If one’s religion teaches that abortion is murder, is the believer then obligated to stop abortions from happening, by any means necessary? Today, a Kansas judge decided that this is not a viable defense strategy under the law. On May 31, Kansas resident Scott Roeder is accused of shooting and killing Dr. George Tiller.
Roeder had wished to use something that has been termed the “necessity defense,” which would justify using lethal force. Although the judge’s reasoning for not allowing the defense is not spelled out, a guess would be that it would open the door for other potential killers to use such a defense. Also this week, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the implementation of a new law that would require women to answer a number of demographic and relationship questions, the answers to which would be posted on a publicly-accessible website. Critics argue that, while the information is ostensibly anonymous, those living in small towns could be identified.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for anti-abortion advocates to use laws to advance their agendas. With the separation of church and state in the U.S., they must use other tactics. In the murder case, the judge likely did not wish to set a pro-murder precedent. In the Oklahoma case, the information was supposedly going to be used to identify those populations at risk for unwanted pregnancies. Yet anyone familiar with ethical social science methodologies would never gather information that would cause potential harm to human subjects (in this case, identification and negative outcomes that could result).
Unraveling Religious Worldviews: The Relationship between Images of God and Political Ideology in a Cross-Cultural Analysis by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader
Jeffrey Alexander writes that “cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways” (2004). With this basic definition in mind, can we call the shootings that took place at the Fort Hood army base a “cultural trauma”? In this case, the identity of the United States military may have been terribly complicated. Military leaders have made many statements in the media decrying this incident as the work of a deranged individual, and have stated repeatedly that Muslims serving in the military have made sacrifices as great as those belonging to any other religious group.
However, there have been reports of growing concern in some areas of the media (such as Fox News) that directly blame the alleged shooter’s faith for the incident. Such commentators blame a climate of “political correctness” for ignoring the “warning signs” that Nidal Hasan was becoming “radicalized.” A more nuanced analysis of the situation might place Hasan in the same group of other military men and women who have been experiencing strain related to eight plus years of armed conflict in the Middle East. Although Hasan had yet to be deployed, his work as a military psychiatrist counseling the victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome made him an asset that the army could not afford to lose, and some believe that this fact above all else was the main reason that the command structure overlooked or downplayed his past disciplinary problems.
Whatever the eventual outcome of Hasan’s trial may be, the identity of the U.S. military has been thrown into a state of flux. By extension, the concept of who is a “real” American has been dealt another blow. This incident, in conjunction with the racialized discourse surrounding the birth origins of President Obama, has added to the cultural trauma of Muslim and American identity in the U.S. that has plagued the 21st century so far.
Will the Right Islam Stand Up? by Amitai Etzioni
Who determines what “news” is? Can we define news as “that which gets talked about,” as Katz and Lazarsfeld wrote about in Personal Influence in 1955? Or are there more strict criteria that are (or should be) observed in the modern media environment? Last year, I wrote about “Martin Eisenstadt,” a fake member of a fake think tank who managed to convince the mainstream media that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent, and not a country. Although this amusing lie was discovered, and the news organizations responsible (like the LA Times and MSNBC) admitted they had been “had,” Sarah Palin’s campaign for Vice President spent a lot of time and energy trying to disavow the accusations.
News hoaxing was again in the media this month with the now-infamous “balloon boy” hoax, wherein the major cable news networks covered a story that turned out to be a mere publicity stunt. They even cut to the chase of the balloon in the air in lieu of covering the President speaking in New Orleans. The need for constant “breaking news” and the need to fill air time make it even more likely that media-savvy publicity hounds and hoaxsters will use these things to their advantage. In fact, one of the main reasons law enforcement and the public became suspicious that the balloon stunt was a hoax in the first place was because the father, Richard Heene, called the news media before the police to report that his son was missing, and presumed sailing through the air.
The major mistake that these people made was their hoax involved the use of government and police resources, and interrupted commercial aviation traffic at the nearby airport. Additionally, public opinion was turned against them due to the fact that they compelled their child to lie to further the deception. However, if this was not the case, it may have been regarded as a highly
successful use of news reporting practices for their own gain. We can expect to see more of this. People will learn from the Heenes’ mistakes, and continue to use media routines like breaking news to their advantage.
“Rumor” by Pascal Froissart
What are the limits of free expression in the United States today? Are we still living under what many would consider a theocratic state? Although the “Protestant Ethic” as defined by Weber is often thought of in terms of the realm of work, it includes other moral dimensions. The U.S. has often been mired in controversies about what role religion should play in the formation of law. Abortion, school prayer, displaying religious symbols like the 10 Commandments on government property, and the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are all contentious issues that have been present in the national dialogue for decades now. In fact, there are few openly atheist lawmakers in the U.S., the highest ranking being Rep. Pete Stark of California.
Yet despite all this, it still comes as a bit of a surprise when one hears about women having their children taken away from them for being non-Christian in 21st century America. There have been cases where, in the course of a child custody battle, Wiccan women have had their children removed by superstitious judges. But perhaps no case stands out more than that of Rachel Bevilacqua, who was called a “pervert” in open court and had her child removed for little other than appearing in a skit mocking the pro-Catholic movie “The Passion of the Christ.” Over the course of nearly three years, and after tens of thousands in legal fees, Mrs. Bevilacqua regained custody of her son over an ex-boyfriend who had no job or income, and whose legal representation was paid for by the taxpayers. The main reason custody was awarded to the birth father was because Mrs. Bevilacqua had the unfortunate luck to get a Catholic family court judge who didn’t take too kindly to her satirical artistic pursuits.
Obscenity and Censorship by David Bradshaw
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.
Militias at the Millennium: A Test of Smelser’s Theory of Collective Behavior by Stan C. Weeber and Daniel G. Rodeheaver
Politics often guides the course of technological development. One of the most obvious places that this has occurred, and continues to occur, is the United States’ NASA program. With the US essentially still fighting two wars, the looming health care, Medicare, and Social Security crises, and the general poor state of the economy, many question the relevance of space exploration in the world today. In order to keep NASA going, scientists and administrators are increasingly switching NASA’s mission to one of scientific advancement rather than manned exploration.
The symbolism of unbridled Capitalism where the U.S. could afford many Apollo missions, the ability to “beat the Russians” in the space race, and all the other things that created an era of romanticism in the space flight are no longer important. It is easy to compare the change in mission of NASA to change in other areas where government funding and politics intersect. The current healthcare debate is one example. Recession and economic downturn are things that politicians can appeal to when they argue about the mission of healthcare. They can also argue that universal healthcare is a “romantic” notion that is not realistic. Framing the debate about healthcare around necessity, as NASA has done to stay alive, will be necessary if healthcare reform is to succeed.
A political history of NASA’s space shuttle: the development years, 1972–1982 by Brian Woods
What makes social movement activity “authentic”? Recently in American politics, there has been a lot of discussion about “astroturfing”: protests at and disruptions of town hall meetings held by members of Congress that appear to be grassroots activity, but which are sponsored and organized by corporations and PACs (Political Action Committees). Two of the recent major players in this controversy are FreedomWorks, conservative anti-taxation PAC chaired by former U.S. Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and LarouchePac, organized by controversial fascist/anti-Semitic political figure Lyndon LaRouche. The former group is responsible for the many signs that popped up at town hall meetings of President Obama with a Hitler moustache.
Liberal-leaning political talk show commentators have worked to expose this activity as not grassroots, but coordinated by enemies of the President’s agenda. These critics regard this as not “real” social movement activity. Another interesting development is the usage of stock photos to represent “real” people. FACES of Coal is a pro-coal mining corporate sponsored-group which bought pictures from istockphoto.com to represent its “real” people who are pro-coal. Another example is the usage of a stock photo, purchased from the above site, that appeared on a fake profile on FaceBook of an attractive, young, blonde, Caucasian girl named “Erin Perkins,” in an attempt to promote the agendas of the Republican party and Ron Paul.
Critics of astroturfing (such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, in the above clip) argue that the corporations and PACs that sponsor these actions are trying to make up for the fact that the people do not of their own accord support their positions, hence the contrast between the “grassroots” movements and the fake “astroturf.” But as corporations are increasingly given more autonomy, and as de-regulation has increased corporate power, the colonization of social movements by business is a natural development in itself.
Resources and Social Movement Mobilization by Bob Edwards and John D. McCarthy
It’s been over seven years since Naomi Klein published No Logo, which explored the backlash against large multinational corporations. Brand identities such as Nike became increasingly associated with sweatshops instead of what the company wanted everyone to feel when they saw the ever-present “swoosh” logo. Wal-Mart became associated with union busting instead of low prices. Can this phenomenon explain why Starbucks recently “re-branded” one of their Seattle coffee shops with no brand at all?
This move is most likely not caused by bad publicity. Instead, it is another attempt to increase profits through emotional manipulation and paying close attention to cultural meanings. “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” as the new store is known as attempts to evoke the feeling of an independently-owned neighborhood coffee shop, ironically just the type that has become somewhat of a rarity because of being driven out of business by Starbucks itself. They also sell beer, wine, and food items not normally found at the corporate chain.
Simple advertising and promotion has been gradually pushed out of the consumer picture by branding, which involves imbuing the product with a certain meaning with which people identify. Will this move work for Starbucks? HarvardBusiness.org says no, saying the concept is “fundamentally dishonest” and that “because there’s no way a corporate coffee chain can create an authentic neighborhood coffeehouse experience. Your favorite local coffeehouse is the product of someone’s passion, dedication, and probable borderline craziness.” Such attempts at emotional branding may prove to be their own worst enemy, as people grow ever more cynical at corporate attempts to sell back to them what they have themselves taken away.
Branding Consultants as Cultural Intermediaries by Liz Moor
As Westerners, it is difficult for us to imagine a situation where women are regarded as the mysterious “Other” more than in Saudi Arabia, where wearing the hijab is required and what we consider basic rights, such as full employment and driving privileges, are not universal. There, Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of a gendered hierarchy is unusually present. Thus, it might seem strange to learn that plastic surgery procedures in that country are on the rise for women. In the West, and in many Asian countries, the reasons for getting plastic surgery are clearer, if not always positive. But if the results are not going to be visible in public, why spend large sums of money to achieve them? Additionally, Islamic law forbids doctors from altering God’s creation, unless there are substantial reasons to do so, such as deformity or injury, but many plastic surgeons are beginning to bend the rules a little to do breast augmentations and nose jobs.
As Sociologists, we are forced to ask: is this a positive or negative trend? On one hand, women are asserting their human right to control their own lives. On the other, Saudi women are becoming more influenced by Western notions of beauty. As with most other effects of Globalization, the results are unexpected and mixed.
Body Politics by Sandra Lee Bartky
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.
From Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien