Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Week in the Arts

As usual with my increased free time around the ol' Thanksgiving holiday, I've been filling as much of my life as possible with as many entertaining, non-school-related bits of work I can before I return to the soul-crushing drudgery of my life. So here are, in no particular order, the more interesting things I saw/heard last week:

M.I.A. w/ opening act The Cool Kids at First Avenue

You know, I'm not really much of an M.I.A. fan, but this was a really fun show. I think it stems from the fact that her music is dance music, and isn't really something you just plug in and sit there listening to. Because let's be frank; if you can tell the difference between any two M.I.A. songs you are either a shaman of some kind or a liar.

But live? Live is a whole different story. With incredible energy and dance moves that can only be described as nearly as confusing as her singing, it's a fun time. Plus, the Cool Kids turned out to be a quite pleasant surprise. I must admit I was pretty wary of a band I'd never heard of that also had such a stupid, stupid name, but they know how to rock the mic. Highly recommend them if you are a fan of rap from the years 1988-1992.

No Country for Old Men

The Coen brothers are a rare pairing in that they barely ever make flops. Widda T likes to say the only reason they made The Ladykillers is because their new dog had bladder control issues and they couldn't afford a new carpet, which is the best explanation I've heard thus far.

Fortunately, this is no Ladykillers. No Country is probably the best serious Coen brothers movie since Fargo (I say serious because Lebowski is beyond reproach, but of a completely different style of brilliance). It's always pretty much impossible to sum up one of their movies, so I'll just say I highly recommend this. And the ending...I won't ruin it, but it was one of the most challenging and interesting movie endings I've seen since Gone, Baby Gone (a highly under-rated flick). Definitely should make your "Best Of" year-end list you've got kicking around in your head.

I'm Not There

I must admit I'm still torn on this one. I'll really need another viewing before I can say definitively how I feel about it, though I definitely lean toward the positive. I like the idea of having 6 different people play Dylan, with only one of them even attempting to look like him (Cate Blanchet, ironically). As Dad pointed out, even if that wasn't the best way to do it, it sure as hell beat whatever they could've done as a straight biopic (see: Walk The Line).

But some parts of it failed to impress. Possibly the worst decision was the attempt to integrate Dylan lyrics into the movie. At best, they thudded awkwardly into the conversation, but often they felt more like Scary Movie-style mentions of pop culture that reward even the stupidest viewer for having once heard a chart-topping Dylan song. But despite it's significant flaws, it's moments of brilliance kept me engaged. Any time a two-hour plus movie doesn't drag at all, you know something was done correctly.

Well, having experienced a pretty satisfying week of living, I turn back to my insular world devoid of meaning and free time...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Will write journal-length academic papers for food

Got a thick(er) envelope from the folks at Deviant Behavior today, but it turned out to be another rejection letter. Which is a bit disappointing, seeing as they're not that great of a journal. It's kind of like being turned down by the homely girl at the least you were kind of expecting rejection from the pretty one.

So it's back to drawing board again...sigh...always an academic bride's mate, never a published bride...

Friday, November 23, 2007

This, my friends, is the stuff dreams are made of...

As I noted round abouts this time last year, I've never been successful in my attempts to leave the kiddie table.

But what a difference a year makes. After sustained complaints, my family (albeit quite sarcastically) finally let me move on up to that de-luxe dinning table in the dinning room, as it were. I didn't get to move up to a full bed this year, but at least I got to move onto a couch in the upstairs living room, which receives heat. Baby steps, my friends, baby steps.

And let me tell you, the adult table is everything I thought it would be and more. Real chairs! Real table! Real words used in conversation!

Suddenly, the world is my playground. Food tastes better, the sky is bluer, the young ladies are more comely, and the slow-gripping desperation brought on by neo-liberal hegemony seems less overwhelming.

But more importantly, I feel as if I've finally crossed one of the great thresholds into the strange land of adult-hood. Today, I can stand in front of my God and my peoples and say unequivocally that I am indeed a Man, with a capital M, for that is now my right.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Man, there weren't toys like this when I was a kid...

A friend came across this playmobil set in Target. Yes, Target.

In case the details escape you, it's a WTO-protest anarchist vs. cop playset. Hopefully Arise! will be carrying them soon, just in time for the holidays. Perfect for that anti-authoritarian on your list!

UPDATE: Arise! indeed does carry them now. Stop in and buy yours today--teach your children how to fight authority while simultaneously supporting collective bookstores! It's a win-win!

Monday, November 19, 2007

My two cents on the writer's strike

Possibly the best thing to come out of the writer's strike thus far is ironically a demonstration of the power of the internet as a superior medium for communication. The writer's union has (not suprisingly) come up with the clever idea of putting together internet sketches, some parodying the shows they write for and some just simple interviews, but all discussing the strike and explaining what is going on broadly and giving the latest updates. They're now posting them regularly on YouTube as a way of forcing the agenda into the media, which for some reason doesn't seem to be providing very good coverage of a strike against, well, them. As a propaganda tool, it could not be more cleaver. Unions especially, but the entire progressive left generally, could take an example from this as a powerful model of strike/protest actions moving outside the status quo. Similarly, the media could take this as an example that the internet is indeed at least of equivalent importance to television, and that the writers should be compensated for their internet work.

The best one I've found thus far--"Not the Daily Show" starring One of the Writers:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

News round up in a bad day for America

Two articles jump out at me this morning as I peruse the daily news:

First, the U.S. has fallen to 15th in average worker income.

And second, in what I can only hope is un-related news, the U.S. has been called a haven for war criminals.

It's fun to put news stries side-by-side and wonder about the state of this nation.

In a bit of slightly positive news, the Edwards campaign has said that if elected, he will introduce a bill that would strip Congress of their healthcare until they institute universal healhcare.

Now it's not a very good plan in that it still allows for insurance companies to rape and pillage, but it is a serious attempt from a recognized candidate to force the issue of single payer healthcare, which is a pretty big sea change from only a decade ago.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What have I become?

Last night, while reading a book I might include in the syllabus I'm preparing, I checked an end note. You know, the little number that appears after every so many sentences in academic books that corresponds to a number in the back of the book in the midst of a bewildering collection of diagrams, notes, and 10 point font.

And while I excitedly checked to see what book was being refferenced in the text, I stopped myself and wondered aloud how I had gotten to this moment. Here I was, nerdily flipping to the back of the book to find out what was cited. Not only that, but I was actually interested. I had followed the author's aside and honestly wanted to know where this information was coming from.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being excited about learning. Being a grad student, I would pretty much have to be a nerd who's excited about learning, or I never would have made it this far. But even I have limits. Even I have sighed loudly with relief upon noticing that the last 20 pages of the chapter I've been assigned are actually the end notes, meaning it's 20 pages less of reading. I've always pondered the very existance of such notes, knowing, just knowing deep down in my heart that no one but no one actually reads these things.

I mean, what the hell could be back there that would be worth searching through all of those notes, tucked away between the index (useful) and research design(whaa?!?)? The cure for cancer? The recipie for a low-fat brownie that doesn't let you down in the flavor department? What Meatloaf wouldn't do for love? I had always figured they were just a way to pad page numbers, built on the flawless assumption that you get paid more for writing a bigger book (though I still think that might be true).

But now here I am. Here I sit before God and all of you, my faithful reader(s), and admit that I have read an end note. But not only read it; I have seriously considered going out and finding the book refferenced.

How the hell did I get to this point? Man, graduate school is a weird process.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not sure what this means, but...

in yet another blatant bit of theivery from you-gun:

cash advance

Congratulations. If you have ever read and understood my blog, you are apparently smart enough to graduate from high school. Or, conversely, I'm smart enough to write things that sound like I graduated from high school. I think the both of us should be notably proud of our collective accomplishment.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Veterans Day

And as a reminder, those who have fought for our country and received debilitating physical and mental injuries are woefully under-cared for. For instance, my cousin was talked into an honorable discharge form the Navy one week shy of the time required for medical benefits. Now she's in third stage kidney failure and can't afford the bills, and our compassionate armed services have politely told her to fuck off.

Oh, and one of every four homeless people is a veteran. That pretty well sums up our collective level of commitment to them.

And I'm the one who doesn't support our troops...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Race and Capital Punishment

In doing some work for Contexts, the "public sociology" journal that recently came here to Minnesota, I ran across some really interesting work on the death penalty. In addition to finding out that only 10% of those sentenced to death are ever actually executed (crazy, huh?), these two recent artciles by David Jacobs and friends had some pretty interesting findings.

Probably the most interesting was that civil-rights protests reduce both public support for and the number of executions, and are the most important factor in doing so. As a person who's had to answer the "why do you bother protesting? it's not going to change anything" qustion/annoyance several thousand times, that's a pretty comforting finding.

Another major finding in these two articles was that the death penalty is applied in an inherently racist way (surprise, surprise), but that it probably works differently than you think. While the race of the person convicted definitely matters, the race of the victim is the much bigger factor. Not surprisingly, those convicted of killing a white victim are far, far likelier to actually be executed than those sentenced to death for killing a black person.

Anyway, sometimes it's hard to write posts like this because if you still believe the death penalty isn't a racist form of state-sponsored murder, then you most likely live in a gumdrop house at the end of lollipop lane and frolic all day in the sugar cane forests with magic elves and pixies, and therefore scientific findings don't mean anything to you. But nonetheless, I think it's pretty interesting.

If you're a huge nerd and would like to find out more, check out these articles at your local library:
--Jacobs, David and Stephanie L. Kent. 2007. The Determinants of Executions since 1951: How Politics, Protests, Public Opinion, and Social Divisions Shape Capital Punishment. Social Problems 54 (3): 297-318
--Jacobs, David, Zhenchao Qian, Jason T. Carmichael, and Steaphnie L. Kent. 2007. Who Survives on Death Row? An Individual and Contextual Analysis American Sociological Review 72: 610-632

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why the Patriots actually suck, almost as bad as the insular media

Yet another football-related post.

Unfortunately, this past sunday, the Patriots beat the Colts 24-20, keeping their perfect season alive and allowing everyone at ESPN to open up a little bit wider and take the Patriots collective cock a bit further down their throat. Recently there was a good critique at the A/V Club about the problem with ESPN is that while it used to be a sympathetic yet good and critical outsider approach to sports (a la the New York Times) it has become a sycophantic sports-worship machine with posts filled by former athletes who will never question the game (a la the Wall Street Journal).

The current Patriots are a good case in point. The NFL is the un-disputed king of major league sports in America, but it jealously gaurds its place atop the sports mountain and is always clawing for new markets. And let us not forget the spectacular failure that has been their attempt to branch out into foreign markets, especially when compared with the success of baseball and basektball internationally. As such, the NFL, and it's underling ESPN, needs the Patriots. They need a team that's dominant, fun to watch, and yet ever-so-humble.

The problem is, the cracks are starting to show. For example, the Patriots are the most class-less team in all of professional sports, constantly running up the score. Two weeks ago, they even went for it on 4th and 1 with a 28 point lead in the 4th quarter, jsut to run up the score. What has the response been from the commentators at the major sports network? The consensus seems to be that if other teams have a problem with it, they should stop them. Much like the way I'm sure they would look at their mother getting raped on the street and say that if she has a problem with it, she should stop the guy, but that's fodder for a whole different post on the conservtaive individualism of sports broadcasting.

What no one seems to be pointing out (possibly because they've gotten a bit too cozy with each other) is the reason why the Patriots are so good:

Because they cheat.

They were caught illegally filming other team's practices to know their plays ahead of time. When they were caught, the league issued a fine and tried to bury the story, because as we've covered, they need the Patriots. But this does complicate the "if you don't like, play better" response: maybe the other teams (like the Colts) are playing well, but they aren't cheating.

And maybe we could cut out the praise of Bill Belicheck, the asshole who everyone thinks is a genius but already been proven to be nothing but a cheater with a bunch of good players. I think any coach could look like a genius if they knew what plays the other team was going to run.

For example, look at the coaches who have left. Remember how Charlie Weiss was an offensive genius? Well, now he's in charge of some of the greatest college football players in the nation, and yet cant score points to save his life, while the Fightin' Irish are en route to their worst season ever. Maybe it turns out that he's not so much as genius as it's really easy to look like one when you have the other guy's plays ahead of time.

All of which you think would make fodder for a great story, but not when the media needs this to go away just as much as the league does. Then there is no story. But the bigger problem is that when this happens with sports, it's annoying at worst. But the exact same process is going on with things that really matter (such as the impending war with Iran), and nobody's getting upset about that either. I guess it just goes to show that no one ever wants to question the motives of a Patriot, even when they're clearly lying.

UPDATE: Turns out Don Shula agrees with me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

On this day 402 years ago, a group of Catholics in London, assisted by explosives expert Guy Fawkes (pictured above as he may have looked if he were a bad-ass super hero) were foiled in their plot to blow up Parliament and thereby assassinate the king and most members of the protestant aristocracy. Check out the pretty good wikipedia entry here.

The move triggered some increased freedom for Catholics, although it would be another 200 years before Catholic emanciaption was finally brought to the United Kingdom. While it's still mostly celebrated as an English day of rememberance, it marks an important international turning point for the freedom of Catholics.

Guy Fawkes has over time become a sort of cult hero amongst some, especially after the release of Alan Moore's superb graphic novel and later not-so-superb movie V for Vandetta.

So mark the day today, for it's a nice day to remember. Suggested activities include fireworks (as they do in Britain, Canada, and a few other paces in the British Isles) or acts of terrorism against oppresive governments. They're both pretty, but require varying degrees of commitment.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Why this commie still watches football

Two words: Adrian Peterson.

If you did not watch the Vikings game today (possibly doing work that desperately needs to be done, unlike me) then you are a grade A sucka. Adrian Peterson just put on possibly the best game of football I've ever seen, and I've watched a fair amount of football for a chap my age.

For crying out loud, the man just set the NFL single-game ruching record as a rookie. I know the Vikes are not looking dood at all this season (hey, it's touch plyaing without a quarterback or reciving corps), but this paints a rather rosy picture for the franchise. I personally would argue they should call this a practice season, tank the rest of their games, and then pick up one of tha half-dozen really good QBs that are going to be in next year's draft. And before you laught at the suggestion, just note that fact that tanking last year and getting a top-10 pick has seemed to work out pretty damn well thus far.

Anyway, without getting too excited off a caffeine-buzz/home-team win, you've got to admit Peterson clearly has the potential to be one of the greatest, possibly even better than that LT guy on the other team who had a pretty lackluster day. It really makes me want to wax poetic about the beauty of the savage ballet that is football, but I just spent three hours loving every minute of it and am now painfully behind for the day.

But then again, the Colts/Pats game is just starting, and that could prove to be fairly entertaining as well...