Each year, the holidays raise tensions about the role of religion in work places, public areas, and schools. Now, America's immigration grinch is fighting for holiday cheer.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is best known for his immigration sweeps in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods, blatant defiance of justice department instructions, and smear campaigns against his critics. But this year, "America's toughest sheriff" is taking on another persona: champion of holiday tunes.

"Despite a series of lawsuits and grievances filed by inmates to stop it," writes [pdf] the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Arpaio has ordered his jail system to play holiday music continuously through the season. The problem, it appears, is that the sheriff's 8,000 inmates would rather not be subjected to constant holiday merriment. Inmates have filed six separate lawsuits asking that Arpaio be forced to cut off the music. So far, five of those suits have been thrown out. "Score five for Santa Claus," says Arpaio.

Because I don’t often read comics, it had completely slipped my mind that DC Comics’ Batwoman came out as a lesbian in 2006. I was reminded while reading a recent blog by Eric Grignol at change.org, which details the superheroine’s gay-rightsy travails with a policy just like "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."  Grignol describes the storyline:

Readers find that as a young adult, Batwoman is at the top of her class at the United States Military Academy. When it’s discovered that she’s in a lesbian relationship with another student, she’s asked to deny the allegations or be expelled for violation of the military’s code of conduct. She could stay in the military if she’d just tell her commanding officer "what he needed to hear."

Batwoman’s response? She bravely cites the cadet honor code: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor suffer other to do so. I’m sorry sir, I can’t."

Refusing to lie about who she is, Batwoman is discharged and forced to leave her potential life of service behind. What follows is depression fueled by drugs and alcohol after sacrificing one part of her identity (military career) for another part (lesbian individual), until finding a redemptive relationship with another woman. Through the whole ordeal, Batwoman never questions her decision to be honest and truthful about her sexual orientation.

Batwoman in a drug-fueled depression prompted by dismissal from the military for her lesbianism? Sign me up. Apparently I’ve been wasting my time watching oil wrestling on The L Word; the most interesting and up-to-date pop cultural explorations of sexuality and society seem to be taking place on the pages of a comic book. I guess this makes Batwoman the Lieutenant Dan Choi of comic characters. Or does it make Lieutenant Dan Choi the Batwoman of real-life "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" abolitionists?

Now if only Batwoman could speak at congressional hearings on the policy slated for next year-ish.

Fiore Cartoon: Bonusmas

Satirist Mark Fiore takes on the classic Night Before Christmas with a spin for Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and other finance greed mongers. Sample line: "The bonuses were hung by the chimneys with care, in the hopes the angry mob wouldn't notice them there..."

Watch below:

The reported rape of a 12-year-old girl by a 14-year-old boy in a stairwell in Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, California, has been making some disturbing waves. Even though two fellow students interrupted the assault (one went to get a teacher, while the other physically intervened), school admins are just not so sure we should call it rape just yet. The school's principal and vice-principal have been placed on administrative leave. A sampling of cover-your-butt denialism:

School site supervisor Mustapha Cannon: "It was hormones gone wild... I think this is something that's been worded the wrong way... They probably just took it so far and embarrassment kicked in. As far as calling it a rape, I think it's something that they did together and it got worded the wrong way... When this is all over with I want to see if I can get a public apology for my principal."

Teacher Carol Renee: "I hope they're [school principal and vice-principal] not being blamed for anything because they're really good administrators and we need them back here... I think the situation is being exploited. I think not everything is going to be as it seems."

School site supervisor Marquita Dones: "If she was being raped, why didn't she scream? Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody's down there?"

Cannon again: "I know the girl and I know the guy... I know for a fact that that girl could've knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back."

Are you noticing a trend here? These school employees are saying a 12-year-old girl, who legally CANNOT CONSENT to sexual activity, wasn't raped. Either because she wanted it, or because she didn't fight hard enough, or because it would be *really* inconvenient for school officials. SHE IS TWELVE. She can't legally have "sex," not in a stairwell, not in school, not anywhere. "12-YEAR-OLDS CAN'T CONSENT." Maybe school employees should be required to write this on the blackboard 100 times a day until they get it. Granted, these school employees have a vested interest in saying it wasn't rape, but it's unconscionable, and a sign of rape culture's pervasiveness, that they immediately dismissed the claims.

It took 9,000 construction workers five years to build CityCenter, a 67-acre, $8.5 billion complex that opened today on the Las Vegas strip, NPR reports. Designed by a host of renowned architects, CityCenter is the most expensive private commercial development investment in the nation's history and the largest project ever built to LEED Gold standards for sustainablity.

CityCenter has spurred much-needed job creation in Las Vegas, and may go down in history as an architectural masterpiece thanks to the collaborative work of designers Rafael Vinoly, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster, Helmut Jahn, and Cesar Pelli. But opening such a massive complex in a recession is not going to be easy. CityCenter has marketed itself as the hot, new destination for Vegas tourists, but rooms in the complex's hotels are being sold at deeply discounted rates. The project cost more than $8 billion to build, but it's worth a mere $5 billion in today's slumping real estate market.

CityCenter was also the center of a Las Vegas Sun investigation that exposed a high number of deaths among the complex's construction workers. Pulitzer Prize winner Alexandra Berzon reported that adequate health and safety regulations had fallen to the wayside during the $32 billion construction boom on the Vegas strip that birthed CityCenter. Angered by reports of overly chummy relationships between Vegas safety regulators and commercial developers, CityCenter's construction workers went on strike last year until new safety guidelines were approved. Before the new regulations went into effect in June 2008, 12 workers died during a year and a half of construction. Since the new regulations, there have been no additional deaths, but congressmen at an October committee hearing on the failures of Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration Office made clear that additional slip-ups may mean greater federal oversight.

How Victoria Fell in Love with Albert the Second Time She Met Him could well be an alternate title for The Young Victoria —in theaters Friday—a film that, despite pretenses of historical accuracy, is simply a love story. Whatever its faults, The Young Victoria proves that British actress Emily Blunt can carry a film: watching her smirk and simper for 104 minutes is entirely satisfying. You most likely remember Blunt as Miranda Priestly's second-in-command in The Devil Wears Prada, and she was the most enjoyable thing about the nearly-unwatchable Sunshine Cleaning, despite the inexplicable presence of Alan Arkin. She's also engaged to John Krasinski, better known as Jim from The Office

Despite the leading actress's charms, the film's dramatic tension relies largely on its viewers ignorance of British history, so it's not surprising that some of The Young Victoria's loudest critics have been English. For one thing, knowing that Albert and Victoria eventually produced nine children makes it hard to get all misty-eyed when the prince takes a bullet for his newly pregnant wife. For another, Victoria and her husband had the misfortune of reigning during the birth of photography. Having glimpsed them in a textbook, viewers unfortunately do not likely imagine Prince Albert looking anything much like the excellent Rupert Friend. Nor do they imagine Victoria, who presided over the British Raj, Charles Dickens, and the Industrial Revolution, as looking at all like Emily Blunt, whose mischievous and malleable face seemed destined for indie films but made for period pieces. 


It happens every time: When the going gets tough, arts programs get going.

This time, a budget squeeze in California has prompted severe cuts in the statewide college system, including a bloodbath of arts and humanities programs that has largely escaped media attention. In the past year, UC Davis cut nearly 50 courses in humanities, arts, and cultural studies; UC Irvine put its Latin American program on hold; UC Santa Cruz 86ed its music minor; Cal State Humboldt closed its Natural History Museum; and Cal State Dominguez exorcised its newspaper, and is pondering cutting music, art, and Chicano study courses.

There have been a few cuts outside these fields, but not many. And the problem is largely ideological. Yesterday, the managing editor of the local Manteca Bulletin penned a piece in which he sniffed of closing the deficit:

They could do it in part by whittling down majors such as Dutch Studies, Celtic Studies, Art History, Dance & Performance, Sculpture, Theater, Music-Bassoon, Playwriting, and Visual Arts to name just a few… why should some struggling farm worker in Mendota have to pay sales tax on clothes to keep his kids warm where part of it will go to underwrite 26 percent of the tab of someone majoring in Art History?

Why? Because art history majors go on to be curators, appraisers, and gallery owners, all jobs that boost the local economy (not to mention culture) at a time when that's desperately needed. So do people who run cultural centers, perform in local theater, play in concert halls, or any number of other jobs that descend from arts and humanities degrees.

If schools get "whittled down" to the technical fields only, all these people will be left without the opportunity to do what they're good at, and the job field will become even smaller. At a time like this, that's the last thing we need.

Twelve years after name-dropping Howard Zinn in Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon was back at it on Sunday with the world premiere of his spoken- word adaptation of Zinn's A People’s History of the United States. For the production, which aired on the History Channel, Damon assembled a lineup of celebrity all-stars, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lupe Fiasco, and Glenn Beck-adversary Viggo Mortensen. He also recruited Benjamin Bratt, which just goes to show that no matter what the Founders told you, all celebrities are not created equal.

There are some bright spots—Dylan and Ry Cooder’s performance of Woody Guthrie, for instance—but structurally, the program is a bit of a mess. After a while, the recitation from the journals of slaves, labor leaders, and women’s suffragists (but no Mother Jones!) that comprises the bulk of the program starts to blur into an overbearingly earnest version of that early YouTube classic, “The Evolution of Dance.”

Fans of Joss Whedon's latest TV show have been inspired to do more than don Browncoats and sharpen Mr. Pointy. While much of the discussion around Dollhouse has revolved around whether the show damages Whedon’s feminist cred, some fans think that debate misses the real point of the show: to denounce human trafficking.

Not A Doll seeks "to inspire, to raise funds, and to organize" other Whedonites to bring attention to human trafficking:

...Joss Whedon's Dollhouse has captivated and inspired us. It has moved us to tears and then spurred us to action. We may root for Echo and Sierra, Victor and November, but what of the countless, the nameless, the real ones? This site is for them.

With its zenly beautiful aesthetic (kind of like the show's set), the site offers six ways to get involved, three of which have to do with techy charitable giving (donating old electronics, or making your search engine clicks count), and all of which are tied to the show's plot. Some parallels between the show and real world action work better than others: "Contact the Sentator Perrins of the World" makes a lot of sense, but "Become a Handler," which suggests ways to protect your children from kidnapping, is a bit of failed metaphor (in the show the "handlers" play both a parental and pimp-like role).

2009 will be Dollhouse's final season. But if the show's devotees are anything like their Browncoat counterparts, this just might inspire some real-life change.

The first thing you notice at a Morrissey concert isn't the man himself but his fans. Or at least that's how it felt at a recent show at Oakland, California's Paramount Theater, where Morrissey appeared in support of his latest album, a collection of B-sides titled Swords. Their hair styled circa The Smiths, clad in blue-jean rockabilly chic, Morrissey’s fans still adore him, deify him, cram at the foot of the stage and thrust their hands toward him for just a brush, a touch. Some gave Morrissey hand-painted signs; others clambered up onstage and dashed past security guards to wrap their arms around their beloved Moz.

And for at least one night, as he basked in the art deco majesty of the gorgeous Paramount, Morrissey was nothing if not grateful for the love. Notorious for cancelling shows (for reasons legit and not) and carrying an otherwise indifferent air about him, this was Morrissey at his most self-deprecating. "In view of cancellations, deaths, it's nice of you to hang around," he offered, later adding, "I can't believe you're still here."