a not for profit post

A friend and I did some shopping yesterday, including a stop at Ten Thousand Villages, which prominently announced underneath its name: “A Not For Profit Store.” This being my first time, I asked my friend, “So, then, what’s the point?” The apparent point is that the money they would make as a profit gets passed along to the people in various developing countries who make the products, so these suppliers make more money than they would otherwise.

Of course, a store with this mission could conduct itself by acting just like a for-profit business, only instead of distributing its profits to its owners passing that money back up the supply chain. However, one way the store makes more money than it otherwise might is that it is staffed by volunteers, and so it operates with lower labor costs. And, of course, the store is able to attract progressively-minded customers and get them to pay a greater markup than they otherwise might because it allows us to spend some of our–in the great scheme of things, let’s be honest, ridiculously undeserved–wealth buying unneeded material goods for others in a way that makes us feel like we are doing something positive for the world. My presumption is that this last source of profit is much greater than the first two for how much money the enterprise is ultimately able to give back to its suppliers in the developing world.

I bought a curio for a friend. The store also sells holiday cards, and I was tempted to buy one and write inside “I could have just given $20 in your name to charity, but instead I got you a $20 knick-knack that you don’t need in the hope that maybe $3 more of it gets back to the person who made it than otherwise would. And let’s face it: you prefer that I got you the knick-knack, and so would I. Sick, is what we are. Sick, bloated and spoiled.” Continue reading “a not for profit post”

crime and cranberry sauce

Happy Thanksgiving, all. I was talking to a graduate student the other day who said he likes to call Thanksgiving “Genocide Day.” I replied, “Well, I’m very excited to have my family out here for their first Genocide Day outside of Iowa!”

And, indeed, they did come to Evanston. This was my mother’s first trip to the Chicago area since 1953, when she was 17 and on her honeymoon. As readers of my former blog might remember, my mother’s enjoyment of honeymoon sightseeing was greatly compromised when her father took her aside and said “When you go to Chicago, you look straight ahead. You don’t look at anyone, or you’ll get stabbed.”

When my parents and Sister A arrived on Wednesday, a prim older woman held the elevator for us. We go up, and the doors open. Prim woman gets out and my mom follows. “Mom, this isn’t our floor.” Prim woman turns, and my mom scurries back on to the elevator wailing, “I don’t want to get stabbed!”

Continue reading “crime and cranberry sauce”

another oratorical misadventure

I spoke at Northwestern’s proseminar for first-year graduate students yesterday. You know that family dinner scene in Say Anything where Lloyd Dobbler realizes he’s started off badly and tries to talk his way out of it and comes across worse and then tries to talk his way out of that and comes across worse still? That’s me. If only I had been holding a boombox over my head and it was pouring rain in the seminar room, I would have been Lloyd Dobbler exactly. Seriously, by the end I felt like somebody who was coming across like he had just stepped off the mothership, and I’m not talking the P-Funk Mothership. Continue reading “another oratorical misadventure”

smaller stakes than solving the problem of longitude, but presumably simpler also

Update:  Problem solved.  After some consultation from an outside adjudicator,  Mike wins the prize for his copy-and-paste-perfect solution although Peter’s solution from a few minutes earlier might work if I fiddled with it.  Mike: send me your address, and then start waiting by your mailbox for the prize.

In addition to public accolade here, I will personally send a real (i.e., tangible, nonvirtual) and quirky prize worth at least $10 to whoever can successfully solve the problem of making Scatterplot’s sidebar wider. Be sure to read clues in the comments to my earlier post before proposing a solution. The CSS for Scatterplot can be viewed here (HT: mbader). Anyone is eligible; please alert anyone you think has sufficient geek-chops for this challenge.

(Aside: should that be whoever or whomever above? Where’s Eszter when you need her?)

Two simple rules: Continue reading “smaller stakes than solving the problem of longitude, but presumably simpler also”

tipping point

I was in San Francisco this weekend for a conference. First night I went with some people for dinner at a great restaurant and the bill worked out to $50/person plus tip. Second night I went with many of the same people to this hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant that had been recommended. The food was probably 80% as good and we had at least 90% as much fun, but the bill was only $11/person plus tip. We all marveled at what a great deal this was, and surely we would have been content to pay $20/person or more. As it was, I put in $15, as did others. But then the issue arose of starting to give people back money, because, after all, it works out to more than a 30% tip.

I can see the reasoning of taking money back, but I didn’t take any myself. It felt too much like, “Wow! Isn’t it wonderful this place gives you so much food for so cheap? So, now let me punish the server because he works for a restaurant that is such a great bargain!” Even if we would have given the guy a $4/person tip, it would have been less than half the tip we gave the night before. Continue reading “tipping point”

our known unknowns

This is a WordPress.com blog, which is not as flexible as if it were a WordPress blog we were serving ourselves. For example, I would love to have a custom favicon instead of the WordPress logo next to the URL up in your address bar, but WordPress.com does not allow this. Even though one can still do a lot of twiddling with the template, the twiddling is actually editing CSS that runs on top of other CSS that runs on top of the actual HTML template. The result is super-kludgy and not wholly satisfying, although if you look at the template we used as our starting point, you can see that much customization has been done.

Still: Continue reading “our known unknowns”

the believing trick

From Jon Elster, Ulysses Unbound, p. 72:

It is a conceptual truth that one cannot consciously decide to adopt a belief simply on the grounds that having it would be useful.

Not to get all personal here on sociology’s brand-new team blog, but can I just say: clearly Jon Elster has not dated some of the people I have dated. ‘Cause then he would have had conversations suggesting some deep empirical limitations to his conceptual truth. ‘Cause then he’d have ascertained that while, say, a person did not really, really believe in astrology, that, for immediate practical purposes they indeed did/would give all indications of believing in astrology, including reading charts and drawing conclusions about others on the basis thereof. (Various other things could be substituted for astrology here, depending on what conversation and with whom.) I guess “useful” in the quote isn’t really it so much as “adopting a belief on the grounds that having it would make life more interesting, meaningful or fun.” Continue reading “the believing trick”

little hiss can’t be wrong

A friend who works in the private sector somewhere on the Great Plains sent me a story from a national business newsletter in which someone at her company was interviewed. She asked me to identify which of several quotes from this co-worker bothered other people at the company. I presumed this challenge would be easy enough but looked the article over several times and didn’t see what she was talking about. So I asked and the answer was this part where her co-worker was quoted using the phrase “throw a hissy fit.” This was bothersome because people felt it gave them impression of their corporation as a backwoods rube-run enterprise. It didn’t even faze me. I’m trying to figure out if “hissy fit” is an uninterrogated part of my rural habitus. I mean, of course I recognize it as a colloquialism, but is it really a rural colloquism? Is that I would now say “throw a snit” instead of “throw a hissy fit” an unconscious version of when I started saying “soda” instead of “pop”?

BTW, non-sequitur personal Thanksgiving update: Continue reading “little hiss can’t be wrong”

the sweet spot

Northwestern sociology traditionally does consequential faculty deliberations like this: the person to the left of the chair is given the floor and says their piece, then the person to their left says theirs, and so on around their room, and only afterward is a more free-for-all discussion format used. I’ve only seen this system in action for a couple meetings, and I’m already smitten with it. It feels contemplative, orderly, and fair.

Still: I’ve become a teensy bit obsessed with the question of, given this system, what’s the best place to sit from a strategic standpoint–what’s the seat from which one can exercise the most influence on the ultimate decision that is made. There is a bunch of deliberating groups research that would suggest that, typically, you want to be the first to speak. However, consequential faculty deliberations are not the task for which these studies were done. Among other things, at least in collegial places, there is strong normative pressure to maximize the extent to which you sound like you deeply respect and see the reasoning of previously expressed opinions, even when actually you completely disagree with them.

I think, certainly, if you have an opinion that you think weakly conflicts with the consensus going into the meeting, you are best off going at the beginning and trying to get a domino effect going. If you are hoping to carry the day with an opinion that goes more strongly against consensus, I suspect maybe you should sit toward the end and try to rattle people with some kind of melodramatic or dire statement, although I’m skeptical of that working unless you’ve built up a lot of intradepartmental street cred.

For decisions where the consensus is unclear and could go any of various ways, my suspicion is that you want to sit somewhere between 2/5 and 3/5 of the way through the group: enough that you have a lot of input to work with, so you can fashion your opinion as consistent with general views but pointing toward your desired conclusion, but still not so late that people feel like the decision has already solidified by the time it is your turn.

Of course, a countermeasure to any such gaming of the system would be to wait until everyone is seated and then randomly choose a starting person (perhaps with a rousing round of “Spin the Treo”). My guess is that most faculty anywhere would be against doing that, because faculty members are professionals, and if there is anything being a professional does to your habitus, it is to convince you that you are insulated from the mundane social psychological dynamics that affect regular folks.

overheard

“The name is the thing. It’s like trying to come up with a name for a band. I want it to suggest quirkiness without being precious.”
“Quirky – precious = us!”
“Nix on Pub Sociology II: Electric Boogaloo. Nix on Quirkass Sociology.”
“I think some of my students weren’t yet born in the days of Kickass Sociology.”
“I can’t even contemplate the birthyears of my students.”
“Can we nix sociology in the name altogether?”
“That would be my strong preference.”
“Also, no ‘blog’ or ‘weblog’ in the name this time.”
“I agree. I didn’t know you could call your weblog anything other than [name] weblog back when I started mine.”
“Old skool. People needed to know what they were reading back then. Now, it’s like when a women’s hockey team wants their name to play off the fact they are women: Chicks with Sticks!”
“Exactly! We are not Chicks with Sticks.”
“…”
“Except, Chicks with Sticks wouldn’t actually be a bad name.”
“…”
“I guess it’s not really right for us.”
“Not quite a fit.”
“If we were starting a band, I’d be totally into Chicks with Sticks. I could wear drag and stomp around stage menacing the audience with a cricket bat.”

hamster, step off that wheel!

While Tina and I are not exactly sure what is going to happen with this blog, one thing we have mutually resolved at the outset is that we will not let any kind of aspiration for it compromise its spirit. And in this spirit, I offer as recommended reading: The Underachiever’s Manifesto, by Ray Bennett. (Bonus: As you might expect, it’s quite short.)

Some selected quotes:

“The pleasures of underachievement are many, but they are all too often lost in the pressure for success. (Or, SUCCESS!) The achievement lobby is powerful, and underachievement is, surprisingly, not as easy as it should be… Never mind that no one agrees on what it means to be ‘the best,’ and that it’s actually impossible for everyone to be it, whatever it is.”

“[T]he addiction of achievement leaves behind failed relationships, unhealthy bodies, corrupted minds, or some terrible combination of all three. It’s a sickness that would be considered an epidemic, but of course too many doctors are afflicted with the disease to recognize the symptoms.”

“If something is worth doing at all, sometimes it’s worth doing half-assed.” [This one is so much more obviously true than the more familiar “…it’s worth doing right.”]

“For every life potentially improved and extended by _modest_ exercise, there’s another that has been significantly impaired or shortened by the insane drive for intense physical activity.”

The book discusses the underachiever approach to work, finances, romance, and even religion. As someone who has a mixed set of attitudes about achiever-orientation, I found the book not just amusing but genuinely interesting, as it prompts one to consider what are the real arguments against doing something other than settling for comfortable mediocrity.

well, this is certainly off to an ugly start

I have chosen the ugliest possible WordPress theme because it’s supposed to be extremely customizable once you understand how wordpress.com’s CSS upgrade works. I am sure this site is going to be looking absolutely smashing by 2011. Until then, this.

I’m also going to stick a test link here so that I can see what links look like if I play around with any of the CSS add-ons for this online.

Update: I’ve added a CSS template off the web and a banner added. I still don’t get how the sidebar widgets work, or if these will start to behave better once there is enough text on this blog so that the sidebar and the text is actually side by side. Obviously, I could check this even I just kept typing enough so that this was a long post, but I don’t think I’m feeling creative enough even for completely pointless filler text at the moment.