Rebuilding Academia

Every year the Chronicle of Higher Education seems more attention to give the issues around academic employment, especially the use of contingent and non-tenure track faculty (“Adjuncts Gather to Discuss Tactics in Campaign for Equity”). It reminds me of the slow 30 year slog it took for global climate change to reach a place in mainstream media. Mainstream education media has taken a similar slow path to putting the our labor issues on its agenda. Tenure isn’t coming back, but we could build a better system if we were given the tools.

Unfortunately, it might take another decade or more to get our government, even our now liberal administration and congress, to begin to raise alarms about the dissolution of the tenure system. The Chronicle’s reporting on the president’s speech about education reports only that he’s going to talk about initiatives to reform the student loan system (“President to Tout Achievements in Higher-Education Policy”). Those were great changes, but I wish he would also talk about the need to reform the labor laws to make union organizing easier.

Governor Palin’s Choice

Our nominee for president is a true profile in courage, and people like that are hard to come by.

He’s a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years, and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight.

And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief. I’m just one of many moms who’ll say an extra prayer each night for our sons and daughters going into harm’s way.

Our son Track is 19.

And one week from tomorrow – September 11th – he’ll deploy to Iraq with the Army infantry in the service of his country.

My nephew Kasey also enlisted, and serves on a carrier in the Persian Gulf.

My family is proud of both of them and of all the fine men and women serving the country in uniform. Track is the eldest of our five children.

In our family, it’s two boys and three girls in between – my strong and kind-hearted daughters Bristol, Willow, and Piper.

And in April, my husband Todd and I welcomed our littlest one into the world, a perfectly beautiful baby boy named Trig. From the inside, no family ever seems typical.

That’s how it is with us.

Our family has the same ups and downs as any other … the same challenges and the same joys.

Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge.

Governor Palin’s Acceptance Speech, the International Herald Tribune, September 4, 2008

It”s a good idea to keep the kids out of the press, as Senator Obama has insisted. I think, though, that we deserve answers to some specific parenting questions from Governor Palin, especially given that she has framed her credibility, at least in part, in terms of her role as a mother. There are several issues that seem worth exploring.

I’d like to know, for example, how she feels about embryonic screening, given her apparent willingness to have a child despite evidence of genetic damage. I find this choice especially troubling, given that she already had four kids. Does her opposition to abortion, in effect, make this sort of testing irrelevant?

I’d also like to know if she applied the ‘abstinence only’ model to her discussions of sexuality with her children. If she did, I would like to know if she now questions her decision and if she plans to stick to that plan with her other children. I find her behavior troubling here too, because it suggests a kind of ideological rigidity.

There are other questions about Governor Palin’s ethical judgment in more official matters, too. The choice of Governor Palin has also suggested questions about Senator McCain’s judgment; ambition seems to have been his guiding principal. We won’t have a chance to find out unless Governor Palin stops hiding from interviews.

What Rough Beast

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

I think it’s a good idea to have a day to remember those who died in war. I hate the sanctimonious patriotism that creeps into it every year, though. It’s a plague of simplicity; the worst of us, Yeats’s says, “are full of passionate intensity.”

The men and women who died in the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, and those who died in WWI, or WWII, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Grenada, or Panama, or Iraq, did not all fight for the same reasons. Soldiers don’t always or maybe usually die “protecting our freedoms.”

War does not make that much sense; countries don’t make that much sense; people don’t make that much sense.

A Wilderness of Mirrors

These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.

T.S. Eliot, from Gerontion

I work out out a local gym every other day or so and I am always amazed at what I see around me each time I go. There are mirrors everywhere, as if the point were vanity instead of health. This is why so many people I know avoid these places. Who wants to compete against all of these young bodies?

The narcissism is only the start, though. Or, rather, the narcissism is, uh, only a reflection of a more profound self-absorption. I’m not talking about the usual complaints of isolation: everyone alone on their “equipment” listening to their MP3 players. Actually, I wish more people would use MP3 players.

The problem, rather, is that people seem to not have a clue about how to be social. The gym itself is quite small but it has plenty of windows and it’s rarely crowded. So I often work out alone with the lights out. It’s not dark at all, especially on a sunny day.

I like the idea of saving energy, for one thing, and the natural light is much more pleasant than the fluorescents, which I swear I can see flickering. Any time another person comes in, however, they inevitably flip on the light, without acknowledging me in the slightest way.

I was raised to believe that this was a pretty rude thing to do, but it’s only the start of it. There’s one women who comes several times a week to work out and then shower and get dressed, apparently for work. She uses a small, brightly lit bathroom off of a medium-sized room that people use for warm ups and stretches.

The other day, after pretzeling away on the Swiss Ball for ten minutes or so I bunced up to hit the elliptical and flipped the light off on the way out. Five minutes later she marched out to the main room to demand, angrily, that I not turn out the light when she was in the bathroom.

Now, I might be able to sympathize with a women suspicious of darkness in a gym. Still, it did seem odd that she took such affront, as if no logic but hers could make sense. She wasn’t showering in the dark or anything. She’s not the worst of the bunch, though, by any means. That honor goes to Macho Man.

The worst Macho Man experience is when he has shown up before you. First, every light in the gym, ffrom front to back and often including the bathroom, is turned on. I suspect that he warms up with light switches. Second, the television is blaring CMT and the stereo is blasting some awful classic rock station.

Meanwhile, Macho Man is on the treadmill, huffing and puffing loudly, running with heavey clumping strides, sometimes giving off sharp, dramatic grunts. He has the TV turned up loud because he can’t hear it over his own noise. Then, after about ten minutes, he hops off– that’s no metaphor– and trots off to the weight room.

He has the stereo turned up because he has to hear it from across the gym. Next, after another ten minutes, he comes bounding back into the room and hops on the stationary bike for another ten or fifteen minute round of thump, huff, puff, and grunt. Sometimes he brings his friend and they do this routine together.

It reminds me of how certain people drive so recklessly in bad weather, seemingly unaware that they are risking the lives of other people. Luckily, all that is at risk here is irritation. Well, Macho Man might be causing some sort of unpredictable havoc on his body. He’s pretty young though, so I suppose the clich├ęs about invunerability apply.

The owner of the gym is very differant. I often see her on Saturday mornings, when she comes in to clean. She always says hello and wants to start a conversation even if I am clearly listening to my MP3 player and straining away at the end of a long work out. To her, though, it’s a scoial situation and she at least wants to make the effort.

And there”s the older couple who come in whatever clothes they happen to be wearing at the time… They certainly didn’t buy any special shoes. There’s something refreshing in the fact that they don’t know the proper costume. But it is also very odd to watch them take truns struggleing on the stationary bike, both in ill fitting jeans and flannel shirts.