Dolores R. sent along an illustration of the nature of spurious relationships. A spurious relationship is one in which two variables appear to be related, but are in fact both caused by a third, “confounding” variable. Drawing on Andrew Sullivan’s map of passport ownership and data on Type 2 diabetes posted at the US News and World Report, Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing suggested, with tongue-in-cheek, that owning a passport prevents Type 2 diabetes.  In fact, both are probably related to a third variable, class: having the money to travel also usually means having access to healthy foods and sufficient health insurance.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The New York Times has made available a digital copy of The Gentleman’s Directory, a guide to New York City published in 1870. The guidebook informs travelers of a particular type of local attraction: brothels. Of course, the information was for curiosity’s sake only:

Not that we imagine the reader will ever desire to visit these houses. Certainly not; he is, we do not doubt, a member of the Bible Society, a bright and shining light…But we point out the location of these places in order that the reader may know how to avoid them… (p. 6-7)

Certainly passages like this, from p. 13, make it clear that such establishments are to be avoided:

It also included pages that were simply ads for particular brothels:

Interestingly, the NYT checked the 1870 Census for the houses listed in the guide. In general, the women living there were described by Census workers as domestic servants or women who “kept house.” However, they found a few cases where the Census openly listed them as working at a “house of prostitution” or “house of assignation.”

A doctor advertised “imported male safes,” i.e., condoms:

His ad also describes an unspecified cure for women that may very well refer to abortions (at the time, products that caused abortion were often advertised as helping with menstrual regulation or any type of “menstrual stoppage”):

In addition to an article about the directory, the NYT put together a map showing the locations of the establishments it mentions (which were a small proportion of all brothels in NYC, where prostitution was illegal but widely available at the time):

Nicole sent in this Australian commercial for P&O Cruises. Nicole was struck by the obvious racial divide, in which the privileged customers are all White, while non-Whites serve them, either literally (and with a smile!) or as a form of cultural entertainment:

It’s another example of a common tourism marketing theme, in which supposedly “traditional” and/or “native” cultures are provided as cultural experiences to “modern” tourists. This commercial just stands out because of the particularly stark division of the world into those who are entertained and attended to, and those who do the attending.

Dr. Grumpy re-tells the fascinating story of the importation of camels to North America for use as beasts of burden.  He begins:

Following the Mexican-American war, the United States found itself in control of a large desert, covering what’s now New Mexico & Arizona, and parts of Texas, California, and several other states. The U.S. Army needed to establish bases and supply lines in the area, both for the border with Mexico and the continuing wars with Indian tribes.

The railroad system was in it’s infancy, and there were no tracks through the area… The only way across was to use horses. But horses, like humans, are heavily dependent on water. This made the area difficult to cross, and vulnerable to attacking Apaches.

And so in 1855 Jefferson Davis, then U.S. Secretary of War (later to become President of the Confederacy during the Civil War), put into action an idea proposed by several officers: buy camels to serve in the desert. Congress appropriated $30,000 for the endeavor, and officials were sent to Turkey to do just that.

The next year they imported somewhere between 62 and 73 camels and, with them, 8 camel drivers all led by a man named Hadji Ali. Enter the U.S. Army Camel Corps.

Camels at an Army Fort:


Illustration of camels in camp:


Camels on the go (1850s):


Says Dr. Grumpy:

They led supply trains all over, from Texas to California…

But there were problems. The Americans had envisioned combined forces of camels and horses, each making up for the deficiencies of the other. But horses and donkeys are frightened of camels, making joint convoys difficult and requiring separate corrals. The army was also unprepared for their intrinsically difficult personalities- camels bite, spit, kick, and are short-tempered. Horses are comparatively easy to handle.

Then came the start of the American Civil War, which focused military attention to the east. With troops pulled out of the American desert, and horses better suited to the eastern terrain, the camels were abandoned.   Though Weird CA suggests that they were used in the war, Dr. Grumpy reports that most simply escaped into the desert.  For a time, there was a wild camel population in the U.S.

Meanwhile, a former-solider and Canadian gold prospector, Frank Laumeister, figured that camels would be great pack animals for his new line of work. He bought a herd in 1862, but they didn’t work out so well in the rockier terrain. Plus:

The Canadians, like the Americans, discovered they weren’t easy to handle. The same problems of difficult disposition and spooking horses came up. In addition, they found camels would eat anything they found. Hats. Shoes. Clothes that were out drying. Even soap. And so, after a few years, the Canadians gave up on the experiment, too.

Laumeister on one of his camels:

Our original head camel driver, Hadji Ali, eventually got out of the camel business, but he never left America. He became a citizen in 1880, married a woman named Gertrudis Serna and had two children. He died in Arizona in 1902, having spent 51 years of his life in the U.S. You’ll find his tombstone in Quartzsite, Arizona labeled with the name “Hi Jolly,” the Americanized pronunciation of his full name.


The last sighting of a wild camel in North America was in 1941 near Douglas, Texas (source).

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

“It was kind of unreal,” the Steamboat Springs, Colorado native said, describing his recent 34th birthday fete at Kandahar Airfield, better known as KAF. “At least for a few minutes, you could pretend you were somewhere else. It was like going back home” (source).

“I was expecting to arrive in a warzone but instead here I am wearing sunglasses in the sun and eating a baguette,” said Dimitra Kokkali, a NATO contractor newly arrived from Brussels. “On my first night I surprised my family by calling them from an outdoor rock concert” (source).

Time magazine slideshow, titled “R&R at Kandahar Airfield,” uses images to describe how the busiest airport in the world “tries to re-create the comforts of home for the coalition forces in Afgahnistan.” Kandahar Airfield is the busiest airport in the world because all supplies and troops pass through on their way to or from war in Iraq or Afghanistan. At any given time there are about 25,000 service members and civilian contractors at the airfield.

These images of the Kandahar’s “Boardwalk” recreation area are striking for a few reasons. First, they show a blurring of the line dividing the homefront and the warfront. The slide show includes images of service members using FaceBook in computer labs, and eating meals in their fatigues at TGI Fridays.

Second, these images reflect that there is increasing emphasis on how service members are supported and cared for by the military during wartime. These photos show the side of war that is not about fighting and danger—instead, they are about the comfort and making a foreign land where they are fighting as “homelike” as possible.

Third, these show the blurring of the boundary between the military and privately owned businesses. Civilian Contractors are augmenting military personnel during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the inclusion of these civilian contractors in war zones has raised the issues of the safety of civilian workers and the costs of hiring corporations (Contexts).

Finally, as a consequence of the blurring of the boundaries of homefront and warfront, the division between the country of Afghanistan and the military is sharpened. Afghanis (except for those few with security clearance) are not allowed to shop or enjoy the free entertainment on the Boardwalk at Kandahar.  Meanwhile, service members can safely buy souvenirs on the Boardwalk itself.  Afghani culture is commodified as a tourist attraction in this theme park-like Boardwalk setting.

All of these images speak to the changing boundary between the homefront and the warfront, and as a result, changes in how we, as a country, view war. Instead of the images of brutality, death, and chaos that Americans saw in their living rooms on TV during Vietnam, for example, these images show the military taking care of service members who are being entertained, keeping in touch with loved ones, and having fun.

But as this service member describes, walking the Kandahar “Boardwalk” in a warzone is still a jarring experience:

“I couldn’t believe I was in Kandahar eating a double-dipped chocolate ice cream at sunset on a Saturday afternoon,” said Coleman, who was downing a strawberry smoothie from the French bakery behind him, where an Eiffel Tower climbs a wall above picnic tables with fake potted plants.

“It was a surreal experience,” he said, as a jet fighter roared across the sky, letting loose a stream of defensive white flares. “I remember thinking, ‘We’re in the heart of the war-zone. The bad guys are 10 miles away. And here we are eating soft-serve ice cream'” (source).

Wendy Christensen is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College whose specialty includes the intersection of gender,war, and the media.

In the 2-and-a-half-minute video below, sent in by Lisa G., a decorated concert violinist named Joshua Bell plays in a Metro station at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. for 45 minutes. Over 1,000 people walk by without turning their heads, 27 give money, and 7 people stop to listen for a minute or more (source).  Lisa G. summarizes:

Bell recalls that an awkward moment ensued every time he was done with a song because no one applauded or even acknowledged his existence because to these passengers he was just another street performer begging him for a dollar.

What makes Joshua Bell worth listening to?  The experiment points to the importance of context.   How do we know that we are listening to a master musician?   One important clue is where they are playing, and how expensive it is to have the opportunity to listen.   In a concert hall full of seats paid for with large bills, Bell’s talent is authenticated by the arbiters of taste who are the gatekeepers of the venue. Concert-goers do not necessarily know whether or why Bell is any good. They rely on the arbiters to determine who is worth listening to. And listening to who it is that is worth listening to provides them with expensive, and therefore scarce, cultural cred. They have seen Bell in concert (“oh and it was glorious!”); have you?

But in the Metro, Bell is no one. The context of the Metro fails to authenticate Bell’s music. Everyone can listen, thus hearing offers no distinction at all. And almost no one cares.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

After Gwen posted her fascinating discussion of the way that people who are reliant on public transportation are inconvenienced or isolated (based on photos sent in by Lynne Shapiro), David F. sent a link to an article in The Columbus Dispatch about the public transportation in downtown Columbus.   Downtown developers, it reports, oppose a plan by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) to build a transfer station.  The reporter writes:

Downtown developers have complained that COTA passengers waiting for transfers near Broad and High streets, and buses lining the curbs make the area less attractive for retail stores and their customers.

Translation: no one wants to see buses and the people who ride them.

Because, you see, when the buses stop there, those kind of people are there waiting for the bus:

(Image at Google)

One of these developers, Cleve Ricksecker, explains:

Transit-dependent riders who are going through Downtown, for whatever reason, don’t shop… Large numbers of people waiting for a transfer can be intimidating for someone walking down the sidewalk.

Translation: People who buy things want to be protected from knowing about and interacting with people who are too poor to buy things.

Much better to make life more difficult for people who ride the bus.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Amanda S. sent in a great example of the assumption that only women care for children, this one from a government agency. The photograph is of a section of the California Department of Motor Vehicles Driver’s Manual. It specifies that one might want to give a little bit of extra street-crossing time to older people, disabled people, and “women with young children” (apparently dads are never in public with their children… or else they hurry those slowpokes right along):

What I like about this example, in particular, is that it shows that gendered assumptions about parenting (mostly the assumption that women do it) isn’t just something that advertisers and other cultural producers do, it is also reflected in official government business. And, while this mistake doesn’t have any concrete consequences, if it is easy for this sort of thing to go unnoticed in this context, you could imagine it going unnoticed in materials that do, in fact, affect public policy.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.