Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Living End

Really Most Sincerely Dead Edition

Ishmael's, the seedy yet cozy bar around the corner from global headquarters of RW Enterprises, LLC, early afternoon, New Year's Eve, 2009. Mark Twain, director of the Office of Persona Management for Roxie's World, walks in, soaking wet from the freezing rain falling from a bruised-looking sky. He is about to unleash a torrent of curses when he spots Moose, typist for Roxie's World, seated alone at the bar. Instead of her usual lunch of a salad and Evian, she is tucking into a dry martini and a veritable buffet of bad-for-you-food: Buffalo wings, fried mozzarella sticks, and a towering platter of nachos, accompanied by two extra bowls of queso and something that might be gravy. Twain walks up to the bar, quietly signaling to barkeep Peter Coffin for his usual, a whiskey neat. He sits down beside Moose and tenderly places a hand on top of one of hers.

Mark Twain: Moose, I am so, so sorry.

Moose (patting his hand and reaching for another chicken wing): Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your saying that.

Mark Twain: How is Goose doing?

Moose (after a big gulp of martini): Oh, you know. Goose is tough on the outside, tender on the inside. She's hurting. By the way, Peter, I am going to want a double order of fries with gravy to go for Goose. She's craving comfort food.

Mark Twain (as Moose dips a mozzarella stick into the queso): Ah, is she? And how are you doing, Moose?

Moose (chewing, shrugs her shoulders): Meh.

Mark Twain (gesturing to Peter for another round of drinks): I know, I know, Moose. It's awful. Nothing that grieves us can be called little, and Roxie was no little thing, of course. I understand that the dear old girl went fairly quickly in the end. Is that right?

Moose (nods affirmatively while carefully removing the top of the tower of nachos): Yes, we barely made it home from Philadelphia. Our darling Geoffrey, who was taking care of her, called yesterday morning to say she had stopped eating and was having difficulty breathing. We called our good vet, Angel. Geoffey took her to the animal clinic, where she spent the day on oxygen and diuretics. Her lungs were filled with fluid. There was really nothing to be done. We raced down I95 and reached the clinic just minutes before 7, when it closes. We took Roxie out of the oxygen tent and she died in our arms, without drugs, in less than 15 minutes. We felt the last beats of that mighty heart, so fragile yet so strong, in our own hands. People always say, "She waited for us to get there," but it really seemed as if she did.

Mark Twain: Of course she did, Moose. She was one determined little cuss, and she loved the two of you. Fiercely.

Moose: Thanks, Mark. Would you pass me that blue cheese stuff? I seem to have run out of queso.

Mark Twain: Of course. Now, Moose, I realize this is a delicate subject and I don't want to rush you, but we really need to talk about Roxie's World. The transition will be seamless, but we do need to make it, and for that we'll need your help.

Moose: I don't know if I can do it, Mark. I'm not sure I'm up to typing.

Mark Twain: I know it will be difficult, Moose, especially with all that queso on your fingers, but I think we should do it right away. Roxie would want us to, you know. Remember that great line she came up with in May when she was so sick?

Moose (suddenly smiling): Oh, you mean, Old dog bloggers never die -- They just have longer telecommutes?

Mark Twain: Yes, yes! Lord, she was a clever dog, wasn't she? In any case, yes, I think that's exactly the course we should pursue. The embodied Roxie is, alas, no more, but Roxie's World goes on, offering the same eclectic mix of commentary, analysis, and lowbrow humor we've always had. As Roxie said, with a little help from Donna Haraway, we'll just go on "mak[ing] each other up," as we've been doing all along.

Moose (getting up to leave): Sure, I know, Mark. It sounds good, but I'm just not ready yet. My heart is aching too much. Peter, is that take-out order ready? I should get home to Goose.

Mark Twain (standing and reaching into his pocket for a piece of paper): Of course, Moose. Take your time. We'll get back to regular blogalicious programming in the new year. In the meantime, I found this poem for you and Goose. I thought it might give some comfort.

Moose: Thanks, Mark. I'll be in touch. Happy new year.

Moose leaves the bar, with a bag of French fries in one hand and a copy of Robinson Jeffers' "The Housedog's Grave" in the other. She steps out into the cold rain, looks up into the soupy sky, and tries to imagine heaven. With dogs. Later, in front of a fire and with Goose at her side, she pulls out Jeffers' poem, which Twain discovered by way of Mark Doty, and reads the last few lines aloud to Goose:
You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.
And yours, too, my sad, sweet lovelies. I am still yours, and I always will be. Peace out.

(Image Credits: Picked up here, here, and here.)

* * *

With love and gratitude to all the friends, all the fans, and all but one of the docs, but especially to Geoffrey, the sweetest boy in Roxie's World.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Last Time in December Edition

That's right, kids. The moms are on the road, and Roxie's World is in the house for the annual gathering of English profs, the convention of the Modern Language Association. We are pleased to report that Goose is showing no signs of ill health so far, so we are hoping there won't be a repeat of last year's awkward barfing-while-schmoozing incident. Moose has some actual business to transact at the convention. She's having lunch today with the World's Most Patient Editor in reference to the Most Overdue Project in American Publishing. (No, not the Book on Blogging That Is Going to Transform the Humanities and Save the World. That project isn't even ready for a Casual Chat Over Drinks With an Editor. Next year, perhaps.)

Aside from schmoozing, boozing, and catching up with old friends, the moms will be on the lookout for answers to the questions that are on the minds of English profs and aspiring English profs throughout the troubled land of American higher ed:

1. What will English profs bitch about when the MLA convention is moved to the first week of January next year and they can no longer complain about having to schlep off to some fabulous city for four days of hobnobbing right after Christmas? (Hint: Early evidence, picked up via Facebook, suggests there is a preemptive backlash already well underway. Apparently, English profs will seamlessly shift to bitching about how much they miss having to schlep off to some fabulous city for four days of hobnobbing right after Christmas.)

2. Will Barack Obama save the discipline of literary study? Don't laugh! This year's convention program indicates that the Man Who Barely Passed Health Insurance Reform is still making hearts go pitty-pat among the lit critters. The program lists no fewer than five (out of 767) sessions that invoke the president of the United States in some way, shape, or form (as in "Poetry and Hip-Hop in the Age of Obama" [session 636] and "Reading Race in the Obama Era" [session 650]). Fear not, kids. Roxie's World plans to have reporters at each of these sessions, and we promise to let you know what we learn about the Age/Era that is upon us. (Note to self: Ask history geek pals to look into whether the Age had been declared "Elizabethan" less than a year after Good Queen Bess took over Britannia in 1558. Just curious.)

More soon, kids, but Moose has to get gussied up for that lunch meeting. She's hoping that the World's Most Patient Editor won't withhold food until she commits to a firm date for delivering a manuscript for the Most Overdue Project in American Publishing. Wish her luck!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

O Holy Night?

What is special about this night?

On this night, we permit the display of animals dressed up in silly costumes that have nothing to do with their animalness.

And why is that? We love animals precisely for their animalness, not for their pretending-to-be-humanness.

Because, on this night, humans throughout the world give themselves over to a dream of unconditional love, infinite generosity, and magical possibility. We are down with that idea, irrespective of all the religious and ideological baggage that goes along with it. The Pope wears a snazzy costume to celebrate this occasion, so why shouldn't the dogs?

Oh, all rightie then. Let's party!

Happy Holidays from All Your Friends in Roxie's World!

(Reindeer Roxie, photographed by Moose, quite some time ago.)

(Master Dudley, photographed by Code Purple Photography, Alexandria, VA, passed along by Dudley's Human.)

(Riley, photographed by Code Purple Photography, Alexandria, VA, passed along by Dudley's Human.)

And because the season also requires music, we offer you this vid of the greatest holiday song ever written, Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family," which we have long admired because it manages to express the fundamental truths of every holiday gathering while turning a grocery list into a brilliant rhyme:
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of tampons, Marlboro Lights . . . .
Sing it, Robert, and a joyous, if stunningly dysfunctional, season to each and all. Peace out, darlings, peace out.

(H/T Tyler Curtain for the vid.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowpocalypse Takoma

You might have heard that we had ourselves a bit of a winter weather event here in the national capital area this weekend. My typist is too tired from her epic bout of shoveling this afternoon to do much typing, so we thought we'd just put up a little photo essay on the storm. Snow is so pretty to look at that we figured you wouldn't mind. (Want more wintry eye candy? Wa Po storm photo gallery is here. Blog pal and neighbor Clio Bluestocking has photos from her neck of the woods here.)

Photo 1: Dog Tired. Here's what America's favorite dog blogger looked like early Saturday morning, after the moms drove me home through the leading edge of the storm. We had gone to Baltimore for a sybaritic early solstice feast with our beloved Candy Man and his crew. The return trip took two hours, as heavy snow quickly overwhelmed the efforts of plows on I95. Goose drove heroically, while Moose worried and offered helpful commentary (e.g., "Don't you think you should turn the defrost on, dear?") from the passenger seat.

Photo 2: Rear Window I.
This was the view out into our ridiculously large backyard shortly before 1 PM on Saturday, at the height of the storm.

Photo 3: Rear Window II. Same view at 10:30 AM Sunday.

Photo 4: Sligo Reflections. After the shoveling, Moose insisted on a walk in the park. The creek is gorgeous, but the trail is treacherous. Tomorrow, she may lobby to do the trip on skis.

Photo 5: The Fire Is So Delightful. Goose is the family fire maker. And the chicken and dumplings maker. And the cocktail maker. And the one who doesn't panic on an icy highway in the dead of night when Moose can hardly breathe or see. We all have our roles to play.

Wherever you are, my lovelies, Roxie's World hopes that you are safe and warm, sheltered from every storm. Peace out.

(Photo Credits: Moose, 12/19 and 12/20/09)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hum PhDs Drink FREE!

But the glass is half empty.

And there might be a couple of holes in the bottom.

Oh, and possibly some chips on the rim that will cut your lip as you take that first highly anticipated sip.

Plus, the beverage may be just a little bit, um, toxic.

But, still, you know, it's free, and if you're one of the beloved humanities grad students who hangs out here, you will probably appreciate that today, what with all the papers you still have to grade, and the truly terrible, awful, horrible report just out from the Modern Language Association on the utterly sucktastic job picture for PhDs in English language and literature.

Go on -- Take a sip. Even if it's toxic, if you keep reading this, you won't care. (Sorry, Julie. I know you hate it when we go gloomy, but Eeyore is in the house today.)

Here is the opening to Inside Higher Ed's report on the MLA's job forecast, which we might shorten to, "Cloudy with a chance of mass suicide":

The job picture in the humanities is going from bad to worse.

The Modern Language Association's annual forecast on job listings, being released today, predicts that positions in English language and literature will drop 35 percent from last year, while positions in languages other than English are expected to fall 39 percent this year. Given that both categories saw decreases last year, the two-year decline in available positions is 51 percent in English and 55 percent in foreign languages.

The declines in each of the last two years are the largest ever recorded by the MLA, since it started tracking the trends in the association's Job Information List 35 years ago. The list has also never had fewer notices of openings. The MLA's job list does not include all jobs in English and the humanities, but over time, the ups and downs in openings on the MLA list have been an excellent proxy for judging the overall state of the job market.

"This is a historic low," said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA. "We've never seen a recession like this." (Emphasis added, because Eeyore is a sadist and doesn't want you to miss a single depressing detail.)

Oh, boy, Julie is going to be mad at us.

Feal comments later in the story that the decreasing share of jobs that are on the tenure track now threatens the integrity of programs. "We've passed that tipping point where you cannot sustain a high quality overall educational experience when you've got 70 percent or more of the teaching done off the tenure track." Feal argues against the downsizing of graduate programs as a response to what she sees as "short-term fluctuations." The solution, she says, is "to increase the number of viable academic positions."

Which for some reason made my typist think, yet again, of the wisdom of Mr. Bruce Springsteen, who crooned, apropos of job losses a few years ago in the manufacturing sector of the economy:
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown
Oh, and if you lit critters were thinking of changing fields to improve your chances of finding gainful employment, think again. Inside Higher Ed reports that the situation seems similarly grim in other humanities fields, including history and philosophy.

Go read the whole story. Then go to bed. Dream pretty dreams about your fellow citizens coming to their senses one day and realizing that high-quality, affordable higher education is in everybody's interest. Imagine that we will have leaders, both on campus and off, who will have the courage and will to raise the kind of revenue it will take to fund such a system, in which the humanities would be valued, neither as the grammar police nor the entertainment wing of the campus, but as the bastion of critical analysis, creativity, reflection, and historicization it has always been. Then get up tomorrow, caffeinate yourself, and sit your a$$ down at the desk and finish that dissertation that you think is going to save the world, because the world sure as hell needs saving, so why shouldn't you be the one to do it?

Pretty to think so, isn't it, darling? Go to bed. You've got work to do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The United States of Lieberman

(Photo Credit: Luke Sharrett, New York Times)

How do you like living in it, the nation being built to satisfy the insatiable, self-righteous shill for the insurance industry who is holding health-care reform hostage to his shifting demands? (Public option? Joe says no, and it's gone! Medicare buy-ins? Joe flashes "a broad grin," says no, and it's gone!)

Yeah, we don't like it either. Neither does Shakesville's Melissa McEwan. And neither does our blog pal Historiann, who asks the question of the day, as we wait for the Guy Who Was Going to Transform Our Politics, Save the World, and Make Sure Everybody Had a Prom Date to figure out how to do something that a clear majority of citizens supports:
Dear Santa,

Please deliver one truckload of WWLBJD bracelets to the White House for Christmakwanzakah. Give one to the president and one to chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, along with a polite note suggesting it's high time he started using the allegedly sharp elbows he supposedly brought with him from Chicago. Hell, Santa, give one to First Dog Bo and a couple to First Kids Malia and Sasha. This White House has a LOT to learn about the exercise of political muscle!

Yours sincerely,

P.S. I know it's not polite to brag, Santa, but we said all along these guys didn't have a clue about how to manage the legislative process. Please deliver us from the United States of Lieberman. It's not pretty, and it's neither Democratic nor democratic. We don't like it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On the Road Again

(Photo Credit: Moose, on her iPhone [using Toy Camera app.], Austin, TX, 12/11/09)

The moms are off to the Lone Star State this weekend to celebrate the 90th Birthday of the Mother of the Goosians, a fine Christian woman who is blind yet sees all and is cool enough to use the expression "suck up" in casual conversation with her daughters and daughter-out-law, Moose. PAWS UP and a thorough face-licking to one of the sweetest, feistiest old ladies on dog's earth. We love you, Mo, and are so happy to be able to rock you into your tenth decade!

Moose brought her iPhone along to document the festivities and snapped the photo above in the parking lot of a favorite Austin eatery. She is thinking about quitting her day job to see if she can achieve fame and fortune by photographing old cars and trucks using amusing iPhone apps. We think she's off to a good start, though we are slightly concerned about her long-term financial security. Those of you with similar aspirations and obsessions should check out this NYT story on iPhone camera apps (which, strangely, does not mention Toy Camera).

A happy weekend to each and all. May you grow old and feisty surrounded by friends and family and filled up with all the cake you could possibly want. Or maybe drinking salty margaritas with Fernando. Wevs, kids. Age has its privileges, so you do whatever the heck it is you want to do. Peace out.

(Photo Credit: Moose on her iPhone [using Camera Bag app.], Austin, TX, 12/11/09)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bruce = Gaywad!

And in Roxie's World, of course, gaywad = good.

(Photo Credit: Michael Williamson, Washington Post)

Coinkydink -- or proof that not all of Roxie's World's Garden State fans are English profs? You decide:

Just days after this humble dog blog wrote eloquently of "the proud, passionate dyke you always knew was at the heart of Springsteen's music," the cool rockin' daddy of the boardwalk announced his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage, which is being debated in the New Jersey legislature in the twilight of the administration of defeated Democrat Jon Corzine. The Boss put the following statement up on his Web site this morning:
Like many of you who live in New Jersey, I've been following the progress of the marriage-equality legislation currently being considered in Trenton. I've long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that, "The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is -- a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law." I couldn't agree more with that statement and urge those who support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard now.
Oh, Bruce, how we heart you, you old fighter for justice, you beefy butch boy with adorable homoerotic tendencies (see photo above and this) and a deep archive of music largely dedicated to exploring the queer (= troubled, troubling, uncertain, unhinging, unsettling, eccentric) nature of desire and intimacy. We dig that you are using your considerable influence in your home state as a force for good and not for evil. We are pleased that you are coming out in support of same-sex marriage -- and refusing to play at the inauguration of the state's Republican governor-to-be (and die-hard Bruce fan), Christopher Christie.

No, darlings, marriage isn't the only thing, and, yes, we're as tired as the next homo of the issue sucking up every precious ounce of queer political energy in the universe. Hell, who knows? If we had the right to marry, we might endeavor to auction it off to help pay the bills during furlough season. Nonetheless, the battle is here, we have to win it, and we need all the friends and allies we can get to help advance the cause.

You are a most excellent gaywad, Bruce, by which we mean, of course, a genuinely fierce advocate for LGBT equality, as opposed to, you know, a weasel. Paws up to you, sir, and we will look for you, as always, out on the backstreets. No retreat, no surrender. Amen!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Honoring Mr. Springsteen

(Bruce Springsteen with President Barack Obama at a White House reception for Kennedy Center honorees Sunday evening, 12/6/09. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images, via)

One of the major deities of Roxie's World, Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen, was in town this weekend to receive, um, rock-star treatment as one of the Kennedy Center honorees for 2009. The festivities included a dinner Saturday evening hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (where, according to Wa Po, the SOS wore blue while her husband "wore a hiply straight tie and the biggest grin imaginable as he held up the receiving line"), a reception at the White House, and, of course, the big show at the Ken Cen, where a host of luminaries paid tribute to Springsteen and the other four honorees (Robert De Niro, comedian Mel Brooks, jazz legend Dave Brubeck, and opera singer Grace Bumbry). (Two hours of highlights from the show will be broadcast on CBS, December 29, at 9 PM.)

Spoiler Alert: Skip this paragraph if you plan to watch that highlight show and will hate knowing in advance who sang what Bruce song. You have been warned, you rockin' nerd. According to AP,
John Mellencamp sang "Born in the U.S.A.," Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland did "Glory Days" with a country twist, Melissa Etheridge rocked the house with "Born To Run" to a standing ovation, and Sting ended the musical tribute with "The Rising" with help from a choir.
Hm-m-m. Melissa Etheridge doing "Born to Run." That sounds like a strong argument for tuning into a highlight show, don't you think? One of the finest Bruce covers we have ever seen is Melissa's 1995 performance (actually a duet with the Boss himself) of "Thunder Road" from an episode of MTV Unplugged. It is a glorious blending of voices and a rare meeting of minds from different but deeply connected musical generations. When Bruce steps back from the mic and lets Melissa take the sexy line, "So Mary climb in," that sets up the song's youthfully audacious conclusion ("It's a town full of a losers / And I'm pullin' out of here to win!"), you catch a glimpse of the proud, passionate dyke you always knew was at the heart of Springsteen's music.

Well, or at least that's what Moose says. Go watch the vid for yourself and see what you think.

The best news coming out of the weekend from a Bruce-centric perspective is that Mrs. Boss, E Street vocalist Patti Scialfa, was prominently on her husband's arm throughout the proceedings, thus quashing for the moment the latest rumors of marital discord. Since Bruce was named as the "other man" in a New Jersey divorce case last spring, fans have lived in fear that Patti might go chasing after Bruce with a Fender guitar in the middle of the night, possibly causing him to smash his car into a fire hydrant and a tree. We're pleased to report that Bruce and Patti looked not the least bit Tiger-ish but seemed, rather, to be as cozy as a couple of kittens, so ordinary and comfortably middle-aged looking that Moose pronounced them "Ma and Pa New Jersey":

(Photo Credit: Richard A. Lipski, Washington Post)

In the competition to get off the funniest Bruce-related joke of the weekend, the leader of the free world performed well ("I'm the president, but he's the Boss," quipped Obama) but was bested by the most trusted newscaster in America, Jon Stewart, who offered up a brilliant theory of how Bruce came to be. Again, according to the AP report,
"I'm not a music critic, nor historian, nor archivist," Stewart said. "But I am from New Jersey. And so I can tell you what I believe . . . . I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby."

As the story goes, Stewart said, Dylan and Brown abandoned the child on the New Jersey Turnpike, and the child was raised by "a pack of feral vaudevillians. That child is Bruce Springsteen."

First Lady Michelle Obama was reportedly so tickled by this origin story that she "doubled over laughing."

One of the dumber lines to emerge from the festivities was offered up by the Boss himself and served as the headline on an otherwise smart, insightful profile of Springsteen by Joe Heim that ran in the Sunday Wa Po. Are you ready? Here's the big, deep thought the 60-year-old musician has about his extraordinary career and oeuvre:
My music is a music of identity.
Of course it is, Bruce baby, but pardon us while we try to clear the burning sensation from the back of our throats, will you? Springsteen elaborates on the point by enumerating some of the "identity questions" that have fueled his musical explorations of the American soul:
Who am I? Where did I come from? How did I end up here? Who are my parents? Where did they come from? What were the forces that affected their lives? What are the forces affecting the lives of my friends right now? Where is the country headed? What does that have to do with me? What is my responsibility?
All true, of course, but not especially illuminating because of the simplistic, Oprah-fied model of identity that seems to be invoked. In our judgment Springsteen's music is most powerful and interesting when it ventures out into the darkness on the edge of every psyche, that place where identity collapses beneath the weight of doubt or temptation ("God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of," concludes the tortured, weary speaker of "Brilliant Disguise") or gets smashed to smithereens by socioeconomic pressures ("My sweet Jenny, I'm sinkin' down / Here darlin' in Youngstown," says another speaker of his struggle to survive in a postindustrial Midwest). Springsteen is equally adept at exploring identities shattered and transformed through the ecstasies of touch, travel, and music, moments of heightened consciousness and connection that blur the boundaries between self and other, individual and collective. "Born To Run" is the greatest rock song ever written because in four stanzas and four and a half minutes it careens through all of these extremes and intensities -- the terrors of a town that is "a death trap, . . . a suicide rap," the delights of a desire so powerful it would lead one to imagine dying with one's beloved "on the streets tonight / in an everlasting kiss," the promise of eventually finding the realization of all one's dreams out on a highway "jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive."

Elsewhere in the Wa Po profile, Springsteen and Heim have more interesting things to say on the essential subject of the Boss's relationship with his audience, of his viewing the whole trajectory of his career as an "ongoing conversation" with his fans. His palpable desire to make contact with his audience has always been part of what made Springsteen such a thrilling performer. His shows are habitually compared to evangelical church services, with Bruce taking on the role of a fiery minister who whips his audiences into frenzies of faith in the gospel of rock and roll. For Heim, the passionate and in some ways mystical bond between performer and audience is concretized in the image of Springsteen crowdsurfing, an old habit he has picked up again in recent shows that shows his faith that his fans will catch him (a 60-year-old guy, falling backward off a 4-foot riser) and return him safely to the stage:

(Photo Credit: Mike Williamson, Washington Post)

For us, the source of that bond is in the question the minister of rock has been asking audiences for years (and which finally found its way into a song, "Radio Nowhere," on 2007's Magic):
Is there anybody alive out there?
In the song, the question emerges out of the speaker's desperate hope for connection, his search for evidence of "a world with some soul." In his stage shows, the question is a taunt, a tease, a challenge. Prove to me that you're alive, he seems to say as he prowls the edge of the stage. Show me you've got the faith you'll need to stay alive in this hard, magnificent world. Prove it to me, he says, and "I'll prove it all night for you."

That's the bargain Springsteen struck with his fans some thirty seven years ago, and through the classics and the clunkers, he has held up his end of it. Go right ahead and fall, Bruce. You know our loving, capable hands will be here to catch you. All night long.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Signs of the Times

1. Got Blood? Apparently somebody was disappointed with the Great Speechifier's announcement of a major troop escalation in Afghanistan on Tuesday evening. Moose ran across this image on Facebook Wednesday morning:

Its provenance is unknown, but don't blame us, kids. The moms watched a basketball game Tuesday night. Oh, and supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary battle, but you knew that already. (PS: No need to jump in here to claim that if Hillary were president she, too, would probably be escalating troops in Afghanistan. A) We'll never know. B) Her supporters never claimed she was Gandhi in a pantsuit. Obama's did.) (PPS: For more on scales falling from the eyes of disappointed Obamaniacs, see Historiann's latest.)

2. Need Lunch? Well, you won't get it at this former bastion of groovy good eats in the People's Republic of Takoma Park:

Another local business has bitten the dust, the latest victim of Great Depression 2.0. Walking by the suddenly empty building yesterday (on her way to lunch at this new kid on the block), Moose couldn't help but tumble into her fantasy of an alternative career as owner of a neighborhood bar called the Takoma Tavern (TM RW Enterprises, LLC). It'd be a friendly, literate joint with a menu full of comfort food, the best martinis on the East Coast, poetry slams on Thursday nights, and acoustic music on Fridays and Saturdays. Oh, and a large screen TV that would only be turned on for QTU sporting events and Glee. And Big Love when it comes back from hiatus. Oh, and of course Damages. And Ellen. And Brothers and Sisters if Moose is working the bar on a slow Sunday night. Interested investors should contact me at Srsly, kids, the way this whole academic thing is going, I'm thinking the moms should get serious about exploring their options, just in case a big-time Hollywood writer/director never stumbles into Roxie's World and recognizes its potential as a blockbuster feature film starring Meryl Streep as the hormonally unbalanced amanuensis for the funniest darn dog blog in America.

3. Walk much? If you do and you're of the female persuasion, then you'd better take Wanda's advice and leave your vagina at home:

This crime occurred on the hiker-biker trail right here in Roxie's World. Takoma Park Police have released a sketch of a suspect in the assault, which occurred in a wooded area along the trail near sunset.

Is it just us, kids, or does the glass feel half empty today? Does it seem that there is a meanness at large in the world, some ill wind blowing across the land? Be careful out there, will you, darlings? You know how we worry about you, especially those of you who recklessly insist on taking your vaginas with you everywhere! Be vigilant, be fierce, and beware vagina-haters, who are also, alas, everywhere. Peace out.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Big Wigs, Hard Times

Another Item in the Roxie's World series, Excellence Without Money: Hard Times in Higher Ed

Notes on Administrative Communication During the Budget Crisis

Kathryn Masterson has an interesting new article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed on how university presidents have been handling the challenge of communicating to their campuses during Great Depression 2.0. Masterson examines presidential rhetoric and talks to several presidents, including Penn State’s Graham Spanier, Emory’s James W. Wagner, and Arizona State’s Michael M. Crow. She culls from her study a list of 12 tips or strategies for communication aimed at preserving administrative credibility, sustaining morale, and avoiding the spread of misinformation in a period of anxiety and uncertainty. Some of the tips seem contradictory – “Avoid doom and gloom” in your communication is followed closely by “Don’t soft-pedal the circumstances” – but different situations and institutions call for different strategies, of course.

Unfortunately, Masterson’s article is only available to subscribers of the Chronicle, so for the benefit of the many starving grad students and furloughed faculty who can no longer afford such luxuries, Roxie’s World has generated its own list of communications tips for the top dogs on campus – and it’s totally free! Print out a few copies. Laminate ‘em and give one to your favorite beleaguered big wig as a holiday gift, even if all the holiday parties have been canceled this year to prove how serious we are about cutting costs on campus. (What? Moose shrieked. No holiday party! That means no crab dip, dammit! I don’t want to live in a world without crab dip!)

Most importantly, add to the list in comments, kids. We are counting on your snarky wisdom, good sense, and free labor to help get us up to a full dozen – or more! What’s your advice? What should administrators say and how should they say it as they endeavor to guide their campuses through the budget calamities of fiscal 2010 and toward the predicted apocalypses of fiscal 2011?

Here’s what we came up with:

1. Don’t get caught in a big fat whopper of a public lie. Don’t say, “The budget made me do this,” when it’s clear you are making personnel and administrative changes that are largely unrelated to money. You’re in charge. You are paid to make tough decisions. Lying about why you are making them will cost you credibility and poison the air of your institution.

2. If you are going to “lean on” your institution’s strategic plan, as Masterson suggests many presidents are in their public statements, make sure you are not eviscerating key parts of it in your actions or proposals. If, for example, your strategic plan declares that your university’s rise to greatness has gone hand-in-hand with and been accelerated by the increasing diversity of its community and its intellectual work, then it’s probably not a good idea to start chopping away at offices and programs most visibly associated with promoting diversity. Just sayin’. Some people actually read those plans, you know. (NB: This example is absolutely, 100% hypothetical. My typist made it up out of her extremely limited imagination. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to any real situation in any actual university anywhere near Roxie's World. Swear to dog, peeps. Srsly.)

3. Try not to sound just flat-out delusional. Faculty and students have had it with the happy talk they incessantly hear from high-level administrators. Excellence without money is a joke, people, not a vision statement!

4. Don’t tell heartwarming stories about your housekeeper’s daughter struggling to become the first member of her family to graduate from college as a way to demonstrate your profound sensitivity to the economic struggles of the humbler members of the university community. Such gestures only underscore your class privilege and remind people that you probably make more than anyone on campus who isn’t coaching a sports team.

5. Do not, under any circumstances, get all misty-eyed talking about how the university is a “family” and we all have to stick together and take care of each other in order to get through the crisis. Sure, we’d like to encourage compassion and a sense of shared suffering and common purpose, but bear in mind that families, unlike universities, don’t charge tuition, pay salaries, or, you know, furlough people when times are tough. It’s a flawed, even specious, analogy, and you should avoid it at all costs, especially if you are white, male, heterosexual, and over the age of 50. You are not the pater universitatis, and we are not your docile, dependent children. Deal with it.

6. Same goes for the hackneyed metaphor of “storms,” perfect or otherwise. The crisis in public higher education is not an act of god or nature. It is the result of decades of underfunding connected to the neoliberal shrinking of the state and the disappearance of a rhetoric and a politics based on the notion of public goods and values in the United States. To call it a storm is to deflect attention from the actors and the actions, individual and collective, that have brought us to this place. You are, or ought to be, an educator first and foremost. If every crisis is a teachable moment, you should seize upon this one to do some teaching on the history and origins of the funding crisis rather than mouthing mindless clichés that only obscure what is really going on.

7. When you get challenged – and you will, because times have changed, people are scared, and a lot of folks on campus see administrators as the enemy these days – don’t go all hard-a$$ on everybody or box yourself into a position you can’t easily adjust when circumstances require it. It appears, for example, that the strike by graduate employees at the University of Illinois a couple of weeks ago occurred because administrators foolishly dug in their heels and refused to put assurances that there would be no change in the policy on tuition waivers into writing. The graduate assistants rightly insisted that the guarantee be put on paper and won after a well-organized one-day strike that a more flexible administration would have sensibly and easily avoided.

8. Before you open your mouth, try to imagine what UC system president Mark Yudof would say – and then say exactly the opposite. No, really. Especially if you are the president of a Carnegie I institution, it’s probably good to try to avoid sounding aggressively anti-intellectual, brutally insensitive, and brazenly cynical all at the same time. Unless you happen to like the idea of buildings throughout your university system being occupied by angry students calling for your head. In which case, here are some fine examples (via) of Leadership à la Yudof. Good luck to you, dude -- and to those whom you, um, lead.

(Photo Credit: Jason Madara, New York Times)

(Excellence Without Money: One, two, three, four, five, six.)