The poor man’s Internet

I posted this on the board of the Facebook group Asian Media and Contemporary Cultures but it seemed a shame to just leave it there where only group members could see it.  Lately I’ve mostly been using Facebook to do stuff that I used to use this blog for, it’s just that I’ve mostly been writing personal stuff (yesterday I visited the rainforest, etc.) and it all seemed to insubstantial to put up on what I consider to be a serious blog.  Anyway, the short essay:

I tried to write this comment in response to the posted article “Communities Dominate Brands: As web content migrates to mobile internet” but it was apparently too long.

Anyway, I wrote that such rah-rah essays extolling the future within our grasp never sit quite well with me because they never mention what happens to people who can’t join the revolution.

As a grad student in Canada I couldn’t afford to surf the Internet on my phone (that first phone bill was a shocker), and now in Costa Rica I don’t even have the option. The government has a monopoly on telecommunications, there are long waiting lists for cellphone numbers and long lineups outside the govt. offices when new numbers are added, and most phones are 5-8 years old. Only in November did ICE (the Instituto Costarricense de Electricad, which despite the name handles more than just electricity) sign an agreement to allow the use of Blackberries in the country and it was specifically mentioned that it was for the convenience of foreign executives in Costa Rica, not local ones.

This situation has come about mostly through the exigencies of politics, as in many other parts of the world. All of my fellow development workers stationed in Africa that I’ve talked to have mentioned how much slower the Internet is there than they’re used to, and I remember being warned against using Flash in my pre-departure training because it would slow down the computers of developing country users to unacceptable levels. Perhaps viewing the mobile Internet on a PC will be akin to watching colour programs on a black and white tv, but I can’t help feeling that we’re watching the further economic segregation of the Internet, as indeed already exists for the global high-speed vs. dial-up divide.

Time will tell, I suppose, as it always does. Anyway, what are other people’s experience on the subject of digital divides vis-a-vis Asia and other parts of the world?

Blog update

So here are some blogs that I’ve discovered in my time away from blogging and some a little more recently:

  • Passport, the blog of Foreign Policy’s editors.  It’s all about foreign affairs.  The blog is okay, I can take it or leave it.
  • Managing Globalization, from the International Herald Tribune.  Jagdish Bhagwati and Jeffrey Sachs are apparently attached to it.  This blog is slightly more appealing to me since it’s all about the big G.  It’s especially interesting reading the interview with Jeremy Hobbs, the executive director of Oxfam International, since he talks about the role of NGOs, a subject near and dear to me right now.
  • The US State Department’s blog.  It’s pretty much the National Geographic-y depoliticized (ha!) PR copy you’d expect.  It’s no accident that it sounds like National Geographic, since the magazine itself was founded with the express purpose of American aggrandizement.  But still, interesting to look at in a car accident sort of way.
  • And speaking of car wrecks, what about the Private Sector Development Blog run by the World Bank?  Check out the subtitle: A market approach to development thinking.  If that doesn’t sound off neoliberal alarm bells in your head, then you should get your internal capitalism detector checked.
  • Continuing on with the theme of disaster, I’ve just now seen that the IMF has a new blog called the Public Financial Management Blog.  Considering the low point the IMF is in right now, I guess every little bit helps in convincing the public that it’s relevant.  But as far as I’m concerned, the sooner Bretton Woods is dismantled, the better.
  • While we’re dismantling, why not dismantle the whole thing?  Down with nation-states, up with anarchism, says Molly’sBlog. It’s more activist-oriented than the usual theory blogs on my RSS feed, but it’s certainly helped me get a better grasp on the intellectual underpinnings of anarchism.
  • There’s also International Political Economy Zone, a blog devoted to, well, international political economy.  It comes at things from a Marxist-influenced angle.  It’s only because of the blog that I understood what exactly the subprime mortgage problem was–briefly, banks gave money in the form of mortgages to people who didn’t have the income to meet their mortgage payments, a.k.a. the less well-off, a.k.a. the subprime.
  • Lastly, there is the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s blog, cBook.  With articles in French and English, the blog explores issues related to citizenship: multiculturalism, surveillance, policy issues, recipes for tossed salad, etc (NB: one of these things is not true).  One of my friends writes for them, do check them out; judging from their very empty comments queue, they need all the readers they can get.

The border and the bourgeois

I’m in the middle of reading a roundtable discussion between a bunch of anthropologists of Europe talking about the New Right in European politics.  It’s from 2003, so some of their stuff is out of date, but it’s still mostly spot on.  In the middle of their discussion, the panelists start talking about the hybridity and border-crossing stuff that’s been popular recently.  They discuss two discourses on the issues.  The first speaks of border-crossing in terms of leakiness, where miscegenation–whether cultural, biological, or economic–is threatening, while the second celebrates the hybridity and cultural enrichment found from mixing different cultures.

As Jonathan Friedman asserts, though, the discourse of fear is produced by people at the bottom and middle of a society, while the discourse of celebration comes mostly from the top:

JONATHAN:

I have it very clearly. Look, I’ve never found a working-class hybrid who celebrated his mixture. I’ve never found even an example of it in ethnographies. It’s always by interpretation. There is one very, very strong kind of discourse of hybrid that’s being produced at the top. And I have hundreds of examples of it. What I’m interested in is saying, ‘Okay, these things are located, they’re positioned. They’re interested discourses in the sense that there are interests behind them’. I’m not sure exactly what interests they are, but I think they’re pretty clear. And these have nothing to do with Left and Right. The people at the top are producing hybridity: I don’t want to classify them as Left or Right. But there is a long history of colonial hybrid discourse being reproduced at the top. I don’t want to be stuck in how I represent that. I don’t want to have to represent that saying that ‘this is good, and the other is bad’.

THOMAS [HYLLAND ERIKSEN]:

But I’d like to challenge that, Jonathan. You’re probably right, that the people who celebrate hybridity are, as it were, middle class, I mean, members of the chattering classes, basically. The Salman Rushdies and so on. But those are the people who always open their mouths about anything, so that’s neither here nor there. Christopher Lasch belongs to the same class himself, now doesn’t he? But if you look at the people who are uncomfortable, and who present the kind of leakage that Sarah mentioned, and who are anomalies, and who don’t fit in and so on, a lot of them would belong to the lower ranks of society. I mean, all the illegal immigrants who make New York go ’round, who New York is completely dependent on in order to survive as a city. And the Pakistanis in Norway who spend three months a year in Pakistan, and who, you know, bring women back and who have this traffic in marriage and so on.

JONATHAN:

Yes, but what does this have to do with hybridities? You compare Gloria Anzaldúa, of border crossing ideology. She’s an author, and then there are hundreds of people who write about her, it’s an industry. It’s an industry of border crossing and of hybridity. But then in Lund we have people who have worked on illegal immigrants in California. Those immigrants are scared shitless of the border. There’s no celebration of hybridity, they haven’t got time for that. They’re not into those kinds of problems at all. They’re into very different kinds of issues. They’re trying to survive. Hybridity is a leisure issue.

—–

Well, take that Appadurai.  I already had bunches of stuff critiquing cosmopolitanism, but this roundtable discussion is certainly easier to read.  After this part the panelists went back to discussing the New Right in Europe.  Anyway, it’s certainly food for thought.

Reference:

”Anthropologists are talking’ about the new right in Europe’,
Ethnos, 68:4, 554 – 572

Costa Rica: Some initial impressions

Okay, this was written a little while ago but I’m only now putting it up.  Enjoy:

Well, I’ve been in Costa Rica for a week, so I wanted to share my initial impressions.

First, it’s quite wet here. It’s the rainy season, which pretty much means that it will rain everyday until November or early December. But just because it rains everyday doesn’t mean it rains all day, and it’s gotten sunny quite a few times since I’ve been here. The first couple of days, it was so humid that I felt sticky all the time, but either I’ve gotten used to it or the wetness has eased off. Number 2 is less likely because one of the wettest days in the last month (or so I’m told) happened a couple of days ago, the tv news had lots of stories about floods and crap out in the countryside. In fact, there’s apparently now a state of national emergency.

By the way, the wettest day of the month also coincided with my second day of work. My boss picked me up on my first day on Monday, but I had to make my own way on the bus system the next day. I got off at the wrong stop in an entirely different neighbourhood then took the taxi to the landmark nearest to the office. See, addresses work differently here, houses and buildings don’t have numbers. When giving directions, people say, “Go 100 metres north from the park and 200 metres west, it’s the yellow house on the corner.” One block is taken to equal 100 metres, no one really cares if it actually is 100 000 centimetres. So they actually mean go 1 block north and 2 blocks west. It’s overcast a lot now so you end up having to keep asking which way is north.

That’s the surface stuff, but on to the serious bits.  On the topic of gender, it’s interesting to note that two of the guidebooks I’d read warned that travellers would be shocked at how much skin Costa Rican women showed.  All I can say is that the writers must have been Amish because I haven’t seen anything outrageous at all in terms of clothing.  None of the girls here in San Jose would look out of place in Los  Angeles.  The biggest difference I’ve noted between here and North America is that hiphop fashion is hardly present here for both girls and guys.

Anyway, I went wandering off the tourist path once and saw an amazingly scuzzy-looking woman, she had a beer belly, armpit hair, and a miniskirt and bare midriff.  Sure, it’s freaky, but I’m thinking back to some other scuzzy-looking women I’ve seen in Sudbury and I can’t say she looks that different.

Oh yes, prostitution is also legal here.  The prostitutes don’t have pimps because they don’t need them when they’re legal.  Apparently the tourist hooker industry is contained almost entirely in the Hotel Del Rey, which also has a casino inside.  I went inside to use the ATM once and saw lots of fat white guys and amazing looking women.  But apparently the locals have their own brothels they go to where the women aren’t as pricy.

Second, on the topic of race, I’ve noticed that most of the working class folk have darker skin while the richer set are very white.  You can’t assume that just because someone is blonde that they’re foreign because they could very well be a native Costa Rican (an upper-class one, to be specific).  It was really quite obvious when I went to the Canadian embassy (it was closed, apparently they punch out at 1 PM on Fridays, the jerks), which is located in Sabana Sur, one of the swankier districts here.  I wandered around and saw some big houses with SUVs in the driveway.  I also had some chocolate croissants at this one convenience store and watched some kids from something called the American High School hanging out in the parking lot.  A couple of them were blond as can be, though none were that Scandinavian blond that burns really easily in the sun.

Continuing in that vein, and to segue to the topic of language, I must confess that I find it easier to talk to upper-class Costa Ricans.  It’s just that I can understand their accents better because they’re more like the standard Spanish I studied.  It was only after having had trouble speaking with different clerks and taxi drivers did I realize that some of them must have been Nicaraguans who’d come over to do the 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) that are the lot of many immigrants the world over.  Anyway, they do stuff like omit the “s” at the end of words (“tremille”? Oh, “tres mille”, 3000).  Costa Rica is mostly inhabited by mestizos and criollos (i.e., they look mostly Spanish), but quite a few Nicaraguans are actually descended from the local Indians.   Which means that Nicaraguans tend to be darker-skinned than many Costa Ricans.

Also, today (note: on Oct. 8) there is a referendum on whether Costa Rica should sign on for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  Anyway, the Si people seem to be mostly composed of the richer set, while the No people are more working class, with a couple of richer liberals here and there (I saw a guy in an SUV with a No sign in his windshield).  There have been convoys of Si vehicles tricked out in flags and Signs going up and down San Jose beeping their horns and drawing attention to themselves.  I did see a newspaper vendor shouting “vampiros” at them while they passed, though.

The building across from my hostel has one of the counting stations, there’s an armoured vehicle and tons of cops on the street.  Supposedly Costa Rica has no army, but I can’t really see the difference between these police officers and army pukes, they’ve even got army-looking uniforms and swagger around like soldiers.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to in Costa Rica so far.

Once more, with feeling (i.e., to Costa Rica via Montreal and Toronto)

It seems rather like the only times I post are when I feel the need to assert that I’m still around.  Yes, I still have this blog and yes, I haven’t keeled over as of yet.

Besides this important announcement, let it also be known that I have been hired as a “website specialist” for Defensas de Niñas y Niños – Internacional (Children’s Rights International) in Costa Rica.  It’s a human rights NGO based in Guadalupe, which I think is a suburb of the capital, San Jose.  Yes, you people in the know, this is the result of me applying for an international development position in Southeast Asia, preferably the Philippines.  What can I say, this was what I got after mentioning to the coordinating agency Human Rights Internet that I had intermediate level fluency in Spanish.  At least I’ll finally become fluent in Spanish.   I could feel myself on the cusp of it after only 5 weeks in Peru, so the 6 MONTHS I’ll be in Costa Rica should finally and permanently stick castellano into my head.  It’s from October to March and for the journey back I’m actually considering taking the bus from Costa Rica to Los Angeles to see my relatives there, then flying from LA back to Canada.  The whole thing will probably take a month or so.  Anyone out there done anything similar?  Is the infrastructure there or will it be harder than I think?  I’ve never been to Central America, so I have no idea.

By the way, I’m writing this paragraph right now while on the bus from Ottawa to Montreal.  See, I had to come to Ottawa for a training session with HRI which actually turned out to be mostly reading the “contract” (technically it’s not one, apparently — it’s some kind of tax thing).  I’m going to Montreal because there’s another training session with another agency (it’s  complicated), and this one lasts until the 16th.  But, I can’t actually go out and see Montreal because the training takes place in Orford, which I’m told is basically the middle of nowhere, so boo them.  At least room and board are all covered by the host agency.  I kind of wonder if I’ve actually joined a cult because everything is so organized and inward-oriented.  Almost my entire waking hours are scheduled for some kind of training that I don’t really need.  How to overcome culture shock?  Coping with another language?  Really, now.

After that I head to Toronto and spend the 17th buying essential supplies I’ll need for my upcoming journey.  I do have a question for people, though.  I’m thinking of bringing along some small gifts to give to my new Costa Rican  coworkers.  I think it would be better if I gave them something quintessentially Canadian, but what can something like that be if it also will fit in my luggage and not bankrupt me?  Anyone got ideas?  I asked at the Ottawa session and someone suggested Canadian flag pins.

But anyway, that’s what I was up to on my summer vacation (I didn’t read any of my summer books either).

UPDATE:

Internet access has been tricky out here in the boonies, I’m only posting this now on the last day of training.  I was going to try meeting up with you Toronto-based folks since I’ll be there all day tomorrow but this is rather last-minute notice, isn’t it?  Mea culpa.

Summer Reading List

Over on Rough Theory, N. Pepperrell and I have been wallowing in our guilt over not being well-read enough (is anyone in academia ever satisfied by how much they know?).  Anyway, now seems like an opportune time to share my summer reading list.  These are the books I hope to read after I finish my thesis.  I know, I’m guilty of counting chickens before they’ve hatched, but I think it’s good to be optimisitic about the future.  I don’t list novels because I tend to consume them at a really high pace and I pretty much just read whatever catches my eye when I’m at the library, the bookstore, or spy something lying around the house.  Anyway, the books I want to read:

  1. Southeast Asia Over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R. O’G. Anderson.  I just bought this a couple of weeks ago and I’ll probably just skim it.
  2. Cultural Citizenship in Island Southeast Asia by Renato Rosaldo.  This one I bought a couple of months ago and I’ve also yet to read it.  I’ll probably just skim it too.
  3. Friction by Anna Tsing.  Something I got for myself Christmas 2005 which I actually have cracked open, but I’ve never really, you know, read it per se (more like randomly flipped through and lingered on occasional interesting bits).
  4. Europe and the People Without History by Eric Wolf.  Again, I’ve flipped through it, I’ve gotten the gist of it, but damned if I’ve ever actually read it through.  Another book from 2005.
  5. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity by Jurgen Habermass.  I’ve actually read the introduction but not much else beyond that.  It’s yet another two year old book that I still haven’t gotten around to reading.  Damn you, graduate school!  Why can I never have the time to read all these books?  Confession: Sometimes I’m tempted to shelve it beside Madness and Civilization just to see what will happen.
  6. A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.  I keep reading about this book in various articles and such so I figured I might as well see what it actually says.  One book review I read says that it builds upon the dynamic duo’s previous work, so does that mean I’ll have to read their other books before I get to this one?  I know I’ll probably have to read Capitalism and Schizophrenia at the very least.  I wonder, is that enough of a grounding to not feel lost?  I admit, I want to read D&G partly because the anime Ghost in the Shell: The Stand Alone Complex is apparently written by Deleuzians.  In one episode, a sentient robotic tank is seen reading a copy of Anti-Oedipus.  I’d really like to watch this series and get the Deleuzian references.

You know what?  This is more of a 2007 reading list, in which case I should have written this list in January.  The summer can’t be long enough for me to read all these meaty books.  Oh well, yet another reason for me to finish my thesis soon.