best of alternative 2009

It’s time again for the year-in-review lists, and here is my fave of faves, Husband’s 2009 Best of Alternative Music list (iTunes link–should take you to the Canadian store*). I’ve mentioned before that Husband is a long-time list maker, and this was a good year for this genre.

I was also going to point out how much more awesometastic the Canadian list is than the American one (which is usually more boringly mainstream), but then I found out that the US store doesn’t even have a Best of Alternative list! It’s a tragedy for all the Rob Gordons of the world, who would be dying to spend 100+ hours to make such a list and donate it to Apple just for the love of music. And lists.

*To get to the Canadian store, click the little flag circle at the bottomest right on your iTunes main page.

ask a scatterbrain: when to give up?

I hate to post another ask a scatterbrain so soon after Andrew’s rather solid example, but I have a related issue. When my students prepare for their final exams I often tabulate how well each would have to do on the final in order to get an A, B, C, or D for the course as a whole. Normally this is a fairly uncontroversial process for me and students often appreciate the concrete knowledge. This semester, though, I have a student who will have to earn a grade on the final that is several letter grades higher than s/he has ever achieved on a test in order to pass the course at all. This student has also not asked me to tell them about their situation. Now, I am certainly hoping that the student manages to pass, but I’ve started wondering: if you have a student who can’t pass even if they get a perfect score on the final, is it appropriate to tell them not to bother taking it? On the one hand it seems like you’d be doing them a favor by telling them, if only so that they can devote more energy to other classes. On the other hand, it just seems wrong somehow. Again, my student does have a chance so I think s/he should take the final, but I’m curious whether anyone has ever tackled a situation like this before.

ask a scatterbrain: what is adequate?

Feeling grumpy this morning…. a student came to me after the final exam to complain that s/he hadn’t received a B- for his/her work, which was generally pretty poor. Apparently s/he and “a lot of others in the class” were confused by the following language in my syllabus:

Completing these requirements adequately will earn you a B- in the course. Completing them exceptionally well will earn you a B, B+, A-, or A, depending on the quality of work.

The student said s/he had taken the class as an elective and “didn’t need it,” indeed “would have dropped it” if s/he had understood the policy correctly. In fact, s/he went so far as to say “I don’t even understand the concepts of the course. I stayed in it because of the contract,” by which was meant the excerpt above.

We had a conversation about it this morning. Apparently “adequate” was interpreted as “to my ability,” i.e., whatever is turned in should receive no less than a B- since its very presence is prima facie evidence of adequacy. I offered this page in response. Am I just becoming a grumpy old man? Am I one already? Should I rewrite the syllabus language?

old friend found too late

My spouse spotted the NYT obit for Dennis DeLeon, an old friend from high school we have not seen since our wedding reception in 1970. Our last communication from him was a note saying he’d get our wedding present to us later. It’s a common name so we wouldn’t know it was him without the picture (which looks just like we remember him) and corroborating biographical details. He was an important part of the speech/debate team, the small circle we spent most of our time with in high school in California, and was my spouse’s debate partner in their senior year. We wondered over the years what had happened to him. Now we know. He was a prominent human rights activist  in New York who announced that he had AIDS in a 1993 NYT op ed . His activism is not a shock, as he was already a student leader in high school and at Occidental College. Nor is his sexual orientation, although it wasn’t anything we were aware of at the time. We were a nerdy crowd and people were not dating much anyway. I sure wish we’d known where he was — it would have been great to see him.

more on the ontology of public opinion

I’ve written before (here, here, here, and more)  on how we think about public opinion and where (and what) the “public” is in all this.

Recently the best-respected North Carolina polling firm, Public Policy Polling, conducted a poll asking Americans if they thought President Obama should be impeached for what he’s done thus far. 20% said yes, including 35% of Republicans. The comment:

I’m not clear exactly what ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ they are using to justify that position but there may be a certain segment of voters on both the right and the left these days that simply think the President doing things they don’t agree with is grounds for removal from office. I don’t think Obama has a lot to worry about on that front.

Well, duh! My guess is that two things are going on here. One is that impeachment has become less extreme to call for (if not to do) in part because of Clinton’s impeachment, which is widely viewed as essentially political antics, and in part because of the polarization of opinion communities. The other is that, when people are asked questions about which they have no opinion, they manufacture one on the spot. The modern individual is an opining subject; ask it a question and it will give you an answer. Particularly on a poll that uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR), where you’re supposed to push one button or another.

films and cartoons in social theory classes

My undergrad social theory class is organized around a modernity => postmodernity schema, with modern social theory merging to postmodern social theory. I like to show a movie or two to demonstrate elements of these themes; in the past I’ve used Star Trek for high modern theory and Blade Runner for postmodernism (pace David Harvey). Warning: some danger of spoilers after the break on Bee Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Continue reading “films and cartoons in social theory classes”

grades: inflation, compression, systematic inequalities

I chair UNC’s Educational Policy Committee, and we are in the process of seeking some new policy initiatives to address grading. A reporter for the Daily Tar Heel asked me a while ago why I am such a grading “hawk”, meaning that I worry about grading problems (more on the identification of these problems below the break). The reason for his question is that I am a relatively humanities-oriented scholar in a department and discipline not exactly known for rigorous grading policies. Below the break I’ll discuss what I see as the problems, possible solutions, UNC’s current status with regard to these solutions, and why I care so much about them. Warning: this is a long and somewhat rambling post. Continue reading “grades: inflation, compression, systematic inequalities”

when you are called racist

For those who may find it useful for teaching or awareness, I have posted a longish memo when you are called racist over on my own blog.  I sent it to my students after a class discussion. In it I sketch two alternative world views, the minority/Black person who is sensitive to discrimination and racism and the majority/White person who believes that the r-word is hurtful. I end by suggesting strategies for dealing with the situation. If you have comments or reactions, I’d appreciate them.

the depressed grinch

One of the posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while is on using cartoons in teaching social theory, specifically a couple I’ve used this semester. But I haven’t had time to write it up. Meanwhile, though, a friend and colleague in UNC’s med school put together this analysis of the Grinch:

I thought this was interesting for its straddling of the fiction/nonfiction boundary as well as for its combination of biological, social, and experiential factors.

extended family

(Note: This does turn into a “professional” post as well as a “personal” one, and a sociological one as well, if you hang in there. This was written last week but I didn’t have time to post it from the road. Today’s snow emergency gives me the time to finish it.)

We’ve been here all week due to the death of my father-in-law Thanksgiving night. The funeral was yesterday, a week after he passed. It was a great celebration of a life well lived by a man who spent time with his children and grandchildren and gave abundantly of himself to a wide variety of community projects. The funeral was followed by a noisy and warm family gathering. Now it is quiet. As I write this, my mother-in-law and brother-in-law are napping, my sister-in-law is watching TV, the other set of grandchildren have headed home or are out shopping. My daughter is napping in the motel. My husband, son, son-in-law and I are all sitting in the living room playing games on our laptops. I decided this was the time to write the blog I’ve been thinking about all week.

I’m not sorry I came here for the whole week. It is important to honor a family you have been part of for nearly forty years. At the same time, it was a hard thing to do. Continue reading “extended family”

sexuality + sociology = awesome

Are you reading the new-ish Contexts blog Sexuality & Society? It’s 31 flavors of awesome, with posts by Kari Lerum, Shari Dworkin, Adina Nack and other fantabulous sociologists of sexuality. Today’s post exposing the connection between Uganda’s recent anti-gay crusades and U.S. evangelical missionary work there is exactly the sort of thing about which I think “I should blog about that” immediately prior to looking up addresses of second cousins for my holiday cards. Priorities!

holiday cards are in my sight

Last year, I wrote that December is the month of fail for academic women. Much is different this time around. For the first time in forever, I haven’t planned any travel in December. We’re just staying home, and we’re not having anyone over, either. Just a tiny, little nuclear family holiday sounds like a dream to someone who has to travel thousands of miles to see the next level of kin, and then thousands more to see any others.

Plus, I finished my courses, just a couple exams to go, and I can see two whole, gigantic weeks ahead of me without classes to teach and with Kid in school. I can do anything now. I have to admit that the amount of stuff I want to do is daunting: tree decorating, gift shopping, grad student paper reading, book reviewing, quantitative skill building, paper writing, and even, for the absolute first time since Kid was born, I will send out holiday cards to my friends and family.

It is even going to snow soon, and maybe we’ll have a chance to toboggan and make that snow fort Kid has been talking about since August. Whatever we do, we have a giant helping of play to accomplish during Kid’s winter break. And for once, I have enough head space to be looking forward to that without distractions. It may be a lot to do, but somehow there is an invisible line of overwhelm that December has pushed me over in the past, but this year I am on the right side of it. December is full of WIN this year.


So researchers have recently advanced the claim that one reason why males in many societies have shorter life spans than females is because males have genes that kill us off quicker. And you always thought it was our love of chili fries! The basic outline seems to be that males are evolved to expend more energy developing larger more powerful bodies and that inflicts a cost on us biologically. Or, to be slightly more rigorous, I’ll quote from the article:
Continue reading “non-sequitur”