Archives for the month of: November, 2012

When I taught in the Vanderbilt School of Engineering’s PAVE program I learned a few really useful things from Doc Barnett. One is a graph that I use on the first day of every class I teach. It shows how long a paper needs to be, with the X axis of length and the Y axis of quality. At a certain point you hit the optimum combination of length and quality:

I always enjoyed when Doc B told the assembled wannabe engineers (with their perfect SAT math scores), “Engineers don’t do math. Engineers don’t build things. Engineers solve problems.” When I do my engineering-writing tutorials, I bore my students to tears by continually asking, “What is the problem? Does this help you to solve it?”

This brings me to the current Government’s very very limited interest in higher education. Up in Auckland, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over Minister Steven Joyce taking a great deal of interest in how UAuckland, and other NZ tertiary institutions get run. Short version of Minister Joyce’s money-talking: tertiaries will get more money, but only for engineering and science. Even the people who stand to see that money can see it’s a plan with not a few problems.

Then there’s the university where I sometimes draw a pay cheque. Today’s email from the chancellor and vice-chancellor tells us that UC’s on board for the “more spots for engineers and scientists” (I cheer for that; it means more engineering-tutor work for me).

After considering the UC business case the Government has confirmed its agreement in principle, subject to a more detailed business case which will determine the level of support to be provided, to help the University address the financial impacts of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes by providing capital support to advance its science and engineering capabilities…..

When it comes to “a more detailed business case,” I’m sure that business case #3 will convince Minister Joyce. Perhaps the business cases aren’t having much of an impact because they’re not especially well-written. Should they wish to optimize their case-making, I can incentivize their hiring decisions by promising the sort of clear prose that convinces motherfuckers to open their wallets up. But I’m not surprised that’s it’s all STEM all the time, because 1947 happened a long time ago. Erich Fromm had this to say:

From grade school to grad school, the aim of learning is to gather as much information as possible that is mainly useful for the purposes of the market. Students are supposed to learn so many things that they have hardly time and energy left to think. Not the interest in the subjects taught or in knowledge and insight as such, but the enhanced exchange value knowledge gives is the main incentive for wanting more knowledge and education. We find today a tremendous enthusiasm for knowledge and education, but at the same time a skeptical or contemptuous attitude toward the allegedly impractical and useless thinking which is concerned “only” with the truth and which has no exchange value on the market. Man for Himself (1947)

My BA institution Illinois State University bowdlerized Chaucer into the school motto “Gladly we learn and teach”. Minister Joyce seems to be an Oscar Wilde fan, since what he wants is for tertiary education in New Zealand to teach “the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

A) The panel titles for the MLA Conference never get old. The longer the title, the greater the number of parens or slashes, the more fixing-Hartford the title, and (especially) the more “and its discontents”, the harder I laugh. I enjoy the three-concepts-plus-four-modifiers of “Fragmented Lives, Hybridity, and the Politics of Identity in South Asian Muslim Women’s Writing.” Who doesn’t enjoy chiasmus fighting for space with Twitter-trimmed author names a la “Naming character, characterizing names: Onomastic studies of M Twain, H Thrale and T Morrison”? On the other hand, short titles that pander to my baser instincts – “Pinter and booze” “Dirty Chaucer,” and “Early American Sex”  “Shame” – seem so much better, as if human beings would be involved.

B) I’m all of 5’6”, and I’ve been short my entire life. This is to be expected when your mother is 5’0”, your father is 5’8”. Add in a smoking family, parental unemployment, and the usual working-class environmental disadvantages, and there was really no way I was going to get near the average height for a white American male, 5’10”.

C) To combine A and B, I must walk carefully, since I don’t want to come off like I’m dismissing LGBTQ and/or disability concerns and/or people who have done fat studies, which I am not. To avoid being less of an asshole, let me begin with a question that I ask in all seriousness: Why isn’t there a “short studies”? If I act like an asshole, there’s a pop-psych diagnosis: I have a Napoleon Complex. Let’s check on the definition Wikipedia provides: “characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behavior, and carries the implication that such behavior is compensatory for the subjects’ stature. The term is also used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.” What’s terrifically odd about this is that the same behaviour from someone who is the same as me in every way but height (let’s imagine such a person exists) would not have a similar “[Person] Complex.” I guess there’s still the matter of compensation, but a taller person’s complexes have interior causes. A short person’s stuck with their physical state as their motivation. The prevalence of the Napoleon Complex as a shared heuristic seems to presume a lesser degree of psychological complexity.

Consider the role height plays in American politics: If you were to write a novel or make a film about a politician, their height would signify, more for a male politician than a female one, since female politicians have to fight against a whole phalanx of appearance-level shittinesses before getting to something as pedestrian as height. That is to say, height is an under-investigated social construction like so many others. Clearly, height swims in the gender/race/nation/sexuality stream (let me have my hypothetical), but I wonder if there’s a self-aware but still interesting MLA panel in it.
(updated to improve things)

In the first half of June I got a bit crabby about a journal taking its sweet ass time to read my submission. I note that the promise was for a personal contact in late September. In this the first week of November, I have yet to hear a word.

I have sent an email to their editor, offering to be an outside reader for the journal. Here is the email:

Dear Editor, I write you today with a question and an offer. In a June email, I was promised a response to my journal submission by the end of September. It’s now November, and I have not heard from you. The question: Will I ever hear your decision?

I assume that the delay is due to ever-expanding load of busywork foisted on academic staff by management. Happily, perhaps, I do not face this problem, as I am a contract lecturer/tutor. What you call in the USA an adjunct. My offer: I would be happy to serve as a peer reviewer for your journal. I have a PhD from Vanderbilt University, and my areas of specialization are American/Hollywood cinema, post-war American literature, and urban/suburban studies (I also have sidelines in New Zealand film, cartography, and British genre fiction, but I doubt that would mean much for your journal). I have published in Canadian Review of American Studies, Senses of Cinema, NeoAmericanist, Illusions (forthcoming), AUMLA (forthcoming), and I am the co-editor (with Jeff Menne) of Film and the American Presidency, a collection Routledge will publish in 2014. I can promise that I will return submissions within 30 days.

I realize that putting an adjunct on the peer-review list isn’t the done thing, but I would argue that including adjuncts in your outside reader pool would generate a great deal of good will – and not just amongst the adjuncts, but also amongst our allies with tenure-track jobs.

With all best wishes, Christian B Long

I predict that I will receive the response to this email some time in June 2013.

UPDATE: They replied within a day, but to delay:

We are preparing for our annual conference, and unfortunately won’t be able to respond properly to your request until December.  Sorry for the inconvenience, and we’ll be in contact then.

For the last week he was alive, our cat Biggie couldn’t walk. His back legs basically stopped working, and Jennifer and I held up his back end so that he could get around the house. But he was undaunted – he’d drag himself from room to room using only his front legs if he wanted to get somewhere while we weren’t home. The carpet is a testament to his toughness.

Clarence came to live with us when Biggie was six years old. Clarence must have grown up in a house with cats, because the first thing he wanted to do from the second he arrived at the old place on Bedford Ave in Nashville was be friends with our cats (we had four at the time). The cats were not interested, but Biggie was the least hostile.

Ten years later, Clarence followed Biggie from room to room – from Jennifer’s office to my office to the hallway and back – for the last few weeks Biggie lived, keeping a close eye on things. In their shared old age, they became…I won’t say best friends, because Biggie always found Clarence a little vulgar and overdemonstrative. But they got along well, like two old codgers who’d grown accustomed to the other’s company and would, in unguarged moments, admit that there was some affection underneath it all.