Friday, August 26, 2011

Weather Worries and Human Impacts

I spent this morning assembling a cache of supplies to get my family through the impending Hurricane Irene. Candles, matches, milk for infant, water, sandbags (my first purchase of this item, ever). I’ve never been through this kind of pre-disaster situation before, so I’m full of anxiety and worry about my kids, my home, my car and everything else that makes contemporary life in the US feasible. However, as I’ve noted a lot in this blog, I have it relatively easy as a member of the middle-class who still has a job with a decent salary. It’s nothing new to say that while natural disasters can impact anyone, those impacts are much more dramatic on the poor. Katrina still lingers in the public memory as a prime example of this.

As I was checking out at the local Home Depot and grocery store, I couldn’t help but feel for the folks ringing up my purchases. They were working, while I was able to leisurely prepare for the storm. Many of those folks also likely rely on public transportation to get where they need to go. That’s got to add quite a few points to the degree of difficulty in disaster preparedness. My clerk, in particular, was a laid-off teacher looking for other work, but had to take a job at the grocery store to make ends meet. I had to consider myself so fortunate to still be on the other side of layoffs. I also thought of my father-in-law, who works an evening security job on the weekends. He won’t be able to hunker down in his home. He’ll have to drive through the hurricane to get to and from work to get that needed paycheck. I know there are many more like that among the 80 million people predicted to be impacted by the storm.

Here’s to hoping it’s all hype and that I and those folks all get through the storm unscathed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Asking and Answering Big Questions

One of the first things that really drew me to anthropology was that it asked really big questions about what human life is all about. I think I might have gone done the road to philosophy if I hadn’t liked my intro to anthropology professor a lot more than my philosophy one. Even though it’s been almost 20 years since my first anthropology class, I still get excited about those big questions. One of the biggies being, does God or the supernatural exist? Many, I think myself included, would say that social scientists cannot and have not business addressing that question. However, I recently ran across a book in which the authors claimed that social science was in a unique position to ask and answer that question.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ominous Tweets and Pessimistic Ponderings

This morning as I was waiting for my co-op’s resident plumber to check out a leak in my bathroom, I skimmed through my Twitter feed, which was full of messages about the impending re-collapse of the economy. Links to stories about stock market volatility, bad job numbers, decreased manufacturing and the European debt situation flooded my feed. While short, no link was more dramatic than Kevin Drum’s warning of the coming economic and social apocalypse.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blog Recommendation: I'm Not a Racist, but...

I just discovered the blog, “I’m Not a Racist, but...” It’s great and a valuable effort toward an anit-racist society. The blog is based on a simple idea that easily and elegantly demonstrates the continuing rampant racism in United States, among other places. The blog simply collects screen shots of Facebook updates that include the phrase, “I’m not a racist, but.” This phrase is necessarily followed by a racist statement. This kind of talk is sometimes termed “elite racist discourse” because the speakers are attempting to distance themselves from a negative social identity--a racist--but at the same time engaging in racist speech (I discussed “covert” racist and sexist speech in this post). While I love, the site, I am saddened that it finds material and that it is needed.

In class, my students always chuckle when I mention elite racist discourse because they’ve all heard it before in casual conversations. However, I always get the impression that none think it’s that bad or that big of a deal. I’m betting some of this is simply because it’s part of their ambient linguistic environment and they have trouble pinning down many specific instances. I think this site helps to illustrate that such talk is bad and a big deal. When you scroll through post after post of clearly racist sentiments, you realize exactly how racism is still very common in the US. It stops being, “that’s just how people talk,” or “it’s just a joke,” to “wow, that’s awful.”

The blog brings to light a nasty underbelly of American/World culture that should be seen, examined, mocked, and finally deconstructed. I applaud those who run the site.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reflections on Bad Parenting, Part III: Why Don’t I Have any Friends?

In some recent posts (part I, part II), I began a series of written meanderings on some of the anthropological lessons I can take away from my summer spent with my kids. Mostly, I’m rationalizing why I don’t enjoy spending so much time with my children. In the first post, I noted how the suburbs contribute to a feeling of disconnectedness since they’ve separated me from some important social relationships. At a basic level, I don’t have friends or family who live close by. However, one might argue back to me that there are plenty of people living in suburbs that one could create new meaningful relationships with—dude, can’t you make friends? Admittedly, I am not the most gregarious of folks, so I do have trouble interacting with new people on a general level. However, specifically, the traditional culture of gendered parenting in our society further complicates my ability to create new friendships. The fact that I’m a stay-at-home father in a sea of stay-at-home mothers creates a gendered zone of social awkwardness.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grass isn't always greener on the other side

I’m currently serving as chair for my department and one of my most time-consuming duties is finding qualified adjunct faculty to cover many of our department’s section offerings (we’re lucky in that I think it’s about a 50/50 ratio of full-time to adjunct). While I don’t particularly enjoy this part of the job, digging through resumes and emails reminds me of how much harder it is on the other side of the process. I really do feel for all of the potential instructors that I’m putting calls out to two weeks before the semester begins.

I adjunct taught at a full-time equivalent level for four years prior to gaining my current full-time, tenure track position. I clearly remember the anxiety over if I would be able to get enough courses to pay my bills I would debate with myself just how many campuses I could realistically teach to meet those needs. I also have vivid memories of injuries and illnesses that I so hoped were mild as I didn’t have any health insurance. I can also recall getting courses the week before the semester and having to prepare classes at lightspeed.

I am blissfully happy not to have those same worries now. However, I can’t forget them and will always empathize with the trials and tribulations of those great many still making a living as adjunct faculty members. And, with public budgets being slashed around the country, I can’t help but worry that my current cushy position might not be around forever.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some unoriginal thoughts about online education

I’m just wrapping up 12 weeks of online teaching over this summer—three sections in total. All in all, I’m exhausted…days filled with wrangling two children and nights filled with discussion boards and essays. While I can see some value in the online format (all students forced to write a lot and actually participate), I also think we are losing something important as education increasingly goes this route. Real teaching and learning does go on online, but it also seems like it further makes a college degree another commodity and not an experience that enriches human life (I know I’m sounding romantic here, but I do want to be idealistic about teaching and learning). The lack of face-to-face sociality seriously diminishes the significance of the process.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Sorrowful Authentic Self: A Reflection on Bad Parenting, Part II

In an earlier post, I wrote about how cars and suburbs have made modern parenting more difficult than it needs to be.  In that post, I noted how even though others built the world of cars and suburbs, those actions have made my parenting a difficult task.  As I reflected a bit on that post and other parenting frustrations, I came to appreciate how my very self was also constructed by others.  And in the first place, it was many selves, like myself, that built up the world of cars and suburbs that I originally started complaining about (I know that’s a confusing and/or crappy sentence, but I kind of like it and think it makes more sense once you’ve read the entire post).   All of the preceding verbal mess is my way of trying to express the whole notion of structure, agency and every other similar term used to describe how people build symbolic and material worlds and how those worlds in turn build people.