Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"How you can promise to fight for the lives of people who do not exist yet, and look living citizens in the eye and not fight for their lives?"

From a letter in today's Chicago Tribune.

A challenge to self-proclaimed pro-lifers who are anti-stem cell research. If they're "pro-life," they better be equal opportunity pro-life.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Denying Torture

What if Hitler had countered a report that his government was torturing prisoners at concentration camps by pointing to his being a democratically-elected president (which is true)? What if Stalin had denied mass killings by declaring that his government was founded on popular desires of the Russian people?

When a government starts denying or proactively attacking accusations that it sponsors torture simply by declaring its values just, we should all be suspicious. The mantra of the Argentine military government of the late 1970s and early 1980s who sponsored that country's "Dirty War," a large-scale rounding up and torturing up of government-designated "subversives" centered around bringing "security" back to the country.

I bring all of this up because Dick Cheney has recently taken an Amnesty International Report on torture at Guantanamo Bay to task, saying: "for Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously." Cheney however does not offer any reason why torture should not be suspected, just that the U.S. cannot be called a violator of human rights.

Whether or not there is torture, and it seems there is, if not in Guantanamo, then in prisons in Iraq, denying it by saying a country cannot be responsible because it just can't is the classic way that human rights violators have denied their crimes. The administration's unwillingness to define terrorists and to use the word genearlly harkens back to Argentina's Dirty War and its broad definition of "subversives."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Billie Holiday, Bent, and Post-modernism

Last night John and I got into an argument about post-modernism, with my main point of contention being that post-modernism does what it accuses other "meta-narratives" of doing: it lumps art, music, politics, etc. under a grand theme.

Still, when post-modernism came up today in my German Film class in relation to the film Run Lola Run, I couldn't help but admit to myself that culture of today exhibits a lot of inter-textuality, as post-modernism suggests.

Take a song I have been listening to recently, a remix of "Speak Low" sung by Billie Holliday, mixed by Bent. This mellow remix is worth a listen, even if it (merely) recycles.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Votes for dorm points?

Judy Fiske, an aldermanic candidate in the First Ward who lost to Cheryl Wollin on April 5th has just filed a suit against more than 200 votes that were cast by Northwestern students in the First Ward's sixth precinct. According to the suit, these votes were bought:

Fiske's lawyer, Richard Means, said NU illegally tipped the April 5 election in favor of winner Cheryl Wollin when it held a post-election party in Norris University Center and granted points to voters living in residential colleges. Residential college residents earn points and exchange them for housing priority.

Now this sounds pretty bogus to me, especially knowing that Fiske has had it in for student voters for awhile. She made the comment that since students are not full time residents, their voting rights and stake in Evanston are questionable. (A) Many students are fulltime residents because they stay here in the summer as well and (B) All students have a stake in the community--moreso here in Evanston than where they hail from, and most people are excited when students vote!

Basically, Cheryl Wollin made an effort to reach out to NU students and Judy Fiske did not. Not only did she not make an effort, she used very alienating lanugage against us. What does she expect?

Rush Limbaugh's newest enemies: high school students

Apparently no one is safe from Rush Limbaugh's wrath. Rush reamed out Evanston Township High School recently on his radio show for having a multicultural curriculum. ETHS was written up in the Christian Science Monitor for having an especially well-rounded global studies program. However, their standard social studies requirements seem pretty...well, standard

Freshmen at ETHS are required to take a full-year course on Western European civilization. Sophomores must take either a full-year course in non-Western civilization or two one-semester courses in non-Western civilization. In their junior year, students are required to take a full-year course in U.S. history.

Furthermore, ETHS is doing its students a service if they are learning more about the world and not just the US. As one student says in the article "You need to know about what's going on around the world because it's not just about the U.S."

The article is kind of funny because one of the teachers suggests that the students debate Rush Limbaugh. The school's spokeswoman nixes the idea though:
"There are three weeks left of school," Miehls said. "Students (need) to focus on their studies and ... finals and not Rush Limbaugh."

Anyway the moral of this story is that, as usual, Rush Limbaugh doesn't know what he's talking about.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"A free press is one where it's OK to state the conclusion you're led to by the evidence."

According to longtime and recently retired journalist Bill Moyers, the American press, not even the public broadcasting corporations like PBS, would resemble his characterization. His address at the National Conference for Media Reform hits right at the uninformative way that political/governmental developments are reported.

He gets the Washington press corps. exactly right with this description:
...My colleagues and I at "Now" didn't play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.

or, as Jonathan Mermin describes it,
if the government isn't talking about it, we don't report it,
meaning that news is not news by virtue of the journalist actively investigating it but rather after getting a press briefing from the White House.

As Moyers continues, this
permit[s] Washington officials to set the agenda for journalism, leaving the press all too often simply to recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers, sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of the spin invariably failing to provide context, background or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading.

After understanding this fundamentally flawed method of "journalism," Moyers says he concluded that
investigative journalism could not be a collaboration between the journalist and the subject.

Read more here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Fun week!

So I was complaining not much more than a week ago about being back at Northwestern rather than abroad, but this week reminded me of the neat things that I have here that maybe I don't appreciate as much as I should.
Sunday: went on a nice walk with Sarah on a beautiful mid-summer-esque day and later went out to dinner with my family for Mother's Day
Monday: Cubs game, which, though a rain delay provoked my friend and I to vacate the Friendly Confines for a nearby Wrigleyville hangout, we had a good time there and met up with another friend who lives in the area
Tuesday: John smartly suggested we go to 1800 Club's weekly trivia night. Before the game began, we were approached by a friend and asked to team up. Through the entire game our team did consistently well, though not perfectly, with each of us contributing nicely. Finally, we swept the last round, which is worth the most points, to win 2nd prize of 25% of the triva cash pot.
Wednesday: Not much in terms of going out, but I got a relatively good amount of reading done. It had to happen sometime.
Thursday: Thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Chi O crush party. Towards the end of it, when several of us enduring ones were still there, I sang Aha's "Take on Me," as we had live-band style karaoke, and that was followed by someone else's rendition of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven." Everyone was dancing through these two numbers. Yeah New Wave!

Monday, May 09, 2005

ivenster.com: A new frontier for voyeurism

A little while ago I was invited to register for a new facebook-cum planner website called iventster. The idea behind this site is for students on campus to inform registered ivenster students of their events. One very strange component of this site is the ability to freely look at "funny pictures taken at events on your campus." I hope I never find myself wasting my time looking at pictures o my drunk peers on ivenster, which seems to be following in the footsteps of websites like thefacebook and friendster and in peoples' posting of their digital photos for public viewing, all tools of voyeurism. As someone who has often felt moments of voyeur's remorse, I wish sites like ivenster didn't exist. In this vein, I leave you all with a quote I am reminded of from Rear Window, a film that dissects voyeurism "We've become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The strange language of theater majors

Today I was taking advantage of relatively nice weather and reading outside in one of the quads. Stationed nearby were three theater majors talking amusedly about their exploits and their friends' exploits. Especially fascinating to these people were the "hook-up"s of their homosexual friends. The conversation was the sort of thing I regret having heard, though it was definitely more salacious than my Latin American History book, because it confirms theater majors as the crazy people they are imagined to be, getting involved ever so briefly with one another and then referring to it casusally. Imagine a show like Beverly Hills 90210, where everyone has been with everyone else, which is how these people seem to like to fancy their relations with one another, aided by the social lubricant of alcohol, of course. For some reason, I overheard a similar conversation last week, so that's why I've kind of had enough of self-absorbed theater majors (well, it's not just them) and their amoral existences.*

*I am not a social conservative by any means, but I am against people treating other people like toys. My views about this probably would sound incredibly old-fashioned to someone my age.

Paris me manque

Last night I went to a fundraiser event put on by a Northwestern group and then to an apartment party, basically the quintessential night at NU, and the whole thing made me realize how much I miss leading a life of excitement, or at least more excitement, the life I had when I was in Paris. I really wish I could have stayed there the whole year, because college life just ain't what it used to be. There was a time when it was all fun, but lately things seem to have gotten old, especially since I don' t live in a cool city (which admittedly was something I specifically didn't go for when deciding to come here for school). It was also nice to live somewhere where nightlife didn't revolve around drinking. Sure, I'm idealizing and senteminatlizing my time spent in Paris, but even when I was there, I wasn't especially exicted about coming back here. So here's to Paris and to exciting abroad life in general (though admittedly I did a lot of schoolwork there too, it wasn't all fun and games), and here's hoping I will be back someday soon.

Friday, May 06, 2005

That annoying person in your class

There's this girl in my 20th Century Revolutions in Latin America class who just makes me cringe when she raises her hand. For one, she's about as concise as the Bible, and maybe it's just my personal irritation with her, but when she starts in, I can feel the room tense up until she finally finishes talking.

She also focuses on what her personal feelings are about certain things rather than on analyzing what we've actually been talking about in class (I always get annoyed when students emphasize that something "made them angry," etc. without saying why). For instance, today she was incoherenlty suggesting that the United States has the burden of being the upholder of human rights around the globe right after we were looking at a passage in the book we were currenlty reading about how the U.S. policy in Latin America has fed into repressive tactics against "subversives," i.e. torture, kidnapping, and murder. True to form, this girl probably participates the most of anyone in this class.

Hopefully this blog entry hasn't given the idea that I am against student participation or that I'm one of those students who resents people who participate. My main problem is this girl's unnecessary opening of her mouth.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Atypical Music Tastes

That's me. I have pretty strange music tastes for someone my age, from what I gather. I'll give you an example, my top ten most played songs on iTunes:
1. Velvet Water by Stereolab
2. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love), Junior Walker and the Allstars
3. Hello Like Before, Bill Withers
4. Medo de Amar, Paula Morelenbaum
5. If I Had You, Frank Sinatra
6. Reasons, Earth, Wind, and Fire
7. What's Happening Brother, Marvin Gaye*
8. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye*
9. Carnival, the Cardigans
10. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye*

*Yes, I'm a big Marvin Gaye fan.

Anyway, where I seem to diverge from most of my peers is in liking 1970s R&B and 1960s music from the Motown record label and similar sounds. Some musical acts that I especially like include Earth, Wind, and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Junior Walker and the Allstars, the Jackson Five, Al Wilson, Bill Withers, and the Isley Brothers. If I am wrong in saying that most people in their late teens and early 20s are not especially into this music, let me know, but if I'm right, I must say, my peers are missing out. Especially in regards to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, which may be one of the top 20 best albums ever produced.

Though I confess to being one who tends to be the last to know about new "Indie" groups, and I'm certainly not the Indie expert (I tend to like Indie bands once they become popular, if then) I think in an effort to search for the latest and greatest music, people my age miss out on a great American tradition of good music from the 1960s-70s. Sure, most people like the Beatles, and there is always that contingent of Doors and Bob Dylan-lovin' college kids, but Motown and R&B is less prevalent in the tastes of young people. I conjecture that this is not so much a result of them having a distaste for the music but more of them not having heard the music.

One could even implicate race for this lack of awareness, but I can't assert that with certitude without having looked into it more. An interesting point does come from considering race though, because while college-aged kids listen to a lot of recent rap and hip-hop, they listen to little R&B and Motown, music that very often offers more hope, more thoughtful lyrics (well, circa the late 1960s and on), and less stereotyping. In my African American Studies course last quarter, we read an essay by scholar Cornel West asserts a very similar idea that has to do with rap's "nihilistic" affects. Recent rap especially has this quality, in my opinion.

Take lyrics from Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" ...

Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, hey

Father, father, we don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, oh

...versus those from Fifty Cent's "Hate it or Love It," which integrates some of Gaye's "What's Going On" into the song.
I wanna live good so shit I sell dope
For a four-finger ring
One of them gold ropes
Nana told me if I passed I get a sheep skin coat
If I could move a few packs
I get the hat
Now that'll be dope
I expect some to call Gaye's lyrics sappy or unrealistic, but he wrote them in response to the turbulent Vietnam War period, which does not a sappy person make. Gaye expresses compassion and an awareness of peoples' suffering where Fifty Cent expresses cynicism and corruption. I'm willing to engage challenges to my ideas here, as always.

Weekend in Boston: More nice people, great show, and a hotel recommendation

This weekend I traveled to our nation's cradle of liberty, Massachusetts (sorry, I like calling states names that sound like license plate slogans). I went to Boston University to see my brother perform in a sketch comedy show put on by the sketch comedy group that he belongs to, Slow Children at Play. I went to see the show last year, and if it's possible, this year's show, titled "The Tragic Death of King Edward: A Performance-enhanced Sketch Comedy Show," was even better. Not only did they weave the plot of a crazy mock-tragedy through the show, but they built it around the medieval actors' illegal consumption of a "performance enhancing elixir." Very clever. Of course, I am the most biased person around since my brother was one of the stars of the show, but the audience reaction speaks for itself: the show ended with a standing ovation, not your typical finish to a student performance.

One of the 'Slow Kids' stars in an incredibly unique animation sketch involving an overhead projector.

I also had the great pleasure of staying in an excellent hotel called the Hotel Commonwealth. Situated on Commonwealth Avenue right in Kenmore Square, which seems to have heavily yuppifyied during my brother's time at BU, the hotel has extremely friendly service and very comfortable rooms. The kind staff evoke my earlier comments about coffee shop employees. I know people are paid to be nice, but it still makes me feel guilty. What did I do to be treated so nicely? Anyway, there's a hotel recommendation for you.

I'm going to miss this bed.