Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Academic Discussions

An article in today's online Chronicle of Higher Education asks whether academic e-mail lists, notably those hosted by H-Net, are moribund. Some scholars claim that blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are taking their place.
As a scholar who's used all of these except Twitter (and I'm not a stranger to Twitter, I just don't use it), my reaction was that this was ridiculous. Why?
Blogs, due to the flexibility of the form, have an important place (or should) in the scholarly world. Individuals and groups blog on a wide variety of topics. On the other hand, I think few people really want to keep track of more than about ten active blogs. Sure, you can read your blogs via a feed, but the more blogs you track, the less likely you are to notice that any individual blog has a new post. The feed doesn't show the discussion that a post has prompted, either.
Facebook is good for keeping track of friends, and some academic exchange does take place, but the scholarly is easily lost amid the more social material. More significantly, to post something of any length on Facebook, you have to put it in a Note, and comments of any significant length have to go in other Notes because the comment field only allows a certain number of characters (I'm not sure how many, but it's not a lot). Besides, while you can group your contacts within Facebook, there isn't really any good way of separating academe from everything else. I know there are some ways around this--one person I know has a Facebook identity for use with friends and a separate one for use with students, but since many of his friends are also colleagues, I think many of the links get posted in both places.
Twitter seems particularly unsuited to take over. With a 140-character limit to each Twitter message, that's a medium with severe limitations. You can broadcast your headline news with it, but how much humanities discussion is something you want to read in capsule form?
Thus, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter all have their uses, but their uses are rather different from the uses of listservs. I think I subscribe to about six academic lists, plus a shifting number of lists relating to software and other topics, which can get me up to something like twenty simultaneous lists at times. Obviously I don't read all of these messages, and I certainly don't read them all right when they arrive. But there they are, I've got them, and the ones I don't delete are categorizable and searchable. In one of those moments of semi-brain-deadness, I can go through a batch of art history or Slavic emails and see what's happening.
This, however, gets to one of the other points made in the Chronicle piece. While listservs are great for disseminating conference announcements, job postings, and book reviews, their use as a means of actual discussion has dwindled.
The amount of discussion depends on the list, though, and this has a lot to do with the number of subscribers. Too few subscribers, and the list has nothing to say; too many, and it gets noisy until people either unsubscribe or turn it into an announcement-only list. H-ArtHist has no discussion that I can see, just announcements, most of which are of no particular interest to me. This is not surprising, considering the list tries to cover the entire field, internationally. The likelihood of my hopping on a plane at the last minute to attend tomorrow's German symposium on (I'm making this up) dog iconography in 15th century Japan is pretty small. But other lists do have discussion, particularly about books people have read or want to read. H-HistSex has pretty good discussion (as it ought to!) and often H-Women does as well. Not endless discussion, but readable.
I'm not sure how the question of scholarly discussion should be resolved. The historians have the benefit of all the littler special-interest lists, which can sustain some specific discussions, but as far as I can tell, the art historians are pretty much stuck with one non-discussion list. HGCEA sends out email to its members, but I wouldn't call that a discussion list. Likewise AAH. But perhaps I'm missing something.
Where are all those art-history discussions, anyway?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009

TransMarch 2009

Cesar and I headed out to San Francisco's Dolores Park on Friday night to lend our support for Transgender rights.

We liked the multilingual announcement.

Cesar's neighbor was one of the performers.

I liked this person's outfit quite a bit.

The ASL interpreter was spectacular!

And the parade was good.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nostalgia of a Sort

This afternoon I was examining the lists my mother kindly made, before I ran off to graduate school, of all the belongings that are boxed up and sitting in my parents' shed. It is a melancholy undertaking.
Box 13, for example, holds an awful lot of books by Colette, Josef Škorecký, Heinrich Böll, and Italo Calvino, as well as two novels by Jane Austen, my copy of André Breton's Nadja, Borges's Ficciones, and some Kundera.
Box 139, rather more recently boxed up, includes Goethe's Werther (which I haven't yet read) and E.T.A. Hoffmann's Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (which I am anxious to read again).
It would be nice to know when I will be permanently reunited with my boxes, and when I will actually have time to read anything that is in them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our National Paraphilia: A Proposal

Despite my best efforts to avoid listening to worthless and distracting forms of news, sometimes these things just creep into my airspace. And of course, like most people, I find some of it entertaining.
Now that I have been apprised of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's unauthorized little trip to Argentina, where he admits to have gone in order to continue a recent affair with an old friend, I am yet again baffled as to exactly what the real news value of this information could possibly be. Politicians are constantly having sex with persons to whom they are not married--surely the American public has learned this simple fact by now--so why is this of the slightest interest unless something really startling is involved?
For example, if Governor Sanford were having an affair with an Iranian ayatollah, that would be decidedly newsworthy.
If Governor Sanford had taken up molesting kindergartners, it would be in the public interest to report it.
If Governor Sanford had turned the governor's mansion into a house of prostitution, staffed by civil servants, this would be of understandable interest to his constituency and even to the rest of us.
I am, however, tired of hearing about the run-of-the-mill personal lives of every politician in the USA. The American public, evidently, has a mysterious interest--let's come straight out and call it a paraphilia--when it comes to politicians and sex. I don't claim to understand it, because it is not a sexual interest I share, but then, I don't really understand why one of my friends has a thing about priests, either. People just have these odd interests, and most of the time it is harmless. Still, I would far rather tease my friend about her priest fantasies than endure more news items about politicians' clandestine sexual affairs.
The average politician apparently does want to have sex with more than one partner, or with partners he (it always seems to be "he") has been forbidden (interns, prostitutes, men in public toilets), but the average politician is distressed and often shamed when his behavior is outed. The politician's distress clearly feeds into the sadistic aspect of the American public's paraphilia--still, we're not dealing with plain and simple S&M here, and I don't think that most of these politicians are consenting partners in this particular paraphilia.
I believe, however, that we can fix the problem of the nonconsenting, unwillingly masochistic politicians. In fact, the solution is simple. We have already gotten accustomed to electing actors to public office (Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger), so all we need do is take that further step and start electing porn stars, who can be dual-function officials. I am convinced that far more people have strongly voyeuristic interests than sadistic interests, so with the election of porn stars to public office, the voyeuristic element will become much more satisfying for a great many more people, while the sadistic part can be fulfilled by getting the right mix of porn-star politicians into office.
While some people will complain that the average porn star is unqualified for public office, I think that most people will recognize that the average porn star is sure to be at least as well qualified as the average contemporary politician.
I am sure that Susie Bright will have something to say about this shortly. And Dr. Zaius will want to update his coverage of the Sanford story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Megan Informs Me...

I was out carousing last night with Megan, whom I know from Prague, and she told me of a curious thing she had read recently. Allegedly, ice has replaced salt as... (at this point I said "a medical prohibition?") ...an object of culinary fanaticism.
Megan said that supposedly ice from icemakers is full of air, whereas ice made specially in sheets and cut with an awl is denser and doesn't melt as fast in one's drink.
I suggested that in that case ice from the polar ice caps must be in great demand--get your cretaceous ice here! no low-grade paleolithic ice sold!

Megan also told me about a young man of her acquaintance, a friend of some past housemate, I believe, who had taken a fancy to her sometime prior to Prague and was one of those people who can never take a hint that it is time to go away and end the conversation, or that they should refrain from following you home, or whatever. (I am sure all of us have been that kind of person at various times--I certainly have--so I don't hold this trait too much against him.)
During the several years that have passed since their first acquaintance, he studied Chinese medicine, so when they ran into one another recently he informed her that her "spleen chi" was "depleted."
Megan inquired what on earth he meant by that (she knows that chi is some sort of energy, but...).
He replied that he could see it on her face. He was eager to treat her for this problem, but she declined.
I am afraid that from now on, all we'll have to do to induce laughter is refer to "spleen chi." At one point I accidentally said it was "deleted," which prompted me to wonder whether he had deleted her spleen chi in order to claim it was depleted.

Of course, many of you already know that I'm easily amused. At least, by the right people and under the right circumstances. There are many times when I could very easily and stonily state "The Queen is not amused."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

First Aid and Family Planning for Home and Farm, or
Lékařské příručky pro domácnost

The other day, my father swallowed wrong at lunch and coughed a bit, prompting him to wonder aloud whether this would kill him. He has always enjoyed speculating whether various experiences might kill him.
I said that he probably wouldn't choke to death with my mother and me around, and my mother agreed that we'd whack him on the back if necessary.
He responded "Oh, you'd perform artificial insemination on me."
It took a moment for my father to realize what he had said, but his comment immediately prompted great mirth from the females at the table; finally I managed to say that if there was one thing we were unlikely to do to him, it was probably artificial insemination.
Once we calmed down slightly, we spent awhile speculating about one of my parents' old schoolmates who had made a career of artificially inseminating cattle. I think their classmate would probably have retired before the advent of modern procedures requiring the farmer to stimulate the animal before insemination... (upon which see here)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Get Your Red-Hot Fejetony Here!
(Being a Bit More Explanatory)

This blog being a new volume, so to speak, after the previous, both my old readers and any new ones will wonder what it is about. Well, not having an overridingly obvious topic such as dissertation research in Prague, I really put off doing anything with this. After all, a blog should have some overarching topic.
But as it has seemed that the things I've wanted to blog about of late are fairly random (not that different from before, but without the big theme), I believe this will have to settle for being the sort of blog that takes its inspiration from the quirky columns that used to be a staple in newspapers, and be about whatever I feel like blogging about. A collection of feuilletons (Czech: fejetony), although the word feuilleton has never been much used in English as far as I can tell.
The form of the feuilleton will, I think, let me get away with pretty much any topic that strikes my fancy, whether it be the antics of the Spotted Pair (Calypso Spots and Orion), peculiar scholarly discoveries, or complaints about modern (perhaps that should be postmodern or contemporary?) life.
To get my faithful readers up to speed, my life did not actually end with receipt of PhD regalia, nor did I abandon blogging in favor of that controversial service, Facebook. Nay, I was hired to teach in a not so distant (but not so close) city and have been spending the summer putting together courses, writing and rewriting journal articles, and preparing to move.
The Spotted Pair and I have also driven across country to visit family and friends, and in our travels have seen several friends from my Prague life, such as Jesse, Hubert (and his companion the novelist Sue), and Megan. Megan tells me that Alex will shortly be visiting, so we think it behooves us to start thinking about a full-scale reunion, which we think would be very pleasing to have in a Tahoe cabin in December.
I am looking forward to seeing other friends as well, such as my old friend Scott, whom I haven't seen in many years but who is currently finishing up an intriguing novel.
As it happens, I headed west at the precise time I did in order to be on hand for my father having his second hip replaced (fortunately he is not a quadruped), but unfortunately the operation had to postponed (utterly at the last moment) until September. We are not pleased.
In other news, Archelaus Cards has been attracting retailers internationally and continues to present a strong presence at DC's Eastern Market, as an enthusiastic customer notes.
Orion and Ms. Spots are presently napping under a desk and do not wish to be disturbed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rabbits Preparing for Travel

I said I might start a new blog, post-PhD, and here it is. Its topic? That remains to be seen. I imagine it will be more sporadic than the last one.

I told the rabbits we were going to go on a trip, but they didn't really listen to that.