Tag Archives: Bjorn Karlman

Swedish Cartoonist’s Still-Deadly Naiveté

Fotolia_294779_XS

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was back in the news this week after it had been discovered that seven arrests had been made in Ireland due to a plot to kill him. In 2007, Vilks’ work depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog was published in the Swedish Nerikes Allehanda newspaper. Vilks’ work had originally been featured in an arts project before it was published by the paper. It caused widespread anger in the Muslim world as well as a bounty of $100,000 to be placed on his head by a group linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq and, as the BBC reports, “a 50% bonus if he was ‘slaughtered like a lamb’ by having his throat cut.”

After the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and created the country’s biggest international blowup since World War II, you would have thought basic common sense would have discouraged any similarly-inspired artwork.  But no, Vilks carried on and his work caused such an uproar that Sweden’s embassy in Pakistan had to express regret over his art and the subsequent hurt caused while stating that it could not prevent the publication of the material because it would interfere with the freedom of the press.

Vilks at the time chimed in saying that his work was art and told the Associated Press, “I’m not against Islam. Everybody knows that…”  The Christian Science Monitor quoted Vilks after the $100,000 bounty had been placed on his head: “I suppose this makes my art project a bit more serious. It’s also good to know how much one is worth.”  The same article reports that Vilks created his controversial art “as an editorial comment on self-censorship, freedom of expression, and religion.”

The BBC, in an August 31, 2007 piece, quotes Pakistan’s foreign ministry on “what it described as a growing tendency ‘among some Europeans to mix the freedom of expression with an outright and deliberate insult to 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide… Such acts deeply undermine the efforts of those who seek to promote respect and understanding among religions and civilisations…’ ”

How do you react to such sentiment?  You could go the route of conservative political commentator, Tony Blankley.  After the cartoonist behind the original Danish work, Kurt Westergaard, was attacked in his home by a Somali Muslim, Blankley railed against the fact that “most European journalistic commentary argued that Western writers and artists should, for prudence sake, abstain from such (allegedly blasphemous) expression..”

Said Blankley, “…it is worse than imprudent for Americans (or Europeans) to give up freedoms and ways of life that have been defended for centuries by the martial sacrifice of our ancestors (and current warriors) — and by the intellectual courage of our writers and artists — just because our morally feeble, self-proclaimed ‘educated class’ and elites have lost the will to defend our civilization.”

What Blankley seems to miss is that the problem has very little to do with defending Western civilization and every bit to do with basic intercultural relations.  Just because the free world embraces freedom of speech does not mean that all forms of reason and restraint and respect for cultural and religious differences should be cast to the wind.  Freedom of religion and expression are a basic right in the free world but there are limits; anti-hate speech legislation exist in a number of Western countries that prevent expression of hateful rhetoric based on factors such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

With current anti-Islamic sentiment at record highs, there is little difference between irresponsible (blasphemous, in the eyes of some) art depicting Muhammad, and hateful propaganda.  Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are important rights and should remain so.  But cultural cretins like Vilks should think carefully about the responsibilities that come with such freedoms.

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Bjorn Karlman

Quick Solution to American Tubbiness? Fat Chance.

fat person

“Would you give the fat guy next to you the same deference as the tall guy behind you? Why or why not?”  Slate asked the question after the Twitter/media storm surrounding director/actor Kevin Smith’s February 13, 2010 ejection from a Southwest flight for being too fat.

“Dear @SouthwestAir – I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?” Smith tweeted.  As he landed in Burbank, after being seated on another flight, Smith followed up with “Hey @SouthwestAir! I’ve landed in Burbank. Don’t worry: wall of the plane was opened & I was airlifted out while Richard Simmons supervised.”.

And Smith did not stop there.  “Go F**k Yourself , Southwest Airlines” was the title of his SMODCAST (116) in which he blasted the airline for being the “Greyhound of the Air” and swore he would never fly with them again.  Wikipedia claims that Smith pummeled Southwest with 24 further YouTube videos about the event.

Southwest apologized to Smith and responded on its blog in a post titled Not so Silent Bob, citing the comfort of other passengers and the priority of a “timely (emergency) exit from the aircraft” as priorities that led to their actions.  Smith’s Twitter followers were divided in their response to his anger.  Of course, Smith had sympathizers.   But Slate did a good job of compiling the comments of some of his followers that felt Southwest was justified in its actions and that Smith’s tubbiness was the actual problem:

1. “sitting next to someone bulging into my seat for 6 hours is agonizing”
2. “unfortunately each ticket is
allocated a weight.”
3. “access 2 every option for weight loss yet
u don’t take advantage. why?”
4. “You’re big, you’re rich,
pay for the 2nd seat and stop griping.”
5. “why weren’t you
first class(?)

These replies may be appropriate for Twitter but the PR nightmare that hit Southwest from Smith’s new media-savvy fury was enough to remind any company that anything that even vaguely resembles discrimination against obese people has huge firestorm potential.  The anti-PC crowd will jump on this as another example of what they see as the gutless tendency of mainstream culture to label issues as taboo and therefore necessitating extreme tiptoeing and denial.  But then this is the same crowd of buffoons that blasts gays, thinks racial humor is funny and speak nostalgically of a time when shooting your mouth off was the norm.  “Eat less” would be their advice to the Smiths of the world.  “Talk less” seems to be society’s reply to them.

So how do you appropriately treat the issue of obesity in American culture? On the one hand we push fad diets and the lean ideal, and on the other, our lifestyle (left unchecked) leads straight to plus-sized waist lines.  If you attempt systemic change through education, you could end up like Michelle Obama, who, in her campaign against childhood obesity, was heavily critiqued for speaking of her concern for her own children’s body mass index (BMI) woes. Denial won’t work either: It will only ensure that our next 50 years look like the previous half-century of fast-food-fueled fatness.  It seems innovation and some risk-taking could help.  For all their faults, Americans have an impressive ability to rise to the occasion and rethink life.  This could come in useful.  Until then, lift your armrest for Kevin Smith.

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Bjorn Karlman

It’s All in the Wrapping – Marketing Condoms for Under-Sized Peckers

Size is important

Here’s a fact to chew on: 45 % of men ‘fess up to wearing a condom that did not fit them in the last three months. Before you get all riled up about how irresponsible this is, understand the pressure that is on both males and the condom industry.  Just like the “no idea is a bad idea” mantra in conventional brainstorming, “no penis is a small penis” seems to be the enduring anthem of the condom industry.

Think about it: What condom manufacturer in their right mind is going to call one of their sizes “small”?  As Menachem Kaiser in “The Challenge of Marketing Small Condoms” (The Atlantic) puts it, “There are products where smallness is a marketing virtue, like cellphones or thong underwear. But small condoms are a marketing nightmare.” The article points out that the closest a condom manufacturer comes to indicating size is the carefully-worded “Snugger Fit” marketed by LifeStyles.

The confusion around condom sizing and the cultural pressure to avoid admitting to anything less than a crankshaft of a penis has obvious sexual health repercussions. Kaiser says of those men who admitted to wearing badly-fitting sheaths: “The misfits were significantly more likely to report breakage and slippage, along with difficulty reaching orgasm, both for their partners and for themselves, and a host of other sexual mishaps. Not surprisingly, men with ill-fitting condoms were more likely to take them off before sex was even over — all of which adds up to a massive failure for the one job a condom exists to fulfill.”

So how do you market minus-sized condoms to a “size matters”, “bigger is better” culture? You lie. Kaiser points out that Dr. Bill Yarber, of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Indiana, recommends re-labeling small condoms as “large”, regular as “extra-large” and so on.  Of course, as Kaiser points out, this invites ridiculous confusion and, “Yarber’s plan would have the true-to-life Magnum man in a pinch: his previously large-enough condoms would suddenly be a tight fit.”

Other options include spray-on condoms that are too much drama/time.  Also, vendors like TheyFit offer 70 different sizes that virtually guarantee a match for each man, but this craves some time-sensitive measuring and, Kaiser notes, “The site thoughtfully warns, ‘Watch out for paper cuts!’ ”

In a follow-up article to Kaiser’s, Judy Berman in Salon wrote,Shocker: Small Condoms Don’t Sell”. Berman’s conclusion: “…perhaps what needs to change, if we really want our protection to protect us, isn’t whether we call a condom ‘small’ or ‘large’ so much as our own harsh judgments about guys’ penis size.”  But let’s be real, we’ve gone for untold millennia pontificating on penises and that is as likely to change as is the size of the male ego.

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Bjorn Karlman

Running On Empty: New Information on Post-Iraq Invasion Blair

Empty Gas Tank 2

Tony Blair was going to resign as UK Prime Minister back in 2004. After inciting the biggest culture clash in modern UK history by supporting Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Blair was a very depressed man. The End of the Party, a new book to be published March 1, 2010 by the The Observer‘s Andrew Rawnsley says (according to The Guardian), “Tony Blair descended into such a deep depression after the Iraq war that he told Gordon Brown and John Prescott (both key figures in his administration) that he would quit No. 10 [the PM’s office] the following summer.”

The End of the Party describes how Blair’s special envoy in Iraq briefed Blair at the end of his time in Iraq that the conditions were “unbelievably bad” and would deteriorate further. ” ‘What can we do?’ pleaded Blair. ‘We have told them [the Americans] again and again what we think is necessary. If it doesn’t happen, what can we do?’ Greenstock was left with the image of the prime minister ‘tearing his hair’ over Iraq and ‘throwing his hands in the air’.” (The Guardian)

In supporting what was seen by the British public as an oil-greedy mistake by a blood-thirsty dimwit with Daddy’s agenda, Blair committed the unpardonable sin.  The British public was much more skeptical about the war than the American public. While American reactions to Bush’s actions were often divided along party lines, British disdain for Blair was overwhelming.  Blair was openly referred to as Bush’s poodle, a sell-out willing to compromise his integrity to preserve Britain’s then-coveted “special relationship” with the US.

“He was very low, he was very lonely and he was very tired,” Rawnsley quotes Blair’s friend and colleague, Tessa Jowell, as saying about Blair at the depth of his misery.  Blair’s stress level was so high that he says he “spaced out” several times during the time-honored British tradition of Prime Minister’s Questions and would frequently wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

As if the extreme disapproval with his decision was not enough, Gordon Brown (favored as Blair’s successor), was furious when Blair regained some self-confidence and reneged on his decision to resign. An eyewitness of one conversation (quoted in The End of the Party) says, “Gordon was just losing it. He was behaving like a belligerent teenager. Just standing in the office shouting: ‘When are you going to f*****g go?’ ”

It took Blair’s wife and several close allies to get him through the worst of his anguish.  “Come on. Buck up. Buck up. Think of what you’ve got to achieve. You’re the best politician in this country by a mile,” said his friend Peter Mandelson, who himself had survived many a political storm.

Eventually, the embattled Blair did pick himself up but the damage had been done.  One of the most popular politicians in recent UK history had been forever sullied by allying himself with the trigger-happy Texan who permanently marred not just Middle East relations but the foreseeable future of Anglo-American partnerships.

Bjorn Karlman

Conservative Xenophobes Schooled on Latinos

immigrant crossing

Anti-immigration Republicans were dealt a hearty smack in the face by American Conservative editor, Ron Unz in the March 01, 2010 issue of the publication.  Conservative bigots have argued for years that crime statistics prove recent Latino immigrants are dangerous.   In His-Panic / Talk TV sensationalists and axe-grinding ideologues have fallen for a myth of immigrant lawlessness, Unz looked at federal crime rate statistics and found that such conservative claims are the result of lazy, prejudiced thinking.

Bumbling dolts, ensconced in thinly veiled white supremacist justifications of know-nothing hate, have made claims that crime stats prove that the incarceration rate for Hispanics is 150% that of Caucasians.  Rather than resorting to flimsy liberal gabble about how this stat does nothing but prove the prejudice of the American legal system, Unz actually analyzes the crime data.

His findings?  When the “data are controlled for things like age (the Hispanic population tends to be younger and more male than the white population) and location (some states incarcerate everyone at higher-than-average rates), the Hispanic incarceration rate is within a few percentage points of the white incarceration rate—and in some states, it’s lower.” (Slate, Feb 18, 2010)

Attacking xenopobic, conservative anti-immigration fear-mongering, Unz asks, “… are these concerns rooted in the same excitable and ideological mindset that produced endless stories of Saddam’s notorious WMD, with activists and their media accomplices passing along rumors and personal beliefs in pursuit of a political agenda rather than bothering to determine the facts? Does America face a Hispanic crime problem or merely a Hispanic crime hoax?”

This is an entirely valid question.  Why do we put up with axe-grinding, numbnut imbeciles like Dick Cheney and his relentless campaign to justify his disastrously irresponsible, nightmarishly isolationist and utterly fear-based foreign policy?  An embarrassingly pronounced flank of conservatives love nothing more than inciting fear in their followers. When you take this kind of fear and turn it against immigrants (as Glenn Beck and his various incarnations do), the results spell an indisputable megaflop for basic human relations and intercultural respect.

Then there’s the flipside of all this.  Let’s not forget Ron Unz himself is a conservative. Obviously, it is equally lazy to label all conservatives as fanatical, enthnocentric dum-dums.  “Conservatives aren’t anti-immigrant, they’re anti-criminal, much like liberals are anti-tax filing.  Loving your country enough to request that anyone who wishes to be a member abide by their immigration laws, is not anti-immigrant, and making such an assessment by accusing the entire conservative philosophy as being racist is… well … anti-intellectual,” says Rusty Weiss in News Busters.

Fair enough.  But if the conservative gripe is with crime rates, then perhaps it would behoove Republicans prone to blanket pronouncements to actually study the data instead of quivering over the dangerous world beyond their white picket fences.

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Bjorn Karlman

Pound the Other Cheek: The Advent of Christian Fight Clubs

Pound the Other Cheek: The Advent of Christian Fight Clubs
Jesus was a badass.  Or at least, that’s what a growing flock of enterprising evangelicals is bleating.  Spooked by the massive exodus of young men from their ranks, a growing number of nondenominational churches are setting up fight clubs in a bid to keep their testosterone in-house.  Mixed martial arts (MMA) clubs are cropping up in churches all over the country.
The New York Times uses the estimate of clergy in the know, saying that about 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in the United States, are taking up mixed martial arts and the sport is accepted as a real proselytizing tool by the National Association of Evangelicals.
The stratospheric popularity of mixed martial arts is one of the most dramatic trends in popular culture.  Just a decade ago, mixed marital arts were banned in most states and demonized by politicians like John McCain as a dangerous bloodsport.  The sport has taken off in the last five years through savvy marketing by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the sport’s main promotion company.  It is now legal and wildly popular in most states.
Evangelical Christianity has long been known to harness pop culture to draw converts.  Rock music, dance, yoga – you name it and Jesus can use it.  So why not MMA?  Christian MMA gear company Jesus Didn’t Tap spreads the gospel in MMA-speak: “When Jesus stepped inside the cage of life to take on the cross… It was not human hands that broke his arm during the arm bar of diversity… It was not a human fist that knocked him to the mat for our sins… God gave him strength while (he was) on his back being pounded in the face by the elbows of sin… Take a jog out to the mountain of the skull… the hand that placed you on the planet wrote the promise, “God would give up his only Son before he’d Tap Out on you.”
The goal with this kind of language is to give Christianity a face-lift and convince young men that church isn’t just for women: “some ministers… fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility,” says a February 1 New York Times article.
The same article quotes Pastor Ryan Dobson son of James C. Dobson who founded the popular “Focus on the Family” organization: “‘The man should be the overall leader of the household… We’ve raised a generation of little boys.'”
“‘This whole generation is raised on the idea that they’re in a culture war for the heart and soul of America.’ said Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University.'”
“‘Win or lose, we represent Jesus,’ he said.  ‘And we win most of the time'” Paul Burress, 35, a chaplain and fight coach at Victory Baptist Church in Rochester.
We are not pussies dammit.  As if Christianity were not sexist enough already.  The main purveyor of socialized sexism has just been injected with another dose of testosterone.
Nashville Scene – Betsy Phillips
“Yes, in order to trick men into coming back to church, Xtreme Ministries seeks to assure them that their desire to bash each others’ skulls in is in line with the wishes of Jesus.  I can only assume that this is one of the Beatitudes that gets left out of most modern translations–“Blessed are the face beaters, for they shall inherit all

Fotolia_6294373_XS

Jesus was a badass.  Or at least, that’s what a flock of enterprising evangelicals is bleating.  Spooked by the massive exodus of young men from their ranks, a growing number of nondenominational churches are setting up fight clubs in a bid to keep their testosterone in-house. Mixed martial arts (MMA) clubs are cropping up in churches all over the country.

About 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in the United States, are taking up MMA and the sport is accepted as a real proselytizing tool by the National Association of Evangelicals.

The stratospheric popularity of MMA is one of the most dramatic trends in popular culture.  Just a decade ago, it was banned in most states and demonized by politicians like John McCain as a dangerous bloodsport.  But MMA has taken off in the last five years through savvy marketing by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the sport’s main promotion company.  It is now legal and wildly popular in most states.

Evangelical Christianity has long been known to harness pop culture to draw converts. Rock music, dance, yoga – you name it and Jesus can use it.  So why not MMA? Christian MMA gear company Jesus Didn’t Tap spreads the gospel in MMA-speak: “When Jesus stepped inside the cage of life to take on the cross… It was not human hands that broke his arm during the arm bar of diversity… It was not a human fist that knocked him to the mat for our sins… God gave him strength while (he was) on his back being pounded in the face by the elbows of sin… Take a jog out to the mountain of the skull… the hand that placed you on the planet wrote the promise, “God would give up his only Son before he’d Tap Out on you.”

The goal with this kind of language is to give Christianity a face-lift and convince young men that church isn’t just for women: “some ministers… fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility,” says the New York Times. The same article quotes Pastor Ryan Dobson son of James C. Dobson who founded the popular “Focus on the Family” organization: “‘The man should be the overall leader of the household… We’ve raised a generation of little boys.'”

And little boys are the last thing evangelicals want leading them into the rapture. Hellbent on not letting their young men be left behind, the charismatic band of believers is building a jihad-like army of Anointed Fighters.  The message is clear: Why step out into the world if you can bash face right in church?  These guys don’t tap.

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Bjorn Karlman

John Edwards Champions America’s Sauciest Home Videos

Sexy LipsNot one to want to stay out of the news cycle for too long, John Edwards made headlines again this week: he has separated from his wife and he made a sex tape during his affair.  Gawker cited two anonymous sources that say the former North Carolina Senator, 2004 vice presidential candidate and 2008 presidential candidate, made the tape with former lover Rielle Hunter. The flick contains many a sex act and was apparently discovered by former aide Andrew Young who stumbled across the unmarked DVD and felt compelled to pen The Politician, a ruthless exposé of his old boss.  Gawker dutifully records that, although they have not seen the tape, their trusted sources say Edwards “is physically very striking, in a certain area. Everyone who sees it says ‘whoa’.”

America already knows that Edwards is capable of shocking things (who in their right mind deems it necessary to add insult to injury by explaining that at least his wife’s cancer was in remission when he had his “pants down”?).  So the tape should not be seen as something scandalous but rather as a sincere attempt to be added to Wikipedia’s Celebrity Sex Tape list.  After all, Edwards would be in fairly hallowed company and should be seen as a noble pioneer in blurring the lines between politician and sleazy celeb.  The over 30 stars on the Wikipedia list have made their passion public intentionally or through clumsy fumble after setting up the trusty camcorder.  From humble beginnings in the ’90s with Pamela Anderson’s indiscriminate romps with one musician or another, celebrity sex tapes have almost become a professional credential for Hollywood hopefuls.  Everyone from Kim Kardashian to Jamie Foxx to Verne “Mini Me” Troyer has been steaming up the web with their bedroom flics.

Let’s remember that the PR boost to be gained from a sex tape does not even require any actual on-screen intercourse.  As PopEater so aptly puts it, “These days, it seems that anyone with a modicum of name recognition can film themselves kissing someone in their underwear and before you know it, it becomes hyped across the internet as a ‘sex tape.'”

PopEater quotes adult website AVN.com’s Dan Miller saying that “With all the cable and reality shows out there, everyone has their 15 minutes of fame and they have some name recognition so there could be a potential market for seeing them naked.”

And why should the market for on-screen nudity be limited only to Hollywood stars? With mid-term elections coming up later this year Edwards has done the politicos a favor with his innovative trail blazing.  Sex scandals are nothing new to politics but sex tapes could come in useful for candidates that feel their campaign could use an extra boost. Those needing proof of this theory have but to turn to the spectacular Massachusetts upset that Scott Brown pulled off, robbing complacent Democrats of the Senate seat they had held for decades.  He didn’t even need a sex tape.  All he had to his name was this dignified centerfold that inspired Cosmo to come up with the slogan: Who Needs Joe Plumber When You Can Have Scott Six-Pack?

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Bjorn Karlman

Are Black People Better Off in Obama’s America?

USA

For a huge slice of America, the Obama bubble burst in record time.  The initial elation of having toppled the establishment and brought change with a young, sexy black president gave way to the anger of hangers-on when they realized that the new president was mortal, his agenda controversial and the economy he inherited abysmal.  A year later with an as-of-yet jobless recovery, a searingly controversial health care reform agenda in limbo and millions concerned about government spending, Obama’s support is at a record low.  White support dropped from 76% right after the election to a recent figure of 56%. Not so with African Americans.  A recently released Pew Research Center survey on race showed that, economy-be-damned, 95% of black people still have a favorable opinion of Obama and that they were more optimistic about their progress in the last two years than they have been for the last 25 years.

The “Obama Effect” is dramatic.  Despite the fact that, in terms of joblessness and economic suffering, African Americans have been far harder hit than the average American, almost double the percentage of black people (39%) in 2009 say that the “situation of black people in this country” has improved over the last five years, in stark contrast to 20% in 2007.  Also, 53% of black respondents felt that life in the future would be better for black people and only 10% felt it would be worse.  This is quite the jump from the 2007 numbers (44% thought it would be better, 21% thought it would be worse).

Things are looking better in the race relations department too.  Fifty-four percent of African Americans report that Obama’s election has forged progress in this area.  Only 7% disagree.  The perceived gap between black and white also seems to be narrowing as a majority of African Americans believe that the two racial groups have grown more similar in terms of cultural values and standard of living; 52% of black people feel that if blacks cannot get ahead in the US, it is their own fault, not something that can be blamed on racial discrimination.  This figure is not necessarily Obama-inspired but has been changing steadily from the mid-90s when the opposite view was held by most black people.

When it comes down to the economy and jobs, whereas white perceptions of the state of the economy have plummeted since the recession began, black opinions have generally held steady, as has their perception of the state of their personal finances.

Of course, not all black people are fans. African American Chicagoan Isaac Hayes is running for Congress and is attempting the near-impossible feat of stealing Illinois District 2 from Jesse Jackson Jr.  In a BBC interview, he says that Obama “brought inspiration, him and his family, to the White House. I am proud to have a black president – America is proud, but that’s not the issue. He’s brought change, but it’s not the right kind of change. He’s allowed the left to pull him off his campaign promise to work with both sides of the aisle. I don’t think he believes in American exceptionalism: he’s been on an apology tour round the world, and I don’t agree with that.”

Hayes’ point is as widely-held as it is predictable.  With the exception of a well-deserved win in the Jan. 19 special election to fill the Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, Republicans have been spectacularly reliable sourpusses since Obama’s election.  Why wouldn’t they be?  Their former leader was universally despised; their policies blamed for the near ruin of America’s economy and their power to achieve anything more than a red-faced Washington hissy fit, cartoonishly diminished.

So how do you react to record high levels of African American optimism?  I suppose reactionary bigots would claim that black people are delusional, their perception of reality and American misery skewed by having one of their own in the Oval Office.  If little has improved and much has worsened since Obama took office, why else would black people be content?

Another Chicagoan, Reverend Leon Finney, founded the Metropolitan Apostolic Church and now leads The Woodlawn Organization. He has known Obama since he worked as a community organizer in his 20s.  He says that because of their history, black people are patient. “We are very proud. We are elated. Maybe, somewhat underemployed and unemployed still, but we have a lot of hope. You have to remember more than any other ethnic group the African-American population has learned to live with hardship and survive the harshest of situations. ‘Last hired, first fired’ is nothing new for the African-American community. My sense is that we are used to the rigors and better able to adapt and less frightened (by the recession) than our brothers and sisters of different colors.”

Instant gratification is not something that can happen in today’s America, no matter how much it is craved. Historically, the plight of the disadvantaged, while dramatically unjust, has been more the norm in American society.  But maybe, just maybe, the tides could be turning. While those accustomed to luxury and a secure spot at the top of the economic totem poll may protest targeted taxes and an overhaul of healthcare, could it be that Obama’s legacy will mean enhanced quality of life for those in America who need it most?

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Bjorn Karlman

“Dying for a Facelift: Google China’s Holy Joe Yammering”

face lift

Google is good at most things.  Losing is not one of them.  Neither is consistency.  The fight erupted over Google’s mid-December 2009 allegations that the Chinese government had been trying to hack into the gmail accounts of human rights activists; that it had been snooping on a variety of gmail account holders that supported Chinese human rights advocacy and that it had stolen Google intellectual property.  Beefing up its firepower, Google also claimed on its blogspot, that it was very concerned about “attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web…”.  In response, “We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn… this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”  So far so good. The web was atwitter singing the virtues of Google’s ballsy defiance of the rising superpower.

On January 12, China Digital Times reported that as news spread that Google was considering leaving the country, Chinese citizens brought flowers to Google China’s headquarters in Beijing.   Salon.com comments, “According to a tweet from “jason5ng32,” the action caught the attention of security forces, who promptly coined a new phrase: “illegal flower donation.” You can’t do much better than that, if you’re looking for a metaphor that expresses the Chinese government’s resolve to control freedom of expression — in any medium.”  Google fans were raiding Kleenex boxes, dabbing big tears of pride and admiration from their puffy faces.

But the further you dug, the less you were impressed.  The conversation changed when you took notice of the fact that Google had agreed to censoring by the Chinese government way back when it started Google.cn back in 2006.  “Yes, the Chinese government required that Google censor some of its search results in exchange for doing business legally in the country, and yes, Google’s acquiescence of those restrictions have made it a target of activists all over the world,” states a January 13 Slate.com article. Google’s new fuss about the restrictions on free speech in China lost steam as it tried to justify its 2006 decision by stating, “a more open Internet (courtesy of Google.cn) outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results.”

Google China lost even more of its moral high ground when the fact emerged that, contrary to its overall global trends, it had recently been losing search engine market share (down from 19% in the second quarter of 2009 to 17% in the third) in China. Also, Baidu, a Chinese search engine, was giving Google a humiliating spanking as it towered over the self-assured global giant in Chinese market share.  Now Google’s Holy Joe posturing was making sense.  It was not simply a reaction to cyber scuffles and censorship… this was good, old fashioned face saving.

Google’s threat of retreat was even more undestandable when you considered that, especially in Europe, there are currently huge privacy concerns in regards to the Internet giant’s services.  In ForeignPolicy.com, Evegeny Morozov argued that Google needed a PR boost and that, “Google.cn is the goat that would be sacrificed, for it will generate most positive headlines and may not result in devastating losses to Google’s business…”

In “Soul Searching:  Google’s Position on China might be many things, but moral it is not”, TechCrunch.com is not ashamed to take sides, “Taking a moral position four years too late – whether you’re the first or the last to do so – is like suddenly declaring that you oppose the Iraq war now you’re no longer standing for the Senate or renouncing your own steroid abuse once you’ve retired from professional sports. Which is to say, it’s taking no moral position at all.”  Nuff said.

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Bjorn Karlman

Celebrities are Going to Save the World

paparazzi

“Stop it with the Jesus complex. Are you Bono? Yes. Are you Jesus? No. Your intentions are excellent and at least 60% of your music catalog is still indisputably great. But if you were to play the whole “Bono Thing” a little more low key, tipsters and I might not laugh every time you talk about changing the world like it’s the pop culture punchline it is..”

Harsh?  Foster Kamer in Gawker is reacting to a tip from a reader who has had enough: “Another f*****g Bono op-ed…”  The complaint is a reaction to Bono’s January 2, 2010 New York times op-ed in which, in classic, stagey Bono-speak, the star offers ten ideas for a better decade admitting they, “have little in common with one another except that I am seized by each, and moved by its potential to change our world.”

The energy star-struck fans channel into gushing over celebrities and their pet charity causes is only equaled by the theater in the snooty sneer wannabe high-brow critics flash as they pass the tabolid rack.  Either way the stars win as brand recognition soars, fueled by the collective chatter of lesser mortals.  As politicos revel in the glorious gridlock of global terror, nuclear threats and climate brawls, let’s adjust our gaze and focus on the celebrities that will usher us into utopia:

Bruce Willis: In 2005 the Die Hard star brought us one step closer to toppling terror as he announced that he would give $1M to whomever killed Bin Laden.  This was not enough though so he later offered an additional million to whomever could finish off then head of Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi bureau, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Follow-through was not good on the latter promise.  When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was finally killed in 2006, Willis coughed up exactly zero, explaining his comments (originally made in a live phone chat on MSNBC) where metaphorical and not intended for the general public.

Jude Law: One-upping Bruce Willis, Jude Law announced in 2007 that he was going to be traveling to Afghanistan to bring peace to the region.  “I felt there was no way they would want the blood of a film crew from the West on their hands,” he explained on his return.  “Obviously, the situation was too complicated for us to sit down with actual members of the Taliban…  But we were led to believe that the effects of our conversations with the right people filtered through to them.’  Phew.  Call off the surge.

Brown Baby Adoptathon Participants: It’s not just Brangelina and Madonna and their famous international adoptions.  Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rosie O’Donnell and former couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, all adopted.  In ‘Adoption Fever’ Among Celebrities – Good or Bad?, Netscape Celebrity states, “Whether altruism and love, or self-interest — or some of each — are motivational factors behind celebrity adoptions, there is no denying the stars’ actions are influencing others. In fact, the popularity of adoption among celebrities has been credited with helping to broaden the general public’s definition of what constitutes a desirable adoption.”    Hmmm… remember how everyone started carrying around chihuahua’s because Paris Hilton made it look hot?  Well, the craze is over and now chihuahua’s are being abandoned at record rates all over California and they compose 30% of the dog population in the state’s shelters.

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Bjorn Karlman