Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Terrorism on the Prairie

One of the battlegrounds of the war on terror is our own backyard. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was a citizen of Qatar and a legal resident of the US, living with his family and attending Bradley University. Al-Marri is on trial in a federal court in Peoria.

Al-Marri had been arrested in 2001 and charged with credit card fraud in 2002, but was then detained as an enemy combatant and transferred to a brig in South Carolina in 2003. He was held there without charges and without access to a lawyer until 2004. He's been involved in complicated litigation since then. He was finally released from the brig in February 2009, only to be arrested for terrorism charges and transferred back to Peoria. Although he wasn't transferred to Guantanamo, he was isolated from other prisoners, denied access to all reading materials other than the Koran, and subjected to extreme cold.

The bottom line is that with the change of administration, al-Marri is going to be tried by a civilian court rather than these ginned up military commissions. And the conditions he was subjected to in the brig are likely to come out.

If those of us on the Prairie can possibly make it, the federal courthouse in Peoria is going to be the place to be for the next several months.

Obama's Civil Rights Appointment

It's hard to be upset at Obama given what he's up against and what he's done so far to restore the rule of law to this beleaguered country, but this was a bit disappointing.

The LA Times reports -- and the NY Times editorial page rues -- the fact that Obama bypassed Thomas Saenz, a prominent civil rights lawyer and the counsel to the Mayor of Los Angeles, for an appointment to the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice.

Saenz has been an important voice in the effort to make the rights of immigrants an important civil rights issue -- a frame for immigration policy that is sorely in need of development. In our policy debates, it is frustrating that immigration policy is so often discussed in terms of "homeland security" or law enforcement or border control or lots of other things that seem to involve weaponry. What's lost in all that discussion is the fact that immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, have basic human needs that don't always get met -- that is, immigration is a longstanding and pressing civil rights issue.

Saenz was trying to address those problems. In his legal career, he has led the effort to protect immigrants from unwarranted police raids, and he's worked on trying to secure rights to social services for immigrant populations. But because of these efforts, he's been labeled as an extremist. Google his name and see all the hysterical right wing propaganda that bubbles up.

Obviously, we don't know for sure, but that right wing hysteria is probably what kept Obama from naming Saenz to this post. But Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) noted the irony for us: “In what other position do you find that your life experience, your educational knowledge and commitment to an issue actually hurts you?”

Don't get me wrong -- it's all an improvement over the past 8 nightmarish years. Still, I sense that there will be more disappointments like these along the way.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Crime Against the Collective Consciousness

London

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Closing the Plant

I've recently been on hiatus from the blog due to working my 9 to 5 this summer (just more evidence that I am destined for academia where I can make my own hours). However, last night my Dad told me a really sad story, that is worthy of a blog.

My father worked for most of my life in a large plastics plant in Connecticut. About eight years ago, he went into business for himself. He told me that yesterday, some of his old friends from the plant stopped by the business to tell him that the plant was closing. They gave the employees the 5th off with pay, and then told them they were out of a job. No warning, just a meeting attended by everyone at the plant...and the local police. Some of my Dad's friends had worked there for over thirty years. No deals, no early retirement, just laid off.

I asked my Dad if the workers had a union, and he said no. Surely, if they had representatives, the abrupt closing of the plant would not have happened. They would have had some notice, or some form of severance pay. I understand that from a purely economic standpoint, the company probably found the plant expensive to keep open, and it may have been losing money. The cost of living in Connecticut is high, so opening a plant down south or offshore is more cost-efficient. But the people who put years into this job, figuring they'd retire from the plant are now jobless, with their age working against them in an already competitive job market. Even if the plant was losing money, it is owned by one of the wealthiest companies in the world (whose name I'll omit for the purpose of the blog). I cannot believe the company did not have the money to compensate its workers at all.

While I am not very theory savvy, after hearing this story, I can begin to understand what Marx is talking about. The working class is powerless against the bourgeois unless they unite. As long as there is competition for jobs, and people willing to work for less and less money, with no union representation, the worker will continue to be exploited. I want to go further with this, but I feel somewhat under-qualified...anyone want to help? Possibly a fellow blogger who is teaching theory this summer whose name begins with an E?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Unpopularity is good, ask Weber

In Science as a Vocation, Weber made me chuckle on two different points.

1. His skepticism of popular courses (and popular teachers to be more precise).
2. His claim that mediocrity rises to the top of academia, not the cream. This is due to rules of cooperation. If you’re too good, you’re too different, and we don’t want to play with you.

Yeah, all this coming from the graduate superstar himself. Is he attempting humility? Or is he crediting his privileges for much of his success? Regardless…

On the first point, he is slamming huge popularity as a sign of not quite adequate teaching. In some cases, I agree. There are many easy ways to slack off and make the students favor you the more for it, or simply suck up to them/bribe them to give you higher scores on teaching evaluations…groveling, ick. However, aren’t there a lot of popular teachers who work really hard at teaching well and are popular perhaps because of personality traits to boot? For all the unpopular conscientious teachers out there, Weber will stroke the old ego. It’s because you’re sooo good that you’re not hugely popular.

On the second point, I laughed out loud. Partially because of the irony that he was writing this, and partially because there is some truth to it -- case in point, W.E.B. Du Bois. By mediocrity, I took him to mean a meticulous status quo thinker, not the really creative foundation-questioning thinkers. They are doomed to the margins, with cult-like followings. Hah! I laugh again. I love when I stumble over things like this I missed the first time. Oh, but did you see the ASA president-elect?

Anyway, so if you don’t rise to the top and aren’t a really popular teacher, then maybe you are just too good...or maybe not.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Neko Case

We saw her on Friday. She tuned her own guitars. Had a great band. And her voice live was flawless, definitely up there for me on "best performances live." I tried to get a picture I would've posted on the blog, but I couldn't turn off the flash and so it was just the back of a bunch of heads. There were many guys, and girls, there with obvious crushes. There's just something about her voice. The HighDive is a great rock bar, too. It's a lot of fun to see a band perform in such an intimate setting (this is where we saw My Morning Jacket a couple years ago as well).

Monday, June 06, 2005

WMD's, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Downing Street memo and Iraq: They aren't going away

One month ago on May 6, Joe Conason wrote about the Downing Street memo on Salon.com. He asked
Are Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in fresh and damning evidence of those lies? Or are the editors and producers who oversee the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof on the evening broadcasts and front pages?
I have to admit, when I first saw the memo, the answer to Conason's first question for me was "yes." The only reason I knew about it, however, was because I read alternative media sources. Had I just read the New York Times or the Washington Post I don't think I would've known much about it.

Becoming jaded can be disempowering, like, we might hope it all just goes away. Media stop talking about it (if they started), and accept it. But, ho, the New York Times calls for the permanent shut down of Guantanamo Bay*, as does Senator Biden after Amnesty International's damning assessment of the prison as the "gulag" of our times.

Vigilance is key to preventing death, such as the 77 US service women and men killed in Iraq in May 2005. Remember the 1000 dead? Well, we are approaching 2000 dead, at over 1800 already. Who really knows how many Iraqi's died last month or in total?

But vigilance, there is. Rallying around the damning evidence of the Downing Street memo >Downing Street memo, a congressional investigation is being called for to see if the president and members of his administration conspired to mislead the public. Led by Representative John Conyers, there are over 133,000 signatures petitioning for the president to respond to questions raised by the memo. Have you signed it yet?

UPDATE: Jimmy Carter is now calling for the shutdown of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.


UPDATE 2: Republican Mel Martinez also calls for closing of Gtmo.
* Guantanamo Bay's website boasts of being the oldest overseas naval base, but doesn't fully mention how this naval base was acquired. The "brief history" just mentions a treaty, conveniently ommitting the war that forced the treaty. So I'll tell you. It was acquired through the imperialist Spanish-American War (Cuba was previously a colony of Spain), in which the US took Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Samoa, and Guam as it's colonies (the justification for which was the US was a more "benevolent" patron), and officially participated in formal imperialism.

I was just wondering

if anyone has a suggestion about a film that displays some of Durkheim's concepts from The Division of Labor (mechanic/organic solidarity or interdependence/anomie). I'm not really looking for methodological stuff, this is for theory.

I've been looking for months and can't find anything that fits well enough. I had considered I Heart Huckabee's for anomie, but...there's too much pomo going on top of it all, don't you think? I guess if I can't find anything, the poor kiddies will have to listen to me make references to "Fiddler on the Roof."

Friday, June 03, 2005

Jazz Therapy

Last weekend we went to hang out with my brother in Chicago. We took in a Cubs victory. By the way, they are on a kickass winning streak with some of their most talented players injured. And we went to the Greenmill, a former speakeasy of Al Capone's and current jazz club. We waited an hour to get in the doors. It was worth it. The sextet playing was so good, and the bar itself was just so much better the "unce unce unce" dance(?)clubs downtown (I can't stand those places).

Seeing the jazz group play, reminded me of my trumpet playing days. The only thing I liked about band was jazz band (marching band was the pitts, but you had to do it all). Our jazz band won awards in junior high. Then, I didn't like the highschool jazz director (also my 6th grade band teacher), so I didn't try out. I stayed in band and joined the quintet, which I didn't like because of the pressure (if you messed up everyone knew) and the music - classical just wasn't as fun for me. I got into chorus instead. But I still love listening to jazz, and I miss helping make it.

So, I've been on a jazz kick lately. I'm thinking of learning to play jazz piano. I never was that attached to the trumpet, and anyway, my younger sister uses the trumpet I used, which my aunts also used (it's a kind of family heirloom I guess). Jazz provides that great balance and tension musically that could be a therapeutic release. Which, let's face it, you have to find in graduate school unless you want to allow your dissertation to hold dominion over your life. And drinking just isn't enough for me anymore.