23 October 2008

The S-word

We have been watching Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, and somewhat frantically/fanatically reading blogs, news sites, and viewing YouTube vids to keep up with the election stuff, but also to follow in an anthropological sort of way how the discourse is turning. To see if you can see the contours of it, even this close, even without historical perspective to speak of. Well, one should have perspective of history (eg er, not inadvertently calling for a new McCarthyesque study of members of congress and their Anti Americanness.)

So in light of this, and in light of the "S" word being thrown around (Salsa dancing?) and in light of the "positive" McCain ad last week that still managed to zing a couple of negative bits at the Dems (Taxes are patriotic)--I found the following advert in the Economic and Political Weekly, an Indian publication that is quite good--sort of a slightly more scholarly Economist for South Asia and surrounding regions, with many top scholars publishing intellectually engaged, well-researched pieces on history, culture, economics, and politics. I recommend checking it out--the latest issue is usually free. Link.

As part of a piece I'm writing on architecture, modernity, and how architecture responds to/traces out the contours of the "New India" I was doing a little EPW reading, you know, from January 1980 (as you do). One of the pages of the article had this lovely advert on it:

Lil bit Socialist, no? Well, yes. India continued on a relatively socialist vein until about 1980, when liberalization started, and then in 1991 the government took an about-face on four decades of 5-year plans and started to embrace globalization. Ambassador cars to Honda SUVs. Thumbs up cola to Seven Up. Bisleri bottled water to Dasani. Sigh. I'm all about the responsibility to pay taxes. And part of me kind of wishes that the US was a wee bit socialist. We need some good slogans these days--drill baby drill doesn't cut it.

Pay Taxes Right
Build Nation's Might

Nailed it!

If anything, this advert, a reminder of a time just before India started to liberalize, not at all at the height of its socialism, and certainly not parallel in intensity to sloganeering in either China or the USSR, shows us how completely un-socialist the US is. How, aside from discussions of nationalizing the banks etc. blah blah, we have no frame for cultural socialism, for putting the nation/community/state up a notch on the priority list from "must by Cheetos for game tonight."

And paying your taxes early does allow you to avoid tension and anxiety (how nice of them to think of me!) and I am a good citizen! And I want to mobilze nation building! Huzzah!

16 October 2008

Truth Force, Obama, and keeping it cool

In the immediate aftermath of the debate last night one media read on Obama's performance was how he kept cool, how he was "sticking with what had worked" and not getting angry. Some have rightly read this as an excellent move throughout the campaign as one wrong move in the angry direction and suddenly the "angry black man" stereotype can raise its ugly head, destroying any chances of Obama success.

I think, though, that there's an additional positive dimension to these moves. It's not just to avoid "angry black man" and it's not just because this has "worked in the past." Watching the debate last night made me realize why the British were driven half crazy by Gandhi, the "half-naked fakir" who fought for self-rule by practicing self-rule (rule over the self): self-control such that his calmness was his strength, and he didn't just follow the truth but practiced and lived it.

Now, Obama's no Gandhi. And while some may suggest that indeed we need to throw off the yoke of years of mis-rule, that's not the same really as fighting against a colonial government. But I think it's valid to push what we're seeing with Obama's approach in the debates and in the wider campaign beyond cool, calm, collected, and beyond a defensive maneuver against the possibility of racist stereotyping. His ability to answer questions, even those posed in heated tones and with aggressive anger and frustration, even those that repeat falsehoods that have been debunked for weeks, and to do so in a calm, collected manner--that is the truth force Gandhi and his followers employed on a much larger scale to help convince the British to leave, and then subsequently to help convince Indians to stop killing one another during Partition. One could argue that it this political approach that has in part incited the frustration and anger. Perhaps there's some greek rhetorical mode that fits Obama's approach as well. But for me, satyagraha fits: we are seeing an active political campaign that, while occasionally dipping into the muck, at least in its leader finds a space where calm is not weakness, and where cool isn't about him reminding us of Cary Grant. It is a little piece of satyagraha we are looking at, I think. That's what's winning the election for Obama.

11 October 2008

A Difficult Read That's Worth It

I always promise my students that I will never assign them difficult readings that don't 'pay off'. That is, if the writing seems 'hard' then that's because the thought is itself complex, or otherwise attempting to reveal something about the world that's not just obvious. (Side note: because of my fidelity to this law, I have never assigned Sedgwick.)

So here's a piece I recommend everyone read, but first let me tell you what the payoff is:

1. Restores some faith in the news media – there still is rigorous investigative journalism alive in this country (you just have to go to local City Papers to find it).

2. Helps explain the Real Estate bubble, and shows why its bursting is still going to be really messy.

3. Demonstrates in powerful terms that bailing out bad mortgages does NOT necessarily mean helping out 'average Americans'. And shows that the housing crisis has not emerged simply because of predatory lenders (and surely not because of lending to poor people!)

Here you go

Facebook status update

It's all I can do to update my facebook profile these days. The weight of the horror watching the people at rallies shouting terrorist and Muslim (as if the latter was an insult, which it really shouldn't be, right? Right? RIGHT??). Very very scary. The founding fathers were right to be a wee bit suspicious of them there masses.

Please can we elect a leader who is intelligent? Please?

07 October 2008

under the table and dreaming

Ah blogging. Not so much the last few weeks. Been investigating the possibilities of hiding under the bed for the forseeable future should the Republicans win the White House. Wondering if we should get our money out of the banks and put it in a shoe box underneath same bed. Pondering investing in a bed that has more room underneath it for the two of us, the dog, and the cash. On top of all of this, the season of Burn Notice has ended and thus I am lost without the comforting voiceovers of the main character, instructing me the best way to shake a tail, the best way to fake C4 using flour paste, and other equally helpful things that make me feel safer and happier knowing that such certainty exists in the world.

blogging has been difficult because there is too much to say. I am pondering blog-koans.


Do her glasses lack rims to reassure us of transparency? Or to convince us of a lack of substance?