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Cheeseburger Culture

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Cheeseburger Baby - South Beach Miami
Cheeseburger Baby – South Beach Miami by AdamChandler86, Flickr CC

One of the biggest challenges and joys I have in teaching Introduction to Sociology is making ideas like social construction, cultural objects, or bureaucracy visible and intuitive to students. A big part of our value as a general education course is in showing students how to use these ideas in the world. I make a point to focus on bureaucracy, for example, because drawing attention to the unique skills and challenges of navigating a large bureaucratic system like a university is one way sociology can help students across many different majors.

Max Weber plays a big role here, of course, but one of the challenges in teaching his work is the “This is Water” problem — students are so steeped in bureaucracy that it is hard to recognize its unique traits. George Ritzer’s The McDonaldization of Society is a classic example, but the point-of-sale system is now so normal in the service industry that it can be difficult to wrap your head around any other way to organize a business. That’s why I love the charming 2004 documentary Hamburger America, by George Motz.

How do you make a cheeseburger? Ask your students and you will probably get a pretty standardized answer. At least one of these segments will turn that question on its head.

Not only do we get an intuitive sense of how much rich, unexpected variation there is in a cheeseburger, but this documentary also works in so many interesting insights about different regions and local cultures in the U.S. There are hooks here into lived experiences with segregation, de-industrialization, urban planning, and food systems. People are engaging with tradition, history, and economic change. This documentary is a fantastic way to show how culture is embedded in objects — the burgers pair well with Wendy Griswold’s cultural diamond!

All of these anchors give students an intuitive sense of how wildly different social arrangements can emerge without the systematizing force of bureaucracy or large scale, franchised restaurants. It is a great way to spur discussion – just don’t show it right before lunch.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow his work at his website, on Twitter, or on BlueSky.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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denubis
3 hours ago
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A Possible Chapter in American History

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Between 1972 and 1979, Civil Defense in the United States was coordinated by the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA), which was part of the US Department of Defense. This was a strange period for Civil Defense. The DCPA was predated by several other agencies, like the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), and was eventually succeeded by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The DCPA’s output was a lot more inscrutable and a lot less “slick” than the FCDA’s, yet still very focused on nuclear threats, unlike FEMA.

One of their major publications was the Attack Environment Manual in 1973. It’s a bizarre document, and one I’ll be coming back to again. It is designed to help “the emergency planner understand what the next war may be like,” but it appears to have been pretty widely available in libraries. Its tone veers wildly. It has strange little cartoons at the end of each chapter, and even a Seventeen-style self-assessment quiz for determining whether you’re cut out to be a shelter leader. But it’s also a lot more honest than most public-facing Civil Defense output about how terrible a nuclear war would be, using that to emphasize the importance of Civil Defense planning.

The DCPA Attack Environment Manual has what is probably my favorite line graph of all time, labeled “A POSSIBLE CHAPTER IN AMERICAN HISTORY”:1

Here is the relevant text on the page that precedes the graph and describes how it is meant to be understood:

POSTATTACK RECOVERY

Another useful viewpoint for coping with the post-shelter environment is shown here. It is the view that might occupy the attention of the Nation's leaders or that might be de It is the view that might occupy the attention of the Nation's leaders or that might be described in in a history of the aftermath of a nuclear war.2

National well-being may be be considered considered as as a composite of population, material resources, of material and social and economic institutions—the basic elements that make for a viable country. Prior to to the the attack, the national well-being is high, as shown at Point A. The immediate consequence of the attack is a sharp drop in well-being (Point B), with millions of dead and injured, great destruction of resources, and disorganization of institutions, such as government, banking, private ownership, and the like.3

It is reasonable to to expect that the initial sharp drop would be followed by a further decline in well-being because of continuing fallout radiation exposure, deterioration of abandoned factory machinery, wastage of scarce resources, inadequate mutual aid, lack of communications, and general disruption of normal patterns of living. Initial coping efforts would attempt to "stabilize" the the situation and satisfy the most pressing wants so that sooner or a later a minimum or “bottoming out” should occur (Point C), after which the Nation would begin its upward path to recovery (Point D).

There is a possible alternative history that the national leadership will strive to avoid. It is indicated by the downward dashed line at Point C, which implies that deterioration is so severe or management so inept or misdirected that national recovery does not occur at all, and the country degenerates into chaos and anarchy.

This viewpoint focuses on the need for national goals, goals widely shared at all levels of government and among the public at large. No local government nor wider region can recover by itself.4

There’s a lot that could be noted in the above (some of which I could not help but add as footnotes), but the main things that draws me back to this graph, again and again, are:

  1. The drop from point A (pre-nuke “national well-being”) to point B (immediate aftermath) is realistically dramatic and immediate. This is such an obvious truism, yet is almost always totally lacking in any kind of public-facing discourse about nuclear war in Civil Defense literature. Sometimes one finds almost entirely unhinged optimism, an almost overt denial that even a few nuclear detonations (much less hundreds or thousands) would not have a dramatic impact on “national well-being.” At a minimum, it is usually just lacking in any acknowledgment of what everybody knows would be the case.

  2. The gradual “bottoming out” from points B to C also feels like a realistic acknowledgment that “the day after” is not even the worst of it, that the death, injury, damage, disruption, contamination, etc., would continue to compound the misery considerably. That things would get worse before they would possibly get better. The scale of this graph is totally unspecified, but note that the difference between points B and C is about the difference between points A and B, just stretched out further in time.

  3. Lastly, of course, I love what is happening with the dashed line coming off of point C, the acknowledgment that it is entirely possible to imagine that the situation would not improve, would spiral off into “chaos and anarchy.” The text uses this acknowledgment — which of course maps on to what most normal people thinking about this scenario would imagine the consequences of such an attack would be — as a way to frame what the entire goal of Civil Defense is: organizing and preparing so that instead of spiraling off into oblivion, you begin some kind of long, no-doubt difficult rebuilding process that, after some unspecified amount of time, returns the nation to its pre-war status of well-being.

In sum, what makes this graph unusual, for an official publication (albeit a very strange one), is that it actually gives at least some explicit voice to the idea that nuclear war would be extraordinarily painful and possibly not something that could be recovered from, even if it is done in the service of a message about the possibility of recovery.

Also from the Attack Environment Manual: after a nuclear war, “the Nation's people, individually and as a society, have a series of hurdles or barriers barring their way that must be surmounted if they and their descendants are indeed to enjoy normal and happy lives.” This kind of thing might seem bizarre, but it goes a much further towards acknowledging the horrors of a nuclear war than most official Civil Defense literature does.

The failure to acknowledge this very obvious and very commonly-held opinion, as most Civil Defense literature aimed at the general public does, contributes, I think, to the sense of unreality that people often have when it comes to Civil Defense messaging — and as such ultimately undermines the message. Even acknowledging this obliquely goes a long way towards establishing the the message being delivered is somewhat realistic, and the audience more receptive to the deeper, underlying message about the point of Civil Defense: trying (however well) to keep a bad state of affairs from becoming a permanent one. Whether that’s plausible, of course, is a separate question.

This graph is meant to be something to think with and not a realistic representation in any way, but it would be an interesting exercise to ask people what they believed the shape of the curve would be in “real life” under a presumed nuclear war scenario, and perhaps to imagine what scale the different axes might have.

Doomsday Machines is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

1

I have cropped this page so that there is less whitespace between the graph and the page header than exists on the actual page, for the sake of legibility.

2

I find the whole framing of this as a “future chapter in history,” being written after a future nuclear war, to be a fascinating framing device. It’s not unique to this document, of course, but it's playing around with interesting ideas about what the future could be like, and is itself inherently optimistic (it is not, for example, written in Riddleyspeak).

3

This is a fascinating list of “institutions.” I think if you asked most people to list what “institutions” would be most impacted by nuclear war, “private ownership” and “banking” would probably be a lot lower on the list, with other things taking their place.

4

I have cut a few lines at the end which, out of context from the previous pages, come off as strange and non-sequitur, but are continuing a series of categories (“nine barriers to well-being”) that had already been established.

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denubis
7 hours ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Bring Back

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
This is the real afterlife.


Today's News:
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denubis
9 hours ago
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An example running DuckDB in ChatGPT Code Interpreter

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An example running DuckDB in ChatGPT Code Interpreter

I confirmed today that DuckDB can indeed be run inside ChatGPT Code Interpreter (aka "data analysis"), provided you upload the correct wheel file for it to install. The wheel file it needs is currently duckdb-1.0.0-cp311-cp311-manylinux_2_17_x86_64.manylinux2014_x86_64.whl from the PyPI releases page - I asked ChatGPT to identify its platform, and it said that it needs manylinux2014_x86_64.whl wheels.

Once the wheel in installed ChatGPT already knows enough of the DuckDB API to start performing useful operations with it - and any brand new features in 1.0 will work if you tell it how to use them.

Via @simonw

Tags: duckdb, generative-ai, code-interpreter, chatgpt, ai, llms

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denubis
9 hours ago
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Quoting Lattice (HR platform)

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Update, July 12: This innovation sparked a lot of conversation and questions that have no answers yet. We look forward to continuing to work with our customers on the responsible use of AI, but will not further pursue digital workers in the product.

Lattice (HR platform)

Tags: ai, ethics

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denubis
1 day ago
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Google has removed features letting advertisers exclude kids games because toddl...

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Google has removed features letting advertisers exclude kids games because toddlers generate tons of accidental ad clicks they get to charge businesses for.





Download video: https://media.infosec.exchange/infosec.exchange/media_attachments/files/112/796/859/574/139/033/original/7a24173143106d45.mp4
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denubis
1 day ago
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