Thursday, September 29, 2005

Deadwood and Ethics beyond Ethics

I just finished watching the entire first season of the HBO series Deadwood. It was an interesting show, at first I saw it as an annoying exploration into the making of whiteness in America (cowboys, racism against Chinese people, erasing and entraping of Native Americans, manifest destiny), just with new and improved swear words!

After finishing the first season though, and seeing in particular the last episode I understood why people might be attracted to the characters and the story. Other then the nationalist masturbatory potential (oh those scenes of rugged mythical Americaness! So viral! So powerful!), in characters such as Seth Bullock but more so Al Swearengen you see examples of ethics beyond ethics. Ethical stances which don't quite conform to what we perceive to be a possible or desirable act from that character's perspective, yet that we can secretly or discreetly admire because of their commitment to something beyond what we see and note. An ethical commitment beyond ethics.

In samurai epics such as Lone Wolf and Cub these acts are far too common. The Bushido code seems to be built upon an explicit incomprehension. In Story #108 of Lone Wolf and Cub for example, the leader of the Yagyu, Retsudo in his disdainful discussion with Kaii about the difference between a non-samurai and samurai he creates clear distinctions as to those who have access to this way of life/epistemology around familiarity with death and the worthiness of being killed by a samurai's sword.

To any viewer/reader, but the Western reader in particular these demarcations echant us, because of their commitment just beyond what we would or can imagine. One can speak the words, but the commitment lies just beyond us, because we cannot imagine ourselves committing the same act or occupying the same stubborn stance, except through some sort of strict identification (as exemplified by statements such as "well, if I was in that situation, I guess I would have done the same.)

On a related point, it might be productive to disucss here the way Americans discuss Kamikazee pilots and other ethnically marked suicide bombers. If they don't taste any sublime in their acts, then they fixate on how wasteful or insane the acts are. I remember having similar leanings until I saw the movie Air Force One. In the film's second to the last climax, during a fight with "rogue" Russian fighters, one American pilot flies into the path of a missile which is aimed at the president's airplane sacrificing himself. The act was far different then the usual, bodyguard throwing themselves in front of their client, because the body flying through the sky always has an element of chance to it. Someone hurtling through the air, usually their focus is to push the person out of harms way, but in the process get hit. And this pilot's act was different then the mini-sub's decoy move in The Hunt for Red October, which fooled the torpedo into hitting the sub that fired it. In this scene, a pilot deliberately flew into a missile in order to have it hit him instead of the president.

Needless to say, this admirable sacrifice unsettled me because of the way I was expected to infuse this death with incredible value. Yet at the same time I was expected to not infuse the deaths of kamikazee pilots or suicide bombers with that same value. Talk about intersections of race, nation and reason.

Returning to my initial point, Seth Bullock from Deadwood might be instructive. This character is interesting because of the intersections that take place in him recognizing himself as the sheriff of the town. In the first season's last episode, the course of the day's events, as well as other characters with Bullock make it seem inevitable that he become sheriff. Given the positioning of his character as "good" via ethically challenged manipulators like Cy Tolliver and Al Swearengen, this would seem to be obvious. Who else could be sheriff in this town?

But the setting up of this chosing of the sheriff is interesting. At the episode's beginning, there is no sheriff, because the business interests in the town don't want one interferring needlessly in their affairs. When one is chosen its obvious that he would be the "ideal" candidate, since he is the kind of operator who wouldn't interfere with anyone's business and can easily be bought by any side. But no one really stands behind Con Stapleton during his short tenure as sheriff.

Instead, characters continually recognize Bullock as the ideal candidate. One could guess this because of him being marked as one of the "good" characters in the storyline. But as even those interests in the town who didn't want a sheriff in the first place recognize Bullock as an ideal choice we see that this isn't as simple as goodness or ethics. It is after beating Alma's father (who wants to cheat his daughter out of her gold claim) nearly to death that we see why he is seen as an ideal. It is this explosion of ethical violence that marks him the ideal agent of the law. The ideal person for its defense and enaction cannot be the spineless sheriff Stapleton. Because what Stapleton lacks is the essence summed up in "the force of law," the excessive aspect of the laws enacting or existence which is always necessarily unaccounted for/repressed, yet always very very present. The force of the law refers to the someplace outside of the current order to which that act reaches which both founds and changes the law at the same time.

This isn't to say that Bullock's competition isn't violent, he kills a Chinese worker in the village that same day. But rather than cold and calculating, Bullock's beating of Alma's father represents that excessive, obscene aspect of the law which must be present for us to see it as law, yet at the same time always disavowed in a way. As evidenced in Kafka's The Trial, rather then the law being a tasteless, banal and methodical thing, it is very much "penetrated" with perverse obscene enjoyment (portrayed by the pornography in the court and the wild laughter that Josef K. encounters there when he pleads his case).

Another interesting portrayal is the character of Al Swearengen. Like so many overbearing, powerful and obviously "bad" characters he is enchanting because there is something in him that is ethical beyond what we can see or readily understand. Poplar culture is full of these characters, who force an identification which we often later feel ashamed for (rooting for the "bad guy.") These characters are enchanting because of their acceptance and recognition of something in themselves, which becomes more important then salvation or redepmtion. The ones who somehow stay true to something in them, which comes at the cost of their very lives.

A key point in making this clear for Swearengen is his mercy killing of the town priest who has long been suffering from unknown illnesses. Unlike most narratives where something such as this would be set up, where for example Swearengen would relate to someone a story from his childhood ("my daddy was a priest") which would easily explain this act, it instead remains caused and informed by something just beyond our view. Something which Swearengen stays committed too, despite the limitations and expectations of our gaze.

Lastly, there is something else to be noted in the ethics of these characters. Something strangely Levinasian. Seeing in Samurai Champloo, Jin and Mugen save each other, because their deaths belong to each other. Seeing Ogami Itto in Lone Wolf and Cub yell out "I take (claim) your life" before he kills his enemy. Or even "bad guys" and serial killers (such as in Oldboy) who keep alive their enemies or prey so that they may be killed by only themselves and no one else. There is something to be said of these characters and their feelings of responsibility towards those around them. I created you, I hate you, I desire you, therefore you're life and your death belongs to me.


I'm slogging my way through one of my least favorite books by Michael Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge. Just came across this quote, which was a spot of blessed clarity, amidst a stormy bathtub full of human misery.

'Discourse is not life: its time is not your time; in it, you will not be reconciled to death; you may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said; but don't imagine that, with all that you are saying, you will make a man that will live longer than he.'

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Purging the Poor

Yanggen ti este un tungo' este, sesso hu post guini i tinige'-na siha Si Naomi Klein. Dos na rason. Fine'nina: gof malate' este na palao'an. Gaige giya Guahu i des na lepblo-na, ya bai hu sangani hao, gi i FanAkague'yan (Left) pa'go, guiya un takhilo' na maga'haga (hehehe). Mina'dos: Gof mangge na palao'an gui' (mangge na taotao yan mangge na trahi).

Published on Friday, September 23, 2005 by The Nation (From the October 10, 2005 Issue)
Purging the Poor
by Naomi Klein

Outside the 2,000-bed temporary shelter in Baton Rouge's River Center, a Church of Scientology band is performing a version of Bill Withers's classic "Use Me"--a refreshingly honest choice. "If it feels this good getting used," the Scientology singer belts out, "just keep on using me until you use me up."

Ten-year-old Nyler, lying face down on a massage table, has pretty much the same attitude. She is not quite sure why the nice lady in the yellow SCIENTOLOGY VOLUNTEER MINISTER T-shirt wants to rub her back, but "it feels so good," she tells me, so who really cares? I ask Nyler if this is her first massage. "Assist!" hisses the volunteer minister, correcting my Scientology lingo. Nyler shakes her head no; since fleeing New Orleans after a tree fell on her house, she has visited this tent many times, becoming something of an assist-aholic. "I have nerves," she explains in a blissed-out massage voice. "I have what you call nervousness."

Wearing a donated pink T-shirt with an age-inappropriate slogan ("It's the hidden little Tiki spot where the island boys are hot, hot, hot"), Nyler tells me what she is nervous about. "I think New Orleans might not ever get fixed back." "Why not?" I ask, a little surprised to be discussing reconstruction politics with a preteen in pigtails. "Because the people who know how to fix broken houses are all gone."

I don't have the heart to tell Nyler that I suspect she is on to something; that many of the African-American workers from her neighborhood may never be welcomed back to rebuild their city. An hour earlier I had interviewed New Orleans' top corporate lobbyist, Mark Drennen. As president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., Drennen was in an expansive mood, pumped up by signs from Washington that the corporations he represents--everything from Chevron to Liberty Bank to Coca-Cola--were about to receive a package of tax breaks, subsidies and relaxed regulations so generous it would make the job of a lobbyist virtually obsolete.

Listening to Drennen enthuse about the opportunities opened up by the storm, I was struck by his reference to African-Americans in New Orleans as "the minority community." At 67 percent of the population, they are in fact the clear majority, while whites like Drennen make up just 27 percent. It was no doubt a simple verbal slip, but I couldn't help feeling that it was also a glimpse into the desired demographics of the new-and-improved city being imagined by its white elite, one that won't have much room for Nyler or her neighbors who know how to fix houses. "I honestly don't know and I don't think anyone knows how they are going to fit in," Drennen said of the city's unemployed.

New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as "ethnic cleansing." Before Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black. This, we are assured, is not a conspiracy; it's simple geography--a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent). Some dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American populations before the storm, but in all the billions for reconstruction, there is no budget for transportation back from the far-flung shelters where those residents ended up. So even when resettlement is permitted, many may not be able to return.

As for the hundreds of thousands of residents whose low-lying homes and housing projects were destroyed by the flood, Drennen points out that many of those neighborhoods were dysfunctional to begin with. He says the city now has an opportunity for "twenty-first-century thinking": Rather than rebuild ghettos, New Orleans should be resettled with "mixed income" housing, with rich and poor, black and white living side by side.

What Drennen doesn't say is that this kind of urban integration could happen tomorrow, on a massive scale. Roughly 70,000 of New Orleans' poorest homeless evacuees could move back to the city alongside returning white homeowners, without a single new structure being built. Take the Lower Garden District, where Drennen himself lives. It has a surprisingly high vacancy rate--17.4 percent, according to the 2000 Census. At that time 702 housing units stood vacant, and since the market hasn't improved and the district was barely flooded, they are presumably still there and still vacant. It's much the same in the other dry areas: With landlords preferring to board up apartments rather than lower rents, the French Quarter has been half-empty for years, with a vacancy rate of 37 percent.

The citywide numbers are staggering: In the areas that sustained only minor damage and are on the mayor's repopulation list, there are at least 11,600 empty apartments and houses. If Jefferson Parish is included, that number soars to 23,270. With three people in each unit, that means homes could be found for roughly 70,000 evacuees. With the number of permanently homeless city residents estimated at 200,000, that's a significant dent in the housing crisis. And it's doable. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, whose Houston district includes some 150,000 Katrina evacuees, says there are ways to convert vacant apartments into affordable or free housing. After passing an ordinance, cities could issue Section 8 certificates, covering rent until evacuees find jobs. Jackson Lee says she plans to introduce legislation that will call for federal funds to be spent on precisely such rental vouchers. "If opportunity exists to create viable housing options," she says, "they should be explored."

Malcolm Suber, a longtime New Orleans community activist, was shocked to learn that thousands of livable homes were sitting empty. "If there are empty houses in the city," he says, "then working-class and poor people should be able to live in them." According to Suber, taking over vacant units would do more than provide much-needed immediate shelter: It would move the poor back into the city, preventing the key decisions about its future--like whether to turn the Ninth Ward into marshland or how to rebuild Charity Hospital--from being made exclusively by those who can afford land on high ground. "We have the right to fully participate in the reconstruction of our city," Suber says. "And that can only happen if we are back inside." But he concedes that it will be a fight: The old-line families in Audubon and the Garden District may pay lip service to "mixed income" housing, "but the Bourbons uptown would have a conniption if a Section 8 tenant moved in next door. It will certainly be interesting."

Equally interesting will be the response from the Bush Administration. So far, the only plan for homeless residents to move back to New Orleans is Bush's bizarre Urban Homesteading Act. In his speech from the French Quarter, Bush made no mention of the neighborhood's roughly 1,700 unrented apartments and instead proposed holding a lottery to hand out plots of federal land to flood victims, who could build homes on them. But it will take months (at least) before new houses are built, and many of the poorest residents won't be able to carry the mortgage, no matter how subsidized. Besides, it barely touches the need: The Administration estimates that in New Orleans there is land for only 1,000 "homesteaders."

The truth is that the White House's determination to turn renters into mortgage payers is less about solving Louisiana's housing crisis than indulging an ideological obsession with building a radically privatized "ownership society." It's an obsession that has already come to grip the entire disaster zone, with emergency relief provided by the Red Cross and Wal-Mart and reconstruction contracts handed out to Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton and Shaw--the same gang that spent the past three years getting paid billions while failing to bring Iraq's essential services to prewar levels [see Klein, "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," May 2]. "Reconstruction," whether in Baghdad or New Orleans, has become shorthand for a massive uninterrupted transfer of wealth from public to private hands, whether in the form of direct "cost plus" government contracts or by auctioning off new sectors of the state to corporations.

This vision was laid out in uniquely undisguised form during a meeting at the Heritage Foundation's Washington headquarters on September 13. Present were members of the House Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than 100 conservative lawmakers headed by Indiana Congressman Mike Pence. The group compiled a list of thirty-two "Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices," including school vouchers, repealing environmental regulations and "drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Admittedly, it seems farfetched that these would be adopted as relief for the needy victims of an eviscerated public sector. Until you read the first three items: "Automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas"; "Make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone"; and "Make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives and waiving of regulations)." All are poised to become law or have already been adopted by presidential decree.

In their own way the list-makers at Heritage are not unlike the 500 Scientology volunteer ministers currently deployed to shelters across Louisiana. "We literally followed the hurricane," David Holt, a church supervisor, told me. When I asked him why, he pointed to a yellow banner that read, SOMETHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT. I asked him what "it" was and he said "everything."

So it is with the neocon true believers: Their "Katrina relief" policies are the same ones trotted out for every problem, but nothing energizes them like a good disaster. As Bush says, lands swept clean are "opportunity zones," a chance to do some recruiting, advance the faith, even rewrite the rules from scratch. But that, of course, will take some massaging--I mean assisting.

Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador).

© 2005 The Nation


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

A letter from my department commenting on Hurican Katrina

Ethnic Studies Department Statement on the Hurricane Katrina Crisis

The recent natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the humanitarian crisis that followed have weighed heavily on our hearts. As scholars who study issues of race, class, gender and inequality, we know that the extent of devastation felt by gulf coast communities is linked directly to social and economic structures.

Local, state, and federal governments failed to act to protect the safety and dignity of the tens of thousands of people left stranded in the gulf region.
It is a human tragedy that so many of “the poor, the elderly, the sick, the young, most of them African Americans” were essentially abandoned in places like New Orleans, left to fend for themselves and try their best to survive. We recognize the ways in which racialized groups have historically been criminalized in our society and we are deeply saddened and angered by the media's repeated portrayals of African American victims of Hurricane Katrina as lawless and as looters. We are also outraged by the lack of aid, language-sensitive emergency information, and media attention given to other underrepresented communities that were also devastated along the gulf coast such as Vietnamese and Latino immigrant communities.

We call on the ethnic studies community to remain critical of the federal administration's response to the crisis and also of the media’s portrayal of victims. Race, class and gender played a significant role in this catastrophe, an event that has brought to the public eye the stark socioeconomic inequalities that persist in our society. We hope that as recovery and rebuilding continue, we can also carry on open discussions on these issues as we strive for greater social justice in our world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Kantan Manmatatnga

Guatu guihi hu li'e Si Nana-hu
Guatu guihi hu li'e Si tata-hu yan todu i mane'lu-hu
Guatu guihi hu fakcha'i i hale' i taotao-hu guihi gi i fanutuhan'an
Ai ma katiyi yu'
Ma agangi yu' sumaonao siha na u fanhami
Gi i gima' i langhet
Nai manla'la' i manmatatnga taifinakpo'

Monday, September 19, 2005


I mentioned more than a week ago the comic that me and i dos na mane'lu-hu are working on. I can't reveal the name just yet, but I'll refer to it her as my little sister does, as B4K.

I just spent the last week up north visiting my family and working on getting the first half of our first story arc (13 issues) done. While I was up there I finished up issue two, and am now almost done with the writing for issue three. Issues 4-7 have already been plotted out in narrative style but the actual panelling (which I detest and suck at) still needs to be done.

Jack is done with the breakdowns for the first issue, and one third of the way done with the real pencils. It was very exciting writing and scripting with him drawing beside me. Every once in a while I would look over at something he had just drawn and it would just inspire me, because if we can pull this thing off, it will be so awesome!

I've gotten some inquiries about what the comic will be like. Will it be intellectual? Will it be action orientated? Will it be humorous? Will it be in English?

At present, this comic will be very theoretical, meaning that the things which I love to read such as Zizek, his insights will be a part of what happens. Whether in what characters say, how they feel or react or what happens to them in this world that we've created. But also, it will be very action packed. Half of issue two is a single epic battle, between characters which you wouldn't normally see fighting.

The way I've set things up, anything can appear in this world, its not limited by historical or cultural context. That is one of the biggest problems I see when people create worlds or fiction, is that they ultimately adhere to the rules of whatever worlds they draw from. So even if they are doing something completely new, they don't really try to evade the rules of the genre or even just the stories that they cull. In the world that we are working in, just about everything goes, and it is supposed to be that way. As time passes and I feel comfortable posting more concrete details you'll see how interesting it is.

I desperately want to start sharing with people the mechanics and grit of it, but the problem is that we don't have any copyrights yet and so it would be very easy for someone to just take it from this blog and use it wherever.

On a related promotional note, I've asked Jack the main artist for the comic to start drawing up some promotional sketches of characters and hopefully he'll let me post some here for people to check out.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

V for Social Voyeurism

After watching a preview for the upcoming film, V for Vendetta I decided to re-read it. I had purchased it almost a decade ago, after enjoying Watchmen and hating almost everything Alan Moore had done since that (lana, gof kalakas Fire from the Heavens).

First of all, I love it when authors and artists can weave things in their stories together throughout the narrative. So for example, in Watchmen, different themes are re-expressed in the dialogue or even the panel layout and image choices (such as the bodies of two people being vaporized by a "alien" blast becoming a blood splatter or a finger marked slash of an ice covered glasss dome.) V for Vendetta does that throughout, whether it be re-inserting "V" in different forms throughout, like the most famous line from Beethoven's Fifth symphony is morse code for the letter "V."

When reading it on this occassion, I paid careful attention to the footnotes, the intro, the postcript to the collection. I'm glad I did, because Alan Moore touches on something in them which has held back much apocalyptic fiction from holding subversive potential.

1984 is a good example. Supposedly in the first draft of his book, it came with an introduction, and a sentence or two from that introduction was taken out of the early editions. What did that sentence say? It cautioned readers not to immediately assume that 1984 is about Russia or Germany or some other totalitarian state where censorship is so rife, but to recognize that this very well could be the United Kingdom.

To put it another way, with 1984 for it to have any real political potential, then one must recognize it has being about the United States or the United Kingdom. Anything else would relegate it to that all too familiar mantra, "fuckedna i cha'guan gi maseha manu fuera di guini" which is the core imaginary point for maintaining the exceptionality of any nation state.

Returning to V for Vendetta, in any apocalyptical story there is always a reason for why this has come about. Why does England become this totalitarian and facist state? What catastrophic event could have derailed society to such a degree that decisions were made to incarcerate all the homosexuals and people of color? In his intro for the collected edition, Alan Moore admits to being naive politically when he wrote the comic, noting that although he then felt that a near nuclear annihilation of the world would be that event, in reality, no such event would be required. If we can take the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an example (and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), those catastrophic events are created much much more then they just happen.

What holds back fiction of this sort is this sort of naivism, which assumes that the character of things today is fundamentally good and more importantly "better" and thus for a breakdown to take place, something out of control, out of this world must happen. What makes V for Vendetta so depressingly not subversive is that the way it goes beyond what is normally done, and yet still does what is normally done. It very much shows the mechanics of a governing and controlling body, and its emphasis on them as parts of the body is an inspired move, as metaphors of the body are always invoked to either hold certain elements together or expunge and destroy others. The obscene parts of government are described through the desires and activities of those working in the Finger, the Head, the Eye, etc. This is the way government works, it is not something to come, but something looking down on us now. One of the best critiques about government (which is sadly lost on all, because of genre ideology) is Enemy of the State. The government as a body is not a neutral disinterested or evil diabloical thing, but something which lies in the middle. Big Brother is not someone who sits back manipulating our lives, but instead like Seth Green or Jamie Kennedy in Enemy of the State, who get obvious kicks out of their governmentality.

Yet all of this is made foreign to the world of today, because of Moore's decision to make this world built upon the wreckage of a nuclear war.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bai hu tinane' na'ya

Just letting everyone know that I'll be a little busy for the next week or so preparing for school and trying to get the first two issues of me and my brothers' comic book off the ground. I'll be sure to back post things though so it doesn't seem like I didn't post anything at all.

Malago yu' sumangani hamyo si yu'us ma'ase yanggen sesso na matto hao guini. Desde mana'tungo' yu' na guaha ni' tumaitaitai i tinige'-hu siha, gof magof-hu yan massa' yu' didide' sa' pine'lo-ku na Guahu ha' na maisa guini. Lao ga'na'-ku na guaha manggaiinteres nu hafa sinangan-hu, sa' impottante i kesas ni' hu chachagi sumangan, ya hu diseseha na en kempreprende.

Resisting Indigenous Expectations

Here's my abstract for the paper I've been mentioning over the past few months about Terminator and Whale Rider. I submitted it to a conference in Hawai'i next year, hopefully it'll get accepted, because the issues I'll try to raise are important ones, dealing with how we imagine ourselves and what we imagine our futures can be and supposed to be.

The Whale Rider vs. The Terminator: Resisting Indigenous Expectations in the Pacific
Michael Lujan Bevacqua,
University of California, San Diego, Department of Ethnic Studies

With the international success of Pacific Islander films such as Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors there has been a resurgence of indigenous identity discussions revolving around the cultural imagery and metaphors these films propose. Whale Rider in particular has been seen as a centerpiece for emerging dialogues over Pacific Islander resistance and survival. While obviously an uplifting film, with its emphasis on cultural hope and pride, are there drawbacks or limitations to this type of representation that aren't being discussed?

In analyzing Whale Rider as a site for articulating cultural resistance and survival I turn to the concept of "indigenous expectations." What this refers to is the ways in which the anthropological expectations of non-indigenous people are pressed down and imposed on indigenous people, becoming the expectations they have of themselves. Given the triumphant mainstream reception of Whale Rider and its iconic status in the Pacific, one must wonder if this success has come precisely because of the way the film forces so beautifully this matching of expectations? Philosopher Giles Deleuze once said "if you are caught in another’s dream, you are lost." Does the elevation of Whale Rider exhibit how indigenous Pacific Islanders are somehow trapped in the dreams, the desires and imaginations of others? And if this is the case, does it provide the best imaginary or metaphoric site upon which cultural resistance should be grounded?

Through the use of a critical theoretical analysis of Whale Rider this paper will discuss the film’s positive possibilities while also attending to the processes of colonization which might lie beneath these representations. How does the film rely on Western expectations about indigenous cultures and cultural change, and how might these expectations continue to trap Pacific Islanders thus hampering them in their struggles to revitalize their cultures? This paper will conclude with a discussion about expanding indigenous imaginations beyond our expectations through the use of unexpected films such as The Terminator.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Atan umbe, guaha minagge gi hilo' tano'

Some great news for those truly interested in the future of Guam. This is a huge step, although most people will interpret it to be stubborn local blindness (protection of government), in actuality these sorts of acts are absolutely necessary to fixing the island, because they counter the oppressive perceptions of America (and America in Guam) which continue to colonize the island. An act like this attempts to refocus our thinking and planning on Guam, not on the US, not on what we are supposed to be because we want to be part of the US, not on our desires to be some fuller part of it. This act is an attempt at a local critique and a local solution.

The message is from that light of hope in Chamorro lives, Sabina Perez who with Hanom Para Todo is working to protect Guam's water rights.

Great news!

The Democratic Party of Guam unanimously supported/passed a resolution opposingprivatization of Guam Waterwork's Authority (GWA) as of September 14, 2005. Thisis a great win for the activists on Guam and all those who have supported ourstruggle internationally. As you know, we are not out of the woods yet. Whatwe need to ultimately do is to repeal water privatization laws and find publicfunding or revenue bonds to finance the USEPA required upgrades to our watersystem.

In solidarity,Sabina

Monday, September 12, 2005

Corrupting Colonizing Dreams

Corruption discourse on Guam is so prevelant that anyone who sees it as having any other use or value then to keep everything exactly the same is an idiot.

There are two basic ways that this discourse is invoked, neither much more useful than the other. The first says that Chamorros are pathologically corrupt, that these sorts of abuses, incompetence, cronyism, finaboresi para i mamparientes, etc. are parts of their culture that have to be changed, or more accurately have to be grown out of. The silent but nonetheless powerful colonizing emphasis, being that they must grow into Americaness, grow into matching America's idealness in terms of government awesomeness. These people are useless because they take great enjoyment in recolonizing the island, by relegating Chamorro culture and Chamorroness to social scum. By sometimes loudly other times quietly protecting America (American ideas, images, imaginings) in Guam, by cruelly debasing and defining what is Chamorro based on what absolutely must not be (kumekeilek-na: Chamorro culture = corruption or incompetence).

The second says that Chamorros are extremely corrupt, but its not their fault, it's the Spanish's fault. They inherieted from the Spanish mindsets about powerful caciques and classes that should control the island. Favors amongst relatives is all part of the pare' system as brought in by the Spanish way of doing things. Many problems with this as well. First off, it puts Chamorros into the position of the eternal victims. They are victims as they are now, and if they attempt to counter this corruption discourse, then suddenly they are playing victims again. The only way out of this victim status, is a very real denouncing of their Chamorroness and an uplifting of some potently imagined Americaness. What both of these stances do is pathologize Chamorros as being perpetually corrupt and incompetent and both offer as the only solution, a giving up of Chamorro culture as something in and of itself, and an attaching and subordinating of it to a more moral, more reasonable, more intellgient and better abled thing, Americaness, America and America as it is imagined to be.

Guinife is the best way to approach how this works. Why all the emphasis on American dreams, even in Guam? Dreams are vital to any people, and although one might say that "American dreams" refers just to economic success and a better life for children and does not destroy or tamper with being Chamorro, this just isn't true. If one attaches themselves to those dreams, decides to chase them, decides to live within those dreams, then any references to being a "proud Chamorro" really mean, "I am a proud American who is proud to be Chamorro." Ultimately this supplanting of Chamorro dreams makes the Chamorro possible only through the American. A poster on my message board said recently something to the effect that we should be glad to be under the United States, because then we are allowed to pursue our identities and perserve our culture in freedom. This is the key, the replacing or displacing of Chamorro dreams, is this price, that the Chamorro you become is only an effect of you being a wonderful American. All the multitude of your identities hinge on a certain identity which makes all others possible. For this poster and most all Chamorros (achokk'a ma puni siempre) it is a core American identity which is central and everything else (even the Chamorroness that they speak of with such love and pride) is dependent upon that one American core not being threatened.

I got off subject (sesso taiguini) but where I was headed earlier was saying that both of those corruption discourses do absolutely nothing in terms of fixing Guam's problems. They are designed and meant to protect America in Guam. They are designed to trash local elements, to displace them, to find nice safe corners for them and let them rest there, far away from the centers of power.

The reason why I bring this up today is because of the stepping down of Michael "Brownie" Brown, former head of FEMA. Here a man who's resume was filled with lies, who had no experience at all for this position was nonetheless submitted for the post by the White House, approved by the Congress and then told to all by Bush that he was doing a good job, even when he wasn't. This is a blatant case of cronyism and its not isolated to this instance alone. It runs throughout American politics, when a cabinent member is chosen he fills his staff and his agency with his friends. When Senators retire they often go to work for the companies that used to lobby to them in committee. Billions of dollars are unaccounted for in Iraq. How can the corruption on Guam even compare to this mess?

If anything, there needs to be a new strain of corruption discourse on Guam, one which blames the corruption in Guam, not on Chamorros, not on the Spanish, but on the United States. If anything, a discourse which took this as its poisonous object might actually be productive, might actually help get the political landscape of Guam changed, because no longer would our desperate attachments to the United States be unquestioned, but we might actually be able to critique the American presence in Guam where in military form, political pressure or even cultural and social imaginings.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Social Distortion

As I've posted before, a few months ago I diagnosed myself as a dating hysteric. Hardly a charming thing to be, it basically boils down to my having difficulty interpretting attraction to me and impossible to communicate attraction to someone else.

But in my process of discussing and writing about this, I've definitely understood better Lacan's concept of "surplus enjoyment." When articulating a loss or a failing a surplus of enjoyment is often created around the articulation of the loss. Zizek describes this by using a familiar example. When someone is dumped by their partner they often query their friends about why they were dumped, why did this person leave them, stop loving them, etc, etc. What happens is that this action of dealing with the loss soon becomes fetishized as its own end, its own form of enjoyment. Thus usually people are horrified when you actually answer their questions and give them concrete reasons as to why their partner left, not because of the trauma of knowing why they were dumped, but because of the way this tampers with their new form of enjoyment or pleasure.

Writing about my dating difficulties has taken on its own life and become its own form of enjoyment as well. After posting several times on these issues I get comments or emails which offer me dating or love advice. I always react badly to these because dating advice isn't what I really want. What I want is either the impossible fulfillment of my desire or to be left alone or support in this new form of enjoyment. And we wonder why human beings are alien to themselves?

So in my latest installment of Miget's Plus de Jour, I'd like to share with everyone another anecdote which proves how much of a danger I am to society when I'm dating.

I won't besmirch the name of the poor girl in this story. To give her some background she is attending UCSD and I met her on campus and we made plans to meet off campus for dinner.

I have a tendency to intellectualize things except when I'm around a very select few people, so during our meeting that's exactly what I did. After finding out that I enjoyed Bollywood movies, the girl immediately when into how much she likes the costumes the dancing the energy. I responded that those things were nice but what was really interesting to me was the psychology of Bollywood movies (but I can say this for all movies really). I then proceeded to name about a dozen different movies and the important psychological critiques you can drawn from them (for example freedom in Kyon...Ho Gaya Na, or the sublime object of ideology in Deewar, or the fantasy connections between Ram Gopal Varma's Mast and Ridley Scott's Hannibal.)

Whatever topic we discussed I always had something abstract and theoretical to say, usually psychoanalytical in nature but occassionally postcolonial (although some might argue that my hope is that everything I say is postcolonial). She tried to discuss art to find something less intellectually intense, yet had no idea that I am an artist and studied art history for years, so unless a Jackson Polluck is right before my eyes and I'm lost in its mometary draught of the sublime, its just another potential site for an intellectual discussion.

If reading those last two paragraphs was annoying, then imagine how this girl felt. She was annoyed as hell and ended the evening by telling me how annoyed she was. She chastised me for over thinking everything. She had really hoped alot for this date. That we would relax, get to know each other better. But how could I ruin everything by just talking theory non-stop? Couldn't I just live life sometimes without thinking it? Why was I afraid to see a rose might just be a rose, that sort of talk.

My first instinct was to quote something that Hegel said about roses, but I decided against that.

Then like a true dating hysteric my response was, "We're on a date?"

Chamorro Student Conference

A few months ago I mentioned in the Minagahet that me and a few of my relatives and friends were thinking about trying to put together a Chamorro conference for sometime next spring. Well we're still in the planning stages but it does look like its a go. I'll be posting more specifics as time goes on. Otro fino'-ta, if you have any suggestions, would like to know more, or would like to help, please feel free to email me or leave a message as a comment.

When I first mentioned this to people, their responses and assumptions about for what purpose this conference would be, also made it clear to me that a meeting such as this would be vitally necessary. Most people assumed that a conference like this would be helping making Chamorro students, pushing them through high school and them getting them to go to college. This is important of course, but it is hardly enough. What's been made clear to me over the past few years, talking to every Chamorro I could get my hands on, is that an education will do basically nothing. People too often assume that this act of getting kids into college is a goal in and of itself and signifies that something really awesome has been accomplished, therefore mission accomplished! But the problem is, that all the college education in the world will not instill the understanding and responsibility that young Chamorros need to actually tackle the problems their islands and their people face. Getting the diploma is easy compared to the transformation of conscious that must take place and then the movements and actions which must be done based on those transformations.

For me this conference would be focused primarily on Chamorros currently in college, but would be ideal for anyone who is looking for people who want to do something for their people and are willing to share their ideas and concerns. Attending college does provide some room for intellectual exploration (not as much as we think though, but it all really depends on who your professors are I guess), and so its important that while Chamorros are given that space, they do not just waste it.

One of the deepest and most horrifying forms of colonization is the occupying of the gaze of the colonized. The placing of things before it, the forcing of the colonized to see things through it.

If we think about materials, artifacts, technologies, we can see this clearly in action. In Guam, whenever people make assertions of identity or cultural authority which attemtps to act outside of the United States or conflict with it, the general reaction is that you are living in the past, and do you want us to mansinade', live in the thatch roof huts and use the outhouse? Even if the person who makes this remark believes themselves to be the proudest perfekto Chamorro in the world, they are using an extremely detrimental colonial framework to shut people like me down. They try to impose on you the colonial belief that the holding of a technology in and of itself somehow makes you less Chamorro. They can claim that they don't believe that personally, but so long as they try to impose that on you, they are very much re-colonizing the island. (mainly because the only way that they can reconcile the belief which they attribute to you, which they very much believe themselves, is to make a secret switch and in actuality think of themselves as an American first and a Chamorro second. Because Americans can do anything, they aren't limited by history, colonialism or anything else.)

I mentioned the above point, because too often when I discuss issues such as Chamorro and American identities, I am told that we can have our cake and eat it too. We can be the proudest Americans and Chamorros we can be! Usually I am also told that we can be educated in American schools and still be Chamorro.

The problem with this however is that thus college becomes a place where you re-evaluate yourself as an American. You find ways to explore your roots, but its very easy for any social responsibility that you will develop during this time, to be a byproduct of your belief that an American is civicly minded and respectful and knowledgeable of his heritage. This has been the mindset for all the generations since World War II. We can have our cake and eat it too. The problem is, that given the way we limit ourselves in thinking, we can only have our cake and eat it too as Americans, never as Chamorros. Its no wonder then that people return to Guam from the states desperate to re-make Guam based on their American imaginings, without a care to Guam itself.

But it need not be like this. It can be different, we can raise our kids and train ourselves to think of Guam first and then American second, but we can't do it just by putting kids into college. It means that we need to gather those kids together and get them to learn Guam's history and language not just in sterile scholastic ways, but in vibrant and critical settings where these aspects won't just be friendly hospitable supplements to the great American dream, but where these things shadow and put the American dream to shame. Where pride in most things Chamorro is not derived from the fact that Chamorros are colonial citizens of America, but derived as something hopefully independent from that, as separate, something which can stand on its own and be recognized as such, without just being another beautiful brown swath of color in the great American cultural tapestry.

If this conference/gathering takes place, it will emphasis these things. Issues of consciousness, commitment and collectivity.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Battle for K_________

Big milestone alert gi lina'la'-hu.

For those who know me yan i dos na che'-lu-hu Si Jack yan Si Kuri (Jeremy) we have been trying to get together on some sort of creative project for years. Last week we finally took the first real step in making that happen. We've been brainstorming for months on a comic book title which will combine our creative skills, my writing, Jack's drawing skills and Kuri's, uh, hmmm, excellent advice. (He does more than that, he's really good to bounce ideas off of). In June we finally made a decision and we've been working on the first story arc and character designs ever since. Two weeks ago I had the writing for the first issue, dialogues breakdowns and all done and sent it off to Jack. He's been penciling ever since.

At present me and Kuri have split the second issue writing, me doing half and him the other half.

If all goes well we're shooting for at least these two issues done and published by the Alternative Press Expo (APE) next year. We're still trying to decide if we want to self-publish (and put out several hundred dollars for a thousand black and white issues) or try to pitch our idea to an established company such as Dark Horse or Image. Me personally, I want to do it on our own because as an egotistical writer I don't want any interference with what I've already written and want to do with this project. Obviously, getting our comic out there and making more money would be much easier if we did it under the auspices of a company like Image.

As far as the idea itself I'd rather not say too much until its actually published. But needless to say, after showing it to several people, all have said that its not like any comic they've read before (they hopefully meant this in a good way). That was my intent though, because what I draw on for this world and the dialogue I use is very very different then the traditional raw material for comics. Believe it or not but after finally getting the first issue done, this comic is very theoretical and very very interesting in that respect. When I say theoretical I don't mean that somewhere along the line someone says "by Socrates' beard you are wise!" or that people end up in someplace which is just simply another reality. I mean, that what happens in this world and the way people act and speak within it, is very much rooted in my (mis)readings of psychoanalysis, in particular from Lacan and Zizek.

Anyways, I'm just so excited to finally get something concrete going on this, that I felt like posting it here. Also, later on once we publish we'll be looking for people interested in buying or reading it, so if anyone wants to be on a list for it, send me your email and I'll add you. I'll be posting more concrete details later, but for now, this vague and annoying post is about all I can say about it. Asi'i yu' fan.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Si Bush yan Si FDR?

Published on Sunday, September 4, 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Bush's New Reasons for the Iraq War
by Helen Thomas

President Bush , apparently running out of rationales for the U.S. war in Iraq, has resorted to putting that ill-planned invasion in the same category as World War II.

Bush tried to wrap himself in the aura of Franklin D. Roosevelt last week when he commemorated the 60th anniversary of V-J Day. With public opinion polls showing more and more Americans critical of the Iraq war, Bush used the anniversary ceremonies at the naval air station in San Diego to express concern that Americans might return to a "pre-mindset of isolation and retreat, " indicating that it was the same as the isolationism that Franklin D. Roosevelt encountered before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Making his third speech in a week to rally public support for the war, Bush compared his resolve to FDR's during World War II. He said the U.S. mission in Iraq is to turn that country into a democratic ally, just as the United States did with Japan after World War II.
Bush is off base in making a comparison between the Iraqi conflict and World War II. For one thing, the United States instigated the current war with an unprovoked attack on Iraq.
If the World War II analogy doesn't convince you, the president came up with yet another defense for the U.S. invasion. He warned that terrorists such as Osama bin Laden would take over its oil fields if the United States loses in Iraq.

A key difference between Bush and FDR is that Roosevelt knew the value of having allies and friends in wartime.

Roosevelt believed strongly in collective security and helped pave the way for creation of the United Nations. Bush has already shown his disdain for that organization with his go-it-alone foreign policy.

Bush had a world of goodwill when al Qaeda delivered its catastrophic attack on Sept. 11. But he squandered this reservoir with the unilateral invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with Sept. 11. To this day, Bush artfully -- and shamefully -- continues to link Iraq with Sept. 11.
Bush has not won supporters for the war nor has he produced any justification for the sacrifice of Americans and Iraqis.

Roosevelt envisioned a future world of peace after the war. Bush looks at Iraq as "the first war of the 21st century."


Monday, September 05, 2005

Memo to the Media

Published on Tuesday, September 6, 2005 by The Huffington Post
Memo to the Media: Stop Enabling the White House Blame Game
by Arianna Huffington

When it comes to managing political crises (as opposed to national ones), the Bush White House has earned a reputation as masters of damage control. And rightly so -- let’s see you get reelected after Abu Ghraib, the “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo, no WMD, no bin Laden (dead or alive), and “Mission (Most Definitely Not) Accomplished”.

Well, according to the New York Times, Rove, Bartlett and the damage control boys are at it again, rolling out a plan to hang the post-Katrina debacle around the necks of Louisiana state and local officials… and, in the process, erase the image of a crassly incompetent administration too busy vacationing to worry about the dying in New Orleans.

Hence, today’s Presidential Visit, Take Two. Can’t you just see Rove yelling “Cut!”, hopping out of his director’s chair, pulling Bush aside, and whispering in his ear: “Okay, Mr. President, this isn’t “Armageddon” meets “The Wedding Crashers”. So this time 86 the stories about how you used to party in New Orleans, and, for heaven's sake, do not focus on the suffering of Trent Lott. And no more hugging only freshly-showered black people who look like Halle Berry -- this time you gotta get a little closer to the living-in-their-own-feces crowd. Alright…. action!”

Look, as much as I despise the way they go about it, I get it: trying to save face by deflecting blame and sliming your enemies may be ugly but it’s straight out of the Rove playbook and has proven highly effective.

What I don’t understand is why the media continue to be star players on the Bush damage control team.

Take the way that both the Washington Post and Newsweek obediently, and ineptly, passed on -- and thus gave credence to -- the Bush party line that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s hesitancy to declare a state of emergency had prevented the feds from responding to the crisis more rapidly.

The Post, citing an anonymous “senior Bush official”, reported on Sunday that, as of Saturday, Sept. 3, Blanco “still had not declared a state of emergency”… when, in fact, the declaration had been made on Friday, August 26 -- over 2 days BEFORE Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. This claim was so demonstrably false that the paper was forced to issue a correction just hours after the original story appeared.

So here are a couple of questions: 1) Had everyone in the WaPo fact checking department gone out of town for the Labor Day weekend? I mean, c’mon, the announcement of a state of emergency isn’t exactly the kind of thing government officials tend to keep a secret. 2) Why were the Post reporters so willing to blindly accept the words of an administration official who obviously had a partisan agenda -- and to grant this official anonymity?

Weren’t they familiar with the Post’s policy on using anonymous sources, which states: “Sources often insist that we agree not to name them in the newspaper before they agree to talk with us. We must be reluctant to grant their wish. When we use an unnamed source, we are asking our readers to take an extra step to trust the credibility of the information we are providing. We must be certain in our own minds that the benefit to readers is worth the cost in credibility. …Nevertheless, granting anonymity to a source should not be done casually or automatically.” Here it was clearly done both casually and automatically.

The Post’s policy continues: “We prefer at least two sources for factual information in Post stories that depends on confidential informants, and those sources should be independent of each other.” Oops. They could have saved themselves a lot of grief if the second source they never got for this story had been a staffer for Gov. Blanco… or, if the price of a phone call was too much, the state of Louisiana website where the truth about the state of emergency declaration was a click away [pdf].

Especially since the Post instructs its reporters: “When sources have axes to grind, we should let our readers know what their interest is” and “We do not promise sources that we will refrain from additional reporting or efforts to verify the information they may give us”. You mean like checking to see if the line of bull they are feeding you is, y’know, a line of bull?

If anything, Newsweek’s effort to assist the Bush damage control effort was even more egregious. While claiming that “Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Barbineaux Blanco seemed uncertain and sluggish, hesitant to declare martial law or a state of emergency, which would have opened the door to more Pentagon help” the magazine didn’t even bother to cite a “senior Bush official”, choosing instead to report Blanco’s alleged failings as fact. Wonder where they got that “fact”? You think it might have been from the same “senior Bush official” that snookered the Post? Josh Marshall wonders

The unquestioning regurgitation of administration spin through the use of anonymous sources is the fault line of modern American journalism. You’d think that after all we’ve seen -- from the horrific reporting on WMD to Judy Miller and Plamegate (to say nothing of all the endless navel-gazing media panel discussions analyzing the issue) -- these guys would finally get a clue and stop making the Journalism 101 mistake of granting anonymity to administration sources using them to smear their opponents.

The Washington Post corrected its article. Now it should take the next step and reveal who the source of that provably false chunk of slime was. And Newsweek should do the same.
It’s time for the media to get back to doing their job and stop being the principal weapon in Team Bush’s damage control arsenal.

Copyright 2005 Huffington Post


More haole wisdom

Yanggen ti esta un tungo' gof kinenne' yu' ni' ebay. Fihu lumiliko' yu' guihi, manespipiha kosas Chamorro yan Guahan. Guaha nai hu fakcha'i gos likidu na kosas (pot hemplo lepblo yan bihu na litratu), lao guaha lokkue nai hu sodda' nina'taklalu.

Put hemplo, este na tinige' ginnen un haole ni' bumende un lepblon Guahan. Yanggen gaige este na lepblo giya Hagu, siempre esta un komprende sa' hafa gof brodie este na haole.

Este i colonizer-ta? Este na brinede? Lana, ti hu komprende sa' hafa guaguaha ha' ni' sumangan na maolek ha' i status quo. Este na estao nao'ao yan invisible? Lana dei.

'A Pictorial of GUAM U.S.A. Bert Chipinger

From the Message from Bert Unpingco, Managing Director of Guam Visitors Bureau: "May I present to you this lovely pictorial of the island 'where America's day begins' - Guam, U.S.A. I am very proud to have been associated with the preparation of this beautiful and comprehensive representation of our island as seen through the camera's eye. The natural beauty, the culture, and the happy people are all here."
The intro is in a foreign language --Guatamalian--but all the captions under the pictures are in English.
The pictures are pristine and beautiful.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fakpo' i bakasion-na Si Bush

Friday, September 2nd, 2005
Dear Mr. Bush:

Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag.

Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are? We could really use them right now for the type of thing they signed up to do like helping with national disasters. How come they weren't there to begin with?

Last Thursday I was in south Florida and sat outside while the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over my head. It was only a Category 1 then but it was pretty nasty. Eleven people died and, as of today, there were still homes without power. That night the weatherman said this storm was on its way to New Orleans. That was Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear. You sure showed her!
I especially like how, the day after the hurricane, instead of flying to Louisiana, you flew to San Diego to party with your business peeps. Don't let people criticize you for this -- after all, the hurricane was over and what the heck could you do, put your finger in the dike?

And don't listen to those who, in the coming days, will reveal how you specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row. You just tell them that even if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees, there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fix them anyway because you had a much more important construction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ!

On Day 3, when you finally left your vacation home, I have to say I was moved by how you had your Air Force One pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over New Orleans so you could catch a quick look of the disaster. Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab a bullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like a commander in chief. Been there done that.

There will be those who will try to politicize this tragedy and try to use it against you. Just have your people keep pointing that out. Respond to nothing. Even those pesky scientists who predicted this would happen because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is getting hotter and hotter making a storm like this inevitable. Ignore them and all their global warming Chicken Littles. There is nothing unusual about a hurricane that was so wide it would be like having one F-4 tornado that stretched from New York to Cleveland.

No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this!

You hang in there, Mr. Bush. Just try to find a few of our Army helicopters and send them there. Pretend the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are near Tikrit.


Michael Moore

P.S. That annoying mother, Cindy Sheehan, is no longer at your ranch. She and dozens of other relatives of the Iraqi War dead are now driving across the country, stopping in many cities along the way. Maybe you can catch up with them before they get to DC on September 21st.

Friday, September 02, 2005

chacha' Chamorro

I just had a really really great laugh, and you'll never guess why.

Someone actually said that I'm chacha' or picky about Chamorro language. hahahahahaha.

It was so ridiculously stupid that I'm actually having trouble typing right now.

But I guess that given what he said and others have said, it would probably be a good idea for me to clarify my ideas on language. And to start, chinacha' is probably worst term to use.

The only thing I am picky about in language is that people be open to different forms.

Opposed to what most people think, where language fluency has to do with learning a particular grammar really really well, I think of fluency as being able to move between different registers or types of a single language. So fluency for me isn't that you know the "proper" way of speaking Chamorro as best as you can, but more so that when different types of Chamorro come along, you have no trouble speaking or understanding them as well. For the most part Chamorros are open to different forms of Chamorro, with the largest exception being Chamorro spoken by people who are learning it as a second language. It is in this regard that Chamorro is hardly open, but instead becomes a very rigid language.

Here's one example from a young boy who emailed me and who has been slowly trying to learn. While out in the yard with an older cousin who speaks fairly good Chamorro, they saw some fruit on a tree. The boy asked his cousin to get some fruit for him using the verb "ayek" or "chose." The cousin told him that this was wrong and that he should use the word tife' not ayek. Sounds simple enough right? Ayek and tife' refer to different types of "picking." But its not that simple, what should have also been communicated is that ayek might be right, if he meant "select one," and not "pick one (off the tree)." But so often what happens in these situations where the language is being taught is that a simple correction takes place, not providing a real lesson in the language. The boy emailed me asking me if his cousin was correct and I told him what I wrote above, that you might have been correct depending on what you meant, and so when people are teaching you, you should try to get them past the simple correction and get them to actually teach you the language in a more fuller way.

As time has gone on Chamorro has become a more and more narrow language, this is evidenced by the ways in which existing prefixes and suffixes in the language are resisted when they are applied in ways that the fluent speaker hasn't hear before. Chamorro is full of a wide array of these add ons, which allow us to form incredible words, but when language learners attempt to do this, they are often told that that is not correct, or that you don't use them like that.

Examples that language learners have brought to my attention are prefixes such as e-, chat-, ha-, and la-, and suffixes such as -i and -yi. E- for those who don't know is the prefix used for designating the hunting or pursuing of something. So a recognized word in the language is epanglao or so hunt for crabs. This prefix is recognized commonly with a few words, but in reality could be used to refer to anything, yet when learners have attempted to attach it to different words to try and say things, (such as epalao'an for hunting or searching for women or ebinadu) they are told that its wrong and given a more commonly accepted way of saying it. This is what I mean when I speak of preferences being imposed. According to the grammar rules for Chamorro epalao'an or ebunita are appropriate terms, and they should be allowed, or at least discussed. People who are helping others speak Chamorro shouldn't just dimiss things which they aren't familiar with, which is what too commonly takes place. If its is incomprehensible then correct it, but if it is just unfamiliar then don't be in such a hurry, you might find that this strange new form might improve your Chamorro as well.

This creativity should not be stifled, because if it is allowed and nurtured it will lead to the revitalization of Chamorro. Our people were mighty poets, yet with the emphasis on speaking properly Chamorro, the variety within Chamorro has slowly been disappearing. Today, you can see sparks of that vitality and life, but too often when those learning Chamorro attempt to be creative with the language, they are told to just use the common ways of saying things.

Let me reiterate once again, that I'm not saying that people shouldn't learn the language well, but more so that whatever you teach as a fluent speaker IS NOT as simple as "I am just teaching Chamorro." How you teach it means the life or death of Chamorro.

It was my grandmother who made this clear to me when she was teaching me. She taught vastly different then anyone else, because she was always open to different ways of saying things and always offered different ways of saying things. When I would ask he if something was correct, or if I said something incorrect she would correct me, but then offer me several different ways of saying the same thing. When I would try to use different forms, she enjoyed it, she enjoyed it because it made our minds move and keep them fresh and alive.

Now, I've already been "accused" of trying to impose my beliefs on how Chamorro language should be taught on others. But am I really imposing anything? All I am offering is a perspective on why Chamorro isn't a vital and energetic language, and for those who want it to survive, it might be good to listen to me. I don't know everything or have all the answers, but I don't mind discussing things which others don't like. I don't mind saying that its not only the fault of those who can't speak Chamorro, its just that amongst Chamorro speakers, they are the ones who are always blamed.

Preserving a language as in the rules of speech won't revitalize Chamorro. It will make our language ready for a museum but it won't keep it alive. Only by allowing it to be an open language, where unfamiliar speech is understood and accepted will it survive. Only when we focus on comprehension and not abstract rule preservation will it survive.

If you don't like what I'm saying, please feel free to ignore me. I am not imposing anything on you. I am not commanding you to be sensitive. To not tease people. To not correct people. If you read my last few posts on this then you'll see I'm not saying anything like that.


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