Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama did something right -- may be serious about fighting slavery

Its been disappointing to hear that Obama is continuing the Bush administration's war plans, although they retired the phrase "War on Terror."    This raises the fear that there was no change to believe in.

But good news came in recently from combines social networking (complete with friend requests) with social activism of the typical liberal kind, for which I am a softie (even though my communist husband says they make things worse by supporting the current regime, ok....).  Anti-human-trafficking blogger Amanda Kloer, who works full time as an abolitionist, writes:   

This week President Obama nominated long-time, tenacious human trafficking prosecutor Lou de Baca to lead the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a position sometimes called "America's Anti-Slavery Czar"..... de Baca's background is heavily focused on labor trafficking... I am thrilled that President Obama chose de Baca, demonstrating a strong commitment to making that office serious about fighting trafficking. He is an amazing prosecutor, a dedicated anti-trafficking professional..

I just taught a class on international sex trafficking to my developmental psychology class and may post more here shortly.  What are your questions?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Loss of a first language

For the last decade one of my research projects has been bilingualism.  A key question is  loss of fluency of the mother tongue for children of immigrants, and what family socialization and other practices lead to maintenance.  English almost always becomes rapidly the dominant language for children who arrive in the U.S. by age 9.   Mixed dominance occurs for arrivals between age 10 and 16, and first language superiority (and low acquisition of English) then is the most frequent (although not universal) fate of older immigrants.
I just stumbled across an interesting piece of short fiction which dramatizes in a couple handful of words events from age 5 to 25 and the disparate language learning trajectories of child and parents.  Enjoy! 

By Samuel Lee

my foreign mouth embarrassed the teachers. my jumbled words gave people sad faces. so wrong these words of mine. even the mentally retarded girl would not talk to me. just looking at my garbled mouth made her slap herself. and my writing. oh no. my writing made the teachers cry. shaking their heads. all the time.....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Communism: a viable alternative?

As the epoch of liberal capitalism and the free market falls apart, the question of an alternative must be re-opened
by Bernard Keenan

Let's get one thing out of the way to begin with: history is back in fashion. A generation on from Francis Fukuyama's claim that the fall of the Soviet Union marked the "end of history", the epoch of liberal capitalism and the free market fell apart in spectacular style during a few short months last autumn. As jobs disappear and anger rises, the bare bones of ideology that prop up the present system are exposed.

The speedy panic with which our governments agreed to throw billions of pounds away to restore "confidence" suggests that the dream is over and we are awakening to a strange new socialism, in which an increasingly authoritarian government has taken public control of financial capitalism in order to save it from itself. We read today that equal pay reviews no longer matter. Migrants are left to starve on the streets as the government heads off the far right by pandering to it. And so it's precisely now that the question of an alternative must be re-opened.

Against this backdrop, Birkbeck College this weekend hosted a symposium on the idea of communism. Originally planned as a meeting of philosophers and those who enjoy hearing their debates, the unexpected material circumstances of history instead gave the event a genuine sense of urgency. Even the BBC came to hear Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciere, Michael Hardt, Toni Negri, and others speaking on the possibilities and challenges of reinventing the communist ideal today.

The conference was happily free of dogmatism. No one on the stage was there to represent a particular party or doctrine. There were disagreements, but at heart was a simple proposition. Communism is an idea that has been with us in different forms for thousands of years, as Terry Eagleton pointed out. The task is now to think what the concepts of egalitarian voluntarism, self-organisation, common ownership of common means of production, abolition of class-structured society, and freedom from state power can mean today.

It's a bold statement, declaring oneself a communist. The cultural revolutions of 1968 were the beginning of the end of the party-state, when programmatic communism was replaced by a more postmodern, abstract idea of "the left". Freedom of thought and nomadic thought undid the old certainties of Marxist political knowledge. No one has quite figured out how to replace them, and this perhaps more than anything else can account for the current weakness of the left, even as capitalism is in crisis: what is to be done?

First, the question of the role of the state and the economy remains open. While Judith Balso, Toni Negri and Alain Badiou insist on creating new political movements at a distance from the state, Zizek and Bruno Bosteels point to the experiences of Bolivia and Venezuela as contemporary proof that by taking power, a progressive radical movement can survive even against overwhelming reactionary forces. For Zizek, to reject the idea of a revolutionary state in the absence of a clear alternative is a cop-out.

However, such considerations all seem to beg the question of how to organise. It is difficult to imagine a new Communist party, but without one, the idea of communism remains just that: a quasi-religious article of faith. This was perhaps Eagleton's point when he observed that it is not so difficult to imagine a communism of scarcity, foisted upon us by disaster rather than rapture.

Perhaps the true question is: why communism? It does no harm to remember that for Marx, communism was not something anachronistic and programmatic. Marx insisted on the simple idea that we and no one else are responsible for remaking the world. Communism can only be enacted from what really exists. The party-states attempted to bend society to match some abstract idea. A true philosophy of communism cannot provide all the answers, because it has not yet encountered the problems.

Separating the promise of communism from the disasters of the 20th century is no easy task. But it feels necessary. Already we know that choices will have to be made and sides taken. Impending ecological disaster suggests that this could be our last chance to do so. If another world is possible, it will happen in action, not abstract theory. The first choice is very simple: to begin.

Letter from China; movie "Obama Deception"?

On one of my last evenings in China during my sabbatical in Spring 2008, I was collecting data on emotional expressions by sitting outside a small classroom as my participants filled out a survey (all in Mandarin; thank you my dear English major assistants), and on completion they gave me a shy thank you or tried out some English, and I handed over a 10 yuan note -- except one student stayed and sat on plastic chairs with me and talked for the remaining hours as my participants came and went. We later went to a restaurant and he helped me order and we talked for 2 more hours and 2 days later I was on a plane for Hong Kong...

Hi, Prof.
How are you going these days? Sorry for that long time we have not touch since I was always immersed in routines that I confronted. During the past half year, I fortunately involved in Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 and enjoyed nearly 2 month over there. Also, I as exempted into the Hong Kong Model United Nations 2009 in HK this year. All of the above I mentioned extremely enlarged my view of point on global business and borden my perspective of international politics. Here I have some experience to share with. Wish it would not bring extra burdens for your busy teaching calendar.

Congratulations for the world hero Barack Obama inaugurated as the US president this year. As most of friends, I was excited for the victory of democracy and free humanity. However, at the same time, I still remember the point you taught me that the corruptness really exists in great American. Your assertion, frankly speaking, shocked me and even influenced my sense of worth positively. Never had I expected the US---the dream land of freedom and equality in the world---has such a big problem in recent years.

After that moment, I had the desire to explore the truth. I talk to my foreign tutor in my university, who is also a good friend of mine, how you feel about China and why you leave your homeland at the age of 60. Unexpectly, he response with a negative voice that US is not a perfect place and he can felt the vigor emerging in China. Similarly, I felt the regret from the bottom of his heart and that impulse my curiosity toward the deeper research in the different and similarity between China and the US.

Under his guidance, I read some books and watched some movies. They are fantastic and you may never know how excited I am right now because I seem to find out something unbelievable and want to share my excitement with you. Money Master, a firm made for recovering the history of American real history that several American President were assassinated for their efforts to be against banking system. OBAMA DECEPTION, wrote by Webster Tarpley and directed by Alex Jones, also a film made recently and I just watched, reveal the secrets behind the executive operation in the US and how the Non-government organizations and off-shore banks control the policy maker. The film advocates the world citizens to stop the establishment of global rules and refuse the dictatorship. This assertion makes people upset, but maybe real. I wonder did you focus on these films and have the same feeling.

In this film, the author quotes what President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1802), that “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the band] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” I hope it will never appear in US.

Here is my newly assumption. I consider you may be interested in this field and glad to share my points with you. Sincerely wish it would be disturbing. And you do not need to response if you were so busy over there.

Best regards

Readers --Have any of you seen these movies? Advice, comments?

P.S. When I spoke with this student, I talked about the US as a kleptocracy, especially the Bush administration, but I did not mean to convey that kleptocrats only came to power in "recent years."