March 27, 2006

Verbal virtuosity Southern Illinois style

Here are some souvenirs from our roadtrip down to the Americana of Southern Illinois, an anthropologist would really not need to go far here to find a fascinating field for studying religion and language. And if you settled in the local Cairo, Vienna, Atlanta or Nashville you could even fool your fellow anthropologists into thinking that you had left the Midwest.

Other immemorable phrases from protestant church boards included:
Paxton: "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats."
Rantoul: "Is what you live for worth dying for?"
Centralia: "Heaven - No pain, all gain."
Richview: "Faith will lead you on."
Nashville (yes, in IL): "Love will endure if it is kept pure."
And: "Be hopeful with a real basis for hope."
Pinckneyville: "Thank God for the "son" shine."
And: "Every Saint has a Past. Every Sinner has a Future."
And: "Get an After-Life"
Murphysboro: "Love is a verb before it is a noun."
Alto Pass: "God's love is so goooood!"
And: "God bless you and those whom you love."
Springfield: "Life is fragile, handle with prayer."

And here's a view from Cairo, Illinois, a town situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississipi rivers that has seen its better days. According to my Illinois guide book its founders thought the river valley resembled Egypt. Maybe, but now with more than two thirds of the town's buildings falling apart it felt more like a Wild West ghost town to me.

March 18, 2006

March against the war in Irak tonight

Today the war in Irak has gone on for three full years, and for the first time Chicagoans are allowed to march legally down the Magnificient Mile to protest against it.

Assembly at Walton and State starting 6pm, ready to leave at 7.

More info at

Are you a nerd?

I guess this is kind of the grad student sitting in the library on a saturday afternoon for the 10th day in a row must-do test. I saw it on Matt's blog who had seen it on a friend's blog, who found it I dont know where.

If you want to test how much of a nerd, geek or dork you are, you can find the test here.

So now I know, I'm a pure nerd, but I guess I wouldnt have needed a test to tell me that.

Here are my test results:
Pure Nerd
78 % Nerd, 8% Geek, 13% Dork

For The Record:
A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.

The times, they are a-changing. It used to be that being exceptionally smart led to being unpopular, which would ultimately lead to picking up all of the traits and tendences associated with the "dork." No-longer. Being smart isn't as socially crippling as it once was, and even more so as you get older: eventually being a Pure Nerd will likely be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful.

March 15, 2006

Beware THE predator?!

My cousin just sent me an e-mail titled "crucial tips, especially for ladies" that contains a 9-point list of advice for avoiding THE predator. No wonder women here are scared to walk outside alone in the evenings. They're constantly warned of THE predator who is waiting out there for them to let their guard down. Last year a friend told me that she had been told by a self-defense instructor to always hold her keys in her hand with the sharp ends of the keys sticking out of the fist when walking home alone at night, apparently they were supposed to work well as a weapon against the rapists and serial killers who just waiting for the opportunity to attack.

But who is the PREDATOR? And if he, or she?, really exists, wouldnt a better means to protect oneself be to stay out of desolate places? At least that's the advice I've been given in Brazil when going into sketchier neighborhoods. When bus stations and parking lots get empty, that's when it can get dangerous, because there would be no-one to help you if something did happen. But this strategy obviously wouldnt work if everbody is so scared of each other that they wouldnt come to another person's help even if there was a need.

Last fall we read a book by a UofC professor, Danielle Allen, in which she advocated for decreasing people's fears and mistrust through talking to strangers. At the time I thought her proposal sounded silly (also I found her more general assimilationist politics disturbing), but maybe she has a point. I'm not sure being more friendly to strangers would solve the problem, but at least it might help some people to realize that not every other person they encounter on the street is a rapist or serial killer.

Dont take me wrong, I agree that its better to be safe than sorry, but such paranoia as this that basically tells every single time they set foot out of the house alone, they will be in danger of rape, abduction or murder breeds more fear, panic, mistrust and even hatred than anything else.

Here are the "crucial tips":

1. Tip from Tae Kwon Do: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!
2. Learned this from a tourist guide in New Orleans. If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you....chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!
3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.
4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. DON'T DO THIS!) The predator will be watching you, and this
is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.
a. If someone is in the car with a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.
5. A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:
A.) Be aware: look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat.
B.) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.
C.) Look at the car parked on the d river's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may
want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out.
IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)
6. ALWAYS take the elevator
instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!)
7. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, Preferably ! in a zig -zag pattern!
8. As women, we are
always trying to be sympathetic: STOP. It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked "for help" into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.
9. Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her "Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door."
The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, "We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door." He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of
their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night.

And just in case the recepient of the email hasnt been convinced of the existence of the predator by now, the list concludes with the following:

Please pass this on and DO NOT open the door for a crying baby ----This e-mail should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby theory was mentioned on America's Most Wanted this past Saturday when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana.

March 10, 2006

musings on becoming american

A friend I hadnt heard from for a few years sent me an email out of the blue asking me how I was doing. When I told him I had been living in Chicago for almost two years now working on my PhD, his first question was whether I'd become American. My first reaction was of course not, but now, maybe because I should really be working on one of my final papers for this quarter, I find myself wondering over this. Maybe I have become more American than I have realized, I have definitely changed in many ways since I moved away from Finland. But does it mean that I am less Finnish and more American now then I was before, or is it perhaps the other way round? We just read about Bourdieu's ideas of the habitus in our systems class, and I think he is right in many ways. But then again how do you define what constitutes American or Finnish habitus? On the one hand I still find eating donuts for breakfast strange and feel myself clumsy at small talk, but on the other hand I carry my laptop around with me everywhere, tend to eat sandwiches instead of a hot meal for lunch, and just this week bought myself a large travel mug so I can carry my coffee or tea around with me, just to name a few things that seemed to me as very American, or at least not Finnish, when I first moved here. Also, as you have probably noticed it is the New York Times instead the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat I tend to follow, and the language I choose to write in is English, but still I am sure to mention my Finnishness to anybody even a slight bit interested in the fact, but maybe even that is not so non-American considering how many of my "American" friends also emphasize their European roots...

March 08, 2006

Happy Women's Day!

the "strangeness" of muslim sexuality

It's striking how pertinent our class readings seem to be in respect of this weeks media coverage. Here we are reading Edward Said's Orientalism for Systems and the NYtimes publishes a report on Muslim dating in New York, also as a good friend of mine told me NPR just aired a program on "temporary" marriage in Iran yesterday. What is it that keeps Western writers and readers interested in muslim sexuality, whether it is presenting portrayals like Flaubert's on oriental women as sensuous but passive and submissive, or yesterday's New York Times' on the incompatibility of Islamic ideas of marriage with life in the modern world, or conceptualizations of imam-sanctioned forms of prostitution in the Middle East? Is it yet another way in which Americans try to posit Muslims as the ultimate Other, fundamentally different from ourselves? Probably, but I think there is more to it. Sexuality and marriage in general seems to be an increasingly fraught issue here in the US. Just think about the debates over same-sex marriage, rights to abortion or sex-education in schools. South Dakota only just passed a bill banning abortion in its limits and another national one seems to be in the workings that would allow pharmacists to deny the purchase of prescription medication such as the day-after pill to clients on the basis of moral reasons. But fundamentalist Christian doctrines are hard to criticize in the media when they have such strong support here in the US. Muslims on the other hand seem to provide the perfect target onto which we can project our frustrations over attempts defined in religious terms to impinge on people's sexual autonomy.

March 01, 2006

language equals race 2

Then again if we do take the claim that speaking a particular way constitutes the essence of being a member of a particular race, instead of melanine transplants (recall Michael Jackson's sad attempts) we only need to become proficient in the language.

Thanks to our Language in Culture professor Michael Silverstein who just sent our class this wonderful introduction to Chicago slang I now give you the means to begin your progress towards becoming racially Chicagoan.

1. Grachki (grach'-key): Chicagoese for "garage key" as in, "Yo, Theresa, waja do wit da grachki? Howmy supposta cut da grass if I don't git intada grach?"
2. Sammich: Chicagoese for sandwich. When made with sausage, it's a sassage sammich; when made with shredded beef, it's an Italian Beef sammich, a local delicacy consisting of piles of spicy meat in a perilously soggy bun.
3. Da: This article is a key part of Chicago speech, as in "Da Bears" or "Da Mare" -- the latter denoting Richard M. Daley, or Richie, as he's often called.
4. Jewels: Not family heirlooms or a tender body region, but a popular name for one of the region's dominant grocery store chains. "I'm goin' to Jewels to pick up some sassage."
5. Field's: Marshall Field, a prominent Chicago department store. Also Carson Pirie Scott, another major department store chain, is simply Called "Carson's."
6. Tree: The number between two and four. "We were lucky dat we only got tree inches of snow da udder night."
7. Over by dere: Translates to "over by there," a way of emphasizing a site presumed familiar to the listener. As in, "I got the sassage at Jewels down on Kedzie, over by dere."
8. Kaminski Park: The mispronounced name of the ballpark where the Chicago White Sox (da Sox) play baseball. Comiskey Park was recently renamed U.S. Cellular Field (da Cell)
9. Frunchroom: As in, "Get outta da frunchroom wit dose muddy shoes." It's not the "parlor." It's not the "living room." In the land of the bungalow, it's the "frunchroom," a named derived, linguists believe, from "front room."
10. Use: Not the verb, but the plural pronoun 'you!' "Where use goin'?"
11. Downtown: Anywhere near The Lake, south of The Zoo (Lincoln Park Zoo) and north of Soldier Field.
12. The Lake: Lake Michigan. (What other lake is there?) It's often used by local weathermen, "cooler by The Lake."
13. Braht: Short for Bratwurst. "Gimme a braht wit kraut."
14. Goes: Past or present tense of the verb "say." For example, "Den he goes, 'I like this place'!"
15. Guys: Used when addressing two or more people, regardless of each individual's gender.
16. Pop: A soft drink. Don't say "soda" in this town. "Do ya wanna canna pop?"
17. Sliders: Nickname for hamburgers from White Castle, a popular Midwestern burger chain. "Dose sliders I had last night gave me da runs."
18. The Taste: The Taste of Chicago Festival, a huge extravaganza in Grant Park featuring samples of Chicagoland cuisine which takes place each year around the Fourth of July holiday.
19. "Jeetyet?": Translates to, "Did you eat yet?"
20. Winter and Construction: Punch line to the joke, "What are the two seasons in Chicago?"
21. Cuppa Too-Tree: is Chicagoese for "a couple, two, three" which really means "a few." For example, "Hey Mike, dere any beerz left in da cooler over by dere?" "Yeh, a cuppa too-tree."
22. 588-2300: Everyone in Chicago knows this commercial jingle and the carpet company you'll get if you call that number -- Empire!
23. Junk Dror: You will usually find the 'junk drawer' in the kitchen filled to the brim with miscellaneous, but very important, junk.
24. Southern Illinois: Anything south of I-80.
25. Expressways: The Interstates in the immediate Chicagoland area are usually known just by their 'name' and not their Interstate number: the Dan Ryan ("da Ryan"), the Stevenson, the Kennedy (da "Kennedy"), the Eisenhower (da "Ike"), and the Edens (just "Edens" but Da Edens" is acceptable).
26. Gym Shoes: The rest of the country may refer to them as sneakers or running shoes but Chicagoans will always call them gym shoes!

language equals race?

It was only yesterday that we were reading James Clifford's account of a land-claims trial in the 1980's in which the landrights of an Indian group calling themselves the Mashpee was questioned on the basis of them not being able to provide proof of their existence as a tribe. In the end the case fell apart because their continuing existence as a biologically self-perpetuating group with a language and "culture" of its own could not be proven. Clifford's point obviously was to point to the problematic understanding employed in the trial of culture as some kind of tangible essence that "real", authentic groups possess. Thus, the question became wether the MAshpee could prove their possession of some kind of Mashpeeness..

Well, apparently the US legal system is still in dire straits in dealing with questions of culture, race and language. Today, the New York Times reports that a federal court case has been filed against Arizona Spanish and Indian-language DUI court programs. The plaintiff, Andrew P. Thomas, Maricopa County attorney, claims that such language-based treatment intended to aid non-English speaking people constitutes racial segregation. Whether or not people in the Spanish-language and Indian courts actually receive smaller sentences is of course a question of its own, but the equation of language and race Thomas founds is attack on makes me cringe.

A Test of Ethnic Courts for Drunken Drivers