Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Were I Invited to the UN...

Hey, folks. I know it's been a while since last I posted, but after Google decided to not monetize my blog, I was a little disheartened. Even so, I can't stay away from my techno-journal forever, and I have something bouncing around in my head.

Namely, the Palestinian bid for statehood is commanding a lot of my attention. Blame Time and NPR. For those not in the know, Palestine's president, Abbas, is going to the UN to ask for recognition for the occupied nation, giving it observer status (like the Vatican).

Over the past few years, my feelings on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict have changed dramatically. I used to be, if this isn't too dramatic, a Zionist. I had little sympathy for people I viewed as terrorists, launching rockets into Israelites' homes and businesses, which is obviously despicable.

Tell 'em, Daffy.

Reaching college, as it has a tendency to do, opened my eyes to a more nuanced view of the situation. Certainly, there are terrorist elements in the Palestinian nation, people who will not rest until Israel is wiped off the face of the earth. On the other hand, Israel has perpetrated its share of violence against civilians, but that's not "terrorism" because a for real government said it was ok.

People tend to be radicalized by those sorts of crimes, leading to escalation and deep anger. So while the Palestinians are desperate enough, after years of failed negotiations, to go to the UN, Israel is not going to let what it views as a dog off its leash. To Israel, going to the UN represents a disavowal of the negotiations. For Palestine, years of negotiating without progress is just placating talk.

The motivator for both parties, the germ inside that desperation, is fear of losing identity, presence, justice. Yet haven't both sides seen been victimized by oppressors long enough to be able to decide to act with justice and mercy?

A few weeks back, my church discussed the Exodus story, and how whoever is listening at the time puts themselves in the Hebrew's shoes. We then asked ourselves whether that was the case, if we are not, at least occasionally, the Egyptians.

The reason the Egyptians strangled the Hebrew nation was out of fear the Jews would rise up and destroy them. No such thing, of course, happened. Instead, the continuing enslavement of the people caused death and pestilence to descend on the Egyptians.

That, and messing with this guy('s G-d).

I'm forced to wonder is Israel, with America's help, hasn't emulated this despotism. All sorts of economic sanctions are being threatened against Palestine for making this bid, and the first to suffer from those are always the people. It's the sort of punitive "justice" that will only intensify the dichotomy of who appears to be in the right, and who is wrong.

I'm not saying Israel doesn't have valid concerns in Palestine's becoming a nation, but if it does and attacks Israel (which it's doing anyway), Israel must have the rest of the UN on its side when it cracks down. Seems to me, the band-aid strategy of forcing a change in the status quo is the only way to move forward, for Israel to become a country not only democratic within, but without.

Foreign Policy

Monday, June 20, 2011

Batgirl v. Wal-Mart

Women in bat costumes have come to my aid before in making sense of the American political landscape, so I can't say I was very surprised to come across this crusade against the evil of one of my oldest foes: Wal-Mart.

Always staring

Six women who work for Wal-Mart filed a class action lawsuit against the Wal-Mart, the convex of the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith, a tower of commerce plunging humankind into devolution by offering crap we don't want at slightly-less-than-average prices. The suit was over sex discrimination.

While the lower courts held that this could be a class action lawsuit, the Supreme Court, unsurprisingly, did not. It is exactly what is to be expected from a judicial system which can tell unions in Wisconsin they haven't a leg on which they can stand. The system, despite ample evidence of Wal-Mart's shortcomings, has decided to cut the retail giant another break.

When that system fails people over and over again, someone has to step out and make a statement for the rights of these women, and that person is Batgirl.

Female empowerment itself

The above link will take you to a PSA in which Batgirl demands equal pay for the equal work performed by Robin. To be fair, she gets to wear pants, but she's right to put forth the stipulation.

Batgirl has the right idea: if she won't be taken seriously (and Batman won't do so, even when about to explode), then she'll stop working. I would love to see what would happen if the Women of Wal-Mart took the Dominoed Daredoll's (I guess. I looked it up.) tactic for their own. I want to see the Women of Wal-Mart strike and empower themselves.

Not female empowerment

I wonder if the President would have to step in, or if another Ludlow Massacre might happen. Either way, the people who work for Wal-Mart here have a chance to stand up to the largest retail chain in the world, and they have the best reason to do so: they're right.

Me, I try to avoid Wal-Mart whenever I can, and I think it's a good idea for the rest of us to do so, too. Batgirl agrees.

Not that Batgirl

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making Stuff Up

It has long been my understanding that middle-class people work for their money, while the wealthy make their money work for them. The former is the belief that if you work hard enough, long enough you will be successful. The latter means you're going to yoga at ten in the morning, going home and taking a nap.

My recent graduation from Columbia Chicago has me thinking about the school's philosophy and how it intersects with conventional wisdom, because education should never dare to challenge social norms. The pervading thought at Columbia is that you need to find something you can do to make money, and that might mean doing a set job you hate.

I understand this thought process, really I do. I even appreciate it, to a point. Everyone needs to eat, and Lord knows this culture is not going to tolerate the feeding of those who work to stimulate the imaginations of the populace. Next thing you know, we'd be paying teachers a living wage.

The common opinion making this all a necessity is the ubiquitous, "it's hard to make a living being an artist," which is pretty much the same as saying, "it's hard to make money off creativity."

This is rather true, but largely because art is undervalued. My wife has tried on several occasions to illustrate children's books, only to find the author was willing to pay her for the whole project what she should be getting for one two-page spread.

People have a tendency (and you'll find this everywhere) to suggest you should consider taking a pay cut for this sort of thing (or any sort of thing). The grocery store isn't cutting its prices, and neither should we.

Yes, "we." This is about all of us: artists, wait staff, crossing guards, electrical engineers. We should be doing what we are because we have to, either in the sense of "I can't stand the idea of not filmmaking," (in which case it's hard to survive as a non-artist) or "gotta eat."

Either way, creativity is what our jobs need. All of them. For instance, take electrical engineer. You can go to work day in, day out and not put your personal stamp on anything, or you can use your creativity (and yes, science requires creativity) to rework a system and make it more efficient. Too often does shoddy work smack of someone's hand, so rarely is a good idea a personal one.

The reason's simple: you won't be rewarded. The way to fix this is to create a need for our idea. People want movies, but if I can pitch the idea of a Civil War veteran traveling to England to reconnect with his long-lost daughter and trying to stop a plot to seize the country with an army of steam-powered robots, then people want that movie. If you can figure out a different way to bus tables, then that's what you should do.

It amounts to us forcing people to pay for what we give them. This culture needs to value ideas more than stocks, concepts more than bonds and real, life-changing epiphanies over projected profit.

Or we could just pay basketball stars more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

These People are Terrible and it Makes Me Wonder Why

This is the sort of thing people pay spin doctors to cover up, lest they be revealed as the monsters they are. If you don't feel like leaving the warmth of my page, the context is this: a democrat was recruiting gang members in jail to convince current gang members to knock of the shenanigans. While this has been shown to work before, the conservative politicians mixed up in the debacle have distanced themselves from it.

What I can't understand is why this got made: it's just the most offensive thing you can imagine toward women, black people and poor people. Someone had to write this down, someone had to write down that two black guys have to wave around AK-47s while a woman(?) shakes her booty. A vignette of Janice Hahn--the aforementioned democrat who is "bad for America"--floats in the foreground.

Moreover, someone had to put out a casting call for two (I assume) "thuggish-looking black men." And they got two people willing to do it!

But plenty of people do things with no sensibility, like the GOP in NC (am I hip now?) killing Planned Parenthood through budget cuts. Wherever you stand on the abortion issue, this doesn't really make a lot of sense. According to the HuffPost article, "Planned Parenthood says it will now have to axe its teen pregnancy prevention and adolescent parenting programs and force its low-income patients to pay out of pocket."

The people who will be hurt most by the legislation aren't dumb kids who got knocked up and want a quick fix, but rather poor people in a bad situation who want to improve their lives, which might nix the status quo and we just can't have that.

Someone had to sit down--knowing that most of the criticisms about Planned Parenthood are of dubious veracity, that low-income people will be hardest hit and we can afford to give adolescents parenting classes--and make sure the number of people whom Planned Parenthood could help will be drastically cut.

The thing is, it's just that video as legislation: it's not about morals or, really, politics. It's about people in power taking enfranchisement away from people who would otherwise improve their situations. It's racism, misogyny and selfishness.

It's making sure a bitch who don't have much money don't get to keep it, and that's just bad for America.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

And Wouldn't that be a Shame

I try to shy away from chains, and it's really changed the way I look at a place like Target, which I used to think of as a "Wal-Mart for picky people." My last visit to the bulls-eye boutique left me feeling irritated with humanity after watching miserable people waddle around ignoring everyone around them and what kind of world do we live in where all these middle-aged people are working at Target?

At least they're neutral on gay marriage now.

There is one chain I do embrace, and that's Caribou Coffee. I can't help but love that homey atmosphere, and if you're thinking what a sell-out I am, hey, if Howard Zinn can love Dunkin' Donuts coffee, I can have this.

Anyway, one of the reasons I'm tight with the 'Bou is they do, sort of, have a political slant: a major shareholder in the company is a pro-Palestine bank.

I'm not anti-Israel, but I am anti-a lot of the things they do in the name of security and "freedom," which is pretty similar to many of my opinions on America. I like the idea of getting a good cup o' joe and supporting people who want their own country back after it was sliced in two by England.

Pictured above: foreign policy

I understand that Palestine didn't, strictly speaking, have to launch a war against Israel to try to get their land back, and that terrorist actions aren't cricket, but I think America should have a little sympathy for people who decide to fight back against those who don't allow them representation in their government. *Insert belabored comparison to American Revolution here.*

I like to think that when I go to Caribou, I'm helping out my Palestinian friends (yes, I do have Palestinian friends). It's an easy way within the system to maybe convince myself I'm affecting a little change.

Sometimes that change needs to be a little more radical. If you recall my recent article on Americans being all for Egyptians taking control of their government, you'll see people are ready for the idea of bucking the system to get democracy.

Not so surprisingly, the EU doesn't feel this way about Palestine unilaterally declaring themselves a state. They're worried it will "
cause disturbances of the kind we've seen in neighboring Arab countries." Riddle me this: what kind of world do we live in where we deny people self-governance because it might inconvenience us, even when the means of reaching that governance is peaceful?

Libya is pretty much the only country in which the fight has come to blows, and the EU has no right to complain about that, so I suppose the only response is, it's ok to get democracy as long as it doesn't inconvenience the West.

Sorry for answering my own question, but the kind of world where this makes sense is the kind of world where people who should be able to save for retirement are wearing red polo shirts and stocking shelves. Maybe they have more in common with the Palestinians than they think.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Coasters and Patriotism

A while back my parents visited my brother out East, stopping in Chicago both ways to see me. On the return trip, my mom gave me a gift she picked up at the Smithsonian Institute: a set of Beatles coasters. There's four of them (coasters, not Beatles), featuring the covers of my favorite Fab Four albums: Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's and Let it Be. It doesn't matter that our coffee table came from the alley, negating any need for coasters; it was a real nice thought.

It got me to thinking, though, "why would the gift shop from 'America's Attic' carry the penultimate British band's memorabilia". What does it say about America if our repository of pop culture ephemera has been infected with foreign elements. I decided, considering Fonzie's jacket is kept there, not much.


Beatlemania was an American invention just as much as an English one, so in a roundabout sort of way it makes sense to peddle knickknacks emblazoned with the Lads from Liverpool. Realizing that, it dawned on me that if it makes little difference to what America is, it might have something to say about who I am.

You might have heard that Superman has renounced his US citizenship and Mike Huckabee's a little mad about it, going so far to say he "won't buy the comic." I'm sure DC Comics has lost sleep over the loss of Huckabee's patronage.

Huckabee goes on to say that he doesn't cotton to any of this globalization garbage, which is interesting considering that he is a member of a political party which rewards multinational corporations for being, you know, global.

What he's saying is that he doesn't believe in being a citizen of the world, that American Exceptionalism is correct. I can't understand his position, considering that an ordained Christian minister maybe should be for the whole world like its Creator is, but maybe that's just, like, my opinion.

I hold it because I do consider myself a citizen of the world, and maybe that's why at a place where my mom could have bought me any neat little bauble, she chose a British rock band's. Granted, she and I have bonded over the Beatles, but we also share healthy, American appreciations for James Taylor, Carol King and non-coked up Neil Young (who's Canadian, but I didn't know that until just now).

Not my favorite

Huckabee's right in that there are a lot of great things about America, but there are a lot of great things about a lot of countries (not so much with Azerbaijan, but you can't win them all), and I'm going to embrace that every time I protect my table from condensation. Here's to being a citizen of the world.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Doomsday Cult of Free Thought, or, How Standarized Tests will End the World

When I was in high school English, we studied Romeo and Juliet, because if teenagers need one thing, it's to read a story of people their age committing romanticized double suicide after going out for a week. Blue Oyster Cult would be proud.

On the test (constructed mostly of the usual sort of "what, literally, happened?" sorts of questions) was an essay question, "was Count Paris a victim or did he victimize?" I thought this a pretty silly question.

I answered "no," citing that Shakespeare, being a good writer, did not make cardboard cutouts, but rather characters with nuance and motivations beyond a binary system.

Like that, but with a reasoned argument

Instead of being lauded for my lateral thinking, which Sir Ken Robinson would have lauded, my teacher rewarded me with "-5 YOU MUST PICK A SIDE!" It was like being asked who I wanted to win the Superbowl, only more inane.

Of course, this is the sort of thinking championed by recruiting gang members in turf wars and standardized tests, which have gone so far as to use computers to grade essay questions. I doubt they've made a computer sophisticated enough to understand the argument I made, but computers work best when the answer is one of the first four or five letters of the alphabet.

Last night I asked my wife the question from my recent superhero comics post about Superman's powers. When I told her he had all of them, including super-reading retention, she complained I asked her a trick question.

Superman can also be a super-dick, so Jimmy knows all about no-win situations.

I told her that I shouldn't have to give her permission to say "no," but the fact she felt the need for a "none of the above" option is telling: in the American school system, we are taught that only the options presented to you can contain the correct answer.

This thinking is going to kill us all.

If you were asked to solve hunger as a multiple choice question, it might look something like this:

I'm so hungry I can barely lump all 10th-graders together by asking them how to solve global hunger. The answer you should give me is _____________ .

A) Allot more land for farming
B) Build better food with GMOs
C) Lower food prices
D) It'll work itself out

While "D" is clearly wrong, everything else seems to be right. Well, blind men, elephant, you know what I mean? The answer to the question requires creativity, not dogma, but standardized tests (which are informing how students are expected to learn) only offer four or five options.

The problems facing our world, things like food shortages (actually, there's enough food for everyone), oil shortages (also, enough for everyone) and water consumption (guess what) all require thinking outside of binary systems.

It's been said that if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. Makes sense, but we need to take a step back and realize that if we think the way we always have, we'll do what we've always done. We need to stop standardizing thought, since the thinking we're doing doesn't seem to be working, and instead demand of ourselves an education system in which creatively answering questions is rewarded, not punished.

Either that, or we can see how this will pan out for us.