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Why is the ending of Beatriz at Dinner so disturbing?

Because throughout the film, we have witnessed our own whiteness: normalized, privileged, comfortable. And then we are confronted with the stark reality of existential choice.

Salma Hayek is Beatriz

Salma Hayek is Beatriz

There are only three ways the film can end:

  1. White people heal ourselves and change.
  2. White individuals are killed.
  3. Healers die.

The first option is decidedly unappealing. The Trump-like character of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) reeks of white fatalism, and his supporting cast stinks of white fragility. What can one do but ignore the damage and keep doing whatever provides pleasure?

The second option doesn’t solve the problems whiteness has created for all other living beings and the planet.

The third option is our history and our present. Are we so incapable of sacrifice, so afraid of discomfort, that we have already surrendered the future?

Brilliant, unsettling filmmaking suitable to this desperate era. A must see.

These articles informed a recent talk on the topic of whiteness for sign language interpreters.

white-fog

A continuum of character development from white fragility through white fog toward appropriate whiteness.

“White people [must move] from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding [of white privilege].”

~ Dr Robin DiAngelo ~

White People: Stop Microvalidating Each Other, Stephanie Jo Kent

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to White people about racism, Robin DiAngelo

Fighting White Supremacy and White Privilege to Build a Human Rights Movement, Loretta Ross

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of ­­­Holding Each Other Accountable, Ngoc Loan Tran

It’s time for white people to reckon with racism, Eve Ensler

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors, Jona Olsson

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence, Ta-Nahisi Coates

Dear White Parents of my Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help, Maralee Bradley

White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals with Every Day, Henry Rollins

This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter, Sally Kohn

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show), Lin-Maneul Miranda & Frank DiGiacomo

10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read, Crystal Paul

What it’s like to be Black in Napierville, America, Brian Crooks

Police shootings won’t stop unless we address this problem no one is talking about, Jack Hitt

Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no. Wesley Lowery

Could all this racial violence bring two sides together? Faye Higbee

Branches of Mentoring, Michael Meade

end white silence

The Imitation Game is impressive in two distinct ways. One is the deployment of cinematic license to dramatically convey what Turing expert Professor S. Barry Olson describes as “the objective truth” about the invention of the counter-machine that cracked Enigma, the Nazis supposedly unbreakable coding machine.

However, Christian Caryl’s criticism isn’t completely wrong: stereotypes about gay men do inform Benedict Cumberbatch’s representation of Turing, and could support homophobic attitudes about what is/isn’t a security risk. That said, Cumberbatch does strike a nice balance between the story of the man and the story of the technology within the constraints established by the script.

In the end, as far as the significance of this film goes, as much as Turing deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as, say, Stephen Hawking, in historical terms it is the computing technology that eclipses the identity of a gay man. This leads to the second, most impressive aspect of the film, which is of a certain metonymy: The Imitation Game is representative of the material birth of postmodernity, in which time and space have been collapsed by the digitalization of communication.

The Ultra project at Bletchley Park brings to mind the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. Although the film rightfully celebrates Turing’s life and achievement of “the unimaginable,” like most forms of innovative knowledge his invention has a dark side, too. Unlike the development of the atomic bomb with its obviously ethical aspects, the creation of the computer appears neutral. The ubiquity of computing today feeds ambivalence about the ethics of computing which might render its unintended consequences all the more dangerous because of their subtlety.

The dark side of computing is not videogaming or social media or the proliferation of cute cats on youtube or data mining or even threats to privacy or cyberterrorism (because both of these can still be contained, if enough of us act soon and in concert). Nor is it the deep canalization of subgroups being reinforced by targeted advertising, although this may outrank all the others by perpetuating attitudes of ethnocentrism and prejudice. The difficult challenge of computing is the social construction of time as a race that only the fastest can win.

The race of Ultra vs Enigma prefigures Edward Snowden, #Anonymous, and the Lizard Squad, the latter claiming to be ”working to get access to some of the core routing equipment of the Internet.” This cyber/cipher “game” is as serious now to human life and death as it was during WWII, if not more so, with the entire planet at stake. The Imitation Game should win the Oscar for its historical relevance on top of all the excellent acting and flawless production. Imitation champions anti-sexism and anti-homophobia while skirting wide of racism, “the uncontrolled imaginings of the white mind,” which make it a politically safe contender at this volatile moment of “I can’t breathe” and #BlackLivesMatter.

The imitating that Turing and contemporaries created is far more than a game. As a technology, computing has sped up the rate and pace of human social interaction. Turing’s invention was perfectly in keeping with that era of industrialization: radio, telephones and television were spreading information faster and further than ever before, and assembly lines were improving efficiencies and cranking out products at ever-increasing rates. People were (and are, even moreso now) being trained to the clock, not to any natural rhythms of the actual earth or a biological species.

Conceptualizing time and humanity’s relationship to time is tricky territory, not least because science hasn’t yet figured out where time comes from or what it is. “We’re not in a war with Germany, we’re in a war with time,” is the most important line in the film. The meaning of the scripted line is transparent in relation to the calendar and the clock, to the exigencies of battle: factually and descriptively, it is true enough. Metonymically, however, the meaning is deeply representative, even reifying, of the effect of civilization on the modern and postmodern construction of time.

It wasn’t long after the war when Claude Shannon (also a code-breaker) wrote the foundational paper on digitalization. Turing and Shannon were working on different but complementary problems at the same time. Shannon’s application of Boolean algebra is where all those 0s and 1s come from, the key being that all digitized information is forced into one or the other value. This is (so they say) a great boon for copying but there is also loss of variation, at least some of which has artistic value and intrinsic human merit.

Digitalization forces communication to flow along extremely rigid channels. All analog communication, that is, all human communication, has to be broken down into a binary code: either a zero or a one. There is no variation. (Hence, for instance, the return to vinyl for musicians attuned to the richer quality of analog sound.) The unintended consequence now known as the postmodern condition is an effect of digital forcing. Increases in the speed and ability of communication to reach across distances have outpaced humanity’s ability for sane and sustainable cultural adaptation. It’s as if human society has been sucked into a wind tunnel; people find themselves either in the main flow or in the turbulence. Few seem able to find their balance within the onrush, let alone establish positions adequate to attempt healthy and restorative counteractions.

For proper historical context and relevance, The Imitation Game needs to be understood in parallel with Citizen 4. Whether you approve of Snowden’s action or not, you should see Laura Poitras’ film capturing his conversations with journalist Glen Greenwald as news reports unfolded on our television screens and online news sources. Citizen 4 should win Best Documentary because of the time manipulation it achieves in service of art and social justice. Humans now have the means to recognize and record significant historical moments as they happen. Awards aside, to understand what The Imitation Game can teach us about living through this perilous era in human history, it is necessary to be informed about the stakes of cyber-surveillance and cyber-security’s cipher games. The new imitation game (made visible by the Sony hack with its political fallout and economic consequences) not only threatens privacy, real democracy, and genuine social justice, but is also a crucial playing field where humanity’s efforts to evolve enough to avert climate disaster will be determined.

The Imitation Game is more than a good movie; it allows a rare window for comprehensive reflection on the highest stakes of life and living, here and now.

I danced in Trafalgar Square the day Nelson Mandela was released from Robbens Island.

After twenty seven years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement, Nelson Mandela was released.  The whole world rejoiced, and watched.

In prison, Mandela was a symbol of resistance to tyranny.  His life was a statement of willingness to sacrifice everything, personal freedom along with access to open air and sky, to state to the world how precious he thought freedom, and how deep was his desire to obtain it for himself and his people.

In freedom, Mandela became ‘The Madiba’.  His name, Mandela, became synonymous with “one who fights for liberation”, not only ‘one who resists oppression’.  He became a living mandate for freedom and for peace, for himself, and for the whole world which had become his people.  After twenty-seven years of unjust, sometimes inhumane confinement, he called for truth and reconciliation.  He called for humans, in South Africa and every where else, to reclaim their inherent love, care and connection. He became a living embodiment of humanity’s hopes and aspirations for a more just, peaceful world.

I was proud to proclaim my love for Mandela every chance I got.  It gave me a chance to reach toward the spirit and essence of who he was, and to see what parts of my own soul could try to be like him.

Mandela is dead.

The Madiba lives.

Forever, The Madiba Lives.

 

Here is the script for the lightning talk I gave on June 15, 2013 at Interpret America’s 4th Annual Summit. It was first published by the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) on their weblog and then in the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) newsletter. The slides continue to receive views too: at Slideshare (static slides),  and Authorstream (animated slides). The video of the talk is contracted to be published by Interpret America.

holding_cloudswaterboathands_SacapuntasI am excited to talk with you today about the real value of interpreting, which is communicating pluralingual relationships into the future. Now, that’s quite a word, pluralingualism, but all it means is two or more languages used at the same time by people interacting with each other.

I’ve been thinking about interpreting in terms of history since the late 1980s, which is when I met Deaf people and began learning American Sign Language. At that time, the American Deaf Community was in the midst of an empowering movement for social change. The Bilingual-Bicultural movement included criticism of signed language interpreters. The criticism focused on what Deaf people called “the machine model” of interpreting. When the profession was established in 1964, it had quickly become dominated by interpreters with weak or no ties to Deaf culture.

Read the rest of this entry »

The “intersection” in this blog entry on social resilience involves computer science and brain science.

What if we gamed Twitter?

What if we gamed Twitter?

While Professor Beverly Woolf and colleagues from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst presented on smart tutoring at the Artificial Intelligence in Education conference, I listened to a webinar from Dr Dennis S. Charney, MD, from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai present data supporting his “resilience prescription” for individuals.

Stimulating processes of social resilience

Two of Charney’s eight resilience principles, however, involve other people: role models and a supportive social network. Combining the social aspect of resilience with the human-computer interface and education has potential to enhance sophisticated problem-solving around the globe.

The developing world has 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions. In Africa, average penetration is a third of the population, and in north Africa it is almost two-thirds. South Africa now has almost 100% penetration. In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone ownership is 30%. ~ Dr Beverly P. Woolf

The potentials for knowledge communication through savvy tele-education exceed youth. These technologies can also enable adults who care about intercultural social networking and mass organizing for social justice. Read the rest of this entry »

This transcript is offered instead of captions for a 14 minute videotaped conversation in American Sign Language with Deaf elders Winchell and Ruth Moore.

View the ASL vlog at  http://vimeo.com/loosevariable/holdingtime Read the rest of this entry »

  1. What is the purpose of dialogue?
  2. Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told and untold) that fill us up
  3. Engaging Youth’s Multicultural Reality
  4. The Key
  5. Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions
  6. The Light

In his remarks opening the 6th international Dialogue Under Occupation conference, founder Larry Berlin posed the question:

“What is the purpose of dialogue?”

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

It is a question that the people attending and presenting at the DUO VI conferences did not figure out. Perhaps part of the reason for the absence of an answer is in the framing of the question. We are mostly academics, which means we usually talk abstractly about things we study rather than doing them with each other.

There is less confusion (it seems) about the other key term in the title of our conference: occupation. I did not think of “occupation” as a synonym for “career” during Sophia Mihic’s keynote presentation on the near history of neoliberalism. Now, afterwards, this strikes me as odd, since her argument about the term “human capital” relies on the difference between “labor” and “work.” I suspect this is an instance of collective repression – a de-selection of one possible meaning in favor of another, and then forgetting having made thechoice. Sophia’s thoughtful presentation and critical engagement throughout the conference helps me wonder: are DUO conference participants in the process of producing a work of critical art? Or are these conferences solely labor – the repetition of rituals that must be performed in order to satisfy and maintain professional credentials? Could we somehow manage to do both?

Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told & untold) that fill us up

In a similarly linguistic vein, Cris Toffolo asked us to consider the difference between “post-occupation” and “post-conflict” as labels describing countries like Lebanon. The main distinction between the two terms involve the presence and extent of violence as well as its duration. DUO VI conference participants were undecided whether the use of these labels matter. Instead, we talked about the actions taken “post” – specifically whether the politicians, media, and populace (all of its diverse publics) engage an open communication process designed to promote healing, or choose some other coping strategy as the means to simply and quickly move on. I was particularly struck by the critique she found of Lebanon’s political leadership (Assi Collective Memory – Lebanon, by Elsa Abou Assi) which describes the decision to absolve insiders by blaming outsiders. There had already been a couple of strong statements issued during some of the Question-and-Answer periods about (for instance), there being no one to forgive but oneself for allowing the outsiders to come in and wreck havoc. There is so much to unpack in Lebanese discourse about war and conflict, so many stories that have been told (adult-to-adult) and passed from adults (especially parents) to children who are now grown up and coping in their varied ways with the underlying, unresolved tensions: of necessity finding courage in the face of fear.

Engaging youth’s multicultural reality

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

The DUO VI conference attracted few of the young people at Lebanon American University, let alone activists from the broader Beirut community. Most youth were more likely to partake in cultural performance events, such as a screening of Rabat. I was lucky to meet Director Jim Taihuttu; we talked about audience reactions to the film. The cast and crew put serious effort into capturing the way youth in Holland actually talk, codeswitching among languages (e.g., Dutch, Moroccan, Surinamese) and borrowing terms back and forth in an unpredictable, dynamic flux. The dialogue is so representative and “natural” that audience members of their peer group feel as if they’re “in the car” with the protagonists. In a generous gesture of inclusion, Rabat is captioned in Dutch as well as English and Arabic so that older generations and foreigners can understand the linguistic mixing. “I disagree with people who talk about multiculturalism as something that you are either for or against, “Jim said. “It is what we are living, a multicultural reality.”

The Key

Barbara Birch’s DUO conference presentation included some guidelines that apply to teaching in general. Countering the linguistic imperialism of English, Barbara proposes the use of the English language as a source of social action that can enable transitions from current injustice to preferable futures. The critical question for teachers involves identifying the moment when you can move students from a wide focus (learning how to say things in general situations) to a narrow one: how to say things in very specific situations. This move, from the general topic to the specific sociocultural transaction, allows the exploration of different norms in the immediate moment of communication. Turning that key opens a door to learning how to navigate the emotions and colliding (complementing and contradicting) narratives involving questions of history and justice. As skills increase, students and teachers learning together can take on increasingly tricky challenges, creating new rituals of being with “Others” and living a new world into being.

Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

I do not know how the color symbolism came about, but I noticed the label of a “Green Line” is the same for both Beirut and Israel/Palestine. In terms of traffic lights, green means “go” – maybe this is a weird way to think of it, but it seems the very label has a subtext encouraging battle. The implication struck me when Ilham Nasser presented her findings on public acts of forgiveness in Arab culture. She discovered a “red line” beyond which people would not forgive others – it could be an insult, a misunderstanding, a failure to respect religious beliefs, etc. Again, it is the symbolism that seems significant: forgiveness is RED (don’t go there!) while war is GREEN (storm ahead, boys!)

The Light

Cris’ roundtable was about the limits and possibilities of talking about human rights as a way to leverage public healing processes. In political science, there is a lot of evidence that broad political-journalistic efforts of reconciliation are functional and productive (South Africa, Ireland, and Guatemala were named as examples). The information Cris shared complemented Professor Makram Ouaiss’ opening keynote address, in which he emphasized asymmetry as the way to shift conflicts from on-going cycles of violence to non-violent methods for ending occupation and establishing civil societies. Dr Ouaiss’ point is that non-violence is understudied, proven effective, and morally legitimate.

Given the right structure and support, I hypothesize that there are enough young people in Beirut willing and capable of having this difficult conversation. Despite the horrors they’ve been through, I witnessed some amazing displays of conviction concerning the things that really matter: including peace with Palestinians and sharing joy within one’s family. As Dr Ouaiss explained, persuading people of the logic and effectiveness of non-violence takes time and repeated efforts.

Written half in Beirut, half in Amherst MA.
Link to the NYTimes Art Review:
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language

documentary timespace

That’s so #DEAF! from Stephanie Jo Kent on Vimeo.

This is the first ten minutes of a presentation about what the Deaf Community can teach the rest of the world about using interpreters. Later in the talk I explain some details in a timeline, ReTaking RID: A Story of Deaf Empowerment. I summarized the other events of the day-long conference event in Showing Empowerment.

I’ve been pitching Ryan Commerson’s video since I first saw it a year and a half ago. Redefining Deaf is a masterpiece of contemporary theory and political activism. His newest short film, Gallaudet, is the best artistic rendering of how the Deaf see/perceive that I’ve come across.

Can’t get enough of Deaf consciousness?  Watch the post-production video.

Thanksgiving in Brussels
27 November 2008

thanksgiving dinner.jpg

Thanksgiving in the Verenigde Staten is a holiday and a protest. The mood at the dinner hosted by the American Club was celebratory, although rumblings went round during an aggressive invocation I admit I could have done without. I was also a bit disappointed that no mention was made of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai – they suffer (in part) for their friendship with us, no? Granted, I was affected because of personal connections and an upcoming trip. Otherwise, with the exception of the one-dimensional pumpkin pie (!), the company was outstanding and the meal delicious (especially the mushroom and green bean side dish and the perfectly-roasted turkey).

100_5022.jpg

Conversations were typical I guess? Politics. Who’s traveling home for the holidays, who has family traveling here. Why. Why not. Food. Wine. Needing to buy a t-shirt. I got really jazzed when John started to talk about his work as an engineer, especially when he said:

“We make tools to make tools to make things.”

THAT, my friends, is a metaphor for the language-based concept of indexicality!

John makes mongo agricultural equipment. The design gets done somewhere in the US, the product testing gets done somewhere else (I forget), and then John gets to do the actual production. Just like machine shops where I have occasionally interpreted, a significant engineering challenge is to design and build the machine that makes the tool which can generate the exact part which is needed for the machine to be able to do what it is designed to do. That isn’t all we talked about, we also broached working in seven dimensions (and here I thought I was doing good by adding a fourth!), and John and Kathy went totally off on the Bernouli Principle, which, btw, doesn’t apply in supersonic space.
A few days prior to Thanksgiving, I had begun collecting links and thinking about what I might write. The draft I started was titled, mistakes are for learning. The list I compiled of situations we still need to heal included a story on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s opposition to American Indian Rights, the illegal occupation of Hawai’i by the U.S. since 1898, books accomplishing more than bombs in Pakistan, the need to work for peace in the Middle East, and the problem so many people still have with lesbian and gay rights.
The whole eclectic collection went out of my head instantly when a pal posted a twitter feed on Facebook as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai commenced in the wee hours of the morning. While relieved that my friends and their friends and families are all ok, I continue to consider that the more people I know the smaller the world becomes. I ache for the people who’ve lost loved ones, and for the families of the terrorists – not all of whom can be happy at what their children have done. Amitav Ghosh has written a thoughtful, clearheaded critique of the rush to compare these attacks to 9/11, reminding us that “9/11″ refers

also to its aftermath, in particular to an utterly misconceived military and judicial response, one that has had disastrous consequences around the world.

Consequences. This brings me back around to that concept, indexicality. And the metaphor of a machine shop.

An index is the part of a word or phrase that points to something. Indexing is a referential act, a component of how we make meaning together, the core of what is understood when we achieve understanding. The notion of an index implies time, is perhaps even predicated upon time – at least if we understand time in a granular fashion, as a kind of motion that builds incrementally upon itself, accruing into sediments of meaningfulness. (See, if you can, this BBC documentary, Do You Know What Time It Is? by Professor Brian Cox)

So here’s the deal, as I see it. Our language really matters. What we say has substance. Our words effect the world. We elected Obama: he and his team are leading with language. Yes, they are putting together a centrist adminstration, but think “center” as in core. I’ve rarely been prouder to be American than in being part of Obama’s election, but we’ve got to get past the self-absorbed ways in which we sometimes celebrate being American as if the identity came to us pure. It did not. What is special and unique about America is that despite the terrible tragedies of our history, we absorb the lessons and move on. Now, ‘moving on’ means dealing well with the two extremes of radical diversity and horrific disenfranchisement. The former we must preserve and the latter requires redress.
The core must be solid; the boundaries must be clear. We – every single one of us who believes that there is a chance to finally turn the tide, as Ghosh says, in a long, long battle – we must use the words that signal a future that embraces everyone, instead of words “inviting” those who disagree to step outside the room. It is up to us to listen to the words and phrases of Obama and his team and make them, similar to the language of mathematics, “mean what they say, and say what they mean” (p. 14).

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