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Consumerism: Religion of the Masses?


by: on October 2nd, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Is it no wonder we crave that which we don’t need? Every time I open a new web browser on my Mac computer I get a picture of the new iPhone in yet another pretty color – they even have it in gold now.

Is that like a gold card?

Do you get extra perks or priority seating if you book your airline tickets with your gold iPhone? Can you go through security ahead of everyone else?

Certainly, those who run the marketing department of Mac are no dummies! They know that if they show us enough pretty pictures of a new, clean, gleaming phone in your favorite color – soon enough you will be craving it. In fact, one of my dear friends, who is about to become a Zen priest, told me that she is craving a new iPhone and that the craving will not stop until she gets it. I suggested that perhaps she needed to sit on her cushion more and deal with her craving before she is ready to be ordained!

But this is the nature of capitalism and consumerism and the downside of it too. We live in a culture where buying and consuming the latest and greatest gadget – without any awareness of or concern for the impact of constantly creating new and better products so that we can buy things more quickly from our phone without being inconvenienced by having to wait an extra two minutes, or where we can speak into the phone so we don’t have to waste precious time typing – is the norm.


Russell Brand Exposes the Anti-Semitic Hugo Boss


by: Michael Hulshof-Schmidt on September 26th, 2013 | 37 Comments »

(Credit: Creative Commons)

I am the first to admit that I am not one that has been able to appreciate the work of Russell Brand. I’ll further admit that the only thing I have seen him in was the re-make of Arthur, which should never have been remade. When you have a cast like Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, the late Sir John Gielgud, and the late Geraldine Fitzgerald what are the hopes of doing better than that, even with my beloved Helen Mirren? As it turns out, Russell Brand is a rather impressive young man with a keen awareness of homophobia, class, distribution of wealth, and history. Bravo, Mr. Brand!

Brand was just recently the recipient of a British GQ Oracle award, which is sponsored by Hugo Boss. Upon receiving his award, Brand took the opportunity to remind the audience of the deep ties Hugo Boss had to the Nazi Party during WWII. Hugo Boss not only supported the Third Reich, but also made an enormous amount of money making the uniforms for the Nazi soldiers. The uniforms were often made by prisoners of war – a truly horrific irony. Despite Boss’ prohibition from operating the business after the war, he transferred power to a relative and the business continued on its ill-gotten gains. During the push for reparations in the 1990s, the company paid lip service to the effort but refused to publicize any findings regarding their activities and contributed what adjudicators called “a bare minimum” to the reparation fund. What an awful example of soulless corporate greed.


Tiphares vs Elysium — Welcome to the Age of Appropriation


by: Andrew Lam on August 22nd, 2013 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons/Battle Angel Alita Wiki and Michele Ficara Manganelli

(Cross-posted from New America Media)

Many years ago, before the age of cyperspace, I found a Japanese manga series at a specialty bookstore in San Francisco. Created by Yukito Kishiro, Battle Angel Alita is the story of a post apocalyptic world where humans scavenge to survive, many using robotic technology to replace lost limbs. These semi-automated humans live in a ruinous metropolis called Scrapyard, which smolders beneath the fabled floating city of Tiphares.

Fast-forward two decades and Tiphares is renamed Elysium, one of this summer’s box office hits. The film stars Matt Damon as Max, a reluctant hero trying to knock down the doors of Elysium to gain access to life-saving technology. In the process, Max becomes the key to bringing Elysium and its privileged elite down to earth.

Elysium is the latest in a series of American productions that show how the Information Age has become the Age of Appropriation, one in which ideas and stories exist side by side for the borrowing, the taking, and ultimately, the mixing. What it also shows is that after almost a century of imitating the West, the tables are indeed turning and Hollywood is increasingly looking east.

At first it was a trickle. The 1954 film Seven Samurai, by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, became the star studded Magnificent Seven, by John Sturges. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) turned into Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Then came the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 cult classic The Matrix, which defined a generation. Based on the Japanese manga series Ghost in a Shell and starring Keanu Reeves as the messianic Neo, the film initiated a torrent of cinematic influences originating from Asia.

The martial arts genre, especially, has long held sway here. Over the decades it has found great enthusiasts, more notably among them famed directors like Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction fame was “inspired” by Hong Kong director Ringo Lam’s much earlier City on Fire, which became the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. While he later claimed it was homage and not stealing, the reality is that in the Age of Appropriation, the line between the one and the other is fading.


Making Broadcast News More Radically Decent


by: on August 19th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Radical Decency focuses on replacing the value system, predominant in our culture – compete and win, dominate and control – with a new set of values: Respect, understanding, empathy, acceptance, appreciation, fairness, and justice. To succeed in this daunting task, we are challenged to apply these values in every relationship from the most intimate to the most public and political. Adopting this approach, things that are easy to overlook become more visible including, very importantly, the quality of more remote interactions that vitally affect our lives.

When this different values-based focus is directed toward the broadcast news media, it is just stunning to realize how dismal its “normal” ways of interacting are – if the goal, in Radical Decency terms, is to cultivate a meaningful and mutually respectful dialogue. Quite simply, listening and responding isn’t the goal. Instead, the participants are collecting ammunition so that, as soon as the other person stops talking – or sooner, since interruptions are chronic – they can fire back, reiterating why they are right and he or she is wrong.

Credit: Creative Commons.

Indeed, the typical “conversation” is so far gone that candidates eagerly seek coaching on how to dominate the agenda, ignoring questions and systematically returning to their pre-planned talking points. And, when it comes to “candidate debates,” an added goal is to interject carefully rehearsed zingers, designed to make the other candidate look like a loser. In other words, the self-conscious goal is to avoid any meaningful interaction at all.

It is easy to see why even the best-intentioned politicians would feel trapped within this system. Failing to play the game, the next election as well as their credibility as effective and reliable political operatives would be at great risk. So while I have deep misgivings about the choices our mainstream politicians make, I have some sympathy for the dilemma they would face if they sought to change the rules of the game.


The Art of Revolution: Spoken Word, Video and Performance Art to Change the World: Taien Ng-Chan


by: on August 9th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Like many artists, Montreal writer and multidisciplinary artist, Taien Ng-Chan sees her work as an opportunity to interrogate the world around us, to reach the public, and to work towards a more progressive society. Although she questions whether or not art can actually make an impact in our collective cultural consciousness, or change anything politically, she’s willing to try. As she says, “looking back, historical art movements do seem to end up gaining traction in ways that seem important in hindsight, so we’d better keep doing it, just in case.”

Indeed, Ng-Chan was part of last year’s massive student uprising in Québec, a movement that saw thousands mobilize–first in response to the provincial government’s plan to raise tuition at post-secondary institutions, and then in response to the same government’s oppressive strategies to keep the protests under control. Ultimately what happened in what was called “le printemps érable,” or the “maple spring” (in keeping with the name the Arab Spring), resulted in a provincial election that brought down Québec’s Liberal government. At first it seemed like the incoming Parti Québécois would bring new hope; instead they wore the red square – symbol of the student movement – and at first cancelled the tuition hikes, but they also cut the province’s education budget, and then ended up imposing tuition hikes anyway. Ng-Chan comments that it’s easy to grow cynical when politicians can be so duplicitous; however, she also suggests that it’s important to keep building community to affect change in small ways, and art is just another way to accomplish this.


The Neverending Morality Play of the Deficit Hawks


by: on June 21st, 2013 | Comments Off

When I left the country back in April for an extended sojourn in Europe I made myself a promise and a prediction. I promised that I would not look at a newspaper or any news source — cold turkey, for a news junkie like me. It actually turned out to be easy, a pleasant vacation from the world’s troubles.

I predicted that when I got home and fell back into my old junkie ways, the news would be very much the same as when I left home. It’s a lot like a soap opera: You can skip the news for weeks at a time, and when you turn it back on you feel like you’re picking up right where you left off; you’ve haven’t missed anything important at all.

My prediction proved prescient enough, if I just looked at the leading news stories. Of course I assumed that new, important events had unfolded. They just didn’t make the headlines.


What My Back-and-Forth with The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone Says About Journalistic Sensationalism


by: on June 19th, 2013 | Comments Off

Last night, we learned of the tragic death of Michael Hastings, a relentlessly independent journalist whose 2010 reporting in Rolling Stone ended General Stanley McChrystal’s military career.

For some necessary context, this is Rolling Stone ‘s description of that piece:

Hastings’ unvarnished 2010 profile of McChrystal in the pages of Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” captured the then-supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan openly mocking his civilian commanders in the White House.

The maelstrom sparked by its publication concluded with President Obama recalling McChrystal to Washington and the general resigning his post. “The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be met by – set by a commanding general,” Obama said, announcing McChrystal’s departure. “It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.”

This morning, barely removed from news of Hastings’ death, Michael Calderone, The Huffington Post‘s Senior Media Reporter (and a journalist I generally respect), apparently thought it would be an important journalistic task to ask McChrystal what he thought of Hastings’ death:

Calderone’s move to ask McChrystal for comment so soon after Hastings’ death immediately struck me as mildly inappropriate, given the former general’s connection to Hastings. More than that, however, it struck me as something – a comment from McChrystal – that would have virtually no journalistic value or significance.


Free Speech on Social Media: Anything Goes


by: on June 6th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Courtesy Facebook

In continuation of my series on First Amendment rights as they impact religious minority groups, I address current controversy over social media posts maligning religious groups. My previous post in this series entitled Does Freedom of Speech Allow Stereotyping discussed a greeting card that stereotyped Muslims as terrorists in an unusually offensive and glaringly inaccurate way. This week I have chosen another unfortunate event, a Facebook post that ignited debate over the possible classification of certain types of content as threats instead of free speech. Tennessee County Commissioner Barry West posted a picture on his Facebook page showing a cowboy aiming a shotgun at the camera with the caption “How to Wink at a Muslim”.


The Tragedy of Self Immolation – No One Cares


by: Andrew Lam on May 17th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

(Cross-posted from New America Media)

Self-immolation isn’t what it used to be.

This ultimate form of protest became global news in 1963 when the venerable monk Thich Quang Duc set himself ablaze in the middle of Saigon, Vietnam, protesting religious oppression. Doused in gasoline, the monk sat serenely in lotus position and lit a match. A bird of paradise thus blossomed and bloomed, and quickly charred his body.

The photographer Malcolm Browne captured Thich Quang Duc’s fiery renouncement of the mortal coil, the image quickly becoming an icon of the Vietnam War era. The term “self-immolation,” in fact, entered into common English usage after his death, which led to a coup d’etat that toppled the pro-Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem regime.


Unwilling to Listen, Unable to Hear


by: Lynn Feinerman on April 26th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial

Memorial for the Boston Marathon attack on April 15, 2013. Credit: Creative Commons/AnubisAbyss.

On April 20, 2013, days after the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon event, President Obama asked: “Why did young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”

Media reported that on April 22, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers accused in the bombings, answered Obama’ s question. He stated they bombed the event in reaction to U.S. attacks on Islam.

Is Obama listening to that answer? How does he interpret it? Are the mainstream media, and in particular Fox News’ Erik Rush, listening to that answer?

I don’t think Erik Rush is listening. I doubt, in fact, that the Obama administration is listening to that answer… heeding the message. And innocent U.S. citizens are paying the price.