Mountebank Blog

"There is nothing so impossible in nature, but mountebanks will undertake; nothing so incredible, but they will affirm."

Real-Name Blogging

A long pause in blogging lately, and one not entirely motivated by laziness or busy-ness, although both did play a role.

I’ve always kept this blog using my own real name, and with my own institutional affiliation and (some degree of) personal identification right out in front. It was something I thought hard about when I started the blog, and I felt pretty strongly that I wanted this to be public and not anonymous. There are some great anonymous blogs out there, and some blogs which are great because they’re anonymous. But one of the reasons I wanted to do the blog was to make contacts with people, and I wanted to contact those people as myself–with my real name. So the blog has always been my own, and it’s on a website that I own and pay for.

I’ve always been aware that my blogging was public, and always felt that what I said here should only be what I was willing to say publicly. And that worked well for me, for a long time. Sometimes some people didn’t like what I said, but they were always willing to address it with me head-on, in the comments or by email, and often (not always) we came to some better understanding because of it. We each learned from the experience.

This blog has never had a huge audience, and that’s been OK, but I’ve valued the audience I’ve had, and I’ve valued the fact that I was always real, always honest here.

Something happened, recently, though.

I wrote a post (no need to try to find it. It’s not here anymore–it’s private now and only I can see it. It may stay that way forever. I may make it public again sometime, and if I do I’ll edit out this little parenthetical comment). It was a post that I thought about a lot. It was personal. It was reflective. I worked on it and I posted it because it said things that I wanted to say and to say publicly.

I had mixed feelings when I wrote it–some sadness and nostalgia, some hope and ambition, and some anger and resentment. I think all of those feelings came through in the post, and I won’t deny any of them. They were all justified.

There were also some judgments about another person in that post, and while those judgments were negative, they weren’t nasty, they weren’t rude or offensive, and they were certainly (in my eyes) fair and well-deserved. The person wasn’t named–but anyone who knew the person and who knew me would know who the person was.

As it turned out, though, there is one reader of this blog who posted a comment on my post. That comment was rude, was nasty and offensive. And it was posted anonymously. But the cute pseudonym the commenter used was transparent, as was the IP address from which the comment came, as was the particular style of rudeness, so I do know who that commenter is. But I won’t name that commenter, either. I deleted that comment, as I’m sure the commenter expected. But the commenter went farther–the commenter printed out my post and passed it to the person about whom I had made the negative judgments. I know the motives of that commenter. I know the character of that commenter, and what that commenter was trying to accomplish.

There weren’t any real consequences, I didn’t suffer in any real way. But it was a cowardly and devious attempt to hurt me, to use the blog to hurt me, and although the attempt failed, it shook me. It made me think twice about blogging anymore. And it did make me move the post in question out of the public area of the blog.

But as I’ve thought more about it recently, I’ve decided that there’s no real reason for me to stop the blogging enterprise. For whatever small public voice and tiny audience this blog has, I like having that. I’ve got more things to say, and I’m going to continue to say them.

This has never been the most active of blogs. But it’s not going to be a silent blog, either. I don’t think it needs to be.

And it will continue to be in my real name, and with my real thoughts and honest reactions.

19 Years

RIPI haven’t been doing much blog posting lately at all–for a reason that I’ll probably explain in a later post. But today’s date is one that I never fail to acknowledge on this blog–or anywhere. After 19 years, it’s still a sad anniversary, still hurts. It’s different every year, but the hurt is no less deep.

R.I.P. Scott Daniel Ugoretz.

February 24, 1964-October 28, 1988.

Something about a Storm

The big Nor’easter really had very little effect on us–it was a lot of rain, a little wind, not much more than that.

But what I like about it is the effect it had on at least one New York Times writer–bringing out his best poetic efforts!

Coming on a weekend, the storm had a relatively light impact on most residents. Many shops and restaurants that normally would have been open yesterday were shuttered, but without jobs or schools to attend, many people spent the day indoors with the Sunday papers, relaxing with music to go with the silken lash of rain hissing at the windows, dripping on a lazy afternoon.

The day was, in a way, like great theater: the drama of the approaching storm, the searching wind at the panes and rain dancing on the pavement, the smudged sky, the iron-gray day like a movie in black and white. The overcast was solid, great plates of corrugated iron fused from horizon to horizon, and the streets glistened in the rain: a metallic futureworld.

Thanks, Robert McFadden! “The silken lash of rain hissing at the windows.” I love it! 🙂

For this was on seynt Valentynys day

The Parliament of FowlsThe lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne,
Th’assay so sharp, so hard the conquerynge,
The dredful joye, alwey that slit so yerne,
Al this mene I be Loue, that myn felynge
Astonyith with his wondyrful werkynge
So sore iwis, that whan I on hym thynke,
Nat wot I wel wher that I flete or synke.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Considering Tenure

Catherine Stimpson had a piece at Inside Higher Ed yesterday about the 2006 report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for and Promotion. The first thing that struck me was a statistic.

The MLA report estimates that of every 100 English and foreign language doctoral recipients, 60 will be hired to tenure-track positions within 5 years. Of them, 38 will be considered for tenure at the institution where they were hired. Of them, 34 will be awarded tenure.

So that makes me one of those 34 out of 38 out of 60 out of 100. Unless I’m figuring the odds wrong (quite possible), that’s actually a bigger number than I would have expected. I’m glad to be tenured, of course, but it turns out that it really doesn’t feel (to me at least) as completely a relief as everybody said. I still think about my career, where it’s going, I still have ambitions and new ideas, and I don’t seem to feel like I’ve totally “made it” or finished.

Stimpson (and the MLA) make another important point, too.

Moreover, because of those new communications technologies, much scholarly inquiry is now being done digitally. Some of the most important work about and in digitalized scholarship is appearing from university presses, an invaluable resource that the task force correctly praises and for which it seeks more institutional resources. Yet many departments are clueless, all thumbs in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase, in doing evaluations of digital scholarship that respect peer review. Of the departments in doctorate-granting institutions that responded to the MLA’s survey, 40.8 percent report no experience evaluating refereed articles in electronic format, and 65.7 percent have no experience evaluating monographs in electronic format.

Now, this (deplorable) situation doesn’t really match with my experience, at least not recently. At my own institution, electronic publications were evaluated, were accepted, and did play a part in the decision to grant me tenure and (later) promotion. So that’s a good thing. But it’s also a relatively new thing, and this is something where most departments absolutely need to get on board. Electronic formats, electronic publication, holds the promise of the most exciting new venues for scholarship and publication–because the work can get out there farther, and faster, for more interaction, criticism and comment, than more “traditional” venues can every achieve.

And there’s another area, too, where I think most departments and administrations are “all thumbs,” inexperienced, missing the boat. Scholarship of teaching and learning (which my institution does value) is neglected too often, at too many places. I’ve heard too many stories of faculty who do this kind of work having to really struggle to get the work recognized and accepted in tenure and promotion decisions. I’m glad the MLA is urging more attention to electronic publications…and I’d like to see them urging more attention to SoTL, too.

On Online Discussion Forums

Forum Cartoon from weblogcartoons.comI’ve discussed before my on-again off-again membership in the online discussion forum Global Affairs. I’ve been banned, reinstated, considered quitting, taken long breaks, thrown up my hands in disgust, been forbidden to send private messages to some members, and received very friendly and considerate messages from others. I’ve won a “post of the month” award, read posts by others that have brought tears to my eyes, or had me literally trembling with anger. I’ve been called a bigot, a socialist, a decent human being, a true gentleman, an ideologue and an apologist. But through all of that, since November 2002, I’ve been an active member of the forum, reading and posting day after day.

So, why?

I’ve been thinking about this in a couple of contexts–one, of course, and always, is the connection and the contrast with the kinds of online “forums” that I run when I teach online. Those are different than the experience at GA (or the other forums where I’m a member and post some of the time, but less frequently–at BroadbandReports, UbuntuForums, Brighthand,TotalChoiceHosting, InternetInfidels, Beliefnet…I didn’t realize there were so many!). A discussion forum where I’m teaching a course is different for me–and I think that it’s different for the students than for the participants in the other forums, too. (I’ve often wondered how it would go if someone I knew from online discussion would take my online class. How would we interact in the class, and how would we interact in the forum, after that?)

And there’s another context–recently my daughter has started her own involvement in her own online discussion forum…and she seems to enjoy it (and be frustrated by it, and drawn to it), just as much, and in the same way, as me. Brings up some interesting nature/nurture questions!

I’m thinking that part of the appeal has to do with the community–which is rather obvious–the people about whom I end up caring, who have characters and roles that feel familiar, and comfortable, with shared in-jokes and jargon. But connected to that, too, is the adoption of a persona. I don’t think that my online persona is all that different from my face-to-face persona, but the fact is, when I look at it (looking back, especially), I’m much freer online–to be playful, or aggressive, or to push arguments way beyond where they can really productively go.

This seems to be what my daughter does, too–the hot political topics of the day, or the bigger philosophical questions (the existence of the soul)–online I get totally involved in discussing these, and discussing how we’re discussing them, and little tiny elements of the discussion of the history of this discussion. Face to face, to preserve peace, or to save time, or just to get anything done, there’s just no time for this.

It’s also especially attractive to discuss these issues with people who are so, so different from me (except that they’re the same in one important area–they like to discuss things online!). I seem to spend the most time, and have the most fun, in forums (like GA) where I’m a distinct minority. Almost everyone (very few exceptions) is politically far to the right of me there–and almost nobody (very few exceptions) has the same kind of experience (professional, personal, academic) that I have. Over and over again, I’m the sole defender of a point of view–against multiple (I won’t say enemies, but opponents). And I must like that, somehow, because I keep coming back for more. My daughter’s role in her forum is the same in this regard, too.

Of course, there are also advantages which are shared in all asynchronous online discussion (as I’ve written about elsewhere). There is time to consider, to take someone else’s argument apart line-by-line, to pursue an off-topic drift or digression. There’s also the entire resource of the internet right there–to cite sources, investigate claims, illustrate with images, and so forth. The “wizard factor” (you want to see a hedgehog? I wave my hand and there’s a hedgehog!) that I enjoy so much in teaching online shares its magic with all online discussion.

Finally, there’s something I notice especially in the tech-oriented forums (and the tech areas of broader-ranging forums like GA). People like to help each other in these forums. How do I get the Beryl Window Manager working in Ubuntu? What should I say on my resume about a college that changed its name after I graduated? What do I do about an invitation from an in-law I can’t stand? In these forums, people ask for help with problems from the mundane to the life-threatening, and they get it…and everyone values both the giving and the getting. That’s a human interaction, whether it’s in the online world or the physical world, which is truly valuable.

There’s plenty more to be said on this subject…but it’s partly what I’m thinking now.

Happy Chanuka!

menorahLight a candle, eat a latke (or six), enjoy your family.

Happy Chanuka!

Or Hannukah

Or Chanukah


A New Podcast–TWT Spotlight

TWT SpotlightI’m announcing it here, first, even though it’s not really being announced publicly quite yet. But I think it’s ready, and I think it’s worth announcing. I’ve been working pretty hard to get this up and running, and I like the way it’s turning out. The TWT (Teaching with Technology) Spotlight is my effort to get some informal but informative conversations with BMCC faculty out into the audiospace–so that colleagues can hear and think about what other colleagues are doing in their classrooms. I also wanted to give an example (a very basic one) of how educational podcasting can work beyond lecturecasting. It works well, in my opinion, when it’s short, frequently updated, conversational, and directed at a specific audience with a real interest in the content. There are other criteria, too, but these are the main ones for this podcast. It could be the first of many (or at least, several), and student voices might be the next step.

New Book on American Popular Culture

americanaLast week I got an advance copy of Americana: Readings in Popular Culture, and it’s available on Amazon now. It’s a fun read, with essays on jazz and foreign policy, WWII men’s magazines, video games, Bike Week in Daytona Beach, and plenty of others.

Why am I really recommending it, you might ask? Because on page 212, you’ll also find an essay by….ME! It’s a bit of my work on county fair and carnival pitchmen and their audiences. I like it, and I think it works well in the collection (although, unfortunately, the publisher was unable to include any of my photos. I think they really would have added to the piece).

(And no, I don’t get any royalties–this is academic publishing. That free advance copy is my only payment!)

Hung or Hanged

I keep reading, from people who should know better, that Saddam will be “hung” in the next few months. This is a long-standing irritant for me, in my cranky grammarian disguise.

People who are executed by hanging by the neck until they are dead are hanged. Pictures are hung on the wall…and sometimes people are hung, or well-hung, but that’s a bit of personal information that I don’t even really want to consider about Saddam.

Saddam will be hanged. Whether he’s hung or not.

At least that’s the way I always learned it…and we all know that I’m always grammatically correct, myself! 😉