Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kanye's new song: sh*t or not?

I figure I have a clue or two about good music. In fact one of my few redeeming qualities in life is my good taste in music. But musical quality is one of those things in life that are completely subjective. There is no empirical scientific theory that definitively proves that Mozart is superior to Britney Spears, or that Aretha Franklin is better than Crazy Frog.

Thus you get some songs that divide opinion, and Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" is one of those. Scan around the internet, and you'll find folks describing it as an innovative fusion of techno and R&B, as being daring, cutting edge, blablabla. I read someone saying he would play this to his girl in order to assist in getting her into bed. Or on the flipside, other folks refer to it as crap and unbearable. Personally I think its just about the whackest thing I have ever had the misfortune to hear. If this actually did help get someone into my bed, I think I would refuse to sleep with them just on principle. Unless of course they were saying, "Come on, let's shag, anything so I don't have to listen to this pile of steaming faeces."

Kanye has many good qualities, but singing is hardly one of them. His gratuitous use of auto-tune throughout the entire song is meant to be different and groundbreaking. Which it is, but only in the sense that conventional music is meant to sound good, and 'Ye breaks new ground in producing something truly awful. The first time I heard this on the radio, I felt embarassed for Kanye, in the same way that I felt embarassed for a girl in my grade 4 school concert who pissed her pants on stage. But I figure her pants-pissing had more artistic merit than Love Lockdown. Anyway, I have attempted to listen to it twice more on youtube, just in case I had been overly hasty in my dismissal of it. Unfortunately, I was unable to get through the whole song on either occasion without having the urge to blow my brains out.

Kanye has fallen off in a big way. He has been one of the best and most-imitated producers in hip-hop, and while never a great rapper, he has had his moments. His debut album The College Dropout is a true classic. His production work with Common, Jay Z, Talib Kweli, Alicia Keys and others has produced some magnificent tracks. But after that first album, his solo work has got progressively more “meh”, culminating in the totally, ass-sucking Love Lockdown.

Or could I be wrong? Am I past it, having no idea of what constitutes good music in this day and age? Am I a "hater"? (Hater being hip-hop parlance for anyone who is not totally on an artist' s jock.)
Maybe. You’ll have to judge for yourself.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Republicans have become "the stupid party"

Interesting and spot-on article in "The Economist" this week about the direction the US Republican party has taken. Author Lexington claims, quite rightly too, that the party has allowed itself to be dominated by the backward-looking rednecks in its midst.

"Many conservatives—particularly lower-income ones—are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honour."

You can read more about it here

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working with refugee kids

I had one of those weird double-take moments today.

I was at the Noble Park English Language School today, where newly arrived migrant kids learn a bit of English before being absorbed by mainstream schools. I was presenting a workshop on manhood and ways of avoiding conflict to a group of boys in their mid-to-late teens. Mostly Afghani, with a few Sri Lankan Tamils, Burmese and assorted others.

A great bunch of guys. But it was one particular fellow, a 16-year old Afghani boy who would have been in Australia for no more than 6 months, who spoke his English with a pretty heavy accent, who caused me extreme double-take. This guy was using words and concepts that I have never heard out of the mouth of an Australian teenager (Australian teenagers are often too busy dropping the f-bomb).

My first question: “It’s good for a man to cry. Do you agree or disagree?”
The group was divided mostly in favour of agree, but my young friend summed it up thusly: “It’s a good cartharsis for you.”

What the…? Cartharsis? Who says that? Certainly not teenage refugees from a country where the previous rulers were so backward they passed a law requiring all men to have beards. But it just got better.

I posed another question to the group: “What might happen if you hit someone, and the police come after you?”

Afghani-genius-boy replied: “They will find a panacea for you.”


Now I ain’t too proud to admit that that’s not a word that I drop casually into conversation, because I only vaguely know what it means. I had to ask him what he meant, because I was sure he couldn’t have actually used that word.

But my man just kept droppin’ knowledge. He then started quoting Shakespeare in order to bolster his argument. Yeah, Shakespeare. I don’t know anyone who quotes Shakespeare. And I don’t think he realised that no-one else among his classmates seemed to know what he was talking about. I can’t remember what the Shakespearean passage was, because I’m basically not smart or cultured enough to know any Shakespeare. Yet here was a teenager attending English language classes who was schooling me on English language and high culture, not to mention the topic which I was presenting as a so-called expert.

I’d met the Afghani Confucius, and he was all of 16.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Palin thought Africa was a country

Yep, apparently defeated US Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country, rather than a continent. I honestly don't know if this is really true or whether its based on a slip of the tongue that someone took out of context, but it's pretty funny either way. And honestly, I'm not surprised. America's religious right keep offering up these politicians to the world, based on the idea that its okay to be an ignorant fool so long as you have the right ideology. Fortunately, most Americans decided that the real George W Bush was bad enough, so they didnt need to hire the female version.

But before you laugh at Palin (and why else did God create ignorant hicks if not for the rest of us to laugh at them), ask yourself this: How many countries in Africa can you name? (There are approximately 53 of them.) How many African heads of state can you name?

Granted, you probably knew that Africa was a continent rather than a country. But try answering these 3 questions without resorting to google or wikipedia.

1) Other than English, what is the most spoken language in Zimbabwe?
2) Julius Nyerere was the first president of which country?
3) Which is the only country in Africa that was never colonised by a European power?

Now let me say that those should not be difficult questions to answer. If you couldn't answer them, maybe you shouldn't be laughing too hard at Ms Palin. See, I have noticed that a great many otherwise educated and intelligent people basically know jack about Africa, and indeed, treat it as if it is one big country. I have a number of African friends and this is the thing that seems to piss them off more than anything else. Asking a question like "Do you speak African?" is almost guaranteed to make them hate you.

It's interesting that Africa is seen as monolithic by many. It contains more countries than any other continent. It's people are more genetically diverse than in any other continent. Consider a Somali, a Dinka from South Sudan, a San (Bushman) from the Kalahari, a Moroccan Berber, an Egyptian Arab, a Congolese pygmy, a Merina from Madagascar (with Indonesian/East African genes) and a Kikuyu from Kenya. All look very different and are culturally very different from each other. Yet a shameful amount of people seem to see Africans as pretty much all the same. And while I don't like to throw the word racism around willy-nilly, it's hard to argue that racism is not an underlying reason for this ignorance.

An example of how this manifests itself, from about Congolese NBA basketballer Dikembe Mutombo: "Mutombo is fluent in 9 languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and 5 African dialects." This is pretty much a standard description of Mutombo's linguistic talents, and it pisses me off on 2 points. Firstly, why not bother to mention by name any of the 5 African languages? Secondly, the use of the term dialects (meaning a variant within a language) implies that they are not as distinct from each other as European languages are, thus carrying this assumptive subtext that Africans are pretty much all the same. Imagine it mentioning the 9 languages and describing English and Spanish as European dialects.

Since I am a community worker, I often deal with migrant communities and discuss them with others. 9 out of 10 times if I mention Eritrea, for example, the next question I hear is "Where's that?" or "Eri-what?"
And when I have often extolled the virtues of Melbourne's delicious Ethiopian restaurants to people, I can't tell you the number of times I have heard "Ethiopia? Gee, I didn't realise they had food." If you have ever uttered that (and this does include several friends of mine), allow me to snort contemptuously at you.

So come on people, ignorance may be bliss, but it ain't a good look. Learn a little something about the world around you.

Oh, and by the way, the answers to the questions I posed earlier are: (1) Shona; (2) Tanzania; and (3) Ethiopia. But you knew that, right?

Bali Bombers executed

This morning, on the prison island of Nusakambangan, convicted terrorists Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra were executed by firing squad. Convicted 5 years ago of the 2002 Bali bomb blast which killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, their death will hopefully bring some measure of peace for the families of their many victims.

I am generally opposed to the death penalty, but if anyone deserves such an extreme punishment it is these f*$#ers, and no one should shed any tears on their behalf. What puzzles me is that their spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir is still walking around preaching hatred. Most recently he's been declaring the three terrorists as heroes and martyrs, and urged others to follow in their footsteps to fight for Islam. His followers have vowed revenge for the execution, denouncing it as "murder" (as opposed to the murder of 202 innocent civilians, which is "heroism"). You may recall Bashir not so long ago exhorting his followers not to tolerate non-Muslims, and to beat them up if they see them.

I can't quite work out whether Bashir is insane or just evil or both (probably both). The radical cleric has claimed that the bombing was actually carried out by the CIA (in order to create a pretense for the oppression of Islam); this is despite Amrozi and friends proudly admitting to doing it themselves. I'm not sure what crazy parallel universe he and his flock inhabit, but does he really expect that people who admit to mass murder (including that of the innocent local Muslims killed in the blast) should just be let off with a pat on the back?

The thing I just can't figure out is that after so many recorded incitements to violence, Bashir is free to keep on doing it. Indonesia is a shady society which has a long history of anti-government figures getting locked up on trumped-up charges, turning up dead or simply disappearing. When you consider that, it is indeed surprising that Southeast Asia's answer to Osama bin Laden is still a free man. As much as Western governments have attempted to influence Indonesia to get him locked up, it is really Muslim communities and governments around the world who should be shouting the loudest on this. After all, the greatest enemies of Islam are not the "Great Satan" (America), or Danish cartoonists, but the radical hatemongers like Bashir who are doing their best to convince the rest of the world that Muslims are all crazy terrorists, and thus do more than anyone to contribute to Islamophobia everywhere.

Left: Extremist imam and perennial beauty pageant winner Abu Bakar Bashir.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama-love in Asia

Don't everybody just love 'em some Obama? Mostly, hopefully, this love is based on policies and character, but sometimes it's more about the fact that he's one of us. So obviously they are partying hard down in Harlem, Chicago and Nairobi to celebrate the election results, but Obama qualifies as "one of us" in a couple of other happy places too.

Case in point: the fishing village of Obama in Japan, which has embraced wholeheartedly the man who bears its name. Festivities (left) include a dancing troupe of "Hula Girls", in honour of Obama's Hawaiian birthplace. You can read about that here.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, students at the SDN Menteng 01 school are in similar raptures. The young Barry Obama, as he was then known, studied at the school in Menteng, Central Jakarta, where he is now commonly known as "Anak Menteng" (The Menteng Kid). They've been allocating 15 minutes every day to pray for an Obama victory, and clearly it has paid off. Students at the primary school (pictured below) are inspired to shout, sing and in one girl's case, pick her nose, by the electoral results. You can read about that here.

(I feel bad for this girl having her photo taken while seemingly in the midst of an excavation, but damn, there's just something so Indonesian about that)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

President Obama

The new most powerful man in the world is a 47-year old brown-skinned man born in Hawaii to a white American mother and a Kenyan Luo father, raised in Indonesia, a devout Christian member of a controversial black church, who 1/6 of Americans appear to think is a Muslim or an Arab, and who goes by the unusual-for-a-US-President name of Barack Hussein Obama.

This is a realisation that scares the bejeezus out of some people. There is a significant proportion of the American populace for whom President Obama is their worst nightmare come true. He's not white. He's sorta foreign. He offers to try to negotiate with hostile nations rather than just constantly threaten violence against them. He hopes for a more equal society. Yikes, head for the hills!

Yet, in the world outside the USA, support for Obama is overwhelming. Apparently Australians favoured Obama over McCain 4 to 1. And why? Because for all our imperfections, us global citizens can spot class and character when we see them. And we don't quite get the bizarre combination of bibles and guns, pro-life and pro-war, rampant capitalism and conservative family values that characterises the Right of American politics. It is hard to imagine any country other than the US voting in George W Bush once, let alone TWICE! Yet Obama is the leader so many nations would love to have - broad-minded, intelligent, charismatic, inspiring and seemingly benevolent. And he represents the new face of Western civilisation for the 21st century - a multicultural face with an eye of the global community; in contrast to the 80% of US congressmen and women who apparently do not have passports.

Obama's election also represents something great - the triumph of hope and positivity over fear and ugly politricks. The main thrust of the Democrats campaign was in looking toward the future; the Republicans focused on whipping up the old anxieties and xenophobia of the past. For all the ridiculous smears thrown Obama's way by the Right - he's a communist, he's a Muslim, he's an Arab, he wants to kill babies, and so on - he remained calm and poised, as if he was above engaging in this game of gutter politics. And the majority who cast their ballot in Obama's favour were also sending the message that they are better than that. This election asked a big question of the American public - can they rise above a history of racism, warmongering, and blindness in the guise of patriotism? Their answer: "Yes we can."

Oh and one more thing: How good was Obama's acceptance speech? All wannabe public speakers should spend some time in the black churches for inspiration.

Oh and yet another thing: Kudos to McCain for a gracious and honourable concession speech. Showed a level of class that was often lacking in the Republican campaign. Had he shown it earlier, things could have been different.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What went on on this ship?

Can't speak for anybody else, but this is the kind of thing I find funny. I took this photo in Kuala Lumpur a few months ago but forgot I had it. Anyway, it's a scale model of a historical ship. Nice work.

But with closer inspection, the ship's name amused me somewhat...

Soundtrack: The Village People, "In the Navy"