The evolving shape of a project (educational broadcasting history)

Three items on desk: 1. DVD package from Shalom Sesame: "Grover plants a tree." 2. Very large coffee mug in the shape of Kermit the Frog. 3. "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" branded 3M sticky notes.

For the first time in my career, I’ve started receiving gifts that colleagues thought I’d enjoy related to a research project — i.e., they identify me with my current research into the post-1945 history of educational broadcasting in the United States, a project that is less than half a decade old. For an historian, that was fast!

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The Guano Caucus

Guano Point sits 75 miles north of Kingman, Arizona, on the southern lip of the Western Grand Canyon, and on it perches the remnants of a tramway system, a launching point for failed dreams and a missing 99,000 tons of guano. 

We’ll return in a bit to the missing guano. 

As Roger Smith tells the story in his book Batchit, Arizona, Harold Carpenter says he spotted a gap in the north canyon wall while boating down Granite Gorge in the Great Depression. Returning later, he spent several days climbing up to it. 

Holy bat cave! Who spends three days getting to a literal hole in the wall? Apparently Mr. Carpenter, and he found a lot of … well, guano. That’s the term for what leaves the hind end of a bat. 

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Bulwer Lytton of the Caliche

“The corporate communist globalist satanic Uniparty is the faction our founders warned us about,” Arizona Senator Wendy Rogers tweeted August 4

It’s the type of unhinged comment we now expect from Sen. Rogers, but it would also make a great first sentence for a spy thriller— okay, a hilariously-awful one. 

Or take the grandstanding of state Senate President Karen Fann, August 3: “Build the case, set the trap, and boom the Maricopa lies will come back to haunt them.” 

Not exactly brimming with clarity or insight into her twilight struggle against the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, but wow, you could imagine this spinning into the worst Philip Marlowe novel that Raymond Chandler never wrote. 

Senators Rogers and Fann have an untapped skill as bad novelists, and I for one wish they’d entered these sentences into the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, that annual homage to “It was a dark and stormy night,” and which honors the worst first sentences of unwritten novels. Here’s the grand prize winner for 2021, from Stu Duval of New Zealand:

A lecherous sunrise flaunted itself over a flatulent sea, ripping the obsidian bodice of night asunder with its rapacious fingers of gold, thus exposing her dusky bosom to the dawn’s ogling stare.

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Cover letter advice

How do you write a cover letter in applying for a full-time faculty job? This blog entry is a complement to my advice on crafting the curriculum vitae, and was originally a twitter thread in May 2021, responding to two colleagues from the University of North Carolina.

Like a vitae, a cover letter is purpose-built, and it has THREE purposes, two open purposes and one secret. But to get to the secret, you have to satisfy the open purposes.

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The grammar of schooling and testing mandates in a pandemic

Why did the Biden administration deny the request by Georgia and South Carolina to waive federal requirements for achievement testing in schools this year? According to Aaron Pallas and many others, there is no discernible added information we can expect from state-level testing that is only for a summative judgment of schools, in a year when those judgments are suspended. But the federal government will still require that states conduct the tests, even when participation is likely to be far lower than before the pandemic.

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