Sunday, February 21, 2010

Religiosity vs. The American Dream

Scientific study has shown that there is a link between the degree of religiosity* in a country and its wealth.

One scientist writing for Science Magazine perceives the trend as follows:

"In modern nations, nonreligion and the acceptance
of evolution become popular when the
middle class majority feels sufficiently secure and safe
thanks to low income inequality, universal health care,
job and retirement security...Religion thrives
when the majority seek the
aid and protection of
supernatural powers because they are impoverished,
as in the third- and second-world countries."

Notice the following graph, where wealth is plotted against religiosity:

Interestingly, the United States is the only "First World" country that is an exception to this general trend. It has one of the highest Per Capita GDP, but it is far more religious than other "First World" countries, with around 60% of the population either 'not sure' or 'completely against' evolution.

"In the case of the United States... the majority of
Americans fear losing their middle-class status as a result
of limited government support, high levels of social pathology,
and intense economic competition and income disparity."

Particularly separating the United States from other "First World" countries is its income disparity: the wealthiest 1% of Americans own 33% of the wealth, while the wealthiest 20% of Americans own more than 80% of the wealth. According to this scientist's viewpoint, this disparity is what allows America to be wealthy and have a high religiosity at the same time. Additionally, this may not change very much, as:

"More than 60 percent of Americans whose parents scaled the top 20% of the income ladder have reached the top 20% themselves... By contrast, 65 percent of Americans with parents from the lowest fifth of earners remain stuck in the bottom two-fifths."

Given the findings, does this mean the American Dream conflicts with religious belief?
Given the US's wealth distribution, do you think the American Dream more myth or reality? Is religion merely a function of security?

*Religiosity doesn't refer to whether or not one is atheist or a believer, as one can believe in a religion but have low religiosity-- and the terms is slightly subjective. But some would calculate it by "rating prayer frequency, religious belief, importance, and church attendance," at least for Christians, according to this source.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Whose health do we compromise on?

Maeli wrote an interesting blog about cigarette marketing and it reminded me of the ban on flavored tobacco in 2009.

In 2009, the FDA called for a ban on flavored cigarettes, such as candy- and clove-flavored cigarettes, as they can be more attractive to teenaged users. Specifically excluded from the category of flavored tobacco were menthol (mint-flavored) cigarettes. They are still legal today, despite them being far more popular among teenagers than other flavors, including 80% of smoking African-American teenagers (and 23% of whites). African-American youth are also the targets of more aggressive tobacco advertisement.

The results of a Harvard study concluded that tobacco companies carefully manipulate the amount of menthol in their cigarettes according to age group they wish to attract. The minty flavor also makes the smoke easier to inhale deeper, increasing its addictiveness. Given this information, it seems odd that menthols wouldn't be banned.

The exclusion of Menthol cigarettes from the ban was intended to garner the support of company Philip Morris, which produces Menthol Marlboro, and without its support the bill might not have had the political power to pass.

However, others have argued the exclusion is somewhat racist. After all, the purpose of the "flavor ban" was to prevent America's youth from smoking, and African Americans not only prefer menthol but also disproportionately suffer from lung cancer.

Why are those with the most need the ones we're making political compromises on?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Token Black Historical Figures?

Typically when Black History Month rolls around, it's suddenly time for schoolchildren across America to learn about the civil rights movement through the stories of larger-than-life people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. Despite the undeniable importance of these three figures, don't they act as America's token black historical figures?

The majority of history courses in America don't spend significant time acknowledging the African American perspective, or African history, but instead approach history from the European/"discoverer" perspective. In World History freshman year, I recall the textbook having more pages on Greek civilization than the entire African country continent.

While focusing on figures like MLK, Tubman, and Parks may seem to Americans to be a sufficient way to replace/make up for the lack of African American perspective in education, focusing on figures that are few-in-number but grand-in-persona makes it seem more like they’re exceptions to most of African American history rather than integral pieces of it. Almost as fast as these African Americans pop up in history courses, most traces of African Americans in American history disappear.

In the past, what has learning about African/African-American history been like for you? What aspects of African-American history should be incorporated more in to American education, if at all? What sort of picture does Black History Month paint about the nature of African-American history?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cute Culture & Women

Cuteness has an extremely strong impact on humans. The "cute factor" increases the appeal of products from Esurance to Hello Kitty merchandise, as well as a ton of other things. Why else would you buy a stuffed animal? How many videos have you watched over and over again on Youtube, just because they are cute?

Interestingly, in some eastern cultures (particularly Japanese), cuteness has transformed from being ever-present in daily life through consumer products/media, into a new trend for female youths' attractiveness and beauty. This usually involves grown women engaging in infantile behaviors, such as giggling, intentionally speaking in a squeaky high-pitched voice, wearing childish clothing, and even throwing temper tantrums. Also, the Japanese word for cute, "Kawaii," is primarily used to describe cute animals and women, while the word "kakkoi" (meaning cool or good-looking) is used most often to describe men. However, both of the words are, linguistically, gender-neutral.

Hiroto Murasawa, an expert on the culture of beauty, describes cuteness as "a mentality that breeds non-assertion... Individuals who choose to stand out get beaten down."

What do you think about cuteness? Do you agree with Murasawa, or disagree? How is this "cute culture" mirrored or different in the United States (today or throughout history) through gender expectations, language (ex. gender epithets), marketing, or anything else? What associations do Americans have with female attractiveness vs. male attractiveness? How do you think this affects men and women?

(Image above of woman holding pear is Japanese model/actress Yuri Ebihara who often appears in commercials, on billboards, or in sports magazines. She's known for saying, "I make it a point never to forget to smile...If someone doesn’t find me cute, I want to know why because then I’ll work on it to get better at being cute.” An adorable marketing machine!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Arrested for Classroom Graffiti

Is doodling a tad on your school desk really an arrestable offense?

In New York City, a 12 year old girl wrote, "Lex was here" on her desk with marker and was arrested for it. She apparently wasn't released for "several hours."

Of course, all writing "I was here" on a desk accomplishes is putting an element of oneself on to a communally shared item with no purpose except, seemably, to make it uglier. It is defacement, and it's lame unless your graffiti is awesome. Before a person does it, they should consider how others will feel having a desk with their writing on it, or how all of the desks in the school would look like if everyone drew all over them all the time. What reinforces the rule 'Do not draw on desks' is not certainty of punishment.
Instead, most people follow that rule out of consideration for others-- it's a social contract.

Arresting a girl involves interference not only to the girl's education (interrupting her schoolwork for that day), it is also socially embarrassing for the girl (arresting her in school, damaging her reputation to teachers/peers). It's also possibly damaging to the school's rules (making them seem more arbitrary instead of sensible). And arrest requires time and effort from federal law enforcement officials, who are far more removed from the classroom than teachers, who would definitely be more appropriate people to solve the graffiti problem.

One of the purposes of education is, presumably, to help make students a bit wiser. And yet in this New York school's example, the educational institution is having some serious issues with moral flexibility, even for the most harmless situations. What sort of lesson is this incident teaching to the students in this school? Does this make the school seem more responsible? Do you think this reinforces the school's rules?

What do you think the school should have done instead?