Thursday, January 31, 2008

"...Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

So I've been thinking about this blog post all week and I decided that there are so many norms we all follow that are so similar, that I'm going to sum up my thoughts about norms by telling everyone a horrible story.

(I would like to preface this all by saying that I really do think norms are useful and are an integral part of civil society. There was a reason why people were appalled when some guy on the bus spit chewing tobacco on my new suede Stuart Weitzman boots a few months ago -- It was gross, people are increasingly ugly about chewers/smokers anyway, and it's not nice to be a shithead to the girl with the achy feet who takes the last seat on the bus at 4pm in Oakland. Hence why I thought it was perfectly acceptable to take his silk hanky out of the breast pocket of his suit coat and wipe my shoe with it before I threw it back at him. So yeah, norms usually keep situations like that in check. As well they should. No one likes situations like that because both he and I ended up being out of line.)

Now, my story:

In December, the Post-Gazette reported on UPMC's decision to donate $100 million dollars to the Pittsburgh Promise which will give scholarships to Pittsburgh Public School high school students to help them afford college (UPMC Gives Huge Grant for Tuitions.) As an employee of UPMC, I gotta say I was really unhappy about this donation. I am the product of public schools so my beef is not with Pittsburgh Promise itself, but rather UPMC's decision to donate so much money to the city so they'd get good publicity while there own employees (ie - me and my officemates and nurses and medical assistants and clerical workers, etc) barely make a living wage and get paltry tuition benefits from a company that is actually a PART of the University of Pittsburgh.

I, in my constant state of aggitation about UPMC anyway, decided I was angry enough to write a letter to the editor.

Annnnnd it got published.

Annnnnnd my boss's boss called me into his office and (excuse my norm violation here) told me: "You fucked up and you need to sit down and shut up if you want to keep your job" and later: "You should consider yourself a very lucky little girl that you're still sitting in your office" when all of this blew over.

The norms at work here are so numerous and so conflicting that it's hard to even address them all. (And let me just say I can't even get INTO the whole "lucky little girl" comment because it would be full of explitives and would add nothing to this conversation.)

First of all, the First Amendment basically tells me that I can say what I want. And I think one of the best ways to exercise your First Amendment rights is to add something to the public discourse about divisive topics. We're expected to be good citizens. And truly good citizens follow their own self-interest by exercising their constiutional rights.

Second, my letter was respectful so I actually followed a norm, there. It was not inflammitory. It was about my personal situation and it did not attack either the division for which I work or other employees. I acted in my own self-interest by voicing my distress about UPMC's actions. Why? Because it's in my self-interest to make a living wage and have tuition benefits. And as an employee at a "non-profit" company that netted a profit of billions of dollars last year, a living wage and good tuition benefits shouldn't be an outlandish expectation.

When my boss's boss called me into his office (which is five feet from my own office) and gave me a verbal lashing, he was following his own set of norms and his own set of interests. His self-interest told him that having an employee who is a complainer might make him look bad. And after all, doctors are supposed to be the most visible employees of UPMC, not secretaries. (Teehee, for one week I was the most visible employee... oh the POWER!)

That being said, sometimes I am a realist and I really can't blame Doc for saying what he said to me. We all look out for our own interests. In this situation, both he and I acted exactly how we wanted to... to hell with the norms that are socially acceptable to our peers.

But I violated the "sit down and shut up and do your job" norm that is at work in nearly every workplace in every corner of our plant. And Doc violated the norm that tells us all it's not nice to use the f-word or put women in their place by calling them little girls.


I'm sure there are ways I can apply this situation to state behavior and make some comments about the regulative and constituative effects of the norms at work in my story, but I'm going to be honest and admit that I'm exhausted from typing all of this and I really just want to sit and watch the Democratic debate (It's an old fashioned Hollywood Debate!) and drink wine.

Kudos to you if you made it to the end of this long diatribe. Turkey sandwiches for you!

P.S. -- For the win: UPMC is getting my letter of resignation on Monday. I survived this totally shit situation and now I'm leaving on my own terms :-) Wanna know why? Send me an email.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marky Mark + Clooney + Spike Jonez + Ice Cube = IHL violations

...And people say I'm bad at math...

Three Kings is one of those movies that fits nicely with that "Some people and things can't be a good example, so they will just have to be a horrible warning" saying that my mother still says to me to this day (usually after I've been hysterical about a poorly executed attempt to date someone.) Clooney and his group of misfit soldiers surely are not a good example of military behavior. They do, however, very effectively serve as horrible warnings.

I really think that John Ridley and David O. Russell wanted their viewers to see The Three Kings as heroes, not as violators of IHL. If I were less aware of what the ICRC stood for or what the Geneva Conventions are about, I think I might have seen the US soldiers in this movie as heroes as well. Can anyone, cynical though we all are, honestly say they weren't a little moved at the end of the film by the Iraqi IDPs who were allowed to cross the border into Iran because of Teh Clooney, Marky Mark and Ice Cube?

That being said, there are obvious violations of IHL in this film, perpetrated both by the US soldiers and Iraqi soldiers/insurgents. Here are my top three (aka - most glaringly obvious/most offensive)

1. Marky Mark shoots an Iraqi with a gun who is in some sort of military garb. The Iraqi was waving a white cloth.

This is a violation of the Geneva Conventions that state that enemy combatants who are captured or who surrender must be treated humanely. Further, once the Iraqi soldier was shot, one of the US soldiers had his picture taken with the body - another violation of the humane treatment rule.

2. Marky Mark is taken as a hostage/prisoner of war and is tortured by the Iraqi insurgent.

This one is a pretty obvious violation of pretty much every IHL on the books. From the forced drinking of the crude oil to the electrocution, this example is pretty cut and dry and is codified in the 1984 Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as well as the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

3. US Soldiers break the ceasefire agreement between Iraq and the US while in the town where the Kuwaiti booty is hidden.

I'm not sure what the deal actually was during the Gulf War for the ceasefire between Iraq and the US. Perhaps I should have researched that a little. Based on what I saw in the film, the ceasefire was treated as a simple armistice between hostile nations, which is codified by the Korean Armistice Agreement according to Crimes of War 2.0.

The more I sit and think about Three Kings, the more I realize how much war and the whole "war heroes" mentality is being glamorized in this film. But I tend to be one of those people who likes nearly every movie I see (because I'm just that easily entertained by loud noises, perfectly timed use of music and pretty faces) so I'm going to admit that I enjoyed watching Three Kings (when I wasn't covering my eyes or weeping.)

Entertainment factors aside, this film is actually a pretty useful and dramatic way of showing how hard it is for rank and file members of a state's military to both know IHL and remember to adhere to IHL in bello.

A humanitarian crisis in sheep's clothing

Israel. Gaza and Hamas. More political violence. More human suffering. Now with Egypt/Gaza border breaches for added stressors!

For as many complicated international political situations about which I do actually have a pretty thorough understanding, the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a source of constant befuddlement for me. And I'm pretty insecure about that. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict plagues me in much the same way that the study of economics plagues me - I get it if someone sits me down and talks to me like I'm a slow learner, but try to get me to explain it or apply it and forget it. Let's talk about post-Colonization African inter- and intrastate wars. Much simpler. Well, not simpler... never mind. Bad example...


This article from the BCC is, I'm sure, oversimplifying the situation but I feel as though it has importance since there is particular attention paid to a situation that could easily become a humanitarian disaster in the coming days.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A decidedly unacademic look at Three Kings or "Can this really be called homework if I get to watch George Clooney for two hours?"

Three Kings, starring the lovely George Clooney, came out in theatres when I was in high school. Being the 16 year old girl I was at the time, I made sure I saw the movie since you know, George Clooney was in it. I just wanted to see the pretty. Did I mention I was 16?

I wasn't that interested in politics until two years later when I was a senior in high school. (I can thank Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign for that.) And I was in second grade when the Gulf War happened. So needless to say, the subject matter of the film was completely over my head the first time I saw Three Kings.

So last night, I took myself to Blockbuster and rented Three Kings. Then I went to Giant Eagle and bought myself dinner since I finally have some of my appetite back after getting the flu. (I highly recommend the grilled chicken panini.) I settled myself into my chair with my notebook and my panini and turned on the movie.

Two hours later, the movie was over, I was in tears, I hadn't finished my sandwich and all I had written in my notebook was, "Why did Marky Mark shoot that Iraqi just now? The Iraqi was waving a white cloth, wasn't he?"

George Clooney was just as lovely as I had remembered him eight years ago. This time around, though, I understood what was going on in the movie. And I have to say, I still have a much lower tolerance for dramatized violence these days than I used to. I suppose it might be my personal post-September 11th syndrome. It's all just a little too real.

So for right now, those are my only thoughts on the movie. I'm too traumatized. And still shocked at how naive and shallow I must have been the first time I saw Three Kings.

More to come...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dissent = Disloyalty?

After reading about Lt. Watada's case, a famous quote by Edward R. Murrow came to my mind: "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Lt. Watada's dissent towards the US military about the US invasion of Iraq and his refusal to be deployed there is clearly seen as disloyalty in the eyes of the US Military.

Lt. Watada's stance about the Iraq war is that it is unlawful since the UN did not approve use of force in Iraq and there was no imminent threat that the US would be attacked by Iraq. Given his belief that the Iraq was is unlawful, Lt. Watada refused to be deployed to Iraq and instead asked for deployment to another front in the "War on Terror," specifically Afghanistan.

I personally agree with Lt. Watada's position on the Iraq war. However, as a soldier in the US Army, it is Lt. Watada's duty to follow orders. Yes, he can be a conscientious objector. Yes, he can refuse to carry out orders he knows will be directly harmful to civilians, etc once he is in Iraq. Being deployed to Iraq does not automatically make him a war criminal just because some world leaders believe the Iraq war is unlawful.

As far as the US Military's reaction to all of this... I am not sure what to think. No, I do not think they are violating any IHL, norms or just war theory by prosecuting Lt. Watada. The strongest norm I see at work here in this case is the norm of "toeing the line" if you're in the military. You simply take your orders and do what you're told. It's part of the deal when you sign up for military service. And that's a norm that everyone, whether you're a soldier or a civilian, knows about and really kind of doesn't mess with.

Sure, the military could have changed Lt. Watada's orders and sent him to Afghanistan. That, however, would have set up a slippery slope wherein any solider given orders to deploy to Iraq who doesn't "want to go" (like any of them do??) would have precedent on their side. "The military did it for Lt. Watada, why not me?"

Lt. Watada voluntarily signed up for military duty, just like every soldier in our military. In his case, dissent does equal disloyalty. Anyone who was graduating high school or college and thinking about careers in the military as a possible life choice since everything in Iraq began in 2002 has to realize that signing up for military service means you have a pretty strong chance of being sent to Iraq. It would be interesting to me to find out when Lt. Watada signed up for military duty. Was it before or after rumblings of an Iraqi war started?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I can has blog?

Like any good member of the internet community, I have fallen victim to the charms of LOLcats. After this post, I promise I will not purposefully use incorrect grammar and I will make a valiant effort not to anthropomorphize animals or inanimate objects (as I am often wont to do.)

Since the topic of this blog is to be about all of the aspects, effects, drawbacks, shortcomings, etc of the rules of war and international humanitarian law I thought it would be fitting to take this moment to sum up my thoughts about war. Those thoughts shall be expressed via one of my favorite LOLcats in recent memory:


I promise that from now on I'll be serious. Until things get too depressing for me while talking about war crimes, crimes against humanity, war and general awfulness. In which case, I'm going to start posting LOLcats again.

Welcome to my blog, where I hope you are all craving a turkey sandwich with cranberry dressing when you leave. Unless you are/are trying to become a vegetarian. In which case, I hope you have daydreams about Tofurkey sandwiches. :-)

Hugs and peace,