Sunday, December 11, 2011

Like, Shoot Me

Working for a grad school test prep company I had to talk to a lot of law school hopefuls over the phone. While the occasional student I spoke with really impressed me with their phone rapport, it was far more common for me to have to argue and negotiate with students who used the ubiquitous "like" to fill the gaps and pauses in their sentences. Every time I spoke to these darling students I couldn't help thinking, "And you want to be a lawyer?" Imagine the court room scenario, your key witness just got thrown out and you plead with the judge, "Like that's not fair, he's only like the most important person we have to like support our like case." Who do you think is going to win that case?

I remember in my undergrad I took this class, "A World of Heroes". It was a literature class about all sorts of stuff boys like - Arabian Knights, Don Quixote, and Sir Lancelot. One day our professor asked for a synopsis of the assigned reading and this student in my class volunteered. Mid-sentence the professor cuts him off and says, "Stop. Ok, now start over without using the word like." The student got so flustered he turned bright red then stopped talking altogether. His inability to cut the word 'like' out of his vocabulary paralyzed him to a big ball of 'like' goo.

Living in Florence now I hear American students out my window, in the streets, and in panino shops filling the air with their trilly likes. Christopher Hitchens did a great article for Vanity Fair on the word like that sums up the cultural phenomenon and usage of the word. In it he says, "But I realize that it [like] can’t be expelled altogether. It can, however, be pruned and rationed, and made the object of mockery for those who have surrendered to it altogether." Maybe playground ridicule isn't the way to go, but a simple wake-up call to those with such a handicap may necessary. For their own sake.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Religion and Politics: Like and oil and water?

While public clerics are held in high regard by their own following, they are undoubtedly respected and influential beyond their immediate sphere of influence. The Dalai Lama, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Mahatma Gandhi are just a few examples of prominent spiritual leaders in their own rights. Each spiritual leader champions their religious belief, as well as social and political causes. In Stephen Mack's article Wicked Paradox: The Cleric as Public Intellectual, he states, "If there’s any truth to the old adage that religion and (liberal, democratic) politics don’t mix, it isn’t because they are polar opposites—an ideological oil reacting against a metaphysical water. Rather, it’s because they are, more or less, alienated kindred vying for the same space in the human imagination." While politics and religion may be competing for some sacred space in the human imagination, there is proof that religious clerics effectively use their high profile positions in order to influence international politics. The aforementioned religious clerics, and countless others, have publicly stated their views on international affairs in Tibet, Iran, and South Africa respectively. While these religious leaders are not foreign ministers or diplomats, their religious clout allots them time of the world stage. One of the most important religious clerics in today’s society is the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. From stem-cell research to condom distribution on the African continent, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have most recently set the Vatican’s foreign agenda. Thus, in addition to being a moral and spiritual leader, the Pope's ability to transcend geographical area in order to represent a broader constituency, allows him to act as a traditional player would in the field of international relations.

The Vatican is its own nation-state. It only takes up 106 acres and is the smallest recognized state in the world. The Pope’s role, in addition to spiritual leader, is Head of State for Vatican City, and it’s government, the Holy See. While the Vatican may seem small compared to other nations, it holds diplomatic ties with an impressive 177 countries. The Vatican’s reach goes beyond its own walls due to the establishment of Catholic churches throughout the world. Of late, much discussion has been devoted to rising secularism in Europe and its effects on the Vatican’s influence on the day to day lives of Catholics. However, considering an overwhelming majority of the southern hemisphere is Catholic, and even 22% of the U.S. population is Roman Catholic, the Church does not risk fading out of the spotlight anytime soon.

Using the Catholic religion’s broad and deep influence, individual Popes have been able to pursue direct foreign policy routes. For example, Pope John Paul II was an avid supporter in the fall of communism. He aligned himself, and the Vatican, with U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. It was during the period that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were in office that the Berlin Wall came down. This condemnation of communism did have further ramifications on Vatican relations with other states. Most specifically in China, where missionaries were trying to establish a large Catholic following, the local government did not want close ties with a Pope that was looking to take the proverbial rug out from under them. In fact, it was only until Pope Benedict XVI ascended to power that Chinese relations with the Vatican have improved.

While the Vatican was aligned with U.S. foreign policy in the late twentieth centuries, it has since diverged from the world’s major superpower. In 2003 Pope John Paul II vehemently opposed the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. One of Pope Benedict’s stops on his first U.S. tour was the U.N. General assembly in New York. It was there that he was predicted to denounce the American led occupation of Iraq. Over the years, the Vatican has displayed behaviours consistent with that of any nation-state. The Vatican’s activity on the world stage is consistent with the mantra that foreign policy objectives change with the changing of leaders and international environments.

Pope John Paul II did not only take an ideological foreign policy stand, but involved himself in religious conflicts as well. Due to his upbringing in World War II Poland, Pope John Paul II had an extreme interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was the first pro-Isreali Pope in history, and while his stand on the conflict may have isolated some, it demonstrated the role that public clerics can assume with regards to religious conflict. Currently there are eighteen inter-domination conflicts around the globe, and public clerics are often criticized for being too inactive, and tacit in preventing or stopping violent action. In the end, Pope John Paul II’s support of Israel was not as important as his outreach to help other faiths resolve their disputes was.

Lastly, while public clerics may become involved in religious disputes in order to take on the role of mediator, clerics have the added responsibility of representing their own faith. The Pope’s uniquely authoritative voice is heard far and wide, and if what the Pope is saying is taken poorly, that reflects on the entire following. For example, in 2006 Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in which he stated, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Riots outbroke in Muslim countries to oppose the Pope’s offensive words. This incident highlights the fact that religious clerics must be aware of different variables than a traditional public intellectual might. Their influence is not based purely on academia or thoughts, faith plays a heavy role. Therefore, any statements made about their own faith, or the faith of another religion, is taken with the utmost sensitivity.

Public clerics are important public intellectuals in today’s society. As seen in the Vatican and the recent Papacy, public clerics are almost celebrities on the international stage. They can take firm positions on political subjects, and attempt interfaith dialogues in order to resolve religious conflicts. Their responsibility to their own constituency, in the Vatican’s case a vast one, and to other religion’s, makes the Pope’s role as public cleric one that continually walks a fine line between proactivity and religious preservation.

Monday, April 21, 2008

White Noise

Last fall I was convinced that entering the Peace Corps was going to be my next bold move. While those hopes have been derailed for the meantime, I can't help but think of what influenced me to pursue them. Like most, I was seduced by the idea of moving to a distant land and roughing it for a few years. What may seem strange to some, is that an incentive for me was to leave behind the rat race and all of the technology that comes with it. I was looking forward to canceling my phone plan, and putting my out of date laptop out of commission. While technology and communications make the world run at warp speed, I'd much rather control my own pace of life than have a little screen set the tempo.

It seems absurd to me that if you can't answer an email within a matter of minutes, nonetheless hours, that those trying to get in contact with you nearly have a breakdown. Yes, I went grocery shopping. I left my phone at home. You can wait a few hours before I answer what time we can grab lunch tomorrow. With this rapid communication comes short attention spans, and ungodly expectations. Where is society coming to when I feel guilty for not answering a phone call at 11 p.m.? Everyone just needs to calm down and turn off their cellphone, PDA, laptop, whatever your drug of choice is, and breathe.

Speaking of drug of choice, these blackberrys have gotten out of hand. No where have I seen this epidemic spread more than on Capital Hill. They are the adult version of gameboys. People walk around like mindless zombies staring at a screen and pushing buttons. I was horrified during a briefing on the Hill when a Congressional staff member overtook the speaker with the constant clicking of their blackberry's scroll bar. How important is finding out that the meatpacker's of America are inviting your Congressperson to a barbeque in front of the Capital? Put it away, take it off of super vibrate mode, or leave the room if you must.

I am a self-proclaimed luddite. I don't know a damned thing about new technology. I barely graduated high school with my required 1 unit technology credit, and the courses that I took involved data entry and building bridges with hot glue and sticks. I do, however, catch myself becoming dependent on my email, or my phone. When you catch yourself sending a text message or calling someone for no other reason than the fact that you need to be occupied while walking from point A to point B, you need help.

Therefore, I challenge myself, and the rest of the general population to ween ourselves off of the teat of technology. Turn your cellphone off when you got to bed, or at least put it on silent. Don't feel the compulsion to check your email every six seconds because you're bored. Go outside. Be productive. L.A. Today mentions that we live in a three-window world comprised of televisions, computers, and cellphones. In my household these so called windows were simply referred to as screens. Maybe I should have taken my mom's advice when I sat two-inches from the boob-tube. She'd always scold me, "you'll go blind staring at that screen all day."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Etiquette Lessons

When you travel you pick up various tastes. You may like Mate herbal tea or Italian Nutella. If you're like me you shriek whenever you see the Spanish clothing brand Mango. But when does cultural curiosity go beyond just that and become just plain obnoxious?

I feel like you need to step into the shoes of a physics major to answer the question: it's all relative. If I am with friends at home and pronounce bruschetta not at broo-shet-ah, but as broo-skay-ta, I am commonly met with mocking tones. Apparently I'm too cultured to say it like the rest of America. But why should I say it wrong? Just because everyone else is saying it wrong? Should I fall in line and conform with acceptable cultural norms because others have not had the same experience? I've come to the conclusion that yes, yes I should. It's hard to convey your own personal travel and self-discovery to others. You come off pretentious rather than informed. As snobby rather than worldly. Just avoid the conflict in general and eat your toasted bread and tomatoes.

I do, however, react differently with people who have had similar travel experiences. You have a common base. An understanding that there is an incredibly complex world out there and you only know a little bit about it. I can sit there and pronounce "yo hablo" without emphasizing the 'h' and not be criticized for it. Perhaps this is why I feel more comfortable when I travel than when I'm in the United States. Perhaps this is why I made a promise to myself senior year of high school that I would leave the country at least once every year for the rest of my life.

Good, bad, or indifferent, I feel that traveling both isolates you in your native land, and exposes you to many foreign ones. But, if this is the price I have to pay to understand the world I live in, I'll gladly pay it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fried Mars Bars

It may have been rash to insinuate that only Americans eat artery clogging sweets. As this blog site strives to be fair and balanced, it is only appropriate to share this lovely treat from our equally health conscious Scottish friends.

How to make deep fried mars bars:
  1. Buy a Mars Bar or its American equivalent, a Milky Way, depending on your locale.
  2. Place your Mars bar in the refrigerator. It is important not to freeze, but chill the bar.
  3. Remove the candy bar from the refrigerator
  4. Unwrap your Mars Bar
  5. Dip it in your favorite fish and chips batter. Don't be shy, use the same batter for everything you feel the need to fry. As Emeril Lagassi would say let them all "get happy" in the batter
  6. Gingerly place the mars bar in a boiling vat of oil
  7. Remove the bar from the oil when the coating looks crisp and golden. Serve immediately.
  8. Enjoy!!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Arbitrage or Exploitation?

As a student of international relations, I have been taught to look at issues of global governance, international bodies, and political relations. One particular case study I read was on the Nike scandal of sweatshop workers in China. We debated and teased out arguments about corporations' rights, human rights, and whose standards should be upheld, the domestic worker's or the corporation's homeland? With this background you can imagine my surprise when I took a Global Strategy business class that mentioned "arbitrage" as the strategy of taking advantage of differences between nations. Wait, wait. This fancy word arbitrage = exploitation right?

It was with this that I was dropped into the deep end of the business mentality. No longer are children in India being denied their right to education by working in factories. It is that their families need the money so it is better for the children to go to work. This twisted logic, or excuse making is at the heart of the conflict between government and business. Business is driven by bottom-lines, efficiency, and innovation. International relations is concerned about the society, quality of life, and responsibility of these corporations.

Having dipped my toes in both fields I can see where business derives its mentality as well as international relations. However, where is the happy medium? The relationship of government and business is mutually dependent. Government needs business to fuel its economy, keep people working, and to contribute much to their bank account. But business also needs government to regulate their competitors, set standards for consumer products, and keep crucial industries afloat in hard times *coughbanksinthecreditcrisiscough*

One movement in the business world that I feel is noteworthy is the move for social responsibility. Companies that have micro-finance operations or give back to the community are starting to make themselves known. The Economist even had a feature section on corporate social responsibility recently. A friend I know who works for Philips electronics was griping about how Philips spends so much on its packaging because of its incorporation of recycled materials that it almost hurts the company. I feel that if all companies looked at their business practices and how they can tweak things so that they don't have such a negative social impact, that society, government, and business would all benefit.

The Difference in Different

Normally when people first meet they introduce themselves, ask where they're from, and play the name game. For me, the question "what are you" is brought up more frequently than "do you have any siblings." I have unique features that make it hard to point out my exact ethnicity. I'd like to think that if I were a superhero my name would be Ethnically Ambiguous Girl-not to be confused with the Ambiguously Gay Duo of course. Even when people don't blatantly ask the question they will play a guessing game. Russia? No. Middle East? No. Spain? No. Brazil...well you get the picture. I don't have a problem with people asking me about my ethnicity, but it's the context in which I am being asked that changes the way I feel about it.

When people ask me questions about my ethnicity, I feel that it is an attempt to create distance. People are not asking me so they can see if we have similar backgrounds, they are asking because I am different from them and they want to figure out what it is. Growing up multi-racial I embrace differences. It's great to know you've got a good story about where you're from and it truly builds character. I find, however, that being labeled as 'different' has different connotations when I am in the U.S. and out of the U.S.

Now, I am not one to rant about racial injustices and I am by no means hyper-sensitive to the issue. In fact, if race no longer became an issue I wouldn't notice the change. The problem is, that in the U.S. people want to identify with those like themselves. Unfortunately, race can become one of the identifying criteria. Often, people will categorize me into whatever category that they're not in. If you're white, I'm Asian. If you're Asian, I'm white. If you're black, it doesn't matter because I couldn't even pull that one off. Sometimes it's hard here to explain that you're multi-racial. You want to say "don't put me in that box." Does everyone really have to pick a side in the racial draft?

When I'm abroad though, I feel like my ambiguity is an asset. With the current anti-American sentiment seeping across borders, its not always favorable to run around yelling "God bless America" through a megaphone. Therefore, when I go abroad and am asked the same questions, I feel exceptional. Like I don't fit the stereotypical mold of what an American should look like. I remember my Dad even boasting that when he flew Lufthansa the stewardess (not a PC term I understand but a bad tick I can't get rid of) greeted him in German, rather than English, like she had to all other passengers.

I feel that those who guess my ethnicity when I travel, though generally incorrectly, aren't placing me in such a narrow box as Americans are. When I'm abroad I could claim to be from four different continents and people would believe it. As an international traveler you can never be a local, but you can be global, as my dad puts it. With this ambiguous ethnicity I feel like I can slip through the cracks of politics, ethno-centrism, and nationalism. Sometimes it's ok to be a mutt.

While I'm not anti-American and I do not want to disown my nationality, I would like to think that challenge people's opinions of Americans. No, we're not rodeo riding, fast food eating, uncultured swine. No, we do not all look like we shop at the Mall of America and eat fried cheesecake on a stick. So while I believe my ethnicity is an asset in blending into the international melting pot, I feel it is also a tool that I can use to impact the way that people think of the "stereotypical American."