Archive for March, 2009

Evidently the economy is encouraging more “need-blind” schools to look more favorably on students who don’t need financial aid.

Institutions that have pledged to admit students regardless of need are finding ways to increase the number of those who pay the full cost in ways that allow the colleges to maintain the claim of being need-blind — taking more students from the transfer or waiting lists, for instance, or admitting more foreign students who pay full tuition.

It’s not an absolute rule, and admittedly it’s mainly coming into play for the borderline candidates, rather than applicants whose qualifications are impeccable.

Still, it’s disappointing to see wealth becoming a factor in college admission decisions, not that wealth doesn’t factor into these decisions in other, more subtle ways.

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Evidently when Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek blasted the Obama stimulus plan as “the road to hell,” he was ad-libbing from his prepared remarks, in which he was to say “road to ruin.”

But that’s less interesting than the revelation that the inspiration for Topolánek’s impromptu turn of phrase came from AC/DC’s classic song “Highway to Hell,” reports the Czech daily Lidové noviny.

It seems AC/DC played Prague last week, and the PM was in the house, so he had, uh, Satan on the mind.

The piece from Lidové noviny, described in an NYT blog, also includes an observation from Petr Bílek, the head of the Department of Czech Literature at Charles University in Prague (he also taught the best literature class I ever took when I first studied in Prague many moons ago). Bílek notes that Topolánek’s phrase “way to hell” resonates far more strongly in English than the Czech equivalent “cesta do pekel,” “And especially in view of the Christian hues of American society versus Czech atheism.”

Of course, it would’ve been a whole lot funnier, and possibly more damning of the American ethos, had Topolánek drawn inspiration from other classics of the AC/DC catalog, like “What Do You Do for Money Honey” or “The Jack.”

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The decline of the newspaper

One comforting (?) thought I’ve had of late is the knowledge that while my current job search has largely stalled and gotten me nowhere, I’m probably not much worse off having abandoned my previous choice of career as a journalist.

In recent weeks I’ve heard about former classmates from j-school being put on unpaid furlough from their current papers. Rich Hammond, the beat writer for the Kings is similarly on furlough this week (though he is graciously posting updates on a Facebook group), and shortly before we left for vacation, one of Seattle’s two dailies stopped publishing in print and moved to a much leaner, web-only version.

As ESPN.com’s Jim Caple observes, the demise of newspapers could deprive fans of some useful insight. There will always be box scores and stats online, plus endless speculation and analysis from devoted bloggers. But beat writers cultivate relationships with teams and their personnel, and these relationships often lead to information fans wouldn’t get otherwise.

Indeed, the plight of the beat writers makes me really glad I bailed on studying journalism halfway through college, since that was one of my big goals, getting to cover the Kings on a daily basis. Of course, since the L.A. papers all stopped covering the team full time a few years ago, with the L.A. Times even stopped, right after the longtime Kings beat writer, Helene Elliott, was inducted into the writers wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Oops!

Still, it’s an interesting quandary. I keep thinking someone’s going to make a fortune once they figure out a viable business model for web-based journalism (that statement seems less profound and more obvious written in words, rather than floating around my head).

But after reading this post by Clay Shirky on the perils of the newspaper business, I wonder whether that will happen, or if most journalism as we know it will disappear in favor of a more informal, amateur (in the sense of unpaid) product. It’ll definitely leave some big gaps, especially in local coverage. Then again, I think back to my hometown paper, and how crappy much of it is, and I don’t know that there’d be a huge drop in quality.

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Spotted via Sme, a clip from some Fox News program bashing Canada for all the usual stereotypical reasons.

I especially love how, after repeatedly denigrating the Canadian armed forces and casting aspersions on their military efficacy, the host proceeds to say he “respects anyone who serves,” Canadian, American or otherwise. Right. And I’m sure he’d crack just as many ignorant jokes about the U.S. soldiers he “respects.”

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Chinese director He Nian is bringing Karl Marx’s heartrending story of oppression, exploitation, revolution and redemption to an opera house near you.

That’s right, He is transforming Marx’s Das Kapital into an opera.

The opera’s plot will involve a business where workers begin to realise their boss is exploiting them. They then embrace the Marxist theory of surplus value. Far from uniting to overthrow the established order, though, some of the chorus line mutiny, others continue as they are, while some engage in collective bargaining. Mr He insists it will be “fun to watch”.

Finally, the epic saga of Marx in a Vegas-style stage show!

Too bad I can’t send my students to Shanghai for a class field trip.

(Revolutionary credit to Comrade Meds.)

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The first round of the Slovak presidential election, held today, didn’t produce the requisite majority, requiring a runoff between the incumbent, Ivan Gašparovič, and the challenger, Iveta Radičová, with Gašparovič polling 46.7 percent to 38.1 percent for Radičová. This puts Radičová in excellent position to become Slovakia’s first female president.

That would be remarkable, but what’s more interesting is how the Slovak media seem to have taken a page from their American counterparts, showing who won with district (okres) by coloring them red (for Radičová, who’s more right wing) and blue (for Gašparovič, who’s more left wing).


Red okres, blue okres

Red okres, blue okres

 For what it’s worth, Gašparovič won in the districts with most of the major cities (Bratislava, Banská Bystrica, Košice), while Radičová did well in a lot of the less populous districts, as well as districts with some other important cities (Žilina, Nitra and Trenčín, among others).

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Marathon grading

As I was down to the last couple of papers last night, I began to wish I had kept a running blog of the process, mostly to document and share with the world all the bizarre, head-scratching and unintentionally humorous things students write in their papers.

But then, I thought better of it, mostly because most of this stuff is only funny if you’re a history dork like me, or if you’re familiar with the course in question. (I still remember something a student wrote on an ID on an exam in U.S. military history three and a half years ago; I don’t even remember now what the ID was, or which war it referenced, just that the student’s response for the historical significance of the ID was “And the war was on!” Yeah, random.)

Still, my students did some baffling things.

  • One student turned his paper (at least) two days early, and managed not one but two misspellings in the title of his paper.
  • On Monday, another student had sent me a draft, which was very rough, and also failed to use spell check, and misspelled Bolshevik as “Bolshivik” (along with repeated misspellings of “Menshivik”), which is pretty inexcusable and lazy for a paper on the Bolshevik Revolution. Of course, despite me correcting those mistakes (and misspellings of words like “proletariat”), the student didn’t bother to fix them in the final draft, which remained, let’s say, rough.
  • Some students have the most perplexing notions of punctuation. I saw one paper with semicolons in places where there should’ve been other punctuation marks, or no punctuation at all. It was a paper with; odd punctuation. The semicolons went in; seemingly random places. And, naturally, the one place in the entire paper where I thought a semicolon would have been appropriate had no punctuation whatsoever. I may be a grammar Nazi, but I’m also someone who likes to read prose without having to stop unexpectedly every few words to figure out what this punctuation mark is (or isn’t) doing here.

The deadline for papers was 2:30 p.m. yesterday. This was clearly stated on the syllabus, reiterated in class, and reminded in an e-mail last week. Both in class and in that same e-mail, I also instructed students to submit their papers to my box in the department office, and specifically warned them not to leave it under the door of my office, since I had to vacate it this week and wouldn’t get anything they left for me there.

Ten of my twelve students managed to follow directions (one e-mailed me his paper in the middle of the night before it was due since he was leaving town early in the morning, but I had said he could do that when he asked).

Of course, when 2:30 rolled around, two students (or at least their papers) had gone AWOL. So, instead of returning home immediately, I stuck around in the lounge and graded a paper, waiting to see if I’d have stragglers, or someone pleading over e-mail. Really, I had no obligation to do so, except to be nice, since the front page of the syllabus said very clearly that I would accept no extensions on papers (they’re due Friday afternoon of exam week, and my grades need to be in by Monday morning, so that’s hardly unreasonable) and that students unable to turn in a paper on time would either have to get an incomplete (meaning they had a legitimate reason for not getting it done) or would fail the course, since it’s a senior seminar, and the paper was worth 50 percent of their overall grade.

I had checked in my office about 1:30 to make sure no one had left anything under my door before I turned in my key, and around 3:30 I even got the office staff to let me in downstairs just to make sure no one had tried to slip something under my door. Nothing. So, I left campus, thinking I had two students who were going to fail the class, or else had a bout of my-grandparent-died-itis.

By the time I got home, one of my AWOL students had sent me an e-mail claiming to have turned in the paper “just before 2:30,”  but wasn’t sure if it had gotten under the right door, since they weren’t labeled. Now, it may have gone under the wrong door, since my office (108B) was in a small suite with another office (108A), an the numbers require some hunting. Of course, there’s also an outer door to the suite that was locked, meaning any paper would have to have been turned in under the suite door … or turned in under one of the doors in the corridor leading to the suite, meaning the student either left it in the elevator shaft on the left, or put it under the door clearly labeled 108J, which I think is some sort of supply closet. Or, the student slid it under the door to the office suite, but lied about leaving it there “just before 2:30.” And the fact that the student didn’t e-mail me to tell me this, and to attach an electronic copy (as a Microsoft Works document that I couldn’t crack open without losing all the formatting) until “just before 4:00.” Yeah, I believe you.

Then there’s the student who just didn’t turn in anything and sent no e-mail with an explanation or plea for mercy. This is the same student who sent me an e-mail about an hour before the last class alerting me not to expect the student to come and give the required presentation because, cough, cough, the student had to leave his morning class early with a coughing fit and didn’t feel well. I was more thrown for a loop initially, since I hadn’t really given any thought to how I’d handle a situation where someone bailed on a fairly important assignment. I was flummoxed until another grad student reminded me the timing was dubious, and possibly a sign the student hadn’t prepared a presentation. I e-mailed the student asking for the notes on the presentation we didn’t get in class, but got no reply. This student did come to my office hours later in the week, claiming to have spent three days in bed (and didn’t cough once), and about a week before the paper was due was still trying to find primary sources. Oops!

So, yeah, I’m inclined to think this student just didn’t do the work, and yesterday’s no-show on the paper doesn’t disincline me from this idea.

The thing that sucks about this is that I have to be a hardass about these things and presume students are pulling one over on me until I see evidence to the contrary. I mean, I want to be a nice guy and be accommodating, and generally I am pretty accommodating, especially when students give me reason to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Oh well. At least the grading is done for this quarter. I’m keeping my fingers crossed my enrollment stays high enough for next quarter’s lecture course so that I get a grader and don’t have to get slammed with close to fifty papers and exams at a time.

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