Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting the Message Out There

So a lot of people have been very critical of the fact that President Obama appeared on the daytime television show "The View" this past Thursday. He has been lambasted and ridiculed for his decision to appear on such a show despite the fact that there are so many crises going on all across the globe. If you read the comments sections of most online news sources, you'll find a ton of comments by opponents stating that Obama has nothing better to do than fan the flames of his celebrity and continue acting as if he is on the campaign trail rather than leading the country. To all these critics I would simply say that there is no one to blame for this decision than ourselves. Perhaps you won't agree with that statement but it's the truth and if you think about it even a little bit, it will probably be the most logical thing he could have done to appear on "The View".

These days the media has become almost as polarized as the political system in our country. You automatically can make the safe assumption that Democrats will never appear on Fox News Channel and conversely, no Republican will appear on any of the other networks out there because they are the 'elite' or 'mainstream' media. As a quick aside, I have yet to hear a plausible explanation about how Fox News isn't elite when you consider the fact that they probably spend just as much (if not more) on the hair and makeup expenses of their reporters than any other network; but I digress. With the issue of media polarization being very obvious (at least to me) it makes sense that if Obama wants to come out and speak to the public on national television, he would do it on a show where at least there is a modicum of political balance.

Don't believe me? What about the conservative firebrand who sits opposite Whoopi Goldberg; the darling of Fox News, Elizabeth Hasselback. Remember when she was creating a stir on national television regarding the fact that the conservative media found that she was the sole voice of reason among all those other liberal cronies on the show? I would be hard pressed to find any other program that has as much of a mix as "The View" in terms of political balance. Obama could have appeared on Oprah but why? He would face accusations of taking an 'easy interview' much the way Sarah Palin was criticized when she agreed to be interviewed (if you could call her interview with Sean Hannity an interview) on Fox News. Conservatives would cry foul over the fact that Obama was meeting with Oprah because she's so very obviously in his favor.

And after that, are there really any other shows out there during daytime television that are actually worth the time it takes to read the show descriptions? I can honestly say that I don't believe there is. Gone are the serious talkshows that used to be on every so often and in come the reality series or trash talk shows. Obama couldn't appear on Judge Judy unless he wanted to sue Rahm Emanuel for using the f-word in front of his daughters so then where else could he turn to but "The View". Sure you can say that he could have very well made an address from the Oval Office if he wanted to appear before the general public but then there's an outcry over what show is being pre-empted.

Don't believe that? What about when Obama wanted to deliver a speech regarding the escalation of the war in Afghanistan; people began screaming bloody murder because the original timeslot requested would have pre-empted "Lost". Can't have that now can we? I guess those of us not affected very directly by the war really don't care about it but we would have cared a great deal had we not been able to see the final few episodes of "Lost" at it's regular time. Now I'm a fan of the show but I understood that the message that was to be delivered was important so it would have been worth it but I guess the majority of us didn't agree. You can make the argument that appearing on a television show like this is beneath the President of the United States, but then again where else will he at least be given a chance to discuss himself that isn't being spun by one part of the polarized media or another? Sesame Street anyone?


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Agreeing to Disagree Can Be a Good Thing

So besides the fact that the infamous site WikiLeaks continues to leak 'sensitive' or potentially 'explosive' information to the public one of the other stories to rock American politics these days is the fact that the House of Representatives voted to approve war funding in Afghanistan, this despite the fact that that over a hundred Democrats voted against the bill. Why is this a good thing? Well while some choose to look at it as Democrats abandoning the efforts of a Democratic President (Obama), I prefer to look at it as a prime of example of how politics should be handled. All too often lately we see politicians not voting their conscience but rather voting along party lines which isn't always the best option. Sure you can make the argument that most of these Democrats likely did it to garner favor with their constituents (after all the November elections in many states are just around the corner). I mean job security isn't necessarily a guaranteed thing, even with long-standing politicians.

So why do I believe that this action by Democrats in the House is a good thing? Well as I said, it proves that politics can be free of mindless support just because the President happens to be from your party. Certainly there are reasons for non-support as well; for example the fact that approval has been given in the House version of the bill to support the development of an alternate engine for the F-35 fighter, something Obama has steadfastly promised to veto should it be included in a bill that comes up for his signature. Perhaps you could argue that the Democrats voted against the bill for that very reason then perhaps it could be said that parties continue to play party politics, but is that always the case?

In the years following 9/11, we often heard the adage that "if you aren't with us then you're against us". That was applied as often to fellow American politicians as it was to terrorists across the globe. Our collective national fervor to avoid being labeled a traitor to our nation was likely what inspired many to support bills they otherwise wouldn't have. I remember hearing discussions among politicians in the early days of the war in which they said that they didn't agree with the war in Iraq but that it was the right thing to do given the evidence that was given at the time. To me that was a clear case of covering your ass. No matter the outcome you were covered to show you were on the 'right side' of the decision. If the war went well then you could say that you supported the war from the outset. However, if the war went bad then you could still say that you didn't support it but that given the evidence that was put forward you were convinced.

In the subsequent years, our collective memories have dimmed to a large degree and now our memories of the reasons for the wars are a bit hazy so it's up to politicians (who are always great for a soundbite... even if their facts are wrong) to remind the public why we should or shouldn't support forthcoming legislation. It sometimes feels that the politicians in Congress don't always take into account the will of the people who they represent but rather promote their ideas to the people they represent in a complete reversal of how the system is meant to work. Certainly not everyone has the insight into all issues to necessarily draw any opposing viewpoints so they accept Congressional opinion at face value which was a bad thing when partisan politics ran rampant. But if the vote by House Democrats is a true sign that at the very least the Democrats no longer feel obligated to 'tow the company line' then perhaps change really is coming to Washington.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Guess Satire is More Difficult Than Joel Stein Expected

Joel Stein of Time Magazine recently wrote an essay on immigration entitled 'My Own Private India'. In the essay, Stein relates how his hometown of Edison, New Jersey (which for those who don't know is a town in North Jersey that is now synonymous with Indians) has been transformed in recent years, mainly with the influx of Indians who have slowly transformed the area into almost a micro-India. Now that is of course both good and bad. It's good since many Indian immigrants have found a way to have a little piece of home while living in a foreign land. It's bad because sometimes we Indians don't bring the best of our heritage to our newly adopted countries.

I must clarify that I'm born and raised in America. I have lived my life in DC and I have actually been to Edison on numerous occasions so I can relate to some of what Stein references in his essay when he talks about how Edison has transformed into a bustling version of an Indian city in America. What has raised the ire of many readers (myself included) is the fact that Stein apparently attempted to state his observations in a satirical manner and instead, he successfully managed to instead insult the vast majority of Indians who read his article. He subsequently issued an apology and insisted that his article wasn't meant to insult but rather to raise awareness of his readers to the fact that immigration managed to change his hometown. To that I would simply say, "Welcome to America."

America has been and always shall be a nation of immigrants. No people on this continent, save for the native peoples of this land (and by that I mean the varied tribes of Native Americans) no one can ever claim to be a true 'American'. We are all immigrants; whether that be our parents or several generations before even them, everyone living in what we collectively know as America is an immigrant at some point or another in their family's history. That being said, there is no excuse for anyone (including Joel Stein) to view another group of immigrants with the degree of disdain and spite that he showed. As an American of Indian descent, certainly there are times when even I feel that Indian enclaves in our country (like Edison) sometimes don't represent all the best aspects of a particular culture but then again, which enclaves ever do?

I can tell you that almost every single neighborhood in America that has been around for more than a decade undergoes change; it's just the nature of America's continued development. The neighborhood I grew up in certainly has changed from when I lived there but that doesn't mean that I view it like the plague as Stein appears to do with the changes to Edison. If, as Stein seems to imply, after leaving Edison for Manhattan, he returned many years later to find his childhood haunts to have been taken over by Indians then he is as much to blame as any immigrants. If he had that much regard for the area of his youth, he would have continually returned or at least made an effort to remain a part of it rather than returning later and viewing it as a haven for people who aren't just like him.

What is most galling to me in his analysis about Edison is the fact that he seems to ply stereotype upon stereotype and seems to view the fact that Indians have moved into the area as a sign that it is declining or that they are attempting to turn Edison (and eventually all of New Jersey) into India. I suppose by his assumption then that Chinatowns and Little Italy's all over the United States are evidence of those ethnicities taking over as well. Whatever was the point that Stein wanted to make or was attempting to make in a humorous manner ended up stinking of racism and ignorance more than anything. Stein attempted to apologize for his essay but his apology came off even more half-assed than his attempt at humor. It's a shame that a magazine as prestigious as Time would choose to run this essay as a companion piece to editorials on immigration reform.


Monday, July 12, 2010

A Better Burger Can Cure All Blues?

I love a good burger. I can't deny that there are times when I crave nothing more than a well made burger on a bun. Some people argue that it isn't a burger without cheese, or mayo, or ketchup (catsup) onions and whatever else people feels makes a burger a complete burger. But regardless, I firmly believe that whatever you as an individual feels makes a good burger will always be better than what anyone else may think. And that's what makes burgers one of those dining experiences that can have such a profound impact on many people in so many different ways. Perhaps I'm blowing the importance of burgers out of proportion but I was inspired by a story I read online this past weekend which talked about how people are now ponying up for a 'better burger' and businesses are stepping up to meet a perceived growing demand.

For those who don't partake in beef burgers I can completely understand and sympathize but you have no idea what you're missing. Still, be that as it may, the purpose of my posting isn't to argue the merits of a good beef burger but a burger in general. I think one of the things that has really brought the burger back to prominence is the fact that President Obama and Vice President Biden felt it worthy enough a meal for a public appearance with Russian President Medvedev. Some will undoubtedly make the argument that rather than appearing at a burger joint together, the three could have accomplished the same thing by appearing at the White House Rose Garden, and that may be but I think by showing the American President in such a setting, it probably conveys an image of a person who is like the average American. Who can go and enjoy a simple meal that is filling much in the way some people like their President to be someone they'd enjoy sharing a beer with. I suppose we all have our standards.

According to the article I read, such notoriety has helped increase the popularity of the burger once again. That being said it seems that besides the normal burger joints that many people think of (like McDonald's or Burger King) there are plenty of other places looking to get into the act. Now there are places like Hamburger Hamlet and such which although are a bit fancier, they still focus on serving good quality burgers. I think many of the burgers that they have on their menu are pretty good and they do their best to preserve the burger in the way it was intended to be eaten which is with the hands and with ingredients that you can say with one or two syllables. There are some places though that feel that in order to have a gourmet burger, it should not only have a higher price but also more expensive ingredients as well.

I'm not really in agreement with that belief. Sure you can buy the absolute best beef in the world and that would certainly go a long way towards improving the taste of the beef but that isn't the only criteria. I mean as my brother often remarks, "are you going to eat the main dish or the sides?"; a corollary to that is are you going to eat the burger or the additions. I personally think what I stated at the outset, that a burger that is well and truly good won't require much else on it other than the burger patty. Cooked well and seasoned just right, it will be a wonderful meal in and of itself.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Too Much Freedom of the Press?

During the whole fracas with General McChrystal a few days ago I couldn't help but wonder why the General felt so comfortable with the press that he felt that he could say whatever he wanted to Rolling Stone and that it wouldn't come out in some way shape or form. Sure you can make the argument that it wasn't the General's fault that comments were reported when he wasn't aware that they would be part of the final news article in the magazine or that he was being quoted on the record rather than off, but still, shouldn't a part of him have been a little cautious, especially in light of the fact that the press is practically everywhere in politics these days?

I mean I remember when the Marines were initially deployed to Somalia back in the early part of Clinton's first term as President, I couldn't help but wonder why the press was being informed of the time and location (the middle of the night to be exact) that the Marines would be arriving; that way the press could cover the arriving troops. Perhaps it was meant to be a morale booster for the troops and the people left back at home who were wondering why the country was deploying soldiers to a nation that didn't have anything that benefited our country. Still, perhaps the rationale was to scare the opposition (since we knew Saddam watched CNN to learn more about our military movements during the first Gulf War) into realizing that our armed forces were ready to take them down.

But doesn't anyone find this a little much these days? I mean I suppose again the rationale behind embedding troops with the forces in Iraq was primarily to garner support since many felt the invasion of Iraq wasn't warranted. I suppose that by having access to our soldiers, the press would be less inclined to talk bad about the war and show it in a more positive light. While I think that was largely the case, I don't think the military (and their leaders more precisely) could be so naive as to think that the press would forever be on their side. After all, support for the war has been on the decline and in Afghanistan it was even more so, so if the press (which is always looking for some angle to sell more newspapers) could find chinks in the armor that the government and military are in lockstep on the strategy for Afghanistan, wouldn't they seek to exploit it?

I guess what I'm feeling is that while I think the press has a Constitutional right to report anything and everything that they can to keep the public informed, sometimes that freedom can backfire and cause more harm than good. I mean there's probably a really good reason why the press would want to report things but still, there's an old saying that "discretion is the better part of valor" and if the press (who sometimes feel that simple embedding is enough to warrant considering themselves 'blooded warriors') then shouldn't they do what they can to ensure that the truth (more than sensationalism) is reported? Break news stories but don't break it with the sole intention of selling more newspapers or magazines.