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November 30, 2006

“Free Riders�

In class we looked at the “prisoner’s Dilemma�- where two suspects are arrested, the police don’t have enough evidence to convict and the two suspects are better off defecting no matter what the other prisoner does. In my social theory class we talked about sociologist such as Peter Blau and other exchange theorist who point out that individual are agents, they seek pleasure, profit or prestige, and they might be a free rider-trying to get their own way-. Through exchange, we learn what works and what doesn’t, interaction is rational, we might be looking out for our own interest and pleasure.

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Taylor Hicks Receives More Votes Than Any President in History?

I recently came across an article that intrigued me greatly. The past winner of "American Idol" Taylor Hicks receieved more votes than any other President in history. Hicks receieved over 63 million votes on his way to becoming America's next "Idol". While Presidential incumbent George W. Bush received a little over 62 million votes and runner-up candidate John Kerry received a dismal (compared to the powerhouse Hicks) a little over 59 million votes. However, people my see this data and think that American's did not show up at the polls but on the contrary they showed up in record numbers. Not since 1968 has a Presidential election receieved a greater voter turnout than the 2004 Presidential election. Approximately 61% of eligible voters turned out to cast their vote for their Presidential nominee.

Although, American's turned out in droves (if you consider a little over half of the eligible voters a "drove") to vote for their respective candidate with the hopes that their vote would make a difference, it would appear that American's are more interested in pop-culture and television than they are politics and the future of their nation. I find it alarming that people are more interested in a glorified karaoke singer than they are the leader of the free world. It is alarming to me and it should be to others that our society is so heavily complacent on celebrities and reality television when there are so many pressing issues the U.S. and its people face today. If you voted for Taylor Hicks or the runner-up in "American Idol" but you did not show up for the Presidential election in 2004 you should not be able to critique the government or the war in Iraq and how you wish things were different. I hope that people realize that when celebrities are more commonly known and are interested in more so than the President they will realize that something is wrong and become actively involved in changing this backwards cycle.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/05/american_idol_thoughts.html

A new religious movement

In Time magazine’s November 20th issue is an interesting article about the changing of religion in today’s society. The article, “Today’s Nun Has A Veil – And A Blog� is about today’s Christian youth turning to the church, not only to train for the convent, but to learn about other vocations as well.
“Over the past five years, Roman Catholic communities around the country have experienced a curios phenomenon: more women, most in their 20s and 30s, are trying on that veil�.

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Your Brain Agrees With You

In a recent article by Slate.com's Daniel Engber, the author addresses research into the way the brain works in cases of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. The research was particularly focused on the case of devout Christians, who believe that God takes control of their minds and speaks through them. MRI images of the brains of believers were compared in two cases: first when they were singing gospel songs, and again when they were claiming to be in a state of glossolalia. The results of the MRI when the subjects were in a self-described state of glossolalia showed that there was a decrease in activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is active when a person is doing something on purpose. While this shows that brain activity matches with the subjective feelings of the subjects and their perceived lack of control, it would be more interesting if there was no correlation. If a person perceives their experience to be one way, should we really be surprised that the brain agrees with this, as it is, of course, the base of perception and thinking?

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November 24, 2006

The Last Suffrage Movement?

On Election Day 2006, Jesse L. Hunter of Eden Prarie, age 17, went to his polling place, showed his ID, and passed through and was allowed to vote, believing that he was informed enough to cast a ballot, regardless of his age. For taking part in this action, however illegal it was, he took a step that about half of Americans are typically unwilling to, taking a few minutes out of his day to make his voice heard in how his government should be run. For this action, he faces up to a year in jail.

Voting age is often a controversial subject. Up until only a few decades ago, the voting age in American was 21. Because of social justice movements, mostly the anti-Vietnam War movement, the voting age was lowered to 18, with the reasoning that if a person is asked to die for his country, they should also be allowed to vote for or against those asking them to die. This argument could also be made for today’s young people. Even though you still have to be 18 to fight in a war, military recruiters target children younger than that in high schools, and many future soldiers make commitments to the military before they turn 18. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that if you trust somebody to be informed and educated enough to commit their life to the military, you should also trust them to have some kind of say in their government.

In addition to that, there are countries that have voting ages lower than 18, some of which have the clause that they must be employed to vote under 18.

Another good reason to let those under 18 vote is the Education Policy. This is obviously going to affect those under 18 more than anyone else, yet they are not allowed to choose a candidate who may benefit their own education system. Even if someone isn’t willing to give those under 18 credit for being informed enough to vote, surely they can admit that a high school student, with the possible exception of a teacher, knows more about the problems and issues affect education than anyone else.

And regardless of one's feeling on the issue, isn't a little silly to threaten somebody with a year in jail simply for trying to vote?

And in today’s America, where only about half of the population vote, and many Americans are incredibly misinformed and/or ignorant about policies, leaders, geography, et cetera, I cannot see much of a downside to letting those younger than 18 a say in a government.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Continue reading "Anarchists, Direct Action, and the Anti-Globalization and Anti-War Movements" »

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.
http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/10/06/cnnu.electionprep/index.html

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.

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 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.

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October 3, 2006

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?

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.

Continue reading "Cycling's Dirty Secret" »

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.

Continue reading "A Strange Game" »

October 2, 2006

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.

http://www.socialcapitalinc.org/aboutus/index.htm

September 28, 2006

Cooperative Living Facilities on College Campuses

When scanning the New York Times this evening I came across an article titled, "On Campus, Finding Face Time in a Virtual Age." Considering what we have been discussing in class, I was intrigued. The article began by introducing student Will Stovall an undergraduate at the University of Texas. Stovall stated that he was determined to attend law school, but realized that in order to foresee this goal it would require him to devote more of his time and work harder, consequently making it difficult to find the time for a soical life. In an effort to keep social contact a part of Stovall's everyday life he decided to live in a cooperative living facility, stating that this living option helped in maintaining and creating new intimate ties without having to make the extra effort.

Presently, the University of Texas has 15 cooperative living facilities, (also known as co-ops), that on average can hold up to 150 students. The article states that “the current interest of co-ops has grown in reaction to the alienating aspects of modern campus life." At co-ops students have the choice to eat together every night on the basis that the simple matter of a shared meal can play a large role in bringing students together. Students must contribute 4-6 hours a week to household chores such as cooking, cleaning, or building maintenance. In addition, most co-ops hold regular meetings to make group decisions regarding issues in the house. All of these interactions force students to work together, creating a sense of community within a community where that is decreasing.

With the steady increase of tuition and the growing number of people attending college, students, in my opinion, are facing more pressure now than ever before. It is so important to do well in school now because of the growing competition among students; an undergraduate degree isn't always enough anymore. Plus, many students have to work in addition to attending school in order to even have college as an option. No wonder our generation isn't as involved as our parents may have been or their parents' generation; we don't feel that we have the time. For example, at the end of the day, I feel so drained that all I want to do is sit on the couch and de-stress. The last thing on my mind is leaving the comfort of my home to participate in my community; it seems like too much effort at that point. Considering that we are all students here, I am sure that I am not the only person in this class that feels this way. So on that note, maybe co-ops could be a good option for our generation. It is a way to bring large groups of students together without feeling like they are going out of their way to do so. When large groups of people are brought together in an intimate setting like that, a sense of community is bound to form. It creates a very social environment where, in this case, students can work together, discuss important issues, and form lasting ties without having to leave the home.

September 27, 2006

Traditional and Modernity

In my social theory class, we looked at Max Weber’s concepts of social action. According to Weber there are four types of social action: traditional, affectual, value-rational and instrumental- rational. Traditional is guided by behaviors that have been repeatedly followed. Affectual is determined by the individual’s specific affects and feeling. Value-rational is determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake (religious or ethical). And instrumental-rational is determined by calculated risk-whatever ends will get you to your means. What Weber argues is that we have moved from a traditional society to a more modern one and thus our values have changed. Traditional action is not rationale; you just do it because it has always been done. In a modern society, instrumental-rational is more favored, we question our action and we undermine traditional commitment.

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Internet Gambling - Another Means To Disconnect From Society

Once again I recently viewed a segment on CBS 60 Minutes called I-Gaming: Illegal And Thriving. The piece was focused as you can guess around Internet gambling and its increasing popularity, specifically in the United States. However, it is illegal to place bets over the phone or on the internet so there is some controversy whether or not companies are legally or illegally making profits on an illegal action. The way these companies get around such problems is because they are not companies within the United States but rather they are foreign businesses that are primarily fueled by American gamblers. The piece eludes to the United Kingdom as the epicenter for online gambling and how the British government has passed laws allowing internet gambling with restrictions, regulations and taxations. It is a billion dollar business that many American suitors are interested in and would like to see the government offer a proposal to legalize online gambling with restrictions of course. The future is foggy not knowing whether either online gambling will remain illegal or become legal.

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September 26, 2006

Protest on Hennepin

I work as a shift manager for a clothing store in uptown. All of our employees are between the ages of eighteen and twenty six, and only a few of us have or are attending college. Most of us work full time with partying taking up the majority of our recreational time. Our lives revolve around fashion and selling with the occasional starving artist tagging along. We rarely discuss politics at work. It's simply not a topic of importance to most of our employees. One could possibly label us as the neuveau working joes.
Last week we encountered an unexpected event put on by our antitheses. A large crowd of the young and old politically active, the college students and a fraction of aging baby boomers passed by our store carrying colorful signs and yelling some inaudible phrase.
Perhaps thirty years ago this would create quite a disturbance in our store. Imagine a bunch of unoccupied college students waving signs in the faces of the fulltimers. But in 2006, this hardly piqued our interest.

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The Tobacco Industry is People Too.

A recent New York Times article highlighted a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The class action suit claims that smokers were led to believe that light cigarettes were safer and less addictive than regular cigarettes, when the industry knew that this was not true. The plaintif in the case is anyone who has purchesed Light cigarettes. The suit is asking for triple compensation for losses.

The tobacco industry is a very fitting example of a corporation which is willing to lie and gain profits. The film, The Corporation, corporation called out companies who only cared about short term profits regardless of human expense. The lawsuit also highlights another point made by the video The corporation, which is that corporations are seen as people who can be sued. Jury selection for the case is set for January 27th, 2007.

You can check out the full article at: www.nytimes.com/2006/09/25/buisness/25cnd-tobacco.html

September 25, 2006

Interest in Youth Voters

I just saw this article, “Youth culture should not be ignored in ’06,� and it got me thinking. One of the first things the article points out is how youth were a particular target for candidates during the 2004 presidential election but are not receiving the same attention for the local elections taking place this year. This reminded me of what we were talking about in class the other day about the irony in the fact that some people will vote in the presidential election but then they don’t vote in their local elections, where their vote may be more likely to “make a difference.�
Then the article briefly runs over statistics stating most of today’s youth are registered to vote and they share the same numbers as the rest of the country when it comes to being interested and educated about the current elections. Putnam states on page 165, “Members of today’s older generation are slightly more interested in electoral campaigns than were their predecessors four decades ago, while youths today are less interested than youths were in the 1950s and 1960s.�
While Putnam and the article are claiming opposite sides in the youth’s interest, one thing the article does point out is that most people in that age range are registered; however, not nearly that many are paying attention to the current elections. This makes me wonder; if politicians took more interest in today’s youth, would they in return pay more attention and become more active citizens? Perhaps this is the remedy to dropping numbers of voters among the youth.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14943592/

community organizing with NARAL

I found Putnam’s critiques of the pro-life/pro-choice organizations very interesting and mostly accurate. I work for NARAL Pro-choice Minnesota, the state branch of the National Abortion Rights Action League, which Putnam discusses in chapter nine. I am a canvasser and I walk around neighborhoods, knock on doors, and get people to give donation’s and become “members� (Putnam is exactly correct, members are used as a number, for lobbying strength, their names are never revealed to anyone, there aren’t NARAL meetings specifically for members).

Anyway, my job came about because the MCCL (Minnesota Citizens Concerned For Life) outnumbered us by tens of thousands. Before the canvass started, NARAL Pro-choice Minnesota had 5,000 members, the MCCL boasted 60,000. Putnam correctly addresses the reason for this huge gap in membership in chapter nine. The MCCL could organize through churches. The “right-to-life� is an idea that is founded in religion and people can freely talk about their views on this issue in church, unlike outside of church where this issue is highly controversial. NARAL did not have a “church� where friends could recruit friends to the organization and feel safe doing so. In addition, most people who consider themselves pro-choice do not see the right to choose as a right that is actually coming under attack and being taken away slowly. The pro-lifers on the other hand, see the immediate need to “save babies/fetuses� (sorry I am obviously biased here) and so are more likely to be involved. However, my point is that since the canvass started a little over a year and a half ago we have gained an immense amount of members, now our totals are somewhere around 30,000.

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Anti-War Protest in Minneapolis

For disclosure purposes, I’m a member of the Anti-War Organizing League on campus, and have experienced mobilizing for three anti-war rallies on campus in March of 2005, November 2005, and April 2006 and seeing first hand people’s thoughts and reactions to protests.

This past Saturday, September 23rd, residents of the Twin Cities gathered in Uptown Minneapolis to protest the US occupation of Iraq. An estimated (my estimate) 500 people were there. Despite widespread opposition to the war, fewer people seem to be willing to protest against it than Vietnam. Even compared to the pre-war protests, the numbers are small, when there were protests numbering up to 10,000 people in cities all across America. While there are many factors that play into this, such as many fewer casualties, and the lack of a draft, I believe that people lack of civic engagement plays into this as much, if not more, than those factors.

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September 14, 2006

No time for friends anymore

I actually went searching for an article that related to what I wanted to talk about and I found this article from 2003 called, "Job Stress, Burnout on the RIse." The article mentions that with the smaller workforce, people are taking on more work duties and as a result are becoming more and more stressed out. One line from the article says, "Working excessively long hours begins to take a heavy role on family life and social relationships, adding to the stress level." Also mentioned in the article are the effects work burnout have on productivity and profits.

The reason I sought out an article like this is because I couldn't help but think how the lack in civic, political, whatever participation may have something to do with the time crunch everyone seems to be in nowadays. Americans especially have managed to pack more into each day than often times physically possible. People are working longer hours and stress is not just affecting their productivity at work but their health as well. With women entering the workforce, there is not someone always at home who is cooking meals and cleaning the house. I also remember reading an article once saying parents pack their kids' schedules so much now that there is not enough time for kids to just be kids anymore. For parents who are raising 2 or 3 kids, life's duties can get a bit overwhelming and little time is left for them to focus on their marriage, maintain relationships with friends and other couples, and be active citizens in their community.

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September 13, 2006

Personal vs. Public Interests

An article on Time emphasizes the lack of civic participation in the American public. Similar to Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone…, the article draws attention to the decreasing ‘social capital’ of America. The National Conference on Citizenship, a non-profit organization that aims to sustain civic participation, plans to release Civic Health Index, a survey that looks at the civic participation of Americans. Not surprisingly, Robert Putman is the co-author of the article, as well as a member of the advisory board of the National Conference on Citizenship. The authors cite public distrust in one another and decreased community involvement as some of the factors hindering Americans to participate in politics. In addition, the article explains that people do actually vote but their votes are directed towards their own interests “rather than out of a sense of shared responsibility.�

An example of the focus on personal rather than communal interest: Few days ago my neighbor enthusiastically tried to convince me to vote for Mark Kennedy. I was surprised because she has a lawn sign that endorses Kennedy’s opposition: DFLer Amy Klobuchar. Why Kennedy and why did she endorse his opposition? It turns out that Kennedy spoke at a Somali community center in Minneapolis in which he not only promised to help Somali immigrants in Minnesota, but also said that he recognizes the internationally-unrecognized region of Ogadania. To give a bit of background history, Ogadania is a region inhabited by a Somali clan, the Ogadens, but is located in the nation-state of Ethiopia. British and Italian colonists divided the Somali-inhabited regions into the contemporary nation-states of Somalia, Djoubiti, small parts of Kenya, and a small portion of Ethiopia. Since Ogaden people do not consider themselves Ethiopians and do not receive full citizenship rights from the Ethiopian government, they have been fighting for independence since the colonists constructed nation-states that do not make sense to many oppressed minorities in the former colonized world. My neighbor is from Ogadania and has actually lost some family members to the unjust abuses that the Ethiopian government inflicts on the Ogaden people.

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Urban Planning: A Remedy for American Community?

In an attempt to revive American culture back to the community centric 1950's and 60's, an urban developer in Kansas City, Missouri is moving away from conventional suburbia. In modern suburbia, many of the homes are large and similar in structure to the surrounding homes in the subdivision. In contrast, this urban planner built a subdivision that has smaller, uniques homes that are very different from each other. Additionally, the new subdivision has large front porches designed to entertain neighbors, friends, and family. This plan echos Putnam because it addresses the same societal ill: the decline in American community. This urban planning venture attempts to revive the casual card games and chats on front porches by providing a living space where this is possible. The goal is to create a bond between homes instead of a random aggregate of houses.

On face, this remedy for the lack of community and involvememt is compelling, but has one major flaw. Most modern subdivisions are composed of similar houses because it is more efficient to build several similar houses instead of several differet houses. The benefits of this efficiency are twofold for the comsumer: 1) houses that are built efficiently are less expensive and 2) houses that are built efficiently allow for more houses to be constructed. The creation of this urban planning venture may lead to the construction of simply another wealthy neighborhood rather then a bonding community. Moreover, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that this venture will bridge into the community at large. Rather, this venture may serve to unite the neighborhood but keep all other participation (clubs, leagues, ect.) at the same rate. In conclusion, this neighborhood echoes Putnam because it recognizes the decline in American community but does not necessarily solve for this harm.

State Capital

Three years ago I toured the state capital. What I remembered most was the building was more impressive than the people. The structure looked grand and gave me a sense of ‘power.’ I attended part of the state legislative meeting. In the meeting some chairs were empty. A lot of representatives were eating, sleeping, or reading the newspapers. Only a few were debating topics on banning guns and education. They sounded like they were bickering and were using sarcastic comments on each other. During break time I went and talked to a Democratic Mmong state legislative representative. I noticed he was one of the representatives that were sleeping in the meeting. He looked weary and he told me everybody knew the outcome so there is not point of debating because the republican was in control so they will make a decision. He also mentioned being a minority in there, so no one will listen to him.
The people that were elected by us and representing us, but they seem to be in their own little world and not doing their duty. ‘Democracy’ did not apply in that meeting. People were not expressing what they truly feel and they felt their words had no effect that is why they were doing other things. This reminded me of the 2004 presidential election, where we all know either Kerry or Bush would win. I feel in United States our democracy is restricted and we have limited option. It is hard for the average citizen to be an active participant when our role models such our representatives are disillusion about politics.

North Minneapolis Shooting

Courtney Brown became the 44th homicide victim in the City of Minneapolis this year when he was shot to death on September 2nd. He was only 15 years old. One of the four people arrested in connection with Courtney's death is 17 year old, Darryl Johnson. Darryl allegedly shot Courtney over a Morgan State basketball jersey and a pair of tennis shoes. Darryl is being tried as an adult charged with first degree murder.

Courtney's senseless death is huge tragedy. It is difficult to comprehend that a young person's life was lost over an article of clothing. As I listened to the various media sources discuss Courtney's murder over the past week, I tried to listen through a "Putnam filter". The media reports and community leaders praised the police for making the arrests, made pleas for additional police officers and even rejoiced over the first degree murder charge of Darryl the shooter. Representatives from St Paul who were discussing the incident on a local news channel, verbalized plans to increase the number of police officers in the city as proposed increases in the number of officers in Minneapolis may push this sort of crime over the river to St Paul.

What I didn't hear in various reports I listened to were proposed plans to increase, as Putnam would say, the social capital in the North Side of Minneapolis. I couldn't help feeling that somehow North Minneapolis failed Darryl Johnson. Until very recently Darryl and his family were residents of the North Side. Neighbors interviewed on the news told of continous criminal activity at Darryl's home and were relieved with the move. Why hadn't something been addressed by the community earlier? Why now that Courtney is dead is the attention given? In Putnam's report discussed in class, North Minneapoils scored lowest in social trust. In "Bowling Alone" Putnam states"we invest more in guns, dogs and locks than in social capital for crime defense " (pg 107). I do not want to downplay Courtney's death nor make excuses for Darry's actions, but bigger plans need to be in place for North Minneapolis and communities alike. Discussions should not be focused on obtaining additional police officers but rather on ways to improve the community on the North Side. Funding should be sought for after school programs, community recreation centers, anti-gun education and neighborhood associations.

North Minneapolis is in the process of electing a new police chief and discussions I've heard of the acting chief, Tim Dolan, may add some promise. Tim Dolan was born and raised in North Minneapolis. He has family and friends who continue to reside in the community who are looking to Tim to increase the social trust and capital of North Minneapolis. Tim Dolan feels a personal connection the the community which may motivate other residents to take an active role in improving the community.


http://www.startribune.com/462/story/669620.html
http://www.startribune.com/357/story/673029.html

Marcy Homes Neighborhood

I am apart of a Fraternity that lives in the Marcy Homes Neighborhood. Over the past five years or so one of our graduates, Mark, has been fighting for our house and other students in the area trying to change ordinances and local policy. The reason he has been doing this is because the members of the Marcy Homes Council hold monthly meetings to discuss and vote on policies and ordinances that affect the Neighborhood more importantly benefiting themselves and family owned houses, while trying to reduce student living in the area. The reason they get away with doing this is because there is no representation by students living in the area. The number one reason for this lack of representation is that no students vote in the area or even send delgates to be on the board. Therefore, Mark goes around giving speeches for our house and other student groups to make people aware.

The reason I thought about this was that all the years Mark has been fighting these issues I myself never took it seriously. As we have been reading Bowling Alone and going over those statistics on politics and democracy, made me realize that these problematic issues Putnam raises such as the declijne in voting. In which, he showed that the U.S. ranked 23 out 24 democracies. is really happening especially on the local level. I guess my question to you would be is it possible to make a change and hit these issues head on? If all one has to do is vote yes or no on a local policy which would take less than 10 min to accomplish. Then why such a decline? What are the major factors associated with this? Lastly, If these policies directly affect the students in the area to which it could affect student houseing or make houseing harder to come by why still no action over at least the 5 years I have been living here?

September 12, 2006

McAdam Talk: When participation works (and when it doesn't)

UPDATED - 9-21-2006

I went to Doug McAdam's talk today in the sociology department workshop and it was excellent: he's an engaging speaker and his work is fascinating. I'd highly encourage everyone to attend tomorrow's talk at 4:00 in room 125, Nolte Center. I also thought I'd write up a quick posting on it to further illustrate what I'm expecting from you. (I didn't see any of you there - but if you were and I missed you and you plan on writing about the talk, please go ahead: there was material for several entries! The talk tomorrow is also about a different study than today's talk.) Note that for this posting I've used the "Extended Entry" box in Movable Type so that you can just click "Continue reading..." below to see the whole entry. This is a good idea for your own posts if they end up being a little bit long. Notice I also added a "Civic Participation" category - a pretty obvious addition since we're reading/discussing Putnam - I'm surprised I hadn't thought of it earlier.

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