Sunday, January 16, 2011

Parody and Politics: The “Saturday Night Live” Paradigm

Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) broadcast of Tina Fey portraying the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, in the now infamous Katie Couric interview, is an artifact that lends itself to public discourse and is worthy of analysis.  Behind the presence of witty comedic impression and spot-on verbal and non-verbal cues, Saturday Night Live’s broadcast becomes the quintessential link between parody and political rhetoric, and the underlining ideology behind the artifact proves as a necessary component of contemporary United States politics.  Through ideological criticism, I will prove that the aforementioned clip represents a liberal, democratic ideology that seeks to attack the ineptitude of Sarah Palin as the Vice-Presidential nominee.

Artifact Description
One late September Saturday night, during the height of the historical 2008 United States Presidential Election between Senator Barrack Obama (Democrat) and Senator John McCain (Republican), the late night variety sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live broadcasted a clip that would forever draw questions regarding the link and impact of political parody and its rhetorical significance in political campaigns.

The clip itself aired during the opening scene of SNL on the night of September 27, 2008.  It starred alumni cast member and once head writer Tina Fey, portraying Sarah Palin, and veteran cast member Amy Poehler as Katie Couric.  The scene aired for just less than seven minutes and was “written by Seth Myers, SNL headwriter” (Scholibo 65).  Both Myers and Fey are the rhetoricians responsible for the parody.  While Myers has mostly remained in the shadow to Fey’s celebrity, rhetorical execution was only possible through a working verbal platform.  In essence, Fey is the rhetorician of non-verbal and verbal execution; Myers is the architect of the rhetorical frame; and America is the audience to which the parody was presented.  

It is crucial to identify who is being portrayed to fully appreciate the parody, while also considering the context as well.  Sarah Palin, the VP Republican nominee in the 2008 McCain Campaign, was a relatively political no-body until she accepted the Republican bid.  Fellow politicians, the media, and Washington insiders knew little or nothing about her except that she was the Governor of Alaska, which is far, far away from the beltway of D.C.  The press and media alike fell into a literal love-hate relationship with the VP nominee.  She had charisma, spunk, folksy banter, used or knew little political jargon, and was a pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage, Evangelical gun enthusiast. 

In a way, Palin was the female equivalent of George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign.  Nevertheless, the truth of what Palin thought and how much actual knowledge she had of politics, economics, and foreign policy was widely unknown.  The Republican Party limited Palin’s involvement and cooperation with the media, which ultimately turned out to be counter-productive to the campaign.  Dr. Shaun Treat, a communication studies professor at The University of North Texas, states: “this sequestering of a political candidate from questioning is politically unprecedented and, as Fey’s wildly popular portrayal demonstrates amidst Palin’s sinking poll numbers, probably counter-productive when the satire gets more play than the politician being satirized” (“SNL" satire of Sarah Palin feeds the media's "cult of personality”).  It was not until the Katie Couric interview on September 24, 2008, that Palin’s true colors were revealed.  Palin took Couric’s basic political questions, questions that were routine and any candidate would have been able to address somewhat cohesively, and in a matter of minutes, made it clear why the Republican Party kept the media from interviewing her for so long. The VP-nominee systematically stammered through the interview, often times referring to obvious pre-memorized paragraphs that took shape in the form of incomplete sentences and incomprehensible thoughts on politics.

The SNL scene parodying Sarah Palin in the now infamous Katie Couric interview has brought into question the impact of comedy in a presidential race.  In a public opinion survey conducted by FirstView, “two-thirds of voters saw SNL’s political parodies this election season” ('Saturday Night Live' Political Skits Make Real Impact on Voters).  Moreover, the survey found “that 10 percent of voters said they were influenced by the skits.”  The resonating political impact of these draws into question the inherent ideological nature of the artifact.  It is therefore important to conduct an ideological criticism of the parody.

An ideological criticism is a method of analysis that seeks to look beyond an artifacts surface to discover the hidden ideological assumptions of the rhetor(s).  There are many perspectives that have led to the development of ideological criticism, all of which contribute to a collective study of the philosophies behind communication and rhetoric and “looks beyond the surface structure of an artifact to discover the beliefs, values, and assumptions it suggests” (Foss 209).  Because of the explicit ideological tendencies of the SNL skit, an ideological criticism would best reveal the hidden assumptions, values, and beliefs of Fey, Myers, and SNL as a whole.

The section of the parody I will analyze will be a verbatim oral depiction of Sarah Palin’s answers to Katie Couric in the SNL skit as well as an examination of the comedic non-verbal cues of Tina Fey.  The said portion of the parody goes as follows:  “But ultimately what the bailout does is, help those that are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy to's gotta be all about job creation, too (<>).”

The methodology behind revealing the ideology of a democratic and liberal ideal of the SNL parody will be based on both the verbal and non-verbal communication within the artifact.  First, I will identify the non-verbal presented elements that contribute to said artifact’s ideology through a basic observable list and correlate my findings to a non-verbal suggested element cluster. Secondly, I will articulate the verbal presented elements with the suggested elements of the parody by analyzing the aforementioned portion of the verbatim section of the parody.  Lastly, I will group the list based on ideological clusters that will provide an easily understandable framework towards the inherent democratic/liberal ideology. 

An ideological criticism of SNL’s Tina Fey/Sarah Palin parody effectively reveals the sketch to be deeply rooted in a democratic/liberal ideology that views Sarah Palin unworthy to be on the 2008 Election ticket.
In order to categorize both the verbal and non-verbal suggested and presented elements, I analyzed first the non-verbal presented clusters alongside the non-verbal suggested clusters in the SNL skit. 

Non-Verbal Presented Elements                                  Non-Verbal Suggested Elements
Stylish Pink Blouse, Short Black Skirt, Legs Folded  -->Woman in politics, sex symbol, classic cultural ideologue of feminine sitting posture
American flag draped in the background and flowers stage left ---> Patriotic women
Glasses, brown hair with hues of blond styled up above the shoulders ----> Professional woman
Lick of lips, constant smile, battering of her eyes, winking -----> Sex symbol, flirt, a distraction from the content of her answers
Slightly tilted head to stage right, excessive index finger movement and hand movement on both sides when speaking ---->Doesn’t have confidence in the words spoken, a ditz 
The artifact in questions presents a real depiction of Sarah Palin’s attire during her interview.  Her ticks and non-verbal cues are embellished and exaggerated to create a heavier comedic impact.  However, a cluster of those presented and suggested cues shows the rhetor to have a deep disapproval of Palin as a VP contender.  

Fey accentuates Palin’s wide, somewhat flirty smile, often acting out the trademark wink and battering of her eyes.  Such presented elements provided evidence for a suggested element clustering depicting a political sex symbol; a flirt, someone who uses their appearance and folksy, somewhat suggestive personality as a distraction from the content of their verbal communications.  When speaking, Fey portrays Palin’s lack of confidence in the content and credibility of her verbal presented elements by slightly tilting her head to stage right and excessively moving both hands arbitrarily while also systematically pointing with both index fingers.  This creates a comedic framework that is inherently a democratic/liberal ideologue.  The ideology sees Sarah Palin’s political and social ineptitude and lack of communication skills as key components to her lack of credibility and experience for the office in which she seeks. 

In considering the verbal communication present in the artifact, it is important to identify character traits in relation to the script.  In this case, the script is a representation of Palin’s message as well as a comedic tool used to illuminate her political incompetence.  

The verbal presented element cluster is as follows: the improper use of coordinating conjunctions (but), slight stammering, incomplete sentences, run on sentences, incomplete thoughts, improper grammar, pausing, and an excessive use of demonstrative pronouns (that, those).  While on the surface level the aforementioned clusters provide for a humorous comedic framework, but when compared to my findings regarding the verbal suggested elements, one will see how evidentially apparent the SNL liberal/democratic ideology becomes.

The suggested elements of the verbal cluster becomes more complicated and a further explanation of my clustering needs to be addressed.  When reading over the transcript of the interview, the incomprehensible thought and unclear message of Palin becomes clear.  Instead of breaking down the original transcript and identifying the various grammatical errors, incomplete thoughts, and sentences, I chose to revise the message in a form that represents what Palin was trying to say.  The revision is a systematic removal of incomplete sentences, grammatical errors, run on sentences, coordinating conjunctions, and the superfluous presence of demonstrative pronouns. The following revision allows me to better analyze the suggested elements of the SNL parody and how the artifact lends itself to an ideologue.  The suggested elemental cluster revision: “Ultimately, the Federal bailout helps reconcile those citizens’ concerned about the state of Health Care Reform and its impact on economic growth.  The bailout must also seek to create jobs.” 

When analyzing the revised cluster sentence and its message, it becomes apparent how little Sarah Palin understands politics, economics, and the global financial crisis.  From the suggested element cluster, it becomes clear how a liberal/ demographic ideologue is present in the verbal cues.  By using Palin’s own words during the interview, Fey, Myer’s, and SNL sought to illuminate Palin’s miscomprehension of politics.  

Through an ideological criticism of said artifact, it is found that SNL sought to expose Palin’s fallacies.  SNL used comedy to show that the Federal Bailout is in no way linked to Health Care Reform.The fact that Palin’s answer links the bailout to Health Care Reform, and Health Care Reform to a complete economic recovery initiative to stimulate the creation of jobs, is a fallacious notion.  Fey, Myers, and SNL’s ideology, although explicitly liberal and democratic, is also a perpetuation of Palin’s lack of political credibility and unworthiness to serve in the Executive as VP.

Incorporating the non-verbal suggested and presented elements with the verbal presented elements and the cluster revised suggested element provides strong evidence for the argument that SNL’s hidden political ideology is representative of a liberal/democratic ideology, which views Sarah Palin as an unworthy candidate of the Republican Vice-Presidential nomination.    

Through an ideological criticism of SNL’s parody of the Sarah Palin/ Katie Couric interview, one can see the true detest the SNL writers and Tina Fey have in regards to Sarah Palin being named the Republican VP nominee.  Using Palin’s own words and own character traits, SNL reveals Palin’s ineptitude's through a shared comedic experience that assumes an ideology of a liberal/democratic nature.  As Robert Hariman of the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern describes, “Comedy is both a part of the ongoing contestation of ideas and a critique of how they are being discussed – how the debate is being shaped by the characters, attitudes, emotions, social identities, discourses and media involved in public speech” (Wainhouse).  Satires, parodies, comics, stand-up comedians, political cartoons, late-night talk and variety shows such as Saturday Night Live, all have an inherently rhetorical purpose, whether that purpose is obvious or not.  Humor, satire, and parody would not be entertaining or rhetorically relevant to public discourse, if they were not intended to illuminate known or unknown truths.  SNL used a truthful representation of Sarah Palin’s character traits and illuminated them to the nation, ultimately imposing their ideology on the audience.
Work Cited
Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. 4th ed. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland P, Inc., 2009.
"'Saturday Night Live' Political Skits Make Real Impact on Voters." On The Hill. 5 Nov. 2008. 27 Feb. 2009.
Scholibo, Corey. "Tina Fey." Advocate (13 Jan. 2009): 65-65. Academic Search Premier. 16 Mar. 
2009. < px?direct=true&db=aph&AN=35730983&site=ehost-live&scope=site>.
""SNL" satire of Sarah Palin feeds the media's "cult of personality," UNT communications studies 
professor says." University of North Texas News Service. 09 Oct. 2008. University of North 
Texas. 28 Feb. 2009 < close>.
Wainhouse, Olivia. "Satire important in politics, profs say." 11 Nov. 2008. 
The Daily Northwestern. 27 Feb. 2009 < 1/11/Campus/Satire.Important.In.Politics.Profs.Say-3535945.shtml>.

In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue: Book Review

Looking out across the sea, staring out at the horizon and wondering the great obstacles that lay ahead, the challenge it would be to bring that horizon even a little closer, one wonders if Columbus had the same misgivings before he embarked on his historic journey.  Nevertheless, in modern times, the shape of the globe and the distance between individuals, companies, and countries is now obsolete.  In this new era, as Thomas L. Friedman coined “Globalization 3.0”, the horizon that proved the world to be round is being flattened again, not by the clergy this time, but by innovations in technology and technological communication.  In Friedman’s book The World Is Flat, he articulates how emerging technologies, specifically in the field of corporate innovation and communication, have leveled the global playing field and will create an emergence of completely new social, political and business paradigms.  

Globalization, as Friedman argues, has evolved since the days of brawn and muscle, steamboats and trade routes, and even the invention of the airplane.  Currently, the convergence of the information technologies and globalization are leveling the competitive playing field between world powers and developing nations, and breaking the economic hierarchies of the colonial era.  From the creation of the personal PC, to the laying of fiber-optic cables, to the innovative and easy-to-use workflow software, emerging market countries have caught up to America and are now on the same playing field due to the new interconnectedness of our ‘flat’ world.  As Friedman mentions in his book, a software developer in Silicon Valley can now call up his buddy in New Delhi and ask him to look over his software, share ideas, or offer his critique; the finish product will be in our Californian’s inbox the next morning.  The flat world has created not only a level playing field for developing nations and emerging markets, but has created a level, equal playing field for the individual as well.  Now, a personal PC and an Internet connection opens up a world of opportunity, innovation, efficiency, all of which being highly lucrative. A concept that previous eras couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams.

From Friedman’s perspective, the flattening of the world has given birth to a competitive drive for education in developing and competing nations that is threatening America’s dominance over the global economy.  Contrast to American education, education in India is driven towards a goal of creating innovation in emerging technologies.  India and China, and parts of Eastern Europe, have created more software developers, engineers, and IT technicians that, thanks to a flat world, can now do jobs for corporate America with the convenience of not having to leave their homes in Bangalore or Beijing.  

American corporations have seized the skills of foreign competition.  Outsourcing is one of the ten forces that led to the flattening of the world, while also creating a competitive, eager drive for education, especially in India.  India took advantage of the technological revolution and Indian society collectively started to drive her children to study mathematics, computer science, science, and engineering.  Building hundreds of IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) universities along with many other private technical colleges and computer schools gave the world a bottom-less well of highly educated, determined young minds to fix their computer problems, all at their fingertips.  

While all of this was going on, America was over-investing in laying down hundreds of thousand of miles of fiber-optic cable, as the Internet bubble was taking off.  While India did not benefit from the dot-com boom, they did from the dot-com bust.  “The boom laid the cable that connected India to the world, and the bust made the cost of using it virtually free and also vastly increased the number of American companies that would want to use that fiber-optic cable to outsource knowledge work to India (Friedman 133).”  As Friedman discusses how the inevitable Y2K broke the barrier between low-skilled, low-waged outsourced laborers, and opened the floodgates to high-skilled medium-waged outsourcing.  While the PC and Internet were invented and developed in the U.S., the problems involving Y2K software were to be fixed through outsourcing in India, for half the cost.  Friedman quotes Louis Pasteur in describing how India was able to exponentially increase its economy, “Fortune favors the prepared mind (136).”

Friedman concludes that America is in danger of falling behind, or off, of the global playing field in the next fifty years.  The post-WWII mentality towards the advancement of America’s youth in the field of mathematics, engineering, and science is no more.  Now more than ever, America’s youngster’s are obsessed with earning high paying jobs without putting in the hard work and learning the fundamentals.  Ergo, America is becoming the third generation of a wealthy family whose liquidity is slowly depleting under the weight of its overweight, lethargic, non-ambitious, un-innovative grandchildren.  America needs to inspire innovation, creativity, and employment in the field of science, mathematics, and engineering, in order to compete in the future with developing and emerging market economies such as India, China, and Eastern Europe.

From an organizational context, Friedman discusses how the flat-world has created a competitive influx to trim any and all ‘fat’.  This fat, is what corporations consider superfluous expenses that are generally amended through cutbacks in health insurance, pension and retirement plans, as well as massive redundancies, outsourcing labor and the off-shoring of entire factories to other countries, in order to gain an increase in profit margins and in dividends for their shareholders.  

Nevertheless, a flat, equal global playing field is inevitable, and instead of fighting it, organizations within the U.S. should embrace it.  Companies should look within their own organizations for innovation, update and constantly work on their skills, and create an environment that champions the individual innovator and entrepreneur.  Friedman contends that companies need to create a market for scientist and engineers and attract young minds that will lead the U.S. towards a future of exporting creative inventions in technology and not low-level jobs.

Furthermore, companies need to lobby their politicians to create affordable health care for its citizens.  This in turn will do two things: Firstly, access to quality, affordable health-care will no longer be dependent on ones job.  This will cover a drop in income if one so chooses to change employers, while still having healthcare.  Secondly, if governmental healthcare reform changes the corporate cost-cutting structure, it will enable corporations to invest in education, infrastructure, and innovation, which in turn will stimulate America’s economy and her social paradigm.  In order for this to happen, American corporations must have communications departments that are technically omni-competent with newly sought after innovations in the communications field, and have the ability to successfully communicate with their national and international subsidiaries and foreign infrastructures to limit the static, thinking on the same wavelengths, globally.  

Hopefully, in a future were companies are in demand of scientist, mathematicians, and engineers, America’s youth will be inspired collectively as a nation to join in on the disciplines that foster creativity and innovation.  In the near future, one can only hope, that America will return to the collective Cold-War challenges of ‘putting a man on the moon’.    


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Egyptian Ful: the most noble of all the bean mashes

Its not a curd or a nacho, were not talking about simply refried beans here people.

Foul, also know as Ful Medammes, is an Egyptian dish that has the consistency of refried beans and the taste of those same refried beans, only a couple days later after your roommate leaves them out on the counter and doesn't bother to cover them and store them nicely in the refrigerator.

The normal recipe for ful consists of mashed fava beans served with olive oil, chopped parsley, onion (red or white), garlic and lemon juice, with the occasional cilantro thrown in; this is the universal recipe although if you travel to other Pan-Arab countries, such as Lebenon, they throw in variations, usually for the better.  You might be thinking to yourself that this culinary creation is the work of genius; well I can tell you right now that ful is no more of a pleasure for the pallet then it is a pleasure for ones bowels.

Sure, in the classier of the Egyptian restaurants ful is prepared over time, wherein a chef takes precaution and pleasure in preparing for his guests a piece of Egyptian culinary culture that they can write home about (or say on their blog).  But your normal ful, the ful you eat out of the carts aligning the back streets of Alexandria, the ful that all the tour books advise you not to eat, is less of an orchestra for ones pallet as it is a quick fix to get you through the next hour so you don't strangle someone out of sheer hunger.

Although it may be cynical, I truly feel that there is something too this life-blood of Egypt.  From the taste of normal ful, a clever person with a refined pallet can deduce a lot about Egyptian culture.  For starters, your normal ful is rarely seasoned.  Your lucky if you find "a guy" who is selling ful sandwhiches (ful stuffed in bread similar to pita) who seasoned his ful with salt and pepper at every step.  Gordon Ramsey would be ashamed I think to myself: "season at every step you f$#@ing twat!" I imagine him yelling at Ahmed on Port Said Street in the new show I will produce rightly called "Egyptian Kitchen Nightmares".  Inevitably the show would only last one season because the World Health Organization would now have enough video evidence to shut down every restaurant in Egypt.  I'm obviously joking don't take offense.  But the ful I eat on the streets, and yes I do eat the ful on the streets because I have the constitution of a billy goat, rarely has anything in it as far as seasonings and other accoutrements.  Why? I often ask myself.  Why no garlic or cilantro, or maybe some olive oil or red onion?  Why?

I can infer one reason and one reason only.  Ful, Egyptian Ful specifically, is the most utilitarian of all the mashed up bean dishes.  Over the course of Egyptian history, Ful has evolved into the "on-the-go" snack that can be consumed in large quantity and will last you through the day.  While it has evolved into an on-the-go dish, it seems that it is also prepared in the same fashion.  Quickly!  The dish is so filling that one must take caution when eating it.  If someone was to eat ful in the morning, his or her co-workers would know because the man would be sluggish and tired.  To much ful equals a bad case of the itis...but darnit, it does the trick.  It works.

Should you ever be in Egypt, you really should try the ful.  I have grown to love the banality of it, the plain, unmistakable, unseasoned melancholy of a dish that feeds an entire nation.  mmm mmm good!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

a quote my friend sent me

this is just a good quote my friend sent me:

"While I thus cogitate in disquiet and perplexity, half submerged in the dark waters of a well in an Arabian oasis, I suddenly hear a voice from the background of my memory, the voice of an old Kurdish nomad: If water stands motionless in a pool it grows stale and muddy, but when it moves and flows it becomes clear: so, too, man in his wanderings..." Whereupon, as if by magic, all disquiet leaves me. I begin to look upon myself with distant eyes, as you might look at the pages of a book to read a story from them; and I begin to understand that my life could not have taken a different course. For when I ask myself, 'What is the sum total of my life?' something in me seems to answer, 'You have set out to exchange one world for another--to gain a new world for yourself in exchange for an old one which you never really possessed.' And I know with startling clarity that such an undertaking might indeed take an entire lifetime."

-Muhammad Asad

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Locked out in Agamy

Yesterday, December the 17th, Morgan, Connor, Ryan, and I were taken to our Egyptian friends little place in Agamy beach.  It was beautiful, the miles of endless coast, vacant of tourist save the few stray local wonders with their fishing equipment.  The air outside was about 50-55 degrees but the water temp was around 58-64 and, there was surf!  It was about waist to chest high but the winds were S-SW which made the current choppy and irregular.  Nevertheless, Morgan and I jumped in and in doing so immediately regretted our decision; the wind was so intense that even sticking your head out of the water was an unpleasant experience.

After swimming and hanging out a little in Karim's apartment, we all decided that we were hungry and that it was time to make the 45 minute car-ride back to Alexandria.

While packing the trunk of the car with our bags, Karim seemed to have dropped the key inside the trunk.  Morgan, thinking that Karim had the key, proceeded to close the trunk, thusly locking ourselves out of the car.  

Agamy is a tourist town, however, only in the summer.  In the dead of winter it is rather vacant, and if it wasn't for the beautiful Mediterranean it would be one hell of a depressing place.  Nevertheless, to lock your keys in your car sucks, plain and simple.  No one is around.  

After doing this we all thought about what the next step should be.  Should we call a locksmith? or a mechanic?  I came up with a rather ingenues idea (if i do say so myself) of acquiring a metal-wire coat hanger that we could thusly make straight and try to open the door from the inside.  'merica! f$#@ yeah! here we come to save the f$#@in' day yeah! (I secretly thought)

We found a coat hanger inside Karim's apartment and straightened it, but it was apparent that to slide the coat hanger through the window was not as easy as it was on say, my dad's Mercury van.  Stupid Japanese cars!

So I found a small wooden structure erected by nailing a bunch of shivs together.  I proceeded to break apart this structure and planned to use the shivs to pry a space open on the car door so as to provide enough room so that the coat-hanger could be maneuvered uninhibited.  

After I managed to pry enough space open on the passengers side window, Morgan, Connor and myself rotated in our attempts to unlock the car from the inside.   After about an hour and a half of trial and error, with our hopes nearly abandon and our faith lost--so we beat on--boats against the current--and eventually pulled the coat hanger at the right angle with just the right amount of pressure and opened the door.  'MERICA! 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Introductory Siwa Blog

The following is a short blog entry to give my readers a little taste of a more substantial blog entry to come at a later time.  An experience, albeit  seemingly insignificant and yet, quite extraordinary.

The first day in Siwa we decided that the best way to truly experience the beautiful vastness that the oasis has to offer would be to rent motorcycles and drive off on our own, unaccompanied by a guide.

This idea was rather presumptuous for obvious reasons, the main reason of which was that none of us really knew how to properly operate a motorcycle.  Nevertheless, one of us rented a motorcycle for 100 L.E. (less than 20 USD) and for an hour we each practice driving it through the crowded main streets of the Siwan town square.  Once we became comfortable driving, we then proceeded to find two more bikes to rent.

Finding bikes to rent was a task in and of itself.  We proceeded to ask every Siwan on the street if it was possible to rent their bikes for the day, for a good price of 100 ginay (100 Egyptian pounds (EGP)).  We tried and failed for about an hour but eventually found a nice Siwan who would rent us his bikes for the day.

After intense negotiations we settled on a price of 120 L.E. per bike.  But the deal was not finished.  The Siwan wanted to make sure that we could operate the bikes safely, so he instructed one of us to ride around through the streets and would observe us, so as to make sure that we knew what we were doing.  Morgan took on this task and passed with flying colors.

After passing the driving exam, the Siwan wanted further insurance that his bikes were in safe hands.  He wanted us to sign a piece of paper, a blank piece of paper.

I saw this as an opportunity to show the Siwans a little taste of American Contract Law.  In attempts to make the deal as legitimate as possible I wrote on a 3' by 5' flash-card: "We hereby take full financial and legal responsibility" and had the four of us sign the bottom.  After the contract was finished and approved by the Siwan, the deal was done, and the bikes were ours for the day.

Later I was told that all the Siwans needed was a promise that if anything were to happen we would not hold them legally liable.  I explained that although that was altruistic, the last thing I would want to happen was for a bunch of 7'wagas (foreigners) to ruin his bike through recklessness.  In a sense, I wanted the contract to ensure that we would use the bikes with the utmost care and respect.

No down payments, no credit check, no passports; simply four men's word stating that they take full responsibility of their actions.  Probably the most honest business contract I have ever signed.

The day ended, and we returned the bikes in the condition with which they were given to us.  We had tea in celebration of an honest and good business transaction.  The Siwans, although outsiders might view them as primitive, respect contract law.  (other blog posts: Siwans non-written contract pertaining to tourists (guest) and their non-interference policy).

Blogging about Blogging

Okay, so up until this point my blog post have been, for a lack of better word, constipated.  I was trying to mix intellectual and analytical writing with a forced narrative about my time spent here, in the Mexico of the Middle East (not my term..thats what Arabs refer to Egypt as).

But, the truth is, writing a blog is a lot trickier than one thinks.  To just write about something for an indescriminant amount of time is a rather daunting task.  I'd rather have someone give me an assignment!  Write an argument paper that proposes Mubarak is responsible for the lack of toilet paper in Misr.  Or argue that the cats mating constantly every night outside of my window are in fact not mating but cooperatives in the Brotherhood who are secretly plotting a kitten uprising in the near future--they will take the streets back from the oppressors.  Or I could write a paper about cleanliness.  In a place where hibiscus grows freely, I continue to be amazed at the smell resonating from some people.  Its like a mist that follows them for 20 meters (yes I have switched over to the metric system--i know i'm a Benedict Arnold to my American audience) blessing the nostrils of all who are lucky enough to smell the sweet aroma of Egypt....Heeea de Masr (This is Egypt).

But in all seriousness, what is a blog anyway.  Above all else, a blog should be enjoyable.  People should want to read ones blog because it is enjoyable to read.  I recently read my friends blog--a fellow graduate student here--and despite his Ivy League education his blog was entertaining, above all else.  There were no social critiques on the nature of Egyptian culture, there were no arguments on how a misinterpretation of the Quranic language effects the social consciousness in a negative way.  For we, the educated of America, there is a time and a place to write such critiques, and our blogs are not one of those times.  Make it enjoyable and funny..and for God's sake TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE.

I ask myself every day why I post so little an entry on my blog.  I guess the truth is, before I came to this blogger enlightenment,  I wanted to prove something of significance.  Something I could email to my professor and he would email his colleguess and in there little circle they would speak of me, "have you read Deen's work on Ibn-Khaldun and pre-Modern Islamic existentialism... quite a fascinating critique on  early Islamic philosophy, quite Aristotilian in on ..goood show (as they all smoke a pipe with Vivaldi playing in the background)."  RIIIIIGHHHHT.

First off, let me put it in these terms so both myself and my audience can understand.  I lack the ability to do the research for those type of papers.  Its not like I can go to the local library and look through their directory of American published scholarly articles.  I'm not even allowed to bring in books to the Library of Alexandria (ANOTHER BLOG POST TOPIC).  Because I lack the necessary tools to write these type of papers here in Egypt, I won't try to force anything out.  Secondly, my time here in Egypt is not to be spent worrying over scholarly papers.  I'm here to learn Arabic and learn something about my self along the way.  So from now on, I have taken the laxative and the constipation in my writting thusly goes by-by.