The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘This American Life’

Speaking Truth to the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 9, 2010

This week’s This American Life was titled “Last Man Standing,” which included three outstanding “stories about people who feel compelled to keep going, especially when everyone else has given up,” including:

  • a story about the only Juror on the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who believed he was innocent of trying to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat;
  • the story of Duke Fightmaster, who refused to give up his simple dream: to replace Conan O’Brien; and
  • a story about God and extraterrestrials.

It’s a terrific show, which you can listen to for free here.

Also this week at Harvard, an event at the Carr Center featured “four stories of dissent.”  A story about the event is posted below.

Lecture-goers were so intrigued last night (Dec. 2) by “The Razor’s Edge” that they stayed beyond the allotted time to try to get all their questions in. The talk, by four people who risked their careers and even their lives to stand up for principles they believed in, was sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and was the final event of a daylong conference on principled dissent.

First to speak was Col. Ann Wright, who resigned on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, stating that without the authorization of the U.N. Security Council, the war would be in violation of international law. Wright, who had been in the Army for almost three decades and had then served around the world in the diplomatic corps, was one of only three U.S. government officials to resign in protest to the Iraq war. “You never know when your conscience is going to get you,” she said.

Bakyt Beshimov had a very different story, having opposed the ruling body as leader of the Social Democratic Political Fraction in his native Kyrgyzstan. Beshimov’s liberal views and criticism toward two administrations led to detainment, interrogation, and ultimately to assassination attempts. “It was my dream to make my country better,” said the historian, later recalling the Oscar Wilde quote that the cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Beshimov, who sought asylum in the United States, is a Scholar at Risk at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. “Last year I fled my country after the second attempt on my life,” he said. “Before me was just two ways: Stay and be killed, or leave.”

Darrel Vandeveld is a former military advocate who for a time prosecuted Guantanamo detainees. “My frame of mind was I wanted to secure as many convictions as possible,” he said, and make sure that the guilty received the maximum sentences, including the death penalty. “I was outraged, I was angry, I wanted revenge.” After seeing rampant abuses of the system, Vandeveld said, he resigned as a prosecutor and was “vilified” by the Army. He is now a defense attorney, standing up “for the rights of the poor and those unable to defend themselves.”

The final speaker was Carne Ross, who worked for the British Foreign Office, including serving as the U.K. delegation’s expert on the Middle East at the U.N. Security Council. He said he had a reputation as a “vicious Rottweiler” in defending his country’s policies until testifying in the British government’s Butler Review of 2004 that the U.S. and U.K. knew Iraq posed no threat to its neighbors and did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

“I couldn’t believe my government was doing this,” Ross said. He drafted letters of resignation but never sent them because “I was afraid. Afraid that if I held my hand up and said this isn’t right, somehow I would be crushed.” His fears were justified, it turned out, when another whistleblower, his friend and colleague David Kelly, was questioned aggressively regarding his decision to go to the press with what he knew, and later committed suicide.

“I realized that the government and the public in Britain were inoculated against the next person who put his hand up,” Ross said. “I wouldn’t be destroyed, because they had already destroyed David.”

He resigned, sending his evidence of government lies to the Foreign Office. “It took a long time to reconstruct a professional career for myself,” he said.

He ultimately founded an advisory group called Independent Diplomat, though he said he felt that he “did as much bad as I did good,” and warned against thinking of whistleblowers as heroes rather than human beings often at the mercy of “chance and circumstance.”

Much of the question-and-answer period focused on recent news regarding the website WikiLeaks and rape allegations made against its founder, Julian Assange. The panel was divided over whether the site was justified in releasing thousands of secret government documents, leaning toward the side of government by citing the need for secrecy in many cases and comparing WikiLeaks’ actions unfavorably with Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ultimately, however, “the crucible of experience is the best teacher for making these kinds of decisions,” said Vandeveld.

Wright agreed. “Always second-guess,” she said. “Always be suspicious. Most of the time you kind of know right from wrong. It’s in your stomach. It’s in your headaches. Don’t dismiss those.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Devil You Know . . . ,” and “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II.”

Posted in Conflict, Life, Morality | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

“Talk to an Iraqi” from This American Life 

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 1, 2010

From This American Life:

“A young Iraqi ends up in America after fleeing Iraq and goes on a road trip to ask Americans questions about the War. But he approaches people in a very specific way, a way you might actually recognize from Peanuts comics. The conversations he has illuminate how we form opinions about a war happening far away.”

The roughly sixteen minutes worth of video are, like most TAL stories, outstanding.  We include them on the Situationist, however, because of how powerfully the dialogues illustrate the influence of system justification, in-group bias, and other psychological motives.

* * *

* * *

* * *

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Cruelty of Children,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “The Situation of an Airstrike,” The Situation of Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” Some (Interior) Situational Sources of War – Part VII,” “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors,” “Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,”The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” and “March Madness.”

Posted in Conflict, History, Ideology, Politics, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Cruelty of Children

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 26, 2009

Situationist PodcastThe always outstanding and very situationist This American Life, has a terrific episode on the “The Cruelty of Children” that relates closely to yesterday’s post and makes excellent weekend listening.  You can listen to the episode here and download the podcast here.  Here’s the program description.

* * *

Stories about kids being mean to each other.

Prologue.Bully Book. A first-grader explains to host Ira Glass how bullies become bullies. His explanation: They read a book on how to be a bully. According to his reasoning, how else could you explain why kids are mean to each other? It couldn’t be that they’re just bad. (2 minutes)

Act One. I Like Guys.

David Sedaris reads one of his funniest and most affecting stories from his book Naked before a live audience. As an adolescent boy, David feared he might be a homosexual. He explains how his secret plan was to win the lottery and then hire doctors who would purge him of his homosexual impulses. Sometimes kids in his class at school would taunt the boys they thought were sissies, and when they did, he tried to be the loudest and meanest. He figured if he didn’t act that way, they’d all turn on him next. Then he goes away to summer camp and meets a boy named Pete, who seems like an outsider in the same way he is. At first they get close. Then Pete turns on him. (26 minutes)

Song: ” None of Your Business,” Salt ‘n Pepa

Act Two. The Man in the Well.

Original fiction by Ira Sher about a group of children who find a man trapped in a well but decide not to get him any help. First published in the Chicago Review. (17 minutes)

Act Three. Human Nature, The View from Kindergarten.

Author and kindergarten teacher (and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient) Vivian Paley tells the story of an experiment she conducted in her classroom to make children less cruel to each other. She instituted a rule: “You can’t say ‘You can’t play.'” In other words, if two children are playing, and a third child comes over and wants to join them, they can’t tell him or her to get lost. They can’t reject him or her. This is the cause of unending pain in most classrooms and playgrounds. The experiment was a remarkable and immediate success. (12 minutes)

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Jane Elliot’s Situationist Pedagogy,” “Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Situation of Bullying,” Dueling Stereotypes and the Law,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III,” and “The Devil You Know . . . .”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Education, Life, Podcasts | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Stereotyping Stories

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 22, 2009

Getting Pegged

Our favorite radio program, This American Life, broadcast an especially situationist episode in July, which you can listen to here.   The program’s description is as follows.

* * *


Amy Roberts thought it was obvious that she was an adult, not a kid, and she assumed the friendly man working at the children’s museum knew it too. Unfortunately, the man had Amy pegged all wrong. And by the time she figured it out, it was too late for either of them to save face. Host Ira Glass talks to Amy about the embarrassing ordeal that taught her never to assume she knows what someone else is thinking. (8 1/2 minutes)

Act One. The Fat Blue Line.

While riding in a patrol car to research a novel, crime writer Richard Price witnessed a misunderstanding that for many people is pretty much accepted as an upsetting fact of life. Richard Price told this story—which he describes as a tale taken from real life and dramatized—onstage at the Moth in New York. Price’s most recent novel is Lush Life, which he’s adapting for film. (12 minutes)

Act Two. Stereotypes Uber Alles.

When writer Chuck Klosterman got back from a trip to Germany, friends asked him what Germans were like. Did nine days as an American tourist make him qualified to answer? In this excerpt of an essay he wrote for Esquire magazine, Chuck explains why not. (6 minutes)

Act Three. Yes, No or Baby.

There are some situations where making judgments about people based on limited amounts of information is not only accepted, but required. One of those situations is open adoption, where birth mothers actually choose the adoptive parents for their child. TAL producer Nancy Updike talks to a pregnant woman named Kim going through the first stage of open adoption: reading dozens of letters from prospect parents, all of whom seem utterly capable and appealing. With so many likeable candidates to choose from, Kim ends up focusing on tiny details of people’s lives. (6 minutes)

Act Four. Paradise Lost.

Shalom Auslander tells the story of the time he went on vacation, pegged the guest in the room next door as an imposter and devoted his holiday to trying to prove it. Shalom Auslander is the author, most recently, of the memoir Foreskin’s Lament.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Alcohol, Hotdogs, Sexism, and Racism,” “TAL Animation on the Situation of Memory,” “A Rose by any other Name Might Become a Judge,” You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” and “The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes.”

Posted in Illusions, Life, Podcasts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

%d bloggers like this: