Wednesday, May 27, 2015

From the archive: Conference papers are like ball dresses

Inspired by Dame Eleanor Hull's comment about revisiting things from our blogs, I have been reading through old posts and am finding a few things  as the summer writing season gears up.

They'll be tagged as "From the archive" if you want to skip them. Here's one from 

Conference papers age, like ball dresses in a trunk, if you put them in a file folder and don't get back to them. It's easy to see how that happens. You'll get back from the conference. You'll be fired up about working more with your paper and turning it into an article to send out.

But there are those 50 papers to grade, those recommendation letters to write, those committee meetings--and all of a sudden it's six months or a year later, and you need to do a lot more work using materials that you now don't remember as well to get the thing into publishable shape. Unless you have little birds to sew up your ball dress/paper, like the ones in Disney's Cinderella, you may end up with a trunk full of conference papers and a lot of good intentions. Make sure that your research agenda is driving your conference-going and not the other way around.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 bloggers: check your template for Sitemeter redirect problem

Notorious Ph.D. brought up an issue in the comments that this blog was redirecting toward another site.

This happened to me the other day and is apparently happening to a lot of people; the problem is Sitemeter.

Here's a description:!topic/blogger/cASo57LTy58

I removed Sitemeter and reinstalled the template, so this shouldn't be happening.

If it still happens after you refresh the page (so that there is no Sitemeter at the bottom of the page), let me know--thanks!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Blogging thoughts, Dr. Crazy, and why pseudonymity at this late date

Like other bloggers of years past, Dr. Crazy is hanging up her blogging spurs, to use what might be a Historiann metaphor, and is going public with her name instead if you know her on Facebook. I've been reading and enjoying her blog for many years, so like a lot of other readers, I'll miss reading her.  Part of her reason is this:
If tenure means never having to say you’re sorry (as a certain Madwoman once said), then full promotion means that you don’t need a flipping pseudonym. I have things that I want to say now that I want to own, and I want to write in ways that speak to the value of my discipline, of the humanities in general, and of the work that we as faculty do in higher education.
Dr. Crazy is right (always, am I right?) in a lot of ways, and now with the promotion to full, I shouldn't be afraid to post under my own name.  In fact, I do have another blog, but I don't post the same things.

But on that blog, I feel obliged to be professional and interesting.  As is amply evident, I don't feel the need to be either here, because I figure if you blogfriends don't care about the post, you'll just skip it and move on.

What can I post here that I can't or won't post there?
Recently, I decided to post over at the other blog and wanted to upload a picture using one of those little cards that you remove from a camera (can't remember what it's called). I have a Mac and absentmindedly slipped the card not into the card slot but into the DVD drive.  What followed was frantic and I hoped non-destructive probing into the DVD drive to get the little card out without killing the DVD drive.  It worked, and the DVD drive seemed to be fine.

But if you believe in signs and portents, then you would logically think that the universe was sending me a signal not to post over there, at least not right then.

It sent me here instead.

Your thoughts? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Men: Thoughts on the Finale, or Confession is Good for the Soul


So what did you think of the Mad Men finale? This is my only break (of a day!) between more stressful travel and stressful conferences, so here is the only thing I actually want to do today, besides maybe go to Big Sur:

  • I wasn't doing Mad Men predictions, but I was happy to see two things come to pass: the Coke commercial and Don/Dick's time at Esalen: "Don renames himself Werner Ehrhard, invents EST, starts leading seminars for Stan the FBI agent and Philip on The Americans." I'm too culturally ignorant to know the difference between Esalen and EST, but that was what I was going for. Matt Weiner, you planted those clues just right.
  • The Coke commercial: confession time--I had hoped for this ending early on, when Coke became the Big Cheese for Don to land, but didn't think that Matt Weiner would dare to do it. I have always liked the song and even have the non-Coke version on my iPod, proof positive that commercial culture has entirely infected my brain and that I have no musical taste. Note: The Coke version is actually better.
  • Fun fact: the Doors' "Hello, I Love You," which was playing in the garage where Don apparently worked, was a huge hit, and it's well known that the fuzz bassline is almost identical to the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night." The Kinks have apparently dropped into "Hello, I Love You" on occasion in concert to mock/protest/acknowledge/kid/riff on this similarity.
  • Speaking of confessions: this was the last of Don's confessions, and, from the perspective of one who was raised Catholic, it was phrased exactly like a confession. We saw this earlier with Peggy's sister when she goes to confession: there's are set phrases and then what you might call the enumeration of sins before the penance and absolution.  
  • Look at Don's language in this segment, how oddly formal in language and I-focused it is, which leaves him all the blame: "I scandalized my child. I took another man's name and made nothing of it." Since when does Don use judgmental words like "scandalize"? It's reminiscent of "I took the name of the Lord in vain," which is one kind of common confessional formula.
  • Now look at how this scene is framed: He's framed as if he is in a confessional booth, a space of plain, dark wood where people can speak freely. He's in a
    partially open, partially framed public space, speaking to an unseen listener.  
  • The old confessionals had a screen separating the priest from the person confessing (maybe they still do), so that they could not see each other. He slumps down, spent, after his confession and says he can't move.
  • But Peggy, acting as his confessor, absolves him: "Come home. You know McCann would love to have you back. Don't you want to work on Coke?" Earlier in the series, she refused outright to confess to Father Gill.  Now, she is acting as Father Gill, a nonjudgmental one, in absolving Don. 
  • Then another woman comes by and says, like Peggy, "yes, you can move. Come with me to my seminar.  I'm late." After all he's done to women, they are the ones who save him.
  • Don's prayer of absolution?  If you watch him, he isn't saying "om." He's saying "home." 
  • Yes, we're meant to think he returns, reconnects with his family, and writes that commercial. Look at the clothes on the young women he talks to at Esalen (?), all red-tied braids and embroidery (h/t Tom and Lorenzo) and one of the women in the commercial.  
  • The big debate on the interwebs seems to be whether this is horribly cynical--great feelings exploited to sell us Coke--or sincere--Don actually achieves a measure of peace and learns that love is not an illusion. The jury's still out, but wouldn't you love to have seen that Coke pitch meeting?
  • Speaking of Coke, remember what Steve Jobs said when he recruited an executive at Pepsi to run some early incarnation of Apple: "Do you want to stay here and make sugar water or do you want to come with me and change the world?" He divided the two pursuits; the Coke commercial doesn't, for good or ill.
  • Don's not the only one who confesses. Of course there are all the "seminar" confessional scenes, in one of which Don breaks through his wall of isolation and hugs the man who feels as if he's in a refrigerator and is not being chosen by his family. But the one we've been waiting for is this one: Stan confesses his love to Peggy (on the phone), and she confesses in turn, first on the phone and then in person, the third or fourth use of the episode's title.  The sour commentators over at Slate, whose columns I skimmed in the airport yesterday, apparently wanted more misery for Peggy and less rom-com.  Not me. I'm happy for those two crazy kids.  If you want misery, go watch Game of Thrones.
  • What about the rest?
    • Joan is not ready to retire and be a plaything. Starting Holloway Harris in her apartment recalls the Season 3 finale when they all worked out of a hotel room. Even Kevin's caregiver sounds more professional.  Joan knows how to run things and especially how to whip underlings into shape. She'll do fine. Roger's visit: there's still a little bit of wistful "the one who got away" in Joan's comment about some woman finally getting the timing right.
    • Roger and Marie--Hilarious. Finally, someone who'll be crazy and imperious enough to give Roger the excitement he craves.
    • Pete and Peggy. "A thing like that!" is Pete's catchphrase, even more than "What is going on?" Peggy listened to him, maybe the only person at SCDP who did, and says it back to him. To paraphrase what Peggy said, very anachronistically, when she smoked dope with Paul back in an earlier season, they're in a very good place right now. 
    • Speaking of catchphrases, did you see Sally channel her mother when she wanted to talk frankly to Bobby and Gene was in the room? "Go watch TV!" Gene says his only word in the series except for "Bye, Daddy"--"No!"--but he goes anyway.  
    • Just realized also that Stephanie calls Don out on his catchphrase and overall philosophy of "This never happened."  "I'm afraid you're wrong about that, Dick," she says, sadly, and this time he hears it.
    • Pete and Trudy. It's amazing to look back and see how much Pete has always been enamored of aviation.  Sure, Secor Laxatives paid the bills, but what he wanted and could never quite get was American Airlines and Something Aviation.  Now he's got Learjet, Trudy, Tammy, and Wichita. 
  • Edited to add: One thing that has always confused me is this:  Betty has a dishwasher in Ossining, and she has one now in her goth mansion (the appliance with the big lever). So why does she do the dishes by hand, wearing rubber gloves, and why is Sally doing the dishes by hand, when they have a dishwasher? I can see if she's washing crystal wineglasses or something, but she and Sally do this for regular dinnerware.
  • Also, various sites keep talking about Anna's "wedding ring." It's not. A diamond solitaire is (or was in those days) an engagement ring, not a wedding ring, although maybe fashions have changed. The fact that Stephanie calls it "Anna's engagement ring" when she gives it to Don/Dick is also a clue, wouldn't you say?
Enough!  Back to the stressful part of my life. I've been waiting for my suitcase (delayed in yesterday's travel) to arrive so I can do a wash before heading out at the crack of dawn tomorrow, and it just got here. But I hope you enjoyed the finale as much as I did!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mad Men: Don Draper, Jack Kerouac, and the Divided Mid-century Self

I know that this is the second Mad Men post in a week, but there's only one episode left, so I won't be writing about it much longer. ("Doesn't this woman have any work to do?" you may be asking.  "Oh, wait--that's why she's procrastinating.")

Does he remind you of anyone?
I'm thinking of a parallel between Don and  Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road the spirit-Bert quoted to Don in a recent episode: "Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"

For Kerouac, all that endless travel always led back to his mother, as Joyce Johnson writes about so beautifully both in her memoir Minor Characters and in her biography of Kerouac, The Voice is All.   

According to Johnson, Kerouac's drive to write and to create, to find a voice that could fuse the parts of himself--thinking in the joual French of his French-Canadian parents and writing in the English of the Beats that he would pioneer--was part of this restlessness.  Haunted by the death of his older brother, Gerard, when he was a child, Kerouac was on a continuing quest for some authentic voice that would admit perfection and ecstatic vision to be expressed through language. This and his insecurities led him through some self-destructive behavior, to say the least, including involvement with numerous women and heavy drinking. Oh, and he is drawn primarily to dark-haired women, leading him to tell the blonde Joyce Johnson (then Glassman) that he doesn't usually go for women of her coloring.

Sound like anyone you know? Does this mean that Don will be trying to get back to some state of origin, despite knowing that, as Thomas Wolfe, a great influence on Kerouac, put it,  "You can't go home again?" Don can never get back to his mother, although that doesn't stop him from trying to recapitulate the homecoming experience.  What Kerouac knows/knew is that even if you can go back physically, emotionally you never really can.

I'm not trying to trivialize Kerouac's achievement by comparing it to advertising, by any means, or trying to draw an exact parallel.  But if Weiner and company are trying to capture some essence of the mid-century man and the divided self, they couldn't have chosen a better model. 

Just as an aside: wouldn't you like to see the ending be what the writer over at Vox thinks might happen, the Mother of All Don Draper Pitches?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mad Men: A few bullets of The Milk and Honey Route

  • Am I the only person who thinks that Chris Ellis, who plays Bud, the motel owner, bears a striking resemblance to Ryan Cutrona, who played Gene, Betty's father? (I've seen these actors in other things and always get them confused.) They even sang the same song, George M. Cohan's "Over There." Back in season 2 or 3, Don told Gene not to talk about the war (WWI) and the German soldier he had killed. Now, Gene # 2 is telling him to talk about the war.
  • A sad storyline for Betty, which now, in retrospect, seems inevitable.  The fortuneteller in the episode"Tea Leaves," when she had her previous health scare, told her that she was much loved and respected, and at that point Betty knew it wasn't true. Now it is. 
  • Pete hasn't fared too well in the heartland. Remember Detroit? "Not great, Bob!" But he's right about the corporate clientele for jets, even though he can't see how corporate wealth will rule everything by the twenty-first century.  Now that he's figured out he is better with Trudy than without her, and she's agreed, maybe he has really changed, even if he can't convince his loathsome babe-magnet brother ("Women have always found me attractive") to give up his wandering ways.
  • How is Don getting money for these travels? Is Meredith paying his Diner's Club/AmEx bills while he is away? I can't imagine that he still has a job at McCann. 
  • Don is confessing and confessing and confessing, although never the whole story to the same person. How many people now know that he's really Dick Whitman? And he's told a version of the explosion where the real Don was killed before, although never with such emphasis on his own responsibility.  But as we learned from Peggy's sister's jealous confession to Father Gill way back in season 2, confession doesn't lead to absolution, just more punishment (for Peggy, once Father Gill hears what happened to her baby). 
  • Don looks happy at the bus stop because he has maybe finally saved someone. He tried to save worthless Sad Diana, using his con man persona, and he failed. But he can take the fall for Worthless Grifter Kid and give him his Cadillac and a fresh start.  He has saved one person, even though he doesn't seem to be able to save himself.  Does this mean he can stop the downward slide at last?
  • Sadly, probably not. I used to have hopes for some happy ending for Don, but this entire season has been about his accepting a continuing punishment and humiliation in expiation for his behavior the previous six seasons.  He's the scapegoat and takes all the sins on himself, even the ones he doesn't commit. It won't be a quick end because Matthew Weiner wouldn't think that would be punishment enough. Best case: a fix-it shop in a run-down section of a nondescript Midwestern town.  Worst case: Sally trips over him on Skid Row as he asks for spare change.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

NY Times: Let me throw stones at you from my castle of privilege

Last week, it was someone at Princeton, decrying conferences as a waste of time. The writer is "weary of conferences."  Oh, sure, she can afford them--who can't?--but why go to conferences when you can discuss great thoughts with the world-class scholar across the hall?

And what do those grimy proles who look forward to them have to tell her anyway?

Some of her complaints are justified--about monotonous reading of presentations and so on.  These are the same issues that you and I and everyone else, everywhere, have been writing about on blogs for at least 10 years.  But then, we are grimy proles, and she has just discovered that water is wet and the sky is blue, so that makes it fresh knowledge.

Next it is our old friend Mark Bauerlein, who has exhausted the patience of extended his reach beyond the Chronicle to complain about students these days, and how they are disengaged, and all that stuff he has been saying for a while.  Edited to add: He could take this song to the Wall Street Journal, too, while he's at it, because they love to run the same lament.

As with Princeton Prof, he's not entirely wrong, but he seems really shocked that no one wants to be a disciple any more.

I am not Jesus, nor do I play a deity on TV, so I am fine with having a limited number of disciples.  I don't see this as the death of the university.

But Bauerlein is also shocked by this:
Since then, though, finding meaning and making money have traded places. The first has plummeted to 45 percent; the second has soared to 82 percent.
This reminds me of Dean Dad's lament about college students' idealism. Could it be because students in 2015 have a legitimate concern about finding a job that will pay them a living wage? About the economy being destroyed by Big Finance in 2008 and still not recovering except for vast wealth for the 1% and disgracefully low-wage jobs for the rest of us? About being massively in debt with no way to discharge it (unlike our corporate overlords)?

Yes, both authors have books to sell.  Why do you ask?  For that reason, I can't blame the authors.  If academically privileged people can sell their opinions to the NY Times, and they always can, why wouldn't they?

However, I am at a loss why the editors at the NYTimes consider these opinion pieces as representative of education.

Maybe it's for the same reason that they worry obsessively about the life satisfaction of wealthy, well-educated white women.

Maybe they see opinion pieces from people of privilege as appealing to the same people who will read a lengthy feature article about the Kardashians, because God knows there is a serious, internet-wide dearth of any information about all things Kardashian.

But I would just once like to see an article there that doesn't paint education as a going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket enterprise with people from privileged institutions piling on to make the handbasket go faster.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Mad Men: Random Bullets of Lost Horizon

I should write about writing, about the semester, or about getting ready for a conference, but all I am interested in is the way that I can smell the lilacs when I sit outside to work.

And maybe a little Mad Men.
  •  Am I the only person who hears Ronald Colman's voice when I think of Lost Horizon? Or thinks about how Frank Capra staged the snow scenes?
  • Way back in "Maidenform" in Season 2, which Matt Weiner has said is his favorite episode, the song "Shangri-La" was played on an organ, as an accompaniment to the stripper. That should put paid to those romantic fantasies about any of our heroes finding a Shangri-La. But a man playing organ music while a woman dances to the music: by comparison, the Roger and Peggy version of this idea was pure joy.
  • Alan Sepinwall or maybe Tom & Lorenzo have listed some of the other Lost Horizon references; Don watches the Frank Capra version when he's at Megan's in California, for example.
  • Don spent six episodes of Season 7 trying to get his job back after the Hershey debacle at the end of Season 6.  He sat in his apartment all day working. He worked through substitutes (Freddy Rumsen and Accutron, anyone?). As an added bonus, he pitched Ted really hard on the meaning of work and what it was like not to have it.  Now he is going to walk away from it all and blow his career up again in a spectacular fashion? 
  • Don has always been very clear about his hatred for the farm and the country.  It's not like he's going to live on a commune somewhere even if he gets to California.  And is he going to leave his kids forever, which is something that Diana the Sad Waitress did and that shocked him?
  • Maybe there's hope. So Don's Moby-Dick, is he? Did Jim Hobart read the book? Hint: Ahab doesn't get the whale. The Whale gets Ahab. Twice--once fatally. "Is this what "Coca-Cola" is shorthand for? "To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." 
  • Yet Ahab didn't listen to Starbuck, and he misinterprets what Fedallah tells him. Don is just as much an obsessive. He's determined to hunt down Diana, the Sad Waitress even if his spirit guide Bert tells him it's a bad idea. Diana, Don's lover/sister/double, is already dead anyway, isn't she, or else why would the landlord say that the guys could sell her furniture?
  • Joan is done, or should I say done in. Richard tells her that she can lawyer up or get "a guy" to talk to McCann-Erickson.  She talks about lawyers, but even in 2015, most women have to take the money instead.  Jim Hobart even negotiates like a Corleone.  Do you remember the part in the book where Michael offers half someone's fee and then offers nothing, because the next step is to have the person killed? Joan didn't have a choice, did she?
  • When did Meredith, who could barely walk and talk at the same time, become superwoman?
  • Peggy can do swagger, can't she, even in those dark rabbit-warren halls at McCann?
  • What's going to happen? What's not going to happen?
    • Don goes to Betty, gets insightful therapy, gets cured.
    • Don turns into D. B. Cooper, jumps from an airplane, becomes a legend.
    • Sally turns up, makes Don understand what's wrong with him; he returns to McCann and leads a happy, well-adjusted life in his new Meredith-decorated apartment.
    • Don renames himself Werner Ehrhard, invents EST, starts leading seminars for Stan the FBI agent and Philip on The Americans.
    • Don keeps up an endless quest for Diana the Sad Waitress, just as he did for Sylvia for hours and hours and hours and hours of screen time in Season 6. 
    • Don has a Willy Loman moment after seeing all those whiteshirt creative directors around the conference table. Biff tells Willy, "Pop! I'm a dime a dozen and so are you!" Don refuses to be a dime a dozen, and he ends up like Willy.
    • Updated to add: the theory that Don's hitchhiker is Bob Dylan? Uh, here is a news flash: every single white male hitchhiker in 1970 looked like that and had a guitar.