Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Next for the Movement in Wisconsin?

An article I wrote for Justice, newspaper of Socialist Alternative.

Many workers thought they could breathe a sigh of relief when the bill was placed in legal limbo. However, the Republicans declared that, if the legal situation isn’t resolved by the end of June, they will simply re-pass the bill and circumvent the legal challenge.

They have also introduced a whole slew of right-wing legislation and draconian budget cuts that will impact the lives of every Wisconsinite. This ranges from a voter ID bill, to an Arizona-style anti-immigration law, to an all-out assault on public services. This raises the need to rebuild the mass movement to defeat the whole Walker agenda.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tyler, the Creator vs. Lars Von Trier: Offensiveness Smackdown

First things first. You know racism, sexism, homophobia and all that? Yeah, well, those things all suck. They're just bad, no ifs, ands or buts. And when I say "bad", I mean the bad kind of bad, not the good kind. And when I said "bad" that time, I mean the same thing.

However, this does not necessarily mean that saying racist, sexist and homophobic things is inherently bad. For instance, there's this song called "Springtime for Hitler", which is incredibly anti-Semitic, but is, nonetheless hilarious. This is not to say, as post-modernists do, that art must be judged purely on its artistic value and not it's political value. If a work of art talks about racial issues, than it's a political work of art, and the politics must also be judged. But, things do get a bit more complicated.

You have ironic racists and you have people who use irony as a cover for genuine racism. You have crazy harmless people and you have crazy dangerous people. You have art that is meant to shock, and you have art that is meant to convert. And you have those Andy Kaufman types who are to obtuse that you can't quite tell what they're trying to do. And in those instances, you have controversies.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Walkerville, Illinois

With all the shenanigans going on here in Wisconsin, it's easy to overlook the bigger picture. Nationwide, there is an assault on working people. Ohio and Indiana have launched similar attacks on public sector unions. In New Hampshire, they're pushing forward an all out "right to work (for less)" law that would effectively abolish all unions, not just the public sector ones. In Michigan, they've established a "financial martial law" bill that would allow the Governor to unilaterally dissolve any local government he deemed to be spending too much on public services.

And then there's Illinois.

Recently, the Illinois State Senate unanimously passed SB 7, an assault on the teachers union. This bill makes it nearly impossible for teachers to strike (you know, for the children), forces teachers to work extra hours with no extra pay (you know, for the children), makes it easier to lay off teachers (you know, for the children), and makes teacher's pay based on their centering their entire curriculum around standardized tests (you know, for the children).

Friday, March 25, 2011

I Still Exist

You may have noticed I haven't updated my blog in a while. No, I haven't given up blogging to pursue a hip-hop career. I've just been a bit preoccupied for the past few weeks. "Preoccupied with what?" you ask? Well, this:

Things have since quieted down a bit, which is incredibly terrible for the public sector workers of Wisconsin, but good for readers of this blog, because it means I can resume posting things.

I could fill an entire book describing what I've been doing during that intervening time. If I did, it would probably be called Homage to Madisonia. Eventually, I would like to share some of these experiences in detail on my blog, but it will take a bit of time to write them up (a lot of stuff happened in the past few weeks), so my next batch of blog posts will be about other stuff, including the promised Sci-Fa-Lit contribution about Galileo.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sci-Fa-Lit: Introduction

I'm starting a new feature on my blog called "Sci-Fa-Lit" (short for "Science Fact Literature"). Each entry will take a closer look at some book or essay about science (fact, not fiction). It could be about the history of science, the philosophy of science, the politics of science, or the current events of science. Or maybe just a textbook.

Like most of my other blog features, it will be somewhat sporadic. I'll try to update it once a month, but if I'm reviewing a long book, it might take longer. To help you out, I will announce the next two entries at the end of each entry (including this one). I'll also provide a link to either an online version of the text or the book's Amazon page. That way you'll have time to read along.

And, in case you're wondering, the term "Sci-Fa" originates in the 3rd Rock From the Sun episode "Hotel Dick", with special guest George Takei.

The relevant scene occurs at the 5:25 mark.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Buffy Season 8 Concludes

Last month, the eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer reached its stunning conclusion, nearly four years after it began and six and a half hears after the shows series finale. Such is the power of comic books.

The result was a massive 40-issue season bringing in, not only Joss Whedon, but other Buffy writers as well as comic book writers like Brian K. Vaughan into the mix. It included virtually every living character from the show and a few dead ones (I won't spoil them). And also Fray.

I will admit that when I first heard that Joss Whedon was planning on releasing an epic comic book eighth season of Buffy my first reaction was "Why" followed by "aren't you doing Buffy Season 8 and not Angel Season 6?" But, after a rough start, Buffy Season 8 won me over.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Truly Outstanding Albums: John Henry, by They Might Be Giants

In 1965, Bob Dylan introduced electric guitars to the Newport Folk Festival for the first time, and the face of music was irrevocably altered. Never before had anyone thought of using electric guitars in folk music (provided you ignore the Byrds as well as Dylan's own "Bringing it All Back Home" album released earlier that year). And never before had an artist received such unjustified hate for introducing new instruments. And it would never happen again . . . until 1994, when They Might Be Giants released "John Henry".

In the years since the Newport controversy, things have settled a little. Pete Seeger claims he only called for the amps to be shut off, because they were set up poorly and that the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. But the hatred reserved for "John Henry" continues to this day. Pitchfork Media even declared "John Henry" to be "one of the least interesting albums ever released".

While Dylan was crucified for using electric guitars instead of acoustic guitars, They Might Be Giants were crucified for using drums instead of a drum machine.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Check Out This Interview: Inside the Georgia Prison Strike

You may be familiar with the prisoners' strike that occurred in Georgia in December. Or you may not. Despite being a major week-long non-violent strike of prisoners across six prisons, the event got very little media coverage. What coverage there was tended to be horror stories about (gasp) criminals with cell-phones. The prison officials even classified the carefully organized, non-violent protest as a riot.

But one of those prisoners used his contraband cell-phone to give an interview to Ty Moore of Socialist Alternative. I highly recommend giving it a listen. It gives a great inside view of the conditions in the prison, as well as the steps taken in the strike and the reprisals against the strikers.

You can listen to it here. It's 50 minutes long.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Claiming King

To day marks the twenty-fifth anniversary Martin Luther King Day becoming a national holiday. More importantly, it's the first time the holiday has been celebrated since Glenn Beck established himself as following in King's footsteps with his "Rally to Restore Honor". This really makes you think about all of the different people of all stripes who claim King as their own. Consider this:

Glenn Beck the paranoid anti-socialist nut-job is claiming to follow in the footsteps of the guy who said "There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism"!

For people who admit Glenn Beck's full of shit there's this bit of outrageousness. Martin Luther King the anti-Vietnam War activist who was hounded by the FBI, is compared by some, to Barack Obama, who instituted a military surge in Afghanistan and had the FBI raid anti-war activists homes in Minneapolis and Chicago!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gospel According to Phil

You know, Jesus is a pretty strange guy. I mean, a lot of mythological figures can be strange, but it's usually something overt and basic, like having a dog's head or throwing lightning bolts from the sky. Once you can wrap you're head around one or two contradictions the Gods just like you and I. But then there's Jesus. Ignoring all the supernatural water-into-wine stuff, this is a Jew who was killed by the Jews as a collective mass. He said "love thy neighbor" but his followers were responsible for the crusades. Not to mention this is a guy who exorcised one Gadarene Demoniac or two Gadarene Demoniacs depending on who you talk to.

Fortunately Philip Pullman is here to set matters straight. In his latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, he presents a retelling of the gospel, and provides the only rational explanation for all this silliness. Jesus and Christ were two different people! Furthermore they were identical twins!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Edifice of Lies — WikiLeaks Pulls Back the Curtain on U.S. Empire

An article I co-wrote with Brandon Madsen for Socialist Alternative.

On Tuesday, December 7, Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks, was arrested after turning himself in to the Metropolitan Police Service in London. This is the latest in a series of attacks on the organization. The WikiLeaks website has been subjected to denial-of-service attacks. Corporations such as Amazon and PayPal have cut off services to WikiLeaks, while financial institutions such as MasterCard and Visa have been freezing their accounts. Whistleblower Bradley Manning was arrested in May, and faces a military court-martial and up to 52 years in prison.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 10: Julieta Venegas to Zemfira

And so "100 Music Videos" comes to an end. We've gone from '80s synth-pop to Finnish black metal to Australian hip-hop. We've seen works by such acclaimed directors as Tarsem Singh, Michel Gondry, Lars Von Trier, Richard Lester and Spike Lee (and we'll get some Spike Jonze in this installment). We've had a re-imagining of Metropolis and a documentay about the making of Easy Rider. And on occasion, we have had nudity. And meat. And eggs.

For our final installment, we will have Mexican fairy tales and Russian paranoid visions. We'll see a band do their take on a classic '70s sit-com and another band do their take on a classic '60s music video. And the epic battle between XTC and Adam Ant that started in our first installment will conclude in this one. Also, a low-budget goth klezmer birthday song.

So I bid you adieu. Or is it au revoir?

91. Julieta Venegas – Limón y Sal

Saturday, December 4, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 9: Todd Snider to Suzanne Vega

As we near the end of "100 Music Videos", I thought I would share a bit about my "MTV phase" in middle school. Up until 1994 I didn't really pay attention to MTV or music videos or modern rock in general, being more into the Beatles. But then I saw this amazing music video. The song was sort of Beatles-esque psychedelia, but harder, so that was nice. But the video had groundbreaking special effects that just completely wowed me. The song: Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun".

So, naturally, when I was working out what videos to include in this list, that was one of the obvious choices and I went to view it on YouTube. Well the thing about groundbreaking special effects from 1994, is, uh, well, they're not so ground breaking anymore. Also, did you know that, beneath its shiny, clean-cut exterior, suburbia has a dark side? Well I still got a nostalgia kick, but declined to include the video, because I don't think that anybody who wasn't in middle school in 1994 will be able to appreciate it. However, I did include a video by Tool that has groundbreaking special effects from 2001.

So here goes.

81. Todd Snider – You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)

Friday, December 3, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 8: Pulp to Smashing Pumpkins

I believe it was Jon Stewart who said "Have you ever seen Scent of a Woman . . . on weed?!" Well, if Jon Stewart reads my blog, then this installment of "100 Music Videos" is probably the blog entry he would advocate reading . . . on weed! This will be the entry where a bunch of naked cyclists is the least trippy thing going on.

Along the way we will have a video from the director of The Fall followed by a video from the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We have a video about people's eyes preceded by a band made of giant eyeballs. We've got space adventures and supermarket adventures and mountain adventures. And then there's video number 79.

So go forth and watch . . . on weed!

71. Pulp – Common People

Thursday, December 2, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 7: Sinéad O’Connor to Public Enemy

Question: What do the first and last tracks of today's installment of "100 Music Videos", Sinéad O'Connor's "The Emperor's New Clothes" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" have in common? Okay, they came out in the same year, but what else? Answer: Hank Shocklee.

Shocklee was the leader of "The Bomb Squad" an old-school hip-hop production team, known for utilizing a large number of samples, and creating dense, harsh, dissonant beats, influenced by musique concrète, to enhance the lyrics. They produced most of Public Enemies albums, including "Fear of a Black Planet". And Hank Shocklee also produced the incredibly melodic Irish chick rock of "The Emperor's New Clothes". I don't know, I thought that was interesting.

So let's get on with it, shall we?

61. Sinéad O’Connor – The Emperor’s New Clothes [dir. Sophie Muller]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 6: M.I.A. to My Chemical Romance

Today's installment of "100 Music Videos" is brought to you by the letter "M". All of our featured artists start with "M". But "M" stands for things other than "M.I.A." and "MGMT". It also stands for Man, Music, Mozart. And you will find plenty of examples of music on this list. And there will be two groups of men as well, but no Mozart.

More importantly, "M" is for Morris dancing. And Metropolis. These are things we will definitely see more of in this list. There will also be cows. While cow doesn't begin with "M" in English, it does in Italian, so it still applies to the situation at hand.

So let's get on with it.

51. M.I.A. – Sunshowers [dir. Rajesh Touchriver]

WARNING: This video offended somebody somewhere for some reason.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 5: Insane Clown Posse to Corb Lund

For today's installment of "100 Music Videos" I'd like to introduce a game I call "Irony or New Sincerity?" I don't think Alanis Morisette reads this blog, so I will assume you all know what irony is. New Sincerity, on the other hand is a bit more complicated. The idea is that, when something doesn't have indie credibility, but someone likes it anyway, they will pretend they only like it ironically. Then they keep their true feelings bottled up for a really long time, before admitting that they like it unironically. And then they go on obnoxious pseudo-philosophical rant about how admitting this represents some sort of paradigm shift in the way we as a culture perceive art until somebody makes them shut up. And that's new sincerity.

But sometimes there are things that just demand good, old-fashioned irony, so it can be tricky to figure out which one applies to which situation. I'll give you a head start here. The first video on the list: definitely, unequivocally irony. The last video on the list: so inherently awesome that there's no need for either. The rest, you'll have to figure out for yourself.

Let the games begin!

41. Insane Clown Posse – Miracles [dir. Paul Andresen]

Monday, November 29, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 4: Freezepop to The Imagined Village

In our previous installment of "100 Music Videos", I mentioned that, despite being in alphabetical order, you may find some unexpected thematic unity in the entries. This time, nothing. Two of the videos have mice. Two of them are about going to space. But beyond that, today is schizo day.

There are some things that this installment will focus on a bit more than other installments. If you are looking for videos about math, or Australian politics or epic battles between orcs and Nazis, you will find a higher concentration of those topics in this installment than any other one. By which I mean more than nothing.

. . . but I've been talking too much.

31. Freezepop – Less Talk More Rokk

Sunday, November 28, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 3: The Coup to Finntroll

Since I'm arranging these videos in alphabetical order, there isn't any explicit theme for each installment of "100 Music Videos". But sometimes, patterns emerge. On the basis of this installment, I have come do an astonishing conclusion: every single band starting with "D" or "F" is jovial and light hearted, while every single band starting with "E" is dour and serious.

For the most part, this will be a light-hearted installment. We will get to explore the lighter side of war, the lighter side of domestic violence and, most importantly, the lighter side of being hacked to pieces by surgical implements in a demonic hell-bar. Even the lone "C" band in this entry is taking a fairly humorous dissection of inequality in America. All in all it's a laugh riot. At least it would be if it weren't for those few "E" bands coming in and spoiling the mood.

So kick back, break out the nitrous oxide and enjoy (most of) the show!

21. The Coup – Fat Cats and Bigga Fish [dir. Andrei Rozen]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 2: Bijelo Dugme to Bruce Cockburn

I like to think of our first installment in "100 Music Videos" as something of a journey. A journey from Norway all the way over to Iceland. This installment will be an altogether stranger journey, as it begins in a country that no longer exists and ends in a country that most Americans don't believe exists.

We also venture into a wider range of genres, ranging from country to German hip-hop to some crazy made-up bullshit genre called "pronk". We get so see supermodel Kate Moss get murdered, a topless Japanese chick covering herself with sugar and Kate Bush getting gritty. People disappointed in the lack of Jonathan Coulton videos will get a nod. There's something for everyone. In fact, there's even something for unbirthing fetishists (furry fetishists are advised to check out our previous installment).

On with the show!

11. Bijelo Dugme – Lipe Cvatu

Bijelo Dugme - Lipe cvatu
Uploaded by Mr_Kelevra. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Friday, November 26, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 1: A-Ha to Besti Flokkurinn

I now present the first installment of a ten-part series entitled "100 music videos". Like my "Check Out This Thang I Found On Teh Internetz" feature, it exists mainly as an excuse to add blog entries while other people do the work. As the title suggests, it will present one hundred music videos, ten in each installment, covering a range of eras and genres but, each in their own way, somehow pretty cool (don't worry, the ICP entry in the fifth installment is there ironically).

Some ground rules. No fan-made videos (sorry Jonathan Coulton). And there has to be a video online that can be embedded. It has to be reasonably good quality. So I'm not including videos that had the sound removed for copyright reasons (sorry, Prince) or if the only video is an incomplete copy from a VHS tape (sorry, Miranda Sex Garden). Some of the videos may be NSFW. In those cases, I will put a warning before the video that explains what potentially objectionable content may be found therein.

Let the videos commence!

1. A-Ha – Take On Me [dir. Steve Barron]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

North Star: The Life of Peter Camejo

An article I wrote for Socialist Alternative.

Peter Camejo was a well-known political activist from his work in the Vietnam anti-war movement to his challenging of the two-party system with the Green Party and Ralph Nader. Two years after his death from lymphoma, his autobiography North Star: A Memoir has been published. It’s a good read, covering his whole life. In both its strengths and weaknesses, his life provides valuable lessons for future political activists.

He was born in 1939 in New York to Venezuelan parents and he grew up in both Venezuela and the United States. He describes how his childhood experiences in these countries resulted in his early political development:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy Return to Standard Time!

I know a lot of people don't like Daylight Savings Time. This is understandable because Daylight Savings Time kind of silly. However it does have one great advantage: the return to Standard Time. To celebrate this holiday I thought I would share with you what is inarguably the best (and only) return to Standard Time holiday specials on television. That is The Adventures of Pete and Pete episode: "Time Tunnel".

This episode captures all the things we love about the return to standard time. The extra hour (enough time to watch this episode twice with commercials). The fact that going back in time let's you rectify mistakes you may have made the first time round. The riboflavin. Although it does get the time wrong, since you're supposed to change the clocks at 2am not midnight, but that can be explained away by the power of imagination.

But most importantly, it introduced countless children to the phrase "No fog; no fun", a phrase that will forever be associated with the return to Standard Time. Happy return to Standard Time, everybody!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Clowns to the Center, Jokers to the Right

After the Republican victories in the mid-term elections on Tuesday, the response from many people, liberals and Democrats mainly, has been to blame this on collective insanity. On the surface this explanation seems somewhat almost reasonable. After all, if you're so angry about Obama's bail-outs for big business why are you voting for the party responsible for Bush's bail-outs for big business? That's insane!

But, do you know what else is insane? Going to an outdoor rally with this sign:

I mean, come on! When you're outside is precisely when you're supposed to use your outside voice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Math for People Who Don't Do Math Good

I don't need to tell you that the state of our mathematics education is deplorable. For some reason New York Magazine does need to tell you. A few days ago they released an article entitled "The Ten Most Ridiculous Classes Currently Offered at Liberal-Arts Colleges" that showed the terrible state of mathematical literacy amongst writers New York Magazine.

In order to find the ten (10) classes in question, the magazine assembled a panel of five (5) experts to read random course catalogs until they found something that sounded ridiculous. How ridiculous are they? So ridiculous that the authors filed their article under the New York Magazine sections for fuzzy math and math for people who don't do math good.

Actually, the classes they found weren't very ridiculous at all. But the fact that they didn't realize these were perfectly legit shows the disconcerting lack of mathematical understanding in this country. It's sort of like how Iran-Contra proves that Ronald Reagan was write about the evils of big government. The fact that the article decrying the state of mathematical literacy demonstrated a complete lack of mathematical literacy shows that the authors' hysteria was justified.