Last Minute Christmas Cake

We have been invited to a colleague’s place for Christmas Eve dinner. At the last moment, the colleague said – amidst endless apologies – that it would be nice if I could bring something by way of dessert. So I made this last minute cherry-apple cake:


Not only is it pretty enough for a Christmas table, it is also very easy to make. Here is what you need to do.

1. Take one and a half sticks of unsalted butter (about 150 grams) and soften it in the microwave. This takes about 25-30 seconds. Mix it up with half a cup of sugar (more if you like sweeter desserts.) Make sure you mix it very well. Then mix in one egg.

2. Now add 4-5 egg yolks. I have these beautiful orange-yolked eggs that I get from a local farmer:


Mmm, pretty!

3. Add half a teaspoon of baking powder and mix everything up. Now slowly add about 2 cups of flour, mixing it in very well. Take some pitted cherries (or any other kind of berries you have) and mix them gently into the batter. Place the batter in a buttered baking dish:


4. Now cut an apple and arrange it on top of the batter like a flower:


5. Heat the oven to 350F and place the baking dish there for about 50 minutes. Here is how the finished cake (or, rather, pie, isn’t it?) looks:


Nothing could be easier!

Merry Christmas, folks!

Mad Men

N and I have started watching Mad Men. We have seen two episodes so far and, to be honest, we haven’t been able to get the point of the show. Yes, the 1950s in the US sucked. They sucked majorly. But you can’t really stretch this very self-evident point for 5 seasons without boring people to death.

Yes, the wife is a textbook case of the ailment described by Betty Friedan in Feminine Mystique. Yes, traditional gender roles make a profound relationship between a man and a woman completely impossible. Yes, everybody suffers as a result. Yes, thank God and feminism for laws against sexual harassment in the workplace.

I have a feeling that the goal of all this bashing of the 1950s is to experience a self-congratulatory sense of how much better, more enlightened and happier we are today than those poor schmucks of our parents’ / grandparents’ generations. This is the same tendency towards escapism that I’m seeing in the obsession with zombies and vampires.

The show brings to mind all of those instances when Oprah would show horrible things that happen to women in the Congo or Darfur and say, “Aren’t we, American gals, incredibly lucky to have our equal rights?” The message behind this was that the status quo was perfect and anybody who criticized it was not appreciative of the suffering of rape victims in Darfur.

Of course, it’s good that the two most popular shows of the recent years (Breaking Bad and Mad Men) have such an intensely feminist message. I’d just rather it was delivered in a less schematic and more nuanced way.

The intricacies of the ad business could save Mad Men and make it interesting but the problem here is that the nature of advertisement makes an ad campaign very dated within a couple of years. Several decades later, what might have been a genius advertising move at the time it was made sounds nothing short of weird. The two ad slogans that the protagonist comes up with in the first two episodes (“It’s toasted!” for cigarettes and “Women would do anything to get closer!” for men’s deodorant) made zero sense to me today. In comparison, the ad campaigns created by the protagonist of Queer as Folk are absolute genius.

If we continue watching, it will be solely because of the dresses. The dresses are beautiful. They are 100% my style, and I would wear them every day if they weren’t out of fashion. Beautiful, beautiful dresses.

Spoiled Rich Marxists

Rebecca Schuman has written an article that denounces UC-Riverside for waiting until 5 days before the MLA conference to tell the candidates if they will be interviewed there. This is obviously a disgusting thing to do because traveling to that conference is enormously expensive and it is crucial for people to know if they will get any interviews before they spend the last money they have in the world on airplane tickets and a hotel reservation.

I’ve interviewed at two MLA conferences and every time I had to max out the last remaining not-completely-maxed-out cards to go there. I will never forget the horrible feeling of being a worthless, useless outsider that I experienced when having to trudge over to Nob Hill in San Francisco where I was interviewed at several hotels in which I couldn’t afford to order even a cup of coffee.

I remember a liveried butler stopping me at the entrance to the breakfast room at one of these hotels.

“We are serving a buffet breakfast, Ma’am,” he said, staring at my old, scuffed boots that were leaking water like crazy. “It’s $48 and that doesn’t include beverages.”

At that point in life, $48 and $48,000 were pretty much the same to me since I had neither amount. The complete obliviousness of the people who decided to hold the (as in “the only one”) job hiring conference in Modern Languages at one of the most expensive places on the continent was mind-boggling.

So when Schuman criticized UC-Riverside, I thought that her post was bland and kind of boring (sorry, Rebecca!). “Duh, of course, what they are doing is disgusting,” I thought. “It isn’t like anybody will disagree.”

Boy, was I ever wrong, or what? Schuman was immediately attacked for her position by – and this is the best part – a blogger who calls herself “Tenured Radical.” Yes, it is totally radical to defend employers who treat prospective employees like shit. You need to muster every ounce of your revolutionary potential and radical way of thinking to condemn job-seekers for believing they deserve to be treated with a modicum of consideration and respect.

What I find completely hilarious is that people who consider themselves Marxists are doing this kind of thing. This is what Schuman has to say about such people:

I believe that academic hiring is a needlessly cruel exercise in gatekeeping by a bunch of self-professed Marxists whose own hiring practices favor the wealthy and well-connected; I believe that there can be no good reason on the planet for giving candidates five days’ notice whilst your own lavish, all-expenses-paid conference-attendance plans go completely unchallenged.

It’s one thing when you meet an honest-to-goodness Libertarian who says, “Markets rule, survival of the fittest, if you can’t pull yourself by the boot-straps, do us all a favor and hang yourself on them, etc.” One can hate this approach, but at least, such people are honest and they don’t pretend to be anything they are not.

But the folks who spout Althusser all day long and quote Paulo Freire at every turn while simultaneously cheering on the oppression of their colleagues get to me every time.

We Need a Union

So now we are being told that under-enrolled courses will have to be taught on the off-load basis (meaning, for free and on top of the 3 courses per semester that we teach according to our contracts). This means that the administration is not doing its job and is not managing to recruit enough students (even though enrollments are growing each year) and the professors will be punished by working without pay. Got it? Professors will work for free because inept and hugely overpaid administrators can’t administer worth a crap.

You’d think that upon hearing about such an egregious violation of their work contract people would protest. Or at least, they would ask questions. Or just maybe they would say something along the lines of, “Huh? What?”

Remember that we are a state university and any attempt to change our contract officially would have to go through the state legislature. The administrators don’t want to follow the official procedure of changing the contracts (because that will involve having to do work, and they don’t like work), so they are sneaking a de facto increase of the workload by the professors with out complete compliance.

And nobody is making as much as a peep. This is why I am now convinced that we need a union.

Normally, the institution of tenure and the concept of self-governance are supposed to protect us from such abuses. The idea is that tenured professors are not afraid of losing their jobs and are free to speak out against obvious injustices and attempts to destroy the university. The problem with this seemingly good system is that tenured professors never do or say anything to oppose such things. I don’t know what it is they fear so much but the reality is that they sit there in silence while one egregious change after another is imposed on them.

Time and again, I (and 2 other untenured people) speak out and all we ever get in response is complete, deathly silence. There is nothing I can think of that would make people start using their tenure and Full Professorships for the benefit of the university and themselves.

So if we can’t speak for ourselves and defend our own rights, we need an organization to do that for us. We have a union that protects the rights of part-time instructors and university staff. Now we need the union to organize and protect people with PhDs, tenure, and Full Professorships.

Otherwise, we will all find ourselves staring at our contracts that specify a 3:3 teaching load while teaching 5 courses per semester. And that’s just the beginning. If you can sneak this kind of thing past people, you can safely assume they will swallow a lot more shit eagerly and contentedly.