Tuesday, June 25, 2013


While I don't have a wife and children, I will be traveling with
 a dog and a map with only the word "map" crudely written on it
No new posts this week. I've been busy packing and getting my shit in order to follow my Midwestern instincts and flee North for the summer.

So bright and early tomorrow morning, I'm packing a bunch of stuff and a lazy dog into the car to drive 16 or so hours across this great nation of ours with neither cruise control nor air conditioning.

It will not be a pleasant trip, but at least I'll get to experience the local color of America through the magic of A.M. radio...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why I Don't Hate LeBron

Eh, not that much
The greatest thing about sports is hating. Hating people, hating teams, hating geographical locations in their entirety just because they house a team you hate just because that team beat your team that one time. Sports, and the hate they facilitate, are one of the few ways one can show how their area is superior to another.

I hate all sorts of people and places due solely to sports. I hate the Chicago White Sox, I really fucking hate the Yankees, and the list of individuals I hate due only to sporting reasons is far too long to publish. Hell, I often use Alex Rodriguez as an example in class when I describe the hypothetical existence of a douchebag scale (it makes sense in context).

So I get the desire, nay the demand, to hate. I really do. But I just can't understand why so many people so desperately hate LeBron James. Not only hate him, but think him to be the biggest cocksucker in all of sports. As far as star athletes go, he seems to be one of the least objectionable to come along in a long time. There's really only two reasons I can seem to come up with for why he draws so much ire, and they're both stupid.

The first is that he's no Michael Jordan, and to be fair, this is empirically true. But I think the people angry about this don't quite actually remember the real Jordan, but instead what they want Jordan to have been (and LeBron to currently be). There's this conception that Jordan won 6 championships by himself, and LeBron's a cheater/quitter/coward for going to team with other actual basketball players on it instead of repeatedly bashing his head against a wall in Cleveland. Even ignoring the fact that every sane person in existence would jump at the chance to move anywhere that isn't Cleveland, this also ignores that Jordan had a shitload of help, like playing with multiple Hall of Famers.

It's also weird that people are so upset about the move from Cleveland when only a few years earlier, the exact same thing happened, but was received the exact opposite way. When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen ditched their teams to meet up with Paul Pierce in Boston, they were lauded as good team-first guys who were so unselfish they took pay cuts so they could achieve team glory. I don't remember reading any angry rants about what a traitor KG was for leaving the team that drafted him without single-handedly winning multiple championships. But when LeBron took a pay cut to team up with other talented players to win team championships, this was apparently the most cowardly move since Robert Ford shot a dude in the back while he was hanging a picture.

The only obvious decision between the two is The Decision, the idiotic hour-long special on ESPN James used to announce he was leaving Cleveland for Miami (again, remember that people are criticizing a multi-millionaire in his early 20s for wanting to move from Cleveland to Miami). And yeah, it was a stupid thing to do, but like so many things young black men are accused of being monsters for doing, it was actually conceived, engineered, and packaged by a bunch of rich white dudes who more-or-less talked LeBron into it. Again, James probably should have had the good enough sense to not do it, but come on, that's one bad public decision made by a guy who was a millionaire before he even graduated high school. I guarantee I would have done a lot more stupid shit than that if you gave me triple-figure millions before I could even legally drink.

So this is all to say I'm probably the only guy outside of Miami-Dade county who was actually kinda happy LeBron and the Heat won last night. Mostly so I don't have to listen to idiot sportscasters talking about how he's no Jordan, but also because he seems to be not that bad of a dude, or at least not nearly as deserving of all the shit he gets.

But Alex Rodriguez? Fuck that guy. Seriously.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I'm Like The Jonny Appleseed of Sociology Online

So some website has come out with their rankings of the top 30 sociology blogs, and two of them are blogs (well, one is technically a podcast, but casting a wide net I guess) that I was very involved in the creation of. For those who don't follow my career as closely as such eminence would demand, I'm specifically talking about Citings and Sightings and Office Hours, both part of the greater Society Pages family, which you should really be following anyway (though at this point I want to make it clear that I was decidedly not involved in the naming of these, and strenuously objected to what eventually became the name of all three of these).

Now, granted, this isn't exactly an honor or anything, as I'm pretty surprised there were even 30 separate sociology blogs in existence. Yet it's still pretty cool, if for nothing else than to see some things I put a lot of effort into have continued to exist long after I left.

If nothing else, it makes me at least look qualified to host the panel I put together for this year's Society for the Understanding of Social Problems meeting on the future of sociology in new media. In fact, pretty much everyone on the panel is involved with or created a blog listed in that top 30, so I feel like I should print that out and carry it around with me as proof I apparently occasionally know what I'm doing...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Race and the Criminal Justice System, Explained With Wine

Here's a good overview of something most of us have long suspected: wine descriptors and reviews are complete and utter bullshit. In every possible way. Go ahead and read it; the linked article is both short and entertaining. But the highlights are that in one study when wine experts were served the exact same glass of white wine twice in a row, with the only difference being that one was dyed red, none of them knew they were being duped, despite all the flowery language they put in to describing the two "different" wines. In another study, experts again gave dramatically different rankings to the same wine depending on whether it was served from an expensive-looking bottle or one that appeared to be generic and low-cost.

There's a lot more evidence offered in the article, but these two examples suffice to make the point -- it's clear that what these supposed wine experts are really basing their judgements on have nothing to do with the wine itself. Rather, it's obvious their judgements have everything to do with perceptions of the "class" of the wine (how expensive, and therefore, how supposedly good it is) and with various other stereotypes about what certain wines are supposed to be like.

This in and of itself isn't too shocking -- obviously people are going to be influenced by their perceptions. But where it starts to get really informative is in examples like this when their perceptions are demonstrably and empirically false, and yet still trump their actual experience. That is, in the same wine/different bottles experiment, the experts' opinions of the wine were shaped entirely by their perceptions of the wine's trappings, even when these were directly contradicted by the actual wine. In other words, what they actually experienced had far, far less impact on their pronouncements than what they (consciously or not) felt like they were supposed to be experiencing.

So what does this have to do with the criminal justice system? Well, this is exactly how race operates in our criminal justice system. It's not that there are a bunch of incredibly racist cops, prosecutors, and judges all thinking "gee, how can we fuck over people of color today?" Instead, the supposed experts of our criminal justice system are acting in the exact same manner as the supposed wine experts -- they're basing their judgements not off of any form of empirical reality (indeed, said reality often directly contradicts their judgements), but instead basing them off their socialized beliefs about how groups of people act or conduct themselves.

And it's a pretty easy process to document. Most people probably already know that a black defendant is more likely to be prosecuted and more likely to receive a harsh sentence than a white defendant, holding all other factors equal. But the fact that such decisions are strongly based on skin color becomes even more obvious when comparing the prosecution and sentencing of black men to one another; black men with very dark pigmentation get the worst sentences of all, and it proceeds up the color spectrum to the point where very light-skinned black defendants are found guilty and sentenced at rates fairly comparable to their white counterparts.

There's about a million more studies I could cite here, but the point is, whether it's judging wine or judging people, it's clear most people, even experts, base their decisions far more on their socialization than on the pertinent facts of that particular case. When that happens in wine tasting, it just leads stupid people who follow wine rankings to waste money on expensive wine. When it happens in the criminal justice system, it's a fucking travesty.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Birthday and Basic Marxism

Have you ever wondered why movies and tv shows never actually have people singing the happy birthday song? Or why restaurants always make up their own incredibly stupid version of it to sing while they bring you your free fried ice cream? It's not because any of these people are interested in creating a new version of the song. Instead, like almost all explanations for the life's oddities, it comes down to a corporation well over-stepping its legal rights to quash the rights of the rest of us.

The funny thing about this is that no one really knows who wrote "Happy Birthday To You," or even when it was written.  But this hasn't stopped Warner music from claiming they have the copyright to the tune, though they can't demonstrate how they got it or why it's theirs. But fortunately for them, if anyone wants to stop them from claiming copyright on one of the most-used songs in the world, they need to have the time and resources to challenge a major corporation in court. Not a lot of people have that.

But fortunately for shitty chain restaurants everywhere, someone is finally trying to get Happy Birthday's day in court. Good Morning to You Productions (named for what many believe is the original tune happy b-day is based on) is suing Warner, arguing that even if they ever had a reasonable claim to the copyright (which is questionable enough in and of itself), it would have expired in 1921 at the latest. Good Morning to You is not only suing to end Warner's copyright claim, but to force them to pay back the millions upon millions they've collected over the years with their fraudulent copyright. While I can't believe any court will ever order Warner to pay the money back, there seems to be a pretty solid case that Warner can't claim the copyright any longer.

Really this is all just a somewhat updated version of what Marx called the primitive accumulation that preceded capitalism. While once people all more-or-less shared common spaces, eventually groups of power-hungry people decided to claim them as their own and declared they somehow now had the right to charge rents and exclude people from what was once communal property.

The whole Happy Birthday saga operates much the same way -- the tune had been a traditional one for a long time, and then eventually someone (it's still disputed who) put the current lyrics to it. More than likely, multiple people came up with the lyrics (not hard to see how many could have switched "good morning" to "happy birthday" all on their own), so it really never belonged to anyone. That of course did not stop Warner, who more-or-less just looked around and noticed no one was claiming the copyright, so much like the explorers of old, they simply planted their flag and claimed it as theirs despite having no hand in its creation.

It's the kind of thing that makes me wish I'd lived a couple hundred years ago -- apparently, you could just claim the rights to pretty much anything and then start charging people for using the stuff they themselves invented. Pretty ingenious move, capitalist scum...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If Only The Soviets Had Been Fighting Terrorism...

So the NSA is finally getting examined for its potential for abuse, although it's obviously happening about six or seven years too late. And it will likely lead to no changes. But hey, better than a kick in the teeth, right?

It's hard to figure out what's creepiest about the whole NSA debacle; sure, they can read and listen to anything you ever do, but what might be even worse than that is how incredibly shrouded in secrecy this all is. As recent congressional hearings have demonstrated, most of the law makers who supposedly authorized PRISM and other such plans have no idea what's going on, the extent to which these things are happening, or even what they're capable of doing.

Here it's a good time to think back to grade school civics class -- what's the point of a legislative and judicial branch? In theory, they act as, say it with me kids, checks and balances on executive power. You know, so we can't have a president who grants himself the king-like power to decide who can be executed without so much as a trial. Er...bad example, but you get the idea.

So how, I wonder, are these other two branches to act as either check or balance when they don't have any idea what the executive branch is doing? This is yet another example of how insanely Orwellian our government is getting -- "This secret program is vital to your safety. So vital, in fact, that you can know nothing about it. Hell, Congress and the Supreme Court can know nothing about it. But don't worry, we won't abuse these powers we exercise in secret which will never be reviewed by anyone else ever."

But what's funniest to me is that I remember vividly as a young child learning that the Soviets had this secret force called the KGB that would spy on people and intercept their communications, even people who had broken no laws and posed no threat to anyone. This was, of course, yet another example of how they were a totalitarian society that didn't understand freedom. What kind of sick bastards would spy on their own citizens? Especially on citizens who had broken no laws but were only advocating for more transparent government and more democratic rights? How could anyone condone such terrible atrocities? That's something that would never happen in the land of the free!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For The Practical Hipster

So apparently typewriters are making a comeback, and of course, it's due to everyone's favorite group to hate/impossible group to define, hipsters. And while hipster bashing has gotten as annoying as the very nebulous category itself, sometimes you just can't help but go back to that well.

And it's mostly in situations like the comeback of the typewriter. Because there is absolutely no justification for using a typewriter in the year 2013 unless you are a doomsday prepper or you want to look like a twee li'l pixie who's just so damn quirky PLEASE NOTICE ME.

I don't even need to point out the various ways in which the personal computer is superior to typewriters, because it's superior in every fucking possible conceivable way. Any argument anyone can make for the continued use of a typewriter is really just some bullshit they're using to cover the fact that, again, they just want to look quirky and different (which is their prerogative and all power to them and all that, but it doesn't change the fact that they're fucking morons).

In fact, the only arguments I can actually see anyone attempting to make in favor of the typewriter are those weird esoteric arguments about feel and sound that again make no sense because they're not real arguments. But anyway, even those no longer hold up because you can grab a quick and easy program to make your mac sound like an old timey typewriter.

There. No need to lug around a typewriter to make yourself look neat and precious anymore. Now if I could only find some electronic functional equivalent of the bowtie, we'd be halfway to solving most of the current generation's problems...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Explaining Basic Criminology With the NSA

Loosely defined, constructionism is an old idea in criminology that basically means things are seen as good/bad/criminal/legal/deviant/etc because they're defined as such. Essentially, it's the relatively simple idea that there are no actions or behaviors which are inherently good or bad, it's just that for a wide variety of reasons, certain actions come to be seen as "good" and are encouraged, and others come to be seen as "bad" and are discouraged and/or punished.

Sometimes this happens through relatively banal or logical reasons. For instance, murder has been labeled illegal and deviant by our society, and that makes good sense, as it would make our day-to-day lives significantly more difficult if people were murdering each other nilly willy.

But often such constructions are not neutral decisions arrived at after careful, logical consideration, but are rather the result of powerful interests attempting to (consciously or otherwise) entrench and/or expand their power, typically through enshrining their behavior as legitimate and the behaviors of others as illegitimate.

A wonderful example of how power influences social constructions can be seen in the current debates over the NSA leaks. As many spineless media commentators have pointed out in their attempts to bend over backwards providing justification for the most expansive spying program the world has even seen, nothing the NSA does/did is/was technically illegal (except for obviously directly contradicting the 4th amendment, but details, details). As the ever-on-point Glenn Greenwald explained, though, this is only the case because the very people doing this also wrote the laws governing it.

This is why the NSA is such a good example of constructionism -- Edward Snowden is currently an international fugitive for doing a much, much smaller version of what the NSA is doing. It is literally the exact same behavior, only done on a much smaller scale and arguably for much more noble reasons. For the man without power, this small-scale internet surveillance means he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, while the people with power are allowed to continue doing that same action on a much larger scale and not only not be considered criminals, but instead have the brazen gall to call themselves security experts.

Of course, this doesn't even get in to the fact that much of the the NSA is doing actually is illegal, and that the technically illegal actions of Snowden were necessitated by the fact that there is literally no other way for this information to have been made public. And that's not an abuse of the word literally; if you read the linked article, you'll learn that multiple groups have sued the US government over the NSA, often simply to learn the extent of information gathered, not even what the actual information was. And yet they can't do that because:

In dismissing the case, the court agreed with the precedent set in two other cases, which basically said that Americans don’t even have the right to sue their government over its surveillance program, unless they can prove that their communications were intercepted. Of course, that’s essentially impossible since the program is classified and you can’t use classified documents in court, even if you somehow got your hands on them.
So to recap: leaking classified documents proving the highest levels of government have been routinely violating the 4th amendment in ways which violate both domestic and international law with no probable cause for the vast majority of their actions, and you're a terrorist who must like on the run. Set up and participate in the program which violates both domestic and international law, and you're a beacon of freedom, defending our nation from terrorists.

That's pretty much a textbook example of the social construction of deviance.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Man, I Have Missed Everything

So this blog has been pretty quiet of late, which I'm sure has the millions upon millions of you constantly checking it for updates in quite a sad state. I'll spare the boring details, but it turns out having a real job and all of the crap that goes along with it leaves precious little time for frivolities like blogging.

But finally the halcyon days of summer are upon us and I enter that rare time when academics have something approaching free time. While I plan to use most of that free time to drink beer in the sun, I've also made it a goal to get back into the blogging game for real and resume posting regularly. So this is all to say you can put off your impending suicide, for you have a reason to live again.

That being said, this is just a place-holder post to force myself to write something and publicly promise more regular content. So I've got nothing of substance today, though that's not really a problem, as the world seems pretty fucking intent on giving me shit to rant about. By the time I settle in tomorrow to write something, I'm assuming there will be another major documents dump showing how the CIA can now legally force exploratory enemas on US citizens as part of a routine traffic stop. And probably another mass shooting or two. Really what I'm saying is that America is awesome.

In the meantime, here's a picture of an adorable dog:

Hi! I'm adorable!