134 posts tagged politics
Smith writes a wonderful piece here, pulling off a rare and lovely feat: a look into her own life that actually says something about politics; and more importantly, vice versa.
The Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, in an interview with Magazine Littéraire, discussing the fact that his books were published and translated in the US despite the fact that he himself was blacklisted. [My trans.]
[“García Márquez faisait remarquer la contradiction de l’attitude américaine : ils nous empêchaient d’entrer dans leur pays, alors qu’ils laissaient entrer nos livres, qui étaient bien plus dangereux que nous. Pour nous, au fond, c’était une situation comique, mais aux Etats-Unis le maccarthysme a brisé des gens, des carrières, des vies et des familles. Heureusement la société civile américaine a fini par réagir, ce qui a permis de mettre fin à cette sombre période.”]
A previously unknown article by Albert Camus, written for the press in November 1939, almost three months after the beginning of WWII, and censored at the time by the colonial authorities in Algiers, has just been published in Le Monde.
Both the voice and the view expressed in this short text will be very familiar to any Camus reader, while the larger issue it grapples with is still relevant today:
Un des bons préceptes d’une philosophie digne de ce nom est de ne jamais se répandre en lamentations inutiles en face d’un état de fait qui ne peut plus être évité. La question en France n’est plus aujourd’hui de savoir comment préserver les libertés de la presse. Elle est de chercher comment, en face de la suppression de ces libertés, un journaliste peut rester libre. Le problème n’intéresse plus la collectivité. Il concerne l’individu.
One of the good precepts of a philosophy worthy of that name is to never indulge in useless lamentations when faced with a state of affairs that cannot be helped. The question in France today is no longer to know how to preserve the freedoms of the press. It is to find out how, facing the suppression of these freedoms, a journalist can still be free. The problem does not interest the community any longer. It concerns the individual.
He then goes on to describe the four weapons honest journalists can use to preserve their personal freedom: lucidity, irony, refusal to tell lies, and obstinacy.
I winced a bit seeing that our favorite Slovenian made his comparison of The Wire to Greek tragedy. Still, he offers his usually fascinating, irresponsible and slightly unhinged analyses of the show.
(If anyone’s interested you can find Jameson’s take and my take on The Wire and tragedy here.)
My friend and mentor John Whittier-Ferguson is interviewed in this piece by Eric Banks about Gertrude Stein’s complicated right-wing politics.
For the past decade, 15-year-old Finnish students have consistently been at or near the top of all the nations tested in reading, mathematics, and science. And just as consistently, the variance in quality among Finnish schools is the least of all nations tested, meaning that Finnish students can get a good education in virtually any school in the nation. That’s equality of educational opportunity, a good public school in every neighborhood.
What makes the Finnish school system so amazing is that Finnish students never take a standardized test until their last year of high school, when they take a matriculation examination for college admission.
Their own teachers design their tests, so teachers know how their students are doing and what they need. There is a national curriculum — broad guidelines to assure that all students have a full education — but it is not prescriptive. Teachers have extensive responsibility for designing curriculum and pedagogy in their school. They have a large degree of autonomy, because they are professionals.
Admission to teacher education programs at the end of high school is highly competitive; only one in 10 — or even fewer — qualify for teacher preparation programs. All Finnish teachers spend five years in a rigorous program of study, research, and practice, and all of them finish with a masters’ degree. Teachers are prepared for all eventualities, including students with disabilities, students with language difficulties, and students with other kinds of learning issues.
The schools I visited reminded me of our best private progressive schools. They are rich in the arts, in play, and in activity. I saw beautiful campuses, including some with outstanding architecture, filled with light. I saw small classes; although the official class size for elementary school is 24, I never saw a class with more than 19 children (and that one had two assistant teachers to help children with special needs).
Teachers and principals repeatedly told me that the secret of Finnish success is trust. Parents trust teachers because they are professionals. Teachers trust one another and collaborate to solve mutual problems because they are professionals. Teachers and principals trust one another because all the principals have been teachers and have deep experience. When I asked about teacher attrition, I was told that teachers seldom leave teaching; it’s a great job, and they are highly respected.
And by the way, the Finnish teachers I saw — those heaped with laurels as outstanding professionals — didn’t look or act differently from many, many teachers I have seen in the United States, even in so-called “failing schools.”
Finland has one other significant advantage over the United States. The child-poverty rate in Finland is under 4 percent. Here it is 22 percent and rising. It’s a well-known fact that family income is the most reliable predictor of academic performance. Finland has a strong social welfare system; we don’t. It is not a “Socialist” nation, by the way. It is egalitarian and capitalist.
In bloviating on the nature, causes and consequences of the London riots, the mainstream media seems mired in a war of definitions. Are they “riots” or “protests”? Is this “civil disobedience” or “anarchy”? Each word or phrase comes highly charged with repressed histories and connotations.
For example, where does the word “looting” come from?
According to the good old OED, the word comes from the Hindi lūt, which in turn either derives from the Sanskrit lōtra (booty, spoil), lup (for rup, to break), or lunt (to rob).
An Anglo-Indian word inherited from the British Empire. What are its first instances of usage?
Again, according to the OED, it first makes an appearance in 1839, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine: “He always found the talismanic gathering-word Loot (plunder), a sufficient bond of union in any part of India.”
In 1858, William Howard Russell, an Irish war correspondent with The Times, wrote, in My Diary in India, “Why, the race [of camp followers] is suckled on loot, fed on theft, swaddled in plunder, and weaned on robbery.”
I am not a linguist, but I can’t help wondering to what degree the history of a word informs or at least inflects its contemporary usage in mainstream journalism. Not because I think that journalists attempt to reflect these etymologies. In fact, I suspect the opposite to be true. Is it that the less we know about a word’s history the more we are likely to convey its early context and purport?
In describing a young Black man as a “looter,” does the journalist fuse the past prejudices of empire into the analysis of the present moment? What do you think?
“This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.” [read on]
Last week, a Chilean judge ordered an investigation into the 1973 death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. He died 12 days after a right-wing military coup by Pinochet, and while his death was long considered to be due to illness, Chile’s Communist Party (of which he was a member) have asked for this investigation. A human rights lawyer noted that there were discrepancies between the local reports of his death and the official death certificate and that exiling the famed poet would have proved “very difficult for the dictatorship.” His former driver, Manuel Araya, believes that Neruda was poisoned to prevent him from moving to Mexico to continue to voice opposition to Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
This investigation comes one month after the opening of an investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, the deposed leader whose 1973 death was ruled a suicide. His body was exhumed as forensic teams try to determine if he was assassinated.
Photo: Pablo Neruda talking to reporters after winning the Nobel Prize in 1971. Credit: Laurent Rebours/AP File Photo