Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ambitious, But Too Hurried

In today's news that's not really news file: apparently Snoop Dogg tried to hire out the entire country of Liechtenstein to be in his new video.

The best/saddest part of it is that Liechtenstein's "property agent" (whatever the hell that is) said it would have been possible, but Snoop just didn't give them enough time.

Oh, Snoop! When will you learn to plan ahead?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Don't We Have Universal Healthcare?

I'm teaching a course this summer entitled "Law, Politics, and Inequality" and one of the main points I'm trying to get across to my students is that we could solve many crime, poverty, and various other issues surrounding inequality pretty easily, we just choose not to.

For example, we know that addiction treatment is pretty effective at reducing the number of drug users and we know that arresting people for possession is completely ineffective at reducing the number of drug users in our society. Yet we do a bunch of one of those things and pretty much ignore one of those things...

Or take poverty -- about 40% of all people living in poverty are children (a good fact to remember the next time you hear someone tell you poor people are poor because they're too lazy to get a job). Yet we spend preciously little on social services for children, and yet we outspend the rest of the world combined (and then some) on our military.

I could go on, but the point is we could solve a great deal of our social ills, we just choose not to for various reasons. But our failure to solve them is most assuredly not because we don't have any idea how to and definitely not because we don't have the resources.

With universal healthcare, the conservative response is always "How can we afford this?!?" as if guaranteeing all people healthcare will bankrupt our nation. Well, today the strib released its Minnesota 100 list of the top paid CEOs in the state.

Check out who's number one -- Stephen Hemsley of UnitedHealth Group Inc. This poor fellow only took home $101,959,866 in compensation this year (yes, that would be over 101 million dollars).

This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about -- we as a society could choose to spend 101 million dollars on healthcare for thousands of people or we could choose to give 101 millions dollars to one guy. This was not pre-ordained nor inevitable, it is a choice we as a society have made. A choice to keep millions of people without healthcare and keep a very, very small number of people in embarrassing riches.

But on the bright side, we could also theoretically choose to do something else someday...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This Is How We Win The War on Terror!

According to this interesting article, an American construction worker was arrested in Pakistan armed with a 40-inch sword and pistol with night vision equipment.

His mission? He was scouring the country to find and kill Osama Bin Laden.

Apparently, after he was detained, authorities first thought he was joking until they discovered his cache of weapons. It turns out he had quite the plan -- he had been to Pakistan several times, had learned some of the local language, grew a beard to fit in, and even purchased all of his weapons there to make sure he had a ready and accessible cache. In the most recent update I've seen, he's been released by authorities and will likely be deported.

But I say this is the future of American warfare -- we already have more private contractors than soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan (many of them doing essentially what our soldiers are doing but aren't beholden to minor matters such as "international law"). But when we privatize, we have to pay big money. Why don't we just let the American people take it on themselves? Heck, we could even pay for the guy's plane ticket, and it would still save us a great chunk of change...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

If It Had Existed Then...

When I was in a punk band in college, we practiced in the loft of our drummer's dad's electrical shop (Denver Electric: We Mend Your Shorts -- no kidding, actual motto on the sign above the door). As well as being a nice place to practice as loud as we wanted, it also featured an old, worn cardboard box full of Playboys circa the late 1970s and early 80s.

In addition to the less-erotic-than-hilarious pornography of old (women of the Soviet Union!), it also featured some pretty sweet articles (Steve Jobs on the computer wars: "If Bill Gates wins out, there will be no significant improvement in the personal computer in the next 20 years) and ads for technologies that were outdated by the time I could walk heralded as the wave of the future.

But this is really just a long, roundabout way of explaining why I'm really familiar with late 70s magazine ads and their detailed copy of weak attempts at drawing the reader in. It's what makes these rendering of current tech devices rendered as if they came out in the 70s so amusing and spot on. Check it out, especially if you too are familiar with ad copy from the era, even if your familiarity has nothing to do with the sexual proclivities of electrical workers from 30 years ago...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Check Back On Monday...

There's nothing worse than a blogger who doesn't post regularly. Maybe the only thing worse is a blogger who doesn't post and then only writes a post about how he's not posting...

So, in short, I'm the worst type of blogger.

But I have excuses! Many, many excuses! It turns out scheduling international research travels to conclude only about 20 hours before the class you're teaching starts isn't such a solid idea. It also turns out that sleep deprivation and being wildly behind on your work do not particularly help each other.

But today, dear readers, is the day I get dug out from under a giant pile of work or die trying.

Regular posting will resume monday...

Pictured: Me and my giant pile of work to be done

Friday, June 11, 2010

How Much More Racist Can They Get?

Sure, Arizona's passing of SB1070 has made the state look like a collective of backward, inbred fucktards (to use the scientific term), but some people could still defend it. Granted, they're stupid and racist people, but they tried to at least talk a good game as to how this somehow was not about race and was only about "enforcing the law." You know, like those laws about how it's illegal to be Mexican.

But now they've really outdone themselves. A mural of school children at Miller Valley School in Prescott, AZ will now have the faces of children in it "lightened" to appease the racist-as-fuck community.

What's even more glaring is that the racists who demanded this (probably the same people who were continually driving by shouting racial epithets at those painting the mural) are still trying to pretend they're not racist!

How do they get away with such a glaring contradiction? Simple -- they're not upset that a child depicted in the mural isn't white, they're upset the mural doesn't "reflect the community." Even though the child depicted in the mural is a student at that school, which I think would pretty safely place him as a member of that community.

But I guess that's the beauty and brilliance of today's color-blind racism. They don't hate people because they're not white, they just happen to hate people who just happen to be not white...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

first ave stars

After many, many years of piling them up, historic First Ave has painted over its many stars. In an attempt to update the exterior and allow some new folks a chance to have a star, First Ave will be eliminating about 100 of the stars when they re-paint their exterior.

But here's where it gets really exciting -- while some of the stars are safe beyond question (think your Princes of the world) and most of them will be decided on by long time First Ave staff, they are asking the public to chime in on who should stay and who should go.

So what do you think? Check out this definitive list of the stars and ponder the tough calls...does Menudo get to stay? What about Tom Arnold?

How can anyone even fathom such a decision?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Pet Peeves and Internet Misattribution

One of the little things that annoys me to no end is the way things are constantly attributed to the wrong people online. If you've ever downloaded music, you probably know what I'm talking about. Any jam-bandy type song will be attributed to Dave Matthews, any white-sounding rapper is labeled Eminem, etc. I can't quite figure out why this annoys me so much; I think it's something about the collective ignorance of Americans and their willingness to believe anything they are told sometimes. Because in most of these instances, the work does not sound anything like the person is has been attributed to, but it will exist like that for ages.

Probably the most prominent example is a bluegrass version of Gin and Juice that sounds absolutely nothing like Dave Matthews stylistically or vocally. And yet, I don't know that I've ever seen a version of it floating around the internet not attributed to that no talent ass clown, to borrow a phrase. The song was actually recorded by a small time bluegrass band called the Gourds. I guess what gets my ranker up is that The Gourds sound like they're actually somewhat talented and I'm sure they don't have the deep pockets or legions of fans Mr. Matthews has, yet he's getting credit for their hard work.

Though it also cuts the other way. Weird Al most famously is given internet attribution for pretty much every parody that exists, even if it's a woman singing or some other very clear give away that it is clearly not him. And I read in an interview with him once that he doesn't mind it so much, but often the songs are really juvenile, crass, or hurtful and he's not particularly happy about it being assumed he created it. There's actually so many songs incorrectly attributed to him that some plucky fans have a webpage called the Not Al List dedicated solely to correcting these incorrect attributions.

So I'm not really sure how to wind this post down, other than to implore you to take an extra 15 seconds to properly credit an artist for their work. Or continue to annoy me. Whichever you prefer...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Why Context Matters

Sociologists are all about context. Why here at Minnesota, we even have a sociology magazine called Contexts. We focus so much on context because, as people studying the social world, we know that you can't simply look at something and understand it, you need to put it in a time, place, etc. For example, when I teach intro classes, I often use the example of female genital cutting. FGC is a practice in some African nations where a young girls' clitoris is cut off (often with a shard of glass or jagged piece of metal) and then her labia are sewn shut to preserve her virginity for marriage.

As an outsider looking in, it certainly looks like a barbarous practice. But if you look at in context, it you find that most women who undergo it choose to do so (though, granted, it's a pretty loaded choice), and who are we as a society to judge when we cut off the skin of the penises of our male children for no reason?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm still totally against FGC, but when looking at in context, it becomes a much murkier picture and it isn't so easy to immediately and completely condemn it.

The imprisonment of suspected radicals in Guantanamo Bay is another perfect example of why context matters. If you simply take the given reasoning behind it with no other information, it looks like a perfectly rational decision. The men held in there are all radical terrorists hell bent on killing innocent people, so it makes sense to keep them locked up indefinitely. And if some abuses occur, well that's too bad, but even some abuse of these people can be tolerated given what horrible things they would do if they weren't locked up in there.

But if you understand Guantanamo in context, it's suddenly not such a rosy picture. For instance, many of the men imprisoned there were not captured by American forces, they were delivered to American forces as people who should be detained. What isn't widely known is that often the Army will pay out cash rewards for turning over a suspected terrorist. Now think about that -- in the middle of a chaotic civil war with multiple hostile factions, isn't there a decent chance someone might take the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by putting one of their enemies into indefinite detention and earning some cash on the side? Or might someone who lives in a money-starved nation with few resources see a weak stranger as the opportunity to make some good money really quickly? These scenarios are spelled out pretty well in Taxi to the Dark Side, a fantastic documentary that spells out exactly those (and several other) scenarios that lead innocent people to be put in Guantanamo.

And to add further verification to these logical exercises in context, of the 50 Guantanamo prisoners who have been able to go to a habeas hearing to determine if they should even be locked up, 36 of them have been set free for lack of any evidence to hold them. Just to repeat, 72% of Guantanamo prisoners that have had a habeas hearing with a judge provided by the very people imprisoning them have been set free because there is absolutely no evidence they are dangerous in any way, shape, or form. Why is this number so high? Well, because of the reasons described above. People are simply being rounded up and then sorted out later.

So when you get some of this context surrounding the Guantanamo detentions (high numbers of innocent people, really shady situations leading to imprisonment in the first place, etc.), suddenly it's not so easy to support the existence of Guantanamo or take politicians at their word that all the people housed there are dangerous and cannot be let go.

And that's why context is important...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Not To Accuse Them of Being Shady or Anything...

But it turns out those folks over at British Petroleum might not be the stand up corporate citizens we've been led to believe.

So you know how their immense negligence and shameful corporate greed recently led to the worst environmental disaster in the history of our hemisphere? Well, it's been in the news a bit recently, and gotten so much attention even the President has had to take several trips down there to survey the damage and pose for photo ops.

And if you caught one of those presidential photo ops, you might have thought at least BP was doing something to clean up the millions upon millions of gallons still gushing into the gulf. But you'd be wrong, because it turns out BP hired hundreds of temp workers to look like they were cleaning up while the President was there, only to bus them out as soon as he was gone.

But to be fair, given their complete lack of concern about safety to begin with and complete lack of effort in even stopping the gushing leak, let alone clean it up, many people have asked why BP can't even pretend to care about all the damage they're reeking.

Well, it turns out they can pretend they care. They can pretend very well...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

First Blog In A While

Sorry for the relatively long period of silence folks, but I'm currently overseas and my internet access, well, she ain't what she used to be. But I find myself with an unexpected surplus of free time tonight, so hopefully I can knock a couple out and be back to the regular blogging that my legions of fans so angrily demand...

(Humorously right on cue to me writing a sentence about how my internet connection isn't that great, the power went out. Not everywhere has the decadence of American imperialism...)

Anyway, one of the areas I'm always reminded America lags far behind the world whenever I travel is in the area of colorful moneys. Sure, we're slowly but surely getting there, but anyone who has ever traveled internationally can attest, money elsewhere is so damn colorful.

Even our humble neighbors to the North have some pretty interesting bills, as the artwork below demonstrates. Unfortunately, that's not a standard issue Canadian bill, but rather one of many that has been upgraded in one of the most interesting flickr memes I've ever seen.

I can't really decide which is funnier about this -- that there exists such a collective of people making amusing images out of Canadian currency, or that if you look you'll notice the search term is just for Canada as there is apparently already such a wealth of defaced presidents that it gets its own drop down menu.

Either way, I'm glad to be back to blogging, and like a box of bran and prunes, posting should get a lot more regular soon...