Go . . . Rockies?

Did I ever think that I would be sitting here on the second-to-the-last day of the baseball season, rooting for the Rockies and Matt Holliday in particular to have a good game against the Cubs? A game that matters not a whit for the post-season standings? Well, no. Why am I in this position? because I'm 2 1/2 points out of the lead in our fantasy baseball league, I've already maxed out the games that I can get credit for at the outfield, first base, and shortstop, so I put Holliday rather than Teixeira in the "utility" spot for the day in the hopes that the combination of Wrigley Field and the Cubs' woeful pitching will generate a slight boost to my OPS. I'm only a hundredth of a point behind the next place in that category, so if Holliday smashes a couple of home runs for me I might catch him.

So: go Rockies, go Holliday!



I'm involved with AU's Greenberg Seminar program; have been for several years. (Actually, in the interest of getting new blood involved, this will be my last year of formal involvement with it, which is in some ways too bad because I love doing it.) The Greenberg Seminars are about training Ph.D. students to teach, largely by holding sessions where we can actually talk about teaching (bizarre that we have to go out of our way to make time for conversations like that on a university campus, but there you are), as well as providing opportunities for those of us who have been doing this for a little while to share some tips and advice with those just starting out. All in all, it's a good time.

One of the issues that came up during this Saturday's session involved the careful balance that one has to strike in a classroom -- or when designing the syllabus that will shape the expectations of what will go on in that classroom -- between establishing/maintaining authority, and giving students in the class the freedom to develop their own ways of engaging with the material. Over the years I've become much more convinced that it is better to establish all of the hard-and-fast rules and expectations up front, both by writing them in the syllabus and by reinforcing them in person during the first few class sessions. I'm primarily talking about things like "I don't accept late papers unless you have a documented family or medical emergency" or "this is a discussion-oriented class, and if you just sit back and listen for the whole semester you shouldn't expect to do very well." But noting things like "we have an Academic Integrity Code and you're not supposed to violate it" seem to me to fall into that category as well; stating such things up front simply makes sure that everyone in the class, students and professor alike, start off on the same page about what the rules are.

After the session ended, a couple of people told me that they were a bit concerned that putting all of those expectations up front looked and sounded "defensive." This was also, I think, because we had a discussion about maintaining order in the classroom: how to react if students behaved inappropriately, made derogatory comments, or otherwise impeded the educational process. During that discussion my position was pretty clear: I always reserve the right to do whatever is necessary to propel the educational process along, even up to asking people to leave if they are being disruptive and counterproductive. And when push comes to shove I am still the authority-figure in the class; the fact that I usually don't choose to exercise that authority in ways that I don't think are all that appropriate for a classroom environment does not detract from the fact that at the end of the day I am the one who gets to decide how far to let things go.

Most of my classes are discussion-oriented classes, which means that most days are spent trying to hash out issues collectively. We range all over the map, and I am very lenient in my management of discussions -- wherever people want to go is fine with me, I have no pre-set agenda: it's just "here are some texts, here are some issues, here are some ideas, go." In order for that to work, everyone in the room has to be on board with the style and the agenda (such as it is); if they aren't, for example if they drop out of the main discussion and just have a side-conversation with the person sitting next to them, I regard it to be my duty to intervene and try to draw them back into the central exchange. Indeed, that's my job in a discussion: push, prod, challenge, press -- not direct, shape, manage, or other such things. I facilitate; students do the conversational work.

For me, stating expectations up front is the best way to set up the classroom environment. There are some picky things, like when assignments are due and what I expect everyone to do for those assignments; on those I brook virtually no compromise. But those firm borders are what permit the generally wild and uncontrolled flow of the daily discussions in my classes. Everybody has to know that they should play hard; as long as everyone agrees to that, the kind of learning I am after can take place. There is a bit of an irony here, in that I need to establish ground rules and thus my own authority in order to divest myself of it as the semester proceeds, but who ever said that this process was supposed to be completely rational?

World Politics Question #4

Are ideas and ideals nothing more than masks for the interests of the powerful, or do they play some kind of independent role in international political life?

Note that in discussing this question you would probably be well-advised to tackle it both in the abstract and in some specific instance. An abstract answer without details can come across as superficial; a case-specific answer without a broader theoretical context can come across as groundless. So you probably want to try for some kind of combination of the two.

[Further thought: "human rights" and "free trade" are certainly ideas and ideals, but so are "death to the Great Satan of the United States of America" and "kill all of the {insert ethnic group here}." Would your answer change if we were talking about "bad" ideas/ideals as opposed to "good" ones?]


Happy Empire Day

Not surprisingly, Chancellor Palpatine said it best and most bluntly:

"The Republic will be reorganized as the first Galactic Empire to ensure a safe and secure society."

Bush had his own version. Read all about it here.

In any event, Happy Empire Day to all.


Two links of note

The first from my former student Lisa:

Mr. Universe (login required because it's on the NYTimes site), an op-ed by Ronald D. Moore -- writer of what I think is pretty incontrovertibly the best science fiction show on television, Battlestar Galactica -- about Star Trek and visions of the future.

The second courtesy of Tim Burke over at Easily Distracted: Goof-Off Readings: Genesis; The Muqaddimah; The End of History and the Last Man; Guns, Germs and Steel. You see, the Weekly Standard has decided that Tim's course is a "lightweight" and something worthy of mockery. I'm offended -- if Tim's course is a "bit of fluff," then what is my sci-fi course? Come on, Weekly Standard. Please tar and feather me too! I mean, I even assign a comic book (Watchmen). Granted, I'll match my course up with anyone else's course any day for intellectual rigor and the like, but only if I actually get challenged on it . . . so come on, Weekly Standard, by the (and I use this word loosely) "standards" you're using I am clearly teaching a "fluff" course that signals the End Of Western CIvilization As We Know It. So put me on the blacklist too!

World Politics Question #3

Among other matters on which they disagree, realists maintain that military force will always remain a central part of world politics, while liberals hold out the possibility that rational negotiations can overcome the need to settle disputes by force. Which argument do you think is right? (Note that "right" here can mean either empirically, or normatively, or both.)

Podcast on liberalism will be up at kittenboo later this afternoon.



Everyone's been posting reflections on the fifth anniversary of '9/11' for the past few days. I have held off because my own experience of that day was pretty much like most other people's if they didn't have relatives at or near one of the attack sites: watching the television, dumbfounded, as the towers collapsed, and then trying to find other people to talk to about the situation. The rest of the day is pretty much a blur.

But -- and here's the point I want to make -- the day wasn't '9/11' yet. It didn't become the emblematic icon that it is now until a few days later. At the time, it was just crazy, an event that seemed rather incomprehensible but which people were all trying to make sense of in various ways. Things were unsettled, in the precise and technical sense of the word: almost everything was up for grabs, including how the United States would respond and what the implications would be for the regulation of daily life. They didn't settle down until (I would say) over a week later, on the 20th, but I'll post about that (probably both here and over at the Duck) next week.

For now I want to note another five-year anniversary, one that doesn't get a lot of media coverage: on this date five years ago, the university was evacuated because of a bomb threat. As far as I know they didn't find anything, and nothing blew up, but that day the campus was cleared while bomb squads searched the premises.

And it was chaos. I arrived at the Metro station to discover a large crowd of people, students mainly, milling around and talking excitedly. There were a lot of rumors about what was going on and about why the campus shuttles weren't running; the words "terrorist" and "bomb" ran through the crowd like magic talismans handed around as fast as they possibly could be -- as though the only rational response to the situation was to repeat what one had just overheard, pass it on, pass it on. I had a cel phone -- one of the few (remember that five years ago cel phone penetration in the US was nowhere near the level it is nowadays) so I called the information line and got a recorded message saying that the campus was being evacuated. I decided (after calling my wife) to walk the mile from the station to the campus to see if I could help; after all, I was faculty, and maybe I could do something as a representative of organizational authority.

As it turned out they had no idea what to do with me. There was no contingency plan in place for evacuating the campus due to a bomb threat, and certainly no plan for utilizing faculty-members who suddenly showed up on the scene offering to assist. After some negotiations I ended up in a church across the street with a bunch of students, presiding over a discussion about security and threat and Islam -- a discussion that both exemplified and expressed the fears of of the young kids (yes, kids -- 18, 19 years old) who were suddenly faced with the necessity of abandoning their dormitories and their possessions (several were in bathrobes) perhaps never returning to them if there really had been a bomb. Maybe it even helped to allay some of their concerns. Maybe the sense of normality -- here's a professor holding a class discussion, albeit in a church with students more frightened than usual -- helped to clam people down. It helped me, that's for sure, as it gave me something to do and helped me feel somewhat useful.

As it turned out, there was no bomb (as far as we were ever told) and everyone made it back to campus fine. But it was the first encounter that most of us (I'd wager) had ever had with such things up-close and personal. 11 September was images on the TV for me; 13 September was a more direct experience.

Masterworks blogs

Here are the addresses for the four blogs from this semester's instantiation of the Masterworks course:

Masterworks Quest

SIS 604 Group Two

Old Dead Guys

IR Thought: Reflections on Essential Works


Sci-fi class blogs


As of right now, I only have the urls for three four of the class blogs for this semester's edition of the Social/Science/Fiction course. They are:

To Sometimes Blog Where No Blog Blogged Before

Funky Fresh With P. Diddy J

PTJ Group Two

The Winship Enterprise

I know that there are other class blogs out there; in fact, there should be two one other s. But I can't find the urls for them it in my e-mail. If you are a member of one of those that group s, please please e-mail me the url for your group's blog ASAP.

World Politics Question #2

Here's the second weekly question: should the United Nations have more authority and capacity to intervene in events taking place within the borders of a single state? Take events in Darfur, for example: should the UN be able to send in troops without the consent of the Sudanese government?

Also, the "realism" lecturlet is online and available for download at www.kittenboo.com. While you're there you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for the course so that you'll automagically get all of the other lecturelets as I pose them to the site; ask around if you don't know how to do that yet.


Giving out iPods

Courtesy of my student Amber, an interesting article from the BBC:

Students Given Free mp3 Players

It's a good idea, I think. The iPod, like the other portable mp3 players on the market, provides certain pedagogical advantages in terms of making course content available in virtual format: portability, the ability to move the listening experience to a locale and a time where students are more comfortable (especially important for kinesthetic learners who take in information best when their bodies are in motion), and the ease with which presentations may be paused or repeated. Plus, let's not underestimate the coolness factor: listening to an iPod is certainly hipper than listening to a cassette tape, and as such might be a more acceptable thing to do within the lifeworld of the contemporary college student. (It certainly is for me, after all.)

Not surprisingly, educational reactionaries like the Campaign for Real Education are staunchly opposed to the "progressivism" expressed by such a move. At least they have their complaint right: used properly, devices like iPods and techniques like the podcasting of lectures and other course material do undermine the traditional style of education-as-the-trasmission-of-information-from-experts-to-students. Yes, there's a real difference of opinion here. I just think that in the end they're wrong: education should be about facilitating encounter, not about pontification by experts. Dewey was right.

Human Geography

On Thursday I set out from my office with the intent to go to class. Because of the APSA meeting, I had not been physically present for the first meeting of the course, so this was my inaugural journey to take a look at the classroom. So it was in many ways the first day for me -- and I did not recognize the name of the building in which the class was scheduled.

Now, this is not an unfamiliar experience for newcomers to a college campus, but I've been here for over six years. The fact that I'd never heard of the building -- the fact that I had to consult a campus map to get a general sense of the quadrant of campus in which the place was purportedly located -- felt very strange. Fortunately, on the way there I ran into Liz, a student in one of my other courses, who was (coincidentally) on her way to an interview to be a campus tour guide. Not surprisingly she knew where the mystery building was, and was able to direct me there and even to suggest an alternate and faster route to get there from my office in the future. This last is particularly important because the building in question is about as far from my office as one can get and still remain on campus, and after being here for a while my tacit sense of how long it takes to get places on campus does not, in fact, encompass the path I took from my office to the class building, while the alternate path is just about at the upper bound of that tacit sense. Still, I need to reset my internal clock and leave a couple of minutes earlier than I ordinarily would in order to ensure that class starts on time.

The whole experience illustrated a simple point: individual experiences of "the same" place need not have much to do with one another. If I were to take a campus map and then to draw out the pathways I ordinarily take over the course of a semester, and to do so in such a way that frequently-traveled routes were darker in hue than more infrequently traveled paths, I suspect that I'd generate a kind of geographical fingerprint that would be wildly different from many of my colleagues in other departments and divisions of the university, and probably also different from the average student geographical fingerprint. There are places on campus that I've heard of but never seen, and places I frequent that I doubt are frequented by most students or most other faculty. And even with my now having entered the class building I'd never heard of before Thursday, there are still buildings on campus in which I am almost positive that I've never set foot.

Of course, how many of my faculty colleagues have ever set foot in a dormitory? Part of the whole idea of the Residential Faculty program is to ensure that my pathway through the campus intersects with student pathways outside of the classroom or the office; the fact that my office is in a dorm is the first step in that process, but it goes much further than that. I regularly take meals in the student dining-hall, which makes for some interesting entanglement of pathways; I also teach in the dorm where my office is and where the members of that class reside, further breaking down the boundaries between "faculty space" and "student space." At the same time, I am keenly aware of the need for privacy, so even though my office is in the dorm I do not regularly go and wander the halls upstairs or anything like that -- and sometimes (not often) I close my office door while I am inside working on something. But my very presence in the dorm -- the fact that my pathway from a classroom to my office intersects with the pathways of a number of students returning from class to their places of residence, and the fact that we run into one another in the reception-area by the hall's front desk -- makes some of my experience more similar to that of a student on campus. At least in a geographical sense.


The other kind of "football"

Here's a little piece that inverts the gun-sights, as it were: a bona-fide European talking about what Americans generally call "football."

Gridiron war games rule

Right off the bat I'll disagree with the author's contention that American football is "the most intellectual of all team sports." First, intellectual for whom? Certainly not for the grunts running around the field in Kevlar body armor. Certainly not for the coaches and managers basically selecting plays from a playbook. And as far as I can tell, not for the fans, who do a lot more yelling than appreciating in my experience. And second, if there's an intellectual sport played in America, both in the sense of having more intellectuals interested in it and in the sense that one needs to be somewhat of an intellectual to really appreciate it, it's baseball, followed by things like golf (and maybe tennis, if one wants to count David Foster Wallace's brilliant novel Infinite Jest as a highly intellectual novel about tennis, which I would, at least in part). Any moron can appreciate American football: take ball, move ball down field, tackle person with ball. But baseball -- that takes effort to appreciate. Chess at 90 miles per hour, as Roger Kahn calls it.

Thanks to Priya, one of my PhD students, for the link.


At long last -- and I wish I could say "by popular demand," although there are only a couple of people who have asked me for this -- I* have established a central site for distributing the various podcasts that are linked to my courses, as well as distributing other random things I manage to record myself doing (conference presentations, public lectures, etc.). It is (drum roll please):


Yes, there's a story behind the name; feel free to visit the site and learn what the story is. I'll be syndicating all of the podcasts for all of my courses from that site from now on, and also distributing other random things through the RSS feed ProfPTJ's podcasts.


*This is "I" in the sense of "with the assistance and technical support of my graduate assistant Avi Zollman, who actually did the WordPress install and designed the very cool masthead."

World Politics blogs

Here are the five blogs for this semester's World Politics (SIS-105) class:

World Politics Are a Changin'

High 5ives

I Like Dirty Liberal Words

Four Girls and a Guy

The Blogtastic Four

Now, if someone would just choose a different blog template so that all of the blogs didn't look the same… :-)

Seriously, though, feel free to customize and to innovate. And feel free to read and comment on posts to blogs that are not your own!


World Politics Question #1

So here it is, weekly question number one:

What is the most important issue in world politics today, and why?

[Nothing like a broad one to open the year with, right?]