Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Non-Verbal Communication in a Nightlife Environment

While the Portland club scene might not have as much glitz and glamour associated with it as many "super-clubs" or "ultra-lounges" in the world, it does seem to host a wide variety of differently themed clubs. Whether they are geared to punk rock, metal bands, honky-tonk, top 40, or underground electronic music scenes--it becomes obvious that the type of club has some effect on the type of patron it eventually attracts.

I recently made a trip to the downtown nightclub "Dirty," and conducted an ethnographic study of the behaviors and environment there. My original goal was to focus on how the night club environment affected non-verbal communication between people, but after a reading of Roland Barthes' "Mythologies," the approach toward my observations changed.

Barthes had suggested that due to the particular designs in our physical surroundings, we can be enabled (or disabled) in regard to the attainment of specific goals, and that the environment we operate in simultaneously confines, constrains, and encourages certain types of behaviors. Nowhere is this idea more easily seen in action as it was for us at Dirty.

For example: The nightclub Dirty is outfitted with 36 stripper poles. This is more than most of the stripclubs in the Portland area, which is saying something, as Portland has the highest number of strip clubs per-capita in the United States. In addition to the stripper poles, the club featured full lenth mirrors, swings, multiple bar areas, lounge areas (in front of the stripper poles).

It is obvious, when you walk through the door, that this place is designed for one thing. Debauchery. And it seems to infect its patrons with that type of sentiment, as participants can be observed acting in "dirty" ways, throughout the club, especially as the night wears on and the alchoholic intake increase.

In our study, we made copious notes about the design of the club, and how each and every feature contributed to the fancy-free party atmosphere. We obtained a treasure trove of photographic evidence which supported our claims, which we performed content analysis of, and coded 5 seperate modes of behavior which we were able to observe. They were listed as such:

1.) Naughty frames, where the participants were engaged in what we dubbed “dirty” behavior.

2.) Friendship frames, wherein the participants were engaged in shows of less sordid affection for each other, symbolized by side-hugs, arms around shoulders, and group solidarity photos.

3.) Humorous “photo op” moments, where the participants were either “hamming it up” for the camera, or the camera person himself found a particular scene to be funny enough to warrant a candid shot.

4.) Drinking frames, where participants posing for photographs were in the act of consuming beverages.

5.) Vanity frames, where the photographer captured participants wearing extravagant (or very little) clothing, and otherwise attracting attention to themselves.

In all, our observations led us to believe that actors in a club environment tend to socialize and interact nonverbally in ways which allow them to express freedom and disconnect themselves from the outside world. The club environment affords them opportunities to attract members of their preferred sex, and facilitates their doing so by providing music for dancing, and alchoholic beverages for consumption, which encourage "dirty behavior" among participants. This effect is then amplified by the presence of a photographer, who may act as an instigator as well as the record keeper for the events which unfold. As people will no doubt wish to re-live these experiences at a later date, the functionality of the photographer is well appreciated.

Furthermore, we suggest that the very existence of such a themed nightclub is reflective of the type of company it keeps, and in a metaphorical sense, the patrons of the club, the appearance, and goals of the club environment are congruent. This is a place where value is given to "classy" ways of becoming "classless," and the venue itself communicates these ideals to its patrons. They, in turn, act accordingly.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Ford Dealership in Cow Town

Growing up in Salem, Oregon can be difficult for a teenager who has a full summer on their hands, with nothing to do.  Fortunately, there are plenty of nice swimming holes around the area to visit, and socialize with the rest of the bored-out-of-their-minds crowd.  One such place, to which I make attempts at facilitating a yearly pilgrimage in order to relive my childhood, is the North Fork of the Santiam river.  It is a wonderful place, with plenty of dangerous bridges to jump off of, as well as water chiseled cliffs to dive into crystal blue waters from.  A mecca for those who search refuge from the "busy city life".

This past year, as I drove myself down highway 20 toward the city of Stayton from Salem, I saw something I hadn't quite noticed before.  A brand new Ford dealership in the middle of the country, just outside of Stayton, population: 7,765, and spread out over quite a large area of farm country.

It seemed to me quite odd, that a large Ford dealership would be located in an area that was as sparsely populated.  My first thought was to rationalize the methodology of the higher ups in the company, thinking "cowboys need trucks" --but on closer examination of the dealership, much of their inventory are cars. 

It simply struck me as incongruent for a retail dealership of such massive technology to be located in a place where the "corn festival", agriculture, and farm lifestyles are so prevalent.  This disconnect really made me think about what kind of reasons a large corporate conglomerate such as Ford would even think about putting a dealership in a lowly populated area. 

Then I thought, "this place isn't sparsely populated at all--we're on one of the most well travelled roads in Oregon!  The gateway to the east, and cities such as Bend, Redmond, and Prineville." -However it still struck me as odd... less in a practical sense, because many people DO travel right by the VERY visible lot full of vehicles, so in an advertising sense, they are probably getting their money's worth.

That doesn't excuse the aesthetic blunder which exists, and effectively disrupts a travellers spacey gaze out the window over rolling hills, and beautiful pastures.  See for yourself.


Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Food Carts in the Portland Area

Portland was recently listed as the "World's Best Street Food" by CNN/Budget Travel.  With over 580 Licensed carts, there's bound to be a pod of delicious carts in your neighborhood!

Here's the list:


PSU - SW 4th and Hall
3rd Ave - SW 3rd and Stark
2nd Ave - SW 2nd and Stark
Lot 91 - SW 2nd and Ankeny
SW 5th - SW 5th and Stark
Alder - SW Alder @ 9th and 10th


North Station - N Killingsworth and Greeley
Mississippi Marketplace - N Mississippi and Skidmore
Mississippi/Fremont - N Mississippi just N of Fremont
Crystal Gardens - N Lombard and Richmond
Lombard Pointe - NE Lombard and MLK
Dreamer's Marketplace - NE MLK and Graham
AREA 23 - NE 23rd and Alberta


E 7th - E 7th and Burnside
Cartopia - SE 12th and Hawthorne
Good Food Here - SE43rd and Belmont
A la Carts - SE 50th and Division
Division and 48th
Ala Carts - SE 102nd and Stark
Sellwood - SE 13th and Lexington

Oh yeeaaaaaah!  Get it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Interesting Places: The Rose Garden Sports Arena

One of the most interesting places to go in Portland is the Rose Garden Arena. On any given night, attractions might include rock concerts, basketball games, hockey games, rodeos, moster truck rallies, or childrens musicals such as "Disney on Ice". It is interesting not only because of the entertainment acts which it features, but also because of the many functions it can take on as one of the largest public establishments in the state of Oregon.

Built in 1993, and opened in 1995, the Rose Garden arena was mostly funded via Paul Allen and Vulcan Inc. who is also the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team.

The exterior shape of the Rose Garden arena was designed to invoke the shape of a Rose, in congruence with Portland's identity as the "City of Roses".

In particular, Blazers basketball games tend to have the most consistent and largest draws.  With a total capacity of just over 20,000 people, the Rose Garden can be a raucous place when a crowd is excited.  There are no "bad" seats in the house, as the walls of the arena are sloped at such an angle as to accomodate the maximum amount of people possible, and to bring them as close to "center court" as possible.

As one approaches the arena, there are many entrances and exits which open to a large concourse which encircles the building.  Every 50 or so feet, there are vendors stationed against the walls selling clothing, sports equipment, novelty items and gift items.  There are concession stands built in next to the entrances to the arena itself, which offer the entire gamut of junk food fare for the masses. 

On the first level (the 100 level) where the nicer seats are located, it is also possible to gain access (for a price) to the "Lexus Club Level", which includes an "all you can eat" buffet during games, and an unlimited access snack bar which is litterally a parent's nightmare for children pursuing a sugar high.

With as much hustle and bustle as it takes to get people seated in their correct seats, there are plenty of helpful attendants, and the doorways are all numbered with their corresponding ticket and seat number.  There are escalators, elevators, and wide staircases which allow for thousands of people to navigate through the buildings levels.  Traffic is seldom jammed, unless too many people decide to go through the same exit.  There is always another exit close by.

Probably the most exciting thing about the Rose Garden arena is the simple fact that the people who arrive there, are already excited themselves.  Many of the attendants are apt to paint their faces, wear ridiculous outfits, make funny signage, and generally act in such a way as to incite other participants to match their level of enthusiasm for the home team.  High fiving, chanting, hollering, and chest bumping are commonplace here.

All the trappings of a good time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission Hearing; Why It Mattered

At the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission hearing last Tuesday night, we were all exposed to, among other things, a briefing on the current Portland Plan, by Eric Engstrom and Alex Howard. They addressed the 11 commissioners appointed by the Mayor, and laid out their visions for how Portland might best serve its communities within the next 25 year period.

Presented as "The Portland Plan", it includes nine major policy areas which will be affected throughout phases of the project. These main areas are: Prosperity & Business Success, Education & Skill Development, Sustainability & the Natural Environment, Human Health, Food & Public Safety, Transportation, Technology & Access, Equity, Civic Engagement & Quality of Life, Design, Planning & Public Spaces, Neighborhoods & Housing, Arts, Culture & Innovation.

The first phase of the project was basically to listen to what people had to say about what they envisioned the process being like. They were able to define their needs and values, and communicate to each other the ways in which they would like to see their own communities develop and grow.

The next phase will be to begin implementing some of these plans and achieving the directives they set forth for each area.

While learning of these plans, and seeing how well articulated and prepared the plans are, it occured to me that this system does indeed seem fairly utopian compared to some of the readings I've interpreted over the last few weeks.

In particular, my mind seems to gravitate toward the readings of Davis and his descriptions of the fall of the Los Angeles area into urban sprawl. As and after effect of failing to plan very well, and their obvious inability to come to some consensus before actual groundwork was laid and foundations were built, they ended up having very little green spaces or parks for recreational purposes, and became considerably drab with regard to their aesthetic value as neighborhoods.

WE here in Portland are lucky not to have that problem. This planning process is a prime example of what TO DO in order to avoid our city turning into a gnarly grid of neverending asphalt.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dudley vs. Kitzhaber Debate

Last month, current governor John Kitzhaber, and his opponent Chris Dudley faced off in a debate held at the KGW studios in Portland. The format of the debate was such that the candidates fielded questions from political analysts of the Oregonian, a live studio audience full of undecided voters, and questions which were sent in via email.

During the debate, the candidates sparred over a range of subjects, the most frequent of which were job creation, economic stimulus methods, capital gains taxes, and funding for schools and infrastructure.
Toward the beginning of the debate, the candidates were asked how each of them would propose to create jobs if they were elected. Chris Dudley remarked that he would not borrow more money to fund the creation of new jobs, as he suggested that “...the state credit card is maxed out...”, and that “…the private sector creates jobs, not the government.” Governor Kitzhaber replied by indicating that he has proposed to create jobs via the instatement of a large scale weatherization project, which would help to spur business in the private sector by creating jobs for local contractors and service providers, whom could then hire on more workers, and that this would also have the effect of saving energy in the long term.
The next issue addressed was that of capital gains taxes and other tax issues. Chris Dudley proposed that lowering the capital gains tax would bring more business into the state because our nearest neighbor Washington has a lower capital gains tax, which is more attractive for businesses. Kitzhaber argued that what we did not need was tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals, but that the state needed to keep it’s spending in check, and do so in such ways as to not underfund public programs and commons which promote the welfare of the citizenry.

At one point, the discussion turned to that of experience between the two candidates, and why they each thought they should be given the governorship. John Kitzhaber repeatedly pointed out that due to his current service, he would be able to hit the ground running, and be effective “…from day one”, and put his proposed ideas into place immediately. Whereas Chris Dudley pointed out that experience was less of an issue than that of current failed policies, and that what Oregon needs is “…new leadership.” To which Kitzhaber took issue, and reminded everyone in the audience that “…a new face does not necessarily mean new policies…” and that the other side’s policies were taken directly from failed Republican policies during the Bush administration. Dudley reinforced the idea that “the status quo isn’t working”, and that change was needed.

Neither candidate tripped much over their words, and both came off fairly astute and knowledgeable about the subjects which they were asked, but in a notable exchange, Dudley fumbled for an answer when he was asked “Which specific current land use policies would you disagree with, and why?” To which he replied gawkily “Boy, I can’t really think of any right off the top of my head, but that’s a good question, I’ll have to um--I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” Kitzhaber immediately responded with a derision of the proposed Gorge Casinos, and also lamented the fact that a particular stretch of the Woodburn area has become segregated with regard to the majority of jobs being on one side of I5, and the majority of housing being on the other, which creates extensive traffic issues in the area.

Later, in another exchange, the two were asked about their feelings about personal attacks in advertising for their own campaigns. Chris Dudley remarked that he thought that it was “unfortunate” that attack ads had become prevalent, and Kitzhaber noted that advertising represents an opportunity to point out differences in the campaigns, but also wished that the two sides were able to mellow the tone a bit, and focus on the issues. As a bookend to that notion, Kitzhaber invited Dudley to debate him at the upcoming City Club meeting (where Dudley has declined to debate him), and in turn, Dudley invited Kitzhaber to join him in any of four debates that he had scheduled in Medford, and elsewhere around the state. There was no response given, as time was up. The moderator signaled that the two camps should probably talk about those possibilities, and signed off.

In the end, both candidates seemed to hold their own, with no major gaffes or awkward moments between the media and the candidates, which is rare for this format. Each candidate seemed to easily regurgitate their respective talking points, and were able to articulate their views fairly well in a public setting.

Here is a link to the debate coverage:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Urban Mythologies: "The Great Barjacking"

Among many of the reasons I find Portland to be such an interesting and fun place to live, is the fact that Portland is one of the original playgrounds of the “Flash Mob”. As text messaging and social networking have developed over the last 10 years, so too have the ability for mass numbers of people to congregate in a given place VERY quickly. In Portland, we’ve seen the popularity of these once very underground and “in the know” type of events become much more than just one-off renegade flash mobs. They are now becoming yearly events, which draw hundreds of people to the streets in a seemingly random display of ridiculousness.

Notable events which now occur yearly are the Zombie walk (where everyone dresses up like zombies and goes downtown to hang out), Santacon (where everyone dresses up like Santa, and barhops downtown)—and more recently, the offshoot/competitive challenge to the now overpopular Santacon—Bananarchy (where people dress up as bananas, during Santacon, and mess with the Santas).

Other flash mobs have occurred in more obscure forms, such as high concentration pillow-fights, random dance troupe formations, and a slew of psychological experiments which can be viewed on youtube. But most notable, and unique to the Portland area is the “Bar Jacking”.

Bar Jacking originated out of necessity as the bastard child of the underground rave scene and the recession. With anti-rave legislation marring their ability to access quality venues, and an already bruised reputation for invading non-licensed venues around town, the aging raver population and it’s forefathers (the soundsystem owners) decided that in an economic downturn, there was power in numbers. The answer was the hurting bar owner.

Disguised as a potential birthday party customer, the soundsystem owner/party facilitator would scope out venues around town. Particularly ones which could hold a lot of people, and were generally ghost towns on a Saturday night. The facilitator would walk into the bar, start up a conversation with the bar owner about having a “birthday party” there for a “lot of people” who would “be VERY thirsty”—such that the barkeeps would need to be able to make some money, and serve plenty of party-inducing alchohol to their potential patrons. All the while, the facilitator was surrepticiously scoping the venue out for proper electrical outlets and dancefloor space. They would tentatively set a date, and no more would be said to the operators of the bar.

The week of the Barjacking, text messages and emails went out en masse, as “save the date” and “barjacking…XX/XX/XXX” and to meet up at 10:30pm at a predisclosed location (usually at a large place such as The Lucky Lab on SE 10th and Hawthorne) as a staging area for all of the participants. All gathered an accounted for, at 11:00pm the facilitator would announce on a megaphone the bar “to be jacked”, and everyone departed immediately after for the spot.

The idea being, that the massive onslaught of thirsty party-goers would get whipped up into a frenzy of excitement at the first bar, what with all the mystery involved and secrecy regarding the venue, and would mob the place once announced, causing complete anarchy for the bartenders and owners.

So much so, that a ridiculously large soundsytem could be set up quickly (less than 10 minutes) and fired up during the confusion. (much to either the chagrin or elation of the bar owner—which was the rub. You’d never know if they would call the police, or just roll with it and make money hand over fist).

Most of the time, the venue owners LOVED it, as they were able to make plenty of money. But every now and again, there’s a stick in the mud, requiring a secondary backup venue to be jacked.

Regardless of whether it worked or not, the renegade-naughty-nature of this type of party infected it’s participants in a way which became hard not to talk about. Word of mouth spread over the years, and Barjackings became the watch-word of the underground party elite.
This elite brand of party is why I love Portland. Simply having been to one of these makes you just that much cooler than the average hipster.

Now, after it’s been done quite a few times, the edge has worn off for many of the facilitators. The reason being, it takes a lot of work, and involves quite a bit of risk. And why push it? Stop while you’re ahead! Stay classy, Portland!

Today, we know the “Barjacking” as an urban legend. While people may attempt such things, the core of the vibesters who were the originals are now on to other, bigger, better projects. It was all a fleeting, and synergistic combination of bored and aging ravers who knew how to “do it right”, and an urban economy which could support it.

Of note, in comparison to my current study of urban mythologies and Barthe’s semiotic approach to describing how meaning is assigned to such terminology (signification), it appears that the agreed upon verbiage in all of these cases tends to denote some sort of excitement. The words “flash”, “mob”, “jacking”, and even the suffixes “-icon”, and “-anarchy” elicit socially constructed visions of an elevated mode of existence, where uncertainty, renegade spirit, and sudden fun coalesce into a vision of events to come. The words are the sign. The event is the signified, and the facilitator’s mode of communication is the signifier, whether that be email, text, or social network.

The term “Barjacking” thus carries both an interpretive element of connotation and myth in its meaning, as well as a descriptive element, which defines what is to take place.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Density and the City

In the article Population Density and the City, Amos H. Hawley suggests that both social and physical systems within a city experience adverse effects when their respective densities increase beyond tolerances set by their geographic boundaries. He further postulates that if a cities boundaries do not eventually increase along with population growth, that they will experience among other thigns "an impersonality in relation- ships, a view of one's fellows as means to ends, and in general an exploitative attitude of persons toward one another".

However, as much as his research guides him to believe this line of thinking, during his process of citing sociological studies, he seems to refute his own findings, and does not bring up many unique points of view that are supported by any others without some degree of controversy.

If not for the fact that he does acknowledge this fact, it would seem that this article really doesn't say much, other than that overcrowding of social and physical networks is annoying. He does seem to almost be ruminating competing theories about the effects of such a state.

For example, he lists the negative effects of density: 1.) Interference with goal attainment. 2.) Deprivation of gratification. 3.) Intrapersonal incompatibility of values and motives. 4.) Overload of demands and claims from others. 5.) Interpersonal opposition arising from incompativle claims to scarce facilities and rewards. 6.) Failures of support for norm-following behavior, and 7.) Involuntary exposure to noxious stimuli. (Ambiguous?)

Then, he shows us the flipside. A list of positive factors:
1.) Institutional support for goal attainment. 2.) Unparralleled opportunity for gratification. 3.) Opportunity for selective association felative to compatibility of values and motives. 4.) Overload of opportunity and stimulation. 5.) Mutual assistance in achieving access to scarce facilities and rewards. 6.) Easy availability of like-minded associates for support in norm following behavior, and 7.) Involuntary exposure to education, cosmopolitanism and innovative ideas.

It would seem, per Amos, that for every problem introduced by an ever-expanding population, there is an equal and opposite re-action, or set of upsides which fly in the face of this said adversity.

Maybe this is what he meant by "equilibrium" being reached in these systems.

Through the rest of the article, it is difficult to ascertain what measures he has taken to support his claims to historical reference, due mostly to the formatting of the paper, as well as the ambiguity of his source material. His final claim does warrant some attention, although it seems almost common knowledge, he argues that "...there is a growing need for innovation in the redesigning of urban systems in order to accommodate the mounting flows of communications while preserving integration in the system."

I suppose I would agree to that.


Monday, October 4, 2010

A City I Love

On the weekend of September 26th, my wife and I had the pleasure of celebrating our 1st anniversary with a trip to Seattle. While there, we experienced many of the entertaining things the city has to offer, such as underground tours, the Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum, Space Needle, Theo Chocolate Factory and a myriad of wonderful and appetizing restaurants. Of note to me, was the underground tour, which is not necessarily unique to Seattle, as Portland, Salem, and other cities across the country have them, but was interesting because of the history behind WHY it exists.
Seattle was originally built very near the tide flats of Elliott Bay, where the tides were sometimes difficult to predict. The original settlers decided to avoid the water by building up the ground using materials which were available. Sawdust, and dirt. With these, they eventually built enough of a foundation to construct their city. Unfortunately, after they had built the majority of the buildings, they found that it still flooded regularly. After a catastrophic fire burned the city down, they were presented with an opportunity to start over. But rather than move the city, they decided to build over the top of the old one. And so they did. Erecting seawalls around each city block, and raising each building’s entrance one story higher, leaving a trench in the middle of each street thirteen feet deep. For some time, they had to use ladders on each side just to cross the street!
Eventually, they filled in as many of the trenches as they could with whatever they could find, including machinery, garbage, dead horses, sawdust, dirt, and spare parts. This raised the street level to the second story (the new ground floor) and allowed people to walk across the “street” again, leaving certain places below available for underground commerce during inclement weather.
As the years passed, the underground of Seattle fell more and more into disrepair, and became the lair of many undesirables, complete with opium dens, brothels, and black markets. Out of the various loathsome situations which would have occurred on any given day in these parts, there emerged legends and stories of citizens slighted whom turned into roaming ghosts.
As I become more interested in history as I grow older, it is entirely entertaining to me to imagine what these people must have gone through, and how they must have lived those hundred fifty years ago. Seattle, “The Queen City of the Northwest”, or “The Gateway to the Riches of the Orient”, is a real testament to the empire builders, pioneers, and indigenous tribes who all struggled together to build and maintain a community which would endure to this day.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Waves of Science

Probably the most memorable thing I got out of last week's readings was the idea of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd waves of science as put forthe by Collins and Evans.

I thought of an interesting correlation which I'm not sure carries weight, but in my "intro to PR" class, we discussed certain theories of persuasion which may have worked the same way on the public as the first and second waves of science did. The first correlation, being between how scientists in the 60's were deemed to be somewhat of an "end all, be all" when it came to credibility of arguement. In any commercial message aired back then, it was always possible to make the arguement that "since the scientist says it's true, it must be true." --this pairs well with the Silver Bullet Theory of persuasion--or appeals to authority--"since authority X says it's true, it must be" --- but nowadays, we're a bit more savvy--"2nd wavy"-- and we take more stock in what others say about a subject or controversy. We understand that we can't necessarily take what others deem to be truth at face value--we have a new need for critical inquiry--which is good. We now take advertising with a grain of salt.

But since we construct knowledge socially, we require the validation of other's in order to establish our values and truths. --This is where I was able to make a connection of 2nd wave science thinking to N-Type theory, and other persuasion theories where Opinion Leaders have the most sway, and where Third Party Contributors and Commentators, whether they be credible or not, hold power of persuasion over their closely held publics.

I also found the connundrum of decision making timetables between scientists and politicians to be pretty intersting. (Because science moves slower than political descisions) -- How ARE they to make good decisions before the "scientific dust has settled". --But how this issue is solved, to me, is still a bit of a mystery. One which may be revealed upon a second or third reading of the material.

What I also liked about this article was where the authors compared artistic expertise, with scientific expertise with regard to being a critical consumer of either.
I tend to agree that those who are better versed in the creation of either, would be the best to critique--however, one place of departure (or not) is that art appreciation is often subjective--where science tries hard to maintain as much objectivity as possible. I think that's really where the only difference I can think of comes in to play.

I certainly don't think that lay-people, or those whom have not done extensive research into an issue should be considered experts, or to be put in a position to make decisions or legislate. That's just ass-backwards (but welcome to democracy).

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what the suggested fix is.

This i

Monday, May 17, 2010

Science communication reconsidered

I found it interesting that in this article, near the end, while reccommendations are being made for how Scientists can better communicate with lay audiences, that they pointed out that while encouraging public forms of discourse; the drive for doing so needs to come from "an honest effort in relationship and trust building rather than persuasion", and that active participation should also be fostered.

This was interesting to me, because they talk a lot about framing, which is a form of persuasion, whether intended or not, it allows for a set of actions to be viewed through a lens, or perspective, which has been derived by someone other than the observer/participant.

Regarding the need for the lay public to become involved in science in the making, I think it is difficult to really measure whether we need to be doing more or not. The bloggosphere, while some of it may not be as credible as peer reviewed, cited sources, does provide for quite a bit of discussion on a wide range of topics. I have even observed many of these which stemmed from major news outlets who posed the original story in their science sections.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the fact that these authors seem to be asking for PR help. I think that in some of the examples where they talked about stakeholders disseminating information (those who are highly invested in the product, or those who are vehemently opposed) either side would lobby just as hard for change, and would employ any sort of PR firm or shadow organization to do their bidding/framing.

Then, we all get to sort it out and decide for ourselves who is right or wrong. Hence the importance of critical inquiry, which seems to be taught only through higher education these days.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mulling over Marres

Here is what I took from the article by Noortje Marres.

I think that the idea that stuck with me the most was the idea (similar to Latour's upstream/downstream science in the making argument) that Marres' argument can be shaped similarly, in that:

(being upstream) STS is about research (about values AND information), which then needs to be framed and mobilized to a public (whom generally will not act on information unless an issue affects them directly, per Marres--which is why values targeting is important)--the public will then frame and mobilize the issues toward the institution, whom then frames and mobilizes it to legislators... where we end up "downstream" with policy.

Through this process, a certain cohesiveness between particular groups can occur, and assemblages can be identified.

She also goes on to talk about the process of framing, and its important role in consensus building in a public. We have to look carefully about how we "select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating context" (Entman, 1993: 53)

She says that institutions can't do things on their own, or unilatterally, just as democratic governments cannot work without the votes of their constituents. She argues that the public needs to mobilize the issues to the institutions because their resources are better allocated. This idea reverberates through a few different parts of the assemblage.

She sees value in public discourse, and indicates that this is where the most/best action is. (Which is similar to Latour's arguement of being a part of science in the making)--She also thinks that we aren't doing enough to involve the public in sciences and technology research, and that steps must be taken to involve them, but exactly how, is debatable. (See also the Lippman/Dewey debate on "advocate of expertocracy vs. Proponent of participatory democracy")

I personally think that a balance has to be stuck between the two ideologies, and that experts can do a better job of involving the public. Presenting their work is a part of what they do... they should be good at it--and it should be relevant.

I can see the parallels between what Marres is saying, and what some of the other authors we've read are saying.

Monday, May 3, 2010


The idea of an assemblage as put forth by Jane Bennet seems to echo some of the notions we have explored previously in the class, specifically that certain "actants" in a scenario seem to "hang together" or that they are cohesive--but do not necessarily reinforce or cancel each other (to put it in physical terms).

It seems to me that this notion simply identifies the fact that any given system is prone to a certain amount of uncertainty--or to put forth another theory for further explanation, "Chaos Theory" might come in to the discussion. We can not predict an outcome within certain systems, and as a political result of such inabilities, we see corporations or "actants" either human or inhuman, blamed or praised because of the effects.

In Jane's Power Grid scenario, it was the unpredictability of the power grid itself that was blamed as an unforseen consequence of a deregulated system within which accountability was sought.

Also of note; Bennett goes on to talk about the Chinese tradition of "shi", which basically eludes to the notion that systems have a certain way of operating, and that one can either "go with the flow" or fight against it. This is congruent with other ideas I have interpreted in the past as "chi" or "shwei". Bennett defines it as "style, energy, propensity, trajectory, or elan inherent to a specific arrangement of things."

It is becoming more difficult to connect the dots for these readings, however I do see parallels with the work of Latour in that these things from different areas (alliances, representations, disciplines, and mobilization) are "hanging together" to form a larger "assemblage", and that by breaking it down into it's parts, we may be able to control, or massage information in order to pursue our own ends.

I think.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Circulating Reference; More on LaTour

In this week's reading, we followed Bruno LaTour into the Amazon, near a place where the savanah and the rainforrest meet. The goal of the scientists there was to determine whether or not the rain forrest was encroaching on the savannah, or vice versa.

During the course of his observations of the scientists and their methods, a few key concepts are revealed.

First, on page 27, LaTour makes reference to a concept which is now familiar to us in the class, where he says that "soil cannot avoid degradation; if the laws of pedology do not make this clear, then the laws of thermodynamics should." --In this sentence, we reaffirm that what we "know" is constructed from things which have occurred "upstream" from our current position as critics. He goes on to expand and reiterate this idea on page 29 in more depth, calling out the "age old disciplines" of trigonometry, cartography, geography--AND the mediating technology which "shows us" what we can't physically see with our own eyes; rocket ships, orbiting sattelites, data banks, draftspeople, engravers, printers--which leads us to the idea that circulating reference occurs when we must make use of these recorded repositories of information in order to solidify claims which exist in the real world.

Here, we establish the idea which we discussed in class as the necessity to move from "WORD" to "WORLD", and back again, in order to continually clarify and push knowledge in directions moving closer and closer to ease of both transport and example, such that others might refer to it, and thus strenghthen its credibility --as they may not have the impetus to do such tiring research themselves.

Circulating reference is concerned with the ability of researchers to catalogue and "come back to" the very proof of the claims they make.

Another interesting concept which was also discussed in class, is brought to the forefront on page 38, where LaTour says that "A second advantage, just as important, is that once classified, specimens from different locations and times become contemporaries of one another on the flat table, all visible under the same unifying gaze."

From this, in class, we discussed this concept in metaphor to the musical "Mash-up", where different types of musical samples may be overlaid in an either complimentary, or non-complimentary style--the point being, that the observer is able to see each peice from a new perspective, and can superimpose different ideas, all while maintaining a "bigger picture" perspective as the synthesist.

LaTour notes that we are then "able to discern emerging patterns that no predecessor could see."

I am able to give plenty of credence to this notion, being an electronic musician, and having worked on a few mashups myself. This makes sense.

Finally, another topic: Translation.

LaTour supposes that through the process of moving from the "world" to "words" which is the very definition of translation, things necessarily become lost in translation (to use the common saying). As we record information about our world, we use language, which is shaped by our own experiences and culture, which leads us to talk about our percieved reality in certain ways---ways in which are subjective, and not always equally understood by all. --but what we lose in translation, can be gained again via referece--and further definition of the referent of a thing.

(*insert sound of head exploding!)


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading Kosso

Some things that I found interesting while reading the summary of Kosso's book were:

The idea that we are sort of taught how to observe, theorize, and talk about theories--or that inquiry itself is socially constructed. And that this being the case, we may be a good idea to distance ourselves as much as possible from commonly held views of what scientific inquiry really is--in order to attempt to be more objective.

More on science as socially constructed:

Kosso seems to say that existing theories affect and form our perceptions about what the fundamentals of science are: much like LaTour's assertion that once we move upstream, we have to contend with more and more "blackboxes"--this is congruent with Kosso's thinking regarding how we find ourselves "downstream" and find our choices affected by previous works.

Another thing I found interesting, which I mentioned in class, was the complexity of Kosso's argument as it pertains to self reference. He's theorizing about theories--which I think, opens him up to either self criticism, or self-reinforcement, not quite sure what yet--but I think that since he goes on to talk about credibility of experience (and since that is also socially constructed) he may be able to toot his own horn.

Kosso makes a similar point to Latour's in that he describes theories as being "cohesive", where Latour/Flower ideology is that of a "hang-togetherness"--a term repeated many times in class. The idea that similar or congruent theories will tend to reinforce one another, and because of this, tend to be referenced in the same breath. (See also, Kosso's "theories travel in packs")

On another tangent:
I'm not sure if I am taking this correctly, but I also think that Kosso may have been proposing that while it is good for a theory to be falsifiable, a single falsification does not a theory-buster make. Exact conditions cannot always be replicated, such as the situation we saw in LaTour's writing with the guinea-pig gut.

Of note, also, was the idea of the nature of observability--and the thought that as our ability to "SEE" things for ourselves with our actual eyes, or 5 senses decreases, the amount that we rely on "instrumentation" increases, and that this, should in turn foster questions about the reliability or accuracy of the tools we use in lieu of eyes or ears etc.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reading Latour

During both this week's readings and last weeks, I was interested to learn about the concept of "blackboxing" in Sciece in Action, as a way to describe the process by which certain technologies, ideas, or methods, are eventually cited as fact. Furthermore, it was interesting to learn about how the citation of supposed facts beget such black boxes, and how difficult it can be for a dissenter to "move upstream" from the semi-solidified and much safer positions which are constantly argued in the socio-political arena. Just as with politics, many scientists have the need to support their positions via consensus gaining techniques, which would consist of persuading the widest audience possible in order to establish a credible standing in their field of study.

Another interesting point that Latour makes, is that scientists need to be better at selling their findings, and in some way make people interested in what is being discussed, however, through the process of claims-making, they tend to make inroads towards alienating dissenters by making it extremely difficult to refute or participate in any kind of dialogue, as their findings are communicated as already settled disputes. The ensuing battle to take arguements upstream is seen as both difficult and daunting, which makes the critical inquirer much less likely to continue on the path of uncovering real truths devoid of human interference.

Near the end of the chapter, Latour figuratively takes us into a laboratory, where he outlines a situation where the dissenter must eventually see the facts for himself, instead of blindly accepting papers and following citations which can both be so easily crafted with regard to political bent or social leanings, or in one particular case, the need to derive the "N ray" (which was later proven to be a fabrication unbeknownst to the researcher)--the dissenter has to question each and every individual process or "instrument" which supposedly make measurements accurate, but themselves represent black boxes.

Latour seems to show that refuting scientific claims can either be extremely difficult, or made very easy, depending on which "black boxes" in the chain of logic are found to be innaccurate.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bryce's Blog Transforms into School Tool.

If anyone is actually paying attention to this blog... you may either want to start paying MORE attention, or stop paying attention, as I will be solely commentating on readings for a school project for the next couple of months.

Fair warning.

But I don't think many of you will mind.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Market Commentary for Feb 5th

Friday’s bond market has opened fairly flat following this morning’s release of January’s employment figures. The stock markets are also relatively flat considering the past couple of days with the Dow down 11 points and the Nasdaq up 6 points. The bond market is currently up 2/32, which will likely improve this morning’s mortgage rates by approximately .125 of a discount point. However, that change comes more from yesterday’s rally than today’s news.

The Labor Department gave us today’s major news. The monthly Employment report is arguably the most important report we see each month. Ironically, the market reaction has been little, especially when yesterday’s usually irrelevant weekly unemployment report helped fuel a major stock sell-off and nice bond rally. It is supposed to be the other way around- monthly report causes significant volatility while the weekly report is a non-factor.

Today’s release actually gave us mixed results. The headline number was the 9.7% unemployment rate that was well below the 10.0% that was expected. But offsetting that negative news for bonds was the loss of 20,000 jobs when new payrolls were expected to be up 15,000. Also favorable to bonds was a sizable downward revision to December’s payroll numbers. It was previously announced last month that 85,000 jobs were lost during December, but today’s release revised that loss to 150,000. This means that more jobs were lost during the past two months than many had thought.

The end result is a fairly calm day in the markets, at least so far. It appears that traders are content and sticking with yesterday’s movements. I believe that today’s employment report was not as bad as many had thought it would be. Much of yesterday’s stock selling and bond buying were a result of fears that today’s report was going to point towards a much weaker employment situation. It was not strong enough for the market to take back yesterday’s changes, but not weak enough to fuel another around of stock selling. In fact, despite all of the volatility this week, mortgage rates have not moved nearly as much as one would think. Therefore, in my opinion this keeps us on the edge of a sizable improvement or loss. I am leaning towards the bond market giving back some of yesterday’s gains, which could translate into higher mortgage rates in the immediate future. It may not be today, but my risk versus reward scale is tilted towards the risky side of floating an interest rate over the next couple of days.

Next week is pretty light in terms of economic data, but it does have one very important report and a couple of relevant Treasury auctions. There is nothing of importance scheduled for Monday. It will be difficult for the markets to be as active next week as they were this week, but we could see more movement in mortgage rates than we saw this past week. Look for more information on next week’s events in Sunday’s weekly preview.

If I were considering financing/refinancing a home, I would.... Lock if my closing was taking place within 7 days... Lock if my closing was taking place between 8 and 20 days... Lock if my closing was taking place between 21 and 60 days... Float if my closing was taking place over 60 days from now...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interesting Article from Business Week

Link to Business Week Article

Roth on Real Estate December 8, 2009, 4:01PM EST text size: TT
If You Don't Buy a House Now, You're Stupid or Broke
Interest rates are at historic lows but cyclical trends suggest they will soon rise. Home buyers may never see such a chance again, writes Marc Roth

By Marc Roth

Well, you may not be stupid or broke. Maybe you already have a house and you don't want to move. Or maybe you're a Trappist monk and have forsworn all earthly possessions. Or whatever. But if you want to buy a house, now is the time, and if you don't act soon, you will regret it. Here's why: historically low interest rates.

As of today, the average 30-year fixed-rate loan with no points or fees is around 5%. That, as the graph above—which you can find on—shows, is the lowest the rate has been in nearly 40 years.

In fact, rates are so well below historic averages that it should make all current and prospective homeowners take notice of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And it is exactly that, based on what the graph shows us. Let's look at the point on the far left.

In 1970 the rate was approximately 7.25%. After hovering there for a couple of years, it began a trend upward, landing near 10% in late 1973. It settled at 8.5% to 9% from 1974 to the end of 1976. After the rise to 10%, that probably seemed O.K. to most home buyers.

But they weren't happy soon thereafter. From 1977 to 1981, a period of only 60 months, the 30-year fixed rate climbed to 18%. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, my dad was one of those unluckily stuck needing a loan at that time.
Interest Rate Lessons

And when rates started to decline after that, they took a long time to recede to previous levels. They hit 9% for a brief time in 1986 and bounced around 10% to 11% until 1990. For the next 11 years through 2001, the rates slowly ebbed and flowed downward, ranging from 7% to 9%. We've since spent the last nine years, until very recently, at 6% to 7%. So you can see why 5% is so remarkable.

So, what can we learn from the historical trends and numbers?

First, rates have far further to move upward than downward; for more than 30 years, 7% was the low and 18% the high. The norm was 9% in the 1970s, 10% in the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, 7% to 8% for much of the 1990s, and 6% only over the last handful of years.

Second, the last time the long-term trends reversed from low to high, it took more than 20 years (1970 to 1992) for the rate to get back to where it was, and 30 years to actually start trending below the 1970 low.

Finally, the most important lesson is to understand the actual financial impact the rate has on the cost of purchasing and paying off a home.

Every quarter-point change in interest rates is equivalent to approximately $6,000 for every $100,000 borrowed over the course of a 30-year fixed. While different in each region, for the sake of simplicity, let's assume that the average person is putting $40,000 down and borrowing $200,000 to pay the price of a typical home nationwide. Thus, over the course of the life of the loan, each quarter-point move up in interest rates will cost that buyer $12,000.
Loan Costs

Stay with me now. We are at 5%. As you can see by the graph above, as the economy stabilizes, it is reasonable for us to see 30-year fixed rates climb to 6% within the foreseeable future and probably to a range of 7% to 8% when the economy is humming again. If every quarter of a point is worth $12,000 per $200,000 borrowed, then each point is worth almost $50,000.

Let's put that into perspective. You have a good stable job (yes, unemployment is at 10%, but another way of looking at that figure is that most of us have good stable jobs). You would like to own a $240,000 home. However, even though home prices have steadied, you may be thinking you can get another $5,000 or $10,000 discount if you wait (never mind the $8,500 or $6,500 tax credit due to run out next spring). Or you may be waiting for the news to tell you the economy is "more stable" and it's safe to get back in the pool. In exchange for what you may think is prudence, you will risk paying $50,000 more per point in interest rate changes between now and the time you decide you are ready to buy. And you are ignoring the fact that according to the Case-Shiller index, home prices in most regions have been trending back up for the last several months.

If you are someone who is looking to buy or upgrade in the $350,000-to-$800,000 home price range, and many people out there are, then you're borrowing $300,000 to $600,000. At 7%, the $300,000 loan will cost just under $150,000 more over the lifetime, and the $600,000 loan an additional $300,000, if rates move up just 2% before you pull the trigger.

What I'm trying to impress upon everyone is that if you are planning on being a homeowner now and/or in the foreseeable future, or if you are looking to move your family into a bigger home, then pay more attention to the interest rates than the price of the home. If you have a steady job, good credit, and the down payment, then you really are being offered the gift of a lifetime.

Marc Roth is the founder and president of Home Warranty of America, which touches just about every part of the real estate industry since it sells through builders, real estate agents, title companies, mortgage companies, and directly to consumers.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Credit Card Protections go into effect Feb 22nd

Check this out!
Whole article available at Federal Reserve Website

Press Release
Federal Reserve Press Release

Release Date: January 12, 2010
For immediate release

The Federal Reserve Board on Tuesday approved a final rule amending Regulation Z (Truth in Lending) to protect consumers who use credit cards from a number of costly practices. Credit card issuers must comply with most aspects of the rule beginning on February 22.

"This rule marks an important milestone in the Federal Reserve's efforts to ensure that consumers who rely on credit cards are treated fairly," said Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth A. Duke. "The rule bans several harmful practices and requires greater transparency in the disclosure of the terms and conditions of credit card accounts."

Among other things, the rule will:

* Protect consumers from unexpected increases in credit card interest rates by generally prohibiting increases in a rate during the first year after an account is opened and increases in a rate that applies to an existing credit card balance.
* Prohibit creditors from issuing a credit card to a consumer who is younger than the age of 21 unless the consumer has the ability to make the required payments or obtains the signature of a parent or other cosigner with the ability to do so.
* Require creditors to obtain a consumer's consent before charging fees for transactions that exceed the credit limit.
* Limit the high fees associated with subprime credit cards.
* Ban creditors from using the "two-cycle" billing method to impose interest charges.
* Prohibit creditors from allocating payments in ways that maximize interest charges.

In December 2008, the Federal Reserve adopted final regulations prohibiting unfair credit card practices and improving the disclosures consumers receive in connection with credit card accounts. This rule amends aspects of those regulations to implement provisions of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (Credit Card Act), which was enacted in May 2009.

The final rule represents the second stage of the Federal Reserve's implementation of the Credit Card Act. On July 15, 2009, the Board issued an interim rule implementing the provisions of the Credit Card Act that went into effect on August 20, 2009. In addition to finalizing that interim rule, this rule implements the provisions of the Credit Card Act that go into effect on February 22, 2010. The remaining provisions of the Credit Card Act go into effect on August 22, 2010 and will be implemented by the Federal Reserve at a later date.

Consumers can learn more about changes to their credit card accounts by accessing a new online publication. "What You Need to Know: New Credit Card Rules." It explains key changes consumers can expect from their credit card companies as a result of the new rules. The Board plans to release additional "What You Need to Know" publications in conjunction with other major rulemakings.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Link to my Weekend Update!

Everyone is always asking me how they can check out my weekly email without checking their email.

Here is the solution!


Client Appreciation Party STILL Coming Soon!

Hey Everyone,

I'm still accepting ideas for the client appreciation party. So far, I'm leaning towards an all early 90's hip hop and new jack swing party-- (wear some starter jackets, jean jackets, fanny packs, neon, and hypercolor T-shirts etc?)

Sound fun? --maybe there is something that would be MORE fun? You call it!

Also, still taking votes on what kind of beer you want. Please give me your two cents!


Client Appreciation Party Coming Soon!

**Hey Everyone,** **Keep your eyes peeled for an invitation to my next Client Appreciation Party, which will be out in a few weeks.** **I'm planning on giving back to all of you who have continued to refer me to your friends and family with regard to financing for their homes. You've made 2010 a great year for me, amid a very difficult market, and I intend to show you how much I appreciate that.** **I'm currently looking for a good venue to host this, as well as interviewing DJ's, and taking votes for what kind of beer I should buy. (In kegs of course!) Yeah, I'm not joking kids! This is going to be a fun time! --For any of you that were at the pool party I threw last summer--you know!** **I'm also weighing the prospect of whether or not this will be a themed party, so please give me your two cents on that too! (60's, 70's, 80's or 90's attire? PimpsnHo's Ball? ..something dressy? Or not?)** **So please email me with ideas for places, people, and things you'd like to see, and I'll tally the votes! It will be what we make of it!** **So with the business done, now to the fun!** **(Though the difference between business and fun in THIS email, are pretty darned blurry! Just the way I like it!)** **Here's what's going on this week.** Bryce