Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Blogging for Bilingualism

I thought this might also amuse someone else. I was perusing the different Help sections for Blogger, the site that supports my little blog here. One of the Help topics, which was clearly targeted at teenagers, gave ideas on how to cope if your parents read your blog and thereby become privy to your innermost thoughts and desires, those you would only want to share with an anonymous reading public presumably. One suggestion for preventing such a mishap was "Go Multi-lingual":
Put those high school language classes to good use - obscure your true self from your Mom. Blogging is widely known to raise I.Q., so think what it could do for your as-yet-unexercised language skills.

As someone who is working on making a profession out of languages and foreign language study in particular, this is one of the best marketing ploys I have heard yet. Why learn a foreign language? For college? That isn't even a requirement in many universities these days. For international travel? Don't they all speak English anyway? Business? Likewise. To gain a greater understanding of the world and its many cultures? Whatever. We have cable. But to keep things from your parents. That appeals.

Oh, and did anyone else realize that blogging raises your I.Q.?
See, I am not procrastinating my dissertation. I am flexing my mind so that I may become more intelligent and work even faster. A mental warm-up, if you will.

Luckily I am too old to hide my blog from my parents. Blogging and in a foreign language would probably push my brain capacity to its limits.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

We, the corporations, of the United States of America

I had a discussion with my partner, Ben, two days ago about the documentary The Corporation, which I had seen in the theater awhile back. [The film is definitely worth seeing by the way if you haven’t already. It is slightly disorganized at times and definitely programmatic, but still does a really nice job of explaining problems posed by big business and multinationals, while presenting a variety of different voices on the subject.] Our point of contention was whether or not corporations should be legally treated as persons and thereby enjoy all of the same rights and liberties as an individual citizen, or whether they should be legislated differently. The beginning of The Corporation traces this conceptual move from the corporation as a group of collaborating individuals to individuals in and of themselves. In 1968, just three years after slavery was abolished in the US, the 14th amendment was introduced, which stated (in part): Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Up until this time corporations had been rising in size and power, but because they were chartered by state legislatures and thus government creations, they were still limited by their accountability to the people. Before the civil war corporations were often required to do public services such as building a road or a bridge in order to gain the privileges enjoyed by corporate share-holding. In order to increase their powers, corporations needed to shift from the government duties side of the legislation to the citizens side of individual rights. This was accomplished using the 14th amendment. Almost immediately following the establishment of the new amendment, corporate trial lawyers began to argue that corporations should also be given the same rights as persons under the law. The landmark decision in this discussion came with the 1886 case Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific Railroad, in which it was declared that… The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Although the case itself was not about corporate personhood, this decision set a precedent and corporate personhood became the accepted legal doctrine. [A great discussion of all of this can be found in the article “Abolish Corporate Personhood" by Jan Edwards and Molly Morgan.]
One of the major problems with legally conceiving of the corporation as an individual (and this is the argument at the base of the documentary) is that corporations are not punishable in the same way that an individual is. You can punish individuals within the corporation, but those individuals are expendable. Like profit-driven hydras, they sprout new heads, and even new hands and feet and carry on.
As legal individuals corporations have been able to escape surprise inspections by government organizations such as OSHA and EPA based on the 4th amendment protection against search without a warrant. They have been granted the same political rights as individuals including the ability to lobby and make campaign contributions. Concerns about the hijacking of presidential elections through technological means seem less dire, when we consider that all elections are effectively run by whoever is contributing the most money and which candidates are being bought positive media coverage.
The modern development of corporate power takes the question of rights beyond the scope of state or national authority. With the growth of multinational organizations such as the WTO, the jurisdiction of corporations has been taken from the hands of democratically elected governments and a global rule by the wealthy elite is being formed. As Ralph Nader has argued (back before the ego-weirdness of the last election): Concentrating power in distant international organizations tends to remove critical decisions from citizen control. You can talk to your city council representative but not to some faceless international trade bureaucrat at the WTO in Geneva.

In many cases the WTO has managed to override national law, for example they have declared it illegal for a country to ban a product for non-commercial values such as matters of human rights and the political affiliation of a given company. Such multinational bodies aim at increasing world-wide inequality by exploiting free trade to use less developed countries as sources of cheap labor and relaxed environmental policies.

On the topic of inequality within the US, the New York Times started a series of articles this month on the issue of class in America. One of the finds is a trend towards decreasing social mobility in recent years. The myth of the American Dream where anyone and everyone can work hard and move ahead seems to be more dream than reality anymore. In fact, the United States does not seem to have significantly more social mobility than Europe as a whole and in fact has less than the Scandinavian countries. (A part of the world that pays enormous taxes in order to enjoy the benefits of socialization.) Yet, with every coporate tax break we are told that it will be good for the economy and will increase wealth.

We can only hope that Americans will some day surrender the myth that more big business means more economic growth for nations as a whole and we will start finding solutions for international human rights, rather than just corporate rights.

Okay, I am down off my soap box now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"This is how democracy ends, not with a bomb, but with a gavel"

So, I no longer have access to the American news media except via the net, so I cannot say what they are and are not covering. But I can make wild guesses:
1) Michael Jackson verdict
2) Kylie Minogue beating breast cancer
3) police search for (white, female) kidnap victim

But they probably weren't covering the hearing on the Patriot Act held by democrats from the House Judiciary Committee last Friday (I am a couple of days off, because I was out of town), which was abruptly, unilaterally and in opposition to House rules shut down by the Republican Chairman, James Sensenbrenner.

Invoking a rarely used Congressional rule which allows minority members to hold an extra day of hearings and to choose witness if they feel that the those brought forth by the majority party have been unduly biased, the democrats organized Friday's hearings to hear testimony from new witnesses from groups such as Amnesty International USA and the American Immigration Lawyers Association that have questioned the constitutionality of some aspects of the act.

Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the Patriot Act, shut off the microphones in the middle of the hearing, declaring that much of the testimony - especially that related to the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay - was irrelevant to the Act.

Representative Jerold Nadler (D-NY) protested as his mirciphone went off saying "We are not besmirching the honor of the United States, we are trying to uphold it."

After the mircophones had been shut off, Sensenbrenner stormed from the room quckly gaveling the meeting to a close.

James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, expressed dismay immediately after Sensenbrenner had left:
I just saw something...totally inappropriate. No mic on and no record being kept. But I think as we are lecturing foreign governments about the conduct of their behavior with regard to opposition -- when I see the behavior I saw here today as an American -- I'm really troubled about what kind of lesson this is going to teach to other countries in the world about how they ought to conduct an open society that allows for an opposition with rights. I'm sorry, I'm very offended." [applause in the room]

Since Friday Nadler (D-NY) has introduced a privileged resolution in the House which seeks to rebuke House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) for abusing his power.

More coverage of this story can be found at the following sites: Newsmax.com, Guardian, Perspectives.com, Washington Post,Bradblog.com and radio host Randi Rhodes has a special web site with audio and video clips and compiled articles.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Inside the Panopticon

As you probably know, President Bush is currently calling on Congress to reauthorize 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of this year.

The Patriot Act is a blatant affront on civil liberties as the selectively edited excerpt from the Constitution demonstrates...
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted...

The biggest concerns about the new act invovle the expanded powers of the FBI to subpoena
records without the approval of a judge or grand jury and without exhibiting any evidence that the person is actually involved in any type of terrorist activity. Although the law limits the kind of information subject to this authority, the judgment as to whether the legal standard has been met is entirely that of the FBI official — no judge is ever involved. The recipient of a request for is required to comply, is bound to secrecy, and has no clear recourse to any court.

California senator Diane Feinstein and others have said that although the argument for using such subpoenas in terrorism investigations sounded reasonable -- they're already used in criminal and regulatory cases -- the secret, open-ended nature of intelligence work was very different.

What's more the senate discussions of the proposed provisions are being held behind closed doors, away from the watchful eyes of voting citizens and civil liberties groups.

This type of clandestine information gathering without just cause conjures up the Michel Fouault's image of the Panopticon, the ideal prison suggested by
by Jeremy Bentham at the end of the eighteenth century. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The Panopticon thus allows seeing without being seen. This assemtry of knowledge is for Foucault the very essence of power.. "[T]he external power may throw off its weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects; it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance."

Anti-Gay Phone Company

You have to check this out. This is an actual phone company. The conversations are recorded by Eugene Mirman, a New York based comedian.

Here is some of the transcript:
Operator: Did you press 1 to oppose same sex marriages?
Mr. Mirman: Oh, I pressed it, yes.
Operator: Okay, that's great to hear. And are you against same sex marriages?
Mr. Mirman: Well, I want to destroy it, yes.
Operator: Okay. That's great to hear... -
Mr. Mirman: Like the fist of God we will smash them!
Operator: Exactly.
You can hear the taped phone calls here.

Sir, yes sir, Supersize me, sir

I'm not sure if this letter from a soldier stationed in Iraq is real. I found it on rudepundit.com:
"With everything going on around here, I totally forgot to email everyone and tell you I was ok. My bad. We got hit twice in the past few days. One hit near the PX and hurt some people and another hit a gym (not mine) and hurt some people too. A couple have died also. It's just a part of the job and its something that we all know can happen at any time. It really doesn't bother you too much. Everyone keeps the thought in the back of their mind. We just accept it and go about our daily routine. But...on a lighter note...Popeye's opened up this week. It's not as good as back home but it's a change. We are suppose to get a Taco Bell too. We just don't know when. If we do, a lot of people around here are going to gain some serious weight. Well, other than that, things have been the same. Just kind of watching the days pass and trying to stay cool. Its going to be 115 this week. Thank God, we haven't had any heat casualties."
But Burger King is definitely providing comfort food for soldiers in Iraq.
Well, now we know democracy has won.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A comment on the media

It's funny cuz it's true. Of course, that is why it is scary too.

No really, I'm Canadian

I have been moving, then traveling, then de-jetlagging so I have been a little out of the news loop, but I haven't missed the confirmation from the Pentagon that Koran abuse did indeed occur. This follows just three weeks after the White House dared to slam Newsweek for publishing such an allegation. Oh dear, how embarassing.

I have also managed not to miss the fallout after the release of the Downing Street minutes. This has been seriously under-reported in much of the American mainstream media, but you can check it out here and if you outraged by the deceit of our "elected" officials, you can sign the petition for acountability on the web site of John Conyers Jr., a Democratic senator from Detroit.

The main thrust can be summed up with this quote:
It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

The memo seems to support what many us us have suspected since the first talk of invading Iraq: there was no immediate threat; intelligence was being mainpulated; Bush and company had plans to invade Iraq long before September 11.

I had a long conversation the other day with my dissertation advisor, a politically outspoken applied linguist orginally from France, specializing in German, and living more than 30 years in the U.S. Regarding my approaching travels abroad, she posed the question, "How do you explain the U.S. to people when you are in Europe?" When pushed for clarification, she elaborated, "What kinds of principles do you ascribe to Americans?" I told her about my last stay in Germany, which followed immediately the Monica Lewinsky scandel and Clinton's call for impeachment. I had a twofold strategy in discussions concerning U.S. policy and American politics: first, I would distance myself ("Well, my views really aren't in line with the majority of Americans."); then I would try to take the role of expert informant ("What you don't understand about people in the U.S. is..."). I often tried to explain the size of the country and the nuances of American politics, which was missed in the foreign presss. I also emphasized America's isolated position relative to much of the world. Most Americans are more concerned with feeding their families than tuning in to world news, I would argue. They don't know that they are uninformed. The media doesn't show it, so people don't know to look for it. It's a vicious cycle. Although I agreed with my interlocutors' critiques of U.S. politics, I felt driven to expand their view of American people. Ignorant? Yes. But not bad all around.

Following the 2004 elections I am less able to makes excuses for my countrymen. All of the discussions around the Iraq war. The loss of the sympathies from around the world that poured in after the bombing of the World Trade Center lost in the you're-with-us-or-against-us rhetoric of the Bush administration. All of the public outcries against the war as it became more and more clear that WMDs were nowhere to be found. And still Bush takes the vote.

Even as more and more evidence surfaces that the bad judgements of this administration were not incompetence, but blatant lies and manipulations, many people remain complacent and the government yet to be held acocuntable for its many crimes against victims of war, the people of America and the world.

I am starting to think the little passport cover my sister gave me for my birthday this year which converts my blue and gold booklet into an inocuous aqua-marine, may be the most useful item in my travel bag.