Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the year clean-up

I could talk football all day. Unfortunately, I can’t make a living from it, so I have to pay attention to the “real” world, because I am in one way or another affected by what goes on it. So here goes my end-of-year clean-up of unfinished business.

************************************************************


Bloomberg News recently reported on how some billionaires have risen in opposition to the call of other self-styled “patriotic” millionaires and billionaires—including the now party-unaffiliated Donald Trump—to raise their tax rates to help maintain a civil society, instead of one where the Prince Prosperos of the country try in vain to hide from the consequences of their avarice. One millionaire hedge fund manager admitted on NPR that businesspeople were not in the “business” of job creation, but in sales and profits; if they could safely cut more jobs, they would do it without the slightest pangs of conscience. They had to be “forced” to create jobs in the face of increased consumer demand that on hand labor cannot meet. Unfortunately, in this country the people who currently have all the extra cash (the rich)--due to massive income disparity in this country and the disappearing middle class--prefer to hide their income in tax shelters and capital gains havens. That cash would be better used in the hands of ordinary consumers, but greed and avarice rule the minds of the newly-surfaced, super-rich "put-upons."

According to Bloomberg, “Jamie Dimon, the highest-paid chief executive officer among those of the six biggest U.S. banks, turned a question at an investors conference this month into an occasion to defend wealth. ‘Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it,' the JPMorgan Chase CEO responded to a question about hostility toward bankers. "Sometimes there's a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.’" The super rich “deserve what they are getting” from Wall Street protestors, says the Home Depot’s Bernard Marcus, if they don’t “talk about their troubles.” What “troubles” would that be? Apparently the “crap” he gets from “imbeciles.” Other “troubles” include the Dodd-Frank Act’s requirement that the ratio of CEO compensation compared to employee median wages be disclosed, the discovery of which would be "incredibly wasteful" and "insane.” Only those trying to disguise their greed would use such transparently self-serving, deceitful terms.

Many of the super-rich of the Koch brothers stripe complain incessantly about “an attack on the very productive." But "productive" is a matter of opinion, since hedge fund managers and dealers in derivatives do not create wealth or jobs for anyone but themselves—and when they screw-up thousands of middle-to-lower income people pay. Of course, income disparity is a major cause of this country’s lack of job growth, because middle-to-lower income people spend the most of their disposable income on consumer items, while the rich squirrel their money away, as a hedge against bad economic times like this. As Warren Buffett noted in an op-ed in the New York Times, only relatively small amount of the money “earned” by the super-rich is actually income, and “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.”

And the more they make, the less they pay in taxes, contrary to popular belief, according to Buffett (confirmed by Politifact) : “Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.” Forty million jobs were created between 1980 and 2000, before the Bush tax cuts. Why haven’t tax cuts for the rich created jobs? Because lower taxes remove the incentive to invest. Investing doesn’t just mean more workers and equipment, but higher pay that will also increase consumerism, and hence sales—and job creation. Instead, the extra money might be used for a European vacation, put into financial gambling casinos, or put it an off-shore tax haven. Buffett remarked that the 39.9 percent capital gains taxes in the 1970s did not persuade people not to invest, in fact quite the opposite—they had to invest more to make more money.

Some of the super rich are telling us “Don’t raise our taxes” until the poor pay their “fair share.” Their propaganda has the gullibles' minds twisted in knots, especially those who belong to the Tea Party. They say “We’re taxed enough, don’t raise our taxes” as if they are in a trance, repeating what they have been told without understanding what they are saying. Now, I would consider myself in that “poor” category. Federal payroll and income taxes reduce my income by 17 percent; after the personal exemption, I get 5 percent of that back in the form of a refund. But that’s not all the taxes I pay; another 10 percent of take-home income goes to state sales taxes. Overall, on income in the bottom quarter, I pay 20 percent in taxes—the same as the top 1 percent, according to IRS figures—and they have rather considerably more money left over than I do; for every one dollar I have left before pay day, someone in the top 1 percent has anywhere from $100 for the low-end to $10,000 for CEOs like Jamie Dimon.

One of the ultra-rich quoted in the Bloomberg story said that if he might consider being more “patriotic” if he was shown more “respect.” After what he and his chums did to the economy this past decade, and the many millions of people still out of work—and he demands respect? Like the transcontinental railroad tycoons of the 19th Century who knew nothing of basic economics, but expected the federal government to continually bail them out of bankruptcy, these people always seem to come out ahead whenever their imprudence outstrips their avarice. We don’t need a few people hording cashes; we need millions spending it to force the businesses to create jobs. If they don’t want to do the job, give it the federal and state government, so they can do it for them.

*********************************************************

There was a fascinating story from the Reuters news service recently concerning Medicare fraud. Most people think of Medicare fraud as ordinary people faking injury; in reality, the worst abuses are perpetrated by slick operators who create “shell” companies that appear legitimate but are just fronts for the illegal activities of another operation. In the case of Medicare fraud, a shell company might claim to be a billing company that purports to handle the claims of a clinic that in fact exist only as post box, if it exists at all. Medicare functionaries rarely have the time to check-out every clinic to determine that legitimate medical procedures are taking place, compounded by the fact that some crooked doctors accept kickbacks for putting their signatures on phony claims.

Making it harder to catch the fraudsters is a so-called “bust-out” operation, when a shell company or company bombards Medicare personnel with claims, hoping that as many a possible are approved before someone wises-up the scheme: “In one of the largest cases of Medicare fraud ever charged, the operation was enabled by shell companies. In October 2010, federal prosecutors indicted 44 members of an Armenian organized crime ring. Their network, which stretched from Los Angeles to Savannah, Ga., used 118 shell companies in 25 states to pose as Medicare providers, billing more than $100 million, according to federal indictments in three states.” In another case, a Florida fraudster “formed or acquired control of six medical clinics in Florida, each with its own office. Patients were then recruited and paid kickbacks to periodically appear at the clinics or allow use of their Medicare numbers.” According to report by the GAO this year, nearly 10 percent of Medicare payouts last year were classified as “improper,” the bulk of them organized fraud of this sort.

Of course, some of this fraud could controlled if there was proper enforcement, and as usual the culprit is lack of resources, like money. A few million dollars to put teeth into even modest regulations could save billions of dollars stolen every year. And naturally it is the Republicans who see no need for regulation, let alone its funding fraud investigations—thus exposing their deficit cutting rhetoric as empty sloganeering.


*****************************************************

It was a bad month for police agencies that one would believe are at polar opposites in their approach to law enforcement: The Seattle Police Department and Sheriff Joe’s infamous regime in Maricopa County, Arizona. If there is a difference, it that Arpaio’s gang actually revels in its reputation as racist, paid thugs who also act as enforcers against his enemies in the political, judicial and media sphere. Arpaio always comes off as “rational” whenever he appears on CNN, but he is still just the head thug, as revealed in the letter detailing the Justice Department’s findings in its investigation of racial profiling and abusive tactics openly condoned in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department.

But first the DOJ’ s report on abuses in the SPD, brought on several shocking episodes including the John T. Williams killing: “We find that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14141. Deficiencies in SPD’s training, policies, and oversight with regard to the use of force contribute to the constitutional violations. Officers lack adequate training or policies on when and how to report force and when and how to use many impact weapons (such as batons and flashlights). We also find that, starting from the top, SPD supervisors often fail to meet their responsibility to provide oversight of the use of force by individual officers. Command staff does not always provide supervisors with clear direction or expectations of how to supervise the use of force…We do not make a finding that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing, but our investigation raises serious concerns on this issue. Some SPD policies and practices, particularly those related to pedestrian encounters, could result in unlawful policing. Moreover, many community members believe that SPD engages in discriminatory policing. This perception is rooted in a number of factors, including negative street encounters, recent well-publicized videos of force being used against people of color, incidents of overt discrimination, and concerns that the pattern of excessive force disproportionately affects minorities.”

The report found that SPD officers use force “in an unconstitutional manner” 20 percent of the time. Investigators reached this conclusion by examining the SPD’s own reports. It is also revealed that Seattle police seemed disturbingly eager to use “impact” weapons; almost 60 percent of the time it was either “unnecessary or excessive.” Even more disturbing—but hardly surprising—was officers tendency to “escalate situations and use unnecessary or excessive force when arresting individuals for minor offenses. This trend is pronounced in encounters with persons with mental illnesses or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is problematic because SPD estimates that 70% of use of force encounters involve these populations.” Incidents such as that involving a mentally ill man who was beaten senseless by a half-dozen officers in precinct lobby was indicative of “Multiple SPD officers at a time use unnecessary or excessive force together against a single subject. Of the excessive use of force incidents we identified, 61% of the cases involved more than one officer.”

Another disturbing trend was the failure to discipline and the retention of officers who were involved in dozens of incidents of excessive force: “SPD has no effective supervisory techniques to better analyze why these officers use force more than other officers, whether their uses of force are necessary, or whether any of these officers would benefit from additional use of force training.”

But Seattle’s problems were small potatoes compared to Maricopa County’s Brown Shirts. DOJ investigators found that Arpaio and his deputies—playing-up the illegal immigration “menace” as a cover—ignored with impunity the constitutional and civil rights of U.S. citizens and immigrants of Latino extraction alike; if anyone complains of his policies and practices, Arpaio and his deputies “unlawfully retaliates” against. The CBS news affiliate in Phoenix recently conducted its own investigation of Arpaio’s revenge tactics, which a former federal attorney deemed criminal and prosecutable. The report also noted that Arpaio seemed particularly “juiced” whenever he received letters from racist white constituents—many of which “contain no meaningful descriptions of criminal activity — just crude, ethnically derogatory language about Latinos,” which he apparently used to justify his actions. One such letter that asked Arpaio to “round-up” of people with “dark skin” was marked by Arpaio as “intelligence” and ordered a subordinate to “handle this.”

Latinos were routinely referred to as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans” and “stupid Mexicans” by Arpaio’s officers. A study commissioned by DOJ found that Latino drivers were 4 to 9 times more likely to be stopped than non-Latino drivers. In fact, the DOJ report concluded that Arpaio’s office “oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in U.S. history”—creating a “culture” which routinely ignored the civil rights of Latinos—any Latinos. An example of this was the following incident: “A legal U.S. resident and his U.S. citizen son invited deputies into their home during a raid on a suspect drop-house next door. The deputies proceeded to search the home without consent or a warrant, handcuffed the man and his son, then had them sit on the sidewalk next to the people being busted from the neighboring house. They were detained for an hour before being released without any citation (This reminds me of the actions I had to endure at the hands of Renton police, even though I didn’t fit the description of a six-foot white bank robber).” Another disturbing activity was the pressuring by jail guards to sign “voluntary” deportation forms, regardless of their legal status.
Racism was so rife in the Sheriff’s Department that even blatantly racist complaints from people who thought all “dark-skinned people” were illegal immigrants were treated with all due diligence. For example, Arpaio sent deputies to investigate a complaint that the employees at a McDonald’s were conversing in Spanish. Arpaio was accused of personally directing the worst abuses in his office—and then when called to account, he routinely claimed he knew nothing.

And CNN continues to coddle bigots like Arpaio and nativist hate groups like FAIR.

**************************************************************

Meanwhile, in South Carolina—together with Mississippi the most socially backward state in the Union--U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel temporarily blocked the most abusive parts of its anti-immigrant law. Like the Arizona law before some parts were blocked, the South Carolina would have allowed police to check the immigration status of anyone they had “reasonable” suspicion might be illegal. This requirement “unquestionably vastly expands the persons targeted for immigration enforcement action," said Gergel, obviously in reference anyone who was suspected of being Latino. In another “unrelated” ruling, the Justice Department struck down South Carolina’s requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. It has been noted before that the Bush administration’s DOJ never found evidence of widespread voter fraud; this may be due to the fact that most of the “fraud” had more to do with Republican voter suppression tactics. South Carolina’s Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley (who frankly looks like a white woman with a tan, making her more “palatable”), raged ."It is outrageous (the DOJ’s action), and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights." But Democrats rightly accuse Haley and her Republicans here and throughout the country for engaging in bald-faced voter disenfranchisement and suppression for their own cynical political aims.

************************************************************

Meanwhile, Cox News service is reporting that the Social Security Administration has a $90 billion “suspense” fund, payroll deductions from workers whose Social Security eligibility cannot be verified. It is assumed that many, perhaps most, of these workers are illegal immigrants who have no legal right to the money. About $7 billion a year is added into it.

The story quotes Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which is largely responsible for the details in Arizona immigration law, and really has nothing to do with “reform” or “fairness.” It’s real aim is halting all immigration by non-Anglo/Arians; the Southern Poverty Law Center has FAIR on its list of nativist hate groups. Mehlman admits that he has “heard” of the $7 billion per year figure in FICA payroll taxes (Social Security plus Medicare). But he refuses to believe that in general undocumented workers pay taxes, and insists that they are drain on social programs, for which he has no evidence, but assumes that Latinos—even those of impoverished means—use resources at the same rate as comfortably middle class whites.

What FAIR is fighting for in reality is exactly what founder John Tanton says it is: "As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?" and "I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that." FAIR’s president, Dan Stein, went even further in racist fantasy: "I blame ninety-eight percent of responsibility for this country's immigration crisis on Ted Kennedy and his political allies, who decided some time back in 1958, earlier perhaps, that immigration was a great way to retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance and hubris, and the immigration laws from the 1920s were just this symbol of that, and it's a form of revengism, or revenge, that these forces continue to push the immigration policy that they know full well are [sic] creating chaos and will continue to create chaos down the line."

The racial agenda of FAIR couldn’t be more obvious, yet mainstream media outlets continue to treat this organization as if it has mainstream “respectability.”

**********************************************************

Earlier this month I encountered an interview of feminist attorney Gloria Allred in the New York Times Magazine. Interviewer Andrew Goldman managed—despite Allred’s attempts to obfuscate matters—to make her squirm trying to explain her various mendacities while devolving into what the UK Guardian called a “fame whore,” using some rather pathetic women as a vehicle to extort money from well-known men. Her latest victim is former Hewlet-Packard CEO Mark Hurd, her tool Jodie Fisher. Fisher was apparently employed by HP as a “company hostess” for some years; Allred refers to her as an “actress” and “contractor.” Fisher did appear in some films, although her “starring” roles were in several “erotic thrillers” and soft core porn in the 1990s, like “Body of Influence 2” and “Intimate Obsession.” Somehow the general plot line of these films—a woman seducing a man in order to frame him for a crime she has committed, like murder—seems appropriate to describing Allred’s methods. A letter composed by Allred with a story-line obviously embellished by its author, accused Hurd of sexual harassment of Fisher and was a transparent attempt to extort money from him.

While most people in the media still regard her activities with reverence, Goldman had the audacity to point out her own sexism. He asked her to explain why it wasn’t the kind of commentary that feminists frequently rail against as sexist when she walked into steam room at the Friars Club with a tape measure singing “Is That All There Is?” She claimed that she wasn’t against “sex,” but “sexism.” She claimed there was a “big difference” between them. The problem was that she meant to demean—which, according to her definition, is sexism. She also repeated a story that while on vacation in Mexico during the 1960s, she was raped by a Mexican doctor at gunpoint, claimed that she never made mention of it until decades later because “nobody would believe an American girl,” became pregnant, had an illegal abortion that almost killed her. The problem is that we only have her word that any of this is actually true, but the story is useful when she tries to explain her desire to wreak vengeance on men.

When asked why in recent years her cases lack “heft”—she claimed her firm won over $250 million for “victims of discrimination.” But almost all of her most recent “high profile” cases have one thing or another to so with women of questionable repute who have an angle on a man of means. Besides softcore actress Fisher, Allred’s clients included porn actresses like Ginger Lynn and Joslyn James; a “massage therapist” who was arrested for prostitution, and a nanny who demanded $1.5 million from actor Rob Lowe and his wife “or she will accuse us both of a vicious laundry list of false terribles." When asked why she demanded that Tiger Woods should issue a public apology to James, she claimed that “Tiger Woods led her to believe that she was the only one that he was having an intimate relationship with and that he wasn’t having that kind of relationship with his wife. He asked Joslyn to give up her career in adult films, which was her only source of income, because he was jealous. And she did. When the scandal broke, he dropped her like a hot potato. You may think a broken heart and hurting a woman is O.K. I don’t.”

When Goldman asked if she could possibly be serious making such inferences, Allred retorted “I wouldn’t characterize it the way you have.” When he pointed out he was just quoting her own words, she hemmed and hawed and then inferred that Woods was responsible for a businessman selling golf balls with James face on them: “We don’t think it’s funny that a man takes a golf club and strikes a woman’s face. We don’t think domestic violence is a laughing matter.” When Goldman asked her what golf balls have to do with domestic violence, Allred accused him of not considering domestic violence “the important issue I do.” Given the recent CDC report that validated the suspicion that women are just as culpable in domestic violence (just the other day there was a local report of a woman who shot her husband head during an argument; a “precautionary” hospital visit found no indication that she had been physically abused herself), neither does Allred. When Goldman asked Allred to explain her claim that James and Lee were forced to go into hiding following the “exposure” of Rep. Anthony Weiner, when in fact the two could be found dancing nude at an Atlanta strip joint taking advantage of new-found “fame,” Allred retorted that “Although I didn’t arrange the appearances, women need to earn a living. I’m proud that my clients are working to support themselves and those who depend on them.” One wonders, deep down, if Allred’s fascination with porn stars, strippers and prostitutes conceals a secret desire within that diminutive frame.

There are other things that thinking people might find questionable in regard to Allred’s character. In her book “Fight Back and Win,” she says very little that is informative about her youth, but what she does say only makes one suspicious of what she doesn’t say. What, for example, does she have say about her first husband, who she married while still in college, and the father of her only child? She mentions in passing someone named Peyton, who happened to be her husband. She complained that he “went out for a beer” when she was in labor. She complained about cooking and cleaning. She said her relationship with him deteriorated. He became “emotionally abusive and threw things.” She claimed that she “loved” him, but no counseling, treatment or medication could help him. Why did he need any of that? She had to leave for her daughter’s sake. He shot himself with a gun “years later.” Oh, wait. She forgot to mention that her first husband was battling bipolar disease, and she abandoned him because she didn’t want to deal with it.

I came across a story in the Los Angeles Times dated 1992. “For many years, William C. Allred had seemed the most docile of husbands, a quiet, patient man who lived in the shadow of his famous wife. To hear him tell it, he proudly helped make Gloria Allred the woman she is today, loyally supporting her climb to fame, fortune and influence as a firebrand feminist attorney.” In 1987, Mr. Allred was convicted and for allegedly selling counterfeit parts to the military through a company he owned, which he claimed he was innocent of. Out of prison and in bankruptcy court, Mr. Allred was fighting a divorce “settlement” made while he was in prison that awarded $4 million to Allred. "It's the height of hypocrisy for her to do this,’ Bill Allred said in an interview. “I put her (her daughter, Lisa Bloom) through law school and now she's going to take everything I ever earned.” Allred, who has made a career representing gold diggers, responded with "How is a person a gold digger for trying to collect their share of community property? I'm entitled to collect my fair share of community property without being called names…I consider his statements about me defamatory and I am saddened that he has chosen to publicly attack me instead of paying the judgment." For his part, Allred allowed that "I don't begrudge her her share at all. I believe in community property. I don't care if I earned 95% of it. I should get half and she should get half." That’s what he thinks; with Allred it has always been about the money—the rest of it is just how she justifies her desire to make men pay for being men.

*****************************************************

Russia has always been the rather enigmatic “partner” of Europe. Technically, it is a “European” country; in fact national mindset wanders elsewhere. Even the land itself has an almost bland character, the bulk of the European portion west the Urals and the Volga comprising of the vast Russian Plain, 1.5 million square miles of never-ending expanse of lowland that varies no more than 500 feet between its lowest and highest point; it would be this—rather than Russian armies—that would defeat the spirit of invading armies. During the largest land invasion in world history, the Nazis only managed to occupy 600,000 square miles of it before exhausting its military capacity. Because of the northerly latitude and lack of influence of the oceans on the weather, there are only two seasons in most of the country—mild summers and bitterly cold winters. The kind of place that should be left to its own devises, and for most of history, was isolated from Western influence.

Back in the day (like 500 years ago), its large land mass and sparse population did not spawn a great deal of economic and political sophistication. Peter the Great attempted to “westernize” Russia, but with limited success because of entrenched provincial customs, and the lack of sufficiently educated population that made the ideal of an independent, efficient civil service hampered the governance even now. While serfdom disappeared in the rest of Europe during the Renaissance, it survived in Russia until the 1860s (not that the southern parts of the U.S. had much to brag about). Even in the revolutionary fervor of 1917, ideology took a backseat to governing practicality; “governance” by the workers was a sham, and one form of dictatorship was replaced by another. Vladimir Putin certainly comes off as if he doesn’t respect democracy in principle. His political organ, United Russia, used its two-thirds majority in the Duma to change the constitution in order to move the country toward despotism; the constitution already permitted a president to return to office after a single term, but United Russia voted to extend presidential terms from four to six years, meaning that one man could rule 24 of 30 years—although this seems to be primarily in favor Putin, who had only four years to wait while effectively ruling the country in absentia during that time.
.
The result is that Russia—along with even more reactionary Belarussia—continues to be the odd-man out in Europe. The most recent local elections seem to suggest, however, that not all Russians are enamored with the idea of Putin remaining in power; United Russia has a bare majority after taking heavy losses, while protests against alleged fraud at the polls have were forced treated with scorn (current president and Putin stooge Dmitry Medvedev attacked protestors as “stupid sheep” on his twitter account), but now more heavy-handed police tactics are being employed to silence critics; one report claimed that two “feminists” who protested topless were allegedly detained and forced to dance nude for police. Russia also happens to have a habit of finding its “free” journalists lying dead on the street for speaking out.

Russia is still a country with an East-leaning mindset, preferring to make deals with its Middle East and Asian neighbors in opposition to Western interests. Its apparent move toward de facto despotism only consolidates its isolation from the rest of Europe; it is still in many ways an “enemy” as it ever was.


As an aside (keeping with the Russian theme), one of the World’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries is whether-or-not that massive johnson inside a jar of preservative located in a museum in Saint Petersburg actually once belonged to the infamous Mad Monk, Rasputin. This character, whose questionable influence on the Empress Alexandra helped seal the doom of the Romanov dynasty, was said to be quite the lady’s man, first mesmerizing them with his eyes and then subsequently delighting them with his (supposedly) gigantic member. The object inside this glass jar is indeed impressive, if in fact it is of human origin. Some people, however, question its authenticity. Some believe it is a Sea Cucumber; others suspect that its original owner was a horse. I have no opinion on the matter myself; suffice it to say that other nations have much different attitudes concerning sex than our puritanical (and hypocritical) country. When I was in Crete, I was amazed by all the statuettes of naked women, and men with huge erect johnsons, in the tourist gift shops. The ancient Greek pottery that you will not see in museums are those that have depictions of human activity of a rather pornographic nature; apparently there were no no-fun feminists around back then.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The professor needs to go back to class

I know they call ESPN’s John Clayton the “professor,” but doesn’t that mean he has to do the research before he expresses an opinion? If he prefers that the Seattle Seahawks continue into their 35th year of draft futility when it comes to quarterbacks, why doesn’t he just come out and say it, instead of dismissing the alternatives out-of-hand; after all, it was the “alternatives”—Jim Zorn, Dave Krieg and Matt Hassellback—who gave the team some semblance of credibility on the passing side. Mel Kiper Jr. thought that Brett Favre was the steal of the 1991 draft, and who did the Seahawks in their infinite wisdom pick as the first quarterback selected in the draft despite the protestations of Chuck Knox? What does it matter now, the team blew it about as badly as can be done. Sure, draft your next stiff, but with Whitehurst gone don’t waste his slot just because you are afraid that you might bring in quarterback chomping at the bit to get his opportunity, and who would likely leave both your new stiff and Tarvaris commiserating about the future.

Of course, I’m talking about Matt Flynn now, whose last college exploit was offensive MVP of the national championship game. Clayton, if he really was a “professor,” would have explained to a caller earlier today what he saw at the Packer training when Flynn blew the doors off the “competition” in second-round pick Brian Brohm, and sent him packing. He might have made an effort to describe the skill set that allowed Flynn to make fools of critics who were predicting a 45-0 blow-out loss at New England last year. He might have taken greater heed of what people close to the Packers were saying—that they were impressed by Flynn’s fearlessness, leadership and decision-making. Clayton might also have taken note of how one Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sports reporter thought that Flynn looked more effective than Aaron Rodgers during this past preseason. Fantasy football “experts” say that Flynn would be a top-five pick if Rodgers went down. Clayton intimated, in spite of himself, to a clueless Salk that other teams had the same idea, because of the high price tag that acquiring him might require.

But Clayton doesn’t want anyone to even think about Flynn, so he shunts him off to the side with little more than indifference when anyone even mentions his name. All he can say with any “authority” is that at 6’1” Flynn may be too short, as if Rodgers is just tall enough at 6’2.” That’s it? How tall is Drew Brees, and where was his career after five years? Salk says he can’t judge Flynn because of his lack of statistics, ignoring the New England game. No one can definitively know if Flynn will turn-out to be a guy who throws for 4,000 yards every year or becomes a professional benchwarmer, but who will know if a team will not give him that chance?

And if you want you want to play the “what do we really know" game, we can play that to. What evidence did we have that Rodgers was going to be an “elite” quarterback after three years? Certainly no more than Flynn; Rodgers one moment of significant action in three years (against the Cowboys) was much less impressive than Flynn’s against the Patriots. We might also ask why so many teams passed on Rodgers during the draft. San Francisco coach Mike Nolan, who had the number one pick to play with, chose Alex Smith. Why? According to Gary Peterson of The Contra Costa Times, Nolan had a “strong personality who didn’t like to be challenged.” He interviewed Rodgers and Smith separately to ascertain their character before the draft. “He caught a whiff of attitude from Rodgers, and that was that. Smith was chosen based on personality. He is cerebral, introspective, with a distaste for confrontation.” To Nolan, Rodgers was a head case, and his arrogance still shows through on occasion. Observers of their workouts concluded that Smith and not Rodgers was NFL ready. GMs were also wary of Rodgers being the product of the Tedford quarterback stable: Great in college, mediocre in the pros. After his first season as a starter, when the Packers dropped from 13-3 to 6-10, there were people wondering if the right decision had been made.

“He has doubters. Now, he must try to prove them wrong.” This was Clayton following the 2005 draft. I have no doubt that Flynn would like to prove HIM wrong as well. But what do I care? I’m a Packer fan, and I’ve been paying attention.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sanchez redux

I have to admit that I was forced to step back and re-evaluate after Brock Huard had the moxie to dive into shark-infested airwaves, daring the listening audience to imagine Mark Sanchez in a Seahawks uniform—especially after the locals had a chance to observe him on national television Christmas morning. It takes a certain amount of guts to stick your nose out there to get whacked by the local provincials, and not even when news that Tarvaris Jackson had been signed were people so willing to expose their small-minded prejudice in so loathsome a manner.

Now, I’m not going to tell you I think that Mark Sanchez is the answer to the Seahawk’s quarterback issues, even if the Jets decide to move him (which seems unlikely at this juncture). I’m still pushing for Matt Flynn, because I’m a Packer guy and I think he’s been properly coached, a lot of people think he has a tremendous upside, and because I think he deserves a chance to get out from under the shadow of Aaron Rodgers and prove to the John Claytons of the world he can play.

Still, I can’t help but think that with only one full year of college play behind him, Sanchez should not have been just tossed out there. I have this idea that the perception of the Jets as a top tier team was largely a myth created by Rex Ryan and the media. The Sporting News’ J.P. Pelzman recently had some observations to make about the Jets and what he perceived were their weaknesses on offense. He thought that while Sanchez—contrary to what his bashers say—has had a leaky offensive line to contend with, he was still making too many one-read passes. “He's staring down guys, and that's why opposing teams are jumping routes on him. They'll look at the film, and he'll eyeball the same guy for four, five seconds. You can't do that in the NFL. You need to look around, at least give the appearance you're looking somewhere else. He definitely needs to correct that."

Anyone who watched the Jets-Giants game could also see that Sanchez had trouble extending plays because of the pass rush; if he took less than seven-step drops, defensive linemen were on his back almost immediately. Yes, he made some throws that really made you wince. He often seemed to be getting rid of the ball too quickly on occasion, before he was hit and before a receiver even thought to turn around. But earlier in the season the problem was that he was holding the ball too long. What is going on now? Some have placed the blame on Brian Schottenheimer—who, believe it or not, was retained as offensive coordinator after Eric Mangini was fired, and he has held that position since 2006. Time for a change, maybe? Sanchez isn’t the only quarterback he has coached. How about this as a “teaching” method that one Jets observer noted: During practice sessions after the loss to the Ravens in week four, Sanchez was forced to throw the ball before a buzzer on the field sounded. In subsequent games, Sanchez has played like he’s trying to get rid of the ball before an imaginary “buzzer” goes off in his head.

Offenses should be tailored to a quarterback’s skill set, and Sanchez has shown that he is functional in play action, moving in the pocket and in two-minute drills; Schottenheimer is too enamored with his “system” to allow any such compromise. Sometimes offensive coordinators really don’t know how to coordinate; Sherman Lewis was the Packers titular offensive coordinator during the Mike Holmgren years, but everyone knew Holmgren was calling the shots. After Holmgren left, new coach Ray Rhodes—who had a defensive background—left Lewis to handle the offensive play-calling on his own. What we saw that year was what happens when the player who wears Number 4 on his jersey is released from his leash, and both Rhodes and Lewis were dismissed from their jobs upon the season's end.

Are we also to blame Sanchez for the inconsistency of the running game, which ranks 22nd in the NFL? Last year, the Jets averaged nearly 150 yards rushing a game; this year, it’s barely 100 yards. The team’s 3.8 yards per attempt is 30th in the NFL; last year, its 4.4 average ranked 8th. Pelzman also found fault with the receiving corp. "Not sure about the wisdom in signing Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason—along with Santonio Holmes, those are three guys who are used to being a No. 1 receiver. It sounds great on paper, but it can be a headache for the quarterback because everyone's clamoring for the ball. ... Holmes' catches will go up, almost by default, because right now, there's not much chemistry between Sanchez and Plaxico. With the passes to Burress, he always seems to be in a different ZIP code." This certainly was not helped by the lockout, or the fact that Burress has clearly lost a step after two years out of the league. And Sanchez is not to blame for a defense that has gone from 1st to 22nd in points allowed. The Green Bay Packers’ defense is the kind that frequently gives-up big plays, but minimizes the damage; the Jets defense is the opposite: it plays stout on occasion, but then gives-up the big plays with maximum damage. We saw this against the Giants, when on third-and-ten at the one yard line and the outcome still in flux, Eli Manning deflated the arrogant Jets defense and the team with a 99-yard touchdown strike to Victor Cruz.

The criticism of Sanchez has only been magnified because of the New York media market, which tends to overshadow the problems that other teams have over their quarterbacking issues. Take for example the Atlanta Falcons. Over the past four seasons, Matt Ryan has a respectable 42-19 record as a starter, a 2-1 TD pass to INT ratio, and an 88.0 rating. His record in the playoffs? 0-2, 3 TDs and 4 INTs and a 71.2 rating. Joe Flacco has been marginally better, with a 4-3 playoff record; but he has thrown only 4 TDs and had 7 INTs, with a rating of only 61.6. In his four wins, the defense allowed only 40 points. Sanchez, on the other hand, has a QB rating 20 points higher than his regular season rating, 9 TDs to 3 INTs, and a 4-2 record.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More football notes

I just heard Brock Huard on the local ESPN radio affiliate take another cheap-shot at my all-time favorite football player, Brett Favre. Being a loyal Favre supporter (it’s “supporters”—not “fans”—that Favre acknowledges on his website), I feel that I must “retaliate.” Brock doesn’t have much credibility to talk about Favre, given that he rarely stepped on an NFL field; his professional output—well, I won’t embarrass him by mentioning it (0-4 as a starter, one decent game that raised his career QB rating from 67 to 80), but suffice to say that sometimes having no statistics is better than having them, which puts his partner, Salk, on more-or-less equal footing. Anyways, Brock claimed that Favre was a “bad teammate.” The only people who make that claim are not the players who actually played with him, but commentators who are making judgments on whether or not he showed-up at mini-camps. It was only late in his career that he started to “waffle,” and his teammates knew why: After 200+ consecutive starts, they respected the fact that he played with injuries he rarely made an issue of (like Ben Roethlisberger does), and there was a wink and a nod from players who knew he gave them credibility, national exposure and a chance at the playoffs every year if he had time to heal. And it wasn’t because he was a “bad” teammate that several veteran players defied management and openly supported his return to Green Bay in 2008; it was management that nagged him into retirement, then tried to keep him retired, had the temerity to tell him he had to “compete” for the starting job after coming off one of his best seasons, before deliberately trading him to an ill-fitting suit.

And it wasn’t because Favre was a “bad” teammate that three Vikings went to Mississippi to convince him to come back after taking as brutal a beating as any quarterback has ever endured in the NFC title game the previous January. Even in New York, nobody accused Favre as being a “bad” teammate; on the contrary, his Jets teammates commented on how he “lightened-up” the atmosphere when he arrived. Jets coach Eric Mangini, who some might expect to say that Favre was “bad” teammate given that he lost his job after the season was over, never said that; in fact he chided know-it-all Steven A. Smith for calling Favre a “selfish” player. There is perhaps one caveat I might add: There is one player who Favre was a teammate of who has spoken about him in the negative tense—Aaron Rodgers, most publicly on the David Letterman show after the Super Bowl. Talk about not respecting your elders—if not your betters; Rodgers still has a long, long way to go before he proves definitely that he is not another Mark Brunell, who for a time with Jacksonville seemed like an “elite” quarterback (as “defined” at that time), but is now backing-up Mark Sanchez. I’m not saying that Rodgers will end-up like that, but I’m being goaded into it.

************************************************************

People in Seattle are currently talking about whether they have the gonads to sign a player like Prince Fielder on the baseball side (they don’t) or acquiring that franchise quarterback on the football side. They had their best chance to do so in 1991; instead they drafted Mark McGwire’s brother instead of the other guy that coach Chuck Knox desperately wanted. The draft is always a crap-shoot, and they’ll likely pass on free agent Matt Flynn, so they might end-up settling for another “game manager.” If they do so, the Seahawks—unless they have that bone-crushing defense—will have to insure that they have the playmakers around him. Take, for example, the quarterback who is the quintessential definition of “game manager,” Troy Aikman. Based on career statistics alone, Aikman has no business being in the Hall of Fame. On paper, his output was strictly pedestrian; in 12 seasons, he averaged about 2,750 yards passing, 14 TDs and 12 INTs a year. His won/loss record as a starter was 94-71 (compared to Favre’s 186-112). What set him apart were three Super Bowl victories. How did he do it—or more precisely, who were the playmakers who helped him achieve this? Let’s take a look at some statistics from the Dallas Cowboys’ 1992-1995 seasons:

1992
Total offense: 5606 yards
Net passing yards: 3485
Michael Irvin, receiving yards: 1396
Emmitt Smith, rushing and receiving yards: 2048

1993
Total offense: 5615 yards
Net passing yards: 3454
Michael Irvin, receiving yards: 1330
Emmitt Smith, rushing and receiving yards: 1900

1994
Total offense: 5321 yards
Net passing yards: 3368
Michael Irvin, receiving yards: 1241
Emmitt Smith, rushing and receiving yards: 1825

1995
Total offense: 5824 yards
Net passing yards: 3623
Michael Irvin, receiving yards: 1603
Emmitt Smith, rushing and receiving yards: 2148

Notice a pattern here? Irvin and Smith alone accounted for 60 percent of the Cowboy’s offense; all Aikman was expected to do was to get the ball into their hands. That is what a “game manager” does for you. You can win Super Bowls with a “game manager” as long as you have the playmakers around him; if you don’t, then you need an “elite” quarterback. The Indianapolis Colts are having a season that painfully proves that point.

***********************************************************

I have no ill will toward Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record; records are there to be broken. It’s simply incomprehensible that Norm Van Brocklin’s 1951 record of 554 yards passing in a single game still stands (a few nuggets from that game: The Rams beat the New York Yanks 54-14, outgaining them 722-111. Van Brocklin threw to two Hall of Fame receivers, Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears, and a guy named “Vitamin” Smith). Still, I found his post-game speech a little disingenuous, thanking everyone and the people who cleaned the toilets (I think it would be funny if Salk embarrassed Brock by asking him what players do when they must answer nature’s call real bad when they are supposed to be on the field). I’ve accused Peyton Manning as being stat-happy, always with that dour look when he was taken out of games late, especially the year he was chasing Marino’s single season touchdown record; Tom Brady might have the same “instincts.” But Brees takes the cake. I’ve never seen a guy for whom statistics defined who he was. It obviously meant the universe to him and his self-image to break the single-season record: “My name is the record books” before qualifying it as a “team” effort. Next week’s agenda: Recapture the single season pass completion record that Manning rudely stole from him last year. The Saints are still battling the 49ers for a first round playoff by, so Brees will be expected to take care of that unfinished business rather handily.

One small worry: Tom Brady is still “only” 190 yards behind Brees, and the Patriots still have to beat Buffalo to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs; another 300-yard game might not be enough if Brady decides to light it up like he did in the season opener against Miami.

***********************************************************

I suppose I would be remiss not to mention a report from Fox Sports Wisconsin, concerning a particularly irate fan following the Packers upset loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week. A 36-year-old female fan was charged with child abuse after allegedly being so mad that she choked her 11-year-old daughter following the game at the hotel her family was staying at. The daughter told police that she was choked so hard that she temporarily lost her breath. The husband also alleged that his wife "threw her dinner on the floor, broke a lamp and tried to punch him in the face" because she was so distraught over the loss. You have to hand to Rodgers and company: Favre never excited that kind insanity among the fandom.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Same old song for the Jets

I can understand why New York Jets diehards like ESPN’s Mike Greenberg have minds in a perpetual state of disarray. Now, let’s be honest: The Jets have not been to the Super Bowl since 1968, when they shocked the sports world by upsetting the Baltimore Colts, the reigning NFL superpower that was supposed to be able to handle the AFL’s Third World champion in its sleep. But that would be the last time Joe Namath would lead the Jets to the playoffs, and since then the Jets have wavered from hapless to helpless; in 1986 they started 10-1, and then proceeded to lose five in a row. Mostly, they have been losers; they never had more than three consecutive seasons with a winning record; they’ve lost 60 more games than they’ve won. Their current stretch has been the exception, not the rule; four of their 12 playoff victories have come in the last 2 years, which has somehow put the idea in some people’s heads that this team is actually different from previous teams. The reality is that the Jets have overachieved the past two seasons. They have a loud coach who has manages to inflate expectations not just of fans but the players; sometimes this works, sometimes it is just embarrassing, as when Rex Ryan announced that they are the “best” team in the city. Any coach with any sense would be telling his team that they have to prove it on the field.

You have to admit, however, that the current version of the Jets are just the kind of team that can turn a man with a full head of hair bald overnight; that makes them “relevant.” Take this sequence of plays in yesterday’s loss in the New York City Bowl versus the Giants: Sanchez throws a pass to a receiver who never turned around; incomplete pass. Sanchez throws a pass that Brett Favre liked to throw—zinging a low pass that apparently is supposed to go through the defender instead of over him; incomplete pass. Sanchez completes a nine-yard pass to Dustin Keller; doesn’t Keller know where the first down marker is? The Jets go for it on fourth and one; the pass downfield is incomplete, but fortune favors the Jets and a pass interference call is made against the Giants. Run play for 3 yards. Sanchez throws to Plaxico Burress for a 23-yard touchdown! But there is a flag on the play; Burress is called for offensive pass interference, a truly ticky-tack call but still a foolish play by Burress, who apparently thought no one was looking—like a kid trying to swipe a cookie from the cookie jar. Or may he didn’t realize the gun was loaded. Now it’s second and 17. Sanchez drops back and drops the ball; it is initially ruled a fumble, but is reversed on the tuck rule (the rule that the Raiders remember quite well). 15-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, and its fourth down again. Sanchez to Jeremy Kerley; it’s first and goal. Incomplete pass. 7-yard pass to Holmes; third down at the one. Sanchez fumbles the snap into the end zone; Giants recover for a touchback. You give a guy too many chances to mess-up, he eventually will.

It isn’t all Sanchez’s fault here; if he’s “regressed,” he’s had plenty of help. The offensive line isn’t any good on pass protection, and it seems that on many of his throws he’s just trying to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible and hoping for a miracle, like actually being caught by one of his own guys; in the past three seasons, Sanchez’s sack count has gone from 26 to 27 to 37 this year. The play-calling is also head-scratching; Sanchez threw 59 passes in the teeth of the Giants’ ferocious pass rush. Isn’t this supposed a power running team? I suppose if anything this proved that Sanchez has “guts.” But if you do have him throwing all day, it helps to remember that he barely completes half his passes; so how about throwing the ball downfield so you’ll at least have a fifty percent chance at getting a first down? Ok, so what’s this? An on-side kick at your own 19 following a safety? Lot of luck on that. And a defense that allows a 99-yard pass play on third-and-ten is too busy congratulating themselves on the previous two plays. The defense has gone from 1 to 6 to 22nd in points allowed in the past three seasons; this is regression.

I suppose it is only "natural" in a media market like New York that so much attention can be put on one player, both positive and negative, but I can't help but observe that Eli Manning with his hangdog face is like Teflon. Yes, he was on a Super Bowl winning team, but it is useful to remember that this team on offense was 4th in rushing and 21st in passing; we shouldn't--but do--"forget" about the fact that he is 0-2 in his only other playoff appearances. This year he has thrown for a lot of yards, but to questionable purpose. Sanchez, on the other hand, has come under such scrutiny that you wonder if he has any talent at all; sometimes it seems to go beyond even that. We now know why former NFL receiver and current ESPN self-congratulating blowhard Cris Carter always disses Sanchez as if it is personal: Because it is. Carter still isn’t in the Hall of Fame as perhaps as perhaps his career numbers might suggest, but apparently others issues are factored in—such as voters put-off by his arrogance (and perhaps also because he was just a guy who caught a lot of meaningless dink-and-dunk passes on losing teams until Randy Moss showed-up). In any event, Carter feels he has been “dissed,” while Sanchez—who always seems to come off as modest and well-mannered—appears to “fit in” the New York glamour scene without even trying. Does Sanchez deserve that attention? No, but save for one brief shining moment, neither did Joe Namath (Favre, on the other hand, was clearly uncomfortable with the New York scene, and he no doubt regrets his off-field experiences there; he didn’t realize that in New York, being a football icon doesn’t shield your private affairs from becoming embarrassingly public).

Despite all of this, you have to admit that if you are not a Jets fan, you’ll have a lot “fun” trying to figure out what they’re doing (if you are a fan, not so much fun). I suspect that the Jets didn't think they were getting another Peyton Manning when they drafted Sanchez; Pete Carroll wasn’t interested in “elite” quarterbacks, he just wanted a quarterback who could function in his ground and pound offense and defense (which is still his philosophy in Seattle), which apparently is all that Rex Ryan wants out of Sanchez as well. I think Sanchez (and the rest of the Jets) need a Mike Holmgren grab-you-by-the-facemask type, not someone who congratulates you for doing something you haven't accomplished yet. Even now Favre admits that he would not be the quarterback he became without the "tough love" treatment; left to his own vices—as would likely have been the case had he stayed in Atlanta—Favre would have continued to be Sanchez-like throughout a truncated career.

Sanchez has had indications in the past that showed that he can perform under the pressure of last minute comeback drives, while the Seahawk fans are learning what Viking fans already know—Tarvaris Jackson has yet to show he can lead a drive with the game on the line. T-Jack was given not one but two opportunities in the final 2 minutes to put the Seahawks in game-winning goal range against the 49ers; as usual, he failed. In the case of Sanchez, he has shown that the possibilities are present; whether he can fully develop them with the Jets is hardly certain. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been accused of trying to fit a quarterback to a system rather than fit the system to the quarterback based on his skill set. However it all shakes out, it isn't something that people like Cris Carter should be expected to be able to accurately gauge under the present circumstances.

Hum-bug

I’ve mentioned several times my disdain for hierarchies at the airport, particularly in regard to Operations, the alleged “brain center” where scheduling and load determination takes place. I’ve mentioned how in my particularly line of work, I am able to note the incomprehensible and occasionally maddening frequency of printing out a gate sheet (indicating the location of flights) that is utterly worthless an hour later, and the last minute “corrections” on loads; on one recent occasion, I delivered and then retrieved a load three times before someone figured out how it could be loaded. It’s like playing Scrabble with people who don’t know how to spell, or make-up words. One thing I know for certain is that it is one thing to press a computer key; it’s quite another to actually have to fix the mess.

But that’s old news; these people revealed themselves in quite another way, today. I printed out a gate sheet Christmas morning, and discovered the spare gates were identified by “Merry Christmas” in English, Hawaiian, Thai, Vietnamese, Gaelic, French and Dutch; I supposed that they didn’t have it in Chinese or Russian because they couldn’t insert the correct characters (someone could have cut-and-paste). I also figured these languages also represented the “ethnic” make-up of the people in OPs. I have to admit that it fascinates me how people reveal something not just about how they separate themselves from others, but how society shakes itself out along ethnic and racial hierarchies. Note that Spanish—which is just as widely spoken in the Western Hemisphere as English—was not included. Whether this is due to discriminatory attitudes or the assumption by the self-absorbed people in OPs that Latinos are a subset of the human race (thanks to the media and racist politicians) that need not be considered I can only conjecture, but I am quite willing to consider the truth of it based on observed body language and attitudes.

Merry Christmas? They don't even like us. Hum-bug—especially when it is done merely to demonstrate conceit.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Children at play

Yesterday I was driving my tug at the airport out to make a delivery when I sensed that something was not quite right. The tug seemed unusually bare; then it occurred to me why: My backpack was missing. There was nothing inside of it that was of irreplaceable value to me, but the pack itself had some value to me since it was a reusable item that I didn’t have to concern myself with budgeting for every month, given my modest earnings. It kind of annoyed that I needed to take it along with me in the first place, partly because the individual wall lockers were kind of small (tiny, actually) and secondly I needed something to mark the tug as “in use” so that nobody would confiscate it. Anyways, I observed to my distress that the backpack was gone, even though it seemed it had only been there a minute ago; I looked frantically about the ramp and could find it nowhere. I thought to myself that I certainly would have noticed if it had fallen off tug, and since it had been situated between the seats, it was unlikely to have done so. I wracked my brain to determine when I could last confirm its presence; yes, I had parked it next to my “office” underneath an overhang that was part of the building where the “friendly skies” of money-losing, low-customer satisfaction Acme Airlines ran its ramp operations. We operate half the gates attached to the building, which was a source of friction from the start, since Acme still had this idea that because of its name recognition it is the bully on the block—something its union rampers and mechanics were not adverse to demonstrating on occasion. It certainly took a long time for these people to get used to seeing my face every day, since the cargo was staged for pick-up adjacent to the location I just mentioned. For a long time I had to endure demeaning remarks, slurs shouted from behind half-closed doors, police siren noisemaking and vehicles parked in places meant to deliberately obstruct the performance of my work. I recall one of Acme’s employees telling me that they were not all “pricks,” and I accepted this statement for what it was worth; maybe HE wasn’t one. In any case, most of these activities stopped only after a complaint was made to a Port of Seattle supervisor.

Acme’s employees, probably because they feel invincible from the “aura” of working for a “major” airline, still demonstrate an astonishing brazenness. Take for instance their attitude toward the airport’s smoking policy. No one is allowed to smoke anywhere on the airport grounds save two locations outside the main terminal building. Acme’s employees have apparently decided that this stricture is simply too much to bear, being union and all, and so they’ve chosen a dark, narrow hallway leading outside as their secret smoke break area. The place looks like one big ashtray, with cigarette butts strewn everywhere on the floor. One day recently the airport ramp duty manager took an interest to the goings on there, and conducted an entirely fruitless campaign to end the illegal smoking. I observed with amusement the removal of chairs from the hallway, which the duty manager expected would halt loitering; I could have told him that Acme employees always smoked standing up, just in case they had to make a quick getaway. It didn’t matter anyways: Acme employees just laughed at him. At one point I became tired of being accused of smoking myself in there, and I before I took a few days off I found a broom and swept-up all the cigarette butts; when I came back, the place looked just as much the ashtray as it did before.

Anyways, I came to the conclusion that the last place I saw the pack was when it was parked in my “office” and I was on my lunch break. I distinctly remember reaching into the bag to take out a couple packs of Ketchup I had saved from a trip the previous night to Denny’s, so that I could deposit their contents on the sandwich I was about to consume. When I came back, I had some rush deliveries to make, and it was then that I discovered something was amiss. Although I had no empirical evidence to support the suspicion, I suspected that one of those Acme employees I saw sneaking in an out of the “secret” smoke break hallway, and with whom I mentioned the existence of the no-smoking ban, responding by smirking at me as walked past the tug, had something to do with it. For these people, stealing the personal property of an employee of a despised competitor wasn’t really “stealing” but simply showing someone who was “the boss” in that itty-bitty portion of the universe.

I don’t expect that my backpack will ever reappear, likely thrown in garbage container out of pure malicious “fun.” All the behaviors I have described here is the kind of conduct you might expect from spoiled children, which of course makes the task of being an adult none the easier.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What the media "forgot" to tell you about what's in the latest CDC report

As promised, here is my take on the CDC’s “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey,” which initially received attention for the one-in-five figure given for women raped in their lifetimes, and little else. After the initial news release, there has been little or no media attention paid to it. There is doubtless a political angle to this subsequent media and activist snubbing, because outside the rape numbers, the report offers some disquieting statistics about the politics of victimization.

The authors of this report are no doubt aware of the politics, which is why in the “executive summary” they not surprisingly give considerably greater attention to what the data alleges in regard to female victims, while down-playing the role of males as victims of violence; in fact males are almost never mentioned in the summary, which seems to deliberately skew some numbers to overshadow other uncomfortable numbers. One suspects that this summary was for media consumption, since you wouldn’t expect the superficial broadcast media to get past the salacious and actually examine the report in detail. Also, although there is a more-or-less equal mix of male and female researchers involved in the report, in the “acknowledgements” of those who “contributed” to the study, almost exclusively they are women, and all who no doubt have an advocate’s stake in the study’s findings; one suspects this because, according to the “methodology” section, the survey “was informed by the National Violence Against Women Survey, which provided a starting point for the development of the survey instrument,” which is indicative of the gender politics involved in the “study” of domestic violence.

Interestingly, this report coincides with a recent Justice Department study which claims that 25 percent of college women “have been victims of rape or attempted rape since the age of 14.” In fact, college women are more likely to be raped that non-college women; not only that, but the first six weeks are the period of most vulnerability, because female students are “adjusting to a new environment.” We’ve heard all of this before from women’s studies departments and university women’s associations trying to make themselves “relevant” to their clientele. The problem with this particular study is that it somehow must come to grips with the fact that reported rapes on college campuses tend to be lower than in the general public. A few years ago, the local newspaper gave the statistics on reported crimes at the University of Washington during the prior year; among them were six (as in “6”) reported sexual assaults, none which of which led to charges. This likely explains why the DOJ report focuses almost exclusively on “acquaintance” rape, usually under the influence of alcohol or drugs; educated, politically aware women, apparently, have a better understanding of how to define rape, or rather the people conducting the study do.

The CDC study claims to distinguish itself from the vast majority of studies similar to this one in the following ways:

• Interviewers ask a series of health-related questions at the outset of the survey to establish rapport and establish a health context for the survey.
• A graduated informed consent procedure is used to maximize respondent safety, to build rapport, and to provide participants the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether participation in the survey would be in their best interest.
• Interviewers establish a safety plan so that a respondent knows what to do if they need to discontinue the interview for safety reasons.
• Interviewers follow established distress protocols, including frequent check-ins with the participant during the interview, to assess their emotional state and determine whether the interview should proceed.
• The survey includes detailed behavior-specific questions on components of sexual violence and intimate partner violence that previous population-based national surveys have not measured. Examples include information on types of sexual violence other than rape, coercive control, and control of reproductive or sexual health.
• The survey is designed to assess violence in a way that is consistent across states.

Not mentioned here is that the biggest difference between this study and hundreds of others is that it has the audacity to include males as potential victims. Still, while it can be said that the CDC study doesn’t rely exclusively on a person’s “feelings,” the potential for magnification is just as great or greater, as we will soon see.

The study was conducted exclusively over either telephone land lines or cell phones, conducted in either English or Spanish (but not Asian dialects, which does have an apparent effect on the data), with 16,507 completed interviews and 1,542 partial interviews. 9,970 women and 8,079 men were involved in the survey. It might be surmised that unlike a written survey which would have allowed respondents to think about their answers, many of the results here could be characterized as “knee-jerk” responses, or attempts to “please” the interviewer. The writers, for their part, admit that some of the data might be open to interpretation:

“Psychological aggression, including expressive aggression and coercive control, is an important component of intimate partner violence. Although research suggests that psychological aggression may be even more harmful than physical violence by an intimate partner, there is little agreement about how to determine when psychologically aggressive behavior becomes abusive and can be classified as intimate partner violence. Because of the lack of consensus in the field at the time of this report, the prevalence of psychologically aggressive behaviors is reported, but is not included in the overall prevalence estimates of intimate partner violence. Expressive psychological aggression includes acting dangerous, name calling, insults and humiliation. Coercive control includes behaviors that are intended to monitor and control an intimate partner such as threats, interference with family and friends, and limiting access to money.”

Since this alludes to the subject of domestic violence, and the national media said almost nothing about the survey’s findings in this regard, I will try to fill in that gap here. Nearly 50 percent of both women and men report “lifetime” instances of such “abusive” behavior; frankly, whenever I hear a sobsister screeching loudly with self-pity, I think that this must constitute “domestic violence” for the person who must tolerate this on a daily basis. However, given the fact that some people would call this “normal” behavior, the need to expand what constitutes abusive behavior, whether psychological, physical or sexual, allows such things to be subject to "interpretation."

Keeping on the subject of domestic violence, the report defines physical violence in the following way:

“Physical violence includes a wide range of behaviors from slapping, pushing or shoving to more severe behaviors such as being beaten, burned, or choked. In this report, severe physical violence includes being hurt by pulling hair, being hit with something hard, being kicked, being slammed against something, attempts to hurt by choking or suffocating, being beaten, being burned on purpose and having a partner use a knife or gun against the victim. While slapping, pushing and shoving are not necessarily minor physical violence, this report distinguishes between these forms of violence and the physical violence that is generally categorized as severe.”

What do the numbers tell us? 30.3 percent of women claimed to be the victim of either being slapped, pushed or shoved during their lifetimes, compared to 25.7 percent of men, while 24.3 percent of women and 13.8 percent of men claimed to be the victim of severe physical violence, such as being hurt by pulling hair, hit with fist or something hard, kicked, slammed against something, tried to be hurt by choking or suffocating, beaten, burned on purpose, used a knife or gun. Yet these numbers disguise a more “fascinating” trend: In the previous 12 months, 4.5 percent of men claimed to have been “slapped, pushed or shoved” compared to 3.6 percent of women, while 75 percent as many men as women claimed to be victims of “severe” violence. Is this what they mean by “equality of the sexes?” It is clear that we live in a different time now, and that the focus solely on women as victims and men as perpetrators is not only misguided but false. No doubt some activists will be scrambling for explanations to explain away female-inspired violence.

The same goes for “psychological” abuse. In the past, men were told to “take it like a man” or go to sleep for 20 years like Rip Van Winkle. Apparently some are tired of the hypocrisy. 48.8 percent of men compared to 48.4 percent claimed to be the victims of “expressive aggression” or “coercive control.” These were defined as the following:

(Expressive aggression)
Acted very angry in a way that seemed dangerous
Told you were a loser, a failure, and not good enough
Called names like ugly, fat, stupid or crazy
Insulted, humiliated, made fun of
Told know one else would want them
(Coercive control)
Tried to keep from seeing or talking to family or friends
Made decisions that should have been yours to make
Kept track of by demanding to know where you were and what you were doing
Made threats to physically harm
Threatened to hurt him/herself or commit suicide s/he was upset
Threatened to hurt or take away a pet
Threatened to hurt someone you love
Hurt someone you love
Threatened to take your children away from you
Kept you from leaving the house when you wanted to go
Kept you from having your own money to use
Destroyed something that was important to you
Said things like “If I can’t have you, then no one will.”

It is easy to be cynical about these things. People say things they “don’t mean” all the time, and “victims” with aggressive personalities are likely to find “threatening” any behavior by a partner that does not give sufficient ground. However, as I intimated before, since these definitions were previously being used to inflate the numbers for the benefit of females, it is only fair that males also “benefit” from them. Size doesn’t matter if we are talking about how domestic violence is initiated and exacerbated. Psychological “violence” also follows the same pattern as physical violence; 18.1 percent of men compared to 13.9 percent women claimed to be the victim of such abuse in the prior 12 months—and nearly twice as many men as women in that period claimed to be the victim of “coercive control.” What does this tell us? That men are learning to control their behavior, while women are given rationalizations to explain questionable behaviors, mainly because all anyone cares to know is if they are victims? At any rate, what the statistics are telling us is that domestic violence—whether physical or psychological—cannot be “solved” by the politics, attitudes and methods currently in use.

Now it is time to examine the statistics on sexual violence. This is how the report measured this topic:

• Rape is defined as any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm and includes times when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent. Rape is separated into three types, completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, and completed alcohol or drug facilitated penetration.
--Among women, rape includes vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes vaginal or anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.
--Among men, rape includes oral or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.
• Being made to penetrate someone else includes times when the victim was made to, or there was an attempt to make them, sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threatened with physical harm, or when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.
--Among women, this behavior reflects a female being made to orally penetrate another female’s vagina or anus.
--Among men, being made to penetrate someone else could have occurred in multiple ways: being made to vaginally penetrate a female using one’s own penis; orally penetrating a female’s vagina or anus; anally penetrating a male or female; or being made to receive oral sex from a male or female. It also includes female perpetrators attempting to force male victims to penetrate them, though it did not happen.
• Sexual coercion is defined as unwanted sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way. In NISVS, sexual coercion refers to unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sex after being pressured in ways that included being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, being told promises that were untrue, having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority.
• Unwanted sexual contact is defined as unwanted sexual experiences involving touch but not sexual penetration, such as being kissed in a sexual way, or having sexual body parts fondled or grabbed.
• Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences are those unwanted experiences that do not involve any touching or penetration, including someone exposing their sexual body parts, flashing, or masturbating in front of the victim, someone making a victim show his or her body parts, someone making a victim look at or participate in sexual photos or movies, or someone harassing the victim in a public place in a way that made the victim feel unsafe.

Talk about leaving no stone unturned. I admit that the first thing I observed was that the report considered the possibility of rape by a female perpetrated on a male laughable—a woman cannot force a man to “penetrate” her if his penis is not erect; if it was, it must mean that he “consented.” This apparently even applies to 13-year-old boys who have penetration with adult females, incidents of which we have heard of once or twice in the past; regardless if it is “consensual,” it is still legally rape. It is also to be noted that rape need not be penis or object penetration; “fingering”—and one suspects “tonguing”—can fall under the category of rape. Rape can also be any time when the female cannot make an “informed” decision if she wants to have sex, because of the influence of drugs or alcohol. One can easily imagine questions like "Did you ever have sex when you were drunk?” If the answer is "Yes," then this is defined as "rape" in the report. A “victim” of rape can also be someone who was “made” to penetrate someone else; note in this case that it is possible for two women at once to be victims.

“Sexual coercion,” on the other hand, is a particularly tricky definition. It is a loaded, almost perverse claim that rape includes “being pressured in ways that included being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, being told promises that were untrue, having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority.” This is a political, not a legal, definition of rape; it certainly falls in line with the belief of some radical feminists, like Catherine MacKinnon, that all heterosexual sex is some form of rape.

Now the numbers. 18.3 percent of women, as defined by the researchers, were raped during their lifetime, 1.1 percent in the past 12 months. Of these, 12.3 percent, or 1 in 8 were, according to the report, “forcibly” raped during their lifetimes. 1 in 200 were reportedly forcibly raped in the previous 12 months. In the “other sexual violence” category, there was no estimate on how many were “made to penetrate” another person, while 1 in 8 felt coerced, and a rather surprising 1 in 3 experienced “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences”—one would think that with all the sexually-incorrect images that feminists tell us pervade our lives, that the number would be closer to 100 percent. For men, despite the recent news reports out of Penn State and Syracuse universities, and the still greater likelihood that men are much less willing to admit that were raped (especially by another man), there is no attempt to quantify the potential number of victims within the prior 12 months—likely because most of the victims are boys who are not subject to the report. Otherwise, one percent of males claim to have been forcibly raped during their lifetimes.

Other statistics: Despite the stereotype that Hispanic males are violent and over-sexed, “only” 14.6 percent of Hispanic women interviewed claim to have been raped in their lifetimes. This compares to 22 percent of black women and19 percent of white women; despite the fact that Asians constitute 5 percent of the population, there was no data offered in regard to them, probably because of language difficulties. Fewer Hispanic women also claim to be victims of “other sexual violence” than white and black women. Among males, only white males registered in the rape category, although this may have something to do with they are more willing to admit that their “manhood” was violated; all males reported “other sexual violence” about half the frequency of women. However, in the prior 12-month period, a slightly higher percentage of men (2.5) claimed to be the victim of “other sexual violence” than women (2.3 percent). The activists, advocates and the media always claim that crimes against women are under-reported; this, obviously, is more true of male victims.

In regard to victimization by intimate partners, defined by rape, physical violence and stalking, excluding rape the number of victims were about the same between men and women. Additionally, while women were three times more likely to claim to be “impacted” by intimate partner violence, some of the measurements, like “having nightmares,” would probably not occur to men to report, and the fact that there are almost no public or private resources for men to contact in cases of domestic violence would also impact these numbers.

Overall, the CDC report is probably the most “balanced” study of its kind yet released. Even if some of its numbers could be accused of being exaggerated, it nonetheless should be regarded as a model for future research on the subject matter it examines. Any report that excludes males cannot be trusted to tell the “whole truth,” and at the very least the CDC report gives us an idea of what that is.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Packers one player away, and this time it isn't Rodgers

With two offensive linemen sidelined with injuries, leading rusher James Starks out and the team’s best receiver, Greg Jennings, likely to sit the remainder of the regular season, I still expected Green Bay to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs—who were throttled 37-10 by the New York Jets last week—by something like 41-14. After all, Aaron Rodgers is a passing God who can make the most mind-boggling throws with such deadly accuracy that any defender with the misfortune to encounter one is likely to pass-out with cognizance exhaustion. The Chiefs, however, didn’t cooperate and put a relative arse-whooping on the Packers, 19-14, ending their undefeated pretensions. Well, alright, we can allow Rodgers a bad day, like the one he had at Detroit last year. But it may be more than that. Since Jennings was knocked out of the game last week against Oakland, Rodgers’ stat line looks like this:

21-47 316 Yards 1 TD 1 INT 7 Sacks QBRTG 65.6

Now, either the Packers have a deep receiving corps that can sustain an injury to their best receiver—or not? Last year we were told the Packers missed TE Jermichael Finley; could have fooled me. Against the Chiefs, he failed to be that safety blanket Rodgers needed as he was being chased around the pocket; targeted 10 times, he caught just 3 passes. Great White Hope Jordy Nelson was also exposed as over-rated, and Donald Driver is clearly past his prime. The Chiefs rarely blitzed Rodgers, but employing five DBs on most plays was sufficient to nullify the passing game and force Rodgers to take four sacks. It was eye-opening how the absence of one player (Jennings) could make the Packers look so pedestrian on offense.

The Packers defense cannot be blamed for this loss; yes, their pass defense was exposed once again, and it failed to compensate by intercepting a pass or two. But in five trips in the red zone, the defense allowed only one touchdown. On two early drives of a combined 161 yards, the Chiefs came away with just 3 points. Overall, it was a “typical” defensive performance; this loss was squarely on offensive inefficiency. The question now is if the Packers will go into the Chicago game trying to prove that they are the “deep” team they were last year, or a fraud; theoretically they have the advantage, as the Bears will be missing their starting quarterback, running back and best playmaking receiver. The Seattle Seahawks handled them fairly easily in Chicago this weekend; but my doubts about Rodgers ability to perform under pressure, especially without all his main weapons, have returned, dating back from the second quarter of the Raider game which the score run-up managed to conceal.

On ESPN recently I listened to Bart Starr talk about how he didn’t want to compare his 1962 team, with 11 Hall of Famers and the NFL’s greatest coach, with this team. He needn’t have been so modest. This team hasn't proved anything thus far except that good fortune comes in many guises.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Seattle Times just following the usual mainstream hypocrisy

The CDC just released a report on sexual and domestic violence that has the media hopping. Predictably the focus is on the “shocking” discovery that one-in-five women are raped in their lifetimes. I say “shocking” because that number has gone down since the “shocking” one-in-three figure given by a “study” in the 1980s, revised to a “shocking” one-in-four in the 1990s. The CDC didn’t use its own objective methodology, but that of a women’s advocacy organization, which predictably throws in everything including the kitchen sink to inflate the numbers. One curiosity is that Hispanic women report incidents of rape a third lower than white women and 50 percent lower than black women. This study was, however, different than similar studies in the past in that for the first time men were included. The numbers under which “domestic violence” would fall under are particularly eye-opening—and certainly not what the creators of this methodology intended when they sought number inflation for the sake of victim politics; it “works” just as well for men as it does for women. Not surprisingly, these revelations are low on the totem pole of media attention. The document is certainly more interesting than the superficial treatment the media has given; after examining it further, I’ll go into more detail about what I found here.

For the present I want to comment on yet another example how the Seattle Times’ plays a double game in regard to the immigration issue. True, as of this writing the Times hasn’t published yet another “Mexican” story giving readers another opportunity to bring out the Nazi in themselves lately, or at least not on the front page where I could see it. Last week I talked about how the news media seems loath to touch the thorny issue of how U.S. immigration authorities not only turn a largely blind eye to, but silently assists the illegal immigration of non-Latino groups. It has been estimated that one-quarter of all illegal immigrants in this country are non-Latino; anti-Latino apologists claim that these numbers are either inflated—or even if true, most merely over-stayed their visas and intend to go “home,” someday. But reports I have already referenced put this number in the range of 25 to 40 percent, meaning that as many as 75 percent of illegal immigrants of non-Latin American origin have entered the country illegally. How they are doing this and what happens once they are here has received little federal, state, media or political attention. Why? You won’t find out from the Times, because it has a racial agenda, and the local Asian and European immigrant community, unlike the Latino community here, has benefited from preference and positive press. Instead, we get stories about how Chinese and Russian nationals with lots of cash can obtain a green card if they “invest” a minimum of $500,000 in real estate or ski resorts that create at least 10 new jobs for “real” Americans. This story received mixed reactions from readers, but the ground was set to establish the “difference” between the “wanted” and “unwanted” immigrants, which goes against the grain of what this country allegedly stood for the advancement of the world’s poor and hungry—not the advancement of the greed of a few.

Before I continue further, let me say that I am more than willingly to acknowledge that the vast majority of non-Latino immigrants are hard-working people just trying to get along, a sentiment that I sense is not reciprocated, thanks to the media and politicians seeking scapegoats for propaganda purposes; since there are people who I am speaking of now who I feel no ill will toward and possibly even like, I dislike having to be forced into pointing out the hypocrisy of criminalizing and demonizing immigrants slaving in the fields when one considers that a sizable number of the non-Latino immigrants that this country has welcomed with open arms have taken advantage of their “opportunities” in ways that do not inspire confidence in this country’s melting-pot pretensions, even for “model” minorities. Take for instance the immigration that occurred after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, when tens of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were allowed to immigrate to this country as refugees. Along with them came Chinese and Hmong (an “aboriginal” group that was originally situated in China) under similar political circumstances. Some of these people have successfully integrated (or have chosen to) into the larger community; but many others have simply melted into self-isolated, self-contained communities like the generic “Chinatowns” that seem to pop-up in large cities with significant immigrant populations.

In these places the stereotype of “model minority” has a serious flaw, one that cities like Chicago have discovered. Suburbs with large immigrant communities, like Highland Park and Glendale Heights, may appear from the outside to be the typical serene, “civilized” neighborhoods in comparison to the black inner-city communities, as envisioned by popular stereotype. But the quaint restaurants and souvenir shops merely disguise the terror behind the scenes perpetrated by violent gangs, such as The Wolf Boys and the Black Widows—perpetrating extortion, heroin dealing and home robberies. Chicago police are at a loss to deal with them, and not merely because the communities in which they operate are shut tight to outside interference due to culture and language, as well (like Latino communities) great distrust of the police because of experiences with brutal police oppression in their home countries. Police are also hamstrung by the fact that instead of using local gangsters, anonymous drug runners or enforcers from out of town are brought in to perform special “jobs,” and then simply skip town—leaving police helpless to apprehend the guilty parties.

Some members of these gangs might be illegal immigrants (one-in-nine Asian residents in this country may are likely illegal), although I suspect that most are second-generation or later citizens for whom the “American Dream” has failed. But while politicians in this country cry the seal the borders chant, there are other less obvious “borders” that seem just as sieve-like. Jumping ship or concealment in shipping containers in Canadian ports serving merchant ships from the Pacific Rim are one method to get into the country; another is operating complicated smuggling rings, such as the one operated by Chinese couple in Miami—until they were arrested by federal agents in 2003—which brought in thousands of Chinese illegal immigrants, each of whom paid $50,000 for this “service.” Others find entry using fraudulent identification in which to obtain Taiwanese passports, which allows them to enter the U.S. “legally,” and eventually to “disappear” into one of the ethnic communities that immigration authorities never seem to venture into.

Meanwhile, in New York City, there is a different kind of immigrant “problem,” revealed by a CBS News expose in 2009. “Little Odessa” in Brooklyn is “ground zero” for the Russian mob in the U.S.; Robert Friedman, an authority on the subject, claimed that today "Italian organized crime in America is a pimple on a horse's ass compared with Russian organized crime in America—and globally.” The Russian mafia operates in 50 countries, primarily those with weak or corrupt governments, particularly in eastern Europe, former Soviet “republics” and Latin America. In Mexico, Russian mobsters, in exchange for “services” like money-laundering, receive “discounted” drugs from the cartels. According to a 2007 Justice Department report, “Their major activities include drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, traffic in women from Eastern and Central Europe and Russia, emigrant smuggling, kidnapping and credit card fraud.” Again, let us first make clear that this isn’t a blanket condemnation like the one that typically covers Latinos in this country; most Russian immigrants in this country are honest, hardworking people. Nevertheless Friedman, author of the book “Red Mafiya,” believes that the Russian mob is given dangerously little attention overall. He noted that "What the Italians were able to do was to get into labor unions, to get into legitimate industries to use their money to corrupt major politicians, cops, prosecutors—sometimes even fix political races. The Russians aren't there yet in America, but they'll learn. They'll learn very quickly." According to the FBI, the belief amongst the population that organized crime in this country, as typified by the Italian mob, is gradually disappearing is not only not true, but is in an “explosive” growth mode.

One may fairly ask how the “Red Mafiya” gained a foothold in the U.S. if immigration laws are so “stringent.” “Under pressure from the Nixon administration,” according to the CBS report, “Moscow agreed to allow more Soviet Jews to emigrate. But in a move copied years later by Fidel Castro, the Soviets opened prison doors in the gulag and thousands of hard-core criminals left for the United States.” And these people were no amateurs “Since then, the Russian Mafia has been linked to penny stock manipulation, gas excise tax scams, health care fraud and cybercrime—criminal enterprises where they are pioneers, not just perpetrators…Russians are particularly good at money laundering, the lifeblood of organized crime. In fact, other crime groups use the Russians to clean their dirty money.”

It isn’t my desire to stereotype other groups like Latinos have been; my point here is that the media is guilty of high hypocrisy when it “lionizes” one group of immigrants and demonizes another. Truth above all is what the media should strive for, and media like the Times has failed miserably.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ABBAcadabra--there goes my rock "cred"

I was listening to ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” last week, as they briefly discussed the revelation that Madonna would be the half-time “entertainment” at this season’s Super Bowl. It’s odd that Madonna would be picked for this, because this expatriate phony has abundantly showed her contempt for the country that made her rich out of all proportion, even when critics said Cyndi Lauper was the superior talent. Where is Madonna now? Living in a castle in the UK and faking a Brit accent. More amusing was the production staff’s hit and miss attempt to find Madonna songs to play after the commercial breaks; Madonna simply isn’t the central figure in Western cultural development that she and her academic feminist supporters believe she is (the professor in a media course I took during a brief stay in Sacramento seemed to spend most of her time waxing enthusiastic about Madonna; I must confess that I disturbed the atmosphere in the classroom several times by challenging her assumptions about Madonna’s monumentalness). When not making god-awful Razzy-winning movies like that Wallis Simpson biopic, Madonna is merely an archaic relic of the past. If you don’t believe this, ask yourself when was the last time you heard a Madonna song on the radio, even on a 1980s “oldies” station.

Anyways, one of the songs that was a “miss”—meaning that it wasn’t even a Madonna song—was the synthesized intro to “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man after Midnight).” I’m sure many of you have heard it, but can’t quite place it. One reason may be because the rest of the song wasn’t a hit in the U.S.—or you are not a fan of Swedish pop group ABBA. Odd as it may seem now, this group once made the success of the Beatles’ during their heyday look like the third act on the marquee—that is everywhere but the U.S., where they were little more than curiosities outside the Scandinavian-American population for most of their presence on the U.S. pop charts. It sure brings back memories, though, perhaps not necessarily ones I care to relate. Alright, I confess. The first record I ever purchased (or rather, cassette tape), was ABBA’s Greatest Hits, the group’s third U.S. album and first gold record in this country. I heard the song “S.O.S” on the radio, and for some reason I decided I needed to have this record to make life bearable. The “dean” of rock critics, Robert Christgau, had this to say about this particular record in his Village Voice “Consumer Guide”:

“Although four of these songs have gone top twenty here, the title commemorates the band's conquest of such places as West Germany and Costa Rica, where Abba's Europop is the biggest thing since the Beazosmonds. Americans with an attraction to vacuums, late capitalism, and satellite TV adduce Phil Spector and the Brill Building Book of Hooks in Abba's defense, but the band's real tradition is the advertising jingle, and I'm sure their disinclination to sing like Negroes reassures the Europopuli. Pervasive airplay might transform what is now a nagging annoyance into an aural totem. It might also transform it into an ashtray. God bless America, we're not likely to find out which.”

I have to admit that Christgau’s negative reviews were a lot of fun. Yes, ABBA did twist real rock and R&B purists into pretzels with their irrepressible synthesizer (or synthesized)-driven melodies and the multi-tracked female vocals that often sounded more alien instrument than of human origin. Not that the critics didn’t have a point; to many, ABBA came off as little more than studio creations, like The Archies or Alvin and the Chipmunks. Bjorn and Benny were not young “rock and rollers” like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, who drank from the well of 1950s American R & B; their “influences” were French variete (think Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld”) and German polka music. In the 1960s, Bjorn was in a band that played folk and Dixieland Jazz music—not because he liked it, but because it was popular in Sweden at the time, and it was a way to make money playing music. Benny had more rock “cred,” playing keyboard for the Hep Stars, which was styled as the Swedish answer to the Beatles, recording mainly cover versions of American and British hits, and a few songs that Benny wrote. The groups’ cover of British rocker Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac” was actually quite good as a British invasion-type knock-off. In the late 1960s, with the addition of an African-American singer, Charlotte Walker (the fiancĂ© of the band’s front man, Sven Hedlund), and then Bjorn, the group drifted into commercial pop and folk, which caused artistic squabbles and finally the break-up of the band. Hedlund and Walker set-off on their own to record as a duet with a vocal style not dissimilar to the one ABBA would later foster. Bjorn and Benny went their own way, taking along their new girlfriends, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, both of whom had some modest success as singers.

Although Bjorn and Benny were never “hip” to the latest musical trends in America the way the British were, it is nonetheless somewhat disingenuous for them to claim that their relative lack of success in the U.S. was due to their "foreign" style. For one thing, ABBA was hard to take seriously by Americans because of those whacky androgynous outfits that made them look as if they belonged in an Ed Wood movie; Elton John might dress in a Daffy Duck outfit on stage, but he was deliberately personifying the oddball, and ABBA took themselves oh so seriously. Perhaps also it was that hideous eyeliner that made the women look like extras in a zombie flick. Perhaps it was because you thought Agnetha (the blonde) was hot until you noticed in the close-ups that she had this rather considerable tooth gap. And then maybe it had something to do with the group’s unwillingness to do the heavy-lifting; Bjorn admitted that “We are not prepared to stay for months and months like all other foreign groups have to do to make if they want to make it big in the States.”

I spent four years of my life in Germany, and the only spot on the radio dial that I heard American music on a regular basis was the one occupied by Armed Forces Radio—although German record stores always made room for English-language music. In countries like this which maintained a cultural insularity in which American music was scorned as barbaric, European acts like ABBA could find great success because they were viewed as untainted by non-white influences. But it is wrong to say that ABBA’s music was something that could not find a home in the American market; in fact the U.S. musical landscape was saturated with similarly lush, melody-driven pop in the 1970s. Along with countless one-offs, ABBA could easily fit in the universe occupied by the Carpenters, Bread, Olivia Newton-John and Barry Manilow. There might not be the critical acceptance, but commercially all of these acts were maddeningly successful.

ABBA was nevertheless at a disadvantage in competing with these other pop-confection stars, because their synthetic sound failed to achieve the same level of “sincerity” of string orchestration that even straight rock songs employed during the Seventies. Even the singing seemed synthetic. They sung in English for reasons of commerce; for them, it was merely a useful vehicle to express a sound. Bjorn admitted as much when he said that the words were in the beginning were just “something to give the girls something to sing,” and later to “give some kind of feeling.” In interviews in English, Agnetha was uncomfortable, hesitant and stiff; Anni-Frid (the brunette) barely spoke above a whisper. So it was not surprising that unlike natural English speakers, they had difficulty in conveying subtlety of meaning; on some songs, like “Waterloo,” they got away with clever phrasings, or on others they managed an adult sensibility, such as “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” But when the lyrics were pedestrian, you noticed that when they sang solo Agnetha often came off as tinny and whiny, and Anni-Frid often sounded like she was singing in a vacuum tube; it seemed as if they trying too hard to get the pronunciations right, and losing nuance in the process. Together, they created undeniable magic, but on record this was amplified by multi-tracking their voices.

While ABBA was lionized throughout most of the civilized world, American cultural barbarians like Christgau continued to say things like this about their records:

“Since this is already the best-selling group in the universe, I finally have an answer when people ask me to name the Next Big Thing. What I wonder is how we can head them off at the airport. Plan A: Offer Bjorn and Benny the leads in Beatlemania (how could they resist the honor?) and replace them with John Phillips and Denny Doherty. Plan B: Appoint Bjorn head of the U.N. and Benny his pilot (or vice versa) and replace them with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Plan C: Overexpose them in singing commercials. Plan D: Institute democratic socialism in their native land, so that their money lust will meet with the scorn of their fellow citizens.”

And:

“Fourteen cuts, close to an hour of polyvinyl chloride, and only two of 'em made U.S. top ten. We have met the enemy and they are them.”

When the group finally embarked on a brief North American tour in 1979, their first U.S. stop was Seattle; Times critic Patrick MacDonald had this observation to impart:

“ABBA’s debut is a disappointment. Their performance was almost passive. Agnetha sang a song about staying alive that was so banal it was laughable.”

Before I go any further, let us first admit that this is what happens when intellect is allowed to interfere in the process. ABBA cannot be dismissed completely out of hand; after all, they were admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, amidst some controversy from the rock music community. Only Benny and Anni-Frid appeared at their induction; Benny offered that he had purchased an Elvis Presley record in his youth, although he could hardly say that “Jailhouse Rock” had any influence on his musical tastes, and he didn’t think it important to mention his association with the Hep Stars. ABBA fanatics may have hated country singer Faith Hill’s rendition of “The Winner Takes it All,” which other than “S.O.S” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is about the only song in ABBA’s repertoire that would have been appropriate for this venue, and I admit that I didn’t care for the bombastic vocal gymnastics (thank you, Mariah Carey). But otherwise Hill managed to pull-off this supposedly hard song to sing to the obvious admiration of Benny (who played the piano), and the competent backing band even gave it a “rock” sensibility (the ABBA fanatics prefer Belgian singer Dana Winner’s cover version, probably because it sounds like elevator music).

It is also easy to forget that their sound was somewhat “radical” for the time; they were studio junkies, and rather than string orchestras, they used synthesizers to create a symphonic sound, and the impossibly catchy hooks allowed them to get away with it. Rolling Stone magazine generally panned their records, but generously gave their 1982 double album compilation The Singles a five star review, stating that just the first side of Disk One had more hooks than most recording artists managed in an entire career. And it didn’t matter if the lyrics were banal; it was just the sound of those multi-tracked voices that draws you in like a psychedelic drug.

Let me say now that I am not an ABBA fan technically, but a fan of the tight and tuneful single that was an integral part—or rather, the integral part—of the pop rock lexicon since the 1950s; today, however, it is virtually nonexistent on contemporary radio, exemplified by the fact that there is barely enough "hits" to fill a top-10 list, let alone a top-40. My liking of a particular musical act is directly related to the number of hit songs they had that I like. And I liked a lot of ABBA songs, although more in the way of junk food than a meal. Their songs are easy on the ears, they make no particular demands on the intellect, which is all that one asks as a minimum from a pop song. I knew I was never going to learn anything from an ABBA song, like I might from a Beatles, Paul Simon, or even an Eagles song, but it would slide right by like a piece of chocolate melting away in your mouth, a temporary pleasure.

I have to admit that I find ABBA’s “back story” worthy of note as well. Anni-Frid was a daughter of Heinrich Himmler’s infamous “Lebensborn” project, in which non-Germans with “Aryan” physical characteristics (like blonde hair and blue eyes) were selected for breeding purposes with German soldiers, in return for which they were allowed special privileges and financial support; an estimated 12,000 children were born from this arrangement—all considered pure-blood “German” by the Nazis. These children were to be educated in the Nazi fashion, and eventually become the ruling class “elite” in the countries of their birth, in this case Norway. Of course, the Germans lost the war, and these children were still considered “German,” and much worse. To avoid the inevitable ostracism and discrimination, Anni-Frid’s mother moved to Sweden, where she died when the girl was two. It isn’t surprising that Sweden would welcome them; although a “neutral” country, until 1943 Sweden continued to have closer political and economic ties to Germany than it did with the Allies, and only under international pressure did it withdraw its economic exchanges with Germany (particularly the export of raw materials like iron ore, helpful to the Nazi war effort). It has also been noted that many Swedes accepted Nazi philosophy, and until 1975 eugenics and forced sterilization laws were on the books. The National Socialist Front, the successor to the Swedish Nazi Party, was recently remade into the “People’s Front,” and other fascist-inspired political groups have arisen, particularly in response to Muslim immigration. But it would be unfair to paint that brush over all Swedes; ABBA (or at least Benny and Bjorn) made an effort to cross as many international boundaries as possible (“Fernando” had something to do with the Mexican Revolution, I think). They employed a black drummer during their 1977 Australian tour, and “I Have a Dream” seems to have been inspired by the Martin Luther King Jr. speech. During their North American tour, a group of kids would be gathered-up at each stop to appear on stage when the song was performed; in the film “ABBA in Concert” which chronicled the tour, Anni-Frid was seen trying to mollify an envious little white girl as she looked disapprovingly at a little black boy that Anni-Frid happened to be squeezing the shoulder of.

ABBA never recorded together as a group after 1982, and all members insist they will never get together again for any reason, unlike the surviving Beatles who agreed to a reunion of sorts in the late 1990s (before George Harrison passed away) for the Beatles Anthology television event. Publically the reason is because there just wouldn’t be the “magic” that they once had, but even if there was some motivation to do it, the biggest stumbling block would be Agnetha, who has kept mostly to herself for a quarter-century, rarely traveling outside the country or even her own estate. I read a Daily Mail story from a few years back entitled “Is Abba's Agnetha Faltskog finally ready to forgive her bandmates for years of misery?” The insinuation is that the other group members were unresponsive to the shy Agnetha’s sensitivities—such as her fear of flying and that she “found Abba fans alarming and would have terrible daydreams in which they set upon her and consumed her alive.” This is a woman who obviously had some psychological issues that are peculiar to herself, and it isn’t fair to blame the other group members for “making her life hell.” After all, they helped make her rich and famous (at least in Sweden). It is not really clear why after 30 years she still holds a grudge, refusing to be photographed with the other three together, or why, according to her publicist, there is no contact with the other group members “on any level.”

In an interview in 1981, Agnetha admitted that in the beginning, she wanted “glamour” and “to make some money,” but now she realized that it didn’t make her happy. She married too young, and was distrustful, she said. She didn’t know what would happen in the future for the group; “We have to be interested in others and to show more feeling”—apparently in reference to the marriage break-ups and Agnetha’s discomfort with personal interaction. “The way people are so cold right now scares me.” She admitted that she would like to make a feature film with the group, but if she did it would be up to Bjorn and Benny, because they would have to agree that she would have the “main role.” Agnetha never seemed to accept the fact that without ABBA, she like the rest group would be largely unknown outside of Sweden; ABBA was the sole basis upon which anyone would even bother to care how depressed she was. And anyone who has seen an Ingmar Bergman movie knows how depressing the Swedes can be.

Benny and Anni-Frid seemed to have put ancient history (meaning the end of their marriage three decades ago) to rest, appearing comfortable together at the aforementioned Hall of Fame event. Anni-Frid claimed that she had called Agnetha that day to find out how she felt about winning the honor, which was odd since the group members must have been informed of this well in advance so that they could make the necessary preparations (and Benny to join rehearsals for the song). It is was obvious that Agnetha had no intention of appearing, and apparently had made no public comment about it, or was even close enough to her former colleagues to talk about it. One suspects that Bjorn’s absence had something to do with Agnetha’s refusal to appear, since her absence would then have been too conspicuous and they would required to explain her ongoing “issues.” And (I’m admittedly being unkind here) Agnetha has also long since lost the “international sex symbol” looks that made her the most recognizable member of the group, and Anni-Frid seems to be not only a well-grounded person who’s put away old grudges, but also has aged rather better.

But unless your band is the Rolling Stones, the break-up of musical groups are inevitable, for one reason or another. In 1981, Swedish television aired “Dick Cavett Meets ABBA,” another effort to show how “important” the group was. Instead, according to a Swedish critic, they seemed like “content people without enthusiasm, oscillating between indifference and the spirit they have to show for fans.” This may be explained by the discomfort between them as recently divorced couples, but when Benny opined “We are in an extremely privileged position because we can choose. We are the only musicians in this country, and one of the few groups in the whole world who can afford to do exactly what we want to do,” he could have just as well have admitted that there really wasn’t anything to keep them together anymore.