Saturday, February 26, 2011

Can't stop won't stop

Know where I'm going next week?  Research City.  Know why I'm going?  Because I'm a motherfucking pseudologist, that's why.  And, to be fair, because I caught a lucky break with the workability of my postdoc's administrative office.  That the admins are on the scene again and have our back for getting back to our research helps a lot.

Now that I've bought my ticket and can count down the days, I can stop feeling so much like a displaced person here in Evacuation City, and enjoy this final week as more of a proper vacation.  I'm going on a sightseeing trip tomorrow, because why the hell not?  Why not go see a few things that I don't ordinarily get to see?

I'm just a tiny bit anxious about the political situation in Research Country, which isn't anywhere near as bad as it was when I left, but could certainly be better/quieter/stabler/more democratic/etc.  But of course, this is partly why I'm going back: a lot of pseudologists would give their right arms for the chance to spend some months chronicling a period of revolutionary change up close.  I'm actually really lucky, to put it cynically, that I can get paid to do this and acquire a huge amount of data that could only be gathered at this historical moment.  This excitement balances out the fear.  I'm not a front-line guy; I don't have the temperament of a war correspondent, as I seem to recall someone else saying recently.  But between the intense desire (to say nothing of financial necessity) to complete my fellowship, my sense of obligation to my RCian friends who have been busting their asses to enact real change, and perhaps even a dash of egotistical pleasure that I will be doing for months what other pseudologists are paying through the nose to do for a week, I feel like it's time for me to step up and do it.  (Assuming, of course, that all hell doesn't break loose, a la a certain unfortunate country close to RC.) 

This also brings up a hitherto unknown issue for me in my research: my political commitments and my sympathies with one group of RCians over another.  (Anyone who has read the last month's worth of blog posts here already has a fair idea of where those sympathies lie.)  Until this year, none of that mattered at all; everyone could – and did – paint themselves as oppressed by the state in one way or another, and everyone saw me as a welcome opportunity to air complaints that they couldn't just blurt out loud in public.  Now push has come to shove, and some people have belied their early complaints by, um, taking the wrong side of history. 

Never mind what this implies about my personal relationships with some of these people; that can always get worked out somehow or other.  What comes to mind is that, depending on how certain events proceed, I may – in a very hypothetical and not-very-likely, don't-think-I'm-beating-my-breast-about-this way – find myself annoying some of the powers that be, owing to things that I have publicly said in easily traceable formats.  It would absolutely suck to blow this opportunity by being kicked out of RC by some irate functionary.  But, since I feel like the time has passed for staying officially neutral about all this, I don't see any way around the public statements.  All I can say is that I have no official voice as a foreign national, so it's not strictly my business, but I have personal loyalties to my friends who have taken great risks for their country in a way to which I, as an American, respond deeply. 

In any case, I rather doubt that I would be ejected for what amounts to posting a bunch of links and comments on Facebook.  But, since we all know now that Facebook played a more than casual role in these proceedings, it is technically possible that someone is monitoring such things, and may call me to account.  But seriously, even discussing this feels self-aggrandizing to me: I regret that I have but one Facebook account to give for Research Country!  I'm not some hipster douchebag trying to pick up chicks in a coffeehouse by broadcasting my personal sacrifices for a political cause; I'm a very junior academic researcher trying to build a career.  The point is that I am aware that my political statements now carry more weight than they used to; it's not just a theoretical exercise to run while killing time at a café.  I have a lot less to lose, and perhaps even something more to gain, from speaking my mind than have my colleagues who work full-time in RC, which is itself a curious state of affairs.  For pseudologists, who often* get very comfortable posing (unconvincingly, as a rule) as radical activists while maintaining the most conventional and conformist of professional and personal lives, it's actually kind of freaky to confront the possibility that their academic privileges and more could be rescinded for the most modest levels of political engagement.  And, maybe, a needed splash of cold water.

*Discounting, of course, the pseudologists who knowingly put themselves in serious harm's way out of their professional commitments.  People get killed doing this job sometimes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Star Trek music video FTW

I may never stop laughing at this video.  The bits at 0:33, 0:40-0:46, 1:28-1:37, 2:04, and 2:12 all the way to the end?  Pure, mad, motherfuckin' genius.  (WTF ever possessed anyone on that set to be jigging like some sort of Soviet folk dance troupe?  The strangeness only adds to the hilarity.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Facebooking colleagues

(NB: I feel silly writing friend as a verb so frequently, but I find it useful to distinguish the instantaneous act of clicking a toggle in Facebook from the dynamic act of befriending a human being.  Know, however, that I still feel silly as I write this post.)

Holy cow, I just had an unnerving thought.  In the midst of preparing for my upcoming short-list interview, the idea struck me that perhaps someone from the hiring committee might friend me on Facebook.  I use Facebook pretty sparingly, as a rule; I am not one of those people who constantly post what they ate for breakfast or what they watched last night.  (Because nobody gives a damn!)  I'm rather sensitive to the reality that anything one posts on the internet is, at least potentially, available forever and ever to a determined snoop, and I generally treat Facebook as a form of professional self-promotion that colleagues can and will peek at, if they can.

Historically, this meant that I drew a bright line between allowing my actual friends and family to see my page, and allowing colleagues to do so.  I didn't dare respond to any 'friend' requests from anyone in my department at DOU who held some sort of power over me: essentially, administrative staff and professors.  I also don't respond to requests from anyone with whom I am not personally acquainted in the real world.  I'm careful about my privacy settings, so it's difficult (although no doubt still possible) to see anything on my page if one is not, literally and officially, a friend of mine.

But if this is indeed a professional forum, as I take it to be, then that means that other people might want to friend me for their own purposes.  Surely this must happen with increasing frequency in hiring committees.  What should I do if one of the committee members sends me a request?  Do I just suck it up and confirm, lest I look suspicious, distrustful and untrustworthy?  Or do I take a stand for my privacy and say no, at least until the hiring question has been settled?

As far as I can remember, I don't have anything professionally incriminating on my profile or wall or whatever.  But really, how do I know what the committee might think of the Halloween costume I wore three years ago?  (And is it any of their damned business anyway?)  And what if the person who tries this were actually the one member of the committee whom I disliked and wanted to avoid in future?  I know that Facebook is the province primarily of the young, and therefore it would probably be a grad student, if anyone, who would do this.  But still: my parents are on Facebook.  Some of my profs from DOU are, too. 

I know this is probably small beer compared to other things I could be thinking about – like my freaking job talk! – but it makes me paranoid.  I posted a whole lot of things over the past few weeks, in solidarity with my friends in Research City, and while I stand by all of them, I don't want to get crossed off the list because some reactionary jerk on the hiring committee thinks that I'm going to be some kind of political liability to the university.  (Not that I suspect anyone of being such a jerk as yet.  I'm just being paranoid.)  What's the protocol on this for young academics on the market?

Saturday, February 12, 2011


For those who have not yet finished their vocabulary exercises in RCish (late papers not accepted!), those words around the border are tyranny, bribery, strife, influence-peddling, corruption, and despotism.

It is, of course, not necessarily the end of these things.  But, if the good people of Research Country keep up the magnificent job they have been doing lately, it will be the beginning of the end.  They have been engaged in a near-textbook-perfect non-violent civil disobedience project, on a scale and scope that the country has never seen before.  (And, it's worth noting, Research Country has a looooooooooooong history.)  They have endured everything that their government could throw at them, and they not only survived but held their line.  And we, their friends, colleagues, and students, are all inspired.

What the hell, here's one more item vocab item for you: Taḥyā maṣr!  (Don't look at me like that: look it up in your texts!)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Up and down

I have high blood pressure, damn it.  I don't know how much I can tolerate of the absurdly hot and cold news that I get from Research Country, day by day, hour by hour.  I mean, none of us can!  Everyone posting on Facebook, sending tweets, or – as in the case of one or two of my associates – chiming in as experts on news programs is completely worn out and stunned and angry.  I mean, ANGRY.  It's not good for our health.  But we have trouble staying calm when the figures we see on TV (or, in my case, on my laptop) seem to be sadistically and incomprehensibly playing with the emotions of everyone who cares about this situation.  I have the distinct feeling that all of this will get worse before it gets better.

I want to chant and shout and march.  But, as Ajnabieh has remarked, my American body is perhaps not really appropriate to this context, and possibly even inimical to the things I believe in.  And besides, I'm sitting here in a Starbucks in Evacuation City, so I can keep up wifi access and overpay for lunch.  I'd just look like an unmedicated, over-caffeinated crazy here.

I maintain the hope and cautiously optimistic conviction that this will end well in the long term, but this short term is scaring the pants off of all of us.  I really have no idea how things will look in another twelve hours from now.  All of which, if I must look for a silver lining, at least seems to vindicate my decision to evacuate.  (I heard on the news five minutes ago that the road to the airport from which I flew a week ago has now been blocked altogether.  Wheee!)  What a story it will all make, though.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hopeful news, despite it all

Let's just say that I am not wholly pleased by recent steps taken in Research Country with what appears to be the blessing of the United States.  Srsly, doodz?  Y u no bring teh democracy frealz?  Sigh.  At least my RC-ian friends seem cautiously optimistic.  Things still seem to change day by day and hour by hour, so there's no guessing what will come of the latest moves.

I do, however, feel real hope that RC-ians have finally and permanently lost their sense of political hopelessness, that nothing they do or think or say can ever matter in the political sphere.  All it took was uniting, and focusing on a goal, and not allowing their other disagreements and divisions to overwhelm their unity.  They are still a little stunned, I think, to comprehend their own political power.  Seeing the YouTube videos of them working together and taking joy in the fact that they can do it so well is enough to make me sniffle.  And reading the thoughts they post, often from the sites of the protests and while attempting to avoid being murdered by state security, makes me just break down sobbing.

In much more solipsistic and less dramatic good news, I've been invited to another short-list interview, and this one is actually on campus!  Going to be a tricky business working that out, but they're paying for the ticket, so bring it on!  I should explain here that I'm not back in the US; I'm currently staying in Evacuation Country, which is in the same (very general) region as RC.  It's not the most convenient for international flight patterns, although it was (and is!) hella convenient as a safe haven.  Gotta do a little flight searching to find a route that won't leave me exhausted right when I have to be on point for the campus interview.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I evacuated from Research Country yesterday.  It got too hot for my comfort days ago; I bought a one-way ticket, packed my bags with essentials, and yesterday, I flew out of there.  I saw the internet for the first time in a week last night.

There are so many thoughts and emotions to sort through that I fear I have to babble even on the blog.  It's all too much.  My research project has probably been cut short permanently.  But of course, that's a small price to pay for my own safety, and for the reassurance of my friends and family, who were absolutely freaking out at the lack of communication in context of mounting violence and unrest.  I am proud to see many things that my friends and acquaintances in RC have done lately.  I am horrified to see other things that some other people have done and said.  That gets into some very painful and complicated topics that I suppose I should channel into a formal Pseudology article.  More painful still is the realization that Research Country is not having a brief spasm but is entering a protracted period of revolutionary change.  Revolutions are bloody more often than not.  But they have better chances of succeeding if people are willing, not to shed blood necessarily, but to have their own blood shed.  In the long term, I think this bodes well for the people of RC.  In the short term, I am fearful for the lives of my friends.  I hope I will see them again one day.

Most of my American colleagues in the various academic institutions in RC have evacuated, or are doing so now.  What I often said to them, as well as to my family, was that I was evacuating because, if nothing else, I've been out of email contact for a week, and I'm on the job market, and everything that happens back in the States has to be tended to online.  What broke the camel's back for me, though, was not the aggravating communication problems, but my apparently accurate analysis that certain political decisions taken in recent days were indicators of more violence, not less.  This is a skill that smart people need to develop in RC; it has little to do with my professional training.  It has been sorely taxing for my happy-go-lucky pseudologist brain to figure out on the fly how to interpret these things, but it is a survival skill.  It's no joke.

Speaking of colleagues, I want all my readers to know that I spent a lot of time over the last few days with Shedding Khawatir and her husband.  They are well, and last I heard, they were not evacuating just yet.  I'll update on them periodically if she stays offline and can't tend to her blog.

I go back and forth on feeling like a failure of a pseudologist, to just cut and run like this.  I don't want to be one of those academicians who flies into a research site, does his thing, and then decamps with no interest or concern for anyone still there.  But this revolution is not my project, and never was.  I'm hopeful that I can support it without actually manning a checkpoint or leading a charge over a barricade.  I'm not freaking Che Guevara.  I don't think I have it in me to be a soldier in anyone's revolution but my own country's, and as long as that doesn't become necessary, I can only devote so much time and energy to other people's, as horribly selfish and callous as that sounds.  It's not a pleasant experience to look into the abyss, is it? 

I'm wondering if there's any point in maintaining the pseudonymity of RC at this time.  Should I just stop that and use names?  Or, given my contacts with various people who say and do various things, should I keep that up?  Hmm.

It is very hard to think seriously about applying for postdoctoral fellowships when one is trying to get one's bearings as an evacuee from political strife.  I feel like emailing all the agencies for all the upcoming deadlines saying, "You have no idea what I've been through in the last week.  Don't tell me to send this in right away!"

There's no order to any of these thoughts.  I'm sorry for rambling.  I told you I would.