Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good class, bad class

I had a terrible, upsetting weekend and I am still emotionally wound up about it. Such a waste; I didn't get all my grading or class prep done because I was obsessively reading up on some nasty, fucked up shit. And I lost it a little bit in one class coming off way stronger and angrier than I had intended, and I worry my students are going to think I am mad at them instead of the topic. And, I am a little bit mad at some of them. In my head, I've blown this up to the assumption that I will get nasty, angry emails about it and other confrontations with my students and they will go talk to my boss. I hope this isn't so, and I just need to let go of everything and move on, but I keep mentally circling the same damn things.

My other class today went great. I'm not sure they are ready, intellectually or writing-wise, to go from our discussion to an essay without more help, and I haven't planned those brainstorming/pre-writing steps into our classes for this sequence, oops, but we had a great discussion in which I felt they thought deeply about the topic and made a lot of connections and it was an interesting, intellectually satisfying discussion for me as well. I think I will get terrible papers, because, as I have mentioned, I scaffolded in only some prewriting stuff on the syllabus and they have needed more over this semester, but, oh well. If they are improving in their writing skills and ability to think autonomously, they will be able to handle this essay on their own, and if not, at least I've been having fun helping them with critical thinking during class.

I suppose that now I've got to go frantically grade things for my other class, which I hope will provide neither frustration or drama. I'm probably asking for too much there. At least the grading can get my mind of everything else, right?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Summer Plans

I should be grading right now. Hah. When is that not true?

I have gotten word on my summer course ---- actually, nobody told the postdocs that they had to sign up for the summer classes, so luckily the staff person emailed us all to check. (Why this is our fault that we did not know standard summer class protocol, I don't know, but I digress.) She didn't even give a reason why we should come in, just that we needed to speak with her ASAP.

I was the first person to do so, which means I got to pick which course. I took the same comp class I've been teaching (instead of the second semester research type class) and I also chose the one that is online. I think switching it over to online and a shortened summer schedule will be hell, but, this does allow me the flexibility to do my teaching somewhere else.

So, that means I have a conference right after school ends, and this summer course in the middle of summer, which I could technically teach from anywhere. So what are my summer plans?

No, seriously, I'm asking. You know I always dither about on these types of decisions. I don't ever take anybody's advice, either, but I always somehow feel that I don't know the answer and someone else will be able to give it to me.

Ok then, the parameters:

  • I have summer teaching which I could do anywhere.
  • I have this apartment, with the lease coming up to re-sign for August.
  • I have my two cats, who would need to stay with me or be boarded or cat-sat. (and remember how unhappy and loud they were when I drove cross-country.)
  • I have fall teaching here and presumably I'm not getting a permanent job somewhere else, or else we'd be hearing back from search committees by now.
  • while I love the inside of this apartment and pretty much love the price, I could be much closer to school and the other postdocs. Walking to class and to visit postdocs would be nice.
So I have been toying offhand with the notion of moving over the summer to the edge of the student ghetto by campus. Angry Anarchist Postdoc got a place before moving to the state, meaning AAP is very far away from campus in a big cold corporate apartment complex just like me, only we're on the opposite sides of town. AAP is angry (natch!) about the way the apt complex sometimes doesn't clear the driveway when it snows, and how the snowplows sometimes leave a big wall of snow from the street blocking the apt entrance. AAP has had to cancel class once and walk six or seven blocks to wait to be picked up by a random Italian language prof who lives nearby. AAP is also angry that zie (whoops, was trying to just not use pronouns. so didn't work.) does not live close to any of the bars and that the taxi service is for shit here, meaning that AAP has to be careful when drinking and then driving home. (I have the same problem, but this is much higher on the discomfort scale for angry anarchists.)

Anyway, AAP plans to move someplace smaller and much closer --- like a stone's throw from the local bar we hang out at --- as soon as the grades are in for spring. I hate moving, and would have to break my lease, buuuuuut ---- I do like the idea of interacting more with fellow postdocs and being able to walk to stuff. The inside of my apartment is nice, but being on a frontage road means that there are no sidewalks and nothing nearby to walk to.

I could move closer to school. Or I could put all my stuff in storage and go live with family over summer (saves money on the rent). Or maybe house-sit for my advisor back in GradSchoolLand. Or I could try to sublet this place? Who the hell would live here in the middle of the heat and mosquitoes and blech? Or I could go traveling/visiting cross-country and have a wild road-trip adventure! Which would probably involve having someone cat-sit or boarding the cats ... whoah, I can't imagine that boarding the cats would be financially feasible for more than a couple weeks. Not so sure about flying with two cats, either. Hmm. And leaving them with someone all summer would break my heart! They would hate me and then not remember me when I came back! Or I could keep this place and have a cat sitter watch the cats while I jaunted about for just part of the summer? It's all so confusing.

What do you advise? Help me figure out the summer plans before it's too late and I end up just sitting in here on the couch being unhappy the entire summer! Remember, I hate mosquitoes and humidity, so I think sticking around here all summer could spell my doom.

Random Cat Updates

So today I had an appointment with the vet. Timido, the silly neurotic cat that he is, has started scratching his ears so hard they bled. Argh.

Luckily, he was chillaxing in a sunbeam and had no clue what was about to happen. I scooped him up and dumped him in the carrier before he knew what was going on.

He was not happy, as you can see. But there was nothing much he could do about it.

Well, there was one thing --- he could meow his little heart out. He's kinda the Mike Tyson of cats, in that when he starts meowing in fury, everyone responds either with a look of shock that something so tiny and high-pitched is coming out of that body, or they go "Awwww!" I call him Lil Peeper for a reason. So this time he was mewing, puffed in a little ball in the back of the carrier and batting at the vet people's hands, and everyone in the office was going, "awwww, he sounds so sad!"

I'm not sad, I'm pissed! was, I'm sure, Timido's response. Unfortunately, they didn't find any ear infection or mites or nothin'. The vet gave me some ointment and said if it got worse or continued this way, we could start trying more involved things. But it could just be a crazy cat! Yes, yes. I know he's crazy ---- and he's done this "nervous licking" thing since I got him, so I could believe it's just how he manages stress. Stupid cat. At least I know he doesn't have some new problem.

Here's an older photo of him kneading on the blanket in my lap and doing that weird insane-kitty-expression that's super intent. Vet visit over with, he is now back to being calm and happy. Well, as calm and happy as a neurotic cat can be.

Here you can see my cats hanging out next to me, caught in flagrante.

See? It's a regular kitty-grooming-lovefest over here! And then as soon as I get used to that they jump off my lap and start chasing each other, knocking over whatever I happen to be drinking.

And tonight, someone just rang my doorbell. It was this young guy holding an itty bitty black cat, just lolling about in his hands, purring up a storm. "Is this your cat?" He asked. Nope, not mine. Would I know whose it is? He found it out back behind the apartment complex, and he had heard I was the cat lady. (whoah. I'm not sure I like that.) Hmm. Clearly it's not a feral cat, since it's so friendly. "Ooh, and it has a collar!" I said. But no tag on the collar ---- it even seemed like one of those temp collars you might have a vet or shelter put on the cat when you sent it home. Maybe this kitten had just been adopted. I didn't have any suggestions for him. I hope he finds where the kitty is from.

But enough about other cats! Says Loquito. You should be talking more about meeeee. Just like how I like to lie on your papers to catch your attention while you work!

No, no, no ---- you need to talk more about me and my stylin' photo poses! Me, me, me!

No, mi hermano, I think everyone will find me more fabulous -- just look at this attitude! This expression! The ears! Clearly I am the most amazing kitty of the world! No interloper strays or upstart neighbor-visiting-cats can top this!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sometimes a riding-crop is just a riding-crop...

but not when someone's riding a rocking horse, whipping it, and writhing to the music of "Shame on You":

I just watched this crazy, awesome movie, Baby Doll, a collaboration between Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams. It may replace Baby Face as my favorite old movie.

Have you seen it? It's set in a decrepit old rural Mississippi, like a crazy old Faulkner novel got made as a 50s melodrama ---- like Jason Compson got old and married his niece Quentin and they sat around and talked like they were characters in A Streetcar Named Desire:

And it's all about S.E.X., without ever having a love scene or even explicit dialogue ---- all the dialogue is just steaming with repression and innuendo. Just the way I like it. I guess it ran into a fair amount of scandal when it was released:
Baby Doll (1956) has been called notorious, salacious, revolting, dirty, steamy, lewd, suggestive, morally repellent and provocative. Time Magazine was noted as stating: "Just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited..." New York's Cardinal Spellman declared the film "evil in concept... certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it." The stark, controversial, black and white Southern drama was so viciously denounced by the Legion of Decency upon its release with a "C" (or condemned) rating that many theaters were forced to cancel their showings, but it still did moderately well at the box office despite the uproar. Baby Doll's impact was heightened by its themes: moral decay, lust, sexual repression, seduction, infantile eroticism and the corruption of the human soul.

How can you not love that???

It's got this older, ineffectual husband and his "child" bride (since when is 19 childlike? but she has this amazingly youthful, childlike face and tiny teeth, and sounds like Judy Garland with a southern accent), who has made an agreement whereby she will marry him but not consummate the marriage until her 20th birthday. And, of course, if you are a business rival who's been done wrong and want revenge, then, obviously, you'll want to seduce said child bride before the husband does --- although the film itself cheats this notion because of the morality codes they had going on. But if you have been trained to read between the lines and the offscreen shots, you'd recognize that what the film says and what it means are quite different.


It's got these amazing scenes of seduction, with this girl who doesn't want sex or know what it is, but kinda does, and who had thought she had this enormous power over men with her beauty, but had never run up against a powerful man who had actually done this whole seduction thing before, and she's playing at being a grown-up and then regressing into this unselfconscious, childlike behavior all at once. It was an amazing performance and a very nuanced part, and why have I never heard of this actress before? She looks amazing.

The way he carries on with her, looking at her with a mixture of lust, pity at her childishness, and hatred, you are left in this amazing state of suspense, wondering if the film is going to explode into sex or violence. I won't spoil the ending, although I agree with that review I linked to (and this one too) that it should have had a bigger and crazier conclusion.

Compared to all this lust and rivalry and threatening racial stereotypes I'm having trouble getting into the surprisingly unsexy Jean Harlow movie that is following it and I was originally tuning in to watch.

Yeah, I should totally be working instead of watching old movies, but whatever ---- I'll do all my work tomorrow!

Monday, March 21, 2011

More mail

Those of you who followed my blog for eons know that back in California I was on several strange mailing lists ---- including a medical supply catalog place and some group that thought I was a member or AARP and would want a discounted cremation. Fun.

Anyway, just wanted to pass along the first really good image of junk mail from my new place:

It's from a catalog that might as well be called Useless Shit You Would Never Want to Buy Unless You Have Friends Who Really Need Some Embarrassing Gag Gifts. Or Ammo. But Don't For God's Sake Get Them Both At Once!

And while I am perfectly willing to admit that there is a need for transporting your alcohol in to public events discreetly, this ---- isn't what I had in mind. I love that the "female" boozeholder makes the skinny girl more sexy ---- ooh sorry, "more sexy" ---- while the "male" boozeholder gives him a nasty ol beergut. And then after drinking the whole thing, he will have a real beer gut.

I hope to have some more posts about my work and what I've been reading soon. But I also hope to get caught up on my work too, so it could be a while.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Three Kinds of Friday Awesome

* I had to come in to campus and give a make-up midterm early this morning. While that in itself is not at all awesome, being stuck in my office not allowed to leave meant that I managed to really buckle down and get through a lot of grading without checking the internet. I could go back and grade some more later today, but I have made it through the day's quota. And I was still in a good mood afterwards!

* One of my office mates left an awesome note for me, saying that one of her students had been raving about how great a class was and how she was having fun while still really thinking about everything. My office mate asked who it was and it turned out it was me! Nice. Also nice is that my office mate thought to pass the compliment along.

* I just ate an enormous, delicious bowl of aloo gobi made by me and now I am in a happy food coma. And I am writing this to you from outside! Bundled up and shivering, but it is a nice day to be out if you have a sweater on. Cloudy and ugly, but in that nice "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" kind of way. And maybe I can convince some postdocs to go hiking!

All in all, not bad.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yes! Progress!

I have two students in my comp class who are trying. You can see them really putting in effort and really looking stressed like I will eat them if they give a wrong answer in class. And they are not getting it. "What is one plus three? Where is it here on this chart on the board?" I ask, and one of them will, with much trepidation, finally answer, "purple!" and when I go ummmm, no, they start punching each other. Then I tell them they need to stop the violence.

There's nothing like watching someone try and not get it and finally start giving random answers in frustration. It can be very trying, and you feel so bad cause you're on the kid's side. Sure, I should be on the side of the kids who are rolling their eyes and putting their heads down on the desk, or the one who just emailed that he couldn't turn in the paper or be here today because he was in jail, but, you know, they don't look like they are trying. It's harder to stay on their side when they don't look like they themselves are on their own side.

But! I just read a paper that made progress! Not only was there sign of revision, but revision that made the paper better! (the opposite being another highly frustrating encounter I've been having this semester as well.) This student has gone back through and added a couple sentences of analysis to some of their paragraphs! And that's the hardest thing to get them to grasp!

Now, there are still major problems with this paper, don't get me wrong. And this student added some paragraphs at the end of the paper that now look like the first-draft paragraphs from the beginning of the paper. But now I can point out that I like the ones that have been revised, and not the ones that are still drafts, and that's just going to be something to keep in mind when adding more material. But we have some paragraph structure! And explanation of why the quotes are so important! Whoo!

(Is this a reason why high school teachers are not teaching at a good level ---- they get so beaten down by bad papers that they get a new mental standard in their head that is actually too low? I worry about me and that. On the other hand: progress! Let's reward that!)

Of course, I should grade at least one more essay today to get to my quota (and still have a crapload for tomorrow besides). But, I think I'll knock off and bask in my sense of accomplishment instead.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Window Shopping Again

Hello. I got an email from zappos (a rare occurrence) informing me that I needed to buy new shoes and that "nude" shoes were all the rage for this season. I immediately went over to Modcloth and started looking at all their shoes that were loud colors. Because there is nothing that puts me off faster than people telling me I should like a certain something. Anyway, I've never liked "nude" color unless you are buying some capezios for your Broadway auditions and need some character shoes. And the big shiny nude patent ones I've been seeing remind me of that thing the ice skaters are doing where they try to make their legs look longer by pulling their tights down over their skates. Bleah! They just look like they have hooves instead.

You are probably reading right now and going "how the hell did an academic blog get hijacked by one of the writers of Go Fug Yourself?" What can I say? Instead, I will just post shoe pictures and complain. (Now, complaining ---- that's something I'm known for!)

Why did I not buy those shiny carrot-orange patent pumps when I linked to them that one time! Alas I cannot find anything since that is as cool! There are some bright yellow ones I am considering on zappos, though, except that I am dubious about the peep toes and the highness of the heel.

I am also still looking for green, because I feel like it is spring and I should be wearing green all the time. But I still haven't found a pair I really love --- this is ok, and I found another strappy pair, but didn't like the way it was pierced with holes to create a sorta ostrich-skin texture.

Ok, you may be thinking this is nude. but the two-tone means that actually it is brown. "Nude" is that obnoxious non-color all the starlets were wearing at the Oscars that was pretty much but not really their skin color, and just made the entire thing washed out and uninteresting. (If you actually look like you are naked, then maybe it's interesting in a shock-value kind of way, but otherwise, there's no sort of interesting contrast between dress and skin.) With these, I like the funky retro wing-tip look, but again, the holes punched in it are just off-putting. They are not on my pro list, ever. Perhaps I could over come my hole-aversion if I got these shoes, or perhaps not. Hmm.
And these are kinda fabulous. Like feet corsets. But, hopefully not so painful. Hmm, what would I wear them with? They look like they would be too buried under black pants. I do have black dresses and skirts, but, I dunno. I want some sort of more "oomph" to the whole outfit. This is what I'm talking about when I complain that I will buy a piece and it will not mesh with the rest of my wardrobe. (Though in that last post I was actually complaining about having either stuff that is busy that wants to go together or boring-on-boring that wants to go together.)
These, also cute but I think I would not buy them unless I had money left over after the various other shoetacular expenditures. And actually I don't have money for even a first shoetacular expenditure right now. This is the advantage of window blogging shopping.
And this, this is fabulous and yet, just not going to work for me. This is what I mean by a statement piece that I wouldn't want to wear too often, because it is so memorable, and then what do I wear to work if I have shoes in the closet that I can't wear so often? And we're also back with the problem of I don't want to pair this with a crazy patterned dress or top, so I'd buy a bunch of very plain things that I think would go, and then I look through my closet and only have boring-boring-boring instead of a nice contrast of boring-plus-statement pieces.

Now, in the category of something completely different (for I notice modcloth has a very similar set of silhouettes on their site right now, the retro/40s look I gravitate to), I will show you these from White House Black Market!

Oooh, shiiii-ny. I love the patent, I love how it's red, but a darker, rust or blood red, and I love the cuts because they add just enough interest without me worrying how I would match it to other parts of an outfit that also have some sort of interesting detail. And did you see it is shiny? Drool. The heel is kinda holding me back, though ---- did I mention five flights of stairs and no elevator in my building? Plus, if I'm not parking in the faculty lot that fills up by 8 am, I have quite a ways to hike, and rough concrete really tears up a delicate heel like that. Particularly if you are heel-challenged and fall down a lot. No, no, of course I have no personal experience with that.

Also, I keep trying to go for Modcloth dresses and get warned away in the buyers' reviews. No, I like how there are customer reviews --- it's a good thing. But it's clear that the vast majority of Modcloth's dresses are cut at a weird miniskirt or less length, and that's just not teaching-appropriate for me. Many's the dress I have salivated over, or just looked at going, hmm could I try something new and different, and then noticed the skirt length is one that people my height have complained about before. So, can anyone recommend other sites/companies that have cute dresses that are not too short and young? But also not Banana Republic because they are all pure silk and $200 dollars and that's not really going to work for teaching clothes either?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And my spring break just gets worse

Today I'm throwing the to-do list out the window. Screw that.

I haven't slept yet from last night, despite going to bed at a fairly reasonable hour (1 am?). I can't quite tell what was the problem, cramps or overcaffeination from the cramps medicine or stress or what, but I watched the numbers click by on my clock all night. I feel absolutely crappy right now. Around 8 or 9 I dozed off for a couple hours, and just got up and had breakfast at 11. Meh.

Thing is, I have a lot to do. But I know I have no brain power after that. Maybe I'll do my taxes, since that's on my list, and I can't feel any worse than I do right now, could I? I'll just be piling all the annoyingness together. Last night I was trying to do all my bills and budgets and get all ready for the taxes, but it took longer than I expected and sent myself to bed. (Look how well that turned out!)

Or maybe I'll just go back to bed, listen to the rain, and read. What sucks is that my spring break has not been so far particularly relaxing or productive; instead it's hovering in a highly unpleasant limbo between the two. Sigh. I just hope all this tiredness and sloth means that I will actually feel recovered and well-rested when I come back to school for the forced march through the end of the semester.

Edited to add: trying to do taxes was a massive, frustrating, time-suck. I didn't have all the correct W2s for my zillion-plus different piddly little jobs. But today I did the taxes and got my haircut. That is going to have to count as a productive day for me.

Now I am going to go back to napping and reading trash.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Did you see this New York Times article?

"Evaluating New York Teachers, Perhaps the Numbers Do Lie"

Yeah, I know I promised I wasn't going to read all the articles about the myriad ways our jobs in teaching are fucked. I lied. Argh.

Accountablogging or Procrastiblogging? You decide!

Hmm, I have not really gotten much done today either. I did manage to do yoga. And go to the coffee shop and grade. But I only graded 3 essays instead of 6, disheartened by the quality of the ones I read. Dude, why are my students not improving? Last semester they all bombed the first essay and then were so relieved when our second essay was a compare/contrast --- they all latched onto the very formulaic structure and liked that it required less thinking. This semester, we spent more time on form and structure and I am getting worse essays --- essays that do not, actually, compare or contrast two essays. Oy. It's depressing. It's one thing to be working here temporarily for very low pay when one feels like one is doing a valuable service, but to feel like you're wasting your time and having no effect? Devastating. I need to actually stop listening to all the "crisis in education and/or college" stuff getting published these days because it is too demoralizing.

I also tried to upload the corrections to my proofs but there are major problems going on there, and I will say no more because I am still trying to get that resolved. What else did I do? Um, took a nap. Read a little more of the Garcia Girls novel (I had to backtrack and re-read a section to get all the girls' identities straight). Took a walk a smidge halfway through the day. Hung out outside with my auxiliary cat (he might deserve a separate post for his story). Ooh, and last night after posting I did another job app, so, huzzah. That means I have 7 left, 3 "regular" and 4 community college ones. I don't want to do them though ---- too many supporting documents to put together.

Yes, I am officially boring. And I have not gotten back to my article. I need to do that. And figure out something fun with my life. Because clearly this is sad and depressing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Somewhere a body in motion is staying in motion, but this body at rest is staying at rest

Dude, why am I so tiiiiiiiiired? I have had no energy or motivation all weekend! I did do yoga yesterday morning, but then was completely incapable of even contemplating it this morning. Going out drinking with the postdocs may have had a tiny bit to do with that, but since I only had one beer I'm unwilling to admit that it had much of any effect.

I started reading How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents. And I took a nap. And I putzed around on the internetz for a very long while. If I make further progress on the novel I will let you know how it is, but right now I am having the craving to play random computer games late into the night. I blame my geeky programmer brother.

Oh, and I cleaned the living room and organized the enormous messy piles on my kitchen table. Slightly. Really, they need to be either a) dealt with, or b) put away somewhere and in the case of one pile, c) found a permanent home for. That would be all the material for the research article, which needs to be "out" enough that I see it and am reminded that hey, I should be working on it, but yet not actually left out with the piles of course prep. My cats tend to scatter everything to the winds when they are romping about downstairs. I haven't sorted through anything or put anything away but they are now back in "stack" form according to class. And I put the nice heavy anthologies on top of the piles as cat protectors. *grin.*

Oh, and I applied to one job. Meh. I had to re-write last year's comp-4-4 letter, since I am now at a new place and doing new and different comp-4-4 stuff. I may need a different version for those community college job apps coming up soon, in which case I might not actually get around to applying for those, considering how low-energy I feel. Especially since a lot are due this week and require lots of supplemental crap. But I have an updated letter! So if places start posting more generalist 4-4 openings I could totally send them stuff, as long as they don't ask for annoying additional material, ahem! If I find the energy to write two pages of prose I want it to be on my article and not on Silly Job Things.

Yup. Tired. Kinda bored. Unwilling to do anything at all. Can't find good procrastination material on the internetz. That's my life. How's yours?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

More on outsourcing and automating

In an article relevant to my earlier post about replacing teachers with robots, computer programs, underpaid prison wardens (hey, someone's still got to provide the discipline and prevent fights, at least at the high school level) or simply shipping our children off to be educated in China (which might be more funny to me if it hadn't been pointed out that the Chinese are currently doing that to us, at great profit to our colleges and for-profit language institutes), The New York Times discusses a new type of computer software that will eliminate the need for thousands of corporate lawyers.

In "Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software," journalist John Markoff explores how the trend of consolidating and eliminating jobs through automation is affecting people higher and higher up the career scale of pay and prestige.

Where a large chemical company used to convene entire auditoriums of lawyers for weeks on end to read through enormous quantities of documents, now they have a computer program that is so sophisticated as to find emails on a subject even if it does not contain that key word.

So where are all those auditoriums of lawyers working now? Probably you shouldn't be advising your students to pick law school and a quarter million dollars of debt over grad school in the humanities.

But maybe this isn't a story of jobs lost but we should be thinking of this as job transfer, as surplus jobs move from one region of the economy to another. I assume that the company designing and building that law software has been hiring a bunch of coders, and probably low-level secretaries to sell and fill the orders for the product, right?
computers "are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen."
Oh. Never mind.

But it gets worse.

David Autor, an economics professor, points out that our economy is becoming "hollowed out" --- that our job landscape has become divided into two extremes: some extremely well-paying creative/analytical jobs at the one end, and extremely monotonous manual labor requiring dexterity at the other. This article in The Economist uses the example of a towel-folding robot --- more accurately, its relative inability to actually fold towels --- as an example of the kinds of jobs that are as-yet untouched by the automation revolution. Thus, the need for people to clean hotel rooms has gone up, while routine "button pushing" jobs, like many bank tellers or payroll clerks, have been consolidated or eliminated through computer technology. Although the article doesn't mention it, it's the same in the health care industry: wiping butts, mopping floors and putting IV needles in a patient can't be automated or outsourced, while running and reading a CAT scan can be (and is already).

Back to the NYT article, I'm glad to see that Autor at least sort of recognizes that there is a qualitative as well as monetary difference between the jobs that can be eliminated and those that remain:
“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”
Clearly, if job automation has reached the level of the professions and is beginning to affect even people like lawyers and computer programmers (it hit us in academia a long time ago, but you don't need to be told that), then there isn't going to be a "safe" area of the economy to guide our students into. I mean, clearly no one is going to want to take on college debt to go scrub toilets and fold towels (some of my returning students have told me that this has already happened in health care: I had multiple people last semester who went for janitorial-type job openings and were beaten out by someone who had an RN, even though the ad specified it didn't even need a high school diploma. Hence going to college to try and pick up an RN or BPN. I predict, and have been for a while, that the health care and especially nursing bubble is a big bubble that is going to explode soon).

I was going to finish up this post by asking about complexity --- do we need all this complexity? how could we un-complexify? Has the level of complexity in our culture outstripped the ability of the average human to understand it? ---- but instead I am struck by this idea that we now have information surpluses and job scarcity.

What does it even mean to think of information as an infinite resource and jobs as a scarce one? What will happen once we have eliminated jobs or made them a rarity --- who will buy all these products that we are supposed to be producing? Will we just somehow switch over to a utopian world where we are simply given these things and we put all of our time and energy into our interests and hobbies? Or will it be more dystopian like this video, where we will be frantically competing for those last few butt-wiping, towel-folding jobs? Seriously, I can't even imagine an economy with no jobs. Do we need to read more Latin American and Middle Eastern literature to wrap our heads around the concept of 80% unemployment and forced leisure? I'm pretty sure I don't want to live like a character in an Edwidge Danticat story.

Wasn't the first use of the word "robot" to mean slave? Seriously, how can people look at these developments in labor and not be Marxist?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ugh! What a week!

By the end of Tuesday, I had finally polished off my enormous to do list for Monday. But of course I had an entire huge separate list for Tuesday, and more for each succeeding day, and thus I got immensely behind. And still am.

And remember how I said I was not a finisher? Well that applies to cleaning, too --- I have this bad habit of cleaning one thing or one room and having grandiose plans to continue cleaning elsewhere and I leave out the mop and bucket or vacuum and whatever else I might need in the other room, and then don't get to it. Usually I am tired and sick of cleaning. So I've been tripping over ugly old cleaning supplies making my uncleaned, mess-filled rooms look even more unsightly all week, which just adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed and general ick.

And I know I should not have waited until now to begin planing and reserving stuff for my spring break trip, but I could not handle the additional things to do. Plus, I hate making calls and reservations and stuff. If I don't get it together that might be a blessing in disguise, as I could probably work just as hard as usual this week on all my grading and non-teaching related stuff. For example, this next week I need to:

- Grade the comp essays I just picked up
- grade the comp peer reviews
- write up short little evaluations of my Fruit Studies presentations
- make corrections to the proofs of my other article! (yay!)
- read new stuff for the Stripey Class and prep a class on it for after break
(I had a Stripey class this week on new stuff I had never read before and prepping it was grueling! No wonder I was so tired and overwhelmed and pissed off last semester! I only put the two weeks of new stuff in the class, and I am glad!)
- start reading and planning class activities for the next comp sequence, which is all new to me since they hated the classical rhetorical analysis stuff last time
- oh yeah, apply for whatever jobs are actually being posted
- * work the shit out of that new article I want to finish writing ... can I get at least section 1 into a pretty finished state? I need to get back to it if I want to make my deadline of the end of the semester.

- and I should probably make all my doctor's appointments and haircut and stuff. Sigh. Yeah, I don't really get a break at all, except from wearing nice clothes, and interacting with my students. That's something, anyway.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Teachers are the Kleptocrats --- no, wait

Oh, Jon ---- Jon Jon Jon. You think you are being outlandish and overstating the case but really there are people who are proposing, straightfaced, pretty much what you are saying. If not emailing all the grading out to India, then replacing teachers with a robot or computer program. (Suddenly SUNY's decision makes sense in the whole conspiracy-scheme of things.)

Because nothing is easier to control with a computer program than a distracted, unmotivated child who doesn't want to learn about fractions or verb tenses or godhelpusall critical thinking.

But it's really all fine, because if we're outsourcing all the jobs, then there won't be any work or wealth or food for these kids in the near future and they're not going to need any education. Hell, they probably need to be as stupid as possible or else they're going to notice what's happening and break out into violence.