Archive for February, 2015

Following my post about the deserving poor from the other day, here is a humorous take on the undeserving rich (via Jalopnik):

This seems like the type of person who might catch affluenza (and now the humor is gone…).

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed (but only if you drive a “Ferari”).

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Attitudes about helping those in poverty in the United States have long been connected to the idea of whether the individuals in question are deserving of help. Social Security and worker’s compensation are seen as policies that typically benefit those who “earned” society’s help by working, while welfare is seen as a policy that benefits the lazy who are unwilling to support themselves. Calls for drug testing for welfare recipients reflects the belief that these people are trying to cheat the system. This does not mean, however, that Americans are unwilling to help when somebody is seen as deserving.

In early February the Detroit Free Press published a story about James Robertson, a 56-year-old man who walked 21 miles to get to and from work five days a week. He had done this for a decade. Robertson, who apparently did not make enough money to afford a car, is praised as somebody who never complains and “can’t imagine not working.” He is, essentially, the perfect image of the deserving poor. As a result, within days of the story a collection had been started in his name, raising $350,000, and a local Ford dealership had given him a new car. With more money, however, came more problems, as Robertson recently moved out of fear that his fame and fortune would put him in danger.

Clearly, Americans are not opposed to helping others but we have a strong distrust of those who need assistance. It would be nice if it didn’t take national headlines to convince us that those in poverty are deserving of help.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed (if you’re deserving).

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Based on his movies, you may have been surprised by how intelligent and engaging Russell Brand is when discussing various issues on TV. While he is certainly more aggressive than Jon Stewart (although Stewart can be aggressive, too), Brand’s web series The Trews suggests that he would be a worthy successor when Stewart leaves The Daily Show later this year. Despite the fact that Brand seems to spend most shows talking about current events from his bed (fitting?) he has the ability to interject his humorous takes on serious issues between clips from various news shows. In the episode below, he discusses recent murders in Chapel Hill, NC and Copenhagen in the context of the broader cultural scripts regarding Muslims and terrorism. I’d watch a Daily Show with Russell Brand.

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Placemat - FullIf you have ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant, you may be familiar with the placemat pictured above. It depicts the Chinese Zodiac, represented by twelve animals, which is based on the year in which you are born and, like other zodiacs, purports to provide insight into your character based on that information. I’ve looked at this placemat, or at least placemats like it, countless times while waiting for my food, frequently discussing which qualities seem “true” and which seem “false” and commenting on how funny I think it is that my sister is a dog. My most recent visit to a Chinese restaurant was on a particularly busy night, so I had a long time to ponder this placemat. This led to the discovery that quality control at the Chinese Zodiac Placemat factory has taken a serious downturn since I last paid attention to their work.

Although it is not the first problem that I noticed, the Chinese Zodiac description at the center of the placemat is a good place to start. Here is a closer image:

Placemat - CenterIt reads (sic):

The Chinese Zodiac consists of a 12 year cyale,each year of which is named after a different animal that Impatts distinct characteristics to its year. Many Chinese believe that the year of a person’s birth is the primary factor in determining that person,s personality traits, physical and mental attributes and degree of success and happiness throughout his lifetime. To leam abour your Animal Sign, find the year of your birth among the 12 signs [floating dot] running around the border. If born before 1936, add 12 to the year you were born to find your year.

Okay, so there are clearly some spelling and grammar errors here, but maybe that is the end of its problems. It has been a while since I’ve looked at one of these placemats, so let’s take a look at the animals to find out which one represents me. We’ll start with the dragon:

Placemat - DragonOther than some kerning issues and a missing period, the text isn’t bad. But note the years. The dragon is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac, meaning that 2012 is the earliest somebody could be born in order to easily find their animal. Unlike anybody who will be born in the next 68 years, somebody born in the 1980s is out of luck. It appears that instead of updating the placemat to end with those born in 2012, it was instead updated to begin with those born in 2012 (maybe the person in charge of quality control at the Chinese Zodiac Placemat factory thought the world would end so none of this mattered?).

Placemat - DogContinuing around the placemat, we see a number of small errors (other than the years), like the warning to dogs (like my sister) to “Watch out fot Dragons.”

Placemat - BoarIn general, things get worse as you go around the placemat. Boars, for example, are told to avoid others born in the same year but left wondering which animals they should seek.

Placemat - RatThen we get to the rat and the wheels basically fall of. Most what?!

Placemat - OxBy the ox. all attempts at correct punctuation have been discarded (along with the bottom of its front legs), There really isn’t that much difference between a comma and a period anyway. right:

Placemat - TigerOur final stop on today’s tour is the tiger. I have worked hard to ignore how contradictory these descriptions tend to be. I think that the basic formula is to give each animal a few good qualities and a few bad qualities, so that they can see the good qualities in themselves and the bad qualities in others. In any event, beware or the Monkey, Tiger!

I have no idea how long the restaurant I visited has been using this placemat or how many they have left in stock, but I think it may be time to spend a bit more to purchase from a company whose placemat quality control person has not completely given up. I’m also left wondering if it is possible that a Chinese restaurant has resorted to using a cheap Chinese knockoff of a similar (but error-free) placemat. How meta of them?

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. With this post and the previous post about Valentine’s Day cards, it is basically like a cheap knockoff of Sociological Images!



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In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some valentines for academics from Tweed. You can send them via e-mail to your own primary source:


Additionally, here are some previous posts about Valentine’s Day:

Depictions of love and Valentine’s Day shopping

Honest valentines

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. They’re almost as good as chocolate.

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In discussing what it means for sociology to be a social science with students, I frequently compare it to the physical sciences and the increased difficulty of predicting human behavior compared with, say, the molecules that make up water. I also like to remind them, though, that the supposedly more “objective” physical sciences are not outside of social influence. The other day, two posts that appeared next to each other in Feedly, my RSS reader, demonstrated this.

The first was a Sociological Images post discussing the social construction of fruits and vegetables. In short, though things ranging from tomatoes to bell peppers are scientifically classified as fruits, we socially categorize them as vegetables. Furthermore, in 1893 the Supreme Court sided with public perception over scientific classification in determining that imported tomatoes should be taxed as vegetables.

The second post was from Small Pond Science about paradigm shifts and the need to overcome some accepted scientific assumptions in order to make new discoveries. As Terry McGlynn notes, “Doubt correct dogma, you’re an ignoramus. Doubt incorrect dogma and show that you’re right, you’re a visionary.”

As a bonus, the post next to the Small Pond Science post was about another group of people questioning their assumptions. This time it was ethnographers in sociology. Social scientists and physical scientists aren’t that different after all.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links that will make you question your assumptions via your news feed.

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It is common for posters on various academic forums to note how they wish they had been on the job market in the 1990s or 1980s or 1970s or, basically, any time that is not now. These people long for the days of yore when one publication would get you a job and two would get you tenure (though a penis and white skin were probably required for both). (Actually, somebody should make a time travel movie where a graduate student from the present goes back to the 1970s to get a job at an R1 and then grows old and becomes the “dead wood” that graduate students in the present wish would retire so that they could get jobs.)

Anyhow, Elizabeth Popp Berman’s travels into the LBJ archives reveal that not everything was different back in the olden days. In the papers of Donald Turner she finds that he complained about grading, publications, and alcohol. Combined with Tolkien’s complaints about teaching, we have evidence that professors have been whining for over 70 years!

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about grading, publications, and alcohol via your news feed.

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Old people like me may be familiar with motivational analogies related to carrots and sticks. Young people, I have determined by noting the bewildered faces of my students when I make reference to these analogies, are not familiar with what carrots and sticks have to do with motivation. If you are also young, here is a brief explanation. Like horses or mules or other animals that people in ancient times (like the 1900s or Amish farms) might have used for various tasks, students can be motivated by making them move away from something that they want to avoid (hitting mules with sticks, reducing student grades for lack of attendance) or they can be motivated by making them move toward something that they want (putting a carrot in front of a mule or offering students bonus points for class participation).

As discussed by Patricia Hernandez on Kotaku, a new app called “Pocket Points” offers students carrots for avoiding the use of their phones in class. Hernandez writes that the app tracks how long students keep their phones locked during class and is in use at Cal State Chico and Penn State, though only 1,000 students have downloaded the app, so its use can’t be very pervasive at either campus. Of course, Hernandez notes that people may try to game the system and commenters have several suggestions for doing so.

Carrots may work, but they probably don’t leave the lasting impression of a stick, even if the stick is staged. That way students will know that you’re not a part of their system, man.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. That’s a tasty carrot.

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If you find yourself reacting to the upcoming kickoff of Super Bowl [insert roman numerals here] with trepidation, and especially if you find yourself reacting to the Super Bowl by marveling at how much money is being spent to televise a bunch of millionaires playing a kids game when that money could be better spent fighting nuclear proliferation, let me suggest an alternative. We Are the Best! is a Swedish movie set in the early 1980s and featuring three girls in their early teens who start a punk band. Their first (and basically only) song is called “Hate the Sport,” and includes lyrics about people dying while others focus on high-jump basketball soccer teams. The movie also includes a brazen attempt to save a Christian with the wonders of punk (though I guess that, as the girls point out, you can’t hang God without accepting that he exists…).

We are the Best! is available for streaming on Netflix and you can see the trailer here:

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