Friday, December 24, 2010

Say what?

I cannot go into detail here, but there appears to be a little bit of forward movement with my application for the job at Random-Ass University.  I can't help but be surprised every time I find another correspondence from them in my inbox.  It's all so strange and hard to read, although I'm beginning to put a few elements together of how the committee is thinking.  Too early to tell if I'm right, though.

Anyway, I'm pleased!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

DADT repeal: also kind of a big f*cking deal

Let us now toll the death knell for Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  I am not a scholar of the US gay rights movement, and am not positioned to say how significant of a milestone this is in that history.  It seems to me, though, like a big fucking deal, to borrow Joe Biden's health care quip.  I am no militarist, and have a laundry list of objections to how the United States government thinks it should deploy its military power in various parts of the world.  But I'm also realistic enough to see that the fact that great military strength and powerful economic and political motivations to throw weight around cannot be made to heel simply by saying "We don't like war and want to stay as far away from its instruments as possible."  And, for a number of reasons both so obvious and so personal that I see no reason to detail them here, I find it absurd and dangerous to say, no matter the rationale, that some perfectly capable, willing, and eligible US citizens should be forbidden to join the armed forces voluntarily.

A comment that Tenured Radical once made – I'm too lazy to search her archives for the precise link at the moment, sorry* – rang very true for me: the desire to forward political aims by staying away from military service is in some ways a class privilege that not everyone shares.  For a lot of young people without many economic (or, for that matter, social) opportunities, military service has long been a way out of otherwise dreary prospects.  Yes, that brings up good questions about race, class, and the composition of the armed forces, but that is the case nonetheless.  Sheer probability dictates that a proportional number of those recruits are queer — I was about to write GLBT, but I suppose the T there is a bit more unlikely in this particular context.  Some kids have more than one really good reason to want to get the hell out of their dead-end town, is it not so? 

I acknowledge that this seems less of a step forward if you are intent on seeing military service as a cannon fodder factory, and a grimly cynical way of disposing of Americans of comparatively low social status.  In the context of the misbegotten current US engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can understand this concern.  But this ignores the fact that the bulk of the US population, to say nothing of the military itself, regards service personnel as intrinsically valuable (or, if you prefer, high-status) people who personify a host of positive qualities, not least of which is a spirit of self-sacrifice in the service of the country's welfare.  Given that a lot of gay and lesbian teens who have been literally and metaphorically kicked around lack a sense that others around them value them, that others around them consider them worth having around, it seems plain to me that those who are equipped to do so might consider joining up, even at the cost of having to talk about pretend SOs or switching the gender pronouns for real SOs.  They probably had to do a lot worse than that just to get through their day in their youth.

The benefits of joining the military are no doubt that much greater if you have the chance to become an officer: more money (not a lot, but still), more status, more opportunity to rise even further.  Don't underestimate the attraction of that possibility to anyone who believes, rightly or not, that other status-advancing career paths are not open to them.  That's why we often associate the armed forces with blue-collar backgrounds: nowadays, there are simply more people from such backgrounds than those from elite military-caste families (like, um, John McCain) who are on hand to staff the military, and have some compelling reason to do so.  The US Army is a lot bigger than its West Point alumni; the Navy bigger than its Annapolis grads, and so on. 

And jeez, it's not as though there aren't queer military personnel training in elite officer colleges, either.  If you want to lecture officer-students about the implications of their career choices in terms of US foreign policy and so on, go ahead.  But don't tell the gay and lesbian ones among them that they should either hide their sexualities, or that they should simply avoid the military.  Such avoidance only reinforces the discrimination and lends weight to bigots' assertions that non-hetero people just shouldn't be around, no matter how they dress up that assertion with claims of military readiness and unit discipline.  That's a much larger claim than just 'in the military' — as has been observed elsewhere, queer youth hear the larger message of "We don't want you around in the first place" within the seemingly milder claim of "We don't want you in this particular position." 

I do not doubt that, at least at first, there will be an upsurge in hazing and gay-bashing in the ranks.  Ending DADT means that queer military personnel need not misrepresent their sexual orientation in social situations.  (Presumably, they need not represent their sexual orientation at all from now on, in official contexts.)  And openness about that will, I fear, lead to some backlash among the more bigoted and hateful in the ranks.  But the same thing happened, I would think – by all means, fact-check me if you have the history at your fingertips – when the military ended racial segregation, and yet the military did not collapse in an orgy of racial violence.  Plus, a big component of gay-bashing and bullying in such institutions relies on the implicit understanding that the object of the bullying cannot lodge a full complaint with superiors, because they are not 'supposed' to be gay in the first place and thus could only indict themselves.  Removing that official stigma won't wipe out prejudice and bullying altogether, but it will, I suspect, sap a lot of what fuels the bullying.

Finally, I want to declare my distaste for the desire to keep the armed forces segregated, whether spoken out of radical leftist politics or right-wing quasi-religious politics.  The United States is going to have a large professional military, whether you like that idea or not.  It has become an unavoidable reality for our country.  Critiquing where the military goes and at whom it shoots is an equally valid and necessary part of our body politic, but expressing the desire that people would simply no longer join up – as if we were discussing a boycott of a brand of shampoo – is a stupid and dangerous fantasy.  It's not stupid or dangerous because the military could be left too short-handed to defend our borders.  (That would be the fantasy part, there.)  It's stupid and dangerous because it leaves the military personnel with the belief that some people either are above military service or beneath it.  That builds both class-based resentment among serving personnel against those who can choose a less physically dangerous career and gender-based hatred of those who are deemed innately incapable of doing a job that has nothing to do with sexual orientation, and thereby creates a bullying atmosphere that feeds on itself and its own obsessions with validating the worth of military personnel at the expense of someone else.  I can tell you with great personal and professional authority that I do not want to live in a country where only 'those people' are in the military, no matter what the term might include or exclude.

I take no joy in seeing my government accepting convicted violent felons into the army for lack of better recruits who meet the stupid 'not openly gay' criterion.  The fact that the US Army thought it made more sense to recruit a man with a history of using firearms in pursuit of criminal activity than a man with sterling credentials, the capability to lead soldiers well and judiciously, and happened to have a boyfriend is head-slappingly frightening to me, and indicates how far down the wrong path the military was already going.  Rest assured that decisions like that would not have made it any easier for critics of US military engagements and foreign policy to persuade the military to exercise restraint or forbearance in its conduct at home or abroad.

RIP DADT.  I'm glad to see it go and I'm not ashamed to say it.

*ETA: I can't find TR's comment on this to save my life: I think it may have been a response comment, rather than a post of its own.  In any case, she has since written her own post on the DADT repeal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Don't wanna, don't wanna: Research Edition

A rant is coming on, I fear.  It's becoming clear to me that, despite my fervent wishes, I'll have to spend a lot of time reading and thinking about Someone Else's Subject.  I phrase it that way because that's kind of how I think of it, and why I wanted to avoid it.  I think my primary research is fascinating, thank you very much, and I'm not about to drop it or anything crazy like that.  But I'm finally admitting to myself that I cannot competently present a thorough analysis of Koshary's Favorite Subject without taking into account its many links subtle and obvious with SES.

This sucks because I find that SES is pretty much done to death.  A lot of very fine scholars have devoted serious attention to SES for years – decades, even – and that's bully for them.  Hell, some of my favorite books in my larger area of pseudology are on SES; the better ones have been instrumental in my thinking on KFS.  I'm glad those works are out there; I still refer to them often.

< rant>
But give it a fucking rest, people!  SES is well studied, well known, well understood, and yet people still trip over their own feet running to do yet another motherfucking study on that shit.  Seriously?  Do you think that if you turn that entire boatload of data on its side or look at it through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars or something, you're really going to reinvent some wheel or other?  Uh, no.  No.  It's not going to happen.  And if you're not an increasingly senior scholar pursuing follow-up research to the stuff you started doing a long time ago, you do not impress me.  Every scholar at the doctoral level who thinks that somehow they will magically create a piece of research worth having because "I take SES and examine it critically [they always inflect this word heavily in conversation, as if they're the motherfucking Star Child who has just invented critical thinking where every previous scholar in Earth's history has missed this concept] by using Body of Theory I Read About in Seminar Last Semester" makes me want to fling a hot cup of coffee in their faces.  It feels disturbingly to me like that Xtranormal video where the wannabe grad student says "I will write smart things about death in literature."  NO, YOU WON'T.
< /rant>

All of which to say, it's really burning my toast to admit to myself that my research on KFS will not only be stronger if I address SES directly – instead of just citing the good publications in the background lit review – but that my work might actually lack legitimacy without SES worked into it.  Fuck.  I will admit that there is a certain lazy attraction in some aspects of SES research; I mean, gee, would so many shallow idiots try (and, usually fail) to scrounge a project out of it if it didn't seem really, really easy on the surface?  But the stuff I'll need to do is neither easy nor interesting, at least not to me.  It's actually dead boring and tedious.  When I was a bit less thoroughly knowledgeable about KFS – one might even say a trifle ignorant – I occasionally positioned KFS to colleagues as at base distinct from and only analogously similar to SES, rather than essentially connected in a variety of ways.  On one memorable occasion, I made this argument to an assemblage of potential colleagues, whose shocked reaction, as I flattered myself, was due entirely to their being unable to process the awesomeness and critical perspicacity of my thinking.  Hmm.  Maybe that's why I didn't get that job.

So I'm steeling myself to leap into this SES portion of my research, since being set up in Research City and all gives me the perfect opportunity to do that.  It's just a colossal pain in the ass.  But, when I contemplate the kind of nasty, sarcastic opprobrium that I will genuinely deserve if I try to publish my work with no serious discussion of SES, I quail.  Once you admit to yourself that your work will be fundamentally bad without doing something, you have to do it.

Oh, and here is something trivial for me to whine about, after all: the weather has sucked lately in Research City.  Ugh.  The sky was the color of an early 1970s shag rug today.  Picture the sky being colored like the ugly-blond-wood half of the d├ęcor in the Brady Bunch house.  I am not pleased.  I think I need to go shopping for a few winterizing household items; I'm getting tired of wearing socks to bed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interview success (I think)

My freakishly inexplicable phone interview ended up going about as well as it could have, I think.  I mean, given the fact that I am inescapably an outlying candidate for the avowed nature of the hire.  I took the advice of my good readers, and ducked the awkwardness as long as I could, emphasizing how good I am at what I actually do.  I even had clever ideas about teaching grad students and research integration, if I say so myself.  And I summoned the bravery to ask the committee if they had anything they were holding back about asking me, which successfully drew out the question: "Sooooo....how do you see yourself fitting into our department's desire for a Thursday-purple-hat-wearing, Latvian-transsexual-dating Statistician-cum-Damn Liar?"

Well, I had to field it some time, didn't I?  And I think I fielded it as honestly and yet as self-promotingly as I could manage.  Don't know if that's sufficient, but that's all I could do.  Given that I was always on the verge of throwing up my hands and saying that I was a preposterously strange candidate for this job and couldn't fathom how an entire hiring committee could sit down to talk to me about it without laughing, that's something.

I feel a bit more confident about the other phone interview I recently had.  (Yes, two phone interviews already!  Took me much longer to get that far in last year's job cycle!)  That one was much more oriented toward what I do without the need for semantic acrobatics, so I felt like I had something of a home court advantage.  I know, it's insane for an unemployed new Ph.D. to have any such feeling, but that's the best way to put it.  I knew the terrain well.  It felt good, and I felt like I acquitted myself quite well.

Nothing to do for the moment but put them both out of my mind, assume that I'll never hear from either one again, and press on with the applications.  I've knocked out everything due in 2010, so I can start working almost a full month ahead of things.  (Except for all the letters that my referees are sending absurdly late, but whatever!  Par for the course, right?)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Being a good kid

A friend of mine who quit smoking after over ten years of being a smoker told me that what annoyed hir the most was that, shortly after zi quit, and zi was dithering in addiction-influenced uncertainty about whether or not to go back to it, zi noticed that zi actually felt better: more lung capacity, less lethargy in the latter part of the day, etc.  It irritated hir to admit that zi was actually happier and healthier not smoking, because of course that meant zi had to stick to it.

I know the feeling.  For the second day in a row, I got up earlier than I wanted to, and made myself sit down at the computer with a fresh pot of coffee and write.  No shower, no changing out of my pajamas, lest I feel ready to present myself publicly and hit the streets/walk away from my work.  No dithering for half an hour thinking, "What would I like to eat for breakfast?" before throwing on some clothes (see above) and going shopping/out for breakfast.  And – this is key – no turning on my internet for at least an hour.

Result?  The manuscript chapter I'm working on at present has more than doubled in size over the last two mornings.  I'm pretty happy about it, except for the inescapable conclusion that I am more productive when I wake up early than when I sleep in.  Which kinda sucks.  'Cause I love sleeping in.  But I guess that's not what research postdocs are for, are they?

I'll sleep when I'm tenured.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ornery pseudologist

I had one of those meetings that never seems to end yesterday.  Not the administrative kind, but the one-on-one encounter kind, where you just don't know how you'll get away.  It ran over five hours, and my brain was pretty well shut off by the end.  I may have need of this contact at some point in the future, so I tried my best to be polite and deferential.  Somewhere around the fourth hour of conversation, I kicked deference out the window and replaced it with the arrogance of the university-trained postdoctoral scholar.  I should be a little sorry for this, but I'm not.  He deserved to hear a few things that no one else around here will tell him.  I hung on to politeness, but just barely.  I'm really grateful for that Ph.D.; it gives me a surprising amount of street cred here in Research City.

This is kind of how I operate, I've found.  I can't be one of those people who keep their mouths shut at all times while collecting data, and simply smile and nod and occasionally ask a question of clarification.  I make my interlocutors back up what they say.  I argue with them, I disagree with them, I occasionally may or may not tell them that I think their ideas are dangerous and counterproductive.  I sometimes wonder if I'm doing research all wrong, or if I just have a very different approach than has the ordinary pseudologist.  I also wonder what my colleagues will say at the conferences, once my papers and talks make clear what an ornery SOB I am.