Monthly Archives: November 2009

Solidarity

I heard the rumblings about job cuts at Francis Close Hall of the University of Gloucestershire a while ago, and in this case — in contradistinction to the case of Sheffield — I didn’t leap into action right away. I didn’t recognize the scholars’ names that protesters were invoking, and I acknowledge that sometimes institutions encounter crises that require job-cutting. Closing down the Biblical Studies program at Sheffield struck me instantly as a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face; it just couldn’t be that Sheffield, or any other institutional custodian of so outstanding, so distinctive a program, would be well-advised to axe that scholarly cedar. But out of fairness, I wanted to hold open the possibility that FCH was a different kind of situation.
 
But I am, after all, a union guy, a proud (that’s pronounced “prood”) member of the University and College Union, and I don’t want to neglect my colleagues in Gloucestershire. I hadn’t realized that Andrew Lincoln had moved there, for instance; it doesn’t sound that his job is imperiled, but my acquaintance with Andrew piqued my interest in the case. UCU submits that the problem in Gloucestershire arises from mismanagement, and that hard-working scholars’ jobs should be protected; that’s the vexing problem in such labour cases, where the institution’s large-scale losses from poor management decisions oblige the productive workers to pay the price. The reports at the Facebook group page suggest the same picture. On one hand, one can’t with the wave of a hand erase the vast deficit that management has accumulated; on the other, the institution will have a vastly harder time recovering without the benefit of the staff who make it an attractive venue for students. It’s hard to imagine that FCH or the Open Theological College will be strengthened to build up their revenues by dismissing Lloyd Pietersen or other staff.
 
So I’m about to send a stern demurrer to Paul Bowler at the University of Gloucestershire; late and dire as the situation is, it’s not Lloyd who should be liable for the budget shortfall.

Music For Money

NPR’s Monitor Mix blog has posted a great interview between Frannie Kelley (the interviewer) and Eliot Van Buskirk and Jay Sweet. Just a few of the bulls-eye, dead-on quotations:

FK: Right, so why are labels still making CDs at all?
EVB: Partially, it’s because they bought out their distributors in the ’80s. They literally own trucks.
JS: Exactly. And also because they need to have some payable against the bands, and they own the manufacturing, the distribution, the marketing etc.
 
FK: Does the money the average consumer spends on extras (like exclusive tracks) and novelty items, like the AC/DC amp, ever make it to the musicians?
JS: In many ways artists would be better off getting a straight loan from a bank.
 
EVB: Right, which it sort of is. As a wise man once said, if you want to see the best on-demand free music service in the world, go to YouTube and close your eyes.
 
EVB: The anger towards the major labels is well-deserved. They are the only industry I can think of that openly scorns, disrespects and tries to fleece their audience at every turn.
 
JS: If both the artist and the fan feel ripped off . . . that’s a harbinger of doom if I ever saw one.
EVB: I spoke with an RIAA executive around the time of the original Napster lawsuit, and his tone was very much “these goddamn meddling kids” and not “how can we treat our consumers better so they don’t backstab us?”
JS: The fans as the enemy is really a fight you can never win. Ever.
JS: Imagine any other industry where the brand sues its customer base on a regular basis.
JS: Pretty soon you go for a different brand.
 
JS: Smart bands have great management. Great managers have even better accountants.
 
EVB: Labels have essentially become banks. Radiohead’s genius with In Rainbows’ was, in part, to use a bank instead of a label. Banks have better terms, assuming you’re an established act like they are.
JS: Exactly what I said earlier.
JS: Bands would be better off taking out small loans than using a label.
JS: At least they would be in charge of their own accounting.

Nick Lowe was on the right track. But it’s well worth reading the whole interview. Well done, NPR!

Glasgow and Me, Addendum

I remembered one item I’ve meant to include in my relocation posts: Since I’ve arrived in Glasgow, I’ve walked past a couple of cars that had flat tires, and yesterday morning I heard at least one car coughing and sputtering as its owner tried to induce the motor to turn over.
 
That won’t happen to me for the foreseeable future. I won’t fill a tank with petrol; I won’t have to remember to have my car inspected, or to buy and display my parking permit, or find a parking space. I won’t have any fender benders, and I won’t have to worry that a moment’s lapse of attention might cause costly damage. Yes, it would be convenient to be able simply to drive wherever I want; but I’m happy for now to forgo those conveniences for the pleasant knowledge of all the expenses I avoid (and of my greatly diminished carbon footprint).

Glasgow and Me, Interlude

I finished a batch of papers today — a very small batch, compared to many of my colleagues around the world (I’m especially attuned to this, since Margaret probably grades more weekly quizzes and exams than I mark in a semester) — but learning the standards in each new institution involves a complicated exercise in imagination, listening, estimating, truth-telling, and (often) allowing mercy to triumph over judgement.
 
My task this time was facilitated and complicated by the impressive array of grading tools that the Department provides for its students. “Facilitated,” of course, because the more data concerning what makes an “A” an “A” (or “First Class Honors,” or “20 on a 0 – 22 scale”), the more effectively one can communicate with students, colleagues, and other interested parties. “Complicated,” because the Department provides at least three distinct sets of explanations of our (three different, but coordinated) scales of evaluation.
 
So a great part of the process involved trying to compare the different sets of evaluative explanations with one another, so that I could compare the actual essays to the characterizations my students get. I wound up making a big matrix of rows of categories of evaluation (given in one of the sets of description) crossed with columns for Excellent (A, First Class Honors), Very Good (B, Upper Second Class), Good (C, Lower Second Class), Adequate (D, Third Class), and Weak/Poor/None. I put descriptive phrases, greyed slightly, in each of the first four columns and left the last column blank for my own explanation of what was so lacking.
 
I still had to assign marks on a 1 – 22 scale to each paper, but between my on-paper comments and the tick marks in the matrix, students ought to have at least a foggy sense of how they could do better. The whole thing reconciles, generally, with the three fuller descriptions that the Department provides, and I have the comfort that my marks bear a more-or-less direct relation to what I (and we) indicate in our guidance material. And I won’t have to do that again next time, thank heaven.

Glasgow And Me, Part Three

This is the weather they warned me about. It has been rainy, grey, and chilly almost continuously since last Saturday afternoon. Throw in the shortness of the day, and the resulting atmosphere is relatively gloomy.
 

Clouds

 
But if this is how Glasgow gets its exquisitely rich greenery, and if the short winter days mean short summer nights, and it took two months of my residence to get a week-long string of cold, rainy days — that’s not bad. The rain’s supposed to dry up over the weekend, and a few days with no precipitation will be a good thing. The fallen leaves are dissolving slowly into a slippery cellulose goo that I’ll be pleased to be rid of. But I like Glasgow, and this weather is part of the deal. (Also, I should remember to goose up the heat in the flat, but not till I get back from my Saturday morning cup of coffee.)
 
I’m getting used to traffic on the left. When I arrived, my reflexes made me look for traffic on the US sides of the street, even when I knew that the traffic would be coming the other direction. My operating premise was, “There’s a car headed toward me, but I don’t know where it’s coming from.” I must have been a spectacle — even more than usual — flicking my head one direction, then the other. After a while, I’d get to the street, stop and think, look in the UK directions, take a quick look around to make sure there wasn’t a vehicle coming from an unexpected direction, and then cross. Now I’m pretty good at just looking in the needful directions.
 
I’d be pleased to find a restaurant that served a varied menu of vegetarian-friendly fare (in other words, maybe a gluten-free entree or two). The prominence of meat (and carbs) in Scotland’s diet impresses me.
 
No glitches in my bank account for the past few weeks. I realize that that shouldn’t be a big deal, but after the headaches getting it started, I’m not taking this for granted.
 
Oh, and speaking of things getting sorted, my landlord came by last week and saw to the joiner’s putting a new lock on the door. To my utter delight, the lock and key work very smoothly together, so I can walk up, unlock the door, and proceed directly into my flat, instead of arriving at my door and spending an awkward minute or so trying to negotiate with the older lock over whether I deserved to be admitted. Opening a door is not usually counted a particular delight, but I’ve felt a small surge of satisfaction each time I walked up to the door and simply opened it.
 Hmm, maybe I’ll add to this list if I think of more updates, but it’s getting late for me to head to Byres Road for coffee.

No Surprise Here

Inside Higher Education reports that faculty/teaching staff members think they’re pretty darn hip when it comes to technology — and students call their bluff, noting that “when students were asked about the top impediment to using technology, the top answer was ‘lack of faculty technology knowledge.’ ” It would be tough to come up with a more concise, acute account of the problems of enhancing technological support for teaching; throw in “shortage of funds,” and you can explain a lot.

Cheers And A Hat Tip

The University of Glasgow IT department keeps our Net infrastructure hypersecurely walled off from the big, bad, wild Outside World (here be worms, phish, and pirates!); I get frustrated several times a week at the relatively simple web operations that either can’t or won’t be done. In a somewhat bleak institutional IT landscape, though, the library staff is very active online, with their own WordPress blog and Flickr photostream (please CC license the images!), on top of a vigourous Open Access initiative. No surprise that librarians are leading the way; I’m going to have to make some friends across the street.

Thanksgiving

It’s my sweetheart’s birthday, and once again this year we’re apart (further than ever, this time). It’s just not right that at a time when we’re getting the hang of this “marriage” thing, and we’ve launched the kids and have time to spend together, and would be able to share the joys and stresses of full-time teaching, that a big ol’ ocean interposes itself between us.
 
For five out of the last six years, we’ve been saying that we sure hope that this is the last year we’re apart. Maybe this time, we’ll make it happen. In the meantime, dearly beloved Margaret, my heart is and always will be with you.
 
And I’ll see you in New Orleans….

Other Stromateis

  • This week’s Sesame Street video clip challenge is a tough one. I anticipated as much while chatting with Josiah last week, and it’s true: the 80’s were the Golden Age of the boys watching Sesame Street, and I could comforably pick a half dozen of these clips as my vote for Best clip from the 80’s. “Put Down the Duckie,” “Born to Add,” “Fugue for Readers,” “African Alphabet,” “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon,” “Ernie’s Love Boat,” “Captain Vegetable,” and “Teeny Little Super Guy.” Tough lineup from which to choose….
  • Martin McClellan holds forth on the social significance of type design over at McSweeney’s.
  • Louis Menand expounds his view of “the problem” with graduate education programs at the Harvard Magazine. OK, let’s start by wiping the irony-smirks off our faces as we consider a world-bestriding public intellectual writing in Harvard about problems with PhD programs. Menand aptly notes that one facet of the crisis involves increasing numbers of PhDs (and an increasing number of programs) at a time when the number of full-time teaching positions is decreasing, and that another facet involves the credentialing process that demands of candidates high-level research and communication skills, but sends them out into positions where a large proportion of their time (if they get academic jobs) will be spent on administrative functions and teaching — skills that are quite adventitious to the successful navigation of a research PhD program. I am well-pleased that he notes that a major function of graduate education involves passing on the behavior patterns that constitute one as a scholar, a point for which I’ve taken some grief in some quarters: “People are taught—more accurately, people are socialized, since the process selects for other attributes in addition to scholarly ability—to become expert in a field of specialized study.” He rightly points out the divergence between the time required for a JD, an MD, and a humanities PhD — and the social and material rewards for accomplishing these goals. He somehat oddly entertains the possibility that one answer would be to encourage and credential even more PhDs, on the theory that this might diminish the barriers between jobs “inside” and “outside” academia. That I just don’t understand, especially since plenty of programs grant degrees to candidates who are not at the very top of field anyway; wouldn’t it actually heighten the wall between inside and outside if the degrees went to most everyone, but the academic jobs went only a a few?
    I wish there were a more functional system for training, credentialing, and employing scholars, but I don’t see increasing the number of degrees granted as a step toward that goal. Maybe one of y’all can elucidate (and it may be that theology/religious studies is a peculiar enough field that my experience on both sides of the desk is atypical of graduate work in the humanities).
  • Speaking of which, ahem, the University of Glasgow postgraduate research program (= the PhD granting part of our department) will be glad to talk to interested candidates at the AAR and SBL meetings, or shoot us an email. Yes, we are part of the problem — but we want to recruit good grad students anyway!
  • As many of you readers will already know, Claude Levi-Strauss died recently at 100 years old. Frankly, he’s bigger than Michael Jackson as far as I’m concerned, and I wasn’t even fully aware that he hadn’t died yet. But problematic you may consider his work, he changed the ways intellectuals think in several distinct fields of reflection and inquiry — and that’s a tremendous accomplishment.
  • “Jesus, Queen of Heaven” is causing a fuss in my newly-adopted home town. I’m not especially intrigued, and not at all outraged, but people just will take the opportunity to protest. Hey Margaret (happy birthday, honey!), remember when we crossed a line of angry picketers to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian?
  • The results of yesterday’s voting in the States was disappointing even to someone with low investment in US politics. I suppose the best face I can put on it all is that Corzine was not a hero of a governor anyway, and that the Democrats put two potential votes for a health care public option into the House (won’t be seated in time to vote for it, though, I guess). And I’m deeply saddened that Maine turned its back on inhabitants who want to get married. And since voters were apparently very, very concerned about the econnomy, and since some statistics already point to signs of recovery, it may be that by the next election, voters will be feeling more positive toward Obama and his administration.

Experimental Evidence

Since I picked up the elastic that holds my ice pack to my shoulder, I’ve been keeping the shoulder pretty well iced when I’m at home. Two nights ago, though, I forgot to put the blue ice in the freezer, so last evening I didn’t have a cold pack to apply to my shoulder. I have thereby derived one data point’s worth of evidence that icing my shoulder does indeed help it feel better; or, more to the point, not icing it seems to presage achiness.

Where Was That?

I’ve just spent much of my morning trying to track down some references that I could have pinpointed in a couple of seconds if I were surrounded by my (regular) library. Alas, the books for which I was looking seem not to have made the Atlantic crossing; specifically, I was looking for my copy of Benedicta Ward’s Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Anyway, I eventually located:
 

Epiphanius said, “The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.”
 
He also said, “Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin.”
 
He also said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.”
   Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, §8, 9, 11

 
Interestingly, Mike Gorman blogged the first of the sayings earlier this year — but that’s not surprising, granted the extensive overlap of our interests and sympathies.