The antepenultimate week of classes this semester passed in something of a blur, and I found myself working late into Thursday night grading and prepping for Friday’s class as the semester rushes toward its grand finale. I thus went to bed Thursday night suspecting that this intro would be another meditation on the rhythm of academic life.
On Friday morning I woke up early, planning to sit down at my computer, finish the last couple of essays, put the final touches on the slide deck for my afternoon class, and start sending my usual slate of reminders that I send to my students heading into the weekend.
Only I couldn’t log into Blackboard. Or email.
Both were annoying, but I could still access the slide deck, so continued working on the presentation and went to campus…where Blackboard and email were still out. I taught my first class, which went well enough for a Friday morning. By the time my morning office hours were set to start the presentation was done, but Blackboard and email were still out. Then a staff member stopped by my office to tell me that there was a cybersecurity issue and all computers on the school network had to be shut down. Which meant that the class slides I had stayed up putting together were totally useless, on top of still being unable to grade anything.
So I took office hours to a bench on a quad, leaving a note on my door about where I could be found.
Nothing had changed by the start of my afternoon class. Not only could I not use the slides that double as the outline for my presentation (I don’t script my lectures), but also the activities I had come up with for today required access to the readings distributed through Blackboard that, even had my students diligently read them before today, they could no longer access. And on a day when I was already short of sleep. Now, there are topics about which I can give a reasonably coherent presentation without visual aids, and I once did 75 minutes on the Persian Wars as an emergency fill-in with only about an hour’s notice. I even probably could have offered a reasonable approximation of today’s presentation despite not being one of my stronger topics, but it would have been harder to follow and I wouldn’t have been able to do one of my staple activities in class where I put evidence on the board and solicit interpretations.
Walking toward class, I thought about which parts of today’s discussion needed to stand alone and which parts I could distribute and repurpose for next week’s classes—both and easier and harder because conceive of my classes in terms of narrative arcs on the level of the week, unit. By the time I started talking today, I had a good sense of today’s talking points and where they fit into the larger trajectory of the course, which allowed me to release my students for the weekend after only about 20 minutes.
At the time I’m writing this on Friday night, the university system is still out and I don’t know when it is going to come back online. The whole day left me reflecting on the centrality of devices to our workflows. I use these tools because they are convenient and offer an enormous amount of flexibility for when students can turn in their work, but I don’t need them to teach. However, they they have also become such default expectations that suddenly losing access creates a serious disruption. Ditto for communication. Leaving a note on my office door announcing that all work due today has received an automatic extension until Sunday or whenever Blackboard is back (whichever is later) is a poor substitute for direct communication, but it is also what I had at my disposal without access to email or Blackboard. I might have found this disruption annoying and mildly inconvenient because it creates a backlog that still needs, but it also meant a day or more when I could not grade. By contrast, I found myself trying to give reassuring answers to students trying to turn in assignments to other professors who weren’t in the office and couldn’t be reached by email. The students were quite anxious, understandably at this time of the semester.
This week’s varia:
- Excavations south of Rome have revealed a large, luxurious winery that included dining rooms with a view of fountains that gushed with the recently-pressed wine. The story in The Guardian is reporting on a new open-access article by Emlyn Dodd and others.
- Excavations in France have revealed a Roman temple that might have been dedicated to Mars.
- In addition to the usual roundup this week in Pasts Imperfect, Shelley Haley writes about her experience working on the Netflix DocuSeries Queen Cleopatra. I have primarily followed news around this series through people on social media complaining that the series conflates African with Subsaharan African in the casting, but I appreciated Haley’s comments about what she hoped to achieve with her involvement and would recommend also Katherine Blouin’s comments on this (and past) decisions on how to represent Cleopatra on the screen.
- Carlos Noreña has a long essay in Aeon on the work of French historian Paul Veyne, focusing on how Veyne’s commitment to the alienness of the ancient world led to inventive arguments. The piece reminds me that I should read more of Veyne’s oeuvre.
- Dimitri Nakassis has some worthwhile notes on a state of the field conference on Mediterranean Archaeology.
- Modern Medieval has a piece debunking the dishy historical claim recently in the news that Leonardo Da Vinci was Jewish.
- The University of Michigan is planning to withhold pay from striking graduate students after a judge sided with the school. The graduate students are striking for livable wages, and arguing that the university is negotiating in bad faith. The union has created a strike fund.
- BuzzFeed laid off 15% of its staff and shut down BuzzFeed News in a pivot to AI. Again for everyone in the back: AI isn’t actually replacing human workers, but it is being used as a reason to fire them. Count me among the chorus who think that this will have a profound negative effect on society.
- Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel Rosenberg write in The New Republic about meat as a front in the Culture War, despite the numerous ways that the industrial meat industry does demonstrable harm to the very communities buying into the rhetoric. They write: “People once wondered whether an openly gay Republican could ever win major office; today the better question is whether an openly vegan Republican could.”
- From Vox, another piece on the Colorado River water crisis, with infographics that show where most of the water goes. Spoiler: most of it goes to crop irrigation, and most of that crop irrigation goes to alfalfa to feed livestock, especially beef.
- A reporter in Southeast Oklahoma left a recording device in the room of a county commissioner’s meeting because he suspected that business continued after the formal end, in violation of Oklahoma law. On the recording, the sheriff and other people present talk about killing journalists (including the man who left the device and his son) and lament that they can’t hang black people who now “got more rights than we got.” The sheriff’s department made a statement in which they claim the recording was made illegally and that felony charges will be filed. The Republican governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, has called on the county officials to resign, though a cynical reading of this might be that this is yet another instance where actions wholly in keeping with the direction of the Republican party have become so extreme that they are detrimental to electoral politics.
- Kids asking for a society that doesn’t shoot them seems like a reasonable ask, and yet. In Kansas City, 16-year old Ralph Yarl was shot by an 84 year old white man after he rang the doorbell of the wrong house when picking up his siblings; in Texas, two cheerleaders were shot by a man in an HEB parking lot when one of them went to the wrong car after practice; in North Carolina a man shot a six-year old girl and her parents because a basketball rolled into his yard; and in rural New York, in a part of the state I have driven through on a number of occasions to and from Vermont, a man shot and killed a teen who drove down the wrong driveway to turn around. The trigger-happy paranoia is really jarring to see, and lethality of modern firearms make it all the easier for the paranoia to turn into homicide.
- A bystander tried to get a passing Chicago police car to stop and intervene in a violent assault taking place over the weekend. The police did not stop and the bystander says that a desk sergeant told her that it was because Brandon Johnson (the leftist candidate) was elected mayor. Actions like this and the unaccountability of law enforcement are among the strongest arguments in favor of defunding law enforcement.
- As Supreme Court watchers anticipated, the justices voted to stay the ban on Mifepristone, with dissents coming from (at least) Alito and Thomas. Elie Mystal with an analysis of the decision, as well as the Alito dissent that criticizes the other justices for making this decision using the shadow docket…by citing their opposition to his use of the same procedure.
- Donald Trump, the twice-impeached ex-president and likely Republican nominee for 2024, is back on the campaign trail and is touting an ever-more dystopian and authoritarian vision for his second term, including using the military for police action, patriotic education, and planned “freedom cities.” This sort of rhetoric makes for a bleak-looking future.
- Missouri’s Attorney General’s office launched a tip-line for “transgender concerns” this week, but the site lacked a CAPTCHA, which allowed internet users to use bots to spam the portal with nonsense submissions until they took it offline.
- David Choe, the star of the Netflix show Beef, appears to be using copyright law to suppress people talking about an episode his podcast in which he talked about coercing a masseuse into sexual activity and, when the porn actress on the podcast with him called him out for raping the woman, acknowledged it as “rapey behavior.” Choe is attempting to do damage control.
Album of the week: Brett Dennen, Smoke and Mirrors (2013)
Currently reading: Robert Graves, I, Claudius; Caroline Winterer, The Mirror of Antiquity