Monthly Archives: September 2009

Case Closure

by ChristinaBlunt

800px-Death_Penalty_World_Map-2

On September 23, the Chicago Tribune reported that Christopher M. Stevens, the convicted killer of Zachary Snider, has been re-sentenced to life in prison without parole after his death sentence was overturned. Stevens was charged with sexually molesting and murdering 10-year old Snider in 1993. However, in 2007, a federal appeals court set aside the death penalty citing the defense’s insufficient presentation of Stevens’ mental illness. Although it is likely that Stevens would again be sentenced to death, Zachary’s parents have agreed to the life sentence rather than going through another lengthy penalty phase trial in February. In a statement to the court Zachary’s father wrote, “Our family has suffered enough and would like for this to be resolved once and for all… This will give our family finality. Chris Stevens will die in prison and will never have the opportunity to destroy people’s lives again.” The Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter added, “With the plea, this case is over. There are no more appeals and the Sniders should never have to deal with Stevens again.” (more…)

Census Worker's Murder Part of A Larger Picture

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by NickieWild

What is the poverty rate? How should the government allocate local funds? How many people in an area need representation by Congress? These are just some of the crucial questions that can only be answered by an accurate census of the American people. But lately, anything associated with the Federal government has come under increased suspicion by extreme right-wing critics of President Obama.

In rural eastern Kentucky, on September 12th, 51-year old part-time census worker, teacher, single father, and cancer survivor, Bill Sparkman was found murdered. He was reported by witnesses who came across the body in a wooded private cemetery as being hung from a tree, naked, with the word “FED” scrawled on his chest and his census worker badge duct taped to his neck. While the federal government is not committing to these facts, it is clear that it is being investigated as a federal crime against someone who was working for the government.

What are the possible causes for this horrific incident? Some have pointed to Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) anti-census tirade, in which she insinuated that the information gathered by the Obama administration would be used to round people up to put them in internment camps (based on what demographics is unclear). Some blame the newly-stoked anti-government sentiment on right-wing commentators like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, whose fan base is primarily white southern males. Possibly, a return to the 90′s era Militia Movement may be imminent. Sociological theories such as structural strain were used to explain anti-government action then. But it’s hard to ignore the rampant racism and concerns over “Socialism” (thinly disguised fear of Obama’s Muslim heritage) as a potentially significant impetus for such an extreme reaction to a schoolteacher asking questions which get asked every ten years. This week, the Secret Service began investigating a FaceBook poll which asked if Obama should be assassinated.

Although the mainstream media has been adequate in their coverage of this murder, more questions and discussions need to happen in the public sphere to bring these dark malignant motivations into the light of day.

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square-eyeMilitias at the Millennium: A Test of Smelser’s Theory of Collective Behavior by Stan C. Weeber and Daniel G. Rodeheaver

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The Future of American Television Part 2

Emmyby bmckernan

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Sociology Lens entitled “Is Jay Leno the future of television?”  Using Leno’s new prime time variety show as a backdrop, the post examined some of the current issues facing the television industry in America, particularly the decline in network ratings and the increased segmentation of the American television audience. Last week, many of these themes were visible at the industry’s own annual awards show, the Emmys.

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A Feminist Critique of Female Fans

Film Reel 2by smteixeirapoit

In The Washington Post, Jaclyn Friedman wrote an article entitled “He Trashes the Ladies. They Love Him For It.” In this article, Friedman provides a feminist critique of females that endorse Tucker Max.

In 2002, Tucker Max started a website detailing his “life as a self-involved, drunken womanizer”. Recently, his New York Times best-selling book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell turned into a movie. In this movie, he argues that “all women are whores” and that “fat girls aren’t real people”. Given these statements, Friedman questions: Why are some females fans of Tucker Max?

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When Heroes Become Villains

3royalanglianafghanby paulabowles

For criminologists and sociologists, prison has for many decades provided a fertile environment for research. In recent decades, the focus has been on overcrowding, together with attempts to identify the composition of the prison population. As at 25 September 2009, Her Majesty’s Prisons contain some 84,382 incarcerated men and women.

On the same date the BBC reported that as many as 8,500 of these prisoners are former veterans of the British army, navy and air force. Moreover, this is not the whole picture as Napo, the Probation Office’s union, estimate that a further 12,000 plus ex-service personnel are being dealt with by the criminal justice system. For many of these men and women, their crimes relate to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as domestic violence. Although these crimes may not be unique to ex-service personnel, claims have been made by Napo that ‘[i]t’s the hidden kind of consequences of war.’ In essence, the very nature of their military career—be it post-traumatic stress disorder, or a lack of support upon leaving the services—can make the return to “civvy street” highly problematic.

Despite the government’s insistence that this particular concern is at the ‘forefront of the prime minister’s mind,’ it does raise some very interesting issues. The British media often appears to present issues in very black and white terms. Arguably the terms hero and villain are so diametrically opposed it is difficult to imagine how they will portray these particular individuals.

Square-eyeDoreen Anderson-Facile on Basic Challenges to Prisoner Reentry

 

Square-eyeRobin L. Riley on Women and War: Militarism, Bodies, and the Practice of Gender

Monkey finance

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by Koyomiyoshi


According to this article , the Obama administration has proposed a pay limit to financial firms which will be saved by government TARP plan.  This plan clearly reflects public outrage towards financial firm‘s practice of paying tremendous bonus to CEOs, which have been saved by taxpayers. Outrage centres around the fact that these bonus are excessively high in comparison to CEOs performance. The article introduces one wall street veteran saying “I could put a monkey in that chair and get a certain level of business.”

However, work performance does not necessarily depend on worker effort. You sometimes fail to improve work performance despite your effort, while your neighbour seems to always succeed without so much effort. A third person, or employer, cannot always distinguish your performance has been caused by effort or misfortune.  A monkey may,
sometimes, show high performance, but it may be because he is  just lucky. This article points out that the plan may discourage some able banker from working and encourage them leaving firms.

How can we design a pay system which can purge lucky monkeys and reward able workers simultaneously? According to Ferrall and Shearer, optimal incentive pay systems are too costly to implement. The employer needs keep track of all required information and compute payment under the contract. According to their estimation based on mine worker contracts, actual contract system performs ill, one-third to full information settings.

Monetary rewards does not necessariliy improve worker’s performance. Heyman and Ariely‘s experiment to compare which of following three payment method improve performance, middle payment, low payment, and no payment. Surprisingly,  individuals with low payment performed worst. According to Dan Pink, the group whose pay depends on time took in solving the problem take longer than the group whose pay does not depend on solving time. These experiments have been performed in the U.S. and India. Not dependeing cultural differences, The result seems robust.  This tendency is seen on only in intelectural tasks.

square-eye Ferrall and Shearer ” Incentives and Transactions Costs Within the Firm: Estimating an Agency Model Using Payroll Records”

square-eye Heyman and Ariely “Effort for Payment”

Editor's Highlights: Seeing like a sociologist to understand postcolonialism

by Keri E. Iyall Smith

Explore an emerging subfield in historical sociology, imperial-colonial studies, in Julian Go’s July 2009 article in the Political Sociology section of Sociology Compass.  Growing out of the humanities and classical sociological theories, imperial-colonial studies present sociologists with both space to make new contributions and the opportunity to refine the sociological tradition. Imperial-colonial studies sociologizes the study of empire, colonial states, and colonial legacies.  It also examines racial discourse and its connections to imperialism.  Themes in this article relate not only to political sociology, but also to studies of race and ethnicity, social stratification, and culture.

Julian Go on The ‘New’ Sociology of Empire and Colonialismsquare-eye

Breaking news: All pornography is homosexual pornography

images By Rachael Liberman

Everyone has an opinion on pornography. Some argue that it is a vital contributor to understanding sexuality, some assert that it is a vulgar practice that objectifies women, and some maintain that is a lucrative industry just like any other capitalistic enterprise. Of course, these three positions are not the only ones that pervade the cultural discussion of the pornography industry. For example, during the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told an audience that: “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” He went on to say that: “And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants! You know, that’s a good comment, it’s a good point, and it’s a good thing to teach young people.”

Now, taking Schwartz’s ultra-conservative standpoint into account, this statement could be written off as another homophobic, moralistic rant. However, the inaccuracy of this assumption, coupled with its context as part of a panel on “The New Masculinity,” deserves some attention. Schwartz’s statement that “all pornography is homosexual pornography” was taken from a conversation he had with a “very good friend” that was commenting on  “the malady that he suffered” due to living the “homosexual lifestyle.” (more…)

Social networking via voice chat – how much more can we network?

Facebook

By Dena T. Smithiphone

Facebook announced that over the next few weeks, members will begin to be able to use voice capabilities that will be integrated into a variety of applications offered by the social networking site (see the article). If this is successful, it will open the door to new possibilities for increased connection between users. No longer would Skype or sites like Myspace be enough all on their own. Whether it’s texting, emailing, facebooking, IMing, or Tweeting, people are already in constant contact with one another. A relatively new phenomenon, however, is voice chatting, even while gaming or surfing the web. For some time now, people have been able to communicate in text while playing online games – even while playing simple card games. Voice communication via a headset that plugs into a gaming system or a computer has not been around for that long and yet has become a central part of most gamers’ and online users’ lives. People can now talk to each other via their gaming systems – when they’re online via Xbox 360, for instance, any other player who’s also online can be reached just as over a phone line.  It seems that there is little activity these days that doesn’t involve listening to someone else’s voice. One important question we might ask is: does this mean that the already minimal amount of alone time that we have, given the myriad technological options already available to us, will be decreased? Or does it just mean that the time we would normally spend on sites like Facebook will be enhanced with voice chatting? In other words, will our vast online networks take up even more of our time or will the method by which we communicate just be altered?

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There is a great deal written by social theorists about how our social networks are constructed (see the Blackwell companion) and of the breakdown of face-to-face interaction in modern society.  We talk on the phone and online, often at the expense of meeting up for a cup of coffee.  Some theorists laud face time for its intimacy and deeper connection between individuals. Still others claim that expanding our online networks is good, even if detracts from the amount of time we can meet up in non-virtual time. If our networks are getting so large that even our video games are now played with others, we can chat while we explore virtual realms, we can talk to the hundreds or thousands of friends we have on Facebook with much greater ease than phone-calling, do we still reap the benefits of what Granovetter called “the strentgth of weak ties?” As our networks expand and we communicate with acquaintances as well as those to whom we have close ties much more frequently, what effect will this have on how well we know people? Granovetter suggested (as do many network theorists) that weak ties are good for getting jobs, finding resources, etc., but what if our networks get too big? What if we can talk to so many people in a given day that these connections become meaningless? Perhaps the voice feature will reign us back in and make it so that we selectively chat (via voice) with people we really care about and only use the  text chat feature for everyone else. Finally, it is worth asking what effect this additional tool for online communication will have on the time we spend on other activities. As it is, social networking sites like Facebook take up a great deal of time in order for users to stay connected with even a fraction of their friends. If we can have real conversations as well, how much more time will we dedicate to these types of sites?

Square-eye

Voice Chat Coming to Facebook (at CNN.com)

Square-eyeSocial Networks in The Blackwell Comanion to Sociology

the prosumer and intimate profit

by nathanjurgenson

Apple-iPhone-001Recently, this blog has focused on the labor of the crowds. I have posted that the “prosumers of the world should unite” and have continued to write on the topic. Bmckernan expertly handled the topic when discussing “light” capitalism and more recently pj.rey convincingly demonstrated that prosumption is a structural force at play in the death of old media. This post is driven by the recent announcement that Facebook, now nearly the size of the United States, has become profitable (or “cash flow positive“). This re-ignites the debate around companies profiting from increasingly personal and intimate information about ourselves and our lives.

As prosumers on Facebook (that is, we both produce and consume the content on the site), we display ourselves and our socializing with others, and it is precisely this data, this digital goldmine, that Facebook leverages for profit. Another trend of intimate data being shared has to do with “geotagging” and “location awareness” tools.

Location awerness simply refers to tools -often utilizing “smart” mobile phones that are GPS-enabled and always in our pockets- that track and display one’s geographic location. The Loopt iPhone app does just this by keeping track of where the user is and helping them share the information with others. Yahoo has the Fire Eagle service, Google has Google Latitude, and Twitter has also begun to “geotag” tweets with their geographical location. Given these technologies, we can share our past and current geographical locations with ourselves and others by plotting them on maps, posting them as our Facebook or Twitter statuses and so on.

In these examples, we see that the very titans of Web 2.0 capitalism are set to profit (or at least try to) from another intimate source of data: where one is physically located at any given moment. The degree to which these tools become ubiquitous is the degree to which our very lives become a source of ‘intimate profit’. To this point, and I’ll leave with a question to tackle in a later post: does it matter that companies profit from increasingly intimate user-data regarding their self/their socializing/their very location if users find these tools useful? ~nathan

square-eye32 Facebook Makes Money, Tops 300 Million Users

square-eye32 The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

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