THESE DAMN GUNS

Posted in Quick Hits on December 11th, 2014 by Ed

Recently several media outlets noted the anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. This is an annual blip in the news, and every year when reminded of it I want to make the entire world watch this video of longtime, legendary Detroit local TV newsman Bill Bonds offering commentary on it. His commentary beginning at 1:50 may be, without exaggeration, the finest moment of American television journalism. Since I have always been disappointed that a transcript of his commentary is not available anywhere on the internet, I invested the ten minutes necessary to do it myself.

I suppose like you I am depressed and saddened by this mad, senseless act. I don’t think John Lennon ever hurt anyone; he wrote and he sang songs. He brought pleasure and he brought entertainment to hundreds of millions of people all over the world. And at 40 when a man’s or a woman’s life really begins to "Come Together," he is gone forever. Murdered by some insignificant nobody with insanity and a pistol for his companions. It is not fair and it is certainly not right.

I wonder when America will finally control its guns, how many of us will have to be murdered before that will happen. John Kennedy. Bob Kennedy. Martin Luther King Jr. All murdered, all gone. Vernon Jordan, gunned down earlier this year. George Wallace, paralyzed, his life and career ruined. People, critics, newspapers all over the world today are looking at America and Americans and saying, "That is a brutal, barbaric place."

As I say control the guns and ban them, collect them all and melt them down, I know we are not going to do that. We are again left with painful, senseless trauma and the responsibility of feeding and clothing the Sirhan Sirhans, the Charles Mansons, the David Berkowitzes, and now the Mark David Chapmans of the world. How much better the world might be with Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy, John Lennon, still alive, still with us.

But…no, Americans must have their guns. We know there is no shortage of good, strong, sensitive, talented men and women; we can afford to kill them. Our guns are signs of our freedom. Someday maybe all 220 million of us will own a weapon. Perhaps then we will appear as barbaric to ourselves as we must appear to the rest of the world.

We have so much. Why do we Americans need these damn guns.

Bonds, an alcoholic who once tried to physically assault Detroit mayor Coleman Young during an interview, is a throwback to a time – one long since passed – when one could be a "Man's Man" or a Tough Guy without waving around a gun like a surrogate dick. Such comments would never make it on the air today – especially not on the wasteland local TV news has become – despite the fact that they are as true right now as they were when first spoken.

THE CONVERSATION

Posted in Quick Hits on December 10th, 2014 by Ed

Evening. A nondescript conference room in an equally nondescript office tower somewhere in Real America where right-wing internet memes are created. A WILY VETERAN sits at one end of the cheap, laminate-topped table across from NEW GUY.

WV: "I don't care if we're here all night, we need to come up with some sort of pro-police meme. Something that everyone's friends from grade school will repost. Something that will seem brilliant to people who don't like thinking."

NG: "Should it be hackneyed?"

WV: "Oh good lord yes. Of course. Don't ask me silly questions, kid."

NG: "I'm sorry. Can we do something to imply that police are killed as often – or even more often – than police kill suspects or innocent bystanders?"

WV: "I knew there was a reason we hired you, kid. Whattaya have in mind?"

NG: "Definitely a photo collage so that everyone can see that they're Good People."

WV: "White?"

NG: "Yeah I mean white. Although maybe throw in a "clean" looking Mexican."

WV and NG, simultaneously: "So no one can say they're all white!" (laughter, the slapping of backs)

NG: "It turns out, though, that there aren't that many cops killed by suspects relative to the enormous number of people killed by police every year in the US."

WV: "Well that's a pickle. Ooh, that reminds me: I need to bring home pickles. How about we include cops who die of heart attacks while on duty, or in car accidents that have nothing to do with a suspect?"

NB: "I like where your head is, sir, but we can't just flat out lie and say a black person killed them."

WV: "We could, but let's see if we can't come up with something better." (grimaces in deep thought) "I've got it! Let's label it as officers killed 'In the Line of Duty'! Which is technically true! No matter how or why they die, we can count them as long as they're on the clock!"

NB, beaming: "You're an inspiration, sir. A goddamn inspiration."

WV: "If I wanted my ass kissed I'd be at home with a shelter dog, a jar of Smuckers, and a long-handled spatula. Now make sure to do it in Microsoft Paint so it looks real shitty."

NB: "Come on, sir. I know the drill." (laughter and mutual respect)

FIN

BLEAK FRIDAY

Posted in Quick Hits on November 28th, 2014 by Ed

In the past I've been open about not really understanding Black Friday, although recently I've come to see it as something people enjoy as a ritual rather than for any logical reason. Some people enjoy going shopping at like 4 AM rather than buying things online for the same reason some people enjoy going to a sporting event rather than watching it on TV. I've made peace with the fact that it's stupid and people like it anyway, and I've stopped trying to talk anyone out of following the herd.

Then they started this "Friday starts on Thursday morning" shit.

Look, I could recite all of the reasons why this is fucked up from the macro perspective: crass consumerism replacing family time, expansion of the holiday spending frenzy, the inability of small businesses to compete, etc etc. The only thing that really bothers me about it, though, is the way that low-wage service industry employees are being forced to sacrifice one of the few remaining holidays on which Americans are not expected to work. As a person who usually spends it at home alone these days, economic activity shuts the hell down on Thanksgiving. Everything is closed. Even the gas stations and chain fast food restaurants are closed. Bars are closed. Even the few things that seem to stay open on Christmas are closed. It's essentially the last holiday in our economy that is a "day off" in the literal sense for everyone who isn't working in an emergency room or a fire station. At least the people in those professions are relatively well compensated for the scheduling sacrifices they make. The people working the floor at Target – not so much.

Perhaps we're overreacting to this. Maybe people working retail are fine with the opportunity to (hopefully) get time-and-a-half for working on a holiday. The problem is that people who aren't OK with it can't do anything about it. Hourly retail staff are among the lowest paid and most powerless people in our workforce. Like fast food workers they are viewed as disposable and high turnover is expected. If you don't like it, there's the door. And when you end up choosing family over a day doing inventory, you become another Lazy and inherently flawed person wearing the scarlet U of the unemployed.

If you're going to get fired for trying to do normal human things like spend a holiday A) not working and B) with family, it should at least be on account of how vitally important your job is. The people working the register at the big box stores probably aren't over that bar.

SHORT AND SWEET

Posted in Quick Hits on November 27th, 2014 by Ed

I was going to write a post of decent length about this, but it turns out that there wasn't much to add to this:

Capture

Happy Thanksgiving.

A/V CLUB

Posted in Quick Hits on November 26th, 2014 by Ed

If I were to make a simple video, what would be the best way for a person with no such experience to edit together a few different clips, add some basic text to the video, and perhaps add voiceover? I don't want to purchase expensive software and it would help if the product is designed so that children and your parents can figure out how to use it correctly.

So I'm thinking something Microsoft.

*rimshot*

DEFAULT

Posted in Quick Hits on November 3rd, 2014 by Ed

At a dinner with some of my colleagues last week someone mentioned the fact that many of the crime alerts on campus – our university police are particularly aggressive about sending out alerts/updates to counter the perception, and frankly reality, that we are in a high crime area – turn out to be fabricated. These are property crimes, not violent or sexual in nature. It struck several of us as odd that students would lie about being relieved of an iPhone by a nighttime mugger.

The problem is that students – particularly the ex-suburban private school type – are more afraid of their parents than they are the law. Or just about anything else for that matter. Despite the fact that these college students are all legally adults, their primary concern is to avoid getting In Trouble with mom and dad. So when Dakota loses her $500 smartphone because she got too wasted on Saturday night to keep track of her limbs let alone her electronics, she has two choices. One is to tell Dad that she lost it. The other is to call the police and say that a black guy took it. They choose the latter and generally I don't imagine that police have a hard time finding inconsistencies in the mugging story (or in the security camera footage that covers more of the area than most people realize).

This is not something that happens daily, mind you, but there have been multiple incidents in the past year. It's a good anecdote to pull out when someone tries to argue that race isn't a thing. Because the "suspect" is always the same. If you want to claim that something was stolen or a crime was committed, what else would you invent but a Black Male, 18-30, tall and slender and wearing a hoodie and baggy pants? It makes sense that college kids are sheltered and do stupid things and in a moment of panic they might make up a story. That's not the alarming part. The alarming part is that well-off and mostly white college kids instinctively know that if you're going to invent a crime, the best faux-perpetrator is the person everyone already thinks is a criminal anyway.

MOVING TARGET

Posted in Quick Hits on October 30th, 2014 by Ed

Hopefully by now you have seen the video of a woman walking around NYC for 10 hours and being catcalled about 100 times in addition to considerably creepier behavior like being followed.

I'm not the world's most sensitive person, nor am I the most accomplished feminist. I'm certain that I'm an asshole sometimes and that, like any male, I say things that are offensive to women without necessarily intending to offend. But about a year ago I decided to try something new: to listen to women without feeling compelled to make any kind of response or attempt to explain the behavior of men who are not me. Humans are naturally defensive creatures and there is a tendency, especially among men, to tell others that they are overreacting – to explain why things are not really as bad as someone else thinks. In theory, I think this comes from a place of good intentions: to attempt to comfort someone by downplaying the experiences that disturb them. In practice, however, what it means as a man is that you're regularly telling women that they're overreacting to other men.

What I've started to learn since I made a conscious effort to talk less and listen more is that a lot of really fucked up things happen to the average woman on the average day. Things that are annoying or worse. Do I think that every complaint some woman could potentially make about a man is automatically valid? No. I maintain that the Tumblr warriors of the world who flip out because a man held a door for them are have some issues of their own that need to be worked out. But rather than assume that the world is filled with straw (wo)men, I decided to try listening to people I trust and know to be reasonable and anything but ridiculous. And when you stop challenging and questioning people, they tend to get more comfortable telling you things. And then you realize that some of the behaviors that you know exist in the world are really, genuinely, disturbingly common.

I'm not a great person and I'm probably not yet at the point at which I'm part of the solution, but I decided that I would stop being part of the problem. It's a start.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Posted in Quick Hits on October 21st, 2014 by Ed

With the internet now a permanent (and in many cases central) part of our lives, the process of maturing to adulthood is going to have to be updated and expanded to include learning to avoid arguing with critics and trolls online.

This is not an easy lesson to learn, but most of us get there eventually. As a younger person I was ready to argue to the death with anyone who dared to speak a critical word in my direction. Orienting oneself toward the internet in this manner is exhausting and, more importantly, pointless. When we are younger and more idealistic we tend to imagine the internet (and real life, for that matter) being full of people who are in earnest, looking to engage in an honest exchange of ideas. Eventually we realize that most of the people who comment on things online are merely trolls who enjoy saying whatever will raise your ire, or people who are in earnest but who are far too stupid to either make a coherent point or understand the ones anyone else might make.

We also learn that with increased visibility comes more criticism, and that is a reality in any facet of life or format for communication. More hits mean more trolls. It's just the way of the world. The absolute best way to handle it, whether you are a famous celebrity or a highly visible author or a minor blogger of no particular renown, is to ignore it. There is nothing to be gained, ever. At best it is a total waste of time as you try to engage a stranger who most likely does not have any interest in a legitimate exchange of ideas; he/she simply wants to tell you that you suck and then move on. At worst, it makes you look bad – petty, thin-skinned, overly sensitive, and possibly a little unhinged.

It baffles me that no one explained this to an author named Kathleen Hale – nor did she figure this out on her own – who went Borderline Stalker on one of her critics…and then wrote a masturbatory navel-gazing piece about it for The Guardian.

Exposing one's thoughts on the internet invites the criticism of others who are often emboldened by anonymity or distance. It's difficult to do this, whether for money or for the hell of it, without being able to tolerate people telling you how much you suck. It's difficult bordering on impossible, though, if one lacks the self-awareness to realize that writing about it in an effort to garner sympathy or internet merit badges.

THE WISDOM OF CROWDS

Posted in Quick Hits on October 17th, 2014 by Ed

Audience participation post: Use the comments to post the best (by which I mean worst) things you have read or heard about Ebola so far. Given that most Americans possess a third grade understanding of biology, it is the epitome of "This would be funnier if it were not so sad" to listen to their scientific theories. Particularly when those theories are combined with their inherent nativism, racism, and pathological desire to use everything that happens anywhere in the world as an excuse to go off half-assed on Obama.

Links preferred, but tales of things overheard around the office are certainly welcome as well. I'm looking to compile a Best Of, which shouldn't be hard considering that people who believe that evolution is a Lie from the Pit of Hell are now arguing that Ebola became airborne in four months.

Don't let me down.

CONFUSION REIGNS

Posted in Quick Hits on October 12th, 2014 by Ed

I remember distinctly the following conversation when I was in first grade. Back then I was called Eddie. Don't call me Eddie anymore.

Eddie: "What part of America did Christopher Columbus find?"
Teacher: "Today it's part of the Bahamas."
Eddie: "So he didn't discover America?"
Teacher: "Well we call all of this the Americas."
Eddie: "And there were people there when he got there?"
Teacher: "Yes, there were indians."
Eddie: "Mrs. _____, why was Columbus important?"
Teacher: "We have to move on."

It's pretty trite at this point to point out that the man whose name had to be anglicized to make him sound un-foreign enough to be an American hero wasn't all he is cracked up to me. Nobody really cares because holidays are hard enough to come by in the United States and nobody wants to lose this one. A day off is a day off. But my god is it silly watching people actually "celebrate" Columbus Day. Maybe this, along with wearing track suits everywhere, is the only good thing about being an old Italian man and we shouldn't try to ruin it. In 2014, though, it's hard to believe anyone still takes seriously the idea that Senor Colon was a great man worthy of our admiration.