Saturday, December 29, 2012

How To Stay Young

According to the late, great Satchel Paige (via):

"Avoid running at all times" is a life lesson I have taken to heart. Now I'll be young all my days!

Monday, December 24, 2012

There's A Lot of Crazy Stuff on That Internet

Apparently, these are the 66 internet-based things you should have seen this year.

It's like a cheat sheet for being able to keep up with sitcoms three years from now when they get to this. It doesn't include Grumpy Cat, which means it's not really an exhaustive list, though...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guns, Guns, Guns

So I'm going to stop writing about gun control for a while, because it seems to be getting covered pretty well from every angle in the broader national discussion and I have little of substance to add right now.

That being said, fuck Wayne LaPierre and the entire leadership of the NRA. Whenever there mass shootings happen (which are a disturbingly regular occurrence, it seems), the most rage-induicing moments (besides the actual crimes themselves) are always the NRA responses. I'm reminded of the bit from Bowling for Columbine wherein Marilyn Manson discusses how he cancelled a scheduled concert in Colorado shortly after the Columbine shootings out of respect. Although his music likely had little impact on the shootings, he knew that was a popular opinion with some, and given the perception (correct or not), he used some tact and compassion and decided it would be best to remove himself from the situation. All in all, a pretty classy move from a shock rocker.

The NRA, of course, was not so subtle or caring in their response. Instead, a few days later, they held a major rally in Colorado, talking about how they would re-double their efforts to make sure there were no new gun regulations passed. Regardless of how you feel about the possibility or desirability about gun control, that's a pretty dickish move. I think most people would say you might want to give enough time for the multiple shooting victims to be buried before you set up shop in their backyard to talk about how awesome guns are.

I mean, think about that for a minute -- Marilyn Manson responds to a tragedy with far more grace and class than you do. Does that not make you stop for a second and think about what an asshole you are?

If you are an executive of the NRA, it does not. By now, I'm sure you've seen some of LaPierre's incredibly tone-deaf commentary on what happened, but I wanted to share this one because it so succinctly takes him down with just the right amount of snark. From the incomparable Sean O'Neal of the AV Club:

"Here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse," said LaPierre, head of the powerful lobby that uses outlandish political donations and threats to ensure the continued flourishing of an industry that sells things to people whose sole design is to maim and kill, and which have been used repeatedly to sow violence against other people.

"Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away," LaPierre said while directing attention away from any discussion of meaningful change on gun policy and toward demonizing the media instead, with no trace of irony. As he spoke, the next gun-related atrocity arose in Pennsylvania.

Go read the whole thing. And then make sure to buy yourself some cyanide-tipped, armor-piercing bullets and an AR-15 capable of firing hundreds of them per minute. You know, for hunting.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sigh...Something, Something Gun Control

Well, I'm guessing we all agree killing a bunch of children is wrong, so let's leave it at that.

Grumpy cat says: "Hey, let's stop killing each other!"

Monday, December 03, 2012

I Am a Doctor and You Are (Probably) Not

The suckers I was able to con into giving me a degree
According to the 2010 census, a mere 10.6% of the adult population over the age of 25 has a graduate or professional degree. Figuring out the percentage of those that have a doctorate involves too much math for right now, but suffice it to say, when you remove the master's degrees and whatnot from that number, the percentage of those with a doctorate has to be in the mid-to-low single digits. Point being, it's not something that many people do, relatively speaking, but now I have done it.

As Dad would say, that and a buck will get you a cup of coffee.

This is also the reason for the continued radio silence on the ol' blog, as it turns out they don't just hand these degrees out, but instead expect you to do a fair amount of actual work. And a shitload of pointless paperwork, but that's a post for another day. But now that it's all done, it feels more anticlimactic than anything. After all, nothing has really changed; I still have the same work to do, the same class to teach, the same syllabi to prep for spring, the same research to keep up with, etc. All that really changes is that I get to call myself "Doctor" now (though don't get me wrong, that's pretty fucking awesome and the novelty of it has definitely not worn off yet).

That being said, it is a relief. Maybe I'll be a bit more jazzed about the whole thing once I don't feel so damn exhausted. As you can see in the pic there, my distance-running advisor gifted me his finisher's medal from the 2012 TC marathon (as well as the sweet game-worn Twinkies hat also in the pic). As Chris explained, all dissertations are like marathons, but it may have been especially the case with a project like mine, which definitely took a little bit more legwork than the average study.

I feel like the marathon analogy is a pretty apt summation of the dissertation process, and getting the medal was easily the best part of the defense. I feel like every doctoral defense should end with a medal; it feels way more official (I may or may not have continued wearing the medal long into the night of drinking that followed). Sure, I may personally not be able to run more than a mile or so, but I sure felt like I earned it.

So anyway, there's really no point to this post beyond bragging about having finally accomplished some sort of goal in my life and explaining why I haven't been blogging.

But if there's any point, it's that, while again maybe this will all feel a bit more momentous when I've caught up on my sleep and don't have piles of tests to grade, I will say it is cool to have finished if for no other reason than having achieved something relatively rare-ish. Even if my life completely crashes and burns from here on out and I never accomplish anything ever again, at least I can say I'm a doctor.

It'll still take a buck or so to get that cup of coffee, though.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

So There Was Like An Election And Stuff

I had to wait in line for like 20 minutes. What is this, communist Russia?!?

So that one guy who wants to bomb his way through the Middle East, block the prosecution of the financial elites who crashed our entire economy, and be allowed to kill any American citizen without judicial review so long as he, and he alone, labels them a threat beat the other guy who also wants to do those things but isn't very charming about it all.

But really, whether you think there's a huge difference between Obama and Romney, think there's enough difference to matter, or think there's really no difference, I would argue the president alone is rarely responsible for much, so it largely doesn't matter. There's a long line of literature detailing the much more central role of social movements, corporate lobbying, organized labor pressure, etc. in creating social policy (here's where citations would go if I were energetic enough to give a fuck right now).

And since this election had long been a forgone conclusion to anyone who followed the science instead of the bullshit horse race news, it was rendered even less exciting than usual. But as always, there are good ol' state ballot initiative to keeps us entertained!

Here in Minnesota, we successfully defeated both a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only for good, nice Christians who own more than 3 guns (something like that) AND an initiative to force voter ID on us. Both of those initiatives were stupid for reasons too numerous to count and which have already been well explained elsewhere.

So I'll just say "hey, way to not be a bunch of giant fucking assholes, people of Minnesota."

But truly the most interesting initiatives to pass were those legalizing marijuana in both Washington and Colorado. I mean, it's not every day states pass laws in direct opposition to long-standing federal law on the subject. Plus, you know, duuuuuuuuuuuuuude legal pot n' shit. Munchies, bad movies, and one more thing.

Sorry. If I understand everything I've read about it so far, it's legally required to make an incredibly tired joke about stoners every time you mention this.

Again, the reasons in favor of legalization should be pretty obvious regardless of whether you approve of its use or not. And since this is yet another subject countless other people have written about far better than I, I'll just hit the probably highlights of legalization:

--Billions saved in criminal justice expenditures
--A dramatic reduction in the racial disparities in our prison system
--It's largely a harmless drug, meaning the government has no legitimate reason to ban it
--It's at least far less dangerous to public health than alcohol and cigarettes
--The millions (or billions, depending on which projections you believe) in tax revenue
--The loss of a major funding stream for violent drug cartels operating near our Southern border
--So many other obvious logical reason I'm too tired to list right now

As always, the usual disclaimer that I in no way endorse pot use. It's just that I also don't endorse absurd laws that cost us billions of dollars and ruin millions of lives for no particular purpose.

But of course, this is most interesting to me as a criminologist. This raises all sorts of criminal justice issues, the most interesting of which will be how federal authorities react to something which is now legal by state law but still very much illegal by federal law. Especially in Washington, where one current proposal of how to regulate marijuana would be to restrict its sale to liquor stores. But the liquor stores there are state run, meaning state employees and a large variety of state operations would be committing felonies every day.

And while Obama has claimed he would tell the DEA to ignore medical marijuana, there have been several raids on dispensaries during his presidency, so he's not exactly pro-ganja (a tad hypocritical, considering his previous stance on the issue). And besides, medical weed is one thing; I have a feeling the feds may not look as kindly on states more or less thumbing their noses at them.

Yet in one aspect of this that we can all agree on: legalization drove a panicked Fox news anchor to ask "What's to keep somebody from getting all potted up on weed and getting behind the wheel?"

What we can agree on is that "getting all potted up" may be the funniest thing said in the entire election cycle, as well as a phrase that needs to enter the national lexicon post haste.

Sometimes it's the most controversial decisions that bring us all together...

Friday, November 02, 2012

All Quiet on the Blog Front

Sorry about the extreme lack of posts lately. I've finally hit the time where I need to actually finish my degree and get the hell outta Dodge, so I've been busy with actual work and stuff. Which leaves little time for frivolities like blogging. Or socializing. Or basic hygiene.

But hey, that's what I signed up for, right?

Anyway, while procrastinating a bit this morning, I came across this interesting article arguing why the renewed emphasis on getting more college students into the STEM fields is misguided.

There's a lot of interesting stuff to the argument, but what was most interesting was how the author shows that one of the most misguided aspects behind this push to increase STEM (science, tech, engineering, and mathematics, for those following along at home) majors is that they are more necessary to our economy (debatable) and that they themselves are the more financially sound option (empirically not true).

It turns out that mid-career, someone who majored in biology can expect to make around 13 grand less a year than their counterparts who majored in political science. Hell, they can expect to make around 4 grand less a year than film major. Film majors!

Granted, the main argument is that liberal arts education provides a great deal of the harder to quantify skills (interpersonal communication, critical thinking, analytical reasoning) that are increasingly in demand in our brave new economy and all sorts of deep insights.

But I cannot get over the wage disparity. The trope of broke-ass liberal arts major who is flipping burgers with their useless degree is so old and hoary to have blown past simple cliche decades ago. And yet, like so many widely-held cultural beliefs, it just ain't true.

Anyway, interesting food for thought. But now I have to get back to work. Those crazy palatial liberal arts mansions don't just buy themselves, you know...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

But...But...But...We're In A Financial Crisis, Right?

Anytime anyone in a position of claims a "financial crisis" as the reason they're doing something, it's generally safe to assume they're full of shit. Or, if not completely full of shit, at least covering for some other priorities that aren't quite as palatable.

Take, for instance, the University of Minnesota.

Sorry, class sizes are going to have to increase. We're in a financial crisis.

Sorry, tuition's going to go up yet again. We're in a financial crisis.

Sorry, we can't recognize a union. We're in a financial crisis.

Sorry, we have to hire part-time adjuncts instead of actual faculty. We're in a financial crisis.

Oh, we need to pay out $800,000 to avoid playing a football team that might make out football team not look very good? No worries. Here's your money.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Conservative Hypocrisy and Social Science

Social sciences are something most conservatives don't like. Well, mostly they ignore them and all of the conclusions reached, probably because the scientific evidence is inconvenient to their worldview. Fair enough. We all do that to some extent. Though conservatives tend to go a bit further when actually discussing the social sciences, arguing either they should be defunded and discontinued, they're just bastions of liberal brainwashing, or they don't count as actual science because they can't be used to build missiles and the only point of science is to find better ways to kill people.

Put simply, most conservatives, and especially conservative politicians, are not big fans of the social sciences.

But what kills me about the conservative hatred of the social sciences is the rank hypocrisy of it. It reaches a level of "virulently anti-gay politician caught with meth-dealing gay prostitute" hypocrisy that conservatives don't have an exclusive claim to, but sure seem to have perfected.

You see, the conservative hatred of social sciences is actually quite akin to the conservative hatred of evolution -- they say they hate it, but they use it all the time when it actually applies to them. For example, I'm assuming most all of them are up-to-date on their vaccinations. But if you've ever been vaccinated, you believe in evolution (at least as it applies to your health). Because diseases change and mutate (dare I say, evolve?) and so too do the vaccinations and various drugs used to combat them. So if you truly didn't believe in evolution, you'd have to reject most of modern medical science.

But, you know, if you were to do that, it might actually effect you personally, so you just hypocritically ignore that.

Well, their attitude toward the social sciences is the exact same. If you've got the time, go read this awesome deadspin piece on how Frank Lutz, the top Republican innovator of social science, is helping the NHL owners attempt to control the story surrounding their lockout of players. Or read this piece about how Romney is using the ol' "dog whistle" racist terms conservative strategists long ago discovered had the power to let you make racist statements with enough plausible deniability built into them that you can claim you're not racist when people call you out about it.

The piece on Lutz is really the most informative, as it's such a great example of how conservatives claim to hate the social sciences, but will gladly spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on social scientific research if it will benefit them personally. In fact, the greatest irony of this is that conservative spin-masters like Lutz (muthafucka coined the term "death panels" so you know he's good) are not only using the social sciences, but innovating them in countless (albeit highly problematic) ways. Lutz and his counterparts more-or-less invented the concept of focus-group testing specific words and phrases to radically reshape public opinion, especially when conservatives need to sell the public on something they don't want.

And that's really the dictionary definition of hypocrisy -- saying something is horrible and backward and should be done away with, while privately using it yourself, because you know it works.

tl;dr: Conservatives are really hypocritical about this thing I care about and that's annoying.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How To Build Yourself An Enemy

You may have heard a few weeks ago about how some idiot made a crappy movie on youtube that insulted the prophet Muhammed. And then in reaction to that, a bunch of people in Libya rioted, attacked an embassy, and killed several people.

All over a crappy youtube movie. What savages.

Except that narrative is utter and complete bullshit.

You see, if you pay attention to the date the attacks occurred, you might notice a date of some import. September 11th, to be exact. You know, a day which has been used a justification for the on-going slaughter of now in the millions of people in the Middle East. It's been used to justify killing people in Iraq (not at all responsible for the 9/11 attacks), Pakistan (not at all responsible for the 9/11 attacks), Syria (not at al responsible for the 9/11 attacks), Libya (not at al responsible for the 9/11 attacks), and  Afghanistan (marginally responsible for the 9/11 attacks at best).

Do you notice a theme there? Now suppose you lived in one of those nations. Do you think that maybe you might be a little upset over how the 9/11 attacks are being used as justification to murder and terrorize you, your family, your friends, and your countrymen? Especially since, you know, neither you, anyone you know, or even your government was in any way responsible for those attacks.

But this is a narrative that doesn't work in America. Because to understand this version of events (you know, the actual version of events), you have to be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, the United States is in the wrong here. You'd have to admit that maybe, just maybe, people are right to be upset about seeing their families murdered and terrorized for no reason.

But this is something we absolutely cannot acknowledge in America, because America is right about everything ever all the time. So instead we desperately search for a why? Why could anyone be mad at us, the lovable dictator of the world?!? Everyone loves someone who constantly tells them do what to do and threatens to kill them (or actually does) for no particular reason, right? Right?!?

So we search for some proximal cause, no matter how ridiculous it is. So instead of being upset over the decade plus of terror, death, and destruction wrought by the war on terror, these savage idiots are upset over a movie.

Ha! What backward savages! They have no real complaints, they're just all blood-thirsty murderers who can't be reasoned with! 

Thus even people who normally don't care for murder or war will throw up their hands and say "what can you do? We need to fight them, because if they're insane enough to kill people over a movie, obviously they're too insane to be reasoned with."

Now, granted, the Obama administration has finally come clear, somewhat admitting they made up the whole story. But it doesn't matter, because the narrative is already out there, and we all know how effective back-page retractions are at pushing a good narrative out of the public imagination...

So, in case you missed it, a nice reminder that We're the good guys who have peace and reason on our side and are regrettably sometimes drawn into fighting because ignorant savages can't be reason with. They, on the other hand, are such ignorant savages that they kill people over an internet movie. Good riddance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UPDATE: Capitalism Is Really, Really Stupid

Sorry for the light blogging again. Been busy lately, etc.

Here's a piece I'd been meaning to write about for quite some time but have only now gotten around to. And I'm not really in the mood to be clever, so as usual, please imagine this space is filled some really clever and insightful analysis.

So this is a somewhat recent piece in the Guardian about how private commodities-trading firms are planning on making big bucks on the upcoming projected food crisis.

The short version is this: droughts and other bad nature stuff (as is the scientific classification of what's going on) are combining to leave major staple crops in short supply. Now, to you or me or any one with "human emotions," this registers as a bad thing, because it will likely lead to food shortages and/or starvation crises in various parts of the world.

But to a commodities-trader, it makes for "a good environment." You know, because food shortages mean more money. Or to put it more accurately, millions of people starving means other people will pay even more money for food than they do now so they don't also starve to death.

But of course, this only highlights something that is already happening. It's long been a settled question amongst those who study such issues that global food crises are normally a problem of distribution, not of production. Meaning it's not that we don't have enough food for everyone, it's that not everyone has enough money for food. So we let people starve to death because it's more important to make money than it is to feed starving people.

As such, this is example no. 89,053,738,643,211 why capitalism is completely fucked up. But hey, at least a bunch of starving people gives Bono something to do. Thought to be fair, giving Bono something to do is actually example no. 89,053,738,643,212 of why capitalism sucks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When a Leak Is Bad (Or Good)

Glenn Greenwald has written a lot (much of which I've linked to in this space) about the current administration's stance on leaks. Like most governments, it sees leaks as bad when they make it look bad and good when the opposite is true. So, for example, the Obama administration can claim it's drone program (which undeniably exists) is so secret that it can't be legally reviewed, because they can't even confirm or deny that such a program exists. But when the drones take out someone important, you can bet your ass there will be a leak about how successful the drones are. And that whomever is doing the leaking won't be, say, indefinitely detained in torturous conditions for months on end, unlike some people.

Well, here's another great example of that. Matt Bissonnett, one of the Navy SEALs who killed Bin Laden, has published an account of what went down. It doesn't really reveal anything that hasn't already become public knowledge for those who are looking for it. But it does not mesh with the official Pentagon story, so that means it's a big ol' problem.

You probably know the Pentagon story: Bin Laden was simultaneously firing on the SEALs (thus justifying their lethal force instead of arrest) while using a woman as a human shield (because Muslims are scary sexist cowards). This makes the SEALs look quite heroic and sure shuts up those hippies who are wondering why we could put Nazis on trial, but instead shot this guy in the head and dumped his body before anyone could question things.

But what actually happened (and again, is really public knowledge if you've been paying attention) is far less heroic. First of all, it must be remembered Bin Laden was an elderly man with failing kidneys who required daily dialysis (not very intimidating). And not only was he not hiding behind a woman (not even a misinterpretation of what happened, just a complete bald-faced lie to make him look bad), he was also unarmed. So what the SEALs actually accomplished was breaking into a house and repeatedly shooting an unarmed, very ill, elderly man. Not quite as heroic, right?

Again, Bissonnett doesn't really reveal anything new; he just confirms the truth. But now instead of the truth coming from some hippie website you can feel free to ignore, it's coming from one of the SEALs themselves, making it much harder to dismiss. And that's his real crime.

Of course, the parallels to the Pat Tillman case are simply to great to ignore. Again, a football player who dies a hero's death in battle sure sounds a lot better than a guy who was repeatedly shot in the back by his incompetent squad mates.

But it's really only a problem if people find out about it. So that's when leaks are bad...

Friday, September 14, 2012

I Wish This Existed For All Situations...

We've all had that experience -- coming up with a line as witty and clever as "shut up, Becky" only hours after it would have been useful. And for most situations, that's just a bummer for us, and we don't end up looking as witty as we want to.

But in some situations, having a witty comeback can actually be an important tool in fighting rampant sexism, or in this case, at least sticking to assholes harassing you on the street.

To that end, the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children in Toronto has developed an app called "Not Your Baby" that provides you with a snappy comeback for street harassment based on the location and harasser.

While snappy comebacks in and of themselves are not going to end sexual harassment, perhaps helping those experiencing harassment feel empowered enough to fight back is a good start.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wiki leaks? More like /busy/ leaks, amirite?

The fall semester has started here in the great white north, so it's been a busy few days getting back in to the swing of things. Also, football has started and baseball is still going, and even though the teams I follow are either already well out of things or have no chance of ever being in things this year, they still occupy far too much of my time.

Anyway, here's a fun little graphic I had no part in creating. But it does a good job of summarizing what wiki leaks has done and why it's important, and that's something everyone should know. Please pretend I wrote a very eloquent defense of wiki leaks right here. and then it looks less like I'm phoning it in.

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You Didn't Know You Need To See This, But You Do

I bet you woke up this morning, a slowly-dawning sense of existential ennui covering you like a shroud.

"Sigh," you said to yourself, absent-mindedly, "what's the point? Wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, start all over again. Just another in a pointless series of events before my inevitable death."

But fear not, loyal reader! For today, I present the video that will fill the void in your life you're tried so desperately to cover over with cats and late-night ice cream binges.

Yes, today you get to see Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, frontmen for horror core rap group and apparent Republican party science counsel Insane Clown Posse, break down hit-of-the-summer Call Me Maybe MST3K style.

You will now measure all events in your life by this moment. You are welcome.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Bit More On Gun Control (Last one! I swear it!)

Ok, so this is apparently my second gun-control post in a row, but it concerns a point I've been finding myself making repeatedly, so I wanted to put it down in written form.

As I mentioned before, one of the biggest impediments to meaningful gun control (or hell, even a meaningful conversation about gun control) is this ridiculous Dirty Harry fantasy in which gun nuts imagine that if only they had been in Columbine/Aurora/Tucson/Virginia Tech/wherever, they would have pulled out their trusty revolver and put the shooter down with one shot. Because of this, not only should we not have any form of gun control (not even, say, for this group of people who bought over $87,000 in weaponry and were planning on killing the president), but there should actually be more guns available.

What makes this argument so frustrating is that it's based completely on fantasy -- not only has this never happened (despite, you know, ample opportunity), but even a child could see the problem with this logic. You know what, gun toting vigilante fantasy guy? Maybe you're not quite as good a shot as you think you are. And maybe we shouldn't base our public policy off of your fantasies.

And while I'm making this argument with multiple people, along comes a situation proving exactly what I'm saying. Now that the dust has settled around last week's Empire State Building shooting, it turns out all bystanders shot were hit by police bullets.

So to recap, a team of trained professionals who are charged with handling such situations and have actually practiced what to do in such situations still end up causing multiple injuries and shooting multiple innocent people. Because it turns out that in very chaotic situations, even well-trained law enforcement have a hard time stopping a crazed gunman.

But I'm sure you, crazy gun nut who thinks they're some amazing shot, would do far, far better than trained law enforcement in such a situation. In fact, I'm so confident you'd be able to do it that I agree cyanide-tipped armor-piercing bullets need to be freely available for purchase. After all, I've got a nation full of gun experts ready to sprint into action should anything go wrong. And since they've successfully stopped so many mass shootings already, don't they deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nope, Totally Don't Need To Do Anything

A little while back I wrote about the shooting in Colorado and gave more or less the exact argument you'd expect out of someone like me -- the constant occurrence of such mass shootings clearly indicates something needs to be done, and while what specifically if obviously up for debate, those who say we don't need any sort of gun control or that such gun control would do nothing really need to come up with some evidence for their argument stat. Because otherwise they're setting public policy with their ridiculous Dirty Harry fantasies, and this is directly leading to people dying.

I'm not going to rehash that here, because the post exists, and because I'm tired of having this argument right now.

But what I will point out is that the Onion tried to make a joke about our rampant gun-murder culture with its article Nation Celebrates Full Week Without Deadly Mass Shooting, mockingly suggesting going a full week without someone using a gun to shoot up a public place would be reason for celebration.

And yet in a horribly sad illustration of where our nation's obsession with guns has gotten us, between the time the article was written and when it was published, the Empire State building shooting happened. So they couldn't even make satire about it, because our gun culture is too extreme to even satirize.

So I'm not going to get all into this debate again, but when shit is so fucked up you can't even mock it, that probably indicates something needs to be done.

Friday, August 24, 2012

You Did Not Know You Needed To See This, But You Do

This is a video of the fin of a squid listening to Insane in the Brain. Well, it's a little more sciency than that -- there's obviously no ear on the fin (well, actually, squid don't have ears at all), but sound being the magical thing it is, can easily be converted into electrical energy (more or less). The resulting electrical energy can be passed through, say the tissue of a squid fin, and that energy will cause the muscles to react in various ways.

Hook it all up, put it under a powerful microscope, and you've got yourself a trippy little music video. Happy Friday.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Welcome To My Blog About Not Rock Climbing

This post is inspired by this somewhat misleadingly titled article about how annoying crusading atheists are. Since this has long been a pet peeve of mine, here's my assorted rambling thoughts on the subject.

As always, whenever I'm going to denigrate a large group of people, I like to point out I'm fully aware they are not all one and the same. So I'm not speaking of all atheists, I'm speaking about the evangelical atheists who take it upon themselves to rid the world of religion. Atheists who just don't believe in religion are all fine by me. This is just for those who think not believing in religion somehow makes them better or more intelligent than everyone else.

Because ironically, as the article points out, crusading atheists are often just as ignorant, stubborn, and obnoxiously condescending as the religious zealots they mock. But I think the crusading atheists make actually have the corner on condescension.

And that's what really gets me about these folks, the condescension. Because it's not enough that they don't believe in God or any sort of religion, this is also apparently something that proves they are far, far more rational and intelligent than any of those fools who do, regardless of what they believe or why. That's what really irks me about evangelicals of the believing or non-believing type: anyone who assumes they've figured out the greatest questions of humanity and that anyone who doesn't share their answers is a complete idiot is fucking infuriating to have to deal with. I mean, have some fucking humility -- maybe there's a reason people have been asking these questions since at least the beginning of recorded history.

For example, whenever I end up in an argument with a crusading atheist, which happens fairly often when you're a radical leftist, I use the example of gravity. Because most people have no idea how gravity works; they were just told it's there and it keeps them on the planet and they accept it (on faith, if you will). If you actually look into how gravity works, you'll find we don't really know. I'm not a physicist, but I do know that for a long time there was the Newtonian idea of gravity. And then Einstein came along with some new ideas and asserted gravity works a very different way. Then string theory came along and offered a new and very different way of understanding gravity. And amongst serious scholars, you'll see allegiance to various explanations for how and why gravity works.

But regardless of how it works, the average person has no idea. Sure, they know science is behind it, but they don't know any of the science and don't have any way of verifying it. Yet even the staunchest crusading atheist will uncritically accept gravity. Without evidence. Which would be the exact definition of faith -- accepting something as true despite having no evidence on which to base that decision. Usually the crusading atheist I say this to will become exasperated and point to something about how scientists agree on gravity, but I'll point out A) they really don't, and 2) you're still taking what they say on faith. Sure, you can argue you have reasons to have faith in them, but I can similarly argue I have reasons to have faith in my religion, with technically just as much hard evidence as you have.

This isn't really to argue that we all need to become experts on the mechanics of gravity, but instead to point out that we all accept thousands of very important ideas and concepts on a purely faith basis, so it's fairly ridiculous to point out one version of that as somehow more baseless than any other.

A bigger point of contention I have with crusading atheists is that they fail to separate the idea of religion from those who practice it. Because often I will say something to these folks along the lines of "who cares if it's all a made-up fantasy? How does it hurt you if someone else believes something different than you?" And this question is almost always met by pointing out the many horrible things people have done in the name of religion.

And that argument is most likely the most stupid of them all. For not only does it have no way to address both the many good things done in the name of religion and the many bad things done with no reference to religion (remember, Stalin was a staunch atheist, but it would be pretty disingenuous of me to use that as an argument against atheism wouldn't it?), it also conflates the idea with the actor. Because there are plenty of horrible things done in the name of religion, and I will gladly condemn those right along with you. But such actions should be condemned regardless of their connection, or lack thereof, to religion.

Yet possibly the biggest point of contention I have is with how cowardly crusading atheists act. Because they often vocally condemn religion, but it's almost always only the evangelical Christianity of rich white people. For example, a few weeks ago I was having this exact argument with a crusading atheist who was wearing a Malcolm X t-shirt. But he didn't really see the irony, because Malcolm X doesn't fit the convenient narrative of an idiotic religious believer, so he's not an easy target to pick on. The same folks who say nothing good has ever come from religion and that all people who believe in God are just children who can't see past a fantasy world forced on them by their parents rarely seem to say this at, say, a remembrance of MLK. Not to mention the awkwardness such people back themselves into when discussing something like the xenophobia and racism displayed toward, say, Muslims or other minority religious groups. Because why is it a problem to crack down on Muslims, what with their crazy belief in an idiotic institution? Haven't their been a lot of terrible things done in the name if Islam? Shouldn't this be greeted as the first step on the glorious path to ridding ourselves of all religion? A rational atheist would say, no, it's no ok, because people should have the freedom to believe in whatever they want, even crazy shit. But the crusading atheist doesn't really have much room to work there.

But really what I find so odd/amusing about crusading atheists is that they care so damn much about something they don't believe in. I mean, I've never been rock climbing. In fact, I think it's a fairly stupid and pointless endeavor. But I don't publish newsletters and hold meetings and start campus groups to talk about how I don't rock climb. I just don't fucking go rock climbing.

I can already hear the objections of crusaders saying something like "but rock climbers are not setting our political agenda or using their collective power to oppress countless groups. That's not a fair analogy." But that's where you're wrong, because of the difference between an idea and its followers. After all, it's not religion that's setting our political agenda or oppressing people, it's some assholes using religion as their excuse to keep themselves in power and shut out the groups they don't like. Thinking getting rid of religion would change that means you probably haven't paid much attention to human history.

So the analogy does work. Because if a bunch of rock climbers founded "Rock Climbers For Fascism" and started going around the nation beating up poor people and trying to foment a fascist take-over of the government, then I would totally be part of the movement to stop them. Or if rock climbers started using their collective finances to try to outlaw abortion, again, I would be strongly opposed to them.

But if they just want to spend their Sunday morning rock climbing?

Well, then I just don't fucking go rock climbing with them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Upon Further Analysis, I May Not Be a "Hep Cat" But Perhaps Instead a "Jive Turkey"

Easily my favorite Skinner monologues, and quite possibly one of my favorite bits in the entire run of the show, is when he's trying to track down a school-skipping Bart. While Bart is arguing his way into an R-rated movie, Skinner is checking all of the places he thinks a young child skipping school would go, and the scene cuts back and forth between these two shots:

Principal Skinner has decided to walk around town to see if he can find
our delinquent young friend.

   Skinner: If I were a truant boy out for a good time, I'd be right
            here: the Springfield Natural History Museum.  [chuckles]
            You're mine, Simpson.
             [Bart argues at a triple-R rated movie box office]
      Bart: Look, if I was under seventeen, I'd be in school, right?
Ticket boy: Yeah, I guess you're right.  Enjoy "Boobarama", sir.
             [Skinner has left the museum, meanwhile]
   Skinner: Why, there are no children here at the four-H club, either!
            Am I so out of touch...?  No, it's the children who are

I just got my teaching evaluations back from the course I taught this spring. For the most part, they were pretty routine; mostly good, a few standard complaints (why don't you put your lecture notes online, I'm a big baby who can't be bothered to take notes), a few "you were the best teacher I've ever had" (seriously, I'm now at over 2 dozen of those, not that I'm keeping track, that would be tacky), one bad review, etc. Again, pretty standard stuff.

But two common threads in this last crop of evaluations are new ones I've never seen before, and they are equal parts baffling and scary, yet for entirely different reasons.

The first thread was that people liked me because I'm young and come up with relevant examples that reflect their life (seriously, sometimes I think these comments are auto-generated from the blurbs on the back of textbooks). Now, I've already covered in this space how the kids these days find me "young" and "hip,"but this is the first time I've ever had anyone, let alone multiple students, write something about me being young in my evals, even though this was, by definition, the oldest I've ever been while teaching.

I'm sure a large part of this has to do with the fact that I still look like I'm 15, but that doesn't really explain why it came up this semester. Maybe it's because this was an intro class and most of the students were first-years and had assumed all their professors would be elderly? I really have no idea why all of a sudden my youth is apparently a selling point to students, and I'm not really sure it's a compliment my students see me as young and relatable. I always strive for more of an "angry and unapproachable" vibe, mostly to keep students from e-mailing me too much.

The other, far more disturbing, common thread in these evaluations was for the first time ever I had multiple students say the Simpsons are getting too outdated to play in class. I have never had a student complain about the Simpsons, and usually have many who are glad it was played. And sure, there were still several pro-Simpsons comments this year, but there were at least 4 or 5 students who thought they were too old. Gah!

So, ironically in the first semester I'm ever referred to as young, I feel older than ever. In fact, I feel like this allows me to pinpoint the exact moment when I began to lose touch. I mean, I have no idea what will replace the Simpsons in my lectures, and I'm not about to start paying attention to youth culture.

Oh well. At least I have written confirmation of a time when I was considered an instructor students could relate to and enjoy in class. 10 years from now when all of my student reviews say "this weird old guy just kept referencing some tv show none of us have ever heard of," I can rest assured it is the children who are wrong.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Feeding the Trolls (Or Why Fame Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be)

Let me tell you a long-winded story that will be relevant eventually. Bear with me.

I've tended to attract weirdos all throughout my life. I'm not really certain why this is, beside the fact I'm fairly odd myself, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, I've always been a magnet for the weirdos no one else would talk to. If there was a kid in class who never showered and played with Star Wars toys instead of interacting with any other human being, you can bet they would just go ahead and consider me their best friend. While this used to really bother me as a kid (even the weird kids want to be cool), as I grew up, I realized it was generally either fun (I have got to meet a lot of interesting people I'm assuming most people never bother to talk to) or, at worst, kind of annoying.

But then in college I started getting heavily into politics. I had always been somewhat involved, but around 19 I became your stereotypical college activist, with the requisite loud mouth and, eventually, even the long smelly dreadlocks (though I used a mint-scented soap to wash them, so my dreads actually smelled minty fresh most of the time). So now, in addition to attracting all the odd folks I used to, I started attracting the political weirdos, which, for the uninformed, are way, way worse than normal weirdos. Some were weirdos who agreed with my politics, but many were weirdos who greatly disapproved of my politics. These are the weirdos who would shout shit at me as I walked around town, send me death threats (anonymously, of course, because people who send death threats are invariably cowards), or even occasionally, tail my car (though, again, they would never actually do anything, because again, these people are cowards. Though funny story: once a guy in an over-grown hotwheels truck tailed my car around town for the better part of 20 minutes and when I eventually stopped, he wedged his car behind me so I couldn't go anywhere. When I got out he said he was going to kick my ass because of my bumperstickers. So I asked him to make it quick because I was trying to run errands, and he just called me a faggot and drove away. See? Cowards. All of them).

Now some of these weirdos are just temporary, but some of them take an odd, bordering on the pathological, obsession with me. In college it was this guy named Trevor (shit. Or was it Tyler? Yeah, that's it. Or is it? Fuck, I can't believe I can't remember dude's name. Man, I am getting really old). Anyway, Trevor/Tyler was head of the College Republicans and wrote a regular column for the alternative conservative (yup, oxymoron) paper on campus. So obviously we didn't see eye-to-eye on much. And while for me Trevor/Tyler was just some dude I didn't agree with, for Trevor/Tyler I was the epitome of everything that was wrong with the world, and apparently some sort of personal white whale that he had to slay to prove...well,  I'm never really certain what these people are trying to prove.

So Trevor/Tyler started a one-man crusade against me. During a several month period my senior year in college, every editorial he wrote for that paper was about me and what I was up to. In the beginning it was cute, but it started to get creepy when he began writing things that made it clear he was either spying on me regularly or had access to some weird case file about me I'm not aware of. For instance, one week I was having car trouble so I was in my backyard working on my car, and he mentioned this is in one of his anti-me screeds. Not sure how he would have known any of this unless he was casing my house, or some such thing. Creepy, right?

At first, this was all somewhat flattering. It's fun to feel so important someone becomes maniacally obsessed with you. But then it just starts to get creepy and sad. Because there's nothing more sad than someone who thinks they're engaged in a fierce war of ideology with a person who doesn't care and is only vaguely aware of this supposed battle.

But beyond the creepy factor and how sad it made Trevor/Tyler look, it got really embarrassing for me after awhile. Not because of anything he wrote (what was true I was fine with, what was made up was so obviously made up I didn't care), but because it made it look like I was part of all this. I barely knew the kid and to this day still don't know why I was the object of his ire. Sure, I was a very outgoing and outspoken radical activist, but so were most of my friends, many of them more so. I actually only spoke to Trevor/Tyler in person two or three times as far as I can recall. Yet nonetheless, he chose me to continually write about. What made it embarrassing is having to repeatedly explain to people that I neither knew this dude nor knew what his problem with me was. Because when a crazy person repeatedly talks about you in public forums, people start to think you have something to do with that crazy person. But I didn't. I don't even remember his damn name.

But really the overwhelming feeling from the whole process was just pity for Trevor/Tyler. He had somehow built in his head a world in which not only was I apparently incredibly important, but that I somehow cared about his opinion of me or what he wrote in his wildly odd/entertaining editorials about me. I guess he sat there typing away, filling with glee over how angry this would make me and how it would shatter my fragile world and...shit, I don't know. I honestly don't get it.

Basically, Trevor/Tyler was an internet troll before that was a big thing (this was awhile ago folks, I'm getting old). Internet trolls are people who throw out insulting contrarian views in the hopes that this will provoke some big reaction from people or destroy their ideals or some such thing. But that never happens. All it succeeds in doing is make the troll look like a small, sad, and petty person. Which would describe Trevor/Tyler in as far as I knew him.

Right. So that's a shitload of exposition about someone you don't know and don't care about. Here's where it gets relevant...

It looks like I have a new Trevor/Tyler in my life, though I don't know who this person is (again, cowards never use their names). Whoever it is and I disagreed about unionizing grad students. As far as I know, I've never actually met this person, but given that I like to procrastinate, I probably spent a fair amount of time arguing with him (I'm going to assume this person is male for ease of pronoun use) on the internets during the union campaign. Then there was an election, and unfortunately, it didn't turn out how I wanted it to. Then I moved on with my life.

But you see, whoever this is did not move on with his life, as far as I can tell. Because the fact that I disagreed with him about this thing that happened several months ago apparently means he and I are enemies for life. Which is fine by me. I don't spend any time thinking about whoever this person is, so he's free to think about me whatever he wants.

And think about me he seems to do quite a bit. I know this not just because he comments on this blog, but because of where he comments and what he writes about. I think the first comment he left was on a post I wrote about the union election. Fair enough. That makes sense, as it was something the both of us were very invested in (well, I was very invested in it. I'm assuming whoever this is was as well, but again I don't know, because: coward). Sure, he only came to gloat like a child whose daddy bought him a better toy, but again, I don't care what that dude does, so to each their own.

But then it started to get creepy, as it always does. Because I get e-mail alerts every time someone comments on my blogs. So I start to get all these notifications that someone has commented on my posts. But the posts being commented on...well, some of them were from about 5 years ago. Meaning dude is obsessed enough with me that he's read through at least 5 years of my blog's back catalogue. I just wish I had fans that dedicated.

So that's already creepy enough, but hey, he seems like the kind of dude who probably doesn't make many friends, so I assumed he's just got time on his hands to read a bunch of shit online. But then he left a comment the other week about the new job I got, making a dig at both my field and the institution to which I'm going. That's not such a big deal, right? I mean, people make fun of me and sociology all the time, so how is that creepy? Well, I thought about it for a minute and couldn't remember ever writing anything about getting a job or where it was. And the more I thought about it, the more curious I got. So I went back through all my posts and checked. And here's the really creepy thing, friends:

I had never in this space posted about getting a job prior to his saying that, and I've certainly never come close to mentioning where it is. In fact, I've made no public announcements about it at all.

Then I checked a little further. And no info about me getting a job comes up until the fourth page of google results. That means dude is so obsessed with me he's clearly spending inordinate amounts of time searching out information about me. And while it's flattering (don't get me wrong, I am a pretty awesome person to obsess over, given how amazing I am), he's crossed the line from cute crazy to "show up at my door with a shotgun mumbling about the cleansing rain of the Lord" crazy.

And again, I'm left not really understanding it. Sure, he and I had possibly a spirited back and forth online during the election, but that was months ago. And we're adults, who I would think are capable of separating political discussions from the rest of our lives. Also, I don't understand the insults. You can go ahead and read through his illuminating comments if you like, but they all basically boil down to "leftist politics are stupid and you are stupid for being a sociologist. And you smell.'' (In his defense, I usually do smell pretty bad). I'm actually pretty surprised he hasn't left any yo mama jokes in the comments, but maybe those are too clever for him. I don't know.

But I honestly mean it when I say I don't get the point of this. Are these random insults that rarely if ever have anything to do with the subject at hand supposed to affect me in some way? What am I supposed to come away with from reading highly intelligent stuff like "I can't believe how easy it is to get doctorates in sociology nowadays?" What does that mean? Was it more difficult to get a sociology Ph.D. at some point in time? Did he have some misconceptions about sociology that I inadvertently corrected? Am I supposed to be so ashamed of my field I instantly quit academia forever? These aren't rhetorical questions; if someone can actually understand what these comments are supposed to make me feel, please let me know.

Because again, all they make me feel are pity. Pity that a grown man who's intelligent enough to be in a Ph.D. program at a major university has no better use for his time. Or is not mature enough to understand adults can disagree with each other without needing childish insults. Or that he apparently thinks insulting sociology is both original and something I give a shit about.

But what I think is saddest about these people is that they always seem to think they're the first person to come up with stuff -- You mean to tell me some people don't respect the liberal arts?!? HOLY FUCKING SHIT YOU GUYS! WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME THIS BEFORE?!? These people are like that kid in high school who discovers the Beatles and grows a shaggy early-John Lennon mop top and walks around acting like he's the first person to have discovered this crazy underground band out of England. Really? You like the most popular band in the world? How crazy!

Then to push it past sadness to the point of being truly pathetic (in the literal sense of the word, as in inspiring pathos for such a sad, small person) is that they not only express an incredibly common-to-the-point-of-being-cliche viewpoint, they somehow thinks this makes them some awesome rebel, the only one whose not afraid to speak the truth, man. And they clearly think this is accomplishing something, as if a guy (me) who has heard some variation (or these exact words) from roughly several thousand people by this point will, under the weight of his impeccable logic, suddenly collapse and abandon all of my dearly held beliefs, leave my chosen profession, and be emotionally shattered.

(Side note: the insults aren't stinging or even clever, for that matter. And yet, there's so many legitimate reasons to insult me. Make fun of me because my fiance left me. Make fun of me because I'm klutzy and often injure myself doing routine activities. Make fun of me because I'm so broke I've been using shampoo bottles I've collected from hotels over the past year because I can't even afford to buy shampoo. Make fun of me because I've played baseball for years and yet this season I've managed a batting average that make Drew Butera look like a Hall of Famer. Make fun of me because I pretend to be a musician even though I'm talentless and no one wants to hear my music. Hell, I could spend all day listing ways to make fun of me that would actually hurt my feelings, and yet dude's go-to insult is that I'm a sociologist. Weeeeeeaaaaaaaak.)

At this point, I know I've already violated the cardinal rule of dealing with internet trolls by paying attention to whoever this is. While part of this post is to honestly puzzle at what he thinks he's accomplishing, mostly it was just an excuse for me to reminisce about all the insane people that have crossed my path. But now I am going to just ignore him in the vain hope he either finds a hobby or stumbles across an even scarier academic to tilt at windmills against (side note: please don't anyone tell this person about the existence of cultural studies. Because even sociologists make fun of those people).

But given that I can never resist sticking in one more comment, here's my final bit for you, current anonymous cowardly internet stalker:

Please, please find a hobby. Get out of the house and make some friends. Friends who share your interests. Then you can spend time with them and speak like an adult about things you enjoy. It truly is a much more fulfilling way to live your life than spouting random childish insults at people on the internet. I'm flattered by your attention, but now you're just embarrassing the both of us. You do realize that spending time researching what I'm up to in an attempt to insult me is an inherently contradictory and fruitless pursuit, right? Because no matter what you turn up, nothing you find can make me look as sad and useless as someone who spends so much time researching me on the internet. I'm not mad at you; I genuinely feel sorry for you, as something really sad had to happen to you to make you like this. I would suggest some counseling. Seriously. I've used the campus counseling service quite a bit and it's helped me a lot, and I imagine it would do the same for you. Or, failing that, at least take a little time away from the computer. Spend the time you would spend researching your imagined enemies on thinking about yourself; I guarantee you'll come to some realizations that will really help you.

So this is that last I address my anonymous internet adversary. If that past is any indication, he'll probably follow a path very similar to that of Trevor/Tyler: this announcement will be met with some extreme indignation. He'll probably suggest I'm the one who needs counseling (which, hey, true enough) and then make some more comments about my given profession. Then he'll continue to comment on this blog for a few more months before the continued silence finally pushes him to imagine some other holy war he needs to fight and he goes away. All of you faithful readers can help but not responding to his trolling anymore, either.

Because, my anonymous imagined friend, as Mr. Carter puts it so eloquently in the video above, "what you eat don't make me shit." So, please, for both of our sakes, stop trying to make me shit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why Capitalism Is Absurd (Reason No. 7,897,603,194)

Because Jerry Sandusky is writing a book.

Ok, that in and of itself doesn't make capitalism absurd. Anyone can write a book about anything they want. In this case, it's a convicted child rapist writing a book about why he raped children (or probably arguing those kids are liars and he didn't do anything).

Now as the article linked to above notes, he won't get any money, because in most places it's illegal for someone in prison to profit from the story of their crimes, be it in book, movie, t.v. show, or any other form. But there is no law preventing other people from profiting from that story.

Other people like whomever choses to publish this book (I don't believe anyone has agreed to yet, but someone will). Because in capitalism, there is no room for morals. Sure, there may be a capitalist or two who are somewhat moral, but they'll be quickly crushed by their amoral counterparts. Because as they'll be happy to constantly tell you, the capitalists' only duty is to increase profits. Causing trillions of dollars in environmental damage? Too bad! Sexual assault and forced abortions in your factories? Cost of doing business. Firing workers when you're making record profits? Not my problem!

Now you can add to that list "giving a convicted child rapist a platform to publicly denigrate his multiple victims."

You or I, as rational human beings with some semblance of empathy, might think "hey, this guy had a criminal trial to tell his side of the story. Why does he need a whole book to do it again? Didn't the multiple victim testimonies and piles of damning evidence pretty much seal the case?"

But you would only ask that because you're not very good at capitalism. If you knew capitalism, you'd know people love to gawk at a train wreck, so there's lots of money to be made by publishing that train wreck's memoirs (ok, shitty metaphor, but you get the point). Who cares if the whole enterprise is horribly morally indefensible? There's money to be made!

Friday, August 10, 2012

This Things I Believe About Turning 30

So tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the day I was forcefully expelled from my mother's womb. And though I recognize there's nothing inherently more meaningful about turning 30 than there is any other age, and that the only reason this particular birthday is assigned so much importance is because of our base 10 counting system, it's clearly taken on some significance in our culture. And if there's one thing I've advocated my entire life, it's to always fit in at all costs. As such, I intend to make a big deal out of my 30th birthday.

Anyway, as I understand it, a lot of people make life goals and shit and come up with these big lists of things they want to do by the time they turn 30. The lists are usually pretty boring and are generally dominated by the same few generic major life events: get a good job in my chosen field, marry someone, squeeze out X number of kids, complete a difficult but achievable athletic goal (like running a marathon), do something wacky and semi-memorable (like trying to break the local Mexican restaurant's taco-eating record), and then some really vague pronouncements about finding happiness and fulfillment and, again, more boring shit like that.

I'm not really much of one for planning ahead or making goals, so I never came up with such a list. Since such a list would not only be boring but also impossible for me to complete now that 30 is upon me, I've decided to go the other way and compile a list of notable things I have not done/experienced/completed before turning 30, many (though by no means all) of which I'm actually fairly proud of and would have included on my Not To Do Before Turning 30 list, had I the foresight to make one.

Things I Have Not Done Even Though I'm Now 30:
  1. Gotten married
  2. Eaten foie gras
  3. Punched a goat (Update: Since I conceived of this list, this happened. Well, not so much a punch as more of an open-hand slap. But don't worry, it was completely in self defense. Long story.)
  4. Had nude photos surface on the internet
  5. Ran a marathon. Seriously, those things are stupid. Fuck marathons.
  6. Won an Olympic medal
  7. Been to either of our neighboring nations
  8. Changed a diaper (I'm strangely very proud of this one)
  9. Lived outside the midwest
  10. Climbed any mountains
  11. Had a job that paid more than $20,000/year
  12. Failed to complete an eating challenge (Edit: I was reminded I once lost the Nookie challenge. Must have blocked it out of my mind. My bad. Though to be fair, I had completed it successfully twice before I finally failed, so that's got to be worth something)
  13. Had a child (that I know of)
  14. Seen every episode of the Simpsons ever made (at one point in my life I'm sure this was a goal, though to be fair, had the show maintained that level of quality, I'm sure I would have)
  15. Ever been in debt

But, ok, this being my space for rambling and self-absorbtion, here's some stuff I have done/experienced/completed before 30 most of which I'm somewhat proud of. The list would be a lot longer if I spent some time thinking about it, but I'm just adding it this morning before publishing, so it will be even more scattershot than the previous list.

Things I Have Done Before 30:
  1. Been to jail
  2. Got a job without actually finishing my degree
  3. Various fun celebrity stories (top 3 -- got to interview Harvey Pekar, took Jello Biafra record shopping, had dinner with Chuck D)
  4. Helped establish a still-running alternative theater and newspaper at my undergrad
  5. Won some awards for reasons beyond simply being a participant (two favorites -- human rights leadership award from my undergrad and best grad instructor award from my department)
  6. Been to Iraq multiple times (without a gun, because I'm not a sissy)
  7. Have been paid to perform music and/or act on multiple occasions, thereby technically making me both a professional musician and professional actor
  8. Adopted the world's most awesome dog
  9. Learned how to play a dozen instruments
  10. Lots of other stuff I'm sure...damn, this is a much harder list to complete, so I'll just end it there.
So that's about it. I'm getting old, I've done some stuff, I haven't done some other stuff, I'm completely indistinguishable from the rest of humanity as yet another warm body slowly trudging on the inexorable march toward death. So...uh...happy birthday to me?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Only Olympics Coverage Worth Watching

My pardons if this video is taken down sometime soon (the IOC doesn't seem to have too much of a sense of humor about itself), but I had to share this video from Francis Higgins, someone who is part of something called Hardy Bucks, which is apparently an Irish comedy program.

But what really matters is the very astute commentary Mr. Higgins gives on the sailing finals. For all of you like me who have had the experience of watching an Olympic event and not having the foggiest clue of what's going on or what these people are even trying to do, this should ring pretty true. If you're one of the 5 people alive who actually understands the point of sailing races, then...well, there's still naughty words. And those are usually funny.

Anyway, enjoy.

Friday, August 03, 2012

It's Friday. I've Got Nothing Interesting To Say.

It's Friday and I've been writing all week, and I have nothing left to say. Not that I usually have anything to say, but less than usual I guess. So here's a video by some guy named Smart Guy Chevelle (yeah, I've never heard of him either), but he somehow got Purple Jesus in his video:

Though if you're going to talk songs featuring Minnesota athletes, you will never be able to top the Nick Punto song (though sadly, like the whomever made the video, I must acknowledge LNP is no longer a Twinkie. But with their atrocious middle infield options, let's all hope he is again next year):

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

"Go, Passer-By, And Tell The World That We Perished In The Cause, Faithful To Our Orders."

Today is the day set aside in Poland to remember the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

For those of you not familiar with it, the Warsaw uprising was a two-month plus underground resistance movement against the Nazis during WWII. With Soviet troops advancing on the Eastern front and American troops far away on the Western front, Poles formed an underground government with it's own armed forces, the Home Army.

With few resources and having already endured 5 years of Fascist occupation, thousands of Poles attempted to liberate the city against a vastly superior (in terms of armaments and supplies) German army. While it was ultimately unsuccessful, leaving over 15,000 dead and another roughly 15,000 imprisoned, it is a stirring example of the power of the human spirit and the desire for freedom. And probably some other cliches that fail to capture the magnitude of what happened.

It's traditionally marked by a minute of silence, so think about taking a minute of your day to remember the uprising or to ponder the many similar uprisings against corrupt dictatorships currently going on throughout the world right now.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

But If We Outlaw Meth, Only Outlaws Will Have Meth

So there was this shooting in Colorado and you already know all the details about it. You're also already aware this has (as they always do) sparked a bit of a gun-control discussion. As such conversations go, it has been occasionally illuminating and mostly infuriating. And while everyone thinks their political opponents use specious reasoning, there's a bit of the pro-gun side that blows my mind. If the people making these arguments are being genuine, they have some serious mental issues themselves.

While anyone can pick out some random crazy argument to make a group they disagree with look bad, these are arguments I've heard repeatedly in personal conversations or from respected commentators in the media. These are points that go beyond disagreement and enter into sheer insanity:

Do you think gun control would have stopped that guy?

Well, yeah, kinda. I mean it would have at least made things much more difficult for him. For instance, it's well known now that dude had over 6,000 rounds of ammo. There's basically no legal reason anyone should ever have that much ammunition. Unless you're one of the incredibly small handful of professional target or skeet shooters in this nation (which seriously has to be in the double-digits, tops), the only reason you amass that much ammo is because you're going to kill a bunch of people. Not really much else to do with that many bullets. So yeah, there's a pretty legitimate interest in having law enforcement have a quick chat with anyone buying a small army's worth of munitions.

But for the sake or argument, let's grant that gun control wouldn't have stopped him and he would have killed a bunch of people anyway. Even ignoring the fact that it's harder to kill people without a gun, this is still a terrible argument. You know what else is illegal? Murder. Murder is very illegal. And yet he went ahead and murdered people anyway. So does that mean we shouldn't bother to make murder illegal? I don't think so. I think the reason we make stuff illegal is because we don't want people to do those things, even if we can't guarantee 100% enforcement.

If I (or someone there) had a gun, I/they could have stopped it.

Really? Let's recount what we know about the situation -- it was an already-darkened theater with vision obscured even more by a smoke bomb. Add to that the screaming chaos and a moving target and even Special Ops would have trouble landing that shot. To think that any regular ol' Joe with little to no situational training would be able to calmly pull their gun out and hit the shooter without hitting anyone else is a fantasy of the highest order. Anyone who can honestly say they think more people firing into the smoky darkness of that theater would result in less deaths is either lying or living in one hell of a fantasy.

But this isn't just logically wrong, it's empirically wrong. According to the FBI, there's been roughly 50 such mass shooting events in the US in the past 30 years. Not a single one has ever been stopped by an armed civilian in the vicinity taking out the shooter (even though we have more guns than people). Because that simply doesn't happen. It's fine if you want to have Charles Bronson fantasies and pretend you're some super shot who can solve the world's problems with your amazing gun work. No one's trying to take that away from you. But when you start to set public policy based on your absurd fantasies, then it becomes a problem.

If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.

Yeah, dumbass. That's the point of making laws.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Privilege Works (In This Case, For Straight People)

I was struck this morning while reading this fluff article about how Bristol Palin's 3 year old might have used a gay slur on their reality show. Now, I think it's pretty pointless to debate what a 3 year old kid may or may not have had bleeped out on a low-rent reality show, as well as it being pretty pointless to debate whether the whole Palin clan is using gay slurs behind doors (for a family that's made a public career out of slamming gay rights and gay equality, it wouldn't be that surprising).

What really struck me was this quote from Bristol (who, please let us all remember, was a single teenage mom), discussing some Obama quote where he explained gay marriage to his kids:
Or that – as great as her friends may be – we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home. Ideally, fathers help shape their kids’ worldview. Sometimes dads should lead their family in the right ways of thinking. In this case, it would’ve been nice if the President would’ve been an actual leader and helped shape their thoughts instead of merely reflecting what many teenagers think after one too many episodes of ‘Glee.’
This is a classic case of someone's personal life only mattering because they have the audacity to tell others how to live their own lives. You can do just fine being a single parent (though not according to the Palin's), just as you can do just fine being a parent in a same-sex couple, or really in any numbered combination with people(s) of any gender(s).

But the glaring hypocrisy of saying "gay people can't get married because children need a mother and a father" while yourself being a single mother is only possible because of how we privilege heterosexuality in this nation. Heterosexuality is seen as "normal" and all other sexualities are deviations that need to be closely monitored less they infect us all and invite God's wrath upon us (I guess. I mean, they never really explain why they don't like gay people).

So because it's assumed heterosexuality is automatically better and more trustworthy than other sexualities, people like Bristol can make all sorts of rules and hurdles for people of other sexualities to follow, even if they themselves do not follow those same rules. That's why it's not ok for, say, a lesbian couple to have a child because oh my God! There's no father there! But it's perfectly fine for Bristol to have a child with no father there because...well, you see, that's where the privilege comes in. For this privilege not only makes it ok for her to be a raging hypocrite, but to also not have to explain, let alone even acknowledge, this glaring hypocrisy.

And if you don't believe it, try to picture it the other way: imagine someone funding a lesbian couple to go around the nation giving speeches about the need to do away with single motherhood, because children need two mothers in their lives to be successful. You see, that has never and will never happen.

Completely irrelevant but fun point: single-mother Bristol Palin is also paid to go around to our nation's high schools extolling abstinence-only sex education. Because it worked so well for her!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fuck You, Fuck You, Fuck You (No, Seriously, Fuck You)

So by now you've hopefully heard of Michelle "Trust me, I grew up near a murderous pedophile" Bachmann's McCarthy2.0 campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supposed infiltration of our highest levels of government (no word yet on when Hollywood's elite will be called in to testify, or how she'll be able to tie it to unions, but just wait for it). She recently upped the anti by coming after my own representative and her fellow Minnesotan Keith Ellison (who you hopefully already know dares to be openly Muslim).


Sorry. Being incredibly cynical, I'm rarely upset by the news, because I just assume it's going to be shitty. But reading the piece above about her ridiculous claims, and them being turned on a relatively good guy (for a politician) who is clearly being singled out for his religious beliefs...I dunno, just got me really pissed off.

BECAUSE MCCARTHY HAPPENED. Not that fucking long ago, either! There are still plenty of people alive today who witnessed it first hand (or had their lives destroyed by it). The very name has become short hand for baseless political witch hunts. Being doomed to repeat history, etc.

Because she has no evidence at all (and never will), mostly because THIS IS CLEARLY NOT HAPPENING. The Muslim Brotherhood is a relatively moderate organization, and beyond the boilerplate "we're not big fans of you because you keep killing us for no reason" things they might say, they've never given any indication of wanting to attack the US. And they're not a very big organization, to boot. Oh, and because a child could see that her whole argument is full of shit.

So there's really only two explanations for this particular instance of craziness out of her, and neither is flattering. Either A) she actually believes all of this stuff, which is hard to believe because she is clearly capable of dressing herself and other mundane activities, indicating she has at least a somewhat functioning brain. Or 2) she recognizes that she's no longer the political flavor-of-the-month and understands she has to up the crazy ante ten-fold just to get back on the tee-vee. And if that means doing her darnedest to whip up an absurd, racist, xenophobic political frenzy that results in thousands upon thousands of lives ruined, well, then you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.

So, seriously Michelle Bachmann, fuck you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why #firstworldproblems and Stuff White People Like are Racist (But Not For Stupid Reasons)

This post stems from a recent facebook post I made. I was complaining that Migration Assistant did a crappy job transferring my files from my old desktop to my shiny new one. While others chimed in with their own tales of migration assistance woe, one friend mocked me by posting "first world problems." In fairness to her, she was just trying to rib me and wasn't really trying to make any larger sociopolitical point, but it's one of my great pet peeves, so here goes the rant.

Besides the obvious ethnocentric and racist implications of using terms like "first" and "third" world to describe differing nations, the implication of #firstworldproblems (I don't know where the phrase first came from, but I mostly know it as a twitter hash tag, hence the douchey way of writing it) is that there are some things only people in wealthy nations would complain about, like problems with their computers. But the problem with this is that it makes so many horrible assumptions about the rest of the world.

In a post I'm not going to bother trying to find, one of the contributors at Soc Images was discussing the challenge of teaching about contemporary Africa and mentioned needing to remind students that its 2012 in Africa, too. Meaning technology and various scientific advancements all exist there as well, albeit sometimes not as widely spread (though in some surprising ways, sometimes the latest technology is more widespread in so-called "third world" nations). I use this line is discussing the Middle East to my students as well, and I immediately thought about it when the comment came along on facebook.

Because you know what happens when one of my friends in Iraq has a problem with their computer? Well, it turns out they don't calmly say "well, given the widespread unemployment and the infrastructure of my nation being under-developed and in some places nonexistent, I can't complain about my computer freezing up." No, they swear and hit the thing, just like anyone else would. Because even though it's a poor nation still experiencing an occupation and a civil war, computers exist there. And when they don't work well, people get annoyed by them. Because it's a pretty human reaction to be annoyed when your computer doesn't work, regardless of the GDP of the nation you live in. To say otherwise is to essentially say "Oh, those poor savages must be so happy to have a magical wonder box that they couldn't possibly be upset by it not working correctly."

The same goes for the Stuff White People Like bullshit, which is really just an extension of the old "white people can't do [blank]" saying (could be dancing, jumping, having rhythm, etc.). This isn't racist because it's making fun of white people (though I'm sure Rush Limbaugh can do a great job of explaining how this shows white people are the true victims of racism), but because it implies a comparison. For instance, if you say white people can't dance, it necessarily implies a comparison to another racial group that can dance. It's really just the flip side of saying all black people naturally have rhythm, and I hope I don't have to explain the racist legacy of that.

And if you peruse the stuff white people like (please only do so if you like obvious jokes or having aneurysms from reading really stupid websites), you'll notice most of the stuff white people like is nerdy stuff. Because white people aren't cool, not like those magical negroes who are naturally cool because they have so much soul. Not to mention an integral part of being a nerd is being booksmart, which is obviously something only white people can be, because they're the only ones capable of being smart...anyway, hopefully you can see how that line of logic gets pretty fucking racist pretty quickly.

So what these expressions (and the others ones like them) are is really just a slightly more clever way of updating the old racist tropes about animalistic people of color being cooler and more soulful than boring old white people who do nothing but be smart and successful in business and whatnot. And while on the surface it appears the joke is on white people, you can really only read it that way if you view being called the dominant social group in the world an insult...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Daniel Tosh Is a Jackass, But You Might Be, Too

In case you don't follow internet-based controversies surrounding stand-up performances, the short version of the story currently captivating a small portion of the web stems from this tumblr post by a woman who went to a comedy show where Daniel Tosh (host of Please Don't Figure Out Youtube Exists) made some bad jokes about rape, she got upset and yelled out that rape jokes are never funny, and then he made even more unfunny rape jokes that really upset her.

As I've written about here before, rape is a subject that can rarely, if ever, be joked about effectively. And although now there are contrasting reports as to what Tosh actually said, none of the versions are funny enough to justify joking about something like that (to summarize my argument: you should be really careful making rape jokes, and they have to be really funny to work).

So people were quick to jump on Tosh for his misogyny, and then misogynists were quick to defend him, and then several other people who were there contradicted the original story, making it hard to know what happened exactly. But what we do know is Tosh made some unfunny jokes about rape, this women got upset and yelled something, and he made more unfunny jokes.

I'm going to leave aside the fact that Tosh is an asshole and not very funny because it's already been well-established. And whatever version of the story you believe, it's clear he was both being an asshole and not funny in that particular incident. I think we call all agree on that.

But what I want to rant about is the woman in question. As a friend of mine who is a former professional comedian pointed out, she wasn't just an audience member. She was a heckler. Now you can argue that what Tosh said was so offensive that she had to say something, and I'd probably agree with that. But she's still a heckler (it's an empirical question -- if you shout out during a stand up set that the performer is not funny, you are ipso facto a heckler). And when a comedian is heckled, it's more-or-less a professional obligation that they attempt to savage the heckler. Now again, Tosh did a shitty and unfunny job of it, but was doing what any comedian would do.

But were I really have a problem with her account of things is that, while again pointing out that I fully agree Tosh was both offensive and unfunny, it falls into the "I'm a special flower and everyone should follow my rules no matter what" type of complaint. Because if you read her original post, she notes that the headliner was Dane Cook (himself a man with quite a record of violently misogynistic and sexist bullshit) and that she had seen his stuff before and didn't think he was very good.

So right there you already have a huge problem -- you're expecting to go to the show of a known sexist/homophobe (that you yourself have witnessed being sexist/homophobic) and expect it somehow magically not contain any sexism or homophobia. And then when you interrupt the show because it offends your sensibilities, you are shocked, shocked! that a comedian would respond to your heckling with anything other than genuine remorse and discussion of our pernicious rape culture.

So I guess what keeps me from getting fully on board with this woman (not including her ending paragraph in which she goes a little far by suggesting she truly believe audience members were going to rise up and rape her right then and there because of what he said) is not that she's wrong about the guy. I don't think he's funny, either, and I also believe he's a misogynistic asshole. But she clearly also has a problem in making good decisions -- you went to a show of a misogynist asshole you admit you don't find funny, and surprise, surprise, on the bill was another misogynist asshole you don't find funny.

And this is why I think she has some of that annoying special flowerism I spoke of earlier -- you deliberately put yourself in a situation that, if you had put any thought into it, you clearly would have realized there was high potential of you being offended. Then, when this largely inevitable thing happens, you freak out like it was done to personally belittle you and was a completely unexpected interruption of your nice night trying to watch the misogynists be funny (but apparently in a non-misogynist way).

Again, I want to highlight as much as possible this is not a defense of Tosh as a person or comic, or to defend in any way what he said. Nor is it to denigrate people taking the brave step of calling out misogyny when they see it. It's merely to point out something that unfortunately many lefties seem to not understand at all -- the world doesn't automatically conform to your sensibilities, even when you're right.

Also, don't go to Nazi rallies if you're offended by Nazi ideals. It's very likely something said will offend you, and given that you're already generally aware of what Nazis stand for, it's at least partially your fault for attending the rally in the first place (even though I hope it goes without saying you're totally right to be offended by what the Nazis say).

Monday, July 09, 2012

Fuck That Noize, I'm Still With It


I'm beginning to understand what Grandpa is feeling, and somewhat ironically*, it's because of the Simpsons. I've ended up teaching a lot of night classes during my tenure here at the U. Such classes only meet once a week for three straight hours, which is a long-ass time to sit through a class. Even if you're actually interested in the material (a big if with most college students), it's still pretty damned hard to pay attention for that long to one person.

So I have to come up with multiple ways to break the monotony of one guy lecturing, whether it be through the dreaded group-work, pop quizzes, discussions, etc. I also end up playing a lot of videos, and more specifically, Simpsons episodes. I do this both because The Simpsons is inarguably the greatest television show in history (I said inarguably, so don't bother trying to argue the point, it only reveals your ignorance), but more because it's an incredibly witty and astute show that often offers a better insight into what I'm talking about than I do.

But I fear I only have a few more years of being able to do this, as the relevant episodes of the Simpsons first aired when many of my students were not yet out of diapers, if they even existed in the world yet. And though much of the humor is timeless, obviously the references to anything contemporary are getting quite a bit out of date. This isn't a problem for the "non-traditional" students who are often older than I am, but does make me feel a little out of date to the 18 and 19 year-old students in the room. This past semester, I remember having to explain everything from who Blossom is, to why at one point in time people made jokes about Apple computers being irrelevant, to the fact that Lollapalooza was once a touring show full of bands people  actually wanted to hear. Sometimes it makes me feel about a billion years old.
Which is why, when I was procrastinating by looking for myself on Rate My Professor, I was heartened to read the bottom-most review of me:

Also, let it be noted I am "actually funny"

That's right mutha fuckas, I am "young and hip." And this coming from a student who may or may not be hip, but is at least most assuredly young. So while I may sometimes feel out of touch with the youth of today, I now have it in incontrovertible internet writing that I am still young and hip enough for the kids these days.

It also reminds me of a question I had during a recent interview at a University that will remain nameless in which one of the faculty asked me why I thought I was an effective teacher. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect of it's easy for me because I look like I'm 15, so no student is ever going to be intimidated by me, and I'm young enough to still reference the correct parts of popular culture so students relate to me. Granted, this was just the best bullshit I could come up with on the spot, but it turns out I was not only not that far off in my assessment, but I now also have empirical evidence that I was at least partially right.

So I don't really have a point to this post, but I will note that I am young and hip, and you, presumably, are not.

*I have no idea if this qualifies as actual irony or Alanis-Morisette-type not-actually-irony, but you get what I'm going for