A demonstration of Presentism

Ezra Klein: The Constitution “is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago.” Honest, that’s what he said.
But that, Mr. Klein, is why some people major in things other than Political Science, so that we can understand old things. Some of us like to read REALLY old things, written in DEAD languages, and even imagine that we can understand bits of them.
I figure his other statement was just a slip. About the Republicans threatening to read the whole Constitution at the beginning of the next Congress, he says “……it has no binding power on anything.” I’m hopeful Mr. Klein means that the act of reading it changes nothing, because the Constitution sure has a lot of binding power.
People pay this man to write and talk about politics? As opposed to just leading a conspiracy of Democratic* journalists?
Further: a detailed post mortem.
*They’re not Left, they’re just partisan. Much like the professoriate, many of whom are better understood as Reactionaries of the Democratic Center than Leftists.

Pardon me for being a cranky, childless, late-middle aged man in the middle of your holiday season . . .

. . . but some people are crazy. Example: AP headline and coverage of the ski lift failure in Maine:

Hospital: Children were injured on Maine ski lift

By GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press – 31 mins ago
CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine – A 35-year-old chair lift set for improvements failed Tuesday at a popular Maine resort, sending skiers — some of them children — plummeting into ungroomed snow far below that fell with the Northeast’s recent blizzard and softened the landing.
At least eight people, the children among them, were taken to a hospital after the double-chair lift at Sugarloaf derailed during a busy vacation week at the resort 120 miles north of Portland.
[my emphases]

Heaven forfend! Children falling from the sky! Parents letting children ride ski lifts to ski in winter in Maine! (by the way, “The failed lift is 4,013 feet long, gains 1,454 feet of elevation and nearly reaches the summit of 4,327-foot Sugarloaf, the state’s second-tallest mountain. It went into service in 1975 and was modified in 1983, according to Sugarloaf officials.” Sounds like someone got ahold of a press release. From the “officials” at the ski slope.)
Back to your regularly scheduled holiday cheeriness!

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange

Let’s hope he makes it till May!

Depending on what customers purchase, the prices will rise or fall.
“It’s an ever-evolving happy hour,” Flora said.
The prices will never go higher than around 10 percent the base cost, but will drop to as much as 50 percent below base cost.
For example, a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale may be $3 normally.
But, depending on the “market” activity (i.e. patrons buying tendencies) it could be as much as $3.25 or as little as $1.50 (prices fluctuate in increments of 25 cents).
The prices will change every 15 minutes and there will be, at random, a “stock market crash” — signified by air horns — when all 28 beers are sold at a low rate for five minutes.

via Marginal Revolution.

Systemic underemployment and economic development

Home for the holidays! I’m reading the local paper coverage of two distribution facilities Amazon is building in the area – one in town and one in an adjacent county. Both are taking advantage of I-75, a nearby junction with I-24 and I-59, and a regional airport. They’re also taking advantage of a supply of seasonal workers.

For Hamilton and Bradley counties, the result is a $139 million investment, more than 1,400 full-time jobs and more than 2,000 seasonal slots, according to the world’s No. 1 Internet retailer.
The Amazon announcement represents this year’s biggest job addition by any new business to Tennessee, according to the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

Yes, they figure they can more than double their employment seasonally. That sounds good until you think about the implication — there are that many people looking for extra jobs or part time jobs. Later in the article:

Around some Amazon facilities, “work campers” live in recreational vehicles while they perform seasonal jobs for the Internet giant. Fred Kiga, director of policy for Amazon who finalized the tax incentives for the company earlier this month, said the company doesn’t expect to have such labor issues in Southeast Tennessee.

And, of course, to land this deal, the city is giving Amazon the property and discounting their property taxes by about 75% (they will still pay the schools portion, about 27%). A big Volkswagen facility, now this — some kinds of jobs seem to be coming to Chattanooga. But some of the ingredients in the decision-making still worry me.

Danteblogging Paradiso Canto XXII

Paradiso Canto XXII
The roles for Dante’s guides, Virgil and Beatrice, shift around a lot. Sometimes they’re stern, sometimes they’re professorial, and sometimes, like here, motherly. Dante reacts thus to the great thunderclap of a shout that ends Canto XX:

I turned — oppressed with wonder, stupefied,
  exactly as a little child will run
  back to the one he trusts most — to my guide,
And as a mother comes to help her son,
  who, pale and breathless, hears her ready voice
  that always seems to make him strong again,
“Didn’t you know that you’re in Paradise?
(Par XXII.1-7)

I think this is the first fear Dante has shown lately, but I’m not certain – I’ll have to look next time.
Another element I’m going to be reading for next time is love-vocabulary. The two meet St. Benedict in this canto. Dante thanks him for talking to them, for his love and kindness (XXII.52). The Italian here is affetto, affection. When I get to Rome in January, I’m going to look around for a Dante concordance! Given the amount they teach in the schools, there’s got to be a paperback version. I haven’t been paying close enough attention, but I think this may be the first use of this word. Love is an overwhelmingly important theme in the Comedy – maybe the most important theme of all – so I should have been watching more carefully.
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Preparing for Roma

Grades submitted? Check!
Search Committee duty completed? Check!
Proposal for revision to Art History 300/400 curriculum draft circulated to colleagues? Check!
Inquiry from Committee on Academic Affairs about course number rationale answered? Check!
Rome courses completely planned? BZZZZZZZZ!
But we’re MUCH closer to being ready to leave. Now I have to practice book triage. You know, lay out the 25 books you can’t live without. Then put 13 of them back on the shelf. Over and over. How can I live without my books?!?
I go through this agony every time, until somehow I remember that there will be new books to buy in Rome! That makes it all better.

The Economist on the Ph.D.

In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors.

I’m on a search committee that is coming to a resolution, so the glut looks very real to me; there’s a whole filing drawer full of adequate-to-good candidates for an entry level position, and almost none of those people are applying from a secure situation. It can be very depressing. Go read the article.

Danteblogging Paradiso Canto XXI

Paradiso Canto XXI
The transitions from sphere to sphere become less and less noticeable. Here in Canto XXI, Dante and Beatrice have moved from Jupiter to Saturn in one line: “Weve risen to the seventh splendor now…” (Par XXI.13). That’s all Dante needs – an assertion from Beatrice.
When they look around they see Jacob’s ladder, the ladder of contemplation. Some people want to see an influence from a French translation of a Spanish version of a poem about Muhammad’s Night Journey here – especially because it has a title like The Book of the Staircase to Heaven. Maybe so, but it’s hardly necessary. Ladder imagery is, as the first sentence of this paragraph suggests, Biblical. And the idea of seeing Heaven is Scriptural. Did Dante know something about Islam? Maybe. Me, I insisted on showing a Byzantine version of St. John Climacus’s vision, who was a 7th century monk at Mount Sinai (note the coincidence with Muhammad!). Go to his Wikipedia entry – there are a couple of versions. We have an image of the 12 century version in the collection. In fact, there’s a greater chance that Muhammad knew the deuterocanonical and legendary Christian materials as there is that Dante knew anything Islamic.
The interlocutor in the sphere of Saturn is Peter Damian, a hermit-monk who, perhaps needless to say, castigates the decline of hermits and the degeneracy of monasteries. Dante can’t hear any singing and asks about the silence. Peter Damian explains that the problem is that Dante’s hearing is limited by his moral body; Dante is reaching the end of his ability to even see and hear, let alone express what he saw and heard for us!
The canto began with a problem with seeing. Dante was staring at Beatrice again; she explained why she wasn’t smiling:

…”If I should smile,”
  she began, “you’d become like Semele
  reduced to ashes by the power of Jove
(Par XXI.4-6)

What a funny gender reversal — Dante becomes Semele, mother of Dionysus, and Beatrice becomes Jove (whose sphere they’ve just left!). The canto ends with a reminder. After that talk about not-seeing and not-hearing with Peter Damian, al the saints in this sphere gather:

Round him they came and stopped and gave a shout
  so deep,no roar on earth I’ve ever heard
  compares: the crack of thunder overcame me
And in the shock I did not hear a word.

So Dante gets his Jovial thunder anyway!
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