Friday, October 27, 2006

Just believe...

i was listening to the Prez last month during his Rose Garden press conference and i noticed that he seemed to be saying the word, "believe" quite a bit. being a proud member of the reality-based community, this made me wonder a couple of often did he use that word and what does that tell us about his approach to things?

well, we all know that he likes to use his "gut" to make decisions (actually, an interesting notion in lieu of an argument for bacterial intelligence; but really, to blame those little bugs for his decisions, does seem a bit unfair), doesn't really care much for facts, etc. so, being an empiricist, i decided to see what the data said about his use of a word that seems to support things like gut decision-making, faith, belief, etc. just stating the frequency of that one word (believe), however, can be misleading, so i also counted the number of times he used words that someone who is part of the reality-based community might use; here is what the data say:

believe 23
fact(s) 3
information 12

to be absolutely fair, i did remove from these totals any use of these word(s) out of the context i was looking for (talking about what other people "believe," the use of the word "fact" in the phrase, "matter of fact," etc.).

well, it happened again, the other day, i was listening to another press conference and noticed that he continued to use that word over and over again, so i did the same analysis; here are the data from that press conference (using the same exclusion method as described above):

believe 20
fact(s) 6
information 0

the reason that the use of the word information is less here is because the press conference held on 9-15-06 was specifically about the passage of the "toture bill" and how using those "aggressive methods" of interrogation would result in more and better information from the tortured folks, er, i mean the enemy combatants.

unequivocal proof of the "belief approach" over the "reality approach?" dunno, guess you can draw your own conclusions. certainly makes me wonder...and frightened.

Monday, October 16, 2006


I came across an interesting site today called, "TEDtalks"

"The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference is an annual event where leading thinkers and doers gather for inspiration. (More at The TEDBlog covers the same ground, on a rather more frequent basis."

There is a neat lecture by Dawkins here.
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Friday, September 29, 2006

It is finished...

With the signing of the "Torture Bill" into law, we will now officially have a dictatorship in the U.S. The President has demonstrated that he can effectively ignore, work around, whatever you want to call it, the Judicial Branch of the government; his party's complete control over the Congress assures him control of the Legislative Branch, and HE is in complete control of the Executive, so what's left to challenge, check and assure accountability? Nothing.

Once the bill is signed, he will be able to detain whomever, whenever, for however long, without letting anyone know. In other words, he will have the powet to "disappear" people as well as subject them to various forms of torture. All of this, of course will be legal.

In the past I have posted about not knowing what is like to live in a fascist country; I now need to amend that and say that I have always wondered what it is like to live under a fascist dictatorship...guess I will find out.

Given that daily life has continued virtually uninterrupted due to the masses remaining ignorant of this most recent development, I am sure I will not be able to tell much of a difference between post-dictatorship and pre-dictatorship.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

last bit of hell for awhile...

if the fundamental structure(s) of society do not change, then all we are simply doing is assisting previously un-privileged people become privileged. this is the current model of social change -- helping the "disadvantaged" (however that manifests) become "advantaged," i.e., privileged. we are not, however eliminating privilege. we will never do this until the structures that dole out privilege change. under the current model when we are successful in our efforts all we have
succeeded in doing is increasing the number of privileged people.

not a bad thing, as we know (and as all the data indicate) privilege has
it's advantages, that's why so many people want it.
even more hell!

i'm not referring to those who watch TV all the time, just those who do...consistently. in my estimation, for things to change, the very foundation of social organization must change. it cannot change, however, as there are those who are convinced that this organization is the best, the most civilized, etc. how does this view continue despite massive evidence to the contrary? one way is by the constant consumption of news, information, images, etc., that reinforces how great the organization is.

letting go of privileges is like letting go of one's own identity; not easily forsaken. i think we would have a chance at change if people could, for a period of time, get relief from the constant bombardment of notions about how great things are. one way to do that is to turn off their TV sets for, what, a year? can you imagine that? no one would do it, even if it meant that there was a really good chance of improving their situation. "take away my TV? that's, that's, jihadist!!!"

In the US, we are a hair's breadth away from legalizing torture. anyone upset? not really. those powerful people who want to see something different, are they able to do anything about it? apparently not as it is going to pass. we have, for all intents and purposes a dictatorship in the US, and life goes on gleefully, just so long as I can shop, shop, shop; no worries, mate.

let them eat cake has been replaced with a teflon Marie Antoninette who now espouses, "give them their X-boxes, their cell phones, their 165 channel cable TV, their GAP clothes, and let them continue to think that they are free in the land of liberty" while i usurp their power, trash
their constitution, and elude accountability -- all in full view of the entire goddamn world.

this is the model of morality presented by "the moral leader of the free world" and we think that the masses are going to what, rise up and demand something different? hell, no, college football is on and i am too damn tired from working all day.

here in the good old US of A, no one gives a goddamn about social change, about improving living conditions for others; at least not at the level that will make any REAL difference. sure, we'll donate money, do some volunteer work, write letters to the editor, talk about how there is no social justice in the world, but we will never actually create anything resembling an equal and just society because so many people are convinced that it ALREADY EXISTS here.

hell, we don't need nobody to brainwash us, we do it to ourselves, gleefully. Marx wouldn't have a chance in the world today, especially now that "we know that Marxism doesn't work, just look at what happened to the Soviet Union."
more hell

for anything to change barriers to inequality need to
be more than confronted, they need to be removed. not going to happen. i
truly cannot forsee that. in fact, i am unaware of any culture in which
there is no division, no categorization, no inequality. would love to
hear/read about one that is in existence today.

study revealed today that there are more TV's in American homes than
there are people in those same homes. it is estimated that the average
person watches about 3000 ads/day on a typical day. think about
it...that many TV's, bombarding people with propaganda about "the way
things are" day in, day out for years at a time. note my previous quote
about "...voluntarily accept this position as his or her own" -- the
mcmasses (ourselves included) consume these ideas, and accept them as
our own, despite the fact that they are simply one version of things.

consider the amount of $$ that is spent annually on advertising,
marketing, etc. check out The Merchants of Cool to get a sense of the
insidiousness of mass marketing.

in other words, there are people who are suffering due to structural
inequality (in its myriad manifestations) and will defend the very
structures that create and maintain that inequality to the death, THEIR
death, because they have accepted the "...position as [their] own."

Goebbels had nothing on Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Vivendi, and Disney.
welcome to hell

i think it is noble to consider new ways of assisting people; I have been trying this for years. Recently, though, I have to admit, I have been asking towards what purpose? Having new resources implies alleviation, not eradication; and if all we are doing is alleviating (not a bad thing in itself), then aren't we really colluding in the process of keeping the organizational constraints going? Again, not a new thought.

I am not convinced that people will act any differently just because they have more or new resources. There are many resources that are available today. I would further that thought by noting that many people may not know about them, may not see a reason to access them, etc., and so they never use them.

I think that this latter points speaks to social control; we are all under its' effects whether we acknowledge it or not. Social control serves to maintain the organization. It is irrelevant what the organization is, who it benefits, what the purpose is, social control(s) continue to maintain it. Ironically, social control lies in us, not in the ether somewhere. Seemingly, since it lies within us, it should be easy to change; but that's the rub, isn't it? It's not.

Certainly there are insitutional arrangements that work overtly toward its maintenance, but there are those other, covert mechanisms that are far more pervasive, subtle, and insidous. Those mechanisms are utlized each day, buy us, but how many of us recognize the part we play in the maintenance of the existing social order? The same order that requires new and innovative resources to counter its effects? How many of us pay attention to our own efforts to exert social control?

I do a lecture in my Intro class on propaganda; I reference "Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion." Note the following quote:

"Propaganda is the communication of a point of view with the ultimate goal of having the recipient of the appeal come to volunatarily accept this position as if it were his or her own."

Sound familiar? Internalization of cultural ideas, beliefs, norms, etc., that we "accept as if [they] were [our] own" — hmmm, we call that socialization, don't we? And once those ideas are "ours," we can become willing to die for them; pretty powerful stuff.

If we essentially, participate in our own collective restraint, and we are completely unaware that we are doing it, how is anything supposed to change? I don't see any practical way of accomplishing the structural changes that are needed to eradicate the need for alleviation.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Intelligent design…why it upon more thought seems to be neither

The ID folks claim that, for example, the human eye is too complex of an organ to have been shaped purely by evolutionary processes. Their claim is that the complexity of it is proof of some sort of divine intervention.

Not a bad thought on the surface, but think about it…God has the opportunity to intervene and make something related to humans better somehow. Why choose the eye? Or for that matter, any other sense? What is the value of improvement to senses? If God had the opportunity (and certainly, one would conclude that God has any opportunity God cares to have), wouldn’t S/He have chose something else to improve? Like our ability to get along with one another? How about intervening on our inherent selfishness and self-centeredness? Wouldn’t that have been a better, more “intelligent design?” Instead of programming us to be inherently selfish, why not program us to be more considerate of others? To be more compassionate? To be reinforced for behavior geared toward helping others?

So, out of all of these possibilities, to improve the human being, we are led to believe that God chose the human eye???? Just doesn’t make sense, especially if the God that many ID folks claim to be, the one true God is that of a Christian nature, whose greatest commandment was to “love others.” What good is a better eye when our most blatant, characterological flaw is selfishness and self-centeredness?

Friday, March 31, 2006

damn, liberal, trouble-making sociologists

Vietnam 2 Preflight Check.

where is David Horowitz when you need him???? Or those Bruin Alumni folk????
social control and institutions

can't say i disagree with this.

read this today and had to wonder about a couple of things...first, talk about utilizing human science to inform interventions; second, you know that these folks are collecting data on the outcomes of these strategies — I wonder if anyone will ever see the results? right? i mean, if they are doing this in the name of science (and i can't imagine someone with a behavioral science background NOT being at least VERY tempted to collect data), where do they publish the findings? seriously, if anyone knows, i would love to read about this; curious to see how they frame their ethics and their humanistic philosophy. hmmm, something tells me that they didn't have to get IRB approval to gather these data, either, if that is indeed what they are doing (in addition to the interventions, I mean).

i just wonder what some of the article titles would be...

"On the efficacy of extreme illicitation of fear response as a means of extracting information from unwilling subjects" or something of that nature; seems like the title alone would belie the violation of scientific ethics.

brief summary of what they are doing from the referenced (above) article:

"Now, just in case you've been living on Pluto for the past year or so, BISCUITS - Behavioral Science Consultation Teams - consist of military psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioral scientists, and other health care professionals. Their role, it has been charged by former Guantánamo interrogators, is to advise the military on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes using their medical records to find ways of exploiting their fears and phobias, to make them more cooperative and willing to provide information. In one example, published in the New York Times, 'interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.'"

Thursday, March 02, 2006

just !#$%^ do it!!!

my responses to three introductory questions from an e-conference i am participating in:

Q1 RE: related terms for the method?...I think the focus shouldn't be on the method and said definition, it should be on the outcome of the application of the method. WHY are we engaging in sustainability work? What is the purpose? I think that this is worthy of inclusive, definitional work, but defining the process that allows us to get to the outcome is secondary, if necessary at all. The difference, IMO is between an academic exercise (do we really need more of those?) and tangible outcomes.

Q2 RE: different trajectories?...this is where Luis' framework and the above suggestion come in. Having a clear, stated goal, an agreed upon framework and a commitment to adhere to that framework is what is necessary. Getting disparate people togther is not inherently problematic; in fact, it should be a strength. Entrenched difference only becomes a problem when project members do not adhere to the commitment to the framework.

Q3 RE: new form of science? new skills?...I don't think it matters what it is and what it is called - that is for a much later analysis and definitional process. What matters is whether or not it successfully pulls off the intended outcome. As to skills, sure there is necessity for different skill sets, and I would think that having people from different backgrounds would bring different skill sets to the project. The only new skill that I would forsee would be the ability to temporarily suspend prejudice (and ego as Luis says) and consider new ideas, new perspectives, etc. That and keeping the final outcome in mind when doing any work would be the only new skills that I could imagine.

Monday, February 27, 2006


the panopticon works; people do what is measured and don't do what is not observed. unless, of course, they are deviant-minded and then it is just the opposite.

the bottom line is that people do mind when they know they are being watched; this is how the collective conscience works. with the diversity of groups, the collective conscience is now going high-tech -- surveillance cameras, wire-tapping, videotaping, etc.

we think we are so smart and so free...
impeachment fatigue

i think one of the reasons the "I word" is not being discussed is because of the proximity of the last impeachment process. that, and i know that many in the halls of power (media included) realize that if an impeachment process took place, all hell would break loose. people, as a collective, would begin to see just how "seat of the pants" this whole damn democracy operates and would also lay bare all of the incestuous relationships between bidness and gover-ment.

people couldn't handle that kind of truth; the whole friggin country would go up in flames.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

seriously, am i the only one that this makes sense to????

(in response to a colleague about who decides on social interventions):

I won't attempt to reply on behalf of everyone (no pun intended) RE: who decides about the interventions. I will, however, argue that if we are a social scientific discipline that embraces a humanistic perspective, then we should advocate for and work towards realizing positive social change(s), IMO. We have a pretty good idea of what is best for the vast majority of people — health, nutrition, safety, opportunities, support, etc. — why not develop interventions to realize these in as broad a manner as possible? Certainly, we don't have to; we can be satisfied with just conducting research on the factors that contribute to their emergence and manintenance.

This, however, strikes me as similar to just studying viruses to see how they work and leaving it at that. "hmm, interesting how viruses work, let's look at bacteria, now" and stopping there. where would millions of people be today if researchers stopped right there?

The Scientist article is based on thorough analyses of the environment, what contributes to environmental degradation, and how WE contribute to environmental degradation. Sure, the McDonnell Group could have just stopped there..."yup, we're killing ourselves, environmentally; isn't that interesting? maybe i'll publish an article on it." I suspect because a) they are sane, b) they actually care about other people, and c) they feel a moral obligation to do something to try and prevent global, environmental collapse, they took the next step (which is where they bypassed us because we, as applied sociologists, do not have the next step) and decided to do something about it.

Stop and think about how people are "manipulated" by different agents daily, hourly, — watch "The Merchants of Cool" to get a visceral understanding of this process. hell, we are ALL brainwashed by our respective exposure to culture. Right now, we are self-destructing due to our engaging in "normal" habits, i.e., habits that are environmentally unsound, yet are popular and typical, and supported by the media, the gov't, by religion, etc. Makes sense to me to try and promote (social marketing is great at that, yes) alternative norms that might actually extend life on the planet a few more centuries.

lastly...i think it IS important to engage people in social change and include them in the process. i don't necessarily think it is so because of a moral reason, but because that increases the likelihood of the success of the endeavor.

I guess it comes down to people have the right to self-destruct? sure, watch any alcoholic drink him/herself to death. one alcoholic is not the problem, however, especially if s/he drinks him/herself to death in the privacy of his/her own home. when s/he gets behind the wheel of a car, then his/her problem is no longer personal; it becomes my concern, too.

Similarly, if there are compelling data that I and my collective partners are killing the environment (and ourselves in the process), isn't it wise to do something about it? of course we can self-destruct, we have the moral right to, but why should we? talk about "irrationality!"

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

common misconceptions

dawned on me the other day that i keep getting sucked into some common misconceptions. these have to do with the types of words that are used to describe a particular phenomena. so, to clarify for myself and to have a record of this so I won't forget (or rather, when i do forget to come back and remind myself), here are some corrections to common misconceptions:

mind is a verb
self is a verb
group is a verb
society is a verb
self is a verb
identity is a verb
personality is a verb

ah, much better.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

bad-mouthing my discipline again

(to a sociology list)...

I wanted to call to your collective attention, to an article written by a leading zoologist and evolutionary biologist (Paul Ehrlich and Simon A. Levin), entitled, "The Evolution of Norms," published in the Public Library of Science Biology Journal (see link below). It is a fascinating article (brief in length) about the evolution of social norms with an eye toward understanding the process so that some can be changed. Both Ehrlich and Levin fear the consequences of some unchecked social norms (WMD, environmental deterioration, global collapse, etc.).

I find it very interesting that two "natural" scientists are engaged in this kind of endeavor; I suspect that they don't think it is that unusual as they see it as an extension of human evolution, in which they are well-versed. They bring their best thinking, their best simulations and their best reasoning to bear on the problem.

Applied sociology? IMO, you bet, at its best. Do they mention sociologists anywhere in their article? No. Why? IMO, because we have current connection to "evolution" nor anything having to do with the biology of humans. Our loss, IMO.

From an evolutionary perspective, what is occurring? Scientists are adapting to the changing social environment, posting new ideas for new problems. Which scientific perspective will survive? Dunno...but ultimately, it will in all likelihood be that perspective that is best suited to the environment. And, what is that environment? "Science-speak," both popular and professional, and are we "household names" in science speak? Not in the reading that I am doing.

So, are we modern-day Neandertals?

The link to the article (.pdf) is here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Practicing Sociology Podcast

I have started interviewing sociological practitioners and rendering the interviews as podcasts. So far, I have one completed and posted; another interview completed that needs editing and four or five others lined up.

The URL for the site is here.

If you have any ideas for a show, recommendations for the site, etc., feel free to drop me a line.


my son has come up with a new phrase...whammer-saucer! you can say it in reference to just about anything -- a person, an object, an action, a whatever.

Feel free to use it as you wish; the correct way to say it is with much enthusiasm, hence the exclmation point at the end (this is a requirement whenever you write the phrase).

If you say it and someone says, "what's that?" just roll your eyes and shake your head and walk away; they'll get the picture.

You can also say it when alone, it's fun.

remember, you read it here first.


Friday, January 06, 2006

rewarding craving

i realized this morning that craving and the satiation of craving are two entirely different phenomena and don't have the relationship with each other that we think they do.

sating a craving is NOT actually sating anything, it is actually reinforcing craving as a behavior. craving can never be sated as it is merely a sensation; it arises due to conditioning, and is reinforced when "rewarded" with the object of desire.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

now, there's an idea!

(from a list; me talking)...

makes sense to me; i think that the approach shouldn't be, "look at what sociology can do for you and your students," though. really, what we need is to have the ENTIRE discipline adopt an "applied" perspective. if you stop and think about it, all serious scientific disciplines have an inherent "applied" aspect to them. this is the product of the enlightenment — we want to understand things so we can change/manipulate them.

we seem to be content to just "study" how things change; we really need to take the next step and then utilize that knoweldge to DO something. i and others have argued that sociology is a humanistic endeavor; as such, the manner and direction of change is in the improvement of the human condition.

A colleague argued at a recent SAS meeting that we need to re-embrace evolution as part of our perspective. I agree entirely; i also agree that we need to understand how our science fits in with the other sciences. if we don't understand the links, what we can offer, how we can fit into the dominant paradigm, then we will be left behind. i think we have been left behind already to some extent. whenever i read popular literature and/or news, and they are discussing human endeavors, they inevitably mention psychologists, anthropologists, biologists, geneticists, etc. rarely, if ever do i hear about sociologists in that mix.

imo, we are not considered because we have become so "disembodied" from the study of humans — what the hell are they? we're interested in systems, processes, institutions, etc. most of the people i come in contact with really don't care about that stuff — they care about themselves, their family, their workers, their colleagues, etc. in other words, they care about "humans" — maybe it is time for us to do the same thing. we can still be concerned with the social at that level (as well as all the other stuff); what we need to do is frame our findings in ways that people can immediately use/apply.

we lost much credibility with our embracing of post-modernism, hermenuetics, narratives, etc. personally, i love that stuff and think it is quite compelling — all of it has certainly influenced my thinking and still does. we lost the masses when we went with it to the exclusion of other things that they could readily understand.

sometimes it appears to me that we are a discipline in search of a purpose; i think we should understand that our purpose is to be a humanistic social science that investigates social reality, discerns sociological principles, and then tells people how to use them to improve their lives.