Archive for August, 2004

Digital divide symposium

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

I spent the last few days in Minneapolis at the Carlson School of Managements of the Univ. Minnesota participating in a great digital divide symposium. Although I have been doing research on this topic for years, I got to meet several people new to me who are working on interesting and important projects in this area. Many of them were from management and information systems/science programs, a field whose interest in the digital divide may not be obvious to some. One interesting question that came up more in the proposal to the meeting than the actual workshop was whether the existence of a digital divide is bad or, in fact, possibly good for business. This was a whole new angle on the topic, and although many would likely claim that this is not the right approach to take to the question, it is certainly an interesting one.

Some light shed on crazy 9/11 rumors

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

Kenneth Quinn has an interesting piece in WaPo about whether 9/11 was supposed to be 9/18 according to original plans. For me this is interesting because it sheds some light on the preposterous rumors that surfaced after the attacks about some Jewish conspiracy regarding the events. September 18, 2001 was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which means that many/most Jews would not have been at work that day and would have averted the attacks. The rumor that spread had to do with about 4,000 Jews being saved thanks to having been told ahead of time about the tragedy and having stayed home to avoid it.

One serious concern I have always had about people’s inclination to even come close to considering those rumors legitimate is the idea that Jews live such a completely isolated life (not to mention one without any moral obligations) that they have no non-Jewish friends or family, nor would they have any civic obligations to worry about were they to obtain any information concerning such an event ahead of time. After all, only in such a scenario would it make sense for anyone to think that these informed Jews would, without blinking an eye, just quietly stay away from such a tragedy without alerting anyone outside of their supposed super-isolated circles. (News flash: social networks don’t work that way.) The idea that there could be people this naïve and clueless about the world is seriously disturbing. But those rumors circulated quite far and wide even in non-fundamentalist circles, it seems. And that is scary.1 Of course, the idea that anyone would have a list of Jews to call up and warn in the first place is quite silly in and of itself.

Read Quinn’s piece to see how he came up with the 9/18 idea based on all sorts of info tidbits including this rumor and details from the 9/11 commision report. (Hat tip: Harry’s Place. Go to Bugmenot if you do not have a WaPo login.)

1. On occasion, emails show up in my inbox regarding conspiracies targeted at other groups such as Arabs or Muslims. Such messages are just as disturbing and naïve. I hope no one will see my outrage regarding this issue as an invitation to send me equally ill-informed messages about people grouped according to whatever one single demographic variable.

Our gendered world

Saturday, August 21st, 2004

A propos this very interesting discussion about gendered pronouns, and à propos all the babies being born in my social circles, I thought I’d post a note about the salience of gender the moment we are born. I became an aunt last week and so the following has come up a lot in the past few days. The first thing everybody wants to know about the baby is its (their? :) gender. At first I was not hiding this bit of information on purpose, but by now I consciously phrase announcements about the event in gender-neutral terms to see how long it takes for the other party to ask whether it is a boy or a girl. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long. One may argue that this is because, grammatically speaking, people are unable to ask questions about the baby without knowing its gender. But I think it is more than that. Our world is so gender-based that it is hard for people to think about a person without knowing the person’s gender. But what is it exactly about a baby that makes it necessary for us to know its gender? In what ways is it going to be important? Is it so we can say whether the baby is beautiful versus handsome? Is it so we know what types of presents to get for it? If yes then we are off on the path of gendered socialization the moment the little person takes its first breath. All this shows the pressure parents must be under to choose between girl and boy when a child is born sex unknown.

I thought I should add a bit to this post drawing on some work by sociologists who actually study this stuff. Some people in the comments to the original post on Crooked Timber – and elsewhere as well, I am sure – argue that if you look at the behavior of girls and boys already at an early stage you will observe their different preferences for certain colors and activities. We should not forget, however, that it is not possible to raise children in an isolated manner and their social environments – as evidenced by the anecdote in this post – start differentiating them by gender from the start. So the fact that a girl may opt for a “girlie” toy or pink may simply be a reflection of what she has already picked up from her surroundings. It is interesting to note, however, that historically pink and blue were assigned to girls and boys in the exact reverse of today’s conventions. I quote from Padavic and Reskin, Women and Men at Work (p.4.):

Clothing for babies illustrates the creation of sex differences in appearance that have no natural basis. Disposable-diaper manufacturers, for example, market different designs for girls and boys. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, however, male and female infants were dressed alike—usually in white dresses. When Americans began to color code babies’ clothing, they dressed boys in pink and girls in blue. Not until amost 1950 did the convention reverse, with blue becoming defined as masculine and pink as feminine (Kidwell and Steele 1989:24-27). Such shifts demonstrate that what is critical for maintaining and justifying unequal treatment between the sexes is not how cultures set the sexes apart but the fact that they do it at all.

Also, for a very good look at children in their early years, read Barry Thorne’s book on Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School.

Modigliani in NYC

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

I saw the exhibition Modigliani: Beyond the Myth at >The Jewish Museum in New York this week. I highly recommend it, it is a wonderful exhibit. (It|AMP|#8217;s only on until Sept 19th so don|AMP|#8217;t delay.) There was a twenty minute wait in line, apparently much more reasonable than a few months ago. The experience was definitely worth the wait.

One nice thing about shows that focus on the entire career of an artist is that you tend to learn more about an artist|AMP|#8217;s background than possible through just a few pieces mixed in with works by others. Modigliani died at the age of 34, but created quite a bit during his short life. Before learning about this exhibition, I had no idea that Modigliani was Jewish. One may wonder why that matters, but given the anti-Semitism he encountered once he moved to Paris, and given that much of his work focused exclusively on portraitures and an exploration of identities, it seems this part of his identity would be important for understanding his work.

Another thing I did not know about Modigliani is that he had worked as a sculptor as well. In fact, it sounds like had it not been for his poor health and the difficulty in obtaining the raw materials for his sculptures, he would have done more with that medium (and it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t). A propos sculptures, as I was looking at some of his sketchings of caryatids I started wondering about the influence of Brancusi on his work. Taking a few steps I was at the sculpture section of the exhibit, and learned that Modigliani had met Brancusi in 1909. Lucky for those in NYC, there is a Brancusi exhibition at the Guggenheim right now just a few blocks from The Jewish Museum also on until Sept 19th. (I cannot vouch for that show as I did not go see it having already seen a Brancusi exhibition in both Paris and Philly years ago, but I suspect this one is similar and thus worth seeing.)

I loved the way the pieces were laid out in the exhibit. I looked at the following three pieces right next to each other for several minutes taking a few steps back: The Italian Women, 1917; Lunia Czechowska (La femme a l|AMP|#8217;eventail), 1919; and Paulette Jourdain, 1919. (Unfortunately, I can|AMP|#8217;t find the middle piece online nor in the exhibition book. Otherwise I|AMP|#8217;d try to recreate the effect here. There are several variants with that name, the one I am looking for had a strong red background, which was in beautiful contrast with the other two pieces surrounding it.)

After the Modigliani show I decided to take a look at the permanent collection as well. The material is interesting and diverse with a focus on different historical periods, parts of the world and types of materials. One of my favorite sections was the collection of menorahs on the top floor (especially the modern versions).

The diePod

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

I used to be an Apple fan (even own one of the original bondi blue iMacs) but my experience with the iPod has made me disgruntled with the company. I am among the unfortunate many (way too many!) whose iPod gave up service extremely quickly. The battery just died one day for no apparent reason. The iPod was still under warranty so I took it to an Apple store. It took some convincing for them to take a look without charging me the basic $50. Then, after several days, they confirmed that the battery had, in fact, died (brilliant!). Then, after another week or so, they let me know my new iPod was ready for pickup. Unfortunately, my new iPod gave up service soon after as well. By then I was past the warranty period (how convenient for Apple). This time I can|AMP|#8217;t even tell if it|AMP|#8217;s the battery. It just won|AMP|#8217;t recharge and won|AMP|#8217;t do anything. (It is almost as if there was something comforting about seeing something break in a physically visible manner so you have some idea behind the puzzle. I almost wish I had dropped the thing at some point so I would have something to blame.) I had not used it much, maybe about a dozen times before it gave up service. This whole experience has been quite frustrating, especially for a gadget that costs several hundred dollars.

I am now looking for diePod alternatives. Other companies have not done quite the same job in marketing their products so I am not sure what would be a good option. I am actually considering just getting a memory card for my Treo 600 (a positive review of which will follow at some point) and using that as my mp3 player.

Bottom line: to avoid frustrations, I highly recommend staying away from the iPod!1

1 Of course, in the grand scheme of things I realize this is not that big of a deal. But if one can avoid such annoyances then why not do so?

Julia Child dies

Saturday, August 14th, 2004

Just a few days short of her 92nd birthday, Julia Child died this week. You did not need to be a cooking fanatic to have watched her shows although you may have ended up as one after doing so. And a kitchen is hardly complete without one of her books. I also got quite a bit of exposure to her name while studying at Smith College as she was one of those alums such a school could be very excited about. Hat tip to ms.musings who links to all sorts of interesting sites for more background info. Here’s one nice little interview with Child last year in Ms. Magazine where Child is quoted as saying: “I was a Republican until I got to New York and had to live on $18 a week. It was then that I became a Democrat.”

Extending Internet access to low-income communities

Friday, August 13th, 2004

I was quoted in a Washington Post article on Monday. The piece discusses a fascinating project by the One Economy Corporation that has managed to get people in low-income communities connected to the Internet. [Reading the article requires a login. You can get one at BugMeNot.] I comment on the importance of skill beyond achieving access. The One Economy Corporation certainly does more than “just” providing access. For example, they have developed a helpful portal for their users with information about jobs, government services and lots of other material that is likely of interest to users.