Monthly Archives: March 2011

D. Michael Lindsay leaving Rice to become President of Gordon College

Famous professor and author D. Michael Lindsay is leaving Rice University to become the President of Gordon College. This is somewhat hilarious, given the huge differences between Rice and Gordon College.

Gordon College is a Christian school. So Christian, in fact, that students are required to be professing Christians to attend. There is also mandatory chapel attendance.

Gordon also requires students and faculty to sign a statement saying that they agree with the college’s own Statement of Faith. This statement includes lots of quotes from the Bible. (When I open a school, students will have to sign a Statement of Faith that has lots of quotes from Jurassic Park.) And Gordon takes the statement seriously. For example, former Gordon College professor Thomas Howard had to resign after he converted to Catholicism.

Students also have to sign a “Life and Conduct Statement.” As part of these “Behavioral Expectations,” students cannot drink or smoke on campus or at “adjacent properties,” or at “any College-related activity.” Students also cannot use any drugs.

(I never really understood the Christian ban on drinking, especially since, you know, Jesus drank! He turned water into wine for a party! It was his first miracle! John 2:1-11)

Furthermore, students can only have visitors of opposite gender during during certain hours. (I guess that means the school condemns midnight nookie, but afternoon delight is perfectly fine.)

All these religious regulations at Prof. Lindsay’s new school may be funny given Rice’s own reputation for, say, Baker 13, the Night of Decadence, or having two on-campus bars. However, it is all the better given my one main interaction with Prof. Lindsay.

It was the first issue of the Thresher my senior year. We were scouring campus for content to fill the opinion section, a difficult task given that we were working before students were on campus. Luckily, Prof. Lindsay made a submission. He had only joined Rice the year before, I think, but had a pretty impressive collection of work, including the award-winning though somewhat personally distressing Faith in the Halls of Power. However, he also had developed somewhat of a reputation for unnecessary pretentiousness, notably rumors of him proposing a Salon where Rice’s best and brightest could discuss the important matters of the day.

(But Percy, I was netting butterflies.)

As if Rice needed any more talking clubs that did nothing or status symbol associations to slap on a resume.

But overall, he seemed like a guy who grew up in a world that only exists in Republican campaign speeches. Nevertheless, we gladly accepted his column and read it with grateful yet increasingly skeptical eyes. His piece was a general condemnation of the work hard, play hard mentality at top schools, specifically identifying Dis-O as a problem.

However, his column was somewhat flawed. First, Dis-O was perhaps not the best target. Dis-O, or Disorientation, isn’t as much a centrally planned party as it is a general celebration of returning to campus after summer, and a commemoration of the campus going wet for the year after a dry Orientation Week. There is no singular event, but instead a spontaneous expression by individual students. One could not end Dis-O any more than one could end lunch. It is merely the time at which nearly all drinking students have the urge to drink and party. This all makes sense given the circumstances of campus going wet and students seeing friends after the summer.

Furthermore, for at least two years before Lindsay’s own column, Rice had been providing alternatives for students who wanted to celebrate the new semester, but without alcohol. For example, Rice held a alcohol-free Big Owl Bash specifically to compete with Dis-O. As the Thresher documented in 2005:

O-Week began Aug. 14 and ends tomorrow at noon, but the new events will not stop when O-Week is over. The Big Owl Bash, organized by the newly-formed Dean’s Committee to Address Alcohol Awareness, will feature a hypnotist, free food and two local bands.

The committee, made up of a group of students, faculty and staff, designed BOB to compete with the “Dis-Orientation” party tomorrow night.

The committee planned BOB as part of a campaign called “Real Rice,” to communicate that many students on campus do not drink, Director of the Wellness Center Emily Dexter Page said.

Indeed, it was my understanding at the time that Dis-O had been declining in raucousness, which leads to the second problem with Lindsay’s column:

Dis-O really isn’t that crazy.

Maybe I was too busy working on the Thresher every O-Week, but I don’t remember Dis-O being wilder than many of Rice’s centrally planned parties, such as NOD or ‘80s Party. Its decentralized nature maybe made Dis-O seem like a bigger deal than it was. It is also the first time that many new students drink heavily, perhaps compounding problems. Furthermore, since Dis-O happens before classes, students can party without academic concern. But during Dis-O, I usually heard people complaining about the difficulty in finding a large party, rather than the usual “I was so wasted!” claims of centralized college parties.

These days, Rice has had a demonstrable problem of over-drinking. However, I recall  2007 as a more simple time, when people may have drunk until they passed out, but rarely to the point of needing an ambulance. Lindsay’s argument applies better now than it did then.

Overall, the general sense from Lindsay’s topic and tone was that he had never actually been to Dis-O. It would have been much better if he actually hung around campus during that Dis-O and then wrote about what he saw, rather than working from some ill-informed vision of a campus gone Gomorrah.

But of course, these arguments and reservations were all personal, and we gladly ran a column written by an award-winning professor.

However, that does not mean that all of us were happy to be lectured by a seemingly ill-informed Evangelical from on high, tut-tutting our good time. Especially one who quotes David Brooks. So cartoonist Dan responded in traditional style. It isn’t exactly perfect journalistic ethics to allow a response to a column in the same issue, especially without informing the original author. But this one somehow slid through.

Oh no, a reefer!

We thought the cartoon was a hilarious response to Prof. Lindsay’s overreaction to Dis-O.

The general point seemed to be that it is not as if Dis-O forced people to do anything than what they otherwise would do. The vast alternative offerings on campus and Dis-O’s own decentralized format ensured that students who didn’t want to drink didn’t have to. And it was not as if responsibly engaging in Dis-O’s activities would somehow, say, cause students to bleed from the eyes.

What made it even better was the placement, with Dan’s cartoon right on top of Lindsay’s column. It was probably a little mean, but we students loved our Dis-O and damnation upon any man who would dare take it from us. (pdf: Lindsay thresher column)

But Prof. Lindsay won’t have to worry about students engaging in beer, reefers, or beautiful 17-year-old girls anymore. He is going to a better place.

He is going to a place without Valhalla, Dis-O, NOD, Baker 13, or seemingly fun in general. So what do they do for fun at Gordon? According to Wikipedia: “On Sunday nights, students are able to participate in Catacombs, a student-led worship service of quiet music in the darkened chapel.”

Hey, maybe the lack of fun and distractions is why Evangelicals are able to develop a studiousness and work habit that helps them reach the halls of power in our nation. Someone should write a book about that!

I saw The Mountain Goats last night and Craig Finn was there

I first heard the Mountain Goats on KTRU. Or perhaps someone was playing them on her iPod at Coffeehouse. I forget. Though I suppose I didn’t really appreciate them until I heard their songs on Moral Orel. But either way, they’ve been in my usual playlists for a while, and I finally got to see them live last night.

I didn’t think it was a big deal, until I saw that Tim Faust had linked a YouTube video of the concert.

Now, if Tim Faust likes it, it must be gold. So I feel special today for having gone to the show.

The show was pretty darn good. Looking around at the young, white, hip but not entirely hipster crowd, I knew what it was to be a member of a demographic that was driving pop-culture and musical trends.

Anyways, it was at the Bowery Ballroom, which is a comfortably large, yet still intimate space. The layout is somewhat funny, because you walk into an underground bar, and there is no actual sign indicating where the stage is. After bumming around with a $7 beer, I watched what I assumed were some stagehands going into a small door that looked like a maintenance closet. But then more people kept walking in, with no one leaving the supposed closet. I decided to follow, leading up a flight of wooden stairs that culminated at a room teeming with headbobbing 20-somethings enjoying the bearded country meets deathmetal tunes of Megafaun. (Wikipedia calls them Freak Folk).

At the end of the show, the Megafaun guys were hanging out next to the extremely long coat check line, just chatting it up with fans and whatnot. They seemed very laid back and like generally nice guys.

Several minutes after Megafaun wrapped up, The Mountain Goats took their sweet time to get on stage. They really didn’t take that long, and maybe I just don’t know how much time is required to change the stage between performers, but it seems like bands could really improve their turnaround time. I mean, it isn’t like there is some big surprise that they’re going on.

What? We’re playing? Oh man, and I was in my pajamas. And I just started the boss battle on Pokemon, let me just wrap this up and then we can go play.”

Then again, maybe it is some sort of psychological thing, letting the musical palate of the audience cleanse a bit before going out.

Whatever the reason, it was worth the wait. Any concerns I had about not enjoying their newer songs were dashed by the fact that even if I did not know them, the songs were still good. Apologies to the big guy in front of me and the girl to my right for any dance-related bumpings.

Throughout the show, teen girls in the audience (it was a 21 and up show, but I could have sworn it was teen girls) were constantly yelling songs for the Mountain Goats to sing. The yelling started at the very beginning of the show, prompting one person to respond: “Too soon!” However, it became a trend throughout the night, with people just yelling song names, or “Freebird,” or “song title!” But the guys on stage took it in stride.

I suppose the real pinnacle of the show was when Craig Finn from the Hold Steady joined the Mountain Goats on stage to sing “This Year.” (Note the video above).

(Admittedly, I didn’t know who he was, and for a second thought that he may have been Jason Alexander. After all, Alexander is a fantastic singer, and no one can fault his amazing performance in Dunston Checks In.)

Of course, The Mountain Goats closed with “No Children” for their second encore. The audience sang along to the sad tunes, an audience of youngsters joined in an expression of failure. And sometimes that is all our generation has to show for itself. Failure.

I was sampled for a song that Davers made

Well, looks like I finally made it big in the music industry, despite my total lack of any singing ability or musical talent whatsoever. Davers sampled my first, and so far only, video blog for his music remix thing called “Something Something Love.”

 

Anyways, I’m the talking part that is sometimes in the background and sounds about two semitones deeper than my normal voice. Listen to it, I guess. It isn’t awful, though is certainly a bit different from most music heard in the popular spheres these days. Which is why it is important to hear, to broaden your own personal horizons about music and explore the world in which we all live, merely by listening to a few minutes of remixed music. Specifically, music that features my ranting as a sample.

Michael Cera is coming to Rice University

Attention all mumbling, awkward, beta-dogs: Michael Cera is coming to Rice University. Apparently, Cera plays bass for Mister Heavenly, which will be performing at the 20th annual KTRU Outdoor Show.

You should go. I imagine it’ll look something like this:

However, this is not the first Rice-Cera interaction. In 2008, Michael Cera was the Backpage write-in candidate for RTV5 station manager. (pdf: Michael Cera Rice Thresher Backpage)

Him?

Julie said that he wasn’t coming. But it was just one of her tricks, which is something that a whore does for money. Or candy.

Anyways, KTRU set the record straight.

So check it out as he bass-battles against Double Dragon DJs, or an Albino vegan, or Will Fischer for station manager, or whatever.

Steve Holt!!!!!!!

Flashback Friday: I saved coffeehouse, what did you ever do?

I don't think they use these anymore.

For the past 20 years or so, Coffeehouse has served as a student-run caffeine source for Rice University, with pretty hipster girls and fey pansexual men dancing to flavor-syrup laden drink inventions and writing funny things on the backs of the frequent user cards.

"The Thresher rules my life but I wish I worked for Coffeehouse"

And so far, Coffeehouse has basically lived in a glorified closet. That closet is certainly better than the location of Coffeehouse’s predecessor, Bread and Pomegranates, which was housed in Hanszen’s highly floodable basement. And it is more accessible than Coffeehouse’s original location hidden in the Sammy’s dining room. But it is still a closet nonetheless. However, Coffeehouse is finally moving to a somewhat more respectable location: the Kelley Lounge.

“Students have been requesting to expand the space for some time, simply because they’ve outgrown the current space,” [Student Center Associate Director Pamelyn Shefman] said. “The coffeehouse’s current customer volume actually disrupts the traffic of the building, which is a great problem to have. But if we could put that line of customers in a place that doesn’t block the hallway, that would be great.”

This is a fantastic move. Over the past few  years, Coffeehouse has been threatened by Rice opening competing, corporate-run establishments. One of the first big rumors during Rice’s growth under the V2C was the addition a corporate Coffeehouse. There was instant reaction, which I wrote about at the time with, “Chain coffeehouse could decaffeinate Rice campus.”

Eddie Izzard once said he liked his coffee how he liked his women: in a plastic cup. But seriously, in the end, all coffee just tastes the same. Dietrichs, Starbucks, those indie coffeehouses where wannabe elitists seek refuge from their prefab suburban lofts — short of that last cup at the bottom of the servery carafe at 11 a.m., coffee is coffee.

But when you’ve had a hard day of the Rice routine and you need enough caffeine to let you see the sunrise from Fondren Library, who is serving the coffee can really make a difference. The businesslike attitude of a chain employee may be good for profits or efficiency, but nothing perks up a late night like a cup of coffee and a conversation with Rice’s own Coffeehouse staff.

The Coffeehouse General Manager, Ann Chou, liked it so much she wrote a letter to the editor.

That’s right — as Evan Mintz wrote, “Throw us a biscotti here” (“Chain coffeehouse could decaffeinate Rice campus,” Jan. 27). What if tomorrow there’s a Starbucks or another corporate coffeehouse across from Valhalla? I have an uneasy feeling that Starbucks, where employees are referred to as “partners,” makes the cut for President David Leebron’s cast of the best facilities.

Coffeehouse also taped up the column for all to see. I was special!

Anyways, despite protest, Dirk’s Coffee opened in 2008 in the Brochstein Pavilion:

“The university paid to put a coffee shop in there, but they already have one [Coffeehouse] that I consider to be pretty good,” [Martel College sophomore James] Bookhout said. “I have no idea what possessed anyone to believe that was a good idea.”

There was a good deal of student opposition at the time, including a Facebook group “I Refuse to Buy Coffee from the Brochstein Pavilion,” complete with a well-trolled wall.

"It's probably some stupid rumor that Evan Mintz made up for lulz"

Kyle had a nice entry on that blog thing of his, pointing out the problem with the Dirk’s Coffee:

This would perhaps be the coolest and most indie thing ever, if…

Starbucks was still indie, which it hasn’t been since last Tuesday.

Starbucks was still cool, which… eh. Whatever. I listen to Arcade Fire.

They actually sold the good products that you like about Starbucks, like the Green Tea Frappuccino. But they don’t, because they’re branded as Dietrich’s/Dirk’s.

WE DIDN’T ALREADY HAVE A COFFEEHOUSE.

I think the blog then descended into arguments that the Pavilion should actually be a Waffle House, which I think was turned into a Thresher column or something.

Anyways, my favorite attack on Dirk’s in defense of Coffeehouse was in the unreleased 2008 Trasher, which was a Swiftian Modest Proposal, except without the cutting satire, insight or humor, and instead with awful pictures of cyclopian fetuses and potential libel. (pdf: 2008 Trasher coffeehouse)

In a public relations move as part of a massive attempt to gain student support. Dirk’s Coffee has announced that will put aborted fetuses in all their drinks and foods.

“College students are a liberal bunch and support pro-choice and stuff, so we’re doing this to show that we’re on their side,” Dirk Smith, president of the Diedrich Coffee franchise said. “I really understand students.”

Anyways, despite the worries, Dirk’s eventually lost the battle with Coffeehouse. Dirk’s closed down in the summer of 2010 and was replaced by Salento. However, it was not a complete victory at the time. With news that Dirk’s was leaving, Coffeehouse set its sight on the Pavilion, hoping to move into the large, central location. However, Rice actively denied Coffeehouse a chance to bid, stating that they wanted a vender with a liquor license, but wasn’t comfortable with another student-held liquor license on campus:

“Primarily among [the reasons for the denial] is our need for an operator who can provide excellent food and beverage service and who also has a liquor license,” [Associate Vice President for Housing and Dining Mark ] Ditman said. “Because we have experienced many problems with student-operated liquor licenses and service at Valhalla and Willy’s Pub, we cannot support the addition of another student-operated liquor license or liquor-serving location.”

At the time, this seemed like a severe blow to Coffeehouse, and but another sign that the administration did not care about student-run initiatives.

However, this move to a larger space will help ensure that Coffeehouse can remain popular and profitable. It may not be the visible, central location of the Pavilion, but it will guarantee that Coffeehouse can have more products to sell, and make more money. As then-Manager Erin Rouse explained: “We get exactly as many bagels as fit in Coffeehouse, and we’re still sold out by noon most days.”

So while this move will remove Coffeehouse from that dear closet where they posted up my columns and drew frequent user cards about me, Coffeehouse isn’t about location, it is about the people who work there, and the friendships made over free coffee at midnight.

ABC News talks about KTRU

A few days ago, ABC News had a short piece in its “Campus Chatter” section talking about how schools are selling their radio stations. Titled, “College Radio Stations Beloved but Struggling,” the piece does a quick overview of various sales and the circumstances behind them. Admittedly, the reference to KTRU itself was short:

Rice University sold its station, but to another university. The University of Houston bought Rice’s broadcast tower, FM frequency and license for $9.5 million.

However, this description is misleading. KTRU isn’t going to become a station for another university, but rather a classical music station under the tag KUHC.

There are also a few other problems with the article. It claims that:

Schools have a hard time keeping up with Top 40 networks because they just don’t have the money to do it.

Keeping up with Top 40 networks is rarely the underlying purpose of these stations, many of which operate not for profit and with an educational license.

The article also claims that part of the problem is financial.

Without necessary funding, schools nationwide have to sell their airspace to commercial stations, and use the extra cash for other expenses.

As Rice demonstrated, many universities have the ability to raise funds for artistic endeavors, even ones that don’t actively engage students or give them leadership and broadcasting experience. Schools don’t have to sell their stations any more than they have to sell their other assets that don’t create regular cash flow.

Indeed, in many of these circumstances, schools are not willing to even let radio supporters try to raise the money to support the station. As KUSF supporter Irwin Swirnoff put it:

“No one is questioning U.S.F.’s right to liquidate an asset,” Mr. Swirnoff said. “All we want is to have the opportunity to buy that transmitter.”

Jobs, education, and Generation Y’s huge mistake

[Thanks to the always charming Nikki for the inspiration]

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Yesterday, some other 24-year-old wrote exactly how I feel in the New York Times. Well, not exactly. He focused more on the international atmosphere in which the current economic recession affects our dear 20-somethings. However, one paragraph stood out:

The cost of youth unemployment is not only financial, but also emotional. Having a job is supposed to be the reward for hours of SAT prep, evenings spent on homework instead of with friends and countless all-nighters writing papers. The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future. They are indefinitely postponing the life they wanted and prepared for; all that matters is finding rent money. Even if the job market becomes as robust as it was in 2007 — something economists say could take more than a decade — my generation will have lost years of career-building experience.

For most of our Generation Y lives, we were told that if we studied hard, got a good education, and didn’t do drugs, that we would come out on top. Well, we did those things (except maybe some of the drugs), and so far the brightest minds of our generation are working part time at coffee shops to make ends meet.

Where is the promise of good grades at good schools leading to good jobs? Perhaps it is a flaw of our generation that we think we’ve been promised something. But then again we were. We thought we had struck a deal, like some sort of verbal contract: “stay in school, don’t do drugs, get a good education, and you’ll do great.” After all, that is what we were told in by oh so many afterschool specials or ABC TGIF shows. The dumb jocks may win now, but that’s alright, that’s OK, you’re going to work for us some day.

Except no one is working for you unless you’re managing a Starbucks or paying freelance writers $50 an article to review a restaurant where a meal costs $75 and you don’t reimburse.

More and more, people like David Brooks are telling us that grades don’t matter. And it is just so fucking frustrating. As I said before:

After 21 years of struggling and striving to get the top grades, top SAT score, top extracurriculars, the last thing you want to hear is about how you shouldn’t have worked hard for good grades.

We did RABDARGAB in elementary school, did educational summer camps in middle school, and made national merit finalist in high school. We did practice SAT classes, applied for awards, and did every little thing with the hope that one day it would pay off. If I had known then what I knew now, I wouldn’t have been afraid to drink in high school. Or even more in college.

We were promised our work would pay off. That our education was an investment. Well, now we’re coming to collect and finding the bank empty.

We just want a job. A good, old fashioned 9-5 way to feel like you can contribute to society. We want a way to start a life. But now you have to be an unpaid intern for like a year first, if you even get a job after that.

This situation could possibly be ameliorated by raising the pay and stature of teachers. Top college grads don’t seem to have much of a problem working for less pay at admirable non-profit jobs, so why don’t we try to view teaching the same way. Impressive non-profit positions are competitive and command respect, and have the promise social and vocational benefits in the long run. If we could raise teaching to a similar status, this would both ensure that teachers come from the cream of the crop and reward the hard work of those students.

But who the hell would want to be a teacher? Teaching is denigrated as a lazy job. And new teachers aren’t given support to train them for their positions.

Top notch graduates could prove to be an excellent resource of great teachers, but no one wants to go to a job where you are underpaid, disrespected by students and society, and get little training to even do your job right.

Another potential fix would be to guarantee a minimal degree of health coverage for people in the 20s.  The lack of a safety net is a barrier against launching one’s own business or becoming an entrepreneur. The sheer need for some sort of health coverage drives people to get a minimal job that doesn’t put educated talents to use. Simply ensuring some sort of basic level of protection could encourage a new generation of self-made businesspeople.

But rather than focus on the next generation of workers,politicians apparently think that the biggest threats to our nation are Muslims bringing shampoo on planes and the deficit, even though there is no noticeable affect on the bond market. But we can’t raise taxes on the rich back to where they were in the ’90s to make up for that deficit. So instead we have to cut jobs, like teachers or state historians. Not to mention this compounding with the problem of  private companies outsourcing and computerization of white collar jobs.

So now we have a generation of overeducated, underpaid, 20-somethings who desperately try to hold onto the fun of our youth because the reality is too depressing to confront. And because we actually have time to waste.

We don’t have jobs, but we have blogs, bands, and computer games. We don’t have the money to start families so we move back in with our parents. We hang out with our friends, and try to hold on to our past, because then at least we can pretend it is acceptable to not have a high paying, respectable job with a future. If we act like we’re still in college, then we don’t wonder why our degrees haven’t fulfilled the unspoken verbal contract of our youth, and can hope that it will get better.

When we’re getting high, we don’t contemplate whether our entire lives up to this point were wasted on fruitless academic endeavors.

But then the media accuses us of being a bunch of manchildren with arrested development. And the only appropriate response is: I’ve made a huge mistake.

Child Porn, Evan Emory, and Free Speech

Is this child porn? Eh, why not.

Oh how many laws have been passed under the rubric of: “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”

From drug laws to pornography, all the fun things get banned because of concern for children. Claim to be protecting children, and you can basically justify a cutout exemption from the First Amendment. The most recent cutout under this scheme is probably child pornography. As the Supreme Court held in US v. Williams, the harm to children from child porn is so severe that is justifies criminalizing any and all parts of the process involved in child porn, from solicitation to creation to delivery to consumption. There is no other sort of expressive act that is so regulated out of fear of harm, except maybe national security concerns (see: Wikileaks). In US v. Williams, the majority even recognized that the PROTECT Act was overbroad and would regulate protected speech. However, the overbreadth doctrine dictates that there must be substantial overbreadth for a statute to be constitutionally overbroad, which the court said didn’t exist in that case.

In the end, the law punishes anyone who:

advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits through the mails, or in interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material is, or contains (i) an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or (ii) a visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

Which brings us to recent news in the world of aspiring YouTube comedians. Recently, Muskegon County prosecutor charged one Mr. Evan Emory with “manufacturing child sexually abusive material,” which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and 25 years on the sex offender registry. His crime? Singing fun songs to elementary school kids, and then recutting it so it looked like he was singing them a song with graphic sexual lyrics.

Evan Emory making child porn

Is it illegal to recut a video to make it look like kids are singing along to sexual lyrics and then being titillated by that? Let’s look at the letter of the law. From what I can discern, Emory is being charged under Michigan Penal Code, XX, §750.145c(2): Child sexually abusive activity or material:

A person who persuades, induces, entices, coerces, causes, or knowingly allows a child to engage in a child sexually abusive activity for the purpose of producing any child sexually abusive material, or a person who arranges for, produces, makes, or finances, or a person who attempts or prepares or conspires to arrange for, produce, make, or finance any child sexually abusive activity or child sexually abusive material is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or a fine of not more than $100,000.00, or both, if that person knows, has reason to know, or should reasonably be expected to know that the child is a child or that the child sexually abusive material includes a child or that the depiction constituting the child sexually abusive material appears to include a child, or that person has not taken reasonable precautions to determine the age of the child.

That is a lot to swallow, but basically if someone makes or allows a kid to engage in sexually abusive activity for the purposes of making material from that, or somehow oversaw its creation, they go to jail for up to 20 years.

But what does “child sexually abusive material” mean? Luckily, the statute defines that in 750.145c(1)(l), as “means a child engaging in a listed sexual act.” And boy do they list the sexual acts, in 750.145c(1)(h): “sexual intercourse, erotic fondling, sadomasochistic abuse, masturbation, passive sexual involvement, sexual excitement, or erotic nudity.”

Those are pretty broad terms. What do they mean? Well the statute describes those too.

(f) “Erotic fondling” means touching a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if the person is female, breasts, or if the person is a child, the developing or undeveloped breast area, for the purpose of real or simulated overt sexual gratification or stimulation of 1 or more of the persons involved. Erotic fondling does not include physical contact, even if affectionate, that is not for the purpose of real or simulated overt sexual gratification or stimulation of 1 or more of the persons involved.

(g) “Erotic nudity” means the lascivious exhibition of the genital, pubic, or rectal area of any person. As used in this subdivision, “lascivious” means wanton, lewd, and lustful and tending to produce voluptuous or lewd emotions.

[...]

(i) “Masturbation” means the real or simulated touching, rubbing, or otherwise stimulating of a person’s own clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if the person is female, breasts, or if the person is a child, the developing or undeveloped breast area, either by manual manipulation or self-induced or with an artificial instrument, for the purpose of real or simulated overt sexual gratification or arousal of the person.

(j) “Passive sexual involvement” means an act, real or simulated, that exposes another person to or draws another person’s attention to an act of sexual intercourse, erotic fondling, sadomasochistic abuse, masturbation, sexual excitement, or erotic nudity because of viewing any of these acts or because of the proximity of the act to that person, for the purpose of real or simulated overt sexual gratification or stimulation of 1 or more of the persons involved.

[...]

(o) “Sexual excitement” means the condition, real or simulated, of human male or female genitals in a state of real or simulated overt sexual stimulation or arousal.

(p) “Sexual intercourse” means intercourse, real or simulated, whether genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex or between a human and an animal, or with an artificial genital.

[...]

(n) “Sadomasochistic abuse” means either of the following:

(i) Flagellation or torture, real or simulated, for the purpose of real or simulated sexual stimulation or gratification, by or upon a person.

(ii) The condition, real or simulated, of being fettered, bound, or otherwise physically restrained for sexual stimulation or gratification of a person.

So do any of these describe what Emory did? Well, first let’s address exactly what happened. There doesn’t seem to be any nudity or actual sex in the video. It was apparently clean enough for YouTube to keep up until Emory himself removed it. No children were directly harmed, or made to listen to the lyrics. However, the lyrics themselves are certainly dirty.

“See how long it takes to make your panties mine”

(wide shot of the children)

“I’ll add some foreplay in just to make it fun”

(close up of girl laughing)

“I want you to suck on my testes until I spurt in your face”

(close up of girl covering her mouth)

“I’ll lick on your chewie”

(close up of two girls covering their mouths)

“I want to stick my index finger in your anus”

(close up of boy making a shocked face)

“I’ll be the bus riding your ass up and down my town”

(close up of boy with grossed-out look on his face)

“I’m gonna use my sausage to make fettucine, then for dessert have a Harry Houdini”

(close up of girl laughing and rocking)(Link)

Furthermore, according to another description, he also mimed getting off in front of them. Then again, I haven’t seen the video, so I’m relying on other peoples’ descriptions. But taking these at face value, do they fall under the law? I can’t find any cases that analyze the meaning of the descriptions, so this analysis will have to go on the text itself.

He didn’t touch any of the kids, real or simulated, so it wasn’t erotic fondling. There was no nudity, so it wasn’t erotic nudity. There was no sadomasochistic abuse either, at least from the descriptions. There is not sex, real or simulated, so sexual intercourse doesn’t seem to count. However, the law’s description of sexual intercourse does include “oral-genital” and “an artificial genital,” so it is possible that Emory miming a blowjob or such could fall under this description. Sexual excitement may fit here, but the language in the law focuses on the state of the genitals themselves, and Emory doesn’t seem to actually sport a boner, real or simulated, at least according to the descriptions of the video. Masturbation does include real or simulated masturbating, so his faked self-enjoyment, if that was in the video, could fall under that section. However, it wasn’t forcing masturbation upon the kids, but merely himself. Rather, passive sexual involvement seems more applicable.

“[A]n act, real or simulated, that exposes another person to or draws another person’s attention to an act of [...] masturbation, [...] because of viewing any of these acts or because of the proximity of the act to that person, for the purpose of real or simulated overt sexual gratification or stimulation of 1 or more of the persons involved.”

This may be where Emory gets caught. His video did, according to some descriptions, simulate the exposure of the children to an act of masturbation.  If these descriptions of the video are correct, then Emory may be guilty under 750.145c(1)(j).

However, the key point is that children were not directly involved in the end result. A good metaphor would be CGI child pornography. In Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the Supreme Court distinguished between CGI child porn that used actual children to create it and CGI porn that did not use actual children. Indeed, pure CGI porn records no crime and creates no victim. And while Congress argued that pure CGI child porn still encourages acts that harms children, the court held that was not enough to past First Amendment scrutiny:

The Government submits further that virtual child pornography whets the appetites of pedophiles and encourages them to engage in illegal conduct. This rationale cannot sustain the provision in question. The mere tendency of speech to encourage unlawful acts is not a sufficient reason for banning it.

However, CGI porn that originates from an actual child creates a visual record that can embarrass or harm the child in the long run. And if the people and parents are pissed about anything in this whole scenario, it is that their children were involved and clearly identifiable in Emory’s video:

“One visibly angry man expressed his displeasure with Muskegon County 60th District Court Visiting Judge Robert A. Benson’s decision to allow Emory to go free on bond.

“He got our kid on video!,” one angry Beechnau father shouted.

Another upset father, Charles Willick, of 1100 N. Ravenna, told reporters that “it’s ridiculous” what Emory did with the video.

“I’m disgusted by it,” Willick said. “It was totally uncalled for.”” (Link)

Also:

“I was very upset that my child’s innocence was exploited on TV and made fun of,” Cox said, waiting outside a Muskegon County 60th District Court room for the arraignment of Evan Daniel Emory. (Link)

If the parents seem to be angry about anything, it is what the court identified as the difference between the two categories of CGI porn: one involves actual children and can affect them in the long run, and the other does not. The statute itself makes this distinction, recognizing that the porn involved must not use part of an actual person. If a child is actually involved, then the end result cannot have redeeming value.

(a) “Appears to include a child” means that the depiction appears to include, or conveys the impression that it includes, a person who is less than 18 years of age, and the depiction meets either of the following conditions:

(i) It was created using a depiction of any part of an actual person under the age of 18.

(ii) It was not created using a depiction of any part of an actual person under the age of 18, but all of the following apply to that depiction:

(A) The average individual, applying contemporary community standards, would find the depiction, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.

  1. The reasonable person would find the depiction, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

(C) The depiction depicts or describes a listed sexual act in a patently offensive way.

Emory’s video was created using a depiction of a part of an actual person under the age of 18. It was a mere trick of visual editing, but so is CGI child porn that incorporates a part of an actual person, and that can be banned. Even if the work has some redeeming value and doesn’t appeal to a purely prurient interest, if it includes part of an actual person, it is illegal under this state statute.

Emory has indicated that he just wants to settle so he doesn’t risk going to jail or being placed on a sex offender list. However, it would be interesting to see this case be argued.  Sure, it may have been a bit of a dick move to make the video without school or kids permission, However, he didn’t pander it as a porn video, but as a joke video. There is no actual porn in it. The children are not exposed. No one actually does anything actually sexual or intended to be actually sexual.  And while child pornography may be universally abhorrent on its face, O’Connor’s concurrence in New York v. Ferber states that porn is not always valueless and thus not always unprotected by the First Amendment.

On the other hand, perhaps parents should be allowed to prevent their children from being featured in videos, especially dirty joke videos, without their consent.

This whole case really raises the question of “What is child porn?” So rather than ramble more about it here, I’m going to write about it for my First Amendment Theory class. Hopefully in a few months I will post a much better analysis about this whole thing.

But for those who like to make dirty jokes on the Internet, it is all a somewhat scary prospect.

[Edit: Under the plea deal, Emory will serve 60 days in jail, two years of probation and 200 hours of community service. He will not have to register as a sex offender.]

Thank You Very Much Warren Christopher

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher died. While he has a long and important personal biography, for me he will always be the man who put an end to all wars and thus turned America’s youth gay.

Here’s to Warren Christopher, and a life overly influenced by The Simpsons.

Rice University, Suzanne Deal Booth, and spitting on KTRU from a Skyspace

When Rice announced the sale of the KTRU station and transmitter, they said that the $9.5 million was absolutely necessary for the university. Yet since then, Rice has spent millions on additions to the school. What necessary financial hole did the KTRU sale fill? Well, apparently such important and time-sensitive needs as student-taught courses and, gasp, a rock wall!

The newest development in Rice’s contradiction and hypocrisy surrounding the yet to be justified KTRU sale is a $6 million donation to Rice’s musical arts. Unfortunately, it is not to preserve KTRU’s place on the airwaves, allowing the station to provide rare and exotic music for the Houston community. Rather, it is for a music pyramid with a tunnel or something. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it is called a Skyspace.

According to Wikipedia:

A skyspace is an architectural design in which a room, which is painted in a neutral color has a large hole in its ceiling which opens directly to the sky. The room, whose perimeter has benches, allows observers to look at the sky in such a way as though it were framed. LED lights which surround the hole can change colors to affect the viewer’s perception of the sky.

The design is the work of American artist James Turrell.

But from another perspective, it is a hypocritical betrayal of of the musical arts at Rice and of Suzanne Deal Booth’s own stated artistic goals. But who is Suzanne Deal Booth?

 

The Six Million Daughter Woman

Well first, she graduated from Rice in 1977 and is now on the Rice Board of Trustees. Second, she is the founder and director of the Friends of Heritage Preservation, an organization she founded by grouping “likeminded individuals [to] pool resources.” And what do these likeminded individuals do?

We are dedicated to protecting and preserving the cultural and artistic heritage of our world for generations to come. We are committed to serving as agents in the preservation process by funding and facilitating important projects on a national and international basis. We believe that our actions will directly increase global awareness of fundamental cultural heritage concerns.

That’s cool. Although I’m not entirely sure how a Skyspace (isn’t the sky already in space? or the space is the sky?) is going to accomplish this. Apparently it will provide a new space for musical performances. Perhaps if these musical performances were some sort of disappearing artistic form, hidden aboriginal songs, or foreign music that was not yet brought to the attention of Houstonians, then this Skyspace would certainly help in the process of preserving art. But out of the mainstream is not something that the Shepherd School does well, assumedly the people who will be playing there. And if it isn’t classical or operatic, don’t look for it at Shepherd.

If Booth wanted to help preserve the world’s cultural and artistic heritage for years to come, wouldn’t it have made more sense to get involved with an organization that actually engages in the world’s artistic heritage, playingmusic that cannot be heard anywhere else in Houston? Wouldn’t it have made sense for her to get involved in KTRU?

Maybe Booth, like other people, thought that KTRU was just a bunch of elitists, out of touch with the rest of the world. But according her column, “Out of the Ordinary,” in the Huffington Post, that perception is something to be fixed, not something that indicates inherent failures:

Museums have long suffered from the perception that they are stodgy old institutions, out of touch with the rest of the world and at their core, elitist. It’s a reputation both deserved and undeserved. After all, most museums offer an abundance of programming for children and families and welcome people of all kinds. Why then, the lingering feeling that museums are closed off to all but the privileged?

Like museums, KTRU offers programming for children and families in the form of the weekend Kids Show. And unlike the perception that museums are closed off all but to the privileged, KTRU is available to anyone with an FM radio. Online radio is physically and financially more restrictive. Perhaps the $6 million could be better spent exposing the lost musical heritage of the world to a city dominated by Clear Channel stations, if the goal is to protect and preserve the cultural and artistic heritage of the world. But if the goal was to create a neat looking building where the Shepherd School could play a very limited range of music and students could get high, then the Skyspace is on the mark.

Furthermore, Booth has expressed a personal affinity for music that has the ability to “transport [her] to a culture and land that urged exploration.” If she loves that, then perhaps Booth would want to help fund the KTRU World Music show, which breaks from the grip of contemporary music to help connect the listener with a different way of life. Certainly that show could help transport her, not to mention the rest of the Houston community.

Specifically, Booth has expressed an interest in helping living artists. While Rice students probably don’t have the millions that she has, they did have the opportunity to support artists around Houston by giving them 50,000 watts of radio transmission, helping to reveal the work of new, living artists to their community. As Booth said:

Somewhere between the rarified perspective of art world insiders and the disinterested viewpoint of the average American, too little is being done to directly support living artists in this country.

KTRU may not have had lots of money, but it definitely helped to bolster living artists in this country. And now it is being relegated to the lost cacophony of online radio.

Now, one can argue that Booth could not have known about the KTRU sale. After all, this Skyspace plan was first announced in August 2009. [Edit: Skyspace preliminary plans were announced in Feb. 2009] However, the earliest communications about the KTRU sale date back to May 29, 2009, before this announcement [Edit: And Texas Watchdog indicated that conversations dated back to 2008]. And considering that she has been on the Rice Board since January 2009, this sale must have been something of which she was aware or even helped plan. At the very time when Rice was working to sell KTRU as a budgetary necessity, they were planning a donation for an artistic construction. Why was the sale necessary, again?

Either way, the Skyspace is designed for “acoustic performance,” and Booth said that it is supposed to be “a public piece of artwork [...] accessible to everyone.” But Rice already had an acoustic performance that was accessible to everyone without having to pay $1-12 to park. It was called KTRU. It brought local living artists and transformative music to all of Houston for free, reaching at the very least 25,000 listeners. Hopefully, this new Skyspace will reach more than 25,000 people, or else it may be sold as an underutilized resource.

And even if Suzanne Deal Booth did not want to give her money to KTRU, Rice could at least have given alumni the chance to donate and save the station. But Rice did not even do that. If Rice doubted the ability to get a major donor to support the station, multiple smaller donors could have done the job. As Booth herself argues, one of the best ways to support artistic institutions is for likeminded people to pool resources. But Rice’s goal was apparently to sell KTRU as quickly and secretively as possible.

So what is the end lesson? Marry rich. Then you can give your husband’s money to whomever you want, have them slap your name on it, and then spend the rest of the time chasing eclipses around the world and blogging for the Huffington Post.