Friday, May 29, 2009

Giving When It Means Something

Like most things that challenge people's world views, I've often had to deal with a lot of misconceptions about being a Marxist. For example, I often go on a long-winded rant about how people with less money are almost always more generous with their limited resources than are people with far more money. Those who don't like Marxism always accuse me of re-arranging reality to fit my political beliefs, when in reality, it is the exact opposite. A good deal of what pushed me to becoming a Marxist was noticing things like how the people I knew in my life who had little were always willing to help others out, while the people I knew who had plenty liked to keep their plenty for themselves. And it makes sense -- after all, you don't get rich by giving your money away.

Well, whether you believe my story of political evolution or not, at least the numbers back up my thinking. According to a recent study by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on consumer expenditure, the poor donate money at rates far exceeding the wealthy. You can read the article for specifics, but essentially the poorest 5th of Americans give at rates exceeding their capacity, the next two lowest 5ths give at capacity, and the top two 5ths give well below capacity.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that, but if nothing else, at least it offers solid evidence as to why trickle-down economics doesn't work...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who Is This Guy?

Check out this all-done-in-one-take live instrumentation cover of "Let the Beat Build." This is the first I've heard of this Nyle guy, but I gotta believe good things are coming after this:

"I don't need no sample/gotta girl with a banjo"

Monday, May 25, 2009

Yup, Still Torture

As I've mentioned here before, waterboarding is definitely torture, thus definitely making it illegal and completely immoral.

Well, as so often happens, yet another conservative asshole who insists it's not torture has undergone waterboarding to prove their point. And once again, they proved themselves wrong. This time it was conservative radio jock ManCow, who underwent the procedure last week to prove how easy it was to endure. Well, he lasted all of 7 seconds.

So on this Memorial Day, let's honor our vets by actually upholding the ideals they supposedly fought for and call on our reps to ban the use of all forms of torture.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Modern Art and Social Capital

One of the best things about living in the Twin Cities is the appreciation for the arts and the attenuate benefits that come with that appreciation, such as free Thursday nights at the Walker Art Gallery. The only problem? Modern art is incredibly stupid and pretentious.

For example, there was a collection of works by a guy who had simply cut a line into blank canvases. You see, he wasn't wasting canvas (as I might argue), but instead he was commenting on the hegemony of canvas in Western art, while critiquing ideas of space and conventionality. Or, he was just cutting a line into a piece of canvas.

I could give multiple other examples, but they all remind me of a good buddy's high school art project. When asked to make a wire sculpture, he mashed a bunch of wire together into an oddly-shaped ball and called it "The Wrath of Youth." He received an F and had to re-do the assignment.

This is why modern art can be better understood with some sociology. You see, what separates my F-receiving friend from the large-amounts-of-money-receiving artists is social capital. You see, social capital is analogous to regular capital -- if you learn the values and mores of a social clique (like the art world) and increase your social capital, you can "buy" more respect and believability, much like the more regular capital you have, the more goods and services you can get. Now it gets more complicated than that, but that's the quick version.

And you can see it in action in the art world -- when I (someone with no artistic social capital) cuts a hole in a canvas, I have wasted some perfectly good canvas. But once one has become a famous artist (and has a large amount of social capital in the art world), such random destruction becomes a highly-valued work of art. The only difference is the social status of the two people involved -- one has high social capital, the other has little.

That's one of the best things about sociology -- it can easily be used to puncture the over-inflated egos of pretentious artistes. Sure, they would probably just argue I'm looking at it all wrong, but it's hard to argue the idea that the same piece of work produced by a high school student wouldn't be nearly as valued as it is when it's produced by an already recognized artist. Thus, it's pretty hard to argue anything other than that the value lies in the social construction of the object, rather than the actual object itself...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Happens When You Justify the Use of Torture?

You get your very own newspaper column!

John Yoo, the man whose twisted logic and complete lack of respect for human life or decency paved the way for torture scandals revealed and yet-to-be-found, has been rewarded by the Philadelphia Inquirer with his own op/ed column.

The Inquirer claims they were aiming for balance by adding a conservative voice to their opinion columnists, but this is either A) them covering their ass for a monumentally stupid decision, or B) proof that we as a nation have become evenly divided on the issue, to the point where the debate is now "torture is wrong" versus "sometimes you've got to crush a few testicles."

Either way, this is not a good sign for anyone...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Your Depressing News of the Morning

You know the now long-established cultural joke of photos of missing children on the milk carton? Let's not forget it was once an actual program. I wasn't able to find out any information on how successful the program was, though I do know that the great majority child abductions are committed by disgruntled family members (usually the non-custodial parent after a divorce), and as such, distributing photos is probably not super likely to be effective.

And as some anecdotal evidence of that claim, it turns out the first kid ever on a milk carton is still missing.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Piracy Pioneers

DJ Danger Mouse, who's probably currently best known for being half of Gnarls Barkley, got his slightly-less well known start by mashing the Beatles White Album and Jay Z's Black Album to create the hip-hop masterpiece (and most appropriately titled album ever) The Grey Album. And, of course, what made The Grey Album such a fascinating piece of the pop culture landscape wasn't just that it was a good album, but that it was only available via illegal download, and thrived despite constant cease-and-desist letters from the owners of the Beatles and Jay Z's publishing rights. It also showed a person could achieve international stardom completely through free and illegal file-sharing.

How do you follow that act up once you've become an established star? Simple. Danger Mouse's new album will be released as an album of packaging, artwork, and a blank CD-R. That's right, no music will be included at all -- it will be up to the purchaser to find the music through their own illicit channels (there will be no legal downloads available).

Agree or disagree with the methods, you've gotta give it to the fella -- that is a cocky way to release an album, especially one with a line up like the one featured on the poster above.

If you can't wait to find it or have some sort of perverse objection to file-sharing (not that this website in anyway advocates the cool crime of illegal file-sharing), you can listen to it track-by-track here, courtesy of the latte-sipping liberals at NPR.

Monday, May 18, 2009

And We're Happier, Too...

From Cartophilia, via the misses

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently conducted an extensive study asking American about their stress level. From the CDC:

This county-by-county map shows the percentages of residents who reported "frequent mental distress" (FMD)—defined as 14 or more days of emotional discomfort, including "stress, depression and problems with emotion," during the previous month. Three days of mental distress is considered average, the researchers say.

Amongst the obvious notables on the map (it sucks to live in Kentucky, it seems pretty nice to live in Hawaii), the map also lets on about my beloved Midwest. Amongst so many things we have that the holier-than-thou outer reaches of the nation lack, you can put happiness right up there on that list.

And really, that explains a lot. You see, people who spend so much time making fun of other people and putting them down for not acting the same way they do are usually pretty sad and empty people...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Please Quit Copying Me

It's interesting what difference a couple of months make. For the last 8 years, we've been constantly told that all people who would dare question presidential policies or (even worse) actively protest them are the most spineless, anti-American hate-mongers that exist. And to even begin to compare the rightist police-state tactics of Republicans to fascism was the highest form of treason, and just another example of how hyperbolic that loony left is.

Well, at barely over 100 days into the Obama administration, it's amazing how quickly he and the rest of the Dems have become HitlerStalin to right-wingers. And I'm not even sure why; I think it's about him raising the taxes on rich people a little. Now, I'm no Obama fan, but if we can't yell at the guy who started an illegal, immoral, and unjust war (to quote that late JPII) and completely destroyed our economy, why do you get to suggest secession just because a guy wants to change the marginal tax rate?

But my bigger beef is well encapsulated in the above photo (via Tim) -- the portrayal of Dems as both Nazis and Communists. Now I know that Republicans can't tell the difference between all people who are different from them (like when their names are hard to pronounce), but you can't be both a Nazi and a Communist; they're completely antithetical ideas.

Communism is a political system based on wide-spread political and economic equality, whereas fascism is a totalitarian corporate system of no representation and economic exploitation. Or, as an even simpler demonstration, 90% of all German Nazi war deaths occurred on the Eastern front, at the hands of the Soviet military. My guess is that if the commies single-handedly defeated the Nazis, they're probably not chomping at the bit to become best buddies...

But regardless of things like irony, obvious hypocrisy, and historical fact, it just never ceases to amaze me how quickly protesting the government has changed from the worst thing anyone could do to the highest calling for a patriot. Man, I wish everything I did was automatically right...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Makes the "Hard" Sciences so Hard?

Something I try to get across to my students is that just because everyone has an opinion on the criminal justice system, it doesn't mean informed scientific research on the subject is useless.

You see, people tend to think the physical sciences are "real" sciences, in which experiments build upon past knowledge and discover the laws that control our universe (as opposed to the social sciences, which are just a bunch of egg-heads sitting around making stuff up). But as any researcher will tell you, the "hard" sciences have no more hard and fast hold on the truth than social scientists do; it's still pretty much a guessing game for everyone.

I, for one, think this comes from the fact that the basics of social science are far easier to understand, thus making everyone feel qualified to comment on them, regardless of their (lack of) knowledge regarding the situation. For example, it's pretty easy for any Joe off the street to question your recommendation for new policing policies, because they know what the police are and probably have some opinion on what they should do. Contrast this with string theory, when few people are probably going to argue with their physics prof about the fundamental matter of the universe because one time their uncle had a bad experience with Einsteinian philosophies of matter and gravitation.

However, as the good folks over at Scatterplots point out, if you measure it in terms of cumulative knowledge and replicability of findings, there's no measurable difference between the "hard" and social sciences.

Far be it from me to make this more sociological by suggesting that it might be our culture-wide worship of technology and scientific progress, rather than actual research findings, that make the "hard" sciences appear more reputable, but I'll let you form your own opinion on that...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Greatest Announcement of the Past 15 Years

Punch Out (with Mike Tyson's visage conspicuously missing) is coming to the Nintendo Wii.

Though I'm almost always opposed to re-makes of my beloved childhood memories, if the above video is any indication, these folks know what they're doing with Punchout. Now, if I could only afford a Wii...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why We Need Torture?

The above video was put out by the Republican party, ostensibly to make us support what's going on in Guantanamo. In the video they identify three dangerous people currently housed there as a reason why we shouldn't close it down.

This is a classic example of specious reasoning, but let's examine it a bit shall we? What the video leaves out is that dozens of the detainees in Gitmo have no charges pending against them. It also omits the fact that out of those prisoners that have died in U.S. custody, over two dozen have been classified as homicides by the Army.

And, of course, closing Guantanamo by no means forces us to let those three people go. I hate to call it too early, but is an ad this desperate hinting at the complete irrelevance of Republican war-mongering? Well, we can hope...

Monday, May 11, 2009

tourture and hypocrisy

Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald has a great piece on American hypocrisy regarding torture. In a recent New York Times obituary of an American fighter pilot who was captured by the Chinese military during the Korean war, he was described as being tortured by having to stay in a dark cell with no bed, substandard food, and subject to sleep deprivation.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it's the basic starter package at Guantanamo and other U.S. holding facilities. Only we have declared it not torture when we do it. This is a great example of one of the more pertinent arguments against us using torture (other than the fact that, you know, it's illegal, immoral, etc.): how are we now to condemn it when it's done to our soldiers? Track down any description of what passes for our "interrogation methods" and you'll see it's some pretty sick shit; well, when our soldiers get captured by Taliban operatives (or coming soon: Iranian forces!) and get tortured within an inch of their life with these same tactics, there will be no one to blame but Bush, Cheney and company who have repeatedly argued this stuff isn't torture and is just fine and dandy.

I'm sure that will be plenty of solace for American G.I.s as they're being waterboarded and electrocuted somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Rock Band Versions

Very late in posting this, but with all the rage surrounding the Beatles Rock Band release, Medialoper has this list of other versions of the game soon to be released.

They're all pretty good, but there were assuredly my favorites:

Rock Band: The White Stripes will deduct points if you hit more than one of the drum pads at any given time.
Rock Band: Prince will force you to play all of the instruments at the same time.
You will have to reprogram the colored buttons in order to play Rock Band: Sonic Youth.
Every time you play Rock Band: U2 absolutely perfectly, an indebted country becomes debt-free.
Rock Band: The Rolling Stones will require that you play the same 20 songs for 30 years.
Rock Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival will sue you if you actually play any of its songs.
Rock Band: Neil Young has been delayed until 2029.
Rock Band: Ryan Adams will never quite live up to its potential.

Friday, May 08, 2009

When "Everyone's Doing It" Is Your Best Defense

The revelation that Manny Ramirez is using steroids has caused the baseball world to go into another frenzy of denial and hand wringing. Especially Red Sox sycophant Bill Simmons, who penned a lengthy essay imagining how he would explain the steroid era to his child.

Without completely defending users, he eventually gets to the point of saying cheating is bad, but since everyone was doing it, it wasn't that bad. But as a fan of baseball who knows there are teams outside of New York and Boston, it's easy to point out that that's simply not true.

The Twins, for example, have never been in the middle of a steroid scandal. Sure, we had one minor relief pitcher get in trouble for using, but that's not quite the same as a 50 home run clean-up batter using. Throughout the entire steroids era, the Twins never had a guy suspiciously bloom into a giant, home-run hitting monster. In fact, we had guys like David Ortiz hit 48 homers in 6 years with the Twins and then go to Boston to hang out with noted steroid users and was suddenly able to easily hit that many homers in a single season...

This could go on and on, but the point is that not everyone was cheating. And while the Twins were always competitive throughout the first half of this decade, they kept getting bumped out of the playoffs by teams with hulking monster men who suddenly got a lot smaller when the steroids investigations got going. Maybe if the Twins had been cheating as well we could be looking back fondly on some tainted championship banners instead of a string of disappointing playoff runs.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

There Have Been Worse People Who've Won It...

Fresh off a star-studded salute in Madison Square Garden for his 90th birthday, Pete Seeger is at the head of yet another movement. Though this time he's not leading it, but being honored by it, as there is now a push to get Seeger the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sure, it may seem a bit strange that a folk musician would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, as those awards are typically reserved for major world leaders who have made some sort of break-through in international negotiations, or some other such major geo-political move. Seeger, on the other hand, has "merely" inspired countless people with his music and rabble-rousing politics, but if one really wanted to, it wouldn't be too hard to come up with an argument as to why that's as least as important as most of the major events leading to others receiving the award.

And while I understand that he's a pretty big long shot, you've got to admit he's a bit more deserving than Teddy Roosevelt and Al Gore, both of whom presided over multiple non-peaceful bombings and raids in their time in the White House...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Happy May Day

As go most things in America, May Day has morphed from the world's Labor Day to a day where you make little baskets full of candy. If you learn anything historical about it, it's usually limited to people dancing around a pole. But seeing as we're the only nation on earth that doesn't celebrate this as Labor Day, I think you can go ahead and take the day off of work. Tell them Jesse said it's ok...