Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Monday, July 20, 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

what a week

Over the passed week I've probably watched about 100 hours of Michael Jackson coverage. Mtv2 has been playing his videos back to back. I'm not old enough to really remember him as the global superstar he was. My first exposure to Michael Jackson involved plastic surgery rumours and sex scandals. Not like it really needs to be said again, but the guy really was a total genius. The fact that he was fascinating and eccentric is just a bonus. It's amazing how much coverage it's getting.

Before last Thursday (6/25) the news was utterly devoted to the Iran conflict. As far as I'm concerned, Obama's position on the Iranian coup was the perfect position to take. Yesterday I read this quote from senator Lindsey Grahm R-S.C. : "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it." He then went on to call Obama's decision making "timid" and "passive". This quote, I thought, was so illustrative of the difference between Obama and GW's styles of leadership. Whereas Bush's tactic was to make inflexible blanket statements about US policies, Obama seems to understand his role as diplomat. While trying to remain on good terms with other nations, Obama also shows confidence and steadfastness in terms of America's position. This kind of 'intelligent strength' is the absolute antithesis of Bush's tactless foreign policies. I would argue that 'leading the free world' is exactly what Obama is doing. What some call "timid" and "passive," I call "patient" and "sagacious."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

If we don't halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature,
brutally and without pity - and will leave a ravaged world."

Nobel Laureate Dr. Henry W. Kendall 023934

Saturday, May 16, 2009

a different kettle of fish

Lately, I've been so fascinated with the biology of cognition. Some of us feel our way through our days. Others, painstakingly plot and plan every move and every choice. But most of us, live somewhere between these two mentalities. Biologically these two ways of thinking are controlled by two very different parts of the brain. Our behavior is indeed affected by our feelings which are a direct product of which part of the brain is being activated.

In our medial temporal lobe (base of the brain towards the back) lies the amygdala, a small group of nuclei shaped kind of like an almond. The amygdala (see pic) deals with feelings and emotional impulses. Painful memories, fears, and trauma is created and stored in this area, imprinted in the how synapses react. For someone who is anxious, depressed, or overly emotional, activity in the amygdala increases. Once this part of the brain is activated one can only respond emotionally because all the amygdala can do is feel. This is where many people lose hope. Since all of the activity is taking place in this area, one's reasoning, perspective, and grasp of reality is completely tainted with powerful emotions and fears.

Conversely, the orbitofrontal cortex, or OFC (which lies behind the eyes) is the part of the brain that reasons and rationalizes, regulating our emotions and impulses. When a tragedy or trauma occurs our initial reaction is from our OFC, however if one is too used to dwelling in their amygdala we respond with emotion instead of reason, often worsening the situation at hand. Anyway, the most interesting and inspiring thing I've found out is that we have the power to choose which part of the brain to utilize. The dichotomy between raw emotions (amygdala) and comprehension/understanding (OFC) reflects our own patterns of behavior. We truly have the power to control how we feel, and that's an assuring notion indeed.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let's Talk about Female Circumcision

Worldwide some 80,000,000 to 100,000,000 women have received circumcision, which was first recorded more than 4,000 years ago in Egypt, which is why it is often referred to as a "Pharaonic" tradition.
"Female Circumcision" or "Female Genital Mutilation" as it is called by many westerners remains a very hot topic for anthropologists, feminists, and sociologists. The ritual is an ancient practice that (among other things) symbolizes a girl’s initiation into the adult world. The ritual is seen as a natural and integral part of the societies in which it is practiced. Almost all groups circumcising females also circumcise males as it is regarded as essential to their socialization. However, it becomes obvious that the male circumcision, a removal of the foreskin of the penis, is quite different from what is involved in female circumcision.
Female circumcisions can vary in range. It could vary from a cut in the pupuce, covering the clitoris, to the complete "smoothing out" or removal of all visible parts of the clitoris and most if not all of the labia. Surgeries such as complete clitoridectomies or infibulations (surgical modifications and the suturing of the labia) are seldom seen. The ritual is primarily conducted in Chad, Somalia, and Sudan. In these cases, de-circumcisions (opening of the sutures) are necessary before childbirth.
Although the option is open to them. Many women reject the idea of doctor performed circumcision, for the process is not simply an operation. It is a transition in which the girl learns many things about her new role as a woman. These are traditions that must be transmitted by other female family members as well as women from the village. There is usually a specialist in the village who performs the rituals, such as in Sierra Leone.
The sowe, as she is called, is revered and deferred to, and is chiefly responsible for the socialization of girls into a new age set. It is the sowe’s role to complete the ritual properly, this involves both the operation as well as several other initiation rites. The tool she uses for the operation, a penknife, is considered to be a divine gift.
The rite of female circumcision can be performed at birth or at puberty. In some groups it is done right before marriage. In Rivers state, Nigeria it is done in the 7th month of the woman’s first pregnancy
After the girl has completed the rite she is welcomed into her community proudly. She is often given gifts and has more power in her family. She becomes a more attractive bride to men, for completing the ceremony, but also because surgeries like infibulation ensures her chastity. In some cultures such as the Kono and the Okiek, in Kenya, the ritual is believed to endow the woman supernatural powers, and grants female authority over her elders as well as over men.
Despite Western objection to this practice. There is no real evidence of mortality rates, and complications are usually very rare.
Some claim that the practice is inhumane and has the potential to cause many problems (i.e. an inability to pass urine normally, pain during sex, infection, and hemorrhaging).

Prevalence of Female Circumcision
80%-98%: Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan
50%: Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia
43%: Cote D’Ivoire, the Gambia
30% :Ghana

The ritual is practiced throughout Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, some parts of Asia, the Middle East as well as in indigenous Central and South American cultures. It has also been practiced by Jews and Christians in places where it is customary.
Condemned by some African Women’s groups, as well as several other global organizations, the legitamacy of the ritual is strongly contested. Some organizations push for a more relative view of their practice. Many groups vehemently object to the western viewpoint that their practices are somehow cruel and primitive. Some tribal groups strongly resent the ‘western opinions’ about their practice, one group- The Masai are particularly insulted by outside interference. In some places, uncircumcized genitals are considered ugly.
The issue has clearly challenged how we view cultural practices, and is challenging to both feminism and relativism. It can be seen as a sign of sexual control over females, ensuring marital chastity. It can also be seen as a sacred rite, in which something profound is happening for their culture, where the girl is made into a woman.
Personally, it is my opinion that the activities of these people are no one's business but their own. As a feminist, the thought of such a procedure alarms me, however, isn't feminism a western idea in the first place? You cannot approach another culture and place a value on their activities.

What do you think?
- Jupiterstop

References Cited:

Shweder, Richard, A.
2000. What about "FGM" and why understanding culture matters in the first place.
Modern World in an Anthropological Perspective. Article 25. 144-152.

Sillah, Memuna, M.
August, 1996. Bundu Trap. Modern World in an Anthropological Perspective. Article 26. 138-144

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So you wanna be a cult leader?

There is a lingering pattern I'm seeing in much of my research about specific groups and their group behavior. My conclusion is that sadly, people are easy to control. This theme is totally consistent with so many of social nodes I've been studying.

From psychotherapy cults in Hollywood to street and project gangs in Chicago, it seems to me that if one follows a relatively simple formula, control over large groups of people is not hard to achieve. Both gangs and cults utilize the same systems of control. Both employ a regulation of behavior, social structure, and environment. This tactic usually and quickly, creates a general mentality of non-resistance and compliance from individuals in these groups.

1. Find the disfranchised. Many groups are formed by members who are victims of misfortune either socially or personally. Leaders promise acceptance, structure, community, and above all, hope. Jim Jones sought poor black southerners and promised them racial equality. He sought college students unsure about their role in the world and promised them a chance to build a utopia. Recruiters for gangs promise a sense of belonging to poor youth. They promise them money, position, and respect. In other words, and this is a pattern that rings loud and clear through all of what I've researched: Group recruiters will say anything, promise anything, and
pray on the most potent fears of the candidate, to get them to join. They promise love and protection, security and power. To the individual, the choice seems simple enough. And once the individual has committed, they find themselves locked in a system that makes it almost impossible to escape.

2. Institute extremely rigid rules of conduct and use painful or violent repercussions if anyone violates said laws. These rules are reinforced in many social aspects. The Gangster Disciples who dominated Cabrini Green in downtown Chicago lived by "the five P's": Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Another rule was called "silence and secrecy", a vow never to divulge group plans or secrets. The punishment for violating these rules, as well as for showing disrespect or dishonesty was a vicious beating they called getting a "pumpkin head," in other words a beating so awful the face became unrecognizable. In some groups, members are
encouraged and rewarded to report on the errors of fellow members. By creating a reward system for those who inform on other members (IE 999 is the Blood code for snitches), one creates a general feeling of mistrust. This feeling creates an ever watchful eye; a system that keeps everyone in line for fear of punishment. Jim Jones required all of his 'children' to report any doubts or indiscretions they suspected in others. They also had to report their own misgivings as well. This way Jones was able to know the thoughts and activities of his members at all time.

3. Codify behavior, language, symbols, dress and virtually all other aspects of culture. This way you create an entire world within the members live. They are no longer apart of mainstream society. They live and work within a completely different system of rules. Heaven's Gate members all cut their hair the same. Bloods wear red, and Crips wear blue. Tattoos, hand signs, and even burns or scarification is employed to symbolize membership. Each group speaks with specific code words or group lingo. The Bloods use a practice called "G-checking" in which a person is asked to identify themselves, their blood name, their set, and other blood information. Blood members even have a certain "call" which they use to announce their presence in the
streets, jail, etc.

4. Create another. Make it clear that we are the in group and we are different from the out-group. The Crips hate the Bloods. Bloods hate the Crips, and distrust any 5-50's (non bloods). Koresh told his followers that the outside world was the world of Satan and eternal damnation. By making another, group unity is strengthened and the desire to leave all but disappears.

5. Indoctrinate and secure the loyalty of members. Many groups have certain rituals, or rites of passage one must commit in order to gain membership. Many cults utilize specific ceremonies, rituals, or tests to formally induct members into the group. I've found that many cults utilize sexual initiation, often being molested by the cult leader. Jim Jones often raped members to test their loyalty. David Koresh and David Berg also reserved the right to have sex with their members. Similarly, female bloods may choose to gain admission by being "sexed in," or gang raped by other bloods. In this way groups/Leaders use sex as a highly useful tool to dominate and to control. In groups like these, members are constantly trying to prove that they are more devoted, and more committed than the next person. The more you show your commitment affects your position, acceptance, and treatment within the group. Many gangs require new members to "put in work" or commit a crime on behalf of the group. Jim Jones also required his members to engage in illegal behaviors for the group. In this way, not only is the inductee's devotion is tested, but they are now dependent upon the group for protection from the law.

Follow these easy steps and before you know it, you'll have people so devoted to you they would give up their lives and their family's lives for your cause. It seems strange how a person can slowly but willingly surrender themselves to a person or to a cause. The significance of culture cannot be underestimated. It becomes horribly clear, that whoever has control of culture, has control of people.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Soi disant "Land of Gracious Living"

For this move I had to leave so much in Portland. In fact, I even had to stop in Woodburn, Oregon to leave even MORE of my stuff, that I realized wouldn't make the trip. So there, by the dumpster at the La Quinta Inn, probably still sits treasures and artifacts of my 3 years and three months of living in Portland. One thing I realize I didn't leave behind is my insomnia. It clings onto my subconscious like a remora clings to a shark's belly. I'll probably have to learn to accept the fact that it might be with me forever. Maybe I'll learn to love it, like one loves a family pet.

Tonight I was looking through pictures of my life over the last 3 years, and instead of having it depress me (which I expected), I felt a wonderful catharsis and a subtle joy at all the memories I made. As much as I hate that I haven't gotten my degree (courtesy of Katrina and other demons), I find it reassuring that if things had been different, I might not have seen, done, and felt all that I had. For the first time in awhile I'm beginning to warm to the idea of fate. Let me preface this that I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. But instead of looking at it as an ontological inevitability, I prefer to see it as just another world view. If one believes everything happens for a reason, one might appreciate the things one DID experience, instead of mourning the things one didn't. Or in other words, shit happens, life happens. It's up to us to make our prior actions/choices something meaningful and positive. It's up to us to find a place in the puzzle for even the most atrocious pieces of our past.

But I digress (one of my favorite things to do on this blog)- I miss my friends, deeply. And I miss the life I had made for myself. I don't regret leaving, mostly because I can't; it was inescapable. Just as it's inevitable that I sit here, petting my insomnia, writing this. But Orange County is quite possibly the antithesis of Portland. Instead of the slow steady rain, it's bright and breezy. Instead of the young serious drifters and intellectuals, there are people who spend freely and indulge their desires. And of course instead of the troops of bicyclists and 'go green' stickers, there are freeways full of single person SUV's that pollute the sky and taint the air. It's different, and right now it's my life and I have no choice to work with what I've got.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

CEDU & attack therapy

The CEDU or The Charles E. Dederich University is a series of schools for troubled youth whose philosophy is based off of psychotherapy techniques used in the former drug rehabilitation group known as Synanon (bonadide cult) aka The Church of Synanon, founded by (cedu's namesake) Chuck Dederich. Basically, this place is a brainwash camp, whichever way you wanna fuckin spin it. This is living proof that society/reality is stranger and far more frightening than fiction. This is why I love anthropology so much. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

meet newton

this is newton. coming to you complements of cajun canine inbreeding, and most recently via the local pound. silly, dim, obsessive, adorable, and slightly creepy. just thought he deserved a place on The Stop.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

getting back my sundance kid

my flight landed tuesday night at around 10:05, and the temperature in new orleans was 87 degrees. Tonight I sat with my dog Remmy out on the front porch and watched heat lightning for about an hour. It rained sporadically throughout the day, but this rain is different than the kind I've been used to. It's humid, and there are mosquitoes everywhere, but the sight of the miles of beautiful swampland coming into Acadiana reminded me of the kind of the deep and comforting heat of my childhood. At first Remmy didn't recognize who I was, but now he follows me from room to room and refuses to leave my side. I don't know if I can leave him here again. This is my third night since I left portland and I know this trip is just getting better and better.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Thursday, April 17, 2008

dozens of lazy hurricanes

time to take a step back
time to replace those anxious thoughts
with that peace you've been carrying around
and even though your arms are tired
unfasten the weighty burden you've carried

and watch it bleed away-
its very own seppuku

now time to rest in the grass
and take a deep breath

and for all you know, you will inhale in unison
with someone else in the world

while remembering
a happy memory you've both forgotten

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008