Europe: Amazing and Disturbing

One of the miracles of Europe is the amazing way communication is made possible among users of different languages in the European Parliament. While I do critique some of the outcomes of the transmission model of interpreting, particularly how the success of simultaneous interpretation generates the illusion of speaking in one shared language (which means erasing the differences of separate and unique languages and the worldviews they inspire), the fact that the system works is testimony to what humans can achieve with intercultural cooperation.

“Disturbing and Amazing”

Marsi’s words describe the effect of exhibits at the Museum of Young Art in Prague. Many of the works depict violence: relentless, remorseless, pervasive, and essentially without purpose. In retrospect, the small shock of David Cerny’s “Guns” became prelude to an increasing turmoil of viscera.

The rainbow ghouls in this painting, "Object III" by Jiri Petrbok, depict the irony of celebrating destruction.
The rainbow ghouls in this painting, "Object III" by Jiri Petrbok, depict the irony of celebrating destruction.

The horror of these exhibits was a rude intrusion into our twenty hours of reunion. Delicious food and delightful conversation affirmed the solid bedrock of unquestioned friendship. Our joy in play was a dreamy reprieve from the backdrop of ruthless reality.

Language Policy? “It’s a trick.”

My return to Belgium is fraught with contradictions. I have friends here who belong distinctly to different classes: the disparity of their experiences is distressing. The evidence of an interaction taboo moves from the theoretical realm of European Union language policy to practical lived experience. Fluency in Nederlands (for instance) is used as a bulwark to prevent immigrants from getting a legitimate job within the European Union’s economy – a job that qualifies for government benefits.  Hiring and paying workers “in black” is talked about as openly and casually as slavery in the antebellum south of the United States. The implications may be muted in genteel company but the structure is hierarchically racist. Notice the linguistic marking: no one names “the white economy” as the given standard. I understand better, now, the range of reactions to my poster, Beyond Homolingualism, which depicts two different systems of simultaneous interpretation.

Some of the participants at the EU’s Committee of Region’s conference on the European Public Sphere (mostly academics), were intrigued and asked many questions about my poster. A few also expressed feeling unease and discomfort, admitting that the implications to language policy and sociocultural life are unsettling. In one case, an argument lead to the accusation that I clearly had no concept of poverty – because, if I did, it would be patently obvious to me why all immigrants must learn the official EU language of their country of residence in order to work. Of course I understand this logic: not only a logic of language hierarchy and power, it stems from a simple human desire to “speak the same language” for purposes of connection and understanding. While both systems of simultaneous interpretation work functionally in their respective settings, there are – in my view – unintended consequences of the European Parliament’s model that warrant consideration.

Courage

Talking with those who “speak the same language” is comfortable and nurturing. Whether English, Hindi, American Sign Language, or a technical jargon common to a field of academic study or professional practice, excitement and entertainment are experienced more easily when the symbol system is already shared in common.

Albert Einstein's call for peace through understanding is a popular graffiti in Antwerp..
Albert Einstein's call for peace through understanding is a popular graffiti in Antwerp..

One of the miracles of Europe is the amazing way communication is made possible among users of different languages in the European Parliament. While I do critique some of the outcomes of the transmission model of interpreting, particularly how the success of simultaneous interpretation generates the illusion of speaking in one shared language (which means erasing the differences of separate and unique languages and the worldviews they inspire), the fact that the system works is testimony to what humans can achieve with intercultural cooperation.

Now, if language policy makers in the European Union and elsewhere could take some lessons from professional community interpreting (particularly as modeled with Deaf people), this would allow members of minority language groups to leverage their difference into the political-economic systems, with terrific gains in democracy and life chances. My hypothesis is that the institutionalization of live language interpreting could generate a field of equality by protecting diversity and promoting systemic resilience.

Occupying the Crisis of Whiteness

The distinctions between being a white American and the institutional structures of whiteness are important. First, the structures of whiteness are ‘in’ Americans of all ethnicities to some degree, even if only by necessity in order to survive (let alone do well) in today’s hyperdrive commercial/consumer-based society. Second: to understand the difference between the genetic-social fact of being white and the institutional structures of whiteness is to realize that the issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement are not about white Americans trying to get over or above anybody else. Instead, this could be the historical moment when middle-class white Americans begin to demonstrate a widespread cultural awareness that whiteness – both the personal sense of superiority, and as institutionalized in ‘the rules’ – is not fair to anyone.

Zuccotti Park is now complete.

Democracy and Public Policy

“The more a source thinks like you, acts like you and looks like you, the more trusting you are, the more willing you are to accept the story you’re told.”

~ Jones (2010)

Kimmie, involved in making the acclaimed film <em>Precious</em>, came to OWS the first chance she could.
Like me, Kimmie - who was involved in making the acclaimed film Precious - came to OWS the first chance she could.

Michael R Jones is studying public policy narratives. He and his colleagues are not documenting discrimination or prejudice; they are validating common features of human behavior using quantitative scientific methods. As I think about why the Occupy movement is happening now and whether it will be able to sustain itself long enough to have effects on economic policy, one of the background, subjective elements has to involve addressing whiteness.

Saturday, I laughed with a few people I met who also found it amusing but undaunting that our first visit to Zuccotti Park coincided with snowtober. I was impressed by the gritty people (of varied ethnicities but mostly white) who gutted through the freezing wet slush of “the snowpocalypse” – thereby crossing an important hurdle for the movement overall.

That’s whiteness, not being white!

The distinctions between being a white American and the institutional structures of whiteness are important. First, the structures of whiteness are ‘in’ Americans of all ethnicities to some degree, even if only by necessity in order to survive (let alone do well) in today’s hyperdrive commercial/consumer-based society. Second: to understand the difference between the genetic-social fact of being white and the institutional structures of whiteness is to realize that the issues raised by the Occupy movement are not about white Americans trying to get over or above anybody else. Instead, this could be the historical moment when middle-class white Americans begin to demonstrate a widespread cultural awareness that whiteness  – both the personal sense of superiority, and as institutionalized in ‘the rules’ – is not fair to anyone.

Economics and History

"The sign refers to the fact that the banks, underwriters, mortgage salespeople at every point in the chain of origination knew that the deals they were doing we're likely to fail....there may not be a very sophisticated understanding of that but people know who fucked em." ~ a friend
"The sign refers to the fact that the banks, underwriters, mortgage salespeople at every point in the chain of origination knew that the deals they were doing were likely to fail....there may not be a very sophisticated understanding of that but people know who f*cked em." ~ a friend on US/domestic macroeconomics

“The guts to lose a lot of money
carries its own aura.”

~ Derman

Emanual Derman wrote about working at Goldman Sachs from 1985 into the late ’90s. “The capacity to wreak havoc with your [financial] models provides the ultimate respectability” (2004, p. 13).  Derman was simply describing the attitude of the biggest gamblers, but it could just as well have been a prediction.

Jay Smooth talks about the ringers who are now trying to justify authoritarian repression of the movement, describing their desperate attempts to distract attention. His analysis came a week before Dahlia Lithwick made similar points about “the endless loop of media bafflement … and … walloping amount of willful cluelessness.” Among Lithwick’s points:

Revolution: American Style

FACT: The Top 1% "Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007" is hundreds of times more than everyone else. Chart from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Report
FACT: The Top 1% "Growth in Real After-Tax Income from 1979 to 2007" is hundreds of times more than everyone else. Chart from the Congressional Budget Office Director's Report (October 25th, 2011). NOTE: From WWII to the late seventies, people in each and every quintile moved ahead at roughly the same rate!

  1. Regulation of corporate interests is government’s most basic job.
  2. Progressive taxation is a necessary social good.
  3. Civil rights must translate into economic prosperity for everyone.

In A Letter to the Occupy Together Movement, Harsha Walia writes “we cannot under-estimate the difficult terrain ahead.”  The evidence is already plain. Caitlin Curran, photographed (above) with the sign explaining the financial sector’s bad faith, was fired from her job. NYC’s confiscation of generators occurred a day in advance of the snow storm, a selective application of law ostensibly for public safety. “Enough is enough,” the former mayor [Rudolph Giulani] said. “We can’t allow this to go on forever and ever. It sets a bad precedent … [and] diverts police resources from public safety.” Speaking of bad precedents, “Police fired pepper spray and used pepper-ball guns against demonstrators in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday.”

Jay Smooth, in his video about the ringers, talks about how the movement is both specific enough to express people’s concerns, and vague enough to allow many people to come together under a broad umbrella. Walia expands on this point:

“…Maybe this is how movements need to maintain themselves, by recognizing that political change is also fundamentally about everyday life and that everyday life needs to encompass all of this. There needs to be a space for a talent show across from anti-patriarchy meetings. There needs to be a food table, medics, and a library. Everyone needs to stop for a second and look around for someone’s phone. And that within all this we will keep talking about Troy Davis and how everyone is affected by a broken, racist, oppressive system. Maybe, maybe this is the way?”

Journalist Razvan Sibii, reporting for a Romanian national newspaper.
Journalist Razvan Sibii, reporting for a Romanian national newspaper, "Adevarul" (adevarul.ro).

The everyday must include learning in a very fundamental way. The percentage of young Americans completing college these days continues to drop, for reasons as serious as our economy is flawed. There are so many things that people just do not know, which both supports and complicates the many things that people do know – whether they have completed a college degree or not. Walia again:

“..this is what Occupy Wall Street is right now: less of a movement and more of a space. It is a space in which people who feel a similar frustration with the world as it is and as it has been are coming together and thinking about ways to recreate it. For some people this is the first time they have thought about how the world needs to be recreated. But some of us have been thinking about this for a while now. Does this mean that those of us who have been thinking about it for a while now should discredit this movement? No. It just means that there is a lot of learning going on down there.”

Scaling The Learning Curve

My favorite scene in Eight Mile is when Cheddar Bob seems to slip up before Rabbit’s rap battle against his main rival by asking isn’t Rabbit afraid of the awful things Papa Doc is going to say? Although Cheddar Bob is shushed by the rest of his friends, Rabbit takes inspiration and turns the apparent faux paux to winning strategy, saying every bad thing about himself to leave Papa Doc with an empty mouth.

Craig Schneider writes, “A movement born of anger over the gulf between the rich and the rest is only gradually attracting the very groups who have felt the brunt of economic inequality, both historically and as a result of the Great Recession.” I find it encouraging that such strong voices as Jay Smooth and Harsha Walia are doing their best to teach and guide, admonish and nourish, criticize and refuse to compromise. Regardless of what I think I know, I have to admit also how naive I still am.

For instance, how could I not have known, while growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the scope of brutal violence?  The recently released Swedish film, The Black Power Mixtape, reconfigured memories of my childhood. How could I have thought all that ugly stuff ended after King and the Kennedy brothers were killed?  Details of family life, my father’s job, and drifting undirected through elementary school composed the extent of my exposure to the larger world. It was the moment of desegregating the public schools in Denver, and I heard other kids’ awful rumors that the black kids who would soon be bussed in would be “coming with knives” – obviously something not okay was going on! But the threat remained in the realm of words other people said; I made friends across the color line and, while puzzled, never gave the ugly talk much thought.

Now, looking back, I recognize the mental and emotional cushioning as another lesson in white privilege. Admitting the scope of my ignorance is not pleasant, but it is necessary.

Resisting Reduction: Whiteness remains only one facet among many

Traditional policy analysis, rooted in market models and instrumental reason, fails to accurately capture the subjective nature of political reality (Deborah Stone, 2002, cited in Michael R Jones and Mark K McBeth’s 2010 public policy research introduced at the beginning of this entry). This subjective nature – differences of knowledge, experience, history, outlook, and viewpoint – is Occupy Wall Street. Confused media ringers are sidestepping and obscuring the simple narrative structure: a clear villain, a singular hero, and a victim who inspires empathy. The villain is clear:  government’s failure to regulate. What we are witnessing and participating in is a great democratic experiment: what happens when the hero and the victim are one and the same? The American people are rising together to confront and correct great wrongs done to the American people.

Dialogue Under Occupation IV

1-4 June, 2010
Dialogue Under Occupation IV
American University, Washington DC

Proposal:

You are invited to participate in an open conversation about the involvement of academics in political activity, specifically the academic boycott of Israeli universities. The facilitator takes no stance pro or con. The question of the roundtable regards the possibility of re-calibration in the Bakhtinian sense of orienting to a chronotope, of co-constructing through language use a timespace (in this instance) beyond the boycott. For the purposes of this roundtable, to dialogue is theorized as collectively changing the meanings of the past in order to collaboratively invoke new meanings for the future. An assumption is that the discourses that emerge during the roundtable will represent a reasonable microcosm of the overall cultural, macrosocial, and institutional dynamics. The roundtable is not intended to critique the fact of the boycott: the presence of the boycott is accepted as social reality. Instead, the intent will be to investigate conference participant wisdom about the aims of this instance of political activity, explore potential conditions for the emergence of dialogue, and imagine how involved parties can move ahead. The methodology of the roundtable will be to facilitate a conversation among participants with varying knowledge, diverse interests, and some degree of curiosity about the situation. With informed consent of those present, the conversation will be video-recorded in order for a transcription to be made and utilized in further analysis. Anonymity is guaranteed. Additionally, if a special case of communicative social interaction theorized as a Problematic Moment occurs, participants may be invited to participate in a follow-up activity to investigate the range of awareness and attention to this rare and powerful group-level event. A second level of informed consent will be sought if warranted. No special knowledge or criteria is required for participation.

going to Bogota for DUO III

Yep, it’s official.
I will co-present with two colleagues at Dialogue Under Occupation III in March.

Dialogue about Occupation:
an ideological analysis of DUO III discourse

In this presentation, we argue that the “discourse of resolution” offered by such a politically-charged conference as DUO should be conceived of as more than just the transmission of information from speakers to audiences. Indeed, as we turn our gaze inwards, we seek to analyze last year’s DUO II conference as not just an incredibly valuable “brainstorming session,” but also as a salient venue for the creation and management (through language use) of a structured, meaningful cultural and political world. To that end, we undertake a discourse analysis of a wealth of fascinating conversations emanating from DUO II, which we categorize as follows: 1) conference metadiscourse (i.e., talk about the language used in various DUO materials, released before, during, and after the conference), 2) purpose-related discourse (i.e., talk about the nature and feasibility of DUO’s goals), and 3) interpersonal discourse (i.e., communication between DUO II’s participants that continues to shape a highly heterogeneous “community”).

Speakers at previous DUO conferences have recognized that language is the premier system for expressing meaning in all human communities. This presentation takes that assertion one step further in arguing that language is also the premier locus of meaning-making. As such, “conferencing” is as much about the creation and management of “culture,” as it is about the transmission of concrete information. The conference-related communication, as well as the texts produced by the presenters themselves, are all instrumental to the acknowledgment, critique, and ideological prioritizing of personal and community-wide values, beliefs, norms, assumptions, and expectations. Believing with James Carey that “our attempts to construct, maintain, repair, and transform reality are publicly observable activities which occur in historical time,” we perform a qualitative discourse analysis of DUO II-related literature to assess the manner in which individuals associated with the conference make use (directly or indirectly) of this cultural function of communication. Finally, we suggest ways in which both past and present participants could take advantage of alternative models of communication.

Blogposts from DUO II at Al Quds University, East Jerusalem, West Bank, Palestine (November 2007)

Blogposts from DUO I at Northeastern Chicago University, Illinois, U.S. (November 2006)

released!

Yesterday will be remembered fondly by many. I received the wonderful news from Maria Claudia:

8:24 AM maria: alf was released

Today there are photos on Facebook. Joy in the morning! I would say Alf does not appear any worse for the wear, but no doubt changes have been etched into his character after nearly five months in captivity. Although I do not know him personally, choosing to care has constituted some of my own always-in-process character, too.
The kidnapping of Alf and his girlfriend, Ana, occurred just two weeks before the beginning of the spring semester. I wrote:

“Violence creeps closer, no matter how hard we try to keep it at bay, no matter how thickly we deny that it could happen to us or those we love.” (the bubble thins)

At the time, just two months back from visiting Israel and the West Bank, I imagined some parallels between FARC and Palestine, between the Colombian government and Israel. This view was refuted or met with silence: uncontinued. (Perhaps I could have remained more involved in the conversations that I did have access to?) I was not (and am still not) invested in proving such a claim, only in thinking through how violence gets perpetuated by unyielding stances on both/all sides. Uribe (for instance) is not without fault (no government is); and the people born into life with FARC are not essentially evil.

“…in the end it’s the Colombian political will — one, to make these steps, and two, pay for them — that has made this happen,” said … a [US] deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.”

That’s from a story in today’s NYTimes about the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages yesterday – a coincidence of timing reminiscent of Alf and Ana’s capture at nearly the same time as a massive global protest against FARC was being organized on Facebook. I spent some days working through a range of thoughts and emotions: grim realities & the force of spirit , weird twist of synchrony , and hyperempathy. Somewhere in the course of all that I decided to invite students to consider involvement.
They were (understandably) confused (!), however they rose to the occasion with a series of blog entries about deciding not to attend. Meanwhile, I read Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (News of Kidnapping), considering the long trip home,

“trying to imagine a way out for the millions of Colombians who only want to go about their daily lives, rather than being pawns in someone else’s brutal “game” for wealth and power.”

Perhaps it is apparent (but maybe not) that I consider average Colombians to be representative of average human beings – the great grand masses of us subject to the machinations of gargantuan social institutions and historical habit. What befalls them could confound us, too, and certainly is representative of occurrences and happenings to normal, typical folk in most countries around the globe. And there are, indeed, more organized and increasingly large protests developing: persistence will win the prize!
Ana was freed the first week of March. I mused then about coincidences of timing in-and-at the swirling center . In this situation – the random/chaotic juxtaposition of my friends, my passions, my ambitions – synchronicity abounds! I name (by choice, for the purposes of design) such events as centripetal dialogic force.
Yesterday’s headline, which I saw mere moments after reading Maria’s glorious announcement, read: Colombia Plucks Hostages From Rebels’ Grasp. I only know a few Colombians, but they have enhanced my life in a million ways. I agree with today’s NYTimes’ featured journalists, Simon Romero and Damien Cave,

“the Colombians
performed like stars.”

How NOT to end war

Israel and Palestine may be the world’s best example. News media repeats the fiction of “the Palestinians” as if Hamas and Fatah represent something in common. Hamas follows the breach of the Gaza Strip wall with Egypt with increased suicide bombings in Israel, and Israelis initiate attacks on Palestinian neighborhoods that are disturbingly like pogroms.
What happened to the peacemakers?
Where are those who know how to do dialogue?

Meanwhile, Navy Carrier Squadrons philosophize: “Move Along” –

when everything is wrong, we move along…
even when your hope is gone, move along move along just to make it through

and George W. Bush plays cheerleader:

Bush, who used his family connections to avoid Vietnam, told troops serving in Afghanistan on Thursday that he is “a little envious” of their adventure there, saying it was “in some ways romantic.”

Index: Dialogue under Occupation II (West Bank)

Thoughts in anticipation:

Index from the first DUO conference (Chicago)

December 19, 2006: Index: DUO

Dialogue: Violence

UMass will host an extraordinary event in early April: Landscapes of Violence. I approach it with two trajectories, one from the Dialogue under Occupation conferences (DUO 1 in Chicago, 2006; DUO 2 in the West Bank, 2007). The “dialogue” of the DUO conferences is still
“young” (as in, “new” for us in conversation with each other), but I remain hopeful that we academics and activists will be the ones to learn to talk soldiers and politicians toward other tactics. If not us, who?
I am not sure if this event in December, “States of Exception, Surveillance and Population Management: The Case of Israel/Palestine,” is directly related to – or an outgrowth of – the work of DUO II participants, but the content certainly overlaps. Perhaps there is a dialogic trajectory we can build?
In considering the upcoming UMass conference, am also considering the students in the Group Dynamics course I’m teaching. Several of them mentioned concerns with a recent string of threats on campus (three messages, found in three different locations on different days, with similar content). Of course many in the campus community were affected by the shootings at Virginia Tech … this instances are not comparable to the systemic and horrible repetitions of violence being played out among Palestinians and Israelis (or, arguably, among Colombians – with/against FARC and/or the paramilitaries and between Colombia and Venezuela) – but these are the touchpoints of violence in the lives of young U.S. Americans with which we must work.
Writing and Violence, April 20, 2007
We are Virginia Tech, April 21, 2007
a matter of language“, April 26, 2007
The first-year students’ College Writing CourseWiki has a record of student reactions to a bomb scare last fall. These were captured serendipitously as a coincidence of the day’s assignment with the threat of violence.
At least one student in this semester’s Group Dynamics course is vocal about hating politics (i.e., “I hate politics”), and seems intent (evidence of argumentative rhetoric?) to make sure (evidence of nonverbal behaviors?) that the product designed by this semester’s course doesn’t “go” in that direction…I am sure he is not the only one who feels this, even if he is the most forthcoming about it. What a tension to resolve, isn’t it? The world we live in is brutal, even if – here at mostly-cushy UMass – we are protected and insulated from having the day-to-day violence in our faces . . .

the swirling center

I know its just my peculiar egoism, that brand of juvenile “it’s all about me” self-centeredness, but – come on – it is rather coincidental isn’t it? Top headlines in international news involve Israel and the Palestinians (where I visited last fall) and the bickering of South America’s once-upon-a-time “odd couple” (about which I’ve become interested/involved since the FARC kidnapping of friends of a friend in January).
I just recognize my being as an intersection of so many societal valences….it doesn’t mean any of these largescale dynamics are “about” me or have anything special to do with me (or me with them) – but I feel them. Whatever sensory mechanisms enable such perceptions (explanations range from delusional psychosis to overactive imagination), they compel me. This leaves me with options from active resistance to passive ignoring to casual acknowledgment to proactive engagement. In the old days (read: exuberant immaturity), “choice” was not part of the package. I reacted, sans critical thought or consideration of consequences.

Ana is Free!

Speaking of coincidences….I began writing this yesterday (2008-03-05 14:41:14) and saved it to finish later…the day prior I lent my English (!) to a letter on behalf of Ana and her family to reserve an academic invitation for her even though “at this time we are unable to predict when Ana Maria will be able to continue her promising work in conservation research…To date, we have received no information from her captors, and are thus unable to speculate when she may be released.”
That girl knows a helluva lot more about being “at the center” than I do. All the best wishes to her for a smooth re-entry and redoubled sendings of spirit to Alf.

Persistence will win the prize

Here is the text of the official statement read around the world on February 4th, this one specific to the protest I attended in Boston.
The banner is from a march in (I think) Bogota.
Free Alf.jpg
The anti-narco-terrorism conversation continues. Can millions of people force change? We may have been disheartened – pacifists worldwide could not stop the war against Iraq, millions organizing against neo-liberal economic policies that keep the disenfranchised down have so far not had much of an impact on eradicating systemic injustice….however the number of wars in the world is down and a larger percentage of people worldwide have moved out of poverty than in any time in history. (See The Economist, The world’s silver lining, January 24, 2008.) However, each time we try to learn new tactics and improve strategies. Each time we gain new friends and allies; each time we strengthen bonds of collaboration. Each and every time we send a message to the wealthy and powerful that our tolerance for being pawns in their games of dominance is lessening.
The especial trick is not to close the vise so tightly that brutal and bloody violent resistance is the only option available to those on the other side. We have to keep squeezing, we have to force restructuring that enables alternative avenues for the expression of human desires, but we have to do it in such a way that we do not allow ourselves to become “them.” We have to do it in such a way that “they” want to become a part of “us.”