Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Right to Die

Injection_Syringe_01by paulabowles

A recent British court case has highlighted the emotive issue of euthanasia, or assisted suicide. Yesterday’s ruling by the House of Lords offers opportunities to not only clarify the legal position, but also places the issue firmly in the public domain. The background to the case involves the personal story of Debbie Purdy and her attempts to shed light on the criterion used by the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] with regard to assisted suicide.

As a multiple sclerosis sufferer, Mrs Purdy is determined that such information should be readily available, in order that an individual may make a fully informed choice regarding their own death. Thus far nobody in the UK has been prosecuted for assisting another’s suicide; however, Mrs Purdy is anxious to ensure her husband’s future is prosecution free.

Mrs Purdy has greeted yesterday’s victory as “a huge step towards a more compassionate law”, although concerns have been raised particularly in relation to the message sent out to others suffering from debilitating or terminal conditions. It has also been suggested that the removal of discretion from the legal process, “risks giving rise to perverse judgments that match the letter rather than the spirit of the law and invite reversal on appeal”. The only certainty would appear to be a renewed urgency to the debate on assisted suicide.

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Square-eye$1.99 - small Tony Walter on The Sociology of Death

 

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Mainstream media outlets prove once again that they're not interested in cultural analysis

Courtesy of Racked.com

Courtesy of Racked.com

By Rachael Liberman

When high-end retailer Barneys New York decided to remove their controversial window display on July 22nd, media outlets were literally handed a story that involved high fashion, violence against women, corporate marketing, and artistic integrity. Instead, many outlets, including the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune, abandoned a cultural critique and ran what the AP wire distributed. As a consequence, what could have been a discussion and inquiry into the social condition of gender and violence was abandoned. Was this lack of a greater context intentional? Were these news outlets understaffed and unable to devote more time to this story? While these questions, among others, reveal the complexity of the journalism industry, what still remains is the fact that this story has been buried, along with the potential for prompting public debate.

Of course, reader comments from news stories and blogs reveal that, although this issue did not become “mainstream,” there was undeniable interest in these displays of women being murdered – including “blood” splattered on the sparkling window and mannequins altered in positions of lapsed mortality. Many of the feminist blogs, including BUST and Feministing, included many reader responses that varied from postmodern acceptance to radical objection. (more…)

Health Care Reform? If it’s not too “costly.”

By Dena T. Smith
DRUGS
Health care reform is in the foreground of the American political landscape. Politicians in favor of transformation face staunch opposition and must convince the public and their fellow representatives in congress of both the imminent need and potential effectiveness of a major overhaul.  Classical studies on altruistic behavior inform us that actions aimed at helping others, such as supporting health care reform, are more likely when we experience empathy for the person(s) in need. Estimates as to how many Americans are uninsured usually fall between 30 and 40 million and even those with insurance coverage are likely overwhelmed by deductibles or denials of coverage, so it should not be too hard for many to put themselves in the shoes of the under or un-insured. However, the piece of the altruism puzzle that is more complex is that seeing individuals who are in obvious need of help may not be enough to lead us to act in assistance (clearly we do not act EVERY time someone is in need); altruistic behavior is more likely when the rewards of said action are greater than the costs. It is a combination of feeling a need to act and the assessment that the cost of helping will be small and the rewards will be large that make someone more likely to act altruistically. In short, in order to motivate the American public and congressional leaders, those in favor of reform will have to show  that it will be more beneficial than costly to the American public.

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weightless capitalism

by nathan jurgenson

800px-Google_wordmark.svgGoogle announced that its new operating system, Chrome OS, will be free of charge. Further, it is designed to operate in the “cloud,” meaning that most of its functionality will exist online, using internet applications like GMail and Google Documents instead of programs installed on a hard drive (as Windows does). The free cloud-based operating system is designed to run on smaller, lighter “netbooks” -a bright spot in the computer market in these tough economic times. I previously wrote about the transumer and virtual goods as evidence of Zygmunt Bauman’s liquidity thesis that exchange online is following a lighter and more fluid path. These developments further underscore the relevancy of Bauman’s thinking, and beg the question: is the digital economy approaching a sort of ‘weightless capitalism’?

Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, tackles just this sort of emergent business trend online. The marginal cost to produce digital items approaches zero because microprocessing, storage and bandwidth are increasingly cheaper. Another factor that applies to many Web 2.0 companies is that much of the content production is out-sourced to the consumers. That is, we are the prosumers of Facebook because we are simultaneously the producers and consumers of it. The result is that we do not have to directly pay to use Google’s services, or for things like Facebook, Flickr, Yelp and so on.

When products are free and labor is often done without pay, we have near-weightless capitalism.

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The Strength of Racialized Institutions: Words from a "Black" President

Barack_ObamaOne of the most interesting aspects of the reaction to President Obama’s comments regarding the arrest of Professor Gates is the focus on his race.  While clearly prompted by personal experiences, is it not also possible that Obama was simply voicing an opinion, not an opinion from a black President?  The New York Times article (see below) opens with the statement, “Americans got a rare glimpse Wednesday night of what is means to have a black president in the Oval Office.”  Without discounting the role of biography in shaping viewpoints and interests as Judge Sotomayor has highlighted, is it the case that every time a president comments on society it is due to race, gender, or sexuality?

Susan Silbey’s work on the ways in which legality is strengthened through its daily denial, acceptance, and invocation sheds new insight into the durability of racial discrimination.  In the very reactions to Obama’s comments about the incident, we are reminded that racial profiling and race as a determining factor transcends those whom it targets.  The contradictory remarks about black presidents and competing debates about the ideological/political position from which Obama spoke work to fortify and sustain the political, social, and economic institutions that structure and are structured by race.  The very fact that Obama’s skin color automatically led to his particular opinion says more about the existence of racialized social infrastructures than it says about Obama or the Gates incident.

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NY Times

Square-eye Susan Silbey: Blackwell Companion to Sociology of Culture

Uncivil Society

by ChristinaBlunt

468px-Vladimir_Putin_official_portraitOn Saturday July 18, the Washington Post reported that respected human rights group Memorial will suspend its activities in Chechnya following the murder of one of its activists, Natalya Estemirova. Reports state that Estemirova was kidnapped outside her home last Wednesday and found with a bullet in her head hours later outside the Chechen capital. Estemirova’s work involved documenting crimes committed by representatives of the authorities. The Post reports that Estemirova was killed the same day a report that she helped research was released, concluding there was enough evidence to demand that Russian officials, including Prime Minister Vladmir Putin, be called to account for crimes committed on their watch.

In states and regions where there is low trust, weak legitimacy, and high crime and corruption, social organizations and NGOs generate a culture of civic regulation and public accountability. In “Civil Society and the Public Sphere” Larry Ray explains that “this is not to propose civil society as a panacea, but an important factor is structuring social outcomes.” In defining civil society the emphasis is most commonly placed on economic exchange and association. The concept can be traced back to Greek and Roman political philosophy but is greatly influenced by the theorists of eighteenth-century and is often linked to the rise of the European bourgeoisie. However, underlying this notion is the understanding that civil society is a “public realm of voluntary association essential for the stability of democracy.” It is argued that in Eastern Europe, civil society was the key to closing the gap between institutional arrangements, therefore linking the public and private for active and informed citizens. For many writers civil society lies at the heart of concerns with “self-government, activism and privacy, separation from the state, human rights, free economic initiatives, and the definitions of the social itself.” The absence of civil society is both an explanation and reinforcement of authoritarian yet ineffective government.

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square-eye Read “State and Civil Society” by Larry Ray at Blackwell Reference Online

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Racist Language in the U.S.: Alive, But Not Well

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by NickieWild

Is racist language still acceptable in the United States? As with most things in social science, the answer depends on the situation and people involved. Recently, the television program on the CBS network “Big Brother” self-censored an episode where two contestants used a derogatory term to describe fellow contestants who were of Mexican descent, as well as making anti-gay remarks. Compare this incident with former Georgia Senator and Governor Zell Miller’s statement that President Obama should be prevented from making trips abroad by fixing him in place using “Gorilla Glue.” Quoting Miller:

“Our globe-trotting president needs to stop and take a break and quit gallivanting all around. I think (chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel ought to get some Gorilla Glue and put it in that chair in the Oval Office and say ‘Sit here awhile.’”

This is a real product, but the racial overtones are hard to ignore. Some have questioned Miller’s use of this terminology (instead of using the more traditional reference to “Krazy Glue”). Clearly, racial slurs, whether overt or covert, are still used frequently. But they seem to be much more likely to get negative attention than ever before. Sociologist Eileen O’Brien explores this issue and writes on why people choose to adopt “antiracist” stances.

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square-eye$1.99 - small From Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien

"Acceptable" Language in Video Games

by bmckernan

In recent months, software giant Microsoft has come under strong criticism for its censoring of particular “gamertags” on its Xbox Live Service that Microsoft officials consider to contain sexual innuendo. However, as an article on the gaming site Kotaku documents, in practice this has led to the banning of gamertags used by gamers to express their sexual orientation. A recent opinion article by game journalist Mike Fahey on the gaming site Kotaku provides an insightful and engaging account of how Microsoft’s current situation is reflective of the video game industry’s historical struggle with addressing the issue of homosexuality.

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Bachmann Boycotts Census

Michele Bachmannby smteixeirapoit

The United States Constitution mandates completion of the Decennial Census, which is administered by the Census Bureau. Earlier this month, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota announced that she plans to refuse completing the Census because she does not condone the Census Bureau partnering with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Representatives Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, and John Mica of Florida encouraged Bachmann to withdraw her boycott. They argued that “boycotting the constitutionally mandated Census is illogical, illegal, and not in the best interest of our country.”

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The lone survivor of British fascism?

Battle-of-Cable-Street-red-plaqueby paulabowles

Since 9/11, the world’s attention has increasingly been concentrated on the threat of terrorism and the mechanisms designed to uncover and combat it. Much of the focus has been on Al Qaeda; however, a recent British case suggests that this is not the only terrorist threat faced today.

On Wednesday, Neil Lewington was found guilty at the Old Bailey of terrorism and explosives offences. He was originally detained for public order offences after being drunk and abusive to railway staff, but an initial search of his luggage revealed two homemade bombs. Later examinations of his home revealed a fascination with right wing extremism, in particular neo-Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan. Although, all of the evidence under consideration suggests that Lewington acted alone, his refusal to offer any defence leaves many questions unanswered, not least where he obtained the technical information required to make explosive devices.

In spite of recent anti-terrorism legislation, it seems likely that without Lewington’s anti-social behaviour he would not have been apprehended. It is also possible that by exclusively focusing on newly identified threats, we run the risk of missing other older forms of extremism.

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Square-eye$1.99 - smallDomenico Tosini on the Sociology of Terrorism and Counterterrorism: A Social Science Understanding of Terrorist Threat