Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Students = Customers?

Student-evaluation forms are very much like customer-complaint forms. So, it is not surprising that teachers end up behaving like salesmen and -women who know "the importance of keeping the customer satisfied":
As an assistant professor of marketing, Robert S. Owen knows the importance of keeping the customer satisfied. His job depends on it.

That's why, in his courses at the State University of New York College at Oswego, he gives multiple-choice rather than essay exams and asks students to evaluate research papers rather than write their own. A student who questions the fairness of a question on a test might receive extra credit simply for expressing interest.

"If students come to my office," he says, "I have to make sure they walk out happy."

Dr. Owen learned that lesson the hard way. Three years ago, he lost his job at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania when students gave his teaching mixed reviews. He describes himself as a casualty of an era in which administrators increasingly rely on student evaluations of teaching to decide who gets tenure and who doesn't.

"The student in college is being treated as a customer in a retail environment," he says, "and I have to worry about customer complaints." (Robin Wilson, "New Research Casts Doubt on Value of Student Evaluations of Professors," Chronicle of Higher Education, January 6, 1998)
That's a shame -- according to recent research, student evaluations aren't good measures of teaching:
"Evaluations may encourage faculty to grade easier and make course workloads lighter," says Anthony G. Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University of Washington who wrote the article ["Grading Leniency Is a Removable Contaminant of Student Ratings"] in American Psychologist [November 1997]. He and Gerald Gilmore, director of the university's Office of Educational Assessment, examined student ratings of hundreds of courses at Washington and found that professors who are easy graders receive better evaluations than do professors who are tougher.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . Stephen J. Ceci, a Cornell University professor who wrote the article ["'How'm I Doing': Concerns about the Use of Student Ratings of Instructors and Courses"] on the study in Change [September/October 1997], the monthly magazine of the American Association for Higher Education, says one student suggested in an evaluation that he stop wearing a pair of orange corduroy pants. "You look like you work at Hardees," the student wrote.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . Dr. Ceci had taught developmental psychology at Cornell for nearly 20 years and was drawing mediocre reviews. Administrators had even asked him to attend a workshop with a "media consultant" to try to spice up his lectures.

To Dr. Ceci, the situation became an opportunity for research: What if he could improve his ratings simply by being a more enthusiastic lecturer, as the media consultant had advised? What would that say about the value of student ratings?

During a recent spring semester (Dr. Ceci would not identify which one), the professor taught developmental psychology covering the same material as in the previous semester, and using the same textbook he had used for years. But he added more hand gestures to his teaching style, varied the pitch of his voice, and generally tried to be more exuberant. The outcome was astounding: Students' ratings of Dr. Ceci soared. They even gave higher marks to the textbook, a factor that shouldn't have been affected by differences in his teaching style.

Despite the higher ratings, however, Dr. Ceci found no real improvement in students' performance on exams in the spring compared to those in the fall. He concluded that his new teaching style was probably no more effective than his old one. (Wilson, January 6, 1998)
Last month, Stanley Fish published his humorous account of civil disobedience against reduction of students to customers every semester:
Well, I'd gone and done it again. My intentions were good (or so it seemed to me at the time). I had brought the student-evaluation forms with me on the appointed day, but when the class was over, and the students had filed out for the last time, there was the large envelope, unopened.

I threw it in the trash and walked back to my office. ("Who's In Charge Here?" Chronicle of Higher Education, February 4, 2005)
Would conservatives object? If they do, we ought to remind them that history's first professional teachers -- sophists, Plato, Aristotle, etc. -- celebrated by conservative proponents of restoration of classics -- did not administer student evaluation forms, nor did they take attendance and give their students grades. Theirs was a pedagogy of love.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

It's Been a Hard Day's Night

What makes people work hard? In Britain, "managers" and "fellow workers" have surged ahead from 1988 to 1997 as "sources of work pressure," now relegating "customers" to the fourth rank on the hierarchy of work pressures:
Green (2001: 64-8) brings together a range of these surveys and also highlights their data on why people work hard. The evidence over time shows an increase in the reporting of all forms of pressure (see Table 2). Green also shows that the number of sources of pressure cited (i.e. between zero and seven) correlates with the extent to which increased effort is reported -- which is one indicator that these self-reports are statistically valid.
Table 2: Reported Sources of Work Pressure, 1986 and 1997
per cent mentioning
Machinery etc
Fellow workers
Own discretion
Reports and appraisal
Source: Green (2001: 69), in turn based on the 1986 Social Change and Economic Life Initiative study and the 1997 Skills Survey.

Several points stand out from this table. First, pressures from markets and customers are widely, and correctly, seen as imposing increasing disciplines on employees. It appears from these results, however, that direct pressures remain limited, and it seems that they are mediated through the expectations of managers and fellow workers. Second, there has also been interest in the role of appraisal and monitoring systems, as means of measuring performance against pre-defined targets. The importance of such systems has indeed increased, but their direct impact remains relatively small. Third, in the light of discussion of performance-related pay, the doubling in the proportion of people citing pay as an influence on how hard they work is notable. Finally, the role of fellow workers is most striking, suggesting at first sight that peer discipline has become the predominant force, outside individuals themselves, in working hard. Yet there may be some uncertainty in the data here; a 1992 survey reported by Green put the figure at 36 per cent which implies an unlikely jump in the next five years. (Note also that ‘customers’ were cited by 50 per cent of respondents in 1992: it is not clear why this figure is out of line with those for 1986 and 1997). Detailed research evidence suggests that it is not the case that traditional managerial discipline has been replaced by team- or peer-based discipline in the sense of there being well-entrenched and formalized team systems embracing the establishment and enforcement of norms of behaviour and taking over the role of management (Geary, forthcoming).

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Geary, J. F. (Forthcoming) New Forms of Work Organization, in P. Edwards, ed., Industrial Relations, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Green, F. (2001) It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night: the Concentration and Intensification of Work in Late Twentieth Century Britain. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 39, 53-80. (Paul Edwards, "The Puzzle of Work: Autonomy and Commitment Plus Discipline and Insecurity," SKOPE Research Paper No.16, Summer 2001, pp. 15-16)
It is striking that workers' "own discretion" has remained the chief source of work pressure since the late 80s and that work pressure due to it has become more intense than ever in Britain, according to self-reports of British workers. "The dull compulsion of economic relations completes the subjection of the labourer to the capitalist," so much so that, in some cases, the worker's own subjectivity, as well as her fellow workers', becomes the most efficient wage-slave driver?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Free Lynne Stewart!

This is terrible news: Lynne Stewart, as well as all her co-defendants, was found guilty on all counts, "a major victory for Justice Department prosecutors" (Julia Preston, "Lawyer of Terrorist Found Guilty," New York Times, February 12, 2005). The case doesn't concern Stewart alone -- it is a threat to all lawyers who represent defendants accused of terrorism:
  • "It's a dark day for civil liberties and for civil liberties lawyers in this country," attorney Ron Kuby said on Thursday following the verdict in federal court in Manhattan. "In the post 9-11 era, where dissidents are treated as traitors, it's perhaps no surprise that a zealous civil rights lawyer becomes a convict."

    Kuby -- who briefly represented Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman after the sheik's 1993 arrest -- said the verdict was a "terrible message to send at a time when we need civil rights lawyers more than ever."

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    "The purpose of this prosecution ... was to send a message to lawyers who represent alleged terrorists that it's dangerous to do so," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who was not involved in the case.

    "It would be bad if the government interjected themselves in the attorney-client relationship on a regular basis. It would be a sad day if that became the norm," said Andrew Patel, who worked alongside Stewart at Abdel-Rahman's trial and represents Jose Padilla, an alleged terror plotter detained in a Navy brig. "I pray to God it doesn't." (Larry Neumeister/Associated Press, "Verdict in Lynne Stewart Case Shakes Legal Community," Newsday, February 11, 2005)

  • Activist attorney and radio talk show personality Ron Kuby, who once represented Stewart's client Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, said the verdict will intimidate attorneys handling unpopular political clients.

    "It makes it that much more easier for the government to intimidate activist lawyers," Kuby said. "The threat of 20 years incarceration is a terrible deterrent against zealous advocacy."

    Kuby, who, along with the late William Kunstler, has represented his share of political clients, said he would continue to help unpopular litigants. But he said other lawyers, faced with criticism from the media, their families and other attorneys, might choose not to push a client's cause vociferously.

    "It reflects the tenor of the times," said Jonathan Marks, who is representing Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad in a terrorism-related case in federal court in Brooklyn.

    Marks said the Stewart verdict illustrates the tremendous prejudice faced by people linked to Islamic fundamentalism.

    Attorney Anthony Ricco, who has worked on several terror-related cases and currently represents Uzair Paracha, who is accused of providing material support to terrorists, agreed.

    "It will definitely have a chilling effect," Ricco said - if not on experienced lawyers, on those unfamiliar with the boundaries who may defer to the government rather than face criminal charges themselves. (Anthony M. DeStefano, "Activist Lawyers Fear 'Chilling Effect' from Verdict," Newsday, February 11, 2005)
When the state starts locking up lawyers for zealously defending their clients, it begins to cross a fine line that separates a normal capitalist state from an authoritarian dictatorship. Free Lynne Stewart!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Applications to Military Academies Down Substantially

Will the United States military eventually face a shortage of lieutenants?
Cadets don't have to study the opinion polls to know they're heading off to an unpopular war. Applications to the military academies are down substantially. At West Point, applications hit a post-9/11 high of 12,383 for the school year that began 2003. The 10,412 applications for the coming school year represent a 16 percent drop in two years. The Naval Academy is down 2,852 applicants, a 20 percent drop in just a year, and the Air Force Academy is down 3,054 applicants from 2004, a 24 percent drop.

After two years at West Point, a cadet is given a last chance to leave without having to serve in the military. Last summer, 52 members of the sophomore class of 963 left, compared with 32 the year before and 18 the year before that. West Point officials were relieved it wasn't more. (emphasis added, Michael Winerip, "For Cadets, Iraq Doubts Bow to Duty," New York Times, February 9, 2005)
The attrition rate for the Class of 2006 at West Point is 25%, an increase of 5% from the previous five classes:
West Point is the only service academy dealing with an above-average attrition rate for its Class of 2006 as of the start of this academic year. Of the 1,197 cadets who entered West Point in the summer of 2002, 904 remained by the end of August. The loss rate of 25 percent is greater than the previous five classes, which averaged a 20 percent loss rate.

Of two recent West Point dropouts who spoke on the condition of anonymity, one cited disenchantment with Army life and the other said Iraq was a major factor in his decision.

"I didn't want to be deployed in a war I didn't believe in," he said. (emphasis added, Associated Press, "Military Academy Admissions Down,", November 23, 2004)
According to one of the cadets interviewed by Michael Winerip of the New York Times, half of the remaining class are highly critical of the Iraq War, especially the lack of an "exit strategy":
Among the 13 cadets I interviewed, Jarick Evans was the most openly critical. "The thing that disturbs me most, we don't have an exit strategy," he says. "When all we're told is we'll leave when the job's done, it leaves a bad taste in mouths of soldiers. That's the reason a lot don't want to go back the second and third times."

Cadet Evans estimates that half his class may feel that way. "There's a big fear we'll go back and forth, back and forth our entire military career because there is no clear mission," he says. (Winerip, February 9, 2005)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Customers -- More Demanding Than Ever?

"Consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau against US retail stores doubled -- a jump of 104 percent overall -- between 2000 and 2003. Many of those involve customer interactions with sales people" (Clayton Collins, "With Customers Griping, Retailers Finally Get the Message," Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2005).

Are US retail workers surlier than before, having lost yet more rounds of class struggle, or are US customers more demanding than ever, seeing that US retail workers are in a weaker position than before?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Uniquely American

An exchange between George W. Bush and Mary Mornin, "a divorced, single mother with three grown, adult children," one of whom, Robbie, is "mentally challenged":
THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.) ("President Discusses Strengthening Social Security in Nebraska," February 4, 2005)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

"Dare to Compare": the Nazi Holocaust and the American Genocide

No two atrocities are exactly alike. For instance, the Nazi reign of terror that murdered the mentally disabled, Communists, Jews, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" escalated faster and lasted shorter than centuries of massacres and oppressions committed against American Indians since 1492. This major difference is rooted in the fact that the genocide of American Indians began long before the full-blown industrial revolution -- which rendered not just mass production but also mass murder industrial and efficient -- started.

Does it mean, however, that it is wrong to compare these two atrocities or that there is nothing to be learned from comparison between them?

Not necessarily. When we compare the consequences of National Socialism in Germany and settler colonialism in the New World, we aren't asserting their identity, just as we aren't saying that the Vietnam and Iraq Wars are exactly the same in every respect when we compare them.

What, then, does it mean to compare two atrocities? What is at stake in the act of comparing them as well as that of refusing to do so?

On this subject of the significance of comparison in general and that of the Nazi Holocaust and the American genocide in particular, Lilian Friedberg, a "German-Jewish-Native-American-(Anishinabe)" scholar, wrote an excellent article: "Dare to Compare: Americanizing the Holocaust" (American Indian Quarterly 24.3, Summer 2000).

Many Jewish writers have often compared Jews to American Indians, before and after the Holocaust.
In German-speaking literary circles, the examples of Else Lasker-Schüler, who stylized herself as an American Indian, and Franz Kafka’swish to be a “Red Indian” are well known. George Tabori’s 1990 stage production of the Jewish Western Weisman und Rotgesicht wittily pitted [Jewish] white man against [partly Jewish] red man in a verbal duel in which the protagonists exchange a hilarious blow-for-blow account of injuries and insults suffered by the victim-ized populations they represent. But the phenomenon of conflating Jewish and “Indian” identity is not unique to foreign-language publications. As Seth Wolitz points out, in his discussion of Weisman und Rotgesicht, this “tradition of spoofing Jewish-Indian interrelations . . . reaches back to a Yiddish playlet, Tsvishn Indianer.” 2 This 1895 play, “Among the Indians, or The Country Peddler,” as its translator states, “is not an anomaly, but rather a pathbreaker in a well-defined line of Jewish-American entertainment that leads to the films of Mel Brooks and others.” 3 The American leg of this lineage includes Eddie Cantor’s redface minstrelsy in Whoopie! (1930) and Woody Allen’s Zelig (1983). Fanny Brice sang herself to stardom with “I’m an Indian,” and Bernard Malamud’s The People provides a classic example of the phenomenon.

Most recently perhaps, Raphael Seligmann has gone on record stating that the Jews are “the Indians of Germany.” 4 (endnotes omitted, Friedberg, pp.353-354)
However, the reverse has not been deemed acceptable, particularly since the birth of what Norman G. Finkelstein calls the Holocaust Industry in the Six Day War:
Lucy Dawidowicz charges those who would dare to compare [the American genocide of Indians and the Nazi Holocaust of Jews] with “a vicious anti-Americanism.”5 Rabbi Irving Greenberg, founder of the Holocaust Resource Center and first director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Commission, has described the comparison of the Nazi Holocaust with other acts of genocide as “blasphemous.”6 In The Holocaust in American Life, Jewish historian Peter Novik describes the way in which any attempt to compare is dismissed as a “felonious assault” on truth and memory.7 (endnotes omitted, Friedberg, p. 354)
Friedberg asks us to think about why Jews as well as others have often found emotional resonance in comparing themselves to American Indians while comparing the American genocide of Indians to the Nazi Holocaust of Jews is often condemned in the strongest terms, as "blasphemous," "felonious," "anti-American" attacks on truth and memory.

Why the predominance of one-way comparison? Friedberg suggests that it is in part the result of unequal power between Jews and Indians: Jews, a far more privileged group here and elsewhere than Indians, can freely appropriate the American Indian identity and iconography and engage in redface minstrelsy politically and artistically, but not vice versa. It is not, at bottom, a matter of racial hierarchy of Jews over Indians, though. Many Jews accept and even themselves employ comparisons of the Nazi Holocaust of Jews and the American genocide of Indians, and many who condemn such comparisons are not at all Jewish. A more important factor is the strength of American exceptionalism: not only It Can't Happen Here, but It Couldn't Have Happened Here. American exceptionalism is accompanied by another exceptionalism at work in the United States because of its utility to US foreign policy: Zionism. For Israel to justify its existence as the Jewish state, the Holocaust of Jews must be a unique event, separable from Nazi massacres of other groups and incomparable to any other atrocity in history -- so it alone demands the establishment of an ethnically exclusive state for its victims to compensate for it. "The rate of attrition of Jewish populations in Europe is commonly calculated at between 60 and 65 percent. Put in terms of survival rates, this means that two-thirds of the global Jewish population and about one third of the European Jewish population survived the Nazi Holocaust, whereas a mere remnant population of 1 to 2 percent survived the American Holocaust," Friedberg reminds us (p. 358), but both American and Zionist exceptionalisms tell us that what happened to American Indians wasn't, and wasn't even really like, the Holocaust and that, while the Holocaust justifies the founding of Israel and continuing US economic, military, and diplomatic support for it, American Indians are barely entitled to what's left of their impoverished reservations.

The denial of the American Holocaust in the past goes hand in hand with indifference to the oppression and marginalization of American Indians in the present, who, unlike American Jews, are among the poorest in the United States:
Native Americans, by contrast, have long been subject to the most extreme poverty of any sector in the present North American population, and still have the highest rate of suicide of any other ethnic group on the continent.50 High school dropout rates are as high as 70 percent in some communities. As Anishinabeg activist and Harvard-educated scholar Winona LaDuke notes with regard to the Lakota population in South Dakota: “Alcoholism, unemployment, suicide, accidental death and homicide rates are still well above the national average.”51 Alcoholism, intergenerational posttraumatic stress, and a spate of social and economic ills continue to plague these communities in the aftermath of the American Holocaust. (endnotes omitted, Friedberg, pp. 365-366)
Then, there is a question of the ideology of "progress." Today, the catastrophic magnitude of what happened to Indians through the conquest of the Americas is widely admitted and even regretted, but it is still common to represent it as "a justifiable sacrifice made in the name of 'progress'" (Friedberg, p. 363) or "a sad, but both inevitable and 'unintended consequence' of human migration and progress" in the words of David E. Stannard (qtd. in Friedberg, p.359), and, tellingly, such whitewashing elicits no "moral outrage in the scholarly community and in public consciousness" (p. 363) comparable to unanimous condemnation of denials of the Nazi Holocaust. Friedberg, like Stannard, thinks that is evidence of the continuing power of "what Alexander Saxton recently has described as the 'soft-side of anti-Indian racism' that emerged in America in the nineteenth century and that incorporated 'expressions of regret over the fate of Indians into narratives that traced the inevitability of their extinction. Ideologically,' Saxton adds, 'the effect was to exonerate individuals, parties, nations, of any moral blame for what history had decreed'" (Stannard, qtd. in Friedberg, p.359).

Moreover, to regard -- consciously or unconsciously -- the genocide of American Indians as inevitable is to think of the rise and development of capitalism as inevitable. The rise and development of capitalism, however, was not predetermined -- it was, rather, a contingent outcome of class struggles as well as other social struggles. From the point of view that sees history as contingent rather than teleological, the common representation of the genocide of American Indians as a matter of "a sad, but both inevitable and 'unintended consequence' of human migration and progress" (Stannard, qtd. in Friedberg, p.359) is a serious intellectual error as well as a grave moral crime.

Those who question the virtue of comparison between the Nazi Holocaust of Jews and the American genocide of Indians make much of the question of intention and planning on the part of perpetrators. What are we to think of that?

Firstly, the work of Stannard and other scholars has already made clear that the genocide of American Indians was more intended and planned than had been commonly thought and that, while the American genocide was not as efficient as the Nazi Holocaust, cumulative effects of plans and intentions on small scales played a larger role in nearly exterminating American Indians than many Americans would admit.

Secondly, the Nazi Holocaust of Jews took place in a more cumulative fashion than popular conceptions of it as well as "intentionalist" historians' arguments suggest. Alex Callinicos summarizes recent research in his essay "Plumbing the Depths: Marxism and the Holocaust" (Yale Journal of Criticism 14.2, 2001):
The development of research into the Holocaust over the past few years has, in my view, definitively settled the long-running debate among historians of the Third Reich between "functionalists" and "intentionalists." 67 The extermination of the Jews, rather than emerging fully formed from Hitler's long-term plans, was a piecemeal process driven to a large extent, "from below," by initiatives from rival power-centres within the highly fragmented Nazi bureaucracy. To say this is not to absolve Hitler of responsibility for the Holocaust. His notorious "prophecy" to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939 -- "if international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will be not the bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!" -- was frequently cited by both Hitler and his subordinates as they sought to fulfil his prediction. 68 But recognition of Hitler's role is not inconsistent with an analysis that highlights the complexity of the process that led to Auschwitz. To that extent, the portrayal of the Holocaust by Martin Broszat and Hans Mommsen as the outcome of what the latter famously called a "cumulative spiral of radicalization" is correct. 69

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

67. See, for an overview of this debate, see T.W. Mason, "Intention and Explanation: A Current Controversy about the Interpretation of National Socialism," in id., Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class.

68. Kershaw, Hitler, II. 153. See ibid., II. 520-23, on Hitler's awareness of (but refusal explicitly to acknowledge) the
extermination of the Jews.

69. H. Mommsen, From Weimar to Auschwitz (Cambridge: Polity, 1991), 175; see esp. id., "The Realization of the Unthinkable," in ibid., and M. Broszat, "Hitler and the Genesis of the 'Final Solution,'" in H. Koch, ed., Aspects of the Third Reich (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1985) (Callinicos, p. 399)
If the Holocaust, too, was a "cumulative spiral of radicalization" (Mommsen, qtd. in Callinicos, p. 399), a "piecemeal process driven to a large extent, 'from below,' by initiatives from rival power-centres within the highly fragmented Nazi bureaucracy" (Callinicos, p. 399) especially in the context created by "the invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941" (Callinicos, p. 400), perhaps it's time to revise the commonsense, i.e. "intentionalist," understanding of the term genocide.

Thirdly, we need to rethink the prevailing moral standard, which tends to emphasize individual guilt and innocence rather than structural problems and solutions. To elevate the moral gravity of intended and planned massacres above equally murderous but unintended and unplanned consequences of actions of myriad human beings is accepted practice in criminal justice. Both a pedestrian killed by a negligent drunk driver and a gay man murdered by a homophobe in a premeditated fashion are equally dead, but criminal justice would give a heavier sentence to the homophobic murderer than the negligent drunk driver. Focus on the intention and planning on the part of the responsible party is to a certain extent necessary in criminal justice, but, even here, problems arise. It is the same reasoning that leads criminal justice to send more and more poor individuals to prison while allowing corporations to literally get away with most murders they commit. Corporations intend to make profits, rather than kill workers, consumers, and residents exposed to pollution. Yes, lives and deaths of human beings are cooly weighed on the scales of cost-benefit calculations by managers, accountants, actuaries, and bureaucrats, but where is malice, an aggravating factor? Or so the thinking goes. In an even bigger picture, the normal workings of global capitalism create poverty and inequality on massive scales, consigning countless people to premature deaths due to lack of access to food, clean water, medicine, education, and so on -- the number of such preventable deaths is larger than the number of deaths caused by murderous individuals, greedy corporations, and tyrannical governments combined. And yet, the latter arouses anger, while the former escapes attention. We will never be able to drive home the fact that capitalism as a mode of production, which has no plan and no intention, is genocidal as long as we think of only what is consciously planned and intended as genocide.

Even if we acknowledge the insidiousness of the American Holocaust denial and recognize the intellectual validity of comparison between the Nazi and American Holocausts, however, we may still wonder what purpose the comparison serves. Friedberg makes an intriguing suggestion. What if we learn to avoid sad competition for the top rank in the hierarchy of sufferings and foster, instead, "a 'solidarity of memory' that might fundamentally challenge" (Friedberg, p. 369) the dominant culture, a "solidarity of memory" of displacement and dispossession that can unite, rather than divide, Jews and Palestinians as well as Jews and American Indians? Yes, each tale of displacement and dispossession is particular, and yet expropriation of land and expulsion of those who worked and yet did not possess their lands as private owners -- the displaced and dispossessed becoming proletarians -- has become a process that encompasses the entire planet since the beginning of capitalism. Experience of exile, far from an exception, is now the past, present, or future of all peoples except the rich few -- the potential emotional foundation of a solidarity of memory that recognizes struggles in the past as concerns of the present and grasps the constellations that our own era has formed with definite earlier ones (Walter Benjamin, "On the Concept of History," 1940).

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Journalists -- Hungry for What?

"Hungry journalists" is an old cliche. Like most cliches, it has some truth in it.

To begin with, many of the college graduates who majored in journalism and mass communication must be literally starving. According to the "2003 Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates," their median salary is a paltry $26,000, unchanged since 2000 (Lee B. Becker, Tudor Vlad, Amy Jo Coffey, and Heidi Hennink-Kaminski, August 5, 2004, p. 1) -- adjusted for inflation, "salaries have actually declined by $1,600 since 2000" (August 5, 2004, p. 10). Worse, "[o]nly 56.1% of the 2003 journalism and mass communication bachelor’s degree recipients" and "64.6%" of the master's degree recipients held a full-time job on October 31, 2003 (August 5, 2004, p. 2, 4), and "[l]ess that eight in ten" lucky full-timers "reported having a basic medical plan as part of their employment" (August 5, 2004, p. 1). Even journalists who managed to survive lean years at the beginning of their careers are doing worse than their counterparts in 1970: "The median salary for journalists rose to $43,588 in 2001. . . . [However, i]n 2001, journalists would have needed to earn a median salary of about $50,700 to have had the same buying power as in 1970, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics" (David Weaver, Randal Beam, Bonnie Brownlee, Paul Voakes, and G. Cleveland Wilhoit, "The American Journalist in the 21st Century: Key Findings," April 2003).

Moreover, it must be said that, notwithstanding most American journalists' abject failure to challenge Washington's censorship of the coverage of the Iraq War and other burning issues, there are still courageous journalists -- like Dahr Jamail, Jeffrey St. Clair, Tim Shorrock, Jane Slaughter, JoAnn Wypijewski, and the late Gary Webb, to name a few -- who are truly hungry for truth.

I'm afraid, though, that the most comfortably employed journalists -- and those who aspire to join their rank -- in the United States today may be just hungry for well-catered parties. Dave Zirin calls attention to a specimen of this species: T. A. Frank of The New Republic ("New Republic Calls for Death and Torture of Arundhati Roy and Stan Goff," CounterPunch, January 31, 2005). Frank was dying to attend "a genuine inaugural ball with tuxedos and presidential seal-emblazoned square napkins and succulent miniature crab cakes" ("Left Out," The New Republic, February 7, 2005). His genuine longing for pomp and circumstances, disguised as humor, is certainly in keeping with the business ethos of The New Republic, the ethos that comes into intriguing contradiction with the magazine's bedrock commitment to uncritical Zionism:
Participants in a panel discussion sponsored by The New Republic and Saudi Arabia are claiming that their most hard-hitting criticisms of the kingdom were edited out of a transcript that appeared in the magazine.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

For the past two years, The New Republic has held monthly public policy discussions in conjunction with business sponsors such as United Parcel Service, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the American Gas Association.

Through September The New Republic reportedly had suffered a 14.1% drop in advertising pages over the prior year. The magazine, according to the Mediaweek Monitor, an industry trade publication, entered into a mid-six-figure deal with the Saudi government in exchange for running 12 ad pages and four panel discussions. (Eric Marx, "Panelists Claim New Republic Cut Their Anti-Saudi Remarks," Forward, January 9, 2004)
Anyhow, left out of the ball due to his failure to meet "certain press-credentialing deadlines" and consequently "missing what might be lovely canapes (or perhaps spring rolls brought about on trays with delectable dipping sauce)," Frank takes it all out on the subjects that he was assigned to cover instead: anti-war activists and organizers at a counter-inauguration event held "in a low-budget church on G Street in downtown Washington" (Frank, February 7, 2005).

According to the article, Frank became incensed when Stan Goff reportedly said, "We ain't never resolved nothing through an election" (Frank, February 7, 2005), and he dreamt of a Republican Terminator "like Arnold, who would walk up to him [Goff] and punch him in the face" (February 7, 2005). Never mind the fact that the majority of Americans, sensibly suspecting that US elections costing billions of dollars are confirmations of plutocracy rather than democracy, refuse to participate in them. Such a blasphemous thought must be beaten out of the heretic's system in this land of the Buy-One-Get-One-Free -- except that Frank doesn't have the guts to challenge Goff -- a former soldier in Army Special Operations (Delta Force, Rangers, and Special Forces) turned the author of the acclaimed Hideous Dream: A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti and other works -- to a fight.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was women on the left -- Sherry Wolf pointing out that Iraqis have the right to resist foreign occupation and quoting from a speech by Arundhati Roy who argues that, "if we are only going to support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity" -- that really made Frank see Red. Frank "even forgot about the Constitution Ball for a minute" and could think of nothing but a proper measure to purge the Reds: "I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation" (February 7, 2005). His hyperbolic conclusion ends with a more violent fantasy: "sometimes, you just want to be on the side of whoever is more likely to take a bunker-buster to Arundhati Roy" (February 7, 2005).

What to do about a hatchet piece like Frank's? Zirin suggests that letters to the editor and information pickets may be in order:
E-mail to let them know what you think. We are also considering a picket of the New Republic Offices, for those interested. (January 31, 2005)
Kurt Nimmo, answering Zirin's call, has already written a letter: "New Republic Writer Threatens the Lives of Anti-war Activists" (Another Day in the Empire, January 31, 2005).

Censoring the Coverage of the Iraqi Elections: "Limited to Filming at Only Five Polling Stations"

American journalism sank to a new low in its coverage of the "demonstration elections" in Iraq, measured by the number of American journalists who challenged Washington's micro-managing of election coverage while on air: zero.

Just watching broadcast and cable television in the United States, you had no way of knowing that journalists were "limited to filming at only five polling stations," unless you happened to catch ITN's Julian Manyon on CNN International's program International Correspondents:
MANYON: . . . You know, I have been out in the last couple of days a couple of times, but one goes out fearfully in the knowledge that one might either be shot at or in the extreme worst case -- one prays it will never happen -- actually kidnapped.

Beyond that, it must be said, there is also another wide range of factors which are actually preventing journalists from covering this election properly, and one of those factors, for example, is the way in which the American handlers who are actually running the Ministry of Information's affairs here in real terms, have designed the whole thing. I would say that along with the violence, it is just as serious an impediment for journalists.

Why, for example, we've been limited to filming at only five polling stations, and we discovered when the list of the five polling stations was published that four of those five polling stations are actually in Shia areas, and therefore by definition will shed very little light on whether Sunnis vote or not. (emphasis added, "Media Coverage of Iraq," Interantional Correspondents, CNN International, January 29, 2005, 21:00:00 ET)
Few Americans would have heard Manyon's sharp criticism of US censorship because CNN International (CNNI) is "the branch of CNN the rest of the world sees but which Americans normally don't" (Brendan Bernhard, "Box Populi: How AMERICAN Is It? Fox News vs. CNN International," LA Weekly, May 2 - 8, 2003).

What's the difference between CNN and CNNI? "On CNNI, which reaches 170 million households in over 200 countries, there is no Aaron Brown or Judy Woodruff, and retired generals are as scarce as bleeding hearts on Fox. Instead there are anchors with names like Zain Verjee (a woman, in case you're wondering), Daljit Dhaliwal (ditto), Anand Naidoo (male) and Michael Holmes (Aussie, mate)" (Bernhard, May 2 - 8, 2003). More importantly, CNNI "dwelled at length on civilian casualties" in the Iraq War, from which CNN, as well as other networks, apparently must protect Americans (Bernhard, May 2 - 8, 2003).

The biggest difference, however, is CNNI's freedom of criticism. CNNI, for instance, allowed journalists to discuss the "demonstration elections" staged by Washington in light of "international standards." Manyon's candid assessment of the Iraqi elections is that "it's disturbing quite frankly because it's very difficult to see how these elections can live up to international standards in terms of dispassionate supervision and policing of the polls" (emphasis added, "Media Coverage of Iraq," January 29, 2005, 21:00:00 ET). What makes him say that?
MANYON: . . . I mean, we've got a situation in Mosul, for example, where American troops, we now discover because the Iraqi employees of the election organization have deserted en masse, it's American soldiers who will be transporting the ballot boxes around when they are full of votes. This is really very far from ideal, and if it were happening in any other country -- I mean, one could mention Ukraine, for example -- there would be a wild chorus of international protest (emphasis added, "Media Coverage of Iraq," January 29, 2005, 21:00:00 ET)
The difference between CNN and CNNI is an example that illuminates the US power elite's contempt for, as well as fear of, Americans. On one hand, the power elite, of whom the media elite are part, hold the intelligence of Americans in lower regard than they do that of the rest of the world, as they evidently believe that Americans, unlike all others, are content with the narrowest range of information and political opinion available on the corporate media in the world. On the other hand, the power elite fear how Americans would react were they to see the naked reality of the American empire. As Daniel Ellsberg says in Hearts and Minds, a 1974 documentary film about the Vietnam War directed by Peter Davis, "It is a tribute to the American people that our leaders perceived that they had to lie to us, it is not a tribute to us that we were so easily misled."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote"

Take a look at an object rescued from the memory hole. It's a New York Times article from the era of the Vietnam War: Peter Grose, "U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote" (September 4, 1967, p. 2). Its lead paragraphs read:
United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.
Sounds familiar?

Here is an image of the clipping:
U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote
The corporate media's coverage of the January 30, 2005 elections in Iraq bears eerie resemblance to what they said about the September 3, 1967 elections in South Vietnam.

"Demonstration elections" today follow the script developed through Washington's long experience of staging them, down to such details as how to report voter turnouts. Notice that the reported 83% turnout in the 1967 presidential election in South Vietnam very closely matches the 80% turnout that "the American officials hoped for" (Grose, September 4, 1967), just as the estimated turnout figure of 8 million voters in the 2005 elections in Iraq is virtually identical to the "respectable" turnout desired by Washington and dutifully predicted by the Independent [sic] Election Commission of Iraq.

There is a difference between 1967 and 2005, however: the corporate media are cheerleading for Washington now more strenuously than they did in 1967. The New York Times article shown above speaks merely of "a constitutional process." That's a humbler euphemism than wild slogans -- "historic" elections for "freedom" and "democracy"! -- splashed in the post-election coverage of Iraq with abandon.