A conundrum is emerging that confounds my understanding, limited as it may be, of politics and economics. [Read more →]
A conundrum is emerging that confounds my understanding, limited as it may be, of politics and economics. [Read more →]
Dallas is a great city. In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve watched new parks, festivals and other community unifiers sprout up weekly. But, I like to be realistic about the negatives. I have fun criticizing what I deem stupid. This post’s target: Dallas valet parking. It’s excessive and dare I say, wrong (I do). The rest of Texas views Dallas as pretentious, and it’s not without reason.
Before moving to Dallas I never gave valet parking a second thought. I understood it. Valet parking shows a touch of class. In other cities, it exists in places where parking is scarce or distant. Valet parking for restaurants in crowded cities is great because you don’t have to drive around for an hour and then get towed or pay a fine when you don’t make it back in time (I’m talking to you Philadelphia!).
At around 7:15am every weekday, two whiny children run down the street making enough noise to wake the dead. Only, the dead are dead, so they just wake the living. They drag or ride some sort of hard plastic vehicle, like a wagon or a tricycle. I’ve never actually looked to see what it is, for fear that I might be tempted to shout profanity-laced threats of violence out of a window at children (not an entirely humorless idea, but one that tends to be frowned upon by society). But if you’re familiar with the sound, you know that hard plastic on a sidewalk is not a quiet rumbling, but rather, a sound similar to what you might hear if you were to eat a handful of sand while someone gently played a drum roll on your head with the bottom of their fists.
It happened again today. [Read more →]
When I first became a vegetarian, I decided it was more important to withhold financial support from the meat industry than to be a stickler about diet. I wasn’t ready then (or now) to become an activist against the meat sellers by holding protests or burning down slaughterhouses. I felt that a vegetarian is defined by living primarily on a vegetarian diet and not by the absolute absence of meat.
I recently picked up a non-fiction book called Generation Me. I wasn’t expecting a monumental work, but about fifty pages in I set it aside in boredom and disgust. Bamboozled again, by my old nemesis: pop scholarship.
What is pop scholarship? Let’s break it down.
The author proposes a vague, generic ‘thesis’: the twilight of American culture, the “tipping point” of trends and fads, the American dream meeting American medicine, and so on. It’s not really a thesis so much as a catchphrase.
The next step is for the author to gather data and evidence for his ahem, thesis. But that takes a lot of work, so what really happens is that the author reads a few books on a similar topic and calls that research. Toss in some Wikipedia and a few journal articles for good measure, and presto! A bibliography. As far as statistics in pop scholarship: well, as the joke goes, “I never meta-analysis I didn’t like.”
By the way, when you read pop scholarship, take note that while there is a “Notes” section at the back of the back, there are no footnotes or endnotes actually in the text. Why not? Well, for one, the author and/or publisher is afraid that a potential reader will be turned off by seeing superscript numbers that correspond with the source of information. Second, when your research is shallow and shoddy and your sources reflect that, it makes sense to make it difficult for readers to keep tabs.
Anyway, once the research is gathered, it’s time to write. Actually, many of these works aren’t written at all: they’re dictated, which is why the prose of pop scholarship often sounds so colloquial or dumbed-down. Still, the authors are wily, and if they sense they’ve gone too far, even for pop scholarship, out come the academic buzzwords or jargon (anything containing “paradigm” or “gender roles” are especially handy).
But finally the drafting is done. Whew. Unfortunately, the manuscript is barely long enough for a good, in-depth magazine article, let alone a book. And this is another point about pop scholarship books. Most of them aren’t books at all. They’re simply bloated articles or blog entries sold as books. Of course, readers don’t realize this until long after the credit card is approved.
Back to the writing process, though. How can the author pump their flimsy essay into a book? Bring on the filler.
And this filler is the most offensive aspect of these “lite” non-fiction works. The pages sag with miniature book reviews, movie synopses, factoids, annoying repetition, newly-minted useless acronyms, and personal anecdotes, rather than primary-source data, investigative reporting, apt analogies and genuine insight. Generation Me is especially shameless with its never-ending TV and movie recaps, which make for delicious irony given the author’s griping about modern-day attention spans. In fact, an Amazon customer review from “Sam B” – and these reviews are usually the only honest ones of pop scholarship – points this out trenchantly:
While the beginning of the book is made up of one insight after another backed up by some quality and unique research, the rest of the book is one point of hearsay after another backed up by quotes from Dawson’s Creek and Teen magazines. Seriously! I was shocked that a supposed academic would use dialogue from a television show as insight into a generation, and then have the audacity to call it “research”. She would actually use fictional television dialogue to lend support to her analysis. If she hoped to define a generation, a lot more is needed than pop culture references.
The obituary of Robert H. Bork in The New York Times (Dec. 20 2012) notes that, “In a 1971 article in The Indiana Law Journal, [Bork] argued that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech had been wildly extrapolated beyond the intent of the Constitution’s framers. In a starkly narrow interpretation, he said free speech existed to perpetuate the process of self-government; therefore, he wrote, only explicitly political speech about governing was protected.” That is indeed a tortured reading. Explicitly political speech about governing could be construed as narrowly as speech about whether the Senate should change the filibuster rule. To Hell with freedom of speech about everything else. But there is a striking comparison between Bork’s First Amendment and the Second Amendment as it relates to the recently re-ignited gun-control debate. The Second Amendment has indeed been “wildly extrapolated” by the gun lobby beyond its original intent. The crucial difference is this: the limited original intent of the Second Amendment is clear, and is thrown into relief by the massive social and technological changes since it was written, whereas the narrow reading of the First Amendment is almost certainly not the intended one, nor is that amendment so antiquated. [Read more →]
Those who know me know this is continuing struggle of mine: music played at cafes.
I was recently at a cafe, OCF on South St, and the music was spectacularly bad. When I arrived it was thumping techno — not electronica or lounge — TECHNO. After a little while I approached the barista and semi-tactfully explained that the music was intrusive, poorly-selected, and too loud for the cafe. So he changed it, to a mix of…
…calypso music. I’m not joking. I thought he was, at first, to spite me, but no, he was serious. That’s what hipsters do. They tend shop at cafes in ironic ugly Christmas sweaters, playing calypso.
But at least the calypso was pretty soft and not too offensive, even if it made no sense to play it on a freezing cold December day. Once that mix was over, the playlist of fail continued:
- Electronica, none of which was listenable
- The full “Loveless” album by My Bloody Valentine. Now this is an “important” album and I get that. It’s overrated, though, because Kevin Shields’s legendary perfectionism and layering process makes the sound more muddled than it should be. Hence how good Japancakes’s cover (of the whole album) sounds. Regardless, anyone who knows MBV knows it’s not cafe music.
- Drone music
You read that right, too. Drone music. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Like a blog entry wwwwwwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiittttttttteeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnn lllllllllllliiiiiiiiiiikkkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeee ttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiissssssssss.
Dear Professional Athletes (five in particular),
It would be entirely unreasonable of me to expect that all professional athletes follow When Falls the Coliseum and are currently reading this. However, I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to assume most of you do. So if those of you reading would be so kind as to aid the proliferation of this message by directing to it those few lost colleagues who clearly struggle with identifying worthy internet readings, it would be greatly appreciated. Now, to the point…
There is an epidemic sweeping your industry that needs to be stopped (and I’m speaking specifically to you, Shaquille O’Neil, Michael Vick, Dwight Howard, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III): you cannot all be Superman.
It would serve them right.
Republicans, who have done everything in their power to tilt this and recent elections by denying people access to the polls based on fraudulent claims of voter fraud, richly deserve to lose this one. (Admittedly, in forty years I have voted for a Republican only once, when the Democrat was under indictment.) I suspect that on Tuesday President Obama will win a popular majority nationwide as well as in the Electoral College. But there’s a more than slim chance that the President will lose the popular vote but win in the Electoral College. And after the national disgrace of the 2000 election – and the ongoing disgrace of Republican voter suppression efforts – it would serve them right. [Read more →]
Watching the two national conventions, I’ve tried as a thought experiment to imagine what it’s like to be a Republican. Not a snarling right-wing Limbaugh type, but a moderate, libertarian conservative who believes in small government and dignity for all – the kind of Republican that once defined the GOP. Like some of my Republican friends, many of whom voted for Obama in 2008. And in so doing, I find myself confronted by two doomsday fears. [Read more →]
The Olympics are finally finished. Last time we dissected the first week of action from a point of view highly more sophisticated than NBC, or anybody else for that matter. Now it is time to break down the second week of action, and ponder some final thoughts for London 2012.
The dominant story of week one was Michael Phelps. The dominant story of week two was Michael’s conceited evil twin brother Usain Bolt. Bolt won the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m for the second Olympics in a row. But he was such a prick in doing so, I could hardly watch. After winning the 200m, he did pushups on the track in front of the other runners. Just a few minutes later, with his slobbering NBC groupies, he self-proclaimed himself a legend and one of the greatest athletes of all time. [Read more →]
I am cynical of the Olympics for 3.95 years out of every Olympic cycle. I remember well that the events are obscure, the clichés are hyperbolic, and the coverage is amateur. Then once it starts, I admit I cannot look away. There is something about international competition and around the clock multi-venue multi-channel coverage that is just addicting.
This is not to say that my reasons for being cynical are unfounded. Trust me there is plenty to make fun of. But there is plenty to appreciate too. In the next week you will see, hear, and read plenty of commentary on the Olympics, but none so profound as the kind you will find in the Olympic Coliseum. Let us take a look after one full week. [Read more →]
This is my first summer without hamburgers; no hot dogs on my grill, no chicken or shrimp on my shish kabob. I’ve quit eating meat. Now, before you stop reading and dismiss this as yet another victory for the tenderhearted but unrealistic vegetarians, the healthy but wimpy hippies– hear me out. [Read more →]
All politics aside – or most of it, anyhow – President Obama’s decision to stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants was long overdue. It was a cruel policy that diminished all Americans. And hopefully this move is the beginning of a long-term trend toward a sane immigration policy. By “sane” I mean one that judiciously bars the door to some, opens it at least part-way to many, and offers a pathway to citizenship that Americans can be proud of and makes us a stronger as well as a better country. Yes, stronger. [Read more →]
Last night I dreamt of you, Abbie Hoffman peddling your books, I gave five bucks to you, the other kids just gave you dirty looks.
I said “I’m sorry it didn’t work out quite the way you planned.”
You said, “That’s silly boy, the revolution is at
Last night I dreamt of you, Pepe Lopez strung out on a stage, It don’t even look like you, smiling like sawed-off twenty gauge.
I still remember the
Telecaster down around your knees,
It’s late November and I think I smell tequila on the
And if you got the Cuervo honey, I got the lime,
These are desperate,
And if you got the shotgun honey, I got the crime,
desperate, desperate times.–Rhett Miller
I’ve been too busy dealing with family issues to write or think or do anything really coherent of late. [Read more →]
One look at me, and it’s obvious that food is a big – perhaps TOO big – part of my enjoyment of life. That includes my time on the move, traveling, which I’m preparing to do later this month. Looking at our itinerary, I’m already looking forward to making a couple of stops at places I’ve seen on the Travel Channel.
TC has three shows on their prime time lineup devoted largely to food at various locations around the country and around the world. Two of them – Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” – are really, REALLY good, and encourage me to set my feet and my palate along the paths they have followed. Then there’s then there’s Adam Richman’s “Man vs. Food” … oh, well – two outta three ain’t bad.
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These are thoughts I’ve addressed before … but somehow they gained a new relevance for me, a new perspective after Rick Perry – our state’s governor – tossed his hat into the ring, seeking the Republican party’s nomination for President of the United States. And while that candidacy has long since come and gone, some of its impact still resonates within me. More than once Governor Perry used the states’ rights (some would say ‘secessionist’) rhetoric that has endeared him to so many here in the Lone Star State, encouraging that ‘Austin versus Washington’ or ‘Texas versus the rest of you guys’ attitude that still has its staunch defenders.
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When you’re working in a group, it’s hard to know what you truly think. We’re such social animals that we instinctively mimic others’ opinions, often without realizing we’re doing it. And when we do disagree consciously, we pay a psychic price. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”
Take the example of brainstorming sessions, which have been wildly popular in corporate America since the 1950s, when they were pioneered by a charismatic ad executive named Alex Osborn. [Read more →]