Monday, July 29, 2013

This Writing Life: The Ignore List

In my late-youth years working as a media analyst I was steeped in current local information and it drove me completely nutty. I mean seriously obsessive. One weekend I was forced to take a break... um, I mean My Lady of the Concerned Smiles bought me a holiday at a lovely retreat spot famed for it's food, natural beauty and complete and utter detachment from the rest of the world. In spite of the fact that I was told that they don't carry newspapers, guess how long it took me to break down and "casually" wander to reception to "casually" enquire if they didn't have a stray copy of today's paper? Thirty minutes. I will never forget the pitying smiles that accompanied the gentle denial. 

It's been a couple of years now and just like a lot of other people who write for a pseudo-living and read the tealeaves of socio-cultural-political trends in their milieu, I have finally managed to grow a set of protective filters. As in, I am finally confident enough to indulge my prejudices/laziness fully in the name of protecting my sanity. So how does a former media analyst stay away from the carnival antics and crazytalk of mainstream media? By building up a regularly updated Ignore List that manages whatever is trending*- or not- at any given moment. Some of the items are permanent residents, some come and go. 

Here's what is on the current Ignore List:

1. Any discussion about The Union and the Draft Constitution. Or Zanzibar for that matter.  
2. Nelson Mandela. Because he's an old man and I am not a ghoul. 
3. Celebrity pregnancies and their kids. Because: ew, world, way to perv. Reproduction happens, even to the rich and weird, and it's no reason to fatshame mothers and stalk legal minors. Come on, now. 
4. Sports. Unless I am watching Serena Williams (Serena? Ha! talk about irony) eat the liver of her slain competitor on the tennis field or watching perfect South African male specimens with inexplicably delicate ankles play rugby by zipping like gazelles springing and frolicking across the veldt? Meh.
5. Politicians' sex lives, and their views on sexuality/marriage. Yawn. If it's not a criminal case, I like to keep my mind out of their hypocritical little panties.  
6. Right now, Rwanda and Malawi and the DRC. Seems the prudent thing to do.  
7. Financial news. Because life is short and I'd rather spend it thinking about organically raised kids and blues music. 
8. Religion, and strife of the religious kind. Because: I don't get it, so the less said, the fewer believers will try to convert me from my sinnin' ways. 
9. That thing called fashion: ...what is it? can I eat it? No? Oh, well nevermind then.
10. Top ten lists of (whatever) that (fill in the blank). Unless we're talking about Scifi/Animated movies in which case I'll bring my boxing gloves to that discussion. Solaris is so underrated.
11. Obama. Kinda more interested in watching the evolution of his post-presidential career, to be honest. 

So (because I care) what do you ignore and why? Oh, look. My comments' section is dead. I wonder why... ;) 

*Actually, I do keep half an eyeball out for whatstrendingrightnow. It's a nice way to check out what's preoccupying the hivemind, who is exploiting their fifteen minutes of fame, occasionally discovering a piece of good new music. But it does demand ninja surfing skills if you want to avoid accidental eye-melts, like an unexpected picture of Anthony's Wiener and other online hazards**. 

**America: please, stop. Please, just... stop. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Taxes and Dystopic Speculative Fiction

So, I bought some internet time just the other day and Hello! What in sweet malediction happened to the prices? I thought that information was on the way to getting cheaper and truly believe that some parts of The Establishment are trying to make it so, especially since I know it's written somewhere that we want to "build a knowledge society." The poor guy who had to handle me (plus another irate customer) explained that the recent budget which had hiked the price of oil amongst other things was driving the price of the internets up. 

Ah, indeed. The simcard tax. The introduction of TV decoders. The brutality against members of the press. The public education system that is struggling to deliver literacy and numeracy, never mind unleashing human potential. The cumulative effects. These all lend themselves nicely to some future dystopia speculation:
"The negative outcomes of unenlightened self-interest might not all be intentional, but some of them look suspiciously premeditated. I have heard that it is difficult to recruit governments to the Age of Information idea, but this is particularly bad. Oh, there’s been much to do about the glorious future of Tanzania as we are poised for economic take-off and a massive population explosion.

There is also the other possibility. One in which 100 years from now we’ll end up clad in short-sleeved socialist suits, burning rebel pamphlets while mournfully chanting the national anthem as the government tells us that the proceeds of oil, gold, gas and uranium are contributing to the glory of Mother Tanzania. Over the radio of course, because by that time most of us still won’t be able to read."
I wanted to speak directly to the sense of dread that has been building up over the past couple of years. It is good to give names to the monsters in the closet, and I find that speculative fiction is one of the best tools to do so. Besides I am a big believer in imagination driving reality, especially in the realms of technology and politics. In terms of technology it allows us to create, which is a magnificent power to have. In terms of politics, imagination probably constitutes 90% of the power of visionary leadership- whether the vision be a good one or a bad one. 

As we creep closer and closer to the watershed moments that await us (will it be the new constitution? will it be the next election? will it be Mtwara exploding? will it be the nascent war against drug barons?) it seems like a good time to imagine the worst so that maybe we can think about avoiding it. Besides, conspiracy theories are fun although this is not the first time I have accused my government of having a nefarious censorship and mind-control plan.    

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Gassing it Up

Eh, I'm tired of politics. A creeping cynicism about the fate of my country, my beloved fucking country, has recently made me sit down and shut up. These days it's easier for me not to talk about things than it is to talk about things- and silence marks the death of a writer's soul. Scared the bounce right out of me, this did. How does one hold on?

Turns out relaxation is a damn good way to do it. Laughter, naughtiness, these are life affirming gifts. Truth is, my sense of humor is more than a little rusty but I have decided to take it out for some fresh air at your expense: 

"Another saying that’s illuminating, if a little organic, is “better out than in.” In politics, as in nature, this one holds true. American presidents quite aside, the things that rumble in the belly, causing passions noxious or otherwise, do need to be released for the general health of the organism involved. That’s the therapeutic idea behind freedom of speech, and a good reason to let a little protest slip out from time to time. You’d think that an establishment that’s been around for a while would know that."

The plan is not to be too serious for a while. I need to grow pieces of my soul back, like a salamander. If toilet humor is the way to do it... consider yourself warned. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Two for One

The draft Constitution. My half-cooked draft of this week's article sat and sat and sat there and stared at me, amused at my paralysis as I tried to collect some coherent thoughts about the significance of this moment in time. But I spent the writers' block fruitfully listening to public debates and reading some interesting articles to try to get a bead on what kind of debates we're having. Let's just say: wow. There is no way this long-overdue conversation will wrap up by November 2013 unless some tricks get used, and in truth we should resist the urge to hurry it up. 

Thankfully, I got this last-minute invite by the Open Society Initiative of East Africa (OSEIA) to tweet a brief meeting discussing three issues in particular viz the draft Constitution: citizenship, natural resources, people living with disabilities. As suspected, the Constitution is like a tightly folded accordion- you think you understand one bit and start teasing it out only for reams and reams of implications, nuances and other factors to spill out all over you. Through the lens of only these three things I got a brief glimpse into the vast and complex business of state. We really have only started scratching the surface of this beast, and it is fascinating. 

Anyways, it's always good to learn from people who know what they're talking about when attempting to understand a constitution. The hashtag on Twitter is #oseaikatibatz to give you a taste of the conversation. I'll be tweeting again tomorrow- hopefully recommendations for this particular meeting to offer to the Katiba Commission. And maybe there will be energy left over to put a bit more substance into another post. 

A little birdie told me...

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