For all you old Volvo aficionados

This song was on Car Talk this morning. I love it.



Pet cloning: it's worse than you thought

So, if nopetcloning.org is to be believed, pet cloning is worse than just a misuse of money and a misplacement of affection. It causes pain, suffering and death to large numbers of animals per successful clone.

The next time Kevin Drum mocks animal rights activists for suggesting that adopting a pet is more ethical than cloning, I'll be fully armed with the information...


Email down

My university email is down this weekend. If you need to reach me, use an alternate method.



Women and tenure at Harvard

Harvard Magazine reports this month that "In 'Tenure and Gender' (January-February, page 64) we reported that there are women ladder-faculty in Harvard's mathematics department. That was incorrect. There are men and women ranked as junior faculty members, but the department does not operate a 'ladder' up which assistant professors ascend toward tenure."

Could it be that this is itself part of the problem? Not to sound self-serving or anything, but could it be, perhaps, that the way for departments to have closer-to-equal representation at higher levels is to tenure their own junior faculty? Instead, Harvard's departments conduct international searches in order to seek out "the best" in the field. How do they do this? They ask the most senior people in the field who the best midcareer people are. Who are the most senior people? Almost invariably, for generational reasons, men--and not just any men, but men who got their PhDs when women were still officially second- or third-class citizens in academia.




Speaking of the invisibility of female political bloggers:

Let it be noted that, for just a day or two, I had a moment in the sun, or at least a moment in the upper reaches of the ocean. Yes, I was a flippery fish in the TTLB Ecosystem. (For those not in the know, this is a system that ranks blogs according to numbers of web links to them, and numbers of visits. The link appears below my archived posts, to the left.)

I'm back to being a slimy mollusc. But I think I can credit my 15 minutes of blogosphere vertebratehood to Large Mammal BitchPhd, whose post on Larry Summers's remarks was picked up by some high ranking blogs, which increased her ranking, which, because she is kind enough to blogroll me (i.e. link to me), increased my ranking.

Sigh. It was nice to be a fish.


Feminism: Not Relevant Anymore?

So, the blogosphere has convulsed again with the "why are there no women political bloggers" discussion.

Sigh. The worst thing about this discussion is the creeps it brings out of the woodwork. The ones who respond "why is this a problem," or better yet "and it's a good thing, too!" or "because women are stupid," or "men and women are different, let's all play to our strengths" (translation: women should stay home, make babies).

I don't even know what to say about this. Did I already mention the college sophomore who said to me last week "I used to think I was interested in feminism, but then I learned that it's not relevant anymore"?

But let me just say that I have been really happy with my students this quarter: I thought they might be freaked out by a whole two weeks on gender & sexuality (in a class not explicitly about that) but they have been very smart and thoughtful.

In my other class, two of my students want to do a project on gender stereotypes propagated by the very bizarre American Girl Place, where parents spend hundreds of dollars so that girls can dress like their dolls.

Hm. Maybe feminism still has something to say...



Someone at Weekend Edition has a sense of humor

I was so absorbed in watching one of the excellent Red State Road Trip episodes available at Truthout this morning that I wasn't paying attention to NPR when suddenly the theme song of The Prisoner wafted from my radio and Scott Simon said "If you want to see the robot ball, it's on our website." So I looked, and here it is. But it's not Rover, the very terrifying, though somehow dorky, village surveillance system from the classic BBC tv series; it's an actual robot ball to be used for actual surveillance, now. I don't know if this parallel was mentioned in the story, because I wasn't listening to it. If it wasn't mentioned, then kudos to whatever Weekend Edition production person obliquely pointed out that truth has become stranger (and scarier?) than fiction...



Free Your Mind--Also

The first time I went to Thailand it was only a few short months after 9/11. I went to an art festival that had been in the works long before 9/11, but had been quickly retooled under the name "Art against War" in the wake of the beginnings of the US war on Afghanistan. At that point, I had just recently joined an antiwar organization and had marched in a protest or two. Though I'd been a bit blasé about political involvement before, I was moved to get more involved by that series of events. So, in Thailand, I found myself--without much experience--advocating intense engagement in political movements. And I kept hearing Thai people, practicing Buddhists and artists with their own type of political involvement, saying "before you can change the world you have to change yourself." I spoke with a vary senior Buddhist monk--the abbot of a monastery. He said this same thing to me. What, I asked, about the innocents dying in Afghanistan. "Don't you think they committed some bad act in a past life for which they're now being punished? Before you can change the world you have to change yourself."

At the time I was not very receptive to this attitude. First, I wanted to act. I could not help feeling the need to act based on a certain emotional immediacy. (This, of course, was exactly what a committed Buddhist would be skeptical of.) And second, I felt myself to be a well-adjusted and very self-aware person, one who had spent a fair amount of time, whether in therapy or in personal reflection and via various relationships, "working on" my personal issues and foibles. It seemed to me that it was, in fact, the mature and self-aware thing to do to take my long-held political feelings and views and actually put them into action. I thought of how the Beatles' "free your mind instead" thing hadn't really worked out so well, at least in terms of what happened as 60s political movements devolved into the "Me Generation" of the 1970s, creating "little utopias" (a term I am stealing from Version>05 and Feel Tank), dealing with personal issues, raising a little consciousness here, a little consciousness there, but not, as far as I could tell, accomplishing all that much. (On reflection I think political movements actually accomplished quite a lot in the 70s and the 80s, but that's not the story we tend to hear.)

Lately, though, especially in this activism class I'm teaching, I've been re-appreciating the value of learning to think differently (and learning to convey those ways of thinking differently) as an integral part of any kind of political involvement. Obviously, as we all say all the time, the work you do may not have any immediate effects, but it may have unforeseeable ones further down the line. Another piece of this that I didn't fully understand back in 2001 was the fact that, these things being the case, you really have to steel yourself for a lot of hard work with few rewards; you have to find ways to make political action enjoyable; you have, on occasion, to be able to be self-critical. (I have to say, too, it's not like I'm any kind of full-time or veteran activist or anything; but I think I've now made a commitment that I'll keep, to working, when I can, on political issues, alongside my other work.)

Anyway these thoughts about the subjective side of political activity came back to me in a recent discussion in class where my students were, well, sort of trashing We Are Everywhere (edited by the Notes from Nowhere collective) on a few grounds, but mainly its uncritical optimism ("the irresistible rise of global anticapitalism") and its apparent equation of struggles of poor people living in truly dire conditions with middle-class American white people's avant-gardening (we're all in it together, i.e. "We Are Everywhere").

So the rest of this post involves some thoughts provoked by the book, which I still do recommend. On some level, my students are right to be critical. It's a fantastic book in lots of ways, but my interest did start to flag after reading many many poetically written, but rather repetitive, personal narratives of struggle and triumph. It raises important issues, though, in its various sections -- autonomy; the media; clandestinity; etc.

And I'm not sure it's wrong to bring together the life-and-death struggles of Bolivian small farmers fighting water privatization with the efforts of New Yorkers to save their community gardens. The forces they're fighting are related, as is the work they're doing. I find the book useful in that it provides a whole series of examples by which we can debunk neoliberal claims that there is nothing of value in poor countries before corporations move in and start providing jobs. This is based on the theory that only monetary transactions count as value. (An aside: an economics student recently told me that in all her classes, whenever people bring up art, it's always as an exception to whatever rule is being taught at the time. This is an insight, it seems, we should do more to exploit! Maybe there's a real role for art in highlighting the existence of non-economic value.)

We might criticize the book because its audience is mostly people more like those New Yorkers than like those Bolivian farmers. On the other hand, I think a big thing that it combats, for those of us in the first category, is apathy and despair. The stories of antiglobalization movements' successes around the globe might force us to take a good look at ourselves. If so many people can do so many things, why can't we do more?

I was recently at a talk in which the speaker discussed revolution, in the old sense, I think, of armed uprising. He said, just as an offhanded comment, that in America we tend to find the idea especially distasteful because of the long years of truly awful social disintegration we would have to live through in order to get to a bad enough situation for revolution to be possible. For Bolivian farmers, living at the edge anyway, the tipping point was closer to the surface (if I may mix my metaphors).

I think we could use a little self-criticism in our unwillingness to face the issues that separate us from the working-class white red-staters Tom Frank writes about. There are issues that divide us on which we are not prepared to budge. But we and they both, for instance, believe that there are values that are not economic ones. Part of what we don't seem willing to face, though, is that many of us are, actually, better off than many of them. (Not better off than the Republicans' economic base; but better off than many of their moral values voters.) Are we willing to do grassroots work among those "others" we least want to identify with?

Maybe we DO need a different kind of revolution. Maybe not "free your mind instead," but "free your mind--also."



mangled language

a fine pair:

Tales from the English Trenches (on mangled English) and Hanzi Smatter (on the misuse of Chinese and Japanese characters).


Maybe this is why my job sometimes makes me feel like s**t

A colleague of mine is going through a rough time with the ol' tenure track. I sent this story in an email to this person but then thought it might amuse others too...

So, last weekend one of my neighbors (GUESS WHICH?) put a load of my laundry in the dryer that included things that were not to be machine dried. (We have a whole protocol for knowing when it's OK to do this, and it had gotten screwed up, in between the time I put my clothes in the washer and the time I went to get them, by a new set of signs--of which I was not aware.)

Actually, it was his son, a temporary resident of the building, who did it; all the more reason not to get mad. But I didn't know any of this and so I sent a very nasty email which ended with the words "What does it take to get people to follow basic courtesy?"

After I realized that it hadn't really been his fault I apologized and he responded by saying that he understood why I was testy, because he and his wife had once shared their apartment with someone who was on a "tenure tract."

Tract, not track. Now, remember that I am a persnickety member of the grammar-and-spelling police.

But I love the idea of the tenure tract--like a gastrointestinal tract, where we are either incorporated into the body or ejected as waste at the other end.

Or is the tenure tract the book we have to write? If only it were only a tract...Hell, I could do THAT in a weekend...



ACLU is a bunch of communists...who believe in privacy

I have to say I find that the most stunning thing about this press release (on the rather disturbing radio surveillance of schoolchildren) is the second-to-last quote, in which the Policy Counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center comes right out and says that part of the problem with forcing kids to prominently display ID cards is that the name of a child's school may reveal his or her social class.

Cédric Laurant. Sounds French. Figures.


What's your footprint?

This is an interesting quiz. It asks you questions about your lifestyle and consumption of resources and tells you what you use compared to the world's actual resources.

It's not as finely-tuned as it might be--some of the choices offer too stark a division (you can either fly 25 hours a year or 100--hint: if you fly to Asia once you're over 25 but not close to 100!). But still the results are rather stunning. When I estimated high, I came out about average for an American. When I estimated low, I still came out using three times as much as we'd all have if the world's resources were divided equally among all humans.


Brown-shirted churches

Has everybody seen this?

The post is kind of difficult to get a handle on; it's a re-posted version of a narrative originally posted to fark.com (I think) and then taken down. In order to establish its veracity the person who re-posted it also included screen shots of the original location. Anyway, the original narrator tells the story of his time at a "men's night out" at his father's church, which morphed quickly into a military rally and finally a recruiting session. I wonder if this was always part of the right's strategy? Build up the network of fundamentalist churches, build up their members' blind loyalty, then use them all as cannon fodder.




Still Alive

So, I was in New York for the weekend, and when I arrived at LaGuardia and walked down the hallway from my gate I was struck by how much the narrow, dark hallway, full of people sitting on the floor waiting for a plane or standing in a long line at a newsstand, reminded me of similar dark, narrow hallways in airports in other countries -- "third world" countries. I don't know when that particular terminal was built; probably a long time ago, before airports in America started to have airy cathedral ceilings full of light, like at O'Hare. Well, it didn't much matter, because the first thing I thought of was Bush & Co. and how global capitalism is engaged in a race to the bottom that's attempting to turn every country into a feast of cheap labor for rich corporations and desperate, grinding poverty for everybody else. When we watched "Maria Full of Grace" last night, everything looked glossy and coiffed and too-perfect in comparison. Cutting flowers for a living in a factory in Colombia was made to look more appealing than running drugs: goggles! They have safety precautions there! They get to take bathroom breaks at all! They don't work 18-hour days! They get paid by check! The whole moral of the story is all about an ultrasound: if you live in a place where you can have one, you're set. (Encroaching fetal personhood, anyone?) I know lots of people have loved this movie, but I guess I found it just too pretty for the reality it was trying to portray.

So my weekend was pretty good, overall. I had a slightly nervewracking interview. I carefully arrived 8 minutes early (having been told not to be early by more than 10) and the administrator, who misheard my name and apparently thought I was someone whose interview was scheduled for later in the day, suggested that I go to a cafe around the corner and sit and wait until it was time to come back. We finally worked it out. I think she was as nervous as I was. If nothing comes of the interview, it gave me some good ideas about work, and I got to see my friends and their two-year-old, and my cousins.

A close friend of my friends just found out she has cancer. She came over for brunch; it was warm, and relaxing, and I felt like I was living in a short story. I think I often feel that way when I'm visiting these friends in particular -- even with nothing so dramatic going on. Maybe it's because of the particular aura that New York holds because of old memories of visiting my grandparents there.

If I were that sick I would hope to have such friends around. I ran into another friend in LaGuardia, in that dark, narrow hallway: someone who used to live here, and now lives there. She said, "Oh yes, I remember knowing people who weren't in the theater." I said, "Oh yes, I remember knowing people not in academia." That's not quite fair. But I certainly don't feel like I have the kinds of close friendships I used to. Mostly because I have no time...

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