Category Archives: articles

Projection vs. Promise

“For every projection you make—I know it would be fruitless to ask you to forswear the projective temptation altogether—make a promise. Tell us not just what will happen but what you plan to do to bring about a better world, or a better university, or just a better neighborhood. Utter some words you will need to stand by. Because only then will you be answerable to the future that you so confidently predict.”

—Alan Jacobs, “Against Projection; For Promise”

Drillers vs. Scanners

“I was at Penn State, and I was just aghast, because everyone was what I call drillers of deeper wells. These academics sit at the bottom of a deep well and they look up and see a sliver of the sky. They know everything about that little sliver of sky and nothing else. I scan all my horizons.”

Vaclav Smil

Just Glad to Be Working

“He came from a working-class background – his dad drives a truck for Coca-Cola, and he himself has had jobs like warehouseman and forklift driver. Because of all that, he possessed a psychological profile that made thriving in academia difficult: namely, he is self-possessed, confident and utterly lacking in the other-directed brown-nose-itutde that is the mark of the modern professional managerial class. When he realized that most critical theory wasn’t to his taste, he avoided it – except when he had to parrot it back to his professors to pass his field exams. He also didn’t frantically seek lines on his curriculum vitae, grinding the same research into half a dozen all-but-identical conference papers. He didn’t suck up. Instead, all he did was write a brilliant dissertation with a timely and politically relevant theme, in elegant, readable prose. All the while he feasted upon books about every subject under the sun. An insatiable auto-didact; his love of knowledge burns more brightly than that of just about anyone I’ve ever met, and outshines every professor I know. A natural-born teacher, he simultaneously and joyfully practiced the arts of citizenship just about every day of the week…. In a better world, academia would beat a path to this gentleman’s door. Instead, he knows tenured employment is almost unimaginable. So he’s applied to about a hundred jobs this summer, desperate to keep up with his mortgage – every kind of job, including one as an on-campus building manager. He finally ended up with a year-long contract at a private school teaching science to eighth graders. Though he has no particular interest in and no experience with science, he’s glad to be working at all.”

—Rick Perlstein, “On the Death of Democratic Higher Education

The Farther the “Reach,” the More Critical Precision Becomes

Source: “Reaching for the Stars When Space Was a Thrill” (New York Times)

From Log to Blog

Andrew Sullivan on the origins of the word “log” in the “an official record of events” sense, from which we derive the word “blog”:

A ship’s log owes its name to a small wooden board, often weighted with lead, that was for centuries attached to a line and thrown over the stern. The weight of the log would keep it in the same place in the water, like a provisional anchor, while the ship moved away. By measuring the length of line used up in a set period of time, mariners could calculate the speed of their journey (the rope itself was marked by equidistant “knots” for easy measurement). As a ship’s voyage progressed, the course came to be marked down in a book that was called a log.

Source: Andrew Sullivan, “Why I Blog,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 2008

Late Bloomers

Paul Cézanne, Les joueurs de carte (1892-95)

Paul Cézanne, The Card Players

Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.

Malcolm Gladwell

Scott McLemme on BHL

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemme — without so much as a hint of jealousy — ponders why Bernard-Henri Lévy has become a fixture not just of the French, but the U.S. media. (See, for instance, BHL’s regular appearances on Charlie Rose’s show, or the glowing profiles The New York Times runs of him every so often.)

Ultimately, McLemme (who is easily one of my favorite critics) comes to surprising, Camille Paglia-esque conclusion about the guy:

Clearly it is time to reinvest in America’s fast-thinking infrastructure. Dependence on foreign sources of ideological methane is just too risky. Besides, as a couple of my far-flung correspondents have recently pointed out, the recent embrace of BHL by the American media is raising questions about just how gullible we really are.

Catch-22

Sathnam Sanghera explains why men are in an a nearly impossible position when it comes to seducing women:

Men need to be hugely successful, but pretend that they are not. And this is only one aspect of the almost impossible balance that needs to be struck. Men need to convey sexual desire without sexualising the person in front of them, need to be authoritative, opening doors, paying bills, deciding where to go and so on (recent research found that 60 per cent of women would consider it a bad first date if they paid), yet treat women as absolute equals. They need to flatter without seeming overly impressed, they need to care about their appearance (but not too much), and when it comes to chatting up, they need to take the initiative, and absorb any humiliation that comes their way, without seeming at all arrogant or pushy.

Got all that?

The Emptied Prairie

This past January, National Geographic ran a fascinating story about the decaying rural North Dakota landscape.

Money Quote:

That’s the rub in rural North Dakota, a sense of things ebbing, of churches being abandoned, schools shutting down, towns becoming ruins. And all this decline exists amid a seeming statistical prosperity: Oil is booming, wheat prices are at record highs, and, as the average farm size grows, the land is studded with paper millionaires living in the lonely sweep of the plains, with surrounding community gone to the wind.

Be sure to check out the accompanying slide show.

Stop Trying to Get Tenure

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., an associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University, says young professors should stop trying to get tenure and start trying to enjoy themselves:

I believe a superior approach is to get a tenure-track position and then immediately remove the idea of “getting tenure” from your daily (or perhaps even moment by moment) thought process. That’s right. Getting tenure should not be your primary goal (though admittedly this is secretly a “how-to get tenure” article). Instead, your goal should be to follow your interests, your passion, your curiosity, and your creativity. In other words, you should follow all of the things that got you into this field in the first place.

What would happen if young professors everywhere started following this advice?