Sunday, October 29, 2006

    Why the Democrats will always be on the margins

    Why the Democrats will always be on the margins (or so it seems).

    They don’t fight dirty.

    Or, they don’t fight dirty enough. I am not saying historically, but only recently. The Dems have been outmaneuvered time and again by Rovian ethics—win at any costs.

    Do I say that Dems should portray a triple amputee war veteran as anti-American? No. But as long as the public has a stomach for a party that is willing to do so, then the Dems will be relegated to the sidelines, bleeting the injustice of it all.

    But, does one become ones moral antithesis? At times I would like that to happen—the end justifying the means, but that is, ultimately, a short-sighted strategy.

    So, what is the magic bullet? Someone who is willing to call the opposition what they are and to not back down—that is, don’t want the office more than the desire to tell the truth.

    Hillary will back down…Obama is untested in this…Kerry may have found a backbone, but it may have been too late…Edwards has seen the enemy, but will have to show his mettle some more…???

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

    Where are all of the naughty comments

    I can't believe I could post a picture like this and not receive at least one comment on the arrangement of props. Thomas was not, it seems, one to present himself without awareness.

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    Cheney isn't stupid, he just sounds that way

    For those non-readers of, here is a snippet of what you are missing. They exerpted a series of interviews given by Cheney to talk-radio hosts over the last little bit. They then sorted the comments by topic. While I skipped over Scott Hennen and Sean Hannity quotes, I was struck by the Juan Williams (not the conservative talking head of the other two). Cheney, a smart man, if dangerous hunting partner, conjures images of mass armed conflicts (army on army) trying to define current Iraq against it. True on parsible part (no mass armies clashing in the night), he isn't honest on intent ("But there's no question there's a lot of sectarian violence, a lot of Shia on Sunni violence ... ").

    How many more years?

    War Room - "NPR's Juan Williams: So what do you do in terms of benchmarks or timetables? What is the consequence, what's the stake at the end in terms of the U.S. putting pressure on … [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's] government?

    Cheney: It's got to be conditions-based, in terms of what we do with respect to how long we have to stay ... With respect to the Maliki government, it's very important we make the point to them repeatedly that both politically and from a security standpoint, they've got major responsibilities here. They've got to deal with the political situation themselves. We can't really do that for them. We can help, and we can try to facilitate. They've only been in business six months. That's as long as Maliki's been prime minister. And so I think we have to be a little bit understanding here that these are extraordinary circumstances they're trying to operate under, and they do have a very difficult assignment. But it also -- we have to make it clear to them, just like we do everybody else out there, to the Afghans, as well, too, ultimately you're responsible for your own country ...

    Williams: ... In terms of civil war, would you call it that?

    Cheney: No, I don't think it's a civil war. You've got a united government, a unity government in place. You've got united military forces in terms of the army, and to some extent the security force. When I think civil war, I think Antietam, Gettysburg. I don't think we're there yet. But there's no question there's a lot of sectarian violence, a lot of Shia on Sunni violence ... We still have a long way to go. Nobody should underestimate how difficult it is, but just because it's difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. We need to do it. We have to do it."

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Monday, October 23, 2006

    Forced interpretations

    One of the texts that I am using this semester offers a short bio before some of the works (it is a comp reader with seemingly random works that are then to be written about). But, when my freshmen encounter these bios they are, in my opinion, co-opted into the editor’s subtle interpretation of the work.

    For example, Dylan Thomas’s “Don’t Go Gentle” has the biographic blurb that ends in his death by alcohol. I have had numerous essays today describing the ironic nature of the poem in that Dylan encouraged his dad to fight a fight he wimped out of.

    Now, I may or may not agree with the surface-level interpretation, but I really would like the students to explore the poem for themselves before dismissing it at a poser-spewn throwaway.

    You tell me, are author bios over-determining the student’s reading?

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    What is one to do with this?

    What is one to do when faced with this as a conclusion:
    So in conclusion the literature that has been and will be written about Culture and identity will forever add to society the views and feelings of the authors who wrote the work about the many different cultures there are or the different identities we all hold.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Update--see how the other half thinks

    As an update to my recent post about getting what you pay for, Dean Dad has presented the admin side of the debate (found here Adjuncts and Retention).

    DD argues that lower retention/higher adjuncts is a symptom of the larger institutional fiscal health--often tied directly to the local communities economy since CCs get the bulk of the funding from, well, their communities. So, the wealthier the less adjuncts and the better the retention. Right and well said

    But DD doesn't really address the core issue here (or perhaps he does from the admin side--which for me is really telling of the gulf between labor and management) in that the economic model of outsourcing to adjuncts won't be solved by his suggestion of endowed CCs (CC endowments go more toward student scholarships than toward CC operating costs) or cost-appropriate departments (each degree is aligned more appropriately with its real costs of production). Yes, there are valid, day-to-day operating realities, and these suggestions might actually help the situation. Yet, the discussion must, in my opinion, include not just fiscal options but a larger, institutional allegiance to inexpensive labor that is not entirely fiscally led.

    That is, adjuncts are over-utilized simply because they are cheaper. Adjuncts have, like or not, become the de-facto instructor model because, and this is an off-the-top of my head list (please add to this if you are able):

    * there are a lot of under-employed intellectuals out there (Smith's supply and demand)
    - irresponsible (if not fraudulent) phd-granting institutions
    * a professo(rat) that just won't die (read retire--I am not that pissed off)
    * different models of recognition (evaluations, publications, etc.) that lead to skewed measures of tenured/tenure track worth
    * elitist models of who can and can't teach
    * Uncertainty of institutional mission (teaching skills versus creating aesthetes)
    * Move toward centralized content that requires on "facilitators" versus teachers

    Anyone have anything to add?

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Hotel bar

    I am staying, during my work-week travel, in a fairly nice, moderately upscale hotel. Attached is a full restaurant/bar. Given that I don’t have a lot of energy to wander too far after a 12 hour day that does not include maintaining my 4 online classes, I have spent a good amount of time in the bar. I choose the bar because it is not as conspicuous to sit alone on a bar stool as it is to sit at a table.

    Anyway, I have been noticing quite a range of interesting people who, it seems, are hiding out just like me.

    • three sales guys drinking and talking loudly how every single person in America has the same opportunities and that they should just build the fence already…and that each seemed to have a disturbingly large cache of weapons and ammo at their house.
    • A portly and rumpled aerospace engineer from England (Royles Royce) who hit on and then left with a portly Hispanic woman
    • Loud groups of lawyers complaining about the partners (who apparently wasn’t there and who probably wouldn’t have liked to be maligned in that way)

    Other observations:

    • Single women are not to be found
    • Groups of women talk far more quietly than groups of men
    • It is the sour in a Long Island Iced Tea that burns about half-way through, which can be mitigated by an increase in tequila and a reduction in mix
    • One can get a good filet mignon outside of the Midwest
    • Clos du Bois (2002) is still one of the better merlots I have had—see filet above
    • People on expense per-diems tip the worst (source: pissed off bartender); reason: they drink too close to their limit to accommodate a good tip
    • Local wine is usually about two steps below the better stuff…which seems counterintuitive…or maybe I haven’t been visiting the right places
    • Even upscale bars have the game on, loudly
    • 10:00 p.m. is not a good time to eat a full meal, but sure tastes good when one has to

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Monday, October 16, 2006

    You get what you pay for

    Others will, no doubt, provide more to the discussion than I (Dean at a CC, perhaps), but today's InsideHigherEd had an article reviewing an upcoming study where Dan Jacoby will argue that too any adjuncts spoil the graduation pie. And he is, even without reading it, right.

    Throwing aside all illusions of scientific rigorousness, I appeal to my own, long history as an adjunct and say that, even when I truly, really, want to, I won't be able to help my students to the level I could if I if I were fully employed. The reasons are legion:

    * no office means no phone--and e-mail can be notoriously misunderstood.

    * no office means no office hours (I did allow myself some time outside of class, but with the meter running--parking, kids at home, some semblance of a life--that lasted about as long my student's interest)

    * no depth of engagement within the college means that time spent outside of class or helping students is purely mission work. Not to say that most adjuncts don't have a large sense of mission (why else would we be doing it?), but institutions, especially for-profit (and which of them, really, are not for-profit), shouldn't rely on the charity of instructors for student aid and retention.

    And I could go on guessing what Jacoby's report will say, but, alas, I have a full time job to attend and grading that is due tonight.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

    "Christian" response to 9-11

    Things that piss me off about the Republican takeover of “values”: today’s edition.

    First things first. Attacking Afghanistan was not a Christian response. Nothing could have been more Roman. Seeking to accept and understand (“wimpy” liberal responses) would have been more in line with “turn the other cheek.” But we are not, contrary to popular opinion, a Christian country.

    What we are is an Imperial powerhouse, imposing our will at, well, our will. The effectiveness of that imposition, as well as the moral stance, is a bit more tenuous.

    Did I support the attack on Afghanistan. Yes. I wanted revenge for what I saw. I wanted justice, and if that meant bombing a third world country back into the Stone Age, then I was ok with that. I do not claim Christian authority.

    My President (my being that I live in this country, but not that I wanted him or anything), under the holy guise of Christian Piety, called in the attack. OK, I was cool with that. I saw the direct hypocrisy, but it aligned with what I wanted, so I accepted with a wink and a nod.

    Then came Iraq. Never did I think I was being told the truth on that. Saddam was a lot of things, but a threat to me or my direct country. To go into the country under the moral imperative of liberation is one thing. I would hope that that ideal would also apply to places like Darfur, but then that would be an ideal, not reality.

    Back on point. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq could ever, even under extreme interpretation, be considered “Christian.” The Christ was not about that.

    So, instead of focusing on typical “liberal” issues in this next election, how about some direct debate on the validity of addressing our fear of attack with the overwhelming invasion of two countries. Again, I like that we took out the Taliban. I consider them to be awful and extreme, needing to be addressed in extreme measures. But, even they did not receive a Christian response.

    Again, the Christ was not about that. No matter how much the powers-that-be wrap themselves in his shroud.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Perhaps I am just cranky, but...

    I was reading a sardonic (his word) little essay in the backlinks, and I just can't let it go unblogged.

    Richard Gelles, who is probably a really nice guy writing about what he knows, attempting to be witty and cute, has, with this essay, pissed me off.

    His basic hook is that aging baby boomer academics move from the three Ts (terminal degree, tenure-track job, tenure) to the three Ps (procedure, pensions, plumbing).

    While I am not one to shy away from a good discussion of how to best time ones colonoscopy (one of his musings), there is, underneath the smile, a sense of smugness that, as I juggle a full-time travel project and 4 online classes, strikes me as offensive.

    Do I begrudge his tenured success? Perhaps. Do I want him and his ilk to move on and discuss their aging body maintenance issues elsewhere? Yes.

    Perhaps I am still believing in the vast retirement wave that will open up countless teaching positions. It got me through grad school (mostly), so it seems that as I struggle to pay my way (pensions? Who has pensions?) I will still hope.

    Just don't start talking this way standing on a subway platform. It just might be too tempting.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Rio Salado and centralized content

    I will post, as I have in the past, shamelessly on the same topic that Dean Dad has. I do this because I don’t like to neglect my own blog while posting on someone else’s. I also do this knowing that I won’t get the traffic (read range of responses) that he does. Saying that:

    Why pay for free thinking when you can control the ideas. That is what the Rio Salado model is really all about. By centralizing the content, the institution can guarantee to a greater degree the “quality” of the degree they are granting. And why wouldn’t they? Located, as one commenter pointed out, next to a large, PhD granting university, there is a steady supply of cheap labor, relatively educated.

    Rio Salado, though, isn’t the first or the biggest to push for centralized materials (in business it is simply referred to as “content.”) They have a neighbor that pushes centralized content far more widely, both on ground and online. Bird U allows little to no alterations to their formula for success. Online, you have 5 weeks to push a semester-ish amount of content to your eager students, both knowing that it isn’t going to happen. The true underbelly of adjuncting is that if a person isn’t getting paid with money, she will be paid in time and whatever “perks” she can find. For me, time is the biggest issue. I have worked hard to put in upfront effort that pays off with each course. My lectures are written in smallish chunks that can be rearranged as needed (I teach mostly skill-based courses, so it is easier than some courses to do this). I have purchased a grading application that allows me to create small, lecturette-like feedback nuggets that I then paste into submissions as needed (grammar, style, etc. comments). What once took 15-20 minutes per paper now can take 5-10. Does the quality of feedback suffer because of this? I don’t think so. By inserting the canned text, I free up my typing time to tailor comments.

    Back on topic, though, centralized content also opens up the specter of off-shore instruction. And why not? It is already happening in some departments with TAs—think math, computer science and the like with high visa student populations. While you may not get an English lit TA from China, you can certainly find one at Large State U, teaching away in ESL.

    Is this bad? If the instruction instructs, then no. I have doubts, though, on the widespread outsourcing of instruction. I have recently taken up a project whose first round of training materials was taken up by an offshore development firm. The materials suffered, even though the language of the offshore firm was English (India, actually). Yet, there was still a large culture divide to overcome, especially in training.

    One last point. Adjuncting, aside from the urban myths of six figure uber-adjuncts, will not provide for a high quality of life. It is a mission field, with low expectations for achieving the promised land.

    The more glaring implication of Rio Salado isn’t that adjuncts will grow in use, but that the make-up of adjuncts will, as time goes on, tend more toward recent graduates than not. That is, as the market cools (people wise up) about the bleakness of the available jobs, then only the young or zealous will enter in. That, above other factors, will affect the instructional level. Why? There is often not a course on instructional methods in a college course (aside from a week seminar I had in grad school before classes started, I didn’t see any). Those lessons come from experience. If I can’t make a living teaching, then I will, as I have, move elsewhere, taking my experience and on ground, embedded experience with me.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006 and its use.

    [This is a cross-post to Dean Dad’s discussion of and academic policing.]

    I have used TII for about 5 years now.  Given that I teach writing, I have found it a singularly important tool in teaching how to cite.  I have my students create their own log-on (this way they know the tool I am using), post their papers and view their reports.  

    I then use any “hits” as a teachable moment. If they see a “hit” before I do or before the due date, then I allow them to resubmit.  I have had great success.

    I have also used it in some literature courses, employing the same tactics.  If the students know that they are going to be held accountable (in this method it moves from a gotcha unknown to a “tool” to help them determine just what is and what is not acceptable citations.  

    Does it prevent the serious student from submitting a rework of a prior paper?  Yes, and I am ok with that.  I also assign topics that require original work, so I find this to be of low to no occurrence.

    One final thought: the reports are to be interpreted…just because I get a line highlighted, I don’t necessarily assume the student lifted it from the linked site.  I have had false hits (common phrases—even of some length: i.e. government titles, etc.) which makes, again, an opportunity for discussion.  Would I be so free with these discussion opportunities if I were teaching something other than writing?  I would hope so, given that almost all academic endeavors engage in it to some degree—AND—a student/professor will be judged on his or her ability to adhere to the common writing practices.

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    Life in the "fully clothed" Lone Star State

    Broadsheet - "Yesterday the New York Times reported that elementary school art teacher Sydney McGee of Frisco, TX, was suspended after taking fifth-grade students on a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art during which they cought glimpses of some nude sculptures."

    Go to the full article for a good response to Texas imbecility (full disclosure--I was born and raised there, so I can take some pot-shots).

    Saying that, not all Texans are such dolts. I have plenty of Blue friends voting for third parties out of a sense of futile frustration.

    Keep up the fight, my fellow enlightened Texans, keep up the fight.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

    Not that it matters

    Not that it matters…

    The breakdown of my local Univ…

    Associate professor = 12
    faculty = 1
    visiting assistant prof = 2
    assistant professor = 11
    professor = 14
    adjunct = 16

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    Yes I am alive and well

    Yes, I am alive and well.  This last three weeks have been one of transition and working on someone else’s laptop.  Now, I am back on my own.  

    So, look for more to come.

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