SYMPATHY

Posted in Rants on February 14th, 2013 by Ed

Five days ago, officers of the LA Police Department opened fire on a pickup truck that "matched the description" of one driven by headline-dominating murderer Christopher Dorner. At least 20 rounds were fired, many of which missed the truck by several yards and hit parked cars and nearby homes. Miraculously, neither occupant of the truck (two women, 45 and 71, delivering newspapers) was killed or seriously injured.

Later that same day, Torrance police officers intentionally rammed another pickup truck "matching the description" of Dorner's. One of the officers got out and fired three shots at the driver for good measure. Miraculously, the decidedly non-Chris Dorner driver was not killed.

The description given to police was of Dorner's gray Nissan Titan. Dorner is a large, muscular black male weighing over 250 pounds. So it is not clear how all of the cops involved managed to confuse a teal blue Toyota Tacoma driven by two Hispanic women, one of whom is elderly, for the vehicle in question. Nor is it clear how the police mistook David Perdue, a short, wiry, white male driving a pickup truck that was neither gray nor a Nissan, for Chris Dorner. It's almost as if the police were completely out of control.

This is when the media (and most of the public, in fairness) jumps in to remind us that these officers are under a lot of stress so, you know, accidents like firing 20+ rounds at the wrong people are going to happen. Apparently we are supposed to be sympathetic. Apparently when cops feel like they are in danger we're supposed to excuse their violent, undisciplined responses. If only the same rules applied to us. For example, how much sympathy do victims of mistaken identity get? Let's say you look like Suspect A and the police jump you. A natural reaction by a person being manhandled for no reason might be to throw a punch or fight back, at which point they've bought themselves about a dozen felony charges for resisting arrest and assaulting officers.

Does anyone, let alone the police, look at a situation like that and say, "Well geez, I understand why he fought back, it's very stressful and he certainly wasn't going out of his way to attack the police"? For all the hand-jobbing nonsense about how police are highly-trained experts in law enforcement / American Heroes, they have a shocking tendency to act like a posse rounded up from the local bars. Shoot first, ask second. Draw your weapon just to be safe. If you shoot, be sure to empty the entire magazine. Details such as the identity of the person you're firing at can be determined later.

I know being a cop is a hard job. I also know that the reason we pay people to do this difficult job is so that the law is enforced with professionalism and restraint. But I guess as long as there's some great excuse like "They were scared" or "They believe the victim in this tragic accident looked like Suspect A" we're supposed to be comfortable with them patrolling our streets, having authority over us, and being given the power to kill when in their clearly impeccable judgment it is necessary to do so. Certainly the Dorner case is one in which we can all understand why the cops are on edge; what is less clear is why we no longer expect the police to do their job properly and with professionalism as soon as they feel scared or stressed in what is an inherently dangerous job.

ALL IN

Posted in Quick Hits on February 13th, 2013 by Ed

The highlight of the State of the Union happened as Obama said:

We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can't wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That's why, tonight, I'm announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I'm asking two long-time experts in the field, who've recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney's campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

Over his left shoulder, John Boehner sat motionless while a perfunctory applause break followed. Of course we know by now that making it harder to vote is the core of what can only generously be called the "strategy" of the modern Republican Party.

For the past few weeks, Republican-controlled state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Michigan have been making noise about trying to change the distribution of Electoral College votes to a congressional district system, as is used in Maine and Nebraska. A congressional district plan favors the GOP, of course, because the districts were heavily rigged by Republican state legislatures in the wake of their strong year in 2010. That's how your party manages to win a majority in the House while losing the congressional popular vote nationwide by a healthy margin. In other words, they have the power to rig the system thanks to previous instances of rigging the system.

It's clear with these proposals – regardless of whether they succeed – that the GOP is going "all in" on rigging the system in their favor, having apparently come to grips with the reality that it might be the only way they can win elections anymore. They have nothing else. Their lack of appeal was displayed in high relief on Tuesday night as even one of their charismatic members turned in an awkward, incoherent mess of a performance in responding to the SOTU. I can only imagine how much of this shit we're going to see in the next decade or two. Having comfortably gerrymandered themselves into control of the legislatures in states that reliably vote Democratic in presidential elections, the near future of electoral politics in this country is going to be one pathetic scheme after another. The only other option would be to stand for something that isn't abhorrent to everyone except 60% of white men. And that's just crazy talk.

REMINISCENCE

Posted in Quick Hits on February 12th, 2013 by Ed

So what was your favorite moment of the reign of Benedict XVI? When he was chosen, I described him as a placeholder – the sorbet of popes. Also, this is pretty much the only thing I can think about every time the pope is mentioned on the news, ever.

gangs_of_new_york_1

OK, I lied. I also think about Space Pope (Crocodylus Pontifex).

spacepope

A new pope is always exciting. I'm thinking they'll go with a white guy of advanced age.

DAY OF ATONEMENT

Posted in Rants on February 11th, 2013 by Ed

Last week was the tenth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the UN Security Council about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction on February 5, 2003. It remains difficult for me to even think about the political climate of the year long run-up to the invasion of Iraq without feeling stabby all over again. We don't need to rehash the number of levels on which all of the claims and "evidence" used to grease the wheels of the war machine were either wrong or outright lies – I believe the WMDs turned out to be two donkeys and a crate of Sparklers – but we owe it to ourselves to remember how badly the media collectively failed us.

Not one major newspaper or news network responded to Powell's theatrics with anything remotely approaching skepticism. The obsequious, totally credulous editorials read like Onion articles today. The NY Times was probably the soberest, merely noting that "Mr. Powell's speech was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime." The Washington Post, in contrast, titled its staff editorial "Irrefutable", noting that "it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction." On the same page, Richard Cohen stated that, "The evidence he presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.” Ha ha! The French are pussies! WaPo's foreign policy "expert" Jim Hoaglund helpfully chimed in, "To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don’t believe that. Today, neither should you."

Hoagland and Cohen still have the same jobs today. Because, you know, why wouldn't they? If you think shame prevents them from writing about the need to invade Iran and eliminate its nuclear weapons, Google them and prepare for a shock.

I propose that every year, February 5 should serve as the Yom Kippur of American journalism – a total TV news blackout for 24 hours while the editors, producers, on-air talent, fact checkers, and other assorted minions devote themselves to confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness. Newspapers will run the headline, "We failed and it cost 100,000 lives" and no content except detailed descriptions of every pre-war claim that turned out to be false or fabricated but was reported anyway without any corroboration beyond "anonymous government sources." The next day the news industry will return to being the same cacophony of nonsense that it was in 2003 and remains today. But for one day, everyone will be forced to confront the truth, to spend the day in radio silence thinking about their actions and the consequences. Maybe – just maybe – a few more Americans in the media and among the general public will pause and ask a critical question or two the next time a war-hungry administration and their fawning fans in the news industry start cheerleading the nation into another trillion dollar, decade-long war that costs tens of thousands of lives.

It's ridiculous, I know. A boy can dream, though.

NPF: PICKPOCKETING

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 8th, 2013 by Ed

It has been long enough since the last one that I won't feel (too) guilty about giving you Link Salad today.

1. The world's greatest pickpocket plying his skills on the Today Show. This is mind-blowing. He barely even touches these people.

2. Check out this small gallery of David Pelham's incredible cover art from Penguin Science Fiction books in the 1970s. If you like what you see and have more time to kill, here's over 200 covers from the entire series on the Penguin SF website.

DAVID_PELHAM_slip-case_1974

3. Reefer Madness, eat your heart out. The US Navy has produced an instant classic of a video about the dangers of taking bath salts.

Try to count the levels on which this is amazing.

SURPRISE!

Posted in Rants on February 6th, 2013 by Ed

"Media Week" prior to the Super Bowl is an excellent opportunity for athletes to say stupid things into cameras and microphones. 49ers player Chris Culliver took the proverbial ball of stupid and ran with it this year. After hack comedian Artie Lange asked him a hi-larious "So it's San Francisco, there must be gays on the team" joke-question, Culliver decided to hold court for a moment.

"I don't do the gay guys man," Culliver told Artie Lange ahead of the game. "I don’t do that. We don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do…can't be doin' that sweet stuff in the locker room man. Nah."

While I could focus on his curious word choice ("I don't do the gay guys" was what came to mind, Chris?) it's interesting to consider his comments in light of another piece of news that got little if any attention last week.

Former 49ers player Kwame Harris, a first round draft choice out of Stanford who played six undistinguished seasons in the NFL, was charged with felony domestic abuse stemming from an altercation in a restaurant with Dmitri Grier, an ex-boyfriend with whom he had lived previously. As a fan of a different NFC West team, I recall seeing Harris twice per year when we played the 49ers. So when I saw this news item I said, Oh, I remember that guy. Guess he's gay.

Nobody knew that until the charges were filed, which I assume attracted attention because "ex-NFL player charged with felony" is always good filler for sports journalists. During his time in the NFL, he kept this to himself. As the above comments from Culliver reflect, pro football might not be a very enjoyable environment in which to be "out".

What really gets me, though, is this part of Culliver's quote: "We don't got no gay people on the team…" Really? How do you know, Chris? Because in hindsight it appears that anyone on the 49ers for Harris' six seasons would have been wrong about that. And statistically, with 53 players on every NFL roster (plus countless coaches, trainers, staff, and other people "in the locker room") there's a good chance his statement is incorrect right now as well. Let's put it this way: there are 1500 active NFL players right now. The odds that zero of them are gay are…low. Extremely low.

What's surprising is not that Culliver made his comments, because I'm sure attitudes like that are common in the hyper-masculine environment of pro football, but that he or anyone else in the NFL would assume "There are no gay people here." The coincidental timing of the news item about Kwame Harris underscores the reality that "they" are everywhere. They might be keeping to themselves so they don't have to deal with your bullshit, but they're "in the locker room", in the stands, in your workplace, on the bus, serving your food, and in your church.

That's what I hope Chris Culliver and other players learn from this experience – there is no "gay-free zone" where it's OK to call people fags and air your theories about what kinds of people you find unacceptable. That players don't walk around with G-A-Y stamped across their forehead is not evidence that NFL locker rooms are tiny empires of heterosexuality. Over a decade ago when John Rocker made his infamously stupid comments about "queers with AIDS" on the New York subway, one of his teammates on the Atlanta Braves (if memory serves, Tom Glavine) was asked if he would accept a gay teammate. I remember him pausing for a second and saying, "Well, I probably already have." As much as it would shock him to learn, Culliver probably has too.

K-LO CONDENSES STUPID AND ENDS UP WITH THE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on February 5th, 2013 by Ed

Kathryn Jean Lopez (aka K-Lo) over at America's Shittiest Websitetm was flabbergasted – just flabbergasted, I tell you – to see Beyonce's scandalous outfit during the Super Bowl halftime show. She rushed to her keyboard as soon as she finished her Reagan prayers on Monday morning to voice her displeasure while letting us all know that she's totally not a prude or a wet blanket – she just doesn't understand why everyone is such a whore all the time.

I don't want to linger on this,

Of course you don't. And we won't. In fact, we'll probably never hear of this as long as what you say about it isn't incredibly stup…

Oh.

but last night's Super Bowl halftime show was ridiculous

Really? A halftime show? At the Super Bowl? At an event known around the globe for its taste, restraint, and understated appeal to the better angels of mankind's nature?

I can't believe it was ridiculous, after we entrusted it to continue the tradition of previous halftime performers like Prince and the Black Eyed Peas.

— and gratuitously so.

Oh, I get it now. By "ridiculous" you meant it enraged the 1940s schoolmarm that you try to pretend you aren't. That's why you always have to tell us that you're Hip, right before launching into one of Granddad's favorite lectures about hemlines or the rock music or Paul Harvey or whatever.

Watching Twitter, it was really no surprise that men made comments about stripper poles and putting dollar bills through their TV sets, was it?

When men say sexist shit, it's women's fault. Also, Twitter is a good place to go to see intelligent commentary. Like the former director of the South Carolina GOP, who used the occasion to tweet "This Super Bowl sucks more dick than adult Trayvon Martin would have for drug money." followed by "I agree that Trayvon Martin was a dangerous thug who needed to be put down like a rabid dog."

Why can't we have a national entertainment moment that does not include a mother gyrating in a black teddy?

Let me get this straight…the NFL and CBS conspired to make one of the sexiest women in the history of the universe wear something revealing in the interest of ratings? To keep people from turning to Puppy Bowl IX? To hold viewers' interest during halftime when they might ordinarily retreat to the kitchen, expel urine from their bodies, or step outside to smoke? To appeal to a wide range of non-traditional football viewers?

This is all just staggering. To someone who was frozen in 1951 and reanimated minutes before this game began.

The priceless moment was Destiny's Child reuniting to ask that someone "put a ring on it." As I mentioned on Twitter last night, perhaps that case might be best made in another outfit, perhaps without the crotch grabbing.

Yes, if you're ever going to sing about marriage or discuss the subject with a man, you can't be wearing anything sexy. You need a good, respectable Muslim Chastity Cloak or something along those lines.

It seems quite disappointing that Michelle Obama would feel the need to tweet about how "proud" she is of Beyonce.

Bill Kristol: "Did you manage to work in a dig on the Obamas?
K-Lo: "Yes, master."
Bill Kristol: "Good. Good." (hands her a Pupperoni)

The woman is talented, has a beautiful voice, and could be a role model. And she is on some levels — on others she is an example of cultural surrender, rather than leadership.

This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Seriously, the second sentence is just an amalgam of words, and if she's not a role model then who cares what she does, ever.

Here's the outfit, by the way.

beyonce

Essentially a one-piece bathing suit, plus a little extra fabric. Would one wear it to church? No. But I've seen more "scandalous" things at the average Halloween party. Not exactly NC-17 material here.

When I saw the first lady's tweet, I couldn't help but think of the president talking about abortion in terms of his daughters' freedom.

"I couldn't help but engage in this complete non-sequitur to make some sort of pro-life statement, as I am contractually obligated to do in every single thing I write, in a column about a woman showing some titty during a football game. What were we even talking about?"

I so want the Obamas to be leaders on building a culture of marriage and fatherhood and human dignity.

Why can't Obama be more like Rick Santorum? I'm ever so disappointed. I totes thought he would be, and I am not at all concern trolling.

Their actions seem to be telling me to get over my delusion.

I wholeheartedly agree that you should get over your delusions, but maybe start with the real ones instead of the one you're faking so you can pretend to be outraged and disappointed.

We need to raise our standards. Is it crazy to think we can, even at the Super Bowl?

This is what drives me the craziest about right-wing opinion columnists and K-Lo in particular – they're just such bad writers. Ignore the content and ideology, and you are basically reading a high school sophomore's writing assignment with these people. Look at that again. That's what she closed with. In fairness, I suppose just about anything will do as a closer – the purpose of which is to wrap up and put an exclamation point on your argument – when you write a mess of half-baked ideas that have nothing to do with one another.

Tags:

HUBRIS

Posted in Rants on February 4th, 2013 by Ed

My current home is a city that is very typical of the post-industrial Midwest. It was clearly a great place in the 1950s, and everything has gone straight downhill ever since. There's nothing special about it; the landscape is dotted with these places. Youngstown. Toledo. Muncie. Saginaw. Flint. Rochester. Binghamton. Scranton. Hartford. Reading. Peoria. Gary. Dayton. Rockford. If you've been to one, you've been to all of them. There are still people to be found there, but they've all fled to the suburbs. The "city" is a largely empty monument to an ancient civilization.

Accordingly, the nation's historical population centers in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest continue to shrink relative to the fast-growing states in the South and West. Much of the industry from the northern states has migrated to places like South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The rapid growth and economic expansion of the South in recent years is a source of great pride in the region. When I lived in Georgia, I noticed that the media and elected officials in particular delighted in, well, gloating about their success at the expense of higher-wage, cold winter states in the Midwest. And it is certainly true that a state like Georgia is growing by leaps and bounds while the Ohios and Michigans continue to wither away.

It is understandable that people in the South – especially the civic leaders and opinion-makers – are in a gloating mood. The giant new auto factories are being built in places like Chattanooga and Spartanburg and West Point, GA, not in Buffalo or Dearborn. But I've always wondered if the bluster is genuine or merely an attempt to drown out the nagging realization that the Rust Belt is a glimpse into their own near future.

They like to brag that the "business-friendly environment" in the Red States (Translation: luring corporate employers with tens of millions of dollars in public money and the promise of an obedient workforce that will do anything one asks for $11/hr) is driving their growth. This is certainly true. However, if the new economy has taught us anything it's that there is always someone out there willing to undercut you. There's always some other city, state, or country willing to lay more subsidies, gifts, and tax breaks at the feet of manufacturers, and to promise an even cheaper and more exploitable workforce. The system has succeeded in creating enough dispossessed, desperate people that someone will always offer to do it for less.

So when the new rapid growing cities in the Sun Belt triple in size in a single decade, you have to wonder if they realize that in 20 years we'll be looking at them the same way they currently look at Detroit. All the money Mississippi lavishes on the industries it lures in will be a distant memory and the next group of suitors will be lining up and offering to cut their own throats. These companies don't care about the cities they were born in. They certainly do not care about some Southern cesspool that paid them to come carpetbagging into town in 2002.

If you've been to any of these places and seen the explosive (and unplanned) growth in Phoenix, the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Atlanta, Charlotte-Raleigh-Durham, Birmingham, and so on, you can't escape the feeling that everything about them is temporary. The strip mall developments, the chain restaurants, the shoebox hotels, the blocks of identical, crappy "townhomes" that look like minimum security prisons or particularly stylish college dorms – none of it is built to last. It's as if the industries know that they're not going to be here long enough to bother with creating the illusion of permanence. Garland, TX is just a rest stop on the journey from Michigan to Mexico.

Read a million smug news items about Detroit and Cleveland if it makes you feel better, folks. It's going to happen to you in twenty years, too. I'm sure you understand, being "business friendly" and all, that it's not personal. Your new corporate friends are responsible to no one but the stockholders. These new "cities" that have been created seemingly overnight will disappear just as quickly. At least up North we made buildings sturdy enough to stick around and remind us of better days. You'll never even know your strip malls and subdivisions were there.

NPF: SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 1st, 2013 by Ed

As a seven year old living near Chicago in 1985, it's safe to say that I saw the crude video for the Chicago Bears "Super Bowl Shuffle" song about a thousand times and heard the song even more. Though I hated the Bears even at that tender young age, there was something so ridiculous, so lovable, and so ballsy about that '85 Bears championship team that made it very difficult to resist the urge to like them (check out Grantland's excellent where-are-they-now style retrospective on the song and the team, "An Oral History of the Super Bowl Shuffle"). Is there anyone from the Chicago area currently between the ages of 35 and 50 who does not know every word to this song? And could this be any more Eighties?

To this day, when a certain colleague answers his office phone with "This is Steve," I immediately follow up with "and it's no wonder. I run like lightning, pass like thunder." I'm not alone.

The next year, the Los Angeles (now St. Louis) Rams proved that imitation is the sincerest form of…really bad ideas. Very few people remember this – you'll see why in a moment – but the Rams created their own music video for what they thought would be their run at Super Bowl glory during the 1986 season. It was called, I shit you not, "Ram It!" If that isn't sufficiently disturbing, the video features the players making a coordinated, aggressive fisting motion each time they repeat the chorus line of, "Weeeee're gonna RAM IT!"

How did that get made? I imagine that it took place in some kind of 1980s L.A. cocaine-fueled haze in which no one was really in charge and somehow atrocities ended up happening – kind of the Football Music Video equivalent of the Do Lung Bridge scene in Apocalypse Now.

Concerned bystander: "Who's in charge here?"
Eric Dickerson: "Ain't you?"

No, Eric. Things like this only happen when the chain of command has broken down completely.