FORUM AND AGAINST 'EM
In Lenora Todaro's article "Citizen CEO [February 12]," the subhead, "The WEF's Corporate Moguls Debate Their Role as Unelected World Leaders," reflects a bias on the part of the Voice.
I too approached the World Economic Forum panel featuring Bill Gates and Bono with great skepticism. I went in with a cynical view of the failed development projects I had seen during two years as a Peace Corps worker in Cameroon. Surprisingly, I came out of the session re-invigorated about a career in international development. Bono spoke with eloquence, passion, and knowledge about debt relief after his recent tour of Africa. Gates talked about the distinction between health aid (usually unchallenged by anti-globalization groups) and economic project aid (which traditionally has had mixed results). Both men said more needs to be done to alleviate poverty. Gates even admitted that he hadn't done more in the past for one reason: He was ignorant of the unimaginable state of the developing world.
Rich CEOs, rock stars, and politicians aren't going anywherethey are likely to be part of the future. So what are they supposed to do? If they do little or nothing, they maintain the status quo, but creating a dialogue through forums like the WEF draws derision from cynics. Perhaps rather than highlighting Valentine's Day consumerism on the February 12 cover, the Voice could have given readers a story that helped educate themincluding many of the uninformed protesterson the many real challenges facing developing nations.
Lenora Todaro replies: The subhead is based on the WEF participants' own vision of themselves as global leaders (the Forum's theme was "Leadership in Fragile Times") and, in particular, one workshop originally titled "The CEO as Statesman." The story does not deride Bono's earnest effort to bring attention to debt relief, nor is it cynical about Bill Gates's promise to spend money on AIDS relief. It does point out ironies, and it does suggest that the rhetoric of WEF participants in general is not necessarily backed up with action. Also that the bonds forged among CEO "leaders" and politicians at the WEF can in the worst-case scenario wreak havoc on people's lives. Witness Enron.
I want to thank Esther Kaplan for her honest coverage of the police activity during the WEF protests ["Spies in Blue," February 19]. However, I was one of the protesters arrested that weekend, and I need to clarify a few of Kaplan's statements.
I was not detained "overnight" by the NYPD, but for more than 60 hours. I also have not yet been awarded a settlement for my earlier incidence of illegal detention, during an Amadou Diallo protest, because that claim is still being filed. I expect to add my recent WEF protest arrest to my list of claims. I was detained while watching a demonstration because an officer said I threw rocks and bricks at the police, and that as a result a crowd of 100 people gathered and became unrulyalthough in the end I wasn't charged with incitement to riot. Interrogations regarding political affiliation, surveillance of political activity, brutalizing (peaceful) demonstrators by placing them in extremely tight plastic cuffs until their hands go numb, and preventative detention have no place in legitimate police activity.
Joshua Clover's review of Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader ["Pomo Trip," February 12] criticizes the American writers in the anthology (of whom, admittedly, I'm one) for "being an ocean apart from the children of critical theory; they are instead the scions of radical subjectivity." Earth to Clover: Critical theory is radical subjectivity too, and just as perverse as any of the "marginalized . . . sexualized . . . angry . . . alienated" first-person narratives that he dislikes. It's just written by those and for those who prefer their ideas to come clothed in long sentences and delphic hyphenates rather than via character and incident. But that doesn't mean theory is more serious than a first-person narrative, whether fictive or non, any more than an Ab-Ex painting is more serious than a painting of a Campbell's soup canthough it certainly seemed that way at first to many people. It's all linguistic fun and games (in the Wittgensteinian sense), so it's a pity to have a guy who only likes theory dissing those who want to broaden the party, and in the process (not so incidentally?) bringing back notions of hierarchy that works like these are trying to destroy.
I like Joshua Clover's smart and savvy style. I would dispute only the assertion he makes about the death of theory, and his insistent description of its obsolescence. I understand the point of view from which such a statement can be made, but it's inessential. I won't argue the point about how many times theory has been declared dead only to bounce back, haunting and hounding the very utterances that denounce it. I won't recall Hegel's declaring art a thing of the past or any of the serial death knells that provide the background music for many critical performances like Clover's. I won't get into the logic, inaugurated by Freud, that teaches how the dead are more powerful than the impoverished and shivering live onesartists, writers, thinkers, whatever. (So dead theory would be more pernicious than theory alive and fragile.)
Hey, with the customary cultural resentment in this country, NYC's bookshops closing down, and The Village Voice cutting down on book reviews, we're getting our balls chopped off enough.
Professor, German Studies, English, and Comparative Literature
New York University
Joshua Clover replies: Jane DeLynn's legit disagreement doesn't want me to have preferences, but at least she noticed I like theory. I am thrilled to talk life-or-death with geniuses like Ronell, but I never declared theory dead. From Agamben to Zizek, theory lives; it can't die any more than "praxis." I'm not the one who dedicated the book "To the memory of an era" with dates like one finds in a cemetery. What passed away is the era, in many ways magnificent, when Semiotext(e) stood in place of all radical theory.
JOVENES DEL BARRIO
Adrienne Day's article "The Bomb My Nation Has Become" [February 19], about Colombia's DJ culture, was a nice surprise. It reminded me of several other jewels in Colombia's underground scene, like the Flies (which was Bogotá's best club until it was forced to close its doors back in 2000), "Bomba de Tiempo" (the most successful hip-hop project, straight from the streets of Cali), and "DiosHaMuerto" (God-has-died, an electronic down-tempo project with lyrics about poverty, violence, and social change).
After reading "Enron's Phantom Stock" [Mondo Washington, February 12], it's clear that James Ridgeway has no idea what 401(k) plans are or how they work. Thus he really has no idea what he's talking about when he attempts to describe President Bush's private retirement reform proposals and Ohio Republican congressman John Boehner's Retirement Security Act.
First, Ridgeway claims companies are touting 401(k)'s as "modish new" pensions to get rid of more expensive standard plans. Wrong. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), some 100,000 pensions were terminated in the 1980s, mostly by companies that went broke. Many of these plans were underfunded and provided very small benefits. However, EBRI says the number of one type of 401(k), defined contribution plans, grew from 300,000 in 1975 to 700,000 in 1990, and the level has remained constant. Additionally, many companies with pensions also operate 401(k) plans, which benefit more workers, since it usually requires a minimum of 20 years' service to qualify for benefits under a pension plan. How many employees today plan to work for one company for 20 years or more? How many plan to job-hop every few years? Job hoppers get zero benefit from a pension plan but can build up a lot of savings in a 401(k).
Ridgeway also writes that recent proposals to reform the private retirement system "would allow companies to advise the 401(k) administrators on which securities to buy. That means a firm could not only defend itself from hostile takeovers, but mount them by calling for the buying of a competitor's stock." Again, this is incorrect. No administrator buys stock in a 401(k) plan. Rather, participants choose what investment options to purchase. No plan offers individual securities as an investment option other than company stock. A very small number of 401(k) plans have self-directed brokerage windows that allow the purchase of individual equities and bonds, but these are primarily used by sophisticated investors who know what they are doing.
Most companies would have no retirement benefits if they didn't have a 401(k). So which is better, a flawed 401(k) system that gives workers huge tax incentives to save now and forces them to oversee the investments, or just letting the workers save on their own and rely on Social Security and their own assets to fund retirement? If employers were forced to establish and fund pension plans, they would have to reduce compensation (the money must come from someplace, right?). Thus Ridgeway would have another "rip-off" to scream about.
Editor's Note: This week's Mondo Washington column takes an in-depth look at 401(k) plans.
ART OFFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Bravo! Thanks to Jerry Saltz for telling it like it is ["Downward Spiral: The Guggenheim Museum Touches Bottom," February 19]. This museum has lost sight of why arts institutions were founded: to fulfill a mission for the benefit of the public. Instead, Guggenheim administrators assume that because museums today must be managed in a business-like manner, adopting any and all business practices is perfectly OK. The Guggenheim has failed to both fulfill a public mission and run a successful business. It's our loss and an embarrassment to the museum profession.
THEATER OF WAR
Re Geoffrey Gray's article "Black Hawk Damned" [February 12]: I am currently serving in the U.S. Army and I think this is the best movie I have ever seen. I have friends who were in Somalia when this movie took place, and they tell me BHD is the real thing. As for these protesters, they need to get off their high horses and realize that world peace is an impossible dream. I would like it as much as anyone, but it will never happensomeone is always causing trouble. American soldiers go to foreign countries to help. America gives more money to countries like Somalia in the form of food and financial aid than it does for military actions. We always try the peaceful way first.
We soldiers go out every day of the week and risk our lives for America, just to have people like these protesters spit on us when we return. If not for soldiers like me and the rest of the military, people in this country would not have freedom. And freedom is the most important thing that Americans have.
Sergeant Michael Johnson
United States Army
Fort Sill, Oklahoma
MAKING THE GRADE
Thanks to Nat Hentoff for focusing attention on the unconscionable state of too many New York City public schools ["Bloomberg vs. Failing Schools," February 5; "In School: The 'Success' of Failure," February 12]. It is, however, misguided to rely upon standardized test scores to measure schools' success or teachers' efficacy. In fact, it is downright misleading to use such tests for purposes for which they were never intended and are not psychometrically designed. Rather, these tests are enacted by state and federal legislators intent on ignoring educational research and on placating a public rightly hungry for "accountability" and business leaders eager to increase their profits.
Hentoff points out the sharp increase in the high school dropout rate since the new Regents exam graduation requirements were enacted. Educational researchers and teachers all knew this would happen. We also know what it takes to create successful urban schools: small classes at the primary level; small schools with strong curriculum-oriented leaders; local decision making by school staff; ongoing community and parental connections; wraparound physical and mental health services and supports; the abolishment of grade retention; consistent supervision and professional development of school personnel; and safe and fully supplied classrooms (in addition to teacher quality, as Hentoff points out).
As we sit and watch our schools crumble while the prison industry flourishes, we must begin to wonder about not only the economics of depriving our youth of free and appropriate schooling (it is much less costly to run a quality school than a shoddy prison) but also the class, race, and ethnicity of those first denied education and then incarcerated. What is this form of American apartheid designed to accomplish?
Celia Oyler, Ph.D.
Teachers College, Columbia University
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