Archive for June, 2012

Given the typical lack of exciting news in a 24-hour period, I can understand the intense pressure placed on 24-hour news channels to get the scoop on the truly big stories when they come along. If they can be seen as the most reliable source for news during times of legitimate excitement, after all, maybe more people will watch them the rest of the time. So channels are competing with each other but they are also competing with other forms of media that cover breaking news, such as blogs. I suspect that both of these things played a role in yesterday’s embarrassing initial coverage by Fox News and CNN of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act. Memoirs of a SLACer correspondent Jon Stewart has the full story here. I especially like the fact that Fox News corrected their story after noting that the reports at scotusblog.com contradicted their own. Way to bring it full-circle, Fox!

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A recent article by Claude Fischer for the Boston Review tackles the connections between American individualism, class consciousness, social structures, and political power by asking why we receive fewer days of paid vacation than Europeans. Fischer provides a good summary of the reasons that could be used either to introduce or to summarize a number of topics in an introductory sociology course. In part, he writes:

The answer comes in two general forms: one, Americans do not want such programs and perks because we do not want the kind of government that would legislate them. Two, Americans want them but cannot get them.

The they-don’t-want-it and they-can’t-get-it views are not irreconcilable. In great measure, what people can imagine as possible, normal, or right depends on what they already have. Some of us can recall when the proposal to create Medicare was widely assailed as socialized medicine. Now few Americans can imagine a country in which the elderly go without taxpayer-provided health care. But the structural impediments to working-class action can then become impediments to working-class consciousness itself—which, in turn, makes action less likely. A tight circle of American exceptionalism.

Via: Made in America

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Usually, when athletes win championships they talk about how happy they are and how much winning means to them. They also, however, typically start with a caveat to their happiness, depending on their parental and/or marital status, naming the day of their wedding or the birth of their child(ren) as their happiest with the accomplishment of all of their lifelong goals coming in second. I’ve always thought this was interesting because it is basically an athlete’s default statement in these sorts of situations and often appears to be intended to conform to social norms more than based in legitimate sentiment. When LeBron James won the NBA championship with the Miami Heat on Thursday night, though, he was quoted as saying this: “You know, my dream has become a reality now, and it’s the best feeling I ever had.” He didn’t say it was the third best feeling he’d ever had after the births of his two sons and the day his fiancee accepted his proposal. He said it was the best feeling. That James was willing to tell the truth in his biggest moment might not come as a surprise to some. He does, after all, have a history of flouting social norms.

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This interesting article by Ann Powers at NPR.org examines the many covers of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”Most interesting is the implication that pop culture moments like this allow all sorts of individuals to play at homosexuality, making us all slightly more tolerant. Powers writes:

The first video parody of the song was the most commercially important — it featured Bieber, his gal Selena Gomez and other kid heartthrobs cavorting and lip-synching to the track. It spawned a multitude of answer videos just like it … These are fun, but don’t extend the “Call Me Maybe” story.

What turns the tickle into a bigger statement is the bunch of videos that take up the original video’s final plot point. One highly entertaining one that’s getting a lot of attention was created by West Hollywood man about town Woody Woodbeck and his friends, and puts the homoerotic subplot up front. But a surprising number of “Call Me Maybe” parodies feature guys who mostly read straight (in the sexual and more broadly cultural sense of the word) getting in touch with their inner femininity, and even queerness, by falling in love with Jepsen’s song.

As with other depictions of underrepresented groups, my question is whether images of apparently heterosexual males in these videos conforming to societal stereotypes about homosexuality and femininity push the boundaries of acceptable behavior or merely reinforce those boundaries by mocking them.

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I recently saw the list below (from faireconomy.org) on Facebook. Combined with this graphic on minimum wage and rent it could be an interesting way to start a class discussion about income inequality. I’m guessing that students would be particularly interested in the “Student Loan” and “Credit Card Debt” categories.

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Many academics likely see summer as a time to get to work on the things they really want to be doing during the academic year. Freed of students and committees, they turn to research, course prep, and reading Important Books. Each summer, I look forward to being able to focus on those things. Each summer I fail.

This failure makes me feel bad about how little I am actually accomplishing, which leads to lethargy, which leads to accomplishing even less. Although the title seems appropriate, my experience in the summer is, in fact, the exact opposite of the problem faced by the protagonist in “Summertime Blues,” who is forced to work so much that he misses out on summertime fun.

I miss out on summertime fun because of how much I don’t work.

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Back in January I expressed some frustration that my involvement with local government was largely useless. I am not on a slightly different subcommittee that has the purpose of looking at data to see how research has explored various approaches to the problem. This is the part I thought I could be useful for! So how did the first meeting go? Like this:

  1. Somebody tells a story about how their organization handles the problem.
  2. This approach is termed a “suggestion.”
  3. People share personal opinions about this suggestion.
  4. Others tell stories about how their organizations could use this suggestion.
  5. I think about how much I hate these meetings.
  6. Somebody tells a story about how their organization handles the problem.
  7. This approach is termed a “suggestion.”
  8. People share personal opinions about this suggestion.
  9. Others tell stories about how their organizations could use this suggestion.
  10. People remark how much they are learning from this exchange of information that is based purely on anecdotal evidence.
  11. These anecdotes are labeled “best practices.”
  12. I think about how much I hate these meetings.

I’m sure that to those involved in these organizations, sharing stories like this is fun and interesting. What these stories are not, however, is based on anything other than anecdotal evidence with no real information about whether an approach has worked for an organization or not. Some know that their organization does a thing and others contemplate how their organization could do that thing.

If only there were a large body of research about the problem that we could somehow tap into…

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Every year about this time children everywhere are given the opportunity to recognize the various levels of effort that their fathers have put into raising them through the purchase of greeting cards. As I noted last year, the fathers depicted in these cards are nearly always excellent, leaving few options for sons and daughters whose fathers fell short of this standard.

If you look hard enough, however, alternatives exist. Unfortunately, these cards are probably given most frequently to excellent fathers with excellent senses of humor rather than to the mediocre fathers they describe. The thing about mediocre fathers is that some of them don’t realize that they’re mediocre and, for those that do, reminding them of this fact on the holiday designated to honor them probably makes you a mediocre child. Along these lines, here is the Father’s Day card that I found at Target but did not buy this year:

Happy Father’s Day!

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In the past month I’ve had students ask if they could use Prezi for their in-class presentations and I’ve seen a presentation on teaching with technology that used Prezi. If you’re unfamiliar with Prezi, as I was until a few weeks ago, it is essentially a free, online presentation tool. Its biggest draw among students seems to be that rather than moving from one slide to the next as PowerPoint and Keynote do, it puts off of the information in the presentation on a single plane and then zooms, rotates, and pans from one piece of information to the next (for examples, click through some of the “Prezis We Like” on the Prezi home page). I will admit that there are some aspects of Prezi that I appreciate, such as the fact that it is free to use and can be viewed in any web browser. Still, I wonder how those who argue against PowerPoint will think about this. Maybe if I switch to Prezi in the classroom my students will stop thinking that class is boring!

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These CIA videos that were posted on Facebook for some reason explain how stalking was done in a pre-digital age. As Jalopnik states:

The key seems to be, of course, don’t let the mark see you. According to the CIA way, the best way to accomplish that is to work in a team, in this case of three cars. There’s lots of map-reading involved, extrapolating most likely exit routes of your target, and constant radio communication between the pursuing cars.

The good news is today we have many advantages, since almost all of us owns a small handheld device with both a constantly-updating map and a 2-way radio. The trick is convincing several stalker-minded friends to help you out, but I guess that’s what Craigslist is for. Even with nice, creepy dedicated stalker pals and 21st-century equipment, there’s still some fundamental rules to effective, undetectable car following, and it’s great we have such resources available, especially if you’re just working with what you learned from watching Jack Nicholson smash that taillight in Chinatown.

Kids these days have it so easy.

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