Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Photo Walk Through Union Square Park

Had an unplanned evening in NYC tonight and decided to spend some time observing rather than seeking.

Union Square Park is one of those places that attracts “all kinds ” and it was a nice return to my anthropological roots to be content with observation and simply capturing the beauty of “hanging out”.

Here are some images from tonight’s immersion:











Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, hipster culture, Participant Observation, urban culture | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Some Context for Restoring Faith In Humanity: A Little Bit of Kindness Can Make a Huge Impact

I thought this one was worth the share. It made me tear up, anyway. I think too often we look at people as “us” versus “them”. It’s basic Sociology: Conflict Theory. It states that in order for society to function in an orderly fashion, we need to have a common enemy. A bit misguided perhaps but based on observed scientific fact.

Lately I feel like we have been to focused on conflict and not focused enough on having the conversations we need to create solutions.

I believe and have observed that when we draw our “us” circle just a bit bigger, the world changes for the better. It may start small: on your block, in your community or on a walk home from work – but the impact can be beyond measure.

I really enjoyed this video I got to via a friend’s Facebook page today. I didn’t necessarily need my faith in humanity restored, but it is sure nice to be affirmed sometimes.

Pass it on….

“real, honest good”….


Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Igniting A Cultural Conversation On Race: Putting The Trayvon Martin Tragedy In Context Relating To The Dehumanization of Young Black Males in America


Last Saturday night I was out at a bar enjoying a momentary respite from my family reunion weekend when the news of the Zimmerman verdict came on the overhead TV. At the moment I remember thinking: “I’m really shocked – but then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be”. And I remember a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I washed it down with the rest of my beer and headed back to my family’s chaotic get-together, which couldn’t have been more disengaged with the state of the world or current events.

Tuesday afternoon I had been home for a day and was back in my car headed out to the airport on a business trip. I was listening to a broadcast of “Tell me More” With Michelle Martin on NPR on the topic of Explaining The Zimmerman Verdict To Our Kids.  It struck me that this was a perspective that was fairly niche.  That many non-African American families were likely not having  conversations about with their children.  And that pit in my stomach started turning into tears while I was driving down the highway.

It occurred to me that most white parents don’t have to talk to their teenage boys about how NOT to act when they are in a neighborhood they don’t live in, or if they are approached by a police officer.  White parents don’t worry that their children will be racially profiled or that adult strangers might see their child and automatically assume they are up to no good and need to be feared.  It also deeply hurt me to hear the parents of young black males (all of them middle to upper middle class parents, some in legal professions) say that when they did talk to their kids about the verdict, none of them seem surprised.  They weren’t surprised because, even as teenagers who have yet to get out in to “the real world” they know the realities of race in our country and had braced themselves for what many in America are calling an unfair verdict.

If we take legalities and politics aside for a minute and talk about the context of this tragedy – that being a young black boy wearing a hooded sweatshirt who was killed by an adult Hispanic male that presumed this young black boy must have been a criminal and thus mistakenly pursued him in a confrontation that escalated, ending in this young male’s death – we have to ask ourselves about how the situation might have been different in another context.  Namely – what if we switch out the word  “black” with “white” or even “hispanic”.  Would the context have lead to the same tragedy?  The answer – having heard a lot about the conversations setting the tone for the defense – about this man having been predisposed to fear / make presumptions a black stranger walking in his neighborhood – leads me to say “no”.

Some of the undertones of the “ambient culture” of racism in our country are articulated in this Daily Beast Article by Joshua Dubois, President Obama’s former director of White House Faith Initiatives.  In it he discusses commentary from a number of black social, political and spiritual leaders on how the conversations about this court case in particular are very different depending on who is having the conversation.  The fact is that Black Americans are coming from an entirely different context than, well, everyone else.  And why?  Because Black Americans are also parents and families and communities of young black males.  They know them and love them and see their personalities, ambitions and promise.

But there is something about the context of the rest of American culture that has allowed us to somehow dehumanize black males – seeing them not as young humans with hopes and dreams that are still growing and  finding their place in the world,  but as faceless, nameless figures that represent something to be wary of and feared.   I started really pondering this context while listening to another braodcast of the same NPR program yesterday, this time about Getting Real on Race After The Zimmerman Verdict.  This program featured a panel of Black spiritual leaders, including Dubois and one of the topics was about how a combination of reality-induced stereotypes, media and fear have put young African American Males in this contextual frame.

Yet again my stomach started to knot up and my eyes were filled with tears.

As a social scientist I understand the sociocultural reality from an objective perspective.  As a human being, I loathe it.

But what I loved about the dialogue I was hearing on this program was the idea that the only way we can fix it is by having conversations with one another about it.  And it’s not just about a “National Conversation” mandated by politics and media – but the conversations we have with one another.  Namely, at our dinner tables, in our golf foursomes, on our commutes or in our cubicles.  It’s about White, Black and every rainbow of Americans sitting with one another and understanding how we came to our perspectives on race.  It’s about Black and White citizens hearing one another out.  It’s about forgiving ignorance and promoting education.  It’s about generating empathy and finding common ground from which to build a shared context on race – so we see every young man as equally human and deserving of a benefit of the doubt if they are not actively engaging in criminal behavior.

It comes down to eliminating fear by confronting it head on and delving deep into the context that created it.   Humans are social creatures and our rules about the world are formed based on what we are taught by one another.  Let’s unlearn the old conversations and start some new ones.  Context is everything and we have the power to change it.  For the sake of all Humans.


Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Culture, Racism, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First World Problems: Part Deux

first-world-problemsA couple of months ago I posted a blog about lamenting our “first world problems” and was reminded of it when I found myself in the midst of a bitch-fest at a dear friend’s company’s happy hour to welcome his new French intern.

We both looked up mid-complaint at one point, simultaneously realizing our ridiculousness. So, in honor of that, I have complied a working addendum to the previous list of laments that plague our poor, priviledged lives.  Such as:

“I had to get a replacement iPhone because I dropped mine and shattered the glass. Now I have to re- enter all my passwords (email, voicemail, Apps) AND reconfigure my Bluetooth connection in my Lexus.”

“My doctor cancelled my appointment so he could take the afternoon off and now I have to wait another two weeks because of my travel schedule before I can get a refill on my Adderal. Stupid government regulations on prescription methamphetamines!”

“I can’t believe I’ve been waiting on this checkout line at IKEA for 15 minutes!”

“I think my landscaping guy is over- charging me for pine straw.”

“I really hate it when my travel agent forgets to give my rewards program number when she books my hotel stays.”

My closet is so crowded with clothes I haven’t worn in years that I’ve decided I’m not allowed to get another virtual stylist shipment until I clean it out. But when do I have time for that? Oh well. I guess I’ll be wearing last season’s sweaters this fall.”

Feel free to add and / or throw rotten fruit.

Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Mikes Got The Nuts: Another Observation of Bar Poker Culture

I like to play Texas Hold ‘Em about once a week or so depending on whether I am traveling or how busy work is keeping me.

There are several bar games in my neighborhood – just about every night of the week, actually. Different local sports bars will host or have a promoter host free Texas Hold ‘Em games. They are played tournament style: everyone starts with a certain amount if chips and the game goes on until everyone but one person is eliminated by losing their chips.

It’s a hobby I took up a couple of years ago and I have really enjoyed the down-to-earth “scene”, which I have blogged about before. It gives me a chance to hang out and make some friends with people who I might not otherwise encounter unless we were related or introduced through several degrees of separation.

I’ve also learned a few things along the way. And the bar poker culture is full of great stories.

Last week I finally asked One if the regular players if he would let me take a picture of his nuts.

The ones that he kept on the table, I mean.

You see, like many “professional bar poker” players, Mike always has a talisman or “lucky charm” that he brings with him to play. Two, actually. One is a triangular prism he made in wood shop when he was in high school probably thirty years ago. He uses it to hold down his pocket cards and just likes the way it feels. The other is a pair of over sized lug nuts that are held together by a red string.

mike's nuts

He explained that be didn’t start carrying those until he “got really good” at poker. You see, the word “nuts” In poker means the best possible hand of any that could possibly result from the combination of cards on the board or in anybody’s two pocket cards. For example – if the four cards on the board after the river are 9, 10, Jack and Queen of Spades, the player holding he King and Ace of Spades has the “nut” hand – the highest possible / flush / a royal flush.

So, what Mike is saying with his luck charm is that – by way of tongue-in-cheek posturing – he has the “nuts”, or best possible hand.

I liked that story. Most people usually carry around and display a token or other object that they were given wining a tournament – to show that they have proven their skill and are this a force to be reckoned with as a poker player.

I also learned a couple of new slang names for pocket poker hands at that game: a typical blue-collar, off-color slang for a combination of two cards that one is dealt at the beginning of each hand:

10-3 = “hot waitress”: “a ten with a tray”

Queen-3: “gay waiter”: “a Queen with a tray”

I said it was off-color, didn’t I? Again: just reporting the anthropological observations. Participant observation in ethnography is a definitely an art that sometimes requires a healthy dose of objectivity.

In any case, I have not yet achieved the right to carry around a good luck charm. I’ve one a few tournament style bar games and gotten to play in a couple of “finals” tournaments but have not earned my “nuts”. I have earned the friendship of a great groups of folks that I am so happy to spend several hours a week with and am grateful that they have been so open to my anthropological prodding.

Here are couple of my other  “poker” posts:


Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, poker, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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