Sunday, January 12, 2014

Remembering students

When I first started teaching, I thought I'd remember all of my students forever.  Yesterday, I was clearing out old paper work, and found a number of rosters for classes in 2006.  I could remember perhaps 6 of the many students listed there.  I feel sad about it, but the activity provided some perspective.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Knowns and Unknowns

I've been thinking a lot about how what we know changes as we age.  It's a truism that the young know everything, and only find out they're wrong when they're older, and then come to think they may not know anything, but that's not true.

Following Rumsfeld's categorization of knowledge, we have this system:
  1. Known Knowns (things we know we know)
  2. Known Unknowns (things we know are out there, but we aren't sure of what exactly they are)
  3. Unknown Knowns (things we know but are not aware of knowning -- covert categories of knowledge)
  4. Unknown Unknowns (things that we know nothing about and don't even suspect are out there)
I suppose that when we age, we recognize that  Category 4 exists, that it's larger than we thought, and that Category 1 is smaller than we thought.    Number 3 is interesting to me as an anthropologist, because it represents our cultural biases and worldview.  The concept is discussed in folk taxonomy research.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I used to volunteer to take care of people's pets over the holidays so I would have something to do.  Now I get paid for it.  Progress?  Not really.  Next year -- volunteer at a food sharing program.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The view from Mira Mesa

Mira Mesa - commonly maligned as crowded, dense and 'too ethnic' has gorgeous views early in the morning of mountains to the east and north.  The sky was colorful - early morning hues left over from the dawn - and the sunlight reflecting off of the clouds lit up the freshly washed trees and yards.  At the house where I was, the rain had brought out the scents of the chaparral in the canyon.  A beautiful morning.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Michael Pollan on sustainable food

Part of the many influences driving me to collect articles about sustainability is Michael Pollan, esp. his book "The Botany of Desire."  His mantra -- eat food, not too much, mostly plants -- resonated with me and fit into my vegetarian life, a life I'd started after reading "Diet for a Small Planet" by Francis Moore LappĂ© in the late '70s.

I took Pollan's advice to heart and over 2 years I lost 60 pounds.  (I was also inspired by my cousin, and by Bill Clinton, each of whom had lost a lot of weight.)

Here's a short video by Michael Pollan:

Maybe you'll feel inspired also?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A More Nuanced National Discussion of Morals?

As an anthropologist, I follow in the line of those who attempt to tease out the individual from social context, understand social context through person-centered ethnography, find the moral code that helps to regulate behavior and emotional expression, and in general, learn the interconnections of culture and personality.  Two recent articles in fall into that investigation, and I'm presenting excerpts here without much commentary.
This kind of valorization of autonomy, and the radical individualism that follows from it, misses the fact that it is precisely our enmeshments that make us who we are and give our lives meaning. We are all part of many different systems, economic, environmental, familial, etc., and it is our shifting presence in those systems that makes us visible, that allows us to be known. America may have been built on an ideology that values personal freedom over any and all connections, but that is exactly the ideology that leads us to free-market capitalism, neoliberalism, global domination, and winner-takes-all social Darwinism. In the name of “personal” liberty, corporations (which are now considered “persons”) are granted constitutional power that gives them license to perpetuate economic inequality, and has produced the dominant 1 percent. The greater good, whether it’s configured in the frame of the “commons,” the environment, the proletariat, or the biomass, is losing ground. (Many of us, obviously, think it’s time for a different reality.)
It was an uphill battle. For too long in America the subject of morality has been collapsed into sexual morality. For most of Western history, morality had richer content. Morality meant proper conduct regarding wealth, just as one example. In the Old Testament, people were taught to leave some of their harvest behind in the fields as charity. The Greek virtues included the virtue of “temperance,” “liberality” and “magnificence” – all counseling moderation in the relationship to money and physical pleasure. The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant asked his followers to imagine they were living in a world in which everyone behaved as they did. The English utilitarians, horrified by the inequalities of the first Industrial Revolution, suggested that the millionaire’s millionth dollar did not mean as much to him as the same dollar meant to a poor man.

But as inequality rose, moral debates about economic justice fell until only sex was left as a subject for moral conversation. Worse, in response to the sexual revolution of the ’60s, moral sex was defined by a snapshot of the 19th century Protestant, monogamous, heterosexual, reproductive family. Same-sex sex was the definition of the immoral. Except for those uppity women wanting to abort their “babies,” it dominated the field. With the arrival of religious activists into U.S. politics in the ’70s, this religiously defined sexual morality was promoted as a proper subject for politics.

A moral society means more than sexual mores, but for Americans, it's hard to see past that.  I've been feeling energized by the Occupy movement.  For the past 3 years, I've discussed income inequality in my classes, feeling as though nothing was being learned by the students, but probably, the quiet response was due to challenging thoughts, not resistance.  Developing a collective view of society and our neighbors seems to me to be the work of the coming decades.

In Memoriam

James the cat is no more.  The failure is mine - not recognizing his deep fear and insecurity, being unable to find a solution to his biting.  In the end, I became too afraid to live with him, for even though the serious biting was due to a panic attack on his part, brought on by  . . . what?  A change to a new litter box? bladder infection? overstimulation?  it was clear the changes he'd made, and that I had made, weren't enough.

We learn through experience, which is another way of saying, we hurt the ones we love, even when all of our intentions are kind.  We hurt the ones we love when we lose our temper, lose our focus, consider only short-term gains and not long-term achievements.  My one comfort is having the support of the vet.  But the house is quiet and lonely, and his toys and beds are still here, and what will I do with the big bag of catnip?