Friday, November 30, 2007

We Deserve What We Get Part II

I received a response by Charles that went like this:
@ Banzai Bill

I don't think I'm a flame artist (guessing at what that means); I think I'm serious. I am actually just a guy who does not see the need for a comprehensive social revolution here.
I never thought of myself as naive or as representing a segment of society who is oblivious and uncritical of their government, but I suppose I'll allow that there are many who think like I do. But regardless of why they think as they do, there is a majority of the population that does not see itself as living under an oppressive regime or blindly imprisoned by a social system bent on keeping them down. Sure there are people who think that, but if you want to find intelligent people who think that, you need to go to college campuses and coffee houses.

The same arguments of impermeable social strata and prophecies of impending social collapse are, to me, tired. They seem to appear fairly regularly on a fifty year cycle, and thankfully mainstream America doesn't listen. And why should it? Mainstream America will never espouse fringe views unless they perceive their situation to be dire. They don't, because to them it isn't, and that's all that matters. As persuasive as some brands of social thought may have been to them when they were in college or grad school, most Americans divorce these ideas as they become less divorced from responsibility to the point where most who think this way beyond the age of thirty are college professors.

Most Americans see actions taken recently by the government to be unfortunate, but some think that those actions are justified. I'm one of those guys. People who don't speak out against the government or seek sweeping social change don't always hold those beliefs due to naivete. Many who don't have the same problems with society as you do aren't simply acquiescing uncritically. I'm just thankful this "naive" population outnumbers the socialists.

"Your revolution's over, Lebowski! The bums lost! Condolences! The bums will always lose!"

My response is long....

Charles,

This could become a “last word” debate, and I don’t want to be a part of that. I think you affirm exactly my points, though, in your response. I also feel that you didn’t realize that your comments supported everything I posted.

First, a little about Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu. Neither of these social theorists would ever be thought of a “social revolutionaries.” Weber’s theories have become standard among many disciplines, with his classic work on Bureaucracy as the maxim in the business world. It’s unfortunate that the business world interprets his theory as a “positive” description of how organizations work rather than the “critical” perspective Weber intended. He was not an advocate of the type of “revolution” envisioned by Marx—indeed, he was extremely critical of Marx’ naivety in this area. Bourdieu also never advocated revolution. If change was to take place, it would be through a rather pragmatic and incremental process as people began to understand their position within the class structure and worked to ease or remedy gross social inequalities.

Second, you are correct that many of us lose touch with these social theories once we leave college. That is unfortunate, since they can be so helpful in understanding potential outcomes of actions by leaders, organizations, and institutions in this (and any other) society. A theoretical perspective helps us make sense of the seemingly chaotic (or logically structured) social world. It is the starting point for not only intellectual dialogue and analysis of problems—it is necessary in any credible policy discussion. Again, you are correct to posit that most of us lose touch with theory because we are too busy with everyday life. This is accurate and unfortunate—our lives, as dictated by our relations to global capitalism, keep us from finding the time to sit, read, reflect, critique, debate, and educate. I find most of today’s discussions are not critiques or debates—they are shouting matches that are empirically and theoretically groundless and turn into personal inflammatory attacks. What free time we do find we consume ourselves in entertainment—with or without friends and family.

Third, without a theoretical understanding of the world, you will continue to not see the oppressive conditions in which we all live in. You don’t have to side with me on this—you can pick noted “functional” or “systems” theorists like Durkheim or Parsons. Both stated that capitalist states do produce unequal outcomes—that’s the nature of capitalism. But for Durkheim, the moral imperative (and indeed the truly best functional operation) in a society is to measure people based on their Achieved characteristics—not their ascribed characteristics. When people are no longer able to move up the social ladder based on their lack of social networks, status positions, or free and open access to wealth creation, then the system becomes dysfunctional and must become balanced (equilibrium). Governments, according to Durkheim, must step in and enforce this balanced state of equilibrium. Ironically, we are seeing some “potential” of that taking place today—and may see further movement in that direction—when businesses begin making requests for government to “re-regulate” their runaway industries. Businesses cannot make those decisions on their own—they cannot stop being competitive with others in their industries. But they also realize this runaway capitalist process is damaging to the social structure and they are requesting government step in to control the situation (if I can find it, I will refer you to a NYTimes article that dealt with this issue a few months ago. There are other published examples in recent months as well).

You imply that I and others like me who state that we live in an “oppressive” state are promoting some sort of “conspiratory” process by “big business boogiemen” trying to horde all the profits to themselves. Though some people on the fringe might actually believe this, again this is not a theoretically grounded position. In its simplest, the oppressive state is merely an outcome of capitalism—it is how capitalism works. Free markets produce monopolistic conditions (see economic theory and empirical research to back that up as well). It is not a conspiracy on anyone’s part—it is just the nature of capitalism. Social theory (conflict and functionalism) states that some force (the people themselves or the government, depending on your perspective) must step in to remedy the “natural” extreme inequalities that emerge in capitalism. We don’t realize, at times, that we live in these oppressive conditions because governments and capitalists have been able to “buffer” its impact either with social programs (homeownership incentives and tax write-offs, for example) or business programs (easy access to credit, lower home-loan requirements) help maintain the fa├žade of a “good” quality of life. What Blake observes, and quite accurately I might add, is that the business side is about to fall in on itself—causing large numbers of people who previously felt “comfortable” to come face-to-face with the reality of the social inequalities imbedded in capitalism. Those affected can either move towards perhaps government stepping in to soften the blow of this problem, or they can just “adjust” to this new problem, lower their quality of life, and apathetically accept it. Using Weber again as my starting point, I “predict” the “apathy” option—I don’t have much confidence in our society seeking ANY solution to this dilemma unless some leader emerges to 1) educate and articulate the dimensions of this problem, and 2) can charismatically lead a policy-change movement.

On a personal note—I am surrounded by a number of significantly disgruntled people in my community. They understand, in my conversations with them, that the society is oppressive, it is unfair, that they are usually on the short end of the stick, that their families are sacrificing significantly for the policies initiated by what they realize is an unfair social system and business-focused government. They are concerned with their personal futures, and the future of their children. They are somewhat disappointed in people who don’t see this situation, but are not surprised. They apathetically accept the condition of today’s society, and are rather unwilling to do anything about it since it could jeopardize their careers. They also realize, to a certain extent, that we all are rather apathetic and as long as we all have a perceived good quality of life, we conveniently don’t see the oppression. Well, they’ve experienced the oppression and unfairness, probably starting in October 2006, and If there is anything I might put in their mouths to tell people like you, I think they would say “wake up,” especially as it begins to affect more of us.

Who are these people in my community? They are active-duty men and women and their families who are stationed at Ft. Hood. Over the last four weeks, we have seen about 10,000 troops rotate out of Iraq, while another 10,000 troops are on their way to Iraq. I have a number of friends who serve in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and I sit with the loved ones left behind on a weekly basis as they try to make sense of how they are going to raise their children without a spouse for 15 months (15 MONTHS!!!). They are concerned that if their spouse is perhaps injured in Iraq, they might lose their benefits if he or she is medically discharged—I’m sure you’ve read the articles related to these actions over the past few weeks. They are concerned with the quality of health care they would receive in any case. They can’t believe that their loved ones will be assigned as convoy escorts in dangerous areas, getting paid minimally, yet those in Blackwater get paid $90,000 to do the same work, and if Blackwater personnel don’t like the “heat,” they can always quit. The families and the soldiers are not “revolutionaries” in any way—but they would like to see the oppressive system we live in today start to take care of the people, like themselves, near the middle or the bottom of the social ladder. And, honestly, they would like to see people like yourself, who are not sacrificing at all in this effort (other than perhaps paying for the war for generations to come) to “wake up” and reflect on the direction this society is going in. They can’t speak out because it would jeopardize their careers, but they know its going to be people in the civilian world who must wake up and help change policy.

We Deserve What Is Coming

My friend Blake Haney started something on his Blog Humid Haney the other day that brought a number of people into the discussion.

I thought I would repost some of the conversations here and see where it goes. If anything, I worked too hard on my responses not to see them uploaded here :)

Blake wrote:
We Deserve What Is Coming.
I know what I think is going to happen to the Republic of America in the next 10 years.:

The breakdown of the economy. The schism in our society with those who want to keep supporting the limitations on civil liberties "to keep us safe" and those who wish to break free from state control. The haves and the have-nots getting more spread out and ranks increased. The effects of the lack of investment in our higher education and infrastructure.

And I think we deserve it because we are stupid. We are lazy. We lack vision. We are scared and too religious. We let the media and our government play us.

What do you think?

What got me going was a response by “Charles” that seemed to reflect what I hear often in the public media or on conservative talk-shows:
What country out there provides more hope for the average citizen than the U.S.? Got one? What's their population?
My plan for personal success, regardless of national debt, civil liberties, religion, or media:
1.)Work Hard
2.)Lead a moral life
3.)When a problem arises, don't complain; solve it.

This rather “flippant” response moved me to respond with this:

Good, and unfortunate, assessment. I tend to see things in a very similar and theoretically grounded way. Max Weber said as much would happen to any society which "rationally" operated, yet the rationality created class/status/power system of stratification would become "rationally" impermeable as those groups who control scarce resources seek to maintain those resources. Weber is pessimistic about any social change emerging from this system--only that tensions will emerge as people "realize" that the so-called "fair" system is nothing of the sort, but even then what will be required is a "charismatic" leader to emerge to carry the cause. Even if this is achieved, this charismatic leader can take on the humanistic virtues of Martin Luther King, Jr., or the totalitarian characteristics of a Hitler.

Charles, I really have to laugh at your comments. I don't know whether to take you as serious or as a flame artist. I'm afraid that if you are serious, you reflect the naive tenor of many in American society who do not see the truly oppressive and unfair state we live in--all of us, except those who control between 1 to 5% of wealth in this society. Both Weber and Pierre Bourdieu lay strong foundations for the way those who sit below the top class/status/power tier "legitimate" the existing oppressive and unfair social system, thinking the system is indeed fair and just. Until a good number of us realize how this system is working against our own self- and species interest, and then work to educate others about it, we are not going to see any signficant social change. Unfortunately, by the time we do realize this, it may be the end of our society as we know it.

I'll have more on this conversation in the next post.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday. Cece is visiting, so we've got a nearly complete family festival. Here's what's on the menu today:

Turkey (of course, though I would like to hear of alternatives)
Oyster Stuffing
Sweet Potatoes (not as good as Miss Lee's, but I'm still trying)
Corn Macque Choux
Jambalaya
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberries (of course)
Yeast Rolls
Apple and Pecan Pies
WWOZ on the Radio

Any leftover turkey becomes Turkey Gumbo tomorrow :)

Y'all can come over if you like :)

Have a great holiday
Banzai

Monday, November 19, 2007

Finally--Elections Are Over

The election is over, thankfully. What a pitiful slate of candidates in general. And I hated the fact that if I had to choose between Jackie and Cynthia, I would have wrote someone else in....

Well, Jackie’s in, Una’s not, and I’m thinking Una’s political career is probably over (one could hope). I am not happy with Jackie in office (again). Watch out French Quarter musicians. She is not a friend to the music community. Una Anderson, on the other hand, has always had her eyes on higher office. Sometimes I thought she probably thought too much about that, neglecting her work at the School Board and at NONDC. If you look at her record at both the Orleans Parish School Board or at the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative, it does not indicate a "visionary" nor a leader. It's more like "just being there." The “so-called” bribe by Pampy didn’t help, and I honestly don’t think she was part of it. But I do believe the timing couldn’t have been worse for Una. Someone didn't want her to win....

So, we start a new chapter in New Orleans politics. I don't see much change happening. But, we shall see....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Soldier's Journey from Iraq to Grad School

I heard this story on NPR this morning and will use it in my classes this week. Demond Mullins spent a year in Iraq with the National Guard. When he came back, he felt alienated and angry at what he had seen and done in the war. Now Mullins has found a degree of peace in higher learning. He now is in the CUNY graduate program in Sociology. This story, as well as the other three pieces that aired this week, need to be listened to by as many people as possible. It also makes me believe that I must begin doing research here in the Fort Hood area on the social psychological impact of the war on the veterans and their families here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Orleans PoBoy Preservation Festival

Wow—this sounds good. If you don’t have any plans for next weekend, this looks like something to check out. Let me know how it goes, and send me some pix.
New Orleans PoBoy Preservation Festival

Friday, November 09, 2007

DA's Office Screwed Now....

It looks like the Orleans Parish DA’s Office is in another major pickle—attorneys for the winning plaintiffs in the race discrimination case against former DA Eddie Jordan have frozen all the DA’s Office assets. Frozen assets include Payroll. Though the employees at the DA’s office should not be penalized for Jordan’s incredible bad judgment (no pun intended), I think it was a necessary and warranted action by the Plaintiffs to seek remedy. It will spark the DA’s Office, as well as the Mayor and other interested parties to find ways to pay up. It could not happen at a worse time for the City’s public coffers, but some party will need to step up and take leadership in resolving this problem. Don’t look to C Ray to be that party—but I will enjoy seeing him further fumble this problem. Look for the city’s Power-Elite to emerge with a plan of action, with significant strings attached, to bail the DA’s Office out. I believe C Ray is correct to assume that the asset seizure will stop or delay the judicial process in the City (not like I notice any “crimes” being prosecuted right now). And that has got to worry the business and tourist Power-Elite as it will have an “image” impact on the City—and this has the potential to bite into their profit driven self-interests.

What to do in the meantime?

The DA’s Office is an arm of the State Attorney General’s Office, I believe. The AG’s Office can and must take over the affairs, including investigation and prosecution, of the Orleans DA’s Office and begin an immediate restructure. I hate saying this, but that may mean that some of the DA’s staff may have to be let go—even for a temporary basis. I am sure as well that if it presents a major crisis, the Federal AG’s Office could be asked to help in the process.

The action by the plaintiffs was rather bold and immediate. I think that is what shocked me. I am sure the City (C-Ray) was not prepared for this, assuming that their will would be “followed” by the lesser-minions in the plaintiff’s case. This dramatic action, though, was meant to spark an immediate response. It was also meant to show all parties concerned that the plaintiff’s were extremely serious about seeing the judgment carried out. The City needs to be kicked in the ass like this right now.

Now, the Firefighters need to step up and do the same thing with their pensions lawsuit against the City.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

This Damn Illegal War

As many of you know, I now live in a military town—home of the largest military base in the world! Many of my students have some sort of association with the military—as children, spouses, retired, even active duty. And I have learned so much from them and how they truly feel about the “war” and this administration. I want to let you all know a bit about some alternative perspectives from the military family’s perspective.

So, in my delirious state the other night (I was pretty sick), I was scanning MySpace and Flickr for any news from Iraq. I like hearing the “war stories” from the soldiers in the front-lines—I feel like I get a better story from them about what is really going on than from the media. I came across this one blog note, and thought I would pass it on to a larger audience. I’m withholding the solider’s name to protect his privacy.

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what have i been doing for the last 2 months?

Well, Since I have returned from my little stint in Ad Diwaniya I suppose I can talk about it now. For about a month and half my job was to travel up and down the highway from "somewhere south of bagdad" to "somewhere south of Bagdad". (yeah sorry cant be too specific. if you were a soldier I would use phrases like Tampa, Scania and 9B. but that wouldn't mean much to you so I wont even say that.)

Our whole purpose on this strech of road was to patrol at about 8 miles per hour looking for IED's or EFP's. AKA "IED Hunting". one of the disadvantages of Hunting for IED's and EFP's is that if you dont see it before it sees you. you are made painfully aware of the fact [if only for a brief second] by a very loud BOOOOM!. Now before everyone gets all worried there is more to it. Ya see, for the most part the only soldiers that get targeted for ieds and efp's are the ones that have a callous disregard for the iraqi citizens and treat them all like homeless crack heads from detroit.

Everyday we had to drive through Ad Diwaniya. Admittedly a strong hold of people that tend not to be friendly to American troops. When we first got into their rather large city of sunbaked mudbricks straddeling a polluted river we were treated with suspicion. As we drove over the canal where the lil arab boys were jumping off the railing of the rather normal style car bridge into the river where the cattle herd was kept all day and drinking water was drawn in the evening, and after the stench of the Cattle Coral made up of parted out truck frames stacked end on end or side on side leading up the bank of the canal and covering about 2 acres of offal the next thing one noticed was the animosity. It charged the air like a living thing. It was palpable, you could taste it (yes, even over the cattle shit).

Driving 8 mph and scanning the sides of the paved 3 lane road one could not help but notice the homes that were caved in, the mudbrick hovels that were still standing with gaping holes testifying to the power of RPG's,and the half naked children who looked to be adutioning for a Sally Struther "feed the poor ethopians" comerical. One gaped in disbelief to see 5 year old boys riding a donkey cart to one of the vairous watering spots to load up their rubber basins with water for home. The peculiar way in which the women covered from head to toe in black outfits would turn around as you, their "liberator", approached and would not continue on about their business until you were passed left one wondering.. "hmm ya think she was hot?" As you were taking all this in you realized that maybe 4 in ten people had some type of foot wear. and it suddenly dawns on you. its a 140 degrees out and that 3 year old girl is walking on the highway with her father and brother and none of them have anything on their feet.

They make bricks out of mud that they mix right on the spot. there has been lots of "new construction" going on and in the time we were there many homes were built from scratch and many more were repaired or added on to. On the cornor of one traffic circle is a watermelon stand. *Word to the wise, if your going to shop know the local language*. depending on which soldier was getting out to purchase watermellon the prices were anywere from 3 for 10$ USD to 20$ USD for one watermelon about the shape of a soccer ball. There is a lesson in that alone that America could well learn from. The respone you get from the iraqi's is directly related to how you treat them. DUH.

Anyways, seeing as we Americans are the avatars of light and all that is good (insert sound clip from TEAM AMERICA here) some of us decided that we should give care packages (from soldiers angels and other likeminded groups) and additonal goodies to some of the families that lived along the route that we maintained. Since I was the patrol leader it was easy to convince myself of the gloriousness of our plan. We always gave our own icecold water to either the Iraqi Army (IA's) or Iraqi Police (IP's) that were manning check points we traveled through. When little kids would come out we would toss out bits of candy like we were at home on a memorial day parade. or throw water at the feet of travelers who were braving the mid afternoon sun on 150 degree days in search of work or food and there was this one family we used to stop at as it was near our turnaround point and we would give them more things and take pictures of us giving them things (kinda like in a zoo when you get pictures of yourself throwing steaks to the lions.. or is it peanuts to monkeys? anyways..) we did wonderous things to let the "indigioneos peoples" understand that we cared about them. In short we prosecuted a lil war to win the locals 'hearts and minds.'

It worked. We won. Its crazy how being polite and treating people like people tends to ease tensions.

So.. unfortuantely (thats the soldier in me) the whole time we were there not a single IED or EFP was found or detonated on American convoys traveling through the area.

I give it two weeks before it heats up..and i wont shed a tear. some people never learn. no i wont say anything bad about the active duty that were sent up to replace us. ... just this.. if i have to be called a sympathizer or tree hugger because i used a tactic that brought my soldiers home in one piece and still performed my job well, well,.... "sticks and stones....." heh or better yet. IEDs and EFPs will break my bones but names will never hurt my men. *cavet* it could get your teeth knocked out if we were in the states though...
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Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Trolley Story

A couple of things….

First, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. That means that I’ve lost everyone who was reading this in the past. So, basically, I’m writing to myself now, I guess, unless I hear otherwise….

Second, I will try to post something on here at least once a week—more if I have time. It may be brief, but I gotta do this for my own mental health (more about this if you like later).

Finally, I am happy for all those who have encouraged me to keep this up.

So….

The streetcars are coming back to St. Charles Avenue this weekend. Chris Rose has a story about it in today’s TP.

Here’s my streetcar story (there are many, but this one comes to mind first).

It’s a Friday night in the Summer 2004. We (collectively, it’s Susan, Devin, Cece, David, and myself) have parked our car in the lot on St. Peters and Bienville. We’re heading to Samurai Sushi for a wonderful experience (really, some of the best sushi in New Orleans). We have some “leftovers” I believe and we plan on walking around the Quarter, so we get to the car to put things away, and I notice that the lights are on!!! Ugh, lights on for an hour or so. I hope the car starts up. I try, but “click”—nothing at all. Cars are parked on both sides of me, I can’t jump it from this angle even if someone could help me, and the cops won’t jump it because “they aren’t supposed to help” (so they said at the time). So, what’s a person to do?

I tell Susan and the kids to enjoy themselves down in the Quarter while I go back home to get our other car. How am I going to get home? Well, we don’t have that much money, and I can’t really afford a cab (someday, I’ll tell you my “real” story about living near the edge of poverty while in New Orleans—especially in the summer when I didn’t have ANY steady work what-so-ever). So, the Streetcar is the best solution. I know it will be relatively fun too, even under this “crisis” situation. I catch the trolley at St. Charles and Common and figure it will take me about 30 minutes to get to the end (Carrolton and Claiborne). 45 minutes later, I reach the end of the line, and then walk to my neighborhood and house, roughly 15 to 20 minutes away on Walmsley.

It was a great night for a trolley ride. The sounds of the doors opening and closing, the hum of the engines, the rough feel of the wheels on the tracks. Passing Igor’s on St. Charles brought back memories of too many drinks and wonderful burgers and breakfasts. Seeing the houses, the lights of Loyola and Tulane, rounding the corner onto Carrolton and passing by the Camelia Grille—it is just a wonderful experience. It had been a long time since I had taken the trolley all the way back home from downtown. This was a great excuse to ride.

It’s great to see the trolley coming back on-line. New Orleans is way off as far as recovering at a pace I feel is necessary. But this is one more cultural icon the city needs to be back to normal.