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A New Blog Site!

Hello Everyone. As you could probably tell, I’ve had some issues with this website. They were issues of my own creation, but they are now repaired. I have, however, moved this site to a new URL linked below. I hope you enjoy it as much as you’ve enjoyed this site. I’m excited for the new focus, or rather I should say “renewed” focus on the Mad Sociologist mission of applying social historical analysis to contemporary events. Please come on over and visit, bookmark the new page and enjoy.

The Mad Sociologist Blog!

You can also find the Mad Sociologist on Twitter @MadSociologist.

And a brand new Facebook Page!

 


Actual Facebook Conversation That Took a Curious Turn

We might want to be a bit more concerned for the political future of the US than we are.

The following is a conversation that I had on Facebook just yesterday. The gentleman involved is a friend of mine. A good, hardworking guy with a family. This fact makes what he actually says and what he believes even more disturbing to me.

The conversation starts off pretty innocuously with a meme that, frankly, I largely agree with…

This post has been moved to the new Mad Sociologist Blog Site: Click Here to read it in full

 

 


The Point of Protesting

One Ridiculous Argument Against Protesting for Social Justice

I just want to respond to an argument that I’ve been hearing regarding the protests around Ferguson, Eric Garner, etc. I’ve also heard some variation of this argument offered regarding other protest movements.

First, the moronic argument:

“Why don’t all of these people hollering about the police protest gang violence and black on black crime?”

My response:

Protesting criminals makes no sense. That’s why they don’t do it. Protest is a method for speaking to power and building community. As such, it is exactly the wrong method for addressing black on black crime or gang violence. True, community gatherings have come together to address rampant gang crime, but this kind of action is hardly protest, more community organizing. A large enough, ardent enough protest can, conceivably, catch the attention of those in power. When people feel that the legitimate means for redress are not available to them, protest becomes a reasonable option. This is not the case when criminals act against a community. There is not chance that a criminal or gang banger will change his wicked ways upon seeing people take to the streets. If anything, he will see that as an opportunity to pursue more crime.

Look, it’s not like black communities have done nothing to address black on black crime and gang violence. In fact, one could speculate that their attention has been largely successful as the incidence of black on black crime has declined. Gang activity has been rising, which is to be expected when the legitimate means of attainment has collapsed. It’s just that protesting is not a reasonable response.

The given argument sounds good. It probably plays well among the unthinking. It’s just completely idiotic. It’s like saying, “doing heart surgery on people with bad hearts is so hypocritical if we are not also doing heart surgery on diabetics.” It’s the wrong procedure.

Don’t believe for a minute that those who created this argument actually believe it. This is just another attempt to steer attention away from the complex issues, like endemic racism in our institutions of social control, and to support the status quo.


As Presidents Go—My Defense of My Defense of President Obama

Or…Elections as Triage

Some people have contacted me or talked to me about my most recent posts defending President Obama and the Obama Record. The critiques are summarized as, “don’t you think you will lose your radical credentials by defending a representative of the status quo and elite power like Obama and the Democratic Party?”

Well, I’m not sure where I get my radical credentials, or who is responsible for taking them away, but the best I can say in response is, “I hope not.” My politics hasn’t changed or, in any way, moderated. I still feel obligated to speak for the powerless in the face of the powerful and to point out the mechanisms by which the elite exploit the common and despoil the commons. My humanistic and universalist vision hasn’t changed. My ideals remain the same.

However, there comes a time when practical reality must be given priority over idealism, and this election year was, in my opinion, one of those times. Don’t get me wrong. Had there been a candidate with a more progressive or radical vision, I would have focused my energies there, but there wasn’t. One can only work with the cards that are given.

Look, elections are rarely ever the venue for radical action. This is especially true of mid-term elections. If we on the left want to have an impact on elections, then we have some more work to do in networking and building the necessary grassroots power, combined with a message that we can shout over the constant conservative din that drowns out any rational discourse. We don’t have that yet. We are working on it. I’d like to think that I’m doing my small part. The truth is we are simply not there.

This last election was testament to the amount of work we must do in electoral politics. We simply have not come to terms with the fact that elections are not about policy and governing; they are about marketing and advertising. That’s a playing field on which we are, as yet, ill prepared. The Republican marketing machine has a clear and distinct advantage in that medium.

So this election was not and could not be a venue for advancing a left agenda. Yes, we did very well on some referenda and initiatives at the state level. That’s a testament to our ground work. However, advancing those who believe as we believe was not an option. This election was about triage more than it was about a left wing vision of justice.

Government continues to secure the interests of the power elite. Every president and party in American history has done the same. Obama and our current crop of Democrats are no exception to this rule. True, some presidents, like the Roosevelts and LBJ, understood that securing the interests of the power elite meant negotiating with very angry and organized mass movements. Such conditions do not exist today, as was clear by an electorate that wanted an increased minimum wage, immigration reform, legalized marijuana, but voted Republican.

Clearly, the left is hemorrhaging. As distasteful as it is, before you can stabilize your patient, you have to stop, or at least slow the bleeding.

I used to be one of those advocates who believed that we, as a nation, were no worse off with a Republican leadership than a Democratic government. The Bush debacle has disabused me of this mistaken assumption. There is no metric that I can see that can convince me that the country and the world is no better off with a President Obama than with a President McCain or a President Romney. Obamacare is not a single payer health system, but it has been a benefit to millions of people. Dodd-Frank is not Glass-Steagall, but a President McCain would not have gone even that far, and a President Romney would have gutted what few, milquetoast protections it offers. The Stimulus was not the next New Deal, but a Republican government would have abandoned the people to suffering a certain Second Great Depression with nothing to offer solace. The Obama/Democratic government has not been what we wanted, but it was better than the given alternative. We on the left are allowing dogma to blind us if we suggest any different.

The Obama/Democrats have overseen an expansion of executive powers and the growth of the Intelligence arm of the Military Industrial Complex. No doubt. The state surveillance apparatus is a growing beast devouring American rights to privacy and self-possession. The world still groans and bleeds under the blades of American militarism. The American backed transnational elite are consolidating their holdings and shaping the New World Order. The very fate of the world in the face of global climate change is shrugged off as a mere inconvenience to the Billionaire Class. Obama/Democrats are as responsible for this as are the Tea Party/Republicans. We on the left have offered some token resistance, at best, failing to build on the few openings that we have had with the Occupy Movement and the Snowden Revelations.

Still, even in the face of its shortcomings, the Obama/Democratic government, with no left wing alternative at that level, has been the best option. To prove this, let’s do a quick mental exercise I like to call “Worst Case Scenario.”

The Worst Case Scenario is Republican control of the White House, 2/3rds of Congress and 2/3rds of the states. The Republican Party has a filibuster proof Senate and the ability to push Constitutional Amendments at whim. What are the policies that will come from that government?

    Affordable Care Act…gone

Medicaid…gone

    Temporary Assistance to Needy Families…gone

    Social Security…gone

    Medicare…gone

    Roe v. Wade…gone

    Food Stamps…gone

    SCHIP…gone

    Unemployment Insurance…gone

    Civil Rights Act…gone

    Voting Rights Act…gone

    Corporate taxes…gone

    Progressive Income Tax…gone

    Public Schools…gone

    Public Libraries…gone

    National Parks/Forests and protected habitats…gone

    EPA and Environmental Regulation…gone

    FDA and Food and Drug Regulations…gone

    Minimum Wage…gone

    OSHA…gone

    Earned Income Tax Credit…gone

    Child Labor Laws…gone

    National Labor Relations Board…gone…and with it, any legal legitimacy for unions

    Dodd-Frank…gone

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…gone

 

    Let’s face it; all of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society would be the targets of such an atrocity as a Republican controlled government. We know this. Voting Democrat might not be a blow against the machine, but it is an effective way to protect what we have so far. And that’s something…something significant that benefits many millions of people.

    Look, voting Democratic and defending Obama isn’t something to be proud of. It’s an act of self-preservation. If we want better from American elections then we on the left must offer a significant alternative that reaches millions of people who are yearning for it.

    Where the left wing agenda was on the ballot, people voted for it. We have the ideas. We have the people. We even have the networks. What we don’t have is a soundboard that’s going to reach the electorate. Until we have this soundboard, we are stuck with electoral triage.

    More on this as the ideas develop.

    


Opting Out of Testing! No Way!

Way!
I am absolutely elated with the Lee County School Board decision to opt out of “all state mandated tests effective immediately.” After all, I live and teach here. Lee County is the first district in Florida to opt out of state mandated testing. It is also the 38th largest school district in the country. As Lee County goes, so goes the country…
…well, let’s not get too carried away.
The consequent political turnoil is not lost in the euphoria. We should have no delusions that this battle is over. Indeed, it has just begun. This decision has left Lee County vulnerable to significant state level consequences, as graduation requirements, bonus pay, school and teacher evaluations and the distribution of state funds is all tied in with test scores. So I’m seeing quite a few parents and district administrators running around like chickens with their heads cut off. What do we do without tests? The Lee County School Superintendant Nancy Graham, a very capable administrator in my opinion, sent us a video message in which she told us that we should “breathe.” Everything will be all right. We’ll get through this. It’s funny and a little sad that our leadership is treating this as some kind of crisis. It is the opposite of a crisis.
That being said, decisions will have to be made at the state level, and we will require a great deal of support and activism to ensure that these decisions support and reinforce this opt out rather than over-ride it. We need to call our representatives in Tallahassee, as well as the bureaucrats at DOE to protect this important first step.
This is not a crisis no matter what the chicken littles say. The sky is not falling. In fact the clouds are finally lifting. There’s a great deal of hand wringing. Some people are saying “there was no plan.” “No backup.” “What about our funding?” “What about students retaking tests in October?” “What about seniors who are supposed to be graduating this year.” Those of us in support of the opt out have to provide some answers, however speculative, for these very real worries.
First, who cares if there was a plan. If we waited until there was plan we would be waiting forever. Lee County’s opt out forces the state and the district to come up with a plan. That’s activism. Reversing stupid policies is never convenient. But it is always necessary.
Here’s a few suggestions. Students taking retakes, no longer have to take the retakes. Problem solved.
Seniors who are supposed to graduate? If they pass their classes, they graduate. Problem solved.
What about funding? What about funding. Our politicians have demonstrated that they will play politics with our funding anyway. So what else is new. We’ll deal with it like we always do? Problem solved?
How will teachers be evaluated if not with tests? Admininstrators can walk into their rooms and watch them teach. Problem solved.
How will we assess student progress? Teachers can do that. Imagine that. Leaving assessment in the hands of professionals trained to assess. What a concept. There are hundreds of instruments teachers can use to establish baseline and progress. This is something that our standardized testing regimen didn’t really do in any meaningful way? Problem solved.
How do we know if our schools are working? The NAEP already assesses the reading and math trends using reliable random sampling that is much less painful, as well as cheaper than the publisher boondoggles that are standardized tests. We’ve had this instrument since the seventies. In fact, NAEP research reveals that the testing regimen that has been in place since No Child Left Behind has had almost no positive impact on learning at all. Problem solved?
In sociology I always tell my students to be wary of simple solutions. But in this case, the solutions are not all that complicated. However, they will require legislation. That’s where it becomes complicated. Has there ever been a simple issue that the politicians could screw up. I can almost feel the publishing lobbyists on their phones right now. This battle isn’t over, and we are on the state’s field. We better be ready to fight.
One thing we have going for us is that it is an election year. And Governor Skellitor Scott is trying to make nice with teachers because…well…he suspects that we are aware of his deep seeded hatred for us. So there is room to movement on this.
It seems there are those who are trying to build this great decision as a crisis. Perhaps, for them, it is. But for teachers, parents and students, it’s not. At least it doesn’t have to be. Any crisis that happens as a result of this decision will, like the idiotic policy itself, be wholly created by politicians and bureaucrats.


Hamas is Bad, But…

We shouldn’t have to make a disclaimer every time we want to criticize Israel

In the United States, it is incumbent upon us to make sure to specify that we do not support Hamas somewhere in any essay in which we might be even a little bit critical of Israel. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson satisfied this requirement in the third paragraph of his piece, Losing the High Ground. He said, “I support Israel. I abhor Hamas. But unleashing such devastating firepower on a tiny, densely crowded enclave in which civilians are trapped—and thus destined to become casualties—is wrong by any reasonable moral standard.” If targeting civilians is wrong by any reasonable more standard, why did it have to be qualified by saying “I support Israel…?” And if that which is wrong by any reasonable moral standard is not enough to get you to at least question your support, why should Israel give a damn about what you think of its targeting practices?

This, however, is the norm for American discourse on Israel and Palestine. Any statement that does not include a veritable loyalty oath to this foreign government and a retort to its enemies is marked as being anti-Israel (god forbid) or even worse, anti-Semitic. Consequently, nothing of substance can be elaborated about this ongoing conflict. We are condemned to issue our support for Israel despite their criminal behavior. We consigned to show our disdain for Hamas despite it being the democratically elected body in Gaza. In the crosshairs are Palestinians who are suffering at the hands of Israeli policies, and Israeli citizens who become targets of Palestinian retaliation. The interesting thing is that even the Israeli press does not have this standard!

Look, the Israel-Palestine Conflict can only be resolved in two ways. The first way is for one side to wipe out the other. That seems to be the goal for the power establishment on both sides. There’s really nothing anyone can do so long as this is the latent goal of politics in region.

The civilized, rational way to resolve the crisis is for both sides to decide on peace. Before that can happen, they both need to accept some truths that neither side has demonstrated a willingness to embrace. Without apologies to either side, those truths are as follows:

Palestinians (Hamas, Palestinian Authority): You Can’t Right the Wrongs of the Past: You got a shitty deal. Your lands were mandated to Britain, who used them toward their own ends without regard to your sovereignty. Ultimately, you were violently displaced. It sucks. It’s not fair. It’s even a travesty. But it’s done, and there’s really no going back. No amount of martyrdom or rocket attacks is going to make up for the loss, and you are certainly not going to get your traditional lands back any more than will the Sioux, or the Cherokee or the Tatars or any of a myriad of cultures that have been unjustly displaced by more powerful forces. You will most likely have to settle for sovereignty over what lands you have, or some form of cultural pluralism. Regardless, the wrongs of the past must remain in the past. Your indignation might be righteous, but Israel has existed since 1948 and will likely continue to exist. It’s done. Using violence, especially violence against civilians will not right the wrongs of the past and makes it more difficult for those in the international community who would otherwise be sympathetic to embrace your movement. Peaceful resistance and democratic movements are the way you need to go.

Israelis (Israeli political establishment, especially the conservatives): You are the Beneficiaries of Injustice: It sucks, but it’s true. Your nation was founded on the displacement of the indigenous people. Perhaps you have a two thousand year old claim, but who gives a shit. There were people already living on this land before your grandparents arrived. Now most Israelis had nothing to do with this, but as the beneficiaries of this injustice it is incumbent upon you to right it. If there’s going to be a two state solution, then the sovereignty of both states must be sacrosanct. You can’t blockade a region just because you don’t like the election results. You cannot bring settlers into lands that don’t belong to you just because you need elbow room. You can’t build a wall between people and their farms, fields, jobs and water sources and call it “security.” Most importantly, when there is a conflict between your nation and the other, you can’t respond by crushing them with tanks and missiles, especially when you target, and you did target, civilian centers. When three Israeli boys were killed outside of Gaza you responded by firing missiles into the territory. What are the chances that those missiles hit the boys’ actual killers? That’s what diplomacy is for.

Look, I know that when it comes to being a beneficiary of injustice, as an American, I have no room to point my finger. But someone has to say it without apologizing for saying it. My own country I have to say, stay the hell out of it. You can’t arrange peace when you are funding the military establishment of Israel. Your diplomatic efforts would be better served in more fruitful endeavors. Peace cannot be secured in the Israel-Palestine through US diplomatic efforts. The political establishment there is dedicated to destruction, not diplomacy. That does not mean we should profit from this. Our undying alliance with Israel is likely a key reason why its government feels free to pursue such harsh, disproportionate policies. Stop feeding the beast. No more military assistance for either side. Align the international community behind letting these groups figure out their own problems.

Most importantly, the political establishment of both sides rests on its hatred for the other. This has to end. The people of Israel and Palestine will have to choose their representatives based on their willingness to accept the truths elaborated above. Until that time, there is nothing anyone can do but shake our heads and the generations long stupidity of your conflict. Many more will die. Many more will suffer. This death and suffering will instigate further retaliation, which will only lead to more death and suffering, leading to more retaliation. Only you can end this senseless cycle.

As a writer, however, I’m not obliged to support either side of this macabre idiocy. Not being obliged to swear my fealty to Israel or my disdain for Hamas, or vice versa. Not getting caught in the rhetorical traditions requisite to legitimate commentary on this issue I’m free to say, a pox on both of your houses.


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The Hypocracy of Right Wing Dreams

Or, Gambling on Violence in Nevada

Fortunately, it appears that the so called right-wing militia uprising in Nevada has been peacefully resolved. I am appalled that, at least in appearance, the militia has been successful in getting the federal government to back down. From the point of view of the feds, backing down in the face of potential violence over grazing fees…grazing fees!…was the sensible decision. They were correct. A fine tyrannical dictatorship they turned out to be!  Juxtapose this with a man, Bundy, who was willing to let people risk their lives, die, and create a national rift all so he could welch on some grazing fees.

I fear, however, that this will encourage future actions on the part of the armed right wing, who really need no excuse for whacko behavior. I also fear that this greedy little skinflint, who simply wanted to steal from taxpayers by extracting resources from publicly owned lands without paying for it. How does such a pathetic figure become a right wing hero? I guess Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin didn’t work out as planned. In fact, the answer is that he was framed as a hero by the right-wing, anti-government noise machine. Without a FoxNoisebox, this issue would have been nothing more than a pathetic footnote in the news. This media grasps onto any opportunity, no matter how desperate, to press their so called “small government” agenda. Placing a fool on a pedestal and hailing him as the personification of freedom is a peculiar art form of the right wing media. So it’s no surprise that this local conflict has not only been promoted as a modern day Lexington and Concord by the wingnut right, but that it may have even been perpetuated by a defacto call to arms on the part of the right wing press.

FoxNoise and the frothing right has whipped this petty grazing dispute into a lather. How seemingly disappointed they appear that this issue did not end in violence. Their anti-government hyperbole was boiling, defining the militia members as freedom fighters (they were idiots) and this conflict as a potential “shot heard around the world” and a rebirth of the spirit of ’76…because the Founding Fathers would have been outraged that Bundy was expected to pay for services. Now that it is clear that the issue will most likely be resolved bureaucratically rather than violently, the right media will have to find other fools to demagogue with their anti-government bile.

I would like to add, however, that these same talking heads who were applauding and prodding the armed militia who were pointing their military style weapons at fellow citizens, were the same advocates calling on the government to crush and violently suppress peaceful, unarmed Occupy activists who were doing nothing more than camping on public lands. Imagine, if you will, a liberal activist  allowing his cattle to graze on private or corporate land without paying for it. The “big government right” would have demanded immediate arrest. Property rights must be defended…just not public property.

The right wing is no more for “small government” than a fish wants less water.


A Pardon For Alan Turing

60 Years Late is Better Than Never(?)

It’s good to see that Queen Elizabeth II has announced a pardon for the great mathematician and cypher, Alan Turing. After all, his only crime was being gay.

It may be a good sign that we’ve cut the shelf life for ignorance and bigotry down to a mere 60 years.

Read the post on Alan Turing written last year for his 100th birthday.

Remembering Alan Turing


RIP Nelson Mandela

I have nothing to write on this yet. I want to get my thoughts together. Regardless, on one hand, the world has lost one of its great freedom fighters. On the other hand, the world had the benefit of this man, whether we knew it or not, for 95 years.


An Open Letter to Congressman Trey Radel

On Embracing an Opportunity to Learn

Dear Congressman Radel:

I am one of your constituents from Southwest Florida, though as a liberal, I haven’t been particularly well represented by you and your office. Perhaps that goes without saying. Regardless, I certainly cannot fault you for being a conservative politician, elected from a conservative district, for voting as a conservative. Since I endeavor to be objective, it is apparent to me that your drug problem did not seriously impact your performance as congressman. You were there for most votes. You voted as the majority of your constituents expected. I may not have agreed with your positions, but that does not mean that you did not do the job that you were elected to do.

Nor does it mean that I should take this opportunity to celebrate your personal misfortunes for the sake of political contingency. Regardless of our political differences, you are first and foremost a human being, a husband and a father. Addiction is a difficult challenge for anyone, so I sincerely wish you and your family well. I hope you get all of the help and support that I, as a liberal, believe is your right. Despite your status, and the privileges that go along with it, you still have a difficult task ahead of you. Good luck to you and to yours.

However, I hope that you take this challenge as an opportunity to learn about a segment of your constituency and your nation that shares your challenge. You see, like congressmen, poor people can also fall prey to the allure of drugs and the trap of addiction. Unlike congressmen, the poor cannot take a leave of absence from their position while they get the help that they so desperately need.

Like an addicted congressman, an addicted poor person deserves help. They do not deserve to be punished, and certainly their children do not deserve to be punished, with the loss of life sustaining services such as food stamps. As you know, threats and punishment are not effective means of dealing with the disease of addiction. They are not effective for congressmen; they are even less effective for the poor.

I hope that you first and foremost get the help that you and your family need to restore your health. When all is done, however, it is my hope that you will re-examine your position with regard to the nature of addiction. Doing so will make you a much better representative for those among your constituents who suffer as you do.

With Sincere Regards

Michael Andoscia

 


iAm! I said.

iExperience is lacking in — Touch

First, I think it’s great that open mic poetry still exists.

This recital is especially poignant. I can’t wait for the day when our technology advances to the point where it can make us human again.


Have We Forgotten our Responsibilities as Adults?

Regarding Trayvon Martin

 


The NRA’s Missed Opportunity

To Promote Gun Usage Among Blacks

 

Whenever a tragedy involving guns makes the news, the NRA is the first group to step up and lament “if only the victim[s] were armed the tragedy would never have happened.” Strangely, that paradigm was missing in the highly publicized Trayvon Martin shooting. Perhaps this was just bad marketing.

So when I heard Tavis Smiley suggest to Bill O’Reilly, of all people, that we should, “arm every black person America,” I thought this was the perfect opportunity for the NRA to jump into action. After all, such a suggestion would open the gun market to fourteen percent of the population. Certainly gun manufacturers would clamor for such an opportunity even though Bill O’Reilly thought the comment was “extreme” (really, O’Reilly thought that was extreme).

So when I went to the NRA website I expected to see Smiley’s suggestion splashed in banners across the screen. Let’s encourage every black person to freely exercise his or her Second Amendment rights!

I was surprised to find nothing of the sort.

Strange.

In fact, the NRA did offer Ten Post Zimmerman Lessons, not one of which was the suggestion that Trayvon, or black people in general, should be armed. The list seemed fairly comprehensive. It scorned Rev. Al Sharpton and his “fellow rabble rousers,” further insulting said rabble by calling them “an already unbalanced horde of hopped-up overreactors.” Gee, I wonder who constitutes the “rabble.” According to the article, there were probably as many, “guilt-addled whites as blacks.” Wow. Also included in the ten lessons is a swipe at Hillary Clinton because…well…you know…Hillary Clinton.

But no mention of promoting gun ownership among blacks.

I wonder why.


Contradictory feelings on the uprising in Egypt

And the role of the military and preserving democracy

 

Figure 1: Can Egyptian democracy rely on military overlords?

I have been watching the new uprising in Egypt with some fascination and trepidation. The source of my conflict is in the role of the military in protecting the nascent democracy.

It is clear that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi was, at least in the eyes of the Egyptian people, inadequate in addressing the complicated economic and social instability endemic to modern Egypt. On the other hand, President Morsi was a democratically elected leader who may have benefited from more time to institute change. Regardless, the people decided that they had had enough of Morsi and were suspicious of the professed goal of the Muslim Brotherhood to create an Islamic Republic. Secularists and leftists organized and protested in the streets—something I believe could benefit the United States—and it is my belief that democratic leaders should be responsive to the will of their people. Morsi, clearly, was not.

So I’m heartened that the military acted in what appears to have been the interests of the people and deposed Morsi. When the military refuses to defend the government from its own people, the government is done. By all appearance, the Egyptian military appears to be a stalwart defender of democracy. Yet “appears” is the operative term, here. I fear that appearances might be deceptive with regard to the Egyptian military. I worry about ulterior motives.

I’m no expert on Egyptian politics, society or culture, but I do know that militaries in general are almost never stalwart defenders of democracy in and of themselves. As authoritarian institutions go, militaries are among the most authoritarian, a clear contradiction to democratic ideals. So while I’m heartened that the democratic will was upheld, I’m skeptical of the long term prospects of a so called democracy that is dependent upon the good will of the military.

Institutions act to empower themselves. When institutions can act autonomously with few checks against their power, this creates a certain potential for the concentration of power and influence. As the protestors celebrate the role of their military in overthrowing a hated leader, I fear for the future of Egyptian democracy itself. The goodwill of an institution, especially institutions premised on legitimized violence, only goes so far.

Militaries are always a potential danger to freedom and democracy. Egyptians would be best served to remember that.

___________________________________________

Postscript: As I was writing this piece, a New York Times article appeared on my phone about Egyptian authorities shutting down and pressuring media outlets for the sake of maintaining stability. If the people do establish checks against the growing power of the military, their experiment in democracy may be short lived. That military’s current actions bolster its reputation among the people lends it the kind of pseudo-legitimacy that could be a stepping stone to more dictatorial power later on. Take heed, Egypt.


Never Forget

It’s not just soldiers who die for our freedom

 

Below you will find a small sample of those who gave their lives for freedom and justice despite not being in uniform. Democracy is something that we must all work and fight for, not just our soldiers. Indeed, I would argue that democracy cannot survive if we expect the military to defend it.

Again, this is just a small sample. Many Americans, from Shays Rebellion through the Occupy Movement have put their lives on the line to fight for freedom and justice. There should be a Memorial Day for them as well.

In 1964, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwermer were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi for helping to register African Americans to vote.

At the height of civil rights tensions these four little girls, Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), Carole Robertson (aged 14) and Denise McNair (aged 11) were killed. They were on their way to see a sermon in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Like the three civil rights workers above, they were killed by the KKK.

Reverend James Reeb was killed after the infamous attack on civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as Bloody Sunday. The next day, Rev. Reeb was beaten and refused admission to the public hospital in Selma. The delay in his treatment may have been just as responsible for death as was the beatings.

In 1877, railroad workers throughout the country went on strike to protest low pay and unfair and unsafe working conditions. Their strike crippled the nation and was violently suppressed by local police and militia and finally the National Guard under the orders of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Over a hundred people were killed in what became known as the Uprising of 1877. This event is rarely ever taught in American History classes.

In Colorado, 1914, miners working for J. D. Rockefeller went on strike. They had had enough of the low pay, horrible conditions and continued harassment and violence against their union leaders, culminating in the death of a union organizer. Ultimately, Rockefeller and his political connections conspired to put the strike down. Strikers fought back but were no match for the National Guard. Most infamous was the night attack on a tent city in Ludlow in which eleven people, mostly women and children were burned to death after their tent city was set on fire.

You can see more martyrs to freedom at the Southern Poverty Law Center Memorial.


What to Remember on Memorial Day

It’s not just about soldiers. It’s about principles that they should represent

 

These soldiers may have prayed at different altars, but their differences weren’t as great as their common bond. The greatness of America lies in the ideal of inclusion; that all men and women share a common and unifying drive for freedom and justice.


Students are Speeking Out!

And it’s about time. Students are not stupid. They know they are being had. They know they are dedicating their time to meaningless balderdash, and they are starting to resent it. And they should. The truth is, that students have the power to change this insane policy if they work together to do so. Communicating that anger and frustration is the first step. Expect more of this.

On the other hand, I disagree with the opening premise of this video that knowledge like “pythagorean theorem” are useless because they are never used. I caution students that in learning these skills they are doing more than just adding to their mental utility. True, they can use things like formulas in the off chance that they need them, but what is being taught is not a formula, or a process, but a way of thinking. We teach this stuff not because we believe that our students are going to grow up to be, in my case, historians. We teach them to strengthen their minds and open doors for future learning. But overall, the message in this video is apt.


Oh, My! Adventures in Blogging!

Yeeeesh!

 

All right! So I’ve received a bunch of e-mails labeled “trackback” and associated with the Mad Sociologist Blog. Of course, I really don’t know what a trackback is, but I’m pretty sure they are bad. So I went to my site to see what was going on.

Well, WordPress has updated my account…which means that all of my security settings were defaulted. So you will notice, clearly, that the blog has changed its look. I hope you like it; I’m still experimenting, so it may change as I continue playing.

Also, you will notice a lot of spam in the comments section. It will take me some time to get through this. I’m afraid I may end up deleting some legitimate comments, but I’ll do what I can to avoid that. My security settings have been revamped, so I’m hoping to have seen the end of this mess…until the next update…but whatayagonnado?

In the meantime, keep checking back for some more Mad Sociologist Commentary starting soon.

By the way, the image above is a line drawing of me that was created by one of my students from last semester. Of course, she did the drawing when she was supposed to be paying attention to the class lecture! But it was pretty cool, and she was gracious enough to give me permission to use it.

Also, don’t forget…


I’m Baaaaack!

Back on the grid, that is

 

Computer and life issues have prevented me from posting, but not from thinking. It looks like life is getting back to normal (more or less).

Expect some posts on Israel and Stoneybrook soon.

Also, to all of the new users who have registered with the Mad Sociologist Blog, thank you. This month has seen the least postings, but the most traffic. I don’t know what that’s about, but hang in there. New material is on the way.

In the meantime, you can check out (shameless self-promotion alert) my novels Stone is not Forever and The Revelation of Herman Smiley. The former is also available for download at Nook, Kindle and GooglePlay.


You can also participate in the Madness that is sociology at the Mad Sociologist page on Facebook.



Why I’m Voting to Re-elect the President

Despite his low score on the rubric

 

After scoring the Obama Rubric last week, I have to say that the results were not surprising. This last four years has been an exercise in political hair pulling and teeth grinding. From signing to close down Guantanamo, then failing to do so, turning his back on card-check, abandoning the public option, and seeming to “negotiate” with Republicans by leading with his chin it’s been hard to be enthusiastic about four more years of Barack Obama.

Even his accomplishments, as momentous as they have been, and as hard fought as they were, are hard to really stand behind. Under President Obama the economy has improved. We cannot forget that when Obama took the Oath of Office, the economy was in a free fall. Obama and the Democrats, without help from the Republicans, turned that around. However, they squandered their moment with a stimulus that was much too small to restore adequate growth, wasting capital on a half measure. Consequently, consistent with the predictions of economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, the economy chugged and creaked up-hill when it could have gathered steam.

With regard to health care reform, it’s hard to cheer for what was, essentially, the proposal from the 1994 Republican Party. Yes, it was essential, and there are many very popular and necessary provisions that will—hopefully—kick in fully by 2014, but it just wasn’t what most liberals would refer to as “reform.” A robust public option would have provided the needed reforms, and the President is not without blame for losing this opportunity. Instead of taking the bully pulpit and communicating his plans to the people, he chose to lead from behind and allow Congress to work through the political process. Of course, there could be no political process in Congress during his term in office. Republicans raised gridlock to whole new levels, aided and abetted by the appalling Joseph Lieberman. That Obama was outmaneuvered by Lieberman is, perhaps, most telling of the then new president’s inexperience.

In education policy, President Obama has taken President Bush’s abysmal No Child Left Behind, and upped the regressive ante. His policies demand more “accountability” in the form of mind deadening testing which amount to nothing more than threats against students, teachers and schools. Meanwhile, he and Arne Duncan advocate for the proven folly of Charter Schools. True, the Obama administration has established some half-way descent national standards and upped investment in early education. He has also attempted to tackle the rising costs of college tuition, especially with regard to reform the student loan structure and keeping interest rates low. However, professional educators were hoping for a reversal of NCLB, not a fast forward.

I could go on. There’s a rollercoaster record with environmental policy and his embracing of fossil fuels in the face of clear indicators of climate change. Let’s not forget the expansion of the national surveillance infrastructure. If that’s not enough, there the executive policy of assassination that is a clear violation of international law and the US code, including the option of assassinating American citizens. There are plenty of reasons not to vote for President Obama

Yes, there have been some great Obama moments. Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act was a great way to start his administration. He reversed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Democrats under his leadership passed financial reform, criticized for not going far enough, but certainly further than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. He has finally come out to support gay marriage. He issued an executive order to stop persecuting the children of illegal immigrants. His leadership in the face of natural disasters has been a breath of fresh air after “Heckuva job, Brownie!” He has managed to restore our status among world nations, which was no small feat considering the dismantlement of American diplomacy under his predecessor. Let’s not forget ending the abomination of the Iraq War and beginning an earnest drawdown in Afghanistan.

So how do we weigh the administration of Barack Obama? How do we establish a “grade” for a president who has been the object of more scorn, political scheming and brinkmanship than any other president in recent memory? To what extent is President Obama, a relatively inexperienced politician, to blame for Republican gridlock and filibustering and blustering and blathering? On the other hand, he is the President.

I will be voting to re-elect the president. This essay is not intended as advocacy or an endorsement. If it was, then it would be pretty poorly written at this point. I simply want to express my thoughts as I head to the polls tomorrow. It is my hope that, come tomorrow, my family and I will be looking forward to another four years with a much more experienced, and beholden, President Obama.

In 2009, I lost my job. The private school at which I worked closed its doors due to lack of profits, but certainly not lack of effort, hard work and quality education. At that point I was stuck. In 2009 there were no jobs to be had. The Lee County School system had a block on new hires, so getting work in my field was out. My wife and I spent a great deal of time and emotion trying to figure out what to do. The future was dire. There was no way for my family to keep our home without my income.

Fortunately, President Obama and the Democrats passed the stimulus, which included funds for education. It wasn’t long before those funds reached Lee County and the block on new hires was lifted. I had a job within two weeks and my family remains in the home that we worked so hard to get. I take this personally. President Obama and the Democratic Party saved my home for me, my wife and my children. That’s not something that I will take lightly.

In the meantime, what were the Republicans doing? Well they were doing everything they could to block my family from getting any help at all. Their pundits were busy calling me a deadbeat for not having a job and for purchasing a house that I could not afford (let alone the fact that I could afford it when we bought it). They were explaining, with heartless calculation, why my children should be thrown out into the street. After all, if I was watching my children starve, that would make me work harder…and accept any level of pay that I could get. Yet they decried foodstamps, unemployment, Medicaid and welfare as fostering dependency.

This heartless, soulless, arrogant, self-righteous, medieval philosophy embraced by the neo-conservatives must be challenged. It cannot be allowed to stand uncontested in the marketplace of ideas. Neo-cons seem to believe that a desperate labor base is a docile labor base. In fact, history shows, that there is nothing more dangerous than such desperation in the masses. Some people, including myself, have claimed that the neo-conservatives wish to bring us back to the 1890’s where the Robber Barons ruled and the working man clustered in rat infested hovels happy for whatever pennies they could scratch up working endless hours in unsafe and unclean working conditions. Some have advocated reversing child labor laws, civil rights laws, and denying women the right to make their own reproductive decisions. I no longer subscribe to this notion. I believe that the neo-conservatives endeavor to bring us back to the 1690’s.

Not for my children.

And this is the philosophy embraced in rhetoric by Mitt Romney. He punctuated his philosophical allegiance, as far as I’m concerned, by choosing a neo-conservative icon as his running mate. Such a backwards and regressive worldview cannot be allowed to flourish in the White House. Eight years of Bush and the Project for a New American Century is bad enough.

With all of the problems that I have with President Obama, I don’t see an alternative in the neo-con version of a President Romney. Will Romney reverse the enormous expansion of federal power that has taken place in the last two administrations? I doubt it. Will his education policies be any better? Instead of charters, he’ll advocate private schools. In those areas in which Obama has demonstrated some success, in the economy and international relations, would a Romney Administration build on that progress? Indeed, not. Romney, owing his presidency to the Tea Party fringe, will, I’m afraid, turn his back on and reverse any such progress.

If anything, it is my hope, though I admit that it is a flimsy one, that a more experienced Obama, re-elected by the neglected liberal base, will be more amenable to progressive action. After all, after bailing out Wall Street, allowing the banksters to walk without prosecution, and creating the bare minimum of regulations on an institutional complex that brought down the global economy, big corporations have largely abandoned the president. It’s been the liberal base that has remained loyal, that has his back, so to speak. Hopefully, President Obama understands where his loyalties should lie.

He’s already made some progressive turns, catching the winds of the Occupy Movement, and Elizabeth Warren’s message of a society in which we all work together. This message has, after three long years, made its way into Obama’s rhetoric, and is well received. Hopefully, he will walk the walk. Romney, on the other hand, has always walked in the path of the 1%. He has written off half of the citizenry as self-proclaimed victims.

More pressing than any ill-placed hope in an Obama 2.0, however, is my utter distaste for the direction that politics has taken in the last four years. The Republican strategy has been referred to as “scorched earth.” It is a strategy in which one party sabotages the functions of government hoping that the resultant dis-function is blamed on the President. Senator Mitch McConnell has stated outright that his number one priority is to make sure that Obama is a one term president.

This kind of tactic cannot be rewarded with success. If we allow the Republican scorched earth strategy to succeed, then we are condoning this cynical politics regardless of the party. In a democratic nation, we get the government that we deserve. I am voting for the President because I believe we deserve better than this. I fear that if Republicans are successful in unseating the President, then that will be the end of effective governance in the United States. After all, the Democratic Party would be foolish not to use the same technique regarding a Romney presidency.

I also fear the effects of a Romney “mandate” on the liberal/progressive movement. The liberal reforms of the twentieth century that led to the most prosperous society in the history of man have been steadily eroded over the last thirty years. I thought the long slide of the Bush Administration would never end. Under President Obama, liberalism certainly hasn’t been ascendant, but neither has it suffered serious reverses. For the sake of the movement, four years of Obama, even with little progress, trumps four years of Romney and the profound damage that could be done with what amounts to a Bush 3.0 administration. President Obama, facing pressure from the left, may be induced to assert force against the right.

Of course, this requires an active and invigorated left. Sometimes I think that the Bush years were so exhausting that when Obama was elected we all took a collective sigh of relief, and rested. It could be argued that we deserved the rest, but the last four years has shown that we certainly could not afford it. If the next four years are going to be fruitful for liberalism, then liberals need to take to the streets. Frankly, I would rather take to the streets during an Obama Administration. As stated earlier, Obama did fill his sails with the energy from the Occupy Movement. Occupy hasn’t died. It’s regrouping. A Romney presidency would be a waste.

The last for years have not been the change that I hoped. Nor has it been an entire loss. I’ve shaken my fist at the President. There are some facets of his leadership that simply must change. That being said, four more years of Obama seem to me more hopeful than another neo-conservative dark age I fear in Romney.


To All of the New Users at the Mad Sociologist Blog

A Welcome from Mike Andoscia

 

I am honored and, somewhat embarrassed, that there are so many new users at the Mad Sociologist Blog. I’m honored that so many people are turning to my humble blog and registering. I hope all of you find this a stimulating and satisfying look at the issues of the day. Thank you so much for registering.

I’m embarrassed, however, that I have been negligent with updating the content of late. There are a few reasons for this. First, the Journal of a Mad Sociologist and the Mad Sociologist Blog are not sources of income. They are outlets through which I express my particular blend of liberal humanist philosophy, and pedagogy informed by the sociological imagination and academic rigor. That’s great, but it requires that I keep a day job…and a night job. So there are times when the blog takes a back seat to paying the mortgage.

Secondly, it is not my intention that the Mad Sociologist Blog serve as an echo chamber for the established punditocracy. I hope to add new perspectives to current issues when I can. When I can’t, I prefer to allow the professional pundits to do their thing. There have been times when I’ve been working on a post only to find that another commentator, with a significantly large audience, has already covered the territory that I intended to speak on. When that happens I usually just link their contribution to the debate and consign my work to the trash been. I see no reason to press a point that someone else has already made.

That being said, it has been quite some time since I have opened the blog to outside contributors. If you are a fan of the blog, are a capable writer and share the philosophy of the Journal of a Mad Sociologist, preferably with a background in sociology or the social sciences, please feel free to submit a post to madsociologist@andosciasociology.net. Also, for those who may have a different or even contrary philosophy to that espoused by the Mad Sociologist, feel free to submit. The goal is to have a serious debate about the issues, not to stifle speech. Regardless, submissions are expected to support their positions. Ad hominem attacks and other banal commentary will be ignored. Also, I know there are those whose job it is to scan the web for content that your bosses don’t like and attack that content. Don’t waste your time here. I want to open this up to real debate and discussion.

Also, the Journal of a Mad Sociologist does have a Facebook page. Click the image below. Again, thank you for making the Journal of a Mad Sociologist and the Mad Sociologist one of your trusted sources.


HaTs off to Rafalca

The Hire-a-Teacher scale of Ann Romney’s Horse

 

A big hullabaloo has been made about Mitt Romney’s $77,000 deduction claim on his dancing horse. The counterclaim that Romney only got $50 for the deduction is credible, but misses a larger point.

The Romneys have the means and are willing to spend $77,000 on 1/3 of a horse. To put that in perspective using my HaT scale, only 1/3 of Rafalca (the Ann Romney shares ownership with two other people. To be fair, I do not know if it’s an even split between the three) scores a 1.9. That is, the expenditures for one third of this dancing horse is almost enough to pay two teachers for one year. Assuming that the Romneys spent a proportionate share on Rafalca, this dancing horse scores almost a 5.8 HaTs.

Rafalca’s worth almost six teachers. That’s pretty steep for a horse, of course, of course!

But the Romneys, and those whom they represent, will fight tooth and nail any attempt to make them use a little bit more of their money to actually hire teachers.


Remembering Those Who Serve Their Country

There’s More Than One Way to do So

 

As always, the Mad Sociologist Blog and the Journal of a Mad Sociologist wants to use Independence Day to remember those who serve their country. There are plenty outlets for those that endeavor to “remember the troops.” That’s great! The troops should be remembered for their sacrifice. A free society, however, requires more than a military, and service is not limited to those who enlist. Many people serve their nation tirelessly every day and are, most often, ignored for their sacrifice.

This year I would like to pay special tribute to those in the medical field, nurses, therapists, counselors, technicians, social workers et.al, who are dedicated to helping our returning soldiers adapt to civilian life. Too often, our soldiers face daunting challenges, including physical and psychological trauma, and strains on relationships and socialization.

Now that we are closing out the two longest wars in US history, fought simultaneously, the demand for recuperative services will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Soldiers have been pressed to the limits of the physical and mental endurance, having undergone extended tours with precious little time away from the danger.

Those who will take the lead in resolving these many and varied issues related to extended combat duty are underfunded, under-staffed and stretched thin. Yet they are dedicated to providing the best quality care. Their sacrifice is no less necessary for the needs of a free society.

http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2008/may/05/tending-war-wounds/