Thursday, April 30, 2009

Love's duplicitous tyranny

Sometimes, Cheryl and I pause to marvel at how many of the comment threads on Feministing contain references to the commenters crying upon learning of the latest slight against womankind. Feminism, I had begun to think, must consist largely of angry sobbing. But apparently not! As Feministing's editor explains, feminism is actually a name for vapid and contradictory self-absorption:
But once I got over the initial shock of thinking of couplehood as something potentially limiting, I couldn't get enough of the idea. I passed the book around to friends (especially those who liked to ask when I'd be getting married), showing them the section where Kipnis lists pages of answers to the question, what can't you do because you're in a couple?: "You can't just walk out on your job or quit in a huff. You can't make unilateral career decisions, or change jobs without extensive discussion and negotiation. You can't have your own bank account." She continues, "You can't leave the dishes for later, wash the dishes badly, not use soap, drink straight from the container." All of a sudden, it didn't seem like such a bad idea to spend my energy on more selfish pursuits....

I also realized that if Kipnis could unequivocally declare that love -- of all things, love! -- was crap, then there was nothing I couldn't say without hesitation. I stopped being the kind of pro-choicer who calls abortion a sad reality, a tragic choice, or some other such nonsense. There's nothing wrong with abortion.
Apparently before this book, the only thing holding us back from treating our bosses like trash and poisoning friends who ate from our dishes was having a boyfriend. But once we read it, the need to dispose of even these basic decencies will become clear. And hey, while we're achieving complete freedom from any obligation but that of pleasing ourselves right now, let's not get our panties all in a twist about unwanted pregnancies when we can embrace abortion as a really fun and fulfilling activity, like a day at the spa! Now we're living the good life. But then, a totally inexplicable turn of events:
In fact, Kipnis' book was so good at getting me into a decided state of mind that I've recently been able to say "screw it" to her book's very premise: I'm getting married this year. And frankly, I'm betting that Kipnis has better prepared me for wedded bliss than anything else I've been subject to regarding relationships, from bridal magazines to parental advice. Because now I know what I'm getting into, laundry woes, capitalist constructions, and all.
I know everything I just said seems totally incompatible with carrying on even a basic human friendship, no less a marriage, but don't worry, this is not actually hypocritical at all. Because this book showed me that marriage means I might have to do my laundry sometimes (which may or may not still be a great injustice against my right to self-determination), which had never before occurred to me, so it is a great classic of the feminist canon. Win!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More for the Teaching = Sweet Deal file

As we've discussed before, the salaries are good. But that's not all. There is also the apparent total immunity from dismissal:
A spokesman for the school system said Mr. Garabitos’s service has included more than a dozen allegations of misconduct, mostly for corporal punishment of students. Two of the allegations have been substantiated and two remain under investigation, including Thursday’s incident.

Twice in the last three years, Mr. Garabitos spent time in a reassignment center for teachers and other school officials removed from the schools. He also received two unsatisfactory ratings from the principal of his school. Because of his long experience and advanced degrees, Mr. Garabitos earned $100,049 a year.

An online résumé for Mr. Garabitos states that he is a former Army officer working toward a Ph.D. in distance education and instructional technology at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

A Web site,, that says it displays his work, includes a plot synopsis for a book about “a nymphomaniac woman with two active personalities always in need of sexual attention.”
Perhaps you are thinking, "Oh, I could totally do this! Beat my students, get a PhD in 'distance education', and write psychotic porn on the side! All for $100,000 a year!" It appears that, in fact, you can do just that, so long as you stop short of sending bomb threats to your place of employment. But even that, it turns out, won't necessarily get you fired. Job securitah for tough economic times. (via Joanne Jacobs)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Harpers Ferry

In an effort to make the most of our few remaining months in the best and most beautiful part of America, Seb and I drove out to Harpers Ferry on Sunday to hike and eat frozen custard and learn about the Civil War from plaques installed by the National Park Service (because our academic education was not very forthcoming on this topic) and imagine a rural life that we will never actually live. It looked like this:

Frontier Disneyland at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah

Seen from the cemetery

I hope the summer will bring more trips to the Chesapeake too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I was an Information major, actually, but they got rid of that five years ago

So, to summarize, the suggestion here is essentially that academia should be re-made into a massive national think tank for the "interdisciplinary" solution (by Powerpoint presentation, it seems) of Major World Problems, to be regulated by...the government? An independent board of American university oversight? Not entirely clear, but it "must be rigorously regulated."

All other vague parts of this proposal aside (though, in advance of starting grad school, I would like to voice my support for the suggestion that dissertations be replaced with "analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games"), I am most puzzled by the idea that due to a lack of interdisciplinarity in the current system, we should enforce interdisciplinarity in the next by getting rid of the current, "medieval" disciplines and replacing them with new, shinier disciplines. I don't know about you, but I never encountered the swollen ego of English literature thrashing the Platonic form of History on the quad because the latter had dared to infringe on its disciplinary sovereignty. I assumed it was the people in these departments who were jealously guarding the boundaries of their disciplines and attempting to demonstrate their relevance--a problem that largely isn't resolved by re-naming their departments "land" and "water." After all, who will get the funding to study coasts?

Isn't there already an economic incentive to solve Major World Problems? If water distribution is a major political and economic problem, then isn't there a reasonable pot of gold awaiting those who can find solutions to this problem? Isn't this why science grad students get bigger stipends than humanities grad students--because the private sector compensation for the same work would be that much higher? But no such incentive exists for the study of at least half of what's actually being studied in universities. Maybe that means it shouldn't be studied, as Taylor suggests, but where is that going to leave his own department's specialties? Who really needs to know Sanskrit or Koine Greek to solve modern development problems? Maybe Taylor is entertaining rosy visions of a university of the future in which we draw harmoniously on all current and historical branches of human learning to think deeply about the 'big problems,' but if the desired end is concrete policy proposals, then I can imagine how long analytic philosophers who keep asking, "But what do we mean by 'the'?" are going to be allowed on the project team.

For seriously though, I really don't have an opinion on whether there is too much emphasis on publishing books or too little interdisciplinarity. I like books (but not writing them) and I like interdisciplinarity, too. I also like teh internets, but don't see how making an interactive website is not a cop-out of writing a substantial piece of analysis, whether or not it gets published (as some of you may remember, I employed this very cop-out in high school, with great success). But mostly, it's the "gee-whiz! technology! change happens so fast!" glee of this proposal that irks me. Considered reform is one thing. But Taylor seems to think that because things change over time, in ways that sometimes seem unfair or arbitrary to those who get the short end of the change stick, our response should be to make them change even faster and in more arbitrary ways to show that we are one step ahead of change. We threw all the over-65 geezers taking up office space with their outdated ideas on the street! We drowned all the disciplines that we spent 400 years developing in the new Water major! We have YouTube dissertations! We PWN change!

And one more thing: FLG's post on the inexorable logic of specialization prompts me to wonder why Taylor assumes broadness will follow from interdisciplinarity? It's one thing to say more people should study problems at the boundaries of several traditional disciplines or look beyond their department for new methodologies, but it's another thing entirely to assume that those studies will be any more general in nature than the specialized things they would've studied in their old disciplines. Research on "on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations" may become research about citations as a literary trope after one runs a regression on their frequency in a document relative to comparable texts and to Duns Scotus' alcohol consumption on any given day of citing, but it's not going to be a grand unifying theory of the West.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Story of my life

It had been raining for seven years; thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain, with the drum and gush of water, with the sweet crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they were tidal waves come over the islands. A thousand forests had been crushed under the rain and grown up a thousand times to be crushed again. And this was the way life was forever...
Kind of like DC in the past two months.

Monday, April 20, 2009

First world problems: It's too hard to cook for one

A couple months ago, Seb and I went to a Lebanese restaurant where I ordered this dish, enjoyed it, and decided that it seemed so easy that even I could make it. (NB: Whenever I have had this thought, the result was that I could not, in fact, make it. Restaurants do serve a purpose, it turns out.) So I looked up the recipe, gathered the ingredients, and attempted to make it, twice. (The first time, I underestimated the complexity of eggplant--FAIL.)

The problem (once I conquered the eggplant roasting process) is that one person cannot consume one eggplant in one sitting. However, eggplant is not amenable to having a fourth of itself lopped off for use while the remaining three-quarters are put back in the fridge. Same goes for one can of chick peas, or one tub of yogurt. Some of these things can last longer than others, certainly, but the basic dilemma is that when you make one bowl of eggplant fetteh for dinner one night, you will be making eggplant fetteh every night for half a week to use up the tupperwared remnants in your fridge before they go bad. And, in my house, where three different people regularly cook for one (and one person does not appear to comprehend the concept of cooking), the fridge is an impressive maze of precariously balanced tupperwares. So it goes for almost every meal I attempt beyond the highly portion-controllable, toaster oven-prepared cheese quesadilla. And man cannot live off quesadillas alone, although Miss Self-Important has come pretty close at times.

The problem here is not that I am a harried and important professional whose work-life imbalance forces her subsist off Lean Cuisines and Chinese take-out. Most nights, I have enough time to prepare a basic dish. My problem is that I don't have enough time to eat it all before it goes bad. Attempting variety is the worst--then the lettuce and eggs go bad while you're busy finishing off the mushrooms and the chicken. Now, I understand that this is a problem that arises out of luxury--I can afford to live alone (in a house full of strangers), cook meals every night, and buy fresh food every week. But it is still a problem! What is the solution to my woes? The only thing I can think of is to get married and have two children--no more, no less--so that the standard four-serving recipe and the standard eggplant will both always perfectly meet my needs in one sitting. Anything shorter term?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I love school!

This morning, Alex and I started our respective language classes at the USDA grad school. I still do not understand why the USDA has a grad school, particularly one whose courses aren't things like Advanced Cow Milking, but it does. And it's great! First of all, it's right off the Metro. Second, the building also houses a Starbuck's and a faux French bakery. Third, it was 75 degrees today! (As you can see from my priorities, I am a serious and scholarly person.) Also, the course was fun--like real school, but easier, so I could spend more time attending to the performative aspects of being a student, like my posture, appropriately arranging my notes, and selecting the right pens.

Alex and Sebastian think I'm being a brat for taking beginning Russian instead of some higher level course, since I do in fact know some Russian. But they do not understand my dilemma. All I know in Russian is a bunch of random words and phrases--things like "onion" and "What do you want from me?" Some of these might seem intermediate for being haphazard, but they are just the results of selective memory. I can understand some things, but I can't read or write, I can't conjugate or decline. (I assume all verbs have first person present endings and all nouns have singular nominative ones because that is indeed what they had when I last spoke Russian at age five, a time when I was the subject of every sentence and all things were immediate.) So really, I do need a beginning course. I just happen to be better at identifying and (sometimes) pronouncing words than people who've never been exposed to the language because I have heard them before. Not my fault. But as you can imagine, the, "How are you? My name is ___" session was not too tough.

(Alternatively, I could've perhaps done some independent alphabet and basic declension/conjugation learning and signed up for beginning 2 or intermediate 1, but if I were going to learn this nonsense on my own, why would I be taking a course in the first place? There will be plenty of time in grad school to suffer while taking courses. For now, I would prefer to absorb some knowledge while mostly chilling. Besides, I am already studying Greek on my own, with very mixed results.)

After class, we bought sandwiches at the faux French bakery and ate them in the National Gallery's sculpture garden in the 75-degree weather. It was excellent. Hearts to school! I hope grad school is this fun, though I realize it probably won't be, not least because it will snow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A conversation about cultural differences

Me: So when people bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party, it's a way of showing gratitude but still bringing something that costs less in money and effort than their share of the dinner, so that the people throwing the party can still be seen as offering a gift to the guests.

My mother: When Russians throw a dinner party at a restaurant, everyone is expected to bring a check for the cost of the meal, plus some extra for the hosts. It's like a fundraiser.

Me: So basically, throwing parties could be a for-profit enterprise? You could make a living by just inviting people out to restaurants?

My mother: Yes, I think it was a Soviet idea.

Fortunately, Justice Thomas and Phoebe can find something to agree on

I have to admit,” he said, “that I’m one of those people that still thinks the dishwasher is a miracle. What a device! And I have to admit that because I think that way, I like to load it. I like to look in and see how that dishes were magically cleaned.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

On plans

Ok, I have made plans. They are not the plans I planned to make (whose fault is that, U of C?), but they are second best-case scenario plans, I think. Hopefully. These are the plans through September:

1. Study Greek: I think I've looked up every possible Greek class available in DC this summer, and my job conflicts with all of them. So it looks like I will have to re-establish what minimal grasp I ever had of Greek by reviewing my college textbook on my own. Previous efforts at language self-study have collapsed into smoldering heaps of EPIC FAIL, so maybe this effort is doomed as well. But I went through chapters 1-3 yesterday, and it was alright. Of course, the O-declension was easy the first time around too--a gentle illusion to lure the unwitting into the torture of endless permutations of the Greek verb.

2. Study German: You'd think this would be easier to come by than Greek, but actually, no. The only class I can squeeze in is a beginning course at USDA that promises to cover the genitive and dative cases, which, despite my long abandonment of German, I actually do still remember. That's ok, Greek is more important than German right now. Besides, it looks like the USDA has a Saturday morning Russian class that miraculously doesn't conflict with my work schedule. This will not be academically useful in any way, but maybe it will help me to conjugate and decline correctly so that my parents stop mocking me.

3. Write another article.

4. Read Aristotle's Politics and Ethics again. Really only because I think re-reading all the Greek political texts would be useful, but I dread Aristotle less than Plato.

5. Get an apartment in Boston. Move in August. Cry about leaving behind the most comfortable life I've ever lived.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This is a movie review

James Bowman is right; The Class is good by being bad.

Monday, April 06, 2009

News that slipped my radar

1. While I was all excited about the opening of a Le Pain Quotidien in Clarendon ($3 for 3 cups of coffee, but not so good during brunch time when everyone wants to use it as a real restaurant), Julia went to Murky and noticed that they are closing! Long-time readers will remember how much Miss Self-Important hates Murky, which sucks at everything except espresso, including such basic things as paying its taxes and cleaning its premises. Now it turns out that the well-appointed restaurant across the street is buying them and will perform "a full renovation of the building"--excellent news for anyone who was concerned that the apparently condemned upstairs would fall on his head while he was sipping a latte below.

2. 94.7, the local classic rock station, has apparently become something called "Fresh FM." Their playlist is now identical to the general 80s-90s-00s that they play on 100.3 and 107.3. Is FM radio undergoing some kind of convergence of stations into one giant, indiscriminate iPod shuffle? Is that why my oldies station is now the same oldies station as in Chicago? And why it can only has one DJ?

Thursday, April 02, 2009


Miss Self-Important reviewed the book that was her BA. This is, I guess, the consolation prize for never having original ideas.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

First world problems: My soul is too sensitive to make a college decision

On the tails of Phoebe's college admissions musings, the NYT has a new college blog that promises to "demystify college admissions," and, predictably, does no such thing. Instead, it seems primarily to be a bunch of high school seniors navel-gazing about their college options, only to be harangued by a bunch of maniacal commenters who insist that the best place for anyone ever on the planet to go to college is obviously their own alma mater. It even features a That Kid, who writes,
I think of myself as a reflective individual, questioning whether my motives and actions truly embody the person I aspire to be. This will make my eventual choice all the more difficult, for it means confronting not so much the options available to me but understanding how this choice will impact my life long after my graduation. Can people at these schools be serious, without taking themselves seriously? Will my peers see learning as an end in itself? Are students thinking more broadly than simply their semester grades and preparing themselves for their careers?...Over the next few weeks, I’ll see how they can transform their students.
Unsurprisingly, the commenters suggest that a person of such a wise and sensitive soul should really consider Chicago. Like Chicago needs any more personally reflective seriously unserious soul transformers. (Also, what is it exactly that a college can do in the next few weeks to transform its students? Is there some kind of mid-April prospective student transubstantiation that I missed?)

With each passing year, I grow gladder and gladder that I am not 18 anymore.