Archive for April, 2010

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Your Charitable Donations: Crisis Relief? Or Guilt Relief?

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 30, 2010 by admin in Clean & Green

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Sure, it feels good to give. But it feels even better to see results.

Are you the sort of person who occasionally makes charitable donations? If so, do you ask yourself where the money is really going, or just make the donation and operate with good faith about the idea that you’ve done something good? I personally like to do good when I can (which is less then I’d like!), but have a mildly cynical and pragmatic streak that makes me really question what good is occurring as a result of my donation. For that reason, I’ve always questioned the logic behind organizations like Sierra Club or Greenpeace sending me hefty, glossy-stock packages with pleas for support. Part of me instantly recoils and says “Why should I give you money? So you can send out more pricey direct mail pieces like this?” Although I’m no “expert” on non-profit organizations, I’ve learned a lot from working with one in particular called Amara Conservation. It’s a Kenya-based NGO that I got involved with in its inception stage. It was started by a good friend about a year after I had started a for profit venture doing new media work back in 2000. The reason I’ve stayed committed to doing what I can for Amara since then is because the organization had as one of its fundamental principles a commitment to maintaining low overhead, applying funds as directly as possible, and assessing the durability of any project they engaged in rather than just throwing money at problems or applying band-aid solutions. In the work I’ve done with other non-profits, I’ve often encountered two polar extremes that at first surprised me. On the one hand, a sort of mamby-pamby feel-good-about-yourself attitude that in my opinion produced little in the way of results. On the other extreme, massively-funded operations with heavy corporate sponsorship that seem to become all about brand and fund-raising rather than helping. I’ve often caught a lot of flak about my “cynical philanthropy”, which is why I was glad to run across the blog Blood and Milk, maintained by by Alanna Shaikh. She shares a lot of seemingly cynical but actually dead-on observations like how the work of NGO’s is impeded by a culture of “being nice”, why you shouldn’t even bother starting an NGO and if you choose to anyway, how to succeed. In my view, there’s nothing more ridiculous than a bunch of Americans living their relatively cushy lives and feeling good about themselves because they helped pay for a program that benefits no-one. If you ever have wondered where your donations are going, there are a few useful sites that track and rate non-profits. One of the best-organized I’ve found is Charity Navigator, which offers up extensive reporting on organizational efficiency and capacity, revenue and expenditures, even the salaries of the organizations principles. For general tips and guidelines, try the FTC’s Charity Checklist. And those references earlier to big NGO’s and how they raise funds? You might also look at whether or not the organization is a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) non-profit. Organizations like Sierra Club and Greenpeace are categorized as 501(c)(4), which gives them much more freedom to lobby and engage in politics, among other things.

There’s More To Being A Hillbilly Than Marrying Your Sister

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 29, 2010 by admin in Lifestyle & Culture

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

There may be some basis in reality for the joke “Now that we’re married, does that mean you’re not my sister?”, but without inbreeding, the masterpiece “Dueling Banjos” – and perhaps country music itself – may have been impossible.

The musical genius of dueling banjos would
have been impossible without inbreeding.

I knew when I embarked on the challenge of defining the difference between rednecks, white trash, and now hillbillies (although we’ve touched on the hillbilly tongue before), I had a tough row to hoe. As the spawn of a white trash background myself, I think I’ve finally hit upon one of the most important distinctions. It’s cultural pride. The fact is, there’s no-one more proud than a redneck showing off his new dually at a weekend bonfire or a hillbilly that has finally nailed that banjo riff or nabbed that prize possum without even leaving the porch. Say what you will, but I think we can safely say that hillbillies are a proud lot. And that they only become “white trash” when attempting to become urban. Yep. “White trash” just means “hillbilly with aspirations”. Which gives me, as white trash, additional license to speak freely on this whole topic without being vulnerable to being accused of bigotry. My roots run deep. All the way up the hill, and onto the porch. Because to me, that’s the definition of “hillbilly”. A rockin’ chair, a gun, a banjo, and a porch. And maybe some hooch and some snuff. I mean honestly, what more could a person want than some music and a nice place to reflect on their simple life? Oh. And maybe shoot dinner if it passes by. And shoes? They’re overrated. I would assert that the cultures that have been the most obsessed with footwear also have caused the world the most grief. Frankly, the only negative result of this lifestyle is the inevitable inbreeding that occurs as a result of not wanting to leave the porch just to go get some sex. And while that has unfortunately made it so that many of us cringe when we hear the words “uncle” and “shed” in the same sentence, on the other hand, it also makes possible the sort of musical savant that can play dueling banjos at 240 beats per minute (clip below). And on a slightly serious note, the fact is that the entire multimillion dollar industry that we now call “country music” would not exist today if it weren’t for hillbillies. We’ll be back with one more piece on the broader topic of these white American subcultures, because there are two things we’ve neglected so far. One being a drier anthropological description of the activities of these peoples, the other being a better term for urban hillbilly than “white trash”. There are at least two cities in Michigan that have nicknames that end in “tucky” because of the hillbilly version of pursuing “spatial mobility”; Ypsitucky and Taylortucky. I think it’s time these people had a name that instills a feeling of pride. Read the rest of this entry »

Soviet Animation Is Something You Can’t Go Russian Into

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 28, 2010 by admin in Popular Media

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

A seemingly endless well of Soviet-era animation is popping up on line for your perusal

This image actually has
nothing to do with animation.
I just like the imagery.

Last year we touched on some of the amazing Russian Flash Animation that’s out there, but I had no idea what an amazing body of work existed in terms of Soviet animation in general until I ran into this piece about 80′s Russian animation the other day. I’ve always had a mild fascination with things Russian; especially in the 80′s, when the cold war was sputtering out. I had a fair number of Russian military surplus caps, pins, and jackets, and loved the bold graphic style of Soviet propaganda posters. At the time the Soviet Union not only still existed, it was a dark and mysterious place in western eyes. I’ve also always enjoyed the tough-minded humorous attitude of my Russian friends, which is probably why I’ve threatened to run away and start a Balkan Funk Band. But that’s going to have to wait for a minute, because this Russian animation thing has triggered a wicked case of Wikiphilia, and I’ve got some YouTubing to do. The visual style of Russian animation prior to the 90′s is all over the map, and it’s hard to get a grasp on who did what and why. Some of the coolest stuff may or may not be politically-motivated, and all the best sources for this stuff are in Russian! So I’ve only included two clips below, but if you find this stuff intriguing you might start your trail with some things like this Soyuzmulzfilm channel on YouTube, or Wikipedia pages about the film studios Kievnauchfilm and Soyuzmultfilm. Read the rest of this entry »

Janelle Monáe – Video For “Tightrope” From “The ArchAndroid”

[ 1 Comment ]Posted on April 27, 2010 by admin in Music

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Janelle Monáe is an utterly mind-blowing talent that is sure to change the face of popular music in 2010. My hyperbole is seriously no match for what she does in the video for “Tightrope”

Imagine if Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Shirley Bassey, James Brown, Grace Jones, and Rihanna had a daughter, and Outkast produced her. Scratch that. I don’t think there are really words to describe what Janelle Monáe is up to. Her vocal delivery effortlessly slips between sultry, R&B ballsy, and almost childish in the span of single verse. She moves like there’s no such thing as gravity, and she has a keen sense theatricality. Oh. And she’s gorgeous. I’ll just shut up now. Watch the video. I’ll try to say something useful below.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Lion – M.I.A.’s New Video “Born Free” Is Manely Just Violent

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 26, 2010 by admin in Popular Media

Monday, April 26th, 2010

In much the same way that her political posturing brings more attention to herself than the plight of Sri Lanka, M.I.A.’s new video “Born Free” brings more attention to itself than its message.

Not to be outdone by Erykah Badu, Lady Gaga & Beyoncé, M.I.A.’s new video (below) is much more provocative short film than music video. And while it’s stylishly and cleverly shot  it is – in my opinion – a little short on real finesse. When I first heard about M.I.A. back in 2004 or whenever, I was intrigued; the general indy press buzz and her first releases offered hope of some really creative sounds, paired with a meaningful message. I have to confess that the intrigue wore off fairly quickly. Her limited vocal stylings and the slightly under-inspired remix-rather-than-mashup sounds bothered me less than her seemingly somewhat contrived political posturing. I don’t mind when music comes with a story: I mean, what would blues be without the story? Or jazz, or reggae? But although I don’t question the truth of her personal story, I question the genuineness of how much she cares about the plight of her country. Mostly because she seems pretty at home making a lot of money and being a pop star in the country that arguably caused it. I do on the other hand have to give her a lot of credit for being a sharp business person and pop media manipulation artist. Which makes her latest video kind of “meta”, and ironic. In case you haven’t seen it, I won’t offer up any spoilers. But I will say that much like the way the rest of her work draws much more attention to her as a person than to Sri Lanka’s problems, the new video is getting more attention than the message it seems to try to deliver. Video below. Read the rest of this entry »

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