Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mishnayos for Bill

To sign up to learn mishnayos le'iluy nishmas Chaim Yisrael ben Ilana go to and search for "Bill Maddex". The shloshim will be June 25th.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bill Maddex ז"ל

Bill was niftar this past shabbes. When a friend of mine came to prospie at the UofC he met Bill in the kitchen. Bill warned Adam with complete seriousness, "You might not want to come here, there are a lot of really weird people."

Bill was unique in a community noted for uniqueness. He tenured seventeen years over twenty-three and left a mark on all who knew him. He played twenty year chess games, he read thousands of books, he knew tens of thousands of baseball statistics. All effortlessly. He was, takka fucking nuts in all the right ways. In many ways he represented all the best that Hyde Park and the UofC offers. He was abrasive, but gentle, harsh but engaging. He would never let a fellow interlocutor off easy. I remember one shalush shudes when he turned a particular grad student into a gelatinous puddle for questioning the fossil records ability to verify evolution. Bill gave him at least two chances to back down. Then he let him have it. Bill would even correct personal stories I would tell; he knew that much.

He was almost mythical. You can tell people of this Bill who works at the Co-op and repairs bikes, but could school a good number of the faculty with one intellectual arm behind his back. No one would believe you. Who would believe a man who read ten thousand books before he was forty? Bill just wasn't like others. He was singular.

I don't know why Bill deigned to talk to me or even, dare I say, befriend me. I never really knew why I merited his company. I just realized one day that his, "Do you know what you are talking about?!" was not hostile, but the rhetoric of engagement. When I was applying to grad school this fall, he had more recommendations of faculty to work with than most professors in the field I had met with. One summer I got to sit in on a Shmuli-Bill three hour long conversation about the '04 Illinois Senate race, baseball and Iowa federal politics in the 20's. When I was foolish enough to ask how they knew all this trivia, they looked at me with stupefaction. "I don't know, we just read." I admired his intellect, I admired his commitment to his family and I admired his strength of character.

As I remarked this morning to Larry, they don't make 'em like they used to. Larry replied, "I don't think they ever made them like that."

Our deepest sorrow extends to Jen and Shaya. The family will be sitting shiva in Eugene, OR.

ברוך דיין האמת

I am sorry to report the passing of our dear friend Bill Maddex (Merle Agic, Chaim Yisrael ben Ilana).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Refuah Shleimah

The person often known as Merle Agic has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer in his liver and is entering treatment shortly. Chaim Yisrael ben Ilana.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Civic Reading

Last day to issue comments on proposed changes to the way states issue federally recognized ID cards is May 8th. I am attempting to read the regulations through so I can complain out of frustration, and not ignorance, as if often the case.

Seriously though, I really don't like any mechanism which further removes identification from identity. No one should be able to tell you that you are not who you are.

How to Pick a Grad School

So this post is probably too late to help anyone, least of all me, but I thought I would gather my thoughts now while they are still relatively fresh. It might also prove interesting to contrast my impression not with my feelings in a few years.

In this list I assume the goal of going to Grad School and getting a PhD is so that one might go on to teach at a tier one research university. If the purpose is to go find a lucrative job or teach at a small liberal arts school I don't know that I am addressing that directly.

1. How many faculty members are there in your department/subfield? Are there strong supporting departments?- While people often encouraged me to look at programs with a particular faculty member I liked, one can never be sure that things will work out with one individual. I firmly believe that the information one can glean about particular instructors during the application process can not significantly predict whether or not you will be able to work closely with them. Obviously one should look for a program where the faculty members share similar interests to your own, but it is important to keep in mind that, even if you could ascertain a current ideal instructor, grad school is formative and thus one is likely to change interests and focus.
To this end, it is nice to have many different sources of critique. Go to a program where you are going to find a number of strong voices. If there are other prominent departments in the university which are associated somehow it will help spread out coursework and provide other influences for your work and on your committee. Try not to put yourself in a program which will have you hitting your head against blunt objects e.g. you like Derrida and Foucault and the faculty is heavily Straussian.

2. What people think of your department- Coming out you will be assessed based on your work, but also the program you are coming from. If people think the department is good, it is. I was shocked how many people in Political Theory programs are under the impression that Chicago still has a good theory program, even though it has been sparse for 30 years! (Robert Pape and John Mearsheimer do great work, but theorists they are not. Social Thought gets all the good ones.) If you do wind up selling out (the lucky ones) a degree from Yale looks a whole lot better than a degree from Michigan. The sad part is, it is often the case in the academy too.

3. Do people know your professors?- This can be assessed in two ways, either by asking people in your field, "Hey, have you heard of Prof. Blank?" or by looking at their CVs. Pay attention to how many articles they have published and in what journals. If they have published books, under what publishers? If a few people in your department have Cambridge or Belknap, you are doing OK.

4. Can you talk to the students?- From my understanding, professors are busy people (or they think they are, which is very often the case too) and so you will probably spend a lot of time thinking things through with your peers. If they don't seem like they want to talk to you or ask the same sort of questions you do, be wary.

5. Happiness index- Grad School is a long while, and if you are Melancholy you probably won't think or write. Ask the grad students if they are happy, they will all say yes, but their qualifications will then be interesting. Try to avoid urban environments which will make you sad, or climates that you don't like. Don't forget to factor in your stipend into your standard of living. A warm, sunny apartment in Philadelphia might produce better academic results than a cold basement on the West Side in NY.

It is a given that you have to work endlessly to get the most junior appointments in the academy. It won't hurt to have a supportive program in the process.

Bagel Dropping

Bagel Dropping: To make conspicuous reference to common Jewish cultural items.

This is generally done in order to reaffirm one's standing as a member of the "tribe". For example using words like "oy yev" as an exclamatory or referencing bagels as a uniquely Jewish cultural affect. No one who is frum* thinks of bagels as particularly Jewish; it's just Sunday morning breakfast, that's it.

*note the conflation of frum with Jewish, but anyhow...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Simple Introduction to the Basic Principles of Awesome

Jose and I began what I hope will one day become a robust treatise. But for now here are my thoughts:

1. Awesome is not continuous on all domains
1a. Awesome is bounded both spatially and temporally
2. Awesome only exists in positive domains
2a. There is no such thing as imaginary Awesome
3. Awesome is never constant
corr 2 & 3. Awesome only exists with positive slope. Ma'alim, ve'ayn moridin, as it were.

Theorem 1: The opposite of Awesome is not -Awesome (see above) but null.
Consider: Gunther. It is terrible, but yet contains a component of Awesome. Now consider Paris Hilton. She is not terrible, but null. QED