Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Hen Houses

This issue is no longer particularly fresh news, but I'm going to go back to it now anyhow....

About 3 months ago, we got the big news that researchers in South Korea had succeeded in creating cloned human embryos, and the story re-ignited the debate here over the use of embryos to "harvest" stem cells for research, and (theoretically) eventually also for therapeutic purposes. We had the usual crowd of pro-unborn-life people arguing against "creating a human life just to destroy it" and the pro-born-life people (by which I mean the people whose greater concern is with the already-born) getting very excited about potential treatments for Parkinson's and Alzheimers. I am going to leave this part of the discussion to those two camps.

What struck me about this news (and after doing a quick Google search on this, I think my initial impression is confirmed) is that in all the stories that described this great scientific breakthrough and talked about how perhaps some day it could be used as a "human repair kit", no one ever talked about where all the donor eggs were going to come from. At least as it is currently done, each attempt at cloning requires quite a large number of donated human eggs. Indeed, in order to create 30 viable embryos, the South Korean researchers started with 242 eggs from 16 "unpaid volunteers". (The scientists said one reason their cloning worked where others' attempts had failed was that they had "extremely fresh eggs.") For therapeutic cloning of stem cells to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimers, or other diseases to become a real treatment option, we would be talking about a need for a very large number, and a steady supply, of human donor eggs. This is different from some of the earlier talk about developing stem cell "lines" that could somehow be kept going in the lab. The whole point of therapeutic cloning is that it is done using the genetic material of the person who is sick in order to prevent rejection of the tissue grown from the stem cells. So each time you wanted to administer this treatment, you would need multiple human eggs.

Maybe you begin to see where I'm going with this. Human egg donation requires a number of invasive procedures. Usually women who are donors receive hormones over a period of time so that when they ovulate they will produce more than one egg at a time. Taking the hormones can itself be an unpleasant experience. Then the removal of the eggs is also an invasive and, as I understand it, not particularly pleasant procedure. Unlike sperm donation, there are not large numbers of women who have so far voluntarily undergone this procedure for the benefit of strangers--we don't have egg banks in the way we have sperm banks. [I realize that some people do donate eggs, but it's far less common.] So my question is, where do these researchers who are imagining a utopia of "human repair kits" think all the eggs are going to come from? Where is the provision of eggs for this purpose going to fall on the scale from donating blood to donating organs? Are women going to be paid directly for eggs, or otherwise compensated for the discomfort and potential health risk? Are poor women, here or abroad, going to end up as egg producers to treat rich Americans with Parkinson's? Why does the issue of where human eggs come from [human women] end up being completely glossed over by the researchers (and others) who talk about this?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Chemical Plant Explosion few miles from UIUC

Last Friday night a chemical plant producing PVC exploited in Illiopolis, a town a few miles from UIUC. The press stated that as a precautionary measure, the population of the surrounding area was to be evacuated. The reported consequences of this incident were that four workers were killed, and eight were hurt. I wonder if this explosion will motivate further investigation about other possible long-term victims of the production of polyvinyl chloride, as it happened after the death of 4 workers in a Goodrich plant in 1974. In that year, the relations between problems with cancer and the production of vinyl chloride were exposed to public opinion.
As far as I have seen, news reports about Illiopolis case are focused on the investigations about the possible reasons of the explosion, number of deaths and lost jobs.

The explosion of this chemical plant also makes me think about the ambivalence of the perception of risk in this society. How is risk erased in a way that allows people to fearlessly (if it is true) live next to a chemical plant, but also constructed in ways that manifest themselves in people’s fear of the other and others’ ethnicities and political ideas. However, is it the case that people’s fear of chemical producers in their backyards can be silenced? Fear that nourishes wars overseas and local surveillance, as well as confidences built to allow industries to operate with carcinogens next door.

Weapons Inspection Today!!!!

This "performance protest" is being staged by a group of high school students from Uni. Join them today!!!


Weapons Inspection of the Engineering Department!!!

>When: Tuesday April 27th at noon sharp
>Where: Meet at the Beckman Fountain
>What do I need to do to prepare: Nothing! Just show up wearing a
>white-collared shirt!
>A group of concerned citizens will be conducting a weapons inspection
>the University of Illinois Engineering campus. Dressed in appropriate
>weapons inspection gear (white-collared shirts, lab coats, and
>masks), we will be followed by a video team, radio team, and local
>as we investigate labs that we believe are producing weapons of mass
>After researching some of the funding sources of the engineering
>department, it has been uncovered that a staggering amount of research
>grants to this university are issued by the Department of Defense, the
>Academic Strategic Alliance Program, and the Center for the
Stimulation of
>Advanced Rockets, all of which develop and produce weapons of mass
>destruction. In a climate of heightened military aggression and
>occupation, we cannot wait any longer! We must get to the bottom of
>university's involvement in the production WMD's!!!
>All who wish to participate are welcome! We have prepared a script,
>research packets, and inspection forms, and we will make them
accessible to
>anyone who wishes to participate in this action.

Monday, April 26, 2004

The Fog of War

If you haven't already seen "The Fog of War" directed by Errol Morris, I recommend it. On the Morris website the front page states the film is a "disquieting and powerful essay on war, rationality, and human nature." What amazed me as I watched it was McNamara's devotion to duty and hierarchy, scientific knowledge through statistics, and profit as the president of the Ford Motor Co. (the classic modern man - Weber would be mesmerized) even as he noted that a Soviet underling's hesitation may have made all the difference in nuclear war. Powerful essay on war, yes, rationality, only the irrationality of a "rational" being or being rational, and human nature, I think not.

To update my previous post on the pictures of soldiers' coffins. You can go to to see the pictures and other information the public did not previously have access to.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The CIEP data set is publicly available

I just found out that the data from CIEP (Comparative Immigrant Entrepreneurs Project) were publicly available. This is the short description of the survey:
"The Comparative Immigrant Entrepreneurs Project (CIEP) was designed to examine the prevalence of transnational entrepreneurship in immigrant communities and to provide basic information about its empirical contours and correlates."

One of the new projects that the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton is working on is a study of transnational organizations created by Hispanic immigrants in East Coast cities.

I know there are disagreements, disputes, debates, etc. with regad to their definition of transnationalism (Waldinger and Fitzgerald 2004 raise a couple of issues), but at any rate, the availability of this survey is very exciting for me. Anybody interested in this type of research??

I just wanted to let everyone know about Its an online community that is trying to change the political climate in the US, and is making a huge effort in fundraising to support more progressive candidates. You can sign up to get action updates, find ways to make a difference, etc. Definitely check it out.

Cornfield Journal of Sociology

If we ever think of managing a online grad sociology journal, I would like to suggest "Cornfield - or Beanfield- Journal of Sociology" as its name. ^^
I would like to thank Erin for her energetic efforts to make this blog going. I am behind you.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Pictures of Soldiers' Coffins and Stories of Depleted Uranium Illnesses

In the New York Daily News there are the first pictures of soldiers' coffins out in the media. There is also a story about increasing lip service to the issue of depleted uranium and the illnesses it is believed to cause.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Reflections on Burawoy’s visit

Inciting discussions about knowledge for whom and knowledge for what brought Michael Burawoy to the university this weekend. These discussions are beginning points needed to reflexively address what role we as sociologists are interested and willing to play, including and in addition to our scholarly writing and teaching with civil society. Also, this is needed for academics to reassess the role of the university and the knowledges it produces with/in civil society. Next issue then is how do we understand civil society, which I’m not ready to undertake in this reflection…next time, perhaps (more important is that it’s on the table for discussion I think).

Burawoy’s talk on Friday, was really, as he said, “a unity speech” to help the “anarcho-syndicalist” discipline of sociology realize the innovation that comes from interdependence, and constructive conflict. I agree that this does give the discipline dynamism and creativity, but only to the extent that constructive conflict is allowed to exist with respect and conducted respectfully. Many sociologists either simultaneously or at varying periods of their career occupy multiple if not all boxes on Burawoy’s 2x2 table of sociologists (professional/critical/policy/public). As Professor Zerai stated on the panel on Saturday, sociologists have to be reflexive enough not to police careers that must solely conform to the professional box until they gain tenure. Otherwise, the dynamism of the discipline will be impeded and less able to respond to societal issues, academic and civic, with cutting edge sociological tools.

The panel on Saturday explicitly addressed acts of public intellectualism as well as discussions of the usefulness and indeed vitality of the university on public intellectualism in these times of increasing privatization and stratification between/within universities, between/within colleges, and between/within departments. Public intellectualism in these discussions ranged from approaches to teaching, scholar/activism, sources of university funding, and analysis of the university’s relationship, or lack thereof, to a critical public.

So, reflecting on the discussions fostered by Burawoy and his agenda, these are the issues I personally would like to address in our working group. If we feel compelled to grassroots activism, this is something we likely already do as individuals. This is something I think we can each bring to the table to make others aware of issues we are working on whether or not we feel the group can contribute in any meaningful way, and of course post for discussion as well (e.g. my issues likely will concern the occupation of Iraq and the GEO). Two immediate concerns of mine that may be shared by others are 1) teaching techniques including and beyond service learning projects 2) ways of communicating sociological knowledge that is accessible outside of the university, and not limiting focus to activist organizations likely already informed about their issues of concern. I do believe these should be approached reflexively, avoiding any elitist tendencies, but I also think that making sociology accessible to those outside of the university community is part of avoiding elitism.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Today, right now, there is a sit-in at the Swanlund Administration building to get rid of "Chief Illiniwek" our racist mascot. The sit-in is being conducted by a multicultural group of students, faculty, and Native Americans, requesting the removal of the mascot. There is a rally outside of Swanlund to support those sitting in and they may also need money for food for the "occupation" or potentially bail money. However, since Nancy Cantor is still the Chancellor, hopefully bail won't be an issue. They are also requesting we call Trustee Eppley at (312) 372-1121 to state we support the sit-in.

See you at the rally, which was to be at noon at the alma mater, but is now moved to Swanlund.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Prairie Sociology is now online