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.

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