DEFAULT

Posted in Quick Hits on November 3rd, 2014 by Ed

At a dinner with some of my colleagues last week someone mentioned the fact that many of the crime alerts on campus – our university police are particularly aggressive about sending out alerts/updates to counter the perception, and frankly reality, that we are in a high crime area – turn out to be fabricated. These are property crimes, not violent or sexual in nature. It struck several of us as odd that students would lie about being relieved of an iPhone by a nighttime mugger.

The problem is that students – particularly the ex-suburban private school type – are more afraid of their parents than they are the law. Or just about anything else for that matter. Despite the fact that these college students are all legally adults, their primary concern is to avoid getting In Trouble with mom and dad. So when Dakota loses her $500 smartphone because she got too wasted on Saturday night to keep track of her limbs let alone her electronics, she has two choices. One is to tell Dad that she lost it. The other is to call the police and say that a black guy took it. They choose the latter and generally I don't imagine that police have a hard time finding inconsistencies in the mugging story (or in the security camera footage that covers more of the area than most people realize).

This is not something that happens daily, mind you, but there have been multiple incidents in the past year. It's a good anecdote to pull out when someone tries to argue that race isn't a thing. Because the "suspect" is always the same. If you want to claim that something was stolen or a crime was committed, what else would you invent but a Black Male, 18-30, tall and slender and wearing a hoodie and baggy pants? It makes sense that college kids are sheltered and do stupid things and in a moment of panic they might make up a story. That's not the alarming part. The alarming part is that well-off and mostly white college kids instinctively know that if you're going to invent a crime, the best faux-perpetrator is the person everyone already thinks is a criminal anyway.

MOVING TARGET

Posted in Quick Hits on October 30th, 2014 by Ed

Hopefully by now you have seen the video of a woman walking around NYC for 10 hours and being catcalled about 100 times in addition to considerably creepier behavior like being followed.

I'm not the world's most sensitive person, nor am I the most accomplished feminist. I'm certain that I'm an asshole sometimes and that, like any male, I say things that are offensive to women without necessarily intending to offend. But about a year ago I decided to try something new: to listen to women without feeling compelled to make any kind of response or attempt to explain the behavior of men who are not me. Humans are naturally defensive creatures and there is a tendency, especially among men, to tell others that they are overreacting – to explain why things are not really as bad as someone else thinks. In theory, I think this comes from a place of good intentions: to attempt to comfort someone by downplaying the experiences that disturb them. In practice, however, what it means as a man is that you're regularly telling women that they're overreacting to other men.

What I've started to learn since I made a conscious effort to talk less and listen more is that a lot of really fucked up things happen to the average woman on the average day. Things that are annoying or worse. Do I think that every complaint some woman could potentially make about a man is automatically valid? No. I maintain that the Tumblr warriors of the world who flip out because a man held a door for them are have some issues of their own that need to be worked out. But rather than assume that the world is filled with straw (wo)men, I decided to try listening to people I trust and know to be reasonable and anything but ridiculous. And when you stop challenging and questioning people, they tend to get more comfortable telling you things. And then you realize that some of the behaviors that you know exist in the world are really, genuinely, disturbingly common.

I'm not a great person and I'm probably not yet at the point at which I'm part of the solution, but I decided that I would stop being part of the problem. It's a start.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Posted in Quick Hits on October 21st, 2014 by Ed

With the internet now a permanent (and in many cases central) part of our lives, the process of maturing to adulthood is going to have to be updated and expanded to include learning to avoid arguing with critics and trolls online.

This is not an easy lesson to learn, but most of us get there eventually. As a younger person I was ready to argue to the death with anyone who dared to speak a critical word in my direction. Orienting oneself toward the internet in this manner is exhausting and, more importantly, pointless. When we are younger and more idealistic we tend to imagine the internet (and real life, for that matter) being full of people who are in earnest, looking to engage in an honest exchange of ideas. Eventually we realize that most of the people who comment on things online are merely trolls who enjoy saying whatever will raise your ire, or people who are in earnest but who are far too stupid to either make a coherent point or understand the ones anyone else might make.

We also learn that with increased visibility comes more criticism, and that is a reality in any facet of life or format for communication. More hits mean more trolls. It's just the way of the world. The absolute best way to handle it, whether you are a famous celebrity or a highly visible author or a minor blogger of no particular renown, is to ignore it. There is nothing to be gained, ever. At best it is a total waste of time as you try to engage a stranger who most likely does not have any interest in a legitimate exchange of ideas; he/she simply wants to tell you that you suck and then move on. At worst, it makes you look bad – petty, thin-skinned, overly sensitive, and possibly a little unhinged.

It baffles me that no one explained this to an author named Kathleen Hale – nor did she figure this out on her own – who went Borderline Stalker on one of her critics…and then wrote a masturbatory navel-gazing piece about it for The Guardian.

Exposing one's thoughts on the internet invites the criticism of others who are often emboldened by anonymity or distance. It's difficult to do this, whether for money or for the hell of it, without being able to tolerate people telling you how much you suck. It's difficult bordering on impossible, though, if one lacks the self-awareness to realize that writing about it in an effort to garner sympathy or internet merit badges.

THE WISDOM OF CROWDS

Posted in Quick Hits on October 17th, 2014 by Ed

Audience participation post: Use the comments to post the best (by which I mean worst) things you have read or heard about Ebola so far. Given that most Americans possess a third grade understanding of biology, it is the epitome of "This would be funnier if it were not so sad" to listen to their scientific theories. Particularly when those theories are combined with their inherent nativism, racism, and pathological desire to use everything that happens anywhere in the world as an excuse to go off half-assed on Obama.

Links preferred, but tales of things overheard around the office are certainly welcome as well. I'm looking to compile a Best Of, which shouldn't be hard considering that people who believe that evolution is a Lie from the Pit of Hell are now arguing that Ebola became airborne in four months.

Don't let me down.

CONFUSION REIGNS

Posted in Quick Hits on October 12th, 2014 by Ed

I remember distinctly the following conversation when I was in first grade. Back then I was called Eddie. Don't call me Eddie anymore.

Eddie: "What part of America did Christopher Columbus find?"
Teacher: "Today it's part of the Bahamas."
Eddie: "So he didn't discover America?"
Teacher: "Well we call all of this the Americas."
Eddie: "And there were people there when he got there?"
Teacher: "Yes, there were indians."
Eddie: "Mrs. _____, why was Columbus important?"
Teacher: "We have to move on."

It's pretty trite at this point to point out that the man whose name had to be anglicized to make him sound un-foreign enough to be an American hero wasn't all he is cracked up to me. Nobody really cares because holidays are hard enough to come by in the United States and nobody wants to lose this one. A day off is a day off. But my god is it silly watching people actually "celebrate" Columbus Day. Maybe this, along with wearing track suits everywhere, is the only good thing about being an old Italian man and we shouldn't try to ruin it. In 2014, though, it's hard to believe anyone still takes seriously the idea that Senor Colon was a great man worthy of our admiration.

COFFEE WITH TWO SADS AND A SUGAR

Posted in Quick Hits on October 7th, 2014 by Ed

For those of you who have clamored for coffee mugs over the years, your moment has arrived. I'm calling your bluff. Customizable mugs are now available (and 30% off on Tuesday) ranging from $12 to $20. The mugs feature a stylized version of the background image on the site and the inspirational text "Life is like a box of chocolates – it disappears quickly in an office."

mugs

Make your coffee the saddest coffee in the office or super-trendy coffee shop. Do it. I get like 80 cents each time you buy one. This is my retirement nest egg.

CURIOUSLY DIFFICULT

Posted in Quick Hits on October 6th, 2014 by Ed

Here's a fun game. Go to your state's website for unemployment benefits. Look for the link for "reporting unemployment insurance fraud". Then search for the link to report labor law violations by employers. Look all around the Department of Labor website.

I checked a handful of states (I'm relying on the readers to get all fifty cumulatively because, come on, I don't have that much spare time on my hands) and while the "report some lazy moocher stealin' your tax dollars" link or button was displayed prominently and required no effort to locate, the link to report labor law violations either didn't exist or required some digging to find.

Because, you know, the real problem with this country is that The Gub'mint is so damn liberal.

INSUFFICIENTLY DICTATORIAL

Posted in Quick Hits on October 5th, 2014 by Ed

After six years of listening to everyone to the right of Ben Nelson call Obama a tyrant and a dictator – possibly one unequaled in history – we now get to listen to all of the same people complain that Obama didn't unilaterally decree that no commercial flights from regions with Ebola outbreaks can enter the United States. And furthermore that no U.S. citizen who has been exposed to the disease can re-enter the country except under some sort of highly restrictive quarantine.

So you see, the problem here is that Obama is not dictatorial enough. Or something. I'm sure the same people who think they need to hoard guns because the government is making them buy subsidized health insurance would be positively laudatory if Obama announced that he was going to decide who gets to enter and leave the country.

This is why I stopped paying attention to domestic partisan politics a year or two ago. The vast majority of it is people repeating things they heard some right-wing talk show how say, things that a ten second application of logic or basic fact checking could render meaningless.

SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT

Posted in Quick Hits on October 3rd, 2014 by Ed

I enjoyed this pair of comments on a post about anti-vaccine crackpots on the Gin and Tacos Facebook page.

Capture

It's neither worth it nor interesting at this point to address the basic flaws in anti-vax arguments. However, I think this comment illustrates why so many of these half-assed pseudoscientific theories are finding receptive audiences these days: it seems like it makes sense. To someone without a basic understanding of anything scientific or medical – that is, about 95% of American adults – it makes perfect sense that exposing an infant to many different diseases at once would "overwhelm" them. It's not correct, but a semi-reasonable person without any real understanding of how vaccines or the immune system work could read this and think it sounds perfectly reasonable.

If you're one of the increasing number of people for whom "Sounds about right!" is a suitable replacement for accurate information – and so much easier! – the scientific facts gleaned from Tumblr leads down some very strange roads.

I DEMAND TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY

Posted in Quick Hits on September 22nd, 2014 by Ed

Rough week at work so pardon another shorty.

The man pictured below was invited on national television to spread "intelligence reports" that he received, possibly from his imagination, of "Quran books" found on the border that indicate an imminent ISIS-Muslim-Mexican Immigrant attack on the United States. I just want to throw this out there – even if this was true, which it isn't, I am certain that the first rule in life is that if you want to be taken seriously by a nationwide audience you should never wear one of these hats.

sheriff

The blood of hundreds of dead Americans will be on that hat if the good sheriff is right.