Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review - A Private Family Matter: A Memoir by Victor Rivas Rivers

This past week I had the opportunity to present at the Minnesota Social Service Association's (MSSA) 116th Annual Training Conference & Expo. It was the best conference I have ever attended. Normally, I go to academic conferences and hope to attend one or two presentations that keep my attention while listening to academicians pontificate about their "astounding" research that makes no impact outside of the ivory tower, or equally as bothersome, their analysis of a topic with literally no personal research conducted or experience in the field (yeah, cynicism runs through my veins).

At this year's MSSA, I was able to attend three presentations in particular that were especially enlightening:

  • Challenges & Strategies Working with LGBTQ Youth: Addressing MICD & Sexual Orientation by Ryan Hanson
  • Bullies to Batters: The Evolution of Unhealthy Power in Relationships by Barton Erickson
  • Teen Dating Violence 201: Advanced Topics for Working with Youth Clients by Barton Erickson
There was great and tangibly useful information provided in these sessions (perhaps because most of the presenters actually work in the field on a daily basis). The highlight of the conference, however, was the closing keynote speaker, Victor Rivas Rivers, who is also the spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a Hollywood actor, and author of the book A Private Family Matter: A Memoir.

A Private Family Matter chronicles Rivers's life, having to cope with his father's extreme abuse inflicted upon him, his mother, and brothers and sisters. It's not the type of book that would be published by an academic press, and shouldn't be. It does, however, illustrate through a real story many of the concepts described in scholarly texts covering family violence.

Rivers describes in disturbing detail the different forms of psychological, financial, sexual, and physical abuse his father delivered on a regular basis. In addition, he points out that his father had a "Jeckle-Hyde" appearance, displaying a charming public persona in order to hide his volatile ways.

The book also shows the lack of services that were available for family violence victims in the 1960s and '70s, which influenced the book's title,
A Private Family Matter, as police at that time lacked the formal means to effectively intervene after Rivers and his mother sought assistance. Of course today, seeking help in the United States is still highly problematic, but at that time, the processes and policies were even more archaic.

A Private Family Matter also illustrates how important community members can be in helping victims of violence cope with their trauma. In addition to his siblings and mother, Rivers cites teachers, coaches, friends, and friend's parents who were absolutely critical in saving him phyiscally and emotionally throughout his life. Even after his vitimization manifested into his own violent behaviors, different community members helped him unconditionally, redirecting him down more constructive pathways.

To this end, the book is one of hope. Rivers went on to earn a football scholarship with Florida State University, almost made it with the Miami Dolphins, and embarked on a successful acting career. And as mentioned previously, he is now the spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. As a male, and former high-level athlete, Rivers stands as an incredible role model in a field that lacks adequate male presence.

I would assign the book in a "Family Violence" class, not to use as a teaching tool from week to week, but for students to read on their own and then describe concepts learned in class through the book's content. It's a bit long at 370 pages, but it's very accessible and engaging. Some of the violence described is so graphic that students need to be warned ahead of time. Still, my guess is most students would love the book once they got started.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sporting Masculinity, I think

Excessive performances of one-upsmanship that pervade athletics are more blatant in sports such as basketball, football, and MMA. To be fair, one-upping competitors/colleagues is part of capitalist culture. It's even part of the woodwork in the academe - think about some ways that academicians get rewarded in grad school, promoted as faculty, and promoted in think tanks.

Back to sport, this happens in ping pong too? Check out the moves this guy makes to emasculate his opponent.

For sure, humor has a function in our lives.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

National Social Disorganization and Cyclical Gang Violence

When communities are poor, have little opportunity structure and social capital, and are muddled with different types of crime, they are said within the crim literature base to be socially disorganized.

Another commonly cited indicator of social disorganization is a high level of transience. As William Wilson illustrated in When Work Disappears, those who can afford to leave financially distressed neighborhoods do, thereby leaving the poorest of the poor behind, furthering the lack of resources and role models in the urban ghettos.

So it was shocking to read that in El Salvador, over one fourth of the entire population had bailed to work in the United States. From an NPR story, “
Social Inequities, Discontent Grow in El Salvador”:

One of the most telling facts about how tough life is in El Salvador right now is that a quarter of its population chooses not to live here. An estimated 2 million Salvadorans out of a population of less than 7 million live and work in the United States. Remittances from those migrants rival exports as the leading source of revenue for the country.

To make matters worse, with construction and manufacturing work disappearing in the U.S. and fewer people buying retail items made from the garment industry, those remittances are surely dwindling. In any case, when 25%+ of an entire country’s population is looking for labor elsewhere, it tends to mean more than pervasive joblessness.

James Diego Vigil’s A Rainbow of Gangs notes that the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992) sparked massive conflict and emigration, largely to Southern California, and Los Angeles in particular. With L.A.’s schools and police departments under equipped to cope with such a rapid rise in immigrants, El Salvadorian gangs began to surface.

Conspicuously, many of these immigrants were undocumented since the United States wouldn’t accept them as political refugees seeking asylum – never mind the U.S. helped to fund military forces in the Civil War. As undocumented immigrants/refugees, they couldn’t get conventional jobs, and shazam, another contributor to gangs materializing. Vigil also comments that many of the El Salvadorian gang members that mushroomed in Los Angeles were deported to El Salvador.

Sending gang members to a locale characterized by over-population, poverty, and a lack of opportunity – talk a bout a recipe for disaster.

Crime is rampant. The birthrate is high. Social mobility remains limited, in a place that just fought a civil war over its vast inequities in wealth.

Presently, it appears major sectors of El Salvador are more or less run by gangs, who extort small businesses and even hospitals for rent money and infiltrate the police. From a related story, “
Extortion, Gang Violence Terrorize El Salvador”:

Jose Eduardo Martel, a subinspector at the local police station, says extortion is a huge problem in El Salvador, and he says it is currently his district's biggest crime problem.

All types of businesses — stores, beauty salons, barbers — have to pay la renta to the gangs, Martel says.

Accompanying the extortion rackets is violence — which breaks out when gangs fight over territory or when people for some reason don't pay. The dominant gangs are the Mara Salvatrucha and Diez y Ocho, or 18, but Martel says there are others, too.

According to a 2002 report published by the World Health Organization, El Salvador has the second highest homicide rate of those ages 10-29 in the entire world at 50.2 persons murdered per 100,000 (Colombia has the highest at 84.4/100,000).

So looking back on this colossal problem weighing down on El Salvador: they had a civil war that the U.S. formally acknowledged, but then denied political asylum to those threatened by the war, thereby making those who had to leave illegal immigrants who couldn’t work in the U.S., some of whom then turned to gangs as a means to make it. When the gangs become a problem, our answer is to ship ‘em back; just move the problem elsewhere. And now look at the massive gang problems in El Salvador.

The U.S. can't solve every international problem, but its complicity in exacerbating major crises can't be denied either. Couldn’t our policy makers have better foresight?

(Photo courtesy of NPR)

Excellent podcast on this topic. “Assignment: America’s Most Dangerous Gang” (BBC World Service Podcast; 3 April 2008)

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Politically Correct Discrimination

Go to just about any middle or high school, walk around, and within a relatively short time period, you're bound to hear students using homophobic and sexist terms to insult one another. The likelihood increases if you're walking around an athletic field or court. There's normally no hiding it either, which is one reason I wasn't terribly surprised to read THIS STORY from the Orange County Register about a school being accused of allowing serious bullying rooted in homophobia and sexism.

The school under scrutiny, Corona del Mar High School (CdM), is situated in an upper-class, politically conservative, Southern California beach community. One of its drama teachers directed the play, "Rent," at the school because of the high levels of homophobia he noticed on campus grounds. According to the
Register, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union because the CdM administration allegedly allowed students to bully other students in person and through electronic means:

The lawsuit against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District accuses Corona del Mar High School administrators of “permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular,” according an ACLU announcement.


The lawsuit's mention of “threats of violence” refers to a Facebook video, viewed by the Register, in which three young males who apparently attend the school unleash a litany of gay slurs and suggest harming a female peer. Later, according to the ACLU, a fourth student threatened the girl on school grounds, leading her to enroll in off-campus independent study.

One threat upped the ante, threatening a person's life. And not surprisingly, a number of the reported bullies are athletes, who received an unusually lenient punishment for their threats of violence.

The school's “inadequate and inappropriate response,” according to the announcement, “included assigning an assistant football coach at the school to investigate the harassment, an obvious conflict of interest because three of the four accused students are members of the football team."

Ultimately, two of the boys went unpunished, and two were suspended for five days, according to the lawsuit. The complaint suggests the punishments were lax, contending that other students face far longer suspensions for drug and alcohol use.

The privilege afforded to athletes is hardly uncommon; neither are the excessive levels of sexism and homophobia that run rampant through high school, college, and professional athletics. Sports sociologist Michael Messner points out that in certain sports, males are typically socialized to internalize the following values:
  1. Competitive, homophobic, and misogynistic talk and joking
  2. A group practice of voyeuring, where boys can watch their friends have sex with girls and sometimes join in
  3. Suppression of empathy toward others, especially toward the girls
  4. A culture of silence among peers, in families, and in the community
So again, to read that high school football players are being accused of intimidating other students with violence that had homophobic and sexist motivations, bothersome as it is, is not terribly shocking.

Change needs to start at the top. School administrators must hire coaches that mentor athletes in ways that address these forms of discrimination. Granted, it's hard enough just to emphasize being a scholar-athlete. However, dismissing the homophobic and sexist norms that still emobody male athletic culture maintains a status quo where these forms of discrimination merely make bystanders smirk.

For more reading on Messner's work noted in this post:
Messner, Michael A. (2005). The triad of violence in men's sports. In E. Buchwald, P.R. Fletcher, & M. Roth (Eds.) Transforming A Rape Culture, pp. 23-46. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

(Photo courtesy of the Orange County Register)

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Capitalist System and Greed Exacerbate Global Stratification

The World Health Organization (WHO) has posted a moving speech made by their General-Director, Dr. Margaret Chan titled “The impact of global crises on health: money, weather and microbes.” The speech, given at 23rd Forum on Global Issues in Berlin, Germany focuses on the two central crises impacting our world today – the financial downturn and climate change.

More specifically, Dr. Chan’s speech bluntly illustrates that although high-income countries are ultimately at fault for both the depressed economy and climate change, they will hit developing countries the hardest. Still, unmitigated capitalism and its impact on climate change will be the demise for everyone if we do not change our means of living and values right now. From Dr. Chan's speech:

The contagion of our mistakes shows no mercy and makes no exceptions on the basis of fair play. Even countries that managed their economies well, did not purchase toxic assets, and did not take excessive financial risks will suffer the consequences. Likewise, the countries that have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions will be the first and hardest hit by climate change.

The financial crisis and climate change are not the only markers of bad policies and failed systems of governance. The gaps in health outcomes, seen within and between countries, are greater now than at any time in recent history. The difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest countries now exceeds 40 years. Globally, annual government expenditure on health varies from as little as US$ 20 per person to well over US$ 6000.

Dr. Chan’s words on free trade, capitalist venture and their incompatibility with promoting equal health are especially compelling.

If businesses, like the pharmaceutical industry, are driven by the need to make a profit, how can we expect them to invest in R&D for diseases of the poor, who have no purchasing power?

In far too many cases, economic growth has been pursued, with single-minded purpose, as the be-all, end-all, cure-for-all. Economic growth, as many believed, would cure poverty and improve health. This did not happen.

In short, for us to somehow think capitalism run amok would promote health across the globe is ludicrous. Capitalism’s foundation is based on employers trying to get as much out of natural resources and employees as possible for the lowest costs, and then selling products at a premium. This formula is antithetical to promoting equality of any kind. And putting the global economic crisis in perspective, Dr. Chan makes the following statement: “In affluent countries, people are losing their jobs, their homes, and their savings, and this is tragic. In developing countries, people will lose their lives.”

Because our society values financial wealth as the key indicator of success, we fail to place adequate value on helping others. In the end, a globalized capitalist economy with virtually no regulation exacerbates health disparities and has even come back to haunt the power elite.

The policies governing the international systems that link us all so closely together need to look beyond financial gains, benefits for trade, and economic growth for its own sake. They need to be put to the true test.

What impact do they have on poverty, misery, ill health, and premature death? Do they contribute to greater fairness in the distribution of the benefits of socioeconomic progress? Or are they leaving this world more and more out of balance, especially in matters of health?

I would argue that equitable access to health care, and greater equity in health outcomes are fundamental to a well-functioning economy. I would further argue that equitable health outcomes should be the principal measure of how we, as a civilized society, are making progress.

This world will not become a fair place for health all by itself. Economic decisions within a country will not automatically protect the poor or guarantee universal access to basic health care.

Globalization will not self-regulate in ways that favour fair distribution of benefits. Corporations will not automatically look after social concerns as well as profits. International trade agreements will not, by themselves, guarantee food security, or job security, or health security, or access to affordable medicines.

All of these outcomes require deliberate policy decisions.

Turning to global climate change, Dr. Chan’s comments are equally poignant, though disturbingly so. As I’ve noted before, climate change will influence high- and low-income countries alike with increasing frequency and intensity in the coming years. Dr. Chan notes that major outbreaks, such as SARS will not only be more common, but will be handled with less efficiency and effectiveness if less resources are put into health systems due to the economic crisis.

Several consequences for health have been identified with a high degree of certainty. Malnutrition will increase, as will the number of deaths from diarrhoeal disease. More storms and floods will cause more deaths and injuries, and cholera outbreaks will occur with greater frequency.

Heat waves, particularly in large cities, will cause more deaths, largely among the elderly. Finally, climate change could alter the geographical distribution of disease vectors, including the insects that spread malaria and dengue.

All of these health problems are already huge, largely concentrated in the developing world, and difficult to control.

Although climate change is, by its nature, a global phenomenon, its consequences will not be evenly distributed. Scientists agree that developing countries will be the first and hardest hit.

According to the latest projections, Africa will be severely affected as early as 2020. A decade from now, crop yields in some parts of Africa are expected to drop by 50%. By 2020, water stress could affect as many as 250 million Africans.

Imagine the impact on food security and malnutrition. Imagine the impact on food aid. In many African countries, agriculture is the principal economic activity for 70% of the population. Among Africa’s poor, 90% depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. There is no surplus. There is no coping capacity. There is no cushion to absorb the shocks.

So what’s the bottom line? This statement sums it up quite nicely.

Up to now, the polar bear has been the poster child for climate change. We need to use every politically correct and scientifically sound trick in the book to convince the world that humanity really is the most important species endangered by climate change.

(Photo courtesy of the World Health Organization)

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Understanding Violence Prevention in a Mixed Martial Arts Context

I do not have any problem with MMA or specific combat sport gyms teaching self-defense classes or simply offering classes to people from different demographic groups. Learning and practicing combat sports can be a great self-esteem builder, great for physical fitness, and great for just releasing stress from the hectic workday.

The Del Mar Times has a short story about the Mixed-Martial Arts Academy having offered “violence prevention” classes to over 1000 women at the San Diego Civic Center on March 7 titled, "MMA joins violence prevention efforts." Offering combat sports training for women and girls is great too, and the Mixed-Martial Arts Academy did a great thing in reaching out to women through MMA.

The Del Mar Times, however, makes a common mistake here in defining this effort as violence prevention. Teaching someone combat sports training is not prevention. Violence prevention means taking measures ahead of time to better insure violent interactions do not happen in the first place, as opposed to learning how to fend off a would-be attacker(s), which actually is the more dangerous response.

Prevention means emphasizing that people not walk in isolated, dark areas and travel in groups with trusted companions. For girls and women, this means learning the early signs of intimate partner violence (e.g., excessive monitoring and controlling behaviors) and for males to be active partners in teaching non-violent dimensions of masculinity. At the most fundamental level, this means providing youth with the resources and socialization so that they do not become violent later in life.

In the modern era, traditional martial arts gyms are well known for teaching principles of violence prevention – showing respect, having discipline, and feeling comfortable walking away from a fight. These are reasons residents rarely show resistance to martial arts gyms popping up in their communities. As MMA moves further into the mainstream, it is important at both the grass-roots and corporate levels that violence prevention is accurately understood and promoted.

(Photo courtesy of Del Mar Times; essay also linked up on

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Patriarchy to the Extreme

Not a whole lot to comment on regarding this BBC article, "Afghan women who turn to immolation," other than it's just disturbing. The level of patriarchy in our world is truly unimaginable.

On a side note, the more I peruse the
blogosphere cataloging examples of inequality and violence, the less I am surprised to read them. I've been doing some research on media violence and whether or not it desensitizes youth to real world violence, some of which argues chronic exposure to video game violence can have negative and long-term consequences. I wonder in some ways if that's happening to me. In any case, that's getting a bit off track here and not really the best comparison.

Now back on track, the advent of an arranged marriage coupled with rigid gender role expectations and a violent enforcement of those roles appears to lead to an increase in cases of self-immolation in some parts of Afghanistan.

From the BBC story:

Anargol says she had committed self-immolation after arguing with her husband.

When asked whether she had a message for other women, she had a shocking response.

"Don't burn yourself," she said, lying on her hospital bed. "If you want a way out, use a gun: it's less painful."

It was an absolute cry of despair, and something rarely heard from women in this deeply conservative society.

But according to Soraya Balaigh, director of the provincial department for women's affairs, it is an emotion that many women relate to.

"Pressure is often put on these women by their husbands or the mothers-in-law," she says.

"Violence is common and many women are desperate. I had a woman in this office who begged me to kill her here rather than send her back."

Of course what happens outside of the western world is so often portrayed in contrast to what "we" are not. Surely, the degree to which patriarchal culture is embedded across societies varies, as are the structural arrangements that perpetuate them. Still, violent control over women exists even in Hawaii's "island paradise," where domestic slayings have reached a ten year high (the tragedy that prompted this story occurred about a mile from where I live).

To read a more uplifting story, go HERE, about a woman from Morocco who escaped an arranged marriage and now works in Virginia as a successful professional mixed martial arts fighter and instructor.

(Photo courtesy of BBC)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rationality in the Midst of Despair: A Balanced Look at Terrorism

The Independent ran an excellent story (2/27/09) titled "Despair and rage among Gaza's youths," which presented a variety of perspectives expressed by young Palestinian men in the wake of Israel’s recent military offensive. Despite being relatively short, the story spells out multiple factors that can contribute to terrorist movements.

Facing extreme poverty, violence, and victimization, some of these young male refugees – many of whom are in college – begin looking to terrorist organizations as an alternative.

"I used to keep away from military activity," says student Ahmad al-Khateeb, 21. "I wanted to graduate and leave the country. I was sometimes afraid of death".

But now, unable to sit his exams because his ID papers are buried under the rubble of his home, he says his views have "completely changed".

Sports science student Mohammad al-Mukayed, 22, says he saw three children killed by an airstrike as they played in the street just meters away from him.

"They were just pieces of flesh. I wanted to help but I couldn't. I do think of joining a group. I would rather be killed defending my land than die like these kids, doing nothing."

Rabah Mohanna, a political leader with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the smaller militant factions, says the organisation has seen an in increase in the number of people volunteering to carry out suicide bombings since the conflict.

Many of them are young; most have either lost relatives or homes, or seen it happen to others, he says.

At the same time, other men’s voices display an alternative perspective that simply hopes for peace, feeling a resistance could not possibly overthrow Israel’s military prowess, and a realization that terrorist groups do not always look out for the greater good of their entire community who they claim to represent.

With few job opportunities even for those who can afford to study, many young people dream of emigrating.

"We're dead - either by Israeli weapons or as the living dead," says Mahmoud Abuqammar, 22.

Jihad al-Ajramy, 24, still bears a scar on his cheek from his two years as a militant, which he says ended when open warfare broke out between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority-linked Fatah.

The workshop he used to work in has long since closed as the flow of raw materials dried up under the blockade.

"I used to earn 200 shekels ($50) a day, now I even have to borrow cigarettes. None of these military factions is helping me. Why would I join?"

"During the war, everybody was thinking of fighting, of revenge, of going back to military action - but what fighting? Fighting against Israeli F16s?"

Again, it is an excellent read that needs to be read in its entirety. It also has a bit of commentary on masculinity's connection to violence and is nicely augmented by this BBC audio slideshow, titled "Homeless in Gaza."

The piece also ties in nicely with Louise Richardson’s (author of What Terrorists Want) research on terrorism. Richardson was on BBC’s radio show, “Outlook” (3/16/09; click HERE to listen to the whole interview) and offered brilliant insight into how terrorist groups operate, as well as how America’s “War on Terror” has fed into terrorist desires. Some highlights from the interview:

Terrorists have two types of motives. First, the underlying political motives, and these differ with different types of terrorist groups, so religious groups may want to reintroduce the counter faith, whereas nationalist groups may want independence or autonomy, secession and so on. So they differ with the different types of groups, but the secondary or more immediate motives I believe are constant across all types of terrorist groups.

So I believe the answer to the question “What Terrorists Want,” is first and foremost revenge, second renown, and third to provoke a reaction, so those are I think the motives that are held constant across all different terrorist groups – revenge, renown, and reaction.

People are recruited out of their commitment to the ideology. So what’s interesting, what’s the challenge for us is to try to understand how a person who in one part of his or her life may be a functioning student or a good parent can nevertheless commit atrocities in an effort to achieve a highly unlikely goal.

I think the main motive that anybody joins the IRA is the same motive that most people join Al-Qaeda. It’s a desire for revenge, usually for an act committed not against themselves personally, but with a larger group with which they identify.

I think the U.S. grossly, tragically over-reacted to the tragedy, the atrocity of September 11th, and in so doing, they played directly into the hands of Al-Qaeda. By declaring war on what was after all a motley collection of extremists living under the sponsorship of one of the poorest governments on the planet, we elevated their status to a degree that was almost unimaginable to them.

Terrorists want to be considered at war because it legitimizes them and raises their profile. And I think also by declaring war, we decided on a military response. And again, America has an extraordinary military, but as we’ve seen time and time again, military strength doesn’t translate into victory against terrorism. There is a role for the military, but it’s a limited role.

We need to understand (terrorists) so that we can fashion more effective counter-terrorism policy.

Looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from this point of view, one can more clearly see why some (definitely not all) Palestinians join Hamas or smaller combative organizations. And as Dr. Richardson states, those who join terrorist organizations are not necessarily blind puppets.

They frequently have excessively violent experiences behind them coupled with a strained perspective lying ahead, in which their life’s aspirations do not coincide with expectations. Without exonerating terrorist efforts, this puts a more humanistic and properly contextualized angle on terrorism, accounting for co-occurring violence and power imbalance.

(Photo courtesy of BBC News)

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Sac Town, Growing Homelessness, and Potential Intimate Partner Violence

I remember reading John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, way back in high school. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but with the economic crisis incessantly hovering in my mind and impacting people’s lives, well, one gets to thinking. Then I saw this story on the rising tent cities spurting up in Sacramento, California. From Richard Gonzales’s story over on NPR:

The tent city, spread over an area the size of several football fields, has local officials scrambling over how to handle the area's homeless crisis.

More than a year ago, a handful of homeless people staked out the site on the northern edge of downtown Sacramento. Now there are more than 100 tents and anywhere between 300 to 400 people living without running water or sanitation. Their only protection from the elements is nylon tents and plastic tarps.

The piece goes on to tell the story of a laid off welder from Colorado who moved west looking for work.

Months went by without work. Cutch lost his house, his car was stolen, his savings ran out. This past August, he took up a friend's invitation to come to California, but that didn't work out, either.

Growing unemployment, moving west, looking for work that isn’t there – sound familiar to the 1930s?

So while Sacramento gears up for a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the musical lyrics of rap star Lil’ Wayne, and the colliding gloves of mixed martial arts hometown star Nick Diaz, a significant homeless population of “anywhere between 300 to 400 people (is) living without running water or sanitation. Their only protection from the elements is nylon tents and plastic tarps.”

During a time when people are supposedly cutting back on luxury items and entertainment, all I can say is I hope these events will offer a SIGNFICANT portion of their revenue to addressing this and other local social problems.

On a broader level, as tent cities mushroom nation-wide, systems and services will need to be established that cater to the homeless’ social needs. Granted, state monies are scant. However, if accessible shelters for victims are not made available, unseen and under-reported victimization, in particular to women, will rise as fast as the tent cities.

Those who think excessive levels of intimate partner violence are limited to developing countries and only stand as exceptions in the U.S. (Rihanna-Chris Brown) need only look at Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath for a reality check. The fact is, rapid displacement, poverty, isolation and a lack of services skyrocket women’s victimization, even within our borders.

From the Clarion Ledger (thanks to Poverty in America for the heads up), noting a study conducted from 2006-07:

Women living in emergency trailer parks in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina were three times more likely to become victims of domestic or sexual violence than they were prior to the storm, according to a new study published by the American Medical Association.

Dr. Lynn Lawry, the lead author of the report published Monday in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, said the level of violence found in the survey is comparable to similar studies performed in camps for displaced people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and other war-torn countries.

Let’s read that again: “…the level of violence found in the survey is comparable to similar studies performed in camps for displaced people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and other war-torn countries.” Prevention needs to start, right now.

Update from Sacramento's ABC affiliate (thanks Ta'aca for the heads up)...

Looks like tensions are emerging as the city and homeless residents attempt to tease out what is best for this situation. From the television news story:

"I don't like having a third world country inside the city," said Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Johnson wants to close the homeless camp and possibly open a city-sanctioned homeless safe zone with running water and toilets.

"We can't ignore our homeless. We have a moral obligation to help," said Johnson.

But tent city residents don't want to move. One resident resorted to violence and attacked a News10 cameraman covering the story on Wednesday. No one was hurt.

"Where are we supposed to go?" said tent city resident Luis.

(Photo courtesy of NPR).

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Global Warming, Mass Migration, and US

NPR had a good discussion up this past Thursday (3/12/09) about climate change and its effects on humanity. Their basic premise was that although most people see climate change affecting rain forests, glaciers, polar bears and so forth, they fail to see global warming's direct impact on people.

Their guests had some excellent things to say from first hand experience. Christina Chan of CARE USA:

I don't think that climate change has been an underlying cause of the poverty and injustice we've seen in the past. Poorer communities have dealt with drought, floods, cyclones, hurricanes for generations. The difference now is in terms of the frequency, intensity, and severity. There will be more.

A drought or a flood might hit a community and hit the poorest of the poor in that community, maybe every seven years. What we see happening now is an increase in the intensity, frequency, and so there's less time to recover. And so if it's happening every year or every other year, a drought in one year, a flood in another, families, especially families with very little assets can't recover as quickly. The resilience is lower. So what we're seeing is the challenges we've been facing for say the last 60 years are going to be that much more complex and difficult with climate change.

Cynthia Awuor of CARE Internationa added her perspective, describing some of the tangible effects of climate change now manifesting in developing countries, in this case, Kenya:

With increased droughts, food production is being affected negatively, so there's repeated crop failures. And even at the moment as I speak drought has been occurring in Kenya and we have famine. We are experiencing famine at the moment that's affecting about 10 million people out of a population of about 38 million.

And the women that we work with in some of the regions are saying that they're feeling that the temperatures are becoming higher, so it's become hotter, and it becomes taxing on their bodies when they have to walk long distances to actually look for water because sometimes the search for water takes up to six hours a day.

Chan went on to add that those in high-income countries need to care and push their policy makers to address the issue:

What people here in the United States can do, I think it is important to watch as individuals our own carbon footprint. But I think it's really important as citizens of the United States to really put pressure on our policy makers cause they're not hearing it. Especially these days with the economic situation, my fear is that climate change will be put on the back burner.

It's a good 7 minute discussion definitely worth listening to HERE.

I did think, however, that while the typical NPR listener might be interested in the piece, a majority of the public wouldn't give a rip since the piece indirectly intimated that global warming wasn't having any significant impact on them. In short, nothing in the piece suggested global warming would affect people in the U.S.

The thing is, even popular media has occasionally reported the long-term effects global warming will have on mass migration, as those in the most affected areas are forced to leave their homelands. Looking ahead to 2050, a Reuters article notes:

The daunting prospect of mass population movements set off by climate change and environmental disasters poses an imminent new challenge that no one has yet figured out how to meet.

People displaced by global warming ... could dwarf the nearly 10 million refugees and almost 25 million internally displaced people already fleeing wars and oppression.

And not surprisingly, should mass migration inflate to unprecedented levels, in all likelihood xenophobic reactions will inflate accordingly.

Refugees may also feel the world has less room for them as they try to cross borders into countries where hostility to migrants of all sorts has grown, compared with the Cold War era when fugitives from communism won sympathy and asylum.

Of course this is not to suggest that we should get people to care about the earth by scaring them with the potential influx of immigration and refugees. However, we do need to wake up and realize that global warming will
directly affect those in high-income countries as resources inevitably shrink.

But that's 2050, a good forty years away. Maybe our kids or grand kids will have to worry about it, but not us. In the spirit of typical American individualism, it's a "them" problem for them to figure out. Not so according to the Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World report, published by the U.S. National Intelligence Council.

The report itself is quite lengthy, a good 100+ pages. However, it has important sections focusing on climate change and its varied ramifications. In Chapter 4, titled "Scarcity in the Midst of Penty?", the authors write of global warming's global impact:

Most displaced persons traditionally relocate within their home countries, but in the future many are likely to find their home countries have diminishing capabilities to accommodate them. Thus the number of migrants seeking to move from disadvantaged into relatively privileged countries is likely to increase. The largest inflows will mirror many current migratory patterns—from North Africa and Western Asia into Europe, Latin America into the US, and Southeast Asia into Australia. (p. 53).

And again, we're talking 2025, a mere 16 years from now. If our current global economic crisis is a problem, think about the sheer number of people who simply will not be able to live at a subsistence level, how that number will explode, and how it will increase mass dependence and competition. Furthermore, the report explicitly states that climate change can and often does stimulate war.

Climate change is unlikely to trigger interstate war, but it could lead to increasingly heated interstate recriminations and possibly to low-level armed conflicts. With water becoming more scarce in several regions, cooperation over changing water resources is likely to be increasingly difficult within and between states, straining regional relations. (p. 66).

Recall what served as the catalyst for ethnic genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur back in 2003. While fundamental ethnic differences set the stage for divided groups who would soon be in major conflict, it was a loss of crops due to climate changes that sparked the conflict.

Either we get a handle on global warming now, or we see Darfur more frequently, with greater intensity, and closer to home before we know it.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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When Layers of Stratification Pile Up, the Kids Suffer

It's almost as if these two articles were written by the same author, focusing on the same community, dissecting the same context, acknowledging the same victims, with the state making the same excuses. Thing is, Monica Ortiz's article (3/6/09, NPR) focuses on Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, and Chris Morris's article (3/13/09, BBC News) focuses on an industrial area of north Delhi, India.

Both articles describe virtually identical stories of girls, recently gone missing who represent an ongoing trend in the two locales. Only in rare cases are the missing children found.

According to the official website of the Delhi police, nearly 6,000 children have been reported missing in the city in the last two years. And only about one in 10 have been found.

Though the numbers are not as high, the situation in Juarez is strikingly similar.

There have been 347 reports of missing women in Juarez since last year. Of the 18 cases that remain unsolved, police classify six as high risk, meaning the women's lives could be in danger.

In both communities, the greatest fear is that the girls are being kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking rings.

"The child who is missing is being abused in one way or the other," says Meenakshi Kohli, from the group Child Rights and You.

"It could be for organ theft; if it's a girl child, it's probably prostitution; trafficking; begging; there are local mafia gangs who abduct children to make money out of them."

State agencies, however, point to the missing children, suggesting they may have left
voluntarily. In Delhi, "The police say many missing children have eloped." Likewise in Juarez,

Local state prosecutor Alejandro Pariente Nunez downplays the problem. He claims that the majority of women who disappear in Juarez do so willingly.

He says that of the women who disappeared last year and were found later, a large percentage had willingly gone away with boyfriends or friends.

And the bottom line is the families of these vulnerable children lack the resources to push state agencies so that they will work harder or differently to find their children.

The sad fact is that most of the missing are from Delhi's poorer communities.

That means their parents have no access to power or influence. And the authorities too often treat their complaints with indifference.

Garcia, of May Our Daughters Return Home, says that Juarez doesn't have enough personnel with the right training to deal with the missing women.

"Because of the high number of public servants and law enforcement who were murdered by organized crime last year, many cops quit out of fear," she says.

Thus, the state appears negligent in establishing safeguards that would help to prevent kidnappings from occurring in the first place, redirects blame on the victim (exonerating them from accountability), and/or may be under equipped to challenge those responsible for the kidnappings and wider crime rings.

In the end, when accounting for class, gender, and age stratification, it's the girls who face extremely high risk levels. So what can be done in societies embedded so deeply in poverty, transience, violent patriarchy, crime and other markers of social disorganization?

Speaking very broadly, we live in an increasingly individualistic and utterly indifferent world. Let's face it, if these children are being kidnapped and are not immediately killed, they are being used to turn a profit, rendering them slaves.

In order to strike out contemporary slavery, Kevin Bales in Disposable People suggests (among many other things) that government/police corruption must be ousted, and culturally, humanity needs to flip our excessive value we place on material accumulation with values placed on human rights:

Every country manifests some degree of corruption. The crucial question is: Which is stronger, the corruption or the bonds of social consent? You can ask the same questions of every government in the world: Do the people in power, from presidents down to police, work according to the rules or for their own enrichment? Are public relationships shaped by common aims or by exploitation? (p. 245).

We are back to the terms of the abolition campaigns of the nineteenth century: if we are going to stop slavery we must convince the world that human rights need even more protection than property rights. The freedom of human beings must have priority over the free market in goods. (p. 249).

Both suggestions point to a major cultural shift away from individualistic and capitalist ideals. Lofty goals indeed as the global economy moves faster with each passing decade. But it is a shift long overdue.

(Photo courtesy of BBC News)

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Friday, March 13, 2009

No Social Problems Surprise Me - We Elected This Guy!

I got no words for this. Just watch it, you will literally LOL. The ending is priceless.

At least when edited properly, he made us laugh...

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Will Racial Stereotypes in the Media Intensify as Recession Worsens?

So a good friend of mine suggested I watch American Movie Classic’s (AMC) original drama series, Breaking Bad, which airs every Sunday night. Season one already concluded, but season two just began this past Sunday (3/8/2009). “About the Show” from the AMC website:

Breaking Bad follows protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher who lives in New Mexico with his wife (Anna Gunn) and teenage son (RJ Mitte) who has cerebral palsy. White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and given a prognosis of two years left to live. With a new sense of fearlessness based on his medical prognosis, and a desire to secure his family's financial security, White chooses to enter a dangerous world of drugs and crime and ascends to power in this world. The series explores how a fatal diagnosis such as White's releases a typical man from the daily concerns and constraints of normal society and follows his transformation from mild family man to a kingpin of the drug trade.

In addition to the above description, the drama highlights the fact that White’s annual salary as a school teacher only stands at about $43,000. Moreover, his wife is pregnant, meaning heavier expenses are on the way, and to add more complex, engaging plot twists, his brother in law is a DEA agent. Ahh, a perfect storm of engaging drama!

It should also be noted that the specific drug market he enters is the volatile world of crystal methamphetamine trafficking, and as a producer of this highly addictive substance, his chemistry background is crucial. He even enlists a former chemistry student of his, “Jesse,” to help him in his budding entrepreneurial business.

Having only seen one episode myself, White (played by actor Bryan Cranston) appears the very sympathetic character who has altruistic justification for entering the drug market – providing for his family in the wake of financial and physical despair. And perhaps his last name is no coincidence – White.

White lives in a peaceful suburban New Mexico town and lived a model citizen before falling victim to his physical ailment, his mortgage, the future cost of his son attending college, a baby on the way, and a fairly limited salary. His financial anxieties resonate immensely with the current unease America (and much of the world) feels, furthering our tendency to sympathize with his character.

On the other side of the drug market is the seller, named “Tuco,” who purchases White’s products. Tuco, not surprisingly, is Mexican and extraordinarily violent. From AMC's recap of Season Two, episode one:

After buying meth from Walt at an auto junkyard, Tuco violently attacks No-Doze for presuming to speak for him. Afterwards, he drives away, leaving Walt and Jesse to ponder the danger of their situation. “$737,000,” Walt says, estimating how much he’ll need to provide for his family’s future. In other words: “Eleven more drug deals.”

Moments later Tuco roars back to the junkyard, ordering Walt to perform CPR on an unconscious No-Doze – who dies as a result of the brutal attack. Gonzo, Tuco's other henchman, says they should give his buddy a proper burial, but Tuco orders him to stash the body underneath a stack of old cars.

Jesse is outside his house. "What the hell are you doing here?" Walt says as he approaches Jesse’s car. Then he realizes Tuco is crouched in the back seat with a handgun.

"Get in," Tuco orders.

Visually, Tuco’s attack on No-Doze is indeed extremely violent, rendering his character, as an antagonist to White, very easy to despise. Whereas White is “forced” to enter the crystal meth trade due to his financial crunch and to provide for his family, Tuco is quite simply cast as a viciously sadistic, self-centered dealer, oh, who just happens to be Mexican (I would guess Chicano). At worst, White engages in deviant behaviors, and some might even define his actions as noble.

Conversely, the Mexican Tuco is straight up criminal. The racialized portrayals in Breaking Bad could not play off one another more blatantly. Not that these racist characterizations are anything new (ever see the movie Training Day?), but it is important to keep a pulse on how media-based racism interplays with our ongoing economic woes.

The reality is that most men and women, irrespective of race, who enter the underground economy at the lower levels, including the drug market, do so for the same reasons as Walter White. Philippe Bourgois’s classic ethnography, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, vividly illustrates the financial constraints people of color encounter before turning to the underground economy as a means to survive, that are very much in line with Walter White’s situation in Breaking Bad.

We just wouldn’t know it based off what we see on TV.

(Photos courtesy of

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mixed Martial Arts Crosses Paths with MTV

Okay, so I have this interest, check that, obsession, with a sport called mixed martial arts (MMA). If you haven't heard of it, perhaps "cage fighting" will strike a cord with you. A good portion of society doesn't consider MMA a sport, instead tagging it another indicator of our society's moral decline and tendency to glamorize violence.

Between the oppositional camps that support and denounce
MMA, I stand somewhere in the middle, leaning towards the side that supports the sport (though I certainly get my share of hate mail from die hard, normally anonymous, MMA supporters).

What is MMA?

I'll take a minute to define the sport in relatively simple terms. It can take place in a ring, similar to boxing (see above) or in a caged ring (see picture, below). A vast majority of the athletes involved are men (yes, they are athletes), although a considerable number of very talented female athletes are making major waves in the sport, including a PhD, Dr. Rosi Sexton.

Newbie observers of the sport often associate it with boxing, for fairly obvious reasons. However, it is starkly different from the "sweet science." Matches only last 3 to 5 rounds (depending on if it's a championship fight), with rounds lasting 3-5 minutes. The gloves are 4 ounces, about one third the size of boxing gloves, and competitors basically wear nothing but their shorts, and shirts for women.

The sport does involve boxing skills but also includes combat sport skills from
muay Thai kickboxing, amateur wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, etc. MMA formally began in 1993 and has since exploded into a major sporting industry that brings in more pay-per-view money annually than professional wrestling, and MMA shows frequently draw more viewers than mainstream sporting events (e.g., basketball, baseball, tennis).

If you're suddenly repulsed by what you've read, stop and think more broadly about sports in our
society. Football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse, and to some degree soccer are collision sports that we allow children to play, often from both sexes. The concussion and ACL tear rates in these sports are actually quite high. And boxing is far, far more dangerous (reflexive moment here - one of the ways people justify violence is by comparing their tolerance for violence to more serious forms of violence, essentially saying, "This might be bad, but it's not as bad as X, so chill out." I find myself doing this a lot when discussing MMA). Children's participation in MMA is understandably controversial, and I staunchly disagree with it.

There are also rules that "sanitize" the fighting, and quite frankly, if anyone thinks this is anything close to street fighting, stop again and think about what street fighting
encompasses - unfair numbers, weapons, street curbs, blindsiding attacks, size differentials, a lack of physical preparedness, etc. True, there is obvious overlap, but the differences are substantial.

Still, in
MMA's 16 year history, there has been one death from a sanctioned competition. The sport is young, and unfortunately, I would not be surprised if we see a good proportion of ex-MMA fighters getting through their older years punch drunk, poor, and exploited.

There are a bunch of different
MMA organizations, the most powerful of which is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). I'm not going to get into the others, as I've already gone way overboard in explaining and defending the sport.

MMA, MTV, and the Reality Show Biz

So MTV has a new reality television show coming out (big surprise) called "Bully
Beatdown," in which a bully victim has MMA veteran Jason "Mayhem" Miller confront the bully, and challenge the bully to a match against another mixed martial artist, with $10,000 at stake. See the trailer, below.

Among my various concerns with
MMA has always been its overlap with street, school, and intimate partner violence. Yes, I know I just said it was starkly different from these types of violence, but hey, I'm not blind. The sport, like many others, is saturated in a violent patriarchy, where the mostly male competitors and promoters one-up each other verbally and physically as ring girls parade around the ring/cage smiling and blowing kisses into TV screens.

So to have a reality television show deliberately connect
MMA to bullying is regrettable at best. True, it appears in this show's approach, the mixed martial artist is coming in on behalf of the bullied victim. However, in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School and 2007 Virginia Tech tragedies, it is critical that we ask how to best prevent bullying, and if it still happens, how to best cope with it constructively.

Beatdown" will probably be quite the success for the typical adolescent/young-adult MTV viewer. A primary reason the UFC became so popular was its hallmark reality show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), which propelled MMA into the mainstream in 2005. TUF secludes 16 young aspiring mixed martial artists for six weeks in a competition where the contestants have to train and compete with one another in a tournament-type process.

So here we have a constructed bachelor society (never a good idea), where the participants live in a house with alcohol present - you can imagine the violent drama. The upcoming season pits a United Kingdom team against a U.S. team; yeah, trouble. And while it does not look like alcohol or extended seclusion will be part of the "Bully Beatdown" formula, an emphasized, violent masculinity is certainly perpetuated, as is the general idea that the best way to problem solve is through violence.

If MMA is a sport, is this how it should function in society? For a little more of my rant on this, just go HERE.

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