Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hugo Chavez interviewed by Barbara Walters March 17, 2007

Oh dear. My husband (H) gritted his teeth at the announcement that Hugo Chavez, the innovative, popular leader of Venezuela, would be interviewed by Barbara Walters. He could see too well the spin and misinformation that would dominate the screen.

I watch too little TV and browse too few online political sites. I'd never seen Chavez on TV and insisted we watch. I wanted to learn, and of course I had H to talk me through any inaccuracies.

20/20: Chavez seldom grants interviews, but Barbara Walters got one..

H, snorting: He grants interviews all the time!

20/20: Chavez is making headlines by calling Bush a devil and a donkey.

H, more snorting into the TV: "That's the headline *you* want to make out of him!

Walters: President Chavez, if you could say one thing to the American people, what would it be?

Chavez: Like you, I admire Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream." I have a dream also. It is a dream we share together...

20/20 hosts: Well, broken English it was...

Me, snorting into the TV: "Broken English" my ass. Heavy accent, yes -- grammatical errors, didn't spot a single one. And like, what kind of Spanish does Bush speak?

H, too disgusted to speak.

Me, prodding: That was good, didn't you think? Could have been worse?

H: It was typical journalist spin. "Both sides" were interviewed; the wealthy upper-class and some poor people.

[H point: Journalism uses the "both sides interviewed" device to provoke the illusion of balanced coverage; imagine interviewing Hitler on the benefits of slave labor, and then interviewing the incarcerated.]

Me: But the interview with the wealthy did nothing to support "their" side! The upper class said they would basically have to leave soon! If they need to leave the country, it means Chavez is succeeding in making Venezuela a place where it is no longer comfortable to be wealthy!

H: Capital flight.... [Discussion of capital flight from Cuba]

Me: And the 'other side' -- poverty stricken -- certainly those interviews made the point that Chavez' administration is actually alleviating poverty.

H: But they've nationalized almost nothing. They're using the oil revenues to fund reforms. Eventually, they'll need to nationalize. The class war will have to come. But Chavez is going slow, implementing reforms slowly, taking time to build up neighbor councils.

Me: Isn't that good? Building infrastructure so that the working class will have the knowledge, skills and tools for self-governance?

But H was too annoyed with the interview to engage more with me. And then I wanted to see the rest of the Land of the Blind... (ouch -- movie review forthcoming)

Why I married a communist

Some 3 or 4 hours into our first date, my husband-to-be raised his mug of hot chocolate and looked me in the eye. "Actually, I'm a communist".

Later we'd laugh to remember the steps towards this declaration. Early in the evening he discussed why he didn't vote (it was November 2004), then mentioned his leftist activism, then socialism, then Marxism, and then finally that word that would "elicit large skin conductance responses" on my laboratory equipment.

As it did on my own nervous system.

The evening had been going well. I'd dragged him to a book reading at the First Parish Church in Cambridge where we listened to Steve Pinker and other authors discuss a new collection of science writing. To prolong the evening and to finally have a chance to talk, we walked a block to Tealux in Harvard Square.

He was an English literature professor. He explained that narrative was the route to understanding -- stories were the way to grasp any system's internal logic. I approved, recalling autism researcher Simon Baron Cohen's distinction between empathizing and systematizing. Intellectual conversation. I was stimulated. Later he told me he was scared shitless.

But why did the "C" word provoke in me that happy combination of relief and excitement?

If he was really a Communist -- really a believer in something that this country we live in vilified for decades -- then, in his mind, all my attributes which had been threatening to other blind dates -- feminist, skeptic, career woman, leftist, atheist, rule-breaker, nonconformist -- would have to be okay.

And they were.