Saturday, January 18, 2014

UNESCO Cancels(?) Jews in Israel Exhibit

Repeat after me: The UN is a neutral organization which is not remotely hostile to Jews qua Jews:
The Obama administration is “deeply disappointed” with a decision by UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural arm, to cancel the opening of an exhibition on the Jewish presence in the land of Israel and is seeking its placement “as soon as possible.”

Complaints by Arab states led UNESCO to cancel the exhibition, organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center along with the governments of Canada and Montenegro. It was scheduled to open Jan. 20 at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“The United States is deeply disappointed and has engaged with senior levels at UNESCO to confirm that the action to postpone does not represent a cancellation and to underscore our interest in seeing the exhibit proceed as soon as possible,” a State Department official said, speaking on customary anonymity. “We trust that UNESCO will approach this issue fairly and in a manner consistent with the organization’s guidelines and past precedent.”

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said Wednesday in a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center that the exhibit, titled “The People, the Book, the Land — 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel,” would be postponed indefinitely. She said the decision arose out of UNESCO’s support for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
One can almost see the crocodile from which the Arab League's tears emerge:
The cancellation followed a letter sent to Bokova on Jan. 14 by the Arab group at UNESCO. “The Arab group is deeply disturbed by the exhibition, which it condemns,” said the letter from the group’s president, Abdullah Elmealmi.

“This cause is championed by those who oppose peace efforts,” Elmealmi said. “The media campaign accompanying the exhibition will inevitably damage the peace talks, the incessant efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UNESCO’s neutrality.”
If peace talks are so fragile such that acknowledging Jews have a connection to Israel will damage them, surely we are doomed. Though I suppose that all depends on what terms one expects "peace" to occur on.

UPDATE: UNESCO's statement is here.

UPDATE 2x: It now appears that the exhibit will open in June after a six month delay.

Friday, January 17, 2014

... That Magical Time of Year When a Worker's Thoughts Turn To Love

Various permutations of this essay by Miya Tokumitsu, which attacks the concept of "Doing What You Love" (DWYL), has been making the blogospheric rounds to much applause. Allow me to dissent. Tokumitsu does not do nearly enough to demonstrate a causal link between the DWYL mentality and erasure of the lives of working class. Indeed, if anything DWYL is a valuable contributor to our understanding of "work", including for the "non-creative" working class.

Summarizing and simplifying, Tokumitsu observes that there only certain classes of jobs, typically held by certain classes of people, which are even candidates to be a job one might "love". The vast majority of jobs, including jobs necessary for the maintenance of "loved" jobs, are not going to be particularly fun or intellectually stimulating no matter what we do. Therefore, DWYL is inherently classist: "labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love--which is, in fact, most labor--is erased." Meanwhile, DWYL encourages exploitation -- it is basically a way to make workers content with getting less in the way of tangible proceeds in favor of nebulous emotional satisfaction.

As someone who has in the past few years done both a job that I loved (in the classic DWYL form), and a job that, we shall say, does not fit into that category, I feel well-positioned to discuss this issue. And given that the latter job paid triple the former (loved) one, I can even speak to the trade-off between tangible and intangible job benefits.

But let's not start with me; let's start instead with the claim that DWYL is class-divisive and "erases" workers whose jobs are not candidates to be loved. Put bluntly, I'm skeptical that the wealthy need the aid of a mantra to forget about the life and working conditions of the lower classes. That's really more of the default setting. The alternative to caring about how workers feel about their jobs emotionally is not necessarily caring about what workers get out of their jobs tangibly -- it can very easily be (and historically has been) caring about neither. A similar critique can be leveled at her claim that if someone does not obtain profit from pursuing their passion, DWYL implies that the fault must be in their enthusiasm. While I've never actually heard that assertion made, I admit I'm never surprised at the capacity of some people to attribute any deficiency in the lives of the working class to their own deficiencies. Suffice to say, this tendency predates DWYL, it is not caused by it.

What DWYL recognizes is that the tangible products of a job are not sufficient to provide for fulfilling lives. One can be tangibly provided for at market rates and still not have "enough". In other words, DWYL is in many respects a (admittedly inchoate) statement about a substantive entitlements -- that we are not owed just whatever dollar amount our employer puts in our pocket, but some level of happiness, dignity, and respect out of our job. Those values should be included in our calculus of what workers are provided.

Indeed, some of her treatment of improved intangible working conditions strikes me as almost incomprehensible. She quotes Marc Bousquet as saying that the "loved" academic job environment actually presents a model for corporations:
How to emulate the academic workplace and get people to work at a high level of intellectual and emotional intensity for fifty or sixty hours a week for bartenders’ wages or less? Is there any way we can get our employees to swoon over their desks, murmuring “I love what I do” in response to greater workloads and smaller paychecks? How can we get our workers to be like faculty and deny that they work at all? How can we adjust our corporate culture to resemble campus culture, so that our workforce will fall in love with their work too?
From this analysis, she concludes "Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love."

Reading the above, one would think that the way a corporation makes people love what they do is by casting an incantation or spiking the cafeteria with hallucinogenic drugs. In reality, to make workers happy by means other than a pay raise, one has to do things that make workers happier with their jobs. Those are real benefits, not chimeras -- I'd take my less-paying but more loved job over my less-loved, better paying counterpart in a heartbeat. The trade-off isn't infinite, of course, but all that demonstrates is that neither the tangible nor intangible proceeds of work are sufficient for self-fulfillment.

Which cycles us back to those workers whose jobs are not and cannot be made loveable. We should say here that almost any job can be made, if not loveable, than at least more likeable -- by being treated fairly and with respect, for instance, or by having some security such that one isn't not in constant dread of being tossed on the street. But even to the extent these jobs lie beyond true DWYL, the concept still matters because it provides a contrast to the prevailing counternarrative -- "the value of a honest day's work." That mantra, which by my lights is far more likely to represent the real competitor to DWYL (as compared to some sort of cross-class solidarity pressing for higher salaries for everyone), cares neither whether the worker is happy or whether they getting significant tangible returns -- value comes from working whatever job the market provides at whatever rate the market pays. I'm reminded of the archetypical 50s parent who, upon hearing that his son isn't happy at work, bellows that "You hate your job? I hated my job too! That's the point of a job!"

DWYL recognizes, at the very least, that the emotional side is important -- and anytime the American cultural zeitgeist recognizes any form of substantive entitlement as necessary for a fulfilled life, I'm inclined to jump on it. And to the extent we do view DWYL as a form of substantive entitlement and we simultaneously reckon with the fact that certain people are not (and likely cannot get it), that does provide a fulcrum from which those people can leverage a claim for greater tangible benefits as compensation. Of course, I'm not saying it's a guarantee that thinking about DWYL will cause wealthier Americans to recognize the deprivations faced by their working class peers -- as I said, wealthy Americans hardly need any excuse to ignore others outside their class. But attribute the lack of cross-class consciousness to DWYL is difficult to justify.

The bottom line is that the notion that we can view work solely through the lens of the monetary returns workers get doesn't cohere to how people of any class actually view their work. We don't just want "fulfillment" or "respect", but we don't just want a dollar figure either. It's obviously true that if one is being paid little, the marginal value of each additional dollar is going to be higher compared to additional "respect" or whatnot. But that doesn't change the fact that thinking about work in a way that's helpful to workers requires a holistic approach. DWYL matters because it is a recognition about what workers are owed, and any sort of public understanding of the proceeds of work that starts from what workers deserve, rather than what the market deigns to give them, is in my book a good thing

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lesbian Filipina Caregiver wins Israel's "X-Factor"

Pinkwashing! Brownwashing! Poorwashing! Songwashing! Every form of washing imaginable:
Rose Fostanes, a diminutive 47-year-old Filipina caregiver, has emerged as the newest star of Israeli reality television, winning the singing competition “X-Factor Israel” on Tuesday and establishing herself as something of a national phenomenon.
In an upset victory, Fostanes beat out three other finalists by performing crowd-pleasing renditions of Frank Sinatra’s "My Way," Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You," and "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics.

Fostanes arrived in Israel six years ago to work as a caregiver so, like millions of other Filipino workers around the world, she could send money back home to her family and her girlfriend.
Obviously, I support anyone who picks "Sweet Dreams" as part of their finals run.

To Take a Totally Random Example

Say what you will about the D.C. Circuit's net neutrality decision, but I can't get too upset at any decision that illustrates how the internet works by referencing the hypothetical journey of "a video of a cat" from YouTube to the discerning internet consuemr ("who then views and hopefully enjoys the cat.").

Also quotable: "After all, even a federal agency is entitled to a little pride."

Monday, January 13, 2014

"I Decide"

Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes Frederick Douglass' wife:
It is easy to say, as has been carelessly said by some in commenting upon Mr. Douglass' life and career, that the intellectual power, the ambition, the talent which he displayed, were inheritances from his white father; that the colored strain disappeared except as it gave the hue to his skin; and that to all intents and purposes Frederick Douglass was a white man.
In parallel, he notes the ideology of German anti-Semites when encountering a Jew whom, for whatever reason, they liked: "I decide who is a Jew." Marcus Garvey made a similar observation, stating that "whenever Blacks do anything useful, they are no longer Blacks."

At the end of it all, as Coates says, these "isms" are about power. Power is rarely so directionless as to necessitate the slaughter or enslavement of every member of the outgroup. It can maintain its "good Jews" or its "model minorities". After all, even the most bigoted can Have Black Friends. Depending on what one wants to do, one can either define the favored Jew (or whomever) as an exceptional falsehood, or as the only authentic Jew. Though seemingly opposite, the two moves have much the same effect -- to announce that the bulk of the Jewish community is lesser and subhuman, worthy of the scorn and prejudice heaped among them. Those few, special few who are allowed to escape (in part) its grasp are not taken to disprove the prejudice but to confirm it.