Saturday, February 27, 2010

Telenovelas and the NPR Reporter

Just Thursday morning, I  heard a reporter on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" comparing the then-upcoming conference between President Obama and the Republicans on health reform to a "Latin telenovela." In case listeners didn't know what a telenovela is, he added, "you know, one of Latin American those soap operas that go on for hours and hours."

I get it. We're all supposed to laugh. Imagine Barack Obama and John Boehner (R-Ohio) going on like those crazy "Latins" sitting in the shade in their Mexican "sombreros" and going on endlessly about nothing while sipping their tequila! Ha, ha, ha!

You know, of course, that all Hispanics wear mariachi band outfits, right? In addition, they have no sense of time -- not like punctual, lickety-spit Anglos -- and can't use a pithy Anglo-Saxon phrase where a guitar-accompanied serenade can be had.

Right, Mr. NPR reporter? Ha, ha, ha!!!

Oh, but wait! I am no fan of telenovelas, yet even I know that they keep to their appointed half-hour or hour schedules. They don't go on continuously for "hours and hours" like the debatefest at the White House on health reform.

That's Anglo politicians, Mr. NPR reporter. Not Hispanics in telenovelas.

What's long about telenovelas and Anglo soap-operas alike is that they have interminable, implausible plots that go on for years over thousands of episodes.

The NPR reporter obviously merged in his mind the long plots with the stereotypes about Hispanics -- not "Latins," unless you want to count Andrew Cuomo as one. Doesn't NPR have editors capable of deleting a simile that not only runs against the facts, but is subtly racist?

I understand you didn't mean to offend anyone, Mr. NPR reporter. You wanted to show off that you are so culturally broadminded that you know the word "telenovela."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Piling on Muslims

At the risk of sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, I would like to raise my voice against the denial of French citizenship to a man accused of forcing his wife to wear a veil. According to The New York Times and Le Monde, Prime Minister François Fillon announced on Feb. 3 that he would sign a decree denying French nationality to the man.

We don't know the man's name nor the evidence that he forced his wife to wear a veil. Nor do we know under what law it is illegal to do so. Most importantly, we don't know how the man allegedly forced his wife to wear a veil.

Just think. How does one person force another person to wear something? Did he tie her down and put it on her? Did he watch her every moment to make sure she didn't take it off? Did he beat her and terrorize her?

If the alleged forcing involved assault it is some kind of crime in France, no? Why wasn't he arrested? Why wasn't he deported? How come he is allowed to walk freely and merely denied the "honor" of a French passport?

And don't they have shelters for battered women in France to which she could have fled and been helped to remake her life without the abusive husband?

Given the absence of evidence, why does this allegation warrant a prejudicial, but merely administrative, government action? Why isn't the citizenry of the country that gave us the cry of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" rising up in outrage against an arbitrary government that denies citizen to a man without showing legal cause?

Who's next? Jews for wearing yarmulkes? Americans for wearing shorts in summer? Peruvians for wearing ponchos?

All I see here is a Muslim couple in which the woman apparently happens to wear a veil.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time to Turn the Page?

The upcoming retirement of Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) ushers in a Kennedy-less era in Congress for the first time since 1963. That year, the congressman's father filled the congressional void left by JFK when he left the Senate for the White House, in 1961.

Of course, ever since 1963 to 1968, when American history seemed to take a series of unexpected and unpleasant turns, many of us have been wishing we could set the caravan of this democratic experience back on what once seemed an expansive and generous direction.

But maybe that's folly. Certainly, the current crop of Kennedys old enough to be in public life don't measure up to their fathers -- even the tawdry Edward M. -- or their mothers.

Maybe it's time to give up on the Kennedy-Johnson era dreams, just as perhaps it's time to set its nightmares to rest, without abandoning the bigger, broader notions on which they rested.

The central aspiration is to see the United States become a just society with compassion for its weakest members, with fairness for all its citizens and with the willingness to lead the world by generous example, rather than the force of arms.

We don't need to close the book. Just let's turn this one page.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Burqa and the Thong

It's popped up yet again. These days you can't look at any news medium without finding an instance of the Western obsession with what Muslim women wear, whether they are coerced and how do we, in the West, handle the notion of veiled women.

The real question, of course, is what any veil means as a symbol, and to whom. Symbols are cultural expressions of social conventions. As such, they do not have fixed and absolute meanings or values.

There is no greater reason than custom and historical happenstance that a blue, white and red cloth should represent France; one could represent France with a boar's head on a stick or a bottle of Beaujolais or a photo of Brigitte Bardot.

So what is a burqa, other than a dress that covers the wearer from head to toe? Why is it more demeaning to women than, say, the miniskirt or the thong?

Just as some people argue that the burqa shows women's submission to men, others argue that the miniskirt and thong show the objectification of women as bodies made to please men.

As for the in-between costume, a veil or headscarf, the cri de guerre in French schools, I am told that it is an teenage girls' fashion. Daughters of immigrants rebel against assimilation, or simply to shock or break a rule.

Apparently, in France one can see girls with expensive, fashionable clothes, makeup, and a veil that is also as luxurious.

Isn't the headscarf a reverse miniskirt, just like the reverse of a burqa is a thong?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowing ... again!

Having spent my youth in Montreal, I never thought I would get tired of snow in what is usually snow-starved Washington, D.C. But, honestly, as I write it's coming down like nobody's business.

So, in lieu of one coherent post, here go a few ideas:
  • The storm and its closing down of the city reminds me of the very fragility of life as we know it in what one school principal called "urban cities" (as opposed to the rural ones, I imagine). I blogged about that fragility in my very first post, before I knew about blogger, when I decided to post essays on a free website I had. Read In Isabel's Wake, still current by my lights.
  • Which reminds me ... this storm has no name! What's with that, Weather Service?
  • Of course, people in normally snowbound areas are writing to thank me for taking their snow and even sending me pictures of snowblowers. Funny, funny, funnn-ee! I'm not going out until spring.
Nonstorm Items:
  • Here I was happy as a clam that the dollar was dropping, making our exports cheaper than theirs and wham ... there goes the euro!
  • Are we all terrible slimy people, or is it that as you become aware, the human, fallible condition becomes unavoidably obvious? (Just a general, philosophizing comment based on nothing.)
And, oh, OK, I'll turn comments back on. But moderated.