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Archive for November, 2008

Well, it seems like I’m not an entirely hopeless case. I got a request today from one of the schools to which I applied for a writing sample. Seems they’ve done their initial review of applications after last week’s deadline, and they liked my cover letter and CV well enough to want to read part of my dissertation. Progress is progress.

It’s encouraging as well because the department in question cast a pretty wide net in its advertisement for this position. In other words, it’s not a job specifically asking for someone who does East-Central Europe, but rather is open to all European fields except Britain, Germany and Russia. I’m hopeful this means I’ll be competitive for many of the jobs out there, if I can stand out enough in this expansive a search. Of course, it’s hard to know how much I might be helped by the fact that one of my committee members knows the chair of this department and has put in a good word, but, still, if I was a hopeless case, that probably wouldn’t have been enough to get them to request work from me.

Still, without having inside knowledge of the search, it’s hard to gauge my chances. I have a vague recollection of the search committee I was on a couple of years ago. I think we ultimately received somewhere north of 60 applications, decided to request additional work from maybe 15 or 20, then did phone interviews with perhaps half of those before bringing four people in for campus visits. If I had to guess, I might speculate that this committee requested writing samples from 20-30 applicants, but, again, I have no way of knowing, and couldn’t even guess at how many applications they received. I did hear by coincidence how many people applied for a European history position with an open specialization at another school where I also applied, since I ran into the retiring professor and he said they got something like 250 applications.

So, even if this is only the first cut, it’s good to have made it. At this point I expect they might decide in a couple of weeks who they want to interview at the upcoming AHA convention, since that’s the weekend after New Year’s, though I suppose they might first request more of my work, possibly all of my finished chapters.

And speaking of chapters, I’m still slogging away at Chapter 4. In reality it’s going to get split into two chapters, since I’m currently up to 63 pages and still have probably 15-20 pages to go. I’m pretty sure I know how I want to divide it, and I think I can do so in a way that makes sense. But I’ll be glad once I can get through the current draft, then tear it in two. That’ll put me up to five chapters plus the preface, with two chapters and an epilogue to go. I think I can get Chapter 6 done by the time I get back from the holidays in early January, and hopefully I can crank out Chapter 7 by the end of that month. I think I’m going to have to keep revising my timetable because things just seem to take longer than I anticipate, but I maintain my guarded optimism that I can finish a full draft by the end of Winter Quarter.

The other good news on this front is that I’ve had very good feedback on my first three chapters, and have already made most of the revisions based on the comments from my committee members. If I can keep this pace (admittedly a big if), I shouldn’t need to make major changes from the first full draft to the final version I defend. Of course, I also haven’t yet settled on my third committee member, which poses a potential wild card. Then again, the third member is likely going to defer to my main adviser on most matters, so it might not be too bad.

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I wish I knew how to save banner ads. There’s one currently atop the Dnes website depicting a Santa giving you the bird.

Apparently this is hawking the services of some credit company, though it’s a bit foggy how it’s doing that. There’s text that asks, “Does he want to ruin your Christmas?” Then it exhorts the viewer to do something about it, by getting non-bank loans and credit quickly, easily and without fees.

I mean, I can see how that would be advertising the credit company, but it’s still not clear why Santa is trying to ruin your Christmas, aside from the traumatizing image of him flipping off the world, but I don’t see what that has to do with banking.

Still, it’d be a lot funnier if U.S. financial companies employed a similar ad campaign. I’m thinking a nice Lehman Brothers ad about how you invested all your money with us, and we went belly up, so for the icing on the cake, we’re going to try to ruin your Christmas, too, by showing Santa making obscene hand gestures. So random.

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Alan Colmes (who? exactly) is leaving as the longtime nominally liberal punching bag for Sean Hannity on Fox News’ long-running “Hannity and Colmes” program. Colmes will remain with the network. It remains TBD if Fox News will seek a new liberal for “Hannity and LTBD.”

Here are some thoughts on how Fox News might repackage the show:

  1. “Hannity and Hannity.” Sean Hannity partners with a mirror in a nightly festival of self-love. Potential downside: some of the savings of not having to hire a second host would be offset by having to spend extra on a fog-resistant mirror capable of withstanding Hannity’s bloviating. Added benefit: longtime viewers will be hard pressed to notice an appreciable difference in the performance of the mirror over former co-host Alan Colmes.
  2. “Insanity with Sean Hannity.” Similar format to above, except without a mirror. Potential downside: causes mass insanity among viewers; Sean Hannity’s head eventually explodes from getting too big. Added benefit: Sean Hannity’s head eventually explodes from getting too big.
  3. “The Sean Hannity/Fox News Shopperific Hour.” A one-hour, prime-time exhibition of various memorabilia items and merchandise branded with Sean Hannity and/or Fox News ties. Potential downside: most of the unemployed, elderly and other frequent home shoppers don’t watch and buy during prime time; debatable whether Sean Hannity has the deafening voice to compete with Billy Mays selling some crap. Added benefit: warehouses full of unsold merchandise like “Hannitized for your protection” toilet seat covers when MSNBC’s rival initiative proves far more successful at peddling Sean Hannity urinal magnets.
  4. “Conservative Blowhards Raw.” A joint venture between Fox News and the WWE featuring right-wing pundits “Scumbag” Sean Hannity, Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly, Rush “Fatso” Limbaugh and a rotating special guest bloviator doing battle in the Fox News equivalent of a steel cage death match. Potential downside: none. Added benefit: lack of ventilation causes all four competitors to suffocate from excessive levels of concentrated carbon dioxide.

There you have it. Cast your vote, or write Roger Ailes and tell him what special brand of torture you’d like to see Sean Hannity suffer.

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Triple A, double S

Did you know that among his many achievements, Ben Franklin invented the area code? It’s true. I made that fact up personally yesterday.

This weekend was my first AAASS conference, the big to-do for anyone who studies Eastern Europe. I gave a presentation (it would be fudging things a bit much to call it a real paper) on Slovak political cartoons, which seemed to go over well. Our panel had lackluster attendance — maybe a dozen or so people were in the audience — but that was to be expected since we were going on the first day, when a lot of conference attendees were on their way into town still. But it was fun to do the panel, since it involved a lot of the folks who study Slovakia, many of whom I had already met, and I really like the people in my field. They’re all genuinely nice folks, and it makes going to these conferences a lot of fun aside from the infrequent thrill of meeting people who are interested in Slovakia.

The rest of the conference was perhaps less edifying. I had worried that it was going to be a very staid, formal affair in everything from attire to presentation style. After all, it is the AAASS, as everyone in the field refers to it. I had wondered whether I could get away with wearing my brown shoes I wear every day, or if I needed to bring my dress shoes. I wound up bringing both, then regretted it. Similarly, I thought there might be a lot of polish to the presentations. Certainly there was, since most people seemed to have a text they read. But I clearly worried more than I need have.

Of course, it also didn’t take long before I remembered why academic conferences can be a yawner at times. And no, it wasn’t just because I had trouble sleeping with the time change. No, there was a fair amount of what someone termed “posturing.” It’s hard to escape the sense that a lot of times the question period is more about audience members trying to show how smart they are than about asking actual questions of the presenters. Now, that’s probably an exaggeration, but it seems incredibly rare for people to just ask a simple, direct, to-the-point question without prefacing it with a two-minute comment. It gets a bit stuffy and tedious after a while, and I have a hard time sitting through more than a couple of panels in a day without wanting to tear my hair out.

Then again, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this conference is less about the research presented and more about the opportunity to socialize with everyone. Not that I mind. It’s fun to get to see colleagues from other institutions or to meet new people in the field.

And, the conference is a convenient opportunity to see folks in the area. I got to spend yesterday with my old roommate from Chicago who’s been in D.C. since I moved to Seattle. We wandered around downtown Philadelphia, had some great vegetarian dim sum, drank some Belgian beer and made the sort of ridiculous jokes only we can make. It was great fun.

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Today, 17 November, is a state holiday in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, commemorating the beginning of the Velvet Revolution.

On this date in 1989, Communist riot police brutally broke up a peaceful demonstration (one that even received grudging official sanction) through the center of Prague to commemorate the murder of Jan Opletal, a Czech student executed on 17 November 1939, after leading a student march of his own on the day of Czechoslovak independence (28 October) to protest the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia.

The brutal treatment of Czech students in November 1989, coming barely a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall and on the heels of democratic revolutions taking power in neighboring Poland and Hungary, was a watershed moment in the demise of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. False rumors quickly spread that police had actually killed one student (sparking all sorts of conspiracy theories in the years since), and Prague’s theaters went dark the following day as Czech actors went on strike in solidarity with the students, which helped to build momentum for the massive demonstrations in Wenceslas Square in Prague, SNP Square in Bratislava, and the centers of other Czech and Slovak cities. All of this mass, nonviolent protest led the Communist regime to surrender power peacefully by the end of the year, leading to the moniker “Velvet” Revolution (reportedly also favored by dissident-turned-president Václav Havel, who is a big fan of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground).

After the revolution, the 17th of November became a state holiday, officially known as “Day of the Battle for Freedom and Democracy” (Czech: Den boje za svobodu a demokracii; Slovak: Deň boje za slobodu a demokraciu).

Needless to say, it was disturbing to see a headline on the BBC this evening about an “ethnic riot in a Roma suburb.”

Riot police in the town of Litvinov have been waging a struggle to prevent far-right protesters from attacking a Roma neighborhood.

The video is horrifying, especially in light of what today’s holiday is supposed to commemorate. It’s especially bad that extremists can make the Czech riot police look worthy of sympathy on today of all days.

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I’m no expert when it comes to investing, mortgages and other such elements of finance, but I have to suspect this was a bit dubious.

I just saw a commercial sponsored by some realtors association encouraging people to use a realtor for buying a new home, which counseled the wisdom of buying a house as an investment, featuring prominently the statistic that for most Americans, roughly 60 percent of their personal wealth comes from the equity in their home.

And then I noticed the fine print at the bottom of the screen gave the source as some study published in 1995.

Hmm.

Might one suspect the relevance of a study like this produced before the current housing bubble and its explosion? One might.

I don’t doubt that a home is still probably the biggest investment most folks will ever make, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon, unless home ownership becomes incredibly unattainable for all but the really well-to-do. And in general, if you buy a house you can actually afford and intend to stay in it for many years, the investment will probably appreciate modestly over the coming decades.

That said, it’s probably not the wisest strategy to buy a home now when the bottom is still plummeting out of the housing market, and to assume that your home is going to maintain its current, likely inflated value, much less that it’s going to go up in value anytime soon.

Seeing the date on the study the realtors cited kind of gave me the sense that this was like a brokerage advertising in the Great Depression and hawking the virtues of buying stock, pointing to data on the market’s strength from the eve of the big stock market crash of 1929 that kicked off that whole Great Depression in the first place.

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So says a priest down in Colbert country, who told his South Carolina parishioners supporting Obama and voting for him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”

Why the risk of eternal damnation? According to Father Jay Scott Newman, it’s because Obama is “the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.”

Actually, I believe Kang holds that distinction when he promised “abortions for all,” before flip-flopping to abortions for none, then pandered by vowing “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.” But I digress.

Writes Father Newman,

Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.

Really, abortion was the most pressing concern in this election? The one issue that should guide the faithful above all others? And the economic crisis — with concern for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden — or the wars overseas — with concern for the cause of peace — don’t also rank as matters that should weigh on believers?

I suppose I have nothing to worry about, being that I’m not Catholic and thus probably going to hell regardless of whether I voted for Obama. And somehow I doubt the many Catholic Obama voters I know are terribly concerned their behavior in the voting booth will bring them eternal damnation.

Of course, I could simply observe that the Bible says nothing about abortion, or gay marriage, or so many of the other bugaboos self-identified evangelical conservatives like to drone on about. Meanwhile, there’s verse after verse about concern for the poor, peacemakers, etc. Perhaps it’s not my place to challenge folks on their biblical exegesis, but if people are going to keep trying to ram their religious views down the throats of others, I’m not going to be happy about it.

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