The Bloggies Insult My Intelligence

No doubt many of you have heard of the Bloggies, arguably the most prominent blogging award there is.  I say “prominent” and not “best” because I know a thing or two about the selection process that you may not fully appreciate.

Here’s the official publicized procedure: people fill out a web form nominating blogs in all sorts of categories.  Votes are tallied and then the organizer chooses 200 random voters to decide on the finalists from a list of the top vote-getters.  The voting form asks if you’re willing to be chosen when you submit your nominations, presumably to ensure that judges don’t complain about all the work.

Just look at that face!  You don't need to keep him from complaining...

Just look at that face! You don’t need to keep him from complaining.  (Image requires no attribution.)

This year, I served as one of the ever-so-deserving 200 on the judging panel.

The organizer sent me an extra-special link to my ballot about two weeks before the voting deadline but, since I rarely check the email account that’s attached to my blog, I did not see the message until two days before the ballot was due.

Now for some math.  Each judge reviews the semifinalists for ten categories (out of 30) and there are approximately 15-20 blogs per category.  I’d estimate that it took about half of the two days to load all those blogs.  And that’s just the home page for each one.  Also transpiring during those two days: sleep, job applications, cooking, eating, the occasional potty break, bathing, and enjoying the snowflakes outside my window.  That left me with enough time to click to a second page on most of the blogs I was evaluating.

As you can see, I focused on my judging duties in accordance with the sacred trust I was given.  Diligence is key.  It’s not like I ever promised to do a good job.

Of course, other issues did come up.  Take a look at the judging instructions:

Ten categories have been randomly selected for you. For each, select up to five weblogs (or six in the Weblog of the Year category). If you encounter blogs that aren’t eligible for their category, just skip them. If you encounter a broken link, try adding “www.” to the beginning of it. I encourage you to vote in all the categories available to you, but it isn’t required. If you don’t have time to complete the whole ballot now, you may submit a partial ballot and return later to complete it.

Um… I know this may be a stretch, but shouldn’t a blogging awards site be able to provide links that will open properly?

And come to think of it, is it too much to ask that semifinalists be pre-screened for basic eligibility before I’m asked to spend my time judging?  Or, maybe the semifinalists should have been double-checked to make sure they were actually blogs.  (Granted, some of those questionable websites may have contained blogs somewhere on them.  However, if I can’t immediately locate your blog, you lose.)

Nevertheless, I thought it would be exciting to review these best-of-the-best blogs and see if I could find anything worthwhile.  And so I checked the first category: Best Australian or New Zealand Weblog.  I must admit that I learned more about that region than I could have ever imagined possible.  For instance, at least three semifinalists had blogs focusing on culturally enlightening arguments against the existence of global warming.  I say “at least three” because two nominees were in Spanish (I think) and another refused to load.

I’m not spending my time trying to decipher a foreign language because it wasn’t in the job description.  If I can’t judge the writing quality, you lose.

You never know what task will end up requiring some heavy lifting.  Fortunately, judging wasn't one of them.  (Photo credit: tunnupus)

You never know what task will end up requiring some heavy lifting. Fortunately, judging wasn’t one of them. (Photo credit: tunnupus)

Of course, I didn’t get to delve so deeply into any of these blogs… at least to the extent that something called “depth” could be discerned.  I, like most other people, happen to have a life and it’s relatively easy to figure out which blogs are crap after a very brief perusal.  I’m not giving up my potty breaks so that I can look at an extra few posts.  I’m not even giving up my potty breaks so I can search the blog for a link to archives of posts that were published during the year the blogging award is for.  I stopped hunting once it became clear that many blogs did not include such links.

And remember, I’m not 1 of 200 who are judging these categories.  I’m one of 66 or 67.  (200 judges total, but each of us only judges 1/3 of the categories.)  My voice matters big time no matter how uninformed it might be.

Yay me.

Next up was “Best Designed Weblog” and, as some of you may know, I take a great interest in innovative blog design… even if my own blog’s design is on the divisive side.  I could select up to five blogs from among twenty choices.

I picked two.

Yes, only two.  A few were so seriously flawed that I can’t believe they became semifinalists on the basis of legitimate votes.  (On the other hand, I have an abiding belief that people are stupid… so maybe the votes were on the up-and-up.)  Other nominees were generic and, therefore, indistinguishable from the millions of other blogs out there.  Of course, I could have judged the blogs’ navigation but I really don’t think effective navigation is such an unusual or difficult thing that people deserve an award for doing it properly.

The person behind the Bloggies also decided to randomly assign me the “Entertainment” category as well as “Fashion or Beauty.”  I tend to think that blogs on these subjects are crap even when they’re well constructed.  So as not to hurt people’s feelings, I will not continue on that line of thought.

Okay, I lied.  If I hate your topic, you lose.  That may sound unfair but no criteria were given for the assessment of a blog’s quality.  I figured that my personal prejudices would work just fine.

The “Best Group or Community Weblog” category also focused on a special group of blogs.  I think it had more parenting blogs among the nominees than the “Best Parenting or Family Weblogs” category that I was also asked to judge.

I guess all it takes to become a semifinalist is for members of a topical blogging group to go vote for each other en masse.  Just a hypothesis…

And then there’s “Best Photography of a Weblog.”  Here’s the category’s definition:

Photoblogs and other weblogs with a focus on presenting photography.

Please note that the category name does not mean the same thing as the given definition; the category name implies that all blogs containing photography can be nominated regardless of the blog’s overall focus .  Nevertheless, I did find a couple of blogs among the nominees that deserve an award.  I saved a copy of my ballot so I could find these (and a few others from the remaining categories) again.

Yes, it took that long for me to think “hey, I’ll want to see some of these again.”

By the time I reached “Best New Weblog,” I wasn’t much in the mood to do the basic assessment of eligibility that the Bloggies’ administrator should have performed on all nominees before sending out the ballot.  It’s possible that I may have voted for a blog that wasn’t new last year.  I didn’t check.

The final two categories I judged were European blogs and blogs about politics.  Both had some keepers, especially the political category which had a good share of famous and commercial blogs whose writers surely couldn’t care less about the award.  I voted for a lot of those.

And then I must mention the blogs that were nominated for numerous categories.  Contrary to what you might believe, this thrilled me.  I thought a lot of these blogs were crap the first time I saw them, meaning that each repeat listing represented one less blog for me to look at.  Of course, I did return to those blogs when the category was design or photography or something I hadn’t considered as heavily in my original assessment… and that’s in spite of my suspicion that some of these bloggers may have found a way to stuff the ballot box.

Stuffing the ballot box wouldn’t be too difficult and I doubt the organizer (yes, it appears to be one person) is taking sufficient measures to prevent it.  If he isn’t reviewing the semifinalists’ eligibility, we can probably assume that the more time-consuming or technically savvy measures aren’t being pursued either.

Overall, I found the experience disappointing.  With the opportunity to cast up to 50 votes, I cast fewer than 25.  I follow a few blogs that outshine most of the semifinalists.

No explanation necessary, I assume.  (Image credit: Plognark)

No explanation necessary, I assume. (Image credit: Plognark)

And with that in mind, I would like to encourage all of you who were not nominated to disregard the disregarding of your work.  I can promise you that the awards do not reliably track quality and they may not even measure popularity all that well.  However, I’m sure they effectively predict an increase in traffic to the selected blogs; for that reason, I humbly request that everyone reading this post please nominate me for as many categories as possible next year.  I won’t even ask you to consider the possibility of opening some new free email accounts so you can nominate me multiple times.

And if you happen to be selected as a finalist, please don’t take offense at what I’ve written here.  I am a judge; you bow to me.  If you think I’m a looney or that I didn’t take the job seriously enough or that I have bad taste, I have news for you: the randomized selection of judges results in random judges and not necessarily qualified judges.  Be thankful that I’m literate above a seventh-grade level; you never know who else might have been judging your work.

Imagine the possibilities!  (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Imagine the possibilities.  (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

And be thankful that I didn’t vote by just clicking on random blogs.

Presumably…

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“Normal” Music Insults My Intelligence

I’ve noticed quite a few bloggers around here participating in a “25 Days of Songs” challenge.  It looked interesting but it seemed rather idiotic to dedicate 25 posts to a single topic… especially since I only write 3-4 posts per week.

Fortunately, I now have an excuse to do all 25 days in a single post.    And fortunately for you, I do not intend to be completely truthful here.  I think we should have some fun with this, don’t you?

And besides, I’ve been meaning to showcase a bunch of (mostly) arcane music you’ve never heard of.  A few titles are well-known but a couple of them experienced much-deserved deaths.  Hopefully violent ones.

1- A song from my childhood

Ummm… did my childhood ever end?  I guess it must have ended because I didn’t choose to embed the official video that includes a bunch of snakes eating a guy’s flesh in super-graphic detail.  Sounds like a cheerful childhood, huh?  Anyway, this is track one on the first non-English-language CD I ever bought.

2- A song that reminds me of my most recent ex-girlfriend

Just because it would piss her off if she knew I’m the one writing this, here’s a little gem from Russia:

3- A song that reminds me of one or both of my parents:

Dad never skimped on the Jewish humor with his officially non-Jewish children.  (People who discriminate against Jews classify me as Jewish… and that makes for an especially fun job search. )  Anyway, humor:

4- A song that calms me down.

Because I love the NSA and feel most calm when I am under constant surveillance, I have to go with this largely forgotten classic:

5- A song that is often stuck in my head

A Belgian girls’ choir singing Rammstein?  Absolutely!  How could you possibly get that off your mind?

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The University Industry Insults My Intelligence

I was lucky.  One year after I finished my undergraduate degree in Subject With Declining Enrollments, Professor X had his career chopped off.  He didn’t even make it to a tenure review hearing; several years separated his departure and what he hoped might have been.  When I visited campus shortly after his firing, Dr. Y recalled with horror that he hadn’t published a word during his several years at the university.

Fair enough.  If your contract requires you to publish, you need to publish or face the consequences.  Pesky little legal issue, I know…

She also told me that Professor X was “scaring away students.”  Being a naive early-20-something, I couldn’t comprehend what she meant.  Dr. X was the friendliest member of the department, a fact that even Dr. Y recognized.  On the other hand, lots of students considered Dr. Y to be profoundly disturbing to their psychological health.  (I liked Dr. Y, but my regular readers already know how weird I am.)  How was he scaring away students while she wasn’t?

I should note that Dr. X’s job description also contained one unusual detail.  He provided pedagogical training to the new graduate students who staffed the introductory and mid-level courses.  He mentored them, observed their teaching, and designed the curriculum.  The homework load didn’t block my social life while the textbook, though being of a halloweenish orange color, could hardly count as ferocious unless the teacher decided to throw a copy at your head.  Damn hardbacks.

So how could this friendly little fellow scare away students?

I eventually went to graduate school and had the pleasure of partaking in an initial teacher preparation seminar; in that course, I learned that Dr. X’s instructional methods had become outdated.  Big time.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn from them.  I consider myself fortunate to have gone through the undergraduate system while he was in charge, before the department was overhauled to teach Rocksforjocks instead.

I hope this picture of "Rocks for Jocks" won't offend the distinguished geologists among you.  (Photo credit: somewheregladlybeyond at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecb/136287275/)

I hope this picture of “Rocks for Jocks” won’t offend the distinguished geologists among you. (Photo credit: somewheregladlybeyond at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecb/136287275/)

Are the new methods worse?  Not necessarily.

However…

Let the words of Dr. Y echo through your head: “He was scaring away the students.”  The new methods entertain the students much more (which, in itself, is not a bad thing) and that encourages students to take more courses in the subject.  That also helps the professors keep their jobs.  Few methods exist for firing a tenured professor, but eliminating a department is one of them.  So of course it didn’t seem to matter so much to Dr. Y that Dr. X’s syllabi didn’t meet departmental or university expectations for maintaining up-to-date instructional practices.  Suffice it to say that his classes probably inspired much gratitude from local espresso merchants but it’s the academic merchants who are trying to sell their wares.

So, out with the old!

The new methods, despite some legitimate educational advantages and antidepressant side effects, have also helped permit the major to become significantly more fluffy.  People graduating with that major today do not possess sufficient skills to tell a prospective employer that they can be of use in the workforce.  However, an easy A will attract students to any course and that’s why families sacrifice so much to pay for college.  That, and beer pong.

And then you’ll discover a few nefarious aspects.  (Yeah… I started with the kid-friendly version.)  In a major publication of the American Association for Rocksforjocks Education, a prominent teaching specialist encouraged college Rocksforjocks faculty to make convenient use of placement exams.  “Convenient” means letting students skip over as many of the boring introductory courses as possible so that they can get to the interesting stuff, making them more likely to select Rocksforjocks as a major which in turn maintains desirable levels of Rocksforjocks funding as well as (once again) the faculty’s jobs.

And make no mistake about it: students don’t complain about this arrangement.  If you inflate their grades in the advanced courses, they’ll never know how unprepared they were.  At least while they’re still at the university plunking down all those tuition dollars…

Similarly, the faculty would judge teaching methods based on students’ enjoyment and appreciation of them, not on whether learning actually transpires.  Some of the new methods created astoundingly positive effects but they were chosen for the wrong reasons.

But let’s fast forward a little, shall we?

Now that I have finished my education and have been unemployed for a while, I can only growl at what education in my former field has become.  Although my skills are up to snuff, employers surely look at my resume and assume the opposite.  The new grads can’t cut it, so why would I be able to?

And then I apply for teaching jobs at the high school level.  I’m competent to teach more than that one subject but I’m constantly asked about the one I majored in.  Even if a school isn’t seeking a teacher for that subject.  Today, a job applicant is believed to only be capable of doing what he majored in… even if the resume indicates otherwise.  But in my old field, applicants are now assumed to be incapable of performing within the major, for obvious reasons.

Needless to say, I am never going back to teaching Rocksforjocks.  Some people get desperate when they’re unemployed and they take any available position.  I’m desperate to not inflict the same fate I’ve experienced on any future students.  A few would surely benefit from the legitimate information that Rocksforjocks provides but it’s not worth the collateral damage.

Let’s leave the jock’s rocks at the docks.  They’re a crock.

I also know from observation that Rocksforjocks teachers in high school and college spend considerable effort recruiting students into their courses.  To anyone preparing for college entrance, I’d suggest never enrolling in a course that the faculty is actively advertising.  Professors have their own agendas and the associated needs do not always coincide with what will benefit you most as a student.  You don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes pressures that school administrations place on your teachers.  You should not assume that they are your benevolent advisers, although you will find some who will behave honestly and honorably towards you.

Just like banks and credit card companies, colleges are businesses and you are their customer.  If they make you feel happy with their product, they have achieved their goal.  Just be sure to maintain that idiotic grin as you’re being ripped off.

Traditional Meditation Techniques Insult My Intelligence

As my regular readers already know, I’ve been unemployed for a while.  Although the president recently attempted to sway employers to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and start my own business.  Since everyone seems so stressed about life concerns that pale in comparison to my own, I have developed my own line of new-age meditations.  I have mastered the art of zen stoicism and I want you all to share my good mental health, if not necessarily my consumer acumen.

Existing products don’t fulfill the promises they make to spiritual acolytes.  Just look at this guy:

Contemplation (Photo Credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

Contemplation.   In an attempt to drum up business, I decided to raise the photographer’s blood pressure by cropping today’s images beyond recognition.  (Photo Credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

Some mental health gurus would make you expend significant amounts of money to find a deserted molehill-sized mountain where you can stick your butt out and stress about all the money you spent to reach the mountain.  Since money had probably caused your stress, I doubt this helps… especially since your financial irresponsibility will surely inspire your spouse (a.k.a. your other major source of stress) to rip your head off once you arrive home.

That can’t be rejuvenating.

Similarly, this guy has fallen for another marketing scam that will not improve his life:

Relaxation (Photo credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

Relaxation (Photo credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

I’m sure he felt quite relaxed, closing his eyes and contemplating the universe, just as he drifted off to sleep, soon to be submerged in eternal sleep under the soothing ripples of water.

But at least he’ll experience less stress.

And traditional meditation techniques always assume that an individual will be dumb enough to pursue one of these alternate venues for something that can be done at home.

Well, I suppose that depends on the loudness of your cohabitants…

Nevertheless, better places exist for relieving your psychological strains without noisy interruptions.  Here’s one possibility:

from CLR3

Emptiness (Photo credit: Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

Because of the real estate meltdown a few years ago, you should have no difficulty finding an abandoned building in a newly deserted part of town.  Just find where a window used to be and climb on in.  It may require a little exercise on your part but, then again, exercise relieves stress.

So thank me.

Anyway, now that you have discovered a cost-effective meditation location, you must station your body there without hesitation.

Lie down.  Don’t worry about all the dirt on the floor.  You can’t expect someone to vacuum a foreclosed property.  Besides which, the dirt will bring you closer to nature’s eternal aspect.  Especially if it’s asbestos…

Now close your eyes and let my calming words penetrate the inner reaches of your being:

Breathe in.  Cough.  Breathe out.

Relax your feet, your legs, your arms, your hands, your neck, your shoulders, your bladder.

The world is your oyster.  Smell the oyster. Feel the wetness, the sand, the shell.

Be the shell.  Fill your shell.  You are the center of your shell.

Don’t clam up.  Be the oyster.  Relax your shell.  Let the plankton in.  Let the algae in.  Let the amphibious roaches in.  Be nourished.  Be loved.

Rest your mind, little oyster.  The fisherman will not come here.  He cannot find you here.  You are at peace here.  Exhale.  Let the roach exit your mouth.  He isn’t healthy.

The reaper won’t find you here.  The seasons don’t fear the reaper.  Nor do the wind, the sun, and the rain.  You can be like they are.  Don’t fear the reaper.

Don’t fear your life.  You are the oyster.  A living oyster.  Do not fry.  Stay cool.  Stay slimy.  Stay in your shell.  Your shell is safe and comfortable.  Be comfortable.  Be free from breadcrumbs.

Come out of your shell.  A virtual ocean surrounds you.  You are more powerful than the ocean.  Splash.  Make waves.  Feel the waves wave back.

Be the waves.  Flow with the wind.  The waves came from you, your bladder, your soul.

Your soul is the center of your universe.  Feel the orbit of the cosmos.  Inhale.  Exhale.  And breathe.

Feel the cool air enter your lungs.  Don’t worry about the gnats.  Don’t worry about anything.  The world is your oyster.  You are the oyster.  Your stress is your cloister.  And you are the nun.

You have a habit.  A bad habit.  A black habit.  Release your habit.  Release your mind, your bladder, your soul.  You can be happy.  You can frolic on the beach.  Feel the waves.  Hear the waves.  Smell the waves.  Be the waves.  And release the holy note of mystical revelation.

Behold the world.  The world is your oyster.  Eat the oyster.  Feel the oyster massage your tongue, your throat, your stomach.  Feel its illuminating power.  The world is your oyster and the oyster is in you.  The oyster is you.

Engage.  Disengage.  Feel the mountain.  Feel the rocky mountain.  You are the rocky mountain oyster.  You create the waves.  You are the bringer of life.  Feel your life, your soul, your scrotum.  Be at one with nature, the waves, the sand, the oysters.

You become a transparent eyeball.  You are nothing.  You see all.  The currents of the Universal Being circulate through you.  You are part or particle of God.

You are no longer the oyster.  Shed your shell.  You are no longer the rocky mountain oyster.  Shed your skin.  You are no longer the maker of waves.  Shed your soul.

Awaken renewed and refreshed.

Although you need not pay for travel to pursue this spectacular new stress reduction method, you’ll probably need to invest in some strong laundry detergent.  Despite that, I can proudly tell you that my “Seafaring Meditations” will be released on iTunes relatively soon.  My calming voice will restore your life’s meaning, the meaning it had before you got all caught up in trivialities like the Super Bowl.

And this, my friends, is my new business.  What do you think?

Bad Background Images Insult My Intelligence

I’ve spent enough time online to see some horrific blog designs.  Some are a matter of personal taste, which I have no intention of criticizing openly.  However, a few folks obviously have no clue what they are doing.

They’re morons.

In the spirit of enlightening you in the ways of me, I would like to point out some common errors and show you some easy methods for developing better backgrounds.  All images in this post were modified using free and simple photo editing software and I just played with all the nifty little buttons without knowing what they are.  You’ll find no evidence of Photoshop or other costly applications here.  (I’m unemployed, remember?)  Caveat: I do still have a scanner from my grad school days.

Also, you don’t have to like these images; I only focused on technique and some of the creations here are quite loud.  I wouldn’t use all of them myself but then again lots of good images aren’t an appropriate match for some individuals.

If you want “Matchmaking for Blog Dummies,” you’ll need to go somewhere else.  I don’t do romance here.

That said, let’s cut the preliminaries and dive in with four basic rules.

1- Your original photo should have a high resolution. Subjecting images to technological torture often causes them to bleed their detail away, leaving them as limp as a corpse.

2- When detail bleeds away, colors often go with it.  Your photographs or scanned images should normally contain at least as many colors as you’ll want in the final product.  It’s usually harder to add colors to an image than eliminate them.

3- Similarly, it’s easier to reduce the file size of a high-definition picture than it is to make the image more robust.  If only dieting worked that way…

4- Don’t forget to crop your images; if it doesn’t end up appearing on the screen, you don’t need it.  A smaller image takes less time for people to download.  Your visitors will thank you for it by sticking around until your page finishes loading… unless your writing scares them away sooner.

And now the joy of pointing out people’s stupidity.  Item one: people often confuse their original image with what ends up appearing on their blog.  I like my candelabra image over on the top right, but it’s pretty easy to make an awful background out of it.  For instance, tiling the image can give us this:

Slide1Easy to read, right?  That’s why I have these big box-like things on my blog to shield the text.  However, that doesn’t eliminate all of the problems in the example above.  Let’s look at something a little wiser:

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Self-Esteem Insults My Intelligence

Self Esteem Shop in Royal Oak, MI http://www.s...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the complaints about today’s educational practices.  Them kiddies are constantly told how wonderful they are and everyone gets a trophy and they feel all warm and fuzzy inside until the flu arrives.  That practice may improve results in the classroom but I’m lazy and I don’t want to belabor the point.

Instead, I’d like to tell a tale of how a subset of these kids all live happily ever after.  These are the honors students and I belonged to this group, as did many of my friends.  I consider myself lucky to have been horrible at sports because no coach in his right mind would have given me a self-esteem trophy unless it had been made of dog poo.  I really was that bad, but my ineptitude bred positive results.  Honors students don’t survive (and arguably thrive, at least psychologically) through extended unemployment unless they’ve had a few bumps along the way before that.  Failure keeps me sane.

Otherwise, we honors students were constantly told how we were the smartest, the most talented, the most wonderful person in the class, in the room, in the world.   This caused many of us (fortunately again, not me) to assume a superiority complex as our identities.  Woe to the college teacher who has to burst that bubble.

Been there, done that, never going back.

Unfortunately, some honors students are idiots and they only grow stupider with age.  And thus begins today’s tale…

Once upon a time in a college not far away there was an honors student with overly inflated self-esteem.  At meals, he regaled his peers with how he was the smartest in his class.  His term papers never turned out well in college, but that was never his fault.  He blamed his high school… even though he always waited until the last minute to start researching.  And then he’d confidently inform all of us how the professor told him he’d done well for a [insert one: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, fifth-year senior, sixth-year senior, billy goat, etc.] when the horrors had ended.  And we’d hear story after story of these words that Mr. Self-Esteem couldn’t recognize as not-quite-praise.

And he didn’t graduate on time because, as I understand it, he wasn’t finishing his work as he was supposed to.  Nevertheless, he dutifully edified us on how he was outperforming all those freshmen and sophomores in his courses.  Impressive!  I’m sure his wife couldn’t contain her pride.

You read that correctly.  He married early in life and the couple had a pair of sons.  His wife had been the college sweetheart who always defended him when others would point out Mr. Honors Student’s poor time management skills.  I’m sure you don’t need to know the physical details on how those sons came into existence.

Or maybe you do, because the happy couple is fighting again and I’d be shocked if they don’t get a divorce this time.  I suspect he and his wife will immolate each other in the process, perhaps making the court decide that the sons would be better off in foster care.

I know enough about divorce to realize that soon-to-be exes often discount the amount of fault they hold for the relationship’s collapse.  But adults who were educated in the art of honors self-esteem face different problems.  My friend thinks he’s being insightful when he explains the situation but he reveals his incapacity for seeing that things were crumbling years ago.  He praises himself again but, as in college, he tears himself down in the process.

But…

This time he can’t escape or ignore the criticism coming from so many quarters because it so intimately affects his future life.  I visited him recently and he seemed to be litigating the case against his wife.  (Truth be told, the wife is another can of worms and she may have bigger problems than he has, again because of inflated self-esteem.  Maybe I’ll write about that another day.)  He also seemed to be litigating against me and occasionally against others he thought might testify against him in the event of a divorce.

Subtle…

This is rage.  This is realizing, perhaps all of a sudden, that people don’t hold him in as high esteem as he was trained to hold himself, realizing that so many people think he’s not quite there psychologically, remaining unable to let go of his self-esteem training and perceive things more clearly.

Then, add a dose of paranoia.  I had (and have) no intention of testifying against him in any future divorce proceeding because I’m not convinced the wife is any better.

Oh, and I think he may now believe I’m his sons’ biological father.

Newborn on scale

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose I’ll never know what inspired him to question his paternity so late, but I have a hard time believing he’d bring up the issue if he hadn’t already been tested.

In case you were wondering, I am not the father.  But thank you for asking and for your vote of confidence.  (His wife is rather lovely, so it’s a show of confidence that you think I could be the culprit.)

And now it’s time for the moral to the story.  If you feed a child a steady dose of empty self-esteem, the world becomes a binary of praise and the rare catastrophe.  In the end, criticism becomes more than criticism; it is the stripping of an identity someone has had for their entire life.  And just as a kitten presumably screeches if you try to skin it with a pocket knife (presumably, I said…), these no-longer-so-young people take these negative words as an affront to their entire being.  And then they claw and bite and pee on you until you put away the knife.  And so you learn to remain silent and gracefully permit the status quo.

There may be more than one way to skin a cat but there aren’t many ways to skin an honors student who can’t let go of the past.  As for me, I’m just annoyed because potential employers see my educational credentials and often assume I’ll be like my friend.  They tell you in school that hard work allows you to become anything you want but they fail to mention that you’re tattooing your own scarlet letter as you build yourself up.  You are judged by the company you keep and hard work doesn’t win you great company.

And so…

The next time your children want to do their homework, tell them to play outside or try a video game.  And make sure they lose sometimes.  Badly.  Being unemployed is also a great way to catch up on some fun, but it’s not such a positive experience for the wallet.

Ingratitude Insults My Intelligence

A Thanksgiving survivor

Some turkeys build their own cages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanksgiving is here and it’s time to talk about turkeys.  By turkeys, I mean professors.

Before I do, I’d like to share a tale of gratitude.

Once upon a time in a kingdom far far away there lived a person who could be described as me.  However, I had come from the kingdom commonly known as Here.  In the far away kingdom, college students normally went to Home every weekend, which never proved difficult because few attended school too far from Home.   Having remembered all the fun I’d had on weekends away from (lowercase) home at the University of Here, I couldn’t possibly imagine what could be so enjoyable.  At some level, I still can’t, at least for people that age, but I can appreciate what was going on.

And then I went to graduate school and some of my turkeys, er, I mean professors, had been born and raised in the kingdom of Home.  In spite of that, they migrated Here for graduate school and never went back.  I know of one turkey who reportedly yearned to fly the coop and go back Home (though he never did), while another seemed genuinely depressed to have been working obsessively as her parents sickened and passed from life not too far from Here.  A few others had originated from far flung pastures in lands commonly known as Here, although the cultures in their part of “Here” were a lot different.  I suspect that few of those turkeys would have chosen the Graduate University of Here’s location if they’d had any choice.  (Most turkeys, unlike regular people, can expect to remain trapped in their coop until they die.  Spiritual death doesn’t count.)

And these were the fat and happy turkeys, in theory at least.  Many turkeys end up on food stamps even if they manage to gobble up a college teaching position.  (Here’s a second article.)  Whether they’re fat or malnourished, they spend an exorbitant amount of time on their work separated from friends and family.  And then the women, well, many of them can forget about having children if they’re interested in protecting their often precarious professional existence; at schools in rural Here, these are almost the only women who the tom turkeys get to choose from… so it’s a losing situation for everyone who wants kids and it’s especially unfair to the women.

Of course, those are the lucky couples.  If two prospective turkeys are married before applying for jobs, they can expect to spend years apart until they realize that the desired miracle (the ability to live in the same city and have both partners remain in the profession) will not happen.  I’ve also seen divorces filed because the turkey in the relationship was married to the job and not to the non-turkey spouse.  I doubt it’s all too uncommon.

Needless to say, a lot of these turkeys may not be roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving.  While some can’t afford it and others will find the cannibalism too distasteful, many will be working through the holiday.  As usual.  These turkeys work hours a day at home after business hours and don’t stop when vacation comes.  You’re not done working until you’ve finished reading the whole library and publishing your opinions on each shelf and volume and, by the way, you’re on duty 24/7/365.  It’s like being the president but without the fame, chauffeured car, fancy house, power, money, sense of importance, sense of accomplishment, and horny admirers.  Unless you’re working on a cure for cancer or something useful like that…

El Rastro. Flea market. Gijón. Asturias. Spain...

A sad turkey (Photo credit: Tomás Fano)

But then there’s the payoff.  In some fields (like mine), the turkey’s long hours accomplish little more than producing books and articles to be read only by a few specialists and then buried in a tomb, er, I mean library, hopefully to be discovered by a student writing a research paper for class.  The occasional book or article might be taught as a required course reading.  Perhaps.  But then, some researchers are lucky if their publications still resemble their ideas once they’ve passed through their editors.  Conformity is key, which is why so many people want to become turkeys.  If you value maintaining some creative freedom, join the military instead.

I’m not joking.

There’s another thing I almost forgot.  As you can surely imagine, many turkeys would take great joy in spending their entire waking hours with solitary reading and writing.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not how their lives work.  You see, Farmer Bob (the guy in the sky who invented the turkey coops) had a revelation: we’ll take these cloistered souls and put them in charge of teaching the young adults.  Outstanding!  These professionals can stand or sit in front of the classroom or hide in the corner and rubber stamp a pile of educational credentials.  Their teaching performance won’t influence whether they get to keep their jobs in many cases, so it doesn’t matter what kind of people become “educators.”

One day, I’ll write a post explaining why I put “educators” in scare quotes.  I understand that it’s unfair to the turkeys who really teach and who properly train their graduate students to teach.  I was lucky to find myself under the wing of turkeys like that.

These turkeys are our intellectual leaders and they are living their dream, and they remain convinced of that no matter how miserable they become.    As you can probably tell, I didn’t stick around after completing the Ph.D. and, every Thanksgiving since then, I’ve been incredibly thankful for that decision.  The turkeys can’t understand it but then again domesticated turkeys aren’t that bright.

Of course, finding a different job hasn’t worked out yet.  I nevertheless have food, a roof over my head, opportunities to improve my resume, and the chance to avoid Siberia or other impossible living environments.  My writing has improved now that I’m not burdened with bottomless research requirements and my eyes no longer glaze over at the thought of reading for pleasure.  And, perhaps not so surprisingly, unemployment is less stressful than graduate school, which isn’t to say I’m not eager for work or money.  I’m ready to move forward but I can’t complain about where I’m at; there’s hope for the future and that’s already more than what so many turkeys have (even though they have jobs).

And so this Thanksgiving I think of the people I know who are divorcing, or are sick or dying, or are trapped in a Siberian turkey coop, or are unemployed with children to feed, and so on.  My life is comparatively easy and that’s something to be thankful for.

Smoked turkey

It was time to put a fork in it. (Photo credit: J. Yung)

And although Thanksgiving isn’t here yet, I’d like to mention Christmas for a moment; if the malls can get away with it, so can I.  I have two wishes for Christmas that are less realistic than asking Santa for world peace.  First, I wish certain relatives could understand that being a professor is no way to live your life (again, unless you’re working on a cure for cancer or something useful like that) and that, no, I don’t want to reconsider my decision to leave academe in light of being unemployed for so long.  Being a professor isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle.  Starving to death on the street would be more life-affirming. Besides which, there are ways to contribute to a household besides earning a paycheck.  For starters, ask any stay-at-home parent or caretaker of elderly relatives.  Second, I wish employers understood that refugees from academe had legitimate reasons to leave and that there is no lure of a (ha!) high-paying academic sinecure when we “inevitably” get “bored” with a prospective job.

In closing, I would like to wish my U.S. readers a happy Thanksgiving.  To my non-U.S. readers, I would suggest that turkey is very tasty slathered with gravy and accompanied by a side of pie.  Since this isn’t a porn blog, I mean the birds, not the professors.  Most professors are a little too bitter or stale, at least in my experience.