Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name (Can Be Secretly Targeted For Assassination Without Judicial Review)

I've made no secret of my love for Glenn Greenwald in this space, as he's probably the one national political writer I ever regularly agree with. Mostly because he, unlike most political commentators, calls everyone out for abusing our constitutional freedoms, regardless of whether their name is followed with an R or a D.

To wit, check out this superb article about how that great progressive Obama and his staff have defined the word "militant." It turns out that our government now officially defines as a "militant" any adult male who dies in an attack, unless there is specific evidence to prove otherwise. So in other words, all adult men who live in any nation we don't like are now literally guilty until (post-humously) proven innocent.

This stretchy and sketchy (ooo! rhyming burn!) counting method has a lot of implications. The first and hopefully most obvious is that this runs directly against pretty much everything in our constitution and judicial history.

But the bigger story is how this ridiculous definition allows for some amazing propaganda. For instance, the Obama administration is able to claim that of the now hundreds of people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, less than 10 of those people are counted as civilians (the rest being militants on account of their having a penis and being over 18, not to mention being all brown and scary), a number so low even administration officials have publicly expressed concern over how obviously bullshit this is.

What's even crazier about this is it really highlights how complicit and subservient our media has become. Because this absurd definition is actually public knowledge and has been reported on a handful of times. So even though any human being with basic mental faculties could see at the very least that you can't take administration claims about militants at face value (since they're more or less admitted they're just making this shit up), newspapers all across the nation continue to trumpet our continual killing of "militants" without any mention of the obvious civilian deaths or even the fact that we don't have any reason to believe the people killed were actually militants.

But hey, thank God we don't have state-run media, or we'd all be in danger of only getting propaganda instead of the hard-hitting, fact-finding reports we're used to...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Makin' Jokes About Rape (Or Maybe Not)

This post is largely inspired by this comic about when or if rape jokes are ever acceptable. Go read it, the 30 or so seconds you spend will be well worth it.

Comedy is something I think about a lot at a theoretical level, because I like funny things and I'm a nerd. In college I did improv under the tutelage of the inestimable Dr. Douglas J. Shaw, who in addition to teaching me a lot about the art of making the funny, also really encouraged me to think about why something is funny, why one thing is funnier than another, and why jokes work or don't work on any given level.

And because I'm a nerd who likes to think about these things, and have similarly nerdy friends, I find myself getting into a lot of discussions about how or if certain humor works. These discussions generally center on "edgy" types of humor, like racial humor (not racist humor that attributes motivations to people based on their skin color, but humor that invokes the idea of race).

Racial humor is really tricky because the hory nature of race relations in America creates a context wherein racial jokes are operating at a certain level of understanding regardless of the intent of the creator. When a typical joke fails, it's just simply not funny. But when an attempt at racial humor fails, it ends up not only being not funny, but also tends to sound pretty dang racist, even if that's not the intention of whomever's making the joke. Being a civil libertarian and big fan of free speech, I'm never one to say any particular topic is off limits for jokes, but it's obvious one needs to exercise extra caution when trying to make a racial joke, if for nothing else than not screwing it up and looking like a jackass and/or offending/upsetting folks.

And this obviously extends beyond the example of race into any number of other areas of comedy that deal with things that are potentially offensive or hurtful. Jokes about rape run a very similar razor's edge between possibility of humor and possibility of offense, probably even more so than racial jokes. This is likely compounded by the fact that one can usually tell if someone of a particular racial or ethnic category is around, and most people are then forced to ponder whether their joke is actually funny and worthwhile or if it should just maybe be left unsaid, if not for noble reasons then to at least avoid looking like an asshole.

However, rape is usually an invisible status, in that you're probably unlikely to know someone has experienced rape or sexual assault unless you're a very close friend/family member, and even then, there's a good chance you wouldn't know. And given the somewhat reliable statistics we have on such things, we know roughly 1 in 3 women will experience rape/sexual assault in their lifetime (the numbers we have for men are not nearly as reliable for a number of reasons, but I've seen estimates that put it at about 1 in 10).

So chances are very good that when you make a rape joke, you are doing so in the presence of someone who has been raped. But because this is, again, not usually something someone advertises about themselves, people seem to be more cavalier in making such jokes because they're not forced to take the extra moment to think about what they're going to say, like they probably would be with making a racial joke in a racially diverse group. Teaching criminology courses I often have to talk about rape and sexual assault, but even in a setting where I'm not going to be making any jokes about the subject, I still have to take a lot of care to measure my words. Because again, I know that statistically in my class of 100, there are probably anywhere from 10 to 20 women who have experienced rape or sexual assault, and likely a small handful of men as well. And given that most such assaults occur during the high school and college years, it's likely a very fresh memory for most of these people. I lecture about the subject because it's a necessary component of some courses, but the last thing I want to do is dredge up painful feelings about a horrible experience of my students just because I was cavalier with my language.

Again, the point is not that one can never make a joke that involves rape (as one friend is fond of saying, you can joke about anything as long as the joke is actually funny), but that such a joke requires an extra level of scrutiny before being delivered. Because rape can be (though is not always) an incredibly devastating experience for someone, and when you dredge it up just to make a lame groaner that isn't even funny...well, that's just a pretty shitty thing to do. Rape is really one of those topics where you should only joke about it if you come up with something to funny you simply can't avoid saying it.

So although I understand that for some rape is a subject that should simply be off limits for jokes, I can't quite go that far, because I, too, somewhat share the view that any subject is acceptable if the joke is truly funny enough. But I do absolutely agree with the comic that if you're one of those people who compares the cost of textbooks or the amount of papers you have to write or the taxes you have to pay to rape...well, you're just an asshole.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Stock Life Love Story

So it appears I've just been posting links to other things more interesting people have done, but that serves a purpose, right?

Anyway, here's an ad some folks made for Getty images, showing off all the fantastic images they have in their stock photo collection. In this case, they use exactly 873 of those stock photos to create a fairly moving little life story called From Love to Bingo. Think the first few minutes of up, but less Ed Asner.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

This Will Probably Blow Your Mind

Stare the cross in the center of these two images, and see what happens to the otherwise pretty faces you know and love:

Researchers have dubbed it "Flashed Face Distortion Effect." The working theory is that by playing these images at the same size and orientation next to each other forces our brain to make multiple comparisons between the two, as our brains are wont to do in such a situation.

But apparently by making these comparisons, something in our brain starts to greatly distort the differences until the faces becomes incredibly distorted. To me, the trippiest thing about it is how instant the effect is; if you take your eyes off the middle and look at just one of the images, they instantly become normal again. But as soon as you look back at that center cross, they go right back to crazy as all get out.

Were I in a clever mood, or at least not fried from constant dissertation writing, I would say something about how this demonstrates we must always challenge our assumptions and perceptions of even the most simple things. Except I'd say it in some really profound way that connects this to major world issues. So...think about those kind of things for awhile and then pretend I wrote about them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oh Hockey, No One Gives a Shit

If the NHL wants anyone to blame for why no one pays attention to hockey anymore, they have no one but themselves to blame. After all, this is a league that thought it would be a good move to take the team from Minnesota, the one place in America where people still give a shit about hockey, and move it to Dallas. Or to take multiple teams from Canada and move them to hockey hotbeds like South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and even Los Angeles.

In a shocking result that no one could have predicted, people in areas where water doesn't actually freeze don't care as much about hockey as people from places where the sport is basically a religion. Go figure.

Enter the LA Kings. They've had an ok season, but are having an amazing time in the playoffs, storming through them as an 8 seed (the lowest seed in NHL playoffs) and have become the odds-on favorite to win it all.

Yet even while this amazing run is going on, the Kings can't even get LA-area media to distinguish them from the Sacramento Kings (who are not in LA, and play basketball, not hockey). Multiple stations have used the Sacramento basketball logo in place of the Kings actual logo, most because, well, this is hockey, and no one in LA gives a shit about hockey.

But in keeping with the hilariously deadpan style their Twitter feed employs (seriously the only twitter feed of a professional sports team you should ever bother to pay attention to), the Kings have released this handy-dandy infographic to explain the difference between them and that no-particularly-local basketball team (click to expand). At least they recognize their place and understand that the only celebrities that watch hockey are the ones no one cares about...

Friday, May 18, 2012

What?!? The NYPD Has Some Problems?!?

If it's a double-interrobang headline, it must be news...

The NYCLU has recently released a report on the controversial "stop and frisk" program of the NYPD, and surprise, surprise, it turns out the program is less about stopping crime that it is about harassing, intimidating, and often incarcerating poor people of color. To those of us who study the criminal justice system, the news was met with "umm...duh," but to those who don't, this was apparently a bit of a surprise.

The idea behind stop and frisk is that NYPD are given a great (possibly unconstitutional) latitude to stop and search any people they deem "suspicious" and then run their name for any possible outstanding violations (when stop and frisk catches any criminals, which is rare, it's almost exclusively from the background check, not catching them in the act of doing anything wrong.)

The only problems with the program are that it doesn't work and it's horribly racist (other than that, huge success I'm sure). But using the NYPD's own data, the NYCLU was able to easily point out some other major problems with the program. You can go read the full report (which you should, it's short and interesting), but some highlights include:

--Although the make up only 4.7% of the city's population, young Black and Latino men accounted for 41.6% of all stop and frisks. So maybe these people are just committing more crimes and deserve this hideous violation of their privacy and other assorted rights. But...

--90% of men of color stopped had committed no crimes. So maybe you can argue that 10% deserved to have their constitutional rights violated (though even that's kind of a difficult argument), but I think it's hard to argue that hundreds of thousands of people should get stopped and frisked for doing nothing wrong.

--Finally, the number of young Black men subjected to the stop and frisk is larger than the total number of young black men in the city. So you've got to give the NYPD one thing: they are thorough as shit. Once your racist violation of constitutional rights has been spread to every Black teenager you've got, better start all over and try each one again, in case you hadn't yet made it clear how alive and pervasive institutional racism is in our society today...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rob Ryan's Magical Mystery Bus

Direct from the Dallas Cowboys official website, let Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan show you his shitty van (seriously, it's well worth your minute and 12 seconds).

I have no idea why the Cowboys thought a tour of Rob Ryan's 1999 econoline, but I'm ever so glad they did. Among the many details you learn in the completely unironic love letter to an old van, is that the van has several DVD player/television sets (all of which don't work), it handles well, and it's probably got a lot of stains inside.

Whenever I stumble on something like this, it reminds me this is exactly why the internet exists. Think, not that long ago in the world, I would have no way to know what kind of vehicle Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan drives, and is that the kind of world you want to live in?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Surprise! Rich White Guy, Privileged From Birth, Is Apparently An Asshole

One of my favorite Vonnegut quotes (and that's saying a lot, because the man cranks out one liners like an erudite Rodney Dangerfield) goes something like "true terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country." I'm especially reminded of it during political campaigns, which typically have even less maturity and decorum than high school student government elections. But in any setting, the point remains that people don't all of sudden grow up and magically become mature and intelligent people. For the most part, the petty bullshit that makes middle school and high school so great for a few people and generally pretty shitty for most people don't ever go away.

Take, for example, the hullabaloo over a recent Washing Post article that revealed, among other things, that Romney once assembled a gang of friends to tackle and cut the hair of a kid they thought was gay. Look, I'm clearly not a Romney defender. His politics and world view are pretty dang far away from mine. And I'm not going to discount how traumatic this event seemed to be John Lauber, the victim of Romney's bullying.

But I'm also pretty surprised at how big of a story this has become for some people. I'm sure part of it is just the bullshit of horserace politics in which each side tries to find even the tiniest defect in the other side to prove they can't be trusted (witness the "Romney was once mean to his dog" vs. "Oh yeah? Obama once ate dog meat" argument that actually happened in the midst of an election full of people who would otherwise appear to be rational, fully-functioning adults).

However, again even though the event in question is pretty shady, I don't think it really tells us anything we don't already know. To begin with, it happened in 1965, so it seems difficult to draw too much in the way of conclusions about someone's character when you're talking about an event that happened nearly 50 years ago.

But the bigger point is that who among us thought Romney held a high opinion of gay people? Or that he wasn't at least kind of an elitist jerk? This is the same man who steadfastly refuses to recognize same-sex couples and has fully embraced the reactionary anti-LGBT policies of the Republican party. This is also a guy who suggests that if you're having a hard time of things, you should borrow $20,000 from your parents so you can start your own company. This is clearly a guy who is not friendly to gay folks and is an out-of-touch rich douchebag.

And that's all that this Post story tells us; something we already clearly knew. And out of the many, many legitimate reasons to dislike and/or not vote for Mitt Romney, the fact that he was once an asshole to some dude he didn't like is probably not the most solid.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Update: Cops Definitely Giving Out Drugs

I wrote a bit last week about the somewhat explosive allegations that police had been picking people up at Peavy Plaza in downtown Minneapolis (where our wing of the occupy movement has set up), giving them drugs (often pushing people into taking them), then bringing them back to Peavy Plaza still clearly under the influence. As I wrote at the time, while it is standard police practice to learn what people under the influence act like, it is far from accepted practice to pull random people off the streets, cajole them into getting high, and then dropping them off in public while still clearly under the influence.

Not too surprisingly, pretty much every law enforcement agency in the state quickly scrambled to say they weren't involved and besides, there's no evidence this was going on, strongly implying it was being made up. But as usually happens in such cases, that lack of evidence soon became plenty of evidence, and the state public safety commissioner has announced the program is being suspended for now and investigations are underway.

There's not a ton more to say at this point (though it will be quite interesting to see what these investigations turn up, although when police investigate themselves, they have a tendency not to find too much), but it's still hard not to be fairly incredulous over the extreme stupidity on display here. It's almost enough to push someone to say we need some police reform around these parts, but I don't want to be overly critical...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I Would Say I'm Going To Do This, But Then I Wouldn't

Here's an interesting/uplifting article about a woman who is going blind and has come up with a list of all the beautiful things in the world she wants to see before she loses the ability to do so.

I've got a lot of respect for people like this, because I feel like it's the kind of thing we all think we would do it that situation. But I know that I, for one, would talk about it a lot but then never actually get around to it. Then I'd be a blind guy who's never seen anything interesting.

It's also a good reminder to live every day to its fullest, live like you're dying, another generic slogan about leading a fulfilling life, etc. Because really, we're all slowly going blind, we just don't have as specific a date attached to it as this person does. And without such a specific notice, most of us tend to go about our daily lives like we'll always be able-bodied people with all the time in the world to do the things we want.

So on that note, I'm going to spend today sitting in a mostly windowless basement working on an outline. Living life to the fullest!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

When Is Dealing Drugs Not Illegal?

When it's done by law enforcement. An explosive new video investigation finds members of Minnesota law enforcement (Minneapolis PD deny they're in on it, but we'll see) coming to Peavy Plaza, where our local occupy camp is set up, to pick up demonstrators and offer them drugs. Why are they giving people illegal narcotics? Well, that's where the story gets interesting, because there's some conflicting reports.

Some evidence points to it being part of an on-going study to gain understanding of how people behave under the influence. Some folks report being taken out to suburban Richfield and given weed and other illegal drugs and then having their behavior monitored. While this is in line with sanctioned law enforcement behavior (it helps to know exactly how people on drugs act and/or what they're likely to do), it's not only skirting a moral/legal line in general, but no protocol I've ever seen involves picking up random young people for such studies and then dropping them off in public still very much under the influence. I believe most all official guidelines for such programs involve recruiting adult volunteers and keeping them under supervision until they are well sober again.

And if it just stopped there, we'd have a minor controversy on our hands and good time to discuss when and how law enforcement should be allowed to violate the law to serve a higher (no pun intended) purpose. But of course the story does not stop there.

Instead, several people have reported being offered large amounts of marijuana and other drugs to turn informant, a practice that is definitely not sanctioned by official policy guidelines. Even more problematic is that several people quoted in the story report law enforcement joining in while they toked up their free drugs.

Occupy organizers argue there's an even more insidious angle, as this could definitely be read as a ploy to discredit occupy by making them look like a lot of drugs addicts. As mentioned, it's definitely not protocol (nor legal, frankly) to pick up random people for these studies, and you're definitely not supposed to drop them back in public while still obviously under the influence. Add to this the fact that the still very high people are not being dropped off at their houses or another safe place, but are instead being dropped off at the occupy sight, which again, is definitely well outside of established practice (as well as, of course, being well outside basic logic).

Whether or not this program is an intentional effort to disrupt and discredit occupy, or is instead just some cops acting really, really stupidly, it sure seems like a lot more than a coincidence that they're both recruiting and dropping people off at Peavy Plaza...

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Why Can't The American Left Ever Get Anything Done?

It's a question I've argued with many people in my short time on this earth. And while there's obviously a large confluence of factors (many of which the Left can only blame on itself), one that's often ignored is the bloody, violent, and oft-illegal repression of all things left of center. This repression runs the gamut from outright murder and trumped up legal charges, to McCarthy's insane crusade and anti-communist loyalty oaths being required of union members, to simply wiping the works and triumphs of the left out of our collective history (and in the case of public school history books, literally doing so).

One of the more on-the-nose examples of this is Labor Day. While every other nation in the world is celebrating labor day today, we celebrate it in September, because we don't want any association with the leftist recognition of what ironically took place in America. For the real labor day is actually a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre, an important turning point in the fight for the eight-hour day.

But not only have we in the States moved our observation of labor day lest anyone accidentally learn anything about history, I only learned today that our insane government actually took it one step further. On July 18,  1958, May 1st became officially known as Loyalty Day in the US, a day when we are all to stop and reflect on how loyal we are to the United States government (way ahead of you -- the answer is not much).

So not only do we ignore the important history and symbolism of actual labor day, we've instituted our own "cover your eyes and put your fingers in your ears" day to take its place. And while this doesn't absolve the American left of its many faults, it at least gives a pretty good summation of the context we find ourselves working in.