Archive | December 9, 2010

Columbia, Wikileaks and the Power of the Paycheck

“Education is dangerous – Every educated person is a future enemy” Hermann Goering, second in command to Adolf Hitler

CNN has a brief article this morning on how reading the recently release diplomatic cables might cost students jobs with the federal government. This is largely in response to Columbia University bizarre statements warning students to refrain from discussing WikiLeaks or anything related to the cables in public forums.

It’s a frightening time when there are people at every level of government and society actively insisting that young people refrain from reading publicly available materials, no matter how they were procured. It is obviously to the best interest of the powers that be to prevent the dissemination of knowledge, particularly when that knowledge informs a deeper and more nuanced view of the world. Should young people stop reading newspapers now? Should turn our eyes away from things like Watergate? Irangate? The Pentagon Papers? Journalists regular use leaked information, it’s the hallmark of a free press, and the basis of a functioning democracy.

It was interesting that shortly after I read CNN’s bizarre story, I read a lengthy article on Lui Xiao Bo, the Chinese dissident who, although jailed, recently was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. China’s repressive government maintains that the Nobel committee, although Norwegian, awarded Liu the esteemed prize at the behest of Americans, who seek to tear down and humiliate China.

The link between these two articles was impressive to me. Here, on the one hand, we have a miserable Chinese government who seeks to suppress information damning to it’s government by jailing dissidents and creating technological firewalls to keep it’s population in the dark, and, on the other hand, we have members of the insidious American political machine exploiting the economic vulnerability of the American populace to prevent them from knowing how their government operates around the world.

On top of this, we have a respected educational institution like Columbia (Ivy League!) enabling such threats, contrary to the mission of universities everywhere to develop a thinking and critical populace. What a great way to inspire future thinkers. Disappointing. Perhaps you should put Fox News in charge of your University paper now, Columbia.

I don’t like Assange nor do I respect his motivations, but I do think that what WikiLeaks does is important from a journalistic standpoint. If the American government is worried about leaks to the press and the world, it has to work harder to streamline it’s internal office policies. However, once the cat is out of the bag and in the hands of the citizenry, it has to respect the rights to the free dissemination of information and open discussion of political issues, no matter how damning they may be to current members of government, or even to diplomacy. Otherwise, we become China. Or Myanmar. Or Saudi Arabia. Or North Korea. Or Iran.

Is that what we really want to be?

Die Judische Frau

In a past life, I studied German. It’s hard to believe and most days I even forget, but my undergrad was in German Languages and Lit at the University of Michigan. During my time there, I participated in a German language theater group, Deutsches Theater, led by my good friend, Janet Shier. She teaches German at the Residential College and continues to use German language theater to improve language proficiency and to teach German history and 20th century German culture. It’s a great group and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Last night, I got the the opportunity to see an excellent performance of Bertolt Brecht’s “Die Judische Frau”, one scene among many from Brecht’s “Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches.” Brecht originally envisioned the piece as a tool to develop awareness for the rising insanity occurring within 1930’s Germany. Jewish people were increasingly marginalized, intellectuals, political leftists and free thinkers were largely going into exile, and those who were left behind either reluctantly participated in or actively supported the reprehensible Hitler regime.

In 2010, it seems that Hitler has become a watered-down figure through Hollywood (Hogan’s Heroes, Raiders of the Lost Ark), or through political appropriation of Hitler as a symbol of whatever party is politically unpopular at the time. People vastly forget, or are completely unaware of the complexities and horrors of that period. The Holocaust was but a culmination of a much scarier phenomena of a government gone mad, and a people who were either knowingly or unknowingly complicit. This phenomena played itself out in 1930’s Germany, Japan in the same period, China during the Cultural Revolution, Rwanda, Israel and Bosnia. I would even argue that is has happened here in the US at various points in history, although our record of violence and genocide has largely been overseas, and out of sight of the American people, with the large exception of what has been wrought upon the Native American peoples.

I’ve seen this particular piece done more than a couple of times. Last night’s student led performance (by Kaela Parnicky) was the best I’ve seen, though. She gave a wonderful and utterly convincing performance of a Jewish wife seeking to leave her marriage to a German doctor, and underlines the complexity of Jewish people in German society during the 1930’s, and the struggle to make sense of it all. Excellent.

Realizing how much German I’ve forgotten was rather painful though. In fact, I kept translating everything in my head to Japanese for some reason. I think there’s a second language section of the brain that operates autonomously, kind of like a segregated lunch room.

Strangely, on the way out, I happened upon a Jewish student group handing out plastic menorahs on the street and wishing everyone a Happy Hanukkah. Bizarrely, they had a huge menorah in the back of a 4×4 pickup truck.

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