I should do this more in my own blogging…

From the “By the Book” interviewer with writer/blogger Maria Popova:

Do your blog posts grow out of whatever you happen to be reading at the time? Or do you pick books specifically with Brain Pickings in mind?

I don’t see my website as a separate entity or any sort of media outlet — it is the record and reflection of my inner life, my discourse with ideas and questions through literature, my extended marginalia. It is a “blog” in the proper sense — a “web log,” part commonplace book and part ledger of a life. Nothing on it is composed for an audience. I write about what I read, and I read to process what I dwell in, mentally and emotionally. The wondrous thing about being human — the beauty and banality of it — is that we all tend to dwell in the same handful of elemental struggles, joys and sorrows, which is why a book one person writes may help another process her own life a century later, and why a “blog” by a solitary stranger may speak to many other solitary dwellers across time and space.

Recipe: Salmon and Lentils (w/bonus leftover lentils)

 

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Ingredients:

  • About two cups of dried lentils (preferably French green ones)
  • One big carrot, diced
  • One small onion, diced
  • One medium-ish potato, peeled and diced
  • Two or so cloves of garlic
  • At least a tablespoon Herbes de Provence seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Two to four portions of salmon filet cooked how you prefer, about six to eight ounces per person (This amount of lentils would work well for four servings, or with enough leftover lentils to repurpose for a side dish, soup, etc.)
  • Lemon wedges, plus parsley to garnish

I’m not likely to ever open a restaurant, but if I did, it’d probably be some kind of riff on a “French bistro,” and if I did open Cafe La Steve, I’d probably have this dish on the menu. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this on a menu in a restaurant– French or otherwise– but it does feel like a good French bistro recipe to me.

This is a pretty basic approach, one based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is kind of my “go to” cook book for finding basic recipes for, well, everything. You could definitely jazz up the lentils with some bacon or maybe chicken stock or some more fresh herbs or what have you. I keep it simple both because it then is a weeknight (when you have a little extra time) kind of meal, and also because it’s easier to repurpose the leftover lentils into different forms.

Steps:

  • Put the lentils into a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook them for 15-20 minutes, just until they are starting to soften. If you’re pretty quick about dicing up the vegetables, you can do that while the lentils cook. If you are slower (like me) about dicing vegetables and/or you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen (also like me), it’s probably a little less stressful and easier to dice the vegetables before you cook the lentils. Use your judgement on that.
  • After the lentils have cooked a while, set up a fine mesh strainer in the sink and carefully drain your hot lentils into this strainer. Rinse off the lentils and rinse out the pot. I should point out that this step is (probably) unnecessary and I’ve never seen it described in a cook book, but I do it this way because it makes the final version seem less “muddy” to me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not; so try this step if you want, or just skip it.
  • If you don’t drain the lentils, then just add the vegetables into the pot, and make sure there is enough water to cover. If you do drain the lentils, add a little olive oil to the bottom of the now drained and rinsed out pot and sauté the vegetables with a little salt and pepper for a few minutes, just to get them beginning to soften, stirring pretty much the whole time. If they are sticking a bit to the bottom, add a little water and stir to unstick them from the pot. Put the drained lentils back into the pot and add enough water to cover.
  • Stir in a heaping tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. I just use a mix I always have on hand– it’s a very handy seasoning– but if you don’t have that, you can just add some thyme, maybe a little rosemary, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of lentils there, so you can be aggressive with the amount of herbs you put in.
  • Cook the lentils and vegetables on medium heat, allowing them to just barely simmer and reduce to a thick consistency but without letting them dry out completely. Check on them and stir the pot about every five minutes or so. This takes around 20 minutes.
  • While that’s going on, this is a good time to slice a lemon into wedges (and get rid of the seeds) and chop up a bit of parsley.
  • When the lentils are almost done, taste them and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. I usually turn the pot down very low and then prepare the salmon. You could also easily do this ahead of time (up to several days ahead if you put the lentils in the fridge) and simply reheat the lentils and vegetables when ready to eat.
  • As far as the salmon goes: you can kind of cook that however you want. You could take your salmon filets– a bit of salt and pepper on top, with the skin still on– and put them skin-side down in a hot non-stick pan with just a bit of oil, allowing the skin to crisp up and the fat to render, and then flip them over to brown a bit and to finish cooking to your liking. I don’t do this because Annette doesn’t like the crispy fish skin and also because this kind of makes a splattering mess on the stove. So instead, I usually turn on the broiler and set up the oven rack so it’s not too close to the heat. Then  I put the seasoned salmon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (it just makes it a lot easier to clean), and then put the salmon under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the skin is crispy. Then I take them out, peel off the skin and discard it, flip over the salmon, maybe add a little olive oil to the top of the filet, and put it back in until the top of the salmon is just beginning to brown. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Plate by ladling a nice pile of lentils and vegetables in a nice shallow bowl, place a piece of salmon on top of those lentils, garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and eat.

Bonus leftover lentils!

Inevitably, this recipe provides me with leftover lentils, which is actually a very good thing. I’m not much of a leftovers kind of person, but I think these leftover lentils are quite good. I’ll sometimes just heat them up in the microwave as a kind of “side dish” to a sandwich or something like that. Usually though, I’ll make them into soup simply by adding however many lentils I want with broth, either vegetable or chicken, and if I want to get really “fancy,” I’ll cook up a slice of bacon, cut that up, and add the crispy pieces to the soup.

The “Grievance Studies” Hoax and the IRB Process

From Inside Higher Ed comes “Blowback Against a Hoax.” The “hoax” in question happened last fall, and it was described in a very long read on the web site Areo, “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” In the nutshell, three academics created some clearly ridiculous articles and sent them to a variety of journals to see if they could be published. Their results garnered a lot of MSM attention (I think there were articles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times). And, judging from a quick glance at the shared Google Drive folder for this project,  it is very clear that the authors (James A. Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose) were trying to “expose” and (I’d argue) humiliate the academics that they believe are publishing or not publishing kinds of scholarship because of “political correctness.”

Well, now Boghossian (who is an assistant professor at Portland State) is in trouble with that institution because he didn’t follow the rules for dealing with human subjects, aka IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval.

Read the article of course, but I’d also recommend watching the video the group posted as a defense to this on January 5. I think it says a lot about the problem here– and, IMO, Boghossian and his colleagues do not exactly look like they knew what they were doing:


(I posted what follows here– more or less– as a comment on the article which might or might not show up there, but I thought I’d copy and paste it here too):

It’s a fascinating problem and one I’m not quite sure what to do with. On the one hand, I think the Sokal 2.0 folks engaged in a project designed to expose some of the problems with academic publishing, a real and important topic for sure. On the other hand, they did it in way that was kind of jerky and also in a way that was designed to embarrass and humiliate editors and reviewers for these journals.

The video that accompanies this article is definitely worth watching, and to me it reveals that these people knew very VERY little about IRB protocols. Now, I’m not an expert on all the twists and turns of IRB, but I do teach a graduate-level course in composition and rhetoric research methods (I’m teaching it this semester), I’m “certified” to conduct human subject research, I teach my students how to be certified, I regularly interact with the person who is in charge of IRB process, and I also have gone through the process with a number of my own projects. In my field, the usual goal is to be “exempt” from IRB oversight: in other words, the usual process in my field is to fill out the paperwork and explain to the IRB people “hey, we’re doing this harmless thing but it involves people and we might not be able to get consent, is that okay” and for their response to be “sure, you can do that.”

So the first mistake these people made was they didn’t bother to tell their local IRB, I presume because these researchers had never done this kind of thing before, and, given their academic backgrounds, they probably didn’t know a whole lot about what does or doesn’t fall under IRB. After all, the three folks who did this stuff have backgrounds in math, philosophy, and “late medieval/early modern religious writing by and about women,” not exactly fields where learning about IRB and the rules for human subjects is a part of graduate training.

If these folks had followed the rules, I have no idea what the Portland State IRB would have said about this study. The whole situation will make for an interesting topic of discussion in the research methods course I’m teaching this term and a really interesting topic of discussion for when the local director of IRB visits class. But I do know three things:

  • It is possible to put together an IRB approved study where you don’t have to get participant approval if you explain why it wouldn’t be possible to get participant approval and/or where the risk to participants is minimal.
  • If you put together a study where you purposefully deceive subjects (like sending editors and reviewers fake scholarship trying to get them to publish it), then that study is going to be supervised by the IRB board. And if that study potentially embarrasses or humiliates its subjects and thus cause them harm (which, as far as I can tell from what I’ve read, was actually the point of this project), then there’s a good chance the IRB folks would not allow that project to continue.
  • Saying something along the lines of “We didn’t involve the IRB process because they probably wouldn’t have approved anyway” (as they more or less say in this video, actually) is not an acceptable excuse.

I don’t think Boghossian should lose his job. But I do think he should apologize and, if I was in a position of power at Portland State, I’d insist that he go through the IRB training for faculty on that campus.

The beginning of my basement gardening experiment

 

First of all, no, it is not weed. Though it’s now legal in Michigan to do so, I have no interest in growing marijuana. And besides, if I was actually interested in growing marijuana, do you think I’d be posting about it online? C’mon now….

No, this is my effort at a DIY indoor LED garden for herbs and such. Here’s the deal:

I usually buy a rosemary bush/tree in the spring because it’ll live just fine all the way into fall and with not a lot of care. The problem/challenge is it’s too cold in southeast Michigan for rosemary to live through the winter. In the past, I’ve tried covering it up under one of those styrofoam insulators that are for roses and I put a potted version in the garage a couple years ago. Neither approach worked. When it started getting too cold this year (and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before), I put my potted rosemary in the basement and didn’t think about it much. It got at least a little sunlight through a tiny window for some of the day, and I managed to remember to water it once in a while too. It wasn’t exactly “thriving,” but it wasn’t dying either.

A couple months ago, I stumbled across an article about the growing (no pun intended) business of indoor farming thanks in part to advances in LED lighting, and that got me to thinking about helping out my little rosemary bush and beyond. I took a look on amazon both to find out how much these lights cost and also to find any sort of book/advice on indoor gardening. The price for the lights are all over the map, and I didn’t find any useful books. So, deciding to just wing it and I bought a couple of 50 watt LED grow bulbs. I stuck one bulb in an old clamp-on utility light shade-thing-a-ma-bob, clamped it on to something, and turned it on once in a while for my rosemary. Lo and behold, it started growing and bending toward that light.

So I decided over winter break to go a little more “all-in,” and that’s what’s in my Instagram photos. Besides that rosemary bush, I am trying to keep alive the Norfolk Pine we got as a stand-in for a Christmas tree– another plant that I’ve had a hard time keeping alive after the holidays in the past. I bought a storage tub, the kind of thing designed for clothes and to be kept under the bed, and filled that up with just normal potting soil. In that trough of dirt I’ve planted seeds for butter lettuce, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley.

I have no idea if this is going to work. I’m kind of pessimistic about the seedlings, frankly. But what I think probably will work is to grow some herbs this summer in pots and then take them down to the basement in the winter, things like thyme and chives and tarragon and what-not.

Just how offended are you by the word…

… motherfucker?

I ask because of the dust-up over Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s statement about Trump that is in the news, “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

To back up a step: here’s a link to an article and with a five minute or so video of the event. I think this was a Move On sponsored thing and it looks like it was in some kind of bar/party room filled with supporters. It was a fiery speech all about how her progressive and activist campaign worked, and how that strategy worked for other progressive candidates– notably many women and/or POC. It looks to me like everyone in the crowd had a cell phone recording the speech in one hand and a beer in the other. It was a private party. There was ton of cheering and whooping it up and she closed with that line “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

This matters. A LOT. It’s not like Tlaib was on the floor of the house or on Meet the Press or whatever and said “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.” And the sentence that is getting all the attention now wasn’t even the first time she said “fuck” in that five minutes.

As far as the politics go, I am in the same camp as Nancy Pelosi and the more moderate leadership in the House: it’s not time to call for impeachment and while Pelosi said she wouldn’t have made that choice in words, she’s not going to get into the censorship business. But Tlaib is not the first member of congress to say Trump should be impeached now, and, as I heard Tlaib say on the news the other night (this is a local story because her district is parts of Detroit, Wayne county, and “downriver”), fighting for impeachment was a campaign promise. So it makes sense that Tlaib would bring up that campaign issue/promise at a party celebrating being sworn in.

Anyway, while I do not like the phrase “clutch their pearls,” I cannot think of a more accurate metaphor in the reaction to this. Never mind Fox news; This tweet from The Washington Post called Tlaib’s choice of “motherfucker” a “slur,” though the article to which it links is all about civility and the moral problems of vulgarities. The moderately liberal Detroit Free Press (well, compared to the Detroit News) published a Mitch Albom screed/editorial where he condescendingly laments Tlaib’s sinking into a “new low in a cesspool of human relations we call politics,” she is merely sinking to Trump’s lows etc. My stars, I do declare!

All of which brings me back to my original question: just how offended are you by the word “motherfucker?” I’ll take Albom at his word and agree he is personally offended at the use of such salty language. This isn’t surprising since  Albom has made his nut from schmaltzy feel-good books (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith, etc.) which end up as Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies.

Of course, I also have to think that Albom and others wouldn’t have had any real reaction to the vulgarity at all if it had been uttered at a similar campaign event by a 60-something Republican white dude.  But I’ll just leave that right there.

I mean, I take it as a given that the kinds of conservatives who think Trump is doing a great job and who think liberals are evil and anyone non-Christian is suspicious object to Tlaib calling Trump a “motherfucker,” but these people probably would have been just as upset had she called him a poopy-head. But beyond that, I have to wonder how much of this is kind of generational, kind of a lack of familiarity with a certain strand of contemporary culture.

Take some of the movies I like, for example.

I probably watch The Big Lebowski three or four times a year. It’s a movie that is both comfortingly familiar and still full of surprises, and it’s the kind of thing Annette and I will sometimes put on as “background viewing,” something on the TV while we are each putzing around on our laptops doing other things (writing a blog post, for example). In The Big Lebowski, there is some variation of word “fuck” 260 times, at least according to Wikipedia.

Also according to Wikipedia: that 260 different fucks doesn’t even put The Big Lebowski in the top 25 of the most fucks in a movie (though I don’t know how accurate this list is, and who has the time to count all those fucks?) Interestingly, there are a lot movies on this list of 135 different titles that I’ve seen and liked a great deal– The Wolf of Wall Street, Casino, Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, True Romance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad, Monster, Bad Santa, Sorry to Bother You, etc., etc.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: for Tlaib to call Trump a “motherfucker” was insulting. But I don’t know, it sure seems like the Alboms of the world think that calling someone a motherfucker (at the end of a rally-styled speech in a bar full of supporters– don’t forget the context, folks) is a whole lot worse than I do. Maybe I watch too many movies with bad words in them. Maybe Albom et al don’t watch enough of these movies.

First (perhaps only) prediction of 2019: the return/rise of blogs

You read it here first (hopefully): I think 2019 is going to bring a resurgence (well, “return” or “rise” or “comeback” might be better words) of blogging. I freely admit this is not based on evidence. It’s a hope, a gut feeling, and/or a wild-assed guess. But a lack of evidence has never stopped me before from predicting things, so there’s no reason for me to stop now.

Predicting the comeback of blogging is in part a New Year’s resolution for me to blog more, a bit of wishful thinking. I keep resolving and hoping to start working on writing projects that have nothing to do with academia– or if they do have to do with my day job, they are more commentaries on the state of things, like this piece I write last year— and blogging is a good place to try to draft and play with some of those ideas.

I’ve been thinking about this for a month or so now after reading this piece by Matt “Community College Dean” Reed, and John Warner’s follow-up. Reed is right in that blogging (certainly in academia, and I am guessing in other careers as well) has it’s problems. “[S]ome people prefer to hire folks who don’t have paper trails. I’ll just leave that there” is true, and I am guessing there are opportunities I’ve missed because of something I have posted online. I have never had any delusions about being able to “make money” from blogging, so in the sense that the first rule of writing professionally is never do it for free, this is probably a waste of time.

On the other hand, most of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in academia as a writer and scholar connect to blogging. Writing here about MOOCs was why I got invited to speak about MOOCs at some cool conferences here and in Italy, why I was able to co-edit a reasonably successful collection of essays about MOOCs, and ultimately why I have a book coming out this year (knocking on wooden things) about MOOCs. My “greatest hit” of academic publishing (take both “greatest” and “hit” with a significant grain of salt) is still “When blogging goes bad,” an article that obviously wouldn’t have been possible without, well, blogging.

So there are very good reasons to try to go back to blogging more. Warner pointed out that the “freedom” to write what you want on a blog is the kind of freedom where you have nothing left to lose, and that is certainly the case for me. I mean, at this point of my life/career, I’m pretty much stuck situated at EMU– unless something strange and unforeseen happens, which, as the last couple of years in the Trump era et al have demonstrated time and time again, I suppose is unpredictably possible. All of which is to say that unless I write/do something quite foolish (also unpredictably possible, of course), I don’t see anything but an upside for me blogging.

But I think it goes beyond just me.

Social media feels kind of tippy-pointish to me right now. I increasingly have friends who have either opted out of social media entirely or who are now a lot more careful about how they dose on it. I cannot go two or three days without stumbling across some kind of article about the evilness of Facebook, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that is going to change anytime soon.

I’m kind of hoping for a blogging comeback sort of like what’s going on with vinyl records or independent bookstores. Yes, the vast majority of us are still listening to music on our devices and not that old-timey turntable. (Slight tangent: this might also be the year where I see if that old turntable in the basement still works). Yes, most of us are still buying a lot of our books from Amazon– if we’re buying and reading books at all. (Another slight tangent: I really ought to read more non-work books this coming year). But with the collapse of the big-box stores and a customer return/preference for actual print books, independent stores are proving to be modestly sustainable.

So yeah, it’s a niche. Maybe a small one. But hey, small worlds are still worlds.

 

 

The year that was 2018 (according to Instagram)

‘Tis the season for thinking back on the year that was 2018. In looking back over my blog, I was surprised I wrote as much as I did last year. I posted a whole lot more on social media of course. I don’t think it’s worth the effort to look back at Facebook and Twitter both because there is too much there. But I found looking back at my 2018 Instagram posts kind of fun.

 

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Working windows.

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 Here’s a sort of an “action shot” of me working on the MOOC book manuscript, probably shortly before I sent the manuscript for review to Utah State University Press. I had kind of forgotten about how I spent a fair amount of 2018 working on this off and on, actually. But long story short: the book, which is now titled More than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs, should come out some time in 2019, though I have no idea when. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming new year I am sure.

 

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Neon Museum. Awesome!

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Annette and I had a nice winter break trip to Las Vegas and one of the highlights for sure was the Neon Museum. As far as I can tell, most people I know think that Vegas is kind of a level of hell, but we think it’s fun– for about four nights/three days every few years. February was a pretty good time to go too.

 

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I baked a lot of bread again this past year. I’ve been making sourdoughs from a starter that’s been “living” in my fridge since about April 2017. I thought I kind of screwed up and killed off my starter at one point over the summer, but, as they say in Frankenstein, IT IS ALIVE!

 

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Alas, this was the last year my friend and colleague Derek Mueller was at EMU before moving on to the Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange grassy fields of Virginia Tech. Happily, Chalice still is my local friend and colleague who sometimes comes to my office to eat candy and chips.

 

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Fuzzy, lonely Trump supporter.

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For “birthmonth” in 2018, Annette and I went to New York City for a long weekend. We did lots of fun stuff– saw Spongebob Squarepants the Musical (surprisingly good), went to see the David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum with friends Troy and Lisa, and we also marched in/went to a gun control rally, one of the March for Our Lives pro-gun control rallies. It was an inspiring and even festive event– and I am pretty sure we walked about 10 miles that day. Here’s a photo while marching of one of the Trump people in front of one of the Trump buildings. Sad.

 

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Andy Warhol’s Amegia desktop computer circa mid 1980’s.

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I ended up for a weekend in Pittsburgh in April and, among other things, went to the Andy Warhol museum. Who knew Warhol was an Amegia fan?

 

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Found a few of morels growing in the backyard in May, and after perhaps too much research (because after all, who wants to end up dead or sick from some weird mushroom thing they found in their backyard?), I cooked these up in a little butter and Annette and Will and I ate them. Holy-moly, they were spectacular. Hope they come back this spring.

 

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The Computers and Writing Conference last year was at George Mason University. Bill HD and Steve Benninghoff and I drove out and stayed in the dorms– with (among many other people) Doug Walls. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with CWCON in the next couple of years. I won’t be able to go to it at all in 2019 (probably) even though it’s going to be at MSU because of some family plans, and I don’t know how confident I am that there will be one of these conferences in 2020. Stay tuned.

 

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Will and Annette ahead on the way down the climbing dune.

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Made the often enough trip “up north” in the summer, which of course was lovely as always….

 

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Annette and I made a point last summer of trying to make more trips into Detroit to do stuff, including a trip to the Hitsville, USA museum. I like all those Motown artists and songs, but I’m not really much of a fan, but I have to say the museum and tour was great.

 

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Will moved back into the dorms as a Resident Assistant for one more year– he’s set to graduate in May and then off to graduate school. Again, stay tuned.

 

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arch rock terror selfie

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Annette and I took a September trip to Mackinac Island to take advantage of one of these “discount” (still too expensive) deals at The Grand Hotel, and we lucked out with legitimately nice weather too. Not quite sure what this photo says about us though.

 

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My father’s little “man cave” Xmas tree.

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Pretty much the same patio view I had last year too.

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And finally, we once again are still in the midst of our typical too much travel over the Xmas break. Had a “quick trip” to Iowa for my side of the family (though I don’t know how accurate it is to call a three day trip that involves around 20 hours in a car particularly “quick”) and then down to Florida for Annette’s side of things, and here I am with almost exactly the same view I had about a year ago.

So that is pretty much that. I left out a lot because honestly, while I think 2018 had a lot of good stuff about it, there was also a lot of shitty stuff about it too. Here’s hoping 2019 has more (or at least as much) good and less bad.

The Don Rickels approach to campus security

Earlier this week, there were a couple of news stories out about the faculty union at Oakland University (which is about an hour north of here in Rochester Hills, Michigan) buying and distributing hockey pucks to faculty, staff, and students as a defense against an on-campus shooter. I learned about this at nine or ten Thursday night, after a long day and while I was thinking about going to bed. Being a little sleepy and fuzzy-headed, I assumed this was some kind of joke. But no, this is very real.

Then I thought “well, this surly must have been the bone-headed idea of some administrator or campus security person or both.” Nope. The Oakland University faculty union’s executive committee took part in an on-campus active shooter training session, and part of that training is about throwing stuff at a would-be shooter. The Oakland University Chief of Police mentioned hockey pucks as an example.

“We thought ‘yeah, that is something that we can do,'” [Tom Discenna, president of the American Association of University Professors] said. “We can make these available at least to our members and a fair number of students as well.”

So far, the union has spent $2,500 on an initial batch of pucks. Each costs 94 cents to make and they are printed with the union’s logo, Discenna said. They are being distributed for free.

The union began passing out the pucks on Nov. 9. So far, 800 faculty members have them, and another 1,700 are expected to go to students. The university’s student congress has ordered an additional 1,000, he said.

I posted about this on the EMUTalk Facebook group and I was surprised by the number of people who thought this wasn’t a bad idea.  I mean, on the one hand, I suppose this is true: a hockey puck is a good size for throwing and it could definitely do some damage if it connected. (The OU Chief of Police also suggested billiard balls.) A friend/colleague of mine who went through an active shooter training at his synagogue told me that experience made him understand the importance of thinking about strategies for what to do, including fighting back as a last resort. So okay, I guess.

On the other hand, c’mon, really? Have we been so beaten down by the every week or so stories about active shooters that all we do now is shrug and think if I every find ourselves in such a terrible situation, I sure hope I have a nice heavy object to throw? Are we that far away from some version of sensible gun control laws that passing out hockey pucks seems like a pretty solid idea? Thoughts, prayers, pucks? WTF?

I don’t know if this makes things better or worse, but deeply buried in these stories is this:

Separately, the union is hoping the pucks can help bolster a fundraising campaign for interior door locks for university classrooms. Each one has an identification number for voluntary donations to the campaign. The union and student congress each have contributed $5,000 toward that initiative.

That’s the real story– or at least it should be. I’ve never been on campus at Oakland University, but assuming it’s like ever other college campus I’ve been on (including the one where I work), the vast majority of the classrooms do not have doors that can lock, certainly not with the turn of a deadbolt from the inside of the room. And let me tell ya: if there is an active shooter on campus while I’m teaching, the first thing I want is not something hard and dangerous to throw. The first thing I want is a freakin’ lock.

So really, this story about hockey pucks as a defensive distraction against a classroom shooter is actually a clever distraction from the real issue. Universities are not doing enough to make their campuses safe. They certainly aren’t investing in locking doors. If Oakland University (or any university for that matter) was actually serious about making its campus more secure, it’d spend less time promoting the Don Rickels defense and more time on something that might actually work, like a locked door that keeps the shooter on the outside.

Oh yeah, and sensible gun control laws, but I know that’s a fantasy.

 

My recent attempts at social media detoxing/dieting

Who hasn’t thought about ditching their social media accounts? Who hasn’t found themselves wasting way WAY too much time in some kind of nonsense online discussion? And then, in a brief moment of clarity after seemingly hours of fog, who hasn’t thought “this is starting to feel kinda toxic”?

I felt that tipping point a couple weeks ago when something happened on the WPA-L mailing list. I didn’t engage in the discussion there, but I did (rather foolishly) engage in too much of the back-channel conversation on Facebook, ultimately getting into that “why am I doing this toxic thing to myself?” kind of space.

A tangent/some unpopular thoughts about “that conversation” on WPA-L: first, I didn’t think it was so much an example of mansplaining as it was an example of what I described in my dissertation as an “immediate” rhetorical situation, the kind of miscommunication that happens in asynchronous electronic spaces (mailing lists, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) when the understanding of rhetor, audience, and message all become jumbled. I finished my dissertation on 1996, and one of the examples I have in chapter four is from a very similar (though not as gendered) discussion that went off the rails on ACW-L, a now defunct but similar listserv. But of course bringing this up as a possibility of what was going on was impossible. Besides, the conversation turned into one about mansplaining anyway. Second, I think the gender dynamics in composition/rhetoric are extremely complex. This is a field where there are more women than men, and it is a field where women occupy about the same number of positions of power as men in terms of being leaders, important scholars, high profile professors, and so forth. Third, I think the discussion environment on the WPA-L list had been turning kind of bad for a while, maybe because of the rise of other social media platforms, maybe because of something else. I generally don’t agree with the likes of Bill Maher who have complained that college campuses have become too “politically correct” and they can no longer tolerate any sort of divisive speakers or naughty comedians, but it does feel to me like there’s not a whole lot or room to stray too far from the party line on WPA-L anymore. And it also sure feels to me like the general toxicity of the Trump administration has poisoned everything, including what was a generally mild-mannered academic mailing list. We are all being constantly beaten down and made brittle from this disaster of a human who we elected (sort of) president and I am sure it will take us all years to get over this damage– if we ever can ever again feel “right” about trying to engage with people and ideas we don’t agree with. Let me put it this way: I was on WPA-L for a long time (20+ years?), and I do not think this would have happened during either the Obama administration or the Bush II administration.

Anyway, back to the toxicity: I decided I had had enough, and I needed to do something with how I’m engaging (and over-engaging) with social media.

So the first thing I did was sign off of WPA-L, after writing an email that I guess is easy to read as self-serving but I was trying to be sincere in thanking the group for all I learned over the years. Maybe I left too early, maybe I stayed too long (a lot of the backchannel discussion on Facebook consisted of people saying stuff like “oh, I got off of that shit show of a mailing list years ago”), maybe I was part of the problem and it will be better after I’m gone. Though it’s still a public list and easy enough to check in on once in a while.

Then Facebook. I thought briefly about just chucking the whole thing, but I still like it and I feel like I need to keep more than a toe in it because of friends and family, people I know at EMU and in academia, and because I teach a lot of stuff about Facebook and social media. So I went through my “friends” and I decided that my minimal standard for continued Facebook “friendship” was people who I sorta/kinda knew well enough that if I were to run into at a conference or something, I might recognize them and maybe even chat with them in a more or less friendly way. I went from about 650-700 down to about 460.

It was interesting culling that list. I don’t exactly know how the algorithms of who gets listed where on my friend list, but I think it’s people who post most frequently/recently first, and then everyone else in decreasing order of connectivity. I think a lot of my now former Facebook friends abandoned their accounts a while ago, and there were three or four folks on my list who had actually passed away in the last few years. Interestingly, I’m now noticing posts from folks who I hadn’t seen posting in a long time, again I suppose because of how the algorithms for what shows up where in my feed.

For Twitter, I’m kind of doing the opposite: I’m trying to read it a bit more, follow more people, and posting/retweeting more. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that Twitter is also kind of a cesspool, but I don’t know, it doesn’t feel quite as contentious? Maybe the brevity of the form, maybe because of who I follow or don’t follow? Maybe it’s because there are so many tweets (I’m following just over 760 tweeters/people/media sources) it feels a lot more like channel surfing than engaging in a discussion? Plus I find more of the links to things more interesting, and a friend of mind told me about realtwitter.com, which (as far as I can tell) shows you real time updates of who I’m following– that is, it apparently skips by Twitter’s rankings and ads.

And Instagram is just fun. Instagram never pisses me off. Maybe I should just be doing Instagram and nothing else.

So we’ll see if this makes things less toxic-feeling. The next step (probably) will be to try to work harder at limiting my time spent in the social media soup.

Semi-annual end of the summer/beginning of the school year resolutions: Time passes, bends, repeats

Thirty years ago this week, (give or take a week or two), I was preparing to teach for the first time as a graduate assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University. I had moved to Richmond in May 1988, shortly after I had graduated from Iowa, and that summer wasn’t exactly great. I could only find work for a few weeks with Clean Water Action, which essentially involved going door to door in various subdivisions within about an hour’s drive from downtown Richmond and asking for donations . Let’s just say the premise of the operation seemed sketchy, the money was poor, I turned out to be not very good at canvasing, and I ate a lot of Cheerios that summer– though fortunately, my old friends Troy and Lisa had actually moved to Richmond too and they fed and entertained me once in a while. In any event, some time in August that summer, I was probably in a workshop for new teaching assistants.

Twenty years ago this week, (give or take a week or two), I was preparing for teaching and work at my second (and presumably final) tenure-track position at Eastern Michigan University. Annette and I left Ashland, Oregon where I had been an assistant professor for two years at Southern Oregon University. People in Ashland thought we were crazy to be moving to Michigan because Ashland and that whole area of Oregon is stunningly beautiful. But there is no way Annette would have ever gotten a tenure-track job at SOU, there are no other universities or colleges within 100 miles of there, and truth be told, SOU was (and still kind of is as I understand it) a basket case of an institution. So in the late summer of 1998, we hired a couple of dudes to do most of the loading up of a U-Haul truck we drove east for four or five days with Will (not yet a year old) in a car seat between us while we sang round after round of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” to keep him from being fussy. In any event, I was probably in some kind of faculty orientation thing some time in late August, a session where I remember meeting my fellow cohort hires, Annette Saddik and Jim Knapp, and where I spent a day I will never get back being “orientated” and learning about insurance. As I understand it, the new faculty orientation has expanded  to almost a week of these meetings.

And now here we are once again with another new (school) year’s resolution(s) sort of post. Time flies and repeats and bends. I visited Richmond (and my friend Dennis Danvers) for a day back in late May and had a lovely trip down memory lane, driving by old apartments and seeing the many ways VCU’s campus has changed. Troy and Lisa (saw them back in March) are now in Brooklyn, and before that they were in Chicago for almost 20 years (with a “stop” in-between for a year in California). I hear once in a while from people who were at SOU, but not much. Annette Saddik and Jim Knapp both left EMU a long time ago. Annette (as in my wife, not Saddik) has been a tenured professor in the department for a while now, and Will is starting his senior year of college with an eye toward PhD programs.

As I’ve written about previously, EMU is in the midst of what I will charitably call “challenges,” a combination of self-inflicted dumb administrative decisions, changing regional demographics impacting enrollments, and a lot of other problems happening all over the U.S. at similar universities. This is a time at EMU where faculty who are able move on to other positions at other universities ought to seriously think about doing so, or where faculty who can’t move on should have a strategy for riding out the storm.

I am in the latter category– not that that’s a bad thing.

I mean, the grass might be greener elsewhere (or it might not be), but Annette and I both have tenured positions and we live in a lovely community. I can’t complain about that. This fall, I’m not involved in any quasi-administrative duties for the first time since 2011, and I am looking forward to being “retired” from that work to focus more on teaching. I’m especially excited about the section of first year writing I’m going to teach where I’m planning on using as Bruce McComiskey’s Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition and where students will research something in the theme(s) of post-truth and fake news. It’s the most politically charged version of the course I’ve ever taught, but at this stage of my career, I think I can handle/navigate it, and I think McComiskey makes a pretty compelling argument about how we live in a time where teaching students about this is incredibly important. So wish me luck on that front.

Scholarship-wise, I’m beginning the last stages of a book about MOOCs I’ve been working on pretty much since Invasion of the MOOCs. It’s revised title is More than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs, it’s being published by Utah State University Press/University of Colorado Press, and it should come out some time in 2019. Knocking on wooden things. I had said before that this might very well be my last “hurrah” as far as scholarly writing goes because I want to take a turn toward the more “mainstream” in terms of trying to write and publish more commentary pieces (like this one from Inside Higher Ed from March), and/or some more “popular” non-fiction or even fiction. Then again, I am also going to start putting together the paperwork/legwork for a different project that has the working (and in my head) title “Classroom Laptop Bans are Bullshit.” Plus, with what seems to be an increasing number of proclamations that blogging is “over,” this might actually be the right time to research them again. Stay tuned.

Otherwise, my new school year resolutions are similar to the ones I had last year:

  • Finish the book. Well, “finish.” There will still be production issues and copy editing and indexing and who knows what else, which is to say that the book won’t really be done until it is actually produced. But you know what I mean.
  • Go to the gym more (and generally try to diet, exercise, be healthy, blah-blah-blah).
  • Let it go/stay out of it/unplug from it/let others take it over.
  • Start enough of some new projects so that I can apply for summer and/or fall research support.
  • Blog more, which I realize is at odds with the “blogs are dead now” trend and all of that. But just like everyone else I know, I’m increasingly disillusioned with social media, and I kind of liked when I was blogging “reviews” of scholarly things I had read, in part because it often feels like there is a whole lot more attention spent on making scholarship rather than consuming it/reading it.