Thursday, December 09, 2004

the monster dombe...

a couple of weeks ago, my son Nikhilananda (named after this wonderful man) started saying, "dembe, dembe, dembe" while he was playing with me. I said it back to him and we laughed and did that for awhile. Then he stopped, looked at me quizzically, and asked, "Are you the dembe?" I laughed and said, "Yes, I'm the dembe." We played some more like this and then he started growling, saying, "I'm a monster!" and then, "I'm the monster dembe!" Then, he stopped again and asked me, "Are you the monster dembe?" I said in my scary voice, "Yes, I'm the monster dembe!" Then, we said that for awhile again (you know how two year olds are...). Then he asked me, "What do monster dembes like to do?" and I said, "They like to hug!" and I hugged him and then we did that for awhile...

Fast forward to the other night at dinner when he started chanting dembe again, and then realized that we had done the "monster dembe" thing before, so he said, "Are you the monster dembe?" and again I said, "Yes." He looks at me, tilts his head, and says, "Awwww, can I get a hug?" and I say, "Sure, come on over." So, he climbs down off the stool, and walks over to me saying, "You're the monster dembe?" and I continue to say, "Yes, I am." He climbs into my lap, looks at me, and asks again, "Can I get a hug?" and I say, "Yes!" and hug him.

Fast more forward (forwarder?) and the "dembe" part has morphed into "dombe" -- the monster remains the same (hmmm, good name for a classic hits album, yes?). So, now we have, "the monster dombe."

Children's book of same name with similar story to follow soon...


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

no one ever listens to me, anyhow...

post in response to what I would tell an NPO board about outcome evaluation:

If I were invited to do a presentation on this particular subject (to ANY NPO board) here are the points I would raise (in no particular order):

1) NPO's do not have the financial nor staff resources to do rigorous outcome evaluations.
2) NPO's many times, do not have the opportunity to choose the outcomes that they want/need to track.
3) Outcome evaluation, in many ways, is more about fulfilling funding requirements than about the collection of relevant data that will assist NPO's in improving service delivery and better serving clients.
4) In short, outcome evaluation is NOT client driven, it is funder driven.
5) NPO Boards should serve as advocates to change #4.
6) The primary (ideal?) purpose of NPO outcome evaluation is to see to what extent one can reasonably discern if the NPO is meeting its mission; this is the litmus test for NPO's -- their bottom line if you will. For-profits bottom line is profit; NPO's bottom line is achieving the mission.
7) Outcomes do not tell the entire story, especially quantitative outcomes only.
8) Implementation fidelity is a challenge with outcome evaluation as it is with any other program.
9) Outcome evaluation should never be used as a performance measurement for staff as this is not what it is about (see #6 above).
10) Outcomes that can actually be used to assist staff in improving service delivery and better meet the needs of clients should be tailored to that agency; standardized outcomes are more about hoop-jumping than anything else.
11) The notion of setting targets for outcomes is anathema to client-centered service delivery; there are a host of factors beyond an agency's control that influence client outcomes; the notion of setting a target for client change is naive as an agency cannot influence client outcomes as one could if clients were employees (i.e., by rewards and/or
12) NPO outcome evaluation is not an exact science; many clients refuse to complete outcome data, do not return for services after an initial visit, etc. Hence the extent to which one can actually claim generalizable findings to specific programs is tempered much, if not most, of the time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

it's not all good, but is all relative

I have come to understand cultural relativism differently in the last ten years or so. Here are some of my thoughts and how I am currently approaching it with students.

First, I think the notion of there being distinct cultures is inaccurate. To me, cultural, cultural items, etc., are fluid, especially now with the ubiquity of cultural information exchange through different media. In other words the "boundaries" between "cultures" are illusory to a great extent -- where does one stop and the other begin? I don't think one can say this with any real degree of precision; certainly not with "scientific" precision. Furthermore, I believe that certainly arguments can be made that even the possession of one cultural item from "another" culture has an influence on the possessor and that possessor's "culture." In sum, I just don't see the argument for distinct cultures being tenable any longer.

Second, I think that one could argue that the logical extension of the soc imagination is that each person is a culture unto her/himself. Why? Precisely because of how we as individuals intersect with our own personal biography and the social contexts we find ourselves in. Yes, we have "cultural" similarities based on classic sociological variables like education, ethnicity, gender, etc., but the combination of those factors, along with our personal experiences with those factors leaves us unique in many respects. I am an upper-middle class, well-educated, Anglo male. Are there some things that I share with others that share those characteristics? Yes. But, I also have distinct differences with many of them, too. Not the least of which are the enactment of my values, which I am sure many of them would claim to share with me, but the actual behavior which, IMO, is reflective of those values would differ greatly, i.e., I certainly don't plan to re-elect the President.

I think that feminists have done an incredible (and typically
underappreciated) job at pointing out to us the merit of taking into consideration our own social and personal places in the structure and how these influence our outlook on things -- our own personal "culture" if you will. To me, this kind of analysis is very much in keeping with the soc imagination and is, in fact, what constitutes great sociology, IMO.

All of that said, I do think it is critical for students to pay attention to their ethnocentrism. Despite what Fox News and all of the other pundits declare about the seeming divine "rightness" of all things American, I think it is disrespectful to approach any other human being with a sense of knowledge about him or her, even, if not especially, other Americans. I try and instill a sense of wonder with students in their encounters with others
-- whomever they might be. I think that is what social inquiry is all about
-- perhaps one of the reasons I highly value verstehen as a method of inquiry. I really don't "know" about any one person's experience of "culture" until I speak with her/him about it -- even then, my knowledge of it is going to be mediated by MY soc imagination

Lastly, I heard a debate on Democracy Now last year between a human rights atty from the US and representatives from a women's rights group from a country in which FGM is practiced -- it was fascinating. The HR atty was saying that FGM was a violation of universal human rights and the reps were saying, yes, but let us handle who we change it. It was a great debate because it exposed the HR atty's ethnocentrism -- she could not hear what the reps were saying because she was so intent on promoting human rights for them! I wish I had bookmarked it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Armed Men and Safety

I have been listening to some of the news reports about the RNC. A few times I have heard about how many police, firefighters, law enforcement, and other security personnel in “full body armor” with automatic weapons there are around NY and how safe many of the delegates feel because of all of this. I flashed back to a time when I was a young teen, exiting an airplane in Venezuela, walking between a phalanx of heavily armed military men across the tarmac from the plane to the terminal. This would have been in the mid ‘70’s sometime. I remember at the time how much fear I felt, not safety at all. It spoke to me about how ineffective that current gov’t was in maintaining security – so much so that they had to have heavily armed men protecting passengers deplaning. I was terrified. I didn’t feel safe – that walk was one of the longest I ever took in my life.

Couple of other things that came to mind, too…I used to live in Brazil (again in the seventies) and it was not at all unusual to see heavily armed law enforcement men driving around in Suburbans. It was also not unusual to see some of these guys stop and physically assault someone on the street. As youth, we knew that if we really screwed up and somehow got into trouble with the law, their motto was, “shoot first and ask questions later” – so we had to make sure that we could either run really fast or steer clear of any of them. Recall, also, that it was at this time that Brazil had the off-duty police officers roaming around in gangs (the Black Hand) murdering people. The one redeeming factor about the law and Brazil was that if you had enough $$ (and the amount varied, based on the offense) you could discreetly walk away from just about anything. I did not have any personal experience of that, but knew people who did (I did have a personal experience of being shot at by the police, but that is another post!).

Last reminiscence…when in college, some friends and I went to a small beach in Mexico (where they filmed Catch-22 believe it or not) and were approached by two very heavily armed Federales. They asked us if we wanted to buy some marijuana. Not being idiots, we declined, but turning my back and walking away, was again one of the scariest things I have ever done – walking away from heavily armed men who were allegedly “maintaining the peace.”

Granted the last two anecdotes are a bit divergent from the first, but I think all speak to something that we have not really experienced that much in the US, yet -- heavily armed law enforcement folk walking around as a matter of course. I can’t help but wonder if the reason that some of the delegates felt safe by all of it is because it is new, it is NOT common-place and I guess it does physically demonstrate power, which I suspect some people associate with safety. I continue to wonder how safe people are going to feel when we see them not JUST at conventions, airports, bus stations, ports, etc., but wandering around in the course of their normal activities.

From the limited experiences I have had in encountering these folks, the feeling I was left with was not safety, but fear. And the thought that if things were so bad that we had to have some kind of military-like presence in our communities, we were in deep trouble – that was easy to dismiss in those “third-world” countries like Brazil and Venezuela, I wonder what it will be like in the US?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

tune in, turn on, turn on

i started reading a book by timothy leary this afternoon entitled, change your brain. i think leary was a genuis. he figured some good stuff out. i think he tumbled to what is going on around here.

some examples -- he notes in this book that:

Culture is the Game Master

"Cultural stability is maintained by preventing people from seeing that the roles, rules, goals, rituals, language, and values of society are game structures. Cultural institutions encourage the delusion that games have inevitable givens, involving unchangeable laws of is treason not to play the nationaliality game, the racial game, the religious game (p.20)."

exposing these games for what they are can be very, very frightening for both those that are doing the exposing and those that are recieving the exposing. we like our games, find safety, and reassurance in them. we don't want them taken away from us.

curiously, what he found through his research (and it was quite scientific at the beginning) was that when the games were exposed on an individual level (he calls a person a "human singularity" -- brilliant, IMO), what was left was, "...the uncensored cortex, activated, alert, and open to new realities, new imprints (p.22)." this sounds to me like that which many are looking for -- freedom, unbridled energy, awareness, wonder. reminds me of a blinking cursor --"whom shall we be today?"

i also realized that much of what i attributed (and attribute today) solely to my sociological understanding of things (when I was actively taking psychedelics twenty plus years ago) was really a combination of psychedelic experience made sense of sociologically. thank god for that, no telling what i would have figure out if i had been studying psychology or economics!!!

not advocating mind-altering substance use, but am advocating mind alteration. the one thing that psychedelics did do was break the routine of the socially-conditioned patterns of thinking, responding, being. i do think that this occurs though other means, too, not just substance use. what is there is important, not one way of getting there. i knew some people that were terrified of what was there -- the lack of social conditioning, the realization of how false most social interaction is, the superficiality of it all, yet the stability of it all, too. exposing its tentativeness, and contrivedness can be deeply discomforting.

so, I do like tuning in to what/who we really are, turning on to the potential that is there, and turning others on to that same potential.

finally, for me, psychedelia meets positive, liberating social change work.

coulda, shoulda, woulda

this whole Kerry in Vietnam and the kind of injuries he received, under hostile fire or not could be resolved pretty easily, if mainstream news folk had any stones. let's look at the facts and then ask the most salient question...

Kerry volunteered and went to Vietnam
Bush volunteered and went to the Texas Air National Guard

"Mr. President, one question sir. Ah, why didn't you volunteer to go to Vietnam instead of the Texas Air National Guard?"

Friday, August 20, 2004

sociologist predicts the future!!!!

Recall a couple of weeks ago I posted a comparison between the 9/11 commission report of a system failure and the 94 incidents of prisoner abuse as individual acts and I commented 1) how I thought it was odd that one was a systemic failure and the other just random acts of depraved individuals? Well, today, in the Wash Post, there is an article, the title of which is:

Abu Ghraib Probe Points to Top Brass

(article here, but you have to register with them:

And discusses the extent to which the entire SYSTEM was wacky based on the preliminary findings of a 9,000 page report by the Army. Hmmm, I wonder how it was that I could have drawn that conclusion after only scant public evidence, and it took the Army 9,000 pages to figure that out? Yes, it is that sociological imagination at work!

2) I also commented that it seemed like the farther up the Washington food chain one was, the lesser the likelihood that any kind of sanctions would occur. There is evidence that supports this hypothesis in the same article! I note the following:

“It widens the scope of culpability from seven MPs who have been charged with abuse to include nearly 20 low-ranking soldiers who could face criminal prosecution in military courts. No Army officers, however, are expected to face criminal charges. Officials also said that the report implicates five civilian contractors in the abuse, and that Army officials plan to recommend that their cases be sent to the Justice Department for possible prosecution in civilian courts.”

I am sure that if convicted, both groups of people (military and civilians) will receive some kind of sanction; I, however, would not want to be in the civilian shoes, as I think there is a big difference between serving time in a military institution and serving time in a state/federal one. Different standards for the same acts.

“…justice for all…” and all that…

Thursday, August 19, 2004

resonating thoughts...

the present is always awaiting input/design -- we can either respond to the present consciously or unconsciously -- it awaits patiently, it has all the time in the world...literally.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

democracy,  shmemocracy

I heard an Indian news anchor interviewed on the radio yesterday about the DNC. He made a comment about how Indians were "...wondering why, in the world's most powerful democracy, that there are only two political parties. In India, there are numerouse political parties."

Hmmm, could it be that we have a crappy democracy?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

svaw chat

As most of you know, I work in the field of domestic violence. I also chair a local Violence Against Women (VAW) committee. Amnesty has a two year campaign on VAW that started this year. Yesterday they had an all-day online chat with one of their state coordinators. I had submitted a question prior to the chat, and Elizabeth responded to it. I thought it might be of interest to SAS’ers as it is about institutions and social change – I was curious to know how a non-sociologist would respond (and hoped it would give me SOME ideas). My question and her response is here:

Question Submitted by John:
Hello I am a sociologist and as such, see much of the continued incidence and prevalence of VAW as being rooted in our institutions and/or social structure. Institutions, by their very nature are quite stable, so the are very resistant to change. So, my question is, does anyone have any specific tactics on how to change our institutions? I think that we need all of the current tactics that we have PLUS ones that are specifically designed to change, modify and/or replace our current institutions. Are you aware of any tactics that are designed to do precisely that? Thanks much and thanks for this initiative.

Elizabeth Jennings answers:
Hi, John. You’re right: Changing institutions can be very difficult. Generally, it happens from three directions: From above (government laws and policies that force institutions to act in a non-discriminatory way), from below (grassroots pressure and cultural change to end gender-based discrimination), and from within (among staff and leaders in institutions that want to create a culture that respects all people). Ending violence against women in the U.S. military is just one example of a current effort to change an institution at all three levels. Through the AI Stop Violence Against Women Campaign, a grassroots effort is underway to pressure U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to develop a military-wide protocol to address domestic violence of service members and service members’ spouses, and to address sexual assault of female soldiers by their colleagues. AI’s top-down and bottom-up efforts to end violence against women in the U.S. military supports the long-standing work being done by U.S. military personnel (men and women, enlisted and officers) who are trying to change the culture and process of the armed services from the inside out in order to ensure that women may serve their country without fear of other soldiers. To learn how to take action on this particular institution-changing issue, go to

The summary of the entire chat can be found here:

Monday, July 26, 2004

can i pick another planet to live on??????????

just sent this to the same sociology list...

I was listening to the radio about the 9-11 report and something struck me – made me think about my post last week on threshold and systems…

Essentially the 9-11 report blames the SYSTEM, not any individuals; if you recall, I think it was the Chairman (Kean) who said something to the effect of, “we are not in the blame business;” the report on the 94 incidences of abuse blames INDIVIDUALS (aberrations), not the system.


9-11:                 system failure (no apparent individual failings)
94 abuses:        individual aberrations (no apparent systemic failing)

Makes even less sense now…one conclusion I can draw is that the farther up the food chain one is, the less likelihood there is for any accountability. Notice that not one elected official has been fired, removed, resigned, re-assigned, etc. for 9-11 (of if they have, it hasn’t made any of the news that I read, and I DO read a lot of it). I guess if one can successfully fault the “system” for a failing, there is no need for anything like that.

I seriously doubt, however that those military persons who committed those “aberrant” acts of abuse are going to be afforded such a defense.

This IS all a bad dream, right?
what's the threshold?

from a post i sent to an sociology list...

I have been reading about the 94 incidents of prisoner abuse and how these do not indicate a “systemic” problem. I find this very interesting as I wonder what is the threshold for # of incidents that WOULD trigger characterization as a systemic problem? Needless to say, their current characterization of it NOT being systemic doesn’t make sense to me. Despite the actual # of persons involved in the abuse, it was apparent in the Taguba report (and I believe he said so himself) that at least Abu Ghraib was a systemic problem in that it was a breakdown of the system which allowed the service personnel to commit the abuses.

I also recall what W. Edwards Deming (“father” of TQM) posited as a truism…when you have a failing in an organization, 10% of the time it is due to individual failing, and 90% of the time it is due to the system failing. Ironically, when I first started looking into TQM some years ago, some of the best info on its utilization came from the military.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

a noble man

i read Meeting Jesus again for the first time back in May. my first real thought was, "the bastards, all this time i have been thinking i am not worthy of God's love and in reality, i am simply because i am." i was ready to throw the book across the room. not because of what Borg was saying, but because of the implications of what he was saying and they relevance that they had for my life. i had been duped, tricked, manipulated by that rigid and authoritarian Catholic school structure all "in the name of God" and now Borg was telling me that I didn't need to be. the friggin "good news" is that Jesus lives in all of us -- we just need to realize that. it has nothing to do with earning His love or any other crap.

anyway, i emailed Borg and thanked him for the great book -- it allowed me to be a Christian again (BTW, Christians, look out, I'm back).

he emailed me back. he is a noble man. next to my Guru, he is the sanest spiritual person going right now for me.
to sleep or not to sleep...

i realized yesterday when "trying" to take a nap that I could fall asleep almost instantly if i could let go enough. let go and fall asleep. my usual pattern is to think, think, think, drift, think, think, drift, think, drift, drift...and then wake up.

i think the solution is to just let go and relax and sleep.

imagine that. anxiety being my middle (perhaps first) name, this comes as a great surprise and in some respects, no surprise at all.

Friday, June 11, 2004

friday morning analytical rant

Sorry, time for one of these again…

What prompted it was Powell “clarifying” the terrorism report that was apparently misrepresented by the President (Prez says terrorism has declined; Powell corrects that it has, indeed increased and done so dramatically). I am just wondering when people will get tired of this? The transparency of this administration is so apparent to me – their affront to an open, (Ashcroft telling the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath that he would not release memoranda about what the Justice department advised the administration about use of torture – note that he may be in contempt of congress for not giving a reason why he is withholding this information) democratic (what has come to light about the use of torture and the President is that he was advised that he could, essentially be outside the law, i.e., not be held accountable, for the use of torture if the argument could be made that his okaying it was to ensure national security – now, think about this…a national leader who, for all intents and purposes, is outside of the law…whom does this conjure up in your mind? What kind of leader?) society. Their pattern of misrepresentation, denying information until their feet are held to the fire, serious and grave miscalculations about Iraq…and this from a Prez who promised to “restore dignity and integrity to the White House.” What duplicity.

Okay, I think the rant is done, now one to some analysis (with, perhaps some rant still left)

9-11…the 9-11 commission heard testimony from many people – many said that “even if they were able to piece together all of the disparate (and this is in question too, just how disparate all of it was) information, they still wouldn’t have been able to stop 9-11 because it had already been planned.” Huh? This would be like saying, “Well, it looks like there is a fleet of hostile nuclear subs off our coast, but we’re not really sure, and ya know, it looks like this has been planned for a long time, so there really isn’t anything we can do about it now.” If this is the best argument that they could come up with for their failure(s), then we are really in trouble.

Reagan…yes, I know that man was warm, apparently sincere, etc. But, he stated publicly once that “the US was not selling arms for hostages,” then a couple of months later said, “well, in my heart, I still believe that we did not sell arms for hostages, but the evidence appears to indicate otherwise” and he is known as the “great communicator?” Now, what does his prevarication communicate? That it is okay to break the law, and lie to people just so long as, in your heart you really believe what you are doing is right, despite evidence to the contrary. Hmmm, I wonder if that defense would work in court? “Ya know, I held the gun, and pulled the trigger, and yup, he died, but in my heart I truly believe that it was not ME that killed him, it was the GUN that did.” Yeah, makes sense to me.

Ray Charles death…hmmm, a week long remembrance for Reagan and a blip for Ray Charles? Not right. Who has the much better story to tell and contributed much more to world peace and understanding? A blind, black man who overcame all kinds of obstacles to be successful, was not bitter about any of it, never complained, worked his butt off his entire life, and his primary concern was with making people happy or…RR. No question in my mind – we should have a week long celebration for Ray, a national day of mourning, and have hundreds of eulogies, etc, for him…and I would LOVE to see Ray on the $100 bill (his contribution to the world is worth waaaaay more than $10, IMO).

Elderly men in my Sunday school class…now, I know that none of you know these guys, but they are an inspiration to me. We have two men that are over 80 in our class – they come every Sunday (one with his wife of 60 years, the other a widower), one bakes muffins for all the Sunday school classes every Sunday, works serving food to the congregation on Wednesday night, spent time in a WWII German prison camp is funny, irascible, and very, very kind. The other is a former missionary, wrote an article on Christianity and homosexuality (essentially how it was NOT Christian to condemn homosexuality) and the other day when a 50- something member of class who has hepatitis came in, got up, and helped him to a chair. Amazing. (Now, we have women that are equally as amazing, too. I focus on the men because they are role models to me). Two men, living quiet lives, serving others selflessly, and they are both considered to be “irrelevant” in our society because of their age. I hope I am equally as “irrelevant” when I get to be their age (assuming that I do, that is).

The culture of make believe…this is actually the title of an incredible book by Derrick Jensenthat is more about racism and hatred in our country, but I think that it is apropos here, too. I think it is time that we let go of the myths about America – we are the moral leader of the world, we are the best country in the world, we are the strongest country in the world, etc., not so much because they are wrong, but because they are not useful to us. Make believe in general is not useful. It is delusional. What we need is reality, honesty, accountability, and compassion. The hubris, arrogance, and ignorance that has become our cultural export is so disappointing and it cheapens what we have to offer the world as Americans, but more importantly, as human beings. People might say, “gee, John you don’t like America” – nope, not true. I don’t like bullshit. I don’t like make-believe. I like reality because then I know what the hell is going on and what we need to do about it to make it better. That is why I am a social scientist – so I can reasonable know what they hell is going on so I can do something about it. You cannot do something about make-believe, except to get rid of it. Trying to improve things on the basis of make-believe is inherently flawed. I don’t dislike America – I dislike the myths about America. I would much prefer to acknowledge what is REALLY going on in America and with Americans than pretend all of the other crap. Hell, I just said that I admire two Americans (the guys in my Sunday school class – well, actually 3 if you include Ray). But what I admire about them is NOT that they are Americans, but that they live(d) what they believed – they are honest, they serve others, they are compassionate, they admit their faults…they are real. No make believe, no bullshit. Amen to that.

I was going to add something about terrorism, but I am too tired – this writing takes a lot out of me. If I get refreshed, I might post it later.

Live long and prosper…

Saturday, June 05, 2004

so true, yet so hard to remember...

From Eknath Easwaran:

In the ultimate analysis, our resentments and hostilities are
not against others. They are against our own alienation from our
native state, which is cosmic consciousness, Christ-consciousness,
Krishna-consciousness. All the time we are being nudged by some
latent force within us, trying to remind us what our native state
is. Our senses are turned outwards and we are adepts at personal
profit and pleasure, so we do not like to hear these little
reminders; but the needling goes on.

Friday, June 04, 2004

our unconscious collective

couple of posts to a sociology list about our "sleeping" collective, that if awakened, we could really change the way things are...

posted on 6/2/04:

I try and get students to realize that simply by "going through the motions" each day they create the structure of our society...coming to class they maintain the institution of education, buying stuff, they maintain the institution of the economy, paying taxes, they maintain the institution of gov't, etc. I try and emphasize that WE are society, it is not something "out there."

I think that if a one-day national embargo against Exxon, Mobil, whomever worked, i.e., around the country NO ONE bought any gas from Exxon, Mobil, etc., people would have tangible evidence that it is US that is the economy, US that is "the market," etc. Getting this to occur is quite another matter, as evidenced by it not happening yet.

I do think that most people need to witness the effects of our collective behavior to truly get a sense of how we "create" society through all of our daily actions.

As such, IMO, we really CAN create any society that we want -- it is simple to do something different, but it is not easy. This is true for individuals and especially true for groups/cultures (the not being easy part).

I also get students to think about group arrangements that support human thriving (a "good" family, a Buddhist monastery, some schools, etc) and ask them to identify what it is about those arrangements, the cultural content of those structures, that consistently promotes and maintains human thriving. Once we identify those, then I say, "Well, all we got to do now is get those things going on a national/global basis..." How does that happen? Everyone acting in accordance with what we identified, creating that kind of social arrangement every day through their daily actions.

Simple, but not easy.

In short, we create the current structures, why not create some different ones? As sociologists, we know how structures are created, the question is, what KIND of structures should be created? This past weekend I presented a workshop on "Human Rights as Organizing Principles for Family/Community Life" at a home-schooling conference. Granted, they are eruo-centric and could use some updating, but IMO, the UDHR is one place to start.

posted on 6/3/04:

(My perspective was challenged as being naive and individualistic)

This is not what I was saying. I was saying something similar to Marx, actually, and that is, if we as a collective realize that we ARE a collective and we can use our collective power to create something (which is what we do anyway), why not create something that truly promotes human thriving?

I do, however, think that individual actions can and do make a difference. Do they radically change the social structure? Guess it depends on whom the person is that is acting. I suspect that ANY action could have a profound effect given the right circumstances. I am surely not going to stop doing things that I think are beneficial simply because I think they won't make a difference -- isn't this characteristic of the apathetic malaise that infects our culture currently to some extent?

I think that if there is naiveté in this perspective it lies with all of us whom think that we can do nothing and so we don't. Again, the issue is the "class consciousness" that needs to occur -- doesn't really matter what the trigger is, what matters is that it arises.

I certainly don't think that classroom teaching is the sole way of getting the world to be different. In fact, I think that "education" has little effect in making things different. The factors that I am familiar with, that, IMO, DO have an influence are desire and motivation.

Right now, many folks' desire and motivation are purely self-centered -- "Gotta get what I want and need and make sure no one gets it before me or takes it away once I get it" -- this is the American way, yes?

Hard to think about others and making the world a better place when you are obsessed with getting all you can before you die (and rising gas prices, the threat of terrorism forever on the horizon, etc.)

Education can only have so much effect on this kind of orientation to life.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Spent this last weekend here -- what a wonderful oasis from the (sur)real world we currently inhabit. To be surrounded by sane, caring, parents who actually are interested in trying to do what is best for their children is inspiring. The kids are just anecdote...

I was walking through the lobby on Sunday, late afternoon and noticed this tween boy putting up his laptop. I asked him if the wi-fi was working in that area. He said it was. I told him how it hadn't worked for me, blah, blah, blah. Then he asked me how he could organize a session to teach other kids how to write computer games. Now, this was on Sunday, the second (and last full day) into the conference. I told him to talk to the two organizers, tell them what he wanted to do, get a room and then let people know about it. I mentioned that the talent show was coming up that night and that the MC could announce all the details then. He said okay, thanked me, and we parted company.

I saw him again at the talent show, pointed out one of the organizers to him, and he said that had decided to just invite people by word of mouth.

Twenty minutes later, he is walking around the dance floor on his hands -- one of his many talents that he received much applause for.

At midnight, I went to the auditorium to watch a horror film by one the presenters at the conference. I had attended his session on Saturday entitled, "How to make a movie for under $1,000" and had wanted to see one of his features.

I go into the room, and here is the tween whom I had spoken to earlier, with a handful of other kids, and he has his laptop hooked up to an LCD projector and is holding a class on how to create computer games.

Fortunately, the movie director didn't show up -- if he had, I would have told him that the kids got here first and we were out of luck.

amazing what kids can do if given some support, space, and opportunity.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

empathy, fear and neo-cons (oh, my!)

my response to a colleague's post about the need for us to be more empathetic to other cultures (and anyone other than ourselves, for that matter):

Interesting idea…distribution of empathy, access to empathy…seems like we are bankrupt of the product (empathy), despite the fact that the lines of distribution are in place. Of course, being empathetic means being vulnerable, Lord knows ‘merikans aren’t really keen on doing that right now. The neo-cons are really good at force-feeding fear to all of us. I also think that they are really good at tapping into our cultural conditioning of being abused…they act just like those authoritarian care-givers that many of us were raised with. When someone is confronted with similar behavior as an adult, it is not uncommon for them to just respond like they did all those many years growing up…”I know nothing, the authority is always right, the authority is like God, etc.” I know that despite the fact that intellectually I know that they are lying, self-serving bastards, when they start talking, there is a part of me (emotional) that just goes into some kind of automatic fear of challenging them, conceding that I AM stupid and that they are right.

Alice Miller has written some great material on this.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

surprise, surprise

It doesn't (nor did it) take a Ph.D. to figure this one out BEFORE the war started. The consequences of a radically, fundamentalist run government (OURS, that is).

Monday, May 24, 2004

Jesus, the bummer

I was at our local Satsang for Ammachi on Friday night. Typically, we sing songs, chat, meditate and pray. While singing a song about Krsna, I realized how different the Hindu religion is from mainstream Christianity. The Krsna story is a happy one, the songs about Krsna are happy, light, playful. The Jesus story (as typically told) is a bummer. Not because of Jesus, nor because of what happened, but because of the emphasis on the story. the whole thing about the cross and dying for our sins, is, IMO, not the main story. The main story is that here was this realized soul, living in a human body, who loved, loved, loved and died because he loved so much.

While growing up Catholic, I never understood the whole cross thing and I still don't -- it seems like a side note to the entire message. More reason to agonize about our humanity, more reason to fight against some group of people, etc. Again, the Jesus story is about love and ignorance...His love, our collective ignorance about His love.

So, what about we re-write the Jesus story and transform it from a bummer to a hummer (not the H2 kind)?

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Watch out, The Republicans Are Coming!!!

See here for the announcement...

Friday, May 21, 2004

a bumper sticker i gotta make

Ignorant and Unethical! Hell, if its good enough for our President, its good enough for me!
Documentary on Republican Women

In case you haven't heard, there is a shocking, "tell all" documentary about Republican women coming out in June. Details here.

The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

Now this is great applied sociology.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

God Bless America, Goddamn it!!!!

Using those current events skills I learned in seventh grade, I offer the following:

In case you haven’t been following the Ahmed Chalabi story, allow me to briefly summarize who this guy is and why this is so ironic (and truly frightening in how it reflects the leadership of our country)

Ahmed Chalabi:

* Is a convicted felon (in absentia) in Jordan
* Was one of the prime sources of info for the Pentagon on the alleged WMD stockpiles in Iraq
* Was a prime source of info on WMD’s and “all things bad in Iraq” to Judith Miller, star NY Times reporter
* Has been on the Pentagon payroll for years
* Has been discredited by the CIA and the State department
* Was flown into Iraq by the Pentagon days after Saddam lost leadership
* Is a current member of the Interim Iraqi gov’t
* Told a reporter that it didn’t matter if Saddam didn’t have WMD’s, what was relevant was that Saddam was gone (note that he made this statement after Iraq fell and after he allegedly told everyone and their brother unequivocally that Saddam HAD WMD’s)
* Is the uncle of the lawyer assigned the task of prosecuting Saddam for crimes against humanity
* Has recently been charged with making side deals in Iran about the future of Iraq

Oh, and ALL of this has been reported far and wide in the mainstream media, so if that little voice in your head says, “john is just overreacting” please note that I have simply gathered existing longitudinal data on this guy.

So, if the enemy of your enemy is your friend, and then turns out to not be your friend, what does that make him? And more importantly, YOU?

Damn, this international relations stuff REALLY is hard to follow – good thing we are the moral leaders of the entire world and that our morality is not based on self-serving situations and exigencies...and monkeys really DO fly out of my butt regularly!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


not what you think, or, maybe not, check it out.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

more temporary-emergent meaning...

My response on a sociology list I subscribe to:

To clarify my statement about empiricism a bit…(consequence for writing in haste)…

I don’t see a distinction between empiricism and humanism, although I would hazard a guess that committed positivists/empiricists would. I personally base my use of empiricism as an epistemology on humanistic values – I do not see it as an end in itself. I suspect that some, if not all, positivists would disagree with this and argue that positivism is value-free and objective (despite that fact that ALL IRB approved research is based on humanistic values).

I think that this strikes at the heart of the recent discussion. The notion that empiricism is somehow trans-cultural and therefore demonstrably universal and “objective” is intellectually untenable, IMO. Again, I refer to our inability to know, through the use of symbolic systems, anything that allegedly exists independently. I think it is absurd to consider that this kind of knowing is possible (a symbolic system – language – is an inherently CLOSED system – it is bounded). “Knowledge” of anything is inherently cultural – anything that is inherently cultural is not, by definition universal and/or objective. Again, I think that ethno points this out in spades (as does feminist literature – at least feminist sociological literature).

So, I see the limitations of empiricism and truly do not believe that the application of the scientific method, sans values leads anywhere – especially since it is not possible in the first place. The application of empiricism is a value-based action (valuing sensory data over some other kind of data).

I think that this is the distinction that needs to be acknowledged, i.e., the ridiculousness of claiming some kind of knowledge is objective and exists independent of culture. I am very much in favor of using empirical methods. I do not see then as producing knowledge, however, but UNDERSTANDING. I think that this is another crucial distinction that we neglect in social science. Again, I value verstehen as a methodology. Is it empirical? Of course. Is it objective and does it produce objective knowledge? Nope. Can and does it further understanding of self and others? If done properly, yes.

I see any type of methodology as being an iterative process that never arrives at any REAL (i.e., independent) solution. Can we as humans grow in the process of applying the scientific method and the values that underlie it? I think so…and I think that this is the true value of our discipline. Not some ridiculous notion that we are creating independent knowledge about the social world.

Monday, April 26, 2004

new level

Article in Reuters about an Iraqi group (the Green Brigade) that have released a tape saying that they will kill three Italian hostages in a few days unless there are protests in Italy against the war:

I don’t recall ever hearing of a terrorist group making such an explicit demand on an entire country. I think it is interesting that they would be so forward about it. If protests do occur, it would certainly transcend the Al-Qaeda-Spanish train bombing-Spanish election outcome contention.

Talk about holding an entire country hostage. Maybe this is a prelude of how such groups will put overt pressure on societies - no longer inferences of outcomes, but specific social demands?

This does not bode well all around. if anyone protests, they will be accused of giving in to the terrorists. interesting way to shut down any type of legitimate protest -- accusing them of being sympathetic and/or giving in to terrorist demands

Sunday, April 25, 2004

funny and true, unfortunately.

got this off of boingboing -- it is from a comedian named Bill Hicks. I don't remember him, but that don't mean nothin.

"The world is like a ride in an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question, is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, "Hey - don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride..." And we... kill those people.
Very Cool

this is the way to go -- thank goodness some creative people are thinking around here. look for this on all of the stuff i produce.
Life's ROI

it's kind of bizarre when you think about how much time and effort we invest into becoming social beings that can function in society and the return that we get on it in the long run...death. think about all these years we spend learning, working, thinking, crafting, realizing, reflecting, etc., and we ALL know that one day, we ain't gonna be no mo.

kind of weird ROI, yes?

Thursday, April 22, 2004

branching out

I have decided to grow a bit. i think that this will be fun. if you know of anyone in need of these services, drop me a line. i want to work as much as i can, wherever i can.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


some academics with backbone...

Statement on Marriage and the Family from the American Anthropological Association:

"The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution.

Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association strongly opposes a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples."

Website with the press release is here.

Saturday, February 21, 2004


all those voices in your head -- they're leftover energies, ghosts, imps that are not real. don't listen to them. they just want your attention. they are not real, though. they are fueled by introjects, things that we swallowed whole for whatever reason some time ago.

just breathe in and breathe out and follow your heart.


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Critical Thinking and the War in Iraq

One of the headlines in today’s Dallas Morning News is about how the administration did not release information to the public that ran counter to evidence to support an invasion of Iraq.

I don’t doubt this is true. I began to get skeptical about much of what the administration was saying and doing when after Condi Rice said, “how could anyone have imagined that terrorists would fly planes into buildings,” several intelligence documents were released that indicated that this was not a new idea. In fact, it had been discussed for several years before 9/11. As the National Security Advisor, why didn’t Condi know this?

Not too long after the war started (May, 2003), I sat down and put together a diagram of how it really didn’t make sense for the war to start in the first place. I used only information that was available to the public (not like I had access to anything classified, anyway!). It was striking to me how, if one just looked at what info was being reported in the press, one could easily arrive at a very healthy skepticism about whether the war was necessary or not. Here are some of the things that were reported that, if put together, added up to seriously questioning what we had done:

1) The forgery of the Niger “yellow cake” document and Joseph Wilson’s report
2) The plagiarized graduate student thesis about Iraq WMD that was 12 years old
3) Blix and El Baradai’s reports that nothing had been, nor was being found
4) No credible link to Al-Qaeda
5) No outcry from the Iraqi people about a desire to be “liberated” from Saddam’s rule – only ex-pats like Chalabi (a convicted felon) who were advocating for “regime change”
6) State department released a report saying that there would be NO domino effect in the Middle East if Iraq was “democratized.”
7) CIA reported that Saddam would be MORE likely to use WMD’s if attacked
8) FBI reported that a war with Iraq would INCREASE the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the US
9) CIA and Pentagon warned the administration that US troops would face significant resistance from irregulars using guerilla tactics; one general (Wallace) commented that, “we hadn’t wargamed for this.”
10) Four of the permanent members of the UN Security Council voted against the war
11) US public NOT in favor of going to war without UN support (one poll reported this at 70% at one point)
12) There are other countries that were then (and currently are) in violation of numerous UN Security Resolutions – why target Iraq? (especially in light of all of the above?)
13) Many legal scholars noted that such a war would be a violation of international law and hence, illegal

So, did the administration not tell us the whole story? I don’t know if we will ever find out. My point is that, IMO, there was enough info floating around for someone to conclude that it didn’t make sense, just from what we DID know. I don’t know how or why the administration arrived at the notion that this was a good idea, given all of the above. Sure seems to me that there was more evidence to NOT invade than there was to invade.

IMO, more reason to advocate for critical thinking in the classroom (and among the general public).

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

a flash of insight?

I like this insight from the previous post:

...if there is such a stance as objectivity, it would, by its very nature, have to be NON-conceptual. Why? Because concept implies language, which implies culture, which implies group, which implies context, which denies something called, "objectivity."

I have noted the denial of objectivity previously, but the notion of such a thing, if it does exist, having to be non-conceptual by nature is something I had not realized before.

Of course, those who have gone "beyond words" have not find a position of pristine, detached objectivity, but rather a compelling and absolute sense of connection and/or connecteness to all things and all people.

Decidedly NOT objective.
more social-scientific heresy...

from a list I subscribe to, I am responding to the following:

> I'm pretty sure that most sociologists have the aim in mind of using
> their results for bettering society (and of course for earning a
> living).

Yes, what I meant was that there are sociologists who are rather vehemently opposed to the notion of "applying sociology" and see our discipline as one that is "pure" science, i.e., a rigorous attempt at understanding what is going on. Their interest is NOT application, but is generating "knowledge," understanding, whatever. They don't see their purpose as sociologists to improve social life, but rather to merely understand "what is going on."

I would also say that if I, as a sociologist, use my sociological knowledge to increase profits for some company at the expense of corporate social responsibility, the environment, human rights violations, etc., that I am not using my sociology to improve social life. Yes, for some (those who directly benefit from increase profits -- comparatively, a few), but not for the majority. I realize that this is an individual decision and discrimination is involved (as well as values) and as such, I am not making a generalization about the use of sociological knowledge -- I am sure that there are many who would disagree with me on this point.

I certainly agree that it can be both a rigorous science and humanistic, with the exception of the notion of any research being value-free and/or unbiased (again, I refer to Dorothy Smith and other feminists, who, in my opinion make a rather strong and convincing argument that social position has much, if not all, to do with one's world view and subsequently, one's choice of what to research, what to find out, and how to make sense out of the entire process) and/or referencing anything known as "objectivity." I do not think that there is such a stance, nor would it be knowable conceptually, i.e., if there is such a stance as objectivity, it would, by its very nature, have to be NON-conceptual. Why? Because concept implies language, which implies culture, which implies group, which implies context, which denies something called, "objectivity."

I have also noted previously that consumption is a political act. All people consume, regardless of their profession, intellectual standpoints, desire to ensure "objectivity," etc. As such, there is no non-involved or detached stance -- we are all in this together. Again, no way, IMO to not have ALL of one's actions be contextual, value-laden and "biased" if you will.