Back up in your RSS with the resurrection

Yeah, I’m still here.

It’s very strange to sitting at home while my academic colleagues are being bombarded.  Inundated.  Drowned.  It’s not that I don’t have work to do – I have a thesis to finish and a number of research projects to work on – it’s just that, without a job, without An Office, I am dangerously prone to idleness.  I’m exploring the feasibility of sneaking into local universities’ libraries to get some work done, because otherwise… well, the temptation of Mario Kart Wii (wahoo!) is grave indeed.

However, I should mention that I am employed again.  After two months of job searching, I feel like a citizen once more.  My job is only ever so slightly social-scientific; those jobs seem to be in scarce supply, or else I am so profoundly inept that I can’t grasp my own ineptitude.  I nearly got one – there is an agency here that does tobacco cessation (who comes up with these phrases?) research.  I had applied for a grunt work job – stuffing envelopes for surveys, data entry, etc. – but they were so impressed by my data managemenet experiences that they gave that job to someone else while promising me a position that would be mostly data management and survey analysis, but with the tantalizing hint of independent research.  That job, of course, never materialized.  Budgets, accountants, etc.

Thus, I stand before you blog to you as a Voting Machine Technician.  Somewhere in Colorado, there is a warehouse with 1,100 voting machines in it.  Voting machines that must be tested before the election.  And I – I shall test them.  Fear not, citizens!  I shall defend your democratic rights and electoral integrity!

If CNN reports 100,000,000.333 votes for “Anarchy!  Muahahaha!” emerging from Colorado… well, you know who to blame.

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Revolution! (and other meaningless bullshit)

I attended my first real, full-on political rally and march today.  I was there as an observer – and thank God, because I would have died of shame to be associated with these buffoons.  I did, however, learn some lessons (none of which I’m backing with sociological evidence, so if you read this and actually know something about it, please feel free to point out what a buffoon I am).  Here they are:

1.  Protests like this one seem to be largely political-identity masturbation.  Strikes and boycotts work because they have economic impacts; protest marches work when they scare people (I have a pet theory that militants during the Civil Rights era had a lot to do with the success of the pacifist branch of things, but it’s not something I’ve really studied).  This protest achieved nothing except letting the people involved think that they were making a difference, when in actuality they all probably set their causes back a bit (see points 2 and 3).  Lots of young people looking cool in their riot bandanas, etc.  But I’m sure they all felt like they had done their duty – after all, as one march leader chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.”  That’s exactly what democracy looks like, if you’re a 17th-century aristocrat: the wailing of thousands of voices, achieving nothing.

2.  In order to make a big scene, you have to align yourself with so many other political groups that you threaten a lot of your credibility.  I mean, how can you have hippies, Communists, anarchists and Black Panthers at the same rally?  Each associating with the others just makes them all look radical, naive, and stupid to the people that are most likely to be sympathetic to each.  The World Trade Organization protesters have the same problem – you’ve got union workers advocating protectionism to help domestic labor mixing with fair-traders who see trade as a way to reduce poverty in developing countries.

It’s the same problem with political parties themselves – hell, it’s the basic problem of human association: balancing the strength of numbers with the dilution of individual goals.  In order to have an impact, groups have to align; but by aligning, they lose control over the type of impact they make.

3.  People are FUCKING STUPID (imagine I said that in the voice of Yahtzee Crenshaw).  I have never heard so much naive bullshit in my life, and I very nearly transformed into a 60-year-old white Texan oilman just so I could feel vindicated by how FUCKING STUPID THESE DERN LIBERALS ARE.  Block after block of slogans: “Fight the power! “Revolution!” “Rise up!”  as if slogans actually DO something, or as though they even know what the word “revolution” means.  They take credit for whatever progress the US has made while denying any responsibility for anything bad that’s happened.  Because, you know, their marches made the minimum wage increase happen!  And their choice not to vote – or to vote for Ralph Nader (or somebody else with an equally good chance of winning the election, like Eugene Debs) – CERTAINLY didn’t have anything to do with the ascent of the Bush administration.  By about halfway through the march – after one group of people laid down on the ground and then stood up triumphantly to chants of “Rise up!  Rise up!”, as if anyone other than themselves was moved by that piece of theater – I was really hoping that someone would give the police an excuse to gas the whole lot of them, just for their smugness.

4.  There is tremendous irony in a rally that advocates free speech while creating a hostile environment for dissent.  Example: at one point during the rally, a speaker was slandering the police, and then told the crowd, “If you disagree, speak up!”  I seriously considered raising my hand – I know and like a number of cops, and my stint as a teaching assistant for a police and society class has given me a degree of insight into the problems inherent in forcing a small percentage of the population to have to deal with all of society’s worst shit – but (ahem) I was there on sociological business.  But I wonder how many people in that crowd would actually agree to a wholesale, indiscriminate “fuck you” to all police everywhere – and how many would admit it in private.

I do like the crowd’s message in this one, though, right around 2:30.  That’s a message we can ALL get behind.

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The Desperation of No Ties

I live in Denver now.

I used to understand why people don’t just move to improve their economic situation.  It’s hard to find jobs outside of your area, you’re leaving behind your social network and all the support it entails, it costs a lot more to move than most people think.  But now that I am unemployed and moving… now I understand.

Social network, developed over 20 years?  Still there, but digitized.

Intimate knowledge of good places to look for jobs, good restaurants, street names?  Gone.  I don’t even know where to take my recycling.  Colorado doesn’t even have bottle-deposit recycling.  Barbarians.

Savings from two years of living frugally on a teaching assistant’s salary?  Replaced with growing credit card debt.

I am the highly-educated, privileged white male, and moving is still a big pain in the ass.  I wouldn’t recommend it.

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Bitchin’ sociologists!

It is the end of my fourth day in Bostonia, and I required by my sense of justice to issue the following statement:

Sociology, you rock.

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Maplust

I just can’t help myself: I love me some visual data.

Update 1.

Now it’s just getting absurd.

Oh, for God’s sake.

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Checking Out

I have a novel idea for an intro to soc class – one that has been inside my head long enough that it is threatening to become brain crack.

I don’t really like the standard intro format.  I certainly understand it; when you cram a whole bunch of highly-specialized people into a department and then develop The One Course that (in the darkness) binds them, you’re going to end up with what is basically a hodgepodge of all of their interests.  But let me tell you: it sucks.  It sucked when I took it, and it blew when I taught it.  As I have seen, a good professor can make it work, but I just don’t think the structure is enough to build a really mind-blowing course.

I’m not sure why we do it this way, either.  My political science department offered an intro course for each of its specialties (your typical American Gov’t, International, Comparative, and Theory/Methods); econ has Micro and Macro, at least.  But sociology, along with psychology, offer introductory courses that are something like (to quote from the comments on a paper I turned in a couple years ago) “describing the leaves on trees from a jet at 40,000 feet and 500mph”.  All I came away with, and much of what I felt like I was teaching my students, were tidbits.

My idea, then, is to teach an intro course with a unifying theme.  Something that would be able to unify most of the specialties while being a smidge less abstract than the Big Three Perspectives.  Something classic but not dead.  Something eye-opening.

Something like… suicide.

Depressing, I know.  But every specialty has something to say about suicide, because it’s a sort of ultimate rejection of society.  The Big Three have their perspectives, of course.  I think that teaching methods would gain tremendously because there would be a single focus for each, allowing for a practical comparison of which method does what.  Then each of the usual sections – culture, deviance, family, religion, inequality, organizations, etc. – could all chip in.  An intro student from this class might not know as much about each, since the content would be suicide-focused, but they would know how to address a social (urgh) problem from beginning to end.

If prepared well enough, you could even let the students sort of “spontaneously” determine what to cover next.  This is essentially what I did on the first day of teaching intro discussion sections: I put up six charts of suicide rates (which you can see on the GRAPHIC page above), then put them into small groups to try to come up with theories to explain the variations.  From these initial theories, you could lead them through each of the possible causes, perhaps building a regression model as you go.  And you could incorporate lots of current events and up-to-date research.

There are, of course, some serious problems that could arise.  It is damn depressing, but hopefully that would become known after the first semester (and certainly after the first day), and it certainly wouldn’t be the only intro class available.  The Golden Child raised concerns about it filling out a full semester or getting boring after a month that I think are totally legitimate.

I’m curious about your experience, dear three readers who haven’t already talked to me about this.  Let me know what you think.

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