Saturday, February 28, 2009

Make three wishes…

What does a dictator wish for on his birthday? Well if you are Robert Mugabe it seems you only have one. Get more farms and businesses out of white control and into the hands of the country's blacks. Of course Mugabe dare not close his eyes when he goes to blow out the candles on his 85 kilo birthday cake (one of for every year of his age). And far from taking on the typical repose of the senior citizen that he is, Mugabe seems to be hard at work defending his regime and the causes that sparked his initial political involvement as far back as 1970's. This BBC article reveals that Mugabe intends to strip ownership from more white and foreign land and business owners.

Mr. Mugabe said the new government would continue to push for a majority stake in companies operating in Zimbabwe. "We would want to see a greater participation of our people in them, not less than 51%, in certain companies we would have designated," he said.

Mugabe has mainly been touted as a tyrant and critics point to failing economic policies, staggering unemployment and inflations rates (2007: 2 million yr to yr). His involvement in the return of farm land back to black ownership has been criticized, citing the dramatic reduction in agricultural production and general chaos. But if this course (in Anthropology) has suggested anything it is that nothing is as clear cut as it might seem.

Zimbabwe seems like a desperate situation. Cholera and AIDS ravage the country. Political instability has led to untold violence. Are these the costs of the struggle against colonial repression as recent as the 1950's or is are these struggles the result of an egotistical despot bent on fulfilling his own agenda and personal gain. Although, I am inclined to bend toward the later perspective the former is not easily dismissed. It seems abundantly clear that the difficulties that Zimbabwe faces are the result of oppressive colonial racism. It is a tragedy to see a desperate situation such as this haunted by these colonial ghosts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

“Scumbag Millionaire”

My wife referred to the movie Slumdog Millionaire using this term (the title of the post) completely unintentionally. I chuckled at the Freudian-esque slip of the tongue. I'm wondering if the term might be a more suitable moniker than it might seem. The production of the movie used two children who make the slums of Mumbai their home. These children received an eye-popping trip to L.A. for an appearance at the Oscars where the movie swept the awards show. As this article points out the children's families are being awarded new homes as a compensation for their work as actors in the movie. The children were scooped up from the slums and elevated to superstar status in a surreal life-imitating-art scenario.

What intrigued me about the movie are the deeper racial undertones that inform the discourse around this movie. First, it is clear that not everyone in the slums of Mumbai is all that thrilled at being labelled 'slumdogs' (a term that denotes laziness).

While everyone in the area was proud of their local stars, some objected to the film - and its title - that made them famous. "I'm poor, but no one can call me a dog," said Fakrunissa Sheikh, 40, who lives in a lean-to next to Azhar's. "I work very hard."

There seems to be a sense that the depiction of life in the slums, even though it drew starlight attention ("as television lights and camera flashbulbs lit up the slum.") and national pride, produced a marginalizing effect on the people the movie portrayed. So that even in drawing the most spectacular attention to their life – they are reduced to an invisibility caused by hypervisibility (a la Gordon in Ghostly Matters).

Second, a new kind of colonialism seems to have emerged in the way we entertain ourselves. Entertainment is the new (or not so new) imperial frontier. The world we live in is dictated to by the rhetoric contained in the entertainment consumed as music, television, movies, etc. Companies with imperial strength have dominated the world in terms of what content is consumed and the way (style) that content is produced. Hollywood dominates this entertain-olonialism. So that the stories and lyrics and pictures we get to see and hear are qualitatively homogenous. This homogeneity is inevitable since even the emerging Bollywood sets its sights on producing movies to rival those of its American cousin. This type of hegemony inevitably leads to certain ideas being privileged but also the way those ideas are being presented being privileged.

Consider for a moment the television station Al Jazeera. Even though, its perspective is decidedly different (and often opposing) than that of many American News Organizations (CNN, FOX, MSNBC), it can be easily argued that the method and style of its presentation is unequivocally imitative of the American 'standard'. This stylistic concern shows that a certain form of perspective is privileged over another.

The question that remains unanswered then is this: Does conforming to the entertain-olonialistic standard allow for meaningful contestation of underprivileged discourse or does it subvert this perspective even more?

In the case of Slumdog Millionaire the TV lights and microphones will soon be gone and the slums will once again not only be returned to their darkness but to new invisibility in that darkness due in part to it new found fame.

The Link btwn. SEX and MUSIC

By now you've likely run across the findings of this study in the news in one form or another (here are two articles in case you are interested in pursuing this: here and here). The second article in Canadian press seems to follow the good discussion held on CBC's Q this morning (download today's podcast here). Many news agencies and eventually youth ministries will salivate at the juicy ammunition the findings of this study seem to supply to advance the typically fearful approach to popular culture that so much of Christian discourse seems to be preoccupied with. This is unfortunate…

First as is pointed out in the articles and painstakingly underlined in the CBC interview, the study does not identify a causal link between music and sexual activity (and coincidently STD's). Instead the study shows a correlation between the two factors. This will no doubt be an all too convenient fact for people to forget. The study cannot prove that if teens listen to sexually degrading lyrics they will be more sexually active. It can prove that teens that are sexually active are listening to more music that is sexually degrading. Put that way the conclusions of this study seem redundantly obvious.

Second this study underscores for me the importance of active engagement with popular culture in parenting strategies. For children and adolescents to navigate the murky waters of sexuality successfully means that parents need to see popular music as a way to engage discussion about sexuality. Avoidance tactics, feigning ignorance, or retreatist strategies ultimately leave children/adolescents alone to negotiate their behaviour. This is a clear call to engage in the music that your kids are choosing to listen to and are exposed to involuntarily. Here's a suggestion: Try to de-stigmatize sexually inappropriate music by playing it in your children's presence. Talk to your kids as un-euphemistically as possible about sexuality. Don't allow inappropriate music to become a subversive activity that your kids can engage in as a way to escape or deny your authority. Keep it out in the open. Evaluate the music openly with your kids. Think about it this way: it is likely far better for your children to hear you talk about and mention sexually degrading and inappropriate material (even swears) than it is for them to have their formative exposure occur outside of your guiding hand…

…just a few old youth pastory thoughts coming out…

Benefit for Epilectic Dogs


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Room Illusion - BBC Brain Story

this one is fun

Depth perception and video/computer culture

In class today we talked about the apparatus that Gregory used to test the Thiery/Woodworth theory about depth perception of the Muller-Lyer Illusion. We also talked about the paradox that pictures are to our perception of depth. Pictures convey depth but they are actually flat images with no actual depth. Because they are flat our brains cannot use the stereoscopic properties of vision to determine if things are actually further away or not just actually bigger or smaller. It's sort of confusing. In a picture some things are in focus and others are not. If that picture were an actual scene we would be able to focus on different objects in that field and they would alternately come into focus. The focus in a picture is fixed. Our brain relies on stereoscopic vision to determine the distance that an object has. One of the things that I began to wonder about as a result is the effect of images on the development of depth perception in children. Is it possible for instance to disable the stereoscopic features of vision by forcing a child to only look at the world as a screen (This would be an almost impossible experiment to do but…)? Could it be that increased exposure to images that are flat like the myriad of images kids are exposed to TV and computer may actually affect their ability to develop depth cues adequately? Essentially, is our hyper exposure to flat images disabling the natural development of depth perception?

Anecdote: My kids play baseball on their new Wii. I generally can't beat the boys at that game. I would say that I play a smarter game than they do – changing up the speed and location pitches in far more cunning ways than they do. They typically use the sinker pitch to try to get me out. I know that one of the reasons that I don't fare as well as they do is because they 'pick up' the ball much sooner than I do and can judge what type of pitch it is going to be. Since the game is mostly about timing – depth perception is a critical element. What is interesting is that given the same pitcher in a real life scenario I know although this is certainly not well tested that I fare much better than they do in being able to connect with the pitches. I have poor eyesight and they don't but those factors remain the same in both contexts. Why then can I bat better in real life than they can? Partly, I am sure it is because I have had more experience than they have but part of it I suggest is due to the tendencies their brains have developed to perceive depth…

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bananas, Sun Tans and the IMF

We watched this movie in class and it really made me think. How do first world aspirations fix people into poverty and racial subjugation?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Words on a bus…

Interesting discussion here, here, here and here has pricked a few thoughts that I'd rather not clutter up someone else's blog with. So I will puke it out here.

The flap is over a slogan on a bus in England (which we have learned will make its appearance here in Canada shortly as well). One aspect of this situation that seems under represented is what actual effect a slogan such as this has in social currency.

I begin with the effect of advertising is social structures. It is often argued (and often most vehemently in Christian right-wing discourse) that advertising is the culprit for the moral degradation of our social framework. At advertising's feet is often also laid the core ethos of our consumerist culture. These arguments are highly flawed. It is not that advertising plays no role in fashioning the mores of our social identity. Rather it needs to be understood in the complementary role that it actually plays along side the prevailing values of our culture. If fact a closer look at the data (stuff like the recent 2008 Canada Youth Survey (Bibby)) suggests that advertising is highly distrusted by most adolescents. The argument stands on the fact that teenagers and adults report a lifestyle that is busier than ever. Bibby reports that generally speaking people have asked ultimate questions (of life's purpose, life after death, etc) at a fairly consistent rate over the years – between 80 and 90 %. In the most recent survey he has seen a significant drop in the percentage of youth asking ultimate questions. His conclusion is that this maybe mostly due to the warp speed of our society. When adolescents were asked about the institutions that they trusted the most and the least advertising occupied the lowest rating. Again Bibby points to the speed of life and the available option that teens have to access the media that they want. Embedded advertising in movies and TV shows is the sad consequence of this. All this to say that in the end a slogan on the side of the bus is going to have a negligible effect on society as a whole –especially the impressionable minds of our young people. This will hardly register on the collective consciousness (save the few youth groups that end up buying the Josh McDowell "How to Combat Bus Signs in Your City" Campaign DVD study guide).

Frankly, I wonder whether drawing out the controversial nature of this slogan is giving this campaign far too much credit. The content of the sign is suspect–sure–but isn't dignifying such a feeble project with our hot indignation just as suspect. We live in an out-dated perspective of the world if we think that conventional advertising schemes like these will actually affect any noticeable aspect of our social fabric. Budweiser admit that there has been no verifiable increase in the sale of their products due to the advertising campaign they mount each year at the Super Bowl. If those millions of dollars can't sell beer better – how do we actually think that pink slogans on a bus will sell atheism any better…

Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Intolerance Boom?

A provocative article here from columnist, Doug Saunders, in the Globe and Mail. He suggests and I am inclined to agree that the climate of the global economic woes foster intolerance – even racism. He suggests that expressions of anger over failed policies and inadequate safety net programs are to be expected as thousands of people face job loss and protracted unemployment.

The ugliness, however, manifested itself when the anger suddenly turned against outsiders. Phrases like "Buy American" and "British jobs for British workers," which gained popularity because they seem to reflect a deeper sentiment, are chillingly redolent of earlier moments, in 1873 and 1930, when economic depressions morphed into fierce moments of nationalist self-defence and attacks on outsiders, leading to isolationism, racism and war.

Protectionist strategies seem to be gathering incredible momentum these days and it is not hard to see how these ideological perspectives inform essentially racist sentiment. And protectionism itself, I would argue, is a not so distant cousin to the mercantilism of the late colonial period.

In times of relative prosperity the race to the top of the socio-economic status heap seems an endless tunnel of hope. Consumerism flourishes. Everybody is richer than they were and they all feel pretty good about it. In these conditions, those people who have conventionally held the power in racial distinctions (most typically whites), can easily be distracted into acknowledging that minorities and otherwise oppressed groups can achieve even similar economic success as they are achieving. After all the white man says to himself look that the awesome conditions I have created that allow other 'underprivileged' people to flourish. This benevolence is strangely lacking when the risk of economic collapse is looming on the horizon. When the effort being expended is directed at NOT becoming poor the attitudes change.

I recently spoke to a friend of mine working in HR in a local assembly plant. His company has recruited many workers from Central America and the Philippines. One of the stipulations of the agreements that employers enter with the government organizations is the requirement to terminate employment of these workers before any other layoffs occur. Without work these individuals are then required to return to their country of origin. On the surface it seems to make sense that this type of policy should be in place. After all people who are citizens of this country ought to be able to benefit from that status in some way.

What is morally questionable is how these companies can bring over these workers who perform jobs that the general population does not want to do. Let's remember that the pay scale for these employees is typically significantly lower than other comparable jobs. Then these companies can turn around and dismiss these people to fend for themselves.

It will be interesting to see how these sentiments play out in Canada compared to places like the U.S. where racial tensions over employment opportunities has been contentious for some time.


Jared and Jesse went up to Camrose to play an indoor soccer tournament that literally went around the clock. They played games every 6 hours and wound up winning silver in their division.
Jesse is coming along as a midfielder and really plays solid positional soccer. He'll be more of a threat when he grows a bit and is able to match the speed of some of the players in his age bracket.

Jared on the other hand has played a fair bit of net this season and was selected as the tournament MVP for his outstanding play. One of Jared's biggest assets in net is his almost wreckless pursuit of the ball. On occasions it leaves him struggling to regain proper position but he still plays a very solid positional game.
Winning this award is a pretty big deal for Jared. He was obviously proud of his achievement. But Jared is not driven like some athletes are to pursue medals and achievements. He has alot of fun play the game. I think that winning the trophy has made him realize that working hard at something is a valueable characteristic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I thought turning 40 was rough…

Well actually I didn't think it was all that rough at all but for a certain Ms. Barbie it seems turning 50 is kind of a drag.
Now, at 50, life is quite different. Not everything has turned out as planned."

Reg Bibby takes a crack at what Barbie at 50 might be like.

Happy birthday doll! Just keep tellin' em you're 49…

“Conflict” as a racial term

I found this article on a curious website after a search sparked by a radio interview a few weeks ago. Heather Mallick, a Guardian columnist, argued that using the term conflict to describe the bloodshed in the Gaza strip was an inadequate term to describe the horror of what was occurring in that region. That got me thinking about semantics influence the racial overtones of media representations of these types of horrific events. This article points out BBC's operating procedure in using certain terminology to describe what has been occurring in the Gaza strip over the last few months. It is intriguing to see how careful this organization is to convey a position of objective neutrality in their coverage of these events.

That a neutral position is actually possible is an interesting point of debate in itself but the fact that the BBC (and I would suggest most other North American news media) is pursuing this position is intriguing. Weismantel and Eisenman (authors we studied in my anthropology course) suggest that ignoring racist constructions and categories seems to actually reinforce the power of racism. In effect they might argue that attempting to fashion public discourse in a concerted attempt to neutralize the reality of racial frameworks evident in the region can only serve to advantage one side over the other.

It could be argued that the term conflict used to describe what has happened in the Gaza strip advantages Israel's agenda in the region. What is more difficult to parse from this use of terms is whether or not the neutralization of the term can carry racial significance.

I, as many university students here, use the BBC as a source for objective news but is that news really objective if in the attempt to provide neutral coverage it actually advantages one group over another?