We are lost

I’m wading through all of my newsfeeds and social media feeds.  I’m trying to find solace from seeing that my friends are as upset as I am about the events of Ferguson, but to frank, I am not finding that.

Part of it is being upset with myself.  I wish I had more courage.  I wish I was in Ferguson right now.  I wish I had the courage to say this is more important than my career.  I wish I had the courage to say this is more important than saving money.  I wish I had the courage to say this is more important than not getting arrested for a just cause.  But I don’t.  I needed to be better.  But I wasn’t.  And now I fear it is too late.  I will continue to try and do more in the future, but I know that it won’t make a difference in my lifetime.  Like Moses and MLK, we will not see us get to the promised land.

Leading up to this, there was a good part of the nation who refused to see the Ferguson situation for what it was – plain and simple racism.  No really.  It’s quite obvious actually.  It is baffling to me how people, including some of you who are reading this right now – people that I consider my friends – can come to such a different understanding as to what has happened and is happening now.  Now I know that because of my chosen educational path that I’ve studied and read about race than most people.1 But I don’t think that even matters with the Michael Brown case.  Or the Amadou Diallo case.  Or the Oscar Grant case.  Or the John Crawford case.  Or the Tamir Rice case.  How much education do we need to understand that cops are gunning down black people with impunity and without any consequences?  How high does the number of dead black people need to get to before people suspect something is wrong?  1000 people?  2000 people?  10,000 people?

Most of us have access to the same information on the internet, the same statistics, the same training in how to draw logical conclusions from evidence.  Yet somehow, I wade through comment after comment of people defending law enforcement’s record, defending the practice of state sponsored murder because it supposedly makes us safer?  People like to claim ignorance as the source of racism, but really, you would have to be astronomically unintelligent to think that this is all justified.  No, many of you willfully ignore all of the information we have and tell me that I’m playing the race card or being oversensitive or too politically correct.  I suppose I could be wrong and that a lot of you are actually the gigantic ignoramuses that your rhetoric on this stuff indicates.  But alas, I know that this is not the case.  I know that most of you are actually pretty smart and know how to use reason and logic to make informed decisions, but choose to ignore this so that tragic and unjust events can fit into your fucked up worldview.

I want to be very clear on this next point.  The failure to see the problem is a moral failing.  This is not a matter of different orientations but having the same goal.  If you do not see the problem or deny the problem, then you are on the other side.  If you think this was an unavoidable tragedy, if you think that rioting or looting is not justified, you have failed morally.  If you believe in God, you are sinning.

And this is what makes the saddest.  I have lost faith in people.  I have lost faith in our country.  I honestly think a lot of you, of us do not have it in us to do the right thing.  There is a good number of you reading this who will never understand nor care about the grave injustices that occur everyday to good people.  There is nothing I or anyone can do because when it comes down to it, you would rather kill black people, you would rather let innocent people live their lives in the most terrifying state of fear than simply admit that you are wrong about how race works in America.  As I said before, everything is laid out before us.  You can choose to recognize the problem and seek to find out more about why this is happening, or you can choose to allow more innocent people to die.  In fact, you elect officials because you know that they will ensure that this will continue to happen.  And honestly, it’s this way with a lot of things.  US foreign policy, climate change, hell even just raising taxes a tiny bit for the top 1% so that people can eat.  Way too many of us have chosen evil.  And the bitch of all this is that it is not even that hard to do the right thing.  Read some books, look up some statistics on the prison system, and just have some basic empathy for your fellow human beings.  That’s all you have to do.  All you have to do is not be an asshole.  But there are too many of us who can’t do even that.  Who won’t do that.  Who will keep on being an asshole, because it benefits them to be an asshole.  And that’s pretty much all there is to this country, a bunch of racist assholes.

Believe me, I really want to be wrong on this one.  In fact, I’m begging you, please prove me wrong on this.  I went to the rally in Santa Barbara.  I walked the streets with the protesters, and I chanted the slogans with everyone else.  But I saw the way people not participating looked at us – the annoyed frown because they had to wait a little longer to get through an intersection.  The bemused condescending look on their face telling me that I was naïve and incapable of changing anything.  And most of all, the look on the cops faces – in their full riot gear, hands gripped tightly on their night sticks and gun holsters, just waiting for someone to slip up so they can administer a beatdown.2 Luckily no one slipped up last night, but really that just seems incidental.  There is no way to avoid the fact that someone somewhere will eventually slip up and a cop will make them pay for it with their lives whether or not they deserved it.  And this will happen on a regular basis.

I think in the past I would have attempted to try and explain in layman’s terms the sociological concepts that are related to what is happening.  Maybe even comment on how the events have been mediated through popular culture.  But instead I wrote this rambling mess of an essay for two reasons.  The first reason is that I know that even having it spelled out for you like a fucking kindergartner, you will still dismiss me, and the experience of the millions of people of color who have been trying to tell you this for their whole lives.  The second and more important reason is I don’t like you enough anymore to try.

  1. Let me take this opportunity to point out despite the fact that virtually all people who study race as their primary occupation agree that institutional racism exists and especially with the way it plays out with law enforcement results in a disproportionate amount of dead black people, a lot of you think you know more about race than these experts []
  2. Really people, this is fucking Santa Barbara.  A couple of patrol cars and maybe 10 officers would have been more than enough []

15 Uses for Taylor Swift’s Latest Single, “Shake It Off”

** This will make more sense if you have listened to this song at least once.  Although you will most likely be listening to it over and over again **

1.  Pep Squad audition song

2.  Soundtrack song for ”Protagonist forces herself to try new thing to get over ex but then finding out that she is actually good at and loves doing aforementioned new thing which gives her new outlook on situation” montage in standard Rom-Com

3.  Provide funding for Max Martin’s Helicopter Pad addition for his house in Hollywood

4.  Zumba!

5.  Soundtrack song for “Building relationship via fun urban leisure activities like bike riding in park and eating food from street vendors with someone whom protagonist only thought of platonically before but now she sees him in a whole new light and it confuses her, while ex simultaneously realizes he made a mistake in dumping protagonist” montage in standard Rom-Com tswiftparker

6.  Pedagogical exercise in race/sociology classes aimed to initiate discussion on cultural appropriation/the use of the ‘hater’ discourse to excuse problematic attitudes and behavior. tswifttwerk

7. Retooled lyrics used as basis for future Pillsbury marketing campaign – “Bake it off”

8. Soundtrack song for “Road Trip Dance Party in the Car” shot in standard female tween coming of age movie tswiftcrossroads

9.  Background music that is faded up at the end of an episode of Catfish after the catfished person tells Neve over Skype that the experience ended up being a positive one because it really “woke them up” and now they are doing much better and have gone back to school/found a new romantic interest


10. Soundtrack for “Girlfriends take protagonist out for a night on the town to help her get over general romantic failure and they dance the night away but then wake up the next morning with a hangover and looking like hell when the doorbell rings and it’s a handsome new next door neighbor asking if protagonist knows the landlord’s number because the dishwasher in his apartment isn’t working” montage from standard Rom-Com


11. Battleground on which music critics rehash tired debates about the concept of authenticity and the career arc of pop starlets

12.  Lazy tagline written for Mario Lopez to use on Extra when talking about public feuds with Taylor Swift a-la “T-Swift has always known that the haters are gonna hate hate hate but she couldn’t have expected Ariana Grande to be one of those haters”

tswift slater

13.  Soundtrack song used for “Re-inventing oneself to get over ex and it is seemingly going very well, but then you hear a record scratch sound effect and that cuts off the montage because protagonist runs into the ex who is with her new boyfriend” montage in relatively new sub-genre of Rom-Com where the male is the protagonist


14.  Floor exercise/figure staking routine song used in those things that they do at the Olympics after the gymnastics/figure skating medals have already been given out and they just want to show the “girls just having some fun!”


15.  The pop sugar cudgel used to finally force me to submit to the Taylor Swift New World Order


Sterling Prediction

I should really write something longer about the whole Sterling episode, but I know myself pretty well and there’s a good chance I won’t. So in lieu of that let me just make this prediction.

Here are what I think are the two possible scenarios that eventually unfold from here.

1) Sterling will fight this in court and because he has a near infinite amount of money, he will win.  Some court will find that it’s illegal to make someone to sell something because they are racist.  After all, the highest court in our land just recently decided that it’s ok to make it illegal to prevent racial discrimination in higher ed.  It turns out that the courts have a history of helping out racists.

2) Sterling will fight this in court and lose because the NBA has infinity + 1 amount of money, and he will sell the Clippers and realize a profit of nearly half a billion dollars.

I know I’m being Debbie Downer here, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that cultural, legal, and economic institutions are designed specifically to protect people like Sterling – rich white asshole dudes – who very often happen to also be racist.  Ok, they just don’t happen to be racists – being racist is very connected to being a rich white asshole dude, but I digress.

I’m glad the NBA has done something in the direction of the right thing, but I feel compelled to remind you that this is America.

Sad Song

Even though the album came out in August and I listened to it then, I’m only now getting around to really listening to the words of “I Should Live in Salt” by the National.  Holy fuck, what a sad beautiful song.  I think I am going to cry now.  Anyways, here is a nice cover of that song by some random artist who we’ve never heard of

Chait vs Coates

I’m finally catching up with the Chait/Coates exchange and found this fantastic bit of writing.

White supremacy does not contradict American democracy—it birthed it, nurtured it, and financed it. That is our heritage. It was reinforced during 250 years of bondage. It was further reinforced during another century of Jim Crow. It was reinforced again when progressives erected an entire welfare state on the basis of black exclusion. It was reinforced again when the intellectual progeny of the same people who excluded black women from welfare turned around and inveighed against it through caricaturization of black women.


Sometimes I miss hard rock

Before my wallet got stolen in 2003, I used to carry this picture around in my wallet.  True story.

Before my wallet got stolen in 2003, I used to carry this picture around in my wallet. True story.

Every couple of years I go through a phase where all I do is listen to David Lee Roth era Van Halen. These are not necessarily productive periods of my life, but there sure are a lot more bitchin’ guitar solos during these times.

Some Thoughts about a College Football Players Union

Some things to keep in mind while thinking about a college football players union

  1. In order to be paid fairly, colleges and universities in the big power conferences will have to pay their athletes more than they pay the highest paid professor.  And in some cases, such as big sports schools like Alabama or Notre Dame, a fair wage for some of the players would be in the millions of dollars.  Currently head coaches command most of the money in college football.  But that is only because they are the ones that currently wrangle free labor.  When this practice ends, so does paying coaches outrageous sums of money.  There’s a reason why coaches in pro sports make a lot less than the athletes.  It is because they are a lot less important to the final product.
  2. Similarly, the difference between the highest paid professor and the lowest paid professor vary wildly according to many factors something as basic as which department the professor works for.  You will see a similar thing happen to different sports.  Football players should be paid more than say the water polo team because they generate more money.  However, at the same time, this system is inherently sexist (and probably racist, and definitely homophobic) in a way that should be completely antithetical to any college or university’s mission.  Compliance to Title IX will be impossible and say goodbye to fringe sports such as rowing or tennis.
  3. The big colleges will be able to better support better programs because they have alumni stupid enough to donate money towards paying players.1 What this means is that smaller colleges will fade from any kind of relevance in college sports.  When making a decision, a recruited high school player will and SHOULD make their decision based on who can compensate them the best.  Just look at this chart.  No more Cinderella.
  4. Colleges and Universities actually owe billions of dollars to college athletes who played previous to this year, so good luck sorting all that out.
  5. Colleges and Universities can hardly get a handle on paying their teaching assistants or their support staff a fair wage.
  6. But it kinda doesn’t matter because if colleges and universities pay athletes fairly, then most of the revenue generated by college sports will not go towards supporting the teaching and research function of the university – which by the way, it already doesn’t – it will go towards supporting athletic departments (you might say that the revenue generated by college sports end up being athletic supporters.  TRY THE VEAL!).  Sports will no longer be a cash cow for the university and therefore, they will actually have very little incentive to maintain them at all.  This again is especially true for smaller schools.  Seriously, look at this chart.
  7. I have not even broached the cultural problems that big time college sports contributes to.  See Penn State, Jameis Winston, students running onto the court for no good reason.  These problems will most likely be exacerbated, particularly at Division I schools.

What I’m getting at here, is that while it is a good thing that the Northwestern football players won the right to unionize, this brings us closer to a system where one of the central function of the university will be managing a multi-billion dollar sports and entertainment business.  It is IMPOSSIBLE for colleges and universities to do this without undermining their core mission, which is educating students and producing knowledge via the research process. 

I know what you’re thinking.  Oh Bob!  You’re so reactionary!  Surely everyone will figure out a way to divide up the money fairly and in a way that benefits everyone.  Well, you’re wrong.  Most colleges and universities can’t even do this within their own academic departments. Come on people, this is America!  As the pie gets bigger, it doesn’t get divided more fairly, the opposite happens.

To reiterate – I am in complete support of college athletes organizing and fighting to be compensated fairly for their labor.  The system is a little less exploitative and that’s a good thing.  However, saying that paying players is going to fix the issues that college sports creates is like saying abstinence education is going to fix teen pregnancy (SPOILER ALERT: IT DOESN’T).

So, while the NRLB decision is a victory for student athletes,2  I don’t know if it is really a victory for higher education in the US.

  1. And let’s be honest, they are where they are because they already do this. []
  2. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that the NCAA will still find a way to exploit these kids []

Somebody owes me NBA All star tickets

This was published last year on True Hoop, ESPN’s basketball blog – so basically the world’s largest sports news outlet:

We asked readers for suggestions on how to improve All-Star Weekend, so take it away, Bob Ngo!

The X games used to structure their best trick contest the similar to the dunk contest. Each contestant would get three chances to do their trick, and like the dunk contest, the trick took a few seconds, the announcers would go crazy, and the crowd would cheer and then that was it. It was ok, but there was a lot of downtime between tricks, between skaters, and this was especially felt if the skater did not land the trick.

Recently, they’ve switched to a “jam session” format, which I find to be much more compelling. Basically, skaters take turns, but they go immediately after the previous skater attempts a trick. I mean, I guess there are a few seconds between skaters but it feels like non stop skating for twenty or so minutes. This gets the crowd fired up and it gets the skaters fired up. Each skater gets caught up in the moment and knows that to do well, he has to outdo the trick that the previous skater just landed. It also, gets rid of the interminable time after a missed dunk because someone else is going right away. What you get is a contest where with each attempted trick, the tricks get increasingly more difficult, and increasingly more tense. By the end of it, the whole crowd is going nuts!

They say basketball is like jazz. In jazz, the true moments of genius come out of improvisation. Why not give the dunkers a format where they can show us their genius.
I dig this because I hate watching high flyers awkwardly walk around mid court, blowing on their cold hands while trying to generate some energy and enthusiasm in the current, over-produced format. Let them hype up each other (and the crowd) by creating a live mixtape of eye-popping dunks!

And these are the new rules for the dunk contest this year:

In the Freestyle Round, each conference will get 90 seconds to perform as many dunks as they can. This will basically be like what you see when a team goes up against the 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers. Just a constant stream of dunking goodness.


RIP Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall 1932-2014

There are lots of things being written about Stuart Hall today after he passed away last night.  Most of the stuff that is being written is about how he is the “father of multiculturalism” and one of the first public Scholars from England to really transcend the boundaries of the academy.  And this makes sense.  His writing on gender and race in Great Britain has been extremely influential in the way modern leftists conceive of oppression and social justice.  He is indeed a towering figure in the intellectual world.

I would write more about this, but to tell you the truth, I really don’t know much about that part of Hall’s work.  No, I know him more as one of the leaders of a group of Scholars out of Birmingham, England in the late seventies and early eighties better known as the cultural studies movement.  This group of scholars heavily influenced the way that I and many other in the field of popular culture studies understand the role of popular culture in our lives. Additionally, the entire field of American Studies can be considered an extension of the cultural studies movement.

Hall never actually wrote that much about popular culture.  In fact, the one piece that he is known for is only 15 pages.  The piece I speak of is called Encoding/Decoding.  When I teach popular culture studies classes, it only takes about half a class period to go over the basic model.  The encoding/decoding model is a generalized model for the production and the reception of culture, and the thing about it is, it’s perfect.  As someone who spent a great deal of the last 10 years thinking about and researching popular culture, I have yet to find an situation where it is not applicable.  In fact, when people ask me what was the main takeaway from my dissertation about Sabermetrics is, I tell them that “Stuart Hall was right and encoding/decoding works for everything.”1

We academic types spend a great deal of time reading other’s people work with the specific goal of trying to find weaknesses in theories and arguments, and despite it being published in 1977, I have yet to find a valid critique of the model.  Which is why I consider this to be Hall’s greatest achievement.  The model itself is fairly simple – producers of culture encode messages that are influenced by the producers social and economic circumstances, and in turn, those messages are decoded by consumers of culture in a way that is influenced by their social and economic circumstances.  Despite it’s simplicity, it has proven time and time again to be a powerful and illuminating way to understand how popular culture “does” things.  A simple concept that almost completely explains a social phenomenon – what else could one want to achieve in life as a scholar?

Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read Encoding/Decoding.  If not as a tribute to a very smart man, then at least do it to make your stupid self just a little bit smarter.

  1. The other thing I tell them is that Pierre Bourdieu was right and Distinction also works for everything, but he died years ago []