Grenade Launchers, Armored Personnel Carriers, M-16’s, All Standard Fare on Campus:

At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments (see table of equipment).

Campus police departments have used the program to obtain military equipment as mundane as men’s trousers (Yale University) and as serious as a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (Ohio State University). Along with the grenade launcher, Central Florida acquired 23 M-16 assault rifles from the Department of Defense.

Luckily none around these parts, but nice to see Kennesaw University representing in the M-16 assault rifle’s category. Go Owls!

Some argue that the procurement of tactical gear doesn’t help with the types of crimes that occur more frequently on college campuses, like alcohol-related incidents.

Are you kidding? Nothing would clear a rowdy, drunken frat party faster than a mine-resistant personnel carrier, grenade launchers and drawn bayonets.

Here’s the typical myopic, bureaucratic response, justifying the unjustifiable:

“For me, this is a cost savings for taxpayers,” said Jen Day Shaw, associate vice president and dean of students at the University of Florida and chair of the Campus Safety Knowledge Community, a forum for members of Naspa: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. When police departments “have the ability to get equipment that will help them do their jobs at a greatly reduced price,” Ms. Shaw said, “it is a benefit for the whole campus.”

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen “scaring your student body into submission and intimidating student dissent” referred to as a “benefit,” but uh, go Gators.

“It is a force multiplier for us,” said David Perry, chief of police at Florida State University and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. “Typically, we are not staffed at optimum levels. We are not given budgets comparable to some large cities and municipalities, so we need to find ways to make it reach.”

Maybe you’re not given budgets “comparable to large cities” because, uh, you’re not a large city, Chief.

Michael Qualls, an associate professor of criminal justice at Fort Valley State University, in Georgia, agrees. A retired Army officer, Mr. Qualls worked for several campus police departments before he began teaching. “If we continue on with the 1033 program, as those items become obsolete at the military level and if they become available, why not get ’em?” Mr. Qualls said. “It’s better to be prepared than not prepared.”

For what? An invasion of Fort Valley State in south Georgia?

Most of this is driven by the “active-shooter” scenarios, along the lines of Virginia Tech in 2007. And while there is a remote possibility of this occurring on any campus anywhere in the U.S., the chances are infinitesimally slim.

For Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami, the possibility that an extraordinary event could occur doesn’t justify the procurement of assault rifles and armored vehicles. The real danger Ferguson residents faced came not from a terrorist attack, she said, but from police officers armed with this sort of equipment.

“Mostly, I’m wondering why,” she said. “As much as one might wonder about why major cities are getting this type of equipment—which I think we should wonder about and ask questions about—it seems even stranger to talk about it happening in voluntary communities that don’t experience much violent crime.”

Ms. Franks raised another concern: As students become aware of the military gear some police departments possess, she said, that may curtail their willingness to express themselves and protest.

Precisely. Imagine protesting outside the dean’s office for lower tuition (or whatever) and suddenly the jack boots and body armor, tanks and grenade launchers show up. “Hey, Hey, tuition’s high, I’m going broke, but don’t want to die!”

Anyway, it’s just another extension of the militarization of policing that’s been going on throughout the U.S. the past 40 years or so. At the end of the day, we deploy the same spectacle of brute, state force on college campuses for the same reason we do it in low-income and minority neighborhoods: social control.

Cross posted from: The Power-Elite Blog

Last year, I posted about the first season of In The Flesh, a BBC zombie show that I liked quite a bit. Season 2 finished airing on BBC America last week and it is still very good. Season 1 was only three episode-long, but season 2 has six episodes, so, it allowed a more complex and multi-dimensional storyline as well as more character development.

[Spoilers included]

Season 2 picks up a little later and is marked by backlash on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, the living are no longer as frightened of the PDS sufferers as they were in season 1, and that leads to both interpersonal and political backlash, with the rise of the UKIP-type political party, Victus. Hence the arrival of the new Victus MP for Roarton, Maxine Martin, one of the new characters for this season.

The rhetoric of the party is very fascist and soon after her arrival, MP Martin starts registering PDS sufferers, and later on forcing them in to the new Give Back scheme, a forced labor program, supposedly designed to make PDS sufferers “repair” some of the damage they did during their time as zombies.

Why would they participate? Because concurrently, their basic civil rights have been suspended, and, supposedly, they can only get them back after completing the Give Back. Needless to say, this is a system of exploitation and abuse that generates resentment on the part of the PDS sufferers.

And, of course, no discrimination and stigmatization scheme would be complete without a visual status signal. So, it’s not a yellow star, obviously, but the orange vest that tells the world that one is a PDS sufferer working on the Give Back scheme, which makes enforcement of all the restrictions easier.

That resentment is then used to unofficially reactivate the Human Volunteer Force (under a new name) to enforce the Give Back scheme. That scheme is hilariously presented in all its hypocrisy, with fancy brochures and cheesy DVD presentation to the community. Also, most of the PDS sufferers are made to work building a fence whose purpose is not yet really known. And, of course, one of the rules is to use lenses and make-up. PDS suffered are forbidden from leaving their present location (so, no trip to Paris for Kieren). Any deviation from the rules marks the PDS sufferer as non-compliant, which can lead to their return to the treatment center.

On the other side, there has been radicalization on the part of the PDS sufferers as well, with the introduction of a social movement organization, the Undead Liberation Army (ULA), that conducts terrorist attacks, using a substance called “Blue Oblivion” that temporarily returns the PDS sufferers to their zombie state.

The ULA is led by a mysterious “prophet” (whom we do not see during this season) who appoints people to lead PDS rebellion in various areas. That is how another new important character shows up in season two, Simon, “the Irish” as some Roarton denizens call him. This dual radicalization (Victus v. ULA) has religious undertones on both sides, and the show treats religious fanaticism as inherently violent.

Whereas fear was still somewhat present in season 1, it is mostly mutual hostility that sets the tone of season 2, which is much darker than its predecessor and the entire season leads up to an ultimate confrontation by religious fundamentalists from both sides, exposing the absurdity of their beliefs.

Season 2 is also marked by the disappearance of older patriarchal figures, and their replacement by different, more diverse figures. Last season ended with the death of HVF leader, Bill Macey, shot dead by Ken Burton, who, himself is killed in an ULA attack in the first episode of season 2. Later on, Vicar Oddie, a big anti-PDS agitator, dies of a heart attack (and MP Martin could have helped him but decided to do nothing, in effect, letting him die). So, three old white men are out. Enters the black female MP (Martin). And then, younger characters take more center stage: Phil Wilson (the young town councillor who used to take his marching orders from Vicar Oddie, and now from MP Martin… up to a point), Gary Kendall (the new HVF leader who claims for himself the rank of captain), Simon (of the ULA), and Kieren Walker and Amy Dyer, of course.

In this season, the themes of the previous one (stigmatization) are still here, but the in-group / out-group dynamics are much more salient and obvious. Living and PDS sufferers position themselves in opposition to each other, extremist living not longer considering PDS sufferers as humans, and extremist PDS sufferers rejecting the label and considering themselves a kind of superior race to the living. How these distinctions and ideologies are created, sustained, amplified, and transmitted is the most interesting part of this season.

There is one narrative thread that is started in season 2, and, is one the most promising for season 3 (hopefully, there will be season 3): the two doctors that created the drug that keeps PDS sufferers from “turning rabid” also created the pharmaceutical company that mass produces it. In the last episode, the government agents are sent to Roarton to collect someone (we never know who it is until the very end) but we don’t know why. That government / corporate storyline will hopefully be developed more in season 3, as there are references throughout the season, to experiments (torture, really) conducted on PDS sufferers at treatment centers (Nazi experiments, anyone?).

In all, it is hard to avoid the comparisons with the rise of fascism and seeing the PDS sufferers as the racial/ethnic target of hatred, along with their economic exploitation, and the curtailing of their rights. It is hard not to think about the current situation in Europe, with the rise of far-right / fascist parties all over the EU.

There are also still interpersonal storylines going on throughout the season, that add a human (see what I did there?) dimension to the socio-political aspects.

I like the way that Kieren’s homosexuality is treated as a non-issue in itself, and so, his burgeoning affair with Simon is only a story because because of Amy’s crush on Simon, or the fact that Simon is then tasked by the Undead Prophet to kill Kieren. There is the Amy / Philip story, the Jem / Gary / Henry storyline, and a series of other secondary characters that really add texture to the entire series.

I highly recommend it.

Via The Guardian:

Amnesty International executions around the world

Click on the image for a larger view.

There are no big surprises there (although, frankly, I thought the US had more executions). However, it seems rather clear that most Western countries have no longer the death penalty, which is, at this point, a phenomenon of developing countries and non-democratic (or nominally democratic) regimes. The trend is definitely downwards, in terms of numbers of countries still having it on the books and using it.

It is also interesting to see the types of crimes that lead to death sentences. But no doubt that China is in a class of its own.

A while back, Dave Mayeda posted a great series of posts applying sociological theories of deviance to the TV show The Wire. So, I just thought I’d list them all here so you can all go read them as they were really great.

Hallsworth[Disclaimer: the publisher sent me a copy of this book for review.]

Simon Hallsworth’s The Gang and Beyond: Interpreting Violent Street Worlds is as much a study on gangs in the context of street informal organizations and of critical criminology. Come to think of it, it reads like a “how-to” and “how-not-to” study gangs.

The focus of the book is on the UK context but some of critiques and prescriptions are more broadly applicable (especially considering the apparent fondness of US “gang experts” in the UK policy-making circles). Overall, the book does not pull punches when it comes to the current state of the field of gang research and policy-making, and advocates for a different way of analyzing gangs.

In a sense, what Hallsworth advocates is a return to Durkheim’s original prescription for social research: do not accept commonsense categories as the unquestioned starting point for analysis. These categories are not neutral. They are the product of history and power relations within given field (to rope in Bourdieu). And so, to accept these categories without subjecting them to analysis is to commit an elementary mistake and therefore contribute to the reproduction of the power relations that gave rise to these categories in the first place.

For Hallsworth, this applies especially to categories such as “gangs”, “gang culture”, or “gang problem” which are then used to deploy a whole field of experts, policies, and prescriptions dedicated to dealing with the “gang problem”. The contestation of this deployment is the central theme of the book:

“Where do I situate my analysis? To begin with, it marks my response to the position staked out by John Pitts and his followers who see gangs today as the new face of youth crime and who, by and large, appear happy to blame them for everything. As will become clear, I have no time whatsoever for this position. I do not accept that gangs are the new face of youth crime; I do not accept that gangs today are large and corporate, and nor do I hold with other widely-held gang ‘truths’ as exemplified in claims to the effect that they coercively recruit members or are habitual rapists. The book is, then, in one respect at least, a wholesale challenge to contemporary gang orthodoxy that prevails today in that confused state called the UK.” (13)

And so, Hallsworth proceeds to debunk the current myths (used and taken as true, though) regarding gangs:

  • The myth of the corporate gang as key drug-player: gangs exercise control over the drug trade in the UK in a very structured fashion with gang elders at the top of gangs structured as corporations all the way down to “tinies” and young gang members at the bottom.
  • The myth of the new gang violence in urban context.
  • The myth of the new weapons of the gang world: guns and dogs.
  • The myth of rape as new gang weapon.
  • The myth of gangs as forces in social destabilization (for instance, as causes and actors in the 2011 London riots, as blamed by PM Cameron).

For Hallsworth, the bottom line to all these myths is that they are variants of “kids, these days”. They assume the complete novelty of drugs and violence rather than a permanent, and long-standing feature of street life in the UK, especially in working class areas. There are many continuities between past street life features and present, such as

  • violent territorialism
  • drug dealing
  • street-fighting kids

But then, if these continuities were acknowledged, where would the moral entrepreneurs du jour find their moral panic?

One of the main critiques that Hallsworth deploys is against what he calls gang-talk and gang-talkers. Gang-talk is the commonsense narrative (constructed and repeatedly used by gang-talkers – the “experts” on gangs – and conveniently propagated by the media and politicians), repeating most of the myths listed above: that the gang threat is new, unprecedented, growing, more dangerous than ever, because the gangs are now structured like corporations (except criminal) and recruit younger and younger members who can never leave the gang once in.

“‘Gang talk’ has come to provide the interpretive grid by and through which divergent social problems are rendered legible, even when the events in question are by no means solely or even remotely gang-related.

(…)

Gang talk, I will argue, constitutes a free-floating discourse that can operate wholly independently of gang realities as these unfold in any street context” (68-9)

As Hallsworth puts it, gang talk is a language game (a la Wittgenstein), with its own vocabulary, rules of composition, and structure. Therefore, gang-talk propagates a series of tropes about gangs, that are then accepted and repeated without examination, but that are supposed to expose the “truth” of the gangs. This is all performative logic: the more the tropes of gang talk are uncritically repeated across media, the more they are taken as accurate description of the reality of the gangs. Conversely, any alternative perspective on gangs will be met with resistance and skepticism, and ultimately silenced as not fitting the tropes of gang talk. As dominant discourse, then, gang talk becomes the only plausible narrative as it becomes embedded in commonsense.

Gang talk, however, is neither neutral nor benign. It is a discourse of power:

“By ‘gang talk’, I mean to designate a discourse about gangs that has wide currency. It is a discourse that operates to make meaningful the world of gangs both to those who produce this discourse and to others who are receptors of it. By and large, the producers of gang talk (hereafter ‘gang-talkers’) are those with a vested interest in gangs (of some sort) but who are not of the world of gangs they talk about. They may be journalists looking for a good story about them, enforcement agencies that want to suppress them, practitioners on the hunt for gang suppression money, the public who are scared of them, academics wanting to study them, or policy-makers who have been given the mission of developing anti-gang strategies.” (70)

Again, this sounds a lot like Becker’s moral entrepreneurs and it is not surprising that gang members themselves adopt the tropes of gang talk along the way, as dominant cultural discourse. Nevertheless, gang talk is a fantasized representation rather than objective description but it is treated as such.

As conspiracy discourse, gang has the following elements:

  • Novelty: the kinds of gangs we have today are completely new and we have never seen anything like it before… and they are spreading.
  • Proliferation: they were a few of them, now there are many (add: immigration has something to do with that), and now, there are even women and children joining in.
  • Corporatization: gangs used to be disorganized, but now, they are structured like corporations and formal organizations.
  • Weaponization (I’m not sure it’s a word and Hallsworth spells it the British way, with an “s” rather than a “z”… I americanized it): instead of fists and boots, now, they have guns and dogs. They are more violent and deadly.
  • Penetration: they expand outside of their usual territories and colonize new ones.
  • Monstruousness: gang members are different from “normal” people.

[Sorry but those are the concepts used by Hallsworth.]

Out of these generic ideas, gang-talkers can extract gang membership checklists (Hallsworth provides a full one) and they read like the old Reefer Madness and include such things “dropping out of positive activities”, whatever the heck that means. Such items of gang membership are convenient because they can depict pretty much everybody, and so, if one goes looking for gang members, then, one is guaranteed to find them.

But again, gang talk is neither neutral nor benign:

“But there is also an ideological function to gang talk that needs to be acknowledged. In the post-welfare, neoliberal state where penal-fare as opposed to welfare increasingly defines the way in which poverty is managed (Wacquant 2009); gang talk helps establish the terms in and by which the global precariat, the losers in the neoliberal, winner-takes-all society, are now defined. Together with underclass thinking more generally, it reconstructs the lives of the urban poor as feral outsiders; as a population to whom pain dispensation appears necessary and not least just. It constructs them in Neil Christie’s terms as a suitable enemy at the same time it establishes the included society as a suitable victim.” (83)

And it accomplishes this through othering those designated as gang members as part of logic of the moral panic involving the usual components of exaggeration, distortion, prediction, and symbolization.

In addition to his critique of gang talk and gang-talkers, Hallsworth provides a counterpoint to a specific trope of gang talk, namely, the idea that gangs are not structured like corporations and formal organizations. According to this trope, the gang now resembles a typical Weberian bureaucracy, with its hierarchy, impersonality, rules and regulations, top-down governance, and division of labor, etc.

Hallsworth describes this mode of thinking (the gang as bureaucracy) as arborealism and describes it as shown below (sorry, bad picture from page 117):

Arborealism

Hallsworth argues that gangs are informal organizations with a rhizomatic structure (see Deleuze and Guattari), as depicted below:

Rhizome

 

This structure is very much akin to a flexible network, with nodes, clusters, and links, always in a state of reconfiguration based on the demands of the situation and the structural constraints under which the gang operates. Nodes move in and out of the network and are loosely connected to it (as opposed to the “military” model of recruitment promoted by gang-talkers). A rhizomatic structure is decentered and non-hierarchical and the intersections between nodes are not as predictable as those of bureaucratic structures. And where a tree-like bureaucracy is heavily territorialized, a rhizomatic structure is deterritorialized.

Now, Hallsworth does not argue for an “either/or” typology here. Gangs may follow hybrid structures as well but it is misleading and inappropriate to use the corporate structure as model for the gang, as this would lead to a Gilbert Ryle-type of category mistake. How could gangs be bureaucratic when relationships are based on kinship and clientelism and violence is valued. Gangs are also not impersonal organizations. Quite the opposite, actually, as relationships are highly personal. Moreover, because of the larger social context and the illegal activities that gang members engage in, reality is highly unpredictable and cannot be made more certain just by wishing it or issuing a few memos and new regulations. Most of gang actions are situational and contextual, and ever-changing. And if there is a business logic at work sometimes, it is complicated personal and emotional factors that can lead to violence and deaths, and sometimes, for stupid reasons. Because gang life is inherently unstable, so is its structuring. And it is this instability that make it almost impossible for gang to structure bureaucratically and territorialize. In this sense, gangs are assemblages more than formal organizations.

And when gangs do end up territorialized, it has more to do with discriminatory practices that “lock them up” in ghettos (or estates) than with anything else. Those are usually deprived environments where the legitimate economy is poorly represented and therefore where the informal one is more likely to take roots with the corresponding informal organizations. And so then territorial borders are not as hard and fast as gang-talkers make them to be as gang members are not just tied to the gang but also to family members and relatives living in the same projects or estates.

Regarding the drug and violence aspects, Hallsworth identifies three main imperatives of street life (but not exclusive to it): the search for pleasure, the search for money, and the search for respect. On this, in a very Mertonian fashion (see: strain theory), Hallsworth argues that drugs and violence play a part in all three imperative in a deprived context. And all three imperatives are fulfilled in a context of hegemonic masculinity (see: Connell) that is not new to young working-class men. In this sense, a lot of the violence that is attributed to gangs is actually part of the larger context of street life for the working class. That is the appropriate framework and context to understand it.

These three imperatives are fulfilled young working class men in the context of their exclusion from upward mobility:

Mobility-Compared-nnwvjt

But this is also in the context of their inclusion into the larger consumer culture.

And so, they innovate, as, again, mode of adaptation to the strain, as Robert Merton conceptualized it. The persistent presence of these men on the street, hanging out, reflects their waiting for opportunities and figuring out where the action is, for pleasure, money or respect.

Finally, Hallsworth connects what is truly the novel aspect here: the rise of the precariat. This is the larger context for informal street life and informal street organizations. In the post-War period – the rise of the welfare state – violence and drugs were not unknown. However, there was greater local regulation of it. And as soon as young men left school for the factory, got jobs, got married, then, they left the informal organizations behind.

In the current neoliberal context, inaugurated by Thatcher, this trajectory no longer exists. Mass deindustrialization and precarization have destroyed the fairly linear path from basic education to factory work, from adolescence to adulthood. The normative context of regulation from within the working-class is gone. To be sure, part of this normative context was hegemonic masculinity, and that has not changed.

But again, what is truly new is the precarization of the working class and the structural violence unleashed by right-wing governance (yes, including New Labour). I do wish the concept of structural violence were used more as it provides a powerful explanation for self-destructive interpersonal violence at play now, in the context of stalled social mobility in the face of consumer culture. Paraphrasing Bauman, Hallsworth then call the members of street organizations the “flawed consumers” of late modernity.

But gang-talkers have no interest in that socio-economic context. Hence, Hallsworth ends his book with a tongue-in-cheek list of lessons on how to develop a gang problem:

  • Lesson 1: Turn a problem of groups into a problem of gangs (that is, treat any group or collective behavior AS gang behavior)
  • Lesson 2: work closely with journalists (they love sensationalism)
  • Lesson 3: create a dedicated gang-busting unit
  • Lesson 4: employ academic ‘gang experts’ to confirm your problem (bonus if they come loaded with meaningless data)
  • Lesson 5: create a gang-intervention strategy (ban all sorts of thing: like hanging around)
  • Lesson 6: bring on the practitioners: academics, of course, but also former gang members (everyone loves redemption stories) but do not include long-term field practitioners, focus on short-term strategies couched in buzzwords.
  • Lesson 7: cash in and live well.

Now, this is a really interesting book. I could have done without the chapter on biographical ethnography. It did not add much to the overall thesis of the book. And as I was reading it, I could not help but think that the famous Gang Leader for A Day fell into all the traps that Hallsworth warns against, and constitutes a form of gang talk in itself (after all, it made its author quite famous for an academic).

I think this is a must-read for all criminal justice, criminology students and academics, as well as sociologists of deviance.

California Is Facing Prison Catastrophe:

Just six months after declaring “the prison crisis is over in California,” Gov. Jerry Brown is facing dire predictions about the future of the state’s prison system, one of the largest in the nation.

A widespread inmate hunger strike in protest of California’s policy of solitary confinement was approaching its second week on Sunday. The federal courts have demanded the release of nearly 10,000 inmates and the transfer of 2,600 others who are at risk of contracting a deadly disease in the state’s overcrowded prisons.

State lawmakers have called for an investigation into a new report that nearly 150 women behind bars were coerced into being sterilized over the last decade. And last week, a federal judge ruled that prisoners were not receiving adequate medical care.

And what has been Governor Moonbeam’s response?

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, has aggressively fought several federal court orders in the two years since the United States Supreme Court ruled that conditions and overcrowding in the system amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment — cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, federal judges overseeing the case have repeatedly declared that the state was not making changes quickly enough, and that conditions in the prisons remained appalling — that the state had been “deliberately indifferent.”

The judges have twice threatened to hold the governor in contempt if he does not comply with their order to release prisoners. Last week, Mr. Brown appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the order, arguing that the system had already improved drastically and that stopping the release of prisoners was essential for public safety.

Jeffrey Beard, the state corrections commissioner, said that the hunger strike was simply a sign of how powerful the prison gangs are and dismissed the notion that it indicated deeper problems.

Mr. Beard and Governor Brown have repeatedly argued publicly that medical and mental health care in state prisons have greatly improved. They have also maintained that California is being held to an unfair standard on overcrowding because many prisons around the country double-bunk inmates.

If California is being held to a different standard, it’s because California raised the bar to a bat-shit crazier level than any other state during the imprisonment binge of the 90’s. Even Texas, with whom one does not mess, has been more sane and filled with foresight than California.

James W. Marquart, a former Texas prison official who has testified for California in the court cases, said that when Texas faced similar federal lawsuits, it “made the changes and got on with it.”

“Everyone believes that California is the leader, but decades ago Texas just said, ‘To heck with it, we have to do what the court says,’ ” Dr. Marquart said. “It’s layer upon layer of problems that you either have to deal with or you are going to get bled dry on the legal fees to fight it to the death.”

BTW, Marquart is a sociologist and the same James Marquart who identified the stages of unofficial violence in prison, along with other landmark penological publications. He knows what he’s talking about.

But Governor Moonbeam and other state officials remain clueless. Long after the rest of the country has begun moving towards prison and punishment reform, the granolas on the left coast remained mired in the muddy thinking of the lock ’em up 90’s, when talking about punishment reform was enough to get you branded a communist (or a “liberal”…LOL), and releasing inmates was dubbed political suicide.

California is one of five states left who spend more on corrections than they do on higher education. And while California universities and colleges have been financially decimated by the Great Recession, suffering continuous cutbacks by Moonbeam and the rest, the prison system has remained unaffected.

Well, unaffected financially. Those in its death grip are experiencing conditions that the Supreme Court itself has dubbed a “vile” prison system and ruled unconstitutional and a violation of cruel and unusual punishment. And Cali’s officials are apparently willing to keep spending billions on lawsuits and upkeep to defend the whole mess.

I’m reminded of the words from a favorite group of mine, Halloween Alaska, from the song “Hollywood Sign”:

“California knows full well, it’s gonna fall into the sea, that’s why it never acts too serious, never gets too serious.”

And apparently hunger strikes, forced sterilization, madness and triple bunking filth are just all good, bro.

[Spoilers!]

In the Flesh is the most intelligent zombie show I have ever seen. It totally destroys The Walking Dead (about which I posted a lot over at the Global Sociology Blog). The first season is only three-episode long but that is enough to produce a great show with interesting and diverse characters based on a premise that is much more interesting than blood and gore.

The premise in itself is rather original. The story starts actually after the end of “the rising”, the period of time where those who died in the year before come back as zombies. So, there is no bug, no epidemics. Just an unexplained revival of those who died at a certain time. Also, these zombies are not contagious. Getting bitten does not turn one into a zombie, even though everybody believes it because they have seen it in the movies.

Also an original premise: this time, scientists have found a treatment for what is now called “partially deceased syndrome”. The treatment stops the “zombification” process and actually reverses some of the brain damage, the PSD sufferers regain control of themselves, but they do get flashbacks of their time as zombies. Also, they can no longer eat or drink without being sick as their insides are still decomposed. They also keep the white “dead flesh” skin tone and weird pupils. They are partially dead, therefore, they do not really heal, cannot be killed except if shot/stabbed in the head.

The central character is Kieren Walker, who committed suicide at the “right time” and became a zombie. We meet him in a rehabilitation center where he is administered treatment and therapy (to accept his status as PSD patient and deal with the guilt of what he did during his zombie time). Kieren is getting ready to return home, so, he is also taught how to use make up to get a more ‘natural” skin tone, and contact lenses, all to make the living less uncomfortable.

So, when the story begins, the zombie apocalypse is over. The government seems to be in control. They are still zombies out there but they are few and far between, lost in the woods, not really a threat anymore. However, the perspective of having PSD patients (or “rotters” as they are called) back in their communities does not go over easy.

And so, Kieren goes home to a rural village called Roarton, to initially uncomfortable parents, and a hostile younger sister who has joined a militia called the Human Volunteer Force (HVF), people who took it upon themselves to kill rotters. The Roarton HVF is led by Bill Macey, whose son Rick was supposedly killed in Afghanistan (he actually comes back as a PSD patient, which creates a moral conflict for Bill). Bill, fired up by the local preacher, fights against the return of the PSD patients.

There is a lot in this series that can be used to show the relevance of sociological concepts, especially relating to deviance. Obviously, the “rotters” (a stigmatizing label) are treated as deviants. Once back in their communities, they are expected to be registered with the authorities (like sex offenders) and to subject to regular medication and check-ups. They are also expected to use the cosmetic skills taught to them at the rehabilitation center. Kieren’s mother is actually given a taser in case the medication stops being effective. But the stigma is such that the volunteer nurse who is supposed to check on him is hiding the fact that she is involved with this. Initially, Kieren’s parents hide the fact that he is back home, making him hide in a closet if someone comes to visit. They are right to be worried as Bill has shot an killed another PSD patient who had returned home.

Fueling the hostility against rotters is Vicar Oddie who considers the rotters to be evil and should be killed, as unnatural beings. The Vicar also leads the local town council from which he can exercise further power against PSD patients (such as painting PDS on the garage doors of homes where they have returned… shades of Star of David on Jewish businesses before WWII).

At the same time, the story also explores the patients themselves, and their perceptions of themselves as they regain their humanity and come back to live among the living.

In this first season, we see different patterns of reaction: Kieren, who feels guilty for both the way he died and what he did as a zombie; Amy, who goes through the entire deviant career, embraces her status as “rotter”, refuses to wear make up and lenses, and does not hesitate to go out, actually enjoying making people uncomfortable; and then there is Rick, the veteran, who is largely in denial (mostly for his father’s sake) of both his homosexual relationship with Kieren (before he left for Afghanistan, a first source of conflict with his father), and now his PSD status (he pretends to be able to have a drink at the local pub with his father even though it makes him sick, what with the rotting guts).

With the end of The Rising, the treatment and rehabilitation, and the return (and potential normalization) of the PDS patients in the community, Bill, and the rest of HVF, are afraid of losing the status and privileges they were granted at the height of the Rising. They were used to free drinks at the pub, and other perks due to their status.

When the series starts, one of them is asked, for the first time in a long time apparently, to pay for his drink, and the pub owner is in the process of taking down pro-HVF signs. Nevertheless, the pub creates a segregated area for PDS patients who might venture in. But for the HVF people, the fact that things might quiet down, that danger is no longer really present, and that zombies are being reintegrated into society, poses a specific status problem. And, as we know, people threatened with the lost of power and prestige, usually do not take it very well.

There is definitely a classist aspect to In The Flesh, Bill Macey and his two sidekicks are definitely portrayed as lower class from a rural area, totting guns all over the place. And the two sidekicks in question are definitely portrayed as complete moronic losers who got their status thanks to a rifle and an HVF armband. No wonder they don’t want to give it up (although the perspective of getting money for grabbing zombies and turning them in – instead of killing them – is incentive enough).

Bill himself, along with Vicar Oddie, is a complete bigot who had a problem with his son’s homosexuality then, and has issues with PDS patients now.

On the other hand, the Walkers and the Burtons (Ken Burton is played by the always excellent Ricky Tomlinson) are higher on the social ladder (as seen through their nicer houses), but also more open-minded (as the Walkers take their son back in, and Ken Burton accepts his PDS-patient wife).

The only character higher on the social ladder is a hapless minister that we see at the beginning of episode 1, whose job it is to explain to the rural community, how PDS-patients are going to be reintegrated in their communities. This is class conflict 101, with the lower class people shouting bigoted things while the minister (while completely ignoring their fears and concerns) patiently gives them bureaucratic, long-worded non-answers (“if you go to the website…”).

There are a lot more plot points that make the series interesting and even though the narrative is pretty tight and well concluded at the end of the third episode, there are enough loose ends to provide storylines for further seasons, especially, the existence of some sort of underground group of partially deceased.

But as I said, this is an intelligent show. Don’t watch if all you want to see and blood and gore and flesh-eating, because there is hardly any of that. That is not the point of the show. The show is about characters, and what happens when the horror is over. It is well written. There are many layers to the story and all the characters are interesting to follow. Also, and that is not negligible, the series passes the Bechtel test.

But you should go in there, armed with your Erving Goffman (stigma, presentation of the self) and Howard Becker (Outsiders, labeling theory) and you will find some rich material to analyze.

Also, go read PhilBC’s review. He got to see the series in the UK long before it aired on BBC America, but his review really made me not want to miss it when it came out here.

Psychiatry’s New Guide Is Out Of Touch With Science:

Just weeks before the long-awaited publication of a new edition of the so-called bible of mental disorders, the federal government’s most prominent psychiatric expert has said the book suffers from a scientific “lack of validity.”

The expert, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in an interview Monday that his goal was to reshape the direction of psychiatric research to focus on biology, genetics and neuroscience so that scientists can define disorders by their causes, rather than their symptoms.

Well, he’s half right. The DSM is completely lacking in scientific validity and has been so since the first edition came out in the 1960’s. We should not, however, be focusing more on the “biology, genetics or neuroscience” of behavioral disorders, but instead on labeling and social control.

“As long as the research community takes the D.S.M. to be a bible, we’ll never make progress,” Dr. Insel said, adding, “People think that everything has to match D.S.M. criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”

Neither did sociology, because most Labeling theorists would tell you that mental illness is a subjective label applied to behaviors that violate social norms. You can dig for all the biological or genetic “causes” you want: at the end of the day, it’s the behavior that is being labeled as “mentally ill.”

But don’t expect the psychiatric-industrial complex to  roll over in the face of criticism.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the D.S.M., said that the new edition’s refinements were “based on research in the last 20 years that will improve the utility of this guide for practitioners, and improve, however incrementally, the care patients receive.”

He added: “The last thing we want to do is be defensive or apologetic about the state of our field.”

LOL. They should be down on their hands and knees, begging for absolution and forgiveness from the millions of lives and minds ruined by unscientific diagnoses and chemical lobotomies.

But what do a bunch of sociologists know?

Cross posted to: The Power Elite

By David Mayeda

In the 1960s and ’70s, labeling theory (a.k.a., social reaction theory) gained criminological prominence. Demonstrating a shift towards the critical criminology school of thought, labeling theory questions the broader power structure by asking two overarching questions:

  1. How do those with substantial power in society label people with less power and their behaviors deviant?
  2. What effects do those labels have on the future lives and behaviors of the people being labeled?

Labeling theorists, such as Edward Lemert, note that almost all people engage in primary deviance – petty crimes (e.g., truancy, petty theft) during their youth. This is normal. However, when people engage in these types of behavior and get caught, sometimes the social reaction is overly punitive. When this happens, the normalized behavior is redefined as criminogenic behavior, and the individual’s identity transforms from normal, everyday kid to “screw up,” “problem child,” “criminal,” etc.

As the self-fulfilling prophecy manifests, the individual becomes ostracized from conventional peers and adults, and finds comfort engulfed by similarly defined peers, all leading to engagement in secondary deviance, where the individual’s roles and identities revolve increasingly around criminalized behaviors. In turn, the individual’s deviant master status is further cemented.

Labeling theorists also suggested a deviant master status gets cemented as one goes further through the criminal (or juvenile) justice system, from arrest to conviction to incarceration, and that degradation ceremonies in formal, state justice systems are highly effective in cementing the criminally stigmatized master status.

Also of critical importance, Howard Becker argued that moral crusaders were those with conventional power who thrust their values upon society by stigmatizing minority groups. Working in concert, moral entrepreneurs included those who would utilize propaganda purported by moral crusaders in order to profit financially through minority groups’ stigmatization.

This aspect of labeling theory is important to remember because it is those with power who create society’s rules and laws, and use the law to protect their privilege. Hence, moral crusaders and entrepreneurs have the social capital – the money, the connections, the clout – to work with media, businesses, and politicians in suppressing any contestation to the status quo by labeling threats as deviant.

Of course minorities are not only labeled deviant as criminals. Additionally, they can be stigmatized through labels tied to mental illness. Such labels rely on the medical field’s social prestige, and focus on individuals’ alleged mental health problems (e.g., inability to focus, propensity to resist authority, substance use concerns), thereby detracting attention away from broader social inequities that ultimately cause disproportionately high levels of mental health concerns in minority communities.

And now onto The Wire

In this series of clips from season four, we see “Major Colvin” (or “Bunny,” now retired from the Baltimore police force) working with a university professor and his graduate students. The team is running an experimental alternative middle school class for students who have not adjusted well to mainstream courses, which includes main character “Namond.” The alternative course’s developers feel by removing disruptive students, the mainstream courses can function more smoothly, while the sequestered students can receive more attention. Still in the class’s early stages, Namond, does not trust the situation he has been forced into:

http://youtu.be/EwcQ4JMMwHo

Notice how at 0:45 of this video, graduate assistant, “Miss Mason,” labels students with a variety of mental health conditions. In doing so, concerns are individualized, disconnected from the poverty that encapsulates the students’ proximal surroundings, as well as from the extensive social stratification that characterizes Baltimore as a whole.

And at the end of the video as Namond challenges the class leadership, notice how he embraces his identity as a “troubled youth,” talking back to the teachers and offering his hands so he can be cuffed. He fulfills the prophecy tagged upon him, while engulfed by similarly defined students.

Now fast-forward to a point when this class has matured a bit. Most of the students have developed a better rapport with the teachers, but still question the value that their educational system offers:

http://youtu.be/jimQPVQOknc

Here the “corner boys” (and girls) educate the teachers on the ins and outs of slingin’ drugs. At 2:00, see how Major Colvin likens the education system to any other system that teaches youth to manipulate their surroundings, to “practice getting over, try runnin’ all different kind of games. You know it’s practice for the corner (where drugs are sold), right?”

Perhaps Major Colvin is critiquing the youth and their efforts in the mainstream education system. However, the youth go on to explain how the capitalist system works in their neighborhood, with the panopticon persistently present; someone with higher authority is always watching the subordinate workers to ensure management is not cheated. Here, we see the labeled youth, segregated from their peers demonstrate their skillsets, which have been ignored by the mainstream system.

And at 4:42, Namond returns to drive home labeling theory’s key dimension. Although these youth of color are labeled animals, larger institutions in society – Enron Corporation, government, alcohol and cigarette industries, sports – also cheat, and do so in much more profound ways as society’s real killers. “D” straight up asks, “And drugs, pays your salaries, right?,” revealing that Major Colvin and his colleagues may inadvertently be moral entrepreneurs who profit through governmental funding to run programs for youth that have been labeled “troubled.”

Namond begins to sum it up: “We do the same thing as you all. Except when we do it, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, these kids is animals,’ like it’s the end of the world comin’. Man that’s bullshit… Hypocritical.” Zinobia closes out, “I mean yeah we got our thing but, it’s just part of the big thing.”

Yup, but in accordance with labeling theory, those with widespread power who truly profit by exploiting others through the big thing (i.e., capitalism) are labeled innovative businessmen, not animals.

Attention Deficit Drugs Face New Campus Rules:

Fresno State is one of dozens of colleges tightening the rules on the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. and the subsequent prescription of amphetamine-based medications like Vyvanse and Adderall. Some schools are reconsidering how their student health offices handle A.D.H.D., and even if they should at all.

Various studies have estimated that as many as 35 percent of college students illicitly take these stimulants to provide jolts of focus and drive during finals and other periods of heavy stress. Many do not know that it is a federal crime to possess the pills without a prescription and that abuse can lead to anxiety, depression and, occasionally, psychosis.

Although few experts dispute that stimulant medications can be safe and successful treatments for many people with a proper A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the growing concern about overuse has led some universities, as one student health director put it, “to get out of the A.D.H.D. business.”

The most surprising thing about this is the percentage…we’re talking over a third of college students amping up in some capacity with prescription amphetamines come finals time. And while limiting access to the drugs via campus health centers is a good start, this is more of a legal affairs issue than it is a campus health issue.

Changes like these, all in the name of protecting the health of students both with and without attention deficits, involve legal considerations as well. Harvard is being sued for medical malpractice by the father of a student who in 2007 received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis and Adderall prescription after one meeting with a clinical nurse specialist.

You knew this had to involve law suits in some capacity. Decisions like these have less to do with the welfare and best interests of the students, and everything to do with covering the colleges collective back sides from litigation.

But asking students to take the equivalent of virginity pledges when it comes to abusing stimulants (“I am making a commitment to myself, my family, and my Creator, that I will abstain from amphetamines of any kind before graduation”) is going to do little to stop the push back from the pro-A.D.H.D. crowd.

Still, many student health departments regard A.D.H.D., a neurological disorder that causes severe inattention and impulsiveness, as similar to any other medical condition. Eleven percent of American children ages 4 to 17 — and 15 percent of high school students — have received the diagnosis, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New college policies about A.D.H.D. tend not to apply to other medical or psychiatric conditions — suggesting discrimination, said Ruth Hughes, the chief executive of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Such rules create “a culture of fear and stigma,” she said, adding that if students must sign a contract to obtain stimulants, they should have to do so for the painkillers that are also controlled substances and are known to be abused.

Which is absurd given that painkillers are not academic steroids and are not used to cheat (er, perform better) on tests, papers, and so forth. Talk about a straw man.

And are we really going to hear the cries of “discrimination” from these people? That’s like saying athletes suspected of using PED’s are being “discriminated” against, or that wanting to cut down on cheating and abuse is just a “culture of fear and stigma.”

I’m also bothered by the phrase “A.D.H.D, a neurological disorder…” It’s a behavioral diagnosis (label) with no grounding whatsoever in neurology, biology or anything that meets the scientific method. In fact, new evidence suggests that the behavior so labeled as attention deficit may actually be nothing more than sleep disorders.

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused. Researchers and reporters are increasingly seeing connections between dysfunctional sleep and what looks like A.D.H.D., but those links are taking a long time to be understood by parents and doctors.

A number of studies have shown that a huge proportion of children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also have sleep-disordered breathing like apnea or snoring, restless leg syndrome or non-restorative sleep, in which delta sleep is frequently interrupted.

I had forgotten about “restless leg syndrome,” better known as The Rockettes Disease. But seriously…

One study, published in 2004 in the journal Sleep, looked at 34 children with A.D.H.D. Every one of them showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a handful of the 32 control subjects.

There has been less research into sleep and A.D.H.D. outside of childhood. But a team from Massachusetts General Hospital found, in one of the only studies of its kind, that sleep dysfunction in adults with A.D.H.D. closely mimics the sleep dysfunction in children with A.D.H.D.

Thakkar also notes the correlation between the rise in sleep disorders and the explosion of A.D.H.D in the 1990’s…right around the time the internets exploded as well.

And to illustrate the very subjectiveness of the diagnosis that I and others have been railing about for years, this:

As it happens, “moves about excessively during sleep” was once listed as a symptom of attention-deficit disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That version of the manual, published in 1980, was the first to name the disorder. When the term A.D.H.D., reflecting the addition of hyperactivity, appeared in 1987, the diagnostic criteria no longer included trouble sleeping. The authors said there was not enough evidence to support keeping it in.

“The authors”…I love that, like the DSM is a work of fiction (cough).

One would also assume that the removal of the sleep criteria was based solely on money. There simply isn’t as much money to be made in sleep disorders as there is in the ever-expanding criteria for A.D.H.D.

At the end of the day, colleges and universities are fighting a losing battle here. As the first article notes, students are more likely to bring their prescriptions with them to campus. And lacking that, why bother with the health center when you can score Adderall via the underground, black market (Biff’s fraternity brother knows a dude who knows a dude who…)? It’s everywhere.

This is a classic case of the fish rotting from the head down. Until we recognize the power of the psychiatric-industrial complex and Big Pharma to keep imposing its biomedical view of madness on every single social behavior, we’re doomed.

And like mold, its spread is harder to stop the longer we wait.

Cross posted to: The Power Elite

By SocProf.

This seems to be the message of The House I Live In, Eugene Jarecki’s latest film.

I think this is a very important film to understand fully the War on Drugs. For many years, I used the PBS Frontline documentary Snitch to discuss the war on drugs in the US, but that movie has gotten old and a bit outdated. THILI can comfortably take its place because things have not gotten any less messy than they were when Snitch was made.

The film itself is about 1h40 long and the first half felt a bit disorganized to me as Jarecki jumped from one thing to another, from one case, one city, one person to another. I don’t really care for personal, tearing-at-your-heartstrings stories. But as the second half rolled around, it became gripping, and, to me, at least, way more interesting because it was less about individual cases, and more about the sociological aspects of the war on drugs.

I was especially glad to see a whole group of excellent contributors such as the great William Julius Wilson, Michelle Alexander, David Simon, of The Wire fame, Marc Mauer, Charles Ogletree, and Lincoln historian Richard Miller.

And, I won’t have to do my usual song and dance in class anymore, explaining how drug policy in the US is guided by racist considerations. There is a great short segment on just that. The film also does a great job of explaining how urban policy, by creating ghettos through redlining, fostering white flight to the suburbs, and the loss of inner-city jobs, also created the conditions for the emergence of an underground, informal economy based on drugs. And then, how the war on drugs policies unleashed the whole criminal justice system on disadvantaged, impoverished and precarized groups. And in inner cities, drug dealing is the only company in a company town. The film also shows the web of contradictory constraints that drug offenders face when they get released.

Interestingly as well, Jarecki interviews a lot of people from law enforcement and courts and demonstrates how the war on drugs distorted the functioning of these organizations by creating new systems of incentives based on mass arrests, mass conviction, and mass incarcerations, and how it distorted relationship between law enforcement and low-income communities. And how it has made a lot of private industries very profitable. And it only all cost $1 trillion dollars and 45 million arrests to get there.

David Simon:

“Nobody respects good police work more than me. As well as being a police reporter, my first book was about good police work. And there are a lot of detectives who I admire for their professionalism, for their craft, for their skill, for their nuance. The problem is that the drug war created an environment in which none of that was rewarded.

In a city like Baltimore, you can sit in your radio car and make a drug arrest without understanding or requiring probable cause [reasonable suspicion], without worrying about how you’re going to testify in court without perjuring yourself, without learning how to use and not be used by an informant, without learning how to write a search and seizure warrant, without doing any of the requisite things that makes a good cop into a great cop, somebody that can solve a murder, a rape, a robbery, a burglary. These are crimes that require police work. A drug arrest does not require anything other than getting out of your radio car and jacking people up against the side of the liquor store.

The problem is that that cop that made that cheap drug arrest, he’s going to get paid. He’s going to get the hours of overtime for taking the drugs down to ECU [the evidence control unit]. He’s going to get paid for processing the prisoner down at central booking. He’s going to get paid for sitting back at his desk and writing the paperwork for a couple hours. Then the case is going to get called to court and a prosecutor’s going to sign his overtime slip for two, three hours to show up for a case that’s probably going to be stetted [dropped] because it’s unconstitutional. And he’s going to do that 40, 50, 60 times a month. So his base pay might end up being half of what he’s actually paid as a police officer.

Meanwhile, nobody is learning the rudiments of police work that might make a patrolman into a good detective. In Baltimore, the clearance rates – our percentage of arrests for felonies – for rape, murder, robbery, auto theft, for the things that make a city unlivable – are half of what they once were.

Our drug arrest stats are twice what they once were. That makes a city unlivable. It creates a criminal atmosphere that has no deterrent. It makes a police department where nobody can solve a fucking crime.”

As the film progresses, the contributors’ words get harsher, as they take in the broader and broader picture of what has happened for the past 40 years (40 years!). David Simon, especially, explains how this policy – the war on drugs – is a way of disposing of the bottom 15% of society, considered to useless and disposable, and get rich (for some) while doing it. Ultimately, he calls the war on drugs a holocaust in slow motion.

In that sense, the war on drugs is a success. Not a success in terms of its publicly stated goals, but a success in terms of social control of the precarized classes. There is especially a very good segment on how methamphetamine is the new crack, except, this time, it is the displaced white, blue-collar workers who are targeted, and increasingly going to prison. The connection between economic deterioration for the working class, informal illegal economy and drug policy is a direct one. It is the social control of this potentially volatile population that mass incarceration successfully accomplishes.

So, again, with some qualification regarding the first half of the film, this is a great documentary with a lot of different, shorter segments that can be used separately. And, if my students are representative, they love to talk about drugs, so, this film has many segments that should provoke good discussions.

By The Power Elite

I wish this post were an April Fools joke.

I have been writing extensively, from a Labeling theory standpoint, about the arbitrary and haphazard spread of psychiatric diagnoses over the past several years. From ADHD to Bi-Polar to Autism, the spread of these “diseases” and “disorders” for which there are no scientific or methodological way to prove, has been alarming. Driving all of it, of course, is Big Pharma and the increasing use of medications as a form of social control.

Which is why today’s NYT report on the explosion of ADHD and the corresponding tidal wave of prescriptions for Adderall and Ritalin is neither surprising nor unexpected.

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.

The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

Really? I’m surprised it isn’t higher than that, frankly. But here’s the bad news: it’s about to get worse.

Even more teenagers are likely to be prescribed medication in the near future because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills.

Or it’s a social behavior that violates cultural norms (sitting still and being quiet); a condition that exists on paper, which can’t be proven objectively, based on a set of diagnostic criteria so broad it can apply to every man, woman and child in the universe, but particularly those who step outside the behavioral norms of society.

While some doctors and patient advocates have welcomed rising diagnosis rates as evidence that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, others said the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school. Pills that are shared with or sold to classmates — diversion long tolerated in college settings and gaining traction in high-achieving high schools — are particularly dangerous, doctors say, because of their health risks when abused.

Academic steroids, as I dubbed it awhile back. If PED’s are illegal in sports, why is Adderall legal in an academic setting? Cheating is cheating, fundamentally, but if we medicalize the behavior, diagnose it only among white, suburban, middle class kids, and then give it the seal of approval by the psychiatric-industrial complex, well, that’s ok, isn’t it?

Experts cited several factors in the rising rates. Some doctors are hastily viewing any complaints of inattention as full-blown A.D.H.D., they said, while pharmaceutical advertising emphasizes how medication can substantially improve a child’s life. Moreover, they said, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades.

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of “How Doctors Think.”

Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.

Rates by state are less precise but vary widely. Southern states, like Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, showed about 23 percent of school-age boys receiving an A.D.H.D. diagnosis. The rates in Colorado and Nevada were less than 10 percent.

And the cocaine (er, prescriptions) being pushed on these kids comes in all kinds of flavors and fun packs, all designed to push the rats through the standardized test maze we’ve created in the educational system. Rote memorization = social control. Critical thinking = subversive.

The medications — primarily Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse — often afford those with severe A.D.H.D. the concentration and impulse control to lead relatively normal lives. Because the pills can vastly improve focus and drive among those with perhaps only traces of the disorder, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis has become a popular shortcut to better grades, some experts said, with many students unaware of or disregarding the medication’s health risks.

“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has A.D.H.D.,” said James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and one of the primary A.D.H.D. researchers in the last 20 years. “If we start treating children who do not have the disorder with stimulants, a certain percentage are going to have problems that are predictable — some of them are going to end up with abuse and dependence. And with all those pills around, how much of that actually goes to friends? Some studies have said it’s about 30 percent.”

So how’s that War on Drugs going? Remember when drug pushers were creepy looking guys hanging around the school parking lots, and not psychiatrists in lab coats? I guess the simple rule is, drugs that get in the way of a smoothly functioning capitalist economy = illegal (pot, ecstasy, hallucinogens); drugs that aid a smoothly functioning capitalist society = legal (Adderall, Ritalin, et al).

And don’t think for a minute that Big Pharma, which makes the Medellin Cartel look amateurish in comparison, isn’t laughing all the way to the bank.

Sales of stimulants to treat A.D.H.D. have more than doubled to $9 billion in 2012 from $4 billion in 2007, according to the health care information company IMS Health.

Social control, big corporate profits, and a lobotomized generation of kids drooling in the corner on its meds.

I can only quote John Mellencamp: “Ain’t that America, something to see baby? Ain’t that America, the land of the free.”

Cross posted to: The Power Elite

By SocProf.

I know this is Todd’s territory here but I found this article on the Portuguese approach to drug policy quite interesting:

“One gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish: These are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion. MDMA — the active ingredient in ecstasy — and amphetamines — including speed and meth — can also be possessed in amounts up to one gram. That’s roughly enough of each of these drugs to last 10 days.

(…)

“The police still search people for drugs,” Goulão points out. Hashish, cocaine, ecstasy — Portuguese police still seize and destroy all these substances.

Before doing so, though, they first weigh the drugs and consult the official table with the list of 10-day limits. Anyone possessing drugs in excess of these amounts is treated as a dealer and charged in court. Anyone with less than the limit is told to report to a body known as a “warning commission on drug addiction” within the next 72 hours.”

In other words, decriminalization. This was passed in 2000, so, they have had this policy in place for about 12 years. Enough time to have some evaluation.

So, what are the results?

“The data show, among other things, that the number of adults in Portugal who have at some point taken illegal drugs is rising. At the same time, though, the number of teenagers who have at some point taken illegal drugs is falling. The number of drug addicts who have undergone rehab has also increased dramatically, while the number of drug addicts who have become infected with HIV has fallen significantly. What, though, do these numbers mean? With what exactly can they be compared? There isn’t a great deal of data from before the experiment began. And, for example, the number of adults who have tried illegal drugs at some point in their lives is increasing in most other countries throughout Europe as well.”

Not bad. The whole idea is to treat addiction as a disease and not a crime.

What is interesting, from the article, is that the opposition to this law and policies is a based not on the possibility that it might actually work but on the moral idea that people should NOT want drugs and should be punished for wanting to use. It is a puritan argument and that is as far as it goes. There is nothing else:

“”It’s important that we prevent people from buying drugs, and taking drugs, using every method at our disposal,” says Manuel Pinto Coelho, 64, the last great opponent of Goulão’s experiment. Pinto Coelho wants his country to return to normalcy, in the form of the tough war on drugs that much of the rest of the world conducts.”

Of course, it is a war on drugs that does accomplish much except filling up prisons and keeping criminal justice systems overwhelmed with low hanging fruits. Perhaps we should have a Gans-type “functions of drug policy” list.

Again, it is not policy, it is moral standing irrespective of the results. It is interesting to have failing policies defined as “normalcy”.

Kathleen Parker in today’s WaPo Nails It:

The bystander effect is the psychological term coined after Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered outside her New York apartment building in 1964. As the story unfolded, neighbors ignored her screams during three attacks over a 30-minute period.

The horror of the crime was magnified by this apparent lack of interest, leading to studies that produced the bystander effect theory. Researchers discovered that the more people who witness something, the less likely any are to respond. When several witnesses are present, people tend to assume that someone else will jump in — or make the call — or they think that, since no one else is taking action, there really isn’t a problem.

In the recent rape case, where two Ohio high school football players were convicted of assaulting a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia while she was too drunk to give consent (one of her attackers described her in a text message as “like a dead body”), not only were there witnesses but dozens of other teens were also privy to what happened through postings to social media. In no time, a 16-year-old’s humiliation went viral.

Much has been said about how social media helped solve this crime. Through texts, videos, photographs and posts on Twitter and Facebook, police were able to piece together a timeline and document what happened. This history is posited as one of the marvels of social media.

What hasn’t been addressed is the factor of social media in the events themselves. If the bystander effect prevented people in 1964 from coming to the aid of Kitty Genovese, what might we expect from this and future generations, technologically equipped with devices that, by definition, place one in the role of dispassionate observer?

I too found the self-congratulatory tweets I read yesterday, crowing about the power of social media to bring these rapists to justice, to be self-serving and completely clueless. It was, in fact, the very “power” of social media that kept this crime from being stopped while it was occurring.

Busting out your cellphone cameras to “record the moment” doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to stop a crime (in this case, a sexual assault) from happening.

With a cellphone in every pocket, it has become second nature for most people to snap a picture or tap the video button at the slightest provocation — a baby’s giggle, a fallen tree or, just possibly, a drunk girl stripped naked by boys who don’t think twice. Over time, might the marginalizing effect of bystander detachment impede any impulse to empathize ?

Endowed with miraculous gadgetry and fingertip technology that allow reflex to triumph over reason, millions of young people today have the power to parlay information without the commensurate responsibility that comes with age, experience and, inevitably, pain.

The ease of cellphone photography and videography promotes a certain removal from circumstances, driving all into the bystander mode that leads to a massive shirking of responsibility and perhaps even a lack of cognitive awareness of one’s own part in the moment.

That it took weeks (months, really) for this crime to come to the attention of authorities, while dozens of  people (perhaps more) had videos and pictures of the night in question, represents an astonishing failure on behalf of technology and the cyber-utopian’s vision of a social-media connected world.

Meanwhile, head over to Sociological Images if you want to read more on the “wonder” of social media. While everyone is busy beating up (rightly) CNN and other television coverage for their brain-dead stories on the verdicts, SI has captured the very best of twitter and facebook’s reaction.

Bravo, social media.