May 24, 2008

Sean Goes To Africa, Part III


Our globe-trotting pal Sean Blaschke is at it again. Previously, he was in the Gambia from 2001-2004 doing work for the Peace Corps. After that, in 2005 (and some of '06) he spent time driving halfway around the continent with three other intrepid souls as part of an African Aids Awareness campaign. They went all the way down the west coast, making the turn and ending up in Mozambique before the money ran out His dispatches via email and blog ran the gamut from poignant to hilarious to harrowing to downright inscrutable (but hey, that's Sean for you), and they were always a great read.

This time, Sean has journeyed to Uganda, monitoring and evaluating schools there as part of a joint project between UNICEF and an American NGO, I.Could.Be., called "Connecting Classrooms." In Kampala, the capital, he once again witnessed the full range of life there, from computer-supported classrooms:

The students are going out into their communities, interviewing people, taking pictures and writing stories on topics including health and poverty. I was tasked with troubleshooting a number of technical issues that were impeding full implementation of the project. Over the course of a couple days, we were able to resolve them all. During the site visits, I was very impressed with the high levels of motivation from both teachers and students. The students at some of the schools had put tremendous efforts into creating great pages. Producing a wiki is not always an easy or intuitive process. I was surprised at how quickly the students caught on.
...to squalid slums:
Navigating through a maze of narrow alleys lined with open sewage canals and all manner of rotting trash, small tin roofed brick houses intermingled with local eateries, bakeries, hair salons and butcher shops displaying huge slabs of meat masked by flies. The area is much to heavilypopulated, most houses do not have bathrooms, there is little way to dispose of the rotting trash, and everything sprawls to within a few feet of the railway tracks. When the rains come, flooding in the town is considerable, inundating many houses with up to three feet of raw sewage and driving people from their homes.
Sean even had his very own ZooTV-to-Sarajevo-linkup moment, when an AIDS victim from the slums literally got in his face, asking "I have AIDS. What do you think of that?!?" Now, Sean has a little more experience than most of us floppy and useless westerners when it comes to dealing with the crushingly uncomfortable realities of life outside the social bubble of American suburbia. Nevertheless he's still lost for words: "I still do not know how I should have answered [him]." Sean's had culture shock, coming and going more than a few times, but that's a pretty heavy way to start one's second stint in sub-Saharan Africa. He's gonna be there for a while, though, so hopefully Sean's Uganda blog will see regular updates.

May 18, 2008

Beware the Terror of Campaign Bloat



(map via NPR)

As a recovering political junkie, I was prepared for Campaign '08 to showcase all sorts of horrible visions that would threaten to throw me back off the wagon. Needless to say, I assumed these would all be thanks to the candidates, but nooooooooo. Their supporters have got in on the act as well, seemingly immune to that which Dr. Thompson once called "Campaign Bloat":

Many appeared to be in the terminal stages of Campaign Bloat, a gruesome kind of false-fat condition that is said to be connected somehow with failing adrenal glands. The swelling begins within twenty-four hours of that moment when the victim first begins to suspect that the campaign is essentially meaningless. At that point, the body’s entire adrenaline supply is sucked back into the gizzard, and nothing either candidate says, does, or generates will cause it to rise again…and without adrenaline, the flesh begins to swell; the eyes fill with blood and grow smaller in the face, the jowls puff out from the cheekbones, the neck-flesh droops, and the belly swells up like a frog’s throat…The brain fills with noxious waste fluids, the tongue is rubbed raw on the molars, and the basic perception antennae begin dying like hairs in a bonfire.
Indeed. Now, I shouldn't really have to write this, because most people already know it. In fact I'm sure they probably do, but some poor souls are too deep within the festering bowels of Campaign '08 to keep it in mind. So, with brain planted firmly in bollocks, I say, from head-slappingly obvious experience:

Your candidate is not an extension of yourself, so don't project your hopes, dreams, hang-ups, prejudices, and fears onto their carefully constructed personalities. Your candidate does not, deep down, care about you or about accurately representing you. They probably do not like you.

In fact they fear you—when they do not hold you in arrogant contempt—but that is only because you have the nominal ability to fire them if you ever get the stones to tear yourselves away from GTA4 and Dancing with the Stars and actually care.

Your candidate's gargantuan ego has already impressed upon their psyche the horrible inclination to run for federal office, and as everyone knows, one has to be three kinds of crazy to even run for state office in this country, so remember to keep said brain flukes under consideration before making personal and emotional investments in your candidate and their campaign.

Your candidate doesn't give a shit how many Facebook friends you have, or that you have enthusiastically signed up to be their Facebook friend. Your candidate is frankly puzzled as to why this whole internet thing has become the massive time-suck that it is, but nevertheless your candidate will be happy to pander to it just like any other potential constituency.

Your candidate will, while campaigning, employ some of the most emotionally unstable and personally vicious human sharks to ever swim in the sea of American politics, whose unstable personal polarity, though rendering them unfit for conventional social interactions, makes them nevertheless eminently qualified to staff the 21st century juggernaut of party apparatuses necessary to govern a far-flung corporate empire.

Your candidate will, while campaigning, associate with people whose views should not be projected onto that candidate either. Unless of course it will produce maximum embarrassment on all concerned (see ex. of Norris, Hagee, Dobson, Stallone, Bush, etc. etc.). Your candidate will probably be endorsed by said people, but don't take it personally. They don't really care about them either.

Your candidate will inevitably make you cringe with fear and loathing when they appear on the TV talking head shows, because your candidate is Not Cool. In fact, your candidate doesn't care about Tweety or Stewart or Keef or Colbert, and neither should you, unless of course you need a cheap laugh. I hear that Comedy Central has all the kids in stitches these days.

Your candidate will, if nominated, pick a running mate under crass, self-serving, mutually beneficial circumstances. This running mate is now your de facto candidate as well, and all of the above will now apply to them too.

Your candidate will, if elected, happily proceed to disappoint you concerning issue X, annoy you concerning issue Y, and enrage you concerning issue Z. That damn Issue Z.

Your candidate will...

Eh, that's enough of that, I guess. I may have bypassed Campaign Bloat and gone straight to the Vicious Brain Fluke stage. Oh well.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd.

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