Self-Promotion and Academics

It’s interesting to me how one of the facets of the weborati’s “follow your passion and the money/people will follow you” is self-promotion. In some sense, other people have to be there to get you. I get that. And some academics are really good at self-promotion. (Most intellectuals I know really aren’t. Where the line is between academics and intellectuals is something I leave for another time.) Anyway, the times being what they are, as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern say, I have been thinking about the role of self-promotion in professional careers that happen to take place within the framework of the academy.

Rating Lawn Mowers

Now that I’ve killed not only both my lawn mowers but also my neighbor’s, it’s time to find a replacement. Late fall, early winter would seem like an odd time to do so, but the leaves are on the ground, along with lots of acorns, and I would like to clean up the yard a bit. I was about to take some time this morning to drive around and do some shopping at the big chains so that I could compare prices with my local folks, but then I realized, *hey, that’s what the web is for*.

The first thing I needed to do was decide what I wanted. Given the size of my yard, a non-self-propelled push mower is just fine. But I do want it to be able to bag: using my lawn mower as a giant outdoor vacuum cleaner is important to suburbanites like myself. (Okay, the Saint streets aren’t really the suburbs, but they once were and the houses and lawns sort of demand you treat them as such.) Why not self-propelled? Well, my current yard is too small to require one and any bigger yard I may one day maintain is likely to be made of Saint Augustine grass and I just haven’t found self-propelled lawn mowers that much better in Saint Augustine grass. I should also note that I am ignoring the various in-store brands: Ariens, etc. I’m sticking with the established name brands, except for Toro. My dad says to skip them, and my own recent experience with a Toro leaf blower was of it dying after a year or two of use. Sorry, Toro, but that’s what lack of quality control gets you.

My first stop was Home Depot’s website. It’s easy enough to get to the “walk behind” lawn mowers, and then you can select *push* or *self-propelled* — it is depressing to note that there are only 12 of the former but 38 of the latter. Of the push variety, the Lawn Boy Push Walk Mower (Model 10640) seems like the best deal at $239.

Following a similar path on the Lowe’s website, the very first page gives me an interesting proposition: a Troy-Bilt push mower with a Honda engine (160cc) for only $249. Or a “Troy-Bilt 6.75 Ft-Lbs Torque 21-inch Cut Gas Push Mower+ for $289. Smaller selection all around, but good brands at better prices, like a “Husqvarna 160cc 21-inch Gas Push Mower” for $320.

Why can’t there be a standard measure here? How does one compare cc’s to foot-pounds?

What about Sears? The choice really comes down to two Craftsman models: the 38906 comes with a Briggs and Stratton engine and high rear wheels and is priced at $260 and the 37683 which comes with a Honda engine, which is supposedly quieter, and is priced at $330. The latter has some complaints about construction, so it looks like the cheaper model might be the winner here.

Also at Sears: Snappers, all of which are powered by a 190cc Briggs and Stratton engine, which is the 675. (So now there’s a point of comparison.) The low-end Snapper still has front-wheel drive and it sells for $320.

What about Amazon.com? I thought about it. I even looked at their offerings. In the end, I want to be able to bring something like a lawn mower back if things don’t work out. I don’t want to have to box it back up and ship it. Sorry, Amazon. It seems like those tasks that require people to be present also require stores to be present.

More News from the Commission

My initial response to this remains: *Wow, didn’t these people get the memo?* Traditional Louisiana politics, at all levels, is to say lots of pleasantries outside of closed doors, close the doors, decide to do whatever you wanted to do all along, and then wait to announce the bad news at the last possible moment and shrug your shoulders for the short duration that the screams occur. (And they don’t last long because the jobless are usually trying to find a way to feed themselves and those who still have jobs are either too afraid to speak or have been conditioned not to speak.)

But this new lot is heralding a whole new era: the agenda is clear. Oh, it’s still cloaked in the dulcet tones of bureaucrats — improve efficiency, eliminate duplication — and they are careful not to reveal long held grudges — Wharton in particular has an axe to grind.

But this thing is called the Tucker Commission, and he’s the real man behind the scenes here. He is, I have been told, the real power behind Jindal and the man with his hands on the controls of the Republican machine in Louisiana. But he’s also one of the good old boys, not an ideologue. And so I have to believe that he doesn’t believe all this stuff. There’s something else going on, but I was gone from Louisiana for long enough that I know longer know the landscape, who stands to gain what. So my question is: *Who stands to gain from this gutting of higher education in Louisiana?*

* State Colleges May Lose Some Degree Programs *

By JORDAN BLUM
Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Published: Nov 18, 2009 – Page: 1A

The state’s public colleges — especially regional universities — may have their academic degree programs scaled back, based on recommendations approved Tuesday by a state higher education review panel.

The Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission also voted to propose equal funding for associate degree programs at community colleges and the two-year degrees at universities. Today, universities receive more money because the faculty members are paid more.

Commission member and former LSU Chancellor James Wharton pushed three other recommendations approved Tuesday.

“There may be graduate programs that don’t have anything to do with that region of the state,” Wharton said. “Should the state support graduate programs that don’t have anything to do with the region?”

Commission member Belle Wheelan, who is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools president, said some of the bachelor’s degree-focused universities “grew too far.”

Commission member Mark Musick, the Southern Regional Education Board president emeritus, said regional universities should focus more on teaching undergraduates, while LSU must do a better job of attracting and educating graduate students.

Wharton has complained, for example, that too many public schools have specialized engineering programs. LSU, Southern University, the University of Louisiana at University [Lafayette?], Louisiana Tech University and the University of New Orleans all have multiple engineering degree programs. McNeese State University has a general engineering technology program.

Wharton on Monday and Tuesday has mentioned the University of Louisiana at Lafayette when discussing the outgrowth of regional universities and degree programs.

The review panel, often dubbed the Tucker Commission after House Speaker Jim Tucker who sponsored the legislation, is tasked with advising ways to streamline higher education. Gov. Bobby Jindal has asked the commission to recommend how to cut $146 million from college budgets during lean financial times.

Wharton’s approved recommendations were to:

  • Require the state’s higher education oversight body – the Board of Regents – to review the role, scope and mission of colleges to eliminate or minimize “mission creep.” That creeping involves colleges going beyond their basic missions, such as offering too many graduate-level degrees.

  • Require the Regents and college management boards to review and eliminate more duplicate academic programs and to reduce “excess hours” required to graduate in academic programs.

  • Require the Regents to consider program quality, state workforce needs, completion rates and other factors in the program reviews. The motion also would make the Regents complete annual update reports for the governor and legislative leaders.

“In some small way it does hold feet to the fire,” Wharton said. “But, more importantly, it informs our government officials.”

Regents Chairman Artis Terrell of Shreveport said, “You give us a job to do, and we’ll get the job done.”

Wharton warned that this process will go well beyond the commission’s agenda.

“Institutions are going to be arguing to keep all their programs in place, and this is going to play out over one, maybe two years,” Wharton said.

For instance, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce may lobby in Baton Rouge to keep programs from being cut at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, he said.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen said about 100 “low-completer” academic programs were axed statewide. Many were at technical college campuses and not universities.

Commission member David Longanecker, who is the president of the Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education, said next month he wants to discuss the state rearranging the structures of the state’s higher education systems.

The review commission next meets on Dec. 14-15 with focuses on funding issues and the makeup of the higher education systems.

Tattoo You

The Text Analysis Developers Alliance has released an embeddable Flash widget which provides embedded [TAPOR analytics](http://taporware.mcmaster.ca/) for the page on which it resides.

Here’s an example of the embedded widget:

Oh, yeah, that *tattoo* is short for Text Analysis TOOls. (Actually, it gets even worse, but I’m too embarrassed to repeat their version.)

I Swore in a Cemetery

Like all tragedies, small and large, it started innocently enough. I traveled down to Saint Mary Parish to work with a group of volunteers with the Techeland Arts Council on how to conduct interviews. I had met with the organizers a month before, and I was fairly comfortable that I knew what to do with the group. I do these kinds of presentations and workshops often enough that I look forward to the hour or so spent talking with people about this strange new form of interaction they are about to learn how to do. (And I never charge for these things, preferring to make my contribution an entirely in-kind expense that they can use to balance their grants.)

So with all that bonhomie with me, I decided to leave a little early for our meeting at the Baldwin Public Library so that I could get to Franklin and put new flowers on my grandparents’ graves. On the way to the cemetery, I stopped off at the Popeye’s on the north side of Franklin to pick up a bit of lunch to enjoy while working at the graves — today was a beautiful, autumn Louisiana day with a cool breeze offset by a warm sun.

I turned into the cemetery and parked in front of the Mason’s section where my grandparents are buried. The crew from Oubre’s were working in the section between the two drives that fronts onto Main Street. A few other folks were in the cemetery and appeared to be doing much the same thing I was. Having been in the cemetery the week before and almost gotten my foot stuck in some very soft earth, I picked my way to my grandparents’ graves, flowers and remains of lunch in hand. I put the flowers for both down on my grandmother’s grave, along with my root beer, and walked to the head of her granite slab. When I had refreshed the flowers in my other Grandmother Drobish’s grave a few days before, I had been greeted by the fetid smell of organic matter too long in water when I had pulled the artificial flowers from the vase. This time I grabbed the flowers quickly and tossed them on the ground nearby to drain a bit before I did anything else with them. I then looked into the vase to see what needed cleaning.

As I did so, out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the bouquet on the ground was, well, moving. I turned my head slightly to get a better look and saw that the whole thing was seething with *hornets*.

A Bunch of Hornets

And that’s when I get in trouble, because as the hornets began to gather up steam and want to discover who had disturbed them, I backed up and said what you should not. I’ll leave the exact word to the reader’s imagination, but nevertheless I said it. I said it in a cemetery. I said it in front of my grandparents’ graves, and, more particularly, I said it in front of my grandmother’s grave.

The minute the word escaped my lips, I knew I was in trouble. I immediately crossed myself, looked heavenward, and asked for forgiveness, worrying all the while that I was going to end up smoking a turd in purgatory for my gaffe.

As I recovered, I crept back to the head of the graves, where the bouquet lay. In something of a dance with the hornets, I sashayed forward, kicked the bouquet further away from the graves, and then sashayed back. Sashay, kick, sashay. When the bouquet finally rested a good six feet away, I moved to pull the old flowers from my grandfather’s grave. As I reached … a hornet. *Yikes* I thought. They flew from the bouquet on the ground and are looking for a new place to take up residence. The hornet flew away. I reached again. Another hornet. It too flew away. Okay, I just needed to resolve to grab the bouquet firmly and toss it.

Which I did.

And, lo, another hornet’s nest.

*Why didn’t anybody tell me to bring a can of wasp spray to the cemetery?!*

(This seems like some pretty fundamental advice that was withheld from me.)

The combined fury of the two nests took some time to calm, but calm they did. When I finally worked up the nerve to look into the granite vase on top my grandfather’s grave, I saw a single, yes, hornet, crawling around in there. *How could I get rid of it?*

With no spray, the only solution I could imagine was to wet the thing down so it couldn’t fly and I could squash it with a stick. Hmmm. My nearest source of moisture was … my root beer. (*Oh, nice,* I thought, *the ice will maybe chill the thing a bit and give me some extra time to make sure it’s dead.*) So, there I was pouring root beer on top of my grandfather’s headstone. To any onlookers it might have looked like some weird libational rite, perhaps made worse by the fact that there is in fact a drain hole in the granite vase and root peer immediately ran out and puddled onto the granite slab. Oh, not so nice.

Still, the hornet was stilled and then, with a little careful effort using the slanted end of an artificial sunflower, I managed to grind it in half.

That hornet will harass graveside visitors no more.

All that remained was to decorate the graves with the new flowers: hydrangea for my grandmother and sunflowers with some greenery for my grandfather. With that, it was time to get on the highway to Baldwin and my meeting.


All Done and a Bit of Root Beer

Burning Cane Fields

After my trip to the cemetery and working with the Techeland Arts Council, I headed back to Lafayette, driving along Highway 182 to enjoy the smell of sugar country during harvest. Having spent my childhood in the fields, all the smells resonate pleasantly. There is the smell of the ripe cane itself, like dry leaves mixed with a hint of sugar and just a little bit of fermentation. There is the smell of the rich black earth, broken loose by the churning of tractor and harvester tires. There is the smell of cane being ground up and boiled down to sugar. There is, too, the odor that gags some: the smell of the bagasse, the leftover fiber of the cane, as it is either burned for fuel or churned out into great heaps to dry.

The smell I like best is the smell that causes so many people to suffer this time of year with allergies and which sometimes leave a light coating of ash throughout the region, the smell of cane fields burning.

Burning Cane Field

The Slow Wheel of Time

Yes, I work at an university, and so you would think that I’m some variety of liberal and that all my colleagues are liberals. At least that’s what some of the commentators on Fox News or on various radio shows would have you believe. The truth is that university faculty and staff come in about as wide a range of political persuasions as everyone else. It’s also the truth that university faculty and staff tend to lean toward what is considered the left in American politics. But that makes sense doesn’t it? Like teachers and nurses and police officers and firefighters they have decided that serving the public good is more important than making a lot of money. They have a different version of *richness* and *rewards*. That should be allowable, no?

At the same time that I don’t see the point in conservatives hectoring liberals, I also don’t see the point in liberals hectoring conservatives needlessly — in fact my chief concern with political discourse in our era is that it seems to be about winning and not governing.

Myself, I am a moderate with liberal leanings on social issues and conservative leanings on fiscal issues. After all, I don’t make that much money; I’d like to keep what little I have. (And, for the record, I think businesses, which are oriented toward a private good, should be regulated in view of the public good. That’s just plain old fashioned common sense.)

I am also more prone to patience and to objectivity than a lot of my friends on either side of contemporary politics, mostly because politics in our time is just that: in our time. What the future holds is sometimes beyond the reach of politics, political discourse, and politicians. This illustration from [Contexts.org](http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/11/05/support-for-same-sex-marriage-by-age-and-state/) makes that case awfully well. What it reveals is that acceptance of gay marriage, even in the very historically conservative south, is inevitable in many ways. As older voters who are more troubled by it decline in terms of voting strength — which is a polite way of saying *die* — the younger voters will increasingly move to the so-called “left” on this particular issue, because, well, because they already are on the left on this issue according to the data on which this illustration is based.

a visual illustrating support for gay marriage by state and age