Monday, April 30, 2012

assignment #6: why do they hate us?

Photo courtesy of Foreign Policy
“We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.” Mona Eltahawy in “Why Do They Hate Us?”

After watching a short interview with Mona Eltahawy on CNN International and having a friend recommend her article, I was compelled to head over to the Foreign Policy website myself to read Eltahawy’s article on the Middle East’s War on Women. I highly recommend the article as it provides a viewpoint of the situation Arab women currently face from someone who has lived on both sides of the fence (Eltahawy is Egyptian-American, having spent her younger years in Saudi Arabia.)

There are consistent reports on the injustices against women in UN and NGO papers and publications, and once in a while the Western media chooses to report on these. There are countless other voices of abused, disenfranchised women that go unheard. Generally speaking, the coverage in the USA is more “tsk tsk” than outrage, after all you can’t expect those backwards Muslims to do any better.

And so much for the “Arab Spring” which seems to be only a spring for Arab Men. Egypt is such a country, which rose up from decades of autocratic oppression last year, only to find that Muslim Brotherhood would fill the seats of government. Note that it’s the Islamic Brotherhood - not the Islamic Alliance - the name tells you everything you need to know. Perhaps this is a victory for Egyptian men, but Egyptian women will be sorely disappointed as it is likely they will continue to be oppressed. Here’s Ms. Eltahawy’s report on that one:

Then there's Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to "protect the revolution," inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved "virginity tests" for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)”

Isn’t that charmingly progressive?

It’s awful the way the Western world so easily vilifies one country and yet whitewashes another. There’s been some media attention to the plight of women in Yemen, and yet they rank way down there on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report with our erstwhile ally, Saudi Arabia; here in the USA we only hear about that country when there is talk of oil or strategic partnerships.

In my Media Law class, we briefly discussed some interpretations of how media fits into society, the Self-Realization Model being one. This sets forth that one acts to the betterment of oneself, to fully develop a notion of one’s identity. In one of my short essays in the class, I proposed that the Middle Eastern region followed such a model for not only media, but governance. Islamism is a lifestyle, not just a religion. One does all actions for the sake of piety. But it’s obvious that piety has not been realized. Look at the mess the region has on its hands with several congruent revolutions, flagrant human rights abuses, third world conditions. How will anything close to biblical or “Qu’ranical” paradise be seen with the current situation? Do men see better futures over the horizon. I think women just see a sun setting on their dreams.

Though it’s not parallel, I think often of the struggles American women are currently facing in what is also being called a “war on women”. While we have many of the freedoms Arab women in the Middle Eastern region lack, I can’t help but feel that certain groups would prefer that all those rights be taken away. Restrictions placed on birth control, abortion, when these matters have already been decided...All while men refuse to perform similar tasks to ensure equality of the sexes...It’s obvious that women must still fight. It’s even more undermining when, like in the Middle East, the US has women advocating for rights to be taken away as Governor Nikki Haley did recently

Even if we can drive, wear miniskirts, and work, we still don’t have it all.

assignment #5: #kony2012

I touched briefly on the subject of Kony 2012 on this blog some months ago. Since I’m woefully tired and facing a deadline for another “Representing International Politics” blog post after this one, I’ve decided to elaborate on a topic from last month that’s a bit more controversial than you may realize. Sorry if that’s exactly what you didn’t come here for :-)

Here is a brief outline: Kony is the believed current head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who had sought to form a Ugandan theocracy before allegedly being forced out of the country. He is charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity, recruiting children as soldiers in his army as well as sex slaves. Many of the LRA’s most brutal crimes occurred over a decade ago, but the group’s campaigns displaced thousands if not millions of people and the body count is high.

I was first made aware of this charming psychopath in my International Human Rights course last semester, but Kony’s name did not stick in my mind. I was reminded after viewing the now infamous 30-minute Kony 2012 Youtube video made by Invisible Children co-founder James Russell. The video was amazing and struck a chord in my heart. Of course, now we know Russell is having an emotional and perhaps psychological breakdown, but I don’t think that necessarily discounts his work for this cause.

On April 20, 2012, I participated in “Cover the Night,” an event organized by Invisible Children’s off-shoot Kony 2012 where participants put up posters around their respective city in order to raise awareness on the Ugandan, and perhaps African, situation surrounding the crimes of Joseph Kony. After “covering” the night, I felt like I did something. And it was exactly what I intended to do: raise awareness. That’s all I need to do, right? Heck, I got off my butt and gave up valuable study time.

After the video was released and garnered over 100 million views in less than two weeks, there were many cries of “slacktivism.” The term is perfectly legitimate. I agree that in our quick access and instant gratification society, it’s nice to press a button and feel like you’re helping to make the world a better place. I also agree that sometimes, this is not enough to affect change. But what I found to be particularly insulting was the term’s application to this video. The purpose of the clip was to raise awareness, to raise concern. The very fact that so many people felt compelled to write about how uninspired the campaign was reiterates how effective the clip was.

And to add, I’m almost positive that a majority of the writers of these “slacktivist” articles bought any plane tickets to Africa to go save the nation, build schools, adopt underprivileged babies, end famine...Let’s be honest. The real slacktivists are opinion writers.

Besides the slacktivist argument, others argued that the situation pertaining to child abductions by the LRA has calmed down and now Uganda and the whole of Africa is an awesome place to be. Look, I understand that African countries are on the up. But let’s not be forget the past. If Kony is still alive and there are still accounts of him abducting children, then he needs to be brought to trial. I viewed a video clip of a teenage Ugandan-American girl who permanently resides in the United States speak about how dishonest the Kony 2012 video was. Essentially, she argues that Kony 2012 is just a front for the US military to swoop in and take African resources.

Sorry, kids, China is beating us to that.

While I understand her concern because you can never trust white Americans, I have to stop her right at the beginning of her video when she promotes her pedigree:
“I’m 100% Ugandan. Both of my parents were born and raised in Uganda. And...I tend to visit there from time to time. The last time I went was the summer of 2010[. . .].”

Stop right there! Do not tell me how Ugandan you are though you are clearly American-born and raised. If Uganda was so great, why aren’t you living there now? She goes on to say that Uganda had problems with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, not the LRA, the last time she visited. So while the country is at peace, there are still problems with extreme fundamentalist religious groups.

Look, there were problems ten years ago that aren’t resolved today. Joseph Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity! These aren’t light charges. We are not talking about a slap on the wrist. Why are people so complacent? And for every child that was kidnapped and forced into slavery by the LRA, there should be an accounting. If Kony isn’t in Uganda, then perhaps the US military advisors won’t stay in Uganda. This is an international effort.

So, I praise Invisible Children and Kony 2012 for being able to mobilize people around the world about an otherwise forgotten tragedy. Let’s not forget that.

I'm aware that the situation concerning solely the organization Invisible Children is extremely complicated. This is just my view on one aspect. If you’re interested, here’s more reading on the topic:

Kony 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Photo taken by me at the FW2012/13 Issey Miyake RTW runway presentation

Always a pleasure to attend this show. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

can you trademark a color?

This is a piece I had written for the school magazine, but didn't make it in. I now share it with those interested in the topic. Enjoy, Dari.
"Red is obviously such a stimulating color, and it has so many connotations." --P. J. Harvey
Christian Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent over the use of the red sole on their shoes and the mixed connotations that they may create. Other brands and corporations have been able to obtain color trademarks, such as the United Postal Service (UPS) brown and Tiffany’s robin-egg blue. While it’s true that many identify Louboutin by its signature sole, the question remains. Can Louboutin hold exclusive rights to red?

Without question, Christian Louboutin has put much effort into creating the often sought-after Louboutin red sole. As legend has it, the designer created the sole in 1992 by painting the underside of a shoe with red nail varnish, finding the resulting footwear so captivating as to include it on his designs thereafter. His shoes have been adored by celebrities and madame tout le monde alike. They have faithfully supported his product for years, taking him from a small French shoe designer to international fame in his own right. In January 2008, the United States Patent Trade Office (PTO) granted the “Red Sole Mark” trademark with the official document stating:

“The color(s) red is/are claimed as a feature of the mark. The mark consists of a lacquered red sole on footwear. The dotted lines are not part of the mark but are intended only to show placement of the mark.”

The description was accompanied by a drawing of a sandal with a red colored sole and no additional distinguishing features.

Louboutin took issue with the red soles which Yves Saint Laurent’s Cruise 2011 Collection featured on several all-red models of its Tribute, Tribtoo, Palais and Woodstock shoe designs. Each model was noted for its distinctive YSL form. Though YSL produced an all-red Tribute sandal in 2008, Louboutin did not object to the shoe at that time.

The validity of Louboutin’s trademark has come under question. It is clear the red sole is an identifier of the Louboutin brand, but is it protected under current statutes? In fashion, this is difficult to answer. Because the seasonal cycle for innovation runs in a minimum of two cycles per year, judges are reluctant to give fashion designers similar protections for their work as have been enjoyed by other industries in the past, notably the pharmaceutical and engineering industries. The heart of American trademark law lies with the Landham Act, enacted in 1946 and last updated in 2005. According to this act, trademark refers to

“any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof which a person has a bonafide intention to use in commerce . . . to identify and distinguish his or her goods . . . from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.”

The issue at question is the application of the functionality doctrine to the Red Sole Mark which provides Louboutin a way to trademark a feature which is not related entirely to its function as a brand identifier. Does the red sole serve a purpose outside of being a brand identifier?

Louboutin filed action against YSL for trademark infringement and counterfeiting, false designation of origin and unfair competition, trademark dilution, as well as New York state law claims for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition and unlawful deceptive acts and practices. YSL counter-sued seeking the cancellation of the Red Sole Mark on the grounds that it is not distinctive, ornamental, functional, and was secured by fraud on the PTO, as well as damages for tortious interference with the business relations, and unfair competition. In sum, while Louboutin was suing for protection of their trademark, YSL argued that Louboutin had no right to their mark, and that they were cornering the market in trying to assert control over the usage of the red sole.

The case was argued at the Southern District Court of New York before Judge Victor Marrero who was not keen to the argument presented by Louboutin. While he understood the efforts and perhaps the cultural value of the Louboutin brand, he was reluctant to grant the protection Louboutin needed for the case. In his decision on the case, Marrero attempts to provide qualifications to granting trademark to colors:

“Color can meet the legal requirements for a trademark if it ‘acts as a symbol that distinguishes a firm’s goods and identifies their sources, without serving any other significant function.’” 

The Louboutin red sole is an essential part of the shoe, not because it is red, but because the sole is a necessary component to the making of a functional shoe. Marrero raises an interesting point when he questions the functionality of color in fashion, where it is deemed a must by the majority of wearers today. He refers to the Qualitex case where the plaintiff used a green-gold color in its packaging of dry cleaning pads, citing that the functionality doctrine forbids the use of a product’s feature as a trademark where doing so will put a competitor at a significant disadvantage because the feature is essential to the use or purpose of the article or affects its cost of quality. Marrero sets forth that color has been deemed as functional in certain aspects and therefore cannot be protected. The fact that Louboutin did not try and protect their Red Sole Mark when YSL previously made shoes with red soles is particularly damaging, showing that Louboutin may not have a clear idea of when one is infringing on his mark and when one is not. It is damning to see his own words used against himself, as his belief that red is “engaging,” “sexy,” and attractive to men are all non-trademark function in Marrero’s eyes. Reserving the right to a red sole to Christian Louboutin and reserving the right to give “a touch of beauty to common and necessary things” may be detrimental to the market as a whole, allowing Louboutin an advantage  over his competition.

Many find that this was not the moment to challenge Yves Saint Laurent on usage of the Red Sole Mark. The Louboutin customer can easily distinguish between the two brands. As YSL’s shoes in question are completely red following the monochrome style of the collection, the assertion made by Louboutin of confusion between the shoes or their respective houses is even weaker. Though Judge Marrero did not completely nullify the Red Sole trademark, he came close, and that may open up the flood gates for other designers to take advantage of the red sole. But, for savvy shoppers of fashion, a Louboutin is more than just the red sole, and that meaning is what will distinguish Louboutin from others that attempt to use the red sole.

For those who feel a certain attachment to Christian Louboutin, it’s hard to say no to his real belief that his red soles are signature to his brand and protected by trademark. Fans of both fashion houses may have trouble taking sides. It’s difficult to comprehend the situation and the legalities and rules surrounding trademarks, but it is equally difficult to disprove the logic of Judge Marrero, who has taken his guidance directly from American legal texts and jurisprudence. A gut feeling is not enough for Louboutin to win this case. Though proposed laws in the United States could provide more solutions to Louboutin in regards to their trademark, it is not necessarily seen as positive legislation for the fashion industry, which enjoys the recycling of ideas, trends, and iconic pieces. It is yet to be seen the fate of the Louboutin v. YSL case and its significance in the fashion industry as it is now being heard before the appeals court of New York.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

attitude, solitude.

Photo taken by my beloved friend Megan Williams of myself
Sunglasses : Phosphorescence "Erin Wasson" ; Shirt: Hien Le fw2012; Pants: H&M
everything else, I have no idea.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

assignment #4: twitter revolution.

I would like to start with a quotation from one of the articles I read:
"While rioters took to the underground paths of BlackBerry Messenger to organize, the highly spreadable mediums of Twitter and Facebook have shown to be the perfect platforms for mobilizing cleanup organizers and followers in the early aftermath of the rioting." Erica Swallow, writing for Mashable

I think this is a huge problem with with the way we think of both real and technological revolutions. From the beginning of her article, Swallow differentiates between the evils of BlackBerry Messenger which organized the riots and the goodness of Twitter and Facebook which are helping to rebuild London. Yay! Now, I’m on #teamiPhone, but was once the proud owner of a BlackBerry phone that I had to constantly defend to outsiders. This paragraph just reinforces how writers want to antiquate certain platforms while championing others, a confusion of the tool and the results of using the tool. BBM is old and led to an unsuccessful riot. Twitter is new(er) and is making the world a better place. Stale idea, Swallow. Stale.

The arguments made recently have had to do with Twitter’s involvement in many recent “revolutions” and uprisings, especially in the Middle Eastern and Arabic countries. At the start of these revolutions, many wanted to attribute them to social media, namely Twitter and Facebook. Quickly, many realize this argument was weak sauce.
In his essay “Iran: Downside to the ‘Twitter Revolution’”,  Evgeny Morozov argues that the celebration of Twitter revolutions is misplaced. Using an argument that has stayed with me for quite some time he notes that many “in-touch” bloggers and tweeters were bilingual (Farsi and English), but often existing in the Iranian diaspora, not in Iran. If you are trying to succeed in revolution, why write in a language foreign to many in your country? In this case, it seems that many of these bloggers were citizen journalists, not organizing revolutionaries, but shedding light on them to the Western world.

“Thus, to blame Andrew Sullivan for first dreaming up the “Twitter Revolution,” we have to blame a bevy of English-speaking Iranian bloggers who had shaped his opinion (many of them from the Iranian diaspora, with strong pro-Western feelings—why else blog in English?), as well as Farsi-speaking bloggers in Tehran who had shaped the opinion of the English-speaking Iranians, and so forth. Factor in various political biases, and it becomes clear that what Andrew Sullivan is “seeing” might be radically different from what is actually happening.” Morozov

Like many others, I agree that Twitter was a tool, an important one, but still just one of the tools used by revolutionaries to organize. Twitter did not cause the revolution: Just as we have seen revolutions in the past without Twitter, without the telephone, without the printing press... technologies are used by revolutionaries, but revolution occurs because of social factors. Undoubtedly, Twitter played an useful role and was used by the actors in the shaping of these revolutions.
When you look at a country like Syria, which is experiencing the aftermath of revolution, with many still trying to resist state force, you can see the extent to which social media can affect change. In recent months, opposition groups and Syrian individuals have been posting online videos to the internet, blogging, tweeting, and otherwise trying to raise attention about issues, but ultimately, what has it done? Several UN meetings have been held leading to little action. Bashar Al-Assad has continued his assault on Syrian citizens, his own people. They are still dying. Even with cease-fire resolutions from the UN and Arab League alike, the violence has continued. Social media has not been the great crusader now. No one is parading the phrase “Twitter Revolution” when speaking of Syria. It takes more than a platform. It takes people.

By the way, perused over some articles to find an interesting link if anyone is interested: Wikistrat. I’m in love with their tagline “Massively Multiplayer Online Consultancy.” Who is the nerd who created this! We need to exchange numbers and photos. I found the link in this article discussing Kony 2012. I think the same concepts above apply here. People’s actions make for a revolution, for great change. Social media platforms are just another tool to make it happen.
Also want to point out that these social media platforms have quickly changed their tune in regards to allowing all-out protest and commentary. Twitter recently enacted a policy to censor certain tweets that may not be in line with a country's laws. Meaning that if someone insults a Head of State and that act is against the law, their tweet is liable to be censored. If someone calls for a meeting and assembly is illegal, NO TWEET. Just a censored out space informing viewers of the removed tweet.
That's just another topic to think about when deciding whether social media is the end all be all of revolutions. Clearly, they want to make money. It's not about overthrowing governments for the likes of Twitter, Google, and Facebook. In the end, it's about compliance. The antithesis to revolution.