Back in the US&A

Friday, 20 December 2013

As JW and I have been living in a hotel for the past 10 days, and as my desk is only a few meters from the TV, I have watched a lot more CNN than I normally would.  As a result, I have some observations that I would like to share.

First, TV viewers in the United States love drama.  Everything is “Breaking News”, from a shooting in a hospital in Nevada to a falling ceiling in a theatre in London to GDP growth.  And when something truly dramatic is happening – I am thinking here of the recent school shooting in Colorado, they remain on the story on camera nonstop, even when all they can report is that they thus far know absolutely nothing.

Then of course there have been the moments of comedy.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”  Followed by, “Jesus was a white man too… verifiable fact.”  These declarations were made by Megyn Kelly, a presenter on Fox News, who quickly became an object of ridicule.  Not only did Jon Stewart predictably cash in on her idiocy, but even Don Lemon on CNN was not able to discuss the matter without cracking up.  On one hand, I can understand the controversy created by the statements as they were divisive and could even be seen as somewhat racist (hello, Fox News).  And of course people who aren’t white might be angered for the sake of their children who, as I understand it, are most often presented with a Santa and a Jesus who more closely match their own skin colour or ethnicity.  While Santa’s modern origins are northern European and therefore white, we should remember that he is a mythological character, entirely fictional, and so can be any colour we’d like to make him.  It would also be helpful to note that the original, non-fictional St Nicholas was Greek and therefore rather swarthier in skin tone than the Dutch Sinterklaas.

Two aspects of this story were comedic to me.  First was the inane nature of the specific claim that Jesus was a white man.  I’m not actually sure how “white” should be defined, so maybe it’s true, but the fact is that Jesus was a first century Jew and would therefore not have had the white skin of a northern European.  I think his skin tone would have been somewhere between olive and brown, but that is just my inexpert guess.  Ms Kelly, however, in making her claim with unabashed certainty, made herself look ignorant and ridiculous.

The second comedic aspect, at the same time tragic, is that Ms Kelly’s statements blew up into controversy and became headline news.  Why wasn’t she just ignored?  She was certainly fair fodder for The Daily Show, but why did CNN talking heads waste so much time on the matter?  Really, fellow Americans, should we care what Megyn Kelly thinks about Santa and Jesus?

Which brings me to my new favourite thing – some ZZ Top lookalike cracker who lives in a swamp.  Really, what the fuck is “Duck Dynasty” and who cares what this cracker said?  It is probably GQ Magazine that should apologise for interviewing him in the first place.  They seem to have forgotten what the “G” in “GQ” stands for.

Can we please get back to the real news now?


As we reflect on Mandela

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela was a hero of my early adulthood.  His death has triggered my own memories of the anti-apartheid protests I took part in at Berkeley in the mid 1980s and watching on TV in 1990 as Mandela walked free from his 27-year imprisonment.  Only four months after that I joined the crowd at a sold-out Coliseum in Los Angeles to see and hear the great man in person.  I think that at the time I was still too young and ignorant of the world to fully understand the magnitude of Mandela, but by now his incredible achievements and what they mean are known to everyone everywhere.

I will not here offer any recaps of Mandela’s life as the news media – who are better informed than I – are supplying those in abundance.  It is my intention instead to ruminate on lessons we can take from Mandela’s career and apply to our own politics in the USA.

The transformation in South Africa from apartheid to democracy was a slow and arduous process.  Nelson Mandela had begun his work to end apartheid even before the system was legislated in 1948, and finished it in 1994 with the first free elections in South Africa.  Amongst the lessons Mandela has taught us are hope, diligence and cooperation, and further that reconciliation is a better path than revenge.

So now let us look at the USA.  We don’t have legislated apartheid, we are still the world’s largest economy and we already have a black president, so we appear to have little in common with pre-1994 South Africa.  But our list of problems and defects is almost endless.  Choose your issue, big or small: government corruption, socio-economic inequality, bike lanes, guns, surveillance, taxes, banks…  I have no wish to compare the USA to other countries in these areas or any others; I only want us to consider what we should be and what we can be.  How can we be better?  How should we apply Mandela’s lessons?

Hope.  It may take decades for any of us to achieve what we have set out to achieve and there will certainly be obstacles and setbacks.  We may even redefine our goals as part of the process.  There will be many days or longer periods when it seems that nothing is happening, that no progress is being made.  We may even from time to time give into despair.  But as it is unlikely that we will be imprisoned for 27 years, we don’t have an excuse to give up hope.

Diligence.  Nothing happens by itself and we must work hard in order to effect change.  Very few of us will be asked to make the sacrifices that Mandela made.  All we have to do is be persistent in our efforts.

Cooperation.  Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk had been political enemies, yet they were able to recognise that they had the same goal, which was a better and sustainable South Africa where all tribes and ethnicities could live peacefully together.  Here I am perhaps being naïve, but if Mandela’s ANC and de Klerk’s National Party could finally see eye-to-eye and work together, then it should be a piece of cake for the Democrats and Republicans to work together for a better and sustainable USA.

Reconciliation.  Do not waste time parsing blame for what has gone wrong in the past.  Leave that examination to the historians and maintain focus on creating a better future.

At some point in the recent past, Americans determined that cooperation was unpatriotic.  Subsequently, we have damaged our own economy, we have stopped moving forward and many of us have stopped believing in a better future.  We now need to reset our national psyche using the example that Nelson Mandela has set for us.  If we cannot honour his legacy in this way, then we will remain stuck in the current quagmire, thus jeopardising our future as a nation.

Max now on Twitter: @monkeysmax

Saturday, 13 August 2011

What I have learned from Hugo

Sunday, 7 June 2009


I have now had a puppy for 10 days.  I got Hugo when he was just 8 weeks old, still very much a baby – even in dog time.  I didn’t know anything about caring for or training a puppy, but it’s amazing how fast you catch on.  My colleagues and friends have shared their wealth of puppy experience, and Boris gave me the Perfect Puppy book.  So I have learned to look after my puppy, but – more to the point – I have learned a lot about myself.

  • I do not enjoy having something (or someone) 100% dependent on me.  As much as I adore Hugo, I can’t help resenting him.  I don’t mind getting out of bed at 5am to take him outside – the sun is already up and I love mornings.  I like going for walks and I like him sleeping at my feet whilst I work.  Hugo has even come to pubs with me.  What I resent is my loss of freedom in general because I always have to consider Hugo’s needs and, most of all, that I have only managed to go to the gym once in the last 10 days.  That is not okay.
  • I will never again wonder whether my decision to not have children was the right one.  My experience with Hugo has shown me that I am not maternal.  I don’t have the requisite patience and I am a bit too self-centred, amongst many other less than attractive qualities, I am sure.  I like children and I like puppies – but that doesn’t mean that I have to have one of my own.
  • Hugo has melted my icy heart.  I seem to have regained touch with my emotions over the past 10 days, and I have been willing to show weakness and need, and to ask for help.  And a puppy is not what I need.  Back to the search for a real boyfriend…
  • Watching a puppy learn and grow is wonderful, and the speed at which Hugo is doing both is astonishing.

However, when all is said and done, I want my life back.  I want to get up at 6am and go straight to the gym.  I want to be free to go wherever and whenever I want to go and not need to wait for someone to look after my puppy.  I am sure it would be deeply rewarding to raise Hugo to become a companionable adult dog, but it’s just not for me.

I had had Hugo exactly one week when I realised I would have to consider giving him up.  I took action the next day – posting on and starting to tell people.  I am hoping to find people that will give him the love and attention that he deserves within the next day or two.

I am glad to have had my brief puppy-raising experience and I feel my life is a little richer for Hugo having been in it.  But I really am done.

Bird Flu Redux

Saturday, 16 May 2009

I can’t resist writing about this: Human noses too cold for bird flu.

All of that panic in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and it turns out that we can’t even incubate the virus properly because human noses are generally not the same temperature as bird guts.  Or something like that.

Long-time readers (if there are still any around) may remember that this Max never bought into the panic.

My first bird flu post in November 2005 decried the $7.1 billion that then “President” Bush had pledged to fight bird flu.  It also pointed out that War Secretary Rumsfeld had declined to sell his shares in Gilead Sciences, owners of the patent for the antiviral drug Tamiflu.  Instead Rumsfeld announced that he would not participate in government when it was dealing with bird flu related issues.  What a guy.

My post in December 2005 shared information from MedPage Today of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, which basically told people not to panic and not to take Tamiflu unless they actually had a normal human flu.  That page is still there, with the title Avian Flu Deaths Linked to Tamiflu Resistance.

I then left bird flu alone until February 2007 when the H5N1 virus hit a turkey farm in England.  The authorities there announced that they were going to kill 159,000 turkeys to prevent the spread of the virus.  And I wrote that by February 2007, only 165 people worldwide had died of avian influenza and the virus had not mutated to pass from human to human.

And now we know why.

Of course we also now have a new flu to instil panic, which may or may not turn out to be worthy of that panic.  Here are my 2 favourite things about that virus:

“They said we would have a black president when pigs fly.  One hundred days in… swine flu.”

and today this:

Swine flu fears could delay Hajj.  Oh, the delicious irony.

Off to a good start

Thursday, 22 January 2009


This is the first headline I have seen in ages that has inspired me to write – as you can see from my complete lack of recent posts.

Everyone was celebrating Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday evening. I was at the big party at Jáma celebrating along with everyone else. But when I was interviewed by a journalist from Lidové noviny, I made it clear to her that I would not believe in Obama until he had actually done something as president to make me believe. I personally was not there to celebrate Obama’s inauguration; I was there to celebrate the fact that George W Bush (that motherfucker) was no longer president.

And on his second working day, Obama has ordered the closure of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Wow wow wow – I may start to believe sooner than I had expected.

Max resigns herself to voting

Friday, 12 September 2008
Books Burning by Catherine Jamieson

Books Burning by Catherine Jamieson

Please have a gander at this: Women Against Sarah Palin

…and then VOTE OBAMA.

Vote from Abroad

I am not being a good anarchist this voting season, but I cannot look at the McCain-Palin ticket and do nothing.  I absolutely loathe McCain – as everyone knows by now, but the thought of right-wing religious nut anti-woman Sarah Palin in the White House literally makes me vomit.

* Thanks to Sweet Potato for sending the WASP link.