Friday, September 29, 2006

Yo, Richmond and Virginia bloggers

How many of you are aware that we have two regional blog carnivals here in Virginia?

The Virginia Blog Carnival is non-partisan blog carnival open to any Virginia Blogger. Kat, who runs the show, is looking for submission for this week's carnival, and, hosts for upcoming editions.

Jason Kenny also organizes the RVA blog carnival for bloggers in Richmond, Virginia.

Kat and Jason are providing a great service to their fellow bloggers -- show them some support by sending in your articles and spreading the word.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Formula for Torture

The Stanford Prison Experiment
+ The Milgram Experiment
= Abu Ghraib etc.

The Stanford Prison Experiment: a landmark 1971 psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real world circumstances of prison life, conducted by a team of researchers led by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Volunteers played the roles of guard and prisoner, and lived in a mock prison. However, the experiment quickly got out of hand, and was ended after only 6 days.

The Milgram Experiment: a famous scientific experiment of social psychology, conducted circa 1963 by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, to measure the willingness of a participant to obey an authority who instructs the participant to do something that may conflict with the participant's personal conscience. 65% of participants demonstrated sadistic behaviour, a percentage that remains remarkably constant when the experiment has been replicated by other researchers.

[Herr van der Rohe was correct that God is in the details. If you are not familiar with the studies, I encourage you to follow the links to learn more.]

I originally posted this article under the title Conspicous Omissions at BOP News almost 2 years ago, on October 26, 2004.

My question then was, "Why isn't everyone talking about both of these studies, everywhere, all the time, in reference to Abu Ghraib?"

Since then, references to the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments have popped up more frequently...but the MEANING still hasn't got through. And the "official" public discourse is as absurd and morally repugnant as a dyspeptic nightmare stewed up by George Orwell collaborating with Sinclair Lewis and Philip K. Dyck.

If you aren't familiar with the studies, please click through to read up on them: so you understand how torture happens, what inflicting torture does to "our troops," and what torture is doing to America.


Friday, September 22, 2006

The Business of Cheating

The Toronto Star reports that MBA students are likelier to cheat.

According to the study “Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: The Prevalence, Causes, and Proposed Actions:”

"56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students."

The study, which included 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S., was conducted by management professors at Rutgers, Washington State and Pennsylvania State universities, and due to appear in the next issue of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal. Researcher Donald McCabe also noted "Those numbers are probably under-reported."

This study points towards a trend of "business-as-usual" lying, cheating and corruption where Enron (and Watergate) are the norm and not the exception. In our increasingly post-modern, post-reality, straussian-influenced culture, is it any surprised if our children emulate the attitudes and strategies we explicitly and implicitly teach them that society rewards?

Lying, cheating and corruption may be "propensities" that MBA programs arguably reward, but we can hardly lay the whole blame for a culture of corruption on business schools. In a 2005 study by analysts at Wetfeet, over 800 students interested in pursuing a career in Management Consulting were asked: "Please select up to 3 factors that make your top ranked company appealing to you." Only 2 people said that "Ethics" was one of their top 3 factors for choosing a consulting firm. (Even the category "Other" was rated more highly than "Ethics.")

You can insert all the cynical fall-of-an-imperial-power malaise comments that you want, but my heartfelt questions for you are: where and how do we intervene to correct the social trend towards accepting and condoning pathological behaviour? How do we move towards a culture of honesty, ethics and accountability? What can we do as individuals, families, communities and a society to make a difference? And finally, who do you know of who is already working to to turn the trend?

Hat tip to Steve Shu, David Maister, and Guerilla Consulting for the links.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq

America defeated itself in Iraq by believing its own spin. Telling the truth is the only way back out.

Exceed yourself

Today, as I post for the third time a list of "three things to do today" I originally wrote on September 11, 2004, I have finally understood what the article is about: exceeding yourself.

So much advice about "appropriate" observances for today boil down to: be small. close ranks. disconnect from larger things. never forget -- to fear and hate. be the least that you can be.

Instead, I'd like to suggest that we mark the day by exceeding ourselves, surpassing the boundaries of our fear and small thinking and tribalism.

My original list follows below, without edits. The shorter version might read:
  1. Think for yourself.
  2. Reach out and connect with your community.
  3. Reach beyond your own community to those who may have cause to be more fearful than you are.
  4. Challenge your assumptions.
I appreciate any suggestions or additions to (either version of) the list.
Three Things to Do Today

1. Turn off your tv. And your radio.
Treat yourself to a régime de jingoisme for one day. Today is a really good day for it.

2. Go to your public library...
...and find out if your local branch is part of the September Project, an international campaign to bring people into public libraries on September 11 to share and discuss about democracy, citizenship, and patriotism through public talks, roundtables, and performances--and register to vote. (And if your library isn't participating this year, you have a whole year to persuade them in time for 2005.)

Progressives often yearn for a way to raise the level of public discourse. Now's our chance.

3. Vote with your wallet...
...for respect, communication, and support. Go and patronize a locally-owned mom and pop business--run by people of middle eastern descent. There is still massive racial profiling against "arab looking" people (whatever that means), there is violence and discrimination against Muslims, and today is an extra scary day for too many people. Show your neighbors that not everyone is a fascist. I'm off for lunch to a Lebanese restaurant I just found on the edge of my neighborhood. It's just a small, compassionate way to say the whole country isn't built on hate.

And the bonus round, for the truly brave among us:

4. Take a book out of the library...
...on learning Arabic, or Middle Eastern history, or Islam. Does the thought send a chill down your spine? Because let's be honest: we know that all those books are likely flagged on the FBI's watchlists through the Patriot Act. In discussions on civil liberties and public surveillance, the common defence of the Patriot Act is "but I have nothing to hide...." If you believe that, then go to your library or book store and bring home a book that will put John Ashcroft's knickers in a knot, knowing that your name (and address, and if you buy the book, your credit card number) is winding up on an FBI list or in a file. And if the idea makes you uncomfortable, you may want to rethink your position on civil liberties...and at the same time, go back to that mom and pop business and spend a little extra money.

Princess Diana Moments

In this incredibly antagonistic and hostile interview on A Current Affair, Karl Stefanovic pillories Germaine Greer for her public sentiments about television personality and animal wrangler Steve Irwin's recent accidental death. The clip illustrates the costs of holding a position outside an "official" narrative -- particularly official hagiographies:

At the close of the interview, Greer asks, "Why are the English calling it 'Australia's Princess Diana moment'?"

In Unbelievable, the Granta issue decidated to the testimony of "those who felt differently", Granta Editor Ian Jack writes about those who felt beleaguered by the mobs and the mourning for the Princess of Wales. (I apologize that I don't have my hardcopy at hand, and I won't do Jack the disservice of attempting an extensive paraphrase from faulty memory. Do yourself a favour and read the essay if you have the chance to come across it.)

While the English may mean, with no sense of irony, the phrase "Princess Diana moment" as a tribute, Greer can take comfort in understanding it in the Ian Jack sense of disproportionate and mawkish publish mourning that brooks no absolutely no dialogue, dissention or debate.

In societies like the UK, Australia and the US that pride themselves on democracy and freedom, there is an alarming and growing spirit of bullying, of quashing dissent, of silencing debate; a sentiment of "there can be only one" -- one mode of mourning, one type of patriotism, one official narrative. At the same time, the mythology of "freedom of speech" and even "freedom of thought" dissonantly persists, unchallenged. But then, of course, it is part of a sacred official narrative.

Sacred narratives, particularly sacred narratives displaced from the sphere of religion, demand faith, compliance and submission in reponse to the challenges of scientific facts, rationality, and even just close examination (what was once termed "reality" before the ascension of the straussian "big lie" neoconservatives). For that very reason, I find "Princess Diana moments" in their most extreme manifestations to be reminiscent of the religious frenzies of the middle ages.

Blind faith, unquestioning compliance, and absolute submission may function as demands of a religion, a dictatorship, or any other form of personality cult, but not as the underpinnings of a healthy, functioning democracy.

Unsurprisingly, in the current long-play "Princess Diana moment" in which we find ourselves living in the US, speaking truth to power is considered at the very least gauche, much more probably un-patriotic and 'un-American,' and on the outside treasonous -- there is a high penalty for stepping outside the bounds of the carefully and strategically constructed neoconservative narrative of America. At the same time, neoconservatives are increasingly mainlining outright warmongering, partisan propaganda into mainstream culture, as part of the sacred official narrative they construct and control. In the midst of the national congnitive dissonace, the increasingly explicit message is: "Don't tell the truth today. Wait a while. Now's not the time. But if you want to lie to widows, orphans, and the nation's electorate: what's good for the GOP war machine is good for America."

I found the clip of Greer's interview, or more accurately her grilling, very uncomfortable to watch. If you want to speak truth to power, expect to be treated the same way. And then, please, steel yourself to the task in the full knowledge of the risks and costs and speak truth to power anyway.

Hat tip to Breakaway Content for the link -- and the courage to hold a breakaway viewpoint.


Friday, September 08, 2006

How are Republicans tastefully observing Sept 11?

Fortunately, on the fifth aniversay of the 9/11 attacks, there's so much more to look forward to than just

South Carolina Republican candidate Karen Floyd wanted to do something more original, a little bolder, a whole lot tougher and ballsier than the Republican flag-wrapping, turd-gilding, war-mongering, reality-fabricating, history-rewriting, terror-porn, same-old same-old. Karen Floyd decided that the best way to observe the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 2,973 American civilians on American soil was to kill innocent things in cold blood herself.

Republican candidate Floyd is spending the day hunting. For doves. In fact, it's a campaign event. And, if you want to go and fire rifles at the international symbol of peace with Floyd and her Republican friends on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, it will only cost you $1000 for the priviledge.

Blood, gunpowder, grave-dancing and money-grubbing: Republican values in action.

Praise god and pass the ammunition.

[Yes, that's the actual invitation. Hat tip to BoingBoing for it. Go ahead and click on the image for a larger, easier-to-read version.]

PS Republicans are the folks who revile the memorial celebrations of the lives and accomplishments of Paul Wellstone and Coretta Scott King as "indecent". Just keep that in mind for perspective.

Update This article is cross-posted at The Agonist, where it has stirred up quite a discussion. You are welcome to join the conversation about Republican necrophiliac campaign tactics there, too.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Permission-based political marketing with Pheeder

Oliver at MobileCrunch has published a great write-up entitled One Call Reaches All with Pheeder -- a company that lets you run public, opt-in lists to receive broadcast phone messages (or alternatively, your own private lists).

The service is free.

My first reaction? -- drop your campaign robocall spam, and replace it with tailored, opt-in GOTV reminder calls through Pheeder.

(My second reaction? -- brilliant opt-in tool to broadcast campaign volunteer opportunity updates.)

I know, I know: campaign culture is so wedded to spam via its direct mail blood line that campaigns won't switch to opt-in models, yet--but at the very least Pheeder could provide a free *supplement* to a campaign's premium telephone broadcast tools.

Full disclosure: I have no bu$ine$$ relationship with Pheeder at all. I also haven't used the product directly myself -- I'm basing my reactions on MobileCrunch's excellent article. And, I'm always intrigued by ways that campaigns, particularly downballot campaigns, can make use of *cost-effective* technology tools to gain a competitive advantage through working more effeciently and effectively.