Later On

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Archive for December 19th, 2015

Sixteen years in academia made me an a-hole

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Very interesting personal discovery recounted in Salon by Rani Neutill:

In 2007, I got my Ph.D. I proudly walked across a stage and received my diploma in Ethnic Studies and Film from the University of California at Berkeley. I held on to that diploma tightly, but not too tightly. I didn’t want to crush it.

In 2009 I was a lucky one, lucky because the market crash in 2008 hit hard and still I had nine interviews at the Modern Language Association. There were not a lot of tenure-track jobs in academia to begin with, so you can imagine what the job search was like afterward. Still, I seemed destined to get a job. The odds were on my side. A reporter found out about my interviews through a mutual friend. She wanted to interview me for an essay she was writing. The job crisis was getting a lot of media attention and my multiple interviews were, I guess, newsworthy.

“What is it like to be on the market during this time?” she asked.

“Well, it’s frightening. Sometimes I think I am going to end up being a waitress.”

When the article was published, that quote got pulled. It was one of those quotes that they highlight. The font goes up to like 72 points and it’s bolded and placed between paragraphs. You know the kind of quote I’m talking about.

I didn’t get any of those nine jobs. I applied year after year, flew to wherever the MLA conference was being held, sat in hotel rooms (yes, interviews for tenure-track jobs in the humanities take place in hotel rooms), wore conservative clothing to cover all my tattoos and body parts that I’m told should be covered. I was warned that if I dressed too stylishly or provocatively, it would distract from what I was saying—I needed to look boring.

For hour after hour, I sat in front of strangers who made me feel either special, as though the job was mine, or alternatively, like an idiot. They asked me long and intricate questions meant to show off their own brilliance. Lots of peacocks in academia, lots. I applied year after year and never got a single offer.

Fortunately, I did get post-docs, which were temporary appointments, so every two years I moved to a different city to work at a different school and build a new life–new streets, new friends, new bars, new grocery stores. My only constant at that time were my dogs.

Gradually, I started to resent academia, partly because I couldn’t get a permanent job and partly because of the elitism and snobbery that came with the profession—an elitism that seemed inextricable from the environment and the people in it. I would grit my teeth at academic parties, listening to conversations where it was impossible for a person to talk about anything other than Hegel or T.S. Eliot. All I wanted to talk about was “The Good Wife.”

“How do you deal with these people?” a colleague’s spouse asked me one night. We were smoking on a porch in the dead of winter, shivering through our conversation. There was snow everywhere. I had been quietly listening to two white dudes from the philosophy department alternate between a discussion of Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and reminiscences of traveling to Paris in the summer for research, how wonderful the city was and how hard it had been to return to the provincial United States. In my head, which had started to throb, I was thinking, “You guys have it real hard here, don’t you?” Another guy from the English department launched into a monologue about his recent publication in some fancy academic journal.  No one seemed impressed. No one there seemed impressed by anything other than themselves.

“Oh my god, have you read so-and-so’s book? It’s terrible. She doesn’t understand Deleuze at all. I can’t believe Harvard published her!”

I looked at my colleague’s spouse, a bit tipsy. “Save me,” I mouthed.

We went inside. There was a glass of wine in her hand. “Here,” she said. “Sedate yourself. It won’t make it stop but it will numb the pain.”

We started talking and laughing. And that was when it hit me. I was someone who always made friends outside academia, who would rather engage with the spouses or bartenders and servers I encountered than the fancy senior faculty around the table. It was suddenly clear; I would rather be a waitress than an academic.

The one thing I still loved about the job was teaching, but that was changing. The kids I taught now seemed more like clients or customers than students. In 2014 I taught a class on sex and cinema, a course that pretty much broke me. After that, I’d had enough. I went on unemployment and began applying for jobs outside higher ed.

It was a bust. It seemed that without any connections outside the academy, I was screwed. My résumé was too long. People in HR wouldn’t even consider me. They would read “Ph.D.” and think, “overqualified.” I was at home doing nothing, not even writing. I had given up on that passion as well, floundering about in self-pity and confusion and the panic I felt when I realized my unemployment was going to run out before long.

What the fuck was I going to do with my life?

I knew I needed income and structure, that without it I was going to go crazy. As an undergrad in the ’90s I’d worked at a bar in Cambridge and loved it. So much 21-year-old fun. As a 38-year-old, back in the area, I went there once a week. I knew the manager. I loved the staff and the food. It was that bar that I always went to: it wasmy bar. We all have a bar like that. One day I was telling one of the servers about being unemployed. She said, “Why don’t you work here again? You know all of us, and you’ve already done it.” I looked at her, sighed, and said, “Yeah, maybe,” thinking at that moment, I have a Ph.D., I’ve taught at Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins, and now I’m going to waitress? This feeling was only compounded by comments made by folks in academia, some leaving because they couldn’t find a job or wanted to be in corporate America (something that is vehemently not me). . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2015 at 8:10 pm

NY Times Public Editor has raised a brouhaha, or at least a hullaballoo

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A recent comment on her column today, taking to task the editors of the NY Times:

is a trusted commenterSeattle2 hours ago

The article says, “Mr. Baquet rejected the idea that the sources had a political agenda that caused them to plant falsehoods. “There’s no reason to think that’s the case,” he said.” I absolutely disagree. The fear, anger, hate mongers – and their supporters – will do anything to cause more chaos, fear, anger and hate. The reporters cover law enforcement and many in law enforcement are treating muslims like they treated blacks during the civil rights demonstrations and like Hitler’s police treated jewish people in the run-up to nazi power. WE must never forget and must question everything that reeks of fear, hate and anger.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2015 at 11:14 am

Breaking the law is perfectly okay if you are powerful and none of the victims is (are?)

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From MuckReads (via email):

Law ignored, patients at risk, STAT

The Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997 established a federal database for research institutions to report the results of clinical trials. But according to an investigation by STAT, most institutions — including Stanford University and Sloan Kettering Cancer Center — routinely break the law by failing to report.

See also: This post.

And also see also: this news report in the LA Times

And, come to think of it, see also this post, and think about the malicious enchanters who bring to naught all the efforts, even undertaken with absolute purity of heart, of one who truly has given his life, in effect, to the living out of the societal ideals: the way of life everyone admired in the books they read. But, somehow, it doesn’t work out the way it should. So: evil enchanters. But now translate it back into the thing on which the book reflects.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2015 at 10:51 am

Here’s the Article on Saudi Arabia That Al Jazeera Blocked

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The article was published in the US by Al Jazeera but blocked outside the US. Cora Currier introduces the article in The Intercept (where it can be read outside the US):

This article was published by Al Jazeera America on December 3. Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar appear to have blocked the article outside of the United States because it is critical of an ally of Qatar, so we are making it available here to international readers. Read our accompanying piece, Al Jazeera Blocks Anti-Saudi Arabia Article.

Saudi Arabia Uses Terrorism As An Excuse for Human Rights Abuses

By Arjun Sethi

Reports emerged last week that Saudi Arabia intends to imminently execute more than 50 people on a single day for alleged terrorist crimes.

Although the kingdom hasn’t officially confirmed the reports, the evidence is building. Okas, the first outlet to publish the report, has close ties to the Saudi Ministry of Interior and would not have published the story without obtaining government consent. Some of the prisoners slated for execution were likewise recently subject to an unscheduled medical exam, a sign that many believe portends imminent execution. There has already been a spike in capital punishment in Saudi Arabia this year, with at least 151 executions, compared with 90 for all of 2014.

The cases of six Shia activists from Awamiya, a largely Shia town in the oil-rich Eastern province, are particularly disconcerting. The majority of Saudi’s minority Shia population is concentrated in the Eastern province and has long faced government persecution. The six activists were convicted for protesting this mistreatment and other related crimes amid the Arab uprisings in 2011. Three of them were arrested when they were juveniles. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia religious leader who was convicted of similar charges, also faces imminent execution.

All the convictions were obtained through unfair trials marred by human and civil rights violations, including in some cases torture, forced confessions and lack of access to counsel. Each defendant was tried before the Specialized Criminal Court, a counterterrorism tribunal controlled by the Ministry of Interior that has few procedural safeguards and is often used to persecute political dissidents. Lawyers are generally prohibited from counseling their clients during interrogation and have limited participatory rights at trial. Prosecutors aren’t even required to disclose the charges and relevant evidence to defendants.

The problems aren’t just procedural. Saudi law criminalizes dissent and the expression of fundamental civil rights. Under an anti-terrorism law passed in 2014, for example, individuals may be executed for vague acts such as participating in or inciting protests, “contact or correspondence with any groups … or individuals hostile to the kingdom” or “calling for atheist thought.”

One of the defendants, Ali al-Nimr, was convicted of crimes such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “going out to a number of marches, demonstrations and gathering against the state and repeating some chants against the state.” For these offenses, he has been sentenced to beheading and crucifixion, with his beheaded body to be put on public display as a warning to others.

Because of these procedural and legal abominations, the planned executions for these Shia activists must not proceed. They should be retried in public proceedings and afforded due process protections consistent with international law, which includes a ban on the death penalty for anyone under the age of 18.

No other executions should take place in Saudi Arabia. Capital punishment is morally repugnant and rife with error and bias, as we know all too well in the United States. Moreover, any outcome produced by the Saudi criminal justice system is inherently suspect. Inadequate due process, violations of basic human rights and draconian laws that criminalize petty offenses and exercising of civil rights are fixtures of Saudi rule.

Saudi Arabia often escapes moral condemnation in large part because of its close relationship with the US.
They’re also fixtures of authoritarian regimes in general. Those who simply expect Saudi Arabia to reform its criminal justice system ignore the fact that the kingdom is an authoritarian regime that uses the law as a tool to maintain and consolidate power. They also ignore the reality that Saudi Arabia often escapes moral condemnation in large part because of its close relationship with the U.S.

In 2014, for example, President Barack Obama visited the kingdom but made no mention of its ongoing human rights violations. In return, he and the first family received $1.4 million in gifts from the Saudi king. (By law U.S. presidents must either pay for such gifts or turn them over to the National Archives.) The two leaders discussed energy security and military intelligence, shared interests that have connected the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for nearly a century. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2015 at 9:06 am

Hasty, Fearful Passage of Cybersecurity Bill Recalls Patriot Act

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

Congress easily passed a thinly disguised surveillance provision—the final version of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA— on Friday, shoehorned into a must-pass budget bill to prevent a government shutdown before the holidays.

Born of a climate of fear combined with a sense of urgency, the bill claims to do one thing—help companies share information with the government to heed off cyber attacks—and does entirely another—increases the U.S. government’s spying powers while letting companies with poor cyber hygiene off the hook. It’s likely to spawn unintended consequences.

Some critics felt its passage was in some ways eerily similar to when the USA Patriot Act, one of the most expansive surveillance bills in recent U.S. history, was made into law shortly after September 11, 2001.

In both cases, Congress had little time to even read the bills, making it inevitable that many would vote without being fully informed. And the result is the same—increased power and less accountability for the intelligence community.

“CISA is the new PATRIOT Act. It’s a bill that was born out of a climate of fear and passed quickly and quietly using a broken and nontransparent process,” wrote Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight For the Future, a digital rights group, in an email to The Intercept.

“Most members of Congress still don’t understand what it will actually do, which is to dramatically expand the U.S. government’s unpopular and ineffective surveillance programs and make all of us more vulnerable to cyber attacks by letting corporations off the hook instead of holding them accountable when they fail to protect their customer’s sensitive information,” she continued.

“We’re all feeling a collective sense of deja vu because we’ve seen this before,” wrote Nathan White, senior legislative manager at digital rights group Access Now in an email to The Intercept. “This is like a bad sequel where we all know the ending, but shouting at the characters doesn’t change anything.”

“Just like the USA PATRIOT Act, CISA was a collection of old ideas that Congress had repeatedly rejected. And just like the PATRIOT Act, they re-wrote the final bill in secret and snuck it through Congress before most people could even read it,” he continued. “And just like the PATRIOT Act, the bill will be used for far more than what Members of Congress think that they are authorizing.”

When the  Patriot Act was on the table in 2001, just weeks after the September 11 terror attacks, it flew through Congress late at night, with almost no debate or review. Legislators couldn’t even get into their offices at the time because they were quarantined, as letters laced with anthrax had been mailed to congressional offices and citizens’ mailboxes—ultimately killing five.

“A massive security bill (like the Patriot Act) was dropped on the floor in the dead of night before members were to vote on it,” wrote Richard Forno, the director of the Graduate Cyber Security Program at UMBC in Maryland, in an email to The Intercept raising the similarities with this week’s bill.

But as national security writer Marcy Wheeler points out, this time around the intense urgency may have come less from the intelligence community and more from the Chamber of Commerce and some corporations who will benefit from the way CISA lets corporations “that don’t fix their security issues” off the hook. Wheeler wrote that a provision in CISA may essentially prevent the government from suing companies for not living up to their privacy policies, as the FTC has in the past, as long as they share information about cyber threats—and even if their cybersecurity negligence led to the breach.

Other privacy advocates noted that the cybersecurity bill took a stealthier path to passage than the Patriot Act. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2015 at 9:03 am

Midnight Stag, Wolf Whiskers, and the Feather AS-D2

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SOTD 19 Dec 2015

A very smooth and pleasant shave today. Chiseled Face’s Midnight Stag shaving soap made a very fine lather indeed with the Wolf Whiskers brush, with this fragrance:

Scent is made of the following notes: Russian Leather, Motor Oil, Hoppes #9, Birch Tar, Oakmoss, Gasoline, Smoke, Cedar, Cade, Bergamont [sic], Vanilla

I’m not sure I got all of that—in fact, I’m sure I did not. But it was a pleasantly present fragrance and not so in-your-face as the description makes it sound. I don’t know what “Cade” is. Anyone? (Merriam-Webster has it as an adjective, meaning “left by its mother and reared by hand.”) [see comments for definition: it’s oil of cedar juniper.]

As you can see, Chiseled Face soaps, like many artisanal soaps, are sold in containers that are half-empty, which helps novices, who have yet to acquire good brush skills, load the brush.

Australian Eddie requested I try an Astra Superior Platinum blade in the Feather AS-D2, so I’ve done that. I got a fine shave, which of course does not mean that combination will work for him. I generally use Feather blades in the Feather AS-D1/2, for a couple of reasons. First, these two razors are quite expensive and carefully designed and made, so I believe that a fair amount of thought and effort went into the design. Second, Feather is primarily a blade company (unlike, say, Edwin Jagger, which is clearly a razor company: Edwin Jagger makes no blades). As a blade company, I feel certain that Feather would want to tune their razor design to exploit the particular virtues of their own blades.

Certainly Feather blades may not be best in this razor for any given man—I always advise trying several brands of blades in any new razor—but certainly Feather blades are worth trying, on the assumption that care would have been taken to ensure that Feather blades work well in it. Try a range of brands, but include Feathers in that range.

In any event, the Astra blades did quite well and delivered a very fine result. I did not try a side-by-side comparison to see which (Astra or Feather) was better, but even if I had, that result would not necessarily hold for you. Blades seem to be heavily YMMV.

A good splash of Ginger’s Garden Havana Cognac finished the shave, and the weekend (and holiday: The Wife is off until after the first) is formally launched.

Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2015 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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