apparently even the pentagon needs a snow day

There should have been a story today about new photos of prisoner abuse by the U.S. military.  This should have been the denouement – albeit partial, as apparently there were over 2000 photos in question – to a legal fight between the ACLU and the Department of Defense that started in 2004.  Today should have been the day that the Department of Defense finished ‘processing’ the photos and released them.

But (blame it on Jonas) not.

The American media is apparently not super interested in this latest chapter of the long, long story about torture photos.  I learned about the impending release yesterday on Al Jazeera.  The longest story, and most durable link, I could find was on Russia Today.  There was a quick mention, since disappeared, was on Yahoo! News.  So I’ve been depending on Jameel Jaffer’s Twitter feed for updates.  And the latest is that the DoD needs more time, because of the snow.


I can understand the ACLU’s exasperation.  I get the argument about transparency.  A court order is a court order, and to the extent that we all benefit when the DoD follows the law, there are reasons to demand timely compliance.

For my part, however, I don’t see much reason to be enthused about the release of these new photos, and the victory for the crusading forces of transparency that they seem to represent.  Not because I agree with the President’s contention that the photos should be kept secret because they pose a danger to American military personnel.  I am not in a position to assess the accuracy of that prediction.

I have a different objection: to the veneration of ‘transparency’ and the implication that it serves as a meaningful, and harmless, redress for the people whose abuse will be made public in these photos, and for the fact of the abuse itself.  I’ve argued elsewhere that the mandate of transparency in the Global War on Terror often settles on the bodies of the most vulnerable.  When the government complies, whether begrudgingly or voluntarily, with a call to be more transparent about its detention and interrogation practice, the result is often hypervisibility of the detainees themselves, on terms set once again by the state that holds them captive.

Whether or not the DoD is being ingenuous in its explanation for the cause of this delay, this workweek will end without any new photos for us to gawp at.  It’s a tiny, and not catastrophic, encounter with the recalcitrant temporality of the state, a feeling with which its detainees are presumably quite familiar.

Maybe the interim affords some time to mull over the complex ethics of transparency, the claims of entitlement upon which it rests, its limitations, and its costs.


i heart snow days (even on sabbatical).

… just waiting for it to start snowing.  Already, UMBC has cancelled its first day of classes; no matter for me, really, as I am on sabbatical, and already every day feels a little bit like a snow day: lucky, open, forgiving, tinged in the evenings with that little bit of dread at the thought of a return to normal.  But it’s not technically a sabbatical until everyone else has to show up for things that I don’t, so I guess that means Monday for me will be a combination sabbatical snow day, which still feels like something even if the fact of the sabbatical diminishes the reward of the snow day.

Not long ago I was chatting with a colleague who said he found snow days incredibly frustrating, that he resented their interruption of his classes and the rhythm of the semester.  If his students have assignments due on a day when classes are cancelled, he still expects them to submit the work electronically and on time.  For future snow days, he says, he is thinking about experimenting with ways to convene class online.  I admired his dedication, but something about the conversation made me sad.

Sad in the same way that I feel sad when I hear academics say they never take days off or humblebrag about their 80-hour workweeks, the same way I feel when I get emails timestamped from the very wee hours or on weekend evenings.  In those instances, it’s a sadness overlaid with writing guilt, which spills into annoyance, which gets tangled with compassion (which I suppose allows me to offset the writing guilt by feeling superior) for them, for their families, their pets, their bodies, their friends.  It’s a rich text.


The snow day is an assertion that there is something bigger than my priorities, my ego, my expectations.  To be an adult is to be reminded, daily, that the world is almost entirely unconcerned with these things, and most of those reminders are unpleasant at a minimum.  But the snow day delivers a reminder in a different, gentler form: it takes the shape of a reprieve (of course, I have the supreme luxuries of a job that will pay me anyway, and a house that will keep me warm so I can simply take it.)

None of this is to say I don’t work on snow days.  I do, but less than usual and with a sense of relief, gratitude even.  And sometimes that little perceptual shift is enough to make the day feel really different.  If possible, I try to reapportion snow days for my own work, reading and thinking and writing.

But beyond the pleasure of a break from grading and class prep, I think there is a pedagogical value for students in snow days as well.  Doubtless, administrators would prefer that we find some creative way to teach despite the circumstances, but beyond communicating with my students about how we’ll adapt to the change in plans, I don’t.  I let them have their snow day.

More than anything, I want to cultivate curiosity in my students, and curiosity requires an openness to the world, a divestment of their expectations, a relinquishment of their position at the center of the universe, an awareness and a willingness to be surprised, and sometimes even derailed.  Snow days, I think, reinforce these lessons.

Surely, the routinization of crisis under neoliberalism can have a similar effect, and some of my students probably don’t need much education about precarity, because they live it.  All the more reason, then, to give them the day off.



all the best,

My very favorite tweet on Shit Academics Say:


Funny because it’s true, of course, butt it suddenly strikes me as very odd.  Look how illuminating social media can be!

I suspect that most of us academics have our own taxonomies of email closings.  I do.

“All the best,” is my go-to: administrative, scholarly, pedagogical.  In the absence of strong feelings about the recipient or the content of my email, I use this.  And I think that might be a problem (about which more below).

I recently tried “All my best,” for correspondence with a person to whom I was especially grateful.  At first, it made me feel really sincere and human.  But then it made me feel promiscuous.

Speaking of sincerity, it turns out that “Sincerely,” is the one I use when I’m not feeling particularly sincere.  My instinct is to use this for an email that is stern, serious, maybe a little cold … this is for those where-is-your-paper? queries and gentle reprimands of wayward students.  It’s for those circumstances when wishing the best seems disingenuous or inappropriate, but conveniently ambiguous (it can be read as “I sincerely hope you have not turned your paper in because you got mauled by a bear” or “I sincerely wish you’d turn in your effing paper.”)

And when my reprimands are not-so-gentle, I dispense with the closing altogether.  The austere “-Prof. Adelman.”  I’m not sure what the “-” signifies in this instance.  Maybe a withholding or subtraction of “the best” that I previously might have bestowed.

On the other hand, when I’m corresponding with a colleague (including those I know well, or respect, or genuinely like), I say even less: “-r.a.a.”.

Taken together, this reveals that the people to which I wish “the best” are those for whom I have least invested in seeing that come to fruition.  Excepting the “-r.a.a.” crowd, it appears that I am most honest with the “-Prof. Adelman”-ers, for whom I express no good will at all, just a neutral affirmation of my own textual existence.

My only other habitual deviation from “All the best,” is “Take care,” which I use quite selectively, most often in professional contexts for students in some kind of crisis.  But this, too, is curious, for at the precise moment when they might actually need the best given to them by some external magic, I instead imply that they might want to fend for themselves.  What I am really intending with “Take care,” is to use my professorial authority – such as it is – to encourage them, give them permission, to prioritize their own well-being in a difficult period, but it’s a curious way of communicating that.

This bit of introspection makes me wonder about how variations of “Best” became hegemonic in academic corresponding.  I have a vague recollection of making the switch myself (though I can’t remember what I used before it), sometime in my later years of graduate school, but I’m not sure why, other than a sense that it was the right thing to do, a subtle way of performing my apprehension and mastery of the subtleties required to be a credible academic.

But what, really, is the substance of “All the best,”?  Of what does the “best” consist?  And does the definite article preceding it imply that there is a consensus about what “the” best is, or presume that I and my correspondent are in agreement on this matter?  Do I have the authority to distribute it?   And is anyone really entitled to “all” of it, whatever it is?  Have they earned it simply by reading to the end of my message?

I’m wondering about the imperatives behind “All the best,” both affective and ideological.  It is a tiny, reflexive expenditure of affective effort from me; to prove I am a credible academic, I demonstrate that I wish the best for anyone who crosses my path, regardless of whether it’s true or I know them at all.  Moreover, it’s a way of partaking, I think, in the fantasy of the ‘good life’ that Lauren Berlant and others have critiqued of late, and perhaps also of locating it within the sphere of academic work.  It’s a three-word replication of neoliberalism, while the fragmentary nature of the phrase, without verb or actor, implies that one might simply call “the best” into being by force of will.



a holiday from expectations

The last picture I took in 2015.

For some reason, this time around, even though my hatred of the holidays in general finds its most visceral expression in my hatred of New Year’s Eve, this year, I am experiencing the new year as something.  Maybe it’s the relief, admittedly arbitrary, of having an extra shitty 2015 in the rearview.  Maybe it’s my list of resolutions, which so far seem easy to keep because I haven’t had to leave the house much since the year began, and their potential to orient me toward an existence veritably sparkling with peacefulness and productivity.  I don’t know.  Circumstantially, nothing much has changed with the turn of this new calendar page: my list of problems and deadlines hasn’t gotten any shorter, nor have my stores of patience or aptitude increased.  But still, it feels like something.

There are lots of social, cultural, and economic reasons why people dislike New Year’s Eve (the internet tells me), and they all make sense: pressure, generalized FOMO, and the cost or difficulty of realizing most of our desires for the evening.  And these are plausible explanations for the drinking and the fireworks.

For my part, I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts during this go-round of the holidays, the intricacies of exchange, presentation, and expectation that accompany them.  Lots of people (again, according to the internet) experience these rituals as burdensome, both socially and financially.  So do I.  Surely they persist because of massive, globalized, and finely-tuned apparatuses of production and consumption.  But the season that extends from Thanksgiving to just after Christmas is, symbolically at least, perhaps the most orderly part of the year.   The instructions and expectations, impossible though they might be, are crystalline.  And in most instances, the shortest and most direct route to fulfilling them is consumption.  All of us who observe the Christmas holiday know what we ought to be doing, which is comforting, albeit in a way that’s prickly and anxiety-provoking.

Marking the new year is different.  The only real uniformity and guidance comes from the glittery synchronicity of televised celebrations. And as a holiday, it’s relatively unique for being untethered from rituals of gift-giving.  It’s cheaper that way, but also, I suspect, discomfiting.  The arrival of the new year is an empty signifier.  Hence, I think, the drinking and fireworks.  Insubstantial observances for a meaningless transition.

But still, this year, it feels like something.  I’m finding pleasure, of a sort, in the emptiness of the signifier.  It feels, in this brief stretch where so much seems to be on pause and very little is mandated, like a relief.