From the monthly archives:

February 2012

I Don’t Believe In The Sun

by John Holbo on February 7, 2012

I’m teaching Plato – again! But I like it that way! Also, I don’t see why Belle should be the only one posting YouTube videos. So here’s a really really nice Magnetic Fields song, allowing me to combine my interest in Platonic themes with my interest in linking to YouTube.

Calling All Adjuncts

by Tedra Osell on February 7, 2012

Sorry, this isn’t a job posting. Instead, it’s a request for adjuncts or recent adjuncts to add their salaries to a database, intended to “recognize the schools that are doing a great job . . . [and to] expose those schools that have chosen to ignore the basic human rights of their employees and shortchange their students and their communities by devaluing the very education they pretend to celebrate.”

Having worked, for precisely one semester, at an adjunct job that paid about $2k, if memory serves, along with other indignities, I totally endorse this project.

The Jedi Master Fallacy and Others

by Henry on February 6, 2012

As a follow-up to my “last post”:, and the comments thread thereon, I thought it would be useful to provide a kind of summary of the various arguments that otherwise-leftwing-academics come up to in order to argue against graduate student unionization. Obviously, the hostility of right wing academics to unionization is easier to explain.
[click to continue…]

If you haven’t come across Jourdon Anderson’s 1865 letter “To [his] Old Master” yet, do read it; it’s marvelously pointed, far more rhetorically adept than its recipient deserved. Jason Kottke did a little digging–wait, is this some of that digital humanities stuff all the kids are doing nowadays?–and found out <a href=””>what happened to Jourdon Anderson</a> and his family. The short version seems to be that they lived happily ever after.

The Guardian/Observer and Roman Polanski

by Chris Bertram on February 5, 2012

Today’s Observer (at the Guardian website) has a review of Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage by Philip French. Here’s what Mr French had to say about Polanski’s past:

bq. At the age of six, Polanski began a life of persecution, flight and the threat of incarceration – first from the Nazi invaders of Poland, then an oppressive communist regime, and finally the American criminal justice system after his newfound sense of freedom led him into transgression. The world must seem a prison, society a succession of traps, civilised values a deceptive veneer, life itself a battle against fate.

Like a number of other people, I posted a comment on the site. I can’t reproduce my comment exactly, because it has now been deleted for “violation of community standards” but it read something like “What? ‘transgression’ hardly seems to be an appropriate word.” Other commenters have been deleted, again for “violation of community standards” merely for quoting Mr French’s exculpatory paragraph _in extenso_ and say that it is “ludicrous”. The Guardian’s guidelines on “community standards” are here. They are not unreasonable and contain the assurance:

bq. In short: – If you act with maturity and consideration for other users, you should have no problems.

It is hard, therefore, to see why politely objecting to Mr French’s words should provoke deletion. Apparently, the Guardian thinks otherwise.

Six Nations open thread

by Chris Bertram on February 3, 2012

At this time of year, we traditionally have an open thread on the Six Nations (if only to permit some deluded North American commenter to make the same lame joke about the Iroquois as has been made on previous occasions). I can’t really see beyond France, though they do have the capacity to collapse for no discernible reason. One of the first games is Scotland-England at Murrayfield, where most people seem to expect the Scots to win. I’ll be rooting for England, myself, despite a recent discovery that one of the Corries was a distant cousin. Thoughts, opinions, … anyone feeling optimistic about Ireland or Wales?

Via a Crooked Timber reader, this “story”: about a grad student organization effort in Michigan, and a possible retaliation against a student, Jennifer Dibbern, who has lost her position as a researcher at the university. The university provost’s account, claiming that Dibbern was let go because of ‘poor reviews’ is “here”: The union’s response is “here”:, with a further “timeline”: (which I found more persuasive than the union’s response, albeit hard to follow in places), and details of “Dibbern’s awards here”: (including her college’s Outstanding Graduate Instructor award from a few months before the firing). To be clear: I have only heard one side of this story – while Dibbern has been quite specific in her claims, the university has only made very generic noises about the reasons why it believes that Dibbern was fired, and why this was justifiable. But there is enough there to be worrying to me.

I’ve seen what I understand to be the email in which Dibbern’s supervisor (who, by Dibbern’s account, was vehemently opposed to the organization effort) first states concerns about Dibbern’s lack of focus, a few weeks before she is summarily kicked out. The email, after laying out a number of general complaints (that Dibbern seems unfocused; that she had not emailed a colleague about doing some work on Sunday, although she had gone ahead and done the work) goes on to say:

bq. I realize you have many other things going on but an increased [sic] in your focus on research is urgently needed. This will probably require you to decrease your involvement in non-research related activities.

Dibbern states in her timeline that in a person-to-person meeting a couple of days later:

bq. Goldman repeatedly instructed Ms. Dibbern to stop all outside activity, this time in person. When Ms. Dibbern asked for clarification, Goldman stated, “you know what I mean.”

On the face of it, this seems problematic. If a student RA under my supervision was deeply involved in some political or social cause that I vehemently disagreed with, say, campaigning for the mass deportation of immigrants, I don’t think it would be at all appropriate for me to suggest that they stop doing this, _especially_ in the context of an email suggesting they were falling down on the job and needed to start pulling their weight or else. Obviously, my students’ political opinions and activities should be their own business, and I think it would be entirely reasonable for the student to interpret my suggestion as a threat. If I felt that they weren’t doing their job properly, I’d say so – but I wouldn’t for a moment connect this criticism to their extraneous political activities (how they manage their time to carry out their various responsibilities is entirely up to them).

Under the most generous reading that I can come up with, communications along the lines described are wide-open to misinterpretation. And the generous reading is certainly not the only possible reading. It is quite possible that there is another side, or other sides to this story (supervisor-supervisee relationships can be complicated, and battles like this often have a Rashomon quality to them). Still, at the very least, there is enough of a question here that a blow-off ‘move on: nothing to see here’ press statement from a university official is very definitely unsatisfactory.

Soul Train Host Don Cornelius Dies at 75

by Belle Waring on February 2, 2012

Don Cornelius, who had a voice so mellow and soulful you’d come away from an interview with him and Isaac Hayes thinking “that Cornelius guy sounded pretty chilled out,” killed himself yesterday at 75. (Is that sad? I guess it depends why he did it. A long life, well-lived, and then you end it on your own terms–that doesn’t seem like a failure or a tragedy necessarily, though I would extend my condolences to his family.) In any case, he was the originator and host of one of the coolest TV shows of all time: Soul Train. When I was a kid, and wore an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time, there were pretty much no good shows on TV. But as a teen I could watch Moonlighting! Yeah, um. OK, there was Voltron, and The “A” Team etc., don’t hassle me. Anyway, Soul Train had incredible music, incredible dancing, and truly, the pinnacle-of-outrageawsome clothes. That foot-wide bow tie? For real? I found the whole thing mesmerizing but hadn’t thought much about it in a long time until I read the obituaries and saw that iconic Soul Train chugging along the hills. This following video shows you some great dancing and reinforces the point Amanda Marcotte made recently, that Saturday Night Fever was based on made-up nonsense and mostly people danced to disco like they danced to house music or rap or whatever: idiosyncratic moves and general rocking the beat. Now, maybe we would put this particular song in the Rare Groove box instead of the Disco box, but that’s just evidence of the extent to which they blended together, and, in the form of samples, formed the smooth undercurrent of (especially) west-coast hip-hop. All those slinky keyboards and horns? You heard it on the Soul Train before you heard it in The Chronic.

The Soul Train Youtube channel is generally amazing, and I am so buying a boxset now. The sound quality on this one isn’t as good, but a)it’s Marvin Gaye singing Distant Lover b) the look on the woman’s face at 2.02 when he comes down to sing into the crowd is truly beautiful. I know what you’re saying. “Belle Waring, I am a busy person and even though I am skiving off work I do not have 5 minutes to spare listening to one of the greatest singers of all time singing a beautiful sad song.” Well OK, Ms./Mr. Thing, you can listen to it open in another tab while you read a blog post write your journal article. Or you could watch Marvin Gaye in a knitted hat, charming the pants off of every person so inclined as to have their pants charmed off by a dude, and frankly, probably no small number who didn’t think they were in the “a dude can charm my pants off” crowd. Wishing you peace, love, and soul.

<a href=”″><img src=”” alt=” – Thank you for cutting off funding to cancer screening programs in order to prove that you are pro-life.” /></a>
In case you hadn’t heard, the latest you-must-be-shitting-me news in re. lady parts is that the massive fund-raising organization responsible for all those pink mixers and spatulas at Target, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, has decided that preventing breast cancer is <a href=”,0,4104682.story”>less important than Taking a Stand for The Babies</a>. [click to continue…]