Monthly Archives: May 2008

politics of terrorism studies

Years ago, I subscribed to Newsweek to get a source of lightweight magazine news that was relatively mainstream. I don’t expect in-depth coverage, but I still enjoy seeing how certain things are being framed. Plus, it’s fun to read Steven Levy, knowing that he’s making tech culture broadly accessible. Lately, I’ve also been enjoying columns by Fareed Zakaria. I don’t always agree with him, but I find his essays far more provocative than I’d expect from such a mainstream column. Thus, they always make me smile.

This week, in “The Only Thing We Have to Fear…”, Zakaria dissects different studies on the frequency of terrorism. He points out that the definition of “terrorism” varies by region such that what’s being measured is inconsistent and meant to return desired results rather than a real portrait of what’s happening. For example, civilian deaths at the hands of militia in Iraq is considered terrorism while the same practice in Sudan is not. This has significant policy implications. And, of course, it is part of the culture of fear.

I’m curious if any of you scholars/researchers out there know anything about these various studies and what the politics behind them are. I can certainly make my guesses, but as I spend more time analyzing quantitative studies, I’m really curious to know more about the politics behind controversial quantitative studies. Who’s involved in deciding how terms are defined? How do funders affect definitions and framing? What happens when researchers and funders disagree? Or when funders don’t like the results?

I feel very lucky to be backed by a Foundation who does not engage in pressure tactics and is infinitely supportive of hearing things that they don’t want to hear. I wonder… are there any ethnographic studies out there about social science scholarship/funder relations?

this ain’t about sexism

Driving home yesterday, I listened to Pat Schroeder and NPR talk about how people are not voting for Hillary Clinton because of sexism. I swore at the radio and then apologized to my car.

As everyone who knows me knows, I’m SICK AND TIRED of this election. I’ve been disenchanted, frustrated, depressed, and irritated. Lately, I’ve just been downright angry. I am a third wave feminist and I’m proud of it. Gender issues have been central to my identity for as long as I can remember. I am ecstatic to think that a woman might be in the White House in my lifetime. But I refuse to vote for someone solely on the basis of their gender and I resent being told that this makes me sexist.

I have absolutely no doubt that sex, race, age, gender, religion, class, and other factors are at play in this election. Talking to teens, I was always fascinated by their discussion of “that black guy” and “that woman” running for president. At least those labels were relatively accurate. “That Muslim” (Obama) and “that polygamist” (Romney) were a bit harder to stomach. I am very frustrated by how intolerant much of this country is, but I don’t have a lot of patience for when people suggest that one intolerance is better or worse than the other. I’ve always appreciated the second wave feminists for what they did for women in the 1970s, but I identify as a third-waver because I think that it is irresponsible of feminists to seek power for rich, straight, white women at the expense of other women. So when Gloria Steinem wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes about how women are never front-runners, I shuddered. She argues that sexism is not taken as seriously as racism and that sexism is a bigger barrier. I’m not quite sure what world she’s living in.

My instinct was to list off all of the ways in which race is more of a barrier. Like the racial make-up of our jails. Or the racial make-up of the tech industry. Or the racial dynamics in LA. But this would be counter-productive because I don’t believe that comparing such intolerances is effective. And besides, they are tightly entwined and interwoven. So I mediated and just decided that Steinem doesn’t represent me or my generation of feminists.

And then there was Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania killed me. Going into PA, I believed that I could vote for either Democratic candidate in November. After PA, I decided that I’d rather vote for Mickey Mouse than Clinton. I have no tolerance for politics as usual and I’m pretty annoyed with all of the candidates at this point for falling into such disgusting crap. But how on earth did Clinton manage to convince the press that she’s “more working class” than Obama? After his (admittedly foolish) statements in Appalachia, she went on and on about how he was an elitist condescending fool while nothing that her husband was the first black president and aligning herself with the working class. How on earth is a millionaire with an amazing pedigree and unbelievable social connections able to convince working class America that she’s one of them? Grumble. I think we all need to do a bit of owning up to our privilege at this point. But, oh right, that won’t get us elected. Grumble 2.0. This was just one of the many charades that convinced me that Clinton is more determined to win by any means possible. And that worries me. I don’t trust that she’ll do what’s best, but what’ll make her look good. Gas tax holiday? Hello!

Lately, it’s been the whole sexism issue. I have no doubt that she’s been treated unkindly in the press. And sexism is part of that story. But how can she say that sexism is the reason that young, educated voters aren’t voting for her? She’s done extremely well with older women and white working class men and Hispanic/Latino groups. Sure, there’s still some sexism in here… I’ve heard plenty of older voters say that they’ll vote for her because her husband will help her out. But they still voted for her! She’s not done so well with young, educated groups or with black voters. How is this sexism? Frankly, if this election is about sexism, I wouldn’t have expected her to do so well with traditionally macho and misogynist populations. So is my refusal to vote for her a sign of my self-hatred?

I keep hearing that she’s not leaving the race because she doesn’t want to signal defeat, that she doesn’t want to let the sexists win, that she feels like she needs to stay in so that the next generation of women will feel as though they have the power to go for it. I am the next generation of women. I don’t feel disempowered by her not being the nominee but I do feel embarrassed by her refusal to step aside and her ongoing efforts to crack the party into half. I don’t like her speaking on behalf of my generation of women this way.

In her justifications and explanations, she refutes any critique that she’s not being a team player or that she’s doing damage to the party. In some ways, time will tell. But I hope to goddess that when she finally steps down, she works as a senior Democrat to help heal the party and bring people together. If she does this, I will give her a second chance. But right now, I’m absolutely positively disgusted. And please, can we get off this sexism story? It’s embarrassing.

Thanks for letting me blow off a little bit of steam.

update: the sorta graduation

For months, I’ve been locked indoors trying to get enough of my dissertation finished so that I could walk in graduation. Last week, I handed something that sorta kinda looks vaguely like a maybe dissertation to my committee, much to the absolute joy of my family, I walked in Berkeley’s graduation. Of course, that does not mean that I’m graduated so don’t go calling me doctor. Oh, no, au contraire! This only means that I’ve walked and that my committee has full faith that I will be finished within six months. So, now, I have six months to file. ::gulp:: But it can be done!! It will be done!! I will finish!!

Graduation was a trip. My grandparents took their first flight in 13 years to come to California and join me on a very sunny day in Berkeley. I got to graduate with an amazing crop of Master’s students and four of my beloved PhDs. My former mentor Genevieve Bell gave a very inspiring talk filled with “anthropological advice” about how to approach the world like a fieldwork project. Post-graduation, I got some quality family time that involved a lot of food and wine tasting. It was a fantastic break, even if I’m now back to the grind.

As much as I’m a bit stir-crazy from all of the dissertation work, there’s a part of me that is absolutely loving the opportunity to hibernate and get clarity on what exactly I’ve been thinking about for the last five years. Lots of folks have told me that dissertations are archaic and silly, but I am soooo glad to be doing this. Having the opportunity to do some sustained thinking, get regular advice, and try to actually take my thinking to the next level has been a joyous thing. The downside is that it means that I have no life and am a complete hermit that has forgotten how to interact with humans. I now see how academics become the kooky creatures that they are. Tehehe.

Anyhow, I’m still gonna be a sucky communicator and blogger until I file this darn thing, but I feel as though progress is being made and graduation was a really nice reality check. Now I know that I. Am. Going. To. Finish. Grad. School. Darnit. W000t!

Mobilizing Generation 2.0

Ben Rigby and Rock the Vote have put together a book for activists, politicos, and organizers called “Mobilizing Generation 2.0: A Practical Guide to Using Web 2.0.” It is a how-to guide to help those who want to mobilize using the web, focusing on how organizers can leverage blogging, social network sites, photo/video sharing, mobile phones, wikis, maps and virtual worlds. Interspersed between the directly practical and usable are a handful of “Big Picture” essays which are intended to help organizers put the practical and usable into a broader context. I had the honor of writing one of these based on my talk last year at Personal Democracy Forum. My essay is called “Digital Handshakes in Networked Publics: Why Politicians Must Interact, Not Broadcast.” In short, I outline why it is important the politicians treat the online world as another form of public space where direct outreach and interaction is critical. If you see networked publics as a modern-day street, it only makes sense to login to the street and start shaking hands.

If you’re only looking to read what I’ve written, you can check my essay out here. If you’re an organizer or activist, you might enjoy it better in the context of the whole book.

User Elections for LiveJournal’s Advisory Board

LiveJournal’s Advisory Board helps advise LJ about policies, business, user practices, and product development. Currently, the Board consists of: me, Esther Dyson, Brad Fitzpatrick, and Lawrence Lessig. LJ has decided that users should also sit on the Advisory Board (recognizing that Brad and I are both also active users). So, LJ is having an election!

It is with great pleasure that I announce that LiveJournal has opened the nominations for user elections. LJ has decided that, in order to make certain that different communities are represented, there will be two user representatives in the Advisory Board. One will be elected to represent the Cyrillic language community and the other will represent the non-Cyrillic users. This may seem a bit odd, but it’s probably important to note that a large percentage of LJ’s users are Russian and they engage in very different practices on LJ than non-Russian users. To make sure both sides are represented, we decided to divide things this way.

LJ will accept nominations for representatives from now until May 15, 2008. Users must nominate themselves and obtain 100 comments of support from different users. The election poll will be posted on May 22 and users can vote until May 29. For complete details, click here.

  • To nominate yourself for the Cyrillic position, click here.
  • To nominate yourself for the non-Cyrillic position, click here.

I’m super excited that we’re doing this and I can’t wait to meet the user representatives!

Little Brother + the Uglies series = le awesome young adult scifi

Although I’ve always been eh about most scifi, I’ve grown increasingly fond of young adult science fiction and scifi focused on teens. There’s something fun in reading about teens running around trying to save the world. I can thank/blame Cory Doctorow for most of this because he’s the one who got me hooked on reading it. So I’m super super super stoked to announce that his first young adult scifi book is on the shelves.

Little Brother is the story of a group of friends who are in the middle of an alternate reality game when a terrorist attack shakes San Francisco. They are whisked off by homeland security as potential terrorists; after a horrible few days, three of the four are released. And thus begins the tale of a group of teens who declare war on DHS. Beneath the fun YA story is a critique of the war on terrorism and a how-to guide that teaches teens how to be culture and tech hackers and jammers. It’s really geekalicious. I was fortunate enough to read the manuscript, but I’ve just ordered the book so that I can reread it. I really recommend checking it out – it’s quite fun and entertaining.

I also have to give Cory kudos for introducing me to my favorite new teen book series – Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras by Scott Westerfeld. Westerfeld’s series does the most awesomest job at breaking down contemporary society’s ideas of beauty, status, and reputation. In Tally Youngblood’s world, everything is about finally turning 16 and being allowed to become “pretty” through plastic surgery that makes you look as cool as everyone else who is 16. Being an ugly teenager sucks; being a pretty means getting access to everything and having all of the fun. Only, perhaps there might be a cost to being pretty?

While the first three focus on pushing against society’s valuation of the beautiful, the fourth introduces a new and “improved” world… where everyone in society is ranked based on how often people talk about them and “kickers” (aka bloggers) are obsessed with getting to the top. Needless to say, attention/reputation-based economies don’t come out the way that we might imagine them to be. (Translation: this series deconstructs both of our most “valuable” economies today – the economy of the beautiful AND the purportedly merit-based attention/reputation-economy. Sooooo good! And such fun world-saving kickass girl characters!)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with young adult sci fi, think of it as energizing brain candy. You can finish most YA books on a cross-country flight and they are far far far better than the movies that they show. And besides, they leave you with a youthful grin on your face.