Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Being Sick and Long Reads

So I've got my annual flu and have been more-or-less out of commission for the past few days. I even had to cancel classes for the first time in my long and lustrous teaching career. It's one of those really annoying types of the flu where you can't really concentrate for more than five or ten minutes at a time, so doing any work, even the most mindless of it, is pretty much impossible.

But on the plus side, it has given me a great deal of time to catch up with my best friend, the internet. I actually keep a series of bookmarks for just such occasions -- full of long reads that you don't want to bother with on a normal day, but when you have nothing better to do than lie on the couch and moan, they're fun to delve into.

The best of the long reads I've read today focuses on Costacos brothers and their poster empire. If you're of a certain age (read: basically my age), these posters were a huge part of your childhood. In the pre-internet era, these were as close to memes as anything that existed; often the nicknames the Costacos came up with filtered their way into actual sports broadcasts and the wider sports mythology surrounding players.

If nothing else, the article is great for having collected a good number of classic Costacos posters in one place, and is definitely worth a look. Not included, however, is my most favorite of all of theirs; the Kirby poster below that hung on my bedroom wall for pretty much all of my childhood. And actually still hangs on my bedroom wall now, because I am an overgrown child.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Separating Artists From Their Art...

A friend passed along this comic recently, the first panel of which you can see right here (though I encourage you to go read the whole thing). The short version is that a lot of the most prominent musical artists from the 60s/70s (a/k/a/ the baby boomer pantheon we'll be forced to hear about 'til they all die off) were just truly shitty people who did really terrible things. Whether it be Jimmy Page kidnapping a child to become a de facto sex slave or John "Give Peace A Chance" Lennon routinely beating his wives and children, a lot of the rock gods of the era (and let's be frank, every era) were reprehensible in their personal lives.

But we rarely if ever think about that while listening to their music, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Specifically, should we be thinking about these things? And to what extent should the general shittiness of the artist come to discount the art they create? Does Led Zep's music become out-of-bounds due to their collective shitty behavior? Does the fact that John Lennon had a walk-in humidor closet to store his vast collection of fur coats (not a joke, that's actually true) mean we can never listen to Imagine again (besides, of course, the fact it's a terrible song)?

More specifically, I've been thinking about this because I recently found out the lead singer of one of my most favorite (and I mean super duper favorite) Minnesota-based bands raped a friend of a friend in high school. Granted, because criminal charges were never filed and thus there was no investigation, this is technically just an accusation. However, given how underreported sexual assault is, combined with the fact that the victim is likely to reap far more negative consequences than the perpetrator if they do come forward, means it's pretty damn rare anyone fabricates claims of sexual assault. In this specific instance, I'm very inclined to believe the accusation due to the parties involved and the particulars of the story (sorry about being so vague -- the person in question does not really care to speak about this, and it's not my place to publicly out either party).

Since learning of this, I have had a really difficult time listening to said band. In fact, I've gone so far as to take all their music off my ipod and computer (which, again, was a lot of music. I really, really liked the band in question), not so much out of some sense of righteousness, but because I would start to feel queasy every time one of their songs popped up on shuffle. But that's really just a temporary, knee-jerk solution, and I don't really know what to do going forward.

And that's where the tricky questions come in -- knowing what I now know, it technically doesn't make their music any different. It's still some interesting, complex music combined with introspective and moving lyrics. But yet, I can't shake the fact that most of these music and lyrics are written by a rapist.

Yet somehow, I have no problem listening to music created by other people who I either know to have or have very strong reason to suspect have done much the same, or even worse. I'm sure part of the reaction is the personal connection to the story, but that really shouldn't make it any different. Further complicating things -- if I stopped listening to all the music created by people who have done reprehensible things, would I still have any music to listen to? And does my listening to the music of people who have done horrible things in some way signify my tacit approval, or at least acceptance, of those acts? Or can we truly separate works of art from the horrible things the people who created that art may have done?

I honestly have no idea, but it's an interesting question to wrestle with...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Phew! Good Thing Racism Doesn't Exist Anymore

As most people are probably aware by now, Adrian Peterson (a/k/a All Day, a/k/a Purple Jesus, a/k/a clearly the best running back of all time) had a terrible week. Late last week he was informed that he actually had another son he was not aware of, and he met that 2 year-old child for the first time as he lay dying in intensive care after having been beaten to death by his mother's current boyfriend.

Two parts of the story are incredibly important -- 1) Peterson did not know this child was his until the horrible tragedy had occurred, and 2) even had he known of the child, he did not have custody and there was pretty much nothing short of developing ESP he could have done to prevent this.

But there's another wrinkle to the story -- Peterson is Black, and his dad did some time in prison. A normal human being would think these have nothing to do with this tragic story, but normal human beings do not write for the New York Post.

Notable piece of shit Phil Mushnik wrote possibly the world's worst column claiming this to have all been Peterson's fault because...well, basically because he's Black and Black people are all terrible gang banging murders who care about nothing but themselves, I guess. (Note: the link here is to a scathing take down of the original article. I refuse to give that piece of shit page views).

I encourage everyone to go read that take on the column, but be ready to be foaming at the mouth in anger when you're down. Basically, it would have been less racist if he had just written a long string of racial slurs under a photoshopped pic of Peterson kidnapping white women from a Southern plantation...

Monday, October 14, 2013

An Appropriate Columbus Day Post

As Columbus day exists to celebrate a major event in the history of white people taking things from people of color as if its their birthright, the story of a woman of color who was called a whore for not working for free seems sadly appropriate.

So I urge you to read the words of DNLee, a science writer who was asked to contribute to an online science blog. When she found out she would not be compensated for her work, she declined to participate, in what most of us would call a reasonable decision for a professional to make about their time and effort.

Instead, an editor from the blog in question sent her an incredibly inappropriate response. In response to that, she wrote the great bit linked to above about the role of race and gender in science reporting more generally. Go read it.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

On This Date: R.I.P. Che

"Remember that it is the Revolution which is important and that each of us, taken in isolation, is worth nothing. Above all, always be capable of feeling any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary."

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Definition of Privilege

In a Platonic ideal of the situation every derisive "call the whaambulance" gif was ever made for, I present the apotheosis of straight white guy whining.

The whole rambling letter is totally worth a read, but the short version is that a TA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had to take a mandatory diversity training and was horrified at the implication that racism exists, and even worse, that trans people exist. The letter hits all the classic "colleges are just liberal indoctrination machines!" notes that conservatives love so much, but is written is such an hilarious unselfconscious manner that you can't help but feel kind of bad for the guy.

Amongst the many crimes he was forced to suffer through, here's some highlights:

Our facilitator spoke openly of politicizing her classrooms in order to right (take revenge for?) past wrongs.
This shit just confuses the hell out of me -- I thought conservatives were all about revenge. And besides, if there never were these past wrongs (as he claims), then what would people be taking revenge for?

We opened the session with chapter-and-verse quotes from diversity theorists who rehearsed the same tired “power and privilege” cant that so dominates seminar readings and official university hand-wringing over unmet race quotas 
That's exactly it -- no one alive genuinely cares about racial equality. Any and all concerns about the fact that, say, one race of people was enslaved in horribly brutal conditions for multiple centuries is really just a ruse so that we can force unqualified Black people into college at the expense of long-suffering white people. But wait, it kind of sounds like this guy wants to take revenge for what he perceives to be past wrongs, but that can't be it, because we know he thinks that's bad.

were forced to share our collective guilt with those from continents far across the wine-dark sea
Pro tip: when trying to say you're not racist, maybe don't refer to people of color as coming from across the sea.

On having to defile his poor, sensitive ears with the notion that queer and trans people exist:

It is most certainly not my job, though, to cheer along anyone, student or otherwise, in their psychological confusion. I am not in graduate school to learn how to encourage poor souls in their sexual experimentation, nor am I receiving generous stipends of taxpayer monies from the good people of the Great State of Wisconsin to play along with fantasies or accommodate public cross-dressing.
Wow! Way to nail it right on the head! Any and all gay people, or simply any people that don't fit his definition of straight, are simply either playing games or psychologically confused. Glad we cleared that up before anyone was tempted to treat them as human beings.

One grows used to being thought a snarling racist
Really? I've never grown used to that. Maybe because people aren't constantly telling me I'm racist. Another handy pro-tip: if large numbers of people continually tell you you're being racist, maybe, juuuuuust maybe, you might actually be a little racist.

Of course, since irony is dead, I can't point out the humorous irony that if a person of color wrote this about, well, literally anything, this guy would talk about how that so-and-so is just a whiner who can't accept the world the way it is, and hey, if they don't like it, no one's forcing them to go to school there. But that wouldn't be because this asshole is a hypocrite, it would be because the entire world is supposed to cater to him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quit Trying To Kill Everything I Love

As is obvious to anyone who has ever read this blog, I tend not to approve of most of the actions taken by conservative/libertarian people. Well, I agree with the conclusions of libertarians about 40% of the time (I never agree with their premises). But the thing I hate most is the way conservatives are so steadfastly trying to murder irony.

Ironic humor is possible my favorite thing in the world. Although I'm a little too young to be included in Gen X, I most definitely inherited their pension for ironic detachment from the world. It's become so ingrained in the way I communicate, I have to actively watch what I say around new people because they don't know pretty much everything I say is sarcastic.

It seems conservatives have always been fans of destroying the very concept of irony by rendering it so meaningless with their actions, but it also seems that this process has intensified greatly over the past decade or so. Whether it's arguing forcing the poor to starve is a Christian act or arguing that murdering innocent people will make our nation safer, conservatives have been abusing irony like it owes them money.

But I think they've finally succeeded, as the producers behind the Atlas Shrugged movie have started a kickstarter page to fund the next installment of the movie. Yes, a movie about how asking for money or voluntarily giving money to anyone makes you a parasite that will destroy the world will be funded by asking for donations.

This isn't even to broach the subject of the the first installment not even coming close to breaking even on its production costs. And for an ideology that says the market is the perfect arbiter of value, it would seem the market has loudly proclaimed this is a bad project which should be abandoned.

But that's only if these people actual believe the excrement of Ayn Rand. Which means I think I've finally figured out how anyone could believe anything so completely batshit crazy -- they don't. It's all part of their long-term plan to obliterate the concept of irony.

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."
~John Rogers

Friday, September 20, 2013

We Won't Pay You For Your Work (But You Can Pay Us!)

I received a letter yesterday from the University of Minnesota Foundation, in which they were attempting to solicit an alumni donation from me. Ignoring the fact that because my pay as a grad assistant during my time there was so low I'm still paying off my debts (thus leaving me no money to donate), I found it especially surprising that the College of Liberal Arts would reach out to me through this third party.

Because when I was part of a movement to unionize grad students, the university repeatedly explained to  us that giving any slight amount of money to, or even ever listening to, such a third party would destroy the very fabric of the university. Instead of doing silly things like unionizing (what's that ever done for anyone?), we should rely on the one-on-one relationships we have with faculty. It's pretty unimpeachable logic -- when in recorded history has someone's boss ever not listened patiently to all of their problems? Especially when said problems are that boss illegally over-working that employee? Never. Never is the answer.

Anyway, I felt the need to respond to their funding appeal, using the language I learned from the university administration. Below is the text of my response:

To whom it may concern in the College of Liberal Arts:
 I received your letter asking me to make a donation, sent on behalf of the University of Minnesota Foundation, with some sincere puzzlement. You see, I was heavily involved in the campaign to unionize graduate assistants when I was enrolled at the U of M. You might remember us; we were the people with the funny acronym who kept angrily insisting on things like cost of living increases, protections from the capricious whims of administration and faculty, and truly outrageous demands like basic dignity.

 To try and achieve these ends, we formed a collective that eventually partnered with the United Auto Workers. We mistakenly believed that by coming together (and with the assistance of this much larger organization that has experiencing in achieving exactly what we were trying to achieve), that we could then negotiate with the university on equal footing.

 Thankfully, the university administration was willing to patiently explain to us why our logic was so very wrong. We didn’t need a union, we were told, because the university is looking out for us. Maybe not by giving us adequate pay above the poverty level, but somehow. Besides, we most certainly did not need a third party like the UAW getting involved, the administration helpfully explained. Instead, we were told, we should settle these matters in the one-on-one relationships we already have with faculty.

 And, again thankfully, we saw the error of our ways and voted down the union. Mostly because we accepted the unimpeachable logic that speaking as a collective was useless, especially when it involved a third party in any way, and that instead it would be far more effective for us to use those vaulted one-on-one relationships.

 So you can understand my confusion when you, the College of Liberal Arts, reached out to me for a donation through the University of Minnesota Foundation. Why are you trying to bring an outside third party to interfere in the relationships I have with faculty in the College of Liberal Arts? It’s not that I don’t want to give you money, it’s just that I fear the Foundation will come between me the faculty I spent so long cultivating close relationships with.

 I understand that in reading this letter, you may be inclined to think I never actually intended to donate to the University, and that all of this language about the Foundation coming between me and the faculty is just a thinly-veiled excuse to not give you any money. That, of course, could not be further than the truth. Just as the administration was certainly not lying to us or trying to prevent us from unionizing, I am genuinely concerned about a third party organization I have no history with and can’t be certain about the motivations of (is my money really going to go to support the innovative work of the College of Liberal Arts, or is it going to go to some foundation office, full of people who aren’t even in the liberal arts?).

 So I have to regretfully inform you I simply cannot donate any money to this strange third-party organization, because I whole-heartedly believe the administration of the University of Minnesota has my best interests in mind, and they spent a significant amount of money and personnel hours to convince me that doing so would ruin the university. And how could I dare participate in something that would ruin my beloved university?

 I am saddened the university does not follow its own advice. I would happily donate on a one-on-one basis if any of the faculty were to reach out to me and explain why they, as individuals, need my alumni donation. But until then, I’m going to have to vote no on giving my money to a third party, just as President Kaler taught me.

Jesse Wozniak, Ph.D. 2012

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Everything is Social (Scary, Scary Drugs Edition)

Happened to come across two unrelated articles making the same point this morning: drug use, and specifically addiction, is much less about the physiological science of neural pathways and connectors that we've been told. Instead, as warms this sociologist's heart, it's far more about the social conditions in which that drug use takes place.

First there's this follow-up to the classic "rats will drug themselves to death given the option" study. The short version is that there was a classic old study in which rats in a cage had a lever they could push to get a dose of heroin. Once the rats started, they never stopped; they would keep pushing that lever until the OD'd or died from doing nothing but taking the drug, slowly wasting away as they ignored food and other stimuli.

This study has long been a cornerstone of conservative, bootstraps-based anti-drug zealotry. For instance, here's the conclusion of Professor Avram Goldstein, the man who conducted the study: "A rat addicted to heroin is not rebelling against society, is not a victim of socioeconomic circumstances, is not a product of a dysfunctional family, and is not a criminal. The rat's behavior is simply controlled by the action of heroin (actually morphine, to which heroin is converted in the body) on its brain."

You can just hear Rush Limbaugh cackling in delight while reading that -- "see, you god damned hippies! It's all about people making bad choices because they're stupid, not anything to do with the fact that they're living in crushing poverty while people who call them stupid deny them basic rights."

But in the follow-up linked above, they found a very simple way to avoid the rats getting addicted to the point of death: they built a bigger cage. That's it. It turns out that when the rats actually have other options besides sitting in a tiny cage all day getting high, they very much chose those other options. In a cage with other rats, large enough to have room to exercise, move about freely, raise a litter, etc. the rats didn't become addicts. In fact, they had been forced into addiction prior to being put in the large cage, and then ceased using the drug even though they were already addicted.

So it turns out giving the support to make choices in life other than drug use has a profound effect on drug use. Who could have guessed? (Answer: any sociologist. Any sociologist alive could have guessed that).

But that's rats, you say. That proves nothing (side note: it's funny how when rats prove what you want them to, it's a definitive study, but when they disprove what you want, then they're just rats). Well, enter Dr. Carl Hart. In an amazing pioneering study, he's providing free drugs (crack or methamphetamine) to people who are already addicted. These folks come to stay in a hospital for several weeks, and every morning Dr. Hart's assistants give them an unspecified amount of their drug of choice.

Then, throughout each day, they're given the option of another free dose or some sort of economic reward instead (usually some nominal amount of cash) which they would not be able to receive until the end of the study (thus proving the ability to favor delayed rewards over immediate gratification). And it turns out, the vast majority of these drug users would chose the economic incentive, demonstrating the fact that even scary, scary addicts can make logical choices (here you might point out how amazing it is that in the year 2013 we still need to prove that point, but such is the world).

You see, it turns out that just like rats, when humans have an option besides drug dependency, they'll generally chose it.

This is a classic example of confusing cause and effect, and not surprisingly, that confusion being strongly influenced by a desire to push an ideology that has little to no connection to reality. For there is a fairly strong connection between economic destitution and drug abuse (of course it's important to remember it's not ironclad, and plenty of economically comfortable people abuse all sorts of drugs). For drug warriors and conservatives, this meant stupid poor people can't understand drugs are bad for them, and thus they should be punished because they're too stupid to take care of themselves.

But what this evidence (and a lot more like it) demonstrates is that the cause and effect is backwards -- people don't do drugs and become destitute, they start using because they're destitute. And when you have nothing, it's hopefully not too hard to see why getting high and forgetting that fact for a little while would look appealing. Even in the absence of physical dependence, there's not really much of a reason to not use drugs, so why not?

So not to get too radical here, but it turns out that just maybe helping people is more effective in combating drug use than is punishing people. Though, of course, that assumes drug warriors are actually concerned about drug use and not about finding yet another excuse for shitting on the poor, but that's another post for another day...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Here, Go Read This Article

Although late to the party, seeing as how I already wrote eloquently on the subject recently, Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a nice piece about the concussion struggles of Justin Morneau.

You should really go read it, but the short version is that Cook makes the good point that possibly the saddest part of Morneau's whole ordeal is that both he himself and us as baseball fans were robbed of what statistically speaking, would likely have been his best years.

If I were Bob Costas, I'd say something here about the humbling nature of the game, but that just makes you sound really pretentious...

Monday, September 09, 2013

Pulling Rank (But, You Know, Not Like a Jerk)

As an anti-athouritarian and all-around dis-liker of most all forms of institutionalized power, I'm not a big fan of credentialism. By this point, it's been pretty well empirically verified that credentialing processes rarely measure the apolitical, earned merit they're supposedly recognizing, instead often simply being ways for the privileged to simultaneously claim they've earned their privilege and lock out others from their privileged positions. In short, credentials are usually bullshit and they're often used to make the world a shittier place.

On the other hand, in an abstract, ideal world, credentials would be a great idea that would help us organize and improve our world. Need a new building? Find a credentialed architect. Need to improve healthcare? Find a credentialed expert on healthcare. Need to find a third example to round out your rhetorical device? Find a credentialed...person who does that. Even in our actual, imperfect world credentialing serves some purpose; after all, if I need surgery, I really do insist on someone who has passed medical school and is licensed to practice medicine. If I need my car fixed, I take it to the person who is a certified mechanic (well, actually I mostly still take it to my dad, but he retains his credentials from being raised on a farm, making him a certified expert in most small machines and large animals).

So in general: credentials are stupid, they don't necessarily signify any particular knowledge or access to knowledge, they're often used simply to exclude, and I hate them and wish they would go away. On the other hand, sometimes they're necessary so you don't have a mechanic operating on your heart and a cardiologist operating on your car.

Now that's all well and good at the grand level, but where I really struggle with credentials is at a smaller level. Specifically, the level of me.

One of the big things I try to teach all of my students is that very little about our criminal justice system is a settled fact. Instead, there are a lot of different theories about people, how we should use resources, what crimes are most important, etc. But I also try to emphasize the difference between a scientifically-informed opinion and everyone's own personal opinion. As the old saying goes, everyone has a right to their opinion, but that does not make all opinions equal.

As a Ph.D. criminologist, I technically have a scientifically -informed opinion about, say, policing (this is what I study in particular, so I feel most comfortable claiming some expertise there). Now, of course, mine is just one opinion among many and is by no means the most valid opinion on the subject. But it is a hell of a lot more valid than the opinion of people who have never studied policing at all.

And this matters a great deal. Not just for my own feelings (though, hey, those are important), but because most of our policing policy is set by people who have no scientific understanding of policing, while people who do are routinely ignored. This leads to...well, pay any slight amount of attention to the police and you'll see the problems this leads to.

Yet I think most people would see the obvious problem with not weighing people's opinions based on their credentials on major public policy issues, so this shit becomes a real struggle for me at the personal level. Because I often get into arguments about policing and criminal justice at bars, parties, family gatherings, etc. (I get into a lot of arguments). And while I'm not trying to posit myself as smarter than anyone involved, I am almost always the only criminologist in the discussion. And as much as I hate credentialism, that stands for something. I spent the better part of a decade earning a degree that specifically grants me expertise in this field. You read a facebook post. These are not equal sources of knowledge. The point isn't that I individually know more about this issue than you do (though make no mistake about it, I empirically do know more than you about this subject), but that if an opinion based off a years of rigorous scientific study is given no more weight than an opinion shaped by random facts and personal prejudice, then what point is there to the study of anything?

I guess the cynical/probably true answer to that is there is no point to studying anything, because we live in a political and economic climate that has long since demonstrated a complete disregard for things like "truth" and "reality." But the naive optimist in my would like to think it counts for something. At least enough so that the guy who spent years studying this one particular thing would be granted slightly more respect in that area than the cousin who read a facebook post that doesn't even make sense by its own logic.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Difficulty of Being a Sports Fan

As the old saying goes, being a sports fan essentially means rooting for laundry. Or as I saw someone put it the other day, cheering for paid professionals employed by the corporate conglomerate located in the closest physical proximity to your childhood home. It's essentially a silly activity to get wrapped up in.

Being a small market fan comes with a whole separate host of silly issues. I wrote about this way back when KG left the T'Wolves for greener pastures in Boston -- when you're a small-market fan, you feel much closer to the players, because they're celebrities only in your area. You feel like they're an awesome secret most of the sports world doesn't know about. But you also generally get stuck with an ownership group that's cheap as all get out, meaning when you luck into a superstar like that, they're usually surrounded with shitty players and have to carry the team themselves. That's why there were such mixed feelings when KG ditched Minny; on the one hand, you're losing your best player. On the other hand, he had given us everything and the best support he ever got was Latrell Sprewell (note to non sports fan: this means he had no support). So you had grown to love him and it was hard to begrudge him the chance to actually win a championship, which was clearly never going to happen in Minnesota.

But sometimes players don't leave because they're going somewhere better, sometimes you have to jettison players you love because they're old, expensive, and not performing as well (it's a business, after all and other such cliches). This is generally just as sad, but for very different reasons.

Take the case of Justin Morneau, the Twins' formerly-amazing first baseman. As this excellent write up in Grantland points out (as have many other people, but this one is succinct and on-point), Justin is too expensive for the Twins for his level of production, and besides, they're going to be terrible for a few years waiting for all the amazing players in their farm system to get to the majors (and they have some fucking incredibly guys down on the farm right now). So from a business standpoint, it makes total sense to get Justin out the door as soon as we can.

But from a fan perspective, it's hard to see him go. He's been with the Twins since he was drafted, coming up in 2003 and helping us win 6 division titles. He won an MVP and the season he got the concussion right before All Star break, he was having one of the best seasons ever. In the first half of that season, he had hit .345 and had an OPS over 1.050 (again, for non sports fans, those are amazing numbers. Like shoe-in for your second MVP-type numbers). And then a dude on the Blue Jays accidentally kneed him in the head, and he forgot how to play baseball.

That's what makes it even sadder and raises so many more conflicted feelings -- it's not that he's suffered the decline every ball player goes through as they age. It's that he had the prime of what was shaping up to be a Hall of Fame career ruined by a concussion he really never recovered from. It would be one thing if we were shopping him now because he's an over-the-hill slugger who gave us a good long career but now we need to move on. No, any Morneau trade would be because he got injured and was no longer able to perform at a high level, due basically only to that one injury. Basically, we're jettisoning one of the greatest players in the history of the team because he got a concussion.

Final analysis, the Twins really need to get rid of him to get any value in return, even if it's just dumping the $14 million or so they owe him for next year. But even though I can understand why that needs to happen, it's still going to be a pretty sad day when it does.

Update: Looks like Morneau will come out and join me in Pittsburgh, meeting up with former Twin Francisco Liriano and taking over first base for former Twins prospect Garett Jones.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Speaking Ill of the Not Quite Yet Dead

I posted awhile back on how I think it's incredibly stupid to hold to "don't speak ill of the dead" as some sort of ethos. Beside the fact that people don't magically become less evil because they're dead, not speaking ill of the dead is often used as a way to white-wash the horrible things people have done, especially when it comes to public figures.

For example, when Billy Graham died, he was touted as some great religious and moral leader, and not, say, the guy who told Nixon about synagogues of Satan and how many problems he had with Jews and Black people (hint: he didn't use the terms "Jewish" and "Black"). And that's important, because Billy Graham was not an upstanding moral man, but instead an asshole and a bigot.

And speaking of bigoted assholes, Pat Robertson has made some news again as he made up a story on his show about how apparently gay men have magical rings they use to spread AIDS. To spare you the time of checking, no your eyes did not explode, forcing your brain to improvise the words you thought you were reading, and yes, it is indeed the year two-thousand-fucking-thirteen.

And that last part is really important (of course, that's ignoring the magical physics that would have to be involved for these secret gay AIDS-spreading rings to work), because one of the ways people white-washed Graham's bullshit was pointing out that it happened a long time ago. Ignoring the fact that he was almost definitely still talking about and thinking those things but just wasn't being recorded, apparently his bullshit was ok because everyone was a racist, anti-semetic bigot back then I guess?

Now this is just one in a long, long line of especially stupid things Pat Robertson has said. Hell, it's only a blip in the long line of stupid things he's said about gay people (incidentally, doesn't Pat Robertson strike you as the kind of guy who watches tons of gay porn? But not because he likes it, because it's research, you see). But you can already see the explanations that will be trotted out on his death when he gets sainted -- "oh sure, he said some things that were distasteful, but the 80s were a long time ago and no one understood AIDS back then." Or something along those lines.

But this is no longer the 80s, AIDS is no longer a mysterious disease no one understands, and I'm pretty sure we've conclusively demonstrated gay people are human beings. Mostly because it's the year 2013. Yet Robertson is still spouting stupid bullshit that would have looked backwards 30 years ago.

Anyway, this is all to make a simple point -- the man is a pice of shit. He's a piece of shit now, and when he finally fucking dies (what kind of pact with Satan is sustaining his withered body at this point?), he will still be a colossal piece of shit. And if you're one of those people who thinks we should never speak ill of the dead, well, he's alive right now, so I'll just point you back to this post when he dies...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hey Look! Someone Else Hates Something I Hate!

A few years back, I wrote about how stupid the Beloit College Mindset List is. For those of you not familiar, the mindset list is put together annually by a few professors at Beloit College, and lists a bunch of stuff that supposedly describes the zeitgeist of this fall's newly-entering college first years. It's mostly just a glorified buzzfeed list for old people, and is built on the bizarre assumption that no one understands anything that ever happened before they were born.

I was reminded of my hate-rage for this stupid list when I came across this Salon article detailing pretty much the same complaints I have. As the author of that pointed out, the very first list (of students who would go on to graduate in 2002), claimed they had never heard of the Iran hostage crisis. You know, because it happened a year before they were born. And we all know no one has ever heard of any major world events that happened that far in the past.

But what's even more annoying than that, I've decided, is just how fucking hacky and yet self-satisfied the damn list is. Here's some choice moronic bits from this year's list:

13. PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line.

Hah! Get it? Kids today never communicate with anyone, they only buy things using third-party payment apps!

14. Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cell phone and Skype accounts than with getting a driver’s license and car.

Here's where I admit I know nothing about kids these days, but I have to assume getting a car is still a pretty big deal.

18. Growing up with the family dog, one of them has worn an electronic collar, while the other has toted an electronic lifeline.

I literally do not understand what this means. They only make reference to one dog, while the next sentence references two distinct things. I clearly am out of touch.

29. Java has never been just a cup of coffee

Yup, if there's one thing I hear college kids talking about all the time it's which programming language they prefer.

40. They have never attended a concert in a smoke-filled arena.

I think this one is just empirically not true. Many states still do not have indoor smoking bans, and I can't believe every arena self-imposed those before any of these kids were old enough to go to a concert.

44. Their favorite feature films have always been largely, if not totally, computer generated

Again, that's just...not true at all. The majority of films released every year are neither largely nor totally computer generated.

51. The Canadian Football League Stallions have always sung Alouette in Montreal after bidding adieu to Baltimore.

This is a great example of how fucking lazy the list is, like they just googled things that happened in a particular year. Name me one incoming first-year college student who knows or cares about the existence of the Montreal CFL team. This is not how any American college student identifies themselves or makes sense of the world.

57. Their parents’ car CD player is soooooo ancient and embarrassing.

Ok, admittedly I haven't been car shopping recently, but don't all cars come with CD players? Had they went with tape deck, I could at least see it. But can you even purchase a new car in this magical year of 2013 that doesn't have a CD player? How can it be "ancient and embarrassing" if it's still a standard feature in basically every car made?

So in short, fuck this list, and fuck Beloit College for allowing it to continue to exist.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hilarity, The "Postmodern," and Fucking Up To Make Things Better

First seen here, the two comics below are from when The Dayton Daily News (on two separate occasions!) accidentally swapped the Far Side and Dennis the Menace captions, due to some sort of lay out error.

You may be noting this as the first time you ever laughed at Dennis the Menace, because it is one of what the incomparable Comics Curmudgeon refers to as a "legacy" comic. Legacy comics are the ones that are still inexplicably in the newspaper because the only demographic that still purchases newspapers is extremely comforted by familiarity and forms of bland entertainment in which they;re guaranteed to never be challenged or see a black person. But the people writing these legacy comics long ago gave up (often literally, as they don't actually do any of the production work anymore) and just started recycling the same 3 punchlines over and over.

This screw up, though, reminded me of two other legacy comics reclamation projects. Namely, the Nietzsche Family Circus and Garfield Minus Garfield. Both of these comics are pretty much exactly what the name implies (a Family Circus panel with the caption replaced by a Nietzsche quote and a Garfield comic with Garfield's visage and dialogue erased, respectively), but they vastly improve on their source material.

Someone much smarter and/or pretentious than me could explain how this is some sort of postmodern reclamation of stale cultural artifacts, being co-opted by a jaded generation...something, something. A much simpler way to put it is that stupid shit is a lot funnier when it's no longer stupid. And since Dennis the Menace, the Family Circus, and (present day) Garfield* are all pretty much the epitome of stupid, there's not much anywhere to go but up...

*While present day Garfield is clearly just Jim Davis collecting a large paycheck while I assume a team of flunkies is actually responsible for churning out the content, I will defend old-school Garfield to death. It was actually once an interesting, funny, and occasionally darkly brilliant strip. For proof, I point you to this series from late October 1989 in which it's hinted the entire run of the comic is actually just the fevered dreams of an abandoned Garfield starving to death in an empty house. Let's see Get Fuzzy pull off that shit.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer Colds Suck

Spent all of last weekend at an academic conference, and while I was actually a good li'l boy and spent most of my time actually attending presentations, having discussions with colleagues, etc., no conference is complete without nightly partying. It's what happens when you get a bunch of nerds with no social lives together once a year.

Anyway, my body is enacting revenge for my hard living, so I'm now stuck with the dreaded summer cold. It's not really terrible per se, but my head it stuffy and I'm having a hard time concentrating, which makes putting together my syllabi for the class beginning next week (!) more difficult than I had anticipated.

So I'm going to de-camp from the officer and go home where I can sit in my pajamas and mainline chicken soup until I'm better. I may even potentially get some work done, but let's not get crazy.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Oh, How I Wish To Live In That Conservative Shangri-La

I've often joked that I really want to live in the world conservatives think we live in now -- a socialist utopia with free healthcare and abortions on demand, where crossing the border is as easy as ordering lunch, and where women and people of color have long ago achieved equality and there are no pressing social problems of any kind. It really does sound like a great place to be.

I was reminded of that when I saw this graffiti scrawled near a handicapped parking space in the lot outside of my building. Although it's obviously only the grammatically incorrect, misspelled rant of one person, it very much encapsulates so much of the conservative world view. If you can't tell from the picture, this person believes that those using the handicapped spot are not only not suffering from a physical handicap that necessitates a special parking space, but are in fact overweight and driving an SUV paid for by the presumably honest, hard-working graffiti-er's taxes.

This kind of worldview makes me feel something between knee-slapping laughter and infuriating rage. Although it's insane, it seems to be one of the cornerstones of contemporary American conservatives -- that somehow, there's an army of lazy people who have figured out that instead of working, they can get large checks from the federal government by faking some sort of malady, thus allowing them to live in luxury by doing nothing but collecting the tax revenues of their hard-working countrymen.

Of course this is laughable. Anyone who knows even the basics of government programs knows that any benefits you may receive are going to be so small as to barely allow you to have the necessities of life. Literally no single private individual is driving an SUV paid for by someone else's tax money. It simply has never happened and will never happen at any point in the future. Making it even more emblematic of how absurdly fantastical the conservative worldview is would be the fact that simply having a handicapped parking permit in no way even implies that person is getting any sort of government benefit. And again, even if they are getting some sort of disability benefit, they would have to save every single cent of it for years on end to have enough to buy even a moderately-priced vehicle.

But I think what makes this the most infuriating is that there are entities out there receiving absurd amounts of federal tax dollars they neither need nor deserve. They're multi-billion dollar multinational corporations, usually defense and energy companies. And yet, I've yet to see any conservatives getting upset about those government handouts, despite the fact that they dwarf payments to the indigent by several orders of magnitude.

Or maybe I'm simply wrong, and am too much of a sheeple to realize there are secret government programs designed to hand out millions to handicapped people for the purpose of...well, ok, I can't even imagine where the argument goes from there, but I'm sure it's damn entertaining/horribly offensive.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Is Being Funny Enough Good Enough?

I've written before about rape jokes and how, similar to racial jokes, they walk a very fine line; even if they're funny, they need to be constructed carefully to make sure they're punching up and not victim shaming/blaming, or they become really shitty really quickly. If they're unfunny, they come across terribly even if they're not really that offensive per se.

Being a comedy nerd, I've had a lot of conversations about this sort of thing. One of my friends I've discussed this at length with maintains that you can really get away with joking about anything, as long as it's funny. I don't know that I completely subscribe to that viewpoint, but I do feel that if you laugh at something you can't simultaneously claim it has offended you, because you don't laugh at things that offend you (well, maybe in some really specific situations, but you know what I'm getting at).

But the longer I think about it, the more I come around to the "if it's funny enough, you can say anything" position (though this is probably my white male privilege showing through). Case in point: I've been sitting on this awhile, but last month when murder charges were announced against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, mock sports fan/terrible human being Pro Football Talk Commenter was on a damn roll.

(To the unfamiliar, Pro Football Talk is terrible sports news website. Its comment section, like on so many sports sites/websites in general, is full of typo-ridden racist, sexist, uninformed garbage. PFTCommenter is a sort of meta parody of these, and often contributes to Kissing Suzy Kolber, a pretty good football-centric blog. Check out his awesome White History Month series to get a taste of his general ouvre.)

Anyway, at this point, all anyone knew was that someone had been murdered and Hernandez was the center of the investigation. And of course, no one is more idiotic nor prone to grandstanding than sports reporters, so PFTCommenter had a bit of a field day taking them on. First, he took down Peter King's always shitty logic:

Not only funny in and of itself, but really pokes a great hole in King's grandstanding logic; either teams somehow magically knew Hernandez would become a murderer (in which case, they probably shouldn't have drafted him), or this is something no one could have predicted and the fact that he fell in the draft because he smoked weed in college is probably irrelevant (especially when you consider somewhere between 30-40% of college students smoke marijuana).

So that one is less offensive funny that just plain funny. But the post that made me laugh heartily and then feel kinda icky about laughing so hard was this one:

(For those unfamiliar with the acronym, MFK stands for "Marry, Fuck, Kill," an game in which three people are named and one has to say which they would prefer to respectively marry, fuck, and kill.)

So this is definitely a tasteless joke somewhat made at the expense of a man who had just been murdered, which if not totally offensive, certainly comes across as somewhat wrong. Yet, at the same time, I almost spit out my coffee when I read it I was laughing so hard.

So I guess I don't really have any greater conclusion on the subject, but I am probably going to hell for laughing at this stuff. But hey, at least I'll be laughing on my way there...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Listen To This

Hey look, it's an exclusive new track from Robbie Fulks' new album.

If you don't currently listen to Robbie, you're missing quite a bit. It's what country music is supposed to sound like, and nearly always my go-to rebuttal for people who listen to "everything but country." Because that is stupid position to take, as country music kicks ass. Well, really, dismissing an entire genre is pretty much always stupid. But especially so with one so entwined with the history of our nation and with such a massive, varied, and influential catalogue. Why doesn't anyone ever say they listen to everything but Norwegian Death Metal? That would at least make some sense.

Anyway, listen to it. And if you're a fan of smart-ass takes on music and life in general, I also highly recommend his blog.

Monday, July 29, 2013

...And I'm Back

There's something about driving half-way across this gigantic nation in this day and age that feels like it's just missing something. Sure, the well-maintained intestates undoubtedly move traffic along much faster than in days past, but it seems like all the local color is gone. Especially on the toll roads, in which the only options for gas and food are identical "oases" every 50 or so miles. But even on the more open roads, it seems every exit is just about the same.

As a veteran of numerous minivan trips across the nation, I remember there being a lot more local color, at least in terms of interesting little local restaurants or oddly-themed gas stations and the like. But now you really have to search for those things, if they even exist to be found.

Fortunately, though, on the way back home this past weekend I stopped off to stay with some friends in West Lafayette. I can't say there's a whole lot to recommend West Lafayette (though I was just there for one night), but I can say if you're ever there, you need to go the Triple XXX Family Restaurant (yes, it's written like that, although that really implies it's the 9 family restaurant) (also, don't google it at work. I learned that lesson for you).

Apparently the last surviving Triple XXX Rootbeer stand (hence the odd name), it's now a greasy spoon with some delightfully absurd menu items, all named after Boilermaker legends, or as much as such a thing exists. I had something named after Drew Brees, and while I don't really remember everything in it, it was all covered in gravy. The kind of breakfast that's perfect for a day on the road, since you won't need to eat again at all.

I feel like places like that used to be a lot more widespread, but maybe this just means I'm officially getting old now that I'm starting to think things were better way back when. Either way, I feel like an entire breakfast platter covered in gravy shouldn't be so hard to find...

So the Triple XXX actually refers to alcohol, which I guess isn't as scandalous,
but probably similarly ill-suited as the namesake for a family restaurant

Friday, July 19, 2013

The T-Shirt Turns 100

So apparently the t shirt is now 100 years old. Though I guess they technically mean the short-sleeved t shirt, since technically all shirts are t shirts, aren't they?

I felt the need to note the date, as I've long had a thing for collecting t shirts. Well, not really collecting them, it's more I have a weakness for shirts with amusing, stupid, or amusingly stupid things written on them. Plus, they're just such a great way to broadcast your political views -- take that, global capitalism! Surely my witty communist-themed t shirt will tear asunder your walls of greed!

So in celebration...uh, I guess wear a t shirt today? Though given that it's already late in the afternoon, I'm assuming you're already dressed by now. So...wear one tomorrow? Jesus, I can't make all of your decisions for you...

For instance, this is a humorous shirt I own,
although that is not me wearing it

Thursday, July 18, 2013

And Now For Something Light -- Baseball!

So blah, blah, blah politics, amirite? Seems like this space has devolved into angry rants lately. Which is fine to a point (angry ranting is more-or-less what I do best), but sometimes that shit has to be tempered by the light frivolity that is grown men being paid large sums of money to play a game.

Gizmodo recently published and interesting history of the evolution of baseball equipment that's well worth the read. The funniest thing to me is that it took a long while for gloves to be introduced, and the first man to use one was mocked a fair bit for being so sissy he needed something to protect his hands. Though to be fair, at that time it still counted as an out if you caught the ball on the first hop, so maybe his bullies were somewhat justified.

Even more fascinating, though (and developed in more detail on the Smithsonian's blog) is the history of the ball itself. Originally there were no standards placed on the balls being used, but more interestingly, it was the pitcher's job to supply the ball for the game. This being before widespread automation (or at least automated production of baseballs), the pitchers would have to put the balls together themselves, carefully cutting up leather and sewing it together in just the right way. Often the balls would really only be any good for the first few innings, after which they would become misshapen blobs that would be incredibly difficult to hit, leading to what is commonly referred to as the "dead ball era" and often excluded from discussions about the statistical history of baseball.

Anyway, both of the article linked above contain a bunch more links of their own, which can send you down a rabbit hole of internet links until your afternoon is gone, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how you define your life...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Smaller Forms of White Privilege

So as we've seen recently (though we've seen it a thousand times before), white privilege is pretty damn powerful. It's the kind of thing that lets you kill an unarmed Black teenager, and then the resulting trial and media coverage focus on how potentially dangerous the dead kid is rather than how obviously dangerous the deranged dude with the gun who killed a child is. Nice work if you can get it, right?

But typically white privilege operates on a much smaller plane. For instance, shitty comedians often use their white privilege to make racist jokes and then jump on anyone who calls them out for it for "being p.c." (as an aside, is there any greater phrase in the English language? It's one of those really handy markers, because as soon as you hear someone use that phrase, you know you can stop listening to them right then and there, because they are a fucking moron).

Here's a good recent example -- after the now infamous incident in which a Bay Area news station reported the names of the pilots on the crashed Asiana Airlines flight as "Wee Too Low" and "Ho Lee Fuk" among others, Patton Oswalt tweeted out something to the effect of their new PR person would be "Wi So Solly."

Get it? Because Asian people talk funny! Har har!

The funniest thing about it to me is how not only racist, but completely out of touch it makes Patton look, especially for a guy who has a lot of fans who seem to think of him as hip and witty (full confession: I've never found the dude funny). When I saw the tweet, it immediately made me think of one of the all-time great Simpsons episodes, Krusty Gets Kancelled. In the episode, to demonstrate how unfunny and out of touch Krusty has become, they show him doing a bit with fake buck teeth and saying "me so solly," as their example of the ultimate unfunny, hackneyed joke. That episode premiered 20 years ago. 20 years ago people who were actually talented comics were using the "so solly" bit as an example of ridiculous, out-dated, hackneyed material. Just to put that in perspective.

Anyway, David Daley over at Salon called Oswalt out for being a racist idiot (and noted the joke wasn't funny to boot). But instead of say, pausing for a bit to think about how maybe he had just made a racist remark, Oswalt instead began firing back and eventually wrote a long missive on his website about how those P.C. prudes over at Salon just don't get his crazy edgy humor. In it, he mocks the idea that he, esteemed white comedian, could ever be racist in the first place, and that if anyone thinks he is, it's only because they're not smart enough to understand his comedy. He also claims it should be obvious to anyone that the tv station was the brunt of the joke, but I can't really see how that's the case. The only "joke" contained within the original tweet is that Asian people supposedly can't say R's, and I'm not certain how that's a joke on the tv station and not just dredging up an incredibly reductive, racist insult for cheap laughs.

But it's not just that fact that Oswalt can fire off racist tweets and not lose his job or many of his fans. The real power of white privilege is in how indignant he gets to be that anyone would dare call him out on his racism. And that instead of taking the time to reflect about how, yeah, that's a pretty fucking racist joke, he instead turns in into a rant about how anyone who sees racism in it is just spoiling for a fight and is so out of touch with reality they can't recognize his genius.

Kinda like how Trayvon Martin was so out of touch with reality he couldn't recognize that he should just sit still while a crazed gunman chased him down the street...

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Biggest Tribute to Trayvon is Not Forgetting

So George Zimmerman was found not guilty, despite, you know, shooting and killing an unarmed teenager who was doing nothing illegal. Predictably, as such things tend to go in a nation and criminal justice system that both have serious problems with young, Black men, it really seemed as if Trayvon was on trial much more than Zimmerman. After all, if you're going to do a toxicology report after a  murder, it makes a lot more sense to test the victim than the perpetrator, right?

But I'm not going to get into all of that, mainly because a million other people much smarter than I have written much better responses than I can come up with. Like a lot of people, I spent the better part of Sunday in shock, alternating between reading about the trial outcome and just staring off into the distance in a mixture of rage and sadness.

So I don't need to go on about how stand your ground laws are incredibly racialized in outcome (and yes, I'm well aware Zimmerman's defense team did not appeal to syg for their defense, but it's basically the same argument). I'll give you three guesses on who you can murder and claim a stand your ground defense and get away with it, but you'll only need one. Because this is the kind of thing we frankly didn't really even need the research to tell us -- we've known for years that if you want to get away with murder, you should murder a young Black man. This trial was just another sad chapter in a long, long history of Black Americans not receiving justice.

But I think the saddest thing of all is just that -- that Trayvon's death is just another young Black man being murdered. Although it's all the talk right now, this piece by Tim Wise got me thinking about how long it is until everyone else moves on. In the article (well worth your time, by the way), Wise talks about the Bernhard Goetz case from 30 years ago. Goetz famously murdered or wounded 6 young Black men in the subway just because they were young, Black men. And much like in Trayvon's case, the jury accepted that those boys having the audacity to be young and Black in public makes them justifiable targets of paranoid murder.

And yet, how many Americans alive today even remember the Goetz case? Outside of historians, lefty agitators, and people with pretty sharp memories, I'd guess very few. And once the next few national tragedies happen and everyone's attention turns elsewhere, who will remember Trayvon?

This lack of collective memory is important for so many reasons. For one, our schools certainly don't teach us these things -- I had never even heard of Emmit Till until I was a sophomore in college. Forgetting these events is what allows people to continue ridiculous narratives of race no longer being a problem in America, and to paint each of these events as an isolated incident. It's important to remember that Trayvon's murder wouldn't have even been investigated if there hadn't been such a huge public outcry. But there are many, many more like Trayvon who don't end up becoming public causes, and instead are just left dead and their families without any justice or even closure.

So like many across the nation, I'm headed out to a rally tonight to demand justice for Trayvon, and here in Minneapolis, to demand justice for Terrance Franklin, who was murdered by an actual cop instead of a wanna-be cop. And these rallies are important and necessary.

But I can't help shake the best tribute to Trayvon is to not let his memory, or the memory of the many young, Black men slaughtered because of the color of their skin, to die along with them. Maybe if we remember enough of them, we might finally all decide to do something about it...