Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Reason to Hate Wal-Mart

The company that is the bane of most small retailers', employees', social justice advocates' and anti-globalization activists' existences has given them all another reason to hate them. Wal-Mart has decided to go after the legal settlement money of employees who were catastrophically injured in an accident. The terms of the health care coverage plan offered by Wal-Mart (and many other employers) demand that any settlement money for medical expenses be given to the medical insurance company. To not do so, they argue, is double-dipping and getting the same money twice.

I see several problems with this. Often settlements do not cover the complete cost of medical services, meaning the family is forced to find money from elsewhere. Also, any award given in settlement is only net of the legal expenses that it requires to recover that award. Essentially, then, what Wal-Mart is doing is outsourcing it's legal costs to recoup the money for its own insurance claims. The insurance provider can receive up to 100% of the settlement award after legal expenses meaning that the former employee (who, now, has no health insurance because they are no longer an employee because of said accident) is left with nothing after paying for attorneys and insurance companies.

And, to stick their thumb in the eyes of this poor couple going through this, Wal-Mart is now suing not only for the money received in the settlement award, but get this, they are also suing for the legal expenses incurred by their company to try and get this money from the couple! Nevermind that they paid nothing to aid in the legal claim to win the settlement.

I hope that, if there is a Hell--especially the fire-and-brimstone one favored by the Waltons--that there is a special ring of it reserved for their family.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writing, Just not Here

It has been well over two weeks since I last posted here, after expressing a hope that I would be able to write more frequently after my last post. Ah well, I recall hearing something about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.

Most of the radio silence was caused by the fact that I was busting my behind to finish my second prelim—essentially our version of a master's thesis, I suppose. Anyway, it is a journal-length article that I am hoping to send out this month, meaning I'm not sure how much I will be able to commit to the blog in the near term. I did finish and defended last week, which was a huge relief. Although my committee gave me several great, albeit time-consuming, suggestions to make before I send the paper out for review, I am feeling really good about it. Now I hope that I can figure out how to incorporate all of the suggestions.

Passing this prelim made me step back and evaluate grad school. In part because I am looking to finish in the relatively near term, in part because this was the last bureaucratic hurdle (as in paper to get signed) to jump before moving onto my dissertation, and in part because it did feel like an accomplishment. Although completing my second prelim was considerably later in the timeline than it should have been, this was largely due to the fact that I have had several other opportunities along the way that have delayed this particular event but, I hope, have helped my career progress.

Thinking about this also made me realize that there is great advice out there about getting through grad school and different parts of the grad school experience. I realized one particularly salient suggestion from lmw's class on "Launching your Academic Career" which suggested: "Think about each step along the way and what issues you faced, how you handled them, and what you learned." Although I didn't write one out step-by-step, I was thinking that it might not be a bad idea to write it up now so that I can remember the pitfalls and get through the next several papers much more quickly.

It also made me realize how little instruction I have received on the "brass tacks" of writing. This is probably somewhat due to the fact that we all have our own styles of working and, to each of us, they all seem a little dysfunctional (see Impostor Syndrome). Part of it, I'm sure, is that there are, from what I can tell, deep divisions between the kind of writing for qualitative projects and quantitative projects[1]. I am lucky to have had the good fortune and opportunity to collaborate on projects with two different professors, so that I could see how it's done. This is obviously the best, but there are some basic things that seem to be fairly consistent and it just seems weird to me that this part of academia is kind of left hanging. For instance, we don't really have an academic writing course or a proposal writing course as part of the curriculum. Although lots of professors will incorporate this into their classes, there isn't anything going over the basics of how that is done in a systematic way.

Part of me also wonders if it is because writing has become so basic to many professors (and, even, advanced grad students) that it is easy to forget what it was like to learn to do these things. Like riding a bike - I can remember learning, but I'm not sure that I could teach someone now how to do it... Or learning to drive, things that are so basic I do them mindlessly now took a great deal of effort to learn (which, caused endless consternation for both of my parents as they were teaching, not SLAMMING on the breaks when I tried to stop). That's part of what I love about having both a grad student and larger community in the blogosphere—we get great advice on both levels. Now, I just need to be sure to do my part to contribute my fair share...

[1] In fact, one of the interesting criticisms given to me in my defense was that I was trying to combine a sociology focused on cultural analysis and one based on quantitative writings and my writing ended up falling, unsuccessfully, somewhere in between those two.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

At least that is what they hear. Maybe the same is true for the readers of this blog; which is still coming out of the tryptophan-induced slumber of the holiday. This is despite the fact that I have really wanted to follow up on squire's and Dave's comments about tenure and its role in the academy. Despite my best intentions, I have not found time to do so. This is partly due to the fact that I continued my comments elsewhere and partly because Dave posted another great post about the "liberal" role of the academy.

Unfortunately, I still don't have time to do it now. I set a deadline for myself to finish a paper by tomorrow and "motivated" myself by guaranteeing that my committee would have it so that they could read it before I headed to Ann Arbor. I'll tell you - there is a certain part of me that can't wait for that point Jeremy describes about deadlines taking on less weight. Though, then, I guess, it also become easier for todays to become tomorrows...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Times & Tenure

This story from the NYT about the diminishing prevalence of tenure in American colleges and universities in their top-stories feed. I think that they do a decent job presenting the basics, but—as is always the case&mdahs;miss some of the larger issues that are presented with diminishing tenure track positions.

While the story talks exclusively about public universities and all of the examples cited here are non-flagship public universities, the same trends can be seen in private universities as well. The number of tenure-track positions is drying up across the board. While the administrators may cite the lack of public funds and the inconsistency of public funding from states (or cities and counties for many community colleges), this trend is not entirely due to the the lack of funds. It is true that public higher education has suffered in recent years and often the non-flagship universities are hit harder than the flagship universities[1], but if it is also happening at private and flagship universities there must be something larger. Furthermore, this trend is coming at a time when tuitions are so high that Congress is considering action and endowments of many universities are through the roof.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that many universities are employing WalMart-like management strategies. WalMart, the biggest private employer in this country and largest retailer in the world, perfected the art of "just-in-time" delivery of goods. Rather than paying for the manufacture, shipping, and storage of a huge inventory, they honed the method of supplying just enough product to meet demand with as little time as possible. No sense in those Christmas hats sitting on the shelves on Boxing Day when they couldn't be sold until the next year. Get just enough to meet demand, get more delivered next-day if you run out and constantly re-stock the shelves straight from the delivery truck. The same now works for professors teaching classes. Rather than having a full-time job with job security, professors are hired on semester contracts. Their pay, healthcare (if they have it), retirement benefits (again, if they have it), access to the library and university facilities lasts for those 17-weeks. If the department has enough enrollment, the professors receive a full course-load—if not, well...I hope that they planned on getting half the paycheck or less for those four months.

What ends up happening to many of these professors is that they try to line up a full-time teaching load by stringing together three or four jobs at three or four local institutions. In Michigan, as the NYT article mentions, professors would go from U-M Ann Arbor to U-M Dearborn to Wayne State to one of the several community college systems in the area. While they are teaching full time, they aren't getting full-time benefits because they technically have three to four different employers. The pay is bad, healthcare is either not offered or unaffordable and they are lucky if they have an office in one of the four campuses, nevermind all four.

Just-in-time operations for retailers may work[2], but for educators it is a disaster. Professors, at their best, are supposed to be working with students to provide them the tools they need to understand the world, both for their future employment and as engaged citizens. They are not lawnmowers, lawn gnomes, cheap clothes or groceries or any of the other thousands of items available at WalMart. They are not a product on a shelf waiting to be taken home by a family paying the lowest price. When a professor is teaching four classes at four different campuses without an office, they aren't providing office hours, answering student's questions, contributing to the service functions on campus - all of the things that allow professors to have a real impact on students' lives. No, they are driving interstate highways rushing back an forth, trying to grade one exam in time to receive another that day. And, of course, forget term papers or semester projects that allow students to expand their knowledge to their own interests. In the ever-demanding just-in-time world, they give tests that can be answered by scantrons (if they are allowed to use the grading machine). Ultimately, education as a whole suffers and students who have the most tenuous grasp on a college education, first-generation college students, minorities, working mothers who are enrolled at community colleges and local state universities are the ones who are forced to deal with this the most.

It's a deplorable situation that needs to be fixed. If Congress, state legislators, education policy wonks and others are serious about fixing American higher education, then this is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed. Otherwise, no amount of fancy new tech center, student gym or other expenditures made possible by the egotistically exorbitant gifts by donors so that they can view their name a building are going to matter if the professors mandated with teaching the students can't teach.

Cross-posted at Free Exchange

[1] In my experience, this is in no small part due to the fact that many state legislators are often alumni of the flagship universities and tend to be less so for the non-flagship local campuses. Supporting a local branch of the state university system is seen as garnering pork for your constituents but trying to get money for the state flagship universities as part of one's alumni obligations is seen as noble -- and is one of the few things that can cut across party lines.
[2] Of course, there are also major problems for workers and communities for the just-in-time methods of corporations like WalMart as well.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Recipe du Jour

In my ongoing quest to find more fulfillment, I have decided to try and cook more at home and avoid eating out so much. This is motivated by two things. Eating out is both expensive and very unhealthy in the long run, particularly the kind of eating out that I do which consists of a rotation of Chinese food, pizza and going out to a Mexican restaurant. Alright, not all of those are expensive, but they are bad for my health. The second, loftier, reason is that I enjoy cooking and want to learn how to do it better and E. enjoys the food I make (usually, especially if it doesn't contain red onions).

Tonight, I made a very "interesting" dish. When I was in architecture school as an undergrad, our professors would come around and look at our work. Often, the first words out of their mouth when they would approach my desk would be something like, "This" Basically, it meant that it was somehow unusual and somehow less than successful. I felt that way about what I made tonight. The dish, from The Joy of Cooking, was "Baked Acorn Squash with Pear and Apple" (p. 425).

Basically, I think that I would have liked it if it weren't squash...which, I realize, I should have recognized before I made it. I was trying it because we are having some vegetarian friends over for dinner this weekend and we wanted to attempt it before making it for them. Although I have never really liked squash, I have recently acquired an appreciation for it -- and it was in season. Let's say that taste was not acquired for this squash. I'm not sure if it is because I messed it up or I just really don't like squash. I'm hoping its the former, especially since E. really liked it. The filling was great, though and the idea of serving a dish in what looks like a pumpkin is kind of cool.

Anyway, for those of you who like squash and might want to try it, here you go:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a baking pan. Place cut side sown in the baking pan
  2 medium acorn squash, halved and seeded

Add ¼ inch hot water to the pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, mix in a medium bowl:
  2 large apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  1 ripe pear, peeled, cored, and diced
  ¼ cup dried raisins
  2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  Grated zest of 1 small orange
  ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat in a large skillet over medium heat until melted:
  2 tablespoons butter

Add the apple mixture and cook until the fruit is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in:
  ¼ cup apple cider or orange juice

Simmer, stirring often, until the fruit is tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven: pour off the water from the pan and turn the squash cut side up. Fill the squash with the apple mixture. Bake until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes more.

Page 425, Rombauer, IS; Becker, MR; and Becker, E. 1997. The Joy of Cooking. New York:Scribner.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Qualifying and Quantifying the Physical Sciences

It's nice to know that it is not only in social sciences such as sociology and linguistics where there seems to be a qualitative/quantitative divide -- today, Female Science Professor, an anonymous female professor in the physical sciences, also discusses the debate between quantitative and non-quantitative methods in her field and the gendering that is associated with the assumptions of who is a qualitative and who is quantitative methodologist.

Her basic message, and one I hear often repeated by people who glorify statistics[1], is twofold. First, there is an assumption that quantitative methods arrive at some "true" answer. Now, this is, of course, true. Most statistics will give you a true answer in the sense that the computer program will give you a number best fit to the data of a given sample that is the most accurate answer to that problem. But, what is particularly important in what she says is where this runs into problems:

You can always get a number, but even if it means something.. what does it mean? (i.e., the number itself is not an end in itself, you have to think about it).

Just because one can get a number means that one has to be able to articulate A) what that number is, what it means, how it should be interpreted, etc. and B) what assumptions were used to produce that number. Now, those who glorify statistics, will indicate that this is the true number for which we should base all of our knowledge. The problem is that there are statistical assumptions made about the derivation of that number (i.e. sampling error and modeling error), not to mention the methodological concern over how the question was worded asked, primed by previous questions, etc. (i.e. measurement error; see my earlier post on that topic). Qualitative researchers often challenge quantitative researchers on what that number means and, in my experience, quantitative researchers often overly exaggerate the meaning of the number, particularly if it revolves around something like culture, attitudes or beliefs—things that are often complicated and nuanced.

On the other hand, I have seen qualitative researchers argue that, because of the assumptions required for quantitative methods, all of the findings are invalid. The problem here is that all analysis, by definition, requires that assumptions be made. Just because one has a more nuanced version of reality in qualitative methodology does not mean that it is not prone to errors as well. The sample might not be representative, informants might have the desire to be friends and not discuss difficult topics with the analyst, processes might be true for this subset, but it might be because of that subset's particular social position.

Although this is at this point dogma in sociology, the only way to appropriately address many questions is by some combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. But, here is where I see FSP's second issue arising: quantitative methods are seen as particularly rigorous because they require an understanding of math, equations, and statistics. These are also areas that are traditionally dominated by men. Qualitative methods are seen as feminine and not very difficult. The theory goes that anyone can talk to someone, where's the difficulty in that?[2] These comments, I find, often come from people—particularly when they find people in the media—who have a severe lack of understanding of statistics and don't realize the assumptions inherent in statistically analyses and blindly trust the all-holy "Number."

While there is beginning to be an appreciation of such topics, the understanding of statistics and math to be "difficult" (and, thus, by extension professors who are able to use that methodology indispensable) and qualitative methods "easy", that this is going to do a great disservice to both sociology as a whole. A large part of the problem, as I see it is the lack of cooperation between qualitative and quantitative sociologists. Grants are so scarce as it is, we are afraid to try and write anything beyond the proscribed standards to work with teams that might look at problems in both directions. Or, alternatively, individual researchers try and take on both components themselves many with great success. The problem I have found with this goal in my own development is that it is very difficult to be on top of methods in two very different methodological traditions and to produce anything that can pass muster in both qualitative and quantitative fields. I don't have enough time in my graduate career to do both well - maybe it might come when I have my first job or a postdoc, but it seems a severe disservice to the pursuit of knowledge to maintain these divisions. This division seems particularly severe for people associated with qualitative methods - particularly when that assumption (as is the case with FSP) is wrong and based solely upon one's gender!

[1] I am not positive that she is discussing statistics, this is the world in which I live, so I will go on that for my purposes.
[2] This is where I am sure that there is some difference in what FSP does and what qualitative sociologists do; unless there is some branch of the physical sciences wildly different than what I thought of the physical sciences -- talking to particles and all.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Academic Freedom is Us

I feel very good to have finally fulfilled a long-standing promise to start posting away from my home here at Free Exchange on Campus. The blog is one of the major components of the work being done by the Fre Exchange Coalition. The Coalition was set up in order to counter the kinds of outlandish and false attacks by David Horowitz and others on true academic freedom in our nation's colleges and universities[1].

The problem with these people is that, in the cloak of arguing that they are attempting to "eliminate liberal bias" in the classroom, they are arguing that there should be a kind of litmus test applied by the states in order to make sure that classes being taught are "fair and balanced" (in the FOX News sense of the term). Seriously, they have proposed legislation on the issue and even acquired floor votes in some state legislators. The goal is not to increase diversity, but to go back to the standard "Great Man" theory of teaching (specifically using Universities to teach how great America is because of the work of now-dead old-white-men).

The problem with all of this is that, just like the media being attacked for a liberal bias, Universities are overly conscious of something that is probably not a wide-spread problem and it stifles debate on campuses around the country. Although this is not the only problem facing academic freedom (lack of tenured faculty lines would be a good example of another), the fact that true academic freedom is under attack at all is very disconcerting and something that needs to be addressed. Hopefully this effort will be one part of that.

Anyway, you should check out the blog and my first post.

[1] For a great example of the kinds of things that they propose, check out Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Of course, don't take everything there at face value, check out TPM's coverage on Horowitz's inaccuracies and exaggerations.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I'm Feeling Alright

About the prospects of Democrats in my new home state given that both Clinton and Obama would beat Giuliani in a state-wide general election right now. Clinton by 15 points and Obama by 5 points. Although early polls don't necessarily mean that much, it is nice to know that Rudy's megalomaniacal delusions aren't even working in his home state.

Now, granted that I am not positive that Clinton would be the best candidate for the job of President, or even that she would be the best Democrat currently running for the position. On the other hand, I do know that she will be better than race-baiting, police-state advocate Giuliani.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Because my efforts to get back the bloggy back after being on vacation have been stalled by a trip to Ann Arbor to work on my work (that sounds funny, but is actually true) so that I might be able to forgo the "graduate student" title and move onto "professor" or "Dr.", I thought that I would just do a roundup for the time being and hopefully move onto more productive blogging in the future.

  • Speaking of becoming "Dr." as opposed to a lowly graduate student, the future Dr. Warner moved to a new site that she hopes to keep going after she is a grad student. I hope she does, because her posts are always fascinating for anyone in grad school, but particularly those in sociology programs. Check out her new site. I'm not sure if there is an appropriate web version of the housewarming present - any suggestions are welcome.

  • On the other hand, Jeremy Freese has declared a hiatus because he is afraid of becoming "some kind of peculiar jester-statesman for my discipline." While I certainly do not believe this to be true and respect Jeremy for the decision, it is sad to see such a great voice leaving the blogosphere; and, it appears that most people who took the poll agree with me. But, it was good to see that he did have a brief post titled "entr'acte" today, hopefully this means that there will be more to come.

  • Speaking of being between acts, I will hopefully be in that state soon as my advisors told me that they think that I should be able to send out my paper which means I will be on to my dissertation.

  • Which reminds me that Dave ran away from Big Purple, but at least his Ducks are ranked number 5 in the BCS which I hope helps. Given his frustration with the labor movement's lack of appreciation for young people--a topic on which I completely agree (and, agree is a problem on the left more generally)--I hope that it is for the best for him.

  • Another cool kid from the GTFF wrote a great post about why economic rationality and "just-in-time" professorships are bad for academic freedom.

  • Oh yeah, you should also check out another great rant about the ages.

  • Is it just me, or do other people not care about the presidential primary anymore, particularly whether Clinton is "playing the female card" a) because she's not; b) because if she were, why is it a bad thing to point out that she is the only woman in the field; and c) because it is really hard to take Matt Lauer seriously.

  • But, all is not glory in the Clinton camp, either. I seem to remember some saying about foxes and hen houses. Not only does the company that Mark Penn, Clinton's pollster and a top advisor, serves as the CEO defend Cintas, a notoriously anti-union company that broke OSHA standards so badly that the administration fined them for killing an employee, his company also works to improve Blackwater's image. His excuse on the first account, he doesn't personal work on that campaign (though, presumably he makes money from it). On the second--get this--they outsource the work for Blackwater. That's priceless.

  • And, while I'm on the topic of pollsters and the campaign, I should mention a great initiative by another pollster (on the other side of the spectrum from Penn), Mark Blumenthal from is undertaking what they he is calling the Disclosure Project to get polling companies to release the details of their methodology.

Off to bed with me now so that I can work on getting my own survey results written up tomorrow. I am sure that there is much more that I missed, but I hope to maybe start catching up on my bloggy activities, maybe even post something substantive. I know, shock!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Productive no more

Necessary work productivity has trumped blog productivity this week and it was going great until today. I was moving on a project that I have been really excited about, but has been on the back-burner for the past several months. Instead of just admitting that this project has taken the position next to the tea kettle that is never used in the summer months and writing my more senior collaborators on the project to this effect, I continued to delude myself into thinking that I was going to get it done. Of course, this meant long periods with little work and great disappointment or other periods where I would get such minimal work done on the project that it was laughable that I would even send it to the other collaborators.

Anyway, this week, I made huge strides forward towards accomplishing the basic analysis of this project. I either obtained or created all of the variables necessary to replicate a previous analysis, completed all of the data management tasks to line up the proper hierarchical structure and even conquered Stata's best attempts to get me to give up on using Sean Reardon's Stata interface for HLM[1]. Anyway, I got all of the analysis complete and then I tried to figure out how to run spatial analysis in Stata. Needless to say, it doesn't come with a built-in package and my old process has been to use a separate program, GeoDa, to do all of it.

I am, however, quickly getting tired of having to use three or four separate software packages to work on a single problem. Therefore, I again invested the time in attempting to figure out how to use a spatial analysis package built for Stata. That is where the "things were productive until today" part enters. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I could not get this to work. First of all, the package requires four separate utilities just to get the data formatted properly for analysis and each step compounds any problems created in the previous steps. Anyway, I finally figured out that I had a single missing value in a single observation which was holding the whole thing up. Then, when I finally got the proper data form to get the program to run, it didn't agree with the values that I got in the other program, making me wonder why they come up with different results which means more time trying to figure out the shady underbelly of programming even though any programming knowledge I do have is self-taught meaning that it is both laborious and probably wrong meaning more potential delays in this project.

Therefore, following ash's excellent example to productively (hopefully) blowing off steam, I dedicate this entire day to hating a) Stata programs that are difficult to figure out; b) Stata programs that don't work and c) loss of productivity to said problems.

And now, I am sure that you are hating me now for writing such a boring post. G'day.

[1]For anyone who uses both Stata and HLM, it is worth the time investment to get this program set up and learn how to use it. No more switching back and forth between data management in Stata and analysis in HLM. Of course, I guess you could also just use SAS, but learning a whole new programming language is not an investment I want to make right now...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

In order to appease dr and thank everyone for their well wishes and congratulations, I want to keep this post short to do that.

E. and I don't have any pictures in digital format, yet, but I will definitely post some when we figure out how to get them onto my computer (and by "we", I mean "I" because E. is very good at doing this. Somehow every time I try to get pictures off of the camera I manage to either a) freeze my computer, b) freeze the camera, or c) both. Therefore, I will let E. figure out how to get them on her computer and I will get the files from her). And let me just say that Italy has to be one of the most romantic places in the world - it was so incredible to finally go. We had such a good time that we already want to go back! A full run-down of the amazingness of Italy to follow when I am at least a little caught up with work.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Farewell for Now

Although I am sure that there will not be much difference from my relative lack of posting recently, but tonight I am off to Maryland for the last preparations for getting hitched so there will be no posts until my return. There are three more days to the wedding and I am hoping that the weather holds out for the ceremony. I can feel the butterflies in my stomach already. Then, it is off to Italia, where I am sure that I will find much to report and maybe some pictures to share when I get back. In the meantime, here is one to tide you over (link) to tide you over.

I hope everyone has a great couple of weeks!!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Good News

It turns out that when I tried to transfer my university account e-mail to my GMail account last time, I did not anticipate that all of the 3000+ e-mails sitting in my inbox would come with it. Not realizing this until after my GMail account was flooded with hundreds of e-mails, I set up a filter to send all of the e-mails from my university e-mail account to the trash. Well, I had forgotten about this particular filter when I sent my e-mails over this time. The good news is that I found all of them in the trash and recovered all of my e-mails. The internet gods must be appeased.

In other good news, I found out this week that the paper I mentioned earlier this week got accepted! I am so excited, and my nightmares that I made some mistake in the analysis or used the wrong file for the output can finally come to an end (I've checked, double checked and triple checked and, absent one scare where I pulled up the wrong file but didn't realize it for a while, everything seems to be in order). Now I can actually put a line in my CV that says "Publications". Good news all around, particularly before the really good news of getting married to E. and having a week and a half to relax in Italy!

I Can't Catch a Break!

I cannot believe this - I must have done something very bad to the internet gods out there. After clearing out my inbox a couple of days ago (I went from 3300+ to 190 messages - not a small feat in five hours), I wanted to transfer all of my files to be read through my GMail account so I didn't have to use Outlook or check two separate webmail applications.

Well, in the process of doing that, I now went from 190 files to 36. Yup, that's right! Somewhere between my university account and my GMail account 154 of my e-mails are gone. And, of course, because I deleted the other 2000+ messages, I know that these were the most important e-mails.

Of course, now I am kicking myself for not checking the "Keep Messages on Server" box, which the gentleman at the university help desk kindly told me that I should have done (thanks, a little late for that suggestion) or backing up those messages in any format. There were several important messages that I had regarding getting paid, collaboration with other people and such that I lost in the process. My only hope is that somewhere the messages are on the GMail servers, but haven't shown up in my account yet.

Here's to hoping (and praying to the internet gods)!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Items to be Noted

The following are items to be noted. Feel free to comment, I am not sure whether I have the time or the energy to do so myself, but I need a break (see last item):

  • I have (finally) updated my blogroll to include new web-friends like Anomie and Andrew. I say finally, because this was part of my plan to "modernize" the feel of ye old blog.

  • As I typed out the urls to each of their websites, I now realize that Anomie and Andrew both have exactly the same number of characters in their urls (25) - a trait which they also share with Jeremy. That's weird.

  • I have not yet finished my blogroll (yes, I know what I just said...but, just because I improved it doesn't mean that it is done). It is not immediately obvious that if you click on each of the subjects under "Blogroll", then you can see the list. The fact that this is not immediately obvious is why it is not done yet.

  • The UAW initiated a nation-wide strike against General Motors yesterday, the first nationwide strike in 37 years. The strike is seventeen hours old and I am already tired of hearing or reading quotes from David Cole from the Center for Automotive Research, or C.A.R. (haha! isn't that funny...). He seems to be the "go-to" quote for this thing. His analysis that everyone wants to find out about? He says , "This is a fragile situation right now. If this thing got out of hand, it could be a serious issue for some union suppliers." That's right, it's all on the workers to go back to work without a guarantee that a) GM has to pay previously negotiated and guaranteed benefits and b) that management can, if they so decide, fire those very same workers they are claiming desperately need to come back to work now.

  • In other union news, the employees of the GAO filed for and won a union election this week. Stephen Barr noted the "online picket line" created on YouTube (I couldn't find that, but I could find this infomercial). They won by a 2-1 margin with 74% of eligible employees voting.

  • I am perpetually perplexed by one characteristic of the English language. When does one use the "-ical" ending as in "geographical" or "analytical" as opposed to the "-ic" ending as in "geographic" or "analytic" ending. I've seen people do it both ways, but I don't know if there is one way more appropriate than another... Any help would be much appreciated as I write a codebook for the project I work on. Talk about the most boring of boring things to write (and now you know why I am doing things like counting the number of characters in web addresses...)!

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Part of my ongoing fascination with the implication of the internet is how a revolutionary new technology can have an impact on the non-virtual social world. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the impact of Wikipedia on the way in which existing social institutions, particularly the news media or academia, adapt to the proliferation of web-based reference material. squires pointed out that Wiktionary "is basically a recapitulation of whatever is already published about the topic"[1] and is not, therefore, really a new social form as much as a new medium through which traditional social forms exist. But another interesting question is what happens when those institutions are confronted with new technology and, potentially, forced to adapt.

This has been brought to light in a thread at where the appropriateness of blogging the content of academic talks given at university seminars. The discussion has also continued to Jeremy Freese's Weblog. Jeremy has taken the position that "anything that is cv'able is blogable"—a position, which, in my opinion is very sensible. Jeremy has certainly taken some heat in the Orgtheory thread and feels that he is "staking out a lonely position" there. The main objection (and, indeed, the main thrust of the thread) is expressed by Ezra Zuckerman's position that early adapters to the blogosphere have a huge advantage if they can institutionalize blogging as an academic norm whereby late adapters and people who have higher costs (i.e. those that do not derive enjoyment from blogging) are forced to adapt. This, Ezra argues, cedes an incredible advantage to early adapters that, I perceive, he thinks is unwarrented[2].

This brings up several interesting sociological questions that I find really interesting, in no small part because sociologists are the subjects of a sociological inquiry (very postmodern). The first question to me is the role of institutional norms in the development of new technology -- a topic which I discussed in my Wikipedia post mentioned above. Ezra brings up one of my main points from that post when he says "the main reason I don’t do this is that I have no time." While, overall, I agree with Jeremy that public discussion is a positive for the discipline, I also recognize the externalities considered by Ezra. If academics are required to respond to online discussions about their work that they did not initiate, it represents a significant investment in time that is required for which one might not receive any formalized institutional recognition. Where does this work fit in the academic triumvirate of teaching, service and research — especially when we know that the last of those is prioritized the highest? If, as Ezra suspects, bloggers are able to transform the academic norms to require that professors respond to online comments, then some recognition of this responsibility needs to be recognized by departments and institutions. This is particularly true for non-tenured faculty members who give up valuable research time responding to blogs and is probably part of the reason why Jeremy keeps emphasizing that his ideas are most applicable to senior faculty.

The second interesting question presented by this discussion is the role of social norms and scripts. The general consensus over the course of the thread is that permission should be requested to blog about an academic presentation. Jeremy brings up the fact that there are two forms of permission: 1) a request for permission where the receiver of the request has a legitimate claim to deny that permission (i.e. a child asking his parents for an extra scoop of ice cream for desert), or 2) a request for permission that is a linguistic hedge to show deference where the receiver of the request is expected to oblige (i.e. asking someone to turn the volume down if one has a headache). There are legitimate reasons to ask for permission. The most important, in my view, is allowing the author to respond if s/he so desires. I think that Jeremy would agree that the goal of discourse is not furthered if the original author is not given a chance to respond. In fact, a lack of response would be antithetical to Jeremy's goal. It reminds me of a similar thread at Crooked Timber where academics place the request "Please do not cite or quote without permission" at the tops of papers. This is essentially a form of moderation to ensure that researchers citing the work have the latest version or that the authors know where their work is being used to contribute to an academic discourse. To me, this is the second sense of permission.

The other reason that I find it to be appropriate to ask for permission is because, as an author, I might have stronger or weaker confidence about particular conclusions. If I were a faculty member and Jeremy came to me and asked "Would you mind if I wrote about your presentation on my blog?" my response would be "Yes, please feel free. Let me make sure that you have a copy of the paper. I should tell you that I believe conclusion A to be very robust, but I am more hesitant about conclusion B. Therefore, I plan to do more work on that part of the paper - so you might want to keep that in mind when you are writing." (In my head, I would also be thinking, "Whoo hoo! Now the hundreds of people who read Jeremy's blog will read about my research!"). In this way, I am not restricting what Jeremy writes or limiting the benefits to the field, but am, in a sense, providing a guide to replicate the kind of fruitful discussion that can happen at academic seminars where constructive criticism is created to a wider audience than those who attend a single academic seminar at a single (or a couple) of institutions[3].

All of these questions bring to mind other important questions of sociological importance. The first, who is the academic "public"? Is is the "invisible college" linked instantly through the internet or the older, established community linked through the slower academic journals? This, then, is related to a second question. As sociologists look for a greater position for public sociology, then the role of the internet needs to be part of that discussion. On the one hand, academics are not journalists. Our discipline is marked by careful consideration of all available evidence and this mission might be undermined if we are pushed to discuss work much more quickly or frequently. Trying to do both the "journalistic" side of research (responding to blogs, posting about research) and the "academic" side of research (publishing in journals, writing grant proposals) means that there either need to be benefits for doing both (in tenure reviews, for instance) or that both cannot be done as successfully without requiring more time devoted to this work.

[1] I tend to find the same thing is also true in Wikipedia; however, what I notice more of in Wikipedia than in traditional academic published research is citations to mainstream media sources such as the Washington Post or New York Times. While this is still a very circumscribed list of potential citations, it does expand the understanding of some topics beyond their strictly academic research to at least include sources that have a much larger circulation.
[2] Of course any summary does injustice, but in the interest of providing background, I don't want to reiterate the whole thread here.
[3] By restricting the conversation only to people at particular institutions is also a way in which privilege is created and maintained. While early-adapters might have an advantage creating externalities to benefit bloggers, restricting conversations to academics in the ivory tower also creates externalities for those who would need to academics in those settings. The difference, I think, is that that kind of privilege is accepted while blogging changes the "winners" and "losers" of privilege and, thus, causes this much discussion. I think that this is the point that Dave made to my Wikipedia post.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Coming Up for Air

It feels nice to (finally) have a productive week! Paper submissions for the Population Association of America were due yesterday. I am sure that none of you can think of a more interesting conference than one full of demographers talking about fertility, moralitymortality and migration but I actually really enjoy these conferences. The PAA conferences are smaller than ASA and the papers in sessions are more tightly topically linked. Of course, that came to bite me in the butt when my paper didn't get accepted for a session last year because it didn't fit in any of the sessions.

I resubmitted that particular paper, investigating who would consider a redeveloped neighborhood and why, for consideration again this year. There are a few more relevant sessions this year (last year, it really didn't fit into any of the sessions very well). I am also submitting a paper with a friend adapting a statistical technique from environmental science to estimate social environmental factors. The final paper is an extension of a paper that I co-authored with a senior faculty member. We didn't have room for it in the original paper, so she asked if I wanted to submit this paper to the conference this year. It was exciting to submit it because we put quite a bit of work into this analysis before we realized that it wouldn't fit.

It feels nice to be done -- the last week has been kind of a sprint but it is cool seeing it all come together. There is something about looking at a paper with nicely formatted tables, figures and a real reference list to feel like I accomplished something. Hopefully some of these get accepted now!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What do We Pay You For?

In general, I hate conversations, expositions, soliloquies or any other form of communication that begins with "Our tax money pays for [INSERT ITEM HERE]." Both my father and mother-in-law (to be) are supported by the federal government and I know that most of the people who work for the federal government work their butts off. I think that Reagan, et al. have done such a good job beating in how "bad" government is and how we need to starve the beast that vital services are being cut (see Bush's attempt to eliminate child health care).

But, I seriously want to ask what the f*ck are we paying these people for? From David Kurtz at TPM:

Correct me if I'm wrong here. But by my calculation, more U.S. senators (72) voted today to condemn a newspaper ad attacking Gen. Petraeus than voted yesterday (56) to lengthen the time off troops get from the frontlines in Iraq, thereby reducing individual soldiers exposure to actual attacks. Am I missing something, or is that about right?

And, the Democrats couldn't even be sure to get a Barbara Boxer alternative passed. So, instead, they all caved and blasted their own base (MoveOn) at the behest of the Republicans while they wouldn't stand up and condemn the Swift Boat Vetrans. What the hell! No wonder no one thinks they can do anything, they can't even protect their own donors never mind defend habeus corpus, support our troops, or end taxation without representation!

UPDATE: I guess we don't need to pay our Senators, they make money the old fashioned way: bribes! I will miss the Incredible Hulk ties on the Senate floor, though.

It's John Kerry's Fault

I nominate Tucker Carlson and Willie Geist, his lackey correspondent, next to him for a prime profile in douchebaggery. At a John Kerry event at the University of Florida, student Andrew Meyer was tasered (see videos here, here and here, h/t The Bellman). Carlson and sidekick's loyalties were divided... On the one hand this student was arguing that the election results in 2004 were a sham so he's obviously some liberal punk who was probably "indoctrinated" by his UF profs (and TAs). On the other, he made John Kerry look bad at his own event. See how they manage this tightrope:

This line from Willie takes the cake, though:

He carried on and I think that might have been the most excited anyone's ever been at a John Kerry speech.

Of course, blaming John Kerry continued into Carlson's show the next day, when he said:

CARLSON: That is just—six cops on this kid. I don’t see what the excuse for that kind of behavior would be.

Here’s my point. This is how John Kerry responded. John Kerry, of course, was feet away at the lectern watching this. I don’t believe he couldn’t hear that, the kid being tasered.

Here’s his response. “In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way. I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption. But again, I do not know what warnings or other exchanges transpired between the young man and the police prior to his barging to the front of the line and their intervention. I asked the police to allow me to answer the question and was in the process of answering him when he was taken into custody. I was not aware that a taser was used until after I left. I hope that neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good, healthy discussion was interrupted.”

What a wuss this guy is. I regret enormously that a good, healthy conference was interrupted? What about this kid got tasered for asking a question? What, he can’t say that? Is that like against the rules for...

I can't believe these people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Poll Troll

Most of you know that I am a quantoid sociologist meaning, among various other things that I have been told, that I am a colonizer, I am not a real sociologist, I demean women and people of color, and take money that would otherwise be spent on better research done by qualitative researchers. Now, while being called/told these things are true, I also know that qualitative researchers get their fair share of shit thrown at them, too. Luckily, I see this needless division between quantitative and qualitative reasoning becoming less of an issue.

But, I bring all of this up because the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers (AAPOR) launched a new website that describes the basics of polling. Since cleaning, formatting and analyzing survey data is what I do all day, it is difficult trying to describe to people what I do or why surveys should be critically reviewed (such as surveys saying that political bias of professors is a problem[1]). It has an explanation of margin of sampling error, what makes a good sample and a bad one along with all other cool kinds of information. They also launched a free online class for journalists on the basics of survey methods. Just thought that I would pass it along for anyone who might be interested.

I think that it also describes fairly well what polls and surveys are good for and what they're not good for. If you want to know the amount of support for the president or the association between certain types of social and economic characteristics on residential preferences, they're great. If you want to know detailed information about very small or specific populations, you might have more trouble and they might not be the best way to go. If you want to know the nuance of how those social and economic characteristics are intertwined and paint a story of a life lived in society, they're awful. All of these things are valuable contributions to research -- but they all require that the research be done well and that is what this site is great for. I wish the ASA could do something similar: What is sociology? What is good sociology? What is bad sociology? Of course, it would never happen, but we can all dream...

And, for those who don't care about how it is done but love looking at the numbers, has some awesome graphs and analysis tracking the presidential primaries (nationally and by state - see image), presidential approval (spoiler alert: it's tanking), governor's races and all kinds of cool things that readers might find an interest.

* Graph via and created by Charles at
[1] See cjg's excellent analysis of the problems with the survey here and here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Richardson: Not Getting Labor's Vote

I have to admit. I am happy that Bill Richardson is in the race for the Democratic nomination, it gives me something to look forward to laughing at.

Now, this is the man who said that being gay is a choice then, blamed it on being jet-lagged and the one who, as I noted before, opened the AFL-CIO debate by saying, "I will continue to take your money." But, I think that in terms of pure embarrassment, this has to take the cake:

Bill Richardson to SEIU: "Thank you, AFSCME" (via TPM)

I would love to see that YouTube video. How do you screw up not one, but two, of your major constituencies?

Cautiously out of Purgatory

My exile to internet purgatory has been (at least temporarily) lifted by Time-Warner. I believe that, after spending three hours on the phone with them, being woken up by one of their service technicians on Saturday morning at 7:00am[1], a visit from a technician on Sunday two hours before my scheduled appointment time where this service technician told me that he couldn't get into the control room necessary, so I have the apartment's maintenance people call him. He never comes back or informs me that he is not coming back, prompting a call to the customer "service" agent who informs me that it is my fault that the technician could not service my cable because "They can't be chasing people all over the place" and "they can't be expected to call you if you can't be there when they are going to be there" and "they can't call you to let you know, you only get one chance or you have to reschedule, would you like to reschedule for Thursday(!!!!)?" I lost it. I lost my cool. I was so angry. I would have to wait for an entire week and a half and this person didn't seem to give one damn! I told her that I rely on my internet to telecommute and work - her response "Well, you have residential service, so you have to be on the residential service schedule. If you want to pay more for commercial service, then you can pay for that" desperate, I say fine, can you connect me? "No, this is residential, you'll have to call commercial back to connect to them." And, I might add, wait another 20 minutes to speak to someone. E. (who is always much cooler about these things as they happen) told me that what I should have told the woman is why would I pay more when you can't even provide what I am already paying good money for? She's so smart.

Luckily, the problem was building-wide so they sent a technician out this afternoon and, at least for now, it is working alright. I'm not giving up the appointment that I have tomorrow from 10am-2pm just in case it goes out again. But, damn! I can't believe that it takes this much trouble to get my internet connection working again. But, I now am way behind on my work so hopefully I will be reconnecting to all of you my dear readers, even if it is sporadic for the next while before my paper deadline.

The kicker had to be, though, there is a story in this week's New York Magazine about Dick Parson, the chairman of Time Warner, and how he wishes that he could be Rupert Murdoch and "indulge in thinking long term" while he enjoys his villa in Tuscany and smokes his expensive cigars. And, he wishes that people wouldn't talk to him about fixing their cable or their AOL service. Ah, I feel so bad for the guy...he has to listen to complaints and worry about the here-and-now of his company. Maybe that's why Time-Warner is tanking!

[1]Now, I didn't have an appointment with a service technician for Saturday. I did have one for Sunday at 2pm.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Blogological Silence

This silence is not self imposed or because I am trying to ignore the fascination of online procrastination (though this would probably be good for me). No, no, no, this silence is imposed on me by the fact that Time Warner cable can't get their shit together to provide a service for which I am paying. My apartment is without cable television and teh internets (again). Although this time, it is really gone. The version of cable that I currently get is a bunch of tiled images on the screen - it looks like I am playing Tetris while trying to watch anything. Sometimes they move, sometimes they don't. And, my internet just simply doesn't work.

The best part? Time Warner's phones are so backed up that I get a busy signal!!! I thought of the possibility that their service is so f*ed up that their phones, theoretically run on the same cable through which I am trying to receive my television and internet connection, are down and that they can't get any phone service, either. That thought amused me until I realized that it's my problem that I can't get to them, not theirs that they can't receive any calls.

On the plus side, E. and I spent a great TV-free evening together last night and I am due for a refund on the days of service that I couldn't get my internet connection. Of course that refund might pay for half of the cost of going to coffee shops in order to work.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Wikipedia's Style Guide, Gender-Neutrality and the Future of The Internets

For those who might be interested in the topic, which I believe includes some readers of this blog, there is a rather heated debate on the gendered pronouns going on Wikipedia if anyone feels the desire (and has the time) to contribute.

I find the whole idea of Wikipedia interesting. If this had been a style guide published by a press, I am sure that this topic would (and has) certainly been debated, but it would have taken years on the turn-around time. One edition is published every two years, minor edits are made when people (probably in academia) object to the usage. Then, after edits are made others (again, probably in academia) would charge that standard usage shouldn't be changed so easily and the entire purpose of a guide is to use practice and, therefore, even if it might be gender-biased, we shouldn't revolutionize the world of style guides. The printed style-guides then might add that there are two acceptable ways to write with gendered pronouns.

Now, this entire debate has occurred in the process of six days going back and forth. And, while this is certainly more "democratic" than the discussions in publishing houses and academic journals, it now privileges people who can, if they desire, spend all day at the computer debating the ins and outs of usage or any of the other debatable topics on Wikipedia. If I miss a day or two in one of these discussions, or even more than a couple of hours, I might as well not participate.

It makes me think that there might be a whole new ethic of professionals that is going to develop who can do this for a living. I mean there are allegations that corporations manipulate Wiki entries and Wikipedia is often the first site someone goes to in an effort to get information on a topic on which they know nothing. We also already see professional bloggers, Markos Moulitsas, Michelle Malkin, Andrew Sullivan, etc. who have been able to give up their "day jobs" and convert blogging to those very jobs. But, if it requires constant attention to run a good blog and that blog can be converted to ad hits and the like, how long before we some kind of consolidation of the profession into large conglomerates?

I know that I am not the first to mention this, but it just seems interesting to me how the nature of Web 2.0 can change the dynamic to be both more and less democratic. It is also interesting to see if there are new rules to integrating empires including the role that blogs play in the dissemination of information. Will they continue to do a better job expressing opinions and analysis than the established print and television outlets, or will they evolve into news-gathering organizations with budgets to do the kind of investigative reporting that outlets like the New York Times, the major networks, CNN, Fox News, etc. are able to do (and, I might add, often do poorly)? Also, what will be the role of research in this world? Will academics begin to care more about Wiki entries in their topics and work on them? Will this require some kind of credit professionally (the same way one gets credit if one writes an entry for a subject encyclopedia or a textbook on a subject) and will this insertion of "experts" lead to fewer "non-experts" contributing to sites like Wikipedia? These questions bring up the democratic potentials potentials in the sense that participation is not locked to certain physical locations (e.g. newsrooms, universities, television stations). But, the ability to be able to participate in these discussions requires either a) an abundant amount of flexible time (usually associated with professional work) or b) that one gets paid enough to make a living to continuously contribute (and, therefore, creating a profession rather than a democratic "netroots" control).

I am sure that Squires and the folks at Orgtheory would have a much more elegant description of this process and its potentials, but I think that it represents a fascinating intersection of language, organizational theory and markets that still has many potential avenues along which to develop and, potentially, to influence that development. Who knows, it might even affect the progress of mankind humankind...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Law and Order Republicans

I thought about writing about this with regard to the Scooter Libby pardon commutation, but refrained. Partly because there was already so much about it on the tubes and across the airwaves, partly because I was lazy. But, with Larry Craig's recent troubles with the law, I feel compelled to write about this insanely unjust hypocrisy. The same "law and order" Republicans[1] who not only support the death penalty, but claim that the number of appeals should be limited, argue that the rules are different when they are caught. President Bush, who wouldn't bother to consider pardoning, commuting or otherwise even seriously considering the cases before him regarding the death penalty in Texas all the sudden finds that it is alright to pardon Libby. Meanwhile, Craig is looking into the possibility that he will try and reverse his plea in the Minneapolis court.

Hilzoy, at Obsidian Wings has a great analysis of the Craig saga. While she recognizes the pain that it must take to be closeted, she loses sympathy for someone who consistently votes against the rights of gays and lesbians in this country. I feel the same way about these legal shenanigans. While I think that they are important, particularly for the indigent and less educated defendants, I can't find sympathy for Craig. First, the man took an oath to uphold the Constitution and should know his Constitutional rights. If he wasn't guilty, don't say anything! Of course, he was hoping that this would go away without any attention being called to it.

But, second, supposing Craig gets off, I can only suspect what he will do next. I am pretty sure he is not going to (re)find religion, or question his old one. He will give his mea culpas to the people of Idaho and potentially get re-elected. He won't question the criminal justice system that railroads defendants into plea bargaining. I imagine that he will go on with his "law and order" ways trying to limit the ability of trial lawyers and defendants to use the same expertise that he was able to buy.

Maybe it won't happen. Maybe he will resign. Maybe he won't and will get re-elected and realize the error of his ways. I don't know. But, if he doesn't—I hope that there is a special place for him in whatever religion he chooses to find after this ordeal.

[1] Speaking of laziness and Law & Order Republicans, I can't wait for Fred Thompson's snub of current candidates by airing his first ad right before a debate among the other 10 jokers in the field.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The More Things Change

One of the more interesting (and readable) books on the urban environment is Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place by John Logan (currently at Brown University, formerly at SUNY-Albany) and Harvey Molotch (currently at NYU). I was reminded because of this article on Atlantic Yards Report about the New York Times' inconsistency between its "tough analysis of the post-Katrina recovery" versus that covering the Atlantic Yards Project. As Logan and Molotch note in their introduction, the ideas in Urban Fortunes are the combination of Logan's ideas on social stratification in the urban sphere and Molotch's ideas of power and politics in urban development. The latter's ideas on the growth machine politics are particularly instrumental to the AYR article.

Molotch argues that the goal of "growth machine politics" is to increase the size of cities through strategic alliances and contests between different actors so that each can try and capitalize on the maximum exchange value for their land over the use value of current residents. The "growth machine" is particularly powerful because it often contains some of the most powerful political actors: developers, real estate agents, building trades unions, etc. Those opposing the "growth machine" (i.e. those whose use value is greater than their exchange value) are only successful through the organizing necessary to oppose the growth machine coalitions.

But, for Molotch, newspapers play a particularly important role in the development of the growth machine. For them, the ultimate goal is to increase the size of the entire metropolitan area (thus, increasing both readership and the importance of the city to gain more national prestige) and they arbitrate disputes between actors at the local level to encourage the best plan for the development of the entire area. Thus, Logan and Molotch write:

Although newspapers may express concern for "the ecology," this does not prevent them from supporting growth-inducing investments for their regions. The New York Times likes office towers and additional industrial installations in the city even more than it loves "the environment." Even when historically significant districts are threatened, the Times editorializes in favor of intensification. Thus, the Times recently admonished opponents to "get out of the way" of the Times Square renewal, which would replace landmark structures (including its own former headquarters at 1 Times Square) with huge office structures (New York Times, May 24, 1984, p.18). Similarly, the Los Angeles Times editorializes against narrow-minded profiteering that increases pollution or aesthetic blight—in other cities. The newspaper featured criticizm, for example, of the Times Square renewal plan (Kaplan, 1984:1), but had enthusiastically supported development of the environmentally devastating supersonic transport (SST) for the jobs it would presumably lure to Southern California. [pp. 72-3]

Logan and Molotch go on to talk about how the two papers then fired two columnists that were too critical of interests in their own cities.

Maybe it would be better to direct the information to the Los Angeles Times to try and get critical information of the Atlantic Yards project published!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Intel's Racism

Speaking of the need to organize new progressive campaigns, look at this ad released by Intel. Although I am late to the news, I thought that it was important to pass along because I know that I had not seen it. Who in their right mind even thought that this would be a good ad to send out? Nevermind that, who is the person that even thought of this design to begin with? Of course, Intel Corporation apologized for the ad:

The intent behind our ad campaign "Multiply Computing Performance and Maximize the Power of Your Employees" was to convey the performance capabilities of our processors through a number of visual metaphors. Unfortunately, while we have used a visual of sprinters in the past appropriately, this ad of using African-American sprinters did not deliver our intended message and in fact proved to be culturally insensitive and insulting.


We are sincerely sorry and have identified specific steps covering heightened cultural sensitivity, our review and approval process, and just using more common sense to ensure that this does not happen again.

On the one hand, this is an excellent example of how structural racism works. I do not believe that any executive from Intel actually intended the message of slave ships to come across in this ad (if for no other reason than it would jeopardize their company image). But, lets think of the steps required for this to make it into publications. First, the creative idea had to be generated. Second, that idea had to be approved as a viable line for production. Third, the prototypes and mock-ups would have to be approved. Fourth, production would occur. Fifth, the distribution arm would have to find publications to place the ad. Sixth, they would have to actually distribute the ad[1]. The fact that, in this process, there were not enough people who who would look at this ad and realize the problems with the kind of "hidden" racism that invades our everyday lives. When we talk about racism, we think of Bull Connor's dog and hoses, but things like this show an equally problematic form of racism.

On the other hand, I question that assessment of negligent, albeit really stupid, people who fail to realize how this ad comes across because of this. Intel is footing the bill for a citizen-initiated proposal in California to eliminate class action suits regarding civil rights issues. Let's look at the last line of that apology again:

We are sincerely sorry and have identified specific steps covering heightened cultural sensitivity, our review and approval process, and just using more common sense to ensure that this does not happen again.

Looks like they are not doing well so far...

If you would like to help get the ballot initiative pulled in California (or at least get Intel to stop paying for it), I will be including a link in the sidebar to the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights on the sidebar or you can click here.

[1]And, the publications and others who actually approved of this ad in their distribution also deserve public outcry and swift punishment as well...they are getting off easy.

Hallow Victory

From Inside Higher Ed:

An Ohio appeals court has rejected a suit challenging Miami University’s policy of offering domestic partner benefits to employees. The decision, which upheld a lower court’s ruling, was not based on whether such benefits are legal or conflict with the state’s ban on gay marriage, as the suit charged. Rather, the appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that under Ohio law, the conservative lawmaker who sued lacked the standing to do so — either as a taxpayer or as a tuition-paying parent. The court ruled that taxpayers do not have a general right to challenge any decision by a public entity. As for the tuition-paying parent argument, the court noted that tuition funds are not used to pay for the benefits, and that any parent who disagrees with a university’s policies is free to stop paying tuition. The decision and briefs are available on the Web site of Lambda Legal, a gay-rights organization that fought to defend the benefits.

While I am elated that the Ohio courts upheld the Miami University policy not to discriminate, I find it a shockingly hallow victory. Rather than saying that the law is wrong, violates the Fourteenth Amendment or some other kind of substantive challenge to the law, it is upheld by the fact that taxpayers don't have standing.

I didn't expect any court to actually do this (save for maybe the perfect combination of judges on the Ninth Circuit). Unlike activist judges, these judges actually respect the rule of law and things like precedents. What worries me, however, is that people are going to look at the headline for the ruling ("Ohio Win for Partner Benefits" in this case) and think that there was some broad sweeping win for LGBT rights. There wasn't. And, if anyone actually does have standing and sues, then the results could be disasterous.

I just don't see progressive change happening through court decisions. People seem to fetishize Brown v. Board of Ed and Roe v. Wade as major turning points in winning rights for people of color and women. But I think that's exactly the issue: they were turning points in the campaign. The work that went into those campaigns is what ultimately made them successful, not the decisions themselves. It seems to me that the lessons we learn in school seem to whitewash the true nature of social change (e.g., Rosa Parks sat because she was tired -- no, she was organized to participate in civil disobedience). Courts are social products and judges are members of society; if they see the world around them changing, then their decisions are influenced by what are considered standards in society. Without the kinds of sustained campaigns that these victories were built on (for instance the first March on Washington was proposed during WWII), the courts might not have made those decisions.

While this decision is definitely a victory, it is not the kind that I will be gleefully celebrating.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Consumer Cities

Part of the reason that I got interested in studying gentrification is its importance in shaping American (and, as I am finding out world) cities. It is a fascinating location of a whole bunch of fundamental theoretical debates. And I don't mean "theoretical" in the sense of academically removed ivory tower stuff, but real fundamental debates about the underlying social issues facing American society. Gentrification, and the debates surrounding gentrification, narrow in on fundamental questions about the role of public financing for housing, jobs, education but also issues surrounding the environment, diversity and the role of public and private institutions in the development of new political ideas.

But, there are times when I find it uncanny how well timed things are. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was discussing Lance Freeman's book in the context of the paper that I was am writing when the next day the AYR published a review of it. But, today I found something that is probably even more directly relevant. From the Creative Class Group (Richard Florida's consultancy business), there was a link to this article in the International Herald Tribune. It is discussing the role of demand-driven location decisions in the economic development of cities and how cities can cater to those demands. There was one particular part that caught my attention, however:

The number of these "consumer immigrants" - those moving back to the city seeking a better quality of life - is relatively small compared with the hundreds of thousands of poorer economic migrants who traditionally head to the inner city.

But the "consumer immigrants" have a special significance because they are rich. They are the wealthy, educated, creative types that Bloomberg wants to engage with in his PlaNYC, his initiative to ensure that the extra million souls he predicts will arrive by 2030 do not produce an unlivable crush in Manhattan.

He is pushing for a congestion charge to cut traffic and pollution, plans an all-hybrid taxi fleet, wants to plant one million new trees, and would like to make sure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. These are all innovations that the upper-middle classes increasingly take for granted.

In his reinvention of New York as a greener city, Bloomberg may have drawn comfort from the cover story of New York magazine this week. It showed that, despite the city's grime and noise, New Yorkers are among the healthiest in the country.

Interestingly, this is precisely the conversation that I am responding to in the paper that I am currently writing (vainly, it seems — though seeing this gives me hope that the issue is important). There are several critiques that I have of this and I outline them below.

First, it is true that the number of "consumer immigrants" is vastly outnumbered by the number of "economic migrants" nation-wide. But, the thrust of this argument assumes that assumes that the "poorer economic migrants" are not simultaneously consumers or may desire nice places to live[1]. And, wouldn't the economic payoff of those vastly numerically more numerous migrants be, overall, a greater economic boom to the city if it captured that demand?

Second, the initiatives that Bloomberg is proposing are seen, in many ways, as very progressive causes. And, I would argue that they are in fact very progressive causes. The problem is that the solutions are not. They reflect, in a certain way, the return of a New York tradition: the Rockefeller Republican. The effect of congestion pricing is also going to mean that places like Home Depot, Costco, etc. are going to be able to write off the extra overhead costs, but the smaller business person who relies on delivery to Manhattan is going to face a signficant reduction of profits. I in principle I agree with the fact that we need to reduce the use of cars; however, the recent subway problems after the flood indicate that money might be better invested in the mass transit system. Same with the "greening" of the taxis: Bloomberg ain't payin' for it - he's making the taxi drivers do that.

Finally, and I think that this made me the most irate, it might be true that New Yorkers as a whole may be becoming more healthy. But, let me offer an alternative explanation beginning from the premise of this article that more rich people are moving to the city. More rich people are moving in. Rich people tend to have better health than poor people and rich neighborhoods have better health than poor communities (net of individual differences in income)[2], therefore, it may simply be that the sick people are dying or being pushed out. The implied assumption in that statement is that all New Yorkers are healthier but, in fact, it may just be that New York residents are richer - which is the very point of this article.

There are reasonable debates to be had about whether the "consumer city" is good or bad public policy and I would be interested to hear what people think about these proposals. While the environmental effects and social mixing of diverse cities are important, we also have to think about policies that are fair to the service-workers and current residents that provide the cheap labor that makes the "consumer city" possible. Furthermore, we also have to see that the demands and needs of all city residents are met and not necessarily pander to the few rich "consumer immigrants" that might move to the city.

Ah, so much here -- so I am going to go finish this paper now and let you know what I find out about these issues...

[1] On another note of language, it is interesting how this argument might be able to recast the immigration debate — or if it will be used to recast the immigration debate.
[2] A. Diez Roux, 2001. (For propriety's sake I should mention that I work on a project on which Ana is a co-PI)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Half Full or Half Empty?

I have spent the last two and half weeks trying to write the introduction to this paper. The eight pages that describe what I am doing, which, at least theoretically, should be the easiest to do.

But, to frustrate me further, I came across an article tonight that is a major review of the literature that describes some of the fault lines and problems in the field. I have been doing the research for this paper fo six months and I found this paper tonight! One can look at this discovery as a good thing—most of the introduction to my paper actually outlines the fault lines described in this review. And, finding this paper (it was based on an editorial comment co-authored by the same person a couple years earlier) has definitely pointed out some interesting readings to go to when I write the next one of these infernal things. On the negative side, though, what the hell is so wrong with my research skills that I didn't find this paper until tonight!!! Six months!!! Ah, now I feel better.

But, then again, there is glass all the way full news.