Archive for January, 2011

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Am I A Racist, Sexist Bastard?

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 26, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Apparently so. And if you’re American, there’s a good chance you are too, in ways you didn’t even realize.

Today I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address with a friend who – and for the record, this would ordinarily be irrelevant – happens to be black. The reason this fact is relevant in this case is because – as a result of talking about the address – we were both reminded of how racist we really are. I’ll explain why in a bit, but first, a little background. I’m in the demographic that largely comprises the teabaggers of America. I’m a white male over forty with a reasonable education who is not what you’d call affluent. However, I’m not one of these guys, and I’m generally about as color blind as a person can be. My most overt forms of racism are usually directed at “my own kind”, i.e. white male business people. Partly because they are often predictably sexist, and at least moderately judgmental based on race, if not in fact secretly racist. But also because over the last couple of decades much of my professional work has been with people from various cultures that are not white American. Specifically: Arab, Central European, and Asian. The basis of a lot of my jabs at white business men is the fact that so many of them frankly have no trust or honor whatsoever in their dealings, and always want some kind of contract. They’ll also never put up a fight when you offer to pay for lunch. To me, these are two harsh reflections on a person’s basic character. I pass on a lot of business because of this mentality, but I’m quite happy being a little reverse racist in my work life if it means not having to do business with people who will never trust me. One more piece of relevant background information is that I live in one of the most culturally diverse cities in America, and that is in fact the only thing I really like about this place. Because if I head about ten miles in any direction, I’ll literally be standing in a corn field. And if I head to the house nearest that corn field, the person who answers the door is likely to be in that teabagger demographic I mentioned earlier. So now that I’ve established my credentials as a card-carrying member of the United Colors of Benetton Generation, let me ask you – if you happen to have voted for Barack Obama – the question my friend asked me. And try to be really honest with yourself… If Obama had campaigned with all the same promises and in the same articulate manner, but had been a white man with a name like Bob Roberts, would you have voted for him? When my friend tabled this question, I jokingly put on a Scissor Gang Mafia pose and in my best Ali G voice said: “You only ask me that question ’cause I are black”. We had a little laugh, then I thought about it, and said “I guess not”. If the choice had been between some white guy spewing Obama’s rhetoric and Hillary Clinton, I probably would have voted for Hillary. Which I then realized makes me racist and sexist. I was voting for change, not a candidate, and change meant “not a white male”. I’ve had other interesting conversations that highlight some of the stealth racism that still exists in abundance in our lives; years ago I worked in a restaurant that had a very tight and family-like, culturally diverse staff. One evening someone started a series of questions that went something like “You’re walking down a city street late at night, and a white man in a business suit is walking toward you on the sidewalk. What do you do?” You then take the same scenario and put a black man in a suit, or a young white guy in a hoodie in it, and so on. You pretty quickly realize that no matter what race you are and how open-minded you think you are, you make a hell of a lot of decisions based on race. And unfortunately, this problem runs much, much deeper than any of us in America like to think. Although satire like Ali G or this Onion News parody (video also below) – in which a judge dictates that a white female teen murderer be tried as a 300 pound black man – can put a thin veneer of humor on the topic, the fact is that – running much deeper than the more obvious forms of racism in daily American life – there’s a vast and entrenched subculture that few are aware of, and fewer discuss. I’m referring of course to America’s racist criminal justice system. If you don’t think there’s still a profound race problem in America, read this piece (unfortunately on HuffPo) by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness . You may be shocked by the numbers, and her observations about how “Jim Crow” racial segregation laws have been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control, and how we haven’t ended the racial caste system in America; we’ve simply redesigned it. I’ve only skimmed the book, but Alexander’s thorough and academic examination of issues like how America’s “War On Drugs” appears to actually be an intentional tool for social stratification throws a lot of our correctional system and urban crime problems into an entirely new light. Read the rest of this entry »

Joan As Police Woman’s “The Deep Field” Maintains The Magic

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 25, 2011 by admin in Music

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Joan Wasser’s band Joan As Police Woman keeps the soulful genius soaring with their new release “The Deep Field”. I just wish I could buy a copy.

Released yesterday. Unless you live in the US.

The fact that I don’t have a copy of my favorite new album – which I listened to twice today – says a lot about the current state of music marketing. More on that further on. First, I just have to say that I’m not sure I have the words to describe the soulful genius of Joan Wasser, and the music she’s been creating with her band Joan As Police Woman, a soulful genius that I’m glad to say she has maintained on her latest release The Deep Field. I tend to agree with whomever it was that said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, and this often misattributed adage is especially fitting in the case of Joan Wasser, because the exacting structure and soaring contours of her work will indeed cause dancing. In your heart, your head, and your feet. The range of expression in her voice – from the plaintively longing, to the wryly knowing, to the joyous and capricious – is a rare treasure in contemporary pop. When you read reviews that use expressions like “full of meditative beauty…ravishing and lovelorn” (Mojo) and “achingly beautiful” (The Word), they really mean it. Wasser’s rich and sophisticated song constructions are the perfect roiling atmosphere for her voice to soar on and dive through, swooping through pain, joy, resurrection, reclamation, ecstasy, anger, and maybe even the occasional coy pout. “The Deep Field” maintains the momentum of her previous two releases Real Life and To Survive, perhaps kicking the overall dynamics up a notch with some perfectly restrained guitar wailing, slightly gritty electric piano, and more dynamic use of horns. The bass work is impeccable too; I was actually relieved to learn that there were five bassists used throughout. I think I would be frightened by a single bass player that could pull off that range of sounds and dynamics. I realize I probably sound like some kind of emissary from The Church Of Joan, so yes, I’ll admit that on top of the tremendous musical admiration, I’m a little crushy on her. How could I not be? The same seasoned but vulnerable beauty that permeates her music is reflected in her eyes and face. She’s like a bluesy neo-classical muse of emotion that can make you smile, cry, wallow in detached melancholy, or nod in knowing agreement at life’s complexly textured revelations. Keep the music coming Joan, I think I may eventually discover bliss via meticulously crafted songwriting if your creation stays on the upward arc it’s following. And the marketing reference I made at the outset? My only disappointment with Joan As Police Woman so far has been that I couldn’t procure the actual album (which I’d been eagerly waiting to do since January 3) yesterday, on what was broadly promoted as the release date. It turns out suddenly that the US release date is February 1 on Amazon, or April 12 if you buy directly from the Joan As Police Woman site. We sent a message to the “Management” e-mail address on the JAPW site yesterday to ask about the yawning chasm between the US and non-US release dates, but haven’t received a reply. I personally listened to the release on a friend’s iPod today, and it was only out of grudging fanboy respect that I said “no thanks” when he offered to let me copy his VBR mp3′s. I’ll be following up with the label to see what gives; this is not a particularly brilliant way to release music in today’s digital marketplace of torrent-happy fans. I myself might even justify paying for the album now, and securing a copy through other means prior to the official US release date. And as I said a few weeks ago, I’m all about buying indy music and not torrenting it these days. But let’s be real – it’s simply common sense that there will be a ton of sales lost in the US because of this, isn’t it?

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold & Volkswagen’s “Fun Theory”

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 24, 2011 by admin in Popular Media

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Hey, you got movie in my product placement! We’re really not sure if this is an article about the pervasiveness of advertising, or a pitch for the seventeen brands mentioned.

This article was not brought to you
by these seventeen sponsors.

I’ve wanted to have children for a long time, but given the expense of raising them and sending them to school these days, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t pursue this 20+ year investment until I could find a corporate sponsor. I jest (I think), but as absurd as this idea sounds, can it really be far off? We’re all more aware of than we were even just a few years ago of how much advertising has become part of the fabric of daily life rather than something we’re “exposed to” from the outside. One of the first great coups was probably when cable television found an audience. There was a time when you could buy a TV and immediately start watching free programs, with your only additional payment being the punishment of occasional commercial interruptions. This was actually a pretty good deal. In fact, the commercials provided a nice break during which you could get up and grab a soda or make a sandwich from the horrifying meat products they might be advertising. But suddenly, one day, you found yourself paying through the nose for the same experience, only with more ads, and the possibility of your programs being shut off if you missed paying the bill. Another great advertising breakthrough was Star Wars. An epic, six part, twelve hour commercial that the public paid millions to see, and then dutifully went out and spent even more millions on, to procure the product tie-ins. Although I personally consider myself immune to advertising, I know I can’t escape it, and that it’s not going away soon. So even though I in fact detest it – if given a moment to reflect on its net effect on society – I remain fascinated with it. I’ve mentioned before that I like television commercials more than the programming these days, and although I obsessively watched most of the first season of Mad Men, I quickly lost interest when it devolved into actual storylines and character exploration. I mean really. If they were going to drift so far off topic, they should have sold commercial time on the DVD’s. I would have kept watching. All of which relates to why I was impressed by two recent masterpieces of advertising innovation. The more impressive of the two is The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the ultra-meta documentary about product placement that was funded by….product placement, and was the first film at Sundance to get picked up for distribution this year. If you haven’t read or heard about it, it’s the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock, the guy that brought us Super Size Me. Which, with hindsight, was probably one of the greatest McDonald’s commercials ever made. It certainly didn’t stop anyone from eating at McDonald’s, and gave them more highbrow media exposure than they had had in years. In fact, I think the last time I ate McDonald’s was right after seeing the film several years ago. You may have noticed a few sentences back that I said “if you haven’t read or heard about it”, because I certainly didn’t receive a screener, so I assume you didn’t either. That’s because Sony is going to make you pay to see this advertisement for Morgan Spurlock and his sponsors Pom juice (which disturbingly reads like “Porn Juice” in certain screen fonts), JetBlue, Ban deodorant, Mini Cooper, Hyatt hotels and the island of Aruba. Now that’s what you call “meta”. There isn’t even a trailer for this film yet, and it’s getting more exposure than Bai Ling’s nipples. The other campaign that impressed me a little recently was Volkswagen’s This is a totally natural progression into a slightly new territory, what one might call the acceptable, self-aware viral campaign. I was first exposed via the Piano Stairs video (also below) when a friend shared it on Facebook. I vaguely noticed it was a Volkswagen project, but didn’t learn more until later, when I wanted to show it to a friend and Googled “Piano Stairs”, which led me to the site. I still didn’t wade through Volkswagen’s pitch about “Fun Theory”, but by golly, I sure think of Volkswagen as a fun brand now, and may just go out and buy one. I hope it has interactive ads for The Greatest Movie Ever Sold holographically embedded in the windshield. Vids below. Read the rest of this entry »

A Perfectionist’s Guide To Enjoying Imperfection

[ 1 Comment ]Posted on January 23, 2011 by admin in Lifestyle & Culture

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Trying to do things perfectly is easy. The hard part can be accepting that you won’t.

No wonder he did so many sketches.
He was in the perpetual planning
stage that plagues perfectionists.

Can you guess who said “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have”? It was Leonardo da Vinci. Can you imagine? What a miserably unhappy fellow he must have been. And a perfect example of one of the pitfalls of being a perfectionist. We often think of a perfectionist as someone who meticulously demands that everything around them be “just so”, imposing their will on others. But I speak from firsthand experience when I say that more commonly, perfectionism manifests itself as a self-defeating, sometime paralyzing life approach that leads to procrastination, disappointment, and an ongoing, low-key dissatisfaction with life in general. I personally didn’t realize that I had this problem until a few years ago. It was brought to my attention in an unexpected way; I had quit drinking, because although I wasn’t having more obvious, “dramatic” problems with alcohol, I recognized that it was significantly diminishing my quality of life. It was a long-time struggling alcoholic that mentioned it. It was a simple, but shocking revelation for me. Prior to that point, I knew that I tended to be extremely organized, a little particular about fine points, and punctual. That sort of thing. But what had never occurred to me was how many things I hadn’t done in life, because unconsciously, I felt I wouldn’t excel at them. On the other hand, I’ve done very daring things in a mediocre way, like skydiving and hang gliding. With hindsight I realize that I secretly thought that things like this somehow made up for all the other things I hadn’t done. Because who can question your willingness to do things when you can inject that kind of experience into a conversation? If you’re not sure if you’re a perfectionist, maybe you you should take this test provided by Discovery Health. If, like me, you get annoyed with the obviousness of the test questions and quit after the first page, you probably have a problem with perfectionism. There are hundreds of articles on perfectionism out there, but one of the more concise summaries I found just now was this one on the University of Texas web site. It defines a lot of the key characteristics and the problems they create in a simple, summarized format. So assuming you’re deciding that maybe you have a problem with perfectionism, how do you fix it? My asking that question is kind of a joke; that’s probably one of the first things you have to get used to. Life is not a state, or a series of states, it’s a process. If you even pause and say “Damn, I think I have a problem with perfectionism”, you’ve begun to fix it. And you may never actually “fix” it. That’s the real secret. Part of dealing with self-defeating perfectionism is simple acceptance of who you are. And accepting that you’re not perfect, may never be, and probably you’re the only one who expects you to be. This piece on Lance Armstrong’s takes a rather in-depth look at the problem, and offers a ton of ideas for working on it. But I have three simple suggestions below. You’ll be surprised that not only will you like you more when you learn to let go of some of your negative perfectionist traits, but other people will too. Life’s too short to mope about lamenting its imperfections. Learn to enjoy its consistently successful chaos. Read the rest of this entry »

I Need A New Drug

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 22, 2011 by admin in Health & Wellness

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Or at least the US government thinks I do.

I knew it. DNA is made of drugs.

Would it trouble you – as it troubled me – to learn that there are plans afoot to significantly restructure the National Institute of Health to enable the pursuit of drug discovery because of concerns that the drug companies aren’t creating enough new drugs? Would you feel better if you knew the plans were being spearheaded by Francis Collins, former director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, which he managed to keep ahead of schedule and under budget while identifying the sequence of all three billion base pairs of the human genome in 2003? If the fact that such a disciplined scientist is at the helm makes you feel better about things, how would you feel if you were to discover that he is also an evangelical Christian who founded the BioLogos Foundation, and the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief? Personally, the only thing that troubled me as I read about the plans to create this new research agency within the NIH was the idea that according to this NYT piece, one of the main motivations for establishing the agency is the fact that in spite of spending billions annually on research, the pharmaceutical industry is cutting research budgets because profits are down. Which should not be surprising, when you ponder the fact that the industry – in spite of historically claiming that drug prices are high to support research – actually spends twice as much on advertising as it does on R & D. Which may also explain why there were only two major mental health drug discoveries in the past century – lithium for the treatment of bipolar disorder in 1949 and Thorazine for the treatment of psychosis in 1950 – and why they still don’t even understand how Lithium works. Which of course hasn’t stopped them from deriving other drugs from it and rushing them to market. In my view, the only concern is do we need more drugs? It will be interesting to see what kind of controversy springs up around these plans; they were quietly announced in December, but they plan to have the new center at the NIH operational by October 2011. What do you think – do we need more drugs, and do we need a government agency developing them?

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