Friday, September 17

Dude You Have No Quran -- AUTOTUNE REMIX

I'm sure you've heard of the skateboarder who thwarted a planned Quran burning in Texas last week, but have you seen the REMIX?? This is tooo funny:

Thursday, September 16

Robert Rector is an Idiot

Robert Rector is an idiot. I've tried to think of a nicer way to say it, but there isn't one. Robert Rector is an idiot.

The big news of the day is that the poverty rate has jumped to its highest level since 1959. The poverty rate rose to 14.3% in 2009, compared to 13.2% in 2008. Long-term unemployment (unemployment for longer than 6 months) is at its highest level since the 1980s.

So why do I think that Robert Rector is an idiot? Earlier today, in an interview with the Washington Post, Robert Rector was asked:
What is the single most important thing the government could do now that would reduce the number of Americans living in poverty?  
Rector: The single most important thing it could do is articulate a clear and consistent message in low-income communities that it's best to be married before you have children. . . . These are not accidental births. They do not occur in high school. They occur among young adult women who very much want to have a child and don't see marriage as an important precondition. . . . It's likely to be harmful to you as an adult as well as to the child. . . . It's like trying to run an anti-smoking program before you've told people that smoking causes cancer first. . . .We have to create that underlying message first.

At first I thought, maybe this is out of context. The reporter asked him to list only one thing and then chopped up his quote. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I decided to google Rector and his economic perspective. Turns out Rector actually believes adult women who intentionally choose to get pregnant and then refuse to get married are hurting the economy. He wrote a post earlier today titled (and I'm not making this up): Poverty Explodes, Root Cause is the Collapse of Marriage. (And no, I will not be linking to his psycho-talk.) I literally laughed out loud when I read the heading. For a split second I thought it was another blogger mocking Rector, but no, it was Rector himself expanding on the point he made in the interview.

Silly me, I thought poverty slightly rose due to a rising unemployment rate and recession!

This is where I should go on and explain why Rector is wrong. (Poverty today is identical today to what it was in the late 1950s, when the average american family looked quite different from what it does today. And we all know that money troubles can kill relationships. Blah blah blah...)

But I'm not going to put any real effort into refuting what he said because its common sense. Saying anything here is saying too much. We all know the economy sucks. AND, to be completely honest, the cynic in me reads his response as 'all those promiscuous minority women on welfare sucking up our tax dollars...'. Yes, we have a serious problem with child poverty. And yes, shockingly enough, single mothers make less than families with two incomes. But the more I read Rector's interview and his blog post, all I can see is the racism and misogyny.

Does he really think this is what caused the rise in poverty? And does he really think that marriage is the best way to fix our economic troubles? I doubt it. There's something else going on.

What really really bothers me is that this guy gets attention from mainstream media outlets. The interview with the Washington Post was set up as an interview with both a liberal and a conservative on the recent poverty numbers. Why Couldn't the Washington Post come up with a saner conservative? And once they found out this guy was more interested in promoting a culture war than giving rational answers about the economy, couldn't the Washington Post have found someone else? I mean, I'm not a conservative, but I know the standard position is lowering taxes and deregulation. Aren't there a ton of conservatives out there who could have given an answer that actually made sense? I think this just makes the reporter look bad.

Wednesday, September 15

A Rose By Any Other Name

Think Progress has an interesting post up about the corn industry's current attempt to petition the FDA to relabel high fructose corn syrup as 'corn sugar.' This, no doubt, is in response to the current campaign to educate consumers about the hazards of corn syrup. Consumption of corn syrup is at a 20 year low, and instead of confronting the negative press, the industry is trying to avoid it all together.

Obviously I oppose such a measure, but I wonder if this is as terrible as some are projecting. The name change will still have the word 'corn' in the title, and in the internet age, the attention given to the name change will go a long way to counteracting the corn industry's goals. Another consideration is that this is an ingredient, not a free-standing product. I wonder if a consumer savvy enough to read through the long list of ingredients to find 'high fructose corn syrup' would be tricked by this name change.

To me its a good sign that people are becoming more aware of what is in their food. I actually welcome this move, as well as the fight that will result. Its a teaching moment, and I doubt it will do more than spread word on the issue.

And I really don't think that the Obama FDA, with its focus on fighting obesity, would approve this petition.

Carnival Time!

My recent review of Frontline: College Inc. was featured in Bellringer's latest education carnival. Check it out! Other issues featured in the carnival are teacher's salaries, special ed teachers on twitter, and movies in the classroom.

Tuesday, September 14

Follow-up on the Iowa Egg Recall

The story of the Iowa egg recall still has a lot of unanswered questions. Wright County Egg's facilities tested positive for Salmonella over 400 times in the last two years. That's a scary number. What is scarier is that a single outbreak can lead to the potential contamination of a half billion eggs. That's exactly what could have happened here. Wright County Eggs is a huge egg producer, supplying over three-quarters of the country's eggs.

Food, Inc.I didn't spend much time on it in my review of Food, Inc., but the possibility of mass contamination is one thing the movie strongly cautions its viewers about. The movie shows the process of meat packing in the country today, and point out that one single burger has the potential to contain meat from several different cows. Because the industry is in such few hands, as is the egg industry, one contaminated cow could mix with and spread to meat all over the country. This has the potential to lead to outbreak on a wide-spread geographical scale. To anyone interested in how chickens are farmed in this country, I highly recommend watching this movie. It spends quite a bit of time interviewing chicken farmers and includes footage of a chicken facility. It also talks about the horrible financial straights of modern-day chicken farmers.

So how do you solve this? Going to your local producer, as appealing and obvious as that may seem, isn't really a possibility. The supply simply isn't there. It is also costly. Cage-free eggs cost more than mass produced eggs. The solution has to be regulatory in nature. The articles on this issue make it seem as though appropriate legislation is in place, but no one seems to know if Wright Country Farms followed through on all of their testing requirements. When you're talking about the producer of three-quarters of the nations eggs, this is simply just unacceptable. Nobody knows if at anytime in the last two years, they tested eggs produces in contaminated facilities for Salmonella? Why is nobody enforcing these requirements? Why do 1,500 people have to get sick before we realize how vulnerable our egg supply is to contamination?

Monday, September 13

Frontline: Obama's Deal

Despite how much it has been discussed, I'm surprised by how few people actually know what the health care bill passed earlier this year actually contains. Frontline: Obama's Deal (available for streaming on the PBS website) pulls the curtain back on the bill, explaining the long process and series of deals that lead to the final bill.  Frontline, however, is not for a lay audience. If someone unfamiliar with the bill watches this, they will walk away unsure of what passed. Was it the public option? A mandate? A funding bill for Nebraska? There's no way to know based on Frontline alone.

The movie starts with Obama's first mistake, the nomination of Daschle and goes through the long list of slip-ups: the priority placed on a bipartisan outcome, the failure to defend Ted Kennedy's seat, the backroom deals.

Frontline tries to show the two sides of Obama: the inspirational side, and the practical deal maker. In the oversimplified vision portrayed, the deal maker comes off as a failure, and the inspirational side wins the day. Frontline rightfully hammers Obama for working with the lobbyists he attacked in his campaign. Senator Max Baucus comes off looking like a health insurance company lobbyist in training.

Then came the tea party and all of the ugliness and the anger that came to the surface last year. According to Frontline, this killed any prospect of a deal (even though it was clear that bipartisanship was effectively dead before this). And then there was Joe Wilson's "you lie" moment. But Frontline made no mention on what ignited the tea party to begin with. No mention Sarah Palin or why anyone believed that there would be death panels. You really can't tell the story of the debate and leave the fear mongering out. Why were these people so animated? This is a massive omission and makes the story incoherent. Tea partiers upset over bailouts angrily shouted down healthcare reform? Is that really all Frontline is willing to say? This was incredibly disappointing and a whitewash of what actually happened, and that's putting it lightly.

Thursday, September 9

In Debt We Trust

In Debt We TrustI chose this movie because it was a warning about consumer credit and the national savings rate prior to the current financial crisis. Consumer debt has doubled in the last 10 years. When this movie was made in 2006, consumer debt was at about $2 trillion. When mortgages are included, total consumer debt is about $7 trillion. This money is owed to fewer and fewer companies. 10 banks dominate 92% of the industry. After our recent series of bailouts, the industry today has consolidated even more. The movie points out that the largest contributors to political campaigns in the US are these financial institutions.

The movie spends a lot of time interviewing people who are behind on their bills or shuffle debt around from one credit card to another. Another section is devoted to the marketing of cards. I think this focus on this is misplaced. A major issue mentioned in this movie and should be focused on more is the issue of rising interest rates, late fees, and finance charges. Much of this was addressed in the credit card bill passed last year. The movie also discusses rent-to-own establishments and tax advance offers with very high loans. The filmmaker also gets kudos for outing the subprime mortgage as a predatory lending scam years before it was cool to say so.

Beyond that, the biggest problem we face is that we live in a culture of consumption. Financing and refinancing mortgages, according to the movie, is creating serfdom of the 21st century. According to the people interviewed, most people will not pay off their homes during their lifetime and will spend their whole lives serving those debts. All of this is going on in an atmosphere of stagnant income and rising costs for health, housing, and education.

This movie has an honorable mission but it fails because it talks down to its viewers. The movie generally talks about deregulation and favorable court decisions. There are no specifics. The filmmaker goes to Wilmington,
Delaware to talk about political corruption but says nothing concerete about any particular law or politician. A bankruptcy attorney who was interviewed called credit cards evil. To really hit home, the movie needed to be more specific and concrete and not spend so much time in emotional fluff. Simply saying we need legislation and regulation is not a solution.

The exception to this was coverage of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill, which the movie handled very well. Highlighting this give-away to the credit card companies is important. Ted Kennedy's floor speech was especially poignant. The bill limits the ways in which people can file for bankruptcy protection. One notable change is that, thanks to the bill, student loans can no longer be discharged in bankruptcy. This was a basically a give away to the industry. Prior to the bill, student loans were one of the most profitable types of loans. There was no need to 'reform' this type of loan. Also notable, was that the bill, passed a year after Hurricane Katrina, floods were also ruled out as a ground for bankruptcy. The recommends that we watch the K Street Gang, and I think I will. The book focuses on the Republican party, but this is a problem that affects both parties. Joe Biden is from Delaware, and both Obama and Biden voted for the Bankruptcy Bill. You can currently buy it used for $0.01 on Amazon, but, ironically enough, you need a credit card to buy it online!

Tuesday, September 7

Sounds about right

Netflix has added a new recommended category to my home screen: Cerebral Fight-the-System Documentaries.

Sunday, September 5

How to Cook Your Life: A cooking class with Zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown

How to Cook Your LifeHow to Cook Your Life is probably the most interesting documentary title I've heard of in a long time. Its why I decided to try this movie. It is very Zen and beyond bizarre. I couldn't make it through 15 minutes. I didn't want to watch a bunch of Buddhists knead dough and discuss the taste of puffy bread. For those who enjoy "patience grass," try the movie on Netflix. Everyone else should stay away.

Quote of the Day

Frank Rich, Freedom's Just Another Word
It’s a mystery why a candidate so attuned to the nation’s pulse, most especially on the matter of war, has grown tone deaf in office. On Tuesday, Obama asked the country to turn the page on Iraq as if that were as easy as, say, voting for him in 2008. His brief rhetorical pivot from the war to the economy only raised the question of why the crisis of joblessness has not merited a prime-time Oval Office speech of its own. 

I couldn't have said it any better. Obama's ineffectiveness on the economy is frustrating, and his position on the war is indistinguishable from his predecessor. I recently read a blog post in which the author accidentally wrote Bush instead of Obama. I couldn't help but laugh. I thought it was quite fitting.

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc.Food, Inc. starts by telling us that the food industry doesn't want us to know where our food comes from, because if we knew, we wouldn't eat it. The documentary wants the world to know that the way we produce food has changed. It is no longer farm-based, and is now factory-based. Its an industry that abuses animals and their workers as well.

I was especially excited to hear the input of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. He points out that a very high percentage of our food is just a clever rearrangement and processing of corn. According to him, corn has conquered the food world. This is because the government subsidizes corn, allowing it to be produced below the cost of production. High-fructose corn syrup and a lot of other extracts are partially responsible for the rise in obesity in this country. It is also the main ingredients in feeds, including fish feeds. The "bad" calories are made cheap, and healthy calories are more expensive, making income the biggest risk factor for obesity.

What really bothers me about this topic, however, is the animal cruelty. A typical mass-produced will never see sunlight and is physically unable to take more than a few steps at a time. I'm sure we've all heard about downer cows.

Visually, the movie is well done. The camera angles and animations are very creative and look amazing. Some scenes, however, are hard to watch but in a movie on this subject, that is to be expected. It is not nearlly as bad as a PETA brochure.

In the wake of the recent Iowa egg recall, I recommend that anyone interested in food safety look into and advocate for Kevin's Law.

The interesting angle that I hadn't heard of before is that of genetically modified plants and the companies that hold patents on those plant seeds. The documentary makes it clear that these companies are abusing IP law the judicial and regulatory systems to harass farmers, some of which do not use their products. The fact that really irks me is that Clarence Thomas, a former Monsanto attorney, wrote a major decision on the issue of seed patents. In the interest of fairness, he should have recused himself. From what I know about Justice Thomas though, I'm not surprised that he did not. I really want to spend more time researching the patent issues here. They are absolutely fascinating.

Saturday, September 4

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare At GoatsNetflix has been recommending that I watch The Men Who Stare At Goats for months now, so tonight I decided to give it a shot. It is based on a book by the same name and stars George Clooney (of course) and Ewan McGregor.

The basic premise is that a journalist whose life falls apart decides to go to Iraq in order to win his wife back. He meets a "super soldier jedi warrior" who was trained by the US military to have psychic and other paranormal powers. The point was to create a new military based on spreading 1960's style peace and love called the New Earth Army. As you can tell, the plot line is absolutely bizarre, even for George Clooney.

The movie claims that more of it is true that you would believe, which is incredibly creepy. It really is a very odd movie, mainly based on the commentary style, which I'm guessing is taken directly from the book. Despite its strangeness, the movie is still really funny. It also contains subtle commentary on the privatization of the Iraq war and the Bush administration's misguided Iraq policies. Overall it isn't for everyone, but for those with an open mind, I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 3

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Blue Gold: World Water WarsToday's documentary is Blue Gold: World Water Wars. It is based on the book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. The movie is intense and emotionally demanding, and purposefully so.  I had to turn away during a couple of scenes, including one showing a protester that had been shot in the face.

Blue Gold opens by showing that a stable water supply is a basis for civiliation. According to the documentary, we are entering a unique stage of history where water is being used for profit. The world water crisis has created a situation in which water is a precious commodity that only the rich can afford. We are living in a world where more children die from waterborne diseases than AIDS or war.

The movie is very critical of the World Bank and the WTO. One commentator calls WTO rules the new colonialism and another wonders why the MDGs do not include pollution. The movie also discusses the Bush family purchasing land in Paraguay and speculates that the family is shifting from black gold (oil) to blue gold.

The movie is heavy on background, but only the last third of the movie depicts examples of actual water wars and potential solutions. This I think is a mistake.  The movie spends too much time talking about corporate control of water, and not enough on the practical effects of the problem or what can be done about it. They also missed the biggest water war of them all: the conflict of Israel. The only mention of the region was to mention Israel's toilet system. To make a movie about water conflicts without any mention of the middle east, even areas where religious conflicts are not part of the issue, is an amazing oversight. The region is living through the problems that the movie makers are warning the rest of the world about. As the movie says, water is power. Take a quick look: