Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Lesson Many Could Still Stand to Learn

In a project to digitize the entire run of one of several journals Charles Dickens used to edit, researchers have found at least one unattributed essay they are confident was actually written by Dickens himself, one of the very few new Dickens writings to be discovered after his death.

The article, a commentary on the patronizing attitudes of middle-class reformers of the era, is not anything particularly novel; we've pretty well been able to establish Dickens' feelings on poverty, the treatment of the poor, the behavior of the wealthy, etc. But while the article doesn't reveal much of anything new about Dickens, it's still a pretty good read.

Perhaps my favorite line from the piece is Dickens explaining to the well-meaning but terribly misguided temperance advocates why their attempt at help is more insulting that anything, telling people of the need to:
"get it into our heads – which seems harder to do than many people would imagine – that the working man is neither a felon, nor necessarily a drunkard, nor a very little child"
Seems like a lesson many people still desperately need to learn...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shouldn't Penn State Face NCAA Sanctions?

I want to say that I'm starting this argument from the perspective that nearly all NCAA sanctions are absurd and pointless, typically punishing behaviors that while technically against NCAA rules are clearly routine working order for at least all major college programs (and if we're being honest, likely every Division I college program). But for all of the inherent stupidity and hypocrisy (you can make literally billions off of the unpaid labor of college kids, but if you give them so much as $5 to do their laundry, that's a horrible ethical violation), there is at least some form of perverted logic they follow.

And while others can explain much more clearly what said weird logic is, basically, it boils down to the rules making no sense, but at least being enforced every time it's obvious they've been broken. And once a rule is broken, the NCAA is usually quick to drop the hammer. Again, many would argue this is because they want to make routine rules violations look like exceptional cases (thereby making the NCAA look like it's running a tight ship), but they are almost always enforced nonetheless.

Take, for example, the Reggie Bush case. Bush was/is a great college athlete/mediocre professional athlete that played for USC. To secure his services, USC apparently paid him a significant chunk of money and paid for an apartment and car for his parents. There was a lot more to the case, but that's essentially what USC was punished for. And they were punished quite thoroughly; Bush had to vacate his Heisman and USC was hit with some major sanctions, including a reductions in scholarships they're allowed to offer for a period and a multi-year postseason ban.

This was done for illegally accepting money. Well, now that Jerry Sandusky has been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts in his child sex abuse trial, it's also become quite clear many people within the Penn State football program actively worked to cover up said sexual abuse. It's not clear who all was involved and to what extent, but it's pretty much impossible to deny there was an intentional cover up. Heck, most legal experts agree Penn State is criminally liable, and many of the abused have retained counsel for civil suits against the university.

So I'm not trying to pile on an obvious target or get sanctimonious about how I would have acted in that situation (because no one actually knows how they would react to such a thing, and what you would actually do would probably surprise you), but just to say that by the NCAA's own logic, they have to sanction Penn State severely, don't they?

Because if you're going to set the precedent that giving money to a poor kid so he'll play football is a grievous sin, it's got to be pretty hard to argue the covering up the repeated sexual assault of children is not an offense worthy of significant reprimand.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Surprisingly, NYPD Has More Than One Problem

Not too long ago I wrote about the horribly racist (and largely unproductive) "stop and frisk" program of the NYPD. Well, hold on to your monocle, lest the gasp you are about to let forth sends it tumbling to the floor to shatter or humorously plop into your morning Earl Grey and splash your fine garments: it turns out that is not the end of the problems plaguing New York's finest.

A retired narcotics detective from the NYPD recently testified under oath that the planting of drugs on suspects to get an arrest is a pretty regular practice of the NYPD narcotics officers.

Of course, this problem isn't confined to New York; if you take a moment to dig around, you'll find a similar story from pretty much any city of size. And the reason this happens everywhere is not because police are especially corrupt or amoral, but because of the nature of the drug war itself -- people want to see people busted for drugs (or at least the people that matter, like mayors and legislators), police are basically operating with no direct supervision and no meaningful restrictions on their actions, and there's a bunch of poor black and brown people that won't cause any meaningful uproar even when they're imprisoned for no reason.

In fact, if you really understand the role of the drug war (and mass incarceration in general), you'll see that it's far less about any form of crime control or deterrence (mainly because we've been locking up large numbers of people for drug crimes for at least 30+ years now and they've been conclusively proven do neither of those things). Instead, it's about finding a way to control all those pesky black and brown people who insist on continuing to exist. Since we can't enslave them or legally exclude them from our day-to-day lives anymore, we need somewhere for them to go so we don't have to deal with them (here's a fancy-pants academic explaining it in detail).

But hey, at least we can rest comfortably knowing that few, if any, police officers will ever be punished for repeatedly sending innocent people to exorbitant prison sentences. And that's a pretty comforting thought...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Update: Yes Hockey, No ONe Gives A Shit About You

Not too long ago I wrote about the LA Kings' quest to get people to figure out who they are and what sport they play. I also opined a little bit about how no one gives a shit about hockey anymore, and how maybe the NHL itself is to blame.

Well, I don't have any more evidence to offer of the NHL's culpability, but I do have some more good evidence that no one cares about hockey in the slightest, outside of Canadians and Russians. Which, again, means no one cares about hockey.

For instance, take Game 5 of the Stanley Cup. At the time, the series was 3 games to 2, so it was a potential elimination game and all that jazz. And it was a saturday night without much else going on tv-wise, so that should improve the chances people would tune in.

But they still didn't. The game was out-drawn by Fox's Saturday night baseball, which although clearly the superior sport, was featuring a slate of mediocre matchups. And it's roughly 5 years until the playoffs, so even a baseball diehard like myself would say you don't absolutely need to tune in this time of year (though you probably should).

But that's not so embarrassing. I mean, baseball is America's game and all that. But a bit more telling is that Game 5 was beaten handily in the ratings by Spongebob Squarepants. Yup.

So to recap: more people would rather watch meaningless early-season baseball or a decade-old children's cartoon instead of an elimination game in the Stanley Cup finals.

But hey, at least from what I hear, it was a good series. I'm sure that one toothless guy hit that one guy with the French sounding name. And there were probably some goals stopped by a guy with only consonants in his last name. And I'm sure they all had delightful beards or something. Sorry, I can't be bothered to even pretend I care enough to look up shit about current hockey players. Gordie Howe still plays, right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Hard Not To Be Cynical When The World Demands It Of You

Look, everyone knows advertising is bullshit. We know we're not seriously supposed to believe that Bud Light will magically turn women into bikini-clad party girls or that the right pair of shoes will allow us to suddenly be able to dunk a basketball. I would assume most any American alive in this day and age have seen enough ridiculous ads in enough formats to understand they're not exactly honest all the time and that they'll take any angle they can to get us to buy their crap.

But at some certain point we expect some truth out of ads. For example, that's why Sketchers has to pay out $40 million for claiming their idiotic shoes would somehow help you get in shape (and yet they have to pay $0 for ruining any lasting respect we had for Joe Montana, but that's another post for another day). While we all pretty much accept they're going to stretch the truth and present distorted images, we also all clearly agree there has to be some sort of line we draw that says you can't just make shit up.

But that's more or less what advertising is all about, so expecting advertisers not to boldly lie to us is like expecting your dog not to shit in the backyard; it's just what they do. But sometimes the examples of how full of shit the advertisers are just get to be too much.

Take, for example, a recent lawsuit between CBS and ABC. The short version is that ABC is shortly going to première a new reality show called Glass House in which a bunch of strangers live in a house together and do a bunch of stupid shit and maybe one of them gets some money at the end. CBS noticed this is basically exactly what they did with Big Brother (not to mention ABC hired a bunch of ex-Big Brother staff to work on the show) and sued for copyright infringement.

What was ABC's defense? That the show is such a rote and generic reality show that it can't be ripping anything off, because all of these shows are the same thing to begin with anyway. Seriously. Their argument is literally "well, these shows are all the same anyway, so how is one more on the pile make any difference?"

What does this have to do with advertising? Well, I'm guessing "this is nothing original because all these shows are the same anyway" will not be what ABC goes with on its commercials advertising Glass House. Rather, I'd be willing to bet they'll try to convince you there is something new and interesting about this show after all.

It reminds me very much of the recent Pizza Hut v. Papa Johns lawsuit in which the former sued the latter over their use of the slogan "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza" essentially challenging Poppa Johns to prove this is true. Papa John's legal defense (as chronicled in a Dominoes commercial for some reason) was that this statement was "puffery" and that no one really believes they mean it. A convenient legal excuse, but it kind of destroys the entire basis of advertising when you effectively say "Oh, when we say 'better,' that's completely meaningless. In fact, any claim we make should just be ignored."

So it may just be me being cynical to say advertising is a completely bullshit profession, but then again, the advertisers themselves seem to admit as much...

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Income Inequality...In Space!

Ok, so technically it's not in space, but rather viewed from space, but that doesn't make for nearly as good a title...

Turns out income inequality is so bad in this country that you can see it from satellite images.

This really isn't surprising to anyone who's paid minimal attention to such things, but does serve as another striking example of the horrid inequalities we continue to nurture in this nation. And the bigger point is that it's not just the difference in size of houses or how close together they are that makes it the most obvious which is a poor and which is a rich neighborhood, but instead it's the presence of trees and other plant life.

And this foliage is about much more than simply aesthetics (though poor people deserve aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods as well), because it serves as a powerful symbol of the health differences between high and low income neighborhoods. I was instantly reminded of an article from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior a few years ago (citation not looked for), which found that pregnant women living near highway on and off ramps experienced far higher rates of complications and birth defects.

But when the researchers disaggregated the data by income level, they found the proximity to freeway ramps only effected the pregnancies of women from upper income brackets. Unfortunately this doesn't happen because poor women are magically immune to pollution, but instead because the neighborhoods they live in are already so polluted and toxic that the addition of CO2 and the various other harmful components of auto exhaust are just a drop in the bucket.

But hey, if we weren't poisoning poor people with our waste, they wouldn't have any encouragement to work, right? They would just be lazy and live off their $5 of welfare every month in the lap of luxury. Quick! Someone get them a copy of Atlas Shrugged!