garlic mustard massacre

Pulling garlic mustard , I realized that if there are garlic mustard historians or novelists or prophets, they’d describe me as a mass murderer or an angry god. I’m sure I thought of this because I’m reading Paulette Jiles’s The Color of Lightning . The opening chapters describe a violent attack in 1864 by Comanche and Kiowa warriors on the women and children in a small mixed-race settlement in Texas. The events are told from the point of view of the White and Black women who are repeatedly beaten, raped and then enslaved by the tribes. The tale is not one-sided. Other scenes in the book have people talking about violent attacks and treaty-breaking by the White settlers, providing the context for the raids, and as the story unfolds, there are positive images of the family lives of the native people. But because the violence against native people happens off camera, as it were, while the violence by the native people is vividly described from the point of view of the victims, there is an asymmetry in the descriptions in the book, at least so far.* The Black and White women are individual people who suffer, while the Comanches and Kiowas are unknown enemies, or abstractions. Continue reading “garlic mustard massacre”

ask a scatterbrain: R&R response letter

With all the discussion about journals, submitting, and reviewing, there has been little discussion about the revise-and-resubmit response letter….

What is necessary to include in a response letter to the editors and reviewers?  What is overkill?  How long have your letters been? Have you written separate letters for each reviewer?   How do you explain away changes you didn’t make because you didn’t agree with the reviewer?  etc.

Thanks y’all!  Looking forward to SF!


A story. A few years ago my mom had a recurrent tumor in her knee and leukemia (she still has leukemia). After several surgeries trying to save her knee that were unsuccessful in removing her entire tumor, she had the rather drastic surgery that removed half the bones in her leg (replacing them with cadaver bones and reconstructing her knee). Shortly after this surgery she received a letter from her insurance company telling her she was “uninsurable.” No other insurance companies would take her after she had been dropped. She was 57 at the time. These stories are not rare. My parents are well off (my father was a surgeon; he is now retired). They were able to make considerable premium payments. But they could not find a company willing to assume their risk. They had naively assumed that insurance was like a collective good – they cost very little money when they were young (30-60) but then would start to cost money later on. Other young people would help cover the cost, just as they had covered the costs of the generation above them. They didn’t get that they were covering the cost of a CEO’s yacht, not the next generation’s care. So what did they do? Continue reading “uninsurable”

blood donation

I just got an email asking if I would give blood. Every time I get one of these I get annoyed because I am reminded that gay men can’t give blood. The FDA instituted this rule in 1983 (this made sense, at least in my view). Any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 is banned for life from giving blood (as are IV drug users and anyone who has been paid for sex). My issue here is not with the screening of donors on the basis of risk. And men who have sex with men are much more likely to be HIV positive (I believe it’s 7 times). But I’d still argue that it doesn’t make sense. This is simply because I think that behavioral screening would both lower the overall risk and increase the overall blood supply. That is, behavioral screening is favorable to categorical screening. Screening for people who have recently had unprotected sex strikes me as a much more sensible, less discriminatory, and indeed, safer policy. There’s evidence that this is the case. Spain and Italy switched their policies from banning gay men to asking all donors if they’d recently had unprotected sex. The result of this policy change was a dramatic reduction in the rates of HIV transmissions through the blood supply and an increase in the overall blood supply (though a strong causal story can’t be told here as there were other changes in their policies as well). I also suspect that asking people “have you recently had unprotected sex” further reinforces that all people would do well to engage in safe sex. As Arthur Caplan, former head of the government panel on Blood donation put it, “Letting gay men give blood could help bolster the supply. At one time, long ago, the gay-blood ban may have made sense. But it no longer does. Fear and prejudice are terrible reasons to let you or someone you love die.”

party at the asa? yes, let’s!

Did you all say something about wanting to get together at the ASA? In person? Perhaps with beverages and friendly conversations? Okay, you got it. The unruly darlings of sociology, together with our more respectable overlords colleagues over at orgtheory, have been secretly colluding to arrive at the perfect date, time and place, and we think we have arrived at just the right spot. Continue reading “party at the asa? yes, let’s!”

ask scatterplot: teaching statements

This whole trend toward obtaining “teaching philosophy” statements from candidates for jobs and promotion to tenure befuddles me, as I tend to think of them as empty exercises. But there must be people who think they are meaningful, else this would not have been a trend. I have never written one, having managed to get tenure long before such statements became required, and am not quite sure what to say to my students when they ask my advice about how to write a good one. So I’m asking scatterplotters. Do you ask for statements of teaching philosophy from job candidates at your insitution? Do you read them and take them seriously? And, if so, what are you looking for in them? What distinguishes a good statement from a bad one? What should a job candidate think about in preparing at teaching statement?

palin: the real democratic choice

Ross Douthat lays out the case in his NYTimes editorial that Sarah Palin, not Barak Obama, is the real story of an American democratic dream. It’s about as well argued as someone who graduated from Harvard with honors, which is to say not all that well (perhaps because 8/10 Harvard students graduate with honors). You see, Douthat’s argument is that anyone who goes to Columbia and Harvard is destined to do well, regardless of ability (he should know!). So Obama’s success is a story of a meritocracy (Obama worked hard to get there), it is not a story of democracy. No, Obama is a story of privilege. The privilege of growing up a mixed-race man with a working class single mom in the 60s and 70s. Now Sarah Palin, that’s a story of merit. Never mind that, like four other presidents, she is a descendant of John Lothropp*. Continue reading “palin: the real democratic choice”