Monday, January 26, 2009

The Kite Runner

I wrote this on 12/17/08.

The story “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini is a piece of historical fiction that reads all too true as a story that could have actually taken place. The novel is a work that can draw on many sociological perspectives as it has so many issues especially about race and ethnic conflict in Afghanistan that can be discussed. It is the story of an upper-class Afghan boy Amir growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970’s along with the son of his father’s servant Hassan. When he is 12 years old Amir watches Hassan get raped by another boy named Assef and does nothing about it . Feeling guilty and unable to face up with his own inaction Amir eventually has Hassan and his father driven from Amir’s home. In this same time period political turmoil started to envelop Afghanistan and Amir and his father flee Afghanistan in 1981 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They wind up first in Pakistan and then immigrate to the United States. In America, his life is a complete turnaround in class as Amir and his father become working class people. Years later after his father dies and Amir gets married, Amir travels to Pakistan and meets an old friend of his father who informs Amir that Hassan was actually was his brother, and Hassan is now dead with a son who has become an orphan named Sohrab. Amir travels back to Afghanistan for the first time in many years with the mission of leaving the country with Sohrab. Amir finds his nephew living with Assef who has become a member of the Taliban. Amir then fights Assef and manges to escape with Sohrab’s help. At the end of the novel Amir ends up adopting Sohrab.

For this Final Project I have decided to focus on a paragraph on page 25 of the novel where a young Amir talks about how despite how he and Hassan would have seemed to actually be friends, Amir never thought of Hassan as a friend and nothing could change the fact that they were of two different ethnic groups, one superior and the other one inferior. This section of the book elaborated just how fixed and closed the race relations and religious differences are between the ethnic groups, the Pashtun tribe and the Hazara tribe in Afghanistan.

“The curious thing was, I never thought of Hassan and me as friends either. Not in the usual sense, anyhow. Never mind that we taught each other to ride a bicycle with no hands, or to build a fully functional homemade camera out of a cardboard box. Never mind that we spent entire winters flying kites, running kites. Never mind that to me, the face of Afghanistan is that of a boy with a thin-boned frame, a shaved head, and low-set ears, a boy with a Chinese doll face perpetually lit by a harelipped smile.
Never mind any of those things. Because history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi’a, and nothing was going to change that. Nothing.”
From this section of the book we see it clear the distinct class distinctions that existed between the majority Pashtun tribe and the Hazara. The Pashtuns make up about 42% of the overall Afghan population, and Pashtun has sometimes been synonymous with Afghan. The Hazaras are smaller in number and make up about 9% of the population. Despite Amir growing up with Hassan and sharing so many things during childhood, their relationship was that of one between and a servant and master not that of two friends, since a Pashtun and Hazara could not be friends as Amir learned from his father. The distinction between Pashtuns and Hazars was clear and it was definite and unchanging. Afghanistan has different ethnic groups but the country is dominated by the majority Pashtun tribe. Smaller ethnic groups in the country include Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. According to the constitution of Afghanistan all Afghans are considered equal in front of the law but reality has shown that has not been the actual case. Afghanistan is a heavily socially stratified country with discriminations going back centuries as in the case of the Hazaras who have been brutually subjugated by the Pashtuns in the past and subjected to social exclusion. Hazaras are discriminated against not just because of their race but also because they are Shiite Muslims while the majority of the population are Sunni Muslims. The hatred between Sunnis and Shi’as goes back even farther than the rivalry between Hazaras and Pashtuns, and has sparked a lot of violence in other Muslim lands. Hazaras were considered to be the lowest group on the social scale, and relegated to jobs as servants with no social status. According to Max Weber’s theories the Hazaras fit the very definition of being a pariah group. The opportunities provided to other groups are denied to the Hazaras. Hassan didn’t go to school as he was expected to be like his adoptive father Ali was, a servant for life. Being born and living such a life also shows a lack of social mobility in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan for the Hazaras there exists no upward social mobility for their group due to the hatred felt for the Hazaras and their status as second class citizens. Afghanistan doesn’t have situational or symbolic ethnicity as a Hazara will always be a Hazara. The fact that Hazaras are Shi’a in a Sunni society where religion matters strongly also does not help out their situation also as the rivalry between the Sunnis and the Shi’a is a centuries old rivalry which has seen a lot of bloodshed. As mentioned later in Kite Runner the Hazaras were also the victims of ethnic cleansing in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, and Hazaras were massacred during an uprising in 1892 which also saw large numbers of Hazaras displaced from their homeland of Hazarajat. The situation of the Hazaras is very similar to that of lower groups in a caste system. A lot of people avoid associating with Hazaras and even those who are familiar with Hazaras do not consider them as friends. Assimilation does not exist in Afghanistan as shown so clearly by the thoughts of Amir. In Afghanistan pluralism is the order as all the different ethnic groups exist side by side with very little mixing. With the amount of hatred and mistrust and centuries old rivalries that exist in Afghanistan it is very difficult to ever picture an Afghanistan that has all the ethnic groups living peacefully side by side.

It can be shown by statistical data that countries like Afghanistan which are not considered free as defined by the Freedom House survey of freedom in 2006 (Giddens, 2007, p.396) are generally proven by statistical data to be some of the poorest nations on Earth, while also being some of the hungriest nations on the Earth as listed in the UN FAO map of 2003. (Giddens, 2007, p.264) (Giddens, 2007, p.268) Afghanistan also had the lowest life expectancy in all of Asia as of the year 2002. (Giddens, 2007, p. 637) On the reverse side, from the World Bank Development Indicators Map of 2005, almost every country in the high income range is also listed as a free country. Almost every country listed in the high income range also is listed with hunger as an extremely low problem. In those statistics it is easy to see a trend that exists. Generally the poorer the country the less free it is, while the richer the country the more free it is for the most part. The work of Rostow applies heavily in the case of Afghanistan as it looks as it is the traditional cultural values of Afghanistan that is holding the country back. The hatred of Hazaras due to race and religion, and the rise of religiously backed governments who rule to the detriment of the country at large has definitely hurt the country and hurt development. It can be argued that if Afghanistan were more of a free country striving to protect all of its citizens then Afghanistan would be more of a modernized country. Afghanistan has taken steps forward in this decade under the presidency of Hamid Karzai progress has made been made in race relations and more freedoms for the populace. Hazaras have been allowed to join the army and some have started to hold government positions. But, with the progress that has been made there is still a long way to go in Afghanistan.

Ethnic tensions and also religious tensions sometimes go a long way in defining a nation’s identity. The country of Afghanistan is a country that has been shaped by its ethnic and religious tensions. By understanding these tensions it’s easier to come closer to an understanding of Afghanistan.
4. Giddens, Anthony. Introduction to Sociology 6th ed. New York, 2007.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Life On Other Planets

I wrote this originally on 12/08/2008.

For thousands of years man has pondered the possibility whether life exists on other planets, usually with the question are we alone? To this day the thought of extraterrestrial life intrigues scientists, scientific writers, and the general public as that question has never really been answered. If extraterrestrial life were to actually be discovered in this 21st century life as we know it and our way of looking at things would make a major change as we would have discovered that we are not alone.

As of today there is no evidence of life elsewhere in the universe. “ Earth is the only place in the universe where we know for certain that life exists, and we have no direct evidence for extraterrestrial life of any kind.” (Chaisson McMillan, 2008, p.758) But if life were to be discovered elsewhere it would have a huge impact on life, religion, and politics. One of the areas where it would have the biggest impact is on religion especially here in the West. The whole concept of God creating life on only one planet here on Earth would have to be completely disregarded and the perception of the Earth having a special place in the universe would finally disappear once and for all. Understanding of Biblical stories of angels descending from the heavens or people rising into the heavens would come to be interpreted as stories of aliens from another planet visiting Earth and men being taken into spacecraft. The discovery of extraterrestrial life could also possibly lead to a serious decline in religion in around the world as people’s who had their worldview shaped by religion could possibly come to lose faith in their religion and everything they believed in. Extraterrestrial life discovery could also change our very conceptions of life and existence, and it would make a huge impact also on the field of philosophy. Other aspects of human life would also change depending on whether or not humans are advanced compared to the discovered life or whether the extraterrestrial life is advanced compared to us humans. If they are advanced it could lead to rapid discoveries in fields such as science and medicine.

The discovery of extraterrestrial life could rapidly change our existence here on Earth. It would be the type of discovery that was only dreamed about by men for centuries coming true. It would truly make the 21st century a century of discovery.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WMAP Satellite

I wrote this originally on 11/21/2008.

The WMAP satellite originally known as the MAP satellite has been very significant in our understanding of cosmology and galaxy formation. Since its launch in 2001 it has been at the forefront of some exciting discoveries in the field of astronomy. The WMAP satellite has also provided answers and opened up new questions and ideas for scientists to consider.

WMAP stands for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and its main objective is to measure temperature differences in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation also known as CMB. WMAP was launched in 2001 and its mission is scheduled to end in 2009. The WMAP is positioned in the L2 orbit which is very beneficial because that position helps keep its sensors away from both the Earth and the Sun. Scientists have estimated that CMB radiation has taken 13 billion years to reach the Earth. Using WMAP scientists were able to take the best photo ever taken of the early universe and made some startling discoveries. Discoveries from WMAP have put the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years. Scientists also have come to the conclusion that the first stars from the Big Bang came about 200 million years after the Big Bang. Indeed the WMAP has helped to strengthen the entire Big Bang theory, and it also helped bolster the cosmic inflation theory. The WMAP also gave some of the first real clear insight into dark matter, which is currently mostly unknown. Scientists have also come to the conclusion that neutrinos play no part in the evolution of structure in the universe. Another important facet of the WMAP is that it is helping to help understand the actual size of the universe.

The WMAP satellite has offered new insights into the size and age of the universe. It is helping to open doors that were previously closed and bringing up intriguing new things to study. The WMAP is scheduled to end its mission in 2009, so only time will tell if it will be at the forefront of another discovery.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Computing in 2018: A prediction

Originally written by me on September 17, 2008

Advancements in computers have changed the way how people live time and time again in human history. Computers have made several advancements in the last 10 years. In the next 10 years computers can be expected to make several more advances in the next 10 years.

Changes in computers have always come and gone rapidly. 10 years ago broadband internet was virtually unheard of, DVD burners were unheard of and few people even knew what a DVD was. MP3s and MPG format movies were rare and didn't have much of an impact. Now in 2008 all of these technologies are widespread. In the year 1975 Gordon Moore said the increase in computing power would double every two years. That means in 10 years we can expect downloads of 100+MB files to take place in only a few seconds time. The amount of information that can be placed on a chip will expand, with laptops holding only 30 GB or less of memory becoming a distant memory. There is even talk of dna being used instead of silicon chips all making computers more interactive. The current complexity of writing software programs for certain microchips which is now plaguing certain software developers can be expected to fall aside, as hardware makers work better with software developers to overcome these problems.

In conclusion technology has made rapid jumps in the past, and the capacity for what the computer can do hasn't been fully tapped into yet. As time goes on the amount of people who were born when the computer wasn't an important tool will continue to diminish and the computer will continue to grow and provide new technologies.


Large Hadron Collider

Originally written by myself on 9/22/2008.

I’ve chosen to do this writing assignment on the article “The Origins Of The Universe: A Crash Course” written by Brian Greene and published by The New York Times, appearing in the print edition on September 12, 2008. The article is about the Large Hadron Collider Project taking place in Geneva, Switzerland which is supposed to revolutionize our knowledge of the universe, as scientists try to recreate the conditions that led to the Big Bang.

Work on the Large Hadron Collider began over a decade ago, and it has involved thousands of scientists from many different countries. The cost of the Collider is about 8 billion dollars. The Collider is supposed to work at full power by having trillions of protons racing at each other at opposite speeds faster than the speed of light, producing over a half a billion head on collisions. Scientists hope that when this happens they will be able to produce particles not seen since the Big Bang.

One of the biggest mysteries to scientists right now is the origins of mass. The mass of almost any object or particle can be determined, but where mass itself originates is actually unknown. Peter Higgs an English physicist came up with a potential answer for this question when he suggested that space is pervaded by a field similar to electromagnetic fields that act like invisible molasses. Brian Greene explains in the article that according to Higgs theory, when we push something to try to make it move faster, the Higgs molasses exerts a drag force and it’s that drag force that we call mass. In the 1970’s scientists incorporated this theory into the theory called the standard model of particle physics. Scientists also hope to see sparticles for the 1st time that have evaded detection, but scientists believe exist and can help further understanding of dark matter. The Collider is also hoped to maybe reveal the existence of transdimensional particles which have never been confirmed to exist. The biggest fears of the Collider is that they might be able to produce micro black holes that could possibly lead to the destruction of the planet. But, there exists little evidence that would actually happen. The greatest hope for the Collider is that instead of proving an existing theory, that it will produce something totally unexpected to change our working knowledge of the universe.

I found this article to be very informative because it provided me a lot of knowledge with what the Large Hadron Collider is actually about, and what they are hoping to discover from it. A lot of news media reports I saw on the Large Hadron Collider simply refer to it as a doomsday machine that could lead to the end of the world. The Large Hadron Collider I’ve seen after reading this article is the type of project that can either totally confirm pre-existing theories, or it could be the type of project that completely changes notions and renders all theories existing right now completely obsolete.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Originally written by myself on September 25,2008

The 1800’s were a changing time for the Western World. The entire societal order seemed to be in upheaval, technological changes were brought about by the Industrial Revolution that rendered some jobs obsolete, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars brought the old European system to an end and also brought on new ideas such as nationalism. Religion which had once played a huge part in Western life was being increasingly de-emphasized, with science taking the role of religion. In this upheaval there began to be new ways of looking into the question of human nature and why do people do things certain ways, it was in this era that sociology was born.

“Sociology is the scientific study of human social life, groups, and societies.” (Giddens, 2007, p.3) Sociology is fairly new compared to the other sciences, since sociology started only in the 1800’s. Sociology came about as thinkers began using science to understand why human nature is the way it is, why society is structured the way it is, and why do societies change. They also wanted to predict human behavior and use these answers to make life better for everyone. In the 1800’s advances in science had already transformed different disciplines like medicine, astronomy, engineering and other fields. Sociologists hoped to use science to also transform the human being. “Science is the use of systematic methods of empirical investigation, the analysis of data, theoretical thinking, and the logical assessment of arguments to develop a body of knowledge about a particular subject matter.” (Giddens, 2007, p.24) Also important in science is the use of theories. “To be effective a theory-the framework of ideas and assumptions used to explain some set of observations and make predictions about the real world-must be continually tested.” (Chaisson McMillan, 2008, p.6) This was something very important for the early sociologists because they wanted to make predictions for the future based on human behavior and how they could hopefully make aspects of human life better. The actual term sociology was invented by French author Auguste Comte. “Comte originally used the term social physics, but some of his intellectual rivals at the time were also making use of that term. Comte wanted to distinguish his own views from theirs, so he introduced sociology to describe the subject he wished to establish.” (Giddens, 2007, p.13)

Emile Durkheim came along after Auguste Comte and built on his work establishing new ideas such as organic solidarity, which states that society depends on cooperation among its members. He also was a proponent of social constraint where it’s said that society puts constraints on the actions of the individual. Durkheim was also one of the first people to write extensively about division of labor. Durkheim felt that division of labor took the place in society that was once held exclusively by religion. Division of labor increased interdependency among people because if one person does only one certain function such as working in a factory, he is highly reliant on a person who’s growing food because the factory worker does not do food production, and the food grower is reliant on the person working in transportation to ship his crops. Durkheim also analyzed suicide rates which he felt were explained by feelings of helplessness many people feel in a modern society where religion no longer had the place that it once did to give people’s lives meaning. Karl Marx was another important early sociologist. “Marx’s viewpoint was founded on what he called the materialist conception of history.”(Giddens, 2007, p. 15) Marx believed that history was based on conflicts between classes. He thought that in the future the proletariat class would rise up and overthrow the dominant class and create a classless society. The teachings of Marx came to be known as Marxism.

In the modern world there is similar upheaval similar to the upheaval experienced at the dawn of sociology. Large numbers of people are immigrating from poor countries to richer ones, new technological advances are rendering certain jobs obsolete and changing the way people live, jobs are leaving communities after years of being in one place to relocate elsewhere. Terrorism and mass shootings have become a fact of life and people are having problems coping with life in the modern world. Just like when sociology was formed there are many questions about human beings that are being asked and sociologists are looking for answers.