Friday, September 30, 2011

It had to happen: Sagan vs. Snooki

So, this appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, yesterday. Apparently, I should be congratulated:

I recognized Snooki in an instant; I know who Carl Sagan is, in a vague sense, but I can't say that I had any idea what he looked like. So, good for me - I am, apparently, what's wrong with the world. Here are all of the other responses to the picture, again from Facebook:

  • I know I've seen that guy before, but have no idea who the woman is.
  • Carl Sagan! Do I get "billions and billions" of Science Points for that? And no, I don't know who the other one is.
  • I don't know Snooki enough to recognize her on sight, so until reading these comments I had no idea who either person was.
  • Val is happy to report that still she has no idea who either of these people are
  • i can spot sagan at 500 paces... who is snooki?

(An important note: this was posted on the Fb page of a graduate student, and likely responded to by other graduate students. I don't know whether this means that they would be inclined to be disingenuous about knowing who Snooki is - that is, I don't know if they would lie in order to save face - but I wouldn't be surprised if these people are actually intellectual clich├ęs of the
I-don't-even-own-a-TV variety.)

Now, I get the joke. Carl Sagan could be any intellectual who is/was on TV and the point would be the same - people care more about vacuous celebutantes and reality stars than they do about substantive stuff, like how the universe works. Point taken.

But... for the purposes of this illustration, it's Carl Sagan and not Steven Hawking or, especially for us Canadians, David Suzuki. And that annoys me for a few reasons:
  1. Awareness of Snooki's existence does not necessarily make one a fan of her or of her show. Collapsing those two things into one-and-the-same makes no sense.
  2. Carl Sagan has been dead for 15 years, and his TV show first aired more than 30 years ago; that someone might not know what he looks like is probably not surprising. (Granted, his show's been aired many times since then. But, to use but one example, Seinfeld, which ended in the late 90s, is aired constantly in syndication - and despite that, it's usually the case that none of my 18-21 year-old students have ever watched it. Which brings me to a related point...)
  3. The comparison is ridiculously ageist. Because the Sagan reference is so dated, the person who put the image together must have known that virtually everyone under the age of 20 (if not 30) will have no clue who he is. So this isn't so much directed at the ignorant and intellectually-stunted - which is what the image implies - as it is at the young. (The choice of a smart dude and dumb woman also feels just a bit sexist.)
  4. Frankly, I'm actually more stunned that there are people who don't know who Snooki is. Snooki is everywhere: You go on the internet, she's everywhere. You turn on the TV, she's there. You wait in line at the grocery store, her face is plastered on tabloids and bad magazines. If you don't know who is, you're either terribly unobservant (which doesn't speak well for all of those grad students that I quoted above) or you've been purposely ignorant of her existence for two years, which seems like an odd use of one's energy. (Now, if you admitted that you do know who she is but you dislike her intensely, well, then we could bring this into a discussion of guilty displeasures. And that I can totally get behind...)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The DC relaunch: some reactions

1) DC Comics made waves - of the bad kind - in July when their co-publisher, Dan DiDio, got in an argument with a fan at Comicon. The fan had a legitimate beef: DC was canceling and relaunching all 52 comics in their superhero line, and in so doing was slashing their compliment of women from double-digits to just 2. And if this wasn't problematic enough, DiDio decided to chew the fan out, questioning whether it made a meaningful difference and demanding that the fan tell DiDio who they should have hired. It reflected pretty poorly on DC, especially given that women, in comics, have always been underrepresented as creators and problematically sexualized as characters.

2) I've picked up only two comics from the relaunch, including the very first one, the flagship Justice League title from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and Grant Morrison's Action Comics. (Though I've seen a lot of reviews and responses to other comics - but more on that later.) I don't know what the objective is with these new comics, but it seems to me that DC has actually rid itself of two of the things that gave its universe a unique character among the various superhero worlds - an optimistic outlook and bigger-than-big powers. Especially in relation to Marvel - where the world order is always tenuous, the situation is always dire, and the (anti-)heroes unliked and over-matched - DC has always seemed bright and bubbly. So, at least according to this guy's initial assessment, the newly brooding and irascible DC universe looks a whole lot like Marvel's. And this isn't a good thing.

3) In the past week, though, all of the attention has shifted back to the sorts of concerns that were, at least implicitly, being voiced back in July. Specifically, it's these comics, Red Hood and the Outsiders and Catwoman:

Now, admittedly, these are just small portions of bigger comics. But they're also pretty fair representations of the whole from which they've been taken. And they also seem to offer good evidence that the jokes that non-comic folks make - y'know, about superhero comics being filled with T&A and comic readers being horny fanboys - are well-founded. So rather than completely stealing someone else's thunder, I'll post some good quotes and refer you to the source - it`s worth reading it all:
"Most problematically, we are shown [Catwoman's] breasts and her body over and over for two pages, but NOT her face. [...] Can't you show us the playful or confident look in her eye as she puts on her sexy costume? Because without that it's impossible to connect with the character on any other level than a boner, and I'm afraid I don't have one of those."

"If you really want to support Starfire's 'liberated sexuality' like she's somehow a person with real agency, what people should really be campaigning for is more half-clothed dudes in suggestive poses to get drawn around her, since I'm sure that's what she'd like to see. But people don't really want that, do they? Because it's not about what Starfire wants. It's about what straight male readers want. [...] but let's be honest about what's happening and who we're serving (or not serving) and at whose expense."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Depressing for even more than the obvious reasons

In a pre-season NHL hockey game in London (Ontario) on Thursday night, an unknown fan threw a banana on to the ice. Predictably, it was when one of the few black players in the NHL was also on the ice. And everyone is outraged, which certainly sounds good enough.

Here's the thing, though. There are all sorts of quotes from players of color and suits who say that London isn't a racist place and that this is a wholly isolated incident. (Because, the logic goes, if other black/brown players haven't felt/seen it, then it must not exist, right? In spite of the fact that racialized celebrities more easily "pass" as if they were white?) And then the article that I linked to provides a list of other explicitly racist, and ostensibly isolated, incidents in hockey games. And they note that in spite of everyone's outrage, no one has been able (willing?) to identify the fan who threw the banana.

So, I'm not the only person who sees a disconnect, here, right? It's isolated, but it happens with some regularity; it's not indicative of some racist sensibility among people in the city, and yet no one has helped identify the banana-thrower. Stuff like this seems like such an obvious launching-pad - a "teachable moment", as it were - for a discussion of systemic racism and how events like these are linked, and how indifference to racist acts is itself an act of racism. But, somehow, I imagine that every time this happens in the future, it'll be just as shocking, surprising, and isolated.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Live-Blogging: Terrible Sports Analysis

Presumably because they're folksy, likable, and/or have good anecdotes, TV broadcasters choose to hire sports analysts who rarely understand how to analyze the sports that they used to play professionally. They can tell you, for instance, how to identify a curveball but they can't actually explain why it is or isn't advantageous to bunt or not. (Which wouldn't be so bad, except that they pretend that they know and their reasons are nonsensical, if they're even offered.) And this is hardly a contentious claim to make - every decent sports blog makes this complaint about their local announcers. (And, in fact, there was once a blog devoted entirely to critiquing/mocking bad sports announcers: Fire Joe Morgan)

So, here I am, sitting at home and 1) reflecting on the depressing fact that The Shopping Channel has found someone more qualified than me to write copy for them, while 2) my daughter refuses to go to sleep and calls my name, and I'm watching the Blue Jays play the Angels. And it occurs to me that I should blog about the errors, misunderstandings, and absurdities that the commentary team, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, are sharing with the audience on this particular night. (And honestly? The broadcaster, Sportsnet, has no excuse - I emailed them months ago to beg them to hire a stats guy who could offer them good stats and nudge them away from the bad ones that they love so much.)

1st inning

Buck: “[Howie Kendrick]’s had a consistent season.”
One of the annoying things that sports announcers do is confuse the words "good" and "consistent". Because Kendrick has had a very good season, (about 20% above average on offense, and well above on defense) but hasn't been at all consistent. During the 6 months of the season, his monthly batting average has ranged from a bad .231 (September) to an amazing .348 (May); he's hit 6 home runs in two months, and only 0 or 1 in three others; his wOBA shows that his bat has been excellent in three months, almost exactly average in two, and below-average in another. Point is, for a long period he was excellent, then he was very mediocre, and now he's playing badly - that's consistent? (I'm kicking a dead horse at this point, but I wanted to be thorough.)

Pat: “When you have Jose Bautista in front of you, you’re gonna have baserunners.”
This isn't really a dumb statement in isolation. What it does reveal, though, is that these guys are capable of saying really stupid stuff even though they're conscious of the fact that sluggers get RBI - in part, at least - because the players in front of them are good at getting on base. So when they say that sluggers who get out way too often are "producers" because they get RBI - as if the people on base had nothing to do with it - there's really no excuse.

2nd inning

Buck: “I think the most misleading statistic fielding percentage.”
Pat: “The only thing it tells you is how many plays he makes.”
This one could have been good. Buck actually makes a fine point, and one that statsheads have been making for decades: fielding percentage doesn't tell you how many balls the fielder failed to reach but should have, so a good percentage can mask a terrible fielder. And then Pat shows that he doesn't really understand that at all - because what he claims is the "only thing it tells you"? It's actually the exact opposite.

Pat: “Forget about the average, [Mark Trumbo] has been producing.”
Ah, yes - the "producing" that I mentioned earlier. If a good fielding percentage can mask a bad fielder, then good "production numbers" - home runs and runs batted in - can mask a mediocre hitter. The Blue Jays' J.P. Arencibia is a great example, but Trumbo works, too - lots of home runs but a terrible batting average and a low walk-rate. Because, in a league where the average player reaches base 32.5% of the time, Trumbo's 29.6% is worse than about 90% of his peers. Sure, Trumbo hits for so much power that he's a marginally above-average hitter, but "forget" that he reaches base at one of the league's worst rates? That's terrible analysis.

Buck: “[Brett] Cecil’s been much better than his win-loss record.”
This, again, is a reasonable statement that is routinely undermined by Buck's typical expression of love for the pitcher's win-loss record. Buck has, in fact, said in the past that wins are the most important stat for a pitcher. Which is absolutely ludicrous, and here's why: a typical starting pitcher usually only throws about 2/3s of his team's pitches (and, of course, none of the opposing team's), does almost none of the fielding, and either none or very little of the hitting. I don't quite know where to find the number crunching, but i recall that Win Shares credits all pitchers with only 34% of the game's result - and your starting pitcher, again, isn't eating all of those innings by himself. And yet assigning him a win or loss gives him all the credit.

Pat: “[Colby Rasmus] becomes a very dangerous breaking ball hitter.”
This one caught my attention because Pat often makes statements like these - "analysis" that can be, and is, quantified but only with great difficulty, and probably too much difficulty for Pat to bother with. So I looked it up on Fangraphs: Rasmus has been a below-average hitter against breaking balls over his career, while this season he's been awful against sliders but marginally above-average against curves. But "very dangerous"? Not by any measure.

Pat: “They don’t have a stat of plays that should have been made. Yet.”
Well, this is just plain wrong. TotalZone, DRS, and UZR all measure this, though none of them can do so perfectly. Pat doesn't need to agree with their methodology or results, of course, but he should probably know that they've existed for more than two decades. That's right - these things existed when Pat Tabler was still playing.

Pat: “The Angels are a good defensive team. They have athletes all over the diamond.”
The Angels may well be a good defensive team, but their athleticism is really neither here nor there. No one disputes the athleticism of, say, Torii Hunter, but plenty of analysts will point out that his age and declining skills mean that he's become a below-average fielder; likewise, the Jays have some pretty good, fast athletes in Rajai Davis, Brett Lawrie, and Eric Thames, but they're all demonstrably poor defenders. (That said, while Pat's reasoning is faulty, his conclusions are sound - the Angels grade as the 5th best fielding team in baseball, according to UZR, and are much closer to 2nd than they are to 6th.)

4th inning

Pat: “[The Angels] go 1st to 3rd better than anybody in baseball.”
This is tough to verify, so I can't imagine that Pat actually knows this. Like most analysts, he's probably guessed this based on what he's seen - and 'traditional wisdom' - and no other evidence. I couldn't find any stats, but evaluations of base-running on the whole are easy to find: the Angels are slightly above average on both the Speed Score and Baserunning metrics. That doesn't suggest to me, though, that they're likely to go 1st to 3rd better than anyone else.

5th inning

Pat: “At the Major League level, you fail 70% of the time and you’re a super-star.”
Pat's surely pretending that walks don't exist, here - or, maybe, thinking that they count as a "fail" - because this is patently wrong. Of the 25 best hitters in baseball, (according to their wOBA) none reach base less than 35% of the time. And, remember, failing 70% of time means that you're not only not a superstar, but you're one of the very worst at not getting out.

6th inning

Buck: “[Peter Bourjos]’s is just a triple shy of doing something that no Angel has ever done. [Have double-digit doubles, triples, and homers.]”
Pat: “Impressive.”
Well, not really. It's a quirky bit of trivia, I guess, but it certainly doesn't indicate that Bourjos is an "impressive" hitter. (He's slightly above average, and his overall offensive performance is almost identical to that of the aforementioned Trumbo.) What would be better for the player and the team, though surely less "impressive", would be if those 9 triples had actually been homers.

End of 7th inning

Gregg Zaun [between-innings and after-game analyst]: “You can’t put a price on guys like [Mike McCoy] in the organization.”
McCoy is a career .200 hitter with a below .300 on-base average, and he plays multiple positions competently. Basically, he's a replacement-level utility guy and there are dozens just like him. And you can put a price on him - somewhere just above league-minimum.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blogging about bookshelves

Recently (or, at least, recentishly), my friends Jen and Alex both blogged about home libraries* and encouraged other people to send/post pictures and talk about how they go about displaying books. I didn't take either one up on the offer, but not because of apathy - I simply hadn't gotten around to taking any pictures of my furniture/rooms since we last moved.

Clearly, though, I'm going somewhere with this. And if you guessed that I wouldn't write about home libraries and my lack of pictures unless I had finally taken some and was going to post them, well, you'd be right.

This is a shot of the legal bookcases in our dining room, which are just ridiculously sexy - hence, they're prominently displayed in the room at the center of the house. The one on the left houses most of our fiction and poetry, roughly half of that lowest shelf devoted to cook books. The one of the right is mostly fun stuff - poppy and mindless books on the top shelf, mass market hardcovers and 50 year old kid's lit on the middle shelf, and books that will eventually be Penelope's on the bottom. (Along with a box set of John Lennon demos and Queer as Folk DVDs, both of which had nowhere else to go.) But the point is, clearly, to showcase the bookcases themselves.

This is from our office. I have one of those big shelf units with the desk attachment, which is why the four squares in the bottom-left corner are basically a wash (my files, some computer junk, and the power-bar). The higher eight shelves are almost exclusively comic books, and the other four shelves mostly books about politics and theory. It's spectacularly hard to actually see any of them, though, I can tell - in part, that's because I used a moody, high-contrast visual effect on all of these; in part, it's because Blogger absolutely sucks when it comes to preserving the detail that does exist in the image.

The tower beside it is exclusively academic stuff, with whole shelves devoted to our particular fields (a masculinity shelf, a third-wave feminism shelf, and so on), except for the very top shelf, which is all Foucault and Butler. It's was previously an ugly, tan-colored Billy bookcase, but I spray-painted it black to match the other unit and bought the black door to increase its impressiveness by at least 200%.

This one's just fun. It's another Ikea bookcase, which matched nothing in our last two places but fits really well with the trim on the doorways in this house. Anyway, it's in the hallway and filled with goofy/cool stuff that earns us hipster capital.

* A fun note about Jen and Alex's ways of approaching the topic: superficially, at least, they bring some very different concerns and investments to the table: Jen uses the term "book storage" in her post's title, while Alex throws around the word "bibliophilia". And yet they're also both responding (with a lot of derision) to paranoia around The Disappearance of The Book, so they're really not all that different.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Self-indulgently blogging about my blog

[All the numbers exclude any views from my own IP address]

Average number of daily pageviews* over the past month: 31 (high: 59, low: 12)
Average number of monthly pageviews over the past year: 1201 (high: 1641, low: 869)

Average number of daily views since August 2008: 41 (high: 366, low: 7)
Average number of monthly pageviews since August 2008: 1251 (high: 6463, low: 439)

Most viewed blog entry for September 2011: Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor (35 as of today)
---A friend of mine, who taught All-Star Superman at the University of Toronto, told me that this blog entry was recommended to him as THE argument in favor of Leo and Lex being considered the same character. (The guy who made the recommendation had no idea that we knew each other and my friend, it should be pointed out, was unpersuaded.) I've since learned that, amazingly, this actually is passed around on the internets as the last/best word on the subject. Yay me!
Most viewed blog entry since August 2008: The hysterical Joker (17277)
---More than 75% of the pageviews in my record month were views of this page. Somehow, right around the time that the film came out in July 2008 - and despite the fact that I wrote that particular blog in December 2007 - the image of the Joker that I had posted became the #2 Google Image search result for "Heath Ledger Joker", but the #1 full-body shot of him. So, evidently, people were looking for a picture of him and found my blog. Unfortunately, they found my reaction to the promo photos - I initially hated it - and mistook it for my reaction to the film, which means that the response thread is full of people telling me off for hating on the movie.

A very small sample of the some of the bizarre/hilarious searches that have led here:
- "turn your partner dosey doe bullshit"
- "why are all films about masculinity considered homoerotic?"
- "can i be your favorite color?"
- "superhero fetish porn"
- "neilshyminsky-demon"

I have no idea why someone would write that last one. But I kind of love it.

* I'm using pageviews because this is cobbled together from both my Google Analytics data and Blogger's own stats. The latter only counts pageviews, not unique visits. But considering that most people who visit my blog visit only 1.17 pages - that is, for the most part, they just read whatever's on the front page - the numbers are pretty comparable.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Electronic literacy"

From Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic, in conversation with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist (what the hell is a search anthropologist and how do i become one?) with Google:
"90 percent of the US Internet population does not know [about ctrl+f]. This is on a sample size of thousands," Russell said. "I do these field studies and I can't tell you how many hours I've sat in somebody's house as they've read through a long document trying to find the result they're looking for. At the end I'll say to them, 'Let me show one little trick here,' and very often people will say, 'I can't believe I've been wasting my life!'"

I can't believe people have been wasting their lives like this either! It makes me think that we need a new type of class in schools across the land immediately. Electronic literacy. Just like we learn to skim tables of content or look through an index or just skim chapter titles to find what we're looking for, we need to teach people about this CTRL+F thing.

I have my own problem with ctrl+f, though it differs substantially from the phenomenon being described above. I rely on it so much that I find myself reading books - the paper kind - and thinking I should use the ctrl+f function... and needing a second to remember that it doesn't exist. (Similarly, there are times when I'm watching live sports - not even necessarily pro sports, either - where I find myself eagerly awaiting the instant replay.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Follow-up on a blog about a news anchor

About a year ago, I complained about the needlessly scary promotional images that Global TV was using to promote their new anchor, Dawna Friesen. But since I don't watch Global News, I haven't really seen whether they adjusted their strategy or her appearance. They did, and they have, so here's a comparison of the shot they were plastering everywhere before she debuted and a picture that seems indicative of how she's currently styled:

What I wrote then was the under-lighting was creepy, she's sneering instead of smiling, her tiny pupils look cold, and her hair is limp and dead - with my conclusion being that she looks like a vampire. And in this picture it seems that they addressed all of those things. (Except, maybe, for the pupils, though the smile appears so warm and genuine that the eyes aren't the least bit disturbing.)

Holy shit, though. What an improvement. (And what were they thinking??)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

An uncharacteristically emo blog about cars

Despite my complaints about hegemonic masculinity, I'm not an anti-masculinity guy. I love baseball and I've been referred to - only in my 20s, mind you - as a jock more than once. And, of course, there's my ambivalent relationship with hyper-masculine super- and action-heroes.

All that said, there are still some characteristically masculine things that I have a powerful aversion to, probably because they're particularly overdetermined. (In fact, I think that I like things like baseball and superheroes, in part, because they're somewhat problematically associated with masculinity - baseball is mocked as being boring, unathletic, and/or a numbers-game, and superheroes are still pretty geeky.) That is, I resist/resent the kinds of things that guys are just expected to know about or be interested in, even by people with feminist politics.

But this is just a longish way of getting to the point - I hate being expected to know anything about cars. I hate that knowing nothing about them is somehow a knock against my manhood and competency as a male partner and parent. And I just hate the idea of knowing anything about cars. I hate the kind of gruff manliness that's associated with cars, I bristle at conversations about cars, I actively disidentify with the kind of people who tend to be into cars, and I can actually feel an embodied response when the topic even comes up.

So when our car's battery just suddenly died at a gas station and we barely completed the short drive home after being boosted, I was fine with leaving the task of replacing the battery to people who know what they're doing. Because, like I said, I just don't want to know.

Is this unreasonable? I'm sure that it is. It makes a lot of practical sense to know this stuff, and it doesn't look particularly difficult, either. And it's probably dumb to let my somewhat-political-but-more-complicated-than-that relationship with cars get in the way of that.

So, all of the above issues aside, I'm gonna try to replace the damned thing anyway. But I'm gonna hate it every step of the way.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Baseball, hazing rituals, and Poe's law

What with the beginning of September being the part of the baseball season when rosters expand and teams are flooded with younger players, a bunch of news outlets are running their annual 'rookie players are forced to do embarrassing things' stories. (A Toronto Star story published today talks about how the youngest pitcher in the Blue Jays' bullpen is tasked with carrying all of the relief pitchers' snacks across the field in a kids' backpack, but I couldn't actually find it on the site.)

Of course, aside from mentioning that the juxtaposition of professional male athlete and Dora the Explorer is funny because it's unmanly, there's little by way of critical reflection. Which is why it was nice to see
a piece from Jezebel, where the author points out, of course, that there's certainly a sexist element to some of the choices. (Jason Isringhausen, for example, is explicit about wanting to find pink, flowery bags.) But Jezebel makes another point that's likely to be missed - that it also has to do with embracing childhood, especially in a number of examples (like Heath Bell's, who collects Star Wars bags that are shaped like the characters) where the older players are clearly not trying to emasculate their teammates.

Naturally, some people will take umbrage at any suggestion of impropriety, and so both a) the reply thread on Jezebel's site and b) the Jezebel Facebook page are loaded with people who think that the authors are taking things too seriously/seeing things that aren't there. (Because sexism is just good clean fun, am I right?) Here's one of the Facebook responses:
"Why do liberals have to ruin everything? It's baseball. LEAVE IT ALONE. Who gives a flying **** about gender politics in the game. Next you'll be saying how they should provide an equal opportunity for women to play."
To go off on a bit of a tangent (although "tangent" implies that I have a single, focused point, and I don't...): I think it's hilarious that I can't tell whether this guy is being sincere or ironic. The caps, the ***, the 'next you'll be asking for equal rights' rhetoric... this guy could be remarkably dense OR sarcastically clever, and one seems just as possible as the other. It's a great example of Poe's law - less a rule than an observation, it says that internet extremism and parody of that extremism are impossible to tell apart.

(It also behaves a lot like
Godwin's law, I'm realizing, insofar as every internet discussion eventually reaches a point where you can no longer tell whether what you're reading is an actual argument or the mockery of that argument.)