NPF: BRING A COAT. IT MIGHT GET COLD.

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 29th, 2012 by Ed

It has been almost sixty years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay became the first people to ascend Mount Everest and live to tell the tale (I've always been convinced that Mallory and Irvine made it, based on circumstantial evidence and the fact that it makes for a better story). Since their success more than 3000 people have reached the summit, and in fact it is considered something of a tourist trap among climbers – the mountain for rich people who don't know anything about climbing but want a cool story to tell their friends. The climb costs well over $100,000 now, but nearly anyone with the cash and good physical condition has a decent chance of summitting if the weather holds.

Not so back in 1953. Much like we look back at the space program of the 1950s and 1960s in amazement at how much was done with so little technology by today's standards, Hillary and Tenzig made the best out equipment that modern climbers might wear to a costume party. National Geographic has an interesting gallery comparing the tools, clothing, and other equipment used by the famous pair to the modern equivalents. It won't tell you anything you don't already know – technology has made everything far lighter, stronger, and more effective – but it's interesting to see nonetheless.

Two more interesting facts. Did you know that Tenzig and Hillary were steampunk?


At San Diego Comic-Con, 2008

And that Hillary was the Gyro Captain in Mad Mad 2: Road Warrior?

True story.

THINKING AHEAD

Posted in Quick Hits on March 29th, 2012 by Ed

I wrote a big goddamn thing about health care reform and then the post got eaten and I haven't anywhere near the energy to write the whole thing again at 1:12 AM. Synopsis: Of course the Court is going to strike it down. That much was painfully apparent the moment the White House and congressional Democrats decided that it was less important to reform a broken system than it is to keep the insurance companies happy and rolling in our money. The idea was ridiculous from the beginning, especially given that it would not only inevitably end up in the courts but would end up before a conservative Supreme Court. So as his signature (only?) legislative accomplishment is undone in the next few weeks, Obama has no one but himself to blame. When he decided that universal coverage could or would be achieved by contracting things out to a broken, profit-driven health insurance industry, he might as well have pulled the plug then and there. The law isn't going to be killed – it was essentially stillborn.

READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Posted in Rants on March 28th, 2012 by Ed

There are few things in law, government, or politics more ridiculous than the notion of constitutional "originalism", the idea that the law is to be interpreted only in light of the intent of its authors. Anton Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and many others of those stripes wear this label as though it is the mark of a True Defender of the Faith. Originalists, textualists, and strict constructionists are the real lovers of the Constitution, whereas interpretivists are a bunch of liberal defilers who make up whatever it is they want to see in the document. Conservatives respect the law, you see, and liberals do not.

If it is not immediately apparent why this is a complete daily ration of happy horseshit, please consider how originalist logic works. Take DC v. Heller (2010), for example, the case in which the conservative majority decided for the first time in 230 years that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms. In Scalia's majority opinion he cites copious historical evidence that he thinks is proof that the 2nd Amendment was intended to define an individual right. So you see, Anton Scalia isn't making something up or interpreting a new right out of thin air based on his opinion like a liberal would. Instead, Scalia is asserting this new right based on his opinion of what the authors of the Constitution thought! Isn't that so much better? Because really, how much room for personal bias, judgment, and ideology could there be in the selective interpretation of fragmentary historical evidence?

In short, it's simply another form of judicial activism and interpretivism. They merely add an extra step to the process, and you can be certain that they'd be howling like stuck pigs if liberal judges decided that they could read the minds of the attendees at the Philadelphia Convention.

The idea of Scalia as some sort of staunch defender of the Charter is particularly galling, because in his old age he isn't even bothering to cook up dubious assertions about James Madison's thought process as a cover for his personal preferences. He's lapsing into strict constructionism (which he has ridiculed publicly in the past) or the kind of anecdotal, let's-just-be-practical reasoning that he claims to detest. In the recent companion cases about plea bargaining and the effectiveness of counsel (Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper) Scalia uses quite a bit of magical reasoning in his dissents.

In Lafler, a defendant's attorney failed to tell him that the state offered him 3 years in a plea bargain, and he went to trial and got 6. Scalia wrote the dissent, arguing:

With those words from this and the companion case, the Court today opens a whole new field of constitutionalized criminal procedure: plea-bargaining law. The ordinary criminal process has become too long, too expensive, and unpredictable, in no small part as a consequence of an intricate federal Code of Criminal Procedure imposed on the States by this Court in pursuit of perfect justice. See Friendly, The Bill of Rights as a Code of Criminal Procedure, 53 Cal. L. Rev. 929 (1965). The Court now moves to bring perfection to the alternative in which prosecutors and defendants have sought relief. Today’s opinions deal with only two aspects of counsel’s plea-bargaining inadequacy, and leave other aspects (who knows what they might be?) to be worked out in further constitutional litigation that will burden the criminal process.

God, the courts are so busy. You people and your rights inconvenience us. You should be subject to what all parties agree in this case and Frye is ineffective counsel because the Court is too busy and there might be future cases the Court would have to hear on this matter. Additionally, did you know that because plea bargains are not binding until accepted in court they don't actually count as part of "the criminal justice system"? It's true!

And it would be foolish to think that “constitutional” rules governing counsel’s behavior will not be followed by rules governing the prosecution’s behavior in the plea bargaining process that the Court today announces “‘is the criminal justice system,’” Frye, ante, at 7 (quoting approvingly from Scott & Stuntz, Plea Bargaining as Contract,101 Yale L. J. 1909, 1912 (1992) (hereinafter Scott)). Is it constitutional, for example, for the prosecution to withdraw a plea offer that has already been accepted? Or to withdraw an offer before the defense has had adequate time to consider and accept it? Or to make no plea offer at all, even though its case is weak—thereby excluding the defendant from “the criminal justice system”? Anthony Cooper received a full and fair trial, was found guilty of all charges by a unanimous jury, and was given the sentence that the law prescribed. The Court nonetheless concludes that Cooper is entitled to some sort of habeas corpus relief (perhaps) because his attorney’s allegedly incompetent advice regarding a plea offer caused him to receive a full and fair trial.

So, you know, it doesn't matter if your ineffective counsel fails to tell you about an offer as long as you get a fair trial afterward! In Frye, a defendant rejected a plea offer after his counsel (bafflingly) told him that a jury could not find him guilty of attempted murder because the victim was shot below the waist. Here again Scalia shows his strict adherence to the Constitution:

This is a companion case to Lafler v. Cooper, post, p. ___. The principal difference between the cases is that the fairness of the defendant’s conviction in Lafler was established by a full trial and jury verdict, whereas Frye’s conviction here was established by his own admission of guilt, received by the court after the usual colloquy that assured it was voluntary and truthful. In Lafler all that could be said (and as I discuss there it was quite enough) is that the fairness of the conviction was clear, though a unanimous jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt can sometimes be wrong. Here it can be said not only that the process was fair, but that the defendant acknowledged the correctness of his conviction. Galin Frye’s attorney failed to inform him about a plea offer, and Frye ultimately pleaded guilty without the benefit of a deal. Counsel’s mistake did not deprive Frye of any substantive or procedural right; only of the opportunity to accept a plea bargain to which he had no entitlement in the first place. So little entitlement that, had he known of and accepted the bargain, the prosecution would have been able to withdraw it right up to the point that his guilty plea pursuant to the bargain was accepted.See 311 S. W. 3d 350, 359, and n. 4 (Mo. App. 2010).

Even though more than 90% of cases in our legal system our disposed of with plea bargains, Scalia continues to beat this idea that because they are not immediately binding when offered, it really doesn't matter whether or not your counsel botches it. No big deal. You'll just do a lot more time in prison. Which was the Founders' intent – that individuals' rights in the justice system be kept to a minimum. Right? I have to check my notes but I'm pretty sure that's what they wanted.

These cases, although not greatly publicized, should serve a dual purpose as Anton Scalia's epitaph and proof that he is an irredeemable asshole adhering to an ideology that takes "judicial activism" to heights that would make Earl Warren blush.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Posted in Quick Hits on March 27th, 2012 by Ed

In grad school I had a professor who was big in the study of state politics, and he enthusiastically referred to states as "laboratories of democracy." He didn't coin the term but he certainly believed it with all his heart. Basically it means that in a federal system, one state implementing a new policy offers the other states an opportunity to watch and learn. If it succeeds it is imitated; if it fails everyone learns a valuable lesson from someone else's mistake.

Pavlov and Skinner and the other pioneering behavioral psychologists proved that almost any animal can be trained to learn from its mistakes through reward and punishment. That is, all animals except Republicans, whose brains never progress beyond an attachment to ideology. Combined with never-ending internecine litmus testing, it makes damn sure that no one ever learns from experience or the available evidence. Just keep doing the same thing over and over again, torpedoes be damned.

John Carl Baker has an outstanding piece ("Austerity in Heaven's Corridor", h/t Mike) on one little Laboratory, Florida, that has dived headfirst into austerity with its 2012 budget. It's like a sneak preview of what other states, and likely Congress as well, will be doing in the immediate and near future. No one will wait to see if it works in Florida or learn any lessons when it fails. It's just the only acceptable course of action, and there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Baker points out that what little opposition gets in the majority's way comes from factions bought off by lobbyists. For example:

The reality is that Governor Rick Scott, elected during the 2010 wave of Tea Party victories, is so stridently right-wing (and the state Democrats so weak) that opposition to the leadership’s more draconian proposals inevitably comes from other Republicans. A few, such as centrist Paula Dockery, have fairly consistently voiced disapproval of their colleagues’ more egregious actions, but this dissent is highly circumstantial: decisive opposition to the notorious prison privatization plan, for instance, came from two Senators with direct ties to law enforcement. And the Parent Empowerment Act, a highly controversial proposal allowing for the swift conversion of neighborhood schools into publicly-funded charters via parental petition, was scuttled not by a united front of political moderates, but by intra-Republican skepticism.

Florida narrowly dodged $100 million in cuts to mental health and substance abuse programs, once again through a last-ditch ad hoc coalition: a motley crew of law enforcement officials, Republican politicians, health care advocates, and members of the judiciary successfully lobbied for funding that approximates 2011 levels. Florida’s per-capita mental health financing is already ranked 50th in the U.S. [pdf], and deep cuts would have had immediate disastrous effects across the state. Even redneck county sheriffs recognize the apocalyptic shadings of forcing hordes of the mentally ill to roam the state’s multitudinous strip malls.

His brief description of the benefactors and the driving force behind these legislative moves struck me as particularly keen:

The full list of tax breaks paints a grotesque but accurate portrait of the diverse subgroups within Florida’s bourgeoisie: faux-populist ranchers, managerial charter profiteers, neo-Confederate citrus plantation owners, still-panicked real estate swindlers eager to take a mulligan and rewind to 2005. But Scott’s plan—which may eventually eliminate corporate taxes entirely in a right-to-work state that already lacks a personal income tax—is the Hayekian wet dream everyone in Florida’s ruling class freak show can agree on. Banks got in on the feeding frenzy too.

For the better part of my post-adolescent life I've been waiting for the voting public to figure out that the Republican Party is a front group for both the New Money and Old Money plutocracies, and it isn't happening. Intellectually I understand why people who vote for guys like Rick Scott do so. But on a psychological level I don't get it. I can't empathize with some woman with three kids and two jobs who lines up to support the Palin/Gingrich/Scott/Walker/Ryan types. Regardless of how little sense it makes, it's not going to stop anytime soon. Consider Florida's budget a sneak preview of what will be appearing in your local legislatures soon. The Florida Experiment has been a smashing success at the one and only thing it was designed to do – line the pockets of the usual suspects on the right – and as such other states will be tripping over themselves to replicate it.

THE IMAGINARY TOWER

Posted in Rants on March 26th, 2012 by Ed

The best part about being a professor in this country – I can't speak for any other – is that no one really understands what we do but everyone knows that we're doing it wrong. Don't get me wrong, we should be open to criticism from the public, elected officials, and so on. But in exchange, critics should make at least some effort to understand how academia works and how it's structured. The failure to do so leads media figures and armchair critics to make mistakes like pointing out the salary for full professors at Top 50 universities without realizing that the overwhelming majority of teaching is done by temps – adjuncts, visitings, grad students, etc. – and 99% of the institutions of higher education in this country are nowhere near R1 schools in terms of salary. Sometimes this is done with the intent of misleading a public that doesn't know any better. In other cases it's probably legitimate ignorance that "Full Professor" is a title worn by only a small percentage of instructors at any school.

I have grown accustomed to the fact that academics understand how academia works and most people outside of it do not. That's OK. I don't know much about how your job or field works either. That's why I don't make a habit of telling you that you're not working hard enough, that you make too much money, or that I have some brilliant ideas about how to radically change your industry. I do expect, however, that people within academia will understand it. At the very least. But there are some people who don't.

They are called administrators. Here's one who has been given an audience in the Washington Post for reasons that have not yet revealed themselves:

With the 1970s advent of collective bargaining in higher education, this began to change. The result has been more equitable circumstances for college faculty, who deserve salaries comparable to those of other educated professionals. Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.

Not changed, however, are the accommodations designed to compensate for low pay in earlier times. Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.

Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: "Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty." While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.

Near the end, he shares this knee-slapper:

While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth. And whatever the weekly hours may be, there is still the 30-week academic year, which leaves almost 22 weeks for vacation or additional employment.

Yep, that's what I do over summer and winter breaks – I go on vacations and I work at my other job. I'm a chimney sweep.

We could pick apart this douchebag's argument all day and it would accomplish little. Anyone who titles a piece "Do Professors Work Hard Enough?" is just dangling bait. And of course anyone who has spent five minutes in academia understands that if salary is the problem, grab the machete and start chopping away at the administration. I mean, god knows we need six assistant Deanlets and Vice Presidents of Instruction for every academic unit. And god knows they earn every penny of that $250,000 they take home every year. Yes, let's ignore that for now.

The biggest problem, and most academics will be loath to admit this, is that it's not hard to find examples that prove this author's point. Every department in every university in this country has that faculty member, the one or two tenured people who do absolutely nothing to justify their salary. You're either fooling yourself or oblivious to your surroundings if you think everybody's busting ass in your department. I have encountered tenured faculty who average about ten hours per week (if that) on campus. It happens. Of course, most of us Ph.D. holders work like mules for salaries that we're embarrassed to tell our friends who have high school diplomas. There's always that one asshole who decides that tenure means quasi-retirement and who knows how to milk the system.

In other words, academia is exactly like every other profession. Most people work hard. Some people are lazy sacks of crap.

We know how much right-wing media figures love to indict large groups of people based on anecdotal evidence. Even one case will do. That's just lazy journalism. In fact, based on this column I think we need to start asking whether our editorial writers are working hard enough. I've heard stories about burned out hacks who churn out WaPo columns in 45 minutes using only a cut-and-paste database of conservative talking points.

Tags: ,

NPF: ARCHERY

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 23rd, 2012 by Ed

I suppose Archer on FX is popular enough to make for decent posting material. Given that I don't usually do much in the way of talking about movies or TV, I might be somewhat rusty here.

When Archer was announced I was beyond excited, but at the same time I understood that I would be disappointed by it. The previous show from this production crew, Frisky Dingo, remains my favorite show of all time and possibly the best thing that has been on TV since Fawlty Towers. What Frisky Dingo was not, however, was popular. It limped through two seasons on Cartoon Network and then suffered the fate of all things that are too bizarre to attract a wide, mainstream audience. So when Archer was announced, I realized that creator Adam Reed (the voice of Agent Ray Gillette in the new series) would not want to end up being cancelled again. The show would aim for a wider audience. Meaning it would probably be a little dumbed down. More importantly, even if it was great it would probably fail to live up to my expectations. So I knew part of me would be disappointed no matter what.

Overall I enjoy the show. It's funny. For the first few episodes I said "This is no Frisky Dingo" quite a bit. Eventually I made peace with that. Something about it has always nagged me, though, as I've kept up with these first three seasons. It wasn't until the last few episodes that I finally put my finger on it (snicker). It's the writing. And the writing isn't bad, per se. It's just lazy. Really lazy.

Two things have stood out throughout the series. One, it's full of anachronisms. The setting, particularly the time period, of this universe are never adequately explained or established. The creators wanted a Cold War era Bond-like spy story. Then they realized that it would be way easier to write the storyboards with things like the internet, cell phones, and other modern technology/plot devices that promote narrative efficiency. So we're constantly made to realize how awkward this universe is, with plots about billionaire Videotex magnates, Soviet generals, and characters using cell phones. Maybe you don't notice it, but your brain does. Even if it doesn't bother you explicitly, it makes everything feel slightly off and unbelievable.

Second, the humor is overwhelmingly lowbrow. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good dick or fart joke. Crude is funny. There's very little other than crude humor, though, except for the occasional and brief reference to some piece of historical arcana. The laziness is also apparent in the frequency with which "shit" is uttered in every episode. The viewer can almost picture the writers saying, "Hey, we can say 'shit' on this network! Let's say it as much as possible so it's really edgy!" In some episodes the humor is derived almost entirely from the use of language that isn't permitted on other networks. Yes, hearing Pam say "I'm like a Chupacabra, but for dicks" is funny. But is that all you've got?

The lazy writing is evident in other places as well. In the two part finale to Season 3, the action takes place on a space station that has gravity. Why? Because they probably realized it would be easier to write and animate if they didn't have to incorporate weightless physics. Is the presence of gravity in space a big deal? Of course not. It only bugs me because it's so apparent why they wrote it that way. Furthermore, the series' most glaring weakness and biggest single difference from Frisky Dingo is the lack of a villain. Archer, like Xander Crews before him, needs someone with whom he can banter and develop a rivalry. Instead the protagonists just go on random adventures every week with a different "antagonist" who barely qualifies as such. Archer is pitted against characters about whom we know nothing and thus care little. Why? Again, it's easier than writing a plot with continuity across episodes. As it is, the writers have a cheap way to put the characters in ridiculous, random, and interesting settings (Monaco! Pirate island! Space!) without having to write them into the storyline. There is no storyline.

It's a funny show. I watch it and I intend to continue watching it. Regardless, I won't stop feeling that kind of disappointment that comes from seeing something that's OK and knowing that with a little effort it could be great.

HIBERNATION

Posted in Quick Hits on March 22nd, 2012 by Ed

I have been in fail mode with respect to timely posting this week. Last evening I did something I do approximately once per decade: fall asleep at 8 PM and sleep for 12 hours. This conflicts with my 11:00-Midnight writing routine. Sorry. I blame the pollen.

In place of an actual post, check out this column by Dan McLaughlin and tell me how much (using any scale you find appropriate to the question) it needs to be FJMed.

I'M SURE THERE'S A REASONABLE EXPLANATION

Posted in Quick Hits on March 21st, 2012 by Ed

Just a quick update on Monday's post regarding Trayvon Martin. Apparently the attorney for the boy's family has a (recording? transcript? This remains unclear.) of a cell phone call between Martin and his girlfriend as he was being pursued.

"He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man," Martin's friend said. "I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run."

Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he'd managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.

"Trayvon said, 'What are you following me for,' and the man said, 'What are you doing here.' Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn't answer the phone."

The line went dead. Besides screams heard on 911 calls that night as Martin and Zimmerman scuffled, those were the last words he said.

Remember: self-defense.

I still believe that the most likely outcome is a trial wherein a jury of Zimmerman's peers – 12 old white people from the Orlando suburbs – will hand down a Not Guilty verdict. Alternatively, Zimmerman could be convicted of something as a way to take heat and attention off the Sanford police. Or there might be so much evidence piled up that jurors and Federal investigators cannot help but come down hard on both the police and the shooter.

It will be very interesting in the next few days to see if (when?) the Sanford police realize that their optimal strategy is to thrown Zimmerman under the bus and run over him repeatedly until the story goes away.

LAST LECTURE

Posted in Quick Hits on March 19th, 2012 by Ed

I need your help, because I'm dying.

OK not really. But I've been invited to be this year's speaker in a "last lecture" series on campus. The goal is to pretend this is the last lecture we'll ever get to give and make it about whatever we want. It's an interesting thought exercise, if nothing else. If I really was going to die tomorrow, what would I want to be the last thing I said to students, readers, my rats, etc.? Part of me would want to give a rambling three-hour political valedictory. Part of me would want to say "Eh, be nicer to each other" and leave it at that. Assuming that I don't want to subject the university community to either of those, I have to split the difference.

What's your favorite Gin and Tacos post? What if anything have I said that would be fitting – that is, important enough to qualify as "last words" but interesting enough that someone will actually want to listen to it. I've been doing this for so long that I've probably written about everything I could conceivably want to say to anyone, and I'm not the best judge of what will be well received or interesting as I write.

So help me out here, or these people may end up spending 22 minutes watching me air guitar and karaoke Milo Goes to College in its entirety.

ON BEING SANE IN INSANE PLACES

Posted in Rants on March 18th, 2012 by Ed

This is awkward to write.

DL Hughley has a joke about why "extreme" recreational pursuits like skydiving or bungee jumping are mostly for white people. He argues that white people need to pay someone to get the thrilling experience of cheating death, whereas black people can get the same experience by going out in public, reaching for their wallet, and hoping they don't get shot 41 times. The joke is over a decade old and the 41 shots refer to Amadou Diallo, the black Guinean immigrant who was shot by four plainclothes NYPD officers while delivering take-out food in the Bronx.

It's a good joke. I understand why people laugh at a topic like this; the only other choice is to cry. But honestly I do not understand how it is possible to be black and maintain one's sanity in the United States. I can't conceive of having to go through daily life on guard against behaving "suspiciously" or making any (NYPD favorite) "furtive movements" that would allow anyone – police or vigilante – to shoot me and suffer absolutely no consequences. As a white man, I am keenly aware of the fact that people like me merely have to say "I was afraid" (omitting the implied "afraid because he was black, and black people are scary") and/or claim that I was attacked (black men always manage to attack with the crazed strength of a dozen oxen in these scenarios, naturally) and I wouldn't even need to bother hiring a lawyer to get myself out of the police station. American courts and law enforcement have been making this message perfectly clear since the days of public lynching – if a black person is making you feel uncomfortable, even if he isn't doing anything but being in your presence, it's better safe than sorry. Shoot first and no one will ask many questions later.

I'm bringing this up, of course, in the context of the Trayvon Martin case (non-case, more accurately) in Sanford, Florida. For those of you who are not familiar with it, don't feel too bad. It hasn't gotten much mainstream media attention. The New York Times said little until its (lone black) columnist Charles Blow wrote about it on Friday. Think Progress also has a summary of interesting, relevant, and mostly sickening facts about the case: 17 year old black kid walks to 7-11 for iced tea and Skittles. Self-appointed 28 year old man on "neighborhood watch" finds him "suspicious." The dispatcher tells him that police are on the way. He gets out of his car – with a gun, of course, because assholes with vigilante complexes should definitely be armed – and pursues the kid. Minutes later he's dead. Here's a 911 call, where you can actually listen to the kid die.

So, to recap on being black in America: If anyone finds you suspicious or simply doesn't like the look of you, they get to shoot you. Then the police will pat you on the back and send you home with an implied "Attaboy!" and an explicit "We understand. We know how They are." Then the district attorney helps the police make more excuses for the shooter and coaches the witnesses to make the facts fit the storyline. The law that is supposed to protect you instead contrives to make it sound plausible to the public that a 140 pound teen armed with Skittles and a soft drink was a threat. No matter how transparently ludicrous that story sounds, to the majority of white people it will sound perfectly plausible. After all, We've all been there! We know how They are: scary, suspicious, and forever committing dozens of crimes. In our minds.

No one questions the key assumptions, which are so ingrained in our society that police, the courts, and the media cannot even conceive of them. One is that black people are scary. Just say that you were scared and everyone will believe you. No one will ask if it was reasonable for you to be scared, or if you're some kind of paranoiac hung up on Granddad's warnings about how black people are always about to mug you. The second assumption is that your response was appropriate to the threat (or "threat"). If you felt like shooting him, pepper spraying him, or putting him in a chokehold until he died (Cincinnati cops love that one), then obviously you did so because that's what the situation called for. The most basic questions that a reasonable person would ask in this situation – Why did you approach this kid? What made you think you needed to shoot him? – go unasked. The answers are simply implied.

I don't understand how black males, especially younger ones, do it. I don't know how their parents do it, knowing that every time the kids leave the house there's some cop or concealed carry asshole who will imagine them "reaching for a weapon" and you'll never speak to them again. I don't know how you accept that reality and then add to it that the law won't lift a finger for you when it happens other than to tell you that it's your kid's fault he got show. I feel like if I was black rather than white I'd probably be dead or in prison right now – and that's not hyperbole, as the statistics bear it out. I can't comprehend what it must be like to live in a society that considers it Progress that public lynchings no longer happen, ignoring the fact that the lynching process has simply become more efficient. When the best possible outcome is to hope that grassroots publicity can guilt the law into charging someone for your son's murder so he or she can be perfunctorily found not guilty by an all-white jury.

That's your best case scenario. The worst and far more common is that no one will even know it happened. You'll just be another dead black male on the local news, and no one will care because getting shot and killed is what black males are supposed to do.