Thursday, December 31, 2009

All Aboard?

There seems to be some type of law that requires bloggers to comment on the recent bombing attempt on the Northwest/Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Who am I to buck the trend? Hey, I don’t want to end up in bloggy jail.

My first reactions to the bomb attempt were threefold. First, given the abysmal level of service since Northwest and Delta merged, I wondered if maybe it had been a simple misunderstanding. After all, this is an airline that has the audacity to consider a single cookie a “snack” and to charge $3 for a handful of Pringles. You can also forget about that drink cart making a second trip down the aisle. Perhaps, I thought, the passenger in question was just so hungry that he desperately tried to heat a HotPocket at his seat.

As it turned out, it was another lunatic who is willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people. This time around, the would-be-terrorist apparently stitched the explosives into his underwear. I was relieved that the plot had been thwarted with nobody suffering unjustly. I was also glad to hear that the terrorist burned the shit out of his legs and genitals.

Then I wondered, “Why target poor Detroit? Haven’t those people suffered enough?”

Terrorists clearly aren’t very good at information gathering. If they did a better job, they would realize that the rest of the United States stopped caring about the people of Detroit in 1967. Indeed, it is the only major city in the nation with a 30 percent unemployment rate; the highest levels of poverty; absurd levels of political corruption; and failing schools. Oh, and did I mention the severe racial segregation and resource-sucking suburbs? Detroit already looks like a war zone due to most Americans’ indifference to its future.

My last thought was, “Oh, man, now we will never be able to get rid of those ridiculous liquid and shoe rules! Ugh.” We are set for the inevitable round of finger pointing, paranoia, and jingoism that such events always inspire. Thank the goddess that the Republicans are no longer in control of our government. We would have likely invaded the Netherlands or, at the least, declared Queen Beatrix part of the axis of evil.

Still, like many other people in the nation, I see the recent event as evidence that airport security is ineffective. Take that color coded “Homeland” security silliness. Did you know that we have been at “Code Orange” since 2006? Yes, that’s right – For the past three years, our government has apparently seen no variation in our security risk levels at all. Maybe they forgot that this system has four other dazzling colors to choose from? Geez, even Captain Kirk occasionally went to “Yellow Alert.” And he was dealing with Klingons and Romulans and all.

We don’t ever move in the other direction, either. Apparently not even the recent bomb attempt was enough to nudge us on up to “Code Red.” It begs the question, what does it take to make it to Red? A nuclear attack? Total Armageddon? A multi city Celine Dion tour?

Can we admit that the Sesame-Street approach to informing the pubic is a total failure? What is the purpose of an alert system permanently frozen in time? If we are going to be stuck at Orange, at least break out the 64-color box and give us some variety of Orange colors. How about a day of “Burnt Sienna?” Or maybe “Neon Carrot?”

Another revelation to come out of this incident is that airlines and airports are uncertain about how to respond to terrorist threats. They are sure, though, that they want to look like they are doing something. Lufthansa snatched away passengers’ blankets during the last hour of flight out of concern that a terrorist could be igniting something out of view. This action lead Delta passengers to ask the question, “Lufthansa still provides blankets?”

Toronto airports decided to do full patdowns of all travelers. Though that might have just been an excuse by the Mounties to keep their hands warm in these bitter winter months.

JetBlue (an airline I normally like) decided to cancel all of its on-board entertainment the weekend after the attack. It’s really open to debate whether eliminating screenings of Aliens in the Attic is a victory or a loss for the terrorists.

Now they are telling us that we must install the full-body scan equipment to be really safe. It will help reveal tailors gone bad.

Privacy advocates, though, are concerned that lecherous TSA officers are going to be drooling at the site of all those naked passengers. Eh – Have they ever seen Xtube? It turns out most people really aren’t that interesting without their clothes. We’ll be lucky if the TSA agents don’t all join a celibate religious order after a couple of years of grueling service.

Personally, I have no problem with the full-body scan per se. I am not particularly shy about my body. After all, I am naked in my gym locker room almost daily.

Still, the expense of these machines seems a wee bit suspicious. Before committing to buying all of that equipment, I would like to make sure that their advocates are not in some way tied to the corporations producing them.

The makers of the machine already admit that these scans don’t reveal everything. Full-body scans, for instance, can’t detect items that might be hidden under rolls of fat. Well, isn’t that horrible news? If obesity becomes the key to thwarting airport security, will the terrorists start to recruit in Houston, Texas?

It seems to me that in the 1990s, there were all sorts of swabs that the airport used to do on bags and people for bomb residue. Now I never see them take those swabs anymore. Did that equipment not work? Did they lend it all to that CSI show?

The awful truth is that most security measures are really just dog and pony shows to make the public feel safer. That’s why I drink heavily when I fly.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Give a Little, Take a Little

Alright, kiddies, I am off to my equivalent of Paradise Island. That’s assuming that the invisible jet can navigate through these snowstorms. Transparent wings don’t really take to chemical de-icer. I am not sayin', I am just sayin'.

Before departing, though, I thought that I would once again help you all decipher the hidden messages behind gifting this year. Okay, a couple are recycled – But they are as true now as ever!

And that truth can be as disillusioning as my discovery that egg nog is now manufactured with that nasty high fructose corn syrup. Oh, agribusiness, is there nothing you won't ruin?

Here is a list of gifts, what the giver meant by giving them, and what the receiver thinks upon getting each:

    The Gift: A copy of Going Rogue.

    What the Giver Meant: I have a perverted sense of humor.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Oh, I can use this. My coffee table is a little wobbly because of that short leg.


    The Gift: A complete set of the Twilight saga.

    What the Giver Meant: Sex will only bring heartache, despair, and pain – So don’t do it!

    What the Receiver Thinks: I will develop a kinky S&M obsession involving fangs.


    The Gift: A complete set of True Blood on DVD.

    What the Giver Meant: Buying porn seemed too obvious.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Was the store out of porn?


    The Gift: Antique Dishes

    What the Giver Meant: My dishmania has reached the level that I can only justify things to myself if I buy them for other people.

    What the Receiver Thinks: These better be dishwasher safe.


    The Gift: Diamonds!

    What the Giver Meant: I am trying to buy your love.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I wonder how many children suffered digging these out of the ground. . .


    The Gift: A Bible.

    What The Giver Meant: You should remember the real reason for the season.

    What The Receiver Thinks: When will this sanctimonious asshole get out of my house?


    The Gift: A blank, white coffee mug.

    What the Giver Meant: I panicked at the local CVS.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Was the CVS out of Bourbon this year?


    The Gift: A basic textbook on macroeconomics.

    What the Giver Meant: You are the most crooked, creepy, incompetent Treasury Secretary this nation has ever had.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Macro-what now?


    The Gift: An all expense paid vacation to a beach resort.

    What the Giver Meant: I am trying to buy your love.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Maybe once I get there I can ditch you at the beach.


    The Gift: An electric quesadilla maker.

    What the Giver Meant: Quesadillas are delicious.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Oh, something that I will use once and then abandon in my cupboard forever.


    The Gift: Egg nog with high fructose corn syrup.

    What the Giver Meant: I give the gift of diabetes.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Why do you hate me?


    The Gift: Stock in GM.

    What the Giver Meant: It’s bound to come back!

    What the Receiver Thinks: Did this gift come free with a full tank of gas?


    The Gift: An Apple Computer.

    What the Giver Meant: Now you can be as smug as I am!

    What the Receiver Thinks: This person has confused capitalist brand identification with actual liberation.


    The Gift: A Windows-based PC.

    What the Giver Meant: This new operating system is bound to be better than Vista!

    What the Receiver Thinks: Oh, I can use this. My coffee table is a little wobbly because of that short leg.


    The Gift: Guitar Hero - Van Halen.

    What the Giver Meant: You never let go of the eighties.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Sigh – I wish that I still had enough hair to be part of a hair band.


    The Gift: A new car!

    What the Giver Meant: I am trying to buy your love.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I love you.


    The Gift: Wonder Woman comics, books, or dolls.

    What the Giver Meant: Wonder Woman is the alpha and the omega.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Your personal obsessions make me uncomfortable.


    The Gift: Baked goods.

    What the Giver Meant: I learned in childhood to show my love through food.

    What the Receiver Thinks: If this person loves me much more, I won’t be able to fit into any of my clothes by the new year.


    The Gift: A healthcare plan that mandates coverage to 30 million new people.

    What the Giver Meant: I sorta wanted reform, but didn’t want to bother with all that work of dismantling private insurance companies.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Insurance companies will be even richer now!


    The Gift: Liquor

    What the Giver Meant: I think that you are an alcoholic.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Give me, give me, give me.


    The Gift: A Promise to Have a “Special” Christmas Together – on December 26.

    What the Giver Meant: I am really married to somebody else – with kids. If queer, however, it could also mean that I still haven’t told my parents that I am gay.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Man, I have made poor life choices and am in denial about the viability of this relationship.

Have a happy and safe nonsectarian, nondenominational winter holiday!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Past is a Footnote

Over the past few weeks I have been hearing from a variety of graduate students in my academic programs about their frustrations with the current curriculum. Normally I don’t pay much heed to the whining. A complaining graduate student is about as rare as a Popeye Pez dispenser. Disappointingly, they don’t jettison delicious candy from their throat, either. Trust me.

In these cases, though, the graduate-student concerns reflect a much more serious problem with History and American Studies as fields beyond Big Midwestern University. Many of these students arrived at BMU with the explicit intent of studying Chicano/Latino/a Studies. Yet, in their required courses on the U.S., they have read zero (0) books on Latino/as in the U.S.

I am concerned about these revelations less for the students already interested in Latino/a Studies. After all, they will do what similar scholars have always had to do. They will fulfill the expectations for their classes while simultaneously building reading lists on Latino/a Studies that they will complete on their own time. Despite their intellectual isolation, they will nonetheless persevere because they are committed to Latino/a communities.

Rather, I am worried about the students who are not explicitly interested in Latina/o Studies in those classes. These are students who will (if they have some luck) obtain jobs teaching U.S. history at other universities across the nation. They will do so having received the implicit message that it is acceptable to ignore the nation’s largest minority entirely. It will, in other words, replicate a disciplinary ignorance that has been in place since the nineteenth century.

Curriculum, of course, is a touchy subject. It is hard to bring up these issues without sounding like I am wagging my finger and clucking in disapproval. That’s probably because I bring these issues up while I am wagging my finger and clucking in disapproval.

Still, these classes are taught by colleagues whom I deeply respect. They are some mighty smart people whose own research is impeccable. We aren’t talking about secret members of the Klan in other words. I can guarantee they aren’t pushing a covert white supremacist agenda. Hey, that might not sound like such a ringing endorsement, but it’s not a guarantee that I could have made about some of my former colleagues in Texas. At Big Midwestern University, though, these are faculty who are fiercely interested in social justice issues.

So if these colleagues aren’t disciples of Lou “Immigrants are Hiding Under My Bed” Dobbs, just what is going on? Why is there a disconnect between their politics and their course content?

Latino/as’ long presence in this nation means they should appear in both halves of the traditional U.S. history survey. For most U.S. historians, though, Latinos (much less Latinas) remain an “and also” topic rather than being construed as fundamental to the history of the nation. If they make it onto a syllabus at all, Latinos are most likely to be found in the “Suggested Reading” section rather than in the “required” list.

Part of this is a problem much larger than academia. For the past 160 years, the United States has been in collective denial about Latino populations north of Mexico. The mass media periodically expresses “shock (SHOCK!)” that Latino/as account for a large slice of the nation every twenty years or so. Even in those moments, you can depend on the fact that Latino/as will be figured as “foreign” or “recent arrivals” rather than as communities with a century-and-a-half of history that informs their experiences in this nation.

But where would the media learn such things? Given my recent conversations with grad students, it turns out that even the best history departments can't be relied upon to teach that history.

This year, 2009, marks the fortieth anniversary of El Plan de Santa Barbara: A Chicano Plan for Higher Education. Back in 1969, Chicano/a college students were mighty pissed. Universities failed to acknowledge the contributions, struggles, and perspectives of Chicanos and Chicanas (and Latino/as more broadly) within the United States. These students turned their frustration into direct action. Most universities responded by creating subunits focused on Latino/a Studies. After four decades of activism, scholarship, and teaching within those units, it seems that Latino Studies has failed to convince other historians of their importance. And guess what? Latino/a students are still pissed.

It is to historians’ peril that they continue to bury their head in the sand around Latino/a issues. Today, twenty percent of the nation’s schoolchildren currently identify as Latina/o. The Census Bureau further predicts that Latino/as will constitute 28 percent of the nation’s population by 2050. Latino/as will profoundly change the face (literally) of higher education in the next decade.

What will the poorly trained historians we are producing tell those future students? That the nation’s history isn’t relevant for Latino/as? That a quarter of the nation's population isn't relevant for its history? That they would have learned more about Latinos in grad school, but it just didn’t seem that important? That salsa is delicious?

This is not to say that I think every U.S. historian must devote themselves to studying the experiences of Latino/as exclusively. I am saying, however, that it is inexcusable that we have graduate students earning Ph.D.’s who have little or no knowledge of this history. Savvy departments who are currently searching in any field in U.S. history would be wise to ask a new assistant professor how they will address the surging Latino/a Student body in their course content.

The knowledge and research that we conduct about the past means that historians have an unusual ability to speak about political and social issues in the present. By refusing to understand how much the nation’s population has actually changed, however, historians forfeit their intellectual authority.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks a Lot

Let me tell you, kiddies, this semester is kicking GayProf’s ass. I have been deeply involved in “service.” For those outside the university, that is the amorphous category that is neither teaching nor research. Think of “service” as being the university equivalent of rotating your tires. Sure, everybody knows that it is necessary, but they rarely do it themselves.

While there is a general claim that service is “important,” the horrible truth is that it counts not at all for raises or promotion. This seems especially true for service to ethnic studies units, which “traditional” (read “white”) departments either don’t see or simply dismiss as “unnecessary.”

Let me tell you, for a junior professor, I have been giving a lot of service. Stupid GayProf and his stupid ideas about “caring” and all.

What this means for you, my faithful and loyal followers, is that the bloggy hasn’t been updated since Halloween. Maybe I should turn this into a holiday blog. Like Queen Elizabeth II, I will only address my loyal subjects when the shops are closed for the day.

Speaking of holidays, we are on the eve of U.S. Thanksgiving. It’s not a holiday that ever particularly spoke to me. Certainly, though, I could use the break. This year I felt fatigued over the usual rituals of cooking and gorging. Therefore I and a friend are driving to Multicultural Canadian City instead. Since Canada gave up their thanks over a month ago, and Americans rarely travel outside the states during this holiday, we got a pretty good deal for a hotel. Quite shockingly, I have never been to MCC, despite its relative proximity. Now I need to see where I stashed that wad of Canadian dollars that I used to have . . .

Skipping Thanksgiving suits my contrarian mood. Consider GayProf “going rogue.” To keep up with that theme, here are the things in the world that I am not at all inclined to be thankful for this year:

    * Holidays that hide the brutality of imperialism by pretending that the colonized welcomed their own oppressors.

    * A road close to my home that is so riddled with potholes that it threatens to literally shake my car apart when I drive down it.

    * Midwestern Funky Town, instead of fixing the huge, gaping holes on said road, decided to spend tax money installing speed-bumps on it. And people wonder why this state is floundering?

    * Creepy, crooked, and incompetent Treasury Secretaries who are in the back pocket of Wall Street.

    * The weakness of the U.S. dollar, resulting in part from creepy, crooked, and incompetent Treasury Secretaries who are in the back pocket of Wall Street.

    * Graduate students who do not recognize the difference between professional and personal relationships.

    * Professors who do not recognize the difference between professional and personal relationships.

    * Potlucks – A form of “entertaining” that I despise. Don’t invite me to dinner and then ask me to bring my own meal. If I wanted to cook, I’d have stayed home. Why not just ask me to bring my own silverware and dishes, too? Potlucks send the message that "I want to spend time with you, but I don't want it to cost me that much money or effort." This is especially true if it is for an event where I am also expected to bring a gift, like a wedding shower. Then you are just lazy and greedy. I have an anti-potluck agenda.

    * Commercials with cavemen, talking ovens, or that creepy disembodied blonde woman who has an unhealthy relationship with her phone.

    * Americans who are so greedy that they will dismiss their obligations to their fellow citizens and refuse to acknowledge that access to health care is a basic human right.

    * Organized sports.

    * The most recent Windows update that seems to have somehow disabled my scanner.

    * Star Trek’s release on DVD reminding me of its failures in terms of race and gender.

    * Colleagues who don’t actually provide service themselves, but are quite willing to criticize those who do.

    * The remake of V that turned out to be so boring and slow. I can still taste the suck.

    * Pharmaceutical companies that try to convince us that "inadequate eyelashes" is a serious condition that is afflicting a huge section of our population.

    * The dumbass liquid rule for airport screening.

    * Project Runway's move to Los Angeles. It seems to have left Tim Gunn depressed.

    * Big Midwestern University obstinately refuses to acknowledge the colossal failure of on-line course evaluations.

    * Logo has never approached me to star in a sitcom based on this blog.

    * Guys who ruin a perfectly nice time dating by prematurely demanding to ask those “relationship” questions. I don’t understand why there is always a rush to define a relationship. Nothing makes me feel pressured like, “Where is this going?” or “Are we on the same page for the future?” or “What’s your name?”

    * The karmic wheel inevitably grinds me down because of the attitude above.

    * Incompetent bartenders.

    * Being greeted with laughter when I propose that, instead of me always having to board a plane, my family might actually travel to Midwestern Funky Town instead.

    * Chrissie Hynde never gets her recognition as an influential songwriter and recording artist.

    * The Delta and Northwest merger has already demonstrated an even greater lack of service (Hello, antitrust laws???).

    * Having to go around the table and name something for which we are thankful before we are allowed to eat.

    * The words “very,” “opinion,” or “lifestyle” in student essays.

    * Bloggers who take themselves too seriously.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What to Wear, What to Wear: Cloris Edition

Halloween always offers so many of my favorite things: candy, punch, sex with a man in a mask (who isn't into the leather scene). Alas, this year I will be thoroughly detained from the official gay holiday thanks to some remarkable work duties.

You can think of me playing Mr. Rourke this weekend. Only instead of an idyllic island, our guests will be in Midwestern Funky Town. In place of festive tropical drinks, we will have stale coffee. Instead of granting their every fantasy, I will force them to endure days of academic discussion. Still, I can manage to teach each one of them an important moral lesson that will lead them rethink their life choices. Then I will watch them depart on an amphibious plane.

Even with my tough work schedule, it doesn’t mean that I am not thinking about ideal costumes. Those who are serious long time readers of CoG know that my costumes never turn out how I imagined. Indeed, this might actually be the longest running gag on this blog. Read the archive: It's true. After five years, this bit almost seems fresh again.

Here are the things that I aim for, and my disappointing results:

What I aim for:
Edna Garrett

Some might argue that it was an ignoble culmination of the career of Charlotte Rae. Sure, some suggest that appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show was a bit more glamorous than playing dietician to four spoiled and entitled students. Well, I say, you take the good, you take the bad, and then you’ve got the facts of life.

What I end up with:
Beverly Ann Stickle

Few people even remember that Mrs. Garrett left the sinking ship show before it ended. Quite frankly, I would pay for a lot of therapy to forget this show entirely.

Maybe Mrs. Garrett left because she didn't understand how she ended up selling novelties in an ice-cream shop. Or maybe she just got tired of all the whining that went on amongst the entitled. Whatever the case, they replaced her with her sister, the divorcee Beverly Ann. Does anybody even remember her story?

What I aim for:
Mrs. Robinson

Because I use it for a class, I can’t seem to escape watching The Graduate at least once a year. After that many viewings, I can tell you that this film becomes much less interesting once Mrs. Robinson exits the scene. She was alluring, sharp, and oh-so-angry. Mrs. Robinson also got to wear lots of leopard prints. Today she would have her only reality t.v. show as the original "cougar".

What I end up with:
Ruth Popper

If there is one thing that I respect about The Last Picture Show, it is that it told the truth about how miserable and depressing Texas really is. Unlike the fun that Mrs. Robinson seemed to have, Ruth Popper just seems kinda sad. While she would be convicted as a pedophile today, Ruth really just needed some xanax.

What I aim for:
Mary Richards

Who amongst us hasn’t wished that we could turn the world on with our smile? If you suspect that my home has a giant “G” on the wall, you win the bonus prize. Mary is a model to us all about how to start life over with a go-go attitude. Well, until she cut her hair in the third season -- Then the show was just dead.

What I end up with:
Phyllis Lindstrom

Alas, Mary’s pushy neighbor is probably a bit more like the real GayProf. Phyllis was seemingly immune from Mary’s chipper disposition. Phyllis oozed gravitas.

What I aim for:
Baroness Paula Von Gunther

The Baroness had it all – A killer wardrobe, unlimited power, lesbian love slaves. Okay, so she was a Nazi – literally. Still, she probably stands as Wonder Woman’s most famous foe having appeared in both the comic and the television show.

What I end up with:
Frau Blücher

True, Frau Blücher has a place in cienmatic history. But GayProf doesn’t like it when the horses whinny and neigh at the sound of his name. It took a long time to break them of that habit. Besides, Frau Blücher always seemed more like a plot device to free the monster.


What I aim for:
Wonder Woman

The ultimate superheroine number 1, what more could be said? She can deflect bullets with her bracelets. Her tiara is a boomarang. She gets to date dreamy Steve Treavor.

What I end up with:
Queen Hippolyta

Alas, the cranky matriarch of Paradise Island just seemed so immovable. She never appreciated the beauty of Steve Trevor. And who besides her would call an island without [gay] men "paradise?"


* GayProf wants it made known that he adores Cloris Leachman and hopes she knows this was just a bit of silliness. Please don't hunt him down and twist his ankles.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Conference Living

Greetings from High-Altitude-Urban-Center! HAUC is a lovely city, even if it is currently covered in ice. It’s much more stylish than I anticipated. People are friendly and the downtown is actually functioning.

Did I mention the ice, though? Well, let me say again, it's much colder than I anticipated. My hotel doorman looks like he borrowed an outfit from Nanook of the North.

Aside from the cold, HAUC's airport also needs some serious work. One wonders why they bothered with an airport at all? Why not just have the planes dip to 10,000 feet, hand out some parachutes, and tell the passengers to take their best aim? What a mess!

And it’s a faraway mess at that. My new measure for the quality of a city is whether it has been wise enough to connect its airport to the downtown via public transport (other than buses). If you can get to your hotel using a subway or light-rail, you get an extra star from CoG. If, on the other hand, you have to break out a sextant and use astronavigation to locate the downtown core, you get downgraded. Still, even with that shortcoming and the ice, HAUC is a pleasant place to spend some time.

There also seems to be a solid queer scene, which further scores my approval. Still, there was something a bit quirky about it. When in another city, I often like to take a looksee at what’s happening in the usual queer online haunts. Consider it a low grade form of voyeurism on my part.

I was surprised by a significant number of HAUC gay men advertising that they had a “glory hole” in their house waiting for visitors. That was new to me.

Now, GayProf has seen many gapping holes in public restrooms in his life (No, I have never used one – I’m not that type of gay), but I have never encountered one in somebody’s private residence. I suppose it makes sense for those who want the glory hole experience without all the inconvenience of being arrested or censured by the U.S. Senate.

MFT and Decaying Urban Center simply haven’t caught up with this new gay interior design trend. Since I would never be likely to answer such an ad (Again, not that type of gay), it did make me wonder, where did they put the hole in their house? Do they hide crouched in a closet? Behind the bathroom wall? In back of the partition between the dining room and living room? Can one buy a “Do-It-Yourself-Drywall Glory Hole” kit at Home Depot? Or do you need to call a contractor to have it installed? Does having a built in glory hole raise or lower the resale value of a house?

Too much? Hey, this blog isn’t for kids. Go somewhere else for Chutes and Ladders and Candyland.

You be asking yourself at this point, “Why has GayProf landed in HAUC?” And you might also ask, “How did he get to be the Most Desirable Man on the Blogosphere when he posts so rarely?” Both of those are tough, but fair, questions.

To answer the first, I am here for a brief stint in a major-minor conference. It was either that or serve on the Noble Prize board.

Originally I thought it would be a great chance to hang out in HAUC for an extended weekend. I was certainly glad to see blogger buddy HistoriAnn.

Still, though my duties were light and I’ve enjoyed HAUC, I do wish that I had thought about how insanely, crazy busy the month of October would be when I agreed to attend so long ago. Oh well. At least I got my free tote bag. Probably the Noble Prize people don't give out free tote bags.

At one of the panels I attended here, the commentator put the smack down on all of the papers. It was painful to watch three scholars get the academic equivalent of a public spanking. It kinda got me thinking that maybe some folks are not versed in the basic conference rules.

If you are uninitiated in the mysteries of the academic conference, here are some good ideas to keep in mind (even if I, myself, don’t always follow them):

    If you are presenting a paper, write it two months ahead of time. Some of you might think that it shows the “kooky and crazy” side of your personality to draft a presentation in your hotel room the night before your panel. Maybe it does; but if it does, people in the audience will only say, “Look at the kooky and crazy scholar who didn’t bother to write a decent paper.”

    Deliver your paper on-time to the panel’s commentator. This is obviously linked to the issue above. "On-time" means about four weeks ahead of the conference. Some commentators are real sticklers about getting the paper to them by that four-week deadline. I have been at more than one panel where the commentator called out individual panel members for their tardiness. If you didn’t like that feeling in grade school, you will really hate it at a professional conference. Given that commentators are often senior people in your field, do you really want their memory of you to be one of irritation? Trust me, academics never forget such things.

    Keep your paper brief. On average, it takes us two minutes to read one page of text out loud. You have three or four other people next to you who also want to present their work. If your paper is 30 or 40 pages long, it’s almost as bad as not having written one at all. Brevity is the soul of wit. Have a clear thesis; use one or two examples from your research; and end with a bang.

    Don’t radically alter your paper once you deliver it to the commentator. Almost as annoying to a commentator as being super late with your paper is having spent a bunch of time drafting a comment only to find out that your argument has entirely changed. This is like cheating at cards.

    Postpone the drinking until the very end of the day. I totally get why you might want to hit the cocktails at noon. Still, I recommend resisting that temptation. With the traveling, stress of presenting, and general exhaustion, you are going to get dehydrated. This means liquor will affect you even more. Shaking the reputation as Drunky McDrunk from Drunkville (Who Drinks A Lot) can take years. Save the cocktails until after dinner when you are headed to bed and not likely to see many other attendees.

    Practice giving your paper aloud. It’s a drag, I know. Still, some things look better on paper than they do when we try to say them out loud. Short declarative sentences win the day.

    Dress professionally. This doesn't mean you need to conform to gendered expectations. Don't like ties? Don't wear one. Hate the skirts? Wear the slacks. Do, though, put some effort into looking like you care about your career. Nobody is impressed by a scholar who looks like they got dressed out of the hotel dumpster.

    Pack two copies of your paper in separate bags. Maybe I am overly cautious (read: OCD), but I like to have that extra paper copy just in case one of my bags is lost in transit. True, this has never actually happened, but it would be a real drag to be trying to scramble and find a place to print a new copy minutes before your presentation.

    Be generous to other presenters. Giving a paper is stressful. Trashing somebody else's work during a conference doesn't make you look smart. It makes you look mean. Be sure your comments are constructive rather than cruel.

    Leave the Conference Hotel and live a little. Ostensibly one of the reasons that these academic conferences move from city to city each year is that they are supposed to provide an opportunity for participants to explore new regions. Why, then, do so many of the conference attendees never set foot outside of the conference hotel? I promise that your name badge is not a type of house-arrest bracelet. The academic guard won’t descend upon you if you decide to eat at a restaurant four blocks from the conference. Take some time to explore the city you are in and leave the conference behind for a few hours.

    Avoid sleeping with your other panelist members. Personally, I often experience academic conferences as a form of social trauma. So it’s a bit of mystery to me that so many people find them even remotely sexy much less an opportunity to knock boots. Anecdotally, this also seems to be more of a hetero thing more than a homo thing – Not sure why. Still, it seems like a bad idea to me. Imagine if you had to see your last one-night stand every year for the next thirty years of your life. Well, that will be the case as this person will likely always be at the same conferences as you for your entire career. Can’t you horny heteros find somebody with an at-home-glory hole?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sell It!

Like all good little professors, GayProf can be found on campus these days. He has been working hard at the start of the semester. He hasn’t, though, given up referring to himself in the third person.

The new semester is off to a rockin’start. Let’s see. . . Several of my senior colleagues with whom I have worked for the past two years introduced themselves to me for the first time the other day. They also asked if my move to Midwestern Funky Town had gone well over the summer. It was nice gesture even if it made it clear that they had absolutely no idea at all who I am.

Still, I can’t fault them. The department is massive. Heck, if one of us were kidnapped in the middle of a department meeting, it would probably take several days before we even noticed.

In other news, somebody that we shall call "Little Mister" is really pushing my buttons these days. It's probably unfair on my part, but for reasons I can't fully pinpoint, Little Mister really sticks in my craw. Such irritations almost always say more about you than the person who irritates you, no? Thus I have tried to take a positive attitude into our conversations, but I can't help thinking that Little Mister is just kinda rude. At a recent party, he spent twenty minutes lecturing me on the finer points of the subject of NERPoD.

Now, there are many, many things that I really don’t know about the history of this planet -- seriously. At another recent party I realized that my memory of the succession of all those Roman emperors gets a bit fuzzy: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula (Bootsy to his friends), Claudius, Nero - then, um, that guy with the big nose and ... uh, that one from the Gladitor movie?

But there are two things that I do know backwards and forward: a) Wonder Woman’s three under-appreciated seasons on television; and b) the history within NERPoD. So I was less than impressed to be “informed” on the topic as if I had no idea that such things had ever happened in the world. I mean, I don’t try to give lessons to Little Mister about the things that he knows inside and out. You don’t see me telling him the best ways to act like a pompous idiot. No, no – I say, “GayProf, he is doing a fine job of that all on his own. He needs no pointers from you.”

Of course, to be fair, he hasn’t ever bothered to find out the subject of NERPoD. That would have involved acknowledging another person in the same room as himself. Ugh – It’s going to be a long year.

All of that pales, of course, to the fact that Big Midwestern University is finally acknowledging that the local/regional/national/global economic collapse will indeed impact our day-to-day operations after all. Last year the administration instructed us to don green-tinted sunglasses before setting foot on campus. Even though every major industry collapsed around campus, we saw only gumdrops and sunshine. Now that the little girl in the gingham dress has arrived with her yipping dog, there are some big cuts heading towards us.

Lean times mean lean budgets. I understand that. Everybody’s making sacrifices. People are driving less and taking fewer vacations. Working people are cooking meals at home more often than eating out. Banking executives are settling for last year’s multi-million dollar renovation of their toilets. It’s tough times all around.

So if the university puts some caps on expenses until things stabilize, I am cool with that. I also thank the goddess that I am fortunate enough not to be working in one the bankrupt California universities. Budgets have been cut so much there that the faculty are loitering around crime scenes hoping that they can score some free chalk once the cops finish tracing the body.

What does have me a bit anxious about my current university is the increasing scrutiny that we are facing in terms of our class sizes. The university bureaucracy has devised lots of nifty formulas and algorithms that they use to determine how much funding and bonus prizes each department will receive. They want to ensure that the ratio between university “resources” (that’s us, the faculty) and “revenue” (that’s the students (or, more accurately, the students’ parents’ money)) is at the right level. It’s the most cynical view of higher education since Lynn Cheney proposed replacing freshman U.S. History with reruns of Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.

Big Midwestern U is certainly not alone in pushing to make their profs mini-sales agents. I do “get” why having a class of three people should be canceled. That’s costly. But how many students is enough? 50? 100? 400?

My enrollments are fine, but my classes aren’t exactly standing-room-only (despite my obvious appeal). I feel a certain pressure to keep the students who signed up in the class at least until the official “drop date.” This past semester more than others I found myself trying to use the first few lectures to convince the students that the entire semester was going to be a fifteen-week tickle fight. Rather than outlining course assignments and expectations, I proposed that my class’s subtitle should really be “The Happy Sunshine Good Time Hour.”

Students, as many of us have observed, already expect that classes should be another source of entertainment rather than a place to acquire new skills and knowledge. This past week (and this is not a joke), one student asked me if he absolutely had to do the required reading because he “found it really boring and hard to follow.” He then asked if he could substitute watching a few films (which I could select for him) instead of the reading.

That sound you just heard was dozens of humanities professors’ jaws dropping to the ground. Really, though, should we be surprised by such a request? The pitiful student evaluations that universities administer (along with those crude on-line course selecting web pages) have all contributed to making the classroom seem more like a daytime talkshow than a place for students to work.

I have therefore been brainstorming some ways to keep students from dropping and thus lowering my personal revenue:resource ratio. In my favorite genre, here is a modified list of things that I am thinking of promising my students if they stay enrolled:

    * If they look under their seat, they will find that each and every one of them has a new car!

    * By the end of my class, at least one of them will have a recording contract.

    * Instead of lecturers, I will be interviewing numerous guest celebrities.

    * Multiple choice exams will be replaced by connect-the-dot and color-by-number.

    * My course is actually the recruiting center for a secret army that will be deployed to fight the agents of darkness.

    * During the semester, I will reveal several new weight-loss techniques.

    * Each and every week, students will have an opportunity to vote off one of their fellow classmates. The last one standing will be declared one of life’s winners.

    * Every student will receive a Snuggie©.

    * I will consider updating their Facebook status as equivalent to attending class.

    * I will teach class wearing star-spangled panties.

    * I won’t teach class wearing star-spangled panties.

    * At least one class per week will be devoted to matchmaking between students.

    * Bar service will be available during classes starting after 1:00pm.

    * Personal opinions, regardless of their basis, will be considered “fact” for the purposes of this class.

    * With the purchase of any two of my classes, they will get the third class free!

    * Instead of submitting a final paper, students can Tweet their ideas about U.S. History.

    * Taking my class will guarantee them admission to the law school (or medical school) of their choice.

    * Rather than having to suffer through reading historians’ complicated (read: boring) interpretations of World War II, students can substitute spending an hour playing any video game set in Nazi Germany or occupied France.

    * If they bring in their current boring prof, I will give them a rebate towards the purchase of a more fuel-efficient new prof.

    * Class lectures will be available as podcasts.

    * My classes will now include 1/3 more discussion of vampires and their romantic foibles.

    * Grades will be determined based on the same scoring as Uno.

    * If they stay enrolled, I won’t blog about the astonishing requests that they make.