Structure change and Gustavo Esteva

In my most recent meeting with Vadim, we talked about the organization of my independent study paper. We established the following structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Evolution of blogs
  3. Findings of my research
  4. Conclusion

At the time, I was intently focused on incorporating digital media theory into my paper, whether it comfortably belonged there or not. However, after giving this structure more thought, I realized that there are more effective and appropriate ways to organize the paper.

The new approach I would like take uses the following structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brief background in political and social organization of Oaxaca (corruption and social movements)
  3. Findings of research
  4. Conclusion

Writing a chapter on the evolution of the blogs is a bit of a stretch for the scope of my current project. However, a chapter of context leading up to the 2006 crisis can only serve to support and explain the significance of my research findings. After all, a teacher’s strike doesn’t make much sense without the knowledge that many Oaxacan schools are crumbling. Neither does the rallying of approximately one million civilians make sense without knowing about twenty-five years of political decay that eroded the people’s trust in their government.

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Quick update

I’ve fallen a bit behind on both my blog and my research journal. That should be remedied by the end of the weekend.

Until then, I’d like to note something that’s been on my mind for a while:

Three days after the New York Times runs the story on Abdul Razzaq Hekmati’s death in Guantanamo, military prosecutors announce that six Guantanamo detainees may finally be put on trial for 9/11.

It’s as if they’re saying, “No, wait! These people are all bad guys, remember? We’re gonna take care of ’em, don’t worry.”

Then, in the New York Times yesterday:

“WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to limit judges’ authority to scrutinize evidence against detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The administration said the court could still add the issue to its calendar this year and hear arguments in a rare May session, then render a decision by late June.

The case is linked to another dispute already at the high court in which detainees are asking the justices to rule that they can use the U.S. civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment.

Another option for the court is to take no action on the new case until it decides on the extent of the detainees’ legal rights.

In the new case, the administration is asking the court to undo a federal appeals court ruling that broadens its authority to look at evidence about whether detainees have been properly characterized as enemy combatants.”

Vadim asks: Peace Corps or Teach for America?

Believe it or not, I am currently applying for the Peace Corps. My ideal location would be Latin America, with an assignment in community development.

According to the Peace Corps website, the Peace Corps mission consists of three basic goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Make no mistake, I have no illusions about the Peace Corps. While the volunteers are well-meaning, I suspect it is a bureaucratic monster, a tool of imperialism, a mild-mannered sibling to the military.  

Just look at the first goal: “Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.”

Now, I could go on and on about the danger of using the word “helping,” and the connotation of “helplessness” that it carries.  Many human rights activists, indigenous scholars and Peace Corps veterans are discussing the danger of the word, and the discussion isn’t pretty.

On January 9, the New York Times ran an editorial by Robert L. Strauss, a veteran Peace Corps volunteer, recruiter and country director. Strauss sees a difference in the original goals of the Peace Corps in the 1960s and what it must become now:

Back then, enthusiastic young Americans offered something that many newly independent nations counted in double and even single digits: college graduates. But today, those same nations have millions of well-educated citizens of their own desperately in need of work. So it’s much less clear what inexperienced Americans have to offer.

The Peace Corps has long shipped out well-meaning young people possessing little more than good intentions and a college diploma. What the agency should begin doing is recruiting only the best of recent graduates — as the top professional schools do — and only those older people whose skills and personal characteristics are a solid fit for the needs of the host country.

Strauss goes on to criticize the concept of inexperienced Americans teaching people how to improve their ways of life and work:

In Cameroon, we had many volunteers sent to serve in the agriculture program whose only experience was puttering around in their mom and dad’s backyard during high school. I wrote to our headquarters in Washington to ask if anyone had considered how an American farmer would feel if a fresh-out-of-college Cameroonian with a liberal arts degree who had occasionally visited Grandma’s cassava plot were sent to Iowa to consult on pig-raising techniques learned in a three-month crash course. I’m pretty sure the American farmer would see it as a publicity stunt and a bunch of hooey, but I never heard back from headquarters.

Another problem within the Peace Corps is its tendency to send, as Strauss writes, “unqualified volunteers to teach English when nearly every developing country could easily find high-caliber English teachers among its own population.” Many more times, the need is less for English or agricultural teachers than for assistants in computer-literacy labs (and computer labs themselves).

It would be a mistake for us, as the passengers of Zakaria’s limo, to assume that we can tell others how to better live their lives. We must listen and learn and ask.

So why am I applying for the Peace Corps, you ask?

Well, for purely selfish reasons. I want very badly to become fluent in Spanish. I want to experience the flaws and benefits of the Peace Corps system for myself, after hearing the endless criticisms. I want to observe how well-meaning U.S. volunteers relate with cultures they do not understand. I want to live and work in another country for two years in order to experience something outside of my bubble.

I rather expect that my experience in the Peace Corps will be frustrating, and I may even disagree with much of what I do. However, I am not content with living in the U.S. after graduation, and I do not currently have the means to move to another country without some programmatic guidance.

Maybe, just maybe, some like-minded volunteers and I can whip the Peace Corps into shape once our terms are over.

Also, this kind of enraged me:

Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S. (New York Times)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Abdul Razzaq Hekmati was regarded here as a war hero, famous for his resistance to the Russian occupation in the 1980s and later for a daring prison break he organized for three opponents of the Taliban government in 1999.

But in 2003, Mr. Hekmati was arrested by American forces in southern Afghanistan when, senior Afghan officials here contend, he was falsely accused by his enemies of being a Taliban commander himself. For the next five years he was held at the American military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he died of cancer on Dec. 30. ”

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What’s that, Ching Cheong? Did you say something?

My international journalism class today focused the flow of information in the media. The fundamental concepts, based on our readings in Global Communication by Thomas McPhail, established that a Western perspective dominates international media and portrays the developing world as “coups and earthquakes.”

This analysis of international media first emerged in the 1960s, under the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO).

The current debate evolves around developing journalism, in which the governments of developing journalism would limit free-speech in favor of stability. In other words, reports from developing countries would focus on pro-government news in the hopes of deflecting destructive criticism and continuing with national development programs.

However, allowing only government-sponsored media for the sake of stability means much more than sacrificing freedom of speech. The approach begs the question, What criticisms are being suppressed, and from whom?

Now, I’m making two broad assumptions here, so correct me if I’m using faulty logic:

  1. Developing nations have large poor populations who may be unhappy with the status quo (i.e. current regime), and,
  2. Stabilizing the country either means improving the situation of those large poor populations or suppressing them so they cannot rebel.

Now, if stabilizing the country means improving the situation of the poor, then what criticisms would need to be suppressed by pro-government news? Improving the quality of life for the majority often means making sacrifices at the expense of the elite. The elite certainly won’t buy into the limited news perspective, especially if they’re conveniently tied to the interests of pushy international corporations  and U.S. diplomats.

Therefore, limiting freedom of speech in favor of stabilization must mean something else. And when stabilizing the country means suppressing the poor and eliminating their will to resist (see Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, and Myanmar, among others), then the limits on free speech only represent the the tip of an iceberg of potential human rights abuses. Why insist on only pro-government media if the government is acting with a clear conscious?  Not to mention that these restrictions on the press must be enforced, and who’s there to monitor the means of enforcement with no one allowed to blow the whistle? Who will complain about arrests, torture, disappearances or property seizures? Oh, that’s right — no one.

As Emily said in class, developmental journalism is not the only alternative to the one-way flow of information from the West to the periphery nations.  One option, Emily went on to say, may include the growth of indigenous media, as people in developing nations gain greater access to the Internet.

Ultimately, what distresses me the most is that I find myself stuck in a debate as circular as the chicken-or-egg puzzle.  Indigenous media is limited by resources, which are affected by global structural inequalities, which are perpetuated by ignorance and stagnation on the part of Western citizens, which is fueled by the limitations of indigenous media…

Sifting: the dirty side of research

Ever since I wrote my independent study proposal, “Oaxaca Blog Wars” was one blog entry at the top of my check-it-out list.  The post is written by Colin Brayton, a freelance and staff journalist from Brooklyn.  In this post, as well as “Fair & Balanced,” Brayton attempts to work through the nitty-gritty of informational conflicts between various Web postings.

Brayton appears diligent when it comes to investigating the authors behind Web sources and cross-checking information.

One of the sites he analyzes, oaxacaenpaz.org, seems to have been taken down since 2006.  Quite interesting to note, considering APPO sites are still functioning but the state government has quieted down a bit.

Both posts have overwhelmed me with the sheer amount of information that’s out there. However, it also gives me confidence in what I am trying to do.

Really, what I need to focus on now is Mexican newspapers.  Thank goodness for what limited knowledge of Spanish I have.

More research details to come.

Found a gem

“Washington Post article on Oaxaca gets a beating” by MexicoReporter:

Nov. 26, 2007 – An article published in this weekend’s Washington Post, called “Oaxaca: One Year Later”, has prompted heavy criticism from people living in the southern Mexican state which this time last year was the scene of huge civil unrest and what one critic describes as ‘some of the worst human rights abuses in recent Mexican history; detaining, torturing, and raping men, women, and children who had taken to the streets demanding social and economic justice.’  [WaPo’s reporter’s response included in the post.]