Monday, May 18, 2009

die Anreise

I arrived in Wiesbaden yesterday morning after what was perhaps the most pleasant flight of my entire life. The difference a friendly and competent flight attendant, a wonderful travel partner, a new airplane, and a challenging book make! The seat, however, was far less than functionally comfortable, and my legs and hips still ache.

Most of the nine hours in transit were spent reading Derrida's Of Grammatology. Although after almost seven hours total spent reading, I am just now close to being done with Part I, which ends on page 26. Spivak's less-than-intelligible and poorly written Preface prevented me from diving headfirst into the text. Since I'm such an intense reader, I never feel like I can skip technical apparatuses such as prefaces, introductions, or end notes. When I finish a book for the first time, I will have read every single word from cover to cover, and usually multiple times. My assessment: Spivak, as a (traitor) translator--excellent; Spivak as a writer and thinker--not so much. I think when people criticize postmodernist philosophy and writing, they're really talking about Spivak, assuming that all postmodern writing is like hers. She may not speak for the subaltern, but she sure can write like an uneducated one.

Well, it is currently 4:06 AM in Wiesbaden, Germany. I've been up since about 2:30. Jet lag and nausea and hunger pangs on a full stomach are par for the course. I'll certainly need to nap tomorrow afternoon, after Chris and Mary leave for St. Petersburg. Stephen and I will spend the next few days taking day trips throughout southern Hessen and Rheinlandpflaz. I'm mostly interested in seeing Marburg again after almost two years since studying there as well as visiting Worms. Touring the Bingen region again would also be nice, especially if we can buy a few bottles of the Hildegard wine to take home.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rainy Season

I have finished lecturing. I have graded all final exams, essays, and late assignments. I have computed and fudged and inflated all course grades. I have submitted course grades. I have ignored all student emails asking me, “What did I make on the final?” or, “Why did I make a (insert grade here)?” I shall continue to ignore such emails, especially from the ones that keep track of their requests: “This is my second request for my final exam grade.” The proper and professional response to all such requests: “Fuck you!”

One of the local colleges that employs me is offering a seminar on exceptional customer service, geared toward all facets of the education “experience.” However, because I do not offer a service, I refuse to attend such a travesty. I would love for one person from campus to ask me what I thought of this program. My proper and professional response would be, “I have no need for training in customer service because I do not have customers. I have students. Students are not customers; they are products of my education and ability to teach. They are the results of my ability to stretch their experience and challenge them to use their minds critically. I am the gatekeeper to the Ivory Tower, not the clerk behind a counter ensuring they had a good time or got their money’s worth out of my class.” I would follow this diatribe with an off-handed “Fuck you!”

No one can imagine how burnt out I am from this semester and all of its nonsense. But I am so much closer to being done with my degree that it is difficult to enjoy fully the festering anger I still feel toward those who would rather I fail. My last tasks to work through over the next academic year: to complete the dissertation project and defend it, to find suitable employment, to publish a couple of articles as well as the edited volume, and to supplement my teaching portfolio with PHIL 2316 Ancient Philosophy.

Those who know me—or at least those you know the real me—will be interested to learn that the city of Arlington, Texas, is going to re-erect Norm Hines’ sculpture park Caelum Moor. They want to license the music I composed for my Caelum Moor album, at least for the opening celebration, as well as provide a venue where I can sell my CDs. That was some wonderfully surprising news that reached me over the past few days. I guess it is time to give my poor, tired web site a facelift.

Tomorrow I leave for a short, ten-day trip to Wiesbaden, Germany. I will try to keep my Tweets interesting and informative throughout my journey. Tschüss erstmal!

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day

May Day, or May 1, is the traditional celebration of springtime in the Northern Hemisphere and more recently the international public holiday to commemorate the achievements of labor and to honor working people. Outside the United States, it is commonly known as International Workers’ Day or Labor Day, the latter sharing the name of the American holiday celebrated on the first Monday of September. Today, most May Day activities, with the noticeable exceptions being those held in the United States and Canada, involve protests and anti-establishment demonstrations.

Originally a Celtic celebration of the forces of summer overcoming winter’s grip on the land, May Day traditions typically include a maypole, an uprooted tree from the woods replanted within a settlement around which celebrants would dance with herb and flower garlands. In England during the late Middle Ages, such fertility and regeneration rites gave way to anti-establishment and proto-communist sentiments as the legend of Robin Hood was integrated into May Day festivities.

The modern holiday marked by workers’ celebrations and agitation originated in the United States in 1886 as part of the push for the eight-hour workday. Although dating from as early as 1829, the impetus for a shortened workday significantly increased throughout later nineteenth-century America, culminating in six states and several cities legislating the new standard. In 1856, Australian workers chose April 21 as a day of strikes demanding an eight-hour workday. In 1868, the US Congress passed its own eight-hour law for federal laborers after a national campaign elicited more than 10,000 petition signatures. However, most of these state and municipal laws were filled with so many loopholes that in practice very few workers benefited from them. By 1877, even federal protection eroded as the Supreme Court unanimously held that the eight-hour law did not apply to government contracts. The ten-hour/six-day workweek returned, with many industries forcing their employees to work in excess of this norm.

Throughout the 1880s, the Knights of Labor, the largest and most important labor union in the United States, renewed the call for a reduction of the workday to eight hours. Organizing both skilled and unskilled workers as well as welcoming African Americans and women into their ranks, the Knights of Labor sought a legislative solution to their demands instead of relying on strikes. Their efforts largely failed. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, an allied union that had been founded in 1881 in Pittsburgh by members of the Knights as well as Marxists and ex-socialists, also sought a legal channel to their goals. But the outside influence, especially that spearheaded by Peter J. McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, helped direct the Federation toward more militant action to secure the shorter workday, calling for the workers to enforce the eight-hour limit themselves as of May 1, 1886.

Throughout its history, labor has chosen specific dates on which to enforce its demands, and most general strikes in the US were initiated on July 4 as a sort of “second independence day.” It is not known exactly why the Federation chose May 1. Perhaps it was because labor typically negotiated new contracts on this day, usually at folk May Day celebrations. The date also may have been a nod toward the efforts of previous eight-hour workday movements, especially those in Chicago, where the new ineffectual state law had taken effect on May 1, 1867. Yet instead of celebrations at that time, forty-four trade unions participated in a massive parade to demand strict adherence to the already weak legislation. Although the strikes and demonstrations failed, that May 1 from nineteen years prior set a new benchmark for agitations and combative protests.

From its new beginnings, this Industrial Revolution version of May Day was intended not as a day of rest, à la the already popularly celebrated Labor Day, but rather a day often marked by violent marches and rallies. The 1886 events spanned several days and were accompanied by fierce riots, numerous deaths, and arrest of the movement’s leaders. Part of those events included the Haymarket tragedy in Chicago and the similarly brutal suppression by the police in Milwaukee on the following day.

Although May Day is commonly misunderstood as specifically a commemoration of the Haymarket massacre, there is no causal relationship between the two. In 1890, the American Federation of Labor voted to revive the eight-hour movement on May 1, and at the Second International, held in Paris in 1889, the attendees passed a resolution establishing May Day as an international holiday for the working class.

In the following decades, labor’s goals expanded from the shortened workday to include international solidarity and peace, and the growing movement spread throughout the world. The World Anarchist Federation, a loose association of anti-exploitation, anti-globalization, and environmental groups, declared May Day 2000 an International Day of Action against Capitalism. More recently, various groups not associated with labor at all have co-opted May Day as a day of general protest and demonstration. For example, in present-day Warsaw, the streets are filled with activists rallying support for gender equality and sexual minority protection as well as by social conservatives and skinheads who pelt them with eggs and rocks. Since the original nineteenth-century conflicts, May 1 has also seen many other clashes between marchers and the police, most notably the 1977 Taksim Square Massacre in Istanbul and the 2007 Los Angeles May Day melee, in which a pro-immigration rally turned violent.