January 7, 2012

Sara Ackerman Is Both a Nut, and X





pic removed by administrator

How to summarize a complex story? Start from first principles: what does the author want to be true?

Sara Ackerman is a student at NYU, and sent a mass email to the "Department of Social and Cultural Analysis" complaining, inter alia, that a professor forced her to go to OWS and do an ethnography. Her complaint was not that it is impossible for a college student to do an ethnography of a fluid movement comprised of people who in, say, November are completely  different than the people there in August, rendering any conclusions not just moot but misleading, or that the term ethnography is correctly spelled "personal anecdote," which would have been my complaint. But then again I  didn't go to many of my classes because I thought they were full of people who didn't care or blindly followed the typical herd mentality.  Was I right?  NB: that's an ethnography.

Her rambling, highly fonted emails are the typographic equivalent of an old time ransom note, and I have every suspicion she's a nut.

Your problem is that the accompanying pic to the NYU article about her is this:

sara ackerman.jpg
Uh oh.  Things about to go racial up in this joint.

II.

Gawker's summary of her complaint:

...objected to being "forced," in her words, to interview "criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill people, and of course, the few competent, mentally stable people"--[Sara] did not like this [assignment].

And the NYU paper continues:

She requested an alternative assignment, but wasn't granted one by CAS Dean Kalb until, she had already gone down to OWS "with two other young girls, who are quite attractive and thin, and don't look particularly physically fit enough to take on a potential predator, rapist, paranoid schizophrenic, etc" and felt like she "escaped an extremely dangerous -- and even, life threatening -- situation."
So it is pretty clear that she sounds like she was afraid to go there.

But then there's the picture.  That's a picture symbolizing what she is allegedly afraid of.  No picture of her is available, which is weird, as she has 1000 followers on facebook and I found it in 9 seconds (though it took hours to verify), but if you open the Textbook Of Media it becomes immediately understandable: her picture is not useful to their narrative. If this was a story of a sexual indiscretion they would find a pic of her in a bikini, and if she doesn't fit in a bikini they'll use someone else in a bikini as a symbol. 

If you take the phrase, "quite attractive and thin", and juxtapose it with the pic above, or the  picture NYMag used:

nymag ackerman.JPG
You've set it up nicely: white girl is afraid of black people.

In fact, her actual complaint is that she disagrees with OWS, on principle: "a movement that runs entirely against my core values, and principles".  I'm not saying she's not a nut;  she may also believe there are drug addicts and rapists down there, she may be afraid of them, but in her brain the secondary problem is the rapists, the primary problem is OWS.

So that's your second clue: an ideological disagreement-- albeit an insane one-- has been reframed into something that seems self-explanatory: this crazy girl who thinks all of OWS are rapists is a racist.

Which isn't entirely wrong:



On a side-note have you ever heard of that mega-university in Cambridge, Mass. called Harvard?

Long story short, they had a few disputes between a tenured professor, and a big man on campus, and look what happened in the end:

They swapped him:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Summers

For him:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornel_West

And got a PR nightmare---does anyone see the parallels? Or do I have to continue to spell it out for you, as I have been for over 2 months?

Look, neither Summers nor West is perfect, but why don't you do a little research to see who was more deserving of a prominent position at Harvard?



These are the ramblings of a person whose personality is made of paper mache.  But listen to the words, the words she felt were important enough to underline:  highly qualified X guy was replaced for terribly inadequate Y guy.

You fill in the X and Y.

"Does anyone see the parallels?"




III.

So she's a nut.  So what?  Why are we reading about this?

Nothing about her story is interesting or unusual.  As a psychiatrist in a university hospital, I have seen hundreds of situations just like this.  I'm not saying they all actually had psychiatric pathology, I am only saying that somehow or other, referral or kicking and screaming, they have wound up at the door of the university counseling service.  Psychiatry is the tool the system uses when it can't shoot you in the head.

And yes, every year five or so nuts send terabytes of emails to everyone.edu and every newspaper within the blast radius about professorial misconduct, conspiracies, mishandlings, promises broken, he said/she said, with multiple quotes from the Student Handbook.  (Here's a protip: if you ever refer to the Student Handbook, you should take a semester off or lithium.)  You never see these stories in Gawker, let alone the entire emails, and trust me when I tell you they are more interesting.  So why this?

She's a nut, but she's a nut in the required direction: this nut hates OWS, which is to say, only a nut would hate OWS.  A nut, or someone who doesn't like blacks, or....   Her nuttiness serves a necessary ideological function, which is to set OWS in opposition to her insanity; OWS is magnified as the voice of reason, the voice of sanity.  When the media points out the idiocies of Sarah Palin, Bachmann, and Perry, it isn't to discredit them-- a maneuver that overt would be distasteful to intelligent media;  Pailinizing them sends a more subtle but powerful message: anyone who agrees with these nuts is a nut.  The point is not to doubt them, the point is to doubt yourself, nudging you closer to center (i.e. leftward.)  That's how you win an ideological battle.

Thought experiment: you come across a story about an OWS supporter who is also a nut trying to get her professors fired.  What network are you watching?  So then why are you watching?

IV.

Sara Ackerman threatened to, and then did, the worst thing you can ever do:  go to the press.

The press is not your friend, and when you give them your existence they will use you however they need to, and you will have no recourse.  If you happen also to be a nut, you're done for.

NYULocal is a student paper, so it's safe to assume they're deeply pro-OWS.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the point is that they don't see it that way, they see it is pro-truth, or pro-uncovering the lies of Wall Street.  Again, fine; but it means that when they use your image for their purposes, like they are using Ackerman's, they think they are doing a good thing.  You can't fight against that.

The essence of an ideological battle is not, "I believe this, but you believe that" but rather, "You believe that, but I know the truth."  Because of this, not only can you not convince them of their bias, but it is impossible for them to ever be aware of it.  It's not bias, it's reality. Hence "basic" and "fundamental" are attached to the very things that other people see as anything but.

At around 4pm MST, I wrote a comment on the NYUlocal page: "Look at the picture they used.  THINK!

Sometime within the next 15 minutes, both my comment and the pics were gone.

You'll either be surprised or not: I knew they were going to do that.  Which is why I screencapped the before and after:

before:


nyulocal capture1.jpg



after:


nyulocal ackerman2.jpg

The point here is not that I "caught" them, that is not my interest.  What's important is that they took it down in response to my comment.  What will they tell themselves is the reason they took down the picture? Or used it in the first place? 

Was it that I misunderstood the picture, or was it that I did not properly understand the picture?




---

End notes:

1. The scientific problem with ethnographies is that unlike a clinical trial or even a straight census, the "investigator" cannot be separated from the work.  It is simply impossible-- looking forward to some angry comments-- to have an "objective" ethnography because the process of the investigation requires the investigator to apply his own biases and defenses to the work. You strive for neutrality, of course, but there is always conscious awareness that you can't reach it.   It mitigates this by weaving within it a narrative about the investigator, the investigator becomes explicitly part of the research, so the reader can (conceivably) make some guesses about why this particular investigator saw this particular thing in this particular way.

I tell you this because Sara Ackerman is thus correct in saying she cannot perform this study.  Her hatred of OWS, misguided and shallow though it may be, would interfere, and that would inevitably come through in the study.  But, and this is an important but, since no one on the planet would have known who Sara Ackerman was, we wouldn't have had that needed information to properly interpret her findings should she have forged ahead.  Which means that in refusing to do the research, Sara Ackerman was the only honest ethnologist in the class.


see also: Why does the media ignore Ron Paul?  Not because they disagree


http://twitter.com/thelastpsych









Comments

Dang. Two steps ahead. Agai... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 2:15 AM | Posted by mackyB: | Reply

Dang. Two steps ahead. Again.

Mountain Standard Time, Eh? I'm getting closer to the Batman.

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This article is extremely h... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 7:10 AM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

This article is extremely hard to follow. I have no idea what your point is. Good stuff about bias near the end though.

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Alone: Would it be possible... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 8:03 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Alone: Would it be possible for your to describe the picture of Ackerman you found? It seems to be vital to your essay, but you have not posted it.

If you watch the right news channels, you get the impression that the OWS settlements are dangerous places. Robbery, violence, and rape (which is so much worse than violence in the press) are clearly an every minute occurrence.
According to the information she had, Ackerman was acting as rationally as a person stocking up on food because on the right news channels, the end is always nigh.

I wonder why her faculty were unwilling to let her change research topic. Because that would be normal practise at most places, I must speculate that her relationship with faculty deteriorated until they were unwilling to take normal action to help her.

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Alone: Would it be possible... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 8:04 AM | Posted by Tim: | Reply

Alone: Would it be possible for your to describe the picture of Ackerman you found? It seems to be vital to your essay, but you have not posted it.

If you watch the right news channels, you get the impression that the OWS settlements are dangerous places. Robbery, violence, and rape (which is so much worse than violence in the press) are clearly an every minute occurrence.
According to the information she had, Ackerman was acting as rationally as a person stocking up on food because on the right news channels, the end is always nigh.

I wonder why her faculty were unwilling to let her change research topic. Because that would be normal practise at most places, I must speculate that her relationship with faculty deteriorated until they were unwilling to take normal action to help her.

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Also, woops, double post. <... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 8:04 AM | Posted by Tim: | Reply

Also, woops, double post.

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I first read this story on ... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 10:28 AM | Posted by Lmn: | Reply

I first read this story on Gawker. No racially loaded picture accompanied it. But she made it so clear who and what she was afraid of that no such picture was needed.

I don't know what the school paper's intent was, but as a regular reader of NewYorkMag.com I know that the use of that picture was to drive home just what it was Sara was objecting to. It was obvious and all the readers knew it was obvious. The editors were clearly being cheeky. If you go on to read the comments, her race fears were not nearly discussed as much as her mental state and sense of entitlement.

While I can't say your assumptions are baseless, they don't hold as much water as you'd like.

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Imagine the story from the ... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 10:33 AM | Posted by Wonder chimp: | Reply

Imagine the story from the other side of the political spectrum...strangely entitled and self-centered OWS supporter sends rambling emails demanding prof be fired over conservative bias... if the emails are extreme and amusing enough, I can certainly see that going viral too, although of course in different circles with different emphasis.

After reading the story once, it didn't enter into my mind that she was a full-blown head case having a manic/psychotic break. Having experienced my share of narcissists, I thought she was unusually angry and expressive. But after reading it again with that in mind, I can see the possibility.

Having seen your share of students having breakdowns, maybe the reaction will be, nothing to see here, move along, why is this news. But having experienced entitled jerks unable to see anyone's point of view but their own, viewing it as the height of martyrdom to step out of their comfort zone, and apparently expecting the world to do their bidding, I can see how this would go viral regardless of the particular political angle.

It's a well-taken point that the story is inseparable from one's own experiences and political views. But it's viral because everyone can relate to have suffered people like this.

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"As a psychiatrist in a uni... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 10:39 AM | Posted by Real Psychiatrist: | Reply

"As a psychiatrist in a university hospital, I have seen hundreds of situations just like this..."

I have hard time thinking anyone who is an actual psychiatrist would ever, ever write things like this: "So she's a nut. So what?"

Or this: "Here's a protip: if you ever refer to the Student Handbook, you should take a semester off or lithium."

I don't buy you're a psychiatrist because in our profession we do not so cavalierly discuss matters like this with words like those.

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NUT detected!!!... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 11:04 AM | Posted, in reply to Tim's comment, by Blah: | Reply

NUT detected!!!

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Real Psych: "I don't buy y... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 11:06 AM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Real Psych: "I don't buy you're a psychiatrist because in our profession we do not so cavalierly discuss matters like this with words like those."

Unbunch your underwear and strap in for an interesting ride.

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Even if it's true, why woul... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 11:19 AM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by Silentmachinery: | Reply

Even if it's true, why would it matter?

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Who is it that he's writing... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 11:54 AM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Who is it that he's writing for? What is it that he's writing for?

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I know Sara- she's not a nu... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 12:14 PM | Posted by Scarsdale: | Reply

I know Sara- she's not a nut, just a chubby middle-class girl who thinks the world revolves around her. She's not a bad person, she just does not yet have the maturity to understand she cannot always have her way.

This article is really much too long and overcomplicates the situation.

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It's obviously long and com... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 12:52 PM | Posted, in reply to Scarsdale's comment, by NDeewar: | Reply

It's obviously long and complicated for a reason. As he/she so painstakingly tried to demonstrate: the point of the article wasn't to discuss Sara Ackerman's intelligence or sanity, but that she unwittingly became a pawn for the media/propoganda machine. The same machine that OWS is suppose to fight.

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Ehh, I don't think the pict... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 12:54 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Ehh, I don't think the picture was meant to support any argument. The emails were sent out via listserv, so a large number of students received them in full--pictureless. Additionally, NYU Local is a blog, not paper, written by and for students whose inboxes were already spammed before this was posted.

I don't see this being about race at all, but rather about a student who believed with so much conviction that she was on the side of justice that she felt the need to blow things up to this magnitude. And then the online mob mentality decided that due to her laughable and "crazy" formatting that she must have mental issues. Which could be true, considering her FB posts.

I do agree with your comment on neutrality though, but the fact of the matter is she refused to do the assignment because she didn't want to, not because of scientific integrity to limit her own bias towards it.

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Sure, any ethnography is go... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 12:54 PM | Posted by Jay: | Reply

Sure, any ethnography is going to be biased. The categories we use to describe the people we see say more about us than about their subjects. This I grant you.

Still, a good ethnography is a first-person account from someone who was (a) actually walking around the area of interest, (b) consciously trying to make sense of it all, and (c) using training and discipline to try to minimize bias in their report. In an imperfect world, that's often as good as it gets. Reading five or ten of these might actually give a decent level of insight into what was actually going on.

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I don't buy you're a homo s... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 1:00 PM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by NDeewar: | Reply

I don't buy you're a homo sapien because in our species we do not live like perfect saints and breathe not a single lie.

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My first psychologist relat... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 1:53 PM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

My first psychologist related me how he got rid of his virginity to explain me that I had unrealistic expectations.

Then I ended up in a psychiatrist that told me the childhood traumas that turned her into a narcissist to explain me how the mechanism worked.

I wish I had listened to them back then.

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Every real psychiatrist I'v... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 3:15 PM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by Social Worker: | Reply

Every real psychiatrist I've worked with has used such descriptions, or worse.

The point is, while her breakdown may be of the utmost importance to her (and her family), should it be front-page news for the rest of us?

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I'm not sure why you said t... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 3:30 PM | Posted by Barbara Leung: | Reply

I'm not sure why you said that it was difficult to find a picture of Sara Ackerman. I typed in the query "Sara Ackerman nyu" and came up with the following:

http://www.utzedek.org/whoweare.html?start=4

And if you scroll down, there she is.

The Anonymous comment above, which clarifies a lot more about the situation in which inboxes were already spammed "pictureless" prior to the post, is one that points out the important notes.

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Am I the only one noticing?... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 3:49 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Am I the only one noticing?

At around 4pm MST, I wrote a comment on the NYUlocal page: "Look at the picture they used. THINK!"

Sometime within the next 15 minutes, both my comment and the pics were gone.

Hillarious. To me it suggest that it's not about reporting, it's about winning. Isn't that a part of the package the young folks of US are fighting against these days? Guess it takes some time to unlearn stuff.

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Is that actually her? I bel... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 3:53 PM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

Is that actually her? I believe the photo may have been taken down b/c that's not the correct individual. See here: http://www.facebook.com/people/Sara-Ackerman/1341810134?sk=info

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@Barbara Leung I wro... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 4:31 PM | Posted, in reply to Barbara Leung's comment, by Chan: | Reply

@Barbara Leung
I wrote the anon comment. (Refreshed the page, forgot to refill in name.)

spoiledrichkids.blogspot.com/
After reading her facebook posts, I have a feeling that she's enjoying this.

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I think you may have missed... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 4:45 PM | Posted by Corey: | Reply

I think you may have missed the bit where she quotes her prof saying "Now it is time for you to conduct your research and it is your responsibility as a researcher to understand how your own perspectives are shaping the kinds of knowledge you are able to produce. It is up to you to analyze the material you choose to incorporate in your ethnography. Next Wednesday we move forward to our class on ethnographic analysis and writing I would like to hear from you on those issues." Kinda sounds like the point of the assignment was to realize the impact of personal bias on research. Note that Ms. Ackerman doesn't reflect on these comments at any point, probably because it throws her "I can't write this due to ideological differences" argument out the window, so instead she doubles down on the "I can't write this because it's not safe and because my teacher didn't pick on me in class" argument.

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I read the Gawker article s... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 5:00 PM | Posted by Corey: | Reply

I read the Gawker article sans picture first, and it never occurred to me that her description of "mentally ill" people and "drug addicts" was supposed to evoke a black stereotype (I personally thought she was evoking a hippie stoner stereotype). NYMag and NYUStudent were definitely being disingenuous in running those pictures, but I don't think that makes Sara Ackerman's position "honest." She's just being disingenuous towards a different end, i.e. getting out of writing a paper for a class she doesn't like.

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Or maybe we just used a rap... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 6:54 PM | Posted by Ari Lipsitz: | Reply

Or maybe we just used a rapidly-expiring Tumblr hosting link by mistake (It's back online now). But thanks for implying our biases.

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What will they tell them... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 7:11 PM | Posted by overocea: | Reply

What will they tell themselves is the reason they took down the picture? Or used it in the first place?

They're too busy managing their image to look at themselves:

Posted by Ari Lipsitz: Or maybe we just used a rapidly-expiring Tumblr hosting link by mistake (It's back online now). But thanks for implying our biases.

mhmm.

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You think he's *implying* y... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 8:02 PM | Posted, in reply to Ari Lipsitz's comment, by Carlier: | Reply

You think he's *implying* your biases? I felt that part was pretty overt, but maybe TLP's not trying hard enough.

Thanks for explaining what was going on with that pic, though; it did seem implausible that you'd actually react to a commenter telling you to "think!" (That probably sounds more insulting than it's intended to. What I mean is that it's an ambiguous instruction from a guy you have no reason to pay any particular attention to, and it strained my credulity to think it would inspire some sort of wacky Internet cover-up. I'm guessing you deleted his comment because he didn't leave his name?)

(Note to anyone else reading this: Ari Lipsitz writes for NYU Local.)

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bingo... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 8:04 PM | Posted, in reply to Carlier's comment, by Ari Lipsitz: | Reply

bingo

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Interestingly enough as of ... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 9:33 PM | Posted by David Klemke: | Reply

Interestingly enough as of writing this comment they have restored the picture, the exact same picture, to the article in question. Seems you've garnered more than just the initial reaction Alone, well played.

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Or maybe you got caught red... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 9:42 PM | Posted, in reply to Ari Lipsitz's comment, by Sarek: | Reply

Or maybe you got caught red-handed by TLP and this is your save.

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You are not a psychiatric w... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2012 10:44 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

You are not a psychiatric worker of any kind.

If, somehow, for some utterly inexplicable reason I am wrong about that then you really, really, really ought to quit as you are not the right person for this kind of work.

On a side note - you also seem to be a complete asshole.

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After reading both the Gawk... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 1:50 AM | Posted by Deb: | Reply

After reading both the Gawker (which had no picture) and NYU Local and neither of these made OWS as the focus of their coverage either overtly or covertly - the focus for both is the sense of entitlement of the student and/or the state of her mental health. Even when the discussion covered Ackerman's claims/rantings of feeling vulnerable to sexist comments, there is no bracketed racism, although there are clearly some gender issues in there.

I think you are clutching here - as a media/cultural studies grad I am always happy to listen and engage in some gold old textual analysis but, although the choice of picture is certainly telling insofar as it is a problematic choice to represent OWS, it does not skew the text for the reader as the topic of concern is on the entitlement of the student, not her distaste of OWS - OWS is just the topic of the assignment which seems to have been the catalyst for her tirade and the discussion and commentary are focused on these issues alone. The politics of representation are about Ackerman, not OWS.

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Knowledge is power .... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 3:17 AM | Posted by nike free run: | Reply

Knowledge is power .

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I had a psychiatrist that I... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 3:18 AM | Posted, in reply to Real Psychiatrist's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I had a psychiatrist that I think did not shower. I do not know for sure. What I do know is that I could smell him from the waiting room.

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the term ethnography is ... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 5:13 AM | Posted by fraula: | Reply

the term ethnography is correctly spelled "personal anecodote," which would have been my complaint. But then again I didn't go to many of my classes because I thought they were full of people who didn't care or blindly followed the typical herd mentality. Was I right? NB: that's an ethnography. [...]

The scientific problem with ethnographies is that unlike a clinical trial or even a straight census, the "investigator" cannot be separated from the work. It is simply impossible-- looking forward to some angry comments-- to have an "objective" ethography because the process of the investigation requires the investigator to apply his own biases and defenses to the work.

As someone who studied anthropology (ethnology) and could feasibly have my Masters in it? Really, all I'd need to do is ask for "comparative literature" to be exchanged for "anthropology", I have all the req's for anthro and my Masters thesis is so close to what anthro people think of as anthro, that an anthro prof was my co-advisor. You, sir, are correct. (Which is precisely why my degree says "comparative literature".)

My anthro courses were filled with people who could not understand why they were being taught that they, as researchers, were necessarily subjective and not objective. (So we did have relatively responsible anthro profs.) There were a couple men who threw fits worthy of 2-year-olds when we women in the class pointed out to them that, for instance, a woman would not blithely respond to intimate questions about the feminine side of her culture from a strange man.

I don't know if the less aware ones got their degrees; our anthro profs were responsible enough that they came down pretty hard on people who refused to accept subjectivity. We were required to base analyses on non-fiction reports from people actually in a culture, and give observations, not make general conclusions. Ideally, by comparing to our own cultures. Thus the link to comparative literature. Honestly, I think comp.lit is a more accurate description in any case... when you look at the outright fabrications done even by noted "ethnographers" (discoverable by comparing with literature written by members of the cultures studied), it's pretty clear they were writing literature, namely fiction, not research.

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with nyu sending social wor... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 9:09 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

with nyu sending social workers and psych evaluations, it sounds like it could be a case of a non-psych problem being institutionalized through psychiatry because the administration doesn't want to deal with her

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A second-generation nut: <... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 1:41 PM | Posted by Phanatic: | Reply

A second-generation nut:

"Sara, this seems to be a continuation of the same matter about which I met with you and your mother a few weeks ago after the disruption in Professor Zaloom's class."

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they put the picture back u... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 3:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

they put the picture back up..

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Enough about Sara. Let's t... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 3:34 PM | Posted by V.V.: | Reply

Enough about Sara. Let's talk about me.

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"Which means that in ref... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 5:46 PM | Posted by Bryan: | Reply

"Which means that in refusing to do the research, Sara Ackerman was the only honest ethnologist in the class"

Really? That seems hard to prove. Actually, it seems impossible.

I do like this, though.

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Upon second thought, I don'... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 5:51 PM | Posted, in reply to Bryan's comment, by Bryan: | Reply

Upon second thought, I don't. Who said the biases inherent in an ethnography have to be "pro-"? You're saying that she could not possibly be unbiased, yet that biases are part of an ethnography. So... which is it?

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She refused to do the assig... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 8:41 PM | Posted, in reply to Bryan's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

She refused to do the assignment for reasons other than a disbelief in the validity of the ethnographic process .

Ethnographers are very aware of the inherent subjectivity of their processes - suggesting that ethnographic research cannot be unbiased (as per original article) is lbeither new nor relavatory - it's an accepted aspect of the process - read the emails from her professor.

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This article is almost impo... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 9:12 PM | Posted by Sean : | Reply

This article is almost impossible to follow. I think there is no real psychiatric content to this at all. It seems more like a classic story of a conservative vs. liberal ideological war.

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The psychiatric content is ... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 9:41 PM | Posted, in reply to Sean 's comment, by Sean's Best Friend: | Reply

The psychiatric content is you.

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TLP, how come we can't comm... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 2:34 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

TLP, how come we can't comment on your other blog without registering for an account? Can you tell pastabagel to change it?

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It's hard to tell how you r... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 3:44 AM | Posted by infopractical: | Reply

It's hard to tell how you really feel about Sara. Perhaps this is intentional -- you don't want to make a real diagnosis for reasons of liability (purely speculation, and probably bad speculation at that).

I just don't know.

What I am surprised about is that you'll call her a "nut" without any commentary at all on what happens to the mental state of a person who feels backed into a corner.

Should she have felt backed into a corner? Most people wouldn't. I get that. I also grew up with a violent schizophrenic brother who is everything she imagines lurks at Occupy, and, were he not in prison, would almost surely be living in an Occupy encampment.

When I left home, having experience handling people like my brother, I'd have laughed at a girl like Sara -- so timid, lame, and unable to cope with people different from her. But over the years, it occurred to me that he really did hurt me. Often. And badly. And he has since hurt many people. He's at around ten felonies now.

So, she has a point. There is some rational fear. Or, at least, it's perfectly plausible to believe that there will be some students who sees it that way. And it doesn't make her nuts to think that way. At worst, it makes her naive. But is she? More so than the professor who doesn't see this situation coming?

A school has no business forcing students into situations they find dangerous. What was the professor expecting? That she got the one student with no fight or flight threshold?

So, she got a fight. And school authorities handled the situation poorly.

The pressure mounts, and it mounts. And the girl has no options but to risk her grade or her self (as she sees it).

And we don't expect the nut in us to come out in these situations?

Of course we do. Everyone cracks. We all know that. Just like everyone gives in to torture. We all have our limits, and we all have our weaknesses. Apply the right pressure, and crack. We're all nuts.

Or maybe that's a degrading way to view us all.


You also make good points about the media using Sara too. That doesn't justify writing this article in a way that cuts her with such mental violence at a moment that must be traumatizing to her. I've enjoyed so many of your articles, but you're making a serious mistake this time:

First do no harm.

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I keep reading your posts a... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 8:46 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I keep reading your posts and find the mall very amusing. I can't wait ot come bakc for more.
Molly
baby cribs
mini cribs

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"...objected to being "forc... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 11:35 AM | Posted by Nando: | Reply

"...objected to being "forced," in her words, to interview "criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill people, and of course, the few competent, mentally stable people"--[Sara] did not like this [assignment]."

Then she should avoid law school, and any clinical programs, where students get the privilege of interviewing such miscreants - including police officers. She can also work with mentally ill people called prosecutors, law clerks and judges.

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infopractical, the post isn... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 3:25 PM | Posted, in reply to infopractical's comment, by DensityDuck: | Reply

infopractical, the post isn't about Sara. The post is about the article about Sara.

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This subject not related ... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 7:24 PM | Posted by Harry Horton: | Reply

This subject not related to Sarah Ackerman, but its a significant development here at 2012's commencement on the Texas Risperdal suit. THe following articles are on the internet:

"J&J Should pay Texas $579 million for Risperdal, Jury told" Businessweek
"Trial begins in Texas lawsuit seeking $1 billion from J&J over..." Washington Post
"Bloomberg: J&J's RIpserdal settlement to top $1 B" Fierce Pharma
"Texas AG: Risperdal suit goes to trial" - LegalNews Live.

I got sick off risperdal, going on my 11th year chronically sick from the drug. Its an interesting development to see how attitudes towards the drug differ so drastically from 2001-1. In the pharmaceutical, medical and legal communities.

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Has anybody ever told you w... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 8:48 PM | Posted by DB: | Reply

Has anybody ever told you what an insufferable windbag you are?

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Wait...this article isn't e... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2012 8:52 PM | Posted by DB: | Reply

Wait...this article isn't even about psychiatry. It's a political opinion piece complaining about a liberal media. How unoriginal. You're merely selling it through references to your credentials. Yawn.

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I am kind of appalled that ... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 2:46 AM | Posted by So Much For Subtlety: | Reply

I am kind of appalled that this is spreading over the internet.

Yes she is probably a nut. Which is precisely why NYU and any newspaper associated with it has no business whatsoever spreading the story. They have a duty of care to a vulnerable person. Which means not making her a figure of fun on a national scale.

If she wasn't so obviously not a liberal they might see this.

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Frankly, Ari Lipsitz is ful... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 3:27 AM | Posted, in reply to Social Worker's comment, by V: | Reply

Frankly, Ari Lipsitz is full of shit.

If we take their reporting as factual, then Ackerman was in contact with campus mental health; the undertone of the story is one summed up by the first comment under the initial story, that she is "unhinged."

Several of the emails reference campus mental health -- which, if they were 'journalists' with integrity, should have effectively closed this issue off from publication. Yes, so a random girl for reasons unknown (ideological or otherwise) conducted herself in ways that many deem as socially inappropriate and perhaps reflecting an underlying pathology. Great, even more reason to not report on it.

Would they have reported on John Nash's famous troubles while at Princeton or MIT?

But they are just reporters, they just report the objective reality. We report, you decide...

[link to beginning of Alone's article here]

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"infopractical, the post is... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 10:06 AM | Posted by infopractical: | Reply

"infopractical, the post isn't about Sara. The post is about the article about Sara."

Certainly media is the primary topic, but Sara is also a topic within the article.

She's human. Recognize.

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Something I've actually fou... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 1:46 PM | Posted by MO: | Reply

Something I've actually found missing in this debate, and I can't stop wondering -- is an ethnographer not allowed to have misgivings and not feel comfortable entering a situation? It seems as if this notion is completely out of the question, as if a true ethnographer will enter any social situation regardless of their own personal comfort level. One could certainly imagine situations where the ethnographer considered his or her biases but still concluded that the situation might not be personally safe or productive.

There seems to be an assumption as well that if Sara had "overcome her biases" she would have seen that going down to OWS was perfectly safe. But isn't this just confirming the biases of those who think differently than Sara? Unconvincing as they may be to those who are ideologically closer to OWS protesters, she did have reasons for her feelings that were not entirely based off of her personal distaste for OWS (actual instances of rape, few though they might be, for example).

Her manner of addressing herself and her attitude are abhorrent. I can imagine it must have been a pain in the ass to have her in class. However, it does seem a failure on the part of the professor not to honor her discomfort from the beginning, and to insist that Sara's gut feelings about her own safety were simply part and parcel of her biases. Negating the value of students' feelings and experiences isn't actually a very good way to get them to question themselves. Much preferable would have been helping Sara sort out which parts of her discomfort might be reasonable and realistic and which parts might be more class-based, though there may just not be enough hours in the day to deal with her sort...

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You make a good theoretical... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 3:08 PM | Posted, in reply to MO's comment, by DB: | Reply

You make a good theoretical argument. However:

1) This girl spent the summer in El Salvador working to help the poor. I simply don't believe her when she says she doesn't feel safe in downtown Manhattan during the middle of the day. She's lying to get out of an assignment she doesn't want to do.

2) She did eventually go down there and conduct some interviews. And she STILL refused to do the assignment. She's lying to get out of an assignment she doesn't want to do.

3) She mentions repeatedly that she is morally and ethically opposed to OWS. This isn't about fear, it's about ideology. She's lying to get out of an assignment she doesn't want to do.

4) Frankly, I feel comfortable saying it was perfectly safe for her to go there. Was I a supporter of OWS? Yes. Do I believe I'm not being objective about how safe it was? No, I really don't, even though I can't prove that. I'm ideologically opposed to the Tea Party, but I think their rallies are perfectly safe. OWS got dangerous much later when the police tried to finally clear them out, but the assignment was given well before that. She could have easily conducted her interviews on the "outside" of the police barricades in full view of the police.

5) You said, "There seems to be an assumption as well that if Sara had "overcome her biases" she would have seen that going down to OWS was perfectly safe. But isn't this just confirming the biases of those who think differently than Sara?" To that, the answer is an easy, "no." Because we don't have to rely on ideology to determine if it was safe or not. It's not really a subjective judgment call. Before the confrontations with police got ugly, were there any reports of violence in Zuccoti Park? I believe there were not. Doesn't that make it safe? This isn't a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact.

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"This girl spent the summer... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 3:28 PM | Posted by infopractical: | Reply

"This girl spent the summer in El Salvador working to help the poor. I simply don't believe her when she says she doesn't feel safe in downtown Manhattan during the middle of the day. She's lying to get out of an assignment she doesn't want to do."

To me this simply says that she feels safe in other cultures. Is it possible to feel safe in other cultures, but not in OWS? To say this is impossible is to imagine away a lot of points-of-view, biased or not.

"Before the confrontations with police got ugly, were there any reports of violence in Zuccoti Park?"

Before the violence was there any violence?

Is that really the standard by which we're judging whether or not a group of people are safe?

"Before the war with the highland Scots, the English army was just hanging out in their encampment. So, they're not at all scary, right?"

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One of the commenters here ... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 4:43 PM | Posted by Me: | Reply

One of the commenters here mentioned "narcissism" as the quality that describes Ackerman, and the OP's diagnosis isn't much different.

But is Ackerman's grandiosity less narcissistic than believing with absolute certainty that one post, your post, in a sea of posts made by others on the NYUlocal page was responsible for the taking-down of the picture that accompanied the article?

By the way, the picture is still up: http://nyulocal.com/

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I read this first on gawker... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 9:08 PM | Posted by Peg: | Reply

I read this first on gawker, too, so there was no photo. When I finally did go to the original source, I didn't notice that he was black first, I noticed that he looked like a college kid and a man and I was confused because it obviously wasn't Ackerman.

After that I noticed that this was a OWS protestor and after that I noticed how much he looked like the protestors of the 60s with the fact that he was letting his hair naturally grow out into an afro.

And then I came to this blog and it was only then that I looked and thought this photo could be "scary black man" because let's be realistic, if they wanted to convey an image of that, there were plenty of pictures to use.
This, to me, is a young, idealistic, college age protester who happens to be male and black and if you project your own knee jerk reactions to it, that is on you. Don't assume that everyone else is going to react the same way. Some of us have been around enough black people and have seen enough media depictions of "scary black man" to know that this image is obviously not meant to convey that.

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@PegWell said. The O... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2012 9:24 PM | Posted by Deb : | Reply

@Peg
Well said. The OP is clearly trying to prescribe a reading of the text - that is flimsy at best - but all they manage to do is highlight their own assumptions and need to be relevant. While their is always more than one possible reading of any text, this one is clearly clutching at straws.

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I thought the picture was o... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2012 2:55 AM | Posted by Aditya: | Reply

I thought the picture was of the guy who wrote the article Myles Tanzer.

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Damn - their = there... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2012 7:22 AM | Posted by Deb: | Reply

Damn - their = there

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Isn't Sara A's going ballis... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2012 4:00 PM | Posted by Marechal Foch: | Reply

Isn't Sara A's going ballistic understandable in view of the stonewalling and the paternalistic dressing down she received after straying from the liberal canon ? To sow doubts in her mental state is part of the Beria (who ?)/Goebbels playbook and not worthy of any American institution.
The whole scene also reminds me of the quixotic curricula offered at many US "institutes of higher learning" that at best helps the graduates with their rubber-stamped Summas to land a government job or leads straight into un- or marginal employment in the burger etc. industry. There, as at the HS level, a massive push-back against quality control and waste mitigation is occurring -- and tolerated.

Disclosure : This commentator is a European born and schooled applied physicist who was recruited to come and help with getting the Saturn rocket program off the ground in the 60s. Meanwhile, my 4 sons are of the 1% due to personal effort and initiative, so they were not terribly impressed with OWS either.

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PS. To the Wittgenstein su... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2012 5:21 PM | Posted by Marechal Foch: | Reply

PS. To the Wittgenstein subtitle the Blogster-in-Chief has chosen as his motto, I would like to add this :
"La musique exprime ce qui ne peut être dit et sur quoi il est impossible de rester silencieux." - Victor Hugo.
Maybe The Last Psychiatrist should learn playing an instrument ?

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Where oh where does she 'st... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2012 6:10 PM | Posted, in reply to Marechal Foch's comment, by Deb: | Reply

Where oh where does she 'stray from the liberal canon'? In refusing to do a set assessment? You may be right here (in more ways that one) because only the 1% would indeed see an entitled temper tantrum as a reasonable response to some perceived infraction upon their 'rights'

(Self) Congratulations on your own personal success - what does your job or history of employment have to do with the discussion btw? Congratulations also on raising 4 sons to be just like you - funny, isn't that part of the OWS issue? That the 1% perpetuate their own wealthy offspring and then judge those who can't?

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You're revealed your own ra... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2012 11:12 PM | Posted by Ash: | Reply

You're revealed your own racism in this. A newspaper runs photo of occupy protester who is black. You are assuming white as the default. Your assumption is that if they weren't INTENTIONALLY choosing a photo of a black person to run to provoke some kind of racial tension, they'd have just run a picture of a white dude. Because white people are the default, and people of color are just a deviation of that! Excellent. You're awful.

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Deb – it was with you and f... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2012 11:40 AM | Posted, in reply to Deb's comment, by Marechal Foch: | Reply

Deb – it was with you and fellow travelers in mind that I seeded my comment with liberal canon and 1%. I am gratified you jumped on that. Pavlov is smiling. I somehow did not expect that you would bite instead on the Beria, frivolous college curricula, HS & academe QC bits.

I do further admit to making a –- to me ultra-safe -- assumption when linking OWS, an overall sympathetic NYU climate, and said liberal canon, a.k.a. Sacred Cow. The assessment rules to me were a pithy ploy to make SA eat her spinach/do the OWS thing – in spite of her objections, ideological leanings, existential fears. Invoking “rules-is-rules” reeks of military academy. The NYU dons involved in this charade should be ashamed.

Alas, your assumptions are way more adventurous : Me, 1% ? How so ? Or : so what ? Assuredly not in financial terms. And I had nothing to “perpetuate“ except a good work ethic, intellectual curiosity, persistence, self-reliance, and all these other un-cool disciplines that I am rather not so very convinced are on the menu of many @OWS. Of that I am guilty.

Now, if you have something to (self) congratulate about, do share. Oh, I forgot to brag about this : way back, instead of going to the OWS events of the moment, I wormed my way into a (strictly performance-based, yucchhh) grad scholarship and eventually into faculty.

And yes, I have no patience with those who refuse taking responsibility for their own choices, nor for the “looters, moochers and parasites” (Ayn Rand). Assignment : Visualize the modus operandi of the latter for a moment rather than letting yourself be distracted by the mention of this – for many toxic – author. “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” If only.

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What did Fox have to say ab... (Below threshold)

January 15, 2012 5:59 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

What did Fox have to say about Sara Ackerman, then? You Americans embraced Rupert Murdoch as an American citizen, you're welcome. Suckers!

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I'm a photojournalist by tr... (Below threshold)

January 15, 2012 5:28 PM | Posted by ZootZoot: | Reply

I'm a photojournalist by trade -- It's true, this photo use by NYU Local was rather misleading.

Was there a caption that ran with it? The context without caption looks bad and I'm glad they took it down.

They can't just use her photo off of Facebook, though. They don't own the photo, or have rights from the photographer to use it. And NYU would get upset with them unleashing a photographer after one of their students. Gawker's photo was better -- a photo illustration, in lieu of a portrait or "random" photo of OWS protestors.

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Why didn't she just make st... (Below threshold)

January 16, 2012 3:44 PM | Posted by Mia: | Reply

Why didn't she just make stuff up? When I was ordered to interview a tranny, a goth, a Muslim, a Mormon and a visually impaired person in the course of my formal education, I just wrote fiction. This isn't because I'm afraid or offended by any of those types of people, but mostly because i already knew what the professor would want me to find and "learn", and what would come off as profound yet realistic to the professor. Also, I felt like an unbelievable douche even imagining interviewing those people about those very things that I was supposed to learn didn't matter as a result of the assignment. I'm a child immigrant, and lots of people in intro to anthro or intro to linguistics would ask to interview me. They'd always look embarrassed and uncomfortable. Also, if my answers didn't fit with what they knew the professor wanted them to find, my interviewers would look really miserable. I'd feel bad and either change my answers or urge them to write down what we both knew would get them the best grade possible. Plus, making shit up takes less time and effort.

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the pic is still (again?) t... (Below threshold)

January 18, 2012 7:04 AM | Posted by vran: | Reply

the pic is still (again?) there... isn't it a bit grandiose to think they would remove it because of some comment?

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You're misguided if you thi... (Below threshold)

January 18, 2012 11:31 AM | Posted by sarah: | Reply

You're misguided if you think this is all because she's anti-OWS and the liberal media wants to crucify someone. The truth is that the melodramatic media loves to catch someone in full breakdown mode. Their customers eat that **** up! People love to watch a stranger going through histrionics -- look at what happens to celebrities when they hit a rough patch.

Why do some of these events become public and not others? I don't know, but being a conservative vs. a liberal has nothing to do at it. Witness another very public email exchange that happened recently: that of Paul Christoforo berating a confused customer. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/paul-christoforo-ocean-marketing-emails This became quite a huge brouhaha on the internet, and Christoforo's reputation has become utterly ruined. It happens.

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"She's human. Recognize."</... (Below threshold)

January 18, 2012 2:00 PM | Posted, in reply to infopractical's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"She's human. Recognize."

But then everyone who doesn't want to consider her as a human would have to stop using her as an object or exploiting her plight (under the guise of disgust at others exploiting her plight)...

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Ows protesters have wrecked... (Below threshold)

January 19, 2012 8:40 AM | Posted by Pa: | Reply

Ows protesters have wrecked havoc for months in US cities. They've not been well behaved. They have acted out like spoiled children, and i'm still unclear about any specific complaints they have other than their own jealousy that they are finding themselves in the 'have not' group after being told their whole lives by their parents, their schools, and hollywood that they are 'special'. But sarah ackerman is the crazy one because she doesn't want be around people who act like this? Okay, got it.

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Once again this post has ... (Below threshold)

January 19, 2012 3:16 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Once again this post has nothing to do with Sara Ackerman but is some important unfoldings in the Texas risperdal lawsuit that commenced here in janaury 2012. THe following media accounts off the internet relate more information and details on the Johnson and Johnson's ripserdal lawsuit brought by the state of Texas.

"J&J to Pay $158 million to settle Texas risperdal drug case. Janauary 19, 2012. Bloomberg Businessweek
"J&J said to agree to pay 1 billion in risperdal marketing probe." January 18 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek
"J&J hid 3 risperdal diabetes studies from FDA, Texas Jury Told." Bloomberg businessweek.
"Drugmaker settles with state over schizophrenia drug risperdal" AUstin- AMertican Statesmen.
"1 Bn risperdal marketing suit hits Texas Court" Fierce Pharma.

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January 20, 2012: Further... (Below threshold)

January 20, 2012 4:52 PM | Posted by Harry Horton: | Reply

January 20, 2012: Further internet media accounts covering the risperdal lawsuit in Texas involving Johnson and Johnson's fraudulent witholding of important medical study information on the risperdal's capacity to give diabetes to its users. THe articles:

"After the risperdal trial, J&J looks more like Humpty -Dumpty Forbes.
"AM Vital's: JJ to settle risperdal suit for $158 million" Wall street journal.
"Merck & Com. and Johnson & Johson settlements" THe pharmaletter January 20 2012.
"J&J to pay 158 million to settle Texas Risperdal case. Fox News January 20, 2012.

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I had no trouble finding he... (Below threshold)

January 22, 2012 5:01 PM | Posted by Exurban: | Reply

I had no trouble finding her picture and capsule bio here:

Orthodox Social Justice - Uri L'Tzedek Interns

An interesting page -- how unfortunate that the "social justice" disease looks to be as virulent among the Orthodox as among the secular.

I haven't been to New York for many years, but I have in fact seen the Occupy protest camps close up in two west coast cities. The description "criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill people ..." fits them precisely. I don't know Sara Ackerman or NYU, but her concern for her physical safety seems quite well-founded.

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I went down there one day, ... (Below threshold)

January 27, 2012 2:57 PM | Posted, in reply to Exurban's comment, by David: | Reply

I went down there one day, to Wall Street. Most of them seemed like sad, more or less deluded types. I had run into some of them at various other venues where the shaggy left hangs out, the life-time unemployed overweight lady dressing like its 1964 although she's now about 65, the old guy with the beard the the Peter Singer persona, etc. The kids seeme liked they were looking for "something, and the one I talked to mentioned that this all made him "feel like he was part of something for the first time in his life." Deluded, sad, etc. Criminal, drug addicts, and predominately mentally ill? No.

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I might add I wonder if the... (Below threshold)

January 27, 2012 3:06 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

I might add I wonder if the Tea Party is not made up of the same types except culturally different. That is, the professional full-time dissatisfied with the system types combined with some people, on the right largely motivated by resentment, but looking for some group, belief, or activity to make themselves feel like they belong to something, that life is "meaningful". Politics as a search for meaning is bound, at the least to be deluded (since it cannot provide such meaning) and at its worse, to be dangerous because there is no "empirical referent" which can contradict the desires and beliefs which are irrational. My feeling is that Hannah Arendt had some insight into this.

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@David : I happened to wal... (Below threshold)

January 30, 2012 2:41 PM | Posted, in reply to David's comment, by Marechal Foch: | Reply

@David : I happened to walk into a OWS rally for the first time last night at Washington Square when it was breaking up. Still drumming, mindless drumming. Just a sad sight. No hope for many of them under the best of circumstances, like zero unemployment.
Your observations regarding the Tea Partiers seem to me a pc attempt at evenhandedness. The professional full-timers, one should assume, at least make a contribution to the common wealth. Professional and personal dissatisfaction/frustration is a common human condition which pre-dates the Tea Party by quite a few millenia. Tough, but -- get on with it.
While not any more clear on what single issue makes the Tea Party tick vs. OTW, one major resentment appears to focus on its partisans seeing themselves as pulling their weight and paying their taxes where others get a free ride on their dime. Dissatisfaction - yes : with a regime, an ideology, a society that shamelessly promote redistribution, parasitism and envy -- when many of them remember that 20, 30 years ago that was not the case.

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I believe that the meltdown... (Below threshold)

January 30, 2012 5:01 PM | Posted by backtotesting: | Reply

I believe that the meltdown that Sara experienced was perhaps due in part to her growing up getting a gold star for every little thing for fear of damaging her fragile developing little self-esteem.

Someone should've klonked her on the head with her participation trophy at an early age to beat the entitlement out of her. Maybe then she wouldn't have had to *suffer* that whole 75 seconds of holding her arm up.

Really?

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This whole thing is a trage... (Below threshold)

February 5, 2012 9:54 PM | Posted by Pissed Off Woman: | Reply

This whole thing is a tragedy fueled by prejudice against the "mentally ill".

Both sides use it. Sara Ackerman is afraid to go to OWS because of the "mentally ill" people there, finally goes and is so prejudiced she runs out afraid for her life. When she complains about being assigned to go there, NYU seeks to discredit her complaint by making her get a psych evaluation. Then the story gets to the blogosphere, where more people call her a "nut".

I don't think Sara Ackerman's fear of OWS people is rational, but I don't think it's caused by a "disorder" either, I think it's caused by the media's frequent inaccurate portrayals of OWS in precisely the terms she uses. Which is driven by an ideological right-wing bias she shares. And which is based on an older inaccurate stereotype of the violent mentally ill homeless black person, which is, yes, racist, as well as classist and ableist. See Jonathan Metzl's "How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease" for a fascinating examination of the "violent schizophrenic" stereotype's origins in racist responses to black protest movements.

Liberals who call her crazy may think they're being on the side of OWS, but really they're just making things worse by just calling her pathological rather than looking at the sources of her prejudice. Whether it's liberals calling Tea Partiers dangerous crazies or conservatives calling OWS people dangerous crazies, either way they're reinforcing the myth of the "dangerous crazy", which a) hurts people with actual psychiatric diagnoses by making them more likely to be "pre-emptively" locked up in psych wards and/or excluded from mainstream society, and b) hurts anybody who seeks to change the system, by promoting the idea that anyone who is angry at the status quo is a "nut" who should be given therapy/drugs rather than having their opinions taken seriously. The OP seems to understand this dynamic when it comes to media portrayals of Sarah Palin, but to have blindly bought into it when it comes to students seeking redress for injustice at their universities--he thinks that if they refer to the school's own published rules of conduct in order to complain about misconduct at said school, they must need lithium! The problem here isn't left vs. right, but a general attempt to stigmatize with the "crazy" label anyone who dares to complain.

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Ackerman and the author of ... (Below threshold)

February 6, 2012 12:28 AM | Posted by Lindsay Beyerstein: | Reply

Ackerman and the author of this post proceed from two false premises. First, that you can't do an ethnography with a shifting group of people. Second, that the turnover at OWS was so high that you wouldn't have anyone left over if you followed the group for a few months.

Ethnography is a portrait of a culture drawn from prolonged exposure and measured with standardized qualitative research techniques (interviews, questionnaires, etc.). You can write the ethnography of a Vancouver methadone clinic, or an drop in center for migrant day laborers in El Paso. It doesn't matter if there's a shifting cast of characters. The turnover is part of the culture. A small hamlet where everyone has known everyone for generations is culturally different from a boom town where most people are just passing through. A good ethnography will pick up on that. She could have studied aspects of OWS culture that were larger than any given set of individuals: the General Assembly or the human mic, the OWS library, or the sanitation committee would have been good topics for ethnographic study.

Ackerman is exaggerating the turnover rate, which isn't surprising, how would she know, she was afraid to set foot there. I spent a fair amount of time hanging out at OWS in Zuccotti Park as a journalist and I can attest that there was plenty of continuity. (Hell, Ackerman could have interviewed me as a representative of the progressive journo subculture in Zuccotti Park.) Every time I showed up, I'd run into lots of people I knew from previous visits.

Yes, ethnography is qualitative research. It's not a controlled clinical trial, but that doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Research methods are tools to answer questions. There are some questions that can only be answered with double blind, placebo controlled trials. Eg: Does drug A cure cancer B in patient population C more often than a placebo? You would be a fool to try to settle that question with field studies and questionnaires. But there are some questions that you can only answer by qualitative research. Eg: Who are OWS and what do they want? It would be foolish to try to devise a controlled trial to answer this question.

I'm a journalist, but I'd be more likely to trust the impressions of a trained ethnographer working with standardized tools to minimize bias that I would my own impressions based on talking to people open-endedly.

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The picture's still there..... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2012 11:05 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The picture's still there... http://nyulocal.com/on-campus/2012/01/06/nyu-student-weaves-elaborate-email-drama-beefs-with-administration-over-ows-and-student-ethics/

TLP maybe you need to review your magical THINKing (and your internet connection).

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