Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Incredible video from Gaza

You have to see this video. It's incredible. Korean television has footage of a woman, unarmed, with nothing more than her voice and her unarmed body as she tries to stop two Israeli soldiers from firing on Palestinian protesters. Turn up the sound and listen to what she says. Even if the Israeli soldiers were firing rubber bullets -- at point blank range (and even over longer distances) those shots would be fatal. And yet she sticks out her hands to block the muzzles of the guns and keeps talking to the soldiers to tell them to stand down.

It's the man with the groceries standing up to the Chinese tanks motoring towards Tiananmen Square all over again.

From Americablog:

I'm always very divided about issues surrounding Israel. I think many Americans on the right have a knee-jerk support of Israel (either for strategic reasons, or because they're evangelicals who believe Israel will bring about the Second Coming, and who then believe that 2/3 of the world's Jews will be killed in the Rapture because they haven't embraced Christianity - funny, but I don't call that "support"), while many on the left have a knee-jerk support of the Palestinians as the "underdog," without recognizing that Israel and Jews have just as much a right to that claim.

In any case, this video below is transfixing. About a minute and 15 seconds into the video you'll see a young American woman walking up to an Israel soldier and pushing his gun away, while trying to logically talk him out of firing on Palestinian rock throwers. It's absolutely fascinating to watch, regardless of your views on the issue. And I think this woman, and the troops in the video, all showed exceptional restraint. Watch it. (Hat tip, Juan Cole.)

I've seen it three times now and wept every time.

Juan Cole:

The young woman is being identified by my facebook friends as Huwaida Arraf, a Detroiter married to Adam Shapiro, a University of Michigan Poli Sci graduate, and a founder of International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent activist organization.

A commentator on Americablog points out that this young woman's actions are similar to those of Rachel Corrie -- who lost her life trying to block a bulldozer from leveling a Palestinian home in the Gaza strip.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Domination not education is the name of this game

I want to string together a few sentences that I spotted in yesterday's paper together with some thoughts I've been carrying around in my head for a while.

1. By their own admission, most of the students turned down by Ivy League universities -- could do the work if admitted. At the same time, the endowments of most of these universities (until recently) could easily support two, three, or four times more students than they currently admit -- without sacrificing quality (with comparable facilities, faculty etc.). So then the question becomes -- why aren't each of these universities two, three, or four times larger? What is their mission if not to deliver the best education to the MOST students they possibly can?

2. Anyone who takes the SAT, GRE, GMAT, or LSAT knows these are not tests of knowledge or skill but rather they are tools that test one's ability to take a test. Said differently, the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT test one's ability to hire a test prep coach or enroll in the right test prep class. So why do colleges and universities use these tests as entrance requirements? Or said differently, what does the use of these tests tell us about what business these institutions are in?

3. By any measure -- the financial meltdown on Wall Street is an indictment of our educational system in this country. The (mostly) men on Wall Street who stole the retirements of millions of Americans before raiding the U.S. Treasury -- are the top students from the most elite colleges and universities in the country. And they are complete crooks -- literally stealing trillions of dollars without concern for those hurt by their actions. They are immoral monsters with high IQs. Clearly morality, ethics, and character, economics, and responsible financial management were not on the syllabus. But again, maybe that's not the business that these universities are in (points #1 and #2 seem to point away from the notion that our top universities are about education or the search for truth in any meaningful sense of the word). Apparently the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT -- are not able to screen out people who intend to later steal trillions of dollars from America's retirees.

4. The value of credit default swaps -- non collateralized insurance bets on risky mortgage bonds -- is equal to the entire gross domestic product for the entire world. That's when the bubble popped -- when the value of fantasy financial products not tied to any real asset was greater than all the actual physical products produced by the entire planet. The Wall Street firms literally bought the world and sold the world -- but with no actual world (or asset of any kind) attached as collateral. The giant sucking sound you hear is Wall Street firms sucking all of the financial worth out of the entire world -- including our government treasuries -- to continue their lifestyle of bottle service and parties in the Hamptons.

5. Christopher Caldwell in NY Times (Jan. 2): “To be blunt, credit is successfully re-established when financial elites say, ‘When.’ Credit is close to a synonym for the mood of the ruling class."

6. "No partnership, for that matter, would have hired me or anyone remotely like me. Was there ever any correlation between the ability to get in and out of Princeton and a talent for taking financial risk?” from Michael Lewis's brilliant article, The End in Portfolio magazine. Lewis is the author of Liar's Poker chronicling the investment bank excess of the 1980s -- which pale in comparison to the greed and corrupt of our current financial firms.

7. From Malcolm Gladwell's article, Most Likely to Succeed from the Dec. 15, 2008 New Yorker,
Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.

“A question I ask is, ‘Give me a typical day,’ ” Ed Deutschlander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group, in Minneapolis, says. “If that person says, ‘I get up at five-thirty, hit the gym, go to the library, go to class, go to my job, do homework until eleven,’ that person has a chance.” Deutschlander, in other words, begins by looking for the same general traits that every corporate recruiter looks for.

If it doesn't hit you right away, walk through that quote again slowly. There is no mention of financial acumen, interpersonal skills, merit, or skill of any kind. What Deutschlander is testing for is domination -- the ability to dominate one's own body -- which presumably translates into the ability to dominate others in the financial field. Look how well that turned out.

8. Look I think that it's great that homegirl from Princeton created Teach for America. It seems to be injecting some new talent and corporate dollars into the educational system. But if the corporations that are contributing to Teach for America were paying their fair share of taxes (and not stealing the retirement savings of millions of Americans) the American education system wouldn't be in shambles in the first place. Said differently, if homegirl from Teach for America had gone into politics and worked on raising taxes on these classmates, er, corporations, it could have produced even great gains for our educational system. If the ruling class hadn't totally destroyed the public sector in the last thirty years, there would be little additional need for a gal on a white horse to have to ride in and save it.

Isn't the lesson of the financial collapse that our education system is built to reproduce the ruling class? And the way it reproduces the ruling class is by teaching, indeed, dedicating its mission to instilling the value of domination. That's what the entry requirements are all about, and the insane workloads, and the all nighters, and even the emphasis on sports. It's not about the content -- it's about the form. And this educational system fits perfectly with the interests of the ruling class because our entire economic system is built on domination. Isn't that what Wall Street and indeed most of New York City is -- quite literally a laboratory of domination? That's what the tall phallic buildings are all about and the rudeness and the busyness of it all. The rush of New York is the rush of domination. Wasn't that what the Middle Passage, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Bush Doctrine are all about? Isn't that, at the end of the day, who we are as a nation, in spite of the marketing camouflage we tell ourselves about liberty and equality and character (the same marketing front used by universities I might add)?

If you want to follow the path of domination -- the steps are all laid out -- by schools, by recruiters, by incentives and financial rewards, by potential life partners who have bought into the system, by the doctors and pharmacists who will patch you up and pump you up to put you back in the game. But if one wants to resist the culture of domination, it's a heavier plowing. To begin with, if everything one has seen is the product of a culture of domination, one's instincts will all be conditioned to reproduce that. Even if one is trying to intentionally go in a different direction, most of the neurons in our brains are wired to reproduce what we've seen, so even our subconscious decisions, the ones we trust, our gut -- will lead us to reproduce the dominate system. That's why so many non-profits are a mess -- women's organizations that are patriarchal, labor groups with lousy working conditions -- if folks haven't done their own internal work, it's really easy to just reproduce the same old madness in a new context.

Finally, isn't the challenge of modernism, the challenge of the total collapse of both communism and capitalism within the space of 18 years -- a challenge to develop a system, a structure, an entire world economy and culture based on love rather than domination?

In the meantime, Wall Street and all the "well-educated", pinstripped, white-male, domination-obsessed mutherfuckers who worked so hard to produce this second great depression -- can go fuck themselves.

Update #1: Four months after I did this post, Frank Rich at the NY Times picks up the ball and runs with it in a column called Awake and Sing! The money quote:

In the bubble decade, making money as an end in itself boomed as a calling among students at elite universities like Harvard, siphoning off gifted undergraduates who might otherwise have been scientists, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists or inventors. The Harvard Crimson reported that in the class of 2007, 58 percent of the men and 43 percent of the women entering the work force took jobs in the finance and consulting industries. The figures were similar everywhere, from Duke to the University of Pennsylvania. Dan Rather, on his HDNet television program in December, reported that at Penn this was even true of “over half the students who graduated with engineering degrees — not a field commonly associated with Wall Street.”

Which is EXACTLY my fucking point. To have 58% of Harvard male undergrads going into finance or consulting is FLAT OUT EMBARRASSING. It shows that the goal of these institutions all along was to reproduce the ruling class, NOT to seek out the good, the true, or the beautiful in any meaningful sense of those words. It's the worst kind of sophistry really -- young men and women excelling in math for example so that they can develop sophisticated financial instruments to suck the wealth out of 401(k)s and the U.S. Treasury so that they can buy a nice house in the Hamptons and drink $500 bottles of Ciroc Vodka. It's domination for domination's sake, elite universities training our best and brightest for nothing more than an elaborate pissing contest or game of quien es mas macho -- while bankrupting the country.

The enduring value of monasticism

Perhaps the enduring value of monasticism is that it takes the most religious people in society -- the zealots and the fundamentalists -- removes them from the general population, silences them, and causes them not to reproduce.

From a sociological standpoint, what if the actual contents of their practice don't contain any wisdom at all -- but rather the value of the tradition comes from its unintended Darwinian outcome of gradually removing religious extremists from the gene pool?

Notice that the the two centers of religious extremism in the world right now -- the U.S. and the Middle East -- don't have a monastic tradition.