Friday, December 21, 2012

Sister Deborah - "Uncle Obama"

If you haven't seen this yet, it is simultaneously the best and worst thing you've ever seen.

As I understand it, it's from Ghana and has nothing at all to do with Barack Obama. And I'm quite sure it has little to do with bananas and monkeys either.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun control: When will someone say "Enough's enough"?

20 children and 7 adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the second worst school shooting ever in modern US history. Is it too soon to talk about gun control? Absolutely not.

"Guns don't kill people - people do."

Yes, with guns. And here are several statistics that make crystal clear the relationship between guns and high murder rates:

* The US has the world's highest rate of private gun ownership, around double that of the second highest, Yemen. It's gun control laws are the loosest in the developed world. Predictably, it also has the highest murder rate in the developed world.

* Compare Japan, a nation of 127 million people, to the USA's 311 million. In 2008, the USA had over 12,000 firearm related homicides; Japan had 11. The difference is that there is no widespread belief in a "right" to own a gun in Japan, and thus their ownership is extremely limited and restricted.

* If you are thinking that perhaps in other countries people still commit murder, only using things other than firearms, consider this. This week, China experienced its own school attack, when a man wounded 22 children and 1 adult with a knife. Wounded is the operative word here. Had he a gun, we would be looking at some quite different statistics.

Yet gun culture is so deeply embedded in the psyche of a huge swathe of the US population that it is likely that nothing substantive will happen any time soon.

An example: former Governor of Arkansas and a man who was almost a Republican presidential nominee, Mike Huckabee, said today that:

"...stricter gun laws would not have prevented the shooting that killed 20 children and seven adults.
'We ask why there's violence in our schools, but we've systematically removed God from our schools.'"

Huckabee might be interested to know that around 65% of Japanese people identify themselves as not believing in God. Whereas "atheist" is virtually a dirty word in the US.

Huckabee, it should be noted, is both staunchly "pro-life" and staunchly pro-gun ownership. If you can't see the flaw in that logic, you are likely to be an American right-winger; these are people who view the lives of fetuses to be paramount, yet think their country is safer with more and more guns, which are expressly designed to kill people who have actually been born.

Huckabee again:

"Ultimately, you can take away every gun in America and somebody will use a bomb," he said. "When somebody has an intent to do incredible damage, they’re going to find a way to do it." 

Sure. Except there is no amendment in the US constitution that stipulates a right to bear bombs. You can't buy a bomb over the counter at Walmart.

Why not? What's the difference? A bomb is just a tool, right, just like a gun or a car... bombs don't kill people, people do...

The underlying reason for the USA's out-of-control gun culture is of course the constitution, specifically the second amendment stating the right to bear arms. And for many Americans, particularly on the conservative side, their slavish belief in whatever the constitution says would put religious fundamentalists to shame. (The same people usually tend to be religious fundamentalists, coincidentally.)

But the men who drew up the US constitution were living in different time and place - a more rural, frontier society, with guns that did not have the same lethal potential as today's semi-automatics. I can't imagine they would still support the universal right to bear arms if they could understand the damage they are causing today.

Conservative- and libertarian-minded people continually beat the drum about the need to stop governments from telling the people what they can and can't do. And to a point, they are right. But if there's anything a government should be able to strictly regulate, it is the possession of a high-powered killing machine.

Barack Obama clearly knows that gun ownership is the root cause of the problem. But is he the right person to lead the charge to tighten gun laws? There is already a strong correlation between passion for the right to bear arms, and believing that Obama is a Satanic Muslim Socialist Manchurian Candidate who is intent on destroying America. He has not yet taken a single step in either of his terms to tighten gun ownership, yet the gun lobby are rapidly opposed to him. If he does take action, he will face a massive backlash from the far right, and probably an assassination attempt or two. Yet in his final term with no need to seek reelection, and with the Republican Party in relative disarray, he may in fact be the perfect person to take this decisive step.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rudimental - "Not Giving In"

It's been out a few weeks now, but the new single from East London quartet Rudimental keeps growing on me. And its video is also quite wonderful. The song itself does not quite have the game-changing quality of its predecessor Feel the Love, yet it still sounds unlike anything else on the radio since, well, forever. It again combines jungle, which I thought had died out about 10 years ago, with a Stax-era soul feel, built around John Newman's impassioned vocals.

I'm a bit of a cynic and so am not normally one for "uplifting" dance tracks with "inspirational" music videos, yet I still thought Feel the Love was the best song and video I've come across this year. The video for Not Giving In is even better. Beautifully shot in the slums of Manila, it is based on the story of a kid named Mouse who discovered breakdancing and later went on to become the 3-time world B-boy champion.

It's also a reminder of how what to some people may be meaningless pastimes - music, art, sport, dance and so on - can be invaluable in showing people an alternative path to the darker ones we are
so often tempted by.

Racist violence and social class in Australia (@ Peril Magazine)

My latest post for Peril Magazine questions whether racist abuse and aggression is strictly a lower-class phenomenon in this country.
It is common, and not illegitimate, to look at racist incidents as part of a broader spectrum of attitudes towards race and culture in Australia. So you could, for example, find commonalities between an aggressive incident on a bus, and our history of dispossessing Aboriginal people, and our previously discriminatory immigration policies, and the current consternation over asylum seekers. But by the same token, incidents of racist aggression can also be viewed as part of a broader spectrum of anti-social behaviour, be it drug-related crimes, drunken brawls, and other kinds of domestic or street violence. And while there will always be plenty of exceptions, these occurrences are far more likely to be perpetrated by people from a certain strata of society. The reasons primarily stem from living or growing up in an environment with lack of opportunities and role models for success.
Check the full post here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Who would have thought that having a vehicle like Twitter to communicate things as soon as you think of them would not result in universal awesomeness? Because if someone hits you, you are just as bad as they are.

Hip-hop samples of video games

Courtesy of SPIN magazine. Not quite the nerdgasm I'd hoped for - okay I confess, I'm mostly digging the Super Mario Brothers samples - but still pretty cool.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fox News analyses "Gangnam Style" as only Fox News can

Following their election loss, many US conservatives have been pondering why Asians so overwhelmingly voted Democratic. Now there are numerous reasons for this, but my take is that Republicans and their allies are frequently revealed as completely ignorant and
vaguely racist when talking about anyone who is not a white American.

Case in point - this week on Fox News (the station that is basically a mouthpiece for the Republican Party), Bill O'Reilly and guest, psychiatrist Dr Keith Ablow, attempted an analysis of why Gangnam Style has become such a huge cultural phenomenon. If you are wondering about Ablow's credentials as a cultural commentator, well, he once co-authored a book with Glenn Beck, which right off the bat indicates a fairly skewed relationship to the real world.

Whether or not you like Gangnam Style, I'm sure you'll agree that it seems an odd choice for Ablow to hold up as an example of everything that is wrong with popular culture. But that's what makes Fox News so interesting.
Watch this. The stupidity is amazing.

"The most popular music, apparently, is that without intelligible words..."

Yes, he actually said that. If it's not English, it clearly doesn't mean anything. Reinforced by O'Reilly saying there's no comparison between Psy and Elvis Presley because Elvis' song's "had words".

Now there are a large number of ways in which Presley's music is unlike Psy's, but I'm pretty sure that "having words" is not one of them.

What's even odder about this interview is that despite these two conservative commentators putting forth their esteemed opinion on the internet and popular culture, neither of them seem to have ever heard of Google. Because in the time it took for them to spew garbage about how Gangnam Style is a sign of the times because it "has no meaning", they could have jumped on to Google and found hundreds of articles analysing the satirical nature of Gangnam style. Here is but one: PSY's Gangnam Style is South Korean social commentary.

Even to the non-Korean who doesn't know about the satirical subtext to the song, the video is appealing because it is so different to every other video out there. Psy subverts the conventional notions of cool, of what a pop star is meant to look like, and toys with the stereotypes of conventional masculinity. While many of the odd sights in the video have a particular South Korean cultural context, to the outsider, they are simply weird and random, which lends the video the same quirky oddball quality that Westerners find so fascinating about Japanese commercials and game shows.

And it happens to be an extremely catchy song. As are many other songs, such as those by Elvis and Justin Bieber, some of the touchstones that O'Reilly and Ablow refer to. Yet the popularity of Justin Bieber's mega-hit Baby (the second most popular clip on Youtube) is not being used to illustrate why the world is going to hell in a handbasket and we are all vapid fools for listening to it. Even though, if you compare the meaning of Baby with that of Gangnam Style, it's pretty obvious which has greater depth. Yes, it's possible for a song to have meaning, even if it's in Korean. Shocking!

And really, if you cannot work out why more people might possibly like something offbeat, outrageously kinetic and postmodern like Gangnam Style than a saccharine teenybopper hit by Justin Bieber, then you really shouldn't be in the business of analysing popular music at all. And particularly when your analysis includes the phrase "This is a little fat guy from Yong Yang or someplace."

Monday, December 3, 2012

White babies, please. No Eurasians for me.

This has got a lot of buzz in my networks. From Slate's "Dear Prudence" column:
My wife, who is infertile, and I have recently decided to have children—we’d like eventually to have three—using an egg donor. (We decided against adoption because we would have no biological connection to our children.) We have just settled on this option but it has thrown open a whole new dilemma for me. I am white and my wife is East Asian. Her race isn't a problem for me and I would have had no difficulty raising mixed race children, but frankly, now that I have the choice, I’d prefer my kids to be white. We live in a fairly homogeneously white area and at the end of the day I want my kids to look like me, their cousins, and the kids they'll go to school with. I don't think my wife has ever experienced racism, but I think she might understand my point of view. Then I think I maybe I’m just convincing myself about this. I really could use a second opinion before I broach the subject with her.
—Want To Be a Dad
You can read Prudence's response to this dude at the link above.

Now, if the wife is fine with this, then whatever, although that raise issues of its own about her. There's a lot of stuff that people are free to do in this world, but in doing so it reveals them as being messed up in the head. You gotta question the guy's thought process about this. It's so important for his child to look like him - which it will - but he doesn't consider that his wife might want the child to look somewhat like her. With a white child, it will be obvious throughout her life that she is raising a kid that is not genetically hers. That may not be a big deal, but it's an additional layer of scrutiny from onlookers that she may find difficulty to deal with, especially as some women might feel inadequacies (or have them projected onto them) from not being able to conceive naturally.

It's possible that he is actually genuinely concerned about half-Asian kids being the brunt of racist treatment in an all-white area. But is racism against half-Asians really such a huge area in this day and age so as to make their very existence worth negating? I've experienced a bit of racism here and there as a half-Asian, and some minor identity crises, but all in all those problems are far outweighed by  the good things. Being half one thing and half another is pretty cool. Unless "Want To Be a Dad" is living in Klansville, Mississippi or something, his half-Asian kids shouldn't have too much to worry about. His line about "I don't think my wife has ever experienced racism" is also strange. Has he never spoken to her about it? For an Asian-American woman to never have experienced even a small amount of racism is unusual indeed.

It's almost like his wife's East Asian-ness is an inconvenient fact. Or it's something he can handle in small doses, but no more than that. Perhaps he can take comfort in knowing that a lot of half white, half East Asian kids pass for white quite easily, and raised in a predominantly white environment, will likely turn out fairly white in their mentality. But perhaps that's not enough. I wonder if it's a kind of narcissism at play. One of the things people love about their own kids is that each child partly looks like themselves, as well as being reminiscent of their partner. Perhaps this guy wants to go the whole hog and have the kids look like as much as him as possible, and now he has the opportunity.

But it's also a reflection of the reality of some interracial relationships: an unhealthy intersection of appreciation for the person and appreciation of the race that they belong to. Some fetishists are attracted to a partner because of their race, while some others are attracted to a partner in spite of their race. Neither is healthy. No person is merely the sum total of their racial composition, but neither is it a trivial detail that the letter-writer seems to hope it can be.