Thursday, December 31, 2009

Teaching Deviance and Safe New Years Eve Plans

As a teacher of crime and deviance, one of the biggest yet most basic points I try to get across to my students is that the two are not the same. That is, not all crimes are deviant and not all deviant acts are crimes. It sounds like a basic and obvious point, which it really is, but it's so important for how we make laws and use the limited resources of our criminal justice system. It's equally important for understanding why certain crimes tend to be committed by certain people and why some communities barely look askance at crimes that shock other communities.

The most obvious example of this concept is speeding. Speeding is a crime, yet it's not at all deviant, seeing as roughly 99% of our population does it (I just made that number up, but I would not be surprised if it were true). But I think a more illustrative example is drunk driving -- it's certainly illegal, and in most places it's also fairly deviant. But even for something so obviously dangerous and risky, there are still varying shades of deviance attached to it (even though it's illegal throughout the U.S.).

For instance, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas almost always fill out the list of top 5 states for DUI arrests. Now this could be because DUI enforcement is stronger in these states, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say it more likely stems from the fact that we here in the Upper Midwest like our alcoholic beverages. Also, we tend more rural with far fewer taxis or dependable forms of public transportation.

As such, while drunk driving is still illegal, and probably still seen as pretty deviant by many people around here, it's probably less deviant in the Upper Midwest than it is elsewhere. So while the legal regulations on drunk driving are pretty uniform across the nation (all 50 states now have a BAC limit set at .08), the social regulations on drunk driving are probably weaker around here. And given that social pressures tend to be much more effective in limiting criminality than are legal regulations, you have people more likely to drink and drive yet face the same legal sanctions as they would in a place where it's less socially acceptable.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that it's socially acceptable around here to drive with a BAC of .708 as they do in South Dakota, but if you live in the Upper Midwest and are heading out to a party tonight, you should probably be a little extra cautious about drunk drivers...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lazy Blog Post

Don't have much time to write today because I'm busy working on funding proposals and taking care of a dog that had to have surgery (yes, I provide my dog with the medical care I myself cannot afford).

So in the interest of posting yet not spending time on something, please do check out the craziest shit said in the media in the past year. Not too surprisingly, Glenn Beck tops the list. S read it, and then remember that thousands of people actually listen to that guy. Then go take a long, long shower...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

If You Can Read This, You're Probably a Robot


Find a translation here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Put Bert in the Hall Already

Don't have much time to blog today with end of the semester work to do, but I did want to link to a great article by Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnaski arguing again why Bert Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame.

Bert gets no love from the selection committee because he was never a Cy Young winner or MVP candidate or collector of any of the big awards that make a choice obvious. But if you take a minute and look at what he actually did, he was easily one of the best pitchers of his era, and clearly one of the best pitchers of all time.

Besides, if nothing else, Bert leads the league in sexually inappropriate comments during telecasts, and that's gotta count for something...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

That's Not America!

Once, when Homer Simpson was running for Springfield Sanitation Commissioner, he was decrying that sad state of the world by exclaiming "That's not America! That's not even Mexico!"

And that seems to be a pretty common belief in the U.S. -- that we may not be that great, but shit, look at how bad Mexico's doing. We can't be doing that bad...

But once again, the people we look down on have shown us up as Mexico City recently legalized gay marriage. Not some bullshit "partnership" thing, but full-on marriage with all the attendant rights and responsibilities.

But meanwhile, here in enlightened America, things could only be going so well...

Friday, December 18, 2009

How Much Would Universal Healthcare Cost?

My guess is it would be far less than $57,077.60 a minute (and by "guess," I mean "know for a fact").

Yet that staggering amount is what we pay for the war in Afghanistan. Not both wars, just the one in Afghanistan. You know, the war that's taken us longer than both World Wars and is nowhere near being a complete or achieving anything approaching success.

It never ceases to amaze me how we just simply cannot find the money to pay for the medication people desperately need and yet cannot afford, but if we're gonna go kill some people, we always have the money. Even if the reason we're killing people has pretty much no basis in reality. Or no basis at all.

Anyway, just a little something to remember every time you hear a politician or right-wing blowhard tell you that sure, in an ideal world, people wouldn't die from easily cured diseases simply because they couldn't afford the cure, but we just don't have the money for that. Or maybe we'll all be lucky enough to contract deadly diseases that can be cured by bombing defenseless people...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Most Happiest of Anniversaries, or Lisa, It's Your Birthday

Today marks the 20th anniversary since the Simpsons first aired on a fledgling, never-to-survive network called Fox.

It's almost impossible for me to summarize how big of an impact the Simpsons has had on my life; after all, I was 7 years old when it debuted and have been a super fan since day one. I literally do not remember life before the Simpsons.

And of course, I'm not the only one like this -- my entire generation can be defined through the Simpsons, from their character arcs, to their showdowns with Cosby and the Bush White House, to their irony-laden cynicism that has effectively taught my generation to never believe in anything ("Oh, it's just nonsense words -- you know, like rama lama ding dong, or give peace a chance.")

I don't think I have the time or space to explain what the Simpsons means to me and how it's effected my life, but I will take this angle: I once read an interview with Matt Groening in which the interviewer asked him why a television show (he already had a fairly successful daily comic strip, Life in Hell). Groening said it was because of the ubiquity of television. He wanted to make something that could reach out to the kids in the middle of nowhere, the kids who couldn't run down to the local alternative book store to read up on the latest underground works, because those don't exist in their town.

And this is really what the Simpsons was to me. While obviously a lot of people and ideas had an impact on the person I came to be, the Simpsons was really the first thing I can remember that consistently told me "Life is absurd. The people who control your life and run most every institution are idiots at best, and usually corrupt hypocrites. Just because they have power doesn't mean you should trust them, and in fact, probably means you shouldn't. Also, laughing at the failings of others is a sure fire way to make yourself feel better."

And I'd be willing to venture that is the most important lesson I've ever learned in life...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Insert Stridently Leftist Slogan Here

A recent study released by the New Economics Foundation has quantitatively demonstrated that hospital cleaners are far more valuable to society than banking executives.

They found that for every pound earned in wages, those who clean hospitals created 10 pounds worth of social value, while for every pound generated by bank executives about seven are destroyed through their reckless speculation and the stress on the financial system they produce.

Not to be so radical as to point out that Marx demonstrated this principal damn near 200 years ago now, but it does seem to still be true that people who actually do something for a living create value, while people who do nothing but push money around and get giant salaries and bonuses don't really create anything worthwhile...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not To Say This Is a Little Shady, But...

If you pay attention to the news from Iraq and Afghanistan, besides being about 90% more attentive than the rest of the nation, you may have noticed that the number killed by coalition airstrikes always seems to be 30 people.

Why is this? Well, one answer could be that the military has developed a special 30-person killing bomb that works remarkably well.

Or it's because, according to leaked military memos, any action which would likely kill more than 30 people requires approval from the highest echelons (specifically, according the memo, either Bush or Rumsfeld had to sign off on it from the get go). So if you were a commander on the ground who wanted to get things going, 30 was the highest plausible number of deaths you could report without having to go through mounds of red tape.

I'm not a sociologist of organizations, but I'm sure there's a term for this kind of thing that explains it quite well. But even without that, you can see how this kind of policy has all sorts of latent effects. Probably the most important, though, is that there is likely a greatly under-reported number of civilian deaths, as you can't report more than 30 people dead.

I don't want to be so radical as to suggest that maybe this is somewhat intentional, but I'll let you draw your own conclusion...

Monday, December 14, 2009

When Does Something Officially Become an Affront to God?

(click on graphic to enlarge)

From the handy blog Graphic Sociology, here's a nice little graphic showing the changing attitudes toward gay marriage over the past 10 years or so in America.

While we're all pretty familiar by now with all of the arguments surrounding gay marriage (you know, human dignity vs. being an asshole), what this graphic really demonstrates is how things that were once non-issues can suddenly become pressing matters. Note that outside of Sarah Palin's Alaska, no sate had any law regarding gay marriage just a decade ago. Now nearly every state has some form of legislation, whether it be legalizing or banning it.

If nothing else, it does kind of take the air out of the "tradition" based arguments -- after all, it's hard to imagine that hetero-only marriage is such an important tradition if no one had ever bothered to take legislative action on it before 10 years ago. One decade of hyper-politicized legislation does not a sacred tradition make...


Another handy graph from the NY Times notes that only 25 states have laws banning cousins from getting married. So, just for the record, far more states think it's more important to make sure two dudes can't get married than to make sure two cousins can't get married.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What To Get The Person Who Has Everything This Christmas, Part II

How about the Flaming Lips silver fetus christmas ornament? As frontman Wayne Coyne points out, it's guaranteed to "give off vibrations that help all humans progress toward an intelligence explosion." What more could you want?

Check out Wayne shilling it here, and note the sweet traditional Christmas skulls sweater:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Wonder I Can't Get Money for My Dissertation

I'm currently in the midst of trying to find someone to pay for my dissertation studies, which is neither an easy nor fun process. In fact, the only things that differentiate it from begging on the street for money are that 1) I get to do it from the comfort of my home, rather than the discomfort of a street corner, and B) it's slightly more socially acceptable.

But otherwise, there's very little difference, as I scramble daily to find the best way to beg people with lots of money for a small portion of that money such that I may one day have a job.

And it's really annoying and difficult to do, especially in he middle of a recession. And now I find out that the National Science Foundation, one of the biggest foundations offering funds to lowly peasants like myself is losing a bunch of its money due to its employees internet porn addictions.

Not only does this mean there's less money available, but it makes the process all the more degrading; I mean, it's one thing to beg money, but it's a whole different ball game to be forced to beg for money from internet porn addicts...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

...And Again, I Really Love Minneapolis

Don't have much time to write today as I'm busy getting actual work done (a rare event unlikely to be repeated), but did get a delightfully unexpected dose of good ol' Midwestern neighborliness as we're having our first big snowfall right now, and some older gent who've I've never met just got done shoveling my front sidewalk.

Try getting that in your fancy-pants big-city New York...

Monday, December 07, 2009

What To Get The Person Who Has Everything This Christmas

How about 100 year-old Scotch from the depths of the arctic?

The scotch, from McKinlay and Co., was shipped shipped to the Antarctic by British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton (Ernie Shacks, as the ladies called him) as part of a 1909 expedition. It was discovered by scientists currently working on the Nimrod Expedition underneath a hut they had set up. Well, that's their story at least -- I'm assuming they were desperately searching the ice for anything to dull the inanity of a vast, snowy wasteland and stumbled upon the find of their dreams.

The biggest catch, though, is that the current incarnation of McKinlay and Co. will only be able to recover a small portion of the lost scotch under conservation guidelines agreed by 12 Antarctic Treaty nations. They want it to test it and see if they want to recreate the old scotch.

But I say the skip the re-creation and just sell the world's most exclusive and well-aged scotch their is...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

How Are You Set on Trent Reznor Banjitars?

Opting not to go the KISS route and release the same album for 20 years while on a never-ending retirement tour, Trent Reznor is apparently pretty serious about the break up of Nine Inch Nails. So much so that he's selling most of his equipment on ebay.

Of course, most of it is already prohibitively expensive (as I assume it tends to get whenever the seller is famous), but there are some pretty sweet instruments tucked away in all of it, like the above custom-made banjitar (which is currently available for the low, low price of $1,690).

I guess you know what to get for the mid-90s industrial goth fan on your holiday shopping list...