New Clear Vision


constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted


Archive for the ‘Devon G. Pena’

The Bare Life

March 01, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Current Events, Devon G. Pena, Politics

Notes on ‘Idle No More’ and the State of Exception

by Devon G. Peña

The Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt made two observations that are useful to fully understand the nature of white settler colonialism and its calculated brutality against First Peoples. The first idea, which of course has been taken up as the point of departure of the work of Giorgio Agamben,[i] is that after the Jewish Holocaust every parliamentary and liberal democracy exists in a permanent state of emergency/state of siege. The second point is that under such a regime, not only is there a suspension of the rule of law, the constituted power of the sovereign is focused on the ability to decide,[ii] and especially to determine who lives and who dies — hence, the concept of biopower as developed by Foucault and his protégés.

The end of the rule of law is surely by now a more familiar condition to most citizens in the U.S. and Canada who are dealing with the collapse of the Bill of Rights in the aftermath of 9-11 and the advent of the never-ending ‘War on Terror’. (more…)

Dropping Like Flies?

February 20, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Devon G. Pena, Ecology

Applying the Precautionary Principle to GMOs 

by Devon G. Peña

We have been hearing a lot of protests lately from the pro-GMO camp about the ‘proven’ safety of genetically engineered foods. The most typical narrative comes in the form of a quote from a 2012 report issued by the respected and highly influential American Medical Association (AMA) and its Council on Science and Public Health. Here’s the proffered quote, which reveals the current dominant discursive frame used in defense of transgenic food safety:

Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature. However, a small potential for adverse events exists, due mainly to horizontal gene transfer, allergenicity, and toxicity.” (AMA 2012:i)

The AMA position has led many defenders of biotechnology to dismiss critics with a wave of the hand and repetition of a statement made by Mark Tester of the University of Adelaide: “If the effects are as big as purported…why aren’t all the North Americans dropping like flies?” (more…)

Guns and the Ecology of Fear

January 29, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Current Events, Devon G. Pena, Politics

Challenging the Symbolic Politics of Hate

by Devon G. Peña

The ongoing debate on gun violence is certainly long overdue. As it unfolds within the mainstream media, it also strikes me as a discourse filled with revealing blind spots and shameful silences.

Blind spots and silences in the gun control debate

Let me start with some of the blind spots: Largely absent in this discussion is the fact that the majority of victims of gun violence are poor or persons of color. It is seldom noted that young black men are constantly under assault every time they step out, especially in any state like Florida with a “stand your ground” statute. It is seldom mentioned that young black and Latino males are already targeted by white men who can concoct any unfounded allegation of “feeling threatened” to justify shooting these young men.

It does not help matters that many of these killings are at the hands of the police. Silence surrounds the problem of police violence against people of color yet it has long been endemic. Proposals to put armed guards and police in schools will certainly not make the parents of black or brown students feel any safer since many school authorities have been sued and held in contempt for blatant racial profiling and harassment of students of color. (more…)

Twilight of Twinkie Capitalism

January 04, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Devon G. Pena, Ecology, Economy

Transforming the Food System and Honoring Workers’ Demands

by Devon G. Peña

The Twinkie® I will admit is one of those quintessentially ‘American’ foods that I did not get to eat as a child. We never bought junk food in our home and so I was in college before I tasted something that my peers swore was a classic guilty pleasure. I was not impressed when I finally ate one, but then again I grew up savoring pan dulce, including the inimitable pan de semita, from La Superior Bakery in Laredo, Texas. To me, the Twinkie tasted like Elmer’s Glue with sugar encased in a squishy sponge or pound cake. It was too chalky and gooey all at once. Hmm. Must have missed out on the Leave it to Beaver upbringing required, I imagine, to love a quasi-food like that.

[I use the term quasi-food here to refer to what is typically called “processed food.” My choice is based on recognition of the fact that many wholesome and organic foods are processed and so I feel that is an inadequate and misleading concept. For e.g., to produce our farm’s chicos del horno (adobe-oven roasted white flint corn) requires that we process organic heirloom white flint corn in a labor-intensive artisanal practice involving no less than 19 distinct steps. Quasi-food implies that the food is processed through various steps before consumption but also that it incorporates numerous non-food chemicals and additives, thus rendering the product more of an industrial quasi-food item rather than a processed food.] (more…)

Forgotten History

December 29, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Current Events, Devon G. Pena

American Violence, from Sand Creek to Sandy Hook

by Devon G. Peña

Je sais bien, mais quand-même [I know very well, but nevertheless…] — Octave Mannoni

The airwaves have been filled with agonizing reflections about the mass murder of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. There was wall-to-wall cable news coverage, endless interviews, moving eulogies at funerals, and a steady stream of talking head reflection. The public discourse turned on the questions of why and how this mass slaughter occurred.

The liberal response went along the lines of: There are too many assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips; it is too easy for the mentally ill to get weapons; mental health services for the growing at-risk population are inadequate. The conservative line espoused by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) revolves around the fundamentalist idea that the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” So, the Sandy Hook massacre occurred because the principal and teachers were unarmed. We are to fight gun violence with more gun violence. (more…)

On Acequias

November 02, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Devon G. Pena, Ecology

Water, Place, Resilience, and Democracy

by Devon G. Peña (Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association; San Luis, Colorado)

{Note: This post is a synthesis of select excerpts from work appearing in a chapter prepared for a forthcoming edited anthology, Voces de Agua: Culture, Place, and Nature in the Acequia Communities of the Upper Rio Grande Bioregion, 1598-2008. This article presents a summary of some of the principal research findings of the path-breaking NEH Upper Rio Grande Hispano Farms study, the core of which was conducted in the field between 1995 and 1999. This massive research project, with more than $190,000 funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, produced the first comprehensive interdisciplinary and farmer-led study of acequia farms of the Río Arriba since the historic Tewa Basin Study of the 1930s; that sadly, is a testament to the neglect of acequia agroecosystems and communities by governmental and academic institutions. The twenty-four research scholars and farmers who collaborated in this major study developed some enduring innovations for integrated social and natural scientific research on Indo-Hispano agroecosystems that have left an enduring mark on the field. The NEH study played a significant role in the revival of acequia studies in the United States at a time when no one was really paying much attention to the study of Chicana/o farmers.} (more…)

Local, Slow, and on the Street

October 12, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Devon G. Pena, Ecology, Economy

Exploring the Roots of Urban Agriculture in Mexico 

by Devon G. Peña

Every now and then a photograph really speaks more than a thousand words. The accompanying 1865 photograph shows two fruit and vegetable vendors in Mexico City. Judging from the architecture in the background, the photo was most likely taken inside the historic core, perhaps close to the Zócalo.

A lot of commentary has been made about this photo. One thread of comments emphasizes the perceived poor condition of the ambulantes (mobile street vendors). How one can surmise this seems difficult but one comment posted recently to Facebook argues that the photograph demonstrates “The poor condition of the vendors, which can still be seen in the streets of Mexico City today.”

However, even by today’s standards, these vendors actually look fairly well dressed and healthy. These lamentations about the urban poor strike me as betraying a modernist urban sensibility and class bias. If anything, given the source of the comments on Facebook, they illustrate a widespread failure, common to what I can only characterize as petit-bourgeois intellectuals, to understand that for many people street vending is as much a way to earn an income as it is a social and community-building activity — a way of life even. (more…)