Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

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Wednesday Links

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* Marquette English’s medievalist search closes today! Get your applications in!

* Advice for academics: how to write a research statement.

* The digital humanities and the MLA JIL.

* Junot Diaz on academic freedom and Palestine.

* The Plot Against Public Education.

* Grooming Students for A Lifetime of Surveillance.

* Yet another roundup on the death of the faculty.

* Holy picket lines, Batman! Marxism and superheroes, part two: the struggle.

* Same-sex marriage crossed the 50% threshold yesterday, as it became legal as many as 30 states due to SCOTUS inaction.

* The right to die: Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I’m Choosing to Die on My Own Terms.

* Is Rick & Morty the best cartoon since The Simpsons season four? Probably! You Need to Be Watching Rick and Morty. Seriously.

* Google Glass and facial recognition.

* American Empire, by the numbers.

* An open access book: Joanna Zylinska’s Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene.

* Understanding reparations.

* War is a racket, Prophet Samuel edition.

* Wealth of richest 400 Americans surges to $2.29 trillion.

* The mission of the humanities is to transmit questions about value – and to question values – by testing traditions that build up over centuries and millennia. And within the humanities, it is the discipline of history that provides an antidote to short-termism, by giving pointers to the long future derived from knowledge of the deep past. Yet at least since the 1970s, most professional historians – that is, most historians holding doctorates in the field and teaching in universities or colleges – conducted most of their research on timescales of between five and 50 years.

* We’re probably teaching math wrong.

* Daria Morgendorffer’s Reading List.

* Hey, you, get your damn hands off her.

* Venus Green, who was 87 when she was handcuffed, roughed up and injured by police, will receive $95,000 as part of a settlement with Baltimore City. The quote doesn’t even reflect the most bananas part: Woman, 90, locked officer in basement, settles with police.

Ga. Cops Who Blew Off Toddler’s Face With Grenade Won’t Be Charged.

* Did I do this one already? Infinite Jest, as it was meant to be read.

* Stay informed: Nicolet National Forest is Milwaukee’s “zombie safe zone.”

* National Adjunct Walkout Day Planned.

* The gum you like is going to come back in style.

* And that gum you like is going to come back in style.

Startups Did Not Get Last Month’s Memo To Stop Burning All Their Money.

MIT researchers are developing a “second skin” space suit lined with tiny coils that contract when switched on, tightening the garment around the body. The coils (image below) in the “BioSuit” are made from shape-memory alloy that “remembers” its shape when bent and returns to its original form if heated.

* Marvel will finally try to make some money off the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

* Boston Review on vulture capitalism.

* MetaFilter mega-post on sex work and consent.

* The United States and alcoholism. Some anti-big-data-journalism pushback.

* And now at last we see the violence inherent in the system.

Special Bonus Sunday Reading: ‘Keywords for an Age of Austerity’

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On Twitter Adam Kotsko pointed me to a great blogging series from John Patrick Leary: “Keywords for an Age of Austerity.”

1 – Innovation

2 – Stakeholder

2.5 – Learning Outcomes

Like the other words in this series—innovation and stakeholder—learning outcomes is a superficial concept that crumbles under even slight scrutiny. But its empirically verifiable meaninglessness conceals the zeal for empirical measurability that it demonstrates. And in the education world, these kind of measurements are only ever about cutting back.

3 – Nimble

4 – Entrepeneur

5 – Curator

The word’s combination of moral purpose and creativity aligns it closely with the “innovator” and the “entrepreneur.” In the most enthusiastic celebrations of each, marketing ingenuity and aesthetic imagination are scarcely distinguishable from one another.

6 – Conversation

7 – Silo

8 – Accountability

Measurement is key in enfocring the notion of accountability in schools, and it is what many critics of NCLB fixate on: the high-stakes testing regimes, teacher evaluations,  school grades, and so on. And yet there is something persistently vague about its usage. In my cursory reading of the text of NCLB, the term is never defined more clearly than it is above, except to specify that it refers to common standards and enforcement provisions. The law at times also seems to conflate the sanctions for failure—that is, being “held accountable,” or punished—with meeting the standard itself, or “being accountable,” a big difference.

9 – Content

10 – Sustainability

As a lifestyle and marketing term, “sustainable” can paradoxically express the same capitalist triumphalism—of an ever-expanding horizon of goods and services, of “growth” without consequences—that the conservationist concept was once meant to critique. “Sustainable development,” fuzzy as it is, was intended to remind us of the limited supply and unequal exploitation of natural resources. But if “sustainable” most literally means an ability to keep on doing something, its popularity as a consumerist value suggests that there is a fine line between “sustainable” and “complacent.” We can “sustain” grossly unequal cities—that is, they won’t fall apart utterly—with Lyft and Airbnb, rather than mass transit and affordable housing. For a while, anyway. Whether we will sustain our desire to live in them is another question.

11 – Civility

12 – DIY

Sunday Links!

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* Did you notice my post last night? Isiah Lavender’s Black and Brown Planets is out! My essay in the book is on Samuel Delany.

* Sketching out a table of contents for Pink Planets: highlights from the history of feminist SF.

The US has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the name of fighting terrorism. The war is all too real. But it’s also fake. There is no clash of civilizations, no ideological battle, no grand effort on the part of the United States to defeat terrorism. As long as terrorism doesn’t threaten core US interests, American elites are content to allow it — and help it — flourish. They don’t want to win this war. It will go on forever, unless we make them end it.

* The United States and the “moderate Muslim.”

In each of these, I merely concede the Maher and Harris definition of moderation as a rhetorical act. That definition is of course loaded with assumptions and petty prejudice, and bends always in the direction of American interests. But I accept their definition here merely to demonstrate: even according to their own definition, American actions have undermined “moderation” at every turn.

* Fox News, asking the real questions. “What are the chances that illegal immigrants are going to come over our porous southern border with Ebola or that terrorists will purposely send someone here using Ebola as a bioterror weapon?”

* The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever.

* “Social Justice Warriors” and the New Culture War.

As selective colleges try to increase economic diversity among their undergraduates, the University of Chicago announced Wednesday that it’s embarking on an unusual effort to enroll more low-income students, including the elimination of loans in its aid packages.

* In search of an academic wife.

* Alt-ac jobs at the MLA.

* “Yes Means Yes” at campuses in California and New York.

* A model state law for banning revenge porn.

* Let the children play: Homework isn’t linked to education outcomes before age 12, and not really after age 12, either.

* Enslaved Ants Regularly Rise In Rebellion, Kill Their Slavers’ Children.

Ebola Vaccine Delay May Be Due To An Intellectual Property Dispute. This was a bit in Kim Stanle Robinson’s Science in the Capitol series: one company has the cure for cancer and the other company has the delivery mechanism, so both go out of business.

* Elsewhere in the famous efficiency of markets: Marvel will apparently cancel one of its longest-running series out of spite for Fox Studios.

This Is The First High-Frequency Trader To Be Criminally Charged With Rigging The Market.

* Prison bankers cash in on captive customers.

* The time Larry Niven suggested spreading rumors within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs in order to lower health care costs.

* Suicide, Unemployment Increasingly Linked, Paper Suggests.

* Perfectionism: Could There Be a Downside?

* I’d be really interested to see if this use of eminent domain would survive a legal challenge.

Data centers are wasting electricity so excessively that only “critical action” can prevent the pollution and rate hikes that some U.S. regions could eventually suffer as a result of power plant construction intended to ensure that the ravenous facilities are well-fed, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Anthesis warns.

* From the archives: Lili Loofbourow on the incredible misogyny of The Social Network.

* Moral panic watch: ‘Back-up husbands,’ ‘emotional affairs’ and the rise of digital infidelity.

* Look, a shooting star! Make a wish! Also at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Superman, why are you lying about your X-ray vision?

* Fantasy sports and the coming gambling boom.

* And this looks great for parents and kids: B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures.

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Several Colors of Planets Still Available for Edited Collections

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9781628461237My friend Isiah Lavender’s edited collection Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction is available now at Amazon. $54 is a lot of money, but at least put in a request at your local library!

Here’s a table of contents:

Introduction: Isiah Lavender,”Coloring Science Fiction”

Part I: Black Planets
Lisa Yaszek, “The Bannekerade: Genius, Madness, and Magic in Black Science Fiction”
De Witt Douglas Kilgore, “‘The Best is Yet to Come': Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Reform Afrofuturism”
Gerry Canavan, “Far Beyond the Star Pit: Samuel R. Delany”
Isiah Lavender, “Digging Deep: Ailments of Difference in Octavia Butler’s ‘The Evening and the Morning and the Night'”
Marleen S. Barr, “The Laugh of Anansi: Why Science Fiction Is Pertinent to Black Children’s Literature Pedagogy”

Part II: Brown Planets
Grace L. Dillon, “Haint Stories Rooted in Conjure Science: Indigenous Scientific Literacies in Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire
Patrick B. Sharp, “Questing for an Indigenous Future: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as Indigenous SF”
M. Elizabeth Ginway, “Monteiro Lobato’s O presidente negro [The Black President]: Race and Gender in the Corporate State in Brazil”
Lysa M. Rivera, “Mestizaje and Heterotopia in Ernest Hogan’s High Aztech”
Matthew Goodwin, “Virtual Reality at the Border of Migration, Race and Labor”
Malisa Kurtz, “A Dis-(Orient)ation: Race, Technoscience, and The Windup Girl”
Edward James, “Reflections on ‘Yellow, Black, Metal, and Tentacled,’ Twenty-Two Years On”
Edward James, “Yellow, Black, Metal and Tentacled: the Race Question in American Science Fiction”

Coda
Robin Anne Reid, “‘The Wild Unicorn Herd Check-In': The Politics of Race in Science Fiction Fandom”

Weekend Links!

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* I liked this brief addendum to my academic job market as “game” piece from the other day.

One thing I might add is that the game metaphor also helps us see the job market as something that could be improved. If we view the market as a system of pure luck, then there’s nothing we can do to fix it. And if we think of it as a meritocracy, then we don’t have any reason to. But if the job market is a game, structured, as Canavan says, by “a set of rules that may not make sense, much less be desirable, rational, or fair,” then those in positions of power in the academy (including people on hiring committees) could work to change the rules. In large and small ways they could work to make it a more rational and fair game.

I agree the game framing suggests change is possible in a way that neither merit nor lottery does. I’d hoped I made that point at the end (“make alliances, change the rules, overturn the table”) but perhaps I could have put more emphasis on it.

* I’ve always been really skeptical of Rolling Jubilee, so I’m a sucker for any time Naked Capitalism dumps on it.

So while it is impressive to hear of the large amounts of debt being forgiven, the fact is that the people who are finding their debts erased more than likely won’t care much because they are either no longer under any legal obligation to pay the note and have long since forgotten about it, or never intended to pay the note in the first place, and never would! So these borrowers won’t likely be gushing with praise and thanks, and frankly won’t be helped much if at all by the repurchase of the debt. I suspect that people learning of their debt being purchased and erased were, instead of relieved and grateful, were more perplexed as to why anyone would go to the trouble of clearing up debt that they themselves had forgotten about long ago! By far, the happiest participant in these transactions, are the banks/collection companies who are thrilled to get anything for the loans!

* But the elusive nomads who wander that desert say California was once a paradise.

Courts do not give justice, because they do not try. They follow a formal procedure, at best.

* Run the university like a business, you know, have such radically lax oversight that one person can steal $700,000.

* When I was talking the other day about the similarities between my childhood plan to become a priest for the free housing and lifetime tenure and my current profession as a secular monk performing textual exegesis at a Catholic school, 1, 2, 3, 4, I guess I didn’t think you’d take it so literally.

The Pharmacy School Bubble Is About to Burst.

Cutinella is the third high school football player to die in less than a week.

* On the life of PhDs working outside the US and Europe.

* Capitalism in 2014: “Payment is on an unpaid basis.”

* At least they got to waste all that money first: MOOC fever has broken.

* A gender-neutral pronoun is taking over Sweden.

* Elsewhere in the-Scandinavian-kids-are-all-right: How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play.

Maps Of Modern Cities Drawn In The Style Of J.R.R. Tolkien. No Milwaukee, but he did do Cleveland, Boston, and DC. Many more links below the image; you’re not getting off that easy.

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* Damn, Interstellar.

* I can’t figure out if Ascension is let’s-do-BSG-with-a-competent-showrunner or let’s-do-BSG-on-the-cheap. Mad Men in Space, though, so fine.

* Museum of Science Fiction Selects Design for Preview Museum.

We Still Don’t Know If This Tribe Discovered In The ’70s Was Real.

* An Apple Store employee has written the follow-up to I Am Legend.

* Ideology watch: “Let. Her. Go.” movie supercut.

* America was founded as a white supremacist state. You’ll never believe what happened next.

* Here’s a lawsuit that seems deliberately calibrated to freak everybody out: Black sperm incorrectly delivered to white lesbian couple.

Talking White: Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

* D.C. Attorney May Use FBI Headquarters As Leverage In Statehood Lawsuit.

* People are saying Homeland might be good again, but don’t you believe it. That’s exactly what they want us to think.

* Elsewhere in ideology at its very very purest. Mad Men: Lady Cops.

* The White Women of Empire.

* BREAKING: Startup Funding Is Given Almost Entirely To Men.

* Just imagine what England might accomplish if it ever gets a second actor.

* Right-wingers tend to be less intelligent than left-wingers, and people with low childhood intelligence tend to grow up to have racist and anti-gay views, says a controversial new study. Controversial, really? Can’t imagine why.

* Freedom’s just another word for a $1200 machine that lets anyone manufacture a gun.

* Human civilization was founded as a human supremacist state. You’ll never believe what happened next.

* Earth crosses the walrus threshold.

* Paid leave watch: Florida cop placed on leave after using taser on 62-year-old woman.

Today, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who was convicted of lying about torturing over 100 African-American men at stationhouses on Chicago’s South and West Sides, will walk out of the Butner Correctional Institution, having been granted an early release to a halfway house in Tampa, Florida.

* Please be advised: Jacobin 15/16 looks especially great.

* Even baseball knows baseball is dull.

* And a UF study suggests peanut allergies could soon be a thing of the past. That’d be pretty great news for a whole lot of people I know.

Written by gerrycanavan

October 3, 2014 at 7:52 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Wednesday Links!

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* In case you missed it, a Twitter conversation inspired a post with actual content on this blog yesterday: Meritocracy, Lottery, Game: Notes on the Academic Job Market. Of course, I wasn’t first:

* Elsewhere in the academic job market genre: Not Lottery/Not Meritocracy, What Is It? From 2013! The Top 5 Mistakes Women Make in Academic Settings. Twelve Steps to Being a “Good Enough” Professor.

* And elsewhere in my media empire:

The insightful tweet was this one:

One out of 63,000’s not bad!

* We were also riffing on Twitter yesterday about the possibility of TV shows about campus police, never stopping to realize that of course it’s all already happened years ago.

* Eight faculty members go on strike at the General Theological Seminary, which the administration says is tantamount to quitting. A big precedent could be set here if they get away with it.

* It will take nearly $34 million each year over a 20-year period to address deferred maintenance needs and capital improvements at four major Milwaukee cultural institutions and provide public financing for a new arena.

* Elon Musk explains how we’ll colonize Mars.

* A brief FAQ on Steven Salaita.

I have some other weird  idiosyncratic justification for why he was fired that avoids the plain reality that he was fired for holding controversial political views.

* A critique of the Gotham programme: Marxism and superheroes.

* Brain disease found in 76 of 79 NFL players examined in study.

* Muslim NFL player penalized for praying after touchdown.

* Pa. Official Admits Errors In Investigation Of Whether Fracking Waste Spoiled Drinking Water. “Errors” undersells what seems to be pretty deliberate omissions and lies.

* Here’s What Happened The One Time When The U.S. Had Universal Childcare.

* Decadence watch: “A ‘Tetris’ Movie Is in the Works.”

* Resource curse watch: This Month the U.S. Could Pass Saudi Arabia as the World’s Biggest Petroleum Producer.

* I think I already linked to this one, but why not: A long medium post on the moneyless, post-scarcity economics of Star Trek.

Netflix has reached a deal with The Weinstein Co. for its first original movie — a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2000 martial arts pic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — set to hit IMAX theaters and the streaming-video service simultaneously next summer. I am on board.

* And Community just can’t catch a break: now Yvette Nicole Brown is leaving, too.

Meritocracy, Lottery, Game: Notes on the Academic Job Market

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I’ve been puttering around on Twitter this afternoon thinking through my sense that framing academic job searches as a “lottery” might actually encourage, rather than combat, the cruel optimism involved in the process. The commonplace description of the market as a “lottery” has emerged in response to the framing of academia as a “market” or even as a “meritocracy,” both of which suggest some rationalistic evaluation of a candidate’s value vis-à-vis the other candidates, with the “best” candidate ultimately being selected. The market/meritocracy framing is naturally a source of anxiety for academic job-seekers, to which the lottery framing is experienced as a relief (especially for those who have been through one or more cycles without finding tenure-track employment): not getting a job isn’t “failure,” it’s the arbitrary outcome of a random and capricious system. That the applicants-to-job ratio for the most desirable jobs is now in the many-hundreds-to-one undoubtedly fuels this pervasive sense that all you can do is hope your name is the one that gets pulled out of the hat.

But the lottery framing, despite its comforts and its useful provocations, also has its limits, including some conceptual problems that may cause more harm than good in prospective job seekers. Some of this can be seen from the thought experiment of simply taking the lottery idea seriously. People use the idea of the lottery as a critique of a logic of merit and moral desert — but, perversely, nothing could be more fair than random allocation by lottery. (This contradiction is why many people who call the academic job market a lottery in practice describe something more like an anti-meritocracy: only the worst, least-deserving people get picked.)

In reality, academic jobs aren’t really distributed at random at all, but according to a network of preexisting conditions that are both “earned” and unearned; some of these conditions look a lot like “merit” (that’s great that she got hired, she does such good work!) while other parts of it look a lot like “privilege” (of course he got that job, he’s wealthy, white, and able-bodied from an Ivy). While of course it is impossible to predict the outcomes of any individual person on the market — in no small part because there are now so few jobs that no one, no matter how talented or privileged, is a “sure thing” — it’s nonetheless obvious that some people have skills, advantages, resources, and networks to draw on that others don’t, and that academic job market outcomes reflect these inequities. To the extent that the academic job market is a lottery, then, it’s a cosmic one, as much about the luck of birth and brain chemistry and the quirks of your personal history as anything else.

It just as surely isn’t absolutely irrelevant what you do on in your job letter or application materials, as it would be if the academic job market were a lottery; in fact an entire industry has now sprung up around giving panicked Ph.D. job applicants advice on how to perfect their applications. Again, in a market this bad there are no sure things and no silver bullets, but there are still things in preparing your application (and in building your teaching and research profile more generally) that can be done better or worse. On the other side of the search committee people are making decisions based on what they think will improve their situations in their departments; as an applicant you can make appeals to those people in ways that are more or less likely to be successful.

So as a job market applicant you start with a base of resources and strategies that give you better or worse “chances” than others. This is then all filtered through the genuinely random matrix of whatever departments happen to be hiring in your particular subfield in a given year, repeated each year until the candidate is either hired for a sustainable job or else quits the profession. This kind of truly blind luck now structures the process to such an overwhelming degree as to threaten to swamp resources and strategy altogether (hence, again, the appeal of the lottery framing) — after all, there’s probably no amount of preparation or pedigree as good as having your advisor’s best friend in the world on the search committee, especially in a world with so many qualified applicants where the number of jobs has constricted this tightly. But it’s a mistake to think that because the market is conditioned by luck it’s reducible to luck, or absolutely irrational in some maximum sense. There’s a lot about the way the academic job market functions that is quite rational, including (yes!) some genuinely meritocratic elements along the way.

If the rejected thesis is that the academic job market is meritocracy, and the failed antithesis is that the academic job market is a lottery, my suggestion today was that perhaps the proper synthesis here is conceptualizing the academic job market as a game. Outcomes in games are structured by resources, strategies, and luck; games involve competition between parties with differing capabilities, using different strategies, interacting with a set of rules that may not make sense, much less be desirable, rational, or fair. In RISK you array your given armies from an arbitrary starting position as best as you can, and then you start to roll the dice. In poker you play the hand you draw as best you can, given your strategy and skill level and the odds of success. In many games navigating the ruleset — working the refs — is itself the crucial part of the competition; in other games, cheating is allowed, as long as you do it right (like our corrupt search committee filled with advisor-BFFs).

With the people I was chatting with I passed through a bunch of games on Twitter, including Settlers of Catan, Dungeons and Dragons, Oregon Trail, even beloved-catastrophe-machine-of-my-childhood Fireball Island. But I’d propose tonight that the game the academic job market is most like may be Scrabble. Players in Scrabble have preexisting resources (a vocabulary, which is built out of everything from the socioeconomic profile of your childhood home to deliberate, calculated memorization of the official wordlist), a tile-placement strategy (play the biggest word you can each time vs. limiting your opponent’s options vs. holding out for bingos or bonus tiles, etc. etc.), and blind luck (even the best player in the world can draw IIIEEUU.) The rules in Scrabble are fair, but totally arbitrary, with letter distributions and relative values that make little internal sense, tons of legal words that should be disallowed, and tons of disallowed words that should be legal. For some players Scrabble is a game of pure intellect; for others it’s the art of the bluff.

The game framing has, I think, a couple of advantages over the lottery framing for discussions of the academic job market. First, it’s simply a more accurate representation of how the academic job market works — no small thing. Second, it suggests the genuine importance of starting position and strategy in pursuing academic jobs without tipping us back into meritocracy, because games don’t reflect some transcendent value or essential “merit,” and because no matter how “good” you are or think you are you still need to know the rules and get some good rolls of the dice if you hope to “win.” (TINY UPDATE: I make this point a bit more strongly in the comments, I think: One of the things that I think is most valuable about the “game” frame for the academic job market is that you can do everything right in a game and still lose.) Third, games call our attention back to probability and prediction as they manifest in the academic job market; there are always outliers, upsets, and million-to-one lucky breaks, but all the same we can look realistically at a person’s poker hand and evaluate whether they should raise, see, or fold. Sometimes we find ourselves in gaming positions from which we just can’t win, and there’s no amount of either luck or “merit” that can save us. Likewise, calling the academic job market a lottery totally erases the real costs of entry, because lottery tickets are cheap and there’s another drawing every few days — while re-understanding it as a game reminds us that the process takes a long time, takes a lot of work, is a competition but not a fair one, doesn’t say anything meaningful about your ultimate value as person, and it isn’t worth continuing if it makes you miserable. You might as well go ahead and enter a lottery, why not; you only play a game if you’re going to get something out of the experience.

If I had an overarching piece of meta-advice for job applicants I think it would be to try to analyze the academic job market and your position within it as a player in a game: know the rules, understand your position, figure out how to get the best possible outcome from your current position and then make your next moves accordingly. That could mean staying on the path you’re already on, it could mean doubling down on a risk you think might pay off, it could mean “folding” and finding another line of work entirely. Maybe it means forging new alliances with other players; maybe it means changing the rules, finding loopholes, knocking over the table. For the would-be grad student, it could mean that the only winning move is not to play. But apprehending the academic job market through the lens of games, I hope, might push us back from the conceptual errors of both meritocracy (it’s just about working really hard and being the cream of the crop) and lottery (there’s nothing you can do, it’s all just random) towards a recentering of pragmatism, agency, and strategic thinking. The idea, in any event, seemed to be worth writing up, if only to think about it some more.

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