Monday, March 14, 2016

A Prince Auction Is Exactly What You Think It Would Be

Would you pay a minimum of $1,500 for this?
What if you were assured someone ate lousy wedding
venue food off of it while making small talk with a stranger
and also Prince was somewhere in the building?
Apparently needing money and/or space in what I can only assume is a very ornate, very purple garage somewhere, Prince Nelson Rogers is having himself a good ol' fashioned yard sale. Well, less a yard sale and more a curated online auction, but that's about as close as Prince would ever get to a yard sale, I imagine.

While everything is ridiculously expensive, there is some interesting stuff for sale there. An old Gibson Prince wrote many of his early songs on would be pretty cool to own (if you have a spare 60 thousand dollars or so lying around). Ditto for some of his early masters and demo tapes. Hell, if you've got 6 figures to blow, you can have the engagement ring he used to propose to Mayte Garcia, as well as a series of notes comprising the handwritten marriage proposal that sealed the deal. In true Prince fashion, the person who pays over $100,000 for these items does not also get the right to reproduce or distribute the content of said notes. I would not be terribly surprised if they're not even allowed to let anyone else see them. Which is a shame, because I have to believe a Prince marriage proposal is either the most romantic or most fucking ridiculous (or both!) thing ever set to paper.

In addition to a lot of his old clothes and jewelry (you can own the scorpio necklace worn by Prince when he met Prince Charles for the low, low starting bid of $30,000!), by far the most interesting (and affordable) part of the auction is where you can buy various bits of the wedding china from Prince and Garcia's wedding. For $50,000 you can have a whole set, but for only $1,000 you can get a single plate. Granted, that's a shitload of money to spend on a single plate, but can you imagine the kind of conversation that would start? Well, it would most likely just be about why you spent so much money for a single plate. But you wouldn't care about your friends and their inability to understand why such a purchase is necessary, because you will be busy eating off of a plate someone who once was standing near Prince for a little while ate off of, and you can put a fucking price on that kind of history...

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Walking While Black and Why "Legality" Is a Poor Measure

Here's a pretty common occurrence made special only by the fact the victim had the wherewithal to film it: a man in Cincinnati walks down the street obviously not being disruptive in any way, correctly predicts he's about to be subject to police harassment, and is shortly violently arrested. Seriously, go watch the video -- it's almost like a gag how quickly he goes from predicting he's going to be harassed to the officer being on top of him.

This is an incident that serves as such a great example for how mundane it is. What it's an example of is how poor of a measure of any action the concept of "legality" is.

For one, as noted in the article, the police insist nothing illegal happened (note they don't say nothing wrong happened). And technically speaking, the police are right when they say officer violated no laws. Of course, this in large part stems from the fact that very little an officer is capable of doing is deemed illegal in practice, but that's another post for another day.

But the more important point is that the officer in the video was probably technically correct that the gentleman in the video had jaywalked (it's difficult to tell from the actual video). And jaywalking is indeed illegal! Well, in theory. In practice, it tends to only be illegal for certain groups of people.

These types of what I teach my students to know as "bullshit laws" are a key mechanism for maintaining racist policing outcomes in the face of apparently neutral laws. It's really quite simple -- all you need to do is take something everyone does (like jaywalking) and make it illegal. Then you can technically stop pretty much anyone you want. Obviously you can't stop everyone who is doing this illegal behavior, because then you would be stopping everyone. But you can use it as a pretext to stop someone you otherwise would have no legal right to. This allows the law to appear neutral (jaywalking is illegal for everyone!) while maintaining white supremacy. Or what we would call the "arbitrary and capricious" application of the law, which is supposed to be a bad thing.

And this is one you can study for yourself, boys and girls and people who don't identify with the gender binary! It's quite simple: go downtown and pick a busy intersection at random during a busy time of the day (if you don't live in a big city, I don't know...make better life choices, I guess). Stand at that intersection for 10 minutes and count the number of people who cross the street legally (while the walk sign is animated and within the painted lines indicating a pedestrian crossway) versus the number of people who cross illegally. I would gladly bet everything I own that the jaywalkers outnumber the legal crossers. Hell, I'd be willing to bet the jaywalkers outnumbers the legal crossers by greater than 10 to 1, but that's for you to find out!

Anyway, once you've done that and realized basically everyone jaywalks all the time, you'll be discomforted to learn that the Supreme Court has ruled that as long as someone is objectively breaking the law, the subjective motivations of the officer don't matter and thus are not subject to scrutiny. Which, as anyone with a basic understand of human behavior could tell you will happen (and as libraries of empirical data can tell you does happen), means that an officer just needs to find any minor law broken and then has carte blanche to harass.

Or to bring it back to jaywalking, this would be why one of the only studies I could find on jaywalking while Black found that in Champaign-Urbana, a full 88% of those cited for jaywalking were Black. If you honestly think Black people, who make up roughly 16% of the population there, somehow made up exactly 88% of the people actually jaywalking there during that time period...well, I've got this really sweet bridge I'm willing to sell you for a song...

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Insanity of the War on Terror, Rendered in One Person

So for a long time I've been trying to figure out something to write about Omar Kadhr, a child was kidnapped by the United States Military and mercilessly tortured for years. Or was an "enemy combatant" who was subject to "enhanced interrogation." Whichever you prefer. I mean, it's clearly just a question of semantics as to whether you consider it torture or not to force a child into restraints so painful he literally pisses himself from the pain and then using him as a human mop to wipe up his own piss. Please do read the linked article if you weren't planning on doing anything but crying and angrily shaking your head all day.

What makes Kadhr's story even more horrifying than the countless other horror stories emerging from places like Gitmo is that he was abducted (we're technically still calling it an "arrest," but when you grab a child and lock them up for no reason, that's kidnapping) when he was 15 and not released until he was 28. That means he spent the entirety of his high school and college years being tortured in a secret prison instead of, you know, like living his life and shit.

And the "crime" for which Kadhr was kidnapped and tortured for over a decade? A crime which it's very difficult to believe he could have even physically committed? Surely this was a great and serious crime, yes?

Well, the alleged crime is throwing a grenade at an American solider. Which, hey, not a particularly nice thing to do, sure. But I seem to remember there was a war going on at the time, right? And isn't "fighting the other side" a pretty standard tactic of war? I mean, disagree with the concept of even having wars all you want (I sure do!), but as much as there are rules governing warfare, they all pretty much recognize the right to fight back when someone is trying to kill you. Hell, our own US law allows that!

So while there are a million ways to dissect the base inhumanity of America's imperial wars of folly, I  think none more succinctly demonstrate our collective shame than the case of Omar Kadhr: not only do we see ourselves as having the right to murder anyone in any place at any time for any reason, if any of them so much as dare to possibly fight back, then we are well within our rights to kidnap, imprison, and brutally torture them for as long as we care to.