Archive for culture crit

On Customer Service: Walmart Photo Center

Before Rosario and I got married two years ago, we hunted around Tijuana for a photographer and video production crew. The photographer we chose wasn’t terribly artsy or creative, but he did offer one thing no one else did: digital originals of all the photos. Most photographers guard originals with their lives to keep couple’s coming back for prints. This guy even gave us a special price for the DVD-R of images because I think I was the first person who ever asked for it. The video crew we hired also offered to sell me the original tapes for the cost of the media only. The source material is priceless to me, and luckily, I found a few people who didn’t realize it.

So the other day, we wanted to give some wedding photos out as gifts. I used Walmart’s online photo service to upload and order the prints (I’ve been impressed with the quality/price/speed of their prints). An hour later, a guy from Walmart calls to say he can’t print the photos because they are “professional.” He explains that they will print the photos if I bring in a signed release form from the photographer. “I own the originals,” I explain. “I bought them as part of the photographer’s services. He didn’t give me a release form, he gave me the images.” He repeated, “You’ll need to bring in a release form or I can’t print these.” I tried to explain the situation in simpler yet increasingly louder terms. He regurgitated company policy again and again like a robot stuck in a loop. After I was just about ready to tele-strangle the guy, I gave up and asked for a refund instead. “You’ll have to come in to the store with the receipt you printed to get the refund.” They couldn’t even refund it online where I’d ordered . . . I debated whether the gas to drive in plus the exasperation was worth the $7.81 refund, but I decided it was.

Moral: Buy a good photo printer or go to a local non-franchised print shop.

The U.S. México border fence deconstructed

Academically, that is, not physically. Peter Skerry, political science professor at Boston College, studies social policy, racial and ethnic politics, and immigration. In the current edition of Foreign Policy magazine, he writes:

[ The border ] is a jerry-rigged example of American ingenuity that reflects not merely ambivalence about immigration but also the competing objectives and compromises characteristic of America’s decentralized and fragmented political system. Moreover, immigration control alone was never the driving force behind the building of the barriers. Instead, border-control policies have had to piggyback on other overriding national concerns. The result is a fence that is neither as draconian and militarized as critics claim, nor as effective as supporters would like. How Not to Build a Fence, Peter Skerry

In the article, Skerry compares the U.S. México border to other militarized borders, such as the former Berlin Wall and Israel’s West Bank. Up against extreme examples, this border appears rather meek. He comments on each section of the fence to detail how its design attempts to be as friendly as possible – no razor wire, short wall to avoid injuries, easy-to-climb horizontal ribbing.

Sections of the border - ForeignPolicy.org

While Skerry’s comparisons are convincing at first glance, they are subtly manipulative. If the U.S and México were actually at war, the fence does appear weak. But in the context of peace, the fence still stands out as a military division. He makes reference to border conflict between Spain and Morocco, but the most recent Spanish-occupied region ceded back to Morocco was in 1969, a much more active land dispute. He goes on to minimize the desert deaths by referring to them as “hundreds” rather than thousands, attributing it to “heat and exposure, not because of a fence that maims and kills.” While technically the fence isn’t attacking people, its existence redirects crossers into dangerous areas. A well-reasoned attempt at objectivity, but it seems Skerry is stretching to put perfume and makeup on a very ugly wall.

Unfortunately, you have to create a free login membership to read the article. The illustration has rollover commentary on each of the red dots. I think it’s worth 30 seconds and the extra clicks. You be the judge.

The Morality of Citizenship

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many blogs by minutemen-types who say the U.S. is being invaded by immigrants. But in reading the rhetoric, I think I’m getting closer to understanding their motivation. Their conviction is based on national sovereignty and the rights of citizenship. But it’s more than just pride. It’s a moral belief in U.S. citizenship.

When it comes to a citizen’s social responsibility, the morality stretches to hypocritical extremes. Citizens don’t feel morally responsible for civilian deaths when their tax money blows up innocent women and children in a foreign country. But if their tax money goes to helping women and children get medical attention or an education in their own country, that is completely unacceptable.

Let’s take a closer look at the non-U.S. citizen civilian casualty issue. If the military finds a suspected terrorist is living in an apartment building in a foreign country, they’ll do some calculations to estimate collateral damage is within reasonable limits (I heard an interview with a military strategist who said the usual limit around 30 civilian deaths), and then they blow up the building. Now, if that same terrorist was in an apartment building in New York, there is no way they would blow up the building with 30 U.S. citizens in there. The country would go into a panic over the U.S. casualties, but doesn’t blink twice over foreign casualties. It’s based on this belief that foreign citizens don’t have the same human value as U.S. citizens.

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to declare fundamental human rights. The United States was among the 48 countries that unanimously voted in favor of universal human rights. Included in the 30 articles, the UDHR says every person has the right to an education and medical care, among other things.

And sadly, U.S. nativists continue to rationalize creating new laws to deny these fundamental rights to non-citizens. They even want to take it one step further, denying citizenship to “anchor babies” born of non-citizen parents.

Unauthorized Migrants Are Easy Scapegoats

Immigration has always been a contentious issue for U.S. Americans (except, of course, for that initial immigration from Europe. That was a God-given right). Today, foreigners must be worthy of entering the golden gated community. We don’t want just any riffraff joining the club. We need to know where you’re coming from. European? No problem. Hang out and enjoy yourself. If you’re coming from the third-world, get in line. People from third-world countries can’t be trusted to enjoy the same liberties as those from the first world. Particularly the poor ones. They’re more likely to end up in prison, be uninsured, and dumb-down public education.

Why bother writing a post about immigration . . . Debates over immigration policy will never end. There is no real solution. Still, I can’t help thinking most people watch television news coverage – illegals here, illegals there – and it doesn’t sound like sarcasm to them. Besides, sarcasm lets us all take a big look in the mirror, sling a few insults, and laugh about it later.

So let’s look at the “immigration problem.” Too many immigrants fill the schools. Classes are overcrowded. The children who deserve an education get a diluted one because teachers are too busy translating. No, the real issue is a neglected public education system. Too many illegals use the emergency room. They use up all the resources us white-collar citizens deserve. No, the real issue is an underinsured working class.

The immigrants aren’t the real problem here. The underlying social systems are in desperate need of attention and reform. Just imagine what the hundreds of billions of dollars spent taking over Iraq could have done for education and healthcare (wait, stay focused — write the post about war later). Illegals are easy to blame because they don’t really have a voice. Their underclass status keeps them from standing up to defend themselves. People use the education and healthcare cost example to show how illegals are ruining society. But the real root is a society that isn’t taking care of its basic needs. The immigrants represent the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back.

Polls show that a majority of U.S. Americans don’t think it’s reasonable to deport everyone. And if they’re not deported, then reform will likely involve some sort of legalization, temporary worker program, and a healthy chunk of money thrown at sealing off the Mexican border. But, if we’re not deporting all the illegals, how will any reform assume to solve the “problem” with these people being here in the first place? Of course, it doesn’t. None of the proposals include anything about healthcare or education. And that’s exactly the point really. Blame a class of voiceless people for problems you don’t plan on solving.

World Trade Center almost 5 years after the fall

On our initial flight to from San Diego to Madrid, we had a 12 hour layover in NYC. We took a brief nap in Central Park (brief because the ground was wet and the bench wasn’t very comfortable), wandered down Wall Street, and stopped to take a look at the World Trade Center site.

World Trade Center

From the Burger King window overlooking the World Trade Center site
June 9, 2006

On September 8, 2001, I was here at the World Trade Center wandering around much like the tourist I was on the day I shot the above image. I sat below the towers watching some free concerts between the Winter Garden and the water (off screen to the left of the image). I distinctly remember looking up at the towers and thinking I should take a picture. I remember being impressed by their height, but they’re otherwise pretty boring to look at, so I passed on the shot. After all, I had just passed 10 postcard vendors and knew the towers weren’t going anywhere.

América

One of my favorite songs about América (yes, that accent means I’m refering to the continent) is a song by Chilean hip hop group Tiro de Gracia called “América” from their album Retorno De Misericordia. Listen here and read along:

Tiro de Gracia

The song begins by describing América as a place of corruption, colonization, corporate exploitation, dictators, murderers.

América tierra vendida, explotada y herida,
América con corrupción, malos trabajos,
explotación, educación, racista, clasista,
hay muchos blancos elitistas
América con dictadores, asesinos
traficantes, mal nacidos
América mi tierra en pie de guerra
América con genocidios
por colonos no bienvenidos
América con Colón igual
muerte destrucción
América con héroes aunque el gobierno los niegue
América con mucha gente inconciente
América con muy pocos inteligentes
América con deforestación
que es igual a la tierra, muerte destrucción

The chorus then states “This is América. When God made Eden, he thought of América.”

América América esto es América
América América esto es América
cuando Dios hizo el edén pensé en América
cuando Dios hizo el edén pensé en América
América América esto es América
América América esto es América
cuando Dios hizo el edén pensé en América
cuando Dios hizo el edén pensé en América

The music and lyrics shift to describe the beauty of América, the people and rich culture.

América tierra de sabor
rimas salchis amador amor
mi tierra y cultura yo Lengua Dura
dura mi gente morena, pelo negro
yo te respeto te amo
América India JAH te bendiga
mi América Pacha Mama esta es mi cama
recuerda que el Perú es igual que tí
who are you bu umbudú guerito explotador
mama la pinga por favor

The song is scattered with references to the white racist colonizer and exploiter (You know that’s why I like it). It’s an ode to the good and the bad, a realistic portrait of a truly complicated landmass.

Dedico esto para tí
porque soy de aquí
con todo el corazón
soy tu caparazón acción
que pocos toman
porque mucho alcohol toman
recuerda que eso a los mapuches hundió
la falsa religión también la muerte apoyó
yo hablo de Historia y Geografía de tierra
y aunque a los maricas les duela
como un dolor de muelas
América suelo y tierra, sudor y escuela

This is the song I often think of when I hear people talk about being “American” in the U.S. I know a lot of people think of themselves as “Americans” but are unaware that others who drink Coca Cola but will never visit Disneyland also consider themselves “Americanos” in the continental sense. The saddest part is that many U.S. Americans mistake the country’s economic power for cultural superiority to the Spanish-speaking Américas, making them unworthy of seeing eye-to-eye as neighbors.

* * * * * * *

About a week ago, I was thinking about writing something up about the song, and on the TdG website (a web disaster, btw) I found the video for “AméricaAmérica,” which I had never seen. Unfortunately, the file took 20 minutes to download… so I figured I might as well upload it somewhere so it can get more access. Out of respect, I thought I should ask. So I did. I sent them an email asking if they didn’t have any problems with me uploading it to youtube. It took a week to get a response, but I got one (which contained the JPG I posted above). Viktor is the group’s Email Manager:

Nathan;

Vaya nuestro mas afectuoso saludo y deseos de paz y respeto para todos los seres humanos. Puedes usar el video de la forma que quieras sin uso comercial …. difundelo y todo lo que necesites …. quedamos a tu servicio.

Adjunto grafitti de la banda

Crew TDG www.tirodegracia.cl

Viktor

I immediately went to upload the video and found someone else had uploaded it while I was waiting for permission. I can’t say I’m any worse off for asking; it is nice to know they care enough to respond. Unfortunately, the video itself is a bit of a let down. From their lyrics, I expected a bit more artistic layering than what they came up with. The song still stands strong, and despite some of the rockstar cliches, they did slip in a few smart scenes and made it clear they are having a good time doing what they do.