Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm fighting terrorism as hard as I can...

As always, the Simpsons have made my point far better than I ever could. Here's a verbatim quote as best as I can remember it of Homer discussing the new anti-bear patrol the city enacted in a fit of hyperbolic fear after a single sighting of a bear in town. (Let it be noted this occurred long before 9/11. They're just prescient that way.) Anyway, the following conversation took place between Homer and Lisa (from the seminal 7th-season episode "Much Apu About Nothing"):

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is working like a charm!
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: [clearly not understanding the term "specious"] Thank you, honey.
Lisa: By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Hmm. How does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock!
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But you don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: (pause) Lisa, I'd like to buy that rock of yours.

The point, to ram it home even more ham-fistedly, is that just because something is not happening does not mean that what we're doing is preventing it. Take homeland security, for example. We've had no terrorist attacks since it was created, but a logical person could argue that this is because terrorist attacks against America are extremely rare (there are really only 3-4 such acts in that past 100 years).

But you'd be wrong to think they're doing nothing, for our homeland security forces are busy at work protecting us from promotional stunts for trippy late-night cartoon shows.

This reminds me well of a situation my pop was forced to endure only a few years back. In the super-afraid-of-our-shadows year or two immediately after 9/11, my father, humble local high-school chemistry teacher in No Where, IA, was forced to take three days away from teaching to undergo Homeland Security training on how to recognize a nuclear weapon.

It's simply impossible to list all of the reasons why this is fucking ridiculous, but they range from the fact that most people in Iowa don't even know where Fort Dodge is to the fact that I know for damn sure no one in that town has the wherewithal to spell the term "nuclear" correctly, let alone build such a device.

But in the end, I suppose this should make us all happy, for it proves that we have no starving children, or uninsured workers, or any other cause that we need to use that money for. Meanwhile, I have this rock that I think Homeland Security officials would be very interested in purchasing...

Monday, January 29, 2007

I bet my sociological winning percentage is at least .657

Unfortunately, sociologists are obsessed with rank. I say unfortunately because we know better than that. Ranking people on things as qualitatively impossible to compare as educational and professional achievement is not only an incredibly suspect practice in every field, but we of all people should know better. There is little more than depressing than spending your undergrad career learning that standardized tests in no way predict academic performance, but instead are only correlated with parental income and are used in a variety of racist, sexist, and classist* ways to reproduce current power structures, and then have to take the GRE to get into grad school.

But it most certainly does not stop in admittance. In grad school we're all ranked against one another such that we may fight each other like wild dogs for limited funding. Then we jockey for position to get the best job, and then begin the life-long process of tearing down those around us to make ourselves look better by comparison, though some profs who shall remain nameless are much better at this than other profs who don't, say, talk to students like children or write them really nasty e-mails that they have to apologize for a couple of days later on regular occasion. And it's not just individuals, but institutions as well. For example, we here at the U are trying ever-so-desperately to crack the elusive top-10, so that we may all feel better about ourselves, I guess.

In all of this, though, very little is ever said about what determines these various rankings. How do you compare undercover ethnography at a weaponry convention to something like the highly complex statistical models run by a guy named Stinky? I certainly could never run those equations and programs (or even understand them), but I also like to think he'd have a heck of time doing what I do.

The point is, you can't really compare them. It'd be like comparing apples and cats, both of which are pretty useless to begin with.

Perchance this is why baseball seems to be the preferred sport amongst academics (if such a thing indeed exists), and not just because it's the nerdiest of the major sports. In baseball, you can clearly compare and rank players. You can figure stats for everything in existence, from batting average to earned run average, to my new favorite, the Win Probability (for an excellent discussion of win probability and a calculation for every player in professional baseball, check out this site). These kind of things make it quite easy to rank baseball players. For example, I know that Joe Mauer is a worthwhile backstop because he boasts the best batting average in the major leagues and a pretty darn good fielding average. I think I'd take him in a draft over Ken Caminiti, and not just for the drug reasons, and pretty much everyone would agree with me.

So until they find me a Sociological Win Percentage (S.W.P.) that can calculate the likelihood of an individual coming through with a clutch publication when a department really needs it, or who can finish a book that can bring home the sociological pennant, I don't think I can give any credence to the bullshit that will determine the rest of my life.

But when they do come up with the S.W.A., I'll be in line for some phat-ass paychecks, because we all know I'm the most clutch sociologist this side of Howie Becker.

*Ironically, while bemoaning a society that doesn't recognize class-divisions, the spell-check on blogger refuses to acknowledge "classist" as a least it's not just sociologists who are blind, I guess

Monday, January 22, 2007

Time to learn how to be a man

Whenever my pop and I are about to do some stereo-typically masculine activity, like working on the car or chopping wood, Dad will always preface it by saying "Come on, time to learn how to be a man," which is really funny, given that my dad always eschewed your standard masculinity constraints. It was more his way of making a mildly funny joke, but also a bit of a commentary on the way most fathers around our parts acted toward their children.

Well, this weekend I took another great stride toward learning how to be a man. A few friends and I went up north not too far from the ol' Wozniak farmstead to go ice fishing. I don't know what it is about going up north that I love so much; maybe it's just the lure of childhood memories or maybe it's some sort of odd, Jeffersonion desire to re-connect with the land, but in any case, there's very few places on earth I'd rather be.

But more to the point, we spent a small amount of time ice-fishing, the first time I had ever done so without my pop. And I realized much to my chagrin that I had never learned how to take a fish off a hook, seemingly a big part of fishing. All these years I had just aimed the end of my pole and the attached fish at Dad and he's take it from there.

Seeing as no one I was with was willing to fill-in the paternalistic care role, I was forced to finally learn to do for myself. And although it was my good buddy's husband instead of my dad teaching me how to do it, I couldn't help but feel that I had taken a significant step in the right direction.

Now if I have children someday I can teach them how to be men. Or at least take their fish off the hook for them.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Where's my Steve Van Zandt?

I've often joked that I'd like to be Art Garfunkel more than anyone else in history. While he contributed basically nothing to the project (look at any Simon and Garfunkel album and he co-wrote one song, at best), he is half of arguably the most famous musical duo of the 20th century.

But I was never that serious, it was just a play on the fact that I'd rather cruise through life living off the success of others than do anything meaningful myself, an overly-cynical expression of my youthful angst, I suppose.

However, the other day, I realized I don't want to be Art Garfunkel. I want to be Bruce Springsteen.

The earth-shattering realization actually came to me while listening to a John Frusciante solo album. For all intents and purposes, Frusciante is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But nobody outside of music nerds knows who he is; rather, everyone knows who Anthony Keadis is, the man who brings nothing to the table but meandering and meaningless lyrics.

Much the same can be said of Springsteen, though not to the same degree. I mean, I love the Boss as much as the next fella, but we gotta admit, if it weren't for Steve throwing down on some good lead guitar. Bruce pretty much just brings the heartfelt lyrics and gruff and tumble good looks, all of which I love, but without the rest of the E Street Band, he'd be just another dude in a coffee shop strumming the guitar.

So I've determined that I can pull that off. I'm ok with the pen, I can strum a few chords, and if I can grow facial hair someday, I could have grizzled good looks as well. All I really need is a much more talented by not a attention-starved band mate to carry me to glory.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back in business...sort of

Been on a big break from blogging lately, but unlike most things in my life, this one is not due to laziness. Rather, of the many new improvements to blogger, the fact that you can apparently not use it anymore on a Mac is by far my favorite. As such, I can only blog when I'm at the office, and I'm not at the office during break, so you see my predicament.

I survived going home to No Where, IA, but it was a close one. I mean, I really love spending time with my folks, I just wish they lived somewhere else. What probably hurt the most about going back there (besides the complete cultural vacuum) is the fact that I really felt like Zach Braff in Garden State. I had it all--the emotional emptiness, the use of anything I could ingest to take me from reality, the hanging out with old friends who can best be described as friends of geographic convenience, all of it. Except, of course, for the cute girl to fall in love with and teach me the meaning of life while pulling me from my existential angst. All in all, it's kind of a kick in the pants to have a life that so closely parallels a mediocre-at-best movie that's ruined by the third reel.

But I did get some kick-ass presents, and as we all know, the accumulation of material objects is the only point to my life, so I'm happy now. I'm now the proud owner of digital camera. And before you think I'm so very bourgeois now, I'll let you know that the last camera I owned was a 110 millimeter that required the external long-packs of flashes that came 8 to a stick. It goes to show you how old-school I am for a 24 year old.

My pop also fixed the giant hole in my dash in the way only he can. It really is a work of beauty, but you simply have to see it to believe it. Maybe I'll post a picture of it with my fancy new digital camera, but for now, suffice to say that that man can do anything with a 2x4 and spare parts.

Oh, and in current events, we just lost the 3,000 American and God only knows how many Iraqis. And the anti-war movement was right about everything. But certainley pulling out troops out now would be foolish, because the invasion is doing so much good for them and the Iraqi people.