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My One Sociologist Joke

This is the one joke I know about sociology. I offer it as a kind of coda to my previous piece.

Two sociologists were talking about Weber and Hegel. One of them proclaimed, proudly, that he had read all the works of both authors.

“Did you read them in English or in the original German?” his companion asked.

“Does it make any difference?” the first man replied.

Good morning.

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Essay

On Sociology

Ah, sociology. A field that started out well, but that has in recent years all too often proven the last refuge of the intellectual charlatan, as it has taken over the groves of academe like some noxious weed imported from another country. No–I don’t do sociology. Never have. Never will.

This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate what sociology can bring to larger intellectual ventures. In some of his U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Justice Louis Brandeis showed us how sociology can, and should, be done. But in Brandeis’ decisions, sociology is never used apart from other intellectual disciplines. It is when it becomes an end unto itself that sociology runs into trouble, all too often choking off rigorous intellectual inquiry in a frenetic bid to make sure all the appropriate demographic boxes have been checked off. This seldom ends well.

Using sociology as one’s sole or even main intellectual tool is akin to using black pepper as one’s sole or main spice in the kitchen.

I will admit that the fact that my mother did graduate work in sociology in her middle years, earning a Master’s and completing most of a doctorate at the New School in New York, has something–perhaps more than a little–to do with my jaundiced view toward the subject. She was a more interesting person to talk to before she opened her Durkheim, Veblen and Weber. At his worst, Benjamin Disraeli is a more agreeable intellectual companion than Max Weber at his best. Once Mother started her New School program, there were no more references to Disraeli, and precious few even to Fielding, Trollope, Sterne, and her other favourite novelists. She became, to all intents and purposes, a one-dimensional person, intellectually.

It is possible that a sense of humour may yet be found somewhere in the thousands of pages of sociological tomes and treatises. But even if that is the case, I’ve never found it. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, a discipline that you can’t laugh along with is a discipline to be laughed at.

Good morning.

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News

“HE”

Imagine, if you will, an escaped zoo gorilla whom someone found in a state park in the Catskills flinging acorns and windfall apples at small children, and trying to intimidate incoming motorists by jumping up on the hoods of their cars and not getting off until they paid him ransom. Instead of locking him back up in his cage or taking him to the vet to make sure he’d had all his shots, they force-fed him first grade reading books, put a suit and tie on him, sent him to Wharton, and then told him that he could be President.

–No further comment–

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News

I’m Back

Hey, folks. I’m back. A little mutilated in the groin area, after four days at Shouldice Hernia Clinic, but overall in better shape than before my surgery. Already walking 3 km a day, and expect within the week to be back to the previous quota of 5 km, weather permitting.

Let’s get back in touch. I am writing again and will be putting some different kinds of things up here every now and then. Probably no more Daily Niblets, but maybe some weekly or bi-weekly equivalent, supplemented with the occasional slightly larger morsel. And excerpts from longer pieces in progress. Pay me a visit even if you don’t need my unrivalled editing and mentoring services. I’ll be glad to see you.

Let us all go down on bended knee to thank the dear Lord that Joe Biden was elected last week. This will be perhaps the one political statement I’ll make on this site, but I think it needs to be made.

Till later–but not too much later.

Jon

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Essay

Coda to “A Cardinal Career”

Generous to me while I was selling their cards and stationery, the Cardinal Greeting Card Company would prove equally generous long after I’d given up my little business.[1]

          About a year after I’d quit, I was surprised to receive a small but fairly heavy package from Cardinal.  What could they possibly want with me? Intrigued, I opened the package, still addressed to “Mrs. J. Peirce,” as all Cardinal’s previous correspondence with me had been, to find a solid metallic object about three inches long.  Closer inspection revealed the object to be a shoe.  And when I read the promotional literature accompanying the shoe, I discovered that it was a bronzed baby shoe, and that Cardinal’s idea was that I should go to the same people to whom I’d formerly sold Christmas cards and writing paper and try to sell them on the idea of having their babies’ shoes bronzed for posterity!  I laughed outright, never in my life having heard of anything so ridiculous, even grotesque.

          “You know, there are some people who’d like to remember what their baby’s shoes looked like,” my mother said.  But she said this with a kind of half-smile, as if she herself were not totally convinced. 

          “You’ve got to be kidding,” was my reply.  “Why would anyone even want such a thing in the house?”  In any event, whatever her take on the thing was, I knew there was no way I’d go up and down the street trying to convince my friends and neighbours that they have should their babies’ shoes bronzed.  Still laughing, I put the shoe back in the box, resealed it, wrote “Return to Sender” in large, clear letters on top, and took it out to our mailbox for the postman to take away the next day. 

          This process would be repeated at least twice over the next year or so.  Finally, the third or fourth time, I decided to keep the shoe, figuring this might help stop Cardinal from sending me any more of the ludicrous trinkets.  Instead of stashing the thing away in a drawer, I went whole hog, putting it up on prominent display on a window sill in the kitchen, for family and guests alike to see.  (Our fireplace, unfortunately, lacked a mantel). At first, people (other than my mother) didn’t seem to know what it was.  But soon they were catching on.  It wasn’t long before I was hearing occasional wry chuckles and even the odd outright belly laugh.  People were clueing in to the thing—and they were loving it.  The little bronzed shoe was more than earning its keep.

          I was bang-on in my guess that my keeping the shoe would stop Cardinal from sending me any more of them. Clearly, even their generosity had its limits.  And in due course, the little game lost its appeal to me.  I stuck the bronzed shoe away in a desk drawer while I decided whether to use it as a paperweight or to give it to someone I didn’t particularly like as a Christmas present.  Five years later, I still hadn’t decided, and the shoe was still sitting inside my drawer.

          But if you were to say that that was the end of the bronzed baby shoe saga, you’d be sadly mistaken.  For years after I’d put the shoe away, it would remain a small but significant part of our collective family life.  When something particularly ridiculous or untoward would happen, all anyone would have to do is say “The bronzed baby shoe” to evoke loud peals of laughter from everyone in the vicinity.  The mere mention of the thing enlivened more than one otherwise drab afternoon or evening.

          Whether such was their intention or not, Cardinal had truly provided me with the gift that kept on giving!


[1] As some of my readers will know, my time with Cardinal has been described in “A Cardinal Career,” published in 2018 in the Chicken Soup anthology “The Power of Yes.”  I sold Cardinal cards and stationery when I was in fourth and fifth grade.  As my Chicken Soup piece notes, Cardinal always addressed their correspondence with me to “Mrs. J. Peirce.”

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News

Announcement

As of tonight, I’ll be starting a three-week “vacation” from writing. The well has run a bit dry of late, as I’ve been busy first with setting up my new house in Gatineau, and, more recently, preparing for my hernia surgery in a little over two weeks. I’ll be using the extra time to read and to prepare myself, both intellectually and emotionally, to write pieces reflecting the changed reality of my new living arrangement. If some extraordinarily keen insight occurs to me during my “vacation,” I may put something up on the site–but don’t hold your breath. The Niblets will definitely resume in three weeks’ time, but perhaps less frequently than daily. We’ll have to see.

Be of good cheer, and stay well and sane. See you in three weeks, if not sooner.

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Niblet Publishing

Your Daily Niblet #146

No intelligent or even meaningful writing about technology is likely to come from the pens of those who romance it.

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Niblet Publishing

Your Daily Niblet #145

I’m “politicking to rule,” which means I’ve voted in the U.S. election and am following enough politics to understand the big picture, but am no longer immersing myself in the details, or getting into lengthy political debates on Facebook. Already my mental health is improving as a result. Hopefully it will improve further after Nov. 3.

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Niblet Publishing

Your Daily Niblet #144

Irony, nuance, and shades of meaning are but three of the casualties of the ongoing cultural counter-revolution, both in language and in politics.

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News

Congratulations. . .

To the Quebec Health Authority, for having the best background music to listen to while we wait for assistance. Today’s offerings included Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” as well as a couple of mellow jazz piano selections. It’s a smart move to put good, peaceful music of this kind on as background music; you enjoy listening to the music so much that the waiting time passes more quickly than you’d have believed possible.