“It’s not often a country asks to be annexed and even rarer that the answer is no. Yet this is what happened when Mongolia asked the USSR for just that. So why did the USSR say no? To find out, watch this short and simple animated documentary.” SOURCE: YouTube
I haven’t shared much information about Mongolia on this site before (FUN FACT: Mongolia is the least densely populated county in the world). Most social studies educators are well aware of the history of the Mongolian Empire hundreds of years ago, but we lose the thread of Mongolia in the larger world history narrative. So modern Mongolia: why is it an independent country? It is a classic buffer state between Russia and China and has been used as either a puppet or a pawn by its larger neighbors.
Lake Volta, the largest reservoir in the world, covers over 3% of the Ghana’s land. This video does a great job explaining the economic and political rationale that led the newly independent country of Ghana to sacrifice such a large portion of their territory (Super quick answer—to get electricity to fuel their economy and become the world’s leading aluminum producer). This hits on a variety of geographic themes: human and environmental interactions, modifications to the landscape, economic development, neocolonialism, migration through displacement, globalization, etc.
Let’s first dispel some mistaken ideas about Taco Bell (Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast, Revisionist History discussed Taco Bell extensively in an episode that was primarily about the concept of cultural appropriation in music and food).
Myth #1: The Bell represents the Spanish Mission of the Southwest. Fact: Glen Bell is the founder so the family name is the rationale for the iconic bell.
Myth #2: Taco Bell makes bad, cheap Mexican food. Taco Bell’s goal is not trying to make Mexican food, but to make an interpretation of Mexican food for a broader audience with a different palate. They search for the familiar in the unfamiliar and make it all seem new.
One of these “interpretations” of Mexican food is the Mexican Pizza (not a thing in Mexico). While the name doesn’t sound American, the creation of this is a distinctly American concoction. The cultural creation of this on the surface seems like a simple mash-up, but the cultural dynamics are a little more interesting than that. Yes, the fusion is of two familiar ideas, but the reaction to and how cultural innovations are received is culturally mediated. This may seem surprising, but South Asian immigrants to the United States especially love Mexican Pizza (NPR article) because it 1) it has a combination of flavors and spices that is reminiscent of South Asian traditional foods, 2) it can be made to be vegetarian which aligns with the religious customs of Hinduism, and 3) eating fast food with a friends of all backgrounds feels like an All-American activity for young immigrants and children of immigrants.
The cultural reception of the Mexican Pizza shocked Taco Bell executives since the planned for it to be a seasonal part of the menu, like the McRib is for McDonalds’. Sure, it was partly supply chain issues, but they drastically underestimated that this particular menu item would culturally resonate beyond their normal consumer base as demonstrated by this tweet below:
The video I REALLY want you to watch is Video #3, but I need to explain a few things first because more than just the music and dance styles are getting mashed up, but cultural styles and influences are converging to create new forms of expression.
In the Punjab region (in India as well as Pakistan), the musical and dance tradition of bhangra is a deeply connection to local customs, religions, and traditions as they vary in different regions. The coming of spring, weddings, and ceremonies were known for large-scale bhangra dances which are tailor-made for audio-visual extravaganzas. In 2008, the song Aaja Ni Aaja was released and through online channels it became linked to a larger, global audience.
Decades earlier, Elvis Presley was the biggest name in Rock ‘n Roll and was becoming a cross-over star, appearing in movies with infused with some of his hits. The 1957 movie Jailhouse Rock made a hit song out of the song of the same title, infusing African-American blues and Southern Country.
Both of these bits of cultural context are necessary for understanding the following cultural production that is embedded in the video below (finally! the video I really wanted to share). It’s an ingenious mashup that combines the audio of a bhangra song with Elvis’ video. At the core of the mashup is the idea that incredibly distinct cultural productions are not so incredibly different after all and the commonalities in many cultural expressions exhibit universal impulses. Music and dance, like all cultural expressions, are not authentically pure representations for one place and time, but have many influences and can diffusion in so many ways. Enjoy the “If Elvis were Punjabi” video!! (And how did I find this? On social media of course).
BONUS CLIP: I did go down a few rabbit holes writing this post to get some of the cultural context that I was missing and it was helpful for me to understand the South Asian culture more. India’s movie industry, a.k.a. Bollywood, has been the perfect platform to make many local, folk cultures to become more prominent and accessible to a larger, and more geographically dispersed audience. Below is a video showing some of the differences between traditional bhangra dance moves with a more modernized Bollywood version.
For years I’ve enjoyed the clips on YouTube of “My First Errand” where it’s been running for decades in Japan. The very existence of the show demonstrates how we think about parenting and childhood are impacted by our cultural influences. Young kids go on their first unsupervised errand, but with an army of cameramen and shopkeepers prepared for the situation. Japanese parenting is designed to build resilience, trust in the community, and independence. Given that Japan’s culture this is perfectly reasonable, but now that the show is on Netflix as “Old Enough!”, American parents that parents quite differently, has more than a few parents watching this nervously and scared that it might even be dangerous.
Personally, I love that they are teaching children that they can develop some independence, resilience, and competence. We often assume we are the norm, and this is one case that shows American parenting culture in 21st century suburbs, does not represent the what has been normal throughout history, nor in other places. Some like Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have argued that “the Coddling of the American Mind” has had some negative consequences as children who never were allowed to grow and experiment then reach college campuses (I highly recommend the book since this 1-sentence synopsis doesn’t do it justice).
The Daily Show even bit a bit saying that the show “divides parents.” (5:48-9:00 in the clip below)
This map can go a long way towards explaining what the Donbas region is, and why it is seen as strategically important to both Russia and Ukraine. This BBC article makes a strong argument that capturing all of the Donbas region would now be Putin’s primary objective. What “winning” this war has meant for Russia has changed; especially now given that a quick takeover of the entire country of Ukraine is impossible. I see 4 reasons why Ukraine has done better in the first month of this war than some expected: 1) the government did not collapse under pressure, 2) the Ukrainian people took up the cause with patriotic fervor, 3) the Russian military was not the power that many expected, and 4) the international sanctions were more impactful in an integrated, global 21st century economy than they would have been just 50 years ago. At the start of the war Russia had (IMHO) much grander ambitions on what would have constituted a victory, but now, control of the entire Donbas region is still the prize that they’ve coveted and would represent an new idea victory. SOURCE: BBC
This video is one analysts take on Russia’s goals. One of the key ideas focuses on the Heartland Theory by Mackinder, which many thought was irrelevant at the end of the Cold War. While I don’t agree with all the opinions, they are all reasoned, informed perspectives.
I’ve been teaching about the lack of toilets, open defecation, and adequate sanitation in India for years now, but over the pandemic, some of those articles I referenced became outdated (2016). So today I wanted to refresh my teaching materials. While the statistics have improved, it is still a serious health issue that remains a major impediment to economic and social development. The government proudly states that 100% of Indians have access to toilets, but a national survey found that 10% of the rural areas still defecate in the open (with other estimates much worse). Below are some good articles to get a sense of the current situation.