Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Greetings from Portland!

Hello everybody! I bet you weren't expecting to hear from me today! Well, here's a secret: I wasn't expecting you to either. But, as it happens, the Portland airport has free wireless internet access, and I ended up turning my computer on to check something. The rest, as they say, is history.

As you will recall this most recent weekend I was in Portland for the annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association. This being my first trip to Portland and, indeed, the entire pacific Northwest, I was rather excited to see what I had been missing. So what did I think?

Well... it rains here. A lot. I think it's been overcast and/or raining for at least 40% of the time that I've been here. Such a climate is a little depressing to a Florida boy like me. The city, however, is well laid out, has good public transportation, is almost frighteningly pedestrian-friendly, and has a bookstore named Powell's that is too gargantuan to be described. Seriously, I get a mental hard-on just from walking through the door. And don't even get me started on the used books in the place. Sheer heaven. China Town is disappointing, after the grandeur to be had in San Francisco, but still interesting. So what's my final assessment? Sorry, but I'm not sharing that just yet. I had a homework assignment from an associate to see what I thought of Portland, and have no intention of ruining the "surprise" when I give my answer.

I put surprise in quotation marks because, let's face it, there's no rhyme or reason to my opinions anyway. So, there's only a limited extent to which people have expectations about my views.

I also had the opportunity to go to coffee with the always-charming Tina of Pub Sociology and that armchair radical herself, Julia Kanago of Everyday Sociology. So what happened? Well, it turns out that we really like coffee, since we walked a number of blocks for it. Also: cinnamon scones are pretty good, though maybe not as good as you'd think. It is also apparently the case that Starbucks sells something called "Seasonal Danish." Yes, I mean that as in, "Can I have a coffee and a seasonal Danish?" If there's anyone who can place an order for such an item without feeling hopelessly surreal, I do hope they stay away from me. Finally, I believe this coffee allowed Tina and Julia to discover that I'm really not any more interesting in person than I am online.

As for the PSA meetings themselves... I was somewhat unmoved, though not for the reason that gave Tina pause. It isn't that the conference doesn't try, but that it doesn't try hard enough. The two-hour special session on how Bush "stole" the last election was a bit much, I thought. It isn't particularly decorous for us to be spending time at scientific conferences whining about our recent electoral defeat. But, as always, I belong to the camp that believes that our politics and our science should not be indistinguishable.

Ironically, however, a number of the other scholars at the conference would seem to agree with me. I can only assume that this is the case since a number of them, particularly in the mostly excellent panel on issues in academic freedom of speech, were bemoaning recent moves by the Students for Academic Freedom to require that both conservative and liberal "facts" be taught in the classroom. This is, obviously, a ridiculous notion: not because conservative views should not be taught, but because facts are... well... facts. The very definition of the term seems to clearly indicate, to me at least, that the reality of something precedes its utility for a political party. To assert anything to the contrary is, at best, absurd and, at worst, dangerous. Perhaps the greatest irony, to me, was the presentation condemning the stance that a University may decline to fund speakers or shows that it disagrees with, though it does not officially censor them. Is this a form of tacit censorship? Almost certainly. Can we dispense with it? Not so much. If we deny universities the right to even decline to fund a speaker on the basis that their speech is inconsistent with that institution's "values" I fear we may end up making our own lives worse. Do we really want to force Universities to bring in a conservative speaker for every liberal? Do we really want to set a precedent that might be twisted into requiring that pro-life activists be hired to staff Planned Parenthood clinics? It might just be me, but I think we need to put some more thought into that. I am not one to come down as supporting restrictions on speech, but we're getting into murky water when we require one entity to actively support the speech of someone or something they disagree with. So, I guess the conference leaves me wondering if some of my fellow academics aren't so much vexed about being forced to include politically-motivated material in their classes (or conferences) as they are about being forced to include someone else's politically-motivated material.

Alas, I am too harsh. Despite the obvious bitterness felt by many, and the crushing predominance of qualitative work, I enjoyed the conference, and wish its attendees and organizers all the best.

As for me, I will soon be boarding an aircraft bound for home. Sadly, I will not actually arrive until sometime tomorrow but, as I often tell my sister, sleep is for the weak. In the meantime I am left to tap at my computer, and watch my fellow passengers. So far the woman with the latest Brian Greene missive is the most interesting, if only because her style of dress makes her resemble a Cub Scout Leader more than anything else. There's also the older woman in a mink coat and a wheelchair, about whom I will spin countless tales, each less believable than the last.

And so, fair readers, I bid you adieu until my return to my cave lair pit apartment. I can hardly wait.

Then again, considering that my dog greets people by punching them in the crotch, I think I can wait quite patiently.

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