Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First world problems: I'd rather die than be required to stop overdosing

Harvard students ask a question for the ages: how do you expect me to get medical care when I have made myself dangerously ill (again) if I have to have "awkward" encounters with the medical staff? This is unjust. I am entitled to unlimited alcohol poisoning treatment, no questions asked. When you say "no consequences" for showing up unconscious at urgent care, you need to be consistent: no consequences, even if it's my third time there this week:
Several others said that the policy—along with the prospect of further meetings with deans and parents—may be a deterrent in deciding whether to seek help. “There’s a thought of, ‘Why bring them to UHS if I can take care of them better myself?’ That way they have no disciplinary issues to deal with,” said Adam O. Brodheim ’16. 
Juan E. Bedoya ’16 said that he has taken care of several friends who were inebriated, but chose not to take them to University Health Services because of the potential awkwardness of talking to an administrator after an incident relating to alcohol. 
Another freshman, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect her roommate’s privacy, said she has been hesitant to use UHS after her roommate’s second trip to Stillman Infirmary. “The Dean in our Yard gave her the ultimatum that if she had to go one more time there would be serious repercussions,” she said. “So even though she has abused alcohol in a scary and dangerous way since then, my friends and I don’t want to take her to UHS because we don’t want to be the reason she gets asked to leave.”
And they do have a point, in their blockheaded way. The university's claim to "encourage students to place health and safety above all else" is ambiguous. Is prioritizing health and safety a matter of prevention, or of emergency treatment? Some might say that one way to place health and safety above all else is to assume that personal responsibility is possible, and to punish unhealthy and unsafe behavior like drug use and binge drinking accordingly. But Harvard disagrees, presumably because it believes that unhealthy and unsafe behavior is so widespread and unavoidable that the only option is to intervene in emergencies to prevent fatalities arising from irresponsibility, since death is the most unhealthy outcome of all. Perhaps a commitment to emergency intervention is at odds with emergency prevention? In the meantime, those who prefer the homeopathic remedies of college freshmen for their alcohol poisoning are encouraged to befriend the individuals interviewed for this article.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

When Locke met Hobbes

Lest you become convinced that I'm encouraging the overthinking of academic frauds at the expense of delighting in them, I should add that what impostors also do is give us ideas for own careers when, due to our slowness of dissertation progress, we, like A.D. Harvey, fail to ever get an academic job and are forced to live, scorned, in the shadow of the academy. Should this eventuality befall me, do not be surprised if the following series of events unfolds:

An article will appear in the Journal of the History of Political Thought about Hobbes's theories of optics. In the sixth* paragraph, passing mention will be made that Hobbes at the end of his life secretly met Locke on several occasions, and record was kept of these meetings by the young third earl of Shaftesbury. The third earl was then becoming proficient in Locke's famously indecipherable shorthand, so the notes were unnoticed until a graduate student came across them while browsing an obscure Bodleian collection that included some items from the third earl's correspondence with a minor Irish clergyman. He first mistook them for Locke's own notes until he realized that Locke was being described in them, but the graduate student was then tragically killed in a mountaineering accident, but not before he showed his research to his advisor at the University of North Baffin Bay, who began preparing it for submission and received a revise and resubmit from the British Journal of Timely Snipings at Academic Nemeses, only to die shortly thereafter of smallpox. And then I found it! Only my name might look different at that point. In fact, it is also possible that it will have multiplied into several names, one or two of which will be the exclusive authors of high-brow, nipple-heavy erotica. However, that is beside the point, which is that, in these notes on the meetings between Locke and Hobbes, the third earl mentions among other commonalities that both men vigorously agreed about the excellent understanding of their thought demonstrated in the doctoral dissertation of a 21st century graduate student named Miss Self-Important. But don't let any of that distract you from the import of this revelation - Hobbes and Locke met directly and even exchanged ideas!

If this fails, I will take a job at "the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic: the Institute of History, Philology and Philosophy." If they reject me too, then I will take up a collection of plastic shopping bags.

*Numerology in action.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Round-up of academic frauds

The NYT Mag is on a roll with academic fraud coverage, first the UNC physics prof who is the self-proclaimed 1% of everything - brains, beauty, marital material, and now, cocaine smugglers who are actually innocent. This was written with a degree of irony and panache rarely found in the maudlin pages of NYT Mag. Now there is the Dutch psychology prof who made up all his studies but now is vewwy, vewwy sorry for it. Look at that remorseful puppy face!
“I have fallen from my throne — I am on the floor,” he said, waving at the ground. “I am in therapy every week. I hate myself.”
Emoticon worthy. The rest is the kind of self-congratulation disguised as self-indictment that resembles the job candidate who says in an interview that his greatest failing is that he's too much of a perfectionist - I loved beauty too much! Data no beautiful unless I invent it!

This coverage is great at two levels - it forces the NYT to publish one fewer tale per week of tragic and mysterious (usually child) disease that you and your children will probably never get but will now spend inordinate time worrying about contracting. And, of course, academic fraud is practically my favorite subject ever, after the actual (non-fraudulent) academic subjects themselves. (Well, let's be real, in some cases, it's more interesting than the academic subjects.)

Reading these kinds of things while writing a dissertation is especially heartening because, more than any other academic thing I've written - and I have never been able to write even a college term paper quickly - the dissertation is slow going. Getting it right - or trying to - means spending months on one chapter, writing up an account of Hobbes's paternal power, reconsidering the argument, reading someone else's understanding of it, going back and re-writing to account for that, going back again when a different thought occurs to me in connection with another part of Hobbes, then going back again when I thought I was done with Hobbes but a problem in Filmer arises that requires re-reconsideration of the Hobbes argument. The professional advice about this situation is to "just get it done," and I understand the practical impetus behind this suggestion, which is usually given in light of the consideration that one has a life to live that should not be indefinitely held up by a mere bureaucratic requirement like a doctoral dissertation, which will probably be accepted no matter how bad it is. But I don't exactly mind the slowness of the process or the apparent abstruseness of it, if only the Just-Get-It-Doners would pipe down. Hobbes is difficult for a reason. The Just-Get-It-Doners, however, are vindicated by people like Stapel - the super-producers who write and publish with approximately the regularity and speed at which I drink coffee. And there really are superstar non-frauds like that in every discipline, but for the sake of a discipline's integrity (and for the schadenfreude of us snails), it is good to regularly see the perils of academic aspirations to celebrity.

However, my personal preference in the realm of frauds is for impostors over plagiarists and data-fabricators, so I found the labyrinthine tale of A.D. Harvey more excellent than both these hyper-successful NYT egomaniacs. A.D. Harvey is interesting because he was so unloved that he had no perch to fall from by the author's discovery of his numerous identities. He was probably correct to believe this damning article would actually raise his stock quite a bit, as it would constitute precisely the kind of probing examination of his work that he'd longed for and frustratingly never received (except by versions of himself, of course). This is the perfect reply to the accusations against him: "I look forward to learning about significant overlap in your article. I hope you mentioned all eight of my academic monographs and my contributions to journals published in the US." And true fact - I read some of his articles after reading this one (spoiler: they are pretty much all about sex). Depending on whether he believed his college porn novel was truly great (hard to say from this piece, but I'm skeptical given his education), A.D. Harvey may be the only one of these egomaniacs to actually understand himself (quite a feat given the multiplicity that his self encompasses) and his colleagues. He saw that in a world of peer review, where your own talents may fall short, the unjustified esteem of others can compensate. Maybe your work will eventually be judged by History to be worthless, but the disparity between the judgments handed down in the court of History and those of peer reviewers might be vast. Plagiarists and data-fabricators teach us that ambitious people take shortcuts, but maybe impostors are more than simply ambitious people who can't properly channel their desire for success and esteem. For one thing, they are willing to forego esteem for themselves, since they are usually posing as someone else. Impostors point us to more interesting problems with identity and what is annoyingly called "the social fabric." And impostors do funnier things, like muse prolifically on the nature of the female nipple.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Went to the public library to dissertate, read Mindy Kaling's book instead. This is what happens when the library has glossy books. With pictures on the cover. It was pretty good though, for a book with no real point. I find Mindy Kaling very endearing, as evidenced by the fact that my husband and I are - as far a I can tell - the only people in America who regularly watch her show.*

* I realize that other people must be watching The Mindy Project, since it is a prime time show on a major network, but no one I know has ever mentioned it, unlike Downton Abbey or Mad Men or Girls, or one of these other national educated-person obsessions that clog my FB feed and that I refuse for this very reason to watch. Also because I can't afford HBO.

UPDATE: I felt guilty that this post contained nothing argumentatively substantive, and not even a shred of evidence for my claim that Mindy Kaling is endearing, so I decided to add this excerpt, with which I entirely agree:
"I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake."
Phew, blog rigor restored.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Snapshots of the non-academic life

I didn't schlep my editions of Hobbes to Chicago with me because I figured it would be easier to use library copies while I was here. And I was right. Sort of. This is how political theory is shelved according the Dewey Decimal system at the local library of my yoof:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Great American scholarship

Further evidence that including Bodin in my dissertation was a good idea: in addition to the problems posed by mystical numerology and a 1606 English translation, today I had what I can only term a "near-archival experience," which is like a near-death experience, except for those of us who've fled history departments primarily in order to avoid dealing with archives.

Before writing his better-known books, Bodin published a speech on education in Toulouse in 1559, and while I'm primarily writing on his ideas about sovereignty, the actual topic of my dissertation is education, so I thought I should probably take a look at this speech. Well, fellow Latin ignoramuses (ignorami?), this is easier said than done. Obviously, the speech is in Latin. But then, miracle! I found an English translation cited in a bibliography, put out by a certain "Country Dollar Press," which is a curious name for a publisher of translations of obscure 16th century Latin texts. Unsurprisingly, the UCSD library does not own this book (upside of UCSD not owning any books: if they do by some serendipitous miracle happen to own it, you can be assured that it will never be recalled from you), but Berkeley does, so problem solved.

The book arrived today, and let's just say that it can only be called a "book" in the most generous sense of the term. It is actually an unbound collection of mimeographed pages of varying sizes, not reliably in the correct order, with occasional lines handwritten in. Also, it smells a bit like a dead animal. The thing itself belongs in an archive.

When I looked into its provenance, I learned that "Country Dollar Press," was the one-man operation of a Col. George Albert Moore (1893-1971), retired military man, poet, Georgetown political science PhD, fishing enthusiast, and reader of under-appreciated 16th century texts, who typed up and "published" translations to a number of such works, including some parts of Suarez, Botero, and several texts by Bellarmine. He also self-published his own translation of the Vulgate ("FRESH, objective, Independent, unsponsored, scholarly, uncompromised - just what the Greek says" - his description, not mine), a volume on fishing entitled, Fish, Fishermen, and Fishing: Philosophy and Practice, and his poetry, which may or may not include this work, entitled, awesomely, Collected Sandwiches.

Here is what it looks like:
The illustrious publishing house (notice the larger page behind this one - as I said, pages of varying size)

Hard to read (in real life too), but the list of Moore's other publications

The translation

It may sound like I'm mocking this, and sure, it's pretty quaint (and occasionally unreadable and also very smelly) compared with our slick blue Cambridge UP translations, but as far as amateur undertakings go, this is 100 percent awesome. It is like the polar opposite of this approach to independent scholarship (on which, more another time). I'm wholly unqualified to speak to the quality of the translation, but it seems legitimate, and the idea of a retirement spent in suburban Maryland translating untranslated 16th century Latin pamphlets to send out to academic libraries is pretty much the greatest encapsulation of America (you know, after the Constitution and all that) that I can think of. Aмерика! живут же люди!*

*Largely unrelated to this post, I received a copy of the previously-mentioned potential Russian successor to Democracy in America for my birthday, only to discover that I can't even translate the subtitle (which is the above "живут же люди!"). The NYT had it as "What a life!", but it seems like it should be something more like, "How they live!" Thoughts, Russophiles? It goes without saying however that the entire 400 pages of this thing will take me 400 decades to translate.

Finally, here is a wholly unrelated photo of a Pacific sunset in La Jolla:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Polyamorous partner hires, redux

Peeps, we are one step closer to our goal of getting me and all my friends academic jobs achieving long-overdue equal recognition for all relationships.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lessons learned, pre-modern mysticism edition

Having moved from Bodin to "Hugh of St. Victor" (a real person, but one I know so little about that he merits quotes), I must admit that that numerology is real, at least like the existence of Hugh of St. Victor is real, in the Lockean sense of "real" - existent in the world, an activity engaged in by serious people and evidently intended to convey some meaning, whether sincere or ironic, I do not know. And I do not know because I always thought that the existence of the thing itself was a big joke, rather than that perhaps the joke was contained in the expression of the thing. So now I admit that I should have been less hasty in my dismissal of this possibility earlier, so that I could avoid such things as spending a not insubstantial portion of my evening verifying patterns in the multiples of the number four, because it's either that or giving up on understanding any part of a text that consists in large part of discussions like this:
The first progression of the soul, therefore, is that by which from its simple essence, symbolized by the monad, it extends itself into a virtual threeness...Next, the soul, from its being virtually threefold steps down by a second progression to controlling the music of the human body, which music is constituted in the number "nine", since nine are the openings in the human body by which, according to natural adjustment, everything by which the body is nourished and kept in balance flows in or out.*
(And fyi, there are actually two numbers four - one of the soul and one of the body, distinguished by their respective names: "the four of the soul" and "the four of the body.")

* I counted this too, and the conclusion seems open to dispute - does, for example, the nose count as one or two openings?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More grad school non-despair

Actually, it's a bit difficult to say conclusively that this essay is not an account of despair, however unbeknownst to its author, but you know, at least he doesn't think he's badly off:
"I read Rousseau and Diogenes and Thoreau, and my liberal arts education, as well as the education of living in a van, came together like two rivers meeting at a confluence and flowing together as one."

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Humanities PhDs, non-despair edition

Paging Phoebe: Here is something you can do with your PhD. And by "something," I do not mean, "attain the appearance of a 1980s workout video guru," or at least not that exclusively.

On the substance of this proposal, which is supposedly Relevant To Mah Interests as something at the nexus (the nexus!) of political theory and childrearing, I have only to say that Machiavellian advice can easily be adapted to all sorts of domestic and sartorial situations, but what he is most well-suited for is the social world of middle school, and until someone writes that book, I remain indifferent.

UPDATE: A reader kindly informs me that this book does exist. Oddly, the UCSD library does not possess a copy, but I will hunt one done eventually and let you all know whether it's conducive to the times.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Populism in journalism

Now your anonymous internet trolling sad stabs at wit important and informed tweets and reader comments that contribute immensely to 'the national conversation' can make it into the NYT. In fact, they can make up half the NYT article. Because why bother interviewing people who might lay claim to relevant insight or even just realize they are speaking to a reporter (what's that?) when you can just copy and paste the internet? And the article itself will be written in snark-toned adolescent blog-prose: "Mitford was being mischievous, except that she kind of wasn’t, since she was describing the way people actually spoke." Cute, except that it's kind of nauseating.