12 Aug 2015
In 155 BCE Rome fined Athens 500 talents for the sacking of Oropus. This was a huge amount for Athens to pay, so they sent the leading philosophers of the Stoic (Diogenes), Academic (Carneades, representing what is also known as the Skeptic school), and Peripatetic (Critolaus) schools to Rome to negotiate the fine. (The Epicureans were notoriously uninterested in politics, so there was no point in asking them.) It seems they were successful in significantly reducing the fine down to about 100, but it was also an important event in the history of philosophy as it accelerated the adoption of Hellenistic philosophy by the Romans.
Of the three, the skeptic Carneades seems to have made the biggest impression on the Romans:
During his stay at Rome, he attracted great notice from his eloquent speeches on philosophical subjects, and it was here that, in the presence of Cato the Elder, he delivered his several orations on Justice. The first oration was in commendation of the virtue of Roman justice, and the next day the second was delivered, in which all the arguments he’d made on the first were refuted, as he persuasively attempted to prove that justice was inevitably problematic, and not a given when it came to virtue, but merely a compact device deemed necessary for the maintenance of a well-ordered society. Recognizing the potential danger of the argument, Cato was shocked at this and he moved the Roman Senate to send the philosopher home to his school, and prevent the Roman youth from the threat of re-examining all Roman doctrines. Carneades lived twenty-seven years after this at Athens.
I have tremendous respect for Yanis Varoufakis, but his appeals to the Troika were nowhere nearly as effective or influential as those of Carneades before the Roman senate.
19 Apr 2015
An audit of the U.S. military’s spending in Afghanistan has revealed that a whopping $45 billion is unaccounted for.
– Full Story
From a post I wrote back in 2003:
A study by the Defense Department’s inspector general found that the Pentagon couldn’t properly account for more than a trillion dollars in monies spent.
That’s a lot of school lunches, affordable housing, environmental subsidies, NEH grants, etc…
04 Apr 2015
One of the joys of being on sabbatical has been time to read and study philosophy. Equipped with my Bose QuietComfort 20i noise cancelling headphones I can clearly hear podcasts as I walk Juno around the streets and riverside parks of Taipei. Here are some quick notes on what I’ve heard so far.
I listened to both semesters of Hubert Dreyfus’ course on Heidegger. You can get the first semester here and the course notes here. The second semester (Division II) is only available via iTunes, and the course materials are available here.
I really enjoyed Dreyfus’ course, even with all the sound problems, long silences while students are speaking off microphone or while he is looking something up in the text, etc. His approach to Heidegger presents him as an analytic philosopher whose most important insights were in Division I of Being and Time. For this reason the second semester is something of a mess. I recommend just listening to the first semester and looking elsewhere for insight into Division II.
One problem with the analytical focus is that it erases the philosopher’s connection to National Socialism. I found Simon Critchley’s lectures at the European Graduate School to be a good corrective to this view. (His series in the Guardian is good too, but more introductory and less critical.)
J.M. Bernstein’s lectures on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit are fantastic. Bernstein is a masterful lecturer and it is such a pleasure listening to these talks. Some sections I have listened to multiple times before going on – and not because they are confusing, quiet the opposite… There is so much richness, detail, and even humor in them that they inspire one to be a better lecturer. I’m only about 1/3rd of the way through right now – it is long course, but I find myslef taking Juno around the block a second time so I can hear a little more before heading home. I had never really been able to get into Hegel in any serious way before and I feel like this course has opened my eyes to the profound influence of Hegel on so many thinkers I admire while also showing how many of them misunderstood Hegel’s larger project.
I’m tempted by Dreyfus’ course on Merleau-Ponty and Bernstein’s course on Kant, but there are also a large number of other great philosophy courses available online. Or maybe I’ll listen to Peter Adamson’s podcast, the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps? It would be great to find stuff that is more contemporary, or less Eurocentric (any good podcasts on Chinese or Indian philosophy?), but I’m mostly just happy there is so much great philosophy available online these days.
03 Apr 2015
I’m sick of Wordpress. For many of the same reasons articluated here. So I moved my homepage and this site over got GitHub Pages using Jekyll. It turns out it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Here’s a list of all the problems I encountered and how I fixed them. But I’m glad I made the change. I’m planning on slowly migrating most (but not all) of my other sites as well. Since I’m still tweaking a few things, let me know if you see anything strange…
15 Nov 2014
By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL [Do What You Love] distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.
Miya Tokumitsu, “In the name of love“
09 Sep 2014
we late-moderns turn to Benjamin as a kind of figure of pure authenticity, almost a source out of time and out of history. The reason for this is simple, once it is put against the background of, for example, Agamben’s theory of history and modernity. How else, conceptually, could we imagine a source for the kind of emancipation necessary to fully transcend political modernity? In this context, then, Benjamin’s very person emerges as the embodiment of this possibility, and the source, only apparently the product of this modernity, of a pure theory of potentiality – the living exception to the exception.
Jennings, Ronald C. 2011. “Sovereignty and Political Modernity: A Genealogy of Agamben’s Critique of Sovereignty.” Anthropological Theory 11 (1): 23–61.
23 Apr 2014
While our Constitution does not guarantee minority groups victory in the political process, it does guarantee them meaningful and equal access to that process. It guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals—here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures. Today, by permitting a majority of the voters in Michigan to do what our Constitution forbids, the Court ends the debate over race-sensitive admissions policies in Michigan in a manner that contravenes constitutional protections long recognized in our precedents. […]
The effect of §26 is that a white graduate of a public Michigan university who wishes to pass his historical privilege on to his children may freely lobby the board of that university in favor of an expanded legacy admissions policy, whereas a black Michigander who was denied the opportunity to attend that very university cannot lobby the board in favor of a policy that might give his children a chance that he never had and that they might never have absent that policy. […]
We often think of equal protection as a guarantee that the government will apply the law in an equal fashion—that it will not intentionally discriminate against minority groups. But equal protection of the laws means more than that; it also secures the right of all citizens to participate meaningfully and equally in the process through which laws are created. […]
Our cases recognize at least three features of the right to meaningful participation in the political process. Two of them, thankfully, are uncontroversial. First, every eligible citizen has a right to vote. See Shaw v. Reno… This, woefully, has not always been the case. But it is a right no one would take issue with today. Second, the majority may not make it more difficult for the minority to exercise the right to vote. This, too, is widely accepted. After all, the Court has invalidated grandfather clauses, good character requirements, poll taxes, and gerrymandering provisions. The third feature, the one the plurality dismantles today, is that a majority may not reconfigure the existing political process in a manner that creates a two-tiered system of political change, subjecting laws designed to protect or benefit discrete and insular minorities to a more burdensome political process than all other laws. This is the political-process doctrine of Hunter and Seattle. […]
JUSTICE SCALIA first argues that the political-process doctrine “misreads the Equal Protection Clause to protect ‘particular group[s],’” running counter to a line of cases that treat “‘equal protection as a personal right.’” … Equal protection, he says, protects “ ‘per sons, not groups.’” … This criticism ignores the obvious: Discrimination against an individual occurs because of that individual’s membership in a particular group. Yes, equal protection is a personal right, but there can be no equal protection violation unless the injured individual is a member of a protected group or a class of individuals. It is membership in the group—here the racial minority—that gives rise to an equal protection violation. […]
Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process. […]
And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.” […]
Moreover, the total number of college-aged underrepresented minorities in Michigan has increased even as the number of underrepresented minorities admitted to the University has decreased. For example, between 2006 and 2011, the proportion of black freshmen among those en- rolled at the University of Michigan declined from 7 per- cent to 5 percent, even though the proportion of black college-aged persons in Michigan increased from 16 to 19 percent. See Fessenden and Keller, How Minorities Have Fared in States with Affirmative Action Bans […] </blockquote>
A recent study also confirms that §26 has decreased minority degree attainment in Michigan. The University of Michigan’s graduating class of 2012, the first admitted after §26 took effect, is quite different from previous classes. The proportion of black students among those attain- ing bachelor’s degrees was 4.4 percent, the lowest since 1991; the proportion of black students among those attain- ing master’s degrees was 5.1 percent, the lowest since 1989; the proportion of black students among those attain- ing doctoral degrees was 3.9 percent, the lowest since 1993; and the proportion of black students among those attaining professional school degrees was 3.5 percent, the lowest since the mid-1970’s. See Kidder, Restructuring Higher Education Opportunity?: African American Degree Attainment After Michigan’s Ban on Affirmative Action […]
But I cannot ignore the unfortunate outcome of today’s decision: Short of amending the State Constitution, a Herculean task, racial minorities in Michigan are deprived of even an opportunity to convince Michigan’s public colleges and universities to consider race in their admissions plans when other attempts to achieve racial diversity have proved unworkable, and those institutions are unnecessarily hobbled in their pursuit of a diverse student body. […]
The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat. But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities. The political-process doctrine polices the channels of change to ensure that the majority, when it wins, does so without rigging the rules of the game to ensure its success. Today, the Court discards that doctrine without good reason. </blockquote>
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, with whom JUSTICE GINSBURG joins, dissenting (PDF)
04 Apr 2014
The occupation, by several hundred students, of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan on March 18th, and the subsequent birth of what has been called the “Sunflower Student Movement” has inspired millions of people around the world. More importantly, for me, it has inspired a whole new generation of Taiwanese young people to take an active interest in national politics. After over two weeks, however, the time has come to be a little reflective about the movement’s hopes, goals and aspirations. As I see it, the movement highlights one of the central contradictions of progressive politics in Taiwan: the tension between sovereignty and democracy. Putting it this way may shock a few readers, since so many people who care about Taiwan tend to equate the two. Since there is so much ignorance and misinformation about the topic it is necessary for me to first make a few preliminary remarks about Taiwanese sovereignty. Those already familiar with the basic facts might wish to skip ahead.
Is Taiwan a Country?
If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.1
For all intents and purposes Taiwan is a country and has been since the end of World War II. For the forty years before that it was a part of the Japanese empire and was moving towards greater autonomy within the empire when war broke out.
A better question is why Taiwan’s sovereignty is in question? This is where it gets tricky because, up until the end of martial law in Taiwan, both Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) and China’s Communist Party (CCP) made the same claim: that Taiwan was part of China. But they made these claims for very different reasons. The CCP has long found Taiwan useful as a means for stoking Chinese nationalism, especially as part of a larger narrative about how China’s greatness has been continually thwarted by Western imperialism. For the KMT, however, the myth that they were the true government of all of China (a myth which got increasingly absurd with each passing year) served to legitimate a brutal dictatorship within Taiwan.
The myth that the KMT would “retake the mainland” justified the militarization of Taiwan, including the presence of military officers in the schools, but it also allowed them to maintain a second myth: that Taiwan was a democracy. US supporters of Taiwan, like John Foster Dulles, liked to refer to the KMT as representatives of “Free China.” In order for that to sound plausible the KMT, like the Japanese before them, had to allow local elections. They did allow some choice (between local KMT factions) at the local level, but at the national level the legislature was packed with aging representatives from each of China’s provinces. Many of them were elected in 1948 and didn’t retire until 1991.
For these historical reasons, the fight for democracy in Taiwan has long been associated with the fight for national sovereignty, aka “independence.” Ending the myth that the KMT was the true representative government of all of China paved the way for multiparty democracy in Taiwan. This is important because, as much as the CCP tries to make the fight for Taiwanese independence about them, it isn’t really. It is about the fight for democracy within Taiwan where constitutional reform is an [unfinished business] and where the KMT has yet to divest itself of all the assets it seized from the Japanese, making it one of the wealthiest political parties in the world.
Which isn’t to say that the CCP isn’t important here at all. They are more threatened by pro-democracy independence supporters today than they were by laughable KMT ambitions to retake China by military force. Their territorial claims to Taiwan, while risible, are part of a larger expansionist strategy. They also play an important part in their strategy of using nationalism to legitimate party rule in the post-communist era. Moreover, with the increasing importance of trade and investment across the Taiwan Strait to Taiwan’s economy, the CCP is able to use its economic power to promote its political goals. In this, the KMT and the CCP find themselves as allies, and so concerned Taiwanese citizens once again see sovereignty and democracy as inextricably intertwined, but for different reasons than they did in the eighties.
Sunlight and Black Boxes
This gets us to the current crisis. . . well almost. The story actually starts a few years earlier. It is worth keeping in mind that many of the students now occupying the Taiwanese legislature were in diapers when Taiwan had its first democratic legislative election in 1991. Taiwan is often referred to as a “young democracy,” but — like these students — it is growing up fast. As J. Michael Cole points out,
While the group has roots in the Wild Strawberries Movement, it could be argued that it truly cut its teeth with the Alliance Against Media Monopoly that formed in mid-2012. Go back to that era, and would will see many familiar faces, the same faces that are now inside the legislature.
The concern over media monopoly was sparked by the entrance into Taiwan’s news media of a major Chinese player: the Want Want Group. It is worth comparing this to similar concerns in America, where people have long been worried about the growing concentration of media ownership. Just six corporations own 90% of the media in America. But while in America this is primarily framed in terms of the threat corporate rule poses to democracy, in Taiwan it is framed in terms of the threat China poses to national sovereignty.
Something similar has happened now. In America, New Zealand and elsewhere there has been the same kind of concern over black-box negotiations associated with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that we see with the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) in Taiwan (which also wishes to join TPP). But in Taiwan it is impossible to escape from the fact that these negotiations are being conducted in China. As I wrote at the start of the occupation:
One of the first things the students did after entering the assembly was to rifle the drawers of one of the politicians involved in negotiating the deal and to take pictures of the name cards he had collected on his trips to China.
What we see here is that not all “black boxes” are the same. It matters if the black box is in China or if it is in North America. While critics in America, India, and just about everywhere else are equally concerned about the negative influence of corporate money on politics, in Taiwan it matters a lot that this money is coming from China and it shapes both the nature of the protest movement and the reaction to it. In order to see this more clearly, it is useful to compare the occupation of the Taiwanese legislature to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
While it is clear that the Sunflower Student Movement has gotten inspiration from Occupy, there are also important differences. For one thing, Occupy was marked by a refusal to make concrete demands, while the Sunflower protests are very specific in terms of what they are asking for. Secondly, Occupy was a global movement, while the Sunflower movement has had a very local focus. Third, while both the Sunflowers and the Occupiers were very diverse with no single ideological agenda, the symbolism and language of Occupy was clearly targeting very different targets. Let’s take these one at a time.
First, the refusal to make demands. One of the more articulate members of the Occupy movement was Aaron Bady, so I asked him what lessons he thought Occupy might have for Taiwanese students. He directed me to this 2010 piece by Bernard E. Harcourt:
Occupy Wall Street is best understood, I would suggest, as a new form of what could be called “political disobedience,” as opposed to civil disobedience, that fundamentally rejects the political and ideological landscape that we inherited from the Cold War.
Indeed, this kind of “political disobedience” was one of the most creative and refreshing things about Occupy, but when I see the Sunflower movement I see something that seems much more like classical civil disobedience, including much of the kind of Cold War-era rhetoric about the benefits of trade and importance of the political process that Occupiers rejected.
In response to a reddit AMA with some of the student protest leaders, in which one of them said “we do not really think that it is about any ideology in particular,” a blogger by the name of Ah Mai recently wrote the following response:
How can one reasonably say that the basis for the actions—the occupation of multiple government buildings by force—and the demand for a new general constitutional assembly be not of ‘any ideology in particular’?
As I see it there are only two ways to answer this, and both are ideological: the first way privileges the integrity of the existing constitution over the content of the protests; the second privileges the content of the protests over the integrity of the existing constitution. The first insists to the second: the constitution just needs a little upgrading, go home! While the second desists in arguing: the constitution no longer serves us, stand up! The antagonism that lies between the two is irreconcilable, otherwise protests would merely be pointless debates. Any attempt to mix the two only confuses itself.
Ah Mai goes on to say that “the movement will need to confront the relation between justice and democracy” but I’m not so sure. While Occupy was criticized for having no particular demands, it did take a very strong stand on justice. The Sunflower movement, on the other hand, has very specific demands, and they are about democracy, not justice. (In my talk to students at a teach-in last Tuesday I framed this as a distinction between democratic procedures and democratic outcomes, but I like Ah Mai’s framing better.) It is true that many of the people involved in the protest are doing so because of concerns about justice, but those concerns are unlikely to be satisfied by the achievement of the movement’s demands.
The second difference between the movements is the global nature of the anti-capitalist movement, of which Occupy was only the latest incarnation, compared with the very narrowly local focus of the Taiwanese student protesters. I have already explained the historical reasons why the fight for greater democracy in Taiwan is closely tied up with issues of national sovereignty, but I think it is worth thinking about the limitations of such politics. It is perhaps true that sovereignty can sometimes be an effective tool promote democracy, I won’t debate that point here, but we must also acknowledge that it is also a tool for exploitation. By defining democracy in terms of national sovereignty one necessarily excludes non-citizen residents from benefiting from said democracy. Unequal labor practices are increasingly accepted because exploited workers are non-citizens and therefore considered interlopers not worthy of the same protections as domestic workers. When the US economic downturn of 2008 negatively impacted the Taiwanese economy, local workers were kept on without salary while foreign workers were sent home. Similarly, framing democracy in terms of sovereignty hides the ways in which Taiwanese benefit from the exportation of their environmental pollution and unsafe working conditions to China. Taiwanese laugh at pictures of Chinese smog, but not a small amount of that is benefiting Taiwanese companies.
The villains of the Occupy movement were brilliantly cast as the “1 percent” (although some argue that it really should have been the 0.01 percent,2 but that would have been less catchy). For the Sunflower Movement, it is Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jiu. The thing is, if Ma Ying-jiu steps down, someone else will take his place. It might even be someone from the opposition party (the DPP). After all, it was [under a DPP president] that Taiwan entered the WTO, paving the way for direct investment in China in 2002. The 0.01 percent, on the other hand, are here to stay. One recent study found that the wealth of the world’s richest 85 families was greater than that of the bottom fifty percent of the earth’s population. More recently, French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that that at least half the wealth of the world’s richest families is inherited, and that percentage seems to be increasing.
Defining Sovereignty Down
The protester’s demands are focused on reforming Taiwanese democracy in order to bolster domestic sovereignty. While I think these are important goals, I don’t see them as doing much to meet the concerns of the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese citizens who have shown solidarity with the occupation. Nor do I foresee Taiwanese politics ever decoupling democracy from sovereignty, but I do see ways that sovereignty might be redefined in more progressive terms. For instance, Taiwanese Aborigines have long been fighting for greater sovereignty over their traditional territories. Taiwanese people have also been protesting government takeover of their land for development projects. By defining sovereignty down in this way it might be possible to decenter sovereignty so it isn’t simply associated with the idea of an independent Taiwanese state, but lies with ordinary citizens.
Adams, Douglas (1987). Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. via Duck test – Wikipedia ↩
“The great bulk of gains went to the top 1 percent. In turn, the bulk of the gains of the top 1 percent went to the top 0.1 percent; and the bulk of those gains went to the top 0.01 percent.” The (Very) Rich Are Getting (Much) Richer ↩
30 Oct 2013
This summer I developed radiating pain in my right shoulder. I’ve hurt myself in the past, and I assumed it was a muscle injury that could be treated with ice, rest, yoga, massage, etc. but nothing I did made it better. It seemed to come and go quite randomly, and the pain got so bad that I was completely incapable of focusing on my work. Further research suggested an alternative diagnosis: cervical spondylosis. Although my doctors were initially at odds over what my x-ray showed, an MRI proved that it was indeed cervical spondylosis.
For the tl;dr crowd: I got better (mostly, anyway). But read on if you want to know why and how I beat this thing and my long-term prognosis.
According to the Mayo clinic:
Cervical spondylosis is a general term for age-related wear and tear affecting the spinal disks in your neck. As the disks dehydrate and shrink, bone spurs and other signs of osteoarthritis develop… Cervical spondylosis is very common and worsens with age.
Here’s a diagram:
As my MRI shows, I suffer from several of the symptoms illustrated in this diagram: “invertebral disk extrusion,” “spinal nerve root compression,” and “bone spurs.” Here’s another picture that makes it a little more clear (and dramatic):
You can see how the degenerated disc (in pink) impinges on the nerve, and how the bone around the disc is ossified.
How did it get this way? The most likely cause is a lifetime of bad posture. I started to have problems over fifteen years ago. At that time I started to have neck pain, as well as pain in my hips, etc. After two years of struggle I ended up blaming the fact that I had been trying to sleep like a Taiwanese, using only a thin mattress. A switch to a proper mattress did relieve some of the symptoms, but not all. I then got an MRI which, at the time, did not show anything. Eventually I was diagnosed with a muscle spasm due to bad posture (what the orthopedic surgeon wanted to diagnose me with this time as well, before he saw the MRI). A related condition was bruxism, or chomping and clenching of my jaw during sleep.
For a while I tried physical therapy and a specially fitted mouthpiece to try to alleviate the symptoms, but after months of use I was not significantly better. I still suffered from constant neck pain. With nowhere else to turn, I tried yoga. After some investigation I discovered that Iyengar yoga teachers were particularly knowledgable and helpful about dealing with and working around physical ailments. After three months of yoga my pain went away. That was in 2002, and my condition seemed to improve with regular practice over the next ten years, until this summer.
My assumption* is that while the yoga helped alleviate the symptoms, I had an untreated spinal condition that nonetheless continued to get worse over the years. I have since learned that there are some yoga postures (like back bends) and other exercises (such as swimming the breast stroke) which one should avoid or do with considerable care if one has a cervical spondylosis. This summer I was doing both a lot of back bends and a lot of swimming. [Back bends are normally beneficial for your spine,* but if your disc is already protruding, you may be making the condition worse…]
Back to this summer. Once I got a proper diagnoses, I began physical therapy which consisted in half an hour of electric pulse massage and heat therapy followed by half an hour of traction. Traction, also known as decompression therapy, is basically a machine that pulls your head up and gently releases it over and over again for half an hour. Here is a funny picture of me getting traction therapy:
It looks uncomfortable, but actually it feels quite good. Later I learned that the stretch-release action has a very good scientific reason. Spinal discs do not get their oxygen and fluid from the blood, like many other parts of the body, but instead
are “fed” and oxygenated by the constant recycling of the disc fluid that occurs with spinal joint movement. This joint motion “sucks” in fluid filled with oxygen and nutrients and “pumps out” waste fluid.
The decompression therapy helps this process and fills the discs up with fluid. It also allows the inner fluid of the disc to return to its place inside the disc’s natural outer wall:
I was also given a series of neck and arm exercises I was supposed to do at home. They were similar to the ones in this video.
After about three months of this therapy I am now pretty much pain free, although I still have a very slight numbness and tingling in the tips of my fingers. I also have to be very careful since prolonged bad posture can easily aggravate my spine. Also, once damaged, the outer wall of the disc will never be as strong as a normal disc, so I need to continue to do exercises to strengthen my spine, avoid bad posture, and keep my discs filled with fluid.
During these past three months I’ve been afraid to do my normal yoga practice, but my doctor said I could do anything that did not involve inversions or arching my neck backwards so I’ve been doing a modified version of the spondylosis sequence in the book B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. In about two weeks I will be attending a conference in Chicago and I’ve made arrangements with a well known yoga teacher there to have some private classes. I want to focus on rebuilding my home-practice to strengthen my spine without risking further damage.
Before I sign off, I wanted to make one additional comment. Over the past three months I learned that most of the people I work with, including both administrative assistants and fellow professors, have some kind of spinal problems. I understand it is quite common for anyone over the age of 30… Unfortunately, most of my colleagues gave up on physical therapy before it was complete. From what I’ve learned, if the problem isn’t treated quickly, the part of the disc that extrudes from the spine can harden, making healing through physical therapy impossible. Many people simply learn to live with the pain, but in other cases they may end up needing surgery. There are now a number of surgical procedures that can be done, but if you are reading this because you recently developed radiating pain, it is wise to seek professional advice as soon as possible.* I’m lucky in that Taiwan has a decent healthcare system and the treatment didn’t cost thousands of dollars as it can in the U.S. But putting therapy off now may result in much more expensive treatment later on.
*I am not a doctor – and my experience and condition may be very different from your own. Please consult a specialist and do not treat anything on this page as medical advice.
15 Jul 2013
There are so many stories about institutional racism going around on Facebook and Twitter right now it is hard to keep track of them all. Here is a small sampling:
LeVar Burton explains his ritual to prevent being shot by police
Actor and director LeVar Burton explained Monday on CNN that he follows a particular procedure every time he is stopped by police to avoid a potentially deadly confrontation. He removes his hat and sunglasses, rolls down his window, and puts out his hands to show he is not armed.
Fla. mom gets 20 years for firing warning shots
Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville had said the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law should apply to her because she was defending herself against her allegedly abusive husband when she fired warning shots inside her home…
The Zimmerman Jury Told Young Black Men What We Already Knew
“Are you safe right now?” he asked again.
My girlfriend was white. I am not.
Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” Nguyen, 28, said. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”
Stand Your Ground Increases Racial Bias in “Justifiable Homicide” Trials
The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.
Being young, black, and safe
For generations, African American parents have imparted “special knowledge” to their children…
Is George Zimmerman white or Hispanic? That depends
The genius of white supremacy is in its elasticity: It can expand to include the not-quite-right, the off-whites, when necessary, and then otherize and eject us when convenient.
The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime
There’s no such thing as “black-on-black” crime. Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other.
The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin
The system failed him when everyone in the courtroom raised racial bias in roundabout ways, but almost never directly
Questlove: Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit
Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people’s safety and comfort first, before your own.
05 Jul 2013
The conference panel, “Scaling Linguistic Diversity: Language Standardization as a Scale-Making Project,” which I organized together with Sonia Das, was accepted for the 112th AAA Annual meeting to be held at the Chicago Hilton November 20-24, 2013.
Language standardization can be usefully understood as a “scale-making project” (Tsing 2000). Standardization and linguistic differentiation (Irvine and Gal 2000) can solidify existing sociolinguistic hierarchies at the level of the nation-state, or they can challenge them, redrawing the map so as to link the local with the global in new ways. The metaphor of “sociolinguistic scale” (Blommaert 2007), based on the notion of “indexical order” (Silverstein 2003), rejects the simplistic micro-macro dichotomy, instead measuring processes of typification and framing through linguistic practices. This allows scholars to talk about the role of language in social as well as geographic mobility. Also, by treating scale as a “project,” it becomes possible to articulate its contested, ideological nature. Doing so opens up new possibilities for productive exchange between work on “language ideology” (Woolard and Schieffelin 1994) and “language and political economy” (Irvine 1989), as well as for interdisciplinary exchange around issues of heteroglossia, mobility, and indigeneity. In situations of linguistic “superdiversity” (Blommaert and Rampton 2011), scale accomplishes a lot of the work done by ecological approaches (Mühlhäusler 1996) without the burden of biological metaphors. Viewing language standardization as a scale-making project also helps to focus discussion of “linguistic fields” (Bourdieu 1977) onto processes by which official and “alternative linguistic markets” (Woolard 1985) are created. Finally scale has a temporal dimension, bringing together language trees and language maps to create vertical linkages that can either reinforce or transcend horizontal boundaries. Whether working with minorities, migrants, vernacular or endangered language communities, the papers on this panel treat language standardization as a scale-making project to explore contestations and debates surrounding language ideologies, interdiscursive processes, code-switching, and acts of sociolinguistic boundary-making. Through their attention to various scalar dimensions, metaphors, and processes, each of these papers breaks away from teleological views of language standardization that envision the authoring and institutionalization of dictionaries, religious texts and pedagogical materials as unilinear processes whose end results are a foregone conclusion. Some highlight how orthographic standards index competing language ideologies at different scales (Falconi), or how similar ideologies of scale index contradictory language ideologies pertaining to standards (Friedman). Others destabilize ideologies of diglossia (Fenigsen) and challenge simplistic notions of code-switching (Spreng) by revealing actors’ ability to negotiate evaluations of standards at multiple levels of scale. Another highlights temporal dimensions of scale by exploring how standardization naturalizes globalized pasts and futures (Das). In doing so, each of these papers raises important questions about the role of language standardization in social reproduction and social change: How do linguistic boundaries map onto geographic and temporal boundaries at different scales? How do language practices deploy scalar metaphors to index local, global, primordial, modern, and other identities? How do official language ideologies shape and, in turn, get shaped by scaling processes? How does one characterize standardization projects that cross multiple dimensions of time and space? Such questions relate scale to standardization by demonstrating the contested ideological natures of both.
Individual paper abstracts below.
Standardizing Languages and the Virtual Globalism of Tamil Sociolinguistic Worlds
Sonia N Das (New York University)
Tamil sociolinguistic worlds have often defied hegemonic ideologies of time and space associated with projects of colonialism, nationalism, and globalism (Ramaswamy 1997). Drawing from this history to advance the discussion of sociolinguistic scales (Blommaert 2007), I explore how scale-making projects (Tsing 2000) constructing globalized pasts and futures get naturalized through processes of language standardization. My analysis identifies scalar units of directionality, durability, and discreteness implicit in the structure and use of language. Through scaling processes, these units recursively map onto historical narratives that either challenge or reinforce the view that progress, newness, and radical change are prototypical signs of globalism. Focusing on the complementary experiences of Tamil-speaking refugees living in francophone Quebec and indentured laborers from colonial French India to demonstrate how their travels are alternatively imagined through narratives of primordialism, antiquity, and continuity, I argue that immobile migrants preserve their textual heritage and standardize their spoken languages to instead participate in a more virtual type of globalism. Toward this end, pedagogical materials transnationally produced for Sri Lankan refugee children attending heritage language schools in Quebec teach them to self-identify as speakers of an ancient style of literary Tamil, whereas bilingual dictionaries written in a spoken variety of Tamil and published in Pondicherry for Indian indentured laborers living in French Guiana teach children attending plantation schools there about the global pervasiveness of their language. Through the perceived antiquity and actual circulatory routes of these standardized texts, Tamil migrants learn to honor the globetrotting pasts and futures central to their identity.
The Drama of Dictionaries: Semi-Standardized Practices in the Upper Sorbian Community
Elizabeth A Spreng (Miami University and Miami University)
Working with the Sorbs, an endangered language community in eastern Germany requires an understanding of emotional impact of historical inequality, lexical change, and scale-making. Though a detailed accounting of language ideologies, processes of enregisterment, and multi-scalar linguistic evaluations of language standards, I redefine bilingual practices as semi-standardized. This hypothesis challenges an analytical perspective focused on code-switching between German and Sorbian resources highlighting movement between scales as horizontal and vertical. Furthermore, the local Sorbian dynamics speak to the multiple navigations of space and time using the difficulties that Sorbs encountered when choosing between German and Sorbian resources as evidence. In building a trilingual digital dictionary, I worked with Sorbs who feel multiple linguistic anxieties about language mixing and language standards. Their concerns revealed the awkward interconnections between local notions of diglossia and “/mish-mash/,” an array of practices using standardized/non-standardized resources. In response to my questions about borrowings, Sorbs often relied on multiple intra-lingual rather than simple diglossic distinctions of the urban-village registers. When Sorbs referred to the village register, they valorized their decisions as spoken vernacular, learned as a child, located in the village, and untouched by standardization. In contrast, when Sorbs considered the urban register that mobilizes discourses of a written standard, post-secondary education, and purity from German, they capitalized on their cosmopolitan expertise and notions of modern standards. I hope that this intervention and its focus on the everyday dramas about lexical choices can restructure the ways we consider scale-making strategies and register variation in the globalized moment.
Inside-Out: Jamaican Patois’ Scales of Belonging
Janina Fenigsen (Northern Arizona University)
In 2001, concerns with the exclusive official status of Jamaican Standard English in a society where only a minority claims competence in it, led to the establishment of the Jamaican Language Unit at the UWI, Mona, in order to pursue the officialization of Patois and to standardize its writing. The subsequent use of the modified Cassidy-LePage phonemic system in Patois literacy materials, translations of the Bible and Jamaican Charter of Rights, and in Patois advocacy websites attracted controversy. Drawing on records of communication in and about Patois in print media and online, and on sociolinguistic surveys, the paper examines how these dialogues involve and destabilize Jamaican language ideologies of diglossia, of nested sociolinguistic communities, and of monoglot standard. Informed by concerns with scale and scale-making, the paper addresses the ways in which controversies about Patois writing and officialization not only reveal predictably conflicting language ideologies but also underscore complex scalar grids summoned and emergent in the process of sociolinguistic boundary-making. The project itself as well as debates and practices that surround it mobilize sociolinguistic frames through which efforts to situate and legitimize sociolinguistic categories, selves, and linguistic practices and features take place. They call up different scales of belonging where local Jamaican identities float within global internet spaces and diasporic ones latch onto local portals; where orthographic choices collapse characteristics such as glottalization with spatio-temporal projects of global citizenship. Through indexical entailments, reference, and erasures these efforts involve yet transcend the boundaries of linguistic forms, colonial histories, and late-capitalist futures.
Scaling Zapotec Orthographies
Elizabeth A Falconi (Wellesley College)
This paper discusses an example of incipient language standardization, in a multilingual Zapotec transborder community formed by migration between San Juan Guelavía, Oaxaca, Mexico and Los Angeles, California. Using the lens of “sociolinguistic scales” (Blommaert 2007) I examine contestations underlying two distinct orthographies developed to represent San Juan Guelavía Zapotec (SJGZ). One variety was developed by a linguist from the Summer Institute for Linguistics (SIL) who worked in the village for decades, and the other by the former municipal president of the village, a native anthropologist. I consider how these orthographies index distinct ideologies of linguistic authority at different scales simultaneously. The SIL linguist’s alphabet incorporates IPA symbols, which index the authority of academic linguists, while its use in translations of Christian religious texts evoke a Protestant evangelical framework in which linguistic fidelity is privileged as the medium for authentic religious conversion. In contrast, the alphabet produced by the former municipal president is informed by an ethos of indigenous cultural autonomy shaped by his participation in state and national organizations promoting the education and deployment of native social scientists. Comparing these two orthographies thus demands a consideration of how they engage at least four different sociolinguistic contexts and scales: 1) scientific linguistics, 2) global evangelism, 3) Oaxacan ethnolinguistics, and 4) local revitalization efforts. My analysis highlights the complex layers of indexical meaning that extend outward from these two written varieties of SJGZ, a linguistic variety spoken by less than 5,000 people, and written and read by many fewer.
Mapping Language Ideology in Taiwan: Indigenous Language Standardization As a Scale-Making Project
P. Kerim Friedman (National Dong Hwa University)
Two overlapping and contradictory ideologies of scale are frequently deployed by those working for the revitalization of Taiwan’s Austronesian languages. On the one side are discourses of indigeneity which emphasize Taiwan’s role as the starting point in the Pacific migration of Austronesian peoples. On the other is the language of place-based multiculturalism, adopted as official state policy in the early nineties, which locates minorities within the Chinese cultural sphere. Where these two very different “scale-making projects” (Tsing 2000) overlap is in their definition of the basic units that make up the “sociolinguistic scale” (Blommaert 2007). For Taiwanese Aborigines, these units are largely defined linguistically, and so the process of language standardization offers a unique window onto the tensions between these two sometimes competing, sometimes complementary ideologies of scale. Fourteen Aborigine ethnic groups are officially recognized by the Taiwanese government, yet the national Proficiency Test of Aboriginal Languages (PTAL) is currently offered in forty-three different language varieties. Drawing on interviews with language activists, educators, policy makers, and linguists, this paper focuses on the process of standardization among the five Amis (Pangcah) language varieties used on the PTAL, as well as the closely related Sakizaya language. The paper concludes with a look at the very different ideologies of scale informing Maori language revitalization efforts in New Zealand. It is argued that ideologies of scale both inform and are, in turn, informed by language ideology and can help map the location of ideological fractures.
Discussant: Judith T. Irvine (University of Michigan)
26 Jun 2013
學習瀕危語言（七） [Click for English version.]
作者：傅可恩／Futing; 翻譯者：施永德 DJ Hatfield.
其實，很多方面，這一次參加母語教學活動，使我想起當時準備 bar mitzvah（猶太教的成年禮）上希伯來文學校的日子。希伯來語雖然算是一個現用語言， 不過1970年代末80年代初改革派會堂的希伯來文教學方式，接近一個死語言（如拉丁語）的課程，卻沒有日常生活利用希伯來 文的期望，學生懂得如何發音，如何將簡單的祈禱文翻成英文就夠了，那樣就可以在朗誦經文時，知道我們在說些什麼。
這樣以來，我很高興花蓮部落大學以及國立東華大學原住民民族學院能夠邀請紐西蘭基督堂城理工科技學院毛利及太平洋研究中心 （Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology Center for Maori and Pasifika Studies) 的兩位毛利族語活動家，Hana O’Regan和Megan Grace，來花蓮分享他們珍貴的經驗以及想法。Hana和Megan兩位老師 語言復振途徑，跟台灣常見的教學方式有點不相同，他們強調現用語言的建構過程，因此，他們工作地點在於家庭而不限於課堂。
Hana跟Megan所講的毛利方言是紐西蘭南島Ngai Tahu的毛利族語，在1979年被誤認為絕種，其實最後講母語的耆老直到幾年前才過世，不過他們母語臨終的事實，卻無法否認，Hana家已經有五代（113年的時間）沒有以毛利族語為母語，不過Hana近日在家裡跟小孩講毛利族語，他的小孩也互相講母語。這樣也不簡單，畢竟家裡每一個分子，都會講流利的英文，所以乾脆講英文，會比較省事，雖然如此，他們一直警惕的： Hana的小孩陪了她來台灣時，我注意到他們跟非毛利族的人講話，才會講英文。
自從他們一起推動Kotahi Mano Kaika, Kotahi Mano Wawata，已經過了13年
這個詞的意思是1000個家庭，1000場夢，指著我們Ngai Tahu在2025年前有1000 家毛利族語家庭的夢想
Hana 和Megan 談到在家裡開始利用族語必備的培訓及資源，還有他們語言復振途徑的原則，我將他們的重點歸納 （如下）：
- 他們一直需要創新，毛利族語有很多外來語，他們努力得用毛利族語詞根重新創造詞彙 （這有一點像“傳真機”跟FAX在中文的分別），為了這個目標他們甚至開了創造毛利族語新詞彙專題研討會。
- 他們製造了一個毛利族語地圖，為了幫助族人尋找用毛利族語的學校，商店，服務項目，等。 Hana曾開車經過4個市場，也是為了帶小孩去逛一個可以講毛利族語的商圈。這樣，不只是給家人將族語的機會，也會鼓勵公司雇用會毛利族語的員工。
對我來說，他們來花蓮最精彩的場面，是他們在部落大學的模範課程。相信對這部落格的讀者來講，語言沈浸式教學已經很熟悉，不過 這種以目標語言為教學工具的教學方式，在鄉間台灣還相當罕見 （除了大都會有錢家庭的小朋友可以錄取高品質英語沈浸式教學課程），無論是學英語還是原住民族語，台灣的語言教學也多用中文為教學語言。所以能夠看到整個課堂的老師，公務人員，語言活動家在一個沒有提供任何翻譯的課程學毛利族語而樂在其中，實在太棒了。
25 Apr 2013
The doctrine of noninterference turned into a charter for all around interference for one reason: the occupying power gave itself the prerogative to define the boundaries of that in which it will not interfere, and then to define the content of the authentic religion with which there was to be no interference, and finally, to acknowledge the authentic authority that would define and safeguard religion in its pure form—without external interference. The prerogative to define the boundary, the substance and the authority of the “customary,” gave vast scope to the powers of the occupying authority. But the exercise of this power, the list of those to be “protected,” was politically determined—and it grew as time passed.
Mamdani, Define and Rule
17 Apr 2013
We are very happy to announce that, in an effort to ensure that as many people as possible see our film, we are now offering Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! for online streaming via Vimeo On Demand. On Demand is a brand new distribution platform from Vimeo which allows you to watch films streaming on the web, smartphones, tablets, and on web-connected TVs (like Roku).
We hate paying for things which we don’t get to keep, so we are especially pleased that Vimeo offers filmmakers the option of including file downloads as well as online streaming. If you watch our film online on Vimeo you can also download a copy of the film to your own hard drive and watch it whenever and wherever you want.
Since we first released the DVD people have been asking us about online access, and after looking at all the available options we feel that Vimeo On Demand offers users the best possible viewing experience. If you haven’t seen the film yet, we hope that the ease of using Vimeo On Demand will convince you to watch it today! If you do watch it on Vimeo, please be sure to let others know how much you like it by leaving a review.
Although Vimeo On Demand splits revenue 90/10 with the filmmaker, there is a hefty annual fee. For this reason we aren’t sure how long we will be able to keep the film online, so consider this a limited-time experiment. We don’t expect to turn a profit, but we do need to break-even…
Online streaming via Vimeo as well as the downloadable movie file are intended only for individual viewers. We ask that those interested in holding public screenings of the film, such as classroom use, continue to purchase the DVD via our via our website. We offer discounts on DVD purchases by individuals, non-profits, and community colleges.
17 Apr 2013
We are very happy to announce that Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! will have its North American premier in New York City at the 13th Annual New York Indian Film Festival . (You can purchase tickets for the Saturday, May 4th screening via the website.)
For those in Europe, the film will be playing Etnofilm in Rovinj, Croatia later this month and Ethnocineca in Vienna in mid-May.
Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! has also screened at numerous festivals since our last update. For the full schedule of screenings please see our website
In addition to festival screenings we’ve done a number of university screenings followed by Q&A sessions we’ve conducted via Skype. These have worked out surprisingly well and we are always happy to work with schools to organize such screenings. Just drop us an email if you are interested.