What’s a special interest?

2012-05-22 (Tuesday) § Leave a comment

In the politics of California, my state, I often hear people refer pejoratively to “special interests”.  Most often it’s definite: “the special interests”.  Who’s that?  I understand the phrase to mean any interests other than general interests, i.e. ones that don’t belong to the entire population.  Not everyone is a parent, so wouldn’t that include the interests of parents?  Homeowners?  People who earn a wage?

I may be misunderstanding a coded reference here.  The definite article makes me think so.  Maybe it’s an understood term for a specific set of parties that are easy political hate magnets, like labor unions and big businesses.

[edit] I sent a message to my state assembly member, Susan Bonilla, to find out how she interprets the term “the special interests”.

A civil discourse site?

2012-05-21 (Monday) § Leave a comment

Would you visit a website devoted to user discussion of controversial issues if it required (and enforced by moderation) that all posts be aimed at either 1) convincing another user of your point of view on something, starting from premises they already accept, or 2) arriving at a point of agreement or a common goal with another user who you generally disagree with? Let’s say all these conversations would be readable by anybody.

Here’s an idea for how it would work. There’ll be a form you fill out to start a post with the fields “Topic” and “Assertion” (multiple fields). In the Topic field you describe the issue you’re trying to arrive at agreements about. In the Assertion fields you detail some premises your view starts from that you think you can get most people to agree with. You can connect some assertions to others with arrows to show that you think one follows from another. Lots of (unlimited?) links are allowed in the chain so created, so if you wanted, you could detail a whole argument from the most abstract of premises to the most concrete of conclusions.

You create the post. Your topic shows up in a list. When people click on the topic, they can see the assertions displayed with all their connecting arrows like flowchart objects. They can add comments on any of the assertions to explain what would have to change about that assertion for them to buy it, or why they don’t think it follows from what you say it follows from.

Above every input form (comments, post creation) is a reminder that your purpose in writing must be to arrive at agreement with another user on some particular point, and any input that obviously doesn’t aim at that goal will be removed.  In other words, anybody who isn’t interested in finding common ground with people they disagree with or reconsidering their existing views will not be interested in this site.  But people who are pursuing those goals will be able to pursue them more clearly and with a wider variety of people through this site.

Luljeta Kuqi on her view of the world outside Albania during communism

2012-05-12 (Saturday) § Leave a comment

Here’s another interview snippet from my recent visit to Albania.  This is my former host mom, Luljeta Kuqi, talking about her understanding of the world outside Albania during the communist isolation of the country.  It’s in Albanian, but an English translation is below.

L: Because at that time the Voice of America was on the radio.  He [Enver Hoxha, Albanian dictator] got rid of the station.  He didn’t allow it.  My father – I remember when I was little – he turned on the radio and held it up to his ear like this, and told us “shhh”.
K: Only your father?
L: Only our father.  We didn’t know.  We minded our own business.
K: What impression did you have of – you as children – of the countries – of the world outside Albania at that time?  Or did you not have any –
L: We had been raised under the idea that outside of Albania everyone was an enemy.  They would kill us, they would kidnap us, they would come here, they would do this and that.  The enemy would come, he would go here and there.  So we felt hatred even earlier on, because we didn’t know anything.  Because that’s what Enver Hoxha taught us, that’s what he said.  Fascist Italy.  Fascist Italy.  We – the Italians, the Italians would come, they would kill us, they would kidnap us.  What would the Italians have wanted here, killing us, what for?
K: Did you think people were all poor outside of Albania?
L: Yes, that’s what they said, that they were worse off than us.  Because we didn’t know anything.  Whoever tried to cross the border, whoever wanted to cross the border, if he was caught he would be killed.  He [Hoxha] didn’t allow it, because he said “He’ll talk to others and tell them how it is out there.”  A very harsh regime, Kenji.  Fifty years.
K: Fifty years.
L: Fifty years, very harsh.  When Enver Hoxha died, everyone cried.
K: They cried sincerely?
L: They cried sincerely.  Everyone cried.  “What are we going to do?  Italy will come, they’ll kill us.  The Germans will come, the Greeks will come.  They’ll come, they’ll kill us,” because Enver told us –
K: You thought of him as a protector.
L: Yes, he was our commandant, our protector.  That’s how it was.

Albanian transcript

Vilma Qerfozi on hit songs at the end of Albanian communism

2012-05-12 (Saturday) § 5 Comments

I was in Albania recently and sat down to chat with my former Albanian language teacher, Vilma Qerfozi, and a current Peace Corps volunteer, Sergio Munda.  She recounted some of her memories from the end of the communist isolation of Albania in 1991.  Here’s a snippet of our conversation.

VQ: We had the skirts of Lambada, which we found at the used clothes market.  And everyone was crazy after Lambada.  And after twenty years we have another song which is as popular as Lambada is, Mosa.  [singing] “Mosa, mosa, assim você me mata.”  And I think this is amazing, that after twenty years there is another Portuguese – no, Brazilian song playing on.  But yeah, it was Lambada, everyone crazy.
SM: Lambada was the song of 1991.  What was the song of 1997?
VQ: I don’t remember any song from 1997.  Just the noise of the weapons.  And we were amazed how there is one song in the world which is the most beautiful.  And later on we learned that this is normal.  Outside, like every year, there are new hits.  Like, every summertime there are new hits that are popular, and each season has its popular song, like summer hits, fall hits, and so on.  And then I remember this, saying that “Ah, this is normal.”  You know?

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