Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Today I attended the feminist dialogue in the morning, in the English 5 group, which included women from India, Africa, Uruguay, US, Scotland, Canada & Malaysia. Our goal was to come up with three strategies for feminists, although the guidelines were general, and hence the discussion rather diffuse. It was difficult to arrive at specific strategies. We often proposed goals or pointed to difficulties, such as whether one works with religious women or whether we are seeking alternatives to capitalism or are resigned to working within it. (The World Social Forum seems to belong to the latter camp.)

Now back for the plenary.

Monday, January 24, 2005


The blizzard of Jan 2005 slowed many pilgrims -- flights cancelled, many delays, reservation not recognized. But I made it to Buenos Aires on a flight to Porto Alegre full of the tell-tale figures of the World Social Forum -- nuns in blue robes, passports of all colors, and alternative dress to the business class. I sat in the last available seat between a bearded community radio activist who had dabbled in archeology, and looked the part and the Filipina woman -- who knew him from listservs & radio organizing -- who works for the Women~s Int~l Tribune Center, but recently for ISIS (which organized the feminist dialogue I was trying to attend). So we had a nice chat in the very last row of TAM flight 1802, on which they serve whiskey & wine at no extra charge to economy class.

I caught a cab with Marvik to the feminist dialogue, where I ran into Svati, Sususanna George, Susanna Fried, Sonia Alvarez, and Cynthia Rothschild and met others.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


From a New Yorker cartoon (1/17/2005: 74)

"Understand, Richardson, I don't believe in evolution, but I do believe in Darwinism."

American fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative Christians reject Darwinism but they embrace social darwinism -- competition, winners & losers, "natural" gender/sex.

Perhaps we could redraw the logo on cars as an outline of a fish eating a smaller fish.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Shortly after the December tsunami, the Pottery Barn catalogue arrived, announcing the Sumatra collection. (The distinctive grain of naturally distressed hardwood...)
see http://ww1.potterybarn.com/cat/collections.cfm?type=coll&src=nulafurbedall%7Ccf042Crcollections&root=collections&pgid=p949&lid=16&gids=p949&cid=f042

It's not Pottery Barn's fault, they didn't cause the tsunami or control the timing. The catalogue copy does not wax on and on about colonial or native charms.

Yet PB's furniture line illustrates retailers' penchant for choosing place names as series, to capture diffuse qualities without paying copyright fees. And to the enduring attractions of the colonial aura. (The chests certainly aren't meant to convey indigenous appointments.)

Could places copyright their name and the associations with it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


The abuse of doomed animals at a West Virginia chicken plant suggests parallels with the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib (and other US military cells?).

"Former workers at a chicken-processing plant caught on tape allegedly kicking and slamming chickens against a wall will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor said yesterday. Ginny Conley, head of a state prosecutors' organization, said the incident at the Pilgrims Pride plant in Moorefield, W.Va., did not warrant criminal charges because "these were chickens in a slaughterhouse."
"It needs to be handled more on a regulatory end than prosecuting someone criminally," she said. AP 1/11/05

Lynndie England worked at a chicken plant. She joined the reserves when she was still in high school and by the time she was out of her teens, she had been married and divorced within a year, lived in a trailer park and spent nights working in a chicken processing factory. (From Sunday Herald May 2004)

From parallel to linkages:
  • roots in West Virginia
  • the violent frustrations of the working class (or lumpen class?)
  • the abuses of animals and dehumanized foreigners, the disregard for Others
  • the answer is "to be handled more on a regulatory end than prosecuting someone", at least someone responsible

(Thank the goddess that Lynddie England is not a lesbian.)


Executives from Enron & Worldcom are giving back money. Schadenfreude. Yet, they will be payng back millions to.....investors. Not Enron employees who lost their pensions but uninvolved, unaccountable stockholders.

The news made a big fuss out of the fact that the money is from their own pockets!!! It's significant because it makes the often untouchable (=their bank accounts) accountable, yet also illustrates how rarely executives actually pay for themselves. They pay for few of their gifts, little of their entertainment or travel, their legal fees, or for their home.

In Canada, Nortel executives will give back excessive bonuses (after manipulated financial reports to produce inflated rewards). Apparently this is the first time that executives had to give back money they produced by lying ("mistatements"). In the US, the government is trying to force top Fannie May executives to return ill-got bonuses as well.

See the Sarbanes-Oxley act in the US.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


The move to privatize social security -- or create "personal" accounts in the administration's Newspeak that the media cheerfully reproduces -- attacks one of the few areas of socialization of risk left for ordinary people.

Social security was a cornerstone of the post-depression contract between business, labor, and the government. It represented a safeguard against communism and socialism.

Why is the current corporatized government not afraid of worker unrest? Is it because communism is dead? Because they have dismantled unions?

Why don't the spate of corporate scandals inhibit them? Enron? Worldcom? Tyco? Or the galling contrast betweeen the golden parachutes/indulgent pensions for execs (who perhaps worked for a company for a few years) and those of ordinary workers who may have worked decades, their entire working life for the firm?

Executive compensation is unhinged from any straightforward concept of labor, certainly in terms of time -- it is not alienated labor by the hour. The term plunder appears. The executive elite distribute rewards among themselves as if it were monopoly money -- millions here and there, now and in the future. (I just read the New Yorker article on Eisner & Ovitz: a bad and illegal hire results in millions for both and a few hundred thou for the fellow who brokered it.)

Monday, January 10, 2005


Because Wal-Mart employees are paid so little, they are poor. The government (taxpayer) then subsidizes their lives. In Georgia, one in four of the company's employees had a child in the state's program for needy children in 2003.

For a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store, the US government is spending:

  • $108,000 for children's healthcare (California spent $20.5 million on WalMart employees' medical care)
  • $125,000 in tax credits & deductions for low-income families
  • $42,000 in housng assistance
  • = $420,000/year or $2,103 per employee in this store -- and the company employs 1.2 people

Taxpayers subsidize corporate accumulation. (This is even more extreme if you factor in government support after retirement.)

This information is from a February 2004 report by the House Education and Workforce Committee (from the Democratic staff), reported in a review of texts on Wal-Mart by Simon Head, "Inside the Leviathan," The New York Review of Books (Dec. 16 2004: 88) .

Friday, January 07, 2005


We just watched Man on Fire for sultry Denzel Washington and as Stephanie Grant said, it's a Bush reelection movie. All Mexican men are corrupt or impotent (or both, as is the father-husband character who cannot respond to his seductive American wife). The best father is a kidnapper who is indifferent about his pregnant wife and disembodied as "the voice." It takes an American -- here cast as a black American -- to become the stand-in father and stand-up guy as penance for unspecified patriotic crimes in the line of counter-insurgency duty. The Mexican men are not portrayed as conventional machos, the virality drained from them by corrupt economic third-world ambition. The Mexican spunky daughter is played by a blonde American. The American wife tunes in and out of a southern-belle accent. The enduring usefulness of Others, altered here by a black man as the flawed born-again hero.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


[Heroic music. Pan bleak tropical coastal landscape to CU of white American man holding Asian child. American-made chopper lifts off/touches down in background.]

US Helicopters aid rescue effort.
The nationality of a particular mode of transport makes headlines. Can you imagine:
Thai rickshaws convey food supplies
PRC-made bicycles move hundreds of tsumani refugees

How many photos of the Lone US Aid-worker (or soldier) holding an Asian youth can grace the above-the-fold front pages of US dailies? They have replaced the image of grief-struck keening women in sarongs as the narrative changes from Generic Third-World Natural Disaster to US-as-Hero.

The story of aid has become the an evaluation of US generosity. In ways this is good -- the assertions of American generosity reflect a nervous response to global criticism. The increase from a few mill to $35 mill to $350 mill as only the beginning is a product of critique.

That we spend more on killing than saving usually goes without commentary. Some handy graphs -- bombs and coffins compared to food packets and bandages -- would be a contribution from the media.


Commentors spoke of candidate's presidential qualities -- this refers to their legitimacy, their ability to embody and convey legitimate rule. Clearly Bush exhibited a quality of legitimacy, hence, even if people saw themselves as adversely affected by his policies, they saw him as the one authorized to rule.

What this points to is the construction of legitimacy. What confers the authority to govern? The mode of masculinity is clearly essential, condensed in qualities of resolve in this contest. It also raises the question of the legitimacy of government -- the winning candidate (barely winning, it must be remembered) best exemplifies the kind of legitimacy the US government is presumed to have, or desired to have.

This election was about meta-level concerns -- not who was qualified, or who would be best to rule, but a debate about what qualities people desire to be best. The red states were voting over the desire for legitimacy, rather than actual legitimate qualifications. Bush spoke to the desire for legitimacy, the desire for given authority. He reflected a wish that conventional structures be effective and virtuous -- the wish to have government appear to be what it is supposed to be. It is a desire for the appearance of authority that is a condition of legitimacy, of the operations of rule.

The Red Staters are the real post-moderns, embracing surface, appearance, style, and engaging in debates about that level, all through the currency of the real.