Category Archives: whatever

passing through . . .

Well, whatever I discussed in the G*rd*n R*ms*y/p**n post was intriguing enough to attract a few hundred lurkers, who passed through here  like a school of fish in a coral reef.  Apparently this blog was in stumbleupon, and then somehow got shared on someone’s facebook page.  What can I say?  Thanks for passing through . . .

Total Quality Management

Sorry, I’m still fixated on the Bousquet Wire post I put up yesterday, because it recognized something that I’ve been thinking about for some time: the fate of the “common good” among institutions intended to serve the public.  We see this dynamic as often in universities as in municipal governments, and in both cases the erosion of the common good occurs when these institutions find themselves ruled by a new complex of local and remote managers.  This cost-cutting style of management, supported by a language of continual assessments and self-improvements, seems to be favored by local managers struggling under the gaze of a yet more distant management class indifferent to local concerns.  And, of course, the language of institutional self-improvement cannot conceal the deep failure of these institutions as they attempt to meet people’s needs.

Significantly, The Wire paired its tales of institutional dysfunction in the public domain (public schools and police departments) with analogous tales of dysfunction in the corporate domain (the newspaper).  Though these interlaced narratives puzzled the critics (why complain so much about newspapers, the print critics wondered?), it seems to me that the show’s creators were trying, as Bousquet recognizes, to show that the cause of this dysfunction lay in a management style common to both, in which the primary obligation of the manager is to shrink his organization and his workers’ wages to the smallest size, so as to minimize its claims upon the public.  It is a quintessentially defensive institutional strategy, emblematic of the era in which Grover Norquist dreamt of cutting government to the size where it could be drowned in a bathtub.

Bousquet notices this cost-cutting dynamic running throughout the The Wire’s depictions of Baltimore, and he immediately applies it to the contemporary public university, where assessments and accountability receive far more administrative discussion and support than educational goals, and yet the results of those assessments seem curiously open to manipulation “from below”:

What the [The Wire] grasps is that private corporate and public institutional managers both employ “quality” in an Orwellian register in which a “quality process” is one of continuously increasing workload and continuously eroding salary and benefits, with a single, doltish mantra employed everywhere—in police departments, in social services, and school systems, just as on college campuses: the perpetual command to “Do More With Less.”

As [one critic] observes, what this actually means “is doing less with less and cutting corners to make it look like more.” Hence the need for assessment instruments that everyone inside an organization understands to be trivial and easily spun to nearly any purpose by agile institutional actors.

The instruments are supposed to be easily defeated. As upper management continuously urges lower management, who in turn urge the workforce: “Be creative” with the numbers. Being creative with the numbers allows managers to survive in their own culture of claiming ever-larger improvements in productivity while papering over the enormous human cost.

The human cost isn’t just the immiseration of the workforce. It’s also the failure of these intrusively and anti-socially managed institutions, “highly productive” on paper, to actually deliver the policing, health care, and education they exist to provide.

What I find most intriguing about Bousquet’s account of the university is the degree to which it echoes the complaints of journalists like Jon Talton, who diagnoses a newspaper industry in decline largely because it grew too monopolistic, money-hungry, risk-averse, and detached from local communities and their needs to sustain any “sense of a public trust.”  And once again, the indifference of upper management to the actual purposes and values of journalism have helped to erode whatever public support or authority journalism might have had at one time, while driving the most capable people out of the organization.  Sound familiar?

Which leads me to my final question: are universities run nowadays by people who can speak credibly about the public trust?  And what, exactly, would “the public” demand if it could ask universities to change their practices or their priorities?


18th century blogging round-up: miscellaneity

Here’s a very unsystematic (make that, distinctly miscellaneous) selection of eighteenth-centuryish blog posts from the past few weeks.  If anything else has appeared lately that has caught your eye, let me know, and I’ll put it up and discuss it at great length, I promise.  (Note: the 18th Century Graduate Reading Group has just put up its Fantomina posts, but I’m saving my response for another day.  But go take a look)

In any case, here are some highlights:

1.  Courtesy of 3quarksdaily, the TLS review of the first volume of the new Buffon edition published by Champion and edited by Cremiere and Schmitt.  What Cobb’s review emphasizes is how much the major scientific advances of the Enlightenment owed to the mature print culture of the mid-18th century: Buffon’s L’Histoire naturelle volumes were beautifully written, systematizing, serially published works (36 volumes published over 39 years, while serving as a stylistic (and business?) model for the Encyclopedie), featuring superb engraved color illustrations, and attracting an international lay-audience eager to follow volume after volume of Buffon’s insights into the whole of “human knowledge about the natural world.”  An astounding achievement, and communicated in a manner impossible to imagine for another era. 

2.  Greg over at Slawkenbergius’ Tales has been knocking out a series of intriguing posts about science, rationalist historiography of the irrational, and modes of history and their historians (I like the appreciation of Pocock best), all united by his ongoing interest in Enlightenment historiography  Always nice to read a historian who knows his Borges, but still insists on writing about real people. 

3.  Obligatory contemporary politics connection: How many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen?  Don’t ask Mike Huckabee.  Instead, visit J.L. Bell’s always astounding Boston 1775, and get the straight poop.  (Answer: 1, the one-time president of Princeton College, John Witherspoon).

4.  And here’s Alice Boone (of Ben and Alice) describing her history of reading and rereading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, first in her freshmen year seminar, then in subsequent years, while attempting to develop her own view of Margaret Cavendish, and one that could stand up to Woolf’s indelible image of her in the Room.  A valuable set of reflections on teaching and canonical revision.  And don’t forget her interview with Sophie Gee, author of the Scandal of the Season.

More to come.


A Simplified Map of London


Courtesy of Strange Maps, “A Simplified Map of London.”  Click on the image to get the full-sized map.

You will notice that I was located in the, uh, southernmost “Losers” section last summer. 

And I wonder how differently this map might have been drawn in 1707 or 1807?


Short takes . . .

When I read Blogos, or Life as a Book, or the Lady Z, I am reminded of why I enjoy reading blogs, “for fun,” even if they’re not my own.  Especially because they’re not my own.

Greg at Slawkenbergius  has a nice post up about Pale Fire‘s affinities with eighteenth-century satire. 

Mercurius Politicus tells us why committee work in the seventeenth century was just as boring as it is in the twenty first.  

I also found an interesting exchange In Socrates’ Wake over whether “philosophy provides any answers?”  Apparently, the answer is “No, not really, but thanks for asking.”

Have a good weekend,


One of the delights of living in Houston.

Friday afternoons on KTSU.  No fooling.  The best R&B/Oldies shows I have ever heard.  Makes me sad to leave my car in mid-set, because I’ll miss the song I.D.s., and I’m not likely to hear those songs anywhere else.