Drinking at UConn

I don’t subscribe to the Hartford Courant, so it was only by chance that I saw this article on drinking and Spring weekend at the University of Connecticut while I was getting my oil changed this morning.  I agree with the comments section — this really isn’t surprising.  What’s surprising is that college officials are surprised.  Many of the comments to the article come from alumni.  I especially like this one:

“The difference 25 years ago was that the main partying was confined to the dorms and the internal quads on campus. In general the state police were not involved and the Residence Hall staff could target the trouble makers so there was more control — most of the time.

When drinking got banned from organized UConn events it pushed the partying to less controlled neighborhood property and a greater number of students felt there was no consequences for their actions.”

The report mentions the Amethyst Initiative which suggests lowering the drinking age will combat the underground culture of binge drinking.  It remains to be seen whether UConn will adopt this or not.  I agree with the report that education about alcohol should begin early — but one would hope that the message would be that moderate alcohol consumption is the norm for the majority of adults.

Sometimes being a Pain gets results

A few posts ago I complained about the Chronicle of Higher Education ignoring messages from me and my editors about my new book.  After several more futile attempts to contact them, I finally posted my frustrations on the Chronicle’s online forum.  Within a few hours the scholarly book editor replied. Since the book has been out for a year though, it won’t get listed.

Now, the online publication, Inside Higher Education, was more on the ball — and published an interview with me in February 2008.  And folks wonder why print media is dying. . .

Added later:  So, here’s the full story.  Shortly after the book came in December 2007, the UMP marketing department sent a copy to the Chronicle, along with copies to other periodicals including IHE.  The first copy never got to the right person, so noticing that the book had not appeared in the list of scholarly books, we sent another copy  in August.  Still no listing.  No answers to my follow-up emails to the book editor (the excuse –the editor was out of the country.  Yeah, well so was I but I still managed to get back to people on my return!).  No response at all until I posted on the online forum.

So, the lesson here for other authors out there — be obnoxious proactive from the get go.  Call the editors the week after your press sends the book to make sure they received it.  Call every week until the book appears, and follow that up with an email so that you have a record.  Raise a stink until you get results.

Why Kool-aid is not a good metaphor

In today’s post, I’d like to raise my concerns about the use of “drinking the Kool-aid” as a metaphor for mass conformity — the latest example is a post on outcomes assessment by Clio Bluestocking .  Since Clio is too young to remember the photos of bloated corpses rotting in the Guyana sunshine, I just want to remind her that the members of the People’s Temple who drank the Kool-aid (some say it was Flavor-Aid) died.

Perhaps this metaphor is meant to convey the idea that assessment wonks are spiritually dead, souless beings sent here to mess up our idyllic academic lives.  In that case, why not just call them zombies?  They eat our brains, right? (metaphorically anyway)  Or, for fellow Star Trek geeks out there, how about this?

I’ve also seen the metaphor used  to describe blind political allegiance (e.g. on Bill O’Reilly’s show, reports of Obama’s young followers, etc.)  Rad Geek has criticized  this tactic as callous as it trivializes the mass deaths of the Jonestown cult members — I agree, but also just think it’s a bad metaphor — unless the Kool Aid is laced with LSD (a la the Merry Pranksters) instead of poison.

So, let’s come up with a more suitable metaphor, shall we?  Might a suggest a highly sweetened, artificially flavored alternative — Jello shots.  Mind-numbing, but not deadly if one consumes responsibly.

All Together Now — Facebook App for WordPress

Hi folks,

This is a test post using the WordPress Facebook application, as suggested by the “All Together Now”: A 2.0 Learning Experience” on the School Library Journal blog. I signed up for this experience to see what they’re offering that would be useful for my digital history course this fall, but have mostly been lurking because of vacation, other commitments, and because I know much of this stuff already.

I think some of the Facebook applications are interesting — as you can see I’ve also added my Del.icio.us account to my profile — but other than providing a convenient location it’s not really an improvement on the apps themselves. I use Facebook mainly as a way to communicate with students and send out announcements for the WGSS program, but use the “old folks” method — i.e. email — for everything else.

In fact, I find the Facebook interface for my blog rather annoying because I can’t put in any links or pictures or get into the HTML editor. In short, future posts will be done the old fashioned way!

[P.S. added later in regular mode — this post from Libraryman pretty much confirms my thoughts on this issue]

Mad Men and Modern U.S. History

Since both Historiann and Clio Bluestocking have posted on this, I thought that as a recent U.S. historian I would weigh in on the subject of the AMC series “Mad Men.” I have to side with those who say the show is very entertaining and extremely well-written. if it weren’t on so late at night, or if I had a DVR, I’d watch it more often (looks like I’ll be getting it on Netflix)

I would add that it’s a great way to remind ourselves of the way things were BEFORE the women’s movement — perhaps it should be mandatory viewing for women (and men) who think feminism was “irrelevant.”  As to historical accuracy, the costumes, sets, hairstyles, mannerisms, and so forth are very similar to those of TV shows and films from circa 1960 (e.g. “The Apartment” — on of my favorite films. In fact, the male sexual misbehavior in Mad Men appears to be modeled exactly after that in this film, except there’s no Jack Lemmon to serve as a moral center).

In contrast, CBS’s latest attempt at historical fiction, Swingtown, set in the mid-1970s, is really boring — which is saying a lot for a show about sex!  If you’re really interested in getting a feel for the material culture of that decade, “The ’70s Show” is the best. [seriously, Donna’s wardrobe could have come straight out of my closet circa 1977).

Theater Review: Carrie Fisher in “Wishful Drinking”

My husband and I just went to see the closing performance of Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show “Wishful Drinking” at Hartford Stage.  [follow their link to see a hilarious promo for the show and hear an NPR interview with Fisher].  I have to say this is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, even funnier than “Postcards from the Edge.”  What a way to humanize the subject of mental illness without looking like a “freak.”  [although she is a “specimen” in an abnormal psychology textbook, which uses a photo of her as her “Star Wars” character Princess Leia)

She started off by stating that she had recently undergone a course of ECT, so if she blanked out or lost her place  that was why (she did use a teleprompter although didn’t look at it much).  The act covered a lot of ground — her scandal-ridden family history, her acting career, her marriage to Paul Simon, and of course her multiple experiences with rehab and psychiatric hospitals.   Her mockery of George Lucas and the whole “Star Wars” experience aftermath (including her own special class of stalkers) was especially funny.   I wish I could remember more of the brilliant one-liners — the only one that sticks is “Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses, and I’ve taken masses of opiates.”

I also liked her idea of having a bipolar pride parade — the depressives could staff the floats from their beds if needed,  while those who were manic could have marching bands.

It’s too late for those in Hartford to see the show, but if it comes to your town, I highly recommend going to see it.

Going to Berlin

No, I’m not talking about Senator Obama’s upcoming speech this afternoon.  This is simply a plug for my study abroad course next summer, “The Berlin Wall in American Memory.”  Brief course description:

This course explores a range of historical topics that have emerged in the twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Questions that this course will consider include: What has been the historical relationship and interdependency between the United States and Germany? What was the significance of the allies in first crushing fascism and then rebuilding West Germany with the Marshall Plan? How did the United States assist Berlin when the city was isolated by the Russian military in the late 1940s? How and why did the Berlin Wall go up? Why and how was it taken down? What signs of post-Cold War Europe are still visible in Berlin twenty years after unification? What was the role of American, German, and Soviet political leaders in helping to end the Cold War? What was the role of the mass media and the film industry in facilitating and documenting change? To answer these questions, this course will visit historically significant sites in Berlin and selected cities in the former East Germany.

Now, all this is tentative, given the weak dollar, outrageous airfares, and the fact that I’m competing with 37 other study abroad programs next year, including four or five others in history.  Maybe using this video as advertising will give me an edge:

Word to My Chiropractor

I’m a recent convert to the benefits of chiropractic for back pain — was suffering for months before I finally decided to give it a go.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also lists from persuasive scientific evidence in favor of use of chiropractic for certain conditions.

Now, my chiropractor is a nice guy and does an excellent job at spinal manipulation– but he’s about to venture outside what I consider to be the appropriate boundaries of his profession by giving a lecture at our local tea shop/herbal apothecary about childhood vaccines — the title of the talk is vague, but it’s clear from the description that he’s not in favor of them, suggesting that they overwhelm the immune system. This, I think, goes too far — after all, chiropractors are not trained in immunology — and this crackpot theory has not been scientifically proven. [see the CDC website for mythbusting on this issue]

What is very clear, though, is the impact of declining vaccination rates on disease incidence in certain communities in the United States.  Take Colorado, where the rate of vaccination (75%) is below what is needed for herd immunity.  Between 1996 and 2005, 208 adults and 32 children in Colorado died of diseases that could most likely have been prevented by vaccinations. The state spends millions of dollars per year caring for children and adults with diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, and measles that could have been prevented by vaccination.  California has also seen a sharp increase in rates of childhood diseases — e.g. a recent epidemic of measles in the San Diego area.

Now, some might say, well these childhood diseases are harmless — when we were kids, we just all got the measles at the same time and we were fine.  Well, historical facts show a different story — before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, there were typically 250,000-500,000 cases of measles per year, resulting in 500 or more deaths.

All this leads me back to the work I’m doing on HPV vaccines, which I’m revising for the Society of the Social History of Medicine conference in Glasgow this September.  Our Bodies, Our Blog recently posted a critique of “fearmongering” in a CNN report on the HPV vaccine.  I like the moderate and sensible position they take: they state that “of course we should keep watch when a new drug, vaccine or product is approved and is targeted to women” but “incomplete and inaccurate reporting and misrepresentation of the science does nothing to assist women and families in making decisions about vaccination and safety.”