Tea Party activism, electoral success, and terrorism

Eric Cantor, as you know by now, lost a primary election to economics professor Dave Brat. Brat is, by all accounts I’ve read, “Tea Party backed.” The Tea Party isn’t a political party like we typically think, but rather a well funded social movement of sorts. Not being a party like the Democrats or Republicans, its organizational structure is rather diffuse, with a number of small, local organizations across the U.S.

In general, Tea Party organizations that identify as such promote small government and lower taxes. They don’t like ‘Obamacare’ and want it repealed. Many websites of ‘Tea Party’ groups promote strong defense of the 2nd amendment (well defense of one interpretation of it, really). Many Tea Party groups (though not all) oppose recent proposals for immigration reform that call for amnesty – forgiving entering the country illegally for immigrants who are already in the U.S. (see an old post of mine about why borders are bad – this professor won’t be getting any Tea Party backing).

The Democrats have the Donkey and the GOP the Elephant. Does the Tea Party have a symbol? Again, because the movement isn’t strongly centralized, there isn’t an official emblem. However, the Gadsden Flag, or the ‘Don’t Tread on Me Flag’ commonly appears at Tea Party rallies and on web pages, etc. Fox News ran a story last winter about the popularity of ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ license plates in Virginia demonstrating the strength of the Tea Party movement. It’s not unreasonable, it seems, to give the Tea Party the rattle snake.

Brat does seem to walk the Tea Party line. A look at his issue positions shows he wants to defund Obamacare, wants a balanced budget amendment, wants to ‘secure the borders’ and rejects amnesty, and calls himself a strong supporter of gun rights. He told Fox News (I think Sean Hannity) that he was happy for Tea Party support. A web forum at ‘The Last Refuge’ was full of celebratory posts cheering the Tea Party victory, including gifs of the Gadsden Flag and hopeful calls for the end of ‘amnesty for illegals’ and calling Cantor ‘Mr. Amnesty.’ So, a quick look at responses on the internet seems to show Tea Party folks very happy about the win, Brat was thankful for Tea Party support, and the media narrative is certainly that this is an electoral win for the Tea Party. (To see the page Google search ‘last refuge, Brat wins’- I don’t want to link to it. As of 1 am June 11 the post “Update #4 – Dave Brat Wins!!!!” had 182 responses).

Is the Tea Party just an electoral force? We know the movement is diffuse and its members choose a number of ways to express their displeasure with established authority. Do we see other forms of participation in political and civil society? For example, in Las Vegas last week two terrorists shot two police officers and then draped their dead bodies in the Gadsden flag. Is this Tea Party terrorism? There is not a centralized movement to claim responsibility, and Tea Party activists will certainly deny it. However, terrorism is violence aimed at political ends, and the shooters chose a symbol of the Tea Party movement and representatives of the government as targets. It fits a Tea Party narrative.

Finally, just last week I was driving around and noticed this pair of decals on a car.

wpid-wp-1402455620883.jpeg

Tea Party activism via decal?

Here we see the Statue of Liberty holding a gun on top of the outline of the United States made up of the phrase “Fuck Off We’re Full.” Never mind the engraving on the Statue of Liberty’s pedastal:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

To the contrary, the driver of this car appears to be promoting a well armed defense of America’s borders to keep out, well, anyone not already here. Again, this strikes me as activism, in the civic sphere, that nicely fits the Tea Party tenets of gun rights and secure borders, two of the points that seem to have helped Brat beat Cantor in Virginia.

So, in the last week I’d say I’ve seen Tea Party action in civic life, as terrorism, and now in electoral politics.

The biggest big data: qualitative observation

Sometimes I wish sociologists would write and share detailed observations of brief public moments. These vignettes could be compiled into a large data set others could use for analysis. It’d be qualitative big data. Obviously the data we’d record would be influenced by our background conceptual knowledge and interests, but what data isn’t? This could be the biggest big data set ever established.

Here’s an example:

Today I was walking through a public space; a park. In the park, which is a large, flat swath of grass without much else, there were two softball games being played. These games weren’t being played on formal softball diamonds, but rather on make-shift diamonds set up with small orange cones. Others who were enjoying the park were walking through the grass, generally following an informal path along where the two improvisational outfields merged. I walked between the two games, and then stopped to watch for a few minutes.

As I stood on a sidewalk that wrapped around the park, a group of young men, probably in their mid twenties, walked past. They pointed to a location directly across the park, between the two games, to indicate that was their destination. They also noticed the two games, and I heard one of them say ‘they’re playing softball, we shouldn’t walk through.’ He hadn’t seen the others walking through I guess, so they followed the sidewalk as one of them mentioned taking the ‘longer way.’

In the back of the group, one of the men said to everybody, “that’s ok, some of us could use it!” He then turned and smiled to the man next to him, the heaviest set of the group, who replied “what’s that supposed to mean?” The first man, who had made the comment, laughed, leaned over and grabbed the second man’s shoulders. The look on the second man’s face, however, was one of shame and embarrassment, not a laughing smile.

**

I’m sure I’ve done more interpretation in this short observation than I’d like, but I tried to keep it as descriptive as possible. How would you make sense of it?

Cottonwood seeds, my dad, and me: 20 years and a day after a funeral

I wasn’t going to write a post about the 20 year anniversary of my dad’s death. That was on May 15th. I thought I might write about the 20 year anniversary of his funeral, which was on May 19th. Reflecting on the funeral ritual and tying it to my own identity development, I thought, might be reasonable sociology content for whatever my blog is becoming. I also thought it would probably be more personal and self indulgent than I feel like being right now, so I was going to let the anniversaries pass without comment.

Then, this morning, May 20th, I was driving to our district high school to vote on the school budget. I was imagining some snarky tweets like “I vote yes in school budget elections just to piss off the Syracuse.com ‘cut my taxes’ crowd.” I was mentally crafting some pretty terrific tweets as I turned on to Grand Avenue and headed for the school when the windblown cottonwood seeds engulfed my car and entered the open windows.

My dad used to say, as best I remember the saying*, “when the cottonwood’s a-flying, the fish are a bitin’.” I think he fished less than he would have liked, but I actually have a good number of fishing related memories of time we spent together. I never much liked fishing or fish, and today fishing is about the last thing I’d do to pass the time. Nonetheless, every spring when the cottonwood fly I think of that saying, I think of my dad, and I think of his funeral procession.

It was on the ride from the church to the cemetery that the saying really got burned into my memories of my father. I was riding with my family in an SUV behind the hearse (did we call them SUVs, then?), we were heading north on Janesville’s Ringold street, approaching my elementary school, and for some reason the ‘Snow’ song “Informer” is strongly associated with this memory (was it on the radio? No way, right?). And of course the cottonwood was flying. My mom quoted my father’s fishing wisdom, ensuring that every spring since, at unexpected moments, memories of my dad would enter my thoughts through an open car window.

I held on to a few of my father’s things after he died: a fishing knife I lost sometime during college; a business card I’ve misplaced somewhere in my messy home office; and a jeweler’s loupe I pull out occasionally for no real reason. These material things symbolize memories of my dad, sure, but they do more than that too. They keep the relationship with my dad alive. That’s why I kept them and why I occasionally spend time with them. But it’s the cottonwood seeds more than anything else that makes my dad feel present. I’m not religious and I don’t believe in afterlife or souls. I do, however, believe in memory and emotion, and in their fundamental place in identity. The memories and emotions the cottonwood seeds trigger are a function of that relationship with my dad, which continues to structure who I am 20 years later.

_

*the accuracy of the memory is less important than the existence of the memory

Producing Fun: How they are Saving the Syracuse Chiefs

 Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I’m a Syracuse Chiefs fan. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that, and probably would like me tweet a bit less about it. I’ve tweeted lots of photos and comments about games this year, made fun of the Chiefs on my timeline, and last year I waged a quixotic battle trying to get the ‘Chiefs’ to change their name to the Salt Potatoes (which I still think would be a better name – see the Montgomery Biscuits). Part of the reason I do this is because even a lot of baseball fans think minor league ball is a weak substitute for the big league game, and not much fun. But they are wrong, and I want to share the fun that can be had at NBT Bank Stadium. A lot of the fun is a result of the social experiences surrounding the game, so you don’t even need to be a baseball lover to enjoy an evening at the ballpark.

 

(more…)

Le Moyne Lacrosse: Interaction Ritual and the Sacred

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Le Moyne versus Merrimack lacrosse playoff game that took place at Le Moyne’s Ted Grant Field. Unfortunately for Le Moyne, we lost a close contest in the last 5 seconds. The game, however, was very exciting, and significantly more enjoyable than the one other lacrosse game I’d previously attended 5 years ago or so. As I watched the game I was thinking about what made the experience more exciting this time around.

In general, I find lacrosse quite boring, and the main reason I went was because I wanted to support a few lacrosse players I’ve had in classes this semester. I know my boredom is primarily because I really don’t understand what I’m looking at. To me, it appears to be a bunch of folks running around, beating each other up, and throwing a ball past a goaltender with little to no reasonable chance to make a save (even though the Merrimack tender did seem to make a lot of stops today). As a baseball fan, however, I suspect that most folks who say baseball is boring really don’t know the game very well. Once you know what’s ‘really’ happening out there, you see a lot more going on during those times it appears most of the players are just standing around. I have to assume, therefore, that I just don’t have the stock of lacrosse knowledge to make sense of, and therefore enjoy, lacrosse. This was still true today. I watched nearly the whole game, and at any point I would have been hard-pressed to explain what I was watching. Clearly, it wasn’t my knowledge of the game that made it more fun today.

Fortunately, as I wandered over to the fence to watch the game, I ran into some colleagues who had done the same. They aren’t the colleagues I hang out with the most often, but I know each of them is a sports fan. There were also a few other faculty and college staff, including our president, who joined us for a while as the game progressed. A good crowd of students, only a few of whom I recognized, were also gathered around the fence and in the stands. I can’t say if it was a more well attended game than normal, but it was a playoff game, so probably there were others like me who came just to check it out. I was watching the game with folks who were chatting with one another about the game and some other college issues, and we were all part of the larger crowd focused on the game.

So, can any of these details help explain why I had a more enjoyable time at the game than I expected. First, I did have a connection to a few of the players. I know these students off the field after spending a semester with them in class. So, they weren’t just numbers and face masks, but rather people I’ve cultivated relationships with. I wanted them to win because I knew they’d be proud and happy, and I’d experience just a little bit of those positive emotions if they did.

The folks I was with certainly added to the fun of the experience. Part of that was because I could draw on their stock of lacrosse knowledge to resolve the regular confusion I experienced about the game play. Why did the game stop? Because he stepped across that line. Why was that a penalty when otherwise hitting with sticks seems perfectly legitimate in this game? Because he hit him in the wrong place. Oh, ok. Nobody likes being confused, and I was less confused than if I’d been there on my own. But, it was more than just lacrosse talk making the game fun. We also commiserated about avoiding grading, congratulated one another on accomplishments, and learned more about colleagues we only knew a little. We were engaging in friendship rituals, and it made us happy, despite the fact the game really was never going Le Moyne’s way.

Beyond our group, the larger crowd, not all of whom were cheering for Le Moyne, helped produce my enjoyment too. The excitement, and even the dread, were contagious. It’s fun to be around people having fun, and sharing an emotional connection, even a relatively negative emotion, with a large, loud crowd can help produce a sense of community with people you’ll never get to know personally. This definitely happened, and it’s not a stretch to say that at Le Moyne the lacrosse field is sacred ground. We have a pretty good team, after all, and the men’s lacrosse team in particular has brought a lot of positive attention to the school. That was the background of these sports rituals we enacted, the school’s reputation beyond campus and shared spirit of supporting the team.

I’d say that I enjoyed the game mostly because of all the positive emotional energy that surrounded us, even in defeat. It was a few hours of solidarity and fun, shared with some friends, some acquaintances, and a lot of strangers.

The Dolphin Dolphy Day Interview

As I wrote last week, after a series of Dolphy Day tweets, I was contacted by Le Moyne’s student newspaper to be interviewed about my Dolphy Day opinions. The nicely done story, by Editor-in-Chief Aubrey Zych, appeared in today’s Dolphin, and here is a related student response also published today. It’s clear there are varied opinions about Dolphy Day at Le Moyne, but since I’ve been here, I don’t recall this much discussion or recognition that there are people, including students, who have problems with the tradition. It’s good that we are talking about it, and I hope we continue to do so. If the tradition goes like usual, however, no one will think much about it until next spring, and it will continue to be as disruptive, dangerous, and exclusionary as ever. One thing is certain, I’ll continue to tweet freely about the things I want to see changed, as well as the things I love about Le Moyne.

With Aubrey Zych’s permission, below I’ve posted my complete responses to the emailed interview questions.

(more…)

My week on Twitter with ‘off-Twitter’ consequences

This week, via Twitter, I had several interesting experiences. Here I’ll just summarize and describe them, but I’d like to think more about how these stories relate to identity, power, and community. Monday, April  14, was Dolphy Day at Le Moyne. If you’re curious about what Dolphy Day is, I guess you could look here. I don’t know if there really is a good account of what the day ‘is,’ but over the last few years perusing the hashtag #dolphyday would give you some impression. This year I saturated Twitter with tweets critical of the day (I’m surprised I still have followers). I meant to criticize, on intellectual grounds, what I feel is irresponsible student behavior, bad institutional policy, and the basic disrespect of students, staff, faculty, and campus neighbors the day ritualizes. One of my least interesting but most sincere tweets was used in this article from syracuse.com. A number of students responded to me in defense of Dolphy Day, some rather aggressively, others very respectfully. As a result of my tweets, I got an email from a recent Le Moyne graduate very eloquently defending what she considers the good parts of the day. I had students approach me offline to tell me they liked what I was saying, but none telling me they disagreed. A few students asked me how they could communicate what they dislike about the day to administrators. One administrator on campus told me I wasn’t acting as a good colleague. I was also asked to do an interview for the campus newspaper about my opposition to Dolphy Day. I’ve asked the reporter if she’ll let me post the interview here on my blog, and I’ll do so once her story is published. I think it’s a good thing that what I and my colleagues did on Twitter, as well as on a very long ‘reply all’ email chain, might help start a real conversation about what Dolphy Day is at Le Moyne, and how it might be done differently and better.

Then, on Thursday, I had 2 unrelated Twitter experiences that I think are less about being a ‘public scholar’ and more about being a member of a supportive community. In the morning, I had a relatively long Direct Message exchange with a colleague and friend I met via Twitter about some non academic issues I’m finding it hard to talk about with others. It was really nice to have that chance, and it simply wouldn’t have happened without connections I’ve made via web based social networking. Thursday night I went to a Syracuse Chiefs double header, and midway through game 2 I tweeted a picture of view along with my seat location.

The view from my seat at NBT Bank Stadium.

The view from my seat at NBT Bank Stadium.

A Chiefs fan that I follow, and who also follows me, happened to see the tweet and it turned out he was sitting one section over. As we figured that out, he walked over and introduced himself. It turns out he’s a teacher with a great interest and knowledge about baseball. He even wrote his college senior year thesis about the economic impact of minor league baseball teams on their home cities. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I’ve asked to read it.

Each of these experiences are examples of how Twitter, and social networking more generally, have the potential to create community, to foster larger conversations about change, and to be integrated into our offline lives.

Baseball and sociology: A little chatter

I’ve been a baseball fan longer than I’ve been a sociologist. I’ve got memories of playing as a kid (I threw a 3 inning no-hitter and then got taken out of the game!; I made a great catch once in t-ball; once I hit a bases clearing triple, etc.). My Glory Days came before I was 15, and they were only so glorious. My other childhood memories about baseball are about being a fan and learning about the game. I recall my dad teaching me to watch the catcher’s mitt to get a sense for how the pitcher was doing. I remember trips to Milwaukee County stadium to watch the Brewers in the American League. Occasionally we’d use box seat tickets my dad got from someone he knew through his work. Once in those seats I got a ball that an ump tossed into the stands between innings. Those are good memories, thus far unadulterated by analytical thought.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

Over the years colleagues who know about my enjoyment of baseball have suggested I turn my sociological eye to the game. There is certainly a lot one could wax sociological about, but I’ve resisted because I thought why turn something I enjoy so much into work? However, recently I have blogged a bit about sports and tweeted some sociological takes on changes in the MLB. In particular I’ve been sending some Weber inspired tweets about instant replay as rationalization. I’m not someone who values the ‘human element’ for sentimental reasons, but rather it’s that I just don’t understand how replay will significantly improve the game. I think the cost of chasing certainty will be some of the spontaneous emotionality of the game which is sometimes the result of feeling like you’re on the wrong side of a bad call.

Seeing some of these tweets, fellow sociologist and friend Todd Schoepflin asked if I’d answer some questions for an interview he’s put up on his blog. I was happy to, and it was fun. Here’s a link to Todd’s post.

 

Protesting Catholic Parish Mergers: A sociological investigation

For 4 years or so I’ve been working with colleagues and students on a study of parish changes and lay Catholic protest. The study considers attitudes about parish life and Catholic authority in a context of significant reconfiguration in the diocese. Recently, a paper written with my colleague Meg Ksander as part of the project was accepted for publication at Review of Religious ResearchIt is available now here, behind a pay-wall.

I’d like this paper to be read by lay Catholics involved in changes in their own parishes and dioceses, and by leaders who make decisions about the future of the church. So, I’m going to share a version of the paper here on my blog, hoping it might find some interested readers who wouldn’t find it in the journal. The abstract is below, and here is the paper.

__

This mixed method study describes contention over parish reconfiguration in a northeast Catholic diocese, and a case study of one merged parish. Guided by social movement theories about collective action frames and political opportunities in mobilizatio0n, we outline the diocesan frame of reconfiguration and the counter frame developed by activists who organized to oppose the process. While the diocesan frame focused on a shortage of priests that officials believed demanded reconfiguration of financially burdened parishes, the lay counter frame shifted the debate to questions about the role of the laity in the contemporary Catholic Church and what they perceived as failed leadership from their bishop. Our case study of Resurrection Parish shows how the merged process and the activists’ opposition to their diocesan leaders resulted in a parish that works to ensure the involvement of the laity, and continues to publicly dissent from Catholic leaders.

Saving baseball’s Opening Day. Or, MLB should hire a sociologist! (me)

Major League Baseball’s 2014 Opening Day is Monday, March 31st. Well, actually, it’s Sunday, March 30th. Oh, wait, it’s actually Saturday, March 22nd.

Do you see the problem here? MLB likes to hold on to the notion that it is America’s Pastime, but the actual time of its Opening Day is difficult to follow which makes it, I’d guess, less likely that even fans will watch. And (pardon my nationalism) it’s not even in America this year. Most teams start on the 31st, but there’s an “Opening Night” game on the 30th, and the first regular season game is on March 22nd, in Australia. Where better to “kick off” ‘America’s Pastime’ than Australia, right? All this means that this ‘big game’ starts at 4am on a Saturday morning here on the east coast. I love baseball’s Opening Day, but I’m not waking up at 4am. Game 2 of that series is at 10pm Saturday, so I might be able stay awake for a few innings of that one.

Joy and I love baseball’s Opening Day so much, in fact, that for 10 years or so we’ve made the day a celebration. I arrange my schedule so that I’m free that afternoon, and Joy takes the day off of work. We subscribe to the Extra Innings package so we can see that first pitch, wherever it is (ought to be Cincinnati every year), and then we watch the Brewers’ game in full. We eat hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos, and we make homemade soft pretzels. I buy, and even drink, MGD in homage to my Milwaukee nine. It is a ritual that marks the arrival of spring and honors one of our shared passions as much as it is about watching the games.

All of this is why I was interested to learn yesterday about this petition to make Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. It is, of course, nothing but an advertising campaign for Budweiser, and its pitch-man is the face of the baseball franchise I most despise, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. While I like the idea of America taking the day off to watch baseball, I don’t like the idea of another corporate sponsored holiday. And, very, very few people would realistically get a day off anyway. This is empty symbolism and advertising, and nothing more.

And there isn’t anybody paying attention who doesn’t know it. I’m not breaking anybody’s heart with this post. In fact, it’s just one more example of how MLB is terrible at ‘making a splash.’ The beauty of baseball is its regularity; its rhythms and routine. It is present in fans’ lives the way weather is to a weather buff. We’ve seen almost all of this before, we’ll see most of it again, and now and then you see something incredible you’ve never seen before and will never see again! It is a comfortable blend of the past and the future, with intense flashes of the present. MLB seems not to understand that instead of doing something contrived and painfully artificial that doesn’t fit into the confines of the sport’s foundational myths of timelessness and tradition, they ought to do something that settles it easily into its fans, and many non-fans, routines.

I’ve said before, often in a bar making exaggerated claims about how baseball is killing itself, that there is an easy way to make MLB Opening Day a bigger hit. To get this done the league doesn’t need the Cardinals’ class, it doesn’t need the White House’s executive power, and it doesn’t even need flipping Ozzie Smith. Just start the regular season with every team playing games on Sunday. In the afternoon. Is there anything better than Sunday afternoon day baseball? No, there isn’t. This would be 15 games* on Opening Day, and everybody’s team would be playing. Right now there are at least 4 national TV networks that cover games, including all of ESPN’s channels and the league’s own MLB TV. Starting at noon on the east coast and staggering start times until 4 or so on the west coast, you could have a 6 to 8 hour national blitz of baseball on a spring Sunday afternoon. MLB already does this most Sundays in the season, the only difference being that right now they only nationally televise 1 or 2 games of the 15 there are to choose from (the Red Sox and/or Yankees seemingly always being involved in the chosen games).

This solution is doable, and what’s best is that it fits within a narrative baseball cherishes. Forgive me the sugary language, but give us day games in the sun, with our families and friends, remembering the past and hoping for the future. And, fine, make some money by leveraging that beautiful myth on the one day you can probably get even non-fans to care by teaming up with America’s most widely loved pastimes – television and blockbuster beer ads.

You can have this idea for free, MLB, but how about hiring an ‘in-house’ sociologist?

*Only one of these 15 games would be the abomination that is inter-league play.