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 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Your Post 4th Racism Roundup

So I've got a bunch of stuff sitting around that I was planning on writing about but never got around to, and many of them were kinda sorta about the same thing, so here's your First Inaugural July 4th Racism Roundup:

Here you can see segregation in action with a time lapse of the Red line in Chicago:

And how do things get to be so racially segregated? Well, it comes from many factors (notably redlining and other intentionally racist actions), but one that cannot be ignored is a criminal justice system that to this day still views having a particular skin tone in a particular neighborhood sufficient grounds for a criminal investigation. And again, such systemic racism is that fault of many factors, but an obvious one is how openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic many police are and how little discipline is ever handed down to them as a result.

Finally, lest you be called out for trying to stop any of these problems, here's a handy guide on how to be an actual Reverse Racist ("reverse" because racism is supposed to happen to a certain kind of people).