A couple of the greatest, being clowns. On velvet……….
A couple of the greatest, being clowns. On velvet……….
Great run for the icon of fighting against racism and rebirthing a post-colonial Africa. I was big into the anti-Apartheid movement back in the 1980s, and Mandela was a hero. I can’t believe what he did or how he took his pain and suffering. I can’t believe he lived to be 95. What an amazing person. I’m glad he’s done with his suffering. I was hanging with my buddy Johnny Voss one day last summer and Mandela was very ill, and Johnny had the TV on and the sound off and it was all Mandela and we both thought he was dead. No sorrow though, only celebration. Wow, what a life. He wasn’t dead yet. Now, he is. But what a run that human had.
In the high holy days of Zappadan, it is only right to point out that Zappa’s frequent collaborator George Duke served as the musical director at the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988. Duke was one of the greatest musicians in all of Rock and Roll, and he died earlier this year. Here is George with Dweezil and crew in 2010.
Ah yes, Zappadan returns like the falling leaves and the snow and the shitstorm of fuckheads railing about the war on Jesus. We must remember that the reason for the season is not strictly commercial. Nor is it found in the pit of a funky Sear’s poncho, or in the bathroom of the Mudd Club. Reason don’t need a reason or a season, but Punky is sooooo haaaawt…..
I am so ready for Zappadan…..
Yesterday Jeanne Howard, a colleague at Illinois State University, contacted me about a Michigan court case regarding same sex couples adopting. She had briefly mentioned something about this last year when the Regnerus fiasco was erupting, and frankly I really didn’t think she would need anything from me. Surely nobody would use that shit study in a court of law, eh? But, verily there is Marky Mark Regnerus and his little sissy pal Loren Marks listed on the expert witness list called by the state of Michigan to defend not allowing a lesbian couple to adopt some foster kids whose lives they literally saved in the neonatal intensive care room and who they have been parenting, successfully and against all odds, since they were prematurely born and abandoned by their biological progenitors. A few weeks ago, Marky Mark was in Hawaii! Wow, going all the way to Hawaii to testify about the evils of gay marriage! I’m sure in between he has been lecturing to fellow Christianists about how gays and lesbians molest their children and are bad parents. And, he’s probably flying off to Virginia a lot to see his boyfriend Bradley Wilcox to talk about more “research” that will prevent same sex couples from marrying, adopting kids, getting fertility services, keeping the children they have, or enjoying basic civil rights that other Americans take for granted.
In a perfect world, Mark Regnerus would be fired from his job just for being a total dick. But, in all seriousness, I think that Mark Regnerus is violating his contract with the University of Texas by engaging in extra-university business that amounts to a conflict of interest with his employment as an Associate Professor of Sociology. There are several issues, and I sincerely hope that his department chair will investigate. First is the issue of side-consulting and how much he is being paid for speaking, expert testimony, and private foundation grants, particularly with his faux-research Austin Institute. This is a bald faced attempt to skirt University scrutiny over his finances and his commitments to blatantly political activism. Given that his buddies at Baylor and Notre Dame and Virginia also have these fake research outlets, this gives them all the potential to circle jerk each other with right wing money donated to their bullshit research shops. UT should audit the Austin Institute and demand an accounting of all assets paid to Mark Regnerus in the last three years. If he’s exceeding his allowance under his UT contract (usually this is 2/9ths of your base salary, unless you made a specific deal with upper administration) he should be disciplined, if not fired.
Second, there is the sheer amount of time devoted to political activism. If you want to quit your job and be a political activist, do it. But, you can’t spend all of your time flitting around the world (I know you’ve been to Africa, Marky—have you been to Russia, yet?) trying to prevent LGBT people from gaining civil rights. You can’t count political activism as if it is research. It is one thing to take a few days off and deliver a research paper at another university, it is quite another to give talks to right wing political groups and sponge for more money from those groups to fund your phony research. Most university contracts specify a number of days that one can engage in non-university work—and it is usually something like 30 days. If Mark’s work to deny civil rights has exceeded that total, he should be disciplined, if not fired.
Third, engaging in non-scientific research is not what makes up for his teaching reduction under his contract. It has become abundantly clear that the purpose and motivation for his bullshit studies is to militate against civil rights for women, LGBT persons, and non-Christians. This creepy, purpose-driven “research” is akin to a political scientist whoring himself out to political candidates—that’s not research, that’s another job. Hence, almost everything Mark Regnerus has been doing for the last three years is counter to the expectations stated in his contract with UT. So, even if he didn’t exceed his pay quota or his time allotment, he should be disciplined by having his teaching load raised to what non-research faculty would teach at UT.
In any case, if this really does go to trial I may be seeing little Marky Mark and Loren Marks in Michigan, because I’m gonna be an expert witness for the plaintiffs. See you in Detroit, motherfuckers.
It’s not been a good year for me or my old gang back in Tulsa. Three of my close friends from those days have committed suicide in just over a year. First was Kelly Dancer, then Shawna Stevens, and now Glenn Holtz. I guess I could intellectualize Kelly’s suicide, and somewhat blame him for his substance abuse problems and other issues that lead to his demise. Not so with Shawna, who was the sweetest woman you could possibly want to meet, but suffered from severe health problems from a car accident and the accompanying financial catastrophe that comes with that in the USA. And, similarly, Glenn was lost to mental health problems before high school, and there is no morality tale relevant at all for his demise. It’s something I understand from my own family, though none of mine have taken their own lives to this point. These last three are not the only close friends of mine from the neighborhood who have taken their own lives, there was Lori Ellis, Greg Geiger, and several others (as I recall from a recent network posting for our 30th reunion) from my high school class committed suicide. As a sociologist, I think about how my upper middle class neighborhood was also fraught with contradictions for mobility or status maintenance. Education was downplayed, social visibility and status were linked to success at sports and sex, and alcohol and other drugs were readily available and heavily abused. I may have more to say about suicide in a formal way in the future, it is an area of research I will soon explore.
I probably first met Glenn Holtz when I was in kindergarten, if not before. He lived on the next block, and he had older siblings who were about the same age as my sister Darla. I remember spending tons of time with him as young children combing the fields catching horny toads, toads, frogs, and snakes. We’d ride our bikes around in the fields of the abandoned farms that are now a Sam’s Club, office buildings, and various other businesses near where my Mom still lives. We even found a rattlesnake in that field once (probably the last survivor). We busted into the shed used by teenagers as a party house and drank all of their booze. One of the teenagers busted us one time and chased us around the field in his car but couldn’t catch us. When the teenager got out of the car I busted his head open with a rock, he’s lucky he wasn’t closer to Glenn (Glenn could hurl a rock). Those were good times. Later, Glenn and Dave Bowen and Ned Schupp and I would sneak out and meet up with Owen Lea and Clay Edwards and Randy Raby and Steve Young and Daniel MacDonald at night after our parents were asleep. I had a morning paper route, so I could sometimes use that as an excuse if I got busted. We did all kinds of crazy stuff. As we became adolescents, the inevitable happened and we began to pursue girls. Glenn had great success. I never understood that. I always thought he was ugly, but now that I look at his pictures I realize that I was wrong. Back when we were 13 and 14, we used to sneak out in his dad’s Mercedes a lot. Holy crap. Totally nuts stuff. And, more regularly we’d all sneak out in Owen’s parents’ van. We’d be pushing the cars down the street so their parents wouldn’t hear them start up. We’d stay out all night smoking weed and drinking. It was good practice for not sleeping in college, if you got there. Most of my friends didn’t.
In high school Glenn showed signs of mental illness, first exhibited with a drift to conservative Christianity for a bit (his parents were a non-practicing Jew and a Catholic). He fought that off for a bit, but lost contact with most people. I had not heard from him in almost a decade, but we did correspond about some political issues about ten years ago. He seemed angry and glued to a strange, right-wing ideology, but that’s pretty much par for Oklahoma, and I thought he was otherwise doing well. I was wrong. His dear sister Stephanie told me that they had been estranged from him for sometime, and she didn’t learn of his death for several days. My only one positive from all of this is finding out that Stephanie made it, she got a degree at Cornell and has a nice, stable existence. Too few of my old brothers and sisters have any hope for the future, and one little calamity often leads to despondency and self destruction. I don’t think that Glenn will be the last of my band of brothers and sisters who exits abruptly.
The pseudoacademic press has been all aflutter about a supposed study by a bunch of economists, one of whom happens to be the President of Northwestern University, claiming to show that adjuncts do a better job of teaching, measured by subsequent grades in future courses (I refuse to subscribe to the right wing “foundation” that archives the not published in a peer-reviewed journal paper). Wow, this must mean that professors suck and aren’t doing their job. So, we should eliminate tenure and then have these really awesome adjuncts teach all of the classes for $750 per course—like they do at Northwestern, right? Only, unlike untenured adjuncts at community colleges and minor state universities, the “adjuncts” at Northwestern (and any other top private) earn quite decent wages—comparable to what a tenure tracked person at a more humble PhD granting institution would earn—or even more. And, they often will make these jobs infinitely renewable if you are really awesome in the classroom and get along well with the “real” faculty. Throw in a little advising and departmental promotion, and you’re set for a life at the bottom of the top. What does that mean? Teaching 2-3 or so or even 2-2 for a salary that is comparable to tenure tracked associate professors at most state supported institutions. But, you gotta be good in the classroom to get that gig—REALLY GOOD. Indeed, even top tier state universities have started doing this, and one of my good friends staked his career in that direction. No shame in that. He’s at a top b-school teaching nothing but statistics. I’m sure if any of the tenure tracked b-school faculty tried to teach his courses, they would do worse.
The same is true for the vast majority of top-”adjuncts”—they are awesome teachers and that’s why they landed a lucrative multi-year/permanent teaching gig at a top university. I looked back over my old haunts at Vanderbilt a few times and saw that my former students Rosie Noble and Mary Karpos were both “adjuncts.” I’m sure both of them are awesome. Mary was one of maybe four students who I ever let grade my papers when she was my TA. Rosie was one of my undergrads who finished his BA in three years while playing football. He completed his PHD four or five years later. And, he’s a competitive body builder-male model type! What’s not to love! Who do you want to learn criminology from? A model who got his PhD with Gary Jensen and Walt Gove and played football in the SEC, or some sniveling egomaniac who just got its PhD and is totally freaking about about having to teach the horribly demanding students at Vanderbilt? Increasingly at top universities, that is your choice. Introductory courses are either taught by very experienced non tenure-tracked lecturers or by brand new baby PhD’s who may have never even taught a course in their lives, At top institutions, the top graduate students don’t tend to teach, and at private Universities, they never do. I never taught a course before walking into the classroom at Vanderbilt.
But, it’s the backstory I don’t agree with. The sniveling egomaniac who just got her PhD is not a comfortable top scholar in her field. Top scholars are almost uniformly excellent teachers. But, top scholars tend not to teach intro, but instead teach grad classes or upper division classes. We need people like Rosie and Mary at top universities because we don’t have enough of the more highly paid tenured faculty who can teach those courses—and at top private universities they can’t use grad students, since that would impact empirical rankings. In my experience, most of the best teachers are also top scholars. Peggy Thoits, Jack Gibbs, Larry Griffin, Tom DiPrete, Burke Rochford, Tony Oberschall, Ken Land, Rob Benford….those are just people I know who I’ve worked with as a student or colleague.
The real motivation behind the Northwestern paper is to advocate for a two-tiered system—top scholars who do research and only teach graduate students, and “adjuncts” who teach the children. They are making the argument that this doesn’t harm the children, and they are wrong. They are making a case for not replacing expensive top scholars, and reducing the size of the tenure tracked faculty—while increasing the numbers of “teaching faculty.” But, If I’m a parent sending my kid to Northwestern for $60k a year, I’m wondering if my kid is gonna have a chance to take courses from top scholars. That is, after all, what gets you somewhere and justifies going to Northwestern instead of to Illinois Wesleyan….or SIU. Do you think you might learn something from Aldon Morris that you might not learn from Adjunct X? You think if maybe Morris wrote you a brief letter or rec it might mean something, perhaps something more than the same coming from Pat Doe Adjunct?
Obviously, the President of Northwestern is trying to marshal bullshit evidence in support of his plan to reduce TT faculty sizes so that he can turn Northwestern into something more of a finishing academy than a University. Just hire some people to teach the children. But, for $60k a year, those kids deserve better. They deserve top flight research faculty who are given the freedom and conditions where top scholars will say “hey, I think I’d like to teach intro next year.” Remember, we’re still reading Harrison White’s undergraduate notes…..
I’ve never actually served on a jury until this week. I’ve been selected to pools before, but never even had to go to jury selection. It was an interesting experience, and one that was both heartening, in the end, and depressing. My fellow Americans are hurting. The jury of our peers are, even at best, people living on the edge of bankruptcy and death. In our group, we had five people who had solid jobs with insurance and decent pay. The other nine panelists worked at fast food, retail, or were unemployed. The young people were the worst off. We had four wonderful young people on the jury, and none of them had jobs that paid more than minimum wage. The only African American on the jury was a grandfather (who I knew from kid stuff) who has custody of his three grandkids. He’s the same age as I am, and he works at KFC, and his wife of almost 30 years works at McDonald’s. I gave him a ride back to Carbondale the last couple of days. He’s a good man.
The selection of the jury pools was very interesting. I was sitting about 9th on the first round, and six of the first potential jurors were either convicted felons, mentally ill, or both. As the Judge was doing inquiries, the old white guy two down from me admitted to having been convicted of “burglary, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and attempted murder.” The young woman from a small town sitting next to me–and him—became quite rigid for the remainder of the selection process. She wound up being on the jury, and he did not. Not surprising, since one of his statements was “I hate cops, I don’t trust them.” He would have had his biases confirmed by the evidence in the trial. Given that one of the questions was whether or not you’d been a victim of a crime, I figured I was heading home. After all, I’ve been shot! This was a felon with a gun case! I figured I’d be riding my bike and working on some departmental shit that was due by noon. Nah. By 11am I was sequestered.
The Judge was amping it up to get things done, no complaints there, and we started the trial a bit after 2pm. That’s when things got disturbing. A group of cops and bouncers had an agenda to nail some poor kid on a very serious felony, and they didn’t give a fuck that they were lying–and assumed we would simply take their word—after all, they’re the cops (and rent a cop). The state trooper who beat up the defendant and then railroaded a “confession” out of him without documentation or having Mirandized the kid sat there and lied to our faces about specific details. He could remember the serial number on the gun which was found 50 yards from the “arrest”, but he didn’t remember what the Miranda mantra was. Wow! Nobody ever saw the kid with a gun, except some fat kid who was a bouncer and was 50 yards away (at 1am) and claimed he saw “something shiny” even though the trooper who threw the defendant to the pavement didn’t see shit. I’m fairly certain that if the kid actually had a gun, the skinhead trooper would have shot him. The other cop on the scene also saw no gun, and was 5 feet away. The gun was found in the parking lot of the organized-crime-owned bars on a night when they had a “polar bear” party which started at 10am. Gee, is it a surprise that one might find a cheap-ass gun in the parking lot come closing time? It was kind of funny, a mostly white, mostly racist jury (a fellow juror said to me, “you know, those niggers are always pulling shit like this”) unanimously agreed that the state had no case against this poor kid.
I drove back to Carbondale with my new friend and we talked about how hard young people have it these days. But, also about how young African Americans have it worse. He was much more conservative than I am. He’s never been arrested or convicted of anything, and he doesn’t have much sympathy for felons like the defendant in this case. But, we both could see the weight of racist oppression bearing down on this case. Obviously, the State’s attorney had decided that he was quite comfortable going to a jury trial with no evidence save the flimsy and vague testimony of a bouncer and a forced un-Mirandized “confession” (which was total bullshit from a drunk kid). I almost felt sorry for the young State’s attorney who had to try the case, as she was completely blown out of the water by the defense counsel. Maybe they’d hoped that he’d have less effective defense, and a more racist jury.
I spent 8 years as a joint appointed faculty member in religious studies at one of the top 10 programs (in anyone’s book) in the field. Each year, Vanderbilt churned out about 3 PhD’s a year in each of 6 separate areas: (1) Theology; (2) Church History; (3) New Testament/early Christianity; (4) Old testament (judaism); (5) Christian Ethics; and (6) History and Critical Theories of Religion (whatever that means, that was “my” group). Each year about 15 people completed their PhD’s at Vanderbilt. And, each year almost none of them got jobs. While it is nice to look back and focus on success stories like Anthea Butler, who is now tenured at Penn. My mind tends to drift to those who are working at printing presses or spending their fifth stint as an adjunct or working for religious organizations far beneath the respectability of a PhD graduate. Like all of the humanities, religious studies has overproduced PhD’s, with predictable results. It didn’t have to be like this, yet it is getting worse.
Don’t get me wrong. The study of religion is important and should be supported in any university worth its seal. But, “Religious Studies” has become a euphemism for “religious perspectives on religion” rather than the systematic study of religion. Look at Vanderbilt’s old classifications. What is “Church History” or “Early Christianity” or “Old Testament”? What they are is lowbrow history tainted by religious conviction. Now, I want to quickly add that at a top program like Vanderbilt, they were by no means low brow, and they were rarely tainted by the stench of Abrahamic conviction—but, in general, that was both the expectation and the reality. And, of course, what is theology except for religiously polluted philosophy. And, why should ethics be relegated to Christianity? Are only Christians ethical? Why should ethics even be taught in conjunction with religion? And what does that leave? Some mishmash program searching for methodological and theoretical coherence–History and critical theories of religion. Right. I still don’t know what that means. But, I know what it did—It seduced a bunch of bright and promising young scholars into getting a worthless degree. ANY of our graduates could and should have received degrees in sociology, political science, or history. With the exception of history, they would have had strong job prospects, and they would have benefited from a systematic program in both theory and methodology that would have grounded them in a discipline. Religious studies is not a discipline. And that is why it should die.
And, of course, it gets worse. The rise of conservative Christianity in the United States has dramatically skewed the occupational market for “religious studies” scholars. In conservative Christian colleges, nobody cares if your “early church” scholar can read Aramaic or has fathomed the primary texts and historical literature on the development of the movements that became Christianity. They’d be perfectly happy with someone who did a didactic using the King James Version of the Christian Bible. Things are not much better even at higher ranked religious universities, who do not really want critical scholarship on religion. Worse yet, conservative Christian foundations have pumped money into religious studies to help fuel the careers of people who worship their gods. Nobody gives a shit about studying religion, the point is to amplify religious particularisms in a manner that supports the parochial interests of funders. The few students who do get jobs in religious studies are religious ideologues who are the least deserving of their degrees.
It is unethical to continue to encourage students to pursue PhD’s in religious studies. Students who are interested in studying religion need to be trained in a systematic discipline—anthropology, history, sociology, political science, or communication. Theology is bullshit and has no place in a real university, but ethics does have a place in philosophy (and in applied programs like Business and Medicine) and theology is a part of the history of philosophy. Still, disciplines like anthropology, history, and philosophy have dramatically overproduced PhD’s in the last 40 years, and the grim job market prospects in those disciplines (though they are better than religious studies, unless you are a Christian ideologue) should make us direct our students elsewhere.
Religious studies is ALREADY dead at most universities, and it is barely alive at many where it hangs on. The holdout universities are overwhelmingly religious colleges, and they are increasingly populated by people who have minimal interest in studying religion beyond creating apologetics for their own peculiar faiths. The study of religion cannot be accomplished in religious studies.
For the Christian Right, anything outside of the heterosexual nuclear family, and the patriarchal lineage of that family, is unrecognizeable. People who remarry, are gay, or simply don’t wind up getting married for whatever reason—and especially if they simply don’t want to—are anti-family. Nothing meaningful ever happens for them because all of the meaning and purpose in life is rooted in the patriarchal heteresexual family.
Those people are a bunch of assholes who are clueless to how the real world works. Family is more complicated. One of my old friends just suffered the death of her former mother in law. She’s divorced, of course, and for the Christian right that means her family is no longer. But, nah. She loved this woman to the end. She was family, and continued to be family. I always felt that way about my ex-in laws, and when my ex-father in law died I was truly sad. Conservative religious people think that any deviation from their script means that civil relations are impossible, even for FAMILY. Some family values, eh. For the rest of us, a relationship not working out doesn’t mean that you cast out other people who are important in your life. And, that attitude from conservative Christians, Muslims, Jews, and whatever is leading to their decline. Good riddance.