Let Women Take Over, Says Kenyan Newspaper

While I was in Kenya, my driver / guide noticed that I was interested in politics, so, every day, he’d get me a different newspaper to read we’d discussed Kenyan politics or he’d explain the disastrous effects of global warming on Kenyan agriculture, hoping that Obama would ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That made for pretty interesting discussions.

Anyhoo, while reading one of said newspapers, I couldn’t help but be interested by this op-ed in the Kenyan Daily Nation (the respectable Kenyan newspaper… not like that firebrandish Citizen! – no website yet)

HA! And the searing indictment goes on…

And concludes that men are wimps…

I understand this op-ed may have good intentions, but isn’t it a bit easy to just dump the whole mess on women and say "here, we f!@#ed up, you fix it!".

SocProf Goes To Kenya

That’s right! I am almost done packing and will catch an early morning flight tomorrow to London then to Nairobi. I will be spending most of my time in Kenya, then to Zambia.

I will be offline (literally, no computer, no cellphone, no TV) for about two weeks. See you then! I will have tons of photos to share.

Finally! A Star Trek Movie

Star Trek 2009 is, as far as I am concerned the first Star Trek movie, that is the only movie that truly captures the essence of the original series. The only other tolerable ST movie was Wrath of Khan. All the other movies, including the ST-TNG movies were really really bad and got worse as they went (The Undiscovered Country for TOS and Nemesis for TNG were just awful).

Now, finally here is a Star Trek movie that not only respects the ST lore but adds to it by exploring the early stages of the Kirk / Spock friendship as well as the constitution of the ST-TOS team (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Uhura, Sulu and Scotty), all youthfully brilliant. In this respect, the casting of this film was truly inspired. All the characters bring their own special kind of talent (fencing??) to the table to make the Enterprise the ship that it will become.

It is also nice to see a movie that weaves so well together character development and good story with attention to details (that mining Romulan ship was scary-looking) and does not get lost in its own time paradox storyline.

Sure, we can nitpick that the Vulcan does not get destroyed in the ST lore, nor does Spock’s mother die like that (she makes an appearance in TOS). But that does not matter as it helps to establish Spock’s character. Actually, the movie probably sets up a whole alternative timeline for the sequels that are sure to come.

For the whole Kirk / Spock friendship thing, just go read Lance Mannion.

Stealth Conflicts and The Legacies of Colonialism – Sri Lanka

The Grumpy Sociologist has a great post that explains the legacy of colonialism in the current conflict in Sri Lanka between the Tamil Tigers and the government. As with many new wars, this one is also devastating on the civilian population. And as with many stealth conflicts, it is poorly reported in the media (actually, I have only seen it reported on a regular basis by the British press, and to a lesser degree by the French press):

The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) are actually known for their quasi-scientific approach to recruiting child-soldiers. But what is especially interesting and well-developed in TGS’s post is the legacy of colonialism in ethnic divisions (something not unlike the Rwandan case… and we all know how that ended).

Former colonial powers do not like to be reminded of the way they used divide-and-conquer tactics to control their colonies by pitting ethnic groups against each, usually by promoting one above the other, thereby fostering long-lasting resentment. The effects of these policies still pervade many of the current conflicts on the Global South.

Read the whole thing.

Nationalism and Homophobia at the Eurovision

Radoslav Banga, Rom and proud to claim the heritage, will represent the Czech Republic at the Eurovision with a song "Supergypsy" that makes fun of all the stereotypes applied to Roms. His selection, according to Le Monde, has enraged the Czech neo-nazi who cannot stand the thought of a Rom representing the country (I told you before the Eurovision is all about nationalism). The song itself is really not that great but the video is a satirical accumulation of anti-Rom stereotypes:

But anti-Rom prejudice is not limited to the Czech Republic. Hungary has had its share of anti-Rom violence as the economy deteriorates and prejudice levels deepen:

The rise in prejudice is, of course, perceived not as a reaction to a deteriorating economy but as a logical reaction to an "objective" state of affairs: Roms commit a lot of crimes, everyone knows that. Why doesn’t the government do something about it, clamors the entire right wing (and not just the usual ethnocentric far right)? Once public opinion’s awareness is raised, any incident involving Roms will be labeled as Rom criminality, creating a cumulative record of ethnic anti-social behavior that can be pointed to as major social problem. It works even better when the scapegoated minority has a long history of being blamed for criminal behavior:

And here is a good demonstration of how one creates a criminal ethnic minority:

Furthermore, another good illustration of racial construction works in two steps: (1) define a lot of crime as "Gypsy crimes", but also (2) de-racialize crimes committed against Gypsies as not racial or ethnic hate crime, that is, eliminate the racial motive. What is left is a socially produced view of society where Gypsies commit a lot of crimes against the majority but are never victims of crime because of their ethnicity. This ethnic-based criminality of the majority against the minority is then nicely evacuated, leaving only one category of crimes and criminals.

Another issue that has arisen for the Eurovision is the question of homophobia mixed with extreme nationalism as activist groups plan on organizing a gay pride event corresponding to the Eurovision contest in Moscow (the last gay prides ended badly as nationalists beat up on the demonstrators that included Right Said Fred singer – remember him?). This year might not be very different as nationalism and religious extremism flourishes in Russia:

It remains to be seen whether international reputation matters to the notoriously-homophobic mayor of Moscow.

Corporate Mergers and Cultural Gatekeepers – Revisiting Howard Becker

I don’t blog often on microsociology and symbolic interactionism. Fortunately, others do that very well. Case in point, this post over at the Sociology Lens, based on the merger of two of the largest talent agencies, William Morris and Endeavor (thereby creating the very large William Morris Endeavor):

This is a good opportunity to remember that these kinds of phenomena have diverse impact on the social structure. What is happening here is not just a matter of continuing economic concentration in different sectors of the corporate world. It is also a matter of cultural production. Following Bourdieu, one could argue that the merging of these companies and the constitution of corporate giants in the field of talent agencies concentrates power (and cultural and social capital) into fewer hands and reduces power for other social actors in the field of artistic production.

Book Review – WWW:Wake

WWWW Robert J. Sawyer is one of my favorite science-fiction writer ever since I discovered the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy: Hominids / Humans / Hybrids (highly recommended). I have worked my way through almost everything he has written and getting a new book by him is always a source of great anticipation.

His latest book, WWW: Wake is the first volume in another trilogy to come. Because it is a first volume, there is a lot of exposition work being done throughout. Different narrative threads are initiated without coming to any conclusions (the Chinese storyline or the Hobo storyline). I guess we’ll have to wait for that in the next volume.

The story, in this first installment, focuses on Caitlin Decter, a blind American teenager, who undergoes an experimental procedure that allows her to regain sight in one eye. However, in addition to seeing the real world, Caitlin becomes also able to see the World Wide Web (if they ever make a movie out of this, the visuals to represent Websight – seeing the web – should be interesting). Furthermore, there seems to be something more than the Web. Some form of consciousness has emerged as well and is getting smarter pretty fast.

This, of course, lays out a few question that, I am guessing, the next volumes will tackle. What is the entity, exactly? What kind of moral being is it? What are its intentions (now that it can figure that out)?

The book spends a lot of space on Caitlin herself, giving her multiple layers and complexities. She is a teenager, with all the baggage that goes with that. She suffers from having an aloof father (who, we learn later, is actually autistic) and a bright mother who gave up her own professional ambitions. Caitlin is also a math genius and thoroughly a millenial whose disability does not seem an impairment when it comes to using Web 2.0 stuff. Having positioned her as such a stable character, then, the book focuses on her adaptation to being able to see (both the real world and the Web).

This is a common pattern for Sawyer. Several of his books are constructed in a similar fashion: an internal transformation of the main character drives the plot. This is also the case in Rollback, Minscan, or Frameshift. These transformations involve personal questioning regarding identity and morality as well as one’s place in the world. The pattern is from the inside out.

This is somewhat the opposite pattern that is found in Robert Charles Wilson’s work when the transformation is usually social first, impacting everyone (and the main characters) in different fashion (from the outside in). Which is why the sociologist in me is usually a little happier with RCW’s work… which is why I initially said that sawyer is one of my favorites. RCW holds the title (Julian Comstock can’t arrive fast enough). Robert Sawyer is a solid number two.

That being said, Wake is, like all of Sawyer’s novels I have read, a page-turner. The least interesting parts, to me, were the initial monologues of the web-dwelling entity. The whole book is first-person narrations from the different characters involved: Caitlin, the entity, Shoshanna the primatologist, or Sinanthropus the Chinese blogger.

So, Sawyer has laid out a trail of crumbs for us. What is the link between all these things: a blind girl regaining her sight, a web-dwelling entity getting smarter, a Chimp who can paint portraits, a Chinese blogger constantly trying to dodge the police state? And what does this all have to do with an epidemic in China? There are other chracters involved, who are also not, thankfully, caricatures: Caitlin’s parents, Dr Kuroda (the Japanese scientist whose procedure restored Caitlin’s vision), Dr Qang  Li the Chinese epidemiologist in charge of monitoring the brutal epidemic in a rural region of China or even Caitlin’s Muslim friend, Bashira, not to forget Hobo the primate.

It is indeed a rich novel, with multiple layers that will probably tackle the ideas that seem dear to Sawyer (consciousness, for instance) all woven into an entertaining narrative. I hope he churns out the next volumes of the trilogy faster than Charles Stross with the Merchant Princes series.

Against The Romanticization of Community Living as Ideal Local Democracy

When the social structure fails…

And indeed, the rise in witch-hunting is not random, it corresponds with deteriorating social conditions:

But it is not random either that it is a game of blaming women:

The combination of invocation of traditions to justify illegal activities, especially those involving the oppression of women with good old fashioned patriarchal rule and local "justice" is a toxic brew. That is why, as I have mentioned before, one should be skeptical of (usually anti-globalization) arguments that promote a return to the local as democratic ideal. Local communities can be major sites of oppression for minorities (see all my posts on the fate of albinos in Tanzania for instance) and women. The lack of oversight from national authorities can turn isolated communities into closed-off hells for those targeted for violence.

African Women Worst Affected by Global Economic Crisis

Shocking and surprising, I know (via Carlos Serra). The following is an interview with Mwila Chigaga, the regional senior gender specialist at the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) African headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

And it is hard to avoid the correlation with this:

The patriarchy continuum is global in scale, diverse in its manifestations but consistent in its reaction to external events (such as economic recessions).

Disco Nationalism – The Eurovision

Phil BC has a great post on the Eurovision 2009. Apparently, he has watched and listened to all the entries (and survived it!) and he gives his expert opinion (alogn with some geopolitical analysis):

His favorite is the Finnish entry:

You know, I can remember a time when all contestants had to sing in their own language rather than the now-ubiquitous English, you know, something like this (with folkloric rhythm and Soviet nostalgia included):

Well, at least France is putting up a real well-known star:

Trafficking in Boys in China

When something is a scarce resource and in high demand, it is very likely that it will be trafficked at redirection of distribution of said resource. Case in point, children, and especially boys in China.

As the article states, between 8,000 and 15,000 children (75% boys) are kidnapped and trafficked every year in China, and the authorities are not really interested in fighting this. Trafficking exists because there is a market for boys in that country. The main victims are migrant workers who travel with their children but are separated from their family. They work long hours and follow the rural custom of letting their (often unique) child play outside, on the streets of overcrowded and impoverished neighborhoods.

Who buys these stolen boys?

There seems to be three types of buyers: the childless, those who only have daughters, and those who already have a son but want more conform to the image of the traditional family. And since local authorities only report to the family planning office only births, these trafficked children are never reported. And as peasants get wealthier, they experience more pressure to pass down their wealth to their sons.

As soon as these children join local schools, their new identity is made completely legal and their biological parents have very little chance of ever finding them. This practice is relatively accepted. The parents who paid for these children take care of them, so, they do not feel they did anything wrong. Traffickers often tell them that the children come from extremely poor families or have been abandoned, so really, they are better off with a wealthier family. So, everyone turns a blind eye to this.

The Legacy of Colonialism

Formerly colonial African societies are still marked by major racial and ethnic stratification. They are perfect illustrations of the difficulty of overcoming legacies of racial privileges and disadvantages. Case in point:

For the pun contained in the title of the article, see this article on a murder involving a relative of Thomas Cholmondeley (his step grandmother):

Whiner of The Day – Kenyan Man

Oh boo-freakin’-hoo:

Dude, go work out, take cold showers and quit whining. You’ll live. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, you might to ask your wife why she’s on strike and discuss gender inequalities with her. Empathy and gender equality work wonders for happy marriages. And one last thing: your marriage is not just about YOU, YOUR needs and YOUR rights.