Thinking Allowed – Donating to Disaster Victims

imagesPeople are much more likely to give money to help victims of natural disasters than to help people who have been victims of human made disasters. This is according to the latest research by Dr Hanna Zagefka. She draws on a comparison between the £300 million donated to 2004 Tsunami victims and the mere £30 million devoted to the victims of the Dafur tragedy going on at the same time.

Of course withe the above two examples you could just argue that the difference in donations is due to the different levels of media coverage – which was much greater with the Tsnami (I guess the story is less complex after all) – but Zagefka claims to have controlled for this for inventing ‘hypothetical cases’ as part of her research study. I don’t quite believe that the general public are 10 times more likely to give to natural disaster relief rather than human disaster relief – but they are somewhat more likely (by how many times she doesn’t say on the programme?),


I’m left wondering whether it’s more intelligent people that give money to human disaster relief funds…  if you give money you will probably start asking questions about ‘what, exactly caused this in the first place’??? And that hurts the brain a lot more than.. ‘Big wave smashed someone’s home.. give money… man will go build new home.. smile!

Or it could, of course, be just a rational response – with a natural disaster – I guess you can be more certain that your money will be spent on sorting out the aftermath – with human created, political trajedies, these are just much messier – there is less guarantee that money will spent effectively on sorting these out – and then there’s the issue of whether ‘we’ should be wading in at all of course…

I also did a bit of stats digging – comparing natural disaster deaths to ‘direct deaths from conflicts – which is just one type of ‘human/ politcal cause of death’

Deaths from Natural Disasters….

Over the decade from 2000 to the end of 2009, the yearly average was 78,000, according to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). For the 1990s, the average was 43,000, and the 1980s was 75,000.

Direct Deaths from conflicts

52,000 direct conflict deaths occurred each year between 2004 and 2007. Altogether at least 208,300 people died directly as a result of armed conflict. Between 2005 and 2007 the total number of direct conflict deaths increased to an estimated 63,900 per annum as compared to lower annual tolls in 2004 and 2005. This increase is due primarily to armed violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia[1].

So the numbers are broadly similar – and if anything the ‘humans causing death’ category is grossly underrepresented – So should we spent more money relieving ‘human disasters’? Perhaps instead we should spend more on preventing human disasters, or maybe in the case of war, make it less easy for TNCs to actually profit from human tragedy through selling aramaments…… ?

Website (blog) of the Week – The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog

gender (1)
but don't expect any financial assistance from the UN!

The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog is my new no.1 RSS feed – which links into the broader website on Development issues at the Guardian

I thoroughly recommend students link up to this feed, for anyone teaching development, I’d say it’s essential. There’s about 2-3 post a day, and they are typically only a few hundred words long, and to the point.

Two of the latest blogs that will be relevant to the A2 development course include –

Madeleine Bunting talks about the lack of genuine commitment to improving gender empowerment ( Millennium Development Goal 3) in the developing world. Bunting points out that while there is near universal agreement on the importance of empowering women in developing countries as part of a broader strategy of social development – there is no money being spent on this.

The United Nations has only just got around to  establising a new agency – UN Women (11 years after the MDG were established) – she says ‘The World Bank has estimated it would cost $83bn to achieve millennium development goal three (promote gender equality and empower women). But very quickly the start up budget was set at around $500m’

In another blog David Smith reflects on the role of China in Africa’s conflicts

Here’s a nice summary that puts the scale of Africa’s conflicts into context –

“Saferworld has some sobering figures: Africa holds only 14% of the world’s population, but from 1990 to 2005 the continent accounted for half of the global number of deaths caused by conflict. It is estimated that during this period, conflict cost African countries almost $300bn – roughly the same amount as these countries received in aid during the same period.”

And both of these are from just one day…. RSS feed this excellent blog

Wikileaks – exposing the extent of government lies

Nice article from Adbusters outlining the extent to which the US government deliberately lied to the general public about the number of civilian causalities in Afghanistan – we know this thanks to.. Wikileaks.

I’m kind of glad I avoided the day by day revelations when it was in the news a month ago – now there’s enough distance to look back and filter out the interesting revelations – read this article it’s great –

A brief extract…

‘Both the Wikileaks Iraqi and Afghan War Logs have revealed that the entire U.S. Executive is a “vast lying machine”… the purpose of communicating with the public is not to provide them with truthful information but rather to advance “the mission”. People who communicate with the public obtain their jobs and are promoted on the basis of their ability to mislead, deceive, “spin” and lie. There is no recorded case where Executive Branch officials have been rewarded for telling the truth to the American people, and many where they have been punished or lost their jobs for doing so.’

Scarily Chomskesque

This Guardian site – Iraq – The War Logs is also interesting – based on the findings from leaked American files – revealing a more valid picture about the war in Iraq….

Sociology on TV – Charlie Booker’s how TV ruined your life

sterns_charliesays_5oct91_aCharlie Booker’s ‘How TV Ruined Your Life is an cynical look at how TV focusses on especially terrifying and macabre events – giving the impression that world is a much more dangerous, violent, and risky place than it actually is. It’s on iplayer for the next ten days only. Glad I taped it!

I could live without the ‘humourous reconstructions’ but the analysis is basically sound – focussing mainly on the different genres of ‘panic TV’ – from the 1960s Public Information Films, children’s television (anyone remember Noseybonk?), of course crime fiction, crime watch, all the way through to the ‘how aweful it would be if there was a nuclear attack type programmes’.  

Fiona Bruce - Scaring the nation shitless on Crimewatch
Fiona Bruce - Scaring the nation shitless on Crimewatch

There’s a nice summary of some research by Gerbner and Gross – who, in the 1970s researched the effects of TV on viewers. They developed ‘cultivation theory’ – the idea that Television alters an individuals perception of reality. Booker paraphrases this hypothesis by saying that because television focusses mainly on dramatic, violent and alarming news stories, then those that watch a lot of TV are more likely to accept the view that the world is a violent place.

Gerbner and Gross did actually find that heavy media viewers were more likely to perceive the world as riskier – they were, for example, more likely to think crime was going up even if it was going down.

Of course there are all sorts of problems with measuring media affects…. but that’s for another time….



If you want something much better about fear and society more generally – check out ‘The Power of Nightmares’ –

Sociology on TV – Blood Sweat and Luxuries – Gold!

7 Brits in their 20s head off to Ghana  and get exhausted working alongside gold miners who earn £3-4/ day; upset when they stay with a gold miner and the 17 dependents in his family lamenting his lack of education;  and finally head off to a toxic waste dump to find children smashing apart old computers from the UK so they can sell the scrap for a pound a day – one kid had developed breathing difficulties because of exposure to toxic fumes and another’s mother is so poor – they live on a veranda.

Blood Sweat and Luxuries Promo
Uploaded by hamster1992. – Watch feature films and entire TV shows.

This video is a great introduction to ‘Global Development’ – it illustrates the many problems some individuals in developing nations face – such as

  • Lack of educational opportunities
  • Low wages
  • The cycle of poverty as uneducated children go to work in the mines
  • Large families = no savings
  • Western companies who buy gold – pay lowest price they can to make more profit •Consumers – unaware or willing – lack of
  • How the price of Gold… depends on world markets/ global economy
  • How being at the Bottom of the global pecking order – dumping ground….
  • Lack of environmental regulation…. Health problems
  • Child labour

The programme paints a bleak picture of the developing world, which gets even bleaker when you realise that Ghana actually ranks 93rd out of about 200 countries for GDP (PPP) and around 130/ 200 on the Human Development Index…

What’s so bleak is that Ghana appears to be ‘developing’ – successfully by African standards – and yet there are still massive problems.

Most worryingly, after doing some digging – I noticed this – which is a great illustration of how dependent Ghana’s economic development is on the price of gold and cocoa – the prices of both have spiked in recent years – but it looks like they’re going down again!

So what’s interesting about the video is that illustrates how the prospects for development of any African country depends on its relations with the western world.

This is more advanced stuff….

 The most interesting question someone asked today was ‘what happens when the gold runs out’ – simply put, if the money from their raw material exports isn’t invested in more advanced industry and services – and the country oriented to exporting – economic development will go backwards.

Paul Collier (we’ll come onto him later) argues there is a 20 year window of opportunity for African countries with natural resources to use them to get their development going – whether or not they are able to do so depends on a wider range of factors – how the West, and China invovle themselves with Africa’s ‘extractive industries’ and also how pro-active the African governments and entrepeneurs are in brining about social development rather than lining their own pockets.

Teach Global Development – It’s fab!

We start the most important module in A2 this Wednesday – and my absolute favourite – Global Development. As far as I’m concerned any teacher who doesn’t offer this option at A2 Sociology is really letting the side down.

This module, more than any other, appears to have escaped the clutches of the AQA agenda setters –  who have done so much to bastardise the structure of all the other options (religion and media especially) – the structure and content are totally relevant to the 21st century – (unlike with crime and deviance you don’t have to teach theory from the 1890s)

The problem, however, with this having escaped the agenda setters is that the content of the module is much much broader than in any other of the AQA options –

The key areas of study are as follows – broken down to make it a bit more understandable ! This is slightly different to the way the module is presented in the Ken Browne text book, which I think is good for this module, but too thin on detail, and very different to the way the topic is presented in the Stephen Moore text book – I don’t recommend that book for this topic!

  1. What are the key features of a  ‘developed’ country and what are the key features of an ‘undeveleped’ country?



2. How can we measure how ‘developed’ a country is and what are the problems with these ‘indicators of development’?

wealth distribution map - 2015 projection
wealth distribution map - 2015 projection


3. How do we categorise/ rank countries according to their level of development, and what are the problems with these systems of catetorisation



4. Theories of development – Why are ‘undeveloped’ countries undeveloped? Is it due to cultural barriers, the fact that they are exploited by the more powerful west, or because they are isolated from global trading networks. What are the most effective strategies underdeveloped countries should adopt to become ‘developed’ –



5. What is Globalisation? Economic, Political and Cultural dimensions



6. What role do each of the following institutions play in global develoment? – Nation States, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, Transnational Corporations, Non-Governmental Organisations and the United Nations



 7. What is the role of aid, trade and debt in relation to development and underdevelopment?



8. What is the role of industrialisation and urbanisation in development – (really part of of modernisation theory) – arguements for and against their importance in development and problems that industrialisation and urbanisation create in developing countries



9. The environment and development – environmental problems faced by developing countries and the arguements for and against sustainable development



10. The extent, causes and consequences of war and conflict in the developing world.




11. Employment, education and health as aspects of development – the problems developing countries face in each of these areas; teh reasons behind poor employment, health and education; how each of these might contribute to development; limitations to each of these as contributing to development.  



12. Gender and development – Feminist perspectives on women’s lives in the developing world; the role of women in development; the consequences of develompment for women.



13. ‘Overpopulation’ – what are the causes and consequences? Oh, and what’s wrong with the concept of ‘overpopulation’


This is the only module where students really get to learn about what a bleak world we live in!!! Sociology teachers – teach it!

If any teacher is wanting to switch from the much-duller- and – bastardised by the AQA- religion module, I’m happy to provide some resources for this module.  Not the whole lot, I have to maintain some competitive advantage after all!

America and Israel’s Cyberwar against Iran – oh, and free Gary Mckinnon!

Stuxnet, a computer virus which was created and launched by American and Isreali scientists took control of 1000 centrifuges at Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz sometime in 2009, causing them to malfunction. This amounts to 1/5th of Iran’s nuclear capacity, and could delay their creating a bomb until 2015. Evidence for this virus being deliberately targetted at Iran lies in the map below –


According to The Guardian -The experts agree we are now moving into a “third age” of cyber crime, where there are political, economic and military ways in which the internet can be exploited – and malware can be used – to gain advantage by foreign states.

There have been numerous attacks in the past which could be said to have possible military, political or economic motives – many of which are outlined in this  interesting and brief history of cybercrime

Gary Mckinnon
Gary Mckinnon

It’s interesting to compare this case to that of  Gary Mckinnon – the teenager (well he was at the time) with Asbergers who stands accussed of the biggest hack of the US military computer system of all time – although he claims he was looking for UFOs and the hack was all a mistake. He is currently (still!) awaiting extradition to the USA.

So the US government wants the UK to send a ‘mental needs’ teenager to the US for doing a hack against them; while they simultaneously liase with that bastard of a state Israel to engineer a worm to bring down a fifth of Iran’s nuclear capacity. Yet another example of how the powerful prosecute the powerless for the same things that they themselves do, only with a thousand times the resources, covertly and with more deadly effect.

F*** the United States, F*** the state of Israel, oh – and you can maybe help prevent the extradition of Gary by checking out the free gary website and writing to his extradition review panel.

Lifeinaday – ethnocentric postmodern nonsense or insightful representation of global culture?

Scott's 'Alien' was a classic - but will  'lifeinaday ' turn out to be a load of commercial trash??
Scott's 'Alien' was a classic - but will 'lifeinaday ' turn out to be a load of commercial trash??

Life in a Day is a compilation of the most compelling images honed by executive producer Ridley Scott and his team,Their task was to create a unique cinematic experience: in beautiful and harrowing honesty, what it is to be alive on Earth today.” Well, that’s according to its promoters anyway.

There’s a live screening on youtube – live at 3.00 am Thhursday – repeated 7pm Friday

This could be an interesting interpretation of  ‘Globalisation’ – or it could just be a load of touchy feely ethnocentric postmodern (is that an oxymoron?) pants.

If it’s done well it should add something to  your understanding of ‘Global culture’, and if it’s done badly – well it’ll give you a deeper appreciation  of how much more useful United Nations statistics are (and we will be looking at a lot of these next week) than film in giving us an insight into political, economic and cultural diversity across the globe.

Either way I think it’s worth checking out…and probably more interesting and a damn site cheaper than another Friday evening in the pub.

Oh, and all of this is part of the Sundance film festival – one of the many things I just don’t really have time to explore!

Dodgy depression statistics

Blues_MondayBlue Monday is apparantly the most depressing day of the year – there’s some debate over whether it was last Monday or today, the 24th of January – but because of a combination of poor weather and broken new year’s resolutions, one of these days is the most depressing day of the year!

According to Ben Goldacre, however, Blue Monday is a load of nonsense

“I reviewed the evidence from more than 30 studies over 130 years on the subject last year. Some find more suicide in spring and early summer, some in spring and autumn, some in summer only, some find no pattern at all…. Antidepressant prescriptions peak in spring, or in February, May and October. GP consultations for depression peak in May-June, and November-January). Admissions for depression peak in autumn, or spring and summer, while eight studies found no variation. So Blue Monday only really shows us how easy it is to take an idea that people think they already know, and then sell it back to them. Even if it’s false.”

I think Goldacre’s right to be cynical. I would treat ‘depression’ statistsics with extreme caution. Depression is such a subjective thing .

I inevitably come across a few cases of ‘depressed’ kids at college every year – some of which are obviously genuine – linked to real problems at home – others, however, are clearly not.

Colleagues have to run scared of the kid who thinks s/he’s depressed – in our child centred educational culture it is, after all, much safer for your career to accept their own self diagnosis and send the ‘depressed’ child off to counselling  – possibly enforcing the idea that s/he is depressed and leading to a self fulfilling prophecy. This alone is enough reason to treat the depression stats with caution.

However, I am not about to dismiss the idea of depression altogether – I fully understand that a cause of depression today might be due to a lack of fulfillment brought about by comparing one’s own life – or lack of it – to the media norm – which makes ‘normal life’ appear as if it is one non stop roller coaster ride of fun.

 If this is the source of depression – one needs urgently to take a reality check – life simply isn’t as interesting as the media suggests it is, and people aren’t that happy most of the time.

Finally, on the subject of depression – have a listen to this song by flogging molly – about the experience of Irish Immigrants working on the railroad in America – now this is depressing.

On the benefits of burning your children’s stuffed animals

Amy Chua and her daughters - who had a TV free chilhood
Amy Chua and her daughters - who had a TV free chilhood

Amy Chua’s latest book – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – argues against the weak, cuddling, Western parenting style, making the case that the much stricter approach of Chinese parents is superior. Some of the rules she subjected her own daughters to included –

  • Never letting them attend sleepovers
  • Never having ‘playdates’
  • never watching TV or playing computer games
  • Practising musical instruments 2-3 hours a day.

If their standards ever dropped, she called them garbage and threatened to burn their stuffed toys. There is a good overview of the main themes of the book here and she discusses the book in this video

This is a great example of a biographical piece of research giving us an insight into Chinese parenting and one that can easily be related to education…. while this is an extreme case study, and we need to be cautious of operating in stereotypes, there is wider research that suggests Chinese (and Indian) parents are stricter with their children and place a greater emphasis on the importance of educational achievement than parents of other ethnic backgrounds  – and they make greater efforts than white British parents, for exmpale,  to police their children to make sure they are doing their homework. Their children’s social lives are also policed to a higher degree – and Chinese and Indian children generally have less freedom.

One such piece of evidence is Francis and Archer (2005) –  in their study of British Chinese students and parents, similarly point to the high value placed on education by parents, coupled with a strong cultural tradition of respect for one’s elders, which facilitates the transmission of high educational aspiration from parents to children, and that students derive positive self-esteem from constructing themselves as good students.

There is a distinct correlation between stricter parenting and exam results – it is Chinese students who get the best GCSE results in English schools.

ethnity and educational achievement

Also, if you look at things cross nationally, according to OECD league tables, they come top in academic standards for reading, maths and science, while the UK comes 25th, 28th and 16th respectively, even though we spend considerably more per head of population on education.

What isn’t clear from the data (and also what you won’t get from one book about one family!)  is what exactly it is about the relationship between parents, children and education that makes Chinese students so good at exams. Is it that they put in more hours out of fear or guilt, or is it that they use thes time they do spend on education more effectively either because they are more focussed due to less TV or because they have better learning techniques… or because of something else?

It’s also worth considering whether this type of parenting is more or less conducive to producing children who  capabable of independent thought and action in later life than the more liberal parenting we typically get in the west.