Sunday, October 31, 2004

Escapism and Election Day

Let's hope the spurious correlation between the Redskins losing and the incumbent losing holds true. If not, many of us will need to partake in some escapism. I'm open to any suggestions for some good novels to take me out of more Bush reality, since I can't afford to just move out of the country. Don't forget to vote - especially anyone in a battleground state!

Here is some more Bush reality in a Times article that discusses the National Guard Unit to which my brother belongs and their lack of standard armor even though convoys are the frontlines. It's ironic because these Guard convoys, who make maybe $80/day for a Specialist and have to stay for 12-18 months, escort civilian contractors, who make maybe $1200/day and get to go home about every 3 months, and are paid out of the same budget - and yes they do talk about this to each other.

Let's hope this Bush nightmare is over soon. I'm optimistic. Way to go Packers!!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Alejandro Escovedo Has His Day : Benefit for uninsured Musician

Paste Magazine :: News :: Alejandro Escovedo Has His Day (Page 1).

Here is another face of an uninsured person. For those of you who aren't familiar with Escovedo, he's wonderful. He has Hepatitis C and is struggling to meet his medical bills; he also happens to be a critically acclaimed musician.

It's nice to have musician friends when you are uninsured. It's even better to have health insurance in the first place.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Public Sociology and Empowerment

My interest in public sociology (henceforth referred to as PS) is not as some missionary call as I'm sure some critics of PS fear of its proponents. Rather, my interest is simply in the aspect of getting sociological ways of thinking (relating personal experiences to social structures) to be more available to people outside of academia. Also, sociologists often have insightful analyses of social structures; this being most socioligists' goal. Therefore, it lends their research to be relevant for the public should they want to relate personal experiences to social structures.

This is the first important aspect of PS as I see it. However, my engagement with PS has also had some more selfish elements. For me it has also been therapeutic. It has been a way to do something with the skills I've spent 6 years of my life learning that addressed the very structures I'd learned to analyze. As the political situation encroached upon my personal life, I saw PS as a way of doing sociology empowering me to do something to resist those social structures. So I don't see myself as so different from the people I want to have the option of using sociological ways of thinking.

Because of this, I dipped my toe into a little PS this past summer. Here is an interview I did that was put in this summer with Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

Find me a find,
Catch me a catch,
Matchmaker matchmaker
Look through your book
and make me a perfect match!

Aahhh...public sociology. Helping people find love, and not just any love...your soul mate.

I joke, but this is some public sociology by Professor Pepper Schwartz. She has developed a personality matching quiz that helps people determine their compatability and thus increasing their chances at love.* An aside, as an undergrad I saw her referenced in a magazine article on sex and relationships. I also had some awesome professors as an undergraduate, so I thought there were many interesting sociologists. I won't give her credit for me going into sociology, but she didn't hurt, either. It was nice to know there was vast array of topics available for study in sociology.

Can sociology help people find their best mate, if the stars don't do it for them? Ohhhhh the power.

*I wonder if she can statistically measure the correlation between love and making matches on her plan relative to the general dating population.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Bill Moyers on the "leave no lobbyist behind" Tax Bill

In A Little Patriotic Sacrifice Bill Moyers expresses the distressing problems with the way the government is being run by both the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress.

Bill is invoking patriotism for his main point of their hypocrisy. While this highlights the disheartening hypocrisy and logical contradictions of legislators when they invoke patriotism, it just leaves patriotism as a tool, not as anything really meaningful (because the meaning is purely political and therefore changes in any given context - it has more outfits than Carrie in Sex in the City).

I think patriotism needs to start being interrogated more critically*. It's been attempted to be reclaimed from the left, but I'm not sure how successful this strategy has been. To argue that someone is or isn't patriotic is a discursive wielding of power and obfuscates the practices that can be spun as patriotic and therefore legitimated.

This may be a touchy subject, but analytically, what is the usefulness of "patriotism" as a framing device besides pointing out contradictions? If that is the extent of its usefulness, then aren't we shooting out own feet by reifying patriotism as a legitimating discourse? I'm just trying to think "outside the box" here.**

* Please, don't question my "patriotism" because of my questioning the analytics of patriotism.

**Notice I basically have to apologize for even bringing this up!

Soldiers Against Iraq War

If you are interested in what soldiers against the Iraq War are saying and going through, read this article from Mother Jones.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Italian Woman is Fined for Veiling

Tonight, while browsing the New York Times webpage, I came across an article about an Italian woman who was fined for wearing a veil in public. While I know this is not the first country to create a fuss about veiling, Italy caught my attention due to my own knowledge and interest in the country.

The Italian woman was fined after she refused to remove her veil in a state building. She was given the fine under two older laws, one of which dated back to the Fascists in regards to a specific dress code, and another that was created during the time of the Red Brigade, which stated that masks were illegal. Members of the Red Brigade often used masks to conceal their identity. The official who imposed the fine stated that the woman's failure to remove her veil was a matter of security.

I believe this brings up three major issues, almost of all which stem from the notion of identity. First, the woman who was fined is Italian-born. She married a Tunisian about 10 years ago, and converted to Islam after that. For the officials in her town, her status as an Italian is not as important as her status as a follower of Islam. Without the veil, she would not be identified as an outsider at all. However, in this post 9/11 world, which is dominated by fear, now she is seen as a threat to security. Second, this brings up issues of immigration that may be observed throughout western Europe. For most of the last century, Italy was a country of emigration. The population that remained in Italy was homogeneous: Italian, white, Catholic, etc. Increasingly, Italy has been receiving immigrants from Albania and North Africa. During the time that I spent studying in Florence, I routinely saw lines in front of the police station of immigrants, waiting to be permitted to remain in the country. ( A side note: those of us who were American students waiting for permission were ushered in the back door of the very same police station with a much shorter line). Unfortunately, these immigrants are seen as trouble-makers and thieves, and I was told by more than one Italian to "watch out for the Albanians". As more immigrants enter the country with different beliefs and different skin colors, the Italian population will have to become more tolerant, or we are going to see many more instances of discrimination based on appearance. And finally, I have to ask what this incident has to do with gender. Obviously, only Muslim women veil. Men do not have similar religious markers in their attire. Is this an example of men exerting power over women by trying to control their attire? Why is this woman being denied her rights to self-expression, as well as the right to practice her religion? Why is this woman somehow more dangerous with her veil than without? The truth is, without the veil, the city officials would not have seen her as any different from themselves.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Ghost of Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a converted anti-imperialist during the Philippine-American war. His satirical wit was invoked for anti-imperialist messages in poems and short stories. Here is one passage from The Mysterious Stranger published in Harper's Monthly November 1916, after the U.S.'s involvement in WWI, although Twain wrote it during the Philippine-American war. Many of his writings on war weren't published until after his death, at his request (although publishers had already rejected some of his more critical submissions).

The loud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.'

Then the handfull will shout louder. A few fair men and the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audience will thin out and lose popularity.

Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open.

Next the statemen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception"(pp. 293-294).*

I quote the "Ghost of Twain" not because there are so many similarities or differences from anti-war/pro-war sentiments today. But simply to highlight that he requested this and "The War Prayer" to be published after his death.

"'I have told the truth in that,' Twain said in adding 'The War Prayer' to the pile of manuscripts that were not to be submitted for publication, 'and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead'" (p. 295).* He thought the Philippine-American war was a war of avarice and went against the ideals of "Americanism," and worse because the war started with the cry of bringing liberty to peoples under the rule of Spain, which is what he initially supported. He compared critically the Philippines (who fought for their own independence from Spain and then the U.S.) with the Boer War in South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China, understanding them as imperialistic wars of greed.

I didn't know the level of resistance to the Philippine-American war before I started researching for my dissertation. I also didn't know Mark Twain was an activist until my first year of graduate school. The Spanish-American war was known as the "Splendid Little War" from which the imperialist president Theodore Roosevelt rose as the prototypical strong, gruff and manliest of men. He was after all the leader of the "Rough Riders." I do remember learning this in middle school. Other lesser known things came of that time, such as the "water cure" which is a type of torture mechanism (I may post on this in detail another time) used on Filipino prisoners to gain information and from which many died.

My main point of this anecdote is to point to the role of history in producing political knowledge of a nation and the people making that nation. I knew about Rough Riders, but I didn't know about anti-imperialists. Coincidence, conspiracy? I don't think so. Underlying orders of society that filter and produce educational institutions (and knowledge)? Of course.

* As quoted in Foner, Philip. 1958. Mark Twain: Social Critic. New York: International Publishers Co., Inc

Friday, October 08, 2004

Demographics of Death--Soldiers Killed in Iraq

Some food for thought...

After a little bit of searching here are the statistics I was able to find on the demographics of the casualties in the war in Iraq and the war on terror. The link takes you to the stats put out by the military and I have uploaded the pdf files for casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (the stats for this are in two parts, one is pre-May1 and one is post-May 1). The numbers reflect totals for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. I'm not sure that this reflects the deaths of those in the national guard.

Interestingly the deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom reflect the racial composition of the U.S. population in 2000, with the exception of the Asian category (n=1048)::
Whites -- 731 (70%)
Black or African American -- 132 (13%)
Hispanic or Latino -- (12%)
Asian -- 22 (2%)
Other categories were 1% or less

Deaths from Operation Enduring Freedom are a bit more concentrated in the white category:
Whites -- 116 (83%)
Black or African American -- 9 (6%)
Hispanic or Latino -- 12 (9%)
Asian -- 1 (0.7%)
Other categories were 1% or less

Op. Iraqi Freedom pre-May1
Op. Iraqi Freedom post-May1
Op. Enduring Freedom

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Kobe Bryant Case: Why is sexual deviance okay for celebrities?

I was at the gym being exposed to both Fox News and CNN, when I heard that a judge moved to identify Kobe Bryant's accuser in the civil case against him. When I got home I searched the New York Times, and found the article, which outlined the judges reasoning for releasing her identity. The article mentions that the woman has already received death threats because her identity was leaked during the criminal trial. The criminal charges were dropped after the defendant said she no longer wanted to participate in the trial. The civil case is seeking damages for "ridicule, pain and suffering" since the alleged rape.

Will this discourage other rape victims from coming forward, especially if the person they are accusing is high profile? If this woman was raped, she has had to endure threats and unwanted publicity as "punishment" for trying to bring her rapist to justice. On the other side of the coin, if Kobe Bryant did not rape this woman, he had no protection against having his name plastered all over the newspapers and TV.

Which brings me to the title of this post: I suppose what is most disturbing is not the actions of Kobe Bryant or the defendant, but the actions of people who would threaten this woman, without getting any facts or hearing a verdict. Has Kobe Bryant received any death threats? I doubt it. What message is this sending? This also brings to mind when various male celebrities are caught with prostitutes (I'm thinking of Hugh Grant, but there are others). It makes the news for a day, these men are seen as "playboys", and everyone moves on. The public deems what society would categorize as "deviant" sexual behavior for themselves and their peers as somehow "okay" for celebrities. Why is this? And, what are the gender differentials for the acceptance and endorsement of celebrity deviant sexual behavior? I am trying to think of an A-list actress or female celebrity who has experience with deviant sexual behavior in the media, but I can't think of a counter-example. Except for Madonna, who used her sexuality to define herself for a period of her career, which is not quite what I mean. If anyone has any female examples of deviant celebrities, please post them. To wrap this up, I guess my point is that male celebrities are seen as being more macho or masculine by having experiences with deviant sexual behavior, but female celebrities do not experience the same pay-offs. Kobe's career will be just fine.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Sex and Madness

This is the title of the course for which I am teaching assistant this semester. The title is the instructor, Judith Pintar's, sexy way of naming a course really on gender and mental illness. The class is unique and interesting in that it looks at mental illness as a social issue and in the process must critique many Psychological interpretations and classification schemes of mental illness (such as the DSM). Sociological thinkers such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Goffman, Foucault, E. Franklin Frazier, Kutchins and Kirk, among others have been discussed so far to help explain representations of mental illness in films ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to obscure documentaries as well as in the our everyday language, and the formation and role of total institutions like mental hospitals.

Dystopian novels like the familiar 1984, Catch 22 will be looked at to understand society as insane while the protaganist is purported to be sane. This leads me to the reason for this post, the trafficking of girls and young women. The Guardian has a story on the current trafficking network. Mentioned in the article are references to the demise of the postsocialist economies of Moldova and Albania and orphans left to fend for themselves. But then in part 2 of the story is discussion of the girls trying to reintegrate into society after being violently stripped away, abused physically and emotionally, and forced to survive in a girl/woman trafficking society. In this society it could be your cousin selling you when you think he is trying to help you find a job for you to sustain yourself.

One girl's experience:
Viorica, a child of 17 from southern Moldova, cannot finish her story. She wanted, she says, to go to music school and improve her singing voice, 'to learn to sing and play'. But life had other plans for her. Instead, she was lured from her village by a distant cousin, to Turkey, with a promise of work. When she arrived at the coastal resort of Antalya, she 'was told to put on some clothes and get ready. "It's time for you to work," they said. I asked what work? They said I was going to a hotel to be with men. When I objected,' she continues, 'they said I would have to do this thing if I ever wanted to see Moldova again. They threatened me with a gun and made me get into a car. We got to the hotel. The thing is, I'd never been with a man before. I was a virgin, and that night, they made me go with 11 men.' At this point, Viorica stops in the tracks of her tears and her words. It is a terrible moment.

The psychologist treating Viorica, Ana Chirsanov, tells me that the girl has tried to commit suicide. 'Her soul was destroyed that first night, with those 11 men,' explains Dr Chirsanov. 'She used to resist, spitting and pulling the clients' hair, but they thought it was all part of some erotic game. She was crying out, "I don't want to do this", and they just laughed at her, amusing themselves. After which she got into thinking that she was the one who was insane and that this was what the world is like. That the people doing this to her were normal and she was insane to be unhappy about it.' Most of the girls, when they return, says Dr Chirsanov, 'speak of their desire to die. We had a case of one minor who had jumped from a sixth-floor window... she survived, after six surgical operations.'

There is a glaring problem in calling what happened to Viorica, or any trafficked woman or girl, 'prostitution', since the word can imply a degree of consent. 'Here, there is absolutely no meaningful consent at all,' says Sian Jones, co-ordinator for the Balkans at Amnesty International. 'It is clear that if you knowingly have sex with a woman who has been trafficked, that is rape.'

So, while it is rational for men trying to literally capitalize on these girls' bodies, and the rest of the world more or less sits back and ignores these girls' plight because their gender, class, and ethnic backgrounds render them fairly inconsequential on a global scheme, some of these girls feel they are crazy because they see something is clearly wrong with what they experience/d. And for an even more rational explanation, these girls serve a function for Western men looking for a nice young docile body to use. Sex and madness indeed.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Debate in pictures

Presidential Debate in Pictures, courtesy of Rising Hegemon. One of the contributors is "DeDurkheim," I figure using a father of the discipline's name in your blogger profile is sociological enough to post on this oh-so-sociological blog.

The online CNN poll had Kerry as "winner" 85% with Bush "winner" at 12%, the rest as tie, when I voted.