MEETING AT NOON

Posted in Rants on January 12th, 2015 by Ed

A few months ago you may recall that rioting in Ferguson, MO was followed almost immediately by a large riot at, of all things, a Pumpkin Festival at Keene State University in New Hampshire. This happened for two reasons. One is that God loves us and has a sense of humor. The other is that white college kids like to go crazy and destroy lots of property and it's cool because Kids being Kids, amirite? Of all the sarcastic commentary comparing media and public reactions to the two riots, this tweet was my favorite:

pumpkin

It came to mind immediately when I saw this recent bon mot of brilliance from Rupert Murdoch:

rupert

We have this remarkably silly tendency to refer to all minority groups – ethnic, racial, religious, etc. – as a cohesive and organized group. It is an extension of the Well They All Look the Same! mentality, and it is not worth stating that it is deeply flawed logic to assume that everyone who is black or Muslim or Asian or Latino believes the same things. But if that isn't ridiculous enough, we take it one step farther and assume that they are somehow collectively responsible for one another's behavior or have control over what their fellow humans do.

I can't tell you how many times over the years I have had the conversation where I press other white people to explain what exactly The Black Community is. Like, do you think they all have a meeting every week or two where the grand Black Strategy is plotted? Do they have some kind of quasi-parental control over one another, not to mention a highly efficient information distribution system that instantly tells them "Brian in Fresno robbed a gas station – someone get on his ass!" I like to ask Black Community enthusiasts, what should you and I be doing to stop serial killers? Aren't nearly all serial killers white men? We, as pillars of the White Dude Community, are clearly responsible for their actions. Perhaps I should Speak Out Against serial killing, just to make sure people know it's illegal and not cool.

Granted, mocking the words of Rupert Murdoch is an exercise in harvesting low hanging fruit. It just baffles me how people who say things of this sort expect "Good Muslims" to stop small groups of committed and fanatical terrorists from behaving as committed, fanatical terrorists? The absolute best argument that could be made would be some sort of slow, indirect process of trying to identify every radical cleric (How would this witch hunt be executed? Some would be terribly obvious. Most wouldn't.) and then engaging in some sort of ecclesiastical politics to get them removed. Of course that is impractical even if the Muslim Community, spread across a hundred countries and representing every language, social class, and different interpretation of Islam on Earth, could organize at their weekly meetings and decide to do it.

The truth is that Good Muslims have as much ability to combat Islamic terrorists as you and I do. As much as any person, Muslim or not, does. I would not roll my eyes if someone argued, as many did after 9/11, that Islamic states and governments should take more responsibility for terrorist activities that may happen within their borders. That is because governments are organized, structured toward making decisions and executing them, and possessing of a security apparatus that allows them to take action against violent people. The Paris attackers trained in Yemen, which is widely understood to have slid toward anarchy and failed statehood in the past two or three years. To propose a productive solution, one might suggest that the Arab League or a comparable organization take some sort of action to increase the strength of a legitimate government in Yemen.

No, that would involve too much thinking. Let's just tell all of The Muslims that they're responsible.

PAUSED

Posted in Quick Hits on January 9th, 2015 by Ed

I apologize for the limited content this week, but out of respect for the awful news that all of us are trying to process from Paris today and the past few days it didn't seem appropriate to run what is a rather lighthearted No Politics Friday.

A lot of left-wing people around the internet have suggested that their reaction to these events is split among 1. Defense of free expression, 2. Abhorrence of violence, and 3. Finding the cartoons in question something ranging from insensitive to racist. I don't consider that an untenable position; if I paint a giant-lipped Obama eating a watermelon and someone murders me, it is possible to believe that I did something offensive but that doesn't give another person the right to shoot me. Personally, though, I don't see the cartoons as racist or offensive so much as they appear puerile and silly. Like most Americans I'd never previously heard of this French magazine, and frankly the art (and the level of humor/satire involved) looks like junior high students drew it. Minus the shock value of depicting something some Muslims find insulting, what is the real value of this?

These journalists strike me as a European sort of Bill Maher/Howard Stern hybrid, getting more mileage out of being provocateurs than anything else. Rather than cheapening their deaths, I think the general silliness and MAD Magazine-esque tone of the publication they worked for makes the idea of anyone being willing to kill them over these cartoons even less comprehensible.

In short, I've decided that I can feel like these guys were a bunch of ass clowns without believing that they deserved to die or that I don't care that they did. I don't think anyone deserves to die a violent death for making jokes, good or bad. Although I waver sometimes on Jeff Dunham.

SIX OF ONE

Posted in Rants on January 7th, 2015 by Ed

In case it isn't blatantly obvious to anyone who reads this, I'm going to clarify in advance that I don't minimize the violent deaths of 12 people – police, journalists, and a maintenance worker – in Paris today. Any and all deaths from violent crime are sad, pointless, and tragic in my view.

But here we are, another week and another mass shooting. Only the presence of some novelty to the story – it didn't happen in the United States for once, and the assailants had political motives rather than being the usual disgruntled, angry, and usually white males lashing out at the world with their guns – has made this a Big Story. Mass shootings have become so common that they don't even make the main headlines anymore. They've become the kind of thing that gets mentioned on page 3 or that gets 90 seconds in the middle of the broadcast, before weather but after traffic.

What I don't understand, at the risk of accusations of "politicizing" the event, is why I am supposed to be more angry or more interested because this particular mass shooting was done by radicalized Muslims with a vendetta against a media outlet. If it hardly makes waves anymore when some American white kid brings a gun to school because Reasons or some angry grunt kills a bunch of his coworkers, why should this make any? If deaths by senseless violence are tragic – and they are – then they should be relatively equally tragic. Whether the victims are factory workers, high school students, edgy journalists, or completely random people milling about in public their deaths are a pointless tragedy.

It's not that I'm not saddened and angered by what happened in France. It's that I resent the implication in the media coverage that I'm supposed to be more upset or this is somehow a bigger tragedy because Free Speech and Muslims. If someone walked into a Walmart in the middle of nowhere and shot 12 people today, would the right wingers be at a boil right now? Twelve deaths by gunfire are excused away when they occur in the context of domestic politics, yet if some Muslims who just returned from Syria are the killers everyone is whipped into a frenzy. That, to me, makes no sense whatsoever.

Mass shootings are so common that someone who pays attention to the news only casually will miss most of them these days. This one will be a Big Story, though. That's what bothers me. Lots of people are getting shot and killed for no good reason. Either we care or we don't. It makes no sense to care a lot about some and barely notice others.

UPON SECOND THOUGHT

Posted in Quick Hits on January 6th, 2015 by Ed

Leave it to the New York Daily News (motto: We Make the Post Look Serious) to provide the ideal example of everything wrong with the way the media lionizes cops while demonizing literally anyone else.

Recently someone assaulted an MTA worker in the middle of the night and as the tabloid media are wont to do, they ran some rather sensational stories to the effect of, to quote the headline, "Thug attacks female MTA employee at Bronx train station."

A hulking brute grabbed a 28-year-old MTA employee up in a bear hug at a Bronx train station, shoved her onto the platform and began choking her in an unprovoked attack – then ran away smiling, authorities said Wednesday.

Then it turned out that the Thug Brute was – wait for it – an NYPD officer. Magically, the tone changed when this crucial fact was discovered. The headline now refers to an NYPD cop who heroically turned himself in after being "accused" of possibly attacking someone.

Police Officer Mirjan Lolja, 37, was suspended after the assault in which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker — who was on-duty and in her uniform — was allegedly put into a bear hug, thrown to the floor and choked, cops said.

Not as much of a Thug as we originally thought, despite the fact that he does look vaguely possibly Hispanic or something.

NOT REQUIRED

Posted in Rants on January 5th, 2015 by Ed

In the era of downsizing, we all secretly fear our employers discovering that we are expendable. You take a couple of weeks off for a vacation, family leave, illness, or whatnot and the company finds that things worked just as well without your presences as they do when you're around. Of course in a bad job market this is possible because some other poor sap got stuck with all of your responsibilities in your absence without any additional compensation. Imagine if instead they found out that 90% of what you do is completely unnecessary. The company has been paying you to spend 10% of your time running payroll and the other 90% writing songs on the accordion. When you're absent, suddenly they realize that maybe a company that makes HVAC equipment doesn't need an accordionist at all.

Even if 2/3 of the work you do was found to be superfluous, the logic of the free market would have your employer showing you the exit door in short order. The situation is different in the public sector where people are harder to fire, but you would expect roughly similar logic to apply. So sometime in the next week I'm assuming we'll see about half of the NYPD laid off.

Using a technique as old as organized labor (or even disorganized but disgruntled labor) the officers of the NYPD have been engaged in a slowdown, although some media incorrectly call it a "work stoppage." They're showing up to work but making only arrests deemed "absolutely necessary." Which, you know, raises the question: How many arrests have they been making all these years that don't meet that standard? Has the largest metropolitan PD in the country not basically admitted that the vast majority of the arrests they make have almost no bearing on public safety?

Simply put, if the NYPD could cut its arrests by 60-80% without adversely affecting the city – and by all accounts New York has hardly noticed the difference – why in the hell haven't they already done it?

A police slowdown does not prove, as cops might wish, that America turns into Thunderdome without them. It proves that they're making an awful lot of arrests and issuing a huge number of citations that collectively accomplish absolutely nothing beyond raising money and trapping people in the Sarlaac pit of the justice system? To the first point, did anyone notice during the Michael Brown ordeal that the Ferguson PD gave out ten thousand more arrest warrants in 2013 than there are people in Ferguson? Ten thousand. Start with one non-violent crime, let the administrative fees and fines pile up, and the next thing you know you're wanted. The police then set out to arrest you because you haven't handed over enough money from the last time they arrested you. Repeat ad infinitum.

State and local budgets are pinched, your State Legislature doesn't have the political balls to raise taxes, and there are huge surplus populations that the economy decided it doesn't need and who need to be warehoused or at least Kept in Their Place. So the police do the municipal version of a bake sale, except instead of cookies they hand out thousands of expensive fines for petty crimes. Those who pay are a lucrative source of income, essentially off-the-books tax collection. Those who don't pay – well, there's another bucketful of violations you can use to drown them.

Ideally this would be a Teachable Moment for our society, an opportunity to reflect and ask ourselves some important questions about what we value. Is it possible we have too many laws? That rabid enforcement of those laws isn't making us any safer? Are candy-assed old white legislators trying to look tough by passing the most punitive laws they can imagine doing more to harm our cities and towns than the crimes themselves? Have police departments completely lost focus on the meaning of "public safety" in favor of writing as many citations and making as many arrests as possible? Light bulbs should be appearing over our heads, collectively: "The cops stopped making most of the arrests they make and it hasn't made one goddamn lick of difference. What the hell have we been doing all these years??"

That's a pipe dream, though. Some people know perfectly well, though they would never admit it, that they see rounding up poor people as the entire point of law enforcement. Keeping the dark people and the mulleted hillbillies away from our nice homes on whatever pretense can be concocted is precisely what the police are supposed to do. How depressing it will be over the next few weeks to realize that for some of our fellow citizens will applaud when the NYPD resumes the majority of arrests deemed unnecessary when they want to make a political statement.