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Thoughts on evaluating President Obama

Quick impressions to follow. Maybe I’ll build this out later with references, but why not enter the ‘Obama Legacy Game?’

Barack Obama was a good president in the sense that he did a good job administering an inhumane place. He effectively led America as it did the same sort of inhumane things it has done for most of its history. His passage of the ACA, something Democrats had been trying to do for at least 50 years, can’t be dismissed. It was a massive political achievement, even as its flaws were immediately obvious and its far from a progressive win.

He wasn’t transformative, but what a ridiculous standard to which no white president would be held – certainly not a white male president. Obama’s failings are the failings of American Institutions, of American culture, of American politics. He led those institutions, worked within that culture and our polarized politics with remarkable skill. He won most of the political battles he entered, even as Republican opposition was set on not letting him claim even the smallest victories.

As Obama now faces attacks from both the right and left, criticizing him as a failed leader, it is important to remember that expecting a black man to be excellent in exchange for granting him adequacy is the essence of racism. Look at who President Obama followed. George W. Bush was the definition of mediocre, and his rise to power was entirely a function of his family ties and wealth. Look at who is following America’s first black president. Donald Trump represents all of the worst things of white masculinity and American arrogance. Say what you will about how much better President Obama could have been, maybe even should have been, but don’t apply a different set of standards than we have before, and certainly will not with President Trump.

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How to ruin voting for a 4 year old

My polling place was only slightly busier than normal today, which was nice because it let me see one of the strangest, saddest things I’ve ever seen.

A man and a woman with two young daughters went to the table to check in. They were then handed their ballots, but turned them down because, according to the dad, they were going to “cancel each other out anyway.” So, they didn’t vote. They walked out. But, as they did, their younger daughter started to cry. She wanted to vote.

She could have gone into the booth with one of them, right? They could have given their daughters a great lesson about civic responsibility. They could have gone in with their Clinton voting parent and ‘voted’ for a woman president when they were 4 years old. Hell, they could have started making America great again at 4 years old.

Instead, their dad took that away with “we’re going cancel each other out anyway.” Yes, the mom left too. But, come on. Who does this? What explains it? Sexism? Desiring marital stability? Apathy? I don’t get it.

The steady Humvees of War

I can’t forget March 2003. I was teaching a section of Research Methods to Notre Dame undergraduates. The country was having the ‘debate’ about invading Iraq. There was no debate. We were going. We knew, if for no other reason, because the American General plant in Mishawaka, IN was surrounded by a sea of recently produced Humvees. Bush was going to send those Humvees and their 20 year old drivers on his revenge mission to the desert. People the same age as the privileged ND students I was in the room with.

I brought it up one day. To a one, they had no idea the ‘debate’ was even occuring. They had no opinion one way or the other. I told them that was not OK, and that even if you disagreed with my anti-Iraq war stance you should be just as engaged. Just as angry. But why would they be. I’d guess most of them are now living comfortable lives mostly untouched by that war that has destroyed so many lives, given us ISIS, and tied this country’s hands with debt and turmoil for at least a generation. Their lives were set one way or the other. I think about that whenever I reflect on the fact that Bush got away with it. People don’t care because why would they?

It’s nice to see that British Parliament may try to hold Tony Blair accountable. Will we ever do the same to Bush, Cheney, and Powell?

Secular is good for us!

I’ve been fascinated to see a growing literature showing that religious beliefs, particularly beliefs about god, reduce social trust (examples here and here). Much of the work in the sociology of religion for so long has had a more or less explicit ‘religion is good for society’ thrust. I’ve published in that mainstream view myself, and usually the most you’ll see is ‘religion is mostly good for us, except for maybe fundamentalism.’

But, I’m starting to think this is because most survey data, particularly in the United States, has only allowed quantitative sociologists to study the very religious and the moderately religious, until recently. Now, with more and more seculars all the time, our samples are catching more people at the ‘not religious’ end of the spectrum, and it turns out they trust people too, and a paper I’m finishing up argues nontheists are more trusting than believers. So, it’s not ‘mainline’ versus ‘evangelical,’ but really it’s ‘very religious,’ ‘moderately religious,’ and ‘not religious.’And it turns out secular is good for you, and for us.

Goldilocks and the three GOP’ers

It’s ‘somewhat important Tuesday’ with primary elections in Michigan, Idaho, Mississippi, and Hawaii. Today’s media narrative appears to be ‘Is Trump losing Momentum to an ascendant Ted Cruz?’ Frankly, it’s a terrifying question, and there do seem to be reasons to believe Cruz could a make  real move today (admittedly without consulting polling data or experts). I think you have to hope Trump’s recent fascist antics would cost him the campaign, and I think there is a good explanation as to why Cruz is better positioned to take advantage than Rubio (and all the polling data I look at suggest this is what’s likely to happen should Trump trip). Here’s my take in one short paragraph.

“Ideas” candidates, like Paul Ryan, for example, sometimes struggle to effectively connect their ideas to people’s perceived problems. Because that can come as ‘I know your problems better than you do,’ it appears like a fundamental misunderstanding of representative government. I think voters, maybe particularly GOP voters, prefer at least the impression of responsiveness to material problems rather than champions of philosophy who say ‘you’re seeing it wrong, you don’t quite get it.’ This explains, at least partly, why candidates like Donald Trump, for example, can be successful. Trump’s campaign is framed as a reaction to some people’s ‘real’ problems rather than a lesson about a worldview they don’t understand. Cruz might be the middle ground between Trump and Rubio in this regard. Rubio comes off as a teacher committed to out-of-date ideas. When Trump calls Rubio a loser, he’s really just saying you’re out of touch like Romney, like Bob Dole! Cruz, however, is effectively offering a better balance of material analysis and philosophy than either Rubio or Trump. Whereas Trump seems to be saying, ‘geez, not having jobs because of foreigners sure isn’t great, let’s get rid of the scary brown people’ and leaving it at that before jumping into some other crazy rant, Cruz seems to be saying pretty much the same things while also being much better able to articulate ideas about the constitution and religiosity that give his message more philosophical substance and continuity. But, not so much that it feels like old-GOP commitment to free trade and economic theory you have to study in college to really understand. So, for GOP primary voters maybe the moral will be that Trump is too reactionary, Rubio too professorial, and Cruz just right.

 

 

Quantified Self and Interaction

I recently started using a FitBit. I use it mostly to understand why I’m not fit, not because I think it’s going to encourage me to get fit. It turns out my non-teaching Tuesdays and Thursdays are probably killing me, and Sundays aren’t helping. I know this because I can look at my week and see daily counts of how many steps I’ve taken, the miles I’ve walked, how many calories I’ve burned, and how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed. I’m grading papers today, and right now, at noon, my numbers look like this:

Steps: 856

Miles: 0.35

Calories burned: 941

Stairs Climbed: 1

That’s really bad (so bad I’m questioning the validity); worse than my typical Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday, even.

Counting as a way to know something about who I am is an example of ‘the quantified self.’ There’s a ton of commentary about the significance of the quantified self, just do a Google search. Maybe start here: http://quantifiedself.com/.

On some days when my counts tell me I’m a bad person who is going to die young, I go for a walk around campus. I’m walking less to get fit and more so that I don’t feel bad that my count is low. On some days it’s so I don’t lose so spectacularly to my wife in the ‘step challenges’ our phone apps run for us.

An unintended consequence of these walks has been that I keep running into and talking to people I don’t regularly see in my typical work day. I’ve run into colleagues from the math department, a new anthropologist I never see otherwise, an economist friend, a former student who is out in the world doing really cool things, as well as many others. My brow is usually sweaty, and I have to say ‘look, I’m wearing a FitBit!’ (it’s required).

After that, however, we’ve had nice conversations about non-work topics. We hear often that technology is making us less social, substituting ‘false’ relationships for ‘real’ ones, etc., etc., etc. I don’t believe that, and I’m always looking for counter evidence. For example, when people are staring at their phone, more often than not they are interacting with someone on the other side. Staring at Facebook or Twitter are examples of being really involved with other people, and the phone just happens to be the interface. Similarly, I’m out walking to increase my steps, but I end up in the world, meeting and talking to people.

So, maybe we need to think about not just the ‘quantified self,’ but also the ‘quantified self and interaction.’

Marginalization and Trust: What’s Religion Got to do With It?

Tomorrow morning I’ll be giving a paper at the 2015 meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. It’s about religion and trust. In particular, me and my coauthors India Bolden-Maisonet and Alex Capella are exploring the idea that secular people may be more trusting than religious people. It’s more complicated than that, and this is very much a preliminary work, but I do plan to develop this idea. Hopefully I’ll get some good feedback in the morning.

Here is a link if you’d like to read the talk. Right now it doesn’t have a work’s cited page, but it does include in-text citations. If you see any cite you’d like more info on, just let me know.

SSSR15TrustPaperFinal

The Pheminist Manifesto

Over the last several months at Le Moyne, a group of student activists have come together to protest sexism and gender injustice. They call themselves ‘Pheminists’ (our mascot here at Le Moyne is the Dolphin). They have written a declaration of intent they call the Pheminist Manifesto, and have asked that I make it available for sharing here here on my blog.

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The Pheminist Manifesto: A declaration of Intent

We, the feminists of Le Moyne College, declare our intention to make issues of sexism and gender injustice a priority. We pledge to educate our community, bring awareness to gender injustices both on campus and off, and push for change at Le Moyne College as long as gender injustices continue.

We believe each woman has the right to dictate any decisions involving her body, her education, her career, her spirituality, her beliefs, her family and her overall quality of life. Every woman has the human right to a life free from patriarchal, paternalistic coercion.

Our particular brand of feminism is inclusive and intersectional. Women of all ethnicities,  all faiths, all ideologies, all sexualities, all bodies, and all gender expressions have a place among us.

Men also have a place among us; we welcome men who regard women as equals. Male feminists are a testament that toxic and hegemonic masculinity can be resisted, and its subversion should be celebrated and encouraged. We reject the notion that feminism is, or ever has been, synonymous with “man-hating.” However, we must remember that the scars etched by the patriarchy are deepest in women and non-male and/or non-conforming gender identities, and that is where we focus our energies.

As educated individuals for and with others, we pledge to recognize our privileged status, and use it to raise campus and community consciousness about sexism, including the ways in which it intersects with racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism and all forms of oppression.

We pledge to cultivate a safe community free from shaming of any kind. We encourage questions and conversation. We acknowledge our individual experiences and we pledge to support and empower all women. We are feminists working together towards the transcendence of gender injustice. This is our pledge as ’Phins for Pheminism.
The Le Moyne Pheminists

Dry Lake – SoundCloud

My computer crashed! Can’t do syllabi, so I did this:

Listen to Dry Lake by opiatesofsilicon #np on #SoundCloud

Some day I want to write about music making. Maybe soon.

Banned Essay: You’re Probably a Pheminist

The following essay was written by Le Moyne Peace and Global Studies/Political Science double major Kailey McDonald. She submitted it to the Le Moyne student newspaper, The Dolphin, and the student run paper refused to print it. So, I’m sharing it here.

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You’re probably a Pheminist

By Kailey McDonald ‘15

GUEST WRITER

“I support equality and everything, but I’m not a Feminist because…” WAIT. Stop right there. You actually are a feminist. I understand the confusion, though. Feminism has a lot of reincarnations, and the most well known is the man-hating, bra-burning warrior queen. To be fair, that Feminist is still pretty darn badass.

It takes an incredible amount of courage to speak out against the mainstream the way our foremothers did, and some pretty hefty ovaries to burn a 50 dollar bra [the sheer amount of cereal and PB&J that money could’ve bought is staggering]. But I’m a feminist, and I love men. I love my bras. I don’t feel any particular desire to burn them either.

So what does it mean to be a feminist?

The answer is pretty complicated. There are different types of feminism, and people wield their feminism in many different ways. But my feminism is about gender justice for every type of human, and plain old justice in general.

Maybe this is the fourth-wave of feminism, this “I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist” rhetoric popular amongst the youngin’s these days [but let’s stick with the term feminist, I’d like to honor our foremothers’ courage with their coined term].  We’re moving away from the exclusive women-only feminist model popular in the 70s towards something new, something that has a place for every person burning for gender justice.

Millennial feminism can’t and won’t hate men, because it’s not [millennial] feminism if it’s exclusive. We cannot ignore the feminists that do not fit the middle-to-upper class white cis-women mold, the way they were excluded from the movement in the past. We cannot exclude anyone, because it’s not justice if it’s not for all.  This is my feminism, and my pledge.

We will not skinny-shame, fat-shame or slut-shame. We will not tell you that you cannot be a stay-at-home mother or father. We will not tell you that you can’t wear makeup, or must work full-time, or any of the other things you think feminism will tell you.

What feminism will tell you is that you alone can make the decisions that regard your future, your education, your body, your clothes, your makeup, your sexuality and all of the other decisions we make in our lives, whether you are a man, a woman, or identify as neither. These are basic rights that belong inherently to every human being, and I am here as a feminist to fight for them.

Chances are you want to support human rights for everyone. You like the idea of justice for all, and maybe you don’t know what gender justice is but it sounds pretty damn awesome. Chances are, you are a feminist. And there’s nothing negative or shameful about it! Let’s celebrate our feminism! I say we all get loud and proud. Let’s  make Le Moyne the cultural center of a movement. Let’s reclaim feminism, and make it the feminism we want it to be. If you’re “not a feminist, but…,” why don’t you join me, and take all of those absolutely dreadful things you hate about “feminism” and throw them out the window. Ixnay on the bra-burning for now [though I repeat, pretty bad ass]. Let’s brand it as something all Dolphins stand for. Let’s make feminism ours.

Let’s stand up as ‘Phins for Pheminism.