The Visual Du Jour – World Drugs Report 2012

Anyone teaching deviance, criminology and other related fields should be interested in that one: the 2012 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It comes with a lot of data and great visualizations.

WORLD DRUG REPORT 2012 from SocProf on Vimeo.

The report also contains some great static maps (Pdf) showing increases and decreases in seizures of various substances. [Click on the images for ginormous views)


Cannabis (herb):

Cannabis (resin):




Book Review – Cop in the Hood

If you enjoyed the first season of the Wire, you will enjoy Peter Moskos‘s Cop in the Hood. The book is the tale of a sociologist going native by going through the Baltimore police academy, becoming a cop and working for over a year. This mix of ethnography and participant observation makes the book highly readable and enjoyable. My freshmen students will be reading it next term.

The book roughly follows Moskos chronological journey, from the academy to the street and the last part of the book is dedicated to a pretty thorough analysis (and indictment) of the War on Drugs.

This book is especially relevant because of one the challenges of teaching freshmen is to show them why they should be interested in sociology and sociological topics, that there is some knowledge to be produced here and that sociology has the tools to produce it.

Why did Moskos choose participant-observation? (All notations are Kindle locations)

“As a sociology graduate student, I took to heart the argument that prolonged participant-observation research is the best and perhaps only means of gathering valid data on job-related police behavior. Because data on policing are iffy at best and cops, like everyone, love to tell a tall tale, the best way to see what happens on the street is to be there as it happens. As an institution, police have been labeled insular, resentful of outsiders, and in general hostile to research, experimentation, and analysis. Official police statistics are notoriously susceptible to manipulation. And as most police activity has no official record at all, the nuances of police work are difficult if not impossible to quantify. Professor and police researcher Maurice Punch wrote, “The researcher’s task becomes, then, how to outwit the institutional obstacle-course to gain entry and . . . penetrate the mine-field of social defenses to reach the inner reality of police work.”” (114)

The first interesting observation from Moskos’s work is his analysis of the police academy as relatively useless for the job:

“So what’s the point of the academy? Primarily, it’s to protect the department from the legal liability that could result from negligent training. To the trainees this appears more important than educating police officers.


And second, despite the lax approach toward academics, instructors were very concerned with officer safety, the aspect of the job they emphasized most: “The most important part of your job is that you go home. Everything else is secondary.” This philosophy is reinforced at all levels of the police organization. Formal and informal rules concerning officer safety are propagated simultaneously.


By the end of the academy, less than half the class saw a relation between what police learn in the academy and what police need to know on the street. A strong antimedia attitude, little changed from sociologist William Westley’s observations in the 1950s, grew steadily in the police academy. At the end of training, just 10 percent of trainees believed that the media treat police fairly.


After six months in the academy, trainees learn to:

  • Respect the chain of command and their place on the bottom of that chain.
  • Sprinkle “sir” and “ma’am” into casual conversation.
  • Salute.
  • Follow orders.
  • March in formation.
  • Stay out of trouble.
  • Stay awake.
  • Be on time.
  • Shine shoes.” (359 – 390)

But Moskos’s conclusion is that the training actually demoralizes trainees even before they start working on the streets. Physical training is not boot camp and provides a poor preparation (after all, most officers will spend their days in their patrol car), and academic training does not really impart knowledge and does not encourage thinking.

Once training is over, the bulk of the book follows Moskos on the beat, on the Eastern side of Baltimore (that’s Proposition Joe’s territory, for you Wire fans following at home) and the constant contradictory demands placed on officers (between following a very strict military-style chain of command and having to make quick decisions). In that sense, the book is also a good study of the necessity of developing informal rules in in highly formal, bureaucratic environments. Working around the rules is the only way to keep the work manageable and within the limits of efficiency and sanity. But for Moskos, the gap between formal and informal norms is especially wide in policing. One could see here the application of Merton’s strain theory: the officers largely agree with the goals of the job they have to do (even though they are aware of the futility of the War on Drugs), but they constantly have to innovate while on patrol because the rules do not work on the streets (of course, some officers do lapse into ritualism especially in a context where protecting one’s pension is THE concern all officers have and that guides their behavior on the street).

These informal rules are constantly at work whether it comes to stopping, frisking, searching, arresting, writing reports. In all of these aspects of the job, covering one’s butt and protecting one’s life and pension are paramount concerns. This means that officers actually have quite a bit of leeway and flexibility when it comes to their job. These informal norms are described in details in Moskos’s book and there is no underestimating their importance.

Once on the streets, police officers mix a culture of poverty approach to “these people” (the communities they are expected to police, where gangs and drugs culture produce poverty with quite a bit of eliminationist rhetoric that reveals an in-group / out-group mentality between police officers and civilians:

“A black officer proposed similar ends through different means. “If it were up to me,” he said, “I’d build big walls and just flood the place, biblical-like. Flood the place and start afresh. I think that’s all you can do.” When I asked this officer how his belief that the entire area should be flooded differed from the attitudes of white police, he responded, “Naw, I’m not like that because I’d let the good people build an ark and float out. Old people, working people, line ’em up, two by two. White cops will be standing on the walls with big poles pushing people back in.” The painful universal truth of this officer’s beliefs came back to me in stark relief during the flooding and destruction of New Orleans, Louisiana. Police in some neighboring communities prevented displaced black residents from leaving the disaster area, turning them away with blockades and guns.” (609)

That in-group / out-group outlook also involves dehumanization and stigmatization:

“In the ghetto, police and the public have a general mutual desire to avoid interaction. The sociologist Ervin Goffman wrote, “One avoids a person of high status out of deference to him and avoids a person of lower status . . . out of a self-protective concern.” Goffman was concerned with the stigma of race, but in the ghetto, stigma revolves around the “pollution” associated with drugs. Police use words like “filthy,” “rank,” “smelly,” or “nasty” to describe literal filth, which abounds in the Eastern District. The word “dirty” is used to describe the figurative filth of a drug addict. It is, in the drug-related sense, the opposite of being clean.” (633)

The “dope fiend” becomes the loathed representative figure of all this. But the dehumanization applies equally to them and the dealers. In that sense, there is no sympathy for the people who have to live in these communities and have nothing to do with the drug trade. They are put in the same bag. And whatever idea of public service trainees might start with tends to disappear after a year on the streets.

And quite a bit of what goes on in the streets between police and population has a lot to do with forcing respect and maintaining control of the interaction:

“Although it is legally questionable, police officers almost always have something they can use to lock up somebody, “just because.” New York City police use “disorderly conduct.” In Baltimore it is loitering. In high-drug areas, minor arrests are very common, but rarely prosecuted. Loitering arrests usually do not articulate the legally required “obstruction of passage.” But the point of loitering arrests is not to convict people of the misdemeanor. By any definition, loitering is abated by arrest. These lockups are used by police to assert authority or get criminals off the street.” (838)

And, of course, the drug dealers also know the rules and become skillful at working around them, avoiding arrest, challenging the police authority and have structured their trade accordingly. It would indeed be a mistake to look at this illegal and informal economy as anything but a trade structured around specific rules that take into account having to deal with the police and the different statuses of the actors involved in the trade reflect that:

  • lookouts have the simplest job: alert everyone else of police approach,
  • steerers promote the product,
  • moneymen obviously hold the money for the transactions,
  • slingers distribute the drugs after money has been exchanged
  • and gunmen protect the trade.

The transaction is therefore completely decomposed into steps where money and drugs are never handled by the same person while the main dealers watch things from afar, protecting themselves from legal liabilities. For most of these positions, the pay is not much better than fast-food joints, but that is pretty much all there is in these urban areas.

Of course, just like everything in the US, there is a racial component to this. The drug trade is not a “black thing” (like mac and cheese as Pat Robertson would say) and it has its dependency theory taste:

“The archetypal white addict is employed, comes with a friend, drives a beat-up car from a nearby blue-collar neighborhood or suburb such as Highlandtown or Dundalk, and may have a local black drug addict in the backseat of the car. A black police officer who grew up in the Eastern District explained the local’s presence, “White people won’t buy drugs alone because they’re afraid to get out of the car and approach a drug dealer. They’ll have some black junkie with them.” The local resident serves as a sort of freelance guide, providing insurance against getting “burned” or robbed. The local addict is paid informally, most often taking a cut of the drugs purchased.” (1116)

The complete mistrust between the police and the community is also a trademark of impoverished urban environments. And indeed, what would residents gain by interacting with law enforcement and the court system? At the same time, police work is arrest-based (the more the better) which officers all understand to be futile.

For Moskos, part of the problem with policing was the advent of policing-by-patrol-car:

“The advent of patrol cars, telephones, two-way radios, “scientific” police management, social migration, and social science theories on the “causes” of crime converged in the late 1950s. Before then, police had generally followed a “watchman” approach: each patrol officer was given the responsibility to police a geographic area.5In the decades after World War II, motorized car patrol replaced foot patrol as the standard method of policing. Improved technology allowed citizens to call police and have their complaints dispatched to police through two-way radios in squad cars. Car patrol was promoted over foot patrol as a cost-saving move justified by increased “efficiency.”6 Those who viewed police as provocative and hostile to the public applauded reduced police presence and discretion. Controlled by the central dispatch, police could respond to the desires of the community rather than enforce their own “arbitrary” concepts of “acceptable” behavior. Police officers, for their part, enjoyed the comforts of the automobile and the prestige associated with new technology. Citizens, rather than being encouraged to maintain community standards, were urged to stay behind locked doors and call 911. Car patrol eliminated the neighborhood police officer. Police were pulled off neighborhood beats to fill cars. But motorized patrol—the cornerstone of urban policing—has no effect on crime rates, victimization, or public satisfaction.” (1371)

This has encouraged a detachment of officers from the communities they police. Quick response time becomes the goal and officers spend time in their car waiting to be “activated” on 911 calls. The only interaction between officers and residents is limited to such 911 call responses, which can all potentially lead to confrontations. But that is still the way policing is done and the way it is taught at the academies, guided by the three “R”s:

  • Random patrol: give the illusion of omnipresence by changing patrol patterns
  • Rapid response: act quickly, catch the criminals (doesn’t work)
  • Reactive investigation: solve crimes rather than prevent them

But the institutional context very poorly accounts for the interaction rituals that guide the interaction between officers and residents:

“Police officers usually know whether a group of suspects is actively, occasionally, or never involved with selling drugs. Some residents, often elderly, believe that all youths, particularly those who present themselves as “thug” or “ghetto,” are involved with drug dealing. If police respond to a call for a group of people known not to be criminals, police will approach politely. If the group seems honestly surprised to see the police, they may be given some presumption of innocence. An officer could ask if everything is all right or if the group knows any reason why the police would have been called. If the suspects are unknown to a police officer, the group’s response to police attention is used as the primary clue. Even with a presumption of guilt, a group that walks away without being prompted will generally be allowed to disperse. If a group of suspects challenges police authority through language or demeanor, the officer is compelled to act. This interaction is so ritualized that it resembles a dance.


If temporary dispersal of a group is the goal, the mere arrival of a patrol car should be all that is needed. Every additional step, from stopping the car to exiting the car to questioning people on the street, known as a “field interview,” is a form of escalation on the part of the police officer. Aware of the symbolism and ritual of such actions, police establish a pattern in which a desired outcome is achieved quickly, easily, and with a minimum of direct confrontation. Rarely is there any long-term impact. When a police officer slows his or her car down in front of the individuals, the suspects know the officer is there for them and not just passing through on the way to other business. If a group of suspects does not disperse when an officer “rolls up,” the officer will stop the car and stare at the group. A group may ignore the officer’s look or engage the officer in a stare-off, known in police parlance as “eye fucking.” This officer’s stare serves the dual purpose of scanning for contraband and weapons and simultaneously declaring dominance over turf. An officer will initiate, often aggressively, conversation from the car and ask where the suspects live and if they have any identification. Without proof of residence, the suspects will be told to leave and threatened with arrest. If the group remains or reconvenes, they are subject to a loitering arrest. Police officers always assert their right to control public space. Every drug call to which police respond—indeed all police dealings with social or criminal misbehavior—will result in the suspect’s arrest, departure, or deference.” (1494 – 1507)

And a great deal of these interactions are also guided by the need, on both sides, to not lose face, be seen as weak or easily punked. These interactional factors may often determine whether an officer gets out of his car or not, sometimes triggering contempt from the residents. So, officers tend to like car patrols as opposed to foot patrols which are tiring, leave one vulnerable to the elements, and potentially preventing crime. Rapid response is easier and more popular with officers. People commit crimes, you get there fast, you arrest them.

Overall, Moskos advocates for greater police discretion and more focus on quality of life issues as opposed to rapid response while acknowledging that this is not without problems. I don’t think there ever were a golden age of policing where communities and law enforcement worked harmoniously together for the greater good and the end of broken windows (a discredited theory not questioned by Moskos), especially when minorities were involved.

But the bottom line, for Moskos, that the current War on Drugs is a massive failure and a waste of resources (and Moskos does go into some details of the history of drug policies and enforcement in the US, a useful reminder of the racialization of public policy) and should be replaced by a variety of policies (not all drugs are the same) with three goes in mind:

  • preservation of life (current policies increase the dangerous nature of drugs)
  • reduce incarceration
  • save money (through reduced incarceration, depenalization and taxation).

“We changed our country’s culture toward cigarette smoking. It took effort and did cost money. But most of the money came from legally taxed revenue and the cigarette companies. High taxation discourages new users from starting. Public service messages tell the truth (mostly) about the harms of tobacco. Not only is this a great victory for public health, it is perhaps our country’s only success against any pop u lar addictive drug. Drug policies could follow a similar approach: tax drug sales; treat drug abuse as a medical and social problem; set realistic goals of reduced drug use; and allow localities control over their own drug policies.


Simply decriminalizing possession is not enough. Legalization must not allow armed drug-dealing thugs to operate with impunity.” (2686 – 91)

Now, none of this deals with urban ghettoization and the lack of economic opportunities in inner cities but that it is not really the goal of criminal policy. This also means that the incentives for officers to do counter-productive work need to be changed and we all know that bureaucracies are not easy to transform. In such cases, resistance is not futile.

So, even though I don’t fully agree with all of Moskos’s recommendations and ideas (I am much more suspect of police discretion than he is), I recommend the book as it does provide extensive food for thought.

Mafia Wars

Another great episode of Al-Jazeera’s People and Power on human trafficking from Nigeria into Italy and the subsequent Mafia wars between Italian mafia and Nigerian criminal organizations:

As this Guardian article notes, it is a familiar story:

“Illegal immigrants first came to Castel Volturno from Nigeria in the 1980s to work on the tomato farms in the countryside but when those farms went out of business there was no work, legal or otherwise. Some of them soon realised there was a different kind of money to be made – through the importing and selling of both drugs and humans in a district characterised by extreme poverty and high levels of violent crime. Since Castel Volturno sits in the heartland of the Camorra, a criminal network based in Naples, this could not be done without the consent of its local wing, the Casalesi clan.

But as Nigerian gangsters extended their reach in a town that is now home to one of Europe’s largest concentrations of illegal immigrants, the Casalesi reasserted its authority. In 2008 it killed six African men in a drive-by shooting – the horror of the incident and the riots that followed is captured in Là-bas, a film set to premiere at the Venice film festival. That same year, the campaign against the gangs – involving the police, the government and the local community – brought the singer Miriam Makeba to perform at a festival aimed at defying the Camorra and promoting tolerance, but Mama Africa, as she was known, had a heart attack and died backstage.


One officer, whose anonymity must be protected, says: “Prostitution is tolerated by the Italian mafia as there will always be people who can earn money through their presence. Nigerians pay [the mafia] and are allowed to continue with their illegal activities. But when this peace is broken there will be war.”

Women working on the Via Domitiana speak of shattered dreams, of €60,000 debts – a sum they had no concept of before they arrived in Italy – and of a deep, terrifying fear of breaking the juju ceremonies that bind them to their traffickers.

Isoke Aikpitanyi is a former prostitute who was lured to Italy with the promise of a hairdressing job. The salon did not exist and instead she became, she says, “a modern slave” trapped in the town’s dark underbelly. Standing on the road, she sold herself because her madam would “kill me because I have [earned] nothing”. She did so for a pittance. “Some have pity on you and give you 20 to 50 euros. But normally they give you 10.” Aikpitanyi escaped but others have not been so lucky.”

And with the extra twist of religion, it is even more appalling:

“Isoke Aikpitanyi, a former victim of trafficking and now the main reference point for Nigerian women in Italy, knows how this business is managed in Caserta’s area. As she walks in Castel Volturno’s historic centre, she explains: “Today in Italy there are almost 10,000 madams, each one in control of an average of two or three girls.”

Madams are the key, she explains. They are the main actors in this exploitation. They force girls into prostitution and ask for money to repay the debt. They work with “brothers”, men who are in charge of physically trafficking the “babies”, as girls forced into prostitution are called.

But Nigerian human trafficking is often associated with drug smuggling and a distorted use of religious tradition.

The women and girls are often forced to undergo a Juju oath-swearing ritual that commits them to repaying the money they owe to their smugglers on pain of death or insanity.

“The Juju, the voodoo rite, it’s not a bad practice. It was used to bring justice, but they ruined everything,” says Isoke with anger. “They don’t care how they make their money as far as they make it. They use Juju to enslave.”

Sex Workers – Sex Slaves and a Novel

Sociology superstar Sudhir Venkatesh analyzes how networking technologies have changed and professionalized sex work in New York City:

“The economies of big cities have been reshaped by a demand for high-end entertainment, cuisine, and “wellness” goods. In the process, “dating,” “massage,” “escort,” and “dancing” have replaced hustling and streetwalking. A luxury brand has been born.

These changes have made sex for hire more expensive. But luxe pricing has in turn helped make prostitution, well… somewhat respectable. Whereas men once looked for a secretive tryst, now they seek a mistress with no strings attached, a “girlfriend experience,” and they are willing to pay top dollar for it.

Technology has played a fundamental role in this change. No self-respecting cosmopolitan man looking for an evening of companionship is going to lean out his car window and call out to a woman at a traffic light. The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue. As the trade has grown less risky and more lucrative, it has attracted some middle-class women seeking quick tax-free income.”

The data that got attention was this:

Facebook changes everything, now, doesn’t it? Whither Craiglist and strip clubs.

And this as well:

This is not exactly surprising but in all this talk of high-tech and professionalization, and redundancy of pimps (not a surprising trend in the current labor market) and “hookers are joining the information age” demonstration, there is this:

“Some things haven’t changed: Even women who don’t work on the street report hiding their activities from their families and being abused.”

Yeah, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:

“When police turned up at the Shangri-La, it was quiet. Marinela Badea was catching up on sleep and was awoken by the commotion. Minutes later, on a grey Manchester morning, she and half a dozen other women were handcuffed and marched out of the red-brick massage parlour in Openshaw in the east of the city.

Marinela, 17, was terrified. Trafficked from Romania, she had been coerced into prostitution by a pimp who beat her with numbing regularity. Now there was something new to fear. “I didn’t even know where I was going,” she says now. “I couldn’t trust anyone, I had no idea of the law. I was so scared.”

The sex crimes unit of Greater Manchester police arrested her for prostitution-related offences, but at least Marinela was safe behind bars. Her first day in custody was the first since her arrival in England six months earlier that she had not been forced to have sex. She had been raped by different men 50 times a week on average, often violent, drunken strangers. And if she was released from prison, Marinela was convinced she would be murdered by the gang who trafficked her.

Eventually police would discover that Marinela was an innocent victim of Bogdan Nejloveanu, 51, and his son Marius, 23, a Romanian trafficking team who last month received the longest sentence for trafficking in UK history. Her extraordinary story, revealed here for the first time, offers a troubling insight into Britain’s vast “off-street” prostitution trade. It also raises questions about the apparent indifference of the authorities to tackling trafficking and protecting vulnerable women imported into Britain as sex slaves.

Victims are notoriously reluctant to describe their experience because of the shame, fear and stress. It is even rarer for such women to agree to be identified. Motivated by a courageous desire to expose this sordid, violent world, Marinela has revealed the full horror of her ordeal in an account that should reopen the debate about how Britain deals with its sex industry.”

For anyone who has read Victor Malarek’s The Natashas or watched the PBS Frontline program, Sex Slaves, this is a familiar story.

And speaking of sex work and trafficking, I cannot recommend enough Sofi Oksanen‘s Purge. It is no wonder that the book got the Fémina literary prize in France (along with other awards). The Fémina award is attributed to novels that authored by women and about women.

Now, I am not the literary type so, I can’t comment on the strict literary aspect of the novel. But I think it is a powerful three-generation story, of four related women from Estonia who end up suffering parallel fates at the hand of patriarchal systems. be they the Soviet occupation of Estonia or the post-communist era with the trafficking of women from the former USSR to Western Europe.

The novel “navigates” between two time period, the 1990s, when a disheveled and obviously abused young woman shows up at the door of Aliide Truu, an elderly Estonian living in the village where she has spent all her life, and the 1940s-50s, the War and post-war period with the Soviet occupation, when Aliide was a young woman.

The novel is great for the seamless weaving of personal decisions in social contexts: Aliide’s jealousy as filtered through communist rule with devastating consequences.

Of course, no matter what political system under which these women live, patriarchal rule means that sexual abuse and violence for both Aliide and Zara (the young woman landing on her doorstep). And survival involves, for both of them, doing unconscionable things. But the book perfectly illustrates C.Wright Mills’s idea of personal trouble versus public issues.

The problems these women face have no solution except some degree of surrender to patriarchal oppression, and then, having to live with the consequences (such Aliide having to marry a repulsive Communist official, with devastating consequences). Throughout the book, patriarchal power looms large like a persistent dark shadow over these women’s lives, and every decision they make , or what they let happen, is with respect to that power.

The power of this tale is not just the criss-crossing of fates between different generations of women, but also the very organic and gritty style, the very physical nature of power imposed these women. I don’t know how she did it, but Oksanen does a frightening job of conveying the bodily nature of power and powerlessness. For instance, at some point, during the Soviet occupation, Aliide gets taken to the town hall for interrogation. There, she is tortured and raped, like many other women. Then, she is released:

“She recognized the smell of women on the street, the smell that said that something similar had happened to them. From every trembling hand, she could tell—there’s another one. From every flinch at the sound of a Russian soldier’s shout and every lurch at the tramp of boots. Her, too? Every one who couldn’t keep herself from crossing the street when militiamen or soldiers approached. Every one with a waistband on her dress that showed she was wearing several pairs of underwear. Every one who couldn’t look you in the eye. Did they say it to those women, too—did they tell them that every time you go to bed with your husband, you’ll remember me?

When she found herself in proximity with one of those women, she tried to stay as far away from her as she could. So no one would notice the similarities in their behavior. So they wouldn’t repeat each other’s gestures and double the power of their nervous presence. At village community events, Aliide avoided those women, because you never knew when one of those men might happen by, a man she would remember for all eternity. And maybe it would be the same man as the other woman’s. They wouldn’t be able to help staring in the same direction, the direction the man was coming from.” (Loc: 1846)

So, she makes the decision to marry a communist official (she picks one who didn’t rape her) to protect herself against something like that happening again:

“There were always bits of onion between Martin’s teeth, and he had a hearty appetite. He had heavy muscles, loose skin hung from his arms, and the pores in his armpits were almost bigger than the ones on his forehead. His long armpit hair was yellowed with sweat and funguslike, in spite of its thickness, like rusted steel wool. A belly button like a cavern and balls that hung almost to his knees. It was hard to imagine that he had ever had a young man’s firm balls. The pores in his skin were full of oil with a smell that changed depending on what he had been eating. Or maybe Aliide was just imagining that. In any case, she tried to make food without onions. As time went by, she also did her best to look at Martin the way a woman looks at a man, to learn to be a wife, and gradually she started to be able to do it when she observed how he was listened to when he had something to say. Martin had fire and power in him. He got people to listen to him and believe in themselves almost as well as Stalin did.” (Loc. 1870)

There is, of course, much more narrative intricacies involved and a bit of a mystery to be solved. But this is a powerful book to feel the bodily and physical nature of gender power and violence.

Book Review – Murder City

Last book review of the year!

I have been looking for some solid analysis regarding the mass killings of Ciudad Juarez, so, naturally, I downloaded Charles Bowden‘s Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and The Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.

This book is not Juarez 101. It is not a journalistic or analytical account of what happens there. It is more a personal journey, with lots of stream of consciousness writing. The narrative, if there is one, is not linear but disjointed (although there is a “death calendar” appendix, that lists the dead over a one-year period). There is a lot about the writer himself, what he felt, his own reactions, etc. That is the part of the book that I did not like. It made me want to shout “dude, this is not about YOU!”

As much as I understand that extreme violence at that depicted in the book has to take a toll on one’s sanity, he was still in the privileged position of being able to cross the border back in the US and rejoin his comfortable life at any time, as opposed to the people stuck in that non-stop violent world. So, no, I did not care one bit about his feelings.

That being said, the book is far from a complete waste of time. Once you skip through the first-person stuff, you get to the real story and the people I was really interested in: the people of Juarez, those who live and survive in the midst in continuous and increasing violence from all parts.

One thing that the book does well is to show how the mainstream reporting on Juarez violence explains nothing and covers up much. What goes on there is not government versus drug cartels, or drug cartels versus drug cartels. There are many layers of corruption and violence converging on Juarez: the drug cartels, of course,, bu the federal and state military accounts for enormous violence as well, along with the local police.

Often, police and military officers also work for the cartels, and military hotshots benefit from the drug trafficking. And much the conflict is funded by the US, either in the form of training Mexican soldiers (who then also work for the cartels), or direct money to the federal government in the name of the War on Drugs (is there any way in which that idea is not completely bankrupt?). The cartels bribe DEA and Border Patrol so they can ship the drug to the US without problems.

“In 1953, a flying school in Culiacan was closed to placate the United States, and yet by the late 1960s at least six hundred secret airfields flourished in northern Mexico (the beat goes on—in 2007, the Mexican army claimed to close two secret narco-airports a day). More recently, a series of agencies have tackled drugs. Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), trained by the CIA, was supposed to eliminate drug merchants and radicals in the early 1970s. By the 1980s, its staff either worked for or led cartels, including the one in Juárez. In the mid-1990s, a new force under a Mexican drug czar flourished, until it was discovered that the czar worked for the Juárez cartel and so did many of his agents. It was dissolved. Under President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), a new incorruptible force, Fiscalía Especializada en Atención de Delitos contra la Salud (FEADS), was created. One part deserted, became the Zetas, and functionally took over the Gulf cartel.” (Loc. 1918)

In 1997, an organized crime unit was formed to tackle the cartels, and at the same moment in Mexico City, the agents of yet an earlier squad assigned to fight drugs were found dead in a car trunk. FEADS was finally dissolved in 2003 when it was found to be hopelessly corrupt. Under President Felipe Calderón, yet a new federal mutation emerged—AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigación). Its head was murdered in the spring of 2008. His dying words to his killer were, “Who sent you?” The government later determined the hit was done by the Sinaloa cartel, with the killers led by a former officer in the agency.” (Loc. 1926)

And the US government pretends that the Mexican government is the democratic wonder that fights the bad criminal organizations. That pretense and its maintenance has devastating consequences as the US media never reports the wrongdoings of the Mexican military and its responsibility in much of the killings as well as its involvement in the trafficking.

That attitude ruins lives. Take the case of a Mexican journalist – Emilio – who made the “mistake” of reporting on the wrongdoings of the military:

“The woman and Emilio collect his son. They stop by his house to get some clothes and then flee to a small ranch about six miles west of Ascensión, where he can hide. He is terrified. Later that night, a friend takes him back to his house once again. He wears a big straw hat, slips low in the seat. He sneaks into his house and gets vital documents. A friend delivers a small black car out at the ranch. All day Sunday, he tries to think of a way to save his life. He comes up with only one answer: flight. No matter where he goes in Mexico, he will have to find a job and use his identity cards and the army will track him down. He now knows they will never forget his story from 2005, that he cannot be redeemed.

He tells his boy, “We are not going back to our house. The soldiers may kill me, and I don’t want to leave you alone.” Monday morning, he drives north very fast. He takes all his legal papers so that he can prove who he is. He expects asylum from the government of the United States when he crosses at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. What he gets is this: He is immediately jailed, as is his son. They are separated. It is a common practice to break up families to crush the will—often jailing men and tossing the women and children back over the fence. He is denied bond, and no hearing is scheduled to handle his case. He is taken to El Paso and placed in a private prison. Had he entered the United States illegally and then asked for asylum, he would have been almost immediately bonded out. But since he entered legally by declaring his identity and legal status at a port of entry and applied for asylum, he is placed in prison because Homeland Security declares that Emilio has failed to prove that “he does not represent a threat to the community.”

It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don’t think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the U.S. government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight a war on drugs. But then, the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels.


This was part of the Bush administration’s ‘Guantanamization’ of the refugee process. By locking people up, especially Mexican asylum applicants, and making them, through a war of attrition, give up their claims there at the camp. I’ve represented ten cops seeking asylum, and not one of them lasted longer than two months. Emilio lasted seven months. On the basis of he had his son and he knew he was going to be killed. There was nowhere that he could go and practice his profession.” There are forty reporters in El Paso—print, radio, and television. Only one or two tiny reports are published by any of them. And the matter of the Mexican army killing innocent Mexicans is not mentioned at all. Like the U.S. government, they apparently believe the Mexican army is some force of light in the darkness of Mexico.” (Loc. 3514 – 86)

And when such journalists try to tell their stories to the US media, they are ignored (as if we needed more evidence of the uselessness of that institution) because no one should destroy the myth of the Mexican government as faithful ally in the War on Drugs. There is so much money at stake in the drug business that everyone wants in, and not just criminal organizations. And Emilio is not allowed to live in the US as a refugee.

And so, the killing continues, more massive than ever. And it’s not just the young women who work in the Maquiladoras (although they are victims). Because the lines are so blurred between Federal / State military, local police and cartel killers, one can never know who killed whom. So, arrests are not made. Actually, it is even lucky if police officers leave their offices to go to killing sites because they are targets. Killings and kidnappings are not reported. And in a kind of collective amnesia, once the bodies are removed, the dead disappear from memory and are no longer mentioned (same goes for the kidnappings).

“The violence has crossed class lines. The violence is everywhere. The violence is greater. And the violence has no apparent and simple source. It is like the dust in the air, part of life itself.” (Loc. 484)

As are drugs, something Bowden calls “narcotecture.”

And yes, this has something to do with NAFTA:

“A recent study found over twenty thousand retail drug outlets in Tijuana, mainly cocaine and heroin. In Juárez, there are at least as many such venues. The peddlers earn three hundred dollars a week, there tend to be three shifts, so let’s posit for Juárez twenty-five thousand outlets (a conservative estimate) and figure a payroll of seventy-five thousand retailers. This amounts to a bigger payroll than that earned by the two hundred thousand factory workers earning on average seventy-five dollars a week. And of course, the real money is not in the retail peddlers but in the organizations that control them and import and package their products. This is the economy of the city. This is supply-side economics flooring the killing ground.


When Amado Carrillo was running a cartel that hauled in $250 million a week in the mid-1990s, Juárez was barely a speck in the mind of the American government or media. When he used the same private banker at Citigroup in New York as the then-president of Mexico, this, too, was of no interest. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed and went plowing into the lives of millions like a greed-seeking missile in the early 1990s, this city that pioneered using cheap labor to bust unions and steal American jobs continued to be ignored. Only brief flickers of interest in the dead women of Juárez captures any American audience.


In Juárez, the payroll for the employees in the drug industry exceeds the payroll for all the factories in the city, and Juárez has the most factories and is said to boast the lowest unemployment in Mexico. There is not a family in the city that does not have a family member in the drug industry, nor is there anyone in the city who cannot point out narcos and their fine houses, or who has any difficulty taking you to fine new churches built of narco-dollars. The entire fabric of Juárez society rests on drug money. It is the only possible hope for the poor, the valiant, and the doomed.” (Loc. 884 – 1030)

The drug trafficking cannot be separated from the Maquiladoras economy. So, the mass violence is the story of structural breakdown and hollowing of the state, where the only legal jobs keep one in poverty, barely at survival level or illegal immigration to the US. So, killing and drugs are legitimate career choices for young men. Killing is not deviance. It is where the incentives are.

If Bowden is right and Juarez is the future, it’s not pretty.

Embeddedness: Globalization and Illicit Trade

My students have been working on this:

And then, there is this:

“RAS AL KHAIMAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — As free economic zones grow in size and number across the globe, they are increasingly popular spots for illicit trade.

Counterfeiting and money laundering can flourish in these zones, typically manufacturing and warehousing sites near ports and airports, where governments relax tax and regulatory requirements to attract foreign investment and ease the rapid movement of goods.

Conditions that attract honest businesses attract criminals, too.

“Organized crime and counterfeiters are very resourceful and creative,” said Stuart Jones, a U.S. Treasury financial attaché based in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. “They are also interested in free-trade zones to exploit the very ecosystem governments created to contribute to economic development.”

Globally, there are about 3,000 free-trade zones in about 135 countries, through which billions of dollars’ worth of goods are transferred every year. Most of the United Arab Emirates’ 36 free-trade zones are in Dubai, but other emirates are also creating them as investment vehicles, including Masdar, a green-energy zone in Abu Dhabi. The oldest free-trade zone in the Emirates, the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, is one of the largest in the world, and handles 11 million containers each month.

That volume is reflected in the crime statistics. According to data from European Union customs, the Emirates were the No.2 source of counterfeit goods, after only China, in 2008 and 2009, said Omar Shteiwi, chairman of the Brand Owners Protection Group, an anti-counterfeiting group based in the region.

The zones’ susceptibility to illegal activities was also cited earlier this year by the Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog organization based in Paris that co-ordinates and monitors government efforts to block money laundering and terrorist financing. Free-trade zones do improve economic opportunity, but the characteristics that make these enclaves attractive to business also create chances for illicit programs that can finance terrorism, the task force warned.”

Well, duh. Illicit trade flourishes under conditions of (1) lack of governance and oversight, and/or, (2) the presence of a very vulnerable category of people that can be either used as victims or exploited in the trade, and (3) high demand, for instance:

“South Africa’s largest private medical group has pleaded guilty to performing illegal kidney transplant operations at one of its hospitals.

It follows a seven-year investigation into transplants carried out at the facility in Durban.

The medical group Netcare admitted that children were recruited to donate their organs, and said the hospital had wrongly profited from the operations.

It agreed to pay fines of nearly 8m rand (£700,000, or $1.1m).

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Johannesburg says the charges related to more than 100 operations carried out at the hospital in Durban between 2001 and 2003.

Poor donors, often from Brazil, were flown in and given thousands of dollars to have a kidney removed.

These were then given to those in need, who were often wealthy Israelis.”

Well, I guess “We all either work for rich people or we sell stuff to rich people” (that is sarcasm on my part, just sayin’).

Savage Extraction – Football Edition

It is an interesting (and depressing) report but it is always annoying to have a “thank goodness white people are the only well-intended and honest people ready to save these poor African children” segment. That being said, it is still worth watching as a form of resource extraction from the Global South to the Global North:

Book Review – The Millenium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Trilogy should be required reading in any sociology of gender course because it is a strong demonstration of the way patriarchy works at all levels of society: individual, interactive, institutional, structural and cultural.

The whole trilogy is a fictional demonstration of what happens to women who don’t know their place and won’t conform to patriarchally-established gender roles and even worse to those who fight back against patriarchal control.

This is not just the case for the central character Lisbeth Salander who is certainly the prime example of that. But this is also the case for other women throughout the trilogy: Erika Berger and her stalker as well as her relationship with the men at her new job, Sonia Modig and her sexist colleague Faste, just to name a few. The whole trilogy should have been titled “the men who hate women”.

But the pattern is clear in all three books: men of the establishment do not deal well with strong and ambitious women who are superior to them physically or intellectually. In the trilogy, the only worthwhile relationships, the only ones that work are those that are egalitarian.

Struggle for patriarchal dominance is not just a matter of interpersonal relationships. It is also visible throughout the trilogy in the power of social institutions: the police and criminal justice system of course, the welfare system, the medical and psychiatric establishment, the media, the political establishment. These social institutions are perfect example of institutional sexism where institutional routines and mechanisms work against non-conventional women.

Patriarchy is also highly visible in the amount of sexual violation that occurs either through direct rape, sexual harassment but also sex trafficking. All through the different storylines, women are perceived by patriarchal men as sexual objects to be exploited in one form or another. Sexualization is also used as a weapon against strong women to put them in their place.

On the other hand, for the “good guy-type” characters in books, sex tends to be extremely casual, for fun and enjoyment without commitment, exploitation or expectations.

There is no doubt that the trilogy is written from a social-democratic and feminist perspective. The trilogy is a strong criticism not just of interpersonal patriarchy but of the entire social structure it sustains whether it is the psychiatric establishment or secretive government agencies dominated by neo-fascists (fascism and sexism as well as hyper-masculinity always go hand in hand).

I personally think the hype about these books is entirely justified. The books are page-turners. The different characters (and there are quite a few of them) are all well fleshed out and not unidimensional. Multiple storylines running concurrently keep a fast pace, multiple threads progressively coming together until the final denouement (with only one loose thread that I can think of… I’ll let you guess what it is). The writing is very dynamic and straight to the point but the texture of the narrative is very thick and not entirely centered on a dominant couple. There is room for many other characters.

I can’t wait for Hollywood to ruin it all. </snark>

Sociology of The World Cup – Gender Edition

Even before the World Cup started, FIFA drew quite a bit of criticism for this decision:

“Aids groups in South Africa have accused Fifa of banning the distribution of condoms at World Cup stadiums and other venues.

The Aids Consortium and other groups also criticised a block on the distribution of safe sex information at stadiums and fan parks, even though alcohol can be advertised.

South Africa has the world’s largest number of HIV carriers, with an estimated 5.7 million people infected – about one in every five adults. There are around 1,400 new HIV infections every day and nearly 1,000 Aids deaths.

This has prompted calls for a health initiative to prevent the virus spreading as hundreds of thousands of football fans pour into the country for the World Cup, which starts next Friday.”

In addition to the HIV issue, it is quite convenient for FIFA to ignore the amount of paid sex that will take place during the World Cup. Oh, let me guess, no condoms = no sex, right?

Then, there is also this: increases in domestic violence.

“A news report on domestic violence during the World Cup estimated that 20,000 people a week are victims of domestic violence in England — 20,00 people a week. A lot of the blame for abusive behavior during the World Cup is placed on alcohol; apparently, 21 million more pints will be consumed in Britain alone. But if this many people are abused regularly by their partners, than we can’t really place the blame on a few lousy soccer games and a few too many beers.

It’s good that precautions are being taken to warn people about potential increases in domestic violence during the World Cup, but at the same time I think it’s a) tragic that it takes an event of this magnitude to get people concerned about the dangers battered women face and b) tragic that, in England and in many other places, an event that can be as thrilling and positive as the World Cup so often ends up as the domain of frustrated, exaggerated machismo.”

But the real gender analysis of the World Cup has been done by Denis Colombi in a post on the subject (here). In this post, Colombi examines how much the World Cup is a masculine even. Most people would say “Duh” but that is simply a reflection of the fact that the dominant gender is largely invisible. Sure, one can see a lot of women cheering for their team but that is beside the point.

“Il y aurait long à dire sur tout ce que le football peut charrier de caricatures nationales et sur comment cela rendrait bénéfique sa pleine marchandisation – après tout, si les équipes n’étaient plus nationales, on pourrait se concentrer sur ce qui est, paraît-il, l’essence du sport, les efforts et le dépassement de soi. Mais ce n’est pas le propos. Quand bien même les tribunes des stades seraient-elles remplies de femmes, jeunes et moins jeunes, éructant, sous des perruques improbables et des maquillages qui ne le sont pas moins, slogans et chansons à la gloire des petits hommes qui s’agitent tout en bas – et je ne suis pas sûr qu’elles soient déjà si nombreuses que cela -, quand bien même, donc, cette coupe du monde n’en finirait pas d’être sexiste.”

The man can write, can he? So, women in the audience, but none on the field, not just as players, but as referees, coaches, team staff, photographers and media people and even analysts in the print and electronic media. Where the action is, it is an entirely masculine universe (for the French readers, one is reminded of Thierry Roland’s cro-magnon-esque remarks when his network hired the first woman in the football bureau).

As Colombi notes, George Orwell used to describe football as “war minus the shooting” (which is why it was so easy during the war in the former Yugoslavia for Arkan’s tigers to turn from club supporters to ethnic-cleansing militia) but whereas a few military have engaged in some efforts to integrate women, sport remains a highly segregated domain with their separate World Cups or Tours de France. Separate and unequal.

To this, Colombi expects that he will be accused of ignoring the “natural” differences in athletic abilities between men and women (and if something is “natural”, then, we should not try to change it, right?) ignoring that these differences are an end result rather than a starting point and that average differences do not equal universal differences.

So, let us not forget that the World Cup is a celebration of hyper-masculinity (how many blog posts already drooling over how hot players are) and women are only allowed on the sidelines, or as trafficked women to service the needs of men in the audience:

“Despite more than a dozen international conventions banning slavery in the past 150 years, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. Slaves are those forced to perform services for no pay beyond subsistence and for the profit of others who hold them through fraud and violence. While most are held in debt bondage in the poorest regions of South Asia, some are trafficked in the midst of thriving development. Such is the case here in Africa’s wealthiest country, the host of this year’s World Cup. While South Africa invests billions to prepare its infrastructure for the half-million visitors expected to attend, tens of thousands of children have become ensnared in sexual slavery, and those who profit from their abuse are also preparing for the tournament. During a three-week investigation into human-trafficking syndicates operating near two stadiums, I found a lucrative trade in child sex. The children, sold for as little as $45, can earn more than $600 per night for their captors. “I’m really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup,” said a trafficker. We were speaking at his base overlooking Port Elizabeth’s new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Already, he had done brisk business among the stadium’s construction workers.”

Also this:

Fortunately, there is some good news:

“The nonprofit Global Girl Media, which aims to empower high school-aged girls from under-served communities by teaching them about digital media and providing them the equipment and training to become digital journalists, has started a pretty awesome project called “Kick It Up!” for the 2010 World Cup.

The Kick It Up! project will train twenty girls in the South African community of Soweto and 10 girls in Los Angeles to produce video stories from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The girls will be given training in story development and composition as well as video editing, production, and distribution. Their reports will be shown in a wide variety of media, including ESPN, BBC, Univision, KPFK, Al Jazeera, GritTV, Soweto TV,,, and

The goals of the project are multi-layered: first, to offer girls who have grown up in under-served communities the opportunity to make their voices heard in the male-dominated domains of media and sports; second, to give them practical training and equipment to kick off journalistic careers; and third, to challenge the dumbed-down stereotypes of the mass media, which insists that young girls care only about boys and mascara and are unaffected by and uninterested in issues of race, class, politics, and injustice.”

GlobalGirl Media – South Africa, Julie Foudy, Los Angeles from GlobalGirl Media on Vimeo.