Monday, February 25, 2013

Baseball Jurisprudence Strikes Again!

Previously I brought you the very important story of the judiciary officially recognizing the Twins and Sox as rivals. But now comes news of a baseball-related legal settlement that warms my heart even more: the Yankees had to take to court to defend the fact that they are, indeed, baseball's evil empire.

The gist of the story is that some guy tried to start a website called something like "Baseball's Evil Empire" and the Yankees sued for copyright infringement, arguing that in relation to baseball, there is no one more evil or more like a terrible, oppressive empire. In fact, in the judges' ruling they explicitly noted "the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees."

I mean...damn. Not content with purchasing championships, ruining the free agency market for the vast majority of other teams, being arrogant assholes, having some of the most corrupt (and mob-affiliated!) owners in the league. Nope. The Yankees will not be happy until they own literally everything even vaguely baseball-related, even if it's an insult leveled against them.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bringing Criminals To Trial? What A Novel Idea!

Just a quick post at the end of the work week -- at her first Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Elizabeth Warren had a simple question: when's the last time a Wall Street banker had to face trial?

Unsurprisingly, the answer was a stammering "Um...sometime...I'm sure we've...uh...I'll have to get back to you."

While the full answer to why this happens in somewhat complex, the short answer is that we have two criminal justice systems; one for the poor, in which increasingly harsh laws are justified as the only response capable of stemming criminality, and one for the rich, in which token fines and regulatory discussions suddenly become the preferred method.

But really, the easiest way to see these two tracks in operation is to look at two crimes, both of which can have incredibly destructive effects on individuals and communities: drug use and all possible forms of crime on Wall Street (and the larger financial industry). 

Drug use, the crime available to (though not at all exclusive to) the poor, generates an incredibly harsh response. In the year 2011 alone, an estimated 1, 513, 251 people were arrested for drug-related crimes. And maybe this seems appropriate to you; after all, drugs are bad and harmful and can destroy entire communities, so they need a big response.

But let's contrast that with all financial crimes. Unless you have been living in a cave on mars with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears, you may recall how shady financial practices over the last few years kind of tanked the American economy (and really, most of the world economy), putting millions out of work, erasing the retirement funds of millions, and leading to all sorts of horrible problems too myriad to list here. And how many people were arrested for financial crimes in 2011? Well, it's hard to say, because the data are not kept in the same way. However, according to the FBI, there were  241 convictions and 726 potentially criminal cases pending an outcome. So, roughly 1,000 criminal cases were pursued. Expanding back a few years with the same data, the entire financial collapse of America resulted in less than 10,000 criminal cases being pursued in the financial sector (though of course pursued does not mean any criminal charges or even arrests came of it).

So by even the most generous of definitions, there were well over 151 times as many people arrested for drug charges in one year than there were cases even pursued against the financial industry over a 7 year span. And again, as bad as drug use may be, I don't recall it tanking the entire world's economy.

So why the discrepancy? Well, again, there are a fair number of factors involved, but the biggest one would be that one of these crimes is the kind that can be committed by poor people and one is the kind that can only be committed by the wealthy...

Friday, February 08, 2013

Woah,You Guys! It Tuns Out College Athletics May Not Be The Pure, Scholarly Endeavor We Imagine It To Be

A recent study from the Delta Cost Project reveals a shocking truth only known to those with eyes who have been paying a minimal amount of attention: Universities spend way more money on athletics than is justified.

Though big-revenue sports like collegiate football and basketball like to justify their existence by claiming to bring money into the institution (something the Knight Commission has conclusively and repeatedly demonstrated that this only true for the top 5-10 earners in football, and even fewer basketball programs), even if this was true, the disparities are still pretty insane.

For instance, in the football-crazed SEC, the average school spends a whopping median of $163, 931 per athlete. For those who are too far removed from their high school stats class, median means half of all spending is higher than this number, half below. I'll let you take a wild guess as to which side is populated by the football team and which by the women's rowing team.

Not only is this expenditure insane in-and-of-itself, it also represents 12.2 times as much money as these Universities spend on their students. You know, the people who are supposedly the reason the University exists in the first place.

What makes this even sadder is that the median spending on athletes vs the general student body is still over 3:1 in the FCS schools (formerly the I-AA). Because the other justification always given for this runaway spending is that a successful football/basketball program brings more students to the university. And maybe (and that's a strong maybe) this is true for the storied and legendary programs like Alabama or Notre Dame, but no one, and I mean no one, can even begin to make that claim for FCS schools. As someone who attended one, I can note that of the approximately 12,000 students at the University I attended for undergrad, a full 10-20 of them may have been fans of the school team.

And, of course, this is to say nothing of how all this money is spent without a single cent of it going to the athletes themselves. But this is America, and building multi-billion dollar institutions on the back of free labor provided by a mostly-Black workforce is one of our proudest national traditions...

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

I've Become Everything I Hate

Pictured: Me
I've written before about how I'm ambivalent about giving money to public radio (tl;dr: they say they're ad free, but they have ads all the time, just read by the DJs rather than voice actors). But on the other hand, I've listened to The Current fairly regularly for the better part of 8 years now, and never once contributed anything (other than my ears for the ads they read on air, which is technically paying for it, since that's the entire purpose of radio ads).

Mostly I resolved the situation by remembering I was a broke grad student, and as much as I like the Current, they have plenty of money and I had basically none. So it made the decision easier.

But now that I'm gone away from the Twin Cities, I've been spending a lot of time listening online, both because all the radio stations here suck immensely, and because I'm home sick.

So I became a public radio supporter for the first time in my life. I get a neat-o t-shirt for my troubles (hey! this shirt only costs $120!), and the warm feeling of the self-satisfied liberal...

Monday, February 04, 2013

Bordieu and Cold Ears

So I haven't blogged in a long time, which is extra funny considering all the time I waste on the internet pretending to work. Maybe it's because when I'm online I'm trying to avoid work and writing is too close to work for comfort. Who knows?

Or maybe it's just one of the many growing pains of moving halfway across the country to start a new job in a town in which I knew literally no one before moving here. It's been a lot more adjustment than I initially thought it would be; I've been in similar situations before (moving away to a new town where I know no one), but it's always been different. Moving to grad school I ended up somewhere new with no friends, but I was also surrounded daily by people in my age range who were in the same situation I was. Or when I moved to Iraq, I really knew no one, but I had counted on feeling weird and alone, and besides, it was just temporary anyway.

But this move was a whole new bag of worms. And one of the biggest changes has been adjusting to a new habitus I find myself in. Coined by (or at least developed by, I'm not going to bother to check) the French sociologist Pierre Bordieu, habitus essentially refers your life world; the things you implicitly understand and are used to, like language, general social customs, how to comport yourself in the various situations in which you find yourself, etc. Of course, that's a gross over-simplification, but basically (I think) the idea.

Not too surprisingly, folks south of the ol' Mason-Dixon line occupy a fairly different habitus than I was used to in Minnesota. And while this manifests itself in a variety of ways, one of the most obvious in reaction to the weather. For instance, a good 2 inches of snow seems to completely shut this city down (I get it, there's a bunch of steep, windy mountain roads, but come on, people...).

But my own reaction to the weather here has been just as ridiculous as the local's is to me. Because for some reason I can't get it through my head that the cold here is just as cold as it is back home. Part of it is that I'm now technically in the South. So even though I'm only about 15 miles from the Pennsylvania border, mentally I just can't shake the feeling that it doesn't get cold in the South. And to be fair, it doesn't get nearly as cold; as friends back home are whining about negative 50 windchills, the lowest it's gotten here in the low teens.

Now this time of year in Minnesota, the low teens are relatively warm, as opposed to the coldest it ever gets. But, you know, temperatures in the low teens are still objectively cold to human beings. But I can't get out of the habit of looking at the weather, seeing a high for the day of 20 and thinking some variation of "dang, that's pretty warm for February."

Which in and of itself is not really a big deal, but means I almost always forget to grab a hat or mittens or any of the kind of cold weather gear you should probably wear when it's that cold. Because in Minneapolis, I would have already been wearing hat and gloves every day for weeks at this point, so I would just be doing it out of habit. But for most of my first two weeks here, it was often so warm I didn't even need a jacket. So when the rare cold day does come, somehow it doesn't register as something I should worry about, and then I find myself walking home from campus freezing my ass off wondering why I didn't feel the need for a hat or gloves.

So why I don't I feel the need for cold-weather gear? Well, it's obviously partly because I'm an idiot who has very little ability to plan for the future. But it's also because I'm still operating on a habitus developed over 30 years of living in freezing climates. And since habitus is not something that changes over night, I'll probably be making the same mistake repeatedly this winter.

At least it give me something to look forward to, I guess -- maybe by next winter I'll have figured out that cold weather feels the same in Morgantown as it does in Minneapolis. Maybe...