Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I've Always Thought Of Beer Drinking As A Religious Experience, Too

Regular readers will remember last year this time when I wrote about the story of J. Wilson, the man who went on a beer-only fast for Lent, a fast which he broke in the most bad-ass way possible by having a bacon shake.

And while it sounds like a frat boy's dream or a funny prank, it's actually well inline with the practices of monks of old, who would brew and drink an especially heavy beer often referred to as "liquid bread." This liquid bread would be all they subsisted on for the entirety of lent, an especially intense understanding of what it means to fast. Also something that's relatively hard to get away with in today's world.

But Wilson not only got his employer to agree to allow him to drink at work, he completed the entire fast. But again, it wasn't simply the act of drinking beer for 45 days, but instead a time to reflect and all of that other boring religious stuff. Now a year later Wilson isn't doing another beer fast, but has come up with some pretty interesting insights from the experience.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who Deserves Compensation For Their Work?

I haven't blogged about it much because I don't want the annoying people who find everything written about it so they can troll their little hearts out to come squat all over my blog, but I'm one of the thousands of graduate assistants at the University of Minnesota who supports unionizing. After a strong majority of grad assistants at the U signed union authorization cards, we asked the University administration to accept our majority and file for a union with us, since they have repeatedly said they respect grad students (just not enough to listen to us, apparently).

As in any movement to improve people's lives, there's always a few sour jerks who can't stand the idea that someone's life may be improved. These folks, predictably, have argued that we're lucky to get what we have, and besides, there's a recession going on and the university doesn't have any money. So union supporters such as myself have responded that, sure, we're lucky to be employed in this economy, but that doesn't mean we don't deserve basic respect. And as for the recession part, well, the U always seems to have money for football stadiums and whatnot, but not for the people doing the research and teaching that I would argue are somewhat more fundamental to the mission of a university.

Well, in the midst of this on-going argument over unionization, here's yet another example of how administrative compensation is way out of control. If you don't have time to read the article, it notes such things as how the out-going UMD chancellor was handed well over a half-million dollars on her way out the door as she retired, because she's just a cool person, I guess.

Those same people who argue against unionization tend to argue that admins receive these absurd retirement packages because they're necessary to draw the top talent. Not only has this never been proven (or even attempted -- show me a university that has tried hiring admins without ridiculous pay and bonuses), it's funny how this argument only applies to administrators. When grad assistants ask for some more crumbs, we're told to shut up and be grateful for what we have. When admins are handed over a half-million dollars just because, we're told this is absolutely necessary and only an idiot would argue against it.

But what these huge (and hugely unnecessary) admin bonuses and retirement packages demonstrate is not market values or other such nonsense, but that the University's funding problems (much like the nation's at large) are not really about the amount of money in hand, but the priorities for using said money. The half million dollars given to this former chancellor would easily pay the salaries, tuition, and fringe benefits for well over a dozen grad assistants, who will provide much, much more than that for the university in the form of teaching and research. As opposed to that chancellor, who will provide nothing to the university, seeing as how she's leaving and all.

But then again, what would I know? I should just shut up and be happy that there's still plenty of money to make sure my social superiors continue to live in the lap of luxury...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Conditioning You To Laugh

Early television had a problem -- it was really new and weird. People were used to radio shows, but those required you to imagine everything that happened, not watch it happen for you. People were also used to plays, but those were seen in the company of many others, an event to leave the house for, not to slump on the couch and mindlessly watch.

People just really didn't know what to do with television, so t.v. producers quickly realized they were largely going to have to tell people what to do. And one of the most direct ways this was accomplished was in telling you when to laugh, by supplying an audience to laugh for you. In many ways, this recreated the theater experience, in which there were a lot of cues about when it was ok to laugh, right in your home, in which there usually weren't too many other folks around to supply such social cues. It says something powerful about the social effects of the behavior of our peers, but that's yet another post.

Nowadays laugh tracks are sneered at by the television intelligentsia, who have moved on to their fancy single-cam shows filled with snarky references to current events. But this being America, there are a lot of people scared by such developments who prefer the comfort of a pre-recorded audience telling them when to laugh.

The people turn to places like CBS, where everything is designed to primarily appeal to people over 75. But to not completely denigrate these laugh-track shows, they do require a certain talent. Much like the theater, the actors have to learn to allow for pauses as anything they might say would be overpowered by the audience's laughter (although in the theater, it's actual human beings laughing). As such, they really do need to develop a certain kind of comedic timing. A type of timing that is completely creepy without the canned laughter filling the spaces.

Take for example this clip of the Big Bang Theory (which, all told, is really not that bad a show), presented with only the laugh track missing (embedding for some reason disabled). It's eerily compelling...

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Makes a Rival?

The sports world is fueled by rivalry. Sure, there are plenty of other reasons people follow sports, but rivalries are what really make them interesting. And once enshrined, rivalries are often desperately clung to -- witness the upheaval over college football realignment.

But how do rivalries become enshrined? And what makes for a rivalry? Some come about naturally, like the Vikings and Packers. As everyone knows, 'Sconnies make for the natural enemy of the Minnesotan. It's like a mongoose-snake thing.

But some come about through a shared history of hatred and contempt, like the Twins and the White Sox. There's nothing about the match-up that really makes for a natural rivalry; there's no history of competition between Minneapolis and Chicago (Vikings-Bears is no big deal), the White Sox have been around a lot longer, so it's not like there's some crazy-long shared history.

Rather, the Twins and Sox rivalry seems to have come about mostly in the last two decades or so, especially the last 10 years in which the Twins have come back to relevance. Since I've been living in Minnesota, it's become one of the preeminent local rivalries, ranking right up there with Pack-Vikings in terms of hatred, invectives, and calendar-circling games.

And if you need any further proof the Twins and White Sox are rivals of the highest order, it's now a matter of legal precedence. Not sure how many rivalries, no matter how heated they may be, can claim that...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Man, I'm Really Unoriginal

Consistent with my theme of not having enough time to write long-winded blog posts on my out-of-touch political positions, I've been pretty light on the original content lately.

As an apology to you, dear faithful readers, here's an awesome video recreating Jay Z's hit "99 Problems" entirely using film clips to comprise the lines. Watch it, and while doing so, please think about the various ways Western capitalist global hegemony is destroying our planet and all who inhabit it...

99 Problems In Film (EM) from Eclectic Method on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Post-Valentine's Blues Got You Down?

Maybe you had the world's best Valentine's day yesterday, filled with love, confectioners sugar, and incorrectly-shaped heart themed gifts. Or maybe you had a terrible Valentine's day, full of self-loathing and depression, sitting in front of the t.v. alone as your tears dripped into the tub of ice cream you were eating with a fork because you were too depressed to wash the dishes.

If you experienced the former, congrats. But if you were one of the many who found yourself experiencing the latter, simply call 719-26-OATES and let Daryl Hall and John Oates soothe your weary soul. It's apparently some sort of viral advertising scheme for some sort of business I haven't bothered to figure out what it does, but the bigger point is that some sweet aural lovin' is just 10 short digits away.

And really, aren't you comforted knowing there's a Hall & Oates hotline at the ready?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

Lots of stuff going on these days, so little time for blogging. But you know who does have a lot of time on their hands? Besides people who can come up with a better transition than that, there's also this guy, whose been using scale-model r/c trucks, back hoes, dump trucks and whatnot to dig out his basement.

"But that would take forever!" I can already here you saying. Yes, yes it would. That's why he's been doing it since 1997 and is nowhere close to completion. But things take longer when all the work is done by tiny, remote-controlled equipment rather than, you know, human-sized stuff.

And be sure to not skip checking out this great collection of videos of the adorable li'l construction project in action.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Oh When Will They Complain About This Waste of Tax Money?

The thing about conservative politicians is that they're hypocrites. Well, I guess pretty much all elected officials are hypocrites, but big-time conservative politicians seem to have a special claim to the throne of hypocrisy.

For instance, a major rallying cry of modern American conservatism is that the government spends way too much money, and most of it foolishly. And given that foolish government spending has already been thoroughly documented, it's hard to argue with that basic premise. But alas, these folks are not opposed to all government spending, they're opposed to government spending on things they don't like. Now granted, we pretty much all feel that way, but it doesn't make for a very principled stance.

Take, for instance, professional sports stadiums. While these would seem to be a horrible waste of money (almost all are completely or majority publicly funded, they don't bring in much business nor do any of the profits from this public money go back to the public, etc.), conservatives seem to generally support new sports stadiums. The cynic in me would say this is because teams and the few businesses that benefit from new stadiums tend to be owned by conservatives, but that's another post for another day.

Yet what's more amazing about this whole scenario is that when people try to get some form of public good out of these major public expenditures, it's rarely supported. For example, Florida law says that any sports stadium built with public money has to offer shelter to the homeless on non-event nights. As you may have guessed, this never actually happens. But given that Florida leans pretty far to the right politically, you'd think there would be conservatives out in the streets demanding these public expenditures be met with some return on the investment, at least in the form of services since we've already established monetary rewards are not forthcoming.

But surprisingly, I've yet to see any conservatives taking to the streets demanding less money spent on stadiums or that these stadiums fill their legal duties. It's almost as if the cries of government waste are really just political expedience and not an actual ideal, but again, that may just be too cynical of me...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Teaching Sociology: Politics and Hegemony (Part something in a never-ending pop-pedagogical series)

Hegemony is  tricky concept to understand and is rarely used outside the crumbling-plaster towers of academia (they took away our ivory years ago), but it's incredibly important to the work I do, and I think it helps one understand the world much better.

To way over-simplify it, hegemony refers to when a group of people have the power to make their view of the world seem like the only one. For instance, in American the ideal of democracy is hegemonic -- pretty much every discussion on politics takes democracy as a given, and it's incredibly rare to hear anyone in mainstream America suggest we should have any type of government besides democracy. Or in a much sillier example, it explains why we still use the shitty qwerty keyboard.

But what I really think the concept of hegemony is handy for is understanding politics. And with the Super bowl coming up this weekend, the nexus of sports and politics.

For instance, this weekend, the Indiana branch of the occupy movement is setting its sights square on the big game with an Occupy the Super Bowl movement. Specifically, they're protesting the possible passage of a "right to work" law in Indiana that, like all of the Orwellian-named laws of this ilk, will destroy the ability of people to join and form unions and weaken the already-existing unions.

The NFL's media gatekeepers have already cried foul, shedding giant crocodile tears over the fact that someone would dare "politicize" the Super Bowl, a day that is supposedly free of politics. Yet, as Dave Zirin expertly points out (as he so often does), the Super Bowl is already one of the most politicized events in our nation. The opening coin flip will be conducted by General David Petraeus, leader and architect of much of the ill-fated Iraq invasion. There will be military fighter planes flying over the stadium. There will be a giant flag unfurled across the field large enough to compete with Newt Gingrich's ego. There will be commercials advertising our military and your chance to join them in their fantastic adventures abroad.

And this right here is the essence of hegemony. American imperialism has become such a hegemonic ideal that all of those obvious paeans to America's illegal wars do not even register as politics. No, as long as you glorify the American war machine it's not political at all. But the second you suggest maybe not everything is perfectly fine and rosy in this li'l nation of ours, then you are inappropriately politicizing a supposedly non-political event.

So again, when you can make something into a giant 6-hour commercial for the US military and then complain that some people holding home made signs outside the front gate are the ones politicizing the event, you know your ideas have achieved a hegemonic position in this society. It also demonstrates that you have world-class chutzpah, but that's a different subject...