Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cartography fail

I use Google Analytics to keep track of views of the home page of the organization at which I work. (In case you're curious: we're a smallish program at a university, so as you can imagine, we're not talking Boing Boing-esque numbers here--I'm more interested in where and when pageviews are happening. But that's beside the point.) Analytics offers a nifty interactive map allowing users to view activity state-by-state. As you can see and probably could have guessed if you knew that's where we're located, New York accounts for most of our hits.

But something ain't right here. Let's take a closer look.

I'm outraged on Michigan's behalf: the familiar glove and whatever-the-upper-peninsula-is-supposed-to-look-like has been replaced with a depiction of Ontario's failed 1932 invasion of Wisconsin (look it up).

Worse yet, it looks like a bigger, tilted New Jersey, and I think the world is fine with just one of those.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jon Bon Jovi is just not that into you

Oh, we're halfway there
Oh, oh, living on a prayer
Take my hand, we'll make it, I swear

Wait, what?

We'll make it, I swear.

But didn't you just say--


You just said it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.

The hell you talking about?

It was, like, twenty seconds ago.

Oh. Come on. Don't be lame.

I know it's just a song.


Well, it just makes me wonder. It's weird. I think we need to talk about where our relationship is heading.

Yeah, uh. You know, I can't really talk too long. I've got a thing.

Well, okay. Call me later, I guess.

See ya.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Michael Phelps: Nippin' it in the bud

Michael Phelps wants to let you know he’s sorry, but come on, do you really believe him? Phelps is in the middle of his “my bad” tour after some photos surfaced of him rockin’ the pineapple express, issuing today a statement that has already been parsed by everyone from family values crusaders to civil libertarians:

I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.

But what he’s probably really thinking is this:

That party was the shit!

I say all this with the obvious caveat that in the Facebook age it’s in fact pretty stupid to be photographed taking a bong hit, whether you’re a multi-time gold medalist or just your average Ras Trent, though I haven’t heard whether it was a shoot-and-run or a posed shot. Regardless, the guy who took the photo is also guilty of a Major Party Foul, btw, but that’s just common courtesy, or ought to be–but I digress.

But goddamn it, when you’re Michael Phelps most parties are probably pretty awesome, so why can’t we be okay with that? Phelps is being finger-wagged at as though lots of them hadn’t done so themselves, as though we’ve never heard of pot, as though stoner jocks are some sort of new thing–just ask any Miami fan about this kooky years-long experience, or, hell, ask this year’s Super Bowl MVP. This is particularly insufferable; it’s frustrating that a 23-year-old has found himself forced to apologize for “youthful” behavior–a responsibility that he had forced upon him for the grave indignity of being really really good at something. Alas, ya don’t have to remind me who founded this country. But just as I have faith we’ll grow to understand that what grownups do on their downtime in their own homes almost never has to be our business, just as I’m kinda hoping this brings people to start really thinking hard about marijuana’s status in sports leagues as a “performance-enhancing drug” on par with steroids or HGH. In fact, better yet, I propose we spark one up before we sit down to think about that, because that’s the only way we’ll come to a conclusion any more complex than “duh.”


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Freedom means the right of consenting adults to pound the snot out of each other

It’s tough to disagree that mixed martial arts the fastest-growing sport in the world right now, and I’d advise you not to try unless you want to end up in an armbar or chokehold. The most well-known MMA organization, Ultimate Fighting Championship, consistently draws enormous buyrates for its pay-per-view events, comparable to the top shows produced by the longtime king of the PPV mountain, World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the WWF, for those who haven’t kept track of pro wrestling since the days of Hulkamania and the Gobbledy Gooker.) The UFC’s ever-increasing popularity has resulted in a weekly reality show among other TV series, a total worth of over $1 billion, sponsorships from the likes of Budweiser and Harley Davidson, among others, and a weird Friends storyline. MMA has surpassed boxing in terms of gambling revenue and looks likely to continue to capitalize on boxing’s failing reputation.

The point is clear: anyone with any sense of business would tell you to strike while the iron's hot--or, if your striking game's not so good, maybe you can wrestle the iron a bit, go for some ground and pound, or hope you can get the iron to tap out. (Okay, that was lame. I'm trying here.)

Unfortunately, if the UFC wanted to put on a show at the world’s most famous arena–and trust me, they really do–they’d be shit outta luck.

Professional MMA is illegal in the state of New York, for which we can thank the efforts of Sen. John McCain, who, famously referring in 1998 to MMA as “human cockfighting,” led a largely successful fight to ban the sport from many states. The thing is, at the time, his assessment wasn’t all that far off; the earliest incarnations of the UFC and other MMA organizations truly were little more than crude glorified streetfights that even current UFC president Dana White agrees were pretty far over the line. The MMA world adopted a number of badly-needed rule changes–the emergence of weight classes, for one, and the banning of techniques such as headbutts and stomps and knees to grounded opponents–which not only protected fighters but provided for much more entertaining, intricate matches between vastly more technically proficient fighters. McCain has come around to some extent, and many states relaxed restrictions on MMA, including McCain’s home state of Arizona.

But not New York, which is currently ground zero for the fight over the fights. State Assemblyman Bob Reilly, who seems to have a hell of a lot of spare time despite dealing with a staggering budget crisis, has taken it upon himself to lead the crusade to deprive the state of desperately needed tourism and tax revenue by maintaining the ban on MMA. Moreover, I find the argument that “ultimate fighting” (and calling it that, I should note, is a huge pet peeve for fans–”ultimate fighting” is a scary-sounding term derived a specific brand name, not the name of any sport that actually exists) is especially more dangerous than established sporting events, an assertion usually put forward by elitist critics who don’t want to sully themselves with such low-class silliness, to be particularly ridiculous. Tell that to Kevin Everett, who was paralyzed after a botched tackle in an NFL game, or to the family of Eddie Guerrero, whose shocking and tragic death came after years of painkiller abuse in making a career as a smaller guy in the big man’s world of pro wrestling. But Reilly isn’t trying to kick the Bills out of Buffalo or the WWE out of Madison Square Garden, because those just aren’t such easy targets.

The first UFC event at Madison Square Garden would undoubtedly be among the two or three biggest sporting events of the year, and would be promoted to the point where it would be on par with some of the biggest boxing and wrestling events of all time. As a fan I’m certainly interested in the possibility of propelling the sport to unprecedented heights, but the financial upside is so obvious it hurts. Even aside from what is, to me, the stupidly simple principle of allowing consenting adults to do what the fuck they want with themselves in a controlled environment, now’s not such a hot time to prohibit the opportunity to collect a welcome bit of spare change. No one gets hurt from legalizing MMA–well, other than the dudes who might take an elbow or knee to the head, but I wouldn’t worry too much about them. They’re tough guys (and gals). They know what they’re doing. It’s long past time we left them the hell alone, if only so New Yorkers can reap the benefits.

Hat tip to Cage Potato. Creative Commons-licensed image by Fedjake.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

50 Years, 90 Miles

Hotel Inglaterra, Havana, early 1950s

50 years ago today, as 1958 came to a close, so did one unpopular Cuban dictatorship, only to be replaced by a significantly more oppressive and longer-lived one. I fall squarely into the camp that believes that U.S. policy toward Cuba, particularly our mystifyingly anti-capitalist trade embargo in addition to restrictions on travel and currency exchange, has to at least a small extent exacerbated an awful situation and emboldened what ought to have been a weak regime, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union.

On this bleak anniversary I'm heartened somewhat by the fact that Barack Obama is making at least some motions toward easing some of the more ridiculous restrictions. To be sure, I'm less than thrilled by the fact that Obama has backed off his previous support of full trade normalization in order to, just like nearly every other mainstream presidential candidate in recent history, kiss some Floridian ass. However, were Obama to at least reopen travel for Cuban Americans (who, as per a George W. Bush-imposed limit that had a fairly decent level of support within the Cuban community, can currently visit Cuba once every three years) and remove the $300 limit on sending money to family in Cuba, that itself would be far more progress than any post-Cold War president has overseen. And that's not for nothing:
“U.S. Cuba policy has not been a foreign policy,” explained Shannon O’Neil, the Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s been a domestic policy, based on the Cuban vote in Florida.” In 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush relied on the Cuban vote to carry Florida by narrow margins. Without the Sunshine State, he would not have won either election.

In 2008, however, the equation changed, as Obama won while carrying just 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida. “The Cubans voted overwhelmingly against Obama,” said Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue and author of The Cuba Wars. “So what the November election shows is that he did not need the Cuban vote to win Florida, and he did not need the Florida vote to win the presidential election.”

While I take the point that Cuba policy for the last few decades has really been little more than thinly veiled electoral strategy (a tendency that Bill Clinton and other Democrats are as guilty of perpetuating as the Republicans who tend to benefit more from it), this is misleading. Erikson fails to mention that 35% is the largest proportion any Democrat has won from Cuban Americans in quite a long time: compare this with George Bush's haul of up to 76% of Cubans' votes in Florida in 2004, a year that Republicans experienced relative success up and down the ticket, including the election of the first Cuban to the U.S. Senate. Despite all that 2004 was was still a substantial improvement for Democrats as compared to 2000, when Bush picked up 81% (a figure that may be somewhat inflated due to lingering resentment toward the Clinton administration over the Elian Gonzalez ordeal in addition to Bush's particularly strong courtship that year of Cuban voters.) The fact is, if Cubans were to begin to split their votes any closer to down the middle (let alone joining other Hispanics' increasingly overwhelming break toward Democrats), Florida would be a fairly solidly blue state every time.

The purpose of bringing up Cubans' electoral history is to point out that these really is as good as circumstances will get for would-be Cuba policy reformers. Obama brings with him an unprecedented level of support (for a Democrat) from Cubans, particularly from the ever-growing, less ideologically monolithic group of younger, pragmatic Cuban Americans. And not only that, but, as my handful of loyal readers might recall, Cuban American support for an end to the embargo is at an all-time high.

With the Castros' time undoubtedly coming to its end, at this point an end to the embargo is very close to "too little, too late" territory. If Obama is serious enough about reform to salvage some semblance of American dignity in this area after 50 years' worth of embarrassing failed policy--not to mention the added bonus of garnering favor among a rising Cuban generation by encouraging American investment in a country that will face dramatic change soon--now's the time.

Photo by DCvision2006, released under Creative Commons.

I'm telling you, oh, it all falls down

Creative Commons: SIR: Poseyal Desposyni Poet

Picking a single moment when the Bush administration truly lost all credibility is sort of like finding the episode when Springer jumped the shark--it probably shouldn't have been on in the first place and the badness is so regular that singling one episode out seems pretty silly. But if you've gotta do it, watching passively as a major American city falls apart within a week seems like a pretty solid choice. Kevin Drum:
I've long believed that what really killed Bush was the contrast between his handling of Katrina and his handling of the Terri Schiavo case, which had come only a few months earlier. It was just too stark. What the American public saw was that when the religious right was up in arms, the president and the Republican Party acted. [...]

And it showed that Bush could be moved to action if the right constituency was at risk. It wasn't just that Bush was mostly MIA during the early stages of Katrina, but that he was plainly capable of being engaged in an emergency if it was the right kind of emergency. But apparently New Orleans wasn't it. And that was the final nail in the coffin of his presidency.

That strikes me as more or less it. To that point, despite my opposition to many of the administration's efforts including the Iraq war, I never would've thought to criticize their enthusiasm--if anything, lots of critics would probably have noted that Bush suffered from an overabundance. If Dowd and Bartlett are right that it took Katrina to take the wind out of the administration's sails completely, Bush's second-term apathy and eventual near-invisibility would turn out to make a lot more sense.

Kanye West oversimplified it, I think: the issue is not quite that George Bush doesn't care about black people; it's that the plight of people afflicted by a problem he couldn't solve by flinging money or troops at it was so far off his radar that I don't think he knew that, as president, he was supposed to care about them.

Photo by SIR: Poseyal Desposyni Poet, released under Creative Commons

Monday, November 3, 2008

change some people might have trouble believing in

Sean Quinn:
After the rally, we witnessed a near-street riot involving the exiting McCain crowd and two Cuban-American Obama supporters. Tony Garcia, 63, and Raul Sorando, 31, were suddenly surrounded by an angry mob. There is a moment in a crowd when something goes from mere yelling to a feeling of danger, and that's what we witnessed. As photographers and police raced to the scene, the crowd elevated from stable to fast-moving scrum, and the two men were surrounded on all sides as we raced to the circle.

The event maybe lasted a minute, two at the most, before police competently managed to hustle the two away from the scene and out of the danger zone. Only FiveThirtyEight tracked the two men down for comment, a quarter mile down the street.

"People were screaming 'Terrorist!' 'Communist!' 'Socialist!'" Sorando said when we caught up with him. "I had a guy tell me he was gonna kill me."

Asked what had precipitated the event, "We were just chanting 'Obama!' and holding our signs. That was it. And the crowd suddenly got crazy."

Garcia told us that the man who originally had warned the two it was his property when they had first tried to attend the rally with Obama T-shirts was one of the agitators. Coming up just before the scene started getting out of hand, the man whispered in Garcia's ear, "I'm gonna beat you up the next time I see you." Garcia described him for us: "a big stocky man wearing a tweed jacket." He used hand motions to emphasize this was a large guy. We went back to look for the gentleman twenty minutes after the incident but didn't find him.

Even within my own family I've been called a Communist, a traitor, a disgrace to my heritage, a liberal motherfucker, and many others. Okay, those are mostly just this one uncle I have when he gets drunk, but still. Usually "naive" is the term used in polite company.

If the election, Florida in particular, goes the way it seems now that it probably will, the Cuban community in SoFla will be in for what could be a painful reckoning. We have to deal with the influx of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida which will mean suddenly losing the status of Most Favored Demographic--brown people who hate Democrats. The fading of the Castros within the next few years. The loss of any or all of the Cuban Mafia in Congress (not to mention the possible upcoming rejection of Mel Martinez in 2010.) The rise of a newer, less politically monolithic generation, as exemplified by Joe Garcia, and generational clash that may only begin to materialize this Tuesday. The questioning of priorities of single-issue anti-communist voters in the face of wars and the economy pretty much exploding and God knows what else.

Cubans need to get their act together. If Quinn's story and my hunches are even the slightest indication, we're in for some nasty stuff, the likes of which we're not quite used to.