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.

4 thoughts on “Other Stromateis

  1. The ban in Glasgow is said by some to have kept the cinema in Bearsden (a few miles away, but in a different Local Authority) going for some time.

  2. I watched the documentary included in the latest edition of the Life of Brian DVD. Had no idea about the full story behind that film. And had no idea that George Harrison personally funded it because the original film company backed out when they saw the script. Made me love it even more.

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