Tag Archives: Sociology

Flag-waving for Ukraine

In a direct, practical sense, I generally know what I think about Ukraine. Whatever the purpose or expectations of Russian government, the invasion of Ukraine is barbarism and butchery, by what has been a criminal rogue state for years anyway. I don’t support America starting a war over it. I definitely support sanctioning the criminal rogue state, and its crime bosses, into oblivion. I think the Biden administration has performed credibly, here, and that European* governments have surpassed very low expectations. I think Republicans are scum who have, directly and indirectly, enabled Russia’s crime bosses and placed Ukraine at risk for many years.

I think we definitely didn’t “win the Cold War” in any permanent sense 30 years ago. I think Europe has become too flabby, generally, while the United States has been more than excessively bellicose in a lot of the wrong directions while enabling Russia and many other criminal rogue states.

My thoughts and feelings about the reactions by American society, and to some extent the rest of the “Western” world, are more complicated. But I’m definitely getting really embarrassed by the volume of conspicuous yellow-and-blue flag-waving.

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Late-stage Pandemic

It’s the last week of April, 2021.

It’s five weeks since my first COVID-19 vaccine shot, and one week since my second.

It’s daylight hours in a Groundhog Day limbo, in which time no longer seems to have any meaning beyond the wheel of dawn to noon to dusk to night, a repetitive loop which it’s impossible to define as having any ending or beginning.

That last one might be a dramatic exaggeration, but the feeling is certainly not just me; on Monday ProPublica began an official e-mail with the words “In an era in which time has grown increasingly hazy…”

Yesterday, the CDC made a confusing announcement blessing a few limited unmasked activities for fully vaccinated people, all of which activities people have been doing without masks or vaccination.

Everywhere it seems like this has all just outlived our capacity to sustain it, at least in the sense of an acute crisis during which we sort of hold our collective breath. There are many many caveats here, the most important being that I’m not an expert in virology or public health and you should seek one out if you want expert guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic. For the personal reflections of one 42-year-old mostly vaccinated Very Online American, read on.

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The Street Fight for Lakewood Hospital

It has been quite a year in the campaign to defend Lakewood’s community hospital. Since exploring my reasoning, back in March, I don’t think I’ve had anything further to say here aside from a small jab at Northeast Ohio Media Group. As I have been co-manager of the Save Lakewood Hospital web site, it has generally made sense to present my observations and experiences there.

Events yesterday have motivated some more casual and personal comments, that can’t really be formatted into detached editorial voice. So, a few updates on what feels like a turning point in the long war…

First, my thanks to former congressman Dennis Kucinich. When I heard that he planned a press conference and community forum to discuss Lakewood Hospital, I was frankly very skeptical, of the timing if nothing else. Nine months into our campaign, I did wonder whether Save Lakewood Hospital would be boosting Kucinich’s profile rather than vice versa. I was very happy to conclude that my suspicions were groundless; I don’t think there is any way that Mr. Kucinich could have made yesterday’s press conference less about himself. The planned program was nothing fancy at all, in fact; he collected documentation of Cleveland Clinic’s fraud and maladministration, spoke in extremely measured fashion about its significance, then presented copies to the several media representatives who dutifully turned up when summoned. Thoughtful, mature, good civic participation.

That, at least, was the formal program. The informal program of certain attendees was rather different…

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Work, productivity, status, affinity

Last month’s flap over Amazon putting even its white collar workers through the mill struck me as mostly a non-event. Anyone truly shocked to discover that Amazon is exploitative, or that corporations squeeze the Eloi as well as the Morlocks, hasn’t been paying attention.

The week of pearl-clutching by Guardian columnists, et al., has however suggested to me one or two possible new connections in my evolving theory of 21st century work. At the moment, I write mainly to trace these out for myself, so fair warning that this post will be a bit elliptical.

As brief background, I’ve grown quite cynical about the modern economy and particularly the white-collar office. Years of close association with sales and marketing activities are probably an influence, but I have reached the conclusion that a lot of what happens in the typical office is largely pointless theater producing minimal if any social value. I have written before that many of the affluent, in particular, seem to work mostly as a display of status. (See Quantum Whatever, currently print-only but free copies remain available.) I don’t think this behavior is exclusive to the affluent, however, particularly as they tend to exercise much influence on the patterns of the typical workplace.

Seeing yet another bit of puffing about brutal conditions at Amazon has suggested a further insight into this concept. It occurs to me that a culture of status based on competitive displays of exhausting toil could have a deep biological foundation.

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Why “The Martian” will be a blockbuster hit (unfortunately)

After reading The Martian the other day, I gave it four of five stars at goodreads. I read the whole thing in about 24 hours, and can certainly recommend it; up until the very last page I probably would have rated it five out of five. It basically dropped one whole star in the final paragraphs.

Upon reflection, I’ve decided that my main complaints about the novel come down to sentimentality. My minor complaint involves a strain of fantasy in the story; by contrast the object of my major complaint (supercharged during the closing paragraphs) is probably all too realistic. It could make sense to complain about too much and too little realism at the same time, I suppose. But in this case, my objection isn’t really about extremes as much as it’s about an extreme (in my view) of sentiment.

It felt somewhat odd when I finally realized that this is the common theme to The Martian‘s flaws (as I perceive them). In many ways it’s very, very strange to apply the word “sentimental” to this story in any way. To be completely blunt, while I found it a page turner and while I’m not alone, I think the majority of The Martian feels remarkably like a space-exploration-themed series of sample engineering problems from a college textbook. It reminds me of Verne, particularly The Mysterious Island, except with the engineering content ratio much higher. The majority of the other content, meanwhile, documents meetings of NASA administrators.

Again, I found the result nonetheless gripping, and much credit to author Andy Weir. That said, the story he produced from these parts made me frustrated and even angry at points, and unlikely as it may be the reason is basically unchecked sentiment.

I’ll be blunt a second time, now, and just say that my biggest complaint about The Martian is how the whole thing is basically a fantastic, horrible illustration of the aphorism that “one life is a tragedy, a million lives is a statistic.”

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Kuhns’s Law

Just a marker, for whatever it’s worth; I don’t think one gets a choice in this kind of thing and I doubt it’s going to be an issue anyway, but if there ever is a “Kuhns’s Law,” here’s my current best suggestion.

More often than not, people will define a “path to progress” as “more people/institutions sharing my beliefs/biases/preferences.”

Any added value here is very dependent on precision. Obviously, correlation between someone advocating program x, and program x advancing his or her personal wants, is very high. This is a bit different. What I’m picking up on is a tendency for people to believe that others need to be more like them, and to see in this a general improvement to society, or even the solution to any of a range of specific problems.

For example, what should we do about an economy that is excluding most people from the benefits of growth? Well, surprise surprise, Mark Zuckerberg believes fervently that more people need to “learn to code.”

What should we do about the risks of a greenhouse gas build-up wrecking Earth’s climate? Out of all the many many courses that could in theory resolve this global collective action problem? Surprise surprise, a vegetarian homes right in on livestock and concludes that the best thing you can do is stop eating meat.

I see this phenomenon frequently, since having recognized a pattern. I wonder if it is in some sense driven by the instinct to spawn; as with biological reproduction, it offers the prospect of adding rough copies of one’s self to the world, just in a behavioral rather than genetic sense. In fairness, I must admit that one can also look at this from the other direction, and consider whether there’s any alternative besides “do as I say, not as I do.” It’s a good question, but I think it’s also a good question whether or not it makes any sense to look at this from that direction; I have the impression that most people “discover” that x will solve all kinds of problems after they’ve been practicing x anyway, rather than the other way around.

Finally, I should note that I don’t want to slam people too hard, here. The instance that prompted this post, in fact, was this tweet from a friend whom I respect greatly. I am sure that if I start looking, I will be able to find instances of myself doing this same thing.

But, I think that’s the main value of a “law” like this, if any. Once you recognize something like this as a tendency, you begin taking notice of it… which allows you to call out other people, yes, but also hopefully allows you to start correcting for it in your own arguments.

It’s worth a try.