Monday, March 27, 2006


I'm really enjoying this reading on the 1880's populist movement. Here's a fun quote:

"I know that for the man who sees the evils of the time -- the want, ignorance and misery caused by unjust laws -- who sets himself so far as he has strength to right them, there is nothing in store but ridicule and abuse. The bitterest thought, and the hardest to bear, is the hopelessness of the struggle, "the futility of the sacrifice." But for us who have taken up the crusade, there shall be no halting; and as our ranks grow thin by death and desertion, we should close up, shoulder to shoulder, and show an unbroken battle line to the enemy."

-Jeremiah "Sockless Jerry" Simpson

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Flash Cultural theorizing

My friend Ben posted a response to an article in the New York Times that I thought I had something interesting to say about. The article claimed that sociologists should look at the "culture" of young black men to account for their failure to escape poverty. Ben found this silly, for a variety of good reasons, but I wanted to try to stick up for studying culture (since it is my job) without defending this bad article. Here's what I came up with:

As I am, in fact, supposed to be a cultural theorist I feel like I should weigh in here.

First, of course, I'd like to defend Dr. Patterson's interest in culture, as it it after all, my field. And I think his justification for looking at culture is basically the correct one, Culture can be a site of struggle, a space for change, and looking for ways it can do this can be a valuable addition to other inquiries into the possibilities of social change related to the means of material production.

Here's where I think he goes wrong. He seems to be making the (victim blaming) assumption that there is something unique that the culture of African-American men is "doing wrong." His argument seems to be "If young Black Men were not all so addled on Hip-Hop and Street life they would do what they need to do to move themselves up in the world." This seems ridiculous for the very reasons you have so expertly outlined above.
In addition, it seems to have opened very little space for any sort of remedy of the situation other than some sort of "reform hip-hop movement." I would point Dr. Patterson to the historical examples of turn of the (20th) century moral reformers in the United States and mid-century government "culture agencies" in France and their attempts to "elevate" working-class cultures as demonstrations of the futility of this sort of paternalistic reform movement.

But could we look at culture and find more fruitful answers? I think we could. Here are some "back of the envelope" quick ideas I've had in the hour or so since I read this article.

For one, if we assume that there is some validity to Dr. Patterson's assertion that young black men are basically choosing to remain within street culture, despite its violence and limited prospects for material advance, even when they have a real chance at mainstream employment, what does that say about the attractiveness of our supposedly superior mainstream society? Could there be something so deeply lacking in the frighteningly alienated, massively commodified, tightly bounded world of the nine-to-five life of the postmodern bourgeois that street life, with its opportunities for expressive behavior and community provides? If folks are choosing not to assimilate to our culture, even when their culture is dangerous, are they "doing something wrong" or are we?

If one finds that idea overly romantic and unrealistic (and it is rather both, though I still like it) how about this one. One of the things culture serves to do is provide its users with rituals and other forms of expression that they can "deploy" in various symbolic contests for power. What Pierre Bourdieu called "cultural capital." Might members of other subordinate groups find the cultural capital of their childhood communities more useful in the workplace than young black men? In other words, can the poor white kid from the country still speak and act in a way similar to he is used to and gain respect, where the poor black kid from the inner city must learn entirely new forms of performance to get by. If this is so, wouldn't that be a pretty clear signal of still-functioning racial predjudice in our society?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I post, therefore I exist

What I've been up to:

Reading up about the late 19th century and the changes that occured then in both industrial organization and electoral politics. Its an interesting era that I don't think takes up much space in our popular consciousness. After all, it often seems that history begins in 1950, so far as Pop Culture and Political rhetoric is concerned. I wonder is that's because of the trauma of world war II, or because televison has become our primary technology of memory. Anyway, all this stuff goes down from 1865-1900 in which modern consumption and production patterns are established, the democrats and republicans establish themselves as the only two valid options in electoral politics, and the groundwork for modern cultural ideals is set out. It's pretty cool stuff, especially since the concerns of the era: a changing economic base, rising economic inequality, political corruption, have a certain contemporary resonance.

Spending far too much time on Myspace. Clicking around and looking at people's profiles is a shockingly addicting past-time, for reasons that are not immediately clear.

Reading my usual political blogs. I think its pretty cool that Feingold is at nearly 50% in the latest dKos straw poll. Sadly, as this salon article outlines, the chances of anyone stopping the Hillary machine are pretty slim. Even more sadly, I think the guy with the best chance of being a Hillary-slayer is probably Mark "I have a penis and I'm from the South and I'm basically a Republican" Warner. In that contest, count me among the Clintonistas. Meanwhile, the 2006 congressional election coverage, which should be getting rolling, has been noticably absent. 'Cause ya know, here in 'merica only the president matters.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I like this guy more and more

"Frankly, nothing irritates me more than when I see wishful thinking take the place of concrete willpower. When this happens to people I don't care much about much or who seem "useless," I feel annoyed, but when I observe this phenomenon on someone close to me, whose "use" I can hardly be objective about and whom I'd like to encourage, then I suffer. At the university I used to observe the targicomic existence of wishful thinkers. I still remember some of them, and if something brings one of them to mind, I feel the same anger I felt then."
-Antonio Gramsci

Note to self: develop practical prong to dissertation work.

Note to everybody else: Anyone want in on a Co-op house?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Just for the sake of updating

I've been kinda bleh over here, and schoolworky, which leads to a lack of postable stuff. But just some stuff in brief, for the sake of keeping the blog rolling.

-Whatever troubles I ever have sleeping, remind me never to take Ambien

-People should know, when I mention "capturing academic departments" in my little plan for revolutionary social change (ask me more when I'm drunk) I mean bureacratically, not violently.

-The Battlestar Galactica Finale was the Coolest Thing I've Seen For Awhile. Oh, it started slow, but ended sweet. Must... wait... until... October... to... find out... what the Cylons are up to! ack

Friday, March 10, 2006

Note to Hillary

Health Care looks to be a pretty hot issue for the near future. Sooo, since that was your thing back during your Husband's administration, you should probably get on that, eh Ms. Clinton?

I mean, I wish she wasn't going to be the nominee... but she is, so we might as well make the best of it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Our Priorities

Lead Stories on BBC world tonight:
-Bombings in India kill 15 and threaten to spark Hindu-Muslim violence
-United States and Russia agree that Uranium enrichment on Iranian soil will not be permitted

Lead Stories on CBS evening news tonight:
-Dana Reeve, widow of Chris Reeve, dies of lung cancer
-New book accuses Barry Bonds of doing steroids

Lead Stories on NBC evening news tonight:
-Superman's widow = dead
-Dick Cheney tells AIPAC that Iran will stop developing nuclear weapons or "face consequences"

Ok, so NBC gets some credit for mentioning Iran in the first 10 minutes, as opposed to the simply awful CBS broadcast. But still, acting hawkish towards Iran in front of the pro-Israel lobby (AIPAC) is not exactly a shocker.

World outside of United States? What's that?

Also the number of minutes devoted to Dana Reeve on both American Networks was nearly identitcal. I may keep posting on comparative nightly news. Interesting how a "competitive system" produces such nearly identical coverage.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Life's Little Victories

Despite the fact that I foolishly took aspirin while I had the flu and thus put myself at a (incredibly small) risk of developing Reye Syndrome, a condition causing liver failure and swelling of the brain, I have made it past the window for developing this disease after my accidental self-medication.

In short, I did not die horribly, or suffer from brain-damaging swelling today. Go me.

I continue to suffer from acute hypo-chondria, and researching diseases on the internet syndrome.

Now, back to the WHO cancer mortality database.

Urban Coyotes

I know y'all are perfectly capable of reading for yourselves, but I still feel the compulsion to link to stuff like this that I find personally appealing.

That's what the internets are for, right?

Anyway, apparently Coyotes are colonizing the urban centers of American cities. Canis latrans being a personal favorite critter of mine, I find this neat in its own right. It highlights a larger issue though.

Namely the nature, scope, and limitations of Power. Power is something a lot of us talk about a lot, but that we never define very well (aren't most things we talk about a lot?). Lets call Power the thing that creates commodities and cubicles. The thing that defends both property and propriety. The thing that cuts down trees and names streets and housing developments after them. The thing that certainly never imagined 68 pound coyote-wolf hybrids roaming said housing developments after hours.

So what does this mean? Is the triumph of the scavenger an illustration of the limits of power and order to regulate and constrain the teeming universe? That the clever and the quick can outwit and tactically outflank the monolithic phalanx of control? Or does it demonstrate that the only way to survive regimentation is through seeming inoffensiveness, and shall we predict that if Coyote-kind should commit any serious offense against the public order, they will be dealt with effectively and brutally?

And if the offense against the public order is eating a four year old, what does that say about our romantic notions of the chaotic and the wild? Hobbes anyone?

Damned if I know anything these days.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Fun Internet Video

Some kids at Georgia State demonstrate what would happen if people actually drove the speed limit: video

I think this is cool, in part for what it is, but also because of the way it demostrates the potential of the current broad availability of video cameras and cell phones. These kids are able to coordinate and film a group action over several miles of highway in a way that only a handfull of organizations would have been able to a few years ago. Pretty neat.

I need a project like this. Hmmm.

Pajama Sick Day

After a full afternoon and evening of lying helplessly on my couch in front of the TV, a few observations:

-It is still possible to see at least 4 episodes of various "Law and Order" Serieses per day, but I'm pretty sure that's down from some much larger high.

-Whatever happened to "The Price Is Right"? Did Bob Barker die, and am I forgetting in my feverish haze? Is it just not shown in Ohio? Did I miss it? I wanted to see it for pure sick day nostalgia.

-What is so soothing about "Law and Order" and "CSI" type shows anyway? I mean, I'm a damn liberal, and I still think their like frickin' chamomile. Must be their predictability, I guess.

-I learned from the History Channel that history consists of the Civil War and World War 2.

-The National Geographic Channel is obsessed with boats. Shipwreck diving, rescue (and/or horrible awful death) at sea... Etc.

-Once Upon A Time, didn't the Learning Channel play things besides "Television About Mindless Couples, Meeting, Marrying, and Churning Out Babies"? Or is that just me?

-My God, The Core is a Very Bad Movie with a Shockingly Good Cast

-2 repeats and 1 new Episode of the Daily Show... Available daily

-Mash will Never die

All right. Back to Bed... here's to hoping I didn't give myself Rey Syndrome by taking aspirin with a Viral Infection.