Wednesday, February 27, 2008

R.I.P. Irony

Mother Jones recenlty compiled a playlist of all the songs the U.S. military uses to torture prisoners. First of all, we have a playlist to torture people. That in and of itself should probably be problematic enough, but it gets worse.

Some of the songs on their are what you'd probably think of when you think "music used for torture": Eminem, the Meow Mix song, the Barney Theme Song, Neil Diamond, Christina Aguilera. Surprisingly, no Dave Matthews, but I'm sure the list is still a work in progress.

The award for the weirdest song on the list goes to Raspberry Beret. I mean, if I were in a secret C.I.A. detention center in Undisclosed Location, Eastern Europe, I'd be cool with jamming out to some Prince.

But the aforementioned irony-killer would have to be that "Bulls on Parade" by Rage Against the Machine is on the list. For those of you not in the know, have a sample verse:

Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes
Not need, just feed tha war canibal animal
I walk tha corner to tha rubble that used to be a library
Line up to tha mind cemetery
What we dont know keeps tha contracts alive an movin
They dont gotta burn tha books they just remove em
While arms warehouses fill as quick as tha cells
Rally round tha family, pockets full of shells

Yep, nothing like a shrill screed against the military-industrial complex to torture people at the hands of said military-industrial complex. This means that this is now either the official definition of irony, or the concept is indeed finally dead. Discuss amongst yourselves...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Basketball, Class Warfare, and The End Times

In a welcome surprise yesterday, I ended watching the Timberwolves play well for 3.5 quarters of basketball from 8 rows off the court, for free. I don't really care for basketball that much, and the Wolves are terrible beyond terrible this season, but who can pass up such seats? They are officially the best sets I've ever had to any sporting event in the history of my life, save Fort Dodge Dodgers High School basketball, and I'm not sure that technically qualifies as a sport.

But I do have to say that from that close, the game certainly takes on a different quality. For the first time, I really understood how fast the game is and how impresive things like Jason Kidd's no-look between-the-leg passes really are. Though when he's on the opposing team and he tries to make a really cocky no-look pass that gets picked off and taken the other way for a monster dunk, it's even more entertaining.

And being in the good seats is an experience in and of itself. For instace, we got to use the same entrance as the players. Thus, there's no way Dirk Nowitzki didn't hear me call him a Nazi, unlike when I'm shouting that from the 3rd balcony. And we even got to use better bathrooms than the mouth-breathers in the cheap seats, because when you have money like me, you can not condescend to pee next to poor people. But it's for the best; afterall, when they see what we have, it just angers up their working-class blood anyway.

Having the good feeling I would never be in such good seats again, I took full advantage of all amenities available, often getting up just to walk out to the lobby so I could have the satisfaction of going back in the fancy entrance. But I did get the distinct feeling that maybe it's a sign of the apocalypse when I guy like me gets to sit in seats like that. And much to my horror, I find that world leaders agree and have taken the precaution of creating a doomsday vault of all the seed varities in the world, just in case I ever get tickets to the very court-side seats that come complete with tuxedo-ed wait staff and the end-times truly come.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I get it, but I don't want it

As I was doing the dishes this afternoon, I was struck by how all of the glasses I use have graduated from the odd mish-mash of free promotional cups and hand-me-downs to the slightly more representable collection of semi-classy pint glasses. And then I briefly thought about how in a few years, I'll probably breakdown and buy a matching set of glasses to use, just because everyone else my age has and I fear being left behind, apparently.

And then I realized how much I was the middle-of-the-montage, slightly-younger version of the sad-sack main character of the movie who at the end of said montage is forced to throw out his beloved old pint glass by his shrewish, image-obsessed wife as a poorly contrived plot point to show how much our once-plucky protagonist has had the life sucked out of him.

Now, I highly doubt anything of the sort will ever happen to me -- for example, dating a radical leftist means you're less than likely to have an image-obsessed wife -- but at the same time, I'm sure most no one expects this to happen to them.

Add suddenly, I realized: "Ok, Hollywood, I get it. I can see how one could let this happen to them. I understand the feeling of how looking at something completely innocuous, like a pint glass, can suddenly make you wonder where the bygone days of your youth have gone as you trudge through the meaningless world of bills and responsibility, having no idea when the nights of care-free idiocy ceased."

But the damn montage still doesn't work as a plot device. It's just a too transparantly lazy way to establish report with the ellsuive 18-49 year old white, male demographic. It's not witty or clever, or even subtle in the slightest. You may as well just have the character say "I am sad that my former lifestyle has been replaced my current, less desirable lifestyle."

So, you know, please stop doing it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cheap and easy activism

As I've probably mentioned in here once or twice already, the rabble-rousin' kids of Youth Against War and Racism are working of kicking recruiters out of their schools in the Twin Cities area. We're close to a major victory in St. Paul and hope to use a win there to bring the fight to Minneapolis, and serve as a template for students nation-wide who are sick of people coming into their school to prey on their clasmates and send them off to die in an illegal, immoral, and unjust war.

"But Jesse, I have no time for such things. I am so mired in my day-to-day activity that taking even the slightest step to fight military recruitment in our schools is too onerous for me!" you say.

Well, I've got the solution for you. We've set up an online petition that you can sign to show your support. We'll take all of these signature to the big show-down with the school board next week, so sign it now and tell all your friends.

Sign the petition here, and go back about your regular existance, but now with the smug self-satisfaction that comes from taking extremely small steps to help win major battles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Eli Manning and White Privilege

As I move into the latter stages of my grad career, my mind has increasingly been turning toward teaching. It's always been a thought of mine, expecially since I'm earning a degree that pretty much only lets you be a professor, but as I get closer to tackling my reading list, taking my prelims and getting to the point where I can teach my own course, I've started to put a great deal of thought into the nuts-and-bolts aspects.

The most fun of these is compiling anecdotal examples from pop culture that I can use to illustrate sociological concepts to the kids and make me that "cool" prof who is really cool only in his own head.

But lately I've been kicking around a good one: Eli Manning. Specifically, Eli is an ideal example of racial, gender, and class privilege, specifically how these act as advantages, but still leave room for personal agency.

Eli Manning has finally proved he's a decent quarterback. I mean, it does take some talent to lead a last-minute, Super Bowl-winning touchdown drive against a team many had already crowned as the greatest in history. But prior to that, he was really just some shmuck who had a famous dad and even more famous brother.

And therein lies the hidden operation of multiple forms of privilege. Sure, Eli clearly has some talent, but would he ever have been able to put that talent to use were he not Eli Manning? That is to say, if his father wasn't a famous NFL quarterback who made great investments in training him his whole life would he have been able to start at a major Division I (or Bowl Subdivision) team? And if he did not have an older brother shedding record books would he have been such a high draft pick?

Think about it -- how much promise did Eli show in college? Enough to warrant a number 1 draft pick? It's at least an arguable point.

And that itself proves what I'm trying to say. Had his name been Jamal Henderson and he went from a vocational high school to starting a few years at Grambling, with the exact same skill sets, would he have been drafted so high? Or even at all? Not to mention if he had another X chromosome in place of that Y.

This is not to deny that he has talent. Like I said, he turned in a pretty good game in one of the best Super Bowls ever played. But if his skin color, gender, and family lineage (class status) had not opened the doors for him in the first place, would he have ever even had the opportunity to display that talent?

Maybe, but it seems unlikely. Hell, if he didn't have all those factors working in his favor, he'd be lucky to be as successful as Cooper, let alone Peyton.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Unlike in the Metrodome, there will be no return of Batista

Though you've probably already heard, Castro resigned today.

I think this is a good moment to counter a few points of official U.S. propaganda.

While Cuba has it's fair share of problems, it is a tiny island nation under embargo from more than half the world for the last 50 years. However, even after it lost support from the Soviet Union, it still managed to have higher literacy rates and lower infant mortality rates than the United States.

Think about that: a tiny iselnd, constantly under military threat, with little access to foreign goods or supplies, does a better job education and taking care of its citizenry than does the most powerful and richest nation on the planet.

Just further proof that socialism doesn't work, I suppose.

But how did they acheive these marvelous results with little money and few supplies? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that both education and healthcare are universally free throughout Cuba. Apparently not having to choose between eating and getting medication improves people's health. But to be fair, who amongst us could have seen that coming?

And on a final note, could we maybe just out of temporary kindness stop calling him a dictator? The U.S. has tried to kill him on multiple occassions (my favorite being through a C.I.A. planted exploding cigar). Oh, and by "multiple occassions" I mean "at least 638 documented times."

If the Cuban people tired of Castro and his oh-so-despotic ways, they would have been the most well-funded and armed rebellion in the history of the world. Yet they chose not to. Maybe it had something to do with the far-better health care they were receiving. Or maybe it was the free housing and education. Or maybe they simply prefer the Cuba Libre the way it is and don't want to have to come up with a new mixed drink. Who knows?

But in the end, it comes down to the fact that he stepped down. Not because of military pressure, not because of growing threats at home, not because of a coup. Because he's retiring. How many dictators in world history have you ever heard of saying "Well, that's about enough for me. Think I'll just give up ultimate power and move into a retirement home." My guess is that it's zero, because dictators don't do that.

Don't get me wrong, the guy's had his share of problems. I mean, he did grant himself the right to detain citizens and decalre their constitutional rights null and void at his discretion, he authorized expansive spying programs aimed at his own citizens, he's clamped down on all forms of dissent, and even went so far as to illegally invade a sovereign nation in defiance of international law and the opinion of the rest of the world, he...oh, wait...well, I'm sure Fidel did something bad, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The other blog gets some love

(Thanks for the heads up from Jon)

The Contexts Discoveries blog got some big ups today from Org Theory, a pretty interesting and well-written sociology blog.

Since I've been meaning to pimp it here myself for some time, this seems like the perfect opportunity to finally make that pitch to all of you, my faithful readers. As way of introduction, Contexts is a magzine published by the American Sociological Association. The idea is that it will be the public mouthpiece for sociology, kind of like Popular Mechanics, but fewer articles on self-driving cars.

The Discoveries blog is intended to present interesting and relevant current sociolgical research in an easy-to-understand synopsis for the lay reader. In short, it's a cool place to check out social research without having to read the dense and intentionally obtuse journal articles scholars produce.

And your humble li'l blogger happens to be on the graduate student editorial board of Contexts and is a regular contributor to the blog, as if you needed any more reason to check it out.

So go read it, bookmark it, get its rss feed, and become the most sociologically informed person on your block!

This is not a joke

After logging out of my hotmail today, I stopped to peruse the fluff articles on (the automatic re-direct when you log out) and came across a gem of an article with this title:

Did terrorists cause the housing mess?

Yes, I shit you not, this was presented with no hint of irony or disclaimer of the aging writer's crippling ether addiciton.

For a second I thought it might be a bit of radical journalism snuck into the mainstream, and that this muck-racking young journalist was not afraid to label the Bush administration terrorists, but it turns out that it was really just ghost-written by Guiliani.

I'll spare you the long-winded rant on how horrible our mainstream media is, but only because I have to believe you're already formulating your own.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Not sure how much commenting this needs

Corey Haim recently took out this regrettable ad in Variety:

But really, it raises more questions than it answers:

What is he ready to make amends for?

How could he afford this ad?

How cracked out is that signature?

Seriously, did he borrow the money for the ad from Feldman?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Like Ron Shapiro, but for bad music

A couple of weeks ago, I was going on a bit of a Dennis Miller-esque rant about pop music, specifically the likes of Justin Timberlake. I was trying to justify to a friend why it's ok to enjoy his music on a certain level. I mean, I know it's throw-away bubblegum pop, but it's pretty good for throw-away bubblegum. I mean, he's at least trying to do something new and slightly innovative, even if it's all well within the confines of corporate radio. And it's not like he set out to do anything dramatically different in the first place, and his music is good for what it is. And on a business level, you gotta give it to the guy, he knows what he's doing. His first disc was Pharell produced when P was the be-all and end-all of Hip Hop, and JT has almost single-handedly led the (welcome) Timbaland resurgence.

And after finishing this protracted and long-winded defense of such worthless music, I felt a momentary pang of regret, as I realized I had just become a corporate rock apologist. I was half waiting for the phone to ring with an offer to write for Rolling Stone (zing!). This kind of balderdash would've never flown back when I was a hardcore, straight-edge college punk with no room in my revolutionary schedule for such ersatz crooning.

However, over the years as my sensibilities, as well as physique, have softened significantly, I've realized there's no shame in enjoying the occasional well-crafted pop album. I liken it to Oreos. Comprised almost completely of trans-fats, one magazine article I read posited them as the worst food in existance, given the entire lack of nutritional value as well as the aforementioned harmful fats.

But yet they are so fucking delicious.

It's much the same way with your higher-end radio pop. There is no shame in enjoying it, for it is scientifically designed to be enjoyable. I actually envision this music being made much the same way as Oreos: old men in white coats scurry around a sterile lab combining beats and effeminite vocals until they have the most potent pop mix known to human kind. It's not a terrible waste that I'm entertained by such a product, only a mere inevitability of time and scientific advancement.

Now, don't get me wrong. I would much, much rather spend my time with some obscure Ween tracks, or Brother Ali, Billy Bragg, Modern Life is War, or any number fof verifiably good bands. Hell, even if I'm going for pop, I'd rather have some Jackson 5. But much like I strive to get my 3-5 servings of both fruits and vegetables everyday and have long since given up Captain Crunch in favor of organic granola and flax seed, every once in a while I just feel compelled to sneak to the corner store, buy a big bag of Double Stuffs, and contemplate exactly just what futuresex will be like.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Finally, some justice in the world

Friends, there is much about the world you can be angry at. An illegal, immoral, and unjust war continues to kill thousands. Our healthcare system lets millions of people die for lack of care, simply because they cannot afford it. Over half of the world lives on less than $1 U.S. per day. Corporate control of the world has thrown our environment into peril.

But I no longer despair. For once in my life, I have finally seen justice enacted on a grand scale.

Yes, we may all breathe a sigh of relief tonight and go to sleep with some faith in the world, as those fucking Patriots finally lost.

For all the talk of greatness, all the hype, all the un-punished cheating, they simply could not defeat the out-of-nowhere Giants. And for that, I thank all that is good and holy.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Lazy friday morning = stealing someone else's post

Courtesy of Jonathan Schwarz, via This Modern World:

Several weeks ago this statement of Hillary Clinton got lots of attention:

I would point to the fact that Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said, “We are going to do it,” and actually got it accomplished.

What’s gotten less attention is what Martin Luther King himself thought on this subject. Chris Rabb has the bad taste to point out that King wrote this in an article published in January, 1969 after his death:

The past record of the federal government, however, has not been encouraging. No president has really done very much for the American Negro, though the past two presidents have received much undeserved credit for helping us. This credit has accrued to Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy only because it was during their administrations that Negroes began doing more for themselves. Kennedy didn’t voluntarily submit a civil rights bill, nor did Lyndon Johnson. In fact, both told us at one time that such legislation was impossible. President Johnson did respond realistically to the signs of the times and used his skills as a legislator to get bills through Congress that other men might not have gotten through. I must point out, in all honesty, however, that President Johnson has not been nearly so diligent in implementing the bills he has helped shepherd through Congress.