24 January 2007

The BIG Debates, Part Dos

Over at FFb, they've picked one of those topics for debate that you aren't supposed to ever pick because the debate will be so heated and potentially so divisive, –US foreign policy over Israel/Palestine. Tmcd is getting piled on again, and I won't enter the debate becuase he and I have previously held enormously-long email debates on this topic. Each of us did little to convince the other.

Thus, let's make it a BIG debate week, shall we? I'll pull out another one of those taboo topics that everyone has a deep-rooted position on, one that could be scandalously controversial. Is it Abortion? Nope.

It is:

Angel vs. Spike
Who was/is the best boyfriend for Buffy and why? And yes, if you wish to argue (insanely) for Riley, that's fair game too....But remember, play nice: no ad hominem arguments and no personal attacks!

Future posts: 'Changing the Narrative' and 'Foregiveness'.

22 January 2007

2004 Again?

TenaciousMcD and Frances (in the comments) are making some distressing points – distressing because they are all true – about Hillary's recent hat-tossing.

I don't understand why the following is not obvious to everyone.

The Republicans have a playbook for how to defeat Democrats in the general presidential election. Their plan is already known to everyone; it is use that playbook. And it involves attaching the following labels (sometimes literally, sometimes through metaphor) to the Democratic candidate:
  • Liberal
  • Elite
  • Weak
  • Effeminate
  • Ambivalent
  • Indecisive
  • Northeastern
In the case of the particular issue of the Iraq war, you can add somethign like 'he/she supported the war to begin with and doesn't have a better plan now than our candidate'.

So, if you're the Democrats, why not forget anything you know about who is out there running, and ask yourself who you don't want to nominate. Let's see, wouldn't that include:
  • Anyone from the northeast
  • Anyone who easily appears weak or effeminate
  • Anyone who has a public record of national voting that can be used against them for the 'flip-flopping' charge
  • Anyone who was hawkish on the war early on
For me this leads to simple conclusions.
In 2004 it meant: do not nominate Kerry.
In 2008 it means: do not nominate Clinton.

Kerry was a Massachusetts Senator who spoke French. It was almost too easy for the Republicans to work their magic on Kerry.

Hilary is a New York Senator; oh, and she's a woman. Oh, and she supported the war. I don't see any way on earth she has the best chance of winning. This doesn't mean she can't win, but she would do so despite being a terrible choice. After all, Kerry was a terrible choice and he almost won.

For me it's not about deep-rooted sexism in the American populace, but about the construction of democratic and repulican discourses. The US can easily elect a woman president, and I think they will, just as soon as the Republicans nominate her. A Republican female candidate will be a strong, decisive, plain-talking leader. Why? Because she is a Republican, and therefore by definition is all those things.

So let me add my voice to that of Tmcd and Frances: please don't nominate Hillary.

The next question is obvious, and I'd like to hear more from the FFb folks: who should the Democrats nominate? I think Edwards breaks up the Rebublican game plan fairly well. And, contrary to early FFb posts, to me Obama seems fiercely intelligent and very charismatic. Given the circumstances, that may be about the most we can ask from a presidential candidate these days. Of course, there are a long list of negatives for both of these guys, but I'm trying to end on a positive note.

18 January 2007

Shilpa Shetty

It's celebrity Big Brother time in the UK, and for those not following closely the massive international political event this particular series has become, check out the extended, front-page coverage in the Times of India. Seems Gordon Brown's visit to India has been refocused from business discussions to defending Britain's attitudes towards 'Others' writ large.

ITV | Independent

I watched the contestants enter the house, and I was excited that Shilpa Shetty, famous Bollywood actress, was in the BB house, as I imagined it would be intriguing to see the interactions between several UK celebrities who are celebrities because of their celebrity and a real-live millions-of-fans movie actress who was largely unknown to the others in the house. Not that there aren't others that have received fame and accolades because of their talent (musicians, actors, film directors) or beauty (beauty contestant winner) or writing (newspaper columnist). But the conflict on BB is between a former BB winner (and her family--famous because of Big Brother) in the house and Shilpa.

No one can pronounce her name. How hard is it? Is it harder than Imogen, the name of a Welsh woman in the earlier, regular Big Brother this past summer? Shill-pa. Two syllables, not difficult, all sounds used in the English language. Try pronouncing Worchester 'correctly' when you've grown up in America. So far some of the other members of the house have 'commented' on the food she eats, asked her if she lives in a shack back in India (um, not unless by 'shack' you mean 'full-floor luxury high-rise apartment in Mumbai', one of the most expensive cities on earth), refused to eat food cooked by her because 'you never know' where her hands have been (and Brits/westerners are so fastidious about washing our hands after we use the toilet).

So now I have to watch BB to see where this is going. Racism, certainly. Xenophobia, yes. Ignorance about the world, sure. Class-tension: absolutely. That's, I think, the crux of this. The group bullying her the most were characterised as 'chavs' by one tabloid I read yesterday on the train. This is about Shilpa, a wealthy Mumbaikar, not acting like the assumed lower-class category she is placed in in Britain by dint of her skin tone. And so those in the house who represent that lower class are threatened by this. Everyone is equal, sure. But everyone should be in their proper places as well. Shilpa isn't.

The racism/xenophobia angles are the ones getting the attention right now, and probably rightly so. But this is a bigger problem even than that large problem. It certainly reveals the harrassment that British-Asians must go through on a daily basis in Britain, and that revelation is, one hopes, a good thing for the country to see. But I do hope (in vain most likely) that this moves beyond labelling one family 'racist' and moving on. It's systemic, it's about more than just race (immigration, legacy of colonialism, asymmetries of economic globalisation, gender (oh yes), celebrity, class, wealth, and on and on).

I'm also interested in the overlapping and intersecting between the so-called diaspora South Asian community and the in-south-asia community. This is not the first incident or moment when the truth of the overlap between these seemingly different groups has been made obvious. But it is interesting. Shilpa isn't British Asian. She's Indian. Or is she? What's the difference? Is she, like many South Asians around the world and in South Asia, a transnational being? I think so--and I think she represents the norm more and more, particularly for those of a certain economic class in India. (less so in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but still evident there too)

So the story will unfold. And it's not trivial. It's big, it's politics, and it's very much reality.

Why I love my commute

Turns out much of south Wales is shut down, and they recorded 76mph winds about 200 yards from our house. Luckily, we sit down in a bit of a hollow and are very much protected from the wind. But even better is the commute: so far there are no reports of anyone being blown over on foot.

15 January 2007

Sick of me yet?

Frances links to what she very nicely describes as an example of real reporting. Frances praises the article as an effort 'to evaluate the truth of the administration's claims'. I couldn't agree more with the praise, but I think I might describe it a bit differently. And, I'd do so in a way that Paul would find amusing (note: Paul is the first of the TG comments, but his particular comment is quoted by the second TG comment - yes folks, they are different people, but they are a bit difficult to tell apart), by turning again to discourse.

To get to the point: it's a great article not only because it critically evaluates the claims the administration makes (rather than merely doing the ridiculous 'he said, she said' bullshit), but also because it steps back from the individual comments of members of the administration to see what kind of discourse they are trying to form, what kind of narrative they are very self-consciously seeking to construct. When reporters merely focus in on the specific fact (and then say it's affirmed on one side and denied on the other) they actually contribute to the administration's attempt to get the narrative out there - and they do so no matter the truth or falsity of the particular statement. It's the broader discourse that matters most.

Take WMD, for example. In the run-up to the Iraq war, each time a reporter would focus on WMD as the reason for going to war, they would actually reify the causal logic (i.e. must invade Iraq because they have WMD), even if they 'objectively' also reported on the 'opposing view' that there were no WMD. Put otherwise, all of this press about WMD (no matter its content) meant that the frame, the discourse, was always going to be WMD - and not 'a war for oil', not the 'neocon vision of the middle east', not 'the liberation of oppressed people's, not 'the march of democracy', not any other discourse.

But the article Frances links to steps back a bit from the particular claim about the importance of bombing the Samarra shrine. This lets it evaluate the truth of that claim, yes, but it also lets it show how the claim itself is a part of a broader discourse that the administration is trying to construct. In this discourse 2006 was a turning point (downward) but only because of a few anomalies, and we can correct those anomalies with a 'surge' (or whatever the hell we're supposed to call it).

My specific point: the more the Bushies can get this discourse out there, the less they'll have to deal with alternative discourses, e.g. those in which 2006 was not an anomaly but part and parcel of an utter failure of vision, coupled with complete incompetence of execution.

My general point: the Bush administration has consistently proved itself ingenius in using its ability to control the message it puts out (e.g. with press secretaries who never say anything, by flooding the Sunday talk shows, but insisting on 'talking points' up and down the party ranks and throughout much of the 'press') in order to help it consciously construct its discourses. Hence, the MSM has been a (silent or not) accomplice in this process, because they never step back and connect the dots. Hence, also, the genius of Jon Stewart, who does just this sort of dot-connecting on a regular basis (and also compares previous discourses with the current one 'greeted as liberators', 'can't imagine the occupation would cost more than the liberation', etc. in order to expose them) simply by showing lots of clips.

12 January 2007

He's Coming to America

I wonder if this is front page news over in the States, the way that it is here? I bet not.

David Beckham has signed a contract with the LA Galaxy (of MLS fame), making him the highest-paid footballer in the world, and the highest-paid sports figure in the US. I also wonder how the story will be covered elsewhere. Here, the framing for the piece is straightforward. For example:
the move signals the end of his career as a footballer of significance
This will be the repeated them: Beckham is done, his career is over - no chance to make it back onto the England squad, no chance to have any real impact. Of course, it's easy to tell the story this way, because it fits with the narrative already in place. Nothing is more popular in Britain than bashing on Beckham, both in terms of his celebrity status but also in terms of his presumed lack of ability on the pitch. I'm still very ignorant about football, but I actually thought Beckham was the most valuable player for England during the World Cup. I don't think he was England's best player, but his set-up abilities seemed to provide something to the team that no one eslse had - and he clearly had an impact on the games.

I can't help but be reminded of the stories when Wayne Gretzsky left the home of hockey in Canada to go to LA. The analogy has its limits since Gretzsky was still playing NHL hockey, and no football fan in Europe is going to consider the MLS a 'real league'. Still, Gretzsky surprised people (his hat trick in game 7 of the seminfinals, against Toronto ('93 I thnk), might have been his best single-game performance), and I wonder if Beckham might not do so as well.

10 January 2007


Greg links to another one of those tests that tries to place you on their version of the political map.

I find these questionairres puzzling because they rely so heavily upon completely charged, partial, and partisan statements. More importantly, these statements are taken from broader sets of political, ideological, and social discourses, and, so far as I can tell, the question is often trying hardest to see whether you recognise and are comfortable with that discourse. That is, they aren't actually asking you to reject or accept putative statements of fact or truth - even though this is the form the actual questions take. Instead, they are checking to see whether the statement resonates with you.

But the difference between these two modes of discourse (truth and resonance) creates some dilemmas. Thus, what to make of this question?

A significant advantage of a one-party state is that it avoids all the arguments that delay progress in a democratic political system.

You see, I count myself as something of a radical democrat; in almost every case, I'll favour democracy. But faced with answering whether the above statement is true or not, what do I do? Because,...well, yes, 'I agree' (I even strongly agree) that the above statement is true: a one party state does get things done. I'm not a big fan o the things it 'gets done', but it certainly gets them done.

If the question were: do you favour the liberty afforded by radical, particapatory democracy over the efficient decision-making of more authoritarian forms of government, then I can easily answer in a way that probably tells them what they want to know. But they don't want to ask questions like that.

Now, what does this tell us about the current state of society, politics, etc.? I haven't figured that one out yet. But the fact that they aren't really asking you direction questions but instead trying to tap into discourses in this way....I think that might be significant.

06 January 2007

Me and CNN, Again.

I see no way to justify my morbid fascination with cnn.com and its continually declining 'standards' for both reporting and the use of the English language. I can explain it as my one remaining effort to keep in touch with what's being presented as 'news' by the MSM in the US (these days I only read BBC, The Guardian, and FFB, of course).

This morning I noticed cnn.com's new 'feature'. It's called 'Story Highlights' and consists of 3 or 4 bullet points in a box at the top of each story. The idea seems to be that CNN's lengthy, in-depth, and highly sophisticated articles are just too much for the average reader to be able to handle, so we need the bullet points to help us out - or, more likely, to substitute for actually reading the article.

But here's the thing: the articles are ridiculously short to begin with! Check this one out, for example: the story of two planes almost colliding in Denver. The entire article is 182 words long. Even reading very verly slowly, it still takes well under a minute to read the whole article.

By the way, as a side note that's probably much more substantive than my above rant: both the Guardian and CNN's international edition have 'Bush reshuffles Generals in Iraq' as a headline this morning. But if you switch to the CNN US edition, you can't find such a headline; nor was there anything like that on the NY Times website. Weird? Definitely. Significant and meaningful? You tell me.

04 January 2007

OK, fine. We're using the silver!

The story of our nomadism continues, though I hope this somewhat traumatic chapter will be the final one (with no need for any sort of epilogue).

As you'll recall from chapter 6, almost immediately after storing almost all our worldy possessions inside a tin box in the desert of California, said 'storage unit' was broken into (we still think it might have been an inside job). Given that we were thousands of miles away in the valleys of central Pennsylvani, we had to assess the damage with only the aid of a blurry polaroid taken of the front of the unit. We surmised that the thieves had taken almost all the valuable items: all our tools; all our speakers, television and audio/video equipment; all our CDs; my golf clubs; and a few other big ticket items. We filed an insurance claim based on these presumptions and were very pleased when they wrote us a check (for a quite distinct outcome, see chapter 3 in which the movers destroy most of our stuff and fail to issue a fair reimbursement). And then, we tried to put the disturbance of the break-in behind us.

Zip forward more than 2 and 1/2 years to this Tuesday, when our remaining belongings from storage - after numerous items had been sold or given away, thanks to coordination by Steve and Kim on the ground in CA - arrived at our house. Our books, key pieces of furniture, our beloved rugs, all here safe and sound! However, only two of the expected 4 kitchen boxes showed up. And sure enough, we are missing: all our knives, given to us over the course of 5 years by my parents; all of our coffee mugs, a collection dating back to college; all of our good silverware, given to us by Rebecca's mom long ago; all of our good pots and pans, given to Rebecca by me the xmas before storing them; and a whole lot of other things that we can't even remember.

Ironically, while the thieves took things like our silverware and our mugs that are of worth only to us, they left us with the (almost) full set of 1936 Pennsylvania silver, including its gorgeous felt-lined mohagony box (also a lovely gift from Rebecca's mom). This, of course, would have been very pawn-able, and not something we were likely to need on a day-to-day basis.

But we're taking it as a sign, and we refuse to continue using the 'camping' utensils that we've suffered for the past 2 years. So to hell with it: we're using the silver! Any guests to our houehold can therefore expect fine dining utensils.

They can also expect 'parting gifts': we have almost a dozen very small US appliances (mostly desk lamps) that won't do us much good connected to 230v. So come visit us and take one home!