Monday, December 27, 2004

South Asia: Earthquake And Tsunami

Here is a link to Reliefweb that is compiling the latest information on the relief efforts for South Asia and Africa. You have many choices if you'd like to aid in relieving some of this terrible devastation.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Happy Holidays!

and Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Gathering Swarm by Todd Gitlin

Another sociologist has continued to lend his voice to the public. Todd Gitlin contributes, A Gathering Swarm, to Mother Jones in which he gives us his take on the rejuvenated energy from the political left. After the despair and depression (which can defuse the fire and stunt the growth of a movement) that followed the election, Gitlin's article is a welcome reprieve from doomsday prophecies. He puts the recent leftist movement in a more positive, yet realistic, perspective.
The rising was, in an immediate sense, kindled by George W. Bush. The same Republican juggernaut that shocked (but did not awe) most of the world in the course of a disastrous war succeeded in convincing many millions of Americans, at least for a while, that politics was not a specialized enthusiasm or a peculiar hobby but a necessity -- and not a necessity for somebody else but a necessity for them.

In this, Bush accomplished something remarkable: He coaxed the two divergent strands of the left, or liberalism, or progressivism, or whatever you want to call it, into the same insurgent republic and opened up the prospect of a historic resurrection. He convinced old-school Democratic wheelhorses and newly inspired activists, old pros and young amateurs, union faithful and vote mobbers, that if they did not hang together they would most assuredly hang separately.

Call these two forces the machine and the movement. Since the 1960s, the enfeebled Democratic machine and the marginal movement left had encountered each other -- if at all -- with acrid suspicion. They cracked apart 40 years ago, when college students who distrusted power went south to join blacks in overturning white supremacy while Chicago's Mayor Daley, a believer in power if nothing else, led his white, working-class base in fighting against Martin Luther King, and, later, against those same students as they revolted against the war in Vietnam. Because the Democratic Party didn't manage to amalgamate old and new politics -- cut to footage of Mayor Daley's gleeful cops smashing away at long-haired demonstrators -- it was crushed by the law-and-order alliance of old Republicans and resentful segregationists.

We're back to alliances. It seems some leftists, not unlike many conservatives, are so staunchly rooted in their convictions there is no room for alliances, or alternatives that make compromises. It's revolution or nothing. But inspite of ourselves, we made alliances out of necessity - of course with others on the left.

Gitlin asks:
What is the future of this sort of hybrid politics? If the rising of 2004 was the best that the American left-of-center could put up against George Bush's radical provocation, what to conclude from the eventual defeat? That September 11 unleashed an invincible force in favor of Bush? That it was a near-miraculous feat to make such a race even close? That the gay marriage initiatives that the right got on the ballot and passed in 11 states boosted their mobilization more than any equivalent ploy, had there been any, could have helped the left? That the left doesn't think about wedge issues the way Republicans do, but it's time to start? That the right's lock on the old Confederacy, the prairie, and the mountains is insuperable unless the Democrats nominate a candidate with a twang?

While he won't give any definitive answers to these questions, he points us in the direction he thinks the answers may lie.
In the tangle and promise ahead, much will depend on activist networks like MoveOn and America Coming Together, but also on lesser-known movement-party hybrids like Wellstone Action. A national effort to train political candidates, teach activists how to campaign, and turn out the vote, Wellstone Action is driven by the fierce desire to harness movement spirit to organizational force. Its director of education and advocacy, Pam Costain, knew Paul Wellstone for 30 years, starting as his student at Carleton College. She spoke to me of "the Wellstone triangle: base-building, electoral politics, and public policy. You have to work at the intersection." Wellstone Action trained 7,000 citizen-activists in 21 states in 2004.

The article is definitely worth reading, especially if you are still blue[/red] over the election. I read it while working out, and it energized me to stay on the elliptical machine a lot longer.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Bill Moyer Send-Off

Bill's retirement party is tonight. I'll be there with tissues [sniff].

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Theorizing Size

Hummers drive me mad* (bad pun intended). My most violent fantasies (involving a sledgehammer and busted glass) have occurred when being accosted on the road in my little car by a massive Hummer even though I typically don’t have a problem with road rage, and try to be a non-aggressive driver. My husband’s Hummer fantasy includes a magic wand and the massive Hummer turning into a Micro Machine. His is funnier and more relevant because it gets at the entire point of the Hummer; it’s enormous size.

It owns the road, disregards inconvenient yellow lines, sits above the average driver, and intimidates with its size and ability to literally run you over. The size, build, and need to drive one on the plains of Illinois are domineering and aggressive. It fulfills some peculiar masculine obsession with size. I’m going to keep this “clean,” as my grandma would say, but it doesn't take much for your mind to wander through the need some men have for adjectives regarding bigness to be associated with them - in a variety of ways, not just the most obvious.

So here’s my theory. A particular type of masculinity obsessed with power, control, and (in)security is pacified (however not satisfied) through extensions of enormous size - i.e. Hummer. Insecurities subside within the giant vestige that can crush the little cars and pedestrians around him. He owns the road. He can control the entire flow of traffic if he so chooses. He is a massive man in his giant Hummer. Fantasy fulfilled.

Didn’t Hanna Arendt have a theory about bigness in her Origins of Totalitarianism? I don’t think she had “big daddy” or "big papa" fantasies in mind, but maybe she should have.

*I don't really like SUVs in general, but I have a particular revulsion for Hummers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why Not? A Case for Legalization of Medical Marijuana

I was browsing the New York Times tonight when I came across another article on research for medical marijuana. And like so many other articles I've read, it was about the government turning down a university's, in this case UMASS's, request to do research on the plant. I've posted on this issue before, but I think its time to visit it anew.

I spent five years working as a pharmacy technician, both in retail and at a short-term rehabilitation (not substance-abuse) facility. There are plenty of drugs on the market that can be harmful to patients, and I'm not just talking about when they are taken in excessive amounts. While I'm not claiming to be a doctor, or even a pharmacist, I witnessed patients having to be kept sitting up for half and hour after certain medications were given to keep the drug from burning holes in their esophagus. And how about the heart risks associated with Viagra use, I don't see the FDA ripping that off of the market. So, my question is why aren't the benefits of marijuana being studied and the drug widely prescribed to those who could really use it for pain management? I have a hard time believing that marijuana is somehow more toxic than Percocet, Hydrocodone, or Morphine.

I have a couple of hypotheses on this subject. First, marijuana has a social history, connected to the peace movement of the sixties and "hippies". The government may have an issue endorsing a drug that was associated with a movement so anti-government. Second, how does the government overturn years of condemning marijuana as a "gateway drug" and educating people on its evils to turn it into something that is prescribed for cancer patients. We all know how easily the current administration admits to its mistakes.

Medical discoveries often come with risks. I do not want to endorse haphazard testing of drugs on people in the name of science. But I think its time for the FDA to get over the stigma they've placed on marijuana. If I was suffering from cancer, I would want to have every option for pain management available, regardless of its social history.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Behrooz Ghamari: Lost Muslim Voices of Dissent

This article comes courtesy of Zsuzsa. Behrooz Ghamari is professor of sociology at Georgia State University.

Behrooz Ghamari: Lost Muslim Voices of Dissent

Rumsfeld Gets Earful From Troops (

What do you make of this?

Rumsfeld Gets Earful From Troops (

Monday, December 06, 2004

Formation of Single-Issue Alliances: Blue Dogs and Red Herrings

An article in the NYTimes this morning covers the story of some currently active soldiers suing the federal government over the newly implemented "stop-loss" policy. What's clear is that people from various ideological points of departure are coming together to protest this policy.

The lawyers, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing the soldiers are unabashedly anti-war. The soldiers aren't necessarily, and one is explicitly not, anti-war. For one of the soldiers, Mr.Qualls, it's simply an issue of honor and fairness, and the government isn't holding up its end of the deal.

Asked whether antiwar forces were instigating this lawsuit, Mr. Lobel, who like his co-counsel describes himself as openly opposed to the war in Iraq, laughed and said no. The soldiers and their families came on their own, he said.

"They were desperately looking for some way to solve their situations, and it looks like most of the people they found who were trying to counsel or represent people in their situation were antiwar people," Mr. Lobel said. "But to me, the most interesting aspect of this whole thing is that it's not a question of antiwar or pro-war. It's not a question of red states or blue states. This stop-loss question is just about fairness."

Mr. Qualls may have to go back to his post. He is the only plaintiff who has revealed his identity, which obviously could be very dangerous in an already dangerous environment.
"The other thing," Mr. Qualls said, "is you've got thousands of people over there in the same situation as me and somebody's got to do something. Why not have it be me? I can't worry about what people will say."

Mr. Qualls is due back at his radio post on a base north of Baghdad this coming weekend. He said he hoped a judge would issue a temporary restraining order and allow him to stay home. But if he loses, he said, he will get on that plane.

I've been thinking about coalitions and alliances between individuals and groups with fundamentally different ideological points of departure, who 1) come to similar conclusions about policy and 2) create alliances based on these conclusions. Indeed, this is how many social movements gain momentum and win more popularity. One example, the first organized anti-war movement in the United States against the Philippine-American War, was bipartisan. It contained some progressives and some extremely conservative elements who simply agreed imperialism was bad for various reasons.

But today, I'm thinking about the red/blue division. First, I personally think it's bogus, too handy of an explanation for too much. Overall, I don't find it useful, except to note what we already knew: there are geopolitical differences that are also cultural. Most of the more populated blue states were fairly split in their votes. Most of the more populated red state votes were also closely split. In fact, I think focusing on divisions in cultural/moral values is a red herring thwarting potential coalitions and alliances that could bring people together to resist the asinine policies already passed and that are surely still to be proposed.

My point is that the red/blue division obfuscates similarities such as that many people are disgruntled with the current situation. All that it shows us are some of the reasons they may disagree with the much more enlightened blue dogs (I jest). But racists and anti-racists sometimes agree on policy, such as the anti-imperialists, and liberals often support policies and divisions, unwittingly, reinscribing that which they would change. It just doesn't do to rest explanations about ideological divisions on electoral politics, or even cultural values, especially when there are alliances to be made over stop-loss, exit plans, tax plans, deficits, poverty, job creation, wal-mart, public funding for education etc.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, of public sociology?

The other night I was watching late night tv and I happened across a new version of "Gilligan's Island". This updated version is a cross between the syndicated television show and "Survivor" where two teams of Minnow castaways must compete for a spot as the REAL Skipper, Gilligan or Mary Ann. I was just about to turn the channel, because I've never liked "Survivor", when I saw one of the two competing Professors was named Professor Eric. Now here is the kicker: HE IS A SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR!
Holy moley, one of our own AND he is in a heated discussion with one of the Mrs. Howell's (a real life millionaire with a net worth under 3 million) about the nature of meritocracy in the United States. That's right Professor Eric, represent! Finally a sociologist on tv in a mainstream show, sorry I don't consider "Book TV" mainstream. Mrs. Howell comes off as really ignorant in her discussion but Professor Eric is kind to her. Later we find out that Professor Eric is gay and has a life partner. He shows the other castaways a picture of his partner and Mrs. Howell remarks that she doesn't understand why gay people have to "flaunt that they have sex". This doesn't make her very popular with the other castaways.
So now I'm addicted and I am looking forward to a season of Professor Eric espousing his sociological imagination on mainstream television. He comes off as a very likable character, as evidenced by one evening when the female castaways, minus the mean Mrs. Howell, decide to dress him in drag and he totally hams it up for the men and women of the camp. All in all, things were looking good for Professor Eric and my dream of seeing sociology on the small screen.
And then tragedy strikes as a physical challenge in the form of making a boat from some spare parts and rowing it against the other team in a race. While Professor Eric seems physically fit and it looked like the team built a durable boat, it turns out the all his sociological knowledge couldn't help in constructing a fast boat. Alas, the weather wasn't getting rough but the tiny ship was tossed. Even with the courage of the fearless crew, the professor lost. Yes, he was the first survivor kicked off of the island.
So my challenge to all of you sociologists is to start thinking of what reality show you want to be a part of because it is time to get our message to the masses! Just make sure to read up on your structural engineering before you go.