I’m reviewing Michael Neufeld’s biography of Wernher von Braun for The Common Review, and reading this book, I’m struck by how flabbergasting it is to discover what others find interesting and the questions I have that they don’t even begin to answer. Neufeld is an academic mucky-muck at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (to whatever degree that designation still stands — the Smithsonian has turned away from its academic potential to a great degree in the last twenty years). And, oh my good sweet Jesus, that man loves his rocket technology. I probably shouldn’t write this in such a public place where God and the world (and my editor) can find it, but I found myself skipping past dozens of pages of technical minutiae.
And oh my holy shit could this author use some more exposure to twentieth-century German historiography. The degree to which von Braun is given the benefit of the doubt about whether he was aware of the use of slave labor at Dora-Mittelwerk is astonishing — and more than that, the author doesn’t seem particularly interested in the moral implications of his knowing. Nor does he have anything to say about what it means that the United States scooped up Nazi rocket engineers after the war, or about the enormous scientific shortcuts that NASA took for the sake of beating the USSR to a manned spaceflight to the moon. I think that this sort of lay-it-all-out tech fetishism is exactly what Lehrer is getting at — our blithe acceptance of the idea that science has its own trajectory that has nothing to do with our aims as a society.
Neufeld depicts von Braun as a romantic figure, someone entranced by the promise of human travel to distant stars who was far too enamored with this dream to pay too much attention to who was funding his projects or of the uses of his technologies. Isn’t this the same kind of thinking that allows the machine of “big science” to roll forward in the first place? Further, Neufeld isn’t making any serious argument for… anything… when von Braun’s story could easily be a cautionary tale against the subversion of science and engineering to state goals.
Witness the immediate devolution of this blog to whatever is on my mind.
My friend Bob gave me a copy of this film — WR Mysteries of the Organism — and I’m completely mesmerized by it. In this first clip, we learn a bit about Wilhelm Reich, the psychoanalyst and one-time disciple of Freud.
I’ve already produced an over-heated email about how this film critiques the failures of free love, but in the sunshine of this fine Thursday morning, I’m much more struck by how funny this work is. Go see it.
Popular Mechanics, a periodical certainly marketed to men, has produced a DIY guide called “25 Skills Every Man Should Know.” Yes, the idea that these skills are in the exclusive domain of men is irksome (and persistent… I remember as a teenager asking my dad how to change a tire and being given an AAA membership instead), but I’ll let that go for the moment, especially since the comments seem to be covering the same ground that I would.
What’s interesting here is that it’s kind of a crappy DIY guide. There’s no real glossary (what’s an o-ring? beats me), the illustrations are only sometimes diagrams and the diagrams are only sometimes useful, and there’s no “what to do if this doesn’t seem to be working” section. There’s also no “here’s how to not kill yourself while you’re doing this” section, which seems a grave oversight.
Many modes of learning are gendered — I wonder, though, how women would approach this kind of guide. I look at it and think “uh, I doubt I’ll remember any of this in any real way the next time I need to start a fire.” The medium is ineffective, it doesn’t provide enough back-up information, and there’s no binding logic to the kinds of skills included. And, honestly, the explicit gendering leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s less that I’ve somehow gotten the message that these skills aren’t for me, and more that I don’t want to spend any more time on the unwelcoming website.
Part of the reason why the University of Michigan kept a library school while its “peer” institutions (U of Chicago and Columbia) were closing theirs had to do with how Michigan saw its mission. Instead of training rank-and-file librarians, Michigan claimed (and, in coded language, still claims) to teach the future library directors. This means that library students here have traditionally been male, and that the library school didn’t suffer from the student drain that others did when more professions opened to women.
Librarianship is an inherently gendered profession, and this “gendering” manifests itself in different ways. Here’s a study from the American Libraries Association from the late ’90s that discusses the representation (and pay! don’t forget pay!) problem among library directors.
In short, while only 32 percent of academic librarians are male, 43 percent of academic library directors are male. Twenty-one percent of public librarians are male, but 35 percent of public library directors are male.
Here’s my favorite part. Women directors of academic libraries make $58,202 to men’s $62,961 and women directors of public libraries make $64,549 to men’s $75,383.
That’s correct, folks, a more than $10,000 difference for the same job.