Things I have been thinking about

I’m trying to get back in the habit of posting here, even if it’s not super important, interesting, or research-related.

Yesterday, I submitted another small grant application for OPOSSEM. We need some MediaWiki development work done, and [surprise] I haven’t been able to find anyone able or willing to work for free. Hopefully, with some funds available, we can hire a firm to get the wiki-based textbook going. Also, I exchanged a flurry of emails this morning about next steps: including getting an official launch message out there, figuring out how to recognize and reward user contributions, and hopefully starting a project similar to the Wikipedia Ambassadors program, but for the OPOSSEM textbook. Of course, that will be easier once the programming is done on the MediaWiki site.

I also exchanged a round of emails with various folks about open-source publishing, not strictly OPOSSEM-related, but also in journals. It is apparently an issue that is percolating at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. A similar debate is going on in the U.S. Of course, there’s also the recent debate about Elsevier and their prices for bundled journal subscriptions. I don’t have anything to add here, but I do find the politics of this interesting. And, I do tend to think that much knowledge is publicly funded through university and targeted research funding, and therefore, the fruits of that funding should be a public good, as widely available as possible. However, faculty members tend to be a conservative bunch, and really it’s going to require academics to be a little less resistant to change and more open to new and different metrics of “quality” than whether a small number of gatekeepers at certain journals deem content to be of quality.

Finally, last week I learned something new about academic hiring practices in Canada, and I’ve been thinking about it a bit since we have a couple of on-going searches in our department right now. I knew that all academic ads in Canada include some language about first priority for Canadian (resident or citizen) applicants. Clearly, it’s not an insurmountable hurdle, since I got hired up here, and many others do as well. I had always assumed it was a sort of Canada-first employment policy that applied to all jobs. Turns out it’s not. It just (or mostly?) applies to academic jobs, which was explained to me by Daniel Béland during coffee chitchat during last week’s graduate student conference (awesome, BTW…. the US could stand to have more of these opportunities for grad students). In any event, I skimmed a couple of articles about the policy to supplement what Daniel told me, and now, I find it fascinating.

Short version: In the late 60s, a number of academics were worried about the influx of Americans into the Canadian academic job market, and [though I don’t know whether it was material or cultural interests driving it] they framed a movement around the effect this was having on the content (i.e., too much American sociology, not enough CanCon) of the curriculum in Canadian universities. In 1982, the movement successfully got a provision added to immigration law to protect academic jobs from non-Canadian academics. At least one article suggests that the movement had the effect of increasing CanCon in campus curricula in the social sciences.

I’m curious about the effect the law has on the Canadian academic job market, and also on the training of Canadian PhDs. Economists certainly would have one hypothesis about the effects of protectionism on an industry, but I wonder whether that applies here. And, of course, I wouldn’t really want to touch that debate directly with a 10 foot pole. My sense is that enough universities find ways around the law if they really want to, and there is a fundamental problem in Canada of not enough growth in tenure-track jobs to satisfy the number of PhDs we produce collectively (and I do think the academy has a collective responsibility to try to employ as many of the qualified individuals we train, or stop training them). So, it’s complicated. And, interesting. And that’s all I have to say about that. 😀

Doyle, our NAFTA kitty

Earlier this week, we said goodbye to Doyle, our NAFTA kitty. He was almost 17 years old. Doyle was our second pet; we still have our first cat, Pannonica, who is either 17 or 18.

We got Doyle in January 1995 from the Austin Humane Society on North 183. I went looking for a cat for company for Pannonica and because she seemed partial either Brian or me and not the other. So clearly the other one of us needed a cat. Brian and I differ in our recollection about “whose cat” Doyle was supposed to be. I think Pannonica liked me, and Doyle was supposed to be a cat for him. But then, somewhere along the line, Pannonica became “his cat,” and Doyle became “mine.” He thinks this was the plan all along. In any case, we both liked Doyle when we met him. He was a tiny kitten, only 8 weeks old. He literally bounced around the little visiting room, and I just couldn’t resist him.

By Christmas 1997, Brian and I had two other pets, too, Slim (a hundred pound, sorta crazy American bulldog) and Syeeda (another short hair). We were living in Chapel Hill, NC, and I was in graduate school. That Christmas, I took all four pets with me to visit my grandparents and family in Florida. Doyle picked his first fight with Slim during that trip. Later that spring, Doyle started another fight with Slim in which Doyle ended up with a broken nose and a claw ripped off. After that, we had to keep him away from Slim because Doyle just wouldn’t back down.

That’s how it came to be that when we moved to Mexico City in 1998, Doyle came with us. My mom took care of the other 3 pets. I think Doyle liked our apartment in Coyoacan, mainly because it was the only time he was allowed outside with supervision. He was allowed in the courtyard of our small four unit building, and the first time he looked up and saw the sky and not a roof, he was visibly startled. But by the time we left, he liked laying in the courtyard sunshine. In 2001, he went back to Mexico City with us a second time.

In January 2002, we had said goodbye to Slim after a short but devastating illness, and quickly decided to get another dog, Mance. Doyle still didn’t like dogs, and sometimes didn’t seem to like the other cats either, but Mance learned his place (last) in the pet hierarchy quickly. Sometimes, it was clear that Doyle was intentionally bossing Mance around. For instance, if we were playing fetch in the house with Mance, Doyle might causally wander near the toy without looking at it or Mance, but effectively preventing Mance from getting near the toy and forcing him to look back over his shoulder at us with an expression of despair at not being able to bring us the toy. Other times, Doyle would stand right in the middle of the hallway just when I called the dog to go for a walk; he seemed to know that Mance would get stuck behind him and not know how to get around. Doyle also liked to push Mance, a 90 lb. olde English bulldog, off the communal water dish, where he would seem to drink for so long that Mance would be forced to lay down a few feet away to wait his turn. Doyle’s been our crankiest (or perhaps passive aggressive is a better way to describe it) cat for a while now.

I called Doyle our NAFTA kitty because he’s been with us to all three NAFTA countries, the only of our pets for which that is true. He’s been a part of our lives for a long time. While we miss him, we’re grateful that the end was not protracted and that he was not in pain. He got a respiratory infection, and though it seemed to be getting better with antibiotics for a few days, he suddenly stopped eating and got very weak. He was already very underweight. Force feeding him at home didn’t seem to be working, so it was time to let him go.

It’s hard to tell if the other cats miss him. They haven’t been close kitties for a while, each instead keeping to their separate spaces. Brian said Syeeda laid with him that last day on the couch, and she was sniffing his favorite spot a few days after he was gone. I can’t tell if we’re giving them extra attention because they need it or because we do.

If you want to invite me for a guest lecture or talk

I’m thinking that someday, I would like to have an info packet like Richard Stallman. For instance, consider:

If you can find a host for me that has a friendly parrot, I will be very very glad. If you can find someone who has a friendly parrot I can visit with, that will be nice too.

or perhaps….

It is nice of you to want to be kind to me, but please don’t offer help all the time. In general I am used to managing life on my own; when I need help, I am not shy about asking. So there is no need to offer to help me. Moreover, being constantly offered help is actually quite distracting and tiresome.

So please, unless I am in grave immediate danger, please don’t offer help….

…One situation where I do not need help, let alone supervision, is in crossing streets. I grew up in the middle of the world’s biggest city, full of cars, and I have crossed streets without assistance even in the chaotic traffic of Bangalore and Delhi. Please just leave me alone when I cross streets.

In some places, my hosts act as if my every wish were their command. By catering to my every whim, in effect they make me a tyrant over them, which is not a role I like. I start to worry that I might subject them to great burdens without even realizing….

…and best of all…

Please don’t be surprised if I pull out my computer at dinner and begin handling some of my email. I have difficulty hearing when there is noise; at dinner, when people are speaking to each other, I usually cannot hear their words. Rather than feel bored, or impose on everyone by asking them to speak slowly at me, I do some work.

“UWO + McMaster research team produce new G&M report”

Or at least that’s what you might think if you read this Globe and Mail Canadian University Report. Not only is McMaster Canadian “Ivy League,” [which I suspect many in the social sciences would scoff at…. just go read PSJR sometime, or don’t…] but our undergrads give the University some of the highest ratings among the large universities. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. But, perhaps I should have, considering I was totally mobbed by high school students and parents for the 2+ hours I stood near the Social Sciences area of the Mac display at the Ontario University Fair a couple of weekends ago. I literally did not have more than 30 seconds without someone .right. .there. wanting information.

Updated to add: Interesting observation, “…if you just take Durkheim’s work, cross out the words “commit suicide” and write in “drop out of university,” you’re about 80% of the way to summarizing modern student retention literature…” from the folks who crunched the numbers for the G&M.