Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Plot Thickens (a Shiny New Project update)

Interesting Development is sleeping late, which he does. So I've gotten up and gone out to a local coffee shop to work on Shiny New Project. I've successfully pushed grading out of my mind. This project is starting to be the thing that gets me up and going in the morning. That may not last, so I'm taking advantage of it. The thing is, every day there's something new.

1. I may have been wrong about my poisoning victim -- I think she survived. But she may be in custody for having tried to poison the man who allegedly tried to poison her.

2. I've been constructing her in my mind in the way that the overwhelming majority of the testimony has: as an adulterous wife who wanted to poison her husband in order to marry her lover. But now we have her testimony, and there's a new wrinkle: she claims that her husband had been carrying on an affair with his slave.** Also, that he was always jealous and possessive, and everybody knows that such men are likely to spin tales about their wives. And also that he once beat her so badly*** that she had to get full-time care from a physician.

3. Oh, and for all the cat-bloggers out there: I love you dearly, but it looks like the family cat probably dies in this one.

**Said slave was, in the husband's testimony, the wife's accomplice in delivering letters to the go-between for the wife and her lover. As a side note, several witnesses noted that the slave was missing part of her nose.

***Precisely, she said she feared that her eye would have to be amputated. Eyes popping out of their sockets is actually a trope in case literature on violence and beatings, so I'm not sure how seriously to take this.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In retrospect, I guess that was the obvious answer.

Reading my case yesterday, as the officers of the court question the mother-in-law of the suspected poisoner:

Q: Is there any rumor as to who it was who tried to poison your son?

A: Yes: everybody says it was his wife.

Q: And do they say why she might have tried to poison him?

A: Because she wanted him to die.

(I like to imagine the last delivered in an incredulous, "well, duh!" voice. I also like to imagine the rolling of the eyes as the inquisitor followed up with "Well, why did she want him to die?")

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Domestic Blitz (recipe attached!)

Not everybody who knows me knows that I love to cook. Seriously, spending four hours in the kitchen on a weekend day while listening to the news or audiobooks is just my style. So, combine that with a visit from Interesting Development, and you've got me acting like June Cleaver. In the last 24 hours, I have kind of cleaned the house, done laundry, and picked up Interesting Development from the airport. I then came home and continued my domestic blitz by making a vegetarian version of "meatloaf" (lentil-free, I promise!) and roasted green beans with mushrooms. While the loaf was cooking (for one hour at 350 degrees, just like all those casseroles of our 60s/70s childhoods!), I began cubing two butternut squash for my contribution to tomorrow's holiday feast. This one I got off Epicurious, and I am posting it here today, as per the nefarious plan hatched the other day in the comments section at Historiann. You can make the filling a day early, but make sure to bring it back to room temperature before you do the assembly.

Note that this recipe contains almost an entire stick of butter? Including butter on the inside of the foil lid? And that this doesn't even take into account all the cheese in the sauce? Even though it's so rich that you will only be able to eat a small portion,* you will surely gain five pounds just looking at this thing. But let me tell you, it's totally worth it.

[post-production notes: 1) Figure on two hours prep time, and that's if the squash is already peeled and cubed, and the hazelnuts are already toasted and de-skinned. 2) make the squash cubes small -- about the size of a die, or even smaller. 3) I had trouble getting the b├ęchamel to thicken. I think I reduced the heat too much after the boil stage. Next time: lower it to keep it just below boiling stage, and never stop whisking. 4) I found I only had enough filling for two layers, plus the "lid" layer", so rather than thirds, I divided the filling in half. If was just fine, and I recommend it this way. 5) My recommendation is now to divide the pan into 12-15 pieces. You can always have seconds.]

Butternut Squash "Lasagna"


For squash filling

1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted , loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel (as much as you can -- skins add bitterness), and coarsely chopped

For sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

For assembling lasagna

1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 cup grated Parmesan (3 oz)
12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne (I like to use fresh pasta -- store-bought, of course)


Make filling:
Cook onion in butter in a deep heavy skillet or wok over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.

Make sauce while squash cools:
Cook garlic in butter in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)

Assemble lasagne:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta strips, leaving small spaces between each. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta strips, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.

Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagnae in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

*In a 9 x 13" pan, you get eight "normal" servings, but it's so rich that I generally divide this into ten servings, but YMMV.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I never realized how beautiful these words would be.


This manuscript has much to offer and I recommend its publication...


Seriously. Those are some wonderful words, aren't they? There is, of course, a whole bucket o' caveats and addenda. But let's just take a couple of moments to bask.


Good? Good. Let's talk about those caveats and addenda. You can keep basking while I talk, if you wish. Why not? I am -- "background-basking" while I do other things.

Caveat #1: Note the sentence above ends with ellipeses. That's because the final part of the sentence says: "...with revisions." But hey, I expected this. There may have been, at some point in the recent history of the profession, a book that was published with no recommended revisions, but I've never heard of it.

Caveat #2: This is only the first of two readers' reports. Apparently #2 is still out. And until I have two recommendations, I don't have a clear path to a contract.

Still, this was a good report. The criticism was fair and constructive, and the reader even took the time to make some concrete suggestions for improvement. The two large criticisms were not completely unexpected, so I'm prepared to do them.

I think I'm a little in shock, after my experience with the Journal of Excellent Studies -- I somehow expect reviews to be harsh. So this is very nice.

I've got to go now: my neighbor is taking me up to the office in five minutes for the last day of classes before Thanksgiving weekend. Today I have to finish the half dozen papers that I didn't get through, and deal with a plagiarist, to boot. Still, I'm going to keep in background-bask mode all day. It's kind of nice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dear Plagiarist


Dear Plagiarist in my 100-level survey class,

I know you're a first-semester freshman, taking this class as part of a general education requirement for a major far, far different from my department. And I can see from your grades that you've been hanging in at the C+ level for most of the semester. But you know, moving from a C+ to a B- isn't all that difficult. I'd have been happy to give you the extra help that I provide for anyone who stops by my office and asks for it: I go over their drafts, help them develop strategies for studying for exams, and tips for getting the maximum participation points. Believe it or not, a couple of them have improved their grades dramatically by asking for help, and acting on my advice.

But instead, you went elsewhere for help. You paid, bribed, or cajoled someone to write your most recent paper for you. Or maybe they "loaned" you one that they had already written, onto which either one or the other of you slapped a new intro and conclusion as well as a few transition phrases that linked the whole thing up to the specific question I asked. So I have to give this person credit for having actually paid attention to the assignment. But the fact is that, according to the anti-plagiarism software that you know full well we run these essays through, over 50% of this material came verbatim from materials freely available on the web. The fact that you knew about this plagiarism software and still turned in a plagiarized essay makes me fairly sure that someone told you they were writing an original essay for this course. It's not. 18% came from a Geocities site. 9% came from Sparknotes. Another 7% from Gradesaver. And a few other miscellaneous sites. It was a patchwork, and whoever stitched it together actually took the trouble to hit the thesaurus button when the language looked too sophisticated for undergraduate writing. But still, nothing was hard to find.

I know you'll be upset -- probably very upset -- when I inform you that you are now going to receive an F for the course. I can only point you to the relevant section of the syllabus where it says that I'll do just that, regardless of the point value of the assignment in question. You'll probably decide I'm the person to be upset with: I'm heartless. I'm mean. I probably enjoy giving students Fs and ruining their lives -- and right before Thanksgiving, too. This will be your first and very natural reaction, because it's hard for any human being to face the fact that they fucked up. Hell, since this is your first semester in college, I may well be the first person who has introduced you to the equation of "actions => consequences." Trust me, you're not the only one learning it. Read the papers.

But I digress. Let me suggest some other targets for your anger. First, you might get a bit upset at the individual or company who sold you a paper that they themselves plagiarized. You trusted them, and maybe even paid them. And they've duped you as surely as you tried to dupe me.

Second: read that final sentence: they've duped you as surely as you tried to dupe me. What you are feeling now -- that sense of betrayal or even moral outrage? -- is what I feel every time I come across a plagiarized paper. So if you think the person who gave you this paper acted dishonestly, then examine your own behavior.

You will still rant and rage at me, in person, and/or behind my back. You may cry in my office when I make you sign the academic misconduct forms. I won't be moved, because I know that someone has got to be the first person to impose consequences. I wish it didn't have to be me, because it's uncomfortable. I wish your parents had done it, or your high school teachers, or that you just had an internal sense of right and wrong. I wish you didn't have to be learning this lesson so late, when there is so much more on the line than there would have been if someone had brought you up short the first time you pulled this in middle schoool. But they didn't, so I will.

Why am I being such a hardass? Why, when it would be so much easier to just give you a zero on the paper and let you fail under your own power (and you would, trust me -- I've seen your grades). The newspapers every day tell me what happens when people put self-interest over ethics. I may be forced to bail these fuckers out, but I will not be complicit in raising another generation to take their place. And dear plagiarist, that's just what I'd be doing if I let this slide.

So, if anything, blame me for being an idealist. Hell, you can even accuse me of taking out my rage at the big swindlers on a little one. You might be right about that last bit, and the rectitude of my behavior in that regard is certainly open to debate. But I hope that you might save a little, tiny bit of room to acknowledge your own culpability, and resolve to do better from here on. Yes, I actually hope that will happen. Because, believe it or not, this is not about punishment for its own sake. It's about holding the line on the fundamental proposition that lying, cheating, and stealing are wrong.


Professor Notorious, Ph.D.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Changing Horses

Here's the backstory: just before I finished grad school, I published an article on a fairly sexy topic that I had stumbled across while researching my dissertation. Oddly enough, no one had really worked on it before, at least not that I had seen. It was exciting: I had a pre-Ph.D. publication in a fairly high-profile journal, and a second topic ready to go once I had turned the diss into a book. I put it in my job application letter in that "next project" paragraph, and figured that I had staked out my territory.

Funny thing about staking out your territory: it only works for so long. In the five years subsequent to the publication of that article, at least two other people begain work on the topic. Both are now much further into the topic than I am. Sure, I had a plan for which archives to visit and what questions to ask, but after a conversation I had today with a senior scholar in my field who knows the state of both of these people's research, it seems that I've once again got to shelve the project, wait for one or both of these projects to be published (another four years or so?), and then see if there's room for me to get back into it.

I'm not feeling bushwhacked or anything. I let the topic go cold, and it's little wonder that others got interested in it. But now I find myself needing to think about what to do next. I've written my sabbatical application and a couple other things as if I were going to take this project on, because my other possibilities are too early in development for me to speak or write intelligently about them at this point. But today I had to face facts that the thing that has always been in the back of my mind as the "next project" won't be, after all.

So, it seems like Shiny New Project may be the way to go. There are complications with this one, but more on that in a later post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good and Bad: The Last 48 Hours

Good: I finished my sabbatical application and got it turned in, with only a minor hitch

Good: I figured out an important bit on the major case document in Shiny New Project, and it's really exciting (to me), along the lines of Law and Order: Medieval Squad.

Good: I got the first stage of my tenure report back (one down; three to go!), and while it doesn't gush, it's positive.

Bad: The lymph nodes near the base of my neck have swollen up on one side, to the point where my collarbone is no longer visible. I look freakish, and it hurts to hiccup** because the muscles around the swollen place tense up. Plus, the next-to-last previous time this happened, it was the sign of something that landed me in the hospital for two days. So now, even in the absence of other symptoms, I'm paranoid, and starting to imagine (I hope!) other symptoms.

I'll keep you posted.

**Do you spell this "hiccup", or "hiccough"?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Cannot End Well

You know how the black supporting character is always the first one to die in the movie? And you just know this from the outset?

The murder case I'm working on has, as one of the supporting characters, a Jewish tailor. Somehow, I think he's going to be in trouble.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not sure if anyone's ever uttered these words before

Today, in conversation with my colleague in the office next door, I uttered the phrase (in all seriousness): "You should do Mormons. Mormons are hot."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

AHA, Anyone?

Any bloggers out there going to AHA this year? I know that Clio's Disciple will be there, because we're sharing a room. But anyone else? I'm thinking about a meetup.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Oooh! Shiny! (A plea for someone to talk me back to reality)

So, my InAdWriMo counter hasn't budged, but I swear I'm working. Right now, I'm going through a case file that switches back and forth from Latin to vernacular. I'm getting about 80% of it on a quick read-through. But I discovered that what I thought was an 11-folio case is actually the tail end of a much longer case, 73 folia, which I also happen to have on hand, thanks to a dear friend of mine.

So, I'm going through the case, scratching out ideas for what direction to take this in. So far, the list is up to six. There's gender and litigation. There's history of emotions. There's poison and (attempted) murder. There are social networks (gendered, familial, and professional). And I'm only at folio 9. And I'm starting to think that there might be a book here. Not a monograph like the one I just finished, but a Return of Martin Guerre-type deep explication that might get assigned in courses and and be fun to research and write and actually make! me! some! money!

Of course, I'm sure that I'm not the first person to have thought of this. So what I'm asking for here is for those of you who have had similar fantasies to give me a dose of reality right now, before I get too carried away by the sheer shiny newness of it all.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What are you good at?

In the past several months, I've been doing a lot of reading of other people's work, and of my own, and it got me thinking of how, while all academics do similar things, we all have a certain thing that we're very good at. I first noticed this in grad school seminars. There was that guy who could remember the arguments of seemingly every book he'd ever read. My best friend in grad school, Piper Ph.D., could immediately zero in on the logical flaw in any argument she read. Others could write beautifully, seemingly with very little effort. My dear ID can crank out ridiculous amounts of work in a very short time -- in the last stage of his dissertation writing, he managed to write 1,000 words a day, every day, for well over a month.

I am at times envious of all these people, and wouldn't we love to be the person who could do all of these things? But lately I've realized that my own skill area lies in pattern recognition -- I look at a draft of a writing project and I can see where the main argument should be, and how everything else should be organized. That is to say, I'm not the best writer, but I'm a fantastic re-writer, and it's a skill that has gotten better over time. I always love that Aha! moment when I see it.

So I thought I'd put this out there, and give people a chance to take a break from the feelings of inadequacy that too often plague us when it comes to our own work: What are you good at?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back to Work

The election is over. ID is at a conference this weekend. I have some grading, but it just came in today, and it's a small stack. All this has coincided with the fact that my university has given us Veteran's day off. Combine that with a Tuesday-Thursday teaching schedule (I know, I'm lucky), and I've got SIX WHOLE DAYS TO DO NOTHING BUT MY OWN RESEARCH. For the first time in months. Plus, almost all the books and articles I ordered a week ago have come in.

InAdWriMo, here I come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Today in my afternoon class, when everyone was jumpy for the earliest poll returns, I took ten minutes at the beginning of class to ask my students what their earliest political memory was. I got everything from Vietnam to Reagan being shot to 9/11.

Tonight, while listening to Obama's acceptance speech (including all those MLK echoes), I had to think that this is going to be that first political memory for many very young people around the country. And a watershed moment for us all, I hope.

That's it. I'm proud, I'm excited, I'm emotionally overwhelmed, but most of all, I'm hopeful.

(photo: NY Times)

Civic Duty

I've voted. For the good guys, of course. And against the bad ballot measures.** Had to wait 20 minutes, for the first time ever. Tonight I'm going to sit home in my TV-less apartment (the one time that I really miss it!) and listen to the returns on NPR.

Butterflies in my stomach already. This is going to be a long day. Glad I'm teaching through 5 pm, or else I'd be obsessing on polls & stuff all day. But if you want something to distract you, go and check out Clio's Disciple's nice post on "Voting, Medieval Style."

**I'm having this vague memory of someone doing a series of three generic poems, one of which was "generic poem number three: socially conscious generic poem" that had the line "Rise up, good people! Overthrow the bad people!" And now I'm going crazy trying to remember who did this. If this rings any bells, please let me know!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Excused Absences

In the last three hours, I've gotten three e-mails from students telling me they won't be in class tomorrow, for election-related reasons.

Undoubtedly one or more of them are scamming me (I am, after all, the one who kept bringing voter-registration cards to class, and the one who has been haranguing them at least once a week since then to vote). But I'm just going to accept that, and give them my cheerful blessing.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election-Related, with two videos

This is an academic blog. But sometimes you gotta do something different.**

So here's the deal, in case anyone is interested: I'm voting for Obama. The last time I remember being undecided about this was around the time of the primaries in Fellowship City, when I was torn between him and Clinton (my original choice, Edwards, was off the ballot by then). I think Obama will make a great president. I'm not troubled by the whole "share the wealth" thing -- I tend to believe that wealth in this country has been redistributed already, and not in good ways. McCain's tax ideas, as far as I can tell, are modeled on Reagan's trickle-down policies, and I'm old enough to remember what a disaster that was for everyone but a privileged few.*** And the cultural and social policies of Republican administrations have been, in my opinion, a disaster.

What I'm really opposed to in general, and not just in times of elections, is mean-spiritedness. Like this. (via Bitch Ph.D.) I've been exasperated and angry about policies of politicians and parties that I've opposed, but this is pure bile. And directed at little children. When the woman in question asked how she felt about having sent little children away in tears, her response was "Oh, well." Yeah.

On the other hand, I have to admit that this was a pretty funny bit of satire, and I liked McCain fractionally better for having played along. Still not gonna vote for him, though.

**I'll never be as good at mixing academics, politics, and feminism as Historiann, so if you're not reading her blog already, get your ass over there. (link to be posted soon -- there appears to be a glitch over there.)

***In my pre-teen years, I remember riding a bus in my working-class neighborhood, and seeing that one down-at-the-heels corner bar had a sign up advertising "Reaganomics Hour."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Does a working bibliography count as words?

Today, I began my first attempt at International Academic Writing Month (see here for more info). As you can see by the newly empty counter, I've resolved to write 8,000 words this month. I'm including footnotes in that. Brand new article project. I have a few documents that didn't make it into the book that are pretty interesting, but I'm not sure if there's enough to make an article. But I'm going to find out this month.

My first task was to compile a bibliography on the subject of women doing violence to men. Two hours of searching turned up pretty much what I'd suspected: that there was plenty of work on men doing violence to women, but little the other way around,** especially wives physically attacking their husbands. This is both good (mineminemine!) and bad (dear god, will I have enough to go on here?).

In any case, I managed to compile a bibliography that is about 300 words long. It's not going into my word count, but it's a start.

**If you know different, please let me know!