Archive for June, 2009

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Global Poverty Spreads

June 29, 2009

Poverty isn’t just a problem in America. When we look at poverty on a global level, poverty in the United States is relatively small by comparison. Almost half the population of our planet lives in poverty—that’s about three billion people! Most are children. The effects of poverty are more serious outside of the United States, as well.

Who lives in poverty  in America and why has changed over the years.

Who lives in poverty in America and why has changed over the years.

Globally, poverty claims more lives than crime, war, terrorism, cancer, or drugs. But it does it in a sneaky and indirect way—disease, hunger, dehydration, exposure, early births, and malnutrition. And the problem isn’t going away or getting better. According to the United Nations, over 70% of the third world’s, or developing world’s, city populations now live, not only in poverty, but slum areas.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so select a topic below:

1. Many sociologists worry about the spread of poverty in underdeveloped nations because the social structure we take for granted (educational systems, property ownership, economic systems, legal systems, etc.) are absent. They argue this reduces opportunities for people to rise out of poverty. What do you think?

2. Are you familiar with an underdeveloped nation? If so, what problems do you think cause poverty there? Can any of these circumstances be applied to our society? What global or generalizable solutions does this suggest to you for addressing poverty in the world?

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The Monster Plastic Garbage Island!

June 29, 2009

It might sound like a cheap horror movie—but it's real. A huge, dangerous, growing island of trash!

It might sound like a cheap horror movie—but it's real. A huge, dangerous, growing island of trash!

In the North Pacific Ocean there is an island of floating trash roughly the size of Texas. It has been called the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. Some believe this trash came from both land sources and ships. This huge mass of floating garbage was formed over many years as the currents and winds of the ocean gathered the materials and pushed them into one area—similar to pollen floating to the center of a pond or pool. The mass consists mostly of plastic—a material that can take over 1,000 years to dissolve! Scientists worry that this formation might affect tides, wildlife, and water temperatures, and even become a threat to ships in the area!

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, please offer a reply to one of the topics below:

1. Who do you think should be responsible for cleaning up the Pacific Trash Vortex?

2. As a sociologist, what steps do you think should be taken by our global society to prevent this problem from enlarging or re-occurring?

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Teenage Girl Gangs

June 24, 2009

The role of girls in gangs is changing...

The role of girls in gangs is changing...

Traditionally in the United States, when people thought of street gangs—it was a gang of boys. Girls associated with street gangs were either the members’ girlfriends or sex objects for the gang. But that’s not the case anymore. A recent study conducted by Christian E. Molidor of the University of Texas suggests that not only are girls becoming more active as full members in street gangs, but they are becoming more violent as well.

What hasn’t changed is the traditional social characteristics of girls who associate with gangs. They are usually victims of sexual abuse, poverty, poor schools, and/or members of dysfunctional families. What has changed is the function of the gang for these girls—not only is gang membership a source of protection, it is also a means of empowerment. They sell and transport drugs, rob businesses, mug people, and fight with other gangs to defend their “turf” or area of operation.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so select a topic below:

1. Why do you think girls are becoming more active members of gangs? Do you think this is linked with changing gender expectations in their generation?

2. What does this tell us about how violence and status are related in some parts of our society? How would you address this problem as a sociologist?

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Is Progress Tearing Down Parts of Our Cities?

June 24, 2009

Do you think "rundown" parts of a city should be saved or destroyed?

Do you think 'rundown' parts of a city should be saved or destroyed?

Back in the 1990s there was a term called “urban pioneers.” These were people who purchased homes or businesses in rundown, impoverished, or abandoned parts of a city. They would then renovate these properties to live in them, rent them to businesses, or gamble that one day they could sell them for a profit. Some sociologists would argue this entrepreneurship resulted in a revitalization of these rundown areas.

Today, urban pioneers are taking different forms. For example, painters, musicians, novelists, and poets are purchasing abandoned homes at auction for as little as 100 dollars. The artists then repair and move into the homes—not with the intention of selling them at a profit—but to live in their own properties within their very small budgets. What results are unplanned urban artists’ colonies.

Some local cities have a different plan. One plan in Flint, Michigan, is to bulldoze certain abandoned buildings and houses. Some of these locations have become fire hazards and/or drug houses, and have devalued the remaining structures. The President has remarked that other cities might want to look at this strategy as well.

Would you like to discuss this topic? If so, please respond to one of the discussion topics below:

1. Some people object to the idea of destroying abandoned buildings because it might increase the costs of rebuilding areas by reducing opportunities for entrepreneurs. What do you think?

2. What other strategies do you think could be employed to revitalize urban areas in today’s economy?

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A Social Problem: Learning from a Health Care Scandal in Britain

June 22, 2009

Some sociologists have concluded that America is in a health care crisis. What many people don’t understand is that this crisis isn’t about quality of health care, but access to a health care system. In other words, the problem isn’t with the quality of treatment that people get, but whether everyone is actually getting treatment. Health care, especially the most advanced, may be largely limited to those that can afford it. In response to this problem, some people suggest we might want adopt a health care system similar to the ones France or Britain. Below is a CBS news video about a problem with the British approach. Watch the video and, if you like, respond to one or more of the discussion topics below:

1. Do you think the problem of providing health care described in this report is centered in access or quality? In what way does it vary from the major problems we have in the United States’ approach to health care?

2. Do you think a competitive capitalistic model (supplying health care as a commercial commodity not a human social service) could produce or avoid similar problems? What insights does this give you into foundational problems in supplying health care for most societies?

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A Social Problem: The French Health Care System—Inspiration for an American Solution?

June 22, 2009

In the United States, most people have to pay for their health care. Some sociologists argue that a better way to approach supplying health care services in society is to allow the government to have a stronger hand in regulating the industry. These social scientists point to other countries such as France, Canada, and Britain as inspirational models. Watch the report below from CBS and, if you like, respond to one of the discussion topics below:

1. According to this report, what are some of the major advantages of the French national health care system compared to the American approach to health care? Do you think something similar to the French model might work in the United States? Why or why not?

2. What is the average income of French doctors? Do you think this would affect the number or type of people who would want to become a doctor in America? Would this be good or bad? Does France seem to be having a similar problem? Why or why not?

3. What is a major advantage of the French health care system in responding to emergencies? Does the American model vary in responding to medical emergencies? Which do you think is better? Why?

4. According to this report, the French approach doesn’t suffer from problems of quality or access. What is its major problem? What would you suggest to avoid this problem in France?

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What’s in a Cartoon?

June 18, 2009

A drink mix from the early 1960s.

A drink mix from the early 1960s.

Some people object to the use of cartoon mascots that capitalize on immigrant or minority stereotypes. They hold that such displays are not only insulting to the people whose image they are exploiting, but also risks teaching such views to others. Lately, this controversy has appeared in regards to sports team mascots such as “Redskins” or “Fighting Indians.” But in the historical context in which these team names were selected, such phrases were common. For example, similar images were also used to advertise drinks, soap, cereals, candy, and toys for children.

Would you like to respond to this article? If so, select a topic below to post to:

1. Do you think it is proper to use human cartoons that characterize specific ethnic groups as sports team mascots? Why?

2. Do you object to using human cartoons that characterize specific ethnic groups as advertisement images? Why? Can any of your points be applied to using similar characters as team mascots, as well? Why?

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