A Crime Nobody Cares About

I’m reading one of Peter Robinson’s mysteries, and it seems like this very solid writer really messed up by constructing his novel around one crime nobody cares about : the copyright violation. 

I mean you might care about it hugely in real life but would you want to read an entire novel about this scary villain who – oh horror! – sold illegal copies of Star Wars videogames?

This is a kind of crime that stands even lower on the hierarchy of suitable plots for a mystery novel than the murderer of an adult male.

Why Do We Need Scholarly Journals?

Voxcorvegis, who is a physicist, asks the following question:

 Universities around the world are cutting back on their services in the name of “austerity.” One such budget frequently being slashed is the one for scholarly journal subscriptions. This, sadly, is every bit as true in the sciences as it is the Humanities, but what I can’t understand is why it is such a huge problem. You see, as a physicist, I cannot recall the last time I have actually had cause to read a scholarly journal for the sake of catching-up on cutting-edge research. This is because I read all of my papers on the ArXiv,  a website offered by the Cornell University Library upon which physicists (as well as mathematicians, statisticians, quantitative biologists, financial economists and computer scientists) from around the world post the drafts of their papers before publishing them in journals.

We don’t have anything of the kind in my field, although it would be great if we did. I feel like many of the older people in the Humanities are very reluctant to embrace technology. Some even need to be convinced that if a highly reputable journal moves to an online version from a print-only version, this doesn’t mean that the journal has lost in quality.

At the same time, the creation of such a database will not serve the issue of us needing subscriptions to journals. In Humanities, we are not looking for the most recent, cutting-edge research. The most recent sources are not necessarily superior to the ones published 20, 30, 40 years ago. If I don’t have access to articles from the 70s and the 80s, I’m in deep trouble in terms of my research. I need access to everything that has ever been published on a subject I’m researching.

Simply put, we are not a field where linear progress occurs. Rather, we move in a variety of directions at any given time. When I offer new insights into a genre, for example, those insights don’t necessarily cancel out the ones made by a scholar of literature who worked in the 1940s.

On Austerity

This excuse that there is suddenly not enough money to support education, medical care, public libraries, unemployment benefits, etc. is now being used all over the world. We hear these lies so much that eventually many people are bound to believe them.

But none of it is true. There is money aplenty. There are tons of resources. The only thing that changed is that the greedy politicians and bureaucrats have gotten much greedier.

I am absolutely convinced of this because I see it on a smaller scale at my university, for example. All of a sudden, there is no money to continue database and scholarly journal subscriptions. Yeah, right. In the meanwhile, the administrators live in veritable castles with no attempt to practice austerity. Maybe I should publish a photo or two.

No money. Pssst!

A little More on Online Courses

For the first time in a long time my Freshman-level course on Hispanic Civilization has become hard to teach. And I mean that in a good way.

In a regular face-to-face course, you ask students, “Does anybody have any questions?” and immediately several hand flow up into the air.

“Yes?” you ask one of the students.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” the student immediately responds.

Cringing because of how anti-climactic the question is, you let the student go and turn to another student whose hand is raised, “Your question?”

“Will this be on the test?” the student retorts brightly. The rest of the students with raised hands nod vigorously, letting you know that this was their question, too.

I remember the exact moment when I got my last good question on this Freshman course. That happened in November 2009. And I think it was mostly a fluke.

However, now that I’m teaching this course online, I get hard, interesting, meaningful questions from at least two or three students every single day. (Since this is a summer course, it is taught 5 days a week.) I actually have to think and sometimes even look things up before answering them! This is a dream come true, people. I never have to think before answering the questions in my 100 and 200-level courses. Before the students get to the 300-level, they never come up with anything but the most trivial, easy to answer questions.

The online course, though, gives the students enough time (as well as an incentive) to ask good, thought-out, intelligent questions.

Now I want to come up with a way to foster the same kind of thing in my regular teaching.

Idiots Within the Quebec Protest Movement

I understand that youth and high spirits make people do silly things but if you want your political activism to be effective, you need to grow up. The student protests of Quebec were fighting for very important goals. However, as often happens, brainless idiots are likely to destroy the movement from within. See the following piece of news:

The student association at CEGEP du Vieux Montréal has come up with a unique response to the Quebec government’s controversial Bill 78 – and it involves purchasing assault rifles.

At a general meeting held Tuesday, the association expressed unhappiness with the “intimidation” and “state violence” in the Liberal government’s “anti-democratic” Bill 78. Those present then proceeded to approve the purchase of 47 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles – as a joke.

The student protest movement in Quebec (which, as I hope everybody remembers, I whole-heartedly support) has failed completely at winning over the sympathies of those parts of the population who pay the very high taxes which always made the cheap higher education in the province possible. The people who work very hard during the day get annoyed when they can’t get home at night because the area has been cordoned off due to the protests. The protesters have not managed to connect with these upper middle-class folks and have not even tried to show to them that their interests and those of the students are indissolubly linked.

We live in a world transformed by the technological revolution. The success of any protest depends on how well you manage to sell the protest in the media an on social networks. Ultimately, the winners will not be the ones who manage to bring the greatest number of people into the streets. The winners will be the ones who create the neatest, coolest, more attractive, most clickable and linkable image of themselves.

I’m sure that these jokes about assault rifles were super fun and there was a good round of laughter shared when they were made. However, this is a very powerful way of alienating the tax-paying full-time working people of the province. The only way to get the protests to be successful is to keep repeating, “We pay the taxes, we want our taxes to buy us something.” This idea will not fly if the actual tax-paying part of the equation is completely alienated.