Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Derek Jeter is Smelly and Stupid

In a perfect world, I wouldn't hate Derek Jeter. No one would. But no one would particularly love him, either. He would be remembered as an above-average hitting and below-average fielding short stop who put together a nice career (and by saying his defense is below-average is putting it nicely: his fielding is easily outshone by Adam Everett. Who? Exactly). But as Will Leitch so excellently points out, he's not allowed to be just another ball player. Instead, somewhere along the line, Jeter became representative of everything that gives Bob Costas a tiny li'l boner, and sports writers have made him into an emblem of everything the sport is supposed to be. And of course, the fact that he plays in the nation's largest media market has everything to do with his veneration. As Drew Magary points out, it's not just that Jeter allows the old fossils who write about baseball to wax rhapsodic about a better time in the game (you know, the time when those uppity negroes weren't allowed in, when popping amphetamines was just part of business, and when being a violent, racist alcoholic made you into a legend), but he also allows New Yorkers to jerk themselves off to how wonderful and special New york city is.

So instead of being treated like the overall slightly-above-average player he is, he has been turned into a demigod. One so important that the entirety of last night's All Star game was dedicated to him. A man so above the game that the announcing crew in the booth had already awarded him the MVP in the first inning, and could barely contain their disgust when the award was actually given to a deserving player. A man so important that while Glenn Perkins was pitching a perfect 9th inning for the game-winning save while playing for his home-town team in his home-town stadium, the on-field performance is completely ignored so we can continue to discuss number 2. A man so God-like that the opposing pitcher had to apologize in-game for having the audacity to admit what everyone knew: that he threw the old man (who is hitting terribly this season) an easy pitch so he could get a hit in his last All Star game. But no, to admit he did what everyone was expecting him to do and what everyone clearly saw him do with their own eyes would be to diminish the achievements of THE CAPTAIN©.

And this is why the man is so hated by large swaths of America (and why one beautiful fan made all of Minnesota proud by chanting "Over-rated!" loud enough for the cameras to pick up before Jeet's first at-bat). Because anyone who knows anything about how baseball and especially the baseball media work, knows that had Jeter played for the Twins (or the Astros, or the Brewers, or the White Sox, or the Mariners, etc.) that he would never be venerated to this extent. Instead, he might actually be judged fairly, seen as a pretty good player who stuck around for a long time, thus allowing him to pile up gaudy career stats (though had he not played for such a stacked NY team that allowed him over a hundred more at-bats per season than the average player, he probably never would have put up such numbers).

But he isn't judged fairly. He's THE CAPTAIN. He's Number 2. He's the guy you're supposed RE2PECT (I believe it's pronounced "re-two-pect," but I could be wrong). So the rest of us, the ones who see the player instead of the mythical God, grow weary of the constant praise. Eventually the weariness turns to exhaustion, the exhaustion to frustration, and the frustration to hate. So to all you Jeter-fanatics, it's your fault we hate him.

Hilariously Perfect Update:
Multiple outlets have complained that during the All Star game there was no tribute to Tony Gwynn, an all-time great who passed away recently. Well, apparently there was no tribute because Major League Baseball "did not want to slight anyone by singling out one individual." In completely un-related news, Derek Jeter was mentioned a mere 100 times during that same broadcast.

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Criminology of Baseball

Something I always highlight in teaching criminal justice courses is the fact that our criminal justice system (cjs), best summed up by Bill Bragg, is "not a court of justice but a court of law."The point being not so much that our cjs is a place where the pigs don't ever give anyone a break, but instead the less politically-loaded truth that courts are not a place where all involved seek the truth of a situation so that justice may be most effectively delivered, but is actually a place where two parties fight within the narrow confines of our myriad laws to get the best result as they define it (e.g. longer sentence for prosecution, shorter for defense). The grand point being, as I often explain to my students, having the truth on one's side in a criminal case is nice, but it's far from the most important factor in deciding criminal cases. If given the choice between being empirically innocent and having a really good lawyer, chose the lawyer every single time.

Sports are a great venue for demonstrating this principle, as the rules systems of most major sports are clearly modeled upon (and generally follow the logic of) our criminal justice system. But unlike our criminal justice system, we typically have video of the incident in question, often from a multitude of angles. As such, we typically know what actually happened (unlike in criminal cases in the real world). And yet, much like in our actual cjs, what actually happened is less important than how the rules set up to govern the process say the claim must be resolved.

Take this play from last week's As/Blue Jays game. The link has both a description of the play, and more importantly, video of it, so I highly recommend you go look at that. For those too lazy, here's a quick summation (for those who don't follow sports, skip this paragraph): the situation was the As had the bases loaded when their batter hit the ball to the first baseman. The Blue Jays first baseman fields the ball and attempts to tag the runner moving to second. The ump signals that he has missed the tag, so he throws home for the force out. Importantly, the catcher doesn't bother tagging the runner coming home, because it's a force play, so no tag is necessary. He clearly had plenty of time to make a tag, as the runner was still several feet away, but again, it wasn't necessary since in the video you can clearly see the catcher watching the first base ump signal the tag was not made.

The As manager then appealed the call at first base, and video replay shows the tag was indeed made. This means the play at home was no longer a force out and the runner should have been tagged, meaning he is now safe at home and has scored a run. The fact that had the first base ump made the correct call in real time would have left the catcher with more than enough time to make the tag is meaningless according to the rules.

This play is a great example of how our courts and greater cjs work entirely -- what actually happened is less important than how well one is able to argue in the confines of the rules. Logic, even that which all parties agree with (no one alive would dispute the catcher would have easily made the tag had he known he was supposed to) doesn't matter at all. Because the rules, for better or worse, leave no room for simply making a logical judgement call. So even though everyone knows the play would have ended with the runner at home being tagged out had the runner going from first to second been ruled out on the field, this is inadmissible evidence under the current rules.

None of this is to say our current structure of criminal justice rules (or sports rules for that matter) is necessarily good or bad, just to make the empirical observation that what happens in our criminal justice system is not about what actually happened, it's all about what is able to be argued by experts (well, hopefully experts) within these byzantine systems of rules. The only difference is that in sports we can go to the video record and draw our own conclusions of what happened, while in the criminal justice system we typically just have to hope things turned out for the best...

Monday, June 30, 2014

"You Know What I Can't Open? Cupboards!"

If your as massochistic as I am, it means you read comments on the internet with some regularity (not on all sites, I mean come on. But even on generally good sites it's still often a soul-crushing experience). One of the more interesting trends I see in these comments is in the wake of some public figure making especially racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. comments and receiving some sort of minor punishment for it (like not being on t.v. for a week or two). There are always the inevitable "it's the PC fascists gone too far!!1!!1!" but an interesting albeit common sub-genre of those comments is the "they're only saying what we're all thinking!" idea. In these types of comments the theory goes that not only is disparaging someone for being racist/sexist/etc. not only something one does because they're all "PC" but they don't even believe these "PC" thoughts to begin with. No, they're actually super racist/sexist/etc. as well, they just feel the PC pressure to not say that aloud. But secretly they really agree with whatever offensive thing was said.

This line of logic has always fascinated me. To begin with, the narcissistic solipsism of it is hilarious/disturbing (depending on how serious the topic is) to an insane degree -- for the people making this argument, there is apparently no one alive who genuinely disagrees with them, only people who are and are not able to voice that agreement depending on how much they value this mysterious notion of "political correctness." Though it does at least help explain why these folks are always so insistent on claiming everything is due to this weird, amorphous construct of political correctness -- after all, if everyone actually agrees with you, there must be some reason why they insist on pretending they don't agree with. Because there isn't actually anyone alive who thinks race doesn't explain everything about a person (and especially whatever worth they may have) or that sexism is stupid, or that gay people are human beings, etc.

But a recent psychology study finds a major root of this odd line of logic -- conservatives score significantly higher on measures of "truly false consensus,"meaning they are significantly more likely than others to express a desire to be like everyone else, and more importantly, assume everyone else thinks just like they do (on the flip side, more liberal people score significantly higher on thinking they're different from everyone else and experience "truly false uniqueness,"meaning they assume others disagree with them more than is actually the case).

This has really helped me to understand a line of logic I always thought to be disingenuous -- that is, when people claim "they're just saying what everyone's thinking" I've long figured they were simply trying to claim the mantle of the more popular opinion to shut down debate or make dissenters feel out of place. But it turns out that for many of these folks, they're not being disingenuous; they legitimately believe that everyone agrees with them, no matter how much evidence they have to the contrary.

This is one of those studies that raises so many more interesting questions (do people have these false feelings of consensus or uniqueness, which then leads them to certain political beliefs, or does the deeper one go into certain political beliefs make them more likely to feel those things? Or is it a mutually reinforcing movement in one direction?), but it does help explain a lot of comments on the internet. And pretty much the entire Bush administration. So that's something...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The More Things Change...

There's a great collection of 60s protest photos over at Slate, and they're definitely worth taking a few minutes to peruse. My particular favorite is a picture of some guys burning their draft cards who look more like they got lost on their way to the math club than they do crazy radicals. And that's one of the more powerful things that one is reminded of looking at the pictures -- as much as that decade and its political movements have been caricatured since then, it's important to remember these were real people, often  suffering real consequences for putting their reputations, bodies, and sometimes even lives on the line to fight for political change they believed in. And as much as they've been stereotyped as long-haired white burnouts and afro'd Black revolutionaries, most of the people in these various movements were just regular ol' people, indistinguishable from you, me and all the rest of upstanding society.

But what really strikes me about these photos is how very, very little has changed amongst those who oppose political progress. Check out the sweet sign the stoic citizen in the photo on the left has there -- virtually indistinguishable from the things I've had shouted at me at various demonstrations against my generation's pointless war of imperialism. I guess the weapons, tactics, and locations of our wars of folly can change, but our catastrophic failures will always be the fault of pinkos, queers, and cowards...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Coded Language and Sports

To regular readers of this blog, it may appear as if I'm obsessed with racially-coded language. And to a certain extent I am. I think it's because dog whistle racism is one of those things that is so painfully obvious to anyone with a slight amount of awareness, and yet so many people continue to deny it exists. So I'm always interested when something like this comes along: deadspin recently posted a measure derived from hundreds of thousands of words in pre-draft scouting reports of potential NFL prospects and sorted them by race.

The results are not the least bit surprising to anyone who follows sports. In fact, I often assign watching an afternoon of football to my classes when I'm teaching about race: spend just a half hour watching football (or any sport with a decent amount of racial diversity) and catalogue the kinds of words announcers and commentators use to describe athletes of various races. Undoubtedly white athletes will get labels implying they work hard -- they're gritty, tough, blue-collar -- or that they are highly intelligent -- they've got game smarts, they're students of the game, etc. On the flip side, athletes of color are spoken of often as inhuman workhorses -- they're strong, powerful, natural, gifted athletes. The difference is that white athletes are spoken of as having worked hard and studied to get to their skill level, while athletes of color are spoken of as being naturally athletic (the implication being they're neither smart nor hard-working).

But lest I be open to claims of reading too much into this, let's see how scouts talked about white athletes:

And how did they speak about Black athletes? Well...

I could go on posting these all day, but I think you get the point. Seriously, though, you should just go try it out yourself. It's both an enlightening and depressing experience, as are most times one learns about the world...

Monday, May 26, 2014

So That Crazy Misogynist Murder Thing...

As you're already obviously aware, a highly-deluded Men's Rights Activist (redundant) killed several random women for not sleeping with him. I don't know of a better way to summarize it than with that seemingly incomprehensible sentence. I say that sentence is incomprehensible because it shouldn't be a sentence that exists and it should make no sense, but unfortunately it's exactly what happened. Even more unfortunate is the number of men who are earnestly arguing this is why women should sleep with any man who asks, walks by them, or just exists, apparently.

There's already been about a thousand different think pieces written on this, but this one is probably the best I've read. It's short and very well written, so I highly suggest you go take the three minutes necessary to read it. I'll wait. Done? Good. I really like how Dr. McDevitt highlights the impossible double standard young women (well, all women, but especially young women) in our society face: if you do have sex with men, you're a stupid whore who deserves to be bullied to death; if you don't have sex with men, you're a stupid controlling bitch who deserves to die for being withholding (if you're a woman who has sex with other women, you're allowed to film it for the pleasure of men, but you should be denied all civil rights, if I understand the argument correctly).

What I would like to selfishly add to the conversation is that this is why discourse matters, why fighting against misogyny in all its forms matters, and frankly, why sociology matters. Because analyzing the incredibly toxic form of masculinity subscribed to by these MRA types is exactly what sociology does, but it's also exactly the kind of thing that creationists* use to mock sociology as a useless discipline. "Why would you bother studying this and taking these people seriously? They're just some losers on the internet. Only people with nothing better to do with their time would think this is worth talking about." I've gotten that exact response from all sorts of people when discussing these kinds of issues, the idea that how people talk about things doesn't matter, and that if someone is espousing reprehensible  garbage we can simply ignore them and they'll go away.

But such a position fails to understand how important discourse is in creating real, material social effects. For a dramatic example, see John Hagan's work on how racial discourse was used to spur the genocide in Darfur. In this case, it's extremely clear how the toxic discourse and ideology of the men's rights movement strongly contributed to, if not caused, this horrible tragedy. As much as anyone may want to blame this on mental illness (whenever white people kill someone, it's always because of mental illness), it's simple empirical fact the vast, vast majority of people with mental illness never harm anyone (in fact, they are far more likely to be harmed themselves). Even if there is some magical psychological cause is found to be behind this, the particular form such murderous rage took was unequivocally influenced by this loose collective of men who feel women are unfairly controlling them and deserve retribution for their unforgivable crime of not fucking any man who wants them.

And that's why studying (and fighting against) these horrible forms of discourse is important and necessary. Because they're not just words, they're words that clearly direct people to action. And this particular murder spree is far from an isolated case -- in fact, that very same night, three men fired eight rounds at a fleeing group of women who had refused to have sex with them. I could go ahead and link to about a thousand similar stories, but it's too depressing and you have google. But please do remember this the next time someone claims a social issue is not important and we should just all ignore it.

*I've encountered far too many people, even highly educated people, that just dismiss the entire field of sociology out of hand, with essentially no knowledge of what sociology even is. They're using the same logic of creationists -- they either don't understand or don't like what sociologists have to say (or both), so they just claim it's not real. I've taken to referring to them as creationists, because most educated people rightly take that as an insult. But science deniers are science deniers, regardless of the specific science they're denying.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What If We Treated All Education Like We Treat College?

By far one of the most annoying and disturbing trends in discussions around higher education is the pressure to conform a liberal arts education to the trade school model. That is, according to many, we should quit teaching all of this namby pamby "theory" and "art" and "literature" and anything else that isn't immediately and directly transferrable to one's future employment (leaving aside, of course, the fact that many things which don't seem immediately applicable to the job market, like say a better understanding of how various cultures interact, actually can significantly aid one in finding employment. Or the fact that we can't chemical engineer or business administration away institutional racism and structural inequality, but anyway).

I was especially reminded of this when mindlessly scrolling through this typically obnoxious buzzfeed post of commencement speech quotes that someone posted on facebook. The most striking was a quote from Ed Helms, saying "if you majored in Classics, that one's on you. We'll be seeing you and your bust of Euripides at job fairs for years to come." Even going beyond how dripping with unearned condescension that quote is, the fact that it's coming from an actor is especially rich. Especially one with a degree in film theory. You know, the exact kind of major someone at his own commencement probably made fun of for being useless and never leading to employment. Except of course it's led him to roughly $20 million net worth, indicating maybe it was a fairly worthwhile major after all, if you're measuring in terms of future earnings.

But my point is not about whether more esoteric majors can lead to good future earnings, and in fact, I think that is a profoundly misguided way to look at college majors. Because not everything learned in college needs to be exclusively and directly applicable to some sort of job. Beyond the obvious fact that the job market keeps evolving and there's a decent chance today's graduate may end up in a few years applying for a job that doesn't exist right now, a liberal arts education is not meant to be a vocational school. It's meant to teach you applicable skills, sure, but it's also meant to teach you how to be a well-rounded person with knowledge about the world.

I write this as someone who majored in Sociology and Humanities with minors in Music, History, and Philosophy. Every last one of them a "worthless" major according to the college-as-trade-school crowd. Yet here I am, gainfully employed in my chosen field. But the bigger point is that I didn't take those classes to get a job, I took those classes to learn things. Sure, my philosophy courses provided me with few skills applicable to the various jobs I've had, but they challenged my worldview and understanding of life in profound ways. Ways that made me a significantly better person for having pondered and worked through.

So I often wonder what elementary education would look like if we applied this same mentality. Learning to tie your shoes? No one's going to pay you for that. Learning right from left? No one's going to pay you for that. Learning addition and subtraction? No one's going to pay you for that. In fact, there's no job that's going to pay you for what you learn in grade school, so we should probably get rid of the whole thing, right?