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Archive for April, 2009

In graduate school, most of us learn by doing.  We learn to write 20 page papers by writing them for nearly every course we take.  We learn to present at conferences by presenting in front of small and, well, mostly small crowds at regional conferences, roundtable sessions, and occasionally, a regular session of the ASA.  We learn to publish by submitting our manuscripts to journals and awaiting the soul-crushing reviews before revising and submitting again, usually to different journals.  If we’re lucky, we coauthor conference presentations and journal submissions with faculty members who have done these things before and can give some context to the pitfalls we experience along the way.  But almost nobody coauthors a dissertation.  In this, we are on our own.

Writing a dissertation may be a sign that we have come full circle in our graduate program, since we were also on our own when writing 20 page papers in our first graduate semester after countless five page papers as undergrads (somewhere along the way we might lose sympathy for our own students as they struggle to complete five page papers in our own courses, since I’m pretty sure I could write a randomly assigned five page undergraduate paper in the next hour, including relevant references).  When we struggled with those initial 20 page papers it was okay, because we were new to graduate school and we were supposed to struggle.  The dissertation, on the other hand, is the crowning achievement of our graduate school years.  Why, after success in courses, success in presentations, success in publishing, and even success on the job market, does a dissertation have the power to revive old insecurities (Do I really know anything?  Will this make the world a better place?  Why is this important?  What if my conclusions are wrong?)?  For some, these questions make the dissertation difficult to begin.  Unfortunately, once we do begin we must face the same questions with each new chapter.

After the job market, when I began writing my dissertation in earnest, I was struck by the fact that I had entered uncharted waters.  I had followed the job market experiences of friends, but once they had jobs they disappeared into a dissertation netherworld, only to emerge victorious three to six months later.  Their process, their daily tactics, and even their products were a mystery to me.  In fact, the only written draft of an unfinished dissertation chapter I have ever seen is my own.  Even though those who go on the job market ABD are probably faced with a mad scramble to get things done, I think that graduate programs in general would benefit by bringing dissertators out of the netherworld and inviting a more open exchange of information about the writing and editing process.  This may even make it easier to figure out where to begin for future generations.

Well, I’m off to the netherworld.  Good luuuck!!

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Loss of liberty

You may have noticed that since Obama took office some have cried that we are one step away from a totalitarian regime in which we have neither liberty nor freedom.  Some have even decided to go Galt, curtailing their incomes to stick it to the taxman.  Noted pundit J. Stewart examines the allegations below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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The “Racial Sensitivity” episode of ABC’s Better Off Ted, which airs on Wednesday nights, offers a funny, if not particularly deep, examination of institutional racism.  Problems arise when the new motion-sensing system at Veridian Dynamics does not recognize African Americans.  Solutions include “Operation White Shadow,” in which Whites are hired at minimum wage to operate doors and lights.  Full episodes can be seen here.

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Once again, somebody is surprised that the information posted on a public MySpace site is not, in fact, private.  Unlike the previous example, however, this case involves a girl’s former principal forwarding her rant about her hometown to the editor of the local paper, who published it as a letter to the editor.  This case highlights the lack of control that we have over our ideas once we make them public, although it seems like a better approach may have been to sue on the grounds that the newspaper did not have the right to reprint the author’s work.

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I was reading an article today and came across the following list of the “Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries,” also known as “Books Every Sociologist Should Read.”  It is interesting, but perhaps not surprising, how complementary these two titles are, since many of the authors of the list appear to deem these ideas harmful while I consider them crucial insights into human behavior.  The list, along with the names of those who chose it, is below.

HUMAN EVENTS asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help us compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Each panelist nominated a number of titles and then voted on a ballot including all books nominated. A title received a score of 10 points for being listed No. 1 by one of our panelists, 9 points for being listed No. 2, etc. Appropriately, The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, earned the highest aggregate score and the No. 1 listing.

1. The Communist Manifesto


Authors: Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels
Publication date: 1848
Score: 74
Summary: Marx and Engels, born in Germany in 1818 and 1820, respectively, were the intellectual godfathers of communism. Engels was the original limousine leftist: A wealthy textile heir, he financed Marx for much of his life. In 1848, the two co-authored The Communist Manifesto as a platform for a group they belonged to called the Communist League. The Manifesto envisions history as a class struggle between oppressed workers and oppressive owners, calling for a workers’ revolution so property, family and nation-states can be abolished and a proletarian Utopia established. The Evil Empire of the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice.


2. Mein Kampf


Author: Adolf Hitler
Publication date: 1925-26
Score: 41
Summary: Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was initially published in two parts in 1925 and 1926 after Hitler was imprisoned for leading Nazi Brown Shirts in the so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” that tried to overthrow the Bavarian government. Here Hitler explained his racist, anti-Semitic vision for Germany, laying out a Nazi program pointing directly to World War II and the Holocaust. He envisioned the mass murder of Jews, and a war against France to precede a war against Russia to carve out “lebensraum” (“living room”) for Germans in Eastern Europe. The book was originally ignored. But not after Hitler rose to power. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, there were 10 million copies in circulation by 1945.


3. Quotations from Chairman Mao


Author: Mao Zedong
Publication date: 1966
Score: 38
Summary: Mao, who died in 1976, was the leader of the Red Army in the fight for control of China against the anti-Communist forces of Chiang Kai-shek before, during and after World War II. Victorious, in 1949, he founded the People’s Republic of China, enslaving the world’s most populous nation in communism. In 1966, he published Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, otherwise known as The Little Red Book, as a tool in the “Cultural Revolution” he launched to push the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese society back in his ideological direction. Aided by compulsory distribution in China, billions were printed. Western leftists were enamored with its Marxist anti-Americanism. “It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism,” wrote Mao.


4. The Kinsey Report


Author: Alfred Kinsey
Publication date: 1948
Score: 37
Summary: Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at Indiana University who, in 1948, published a study called Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, commonly known as The Kinsey Report. Five years later, he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy. “Kinsey’s initial report, released in 1948 . . . stunned the nation by saying that American men were so sexually wild that 95% of them could be accused of some kind of sexual offense under 1940s laws,” the Washington Times reported last year when a movie on Kinsey was released. “The report included reports of sexual activity by boys–even babies–and said that 37% of adult males had had at least one homosexual experience. . . . The 1953 book also included reports of sexual activity involving girls younger than age 4, and suggested that sex between adults and children could be beneficial.”


5. Democracy and Education


Author: John Dewey
Publication date: 1916
Score: 36
Summary: John Dewey, who lived from 1859 until 1952, was a “progressive” philosopher and leading advocate for secular humanism in American life, who taught at the University of Chicago and at Columbia. He signed the Humanist Manifesto and rejected traditional religion and moral absolutes. In Democracy and Education, in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education–particularly in public schools–and helped nurture the Clinton generation.


6. Das Kapital


Author: Karl Marx
Publication date: 1867-1894
Score: 31
Summary: Marx died after publishing a first volume of this massive book, after which his benefactor Engels edited and published two additional volumes that Marx had drafted. Das Kapital forces the round peg of capitalism into the square hole of Marx’s materialistic theory of history, portraying capitalism as an ugly phase in the development of human society in which capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits. Marx theorized that the inevitable eventual outcome would be global proletarian revolution. He could not have predicted 21st Century America: a free, affluent society based on capitalism and representative government that people the world over envy and seek to emulate.


7. The Feminine Mystique


Author: Betty Friedan
Publication date: 1963
Score: 30
Summary: In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, born in 1921, disparaged traditional stay-at-home motherhood as life in “a comfortable concentration camp”–a role that degraded women and denied them true fulfillment in life. She later became founding president of the National Organization for Women. Her original vocation, tellingly, was not stay-at-home motherhood but left-wing journalism. As David Horowitz wrote in a review for Salon.com of Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique by Daniel Horowitz (no relation to David): The author documents that “Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer.”


8. The Course of Positive Philosophy


Author: Auguste Comte
Publication date: 1830-1842
Score: 28
Summary: Comte, the product of a royalist Catholic family that survived the French Revolution, turned his back on his political and cultural heritage, announcing as a teenager, “I have naturally ceased to believe in God.” Later, in the six volumes of The Course of Positive Philosophy, he coined the term “sociology.” He did so while theorizing that the human mind had developed beyond “theology” (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through “metaphysics” (in this case defined as the French revolutionaries’ reliance on abstract assertions of “rights” without a God), to “positivism,” in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be.


9. Beyond Good and Evil


Author: Freidrich Nietzsche
Publication date: 1886
Score: 28
Summary: An oft-scribbled bit of college-campus graffiti says: “‘God is dead’–Nietzsche” followed by “‘Nietzsche is dead’–God.” Nietzsche’s profession that “God is dead” appeared in his 1882 book, The Gay Science, but under-girded the basic theme of Beyond Good and Evil, which was published four years later. Here Nietzsche argued that men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power,” and that superior men will sweep aside religiously inspired moral rules, which he deemed as artificial as any other moral rules, to craft whatever rules would help them dominate the world around them. “Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation,” he wrote. The Nazis loved Nietzsche.


10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money


Author: John Maynard Keynes
Publication date: 1936
Score: 23
Summary: Keynes was a member of the British elite–educated at Eton and Cambridge–who as a liberal Cambridge economics professor wrote General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in the midst of the Great Depression. The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government. When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity. FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt.


Honorable Mention

These books won votes from two or more judges:

The Population Bomb
by Paul Ehrlich
Score: 22

What Is To Be Done
by V.I. Lenin
Score: 20

Authoritarian Personality
by Theodor Adorno
Score: 19

On Liberty
by John Stuart Mill
Score: 18

Beyond Freedom and Dignity
by B.F. Skinner
Score: 18

Reflections on Violence
by Georges Sorel
Score: 18

The Promise of American Life
by Herbert Croly
Score: 17

The Origin of Species
by Charles Darwin
Score: 17

Madness and Civilization
by Michel Foucault
Score: 12

Soviet Communism: A New Civilization
by Sidney and Beatrice Webb
Score: 12

Coming of Age in Samoa
by Margaret Mead
Score: 11

Unsafe at Any Speed
by Ralph Nader
Score: 11

Second Sex
by Simone de Beauvoir
Score: 10

Prison Notebooks
by Antonio Gramsci
Score: 10

Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson
Score: 9

Wretched of the Earth
by Frantz Fanon
Score: 9

Introduction to Psychoanalysis
by Sigmund Freud
Score: 9

The Greening of America
by Charles Reich
Score: 9

The Limits to Growth
by Club of Rome
Score: 4

Descent of Man
by Charles Darwin
Score: 2


The Judges

These 15 scholars and public policy leaders served as judges in selecting the Ten Most Harmful Books.

Arnold Beichman
Research Fellow
Hoover Institution

Prof. Brad Birzer
Hillsdale College

Harry Crocker
Vice President & Executive Editor
Regnery Publishing, Inc.

Prof. Marshall DeRosa
Florida Atlantic University

Dr. Don Devine
Second Vice Chairman
American Conservative Union

Prof. Robert George
Princeton University

Prof. Paul Gottfried
Elizabethtown College

Prof. William Anthony Hay
Mississippi State University

Herb London
President
Hudson Institute

Prof. Mark Malvasi
Randolph-Macon College

Douglas Minson
Associate Rector
The Witherspoon Fellowships

Prof. Mark Molesky
Seton Hall University

Prof. Stephen Presser
Northwestern University

Phyllis Schlafly
President
Eagle Forum

Fred Smith
President
Competitive Enterprise Institute

From:  http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=7591

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Typically, I prefer my visions of the future to be of the dystopic variety.  I suppose, though, that dire economic times deserve brigher visions of the future.  Angela Sorby at the Chronicle of Higher Education takes this general approach in reflecting on the crash of 2009 from 2020.  Among the highlights:

  • Universities stopped paying for conference travel. After a wave of armed protests, professors began talking with their colleagues at nearby universities. Study groups formed. Now, instead of performing their work at a national meeting for an audience of 10, professors find themselves in heated discussions with people from the college across town — people they never would have met under the old system. Regional schools of thought have formed. New ideas are being generated. The only Thai restaurant in Grinnell, Iowa, now thrives, packed with academics who can no longer afford to fly halfway around the globe to eat with similar colleagues in similar Thai restaurants in Boston and London.
  • Forced to make hard decisions, colleges and universities experimented with eliminating faculty members, only to discover that without teachers, students complained that they were learning less. Online robot instructors were tried, but they had no paychecks from which to deduct their maintenance costs. Finally, faculty members were reinstated, complete with salaries and pay-as-you-go medical plans. To compensate for revenues lost to faculty expenses, institutions were compelled to stop hiring consultants. Assessment teams disappeared, leading to widespread panic. Professors no longer knew how to list student-centered outcomes on their syllabi or how to tabulate six course objectives on an Excel spreadsheet. Professors and students heroically overcame those barriers and, as of today, continue to learn. It is unclear how long this can continue, however.

Finally, it is comforting to know that even if Big Brother isn’t watching and birth rates do not fall to zero there is a dystopia in my future after all:

  • The old campus apartments gradually filled up with professors and their families, since no one could afford a mortgage or a commute anymore. The campus got progressively more crowded, more intergenerational, and less private. The swimming pool dried up. The campus coffee shop began selling Folger’s. The ivory tower crumbled, along with the campus infrastructure. In this new environment, students and professors are economic equals who see one another on the weekends. They also walk home from night classes together, giving them added protection against the gangs of half-starved former assessment consultants now roaming the streets.

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It was recently announced that General Motors has effectively fired its coach.  In sports, coaches are regularly fired, though the timing of the firing tends to depend on the level of competition.  In college sports, most coaches are fired at the end of an unsuccessful season or, more typically, the end of a string of unsuccessful seasons (notable exceptions are coaches who resign amid scandal before the season concludes).  This timing allows the administration to look like it is taking action while also appearing to have given the failed coach every opportunity to improve.  More importantly, this timing allows the new coach to start fresh with a full offseason to improve the team.

At the professional level, it is much more common for coaches to be fired during the season.  When this happens, media reports typically explain that the coach had “lost” the players, leading to mediocre performance.  A coaching change, then, is often expected to shake up the lethargic millionaires who fill a team’s roster, although this tactic is unlikely to result in a markedly improved record at the end of the season.  In both college and professional sports, the coach who is fired was sometimes hailed as a team’s savior only a few years earlier.

So it is with General Motors.  Rick Wagoner, the man who rose to the top and was supposed to turn the company around has been forced out.  The interesting twist is that his resignation comes not at the request of stockholders or the board of directors, but from the Obama administration.  In professional sports, the owners typically have the final say in hirings and firings, so I suppose that GM’s financial situation is such that it is not a stretch to give the Obama administration this control.  Nevertheless, with only sixty days left in the season it appears unlikely that Wagoner’s replacement, Fritz Henderson, will be able to turn things around, no matter how much some fans like the move.

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Here is another entry in the long line of videos aimed at helping us understand the economy.  Would any other show be able to explain the financial crisis, describe the symbolic interactionist underpinnings of our economy, and base a significant amount of its plot on Jesus Christ’s persecution?

http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/220760/

The episode also gives us some insight into the government’s decision-making process:

Economic Options

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