Archive for June, 2009

Thanks for Checking… But I’m Not Here

June 19, 2009
I need to lay low for a minute, so I'm going incognito

I need to lay low for a minute, so I'm going incognito

I’ll be out of town for a while and taking a break from the internets, but check back after June 29 for more posts…

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What’s Next – Are They Going to Try to Block Out the Sun?

June 17, 2009

favela1

My introduction to the “favelas” (slums) of Rio de Janeiro came through watching “City of God” and listening to the speaker-rattling funk carioca music has exploded globally over the past few years. Enjoying these cultural fruits from afar, it’s easy to forget (or completely ignore) the fact that poverty, violence and oppression dominate the lives of those who live in these precariously perched ghettos.

Brazil was the very last country in the Western hemisphere to legally outlaw slavery (in the 1880s) and a vast socio-economic chasm defined largely along racial lines continues to persist in many places like Rio. A journalist friend who used to report from South Africa recently told me that the visceral and widespread animosity against the lower classes was worse in Brazil than anywhere else she had seen.

Like slums all over the world, the favelas in Rio are basically crapped on by the local government. The lack of education opportunities, social services and even basic infrastructure (like functional sewers) in many favelas makes life pretty damn rough. Many of the favelas that the city government has basically abandoned are controlled by gangs. Two years ago, Rio’s governor, Sérgio Cabral Filho called the favelas “a factory for producing criminals.”

Favela photos via JR / www.woostercollective.com

Favela photos via JR / http://www.woostercollective.com

But now that Rio is a finalist to host the 2016 Olympics, the Mayor needs to “clean up the city.”  So what is he doing about that pesky fact that hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised citizens are living in such conditions? Well, according to The Wall Street Journal, his master plan is to build a giant wall around the favelas (apparently starting with the ones that rich people can see from their houses) and then send in 22,000 more cops to crack some heads.

Of course, the justification for these 10-ft cinderblock barriers (which the planners have creatively named “eco-barriers”) is to protect the forests from sprawl — the favelas have expanded geographically by about 7 percent in the last decade. So now the upper classes conveniently have an eco-friendly excuse to support this scheme.

An extreme conclusion would be that Rio’s rich have chosen to prioritize the lives of trees over the lives of people. The favelas inhabit an extreme space.

While building walls between classes of people is certainly nothing new, the goal of the walls is usually to separate groups, not to isolate one of them so completely (with a few notable exceptions, of course).

How could these looming physical barriers not exacerbate the socio-economically isolated position that the residents of the favelas already find themselves in? Rio’s wealthy may temporarily succeed in fortifying the wide, nasty chasm between rich and poor through this “eco-barrier” plan, but the last paragraph of the Wall Street Journal article suggests that this unjust solution will not be a permanent one:

“While laying cinder blocks on a hillside with sweeping views of Rio, Mr. da Silva says, he has had time to think about how to get over the wall he’s helping to build. Grabbing some paper, he diagrammed one idea — break a series of footholds into the cinder blocks. Another idea: Tie a rope to a tree on the other side.”

One more thing: Sure, this is blatant commoditization of culture for purely commercial purposes, but it’s also really cool. Check out this orange juice ad featuring the classic baile funk beat:

But Isn’t Being Broke & Unappreciated Sooo Much Cooler?

June 16, 2009
"The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders who drop bombs and massacre villages." -Banksy

"The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders who drop bombs and massacre villages." -Banksy

Whenever a provocative, up-and-coming “guerrilla” artist transitions from the streets to the gallery world, the backlash is inevitable. So it was no surprise when the haters came slithering out of the woodwork last year when Banksy started selling his pieces for ridiculous gobs of cash to the likes of Brangelina and the rest of the Hollywood set during his stint in LA.

Now, situations like this often warrant justifiable criticism (check my article on Shepard Fairy if you want a good example), but it’s just plain stupid to start disliking an artist, band, etc. just because they’ve gotten popular — and in Banksy’s case, he seems to be doing some of his best work ever now, despite the fact that he’s not just another bloke from Bristol sneaking around in the railyards to stencil witty slogans on train cars anymore.

If he’s going to keep raising the bar with new projects like this jaw-dropping Banksy vs. Bristol Museum show that will be running for FREE all summer in his hometown, I don’t give a shit if Bill Gates joins the Banksy fan club.

Like Florida in 2000, but With Fire

June 14, 2009
Wait your turn, buddy – I’m next in line to give this cop a noogie!

Wait your turn, buddy – I’m next in line to give this cop a noogie!

If you’re looking for the most convincing argument that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s win over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was rigged, check out Juan Cole’s article “Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen.”

This potential election fraud would indicate that the conservative, Islamic hardliners have attempted to strengthen their already formidable stranglehold on Iran’s theocratic government by undemocratically crushing the more liberal/reformist opposition.

There’s really nothing funny about this situation, but I’m the type of person who responds to bad situations with humor. I guess it’s a personal defense mechanism to keep from going crazy as I’m constantly confronted by scenes of death and despair in the media and in the world around me. Some people retreat into a psychological cocoon, some go postal, others immerse themselves in booze, mindless entertainment, religion, or some combination of all those above to numb the pain. I crack jokes.

Anyway, if you’re not in the mood for serious analysis right now and you just want to see some amazing photos from the ongoing riots in Iran accompanied by smart ass captions, keep on scrolling.

Down with Ahmadinejad, Up with the Village People!

Down with Ahmadinejad, up with the Village People! C'mon everybody, you know what time it is..

This guy clearly slammed some Mountain Dew before hitting the streets.

This guy clearly slammed some Mountain Dew before hitting the streets.

One more thing about this situation. American neo-conservatives – the folks who pretty much want to nuke everyone who disagrees with them and build tax-free corporate free trade zones on the ashes – have actually been saying that they hope Ahmadinejad wins! This is like saying that you hope the neighbor you hate doesn’t move away, because then you’ll have nobody to angrily shake your fist at. For an insightful look at why the people who thought invading Iraq was a great idea are now rooting for “the Hitler of our time,” read Rachel Weiner’s article “Right-Wing Neocons Rooting For Ahmadinejad Win” and/or check out this video from Rachel Maddow’s show:

I Can’t Believe All His Muscles Fit into That Puny Little Girly Car

June 12, 2009
Future historians may look back on the events of this week as the symbolizing the moment when the torch of passed from the fading U.S. empire to rising Chinese one.

Future historians may look back on the events of this week as the symbolizing the moment when the torch passed from the fading U.S. empire to rising Chinese one.

China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co Ltd has almost closed a deal to buy the Hummer brand from GM. Meanwhile, former Hummer-enthusiast and living symbol of the American Dream Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now pumped up about driving a car that’s about the size of a first generation iPod.

"I can't believe all my muscles fit in this puny little girly car."

When my mood ring turns blue, that means I'm feeling pensive. *Sigh*

If Muslims are the New Nazis, Does That Make Republicans the New Gypsies?

June 11, 2009
Is this the new face of the white supremecist underground?

Is this the new face of the white supremacist underground?

Crazy people are everywhere. There are crazy lefties who think that Dick Cheny was the mastermind behind 9/11. There are crazy conservatives who think that Obama is the antichrist. There are crazy Christians who think Jesus wants them to gun down doctors, crazy Muslims who think that Allah wants them to blow up fancy hotels, and even crazy college Republicans who think it’s OK to rap about Ayn Rand.

But these people aren’t representative of the larger groups to which they belong—they are nut-job extremists. So even though it’s convenient to condemn a whole group for the actions of some of its fringe “members,” it’s not really fair.

However, it’s totally reasonable to examine how leading voices of these movements respond to extremists in their midst and draw limited conclusions based on those responses. And while most high-profile pundits in the right-wing media and blogosphere have been quick to denounce the disgusting actions of James Wenneker von Brunn, the man who murdered a guard (R.I.P Stephen Johns) at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC today, Debbie Schlussel’s analysis of this incident is just too bonkers not to be called out.

According to Schlussel, the people who should really be blamed for today’s pathetic shooting spree carried out by a 89-year-old white supremacist who had previously written a book praising Adolph Hitler are… MUSLIMS!

“Mr. Von Brunn has been on this planet for 89 years, and he didn’t feel comfortable shooting up a Holocaust museum until now—this new era of ‘tolerance,’ in which we must tolerate the most extremist Muslim behaviors and sentiments,” Schlussel wrote. “Make no mistake. Muslims created this atmosphere where hatred of the Jews is okay and must be ‘tolerated’ as a legitimate point of view.”

Obviously, there’s no need to explain why this argument has more holes than a Osama bin Laden target at gun range in Texas. However, before getting to the really crazy part (just wait), it’s worth mentioning that Schlussel’s articles have been published in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Jerusalem Post, and, according to her bio, “Her online fan club is the Internet’s second largest for a political personality—behind only Ann Coulter.” The point being that she is not an obscure blogger, but a pundit whose voice is heard and legitimized by a large and influential audience.

Now, here’s the really, really crazy part of her arguement:

“Moreover, not only do White supremacists and neo-Nazis work with Muslims in many, many documented cases and investigations*. But they are basically one and the same. The only difference is that one guy is named James and the other guy is named Ahmed.”

There you have it, folks: Muslims are the new neo-Nazis… the neo-neo-Nazis. Oy vey.

*No, she doesn’t cite any examples, because I don’t think there are any.

By the way, if you ever wanted to see a couple of Tucker Carlson wannabees bustin’ mad flows about the capital gains tax rate, here ya go:

Conservatives Worried Sonia Sotomayor Want to Judge Them Long Time

June 6, 2009
"Apparently if you're not white or male, it really doesn't matter what your racial or ethnic identity is. They're all interchangeable. You're just Other." -Feministing

"Apparently if you're not white or male, it really doesn't matter what your racial or ethnic identity is. They're all interchangeable. You're just Other." -Feministing

I frown on generalizations. They are usually dehumanizing and inaccurate. For example, all cops are not “pigs”. Everyone who is favors stricter immigration policies is not a racist.

However, sometimes the origins of stereotypes become painfully clear.

There is a perception among many people, especially people of color, that a segment of the white population that can be crudely lumped together under the “conservative” banner doesn’t really respect “brown” people (to put it lightly).

Would the United States be willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq if those on the other side of bullets and bombs had white skin? Probably not.

Is a justice system where young African-Americans are 6 times more likely to end up behind bars for non-violent drug offenses than whites, even though whites use just as many drugs, really fair?

So you can understand where this stereotype comes from. It is usually conservatives pushing these policies that result in what can fairly be called systemic racial injustice.

Although the term “white supremacist” certainly conjures up extreme images, it’s an accurate description of people who, deep down, really do consider the white race to be superior to all others. Now, I certainly don’t think all conservatives are hardcore racists. That would be a ridiculous generalization. However, when a conservative institution like the National Review publishes a cover like this already-infamous image of Sonia Sotomayor — the first Latin@ to be nominated to the Supreme Court — this stereotype is justifiably strengthened.

By portraying a Puerto Rican-American as an Asian… the magazine seems to be implying that the two ethnicities are interchangeable. What’s the difference between folks from an semi-colonized island a thousand miles from Florida and those other brownish people from across the Pacific that we napalmed in the 70’s? Ha ha, get it?

This cover is pretty astonishing. I’m not outraged, because it’s always been obvious that the editors at the National Review are racist, I’m just surprised that they have revealed their ignorance so blatantly. And especially in such a tacky way. I mean, the execution of this cover makes about as much sense as this video…

If You Thought Toxic Assets Were Bad, Just Wait Until Your Face Melts Off

June 4, 2009

Keeping in line with this week’s theme of California’s economic implosion, check out this clip from Jill Replogle’s California Progress Report article “Toxic Risk Assessment Could Be Thrown Out With the Budget Dust”:

“To the dismay of environmentalists, and health and consumer advocates, the one state office responsible for assessing the risk of toxins in the environment, consumer products and food could become a victim of California budget cuts. Scientists and public health workers are alarmed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to eliminate the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)…”

Here’s the kicker: Under Schwarzenegger’s proposal to disperse OEHHA’s duties among other state agencies, the taxpayers could expect to save the whopping sum of…“well under $150,000.” Just to put this in perspective, we’re facing a $24 billion budget gap.

OK, so maybe Arnold thinks that we all want to be orange-haired mutants like him, but the article makes a good point that there are a lot of industries that don’t really want there to be an effective government agency screening consumer products for toxins and maybe they had a little something to do with this seemingly idiotic proposal. After all, industries whose products contain dangerous chemicals don’t exactly have the best track record of looking out for the public’s safety.

This just seems destined to come back and bite us in the ass, and cost waaaay more money than it “saved.” After the toxins regulators are laid off, how long could it possibly take for some public health crisis to emerge as a direct result? It’s like back in February when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was making fun of spending money on monitoring volcanoes and then a volcano blew up the following month and covered Alaska in ashes.

Maybe it would take a horrible accident to teach Schwarzenegger the dangers of not monitoring toxic chemicals, but it isn’t likely to happen before he terminates the OEHHA and, come to think of it, would we really be able to tell the difference…

"Now I am really the greenest governor... because I glow in the dark. Aaaargh."

"Now I am really the greenest governor... because I glow in the dark. Aaaaaargh."

Sorry AIDS Baby, the Cops Need New Nightsticks

June 3, 2009
GavinNewsom

Dear Jesus, I heard on talk radio that you're mad at me for letting the gays get married, but please do me this one favor and make all the poor people in San Francisco disappear.

Via Jay Barmann at SFist:

“Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed budget for fiscal year 2009-10 which would take affect July 1st, and in it he proposes eliminating 1,600 city jobs and cutting funding to several social service programs, including $23M in services to the mentally ill, addicted and people with HIV/AIDS…. However, there are no proposed layoffs to police or fire personnel.”

Of course it would be naïve to assume that there aren’t plenty of bloated budgets and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy in San Francisco’s government. I get it – the City is broke and Newsom needs to balance the books somehow.

But this plan to slash social services in favor of “law enforcement” spending illustrates the main reason why there are 2.3 million people locked up in this country (a higher rate than anywhere else in the world), and yet more and more folks are getting locked up every day.  The cause-and-effect dynamic here couldn’t be more obvious, so why can’t politicians seem to understand this? Do they think that abused children, alcoholic teen runaways and bipolar crackheads are going to magically get better somehow after you fire all the people who help take care of them?

I’ve talked to social workers in SF and these folks haven’t exactly been livin’ large on expense accounts and driving around in Cadillacs. Most of them are already overworked, underpaid and taking on a massive emotional burden from their often heart-breakingly difficult jobs.

Well, I guess since Newsom is hardly in town anymore because he’s too busy ramping up his campaign for Governor, he’ll barely notice. But for those of us who are out on the streets of the Mission or the Tenderloin every day, those of us who constantly witness the results of a system that utterly fails to take care of the most vulnerable… we can expect to see a lot more misery out there if this budget passes.