Huell Howser and The Gift of Sincerity

I’ve lived in California for 10 years, but I still feel like a stranger. It’s so vast and I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t have the time to drive around exploring it’s recesses. One of my introductions to my new state was a PBS show called California’s Gold with an affable, oddly-excited hulk of a man named Huell Howser who traveled around the state and expressed child like fascination at what seemed to most trivial of things. Here’s Huell expressing wonder and amazement at a dog that eats avocados:

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While my first impression of the show was loaded with mockery, I came to appreciate the complete lack of snark and irony in Howser’s engagement with the world. It’s refreshing to encounter someone who legitimately thought the world was wonderful and engaged with it as such. We so often feel the need to denigrate things to elevate ourselves. In some ways, this is what serves as the great virtue of California. It is a do your own thing culture that while not quite non-judgmental, certainly provides more space for originality and distinctiveness.

It was sad to hear of his recent passing of cancer at the relatively young age of 67. Fortunately, we still have the great wealth of footage Howser created in his time making California’s Gold and other shows. Chapman University has a Huell Houser archive with most if not all of the California Gold archives.

HT: Open Culture

Thought Provoking Stats of the Day

Hispanic children under age 18 are also more likely to have been born in the U.S., with 92% being native-born Americans and 93% being U.S. citizens.

and

Nearly half (47%) of the U.S. Hispanic population lived in California or Texas

From NCLR

Robbie Rogers and the Changing US Sports Landscape

Those of you who have read this blog with any frquency know that I am a profound US Soccer/MLS fan. I’d blog about this every day if I could, but I do appreciate that the rest of the readership doesn’t share my devotion/bordering on obsession with the “world’s game.” There are a few occasions, however, where politics/society and soccer intersect.

Last week, Robbie Rogers, a soccer player who has played for the US men’s national team, the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer and the storied English club Leeds United, simultaneously retired from soccer at 25 and came out as gay.

This admission in and of itself is not remarkable. A number of former athletes have come out as gay, including a teammate of Rogers, David Testo in 2011. The news recieved almost unanimous support from the US soccer community. Journalists, bloggers, supporters, players. etc. Illustrative of this support is this video made by the Seattle Sounders team:

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But I’m wary of getting too carried away with ebulient praise. Even with this outpouring of support, two MLS players (here and here) were fined by the league for using homophobic language on the field.

What this reflects is a nation still struggling with two competing impulses. On one hand, we are a deeply individualistic and pluralistic society. As such, the message “to each his/her own” resonates strongly. But at the same time, we have a religious/traditionalist strain that upholds sex and gender hierarchies and recoils at secular social change. It’s this tension that allows someone to use a homophibic slur without thinking of it in it’s homophobic context while at the same time being convinced that they are not anti-gay.

Sport is an interesting venue to examine how masculinity plays out in public. In all sports, norms are changing rapidly. As an example, Chris Culliver, a player for the San Francisco 49ers made this statement shortly before the game:

I don’t do the gay guys man… I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do… Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.

If uttered 10 years ago, these remarks would probably go unchallenged. But they were uttered in a cultural context wherein Culliver was under pressure to rescinded these remarks. Contrast Culliver with Brendan Ayanbadejo, a player for the Baltimore Ravens and an outspoken GLBTQ rights advocate.

We in the US are going through a challenging and a reorienting of gender/sex norms. As an example, look at the seismic shift in support for gay marriage in the last decade. Our sports institutions are no different. There may be something about the marginal position of soccer in the US, it’s constant construction as a “sissy sport” that makes its fan-community more empathic towards GLBT issues. Soccer’s growing popularity in the US may refect a change in the culture towards an acceptance of more pluralistic presentations of masculinity… one that allows athletes to be gay and still perform in traditionally “masculine” venues like athletic competition.

Despite this, a major milestone has yet to be crossed. No openly gay player has come oout in a major men’s professional US sports league while still an active players. A number of soccer commentators have speculated that Major League Soccer is ready to be the first. Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated made the following observation:

I happen to think MLS, probably more than other U.S. men’s sports leagues, is ready for an openly gay player. The survey response I got above says so. So do the actions of the league, which suspended two players for a total of six games last season for using homophobic slurs on the field. I also happen to think the popular support for an out player would extend to endorsement opportunities. As a friend in the business texted me Friday, “[Rogers'] commercial value just skyrocketed. I hope he comes back to the game.”

I hope so too.

Facebook Defectors

Pew is out with its new survey of social media use and Facebook and it confirms the idea that we might be approaching what Slate’s Farhad Manjoo calls “Peak Facebook” in the United States. Two-thirds of Americans online are Facebook users. This is a slight increase from 2011 when 59% of internet users were on Facebook. But perhaps the most telling data is this:

20% of the online adults who do not currently use Facebook say they once used the site but no longer do so.

8% of online adults who do not currently use Facebook are interested in becoming Facebook users in the future.

What does this all mean? I wrote a book last year that argued that the need to connect with others powerful and Facebook has created an appealing “architecture of disclosure” that draws users into their own semi-intimate networks. The fact that the push out of Facebook seems to be stronger than the pull into Facebook at the present time suggests that Facebook is not the be all and end all of disclosure and connection. It would be interesting to know more about “Facebook defectors” and why they left. Pew has some data on this:

(21%) said that their “Facebook vacation” was a result of being too busy with other demands or not having time to spend on the site. Others pointed toward a general lack of interest in the site itself (10% mentioned this in one way or another), an absence of compelling content (10%), excessive gossip or “drama” from their friends (9%), or concerns that they were spending too much time on the site and needed to take a break (8%)

Other factors seemed to be at play here. It may be that there are two competing interests at play: a need to disclose and connnect versus a need to create distinct individual identities that are constantly exposed to novelty. The 10% who cited a “general lack of interest” might be at a place where they seek more novelty from their networks than they are getting. We should think of Facebook as part of this continuum. For those who are prone to or craving connection, Facebook is attractive. For those craving differentiation and novelty, less so.

HT: Xeni Jardin (Boing Boing)

SOTU Analysis: Rhetorical or Real Progressive Moment

State of the Union addresses are one of the few public political ceremonies in the US system. It’s amusing to see president after president walk to the podium and deliver a one-hour plus ode to the “decency of American working people.” This president was no different, even if he seems more eloquent than others. What the president’s speech does is lay out a connection between government activism and “rewarding” the decency of Americans. It is a stark contrast to other politicians that might regard “working people” as dependent or morally failing.

The best of Republican presidents could offer a connection to “working people” by ensuring that their decency should be rewarded with a government that will keep them save, preserve the purity of their culture or unburden them and their employers from excessive taxation and regulation. This message has worked effectively for them for the past three decades (and still works for just under half of the American electorate).

For me, it is hard to tease out whether this is a rhetorical “progressive moment” or an actual “progressive moment.” The president’s agenda is grandiose but is there the financial room to maneuver and the political dynamics necessary to bring them about. My gut says, not but that it is good politics that could help shift the house to the Dems in 2014. If that happens then the rhetoric is closer to becoming reality.

Blogs and Boredom

Blogs are strange things. When you devote yourself to maintaining one consistently, you’re locked into the challenging process of “feeding a blog.” That means scheduling time to write and searching for things that are “blog-worthy.” Things like a digestible but informative graph, a passage from a book I’m reading from a research project, etc. This can be as daunting as simply writing a long expository essay about blogging (see what I did there).

But I’ve come to realize that my attitude towards the blog is consistent with my attitude towards my classroom (maybe my parenting sometimes) — my job is to relieve boredom. It would seem to be necessary in a blog. If I can’t make it interesting, they why read it? Same goes with the classroom, if I can’t make it interesting, why be engaged? True enough. But there is an element of “playing it safe” that seems to do blogger and reader no good. No exploration, no sense of play comes from relying on familiar tropes. We can all be entertained and remain relatively unchanged by the interaction.

So I pledge to you reader, I will try harder to not reflexively seek to relieve your boredom

Does Civic Hacking Preference the Local over the National?

Have you been to a hackathon? If you’re not a programmer, the answer is probably no. Hackathons are intensive sessions where programmers work collaboaratively on a specific programming task. In the past few years, “hacker” culture has shifted towards solving urban problems. City “hackathons” have popped up all over the world. Here are just a few examples: Tampa, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

These events fall under the broader umbrella of “civic hacking.” What is “civic hacking”? The prefix “civic” denotes an attempt at governance rather than simply engaging in disruptive citizen protest. While “hacking” as a practice can have nefarious connotations, civic hacking is the application of “hacking” tools towards more effective governance. One example is the Open Government Partnership — An intiative launced in 2011 designed to produce “more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations…” Forty-seven nations, including the United States, have become signatories to the pledge.

In practical terms, apps like Seeclickfix put into practice the aim of more accountable and responsive government by allow citizens to file non-emergency “online public reports” in their cities through on-line desktop and mobile apps. City governments can add them as widgets to their mobile desktops. The public report is then sent to a list of public officials and bloggers in the community who have the capacity to act on them….. Seeclickflix charges muunicipal governments between $1200 and $20000 a year to manage their “311” services.

The proliferation of apps like seeclickfix and the ethos it supports bring up interesting questions. Does civic hacking elevate localism at the expense of the national? If government responiveness is largely a question of information asymmetry, then the ability of users to convey concerns with little to no transaction costs would appear to bode well for citizen perceptions of local government. However, as you aggregate up the ability to meet the demands of a large diverse polis becomes more than a question of service delivery. A quick look at the whitehouse.gov online petition page confirms this. What are the implications of this, if true? Don’t know yet.

Civic Hacking and Cognitive Democracy

I’m making my way through a sample chapter of a promising book by Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi on the idea of Cognitive Democracy. In it, they offer a defense of democracy as the optimal mechanism for using diverse viewpoints in arriving at optimal democratic decisions. New media promises to provide avenues for deliberating, adjudicating and aggregating these public decisions (alliteration unintended).

I’m reading this because I’m interested in the question of civic hacking, or using new technology to solve commons problems. While I’m at an early stage with my work, I’m curious to see how they reconcile how citizen input can be used (e.g. “hacked”) to produce optimal decisions with the question of how and whether those “hacked” citizen-driven solutions confront entrenched interest invested in suboptimal outcomes.

To me, this is the great challenge of the “civic hacking” movement that emphasizes using data to optimize government decision making. A “civic hacking” ethos operates from a rational perspective on human and institutional behavior, one that assumes that policy differences result from ignorance. But a great deal of recent work in psychology finds that policy conflict is not remedied by exposure to “the truth,” rather it becomes more entrenched.

Of interest to me is how “civic hacking” that seeks to either improve government services (e.g. traffic patterns, bus routes) differs from “civic hacking” that uses data to challenge government decisions?

I’m Ready for some Futbol!

Today I get to indulge my “ugly American” side and root passionately for the United States men’s national team (USMNT) as the begin in earnest their campaign to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.  Today, they travel to San Pedro Sula, Honduras to take on Los Catrachos in the opening game of the Hexagonal (Hex for short).

Many soccer fans this qualification for the US should be a given.  But it is no easy task to play a game in San Jose, Costa Rica on a slick artificial turf in a stadium designed to have the fans right on top of the pitch.  Or to play in Mexico City at the famed Estadio Azteca with 100,000 screaming fans, smoggy air at 6,500 feet.  

To maximize their advantage, Honduras is playing this game at 3pm Central time, at the heat of the day.  The country has declared a national holiday to encourage Hondurans to watch the game.  Meanwhile, in the US, the game is on a channel that no one has (BeIn Sport)… this leaves fans in the US to search for streams of dubious legality.  

Kick.tv, YouTube’s answer to a soccer channel has a nice overview of the scene down in Honduras. 

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Pardon the jingoism, but “USA! USA! USA!”

 

Nick Couldry, “Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice”

[Cross-posted from New Books in Communications] In Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice (Polity Press, 2012), Nick Couldry provides a sweeping synthesis of his important media theory over the last decade. Couldry reassesses his work on media rituals, media power, and the “hidden injuries” of representation in light of cross-cultural diversity as well as the sudden eruption of social media. The book argues convincingly that these theories remain relevant to a social media age, in a rich, chapter-by-chapter engagement with contemporary social theory. Couldry makes a cogent case for a “practice approach” to media studies that treats a wide range of social activity—and not just production or consumption—as media-related and worthy of study. The book is concerned with big themes—social order, justice and power—but also furnishes a toolkit of mid-range theories that deserve to be applied, and wrestled with, in empirical research. Media, Society, World provides a nuanced verdict on the prospects of digital democracy, advances a de-territorialized notion of “media cultures,” and furnishes a theory of media power through a highly original rethinking of Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory. The concluding chapter asks readers to engage with a literature—and a set of questions—that media scholars rarely address: media justice in the context of moral and political philosophy. The book is a major statement from the leading media theorist working today.