Friday, January 18, 2013

No Seconds: Death Row Prisoner's Last Meals

Here's an interesting way to while away some time -- peruse the last meals of famous convicted murderers. Henry Hargreaves has made a project out of recreating the last meals as he imagined they may have gone down (while the contents of the meal are public record, no photos exist). It ranges from interesting to chilling; as Hargreaves himself points out, there is an incredible sadness in the way the majority of these are comfort foods. Though for Victor Feguer (convicted of kidnapping and murder), the final meal was simply a single olive with the pit in it.

It's also fascinating to learn that there's something considered a "traditional last meal" if the person in question doesn't have any special requests. It's steak and eggs and the traditional accouterments that go with them. This raises a whole host of questions about how this became the default meal, but five minutes on google turned up nothing.

Anyway, go look at it. My favorite of all is the one above, and not only because I used to live down the street from where he (and Michelle Bachmann!) had once lived. I like it for the brand loyalty; Gacy was a longtime employee of KFC, and on his way out, he stuck with the company. You just can't get brand loyalty like that anymore...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Thought That Sounded Familiar

To me, the most fun thing about studying history is that far from being an esoteric study of things that happened in the past, it's usually pretty illuminating in regards to current events. Often something that doesn't make much sense on its cover becomes much more clear when looking at its historical antecedents.

Take, for example, the current debate regarding gun control. Or, more specifically, the argument from the pro-gun side regarding the second amendment and the federal government's ability (or lack thereof) to enact restrictions on the ability to own firearms.

Folks who are very pro-gun will often make some sort of argument about how the Second Amendment guarantees their right to possess more-or-less any gun they see fit. Often, gun control advocates will respond that the pro-gun folks aren't really so concerned about constitutional issues as they are afraid that scary black or brown people are going to steal all their stuff and sex up their women. More and more, in following these discussions, I've noticed the pro-gun side responding that it has nothing to do with race or irrational fears of super predators, but instead is much more about the role of the federal government vis-a-vis individual rights and the rights of states to enact their own regulations (or again, lack thereof).

As I've heard and read more and more people making this type of argument, it began to sound really familiar to me. Oh no, no. This is about race or my desire to own as many weapons as a small dictatorship, it's about an over-reaching federal government that is trying to take away my rights and the rights of local government. This argument sounds suspiciously similar to one that was used about 150 or so years ago by people of a particular region to argue in defense of a peculiar institution.

In fact, it's still used by apologists today. Oh no, no. The civil war wasn't about slavery per se, that just happened to be the issue at hand. It was really about people fed up with an over-reaching federal government that was intent on taking away their individual rights (to own people as property) and subverting the rights of states to make their own laws (regarding the owning of people as property).

Of course, the parentheticals aren't actually spoken; they're just helpful reminders I inserted to help us remember that the individual and states rights being argued over centered on whether a person was allowed to legally own another person as property. You see, for many of us, that's kind of hard issue to gloss over; as much as there may have genuinely been fears of over-reaching federal power, it was obviously much more about the fear that the federal government might take away the ability to subjugate black people and might even (gasp!) force through their legal equality.

But ok, says the skeptic, you can draw those parallels, but that doesn't make gun advocates racists. Well, no, not in and of itself it doesn't. But when you look at the history of how the Second Amendment came to be, and in particular why it took on the specific language it did, the parallel becomes much harder to ignore.

Originally, the Second Amendment spoke of a well-regulated militia being necessary for a free country. But this irked Southern law makers, who were afraid that the federal government asserting control over all forms of State armed forces (state in the larger sense of political body, not state in the sense of the 50 we have), would mean the federal government would be in charge of slave patrols, the public forces charged with enforcing the hideous slave codes (who also, fun fact, after emancipation were directly converted into police forces in many places. That's how most Southern police departments were formed. And we wonder why there continues to be racial imbalances in our criminal justice system....).

So the amendment was re-written to focus on the right of states to keep a well-regulated militia. Read the linked article for the full history, but it basically all boils down to slavery; Southerners in most places were well outnumbered by slaves, and knew full well the only thing keeping them from being slaughtered in an uprising was their superiority of arms. If the federal government limited their ability to stockpile arms, there was little to nothing to stop the slave population from, you know, taking some practical steps to no longer be human property.

And there we come full circle; the very origins of the Second Amendment were white people being afraid that black people might attack them, given how shitty white people were treating black people. And now, white people vociferously argue for their gun rights, because they're afraid the black people they still don't treat very well might take the opportunity of white people being unarmed to take some practical steps to no longer be second class citizens.

Think about it -- when white people die from gun violence, the solution from the NRA and other extremely pro-gun people is that we should arm ourselves to protect ourselves (if they'd only have had guns in Sandy Hook elementary!). But when black people die from gun violence, there's nary a peep. As a popular twitter post put it, I don't recall gun advocates saying young black men should arm themselves in response to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Because when the NRA and its ilk speak of guns for everyone, they don't actually mean guns for everyone. They mean guns for white people, just like their forefathers did when they wrote the Second Amendment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You Sir, Are A Bad Person

It turns out Rick Scott, governor of Florida and part-time Lex Luthor body double, adopted a rescue dog for his re-election campaign and returned it as soon as the campaign was over.

Look, I get it -- politics are all about spectacle and whatnot. I know that just because a politician rolls up the sleeves on their immaculately-pressed "work" shirt, it doesn't mean they suddenly understand what it's like to have a real job. I get that when they kiss a baby for a photo op they don't genuinely love that baby. I'm a pretty naive fella, but not that naive.

But this is, whenever I think I'm so cynical that nothing can surprise or anger me, shit like this happens. Although I'm a dog lover and probably dote just a little too much on my pooch, I've never been one for the crazy animal rights people. I eat meat, I'm fine with work animals, etc.

But where I will sign on with that stuff is here -- a dog is not a fucking prop for your campaign. They're actually living creatures with emotions and fears and needs and all the other shit that comes with higher-mammilian life. Of all the shitty political grandstanding that goes on constantly, somehow this just feels that much more over the line than the rest of it.

Though I'll go ahead and make the call here so I can say I did it first: when Scott eventually tries to run for president, don't be too surprised if all of a sudden he has a few new, extremely photogenic children. But don't worry; his campaign will have no realistic shot, so those kids will be back to the orphanage in two, three months, tops.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Remembering Kirby, the Hero and the Monster

31 years ago this very day, the Minnesota Twins used the third overall pick in the January draft to take some chubby kid out of Chicago named Kirby Puckett.

As anyone who lives near the state of Minnesota or ever watches baseball already knows, Kirby became the face of a Twins franchise that would win its first (and so far only) two World Series championships in a 5 year span.

Puckett was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one of the greats of all time, and someone who played the game with such a childlike enthusiasm that you couldn't help but love him. Of course, it was only much later that we would learn he was also a repeated wife abuser who made his former wife fear for her life on numerous occasions, as well as someone who would go on to face repeated charges of sexual harassment before his untimely death.

Those are two undisputed facts about Kirby that are pretty hard to reconcile. For someone like me who grew up idolizing him, it's hard to imagine him as anything other than the round, lovable, enthusiastic ball player he came across as. But as a feminist repulsed by domestic violence and sexual assault, it's hard not to view him as a unrepentant monster who used his fame to shield his many crimes.

It's a contradiction I feel we're facing more these days, as an exponentially-expanding media presence and social media growth bring far more to light than was the case not so long ago. Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, widely regarded as heroes and exemplars of the virtue of sport, if they played today would likely be regarded as an alcoholic malcontent and racist hot head, respectively. But it still leaves the question -- how do you judge someone's professional career against the horrible things they did in their personal lives?

I don't know that it's a question with an easy answer, but the peace I've made with it is to never separate the two. Kirby repeatedly beating his wife doesn't mean he wasn't a great ballplayer and incredibly fun to watch, just as his great ball playing doesn't mean he wasn't also an abusive husband.

It reminds me greatly of how the current crop of Hall of Fame voters are struggling to deal with the steroids era. The best solution I've seen for guys like Bonds and Clemens, who in addition to being obvious cheaters were also clearly some of the best to ever play the game, is to let them into the HOF, but note their obvious and/or admitted steroid use as part of the story of their career.

So I guess that's more-or-less how I'll try to remember and talk about Puck; he was the greatest Twin of all time, and a guy who regularly beat his wife. One of those makes him a hero, the other makes him a monster...

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

If I Were Gay and He Weren't Married, Ryan North Would Totally Be My Husband

As any regular reader of this blog (or anyone who knows me) knows, I don't care for most stuff. I find the world and the majority of its inhabitants really stupid. It's probably pretty telling that the only long-term relationship I've ever been able to maintain has been with my dog. Though to be fair, she's smarter  and more likable than 90% of people I've ever met.

But the few things I like, I have a tendency to become obsessed with. I'm sure most people do this to some extent, but given that I have a very...odd would be the police way to put it, I guess...view of the world, whenever I find someone who shares that twisted version of reality, I stick with them. Because it's not too often someone like me meets another person who generally sees the world in the same way.

Anyway, this is all a rambling way of saying I fucking love Dinosaur Comics. It's witty, funny, too smart by a half, and as sardonic as a mid-period Dylan album. It's the kind of comedy that makes me laugh and yet be somewhat bitter, because it's exactly the kind of stuff I would write if I were, you know, funny or clever at all.

I suggest you bookmark it, read it daily, and send some cash moneys that guy's way (I'm led to believe being an internet comic is not a very financially-rewarding career choice). Anyway, today's strip was especially hilarious/meaningful to me:

If I were to describe my perfect woman, it would be exactly as T-Rex describes her: great at science, makeouts, hijinks, and heists. Failing that, I'd settle for a polypous creature in a crown of weeping faces, provided of course, she's wearing the barely-there bikini.

Regardless, as we speak, I'm sending my open girlfriend-position notice to the Perfect Woman Finishing School, so I should have a lady friend by the end of the week...

Monday, January 07, 2013


Ok, not quite this. But it feels like it.
(As a quick warning, I'm tired as shit right now from moving and all the catch-up work I've been trying to do in between hauling boxes. So this may be extra rambly and nonsensical. I mean even more so than usual.)

So I'm a big fancy-pants professor now. Like my name is on the door and everything. It's a lot to adjust to in many ways, not the least of which is moving from what is unquestionably the greatest city in the world to a town that may or may not be ok.

I've only been here for 4 days and have done basically nothing but unpack, so in many ways it hasn't really hit me yet, the many role adjustments I'm making in the transition from graduate student to assistant professor.

The one way it has hit me like a ton of bricks, though, is in the wallet (in both the literal and figurative sense -- my wallet actually is more full than it has ever been at any previous point in time). Sparring you my life history, I grew up in a working-class family. We were never hurting for money (at least as far as I could tell), but we were far from living in luxury. Though I'm sure a substantial portion of it could be attributed to my parent's...ahem...thriftiness, we never had many nice things growing up. Used cars, small t.v., technology acquired only many years after its first introduction, etc. Again, pretty standard working-class experience, if such things existed anymore, buoyed by the Clinton economies of the 90s.

After college (which I assume to be a poverty experience for all but the most wealthy, right?), I spent a year doing social work, and then went to grad school. The most money I made any year in my twenties was when I made a little over $20,000 on the first-year fellowship I got for grad school. But my average income for the decade hovered between $14,000-16,000/year. The last few years of my graduate training got especially lean, as I largely self-funded my dissertation and then tried, with marginal success, to finish up before I ran out of money.

Anyway, point being, I've never really been able to buy stuff on a whim. Pretty much every non-essentials purchase I've ever made in my life has required consciously saving for some period of time. Even little luxuries, like eating out, for the vast majority of my adult life have had to been carefully allocated. I'm not complaining about it; I'm glad my folks raised me not to have much interest in accumulating crap. I'm just pointing out that the little crap I have coveted has always been somewhat hard to come by, and it's obviously been much more so the case since I left the nest.

I should also point out that I'm not making a ton of money right now; this is all relative. But I am making over three times as much as I was previously, so I feel like C. Montgomery Burns.

And I've been reminded of this constantly since I received my first paycheck roughly 5 days ago. For instance, this afternoon I was reading a review of an interesting sounding book (specifically this one, in case you're curious what I qualify as "interesting sounding") and I did what I always do when reading about something I think I might like -- I made a note of it to ask for it for a holiday or to buy it someday if I have extra money sitting around burning a hole in my pocket. And then I realized, fuck that shit, I have extra money right now. I can just go straight ahead and drop $20 on a new book! What's that? Another $5 for shipping? Who cares, for I have entered the hallow halls of the wealthy!

Or today, when I was walking home from campus around noon, I was thinking it would be nice to just eat out so I didn't have to cook this afternoon. And then I realized I could! At a place that even serves real food! I sat down at a mother fucking cloth napkin restaurant for lunch today. Me! On a monday! I left an egregiously large tip, too, because $10 means nothing to this new titan of industry!

And as amusing as all this is (and it will take a loooong time for the novelty of having a real income to wear off), it blows me away a bit to think I'll never again have to worry about money in the ways I used to. Sure, someday I'll probably have a mortgage, and I'll worry about money then. And when I want to retire, I'm sure I'll worry about money then. If I'm trying to put kids through college, some unforeseen situation, etc.

I get that I'll worry about money again in my life, but never in the shitty ways I was forced to for the better part of the last decade. Never again will the worry be about rent versus basic nutritional needs, dog's medicine versus being able to have any discretionary spending money for the next few weeks. They'll be all kinds of new and horrible worries I'm sure, but right now, they feel like there's no way they could be as fundamentally soul-crushing as the money worries of riding the poverty line.

And that to me seems like a basic summation of bourgeois living -- oh, you'll still have plenty of worries, but they won't be nearly as terrifying.