what i wish he’d say tonight

Fair warning: this post is unabashedly partisan! It contains an “alternative” state of the union speech, one I wish President Obama would give tonight, though of course I know he won’t. I’ll put the text beyond the break for readers who don’t want to read my musings on politics. Continue reading “what i wish he’d say tonight”

h1n1 and the vaccinated family

One of the reasons people give me for not getting the flu shot is that they might get the flu anyway. This is certainly the case. The flu shot is about 80% effective at preventing flu, so it’s not an absolute guarantee of keeping the flu away. But it’s flawed logic to think that this means that the flu shot is not worth getting. Reducing your chances of getting the flu is a good idea on its own. And better still, the flu shot gives you a boost to your immune system so that if you get the flu, you can fight it off more easily, and your symptoms will be mild. Continue reading “h1n1 and the vaccinated family”

“or corrupted”

“Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.”

New York Times, January 21, 2010

My research on technological change is guided by the actor-network theory approach, which holds that objects matter as political actors.  Think of the ways that birth control pills, transportation infrastructures, and communication technologies all have had political consequences.  Latour even refers to a figurative “parliament of things” that interrupts and intervenes in political life.  Of course, actor-network theory has been criticized for, among other things, flattening out the distinctions between different types of actors.  Yesterday the US Supreme Court did some flattening of its own.  They extended to corporations (and unions and nonprofits) the First Amendment right to free political speech.  Will we now be governed by a literal “parliament of things” as corporations speak freely by spending freely in support of candidates and causes aligned with their financial interests?  Part of what I found in my dissertation is that corporations’ interests shift regularly and profit is not corporations’ only goal.  But if I may make a normative statement, my own findings not withstanding, this decision stinks.  Unless, unless … the court could also extent to corporations all the rights and burdens of individual people – to vote, to be arrested, to be convicted of crimes, to go to jail?  Could corporations eventually be executed in states that have capital punishment?

I can’t resist pointing out that this morning, when I went to the Supreme Court website and clicked on the decision, “Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n” I got the following error message:  “format error:  not a PDF or corrupted.”  Apparently technologies can now act as political commentators too.

new standards for tenure and promotion

A report last year commissioned by our provost’s office looks at the changing practices of academic work and calls for three major areas of change in evaluating faculty for promotion, both to associate with tenure and to full professor:

  1. Faculty engagement with the public outside the traditional scholarly community
  2. New forms of scholarly work and communication
  3. Work across disciplinary lines

At a discussion yesterday about implementing the report, one full professor whom I very much admire and respect said that only 10% of faculty production is really new knowledge anyway; since most faculty work is dissemination, publicity, gatekeeping, etc., we should acknowledge and honor that by expanding the tenure and promotion criteria to take these into account.

I understand and even probably agree with this impulse. My hesitation has to do with where the new line should be drawn. Say I decide to run for office, and I give a bunch of really good speeches. Since I work on political culture and citizenship, do my speeches count as a new form of scholarly communication? What about scatterplot posts? Weekend chats with my neuroscientist friend?

Peer review is broken–I get that, really I do. But I’m not sure how to evaluate what replaces it as a way of evaluating the scholarly value of academic work. And I’m pretty sure I don’t think we should just throw caution to the wind and designate anything said, done, or written with a modicum of thought to be scholarly work.

discussion overload

I’m teaching honors introduction for the first time ever. A great group of 23 students, a small class for this place. Most say it is the smallest class they have been in here!  They have a lot to say. Not just empty BS. A lot of worthwhile, thought out things to say. They all wanted to talk! This is great, I don’t want to kill it, but it’s going to be quite a ride to manage it. For one thing, they are pulling in different directions so it is hard to keep a common thread going, although they did do a good job of listening to each other and addressing issues the previous speaker had raised. They also raised hands and waited to be called on, but there’d be six to choose from at any given time. I do not want the evolutionary selection model in which the most aggressive dominate and the less aggressive get crowded out, but neither do I want to shut down all that enthusiasm. Do other people have strategies for coping?

The class is 2/3 male, by the way, a demographic shock in a university that is 55% female and a discipline that is overwhelmingly female.

In case you are wondering, as the course is titled “The Sociological Imagination,” I opened by describing my own background and experience and then invited each student to talk about his/hers. Idea being that we sould try to practice the intersection of biography and history in our own lives. This then led into a discussion of segregation patterns in schools. I took Jessica’s suggestion from some time ago to assign an old article by Karp about why students don’t participate, which also contributed to a good and serious discussion. So I promoted discussion by starting with topics relevant to their own lives. Then they kept going with Mills’s first chapter.

So, any, ideas for keeping the spark of interaction alive while riding herd on discussion and preventing too much verbal competition for the floor?

goldman sachs ends poverty!

Or at least they could end poverty in America’s largest city… with their bonus pool. It was reported today that Goldman made $13.2 billion this year; that’s after it set aside $16.2 billion for bonuses. 18.5% of NYC lives below the federal poverty line — that’s 1.5 million people. This means that a family of three would live on under $18,310 (for a single person it would be $10,830). If the Goldman bonuses were distributed to every person living below the poverty line, they would give $10,470 to each of these 1.5 million people — ending poverty in America’s largest city. Of course our mayor, the richest man in the city, could do the same by distributing his wealth; he’d still have several billion to spare. (But Goldman is more sustainable — their bonuses reappear every year!).

What’s funny about my mentioning of this is that this isn’t the first time someone has noted this exact same thing. The year was 2006. And the pro-capitalist, free market paper, The Daily News, editorialized,

The merry moneymakers at Goldman Sachs will end the year with $9.5 billion in profits, and they’ll divide $16 billion in bonuses – about $622,000 for each employee. We do not begrudge these conquerors of capitalism, but […] Goldman’s numbers offer a vivid example of the growing gap between the rich and everyone else in America. In the city, 1.5 million people live below the poverty line of $16,000 a year for a single parent with two kids. Goldman’s bonus pool could raise each of their incomes by more than $10,000. Something is wrong when one firm’s bonus pool is big enough to end poverty in America’s largest city.

I thought something had changed since the irresponsible heyday of 2006. Funny. Wait… “funny” isn’t the word for it. What’s the word I’m looking for?

coakley, brown, and health care

I’m not sure how to call today’s Coakley/Brown race in Massachusetts, largely because of the difficulty of predicting turnout and, even more so, the reactivity of polls based on turnout predictions. But I’m intrigued by the thread around talk radio and the ‘net that health care reform is “dead” if Coakley loses. Continue reading “coakley, brown, and health care”

more risk = bigger losses

Friend of the blog and Cornell grad student, Kyle Siler, has research that has been covered by Time magazine. Let that sink in for a moment: Time. Friggin. Magazine. In his research, he studied gazillions of internet poker games and found a fascinating result: the more hands you win, the less money you win.

The reason for the paradoxical results was straightforward enough: the majority of the wins the players tallied were for relatively small stakes. But the longer they played — and the more confident they got — the likelier they were to get blown out on one or a few very big hands. Win a dozen $50 pots and you’re still going to wind up far behind if you lose a single $1,000 one. “People overweigh their frequent small gains vis-à-vis occasional large losses,” Siler says.

Siler applies this risk taking to everyday life, too: Continue reading “more risk = bigger losses”

intro again

OK, fast question. Are there key ideas or concepts that are absolutely essential that people be taught in an intro sociology class or you would think the proffie wasn’t doing her job? I’ve already reviewed syllabi and can tell that folks teach radically different courses in intro — we do not have a standardized course like, say, first year calculus. Does this mean I have a completely free rein to teach any of the parts of sociology that interest me? Or are there key ideas that people really should know when they leave. I’m thinking of this in an abstract level. My idea is to hit on the essential concepts/themes while delving in some depth into a subset of sociological research problems taken from a few different areas.

For sure, I think we’ve got to do “social structure constrains individual action.” And “a lot of what we think is just natural is really socially constructed.” And “Data can reflect on the truth or falsehood of a lot of claims about social life.” And some basic information patterns of social inequality and how they are maintained.

Other essentials that you’d nominate?

ugh. the paparazzi.

Signing up for my ASA membership and the conference. Is this new?:

By attending the Annual Meeting, you give permission for images of you, captured during the conference through video, photo, and/or digital camera, to be used by the ASA in promotional materials, publications, and web site and waive any and all rights including, but not limited to, compensation or ownership. Unless this permission is revoked in writing to the ASA, by virtue of their attendance all conference visitors agree to the use of their likeness in such materials.

Also, again this year I did not have the guts to check a lower-dues income box than my actual income. It remains kind of sucker proposition, though. Whatever impressions some may try to foster to the contrary, it’s not like ASA costs $X to run and so we need to figure out what’s the equitable way to raise that X. Instead, it’s just price discrimination posing as social justice.