Thursday, January 16, 2014

Friday Fragments

A tip o’the cap to the late Russell Johnson, best known as The Professor on Gilligan’s Island.  On behalf of academics everywhere, we all thought you deserved to be mentioned by name in the opening theme song.  “...and the rest…” just wasn’t right.


Lee Skallerup Bessette’s piece in IHE yesterday was notably thoughtful, reflective, and well done.  I won’t try to summarize it, other than to say that it brings an honest, flawed, first-person voice to issues that are often addressed in much more absolutist ways.  It’s always possible to find some platform from which to criticize.  It’s much harder, and braver, to acknowledge one’s own context, and to move forward anyway.  Her best stuff involves coming to terms with difficult truths in humane ways.  It’s well worth the read.

In contrast, I was amazed to read of a panel at the MLA at which professors in graduate programs in English argue for...wait for it...even more graduate students in English!  They tried to pass it off as some sort of audacious gesture, but the politics of it are silly.  Other than sheer, blinding self-interest, the closest they came to an argument for their position amounted to a sort of vicarious calling of a bluff -- generate enough unemployable adjuncts, they seem to assume, and the jobs will just have to appear!

Um, no.

That’s not how it works at all.

The point they’re missing is that the ready availability of adjuncts in one discipline, as opposed to others, makes full-time positions likelier to go to the others.  If it’s relatively easy to hire good adjuncts for English, and nearly impossible in Nursing, and we can only afford to hire for one, Nursing wins precisely because of the availability of good adjuncts in English.  

In other words, supply (of adjuncts) depresses demand (for full-timers).  Continuing to increase the supply will continue to depress the demand.  

That may sound horrible -- and in a certain way, it is -- but from the employer’s standpoint, it makes sense.  The gain in usefulness from a new full-timer in a discipline where good adjuncts are scarce is far greater than the gain in usefulness from a new full-timer in a discipline full of good people.  

I’ve never been a fan of the “heighten the contradictions, bring the crisis” theory of politics.  As Keynes correctly noted, the market can stay irrational a lot longer than you can stay solvent.  But at least when the sacrifice is self-inflicted, I can respect the convictions behind it.  Painting yourself as brave for sacrificing other people is something else altogether.  Color me unimpressed.


ICYMI, here’s a fun piece in which a reporter from New York magazine asked me to fact-check the show “Community.”

We are not 8-bit.  I stand by that.


The Boy mentioned this morning that the girls in his school collect scented hand sanitizer.  They trade bottles, and hang them from their backpacks.  Apparently, pomegranate is a favorite.

That would never have occurred to me.  


And I’ll end with another tip o’the cap, this time to Kristin Hersh, whose “Hips and Makers” came out 20 years ago this month.

It didn’t make her a star, and I’m not even sure it’s her best work -- for me, that’s “Sunny Border Blue” -- but it’s remarkable, arresting, wise, and haunting.  “Your Ghost” is lovely, but “The Letter” really rewards a close listen in a quiet room.  The whole album does, for that matter.

She’s touring again, this time with Throwing Muses, and she’s still making music that is entirely her own.  (The Muses’ new album features a sneaky earworm, “Sunray Venus,” that took over my brain for a week.) The popular music world might long ago have consigned her to “...and the rest” status, but she just keeps going.  It’s hard not to root for that.