Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Twenty thousand Texans' fans can't be wrong

Football season is here again. I have been thinking about the Houston Texans since last year when I saw the red shirts in the stands. The image has haunted for some time. Five minutes ago, I finally found evidence, on Ebay, for what I saw. Ebay won't let me paste the image into this post.

It was almost impossible to find anything on the "paint the town red" t-shirts by Halliburton. I noticed them, while watching Monday Night Football, the shirts were given to thousands of Texans fans, for the franchises battle red promotion, before the game in Houston on December 1st, 2008. The Texans were all red like devils. The crowd in red, a camera panned by a guy in a red shirt with white letters that said, “paint the town red” with “Halliburton” under it. Halliburton is the biggest contractor in Iraq. They really “painted the town red”--with blood. Its possible the irony was lost on thousands who wore them, maybe to who conceived them. But more likely, it was drummed up with precision by a marketing staff snickering all the way to the blood bank.

I wish I had a freeze frame picture of a fan in a shirt, because l wanted to reaffirm what I had seen. I found these comments on the message board of Uniwatch, a sports uniform blog. #148 Chance wrote,
The problem with the red Texans uniforms - aside from the fact that they look like ketchup bottles - is that the whole thing is a corporate sponsorship boondoggle (and the corporation in question also happens to be a war profiteer):

#187 Justin H wrote,
Just thought I would share that the 'paint the town red shirts' the Texans fans were wearing have 'Halliburton' in HUGE letters on the bottom of the shirt. That's not logo creep, that is logo curb-stomp.

Obviously those two saw the problem with the shirts. But not this guy, a blogger at the game:
The "battle red" uniforms looked really nice, and were complimented well with "paint the town red" t-shirts given to the crowd (courtesy of Halliburton) so that we could "red out" the stadium and intimidate the road team. Judging from how poorly Jacksonville played, I don't think we needed it but at least I got a souvenir.

The irony was lost on that guy, who was at the game, rocking the shirt. The point is that those three guys in the comments section of an obscure sports uniform blog was confirmation that I was not hallucinating and actually saw the amazingly ignorant and mean spirited shirts.

I thought that a newspaper, webzine, or sports blog would have popped up with an article about the red shirts. It seemed like a no-brainer, but I have yet to find any traditional reporting on this story. The message board on a niche blog was basically the only way I could prove what I had seen and have some kind of human connection or confirmation that, yes those shirts were fucked up and I was not the only one to notice how insensitive and stupid it was to make them. And who knows what it means that so many Texans fans wore them.

Things that get lost between the lines of news reporting sometimes are picked up by blogs, which is good because without that, important cultural landmarks would be passed by as if they had not happened. But the real point is the organic nature of message boards. I find myself paying closer attention to the comments section than the article it self.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What the future of free will be

I just read Malcolm Gladwell’s review of Free by Chris Anderson, “Priced to sell: Is free the future?” for The New Yorker. Gladwell is best known for his books, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker. In the 80’s he was a reporter for the Washington Post, his website says he “covered business and science.” According to Wikipedia his articles, “often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences.” Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired. He has two books about the future of free online content, The Long Tail and Free. His Wikipedia page ironically notes that he “generated controversy for plagiarizing content from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, among other sources, in Free.”

I have not read Free, but the premise is digital content will continue to be free. Recently Steve Ballmer said something similar. Gladwell starts his critique with an example of the state of old content providers. In this case, the negotiations between the Dallas Morning News and Amazon to license the newspaper’s content to Kindle, Amazon’s electronic reader. Amazon wanted seventy percent of the subscription revenue and the right to republish the newspaper’s content on any other portable reader. Old content creators are barely hanging on, going online only, or just simply going away. Newspapers are dying. Anyone invested in holding onto hardcopy newspapers, are trying to figure out a way to save the institutions.

Recently Rupert Murdoch said every Newscorp website will start charging within the year. Gladwell uses Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal as an example. He writes, “a million WSJ subscribers are quite happy to pay for the privilege of reading online.” Gladwell goes on to argue that free network television is struggling while a pay for content cable television is doing well. Gladwell does not like Anderson’s argument. Probably because it hits close to home for a famous writer like himself. Gladwell does not like that Anderson overlooks the cost of “plants and powerlines.” Of course Gladwell is right about that. The delivery system for our electronic world is the expensive component. But I think neither Gladwell, nor Anderson, nor Ballmer know what the future of free will be.

Tech Dirt writer, Mike Masnick, on the Gladwell/Anderson controversy.

The answer to Gladwell’s question is simply one of economic efficiency. You can pay people to write -- just as Encyclopedia Britannica does. Or you can get other people to write for non-monetary rewards -- as Wikipedia does. The latter is a lot more efficient a solution, and the difference in productivity and output is quite evident.” Masnick goes on, “. . . competition happens, and when it does, price gets driven to marginal cost. You might not like it. You might wish it didn’t happen, but arguing against the fact thats how markets work is like arguing that the sun won’t rise tomorrow.

Gladwell ends with a great insight.

The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold there are no iron laws.

I think the latest example of that, is Rupert Murdoch’s forecast of charging for online content across the board. Murdoch would not be the first. There are a few examples. Harper’s is not free, you must have a subscription to the hardcopy magazine to gain a username and password to their web presence, same for Cook’s magazine and Consumer Reports.

So, what is the argument between Gladwell and Anderson? Co-founder of Type Pad and Moveable Type blogging tools, Anil Dash, hits on what this is really about.

I am sure that both of these authors’ books absolutely do lean more towards anecdotal evidence than statistical proof. And honestly, it’s okay that these books don’t necessarily follow the tenets of hard science. In many cases, they’re arguing that a cultural trend is becoming true, or is about to become true, and the reality is that asserting these trends actually helps them come true. In short, these are books designed to create culture, presented in the the guise of reporting on culture.

I think Dash is right.

We should keep in mind that the best of this new world order is that many people are contributing to the dialogue of ideas because they have a passion for it and are not driven by financial gain. Which is probably one of the reasons for the quality of so much free content to be quite high. It is going against the culture to start worrying about not only compensation for your content or copyright infringement at this point. Most blogs go to great lengths to give credit. Not only by naming the source, but also by posting a link to the original document that was quoted. That is about as transparent at it gets.

One thing I am certain about, is that I disagree with trying to predict where all this will go.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Single payer straw man

Thursday June 25th my friend Robby Stern invited me to sign and deliver two letters to the Federal Building in Seattle. There were twelve of us who signed, urging Senator Maria Cantwell to declare her support for a public health care option. Robby was polite and forceful. He urged the Cantwell staff to come out with a clear statement of support. Recently, Robby said Cantwell is on board. The other letter thanked Senator Patty Murray for her support. There is some speculation for what health care reform might look like. A “strong public health insurance option” seems to be the consensus wording.

Robby chairs a large health care reform group called the Healthy Washington Coalition. In a planning meeting for the May 30th “Health Care For All” march, an older Latino man stood up and asked Robby, "What should I tell folks that ask about documented or undocumented status?" Robby said, "The theme is health care for all." President Obama said something similar after his health care speech on Wednesday July 22nd. Chuck Todd of NBC asked Obama how many people would be covered. Obama said he wants to cover as many people as possible, but clarified it would not be single payer.

Even though Obama's old doctor supports a Medicare type program, single payer has become the Ralph Nader of health care reform. Single payer supporters, much like fans of Nader, have good reason to be mad. In my opinion single payer makes sense and so does Nader. But for whatever reason they are both on the outside looking in. Advocates are pissed that it (single payer) is not an option. Opponents are scared that health care reform secretly means single payer.

On bbjohn 83 commented on a David Sirota article about why single payer is not in the debate.

Everybody so far is commenting that it is not possible to pass single payer legislation. Of course it won't be possible if it is completely out of the debate and receives zero media coverage. The point isn't what is likely or "possible", the point is that the Democrats seem to be scared of even letting single payer be mentioned at all. What are they scared of? Maybe if single payer was mentioned in an all-inclusive debate, then some of its features may be adopted into the final product, which emerges from congress. It would only do good.

As Senator Murray spoke at the May 30th march, a portion of the crowd pumped their fists and chanted, “single payer, single payer.” The next day, the single payer straw man was wheeled out in the comments section of It represented a microcosm of the erroneous public perception about health care reform. One side feared the rally was for socializing health care and implementing a single payer system. The other side was mad that the P-I didn’t mention single payer as a viable part of the health care debate.

Senator Nancy Pelosi said single payer is, “off the table.” But a strong public option could be closer to single payer than I first thought. In my opinion Obama knows single payer is kryptonite terminology. The vetted words and talking points consistently exclude single payer, and thus Obama may have a chance to push for more coverage. I hope he is going for something similar to a single payer system, but with a more palatable classification.

In front of the Federal Building on Tuesday July 28th Robby led a good-sized crowd of us in singing happy birthday to Medicare, which turned forty-four, three days later on Friday July 31st. Ironically one argument eroding public support is health care reform’s false threat to Medicare (public health care insurance for Americans over sixty-five). Medicare is popular for good reason – it covers a lot of people. So, this is the catch, people are saying, “don’t touch my Medicare,” and simultaneously fearing more coverage. People love a good public health care option. We should expand it.

Robby has a running debate going with his barber. They have different political views. But as Robby says, "my barber understands about this." On this issue they agree and their differences melt away. Robby brought in two posters for the May 30th “Health Care For All” march -- one in Spanish, one in English and his barber was happy to display them both on the shop mirror. Robby closed the planning meeting (mentioned earlier) with this, "75 years ago first legislation for universal health care was introduced by President Roosevelt, but there was too much on his plate. History could be made this year." This reform would be a first step toward a more humane approach to medical care.

I hope we don't stumble.

First picture is from the May 30 March, "Health Care For All."
Second picture is Robby Stern in front of the Federal Building.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The boy is a fish

In the 1960’s how many women were on acid while pregnant? Who knows and who cares. I know of at least one story where a woman was on acid when she went into labor. Her friends, also tripping on acid, helped her give birth. The embilical cord was tied off with dental floss. The acid baby was a boy. His two year old brother came out and declared the boy was a fish at birth. The kid turned out “OK.” He grew up to become a College Republican and get his MBA at Stanford.

Two winter's ago I painted a house in Ballard and this guy who helped me, told that story. He was one of the dude's that helped the mother giver birth. I was laughing because of the way he told it. I guess he moonlights as a midwife on acid. That would be a great band name: Midwives on Acid. The midwife on acid told me it looked like I shit paint after I accidentally sat in some.

The picture is of the old abandoned Tubs bath house in the U. District.

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Who I voted for

Just put my ballot in the mailbox. Voted for Mike McGinn for mayor. Hopefully he will make it through the primary. I like his stickers. He is against the waterfront tunnel. The Stranger said he was silk screening shirts featuring a hybrid Guinness McGinn for Mayor logo. One more black pint for the road. Wait. Make it two more black pints for the road. Another blank ballot was in my mailbox today. Maybe I should send it in and vote for him twice.

The "Mike Bikes" sticker is on the back of a no parking sign in old Ballard.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Just another Wednesday night at the Comet

Seattle, Capitol Hill, 1981: Ed is a regular at the Comet. It's Wednesday night. He plays the jukebox, drinks beer and talks to whoever sits next to him. A couple of film buffs, a white guy and a petite Asian girl, sit next to Ed. The film buffs are going back and forth about the movie they just saw at the Egyptian. Two girls and a guy walk in.  They are wasted.  The guy can barely stand.  One of the girls bops around and the other puts quarters in the jukebox. “Start Me Up” from the Stones comes on. The girl that bops around, jumps up on a table and starts dancing.  She rip's her shirt off and the bar is alive.  Regulars hoot and holler. The girl that bops around, whips out two matches and places the cardboard tips in her mouth. She nibbles on the tips, num, num, num. They are soggy. They are similar to the consistency of wheat paste. She sticks them on her pencil eraser nipples and lights them on fire.  The petite Asian girl looks at Ed and says, just another Wednesday night at the Comet. 

I worked with Ed at a glass artist's studio. He told me that story one day while we grouted hundreds of glass mosaic pods and listened to 91.3 KBCS. He said it was just another night at the Comet.

I took the picture of the Comet, not too long ago from my car window, as I drove by during the Seattle heat wave of 2009. The RZA concert poster caught my eye.

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