The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'globalisation'
Cross-cultural synergy of the day: ersatz Mexican-American gangsta culture seems to be popular in unusual places, such as Bangkok, where men who are civil servants and police officers by day get full-body tattoos and spend their spare time hanging tough East LA-style and bustin' rhymes about the thug life that they don't actually live in their day-to-day life. Or Brazil, where Mexican-American low-rider car culture spread via Japan, and those with the money and connections go to a lot of trouble to import the accoutrements of the lifestyle, from Dickies work pants to car parts.
As their ranks and fortunes grow, the world's super-rich have been ploughing increasing amounts of money into buying art, often motivated primarily by its investment value; a Picasso, you see, is not so much a pretty object to hang on the wall of your grouse-hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands, but rather a sort of high-denomination banknote. As such, airports in countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore are sprouting networks of high-security art warehouses for storing their wealthy clients' collections; these remain airside, where import duties are not payable, and now are sprouting facilities to make it easier for the artefacts (which, for legal purposes, are still “in transit”) to be exhibited (though only to potential buyers, not members of the great unwashed):
The goods they stash in the freeports range from paintings, fine wine and precious metals to tapestries and even classic cars. (Data storage is offered, too.) Clients include museums, galleries and art investment funds as well as private collectors. Storage fees vary, but are typically around $1,000 a year for a medium-sized painting and $5,000-12,000 to fill a small room.
The early freeports were drab warehouses. But as the contents have grown glitzier, so have the premises themselves. A giant twisting metal sculpture, “Cage sans Frontières”, spans the lobby in Singapore, which looks more like the interior of a modernist museum or hotel than a storehouse. Luxembourg’s will be equally fancy, displaying concrete sculptures by Vhils, a Portuguese artist. Like Singapore and the Swiss it will offer state-of-the-art conservation, including temperature and humidity control, and an array of on-site services, including renovation and valuation.
The idea is to turn freeports into “places the end-customer wants to be seen in, the best alternative to owning your own museum,” says David Arendt, managing director of the Luxembourg freeport. The newest facilities are dotted with private showrooms, where art can be shown to potential buyers. To help expand its private-client business, Christie’s, an auction house, has leased space in Singapore’s freeport (which also houses a diamond exchange). The wealthy are increasingly using freeports as a place where they can rub shoulders and trade fine objects with each other. It is not uncommon for a painting to be swapped for, say, a sculpture and some cases of wine, with all the goods remaining in the freeport after the deal and merely being shifted between the storage rooms of the buyer’s and seller’s handling agents.
A software developer in the US has taken outsourcing into his own hands, by hiring a company in China to do his job for less than ¹⁄₅ of his salary:
"This organisation had been slowly moving toward a more telecommuting oriented workforce, and they had therefore started to allow their developers to work from home on certain days. In order to accomplish this, they'd set up a fairly standard VPN concentrator approximately two years prior to our receiving their call," he was quoted as saying on an internet security website.
"Authentication was no problem. He physically FedExed his RSA [security] token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday. It would appear that he was working an average nine-to-five work day," he added.The unnamed developer is said to have come physically into work but spent the time surfing eBay, Facebook and Reddit and watching cat videos on YouTube for the standard eight hours a day, which somewhat defeats the purpose of his hack. Then again, the report also suggests that he was simultaneously employed at several other companies, and similarly subcontracting his duties there to Shenyang.
The Daily Torygraph's Dr. Tim Stanley has hailed the developer as an exemplar of capitalism at its best:
For not only is Bob a modern hero to the terminally bored office worker, he’s also invented a whole new way of making capitalism work. If big companies can outsource labour to save money, why the heck can’t the little man do exactly the same?His employer, Verizon, didn't agree, and sacked him.
A recent popular self-help book, The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, advocated doing the same sort of thing, converting oneself into middleware binding together disparate subcontractors and charging a premium for doing so, though advised the reader to first arrange to be able to work from home. And there are reports of enterprising hackers having done similar things as early as 2004.
On a similar tangent, Britain's sense of moral indignation has also been outsourced to China, and is being handled by “a permanently outraged man working 96-hour shifts” just outside of Beijing:
The outrage outsourcing was first noticed when a Rod Liddle was accidentally printed in its original Mandarin.
Erratum is a new exhibition in London by the artist Jeremy Hutchison, who contacted factories in China, India, Turkey and Pakistan and commissioned them to make versions of their products with one intentional error rendering them useless:
And here is a piece about it in the Guardian:
Hutchison was inspired by allegations last year about the working conditions in Apple's Foxconn factory, including a story from one worker who said he would deliberately drop a spanner on the floor so that he could have a few seconds of rest while picking it up. "I became fascinated by this idea of an intentional human error to break the tedium of mass-production," says the artist. "I wanted to see what would happen if you commissioned this kind of intentional mistake into the smooth logic of a hyperefficient globalised machine."
Following the recent Spiegel piece on punk rock and dissent in Burma, music journalist John Harris has an article on parts of the world where punk and its offshoots are still dangerous:
It's been a long time since the term "punk rock" could strike fear into the British establishment. The Sex Pistols' John Lydon – aka Johnny Rotten – was long ago transformed into a pantomimic national institution, and now advertises Country Life butter; it's 16 years since Tony Blair admiringly mentioned the Clash in a speech at the Brit awards. The spiky-topped punk look is as harmless a part of vernacular British style as Harris tweed; the concert nostalgia circuit is now home to any number of ageing punk groups, from the Buzzcocks to Sham 69.
The last few months, however, have brought news from abroad suggesting that in many places, punk's combination of splenetic dissent, loud guitars and outre attire can cause as much disquiet and outrage as ever. The stories concerned take in Indonesia, Burma, Iraq and Russia – and most highlight one big difference between the hoo-hah kicked up by punk in the US and Britain of the late 70s, and the reactions it now stirs thousands of miles from its places of birth. Back then, being a punk rocker might invite occasional attacks in the street, a ban on your records, and the odd difficulty finding somewhere to play. Now, if you pursue a love of punk in the wrong political circumstances, you may well experience oppression at its most brutal: torture, imprisonment, what one regime calls "moral rehabilitation" and even death.The ways that punk-influenced subcultures are colliding with the local establishments differ for each place. In Iraq, Islamists are stoning youths to death for wearing clothes and haircuts associated with “emo” (which originated as an offshoot of DC hardcore punk, though in the affluent first world, has long since degenerated into Hot Topic merchandise lines and highly commercial bands making whimpering songs complaining about girls not putting out, Fake Emo having displaced Fake Goth as the bad joke of teenage angst some time in the 00s). In Iraq, however, emo is still seen as a threat to Islamic values and traditional norms of masculinity:
One thing is definitely true: figures for emo-related killings are blurring into those for homophobic murders (put at up to 58 in the last six weeks alone), reflecting a widespread perception in Iraq that emo is a byword not just for devil-worship, but homosexuality. A leaflet distributed in east Baghdad gave any local emo fans four days to "leave this filthy work", under pain of "the punishment of God … at the hand of the Mujahideen". At least two lists of intended victims have been posted online, and tattoo parlours in the city have reported terrified young people asking for their punk-esque body-art to be removed.Hard rock and the Islamic world have come into collision before: Malaysia reportedly had its own issue with “Satanist” heavy-metal fans, and in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province, officials detained punk rock fans at an event, shaved their heads and subjected them to “moral reeducation”. This action, intended as a show of strength by local political figures, resulted in protests outside Indonesian embassies across the world.
There are, he tells me, two kinds of punk in Indonesia. "One is what we think of as a poser: they adopt punk fashions." This group, he says, tend to be "street kids" who fall into begging and petty crime, and thereby provoke the authorities. "The other punks are part of a community that has developed since the late 80s – a moral, ideological type of community," he says. "They're totally different. But the government and society thinks that if you have a Mohawk and boots, you are a punk, and all punks are the same." The kids arrested in Aceh, he thinks, are likely to be the genuine article, because they were arrested at a gig, a reasonably sure sign of true believers.Meanwhile, in Russia, a feminist punk movement influenced by riot grrrl is forming part of the growing resistance to the Putin regime, the ex-KGB siloviki and the oligarchs, and their plans for a tightly managed democracy:
In Moscow, a court ruling on Wednesday marked the latest chapter in the story of an all-female band called Pussy Riot, two of whom were arrested last month after they illicitly took over the pulpit in a Moscow church, and attempted to recite a "punk prayer" written in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot's music is scratchy, unhinged stuff that takes its lead from a fleeting genre known as riot grrrl – once again traceable, at least in part, to Washington DC, and brought to fruition nearly 20 years ago by such groups as Bikini Kill, and a British band called Huggy Bear. Their music was clearly derived from punk's basic idea, but took its lead from such feminist groups as the Slits and the Au Pairs rather than the Clash and the Pistols: apart from anything else, the controversy around Pussy Riot has at least served as a reminder of this overlooked strand of punk history.
"We somehow developed what [those groups] did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance," one band member called Garadzha Matveyeva has explained, "which leads to all of our performances being illegal – we'll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space. That's an important principle for us." The band, who always perform in identity-concealing balaclavas, has a free-floating membership that can number up to 15 people – it amounts to "a pulsating and growing body", as Matveyeva sees it.In all these cases, the common theme is how punk, a dated subculture of generational rebellion, now often reduced to a grab-bag of clichés and commodified kitsch, has come to signify vastly more in considerably more desperate straits, without losing the decidedly foreign and awkwardly specific semiotics of someone else's adolescent rebellion in a distant country, long ago. So the image of punk comes, mediated via layers of marketing, commodification and nostalgia, to the developing world, where a Burmese dissident finds a copy of NME with a heritage-rock cover in the bins of the British Embassy, or an Iraqi teenager sees a Fall Out Boy video on a satellite video channel, and a chimera is born:
"You hear a lot about the clash of civilizations," [Ole Reitov, of Copenhagen-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group Freemuse] tells me, "but often, these things, they reflect a clash within civilizations. You're seeing the same symptoms in all kinds of countries: it's a matter of what you do if you feel you're powerless. You can only be extreme, relative to so-called normality. He thinks all this will only increase given two parallel developments: the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the increase in networked communications, which means that every aspect of a subculture can be globally spread at speed. "Think back 50 years," he says. "People didn't necessarily know what the Shadows or the Beatles looked like. These days, you immediately know. Someone in Ulan Bator immediately knows the body language that comes with rap music; in Iraq, the young people who've been killed knew how to dress a certain way."
Japanese culture places a lot of value on attention to detail. One result of this has been a generation of Japanese artisans taking artefacts from elsewhere, from clothing to coffee, and improving them:
"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos." Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.
As a result of this quest, Japan has become the most culturally cosmopolitan country on Earth, a place where you can lunch at a bistro that serves 22 types of delicious and thoroughly Gallic terrines, shop for Ivy League–style menswear at a store that puts to shame the old-school shops of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and spend the evening sipping rare single malts in a serene space that boasts a collection of 12,000 jazz, blues and soul albums. The best of everything can be found here, and is now often made here: American-style fashion, haute French cuisine, classic cocktails, modern luxury hotels. It might seem perverse for a traveler to Tokyo to skip sukiyaki in favor of Neapolitan pizza, but just wait until he tastes that crust.The article also mentions, among other things, Real McCoy, a boutique which makes and sells expensive, high-quality clothing made on vintage American lines, and a tapas bar which went to the trouble of importing waxy, nigh-unusable paper napkins from Spain just to recreate the authentic experience of eating tapas in a packed Spanish bar.
A journalist from US progressive magazine Mother Jones travelled to India and signed up to work in a call centre, going through the cultural training employees get to teach them to pass as Westerners:
Next is "culture training," in which trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call "international culture"—which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one. The result is a comically botched translation—a multibillion dollar game of telephone. "The most marketable skill in India today," the Guardian wrote in 2003, "is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else's."The article goes on to descibe how the Indian call-centre workers' received knowledge of America (described as a land of stupid, greedy people awash in money) comes up against their interactions with the American underclass, whom they're meant to be squeezing for unpaid bills:
Nishant, now 26, moved to Delhi at age 18. His first job was tracking down Americans with delinquent bills. "In training they told us, 'It's easy. These guys have the money, they just don't want to pay.' They told us, 'Threaten their credit score, Americans can't live without good credit.'" On his first day, Nishant donned his headset, dialed the number on the screen and was connected to a 60-year-old woman in Tennessee. She had an outstanding hospital bill for $400. "I told her, 'Just pay this, what's the problem?' She told me, 'You don't understand, I can't pay.'" They talked for 45 minutes, and the woman cried as she told Nishant about the Iraq War and its toll on American families. "By this time I'm crying also," Nishant said.
The same day, he was connected with a man living in a trailer. "I told him, 'What's a trailer?' He told me, 'It's this tin shed; it gets 90 degrees; we don't have our own washroom.'" Nishant learned more about America that first day, he told me, than he had in his whole childhood.Elsewhere, the call centre workers were trained in the basics of Australian culture:
"Just stating facts, guys," Lekha began, as we scribbled notes, "Australia is known as the dumbest continent. Literally, college was unknown there until recently. So speak slowly." Next to me, a young man in a turban wrote No college in his notebook. "Technologically speaking, they're somewhat backward, as well. The average person's mobile would be no better than, say, a Nokia 3110 classic." This drew scoffs from around the room. "Australians drink constantly," Lekha continued. "If you call on a Friday night, they'll be smashed—every time..."
"Well, for one thing," Lekha said, "let's admit: They are quite racist. They do not like Indians. Their preferred term for us is—please don't mind, ladies—'brown bastards.' So if you hear that kind of language, you can just hang up the call."(The thing about most Australians having ancient Nokia handsets sounds apocryphal—from what I understand, Australia has one of the highest iPhone adoption rates in the world—though there may be some truth in Australia lagging behind India in terms of telecommunications infrastructure.)
The article goes on, describing fraud operations that call centre workers were hired to work on (""All it is," Rohan explained, "is you call American clients. Tell them, 'US government is giving away free money!'""), the reactions of angry people from different countries (the British are reportedly sarcastic, whereas the Americans are more free with their anger), and a sense of alienation experienced by the call centre workers, trapped between their conditioned, deracinated, generic-Western personas and the more conservative, deeply rooted India they've culturally left behind:
In a sense, Arjuna is too westernized to be happy in India. He speaks with an American accent, listens to American rock music, and suffers from American-style malaise. In his more candid moments, he admits that life would have been easier if he had hewn to the traditional Indian path. "I spent my youth searching for the real me," he says. "Sometimes I feel that now I've destroyed anything that is the real me, that I am floating somewhere in between."
Apparently, the youth of the Islamic world really like their heavy metal:
I first realised that my never-quite-abandoned adolescent taste for heavy metal had a political edge in – of all places – the Jaballya refugee camp in Gaza. I was interviewing teenagers about their strangled lives and expected to hear the usual Hamasnik lines reeled back at me. But instead, they kept using words from Metallica and Slipknot to explain how they felt. "I am dying to live/Cry out/I'm trapped under ice," one of them said. They showed me their carefully-stashed CDs and T-shirts – liable to be seized by Hamas-militia at any time – and begged me to send more.
At first sight, this seems bizarre. How did a style of music midwifed into the world by Ozzy Osbourne in the old English industrial town of Birmingham in the mid-1960s become an enemy of jihadism? How did a hard, brutal sound designed to mimic the factories of the Midlands become the soundtrack for the children of the Islamic revolution?
In a region controlled by senile dictatorships and fundamentalist faith, the unemployed young – who make up 65 per cent of the population – have very few windows through which to yell their rage. Metal gives it to them. Reda Zine, one of the founders of the Moroccan heavy metal scene, explains: "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal." The point of the music is, he says, to rage against "the vampires of intolerance and superstition". The guitarist of Iran's hottest young metal band, Tarantist, agrees: "Metal is in our blood. It's not entertainment, it's our pain, and an antidote to the hypocrisy of religion that is injected into all of us from the moment we're born."I wonder whether the dominance of metal (rather than, say, rap or industrial or any other musical genre suitable for expressing anger and grievance) among youth in the Islamic world also has its roots in the history of Asian Muslim migration to England's industrial heartland. Most people know that Birmingham got curry out of the equation, but what if the cultural trade was a two-way street, with Birmingham metal making its way to the underground bazaars of the Islamosphere via Pakistan and Bangladesh on a million bootlegged cassettes?
Dragged kicking and screaming into the world of time-squeezed Anglocapitalist efficiency, the French have been taking to McDonalds in droves. Well, someone in France has, with the chain making more money in France than in Britain and reporting record profits. The funny thing is, it's never any French person anyone has actually met; all interviewed profess an existential disgust of le macdoh.
“No,” says Magali. “It is not. A croque is something ... beautiful. But thees is ... my god.” Correction. Magali is not appalled. This is something deeper than appalled. This is existential.
Magali doesn't eat in McDonald's. In fact, she says, she doesn't know anybody who eats in McDonald's. Stop any Frenchman on the street - and we stop plenty - and he will shrug and snarl and say that he doesn't eat in McDonald's, either.Going into an actual McDonalds didn't help the reporters find an actual French person who will admit to liking what McDonalds has to offer:
At the next table a family are eating together. “We're only in here because we're in a rush,” says the father, much like a husband explaining a mistress to his incredulous wife. “It's not normal. We would never eat in McDonald's usually.” He says that he is from Montreal, anyway, and that we may refer to him only as Mr X. The rest of the family stay silent, and munch, and blush.The French embrace of fast food has led to a steep rise in obesity rates in France, with some speculating that French culture's unpreparedness for such gastronomic habits may hit France especially hard:
French obesity rates have rocketed in recent years. According to estimates, 11 per cent of the French are obese and 40 per cent are overweight. This is better than the UK or the US, but it grows by about 5 per cent every year. One thinks of those previously untouched indigenous tribes that manage to wipe themselves out in a generation after being introduced to booze. The French are failing to eat in moderation. For a culture that prides itself on its waistline, this is a difficult failing to accept.The boom in fast food in France isn't all McDonalds, though; indigenous fast food concepts are appearing as well:
In recent years, at least in Paris, there has been a boom in fast-food eateries of the sort described above. The pioneer in this respect is a newish chain called Cojean. It was set up in 2001 by Alain Cojean, who had spent the previous 15 years working in research and development for - yes - McDonald's. Cojean is a very different beast.
We visit the branch across the road from the Louvre. Cool and airy, it is tastefully converted from an elaborately corniced patisserie. It sells fresh salads, proper coffee and sandwiches that are resolutely not triangular. We pick a ham and melon salad with noodles and rocket. The melon tastes as if it has just fallen from a tree, and the ham just scraped from a happy pig. There is a surprise bit of jagged plastic lurking in the middle, true enough, but we are not in McDonald's so we have no urge to sue. It just adds to the sense of handmade authenticity.During my recent visits to Paris, I've also noticed a lot of takeaway sushi places. (The Rue de la Verrerie in the Marais is particularly full of them.) These places have plastic boxes of nigiri and sashimi sitting on shelves in chillers, much as in many other global cities; from my experience, the sushi, whilst nothing fancy, is typically of a high standard. So for me, fast food in Paris has typically meant sushi.
The writer L.P. Hartley once stated that the past is a foreign country where they do things differently. Today's Cat And Girl revises this, arguing that, in the age of globalisation, instantaneous communication and accelerating change, our past is more foreign to our present selves than actual foreign countries are.
McDonald's: The Videogame. A simulation of running a fast-food corporation that's like Sim City, had it been written by anti-globalisation activists. Bulldoze rainforests and villages, brainwash children and corrupt officials or go bankrupt. Play it before the lawyers kill it.
(via Boing Boing)
Momus' latest blog post is a critique of the recent film Pan's Labyrinth. Other than being an exercise in the goring of sacred cows (an often useful exercise), it makes some good points:
The film bore all the hallmarks of COG screenwriting. COG screenwriting is the opposite of personal vision, the opposite of imagination. It's screenwriting as taught by "experts" in screenwriting class, a kind of brutal, plot-advancing writing style based around a Centre of Goodness (COG) who wins the audience's sympathy (usually by pure genetic superiority -- ie a very good-looking actor is cast -- but also by a series of sufferings overcome throughout the narrative). It takes no prisoners -- and no risks. COG screenwriting is the filmic equivalent of modern managerial techniques. It's brutally efficient -- yes, it can and will make you laugh and make you cry -- but the difference between a film made by a COG director like Guillermo del Toro and an artist like Jodorowsky or Arrabal is like the difference between a house designed by a Project Manager and one designed by an architect. I will not let del Toro pass for an artist. I'm sorry, critics. He is a cinematic Project Manager.
Complete absence of sensuality, the incidental, the non-programmatic. Appeal is made to our adrenal glands, but no sexual organs (del Toro has the nerve to talk about Pan, but read the antics of the original Greek Pan here then compare them to the sexless, boring Pan character in this movie). Shock and surprise and mawkish empathy dominate, but there's no moment in which a character senses the breeze blowing in from the woods, just for its own sake. No, everything is fire and death and danger and hatred and forward motion. No indirection allowed. Improbable chases, with a deus ex machina to save the COG and a fatal comeuppance for the COB.
This is a Mexican-US co-production. But its values are American -- it has the shiny blue lighting, the flashy special effects, and all the conventions, of a US blockbuster (and the director apparently turned down both Harry Potter and the Narnia film to make it). This, then, is "global" film-making as a kind of outsourced American filmmaking. We do not leave the technical nor the moral universe of the Americans. Nothing is imported, in the sense of a "foreign" worldview. The film has learned American ways, but American audiences will not learn anything they don't already know from it, either texturally or morally.
Young Europeans are moving to India to work in call centres, as that's where the jobs are. They get paid Indian wages (i.e., a pittance when translated to euros, pounds or krone), but get free accommodation, subsidised food and free taxi fares to/from work, as well as sufficiently flexible schedules to travel around the country. At the moment it seems more like a backpacker working-holiday thing (somewhere between the two Australian rites of passage, the backpacking trip through Thailand and pulling pints in a pub in the UK) than a new trend in migration, though many are staying for longer, mostly for the culture and lifestyle (or possibly to defer the shock of finding how little their bank balance is worth back home).
John Harris (who wrote The Last Party) on how popular music has been subsumed by corporate globalisation:
For musicians whose sensitivity to such chicanery places them a few notches up the evolutionary chain from Busted and Avril Lavigne, the implied contradictions can be pretty hard to swallow. Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best.
As the record industry's corporate structure has hardened into an immovable oligarchy - EMI, Time-Warner, BMG, Sony and Universal - so the range of musical options on offer has been dramatically scythed down. In 2004, there are but a handful of international musical superstars: Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Norah Jones, Coldplay. To characterise the process behind their global success as top-down is something of an understatement. MTV may have initially been marketed with the superficially empowering slogan, "I want my MTV"; more recently, with billions gladly hooked up, it has used the flatly sinister, "One planet, one music". Those four words beg one question: who decides?
Such, to use a phrase beloved of the Bush White House, is the cultural aspect of the New American Century. How long, I wonder, before Halliburton and Exxon start sponsoring festivals?
Old computers donated to third-world countries are having unforeseen impacts:
"On a trip I made to the Gambia last year I was amazed to see on of the roadside carpenters was doing a roaring trade making a range of contemporary Swedish style furniture," he said. "When I asked him where he got the idea, you've guessed it, he told me he'd seen it on the Ikea website."
Multinational companies are now moving away from call centres in India, because of communication problems:
In spite of TV and e-mail, people living thousands of kilometers away and without local knowledge cannot always answer inquiries authoritatively. According to reports, England is full of jokes about operators in India who master Scots or Midlands accents, but falter over small physical details. Kate, a doctor based in England, recently on a visit to India, told this correspondent that grappling with rail inquiries in the United Kingdom can be quite hazardous as often the information is incorrect as the person at the other end just does not understand the query.
Former Swedish anarchist leftist Johan Norberg has penned a progressive defense of global capitalism titled, appropriately, "In Defense of Global Capitalism"; he outlines his arguments here. Norberg's thesis is that globalisation and free trade are precisely the solution the third world needs to escape poverty, and bring with them things like increased wages, reduced pollution (through technological improvements) and greater civil liberties; meanwhile, most opposition to globalisation comes from Westerners, and is founded in protectionist self-interest (i.e., by unions), naïvéte about historical trends, or even an objection to the modern condition and an Arcadian romanticisation of a remote agrarian past.
That's why in a typical developing nation, if you're able to work for an American multinational, you make eight times the average wage. That's why people are lining up to get these jobs. When I was in Vietnam, I interviewed workers about their dreams and aspirations. The most common wish was that Nike, one of the major targets of the anti-globalization movement, would expand so that a workers relatives could get a job with the company.
The best thing that could happen to the Arab world would be for them to run out of oil. Then theyd have to open up to trade, and a small number of people wouldnt be in control all of the wealth, as is the case in Saudi Arabia.
The further you get from the West, the more positive people are toward globalization, toward more business and trade ties with the rest of the world. The most vocal opponents of globalization in poor countries are often funded by critics from wealthier countries. For instance, Vandana Shiva [director of the New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology] is a very vocal opponent of economic liberalization and biotechnology, and shes funded by a lot of different Western groups.
So, is Norberg's thesis just a rebadged Lexus and the Olive Tree in Starbucks-progressive garb, or is the "anti-globalisation" movement really full of it, or both?
(I wonder what he'd say to Greg Palast's accusations that the World Bank/IMF assistance programmes are designed not to help third-world economies but to starve them into bankrupcy, allowing assets to be bought up cheaply by multinationals and reducing the locals and their descendants to sharecroppers. I suppose that's just an unfortunate implementation detail, and not an indictment on the phenomenon of globalisation as such.)
I recently read a very interesting book (Where You're At, by Patrick Neate) about the spread of hip-hop culture from the inner cities of America to places like Japan, Brazil and South Africa, becoming a sort of lingua franca of globalised pop culture. Today I found an article which ties in to that, about multi-ethnic hip-hop in Israel, a scene which includes everybody from marginalised Arabs to Ethiopians and Moroccan Jewish rappers rhyming in French. I saw another piece some time ago about Palestinian youths on the West Bank taking to rap to voice their grievances; perhaps we really do live on a hip-hop planet.
This is fairly interesting, in a global-economy sort of way: impressions of New York as perceived by data entry workers in Ghana who transcribe fines issued by police in New York. (via bOING bOING)
Life imitates Douglas Adams: A NY Times piece arguing that global communication has sown conflict and enmity, rather than the new era of understanding it was supposed to usher in.
But at this halfway point between mutual ignorance and true understanding, the ''global village'' actually resembles a real one -- in my experience, not the utopian community promised by the boosters of globalization but a parochial place of manifold suspicions, rumors, resentments and half-truths.
An interesting piece about the dominance of English, and the efforts made to preserve other languages from its encroachment:
In Hong Kong, by contrast, the new, Chinese masters are promoting Cantonese, to the concern of local business. And in India some people see English as an oppressive legacy of colonialism that should be exterminated. As long ago as 1908 Mohandas Gandhi was arguing that "to give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them." Ninety years later the struggle was still being fought, with India's defence minister of the day, Mulayam Singh Yadav, vowing that he would not rest "until English is driven out of the country". Others, however, believe that it binds a nation of 800 tongues and dialects together, and connects it to the outside world to boot.
(Psychoceramic speculation: perhaps someone should try something like that in Australia; what's the point of becoming a republic if we still speak the tongue of our colonial oppressors? It may be politically correct to adopt and adapt an Aboriginal language (as has been done with Hebrew and Icelandic) as "Australian"; a committee of fashionable academics, bureaucrats and special-interest groups could be appointed to supervise the development of the language.)
[T]he Icelanders have readily adopted alnaemi for "AIDS", skjar for "video monitor" and toelva for "computer". Why? Partly because the new words are in fact mostly old ones: alnaemi means "vulnerable", skjar is the translucent membrane of amniotic sac that used to be stretched to "glaze" windows, and toelva is formed from the words for "digit" and "prophetess". Familiarity means these words are readily intelligible. But it also helps that Icelanders are intensely proud of both their language and their literature, and the urge to keep them going is strong
[M]ultilingualism, a commonplace among the least educated peoples of Africa, is now the norm among Dutch, Scandinavians and, increasingly, almost everyone else. Native English-speakers, however, are becoming less competent at other languages: only nine students graduated in Arabic from universities in the United States last year, and the British are the most monoglot of all the peoples of the EU . Thus the triumph of English not only destroys the tongues of others; it also isolates native English-speakers from the literature, history and ideas of other peoples. It is, in short, a thoroughly dubious triumph. But then who's for Esperanto? Not the staff of The Economist, that's for sure
Ominous tidings: Riot police shoot dead a demonstrator at anti-globalisation protests; the officers will probably be charged, but who gave the orders to shoot to kill? Meanwhile, a Russian programmer is in jail for revealing the secrets of Adobe's access controls (a crime under the DMCA), and hence Alan Cox has resigned from the USENIX committee in protest. Whether this will make a point or marginalise the penguinhead pirasite colony remains to be determined. Meanwhile, the US Government has created a special elite cyber-cop agency of highly-trained aspheads to hunt down intellectual property thieves, crackers, copyright violators and other enemies of capitalism (and that means you, hiding there with the DeCSS source and the eight gig of MP3s on your hard disk; don't think they cannot see you), further escalating the War On Copying.
The World Trade Organization has, one must admit, a bit of an image problem, especially amongst youngsters susceptible to the seductive underground brands of the anti-capitalist movement. So, to combat this, the WTO has commissioned a marketing campaign from yoof marketeers Y Not, to sell their vision of neo-liberal free trade to the kids under the brand of "Positive Anarchy". A leaked report floats a number of strategies, including beating the lefties at the merchandising game (gas masks and bandanas being relatively unexciting brands) and selling trendy teen clothing with the WTO brand, to getting comedians to take the piss out of the anti-capitalists and product-placing fake WTO-brand merchandise on Reality TV shows.
- Recruit model/spokespersons. Polling indicates that "Anti" has benefited significantly from association with high profile musicians/actors. (Note: 43% of teen girls identified U2 singer Bono as related to "Anti" "brand.") Through a third party, Y NOT, Inc. initially approached actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tara Reid about serving as spokespersons for the WTO "brand," but made little headway. We have since been approached by a representative of Kevin Costner, but aren't convinced that he is "brand" appropriate.
Utilizing this strategy, the WTO "brand" would be replaced by a symbol or logo that teens consider more appealing. Note: in focus groups, 59% of teens reported that they would consider purchasing WTO product if associated with friendly talking frog.
As far as I know, this is not a parody, though it looks like one. (via Lev)