Archive for June 2007

China in Africa

June 30, 2007

Via BoingBoing, a short Christian Science Monitor story about the increasing presence and influence of China in Africa. No, not through investment, but through humanitarian work, often through the U.N.

This passage caught my eye:

“The Chinese interest in Africa … their coming into our markets is the best thing that could have happened to us,” says small-business contractor Amare Kifle, during a recent meeting with a Chinese investor in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. “We are tired of the condescending American style. True, the American government and American companies have done and do a lot here, but I always feel like they think they are doing us a favor … telling us how to do things and punishing us when we do it our own way.

“These Chinese are different,” he says. “They are about the bottom line and allow us to sort out our side of the business as we see fit. I want to have a business partner and do business. I don’t want to have a philosophical debate about Africa’s future.”

Paying attention, USAID? State Department? A little humility goes a long way. I’m guessing that China’s humility has appeared for several reasons: 1) It’s politically expedient, and an easy way to gain influence in Africa vis-a-vis the U.S. 2) For some, it’s part and parcel of Chinese culture, and perhaps part of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. 3) China has long been considered several steps below the major ‘superpowers’ of the world, and there may be feelings that the oppressed are helping their own on the global stage. In fact, this last point is supported by another bit from the story:

“China is the most self-conscious rising power in history and is desperate to be seen as a benign force as well as to learn from the mistakes of the existing major powers and previous rising powers,” says Andrew Small, a Brussels-based China expert at the German Marshall Fund, a public policy think tank. “It sees its modern national story as anticolonial – about surpassing the “century of humiliation” at the hands of the colonial powers – and still thinks of itself, in many ways, as a part of the developing world.”

I have to admit, though, that as a philosopher I find the end of the first bit disturbing. I think what Amare Kifle was getting at when he said “I don’t want to have a philosophical debate about Africa’s future” was that the U.S. is trying very hard to get Africans to model their economic systems on global capitalism, and that Africans – or at least Kifle – don’t like being told how they should develop. That said, I’m sure the government of China has some ideas about how they’d like to see Africa develop as well, but they aren’t pushing them as hard or as explicitly.

This story makes me wonder a bit, though: What is the future of China? It’s working hard to become a superpower, and lots of folks have predicted a rather large and messy collision in the future with the U.S. I think that’s a possibility, though if China keeps working at its current rate (and the U.S. keeps fucking up so royally), it’ll pass the U.S. as a global power before the U.S. even notices.

So, what kind of global power will China be? There’s plenty of evidence it’s still an authoritarian country, but how will it act on the world stage? I am hopeful that China – as evidenced by the CSM article – will be able to with humility and dignity, and for good. I am also hopeful that despite the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts against religion, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and others will have a role to play in the actions of China and Chinese citizens. We could learn a lot from the so-called ‘East’ if we listened.


Ask a Lawyer

June 30, 2007

Via Crooks and Liars, a new AFL-CIO program that allows folks to – well, I’ll let it speak for itself:

Can my boss really do that? How many of us find ourselves asking that very question on a weekly, if not daily basis? Well now we just may get the answers we seek. Because Working America, the 1.6 million-member community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, which provides a voice for those of us denied the right to union membership on the job, has started its “Ask a Lawyer” program.

Sounds like a good idea.

Goodbye Brown v. Board

June 30, 2007

You might have seen it on the news: The Supreme Court has found a way to transport the country back to the 1950’s…and not in a good way. From what I understand, they’ve ruled that schools are not allowed to use race as a factor in placing students.

I’m going to throw out a short link dump here because I suspect the few folks who read this aren’t going to see a lot of this in other places.

Scott Lemieux at LGM with some notes.

Jill at Feministe.

Christy at Firedoglake.

The Washington Post on some likely fallout, including increased school segregation. Did I say increased? Yes, because, as the article notes, schools have become more and more segregated over the last couple of decades.


Actually, SCOTUSblog has a great excerpt from Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision that really gives a big part of the game away:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Leaving aside for a second that the above sentence is beyond stupid, this reveals, depending on who you ask, either a political trick or a genuine belief on the part of many conservatives. Basically, it’s the out-of-sight-out-of-mind trope. The reasoning is as follows: If we don’t see race, we can’t possibly discriminate on the basis of race. The sheer stupidity of this argument is the reason that many people (sometimes including myself) think that this is nothing more than a political gambit. Then again, lots of people seem to genuinely believe that paying attention to race has negative consequences. In a way, it does – public attention to race was a big factor in ending lots of discrimination as part of the Civil Rights Movement. Therefore, I guess according to the scary logic of folks like Roberts, ignoring race is a way to get back to the good ol’ days when ‘everyone’ ‘knew’ that people of color were somehow inferior. Excuse me, I meant to say that ‘ignoring race is a way to end discrimination.’

Give me a fucking break. This is such transparent bullshit. Conservatives have such a strange understanding of terms like “discrimination” and “racism” that I can only think they do this shit on purpose as part of some giant strawman game. Also, it makes me a little sad to admit that white supremacy (and sexism) is probably a big part of why the Democrats didn’t really freak out when Alito and Roberts were nominated.


I broke the code while putting away my socks. When Roberts says this:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

what he means is this:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to go back to pretending black people don’t exist.”

UPDATE: Minor edits for clarity. Also, I should add that I think lots of conservative folks, especially political commentators and people in positions of power, don’t really understand terms like “diversity” or “difference” or “discrimination” in the way many people on the ‘left’ do; furthermore, as I said above, I think some of that misunderstanding is an intentional attempt to poison the terms as a way to discredit the ideas behind the terms. Just wanted to make that a little clearer.

Social Networking and Class Divisions

June 30, 2007

Via lots of places, an essay that came out recently on the class nature of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

I should preface this by saying I’ve never really even seen Facebook, and I don’t have a MySpace account, though many of my friends do. I do spend a lot of time online, but from what I’ve seen, both sites tend to encourage people to act stupid, for whatever reason. Not that they are useless, but that they have been mostly useless thus far (the exception seems to be keeping track of what folks are up to these days).

I’m also thinking that Boyd’s essay provides a great window into the way in which cultural values are replicated and transmitted, from who is on each site and why to the differing visual aesthetics of the two sites. Oh, and why do you think folks using MySpace think cluttered backgrounds and crappy designs are appealing? Hegemony, folks. MySpace is set apart – and sets itself apart – from Facebook by adopting a different set of design ideas, one that are then labeled “immature” and the like by – surprise, surprise – Facebook users and their parents. It’s a vicious circle, and the worst part is that some of the more bizarre and outlandish designs on MySpace are probably pretty good.

The author, Danah Boyd, tells me that there’s some serious shit going down on the aforementioned sites:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

Damn. That’s fucked up. What we’re seeing is the golf course of the future. Instead of networking at the right clubs, or parties, or at the 19th hole, folks are going to network – and get their (online) friends jobs – through MySpace, Facebook, and the like. What seems to be happening is the perpetuation of a closed system: it’s still who you know, not what you know. (Disclosure: This totally applies to me.) So yeah – for anyone who thinks this stuff is either a waste of time to participate in (and that includes me) or a waste of time to study, um, no. It’s got consequences, people. That 17-year-old jackass with his shirt off and the spilled PBR in his right hand? He’s going to be your boss because he friended someone’s rich kid. Welcome to America, land of opportunity.

Egypt Bans Female Genital Cutting

June 29, 2007

Good for Egypt.

I wish there was more background and context, however. I’m left wondering who banned it, how long there’s been a push to ban it, and who exactly was behind the push (I’m going to guess women).

If you want more background on FGC (though I suspect most folks who read this already know what it is), feministe also has a link to Wikipedia.

via Feministe.

The iPhone

June 29, 2007

Working Assets is calling for a boycott on the iPhone. I tend to agree with them – for a company with an out-of-the-box reputation, Apple’s behavior around the iPhone is pure corporate greed: crappy corporate carrier (AT&T), locked phone, etc.

Does this make me feel guilty about the fact that I want a MacBook? Yes, a little. Then again, if I take as given that I’ll have a computer, a Mac still beats a PC. Will I ever get an iPhone? Not a chance – it’s overpriced, and by all accounts, the availability of a good Internet connection (Steve Jobs’ claims notwithstanding) is not very good at all.

He Who Makes My Brain Hurt

June 28, 2007