Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You have got to be shitting me...

The Central Intelligence Agency has recently un-veiled it's new "terrorist buster" logo

Yes, this is the actual logo.

No, I'm not making this up.

Though it does explain a great deal. It must actually be that these people are not evil, there's simply a river of ectoplasm running under the Whitehouse, and Dick Cheney's body is actually posessed by the spirit of Vigo the Carpathian.

See, I knew these people couldn't actually be that crazy...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why I Love Free e-mail...

Surprisingly, it's not some angrily dogmatic Marxist celebration of equity. It's shit like the picture above. I think that woman is supposed to be dancing around sensuously to her favorite music...? I don't know, it's the best I can do to figure out what it's actually supposed to be. But seriously, give me a compelling argument as to why it isn't just some woman listening to music and smelling her armpits. Thank you, Yahoo! music services. I now know your music is so good it will make me want to smell my armpits. That's very informative and helpful.

But when you log into your Yahoo! page, you don't go straight to your inbox. That would simply be too ludicrous a function for an e-mail server. Rather, you go to some weird, nebulous void of internet space and are bombarded with today's headlines, sports scores, and all sorts of awkwardly dancing silhouettes who are presumably happy of the falling mortgage rates.

And these headlines I speak of? The most important news you will ever need to know. For example, through Yahoo! I have learned that New Orleans is one of the laziest cities in America. Out of respect, I will make no joke about evacuations. I'm saddened to report that it doesn't get any more rosy elsewhere. For example, you wouldn't ever want to relocate to Philadelphia, America's ugliest city.

Thank you, Yahoo! You and your disturbingly up-beat exclamation mark have made me the informed citizen I am today. And lose some weight, Philadelphia; you're getting even fatter than your lazy-ass brother, New Orleans.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The City That Almost Was and Then Wasn't

Anybody get the Simpsons refernce in the title? Just checking to see if it's too obscure or not...

This past friday eve during my shift at the good ol' neighborhood radical info shop (though not the one in my neighborhood...not that it matters, but the kids are easily confused these days), I was pleasantly suprised by the screening of new documentary, Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea.

It's a fascinating look at what can only be described a modern day ghost town (narrated by the legendary John Waters, none-the-less). The Salton Sea was formed accidentally at the run of the century by a design mistake in irrigation fields. It sat as a little-used curiosity until the 1950s, when an enterprising group of entrepreneurs attempted to turn it into a second Palm Springs (the actual Palm prings being only a few dozen miles away).

While it did indeed enjoy a brief period of immense popularity, a series of environmental and political disasters have decimated the once-thriving town. Now there are only a few thousand people who still cling to their bit of paradise amongst economic ruin. The towns surrounding the sea once again enjoy some popularity, but mostly with young skate-boarders taking advantage of the many empty swimming pools and free-spirits & those running from the law who come to enjoy the lack of supervision or really government in any form. In other words, it's basically a ghost town for the new millenium.

The few locals left largely match these visitors in both poverty and colorful personality. It's not all a rosy story, though, as both environmntal and geographic racism/classism figure prominently into the fate of the greater Salton region. It's an interesting meditation on what could have been and what sadly currently is. Highly recommend it. Check the website for a list of up-coming screenings or to just buy it, you cheap-ass. If you're in the Minneapolis area, fret not, while you may have missed it this weekend, it will be coming back in November.

And as a last word to get you to check it out, this screening (as are almost all of them) was attended by co-director Chris Metzler, who in addition to being talented film-maker, is possibly one of the nicest and most knowledgeable people you'll meet. It's simultaneously a funny, powerful, and heart-wrenching story of a bizarre piece of Ameicana. You could find many worse ways to fill up 75 minutes of your life.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mojitos and State-Sponsored Terrorism

Recently, Bush has been stepping up the pressures on Cuba, calling for the "freeing" of the Cuban people. However, as a representative of the Cuban governtment, Felipe Pérez Roque, noted, this is really "an unprecedented escalation in the anti-Cuba policy" and an attempt at "the re-conquest of Cuba by force."

Humorously, Bush announced he was thinking about softening the 40+ year embargo so that religious philanthropy groups could bring computers into Cuba, a little odd for a nation with hundreds of thousands of computers and near-universal internet access.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think that Castro is a particularly great fella, and I'm completely for free and open elections as well as a free and independent media. There are many more ways in which one could validly criticise Castro, but to imply that the Cuban people are hampered or "backward" because of state socialism is completely laughable.

For example, Cuba has lower infant mortality rates and higher literacy rates than the United States of America. Yes, a tiny island nation under embargo from half of the world for the past half-century manages to have far-superior health and education systems than the richest and most powerful nation in the world. I'm still waiting for a convincing argument as to how this proves that socialism doesn't work.

But what makes Bush's latest round of threats even more odd is that they are explicitly the kind of terrorist tactics we're wasting trillions of dollars supposedly fighting in the Middle East. He's even go so far as to propose the creation of an "International Fund for the
Freedom of Cuba," to basically fund any and all attempts to overthrow Castro and instill a capitalist regime in Florida's peskiest neighbor.

In retalitaion, the Cuban government issued a statement of initiatives they could agree to support:

1. Respect for Cubans' right to their independence and sovereignty.

2. An immediate end to the policy of aggression and threat.

3. An end to intervention in Cuba's internal affairs and attempts to manufacture an internal opposition.

4. An end to subversive acts against Cuba and the dismantling of the radio and television that offend the name of the national hero (José Martí).

5. The immediate lifting of the blockade.

6. The elimination of the ban on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and family visits by Cubans living there.

7. An end to the stimulation of illegal emigration from Cuba. The repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the fulfillment of the Migratory Agreements.

8. An end to the aggressive disinformation campaigns.

9. The release of the five anti-terrorist fighters, political prisoners in U.S. jails.

10. The extradition of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela or his trial in the United States.

11. The immediate closure of the torture center he created on the Guantánamo Naval Base.

12. The cessation of pressure on the international community to support his anti-Cuba policy.

Again, say what you will about the Cuban government, but not only are these demands more rational than Bush's, they also comply with international law, which is supposedly "the supreme law of the land" according to the Constitution. I know, I know, but I'm still one of those people who foolishly believes the Constitution still exists for some purpose.

Anyway, just something to muse over this weekend...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Insular Academic Post on the Importance of Education

This post is complety irrelevant to those outside of academia (well, I could make an argument on how it's relevant, but you know), so unless you're an academic or really bored, this would be a good time to wander over to ebay and start bidding on velour jumpsuits. They're comfortable and stylish, and unlike this post, are appropriate for all occasions.

With that out of the way, we had a long and interesting discussion in my Sociology of Higher Educaiton class today about reading loads for undergraduate students. Some argued that in light of the many demands on today's undergraduate students, most notably the many hours they must work to afford higher education, we should keep readings light, some arguing for no more than 20 pages of reading a week. The argument goes that students are too busy to read anyway, so we may as well keep the readings short and really delve into them.

And there's definately something to be said for such arguments. After all, students are working more than ever (most of our Soc undergrads work an average of 20 hours a week) and it's always a challenge to balance breadth and depth.

When I noted that the actual problem is a capitalist system that doesn't value or fund education, everyone agreed, but the arguments didn't change. And while I'm always one to advocate for student needs, I find it extremely problematic that the solution is to de-value education even further.

The vast majority of students would never think of asking their employer to cut back on their hours of work because it is interfering with school. And they would certainly never ask for the same amount of pay for these reduced hours (though they really should). However, this is exactly what they're asking of us. They want the same degree and all of its inherent benefits, but with only a fraction of the work that was once expected.

The counter-argument that I can already hear is that they need the work to pay their bills and afford school. True, but if they completely sacrifice their education to pay for it, what purpose did it serve in the first place? Is their job washing dishes truly more important than their education?

Saying that we should reduce course workloads to accomidate students higher pay workloads simply serves to reinforce the idea that education is secondary to capitalist accumulation. The purpose of a college education is to learn, not to wash dishes, and not even to earn a piece of paper that allows you to get a better job upon completion. But instead of crititcally examining such issues, we instead wring our hands about how we can best stay out of the way of the neo-liberal pressures that our destroying our universities.

Of course, we could instead be debating how to best pressure administrators to cut tution, or how to convince elected officials to fully fund public education, or even more effectivley, how to end the capitalist economic relations that cause these tensions in the first place, but that's the kind of critical thinking we don't particularly care to encourage in higher education.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The unintended positive of internet piracy

Like pretty much every other human being of my generation, I'm very pro-internet piracy. But it's not just the free music. Don't get me wrong, I hear the free music is great (but given recent events around here, I would like to make clear that I would never, ever do something as heinous as download music...), but I love internet piracy because I think it is going to save the future of American music.

The claim floated from the industry is that record sales are down because of internet downloading. Defenders of downloading claim that it's just the shitty music the industry is making, as record execs similarly opposed blank cassettes for home recording, MTv, and multiple other venues "destined" to destroy the industry. However, contrary to these previous claims, it seems that internet downloading could actually destroy the current state of record companies (but alas, even I can't dream big enough to think the record companies will be destroyed).

And I couldn't be happier. If the internet actually were to take all of the profit out of recorded music, it would do nothing but good for all of music. Think about it--the only way for performers to make money would be to go back to relentless touring that would provide a great, but not ridiculous, lifestyle. Would Justin Timberlake be in music if he could only keep an upper-middle class lifestyle through constant effort? Maybe, but I'm not entirely sure about it.

In fact, without the current star-production system, with performers being forced back into refining their playing skills instead of relying on pre-recorded music and highly-trained dance teams, performers wouldn't be able to fake their way into millions of dollars with little-to-no talent. Don't get me wrong, I like the spectacle of big stage shows. But there is a big difference between those who use lavish sets and pre-recorded clips to put on a consumate show (think Flaming Lips) and those who do the same to mask their bland and unimaginative music (think the entire Pop Tarts® Presents: American Idol Tour).

But it's even bigger than destroying pop stars (which would be great). At the heart of it, what I really yearn for is a return to music being connected ot the people. Maybe it's just my punk aesthetic left over from my younger days, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could possibly prefer stadium shows to intimate venues. I'm reminded of a story a good friend's uncle always tells of the time he saw Johnny Cash shooting up in a bathroom in a bar in Prarie Du Chien. It blows my mind to think that only 30 years ago many world-famous performers still made their living through relentless touring and building a fan base, instead of drinking Cristal from gold-platted chalices while occassionally recording music. It's inconceivable to think of running into a celebrity like that in such a situation now, because no musician that makes more than ten dollars a year would ever set foot in Prarie Du Chien, Wisconsin (not that I can blame them).

In the end, though, that's what it comes back to. I want my performers to be regular folk, who walk off-stage after the show and have a beer at the bar, instead of retiring to their grandiose tour van, protected from the people who pay their salary by dozens of beefy and angry security gaurds. In other words, it would be nice if mainstream musicians were human beings again, making music for and with their fans again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blog Action Day

So it's Blog Action Day, a day in which bloggers are supposed to all blog on the same issue as a way of raising awareness. This year's theme is "the environment." Yeah, it's that vague.

I don't ever want to discourage actions such as these. I mean, seeing as it's a basically no cost way to theoretically raise awareness about an important subject it's hard to call it a bad thing. But I say theoretically because I can't see too much awareness being raised by it. The problem with such blanket issue ideas like this is that they are of necessity watered-down. There's no way you can get a million bloggers to all agree on something unless it's pretty weak. For example, I highly doubt that the same amount of people would have agreed to blog on the issue if it were putting forth clear-cut calls for real change. Note that we're just supposed to blog about the environment, not call for an end to te capitalist organization of the world economy that is directly responsible for the majority of wasteful and harmful anti-environmental practices that are killing the earth.

Furthermore, there's always the self-selection process. Because of recent high-profile events surrounding the environment (up to and including the stupidest Nobel Peace Prize award since Hank Kissinger), there are very few people unaware of the current environmental crisis. In addition, it's become such a politicized issue that it's pretty likely all those who see a problem with the environment will gravitate to those blogs that speak to a need for change, and those who think global warming is just an anti-business communist plot will probably gravitate toward blogs that think we dont really need to do anything.

I'm sure many people will write some very moving, humorous, poetic, and/or brilliant screeds today on the need for action and environmental change. And those posts will be read primarily by people who agree with them. Which again is not to say that it's bad these people are writing these posts, but just that it will likely have very little effect, outside of possibly motivating already sympathetic peoples to be more resolved in their actions, which is certainly not a bad thing.

But one could argue that such events actualy have a harmful aspect to them as they focus on individual action instead of far-more effective collecive action. The danger in these days-of-action semi-movement types of action is that they allow many participants to feel not only that their participation in this day of blogging made a difference (which again is quite questionable) but that they are now absolved of responsibility for further action because they've done their part. I understand that a significant number of people blogging about the environment are seriosuly committed and will continue their struggles long after they've written their posts, but without a clear and agreed-upon set of demans, the impact of such days will be little more than some feel-good time for all involved.

Which is not a bad thing, but we should always keep in mind the distinction between actions that do good and actions that make us feel good. Both are important, but it can cause serious problems when people mistake one with the other.

But in the meantime, try to do something environmental today. Plant a tree, walk to work, recycle your shit, get those fancy long-lasting lightbulbs, start a compost pile, masturbate manually instead of with some sort of battery-powered device...whatever floats your boat. But if you're interested in making a real impact, why not try to track down a few people and get a real movement going.

So there, I've fulfilled my duty as a citizen of the blogosphere. Tomorrow: more wackiness and potty talk, with no mention of the environment what-so-ever.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Seriously, though, are all Republicans closeted homosexuals? Part II of a never-ending series...

So, as I asked before, are all Republicans closeted homosexuals?

But I'm not being facetious anymore. Someone actually prove to me that it's not true. Once again we have a Liberty University grauate and former Jerry Fallwell employee dead with an...ahem...the fake version of a miniature piano player inside of him and a Christian children's clown who was also a 20-year veteran of the polcie force (where he was a youth-liason nonetheless) is found to be a child's molestor as much as a child's entertainer.

That makes these two gay-hating, ammendment-demanding,, Fred Phelps-loving assholes numbers 1,079,892,914 and 1,079,892,915 on the list of moralizing Republicans found out to be really confused self-hating, super-hypocritical gay men.

But let's make something perfectly clear here: there's nothing wrong with the fact that these men are gay. And the fact that these men are gay is not what leads them such interesting and emberassing ends. But do you know what does lead them to such emberassing situations, like trying to find sex in a men's bathroom in the Humphrey-Nazi airport?

Well, it's two things. Some people have weird sexual kinks, and will get off from having sex in public bathrooms. But arguably a much bigger reason is that we have demoinzed homosexuality to such an extent that even in the year 2007 gays and lesbians can only live on the margins of society. But even worse than that is the fact that homosexuality is so demonized that homosexual men will be elected to the United States Senate on promises to harass and persecute homosexuals.

I feel like I'm starting to understand why Kurt Vonnegut always noted how emberassing it is to be human sometimes...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The last horse crosses the finish line on Gnarls Barkley

So I kind of missed the whole Gnarls Barkley thing. I mean, I always meant to go out and pick it up, but it never really happened for many reasons. A combination of the fact that I'm lazy and I rarely make a point to rush out and buy big-label albums. Besides, by the time I got around to the record story, Crazy became passé and I was sick of it anyway, and then the public moved on and I had just kind of missed the phenomenon.

But now that I’ve finally listened to the album, I think I can honesly argue that it is the most necessary hip-hop album to come along in a long while, especially given the current state of top-40 radio rap. To actually see two guys making intersting music that actually steps outside the status quo of repititious hi-hats, cheesy synth samples, and ignorant lyrics about nothing puts a glimmer of hope into what is becoming one of the most co-opted art forms we've seen in quite some time. It's not just the wild, shirtless lyrics of Ce-Loo, or the bong-rattling bass courtesy of Danger Mouse, or even the competent drum work of the Roland 808. It's the fact that these guys are actually going out on a limb to make interesting music, when either one of them could easily sit inside the mainstream and cash checks pretty much as long as they feel like it.

It's also been fascinating to see how the music establishment has handled these cats. I can't even count the number of reviewers who have had aneurisms trying to figure out what these guys are doing. They want to consider them white guys, because only white people take rap in weird directions (goes the conventional wisdom), but both of them have such street cred that they have to be accepted as "real" members of hip hop. One reviewer, in trying to solve this paradox, figured their careers must be on the down turn, even pitying Cee-Lo for being reduced to doing "college" rap, in one of the more inventive ways I've ever heard anyone challenge somone's racial identity.

Theoretically, their due to release a follw-up in the ambiguous "late 2007" so it remains to be seen what direction they go in the second time around. Even more interesting, though, will be to see if their album has any kind of impact on the direction of mainstream hip hop, or if they remain relegated forever to white kid bin...sorry, the "college" sound.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

When does schadenfreude become regular freude?

Notre Dame is terrible this year. After dropping their first five games in rather emberassing fashion, they are 0-5 for the first time in school history (of course, this comes immediately after starting 0-4 for the first time ever). With their next three games, respectively, at UCLA and then at home against #12 BC and then #2 USC, it looks like they won't start winning anytime soon. In fact, it would be fortunate at this point for the Irish to finish 3-9, but even that isn't seeming entirely likely.

And I couldn't be happier. It's not just because Notre Dame has always been the most over-rated team in all of college athletics (quick: name the last bowl game they won), but they're also uncomfortably racist. Let me explain.

A few years ago, the Irish were terrible as usual, so they brought in young coach Ty Willingham. After a great first season, in which the Irish started 8-0 and Willingham won multiple awards, he struggled the next two season with the team finishing 5-7 and 6-5 in the following years. After these mixed results in this short term, he was fired. Now it's widely known that if a coach only has three years at a program, he never really had a chance. It's simply the nature of college recruiting--Willingham, for better or for worse, was really playing with a team his predecessor put together. But Willingham already had a big strike against him, namely that he was the first black head coach in the history of a rather, how do we put this politely, lilly white school.

After Willingham was villified and run out of town, ND settle don a newer, whiter coach who happened to have made up most of his resume, but Notre Dame apparently doesn't really check into things like that. Afer he was let go (and then taken in by the Vikes...motto: "We Don't Judge"), they made the move to Charlie Weiss, a man who has more in bosoms than in head coaching experience, but was also white.

And Wies also had a great first season, also using his predecessors (this would be Ty Willingham's) recruits. But what happens when a white coach has a good first year? Well, for some reason, the white guy gets a unprecendented 10-year, $30 million contract. Even after the Irish once again proved how over-rated they were by getting their asses handed to them by LSU in Sugar Bowl, Weis was the golden boy in South Bend. The term genius has been thrown about more than actual footballs, which may explain why the Irish are doing so terribly once again.

But what's happening now that Weis is using his own recruits? Well, it turns out he may not be the genius that everyone seemed to think he was. In fact, he may not even know what the game of football is, judging by the incredibly inept play of his star-studded roster.

So now we can only wait and see how racist the administrators and alumni of Notre Dame are. The black guy was run out on a rail for going 6-5 in his third year. What happens when the white guy does even worse? Stay tuned...