Friday, May 16, 2003

Note to French--Please Stop Digging.

Confession time: it's fun to mock the French. I mean, first of all, it's easy, which is a huge consideration in my life just now, what with my hectic schedule. Who has time to dig up things to mock about, say, Lichtenstein? Secondly, it really seems to get their little panties in a wad, which just adds to the ease of mocking. Look, if your self-worth is predicated on belief in your own intellectual and cultural superiority to the US, and the US, bunch of tubby un-nuanced cowboys that we are, persists in mocking you, well, it's got to be a little galling. Or Gaulling, if you're into the cheap pun (which I completely am not. In fact, I didn't even type that. Lies! All lies! Written by journalists in the employ of the Bush Administration! Oh, wait. Getting ahead of myself here.).

But this is just over the top silly. I truly thought that this article was from The Onion, but unless the International Herald Tribune is code for Onion, I guess not. See, I would think that with a 35 hour work week, a French diplomat would be able to keep busy doing French stuff like striking under the table oil deals with brutal dictators, screwing over other countries for quick cash, or disdaining anything that isn't French. I mean, that's a LOT to do in a week, particularly when you have to stop every few hours to demonstrate solidarity with your fellow public servants back home who are busy striking for more money and less work.

However, I seem to have underestimated French industry, particularly when it comes to generating self-righteous indignation. Ladies and gentlemen, we are Being Monitored for Anti-French Lies Put Forth by the Bush Administration. Hang on a sec, would you? Got something in my throat: Haaaaaaahaaaaahaaaa! Bwaaaaahaaaaahaaaahaaa haa! Heeeeee! Ahem. Better now.

The thrust of the complaint and subsequent monitoring seems to be that newspapers are reporting unfavorably on the French. What are they reporting, exactly?

The impression given, she said, was that France had "protected a tyrant and a bloody dictator" and was "hostile to the United States."

Now WHERE would we have gotten such an idea? Crazy talk! As confirmed by Tom Bishop, professor at New York University, who tells us exactly who's to blame for Jay Leno's recent monologues:

"What's coming out of the right-wing think tanks in Washington, and elsewhere, is not innocent, I think, and is not accidental," he said.

Damn, you, Vast Right Wing Conspiracy! Damn your eyes!

Of course, the French are demonstrating their typical verve and devil-may-care attitude toward danger with this policy, because complaining about press coverage carries some Very Real Danger. Yes, the danger that their complaints "...might be seen...as a 'kind of petulance.'"

Oh, those brave risk-takers! You go, pampered, overpaid, underworked, disdainful little French diplomat! Fight the power! Woo!

No, seriously, France? You can stop digging now. You've hit bottom.
Ah, Students

So I'm talking to one of the Housing Assignments staffers yesterday, and she's having trouble placing a student. The student's got a medical necessity form for a single, but the only building with singles available isn't up to this student's standards, because the rooms are Too Big. Say, that's not a complaint you hear every day. When I asked why that would be a problem, I was informed that the student suffers from agoraphobia, defined as "Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets. Fear of leaving a safe place."

Ooookay. Do I even need to type the jokes here, or can you fill them in on your own? NC State has 28,000 students, lots of big, roomy auditoriums, and oh yeah--there's the whole thing with the SKY when you have to GO OUTSIDE to GET TO CLASS!

See? Students are intelligent. They just tend to use their brains for small things, like getting a single in what happens to be the nicest dorm on campus (because coincidentally that dorm has the smallest single rooms).

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Ah, Screw It.

Seems to be the attitude of the American Historical Association (AHA) these days. My pal Jim sent me an article from The Weekly Standard (no link) with this news:

Following a series of scandals involving high-profile historians, the leading professional organization in the field, the American Historical Association, is reducing efforts to investigate claims of dishonest scholarship. The AHA said last week it would no longer evaluate claims of plagiarism reported to it, as had been its practice, despite the dishonor brought to the profession by such recent cases of plagiarism as those of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose and by Michael Bellesiles's discredited history of gun ownership in America.

So, I decided to check the horse's mouth, as it were. Sure enough, on the AHA homepage is this press release, which states:

The AHA has ended fifteen years of adjudication because it has proven to be ineffective for responding to misconduct in the historical profession. In place of adjudication, the Association will mount a more visible campaign of public education, explaining why the historical profession cares about plagiarism, falsification of evidence, and other violations of scholarly integrity.

There follows a laundry list of "initiatives," which is basically scholar-speak for committee meetings which will produce documents that no one will read. I read the press release several times, looking for the part where the AHA explains how disassociating the profession's national professional body from investigating and adjudicating cases of professional misconduct is a GOOD thing. Alas, I couldn't find that part. I did find this, though:

The Council does not believe that the modest benefits to the profession justify the time, energy, and effort that have gone into the process.

Oh, dear God. I will leave it to you to insert the incredulous ironic comments about the "benefits to the profession" that came from folks like Bellesiles--and while you're at it, add something about truth being a noble pursuit...I'm getting blurred vision here from the twin assaults of Irony and Rage and need to get more coffee. And possibly some heroin.

The AHA defends its actions with a list of "unintended consequences" that their involvement in adjudication had brought about. The upshot is that because they couldn't be everywhere and do everything, and because their sanctions essentially had no "teeth," they must now wash their hands of the whole process. Right. Because they couldn't work to give some weight to their sanctions. And because obviously, being sanctioned by the professional organization of historians bears no signifigance to ANYONE, ANYWHERE, EVER. And because they could never, ever, simply adjust their procedures to be, oh, I don't know--effective?

The boilerplate at the end of the press release concludes with this lovely sentiment:

Over the years, the Association has changed as the discipline and profession have changed, but its central mission has remained unaltered: the advancement of historical knowledge.

To which I would add the following caveat: as long as advancing historical knowledge doesn't include verifying its accuracy. 'Cause that might be, you know, hard.


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Things That Make Me Go Raaaarrrrr!
(Raaaarrr copyright Frank J, 2000-something)

Yes, the blog has been fairly dullsville this week. However, I have had a valid excuse. This week is the week that the students leave, or, as it is known hereabouts:

The Week of the Hellish End Of Year Program.

Ah, the beloved End of Year Program, in which the entire division is forced into an auditorium for Three. Solid. Hours. During these three hours our Vice Chancellor recognizes individuals and gives awards. Okay, so recognition isn't such a bad thing, right? Riiiiiiiight. See, for one thing, we get "recognized" not only for major division and university-wide awards, but also for individual accomplishments, which culminates in a thirty minute litany of mispronounced names and recognitions like this one:

Finally, we'd like to recognize Bob (garblegarblebarble)son for gaining an Honorable Mention in the University Picnic's Three Legged Race last September. As you may know, Bob (garblegarblebarble)son HAS three legs, and so was able to compete on his own. His Honorable Mention is an Honorable Mention to the three legged everywhere! Bob, you truly are a living embodiment of this University's commitment to diversity!

And on it goes, blah blah blah awardcakes. Plus, our Vice Chancellor has a strange penchant for dressing up in costumes during this event and performing bizarre one man "comedy skits" that would be more at home in a Postmodern Pinter Theatre Festival. This year it was an homage to Phantom of the Opera; in previous years we've done wizards, Santa Claus, and drag. What does any of this have to do with the Division Award for Innovative Use of Technology? Well, on this planet, nothing. But I've come to accept that the End Of Year Program is neither conceived nor written here on earth. It's a three hour tour of planet Vice Chancellor, and I can only be thankful that the auditorium isn't called the S.S. Minnow.

Regular ranting will resume after I resume enough sensation in my legs and butt to go outside and give thanks for my freedom from this torture--well, until August, when we have the Beginning of Year Program. Raaaarrrr.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The Dangers of Modern History Writing

From the Chronicle, this story about a new history book that's winning prizes and hullabaloo. The book deals with the "other slavery" in the US involving the Spanish and Native American clashes that occurred out West before and during English settlement. It sounds interesting, and I'll probably give it a read (the funny thing about getting degrees in English is that now I primarily read history books for pleasure...), but the quotes that jumped out at me from the article were these:

Some readers are almost certainly going to be offended by Mr. Brooks's attention to the ambient violence of the history he recounts. The Indians that he portrays aren't New Age icons -- peaceful, egalitarian, in touch with the deeper rhythms of the cosmos. The pre-Columbian slave system was by no means as horrific as the Middle Passage, but it was violent even so. ...

"That's where James is taking something of a risk," says Donald Lee Fixico, a professor of American Indian history at the University of Kansas. "It might be safer not to look at the brutality between the two races, but he's quite willing to go into that gray area."


Okay, so what I got from that was that a guy who did painstaking research and presents actual facts about brutality and history in a book is in danger of "offending people." Yeah, that damn reality. Offensive! I suppose I should be impressed that such risk-taking works are being published, but I'm mostly just disappointed that a seemingly straightforward work like this one is being called "risk-taking" in the first place.
One Question

For those of you who are planning to see X2 but haven't yet--leave lest ye be somewhat spoiled. For those who don't care--ignore this post. But I can't hold this back any longer. I have to ask:

WHY does Jean have to leave the jet to confront the dam? If she can block the Professor, Kurt and everyone else from LEAVING the jet, while simultaneously lifting the jet and deflecting the water, obviously she's powerful enough to do what she did from within the jet. Or couldn't she have just lifted the jet while inside it?

Wait, I lied. There are more questions, like: Helloooo, Bobby? Ice? Water? Freezing it? Oh, and Storm? Controls wind? Can't use the wind to lift the jet?

Basically an otherwise excellent movie was marred by last minute--we have to do these things so we can do the whole Phoenix thing next movie--just "kill" her somehow, consistency isn't a concern! Yes, I do think about useless crap like this too much. Oh, and I REALLY REALLY hate Jean Grey. But you knew that.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Walden School? You're all Wet.

Apparently the administrators of Walden school got a little carried away with this quote Thoreau included in Walden:

"I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute."


And have taken it to mean that they don't have to deal rationally with legitimate parental concerns. Unfortunately for the Chafee family, moving to a pond in the middle of nowhere to ruminate on the situation isn't an option. Neither is tossing the school's administrators into a pond. More's the pity, since they seem to be all wet.

Via Number 2 Pencil, which has more on the issue.