Wednesday, August 31, 2005

NPR, Party Mouthpiece (A new feature)

I listen to NPR a lot (and I'm a New England Yankee, and I like good coffee, and I drive a fuel-efficient car, and I fit a lot of the other stereotypes of educated Americans that for perverse reasons have managed to be given a negative spin in the US media). National Public Radio is a favorite target of the right for its alleged liberal spin, and I'll grant that some of their programming has a notably leftish sensibility. For example, This American Life, a fantastic program, treats homosexuality as a fact of life and treats gays as normal people with valid stories to tell - clearly this is part of the left wing agenda of acceptance and respect for your fellow person.

However, and it is a big however, the news division of NPR often echoes the party line of the current administration without even a nod toward the notion that they are presenting unvarnished propaganda. Case in point: today the news announcer has been repeating every half hour that the president is returning to the White House to "lead the recovery effort" from the devastating Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans/ Mississippi Gulf Coast region. Clearly, the president is returning to the White House to be seen to lead the recovery effort - the actual work that he will contribute to the effort, beyond making some phone calls and issuing some statements, will be nothing compared to the people who are actually hired to lead the real recovery, such as the director of FEMA and the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi.

There is a difference between leadership and showmanship. We're getting the latter, but the White House claims we're getting the former, and NPR echoes the party line. I'm reminded of nothing so much as the evening news in Kenya during the long autocratic Moi regime - every night the news would begin with the magnificent things our glorious leader was doing on behalf of the good citizens of his country.

NPR is guilty of repeated "Dear Leader" coverage. Look to this blog to document the more egregious examples as they arise.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

An explanation for my crusade against BS at JFK

The introduction to Laura Penny's book, "Your Call Is Important To Us," has a paragraph that neatly sums up why I've made a minor mountain of the irksome experience at JFK. Call it an everyday form of peasant resistance, with a techie twist: by blogging about the times when bullshit is smeared in your face, you can out the bullshitter. For example, an internet search of "Greenwich Village Bistro JFK" is seeing a certain sordid tale climbing the ranks - link to this blog, and watch those responsible for rudeness and mediocrity in Terminal 1 reap what they sow.

If only I could blog about the experience of dealing with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services... But that is one office that holds too much power over my life right now (imagine the temerity, I married someone who didn't even have the forethought to be born an American citizen), so you'll just have to imagine a scene, drawn out over months and years, that is not unlike dealing with the New Jersey DMV at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon.

Here's the excerpt from Penny's book:

There are several reasons why there is so much bullshit, not the least of which is that we continue to tolerate it. We might grumble about bullshit, but few of us are inclined to ask for the manager or boycott the offender. This is partly due to a sense that resistance is futile. You, as a lone consumer, can hardly put a dent in any of the reigning oligopolies with your singular refusal, no matter how cruddy their service or product may be. You, as a single voter, can hardly influence matters of state to the same degree that industry concerns and special interest lobbies can. These feelings of impotence, insignificance, and isolation represent the bummer underside of all that self-interest speak, for you are but a superfluous drop in the mighty churning sea that will wash on with or without you. It'’s the triple-A of apathy, alienation, and atomization.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Going Tribal" on the Discovery Channel - the most racist show on television?

Someone posted a heads-up to the H-Africa discussion list about a program that is premiering tonight, called Going Tribal. It looks like an absolute train wreck. It turns out they have a discussion forum that doesn't yet have any posts.

Now it does:

From the looks of the "Going Tribal" website, this may well be the most bigoted, condescending, racist show on television. The premise seems to be: brave white man meets dark wild savages, and spears fly!

I'm glad that I don't get the Discovery Channel on my cable system, or I might feel compelled to watch this in order to see just how horrible it is. Kind of like the stairway in the building where I work - there is a dead bird that crashed into the window by the stairwell, and now tweety is decomposing on a ledge, and every time I go to another floor my eyes are drawn to the gory spectacle. I often respect the programs the Discovery Channel airs, but this looks to be the lowest of the low.

I write this as an anthropologist who has lived and worked in a remote part of Africa for many years. I was most recently at my home there one month ago. The sensationalistic promos on this website give the impression of primitives as they only exist in Hollywood's imagination - and I fear that the programs themselves will be carefully edited to fulfill that imaginary view of distant peoples.

(By the way - when I posted my comment, their website already knew my standard discussion board user name. I assume that I logged onto some other affiliated website sometime in the past, and that my browser was cookied, but it was just a little creepy.)

Friday, August 05, 2005

JFK Travesty, Part 6: The Fax

I've photocopied the receipt and faxed it to Mike at Anton Airfood.

Along with the receipt, I sent the following cover sheet:

Re: Greenwich Village Bistro at JFK Terminal 1

Contents: 3 pages (This cover page plus 2 others)


Hi Mike,

Following please find two copies (original size and enlarged) of my receipt from the Greenwich Village Bistro. I had walk-up bar service, for which I waited several minutes to be recognized at the empty bar, was treated as an imposition on the bartender’s afternoon, received a glass that was slathered with juice around the outside, had to ask for napkins, and sat at a table covered in something sticky.

Although there were no prices on the drinks list, posted anywhere in the bar, or itemized on the receipt, I watched my bill being rung up on the register. The charges were $6.49 for a glass of white wine and $2.80 for a glass of grapefruit juice. The total therefore should have been $9.29, and New York’s restaurant tax would bring the total to $10.06. The additional amount is $1.67, which is exactly 18% of $9.29 – meaning that I was assessed a service charge although I most certainly did not have table service.

I believe that the surly service I received was a direct result of the fact that the bartender was assured of his tip regardless of the level of service provided. I suspect that the restaurant is run with the knowledge that most patrons are under time pressure en route to international destinations and will not notice billing discrepancies or have any way of contacting management to discuss issues with the service. I therefore feel that, although the dollar amount under discussion here is small, the circumstances suggest underlying management issues that your company should address.

I look forward to hearing what steps you will be taking to resolve this issue and improve service at your JFK concession.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A call returned! JFK Travesty, Part 5

My phone calls to JFK were returned! A nice woman who identified herself by name, twice, and then carefully spelled her name for me without being asked, called and gave me the actual phone number for the actual Greenwich Village Bistro. The woman said she worked for the Port Authority at JFK, which rents the concession to the Greenwich Village Bistro, but that the Bistro itself is the place to contact to deal with this customer service issue.

The phone number for the Greenwich Village Bistro at JFK is 718-751-2890.

I won't call them until tomorrow, however, since I still have to fax my contact at Anton Airfood. I've photocopied the receipt, so I'll fax it out as soon as I get home.

JFK Travesty, Part 4

Let's try this again.

Dialing 1-800-498-7497

This time I didn't even go into the whole story of the horrible service at the Greenwich Village Bistro in Terminal 1. I just said that this was my third time calling, and that nobody had called me back.

The woman who answered the phone said that she would leave another message.

Now I see that my receipt also includes the words, "Anton Airfood Inc." Hello, Google!

They've got a website that says they are passionately committed to the BEST service:

"At Anton Airfood, Inc., we believe that the customers' needs and wishes come first."

Founded by Bill Anton, the company is a major player in the airport concessions business. They appear to be based at Washington National. Let's try their phone number: 1-703-417-0900

A man named Mike is the person to contact: 301-896-xxxx

Fax is : 240-694-xxxx

Mike was very pleasant, and gave me his committment to "cure our evils." I'll fax him the receipt later today, when I get to the office.

It'll be a busy day at the fax machine. I've also got to fax a letter to the US Embassy in Ghana so that my programmer, Paa Kwesi, can get back into the country. PK, I need you here!

Monday, August 01, 2005

on Mexicans and the USA

Op-Ed Contributors (Forum/Message Board) - The New York Times

This is in response to an op-ed in today's NYT by Matt Dowd that reads, in part:

WITH nearly six million Mexicans living illegally in the United States, some Americans, particularly those in border states, are greatly worried about the costs of illegal immigration and have demanded that more be done to stem it. Modern-day "minutemen" patrol the border. Voters pass measures limiting the rights of illegal immigrants, and senators debate legislation to establish guest-worker programs. Certain elected officials and pundits focus on the perils of illegal immigration to score political points.

But chances are that there will be a substantial decrease in illegal immigration from Mexico in the next 20 years, and it won't be because of civilian border patrols, laws being passed, pronouncements by politicians, or as some would like, "building a wall on the border." Instead, the cause will be demographic trends within Mexico itself, trends that have been largely ignored in the debate over immigration.

The aging of the population in Mexico coupled with Mexico's economic expansion mean that jobs in Mexico will be more plentiful, thereby prompting fewer young people to come to the United States in search of work. Studies have shown that as the population growth rate in countries worldwide slows, migration drops. This is especially true for an expanding economy like Mexico.

As these trends become more apparent to the public, politicians running on an anti-Mexican-immigrant platform will be seen as out of step. While these politicians may seem successful in the short term, by the next decade the facts will definitely get in their way.

Does the United States need to continue to worry about border security and terrorism? Absolutely. Do we as a society need to figure out how to handle illegal immigrants and their families already living and working in the United States? Of course.

But legislators and government agencies should spend more time and resources addressing the problems of immigrants already here and our direct security needs, and much less time on prescriptive laws aimed at stemming illegal immigration from Mexico. We should be aware of the historic transformations occurring in Mexican society so that we aren't fighting a war that is already ending.

Matthew Dowd, who was the chief strategist for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, is the senior adviser to the Republican National Committee.