Academic Dumas-ery

an adjunct's taleKane X. Faucher’s latest novel is a brilliant adaptation the classic Alexander Dumas tale of revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo.

I’ve always loved the original, and Faucher’s book is a wonderful satire that cleaves to the original plot so carefully, I was continually impressed. I kept thinking, “There’s no way he can maintain this!” But he did. So, I would encourage you to read the original story at some point if you already haven’t, so this pleasure is not denied to you.

In Professor Montgomery Cristo: An Adjunct’s Tale, Dantes is an up-and-coming academic. A PhD candidate with a glorious academic future ahead of him. But then he is wrongly accused of plagiarism (the academic equivalent of murder) and his hopes are dashed. Instead of prison, Dantes’s is sent to a second-rate university, where he must toil as an adjunct professor, where he meets another sessional who will help him achieve his revenge on the jealous academics who ruined him.

All the bones of the original story are there, and then fleshed out with this wonderful satire of the unjust treatment of sessional teachers at modern universities. Sometimes called contract faculty, the life of a sessional can be tough. Particularly when you are on what is called a limited duties appointment, which is renewable term by term. This means sessional don’t always know what they are teaching or even IF they are teaching next semester. The pay is low, and there are often no benefits. At many universities upwards of 40% of courses are taught by adjuncts.

All of these injustices – and many more — are satirized by Faucher in this novel, and it is really worth your time. Now in interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have been, and am, a contract faculty member, and that Kane is a colleague, but this is a wholehearted recommendation. This book has the pacing of Dumas and the wicked sense of humor and genius of Faucher.

Alltop loves a good adjuncting.

Engineering an obesity epidemic

Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael MossHow would you react if I told you it wasn’t your fault you’re fat?

Not entirely, anyway. Not the way that the medical profession or society at large would have you believe.

At least part of your spare tire — and the cause of the obesity epidemic generally — is because the processed food industry has engineered it for their own needs. That is the central theme of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. This comprehensive look at the food industry by Michael Moss is a brilliant bit of journalism.

Through the manipulation of the key ingredients of sugar (which our brain reacts to in ways that are similar to cocaine), fat (which we’re hard-wired to crave) and salt, the processed food industry has beefed up their own profits while increasing the gross tonnage of the population at large.

Of course, it’s the profit motive that drives the industry, not some evil desire to turn us all into Fat Albert. Moss’s examination of the industry is at times extremely positive. It’s clear that he admires the creativity, ingenuity and business acumen of many of the central players in this drama that is promising to shorten the life spans of our children. His reportage is scrupulous, fair, and peppered with insight. I’m not surprise he’s already won a Pulitzer. He should get one for this book too.

At times the book seems repetitive, but that is a minor flaw, given how comprehensive and wide-ranging his reportage into this secretive industry is, and how generally readable the narrative is.

The other major theme that I pulled out of the book is that while the food giants have hooked us on sugar, salt and fat, they have also hooked themselves on the profits those key ingredients generate. They are going to fight tooth and Tootsie-roll too keep our foods laden with them, and work against any efforts to make their foods more healthy. And now that the North American markets are saturated (pun intended), they’re looking to other countries. I found one of the anecdotes about an ex-Coke executive walking around a bario in Brazil kind of heart-breaking and enraging at the same time.

“The people here need a lot of things, but a Coke isn’t one of them.”

Yet the company has created smaller serving bottles for poor neighborhoods in countries like Brazil, so that everyone can afford the 20-cents they need to get a taste of “the real thing.”

While the book is informative, it is not a self-help book. There are no prescriptions for how to use this information to save your own waistline, except for the obvious one:

If your food was made by a food processing company, you probably shouldn’t be eating it!

Why Internet make you dumb

Much of this video’s content is covered in Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, in detail. Here’s my review of the book:

The irony is a spongy wad, so thick the fine edge of your keyboard or netbook would be enough to cut it.

The Shallows = cover artI’m trying to write a review of Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows, and all the while, I can’t seem to stop myself from checking TweetDeck every few minutes (there just did it again); or a quick dip in to my email, or to check my blog comments…

This is the welter of distractions we face every day, for those of us who are wired, reading, and working. Even if you’re disciplined, the distraction is there — it takes an act of will to resist it, and what happens to your brain in that instant while you’re deciding if you should click on that link, open up that Facebook app, or make a comment on the article you’ve been reading between tasks?

A lot. In fact, your brain is being rewired while we you read this, assuming, of course, you’ve made it this far in the review and you’re still reading.

This is why I believe everyone who has any interest at all in the Internet, the web and reading should study this book. If you’re intrigued by the ultimate the fate of the human species, and where this information age is taking us, you’ll want to have a look. Hell, probably anyone who uses the net should consider at least scanning it. (Yes, more irony.)

Carr’s writing and research is excellent, and his thesis is straightforward: we’re giving up part of our humanity in the headlong rush to absorb as much information as we can, as quickly as we can. The book discusses the history of media, and how our brains have changed before — first with the advent of writing, and then with the development of Guttenburg’s press; he carries the argument from current studies of the brain and consciousness to the flawed model of our brains as computers and our minds as software; he delves into how philosophers and other thinkers have meditated on this subject throughout history.

And it is exactly the discipline of meditation, and “deep reading” as he calls it, that we are starting to lose with the web. It’s changing our writing, our thinking, and ultimately, it’s changing our culture.

If nothing else, this book will help you be more aware of what is happening to you on a daily basis. I’ve already been aware of some of the effects he discusses — for example, when I’m writing a piece of long fiction, I always make sure my computer is disconnected from the net, and I don’t have any other programs except for my word processor (and iTunes) open. Now, I see that I need to give my brain at more of a break from the constant info-dump of the net than that.

We’re all altering human evolution with this experiment, and who knows where it will end? Carr is not optimistic, and he worries that when it is all over, we will no longer be homo sapiens, we will be homo informavore.

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On a purely side note, this is one of the themes I explore (comically) in The Fridgularity, which is currently available as an ebook for 99-cents. Here on Kindle, and in all other formats on Smashwords. (Use Coupon Code YU86X.) If Carr’s observations interest you, I’m sure you’ll find the satire fun.

Alltop has many formats of humor, much of it dumb.

Midwest Book Review: The Fridgularity is “highly recommended”

pile of books
Woo, great review news — the Midwest Book Review, which is one of the few well-respected review outfits used by librarians and archivists that still reviews independent and small press books — has given The Fridgularity a glowing review:

“The Internet is accessible by more and more things, even when it may be that it isn’t the best idea. “The Fridgulairty” is a science fiction adventure following Blake Given and his web-enabled fridge which has chosen to take on the world by shutting off the internet, and Blake has to deal with the sudden disappearance of the once so vital internet, while trying to live life as a human being. With plenty of humor and much more, “The Fridgularity” is an exciting, sci-fi view askew, highly recommended.”

I was intrigued to see they’d listed it under SF and Fantasy, not humor, so the book is clearly working in that genre. You can see it here, and check out MBR’s whole website here.

Alltop comes highly recommended, by its mother. Photo by AlwaysBelieve on DeviantArt.