Thursday round-up: the death becomes us edition

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Scary stuff!

Friends, it’s a never-ending round of seminars, walks through the garden, curator-led tours of both the Huntington and the Getty Museums, and lunch and dinner invitations that I have barely a moment to myself on this “sabbatical!”  My apologies for the light posting these days, but sometimes a scholar just has to sit down once in a while and write something for peer-reviewed publications.

Here are a few interesting things I’ve found while haunting the interwebs over the past week:

  • Should we bring back formal mourning clothes? This review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire” by Hillary Kelly is nostalgic for the value of public mourning.  Maybe this is on my mind, because I’m of the age now that my peers are coping with the deaths of their parents.  I had a colleague whose father died a few years ago, and when I invited him out for dinner following a seminar  several months later, I was a little surprised that he said, “no thanks, I’m just not up to socializing yet.”  Of course it made perfect sense–but it struck me at the time that we make grief so invisible and so unknowable to others in modern U.S. culture.  Recent widows and widowers complain that after a month or two, even close friends sometimes express exasperation with their grief!  We expect people to “get over it” so we aren’t threatened by the memory of our own losses, or by fears of our impending losses. 
  • There’s a new book coming out with Yale University Press next year which I’m dying to read:  Fashion Victims:  Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.  (Isn’t that a great title?  Who wouldn’t want to read that book?)  She was the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Curatorial Fellow in French Art at the Huntington from 2003 to 2007, and is an independent scholar.
  • Speaking of mourning, what about graves, and specifically, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act?  There’s an open position in the Anthropology Department at the University of Massachusetts for a Repatriation Coordinator.  Public historians or anyone else with NAGPRA knowledge and experience should apply.  This position does not require a Ph.D., but rather just an M.A. in Anthropology, Native/Indigenous Studies/Museum Studies or related fields.  This is a three-year lectureship.
  • The bane of my existence is now the elaborate software systems through which we must all submit journal articles and letters of recommendation.  Do I really need a unique I.D. and secure password for every.  Freakin’.  system?  (If someone wants to write an article, revise it, and get it published under my name, I’d be happy to take credit for it!)  Also:  it seems unfair to ask an author to revise and resubmit an article, but still hold her to the first-round 10,000 word limit.  Just sayin’.  Now I’m off to eliminate 388 words from my polished, jewel-like, prose.
  • Well, not yet.  I forgot to say that tomorrow night is Halloween.  Tips for candy thieves:  only eat the candy out of your kids’ buckets until they can reliably count, or you’ll get busted.

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That didn’t turn out the way I thought it would: on the power of walking away

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These boots were made for walking, dig?

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that I was just talking with friends in person and over email about the job market this year, but you know what they say:  when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, right?  So just now I read Scott Rasmussen’s article called “The Ability to Walk Away is the Key to Empowerment:”

Politicians like to talk about empowering the middle class or other segments of the voting population, but they’re typically a little fuzzy on what empowerment really means. That makes sense when you consider that elections are essentially about politicians asking to get power rather than share it.

The truth is that we all have more power as consumers, volunteers, supporters and members than we do as voters. That’s because the key to empowerment is the ability to walk away.

Right on! Rock and roll!  Any specific examples come to mind?

That’s a lesson learned over the past half century by Major League Baseball. Up until the 1960s, baseball players were restricted by something known as the “reserve clause.” It was a contract provision that restricted a player to one team for life.

In those days, the minimum pay for a ballplayer was $6,000 a year. The average salary was under $20,000 a year.

Then, in the 1970s, a Supreme Court ruling gave players the chance to become free agents when their contract expired.

Today, the minimum salary is $490,000 a year with an average pay topping $3.2 million.

That change, from an average salary of under $20,000 a year to over $3.2 million, didn’t come about because the owners suddenly became generous and decided to share more revenue with the players. It came about because players won the right to walk away and force the owners to compete for their services.

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Granny watch: new fake issue for mainstream press, same old sexist dismissal

grannywolf“As Clinton ponders her second run for the White House, many variables are in play, from her age to her health to her economic platform to her status as a soon-to-be grandmother.”

I get it that Hillary Clinton is unlike every other presidential candidate in American history, not just as the only serious woman contender, but also as the wife of a former president, but:  srsly?  Todd Purdham implies here that grandmotherhood is going to so delight and derange Clinton that she’ll toss her last chance to run for president out the window.

We’ve had other presidents who were near relatives of previous presidents in American history three times before–the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes*, not to mention the many brothers Kennedy who ran for president between 1960 and 1980–and clearly, in these cases the whole family is implicated in campaigns in a way that’s different from other presidential campaigns.  But I don’t remember the media running stories in 1998 about how George W. Bush might not run for president because he might have to miss his daughters’ high school prom night, do you?  (Oh, yeah:  The media were all about the presidential blow jobs back then.)  Mitt Romney’s dozens of grandchildren were never presented as a reason for him to kick back and let 2012 go by without him, although I recall several stories emphasizing the comfort his large family could give him after his loss. Continue reading

“Steamboat Willie” is completely whack, shows potential in the classroom.

Inspired by a recent viewing of Spongebob Squarepants that featured a fake “early Spongebob” cartoon that was clearly a reference to “Steamboat Willie,” I dialed up “Steamboat Willie” on the YouTube and discovered that this cartoon is completely insane and loaded with animal cruelty.  Now, I am not one to get all up in your grill about cruelty to animated creatures, but seriously–this thing is whack:

 


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Valley of the creepy dolls!

For realz!  Anonymous gifts to little girls of  “creepy dolls” that look like the gift recipients.

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Yes, my mother bought me this book.

Personally, I think the creepy part is the fact that people in San Clemente, California live in a gated community.  (Isn’t all of Orange County effectively a gated community?)  I can’t even imagine living in a neighborhood with an HOA (Homeowner’s Association, which tells you what color you can paint your house, and what color your window treatments must be, and so on), let alone a gated community. Continue reading

The war on expertise: there are limits to the democratization of knowledge

einsteinrelativityThis American Life featured a fascinating–as in, car-crashtastic–example of the war on expertise that I thought many of you academic readers might be interested in, if you haven’t heard it already.  In a story called “Sucker Mc-squared” (Mc-squared as in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, not Mc- as in McDonald’s), Robert Andrew Powell tells the story of Bob the Electrician, and of Bob’s conviction that he alone had discovered a fatal flaw in Einstein’s theory.  You can hear the entire story here–it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time.

To summarize:  Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong.  Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons:  there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians.  In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have.  But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.

 Why does Bob believe that all of physics has it all wrong?  Why is he argumentative and defensive when finally Powell convinces a real physicist (Brant Watson of the University of Miami School of Medicine) to explain to him why he’s all wet?  Why does he admit that he doesn’t understand the advanced training in mathematics that physicists receive, and still believe he’s right?  SPOILER ALERT!
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