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March 10, 2014

Picture yourself going through your day and feeling a vibration in your pocket. You think that perhaps you got a text message or Facebook notification, so you pull out your phone. Instead of being greeted by a friendly message, though, your phone tells you that your government just killed three people.

That scenario played out for me four times last week, as America carried out drone strikes that killed a total of nine Yemenis.

The iPhone app Metadata+, created by journalist Josh Begley, sends users a notification every time a drone strike is reported. There are no graphic images—merely a tweet's worth of description and a pin on the map where it occurred.

Metadata+ on the iPhone
Screenshots from Metadata+ on the iPhone

February 3, 2014

When 30 seconds of advertising costs about $4 million, you’d better bet Coca-Cola’s minute-long Super Bowl commercial was well thought out. The ad simply featured “America the Beautiful,” sung in different languages by people of different colors.

That’s it.

And yet, this ad might be the most deviously effective commercial of the night. Why?

July 14, 2013

George Zimmerman not guilty
George Zimmerman at trial

Let's start with this: George Zimmerman was undoubtedly acting on racism the evening he pursued, fought with, and killed unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. But am I surprised that the jurors didn't find him guilty? No, nor should they have.

The jurors were merely asked to apply the law, not question its morality. Under any just legal system, Zimmerman would be charged and convicted of murder—but the system itself is broken.

The problem lies in Florida's "stand-your-ground" law, which essentially legalizes violence spurred by our subjective biases; in this case, racism.

March 8, 2012

Originally published March 8, 2012 in the Chicago Journal's 'Metropolis' section

The Chicago Journal
The Chicago Journal

This winter, with temperatures barely dipping below freezing and not one opportunity to call “dibs” on a parking spot, the distinctions between the seasons might be tough for us Chicagoans to recognize.

For music fans across the country, though, there’s one unmistakable sign that spring is in the air: the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas.

Beginning in 1987 and growing exponentially in recent years, SXSW has become a Mecca for indie rockers, aspiring filmmakers, tech enthusiasts and moustached philanthropists.

In honor of Chicago’s contributions to the 10-day extravaganza, this Saturday, March 10 The Hideout will host its sixth annual sendoff party for local bands headed to the Lone Star State. In an attempt to recreate the all-day whirlwind experience of an Austin bar, the first band takes the stage at 1:30 p.m. and 10 more acts will perform before midnight. At $10 a ticket, that’s less than $1 a band.

The whole idea, as The Hideout’s president and co-owner Tim Tuten explained, is to help smaller Chicago artists finance the journey south.

“All these unsigned bands have no money to begin with, so it actually costs them money to go down,” Tuten said.

With Chicago gas prices topping $4.30 a gallon and a 30-rack of PBR pushing $15, a cross-country road trip can get awful pricey for a starving artist. Cash from the show should help to cover at least the beer money.

May 12, 2011

Originally written December 2010, published May 2011 in Concientización, The University of Wisconsin's journal on Chican@ and Latin@ Studies.

Glenn Back
Glenn Beck

Political pundit Glenn Beck, in many ways, has become the mouthpiece of an emerging rightist movement. As the father of the Tea Party Patriots, he has a unique bit of sway over a relatively powerful segment of American politics. But, just like the Tea Party movement itself, Beck has come under fire for his supposedly bigoted or insensitive commentary. And indeed, almost everything he says, in one way or another, works towards a very orthodox definition of what it is to be “American.” As Leo Chavez points out [1], this sort of rhetoric is not unprecedented—in times of internal instability, the American mass media often ostracizes immigrants (especially Latina/os), promoting images of their stark “otherness.” For Beck, any concept that falls outside of his strict ideological framework is treated as a fundamental threat to the “American Way.” Beck functions on fear. From his television rants to blog postings, almost every bit of content associated with him serves either to reinforce a hyperconservative definition of Americanism, or rally fears that traditional America is under attack. It is through this lens that Beck views Latina/os. Much of his content glorifies a segment of America from which Latina/os are simply absent, but when he does mention them, they are often regarded as a fundamental threat to American identity. By regarding Latina/os in this way, he is able to create an atmosphere of fear, which in turn makes his content more appealing to his top advertisers.

February 16, 2011

Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump
Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump

The sprit of the 1960s and ’70s, that which reshaped our nation, redefined a people, and changed America on a fundamental level, can be summarized in three words: “Run, Forrest, run!” Robert Zemeckis’s 1994 classic, Forrest Gump, is a film about a country in transition. Its title character embodies that country and represents its journey through history, running the whole way. Forrest Gump represents change, and a challenge to the established status quo, yet he is a character that has been adopted by right-wing politicians as a shining example of why we should look to our past to recover our lost virtues. Conservatives, especially during the 1994 congressional elections, latched on to the film’s less-than-favorable depiction of radical Liberalism. But, their analysis overlooked the fact that this film does not advocate for a return to past values, and instead recommends a rationed approach to progress. As a character born from deep within American history, Gump breaks the oppression of earlier generations, navigates the tumult of cultural flux, and leads the nation from past to present—not the other way around.

February 11, 2011

Originally published October 12, 2010 in the Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin student newspaper

Politicians have a way of tapping into public anger and directing it at the easiest target—as long as that target isn’t themselves. This election cycle, it would appear that they’ve settled on The People’s Republic of China.

Across the nation, politicians have used China as a scapegoat, claiming their political opponents are sympathetic with the Communist state. Here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen advertisements from Ron Johnson accusing Russ Feingold of helping create “3,000 jobs in China.”

The trend is not confined only to the only Right or the Left—campaigns on both sides of the aisle have attempted to tie their opponents to Chinese job creation. Ohio Democratic Congressman Zack Space accuses his opponent Bob Gibbs of advocating policies that create Chinese jobs at the expense of American workers. “What about Ohio?” his ad asks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, too, attacked his opponent, calling her “a foreign worker’s best friend” for supporting taxbreaks for companies outsourcing jobs to China.

Ads like these have appeared across the nation, and it’s easy to see why. With unemployment rates still soaring, the last thing a candidate wants is to be seen as more sympathetic to foreign than American workers.

But, such an approach may be unwise.

February 5, 2011

Originally published September 17, 2010 in the Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin student newspaper

Ron Johnson. Ring any bells? If you’ve been following Wisconsin politics, it might, but before the 2010 Republican primary, it probably wouldn’t have. And yet, this relatively unknown plastics manufacturer has just won the Republican nomination for United States Senate with 84% of the vote.

Russ Feingold. Recognize that one? For almost 18 years he’s represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate, and yet the relative no-name Johnson is sharply contesting his seat. The polls show that the two candidates are virtually neck-and-neck in what should be a fierce competition this November.

It probably will surprise no one that Johnson can thank a Tea Party endorsement for much of his momentum. It’s a trend we’re seeing across the country—previously unheard of candidates, backed by the Tea Party, suddenly spring to the national stage, threatening the seats of Republican and Democratic politicians alike. The Tea Party is filled with charismatic leaders, and individual rallies have drawn crowds in the tens-of-thousands. The strength of the movement resides largely in the fact that, more than any other political institution, they have been able to articulate the frustration gripping the American masses.

But with steadily increasing political sway, what exactly does the Tea Party stand for? How will these libertarian candidates fare when it comes to governing? Thus far, much of the party’s strength has derived from its ideology—an ideology that has been defined much more by what it’s against than what it supports.