Archive for thinking

The Elephant . . .

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 2, 2015 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Rigging of Foreign Exchange Market Makes Felons of Big Banks,” reads a recent New York Times headline. Recently, four large, international banks pled guilty to charges related to the illegal manipulation of international currency markets. They will pay record-sized fines. Again. 

Actually, the part of this scandal I’m interested in this time around is what’s in the headline. Specifically, I’d like to ask: can a bank even be a felon? And if so, what does that mean?

Let’s think about this. An individual who commits a felonious crime and then pleads guilty will probably receive some sort of punishment and then have a conviction on his or her record. That individual, thanks to the criminal record, will lose certain rights and privileges, depending on the jurisdiction, such as the inability to hold some sensitive jobs or the revocation of the right to vote. And heaven help you if you’re in a three-strikes jurisdiction; repeat offenders run the risk of life imprisonment. 

The banks pay fines. Even if they are repeat offenders. 

If a crime involves more than one individual, sometimes even if that involvement is just tangential or incidental, a host of additional charges and penalties can be imposed, from aiding and abetting to racketeering to conspiracy. 

The banks, after admitting to colluding with each other (and not for the first time) to defraud other market participants, pay fines. 

The elephant in this room, of course, is the fact that banks can’t go to jail, because they aren’t people (this nonsense notwithstanding). In fact, the major purpose for the invention of “corporations” is to provide as many benefits for its members as possible while exposing those members to as little liability as possible. In plainer English, the company’s job is to get the most profit with the least responsibility. 

If you look at what just happened, you can see how good they have become at it. I mean, they just got caught cheating again and managed to get little more than a fine and a warning. Imagine: the express delivery companies get together to hack traffic systems and bribe local cops so they can speed dangerously and deliver packages faster, then they get caught and plead guilty–and all they get is a few speeding tickets. That’s kind of what this is like. 

But even that’s not quite on target, because–as the Times article points out, no one of any significance is going to jail or even paying individual fines. The companies are facing punishment. Basically, a group of people can get together as a corporation, a legally recognized entity, and get away with all kinds of illegal activity without facing real consequences. In theory, that’s the whole point of a corporation, as I mentioned above. 

Does anyone else think it’s stupid that that’s how things are supposed to work?

It’s individual people who make the decisions to cheat. If they don’t face consequences directly, they have no reason to play fair. Ever. Which, of course, is why we see repeat offenders among the “banks.” By which we should always think “bankers.”

Of course, this isn’t just about banks; it’s a problem with the relationship between corporations and the law. Specifically, Mitt Romney was literally correct if you look at the letter of the law: corporations are indeed recognized as people, which allows legal responsibility for misconduct to be redirected from the humans who broke the law to the company designed specifically to protect them from said responsibility–or liability. “LLC” (a common way to organize a company) stands for “Limited Liability Corporation”; think about what that really means. 

What’s interesting is that the legal recognition is constantly reinforced in the law. I mean, have you read any recent legislation? Take a look at H.R. 1907, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which is right now making its way through Congress. In brief, it’s a bill to help protect American interests, both corporate and public, when we get involved in international trade. There’s lots of good stuff in there, if you ask me. There’s also some not-so-great stuff. Then there’s Title VI (Miscellaneous Provisions), Section 608 (United States-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement), Subsection g (Definitions). In this section, we get to see several definitions of a “person.” There’s a “foreign person” (608(g)(2)), which is both any “natural person” (a human) who is not at least a permanent resident and “any foreign corporation, business association, partnership, trust, society or any other entity or group that is not incorporated or organized to do business in the United States, as well as any international organization, foreign government and any agency or subdivision of foreign government, including a diplomatic mission.”

That’s a mouthful, but the point is that section 608(g)(2) of this law specifically defines “foreign person” in a way that includes corporations. Oh, and 608(g)(4) does the same thing with the definition of “United States person.” And 608(g)(3) ges a step further by doing the same for just plain old “person,” except that it specifically excludes governments and government entities that do not operate as business enterprises.

So corporations are people, after all. 

Which brings me back in my question: what does it mean for a corporation to be convicted of a felony? The Times article notes that the public may lose faith in the banks; given the way things have gone in the last thirty years, I’d say that’s a meaninglessly low standard. And it’s definitely not enough to make them stop breaking the rules. 

People need to go to jail. And by “people,” I’m not referring to legally recognized group entities. Because even though a CEO might get fired, he or she isn’t going to get a conviction on their record; they won’t forfeit any of their ill-gotten gains; they’ll probably just go consult for a hedge fund or become a lobbyist. 

At some point we have to look up from the law books, take a step back, and just say this is wrong. Let’s start from there. 

Alternative Career Choices for English PhDs

Posted in General, School with tags , , on April 8, 2011 by Bola C. King-Rushing

This is an update of an essay I wrote while studying at UCSB. I was becoming disillusioned with the prospect of becoming a professor. Since then, several people have found it helpful, so I thought I’d share it here. Feel free to add your own ideas…

The PhD program in English is, in many ways, an apprenticeship: you are being taught by English professors to use their tools and processes with the ultimate goal of becoming an English professor. But there are other options, other paths that are open to you, that you might take for any of a number of reasons.

Continue reading

More on the dissertation

Posted in School with tags , , , on February 5, 2010 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Communication theory. I find it fascinating, to the point that I sometimes feel like I’m in the wrong field. Well, sometimes.

I’m looking at Media Choice models. Specifically, I’m working on finding a way to translate one (or parts of several) into a model that will help analyze the choices that Second Life landowners make in designing their spaces. The area that informs this thinking is Media Richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1984). However, it turns out that there are a whole lot of “refinements” to Media Richness, and it’s hard to decide which way to go. Social influence is definitely worth looking at, and I feel drawn to Channel Expansion. But can we make a reasonable analogy between the choice of a communication channel on one hand and design decisions on the other?

I feel like the answer should be “yes.” There’s something about the symbolism involved in each that, I think, can be transferred into a common (or at least parallel) language using semiotics. But at the moment, this is just a fledgling thought.

Does it even sound doable, let alone reasonable? More to come…

Song of the moment: "Stand," R.E.M.


Posted in General with tags , on November 23, 2009 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Does it make me a bad person if I still giggle with glee at the memory of Christian Bale’s Batmobile being destroyed?

I’m not sure why it is, but I still feel a visceral disgust at that abominable vehicle. I don’t think I’ve felt so strongly about an automobile before, at least not negatively. It was just…so completely ugly. There was nothing, in my opinion, remotely pretty about it.

Except its being broken.

I suppose you could say that it did have a positive effect on me: I could not have gotten so much joy out of its destruction if it had never been created in the first place. But something about that logic strikes me as not quite right.

Forgive me for beating a dead horse (or a dead Batmobile). I just needed to get that out, I guess.

Song of the Moment: "Say Hey (I Love  You)," Michael Franti & Spearhead


Digital Humanities

Posted in General, School with tags , , on November 23, 2009 by Bola C. King-Rushing

So I’m involved in this year’s HASTAC community, and I’ve done a little blogging over there. This is a repost of one of those–it got a great response, and I thought the conversation was worth bringing over here. Apologies to those who’ve already seen and / or responded to it.

“What Are We Doing, Anyway?” (11/13/09)

I’d like to revisit Amanda Visconti’s blog post about the must-have technical skills for a digital humanist.

Our department’s Literature.Culture.Media Center was fortunate enough to be visited by Dr. Patrik Svensson today. Of course, I had class and then a meeting during his talk, but I was able to make the reception afterward and hear him talk about digital humanities–and, in particular, the state of the field.

Or lack thereof. It turns out that “digital humanities” is, like most things humanities, a slippery thing to define. Do you remember when it was “humanities computing”? Do you remember even further back, when it was just a humanist who knew a little about Unix, HTML, or C+?

But to get to the point: what are we doing when we claim to be “digital humanists”? We are clearly not all doing the same thing, or (I suspect) even on the same page at least part of the time. So what would you say to someone from the “outside” if they asked you what you mean by digital humanities?

Part of my reason for asking is that, even though I’m in an English department, my dissertation has slid significantly into the social sciences by way of online virtual worlds. I keep my humanist focus, at least in my own mind, by steadfastly sticking to qualitative methodologies. But my digital credibility–well, I’m not so sure where I stand. I use a lot of technology, and I understand a lot about its technical underpinnings, but coding left me behind right about when amateur programmers switched from PASCAL to C. Yes indeed, that was a very long time ago.

Thus, I consider myself part of the DH universe mostly because my object of study (virtual worlds) is digital, and I approach the analysis of it from a humanities or humanist perspective.

But that’s just one approach. As implied by Amanda’s blog post, the DH universe also includes those people who do humanities with digital tools, often creating said tools themselves with their programming prowess. Is that enough? How digital do you have to be, or how humanities, to be considered DH? Is it even right to try to fit such disparate activities under a single categorical umbrella?

One pragmatic / cynical way to look at it is in terms of fads and funding. The money (what little there is) is in digital humanities, so we have an interest in being considered digital humanists. But when the money turns its attention elsewhere in a few years, what will we have left?

What are we doing? What are you doing, and why do you call it digital humanities?

Song of the Moment: "Do You Love Me," The Contours

Ideas? Suggestions?

Posted in General, School with tags on March 19, 2009 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Once again, it’s been quite a while. I fully intend to post more often…we’ll see how that goes.

Part of the problem is that I’m closing in on the ABD phase of the PhD program. Yup, one more course remaining, and then all I have to do is write a minor book while three faculty members monitor every step of the process.

Good times.

The funniest thing is, the more research I’m doing for this dissertation on virtual worlds, the less time I have to spend in virtual worlds. Did I say “funny?” Sometimes it seems cosmically perverse. That’s OK, though. I’m still learning a lot, and I’m still enjoying most of the learning that I’m doing.

One thing I’m look at right now is fiction centered on/in virtual worlds. My hope is to find some good fiction to which I can apply the research I am doing for a literary application of the work. This is where I need some help. I’m not sure what’s out there as far as relevant fiction goes. My current list:

  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  • Tea from an Empty Cup, Pat Cadigan
  • Otherland, Tad Williams
  • Circuit of Heaven, Dennis Danvers
  • ANIMA, Dalian Hansen

I haven’t yet read Otherland and ANIMA (subtitled A Novel about Second Life). If you’re familiar with even a couple of these titles, you can probably see where my thinking is.  (If not, what I’m looking for are stories which take place in or prominently feature digital virtual worlds – not, however, just representations of the internet like Gibson’s “matrix” in the Sprawl series, but worlds designed and presented as such.) I know there are not many readers of this blog, but I’m asking in every venue available to me, including this one, whether anyone has suggestions for other works I might look at.

Thomas More’s Utopia has been suggested, as has Edwin Abbott’s Flatland. I haven’t read them, but I’d also love to get feedback on whether either one fits.

Let me know. I can use all the help I can get. Hey, who can’t?

Song of the Moment: "Rockstar," Nickelback

No on Proposition 8

Posted in General with tags , , on October 3, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

OK, it’s been a while. I could give you all the excuses reasons for that, but in the end what’s important is that I’m writing again. At least right now.

In any case, I live in the land of the political initiative, referendum, or proposition, and it seems we’re called to the polls at least a couple of times every year to cast votes on the welfare and direction of the Golden State. Which, if you ask me, is pretty cool, though it takes a little getting used to.

This November, along with the national ballot, we have several state and local measures to consider. The two of these that I think are of greatest import are Propositions 4 and 8. I might talk about 4 some other time, but for right now my concern is Prop 8.

Put simply, Prop 8 if passed would ban same-sex marriages in California. You may or may not know that this is an issue that’s gone back and forth in this state; most recently, a California Supreme Court ruling held that it was unlawful to limit “marriage” to strictly man-woman couples. This means that same-sex marriages are valid and recognized in California at the moment, but Proposition 8 aims to add wording to the state constitution to the effect that only a man-woman marriage would be valid and recognized here.

That’s just wrong. There are a whole host of reasons that I hold that opinion, and I may go into them another time. What interests me right now, though, is that this issue – both locally and nationally – points a giant, sore finger at the massively gaping hole in the supposed wall between church and state. Half the problem here is the blanket use of the term “marriage.” If you stop to think about it, you realize that agents of religious authority (clergy) are given permission to perform a ceremony that affects the status of a couple in the eyes of governmental / civil authority. If we’re supposed to support the separation of church and state, isn’t that whole setup in direct conflict of the principle?

There should, from the very founding of this nation, have been a distinction made between the union of two people in a religious context and a similar (though not identical, and sometimes completely different) union in a civil context. The fact that some religions or denominations recognize same-sex marriage while their local governments do not points to that as a basic truth. Or how about this  one?: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (yes, the Mormons) once allowed and recognized polygamy (some fundamentalist groups not affiliated with the mainstream church still do), but the federal government of the USA has never recognized polygamous marriages. This demonstrates quite clearly that marriage does not mean the same thing to religion as it does to government.

But those who support Prop 8 – that is, those who wish to ban same-sex marriage – conflate the two contexts. They claim that if the state recognizes same-sex marriages, then their religious beliefs will be in danger. But wait: if we really have separation of church and state, then no state decision can impinge upon their beliefs. So what’s to be afraid of? The Catholic Church supports Prop 8, but the state is not going to force Catholic priests to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. So the Catholic Church (and all who support Prop 8) is not really defending their right to do things their way; they’re specifically hoping to restrict the rights of others to do things a different way.

I think civil union (marriage in the civil context) should be separated from matrimony (marriage in the religious context) altogether as a matter of principle. It would make sense for those who are religious to have the two be combined or overlapped in some way, but we now live in a time where there are lots of people who for many differing reasons have or want nothing to do matrimony, while still desiring the rights and responsibilities of civil union. Not to mention many who are married in name but don’t really live that way.

It’s to the benefit of the state to allow same-sex marriages. Just as with heterosexual marriages, it promotes social stability and contributes to economic stability. Beyond that, though, it’s straight-up illegal for the state to discriminate against people on the basis of religion or sexual preference / orientation (among other things, of course). By banning or prohibiting same-sex marriage, for whatever reasons, the state is by definition treating one group of people (homosexual couples desiring to be married) differently from another (heterosexual couples desiring to be married) on the basis of sexual orientation and possibly religion. These two sets of people are otherwise indistinguishable: in each case you have two people who are probably in love and want to publicly and socially declare an intent to commit permanently to each other and obtain all the rights and responsibilities that accompany such a declaration; the only difference is that one pair has different plumbing, while the other pair has the same plumbing. The state should not be in the business of discriminating between people on the separate or combined bases of sexual orientation and religion.

Wait, isn’t that basically what the California Supreme Court said?

Come on, people. How hard is it, really? Do you want to live in a land where discrimination is ok? I probably shouldn’t ask that question – too many people, if they answered truthfully, would say “Yes.” But if you don’t, then oppose Proposition 8 this November. If you live in California, vote against it. If you don’t live in California, urge any Californians you may know or come into contact with to vote against it. It’s that simple.

Song of the Moment: "Hawaii Five-O," The Ventures