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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

SOTU open thread

The State of the Union is tonight (starts at 9 pm ET). What are you hoping for/predicting (if you're reading this pre-SOTU)? What did you think (if you're reading this post-SOTU). [insert lame joke about "live blogging" here]

further evidence for things already known

This is a pretty stunning and clear cut example of Fox News becoming an extension of the Bush Administration's PR campaign.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Don't Be Evil

Speaking of stifiling information, Google has just launched its Google.cn version to be used in China. While the company proudly declares that its "mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Google has made the decision to censor the results produced on Google.cn by searches of various "sensitive terms," (and not-so-sensitive sites like bacardi.com) such as "democracy," "human rights," "falun gong," "Tibet" or "Taiwan". Until now, Google could be accessed by those in China via servers based in California, but its content was filtered by the Chinese government's internet filters, also known as "the great firewall of China". China employs 30,000 police officers to monitor the internet full-time. With regards to this very criticized decision, in an interview with co-founder Brin, Reuters quotes him as saying, "I didn't think I would come to this conclusion -- but eventually I came to the conclusion that more information is better, even if it is not as full as we would like to see." (more in expanded post)

But while Google has said that it is simply blocking sensitive information, searches of these "sensitive" terms direct users to government-run propaganda sites that disseminate incorrect or misleading information, and only the official government's stance on these issues. As many have noted, their half-truth "justification" is eerily Orwellian. Strangely enough, all this came less than one week after Google refused a US Department of Justice supoena which requested the company provide every website address produced and search term used on Google between June and July 2005. A Times article sums it up:

The government was looking to assess the prevalence on the internet of what it calls HTM — harmful to minor — not child pornography, but pornography that children can accidentally access. It turned out that AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! had all already complied with similar requests. [...] It is an incredibly worrying sign, not least because it shows the way governments might come to use search engines as a form of privatised surveillance.

Google has an extraordinary amount of information about its users. It logs all the searches made on it and stores this information indefinitely. Because every computer has a unique IP (internet protocol) address, every visit to every website can be traced back to the computer making it [...]. (Shi Tao, the Chinese journalist, was given 10 years in jail last April for “leaking state secrets” after Yahoo! in Hong Kong handed over information linking his IP address and his e-mail to the Chinese authorities.) Users of Google’s Gmail service, who are already having their e-mails scanned to place targeted ads, have given the company their identity, a full record of all their searches and copies of all their e-mails, stored indefinitely. [...] As the lawsuit makes clear, all this information is potentially vulnerable to subpoena.

While it is in some ways comforting news that Google has refused to comply, it's sadly most likely to hide trade secrets. These two events, though they may seem contradictory, were both money-driven decisions. People freaked out when they found out their surfing might no longer be untouchable and anonymous; Google's shares dropped 8.5% when the news of the subpoena came out (that means they're worth $20 billion less now than they did a while ago). Call me naive, but I, and many Google fans, had held out hope that in this money-driven world, the "users-first"-minded Google would show that ultimately humanity could triumph. But the potential to caplitalize on China's enormous population trumped the warm fuzzies. Even for a company whose motto is "don't be evil," when it comes to cashing in on a billion people's internet use, complying with a government whose ideals are directly contradictory to its founding vision, whose secretive practices have exacerbated world problems and whose demands require the obfuscation of truth, the definition of "evil" is bendable.

The Truth

Today as I continued my recent obsession with Middle Eastern politics I came across a very eye-popping interview from the Daily Ummat, the second-largest newspaper in Pakistan. After going to the site for the Daily Ummat my inability to read Urdu prevented me from searching their online archives for the interview. It was conducted in the weeks after the September 11th Attacks and, in it, Osama bin Laden denies responsibility for the events of that day. The fact that this interview was the first granted by bin Laden after September 11th and was NOT AT ALL covered by major U.S. news outlets and publications should cause one to wonder why when, during the fall of 2001, just about every newspaper in the country was focused on this man and his organization.

If you all get a chance, I ardently encourage you to visit three websites on this issue:

1) 911Review.Com: A Resource for Understanding the 9/11/01 Attack

2) ThePowerHour.Com: A radio show that focuses on "subjects that inform and educate people every day to the real challenges that face this country".

3) 911InPlaneSite.Com: A completely fact-based movie that the world generally and the U.S. people more specifically absolutely MUST see.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

political science, part II: this ain't a game

According to a Washington Post article today (which mentions the Bush admin v. NASA scientist tension I talked about in the post below this one), while many leading climatologists are becoming increasingly convinced that a "tipping point" in global warming is quickly approaching, after which these climate changes resulting from human activity will be impossible to slow or reverse, there is still some controversey over how concerned we should be about it.
Some scientists, including President Bush's chief science adviser, John H. Marburger III, emphasize there is still much uncertainty about when abrupt global warming might occur. "There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change," said Marburger, adding that the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on researching this and other climate change questions. "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."
Setting aside for the moment my feelings on why we should be concerned with environmental protections even in the absence of crisis, it seems to me that if we don't know exactly how dangerous or imminent "abrupt global warming" might be, but we do believe that once it happens we may be helpless to stop it, then maybe we should take a cue from the Boy Scouts and be prepared. Behave as though the worst-case scenario is looming. (more in expanded post)

The article notes that some, like Britain, seem to be adopting the prudent path, having already reduced its emissions by 14% since 1990 and aiming to cut them by 60% by 2050. Of course, we can't gauge worldwide progress by the efforts of one or a few nations; this is a serious problem for everyone. Controversey abounds on the best way of holding everyone accountable to pulling their weight. But whether we favor independent goal-setting, international agreements, or, as some economists have suggested, privatizing emmissions rights worldwide, we need to recognize the urgency of the situation. As Stanford University climatologist Stephen H. Schneider explains in the article, the urgency is greater for some than for others:
The small island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 small atolls, none of which is more than 6.5 feet above the South Pacific, and it is only a matter of time before the entire country is submerged by the rising sea.

"For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred," Schneider said. "As far as they're concerned, it's tipped, but they have no economic clout in the world."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

political science

The Bush administration's attempts to stifle environmental science information made the front page of the New York Times today:
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
Didn't they get the memo? Evangelicals are now in favor of reducing humans' degradations of the world's ecosystems. The administrators might be getting their main man in trouble with some of his base. (more in expanded post)

I find this part of it especially ludicrous and indicative of a dangerous prevailing mentality:
Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," he said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

Mr. Acosta said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel whom the public could perceive as speaking for the agency. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.
So scientists are only allowed to report the 'facts' of the problem, not suggest practical potential remedies? To behave as though science were absolutely separate from politics is not only laughable, given, for instance, recent political fights over teaching intelligent design in schools, it also effectively reduces scientists to opinion-less workhorses, whose only job is to report on 'the facts,' never to interpret them. This is the kind of thinking that had contributed to the Pentagon's hold over universities' science departments across the nation, a situation that developed during World War II when the government first began to collaborate with universities which helped with designing weapons technology.

Einstein once observed, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." He was speaking to the same trend of separating science and politics rhetorically and ideologically while at the same time purposely moving them ever closer so that science is militarized and used as a tool to fulfill only certain political ends.

It's especially important that we question this trend here at Harvard, given that the university's capitulation to the Pentagon's threat of revoking funding (the whole ROTC deal) reflects just how dependent our science research departments have become on the government's military. Additionally, we need to try to reverse the efforts to paint scientists as mere fact-finding robots by insisting on ethical/political education for the scientists being trained here (not indoctrinary ethical education; just something like along the lines of History of Science classes).

Friday, January 27, 2006

HAMAS

I'm not sure how many of you all have been following (or are aware of) the situtation in Palestine right now but, two days ago, Hamas captured a majority of seats in the national (if that word can accurately describes present-day Palestine) parliamentary elections. The fact that Hamas is currently recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, the E.U., and others makes the situation between Israel, Palestine, and the West really volatile right now. Seeing as how the U.S.-led "Coalition of the Willing" invaded Afghanistan and Iraq partly on the premesis of these nations harboring "terrorists" what will they do now to Palestine that is, to them, run by terrorists? Anyone have thoughts and what the course of action for the U.S. and others might be? What type of governments Hamas will look to erect? Why the Prime Minister and his cabinet immediately resigned?

Has Ariel Sharon woken up from his coma yet? Talk about receiving bad news...

King George

A great piece from Slate was sent out over Dems-talk. For those of you who aren't on it, I figured I'd post it here. The thesis paragraph responds to the contention that the issue is simply one of national security vs. civil liberties:
Would that so little were at stake. In fact, the Senate hearings on NSA domestic espionage set to begin next month will confront fundamental questions about the balance of power within our system. Even if one assumes that every unknown instance of warrant-less spying by the NSA were justified on security grounds, the arguments issuing from the White House threaten the concept of checks and balances as it has been understood in America for the last 218 years. Simply put, Bush and his lawyers contend that the president's national security powers are unlimited. And since the war on terror is currently scheduled to run indefinitely, the executive supremacy they're asserting won't be a temporary condition.
I recommend the whole thing, but it strikes me that we're living in pretty extraordinary times. Of course, I'm just a youngster, maybe things are always this interesting...

guns don't shoot, people do!

Via quenchzine:
This is what makes it hard to be proud to be a Virginian.

This state congressman accidentally discharged his firearm but lucky for everyone else in the state capital, he also happenned to have a bulletproof vest hanging from the door which absorbed it.

Brought to you by the state that upholds adults' rights to bear arms in public schools.
Such a weird incident. Good catch quench!

state of the union parody

via crooks and liars. Check it out.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

elites and the military

If you want to understand why some people in this country so dislike elites (like Ivy Leaguers, for instance), listen to Hugh Hewitt's interview of LATimes columnist Joel Stein. Stein wrote a controversial piece earlier in the week in which he argued that supporting the troops while opposing the war is hypocritical. Hewitt appropriately disagrees strongly, but what's more interesting is that he essentially argues that Stein has no right to an opinion: he doesn't know anyone in the military and doesn't appear to know anything about the military. I'm not one to agree with right-wing talk show hosts, but if you're going to write in a national newspaper that you don't support the troops shouldn't you at least know how many there are?

Summers Loves Little Girls

In what is clearly an attempt to say something almost antithetical to what he stated last year about females (that caused the huge flurry) President Summers recently said that educating girls is "the single most important investment that can be made in the developing world," at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Is that before or after poisoning them by dumping huge amounts of toxic waste from the industrialized world into their environments, Larry? I wonder...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

updates

I've just updated the "ongoing discussions" section of the side bar, definitely check them all out, there's some phenomenal stuff there.

Also, I've updated the "Harvard links" section, adding two new blogs and taking off one. I've added Gratitude Orange, an excellent blog kept by Kyle de Beausset. Kyle has been discussing general world politics and his experiences back home in Guatemala helping the redevelopment after massive flooding brought on by Hurricane Stan. I've also added Red Ivy, the Harvard GOP's new blog that kicked off earlier this month and seems off to an interesting, albeit sporadic, start. Finally, I've taken down the link to Team Zebra, because they haven't written in over a month. I'll definitely let you know if they get back in the game.

I hope you're enjoying your intersession! Also, read the post right below this one and the columns it links to.

how outrage proves essential

It's a shame when good writing gets lost in the shuffle of the social calendar: many people are too busy celebrating the end of finals or already jet-setting to their intersession destinations to pick up the Crimson and see what a couple of insightful columnists had to share.

Henry Seton, famed mastermind of the Big Question weekly discussion group, attempts to jolt us out of our end-of-civilization fatalism by reminding us that we'll never fundamentally change a world that we accept at face value:
Blind optimism is perhaps the surest route to true pessimism; hope alone will leave us, in the end, with mere hopelessness. But an educated, critical hope is essential to transforming our world, and if we relinquish it, we relinquish our humanity as well. There are simply too many untested feasibilities, possibilities for a more just world, for us to simply accept the present as our infinite future.
The U.S. has often been called an 'experiment,' and while we may abhor some of the calculations and manipulations involved in establishing our nation and developing and maintaining its power and dominance, we can still salvage some small bit of happy strength from the legacy of "educated, critical hope" that served the rag-tag confederacy through its tumultuous beginnings. (more in expanded post)

The experiences of white people (primarily wealthy white men) in that particular (and peculiar) colonial history have helped to teach us that critical hope for change doesn't come from simply assessing the world and imagining that it can be better. The kind of hope we need in order to change the status quo is a hope born not only of imagination, but of outrage. We need to be truly outraged with poverty and injustice before we will take real, creative, courageous steps toward changes we envision.

However, as Henry points out, outrage is sedated when we "take cowardly comfort in the fiction of our own powerlessness." I think that outrage, especially regarding injustice, is also especially sedated at Harvard for three other reasons.

One, because people believe that they have independently earned the privilege this education affords them, so in theory it's possible for any other bright, motivated person to earn it, too. It's more difficult to be outraged with a status quo which one has mastered to a large degree (in other words, of which one has been a beneficiary). Not impossible, but more difficult.

Two, because people at Harvard are often so consumed with bedazzlement at the vastness of knowledge and theories of the way the world works that we forget to always apply the knowledge critically to our world and ourselves. We may think that this step will come later, when we are more expert in our field. We forget that we have the right--and the responsibility--to be outraged now, to begin envisioning now, knowing that we have more questions than answers, but struggling nonetheless.

And three, because, unlike in the days of the Boston Tea Party, or even today in certain parts of Boston, we at Harvard today lack a clear opponent toward which to be outraged. It's all well and good to be incensed by poverty and injustice, but it's a lot easier to maintain that resentment if there's someone to blame for it (at least that's the way it works for most of us in this culture). And the thing is, if there were any opponent to rail against, it would be ourselves--or, I should say, the projections of ourselves in a decade or more. We are (at least we're told we are) "tomorrow's leaders;" we are the elite. And if we don't begin cultivating outrage and educated, critical hope now, we are doomed to be the adumbration of merely another installment of tepid leaders sitting atop the hierarchical heap, failing people even as we brilliantly navigate the political slaloms laid out for us. We are not yet sufficiently outraged.

Well, I take that back--at least some of us are. Giving Harvard University its semester report card for performance in social responsibility, a critically hopeful Mike GW had this to say:
So [the fall semester] was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Among the worst, because some administrators still don’t get that they’re running an open-minded university, not a business or a branch of the government. Among the best, because students are actually paying attention and holding people in power accountable.
Mike outlines some of the major tests of social responsibility Harvard has faced since September, including "Dignity and respect for workers," "Civil liberties and student privacy," and "Diversity and nondiscrimination." Check it out, agree, disagree, or both. May something in it ruffle one or two of your feathers.

a picture is worth...

How do you get the attention of the media in a society of short attention spans and theatrical politics? Make a good picture. In case you can't tell, the person at the podium in the back center of the picture is Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, defending the Administration's domestic spying today in a speech at Georgetown Law School. From the NYTs, and you can see a few more pictures here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

the freedom to choose health: abortion in national news

(note: i avoided using the words "woman" and "mother" to refer to pregnant patients in this piece out of respect for the fact that not all people who can become pregnant identify as women or mothers. just something to think about.)

Ryan Thoreson has some good analysis on the recent Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood ruling over at demapples.com, so instead of rephrasing what he's said, I'll just urge you to check out his thoughts.

But despite the seemingly heartening outcome he highlights, choice advocates shouldn't celebrate prematurely. While justices ruled unanimously--yes, unanimously, on an abortion case--that a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification and a waiting period for minors seeking abortion services must include an exception for cases in which the minor's health is in jeopardy, they did not, as they have in past instances, declare the entire law unconstitutional because it lacked such an exception. Instead, they sent it back to the Lower Court to determine whether legislators actually intended to omit an emergency medical clause from the law.

What is the significance of this difference? Well, it may serve to make Alito seem less immediately threatening to reproductive choice issues as the confirmation vote approaches. (more in expanded post)

As a result of the Ayotte ruling, the court may decline to accept other abortion restriction cases that don’t include health exceptions, instead sending them back to be reviewed. This delay takes the bite out of choice advocates’ warnings that, if confirmed, anti-Roe Alito will have the opportunity to vote on abortion-related cases during his first year on the bench. It is anticipated that three such abortion restriction cases will be pending in the coming months (two have already made their way up to the top), and will be decided only after O’Connor is out of the picture. One of them, Gonzales v. Carhart, tests the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which Congress passed despite the Supreme Court's unfavorable ruling on a similar Nebraska state law. The ACLU, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and others have already come out in opposition to the ban.

Few political catch-phrases irk me more than "partial-birth abortion," a term fabricated by anti-choice factions in order to conjure images of infants halfway through vaginal delivery (or as Bush put it when he signed the Ban Act into law, "children who are inches away from birth"). What irks me even more is that it’s often the sole phrase used in the media to refer to actual medical procedures of a certain kind. In the words of the immortal Jersey Slugger, "Grrr."

Let us transcend the rhetoric. The medical names for the procedures in question are intact dilation and extraction (commonly called D&X) and dilation and evacuation (a.k.a. D&E), and they are not performed in the midst of delivery contractions, but typically during the second or (rarely) early third trimester of pregnancy. (Third trimester abortions are performed only when the life or health of the patient is at grave risk, or when the fetus is not viable.) Late-term abortions are very rare (90% of abortions take place in the first trimester), and are most often wanted pregnancies in which serious and unfortunate complications have arisen. And guess what--the need for these procedures is reduced if patients have reliable access to comprehensive prenatal care. That's right: effective, affordable/universal health care could reduce demand for abortions. Ah, pipe dreams.

Supporters of the ban argue that the D&X procedure is not the only option available to patients who choose to terminate their pregnancies in later stages, so it should be nixed in favor of less 'gruesome' options. They're partly right--D&X isn't the only choice for patients and their doctors. Thing is, it appears to be the safest option in most cases: the primary alternative, a hysterotomy (not to be confused with a hysterectomy), is a major operation, akin to a caesarian section ("C-section"). Despite a dearth of information available on the relative safety of certain abortion procedures (curious--you'd think it might be an important thing to study), the available evidence was sufficient to convince the District Court of New Jersey that a hysterotomy carries a greater risk of health complications than intact dilation and extraction, and dilation and evacuation.

As with any medical treatment decisions, the first priority should be the health and well being of the patient, and the decision should be made not by politicians, but by patients and their medical practitioners who have the experience to be able to make appropriate judgments.

So, with respect to the ‘partial birth abortion’ issue, I have two simple requests:

Congress, please pass laws that promote citizens' health and safety rather than imperil them. I'd be much obliged. Soon, we may not be able to rely on the Court to protect us.

And journalists, hedging statements by referring to a D&X abortion only as “a late-term procedure that critics call ‘partial birth’ abortion” doesn’t count as being objective. If you’re going to use the inaccurate, pop-culture term, at least give us the medical name as well. Actually, in the interest of fairness, I should say that I realize that the language of most ‘partial-birth abortion’ bans that have been enacted is so vague that it can apply to procedures other than D&Es and D&Xs; because of the way the laws are phrased, it’s difficult to pin down precisely what the term does and does not include. So maybe you are trying to play it safe, sticking to the precise(ly imprecise) political terminology. But that doesn’t help the rest of us to be any more informed…so bring on the nuance! Bring on the complexity! We can take it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Exodus of Jobs

Ford announced today that it's closing another slew of factories throughout North America, mostly in the U.S. Does anyone know what exactly Ford is trying to do with this move? The claim is that this "would make the company's North American division profitable" over the next two years. Hidden effects should not be overlooked, however. Rising unemployment directly contributes to rises in crime. When people don't have jobs and their prospects of attaining them in the near future are scarce alternative methods of income generation are entertained. People have to eat.

Blame big business. Either the working class population in the U.S. will give them cheap labor for factories and service-industry positions that will perpetuate their familial and communal poverty or even these meager jobs will be taken away (by shipping jobs overseas or making advances in technology that make human labor expendable) so that people resort to crime and have their labor exploited for far less through the prison industrial complex. To quote Blondie

One way or another I'm gonna find ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha,
One way or another I'm gonna win ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.

This is the song Corporate America sings to the U.S. and, increasingly, world population everyday.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

And Another One!

Bolivia, South America's poorest nation, now has its first indigenous leader since the Spanish conquest over 500 years ago in Evo Morales, leader of the Bolivian political party Movement for Socialism. That's a LONNNNG wait for an indigenous leader. Once again, the U.S. government is fearful of his reform agenda as Al-Jazeera cites him as wanting to "end discrimination and inequality". What an evil man...sic the CIA on him! Has anyone noticed that this is simply not in the interest of any U.S. President or Congress in policy though they have often given the notion lip service? Think about it...Ending inequality would have to include ending capitalism (I am still waiting to hear an argument defending capitalism as just or leading to equality) as a means to bringing about equality. Does that mean socialism? Communism? Anarchism? What do you all think?

World on Fire

In the midst of exams and similar stresses, it's always good to get some perspective. Here is one of my favourite videos for inspiration.

lunchtime video!

I know I've probably encourage people to watch this speech before, and I know many of you probably already have, but Barack Obama's appearance on Meet the Press this morning reminded me of it so I'm bringing it up again. Whether you've seen it or not, whether you consider yourself a Democrat or not, whether you like him or not, watch Obama's speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004. I'm going to have a few thoughts later today about why Obama is important not simply because of his political talent and charisma.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Harajuku Girls

So Gwen Stefani has these Harajuku girls. They are four Japanese women hired by Gwen to be her posse/shadows. They go everywhere with her, appearing on the red carpet, in her music videos, her album cover, and are mentioned in almost every song on her solo album, including a song she wrote about them (called...Harajuku Girls).

Okay. I guess if you're a popstar celebrity you can do whatever you want and make yourself a posse. But this is where it gets weird and kind of creepy. These Harajuku girls (Harajuku is a district in Tokyo reknowned for many things, in part the flamboyant styles of the locals) are rumoured to be under a contract where they are only allowed to speak Japanese in public, even though people say they're just regular Americans who speak perfect English. And when I say Gwen "has," I really do mean has, because she has renamed them Love, Angel, Music and Baby, after her clothing line (l.a.m.b., which is being marketed towards the Harajuku district) and solo album. MiHi Ahn for Salon.com (or try this link) does a great job of explaining what is going on, but there is a fair bit of controversy over whether this is an instance of negative feishization, if the widespread coverage of the Harajuku girls is positve press, or if it's just one of those weird things that will end up paving the way to general acceptance of minority cultures (as Margaret Cho muses). (more in expanded post)

At first glance, Gwen Stefani's praise of the Harajuku girls may seem to be a positive sign of appreciation for a different culture:
Harajuku Girls you got the wicked style
I like the way that you are, I am your biggest fan
You're looking so distinctive like D.N.A., like nothing I've
ever seen in the U.S.A.
Your underground culture, visual grammar
The language of your clothing is something to encounter
A Ping-Pong match between eastern and western (from Harajuku Girls)
But what does not sit well with me, and a great many others (visit the "Free the Gwenihana Four" blog), is that the Harajuku girls that Gwen drags around with her are her ideas of what Harajuku girls are. The photo above is a great example of this--look at their makeup. The tiny circle of lipstick on the four girls is reminiscent of an antiquated Asian/geisha fashion; they also are all wearing the same (albeit weird) thing. What is supposed to be so unique about the Harajuku district is that individuality rules. There are no trends or lines of fashion that are to be followed except to do the unexpected, although the inspiration tends to be goth or punk. Gwen strips her pseudo-Harajuku girls of the trait she apparently finds so inspiring.

For those who might disagree about Gwen's attitude towards her Harajuku posse, if you listen closely to "Rich Girl," this is what she says:
if I was [sic] a wealthy girl
I'd get me four Harajuku girls to
Inspire me and they'd come to my rescue
I'd dress them wicked, I'd give them names
Love, Angel, Music, Baby
uh...which is what she did. What is tricky is that the whole phenomenon of Harajuku style is one that is superficial and in itself fetishy--also known as Japanese Baroque, it combines elements of gothic, goth-lolita and punk style into a postmodern pastiche of clothing. So appreciation of this intrinsically fetishy style may have to itself border on fetishization. That of course is only true if the Harajuku style were represented accurately, which it completely isn't (schoolgirl uniforms do not fall under goth or punk, but they do happen to be an Asian image stereotype). Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that Gwen just got herself a set of live dress-up dolls, who are a negative portrayal of Asians in the way they play into the meek, cutesy, giggling and silent Asian girl stereotype. No, it's not racism. Yes, it's still not cool.

Queer Results

According to this New York Times article a new reality show that was supposed to air on ABC may have been shelved do to its positive portrayal of a gay couple (that won the reality show) and the believed backlash that would follow from the religious right. Purportedly ABC was scared to air the show since they felt that support for their quasi-religious The Chronicles of Narnia would be withdrawn from this base. Another example of capitalism trumping moral fortitude (if true).

During the course of the series being shot the gay couple's neighbors who have been initially described as "quite homophobic Christians" come to love the gay couple and their child next door. Love for one's neighbor despite them living a lifestyle that you may not approve of? Now that's not Christian at all...

lunchtime video!

Today's lunchtime video is Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman laying out the Republican strategy for victory in the 2006 elections. It seemed to me to be a kind of State of the Union for the Republican Party. You can find it here and at C-Span.

What's fascinating about the speech is that it was done publicly and therefore for a wider audience than simply the RNC members and GOP consultants. In that way, Rove appears to be inventing a new kind of political speech: simultaneously a blueprint for political victory and a stump speech in its own right. Of course, because it's public and he's speaking to an audience wider than simply that room, you have to approach with cynicism the idea that this is truly and simply their game plan. It is, obviously, only that which they felt comfortable making public and a little hot rhetoric to boot.

It seems to me that Rove is trying to do three things here, if not more. (more in expanded post)

First, he's trying to remind the GOP that even in bad times they are powerful and have brilliant people who can write an alternative narrative and message to the one that they're currently having to deal with. The section at the beginning where he reminds them where they came from in the last 40 years and what they've accomplished is a perfect example of that, as is the message he lays out (and what it obviously ignores). Second, he's making a statement about their confidence in his own legal standing that they hope will calm reporters down. He is technically still under investigation by Fitzgerald's special prosecution of the Plame Affair and because he was willing to do this speech they must feel confident that he won't be indicted. If he were indicted, the Democrats could simply spend the rest of the cycle reminding the voters that their opponents are working from a game plan written by an indicted man. I doubt they're dumb enough to risk that. Third, the speech is an indication of how the GOP wants to approach the '06 cycle, not simply in the message that Rove lays out, but in its timing. In terms of laying out a public message, this is really early. The elections aren't until November, the intense campaigning won't really start until the summer (TV ads, etc.) but the GOP knows that it needs to start to change the narrative (which has been pushing the comparisons to the '94 Republican Revolution, and talking about the Dems winning big by promising to clean up Washington) soon. They also want to draw the Dems out and make the political battle more extended, probably because they feel in the long run that they're safer in a open political battle than in a set of simmering DC controversies. It will be interesting to see how long the Democrats wait to really rev up their message machine (and how good the message is...).

Alas, all of this is amateur guess-work. What do you think?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Kennedy/Owl controversy coverage


In a fascinating turn of events, Kennedy's membership in the Owl Club has gone from a one day retaliation over the Alito/CAP controversy in one article in the Washington Times into a full-blown aspect of the Right's anti-Kennedy noise machine. The advertisement picture on the right is all over conservative online media (Powerline, GOPUsa (thanks Dewey!), RightWingNews, the Rocky Mountain News etc.) and links to this article. Right wing bloggers continue to write about the issue, even going so far as to attack the NYTs for not reporting on it considering the fervor with which they covered Martha Burk's efforts to pressure Augusta National (home of the Master's, an important PGA golf tournament) to allow women to join. A quick search on technorati (kind of google for blogs) shows 926 results, most if not all of which appear to be referring to this particular controversy. Probably more importantly, mainstream coverage has gone beyond the blogs and Limbaughs of the world and also includes right-wing newspapers like the Boston Herald and the NY Post, as well as more objective papers like the the LA Times and many others.

What do you think? Is there now a bipartisan national consensus? Is it fair?

Believe it or not, I generally agree with the Crimson's Staff Position.

hyperfun!

I just wanted to say congratulations to the Crimson for learning to use hyperlinks in their articles. It's especially cool when they either link to themselves or to the University of Cincinnati.

In all seriousness, hyperlinks are a great tool for sourcing and add depth to an article or opinion piece. Glad to see the Crimson is joining the info age (or whatever it's called) even if it is a little haphazard at first.

lunchtime video!

Today's lunchtime video should act as a reminder to those of us who consider ourselves liberal, radical, leftist, Democrats, democrats etc.: despite popular conservative myths, we do not control the political media. Social liberals control much of the rest of the media (Hollywood, MTV, the values in much of the major network productions, etc.) but the political right is really good at this. Prepare to be upset.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

He's BAAaack!

Apparently a new audio clip from Osama bin Laden has surfaced and been aired on Al-Jazeera, the CNN of the Middle East. On the tape he warns of an attack in the U.S. soon and also, a bit surprisingly, proposes a truce to the ongoing war in Iraq and that in Afghanistan. In addition to this he talks about Bush giving misinformation to the U.S. public and the unpopularity of the wars that Bush brought about in his "War on Terror". I'm not even going to get into the skepticism that one should harbor in regards to the true story behind the September 11th Attacks, but what do people think about the fact that, after nearly four and a half years, the Bush administration with all of its military, financial, and political resources has still not been able to find arguably the most wanted person in recent world history? Eighteen Pakistani civilians can be killed without a peep from the U.S. government with a "precise" missle technology though they can't locate the whereabouts of this one individual. Is his technology and territorial expertise that beyond the U.S. government's? Who is he paying to keep himself safe that the U.S. can't pay more to turn him over? Why is the $234 billion "War on Terror" not focused on catching the person who purportedly started this war and supposedly controls those behind it perpetuation on the Islamic side?

The U.S. public and its political leaders support war because they don't have to deal with its hellish reality domestically. If Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. was turned into Tel Aviv or Baghdad for just ONE day there would be immeasurably more restraint in bringing that reality to millions of others throughout the world every single day for their entire lives.

ongoing discussions

The ongoing discussions column has been updated. Feel free to use this thread to start any discussion or mention anything that you wish was being said/heard/listened to.

lunchtime video!

Today's lunchtime video is a citizen journalist covering a conference in St. Louis on media reform. Some of the analysis is a little simplistic for me, but the heart of the message is right on.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

the art of politics

What with contemplating (1)racism, capitalism, and free speech; (2)feminism and women; (3)justice and incarceration in the US; (4)whether or not Hillary's got a shot; and (5)the state of democracy, not to mention Orgo, Cosmic Connections, thesising, and whatever else has been occupying precious brain space lately, a person can get worn down. With this in mind, here's a different kind of political/philosophical text that will still get you thinking, but in a rejuvenating sort of way.

If we want to foster heartfelt social transformation, we must remember to honor the contributions of artists in our personal/political struggles. As Mike noted in the discussion on boycotting, "...much of [Martin Luther King, Jr.'s] speeches--particularly his "I Have a Dream Speech"--were emotional and appealed to emotion. We cannot have perfectly logical reasoning all the time in the social realm." And as my featured artist and renowned intellectual describes in her essay, "Poetry Is Not a Luxury," "Poetry is the way we give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives."

From her collection Black Unicorn, Audre Lorde's "A Litany for Survival": (more in expanded post)

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;


For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.


And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.


So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Kennedy/owl club hits local TV

7 News did a piece on Ted Kennedy's decision to drop out of the Owl Club (it had done a piece on his membership the night before). Watch it here.

What's fascinating to me is that something that is supposedly so controversial at Harvard, with club members and sympathizers adept at confusing the basic discrimination and ignoring the fundamentals of the issue, is so cut and dry in the broader public spheres. The interaction between Hiller (the local reporter) and Kennedy seems to exemplify this:
Andy Hiller: “And they do not allow women in that club?
Sen. Kennedy:”That'’s what I understand.
Andy Hiller: Why would you be in a club like that?
Sen Kennedy: I shouldn't be and I'’m going to get out of it as fast as I can.
Hiller went on to say at the end of the piece that Kennedy's defense of his continued dues-paying (that it was a long time ago that he was a member, before Harvard was coed) "ignores the principals of equality and time." He ends the piece by saying "equality is the foundation of his career, his legacy, and the Owl Club undermines it."

lunchtime video!

President Bush: "Our job is to form a common consensus. This is what's called "diplomacy." Jon Stewart has thoughts.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hillary's story

As I noted below, Hillary Clinton grabbed some headlines this morning with some very pointed comments yesterday about the Bush Administration. While giving a speech in Harlem honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she said the House of Representatives is run "like a plantation" and added: "I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." That is one hell of a thing to say, so it's obviously raised some eyebrows and makes great political theatre (in addition to probably being accurate). So what's going on here? Why would Hillary Clinton, who has been so careful and coy as she approaches running in '08, who has slowly worked her way to the perceived political middle by mostly supporting the war in Iraq, an anti flag-burning law, and restrictions on violent video games, who only seems to be strongly critical and vocal when it's an easy win issue, who is smart enough and experienced enough that her every public utterance will be scrutinized, dissected and criticized, suddenly argue that the Bush Administration is so bad that it should be consider among the worst? (more in expanded post)

Here's how the story goes...

President Bush governs by being moderate in tone ("compassionate conservatism," affable good 'ol boy demeanor, etc.) and far-right in policy (intelligent design, global warming doesn't exist, we can invade whoever we want whenever we want if we want, massive tax cuts for the wealthy). That way, he can use his PR machine to make him seem moderate, but keep his base happy with the realities of his actions. That system seems to work so long as the moderates are comfortable with the direction the country's going so that they don't start to look through the PR to the policies and the far right is happy with quiet victories. Neither of those two things is any longer true; moderates unhappiness with the war and wiretapping and corruption have pushed Bush's trust and approval ratings way down and the Right appears to be increasingly vocal and demanding (ex. Harriet Miers). So Bush is having some serious trouble.

Clinton appears to be trying to do exactly the opposite. The Right would have marginalized her by accusing her of being a radical feminist and an advocate for huge government, so she's moderated her politics, focusing on policies that avoid these pitfalls and staying essentially in the center-right of her party. This enables her to diffuse the argument that she is philosophically of the far Left. The only problem is, the Left is getting frustrated with her over her support for the War in Iraq, and people like Russ Feingold are testing the waters to run against her in a base-driven effort ala Howard Dean. So Clinton becomes weak in the base. How does she fix this?

She becomes the most effective and aggressive political opponent of the Administration. She becomes vocal, critical and unabashed in her willingness to call Bush to task. While Bush appeals to the base in politics and the middle in tone, Clinton does the opposite and appeals to the middle in politics and the base in tone. This, of course, only works so long as the middle is not alienated by her criticisms in the long run (after the Democratic primaries), so Clinton is gambling that it's far enough away and the Administration's approval is low enough that she can get away with kicking some ass and still come back to the middle later by refocusing on her own moderate self.

Assuming I'm right in this analysis, which is of course speculative and may be doubtful to some readers, the interesting thing about this is that it exposes two things: 1. how much smarter Hillary Clinton is than most of the other Democrats and 2. how important the mainstream media's narrative is. Clinton's move to the middle has been widely documented and turned into a lovely story line. Most people have no idea how she's voted on the bulk of her politics, but the war and a few symbolic issues allow her to create a story line that others will follow, therefore allowing her to remake herself. With Feingold entering the race and building a challenge from the left, the media narrative turned to "Hillary has a Left problem" probably without much in terms of actual polling and factual basis. The story line is speculative in that way, but becomes reality because of its speculation.

Hillary Clinton proves her effectiveness as a politician here because she is able to throw fresh meat to her base by embroiling herself in something of a controversy, quiet the "Hillary has a Left problem" story line, and get good coverage all at the same time. In other words, she regains control of the narrative without being obvious about it.

Kennedy drops out of the Owl

So says the Crimson and Kennedy's spokesperson. I'd say it's a good sign that politicians are embarrased by their association to these elitist institutions. Here's my question: will those who are wannabe future politicians, and are in clubs now, start to think twice? Have they figured out that this is something they'll have to defend in 30 years?

lunchtime videos!

First, Senator Clinton yesterday caused a stir by saying the House of Representatives is run "like a plantation" in a speech for MLK Day in Harlem. She added: "I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." VIDEO: wmv and mp4. I'll have some thoughts later on what I think Senator Clinton is trying to do politically with comments like this.

ALSO, Al Gore gave an incredibly important (and incredibly long) speech yesterday on what he described as a growing "Constitutional Crisis" in America having to do with the Bush Administration's disrespect for the law and rapid and unchecked expansion of Executive Power. You can watch it at C-Span (it's on the front page), or read it here. OR, if you're short on time (and I'm assuming a lot of you are), watch the speech highlights here: wmp and quicktime.

Trial and Error

In this day and age, it would seem that the progress human society has made (in certain respects) should have brought us to be more careful and generally upright beings in our governmental dealings. The myth of government being an inherent institution in and of itself is false; governments were created and formalized by human imagination just as ice cream or luxury automobiles were. Governments are nothing without the individuals charged with leading them and the implicit or explicit consent of the masses that governments wield control over through myriad legislation at the municipal, county, state, federal, and international levels. The gravest “non-violent” act that a government can perform on one of its constituents is their imprisonment. Even as far back as Biblical or even ancient Greek times imprisonment was called into question by the leading moral authorities of the day.

Today, imprisonment in the U.S. is at levels never before known by human society. Even worse, a number of individuals who have been incarcerated for ten to twenty or more years of their lives are being PROVE INNOCENT and released with the judicial system hoping to keep these immense blunders under wraps. Government farces in this respect are leading a number of states to pursue moratoriums on death penalties until they get their acts right (if ever) and stop convicting numerous innocent citizens for highly serious crimes. (more in expanded post)

In a nation that purports to regard liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness as its chief ideals, restricting its citizens from these "inalienable rights" without the utmost care is inexcusable. Today's legal system is one where the dollar reigns supreme and can be the different between incarceration and exoneration. Individuals who possess sufficient financial means are able to hire top rate lawyers who in turn can higher a cast of private investigators, statisticians, and others to support their case while putting an entire law firm behind the defense of a particular citizen. The poor and, largely, Black and Latino defendants that face criminal charges often must rely on public defenders who are too often overworked, underpaid, and underqualified. These individuals are most often the ones not just convicted, but these are most often the individuals that are WRONGLY convicted. A report released by the American Bar Association last year found more than 150 people who were convicted of crimes in 31 states and Washington, D.C. served a total of 1,800 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. These crimes ranged from simple assaults to murders and have garnered very little public attention until recently.

Last year, the documentary After Innocence was released by a group of filmmakers. The movie chronicles a number of exonerated individuals who served varying amounts of time in prison before DNA evidence proved their innocence (most of the exonerees in this film were convicted of rape). By chance, I happened to catch these individuals on Larry King Live this past December 21 and their stories are awe-inspiring. The ease with which individuals such as Wilton Dedge can speak of spending 22 years in prison and being released to the world without any sort of compensatory package or apology is beyond me. His case was one rife with mistruths from the beginning such the victim in the rape estimating her assailant as being 160 pounds and six feet tall while Dedge was only 125 pounds and stands 5'5. At one point, the prosecutor in his case even admitted IN COURT that he would continue to oppose Dedge's release even if it was found that he was innocent. I encourage all of you to see this film when it plays in Kendall Square on February 3, 2006. There will even be a Question and Answer portion with one of the film's creators and an exoneree, possibly Dennis Maher of nearby Lowell, MA. Thankfully, films like these are bringing to light the plight of these severely wronged individuals and exposing a deep and far-reaching problem in the U.S. judicial system that has yet to be adequately addressed.

In this day and age, far too many prosecutors seek convictions and headlines as oppose to justice. Concealing facts, encouraging false testimony, and forged evidence during the course of criminal proceedings occur far too often for one to not take a critical look at the judicial system in the U.S. Making convictions the primary motive for prosecutors is a problem in part due to the methods for promotion in District Attorney offices at numerous levels of government (i.e. municipal, county, state, federal, international). Prosecutors are in vigorous competition with each other for higher rank, higher pay, and higher influence. There is often intense public and governmental pressure to be "hard on crime" and not, necessarily, to be fair. Prosecutors who do not get convictions do not rise in the profession and may be seen as inferior legal experts; the expertise would of course be expertise in getting defendants under state control whether through the prison system, probation, a fine, or the like. True, a similar argument can be levied against defense attorneys that may often defend criminals they know are guilty. True, most criminal cases never reach trial and charges are either dismissed or their is a plea agreement. However, these government officials must be held to higher standards of decency and conduct due to the influence they have over a greater number of people's lives and their sworn duty to the public whether elected or appointed.

All of these occurrences are leading some politicians and legislators to take action. In 2003, then-Governor George Ryan of Illinois made history by commuting the death sentences of all 156 inmates on death row in the state. This historic move showed that some individuals at high levels of government are taking notice of the flaws in this deadly system and working to overhaul it. U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is pursuing federal legislation that will abolish the death penalty and bring about a moratorium on those sentences while encouraging states to do the same. Outgoing Governor Mark Warner of Virginia has even ordered DNA testing for a man who has alread been convicted AND EXECUTED for a crime there (what will happen if the test proves his innocence?). I am also personally proud that lawmakers in my home city of Trenton (state capital of New Jersey...therefore the home of the legislature) are also pursuing such a moratorium at the state level. Ten men in the state of New Jersey sit on death row across the street from my house at the New Jersey State Prison with their lives riding on the immense decisions that are made just a short drive away at the State Capitol building. These legislators have the possibility to do a great service and truly bring about positive change to New Jersey specifically and national society as a whole by stopping possibly innocent men from being murdered by state authorities. Until this is abhorrent situation is remedied, wrongly convicted individuals such as the recently executed Stanley "Tookie" Williams of California will never truly rest in peace.

Monday, January 16, 2006

quick note and lunchtime video

First, a quick note. I've updated the "ongoing discussions" column to the right for the first time in a while. It has any post that has been added to with a comment in the last day, so check out where people are still talking (or starting to). Read and share some thoughts, feelings and wisdom.

Today's video is the recent 60 Minutes piece on John Murtha and the debate over troop levels and presence in Iraq. They do an impressive job of matching the clips so that someone finally has a chance to respond with depth to Bush's superficial rhetoric. Whatever your take on the war, check it out. Video: wmv and quicktime.

"Suk Mai Cock Poultry Farm" - Is this funny to you?

Apparently the enormous backlash (read here, also) from Asian Americans in response to Abercrombie & Fitch's awful shirts intended to be marketed towards Asians (for example, one said: "Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White" and included images reminiscent of racist caricatures of Asians from the early 1900s) didn't make the message clear enough.

Spencer Gifts has come out with several images on shirts and hats that are not even within the realm of what Abercrombie did. To quote the online petition against this shocking ridiculousness:
"SUK MAI COCK POULTRY FARM" is an obvious mockery of the Chinese language and sophomoric jab at Asians and their supposed difficulty with English spelling and comprehension. The shirt featuring the likeness of Buddha, which reads "I MAY BE FAT BUT MY COCK IS HUGE," demonstrates blatant disrespect for a religious deity and the religion's followers ... Finally, the shirt that reads "HANG OUT WITH YOUR WANG OUT" features a caricature of a slanted-eyed, buck-toothed Chinese man wearing a queue and rice paddy hat and childishly holding his penis. This image is demeaning and painfully reminiscent of racist images in popular culture in the early 1900s. (more in expanded post)
There are times when being irreverent may be humourous. But there are also lines that cannot be crossed, especially in a country where multiculturalism is everywhere. While I can see how conceivably someone would have considered one of those Abercrombie shirts to be appealing to Asian Americans...kind of...this is an entirely different bag of chips. I cannot think of anyone, except for those who truly find racism funny, who would buy such things. Spencer Gifts is doing a serious disservice to all Asian Americans and by extension minorities in perpetuating the idea that racism is humorous and acceptable.

Please sign the petition. Racism comes in many forms, and whether or not you are part of the group that is being targeted does not preclude you from supporting those wronged and speaking out for what is right.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

the debate continues...

In December, Virginia A. Fisher wrote an opinion piece entitled "Fie, Feminism," which criticized the existence of women's groups. As someone who is deeply concerned with women's issues and how women exist on campus, I was troubled by what Fisher wrote. While I see her point--from her experience, women are sufficently integrated into society that making ourselves into a victimized "special-interest" group may be counterproductive--she ignores the fact that we operate in a male-dominated society. Yes, there are male gender roles too, and they may be strictly defined, but they also often encompass the positions of greatest power. And a chemist who is a woman is not just a scientist but a woman in science in no way undermines her achievements, but highlights them with the greater distinction of being at the forefront of change. Women's groups are important because they draw attention to and underscore what may be wrong in the things we are used to. What society is used to seeing is ties in the boardroom, skirts behind phones, and while we may enjoy a different atmosphere of extra-PC-ness and general equality here in the Harvard bubble, the "real world" is very different. (more in extended post)

On Thursday, I was gratified to see a response to Fisher's article from Margaret H. Martin, '94, someone whose views are free of the veil of post-adolescence idealism that we here are subject to:
I hope Fisher keeps a copy of this article to read 10 years from now, when she may be struggling with the ongoing problems of balancing caregiving responsibilities with workplace responsibilities. If women’s special interest lobbying will result in real changes that make workplaces more tolerant of caregiving (either caring for children or for aging parents) and caregivers, then I am all for it. And so are my husband and my two kids. And so will be the many people who don’t want to make a heart-wrenching either-or choice between work that they love and families that they love.
Being a woman can be a very defining aspect in one's identity. While it should not define us as people, it is naive to pretend that it doesn't affect the way we exist in society. Women's groups may single that point out, and sometimes things may go a little farther than necessary, but everyone will continue to ignore the pink elephant problem until somebody points it out. Or makes a group about it.

MLK Day

This Monday is the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (the man went through A LOT of schooling...give him his titles!) and for all of you who didn't know that, shame on you and your unfortunate descendants. Anyway, I'd like to let you know of a few things that you can do on that day besides sleeping in or taking final exams if you have the time and interest. Take a look in the expanded post about stuff going down on campus, in Cambridge, and beyond and get involved in service or just hear about others expressing the importance of the day, building community, or all that other stuff. Almost all are FREE and if you know more please share! Just click on each link for more info or directions if necessary (or ask for them in the Comment section). Always remember:

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."
- MLK

(more in expanded post)

Martin Luther King Day Celebration
The Memorial Church
Monday, January 16, 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Keynote Speaker: Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing
"The Nightmare and the Dream: Domestic Terrorism and Ending Racism in America"

City of Cambridge Peace Commission - Stand-In For Peace
Cambridge City Hall/YWCA
Monday, January 16, 1:30 - 5 p.m.
"Hear the words of Martin Luther King and a multi-media presentation of conscious lyrics, hip-hop, poetry and spoken word from a variety of Cambridge area artists."

City of Boston 23rd Annual Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1) Wang Theatre
Sunday, January 15, 7 pm
A Gift of Song will feature performer, songwriter and vocalist Patti Austin with jazz recording artist Andre Ward. The program will take place at the Wang Theatre on January 15th at 7:00 PM. *This program is free but ticketing is required due to limited seating. If you would like to attend, please call (617) 635-4445.
2) Fanueil Hall
Monday, January 16, 12 pm
The City of Boston's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Speaking Program will feature civil rights legend, the Dr. Joseph Lowry at Faneuil Hall at 12:00 PM. *This program is free

Boston's Children's Chorus
Raising the Roof - Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. in Song
New England Conservatory of Music, Jordan Hall
Monday, January 16, 6:30 pm
Big concert with special guests the Chicago Children's Choir and the Young People's Chorus of New York City. The kids from the BCC are all ridiculously small, cute, and energetic...not to mention TALENTED! I went last year with PBHA and helped out as an usher. From the very first note your jaw WILL drop. They make our Glee Clubs and most other singing groups sound like putting stones in a CD disc changer. Huge, great, attend if possible or watch it on TV (Channel 5 from 7-8 pm)!

Boston University - A Movement Beyond Borders
A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Metcalf Hall, George Sherman Union, BU
Monday, January 16, 1 pm
American Civil Rights and the Struggle For Global Human Rights. Keynote Address by Nobel Peace Prize Laurete John Hume. Also available via webcast so visit the site!

Boston College - Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
McElroy Conference Room/St.Joseph's Chapel, Gonzaga Hall
Tuesday, January 24, 3:30 pm
Featuring a talk by Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, the MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at Colby College; followed by a Memorial Ecumenical Worship Service with performances by Voices of Imani and Against the Current. Sponsored by Campus Ministry.

Museum of Fine Arts - Martin Luther King Day Community Open House

Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)
Monday, January 16, ALL DAY
The Museum opens its doors on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with free general admission for all! Join us for a fun-filled day of art activities, music and dance inspired by West African Gold: Akan Regalia from the Glassell Collection. View the documentary A Great Tree Has Fallen which chronicles the elaborate transfer of Ghanaian kingship from an aged and revered leader to his young successor.

Boston Children's Museum - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration

Boston Children's Museum
Monday, January 16, 11 am - 4 pm
Celebrate a "day on" not a "day off" with activities and songs from the civil rights movement. The day will include workshops on non-violence and its significance, biographies on historical figures who have made a difference in the world, creation of buttons and artwork that send positive and inspirational message to others and role-play activities.

Museum of Afro-American History - Greater Boston Symphony Youth Orchestra
A Family Concert in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, January 16, 3 pm
Enjoy the music inspired by the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King as performed by the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra's Intensive Community Program. Hear the speeches written and spoken by Dr. King as spoken by those who embody the vision mission and spirit of diversity Dr. King espoused. All of this in the location where the phrase "No taxation without representation" was first coined!

Friday, January 13, 2006

To The Left! To The Left!

According to this Washington Times article Venezuela may be emerging as the leader of a "Bank of the South" and working to provide an alternative or escape for South America to the IMF's highly string-attached loans. Venezuela has already bailed Argentina out of its loan crisis and future efforts may be made for other such nations. Multi-billion dollar no strings attached loans? Is this (gasp) THE RICH(ER) HELPING THE POOR(ER)?!?

NO! Funnily enough, Argentina is actually a much wealthier nation than Venezuela. Why and how do such things happen? Economically saavy people, please help.

remember the Gulf Coast!

I know I'm posting a lot of videos these days (it's easier than writing long pieces on the state of American democracy that no one has time to read or respond to, ahem), but this one is important. NBC did a great piece on President Bush's trip to the region (in which he lectured local leaders: "It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to come to visit" and told them "it's a heck of a place") and the process of rebuilding as it applies to class. Yes, that's right, the issue of CLASS being dealt with seriously on national television. Watch it, and don't forget the Gulf Coast!

VIDEO: wmp and quicktime.

a question of school work

Ignorant of yet increasingly interested in the politics of education, I'm more intrigued than ever after reading this conversation published in today's Washington Post. In it, education columnist Jay Mathews and reader -slash- high-school program coordinator Chris Peters argue over the merits of vocational education in secondary schools. The debate touches on, among other points, the risk of vocational ed becoming a "dumping ground" for minority students due to racist counseling; the hypothetical role and actual effectiveness of community colleges (at least in California); and potential elitism in mandating college prep curricula. I don't know whose arguments I agree with more, but most of the issues they address certainly resonate with my high school experience: I went to a large, ethnically and socio-economically diverse public school in California, and my school had majorly unsettling segregation of (mostly-minority) regular students and (mostly white and east-asian-american) advanced-placement kids.

Sorry I don't have time to pull some of the most interesting quotes from the column (2 papers and an exam due tomorrow), but if you have a couple of minutes, I just wanted to share. Thoughts?

lunchtime video!

It's Friday and I'm taking the weekend off, so today will actually be lunchtime videos. But first, an article appetizer. The most emailed story on YahooNews right now has this headline: Colbert: AP the Biggest Threat to America. Read the story. My favorite line:
"It's like Shakespeare still being alive and not asking him what `Hamlet' is about," he said.
To celebrate Colbert's campaign against the AssociateD Press, I've compiled a few Colbert classics from his days on the Daily Show.

Today's video: Colbert cracks up when trying to report on a royal scandal "from London."

Tomorrow's video: Jon Stewart interviews "Al Sharpton" who looks strangely thin, white and Colbert-esque.

Sunday's video: In "Even Stevphen", Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert debate Islam v. Christianity and agree!

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

goings on: ghost like swayze

Alright, a quick goings on so I can disappear for 24 hours and finish my three papers due tomorrow (don't worry, Mom and Dad, I'm on top of things...).

In terms of ongoing discussions, Chimaobi is still in dialogue about Katrina over at the "Continued Significance of Race" thread. Meanwhile, I've tried to piggy back off of that thread to start another related conversation. Maybe it's a little long, but I think it's a dialogue worth having so let me know what you think: "the continued significance of democracy." Finally, make sure you read Katie's post on Adam Smith and the science of empathy, it's good stuff.

Hope your week isn't as crazy as mine, enjoy!

Alito in his own words

Definitely take 5 minutes and read the NYT's editorial today about why, despite the apparent lack of fireworks in the questioning and the melodramatic media narrative surrounding personalities that has been taken up by TV to make up for that, there are serious reasons to be concerned about Samuel Alito being on the Supreme Court.

lunchtime video!

The Daily Show is always a safe bet for good video, and this is Stewart as his best.
Last night's headlines: wmp, quicktime and flash.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

hilarious.

Some times everything just comes together! In case you've been too busy (you know, doing your work, to follow the Alito Supreme Court hearings), Senator Kennedy has been attacking Alito because he was apparently (maybe) a member of a conservative organization called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton that argued that "the Ivy League university had lowered its admission standards to accept women and minorities." In response, conservative operatives are apparently pushing (via Drudge) a story that will be in the Washington Times tomorrow about Senator Kennedy's membership in one all-male institution while he was at Harvard. Wait for it, the Owl Club!

Better yet, Drudge (and apparently Senator Kennedy's spokeswoman), don't even have their facts straight: "The Owl refused to admit women until it was forced to do so during the 1980s, according to records kept by the HARVARD CRIMSON, the student newspaper. [...] Anyway, she (Kennedy's spokeswoman] said, even though women were admitted to the university during Mr. Kennedy's tenure, they weren't fully integrated to the campus until much later."

They're fully integrated now?

the continued significance of democracy

Do you ever have times when conversations seem to follow you around? It may simply be the intense political times were in, the global conversation about democracy highlighted by our apparent attempt to nation-build Iraq, the whole Abramoff/Delay thing... It probably has something to do with where I'm situated in my intellectual/political/career development. In any event, I don't seem to be able to go half a day without having the big conversation: what is the state of democracy in America?

Even though it's an obvious starting point to anyone's approach to government, as a full conversation it doesn't seem to make itself into the public square all that much. It's funny that that's true because, as was evident from the comments on Chimaobi's recent post "The Continued Significance of Race", the discussion gets to the most basic question of how radical or status quo a person's approach to politics is (regardless of underlying ideology). Those who have less faith in our democracy are likely to move to means outside the system, while those who have ultimate faith will likely desire to become a part of it. It may be that it doesn't happen because after people have made those decisions they don't usually stay in dialogue (they become de facto opponents; a problem in its own right), but that's not true for us. As we decide (or try to decide, or begin to decide) what to do with ourselves for the rest of our lives, we're in a unique position to have an honest discussion that, to me at least, feels urgent. And we haven't yet gone our seperate ways (geographically speaking anyway). So let's get to it!(more in expanded post)

The debate on Chimaobi's post is a perfect starting point. In questioning his analysis of race in the context of Governor Schwarzenegger's responsibility for the death of Tookie Williams, one reader wrote
Jersey, the only way in which your argument makes sense is if you believe that "the state" has absolutely nothing to do with "the people." Obviously, the democratic process is far from perfect and must continually struggle to rid itself from the influence of power, corruption, money, etc., but it still has something to do with the will of the people. [...]

You can hate the will of the people all you want, but acting as if state-sanctioned murder is not also people-sanctioned murder is to completely discount the concept of democracy. The state was not protecting itself from Tookie Williams, the people believed themselves to be protecting themselves (as misguided as that impression surely is).
Chimaobi responded
Giving "the people" the right to vote without open access to informational resources is like giving a baby a high-end laptop. It's a great device--in theory--but what can the user do with it except mess it up? Without the proper background in how to use said device and a grasp of the implications of using it in one way versus another, the device is used recklessly... there are strong media forces that work in collusion with the government at numerous levels blocking the public's access to particular information (http://www.tvnewslies.org/html/bush_lies.html). There is a huge discrepancy between the information that the state has versus the information that the people have. Bush's ongoing wiretaps, the revelations in his ranks of undercover CIA agents, and the Patriot Act attest to this (and don't give me that it's in the "national interest" stuff--yeah...so is a ban on assault rifles). When information is tailored in this way a better word for it is propaganda. An informed population is a population ready to elect leaders.
Another reader, Paloma, then wrote
"Giving "the people" the right to vote without open access to informational resources is like giving a baby a high-end laptop. It's a great device--in theory--but what can the user do with it except mess it up?"

This is quite galling-- it sounds like you're saying people are too dumb to vote. I'd wager that's not what you mean. I'd wager what you actually mean is that people who don't agree with you are too dumb to vote.
Alright, a few thoughts. The first thing I would note is the irony of Paloma's response to Chimaobi's argument. It's funny to me that in a conversation that is fundamentally about the quality of our discourse someone would try to win a debate with such a simplistic, rhetorical and inaccurate straw man. As you can see if you actually read what Chimaobi wrote, if you step beyond that one-sentence quote he wasn't placing the blame on "the people" for being dumb, but rather on the powerful for not popularizing enough real information to make their decisions informed enough to mean anything. I wouldn't go as far in my analysis as Chimaobi does, I still have some faith, but I think we should at least start with an actual discussion about the realities of our country rather than falling back on platitudes and accusations (I'm sure this is somewhat hypocritical, but I'm trying and if I do that yell at me!).

I think the depth of information and education in this country is shallow enough to raise serious questions about the quality of our democracy and call for a serious discussion of it. First of all, you can't deny that there is an elite class of consultant, political operatives and media pundits whose job it is to manipulate information in a way that is advantageous to their causes. If you simply consider the norms of politico debate (see GOP-Open today), arguments often focus around the tactics of manipulation in politics that will convince parts of the electorate to focus more or less on certain issues so that different parties can win elections. It's a matter of those of higher education and training using superior information (polling, marketing, advertising) to move people to vote and think differently. Some call this persuasion, but when it comes to something like Bill Clinton advocating for school uniforms or President Bush going around the country to sell a Social Security plan based on what were simply false statistics, it's not an issue of changing people's minds so much as distracting them or lying to them (or both). The extent to which people don't have good enough information about the importance of issues (school uniforms imposed by Fed Gov't: not particularly important compared to, say, nuclear proliferation) or about the reliability of the facts (when is social security going bankrupt? according to who's #s?), the ideological persuasion having to do with whether or not students should wear uniforms or social security should be privatized (or semi-privatized, or whatever) is beside the point.

In addition, when information is so highly influenced by money (who can afford ad campaigns, etc.), it's hard to act as if citizens are getting the information they need to assess any of this in the first place. If you were to argue that political consultants, pollsters and advertisers (along with politicians and members of the media) are simply those who constitute the public square, you would have to believe that that public square is one in which everyone's voices are heard equally and therefore the winner of a political debate has simply made the best argument or had the most inherent support in the people. This idea, that political actors come from places of equal voice and opportunity to have their say and make their case, is so inaccurate as to be laughable.

Now, I think Paloma's right that it would be dangerous to say that this means that voters are dumb, but I don't think that's what Chimaobi was saying and it's not what I am saying. I believe voters are still very able to make intelligent decisions in which they see through rhetoric and the propaganda machines on both sides and consider their own values and vote. But they aren't always given that opportunity, because there isn't always enough information to see through the propaganda. When I think that has been done, even if I disagree with the decision, that's democracy and I accept it. What I think happens, though, is that whoever loses points out the errors of the system and the ways in which this hugely problematic aspect of our democracy gets in the way of that ideal process and the winners, unwilling to believe that their victory is in any way illegitimate, defend the system. Until, of course, the next time they lose at which point they'll see the flaws and the other side will defend the system.

Quite frankly, the problem is that there aren't enough people who are intellectually honest enough to assess the system regardless of their partisanship and weigh the health of our democracy. What do you think? Are you? Hell, am I?