You are currently browsing ari’s articles.

I have a new author’s website:  arikelman.org.  All are welcome.

This article in Vanity Fair left me thinking that it’s only a matter of time before performance-enhancing drugs become the norm rather than the exception in the academy. I mean, what happens you realize that the assistant professor that your department just hired can concentrate for hours and hours without taking a break for weeks on end? What happens when you realize that s/he is far more productive than you are because of these extraordinary powers of concentration? And then, what happens when you learn that the secret to her or his success is a prescription for methylphenidate? What are you going to do about it*? As for me, I’ll probably go out for a bike ride and then take a nap. But that’s because I’m old and pretty much past my prime already. But if I could still be a contender — whatever being a contender means — I wonder if I’d think twice and call my doctor.

Here’s the thing: I’ve long known that there are people in the profession who are smarter than I am (some of these people have offices near mine). My response to such cruel realities has been, on the one hand, to acknowledge my limits and, on the other hand, to work my ass off to try to make up the stagger. Put another way, I’ve accepted that nature is fickle (Bill Cronon is a once-in-a-generation intellect; I’m not) and tried to overcome the vagaries of genetics with a response rooted in nurture (my willingness to work hard)**. That said, I think I’m going to find it pretty difficult to take when it turns out that people are outperforming me because they’re relying chemical enhancements*** to help them publish.

Now wait, before you give the obvious reply, yes, I know this already happens. Eric drinks coffee. I don’t. And that’s the only reason he’s written four books and I haven’t. Really, though, if there were a pill that would allow me to be significantly more productive, I worry that I’d think long and hard about taking it. Actually, I suspect that choice is already here. It’s just that I don’t have the right dealer.

* Whitey.

** The nature/nurture divide is far too simple here, I know. Some people are smarter and harder working than I am. Oh well.

*** Especially when it turns out that some people process these chemicals more efficiently than other people and thus have better results when they ingest them. Oh, nature, you are truly cruel!

Given what an ignorant slut* he seems to be, I guess I’m willing to be more charitable than Timothy Burke and accept that David Levy (not the good one, mind you) only worked fifteen hours/week during his academic career.

Really, though, rebutting this sort of disingenuous crap is beneath my dignity. But I do think Corporate Spokesperson Levy should be shunned. Beyond that, take a look at the Burke post. It’s smarter and more thorough than Levy deserves. And unlike Levy’s pat drivel, Burke opens up some avenues of discussion.

* Corporate category; I don’t care about the man’s sex life.

I’ve probably never said this here before, but having finished my book on Sand Creek, I’m now co-authoring* a graphic history of the Civil War. As a consequence, I’ve been following this discussion with some interest. I don’t have much to add except this: I decided, very early in the process of writing the book, that we would NEVER put fictional words into the mouths of non-fictional historical figures. Which is to say, although my co-author badly wanted to insert a couple of gold bug stanzas into the Gettysburg Address, I put my foot down. On the one hand, this seems very much like what Silbey suggests should serve as best practices (both in literature and scholarship, if I understand him correctly). But on the other hand, I have to admit that we worked around the attendant problems by making up characters left and right to voice the dialogue and carry the weight of the story we’re trying to tell. I’m reasonably sure that this makes me a lousy historian in Silbey’s eyes and a lousy storyteller in Eric’s. Mission accomplished!**

* With Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Who also worked on this project. Which is awesome.

** (Note to self: wear flight suit and codpiece, not academic regalia, to graduation this year. Unfurl self-congratulatory banner at key moment. Bathe in applause.)

Students in my Civil War class tend to be fascinated by the disjuncture between the Lincoln of memory, who stands tall as the Great Emancipator, and the Lincoln of history, who only very gradually embraced emancipation as a necessity of war and then later as a moral imperative.* One of the crucial moments in that evolution was the controversy over treating slaves as contraband of war, an episode during which several of Lincoln’s generals, in fall 1861, outstripped their Commander-in-Chief and began practicing not-quite-emancipation on the ground. They refused to return slaves that crossed the Union lines to their former owners, leaving those people in an odd situation: not quite free, but no longer enslaved either.

The BBC has a story up about one of the sites where that controversy played out: the South Carolina Sea Islands. I have to admit that this is the kind of article that threatens to get under my Civil War historian’s skin but then ends up totally tickling my historian of memory’s fancy. The story is “little known” and a “secret history,” says the Civil War historian? Not so! There’s a great book on the subject! And Chandra Manning is working on a new monograph about contraband camps! But then the historian of memory says, “stop being such nit-picking jerk and check out the stuff about the two Mitchels discussing their sense of shared heritage.”

Anyway, it’s an interesting (and annoying, yes) story that’s at least in part about the enduring nature of a certain kind of reconciliationst Civil War narrative.

* This formulation is decidedly too simple, I know. Consider it a kind of shorthand for the sort of thing about which scholars write long books that win prizes.

Charles Pierce (who is awesome) included this in his touching remembrance of Don Cornelius. Ad agencies really should use historical figures as pitchmen more often.

Or so it seems. No, I’m not talking about Joe Paterno again [spits]. I’m talking about the description of the United States as a Grand Experiment in democracy or sometimes as a lower-case grand experiment in democracy. I always assumed that one of the founders* said that, that it was a quote in other words. But no, it seems that’s not the case. Unless I’m missing something — which is entirely possible; no, really, it’s entirely possible — the whole thing is a charade.

* Probably Jefferson [spits], right? I mean, he’s usually the guy who said the stuff about the things, isn’t he? But apparently not in this case. Unless, again, I’ve missed something. Which is to say, this is chance for you to note that somebody is Wrong on the Internet! And not just any somebody, but me.

David Greenberg’s review of Chris Matthew’s new Kennedy biography is, like everything Greenberg writes, worth reading. It’s a wonderful takedown, I think, because it’s not entirely captivated by the search for the perfect snark (they’re wily, snarks are, and should be hunted at dawn and dusk, when they typically rest).

Read the rest of this entry »

If Mark Wahlberg had been seated in first class on that fateful day, there would have been no 9/11. Yes, seriously. I dare you to challenge his logic.

Over the past month, I’ve been finishing — as in, putting the final, no really, the final! — touches on my book. It’s been a huge pain because of the narrative structure I’ve adopted this go round. Lots of flashbacks means lots of moving parts. Change one thing, you have to change many things. Very annoying.

Anyway, because of my present circumstances (to recap: annoyed), I’ve been paying more attention even than usual to storytelling and editing. Which prompts two observations: first, J.K. Rowling should have edited her books. If another one of her characters “pants”, I’m going to assume Hermione or Gilderoy is trapped in a low-budget pr0n film (ick). And second, the opening twenty or so minutes of the Star Trek reboot is a model of narrative economy. Like the much-praised, and deservedly so, montage in Up (No, I’m not crying. But hang on a sec, okay? I have something caught in my eye.), the scenes, starting from when the lights go down until Kirk and crew begin their adventures on the Enterprise, are incredibly taut. The number of characters and story lines introduced (though they couldn’t wedge Scotty in until later) is admirable. I haven’t done that well with my book, I’m afraid. But then again, my budget was smaller than J.J. Abrams’s.

Overheard at the swim meet today.

Kid 1: “When Matt Damon is elected president, the country’s going communist. Seriously, wait and see.”

Read the rest of this entry »

[Editor's Note: Bob Reinhardt, a PhD candidate in our department, submitted this TDIH before the late unpleasantness on our campus. He then asked if I would hold off on posting for a bit. Well, a bit has passed, and it's time to talk about smallpox. Really, though, when isn't it the right time to talk about smallpox? Thanksgiving dinner, I suppose. Anyway, thanks, Bob, for doing this.]

23 November

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared all-out war on a universally despised enemy. The announcement didn’t concern Vietnam — Johnson had escalated that police action months before — nor poverty, against which the US had allegedly been fighting an “unconditional war.” This particular declaration targeted a different enemy, older and perhaps more loathsome than any ideological or socioeconomic affliction: smallpox. As the White House Press Release explained, the US Agency for International Development and the US Public Health Service (specifically, the Communicable Disease Center, now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) had launched an ambitious campaign to eradicate smallpox (and control measles) in 18 West African countries.* That program would eventually lead to the first and only human-sponsored eradication of a disease, and would also demonstrate the possibilities — and limits — of liberal technocratic expertise.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve become a somewhat better lecturer in the past couple of years. The improvement is mostly an outgrowth of comfort. I know the material well enough now that I can focus more on performance: projecting my voice with emotion, hitting the laugh lines, etc. At the same time, I’m able to build narrative arc in most of my lectures while maintaining analytical continuity.

This is all to the good, of course, but there is a problem: I fear that my course management may be slipping a bit. In short, as I’ve grown more confident about giving my lectures, I’ve become a bit less careful about making sure that my instructions for papers and other assignments are crystal clear; about clarifying for my readers and TAs, before they begin their grading, what I think constitutes an outstanding essay; and about making sure that classes begin precisely on time.

The thing is, I suspect that even though I’m more entertaining and maybe more edifying in some ways, my students would rather have me focus my attention on management and logistics. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that I’m right. I’ll let you know after my course evaluations come in and are tabulated.

In some ways, this is just me musing as the end of the quarter draws near. But in others, I think it’s worth my remembering that teaching hinges on organization and attention to detail as well as deft presentation of information — or perhaps that these things are complementary. Probably everyone knows this already, and I’ve just embarrassed myself. (“Wait, I’ve had that piece of spinach in my teeth all day?”) But nobody ever taught me this stuff, so maybe it’s worth mentioning.

No, seriously.

This was the chancellor’s address yesterday on the Quad. It may be that I’m being uncharitable, but I hear her invoking her experiences in Greece in 1973 as a way of claiming solidarity with the pepper-sprayed UC Davis students while expressing ostensibly genuine contrition over what happened to them. But then I juxtapose those sentiments, shared as they were through tears, with Eric’s post, which seems to indicate that Chancellor Katehi was one of the architects of a policy allowing the police back onto Greek campuses for the first time since the 1973 uprising.

Nick Perrone is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UC Davis. This is the speech that he gave on the Quad earlier today.

My name is Nick Perrone and I am a graduate student in the history department here at UC Davis. I am also the recording secretary for the UAW Local 2865, the union that represents the majority of graduate student employees across the UC system. So I am a student here, I am a worker here, and I am a union representative for my colleagues across campus, and I want to make a couple quick points.

First of all, the movement to occupy the Quad here at UC Davis is not an attempt to replicate Occupy Wall Street or any other movement. Students here at UC Davis and at universities across the country have been occupying administrative buildings and open spaces in response to injustices both on and off university campuses for decades. Chancellor Katehi has worked hard to try and characterize this current occupation as being influenced by “non-UC Davis affiliated individuals.” Let me be clear, THIS IS OUR MOVEMENT. Look around you, these are UC Davis students, faculty members and workers. Chancellor Katehi, just because our movement is growing, that does not mean that it must be the result of some outside influence, some “rogue element”. You and the regents that you work for have provided the fuel that drives the movement that you see today.

The second point that I want to make is that the police brutality we have witnessed over the past two weeks at Cal State Long Beach, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis is only a symptom of the privatization of these universities. Chancellors Katehi and Birgeneau want safe and inviting spaces on campus, but not for students, for private companies and corporations. When they suppress dissent on our campuses it is in the interest of privatization and clearly not student safety. We must be careful not to treat the symptom alone, but attack the disease itself, the disease of privatization.

Chancellor Katehi, we will not allow you, President Yudoff, the regents or anyone else to strangle the students at this university with debt and mediocrity while you simultaneously direct police to suffocate any remaining dissent. It is clear to us that you are no longer an advocate, you are no longer an ally. We need a chancellor who will stand with students against police violence. Our struggle is not your struggle. We want the rich to pay their fair share. We want to lower tuition, not raise it. We want to end the privatization of our university. And we want to stop the use of police to remove peaceful protesters on college campuses. Chancellor Katehi, you have lost the confidence of the students, the faculty and the workers on this campus and it’s time for you to go.

Sometimes you learn from your students rather than teaching them.

This is a better video of Chancellor Katehi exiting a campus building after her impromptu press conference yesterday. I post this not only to highlight, once again, the extraordinary discipline of the students, but also to share this letter, “Why I walked Chancellor Katehi out of Surge II tonight”. The letter was written and posted to Facebook by Reverend Kristin Stoneking, the director of CA House. Kristin is the woman you see walking with the chancellor in the video above.

At 5pm, as my family and I left Davis so that I could attend the American Academy of Religion annual meetings in San Francisco, I received a call from Assistant Vice Chancellor Griselda Castro informing me that she, Chancellor Katehi and others were trapped inside Surge II. She asked if I could mediate between students and administration. I was reluctant; I had already missed a piece of the meetings due to commitments in Davis and didn’t want to miss any more. I called a student (intentionally not named here) and learned that students were surrounding the building but had committed to a peaceful, silent exit for those inside and had created a clear walkway to the street. We turned the car around and headed back to Davis.

When I arrived, there was a walkway out of the building set up, lined on both sides by about 300 students. The students were organized and peaceful. I was cleared to enter the building along with a student who is a part of CA House and has been part of the Occupy movement on campus since the beginning. He, too, was reluctant, but not because he had somewhere else to be. For any student to act as a spokesperson or leader is inconsistent with the ethos the Occupy movement. He entered as an individual seeking peace and resolution, not as a representative of the students, and was clear that he had called for and would continue to call for Chancellor Katehi’s resignation.

Once inside, and through over an hour of conversation, we learned the following:

– The Chancellor had made a commitment that police would not be called in this situation

– Though the message had been received inside the building that students were offering a peaceful exit, there was a concern that not everyone would hold to this commitment

– The Chancellor had committed to talk with students personally and respond to concerns at the rally on Monday on the quad

– The student assistants to the Chancellor had organized another forum on Tuesday for the Chancellor to dialogue directly with students

What we felt couldn’t be compromised on was the students’ desire to see and be seen by the Chancellor. Any exit without face to face contact was unacceptable. She was willing to do this. We reached agreement that the students would move to one side of the walkway and sit down as a show of commitment to nonviolence.

Before we left, the Chancellor was asked to view a video of the student who was with me being pepper sprayed. She immediately agreed. Then, he and I witnessed her witnessing eight minutes of the violence that occurred Friday. Like a recurring nightmare, the horrific scene and the cries of “You don’t have to do this!” and students choking and screaming rolled again. The student and I then left the building and using the human mike, students were informed that a request had been made that they move to one side and sit down so that the Chancellor could exit. They immediately complied, though I believe she could have left peacefully even without this concession.

I returned to the building and walked with the Chancellor down the human walkway to her car. Students remained silent and seated the entire way.

What was clear to me was that once again, the students’ willingness to show restraint kept us from spiraling into a cycle of violence upon violence. There was no credible threat to the Chancellor, only a perceived one. The situation was not hostile. And what was also clear to me is that whether they admit it or not, the administrators that were inside the building are afraid. And exhausted. And human. And the suffering that has been inflicted is real. The pain present as the three of us watched the video of students being pepper sprayed was palpable. A society is only truly free when all persons take responsibility for their actions; it is only upon taking responsibility that healing can come.

Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car? Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek. I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that “just means lead to just ends” and my actions offered dignity not harm.

The Chancellor was not trapped in Surge II tonight, but, in a larger sense, we are all in danger of being trapped. We are trapped when we assent to a culture that for decades, and particularly since 9/11, has allowed law enforcement to have more and more power which has moved us into an era of hypercriminalization. We are trapped when we envision no path to reconciliation. And we are trapped when we forget our own power. The students at UC Davis are to be commended for resisting that entrapment, using their own power nonviolently. I pray that the Chancellor will remember her own considerable power in making change on our campus, and in seeking healing and reconciliation.

Kristin’s courage and commitment to non-violence, coupled with the dignity of the protestors, serve as a reminder that the brutal tactics of the police are not the only inheritance we still have with us from the long and ongoing struggle for civil rights.

The apostropher brings this video to our attention and remarks, “This…might be the most powerful and effective shaming I have ever witnessed”. Indeed.

UC Davis: “A community that embraces civility.”

I’m annoyed enough lately with the state of the world that I’ve decided it’s time to embrace shunning as an appropriate form of social sanction. Joe Paterno? Shun him. Peter Orszag? Shun him. I could go on.

With that in mind, today we’re going to shun Whitney Blodgett, a student at Princeton who decided that nothing could be funnier than yelling at a bunch of Occupy protestors that, speaking of his buddies, “We’re the 1 percent!” His ever-so-clever buddies followed up with, “Get a job!”

Oh, the revelry! The hijinks! As a friend points out:

You really need to click the article to get a picture of this kid. He’s a freshman, by the way. Nothing like an 18-year-old Ivy League kid, who with a name like “Whitney Blodgett III” is almost certainly a legacy admit, lecturing people on the meritocracy.

Seriously, shun him. And shun his buddies, too.

Recent comments

This is officially an award-winning blog

Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 180 other followers