February 15, 2006

The sorry state of US propaganda

Not only did they get busted for buying off Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-US propaganda, it appears that the US propaganda machine has fallen prey to its own specialists ability to create convincing webs of deception and lies. According to today's New York Times one of the main contractors of the US propaganda project in Iraq, the Lincoln Group is but a sham company in itself created as an attempt to take advantage of the current overflow of government funds for inculcating pro-US sentiment in Iraq.

David S. Cloud reports:
"Lincoln won its contracts after claiming to have partnerships with major media and advertising companies, former government officials with extensive Middle East experience, and ex-military officers with background in intelligence and psychological warfare, the documents show. But some of those companies and individuals say their associations were fleeting.

Lincoln has also run into problems delivering on work for the military after its partnerships with more experienced firms fell apart, company documents and interviews indicate. The firm has continued to bid for new business from the Pentagon and has hired two Washington lobbying firms to promote itself on Capitol Hill and with the Bush administration.

"They appear very professional on the surface, then you dig a little deeper and you find that they are pretty amateurish," said Jason Santamaria, a former Marine officer whom the company once described as a "strategic adviser."

I don't know if I should laugh or cry. How can the world's most influential country be so amazingly inept at checking the credentials of even its own propaganda department? No wonder they've managed to get away with basing the whole war in Iraq on bogus intelligence reports.

For the whole story:
Quick Rise for Purveyors of Propaganda in Iraq - NY Times Feb. 15

February 09, 2006

Life is like riding a bicycle...

I've been feeling a bit down for the past couple of days, overwhelmed with work, worried about where I actually am taking myself with what I am doing with my life, disillusioned with how few people there are out there who actually seem to care about anything, and then today I receive an email from an old friend I hadnt heard from for a long time, and another one with the following poem by Bruno Lais de Assis. Things are back in their right perspective again now. Life feels good, the sun is shining and I'm finally managing to be excited about something we're reading for Systems - we're reading Geertz now.

Como sobreviver na caminhada da vida
Bruna Lais de Assis

A vida é assim mesmo: lágimas, sorrisos, lágrimas, sorrisos, lágrimas, sorrisos, lágrimas, lágrimas e lágrimas.
Mas nesta caminhada só sobrevivem aqueles que conseguem fazer sua própria felicidade.
Aprenda a fazer a sua. E não se esqueça: a vida é como andar de bicicleta, só cai quem pára de pedalar. E quem pára é pisado por aqueles que caminham sem parar.
Todo mal tem um lado bom, depende de como você o vê...

Maybe its a bit cheesy, and I'm not sure that I fully agree with the idea that if you dont help yourself, others will just run over your, but still it managed to help me pull myself together today and stop moping around, and, well, I'm partial to any references to biking. I really like the idea of life being like riding a bike, you have to keep pedalling if you want it to take the form you want.

Here's a cursory translation for those of you who dont read Portuguese:

How to survive on the path of life
This is what life is: tears, smiles, tears, smiles, tears, smiles, tears, tears and tears.
But on this journey only those who can make their own happiness will survive. Learn to make your own. Just dont forget: life is like riding a bicycle, only those who stop pedalling fall. And who stops pedalling will end up being run over by those who dont stop.
Everything bad has a good side, it depends on how you look at it...

February 01, 2006

Lets study kinship!

I was just thinking about the difference between British stuctural-functionalist and Lévi-Strauss' theories on kinship - as our systems professor Manuela pointed out the French referent of kinship, parenté includes not only descent but also alliance, no wonder Lévi-Strauss paid much more attention to marriage than his British colleagues - and then my mom sends me a family tree she received from her cousin that traces a part of our family to the early 19th century Austria. My parents have become really interested in doing research into our family over the past few months, but what I think is especially fascinating about this new project of theirs is the discoveries they, and me as well, have found the most exciting, not who we are descended from, even though the occasional bastard aristocrat has merited attention, but the wide range of connections we appear to have over the world and to different artistic and scientific persona. As my mom wrote to me today in reference to the family tree she sent: "Aren't we an international bunch!". Last week she sent me the link to a wikipedia article in German she'd found on my great-grandfather, Felix Bryk, who turns out was an Austrian Jewish ethnologist and entomologist who wrote books on African Voodoo, and Circumcision (amazingly the books are available through Amazon). I guess I know now whose foot-steps I'm following. Of course all the discoveries are not as fun, we were all shocked to find out that Felix's physicist and chemist brothers were killed in the Nazi concentration camps. Before hearing about this the only direct connection I knew my mom's side of the family to have had with Hitler's Reich were my grandmother's stories of how she got lost in Berlin as a young girl because she was part of the Finnish gymnastic team in the 1936 olympic games.

As my fellow-classmates in Systems have been complaining anthropological studies on kinship seem so old-fashioned when you read through them; their attempts to draw up systematic rules and laws for who is supposed to marry whom or who one holds political allegiance to, seem to be so distanced from reality, both that of their respective societies and contemporary anthropology. I used to think the same when I was forced to sit through tedious hours of classes on kinship systems in introductory classes on anthropology. But now I'm not sure. Perhaps Radcliffe-Brown's, Evans-Pritchard's, and Lévi-Strauss' approaches may be out of date, but I don't think kinship as a central trope has gone anywhere. Who of you doesnt have someone in your family doing some kind of family research, or at least someone interested in knowing where your family comes from? Go Anthropology of Kinship!