December 17, 2006

Entertainment wrap-up

Fearing my post-grad social life had one foot in the grave when I realized watching Jeopardy ranked among my most stimulating weeknight activities (before tucking into bed around 9pm, of course), I decided I’d make an effort to take greater advantage of the SF entertainment scene. Here's who I've seen the last couple weeks:

-Hal Sparks at Cobb's Comedy Club November 30th.







I was reluctant to say hello on the way out, but we ended up commiserating with one another (having both survived the south). Cullman Alabama--more churches than Vatican City. Who knew?

Nico Santos & Sabrina Matthews opened. Fabulous.


<--the crazy eye -Yet another "I Love the 80's" alum--Michael Ian Black at The Independent Dec 12th with Michael Showalter.

One highlight--Showalter's air tambourine:




-Margaret Cho at the Good Vibrations Goodie Shoppe Dec 14th. She's now a board member for SF's pioneering sex-positive (formerly co-op owned) retailer. Deviating from her standard delightfully raunchy stand-up routine, she performed an alternative burlesque show. Jaw-dropping, all the same. My friend convinced me to go shake her hand, and the only thing I could think to say was "persimmons!" to which she grimaced.

Photo cred to Jon Leighton--my pics were less than PG.

December 15, 2006

Mucho mazel

For those of us who missed Vodka Latka: The Festival of Rights last night, there's a Salsa Hannukah Party this weekend:

Meshuggenismo! describes itself as "a salsa band that plays Jewish wedding and bar mitzvah music, or a klezmer band that plays the most Afro-Cuban-sounding Jewish weddings you have ever heard." They infuse Jewish party music with son, cha cha cha, danzon, rumba, bolero, mozambique, guaracha and merengue. They play the Peninsula Jewish Community Center's Latkepalooza!, which also features children's entertainer Diana Shmiana, music, arts and crafts, latkes and candle lighting. 1-4 p.m. Sunday.
::Plotz::

December 12, 2006

Madrid celebrates the death of a dictator...




















Why the "Mierda?"
from SFGate

December 04, 2006

Google mishegas

Apparently this story is a couple years old, but I just stumbled upon it. I was searching on Google for novelty jew-isch themed schmattahs and tchotchkes to give as Chrismukkah gifts, when I spotted a link to this letter at the top of the sponsored links list, under "Offensive Search Results":

An explanation of our search results.

If you recently used Google to search for the word "Jew," you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google. We'd like to explain why you're seeing these results when you conduct this search.

A site's ranking in Google's search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page's relevance to a given query. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted. A search for "Jew" brings up one such unexpected result.

If you use Google to search for "Judaism," "Jewish" or "Jewish people," the results are informative and relevant. So why is a search for "Jew" different? One reason is that the word "Jew" is often used in an anti-Semitic context. Jewish organizations are more likely to use the word "Jewish" when talking about members of their faith. The word has become somewhat charged linguistically, as noted on websites devoted to Jewish topics such as these:

Someone searching for information on Jewish people would be more likely to enter terms like "Judaism," "Jewish people," or "Jews" than the single word "Jew." In fact, prior to this incident, the word "Jew" only appeared about once in every 10 million search queries. Now it's likely that the great majority of searches on Google for "Jew" are by people who have heard about this issue and want to see the results for themselves.

Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google. Some people concerned about this issue have created online petitions to encourage us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Because of our objective and automated ranking system, Google cannot be influenced by these petitions. The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results.

We apologize for the upsetting nature of the experience you had using Google and appreciate your taking the time to inform us about it.

Sincerely,
The Google Team

p.s. You may be interested in some additional information the Anti-Defamation League has posted about this issue at http://www.adl.org/rumors/google_search_rumors.asp. In addition, we call your attention to Google's search results on this topic.

Why is there no disclaimer featured for search results that might offend other groups? Is this another example of AIPAC and ADL's disproportionate influence wielded through unfounded accusations of anti-semitism?

December 02, 2006

The height of Rumsfeldian condescension

From his departing memo:

Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start "taking our hand off the bicycle seat"), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.

...and if they don't have socks?

Rumsfeld urging responsibility--beyond hypocrisy.

November 28, 2006

Alt-Holiday Events in the Bay Area

What better way to understand the true spirit of the holidays (love, acceptance, unity) than to celebrate San Francisco values-style?

Here's a few powerful antidotes to the tasteless consumer frenzy and that atrocious Christmas muzak I'm forced to endure at work:

The MeshugaNutcracker--A New Chanukah Musical
A Klezmer/Broadway-style production set to the music of Tchaikovsky.

A Queer Carol--"Unwrap a different kind of package"
Joe Godfrey'’s gay comic retelling of Dickens' holiday classic.

Santaland Diaries
David Sedaris'’ comedy about his experiences as a Macy'’s elf.

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas
Submergency! is high-speed improv comedy with multimedia technology and squirtguns--the perfect late-night escape from the most wonderful time of the year.

Keep the Yuletide Gay
A Christmas comedy, featuring an incredibly awkward party complete with an alcoholic witch, some Lindsay Lohan perfume, warts, a bloody Santa, a Lionel Ritchie/Diana Ross duet, burnt dinner, some very unexpected skirt chasing.

Home for the Holidays
Featuring the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus

14th Annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
A Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese restaurant

**from SFGate's Holiday 2006 events listing.**

Enough to make O'Reilly's head explode.

November 27, 2006

Nir Rosen on Democracy Now!

There's been a shift lately since the Americans realized that Iraq is a failure, of blaming the Iraqi’s. The Iraqi’s need to step up, the Iraqi’s have to choose democracy, the Iraqi’s have to choose freedom. It is very popular for us to blame the Iraqi’s for the chaos that we’ve brought upon them. And, I think this will perhaps be something for the cameras in the US’s intent by Bush to show that he’s going to make Maliki, you know, seize the reigns of his country, or something absurd like that, because Maliki has no power of his own. The Iraqis actually did chose democracy, we just never gave them that democracy that they were demanding.

...

There was no civil war in Iraq until we got there. And there was no civil war in Iraq, until we took certain steps to pit Sunnis against Shias. And now it is just too late. But, we need to know we are responsible for what’s happening in Iraq today. I don't think Americans are aware of this.

--Nir Rosen, freelance writer and fellow at the New America Foundation. His latest article is called "Anatomy of a Civil War: Iraq's Descent into Chaos."

This is why it's so frustrating to hear Washington play the blame game. Democrats at least have expressed that deescalation is now beyond the scope of U.S. military influence, and nothing will be accomplished through protracted occupation. But this in no way absolves the U.S. of responsibilty for the chaos its brought on Iraqi civilians and on the region. The only way to stem the violence and save face would be to acknowledge mistakes and appeal to regional powers for help building stability. I doubt we'll see that anytime soon, given the hubris of our leadership.

November 24, 2006

Study: No link between Plan B & "risky behavior", STDs

Another thinly veiled argument backing the religious right's anti-women's empowerment agenda debunked by science:

Raymond's group discounts the possibility that emergency contraceptive is not very efficacious. Moreover, the theory that emergency contraceptive is counteracted by increased risk-taking was proven not to be the case in their study.

Instead, they believe that even when they could have emergency contraceptives on hand, subjects who became pregnant had not used the pills.

The investigators therefore conclude that a proactive program like theirs "would probably not be feasible for widespread, long-term use outside a study." Instead, they suggest a strategy that would target women at the highest risk of pregnancy.
Maybe the solution is greater accessibility accompanied by a campaign to counter misinformation propagated against the drug?

The headline on this article is "Pregnancy rates unchanged with Plan B on hand." I'm sure the study will be spun to defend the argument against emergency contraception, that making it more available accomplishes little to curb pregnancies. The abstract of the study does mention, however, that "the increased access group used emergency contraceptive pills substantially more often and sooner after coitus than the standard access group." Also--

The authors point out that the risk of STDs in the easy access group was slightly lower than in the control group, but not significantly different, relieving fears that easy access would increase STD rates.

I'm wondering if the study's results distinguish between intended pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies within the sample. Probably relevant, no? Shouldn't it be looking at whether there were fewer unintentional pregnancies in the sample that had Plan B on hand? Maybe that was included in the full results of the study.

Also (very appropriately) in the same November issues of Obstetrics & Gynecology--"Emergency Contraception: Politics and Science Move Forward ." About time.

November 22, 2006

Bush gets lei'd/suffocated by old bitty

SFGate DIP
















"Hmmfrh!!"
"Stop fidgeting now, sonny..."

November 20, 2006

Self-hating neocon

Hawkish AEI fellow Joshua Muravchik is getting far too much press. I first picked up his radical militant agenda when Democracy Now! had him on as token wing-nut to debate Kucinich and McGovern last week. He had a temper tantrum during the interview, berating his opponents and Amy Goodman (or as he called her, "Miss Moderator").

Today he resurrected the "smoking gun mushroom cloud" in an LA Times opinion column featuring the screeching lede "WE MUST bomb Iran."
Wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse.
With Foreign Ministry in Tehran signaling its openness to negotiations, it seems the alternative is not nuclear holocaust, but diplomacy. Not if hard-liners like Muravchik have their way though--they'll dismiss diplomatic overtures because they'd rather exacerbate global instability and security, squandering any semblance of good-will the U.S. has left from the international community all in the name of regime change and regional dominance.

All this under the noble guise of "spreading democracy," the topic of a CSPAN Hudson Institute discussion aired tonight. Democracy is something Muravchik assumes is "good for everyone," though only if you vote for his guy, of course, so the Palestinian vote for "war and terror" (not a vote of no confidence for leadership hobbled by Israel's stranglehold) was illegit. Ariel Cohen of Heritage criticized Muravchik's "one-size-fits-all democratization policies." You know someone's out in right field when a Heritage fellow seems moderate in comparison. However Lee Smith, another panelist from the Hudson Institute also had his moments, remarking condescendingly, "Arabs need to fight it out themselves," and dismissing ramifications of anti-American sentiment in the region.

Muravchik's a pretty artless revisionist, using the end of Pinochet's regime in Chile as an example of democratic victory (of course he was "our bastard") and touting the U.S. as the infallible beacon of democracy. He says "power is gained or held by the use or threat of force" in the Middle East. And how does this differ from U.S. foreign policy under neoconservative rule?

I wondered how he got to be such an ideologue. Turns out he's a radical turn-coat like David Horowitz (swung from New Left to NewsMax)--he's the former leader of the Young People's Socialist League. I think it's telling that he characterizes socialism as the "faith" he was raised by. Fundamentalists are fundamentalists. The difference is that these two demagogues are legitimated by mainstream attention.

November 19, 2006

GOP just got a lot sexier...sorta


Marin county couple behind the Global Orgasm for Peace seek to reclaim the republican acronym, along with Dec 22nd for a day of uh, "direct action."

Concerned about escalations against Iran, Donna Sheehan (no relation to Cindy) and her partner Paul Reffel devised their strategy in hopes that a combined effort would have the power to disarm tensions and direct the movement of U.S. battleships in the Persian Gulf (?!). They say it's all in the motion of the ocean.

Carol Queen, the staff sexologist at San Francisco's Good Vibrations store says "it's natural to link pleasure and peace. If you're experiencing pleasure, you're not engaging in aggressive, destructive behavior. "


Do these folks remind anyone else of the "love-ahs" from SNL?



See also: Masturbate for Peace, F*** for Forest

November 16, 2006

What the...?!


Hello, my name is Che, and I'll be your waiter: A leftist protester hefts a crate of Molotov cocktails near a university in conflict-ravaged Oaxaca, Mexico.









...who says that?! F'in copy writers at SFGate.





Why not take an alternate view:






Women march in Oaxaca

This just in: "invisible hand" swipes Friedman

Economist Milton Friedman dies at 94.

Too bad the Chicago school won't go with him.

Think CATO will demand a Reagan-esque mass for him at the Capitol? Maybe they'll just embalm him and put him under glass all Lenin-style.

In his defense, he did vehemently resist the draft along with the "war on drugs," insisting on decriminalization like a true libertarian. That's not to say he wasn't the epitome of right-wing though.

This conservative's comment on DKos sums up where Friedman and his fellow bootstrappers went so wrong:
...he wasn't a hero of mine because his calculus didn't include right and wrong, social justice or the general welfare of the people.
Friedman (surprisingly) sounding in favor of CSR in "The Corporation":
Can a building have moral opinions? Can a building have social responsibility? If a building can't have social responsibility, what does it mean to say that a corporation can? A corporation is simply an artificial legal structure. But the people who are engaged in it, whether the stockholders, whether the executives in it, whether the employees, they all have moral responsibilities.
RIP, though Chile's poor will be dancing on your grave.

The Shape of Water on DVD

Prof. Kum-Kum Bhavnani's powerful film follows women initiated peace and social justice movements in Brazil, Senegal, Jerusalem, and India.


Watch the trailer.

Listen to her talk about her first film.

She's an inspiration--without a doubt the professor that had the single greatest impact on me as a student at UCSB.

November 14, 2006

"We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."

This from Carl Levin, newly anointed Senate Armed Services Committee Chair, the congressman in control of legislative oversight of the military. Levin, like other Dems, wants to demonstrate that conditions in Iraq are beyond the scope of an armed solution, and the sooner the military draws down, the better.

I agree. But he could've said it differently--maybe something along the lines of "we cannot mend the chaos caused by negligent Bush administration policy." But instead his statement comes off as patronizing, imperialist, and irresponsible. We are to believe that Iraqi civilians--a sovereign people stripped of their rights by dictators and democracies alike--are little more than petty children, the U.S. playing the "father knows best" figure, though he'd abandoned his own flesh and blood when he was needed most, and now he'd really do well to let his kids be.

Alright, that's a pretty bad extended metaphor.

The point is that I'm pretty fed-up with the bipartisan buck-passing on Iraq. So few in Congress can claim total innocence on Iraq that I guess it's understandable why it'd be a touchy subject.

Don't get me wrong, I trust we'll see a true foreign policy shift with the Dems' move towards a timetable for phased redeployment. The final nail's been driven into the coffin for "stay the course," which roughly translated to a pig-headed, faith-based refusal to admit they could've misjudged.

Unfortunately an inability to accept responsibility for failed policy seems to be more than just an isolated republican pathology, and leaves Dem leadership vulnerable to charges of "republican lite." Rather than placing blame where blame is due--squarely with a deceptive White House and PNACers--and owning up to wrongly backing their invasion, they externalize the problem. It's far more convenient for politicians to blame the victim, hanging their own puppets for failing to bring stability to a country hobbled by bloody occupation. Reminds me of the way Israel blames the Palestinian Authority for failing to truly represent the Palestinian people though it does everything in its power to deter sovereign governance.

The only way Democrats will prove they're different to a public hungry for new leadership (though skeptical of its competence) is if they disengage from the blame-game rhetoric. Even hawkish Republicans like White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten start to sound empathetic when even they suggest easing off Iraqi leadership by refusing timetables, pretending like it's always been a humanitarian mission. It's an ugly game of good-cop-bad-cop, and Dems scrambling to sound "tough on terrorism" stand to lose by sounding callous and delinquent.

Dems have some measure of moral high ground on this one, and it would do them well to talk about Iraq as our mess, not just Iraqis'. This would convince the international community that our new leadership is unlike the old--it's willing to seek diplomatic solutions, compromise, and will reassure apprehensive Iraqi civilians and government officials that the U.S. won't unilaterally disengage. A timetable will also bring regional players into the fold--it's in neighboring countries' best interests to secure a stabilized Iraq.

And all this talk of victory? Democrats need to bring that into question, too. If victory is not achievable (and it isn't) and foreign presence is only instigating more violence (after all, a fundamentalist's wet dream is extended occupation--a justification for battle), then swift redeployment is the optimal answer.

The pendulum's shifted. The dialogue and policy need to catch up to prove that we've truly witnessed what's been touted as a revolution channeled through the electoral process.

November 02, 2006

Associated Repress

An AP wire story on protests in Oaxaca marginalizes those calling for Gov. Ulises Ruiz' ouster. Shocking. They're "anarchists" (in the derrogatory sense) desecrating private property, while blameless law enforcement keep the peace:
"Thank you, sirs, and may God bless you," Maria Elena Zarate said to the officers. "We are going to support these people who risk their lives to protect us," she added, weeping as protesters threw rocks at officials.
But what of those officials responsible for the death of an American journalist, a local teacher, and three non-violent demonstrators? They're not even being held in custody on murder charges.

Here's what the AP story doesn't tell you:
Throughout the last five months [The Popular Assembly of the Pueblos of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca - APPO)] have maintained their demands in Oaxaca through a peaceful, popular, democratic uprising of the people, remaining firmly within the bounds of the law. In response they have been brutally attacked most recently by plain clothes police and city officials resulting in over twelve deaths, and hundreds injured, to date. The people of Oaxaca are unarmed and continue to respond to the situation with non-violentprotest, yet in response to attacks upon them, President Vicente Fox has responded by sending in nearly 10,000 federal police further aggravating the situation and resulting in more violence against the communities of Oaxaca.
(from a UCSB press release on the movement in Oaxaca)
Their demands are not radical--Mexico's Congress has joined the call for Ruiz' resignation.

U.S. media doing what it does best--ironing out dissent.

CA Prop Voting Recommendations

รก la CAP.

November 01, 2006

Like a caricature of himself.

This guy can't be for real, it's just too good:

Dear Editor:
The liberal threat to our children goes way beyond refusing to let kids be implanted with radio frequency identification devices. Consider these other liberal outrages that I've come across: Some school districts in the clutch of tree-hugging, godless liberals have refused to allow as much time to the teaching of intelligent design as they do to the "theory" of evolution. Children in these liberal backwaters are being denied access to the full range of intellectual thought on the important question of "Where do we come from?"
I've read that some parents of the pinko political persuasion refuse to take their kids to McDonald's restaurants, depriving said young Americans of the beefy goodness and wholesome entertainment value that only a mega-Mac with Cheese 'n' Fries Happy Meal can provide. Yet these same Green Party-supporting socialists think nothing of stopping off at Starbucks for a grande blended chai latte on the way to their kid's soccer practice, exposing the child to countless free-floating ADHD-inducing caffeine molecules. --Pete Cockerell, Palo Alto

If it is a fake (al beit pretty authentic, lacking only an Osama reference), the staff at the Daily Journal is either a.) pulling our leg or b.) so scared shitless of the liberal label that they'll print any cockamamie rant sure to earn them krazy konservative kred (wow, went too far there, didn't I).

He must realize no self-respecting pinko would be caught dead at a Starbucks.

October 31, 2006

October 30, 2006

Found on Fillmore St:

Talk amongst yaselves.

On a related note, here's Regina Spektor wooing the crowd at the Fillmore--anti-folk hipster darling that she is. She had everyone eating out of the palm of her hand, not a dry seat in the house.

Pitchfork nails it, though they think her blushing modesty does her a disservice:

She reaches her audience's ears and heartstrings through feigned naivete. The I'm-just-a-wee-lass stance is apparent throughout Soviet Kitsch, as well as her live performances, where she's been known to pout and giggle and murmur and feed the crowd chocolates.
That coy bashful schtick she'd lay on thick between songs was likely part of the performance, though I found nothing ingenuine about it, and she was anything but self-important. It was endearing and disarming, not overbearing or put on--the whimsy she had on reserve for when she wasn't teasing the microphone with those bombshell ruby lips or mesmerizing us with the range and dexterity of that polished instrument she calls a voice. Cause let's be honest, who needs to be a concert pianist when you've got one of those?

Check out this live show only gem:

You know that statue
Yhat statue of baby jesus
In the window
In the window of the 99 cent store
Last night I saw the owner kiss it
And whisper in its ear
I was walking home from walgreen's
And he did not hear me see him
And on the
Very very next morning
All the subway cars were hallelu-leluing
Welcome back the baby king, the baby king
All the believers they were smiling
And winking at each other
I could honestly say I was scared for my life.

Followed by a howling refrain of "BELIEVE! BELIEVE! BELIEVE!" Sacrilicious.





September 29, 2006

Future Preacher of the House?

"Forty is a number fraught with meaning in the Bible, whether it is the Jews and the Gaza, Noah and his wife and the ark, or Christ in the desert,'' Pelosi said she reminded the House Democratic caucus.
Oye, I've heard of Democrats going out of their way to appeal to the "faith community," but that's pretty over the top.

It'll take more than biblical forecasting and heavenly appeals to unseat fear-mongering congressional Republicans armed with this kind of language:
"Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists,'' Hastert charged Wednesday night after the bill passed. "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled if we followed the Democrat plan.''
Nevermind empty threats of foreign attack. Yesterday freedom and civil liberties were dealt a lethal blow right at home, by none other than Denny and his cohorts. Kiss habeas corpus goodbye. And now it's entirely at the president's discretion who's labeled an enemy combatant and thereby elligible to be subjected to cruel and inhumane punishment (including rape, since that apparently no longer qualifies as "torture"). And all the while mainstream media lauds the bill as a "compromise" (despite few White House concessions) focusing solely on political rather than historical ramifications of the legislation.

They've got Dems shaking in their boots.
We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.
Rather than cowering, a winning strategy from Democrats would be to stand firmly on principle and call out their opponents for corrupting the very fabric of democratic ideals in the name of a false sense of security. Clearly prayers and acquiesence haven't gotten them anywhere.

September 06, 2006

Students mobilized...on Facebook

At last, student activism has been reinvigorated.
"Now's the time to give them constructive criticism and to let them know that we're not going to go quietly in the night. We're here to stay, we want significant change. Let's work!"
What single issue could mobilize 360,000 high school and college students (and counting) in about two days' time? Not the rising cost of higher education. Not genocide, or a bloody civil war and occupation. And warrantless wiretapping? Though that poses a much more significant threat to personal privacy, it's got nothin on ::gasp:: changes to Facebook. Jake's on it:
The response has been overwhelming. The entire community is rising up and creating groups upon groups criticizing the new features, which are called "minifeed" and "newsfeed". Walls and discussion forums in the new groups are bustling with rapid chatter. People are placing anti-minifeed messages in their status updates and profiles, as well.
The massive "Students against Facebook News Feed Group" is like a microcosm of the larger political sphere, with representatives from every faction lining up, offering their two cents about the change that rocked their world (or didn't). You've got net-evangelists starting a discussion entitled "WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN LIFE (it's about God, y'all)," and my personal favorite, the archetypal "love-it-or-leave-it" conservative:
P.D. (Grand Rapids CC) wrote:
grow up, shut up, and if you want, LEAVE FACEBOOK. no one is making you stay.
a la South Park--"If you don't like america, then you can git out!"
I'll admit, it's pretty impressive. Jake concludes:
This is the single greatest spectacle of youth activism I have ever witnessed.
Knowing Jake, there's probably a little more than a hint of sarcasm in that. I think he's right to be cynical though, that there doesn't seem to be much else in the real world worth celebrating on the student activism front. Though this perfectly illustrates the power of netroots activism, I can't help but feel discouraged. Internet activism (while it can't replace the real thing) has huge potential, but only if people have their priorities straight, and there's clearly something seriously wrong in that department. Maybe I'm just nay-saying. "Always nay-saying...everything I create!"

I'm willing to bet that the majority of these students are far more active in online networks than in any organizing around real issues and policies impacting their communities at the local level, much less at the national or international level. Why? Because it's easy and requires only a mouse click or two. Sadly, that's no replacement for honest-to-god organizing in the flesh. And thanks to the way MSM reports it and what it chooses to prioritize(you knew it had to come back to that), what's really happening is no more real than what happens on the internet.

Remember that Le Tigre song, "Get Off the Internet"? I don't need to tell anyone here how the web is a powerful tool for organizing. There's no doubt about it. It democratizes communication and the flow of ideas (though the digital divide must be narrowed to improve access for less priviledged communities), and that's why the net neutrality fight is such an important one. But the song's got a point:

It's about how demoralizing "cyber-activism" can be...I think it’s really important that people remember not to become isolated in their apartments or in their offices with their e-mail and understand that there is a real place for activism that isn’t so language-based. People get so involved in online discourse that it sort of becomes meaningless -- it’s kind of like being in a hall of mirrors or something. That’s what that song is about to me -- it’s about actually remembering what your priorities are.
"Get off the internet! I'll meet you in the street!"

...or I'll just sit at my laptop for another 48 straight hours.

****

Okay, ONE LAST THING and I've said my peace.

Perhaps there is something to be said for Facebook as a surveillance tool. If anything, this is what users should be holding its owners accountable for, instead of something like the "news feed," which on relative terms does little to change the actual database, besides cluttering an otherwise pretty straightforward interface. Sure, now you can know the moment when someone breaks up and friends someone new, or messages someone, or scratches their ass. But investors' links to CIA information gathering projects on? Meh. And though Facebook denies trasmitting information on students, one can't help but be weary:
One lucky Oklahoma student who posted an unsavory comment about President Bush received a friendly Secret Service visit. Saul Martinez, a sophomore member of a “Bush Sucks” Facebook group, responded to another student’s assertion that his pet fish would make a better President, posting a comment along the lines of “Or we could all donate a dollar and raise millions of dollars to hire an assassin to kill the president and replace him with a monkey.” Four months later, Martinez found himself being questioned by a secret service agent who thought he might be a trained assassin.

You know the CIA's got some serious issues if it's relying on Facebook.

But just keep it in mind next time you join the "Bush sucks" group. If there even is a Facebook tomorrow.

September 04, 2006

Happy defanged Labor Day

Ah yes, the first Monday in September. The end of summer, the start of the school year and campaign season, and (who's really counting?) "labor" day--a day so stripped of its historical significance and dissociated from its proletarian roots that you're hard pressed to find a U.S. citizen able to distinguish it from Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. According to a Rasmussen poll,

Thirty-eight percent (38%) say they take the day to celebrate the contributions of society's labor force and 45% say they use the day to mark the unofficial end of summer. Sixteen percent (16%) aren't sure what they celebrate on Labor Day.

And of course today isn't recognized outside the U.S., because ironically, the original Labor Day--International Worker's Day—established in this country to commemorate the Chicago Haymarket Massacre and the struggle for an 8 hour work day, was celebrated worldwide already on May 1st. What gives?

The holiday's burgeoning popularity led Congress, in 1894, to establish "Labor Day" in September to honor American workers -- a holiday established, not by ordinary workers themselves as an expression of empowerment, but by big business and their Congressional apologists, as a way to try to dictate what workers were and weren't allowed to celebrate.

One day belonged to the workers; the other 365 days belonged to big business, and we were to work as many hours of those days as business pleased.

May Day was a day won by workers, begrudgingly conceded by the government, only to be rendered an empty gesture towards those deserving far greater recognition for their part in the struggle for dignity and protection in the workplace.

Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at UCSB and the go-to guy on the Walmartization of the global economy, explained how this year, the Great American Boycott on May Day reclaimed the holiday:

…Demonstrations and boycotts return the American protest tradition to its turn-of-the-20th-century ethnic proletarian origins—a time when, in the United States as well as in much of Europe, the quest for citizenship and equal rights was inherent in the fight for higher wages, stronger unions, and more political power for the working class.

And it looks like more actions like the marches on May 1st are scheduled around the country in the coming week.

****

Today, only 12.5% of the workforce is unionized, and the same poll conducted on the public recognition of Labor Day concluded that (try to resist the urge to vomit)

More Americans have a favorable opinion of retail giant Walmart (69%) than Labor Unions (58%).

Those are some pretty despicable numbers. But how representative are they? Do they really indicate the decline in union support that corporate America keeps trumpeting? Public opinion data from a nationwide survey by respected pollster Peter Hart in 2005 found 53 percent of nonunion workers - that's more than 50 million people - want to join a union, if given the choice.

David Sirota of the SF Chronicle says “Bashing organized labor is a Republican pathology, to the point where unions are referenced with terms reserved for military targets." He cites an article headlined "GOP readies for War With Big Labor.”

I had a pretty looney econ professor who used the classroom as a platform for his tirades against unions, accusing them of single-handedly upending the purported natural stability of the free market, and of representing only a cabal of the selfish elite workers out to profit at the expense of unorganized lower income labor. Corporations, on the other hand, were blameless. Naturally.

Daraka Larimore-Hall is an organizer and grad student at UCSB. He’s got a thing or two to say about “big labor.”

Corporations outspend unions 24 to 1 on political donations, and yet they are often discussed as if they are identical threats to the democratic system. Not only do employers have more power in the economy and in the workplace, they have more power in the political process: more money to give, more leverage over elected officials, more access to media.

…And let’s not kid ourselves: there is a moral distance between corporations, which are driven by profit, and democratic organizations which represent millions of people at the bottom of the economic ladder. All things are not equal when they chose to intervene in politics. One does so for the benefit of the many, the other for the benefit of the few. It’s that simple.

A couple years back, Daraka gave a talk at a Campus Dems meeting, where he delivered a call to action along with the most convincing argument I’d heard on the direct correlation between the success of the Democratic party and the strength of union organizing:

It is not an accident that as unions have waned, so has the “traditional” Democratic Party. We can wring our hands and talk about using the internet to "take back America", or we can understand that that fight happens in workplaces and neighborhoods across the United States. It is in organizing drives, Living Wage struggles, house meetings and city council elections from Seattle to Miami. Everywhere, labor is a part of those battles. Unions are far more than a national ATM machine for tepid, “liberal” candidates. Labor is the heart and soul of our progressive future.

On this day (more like every day), labor in California deserves to be commended for a number of victories over the past year, with voters’ rejection of Prop 75, the Living Wage campaign’s success in Santa Barbara, coalition building for immigrant and labor rights around May Day mobilizations, and we can all thank a union-led movement for a successful campaign to pass recent legislation boosting the state minimum wage to $8 by 2008. But given the record of expanding corporate influence and systematic labor suppression in recent decades, there’s clearly still a lot standing in the way of progressive labor policies, and a great deal of work to be done—just not on oh-so-generous day off, right?

August 21, 2006

Same old story.

Between this and an overdose of Lou Dobbs in the airport, I've had about all I can take. Here's my response to a video on the doctored Reuters photos that my friend forwarded me from Aish, a conservative Jewish org:

This makes my blood boil. There's nothing I detest more than misinformation in mainstream news media. But I'm afraid press misinformation is a much broader pandemic, and not in the way one might believe after seeing that video (which was not surprisingly produced by a right-wing religious organization). The video deliberately avoids a much more significant point to push its own agenda.

The truth is, mainstream media in the US is in no hurry to rush to Hezbollah's defense (or the defense of the Lebanese, Palestinian, or Iraqi people, for that matter). What most Americans see and read and hear is utterly uncritical of Israel, just as it is uncritical of the conservative DC establishment--which along with even the most "left-leaning" democrats voted by a huge margin last month to unconditionally endorsed Israel's attacks (that means you, Babs). Israel's role in the instigation of conflict is often neglected by allegedly "liberal" papers like the Times and the Post, and network television leaves considerably more out of its coverage. That's what happens when you've got NBC's parent company building the bombs Israel imports from the U.S.

The organization that created this video is using a time-honored conservative technique--maintaining power by propagating their image as a weak and embattled minority. Think of Christians--"the war on Christmas," or even our friends at The Fund for American Studies--because everyone knows there are too damn many liberals in econ and polisci departments out there, and not enough money in conservative think tanks to raise a whole new generation of conservative leaders!

Regardless of whether those pictures were doctored, the fact is that Israel was responsible for that destruction, teddybear in the foreground or not. Nearly a million have been displaced and over a thousand innocent lives have been taken (many many more on the Lebanese side), and the "Paris of the Middle East" has been decimated. The capture of a soldier does not violate international law. The murder of civilians does, and an Israeli life is no more worthy or news coverage than a Palestinian one or a Lebanese one.

You're certainly not getting the whole truth when outlets give no coverage to the disproportionate toll of Israel military actions on the Lebanese people. Or what about when antiwar viewpoints were silenced in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq? How about the recent ruling by a federal judge that deemed Bush's warrantless wiretapping program unconstitutional--it was ignored entirely (or only discussed by conservative legal experts) in favor of coverage of Ramsey developments. Jon Stewart did the math--10 year old murder of rich white beauty queen>Israel breaking the ceasefire>occupation of Iraq lasting longer than the US invovlement in WWII.

I have a million bones to pick with the media. That's why I want to be involved in its reform. But if one is criticizing the media, it should be for a tendency towards infotainment and the shuttering of opposing views that's so symptomatic of concentrated ownership and conservative corporate domination. So before jumping on the "liberal media" bandwagon ("Reuters is helping the terrorists!"), please consider the much more sophisticated smoke and mirrors techniques employed by the media at large.

P.S. Here's a story on the blogger from LittleGreenFootballs that challenges some of his accusations.

July 23, 2006

Walking the earth

At home for a week between continents, recovering from a wee parasite (I'll spare the details), and reflecting on 2 weeks of intense trekking through Morocco and Andalucia.

The sights and sounds and smells were absolutely mind-blowing on their own, but the people I spent time with have stuck with me even more--hugely insightful, impassioned, and beyond generous locals and travellers from around the world. Together they comprised a tiny sample of the brightest and most open-minded people out there, people I feel so privileged to have met and bonded with so quickly in our short time together. There were so many times when I felt surrounded by such warmth and mutual understanding...when I would be talking to someone, and we'd be trying to express something complex and so much greater than ourselves in a foreign tongue, and despite every artificial barrier that's been built between us, we got one another. No problem. It was so simple we'd be in tears--if only it were always so easy.

This quote articulated that emotion, that feeling that our interactions, and just being there, especially now--watching Beirut on TV in the old medina in Fes--that was impactful in a much larger way:


"If I were 21, I would walk the Earth. I would go barefoot longer; I'd learn how to throw a frisbee, I'd go braless if I were a woman and I would wear no underwear if I were a man. I'd play cards and wear the same pair of jeans until they were so stiff they could get up and strut around the room by themselves...So don't take the short road. Fool around. Have fun...You're not going to get this time back. Don't panic and go to graduate school and law school. This nation has enough frightened, dissatisfied yuppies living in gated communities, driving SUV's and wondering where their youth went. We need you to walk the earth, so that other nations can see the beauty of American youth, rather than seeing our young in combat fatigues behind the barrel of an M-16." --James McBride, Pratt University commencement address class of 2005

Thanks to Allie for this--and for the Morocco suggestions. She's my travel mentor :)

June 25, 2006

She's baaaaaack...

Graduation has yet to hit me like a bus...2 months of travelling this summer will pretty effectively soften the blow and provide for a cooshy landing. But come fall, I'd best have a job--doing some print or broadcast journalism, in theory. Indy stuff- if I'm lucky, at KPFA. In the meantime, thought I'd try to start posting regularly again, get a routine going. Just some pseudo-journalism for now--op-eds from the Daily Nexus.

Hasta la Vista Arnold
Governator’s Surprise Visit Was Simply a Ploy


Published Tuesday May 9, 2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger paid UCSB one of his signature stealth visits in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Touting a new bond initiative as part of his reelection campaign, Schwarzenegger and his crew shut down Davidson Library - to the dismay of those hoping to get a jump on midterm studying - for a cozy press conference. What, you weren’t invited? Not even local law enforcement knew about it until Friday night.

Perhaps Arnold thought that by scheduling his appearance on the morning after Cinco de Mayo he could sidestep protests because everyone would be too hung over to bother. But, au contraire - armed with only their phones and e-mails, tenacious UCSB activists were able to mobilize an impressive “welcome” crew late Friday night.

The governor hasn’t had the best reception in Santa Barbara, to say the least - hundreds turned out last October to protest his hush-hush, invitation-only “town hall” meeting for his failed special election. On the morning after Halloween in 2004, he visited the Elephant Bar in Goleta to endorse Bob Pohl, who lost the 35th District Assembly race to Pedro Nava. Students and concerned community members, there to voice opposition to education funding cuts and the Governor’s pro-business agenda, were written off as “special interests.”

Wherever Schwarzenegger makes an appearance, protests follow. Is it any wonder why he would keep a low profile when his approval rating is second only to the president’s dismal numbers?

When you hear Schwarzenegger touting his unwavering support for education and California students, beware. This man is no friend to higher education. In the past three years he has allowed our fees to rise. Have you seen that money come back to our campus in more classrooms, cheaper textbooks or more financial aid? Or did it go straight to the bank accounts of the UC system’s top staffers in the form of bonuses and outrageous salary hikes?

Let’s all sit back and watch as Schwarzenegger claims credit for freezing our fees this year, when the real credit belongs the UC Student Association (UCSA) and their strong lobbying efforts with legislative leaders and the governor. It was not a benevolent leader, but students themselves that saved us each $500 this year.

But lo and behold, it’s an election year again. We are beginning to hear the rhetoric and shameless pandering from our loving governor. But we see through it. This is all too little, too late. I would at least have expected him to have a few token UCSB students standing behind him at the press conference. No doubt our campus still contains a few star-struck shills who still marvel at how it’s “f-ing sweet that the Terminator is our governor!”

We were also disappointed that Chancellor Henry T. Yang, usually a great champion of students, allowed Davidson Library to close for two hours during midterm time for what was nothing more than a cheap photo-op for political gain.

The upcoming primary election June 6 will be the first step toward getting a real champion of students and higher education into office. Providing much more than empty rhetoric, Democratic candidates like Phil Angelides for governor and Jackie Speier for lieutenant governor have fought for California’s students and schools. If elected in November, we can be sure they will use their political office for substantive change, not photo-ops.

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Readers Should Remain Skeptical of the News They Read, Press Makes Mistake

Published Thursday June 1, 2006

I was extremely disappointed after reading Elana Wenocur’s column (“Iran’s Wristbands Are Reminiscent of Nazi Germany,” Daily Nexus, May 24, 2006). Wenocur expressed her horror upon reading an article by Amir Taher printed in the conservative Canadian National Post about legislation that would institute a dress code for religious minorities in Iran. Her dismay would be quite understandable - if the story were true. However, the column she read - and that many others have undoubtedly been misled by - was a hoax pushed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the preeminent Israeli lobby AIPAC.

On May 19, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement acknowledging that “while it is factual that the Iranian parliament is considering some kind of dress code, there is no evidence of any discussion or legislation concerning badges or the like for Jews and others.” The following day, both Reuters and the Associated Press corroborated ADL’s report, which refuted the National Post author’s claims by obtaining a copy of the Iranian bill and listening to a broadcast of the parliamentary session where it was given preliminary approval. The false allegations have since been acknowledged by the Jewish Week and other pro-Israel publications.

Wenocur’s op-ed was published on the May 24 - the day the National Post issued an apology and retracted its story, and five days after it had first been called into question. Public opinion is built to a large extent upon stories transmitted by the press. Editors are to be held responsible for validating the factual content of columns before they are published and seen by thousands of readers. The media have a solemn responsibility to ensure they do not propagate an alarmist agenda intended to drum up domestic support for belligerent foreign policy.

I feel strongly that it is a civic duty to stay informed on world events and that inflammatory stories like Taheri’s should be viewed with healthy skepticism. Misconceptions are best challenged through education - the hugely successful panel on Iran a couple weeks ago in I.V. Theater was proof that there are many in our community who would rather get informed and seek the truth than hastily jump to conclusions.

It’s important to avoid provocative statements and casually toss around the notion that Iran, or any other nation for that matter, “is developing nuclear weapons.” Unlike Israel, Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It has not violated International Atomic Energy Agency regulations, and according to U.S. intelligence reports, the country is at least a decade away from producing any weapons.

In an effort to promote peace and stability - which ultimately will serve to protect Israel’s interests, too - I think it’s crucial to highlight efforts made toward brokering a diplomatic solution to recent escalations.

Last week the Washington Post reported that President Ahmadinejad followed up his letter to the White House with yet another overture for diplomatic negotiations. Paul Pillar, a recently retired senior CIA Middle East intelligence analyst said, “There is no question in my mind that there has been for some time a desire on the part of the senior Iranian leadership to engage in a dialogue with the United States.”

At this critical moment, it’s in everyone’s best interest to emphasize diplomacy and constructive discourse, and avoid exaggerated rhetoric.

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That last one precipitated a giant pissing contest on the Facebook with an Israeli student. Not the first time that's happened. And from what I've seen after 4 years at UCSB, there's a pretty vocal (to say the least) pro-Israel community at UCSB. The Nexus has successfully engaged these folks and maintained a steady tradition of perpetuating the Arab/Israeli conflict on its editorial pages. That is, of course, when they're not busily debating the finer points of masturbation. Not that there's anything wrong with a little intellectual masturbation now and again, am I right folks? Am I right? Oh the irony and the awful jokes. Yep, I'm blogging again. Only hopefully this time, no one's reading.

And for all the shit I talk about the Nexus, all I gotta say is--man...I'll miss having a surefire way to get published.

March 11, 2006

Faiza Al-Araji brings the realities of Iraq to Isla Vista

I had the chance to interview Iraqi blogger and civil engineer Faiza Al-Araji after facilitating a workshop on corporate media at the rained out IV Peace Fest today. Al-Araji was on Democracy Now! last week with part of a delegation of Iraqi women on a speaking tour through CodePink and Global Exchange. Two of the women scheduled to speak were denied travel visas--their families had been killed, and they were told they couldn't prove they had any incentive to return home after their tour. How's that for twisted logic.

More on Al-Araji's argument that sectarian differences have been exploited as a "divide and conquer" strategy soon. Iraqi authors and bloggers have been among what seems like only a handful of critical voices challenging the "imminent civil war" assumption. It's worth investigating--the whole justification for "staying the course" falls apart if it's true the Iraqi peoples' national identity is stronger than any sectarian affiliation and that disorder is perpetuated mostly by occupying forces.

January 17, 2006

The straw that broke the elephant’s back?

last week in the Daily Nexus...

By most accounts, 2005 was a tough year. In the political realm, it was particularly inauspicious for Republican leadership. Here in California, voters flatly rejected Schwarzenegger’s 50 million dollar waste of a special election, a defeat which prompted an unusually contrite Governator to concede last week, “I have learned my lesson.” Other California politicians didn't have it so easy—Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham was forced to step down in December after admitting he’d accepted millions in bribes.

And Republicans’ troubles only got worse at the federal level. In the Executive branch, Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby resigned after being indicted for lying to officials investigating the potential retaliatory White House outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. And let’s not forget that Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department special counsel that charged Libby, has kept his investigation open, and could ultimately implicate Karl Rove—Bush’s own advisor. In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist came under investigation for insider trading charges, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted for money laundering. DeLay dismissed the charges as a partisan attack, but recently abandoned hope of regaining his seat.

As the year of Republican cronyism drew to a close, the plot grew thicker. Enter Jack Abramoff, “super” lobbyist, who plead guilty last week to 3 felony counts for using millions in casino income to peddle influence in Washington. Abramoff not only gave bribes, but also lavish trips and meals, exclusive tickets, and jobs for relatives to sway Republican lawmakers, who (as we know from our high school civics classes) are forbidden from accepting gifts. Abramoff’s plea deal could see him testify against his former associates. Prior to Abramoff’s plea, a Congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution speculated we could be witnessing the biggest scandal in a century.

Before anyone rushes to the Republican party’s defense and makes this a bipartisan issue, let’s drop the talking points and Bush’s assertion that Abramoff was an “equal money dispensor.” Have a look at the numbers: federal records show that from 2001-2004 Abramoff gave $127,000 to some 200 members of Congress, all of which were Republican. And Bloomberg reports that Abramoff’s clients in the casino business were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors to give more money to Republicans than Democrats. It’s natural clients would donate to both parties, so this does not provide conclusive evidence that Democrats were directly involved.

With Republicans so embroiled in ethical scandals, it’s ironic to reflect back on this time last year, when a swaggering George Bush, having run on a platform of “personal responsibility” won what the mainstream media accepted as the “moral values” election (Christian conservative values). How hypocritical of Republicans to monopolize the moral high ground when they are responsible for the culture of corruption in the nation’s capital.

Far from accountable to their constituencies, Republican representatives have betrayed the public, granting their allegiance overwhelmingly to rich special interests. And the jig is up—even before Abramoff plead guilty, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that 55% of Americans would consider corruption as a deciding issue in the upcoming election, and since then, an AP-Ipsos poll found the public favoring Democratic control over Congress 49 to 36 percent.

Happily, this year is an election year, and provided Democrats aren’t afraid to be a true opposition party and follow through with Reid and Pelosi’s proposed reforms to the stagnant conservative establishment, November will provide a golden opportunity to wrest monopoly control of the legislature from Republican fat cats. The public has a duty to hold their representatives accountable, and it’s well past time that corrupt politicians were denied the power to sledgehammer their pro-corporate welfare, anti-public interest agenda into law.

In the new film Syriana, an oil company exec under investigation insists that “corruption is why we win.” But in reality, corruption is eroding public confidence in the Republican party and reversing that early 90’s revolution of “angry white men” in Congress. Corruption might have gotten them to the capital. But it’s also why this year, they’ll lose their chokehold on Washington.