Monday, 18 June 2007

Manufacturing Dissent

Did you know that there was a documentary that shows Michael Moore in a pretty bad light? My flat mate Oli just told me about “Manufacturing Dissent”, a documentary that aims to expose the allegedly misleading tactics of filmmaker Michael Moore. It is written, produced and directed by Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine who, in the first place, wanted to make a biography of Moore since they admired him a lot for what he had done for the documentary genre. But during the course of their research they realized that they didn’t agree with Moore’s tactics any longer and decided to turn the tide.
I haven't seen the film, but I did a little research to find out about what kind of discoveries Melnyk and Caine made.

I’m sure you all remember “Roger and Me”, in which Moore claims that he never got the opportunity to talk to Roger Smith, the chairman of General Motors. In fact, he got to talk to him twice, but never mentioned it in the film since this wouldn’t have suited Moore’s central premise of the film that corporate CEOs exploit lower class workers and refuse to answer questions or acknowledge any wrongdoing.

In “Bowling for Columbine” Moore goes door-to-door in Ontario to prove that Canadians leave their front doors unlocked. He wants to describe the safety Canadians feel in their homes because guns are more regulated in their country than in the US. However, due to Moore’s producers, only 40 % of the homes he visited had unlocked doors…

In “Manufacturing Dissent” Melnyk and Caine also blame Moore for having taken quotes from President Bush out of the context to suit his purposes in “Fahrenheit 9/11”.

Moore vehemently rejected all these allegations and claimed that if he had really landed an interview with Roger Smith that General Motors would almost certainly have publicized the event to discredit him. Melnyk and Caine maintained that they never got to talk to Moore about their discoveries and that Moore had previously remained quiet on the matter.

So it’s up to us what and whom we want to believe and what and whom not…

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Why computers are NOT my friends (right now...)

Yes, dear Mr. Newman, at the moment I am at war with all computers in the world. But let me tell you my tale of woe.

After my very best electronic friend (my dear old Gericom laptop from Hofer) had unexpectedly deceased by simply crashing down while I was working on a very important assignment, I was completely devastated. I have to admit that, yes, it was rather old with its seven years, but it had always been working perfectly fine without causing me any trouble at all. We got along so well. I really loved it despite all my friends laughing at my not-hyper-modern laptop (they didn’t believe that it was actually still working). I never had any problems with it. It always did what I wanted it to do and despite its advanced age, it was still working rather fast. I loved it that much that I even entrusted it my most personal thoughts by writing my diary. Until…it just wouldn’t work anymore.

So I went to that particular computer store (trip number 1) in hope they might be able to fix it. My Dad told me that this was the place where my laptop had already been repaired once, so I was pretty confident that they would get it working again. No such luck: “There’s absolutely nothing we can do, sorry. There are no spare parts available and it wouldn't even be worth repairing”. Oh no, and what about the hard drive? I was starting to panic since there was soooo much important stuff on that computer that I hadn’t saved anywhere else, stupid me. “Don’t worry, the hard disk is still intact.” I sighed in relief…even the thought of having lost all my files made me shiver. I told that computer guy that I would come and get it since my uncle could do the job of restoring my files as well.

I went to computer store (trip number 2), picked up my laptop and delivered it at my uncle’s place. A couple of hours later my uncle called: “Well…I’ve got your computer, but where exactly is the hard disk gone?” Are you kidding me? Where is it supposed to be? Is it not inside the computer? What the…??

Trip number 3 to the computer store: “Is it possible, by any chance, that you still have my hard disk? It’s not in laptop, you know.” They were terribly sorry and explained that it was just a big misunderstanding since the guy who handed it back to me didn’t know that it wasn’t finished yet and blablabla…Anyway, my uncle told me it’d be better if I let that computer guy put my files onto an external hard disk since this would be a very useful thing to have. A bad mistake which I was soon to regret bitterly…
With the external hard disk in my bag I went back home to plug the beautiful little thing into my brand new laptop (which, by the way, took me quite some time to get used to with its new windows vista and I had lots of troubles installing certain programmes.). Anyway, I tried to open my folder but: “Access denied. You do not have the rights to open this folder.” Awesome!! I fiddled around with it for while, asked my flatmates for help, but it just wouldn't work.

What else could I do than go back to the store (trip number 4) and tell that bloody computer guy to get the hard disk working. “Oh, that’s really no big deal. Just a few clicks here and there and you can take it home with you.”
Went home, plugged it in, opened the folder - everything went fine until...I tried to open one of the files: “Access denied. You do not have the rights to open this file.” You can imagine that at this stage I was already getting pretty grumpy. I am by all means not a very patient person, so this was really driving me mad! It is the end of the semester, I have plenty and plenty to do and I really, REALLY do not have the time to concern myself with such unnecessary stuff.
After calming down I decided to call the computer guy. “Well that’s strange” he goes, “but don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. Just drop by and I’ll fix it!”

So I ‘dropped by’ once more (trip number 5) and left my external hard disk at the store since 'my' computer guy was busy elsewhere. The next day I got up as usual and turned on my new laptop. And now check this out: I couldn’t turn it on! I might sound like a stupid little something now, who doesn’t know anything about computers at all. But no, seriously, it didn’t work. Black. No signal. No lights. Nothing. With energy, without energy - with battery, without battery: whatever I did, I could not get the damn thing working. I felt like crying, believe me, I did. Desperately I called my Dad who told me he would bring the laptop back to Cosmos. Diagnosis: manufacturing error. They gave me a new one in the end, the same model, but thank God it’s still working (after spending another few hours setting it up and installing everything all over again...).
So what a about my external hard disk? The computer guy called me that same afternoon: “I just checked out your hard disk and actually, it’s working perfectly fine.” What?? He must be kidding me! That’s simply not possible! I tried it on my new laptop as well as on two of my flatmate’s computers. It did NOT work and this guy wants to explain that it’s working ‘perfectly fine’?? Right. He then told me to come by with my own laptop so that we could figure out what the problem was. I would come on Friday, I asked, if that suited him. “That’s fine, you can come any time. I don’t even have to be there, any one here can help you.”

Whether I wanted or not, I had to pay my dear computer friend another visit (trip number 6). A nice young lady welcomed me: “No, he isn’t here anymore” - “No, I have no idea what you are talking about” – “No, I can’t help you” – “We never have mechanics here Friday afternoons, didn’t you know that??” I think it’s needless to say that at this stage I felt like this:

If I didn’t know that, she asks me. I mean how should I?? If he says I can come any time, well then I assume I can come ANY time - including afternoons.

I was told to come back on Monday (trip number 7) which leaves the story to be continued…

Friday, 8 June 2007

Is gingerism as bad as racism?

Carrot-top, ginger-nut, Ronald McDonald, Queen Elisabeth…there are many names you can call a read-haired. But is calling redheaded people names really as serious as racism?
I just read an article by Finlo Rohrer in the online BBC News Magazine which discusses that topic. Let me first sum up the main points before putting in my two cents.

Especially in the UK, the phenomenon of bullying red-haired seems to be a big issue. Red-haired children face taunting and even grim persecution. While in other countries the teasing stops when they become adults, in Britain women get stereotyped and red-haired man take much of the worst abuse.

Photographer Charlotte Rushton claims that only two out of the 300 red-haired people she snapped for a book (called “Ginger Snaps”) haven’t been bullied of their hair. Even worse, they reported a serious anti-red hair hate crime in the UK: a 20-year-old got stabbed in the back in 2003.

Red-haired journalist Sharon Jaffa, suffering anti-red hair abuse herself, claims that “attacking someone on the basis of their hair color can be every bit as damaging as persecuting someone for their race or religion, and therefore, in some cases, needs to be taken just as seriously”.

Whereas in most countries red-headed women are considered fiery, alluring and glamorous, red is also the color of heat, danger and warnings. In ancient Egypt, readheads were sacrificed - in Europe they were associated with witches and vampires. Lilith, Adam’s lover, was a redhead (which indicates red hair was bad) and Shakespeare made all his most menacing characters wear red wigs.

In a comment below the article, I read that redheads are feared because they are believed in folklore to be the devil’s children and have red hair because they were conceived during their mother’s menstruation. A welsh proverb say “if he’s red-haired then he is of the devil”. So yesterday’s superstition has become today’s teasing. Nevertheless, sociologists claim that perpetrators could be habitual bullies, which means that if they are engaging in one kind of harassment they are engaging in others as well. They are simply looking for something to pick on. Bullies have a problem and need a victim.

To my mind, bullying red-haired is not much different than teasing people who are fat, wear glasses, have stupid names, a funny accent and so on. One of those commenting on the article said that “racism is something completely different, historically and socially” and I fully agree with this statement. Redheads have not suffered centuries of systematic abuse ranging from slavery to institutional racism. I mean of course it is wrong to judge and bully people because of certain features that distinguish them from others, but on the other hand, it often isn’t that serious and sometimes even ‘funny’. Just think about all the jokes about Burgenl√§nder or Carinthians, and what about the “dumb blonde” jokes? Do these people seriously feel offended by such jokes? That would be too ridiculous if you asked me. There are jokes about all kinds of people and if you don’t like someone you’ll always find something to pick on. Especially children tend to mock others because of their appearance and only a few unfortunate adults don’t grow out of this habit.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

International Adoption

There are a lot of interesting programmes to listen to on ‘Here on Earth’, so I thought why not telling you about another one. This time I chose a programme in which Jean Feraca discusses the issue of international adoption. Her guest is Dawn Davenport, the author of ‘The Complete Book of International Adoption’. Dawn is a mother of four children, one of whom she has adopted.

Many celebrities, such as Madonna or Angelina Jolie, are known for having adopted toddlers from countries like Vietnam, China or Russia in order to enable them to grow up in a safe environment and have a good life far away from famine, poverty or war. Nevertheless, International Adoption is a controversial topic, that has both supporters and opponents.

At the beginning of the programme, Jean Feraca refers to Madonna, who has just recently adopted a child – she called him David - from Malawi. This adoption was in the news for quite some times since many people were arguing whether it was done legally and whether it was really the child’s good fortune to be taken from its family and home land. But what other options did David have? His three older siblings and his mother had died, he was going to be raised in an orphanage and his father didn’t seem to take care of him. Dawn Davenport argues that now he has very functioning and loving parents who can offer him a decent life. She also mentions that through her adoption Madonna hasn’t only helped one single child but that she is also supporting African children through funds and has even set up an orphanage called ‘Raising Malawi’.

Next, Jean Feraca talks about an Ethiopian poet, Lemn Sissay, who was raised by a white family in the north of England. Even though emotionally he believed his foster parents to be his own, he still felt like he was growing up in an alien environment. Davenport explains that it is very important for adoptive parents to learn what it means to be Ethiopian, Chinese, or whatever and that they have to be aware of the fact that their family becomes a trans-racial family. The children, as well, have to learn what it means to be multicultural and also to be proud of that fact. These parents are not only adopting a child, but they are adopting a whole culture. Davenport also points out that when the kids, are small everyone knows who they belong to, but as soon as they leave home and go to college people will look at them and assume they are, for example, Chinese-American having Chinese parents. Thus they assume a certain knowledge of Chinese culture and it is important for these kids to have that knowledge.

Many opponents of international adoption claim that money is not everything and that you can’t buy love. They don’t believe that people are adopting children from Africa to give them a better life, but simply for themselves. They also maintain that parents should adopt children from their own country instead, since international adoption effects domestic adoption. Dawn Davenport explains that there are two types of domestic adoption, private and public adoption. The former allows birth mothers to select the new parents of their newborn themselves, while the latter is an adoption from the foster care system. The disadvantages here are that adoptive parents usually only get school age children and that they also have the risk that their child might be taken from them by a member of its extended family or birth-family. Davenport claims that it is much easier to get a newborn or toddler from overseas.

At the end of the program, the so called post-traumatic stress disorder is discussed, which is among only a few mental disorders that are triggered by a disturbing outside event. Adoptive children who have been abused in their early childhood tend to suffer from PTSD, consequently, it is necessary that parents are educated to deal with this disorder before the adoption takes place.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Life of a Modern Nomad

Our Final is only two weeks away and since there's going to be a listening comprehension on the exam I thought it might not be a bad idea to get some practice. I decided to listen to one of the programmes on Here on Earth, which was titled “Life of a Modern Nomad”.

Jean Feraca’s guest is Stephanie Elizondo Griest who is a world traveller, journalist, activist and author (her latest book is “100 Places Every Woman Should Go”). Stephanie describes herself as modern nomad who is constantly moving from one country to the other. What distinguishes her from a traveller though, is that she doesn’t travel for landscape, food or museums but for human interaction. Nomads travel out of necessity and are constantly searching for better hunting, planting and feeding grounds - Stephanie is likewise constantly searching for material for her writing and her art. She is a nomad out of choice, which also entails making a lot of sacrifices, even if it just means that she can’t be part of any club or, just to give an example, attend a dancing course. She also couldn’t live the way she does if she was in any committed relationship, had a child or a sick person to take care off.

Right now, Stephanie is staying at a writer’s retreat in Nebraska where she working on her new book. There are hundreds of such artist residences in the US and around the world, which are set up by wealthy people who are dedicating their life to art. Artists go to these retreats in order to get inspiration and some uninterrupted time to work. Most of these residences are free or only charge a small amount of money.

One of the best experiences Stephanie’s ever had, was the time she spend as a ‘trekker’ traveling across the United States, documenting history that is generally overlooked in classroom textbooks for a non-profit educational website called The Odyssey. Stephanie was part of a very diverse team, including, among others, an African American, Native American, Asian, Iranian and a Chicano (herself). It was their job to write about history of the perspective of the people they represented. What made it even more adventurous for them was that they only had 15 dollars a day at their disposal, so they mainly had to depend on the kindness of strangers. During that time, Stephanie learned that Americans are much more hospital than she had imagined, since she spent many great nights with people who offered to take her team in without even hesitating.

Stephanie also tells us about a website called “Let me stay for a day”. It’s set up by a guy who decided to travel around the world for two years without any money in his pocket. On his website he would write where he was going next and that he was looking for places to stay. People were even fighting to have him for a day since in exchange for their hospitality he would put a little story about them online.

During her life, Stephanie had the opportunity to spend some time with different groups of Mongolian nomads. 30% of all Mongolians are fully or semi nomadic, travelling by horseback from one place to the other. One important thing she learned from these nomads is to pack and live extremely lightly. But just like the Mongolian nomads, there are a few devotional and nostalgic items that she constantly carries with her no matter where she goes. These special items give her a little bit of grounding wherever she is. Mongolians see their entire homeland (Mongolia) as their home – Stephanie feels at home in the whole world. For her, ‘home’ is a deep little place inside of us.

Monday, 28 May 2007

US vs. Middle East

Today I would like to focus on the blog that I have been reading for quite some time now. It’s about the American girl, Ruth, who is living and studying in Syria. First she spent four months in Amman, Jordan before moving on to Aleppo, Syria. In both places she stayed with a native host family in order to get the full cultural experience. Her blog is awesome, I really do love it! She describes her experiences so accurately and she writes with so much devotion about her life in Syria that it really makes me want to go there myself. If you’re not interested in the Middle East it might not be the right blog for you, but to anyone else, and not only those studying Arabic, I can only recommend this blog.

Unlike other expats, Ruth writes in a very positive way about her new home and you can tell that she is really fond of Syria and especially the people living there who seem to filled with great hospitality and kindness. Of course she also points out what goes wrong in this country and that there are things she can’t get used to and things she can’t accept or put up with. But she is not like many other expats who are quite intolerant and criticise certain customs or habits only because they are ‘different’. Some expats compare the two countries and when they come across any differences they usually prefer or even only accept the way it is handled in their home country. I know of experience that it takes some time to tolerate certain cultural difference and not to consider them as better or worse but simply as different, and also to actually understand why they are different. But I have the feeling that some people never get this far…

Reading Ruth’s blog you can learn a LOT about Arabic culture, customs, traditions, people etc. If you want to get a taste of her blog and a little insight into Syrian culture check out these entries:

Welcome to Syria (Ruth gives tips and advice for anyone who wants to visit Syria)

Orientation (at the beginning of her stay, Ruth is told about culture shock, security and everyday living)

Bus (we are told how to behave on the bus)

About the boys…and more I suppose (Ruth describes what it’s like to be a foreigner in Jordan and how to deal with Arabic men)

(mis)perceptions (Ruth talks about American and Arabic views, misperceptions and prejudices)

At first glance (we hear about the habit of male Arabs holding hands)

More writing (Ruth lets us know what it’s like to get back home)

Ruth’s year has just come to end and she’s gone back to the States. I’m not sure whether she’ll continue her blog, but I do hope that she’s going to write something on culture shock or how she feels having just returned to a completely different world.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

UK vs. US

This weekend I spent quite some time checking out various expat blogs, particularly looking for someone who has moved to an English-speaking country. Actually, there are not a lot of good blogs out there, but I found one that might be worth mentioning. It is called ‘An American woman in London’ and as you can tell from the title, the writer is an American woman who moved to London. She grew up in Southern California (I guess it’s L.A.) and got a job offer when she was 20 which made her move to England. The blogger, unfortunately she doesn’t reveal her name, and her husband (I suppose he is also American) have already been living in London for three years now.

Not all of her entries are that interesting to me (she’s very much into theater..) and she also doesn’t write very frequently, maybe two or three entries a month. But the reason why I still want to present her blog is that she’s got one category, namely US vs. UK, which I thought worth reading. In these entries she compares different aspects of British life with the American way of life. She also writes about the language and provides the reader with a glossary of ‘BritSpeak’. Here are some of the funniest or most interesting excerpts of this entry:

Brit to US:

Take Away = To Go
When you order your food, you'll be asked if you want "take away." Some London Starbucks baristas will ask if you want your coffee to go, but then the Starbucks chain prides itself on worldwide consistency. Don't even start to confuse your food server by asking for "carry out."

Fairy lights = Christmas lights

Fairy cakes = cupcakes
The British seem very fond of fairies with gossamer wings and flower wands. Whereas little American girls dress up as princesses (usually of the Disney variety), here fairy costumes seem more prevalent. Unfortunately, I can't see these names ever catching on in the US...

knackered = tired

minibreak = weekend holiday or long weekend

dangling bits = male "private parts"

bank holiday = national holiday

The British seem to have a lot of different terms for clothes and food. To name just a few:

pants = underwear (pants is also another way to say crappy - "It's pants.")
cossie (short for costume) = outfit
Vest = tank top
polo neck = turtleneck
salad (on a sandwich) = lettuce, tomato and cucumber
granary loaf = whole wheat bread
tuna mayonnaise = tuna salad

They also prefer the French words aubergine and courgette to eggplant and zucchini.

Another very interesting entry of hers was called ‘You know you’ve been out of the US too long when…’
In this entry she writes about her visit to US where she realized that she had become British in some ways. She points out the main cultural differences between US and UK. These are only a few of them:

You know you’ve been out of the States far too long when…

… you automatically eat with a fork in your left hand and a knife in your right, and you never put down either utensil.

… cold beer - that's just WRONG.

…you don't even realize you just asked "Where's the loo?" until your parents give you a strange look.

… you giggle at how cheap petrol- I mean, gas, is.

… you grumble at having to tip.

… you constantly come up short at the cash register, because you forget sales tax isn't already included in the price.

One of the main cultural differences she points out is that in Britain “you don’t speak unless spoken to” whereas in the States it’s perfectly fine to talk to strangers and even start a conversation with someone sitting next to you on the bus. The blogger mentions one particular incidence in the US: She was shopping at Macy’s when a random woman came up to her holding up a blouse and saying “This would be cute on you”. Never ever would a thing like that happen in Britain and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t anywhere in Europe, let alone Austria.