Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Crimes Are Crimes?

One thing I always tell my students is that laws exist only in so far as we enforce them -- pretty much everyone breaks the law everyday, simply because we have made so very much illegal. Oh, you protest you did no such thing? You didn't speed? You didn't park illegally for just a moment? You didn't listen to pirated music? You didn't engage is a consensual sex act that is prohibited (and here in MN if it was anything but good ol'missionary, you did)?

Anyway, the point is, not everyone is being arrested, even though we're all breaking the law. This is because we have limited resources and have to choose which of our laws we strenuously enforce and which we more or less ignore. And for a variety of reasons, both historical and contemporary, we tend to enforce those laws broken by the poor and ignore those laws broken by the wealthy.

For example, employers are legally required to provide a safe workforce for their employees and have a bevy of safety laws they are supposed to follow. One really obvious and necessary law is that they must provide proof of the safety of the workplace to any employee who asks, so the employee can decide if they'd like to work there or find somewhere else to work that doesn't endanger their lives.

But what happens if a lowly worker dares to ask to see a safety report? Well, if you're a window washer in Minneapolis, it means you get locked out of your job. That's right, locked out of your job as someone who dangles thirty stories above the ground on some flimsy ropes just for asking if the ropes will hold you up or let you fall to your death like 3 of your coworkers did in the past year.

And yet, this employer is not facing any legal sanctions, and their executives will definitely not be dragged out of their house at gun point in the middle of the night. Even though they are blatantly and publicly breaking multiple laws. As such, even though there are all sorts of laws about workplace safety, those laws don't exist in reality because they are rarely (if ever) enforced.

Yet, these people aren't even the biggest criminals in the news. A group of researchers at Brook Haven National Laboratory have broken the laws of physics. Though of course those laws are enforced by God, so maybe they will actually be punished...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why You Shouldn't Predict The Future...

It's always bad practice to predict the future. After all, there are pretty much unlimited possibilities as to what could happen and your prediction is only one of those multitudes. Ergo, it's a good chance you'll not only not happened to have picked the one of all possible futures correctly, but even likely you'll be hilariously wrong.

Nowhere does this seem to be more true than with technology. You either say it will be able to do everything we could ever dream of and you look like an anachronistic fool, or you say it will never become anything and you look like a Luddite troglodyte.

Take, for example, this Newsweek article from 1995 explaining why this newfangled "internet" will never become anything. Here's my favorite chunks of wisdom from someone who we can't forget was paid good money to come up with this stuff:

How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can't tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

You're totally right -- no one will ever purchase or read things over the internet, and there will most assuredly not be a crisis in the newspaper industry in little over a decade from the time this piece is written. Not to mention laptops will certainly never be so thin as to have their weight measured in ounces. Or how about this nugget:

Then there's cyberbusiness. We're promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn't—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

This one's even better -- it's a good thing we never figured out how to send money over the internet, or else those malls sure would be in trouble. And if there's one thing I think whenever I'm online, it's "man, this sure would be a better experience if some minimum-wage idiot were asking me if I was looking for anything in particular rather than just letting me shop in peace."

So please learn your lesson from this, kids. Predicting the future almost always makes you look like an idiot. Especially if you discount something that will become one of the most integral aspects of our lives within 5 years of your article being published...

Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm Going Record Shopping Today

Just got done with a phone interview for a fellowship I really want to get (mostly because it will involve receiving $12,000 pretty much no strings attached) and am in a good mood. And I'm working not 1, not 2, but 3 separate jobs this semester because I grow ever so slightly tired of poverty.

So now I have spending money and will hopefully soon have lots of living money, so I am going record shopping. Because what is the point of saving money if you don't foolishly waste it?

What albums will I buy? Lord only knows -- I have a list about two pages long of albums I want to buy when I have money. Can I now afford two pages worth of albums? No, I cannot. But I can afford 3-5 of them, so harsh decisions will need to be made.

And as with all my actions, I turn to Mother Church to make my decision for me. Recently, the Vatican released their list of top rock albums, and in addition to existing (which alone is cool enough), is surprisingly not that bad. How many albums will I purchase this afternoon that carry the explicit approval of the Vatican? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Biopic We've All Been Waiting For...

Weird, the Weird Al Story. Sure, it doesn't technically exist...yet...but it's worth your 2 minutes and 48 seconds, I can assure you that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mid Majors and White Privilege (Part VI in a Never Ending Series)

And with that stone-cold shot, Prince Ali takes down the overall number one seed in the NCAA tourney. Yet my beloved Panthers still get little love (outside of Iowa, where the bandwagon is getting pretty full). And it strikes me that the plight of the mid-major school is a good analogy for white privilege.

White privilege is the concept that because of the US racial hierarchy, all white people have some form of privilege (a lot more enters into it, like class and gender, but still, all white people experience it to some degree). Mostly it comes through "invisible" practices, such as being able to choose any home you want to buy instead of being steered toward certain locations. Or having your mistakes more easily forgiven. But here's how it applies to tourney basketball...

The Big East is one of the most privileged conferences in college basketball. And much like white people in America, much of that privilege is unearned. It's not that the Big East doesn't have hard working teams or any good teams, because they do, it's simply that their teams are often given more credit than they deserve. And much like white privilege, this is (usually) not an explicit process. For example, this year, half of the teams from the Big East got into the tournament (an unusually high number for any conference), which has proved to be a mistake, as the Big East so far is struggling to keep a .500 record in the tourney, with many of their top teams having already taken a quick exit. I'd be willing to bet none of the selection committee put them in simply because they're from the Big East. But the Big East schools do play near the major media outlets and have far more games on television than a mid-major like UNI, which is on TV once a year, if that. As such, when a Big East team has a bad game, the media folks that rank them will see it and put it in context. Maybe their star was sick, maybe the refs missed some calls, maybe they were just unlucky, etc. But when UNI loses, they only see the box score, and say "well, they must not be for real."

Similarly, when the Big East does poorly, like they're doing this year, it's dismissed as a one time aberration. Sports media say the Big East is having a down year, and you know next year they'll get an inflated number of tourney bids. In the same way, failures of whites are generally chalked up to personal flaws or extenuating circumstances, not a reflection of the incapability of the entire race. However, when the Missouri Valley Conference has a bad showing in the tourney, it's instead offered up as proof they don't belong, and the next year they will get only the automatic qualifier in, much the same way the failures of minorities are often attributed to the entire racial category.

And this same process happens with whites in many fields. Take employment, for example. We know from Devah Pager's outstanding audit studies that a white person with a criminal record is more likely to be offered a job than an equally qualified black applicant without a criminal record. And again, much like in the tourney selection process, I bet very few employers are explicitly being racist. Rather, they themselves are probably white, so when they see a white person with flaws, they can understand and rationalize them. But when they see a black person, who has already been stereotyped as a criminal, any perceived problem is assumed to define the person. Just like a team like UNI -- which is already assumed to be unable to compete with the major conference teams -- when they lose, it's not because they had an off night or the officiating was bad, it's seen as the inevitable conclusion for such a team.

And when teams like this do win, they're almost always seen as the exception that proves the rule. With all the talk of UNI's "luck" no one seems to notice the stellar defense they played or solid game-planning. And when (if?) they lose to a major team at some point in the tourney, it won't be an upset, but rather proof they can't really hang with the big teams, despite the fact they just dominated the consensus number one team.

Finally, it's also a good example of why we need programs like affirmative action, or as the NYTimes put it, more UNIs and less Minnesotas (another under-qualified major conference team given a tourney position). Many in college basketball argue that the winners of mid-major conference tournaments shouldn't get an automatic bid, as it takes away a spot from a more qualified team, just like opponents of Affirmative Action claim it takes jobs away from qualified whites. But this again is a great example of how that's not the case -- rather than taking spots from qualified whites (or major conference teams), it gives a chance to qualified teams who otherwise would not have gotten their shot. And more often than not, those who benefit from finally getting an equal chance usually prove their worth, whether it be through being a productive employee, award-winning scholar, or taking down the consensus number one seed in the NCAA tournament.

You see? Everything can be explained with sociology...Go Panthers!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The United Countries of Baseball

With opening day fast approaching, another great one from Strange Maps:

Sounds Like Sconnies All Right

Via my new favorite time wasting blog Strange Maps:

The concentration of bars vs. grocery stores. You might notice that Wisconsin is the only state in which nearly every region has more bars than grocery stores. If you've ever been there or seen the types of people coming from there, this map makes a lot sense...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You Mean the Wealthy and Powerful May Not Have My Best Interests in Mind?!?

My old man often comments that a lot of Republican blowhards, from Bush to Limbaugh and everywhere in between, probably don't even believe the crazy shit they constantly spout. Rather, they've found something that works in getting them money and/or power, and hey, why give up the goose if it's laying you golden eggs.

And while that makes intuitive sense, it's kind of hard to prove. Except now there's some good evidence that he may just be right -- at a hotel hosting a RNC $2,500 per person fund raising event, someone accidentally left behind a power point explaining conservative fundraising tactics.

The power point breaks donors down into two categories: small donors, who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear,” “extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “reactionary.” The other category is major donors, who instead practice “Calculated Giving,” with motivations such as “peer to peer pressure,” “access,” and “ego-driven” giving that can easily be tapped into with access to political “tchotchkes.”

Republicans have spent all of the past day pretending they have never heard of this and have no idea where it came from (it was apparently a magical and mystical RNC fundraiser that no one involved with the RNC had ever heard of or knew anything about), but I think it does a pretty good job of showing what the Republican party really thinks about all those "real" Americans they work so hard to represent...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I Was Never a Wiener Winner

On the heels of today's depressing news that Joe Nathan is probably out for the year with a torn ligament, at least we know which hot dog will be featured at the new Target field this year.

Hormel has been dropped, and while this sadly means there will be no more dollar dog nights and I will officially ever be in the Hormel row of fame or be a wiener winner, at least the Twins are going back to tradition with Schweigerts, makers of the original Twins Dog at the old Met.

The original Twins dog will be accompanied by the Twins Big Dog, the Dugout Dog, and the unfortunately named Dinger Dog. Having recently secured tickets to the opening series, I think I'm going to have to try them all and report back. Can they beat the Dome Dog? I don't know, but I'm willing to do the leg work to find out...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Funny, You Wouldn't Think a Federal Criminal Would Be a Liar

Remember conservative activist James O'Keefe? The one who keeps violating federal law like it's going out of style? And remember how I mentioned in a previous post that a good number of people have been looking at his infamous ACORN pimp videos and noticed how heavily edited they are?

Well, it turns out these folks are finding out quite a few things. For instance, he was not wearing the ridiculous outfit when he went into ACRON offices. And not only was he not dressed like a (rich white's kid's poorly conceived version of a) pimp, he also introduced himself as a young law student, not a pimp. In fact, it's become pretty clear that few, if any, of the ACORN employees identified as wrongdoers even knew he was attempting to pose as a pimp when they were helping him.

Of course, this doesn't mean the New York Times will admit they were wrong to trumpet this story as fact, even though it's been clear from the get-go that these videos were pretty shady. But then, that's pretty standard conservative operating procedure -- put an outlandish lie out there, knowing it will be accepted as fact until it's proved a complete lie, which won't matter, because the retraction will either never come or be buried so far back in the paper no one will know there was ever a retraction. Then, simply bide your time trying not to get arrested for attempting to bug the office of United States Senator...