Monday, March 30, 2009

Space Smells Funny

In case you were wondering what space smells like (and admit it, you were), the conclusive answer seems to be "funny." Yet another reason to protect the ozone layer, I suppose. I mean, I don't want the whole earth to start smelling funny...

Friday, March 27, 2009


The ubiquitously-perky infomercial pitchman for the ShamWow and Slap Chop was arrested for getting into a fight with a hooker at his posh hotel room. I'm not really sure what I can add to this in way of commentary other than to say this is actually a photo of his mugshot:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Never-Fitting In...

During college I decided I would never fit-in anywhere, because I was too radical to fit in with conventional people, but I had too good of a relationship with my parents to fit in with the radical kids. I often joke that my parents are the reason I never became a famous musician, because they raised me in a stupid loving home and always took time out for me. It's not exactly the kind of childhood you can write heroin-inspired garage-rock songs about.

And much to their credit, my parents still wholly accept and understand, though not always agree with, their little socialist agitator. But even more impressively, they accept and even understand their little pop-culture junkie who is amused by any and every form of mass-produced detritus. Thus, the above Edible Easter Grass, which is not only Imported From Germany but is described enthusiastically as "Grass-Tastic!"

Oh, and in case you're curious, it not only "FILLS A BASKET" full of green-apple (an Easter tradition for centuries...?) flavored edible grass, it's also "GREAT FOR CRAFTS TOO!"

While it's Grass-Tastic! taste is something like actual grass dipped in cheap imitation-apple powder and it's texture can best be described as "sandpapery," there's a mere 100 calories per bag, so you can feel free to fill and eat a whole basket of it without feeling guilty.

This could well become a holiday tradition...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congress, Priorities, and Taking Any Justice You Can Get

Congress oh-so-rarely does anything I agree with. Nationalized health care is not even up for discussion, despite so many favoring it and clearly sending a message by electing large majorities of Democrats in each chamber and a Democratic president. Similarly, the war isn't ending any time soon, despite everyone and their dog being opposed to it and electing people who were supposedly going to end it.

Really, the only thing I've agreed with Congress on in a long while was that someone needed to bring all of those obviously-juicing baseball players down a peg. Of course, why Congress had to do this in the middle of a war and on the brink of the largest financial meltdown since the Great Depression is beyond me. But still, for possibly the only time I can remember, Congress and I had dove-tailing interests, and it was nice.

Well, once again, I may question their timing, but I'm on board with Congress as they are now set to hold hearings on the possibility of an anti-trust case against the BCS.

Again, this is really not the time, but I think, unlike steroids in baseball, Congress has a clear and actually justifiable reason to be getting into this. Now, obviously ranking sports teams is an inherently subjective process, open to endless debate. However, as any sports fan between the Allegheny river and the Rocky Mountains can tell you, most of the rankings seem to be based on proximity to major media centers.

If this were just people getting pissy about their teams being excluded from the big time (as it might be -- the bill was introduced by Orrin Hatch of Utah not too long after Utah was prominently snubbed from a chance at the national championship), it would be a terrible waste of time. But there are real issues behind this. College football has steadfastly refused to adopt a playoff system and instead decides the two teams who get to vie for the crown on four different polls and 2 obtuse and indecipherable computer rankings. So unlike basketball or baseball championships, where a good ranking can certainly help you out quite a bit, there is absolutely no chance of a cinderella-style upset. Furthermore, there are 8 BCS Bowl Games, to which every "major" conference champion gets an automatic invite.

And again, if this were just complaining about who gets a pretty trophy it would be pointless. But every college bowl game comes with a payout to each team, usually with more to the winner. Your less prestigious bowls like the Meineke Car Cares and Insight.Coms of the world have "meagre" payouts of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the BCS Bowls have payouts in the millions. And considering that, contrary to popular opinion, most schools are actually losing money hand-over-fist with their football programs, this money could make a huge difference to some schools. Especially schools like Utah, that don't have the national visibility (and attendant merchandising and ad revenue) and aren't one of the only 16 college football teams that actually take in more money than they spend.

And granted, yes, the much more logical solution would to not spend such ludicrous sums and public funds on what is supposedly an amateur sport. But since that is just about as likely to happen as that damn war finally ending, I'm fine with at least trying to get the little(r) guys a chance...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Teaching Sociology: Minneapolis Just Ain't Manly

Gave my students a midterm this past week, and one of the questions they had the most difficulty answering was about what we sociologists call "oppositional masculinity." Simply put, it's the idea that being manly doesn't just mean acting in all the stereotypically manly ways (being aggressive, showing no emotions other than anger, needlessly harming your body to prove a point, etc.), but also means actively rejecting anything that can be seen as feminine. This is why, for example, many guys do not ever learn how to cook. Despite the fact that they probably need to eat just the same as anyone else, cooking is seen as feminine, and therefore not something you should do.

Well, here's a great example of that in action: Minneapolis was named the 18th manliest city in the U.S.

Ignoring the problematic criteria for what makes someone manly (it included the number of monster truck rallies, sports bars, licensed hunters, etc.), what was counted as feminine is especially revealing of how oppositional masculinity works. Points were subtracted for multiple "feminine" aspects, including the number of mini-van sales and home-furnishing stores.

Home-furnishing stores makes sense -- after all, truly manly men don't sit on things or sleep on beds. But minivan sales is the most telling. Of course manly men never take care of their children, for taking care of children is women's work. So even if you father children and love the children you have fathered, you're far less of a man if you buy a vehicle that makes sense for transporting the children you have sired.

Of course, maybe Minneapolis just lost so manly points because it's full of effete intellectual bloggers who complain about these type of things...

Who Populates the Seven Nations of Political Talk?

Those crazy statisticians over at Yale conducted a nationally representative survey a few weeks before the 2008 election looking at political beliefs and preference of talk shows. While many of the results are pretty predictable (more conservatives listen to Limbaugh, more young people watch Colbert), there were definitely some interesting, counter-intuitive findings in the results.

For example, Colbert draws by far the most conservative/Republican viewers of the the three left-leaning commentators in the study (Colbert, Stewart, and Olberman) and a full 23% of O'Reilly's viewers were planning on voting for Obama. I'd like to think the 22% of Colbert watchers who were planning no voting for McCain actually believe Colbert is a conservative...

This study also reinforces several other studies that have found those watching the left-leaning shows have much more education than both those who watch no news commentary shows and those who watch right-leaning shows. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

But what I find the most interesting is that the majority of respondents don't watch any of the shows in question. This could come from many reasons -- not having cable being high amongst them -- but could also represent a splintering of the general public. In interviewing renowned political sociologists Theda Skocpol yesterday for another fine podcast, she mentioned that one of the problems of the proliferation of media sources in recent years is that they tend to attract people who more-or-less already share their world view, while turning off those who don't. Thus, the majority of Americans who aren't into politics tend to simply tune it all out, to the detriment of shared public discourse. I'm not convinced that's actually happening, but the evidence seems to point that way...

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Carnival Mirror of Criminal Justice

Easily the best thing about teaching is the fact that you get to do essentially whatever you want. Obviously, you should probably be teaching something interesting/useful and something that fits under the title of the course, but beyond those two minimum requirements, you more or less have a room full of people who you can do whatever you want with. And as a nerd, that's very exciting.

This semester I'm teaching a large introductory lecture course on criminal behavior and social control, and while I'm covering all of the standard material, I'm taking a bit different track than most instructors. What I'm really trying to convey to the students more than anything else is what Jeffrey Reiman calls the carnival mirror of the criminal justice system. The carnival mirror is simply the idea that the criminal justice system places nearly all of its efforts and energies combating a specific type of crime, while ignoring other, arguably more dangerous, crimes. More specifically, pretty much all crime control is focused on the dangerous behavior of the poor (petty robbery, assault, etc.) while the dangerous behavior of the wealthy (pollution, union-busting, fraud, workplace injuries/deaths, etc.) is either ignored or legalized.

Here's a great example -- Carbon Motors Corp has developed a new "super" police car which will supposedly revolutionize the way police fight crime. They justify their $50,000 per car price tag with such handy inventions as an improved on-board computer, automatic license-plate recognition, and seats which more easily accommodate people with their hands cuffed behind their backs, to name a few. These cars will bring policing into the 21st century and make crime control better and easier, they claim.

But, unfortunately, the car has no way to catch Bernie Madoff. You see, while we're in the midst of the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, all caused by the reckless and more-often-than-not illegal activities of the wealthy, we're still pouring our crime control money into making sure cops can chase down drug dealers more easily.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't particularly want drug dealers hanging out and selling as openly as they do in my neighborhood, but the last time I checked, none of these dude's behavior has caused the global financial system to go into melt-down. Yet because of our distorted carnival-mirror view of crime, these petty drug dealers will continue to arrested en masse, while those responsible for the melt-down will be quite unlikely to be even charged for anything, let alone end up in the back of a new, high-tech squad car...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Loving the Losers

I could lay claim to rooting for two teams in this year's tourney: my plucky Panthers from the University of Northern Iowa and the Tubby-loving Gophers. Both predictably lost, though the Panthers at least made a game of it, unlike a certain local team.So, as it usually goes with any team I root for, I've now got no one left in the tournament.

I'll still watch most of the remaining games, as March basketball is always pretty entertaining. But it's exponentially more so when you have someone to root for. Even the team I only have the most tangential of connections to (American University, the lady friend's alma matter) bowed out despite looking like they might pull off a massive upset.

However, I have at least found one tournament in which everyone has someone to root for, the 2009 Douchebag Tournament. Who's the bigger douche -- A-Roid or Bill Belichik? Ryan Seacrest or Chris Brown? Go vote and make your voice heard...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cool Movie Notes

Apparently, Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry are teaming up to make the green hornet movie. Not only is it cool that these comic book movies are doing well enough to get the Green Hornet made, but that it's going to star someone who doesn't look in any way like a super hero and going to be directed by a man who will presumably be having the green hornet fighting a series of cardboard boxes.

In any event, something to be excited about it...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On the Other Side of the Test

As I wrote this post to be uploaded at some time in the future, I am currently proctoring the first exam I've ever written. And I've found that, in addition to it being easier on test day when you're in the front of the room, test week in general is the best week(s) of them all.

You see, no one really understands how much effort goes in to teaching. I certainly didn't, and I've been a teaching assistant for two-plus years prior to this. In really thinking about it and breaking down the time I spend on teaching...well, it turns out to be a lot. For instance, I teach every Wednesday night, so I spend every Monday prepping class -- putting together lectures, finding good video clips, thinking up group discussions, etc. So that means that give or take 20% of my work week is dedicated solely to coming up with things to do during class time. This doesn't even include the time spent answering e-mails, talking with students, grading, finding readings, etc. It's crazy how that shit adds up.

Which is why test week is awesome. It turns out tests are fairly fun to write (at least the first time), and you don't have to do any class prep that week. Nope, you just get to kick back and write snarky blog posts while the students sweat out 2 hours or so of criminological theory. And now having been on both sides of this divide, I must say it's much more enjoyable and less stressful in the front of the room.

Of course, once you give a test you have to grade a test, but that's where our severely under-paid and over-worked teaching assistants come in...ah, good ol' test week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In Defense of Television

Mother, teacher...secret lover?

A few years back, in their always-entertaining best-of-the-year lists, the Citypages had a line I often like to steal that went something like "Saying you don't watch television because there's bad shows on it is like saying you don't read because Danielle Steele writes bad books." And while there's obviously a bit of difference between the two, I think it's a pretty apt metaphor for those people who like to think themselves better than the unwashed masses because of their lack of television viewing/ownership.

This is not to say there's not valid reasons to dislike the boob tube -- for instance, pretty much anything on MTv, VH1, or any other Viacom-owned station (save, of course, Comedy Central). But think of all the good things on television: the aforementioned Comedy Central with Stewart and Colbert, nightly broadcasting anti-establishment satire reaching a much wider audience than any other political parody you'd be able to name, or the new generation of fast-paced, highly literate sitcoms like 30 Rock or the dearly departed Arrested Development.

Historically, television has served to make the great moments of American collective consciousness that much more impacting and real. In fact, you could go so far as to argue the Civil Rights movement would have been seriously negatively impacted without television; even Dr. King famously argued that what made his brand of non-violent resistance so successful were the nightly television images of peaceful demonstrators beset by angry dogs and fire-hoses.

Or maybe it's just because of the personal impact television has had on my own life. As I'm teaching my first course this semester, I've been watching a great deal of old Simpsons episodes to use in class (it's a three-hour long night class, so you gotta break up the monotony somehow). Anyway, as I've started to re-visit the show that was so central to my childhood, I've realized pretty much all of my distrust of authority figures and general critical-thinking skills largely came from watching the Simpsons. In fact, I recently read a great interview with Matt Groening in which he said the reason he chose to go with television as medium (over the comic strips he was already creating at the time) was specifically so he could reach out to the kids like me -- kids is small towns who know something isn't right about the world, but don't exactly have a local radical bookstore they can go to.

But in the end, I keep coming back to the Citypages quote -- please don't judge my most beloved medium simply because some people have used it poorly...

They Don't Say How Much Phish Took From Them...

Been meaning to blog this, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Last month, police arrested nearly 200 people and seized over $1.2 million in drugs from people going to a big Phish concert.

This really highlights the inanity of the drug war -- 200 officers were assigned to the concert, and the article notes that the vast majority of the arrests were for simple possession. Granted, no one's arguing that these people weren't breaking the law. However, one could argue that these people weren't hurting anyone but themselves, if anyone. Don't get me wrong, I think it's good to discourage people from listening to Phish by any means necessary, but this is a little over the line.

I'd be interested to know what other crimes occurred in the vicinity of that concert that were more worthy of police attention. Of course, it's impossible to know that, as the police were busy shaking down hippies. Even if you agree that these drugs should be illegal, I still think you'd be hard pressed to come up with an argument as to why we have to devote so much of our criminal justice resources toward making sure people have to listen to Phish sober...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We Got A Black Guy in the White House, but We Don't Want Him in Our Locker Room

Gene Wojciechowski has an article on right now arguing that embattled receiver Terrel Owens should look to Randy Moss for guidance on how to resurrect his career. Essentially the argument is that Owens is a trouble-making malcontent, and unless he reforms like former trouble-making malcontent Moss, he will never be respected or get into the Hall of Fame or all other sorts of terrible things.

And while I'm certainly not arguing that either of them are perfectly upstanding citizens, it's pretty easy to see examples of how sports coverage and our wider society are still pretty damn racist in this article.

For example, let's look at the list of Moss' sins offered up in the article as proof of his corrupt soul. Wojciechowski writes:
with the Minnesota Vikings, he pretended to moon opposing fans, confronted a traffic officer, left the field before the end of a game, verbally abused game officials, squirted water at a side judge, said he didn't think the Vikes would reach the Super Bowl and once announced, "I play when I want to play." As a Raider, Moss openly criticized the franchise.

Now let's look at all of these terrible things in perspective. Pretending to moon opposing fans? Sure, Moss did once, after a touchdown in Green Bay, mimic pulling down his pants to moon the opposing fans. Why did he do this? It was in parody of the Packers' (mostly white) fans who actually do moon the opposing team's bus coming into and leaving the stadium. I've yet to see a hyperbolic article about how evil Packers fans are because they actually moon people.

Leaving the field before a game was over? Sure, I remember that game. He left with 3 seconds left when the opposing team was up by nearly a touchdown and was kicking off with 3 seconds left. Much as everyone in the stadium or watching at home predicted, they squib kicked and the game was over with no chance of an offensive play. You know who else has walked off a field before the game was over? Universally beloved cheater (and white guy) Bill Belichick. Of course, though, he's the head coach, not just one of dozens of players. Again, I'm yet to read an article about how Belichick is troubled goods and teams should stay away from him.

As a Raider Moss criticized the franchise? Oh no! You know who else has criticized the Raiders franchise? Everyone who has ever watched football. It's a terrible team owned by a certifiably insane person. Saying an employee of a corrupt business has no right to criticize said business is not only stupid, it's un-American.

And I could go on and on for everyone of those actions. Does that make the excusable? Maybe or maybe not. But I could also point to much less excusable behavior in football (say, Brett Farve's recreational abuse of painkillers) done by white players that doesn't make them pariahs in the league.

The point is guys like Moss and Owens may be assholes (Owens seemingly much more so), but it's hard to understand how much of that image is them, and how much of it is our racist image of the way people are supposed to act. When white players are assholes and prima donnas that expect everyone to bow to their will (again, Mr. Farve for example) it's called integrity and leadership. When black players do the same thing, it's called being a clubhouse cancer. It's hard to say that racism doesn't play a significant role in that.

Monday, March 09, 2009

UNI Fight! UNI Fight!

It's another good sports year for poor kid U. Fresh off the exciting, yet disappointing, appearance of easily our most famous alumnus in the Super Bowl, those plucky Panthers won their way into the NCAA tournament yesterday afternoon with a thrilling victory over the Redbirds (not to be confused with Cardinals) of Illinois State.

This is the first time the Panthers have been to the big dance in 5 years, and while I'm not too optimistic about their chances, it's always exciting when your tiny middle-of-nowhere school gets to go compete with the big boys. Who knows? George Mason set the bar for scrappy little schools only a few years ago, and with the likes of Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Ali Farokhmanesh leading the way, antyhing is possible...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I've Just Wasted Your Entire Morning

Simply go this website:

It's an online electronic drum kit you play with your keyboard. You will not be able to stop.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What's Your State's Official Rock Song?

After a long and distinguished competition, the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize" has been named the official rock song of Oklahoma. This got me thinking -- what would Minnesota's official rock song be? Off the top of my head I can think of a lot of bands that would be in the running: Prince, the Replacements, Husker Du, Dillinger 4, Dylan...if I had more time these days, I think I could come up with a pretty good slate of competitors. What about you, faithful readers? What rock song should represent your state?

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Schadenfreude of Weird Auctions

If there's one thing any good, red-blooded American can get behind, it's the rich and powerful being humbled to the point where they must sell off their offensively ostentatious possessions to us normals. For instance, last year Lou Perlman, the creepy weirdo behind the Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, and pretty much everything else that sucked about the 90s, was nailed for millions in tax evasion. As a result he auctioned off nearly everything he owned on e-bay. For a good period I was the high bid in an auction for one of the Backstreet Boys European Grammys, but I dropped out when the bidding got a little beyond my price range (there's only so much I'll shill out for irony's sake, but still, what a conversation piece it would have been to have that sitting on my coffee table...)

But now there's an even better auction going on, as the prince of pop himself has finally been forced to sell off the increasingly disturbing ways in which he pissed away his fortune. My favorite item thus far? Michael Keaton's Batman suit from the first 80s batman movie, appropriately enough displayed on a life-size replica of MJ himself. Now imagine having that in your house: