Archive for the ‘Things People Say’ Category

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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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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Last semester was possibly my most frustrating as an instructor, given that two of my courses had lower-than-normal levels of class participation. Having finally received my student evaluations from the fall, it appears that my frustration was felt by at least a few of my students. Numerically, my evaluations were similar to other semesters. Qualitatively, though, it appears that a higher number of students who would have normally left the comments section blank were compelled to complain. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Very negative attitude towards teaching. Often made rude comments to students for no reason… Terrible class, terrible professor.”

“Dr. Smith tends to be rude and misunderstanding towards his students. It would be appreciated that he shows his students the respect he demands as a professor. He doesn’t relate well to college life and all that it entails.”

“he is a good teacher but he is kind of mean sometimes & comes off indifferent to helping.”

“When talking to students in class or when commenting on a student’s answer to a question, it would be nice not to receive a smartass answer/comment in response.”

“Snide comments were made to multiple students and I was offended by his ego. He acts as though he is better than us simply because he has a PhD. My suggestion would be to tone down the sarcasm.”

If one looked only at the comments above, I would seem to be a terrible professor. I understand that not all students appreciate sarcasm, and that my responses were likely harsher last semester than most. Thankfully, there were also a few students who seemed to enjoy my courses. When compiling evaluations for review by others, I always follow a negative evaluation with a positive one that contradicts it. Toward this end:

“You were a great professor. You were able to relate to us but keep respect.”

“Dr. Smith needs to be less enthusiastic with his teaching and try to be more boring and even more unpredictable with grading and pop-quizzes. His energy level is far too high for someone like me and it amazes me how someone like that can become a professor (just kidding, Dr. Smith is awesome).”

“Great professor. Very knowledgeable and always willing to help.”

Thankfully for both my students and me, this semester has been much less frustrating than last.

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The video above, in which a parent reads a letter his daughter had posted on Facebook, criticizes her, and then shoots her laptop nine times, reinforces my previous statement that while public information on the internet is not private, private information is not necessarily private, either. The video has gone viral, receiving over 18 million views in the past five days, with over 92% of the people who submitted an opinion about it “liking” it. Among my Facebook friends, many of whom are parents themselves, it has received an overwhelmingly positive response, with comments that indicate they would like their own children to receive this sort of treatment.

Apparently, the birth of a child is enough to make us forget what it is like to be a teenager.

The friend who posted the video on Facebook, for example, had some rocky times with his own parents and even had the nerve to occasionally complain to his friends about them. The main difference between him and Hannah, the unseen daughter in the video, is that he shared his complaints in person while she displayed them for her friends on Facebook. Hannah, like many who grow up with these things, was aware of Facebook’s privacy settings and had hidden the post from her parents. Unfortunately for her, she probably also told Facebook to keep her signed in so that her father was able to view her full page when updating her computer.

Although I haven’t seen any responses from Hannah (her computer has been destroyed, after all), I fear the ramifications of losing the comfort of a backstage due to technology. How would my friend’s teenage years have been different if he couldn’t complain about his parents to me without them finding out? How would his life be different now if he could never come home and complain about his boss or go out with his friends and complain about his wife or children? Venting about minor problems likely prevents major explosions, but those who like this father’s tactics don’t seem to understand that that’s what Hannah was doing. I’ve read articles speculating that in the future drunken pictures won’t be a reason not to hire somebody (or elect them president) because we will be desensitized to people’s backstage activities. We’re clearly not there yet.

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A few days ago, Justin Martin commented at Inside Higher Ed on the well-known belief that students don’t live in the “real world.”  He justifiably argues that they are:

The students I teach are professional jugglers who make a Cirque du Soleil show look like a barn dance. Among them they’re balancing academic course loads, community service, part-time or even full-time jobs, loan debt, athletic training and competition, transient housing situations, along with some of life’s other gems like a sick parent, a sibling in Afghanistan, or an unplanned pregnancy.

One of the primary reasons educated Americans are such successful professionals is that the college years are hard. “The real world” isn’t so daunting to college graduates because they’ve already spent four or five years in it. The deadlines they face are very real, and I know this because I rigidly impose some of them, and my students know that the word “dead” is in deadline for a reason. I don’t go easy on my students, but I also don’t belittle the loads they carry. College students in the U.S. are impressive people, and their hard work should be praised, not demeaned.

Of course, as I’ve stated before, I also think that people use the idea of the “real world” to privilege their own experiences over systematic data collection and the experiences of others.

Via: Historiann


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It has been a while since I’ve talked about issues of digital identity, but technological advances also present us with the possibility that our analog identities will be captured and shared with the world.  Some, like Anthony Weiner, find their private communications are being spread far beyond their intended targets, but I am more interested in public behaviors.  The question of whether public behaviors can be recorded by researchers without consent has long been a part of methodological debates, but today this goes far beyond whether somebody will describe our behaviors in seldom-read books or journal articles.

The Society Pages recently asked whether Americans have the right to conduct citizen surveillance, such as recording conversations with police officers during traffic stops (and then risking injury to highlight the problems with the officer’s directions).  The police officer, though, was aware that he was being recorded.  Others are unaware that their behaviors will be shared with the world.  In the case of Hermon Raju, a “well-educated” NYU grad, or Cathy Cruz Marrero, who fell into a fountain while texting, momentary lapses can lead to internet infamy.

If I attend a public concert, the songs remain the intellectual property of the band.  My limited knowledge of copyright law suggests that I may be allowed to record this concert for personal use but I cannot sell it and while I might post it on YouTube the band has the ability to have it taken down.  While this works for some copyright owners, to my knowledge the issue of whether an individual’s public behaviors are effectively intellectual property has not been addressed in a way that reflects the realities of our digital world.

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There are two types of Father’s Day cards: funny and sincere.  The sincere cards typically exclaim what an excellent father somebody was and how he was always there to listen/give advice/bail you out of jail.  The problem with the sincere cards is that they go too far in their claims of fatherly excellence.  While there are some people who’s fathers have been consistently excellent who can buy these cards and there are some who have no contact with their fathers and don’t need to worry about sending cards, there are many who fall somewhere in between.  As a result, I think that there is room for more realistic class of sincere Father’s Day cards.

In an attempt to rectify this situation, I created the following cards at someecards.com (where everybody is apparently white):

Until cards like these become reality I guess those of us in the middle will have to stick with the funny cards.

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Race, class, and gender are not the only places where individuals fail to see the big picture.  It turns out that attitudes about climate change have a lot to do with the present weather conditions.  As the author of the study states:

Global warming is so complex, it appears some people are ready to be persuaded by whether their own day is warmer or cooler than usual, rather than think about whether the entire world is becoming warmer or cooler. It is striking that society has spent so much money, time and effort educating people about this issue, yet people are still so easily influenced.

Humans, it seems, are not particularly good at systematically collecting data with which to explore their world views.  I also wonder if the apparent decline of media authority also plays a role, since reports based on data that has been systematically collected can be written off as evidence of bias.

As an aside, every time I hear a variation of the maxim expressed in the first sentence of the article above – “Don’t like the weather? Wait an hour.” – it is attached to a particular region of the country.  The more time I spend in different areas of the country, however, the more convinced I am that this saying is common in every area of the country.

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When I speak in class I often wonder what my students choose to write down.  Sometimes I worry that if I emphasize that one thing is NOT the same as another half of them will write “one thing = another” in their notes.  The other day I found the following student notes in class:

  • Meeting with [Professor] in her office on Thursday, February 24th at 10:00am.
  • She is actually talking about statistics and I have no idea what is happening…
  • We drew some arrows
  • Remember ice cream and murder rates

Those four lines were all that the student wrote down.  The second line sounds like a text while the third reinforces the idea that the student has no idea what is going on and the final line reminds me of Memento (remember Sammy Jenkis…).

Given that these notes indicated they were for a senior seminar I can only hope that the student in question has better note-taking abilities than he or she chose to utilize on this day.  The alternative, that this student has made it through nearly four years of college taking notes like these, is too embarrassing to think about as a college professor.

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Student statement of the day:

“This is a great day!  I should stay sober more often!”

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