Tagged in: international affairs

Ukranian Wild Women

In the Ukraine, there is a group of women who call themselves the Asgarda living as an Amazon tribe.

Asgarda

The ferocious-looking tribe is “…comprised of 150 women of varying ages, primarily students, led by 30 year-old Katerina Tarnouska. Reviving the tribal traditions of the Scythian Amazons of ancient Greek mythology, the Asgarda train in martial arts, taught by former Soviet karate master, Volodymyr Stepanovytch, and learn life skills and sciences in order to become ideal women.”

Apparently that means learning how to use scythes and other bladed weapons, shaving each others heads, and hanging out by rock formations.

Just so you know.

2L Dispatch: Nose, Meet Grindstone. Grindstone, Nose.

I’m not getting too much touristy stuff done lately because I’m hard at work on slamming some papers out. With any luck I can meet my scholarly obligations over the next week so that I’ll have a free hand to get out of Sydney and see some of greater New South Wales area. Most of my classes have intensive units of instruction at the beginning and several papers due along the way to the end of the semester, but not a whole lot in between. I managed to choose classes without exams, so rather than the high-pressure cram and worry final sprint I find myself doing more writing, and doing it (more) consistently. It feels kind of good, and simultaneously more and less scary than the horrors of my 1L year. Less, because in writing several papers I have more than one At-Bat, and more time in which to work so the soul-crushing weight is a little lighter. More because my legal writing and research class and finals aside, I haven’t done much law school writing. Finals were more a mad dash to info-dump and push my analysis out as quickly as I could without worrying about citations or the like. LWR was more about briefs and memos than the scholarly work they seem to expect of me here at UNSW.

I’m approaching the first deadlines right now, and so I am in a bit of a scramble to get the first round of papers done. I’ve been known to have something of a problem with procrastination, putting things off until the buzzing of the all-pervasive deadline of doom becomes unbearable. I’ve done a little better, but the lion’s share of the writing still lies ahead.

In choosing my classes at UNSW, I made it a point to opt for the more internationally-focused offerings. I did this both because I can foresee no future circumstance where having an in-depth knowledge of Australian sports law would be a benefit. I’m interested in getting the Australian perspective and everything, I just felt like studying more global issues would be better. Also, I’m still kind of sitting on the fence as to whether to focus on International law or intellectual property law so I think I’ll complement this semester with more IP classes in the spring.

The paper I’m avoiding working on by grinding out this blog post shares my position on the straddle of said theoretical fence. I’m exploring the degree to which the international harmonization of IP laws is good for economic development and social welfare. It’s exactly as exciting as it sounds. To be sure, these are big questions and I’m the type of person who tends to work out the Answers to Big Questions in the course of writing them. I lost count of the number of times I’ve created an outline for an argument and then found myself completely switching position once I waded in and the words started flowing.

Initially I wanted to go the route of arguing that the harmonization of these IP laws, as embodied by the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO and the TRIPS Plus standards that use it as a baseline, was bad for developing countries because it forced them to adopt the system of IP rights that heavily favor the bigger boys at the table. Does Indonesia really benefit from adopting the same copyright standard as the U.S.? Surely, one size does not fit all.

On the development side, it may well be true that the vast majority of patent holders in developing countries are multinational corporations and the jury is still out on the degree to which staunch IP laws actually spur innovation but I think at the very least it has to open the door for foreign investment. That can only be good for the developing countries.

Now, I think I am more or less convinced that robust IP protection can be good for the economic development of poorer countries, while at the same time having a negative effect on the social welfare. I think I have to conclude that economic good and social good are not always the same thing, and are not inextricably linked.

Oh, well. Back to work…

A Documentarian In Search of a Terrorist Mastermind (and a Thesis Statement)

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? is Morgan Spurlock’s follow up to Supersize Me. It first came out  back in April, and I meant to see it at the time but I think I was too busy shaking with pre-exam anxiety to get out to the theaters. It just opened here in Australia, so I thought I’d take the second chance to see it on the big screen. I do love documentaries.  Generally, I like Morgan Spurlock. I enjoyed both his previous feature and his FX series 30 Days, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into when I bought my ticket.

The conceit of this latest documentary is that Spurlock’s partner is pregnant, and his impending paternity inspires him to make the world a safer place for his child. In order to accomplish this, he sets out to find the most dangerous man in the world: Osama bin Laden. It’s pretty thin as inciting incidents go, but Spurlock plays it straight by focusing more on his travels than his actual goal. In order to find the Al-Quaeda mastermind, Spurlock traces a path through the Middle Eastern world.

This is the core of the film. He starts in Egypt, and his quest takes him to Isreal, Suadi Arabia, Afghanistan, and finally to Pakistan. The destinations are set up with interstitial animations that look like the pre-level cut-scenes froma video game. Indeed, after Spurlock establishes his goal, there’s a mildly amusing videogame sequence where he fights a CG avatar of Bin Laden, utilizing special moves like the “Redneck Rage” and the “Mustache Ride.” Heh.

Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock

The animated aside to explain or illustrate a point is a common Spurlockian trope, which he actually uses less than I was expecting. The bulk of the picture consists of Spurlock visiting different locales and talking to the locals. He starts by asking them if they know where bin Laden is, which usually elicits a laugh. Then he goes on to interview the subjects on what they think of American foreign policy.

As much as I like Spurlock, his work does tend to suffer from what I like to call the “No shit?” factor. Supersize me and most episodes of 30 Days offer a useful look at some aspect of American culture, but obviousness of the positions undercuts the point that Spurlock makes. For example: Supersize Me.

“Really? Eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month straight is bad forr you and fattens your ass while clogging your arteries? No shit. I had no idea.”

Or the episode of 30 Days where he and his partner decided to live on minimum wage for the eponymous time period. His earth-shattering conclusion: living on $5.50 an hour is really hard, almost impossible in the modern economy. Stop the presses!

What makes his work worthwhile is the way he uses these stunts to explore the edges of the issue. Supersize Me touched on the way the food industry as a whole works, and the ways in which agribusiness has affected the American diet. In the minimum wage episode of 30 Days, he explored the deeper economic forces behind income inequality. The “No Shit?” Factor is a tool he uses to flesh out his theses.

At least that is the way it usually works. I was a little disappointed by Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?preciesly because Spurlock wasn’t pursuing a specific point of view. If he had a thesis, it would have to be that many citizens and average people in the Middle East are critical of the way America pursues its interests on the world stage. Welll, there’s your “No shit?” moment, but the incidental details are absent this time around. There were fewer graphs and asides that articulated subtleties. There wasn’t much in the way o sutblety at all. Instead, Spurlock opted to usethe human element.

The weight of the film comes from the earnestness with which his interview subjects articulate their thoughts and fears. There’s more of an emotional punch, but less overall depth. His focus is on the everyday citizens (when he can get to talk with them openly. There is an extended sequence where he is run out of an Israeli neghborhood by some very angry Hasidic dudes, and one where his interview with some Saudi youths is carefully overseen by some officials, who the boys keep looking at as they answer). He speaks with everyone from radical clerics to University students and poor farmers. He covers all his bases. To his credit, the film never devolves into blatant America-bashing. There are moments when the repeated refrain of “I have nothing against the American people, but their government is a real problem” gets old. Spurlock could also do more to present the view of the American foreign policy establishment. If for no other reason than for valid contrast. But he keeps it at the man on the street level.

He doesn’t really offer any grand conclusions, aside from the fact that men like Osama bin Laden don’t just spring fully formed from some malevolent spring of pure evil. They are created by their times and shaped by the religious, social, and economic forces of the world in which they live. Understanding this is important, to be sure. But I can’t help but feel that Spurlock is better when he has a clearer axe to grind and a more specific enemy to assault. American hegemony is too broad and the social factors he examines to varied. He needs someone even more evil to go up against. Like McDonald’s. The film is interesting and Spurlock is an engaging presence, but his point would have been stronger with a clearer purpose. As it is, it serves as a fine survey. But in order to reveal more, he needs a more clearly articulated thesis.