Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Going to Boston, Ecuador Makes Me Happy

So two good things to look forward to: (1) I'm going to Boston for ASA, and (2) Ecuador's constitution is reflective of its middle-class origins, which means I'm suddenly more relevant.

The ASA trip is (well I hope it will be) a real "rest" and a good time to refocus with three weeks left in the Vz. I'm staying with my cohort-mate Laura and her husband Ken outside of Boston -- which means I'll have friends again! My social calendar is filling up as if I were trolling the streets of La Mariscal again. That plus a low-key roundtable presentation on Sunday morning and meeting with Jose (my diss advisor) means I have time to be the dilettante that I want to be.

As for Ecuador, I'd link you a couple links, but take it from me: while the foreign press is nailing the newly-approved draft as another notch in the tree of socialist populism, it's fairly moderate for all the socialist hype, Correa has had to lay the smackdown on people's pet projects (the right to women's sexual pleasure), and I think the innovative institutional move of letting presidents dissolve congress, but also immediately putting themselves up for re-election as well. And, they can only do that once.

The critics lambasting the document for its re-election clause immediately link it to Chavez's failed amendment for indefinite re-election, but such calls are not endemic of "socialist" countries: Colombia's Uribe has been trying to put himself up for re-election, with little to no concern on the part of the foreign press. What, of course, would be truly neat is if Correa chooses not to run again -- which, if his popularity drops, he might actually do, since he's an avid poll-watcher -- something that Chavez does not do, unless its in his favor.

But all of this is the medium-term result of the "Revolucion Ciudadana" that began with the Forajidos and the self-assertion of Ecuador's middle class. For what it's worth, the Ecuadorian middle class (its emigrant and Serrano strands) have been left-leaning for quite some time now -- "leaning" because they're still fairly racist, but suffered in dramatic ways during the late 90's dance with neoliberal reform. Their "Que Se Vayan Todos" attitude -- perhaps borrowed from the Argentines -- is far more explicitly anti-political class than Venezuela's right-leaning "anticorruption" middle class. And while it remains to be seen if they'll be happy with the possible new institutional regime, they appear more willing to keep an eye out on Correa than to give him a free pass. For his part, Correa will be watching the polls.

It brings up some differences in how academics describe the manifestation of modern middle classes in Venezuela and Ecuador. Granted in the Habermasian sense, both the failed coup against Chavez in 2002 and the Rebelion de los Forajidos in Ecuador in 2005 were extra-institutional responses to government unaccountability, both were tinged negatively with racist and certainly classist undertones (well, overtones), and both were moments of Durkheimian "collective effervescence", you could not see two more different manifestations of class in the academic literature. Short form, Venezuela's middle class was (is) disempowered, shrinking, leaderless, needing to be revived, and thus, unable and unwilling to participate in the political life of the country (read: the source of instability) -- explaining for many the end of party politics and Chavez's "blank check" -- while the Ecuadorian middle class is revolutionary, self-conscious, emergent, and a manifestation of "civic republicanism" as a response to both oligarchical politics and neoliberal economics -- reviving the term "ciudadano" as a person not only with rights, but with responsibilities. Perhaps had Chavez been removed permanently after 2002, we might see more adulation, but from what I've read, the opposition was not fawning over its middle-class base, nor has there been anything but lament.

Anyway, that was more for me than it was for you and subject to lotsa change. But, it's fairly interesting. To me. And maybe whomever God made for me to marry.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"In Sudden Shift to Center, Obama Calls For Troops To Come Only Halfway Home"

I should put a linky to Don Asmussen's Bad Reporter on the blog. I've talked about his stuff before -- especially the one about the Runaway Bridge being found in a cup of Wendy's chili. Don't remember that? It's topical humor!

Anyway, here's today's Bad Reporter:


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

California -- And America -- Laught at Rhode Island (Again)

A quickie: the RI State Police caught a dude from North Providence with a BAC of .491, or, just shy of not actually being alive. Of course, where did I learn about this? Sfgate through the AP.

Rhode Island continues to be the New Jersey of New England.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Too Much Slate, Not Enough Feist

Because I hate doing work now, all I do is read Slate. But, Leslie Feist's bangs have made me less guilty: Slate linked a vid of Feist singing "1, 2, 3, 4" on Sesame Street. Aside from me thinking that Feist and I should make out (soon, preferably), I thought of a little more awkward rendition of pop-songs-with-numbers-translated-into-counting-songs-for-Sesame-Street.

In between not working and levelling up Strikebird on City of Villains, I'm arranging "One Evening" for Vox, as per my non-denial of my a-cappella past. Clearly, I'm contributing to society.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More A-Cappella Nerds Hate Themselves

So if you recall a few months ago, I talked a little bit about an upcoming book by GQ editor Mickey Rapkin on collegiate a-cappella. I haven't been back in the country yet to get a copy, but so far I've found out that at least two people have read it: Bill Hare, producer extraordinaire; and Nina Shen Rastogi, yep, you guessed it, a writer from Slate.com.

Nina's piece from Slate touches on that strange self-denial that apparently lots of people go through from being part of a collegiate a-cappella group, woven into her criticisms of Rapkin's book. Nina admits begrudgingly that she "snapped [her] fingers on the downbeat" with Yale's Mixed Company. By the by, the RARB review for Mixed Company's 2000 album "Change of Plans" is still one of my all-time favorites for RARB snarkiness.

But Nina picks up what does suck about collegiate a-cappella: "Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that a cappella is so painfully earnest, so distressingly eager to please" As I've mentioned before, collegiate a-cappella's song selection shows us how terrible our taste in music is (Guster about a billion times, Staind?) But Mixed Company, by way of a relevant example, expects people to pay $20 for a concert recording (and a recent one, at that) of such overdone songs as "One Fine Day" and "Walking In Memphis" (which the CoCoBeaux deemed so good nearly 10 years after it debut for them, they sang it in their first losing appearance at ICCAs). In other words, the vast majority of collegiate a-cappella doesn't take musical risks -- unless I'm missing some sort of dangerous experimental arrangement of "Just Once" -- and when it does (Staind), it just pales in comparison to the original song. Then you have your "supergroups" who can do basically just about anything, because they define the genre for its purists, for lack of a better term, but for the most part can be shrugged off by lots of groups since "we want to sound pure" (i.e. suck). But why?

To the extent that Nina admits the suckiness of a-cappella as a genre ("The bands most frequently covered on the circuit are uniformly schlocky: Coldplay, Maroon 5, Billy Joel, Journey"), she suggests that what Rapkin sorely misses is a-cappella as camaraderie: that as a nerd from the suburbs who didn't know all the New Yorker bylines (now that she works for Slate -- the idiot's guide to being too cool for school -- I bet she knows all of them now), she basically felt a-cappella was a cushion for middle-class people moving into the rarefied air of elite Yale. Is the short life of being an "a-cappella singer" determined by its nerdiness or by how your particular group related to class distinctions in the school as a whole? Mixed Company proudly touts itself as a feeder group to more prestigious ones. Once you "get it" -- that is, you've figured out how to maneuver among elites -- why recall your rise to the top? This is collegiate a-cappella we're talking about here, not professional; the dynamics of class (and race and gender) are still completely ignored.

Now that's a little brutal, but why not be subversive? Why not join a group to say "fuck you" from the inside? Why aren't their politically-themed groups, other than the ones who emphasize particular cultural or religious traditions -- do Christian a-cappella groups sing pro-life songs (I'm guessing no). How many groups sing Rage Against the Machine? How many groups sing poorly on purpose (at least I hope so...)? The point is, if you're in a group to say "fuck you" in some way, shape or form, I think you might have a better recounting of your a-cappella days than if you were part of one that proudly displays its inferiority non-ironically. If you've joined a group to fit in, then maybe we've lost you to Slate already (which I read...)

But the point of denying collegiate a-cappella, I think, is to show how you've "come so far," that beyond maturing, you've figured out a certain degree of comfort with the habits of social class, which all those goddamn wine-and-cheeses and free trips to Japan can do to you. It's an interesting filtering mechanism, if we look at it this way.

So, of course I assume that my experience with Vox was a big enough "fuck you" to warrant my continued interest in its welfare. Indeed it has. Though on the class side, I did manage to learn how to read music, and have achieved the greatest of the great Bourdieusian scams -- convincing people I have a "natural" talent for things musical, when seriously dudes, I don't. Such is how I both proudly display my Vox colors and helped me move up in social class.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Slate Reporter + Absinthe = Accessible Coolness for Everyone!

A quick one for now: Slate Magazine, if you've never read it, is for college-educated people who ask earnest questions at parties, then do non-threatening and accessible things on dares, wonder how to be a "connoisseur" without even trying (connoisseurs don't try. Thanks Bourdieu!), while trying to out-crackpot each other with logical-sounding conspiracy theories (i.e. "contrarianism") that are still conspiracy theories. It's sort of Jackass plus Weekly World News, but for people who are "totally done" with college, and who are cool enough to acknowledge that they're "open" to "other" views while drooling over Obama. It's the young dilettante's New Yorker.

Of course I read it.

Anyway, Slate often does these video reports which can be snarky, can be youtube-y in their "regular-people-doing-things-you-could-probably-do-but-would-rather-have-other-people-do-it-an- say-it's-interesting" way. Today's experiment: what happens when a post-college person drinks absinthe? The answer: an interesting-enough report wherein said reporter learns enough to talk about "the purists" while she and her friends toast to turn-of-the-century frenchies and then either (a) do actually get drunk or (b) should never, ever be hired to play drunk for TV. Though, they kinda look like they're having fun. You can learn to be stylish!

If you recall an earlier post from last year (I think around this time), my cousins and I went to a bar in Makati called Absynthe where we drank absinthe. That night ended with me singing Hey Jealousy in an ex-pat bar in front of a live band. Anyway, one of my cousins whose parents live in Sakhalin Island in Russia (!) discussed how instead of the sugar-cube-on-fire/sugar-cube-with-water-drops method of serving absinthe, the Russian bar he went to lit the cube on fire underneath a tumbler, with a straw sticking out. You then took a hit off the straw, then drank your drink. I wonder if the purists would shake their heads.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cold Showers

The water heater attachment to my shower busted itself a couple days ago (how's that for Spanish translations to English? Pass the blame onto the object. Actually though, I did nothing). Not to say it worked well before, but lukewarm water is better than cold, cold water. Actually, I think the reason the water wasn't cold before is that it warms itself in the pipes. Anyway, there's a nifty little middle-class preoccupation for you.

Trinity College sent some undergrads down here for some research. Aside from the e-mail we LASA-Venezuela people got, they sorta stuck out like a sore thumb: one dude wore his Trinity lacrosse practice jersey in the middle of the Plaza Central. It didn't look like he had any pockets, so I guess there wouldn't be much to steal from him.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Conspiracies I Want to Believe, Jumper Lahiri

While my leftist inclinations usually lead me to sympathize with Chavez's sympathizers, I think sometimes they grasp at straws, for the sake of grasping. As you probably already know ('cuz I imagine that intelligent, well-read people read this blog), Ingrid Betancourt and a few other people, who, in the minds of anyone but their families -- aren't important were rescued from the FARC with no shots fired, no lives lost, with only cameras a-blazin'. Betancourt was greeted by her children, and I imagine that after six years, by now she's probably gotten around to telling her son to get a haircut.

In any case, the coincidence of her rescue with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's call for a national referendum to verify his 2006 re-election (among other things) makes me stroke my stubble. Now while I can be cynical, I don't think I can pull enough cynicism out of my butt (since I'm using it all up on Venezuela's fake boobs) to call shenanigans on the rescue just yet. Yes, while it seemed incredibly strange to have those cameras going, to manage to fool the FARC so badly, and strange the political timing, my leftist friends have to do a better job of trying to convince me.

My favorite snarky blog, BoRev.org, from speculates that the whole thing was a ransom payment gone right (here and here, in English for all us imperialists). To summarize, they speculate that Uribe paid a $20 million ransom to the FARC for the exchange, then dressed it up as a rescue to divert attention from his political scandals. In response to one report claiming just that, the Colombian defense minister is blaming the Swiss. Yes, it's as funny (ha-ha) as it sounds, but I'm not sure if it's funny in the "hmmm" sense.

Of course, as is typical of the English-language leftist reporting on the situation, not everyone subscribes to the same conspiracy theory. Venezuelanalysis says (after, of course, telling us in two earnest-sounding paragraphs not to read any other news but the pro-government Diario Vea), following a Diario Vea story (!), that
According to the article the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) had agreed to turn over Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages to Swiss and French negotiators who agreed to arrange to pick up the hostages from various locations in two helicopters. The Colombian military got wind of the upcoming release and took control of the helicopters
So while we still have the Swiss involved (and interestingly, they're all over Latin America, usually doing social work), now it's not a $20 million bribe, but a negotiated prisoner exchange that got hijacked by the Colombian military. While we could still speculate that this was all Uribe's doing, the facts still don't come together so cleanly.

Does this mean we shouldn't read these news sources? No, but it does suggest that these news sources aren't reading each other very well. And of course reading the "mainstream" press will just get you the same account, which, while inspiring, is now boring to me and looking pretty fake. Just not "fake" in the ways that other people claim it is.

JUMPER
My landlady's son (the dude who changes my dollars for me) gave me a bunch of DVDs when I got here for my viewing pleasure. I never got around to watching any of them, 'cuz they're sorta "eh" on first glance. But, he did include a copy of February's smash hit Jumper, starring the worst actor of our generation, Hayden Christiansen, and the mildly boobtacular Mila Kunis, er, I mean Rachel Bilson. I got through about 30 or 40 minutes of it, until it started to play like a kid's movie. Even Samuel L. Jackson sucked in it, which is hard for him to do, maybe except for that movie where he develops super pot, or something like that.

Anyway, coincidentally, the Onion AV Club just did a feature on Jumper in their "I Watched This On Purpose" segment. At the end, the dude sorta liked it, but the best part, as always, are the comments. Before the comments section turned into a serious discussion about what makes a good film, people discussed two things: (1) whether or not Billy Joel sucks and (2) the title of the next film in the Jumper series. The former was a non-sequitur within a non-sequitur (a metanonsequitur), based on this observation by reviewer Josh Modell:
Before I even pressed play, anticipating watching Jumper infected my brain with the chorus of Third Eye Blind's horrible anti-suicide song "Jumper." ("I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend.") That song, in turn, always makes me think of the even more horrible "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" by Billy Joel, which features one of 1985's most annoying God-complex videos—a guy is having a bad day, so Billy Joel sings him a jaunty song, and he doesn't want to jump off a bridge anymore. And to think, people whose opinions I respect have some admiration for Billy Joel
And the latter, well, it was borne out of ironic acceptance that the boulder of sequels is going to roll down the hill again. Among some of the "entries" to Sysyphus' Jumper sweepstakes:

- Jumper 2: All Nude Revue starring Hayden Panetierre (the best one)
- Jumper II: 2 Hours of Rachel Bilson Nude (not nearly as good. Points for using roman numerals in the title)
- Jumper 2: The Nudening
- Jmpr 2: Here We Go Again!
- Jumper 2: I'd Jump 'er!
- Jump and Jumperer
- 2 Jump 2 Jumpious
- Jumper 2: This Time, It's Different Pyramids
- Jumper 2: Now Even Jumpier
- Jumperstar Galactica, Battlejump Galactica, Battlestar Jumpactica, Battlestar Galactajump
- Jumping Miss Daisy
- How To Jump A Guy in 10 Days
- Jumper II: The Wrath of Khadigan
- Jump/Off
- Runaway Jumpy
- Jumper 2: A Heartbreaking Jump of Staggering Genius
- Jumper 2: A Series of Unfortunate Jumps
- Jumper 2: Dreams from my Jumper
- Jumper 2: The Audacity of Jump
- No Jumping For Old Men
- Jumper 2: Pig in the City
- Thus Jampe Zarathustra
- Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right A B Select Jump
- Indiana Jump and the Jumperdom of the Jumping Jump

And the list goes on. All of this produced the Jumper Sequel Title/Billy Joel mash-up post:
Storm Jumper
River of Jumpers
Piano Jumper
An Innocent Jumper
Songs in the Jumper
2000 Years: The Millenial Jumper
I leave you with this: a list someone had the time to write up and code in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Shirts-Off Venezuela!

So July is here, and with it comes the expiration of my debit card, meaning, I guess, that I can't spend as much money as I could -- if I had money to spend. Actually, in commemoration of its death, I took my card out for a spin on Sunday and took out about Bsf 200 (roughly a little less than $100), then proceeded to make calculations in the mall about what food I could buy that wouldn't go bad in two months, probably confusing the crap out of the sales staff as I darted in and out with a pen and paper in hand.

Yes, all I can still think about is money. And honestly, that's not too far from the mindset of the people I know here in Venezuela. I'm still amazed by the incredibly full shopping carts people push around in the supermarkets (which I'm now convinced is not because of shortages.... more on that in a bit), and how people have traded in the suits and pantsuits of Quito for fake Abercrombie and tank tops with plunging necklines. I'm close to calling the Caracas lifestyle crass, but maybe even that's too generous.

I was telling Daniel yesterday about more crazy antics at my superficial gym, which, by the way, has finally decided that instead of Latin American MuchMusic playing the same songs within a 5-minute span, they'd instead play DVDs of Fatboy Slim concerts and the ubiquitous "Classic Project" video mixes, so ever present in your local Latin American bar. Anyway, one of the MILFs who works out in only a sportsbra because she's got great abs and likes to show off wanted to take pictures. She and this bodybuilder dude with a bad haircut (as most of the guys have) started to pose, but then all the other bodybuilder dudes kept telling him to take off his shirt. Of course, he obliged, and so two half-naked, over-worked out, and probably vain (probably) people took pictures of themselves at my gym.

Anyhoos, this link's from the BoRev. While BoRev's pretty funny, he's a little shouty in this post, but the point is in the chart: Venezuela sucks. So while it's not "inflation," it's "% increase in prices from the previous year", which still suggests that in the late 90s, in relative terms, prices were rising faster than they are now. So if we assume that 1997 is our index year, then in 1998, prices were 35% higher than they were in 1997, in 1999, they were 25% higher, etc. But the king of all points is that things cost a whole shitload more in this country as compared to the rest of LA.

But of course, it's not just that this country's economy has been horrible for unfunded helicopter gringo researchers, it's that the politics get kind of annoying after awhile. As a student of politics from the social side, I should have a thicker skin. But, what I dislike is that both sides -- pro and anti-Chavez -- are simply, simply messy at their work to the point where -- I will admit to the detriment of my own work -- I believe hardly anyone anymore.

Take for instance one of the more important events in the past year, other than the Referendum: the closure of RCTV in May (which as you know I feel has really risen to the challenge...). While I am in agreement with the flimsy, but comfortable response of OAS General Secretary Jose Maria Insulza (it was legal, but poorly carried out), the move appears so clearly politically-motivated that you cannot argue against it -- RCTV and Chavez weren't ever friends. And, RCTV did incite riot in 2002 when it aided Chavez's temporary deposition. So coincidentally, their license runs out, Chavez claims having to form a national channel, and they go and claim repression and the end of freedom of expression in Venezuela.

In response they've put forth two main arguments. One is that the whole deal was constitutionally-mandated and it was merely coincidental it was RCTV. The other is that RCTV's actions in 2002 justified its non-renewal of its license because of bad-faith journalism -- actions, which many gringo sympathizers point out, would never fly in the US or any other country. Problem is, these two points are ever presented in the same breath and when they are, they're not inherently compatible. Which one is it? Non-political or politically-justified?

Stuff like that frustrates me. It makes me think that there are good arguments for Chavez, but that the Chavistas haven't made their points very well and that the gringos are starstruck.

Another day in the life of get me out of here please.