January 29, 2006
Bedstand reading this week: East of Eden
An ache was on the top of his stomach, an apprehension that was like a sick thought. It was a Weltschmerz - which we use to call "Welshrats" - the world sadness that rises into the soul like a gas and spreads despair so that you probe for the offending event and can find none.
Well, I found a few, actually.
An Affair of Love
Although my patience with slow, character-driven French films is diminishing, I liked this 1999 film all right. It wasn't particularly sexy, despite the subject: a six-month "pornographic" affair carried on and then narrated to an unseen interviewer by two characters whose names are never revealed to us or to each other. I was in mild suspense about the particular unorthodox act they carried out. The real subject of the film is error: of memory, of emotion, of communication.
The question I was left with was about personal narrative. The two preface their lovemaking with what is described as easy, natural conversations as they grow to like each other over the months. They also claim that there was an implicit rule not to bring their lives into the conversations. Could one really have such weekly chats about anything without growing difficulty in keeping out the rest of one's life, one's background and history? So much of what I know, believe, think, is linked to my life in such a way that abstracting it in a series of conversations like these would become artificial, stilted, and, ultimately impossible, I think. Obviously thought is social, but there are moments when we perceive it or represent as individual. An intense interpersonal relationship could not be such a setting, it seems to me, without excruciating work.
January 27, 2006
An op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by Canadian columnist Colby Cosh apparently intends to lampoon Canada's liberalism, suggesting that it's so intractable that many apparently absurd political facts are likely to survive Conservative Prime Minister-elect Harper's reign.
Problem is, all but one sound pretty damn good to me, and even the questionable one (cheap but poor quality health care) wouldn't seem too bad to an uninsured American.
Let's see (quoting probably far too much for our unfair fair-use laws)...
Canada currently has no laws in force concerning abortion.And quite right, too! What's not to like about Canada? Ok, except maybe for the WW2 vets. It should be easy for them to get benefits, too.
The late Liberal government legalized same-sex marriage.
Gay Americans, recognized here as an oppressed class, can expect to be greeted with filial embraces. But they're still Americans, so we'll also be fumbling around in vain for the volume knob.
The courts...are dominated by buck-wild, porn-loving Liberal appointees.
In sum: Canada remains...a country where cigarettes are taxed 300% to 400% but heroin is free to addicts; where gay widowers have an easier time obtaining their pension entitlements than World War II veterans; and where a woman can go topless in public unles she has hate literature tattooed on her breast.
Sometimes I wish I could find our volume knobs as well.
Hamas, Bush, the Media
The White House position seems to be that we won't deal with a Palestinian government that doesn't recognize Israel's "right to exist."
I have reservations about all this talk in the media that Hamas will have to become less ideological, accept a two-state solution, and recognize this dubious "right to exist." Someone once told me that the phrase "right to exist" was coined by Henry Kissinger precisely to be something many Arab states and movements would never agree to. What does it mean? Does it mean accepting a state's self-definition: its histories and mythologies; its current, once, or future boundaries; its existing political formation? Should American Indians recognize the US "right to exist" if that's what it means?
It's hard to know how much Arab rhetoric about Israel is truly a denial of the right of Jews to live in Palestine and to self govern and how much is based on a well-founded fear that if the important unsolved issues in the establishment of the state of Israel are pragmatically and provisionally resolved, Palestinian Arabs will be locked into permanent apartheid in Israel, a permanent refugee status outside Palestine, and in insecure and nonviable enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza.
It's reasonable to expect Hamas to merge its fighters into a disciplined and legal Palestine security force and to stop terrorist acts. But a democratic one-state solution for Palestine is a serious position with respectable proponents, including within Israel. It seems that many pro-Hamas votes were votes against corruption, but many likely express sympathy for stronger bargaining positions. It would not be in the interests of democracy to force Hamas to radically change their political goals, now with a democratic mandate, out of fear of losing foreign aid.
January 21, 2006
AAA: sections & publications
This is Dan Segal, posting as a guest here on John Norvell's blog. This is a response to the discussion of section finances and AAA publishing on Savage Minds:
I will try to briefly convey my understanding of the finances of AAA journals and AAA sections with journals, based on my experiences as a former editor of a Section journal (Cultural Anthropology), a past Section president (of SCA), and as the current convener of the AAA Section Assembly.
First, let me note that one thing that makes it difficult to assess the financial well-being of journals per se is that such Sections have at least two primary sources of income: (i) institutional subscriptions to their journal and (ii) membership dues. Without question, the income from institutional subscriptions is journal-derived. The difficulty is that income from membership dues to some extent results because scholars want to receive the journal (since the journal is a benefit of Section membership); even if the journal is not the sole reason, someone joins a Section, it is part of why members are willing to pay higher membership dues, for instance. Yet there is no way to know what proportion of income from Section dues should be treated as “journal-derived.” Economists typically try to model such things, but anthropologists should know better. What the AAA does, in its book-keeping, is count income from Section dues as external to the finances of each Section journal. Given this, it often appears as if Section journals are running at a deficit, but this is because they depend on funds that are from Section dues that are not counted as “journal income.” That is nothing more than an accounting artifact. It is not a real deficit. The real issue is when a Section runs at a deficit, particularly if it does so for several years.
In terms of increased costs, it is the case that electronic publishing of current and back issues of Section journals in AnthroSource has involved significant one-time costs (though these are lower than they would have been had the AAA not had support from Mellon). However, the expectation is that as AnthroSource revenues increase in the next few years, these one-time costs will be “paid back” by the new income from AnthroSource. Thus, the primary problem produced by the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource is one of financing a transition. This has been a problem for a small number of Sections.
However, in terms of recurring or operating costs, my understanding is that the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource has not involved a significant increase in expenses for journals. What must be clarified, however, is that before the time of AnthroSource, the AAA itself produced the Section journals, and Sections were then charged by the AAA for this work. But at the same time as the advent of AnthroSource, journal production was also outsourced to UC Press. This outsourcing is coincident with but distinct from AnthroSource, and it involved a change in accounting procedures, but not, as best I can tell, any material increase in costs to Sections for producing their journals. Indeed, the argument for outsourcing was that the costs of producing journals were increasing, particularly when production was done on a relatively small scale (as was the case within the AAA); and furthermore, that the most likely route to controlling cost increases was through the economies of scale that could be attained through outsourcing AAA journals to a bigger operation (e.g., a major university press). When all is said and done, of course, it is very hard to compare the actual rate of increases in production costs that have occurred since the outsourcing of the journals with the hypothetical rate of increases in production costs that would have been incurred, had the AAA continued to produce its journals internally. Nonetheless, I do not think there is evidence that the outsourcing to UC Press has backfired and produced higher costs than we would have otherwise had, and I myself lean toward the view that outsourcing to UC Press has been more beneficial, financially, than not having done so. Moreover, one of the hoped for benefits of outsourcing was better marketing to institutions, as well as cost control through economies of scale. Here too, I lean in favor of the argument for having outsourced, in terms of finances at least.
So far, what I have said should be taken to convey that neither the electronic publishing aspect of AnthroSource nor the coincident but distinct outsourcing to UC Press have been a source of significant financial difficulty to Sections or Section journals.
But there is in my view another dimension to or aspect of AnthroSource, which has been much less recognized and which is potentially a very serious threat to the financial stability of the Sections and indeed to the AAA as a whole.
In addition to outsourcing to UC Press, and in addition to electronic publishing, a third aspect of the recent transition was the decision to market the journals in AnthroSource as a bundle, rather than market electronic access to each journal on an “a la carte” basis. The key fact here is that all AAA members now get electronic access to all Section journals in AnthroSource, without paying dues to all those Sections. Recall moreover that a major component of Section income is Section dues, which to some unknown extent is motivated by the benefit of receiving a subscription to a Section’s journal. Surely it is plausible that if AAA members get AnthroSource, and thus electronic access to all of the journals, that some AAA members will henceforth be less likely to join Sections that they joined in the past or would have joined without the bundling of journals in AnthroSource. So the real threat to Section finances is not the cost of electronic publishing in my view, but the loss of Section dues income because of the bundling of journals in AnthroSource.
Now, AAA rules do require that each AAA member join one Section, so what is threatened by the bundling of journals in AnthroSource (note, not by the electronic AnthroSource per se, but by the bundling aspect of AnthroSource) is membership in second and third and fourth Sections. The AAA has statistics which show how many Sections AAA members belong to on average (and the degrees of overlap in or correlation in membership between Sections), and these stats do indicate that many Sections will have problems if AAA members exhibit a decreased propensity to join more than one Section.
Finally, two further aspects of this are worth noting.
First, if a Section loses members and thus dues revenues, because their journal(s) are now bundled in AnthroSource, then that Section will thereafter not have sufficient funds to produce its journal, and if the journal declines or even ceases to publish, then the value of AnthroSource will also decrease—and AAA will be less successful in marketing AnthroSource. Thus, AAA as a whole has a vital interest in insuring that the emerging revenue stream from AnthroSource be distributed in a manner that supports Sections that publish journals that are in AnthroSource. But there is a genuinely tough politics in just how this should be done. Here’s why:
The costs of electronic publishing of a standardized page of a journal is the same for all Sections, and this would argue for a flat revenue distribution scheme: each journal would get revenue proportionate to the number of standardized pages it publishes. But on the other hand, journals with higher citation rates and so on are adding more value to AnthroSource than journals with lower citation rates and so on—specifically in terms of driving institutional subscriptions to AnthroSource. So from this perspective, there is an argument that revenues should be distributed by a formula that is weighted for “value added to AnthroSource.” Thus, there is a nontrivial difference in the material interests of different Sections, and the AAA and its Sections need to deal with that difference through an open and deliberative process.
Second, the current structure insulates and treats uniquely better one AAA journal, above all others. All AAA members receive AA and AA gets revenues from AAA dues. AA is not published by a Section that has to get people to join AFTER paying the AAA dues. And yet, now that AnthroSource, with its bundle of journals, is a benefit of AAA membership, part of the very value of AAA membership is electronic access to Section journals—and in that sense, the Sections are contributing in a major way to the value of AAA membership, and thus driving AAA income, even though the Sections and their journals (unlike AA) do not get any income from AAA membership dues. Thus, in a nontrivial sense, the Sections that produce journals are to some extent subsidizing AA, at the expense of support for their own journals. (To be fair about this, it is important to note that the Sections do get services from AAA that are probably not fully charged to the Sections, but this was true before the transition to AnthroSource, with its bundling of journals, so the point remains that with the advent of the “bundling” of journals, the Sections are newly contributing to the worth of AAA membership, and to the support of AA, and not getting comparable new revenues from AAA membership dues.)
For me, two points unfold from this second observation. First, the Section journals are disadvantaged by the AAA relative to the AA. And I myself do not see why the AAA as an organization should operate to treat AA (and the distinctive flavor of “general” anthropology it offers) as more important than the Section journals (with their equally distinctive flavors of anthropologies). Second, the future of the Sections may require some revenue sharing from AAA dues, as well as revenue sharing from AnthroSource income.
In conclusion, AnthroSource, because of its bundling of electronic access to journals, does pose a significant unknown problem to the finances of Sections that produce journals. Solving that problem involves a difficult political choice about the principles that will be used for distributing AnthroSource income and possible AAA membership dues derived income. A second difficult political decision is whether the AAA should continue to privilege AA, and in effect use revenues fueled by Section journals to subsidize AA.
Baseball and Cuba
The Treasury Department reversed its earlier ruling and agreed to allow the Cuban baseball team come to the US to play in the first World Classic tournament (story in the LA Times). This is, of course, good for baseball--I'm thinking of The Game, not necessarily the American baseball industry. Pressure in the US often took the usual "active engagement" form: that by allowing more interchange we will allow the Cubans to see the advantages of our "democracy" and "freedom." These days I'm usually too cynical about the state of American democracy to see that we have much positive to teach anyone. But seriously, just what would the lesson from the US be for a country whose aspirations for freedom from US domination have been attacked, embargoed, contained and isolated by us from day one? I suspect the lesson most have in mind is the standard fantasy of consumer acquisition through market capitalism that we sell everywhere. The difference in average wealth Cubans already know all too well. What do we expect?: "Oh, I get it now; if we just overthrow Castro we'll all be comfortably middle class and be able to buy tickets to as many baseball games as we want, or at least a big television."
January 20, 2006
Well, we do it for the Chinese...
Today's news that Yahoo and Microsoft responded to supoenas for Internet search records while Google has decided to fight (the L.A. Times story) made me think about the anonymizer websites some organizations were putting up for the Chinese when Google searches were blocked by the Chinese government and Chinese citizens risked trouble because of what they sought out on the Internet. Why is no one proposing these for Americans? Or rather, for the world, as protection against the American government? I remember a couple of sites, one in Denmark, I think, where about ten years ago one could connect through to hide traces of one's activities. A proxy running SSL and--accountably--vaporizing all traces of connections would do the trick. Why aren't civil liberties and human rights groups setting such proxies up? Why aren't Americans asking for them?
Why did encryption never really catch on for email, for that matter? People demanded it for their Amazon.com and bank transactions, but free and simple encryption software for emails has been out there for a long time without widespread adoption. I've installed multiple versions, but I never had anyone to send encrypted mail to and hardly anyone ever sent one to me, except to see if it worked. This article, among many, explains public key encryption and makes the analogy to the mail: we seal our letters and expect privacy with our mail not because we're criminals, but because we can. Now the reasons to do so online are a little more urgent, I'd say.
There was also a time when some privacy activists would add "spook words" to emails, words that supposedly attract and waste the attention of Carnivore/Echelon-type data mining. Swamping the Internet with communications with these words would shut down the endeavor. Maybe. I did this for a few weeks in the early 1990s. If everyone Googled--wait, Yahoo'd--"bomb instructions" at least once a day, would that discourage government deep sea fishing through our privacy?
I doubt it. Why don't we seek out what the Chinese and other censored populations get: anonymizing proxies. Congress gets upset when US companies capitulate to Chinese censorship. Some of the same techniques and habits to work around censorship should also put government data mining out of business, along with the significant attendant threats to privacy and civil liberties. I suppose a few innocent Americans will need to be caught up in the nets because of unlucky patterns of Internet use before this catches on.
January 13, 2006
The Brazilian Race Stats Game
A story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday reports on a new "black-owned" TV channel in Brazil that attempts to address the paucity of black faces on television there. This is a topic where the same misleading and outdated factoids ("Brazil's population is 50% black," "Xuxa is the standard of beauty," "few black faces on TV," ...) are traded around academic and journalistic writing alike, all building up to an elliptical and coy conclusion that Brazilians are deluded about racism in their country. (Pictured above is Netinho de Paula, founder of the channel.)
Here's the letter to the editor that I submitted yesterday. I don't now if they'll publish it (it's a little long):
Henry Chu's article (January 12) about Brazil's new black television channel leads with a misleading claim that has unfortunately become a cliché in writing about Brazil. The idea that blacks “make up nearly half the population” in Brazil is a statistical bait-and-switch that counts as “black” those who claim some African ancestry or use any nonwhite racial term to identify themselves. Since many of these people are in fact light-skinned, they are then not counted as “black” faces on television. Dark faces are no doubt under-represented on Brazilian television, but it's impossible to say by how much. Furthermore, "black” media make sense in the US because there are distinct African-American cultural forms to be represented and a fairly clear “black” audience. In Brazil, by contrast, there are no dialects or cultural traditions that can be identified as distinctively black and only a very small percentage of the population that identifies itself that way.Dark-skinned Brazilians are disproportionately poor, and whatever cultural commonalities they seem to share they also share with other poor Brazilians. One important reason that such recent initiatives as the “TV da Gente” black television channel are criticized is that they focus on race in isolation from the broad and subtle forms of prejudice that keep Brazil such an unequal society. Facile comparisons with US racial issues make meaningful solutions for Brazil harder to achieve.
Xuxa's show is long gone from TV Globo, and I don't think that Blonde No. 2 Angelica's show is on anymore either. This is not, of course, to say that Brazil doesn't have a color prejudice problem or that it's not reflected on TV. It's just that thinking on these issues never goes anywhere because most scholars who work in this area are mired in an unproductive and misleading comparative framework, perpetuated by a kind of exasperated taken-for-granted tone and the "50% black" and "most African-descended people after Nigeria" canards.
The Ethnic Multicutlural Media Academy had this to say about the case:
After 300 years of slavery, and non-white faces being a rare thing in media and politics, TV da Gente, Brazil’s first black television channel, aims to bridge racial divide.
Excuse me, "bridge a divide"? With a channel called "Our TV"?
Even though LA Times reporter Henry Chu can't understand why, he does report that there has been a vociferous Brazilian reaction against the network that sees the move as "racist."