Pass the flagon*

As I stood in front of 30 kids this morning, trying to function on a grand total of 7 hours of sleep in the past two days, facing dreaded lack of money and trying to calm nerves which were insisting on doing various Irish jigs in my body, I realised that I am constitutionally unsuited to making things fun. Class no. 2 in a 15-week semester might be too early for this verdict but, as a proper uni lecturer, I can only get better.**The only thing that I can say about myself is that things can (or so I hope) only get better from here. Though, with the way my luck's been going lately, I will probably get sacked from this job too.

Tomorrow, it's AnotherBigNameConference day. Both E and I will be there, bright and early, and one or both of us will blog about it. ABNC goes for 3 days but we are only there for one. We do have a shiny poster-like thing to put up (or will, once we print all our bits) but our plans for (academic) world domination has been shelved till future conferences. E finally gets to go off on holiday and I get to come back and slave away at the teaching and flunkie gigs.***

* Yes, yet another song title (not lyrics, like E's). I said it was addictive!

** This is not a grand ploy for sympathy though sympathy would not go amiss. I couldn't explain ontology and epistemology in class today. Well, let me rephrase: I could explain both concepts but in increasingly convoluted and hugely boring language which confused the kids (and I could see that in their faces). Ontology: what there is; Epistemology: how you know it. Done. Finish. Khattam. Is that really difficult? At high noon today, it bloody well was.

*** Compared to the amount of work I've put in, the teaching gig is barely worth it. I spent 3 hours writing up my notes yesterday. Three bloody hours!!! And, yet, see ** above.

optioned the options

See? It's not just me. Although we don't get to use books here at TUWSNBN. So much for all that time in law school spent learning how to quickly find the stuff that agrees with you.

pick up the pieces that you love the most

Same here--no details until next month, but I think generalized whining about format is probably safe.

So it turns out that this time I was faced with an entirely different problem--not only how to approach the answers (which seem to seek both a review of the literature and an argument, requiring both bad argument--because if you want to win an argument, you don't bring up the people who disagree with you--and a bad review--because an attempt to guess who the readers think is important and what they think he said is doomed to failure, and a literature review should be geared toward accuracy in representation and establishing the existing boundaries, rather than making an argument about the topic) but how in the world to get everything important into a single essay.

Just, if I get another comment back that it looks like the Cliff Notes version of IR theory, I think I may scream. How, for the love of god and green lifesavers, are you supposed to do anything more than the Cliff Notes version in six hours? The structure demands the short version, and, what with not being able to stop time and all, you're either going to lose the quantity of competing views or specificity on those views. If they want both, they should make the exam longer.

But nobody's asking me, are they? Eh. It's done, and my paper for tomorrow isn't. So I'm off to edit the mixed methodology stuff and print out some shiny copies for the conference. System dynamics is so soothing after a stressful week.

Also, last night I learned how to spell the word twelfth. I still maintain that the f in the middle is a stupid idea. Much like the decision to leave out the good parts of pronouncing knight. You can't tell me it isn't more fun to say it in Middle English.

Right, off to be productive.


laugh in their faces*

Or, perhaps not.

All my obsessing from yesterday, about perhaps not being able to last through the next couple of weeks of cross-cultural training, just became redundant this morning as I was summarily dismissed from said job.

I did expect a dressing down and a discussion but definitely not a "farewell, employee. Please don't let the door hit you on your way out". But, then, no one expected the Spanish Inquisition either and look what happened there.

I've been thinking on this for the past few hours and have come to realise that it's all about changes. The me of a few years ago would never have spoken up in training, would not have contradicted the trainer and nor would I have critiqued training videos for having "an essentialist view of culture which gives rise to preconceptions on the part of (us) teachers". I'd have shut up, sat down, suffered through it all. And, hey, I'd have kept my job. I knew all this speaking up rubbish was seriously overrated and can only be afforded by people who can take the consequences.

On the plus side (which one has to look really really hard to find), this should theoretically give me more time for dissertating and I'm realising I have (completely undeserved since I never do anything) marvellous friends. Yes, money's scarcer now but, perhaps, I can also cut out a meal from my daily diet (who needs to eat 3 times a day, right?)?

So, there yous have it--I'm on the job market. If any PTSD reader is looking for a competent researcher, trained economist and an ESL teacher who can draw a mean pint of Guinness, email me, please.

I promise not to talk.

* This whole titling blog posts as names of songs thing is catching.

and this one's for fun

Okay, we're even depressing *me* at this point. Go read some wacky Who fanpic stuff. Featuring Scooby Doo and the return of Jack Harkness. As usual, not really worksafe or at all enlightening, beyond sex jokes and lyrics quoting. But funny.

ETA: Part two is here, featuring lines like:

Velma: We must throw him into the firey depths of Mount Doom.
Daphne: Oh, I think he's kind of cute.
Baby Moondancer: When I become overlord, you two will be the first to die.


children of the revolution(s)?

While raging away about training sessions (and listening to really really loud music) and reading E's comments about doing the same (the music part, not the raging part), I realised this:

PTSD's music tastes are rather firmly postcolonial: E's got a thing for Canadians (the Headstones, anyone?) while I seem to put on MSP, Silverchair, Franz Ferdinand and (online, of course) TripleJ.

I think we both have a fair fondness for Crowded House (and Split Enz) while I'll always remember evenings spent in smoky pubs watching Tim Freedman pound the keys and sing.

I found it quite amusing and, right now, anything amusing's worth blogging about.

If I had more hair, I'd be tearing them out in handfuls right about now

Be warned, PTSD readers: What follows is the blogpost equivalent of my wanting to slam my door, turn up the music really loud (Manic Street Preachers, please. Or, early Silverchair) and throw a few things at the wall.

While E continues to decide whether or not to slag off BigNameTheorists and teases us with pictures of the Great Wide Canadian Wilderness, I finally have a moment (in between trying to find my only book on social network analysis, so that I can draw up a network between now and tomorrow evening) to contemplate my navel and reflect upon the past couple of days.

Two things deserve mention here: 1) first class on Monday, and 2) the two-week training for teaching to students whose first language is not English that I'm participating in. In a nutshell, the first might have possibilities of improvement and, at the worst, it will be a "learning experience" for the students and for me. The second is not only a train wreck but a train which hit numerous dumpsters where dead, rotten animal and plant products had been stored.

First things first: one the subject of 1), I can confidently say things didn't go brilliantly. Even calling it “well” might be a bit of an exaggeration. The classroom itself, halfway across the uni from E and mine department, was a small, cramped room with no (yes, none) projectors or any other means of visually showing slides and such to the masses. This meant, rather like oppressed natives, the students were ready to revolt. That they didn't was mainly due to my having ended the class early, I reckon. As much as I would like to claim it was my scintillating talking that kept them glued to their seats until I gave them permission to go, I don't think that was the case at all.

On clothing, I was there as “academically” turned out as it gets. I think E, especially, would have found it vastly amusing how "professional" I looked. Realistically, I looked like someone (probably a posh restaurant) had given me time off from waiting tables--starched cream (collared, of course) shirt and a black skirt (with thin white stripes and a flowery pattern—my only concession to quite possibly not looking like I had accidentally walked in from the nearest French restaurant). Oh, and heeled shoes.

But, any potential authority I gained then was rapidly lost when, the next day (today), I ran into what seemed like half my class while I was on my way to the training session. What was I wearing today, dear PTSD readers? Well, since we are in the midst of a heatwave, I had on a singlet top (with the picture of a Yak on it) and another one of my granny skirts. More Takoma Park than American academia. Hopefully, the kids will have forgotten this by Thursday or else the whole “wearing academic dress” would have been a practice that died a rapid (and unmourned) death.

On the second subject, that of being trained to teach kids whose first language is not English, I can say that I have managed to offend (and quite possibly completely piss off) my supervisor/trainer. The whole point of this two-week exercise is to “facilitate understanding of how students from different cultures write differently”. Now, I have few issues with students all writing differently--despite making (part of) my living as a Writing tutor, I reckon we all do the actual practice of writing in different ways. It is when we start talking about how “Arab students write like X” or “In Japan, it's common to do Y” that things really start to get annoying*. Without actually meeting this Arab student or talking to her in person, how do I know how she writes? In other words, this training (and I just came from a four-hour session) and many others like it at TUWSNBN, assumes we are teaching a category called “international students” or, more specifically, “Chinese student” rather than just “student”.

Depending on where they grew up, where they went to school and what type of schooling they did, private school students from China are likely to have more things in common with a similar student here in the USA rather than with someone who went to a rural school in China. And, at trainings like the one I attended today (and will be attending for the next ten days), this aspect is often ignored as (like today) we get into debates about whether students from Singapore are more likely to have problems with writing as compared to those from South America.

One of the exercises today was this: all eight teachers were given an essay that had been written by an international student and we were told to role-play (in pairs) about how to respond to it. My point that one doesn't actually respond to a paper but to the student and their views about what they wanted help with (and what they thought was wrong with the paper) was not well received. Same paper, different students = different reactions on the part of the teacher (or so I maintain). Yes, culture matters but, equating culture only with nationality or region, as many of these trainings seem to do instead of looking at cultures, in the plural, is completely idiotic. All right, I'll say it (and did, actually): It's really a waste of time which I could have spent working on AnotherBigNameConference poster.

Besides, as far as my own class is concerned, teaching kids whose first language is not English is not an issue at all. All my kids are American. Yes, all of them. I must admit I'm a bit disappointed at this (yes, yes, I know I'm at a uni in America). A decade ago, I started my first year of undergrad. In a class of about the same size as the one I'm teaching here, I had fellow students from India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Botswana, Sweden, Germany, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and, as is usual in Australia, quite a number of New Zealanders. Oh, and a few Aussies, of course. But then, comparing TUWSNBN to my old uni isn't really fair. We did have our Journalism classes at the Student centre's pub, after all. I can't ever see that happening here.**

ETA: Since I'm reading all this for Friday anyway, I reckon yous have to suffer through it along with me. So, here goes--my analysis of this whole training gig is that there's a difference between looking at students as categories, as possessing intrinsic attributes (based on culture) which affects their writing compared to students as parts of overlapping networks, which affect processes of how they write (and act). I'd expand upon this further but I really have to go and throw something at the wall and prepare myself for the next (four hours!) training session tomorrow.

* Only for me though. The other trainees, seven of them, were giving examples of how Spanish people wrote like X and Thai academic writing was like Y. Also, my claim that there has to be a distinction made between American academic writing and American writing was pointedly ignored. After all, we are not in the practice of teaching these kids American writing but rather to teach them American academic writing--a whole different kettle of fish altogether (though why in the world are there fish in a kettle? I've always wondered).

** Again, PTSD is not advocating drinking and reading at the same time though it has heard that those two often go together. Or so it is said. PTSD is not in the habit of testing that hypothesis. No, really, it isn't.

no televisions

Okay, so I'm busy thinking pleasant thoughts. Like this, which I swiped from Wikipedia (yes, Peter, the source of all evil. But it was easier than hunting down one of my own photos.)

That, Loyal Reader, is a picture of the Canadian Shield. Taken, unless I'm very much mistaken (and I'm not, I've seen it every year for 20-some *mumble mumble I hate birthdays* years) just down the highway from where my parents are right now.

There are water lilies in the pond during the summer.

According to my mom, they've been having trouble with a bear taking out the birdfeeders. She's guessing that now that there are people around again, the bear will find somewhere else to hang out. I think that last bit's meant to be soothing.

Four days. I just have to get through four more days. I can do this. Right?

ETA: The DVDs are here! Best to put Slings & Arrows away until vacation, but there's no way I'll be able to wait until then to see HCL again. Can't do it. Not going to try. I think I'm going to need a pick-me-up at the end of this week, so it's definitely going on the "watch me the very minute that eveything's turned in" list.

ETA2: Holy shit. Paul Gross is brilliant. I mean, yes, I knew he was brilliant. But wow. Holy shit.

Also, Callum Keith Rennie remains the most awesome fake punk guitarist in the history of anything.

Okay, back to studying. Or, really, more like "back to taking deep calming breaths and praying that I manage to string complete sentences together into something resembling an argument. Preferably in English."

do you believe in God and green Lifesavers

Okay, on second thought, I'm not sure if this counts as discussing my answer. So off this goes until next month, just in case.

Except for this bit, which gives absolutely nothing away:

I think I just wrote the IR equivalent of "Look, Ray, turtles!"



Billy’s got a PhD and Sara she’s a teacher

Okay, I’m really going to get started on the work I need to do. Right after this. And I’m not procrastinating because I’m terrified that I won’t be able to get through the work. I’m not. Honestly.

But first, the Academic Eyeliner post.

This started with a short story that I read about academic punks* in which eyeliner was not mentioned. But it did make me start to wonder about what, exactly, punk looks like in academia. Or if it's possible at all.

And then I got on the bus to TUWSNBN, and getting off the bus was a student wearing a distinctive “I’m a caring person who shows solidarity with the global oppressed” scarf and blue eye shadow. And that’s fine, to each his own, but really he should have been wearing eyeliner, too, because without it the shadow just looked funny.

Of course I had to share this observation with Priya, because we both know the student. This led (with the sort of pained inevitability that often accompanies our conversations) to a discussion of the types of academics who could wear eyeliner, and what they would be like. And so, a hypothetical** typology of Academic Boys in Eyeliner.***

Academic A wears eyeliner and look pretty damn hot in it, because it’s totally at odds with his worn-out jeans and anarchist t-shirt. Unfortunately, as soon as he opens his mouth the illusion is blown to hell, because the eyeliner is Making A Statement about the nature of the patriarchy and the oppression of assumed gender roles. Coming from a middle class educated white guy, this is less than compelling.

Academic B is otherwise straight-laced and clean cut. Despite the fact that this is all an act, and he can drink everyone under the table and has a truly foul sense of humor, in eyeliner he still looks like an extra in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. This is unfortunate, but does demonstrate that attractive boys cannot always pull off the gender-bending look.

Academic C**** also looks like a drag queen in eyeliner. Luckily, she wouldn’t be caught dead in it, because even Academic B looks more girly in a dress. When Academic C starts talking about the oppression of the patriarchy, at least no one has the urge to punch her in the head.

Academic D wears eyeliner with a suit, and none of his students are brave enough to say anything about it. As long as he’s in character as a professor, it works surprisingly well. But an attempt to wear eyeliner with shorts and a t-shirt backfires miserably and leads to stifled giggling and thoughts unbecoming graduate students. Perhaps it’s the beard. Or it could be the tube socks.

Academic E really, really shouldn’t be able to look good in eyeliner. It’s wrong on several levels, including the universal rule that punk attitude and khaki pants are mutually exclusive. But his sheer enthusiasm for the idea wins out and he manages to make it look natural. Terrifying, but natural. Much like a hurricane.

Academic F wearing any sort of makeup falls into the category of Mr. Spock eating an ice cream cone. It’s an image that cannot be contemplated, and it makes your brain hurt to try.

Academic G manages to make his eyeliner look like some bizarre baseball accessory. It’s possible that he (once again) doesn’t understand the goal of the exercise. Of course, it’s also possible that he’s running everything around him as a complicated human-subject experiment and sits in his office at night laughing at the rest of us.

Academic H wears eyeliner as if it is part of some local custom. His eyeliner is confiscated at some out-of-the-way airport in an unpronounceable city, and he willingly renounces it as a possession that ties him too closely to the material world.

Academic I is too busy being an academic to wear eyeliner. Academic I probably wouldn’t know that eyeliner exists, if it weren’t for the pesky undergraduates who insist on interrupting her fieldwork and an outspoken mother-in-law. If forced to wear it, she would feel the overwhelming need to stab the nearest bystander with a pencil and immediately return to editing.

Academic J joins Academic B on the drag queen end of the spectrum. Only he looks kind of fascinatingly *wrong* in it. It’s like a car crash—you want to look away, but can’t stop staring, because anything that awful has to have killed someone.

Academic K wears eyeliner on a regular basis. People get used to it. If they don’t, he didn’t want to talk to them anyway. The system's rigged to keep the little guy down, man.

Academic L not only wears eyeliner, but wears *silver* eyeliner with sparkly eye shadow. As a fashion choice it’s indefensible, because no one over the age of thirty should wear glitter. Public opinion is divided between “he’s crazy” and “he’s crazy and dangerous.”

Academic M wears eyeliner and lipstick and flattering clothes. She has a good haircut. No one will drink with her at conferences, because there’s obviously something screwy going on. The ability to match pants and shoes might be catching.

Academic N wears eyeliner because he finds it entertaining to fuck with people’s worldviews. His students also wear eyeliner and follow him around campus. Other academics call him overrated and secretly visit Sephora on the weekends, where they avoid looking at each other in the interests of plausible deniability. Eventually, Academic N publishes a book that becomes standard reading in his field and stops caring about how he looks. Eyeliner sales drop off.

Academic O has been wearing eyeliner for years. He was punk before punk was cool. All these other academics in eyeliner are just poseurs.

* Don't bother to go looking for it. It isn't really about academia, or academics. It's about television.

** Hypothetical, because it allows me to avoid future subjunctive and inflict more present tense on our Loyal Reader.

*** Please note that we’re talking about ideal types. Any resemblance to actual persons is purely accidental. Give us some credit—we don’t want to completely destroy our careers before we even start them.

If you *must* attempt to guess who they are (you’re a bad Weberian, but hey, whatever floats your theoretical boat) do it by email instead of in the comments, okay? We promise to laugh at the guesses, but we don’t want names showing up here for Google to find.

**** What? They're not all boys? Well, a gold star in observation for you, then. Of course they aren't all boys. None of them are. They're hypothetical.

There are, of course, other possibilities, and we welcome comments offering them. In fact, we’re practically giddy with the anticipation of other possibilities.

Well, maybe not Priya. I don’t think she does giddy.


Starting to teach

So, the D-day's tomorrow (or so I think) and, as I gird up my loins (can I?) and go off to pump some iron and put on my best scary face imitation in preparation, I still haven't put up my syllabus online. Of course, I can very easily justify such a oversight by pointing out that my Blackboard site was out of commission for a while. Or, I could just say what it was that led to this dilly-dallying about the syllabus. It's that I keep on thinking (and it's obviously true) that I could do so much better with this, my first-ever syllabus.

So, what have I learnt?

1. Previous syllabi are useful depending on whose they are. The two people I asked syllabi off from, I managed to nick quite a few articles (and formats). The other syllabi I looked at, for previous TUWSNBN classes on the same subject, were quite useless. A general theme about this particular class seems to be that whoever teaches it, decides what it means. This is quite problematic because then, what's the point of this class? And, hey, should this half of PTSD, a mere cog in the gigantic web of life, be the ONE person given authority to answer this question? So far, if I'd drafted a syllabus that talked of Liverpool fans and the Beeb; or how football is a topic that can always be discussed, anytime and anywhere; or, more seriously, on the social construction of gender roles in sports films; or on monkeys and yaks, no one would have noticed. Which is rather amusing in its own way.

2. There are rooms on TUWSNBN that I've yet to find. For instance, my classroom tomorrow. I have found where it's supposed to be and yet when I went there last week, I couldn't find the room. This does not bode well for tomorrow.

3. About the syllabus, since all the other syllabi I looked at were quite different (and, yet, for the same class--isn't that scary?), I nicked some stuff off the couple that I had requested and then did the rest myself. See no. 1 for why this may not have been a great idea. Also, do yous know how long it takes to find suitable-looking (and sounding) articles for twice-weekly classes, 14 weeks of the semester? Well, if you don't, let me tell yous it's a bloody long time. And, every time I put something on the syllabus, I keep thinking there is probably something much better and much more appropriate for the topic of the day.

4. With all this time spent over syllabus development, I've not actually had time to think about what I'm going to talk to the students tomorrow. I wonder if I can get away with going over the syllabus, my expectations for class and (attempting to) learn their names?

5. So, there yous have it. E's busy for the next few days but she's got an academics-in-eyeliner post lined up. I am also supposed to be working on our joint poster for AnotherBigNameConference presentation on Friday. But, hey, there's still that bloody syllabus to finish.

I'll let yous know how the first class goes. The potential for chaos remains quite high, especially as I'm not used to American undergraduates not having gone to "school" here, yous know and working mainly with English as a Foreign Language students at the Academic Support Centre.


but what would you say when you were with them

Okay, so what happens when Priya and I meet in person is this (no whining, Loyal reader. Present tense is your friend):

1. We spend 20 minutes talking about haircuts and how I manage to get my hair to stand up in defiance of the humidity and the ungodly DC heat.

(Answer: a complicated mixture of three kinds of gel and a touch of this green waxy stuff that makes it looks like I rolled out of bed and forgot to comb it. It looks cool, but depresses me because I get such enjoyment out of ridiculing people with high maintenance styles.

In point of fact, it looks *exactly* like this when I roll out of bed and don’t comb it. Unfortunately, it also sticks flat to my head after an hour. So hello, styling products.)

Priya’s haircut is cute and requires no environmentally-unsound treatment. But I’m not bitter about that.

2. We spend 10 minutes discussing the poster for the upcoming conference (we’ll be the ones with the pretty, pretty diagrams and the colorful blogposts. Come visit!)

3. And follow that with 30 minutes wondering why the new freshmen look so terrifyingly young. And snarking about TUWSNBN’s efforts to recreate the fun and fabulous Route 66. Unsuccessfully.

4. Priya wonders if she’s employed for the semester, given that she’s not been sent anything resembling a contract. Decision: she has a roster, therefore she is, in fact, a professor. Of sorts.

5. We contemplate pestering WeberMan as an alternative to doing useful work. Useful work wins by a narrow margin. And only because it’s more of a theoretical possibility than an actual game plan. Result: continued sitting on a bench in front of The Department.

6. Random Student stops by to catch up. Two people in our cohort are married, one is defending next week, one is still somewhere around DC, and one was (last we heard) trying to get into Lebanon. We assume that he managed to do so, probably while carrying a camera.

Our lives are not very exciting, but at least no one is shooting at us.

7. New plan: we need dinner and beer. On the bus, we discuss boys in eyeliner. On the walk to the restaurant, we discuss syllabi and the sociological understanding of knowledge in the hard sciences.

And eyeliner.

No, really.

8. People in their grandmother’s skirts should not ridicule the sartorial choices of teenagers. Or so Priya claims; I think that’s exactly what they should do. Loudly, and at length. But maybe that’s just me?

9. S is late to meet us. As usual. We kill time evaluating the relative merits of informality as a teaching style. Some are successful at it, others less so. Priya politely ignores my “flit about the classroom tossing Random Grenades of Information at the students” method.

10. At dinner, there is more discussion of boys in eyeliner, much showing of recent photos (including the Sprout and the Genius Nephew) and some drawing on the tablecloth. I once again talk about how GN resembles Sid Vicious in his soccer outfit. The other children look like normal children. GN will grow up to be a brilliant iconoclast with colorful hair, I think. The other children will grow up to play sports, as they demonstrate the ability to both run and kick a ball at the same time.

Genius Nephew falls down while jogging laps around the field. No one looked surprised at this.

Over a brownie sundae (we flipped a coin, and then ignored it) I win the dubious honor of posting the Guide to Academic Eyeliner. Or Guide to Academics in Eyeliner. Or something. Either way, I'm working on it.


Elizabeth and I*

Finally met up in RL, exchanged descriptions of rotten summers, plotted dominating academia and came up with another fun list for yous, dear PTSD readers.

E will blog on said list soon.

* Since it's been a while since PTSD proposed a film, book, or a musical, of any nature, the title of this (very brief) post is meant to (in true "academic blogging" sense of alluding to things behind seemingly-normal words and phrases) invoke images of dark comedy, sarcasm and black humour. Also, the original had the Doctor (albeit a rather foppish version) in it.


Today's phrase

I am in the middle of obssessing about my first class (Monday but it all seems unreal since there's been no official word yet. I'm just assuming it's on and show up):

finalising syllabus: check
wondering why Blackboard is not working: check
starting to worry about whether I am teaching: check
what to talk about in the first class: check

In between, I headed off to TUWSNBN today for a meeting and overheard this on the shuttle:

Girl to friend: OH MY GOD!!! I so totally Facebooked him!!! He looks so much cuter in his photo.

Ah, isn't that always the case?

E and I should meet up in RL, for the first time in months, tomorrow. I'll report on that momentous and sure-to-go-down-in-history moment in a future post.


becoming the object of analysis

What do these have in common?

Plotting out the overland route from Bangkok to Kathmandu (cross into Vietnam, take train from Vietnam to China, take train to Tibet, then drive across Tibet into Nepal, from where it's only one hour to Kathmandu)

Figuring out the sea-based route from Australia to South-east Asia. Did yous know that freighters can take on (paying and working) passengers, usually from Perth to some port in Indonesia then to Thailand (or India or Singapore or Malaysia)? Well, they do.

There's a ferry service from Esbjerg (Western Denmark) to Harwich (70 miles from London).

Well, they are all ways to avoid flying if, like me, you don't much fancy flying. Okay, that's a mild term, try "if you are absolutely not in favour of and would take any and all alternative routes in order to avoid flying" instead.

So, when I read things like this, it becomes even more scary. Apparently, a couple of passengers on a plane from Spain to England were thought to be terrorists (by the other passengers) and asked to get off the plane. It was all a mistake and, after hours of questioning, the people were released.

But, do keep this in mind: they were asked to get off the plane not because anything suspicious was found on them by proper security folks but because other passengers complained about them. So, these two looked and acted as though they were terrorists. Leaving aside issues of there now (apparently) being a type of person who acts and looks a certain (terrorist) way, the (more) important aspect of this is that certain, perfectly normal (aka terrified of flying) behaviour can be quite similar to "terrorist" behaviour.

Talking about the rising "paranoia" among airline passengers, an airline official says:

"There is a problem here - if people get too paranoid because someone is sweating and sitting white-knuckled because they are afraid of flying, then other passengers sitting nearby are going to think that they're about to explode a bomb."

Umm..if you add "drumming fingers on armrests, buckling and unbuckling the seat belt, checking one's watch constantly and alternatively looking out the window and then straight in front while muttering in a foreign language", that'd be me on a plane.

Questions of the day

1. Why is it that people seem to stop (and listen) to folks asking "Do you have a moment for human rights" more often than those asking "Do you have a moment for Gay rights?" (sample size: 72; location: outside Barnes and Noble bookshop in Bethesda; ratio of people stopping 3:1)

2. If a child is screaming at the top of its lungs for (at least) 12 continous minutes, is it the fault of the Mum (who was with it), the store (where the incident occurred), the child (who was the one yelling) or the people around it (who could have gagged it, tied it up and chucked a burlap sack over it fairly easily, considering it was quite a small thing)?*

3. Why is it that, despite having slaved away at the LS for nearly a year now, people still insist on greeting me as a new student (or, in LS terms, "an incoming 1L")? I've been having various professors and students give me encouragement, talk to me about finding a place to live and tell me what a difficult (yet fun) time I will have in the next few years. After the first couple of times, the conversations have gone along these lines:

RandomProf or student: So, what type of law are you interested in?
Me: Oh, I have always been keen to defend people unable to talk for themselves or, often, overlooked by the mainstream legal system.
Them: Great--yes, me too.Are you looking at Human Rights/We have a great human rights programme.
Me: I'm actually interested in defending international criminals, preferably [those people I research on who can't be named here in case PTSD gets pulled up by BigBrother] or dictators.
Them: Umm...I see Steve looking a bit lost over there. Have to run!
Me: onwards to the [free] foods.

4. How is it possible to have loads of (fairly) free days and then have all these on in the space of 24 hours?: LilSis arriving at FarOffAirport at nearly midnight; a defence that I do want to attend; a class that I have to teach; a friend going to hospital; a Conference to be at (at a different city too) and kids to counsel. And, depending on how our Thursday meeting goes, maybe another dog to look after.**

* This is a rhetorical question. Well, almost. PTSD does not advocate gagging or tying up children by any means.

** I am finding this vastly amusing that I now get vetted by dogs for suitability.


pull back the pages and you try to look inside it

Tried to post this as a comment to Priya's definition, but Blogger hates me. Or my html coding, or something.

Also, I'm beginning to *hate* emails. Is it possible that the Apple help people sit around trying to come up with ridiculous reasons that my computer doeesn't work? Is there some sort of contest?

Finally did the dictionary definition thing (dude, babysitting the nephew is so much easier now that he's old enough to ask to go hang out with friends--I'm not even sure why I need to be here. But whatever, it's a chance to sit around and maybe get some work done):

Elizabeth --


Sexually stunning

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com

I'm assuming this is supposed to be a good thing? Or is it more like a "hit in the head with a brick" kind of thing?


You know me so well

Priya --


A hermit living in the big city

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com

Okay, I admit it: that was a bit creepy.


Today's sign

Time: around 7.30pm

Place: A park bench in a park near the house in Hippie Haven

Witnesses: One absolutely mental dog, who seems to have swallowed the energiser bunny and one fairly calm but rather overweight dog.

The sign (in black paint): "This bench is reserved for Dr.Who*"

* And, it was "Dr. Who" too, not "Doctor". Fantastic!


but she just falls apart

Aw, it's my alma mater. And my old neighborhood. And snark about students. Two of my favorite things.

August 16, 2006
Some Deviants Are Substandard

Prof: The first class averaged a 65%, and the second class averaged an 85%. There must have been a clique of morons in the first class.

Ohio State University at Lima
Lima, Ohio


More musings on the (hippie) 'hood

1. I may have mentioned there're no grocery shops or supermarkets around. The closest Big Supermarket is 1.5 miles away in Silver Spring. But, fear not, residents--this place has a "Year-long Farmers' Market". Having cleaned out my hosts' fridge by Saturday, I was eagerly looking forward to buying some foodstuffs at this place.

(Unsurprisingly) The Market was a bloody set-up. Really. I kept on looking at sad (small and dirty) veggies and missing my GM-d* Giant or Trader Joe's version. I mean, seriously, tomatoes that are about half the size of a GM-d version and covered with dirt and, to make matters worse, about three times the price?

2. People dress up to go to Church. This might be a "well, duh" moment for you Churchgoers (does PTSD even have a church-going readership?) but I was quite surprised when I turned up, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, for the "Apocalyse Now!" (with exclamation mark) sermon on Sunday to find people all dressed up in suits. I quickly legged it, hence probably missing the most brilliant sermon of my time. This week, it's "Give us a Sign" (no exclamation mark). I reckon this should have come before last week's sermon since, if we haven't had a sign yet, how do we know that the Apocalypse is coming?

3. Dogs are great fun and I seriously want one of my own while I dissertate. They get you out of the house, are endlessly entertaining and I don't even mind picking up their shit (while I strongly draw the line at human baby excrement). If any PTSD reader(s) fancy a dog-sitter at any time, email me.

4. 7/11 is actually not a bad place to shop for food. Especially if the alternative is the local Farmers' Market. On that, see no. 1.

5. Having had all my library-going experiences in Virginia and Maryland, I can safely say, based on a study of one library, that DC libraries are more in line with the Foucauldian/Benthamite Panopticon than a fun and relaxing place. The local library here has a dark, granite exterior with a (huge) sign saying "the library is a drug-free zone" (probably doesn't include prescription drugs). Once you enter, you are in a small closet-like space reminiscent (for the Catholic, lapsed Catholic and all-round curious among us) of a confessional box. The feeling of being at confession is reinforced by the presence of a (barred and glassed) enclosure in front of you from which a young man (when I went, there was a young man--it may not always be a young man, of course) peers out and asks your business. I lost all my library-going enthusiasm at this stage so can't tell you what happens after. I did, however, have a strong urge to confess all my (real and imagined) sins to the poor bloke.

6. Walking up to Silver Spring from here, there are a lot of "Dominican-style" hair salons along the way. I decided to try one which was tucked away behind "the Corsette Shoppe" (yes, with extra "Es") and next to a Mattress Warehouse but there was no hair-cutter in sight and no sign mentioning where s/he may be or when they might be back. So, no (Dominican) haircut for me (yet).

All in all, I'm almost at the end of my dog and house-sitting in this 'hood and it has provided me with loads of stories about our nation's capital. Oh and did I mention that my hosts (one or both, I'm not sure) are massive gamers and have heaps of games CDs, the new XBox and some sort of old-style video game console? Well, they do. They also have an excellent collection of books, including quite a few that I'd never read and always wanted to get around to reading.**

* Genetically-modified, of course.

** Includes Jonathan Strange and Mrs. Norrell, books by R.A. Salvatore, The Dark Elf Trilogy and much, much more.


It's our 575th post and it's all about...

Celebrating World Left Handers Day*.

Why this day, when we routinely ignore many other Days? Well, both halves of PTSD happens to belong to the left-handed part of the world's population.

I'm not sure how it was here in the Land of the Free but, in Thailand, left-handedness wasn't common. Wait! Maybe I was even oppressed. Yes, that sounds about right. I had to free myself from right handed oppression so it's a day of freedom we're celebrating. We should just rename it Freedom from Oppression Day.

* Despite the tone of my post, not all of us lefties go about composing left-handers laments like this bloke did. We have better things to do--like adapt ourselves to using turnstiles which are clearly geared towards the right-handers of the world. That's banal oppression in action right there.


A shoutout to Poland today

Why Poland?

Because I spent six months last year sharing a flat (and an office) with a Polish person, as part of an experiment* in which four students were chucked into a (very small and quite gross, to start off with) flat and expected to get along. I reckon they could have filmed Big Brother there and we'd have had some choice views!

In any case, said Pole's research is on "historical memory", specifically on how people who used to live in regions acquired during World War Two identify themselves and also about the stories told by the (Polish) state to ensure people who moved into the new regions feel part of the national community. A related aspect is what happened to the people who used to live there before they got shafted in post-war boundary-drawings.

For me, this was all new--I vaguely knew borders were re-drawn after WWII in Europe but, hey, my part of the world learns/teaches youth about this war differently. All we get to read about WWII in Europe can be summed up as "Jews persecuted, Nazis bad, Allies won, Over".

So, when I got a rather pissed-off email with this news report attached (okay, I don't read everything on the Beeb daily), I thought I'd share it with PTSD reader(s), all in the name of being a newly-minted "academic blogger". It's about the opening of a new museum exhibit in Berlin about the post-WWII forced migrations.

Speaking of nationalism and national myths though, I'm still annoyed those blasted Chinese have Tibet since, really, it should be Nepal's. It was ours a long time ago and, despite their tendency to run around in maroon robes and meditate a lot, we're rather fond of the Tibetans and we'd like them back, please. It'd be something different to talk about, instead of the (potential) failure of the Government-Maoists peace talks.**

* Well, not quite a proper experiment but one that probably amused the University folks who put us up--the Pole who'd never lived away from home, the Nepali who hadn't lived at home in nearly a decade, the Spanish undergrad who had a strange liking for Berlin (and went over most weekends) and the Czech, who lived on a liquid diet and sang incomprehensible (well, obviously) songs at odd hours of the night.

** Though that, too, is fairly good news for the dissertation. Not so much for the people, I suppose, though what would I know, being thousands of miles away?


On blogging

A running theme for the next few weeks. Here's today's take on it:

From xkcd "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language" (pretty much all of PTSD in one sentence, except for the romance part. Actually, I guess that's E's role)


You dare me, you try to scare me

Can an allocation of parental rights and responsibilities be modified?

The court shall not modify a prior decree allocating parental rights and responsibilities for the care of children unless it finds, based on facts that have arisen since the prior decree or that were unknown to the court at the time of the prior decree, that a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child, his/her residential parent, or either of the parents subject to a shared parenting decree, and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interest of the child. In applying these standards, the court shall retain the residential parent designated by the prior decree or the prior shared parenting decree, unless a modification is in the best interest of the child and one of the following applies:

▪ The residential parent agrees to a change in the residential parent or both parents under a shared parenting decree agree to a change in the designation of residential parent.

▪ The child, with the consent of the residential parent or of both parents under a shared parenting decree, has been integrated into the family of the person seeking to become the residential parent.

▪ The harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantages of the change of environment to the child.

The Genius Nephew's life falls under none of these changes in circumstance. His father is an ass, but that's hardly a reason that GN should be forced to live with him and his girlfriend. Nor is it something that is new since the last agreement. Given this, I'm unclear what filing for custody of GN gets the guy other than pissing off my smart, stubborn, newly-employed-as-a-school-psychologist sister.

And my mother, who is even scarier. And me, for that matter, although in this case I'd say that I'm the one *least* likely to rip off a crucial piece of his equipment and feed it to the kid's pet fish.

If I weren't so very, very, very angry, I'd almost feel sorry for the guy. I'm not sure he's really thought this through, and I'm absolutely positive he doesn't really understand what he's in for.

Pestilence, bombing threats, terrorists, floods...and footy too!

It's well-known that the world is now going to hell in a handbasket (or should that be Hell with a capital H?): evidence of global warming increases (what will Greenland be without ice?), (potential) terrorists are running amok (the idea of a sunscreen bomb seems a bit far-fetched but, if that's what it takes to keep me safe when I fly, then I won't carry sunscreen on planes anymore) and there are floods and bombs all over the place. Today's sign at the local church?: "Apocalypse NOW!".

Amidst all this, however, some other news is getting a bit lost. So, bringing forth the newfound academic blogging aims of PTSD*, let me share this with you:

DC United 1 Real Madrid 1

Real with their proper World Cup-playing stars, including Italy's Cannavaro (who, yous may remember, was fairly impossible to get past in Italy's defence) and Brazil's Emerson and, of course, Beckham. Oh, and don't forget Raul, Roberto Carlos, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Hurrah for the Local Team! Too bad that, due to the baseball team not getting its act together and still not having a stadium of its own, DC Utd fans couldn't actually go watch this at RFK. On the other hand, the nearly 70,000 seat Seattle stadium was apparently full. Maybe Americans have "discovered" football/soccer after all?

* Yup, that's our new aim.


If you look away even for a second

Hey, who wants to see the fabulous new boots? Tough. I'm posting a picture anyway. They're not this color anymore (with the oil, they're a great deep burgandy that isn't at all girly) and I didn't put on the weird little taggy thing on the front, because I don't want anybody kicking my ass in a bar parking lot.

And as long as we're on the photo-blogging bandwagon, I've got a bit of advertising for you. As part of my efforts to do something that is unrelated to the dissertating and poli sci experience, I'm part of a quasi-defunct poetry workshop. Which I'd ordinarily pimp here, but the best thing about it is the location: Breakwell's, a newish coffee shop next to the Convention Center here in DC. I don't rememeber the the exact address, but it's at 9th and M, across from the Liquor Store.

Orange walls, smoothies made with real fruits, great coffee, quiet music, and free wireless. That's right, free. As in, I can (and do) get to surf the web and blog while watching the conventioneers wander past with their maps upside down. Good times.

What? You don't believe me? You say you want photographic evidence of this place? Well, you're in luck.

It looks friendly and hip and stuff, right?

Come on, Loyal Reader. Help me out. People have to hang out here instead of *$s, because the owner is cool and the drinks are good and there's free!wireless!


This is getting bloody ridiculous

Yesterday evening:

Since the centre of this 'hood is one street-long (and has about ten shops), entertainment consists of sitting with a mate in a bus shelter and observing passers-by. We are cornered by a bloke who insists on showing us a (laminated) picture of his 'cousin' and tells us his father and mother were dead. He repeats this fairly often, until both of us (trapped in the shelter since the bloke's blocking the way out) were expecting him to add "and then I chopped her [the cousin] up and put her in a trunk but this is what she looked like". He doesn't and we manage to get past him. The lesson here: Don't hang about in bus shelters at night.

Oh, and I've discovered the local bottle shop. It's rather amusing that there're only two cafes (one of them shuts at 8pm), one restaurant, no supermarkets or grocery shops and, yet, a fully-stocked and quite big bottle shop.


1. Internet still out at dog-sitting house. Was told it would be back on today (they have DSL) but no sign of it.

2. Walk down to various parts of the (only) main street to try catch wireless. Realise it all looks a bit ridiculous to sit/stand in various parts of the street, pull out a shiny (and large) notebook and try get it to work. Have one bloke tell me he's "never heard a girl swear around here like that". Decide they must have a rather boring population (and I thought hippies were all for free speech and all that).

3. Walk 1.5 miles to another 'hood. This one actually has free wi-fi in its city centre. Sit down, pull out notebook, prepare to do some work and check email. Well, perhaps not in that order.

4. Realise that notebook cable is a home. In 'hood without wireless. It's a good thing the earlier bloke is not around to hear me this time.

5. Take the metro, go home, get cable, take metro, go back to Other 'hood, sit in bookstore and go online.

That's the entire day so far. Pretty much. It's far easier getting 'net access in rural Southeast Asia than in this part of the Imperial capital.

Some semi-legal music sharing

Looks like I’ve been even more of a slacker than I realized—Gmail hasn’t been forwarding my emails for, oh, about six weeks. Scattered among the several hundred (as in, all told, 350+) listserv digests, shoe sale ads, and comments offering me things that I’m pretty sure are physically impossible were the comments and posts for this blog. There was also a coupon for philosophy mint tea shampoo (sadly, expired), several forwarded copies of baby pictures, and the little forms that keep books I don’t want from being mailed automatically.

So I guess I can expect to receive a copy of the latest Book That Everyone’s Talking About later this week. And I need to apologize to any of our Loyal Readers who feel neglected and ignored. By me, I mean. Priya’s on her own if she’s been ignoring you.

So that’s probably enough about my little vacation from blogging, right? We can all agree to forgive and forget? Good.

Because I have a present for you all, right over here. Show of hands, how many of you have heard of The Headstones?

Well, now you all have. They aren’t touring anymore, and Hugh Dillon’s got a new project that, frankly, isn't my cup of tea, but for over a decade they put out funky, blues-flavored, punk-inspired, loud and obnoxious albums while touring through Canada.

Yes, like many bands, they were better in concert. Jumping up and down, crowd surfing, and sometimes a mosh pit. If you know where to look, there are concert videos floating around the internet--not quite the same as being there, but still good fun. Hugh Dillon spits on the audience. A lot. It’s a thing he does.

But it’s okay, he drinks and screams and throws things because he loves his fans. Honest. And if you like “Pretty Little Death Song,” some of their albums are still in print. Not the best ones, but lucky for you, none of their albums are bad. Think pizza and sex—even the not-so-great ones are good.

Okay, couldn’t help myself. I’ve put up “Reframed” as well. Consider it a bonus.


Sign(s) of the day

As E springs a surprise by telling me she might not be going to AnotherBigNameConference after all, here's today's sign for you:

On a large "Stop" sign, near a busy intersection on my walk to the metro (again), someone had written "War" just below the "stop".

Someone else had then stuck a "Stop being a fucking hippie" sticker.

I rather like this 'hood.


I'm not dead yet!

Oh, for the love of…yes, I’m sorry, I’ve been a bit out of it lately. But it isn’t like I’ve been hiding under a rock or something.

Well, not really. I mean, I’ve been going to work and stuff, so I can’t have been *that* out of it. Just because I’ve been avoiding campus and not calling people on the phone and not going out and not blogging and not answering my emails half the time…

Huh. Moving right along, then.

Is it wrong that I seriously considered skipping a big conference in order to go wander around in the woods for a week? How about that I’m still thinking about it, because I found myself in Rodman’s tonight buying three dollar candy bars and trying to remember the last time I was in the States this time of year?*

Or maybe that, when I was attempting to clean the neat’s foot oil out from under my nails yesterday,** breaking in my shiny new boots sounded perfectly reasonable as the justification for pissing off Priya and anybody else who expects me to be there—including S, who is the responsible one and has to work that week—and heading north of the border. That probably (definitely) falls on the “crazy stupid ideas” end of the spectrum.

I’m rambling, I’m homesick, and according to my dad I have just 364 more days to enjoy being in my twenties. Is it any wonder I’ve been hiding in my room?

* I think it may have been the eleventh grade. Maybe. Most of high school is a blur, so don’t quote me on that.

** What? Have you ever tried hiking in a pair of boots with that silicon waterproofing crap on them? I spent good money making sure that my ankles hold me up, and I don’t want them melting off from boots covered in so much Teflon they might as well be plastic.

So neat’s foot oil, it is. I might cave and put some waterproofing on the seams, but only because I’m also not a fan of wet socks.

Good boots (and these are good boots, they’re fantastic boots, they make me want to throw out all my high heels and buy a flannel shirt and big ugly hat) deserve to be oiled, not smothered.

They also need to be worn, which is handy because, hey, I plan on doing just that. Often. With skirts, if necessary, because it is criminally hot and humid here and I’ve done the heatstroke thing, and it sucked. And it’s hard on your boots, all that passing out and falling down on concrete.


Hiatus...or, where's E (part the Nth)?

Since I seem to be in total control of PTSD for the foreseeable future (and, yes, that will most likely mean a lot of footy-related posts, now that the Doctor's not on to keep a happy balance), I should probably point out that I've moved to a "No Internet Zone" for the next two weeks.

Two dogs, lovely house, rather odd yet quaint neighbourhood* but no 'net access. Not even any neighbours with wireless to nick on to.

* On my walk to the Metro station this morning, I passed a church which had its Sunday sermon topic listed as "Power in Weakness". I'm sure SuperN is chuckling away up (or down) somewhere.


Things can only get better, right?

The day so far:

6am: Get woken up by dog licking my face. This is far more disturbing than Kevin staring at me while cat-sitting for E and S last year.

6.03am: Push dog off the bed. Considering said dog is about 40lbs (when it should really be 25 pounds or so), that is a fairly difficult task. Finally manage to do it and go back to sleep.

6.17am: Dog scratches the bedroom door. Keeps on going at it. Get visions of nails being scraped down one of those old-fashioned blackboards.

6.25am: Give up on sleep. Try find glasses. Forget where they are. Realise they are probably in the bathroom.

6.27am: Trip over dog. Fall.

6.35am: Glasses were in the bathroom. Put them on. Put dog on leash and take her out. Pull door shut.

6.40am: Dog decides she wants to go for a walk. Try to persuade her this is a terrible idea at this dreadful hour of the morning. Dog refuses to listen.

6.50am: Walk with dog on the trail (behind the house). Become surprised by the number of people who are out at this hour, running or cycling or walking their dogs. Dog behaves as though all other dogs and people are intruding on her territory and barks loudly at everyone. Try hold on to the leash and mutter about "Oh, she's not mine".

Realise wearing a T-shirt saying "Save Tibet...so Nepal can occupy it" and depicting a masked man carrying a khukuri is probably not the most diplomatic statement to make in rural Virginia.

7.25am: Dog sees a rabbit and runs off. Realise running at any time is not one of my skills. Running, when wearing flip flops and when still half asleep, is definitely not recommended. Dog, in the end, does not get rabbit and appears rather shocked that a rabbit could run away from her. Thwarted by the rabbit, she decides it's time to go home.

7.58am: Reach home. Decide people wandering through deserts in search of oases probably felt like I did then.

8.01am: Realise the front door is locked. Must have turned the lock when pulling the door shut earlier. Also realise that I have no key or cell phone or anyone's telephone number. Family's out of town for a wedding. There's a list of emergency telephone numbers, all of which are on a paper stuck to the fridge. Which, obviously, is indoors.

8.15am: Go all around the house, checking all doors. I must have done a really good job the night before since all potential entrances are locked. Realise getting locked out of places I housesit is getting to be a habit. Wonder if I'll fit in through the dog door at the next housesitting place (starting later today).

8.16am: Only (potential) mode of entry = second floor window. Might be reachable from the back deck, but only if I were 20 pounds lighter and fit. I am neither.

8.20am: Drink some water (from an outside tap) and give dog some water. Contemplate what to do. It is getting warmer.

8.23am: Realise there's a choice between sitting outside, on the deck, for the next 32 hours or break a window. Decide to break a window. After all, they do this in films all the time, how hard can it be?

8.30am: Much harder than yous think, really. First, take apart the wire screen, then, try figure out where might be a good place to break the window from. Plan to bung a (large-ish) rock at it and hope for the best. Shut eyes, take aim and let go.

8.31am: Nothing happens. Stone gets entangled in the (recently damaged) wire screen and doesn't even reach the window. Dog keeps barking, thinking probably that this is a fantastic game but we should really get indoors sharpish. Soon, the police will probably arrive, then all my troubles would be over.

8.33am: Become a bit worried. What if I really can't get in? Try to lift the window (from the outside).

8.34am: It works! Window's open!! But, the window is less than a foot wide and 1.5 ft tall. Manage to fit (barely) through it. Tell myself to cut down on Starbucks Frapuccinos.

8.38am: In the house. Nothing's damaged (except the window screen and that can easily be fixed). Phew.

9am: Fed dog, fed myself and am blogging.


Reading list for required courses

Reading list for a required undergrad class at TUWSNBN*:

One article per class. Sometimes, two. About 20-30 pages total (often fewer)

Reading list for my required undergrad classes (okay, this was nearly a decade ago but):

My required classes (first and second years) were Effective Writing, Australian history and Australian politics. In all of those, especially in the latter two, we had to read loads of stuff, including diaries, novels (this, for example, for Australian history), newspaper accounts of people dying gruesome deaths when trying to make the Bridge over River Kwai (a common feature of both Australian history and politics was how gruesome most of the readings were. Rather like having one's own horror show, but real) and poems. Each session, the reading list was easily over 100 pages and classes were divided into lectures (once a week) and tutes (twice a week, 10-12 students). I whinged then but I still remember most of my readings and the discussions.

Here, I was advised (sensibly, I reckon, since I want my students to read rather than be turned off the class) two articles for each session. Two little** articles. Bloody hell!

* A class that I am, hopefully, going to be teaching, starting in a few weeks.

** "Little" is, of course, subjective but most articles are fairly short.


Meditations upon accents (or, we all have them)*

I opened up (one of) my email account(s) a couple of days ago to find, among entreaties to donate money, information about "green financing" and various emails urging me to buy a particular product which would greatly enhance specific body parts (some of which I don't even have), an advert for a product similar to this.

Now, one "lose your accent" email might be a coincidence but this is the third one I have received in the past four months. Being a naturally-suspicious sort, I smell what one may call a rather large rat. Or, a large and growing market. This suspicion increased when I read an article in yesterday's daily Express (the local free tabloid, published by the Washington Post) about a woman who trains people in Northern Virginia (where loads of hi-tech firms are located) to lose their accents and speak proper (American) English.

That leads me to an ongoing thorn of contention-or, in International Relations-speak-- the structure-agency debate. The Express article (which, for some reason, I can't seem to find anywhere right now) quoted a couple of people who had benefited from this accent reduction process. One of them had had trouble being understood while he did his sales pitches and said something along the lines of how learning to speak American English had helped him become more competitive.

Now, this could be interpreted in two ways--one, the man was constrained by a sociocultural structure that prizes and values a specific version of the English language over any other and had to conform to it to be able to do anything in this country.

Two, the man saw his options of succeeding in his particular job (phone marketing) were higher if he spoke a certain way and so went to this woman to be able to speak American English. So, changing his accent here was useful for him at that time.

Now, where do I fall in this divide? As those who know me in RL can attest to, I have a rather strong accent. If I'm talking for long periods of time or am stressed (as is the case during the start of a class for example), my accent becomes even more pronounced. Should I spend the $49.99 ($44.95 Internet special) and go off to buy this CD? After all, if I did so, I'd lose my accent in 28 days (or so it is claimed by the advert).

But, no, I think I will wait. Why, yous ask? Well, as anyone who has been trained to teach students who have English as a Second or Other Language** can tell you, the best way to teach people to talk (and understand) each other is to take them out to the nearest eating place and eat, drink and chat with them. No, seriously, it's to hang out and talk to the "natives". There really isn't a magic formula for losing one's accent and, really, accents are notoriously difficult to get rid of. They are acquired and they stick.

This, of course, doesn't mean there is only one way most ESOL speakers speak. Or, speakers of any language, actually. I, for example, can speak broad Nepali (or, what one Nepali speaker in Washington called "gutter Nepali") or middle-class Nepali (posher, uses more English words). My Thai reflects where I learnt it (Bangkok). In English, depending on where you are, your accent and words you use can (and does) change. A fit (fanciable) bloke (man) in England doesn't mean the same here. That's a rather obvious observation but one that I wanted to use to point out that discussions about "losing" one's accents usually assume accents are uniform, unitary and singular on all occasions and this is often not the case. Though of course, people usually use words and concepts they have grown up using so it's difficult to change speaking patterns overall. But, that is socialisation, not inherent "accent-ness".

A word about cultural "sensitivity" here too: PTSD readers have travelled to other parts of the world, I'm sure. What is one of the basic instructions that various people (and guidebooks like Lonely Planet) provide? Well, it's to "learn some of the language". After all, it'd be very "culturally-insensitive" to expect Nepali or Thai people to speak English ! We've all heard this argument before. Not that I'm defending the USA or anything but then shouldn't foreigners be culturally sensitive to the Americans too and learn their language? Or, at least try? But, as we know, learning a language is not the same as learning a language with a particular accent. I'm not denying that I can speak (and read and write) English but just not American English.

This gets me back to what is missing in these discussions so far: power. Yes, it's fine if the bloke mentioned in the Express report had a choice to maintain his accent or to change to an American one but, from what he said, he didn't think he had a choice and that is what I find problematic. Based on over 3 years in this country, I find Americans less tolerant of people with accents different to their own, compared to other places I have lived in. I'm not talking about academics here but about the "regular" people--the people who serve us at restaurants, the bus drivers, the shopkeepers--the people who I'd have thought of would be more aware of (and accepting of) people with accents different to their own. Granted America is only the second (mostly) English-speaking country I have lived in for longer than a year but the pressure to sound American is, I feel, higher than the pressure to sound Australian (very little, though people made far more fun of my accent there than here. Sarcasm, yes; pressure to conform, not so much). Travels (and talking to family) in England makes it seem the attitude there is that Londoners don't understand the Liverpudlians anyway and no one really understands people from Yorkshire, so why bother to make other folks sound the same? Following on from my colourist kick, variations in accents in both Australia and Britain seem to be regional (and class-based) rather than ethnic-group based. Here, regional changes in accents exist but there are more obvious variations along colour and ethnic lines.

At this point in the post, I'm not sure what I'm arguing for or even if I have an argument. I don't think I do but just that I have always been in favour of people learning other languages, however they can, without worrying about having an (American or French or Spanish) accent. But, I'm also trying to make the rather obvious point that my initial reaction (throw virtual darts at the person or organisation sending me the advert) to the "lose your accent" email was tempered (a bit but not much) by the recognition that some people do want to reduce their accents. My chosen profession, academia, is more forgiving of accents than other professions. If I were a telephone marketer in Northern Virginia, I might be taking advantage of that woman's classes too***. However, if everyone started speaking American, I reckon this place would be hugely dull. Half the fun of going shopping, talking to people playing chess in Dupont, counselling English as a Second or Other Language speakers (one of my part-time jobs now) and just talking to folks in my programme is to learn how to use new words, listen to different accents making sense of things.

So, here's my view: lose your accent if you want to (but don't expect it to be completely gone); don't think it's the only accent you can have (so, are irrevocably tarred); explain that while you may sound different, you can still speak the bloody language (and, really, that's effort enough. How many Americans can say the same about some other language, eh?) and, for the Imperial Masses, do keep in mind that everyone has accents, not just foreigners and, sometimes, yous are as difficult to comprehend.

* I should add a PTSD disclaimer that both E and I are sort of in the midst of whatever it is that we should be doing but aren't and that is why posts have been scarce. Actually, I've no clue what E's in the midst of and she may well be busily writing away part of her dissertation (or, at least I hope so). Me, I'm dog-sitting for various people (all a consequence of dire financial peril. I'd urge yous to avoid DFP as much as possible since it's not a fun state to be) for the upcoming month and trying to work on two co-authored papers, neither of which are going anywhere right now.

** I have a TESOL (Teacher of...) training certificate as a result of my (mis)spent youth.

*** I'd love to insert a sound file here with my (potential) American accent but don't have the means to make a sound file nor to sound American. Maybe E can give me lessons?