Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Importance of Food

Beyond the nutritional benefits of food, I believe that the consumption of food, and the preparation of food carries with it significant social and emotional implications, which lie at the very root of the greater health issues in this country. I believe strongly that in order to radically change the way we eat, we have to bring the practice of food (you might say) back to the center of communal life.

The benefits of eating well have become more widely recognized in recent years. We each know that we should consume less sodium, avoid empty carbohydrates, prepared foods, artificial flavors, etc. The information is available, the recipes are available, and yet we are not seeing any substantive change. Why is that? If you ask just about anyone (even yourself) why we don’t practice what we preach the most common reason people cite for not cooking themselves is lack of time. So you really have to look at the problems we face not simply as a matter of nutrition but as symptoms of more pervasive issue with greater social implications.

The time and attention required in food preparation itself is in conflict with the pace at which we live today, and the increasingly secular nature of the family. We have made this remarkable shift as a society from a very agrarian culture into the very technologically driven culture. There are certain benefits to this and there are certain draw backs. Now more then ever we find ourselves compelled in different directs throughout the day, and because of that it is difficult to foster a sense of community. Yet in this common need to be nourished we all share.

We can’t sacrifice this agrarian practice, as we have so many others, because it is tantamount to the survival of every living organism. To correct the physical symptoms of our social dysfunction we must address our cultural relationship with food. The communal consumption of food is not enough. We have to actively participate individually in the creation of what we consume collectively. We must reinvigorate an interest in the cultural importance of food, the heritage of ethnic food. We must make people aware not only of their physical need to find sustenance, but the social and emotional need to be nourished, and to nourish others. I believe that is the only in this way are we going to truly engage people, and raise awareness of the importance of food.

Other wise I fear we will continue to find ourselves alone in front of the glow of the television eating Haagan-Dazs racked with guilt and remorse.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Barbie's Wanton Take Over of the World.

“Barbie is like a Trojan Horse. Inside it, it carries Western cultural influences, such as makeup, and indecent clothes. Once it enters our society, it dumps these influences on our children.”
- Majid Ghaderi designer of Sara

This isn’t the first time Barbie has been attacked for real or imagined impropriety. The strikingly blonde, blued eyed descendent of a German doll named Bild Lili created controversy when the doll was released in America in 1959. American’s notions of women’s place in society in the late 50s, were still vastly different from those held in post WWII Europe. Conservatives in the U.S. feared that her image as a working girl would undermine young girls desires to grow up to be home makers. Mattel worked diligently to reassure parents other wise. Releasing Barbie’s iconic male counter part Ken, and the first in a long series of wedding dresses.

As Mattel worked to reform Barbies public image conform to Americans expectations feminism began to take off during the 1960s. In the decade that followed the doll was harshly criticized by feminists for promoting the patriarchal status quo. Controversy has continued to dog Barbie throughout her 50 year career in this country as an “all American girl.” At the turn of the century Barbie is being admonished by nationalists like Majid Chaderi for promoting Western values. Why does this 11.5” woman attract so much scrutiny? Why does her visage arouse such passionate opposition from parents, religious leaders, foreign nationalists, conservative, and feminists alike?

In surveying Barbie’s career as an iconic character it becomes evident that legions of people have superimposed upon her their own fears and aspirations for the future. People from every corner of the globe view the doll differently. Collectors and enthusiasts see her idealistic form as classically beautiful. Others view her grossly unrealistic proportions as a misleading construct for young girls. Some see Barbie as a role model for girls. While others view her flimsy clothing and permanent make-up as indicators of the doll’s inherently wanton nature. It seems that everyone perceives Barbie through their own subjective filter.

There is no pervading notion of femininity, thus Barbie is subject to the social and cultural discrepancies of everyone’s ideals. Even among Americans no single image of femininity -even one as iconic as Barbie- cannot hope to satisfy the conceptions of all associations. Now at the turn of the century Barbie has become entangled in a multinational culture battle to define the social role of women for a new generation of girls.

Earlier this year Mattel opened their first Barbie megastore in China, hoping the tap into the materialism of the growing middle class, according to the LA Times. The dolls capitalistic venture in China illustrates a stark charge from the world she was born into during the late 50s. When Mattel first introduced Barbie in Japan during the mid 90s the doll was viewed as too aggressive, with her broad smile, and large forward facing eyes. Mattel has since made a number of changes to appeal to Asian cultural sensibilities. Including closing her lips over her teeth, and shifting her eyes to look down rather than forward, to give the doll a coy a appearance, more in line with the patriarchal cultural expectations of the region. Despite these changes it remains to be seen how well Barbie can assimilate in the Asian market.

Other countries have forcefully rejected the Barbie; claiming that she poses a threat to their cultural and religious beliefs. In Iran even the government is taking a personal interest in the platinum blond, Malibu surfer chick. Going so far as to produce dolls to combat her “destructive cultural and social influence.” It might surprise many Americans but the destructive repercussions being warned of in an almost evangelical manner is the spread of women’s suffrage to Iran. “Barbie is an American woman who never wants to get pregnant and have babies,” explains the designer of Sara and Dara Majid Ghaderi, “and this is contradicts our culture.”Wether girls who play with Barbie today will be inspired to establish a women’s liberation movement in the Muslim world future as many Arab nationalist fear, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monkeys in Space

November 29th 1961 NASA launches a chimpanzee named Enos into Earth orbit. Enos was not the first animal in space but he was the first to orbit and return successfully to earth. Although Enos was blissfully unaware of the circumstances which catapulted him into the great beyond, his journey was part of a complex struggle between the world’s greatest super powers. By 1961 the space race had become an integral part of the Cold War. More than the nuclear arms race the formation of the Soviet and American space programs, would reshape not only peoples’ views of themselves as citizens of each state, but their understanding of their place in the greater cosmos. The space race would captive the attention of the world for more than a half a century, and affect generations born long after disarmament.

The launch of Sputnik on October 4th 1957, and the Soviet head start in the space race provoked panic among U.S. citizens and politicians. Just a month later Sputnik 2 blasted into orbit with a dog named Laika aboard. In 1958 NASA was formed, as Americans began to question the social and educational underpinnings of their nation. According to NASA’s website “chances for a manned orbital mission in 1961 now were dim.” Earlier the same year Soviets had successfully rocketed Yuri Gagarin into space, where he had became the first man to orbit the earth. Falling behind the Soviet space program NASA desperately needed Enos’s mission to be successful. Despite numerous technical difficulties and a malfunctioning thruster, which forced controllers to return Enos and Mecury Atlas to earth prematurely, “MA-5 had to be termed an excellent operation, one that had achieved most of its objectives and that would become a milestone on the road into the unknown.” Most importantly Enos’s “mission concluded the testing for a human orbital flight, achieved by John Glenn on February 20th, 1962.”

Enos excursion into space, as well as that of many other animals, paved the way for human exploration. It is important to remember that before the men aboard the Apollo XI made their “great leap for mankind,” our homogeneous relative leapt first. Now in the after math of the Cold War the collective accomplishments of the U.S., Russia, and other nations have made the International Space Station and other joint ventures possible. International cooperation and exploration of space is sure to further our understanding of the universe and the planet that we and our animal counterparts co-habitat, for centuries to come.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Defining Violence: Part III

What makes the 20th century unique from those previous is the event of globalization, the rise of nationalistic aspirations, and the development of increasingly “sophisticated” weapons. Yet these events represented the culmination of human ambition and ideology, which was conceived upon the dawn of civilization. Throughout the early modern period oppression occurred in a disturbingly intimate context. After the fall of the Roman empire feudal kings imposed their rule over small provinces, established laws and levied taxes over the subject population with absolute authority.

Such rulers persecuted resident minorities which commonly included pagans, gypsies, homosexuals, individuals suffering from disease or deformity, as well as people of differing faiths and ethnicities within their kingdom with immunity. Each ruler acted upon varying ideologies thus the persecution of a given subset differed greatly from region to region. The rise of Christianity during this period led to the genocidal killing and forced conversion of all the pagan people of Europe. Even among Christians, Protestants and Catholics fought bitterly and the rise of one faction or another to power often led to the slaughter of the deposed party. It is difficult to know how many people were killed because of the zealotry of individual leaders. The extermination of innumerable people throughout Europe and even the Middle East during the early modern period, although not as systematic as what occurred during WWII, was considerably more pervasive and there for more deadly.

In these agrarian societies peasants were legally bound to the land as serfs, land itself being owned entirely by the king. Under this system laborers turned the entity of their production over to the ruling authority, which divided the surplus among the urban population, before returning a small percentage of the share to the peasants themselves. These small returns were often not a enough to subsist upon, and serfs often died of starvation even as their labor fed the kingdom they were subservient to. Without birth certificates or proper medical records it is impossible to determine how many people died in this manner. We are aware through various accounts that the peasantry from England to the Ottoman empire suffered beneath such a feudal and indifferent system. Thus the collectivization of the agriculture within the Soviet Union was not only reminiscent of such a feudal system, it resurrected the feudal order within the ideology of Communism.

What is notable about the genocide committed during WWII, or the starvation of rural populations under Stalin, is that they were in contrast to much of the rest of the world. Such things no longer being common in our society made them atrocities. The manipulation of national aspirations, as well as the employment of new technologies, allowed for the full infliction of suffering as was in mans nature. Prior to the 20th century man only lacked the capacity for such violence yet the will to power was forever present.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Will to Power

The submission of man is within the nature of man. The desire for power is nothing more then the response to our most animalistic selves. Power is the assertion of patriarchal superiority. Domination of others is the means by which the alpha male asserts his own unequivocal right to pass on his genes: A primitive instinct which still resides deep within the core of our beings, and which continues to motivate our actions into the twenty-first century. Some might observe the suggestion to be uncouth and idea appear unappealing at best yet scientific study has exposed; the social/political domination of individuals' mirrors the assertion of natural-physical superiority observed among animals, and genetically supposed inferior beings. If we wish to examine man's "will to power" we must recognize our most animalistic nature.

"There is no stronger test of a man's character than power and authority, exciting as they do every passion and discovering every latent vice (Plutarch, 46-120 A.D.)" The suggestion of vice as latent rather then developed interests me. Society has the tendency to suggest that power corrupts rather the exploring the idea that power enables the inborn the weakness of man and the indulgence in gluttony, laziness, and every other transgression of the flesh. The suggestion that power corrupts is the suggestion that the very fabric of our beings is fundamentally and irrefutably flawed. Corruption becomes the suggested result of our natural inclination to social-political animalistic supremacy. In 1951 R.H. Crossman stated: "It is not power itself, but legitimation of the lust for power that corrupts absolutely." Still others have suggested that; "The love [and pursuit] of power is generally an embodiment of fear (Bertrand Russell 1931)."

It is my belief that the will to power is born out of the necessity of the continuation of the species: A necessity, which has become perhaps less pressing in resent decades. Without abandoning our basic animalistic nature, mans has pursued the advancement of an ever increasingly complex and demanding social hierarchy. One in which our animalistic nature has become increasingly obsolete. Our social-political matrix has out grown our own intellectual and emotional abilities, and in so many years surpassed our own natural response. Survival in the world today is not dictated by Darwinian theory of natural selection but an increasingly complex social matrix yet we continue to act upon a prehistoric struggle against one another and nature. Power in today's society has replaced physical strength as a means to assure our own right to reproduction, and the continuation of some part of our selves. The truth is we are a nothing more then the inherently flawed product of natural selection, struggling to adapt to the artificial environment we have created for our selves. In the relatively short period of time man has inhabited this earth we collectively have convinced our selves of the organic nature of our self-imposed reality.