Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Some Protests Are Taken Seriously

An interesting article on AlterNet this morning raises the question of why right-wing protests over health care are being taken seriously by the mainstream media while left-wing protests throughout the war have either been dismissed as the grumbling of crazed lunatics or (more often) not even offered coverage. While there is the obvious reason -- that major media outlets are owned by multination corporations that have a great deal invested in promoting conservative ideology -- I think another, less obvious answer lies in the way that being a "real" American has come to de facto mean being conservative.

Think about it: during the last presidential cycle (and still today in this whole "birther" movement), the lily-white right-wing candidates project themselves as "real" Americans, while progressives (and their evil henchmen The Minorities) represent all that is wrong with the world. Being a progressive is just simply un-American, and thus progressive protests could never represent the mood of America, even though the number of nutcases showing up to these health care town halls, who supposedly demonstrate the will of "real" Americans, are not even close to a fraction of the numbers of people who showed up to demonstrate against the war.

I think about this a lot in connection to my own life and political views -- I'm a white guy who grew up in small town Iowa in a working-class household, went to public schools, church every weekend, played baseball, and ate copious amounts of red meat. It couldn't be any more All American, according to the criteria set forth by the right-wing.Yet because I believe we shouldn't invade other countries for no reason, I'm now a radical outside of the mainstream. As I prep to teach classes, I often have people ask me if I think I'm alienating my students with my crazed left-wing theories, since after all, they're usually from small rural towns. The fact that I grew up in pretty much the exact same environment as most of those students means nothing; now that my political views have made me no longer a "real" American, there's simply no way I could connect with these salt-of-the-earth types who populate my classes.

Though, of course, if any of the students start to agree with me, I guess they're not real Americans anymore, so the whole point is moot...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kill one, got to prison. Kill thousands...

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece this morning on why every American should read the IG torture report detailing the abuses suffered by detainees at the hands of American "interrogators." Not surprisingly, some pretty bad stuff is revealed (such as the fact that interrogators repeatedly threatened to bring in suspect's wives and daughters to rape them in front of them). More surprising, however, is that many of the interrogators apparently openly and often wondered aloud at the legality of what they were doing and feared that they would be soon prosecuted for what they were doing. Not exactly the actions of people who are just asking some questions of suspects...

But as Greenwald points out, the biggest problem with the limited investigation being proposed is that, like usual, it will only focus on the low-level people involved and completely ignore those who came up with these sick ideas, authorized them, and then wrote extensive legal documents arguing why they should be allowed to do this. And lets not forget that over 40 detainees have now died in custody, with at least a dozen of them classified homicides by the Army itself, meaning that by not prosecuting those responsible we are quite literally leting them get away with murder...

Friday, August 21, 2009

How I Think (Apparently I Was Never A College Student)

I got an e-mail from a colleague today touting the new "mindset" list as a way of understanding how those damn kids think these days. Essentially, it's just a big list of things that these kids have supposedly never experienced and how that must influence the way they think about things. Of course, I say supposedly because according to whoever comes up with these stupid things thinks that if something happened a year before someone was born they will never know what it was. But really, I hate lists like this because they're so glib and essentializing and really are just another attempt of out-of-touch middle age people trying to feel smugly secure about their life experiences based on the fatally-flawed logic that because they experienced things the world has long outgrown they're somehow smarter than those who haven't.

But to illuminate my complaints, here's some selections from the 2002 mindset list, which is the closest to when I entered college available (I entered in 2000, so it's not too far off):

1. The people starting college this fall across the nation were born in 1980.

They're starting college at the age of 22? Apparently this generation is really behind or had a bunch of stuff to get done after high school...

2. They have no meaningful recollection of the Reagan era, and did not know he had ever been shot.

I was well aware of both of these events, and I was born 2 years after these people were supposedly born

6. They were 11 when the Soviet Union broke apart, and do not remember the Cold War.

Trust me, you remember nuclear paranoia no matter how old you were when it stopped. Also, I would consider 11 old enough to have memories of that period...

11. Bottle caps have not always been screw off, but have always been plastic.

To this day glass bottles and non-screw off tops made of metal still exist and can be found quite readily.

13. The expression "you sound like a broken record" means nothing to them.

Just because a medium has fallen out of favor does not mean people have no conception of it. I also know what a horse is even though cars are far more popular...

14. They have never owned a record player.

By the time I got to college, I owned two record players.

15. They have likely never played Pac Man, and have never heard of "Pong."

I had played both of these multiple times before I got to college

20. As far as they know, stamps have always cost about 32 cents.

Again, being young does not make you mentally retarded. I'm pretty sure by the time people go to college they have a basic grasp of inflation and the fluctuation of prices.

21. They have always had an answering machine.

I never had an answering machine.

22. Most have never seen a TV set with only 13 channels, nor have they seen a black & white TV.

I had a black and white tv well into my teens.

23. They have always had cable.

I never had cable.

25. They cannot fathom what it was like not having a remote control.

I didn't have a tv with remote control until I was about 7 or 8.

27. Roller-skating has always meant in-line for them.

Didn't get a pair of in-line skates until I was a teenager.

32. They never took a swim and thought about Jaws.

I was afraid to take baths alone as a child because of the high likelihood of a Jaws attack. Movies do get replayed after they leave the theaters...

35. They can't imagine what hard contact lenses are.

I am wearing hard contacts as I write this

42. McDonald's never came in Styrofoam containers.

McDonald's stopped using styrofoam in 1990. By the author's own logic, these kids would have been 10 at that time. Pretty sure people remember things that happened before they were 10...

...And that is why I hate these lists. Even if they were true, they would still be completely meaningless (oh, no! my students don't know what an 8-track is! How can I even begin to teach them about our criminal justice system?!?), but even that doesn't matter because they're never true! It turns out that in a nation of roughly 300 million people there seems to be a diversity of experiences. Shockingly, not every child grows up with the exact same electronics, parents, history books, schools, income levels, etc., etc., and that it just might be a little worthless to speak of an entire generation as if they were one person who had a generic slate of experiences.

And yet highly educated people (these are developed by collegiate professors after all) not only make these lists, but actually take them seriously as if they give some sort of insight into today's youngsters...sigh. Fortunately, I don't trust anyone over 30. Did you know that people over 30 grew up without twitter? And to them, the blue M&M is a recent phenomenon? And the internet still confuses and scares them? It's true! Hopefully these facts will help you communicate with old and out-of-touch people...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Your Fall Semester Plans

From the man who brought you TPP posters galore comes the announcement for my fall course:

You wanna learn about the police? Oh, I'll learn you good...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Not To Argue the Left Wing is a Little Disadvantaged, But...

By now everyone is familiar with the right-wing craziness going on in these town hall meetings (with only Barney Frank so far having the guts to call these people out), but it's really reaching a fever pitch as of late. For the other day, at least a dozen people showed up to an Obama town hall meeting armed with shotguns. Not crazy posters depicting Obama as Hitler, not mean-spirited t-shirts, but fucking shotguns.

Now, for 8 years of a Bush presidency if someone was holding a flimsy paperboard sign asking the president why he was slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people for no reason, they were not only automatically ejected but were usually charged with some sort of crime. And of curse this was justified because once, about 40 years ago, a lefty protestor used violence, so they must all be violent nut cases.

Contrast this with conservative protestors who show up to a presidential speech with fucking shotguns. In a nation where it's pretty much illegal to even imply you want to harm the president, apparently it's ok for conservatives to directly confront him with shotguns.

So just to clarify, if you're keeping score of which ideology is allowed to do what, here' a quick cheat sheet to be your guide for political actions:

Left-wing protestors: Carrying signs is far too dangerous and will be dealt with swiftly and harshly, for everyone's safety.

Right-wing protestors: Feel free to confront the president with a gun. After all, he is (meekly) trying to get poor people health care coverage.

Monday, August 17, 2009

FBI Investigates Mpls PD...again

So you're a MPLS cop and you pull over a hefty black guy who doesn't immediately do what you say -- what do you do? Do you ask him again, or do you claim he punched you despite video evidence to the contrary and then call in 8 of your buddies to beat him so badly he needs to be hospitalized?

Well, I can tell you what the training manual says, or you can watch the video yourself.

What's most interesting about this incident is how the back-up officers fly into the scene and immediately start punching and kicking the poor guy without any knowledge of the situation. In fact, all they know is there was a call for help and when they got there, they saw a man face down in a snow bank with a cop sitting on top of him. Not exactly a scenario that calls you to get down on your knees and start punching him directly in the crotch, as you can clearly see one officer do.

Of course, all charges were dropped against Mr. Jenkins (the victim); not necessarily because he was innocent of the charges, but probably more because he had just been severely beaten for no reason while it was caught on camera.

You can argue that Mr. Jenkins was being uncooperative (though explaining why a Black man in Minneapolis would be justifiably wary of any police contact is an entirely different post), but the force used on him was still clearly inappropriate. For starters, there was no reason he needed to be pulled out of the car at all. But even if you grant that was necessary for some unknown reason, there's simply no defense for the actions of the back up. All that was needed was for one officer to grab his legs and then he was fully subdued. Put some cuffs on him and leave. What makes this so bad is not that he was beaten so severely (though that is really, really bad), but it's the fact that a single punch never needed to be thrown and the situation could have been resolved faster, easier, and far less illegally.

Now there may be some disciplinary action taken (the FBI has agreed to investigate), but seeing as how this seems to happen pretty much once or twice a year here, I doubt much will actually change. I just hope the MPLS PD remembers this the next time they wonder so loudly why the public distrusts police officers...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And Another Piece of Our Collective Soul Dies... which I mean the ephemeral quality of basic goodness we all share, not the shitty 90s band...

Perusing the fine journalistic list-making of Cracked the other day, I stumbled upon their list of the most questionable charities and fundraisers. Nestled right after a discussion of a Guliani fundraiser in which he charged every guest $9.11 for admission (you cannot make this stuff up), was the wesbite (borderline NSFW).

It's probably a bit more complicated than this, but essentially the site allows women who would like larger breasts (women only...sorry fellas, your boobs will have to stay the same size) to post pictures of themselves and argue why they should be given the money for plastic surgery. Philanthropic minded gents (or ladies, I guess) can then donate to the cause, and in exchange, they get pictures (possibly nude, I couldn't determine) and "contact info" (again, not sure what all that entails). So basically it's like an expensive online strip club where women with low self-confidence who have been raised to believe they are nothing more than sex objects attempt to bilk money out of sad and lonely men who otherwise would receive no interaction at all with women.

I'll save the righteous rantings about how disgustingly misogynistic such a site is and how both the men and women who use it are desperately in need of a swift kick in the ass, mostly only because I think it speaks for itself. Again, this is a website where you can go to donate toward a woman's breast augmentation and/or solicit donations for your own new breasts. And it's clearly working, because the site keeps a little running tally of many of the women's donation levels, and some are into the thousands of dollars.

But really, that's what makes America beautiful, isn't it? Over half the world lives on less than $1 dollar a day, and even within the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth we have millions living in poverty and dying of easily cured illness, and yet plenty of people are apparently willing to give away thousands of dollars just to know that there are now a bigger pair of breasts somewhere in this crazy world of ours. Kind of warms the heart, doesn't it?

Monday, August 10, 2009

When It Is and Isn't Ok to Use Your Mentally Retarded Child As A Political Prop

All politician's are hypocrites -- it's such a truism that it doesn't even really need to be said. Part of it is the very nature of the job; with 535 senators and representatives, a president, a supreme court, and on and on, it's impossible for one person to deliver on any specific promise they make. And of course, the people masochistic enough to endure months of nationally televised attacks on themselves, their ideas, and their past are obviously a special sub-set of humanity that need attention really bad and are willing to do pretty much anything to get it.

Yet some push hypocrisy to beautiful new heights. Take Sarah Palin, for instance (no, please take her! buh-dum-ching!). We all know she's an incredible idiot and I don't need to pile on more examples of how she's not even fit for managing a Denny's let alone some sort of national office. But beyond her stupefying idiocy, she has truly become a master of hypocrisy, especially concerning her own family.

Leaving aside the whole "abstinence only education and only bad parents have pregnant teenage daughters except for me because this is actually an example of being a good parent" thing, her son Trig takes up most of her hypocritical rantings.

We were all introduced to Trig's Down-Syndrome cuteness during her vice-presidential acceptance speech when he was continually used as a prop to show what an amazing mother she was. Then when the whole drunken-redneck-knocks-up-her-daughter-and-leaves story broke and she started drawing heat it suddenly became out-of-bounds to talk about the family she kept constantly referencing.

And then came her "I'm quitting but I'm not a quitter" resignation speech, when she once again talked about all those big, bad journalists who keep talking about the family she won't stop talking about. So the subject's buried, right? She told us to quit talking about/looking at/being aware of the existence of her family and slunk away from the national spotlight. Certainly we're done with discussions of Mz. Palin and her special needs baby, right?

No! Of course not! For shortly after her "only a monster uses a Downs Syndrome child to further their political causes" speech, she once again used her Down Syndrome baby to further her political agenda, claiming Obama's (unfortunately) not-at-all socialized medicine would murder her baby. (The fact that she did this over Facebook is an entirely different post...)

So what does she follow up her totally level-headed claim of government death panels that murder babies with? A call for "civil discourse" that doesn't get "sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment."

Yeah, because when we're discussing government-controlled baby-murder squads we certainly don't want people to get all hyperbolic and start making wild accusations, do we?

Friday, August 07, 2009

More Re-posting

So summer's theoretically a time when life gets less hectic and you get to slow down a little bit, but this has definitely not panned out for me. Being so far behind, I've had precious little time to devote to my poor, neglected blog (although it should be getting better soon).

In the meantime, while you're contemplating getting up to 4,500 bucks for your inefficient car so you can upgrade to a slightly less inefficient car, remember that the Bush administration made it so that it's virtually free to buy giant, gas-wasting SUVs.

In 30 years when all the fossil fuels have been used up and we're living in a dystopic, Mad Max-esque charred hellscape, at least there will be some cool (albeit inert) old cars to look at...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Shocking News That Shouldn't Shock You At All

It turns out that when you give a shadowy company which remains shrouded in secrecy billions of dollars to enter a warzone and provide "security" and then place absolutely no oversights on what they're doing, they kill people indiscriminately and then kill the people who try to blow the whistle on them.

But then again, who could have seen this coming? I would have figured giving billions of dollars and carte blanche to kill whomever they please to a bunch of radical right-wing steroidal miscreants would have turned out great. Shame on you, Blackwater. You've given the word "mercenary" a bad name.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Only Living Boy in Jonestown

On the night Obama was elected, the misses dragged me and some friends down to the orgiastic celebration going on at the temporary DFL headquarters in downtown St. Paul. And even though throughout the city people were quite literally dancing in the streets, I just couldn't get too hyped up about it all. I remember very distinctly running into a Professor in my department at the DFL party who was working on a project examining the Obama campaign and racial issues. That night she was carrying around a little digital recorder asking people to share their thoughts on Obama's election. My thoughts? I believe they went (verbatim): "I just wish it meant something."

And at the risk of congratulating myself too early, it seems the election hasn't meant much at all. Obama has already supported the "defense" of marriage act, refused to do anything about don't ask/don't tell, backpedalled on his plan to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, definitively said single-payer healthcare is off the table, and now Obama has adopted Bush's state secrets policy, meaning his administration can shut down any lawsuit it wants in the name of "national security."

But I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. After all, remember his campaign promises?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Why Poor People Are So Lazy (A Market Analysis)

Far be it form me to make the wild accusation that conservatives are sometimes hypocritical (like we all are, blah, blah, blah), but when discussing poverty, they take the cake. For you see, conservatives love to explain how the market solves everything -- from deciding who gets nice houses (rich people) to who gets nice cars (rich people) to who can afford to eat well (rich people) to who gets to go to the doctor and live through illnesses (rich people), the market is the force that solves all and explains everything.

Except when it comes to explaining what poor people do. For instance, they certainly don't sell drugs because they've had no educational opportunities and subsequently have no job prospects. No, they do it because they're bad people.

Or take welfare -- again, the reason poor people go on welfare is not because they've been shut out of our exclusive economic system, it's because they're lazy and don't want to work. Yet ironically, this is one of the few times market logic actually explains human behavior. Checkout the graph below:

The red line is what our government defines as the poverty line (which actually still leaves someone deeply in poverty because it's set way too low, but that's another post for another day) and the bars below represent how much someone would earn working full time at a minimum wage job (adjusted for inflation) throughout the past 70 years. Note that only once does one of those bars even come close to meeting the poverty line.

So you tell me, from a market logic standpoint, which makes more sense -- working your ass off 40 hours a week and not even earning enough to meet the poverty line, or collecting welfare and not even earning enough to meet the poverty line? Any good economist will tell you the better choice is to take the free inadequate money rather than the hard-earned inadequate money...