Archive for December, 2008

That was fast

Evidently I got bitten by the bug to do work, so I spent the past couple of hours reading through and revising Chapter 7.

It’s actually not half-bad. It’s fairly coherent, and it doesn’t reek of a terrible cut-and-paste job like I feared, since I copied large chunks from both my articles and added some new sources, hoping it would somehow make sense.

I think it does fairly well. There are probably still some areas that need work, but I think it’s the sort of work I might do well to put off until I have the first draft done of the entire dissertation, since one of the areas I think needs improvement is making sure the major points and overall arguments run through the entire dissertation like a single, seamless narrative thread.

Also, revising did allow me to pad the length a little, but not quite to my purely arbitrary and non-essential goal. In other words, I’m up to 299 pages, and I’m only going to crack 300 today if I start a new document for the next chapter and slap the title of the chapter on top.

Hmm, now there’s an idea.

Here’s a better idea: I should relax and play some of those new video games I’ve neglected.

Or, (arguably) an even better idea: doing some preparation for my interview.

But that ding means it’s lunch, so all plans must be on hold.

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Evidently my resolution led me to put my nose to the grindstone, as I cranked out almost twenty pages yesterday, calling it a night with 298 pages and a first draft of Chapter 7 in the can.

Not quite 300 pages, but I’m sure I could stretch to reach that milestone if I chose to spend some time revising my draft, since I might need to clarify sections, or add in material I left out so far. Maybe if I’m feeling ambitious, though I should really turn my focus to preparing for Saturday’s interview.

Of course, I could also quickly and simply pass the 300-page mark if I decided to start Chapter 8. That sounds farfetched, except that as I lay in bed this morning, alternating between semi-consciousness and dream sleep, I kept having visions of what I’m going to write in Chapter 8 dancing in my head.

Probably I should take this as a sign that I need to stop writing for hours and hours right up until bed.

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It’s silly and arbitrary, not to mention of no consequence.

But I’d really like to hunker down today and tomorrow in the hopes of cracking the 300-page mark and/or finishing Chapter 7.

I began writing my dissertation on 2 July, so it’d provide me a nice sense of accomplishment if I could say I cranked out 300 pages and eight of the ten chapters in just six months — especially since I took off all of August and more than half of September.

Of course, it’d also be good to reach these milestones in the next couple of days so I can report on how close I am to completion when I go for my interview this weekend.

As it currently stands, I’m probably a little more than halfway through Chapter 7, with twenty-five and a half pages down in the chapter, on page 279 of the dissertation. It’s not unrealistic to think I can crank out another twenty-odd pages in two days, since I wrote almost twelve yesterday. I did find it a bit difficult to get back into the swing of things yesterday, since I hadn’t looked at my dissertation since Christmas Eve, which made it hard to pick up my train of thought and follow my incoherent notes for how I wanted to organize the chapter.

As for a resolution for next year? I don’t normally bother with such things, since I know they seldom last.

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Here’s a story with a hilarious lead about how the CEO of a high-end lawnmower manufacturer had a meeting with a Walmart veep at Wallyworld HQ and got to sit in leftover samples of lawn chairs.

What struck Jim Wier first, as he entered the Wal-Mart vice president’s office, was the seating area for visitors. “It was just some lawn chairs that some other peddler had left behind as samples.” The vice president’s office was furnished with a folding lawn chair and a chaise lounge.

Apparently it’s not good for the bottom line to spring for a proper set of folding chairs?

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Selling myself

Ugh. I’ve spent most of today trying to prepare for my job interview next weekend. It’s kind of grueling.

I’ve found a few web sites with tips and advice for how to prepare, questions to expect and the like. Mostly it’s stuff I’d expect based on my own experience on a search committee (albeit one that didn’t do interviews at the AHA):

  • Be prepared to talk about your research
  • Be prepared to talk about your teaching
  • Have some questions to ask the committee interviewing you

It’s not rocket science. There are even some questions and tips with more specificity that I should expect:

  • How would I characterize the state of my field? (Still breathing.)
  • Where do I think my field is going in the next few years? (Probably nowhere, otherwise it wouldn’t still be in East-Central Europe.)
  • What are some books that have influenced me? (The Brothers Karamazov made me tear up at the end; that was pretty influential.)

The bigger pain, perhaps is trying to have some fairly specific prospective classes I’d want to teach or would be willing to teach. I’m fortunate in that I have two syllabi for the classes I’m teaching the next two quarters, though they aren’t exactly what I’d be teaching primarily if I get this job. Of course, because I’d probably be teaching surveys of East-Central Europe most of the time, I should have a good sense of how I would construct those courses.

Now, it’s not as though I don’t have an idea of how I’d design a course in my own field. I’ve given some thought to it before. But I also think I should probably have at least three or four different course in my field I can teach, especially since I’ll probably have to teach a couple of different classes each semester, and I’ll probably also have to vary my offerings from semester to semester.

Really, the problem is, I’ve taken classes and done fieldwork before the twentieth century, but most of my work and all of my research concerns the twentieth century, especially the post-Second World War period. There just aren’t a lot of good books and sources on those earlier periods, which is part of the reason they aren’t quite so interesting to me.

Anyway, I’ve been trying hastily to construct the rough outlines of different courses, which mostly means I’ve tried to figure out books I might assign and themes I might emphasize. Part of me wants to say it matters little, since I won’t fill out the specifics of any course until I know for certain that I’m teaching it, since there are plenty of variables involved. But, of course, this is one of those areas where I’m supposed to wow my prospective employer with my brilliance. Or something.

It’s also challenging trying to construct answers that convey the groundbreaking nature of my dissertation but are succinct enough not to require more than a couple of minutes to spit out. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get it down to that approximate time limit (any longer and I’m likely to bore the committee), and whenever I get that to a satisfactory state, I’ll get to spend the rest of the week trying to commit it more or less to memory.

My natural inclination is to think about these things, review my notes a few times and trust I’m smart enough on my feet to say what I want to say. But there’s too much at stake for me to feel comfortable winging it the way I would ordinarily.

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By means of strange coincidences, I’ve spotted multiple commercials this past week portraying Romania as a land of largely pre-modern, isolated, subsistence farming villagers.

First, there are various Burger King commercials seeking out people from what implicitly must be the most rural, backward, desolate parts of the world, including Transylvanian farmers from Budesti, Romania.

These folks are supposed to provide the “purest,” most optimal blind taste test possible, since they’ve never seen a hamburger in their quaintly eighteenth-century way of life, so surely we should value their unprejudiced assessment of whether the Whopper or the Big Mac is better.

(More on the controversy, with video of some of the commercials here.)

The other commercial I saw recently was for Folgers, showing a U.S. Aid worker stationed in an unspecified part of Romania who receives a care package from home for the holidays. The young girl and two elderly villagers (who look far, far too old to be the girl’s parents) look almost perplexed by things like the snowman card and the wrapped present. Then our heroic U.S. aid worker finds the package of Folgers instant coffee, which clearly kindles some sort of fond memory of home. So he fashions a crude coffee filter out of what looks like cheesecloth hanging from a hook, fills the crude coffee filter with instant coffee and drapes the apparatus over a glass pitcher, boils some water atop an iron stove to pour over the coffee, and voila, he can enjoy a taste of home and enlighten these backward folks to the wonders of Folgers.

Now, I’ve never visited Romania, and I’m not an expert on Romanian history. But I’ve been in the region enough, and have a good enough pulse on it to know that while there are undoubtedly plenty of rural villagers living in what looks like pre-industrial squalor, it’s also debatable that they’re so completely unaware of the big, modern world around them.

In fact, were I to hazard a guess, I’d suspect that most villagers have some form of electricity and a hot plate, so they’d either be using the electric kettles ubiquitous throughout Europe, or they’d at least boil the water on a hot plate. It’s not so farfetched, especially since the U.S. aid worker is driving what looks like a pretty modern SUV. If he can tool around rural Romania in such a gas guzzler, then there are probably areas of settlement not too far from the village with petrol stations and other modern conveniences.

Similarly, while I don’t doubt there are villagers in Transylvania who might never have seen or eaten a burger in their lives, there’s a decent chance they’ve heard of burgers or at least a Big Mac, and might have seen a McDonald’s. After all, the Golden Arches, at least has considerable penetration in Romania, including all the main cities in the area around Budesti. Granted, the villagers have probably never seen or heard of Burger King, since the closest Burger King locations are probably in Austria or Italy, so they would be true “Whopper virgins,” but that would also be true of probably the overwhelming majority of Europeans, including those living in major, cosmopolitan, ultramodern cities.

It saddens me to see such stereotyping, especially when I know enough and can find out enough with only modest digging to determine that the representation bears little semblance to reality. But, ad campaigns like this are obvious predicated on ignorance (such as ignorance of how much both burgers suck).

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Just when I thought the Red Sox had become worse than the Yankees …

Mark Teixeira has reached agreement with the Yankees on an eight-year contract worth more than $170 million, two sources involved in the negotiations report.

On the bright side, I’m not sure this really makes the Yankees that much better (ditto the CC Sabathia signing), and it does mean they’ll be shelling out close to $100 million a year for four players.

Of course, this also increases the likelihood the Red Sox feel compelled to further skew the salary gap by making some ridiculous acquisition of their own, since the long-running Boston-New York pissing match is showing no signs of slowing.

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