Competence - What, you may ask, is this? The ability to differentiate between cultures in a competent manner (Why look, bubba! You're white. I get a gold star!)? Silly people. Multicultural competence "helps students explore and understand their personal identities and the impact of personal identity on interactions with others and provides students with meaningful opportunities to develop personal commitments that foster respect for self and others." I really have nothing to add to that--I think it speaks for itself in a clear and meaningful way, don't you?

2. Academic, Learning Concerns - This is actually what I would have expected to hear from students interviewed about their most pressing college concerns, particularly at a large University like this one, where quite a few are taught by TAs or herded into "weeder courses" on theoretical physics taught by professors who haven't mastered basic English. Interesting that it's second on the list, but I should be glad it MADE the list, I guess.

3. Social Justice - These two words scare me when they appear side by side. Why? Because "The central question that seems to be reflected in the social justice and citizenship concerns of college students is, 'How can I be happy when so much human suffering and injustice is required to support my cultural values and lifestyle?'" Just amazing, the underlying assumptions in that sentence. Particularly when this sentence accompanies it: "Colleges and universities are being challenged to model desired behaviors and become more just communities." How blandly perfect on the surface. Of course, "desired behaviors" and "just communities" is open to interpretation, and we know how that will likely be interpreted here, don't we?

Those were the big three. Discussion was predictably lame and suggestions for improvement eventually turned to faculty bashing, which, while always enjoyable, doesn't change anything. Sound and fury indeed, for which I am thankful.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 10:51 AM

October 08, 2002

Anti-Semitic or Academic? All this

Anti-Semitic or Academic?

All this talk of anti-semitism on college campuses has me reflecting on my own experience with it. My concentration was in Medieval lit.--it's what I did my MA thesis on (torture in the Passion Plays, all very Foucaultian and Bakhtinian, and I am very embarrassed by it now thankyewverymuch)--and the world view of the Middle Ages has always fascinated me. Plus, Chaucer makes some really good fart jokes. But I digress...

When you study Medieval lit. and the attendant history, you are smacked upside the head with the anti-semitism of the time. Jews had the deck stacked against them both from a religious viewpoint and a societal one--the Catholic Church forbade usury, so the only folks who were allowed to lend money were jewish. Resentment, much? So you've got the same folks who are ostensibly going to hell in charge of cash flow. The result of this was that whenever the economic situation or political situation in a particular place went bad, there was a pogrom, and Jews were persecuted/killed/set afire. This is no news to any student of history, but it is relevant background to my story. If there's any question that Jews were demonized, just read this stanza from The Prioress's Tale:

Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,

Amonges Cristene folk, a Jewerye,

Sustened by a lord of that contree

For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,

Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye,

It continues in this vein, with the evil usuring Jews slitting the throat of a christian boy, who, through the miracle of the blessed mother, manages to sing about who killed him, bloody revenge is had by all, etc., etc. As a student, I just thought of this story as the boring one that came after the Pardoner. I love the Pardoner--what a totally villainous guy! But again, I digress...

The upshot is I always thought of anti-semitism as that bizarre antiquated medieval notion (okay, sheltered Southern Protestant who had never even MET any Jewish folks until I arrived at grad school), so imagine my surprise when a friend of mine informed me that the prof. teaching her Old English course was handing out flyers for the local Palestinian support group, and using the course to not-so-discreetly digress into the injustices done to the Palestinians by Israel, evil Zionist hoo-ha, the usual propaganda, blah, blah, blah. Now, Old English is part of a concentration in Medieval studies, it's essentially a foreign language, and it's necessary if you REALLY, REALLY want to read Beowulf the way God intended, but that's all it is. It's a language course, and its content does not lend itself to a discussion of anti-semitism the way that Chaucer does. Grendel, as far as I know, was not a Jew.

So the forum this professor chose to air her personal political views was totally inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination. It was proselytizing, pure and simple, and to a captive audience. Oh sure, I suppose a student who was violently opposed to her viewpoint could have walked out of the class, but it would be the end of that student's dream of a PhD. You cannot afford even ONE "B" grade in a stand alone MA program, or you will not get into a good PhD program, and that's the kiss of death for job prospects. And if you don't think grades are influenced by behavior...well, I've got this oceanfront property in Nebraska that you'll just loooove. The philosophy of most students when confronted with this sort of thing is "ignore, keep head down, get "A", move on." And that exacerbates the problem, because no one challenges the stupidity, and it becomes institutionalized.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, really, except to say that I find professors who are opposed to Campus Watch to be idiots, at best. Let me clarify this mental leap. Just because we're paying attention to something now doesn't mean that it only just came into being. It means that we've realized how harmful that something can be. Anti-semitism by a professor in an Old English class in the early 90's seemed harmless, because really, what was she going to do, have a jihad? In 2002, we know that the answer to that question may well be "Hell, yes, she may have a jihad, or incite others to one, and people will die, and what the hell were you thinking letting this sort of ignorant hate speech spew unchallenged just because you're in a 'university' and 'celebrating diversity' and you need a freaking 'A'?" Campus Watch doesn't prevent anyone from speaking; it just doesn't let them do it the way that professor did--unchallenged and unchallengable. And if the intelligentsia can't deal with their views being exposed to the light of day and disagreed with, then I don't think they have any business telling anyone about "freedom of expression." There's nothing new under the sun, but at least now it's out from under a rock.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 07:24 AM

October 01, 2002

This will be fun... Typed

This will be fun...

Typed "Helene Cicoux" into Google, because she, moreso than any other literary theory hack(ette), pushed me over the edge into reality and far, far away from academia when she asserted that the doorknob in Edgar A. Poe's story The Murders in the Rue Morgue was not in fact a doorknob, but a clitoris. Really? Well that just clears everything up, Helene! Thanks so much. There's a reason these folks don't publish online, people, and it's because crap like that doesn't fly outside of the rarified air in the ivory tower.

So anyway, typed in "Helene Cicoux." And discovered a course at Kansas State University. I'll translate what this course really means for you, the uninitiated in the ways of Graduate Level English Courses--woo. My comments are in bold.

ENGL 604 — Expository Writing Workshop
Subtitle: Women's Writing and Feminist(s) Rhetoric(s) This isn't about students learning to form arguments. It's about learning that the way they've been forming arguments is wrong, because the rhetorical style was invented by men. Men! They Stink!

Fall 2002
Course Objectives

This course will focus on non-fiction writing by women, feminist rhetorical theory, and writing by students in the class.The unspoken assumption here--and it's probably true--is that this class will consist of 99% wymyn and 1% guilty white men.

Genres will range from speeches, to essays, to autobiography and scholarly articles. Readings in the course will be offered as models of women's use of rhetoric and as theoretical positions from which to think about how women have used rhetoric with and against traditional rhetorical paradigms. When they say "with and against traditional rhetorical paradigms," what they mean is that you'll be studying some really crap arguments that will be held up NOT as poorly argued pieces of writing, but as "examples of feminized rhetoric"--not bad, just different!

We will also be looking to developments in 20th Century rhetoric by such figures as Paulo Friere and Kenneth Burke that may be useful in thinking about the goals of feminist rhetors. Yes, because women are oppressed.....I'm sorry, what? Dozed off there for a moment.

Questions we might pose and try to answer: Do women have an authentic rhetoric apart from men? Do you mean do we speak our own language? Hello? I can save you some time, sister mine.

In what ways do race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference play a role in choosing rhetorical strategies? In the way that you cry oppression and get special consideration, I would guess.

When women speak and write, is something different going on? Yes, we're actually doing laundry. Speaking and writing are clever CODE for housework!

How have women used, subverted, and transformed rhetoric? You know how there's no correct answer to "Do I look fat in this?" That's because our innate feminine ability to use, subvert and transform the male response is awesome to behold!

Some Feminists have called for a “rhetoric of non-domination.” What would such a rhetoric look like? What would such a rhetoric accomplish for its practitioners? It would look like a bunch of pointless yammering and accomplish nothing. Reminds me of a classmate who wanted to replace the word "seminal" with "ovacular." A rhetoric of non-domination would be at least this stupid, and would have the added bonus of rendering everyone incomprehensible to everyone else, because we'd all be free to determine what our own terms meant. Don't oppress me with your dictionary, evil man!

This course will also help you gain some perspective and appreciation on how diverse populations approach communications situations.
Men are welcome. Sure, but please leave those oppressive testicles in the jar on the professor's desk.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:06 AM | Comments (6)

September 30, 2002

Let 'em bake cake! Well,

Let 'em bake cake!

Well, of course. From a flyer passed out by our Women's Center:

Pay Equity Bake Sale

In order to illustrate the inconsistencies that exist in today's marketing price strategies (imagine the difference between the cost of a haircut for a man versus a woman), the Women's Center is holding a pay equity bake sale. Donated baked goods will be sold at prices to more evenly match the economic status of the individual.

Couple of things:
RE: the haircuts--I always figured I paid more because my haircut consists of washing, layering, highlighting and blowdrying/styling, whereas the hublet's consists of sitting in a chair, getting some clippers run over his head, and leaving. What. Ever. The men who frequent my salon pay just as much as I do, and in my opinion, it's a rip, because they don't have half the hair, and the styles are nowhere near as complex. Plus, we're all free to get haircuts at the barber shop if we don't wanna pay tons o' cash.

And what does that second sentence mean, exactly? If I want to buy a cake, but don't make as much as, say, the Chancellor, does that mean she would be charged a higher price for the cake than I would? Do I have to submit a pay stub so my sisters can determine the fair market price for that pie as it applies to me? What the hell?

Activism is dead. No, really. Dead.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at 11:16 AM | Comments (6)