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Damo
I was expecting a lot from the drama, because it had universally rave reviews, and the plot seemed different and intriguing - a woman detective in the Chosun Dynasty who solves crime while dealing with the stigma of being both a woman and of low-status. Then I watched the first episode, and was alternately bored and amused (for all the wrong reasons). They used wire-action for the fight scenes, the kind of thing you'd see in wuxia movies and dramas where people walk up walls and trees and fly, rather than the more realistic (comparatively) martial arts style that I've gotten used to seeing in kdramas, and for me personally it didn't work. I kept on having flashbacks to the Prince of Tennis and the increasingly insane tennis moves that Ryoma used. I'm not sure why I had such a negative reaction, because the other times when I've seen this style it's worked for me, but here I found it obvious and boring. All the slow motion flying in space when they keep the same posture for seconds on end, predictable and uninspiring martial arts moves in between the special effects, and in one scene where they were playing a version of polo the heroine did these gravity-defying acrobatics that I just gaped at because, y'know, it's really not necessary to do multiple mid-air cartwheels in order to hit a ball across a goal - you could just hit it. They meant to portray the heroine as cool and kick-ass in that scene, and all I could think was that they were trying way too hard, and for that and other reasons, such as the fact that at times she could be very servile, I ended up disliking her. Also, the romance bits bored me. The silent pining for each other only works for me when (a) I'm already invested in both the characters and (b) it's very subtle, and I have to figure it out on my own. Here it wasn't subtle at all, and it came at a time when I wasn't at all invested in the characters - quite the opposite, in fact.

The Legend/Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi/Four Gods
cut for length; no major spoilers )

Jumong
An eighty-one episode historical kdrama. I'm only on episode eight, and am somewhat surprised by how much I'm liking this so far, considering that I don't care much for the romance that was featured in the first few episodes or Jumong, the lead. I think its because it feels like we're not supposed to like Jumong right now, and also there was enough political intrigue and martial arts to keep me entertained in between the romance, and I'm really curious about how well they're able to do the hero arc. The only major negative note I have right now - I hatehateHATE how passively accepting the ex-priestess is, and it looks like they're setting her up to be a major love interest. I weep.

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Of the four kdramas I've watched recently, three have had a "hero fakes his own death thus causing major trauma to his loved ones and when his loved ones find out (usually years later) they forgive him completely" storyline*, two have had a "hero experiences temporary amnesia" storyline, and all four have had a love triangle. I used to think that Bollywood could get cheesy and melodramatic; I now realize that I had no idea what those words meant.

more on Hong Gil Dong:
This drama really bugs me, because there were times when the writing and dialogue and action were so clever and fantastic and deep, which just made the negatives all the more glaring. One of the things I still can't get over is how stupid they made Yi Nok, for no reason other than to get some laughs out of the ridiculous predicaments she got herself in and had to be rescued from. I don't find the stupid infantile girl portrayal funny, in the same way I wouldn't find exaggerated portrayals of dirty savage indians funny. It's magnifying and presenting negative societal prejudices in ways that reinforces them, which I find annoying at the least and infuriating at the worst. I didn't find it infuriating in this drama, just annoying, because the rest of the females on the show were clever (sometimes). But the fact remains that Yi Nok was the heroine, the one with the most screentime, the one that the guys ended up falling for, the one that you were supposed to identify with and sympathize with the most. I feel like the message a girl watching this show goes away with is that brains count for nothing (which is a good thing because girls have fewer than guys!), that acting stupid and cheerful is the most failsafe method of being desired and loved. And that the creators of this drama were women just makes it all the more wtfish.

more on Time of Dog & Wolf:
I've realized that if Lee Junki hadn't starred in this drama, I wouldn't have liked it very much, and would probably have dropped it after the first few eps. No one else angsts as prettily as Lee Junki does (and that's including the Blue Spring dude), and if I hadn't had that to distract me I might've gone crazy from trying to reconcile all the plotholes and could never have forgiven the sheer amount of crazyness that all the cast engaged in. As it is, I still feel like I should make a manual on things that Korean secret agents (and those associated with them) should and shouldn't do. The little things like:
(a) if you're working undercover, you probably don't want to leave a disk that has information about your real identity lying around where anyone could find it.
(b) if you're a good guy tailing the bad guys, you probably don't want to confront them in their territory without any backup and then, instead of running away when you find you're outnumbered 40 to 1, start yelling at them.
(c) if someone that's always manipulated and lied to you tells you to do something, you probably shouldn't do it.
(d) if someone you care about seems like he might be working undercover, you probably shouldn't demand that he reveal his real identity to you where others could hear or chase him around or generally act in ways that are likely to get him killed.

I could go on and on. But, yes, I like to think that kdramas have made me a more tolerant and forgiving individual, because after watching them real people are starting to seem like emotional and intellectual geniuses.


* to make matters worse, it is often presented as the hero doing something noble and self-sacrificing, when in any reality that is not kdrama reality such a thing would be interpreted as dumb and unnecessary. then again, that is true of a lot of things that happen in kdrama reality, so.
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Finally, a kdrama I feel like pimping! A thorough review of Time of Dog & Wolf can be found in this soompi thread, but here's the basic non-spoilery storyline: When he's young, Suhyeon's mother is killed in front of his eyes by Cheongbang, a Thai criminal syndicate. Suhyeon gets adopted into an NIS agent's family (from what I can gather from watching this series NIS is Korea's FBI/CIA equivalent) and grows up to be an NIS agent, and in a quest for revenge infiltrates the Cheongbang.

I didn't expect to enjoy this drama this much. The first episode I thought was slow, and later on there was a love triangle between Suhyeon and his adopted brother and Suhyeon's childhood friend (who turns out to be the daughter of the leader of Cheongbang, the guy who killed Suhyeon's mother, instant contrived angst right there) that I found boring (though, to be honest, that's true of 98% of the romance stories I come across). But, ohman, Suhyeon was just so awesomely dysfunctional and messed up, and a third of the way through there's a plot twist that should fall flat on its face but that ends up working beautifully. I'm on ep13 right now and I can't wait to see what happens next. The tension! The intrigue! The spies and double-spies and double-crossings!

slight spoilers )

Also, it doesn't hurt that Suhyeon is played by Lee Junki, the pretty boy in the King and the Clown, who imo looks even better in this series.

example:Read more... )
I almost feel like making an "isn't lee junki awesome *_*" tag for this journal now.

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Why Bother?
A NYTimes essay by Michael Pollan that asks why, amidst so much conflicting information, we should bother changing our habits to become more enivornmentally-friendly, especially when the problem is so large and individual changes make a marginal at best difference. I really liked his argument on why those changes are worth making, but like I said on the pollaneque comm, I hated the way it was framed, setting up the socially-responsible US citizen against his evil Chinese twin counterpart who's busy buying fuel-inefficient cars, when the evil Chinese twin leaves half the carbon footprint that the average US citizen does. Way to deny national guilt right there.

how we're wrecking our feet with every step we take
A NY Magazine article on why shoes are bad for our feet that I found eye-opening.

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I've been watching a lot of kdramas recently, and have mixed feelings about them. I like them more than jdramas because they seem more professional, from the picture quality to the writing to the acting, and for the most part the characterization doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. But at the same time, the pacing and quality of kdramas is very uneven. I really liked both Hong Gil Dong and The Legend in the beginning, but in the second half, each episode they progressively got worse, and with The Legend, by the end even the characters I'd adored left me indifferent, and the storylines I'd found interesting had somehow turned so dull.

I'm currently watching Time of Dog & Wolf, which aside from the romance story I'm finding very interesting (and it totally doesn't hurt that the guy in the king & the clown is the lead - so much eye-candy XD). I can't really rec it, though, because I'm only up to episode seven, and who knows if it will degenerate the same way as the others have done.

Anyway, review.

Hong Gil Dong's somewhat of a Robin Hood tale (though, as [livejournal.com profile] tarigwaemir pointed out in the comments, isn't an adaptation of the story but is based on a Korean novel) set in an ancient korean period that reminds me of France before the revolution, where the nobles lived in luxury on the back of the peasants. Hong Gil Dong's the illegitimate son of a noble, but because of inheritance laws is regarded as little better than a slave. For most of the first episode he goes around wrecking havoc and generally acting as a frat boy on kung-fu steroids; then various stuff happens, such as him getting framed for robbery then murder then treason, and he undergoes a Joseph Campbell-type transformation and becomes a hero.

The thing that makes this drama great is how compelling and believable and non-cliche HGD's transformation is, how seamlessly the drama goes from moments of complete hilarity to heartbreak, and how clever the dialogue and writing is. The characterization, with one exception, is completely awesome. Aside from HGD there is also the prince trying to lead a revolution against his insane brother, and the story is as much about him becoming a king as about HGD becoming a hero, and the way these two interacted, how they prodded and pushed and challenged each other, was amazing. One of my favorite moments in the series is their first swordfight (you can find a screencap of it, as well as the prince, in this post) which is probably the best fight scene I've seen ever.

I said that the characterization, with one exception, was awesome. The exception was the female lead, Yi Nok. I liked her in the first couple of episodes, where with her grandfather she was trying to trick the townspeople into buying bogus medicine. But after that she become so extremely stupid, and I'm talking stupid in a 'think of all the blonde jokes you've ever heard and multiply them by a hundred' way. This is totally not an exaggeration, btw. As just one example, a scene where Yi Nok's rescuer is trying to keep his identity secret:

slight spoiler )

...and that is not even the worst of it. I keyboard mash. A lot.

But, on the whole, in the beginning, I loved this drama, and was ready to rec it with glowy-eyed praise, until I stumbled over later developments, which made me hate it. major, MAJOR spoilers ahead )
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The 7 Wonders Of The Food Coloring World
Lists the most common food colorings and where they come from (in most of the cases, coal tar).

pharmaceuticals found in drinking water
As frightening as this is, I think the most dangerous thing we have in the tap water system is fluoride, which wrecks havoc on the thyroid gland.

guide to choosing water-filtration units
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There are tons of things I keep meaning to post about but never getting around to, which I think is the common state of lj-land. But! Just came across three short (and I mean short - less than two minutes each) prequel videos for The Wire on the Amazon site here, and had to link, because, little!Omar and little!Prop Joe were so cute. I adore these characters so much!
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Lunch With a Food Revolutionary
I would love to have her cook for me, because everything sounds so delicious. Also agree with the philosophy she espouses, that whenever you can you should buy local & organic. I'm somewhat of a fundamentalist when it comes to this, actually, and becoming more so as time goes on.

[livejournal.com profile] pollanesque
An lj comm devoted to Michael Pollan, who I mentioned in this post. I particularly liked this post & discussion on buying organic.

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Unhappy Meals

A (quite long) NYT article on food & nutrition & American culture (and why it sucks when it comes to this stuff). My favorite part came about 2/3rds of the way down, when the author characterized eating as a relationship among species in the food chain. I'd never quite thought of it that way before, but it makes sense.

Excerpt:

“Health” is, among other things, the byproduct of being involved in these sorts of relationships in a food chain — involved in a great many of them, in the case of an omnivorous creature like us. Further, when the health of one link of the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all the creatures in it. When the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk. Or, as the English agronomist Sir Albert Howard put it in 1945 in “The Soil and Health” (a founding text of organic agriculture), we would do well to regard “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.” Our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.

In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communications up and down the food chain, so that a creature’s senses come to recognize foods as suitable by taste and smell and color, and our bodies learn what to do with these foods after they pass the test of the senses, producing in anticipation the chemicals necessary to break them down. Health depends on knowing how to read these biological signals: this smells spoiled; this looks ripe; that’s one good-looking cow. This is easier to do when a creature has long experience of a food, and much harder when a food has been designed expressly to deceive its senses — with artificial flavors, say, or synthetic sweeteners.

Note that these ecological relationships are between eaters and whole foods, not nutrients. Even though the foods in question eventually get broken down in our bodies into simple nutrients, as corn is reduced to simple sugars, the qualities of the whole food are not unimportant — they govern such things as the speed at which the sugars will be released and absorbed, which we’re coming to see as critical to insulin metabolism. Put another way, our bodies have a longstanding and sustainable relationship to corn that we do not have to high-fructose corn syrup. Such a relationship with corn syrup might develop someday (as people evolve superhuman insulin systems to cope with regular floods of fructose and glucose), but for now the relationship leads to ill health because our bodies don’t know how to handle these biological novelties. In much the same way, human bodies that can cope with chewing coca leaves — a longstanding relationship between native people and the coca plant in South America — cannot cope with cocaine or crack, even though the same “active ingredients” are present in all three. Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice can lead to problems.
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Just finished listening to the Jodhaa Akbar soundtrack by AR Rahman, which was such a letdown. I was expecting it to be brilliant, especially after reviews like this, but it turned out to be one of the most boring and derivative things I've ever heard, and I'm left scratching my head wondering if those people are living in the same world that I am, to write such glowing reviews. I've been a fan of AR Rahman in the past, even pimped him on this journal, but honestly, the best work he did was eight years ago - Roja and Dil Se and Taal, which were some of the most innovative soundtracks and changed the course of the industry - and I feel like ever since, with a few exceptions, he's been either flatlining or going downhill (though because he was so brilliant it's taking him longer to hit bottom than most). And now I'm almost disgusted by this, how ordinary the soundtrack was, how much it recycled themes he's used a thousand times already, how people are praising him.

I wish that they'd given this soundtrack to Shantanu Moitra, who did such awesome awesome work in Eklavya (does this song not give you the goosebumps? IF IT DOESN'T DON'T TELL ME), who always comes up with something innovative and good, or even Mithoon, because even though his recent soundtracks have left me less than impressed, they were for modern and not period films. He's only ever done a period film once, when he created two songs for Anwar, and they were two of the most brilliantly produced songs I've ever heard.

I really hate it when someone I used to consider brilliant falls like this. There are few enough people I admire in the world already. :/ (And after listening to the Akhbar soundtrack I had to listen to Eklavya & Anwar again, just to reassure myself that there was still a reason to live. I might or might not be taking this too personally.)

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I've been meaning to make a music post for some time, but somehow never seemed to get around to it. But I was at a party recently and loved some of the stuff that was playing, and I had to share a few of the tracks, because they're amazing.

Mika - Nach Le Soniye (Remix)
From a Sanjay Gupta movie. The production isn't terribly new, but effective nonetheless. Also, ahaha, it's one of those songs that makes me feel too cool to smile. :b

Rehka Bardwaj - Phoonk De (Club Mix)
I really like the production of this song, and the girl's voice is almost unbelievably perfect. There's this tense atmosphere, a layering of tracks that are raw & heavy on tracks that are ethereal. It's somewhat like a skittering on your nerves.

SEL - Move Your Body
The most danceable and unexpected of the three. It's so fun - I love it beyond words.


Also, songs that I've been meaning to pimp -

Tulsi Kumar - Akele Tanha
Laid back and mellow, with this almost teasing melody.

Shaan - Bheega Aasman
More dramatic than the previous track, though also a bit more derivative, but imo it still has enough variation in the production to keep it interesting. For some reason I really like this song, especially when Shaan sings "han mohobhaat main dil/ gane laaga...".

Karsh Kale - Saajana
I love how seamlessly this shifts from a traditional beat & production to a club/techno one, the synth-popish track that's added in the middle, and how the repetition of the lyrics and the singer's voice tie it all together. My favorite part is about two minutes in, when it starts shifting - no matter how much I listen to this song that part still makes me catch my breath.

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I've been absently following the debates over the new farm bill. An article I found interesting:

in the fight over farm aid, this is the front line

"Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from the big-farming territory of western Minnesota, is pushing a farm bill that continues big crop subsidies, while Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from western Wisconsin, is leading a revolt to focus the farm bill more on topics like clean water, nutrition and global trade.

"A lot of my colleagues in Congress are connecting the dots' between corn subsidies, obesity, and the use of cheap sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, Kind said. 'Is it any wonder we have a Type 2 diabetes epidemic in this country?'

"Thus far, Kind's reformers have only slightly budged the farm lobby. The Agriculture Committee reluctantly voted to cap subsidies - but only to farmers earning $1 million a year ($2 million for married couples). It extended a welcome mat to organic farmers. And it promised to be fairer to vegetable and fruit growers."

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he only saved a billion people

An article that uses Borlaug's (the man behind the green revolution) relative anonymity to argue about how shallow our culture has become. It's - hm. I don't disagree with its main point - our culture is shallow - but dude, Borlaug (and by extension the methods he champions) has also done a lot of harm, and portraying him in such an unqualified positive light is a bit disingenious.

Parts like:

Borlaug scoffs at the mania for organic food, which he proves with calm logic is unsuited to fight global hunger.

um, what? Where is the so-called calm logic? I need more than a claim that cow dung is an inefficient source of nitrogen, especially when weighed against studies like these which prove that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as the methods championed by Borlaug and the big agribusinesses.


There's "no evidence the food is any different than that produced by chemical fertilizer."

Some of the major drawbacks of using chemical fertilizers. There are tons of links about this on the internet.

Even if the above wasn't true, eating organic isn't just about avoiding foods that have been grown using chemical fertilizers, it's also about avoiding foods that have been genetically modified and use pesticides. How is addressing only one of these issues a refutation against the practice?

Another point to note - there has been controversy over the claim that this entire article is based on, that the Green Revolution saved the lives of a billion people. According to the wikipedia article:

Increasing food production however is not synonymous with increasing food security, and is only part of a larger equation. For example, Amartya Sen’s work has found that large historic famines have not been caused by decreases in food supply, but by socioeconomic dynamics and a failure of public action. [21] There are several claims about how the Green Revolution may have decreased food security for some people. One such claim involves the shift of subsistence-oriented cropland to cropland oriented towards production of grain for export and/or animal feed. For example, the Green Revolution replaced much of the land used for pulses that fed Indian peasants for wheat, which did not make up a large portion of the peasant diet.[22] Also, the pesticides involved in rice production eliminated fish and weedy green vegetables from the diets of Asian rice farmers.

Add to this what I talked about before, that organic farming yields several times more than conventional farming in third-world countries. Also, there is the question of whether the increased food production from conventional farming practices is sustainable, for the use of chemical fertilizers in the long run depletes chemicals from the soil, the use of pesticides in the long run creates weeds and insects that are pesticide-resistant, and the mass farming of only a few crops leaves the population as a whole more vulnerable to famine. And we're not even getting to the issue of the severe health effects of being exposed to pesticides, the hundreds of thousands of people that have died as a result of accidents in plants that create such things, that the safety of genetically modified foods are based on a theory that has been scientifically proven as false, etcetc.

That the author of this article did not bother to do any research, and just took Borlaug's word on this and other issues, is something I find very sloppy, turning what could have been an interesting, informed article into a misleading PR piece.

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I wish that proponents of the Iraqi war, and those who believe that we should stay there, would bother sometimes to find out what the Iraqis think - they ignore that question as if it doesn't matter that the majority of Iraqis want the puppet government to fall and the US troops out.

Riverbend
My favorite Iraqi blog, although it's been some time since it was updated. Here's what she has to say on the issue:

And yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate both for Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq, and for Americans inside Iraq, Americans in America are still debating on the state of the war and occupation- are they winning or losing? Is it better or worse.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.


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site links:

organic consumers association
This site links to a lot of interesting news articles.

local harvest
If you live in the US, this is a great site to find farms & farmer's markets near your area.

sustainable agriculture listserv
Still checking this out.

articles:

china not only worry on imported food
About the dangers of a centralized & international food supply. Only 1% of the food imported here is inspected by the FDA, and in the past they've found things like Mexican cantaloupe irrigated with water from sewage-tainted rivers & candy laced with lead.

bylaws to curtail pesticide use in Canada
This was rather scary. Apparently pesticides can lead to severe cases of rash, cancer, such horrific cases of diarrhea that you lose control of your sphincter muscles.

gene theory flawed
A New York times article that describes how genetically engineered foods can be much more dangerous than previously assumed. The biotech industry is based on the idea that the human genome is a collection of independent genes with each sequence linked to a single function. However, research shows that genes operate in a complex network, so the gene that makes tomatoes redder could also presumably produce intestine-eating toxins, and scientists probably wouldn't know until enough intestines have been eaten that the link is clear.

Welcome to Richistan, USA
There is something very wrong with our country if someone like Warren Buffet pays 17% tax and his secretary pays 30%.

how high fructose corn syrup damages your body
"I am HIGHLY confident that the health improvement [from giving up soft drinks] would be FAR more profound than if everyone stopped smoking because elevated insulin levels are the foundation of nearly every chronic disease known to man, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, aging, arthritis, osteoporosis, you name it, and you will find elevated insulin levels as a primary factor."

the obesity epidemic
An interview with Dr Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, on how food manufacturers by adding fructose to our foods, are making the obesity epidemic worse. One fact I found surprising: "In fact fructose, because of the way it's metabolised, is actually damaging your liver the same way alcohol is. In fact it's the exact same pathway, in fact fructose is alcohol without the buzz."

reasons to buy organic
Some reasons that I'd never thought of or known of. An example - "Done properly, organic farming builds up healthy soil through moisture retention, composting, crop diversity and fostering of beneficial organisms. It takes soil so long to form that most scientists essentially consider it a nonrenewable resource, and enormous amounts are lost through erosion, chemical inundation and overly intensive commercial agriculture. Check out a satellite image of the gigantic plume of brown at the mouth of the Mississippi River to get a visual sense of what the next generations are losing to poor management."

FDA moves to stop requiring labels on irradiated foods
This was so depressing. Another example of how the government is so completely controlled by the big agribusiness companies.

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watna ve

This song is from the movie Pinjar, which was released a few years ago. There's nothing new in the arrangement, or the instruments used, or the production, or the song structure itself; they've been making songs like this in Bollywood for decades. But it's rare that I hear one so beautifully and skillfully done, with such amazing lyrics and melodies and singing, and it makes me think that the reason they've been making songs like this for so long is because when done properly, they can be utterly heartbreaking.

The singer's voice is low and smooth, soft and resonant, and the lyrics are beautiful in a very simple and poetic way, some of the saddest I've heard. There was this one line in particular - murkhe hum na dekhain ge/ aur tu bhi yaad ana aa na - I won't turn back to look/ don't come in my memories - that caught my heart.

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As far as I can determine, conservatism has two main supporters - religious conservatives and those that are against so-called big government (I say so-called because government spending has grown considerably during the Bush administration, and yet as far as I can tell these conservatives still support the administration and the party). What’s not readily apparent at first glance, however, is that the trade-off being supported is of the private versus the public sector, of corporations making their own rules and the governments accomodating them.

Conservatives say that governments are too inefficient and wasteful, and point to corporations as models of efficiency. I agree with them on the problem - our government, today, is inefficient and wasteful - but disagree with how to fix it. Governments are only as good as the people they govern, and together we can fire corrupt and morally bankrupt politicians simply by refusing to re-elect them. I think that the citizens of this country should be made more aware so that they can elect good representatives. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to prefer getting rid of the government altogether, or squeezing it into as small a shape as possible. But, as I said before, I don’t think the trade-off here is of government control versus freedom, but rather of the rule of the majority, which is what governments are supposed to represent (I say supposed to because the recent administration so obviously doesn’t, always putting corporate interests above those of the public) versus the rule of the rich, which is the class that rules corporations.

When the Bush administration cuts taxes that corporations have to pay and supports those tax cuts with cuts in public sector programs such as those that support health care and education, it promotes the growth of corporations at the expense of the public sector, a move that bears all the hallmarks of Reaganomics. And it’s surprising to me that people still think of Reagonomics as a viable economic theory, when any rational look at the data, and just plain common sense, would indicate that wealth does not trickle down but tends to accumulate at the top. Money is spent by the poor; by the rich it is horded.

There’s the sense - mainly among conservatives but also, I think, among some ordinary Americans - that corporations are what’s responsible for the progress that our country has made. But this ignores the fact that corporations are a relatively new phenomenon (they arose after the Civil War, and they made up a relatively small part of the economy until after WWII) and also that today, what corporations are about isn’t making things as much as branding things. This is why labels are so ubiquitous, why advertising contracts run to millions of dollars. The major retail corporations don’t even make their own clothes, outsourcing that to contractors who hire the poorest in third-world countries to work in often-abominable conditions. Increasingly, what corporations are about is selling an image, an idea, that often runs contrary to reality. For the most part, they are becoming nothing more than glorified PR machines. Also, at times it would seem that they would do everything they can to halt progress. Witness the lobbying that automobile companies do, as just one example. Almost everyone agrees that in the future we will need to drive more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly cars. Yet the automotive industry of this country has done very little to make these cars, despite the demand for them as witnessed by the popularity of Japanese hybrids (and once when they did make an electric car they wasted no time pulling the plug, and oil companies bought the patents for electric batteries so they could never be used again), and has instead done all it could to make sure that it will never have to change its practices to be more environmentally friendly. Corporations do not seem to stand for progress but against it, to stand instead for maintaining the status quo.

I can’t count the number of plugs I’ve heard for corporations by the news anchors on channels such as CNBC and CNN (for obvious reasons, I tend to avoid Fox). They claim that pro-corporation policies are essential because they promote economic growth. (It used to be promote employment growth, but they obviously can’t use that slogan anymore after all the layoffs.) And I don’t see the evidence for this. The stock market is rising, but so is the cost of living, so is the price of gas and food, rent, college educations, all the while our currency is falling against that of every other country’s. There is such a huge disconnect between what I hear and what I see, and increasingly I’ve come to think that what’s good for corporations is terrible for the country, for the poor and middle class that live here, that the rising profits are coming at their expense - they are the ones that were laid off, that are being made to work longer hours for less pay. There are now 37 million people living below the poverty line, 5 million more than when Bush came into power, and they have fewer chances of getting themselves out of poverty than in years before, with declining standards of health care and education. And there are also the increasingly lax environmental regulations - properly regulating our food and air and water so that public health is not harmed might hurt a corporation’s profits, and so the Bush administration doesn’t.

As to corporations being models of efficiency, I think a better characterization for them would be that of externalizing machines. Externalities are whenever two parties carry out a transaction and a third uninvolved party has to bear some of its cost. The taxpayers are this third uninvolved party - we’re the ones that pay for the troops to secure Iraq’s oil fields, we’re the ones that bear the costs of pollution. And we have so little say in a corporation’s practices. We can’t fire the retail company CEOs that use sweatshop labor, or the oil company CEOs that are responsible for environmentally destructive practices, or that prop up repressive governments, as in the case of the Shell company (eight environmentalists that protested the activities of the Shell Company in Nigeria were hanged).

Instead of being held accountable and punished for these actions, CEOs that do these things are instead rewarded, with increasingly ludicruous pay packages granted by the boards of directors. It is not the ordinary shareholder that is benefitting from increased corporate profits as much as it is the people already in power - they would prefer to keep the money to themselves, thank you very much. Also, there was an article I read recently that said that CEO pay can be correlated to the number of layoffs performed - the more layoffs the higher the pay. So how is it, exactly, that what’s good for corporations is good for this country as a whole?

Corporations aren’t moral and cannot be held easily accountable for the public good, and it’s surprising to me how much people don’t get this. They exist for one reason, to maximize profits, and they will do this at the expense of anything. In the corporate mindset everything comes down to a cost/benefit analysis in which even things like a person’s health and life have a price, and that is the main reason why I find using corporations as the ideal governing model so laughably absurd, and why I disagree with conservatives who point to corporations as everything that’s right in our society.

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I'm in the middle of reading The Lucifer Effect, which details the Stanford Prison Experiment carried out in the 70s, where volunteers were randomly assigned to serve as either prisoners or guards. ("The question there was," he says, "what happens when you put good people in an evil place? We put good, ordinary college students in a very realistic, prison-like setting in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford. We dehumanized the prisoners, gave them numbers, and took away their identity. We also deindividuated the guards... translated the anonymity of Lord of the Flies into a setting where we could observe exactly what happened from moment to moment.")

The experiment was planned and executed by Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist in Stanford University. He wanted to prove that good & evil were situational rather than intrinsic attributes, that under the right external conditions everyone was capable of both the most compassionate & most brutal acts. (I began to investigate what specific kinds of situational variables or processes could make someone step across that line between good and evil. We all like to think that the line is impermeable—that people who do terrible things like commit murder, treason, or kidnapping are on the other side of the line—and we could never get over there. We want to believe that we're with the good people. My work began by saying, no, that line is permeable. The reason some people are on the good side of the line is that they've never really been tested. They've never really been put in unusual circumstances where they were tempted or seduced across that line.)

Reading the book, what I was most horrified by weren't the things the guards did to the prisoners, but that the experiment was allowed to go on as long as it did, that Zimbardo knew everything that was going on as it was going on, and yet for five days he did nothing to stop the escalating cycle of degradation the prisoners were subjected to, and probably wouldn't have stopped it when he did if his girlfriend hadn't visited and been completely appalled by what she saw.

As he said himself: "There are stunning parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and what happened at Abu Ghraib, where some of the visual scenes that we have seen include guards stripping prisoners naked, putting bags over heads, putting them in chains, and having them engage in sexually degrading acts." These things and more also happened in the Stanford Prison Experiments, and he not only created the conditions that allowed them to happen but was right there when they were happening. He was the ultimate authority there, he was the one who set the rules, and not only that, but he had studied situations like this, knew more than anyone else the psychology of it, and yet he was more concerned with science than the human beings that were abused right in front of him, more concerned with proving his theories than the degrading, dehumanizing acts that were being carried out that allowed him to do so, and it's just. Why wasn't he punished? Why hasn't he faced any consequences for this, any lawsuits, being disbarred from the American Psychological Association, anything? Instead he seems to have benefitted, becoming president of the APA, one of the most well-known and respected researchers in the field.

It does not surprise me that the guards did what they did, because even before reading the book I agreed with the thesis. But it shocks me that, as their teacher, as the one person who should have known better, Zimbardo not only allowed but also implicitly approved of all the actions of the prison guards. And now he is speaking out against the current administration about what happened in Abu Ghraib, saying that it is more their fault for creating an environment that allowed the abuses to occur, for implicitly condoning those abuses, that they should be on trial and face the consequences of what they did. And I agree with this analysis, but. What about him? What consequences has he ever faced? And he was right there, instead of thousands of miles away, and morever, as a psychologist and someone who had studied this he should have known better.

That's the one thing that I can't let go. It wasn't an esoteric moral debate, the question of good and evil, right and wrong. It was something that he'd spent his life studying, and he still completely failed the test, and instead of being punished was rewarded for his failure and is now going around lecturing others about what they should or shouldn't have done, which strikes me as despicably hypocritical.

And, even today, Zimbardo defends his experiment, the lengths he let it go to, by saying the benefits gained about our understanding of human behaviour and how we can improve society should out balance the distress caused by the study. So, it's not just okay to cause the harm and degradation to another person, but it's actual a noble, worthwhile endeavor that will benefit all of society. Which brings up the question, why stop the experiments at all? He should've let them continue for weeks, months, so we could fully explore all the depths that humans can sink to. It's okay as long as it's for the greater good of society, right?

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poli sci links pages:

http://www.rvc.cc.il.us/faclink/pruckman/PSLinks.htm
http://www.polsci.wvu.edu/polycy
http://www.etown.edu/vl/
http://www.emory.edu/SOC/globalization/

Taking Sides: Clashing Views in World Politics

I got this book because I wanted to learn more about public policy, and this was one of the books the library had on the subject. I wouldn't recommend it, though. I liked the introduction, but not the essays, which seemed rather insubstantial. (Though some did have great quotes, like the following from Mahatma Gandhi on cultural diversity: "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.")

Below are my notes on the book.

Read more... )
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Starting out with The Daily Show footage:

NSA Scandal
On the NSA assembling a database on ALL domestic calls.

Annual GOP BBQ and Nude Cub Scout Wrestle
The Mark Foley scandal. (And also this, and this, and this.)

Inconvenient Politically Timed Scandals
On the Republican response to the numerous scandals coming out.

Bush takes questions from an unscripted audience
*SHOCKU*

Now, to get more serious, news on Iraq:

650,000 Iraqi civilian war deaths? Bush doesn't buy it.
If Bush doesn't buy it, it can't be true. Right?

President Bush divorced from reality in Iraq
A view from a reporter who's on the ground.

the study referred to above
Where the 600,000 Iraqi dead number came from.

While all eyes are on Foley, Iraq is rapidly deteriorating.
I got chills watching this. The situation there is so horrible, and the people in power are either completely blind or just don't care, as long as they can supress or spin the facts so it doesn't hurt come election time.

state dept poll: 60% of iraqis favor attacks on US forces
61% of Iraqis approve of attacks on US forces. 78% said US military presence is not a stabalizing force.

And, another piece of news that got shoved aside for Mark Foley:

on the military commissions act, which does away with the habeas corpus and the geneva conventions
"We face a government more dangerous to our liberty than is the enemy it claims to protect us from."


A couple of users whose videos I found worth checking out:

thesilentpatriot
harvesteroftruth

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