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January 30, 2007

We're not here lookin for trouble

A Super Bowl prediction, courtesy of Googlefight

tools for mapping

For the last couple of years, I've been pushing CMap to anyone who'll listen. A concept mapping tool, CMap is a fairly easy tool to pick up and use, it's free, and it's available in a rainbow of OS flavors. I've found better tools, but often, they're OS restricted, or they cost money.

In the past couple of days, though, I've seen a couple of different entries over at LifeDev on concept mapping (or mind mapping) tools that have shaken my faith in CMap. Exhibit 1: Bubbl.us:

bubbl.us

Bubbl.us is quick and easy to use, with minimal cognitive overhead. Really. If I wanted someone to experiment with concept or mind mapping, and didn't want to spend any time on the software itself, it'd be hard to go wrong with this option.

Exhibit 2: Thinkature:

Thinkature

Thinkature is a more complicated app, to be sure, but a couple of points worth making. First, the interface is a lot more flexible, and includes things like being able to upload images and to write directly on the surface, like a whiteboard. Plus, and this is the biggie, it allows for real-time collaboration. I'm not exaggerating when I say this feature opened up all sorts of possibilities in my teaching mind.

Again, there may be tools that are better out there, but free and online? Not that I've seen so far. So if you're a c-mapper, give these a test drive, and see what you think...

(LifeDev on bubbl.us and thinkature)

January 29, 2007

Revisiting "The Footnote, in Theory"

[x-posted at Rhetworks]

It's been too long since I tended to Rhetworks, but one of the first essays I took note of (and took notes on) when I started the site was Anne Stevens' and Jay Williams' "The Footnote, in Theory." My notes on the essay are hardly complete, but I do cite the essay with some approval and interest. At a time when I was exploring the disciplinary implications and applications of Franco Moretti's "distant reading," FIT was for me a nice example of what could be accomplished by aggregating what is a fairly occluded feature of academic prose, the footnote.

Stevens and Williams begin their essay with what I find to be a manageable and worthy set of goals:

We set out to determine, first and most simply, who and what works are most often cited in our pages. Second, we wanted to track trends and fashions, as well as constants. Over the past thirty years, theory has seen any number of upheavals and innovations, so we wanted to see if certain writers remained touchstones for our authors. Third, we wanted to investigate a related question, the question of the status of the footnote in our pages. Elaborating upon Anthony Grafton’s book The Footnote: A Curious History, we sought to investigate how theory is transmitted through notes, what sorts of conversations are held below the main text, and to thus discover in a different sort of way the identity of our journal, a journal that has been identified with theory for so long.

I quote their introduction at length for a reason. My main qualm with this essay is not a methodological one, although I think that their method does have its limits. As I commented in my entry on FIT, my biggest reservation is that there are a lot of visualization possibilities in a data set like the one that Stevens and Williams generate, and their article only scratches the surface of those possibilities. But this is one of those critiques that has its roots more in my interests than in any necessary shortcoming in the essay itself.

Little did I know, back when I was jotting down my thoughts, that Lindsay Waters, he of the Eclipse of Scholarship (Amazon) fame and Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard UP, had already provided a pithy, pop-culture-laden putdown of Stevens and Williams, some 3 or 4 months before I even found it, at the Chronicle: The Lure of the List. (I have Scott to thank for pointing it out today.)

The lure of the list refers to the temptation that "klutzes" like Richard Posner and "clowns" like David Letterman yield to, but above which we in the humanities should hold ourselves. Lists are, and I'm quoting variously here, like pornography, bogus social science, hocus pocus, pseudoscience, a Trojan horse, and so forth. I'm not sure "wastage" is a real word, but it's the cost of an article like this apparently, as is our neglect of scholarly "fruit wasting on the vine, whose cultivation might have benefited us all." It's hard for me to recite this giant list of mixed metaphors without rolling my eyes, just a little. It's really over the top.

And I say this as someone who genuinely appreciates the efforts of Waters to shake loose some of the entrenched assumptions about the relationship between the publishing and tenure industries. Even so.

I'll restrict myself to two criticisms and one compliment. The first criticism deals with Stevens' and Williams' introduction, which in Waters' review, becomes the following:

But my heart sank when I saw that the premier egghead journal of the land, Critical Inquiry, published an essay last winter that purported to rank the greatest literary theorists in its pages (and, by implication, the world).

Maybe there's a history here that I'm not privy to, but wow. I'm afraid I take the authors at their word when they say they're interested in charting the trends that occur in the pages of their journal. The master list of citations (and one should add, citation in footnotes) is only one of the charts provided, and the information it provides hardly translates into The Greatest Theorists in the World!!™

Maybe I'm just defensive here, but one of the things that we're trying to do with the CCC Online Archive is to provide this kind of information. We're not trying to generate tenure industry kinds of information, though; rather, we're interested in providing newcomers and veterans alike with new pathways into the scholarship collected in the journal. We're proud of pages like this one, which dynamically tracks the self-citation in the journal. Are these the "most important" articles, and their authors the Greatest Scholars in Our Discipline? Not at all. But it tells you something about the journal that would be hard to glean even from years of reading, unless you're particularly fond of bibliographies and have a particularly mighty memory.

My first criticism, then, is the cavalier way that Waters attributes motives to the Stevens and Williams, thereby doing the work that they actually do a great disservice. My second criticism is related: I'm not sure that Waters actually read the article, or made any effort to understand that work. His description of their method, once you get past the snottiness of "very likely bogus social-science tools," is curious. Why "very likely" in a review that is not exactly notable for the application of kid gloves?

Waters' only real critique of their methods is to smack at them for neglecting the work of sociologists like Robert K. Merton. Now as it turns out, Merton's work is on my Rhetworks list, and in my pile, so I actually have read it. Scott notes that

The casual, condescending quality of his dismissal fails to embody the standards it claims to uphold.

Merton's "Matthew Effect," which Waters cites approvingly, is in part a discussion of the reward structure in the sciences, where famous scientists receive disproportionate attention and reward for their efforts, and non-famous scientists get the shaft. The Matthew Effect is a rich-get-richer notion. But there's more to it than that. Merton also emphasizes the communication system; if attribution is the currency of the reward system, then visibility is the currency of the communication system. Famous scientists, he explains, may receive disproportionate rewards, but they also are able to make their ideas visible and diffuse more quickly, contributing to the development of knowledge.

What's interesting about Merton's original article on the Matthew Effect (.pdf from UPenn) is his interviews with various Nobel Laureates, who are acutely conscious both of their struggle to gain recognition and the privilege that accrued to their position once they did. What's interesting to me are the various strategies that they discuss for using their disproportionate visibility to help younger scholars. In other words, there's an ethical component here to the Matthew Effect, one felt strongly by many of those that Merton interviews.

What I take Scott to mean is that Waters, as the Executive Editor for the Humanities of Harvard Press writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, might himself reflect upon the ethical dimension of the Matthew Effect. Were he to do so, he might rightly conclude that reviewing an essay by misreading its intentions, distorting it, and calling it all sorts of names, is exactly the kind of disservice that Merton might find less than kosher. Whether or not Scott means it, that's my second criticism.

Now for a compliment. There's a legitimate argument lurking beneath all of the verbage and vitriol that characterizes Waters' column here. After recalling the top ten or so (and making note of all on the list who are affiliated with Harvard (??)), Waters writes

[The authors] note that "Benjamin's works are cited nonargumentatively," which I think is a nice way of saying his ideas are just window dressing, not engaged with. That must be why he ranks high as one of the most perfectly citable authors of all, because you can cite him reverently without having to figure out what he said. With Benjamin a citation is the academic equivalent of the purely ritual move, like a ballplayer's sign of the cross.

This is a genuinely interesting thesis, and speaks to the flux located just beneath the smooth surface of any list. At another point, Waters accuses the authors of "substitut[ing] accounting methods for critical judgment," and yet, just a few paragraphs later, Waters demonstrates that it's possible to generate critical judgment out of the evidence provided by these so-called "accounting methods."

And that's the real point here. Our institutions may indeed be on a quest to reduce what we do to numbers, and the tools are out there for them to do that. But in the humanities, we've avoided these kinds of evidence and these methods, out of a misplaced faith that if we simply close our eyes to them, they can't affect us. But the Nobel Laureates that Merton interviews are very conscious of the asymmetries attendant upon their activity, and it is that consciousness that allows them to try and redress them. There's a great deal of knowledge that we could be generating and building upon if we were to turn to information design, visualization, and yes, even some of these "accounting methods," not as ends in themselves, but as starting points for the kinds of critical judgments that Waters advocates.

For me, this kind of knowledge is far more likely to be the fruit that withers on the vine, at least in the field where I work.

That is all.

January 28, 2007

Top Critic?

One of my guilty pleasures is the series of game shows on Bravo: Project Runway, Top Chef, and now Top Design. I'm really looking forward to the latter, much more than Top Chef, truth be told.

Not that I haven't enjoyed the ongoing "Get Marcel!" quality of season 2, but the problem with TC is that I have no real basis to agree or disagree with the judges. I can't try the food, and so I don't really know whether they're any good or not. I'm looking forward to TD for exactly that reason--agree or not, I'll be able to decide along with the judges what I dis/like. And unlike Project Runway, which walks a fine line sometimes between taste and style, I feel like I have a decent enough eye for design to be able to really enjoy the new show.

D and I were wondering what it might look like to have a show (blogcast, perhaps?) that took this model and tried to apply it to academia, and as silly as it may sound, I find it kind of intriguing:

You could start with 8-10 contestants, and start with some of the shorter genres--book reviews, dictionary entries--and eventually arrive at a full-blown critical essay. Some weeks, we could constrain the topic, and others, require the contestants to make use of a particular text or thinker, and each week, bring in guest judges according to those constraints. The big prize could be a healthy chunk of cash, and the final essay placed in a good journal. And of course, the title of Top Critic!

You know, this isn't exactly compelling television material, to be sure (lots of shots of typing??), but it's not as absurd as it might seem at first blush, either. It'd be kind of fun to put on, and it'd make for interesting reading, over a summer, say. So if there's anyone out there with a whole bunch of extra money lying around...

January 27, 2007

Trimbur Calling

I hadn't planned on participating until later next month, but for whatever reason, Jeff's comments struck a chord, and sent me back to Trimbur's original article. I may talk more about it then, too, but one of the things that struck me as I looked back over his piece today was Trimbur's call, the way that he frames his essay as a response to a particular debate:

...another debate is currently brewing. You can see signs of it, for example, in Gary A. Olson's response to Wendy Bishop's argument in the lead article of a special issue of College Composition and Communication. According to Bishop, the teaching of writing has fallen victim to the theorists whose convoluted prose has taken the "joy" out of writing, and self-identified "expressivists" such as herself are being marginalized by the theory machine (a claim Olson--and I--find suspect on the grounds she was, after all, elected chair of CCCC). From Olson's perspective, Bishop's complaint represents a "backlash" against the hard-earned work of composition theorists to make the field intellectually respectable.

I've included the whole passage here rather than just the bit of it I want to use. That bit is actually quite small--I'm mainly interested at the moment in the parenthetical comment, Trimbur's off-handed refutation of Bishop's claims to marginality,

(a claim Olson--and I--find suspect on the grounds she was, after all, elected chair of CCCC)

In the next paragraph, Trimbur explains that "I cannot in this article do justice to the full range of issues involved," but that parenthetical remark, in a single line, does the kind of casual injustice to the issues that is far too common in these kinds of discussions. We can't study "the social relations and bodies of knowledge" or argue about the proper scope of our variously named discipline if we're not willing to unravel these kinds of comments and see them for the problems they raise.

At issue for me here are the competing claims made by both Olson and Bishop of marginality--each of them at different points lays claim to underdog status. And Trimbur supports Olson's claim with a reference to Bishop's status as a former CCCC Chair, an elected position and probably the highest profile office or position in our discipline. Well, yes and no.

One of Trimbur's most significant contributions to our discipline, for me, is his observation in "Composition and the Circulation of Writing" that the canon of delivery has been reduced, in contemporary rhetcomp, to the submission of student writing. His essay reopens that canon to the notion of circulation, the various ways that writing travels and the ways that such circulation enables and constrains our understanding of it. The issue that I have with the backhanded, parenthetical "compliment" above is that it disregards what we know about how knowledge and social relations circulate within the discipline.

The easiest way to put this is the following: a person's election to the office of CCCC Chair only tangentially relates to the currency or centrality of that person's avowed positions. One may use certain of the privileges of that office to advance a particular position, but honestly, what happens in Trimbur's parenthesis is a non-sequitur. In fact, one could say that Olson's position as editor of JAC for many years put him in a far more influential position than nearly anyone else in the discipline.

The more complicated way to put this is to acknowledge that the discipline of writing studies or rhetcomp is a deeply-layered ecology of networks, a few of which we might isolate conceptually like this. The discipline is, among other things,

  • a scholarly network, comprised of various genres, publication venues, publication speeds, and specialities;
  • a pedagogical network, running sometimes parallel, sometimes behind, and sometimes perpendicular to the scholarly network;
  • a dispersed set of local, social networks, in the form of writing programs, graduate programs, and/or both; and
  • a national social network, taking place at national and regional conferences, driven in part by the logics of celebrity.

Bishop, Olson, and by extension Trimbur, are engaged in a debate and locating it within the scholarly network, but in the case of the parenthetical remark, evidence for the quality of the scholarship network is being drawn from the social network. Is there some relationship between the two? Of course. But that relationship is not nearly as straightforward as I think we assume. There are multiple paths to celebrity in our field, and it manifests in different ways.

So I don't find it suspect in the least that someone who was elected CCCC Chair might feel that her beliefs are being marginalized--the two things have very little to do with one another. Our names as scholars and the ideas we advance circulate in different ways; each of us may experience those circulations, when it comes to our own names and ideas, as entirely paired and parallel, but they're not. There are people who know me who couldn't tell you the second thing about what I believe, and likewise, there are probably folks out there who have read an article or two by me who couldn't pick my name out of a list.

And that's really just author function. In fact, I may simply be arguing that our particular disciplinary identities are intermixes of various functions that correspond to the different networks that mesh to produce the discipline. And in the case of the capital-d Debates that Trimbur references are capitalized in our field because they combine functions. They get at the heart of the (knowledge) enterprise, but in part, this is because their participants already occupy a fairly central place in the (social) enterprise.

Why make such a big deal out of a prefatory, parenthetical remark? Because at the root of that remark is what I take "writing studies" to mean. Like Jeff, I'd like to see us more sensitive to the multiple networks that inform the practice of writing in any context. And the practice of framing our discipline in terms of Debates over Ideas conducted by Celebrities is one model of circulation that remains fairly invisible to us. It's a model that privileges a particular scale or network while occluding others. And at the heart of Trimbur's essay is a call to draw on our beliefs in one network (a broader conception of the scope of the scholarship of the discipline) and translate them to our local, pedagogical networks in the form of writing majors--"the question "Should writing be studied?" suggests a shift in symbolic space from the workshop to the seminar room," he writes. But shifts like those are never seamless, nor should we trust those who treat them as such. (Nor am I arguing that Trimbur does, by the way--he does admit that this shift can be "wrenching.")

For me, the shift to "writing studies" necessitates the awareness that such a shift ripples across our different networks in various ways. Which is obvious enough, I suppose, except that ours is a discipline where that kind of awareness isn't always on display, to put it kindly.

I fear that this post has become far more about me than about Trimbur. Ah well. I'll try to follow it up with something a little more on point, later in Feb.

Until then, that is all.

January 24, 2007

Letters of Reference

I've spent most of my spare time over the past few working on our graduate admissions process, reading application files. One thing that I've noticed this year, as opposed to others, is the surprising number of applications we received where one of the "letters" of recommendation was little more than a generic paragraph. I'm not going to be specific about how many I've seen, or about the "letters" themselves, obviously, but if I could implant a single command in the minds of all my colleagues (and I use this term in its most global and expansive sense--I'm not talking about my SU colleagues here) simultaneously, it would be:

Endow a Chair for Collin

If I had a second command, though, and I were restricted in my impact to the various application processes surrounding graduate school (and including job searches), it would be this:

It is kinder in the long run to say no than it is to write a crappy letter.

That's less a command, I suppose, than an attitude, but it's one that more than a couple of my colleagues should abide by. As much as some of these paragraphs are offset by the presence of two other, more thoughtful letters, those thoughtful letters are themselves somewhat offset by the third. And while I know that it's de rigeur to talk about how empty and generic letters of reference have become, there are clear and obvious ways to make them engaging, appealing, and revealing. In most cases, I don't read letters of recommendation as a means of making or breaking an application; I'm more interested in finding out as much as I can about the candidates in a more global sense, and a good letter can be far more informative than the even more generic and often more empty formal application documents.

In general, I don't care about the coded language (highly recommended vs. strongly recommended vs. my highest recommendation, etc.). I find it more helpful to know what a student's strengths are in the seminar room, whether or not s/he is prepared to read and write in a fairly intensive program, whether or not s/he is comfortable in the classroom. I even take a pretty fair approach to discussions of those things that a student may still need to work on--we don't expect them to be ready for the tenure-track just yet, and it's better to know up front that a student may need more attention to this aspect of their education rather than that one.

By the time I've made it through multiple statements, and writing samples, and teaching materials, I have a pretty solid sense of each application. And so I'm looking for the letters to round out that impression, to tell me things that the application materials can only imply. And I'm more inclined to trust a letter that can narrate a student's growth (and even struggle) than the generic recitation of buzzwordy synonyms for "good."

I don't fool myself into thinking that anything I have to say on the matter will affect change in this regard. All I can do is to try and internalize the lessons that I learn and relearn annually as part of this process (my 5th year now on the admissions committee), and put them to good use as I write letters for our students.

But the one suggestion I would make, to applicants everywhere who are lining up their own letters, is that it wouldn't hurt to put together a pre-application package for your references, containing a list of the places you're applying, your writing sample, any statement of purpose (this will be your job letter in many cases), and copies of the work that you completed with this person (and/or teaching materials from any classes they have observed). It wouldn't also hurt, and may even be polite, to solicit feedback from your references on these various materials. In other words, do it far enough in advance that you can both solicit and make use of their feedback. They may not read this package, but since you're putting it together eventually anyway, it can help freshen you in their minds.

In my more optimistic moments, I speculate that part of the reason behind some of the paragraph/letters we received was that the applicants' work may have faded out of the short term memory of some of these recommenders. In my more realistic moments, I suppose I have to face up to the fact that not all of my colleagues share my sense of perspective when it comes to these kinds of activities. An extra 30 minutes spent crafting a letter of recommendation, in the long run, costs us very little, but can make a huge difference in the futures of our students. If you're going to say yes when a student asks for a letter, it seems mean and petty to me to turn around and begrudge that student those 30 minutes later on.

I'm just saying.

January 23, 2007

The worst day of the year?

It actually made me smile to see the following, an attempt by a British psychologist to quantify depression and to declare today as the worst day of the year:

The model is: [W + (D-d)] x TQ / M x NA

The equation is broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (NA) the need to take action.

My favorite part of the story?

“I’m sure it's right,? said Dr. Alan Cohen, spokesperson for the Royal College of General Practitioners, referring to Arnall's equation.

However, “it is postulated that there are a number of different causes of depression,? he said.

I can't tell from the little that's provided whether Cohen is having a spot of fun with us or not. I'm pretty sure he's doing that dry understatement thing in the second line. If so, he just made my day a little brighter, although I'm not sure which of the seven variables that corresponds to. (Probably not the one that implies that only celebrants of a particular religion suffer from depression.)

Check ya later.

January 21, 2007

XLI-nce

Go Bears!!

I must admit that the 3rd quarter had me on the edge, but otherwise, it was a fun game to watch if you're a fan of the Bears. Last time the Bears were in the Super Bowl, I was in high school--that's a long wait in between trips. All I got to say is that they better get back there a third time before I retire.

In the meantime, though, I'll enjoy the weeks leading up to Miami. Go Bears!

Update: And congratulations to the Colts, who have the distinction of being my second favorite team, by virtue of the fact that they have the highest number of combined Iowa and Syracuse alumni on their roster. If I could have chosen, at the beginning of the season, my ideal SB matchup, it would have been Bears and Colts.

January 20, 2007

Bleched too soon

Other than the first week of classes, and a swift reinsertion into the rhythms of the workplace, not much has been happening here in the past few. I spoke too soon about the incessant snow, though, as the two most chilling words in the Syracuse lexicon have held us in their grip for the past 48 hours or so: lake effect. Yuck.

When the temp drops, and the snow drops, needless to say, my motivations for setting foot outside the apartment drop in direct proportion. There hasn't even been much blogging to keep me company.

So it's early to bed, hopefully somewhat early to rise, and a Bears-Saints score tomorrow that's easy on my eyes.

More soon.

January 17, 2007

Back in Blech

What you do not know is that I spent the last week on a secret mission, penetrating deep into the heart of country music territory.

What you may not know is that Jewel is apparently on a mission to return to the spotlight.

What you know is that I was greeted upon my return by the incessant snow and bittercold temperatures.

What you should know is summarized with eerie prescience in a short film called "Le Grand Content." If you remember my artcrush on Simon Evans from a couple of years ago, you'll understand exactly my fondness for faux infographics like these:

screen shot from Le Grand Content

More soon.

January 9, 2007

Odds and ends

A bunch of small pieces, loosely blogged:

Congrats to all my friends in Gator Nation. Last night's "championship" was hardly one at all after about 10 minutes. Florida exposed OSU even more radically than USC exposed Michigan. Maybe it was selective listening on my part, but I didn't hear all those talking heads who were calling for the Big 10 rematch apologizing for wasting our time. That's why two teams from the same conference in college football shouldn't play for the title--unless we get past a system that rewards weak non-conference schedules, you simply can't trust that a given conference is the best.

Unfortunately, this year's BCS came courtesy of some of the worst announcing I can recall in recent years. I like Alvarez okay, but he's got no experience announcing. Charles Davis was audibly checking rosters for the names of the players during his commentary. And you could practically hear Brennaman getting corrected in his earphone when he demonstrated his complete lack of knowledge about college rules (as opposed to the NFL). I understand that the BCS runs on greed, but giving the majority of the games to FOX, when they don't run games during the year, is absurd. And the commentary was in places unbearable. They should be embarrassed, the BCS should be embarrassed, and we should get some announcers next year who actually have some minimal familiarity with the game itself, the teams, and the profession. I'm not asking for stars, just for competency.

Speaking of stars, I should note the passing of Le Blogue. Like Donna, I'm a little sad that Michael's taking it offline, but I understand, too. Timothy's discussion, of some of the challenges of blog celebrity, makes a lot of sense as well, though. Our tendency is to differentiate among blogs according to the topics they take up, but there is an important distinction (or series of distinctions) to be made among blogs at different points along the distribution curve as well. Even down here on the Tail, the owners of relatively popular sites can find themselves spending a lot of time managing conversations, comment threads, etc. In other words, there's a lot of invisible work that goes into sites as popular as Michael's, and that makes it hard for me to begrudge him his retirement from blogspace.

Finally, regardless of what happens this year, I'll be on a new contract. And you're absolutely nuts if you don't think that new contract will include some provision for this. I'll most likely spend the first month or so just cycling through all the features and showing it to anyone who will look. Shiny...so shiny....

That is all.

January 8, 2007

SelfCCCCongratulations

Came into the office today to find a promotional flier for this year's CCCC:

front page of CCCC flier
back page of CCCC flier

Wait a second. Scroll down the right hand column there for me on the back. What's that?

who's a featured speaker?

That's right. For one brief, shining moment, I'm a rockstar. We're far enough in advance of the event that I don't feel any nervousness at all. And I can't have messed up or anything. Our featured session exists in a state of pure, perfect potentiality and as long as it stays that way, who's to say I'm not a star?

Well, okay. Lots of people. But I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask them, at least until after March.

That's all.

January 4, 2007

A Post-Holiday Recommendation


If you are like me, in that

(1) many of your holiday gifts come in the form of gift cards for certain oligopolistic bookstores; and

(2) you strongly believe that the best way to watch an arc-driven TV show is on DVD without commercial interruption;

then you should hustle yourself over to B&N. They are currently running a promo whereby you can get the 2nd DVD free. Not the 3rd or 4th, but the 2nd. And many shows are already on a 10% discount. That translated tonight to me getting 2 full seasons of 24 for approximately $13, post-giftcard.

And although I'm not in the habit of shilling for the big box book barns, that is not a deal to sneeze at, my friend. So if you need me, I'll be learning first-hand why being Jack Bauer's back-up is perhaps the single worst job in the world.

That is all.

January 2, 2007

Maca-Ray-Na

In a month like the last one, which involved copious amounts of travel, last-minute planning, up-to-the-minute preparing, and general preoccupation, I sort of lost track of pop culture. It happens from time to time, the waxing and waning of the distance between me and the mainstream.

So here's what I want to know: at what point exactly did Rachael Ray successfully execute her plans for world media domination? I've got nothing against her in particular, and remember seeing commercials for her Food Network shows when watching other stuff, but now she's on network television, staring out at me from every section of the bookstore, and receives more raw exposure in my grocery store than most major brands. Flipped on the tv today to see Oprah stopping by for a slice of Pizzo (which I imagine is the Oprah-visit version of pizza), and it seemed a lot like O was just trying to keep up.

So tell me true, teh Internets, why is all my culture belong to Ray all of a sudden?

January 1, 2007

From the land of MLA Statistics

Happy new year, everyone.

I've got one or two more MLA posts to unload, and then we'll move on to matters more properly 2007. This entry is inspired by the fact that I ran into three different friends this year, each of whom had double-digit interviews. My own feeling is that there's a law of diminishing interview returns once you get to that point, but I also understand how difficult it is (in a very weak market) to turn anything away that might be an opportunity. Upon hearing about each of these ambitious schedules, I started doing a little figuring of my own where I came up with the following numbers. Counting this year, here's what I've done in the job market, as an applicant, in the 10 years I've been out:

3 MLA interviews
4 campus visits (none of which resulted from MLA interviews, and only one of which didn't result in a job offer)
3 phone interviews (two that resulted in campus visits)
5 MLAs attended (2 where I interviewed, 1 where I didn't interview and 2 where I was on a search committee)

Compared to these friends of mine, my entire career has involved less interviewing than their past week. Two things suggest themselves to me. First, I've been exceptionally lucky. In the case of my position at Syracuse, for example, a campus visit and offer came by the first week of December, allowing me both to cancel several interviews and skip MLA that year. And this year was the first that I'd done any interviewing since I took my SU gig.

My second point is that each of has different stories and paths to our careers, such that there is no real norm. It hadn't occurred to me until this year that I'd interviewed as little as I have, or that I've yet to have a "successful" MLA interview as we define them. As someone involved with preparing our students for the market, I tend to communicate a stable narrative of the "normal" path to the tenure track, but very little of that norm is true of my own career. And as someone involved with searches at a few different places, I can say that the idea of a "normal search" is anything but.

I don't really have any grand conclusions here. If nothing else, thinking about this underscores for me the dangers of generalizing from my experience, or from anyone's experience, about the whole MLA/job market scene.

That's all. Time for bowl games.