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October 31, 2006

Immigrants and Civic Participation

Last Wednesday, I attended a discussion organized by Institute of Humphrey’s Center for Urban & Regional Affairs (CURA). This discussion was titled “Successfully Involving Immigrants in Minneapolis Neighborhood Organizations.? Many neighborhood organizations showed up and discussed about their accomplishments thus far, and how they can improve. Others were new and wanted tips on how to form successful organizations in their neighborhoods.

One of the organizations at this forum was the Riverside Neighborhood Organizations which is made up mainly of Somalis. The director, Hashi Abdi, explained how the new immigrants in the West Bank got involved in the neighborhood organizations and what the future holds for this newly arrived group. He said that when immigrants first come to this country, they go through three stages.
1. Dependency Stage
This is when immigrants are “fresh off the boat?. They form connection with people who have been here before them. These connections help them with finnding jobs, housing, social/economical/health services, and so on.

2. Prepration Stage
At this stage, they are not as dependent as in the above stage. They speak English somewhat good, their kids are in school, they know their way around town, they have transportation, and so on.

3. Participation
At this stage, immigrants have accomplished a lot and have settled in the community they are living in. They form organizations, vote in elections, and are involved in their communities.

Although live is much more complex than three stages, I think the above stages do make sense and give people a grasp of what immigrants go through in this country. One must understand the above stages when trying to get immigrants involved, whether in neighborhood organizations, or any other civic activities. Another important thing that Abdi pointed out was that immigrants are here to stay and will have an impact in the communities they live. One person asked Abdi how the newly arrived immigrants find the ‘established’ people whom they form connections with, in thier dependency stage. His response was that if one is in need, they will do anything to get it. Another question was how people like him get involved, after getting their feet on the ground. His response: “We constantly try to make our voices so loud so they can be heard. In the first few years, the Riverside community was not involved in the surrounding area’s organizations, because we wanted to first settle, then find ways to voice our problems and find solutions. Now, we have received help by asking stabllished organizations to show us how we can become like them and serve our people." He continued: "We are Minnesotans, just like everyone else, and we are here to stay. We are looking for acceptance, and the more we take part in civic participation, the more we are welcomed into the mainstream America.?

Angel Morales from Latinos en Accion said that he used to see many Mexican kids staying indoors during the summer season. He formed soccer teams for the kids, which resulted in 700 enrollments in his neighborhood area. He said this was not just for kids, for the parents and the whole community would show up in these games, as well. He said that this was a way for him to get his community together. Not only would the adults organize and talk about the issues affecting the Latino community in that neighborhood, but this was a safe program for the children, as well, because soccer kept them busy, rather than being exposed to drugs and the street life. “Its amazing what a soccer club, or a book club, can do for a community,? he said. “Whatever people are interested in, you try to offer them, and there is always an overlap of the things you offer and the things they need.?

The highlight/surprise of this discussion was the how young Hmong pre-teen boys organized in order to solve the problems facing them at school. Ten of the boys are from a middle school (sorry, can’t remember the name) which denied them the right to have a teacher who speaks their language. The boys are newly arrived immigrants who speak limited English. In fact, when they were talking to the people at the forum, they used an interpreter. The vise principle of the school is Hmong and so the boys and their parents asked him to have a Hmong teacher to help them learn English, instead of being placed in an English class with the rest of the American kids. I think they got the teacher, but then a few days later, the principle replaced the Hmong teacher with non-American teacher, whose also an immigrant and has hard time speaking English. These boys (I have not seen girls with the boys in the discussion) are still working hard to change the situation in their school.

Another group of Hmong students have successfully organized their community and received victory: this group’s school did not provide school bus to kids within two mile radius of the school. They students obviously did not like this, especially in the winter time. So the kids and their parents organized to have bus in that area. They finally won and now they have a bus, instead of walking in the cold, for most part of the school year. Yet another group, who are also Hmong and soccer players are organizing in their school to have a special recognition within their Hmong team. Their middle school’s team is completely made up of Hmong boys and they have won various titles, including state and regional, and so they talked their principal into giving them some kind of a trophy within the Hmong team, in addition to the trophies they have received for the school, etc. As a result, these children proved that it takes a group of people to get together on an issue and work hard to solve it by organizing and getting the help they need.

Throughout this discussion, I have been thinking about Putman’s Bowling Alone. These organizations, even though they are fairly new to this country, have successfully made thier communities get involved, whether they formed soccer teams, or provided other activities in order to get people to come together and take action. They are witness to the power of getting people together and organizing, in order to improve the lives of those who are involved as well as others.

Immigration and the future of America

The current situation with the U.S./Mexico border has policy makers and ordinary citizens, alike, discussing the implications of illegal immigration. Although the economic aspect of this issue takes center stage, another more important aspect that is downplayed, (at least before the population of the U.S. became 300million) is population growth. One very good article about immigration and population growth in the U.S. is featured in News Week: “Stopping the Census Clock.? The author compares the shift between how America welcomed population growth a few decades ago, to today’s immigration issues, especially illegal immigration and the situation at the U.S./Mexico border.

The author gives a historical background on past U.S. immigration laws, as well as American reactions to new immigrants and how both social racisms and immigration laws controlled the influx of immigrants into the country. From Social Darwinism, in which the Nordic races were viewed to be superior to other races, to the U.S. immigration laws that prohibited the Chinese, among others, from entering the country, these political and social movements, he says, have closed the doors to immigration, although they did not make America any better. He argues that we might be seeing the above reactions in today’s immigration debate, although not as harsh as in the past.

When it comes to immigration, I think there are many things that come into mind. However, I appreciate how Schaffer explains everything from an economical perspective. Although immigration is interconnected to the global economy, one does not really comprehend the importance of this interconnection.

With international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, as well as the so-called global market (as Schaeffer discussed) not helping developing nations, (in fact putting them more in debt), and deteriorating their economy, more and more people from the south are realizing that going abroad (i.e. western/industrialized nations) is their only way of improving thier living standards. Well-off southerners would send their children to study in the west; when the children come back to their countries to attain jobs, the jobs are not well paying and the highly educated/productive citizens of southern countries would want to be paid for their services. Alternative: flee to the north, which will offer higher pay, and therefore better living standards for their families. Sometimes these families settle in the country, rather than going back after temporary projects, etc. This not only creates increase of immigration in western nations, particularly the U.S., but also brain drains the underdeveloped nations who need their educated citizens. For instance, Canada and Europe have reduced the number of nurses in South Africa, because these countries offer better pay/lives for the nurses (South Africa is said to have the world’s best trained nurses). On the other end of the spectrum, as in most cases of immigration in the U.S., is permenant immigrationin in which the U.S. government grants for both political and economical reasons.

Two of the largest immigrant communities in the Twin Cities are Hmong and Somalis. The U.S. gave the Hmong asylum for helping them in the Vietnam War. Somalis, on the other hand, qualified to enter the U.S. due to the Somali civil war of 1991 and the continually unresolved political/social chaos in the country. Hence, political and economical factors are both embedded in the immigration trends seen in the U.S. It is remarkable how Shaffer describes the chain of reaction the global economy and its impact on the lives of the billions of people across the globe. His economical perspective makes it easier to understand the issue of immigration.

So,what does this mean for the future of America? According to the article, Americans celebrated when the population hit 200 million. They listened to President Lyndon Johnson’s speech on how good it is for America to grow. In contrast, the author notes, none of that optimism will be witnessed when the population becomes 300 million (he wrote the article one week before the U.S. population hit 300mil). What is to be taken from all of this immigration talk? Although people focus on the economical aspect of immigration, the author says that the political aspect will have a greater impact:
“It is not clear how the influx of younger, browner voters will feel about paying for the care of older, mostly white retirees, or how much the older voters will want to pay to educate the children of the newcomers?. Whatever the case, immigrants will have greater political and social impact in America. The U.S. has Mexico to worry about, compared to Europe, which is geographically accessible to many poor people who want to get into the rich countries in order to have better lives. Going back to Shaffer’s economic explanations, whether the U.S. puts a wall on the U.S./Mexico border or not, as long as inequalities entailed in capitalism exist (free trade, rather than fair traid, in Mexico/US economic relationship), push/pull factors will always attract Mexicans, or any other nationalities to the richer countries, like the U.S.

Commodifying the Human Genome

While reading the ‘genomics’ chapter of my genetics text book, I was shocked to find out how today’s world is trying to commodify everything. The beginning of this chapter opens up with the story Kari Stefansson, a Harvard geneticist, who returned to his homeland, Iceland, in 1997 in order to launch a company that identifies human genes that are linked to specific diseases, and then develop new pharmaceutical drugs to combat the genetic diseases. Decode is the company he launched, and in 1998, the government of Iceland gave Stefansson and his Decode company the right to access and use the country’s health records. It turns out that the Icelandic people have been genetically isolated from the rest of humanity for a very long time. In fact, the population of Iceland has been reduced many times by draught, famine, and volcanoes, therefore preserving the gene pool of the population. Hence, the Icelandic genes are very unique to the island’s people. In addition, Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that posses a perfect hospital records of their people (in terms of keeping the records, recording genetic disease from generation-to-generation). The generation to generation hospital records of families are instrumental in providing the key steps in finding out which genes code for which diseases. Stefansson’s company, therefore, uses the opportunity provided by the hospital records. The company negotiated a $200 million deal with Hoffmann-Laroche, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, and one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, in which the Swiss company will have exclusive rights to any drugs/diagnostic tests resulting from the work of Decode.

So where does this leave the Icelandic people, who actually own this ‘commodity’ which will generate millions of dollars? On the one hand, the Icelandic people who have the specific diseases that Decode/Hoffman-Laroche are working on will receive drugs and diagnostic tests free of charge. On the other hand, there is the question of informed consent vs. presumed consent. Icelandic patients have the option to tell their doctor to not provide their hospital records to Decode and keep it confidential; however, if one does not ask the doctor to do so, then their consent is presumed. There are many cases in which big pharmaceutical companies have gone to farthest corners of the world and ‘took’ the genes of isolated people in order to develop drugs and basically profit from them. At least the Icelandic people have some benefit coming out of this whole thing for them, unlike the others.

Although I have taken many global studies classes that exposed me to the ways in which medicine can become the locus for exploiting people, I get shocked every time I read or hear something like this. This shows the commodities found in the global market are anything and everything, including our own bodies. I wonder what Schaeffer would say about this story. He provides a clear understanding of how the selective globalization has shaped and is shaping our world, but what does it say about this market when corporate companies patent and stamp their names on the most important and the building blocks of the human body?

Male and female roles in leadership

While reading Robert Schaeffer’s Understating Globalization, I found out that dictatorship were male-dominated political institutions. Schaeffer states that no post war dictatorship anywhere was led by a woman. In capitalist dictatorships, jobs in military and bureaucracy were offered to some men, and women were at a disadvantage- expecting to stay at home and raise children. However in communist regimes, governments provided benefits to men but at the same time extended benefits to women. Furthermore, when dictatorship fell, men and women were able to create democratic political institutions that provided opportunities to men and women outside the elites. Schaeffer argues that now, women more often run for office, and in few cases, they are serve as presidents.

Are women better off in a democratic society? Then why has there not been any woman president in America thus far? We might be better off than a dictatorship, or a communist regime but some of the traditional practices might be deeply rooted in our society. In every culture or society, women have been underestimated and unappreciated. We tend to think of them as mothers, and house wives. Would history be different if women were leaders in a dictatorship or a communist regime? Are women more sympathetic than men, or are we just assuming things based on false generalization?

work exploitation

From time to time, the idea or the concept of capitalism has been brought up in class. Capitalism according to Karl Marx is an economic system based on classes. Classes and the means of production are owned by the bourgeoisie and the proletarian are the workers. The bourgeoisie supply the wealth and the product, thus they profit greatly from it. Workers are alienated/exploited from the product of their labor, they don't control their work, or how and when they would work and they are socially alienated from their fellow workers.

Recently in class we watched a film based on Argentina's factories such as Zanon. When Argentina's economy collapsed in 2001, factory workers have taken over companies such as Zanon, creating a work place without bosses, everyone gets equal pay and everyone's voice is heard. They went against the concept of capitalism and they pointed out that workers can work and even produce better commodities under self management. It seems that in this condition alienation is reduced if not eliminated. As workers began to produce without an owner or boss, relationships were re-invented, breaking with hierarchical organization, isolation and exploitation. We might never need an owner, if we all put in the same effort, we could get equal rewards.

The scientific theory of evolution Vs. Intelligent Design

When scanning the New York Times this week, I came across an essay by Lawrence M. Krauss, (a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University), on the debate between evolution and intelligent design in the science curriculum in Kansas.

Considering that Krauss is a physics and astronomy professor, it’s not surprising that he takes a stance against intelligent design being taught in the classroom. When criticizing the chairman of the school board Steve Abram who has openly stated that he believes God created the universe 6,500 years ago, Krauss stated:

“It is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence. To maintain belief in a 6,000-year-old earth requires a denial of essentially all the results of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and geology. It is to imply that airplanes and automobiles work by divine magic rather than by empirically testable law.?

Krauss has been criticized for discrediting the religious fate of others, but he remains firm on his belief that this battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.
“We must hold our elected school officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world,? Lawrence Krauss.

I thought that this essay was interesting and it especially caught my attention because of the question on our class survey pertaining to the scientific theory of evolution and whether or not intelligent design should be taught in public schools. I too agree with Krauss, believing that the scientific theory of evolution is well-supported. I too believe that the argument that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes in public schools is an argument of science, not a bash on religous beliefs. I do feel, however, that Krauss is a little too blunt when expressing his opinions. When it comes to religion, people are easily offended, and I don't feel that he his particularly respectful of that. But, I do feel that it is ok to take a stance on this issue because not only is it an issue of science for me, but more importantly it is an issue of seperating church and state.

This is an interesting debate because I know that there are people who feel that the scientific theory of evolution is not well-supported, (as our survey shows), and that there is no room for debate whether or not intelligent design is the true history of our planet and our existence.

On that note, the argument can go both ways. I thought this blog might leave some food for thought...

Could online dating services increase social capital?

My roommates and I got into a discussion the other day about online dating services. Considering what we have talked about and read about in this class on technology and the internet, I thought it would make for an interesting blog.

Basically, the main question that came from this discussion was whether or not services like these could in fact be helpful in increasing social capital. One statement from our readings came to mind immediately:
“Face-to-face encounters provide a depth and speed of feedback that is impossible in computer-mediated communication? (Putnam, p. 175).
While I couldn’t agree with this statement more, I can’t help but think about online-dating services and other similar types of computer-mediated communication and if they could actually play a role in breeding face-to-face communication. To be completely honest, I am incredibly skeptical of online dating services and other sites that are made for meeting people through the internet. Personally, I think that they can be dangerous and I would probably never consider using them as a way to increase my social ties. But, there are people who swear by them, stating that even if an intimate relationship doesn’t come of the encounter, they are still meeting people and therefore expanding their social circle. I feel that it is safe to assume that more often than not, relationships formed through the internet are weak ties versus intimate, ever-lasting relationships. But, that brings me back to the very beginning of the semester and the importance of weak ties in social capital. Weak ties are important too because they can breed unexpected opportunities.

I must say I am still skeptical, but it makes for an interesting debate.

What would life be like without TV?

“The single most important consequence of the television revolution has been to bring us home,? Robert Putnam.

When I was reading Putnam’s chapter on technology and mass media, I found a lot of truth in what he had to say. This caught me by surprise because usually I am skeptical when it comes to Putnam’s reasoning for the decline in American’s engagement in their communities. Maybe it was the single fact that all four of our televisions were blaring in the background when I was trying to read, but, nevertheless, it got me thinking about the impact of television in American society and culture.

Last year I spent 8 months studying abroad, and the apartment that I was placed in was one of many that did not include television. At first I found myself missing TV tremendously. In the U.S. it was such a big part of my everyday life and all of a sudden I was finding myself without it. I quickly realized that television had served as a relaxation tool for me; I could sit in one position for hours without being bored. Well, as one can probably imagine, without a TV to stare at and keep me occupied, sitting in one position without talking or interacting with someone was not a desirable option for curing boredom. Instead, I found myself spending much less time at home. I was more social in my community than I have ever been. In addition to that, I found myself reading the newspaper more regularly since I couldn’t just watch the news, and, most importantly, the social connections I made were much more intimate because I wasn’t socializing through television, (which I find to be very common with my friends in the U.S.). Instead we made dinner and actually ate around the table rather than around a TV. When we were bored and didn’t feel like leaving the house, we played cards and other games that spark actual interaction and conversations.

It is interesting to think about how television effects our culture and the role of TV in our everyday lives because when I found myself without it, I noticed a huge change in my own social life in the home and in the community. I must take into consideration that this might largely be due to the fact that I was placed in a completely foreign environment, but, all the same, it begs the question: what would life be like without TV? Television has become such a huge part of our lives that it is sort of hard to actually imagine such a situation. But, I would be willing to bet that we would see a massive increase of Americans engaging in life outside of the home.

Modern society

Emile Durkheim is one of the most important theorists in sociology. He has from time to time, stressed the problems of modern society. He had believed that as society becomes modern, shared collective representation are reduced in numbers and richness. In traditional society there existed a mechanical solidarity- 'sameness' or shared collective representations. In modern society, organic solidarity increases- based on playing one's part in a differentiated system, need rules and norms to govern society. Durkheim would have looked at urban areas as a place where individual behaviors are less regulated, a place with reduced social contact, where norms are not informed or regulated thus leading to anomie- a condition of norm-less. It is safe to say that Durkheim believed smaller communities or areas would be better, community members would know one another and they would work together.

In one of the last chapters we read in Bowling Alone, Putnam agrees that smaller is better from a social capital point of view. Furthermore, he shows that community involvement is lower in major metropolitan areas. However, for Putnam suburbanization, not urbanization is the problem. In suburbs, individuals are separated by race and class, there is neither bridging or bonding network- community members share the same ideas- which leads to a lower level of involvement. People in suburbs ended up building their own malls and work place, thus they live in their own little community.

Comfort of Consensus

When writing up my survey paper I came across a rather interesting question: When it comes to consensus, is that consensus a product of a majoritarian opinion, a veritable consensus in the idealistic sense, or is it a “consensus? because it’s a norm- something we’ve been taught to respond to in a prescribed manner? For example, in our present society, it is regarded as highly irregular and downright “wrong? for a man to have any romantic inclination to a young boy, but in Ancient Greece, it was at one point regarded as the highest form of love attainable. So who is “society?? Is it the media, the prism through which we receive all of our information, or is it our individual interactions with people? Or is it both? Who is to say that events such as adultery are necessarily bad? Are they bad in all quarters? Is it just another presentation of self that Goffman postulated? That it’s so ingrained that we cannot separate “ourselves? from this presentation?

International Law

Article found here: http://www.polity.co.uk/global/violence-law-and-justice-in-a-global-age.asp

The article is about the cosmopolitan principles, "which is the view that human well-being is not defined by geographical and cultural locations, that national or ethnic or gendered boundaries should not determine the limits of rights or responsibilities for the satisfaction of basic human needs, and that all human beings require equal moral respect and concern." Cosmopolitanism builds on the basic principles of equal dignity, equal respect, and the priority of vital need in its preoccupation with what is required for the autonomy and development of all human beings.

The other part of the article talks about "international law which really started up from the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights to the 1998 adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Many of these developments were framed against the background of formidable threats to humankind - above all, nazism, fascism and the Holocaust. The framers of these initiatives affirmed the importance of universal principles, human rights, and the rule of law when there were strong temptations to simply put up the shutters and defend the position of some nations and countries only. The response to the 11th of September could follow in the footsteps of these achievements and strengthen our multilateral institutions and international legal arrangements; or, it could take us further away from these fragile gains toward a world of further antagonisms and divisions - a distinctively uncivil society."

Basically this article argues the fact that since 9/11 there are no more individual states, but one international community. The articles talks about how international laws are used as a double standard using 9/11 as an example. Basically, international law says that any act of terorism allows that state to track down people responsible. Hence the declaration of war on terrorism. Although we as an international state have a right to fight, the article brings up the point about do we have a right to fight within another state where many innocent people have died? The same innocent people protected under international law.

This is important to globalization becuase the world is changing and evolving. Economics is not the only issue that is within globalization. War has become a huge part of globalization, but war today has many faces. The line between justice and terrorism has become a grey area. Is bombing another country an act of terrorism or justice? 9/11 in our eyes is terrorism, but what about the civilians in Baghdad that saw bombs rain down on there homes. From their perspective would that be terrorism as well? Who is to decide what is right and wrong during a time of war? Is a change in international law needed? I found this article very interesting and hard to really understand, but it really hits home on how and where the world is going globally on a more life or death topic like war and terrorism.

Baseball and Stem Cell Research?

Micheal J. Fox has been campaigning across the country for stem cell research during this election and Missouri has been one of his hotspots. Missouri is in the crosshairs of this issue because there is an Amendment on stem cell research up for vote by the people. In addition to Micheal J. Fox campaigning on this issue, many other local professional athletes appear in the adds. The Cardinals' starting pitcher for Game 4 of the World Series, Jeff Suppan, is among several celebrities who appear in the minute-long ad. Others include Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, Kansas City Royals player Mike Sweeney and actors Patricia Heaton andJim Caviezel. WHat is unique about this situation is that I do not recall professional athletes champaigning for a polarizing issue while still playing the game. Jeff Suppan was in the playoffs and World Series as fans saw these adds promoting stem cell research. I find it very interesting to Imagine what would happen if pro athletes had been on tv campaigning against the Iraq War. But could it actually work out that fans supporting their players on a World series run would actually listen more closely to their political message or allow opposing views more openly? Do athletes get a political pass on issues because they play for the home team? THe mix of world series baseball and campaigning on a polarizing issue such as stem cell research will be interesting on election day.

Contemporary Russia

In "Understanding Globalization," Schaffer outlines some of the factors that lead to the collapse of the Soviet regime. Most notable, Schaffer points to the decline in support to agriculture and the rise of support allocated to defense and the spread of Socialism abroad, "The Soviet regime might have invested more heavily in agriculture if it had not been preoccupied with military spending," (pg. 139). This lack of attention paid to agriculture resulted in a deficit of attention paid to numerous domestic concerns.

An important part of understanding the past is understanding how it affects the present, so we can better prepare outselves for the future. Although I am not fortunate enough to be able to travel to Russia, a good friend of mine is studying abroad in Russia this semester. Occasionally we trade emails and it is very interesting to hear the social, political, and economic ramifications of this era that affects him daily. Most notably, many ammenities in America are taken for granted until they are taken away. For example, food quality and diversity is not on par with America. Additionally, indoor plumbing leaves something to be desired, an afflunt family is one that has a mounted shower head. Although Russia is improving and conditions are getting better, it is interesting to hear the difference that still exists between Russia and the United States. On a braod level, it is interesting to see how regimes can resonate through generations.

America Drops, Asia Shops

In the October 21-27 issue of The Economist, the cover story features the place of America's retail power in the global economy. This article explains how the retail support of America is not necessary for the global economy in light of increased retail activity in Asia and Europe, "So the big question is how much the rest of the world depends on exporting to America. And the answer is: less then is generally thought," (pg.11). In short, America is buying less and Asia and Europe are buying more. This tips the balance of the global economy because other nations are not dependent on exporting goods to the United States with the advant of additional markets. When other economies become less dependent on selling to the United States, they can demand more from buyers; anything from higher prices to fair trade and labour policies.

This is revelant to this course because it shows the impact that global commerce can have on labour and politics. if America is forced to be more competitive for goods, the official policies of commerce will be changed to appease these countries. Commerce, especially on a global scale, has an effect on government policies. This is also revelant to this course because it shows how nations come into power and how these struggles can lead to conflict. A threat from China to dominate the retail market will force America to compete. When these countries are competing for a small amount of resources, this can lead to a conflict.

Occupy, Resist, Produce, Profit

Many here have written about reclaimed factories as shining examples of the failure of capitalism, and the realization of a Marxist ideal. The reclamation of factories is no more pure socialism than the United States is a pure democracy. Rather, I would argue, it is a mix of capitalism and socialism, operating at different levels, and importantly, with a conscience. Take the example of Chilavert book publishing factory. The factory itself is a small one, run by less than a dozen people. It embodies many tenets of socialism, by operating through consensus, paying all workers the same salary, and running without a boss. But at the same time, the reason the factory can keep operating is because of its success in the free market.

There is no denying that the Chilavert book publishing factory in and of itself runs on a socialist model, but how it operates internally as opposed to externally is an important distinction. The factory is able to stay open because it turns a profit. It sells the books it prints. It buys the paper it uses. While the books it sells may bolster the workers' political causes, and the paper it buys may come from a factory in the neighborhood, it still comes down to buying and selling. And this brings us back to capitalism with a conscience. The workers may buy local paper because it helps support the community, but the willingness to spend more money to purchase a product that is either ethically made, locally produced, or advances and other cause is not socialism, it's just conscientious capitalism. Calling the success of reclaimed factories a failure of capitalism is faulted. What should really be heralded as a success is the removal of corruption, the increase in business transparency, and increases in equitable treatment of workers through the removal of unscrupulous bosses.


Upside Down World:

Dreams of the suburbs

I’ve recently been talking with many of my friends about future plans since we are all getting close to graduation. One thing in particular that we’ve all talked about is where we want to move when we are done with school. It’s been really interesting because the people who are going to continue to grad or professional school are planning to live very close to where they go to school. However, most of my friends who are planning on being permanently done with school after graduation are making plans to move places with their significant others. Most of these places are suburbs. None of my friends are planning to live in a large city once they are permanently done with school. Everyone is making plans to move to a suburb where they plan to live and work. This is most common among my friends here at the U of M. Everyone feels like they’ve lived in the city for all of college and now it’s time to move away to a place that’s more secluded and appropriate to begin a life and (at some point) start a family. My plan is pretty much the same.

This reminds me of the Putnam discussions and readings that talked about urban sprawl. No one wants to live in the city anymore, so everyone is migrating to the suburbs. There’s still easy access to the city if it is desired, but there’s really no need to leave the suburbs because everything is there. Putnam suggested that this sprawl is causing a decline in civic participation. As a result of moving to the suburbs, are my friends and I going to be come even less involved than we are now? It’s hard to say. I think it all depends on the communities we live in and how motivated we are to get involved.

Oil-Free Sweden

Sweden has long been a country with a strong focus on the environment. Over the last few years, it has grown more adamant about the cause, going as far as to proclaim that Sweden will be the first nation in the world to be oil independent, and set the ambitious timeline of 2020 to achieve not only this, but sweeping reforms in environmental protection and energy production. The goals set by Sweden would phase out fossil fuels not only in the industrial and residential energy sectors, but in the transportation sector as well. While this may seem like a lofty goal, a closer look at the country make it look very attainable. For example, between 1970 and 2003, the proportion of Sweden's energy that came from oil dropped from 77 percent to 32 percent, with 26 percent of total energy coming form renewable sources. By increasing taxes on vehicles that have excessive CO2 emissions, giving grants and tax breaks to consumers and government institutions that switch to renewable energies, and partnering with industry to increase the availability of biofuel vehicles, Sweden seems poised to make their goal a reality.

This move carries far more than just environmental benefits for Sweden. The inevitability of running out of oil will bring all sorts of economic and diplomatic issues. If Sweden can successfully rid itself of oil dependence, it would be poised to advance its industrial standing greatly as fossil fuel energy costs increase around the globe with growing demand and decrease in supply. The ramifications of nations becoming independent of oil brings with it impacts that extend beyond their own borders. Major oil exporting countries would be put into economic hardship as more and more of their consumers no longer need their product. In particular, the already unstable Middle East could become even more tense as economic problems mount. What Sweden is doing is something that all nations will soon to need to face, and not only do major oil consumers need to take note, but producers need to begin looking towards the future as well.

People and Planet

Sweden Oil Free


Political Participation Once again

In deciding who to vote for this election season, I have spent a lot of time contemplating issues and talking to friends about effective policies that I could support through a candidate. Albeit I am not up to my own standards for knowing what’s going on in the world of government, I listen to the radio and when someone says something that is really illogical or flat out wrong I start paying close attention. Recently, I have been plagued by people calling me and sending me letters that just make me more ticked off. It all stems from the fact that these people try to convert me to a stance that is completely contrary to the hours of thought I have put into constructive ideas and the diligence I have deliberated in dealing with notions that are directly contrasted by institutions of science. I can’t get away from the fact that of all the people I know who try hard to understand issues in depth and constructively support or reject certain policies, there are about thirty or forty to not think about things beyond what is the first thing to be put in their head. I got a call two days ago from a person trying to get me to vote for specific candidates, and when I tried to engage in a conversation about public policy with this person they didn’t know what I was talking about! I’m not so disenfranchised that I know what Tim Pawlenty’s stance on the health care system is, that’s the field I hope to go into, I should know something about it.

Once again I find myself presented a problem that interestingly enough Putnam explains in his book. Politicians are taking advantage of people who don’t take any time to know what’s going on. If I would have talked to that lady for more than five minutes, she probably wouldn’t be campaigning for anyone. The masses are docile and have come under the prey of people who are not docile. I am not even close to the smartest person around, but I try to know what’s going on and that helps me have educated opinions. If people who engage as much as I do (not very much mind you), politicians would be accountable to providing good policy, and maybe doing their jobs well. It all boils down to that lack of engagement in critical perception of what’s going on around you. This is why I can’t help but to keep agreeing with Putnam.

Blogs for sale

In a CNNMoney article oct 20th, a public relations firm admitted that it was behind two pro- Wal-mart blogs on the web. The two blogs, "Wal-mart across America", and "Working Families For Wal-mart" were origionally presented as grass-roots independent blogs supporting Wal-mart. However, after numerous calls for transperancy by web critics, A Public relations Firm Edelman admitted that the blogs were written by the firms employees and Edelman admited that Walmart is a client. Wal-mart shares rose 1.5 percent on the NYSE friday.
Few words scare me as much as the word propiganda. THis is an example of presenting agenda-laden lies or half-truths as actual journalism. THis walmart blog gaffe shows a glairing need for more transparency on the blogosphere. It is becoming burdensome to search the web for real news and data without having to thouroughly investigate the authors for bias or agendas, so lets just make all blog opinions and viewpoints for sale.

October 30, 2006

Coca Cola and McWorld

Barber's statement that free market does not neccesarily mean democracy is dead on. Especially in the case of the Coca Cola company. I would argue that this company expanded globaly to escape democracy.

Many American companies have expanded into other parts of the world, even parts where democratization has yet to occur, if ever. Although this may lead to a slight Americanization of the social culture, it does not necessarily follow that voting with the dollar will lead to voting with ballets. Especially when the companies do not follow democratic ideals once out of America. For example, some may argue that democracy cannot occur unless people's essential needs are met. The Coca Cola company in India has been denying the rights of Indians to have access to water by using most of it for production, and polluting the rest.
A stronger case is presented by Coca Cola's actions in Columbia. An essential right in the American democracy is the freedom to assemble. Coca Cola is suspected of denying Columbians their right to assemble by warding off labor unions perhaps even by violent means. Free market may allow companies such as Coca Cola to exist and compete, with citizens "voting" in favor by purchasing beverages, but that does not always lead to democratization, especially if the company itself, denies fundamental democratic rights.

Are Children in School Being Pushed Too Fast, Too Soon?

The periodical magazine Newsweek published a report on education at the grade school levels in America recently, and exmamined a disturbing trend of young children being pushed to excel and meet expectations at a very young age. The article, entitled, "The New First Grade", showcases how, across America, parents wanting their children to succeed and compete at a young age are encouraging rigorous testing and heavy loads of homework and instruction for their youth. Intense curriculum is now a mainstay of education beginning in kindergarten, and becoming increasingly difficult as a child progresses. Children are being held back at unprecedented rates to ensure that they will meet the standarized testing criteria of the No Child Left Behind Act. The pressure to succeed is even more pronounced in wealthier and affluent families, where acceptance into prestigous schools is expected in an increasingly competitive society.

The controversy surrounding these new methods of instruction and education concerns the well-being of the children, and the question has been asked if it is not too much. Already many kids who have been subjected to the new form of rigorous education have begun to burn out from being overloaded with information, tests, and homework. Another issue is of the programs that are being overlooked to make room for emphasis on reading and science. Arts, physical education, and social science programs have been reduced in many schools because there is simply not enough time to accomodate them with the new workload. This evidence seems to suggest that we should possibly look at scaling back our expectations and testing of elementary students. School is first and foremost a place for learning, but it is arguably just as importantly a place for youth to learn how to socialize and develop a well-rounded life experience.

Gender and Debt Crisis

It's nice of Schaeffer to consider the effects of globalization on women, but it really comes off as a half assed attempt to pacify liberal readers. Especially after surfing activist sites such as the Associations for Women's Rights in Development.

Basically, Shaeffer implies that intangible 'globalization' is to blame for the appalling treatment of females in Debt ridden countries, not the societal structures themselves. If that is the case, there's nothing really to do except hope the people in power get their economics figured out. This is not the case at all. AWID recruits activists and intellectuals to examine the cultures of debt ridden nations and how to work with their countries budgets to win equal rights for women around the globe, regardless of the countries economic status. AWID also puts the problem of lacking food and water as part of a humanitarian problem rather than a women's work problem.
I'm sure Schaeffer did not intend to completely turn the discussion of globalization into a discussion of women's rights, however, his implication that if countries were not in debt, then women would be fine, needed to be addressed.

Election survey results dismal

A recent University survey on the upcoming election, results showed Mike Hatch, the DFL endorsed candidate in the lead with 45%, Current Governer and republican Tim Pawlenty at 39% and the Independent party candidate, Peter Hutchinson with only 9%. The survey results show that Hatch is leading not because of increased democratic votes, but because more of the republicans are identifying themselves and independent. This shows that social capital is not a helping factor for the democrats, but it is a hindering factor for the republicans. This is odd because as the two largest parties, one would think that one’s outgroup would be the other’s ingroup and this is not the case. Another point to be made is that this supports Putnam’s research that says that while Americans are quite politically involved, voting is not their strong point. This is shown because at the University of Minnesota there are around 40,000 undergraduate students, and this survey had an respondency of 663 “likely voters.? That is a dismal number, and only verifies Putnam’s claim about political involvement.


Lately, the topic of education and funding has been a hot issue. I have a few educational psychology classes that I am taking right now, and we are discussing this issue more than the politicians on TV. Over the past 4 years I have focused my attention on education a funding of schools. I have observed many different schools, many different guidelines for no child left behind, and I have observed and learned enough to say that NCLB is not working and it is just rewarding the already successful teachers. In a school district in the west suburbs, if a teacher shows successful growth, they receive a check for $2,000 at the end of the school year. In Minneapolis, it’s not quite the same. The funding differences between these schools are unacceptable. Federal funding is not the only differences in financial aspects of these schools. Different aspects such as parental support, community support, state support and teacher support all have dramatic influences. For example, the suburban school passed a $2 million dollar referendum just for athletic complexes, parents and teachers spend their time writing several grants for the children. The children that are benefiting from NCLB are only the already successful schools and students. The schools that are not currently successful are being punished and lost in the crowd of panic to excel.

U.S./Mexico Border

On October 12th CNN posted an article about the U.S./Mexico fence that is going to be built in attempts to control immigration in the U.S. Mexico’s new President Felipe Calderon says that the relationship with the U.S. will become “a very difficult relationship?. Mexicans are very upset with the new fence especially after the old President was trying to come to an agreement with the U.S.
After our class discussions about Latin America, their economic problems and other political issues, I find this article very interesting. The U.S. is going to limit and hinder the relationship that it has with Mexico. It is surprising that the U.S. would want to hinder and ruin that relationship. Immigration is a problem, and there should be better ways to solve the immigration issues with out ruining the relationships between bordering countries. Ruining the relationship with your closest neighbor is never a good way to solve any issues.

World Hunger Remains a Problem

An article on Yahoo! News writes that there is literally no progress in the fight against world hunger. Even though a goal was set during the World Food Summit, held in Rome in 1996 to slash the problem in half by 2015, there are no results big enough to see. The problem is that there is not enough political will to carry out the objective to solve and help world hunger. Right now most of the problems lie in Africa because of their many ongoing wars and HIV-AIDS epidemic. To solve this problem, the results from their report says that if the agriculture sector grows then the food supplies will expand resulting in lowered food prices.

I agree that this is a huge problem. I don't think that we will be able to solve this in this lifetime. The problem is just so complicated. It's not surprising that Africa still remains on the list. With so many wars still being fought over between many countries, of course so many people are hungry. Many of the concepts that Shaeffer discussed in his book can be used to describe these problems. First of all, like many of the countries in the middle east who were at war with each other, the government neglected to spend money on the people and instead spent it on the military. In Africa it was the same thing. Due to this lack of governmental involvement, many of the Hungriest people in the world are from these war torn zone areas. There is no mission to solve hunger in these areas but to win wars instead. All the energies and money are not even invested into something as simple as agriculture. Even though some people see the future as optimistic, there is still a lot of ground to cover if we were to end world hunger all together.

Where's Weapons

So the U.S. military accidentaly lost over 400,000 firearms including semiautomatic pistols, rifle, and rocket propelled grenade launchers. First, they didn't know where they are and have no clue whrer they are supposed to be. Not only did they lose the weapons, but they don't even know who has them. So, now we have the chance to be killed by our own weapons if they were given to some insurgents. This is not good for the President and his cabinet right during elections. First Mark Foley, now this. Anyway, the $133 million lost in this msihap was paid for by taxpayers too. Only 10,000 weapons actually have serial number confirmation. Now, the government is issuing a statement of having every gun registered including Iraqi police and militia. i want to know who was the person who could have made this abysmal error? How could almost half a million wepons just disappear, and why are there not traces of paper work for most of the weaopns? I also wonder what affect this will have on the upcoming elections. Will it weaken the Repulicans more or will it lead on and backfire in the Democrats' face somehow?

Partitioning Iraq

The article I read was an opinion piece about partitioning Iraq into three separate confederates that represent the majority of the regions (i.e. Sunni Iraq, Shiite Iraq, and Kurdish Iraq). Like most things in life there are opponents and supporters of this idea. As we have seen in the past there is the idea of mass migrations of the minority towards their specified majority. There is also the idea that certain countries will back their favored Iraq which may lead to conflict. And than there is the matter of resources, one country will most likely miss out because they lack the resources of the others. I think in the short term this sounds like a good idea but when we look at past partitions they to were supposed to solve the problems of their regions but did they really. In the end are we just not throwing gas on the fire? If the problem was not fixed we would most likely see the same effects, gas prices go up with mounting violence.


Global Warming cliche

"Warming Seen as Causing Second Depression," quotes Tony Blair saying "This issue [global warming] is the definition of global interdependence." He pleas to other countries, primarily to the U.S. to join Britain in raising money to combat global warming. The article speaks of industrialized nations pledging money and regulations to reduce greenhouse emitions. It only speaks in passing of nonindustrialized countries' contributions to global warming, let alone the economical reprocutions of their contributions.

Barber, in Jihad vs. McWorld, flippantly remarks that industrialized nations are preventing the industrialization of nonindustrialized countries under the guise of global warming reprocutions. Yet the discussion set by Blair and Gore, suggests that industrialized countries take more responsibility for their own emissions, since they are the primary emittors. In fact, under the 1997 Kyoto accord, 35 industrialized nations agreed to put effort toward lowering their own emissions.
The dichotomy of these two articles suggests that something is missing. Barber argues that industrialized countries blame global warming exclusively on nonindustrialized nations, and therefore actively prohibitting them from becoming industrialized, while the Star Tribune article suggests that most industrialized nations take the blame for emissions and are supposedly making an effort to reduce these emissions. The article does not even mention nonindustrialized countries.
I think both of the articles are B.S. neither deal expicitly or objectively with the issue of HOW global warming truely affects a globalized economy; or how our globalized (yet severly inequal) economy affects how countries deal with global warming. Perhaps it is a cliche, but it deserves closer examination by parties interested in obtaining an objective perspective.

Fast Food Worldwide

So apparently KFC is eliminating their oil that contains thrans fat from their cooking operations. They are looking to build a more healthy fast food chain and at some locations like Tiburon, Denmark have already banished this old cooking methos. It aims to make the food less fatening and so people will hopefully be more inclined to purchase there instead of at a McDonalds or Burger King. Apparently the food chains of Wendy's, Chilis, and Ruby Tuesday's are also on this bid for a more healthy way of cooking their products. However, McDonalds hasn't changed yet and has no plans to do so. Whatever the case might be, this might effect sales at McDonalds and other unhealthier fast food chains or restaurants. While the ban isn't supposed to take place for a couple months as they progressively establish it, people are talking about how McDonalds will experience significant losses in profits once the word gets out that other chains are healthier. Still, many of the FDA's policies will start to crack down on trans-oil users in the next couple years. This WILL affect McDonald chains as they will be sued if they don't change their ways. My question is, if you're going to change to a healthier oil, do the fast food chains really believe that there will be significant changes to the trans-fat oil users? Unless the FDA does something, McDonald's loyal brand user will probably still stick with their ways no matter what. I guess it's just a matter of opinion in taste and location/access to better or worse food.

Trib. article on airstrike

Reading in the Star Tribune online as usual, there was an article title that caught my eye. “Militants blame U.S. for Pakistan strike? was the title, and the article explained how the Pakistani government launched an airstrike on the village of Chingai in Pakistan, destroying what they say is an al-Qaida training facility. Islamic leaders and al-Qaida militants are now claiming that the United States were behind the bombing even though the Pakistani military is denying it as well as the U.S. This is an example of how the al-Qaida are using social capital in a negative way to get what they want out of the situation. By saying that the U.S. did something hurtful, even when both the U.S. and Pakistanis are denying it, they are using negative stereotypes of the U.S. military to back their cause. This is a recurring theme in many wars that we’ve been studying in class and many outside it as well.

Political Ads

Lately, if you turn on you TV you will find new political commercials attacking other candidates and the ads are only getting worse. One topic that is separating the two parties is the war in Iraq. An article in the Star Tribune discusses that the Republicans are attacking the democrats about the war, but the democrats are sitting back, hoping that they will win because of the lack of support for the war. In those TV ads, there seems to be a lack of the whole truth. The American people are or have been misinformed about the war in Iraq and the war on terror. All these issues can be related to the discussion in last week’s classes. I feel that I have tried to follow the war on terror and in the short reading that we did for class, I learned more and more about the war on terror and the history surrounding those countries. I can not even imagine Americans that have no idea what is going on in the Middle East and how they can make an educated decision when voting. The political ads that are on TV are only short term solutions to winning an election, not giving the people valid and whole information about what America is fighting for.

Rough Month in Iraq

Last week I was watching CNN and saw a story that talked about the war in Iraq. One of the story’s main points was that October could turn out to be the deadliest month since the beginning of the war in Iraq. The death toll this month was already approaching record highs and it was only the middle of the month. Also, last month, over 700 US soldiers were injured in Iraq. Some people think the increase in death tolls this month could be due to the upcoming election. They think that opposing forces in Iraq are trying to spike the death toll before the election so that US voters will get more frustrated with our current government and the elections will lead to a change in power. They think that this change in power would hopefully get US troops out of Iraq.

This relates to Schaeffer’s discussion about the war in Iraq and how the death toll keeps rising. If opposing forces in Iraq are truly trying to cause a change in power to get US troops out of Iraq, it seems as though it might work. A majority of people seem to be against republicans as the election gets closer, and this seems to be intensifying as the death toll increases in Iraq. Perhaps a change in power in our government will be enough to make a change in our situation in Iraq.

Political Ads

The negative political ads have got to stop. It is difficult to turn on the TV or radio and not be subject to the campaign bashing. I find the ads completely annoying and do not see what role these negative political ads play. I took a walk on the web and found a book written by John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, titled “In Defense of Negativity? about this very issue. I checked out the book review at: http://www.hendersonvillestarnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061027/NEWS0206/610270407. Geer has done a great deal of research on negative ads starting with the 1960 election to current. To put it brief Geer says negative ads keep parties accountable and bring awareness to their weaknesses. Being that this was just a book review no hard evidence was provided but Geer believes the negative ads don’t turn off voters. He believes it may turn some off but also may activate others.

Just by pure utter annoyance I was not able to put any rational thought to the negative ad concept. After reading Geer’s review and looking at other information regarding the subject on the web I’ve been able to put some thought to the ads. Candidates are operating in a small window of time and having to campaign to a large number of people on all spectrums of political involvement so it is understandable different tactics have to be used. Obviously the negative ad technique is working but I don’t think any research can tell exactly how or why. Geer wants us to believe that the negative ads are actually providing factual information that may be useful in our candidate research. Many politicians in power often have to make decisions that may not be very popular with the public but had to be made in the best interest for the economy or public defense for example. These decisions are then altered and used against the same politician in the next election in the lasted campaign bashing ads. It would be interesting to read Greer’s book to find out what hard evidence exists on this topic.

WTO in Vietnam

Vietnam, which is currently controlled by the communist party, has just been given permission to join the WTO. The government sees this step as essential to getting off the list of the world’s poorest countries by 2001. Many people are moving out of the country into the cities to find better work. This influx of workers in urban areas has created a new pool of cheap labor for corporations to take advantage of. According to the article, Vietnam is the most recent country where corporations are flocking. The article stated that Vietnam has been reasonably successful at spreading the benefits of its recent economic growth. However, income differences between rich and poor continue to widen with increased development. The poorest are located in the rural areas where industry is almost non-existent. Many leading economists fear that this increasing economic inequality will lead to social tension. Joining the WTO will rapidly increase economic development and this will cause in a much greater leap in economic inequality. Protests have already begun.

It shocks me that governing bodies, such as the WTO, which have almost no transparency in their internal workings are permitted to determine living conditions of so many people. Their goal is supposedly to decrease poverty, but it seems impossible to me to accomplish that goal through neo-liberal policies. It has been consistently shown that in countries where neo-liberal policies are implemented, that the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. That is the most illogical way to solve poverty. It may make overall countries wealthier because the rich get richer, but the poor do not see the benefits of that wealth. In order for capitalism to function correctly, there must be a group of working poor who can be exploited so that the rich can get richer and start new enterprises and continue to invest. Opening up trade does not necessarily benefit the country that opens up. The WTO often forces countries to accept products that they do not want, such as genetically engineered food from the United States or meat treated with hormones while at the same time not allowing those countries to export many of the products that they want to export, such as textiles (as shown in the video in class).

Education Referendum

A referendum will appear on the ballot in St Paul this upcoming election. The referendum will raise property taxes to fund school operating costs. According to an article MPR news (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/10/25/levy/) the proposed property tax increase would amount to $85.00 increase for homeowners. One of the opposers to the referendum was interviewed and his reasons for his opposition is not that he does not support public education but his distrust for the district’s financial accountability.

In a recent class discussion it was debated as to whether or not referendums were good for democracy and I've wrestled the idea in my mind ever since. Referendums definitely down scale the issues so one feels their vote makes a direct impact. Personally I have felt more compelled to vote due to the inclusion of a referendum on election ballots. I think referendums play a vital role in the participatory democracy of local governments. They allow people to give their direct opinion on an issue.

In some regards I think referendums can hamper democracy. This is the third time since 2000 that St Paul has added such an education referendum to the ballot. The opposition is supportive of the public school system but has good reasons to question the financial integrity of the district. I do not know the outcomes of the previous referendums but one may question the continue need of the district to pressure homeowners for additional money. Has the district tapped into other areas for funding?? The supporters of the referendums are certainly pulling on the heart strings of the voters with this referendum. Here’s one of the quotes from the article, “If kids aren't getting through school, aren't graduating from high school, aren't prepared to go to college, we're going to be in trouble". One who may not know of the financial irresponsibility of the district may read the previous quote and feel compelled to vote to simply support education. Referendums may allow people to vote specifically on the issue but it does not necessarily mean voters are more educated on all sides of the issue at hand.

Goodyear will close down 2 North America plants

This article "Goodyear wokers strike to Stop Closings" talks about Goodyear is planning to down their two plants in North America. About 2400 people are going to lose their jobs. In recent years their employees had made concession to reduce their wages and benefits. The company profits 7% (337 millions) increase in the last year. It is the largest tire and rubber company in North American. They own more than 100 plants in 29 countries. The steel union was on a strike right on Oct 5 of 2006. http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/9974/1/141/
This is an example of globalization. It has huge impact both on the native country and the foreign countries. People in North American are losing jobs each year, as large corporation goes globalization. The pro is the products will be cheaper. The cons are it has a big impact on the city. The plants they are trying to close are the largest employer there. The economy of the city depends on it. It not only impacted the lives of the employees, but the whole city. The foreign countries will have a boost in the economy and it creates thousands of jobs of the people. People living conditions are better than before. The negative side is the human rights; the corporation is paying the workers at a very minimum wages and in not a very healthy working condition. Globalization is a good idea but it need some work. If all corporations close their plants then people in America can’t work and will not have money to buy their products. More rules and regulations should put in globalization and especially a large percentage of plants have to stay in United States. Corporation should not only think of the profits of themselves, but think of other people happiness too.

Hotel Bauen

Last Thursday's video on factory workers taking over factories in Buenos Aires, Argentina really intrigued me and the process that was being made. I found a webpage that told the stories of many of the now factory-worker operated companies. One in particular is Hotel Bauen. Hotel Bauen opened in the late 1970's under corporate ownership and prospered under the communist run regime. Most of its clients were business executives and political leaders with strong influences. In 1997 owner Marco Iurcovich sold his company to a Chilean company and the company quickly plummeted as the Argentine economy floundered. The company went bankrupt and the factory went out of business. 90 Argentineans went without work for up to 14 months and finally took back the company and reopened it under factory control where not everybody is paid the same wage but everybody has a say in policy making and decisions.

Capitalism is not the ideal economy for any and all countries and this is no more true than in Argentina. Under communist rule the government spread the wealth around everything managed for years if not prospered. After an infusion of capitalism policies and ideals the country crumbled as corruption ran rampant throughout the government stemming from the very top, President Menez. A vast majority of workers lost their jobs and many companies completely dumped any stock they had invested in Argentine businesses. I believe that what the factory workers are doing is great and that they need their jobs but I don't see how the government can authorized the workers taking over owned property and buildings and hand them to workers along with government kickbacks. I believe the mission of the factory workers is inspiring but I'm afraid that their tactics for keeping government intrusion and various efforts to remove employees from the factory could back fire on them. If things become too violent and people begin to get seriously injured or even murdered these factory workers and their coalitions might see drastic government intrusions and suffer sever setbacks to their cause.


Wal-Mart and Target inside lobby campaign

This article talks about Wal-mart and Target are handing out registration materials and mailing voter guide magazines to their employees. The companies alleged they just to their employees of be aware of the politics. The critics are afraid this is just a campaign for their choice of candidates. Both of these companies favor the Republican Party because they tend favor corporation and the corporation give them campaign money. Target has a website called Targetvoters.com and it is a voting guidance. If you vote what Target want you to vote you have a green check and if you vote the opposite you have a red x mark. Both of these companies have a large number of employees so they can generate a vast voting numbers. http://www.startribune.com/535/story/772212-p2.html
This is a good strategy for the corporation. They have nothing to lose and can only gain votes. Most employees of the retail corporation are lower income class. They don’t get involve into politics and are not very informed. The corporation can say anything and people would not question it because they don’t know too much about the politics. A word a statement can be twist to a person liking. It is very easy to claim something and make it not a lie but also not a truth. This is good for the democracy because hopefully people are not informed or not like politics will be interest in politics. This will expand their mind, and question what the corporation is telling them and making inform decision.

Marx and his Argentinean Oasis.

After seeing “The Take? I’m reminded of Karl Marx. I know that a lot of us are taking sociology classes and Karl Marx is prevalent in many of these classes but his ideas were just screaming from the screen when we were watching the movie.

For those of you who missed the movie, it was about the collapse of the economy in Argentina after the economic reconfiguring from IMF and World Bank (I think). Argentina had always been a prosperous country but the government ruined the economy in less than 10 years and unemployment was up to 25%. Businesses stood vacant and people’s life savings left the country. Some desperate people decided to take over the factories in which they had worked and start working again. There were no bosses. Everyone voted on every decision that needed to be made and everyone was paid equally or close to equal.

So, looking at this movie all I could think about was the kind of Communism that Karl Marx had at heart. A criticism of Communism has always been that people will not work harder without any incentive to do so. He also said that the kind of change that he was looking at would have to be when workers hit rock bottom. Not working for 2 or 3 years is pretty rock bottom for some workers. Some of the workers in the video admitted that they worked hard and were focused because they had a vested interest in the company succeeding. I remember one man saying that he didn’t sneak behind a piece of machinery to smoke when it wasn’t his break because he needed to work. People were depending on him.

For me, it begs the age old sociological question; Is Capitalism the best system for all countries?

Negative Ads

Its election season and the Democratic and the Republican are going at each other throat. This article talks about the negative this year is the worst we have seen. They involves in sexual perversion for both parties. In Virginia both parties got attacked by sexual passages they wrote. In Tennessee the Democratic rep. was attacked by attending a Playboy party. In New York the Democratic candidate was accused of doing phone sex and the Republican candidate was attacked of attending frat party. The experts said the negative ads are working, but it is a bad way to campaign. http://www.startribune.com/587/story/773356.html
Where is the limit of negative ads? People always remember the negative than the positives that is why negative ads work. If you can anyone on the street about a particular party candidate, they probably could tell you juicy gossips than the candidates than knowing the issue the candidates stand on. We are getting away the true issues of election. The point of having an election is to vote who is best represent us. All I have seen is negative ads, but I don’t know their stand. This is not a good way to win a competition and you are exposing the other person personal live. This is an example where people abuse the media. Media should be used to connect to a large population and inform them the news around the media. The Democratic and Republican should have a talk and draw the line where media ads campaigns have to stop. Sooner or later one party will take too far and ruin the lives and the families of the other party.


Most of this blog that I wanted to post was just my personal experience and pretty good freindship with a kid in high school by the name of Najam. He is from the Kashmirian region of India and has gone there multiple times to see his family back when I knew him. His parents moved to the U.S. when they were very young (in their 20's) They moved to escape the violence when wars over territory started back up between Pakistan and India. I remember his outlook on the region and the tense war-like situation in the region. He didn't like Pakistan at all and thought they gave a bad name to Muslim people everywhere. You could almost consider him prejudice against Pakistanis, but he would never openly say much more than what was in the previous sentence. He did ,however, think that India was also being foolish in their tactis to control the region from insurgencies. Najam was more of the religious ascpect of the majority in India, but had instances where he couldn't hang out with some of his relatives neighbors because of tense prejudices in the region. Some people were beaten up and hurt for being associated with one side openly because it brings trouble. He never experienced violence himself, but I remember him saying that he had seen plenty of India's troops in the area to keep the peace. He was a really nice person, but his values were very different and was criticized because of it. However, now that i understand what his position was, it's really interesting to see what and why he believes certain things I remember about him. One question i would ask him if I saw him would be if he felt any different towards thegroups and towards the people in genreal of that region.

Lula and Brazil's economy.

This is a sort of addendum to my last blog post. There was a recent election in Brazil for President and Lula was re-elected. In my last post I wrote that he paid off his country’s debt to the IMF completely.

This article addresses the aftermath. The economy of Brazil is weak after the extensive outflow of cash to pay off international debt. Even though Brazil is experiencing a weak economy, Lula has instituted some strong social measures to help the country’s poor. Some are criticizing him for doing this during an election year but some are saying that Lula has always been a champion for the poor.

The article also mentioned that the economy is weak because of additional measures to support growth. The article notes that “[i]n order to create the basis for a sustainable development, Lula had to cut expenditures, reduce tax and the burden of interest and reduce bureaucracy. . .?

This article had fairly negative overtones (it talked about election scandals and Lula’s critics) but I find it encouraging. Lula seems to be a farsighted leader. He seems to be more concerned with Brazil’s future generations than about right now. Brazil has always been known for the great divide between the haves and have-nots. I think that right now Brazil’s economy is fragile but it’s always darkest before the dawn.

You can find this article at the following site: http://news.monstersandcritics.com/southamerica/article_1216281.php/Lula_father_of_the_poor_wins_elite_vote_as_well

Steven Pinker Interview (Read WebPg after first chapters)

Much of what Steven Pinker says is probably going to be interpreted as quite radical, or challenging to empirical thoughts, and at the very least it carries potential for negative interpretations from scientific, political, and members of religious feilds. It is my belief that the way in which he writes is quite reassuring and open to criticism and unoffending. An interview asking important questions from a reader's standpoint are given at the website " http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker_blank/pinker_blank_print.html ". In it, he describes how his way of thinking is not very radical, and you also get an idea of his psychological and personal background.

From reading the first parts of the book, you should know the 3 different parts of his theory, the blank slate, noble savage, and the ghost in the machine and get the basic idea of what they represent. These are basically his ideas and are somewhat scientific and somewhat opposing to science but they challenge in a way what is currently considered empirical evidence. One question asked in his interview is as fallows:

EDGE: What questions are you asking yourself, and what do you hope to accomplish by going after the intellectual establishment in terms of their denial of human nature?

PINKER: The main question is: "Why are empirical questions about how the mind works so weighted down with political and moral and emotional baggage? Why do people believe that there are dangerous implications to the idea that the mind is a product of the brain, that the brain is organized in part by the genome, and that the genome was shaped by natural selection?" This idea has been met with demonstrations, denunciations, picketings, and comparisons to Nazism, both from the right and from the left. And these reactions affect both the day-to-day conduct of science and the public appreciation of the science. By exploring the political and moral colorings of discoveries about what makes us tick, we can have a more honest science and a less fearful intellectual milieu.

I believe strongly in Pinkers idea about how to study and think of the issue of human nature and the science behind in this manner. I disagree however, with the actual interpretations he comes up with when talking about the blank slate theory but I believe he's okay with that. His main point rather than suggesting his idea as factual, is that we need to be able to move forward scientifically and morally without being so fearful of what it will say about our society and humanity in general. He later will suggest that further knowledge of the brain will not create a worldwide panic at our existence as meaningless, and we can't let the idea that we will discover our lives to be pointless to prevent us from moving forward toward deeper understanding of our nature and potentially our past. I think that Pinker is correct and that knowledge is power for all of humanity as a whole rather than power for those who maintain certain genomes or not and I don't think inequality would breed the way it did when Nazi's believed themselves to be a superior race. I simply don't see that happening again, mainly because the more we seem to know, the more we know what is right and what makes us feel what is right and wrong, and realize that it's there for a reason.

Brazil's President Wins by Landslide

While browsing CNN.com, I came across an article that reports on the victory of the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. This election turned out, according to the article, to be a “landslide? for the Brazilian President, because Lula supported his anti-poverty campaign. The tens of millions of Brazilians supported Lula’s winning because he made it possible to ease the tensions on the lower class while bringing economic succession for Brazil. Lula states, “We're going to continue governing Brazil for everyone, but we will continue to give more attention to the needy. The poor will have preference in our government…We want to make Brazil a more just and equal nation.?
Since most of the countries in Latin America perceive to have a poor economic stance, such that of Bolivia as we discussed in class, it is interesting to see how a country develops a plan to better itself. Being a country with one of the widest gaps between the rich and poor, this makes Lula’s victory even that much better. I agree with Lula when he speaks of the lower class and how the Brazilian government is going to pay better needs towards them. If you have the majority of the people, this being those of the lower class, as we see in most cases in Latin America, on your side, this will help you gain control over the government seek out the intended proposals. I find it interesting that Lula maintained and even enhance the Brazilian economy to a more new and equal level. The article says also, that a T-shirt was manufactured due to the promises of growth and the reduce of economic inequalities in Brazil to help the remembrance of the countries victory.
To continue reading, click, http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/americas/10/30/lula.brazil.election.ap/index.html

Electronic Voting Machines - Beacon of Trust or Bust?

This year's elections will see a new change. That change will be a newly crafted system in which 90% of the country will be casting their votes on an electronic system. However, with this change come many unsettling questions that come in turn with the changing of times. Many people are scared that this system will be too corruptable and it will be "hacked" into changing to landscape of elections. I read an article in Time magazine recently that had a great article on this distrust of electronic voting systems and it's main arguments. The machines are truly revolutionary because they will eliminate most human-error but people are worried that the systems themselves can be penetrated by outsiders looking to skew data. The article shows three different ways the machines can be "hacked" into, the first of which is physically dismantling the machine and inserting a chip but people would easily be able to catch people doing this. Second is a standard memory-access card that would manipulate votes in favor of one way. There is confidence in the machines because they are not required to print a hard-copy transcript of all tallied votes in case their is suspicion that a machine has been tampered with. Many precautions are being made so that the new system does not replicate the 2000 presidential election fiasco.

I think that electronic voting systems only make sense. They eliminate the majority of human error in counting and can be calculated and programmed to count much more accurately than mulitple people. I also believe that this new technology (not necessarily new but more prevalent) will create a greater voter turnout. Technology has always generated an atmosphere and intrigue about many different things and I think these new machines are going to do just that. I do admit that it is sad that something this mundane will cause a greater voter turnout than previous years past but maybe this is what today's society needs, an influx of new technological advances (i.e. internet) to strike peoples intrigues. Now this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the elected officials primarily but it will none-the-less create a greater civic participation that has been fledging in recent years.


South Dakota Abortion Referendum

Recently I was chatting with my mother about the upcoming elections in my home state, South Dakota, and a couple of the referendums on the ballot this year. The biggest one in my opinion has got to be South Dakota's abortion law and the controversy that has stemmed from it. I took this opportunity to check out my hometown's online newspaper articles and found one published earlier in the summer on abortion and its scenario. Earlier this year South Dakota approved a bill that was signed by Governor Mike Rounds that would ban abortion in all cases except those with extreme circumstances (the mother's health is at risk) but through the use of petition the bill has not gone into effect. There are many debates to the question but one of the biggest questions is when should a life begins. The bill states that life begins at conception where many others argue that life truly begins after the first trimester and the baby has matured. From what I could gather through talks with various people back in South Dakota is it is pretty evenly split but most feel that there is no way that the law will be passed into action because the state itself is very conservative. However, my mother was informing me that Sioux Falls is very split on the bill as both sides have heavily campaigned in the largest city of the state. The town is littered with propaganda for both sides of the debate and this is one of those topics where everybody has an opinion and everybody believes their opinion to the correct one. Either decision will set a high precendence for many other states and the continuous debate over Roe vs. Wade.

South Dakota has garnered a considerable amount of national attention over the past 12 months because of the abortion ban when it does not particularily gain any attention in the political realm. I think that such debates are great for society and civic participation. Any time you can get a heated topic to the forefront of an election such as this one you will see a greater turnout in voters, volunteers and civic participation. However, this topic is extreme and with the territory comes very extreme actions. As long as people stayed civilized in conversation and do not allow their actions to take hold of themselves, a topic such as this one helps tremendously in bringing out voters to the polls and voicing opinions. At least for a small time I can relish South Dakota somewhat being in the limelight whether or not they make the right choice.


Bolivia agrees new energy deals

The article I read talked about how in May Bolivia nationalized the oil and gas industry to help the sagging economy of Bolivia. Bolivian President Evo Morales declared in May that the companies that controlled the oil and gas industry either had to turn over more control and profit to Bolivia or leave the country. The reason behind President Morales’ decision was that this would help out the Bolivian economy and they would no longer need “to be a beggar country.? This caused some controversy because of the unwillingness of the companies to hand over at least 51% controlling interest to Bolivia. In the end though a compromise was reached with at least $180 million a year of oil and gas money being put back into the country.

This relates back to what we talked about in class in previous weeks about Latin American countries and the amount of debt that they have incurred over the past few decades. Bolivia is one the poorest countries in Latin America with a Gross national income of about $1,010 a year and a debt of $6.309 billion. In recent years there as also been controversy of coca farming, which is a primary income for many poor farmers and also acts as a double edged sword because of the negativity that is associated with the drug trade. The steps that Bolivia is taking can be seen as trying to get out of the economic hardships that it has endured over the past few decades.

Article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6095550.stm
More in depth article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4801233.stm
BBC Country Profile: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1210487.stm
CIA Factbook: https://cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bl.html

Economic Costs of Greenhouse Gases

On the BBC News website I found many articles covering the subject of greenhouse gases and many graphs showing how emissions need to be cut. The UN recently released in depth research showing an upward trend in emissions. Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the world bank stated, “Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the timescale for action and how to act effectively." According to Prime Minister Tony Blair, The disastrous outcome of global warming won’t happen eons from now like in some science fiction movie, but happen in our lifetime.

“The Stern Review warns that if no action is taken:
o Floods from rising sea levels could displace up to 100 million people
o Melting glaciers could cause water shortages for 1 in 6 of the world's population
o Wildlife will be harmed; at worst up to 40% of species could become extinct
o Droughts may create tens or even hundreds of millions of "climate refugees"?

This article reminded me of a recent story I read entitled “Jihad vs. McWorld.? It talks about how the world is moving further apart, yet it is getting closer together. What I mean by that is many conflicts are arising between governments and many things are very influenced by the US. For example: the recent nuclear testing by North Korea, and seeing McDonald’s everywhere, or hearing music from US artists. The article also goes into detail about global warming and how the global economy cannot wait much longer before doing some drastic things to prevent severe global warming. Although this is not ideal for global cooperation, this issue is forcing governments to work together, and I think eventually be as one.

Love Thy Neighbor

When I think of the Balkans, I think of a very non-static area; lots of wars, barbarism, and the ever changing landscape. I was looking at the BBC: Europe website and came across a story of Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia has finally gained independence from Montenegro, with Montenegro voting to separate from Serbia and be independent. Serbia is now a completely landlocked country without access to the Adriatic Sea, which has recently been a great economic source. This separation marks an end to the historic Yugoslavic era.
This article reminded me of a book I recently read entitled “Love They Neighbor,? by Peter Maass. The book brutally and graphically captured the dispute in the Balkans between Bosnia and Serbia. Peter Maass, a journalist, goes into war zones and talks to those most deeply involved. For example, he goes to a prison camp at Trnopolje and tells of how it reminds him so much of Auschwitz, the German Nazi camp. Although he is not allowed, Maass talks to one of the prisoners inside the camp and is constantly told to duck down so as to not be seen by the guards. “Love Thy Neighbor? is a true testament to what we in the US are not “subject? to know, according to our government, and in some cases the media. The media does have a way of getting us the information, but when they think it is irrelevant about most things pertaining to foreign governmental affairs, they deem it unnecessary to relay the information. In most cases, the media crosses that invisible line of freedom of press; the line when too much is being passed on and making the conflict worse. Although Maass does talk to those who he probably should not have, he never crossed that border between what we should know, and that which is better left unsaid.
I would recommend the book to those who are interested in learning what the government or the media doesn’t always tell us. That and it’s a really good book.

Direct Democracy

Many government officials have always wondered if direct democracy has been a positive force in poorer countries. Direct Democracy is basically when the people overthrow the government and take factories and businesses into their own hands. Depending on the particular system, this assembly might pass executive motions (decrees), make law, elect and dismiss officials and conduct trials. When elected, these officials are bound to the will of the people. I recently read an article entitled “The Citizens of Porto Alegre,? and it talked about Brazil, and how poor it used to be, until the people overthrew the government.
The most interesting thing about this article was the fact that it was the Workers’ Party, which was started one year prior to the overthrow, took over governmental power. Through a period of experimentation, they soon found ways to efficiently run the government.
This reminded me of the video clips we watched about Argentina, although I’m still confused on how the direct democracy works, I think that any country should be skeptical of how it works, because there is no foundation, merely a group of people trying to make it work without many rules or regulations.

October 29, 2006

Anarchists, Direct Action, and the Anti-Globalization and Anti-War Movements

This blog entry is on the protest tactic of the “black bloc.? I thought this was a good topic to write on, since we have both seen footage of the black bloc in class (from the Battle in Seattle anti-WTO protest) and have seen black bloc activity in a protest on campus last spring.

The black bloc is a protest tactic mainly used by anarchists at protests, usually anti-globalization or anti-war, wearing all black and a bandana across the face as a mask. They take direct action in their protests, and their purpose is normally to be a visible anti-capitalist presence, marching with a permit, civil disobedience, administering first aid, disarming police, unarresting fellow protestors, and property destruction (which sometimes escalates into a riot). Although the protestors have been wearing masks for ages, the black bloc came into full development in the 1980's in the German autonomist movement. It first appeared in the USA during protests against the first gulf war. The black bloc is always an affinity group, or a group of people who come together during or for a specific protest with a different plan. Therefore, there is no “official? black bloc of Minneapolis, per se, and size can range from 5-10 at smaller protests to nearly 1,000 at larger national protests. Also, depending on what the actual goals of a black bloc are, people may or may not decide to join them. I have been to many protests around the city, but have only decided to actually join the black bloc on one occasion, for example.

Of course, the black bloc has gone down in history as those who rioted during the 1999 WTO conference in Seattle. Using this tactic was mainly a result, as it still is today, of protest organizers not really fulfilling their “duty? as radicals. Throughout history, protest organizers have always taken it upon their shoulders to “radicalize the masses.? Organizers are the ones that are historically supposed to be distributing literature, breaking boundaries, and getting beaten up by police in order to inspire other people to step up action for a particular cause. However, in a post-1960's America, this has often been the other way around. In a sense, protest organizers of today are almost the “police? of the movement (I speak out of experience). They make sure that all the protestors stay herded together like contained sheep, marching from one place that authorities have told them is appropriate to another, and make sure to say very little that is offensive or non-mainstream. In addition to that, they are often opposed to even the simplest forms of civil disobedience, perhaps trying to base themselves on Martin Luther Kings “nonviolent resistance? theory, but completely forgetting the “resistance? part of it, and also forgetting that King was thought of as dangerous and revolutionary by the authorities of his time. Although this usually fulfills the short-term goal of looking ‘well-behaved’ for the authorities and opposing side, it makes for rather bad attempts at long-term change.

That is where the black bloc comes in. Although many disagree with the tactics, there is no doubt that today, eight years after the Battle in Seattle, we would not still remember the event if it had just been 50,000 union members and old hippies trying to relive the glory of their youth marching through streets with signs and giant puppets (however amusing the puppets looked). It is fact that because anarchist members of the black bloc, whose main purpose is that of direct action, took to the streets in large numbers (500 is a common estimate) and attempted to shut down the WTO meeting, as well as destroy the property of certain multinational corporations whose corporate policies toward other countries they see as harmful to the world, famous examples being The Gap and Starbucks, the protest became a worldwide spectacle, and put the spotlight on an American protest movement like it hadn’t been in three decades.
Although a rift exists, for the most part, between national protest organizations on the left (who are typically very well funded, and tend to be supporters of either the democratic party, liberalism, socialism, or communism, all of which are opposed by anarchists on varying levels), there has been some local success in trying to form unity between proponents of direct action and the mainstream organizers. After the events of April 28th at a protest at the U in which an Army Recruitment Center was vandalized and six innocent protestors were arrested, there was a forum in which both anarchists and the mainstream organizers (meaning anywhere from liberal to socialist, which is the mainstream protest movement), which I attended, in which both groups sat down to talk with each other about tactics, and the mainstream organizers opened themselves up to planned direct action in future protests.

All The Shah's Men

In the book "All The Shah's Men," by Stephen Kinzer, the 1953 coup to overthrow Iran's democratically elected government in favor of a tyrannical government that lead to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. A link on the main page for this class lead me to listen to an interview with the author.

Perhaps the most disconcerting element of this interview is the link between the 1953 coup and involvement in Iraq today. Most notably, links exist between oil supplies and overthrowing governments. In the 1953 coup, the origin of the conflict lies in the ample oil supplies available. At this time, the British owned and operated much of the oil fields in this region and received the profits from these fields. This separation between the owners of the fields (British) and the workers (Iranians) spurred much conflict.

Additionally, the United States supported a coup to overthrow an elected official because they supported the change of oil ownership. This coup harbored an Anti-American sentiment because the Shah that was instituted was a tyrannical government. Iranians felt much resentment towards Americans because the democratic government was overthrown and a faulty government was replaced.

These conflicts are mirrored in the current conflict in the Middle East. Much like this coup, America attemped to overthrow governments in Iraq and institute democracy. Again, oil is a determining factor in these actions. The coup in 1953 shattered once positive feelings about America to the Anti American sentiments that are prevalent today. Had the 1953 coup been handeled differently, much of the Anti American sentiment may have been avoided. More importantly, it is important to learn from histoy and understand the difficulty of overthrowing a regime and the possible ramifications of these regimes.

State of Denial

The article read talks about Kemal Helbawy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a Muslim scholar. On a trip to New York from England he was detained and told he needed to get a special visa from the U.S Embassy in England. Helbawy has made numerous trips to the U.S. but since 9/11 many people who have ties to groups that have ties to terrorists groups have difficulty traveling like they used to do. The problem here is that some of this groups that are seen as extremists in the eyes of the U.S. are not seen the same way in the eyes of the Muslims. The case of the Muslim Brotherhood at one point they may have been seen as a threat to the Middle East but at the same time they have made efforts to unite moderate Muslims and denounce the violence that has been stereotypically paired with Muslims. I think a major problem with the U.S policy in the Middle East is that it has failed to align with the moderate Muslims groups to help weed out the extremists to keep peace.

Dorm Storming

On October 20th a report was posted on CNN.com discussing college student’s participation in the upcoming elections. Many universities around the country have seen an establishment of more student political organizations. Both Democrats and Republicans alike are becoming involved in an effort to increase awareness and voter participation among students in the November elections. There are many techniques being used that have been around for years, such as weekly meetings, group socials and informational sessions but groups at specific universities such as Tulane University, Howard University, and University of Nebraska- Lincoln have implemented new strategies to increase awareness. One of the new techniques being used is known as “dorm storming? which is a group that goes door-to-door in the dorms with informational packets and voter registration forms. Fairfield University in Connecticut reported they had 200 students register to vote through the “dorm storming? campaign.

This story ties into Putnam’s argument about voter disengagement. This is yet another way to try to get more people involved in politics. These organizations feel that if they bring all the information about registering to vote directly to the people they will be more likely to get involved. The information that was gathered by the recent survey we conducted for class shows that many people report not having enough time to be active or participatory in politics. Others view the system of registering and voting as complicated or don’t know where to go on campus in order to get more information. The “dorm storming? campaign, however, makes is very easy for a person to register and become more aware of how to get involved in an election, or politics in general, on campus. Although door-to-door solicitors are often obnoxious this could really increase voter participation for college students, which is a huge demographic. College students are a very large population of people that could potentially swing the election of specific candidates and tapping into this population would be huge for increasing voter participation. I think if a plan such as “dorm storming? were implemented on this campus it could cause an increase in voter participation, especially for the 2006 elections. People are more likely to be involved in Presidential elections than the state elections, and therefore a campaign like “dorm storming? could be just the ticket to get more people involved in these state elections.

World of Warcraft

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about this great new online game called World of Warcraft. I hear people say that you can interact with other players in the game, which apparently makes it a social event. I cant help but wonder what Putnam would have to say about such online games. Can online games be a fitting substitute for face to face social interaction? Can online games recreate the same emotions and connections felt through face to face interaction?
The one thing we must remember about the internet, is that you can pretend that you are someone you are not. In the case of World of Warcraft, one can built their character to represent everything that they want to be and disquise themselves from the harsh truth of who they are in reality. For example, say a certain WoW player is a white, middle aged, zit faced virgin who lives in his mother’s basement, as is often the case, then he or she can create a character that presents them to the world (of warcraft) as a muscular hero with four billion experience points with some crazy elf power.
Assuming that players are spending time interacting with their friends on WoW, Will they be able to look back on the memories of their time spent together and be proud of it? It was once said that life is about making a difference and making memories. What difference will players of WoW make in the world? What is the point of social interaction if nothing is accomplished through it?
I recently read an article which considered the topic of social connections within the World of Warcraft. It stated that by playing WoW online does in fact create social capital. Read the full article here. It is then that we must ask, is all social capital good? And for that matter what makes social capital good? Well, we all know that social capital is often held in the form of relationships. Well, I have a relationship with my cat, what good does that do me? So, good social capital takes the form of good relationships from which one can benefit. What can a WoW player benefit from some random guy who explore the Stormwind Castle? So in closing, social capital is all about creating relationships, and relationships based on a false reality can lead to false relationships which can lead to false social capital.

Pinker on the web

So this week we're diving into our unit on the politics of human nature with Steven Pinker's Blank Slate. Pinker writes with great clarity and wit, so despite the heavy nature of the material, you should find it quite enjoyable. Fortunately, he's also very much a public intellectual and there are audio and video interviews/lectures with Pinker all over the internet. So if you're more of a visual or auditory learner, or if you simply enjoy the readings and want more, here are some good supplementary resources for you:

  • Pinker lectures on The Blank Slate at MIT - Video

  • Pinker discusses The Blank Slate on NPR's OnPoint - Audio

  • Pinker discusses the sociobiology controversy on the radio show The Connection - Audio

  • Pinker on "The Cognitive Niche" at last month's World Conference on the Future of Science in Venice. Unfortunately, I don't have a direct link to the videos, but edge.org has links if you scroll down a bit. The other lectures are interesting and relevant as well, especially Hauser and Dennett.

  • Pinker interviewed by Robert Wright - Video

  • Pinker lectures on Words and Rules at Princeton - Video (This one is the most unrelated to what we're discussing, but if you're interested in language you might enjoy it.)
Next week we'll be discussing political psychology and one of the people we'll read is George Lakoff. Interestingly, Pinker just wrote a highly critical review of Lakoff's new book in The New Republic, which prompted a reply from Lakoff and a reply to the reply by Pinker. This may or may not be of interest to you now, but maybe next week it will be.

October 28, 2006

Outsourcing: A Hindu Perspective

The article is from "The Hindu Business Line Magazine." The link is http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2005/10/04/stories/2005100401300900.htm

This article is really interesting because it gives a perspective on U.S. job outsourcing from the Indian perspective. The author talks about how outsourcing is not the cause of job loss in the U.S. The article sites various reasons to support this arguement. First the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report "Shift Towards Service" shows, the predicted 3.4 million service jobs to be outsourced from the U.S. till 2015 seems insignificant compared with the average turnover of four million jobs every month. Another reason is, ITAA (Information Technology Association of America) and Global Insight 2004, cites that only 2.8 percent of all IT software and service jobs in the US were lost to outsourcing between 2000 and 2003. The UNCTAD report predicts that call center activity will grow from 3 percent in 2001 to 5 percent in 2005 and the number of IT-related jobs in the U.S. is expected to grow by 43 percent by 2010. One thing I found interesting was the study by Jagdish Bhagwati titled "Defence of Globalization," which found that during the 1980s when the real wages of U.S. workers remained stagnant, prices of labor intensive goods actually rose in relation to prices in the global market. But in the 1970s prices of goods fell while real wages rose. Hence, cost of products cannot always be linked to wages.

This article relates to the Schaeffer readings we have been doing. The study by Bhagwati is somewhat supported by Schaeffer. In Chapter 7 of Schaeffer he talks about the collapsing commodity prices in the 80s. He basically reinforces the study of Bhagwati and gives a U.S. perspective on how and why cost f production cannot always be linked to wages. One main example given by Schaeffer is that of technolgical advances lead to the process of dematerialization.

I think this is a really good article because it gives a first hand view from another developing country on a huge issue within the U.S. I find it really interesting that Schaeffer's arguements are striking similar to that of the article. Some questions I thought about in regards to this article are what will eventually happen if technology continues to grow increasing dematerialization? Will a bell curve effect occur? Could to much technology cause a negative affect on globalization?

A case for meritocracy

I would like to continue discussing the shortly mentioned difficulty with forms of democracy, and more specifically deal with the problems associated with the standard of universality in the voting process. In class it was brought up the fact that there are some people who strictly should have no say in certain policy. Of course this brings about ideas of a loss of freedom through the loss of one of our societies most valued direct methods of input to government. I hope however, that the people who think this will hear me out and maybe understand the position I argue enough to see some validity in it.

When this country was first established, a universal vote would not be the same thing as in today’s society, because for the most part, a person could understand many fields of knowledge just about as well as the specialists of these fields understood them. So when voting occurred, a person could make an educated vote that would not be to far from what the person educated on the issue would make, thus allowing the country to advance according to what could be generally understood as best (at that time). Today however, understanding specific fields is something that is hard to accomplish, ever for most PhD’s. So the general population will understand little of the cutting edge science behind an issue that they vote on (or vote for someone because of). This creates a very large gap between what is known to be the most effective courses of action, and the policy that is established.

Now if I have successfully gotten anyone to agree with me that this happens, the logical extension of argumentation is to posit a method of fixing this problem. The system that would be effective at eliminating a significant amount of problems stemming from this knowledge gap would be a system of voting that is based on a meritocracy of qualification. Basically this is a system in which those who are of a certain level of educational merit are those who vote on issues pertaining to their specialization. So with each category of issues are those who are allowed a vote in the decision making. Some categories are general categories and thus demand the input of many groups, so for example a person with specialization in child psychology may fall into many voting categories. It must be noted however that this meritocracy pertains only to the vote and does not limit the right of a person to petition these voting groups if the policy has a direct effect on them. It is important to understand that the objective of this system is not to limit a person’s right to vote, but to limit a person’s right to vote ignorantly.

After being frequently annoyed with the ability of our government to effectively and intelligently do its job, have many times come to the same conclusion for this system of democracy. One of the main issues that drew me to this system was that of nuclear energy. For those of us who have taken the time to learn the particle physics that dictates the evident nuclear theory, a nuclear system in the united states is not only the most renewable form of energy, it is the most efficient, the cleanest, and above all the safest. Unfortunately, the voting majority do not understand the U235 fission reaction and how it is carried out in the United States to know the benefits. This is the main reason why the United States does not recycle its nuclear waste, which interestingly enough, allows 90% of the nuclear waste to be reused in the reactor. Since the majority of the public equates nuclear power to nuclear weapons (a very misinformed association), we have not built a nuclear power plant in since the 1970’s. Instead we burn coal, which has very serious environmental pollutants that it puts off. If our coal infrastructure had been converted to nuclear over this time, the gradual change would have offset much of the greenhouse gas CO2 being put into the air, and slowed global warming.

These bad policies are due to the fact that people are allowed to vote on things that only physicists should be allowed to decide. I see this as the only way for a country to be run. Of course my description of a meritocracy is yet general and would require many specifics to be deliberated, but if a system of democracy based on these ideas was to be established, a lot of outlooks on the successfulness of our government would definitely change.

October 27, 2006

Oaxaca Uprising

Recently, major protests have flared up in Oaxaca, Mexico, some people labeling it an uprising. The situation broke out during a regular protest by local teachers which was met with excessive force by police, but there have been many other developments leading up to the uprising.

Oaxaca is one of the poorest areas in Mexico, with about half of the population living in abject poverty. A plan to help the people of this region was put in place by Vicente Fox and praised by the USA called Plan Puebla Panama. What the plan consisted of is taking the land from people living there in order to build a highway to ship sweatshop made goods more easily, and it would be surrounded by tourist destinations and sweatshops owned by multinational corporations. In addition, the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, is a supporter of these policies, and therefore extremely unpopular.

When the teachers staged their yearly strike for improved schools, it was met by violent repression from the police, and people of the community quickly came to their support, seeing it as another assault on their chances of succeeding. The uprising, which started in May, has grown greatly, and there is currently a large encampment in the main square of Oaxaca City. There are also encampments/takeovers of buildings around the city and in 200 other towns in the state, and leaders around Mexico are becoming increasingly worried of the protests becoming violent and spreading further throughout the nation.

Despite the fact that the teachers have voted to return to class, they have stated they will not stop fighting until the governor resigns. And because the movement has now spread to many other states in Mexico, most think that the situation will not end anytime soon.

October 26, 2006

New Plans for Iraq are not so new

The war in Iraq has been a very important issue for Americans since our invasion in 2003, and almost four years later little has been accomplished yet death tolls of American soldiers continue to rise. Bush’s support continues to wane and many are left wondering what exactly Bush’s plan of action is and if there is any end to the war in the near future. Bush recently gave a response to the public’s call for a new strategy earlier this week; however, there are very few changes set to take place. Bush was still very reluctant to give a timeline for occupation in Iraq stating it would be “impossible to make a timeline because there is no way to predict where the situation will be in five to ten years.? The new plan, however, does include a timeline, developed by the Iraqi government to regain control of their government, for which Bush said talks with the Prime Minister to be already underway. The interesting part of the story was a speech given by the Prime Minister of Iraq, shown on the Wednesday night NBC news, saying he had not engaged in any talks with the US about a timeline and would not be in support of creating one. As violence continues to ensue in increasing amounts between the US occupation and the Iraqis, much of the Iraqi population has become more opposed to the US occupation than ever before.

This story related to what Schaeffer has discussed in his book about the aftermath of 9/11. Schaeffer posed a very interesting question, why is it that in a war in which the US has already claimed victory so many casualties: military and civilian, Iraqi and American, alike are still occurring? According to Schaeffer there have been more deaths of US soldiers in the rebellion against the US occupation than there were during the actual war and death tolls continue to rise. The fact is that the American people will not continue to support a man that continues to make a bigger mess forever, and sooner or later people will have to decide when enough is enough. There has always been resistance to the US occupation from the Iraqi people but as more people continue to die there has been even more resistance, which has only led to more violence. Bush refuses to accept the idea that the American occupation has done more harm than good in Iraq and that pulling the troops in the near future (anytime before the plan of ten years) may actually save lives, not to mention American dollars. The war in Iraq is an increasingly large mess that people, other than Bush, will be cleaning up for years to come, making the war a prominent issue not only for the upcoming Senate elections in November, but also the 2008 Presidential elections.

Brazil and IMF

OK. First I have to say that it took me HOURS to find this article. No mainstream US papers seem to have this information and if they did at one point it’s not available any more (“Page not Found?).

This article appeared in “The China Post? on 9.29.2006. The article is entitled Brazilian president closes campaign in city of his radical past. The article outlines information about and criticisms of Brazil’s President Lula.The most amazing information that the article talks about is presented in a fairly bland way. It is given in a very matter of fact way but is amazing news considering how little press it received in the US.

Brazil has paid the IMF in full. They don’t owe them anything any more. They owed them $15 BILLION and they paid it back with one payment. I will give a link to the story but I’ll cut and paste what it said because it was incredibly short. It reads:

“As an opposition leader, he struck a tone of Third-World defiance, urging Brazil to renege on its foreign debt and branding the International Monetary Fund as the enemy.
But as president, he restrained public spending, beat inflation by keeping interest rates high and generated enough budget surpluses to pay off the entire US$15 billion (€11.8 billion) Brazil owed to the fund in a single installment.?

Link to article: http://www.chinapost.com.tw/i_latestdetail.asp?id=41372

This is amazing considering our text pointed out that, at one point, Brazil and Mexico owed tremendous amounts of money. This is very encouraging progress on the debt crisis. The domino effect seemed to happen in Latin America when the crisis started. Maybe it will happen again with the resolution of the crisis.

This information relates to what we’ve talked about in class because we spent a great deal of time talking about the IMF and World Bank and Latin America’s debt. I need to note that Brazil is not completely debt free. I couldn’t find figures of money owed to World Bank currently but there is more money owed abroad.

The most shocking part about this information is that I found it in China Post. A newspaper in a communist country with HEAVY government regulations on news. Ironic. I couldn’t find this in American news sources though I’m sure the first time I heard about this it was on the news on television. I couldn’t find this information through normal news routes; it seems as though the information disappeared. I don’t know when Brazil managed to pay back it’s debt but I’m fairly sure it was this year. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist or anything but it seems awfully Big Brother of the US news to bury that information. Why would they want us to not be able to find it? I’m going to assume, for now, that it’s because there’s a lot of news and this just got lost in the shuffle. But if I disappear before the end of the semester be afraid; be very afraid.

Vote For Douche Bag!

I cant remember the last time I saw a political campaign commercial that actually endorsed a candidate. Negative advertising has made me very uninterested in voting all together. So, instead of hearing lies about how great the candidates are, we are constantly fed lies about how shitty the candidates are. All the while falling from discussing the real issues like war, poverty, education and falling toward the hard issues that strike at the heart of Americans like, which candidate pees in the shower? Or who has the smaller penis?
Negative advertising has been a leading factor for the fall in political participation. If Putnam’s book had been written today, it would undoubtable contain an entire chapter on negative advertising and it’s affects on political participation and America’s disengagement from political matters all together.
I’ve also heard the argument that “I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t matter.? which is not true. In the 2004 elections, 122 million people voted, this means that each vote accounts for .0000008% of the final tally considered by the electoral college. I bet you feel important now. The upside to this fact is that the decline in voter turnout is increasing the influence of your vote.
Maybe if we want to increase voter turnout, we should focus on making it an enjoyable experience. Because the truth is that the problem of the decline of political participation lies not with the people, I lies with the politicians. No body wants to vote for a douche bag. So, find me a politician who is not a douche bag, and I’ll vote for them.

October 25, 2006

What you want may be what They want…

My senior year of high school I was enrolled in an AP government class. The majority of our time was spent reading a reading the newspaper for representations of the topics covered in our book and then discussing these topics rigorously. In the unit which included political parties and their general platforms, I remember the grand dichotomization of taxes. Republicans hated taxes and democrats loved them. This was to play into the explanation of why the Republicans can be a minority party among the populace and yet come out in full force every election. Deep down I never felt I could believe that the pivotal factor that caused people to vote republican was taxes. I still really don’t want to believe that but can find little else to when all 10 pamphlets I have received from republican candidates have exclusively kept the topic to taxes, and taxes alone. This pales in comparison to the television advertising that I have seen over the past few weeks. It is fairly obvious that there are lots of substantive issues that demand our attention, but we are fed the tax dogma of the Republican Party.

When times get tough, you stick to what you know will get you through, and for the Republicans, that ends up being taxes. However, the Republicans have another trick up their sleeve. Respect must be commended for the party, for only they could turn around the recent rise in violence in Iraq to help them. This new rise in sectarian violence is a move from the extremists to oust the Republican Party from the congress. So when someone votes for a Democrat (or Independent) they are only doing what the terrorists want. I have yet to hear a more brilliant political appeal than the one above.

I wish to direct attention to the dynamic flaws of our system of government. You see, Putnam is on to something, we are lacking actual positive involvement with our nation that goes beyond “I don’t wanna be taxed a lot…? and this fall comes from the side of the people. A significant majority of citizens don’t understand this side, but this is the side where problems originate. However, politics today has begun to take advantage of the average citizens’ lack of invested interest to wield the second side of this failing. This is what allows them to get away with saying things like “…voting for Democrats is what the terrorists want…? People just don’t pay enough attention to filter out the B.S. Hopefully more people start thinking about this lack of critical participation as the major problem behind our representative system. The strength of our democracy lies in the positive resonance of views between politics and society, and when one of these aspects withers, the other follows it down the road of dysfunctional. I just wish more of my uninvolved friends would see this when they complain about government.

October 24, 2006

The Shifting Face of Globalization

Knowmore.org is a corporate watchdog group that goes about it's mission in an unconventional way. Their goal is to "chronicle and resist corporate attacks on democracy, worker's and human rights, fair trade, business ethics and the environment." And they do it by going straight to consumers. They have no affiliation with any political party, and aren't connected with any PAC. They don't lobby Washington. They just gather information on different companies, guided primarily by the interest of their users, and post an analysis that anyone can edit. Knowmore.org relies on the consciences of consumers to seek out information about the companies that make the products that they buy, then judge for themselves, and either support or punish companies with their spending power.

This method is an odd one, and one that defies classification in the taxonomy of Barber. Knowmore.org uses McWorld accessibility and internationalism to protect the more Jihad oriented interests of local worker's and regional environmental abuses. And all of this is done using the tools Boyd lays out in his commentary on the internet's capacity to spread ideas. Knowmore.org is building an international community, utterly decentralized, and for the most part anonymous. So what is this group that is being created? Are they McWorld globalists, who are taking advantage of information's disregard for national borders to spread their views? Or are they a new form of Jihadists, working to protect their interests and ways of life from the incursions and abuses of transnational corporations? Groups such as Knowmore show the limitations of Barber's arguments. Globalization is not a force that is solely driven and by and sustained by profit. As Knowmore shows, it can take on a much more humanitarian role by developing responsible, informed global citizens.


A fading yellow ribbon

Today I came across an article written by Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman, who you may or may not remember was the former NFL player who joined the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan under the cloud of a government cover-up. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/200601019_after_pats_birthday/
Kevin Tillman served alongside Pat in the Army Rangers, and took the time to write a powerful, moving article that questions the legitimacy of our invasion of Iraq, as well as the consequences that should be faced by our leaders that lied to the people and deceived them to achieve personal gains. We as soldiers are not allowed to question the rationale or motivation behind our government's decision to wage war. It is our duty to serve our country and follow orders, not to ask why. Kevin illustrates this point succinctly when he recalls a conversation he had with Pat upon joining, "He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out." These remarks prompted some self-reflection, namely, is blind obedience the course that we should take as a country? If it is true that our leadership lied to us and led us into a unecessary war on false pretenses, what consequences should they face, and what position does that put the scores of troops currently serving, and the hundreds of thousands of veterans of Iraq? The sense of patriotism and civic duty that is so ingrained in those serving their country stands to be undermined by a leadership that seems to be callous to the deaths of thousands and raw wounds of an entire generation of veterans.
It is impossible for those who send troops off to war to comprehend the grim realities of combat unless they have experienced it themselves. This is why after Vietnam, an entire generation vowed that American citizens should not be sent to die on foreign land without good reason. It is easy for an administration to commit troops to war when they don't have have to worry about their own children serving. The public's support for the war has waned considerably, they demand good answers for why they should send their sons and daughters to fight. The yellow-ribbon patriotism displayed by the public in the early years of the war has begun to fade, much like the magnetic sticker, and now is the time for answers.
John Locke once wrote that it is the purpose of the government to serve the interests of the people, and when they fail to do so, it is the duty of the people to question and usurp their government with one that will act on behalf of the nation. If our overseas engagements are truly in defense of the people, then our leadership owes us some answers, and some solutions as well. We created the current quagmire in Iraq, and it is our responsibility to remedy the situation.

More resources

As I said today in class, we're devoting an embarassingly short amount of time to wars in the Middle East. If you're interested in more, however, there's tons of good material out there. There's loads of reading you could do, but if you want something a little lighter, here are just a few (highly blog-able!) online multimedia resources for you to start with:

1972 Israeli Athlete Hostage Story

After hearing about a movie on this topic a few months ago, it was interesting to think about what really may have happened which I don't believe that all of the students in class may have known exactly what happened and some who probably didn't ever even hear about it at all. So, I wanted to inform myself because it was apparently quite an event and I find it extremely interesting that athletes were affected, because I find their involvement in war to be extremely immoral and feel that they should only be used to represent their country as a means of competing separate from war and should be immune from any type of action which I will explain was taken.

It is important to note the website I got the story and my information from was http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_1967to1991_munich.php. What the website explained was that early in the morning on a day in what is now known as "Black September," 5 Palestinian Arab terrorists entered the place where the Olympic Athletes stayed and basically went around the building gathering 11 Israeli athletes and ended up killing a coach, 11 athletes, a german policeman, all within 24 hours. They had I'm guessing 9 athletes left as hostages and were demanding that some 234 Palestinian Arab prisoners in Israeli jails were released, as well as 2 German terrorists in Frankfurt. They had a flight arranged and bus and helicopter transportation arranged to leave, but German police had sharpshooters set up and had failed to simultaneously take out all the terrorist while boarding the chopper and so a gun fight broke out and the Palestinian Arab terrorists set off a grenade in the helicopter killing everyone aboard, and in the 2nd chopper, shot all of the Israeli hostages remaining. 3 of the terrorists were captured alive and later freed when demands came from other PLO terrorists who hijacked a german plane. It turns out the events were the result of Yasser Arafat's decision. In return, Israeli PM launched "the wrath of God" which was an operation to find and kill anyone behind the attacks.

The issue that I wanted to bring up in relationship to class was obviously that this was a result of post WW2 conflict in the middle-east and the Israeli-Palestine situation more specifically. What I believe the case to be, is when Israelis left sinai and were granted access to 55% of the land in that specified area, Palestinians were able to be marginalized as Israel had more power and land despite significantly less numbers. I'm sure some, not all, but some, authority figures took out cultural differences and hatred on Palestinian civilians or even leaders perhaps, and often were overly cruel to Palestinians who committed crime, which often may have been difficult to restrain. But with all of the tension and lack of power and organization from Palestine who is constantly being shoved around, the only alternative is often cruel terroristic acts.

I strongly believe athletes should be entirely exempt from having to experience any difficulties or actions as a result of political tension or war because of their innocence and symbolic representation of competing for pride and doing so in an honorable, non-violent way of expressing your own countries values and history. Perhaps there could become some universal understanding that this be so and prevent anything like what happened in Munich, as well as anything smaller and more minute in the future?

October 23, 2006

McDonalds getting a new facelift

An article on Abcnews.com writes that McDonalds will makeover its 13,000 restaurants in the US. It will change its traditional hard, uncomfortable furnishings to relaxed, soft furnishings. McDonalds will deviate from its orginal purpose of offering low cost food and wanting consumers in and out as quickly as possible to wanting people to stay as long as they want. The change is to entice people to use and see McDonalds as a sociable place where social connections can be made. They will still offer the same low cost food, but with the additional acquiring of salades, premuim coffee, couches, wireless internet & plasma TVs. This is what Sophia Galassi, vice president of restaurant development for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's had to say:

"We want to have you come in and relax and enjoy, be comfortable,".

This is definately a great idea and a great thing for McDonalds. As everybody knows, no one thinks of McDonalds as a place to hang out and socialize with friends, co-workers or families. Not even to mention a good place to eat. As also mentioned in the article, they don't want to loose competition to places such as Starbucks or other coffee places so they are going the modern way. With this new change, the strategy is to make it appeal to anybody, but particularly to young professionals because this is the group that McDonalds is lacking. In a sense they are bringing or will bring people together because people can actually socialize. This will increase the amount of social participation & social capital that Putnam argues is declining. Since there are millions of people who do eat at McDonalds, they will now go to McDonalds for other reasons than to eat fastfoods. They will go there to meet up with friends, have meetings or to relaxed. McDonalds can become a place to meet new people, thus making it a place for interactions and social networking with other people. People will get out of their homes and into the community, which Putnam argues is also decreasing due to TV. Besides all the good things that this new change will bring to McDonalds and to the consumers, there are also the downsides. Many argue that why the need to do this facelift if the majority of the consumers go through the drive-through? How about the cost, since the franchisees are paying for it and not McDonalds? Basically they see it as a waste of money. We will just have to wait and see in the future how this change will take affect.

Social connections and Civic Participation of a new generation

After reading Putnam's Bowling Alone it seems evident that civic participation in America is in it's death throes from what Putnam would have us believe. In my opinion, I do not believe so much that civic participation is declining as much as Putnam thinks, but rather, it is shifting to different forms. Much of Putnam's empirical evidence comes from studying a decline in participation in groups such as the Elks, bowling leagues, etc. As a member of the younger generation that seems to be at fault for this decline I think it is important to point out other forms of civic participation that are prevalent and flourishing in society that Putnam ignores.
A converation I had with a friend at my local YMCA this past weekend prompted me to examine the forums of civic participation that are ignored by Putnam. Community institutions and organizations such as the YMCA do not measure participation in basketball leagues, group aerobic exercise, and weight lifting, yet these activities foster social connections and relations in the same manner as the aforementioned groups that Putnam studied. As the attitudes and lifestyles of younger generations undergo dynamic change, organizations such as the Elks and Lions club's are increasingly viewed as archaic and incompatible with the day to day activities of the youth.
One of the lifestyle changes that sets the younger generations apart from the older generation is exercise, and local YMCA's and gyms provide a medium through which people can work out and interact in a social setting. I can expect to see the same people on a regular basis during my trips to the gym, and as such I have established infromal social connections with them. I frequently engage in converation with them, and often it has led to friendship outside the gym.
The advent of video gaming is another activity that is enjoyed by millions of younger Americans through which groups of people interact and build relationships. Online internet gamers have networks of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people in their groups with whom they interact with and communicate. Often these same "gamers" belong to the same chat groups where they converse at length on all topics. Video game consoles in the home provide entertainment and another group setting where a number of friends can get together and socialize as well. According to Putnam's research there is a dramatic decrease in paritcipation in bowling leagues; video gaming may well be one alternative that today's youth enjoys instead.
I am not attempting to discredit Putnam's work on declining social paticipation, for I do believe that a lackadaisical attitude is becoming increasingly common in America. I do, however, believe that the decline in civic particaption is not as sharp as Putnam believes it is, and it has evolved into different forms.

October 22, 2006

Deerwood Elementary cuts off student access to newspapers

While browsing articles on the Startribune website on the topic of education, one in particular was very interesting regarding Deerwood Elementary cutting off its student access to the newspaper. The article states how death, mayhem and especially sex content had made its way into elementary aged children hands provided by Pioneer Press. After receiving numerous complaints from parents, the principal decided to remove the newspapers access from the children, only giving the staff permission to access them. The article states, “Managers at the newspaper weren't aware of such restrictions at any other school. The Pioneer Press said Newspapers in Education delivers thousands of free newspapers to hundreds of area schools, mostly so teachers can use them in their classrooms as a resource.? I often question the common sense of the newspaper. Is it not common sense NOT to hand out copies with such content as this to elementary-aged kids? Why would there be access granted to the kids if the newspaper managers, etc are well aware of the content in which the paper contains? To defend the newspaper, the managers of the newspaper stated, “It's up to each school to decide how the newspapers in the program are used, Johnson said, but added that he sees great value in putting newspapers in classrooms.? I agree with Johnson that it is also the schools responsibility to decide the use of the newspapers, and also read them before giving access to their students. Moreover, its both the school and newspapers responsibility to review all of the content in which the newspaper consists of but by doing this, it may disconnect the social aspect, as we talked about in class, that the newspaper contains. Nevertheless, it is better in this aspect that both school and newspaper decide which is best for the students.http://www.startribune.com/462/story/754916.html for more information.

October 21, 2006

High Hopes

Recently, while reading the news on the internet, I came across an article which raised a solution for struggling developing countries. The article stated that the exportation of illegal drugs may be the best way to help developing countries spring out of poverty. The following statement sums up the argument of the article:

"In order to improve the lives of poor workers and farmers, lessen environmental degradation, and combat terrorism, allowing subsistence farmers to cultivate and export cannabis, coca and poppy may be the facet of globalization that best matches the supply of the developing world with the demand of the developed world – the great equalizer that rapidly increases the wealth of poor and rich people in all nations."
*read the entire article at: http://www.globalenvision.org/library/3/720/

By legalizing illegal drugs on the international market and making them available for international trade, we can allow countries who do not have the natural resources necessary to make them rich, the chance to do so. So, can drugs level the playing field of the global economy? The answer to that would lay in the governmental structure of each country in question. It may help poor countries with few resources rise out of debt. Whether it would work or not is unclear, but i think we can all agree that it would be really funny to watch Tommy Chong and Bill O'Riley debate the topic on the O'Riley Factor.

South Dakota and Referendums

According to most people, direct democracy would be too cumbersome and slow to be effective. But does allowing people to vote directly on issues result in higher voter turnout? This morning I was listening to NPR and eating my cheerios when I heard a story about South Dakota. This year the state of South Dakota has eleven referendums on its ballot. It is the second longest ballot in South Dakota’s history. According to the South Dakotan being interviewed, South Dakota was the first state to introduce referendums and typically has more referendums than any other state, because it is relatively easy to get an issue on the ballot because only 17,000 signatures are needed. He said that having issues on the ballot makes voter turnout higher because not of the rational feeling of it’s a persons civic duty to vote, but because one of the issues will “tug at their heart? so more people vote.

It is easy to see why referendums and voting on actual issues would make voter turnout higher. My roommate is a perfect example of someone who decided to vote in his home state, Wisconsin, solely because of the issue of gay marriage. It is more likely that an issue will tug at your heart than a politician, who may not stay true to his or her word on the issues that you care about. In addition, I have several friends who are native south Dakotans who have previously voted in Minnesota, but re-registered in their home state so they can vote against the abortion ban that was passed in the South Dakota legislature last spring. Maybe the solution to the low voter turnout isn’t education or the typical get out the vote campaigns, but instead, letting people directly have a say in something they care about.

Nike & Globalization

After going over the debt and globalization discussions in class, the part in which we talked about sweatshops sparked my interest. As I looked through the topics of sweat shops on the Internet I came across a site in which ask the most frequent questions regarding the Nike Corporation and their sweatshops that are placed all around the globe. One in particular struck my interest. “What happens if the world runs out of poverty?? This is a question that the Nike corporation was asked; the answer that they gave was, "Nike is doing everything it can to prolong the existence of this profitable resource. Firstly, any services it runs in any Sweatshop™ community are oriented towards keeping the community at the poverty level...It should be noted that if Nike educated the Sweatshop™ community well and actually encouraged its people to "pursue the American Dream?.?
How is it that Nike wants to encourage its people to pursue the “American Dream? when its workers are being kept at a poverty stricken level? On the other hand, if Nike were to remove its sweatshops from the regions in which they are located, the community would simply be worse off, seeing that the incoming money would be no longer there. These communities then are dependent on the Nike Corporation to help support their community even though it keeps them at the poverty level.
http://www.toolness.com/nike/faq.html to continue reading.

October 19, 2006

Survey Info

As I promised in class, here are a few tips for playing around with your data in Excel:

  1. Auto-Sorting Columns: Once you've got your file open, if you go to the Data menu in your menubar and select Filter > Auto-Filter, you will then get little drop-down menu buttons in the first row of each column. If you click on these little widgets, you get a menu with a bunch of sorting options. In particular, "Sort Ascending" or "Sort Descending" are useful. This makes it much easier to see the distribution of responses to any given question and allows you to jump question to question and sort your data in a convenient way for each question.

  2. Hiding Columns: A lot of times you'll want to compare how people responded to two different questions. This is easy if the two questions are right next to one another (like QParty and QLibConEcon), but can be difficult if you want to compare, say, QParty and QGovtTrust, which are far apart. What you can do, however, is "hide" the columns in between these two. Here's how:
    • You can select an entire column by clicking on Excel's header row for that column - I'm not exactly sure what the name for this row really is, but it'll be something like "H" or "AD" or "BN" etc.

    • Once you've got a column selected, go to the Format menu and select Column > Hide. Now that column is hidden - you didn't delete it, it's still there!

    • To hide multiple columns, simply select multiple columns. For example, if you want to hide BA through BL, click on BA, then (without clicking on anything else!) scroll over to BL, hold down your shift key and then click on BL. All of those columns are now selected. Then go Format > Column > Hide, and you've hidden those columns.

    • To Unhide your hidden columns, the easiest thing to do is just select all the columns (By either selecting Select All from the Edit menu or by typing "control-A" - or "command-A" on a Mac) and then going Format > Columns > Unhide. All of your columns are now visible.

    So if you want to compare QParty and QGovtTrust, just select all the columns in between the two, hide them and then you can look at the two variables you're interested in right next to one another.

  3. If you don't have Excel on your computer, as a U of M student you can actually get a free copy of Microsoft Office - Here's the info on how to do this. Alternatively, you could try the free, open source OpenOffice, which can do all of these things I described above just as well as Excel.

Like I said, Excel is not a data analysis program and if we had endless time and resources, I'd devote several class periods to doing this in a real statistical program. However, I'm not expecting anything like that - plus you've only got ten respondents each, so this should be manageable if not perfect.

Also, a quick reminder that the due date was moved forward one class period to give you more time to work on this, so the report is now due on Tuesday, October 31. (Again, this is also the day your three blog posts for October are due as well, so plan ahead accordingly.)

If you've got any questions about the survey at all, ask them ASAP. If you think your questions may be relevant for others as well, post your question here in the Comments thread for this entry by clicking on Comments below.

October 17, 2006

Media and Perceptions

Lately there's been a lot of talk about North Korea, and I thought it was nice to see a positive example of the interaction the media can have with politics and with the edification of the people. Google made available this documentary about the children of North Korea and the extreme famine and poverty in the country. (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6951629397402742053&q=north+korea) What's nice is that they show both the "official" story/ facade that North Korean leaders insist are the truth and then another truth where millions have died.

Another recent example is with ABC news, where Diane Sawyer went to the capital Pyongyang to broadcast live. It will actually be showed in its entirety tonight. Unfortunately if you read Sawyer's blog, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2576728, she was not able to go anywhere without Pyongyang's approval. It still gives you an interesting look at North Korea and their complete control of the people, even those just visiting. In her live broadcast, Sawyer at one point praises the government for their willingness to let her into the country during a time of great "strife," and marvelling at their magnanimity.

October 16, 2006

Youth Becoming More Active

A recent survey by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement has found that, although still less active than adults, civic activity has risen for youth (age 15-25)in America. These rates can be attributed to African American youth, the most active group, becoming more involved in campaigns and voting. In addition to that, many Hispanic students were involved in the immigration street protests earlier in the year. And white youth are involved with the more bourgeois civic engagements such as “walkathons?, while extremely unlikely to protest...anything...ever.

These can be easily attributed to a certain empowerment among people that hasn’t been seen in quite a while. When people feel that civic engagement can make a difference, or that there is actually something worth being engaged over, there is obviously also going to be an upsurge in civic engagement. The fact that many Hispanic people felt that they were coming under attack by the Government and white america motivated a lot of them to get out into the streets, and there were huge walkouts by highschool students.

In addition to that, the war in Iraq, while not a huge motivator for many, has at least increased the opportunity for people to become civically engaged through protest, especially the white college student. For instance, Youth Against War and Racism, a highschool anti-war group, continues to be able to get hundreds, and sometimes thousands of students to walk out of classes in protest of the war Perhaps the current generation of young people, growing up in a post 9-11 world, feel like they need to become more active in order to correct the problems of the apathetic generation before them who allowed themselves to stay silent and ignorant about their country’s foreign policy?

October 15, 2006

Coca-Cola, Globalization, and the U (updated)

You have probably all noticed the overwhelming presence of Coca-Cola on our campus and the debate surrounding it. I am a member of the student group, SUCRE (Students United for Corporate Responsibility and Ethics) and we are very centrally involved in this debate on campus. This issue relates directly to globalization for several reasons. First of all, Coca-cola is a “TNC? like Shaffer refers to them, or trans-national Corporation, and therefore, it is incredibly hard to hold them accountable for their actions. I’ll go over quickly what the allegations are so we can understand better why it is so difficult to prosecute them.

1) Colombia- Nine members of SINALTRAINAL the union that organizes Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia have been murdered by paramilitaries since 1994. Coca-cola’s bottling company, hires paramilitaries to scare people away from joining the union. Coca-cola says that they cannot do anything to stop this, although Coca-Cola does have the majority of voting rights on the bottling company’s board and so if they wanted something to change it would happen. In addition, on all of the letters that union members were forced to sign (with a gun to their heads) the Coca-Cola letter head graced the top of each piece of paper. Clearly stopping these murders is within Coca-Cola’s power.
2) India- Bottling plants have caused the water table to drop as much as 125 feet in some areas. India is a country where access to clean water or water at all, is a serious issue. Coca-Cola bottling companies have repeatedly refused to follow local and state guidelines on how to operate their factories in a way that will cause minimal damage to the environment. In addition, they have distributed toxic waste to farmers as fertilizer, and there have been traces of toxic materials found by both British and Indian laboratories in the soft drinks distributed in India (which aren’t found in the rest of the world) that are seriously harmful to people.
3) Evidence of labor abuses in bottling plants Indonesia and Turkey.

First of all, because these violations of human rights and environmental standards have happened in places besides the U.S. Coca-Cola cannot be tried for these crimes, even though they are American companies. This is a serious problem because in the countries mentioned above, there isn’t a legal system that could effectively hold a fair trial and then force the parties involved to carry out what was decided by the courts. Coca-Cola is a perfect example of a TNC that uses unstable or weak governments to its advantage. An example is in India, where Parliament wanted to take action against Coca-Cola, but the only action within their legal power that they could take was banning Coca-Cola products from the parliament building.

Therefore, because legal action has not proved to be effective, the global community must find another way to hold this corporation accountable for its actions. The University of Minnesota holds the largest contract with Coca-Cola of its kind in the world. If our contract got cut by our administration or the contract was not renewed in 2008, due to the fact that Coca-Cola refuses independent third party investigations of these allegations, it would have huge effects on the company, not monetarily, but in the eye of the public and their reputation is something that is hugely valued by Coca-Cola. If our school took this action along with the many other schools nationally and internationally that have already done so, it may be enough for Coca-Cola to reconsider its actions in these countries. It is important to realize that the actions of this University do have global consequences. Just as divesting from South Africa was one of the first steps toward ending aparthied- ending relations with corporations that conduct buisness unethically is the first step towards worldwide corporate accountability, and social and economic justice.

October 13, 2006

Instant-Runoff Voting in Minneapolis

On October 10th The Star Tribune ran a very interesting story. On Election Day Minneapolis voters will have the opportunity to vote for an experimental trial of a new voting system called Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV). This is a fairly new system for United States and currently only in use in three U.S. cities including San Francisco, Cambridge, Mass., and Burlington, Vt. IRV would eliminate primary elections and have voters rank the order in which they would vote for all the candidates. If there is no first choice vote candidate with more than 50%, the percent of votes the candidates the lowest amount of votes received are then reallocated to other candidates who received the most until there is a majority winner. The idea behind IRV is that second or third choices will help other candidates to win the majority of the vote. So, if Candidate A receives 38%, Candidate B receives 18%, and Candidate C receives 44%, then Candidate B is eliminated and divided between Candidate A and C based on people’s second and third choices.

Supporters argue that IRV will help smaller party candidates contribute in an election as well as encourage people to vote on the issues that are important to them. Supporters also believe that by increasing issue voters they can eliminate people who vote only to vote against a specific candidate, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win. Opponents say IRV is an unnecessary change in a long standing tradition that would only confuse many voters such as senior citizens. They believe this change will discourage senior citizens from voting altogether. They also argue that long-shot candidates’ having an influence on the election is a bad idea. Opponents also argue that it will be very expensive to acquire the technology necessary for IRV. Many proponents for IRV such as Mayor R.T. Ryback, Minneapolis’ DFL party, the Minnesota Green Party, and the majority of the Minneapolis City Council have been lobbying for IRV in Minneapolis for the last year.

It will be interesting to see how the people of Minneapolis vote for the experimental change to Instant-Runoff Voting. Many supporters believe that it could potentially increase voter turnout because people will feel like their vote makes an impact regardless. Although many people believe that a voter should receive only one vote for one candidate this could potentially decrease the amount of small margin wins which leave ½ of voters happy and ½ very dissatisfied. This relates directly to what we were talking about in class because it is a technique to possibly increase voter turnout and participation. If people feel like they can vote for the candidate and issues they really want to see recognized they may be more apt to participate.

October 12, 2006

Commanding Heights

As I mentioned in class, the documentary Commanding Heights is available to watch online at pbs.org. Click on "Storyline," and then go chapter by chapter. (If you choose the "Rich Media" version you get more choices and can choose to watch entire episodes at a time, though I couldn't get it to work properly this morning.)

A look at "The Rise and Fall of Mass Transit"

In the Feagin and Parker article "The Rise and Fall of Mass Transit," the authors argue that the current reliance of Americans on the private automobile is not due primarily to consumer choice or preference, but rather the systematic deconstruction of mass transit infrastructure by the auto-oil-rubber industrial complex. By forming alliance companies to buy up corrupt and mismanaged, though still popular, mass transit systems, neglecting to maintain them, and subsequently replacing them with less efficient buses, these industries were able to dictate trends in American transportation. What struck me as the most interesting part of the article is that this is not a new insight. It was publicly criticized in the media in the 1930s, and even brought a conviction of General Motors on charges of conspiring to destroy electric transportation to advance their business interests, but the punishment was trivial.

So why did Americans sit back and let a system that they preferred be dismantled by corporate interests? Feagin and Parker point towards forceful marketing of the individual automobile combined with successful political lobbying on the part of the auto-oil-rubber industries to secure federal backing for road and highway projects. The post-World War II decrease of of mass transit and simultaneous increase of highway subsidization went hand in hand with the middle-class American trend towards to suburbanization that Putnam highlights. As people spread further from the center city, they had less and less access to mass transit. In turn, it was the poor and ghettoized discussed by Massey who suffered the most, becoming reliant on a now dilapidated system that had a stigma of poverty attached to it. Fortunately, there are some signs of a revival of rail based mass transit. The success and planned growth of light rail in the Twin Cities and the proposed North Star commuter line garners support from civic, environment, and economically minded citizens and politicians. Perhaps this is the is the start of a renewed interest in mass transit that is based on a more egalitarian foundation than the mass transit of the last half century.

October 10, 2006

Professor Goldman and the World Bank's role on globalization.

I actually took a class by Prof. Goldman called Race, Class, and the Politics of Nature, and it was by far the most enjoyable, thought provoking class I've ever taken in my life. The themes of the course were in most part related to human's views of nature and how we use it and portray it in different ways for our own benefit, but also how we do such for political purposes. The course also discussed how globalizations role has affected nature, and how the World Bank and IMF have created impossible debt for country's whose nature gets exploited, and the people in turn become marginalized.

My project for the course was on water privatization, which I learned even more about in today's class (Tues. 10-10) that had occured primarily because countries had such a debt to pay off, they needed to sell assets. Another reason for privatization of public industries in these countries, is their inability to collect payments from impoverished people and provide adequate supply to all of its citizens...many of whom were at one point wealthy businessmen in foreign markets and the richest people of their own country. One point I think that would be important for the class to keep in mind is that the occurrence of World Bank loans to developing countries in South America, happened in nearly every country, leaving the entire continent and its people in a lifetime of debt to U.S. and Particularly western European corporations who were actually the ones who bought the assets of the government and began operating their ex-public utilities. What happened after this occurred was even worse. When the government had runned the water supply, everyone got water. The infrastructure was inefficient and poorly funded due the national debts, but they were making it. When foreign corporations bought them, they were expecting to turn some form of profit because they are a business which sounds more than fair, but the debt of the wealthier businessmen and foreign investors, who were the rich of the country, along with the lower classes who had no money to begin with, there was an impossible situation for the European corporations to collect payments. In turn, they had shut off the water and/or, in many cases, gave them disease ridden and dirty water, causing an even worse situation that the country was previously in. The countries leaders could not complain about the poor job these companies were doing because their end of the bargain, paying off debt, was not fulfilled, and the companies could say that they shouldn't have to operate when they aren't recieving any payment.

To end this blog, I want to say that it is important to think about how often times these situations, particularly with globalization, there is no one specific to blame, and it is important to also pay attention to how poorer nations are often marginalized, as first world countries view them as "irresponsible, incapable of being at the same level as first world countries, and even to blame for their own misfortunes." This is not always, or usually, the case...but to the contrary, it is also not fair to claim that first world countries are evil capitalists exploiting poor in a new age form of global slavery, because attempts have been made to bring about a fair global economy. Anyways, that is a lot of what I got from Professor Goldman's exilirating speeches. The one thing I forgot to add and am doing so now, which I didn't feel related as much to this course, was that privatizing water is something controversial because it is an essential natural resource to all people and it comes from the sky and lakes/rivers, underground, etc. Is it fair to take it from people, bottle it, and turn it into a profit by claiming legal ownership over something like that? Or should it remain a public entity for the people by the people?

Michael Goldman on the World Bank

Michael Goldman, a prof in our department, wrote a book on the world bank - Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization.

Awhile back, he gave an interview, available online for free, with Chicago Public Radio on the book. It's an hour-long interview and is really, really good. Michael's an engaging speaker and has lots of interesting stuff to say - so if you're interested in the subject, listen to the interview here. This would make great blogging material...

Update: I've put an mp3 of the interview in the Students Only section if that's easier for you than the streamed audio.

Update #2: Wow, less than two hours later and we have our first post: Nich's reflections on a course he took with Michael Goldman.

October 5, 2006


Perhaps instead of scrutiny we should regard suburbanites with a bit more compassion. With modern day suburbia, it’s safe, a reassuring glance at a life dreamt of, sought after, but quickly slipping out of reach. For example, if one were to drive through the city of Blaine, where I currently reside, you would immediately be struck by all the quaint little neighborhoods, with primly trimmed lawns and freshly painted siding.

Unfortunately it’s all a façade. According to the Star Tribune the average American is worthless. Literally. Their net worth was computed to an average of -$5,000. So perhaps it could be said that in this race to keep up with the Jonses, they compromise any actual potential for amassing wealth in order to appear to have wealth.

Could this polarize their sentiments, their morals? If it is all about the appearance then would they also find solace in adopting more conservative positions in society? Perhaps just another way to keep up the appearance of the affluent?

October 4, 2006

Crime and Suburban Life

After reading the readings for this week, I turned to the internet to find a story that I could relate to the topic of sprawl and suburban life. Immediately I spotted the article, “City schools often safer than urban ones.? The article was written in light of the recent school shootings that have occurred. The article points out that the shooting in an Amish community in Pennsylvania and another in Wisconsin were both in rural communities. This is interesting because it is the opposite of what many people think of when they picture life in a rural community. In the beginning of Chapter 5 in Wolfe, Wolfe interviews people to see why they decided to move to the suburbs. A common response from people is to escape the crime of urban life. However recent stories in the news such as the school shootings seem to provide proof that this “ideal life? that people associate with suburban life may not be all that real.

This article also made me ponder reasons why suburban life might not be as safe as so many people assume it to be. It’s true that suburbs are far from inner-city crime and tend to segregate people into homogenous neighborhoods based on their race and class. This transition might lead one to think that fewer differences among people in one neighborhood would be linked to less conflict and therefore less crime. If this were the case, then where is all this crime coming from?

I don’t know if there is any truth behind my reasoning you are about to read but Putnam pointed out in Chapter 5 how much time people spent behind the wheel commuting to and from work everyday. He also mentions people spend even more time driving to the mall and running errands to other suburbs than their own. All this driving takes a toll on ones day and there is little time left to spend at home. Well, if I were a robber, I think a suburb would be the perfect target. The houses are often farther from one another compared to those in urban areas, the people obviously have money if they can afford to live in the suburbs in the first place, and last but not least, they’re never home!

To bring home my point, I think Ronald Stephens, executive director of the California-based National School Safety Center, pretty much sums it up when he said, “This is a reminder that no place, person or school system is immune from violence.?

I found this article on MSNBC's website.

October 3, 2006

Survey Draft

As I mentioned in class, the draft of our survey is up: http://survey.cla.umn.edu/polisoc. Login with the same name and pw as for the "Student's Only" section of the site. Take a quick run through the survey - in particular, see if there are any questions you'd like to add. If so, let me know on Thursday. I'll be launching the real version of the survey over the weekend though, so don't procrastinate if you'd like to have some influence on the final product.

Mobility and Sprawl

I found this chapter interesting and related it to myself growing up. I grew up in a small town in northern MN. I guess at the time I didn't realize how much more civic people actually were. Everyone new everyone else. People attended city council regularly and when local elections came around everyone new the canidates. As, for shopping that Putnam talks about is interesting as well. Linving in a small town meant that we would have travel an hour to go to the mall. I remember that my family would make a saturday out of it and go shopping about once a month or every two weeks. I Also remember having family friends as well car pooling and coordinating so that we all could go together with minimal cars. To fast forward a bit, I have lived in MPLS for about 5 or 6 years now. I have noticed the change that Putnam talks about here as well. I drive all the time going shopping in Bloomington or Roseville while living in MPLS. I don't know my nieghbors here or even considered attending any neighborhood meetings much less where to even go for something like that. The last paragraph on page 211 of his book is a good example of what I am talking about.

Basically all of Putnam's arguements on mobility and sprawl are hard to argue against. I believe I am one of those stats that he talks about in which growing up in a small town yielded higher civic participation and city people having less. One question I have about this chapter, is this transformation inevitable? Is there or was there a way to stop this trend of suburbanization? I think Putnam brings up good points but he really doesn't give any solutions. He also relies heavily on the automobile for an excuse. I think the suburb issue is bigger than just the car taking up time. You have to take in the account that times are changing where we are moving at a faster rate where time is money and our genertion is looking out for Mr. Number 1 which is ourselves. Technology and convience I think is a larger culprit then the car or homogeneity of suburbs. My final question then is what is going to be the next trend? We have moved from the country to the city and from the city to the suburb. Is there any more room for mobility and sprawl?

A New Awards Show

This thursday the 15th annual years best American commercial awards will be given out and recieved by companies and the advertising brains behind the ads. Upon reading this in Monday's Star Tribune I was shoked not only that they actually give awards and hold ceremonies for ads, but also that this is the 15th year of their decade and a half run. My shock soon turned to disgust. I wonder if the large companies that can afford expensive ads compete with one another, or if a local or state commercial gets nominated once in a while. If it is the "superbowl" style mini movies, I could only imagine that there is a monopoly of about three different companies that would hold and win titles every year, beer/liqour companies, technology/computer companies, and network "teasers". As long as these big corporations are featured, does that mean that they also sponsor an event like this, selling their beer, showing new models of their new product, even maybe showing their next commercial coming out as a prize to their loyal fans?
"Ten or 15 years ago, 'entertaining' was a dirty word to use about comercials" says Matt Miller, "It was about sales. Now, however, you see huge levels of entertainment value in ads because the viewer has so many choices. You need to do something to keep them from changing channels."
Matt!!!!! What the hell is wrong with you, do you walk around wearing a shirt or holding a huge sign saying "yup, I love propaganda". If the commercials today arent about selling a product, there wouldnt be any commercials, of course they are about sales. The bigger the slush fund for a commercial, the hope is for a bigger slush fund for the upper managers of the company. I also think it is pretty crazy that people such as Miller and others like the organizers of this event, and of course the people who will be wasting their thrursday night attending this event, are actually so brain controlled that they get entrertainment from watching a commercial. I like cars but I dont go watch car salesman sell them. The fact that our society has fallen to the level where ads are entertaining, and perhaps even more entertaining than the program they are heavily shoved into.

Reviewing the Positive aspects of the internet

After class on Thursday I returned to my apartment and went about my daily routine. I made myself some coffee, checked my email, and then preceded to read the New York Times. Considering that I am a poor college student, the only way that I have access to the New York Times, or any paper for that matter, is through the internet. I could say that I would prescribe to a newspaper, but I know that I wouldn’t go through with it probably out of fear of having anymore bills to pay off and maybe in part due to sheer laziness. But, the internet is a part of my everyday life. I spend a large chunk of my free time devoted to updating myself on the most current news. It has become a hobby of mine, something I don’t even think about anymore. But, if I didn’t have access to the internet, I strongly believe that I would not be as well educated or as involved in current issues in our society as I am today. This got me thinking back to our discussion that we had in class regarding the pros and cons of the internet and whether it is good for civic participation or not. While I completely understand the negative aspects of the internet, I feel that there are so many positive points that we tend to overlook, including Putnam.

Going back to my nice little adventure on the New York Times website, I was noticing all of the links that you can click on when reading the newspaper. These included audio clips, related articles, past articles on the same issue, and so many more; something you could not get when reading the regular newspaper. In addition, another website I frequently visit is the national public radio website. One can listen and re-listen to issues that have been discussed over periods of several months. These include top news stories, book reviews, music reviews, personal opinions, and so much more. I don’t feel the need to go on much longer about all of the added features that online websites provide because I’m sure we are all well aware. It is just interesting to look at and then go back to reading Putnam and all of his criticism on the media and the internet. While I understand his argument, I do feel that there are a lot of positive aspects that play a large role in contributing to civic involvement that he his failing to note.

Working Enviornment

As I read Chapter 5 (“Connections in the Workplace?) in Putnam’s Bowling Alone, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own work environment I work full time for Hennepin County in the Economic Assistance Department specifically working with the elderly and disabled population. Five years ago when I started the Department restructured. In the past a financial worker would have had an individual client case load of about 300 cases. Now ten financial workers are assigned to a team with a caseload size of about 3500 cases. The workers work together to determine how to manage the work.

In my experience my work place environment has contributed to my social capital. As Putnam states “….an added benefit of workplace-based connections is that the workplace is much more diverse, racially and even politically, than most other social settings? (87). Everyday I work side by side with ten different people from all walks of life in addition to the clients I serve. Even if no personal relationship fostered from these interactions I still have learned the skills necessary to communicate and relate to a variety of people that would be difficult to learn outside this environment.

Being that I work in social services there isn’t as great of a variety of political views amongst my co-workers. I am not at all politically active and many of my co-workers are. My daily interactions and conversations with them regarding current political issues and candidates have encouraged me to become more educated and aware of current issues as many affect my job or clients directly.

I am involved in the Union and several other committees that have further expanded my informal work connections. My involvement alone has allowed to be considered for jobs that with my education alone I would not normally be considered before. It’s not really about what you know but about who you know as Putnam talked in an earlier chapter.

Putnam’s basic argument is that overall places of employment have fostered changes to encourage a more social connectedness but this has not increased social capital. I don’t necessarily disagree with Putnam but I think in my experience my employment does contribute to my social capital as a domino effect. How many times have you gone to a restaurant, an event or movie at the recommendation of a co-worker? The skills learned in the workplace are carried out in my more personal relationships and have encouraged me to interact with people I normally may have not. I do have a few personal relationships with my co-workers that are continued outside the workplace but I think my less personal interactions with co-workers are just as important.

Everyone’s workplace experience is different. You get out of it what you contribute to it. Many of my co-workers do not discuss personal items at work or chose not to be involved in any committees or workgroups. I feel this inhibits the growth of social capital. As Putnam says there needs to be greater security for free speech and privacy and a “better integration between our work lives and our community and social lives? (92,91)

Cycling's Dirty Secret

The professional cycling world is facing an epidemic of drug use. Tainted by positive doping control tests of some of the sports biggest stars, and the accusations of many more, the international community seems gun-shy of taking any real action. In early 2004, Adam Bergman, a local Minnesota racer who had just broken onto the professional scene with a handful of national results tested positive for the use of the banned blood booster r-EPO. While this in itself is nothing particularly surprising to an increasingly jaded community of cyclists, the resulting two year suspension being handed down to a local racer, who many of us had competed with, struck close to home. The way Bergman handled the situation was anything from standard though. Instead of denying the charges, challenging the veracity of the tests, and then simply going into a self-imposed exile, he owned up. In an open letter, Bergman admitted using r-EPO, apologized for it, and took credit for the harm he had done to sport, his team, his sponsors, and everyone else involved.

The cycling world presents an organized group, presented with a specific problem, that seems to both defy and blend the categories address by Nina Eliasoph in "Close To Home." While there is plenty of lip service paid to the need to take a truly objective look at the state of the sport and crack down on doping, no real action ever comes of it. At this point, there is no real debate over the prescience of the issue, with agreement from local recreational riders to the top level of the UCI, cycling's international governing body, nor is there debate over the need to fix it. Yet nothing changes. Go to most any race, or attend any club ride and you're likely to hear about how "dirty" professional cycling has becoming, but this is always said with a sense of removal. Bergman's case brought the issue to our doorstep, but Minnesota's local race scene still envisions it as a problem isolated in the upper echelons of the sport. While the directors of the highest level pro teams need to worry about marring their reputation and loosing sponsorships if their riders are implicated, our local clubs have none of those worries, but have every opportunity to instill in up and coming riders the importance of racing without using banned substances. The local cycling community is a group of sharp tongued cynics, but act to remove themselves like Eliasoph's volunteers by invoking powerlessness as an excuse. What the Bergman case has shown though is that local cycling communities have the potential to be activists, taking firm and public stances about the issue and its causes, and then moving in bold steps to keep the sport clean from the lowest levels on up. And to this point, Bergman, one of the biggest losers in the ongoing battle with drugs in cycling, is the only one taking a truly proactive stance.

Bergman's Letter:
Related Star. Trib. Article:
USADA Press Release:

A Strange Game

This weekend I did something unusual. I played frisbee with a group of strangers. Let me qualify that: the group of friends I was with played frisbee with a group of strangers. The situation was simple enough. A collection of six of us who all live together and know one another were playing a game of ultimate. After a little while, two or three people approached us and asked to play. We sized up the situation, and began redividing the teams. At this point, the new-comers proposed bringing the rest of their friends over, and playing as a team against us. By now we were a bit apprehensive, but agreed to the idea. And it went off without a hitch. For the next half hour, we ran back and forth across a park simultaneously competing with and congratulating people we did not know. When the game broke up, there was a congenial exchange of thanks and hand shakes.

Putnam may rightly label us as a generation with depleted social capital, but to propose that we are inherently untrusting of one another is a stretch. The park across the street from where we live is a scant two blocks from the scenes of two of the three random beatings that occurred only a few weeks ago. But this weekend, two groups utterly unfamiliar with one another came together and defied Putnam's accusations of declining social trust. That said, I must concede that if I meet anyone I played against while walking down the street, I wouldn't recognize them. I don't count them as my friends, or even acquaintances, and I certainly wouldn't rely on any for favors or profitable connections. Regardless, these sorts of experiences can foster a sense of community pride and faith in others even in the absence of organized group structures. It seems that in an increasingly mobil society, Putnam fails to accurately distinguish between social capital and community. I do not feel that there is any social capital existing between myself and the people we played with that night, but I did leave the game with a stronger sense of community and belonging.

A Strange Game

This weekend I did something unusual. I played frisbee with a group of strangers. Let me qualify that: the group of friends I was with played frisbee with a group of strangers. The situation was simple enough. A collection of six of us who all live together and know one another were playing a game of ultimate. After a little while, two or three people approached us and asked to play. We sized up the situation, and began redividing the teams. At this point, the new-comers proposed bringing the rest of their friends over, and playing as a team against us. By now we were a bit apprehensive, but agreed to the idea. And it went off without a hitch. For the next half hour, we ran back and forth across a park simultaneously competing with and congratulating people we did not know. When the game broke up, there was a congenial exchange of thanks and hand shakes.

Putnam may rightly label us as a generation with depleted social capital, but to propose that we are inherently untrusting of one another is a stretch. The park across the street from where we live is a scant two blocks from the scenes of two of the three random beatings that occurred only a few weeks ago. But this weekend, two groups utterly unfamiliar with one another came together and defied Putnam's accusations of declining social trust. That said, I must concede that if I meet anyone I played against while walking down the street, I wouldn't recognize them. I don't count them as my friends, or even acquaintances, and I certainly wouldn't rely on any for favors or profitable connections. Regardless, these sorts of experiences can foster a sense of community pride and faith in others even in the absence of organized group structures. It seems that in an increasingly mobil society, Putnam fails to accurately distinguish between social capital and community. I do not feel that there is any social capital existing between myself and the people we played with that night, but I did leave the game with a stronger sense of community and belonging.

When social capital goes bad

Today I was listening to NPR on my way home and they had a segment about Florida Congressmen Mark Foley. It had recently been discovered that he had been having sexually explicit instant messaging chats with teenage pages that worked in the house of representatives. Foley is part of the republican party and allegedly many of the high-ranking republican officials have known about the exchanges for a year. Foley resigned from his position as congressman on Sept. 29 and the republicans that are thought to have known about this are being urged by a number of other politicians to follow suit.
To me this demonstrates social capital working in a negative way, people working together against a certain party, or if not directly against it, not in a preventative or protective way against a negative force. Although this goes against what Putnam states, if the party officials besides Foley himself knew of these conversations, they were using their social capital to keep it “under wraps? so as not to lose one of their own party and put themselves at a disadvantage, regardless of the danger they may be allowing towards children working for them.
After resigning from his position, Foley also checked himself into a rehab facility for alcoholism. Although this a very serious and sad disease, could this be a ploy that Foley is using to prey on the social capital that comes from rehab groups such as AA, etc.? Unfortunate as that may be, social capital that stems from these groups is one of the more “popular? forms of social capital in recent years, and this could simply be a plan to pray on the more sympathetic bonds formed from these groups.

October 2, 2006

How might school shootings be affecting political and civic involvement?

I’ve been thinking about all of the school shootings we’ve been having around the country in the past two weeks and it made me wonder what kind of affect these shootings have on civic and political involvement. After the first couple of shootings, the country seemed to be rather on edge. I have a friend who is student teaching this semester and I talked to her last week about the school shootings and she said it makes her kind of nervous, as a teacher, when she’s at school. They have lock-down drills to “prepare? for that kind of situation but if it were ever to happen, it’s hard to say what would go on. If school teachers are nervous, it’s no wonder parents are so concerned.

This made me think of Putnam because school shootings likely make parents uneasy about putting their children in schools. Perhaps it’s leading more people to home school their kids. Home-schooling, depending on how and where it’s done, can restrict children’s chances to get to know and socialize with other kids. This leads to decreased civic involvement for both parents and kids. Also, some parents might think that the government should be doing more to prevent school shootings. They may not trust the school or the government to protect their kids. This could lead parents to be less involved politically because they are so frustrated with the system. However, it could also have the opposite effect. It could promote political involvement because people want to get involved and find a way to make schools safer.

Modern Suburbanization

In Queens, According to an article written on Foxnews.com, African Americans are making more money than whites. This takes into account all of the immigrants, whom Wolf finds to make even more money than natives of the states. There has always been a major gap in the incomes of white Americans and African Americans, until recently when Foxnews.com did an investigation into the matter at hand and found that Queens is the only large country in the nation that is that way with the difference in income. In Manhattan, the median income of whites is much higher than that of other minorities. Professor Edward Wolff, of New York University, said the wealthiest whites may have left the city for the suburbs, altering the income balance.

I think this example relates well to the suburbia chapter in “One Nation After All,? because it contradicts what Alan Wolfe says throughout. According to Alan Wolfe in “One Nation After All, 'American housing patterns, notoriously color-conscious in the past, remain color-conscious in the present…'? Alan also states that African-Americans are more accustomed to “ghetto conditions,? which would make them want to move into the suburbs. He does go a bit against what he states there and says that many whom want to move into suburbs may choose to stay because of family and businesses. A main reason Wolfe points out, which I think is interesting is that fact that many African Americans fail to move to suburbs because of racism. I think Alan fails to include other minorities other than African Americans. He says very few things about Asian Americans, or Hispanic Americans. How do they compare to Whites or African Americans? I think Wolfe makes a good case, but he should add other minorities into his argument about suburbia.

White Privilege and Social Capital

Few weeks ago, I was listening to NPR on my way to school, when I heard about this survey the University of Minnesota Sociology department has done. The study looks at how whites perceive their racial identity, especially when it comes to the privileges they receive just for being white. An article titled, "The Meaning of White", which appeared in Time magazine also talks about this survey and how it examines the white-race identity and implications for other races, such as blacks, in this country.
So, what does it mean to be white? Does being white mean being fed with a silver spoon? Having an advantage in others’ disadvantages? Widening the inequality gab between whites and other non-white races? These questions address some of the concepts covered in the survey. “University of Minnesota sociologists shows that whites in the U.S. are far more conscious of being white--and the privileges it brings--than was believed,? according to the article. Furthermore, the study shows that black people would blame individual factors, for instance, not having a job, rather than blaming white privilege for being disadvantaged.

In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible, Knapsack,? Peggy McIntosh writes, “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege…I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.? One of the privileges she says she has because she’s white:
“I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.? Reading the Time article, listening to NPR about the survey done here at the University, and reading McIntosh’s analysis, I thought about the ways in which Putman leaves out the significance of racial identity in the American social and political arenas. Although he speaks about the Civil Rights movement and how it contributed to the increase of social capital in this country, Putman does not really speak of race in terms of its importance and implications for social capital (unless he writes about it in latter chapters). What role does race play in the decrease of social capital? Is race a determining factor in social capital, or is it on the periphery, and does not really matter? How does race compare to other determining factors that Putman writes about, such as economical status? Being a country that is built on racial disparity, I think Putman’s analysis of American social capital should include the significance/insignificance of race in this country. It would be very interesting if Putman provided us with some insight into the ways in which race plays a role in America’s social capital.

But when have you ever expected good things from sticking a sock down your throat?

How much do we as democratic free people value our right to free speech? Now when I speak of free speech, I do not refer to the right of simple discourse as some sustain, I of course mean the right to outwardly voice opinions that are harsh and at times offensive. This is why a bill of rights was included in our constitution. Other peoples around the world have seen the importance of such freedoms and have voiced their strong support through legislations and practice of such speech. This steadfast belief however is slowly passing away in our world. Just last week a German opera house closed its doors to the showing of Mozart's "Idomeneo" due to the depiction of specific religious figures heads, including the head of the prophet Mohammed. The cancellation was caused by police warnings that the performances might incite insight uproar in Muslim communities around the globe. To put it more directly, the fear of potential violence caused German officials to limit the free artistic speech of a director for whom such freedoms are established.

So much fear has been driven into the democratic world from the advent of extremist terrorism that we fail to see the importance of holding strong to our ethical grounds. We believe in free speech, no-mater how heinous, and seeding this value to extremists who obtain our sway from violence is in no way conducive of democratic progress. This failing in our resolve may be linked to an overall disassociation from one another as Americans, or even as democratic peoples. We bite our tongue to save ourselves from tribulation, but fail to see the stagnation that results in our overall social connectivity. For when speech is tempered it becomes less meaningful, and who is worth listening to that has nothing of substance to say. Putnam may not have envisioned such, but I know I care less about what someone says when they are simply trying to appease my attentions. If we truly intend to fight this war on terror, we must fight this war in how we live as democratic free people, not how we convert the non-democratic. We must find ourselves in our values, and hold on to them dearly because the only way to keep them is to demonstrate to those who try to take them that we will never give them up.

Foreclosures in Twin Cities and racial implications

I read an article from the www.pioneerplanet.com entitled “These homes were lost . . . and that’s just the beginning.? from 09/24/06.

The article talks about the increased number of foreclosed houses in the Twin Cities area and that most of those houses are showing up in predominately minority neighborhoods. The concern is that home ownership is already low in these areas and it’s escalating at a rapid pace.
They say that racial minority groups are more likely to get “subprime? mortgages which seem like a great deal to begin with but end up being more expensive and risky for borrowers in the end. Two University of Minnesota studies examined this:

Professor Jeff Crump “estimated that African-Americans in the Twin Cities are 34 percent more likely to receive subprime mortgages than whites, and Latinos are 13 percent more likely.?
Eric Myott with the Institute on Race and Poverty, “concluded that African-Americans in the Twin Cities were 164 percent more likely than whites to get a subprime loan and that people of color in general were 78 percent more likely.?

These examples relate really well to our readings for this week. As Putnam points out homeowners seem to have more social capital because they are in a place for a longer period of time. It could also be argued that they have more of a vested interest in their community and therefore higher social involvement. He also says that the more highly segregated an area the less social capital there is. If families of color are less likely to own homes in their neighborhoods, and less families appear to be able to maintain home ownership then there will be less social capital in areas where, it could be argued, social capital is most desperately needed.

Damage Control

Have you read about the G.O.P represntative for Florida? It seems that Sen.. Foley has committed a very big mistake by having his instant messages screened and made public somehow. It reports that he is having an affair with a teeneager, though it says nothing about her actual age. Still, I think it's just funny after reports from his lawyer and his constituants about his excessive depression or his alcohol abuse, the media still goes for the jugular. I wonder if there is going to be anything followed up if he wins the election. Most political stories go on for about a month at absolute most because of the ability for damage control by his peers. The media trying to get at him is kind of similar to the baseball steroids in the fact that they can create any rumors and they'd report on them. It's still necessary to look into this by all means; however, i just think it's weird how being in the public eye makes you so vulnerable to criticism that you must be perfect otherwise they'll exploit Idiosyncrasies, no matter how large or small.

Women Taking Breaks From Work

An article on Abcnews.com wrote about how these days more and more women are taking time off work or quitting to be with their children. Many of these professional women have hectic scheldules and don't feel the connection that they're supposed to have with their children. One women says:

"I was always dealing with things, and I started to realize, I'm not really listening to my kids. I'm not really present with them."

This has been an occurring trend where almost half don't return and when they do, they don't find better jobs. To solve this problem many companies have come up with programs where they can take an extended leave without having to put a halt in their career. They can come back to the company after they are ready. They are also kept up to date with what is going on at the company and are invited to the parties.

This is basically a really great thing where women can have a sense of security in the workforce. This will help lift off the burden of having to leave work forever and having to start fresh if they were to come back to the workforce. By being able to stay with the kids, these women will have more time to be involved in the community. As Putnam points out, full-time homemakers attend more club meetings then their working full-time counterparts. Another important point with these new programs is that these women are not loosing their connections and networking to the outside world. Their social capital will more or likely remain the same or minimal to what they already have because they are informed about what's going on at the company and are invited to social gatherings & events.

Amish girls got killed in school

On October 2, 2006 a gunman went into an Amish School and help students and teachers hostage. He released 16 males, pregnant teacher, and adult. He then executed three Amish girls and seriously injured 6 other people. It seem like he aimed at young girls for his target. This happen in Amish community in Pennsylvania and their religion was Christian. The gunman has no criminal background and has a family of his own. It is speculate that he did it for revenge. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/02/us/03amishcnd.html?ref=us
A year ago I pass through this town so it came as a shock to me. The town was a quite place to live in. The Amish community represent in anti social capital. They only associate with people from own people. They don’t like strangers. They are very involve in Christian believes and according to Putman this would increase their civic participation. The Amish community does not believe in technology so they would not even use a car or internet. The media does not influence and according to Putman also increase their civic participation. The Amish people likes to help other people within their community not outsider. The Amish community is very isolated, what would make this gunman hold a grudge against them? He is not part of the Amish community.

Religion and Civic Participation

A critique of Putnam's work ofen revolves around his failure to compare the findings he concluded to in comparison to oother countries. As I read Bowling Alone, I began to criticize his findings through the scope of experience studying abroad in another country. In the chapter of Bowling Alone dedicated to religion, Putnam draws connections between church attendence and civic participation. Putnam suggests that in America, when church attendence increases, civic partificpation decreases. I am suggesting that the connection between church identification and civic participation relates to the degree to which religion is a factor in discriminating against the rights that should be provided for by a republican government. In order to show that the connotations of religion matter in determining civic participation, I will draw on my experiences studying abroad in the Republic of Ireland and a week long trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland.
First, religion in the Republic of Ireland is inherently different from the United States or Northern Ireland because the population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In contrast Belfast, Northern Ireland has a roughly equal number of Catholic and Protestant residents. Throughout the Troubles, a sixty yesr long civil war over the rights of Catholics in Northern Ireland, churches were a unifying force for either Catholic or Protestant citizens in Northern Ireland. Much like the civil rights movements of the 1960's, these churches severed as an institution to organize citizens and create a platform on which they could fight for their cause. Today, leaders of prominent political parties strongly identify with their church when running for office and when voting on issues or creating policy. This is largely due to the degree to which religion is part of your identity. Citizens in Northern Ireland identify themeselves as Catholic or Portestant, these identifications are a strong determining factor on the way they are treated.
On the contrary, churches in the Republic of Ireland do not serve the same function as in Northern Ireland. Although churches are a cornerstone of both small villages and big cities, churches tend to offer religious instruction and social networking instead of political participation. Although there is disagreement among citizens in the Republic of Ireland, none of it steams from a difference in religion because Catholicism is an overwhelming majority. A citizen in the Repubic of Ireland does not vote on an issue because of Catholicism, nor are they discriminated against because of Catholicism. However, church attendance in the Republic of Ireland is quite high, it was in my experience that far more people went to church then my experiences in America. Additionally, civic participation by way of voting was an impressive percentage.
My response to Putnam's suggestion that civic participation and church attendence enjoy a casual relationship is that they enjoy a coorelation rather then a causation. In Northern Ireland, church attendence causes civic participation because politics inherently steams from religion. In the Republic of Ireland, church attendence causes religious teachings and social networks but not politics because a cleavage exists between politics and religion. In conclusion, religious participation can lead to civic participation when religion and civics are bound by policy.

Social Capital Inc.

I found a web site where their whole mission objective is to reunite and strengthen social capital throughout our nation's cities. The company's name is Social Capital Inc. and it is a internet based program that aims to connect neighbors through an intensive e-mail based program and essentially a billboard for social groups to post upcoming events that allow people to stay active in the community based on individual interests. They draw much of their data and facts from Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone and are also working directly with Robert Putnam to find other various ways to connect people. One of their biggest programs is Engaging the Youth where programs are set up to teach children to become actively involved at an earlier age in both civic programs and politics.

The Social Capital Inc. program is just one of many programs that is actively attempting to reestablish a sense of civic engagement. I feel that their whole idea is very necessary for society and people will be willing to get involved because they are approached on a platform (internet) that they use for multiple hours a day. E-mail is the next generation and anyway that you can get out and reach a multitude of people at the same time will invoke many people to become involved. One of their tools I think is really interesting is a electronic messageboard where people can post upcoming events but also a means for people to become connected for help. One of their services has allowed for elderly folk find help shoveling driveways and often times the help comes from their neighbors they live next door to. I find it hilarious that people come together through the internet to help one another and get to know each other yet they live next door to each other! Putnam described situations such as this in Bowling Alone when he alludes to people not getting to know their neighbors anymore and becoming more reclusive to their immediate family and not sharing social ties to those around them. The SCI program is a wonderful idea but I am also skeptical of some of its intentions. The program I mentioned earlier about teaching kids to become more socially and politically active is both beneficial and harmful at the same time. I think that we need to open childrens minds to staying connected socially but I think that instilling politics into an adolescence mind is a very scary tool. Politics are dirty and corrupt in many aspects and I feel it is not right to object a child to such theoretical and engaging concepts. However, this only happens if this program falls into the hands of the wrong people and I believe that the SCI is not one of those organizations. It is important for people to stay socially and politically active otherwise we could potentially lose civic freedoms or the government may become more than what it's built for.


Women In Combat and Media Coverage

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq one recurrent theme in the media has been the issue of female soldiers placed in combat situations. The military's official stance is that females are not allowed in a capacity that would place them in direct combat with the enemy, and they are barred from certain specialties within the military that would potentially expose them (i.e. infantry, artillery, armor, special forces, etc.) to hostilities. The reality of the situation is somewhat murkier. In Iraq, the lines between combat roles and non-combat roles are blurred, and there are theoretically no front lines, for every area affords the danger of an insurgent attack. Women have been placed in situations and occupations that were traditionally non-combat roles such as truck drivers and military police. In Iraq, however, these specialties are some of the most dangerous and highest casulty producing.

The media has been quick to report on the dynamic shift of the role of women in the military; the capture of PFC Jessica Lynch during the invasion of Iraq, and her subsequent liberation by Special Forces garnered spectacular media coverage- not only as the capture of a U.S. soldier, but a female soldier. This new phenomenom represented a fundamental change in the way Americans viewed the military at war. Images of young American men being sent off to fight the nation's wars in distant countries have long been ingrained in the minds of the public. The pictures and videos that accompany the descent into combat, and the ensuing casulties have always been accepted (not without tragic recourse) as something that the men of our country were assigned to do.
These new reports of women being exposed to combat, and being killed and wounded alongside their male counterparts have posed a new dillemma in the minds of many, and begs the question of whether or not Americans are ready to accept images of their daughters, as well as their sons, coming home in a flag-draped casket.

I believe that it is a question worth asking of whether or not the waning support for the war is due, in any small part to this unprecedented (although women were also involved in combat operations during Desert Storm, it was not nearly to this degree) occurrence of daughters, mothers, and sisters being killed in combat. It would seem that this issue resonates with the public as worthy of attention. The number of females killed in Iraq is disproportionately
small in comparison to the amount of coverage it has received (63 females killed in Iraq out of 2,720 total-2.13 %). In truth, the majority of females in Iraq serve in occupations and statuses where they are in much "safer" position. This fact only serves to illuminate my point. The changing position of women in the military and their place in combat reflects a much larger shift in the role of females in U.S. society that has been occurring for decades now. My question is, whether or not Americans, female and male alike, are accepting of these new roles, and if so, to what degree? It would seem plausible that we may have reached a threshold at which people begin to feel uncomfortable crossing, that they are not quite willing to see their daughters be buried alongside their sons.

Update October 5th 2006
I came across this article today discussing the same topic I discussed in my blog, it provides more insight into the issue- Army News Article

Video games have 'role in school'

The article I read was from the BBC and it talked about how video games may be able to be used as a learning tool if they used appropriately. Current evidence reports that video games has an influence on aggression and may lead to laziness. In relation to Putnam, videogames lie in the medium of media and can contribute to low social interaction and unwillingness to go out. This made me think about if we should look more closely at the content of the media. Putnam says that even though some people may watch the news in comparison to something non-news people still are not active as they used to be. But than again you have to look at what is on the news. More often than not, news mainly wish to get the ratings with the most hyped stories. Perhaps if the news was less hyped and more informative people would be more likely to get out and do something. If you applied the same basic principle to video games, maybe children will be more likely to get and do something as well as learn. I think that one of the faults with Putnam and his argument of media is that is focuses most of his attention to the negative aspects of the media and doesn’t delve too much into it’s constructive purpose.

Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5398230.stm

Cycling's Dirty Secret

The professional cycling world is facing an epidemic of drug use. Tainted by positive doping control tests of some of the sports biggest stars, and the accusations of many more, the international community seems gun-shy of taking any real action. In early 2004, Adam Bergman, a local Minnesota racer who had just broken onto the professional scene with a handful of national results tested positive for the use of the banned blood booster r-EPO. While this in itself is nothing particularly surprising to an increasingly jaded community of cyclists, the resulting two year suspension being handed down to a local racer, who many of us had competed with, struck close to home. The way Bergman handled the situation was anything from standard though. Instead of denying the charges, challenging the veracity of the tests, and then simply going into a self-imposed exile, he owned up. In an open letter, Bergman admitted using r-EPO, apologized for it, and took credit for the harm he had done to sport, his team, his sponsors, and everyone else involved.

The cycling world presents an organized group, presented with a specific problem, that seems to both defy and blend the categories address by Nina Eliasoph in "Close To Home." While there is plenty of lip service paid to the need to take a truly objective look at the state of the sport and crack down on doping, no real action ever comes of it. At this point, there is no real debate over the prescience of the issue, with agreement from local recreational riders to the top level of the UCI, cycling's international governing body, nor is there debate over the need to fix it. Yet nothing changes. Go to most any race, or attend any club ride and you're likely to hear about how "dirty" professional cycling has becoming, but this is always said with a sense of removal. Bergman's case brought the issue to our doorstep, but Minnesota's local race scene still envisions it as a problem isolated in the upper echelons of the sport. While the directors of the highest level pro teams need to worry about marring their reputation and loosing sponsorships if their riders are implicated, our local clubs have none of those worries, but have every opportunity to instill in up and coming riders the importance of racing without using banned substances. The local cycling community is a group of sharp tongued cynics, but act to remove themselves like Eliasoph's volunteers by invoking powerlessness as an excuse. What the Bergman case has shown though is that local cycling communities have the potential to be activists, taking firm and public stances about the issue and its causes, and then moving in bold steps to keep the sport clean from the lowest levels on up. And to this point, Bergman, one of the biggest losers in the ongoing battle with drugs in cycling, is the only one taking a truly proactive stance.

Bergman's Letter:
Related Star. Trib. Article:
USADA Press Release:
Bergman's Letter:
Related Star. Trib. Article:
USADA Press Release: