phamos: (entry)
Now that my time at Columbia is winding to a close, I've found myself looking back and trying to remember exactly what it was that I supposedly learned. I've forgotten most of it already. But I found this one little paper, for my informal Danchin class back in 2005, that sums up the way I felt about the program when I was finishing up classes. I found it interesting to look back on. It pretty much still describes my feelings about the program as I prepare to graduate, so I thought I'd post it here.

At the meeting at Professor Martin’s house on Friday, I raised the idea that maybe a politics of identity is often more destructive than constructive. Defining identity is as much about exclusion as inclusion, definition by difference as much as commonality. No one really took up that idea, so it may be a dead end. But I thought I’d write a little bit about it, just to play devil’s advocate.

I’ve always thought of myself as a good little liberal universalist. Some of what I’ve read in this class has made me realize that I stray from rigid Liberal doctrine more than I had thought. But still, multiculturalism, in its purest form, makes me uncomfortable. I took a gender and human rights class last semester, and it made me feel like a bad feminist. Why? Because I found the tone of the class very negative. Instead of addressing positive changes to be made, the rhetoric was all about Western patriarchy. I found myself writing a final paper that I didn’t even necessarily agree with, because it mirrored what I thought the point of the class was. In that class, identity as woman was defined through being embattled. The class was thoroughly couched in relativistic terms; i.e. the reason that women in the West are marginalized is because the Western system is inherently patriarchal, and imposing that system on other parts of the world will inevitably lead to a form of victimization just as terrible as the supposedly backwards culture we are trying to replace. Isn’t it possible that there’s a way to walk between the two poles, to embrace strands of Western thought that should lend themselves to the furtherance of liberty and equality while simultaneously taking similar elements from other cultures? Isn’t a good idea a good idea everywhere? In many ways, a lot of modern human rights debate is a reaction against a Western ideological imposition as a matter of principle, not because of a disagreement with the fundamental theories that ideology entails. Because of Western dominance, critics are on the defensive, and sometimes seem only able to create an identity as anti-something, rather than pro-something.

As an undergraduate, I studied nationalism, particularly the role nationalism played in the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In my final Bachelor’s paper, I wrote at some length about the idea of definition by comparison with “the other”. Serbs and Croats lived fairly peacefully for long period of time before more modern notions of nation began creeping into the picture during the World Wars. The rise of nationalism rose alongside the downfall of empires, and it has been rare that the wielding of nationalism as a political tool has ended peacefully. The line between state and nation is eternally blurry. Are all states nations? Should all nations have states?

The first question can be answered with a fairly obvious “no”, as many wars have evidenced. Many African nations have demonstrated the arbitrariness of their Western-imposed borders through civil, tribal wars; one particularly vivid example at the moment is the Sudan. Yugoslavia was a multi-national state, wherein a strong center played diverse nations off one another in a highly structured political way. Once that center became a vacuum, the road to power was paved with nationalism. By kindling separate national identities, men like Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman were able to use the furor created between abutting nations to boost their own rises to authority. This is a particularly telling example because, when the Serb/Croat and Serb/Slovene wars began, there was no side that was hopelessly marginalized within a society dominated by the other. The example doesn’t run parallel to the Kurds in Iraq, or Palestinians in Israel, or even, later, the Muslims in Bosnia or Albanians in Kosovo, where there was and is a narrative of prejudice and suppression. Creating a Serb identity or a Croat identity wasn’t a response to hardship. In a way, it was identity politics gone out of control. Because there was difference, there was a way to define one’s group by comparison, and each group wanted to assert dominance. It was a case, in my humble opinion, of self-determination through selfishness.

Self-determination is a concept that I find myself fascinated by. When taking international law, it was the subject that I was most interested in – the way that, legally, states were created in the post-war international system, and how or if new states can be validly created in the present day. So, obviously, I was particularly curious about what the representative of the Sioux nation would say at our class on indigenous rights. He was a compelling speaker. His point about how it’s impossible to secede from a country that you were never part of is well taken. I fully believe that the United States’ treatment of the Native Americans is and was reprehensible, and that a way should be found to fairly deal with the numerous ways treaty obligations have been ignored to the detriment of the Sioux people. But I had a practical problem with his speech. Reclaiming land that belongs to the Sioux under treaty obligations would create a parallel to the Israeli/Palestinian situation in the West Bank. He had no strategy that he presented to deal with that problem, other than to say that anyone would be welcome to live under the laws of the Sioux nation. He also had no apparent plan as to how any Sioux state would be a viable state. If they forced their hand and “seceded”, they would no longer have the option of any support from the US. What would be the economic base for the nation, now that the US’s actions over time have impoverished their people except for casino owners? When asked about the possibility of a federation with other Native American nations, he looked blank. It seems that for all his rhetoric, he hasn’t actually worked out a real plan for how independence would work – he’s simply working on an ideological, rather than a practical, basis. In this way, his nationalism is destructive, because his commitment to the purity of his cause is distracting him from the reality of the situation. His speech reminded me of the aspirations of the Palestinian people, in that his ideology is admirable, but his inability to compromise will inevitably paralyze his ability to see any version of his dream come to fruition.

Many people at Professor Martin’s apartment spoke of their identities as activists, and how frustrated they are by the career-driven structure of SIPA. But I wonder if what they are really chafing against is the imposition of the boundaries of reality on their boundless aspirations for how to change the world. I think it’s important to look forward, explore critical approaches to the status quo. But it’s also important to understand the way the world works, and how we can fit our strategies for progress and change into an existing framework, rather than constantly raging against limitations. I think what it boils down to is that I’m not the revolutionary I was in my teens. Somewhere along the line I became a moderate within my community. And I feel like whenever I profess my moderate opinions, my right to assert my identity as an activist is questioned. This is why I think identity politics can often be divisive. It has become a battleground, where ideological purity determines one’s right to subscribe to a certain political identity. I think that in the end, it’s just as important to keep looking for commonalities as it is to embrace our differences.
phamos: (gaydroopy)
Apparently there are no homosexuals in Iran. I learned something today!
phamos: (bruce)
This article is cracking me up -- "Good heavens, you can have a lovely, livable apartment with less than 500 square feet?" Our apartment is about the same size as the one in this article. Our living room is half the size, but we have a big kitchen and small dining room to make up for it; our bathroom is literally 30 square feet (I just measured it - 4.25'x7') and therefore mathematically negligible in this calculation. And we have one of the best apartments in Columbia grad student housing that I've seen. Chrissy has a great apartment, with a huge living room, but the kitchen is about the size of our bathroom. (So is her bathroom.) And it's a share. Her old apartment was about half that size. Alex's apartment was totally bleak. Most of the ones I've seen on Riverside Drive are OK, but ours is nicer. The only other couples housing I've seen was, I kid you not, probably about 200 square feet. Bedroom -- 8'x10'. Living room with efficiency kitchen -- 8'x10'. Tiny bathroom. If they could make THAT apartment work, I don't think people with a hundred grand to throw around on renovations deserve New York Times articles about their resourcefulness.
phamos: (superpower)
So, I finished the Iraq section of my thesis. I just KNOW he's going to make me go back and put stuff about Abu Ghraib in. I left it out on purpose because I couldn't really see where it fit in -- it's not about neocons PER SE. I might be able to find a place for it in the last section, which is more straight-up about HR, but the paper is really mostly about the idea of democracy building and benevolent global hegemony, and I think that Abu Ghraib, as horrible as it was, doesn't quiiiiite go along with the theme. It's a very good example of how hypocritical the Bush administration is with regards to human rights, no doubt, but I just can't pin it specifically on the neocons. Which is totally, totally bogus. I will discuss this with him when I meet with him, and see if he has any idea where I could put it, if he does indeed think it needs to be in there.

So I have 47 pages and one more section to write (5-7 pages or so) by the beginning of next week. Down to the wire!
phamos: (fenton)
The new Surgeon General nominee founded a church that magically makes gay straight through the power of Jeebus H. Christ. That's who I want in charge of my health!

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is back on message -- Al Gore is boring! And we'll add a drop of Kerry in there -- he's elitist, too! You can't expect "Iowa hog farmers" to know who Abraham Lincoln is. Duh, Mr. Vice-Egghead.

Dennis Kucinich will debate my former boyfriend Joe Biden on Fox News. The entire universe yawns, rolls over, and goes back to sleep.

Lou Dobbs sucks.

That fucking sicko who raped and tortured a Columbia journalism student has pled not guilty. I have possibly never been quite so repulsed by a human being as I am by this man. Do not click this link if you are easily triggered.

Apple is oh-so-sneaky -- You may be getting those songs DRM free, but your name is embedded in every track you download. I've gotten pretty fed up with the Orwell references on LJ this week, but I enjoy the irony of this particular piece of pseudo-big-brotherhood juxtaposed with the memory of Apple's iconic "1984" ad.

Everybody's favorite bipolar brother/creepy Jesus/asshole Beverly Hills high school student is going to be on Law & Order next season. This would be more exciting if I ever watched Law & Order. Doesn't he seem like more of a perp than a cop? Maybe I'm just biased because I saw Hideaway in the theater.

They're still pulling this "Just because I'm a pharmacist doesn't mean I actually have to dispense pharmaceuticals as prescribed by a medical professional" crap. Like I said a NUMBER of years ago now, if you're Amish, don't work for the electric company. If you're a practicing Muslim, maybe "Bacon-taste-tester" might not be the appropriate line of work for you. If you have a philosophical problem with the inherent duties of your job, try finding another one.

U.N.K.L.E. + Josh Homme = Luvvvv
phamos: (ramona)
Oh noes. Columbia students are apparently very excited about finals week. I can tell by the screeching frat boys outside. I'm looking forward to the yearly party across the alley. I wonder if anything could ever top the party where they just played "Roxanne" by the Police over and over because the next song on the CD ("Can't Stand Losing You") skipped. That party was awesome.
phamos: (goth)
I am amused. When I took my "Gender and Human Rights" class, I felt like a traitor to the feminist cause because I was too sex-positive. But when I read most third-wave feminist stuff (or what passes for it these days -- I think we might be onto the fourth wave by now) I feel like a crotchety old Republican. I just can't win.
phamos: (political)
i hate when books and articles refer to people as "students" of so-and-so-awful-academic-person when the term carries a connotation not immediately apparent in its basic definition. i think i've whined before of writers saying wolfowitz studied under strauss. it's true, but not to the extent people would like it to be. wolfowitz took two classes from strauss, one on plato and one on theucydides, neither of which ended up having anything to do with his thesis. strauss wasn't wolfowitz's thesis advisor, which, in graduate academia, is usually what is meant by saying someone is someone else's "student". there's a certain amount of ownership inherent in the term. i know that's splitting hairs, but i've been plenty of people's "students" and that doesn't mean i agreed with what all (or any) of them had to say. if i had taken a class with rashid khalidi at chicago, does that mean if i were to ever say anything about israel in a columbia publication i would thus be referred to derisively as "rashid khalidi's student", coloring everything i said? what they mean when they say wolfowitz was strauss's student is that he was strauss's "disciple", a term often used interchangeably with "student" in a way that i find offensive. just because someone is a student doesn't mean they're a disciple. there are people who are "straussian" "disciples", and some of them are in bush's government. but wolfowitz is the only really big name who ever even took a class with him, and thus can be technically be called a "student", but is not realistically a "disciple".

wolfowitz's actual advisor was albert wohlstetter, and i just read a book that said ahmed chalabi was a "fellow student" of wohlstetter's. i was rather confused to read this, knowing that chalabi was studying math at chicago, and from my experience people getting their PhDs in math don't spend a lot of time taking classes on arms control policy. a cursory look at google finds that wohlstetter introduced chalabi and richard perle, and that wohlstetter and chalabi "travelled in the same circles". to me, this means chalabi went to a cocktail party at wohlstetter's house once when he was a grad student, got along with him, and kept in touch. it doesn't mean chalabi was in any way, shape, or form wohlstetter's "student". basically, if you start applying the language this way, anyone who went to the university of chicago in the 1960s was immediately a student of strauss and wohlstetter's. fellow travelers, indeed.

it's just frustrating reading so many books on the same subject and finding that some people change things around to make their accusations have more weight, or leave things out when it's convenient. the more you read, the more able you are to see where something has been cut short riiiiight before reaching a conclusion that would be inconvenient to the thesis as a whole. it's really tempting as a writer to do this (i know, i want to do it a LOT in this paper), but if someone as middlingly-informed as i am can spot the omissions, it's obvious enough that it's going to get you in trouble. best thing to do is to acknowledge where facts are inconvenient to what you're trying to say, and make a clear argument to contest the commonly-drawn conclusion. that seems to happen a lot more in papers and a LOT less in books released for mass commercial consumption.

speaking of needing to know all the facts -- i've got a handle on reagan's policy in the phillipines, now, but i'm still a little vague on nicaragua and el salvador. (the whole time i was at SIPA i looked for a class on modern south american history and politics -- there never was one.) anyone want to give me a primer?
phamos: (mario)
i can never get my shit together to go to events at SIPA. usually i'll go into SIPA and see a flyer for something that looks interesting, only to find it happened earlier that day, or that it happens around 12:30 on a tuesday or wednesday, work. but this, i should be able to go to. it says a lot about me, i think, that i don't go to actual human rights events, but a jschool panel about mp3 blogs and hipsterism? i'm totally going to be there.
phamos: (mario)
a story about the US's foiled attempts at amending the Beijing+10 document at the UN conference i was supposed to go to last week. the US stood completely alone in proposing two amendments -- one that would clarify that the document did not explicitly support abortion rights, and that the document "did not create new rights", according to the associated press, the document was eventually passed unanimously, without these amendments; the US caved.

it's kind of cool that something my class was invited to got (at least a little bit of) press coverage. it sort of feels like i'm actually close to power, however limited that power might be.
phamos: (red)
are we really doing the girls-tuck-their-pants-into-their-boots thing now? really? cuz i don't wanna.

i see this constantly all of a sudden among the columbia crowd. it's all the same girls who were wearing teeny tiny miniskirts with wellies in the rain in november. sometimes i even think these girls look nice, in theory. in practice, silly. and i can't do the pants-into-boots thing unless you're skinny. i mean skinny enough to wear very straight cut pants. which i cannot do. so maybe i'm not condemning this choice as a matter of aesthetics, but simply because i feel it is prejudicial to the curvy. i don't like it simply because i cannot pull it off. and i'm ok with that.
phamos: (umbrella)
last night i was put in a very weird, totally chick-lit situation which majorly tripped me out. i don't want to go into it (there was knitting involved), but suffice to say chrissy and yashar are awesome and totally commiserated and calmed me down after the fact and they rule. this situation also involved me walking home from 92nd and west end on my bad back. it didn't really hurt for the first 12 blocks or so; actually it felt like it was stretching my muscles out and was helpful. but i was wearing my ankle boots, which are really comfortable but do have about 1.5 inch heels, and whenever i walk on heels for too far my back alignment goes out. so today i have a big shoulder-ache on top of my (feeling much better by comparison but not healed by any means) lower back. i've massaged it and iced it and heated it, a strategy i think made my lower back feel so better today, but it still hurts. lying flat on the ground helps. but it's also giving me weird pains in my left hand, cramps and kinda shooting pains through my thumb and forefinger. but of course, that might be partly from putting numbers in my cell phone yesterday.
phamos: (mario)
the village voice has put out a list of everyone who was arrested as a protester during the RNC. my friend erik is on there. they spelled his name wrong.
phamos: (torquay)
what the hell is the point of a little book of human rights documents if it doesn't include the 4 geneva conventions? and what good is a big book of international law documents if it doesn't tell you which geneva convention is which? i always get this confused. is civilians 3 and POWs 4? is it the other way around? argh!
phamos: (mario)
orbital splits up.

i dunno. on the one hand this kinda makes me nostalgically sad, but who knew they hadn't split up years ago?

i recently spent a lovely sunny day walking on the columbia quads, drinking an icee, and listening to a really long version of "are we here". sometimes orbital makes me happy.
phamos: (dignity)
looking up the words "rape as torture" for a paper on google is not very successful. because mostly, you get porn.
phamos: (mario)
wonkette always does a column on sightings of political figures in washington. the newest one has a particularly funny entry:

saw mrs. [madeline] albright driving her silver mercedes on the inner loop of the beltway on mar. 6. passed her car, realized it was her, so we slowed down -- went behind her car and got off on the exit. she's an incredibly attentive driver for not noticing two homos in a honda driving all around her car trying to get a better look.

two things:
a) louis henkin taught madeline albright. therefore, i am equivalent to madeline albright. ergo, i should be secretary of state. QED.
b) "the inner loop of the beltway"? WTF? i hope to jebus that i never have to drive on that ridiculous freeway. my brain might actually dribble out of my ears.


phamos: (Default)

March 2009

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