Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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When the worst people in the world keep winning

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Since my return to active blogging, I have been reluctant to post about politics, choosing instead to retreat into aestheticism. Today I feel I have to respond to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in some way, because I feel implicated in the decision as a former evangelical. My church and family were never particularly politically active, and I was mercifully spared the lifelong shame of attending an anti-abortion protest or harrassing women outside a clinic. But it was the one absolutely unquestionable goal — the one trump card that meant conservatives always had the moral high ground against liberals. What could possibly be more important than stopping the genocide against the unborn?

For such an absolute axiom, however, we never seemed to place much weight on it. We never seemed to ask, for example, what the liberals thought they were achieving by condoning the murder of infants. To the extent that anyone tried to explain it, they tended toward obviously crazy theories — basically, that liberals love evil for its own sake, that they glory in the destruction of life just to piss God off. As my dad once said to me out of nowhere, “Liberalism is a religion and abortion is its sacrament.” Since almost none of us knew any liberals well and obviously none of us were in a position to have a rational exchange of views with them if we did, those extreme statements were weirdly free-floating, attaching to people who were by definition outside our circle. We also never seemed to ponder whether we really thought that “abortion is murder,” which is to say that terminating a pregnancy holds the same moral weight as killing a post-born individual. The way we thought about the women involved certainly didn’t indicate that we did — until recently, the idea of actively punishing the wicked abortive mother was not really on the agenda. A woman who understood what was happening couldn’t really want to kill her child! That was insane! It had to be the doctors misleading and seducing them, they’re really to blame.

As with all conservative projection, the truth was that the pro-life view is insane. Abortion is not murder. Developing embryos and fetuses, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy, are not morally important entities unless the woman bearing them decides they are. Early term abortion is a morally indifferent act, and late-term abortion would only be chosen under the most urgent circumstances, by both the woman and her doctor. Believing otherwise is crazy. It breaks your brain. Spending your whole life trying to wrap your mind around such a ludicrous, insane belief distorts your personality. It warps your capacity for human sympathy by accustoming you to value hypothetical “persons” no one has ever met over the woman standing right in front of you. It deadens your moral sense by teaching you that lying and cheating and maybe even occasionally killing is justified in the battle to “save” the lumps of flesh hidden within a full-grown human being you cannot allow yourself to treat as such.

And look at the people who handed down this decision! Clarence Thomas is operating under a heavier load of cognitive dissonance than almost any man alive — the only Black person on the Supreme Court for decades, today he argued for emptying the Fourteenth Amendment of all meaning and enforceability. Brett Kavanagh screamed and yelled and vowed vengeance on the floor of the Senate, on national television, because he couldn’t admit that he did something really bad when he was black-out drunk. Amy Coney Barrett play-acted the Handmaid’s Tale in a creepy cult and gladly seized the seat of the most outspoken feminist in the history of the Court in order to personally destroy her legacy. As for the three men who have made themselves a vessel for cheap talking points of the kind that the typical intellectually curious teenager quickly gets bored with, the less said the better. Two unrepentant sexual assailants, two people who very actively chose to symbolically betray the members of their demographic, five people who accepted nomination by presidents who initially took office against the popular will — this rogue’s gallery gets to decide on our human rights.

They’re the champions the evangelicals deserve — people who spend their lives in a sad bubble surrounded by Jesus-branded tchotchkes, who get goosebumps from simplistic repetitive songs meant to emotionally manipulate teenagers, who can’t have a genuinely honest discussion of any important issue without clamming up or lashing out in defensiveness, people who see again and again and again that their thing is breaking people, that their children can’t stand to be a part of it, that their fellow citizens distrust and resent them, and say: this shows we’re right. These are God’s chosen people. These are the ones who arrogate to themselves the right to decide on our behalf.

It’s a cliché to say that the worst people on earth have deep conviction while the good are wishy-washy — but they do not seem to have the courage of their convictions. Neither “courage” nor “conviction” comes to mind when we think of the typical evangelical, or the typical conservative. Someone who really believes, really knows that they are on the side of right isn’t so prickly, so irritable, so habitually dishonest and deflecting. They can’t take yes for an answer because they don’t know what they want, don’t know what their supposedly deeply-held beliefs even mean. They’ve destroyed their own minds, their own consciences, their own structure of basic emotional responses — on purpose, over and over, day after day for years and years, until they know nothing else. Except they do know something else: they know, deep down, that this isn’t it, this can’t be all there is, this can’t be worth their one single precious life on this earth. It is to unknow this indisputable fact, to squelch this unanswerable question at the core of their being, that they keep going back to their lies and conspiracy theories and sad bromides, like a dog returning to its own vomit.

Their salvation is the least of our worries, but if we save ourselves from them, we will also be saving them from themselves. They need us to take their power away, they need us to break this unbearable winning streak that is only making things worse and worse — for us primarily, but also for them. No one should have to live like they do. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.





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On the exodus of faculty

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A lot of folks, with tenured positions, are choosing to get out of the university game to do other kinds of work. A recent issue of Nature has a particularly strong piece of journalism that dives into “the great resignation.” This article has resonated with a lot of people. Perhaps we’ve only seen the the…

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Weekly Review

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The United States Senate confirmed to the Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson, and a former Republican National Committee aide who once requested and enthusiastically responded to a video of a baby being raped was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for receipt of child pornography.1 2 3 “I was honored to have his endorsement in PA. Twice. But I’m disappointed by this,” tweeted Sean Parnell, who ended his Senate campaign after his wife publicly accused him of abuse, in response to Donald Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz.4 5 “Oz is the antithesis of everything that made Trump the best president of my lifetime.” Pakistan’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star, in a vote of no confidence, and the right-wing incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen received the most votes in the first round of France’s elections.6 7 Viktor Orbán, who was recently reelected as Hungary’s prime minister, announced that he would break ranks with the European Union by purchasing Russian gas with rubles, and climate activists rallied outside the United States Postal Service’s headquarters in support of transitioning to a fleet of electric mail trucks.8 9 An assailant poured red paint on Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Peace Prize–winning editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, as he rode a train in Russia, and an investigation revealed that violence against journalists reached record levels in Mexico, with 25 murders since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, an 85 percent increase from his predecessor’s tenure.10 11 It was reported that Israel is currently holding 10 Palestinian journalists in jail for “incitement.”12

Shortly after defending the New York Police Department’s increased arrests for low-level offenses, New York mayor Eric Adams, a former cop, attended a dinner party for the haute couture fashion brand Valentino, and then contracted COVID-19.13 14 15 The NYPD destroyed homeless encampments across the city, opened fire on a getaway car, and with a police van killed a man who was asking for money in Brooklyn.16 17 18 19 With updates to its death chamber now complete, South Carolina announced that it would give people sentenced to death the choice of whether to be killed by firing squad, the electric chair, or lethal injection, depending on availability.20 In Oregon, the trial of Nancy Crampton Brophy, a woman charged with murdering her husband after self-publishing an essay titled “How to Murder Your Husband,” began, and in Florida, a woman was dismissed from jury duty for the sentencing of the Parkland school shooter after asserting that she is too occupied with her husband and her sugar daddy.21 22 Ammon Bundy was sent to jail for contempt of court after arguing that his campaign for governor should count toward his required 40 hours of community service.23 A woman was fired from a strip club after it was revealed she had merely pretended to be related to a boy who died after falling from an amusement park ride.24 “You could smell it a block away,” said the owner of Barney Greengrass, the famed smoked-fish store, after an arsonist burned down its dining shed.25

Mark Zuckerberg claimed that employees of his company “lovingly” refer to him as the Eye of Sauron.26 “We really want this to become the most famous, iconic statue in the world,” said John Bartleman, the CEO of TradeStation, referring to a 3,000-pound robotic bull without testicles that was unveiled in Miami, which is meant to represent the cryptocurrency market.27 In accordance with tradition, the Canadian finance minister purchased a new pair of shoes before the nation’s budget was announced, and the family of a deceased rapper defended their decision to stand his corpse on the stage of a Washington, D.C., nightclub.28 29 “We’re worried about how professional this has become,” said Theo Dekker, the chairman of a Dutch dairy interest group, after thieves pulled off a cheese heist in the Netherlands and an employee of a mattress shop in Middlesbrough, England, expressed concern that proposed bike lanes would provide shoplifters with “a clear getaway.”30 31 A man in Germany received up to 90 COVID-19 booster shots, and scientists announced evidence that invertebrates feel many emotions, especially when shaken or injected with acid.32 33Sam Needleman

The post Weekly Review first appeared on Harper's Magazine.
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Why I Left Libraries. Spoiler: I was broke, and job… | by Allison Jai O'Dell | Apr, 2022

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Spoiler: I was broke, and job insecurity in the academy needs to change.

For almost a decade, I worked in special collections — flitting from one library to the next, taking on a series of temporary, grant-funded positions. I moved from DC to Baltimore to Philadelphia to Miami to Gainesville to Los Angeles in response to job offers. I never once planned a vacation, because, a) I couldn’t afford it, and b) I never knew what airport I was going to need to fly out of in six months.

My salaries ranged from $32,000 annually to $45 hourly (part time, without benefits). I spent most of that money moving to new cities and traveling to yet other cities for professional conferences and workshops. I spent the rest buying suits and bibliophilic society memberships to help me appear more affluent, hoping to be accepted by the antiquarian gentleman’s club.

While I was never able to accumulate wealth, switching jobs every 18 months did help me develop a wide range of skills and perspectives on data management — proficiencies that I would later realize were coveted (read:$$$) outside of the library profession.

In 2016, as I was finally relaxing into a long-sought and, so I thought, well-deserved tenure-track position at the University of Florida, I learned that my department was under threat of imminent re-organization. I was faced, yet again, with the prospect of moving to protect my income.

At this point in my career, I’d invested the following into the goal of working as a rare book librarian:

  • Two master’s degrees (and their respective student loan repayment bills);
  • Three romantic relationships (dead upon relocation);
  • The blood, sweat, and booze involved in producing 12 peer-reviewed articles and 1 single-author monograph;
  • Enough red-eye flights, iPads, and pant-suits to sustain 36 conference presentations, 39 committee appointments, and 1 Software Carpentry side hustle.

I was tired. I was broke. And I was feeling broken.

I could have picked up my cardigans, donned some sensible shoes, and gone back on the academic job market.

Or, I could decide to f*ck it all and earn some real money in the tech sector. I chose the latter.

At the 2021 RBMS Conference, I co-presented a session on the “impacts” (read: detriments) of the gig economy in special collections with Katharine Chandler, Lori Birrell, Courtney Dean, and Tamar Evangelista-Dougherty. Their insights ranged from the loss of institutional knowledge when temporary staff leave, to the loss of permanent staff energies when re-filling (re-recruiting, re-training) soft-money positions every year.

For my part, I dug into the financial and logistical reasons why someone who had devoted seven years to graduate school and a decade to special collections might want to renounce their reputation as a book historian and develop CRM databases, instead.

My reasons for abandoning an entire career in libraries were two-fold:

  1. The toxic and competitive culture in the academy left me emotionally and physically exhausted — but hey, that’s a topic for another day;
  2. I easy doubled my salary for half the work.

Academic jobs are never 9-to-5. If you aren’t working, then you’re teaching, and if you aren’t teaching, then you’re researching, and if you aren’t researching, then you’re writing, and if you aren’t writing, then you’re networking, and if you aren’t networking, then you’re on a plane going somewhere to network, and then, maybe then, you’ll catch a bit of sleep.

Normal people jobs, it turns out, have start and stop times. Normal people get to do their dishes more than once a quarter. Normal people get to take their family to the beach in July. (Read: normal people get to have families.) Normal people get to buy furniture without immediately wondering how they’ll fit it onto the moving truck.

During the “Gig Economy” session, I compared earning potential in academic libraries to earning potential on the whole for various technical services functions. If you’re in a dead-end academic cycle, I hope that these figures inspire you to consider how your portfolio may be applicable outside of special collections.

Below, I’ll recap the figures given in this presentation. I reference average salaries for position titles and keywords in the city of Los Angeles. These data were taken from Glassdoor, current as of June 2021.

As a baseline, the average salary for a Librarian in Los Angeles was $62,120 annually (with a salary range of $42K to $92K).

Data Architecture: I was an active member of the RBMS Bibliographic Standards Committee, the ARLIS/NA Artists’ Books Thesaurus project, and an OCLC initiative on Web archiving metadata. I used to contribute to development of international schemas, controlled vocabularies, and content standards for free, as a service activity. Meanwhile, I could have earned $134,677 as a data architect.

Web Development: I developed applications and customized discovery layers to help library patrons find resources. I learned several markup and scripting languages in order to take on this extra work for the library, in the hot-hot pursuit of grant funding to list on my CV. I could have earned $88,285 as a front-end developer (the folks who use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build the parts of a website that you see), or $101,021 as a back-end developer (the folks who work with APIs, and transfer data to/from databases).

Data Engineering: Libraries are constantly integrating data from publishers, digitization projects, legacy catalogs, union catalogs, and more. I became a whizz at data wrangling and transformation. I developed countless data pipelines and ETL processes to combine disparate data streams. I should have been earning $112,935 as a data engineer.

User Experience Research: To inform cataloging guidelines, and to better design catalogs and finding aids to meet user needs, I spent a lot of time in libraries researching information-seeking behaviors. I became intimately familiar with Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. I ran focus groups, conducted usability tests, and led card-sorting exercises in order to gather insights on how to improve our discovery interfaces and their navigation. As a user experience researcher outside of libraries, I could have earned $140,985.

Fundraising: As a special collections professional, I was routinely asked to give tours and host events, with the goal of building relationships with donors. I cultivated skills in storytelling, and learned to quickly craft narratives about my projects’ efficacy and impact. As an academic and a gig worker, I helped develop numerous grant applications, and served as a principal investigator on several large-sum projects. Overall, I honed techniques that are crucial to fundraising and philanthropy. In the nonprofit sector, I could have earned between $98,765 as a development manager and $102,546 as a director of development.

Project Management: In libraries, I never had less than five major projects going at once. I oversaw several large-scale database and website migrations, making sure that each of my team members’ contributions were completed in sequence and on time, while I myself served as a project contributor. In the tech sector, I could have been working as a project manager — someone whose sole job is to hold others accountable to the development timeline — and earned $87,086.

You might be part of the problem. If the grant project padding your CV has generated a term-limited position, you’re not creating opportunity for new professionals, you’re creating instability for the entire workforce. Shuffling from gig to gig, special collections professionals take their talent, institutional knowledge, and anxiety with them on each hop.

The solution lay in your budgets. Work with your own fundraising teams to create permanent positions with competitive salaries. Ensure pay equity and advancement schedules for the staff you already have. Don’t drive your colleagues to quit just so they know where and how they’ll make rent next year.

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Capitalism normalizes death: From COVID-19 to the threat of nuclear war

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The utter casualness and recklessness with which the US political establishment is treating the prospect of a war that threatens to escalate into a full-scale nuclear exchange must be seen in context of the ruling elite’s indifference to mass death in the pandemic.
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Teaching for free

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Prompted by the now-infamous listing for an unpaid teaching position at UCLA, The New York Times looks at the realities of academic labor: “The unspoken secret had been fleetingly exposed: Free labor is a fact of academic life.”
These unpaid arrangements are perhaps the most concrete example of the unequal power in a weak labor market — in which hundreds of candidates might apply for one position. Institutions are able to persuade or cajole people who have invested at least five or six years in earning a Ph.D. to work for free, even though, academics said, these jobs rarely lead to a tenure-track position.
I gotta say it again: Where else do people willingly work for free? In cults.

A related post
UCLA is (not really) hiring
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betajames
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