The internet, cowgirls, and the search for authenticity

You know what this joint needs?  More cowgirls. Amirite?  It seems like there are just a lot of photos of ugly men and sausages on this blog lately, and I don’t like it any more than you do.

I’ve got a question for you, friends:  did any of you read the profile of fellow cowgirl-blogger Rhee Ree Drummond, a.k.a the Pioneer Woman, in The New Yorker this week?  (Sorry, folks:  it’s for subscribers only.)  And if you did, did any of you find author Amanda Fortini’s surprise and dismay that the Pioneer Woman is (in her personal judgment) all hat and very little cattle a little naive, or even a bit simple-minded?  Now, click on this link to the Pioneer Woman–and you tell me if you’re surprised that the woman is on a book tour.

Fortini implies that it’s very suspicious that Drummond, now living on an actual ranch with actual cattle and even an actual cowboy husband and a ranch hand in Oklahoma and homeschooling four actual children, has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.  I guess their ranch isn’t ranch-y enough for her:

 The two main rooms of the Drummonds’ seventies-era two-story wooden house form a kind of central artery where nearly all activity, except sleeping and ranching, takes place.  The blond-wood kitchen has a large breakfast bar that wraps around a Viking Range, as well as two stainless-steel Bosch dishwashers.  The room opens into a den with soaring ceilings, where a colossal flat-screen television faces a prodigious brown tweed sectional couch.  Pretty much everything in the Drummond house is supersized. Continue reading

End-of-the-worlders, again! (And I feel fine.)

I heard a story today on NPR about another group of Christian True Believers who believe in a clear end-date of time.  This time, it’s May 21, 2011, two weeks from today.  (Gee, it’s too bad my grades for the spring term are due May 17!  Bummer.  Then again, if they’re right, who’s gonna know the difference as of May 22?)

These millenialist groups never learn from history, or from anyone I guess–but I suppose they’re betting that someone is bound to be right about the end of life on Earth sometime, right?  One of my favorite stories from nineteenth-century U.S. history is the story of the Millerites, Christian enthusiasts of William Miller who believed that the end of time would be in 1843, or maybe 1844, or perhaps in 1845.  When each of the dates he picked turned out not to be the end of the world, most of his enthusiasts drifted away.  Remember all of the excitement about Y2K and the coming end-of-times/computer meltdown that would return us all to the bronze age?  Funny how that just didn’t come up very much after January 1, 2000. Continue reading

Should colleges ban fraternities?

Sorry, boys!

That’s the question under discussion today at the New York Times’ feature, “Room for Debate,” starring Historiann BFF Nicholas L. Syrett of the University of Northern Colorado, author of The Company He Keeps:  A History of White College Fraternities (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2009).  Nick gets the debate started with a strong opinion grounded in his research on the history of frats:

The chicken-or-egg question is this: do fraternities promote misogyny in members or do freshmen with retrograde gender politics seek out fraternity membership? The answer is both. We all join organizations whose values already match our own. But by promoting one version of masculinity – hard drinking and sexually aggressive – fraternities pressure men to change in order to earn membership and status within them.

Either way, if colleges support organizations promoting these attitudes, they tacitly condone them as well, encouraging men to believe there is a place for such beliefs on campus. The colleges themselves are thus culpable, which is precisely the point of the suit lodged against Yale.

I found most of the other debaters’ comments to be surprisingly wishy-washy, even those who agree with Syrett that fraternities are notorious sites of anti-intellectualism, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault.  Continue reading

Baa Ram U. lays it on thick this year

I got an e-mail yesterday explaining that I’m not getting a raise this summer, again.  (We haven’t had a raise of any kind since 2008, and we faculty only get merit increases anyway.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cost of living increase in my life.)  Here’s the boffo list of valuable, money-saving coupons I’m getting in lieu of a raise:

  • “The Board of Governors has approved our recommendation that there be no increase in [Baa Ram U.] parking permit fees again next year.”
  • “Beginning in the fall, we will be increasing the dependent tuition scholarship from 25% to 50% of resident tuition.” 
  • We will be increasing the Employee Study Privilege benefit from 6 to 9 credits per year, starting this summer.”
  • Faculty and staff will now be able to apply their study privilege credits to [Baa Ram U.] Global Campus courses [i.e. online classes], starting this summer.”
  • The uni has purchased new space for expanding the campus childcare center and it has adopted a new policy to accomodate breastfeeding mothers.  (Funny how this is being touted as a special bonus, isn’t it?)   
  • Baa Ram U. will offer Zipcar services starting in the fall term to faculty, students, and staff, for a fee.
  • The Veterinary Teaching Hospital will offer a 20 percent discount on veterinary services to [Baa Ram U.] employees.

Too bad for folks who don’t have cars, kids, or pets and who already have all the terminal degrees they want–they’re really getting nothing.  (Maybe that’s why they’re doing Zipcar this year–is it a sop to those responsible, green, athletic types who don’t have children and already ditched their cars?) Continue reading

Does warfare ever change over time?

Outside of the machines and techologies that humans have invented to kill each other, I’m not convinced that warfare is a suitable historical subject, if the measure of a historical subject is demonstrable and meaningful change over time.  For example, check out this nationalist, masculinist rhetoric from the White House about the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Sunday.  (This Washington Post article was reprinted in my home-delivered copy of the Denver Post this morning:)

The Obama administration presented new details Monday about the death of Osama bin Laden, portraying the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda as a reclusive figure who had lived in relative luxury and whose final moments had finally exposed his cowardice.

As Americans solemnly remembered those killed at bin Laden’s command, senior administration officials sought to turn their tactical military victory into a moral one by undermining the heroic image he had long cultivated among his followers. They stressed that he had been discovered not in a remote cave, but in a mansion in a wealthy Pakistani city. They also sought to suggest that, as he tried to escape U.S. Special Operations forces, he may have used one of his wives as a shield.

“Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million-dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,” John O. Brennan, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism, told reporters at the White House. “I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”

Bin Laden’s narrative isn’t the only false or misleading narrative.  Brennan’s narrative is strikingly similar to colonial trash talk about military and political foes, which makes me automatically skeptical of it.  His words are guided by a nearly ancient script.  Accusations of unmanliness and [effeminate] luxury were two prominent rhetorical weapons wielded by Anglo-American men against both Indian and French men, and Indian men gave as good as they got on this score.  Continue reading