Hey folks! Just wanted to leave a link here to my new (as yet unnamed) blog at karinastenquist.wordpress.com ! In case anyone actually still checks this blog that’s where I’ll be from now on, documenting my year in DC getting my master’s in Journalism and Public Affairs at AU. Hope to see and hear from everyone, and I look forward to comments, criticism, encouragement and everything else!!

Besos a todos!!

PS – totally open to name suggestions, I haven’t come across one I like yet, so it’ll keep changing until I do🙂

So, one of the things I’ve suuuuuper excited about in this move back to the U.S. is the prospect of having a public library where there are lots of books I’m interested in reading. Not that there weren’t libraries in Madrid (there are and I frequented them), but most of the things I want to read are, alas, in English, so I usually just had to spend ridiculous amounts of money ordering what I wanted from Amazon.co.uk.

But no more! Yesterday I went and found my local branch library – the Northwestern Branch – which was just a few blocks away. It doesn’t compare to my beloved Berkeley Public Library, it’s not big, but there’s still plenty there I want to read.  I could’ve checked out a dozen books i found just browsing the shelves, but I limited myself to two, telling myself, it’s ok, the library will be there next week, I can come back for the others later.

What did I check out?

Fareed Zakaria’s The Post American World.

I’ve only gotten about 80 pages into it. It’s a survey of the “rise of the rest” of the world and what it means for global economics, for U.S. power, etc… I take some issue with his rosy view of well we’re doing, but on the whole it’s an easy read, and interesting so far.

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Margaret Atwood’s Payback.

Since I’m about to go into massive debt to finance a master’s degree I thought I might try this book that touts itself as a sort of philosophical/historical tract on the issue of debt. Not a practical financial guide, but there are plenty of those. I thought I’d go with something more abstract. Haven’t started it yet. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s no news that the U.S. has been falling behind many other countries in terms of academic performance. What was interesting about this article in the New York Times however was the brief, and not very fleshed out, assertion that it’s not entirely because of the school system, but our culture in general.

From the NYT:

The blame for America’s sagging academic achievement does not lie solely with public schools, Mr. Butt said, but also with dysfunctional families and a culture that undervalues education. “Schools are inheriting an overentertained, distracted student,” he said.

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who leads the Senate Committee, picked up on that comment. “Overentertained and distracted — that’s right,” Mr. Harkin said. “The problem lies with many kids before they get to school, and if we don’t crack that nut, we’re going to continue to patch and fill.”

Hmmm, really, the U.S. doesn’t value education? I couldn’t have figured that one out when we twice elected a President who people “wanted to have a beer with” but who could barely put together a grammatically correct sentence on his own. And Sarah Palin is ripe to take his place as friendly idiot in chief.

This also reminds me of a recent book by Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, examining the anti-intellectualism, and anti-intelligent streak in American culture.

Here is the interview she did with Bill Moyers.

She makes a lot of interesting points and I particularly like how she places part of the blame at the feet of the media for their false treatment of different arguments as equally valid, when sometimes they are not:

And I think– if I may inveigh against myself, ourselves, I think the American media in particular has a lot to do with it. Because one of the things that really has gotten dumber about our culture the media constantly talks about truth as if it– if it were always equidistant from two points. In other words, sometimes the truth is one-sided.

I mentioned this in THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks there was a huge cover story in TIME Magazine in 2002 about the rapture and end of the world scenarios. There wasn’t a singular secular person quoted in it. They discussed the rapture scenario from the book of Revelation as though it was a perfectly reasonable thing for people to believe. On the one hand, these people don’t believe it. On the other it’s exactly like saying– you know, “Two plus– two plus two, so-and-so says, ‘two plus two equals five.’ But, of course, mathematicians say that it really equals four.” The mathematicians are right. The people who say that two plus two equals five are wrong. The media blurs that constantly.

BILL MOYERS: You call that a kind of dumb objectivity.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yes. Dumb objectivity. Exactly.

We have to start raising the bar.

Hoarding: Buried Alive. This is a new reality television series I just saw advertised on TLC (don’t get me started on how much TV I’ve seen in the last 6 days after almost six years without any).

Here’s a “sneak peek”:

Yup. It’s about people who have a serious problem hoarding loads, piles, mountains of….crap….in their houses. To the point that it interferes in their lives, erodes their personal relationships, classifies them as a new brand of freak – like the cat ladies of consumerism.

Here’s another clip about a hoarder’s “seperation anxiety”, but first consider this bit of wisdom from the Xenophone’s Guide to the Americans:

The dark side of American cheerfulness is the undercurrent of insecurity and depression that drives much of the country’s commerce and nearly all of it’s psychiatry. Underneath their grins, Americans are deeply fearful, pessimistic and unhappy. They’re afraid that after working so hard, someone -whether the government through taxes or a thief through force – will take the things they value away from them. [emphasis mine]

Now keep that in mind while you watch this:

Where else but in the U.S. could there be an epidemic of people burying themselves in all the useless crap they’ve bought and don’t need?

Side note: this reminds me of a chapter in Italo Calvino’s poetic book about imaginary metropolises, Invisible Cities. In one such imagined place, called Leonia, the citizenry buy everything new everyday, and create a wall around itself with its ever-growing supply of garbage.

When I saw this Hoarding commercial, the subject itself, and our implicit promotion of that subject by making into a show, seemed like a poetic statement about this nation and it’s values. Not only the obsession with possession striking, but the irrational and crippling fear, and these individuals’ seeming helplessness in the face of a very easily solved problem.

I mean really, just throw it away. Give it away. Sell it. Recycle it. Donate it.

Only a sickness propogated on a mass, societal level could lead people to such irrational behaviour.

We’ve made possession the certerpiece of life to the point that some people feel that any loss of possession is actually damaging to their quality of life, when really they’re just drowning themselves.

Culture shock has most certainly been a part of this, my first, full week back in the U.S.. Six years away can’t take the American (Californian if you want to be picky) out of me, but it can certainly make my compatriots seem curious, weird, and sometimes downright freakish. There have been moments of “man, I am never going to feel right ever again” in the last few days.

I’d love to get my hands on a copy of a Bill Bryson book I read many years ago, I’m A Stranger Here Myself. The title says it all – he wrote it upon returning to the States after 20 years of living in Britain. I feel he would understand.

However, I couldn’t find that particular book before coming back. What I did find was a fairly good substitute. On the bar at J&J’s Books and Coffee, for the bargain basement price of €1.50 and weighing in at a baggage-allowance-friendly 64 pages I found, as if by divine intention, Xenophone’s Guide to the Americans.

I have since discovered that this is a whole series – and they are full of wisdom. I find them a comfort in decoding my own, long-estranged people.

I find the cover illustration, with Statue of Liberty, McDonald’s and money, to be an apt representation of what might strike a foreigner (or native stranger) about the United States at first glance. Most of my instances of cultural disconnect have been in response to their/our consumerism, obsession with spending, and our distinct idea of patriotism.

An excerpt from the foreword of this satirically wise pamphlet:

Americans are like children: noisy, curious, unable to keep a secret, not given to subtlety, and prone to misbehave in public. Once one accepts the Americans’ basically adolescent nature, the rest of their culture falls into place, and what at first seemed thoughtless and silly appears charming and energetic.

And so begins this very politically incorrect and often prfoundly truthful, yet concise, examination of the American soul. I think I will be using it as a constant guide in transitional phase🙂

Been a little busy settling into D.C. but wanted to post about my last hours in Madrid.

So, last we found her, Karina was relaxing with a nice lunch, but her day was faaaaar from over….

The Sending of the Books.OMG! This was the hardest part of the move.

Part of my book collection set out for my mini-garage sale😦

Before sending books, of course, I had to weed out, to eliminate, to say goodbye to, as many of my little treasures as I could bear. I sold quite a few at a mini-garage sale type thing at my house to my friends (they know I have good literary taste, and were smart to take advantage) then sold what was left to J&J’s Books.

That left me with around 90 to 100 books. I had looked around online for cheap chipping services, but most sea-freight services are for total house moving – furniture and everything. This was just a couple large boxes of books, and it turned out that the post office gave me the best price, for their “economia” service.

All in all it was about 45 kilos over two boxes. Kilos. I have been in Spain for 6 years, everything is done in kilos, and yet still, I had no idea what a 30 kilos box of books (max is 30 kilos) would feel like. It felt like pain. It felt like I was doing something incredibly wrong to my back. And arms. And legs. Luckily I MacGyvered our shopping trolley into a dolly of sorts and hefted the boxes with a little help from my friends.

The post office guy was like “ok, just set that on the counter” and I was like “uuuuuuhhh, not happening.”

The Donating of the Clothes. Ugh. More hauling. Though this was physically and emotionally less traumatic than the books. (more…)

Trying to get back into the groove of blogging about immigration and this one seemed like a good place to start!

Now really, who thinks they’d get away with this in the age of the internet. Please! A little more creativity from our racists would be nice. I mean the Swiss came up with all sorts of visually interesting ways to disgust us:

The White Sheep/ Black Sheep poster is probably the most famous:

And the poster for their campaign to ban minarets (which they won) turned quite a few heads last year:

And now , everyone’s favourite French racist, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front,  has tooootally ripped them off! Laaaaame!


They’ve imitated the minaret-rockets, and the angry-looking, burkha-clad woman, but they’ve added an extra nice touch, and have made their propaganda nation-specific by including the Algerian flag in the background.

The poster equates the Algerian flag, which incorporates traditional Islamic star and crescent, with violence and “l’islamisme” or extremist Islam.

The newest stats I could find show that there were 691,361 in 2006, the largest immigrant group listed.

The Independent reports that the Algerian government, and anti-racism activists are none too pleased with this:

“We have officially protested,” said the Algerian Foreign Minister, Mourad Medelci. “It is up to the French state to take the necessary measures when foreign countries’ symbols are dragged through the mud.”

Kahled Lasbeur, lawyer for the Movement against Racism, warned of “riots, demonstrations and blood-letting” if the posters are not banned.

Ironically, yet unsurprisingly, as right-wingers tend not to understand international solidarity, “The Swiss advertising agency that devised the original poster said it planned to sue Mr Le Pen’s party, the National Front, for plagiarism.” Perfect.