Category Archives: Politics

Kony Kids, Mike Daisey, And The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Chic Kony Youth infographical photoshop by Edward Stafford with all due apologies to Sonic Youth and Raymond Pettibon.

Every now and then, I just have to sort of turn off the Internets and remind myself that there is a world around me that I am not powerless against and where my actions do make a difference.  Usually these actions involve making sure my son doesn’t break a limb or paint the floor silver.  This past week, it’s meant dropping out to finish some gratifying crafty projects and spending time with people who have become very dear to me.  I enjoy dropping out and venturing into the real world.  I used to think it was so much worse than the virtual world that springs into existence when I hit the Safari or Firefox icons.  But lately, that virtual world has become the bigger drag.

In the last week, a confluence of media clusterfuckery wafted across the binary landscape like that scary fucking dust storm that swept across Australia.  Or was it Arizona?  First, there was the Kony 2012 bear trap that Paul documented here.  I can’t add anything useful that hasn’t already been screamed across the Tweetisphere or Facebookistan.  Between everyone trying to tell me what I should think– or worse yet, how I should feel about it– I have to admit that I really just don’t fucking care.

There’s a term for this — Compassion Fatigue.  There is just so much of a shit one person can give.  Yes, what Joseph Kony is responsible for is reprehensible.  Yes, something should be done about it.  And yes, it’s a good thing that people are being made aware of it.  But I honestly believe that Invisible Children made things worse.  It’s the same problem that arose over the weekend with this douche nozzle:

Mike Daisey: pathological liar dirtbag infographical photoblop by Edward Stafford with apologies to all the 13-year-old girls who don't really work at Foxconn

I’m a big fan of This American Life.  I love Ira Glass and have a deep appreciation for the magic he and the crew bring to the radio box every week.  So I was stunned to hear this weekend’s show, “Retraction,” which is basically an hour long apology and serious look at how one of their most popular shows, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” was mostly a fabrication.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s basically an hour-long exposé of the shitty working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese superfactory where many computer companies, including Apple, have their ideas turned into reality.  As you might imagine, the shitty conditions at the Chinese superfactory are pretty fucking shitty.  Like, way worse than working at Wal Mart or Starbucks.  This particular episode of This American Life was based on Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which was supposed to be based on his reporting done in China while he posed as a fatcat businessman, which I imagine he pulls off convincingly.  The problem is, well, he just made a bunch of shit up.

Which is fine.  I’m a big fan of making shit up.  But I don’t try to pass it off as the truth.  There needs to be a disclaimer, like when you go to the movies and it says something like “this film is based on actual events.”  You know it’s been cooked a bit for dramatic effect and it’s okay because the filmmakers gave you a knowing wink.  I understand that maybe Daisey thought that because it was This American Life, he could get away with not telling the whole truth and call it creative license and claim the high ground because he brought these deplorable conditions to the attention of millions of people.

Which brings us back to the Kony Kids and what they have in common with fellow numbskull, Mike Daisey.  There’s a danger in playing this game where you insert yourself into the story.  When it’s your story, you embellish, embroider, and embiggen.  It’s hardwired into our DNA.  When the story is about something particularly heinous, like Joseph Kony or the terrible conditions at Foxconn, isn’t it enough that the story is terrible?  Why the need to make it more terrible through exaggeration, misstatement of fact, or not being upfront with your reasons for bringing the story to light?  It’s pretty obvious that the purveyors of both of these stories are attention whores and it’s maddening that the media doesn’t call them out on it.

But the worst thing is that, just like that other famous attention whore, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, these guys ultimately do more harm than good and end up as dinner for the wolf.  Wolf Blitzer.  The important stories they try to bring to light become secondary to the rise and fall of the hero.  Daisey and the Kony Kids  become the story, the media looks at their belly buttons and wonders how the fuck they got duped, and everyone forgets about Foxconn and Kony because it was all just made up, right?

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Kony 2012- The New Face of Christian Evangelism

By now you’ve probably seen the slickly produced and obviously well financed video called “Kony 2012”. When you first see the video, it’s hard not to be moved by it. But what is never discussed amid all of the heartstring plucking is that “Invisible Children“, the group who produced the video, are financed in part by the National Christian Foundation, the very same group who funds anti-gay groups such as Focus on the Family and The Family Research Council. This article in The Advocate has a deeper analysis and I thought this portion of 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker was also insightful on the subject.

All of this could have never prepared me for the completely surreal and ironic turn of events within the last day or so. The seemingly angelic director of the “Kony 2012” video, Jason Russell, was detained by the San Diego police Thursday for being publicly naked, masturbating and obviously drug-induced (although his business partners claim it was stress related). The video is NSFW, so I will link to it and you can watch at your own discretion.

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Marcin Jakubowski: Open sourced blueprints for civilization

From TED:

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).

Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing a set of blueprints for 50 farming tools that can be built cheaply from scratch. Call it a “civilization starter kit.”

I don’t know if it’s specifically a product of the recession or if it’s a periodic generational thing, but I find it very encouraging to see more and more young college-educated people going into these very idealistic endeavors such as sustainable farming at exactly a time when small family owned farms are being put out of business left and right by large corporate owned farms.

I contrast this “be the change you want to see” kind of idealism with the cynicism of my own generation and it makes us Gen X’ers seem like a bunch of pessimistic blowhards. While I do think that the spirit of DIY was very much a part of Generation X, that spirit always seemed to be aimed at criticism and destruction rather than optimism and construction. We had the bad luck of being born at the ass end of a previous age of optimism, idealism and great social change, but the party of the 1960’s was over and Gen X was the hangover.

Recently though, it does seem like there has been another sea-change in the general mood of the entire world. People are angry, certainly, and things are bad, yes, but there is also this feeling that the tiny individual can actually change the world for the better. This is the feeling that was almost completely absent during the formative years for many people from my generation X and I am glad to see it here once more. Whether it be the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, or these young college-educated people buying small farms, I am really glad to see a return of the idea that the individual can make a difference.

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Filed under Counterculture, Design, Politics, Science!

Oxymoron Defined – Conservative Christian Comedian

Quick, off the top of your head, name your five favorite comedians.  I don’t care who you are, what your ideology is, or even where you fall along the sense of humor spectrum, I’ll bet you a wooden nickel your five favorite comedians have one thing in common with my five favorite comedians — none of them are conservative.

And I think I know why.  In order to be a great comedian, I believe you have to have a sense of humor about yourself.  This is something all conservatives inherently lack.  They cannot laugh at themselves.  A little healthy self-loathing is the wellspring of good comedy.  A lot of unhealthy self-loathing can be the wellspring of great comedy.  But when you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t be funny.

I had the misfortune of catching Brad Stine on at CPAC (the Conservative Public Action Conference) on CSPAN yesterday.  He is billed as a “Christian Conservative Comedian.”  He is obviously the first two things.  But he is not a comedian.  I hereby issue the following challenge: First, I dare you to make it all the way through the video above.  Second, Find a funny part.  I’m not talking about the chuckles you get from watching a terrible contestant on American Idol.  Unintentional comedy doesn’t count.  I’m talking about intentional comedy– i.e. The Jokes.  There are none.  He can’t for one second take himself as anything less than a very serious, conservative Christian.  He cannot make light of himself because he fears it might make him appear weak.  Because he can’t do that, he’s not funny.

Maybe Brad Stine could learn a thing or two from this guy:

This is a clip of Louis C.K. on David Letterman.  So it’s clean.  It’s clean and it’s funny.  And it’s funny because Louis C.K. understands that if you’re going to make fun of other people for being idiots, you had better make it clear that you’re perfectly capable of being an idiot yourself.  The best comedy always involves a bit of self-deprication.  That’s why there are no genuinely funny conservative comedians.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask Dennis Miller or Victoria Jackson.

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Rick Santorum – “I’m Crazy And I’m Right”

Congratulations to Rick Santorum for surging forth like a fantastic, frothy geyser and smearing Romney’s face in your namesake.  I love you, man.  You are crazy.  And it’s disturbing to no end to think there are people in this country who believe you are actually fit to be president.

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Further Proof The GOP Panders To Racism And Fear

As if you needed more.  This ad aired during the Super Bowl, so you know former congressman and current senate candidate and climate change denier Pete Hoekstra means bidness.  Seriously, he approves this message?  For fuck’s sake, what kind of moron would produce this ad, presumably watch it before it airs, and think it’s good enough to spend $3.5 million to air it during the Super Bowl?  If that’s the sort of judgment Hoekstra shows during a campaign, who in their right mind would think he’s qualified to be in the Senate?

I’m going to assume if you’re reading this, you’re bright enough to be able to imagine the ad without the overt racism.  So join me in this thought experiment– Imagine it’s just an ad with Pete talking and there’s no ching chong ling long music or amazingly well-dressed, beautiful Chinese peasant girl who happens to speak better English than most elected representatives in the US House.  OK, you follow me?  It’s just Pete, talking, and he calls his opponent, Debbie Stabenow, “Debbie Spend-it-now.”  Just let that wash over you for a minute.  Because if you’re like me, you were probably a bit gobsmacked by the fact that this ad wasn’t a Colbert SuperPAC parody.  Just leave it at the “ain’t I clever” name change.  Is this the sort of behavior that should be rewarded with a seat in the US Senate?  It’s not.  And if you think it is, you should be rewarded with a dunce cap the size of Pete Hoekstra’s hubris.

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Book revue: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Book revue: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Norman was not, technically speaking a psychopath, but you might be.

Just finished “The Psychopath Test: A journey Through the Madness Industry” by the guy who brought you “The Men Who Stare At Goats.” The book, not the movie.

Ronson’s prose reads like TV, especially with the juicy chapter stops built like commercial breaks, but that’s not a bad thing. This is a lively, fun read and thought-provoking to boot.  The thesis, and the main focus of the book, is that psychopaths are a lot more ubiquitous in our society than we know and funnily enough, psychopathic tendencies align very well with characteristics can that make one stunningly popular and successful in politics, business, etc.


Ronson comes upon the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, meets its architect and other interested individuals including psychopathic patients and captains of industry, and begins picking at the notion that our society actually rewards madness, even requires it in a subtle, sinister, reality TV-based way.

There’s more thought provoking here than thought following or thought fleshing, but it’s not a superficial book. To chase down the implications that occur to Ronson through his journey would require academic treatises and senate subcommittees and possibly jackbooted shock troops. It’s just that while the premise concerns our wider society, the only insights ultimately furnished are local ones about you, what you’re watching on telly, and if you’re over-medicating your kids or being over-medicated yourself. It’s very worthwhile, and I recommend the book. Go on and buy it. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to lend out and revisit once Campaign 2012 really gets underway.

(Google “Newt Gingrich psychopath.” You know you want to. Or you will after you read this.)

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by | January 29, 2012 · 5:27 pm