Michael Hirschorn’s take-down of ‘contemporary quirk’ (i.e., Flight of the Conchords, Arrested Development, Wes Anderson, McSweeney’s, etc.) in the Atlantic Monthly hits pretty close to home, gives better analysis to the little voice in the back of my head, and pricks my guilt. It’s not all correct (check out This American Life’s episode on counting the deaths of Iraqi), but it’s very close. It also includes an interesting formulation of my discipline:

[This American Life] as has been apparent for years, is really the opposite of documentary reportage. It’s more like sociology, wherein the paradigm is set and specific circumstances are nipped, tucked, torqued, and squeezed until they fit the theme.

Well, at least a particular version of sociology. Hmpf. Anyway, as to the power of radio as a medium–and a counterexample to Hisrchorn’s argument–listen to the TAF episode on counting Iraqi deaths.

things to read in class


I try my best to nurture critical thinking though ‘outside’ readings in my classes: by matching up newspaper articles with theories and class assignments. It’s not always a perfect fit, but I like it. I call it the ‘Law & Order’ (cha-chung!) part of the course, because it is ‘ripped from today’s headlines.’ If interested, here are some of the readings for my Theory class:

General: ‘The Black Swan,’ First Chapter, New York Times
W/Marx: ‘CEO pay: 364 Times More Than Workers,’ CNN Money
W/Marx: ‘Should We Globalize Labor Too?,’ New York Times
W/Marx: ‘Captive Labor,’ The American Prospect
W/Weber: ‘Catholic Spirit and the Ethic of Consumerism,’ Jenn Lena’s Blog, What is the What?
W/Weber: ‘Review of A Farewell to Alms,’ New York Times
W/Weber: ‘Inside Scientology,’ Rolling Stone
W/Durkheim: ‘System Failure,’ Boston Globe
W/Durkheim: ‘Increased Suicides on Indian Reservations,’ New York Times
W/Durkheim: ‘The Politics of God,’ New York Times
W/Simmel: ‘The Real Transformers,’ New York Times
W/Veblen: ‘Rich Countries, Poor People,’ New York Times
W/Veblen: ‘Are Your Jeans Sagging? Go Directly to Jail,’ New York Times
W/Veblen: ‘We’re All Freaks Here,’ New York Times
W/?: ‘Haven’t You Heard? Men Gossip Too,’ The Seattle Times

For my SOC 101, I am using a slightly more dowdy set, opting for the heavy hitters (i.e., Twain, Mencken, Stein, Stephen Jay Gould, Langston Hughes, T. S. Eliot, etc.) and forgoing timeliness by using The Best American Essays of the Century. The Twain reading, ‘Corn-Pone Opinions‘ paired with C. Wright Mills’ ‘The Promise,’ made for fantastic first week discussion.

summer reading & jobs

academica, culture, reading

As the summer comes to an end, I do feel a lament over the things that I never got to read. I won’t offer a third rate Polysyllabic Spree, but I will say that I was lucky enough to get through Colson Whitehead’s fabulous John Henry Days, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Alan Weisman’s fun, peopleless thought experiment, The World Without Us, Harry Potter #7, and Don Quixote. Quite the mix. I was, however, fortunate enough to stay with my fabulous landlords in Madrid, on the street where Cervantes lived and wrote the latter book (a few blocks from the Prado), to add to the resonance of the experience. Interesting story: Cervantes lived on Calle de Lope De Vega, a street that was named for a famous contemporary of Cervantes. The two of them didn’t care for each other, and Cervantes apparently wrote in dozens of under-the-radar digs on the more upper crust De Vega (who was no slouch,cervantes writing 1,500 to 2,500 plays during his lifetime). The last laugh was on Cervantes, whose name now graces the street that De Vega lived on, whose house we toured. I just squeezed in two last books (yes, on Labor Day): Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian and F.M. Cornford’s 1908 Microcosmographica Academica (‘A Study of a Tiny Academic World’). The latter is a short screed on academic life. There are a few nice lines in it, and it’s pretty timeless. Here’s a line about academic posturing and jobs:

This most important branch of political activity is, of course, closely connected with Jobs. These fall into two classes, My Jobs and Your Jobs. My Jobs are public-spirited proposals, which happen (much to my regret) to involve the advancement of a personal friend, or (still more to my regret) of myself. Your Jobs are insidious intrigues for the advancement of yourself and your friends, speciously disguised as public-spirited proposals. The term Job is more commonly applied to the second class. When you and I have, each of us, a job on hand, we shall proceed to go on the Square.

I’ll just post that with only this comment: I find it depressing that Cornford saw this text as a guide to the young academic, and that by 35 one becomes too “complacent and, in turn, become the oppressor.” Alas, it’s almost too late before I’ve had a chance! You can read the entirety–which includes a few nice lines about ‘the principle of the wedge’ and discussions on academic bugbears here.