Thursday, September 28, 2006

Suffice to say . . .

I have been too consumed with my new responsibilities to post (or think), and am grateful to those who have kept checking in.

On the personal front, I have been dealing with ongoing habitational matters. When I first arrived here with the children, the new (dream) house was not habitable, as the folks we had contracted to complete necessary work on the place had not only not completed their work, but also caused significant damage in the process (hello, upstairs toilet leaking in the kitchen. . . . ?! lovely). That was the first week or so -- and then, as you know, our moving truck was, well, in Illinois. . . in Illinois . . . in Illinois . . . and then managed to arrive three weeks later. At this point, we've got all our stuff -- but the folks who did complete work want to get paid (er, have I mentioned we *still haven't sold the house in Chicago? it's pretty thrilling to have mountains of debt in two countries. . .).

Just as stressful, if not more, I have been trying to settle our children in the best possible school situations. My readers in the US might not know that four-year-old children in Ontario (though not all Canadian provinces) attend Junior Kindergarten, aka JK. Despite my best efforts, it did not appear that JK in the public school system here would be best for our Ollie, and we have identified another private school more ideal for him, and have been trying to transfer and situate him most peacefully there (all while weighing whether and when his sister should join him, having endured, now *successfully, what was initially a tough transition for her to Grade One in her local public school).

Suffice to say. . . my head feels as though it might explode at any minute from the rigor of deciding what is best for my children.

We can thank the New York Times, however, for some material to allow me briefly to return to old form. There is an article today about the nation of Kazakhstan's ongoing indig•nation at the comedic turns of one Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian whose character Borat "visits" America on its "behalf." As the Times reports:

Now Mr. Cohen has a feature-length film, opening Nov. 3 in the United States, called “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” with a title as malapropos as Borat’s sendup of Kazakhstan as a backward land of poverty, prostitution and bigotry.

I know I will sound like Borat when I say this (and I hope to, somewhat), but: tell me, what is this word, "malapropos," I do not understand, eh?

Is it intended, as spelled (from the French), as mal-à-propos, or "inappropriate"? Or is it related to the dear Mrs. Malaprop, of the Sheridan play, The Rivals, whose droll mal-locutions in English led to her namely addition to our language (via the French etymon)? After all, the "title" of the film conveys Borat's own wayward way with our words. Might the Old Grey Lady indulge in some jouissance -- which sounds more like something Ali G might fancy -- in conjuring several such meanings and associations at once?

Ah, yes, the pleasure of the text. . .

(Can you tell I'm an English professor now?)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Some thoughts on my purpose here (Vol II)

Okay, so I know the crickets have been chirping here again (thanks, Jim). The chief reason for the inactivity here continues to be the rigorous ongoing adjustment to our new lives here in Ontario; but I also started teaching this week. I am delighted to share that I have *thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to a terrific year, if not career, teaching the bright students here at Queen's University.

Indeed I've been bursting to write about my experiences in the classroom, but have serious reservations about doing so, wanting not only to protect my students' privacy, but also to preserve their sense, to which they are entitled, that they have their own unique forum in our classroom (without their prof going off and blabbing about it to the ether . . . ). Also, even prior to this week, I had been mulling over how my blog forms part of my "brand," and how being on faculty now -- i.e., assuming another, quite distinct, public persona -- might be complicated or affected by my posts here. Again, I am thinking of the best interests of my students, and, as all professors do, about how I conceive myself as a representative of my discipline (others might call it how I "conceive my authority").

I have no answers on these topics yet, but that's what's been on my mind here. In truth, I have been considering launching a group blog for some time (i.e., long before The New Republic claimed to have invented it), in the interests of dialogue as well as to keep myself out there, but less frequently (i.e., less onerously), and so as not to lose my valued readers (and perhaps to gain some). As David Greenberg was informed, to his chagrin, there are several vital and valuable academic blogs online (as you know, I chiefly subscribe to Language Log). And I know there are teaching blogs, but (in my cursory search, I could be wrong) they appear mostly to concern primary and secondary school teaching. I am curious whether an academic blog on college and university teaching might prove a valuable resource -- if not recourse -- for interested writers and readers.

Academia has been in want of new models and protocols for some time: might this vehicle offer new, and fruitful, avenues for exchange, in a way that might also benefit our students? Is there a way in which the essentially provisional quality of an online post -- its status as a response to a fairly immediate stimulus, its expectation of other responses in turn -- could prove valuable not only to instructors, but also to students (who might see in the dialogue the way we weigh the stakes in our choices, aka "teaching moments"), and perhaps, ideally, a reading public increasingly skeptical of the quality of teaching in colleges and universities, indeed our dedication to that craft?

Of course, the beauty of the academic blog is that it allows scholars to engage one another both swiftly and directly. That is, the primary mode of scholarly exchange is publication, but the length of time from draft (to acceptance, to revision, to publication, to review) to widespread conversation is considerably protracted. Academic conferences go some way towards expediting the transmission and receipt of new work, but the academics among my readers know how ungratifying such conferences can occasionally be as well.

On the other hand, the flip side of academic blogs -- as with those blogs that pretend to journalistic integrity -- is that they remove from the transaction the various stop-gaps in place to ensure the veracity and integrity of the academic product. Editors and peer reviewers are there (ideally) to preserve the value and legitimacy of the discipline, if not of scholarship itself.

And, as stated, I worry myself that the directness and swiftness of the blog as a medium -- really, I'm dying to write about what happened in lecture today, and get feedback on it -- somehow compromises the integrity of the classroom itself, in that my students (some of whom, as I know, have already googled me and discovered my blog) are not empowered to speak for themselves. I believe it's not fair for me to write about them, even anonymously, as, even when speaking laudably about them, I might misrepresent their views. To me, that's an abuse of power I do not wish to commit.

Of course (other academics are thinking), I have my department colleagues to turn, or crow, or cry to; and my university has followed many others in establishing an excellent teaching center (here it's centre, of course). But is there a way in which the group blog can become a reputable and responsible resource for college and university teaching (and, one would hope, scholarship on that topic)?

Think think (said Pooh, as he scratched his head, in his thinking spot). Comments welcome (from both my academic *and non-academic readers, who might identify more with students), in whatever way you see fit.

For the time being, I will keep my posts here related to more personal developments and observations. . . have I mentioned how beautiful it is here? (Indeed the crickets are chirping. . . how lovely . . .)

Friday, September 08, 2006

A million thanks

. . . to those of you who sent me birthday wishes. Your thoughts are especially appreciated this year.

The Pasta Salad Recipe

This is one of those meals (or sides) that followed the familiar household libretto, “‘what’s for dinner?’ ‘I dunno’ ‘what do we have in the fridge?’ ‘I’ll see what I can throw together.’” An oldie, and as in most cases of des-, er, inspiration (at least in my kitchen), a goodie.


Pasta • I prefer farfalle – the bowties – or orzo – looks like rice -- for this recipe
Olive oil • the more virgin the better
Fresh Garlic, minced
Pine nuts (pignoles)
Feta, crumbled
Tomatoes • I prefer grape tomatoes, halved, but have been using these lovely sweet golden cherry ones I get from a farmer here. Luscious. And as ever, never refrigerate your tomatoes, folks; turns ‘em into styrofoam.
Fresh Basil • Fresh is a must here: dried won’t do.
Black pepper

I know, you’re looking at this list and thinking, how is this pasta salad any different from the cold lunch special at my local B or C-list restaurant? It’s all in the technique, friends. And in the amounts. You’ll note I didn’t specify any here – it’s all by taste and feel, what gets your groove on. It’s the way I cook.

Which is why I don’t go for pastry cheffing, which requires the kind of mathematical precision that had me wrecking my grade-point average in sophomore chemistry (really, what’s so wrong about an unbalanced equation?). Indeed it’s why I’m not keen on growing roses either (of the few perennials here at our new home, there are a couple of rose bushes), which are similarly persnickety. Big concepts that allow for lots of creativity in the details, that’s me.

Ok, let’s get to it.

As you heat your water for the pasta (say, a box of farfalle or a bag of orzo), pour olive oil into a large sauté pan (say, a quarter-inch). Brown your minced garlic and pignoles together (to taste) in the olive oil while you cook the pasta. Meanwhile, crumble the feta in a large mixing bowl.

Drain the pasta and dump the pasta on to the crumbled feta. Then pour the olive oil/garlic/pignoles onto the pasta. Mix while hot: the pasta will absorb much of the nutty flavor from the hot oil mixture and cheese.

Now, you can add the other ingredients now and serve the meal hot (which I have, often with a protein source on top). For the cold salad, cool the pasta mixture enough to put in the fridge overnight (to give the pasta more time to absorb the flavor). Then, right before serving, take the mix out, add the tomatoes, the fresh basil (ribboned), and the cracked black pepper (no need for salt, there’s plenty in the feta), and mix. Again, everything is all to taste and sight (it’s very pretty), but you should know I don’t hold back on anything here. If the pasta seems dry, add more olive oil to juice it up – but not vinegar! (Vinegar detracts from all the other lovely fresh flavors). Serve and enjoy.

Trivia Question of the Day

What do Richard the Lionheart, Sid Caesar, Peter Sellers, Patsy Cline, David Arquette, and Pink all have in common?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Open Season on "America's Top Academics"

The New Republic online has launched a new feature titled "Open University," in which "America's top academics" blog on the news of the day. As David Greenberg introduces the feature:

To the best of our knowledge, this blog is unlike any other out there. It's dedicated to thinking about not just the news of the day but also the news from the academy: Controversies in campus politics that warrant thoughtful discussion. Scholarship from our various disciplines that we think deserves a broader hearing. Ideas we had in doing our research that seem eerily relevant to something we read in The New York Times today. Our bloggers range widely over the political spectrum. They include both novices and old hands . . .

I implore the academics among my readers to check out TNR's list of contributors to the feature, and to weigh in here with any observations you might have about TNR's selection of "America's top academics" . . . Also, are we really to believe the mag's assertion that the series is "first-of-its-kind"? I'm dubious, though this particular academic is more concerned with being on top of her own courses (which start next week) than with marshalling the evidence to refute that claim (though I think you can expect me to pipe up at "OU" at some point, from the rear of the classroom, here up in Canada . . . ).

In the meantime, for those non-academics among my readers, I plan to make up for my recent (stress-induced) absence here by posting the recipe for my pasta salad. Will that do?

Update, Sept. 6 5:37 EDT: Jacob Levy, professor of political theory at McGill, just up the road, wisely calls Greenberg out on his specious boast. Greenberg eats crow, only somewhat. Pasta salad recipe still forthcoming.