Free Obama Toy (with a Catch)!

November 6, 2008

obamadoll

Amazon.com had this ad up today. It’s funny enough on its own. Then I thought, there’s an even funnier role reversal here. Shouldn’t they be offering a free McCain doll with purchase of an Obama doll? I’m assuming that popular demand for the winner’s doll would be greater than that of the loser’s. I mean, generally, who pays for the loser’s memorabilia? (That’s akin to buying holiday decorations on the day after. What’s the point, right?)

Maybe Obama’s popularity is so strong right now that a free Obama toy WILL actually get someone to shell out the big bucks for a McCain doll?

Maybe there are some microtrend market studies out there that say more McCain supporters happen to be toy collectors as well. Or maybe more toy collectors happen to support McCain. Who knows.

Get yours while supplies last!


A New President, But the Same Old Homophobia: Proposition 8 Wins in California

November 6, 2008

The sun seemed to shine a whole lot brighter yesterday morning after America voted to get Barack Obama into the White House by an overwhelming margin. The NYTimes headlined: “Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call for Change”. Just as Germany tore down the Berlin Wall, we cast our votes to overcome this conveniently-exclusionary thing called Race. We are Making History.

So, what the hell were the states of California, Florida, and Arizona thinking when they simultaneously voted to BAN same-sex marriages? Let’s stop discrimination but only with regards to Race? Hey, go right ahead with those barriers against same-sex couples? Yes, we are Making History indeed. Who ordered the Rain on Our Parade.

According to the NYTimes yesterday afternoon: In California, 52% voted for a ban on same-sex marriages (already deemed legal by the California Supreme Court back in May). Homophobes in Florida and Arizona won by even bigger margins. Arkansas passed a measure that bars gay men and lesbians from adopting children.

THIRTY states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut consider same-sex marriages legal. Rhode Island and New York recognize marriages performed elsewhere.

Why do religious fundamentalists consider marriages between same-sex partners such a profound and urgent threat to the traditional family unit headed by a male/female partnership? Aren’t the cultural trends towards divorce and single-parenthood even bigger (more logical) threats? And speaking of race, why do so many black and Latino votes support the bans on same-sex marriages?

It seems to me: If you want to fix the family, fix the FAMILY. Don’t blame other people. Don’t exclude alternate lifestyles. Really, Stop The Hate Now.

These bans are crimes against humanity. As Obama’s win unleashes a “Flood of Hope” worldwide, we need to direct some of that energy against the bigots that hide behind the dark cloud of religious fundamentalism.

Yes We Can. Let the Sunshine In.


Hooray for the Sheriff of Cook County

October 23, 2008

In Time Magazine’s October 27 issue, “Verbatim” (its regular page of quick quotations) includes this statement from Sheriff Thomas J. Dart of Cook County, Illinois:

We’re just not going to evict innocent tenants. It stops today.

According to Time, Dart said this upon “suspending foreclosure evictions in the Chicago area because renters were not being properly notified about their landlords’ financial problems.”

Without knowing much else about Dart, his stand struck me as so profoundly and simply human. Yes, let’s just stop kicking people out of their homes. It could be as simple as that. We’ve got to start somewhere.

My Google search led to a CNN article about the sheriff. Apparently, he made the statement on October 8 to protect innocent tenants who are “victimized by an uncaring, reckless system.” On October 16, he announced he would resume evictions but these would be based on specific conditions (see CNN report). Also, that he would hire a social worker to help evictees find alternative housing.

That’s heroic. Yes, one person saying “no more” CAN make a difference.

Of course, CNN also reports that the Illinois Bankers Association is critical of Dart’s actions, saying he was “elected to uphold the law and to fulfill the legal duties of his office, which include serving eviction notices.” Now THAT’s a crime.

blixity to the Illinois Bankers Association: Shut The Fuck Up.

Dart is one public official who seems to be looking out for his public. A blixity tip of the hat to a GOOD MAN in deed.

Photo of Sheriff Dart from http://www.easthazelcrest.com

Church Blesses Weapons of Violence

October 7, 2008

The NYTimes ran this as one of their top photos yesterday. The caption:

A Roman Catholic priest followed by military officials blessed 50 new machine guns in Kauswagan, a town on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, to help the military in its operation against rebels belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The question: Should a priest be blessing machine guns? Should the church be deciding who is worthy of life?

Father, Father: Make love not war.

Photo: Agence France-Presse – Getty Images


Panic in America

October 6, 2008

Last week’s bailout, aka America-rescues-Main-Street-package, seems to have ignited some bad-ass bad-energy—contrary to expectations. The house WAS on fire. Now it seems the entire street, neighborhood, zip code IS on fire.

OOOPS! America’s surge against the recession is NOT working! Oh-kay.

I can only count the days till this vacationing-in-TX-president—with the help of big media and two glaringly unqualified presidential hopefuls—announces the next rescue plan for the current didn’t-quite-rescue-the-economy plan.

Sort of like the next surge in Iraq to fix the last surge, which I think was intended to help the last last surge, and the last last last one, and so on and so on, ummm, five years ago. Same (strategy or tactic). Whichever. Whatever. Same old, same old: we’re screwed. Good thing we’ve got tax breaks for wooden arrows for children. Nothing like training them young.

We fell for this after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Bush declared an endless war and a state of exception that has now become the rule of (non)law. Last week, we seem to have fallen for it again. We’ve now got a multi-billion dollar bailout/rescue plan that’s resulted in a market nose-dive. This sucks—globally.

Bush sure knows how to hit that panic button. And America jumps, with increasingly grave consequences. Fight or flight. That’s all we seem to know. We seem to have forgotten how to take the time to consider our options, to debate strategies and formulate comprehensive tactics, to work towards a short-, mid-, and long-term. It’s all about the here and now, isn’t it?

We’ve got to get a grip, collectively. Time to hit the pause button. Hell can wait.

Photo: Niffty/Neal on flickr


The Seven-Year Itch

September 11, 2008

Seven years ago today, we woke up to a frantic friend’s phone call telling us to switch on the tv. The image of a pair of towers smoking, in flames, has been on a playback loop ever since. The image has been captured, framed, and delivered from so many different visual perspectives and political platforms, by so many people, for so many people. A monumental image in its multiple imprints to fill this monumentally empty crater blasted out of space and time by mad men.

What have we, collectively and individually, done with this image, this absence? As a nation, we’ve decided to fight. Given in to an endless rage that’s begun to erase the boundaries that define a democracy. Scratched the primal itch for war, for many wars. As an individual, what have I decided? This is a crucial question (and thus, the 40+ day blogging hiatus…)

In an attempt to remember an event that changed my life so viscerally, I thought I’d borrow Judith Butler’s words. She writes in “Precarious Life”, a selection of five essays on the “Powers of Mourning and Violence” (Verso, 2004).

That we can be injured, that others can be injured, that we are subject to death at the whim of another, are all reasons for both fear and grief. What is less certain, however, is whether the experiences of vulnerability and loss have to lead straightaway to military violence and retribution. There are other passages. If we are interested in arresting cycles of violence to produce less violent outcomes, it is no doubt important to ask what, politically, might be made of grief besides a cry for war

…What role will we assume in the historical relay of violence, who will we become in the response…?

After the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army adopted the slogan “Be All That You Can Be”. After 20 years in use, it was dropped for the current “An Army of One”. Is that what we have become? Individuals fighting a perpetual war?


A Dinosaur in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

July 11, 2008

Curious grand gestures in public space:

Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has this huge replica of a Brachiosaurus skeleton, a plant-eating dinosaur that apparently lived 150 million years ago. I’d love to meet the airport officials who approved this. Fascinating for its extreme absurdity — and its innovative use of the atrium’s verticality.

Bloomberg, we need one of these at JFK! Okay, outside JFK would be cool too. Attracts tourists. Just like those $15 million fabricated waterfalls. Probably cheaper.


Still Life from a Starbucks Civilization

July 10, 2008

Just before the not-long-enough July 4th weekend, globalized coffeemaker Starbucks announced that it will be closing 600 stores. By now, we’ve heard gleeful reactions from people who support the demise of this Walmart of coffee beans. We’ve also, of course, heard the human side to these closings: 12,000 full- and part-timers are losing their jobs (that’s 7% of Starbucks’ workforce).

I don’t know whether this is good or bad. But the Starbucks phenomenon hints at a critical issue facing countless developing communities (aka emerging markets) around the world: how to negotiate transnational and commercial development (which might bring much-needed basic services like water and electricity) with local culture (which binds people together).

Yesterday I was on a United Airlines flight, reading Paul Ricoeur’s “History and Truth”, which prompted thoughts about Starbucks:

We have the feeling that this single world civilization…exerts a sort of attrition or wearing away at the expense of the cultural resources which have made the great civilizations of the past. This threat is expressed, among other disturbing effects, by the spreading before our eyes of a mediocre civilization which is the absurd counterpart of elementary culture. Everywhere throughout the world, one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda…

And as I’m reading this, I ask for a cup of coffee and what do I get?

One could make an attempt to scream.

Caffeinated, back to Ricoeur:

In order to get on to the road toward modernization, is it necessary to jettison the old cultural past which has been the raison d’etre of a nation?…

It is a fact: every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization.

Looping back to Starbucks’ store closings, though, I’m a bit more optimistic. Sometimes modern civilization just cannot sustain and absorb the shock of local culture.

Hey, some people just DON’T want to unite with the same mass-produced cups of $5 coffee anywhere and everywhere. It’s a start.


Two Artworks Use People as Primary Material

July 7, 2008

Regular People: it’s the art material of the moment.

Last week, Turner Prize winner Antony Gormley won a turn at creating a temporary public artwork for London’s Trafalgar Square. The site is the square’s empty fourth plinth, which has become both a stage for contemporary art experiments and a critical platform from which to question what constitutes a “public”.

The piece is called “The One and The Other”. 2,400 volunteers will occupy the plinth one at a time, for an hour each, 24/7 for a hundred days. These human subjects individually and collectively become the art objects.

In the Independent, Gormley describes:

It’s an opportunity to perform an act of collective creativity, people contributing one hour of their lives that represents Britain now… the exercise will present a national portrait of this time.

…it will be a moment of theatre, someone lifted from common ground and made into an image when they are on top of the plinth … It will be a spectacle, but I’m also concerned about the subjects, what they learn about themselves, exposed in a public arena.

Over at the Tate, another Turner prize winner Martin Creed is exhibiting his new piece “Work No 850”. It consists of a runner sprinting the entire length of the Tate’s neoclassical sculpture galleries. The 86-metre sprints will be “performed” every 30 seconds, from 10am to 6pm, for four months.

In the Telegraph, Creed explains:

Running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So running fast is like the exact opposite of death – it’s an example of aliveness.

While both artists are saying that they are celebrating human-ness, these projects (and similar others) make me uncomfortable. I can’t help thinking that regular people are being turned into material objects intended for display and commodification.

There’s a deep, underlying violence to these creative acts. And neither artist seems to have a clue.

In 1904, a 22-year old pygmy named Ota Benga was taken from his home in the Congo, exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and then put on display as a caged animal in the Bronx Zoo. 40,000 visitors came each day. (He was “rescued” but eventually killed himself.)

It’s 2008. I’m not sure how these artists differ from Ota Benga’s zookeepers a hundred years ago. As they say, the more things change…


Life For Sale On eBay Posts New Sequel: Do We Care?

July 3, 2008

The eBay auction for Ian Usher’s entire life is officially over. The winning bid: AU$399,300 (US$380,286). Unfortunately for Usher, it’s about $100,000 less than what he’d expected. (I suppose everyone’s got recession worries.)

The question is, What’s Next? For starters: a sequel-website. Usher’s original website, http://www.alife4sale.com, now has a link to Part 2: http://www.100goals100weeks.com.

AAARRRGGGGHuhhh.

This move, of course, is part of a not-so-new trend of living one’s life in a collective time and space. We’re way beyond tv culture, and now wading deep into YouTube waters. Life no longer mimics tv content. It IS content — and it’s being documented and broadcasted (or slivercasted) in realtime.

I can’t help thinking about Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show“, a movie released in 1999. From the moment of birth, Truman Burbank’s life is broadcast 24/7 on live tv — without his knowledge or consent. Less than a decade later, we hear of thousands willingly auditioning for the chance to get on reality tv. A chance to live and tell all in public.

As technology allows us to record and archive ever-increasing hordes of data with minimal material costs, we’re seeing more and more of these representations. The itch to document one’s self, one’s loves, one’s property — every moment from every angle — is now getting scratched all the time.

The question becomes: what’s the point of so much information? Really, who cares?

There’s a difference between a photograph, a film, and a video. A photo captures a single frame. Film captures 24 frames per second. HD is at 60 frames per second. Not everything has to be recorded on HD! My point on this tangent being: Edit! Much ado about nothing is, well, boring.

Move on, Usher. Move on.


America’s Collective Anxiety Attack: We Need Group Therapy

July 2, 2008

A wise man at NYT’s Op-Eds, Thomas Friedman, wrote last Sunday about the urgent need to build/rebuild this nation from within. Titled “Anxious in America“, his column stresses:

It’s the state of America now that is the most gripping source of anxiety for Americans, not Al Qaeda or Iraq.

…My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline… We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I remember Bush’s challenge to the world shortly after the maniacal attacks on the WTC towers 7 years ago: “you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. Somehow, these past 7 years have focused so much on “you” or “them”, that our government seems to have lost track of “us”. If there’s no us, then what are we fighting for?

Friedman urges us to dig ourselves out of this hole (aka gigantic crater) by voting for the candidate who will place nation-building as his top priority.

This year, America needs to make a critical political choice, examine its own problems, and buckle down with some hard-working, long-term solutions to rebuild and rebalance. We don’t need any more “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” or dancing ex-stars. We need an American President! And we definitely need group therapy! Are we ready to snap out of this collective depression?


eBay Fined 38.6 Million Euros for Allowing Fake Vuitton Sales

July 1, 2008

In The Guardian: A French court has ordered online auction site eBay to pay luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) a whopping €38.6 million euros in damages for negligence. eBay is charged with allowing independent retailers to use its site to sell fake products.

eBay is to pay €19.28 million to Louis Vuitton Malletier and €17.3 million to Christian Dior Couture for “damage to their brand images and causing moral harm.” Another €3.25 million goes to four LVMH perfume brands for “sales in violation of its authorized network.”

Can someone explain how sales of fake goods cause “moral harm”? Another bout of corporate ridiculousness.

eBay has appealed the ruling, arguing that LVMH is using the specific issue of counterfeits to attack the general trend towards e-commerce and to maintain (declining) control over the brands’ primary sales channels.

Other brands are hovering like vultures: Hermes, Tiffany & Co., and L’Oreal are all suing eBay for similar damages.

Luxury brands that cater to privileged elites (or the wanna-be-privileged elites) don’t mix very well with e-commerce or web platforms, which are largely driven by the mass populace. While the former relies on exclusivity, uniqueness, and tradition, the latter thrives on access, ubiquity, and change. The former would like to keep the latter out — unless of course the commoners are buying directly.

This seems to be what eBay is being punished for: providing an open marketplace for the populace to transact their own goods and services, on their own terms. I’d say it’s the best real-time representation yet of market supply/demand, property valuation, as well as socio-cultural trends.

Policing eBay in favor of corporate property is unfair. Fining eBay for what individuals own and are willing to buy and sell on the site is ludicrous (particularly since we are talking about handbags — not handguns or drugs or porno). How about policing corporate activities to protect individual rights for a change?

Keep our common markets free. Will we ever evolve from the Dark Ages of Extreme Luxury and Corporate Greed?


Chinese Investor Bids $2.1 Million For Lunch With Warren Buffett

June 30, 2008

This year, Forbes named Warren Buffett the richest human being in the world. At 77 years of age, this self-made Nebraskan’s published net worth is US$62 b-b-billion. (Remember, there are 1,000 millions in one billion.)

So, how much would you give to power lunch with Buffett?

Zhao Danyang, a Chinese investment fund manager for Hong Kong’s Pureheart China Growth Investment Fund, won this experience at an eBay auction on Friday. His bid: US$2,110,100. The LA Times called it the “most expensive charity auction ever held on eBay.”

He and seven of his friends will dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City on a mutually agreed-upon date.

It seems that Buffett’s value is the only thing going up nowadays. Last year’s power lunch auction brought in US$650,100 — less than a third of this year’s winning bid. The year before, it was US$351,100.

All proceeds will go to the Glide Foundation, which provides social services to the poor and homeless in San Francisco. With an operating budget of US$12 million, the foundation must be thrilled. Nothing like a nice philanthropic cycle of wealth redistribution every now and again.

Follow the money.


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


Gay Pride in New York City

June 29, 2008

So today we celebrate with great pride. LOTS to be thankful for. Lots more to fight for.

If you’re able: shut your computer down now and go support any one of three main events today (Sunday, June 29), organized by the folks at Heritage of Pride:

Rally at Bryant Park: 42nd St. and 6th Ave., 2 – 6pm

March: begins at 5th + 52nd and does runway down to Christopher + Greenwich St., noon till end; Governor Paterson becomes the first governor to kick off the march

Dance/Fireworks at Pier 54: 13th St. + Hudson River Park, 4 – 10:30pm

Cheers, Queers!

In memory of one of the best, who died of AIDS way too early. Music CAN change a world.