Monday, October 31, 2011

This nail won't be hammered down

A few months ago I was riding on the Route 101 Metro bus from Renton to Seattle, after a stop at Fry’s Electronics. I was typing something on my laptop. Presently a white man and a black man who were engaged in conversation alighted the bus; the black man continued past me, but the white man, of the undereducated sort, stopped short to where I was sitting. I suspect that he felt that this “Mexican” with a laptop needed to be taught a lesson in being too “uppity.” He demanded in an insolent tone that I remove my laptop bag from the seat; I did so, even though I did not appreciate his tone of voice. I glared at him, but said nothing. The man shoved himself against me; I might insinuate that he “liked” me in, you know, that kind of way, but I knew that this was a variation of physical assault without actually being called one. I said nothing because he seemed to me a little “touched,” and who knows what such a person might be capable of. He continued to stare hard at me, and when that did not elicit the expected response, he dared me to say something. As the words were exiting his mouth, so did a rain of spittle on my laptop keyboard. At the same time he shoved me again, pinning my arms against the side of the bus; causing me to move forward to release myself. The man instantly stood up and accused me of “violence.” The driver of this bus was of the no nonsense variety, and to her credit told the man to shut up or the next stop would be his. He went to the rear of the bus and sat with his black friend, where I heard them commiserating about their shared prejudices. The driver later told me that he just felt “sorry” for himself, although I had to point out that he wasn’t targeting black people as the source of his “sorrow.”

Leap forward to today. I was waiting alone for the Route 169 bus, having completed my business at a nearby Laundromat. I was standing at the designated stop, a small strip of concrete next to the bus stop pole. At 11:15 the bus approached but stopped far short of the stop, on the grass. It was obviously a blatant and deliberate act to discomfit me, because there was no excuse for the driver to have done that. When I boarded the bus, the driver was smirking at me, which confirmed my suspicion; I couldn’t help but to observe that she was wearing sunglasses on this mostly cloudy day, and a cap worn in the style of a beret: apparently the “Black Panther” look with all the politics (racial and otherwise) that goes along with that. I was fairly certain that she either had some personal attitude about job-stealing “Mexicans”(or those she thinks are "Mexican") who have that "uppity" (as opposed to whipped dog) look, or perhaps she thought I was someone who complained about her before (which wouldn’t surprise me). I murmured something about “these drivers” and took a seat behind the back door (this was one of the “new” buses with the cheap seats), where the guard plate is placed in a tight spot; even the knees of someone as short as I abuts the plate. I had a large duffle bag fill with laundry on the side, and a back pack filled with more of the same on my lap. The driver looked at me several times through the rearview mirror; after the third occasion I put my left hand next to my left ear, suggesting I might call someone.

The bus made a stop somewhere down 256th. I suddenly became aware of the fact that there was this white man standing in the aisle in front of me; I couldn’t tell if he had snuck in through the back door or had just passed by a half dozen seats that were occupied by one person, or did not see that there were only three people behind me in the parallel seating. He stood there staring at me as if I was supposed to read his mind. I had this impression that this was like the “good old days” when minorities were supposed to be conscious of the “fact” that they are supposed to be submissive to the demands of the “superior” white race. The longer he remained in this posture, the more determined I was to not let his attempt at intimidation to bear fruit. Why was he doing this when he could plainly see that I would only be discomfited in trying to find placement for my baggage, when he had so many other more suitable options? Was he, like what the driver, acting on an attitude toward an individual who is perceived as a member of a group that has been under assault by the media and politicians, so much so to point where other “groups” think they can act on their bigotry with impunity?

The truth of this was made abundantly obvious by subsequent events. This white man eventually tired of staring at me and sat in an empty seat behind me. The bus eventually stopped at Kent Station; the bus changed to Route 166, and I decided to remain on the bus until it reached Washington Street. Suddenly the man who tried to intimidate me came up from behind and grabbed the strap of my duffle bag. What was happening here? Was he trying to steal it? I had a grip on strap and tried to prevent him from taking complete hold of it, and while I was doing so I called out several times “Driver!” I should have known better, of course. The man managed to pull the duffle bag from my grasp and ran outside the open back door. I followed him, observing him putting the duffle bag on top of a garbage container. He didn’t immediately leave, but stood there smirking at me and tensing up just in case I attempted some physical response. I wasn’t about to do anything of the kind; I grabbed my duffle bag and went back on the bus through the back door, which was still open. He continued to linger near the front of the bus; perhaps he was afraid that I was going to talk to the bus driver, and just in case I did that he wanted to make sure he got in “his side” of the “story.” I didn’t say anything, except glare angrily.

What did the driver do? She opened the front door and motioned that man to come near, asking him “what happened.” I didn’t hear what he said, but whatever it was, it easily convinced the driver to open the back door and tell me to get off the bus. I couldn’t understand what was happening here, and neither would any other human being. I demanded to know why after what I had just experienced. Then one of the passengers who just got on the bus, a fat white man wearing a cap with fishhooks and other articles dangling from it—i.e. a “real” American—claimed that he had witnessed me being “violent.” Naturally, because all you see in the media are “Mexicans” being thieves or violent, I naturally must have done something of the sort to justify this prejudicial behavior. The irony of this, of course, is that I was the one who was “assaulted,” and this man was acting on pure visceral hatred; the reason why bullies and cowards like this target short people like me is because they feel that they can easily handle any “response” I might attempt, and his actions were such that he likely had always wanted an excuse to do some harm to my despised “kind.” Was it not several weeks ago in Kent that a white man was charged with a hate crime in an assault against a man he assumed was an “illegal immigrant?” While I myself might have a temper, it’s more of the “flash flood” variety, over before you know it. All I want is for people to leave me alone; I have no wish to bother anyone. As for the “witness,” I’ve seen him many times on other local buses in Kent, whining about the things that angry white men whine about.

The driver, naturally, did not ask me my side of the story, and while I sat there stupefied by what was happening, the driver took a phone and at least went through the pretense of calling the police or someone. I thought the better of engaging in civil disobedience in the face of continuing injustice and got off the bus, but not before letting the driver know I wasn’t going to take being shit on silently, and that I didn’t appreciate the Nazi fat man and his perjury. Why am I expected to be silent and accept discriminatory treatment? There is a scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai where the peasants are all prone on the ground because they feel helpless against the bandits who are soon to rob them of their food; one of the peasants stands up and demands that they do something about this, but no one will join him, and he sinks back to the ground. He is the nail that is hammered down in a conformist society, according to a Japanese proverb. “Mexicans,” naturally, must “conform” to popular prejudice, just as the Jews were required to in Nazi Germany. For myself, I refuse to be the nail that gets hammered down, even if it kills me.

So what is to be derived from this incident? Why did the black driver act as she did if she did not have an instinctive prejudice? Many drivers (certainly not a majority) who have never seen me have been courteous to me, exchanging pleasantries when I get on or off the bus. I respond to simple kindnesses; I do not, however, respond well to being defecated on, especially when that is the intent. Why was this driver’s seized with a desire to act in a discriminatory manner toward me and most other drivers do not? Obviously she had some attitude that most drivers did not share. I have noted her attire; it is fair to assume that she sees “Mexicans” as the “enemy,” taking jobs from her own “victimized” race. It always amazes me how these cowards pick on the more “despised” group instead of taking on “The Man.” In that sense she brings discredit upon her “Black Panther” pretensions. What is more, she is just part of the culture of discrimination and bigotry at Metro: I’ve never seen a Latino bus driver, or any other Latino employee, at Metro in all the twenty years I’ve been riding buses here. Between white and black discrimination is a hard place indeed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Paint it Black

I was on a mission to pick-up my mail in Seattle when I observed three black-shirted police officers on bikes cornering two black men who were sitting against a wall just outside the Harvard Market. The officers were behaving in their usual “intimidating” fashion; one officer asked if the two had been drinking. One of the “suspects,” who frankly looked, dressed and talked like a “regular” guy, said he and his companion were just sitting there “chilling.” He didn’t sound like he had been drinking, at least not much. Of course, if they were drinking that might a problem; but then again, there were probably hundreds of people who were really boozed-up in public around noontime, mostly homeless people who police didn’t bother much because these guys didn’t care if they were arrested—especially if they got “three hots and a cot” in the bargain. One thing I did find a little odd was that only a few feet away in the parking lot there was a goings-on I found somewhat odd: Several white women were trying on shoes, supplied by some guy apparently using his van as a store front. Wasn’t that illegal? At any rate, it was hard to ascertain what the cops agenda was. Was it illegal for the men to be sitting there? If that was so, the police could spend all day accosting such people just within a 300-yard radius. These guys didn’t appear to be bothering passersby, while they might have had alcohol on their persons, it wasn’t obvious that they were drinking; I figured the cops just wanted them to “move on” because they frightened the local gentry who were paranoid about more than one black man sitting in one place.

However, the first thing about this incident that had an immediate visceral impact on me was the fact that these officers were wearing all-black uniforms. Some SPD officers wear blue shirts, and others wear black shirts. I have been unable to ascertain if this has something to do with any particular job assignment an officer has, but I have observed that you tend to see blue-shirted officers in public venues, where people want “friendly” and “helpful” police—not cops who make them feel uncomfortable, and feel compelled to do their shopping elsewhere. The black-shirts, on the other hand, can be seen sneaking around backstreets, alleys, parks and “bad” neighborhoods. I read a story from 2008 about police in Massachusetts switching to black paramilitary uniforms, in order to “appear more authoritative and aggressive,” a move to “militarize police” in order to inspire a cult of fear. It has been noted that the Nazis and Italian fascists knew the psychological effect black attire had on the populace. A black suit might suggest authority, but for police it can mean “We’re the tough guys. We can do anything we want, and we’re are going to mess you up if you do anything (we think is) wrong.” Of course, the color black can also inspire not fear, but varying degrees of contempt and loathing. In the U.K., “bobbies” have taken to wearing all-black uniforms that many have found offensive, even sinister. "I think that the connotations of black shirts are obvious to anybody. They've got a kind of fascist, militaristic appearance” said one conservative MP after the change of uniform was implemented.

There was in fact an FBI bulletin dated March 2001 that examined the various research in regard to perceptions of police by the public based upon their uniforms, and in particular their color. While dark colors (black in particular) tend to be associated with authority and power, for many people, especially those who feel warrantless intimidation merely because the officer has the power to abuse his or her authority, officers can be perceived as “aggressive, corrupt and evil,” and wearing dark clothing “may be subconsciously influence (police) to act more aggressively.”

There was an incident in Seattle not long ago where two female jaywalkers were confronted by a police officer. A cell phone-recorded video revealed the remarkable scene of a teenage girl having no fear, engaging the stupefied officer in fisticuffs. “The police uniform may also influence the safety level of the officer who wears it,” continues the bulletin. “As has already been mentioned, dark colored uniforms may promote subconscious negative feelings from citizens. These negative feelings may encourage some citizens to consider violent action when confronted by the police because the citizen perceives the officer as aggressive.” While I would never dream of taking my feelings toward police to such an extreme, I have never shied away from making my views plain. When a Port of Seattle cop (in an all-black uniform) singled me out at a bus stop and demanded without justification (save perhaps for my “ethnic” appearance) that I show him where my name was on my laptop computer, I had felt no particular trepidation in “discussing” the matter with him in a manner that eventually caused him extreme self-consciousness before onlookers.

The bulletin goes on to note, however, that in “situations involving the use of force, the fact that a police officer has a distinguishable uniform can help prevent the officer’s injury or death.” Of course, wearing a uniform can justify a multitude of sins, but we’ve talked about that before. “An officer in plain clothes is at risk of being harmed by citizens and other officers as a result of misidentification. Almost any police officer would immediately draw his or her weapon on a person who is wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and is carrying a gun in his or her hand. A plain clothes officer who is chasing a burglary suspect through backyards at night is at risk of being shot by a home owner who believes the officer to be a criminal.” Thus the uniform “helps both citizens and fellow police officers identify the wearer as having a legitimate purpose for trespassing, using force, or carrying a weapon.” Coincidentally, Seattle plainclothes Anti-Crime Team units have been frequently accused of engaging in behavior that can “mistakenly” be construed as criminal, or otherwise lacking in “legitimacy.”

The "quiet" Beatle was relevant, after all

According to the ITunes website, its best-selling Beatles singles download is “Here Comes the Sun.” I’m not certain it would have been my first choice, but its popularity is certainly understandable. The simple lyric about the sun breaking out after a long period of grey winter weather is, if taken literally, rather banal, but there is a certain poignancy to it if approached as a metaphor for hope after a long period of tribulation. The lead guitar picks out a precise melody that easily sticks in the memory, and the moog synthesizer gives it an uplifting feel as the song closes. The Beatles were known for their musical and lyrical experimentation, so it is ironic that one of their more straightforward tunes—by its “third-string” composer—is its most popular. But perhaps not so surprising. My favorite solo Beatle song is “My Sweet Lord” with that addictive chorus—which also happened to be composed (well, part of it, anyways) by the same writer of “Here Comes the Sun”: George Harrison. Harrison also co-wrote (and played 12-string guitar on) my second favorite solo Beatle single, Ringo Starr’s “Photograph.” Harrison always had a knack for writing memorable melodies, although as a lyricist (and singer) he could be excruciating. His top-twenty solo hit “You” features a Phil Spector “wall of sound” production at its best, but the absurdly minimalist lyrics and Harrison’s awful singing nearly kills it.

Harrison, who died in 2001 of cancer, is currently the subject of a Martin Scorsese documentary. I haven’t seen the documentary, but reviewers say that on the positive side it throws a great deal of material, some of it new, the viewers way. On the negative side, there isn’t much analysis as to the meaning of George Harrison; we know what he did, but not why he did those things or what people thought of them. The “quiet” Beatle—who often appeared awkward in public—didn’t exactly carry on a quiet personal life, with drugs, womanizing and what Terry Gilliam called “a weird kind of angry bitterness.” Those are just details; they don’t tell us what made him “tick.” The inner demons of John Lennon were much more transparent; he even made it public with “Mother,” a rather disturbing song complete with a primal scream fadeout.

I suppose it might be surprising that the Beatle that many people regarded as the perfect example of an ordinary talent who by pure dumb luck found himself in exactly the right place at the right time would be subjected to such treatment by a major filmmaker. But Harrison does in a way represent what the “Everyman” dreams about: Making it big in spite of the odds of growing-up in a lower class neighborhood in a relatively backward city like Liverpool. By the time he was twenty he was a millionaire and famous to millions of people, even though all he did was pick a guitar and sing occasional background behind the two main forces behind the group, Lennon and McCartney. Yet he knew was itching to prove that he had some talent as well, even if his “mates” either ignored him or pestered him about “not getting it” in regard to his guitar playing on their songs.

And Harrison did bring something to the table, after all. His singing was never particularly good, but the few songs of his that made it on Beatles’ albums were usually catchy and a change-of-pace. He “pioneered” the use of the sitar and synthesizer on pop songs (The Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” is simply not the same song without the sitar), and his fascination with Hindu philosophy briefly provided the Beatles with a social relevance beyond their popcraft persona. Harrison also did not view himself as so exalted as to be adverse to “sharing” himself and supporting causes he thought worthwhile, and not for personal publicity, like John and Yoko; he once made a surprise appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, encouraging the Brothers to continue their fight against network censorship, and the Concert for Bangladesh was the first benefit concert of its kind. Harrison was also the first ex-Beatle to appear on Saturday Night Live, as a musical guest with James Taylor; on an occasion when word reached SNL producers that Lennon and McCartney were both in town, a $1 million offer for them merely to show-up on the set together wasn’t sufficient inducement. Harrison’s Beatle’s era songwriting improved as the years went on, increasingly reflected his spiritual and social concerns; they could even be the most memorable songs on a Beatles album: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the White Album, and “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” on Abbey Road. If the Beatles had remained intact, we likely would never have been bestowed what some regard as the best post-Beatle album, Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. The album feels a bit preachy, but Spector’s involvement on the music side gives it even today a unique sonic texture. If I had to pick a favorite post-Beatle album, it would have to be Lennon’s Imagine, but I’d pick “Pass” as the runner-up. Harrison was, in the end, relevant.

Republican "job creation" bill--only in a xenophobe's fantasy

In a comment section on the Seattle Times website, one individual suggested that farmers and orchard growers in eastern Washington who knowingly or unknowingly employ illegal immigrants were operating "illegal" businesses. I responded by asking this person what he suggests as an alternative--if these growers can't find legal workers, should they just go out of business? His answer: Yes. The stupidity underlying this attitude also reveals why out of the atmosphere of extremism on the right and pathetic cowardice on the left, Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith can seriously offer a so-called “job creation” bill that is in reality a job-killer. Instead of "creating" jobs, his bill is nothing more than a federal requirement for employers to use the cumbersome E-Verify system, a flawed system at best, and bureaucratic and costly nightmare at worst. This is really just a political sop for Republicans to claim they are doing something to “create” jobs without actually doing anything. Naturally, numbers are being thrown about without any actual way to substantiate their accuracy; the number currently being bandied about concerning the number of jobs taken by illegal immigrants is 7 million, but that is like the “Manchurian Candidate” Senator Johnny Iselin making up a different number of communists in the government every time he’s asked, before finally settling on the number on the label of a ketchup bottle. The wild assumption, of course, is that once the country is rid of these 7 million job-stealing illegals, 7 million out-of-work “real Americans” will have jobs.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this fraud. Not all of these jobs are located in the areas with high unemployment, especially large urban areas. Areas where these jobs are located likely have either labor shortages or unreliable labor. The question is if the unemployed are willing or able to move where the jobs are; if recent history is any example, not likely. E-Verify won’t help the former, and will only cause only labor availability problems for businesses in the latter. The “lump of labor fallacy” suggests that unless workers in high unemployment areas actually get off their fundaments and move to the areas where there are jobs, what will occur is that labor shortages where the jobs are will simply cause those businesses to reduce output and jobs, or go out-of-business altogether. Although there may be some downtick in unemployment rates in the short-term, in the long-term unemployment will only marginally improve—or even worsen. Why? In past (as recently as the Clinton years), immigration (which was at much higher rates in the 19th and early 20th centuries than today) increases total demand for goods, thus creating more jobs. Immigrant labor was essential for the economy to grow. And now politicians looking for phony answers to real problems are scapegoating immigrants who are here contributing to the economy. Experts who dispute the utility of anti-immigrant laws point out that instead of releasing jobs for “real” Americans, the actual cost to the economy in driving out people who are now working may cost the economy $2.6 trillion in lost GDP in the next ten years. This is not a job creator—it is a job killer.

It appears that Rep. Smith may realize that he has a problem here, suggesting a rider to his bill authorizing 500,000 guest workers to enter the country. Of course, the next question is why don’t you just provide legal status for long-time farm workers already here, but of course nothing about this “debate” makes any sense, save if one takes into account things like racism, prejudice, discrimination, nativism, xenophobia—the usual suspects in the American character.

Meanwhile, as if to underscore the point: “Heat on Immigrants Makes Harvest Tough” blares a recent headline in Saturday’s Tacoma News-Tribune, a newspaper that editorially swings right. After ICE raids created labor shortages and disrupted harvests, desperate apple growers put out radio ads attempting to entice the “natives” with as much as $150 a day into their orchards. Much the same situation is occurring in Georgia and Alabama, where economists warned their Republican-controlled governments that playing racial politics was bad economics. There were so few people responding to the call for workers in Washington that growers demanded that Gov. Christine Gregoire—better known for her political opportunism than principle—forgot that she support for anti-immigrant legislature and called on the federal government to get off its heiny and do something to save you from yourselves, like untangle work visa requirements that allow social and racial “undesirables” like “Mexicans” to do the “undesirable” work. But it’s impossible to discuss rationally the immigration issue these days. I’ve tried that with people posting comments on the Times’ website. “They” shouldn’t be here, and that’s that. If “those people” were not here everyone would have jobs. It is pointless to point out that “natives” have been saying that ever since Benjamin Franklin complained that German immigrants were incapable of assimilation into the Anglo political and social “culture.”

A history lesson: Throughout most of this country’s history, it had a paternalistic attitude toward Latin America; the Western Hemisphere was the U.S.’ private domain, and Europeans needed to keep their hands off. Of course, this merely meant that the U.S. didn’t want competition in its own meddling in the affairs of its neighbors to the south. The U.S. also had a symbiotic relationship with Mexico, not only because much of its western dominions were once part of Mexico and the U.S. retained a measure of that cultural heritage (particularly in the retention of Spanish place names), but because many Mexicans still regarded the region as “home.” The 1924 immigration law did not include quotas for immigrants from Latin American as they did for Europe, and border crossings were tolerated, especially for cheap labor. But the dynamic changed during the Great Depression, and like today politicians, local officials and “populist” rabble-rousers used Latinos as easy targets in which to direct popular discontent. “Mexicans” were indiscriminately rounded-up with nothing but the clothes on their backs and “repatriated” to Mexico; it is estimated that 60 percent of them were U.S. citizens, and even into the 1980s these people were still fighting for reparations for the homes, businesses, land and belongings that were simply was stolen from them in order to satisfy the popular prejudice. And “Mexicans” have been playing this dual role ever since; the current mess was created by U.S. policy makers who never saw the need to establish a coherent and workable temporary work visa program that made it easier to legally bring in workers they needed—workers who could be relied upon to move where work was needed. There would be a “balance” between those rounded-up and deported, and those who would replace them. This short-sighted policy only encouraged people in the country illegally to stay underground.

In the course of my “discussions,” I also suggested that it was my impression that these people with Latinos on the brain was an indication of a particular ingrained prejudice (if not racism) against them; after all, nearly a quarter of illegal immigrants were non-Latino, and 13 percent of the total were Asian. I suggested that Seattle’s International was probably stuffed with illegal immigrants, but despite the fact that immigration detention center was right next door, ICE agents didn’t bother going there. A female responder basically called me a liar, and even if there were a few people who were not Latino here illegally, they had just overstayed their visas, while “Mexicans” were “pouring over” the border. Well, I didn’t just “make this up.” A May 2006 story in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal migrants, about 13 percent or 1.5 million are from Asia, the Pew Center estimated in a report released in April. Most of those 1.5 million likely are among the 25 to 40 percent of illegal immigrants that Pew estimates entered the country legally but then overstayed their visas.” And if the majority did not “overstay” their visas, how did they get here? Many are “boat people,” stowing away cargo ships, sometimes as many as two dozen hiding in shipping containers, obviously for a price. Ever notice how many Vietnamese immigrants in the country, especially older ones, don’t know a word of English? According an AP story in 2006, the likelihood these people are illegal immigrants is more than a possibility. Legal Vietnamese immigrants complain that it takes too long for their relatives to receive immigration permits, so they find “other” means to bring them in country. Of course, there is the question of why relatives who are not spouses or children should expect to automatically be allowed permanent residence.

According to an MSNBC report, it was pointed out that Chinese immigrants who enter the country illegally, particularly off ships in Canadian ports; as many as a million shipping containers arrive in Canadian ports every year, and as the story noted, it’s a one-in-a-million shot that a container holding illegal immigrants will be caught. And once they are here, they are difficult to deport, because of the state of U.S.-Chinese relations, and the fact the Chinese government probably doesn’t want them back anyways. Some of these people are granted refugee status; others are simply let go into the population. The same goes for Southeast Asian illegals. This is why the ICE doesn’t target the non-Latino undocumented, and why their numbers as a percent of the illegal population is probably higher now than it was in 2006. The irony is that while the U.S. looks askance at illegal immigrants from country’s whose governments it deems “unfriendly” or views as political refugees, the victims of governments the U.S. has backed—like the right-wing murder regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala—found or find it almost impossible to receive asylum status in this country.

Oh, the irony: The AP story added this quote: “’In the Latino community, people come here illegally for jobs,’ said H. Chang, a 23-year-old Korean college student who asked her full name not be used because her parents are living in Los Angeles illegally. ‘For us, a whole family comes here for a student, and many stay illegally.’"

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tragedy on the race track

In the lead-up to the 2005 Indianapolis 500 open-wheel race, the talk centered around Danica Patrick, the first female driver to appear in the race who observers thought might have chance at winning the race. I didn’t pay much attention to it because I wasn’t a racing fan, but at the sports apparel warehouse I worked there were two people who had a “friendly” feud concerning their favorite NASCAR drivers, one who was a Tony Stewart fan, and the other Jeff Gordon’s. At the time of that Indy 500, they discussed whether Patrick had an “unfair” advantage over other drivers because of her slight build; even a few pound less weight could improve speed and fuel efficiency. As it turned out, Patrick ended the race finishing a respectable fourth, but the winner was Dan Wheldon, the first British driver to win the race since 1966. Wheldon went on to win a record six races on the IRL circuit that year, eventually becoming the overall points champion for the season. Wheldon didn’t repeat that success in subsequent years, but it was still odd that he failed to attract sponsorship to race full-time in 2011, after being replaced by a rookie driver by the Panther Racing team. Wheldon subsequently spent time doing occasional color commentary, but Bryan Herta Autosport gave him a spot in this year’s Indy 500, in which he won a surprising victory--passing the driver who took his spot on the Panther team on the final lap. Wheldon only appeared in two other races this year, but decided against joining the Formula 1 circuit, agreeing to replace Patrick on the Michael Andretti team next year when she moves on to the NASCAR circuit.

This past Sunday, the NFL took center stage as usual; initial reports of a 15-car pile-up at the IRL season finale at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway failed to interest non-race fans until reports surfaced that Wheldon had been airlifted from the track to a local hospital. Then came the shocking news only minutes after he reached the hospital: Wheldon had died from “unsurvivable” head injuries. I suppose the news shocked me more than it might due to the fact that outside of Patrick, Wheldon was the only current IRL driver whose name I recognized. What made it more disturbing was the unexpectedness of it. The race announcers on ABC television for many minutes had no clue that anything was amiss. Just before the crash they were commenting on Wheldon’s move from 34th place to 24th just 11 laps into the race, and noted his previous concerns about “dirty air” on the track. Views from his onboard cam were abruptly cut to a view of the pile-up that was just ahead of him. The mayhem lasted only a few seconds, but not before viewers could see three cars literally flying through the air in rapid succession; one car appeared to do two complete flips. It was difficult to tell which of the first two cars hit the “catch fence”—a chain-link fence that is supposed to prevent debris from crashes from flying into spectators—on the cockpit side, causing the fence to rattle violently. The car was then seen to hit the “safe” wall, before its shredded remnant slid into the middle of the track. First a yellow then a red flag was issued, stopping the race.

Replays showed the accident was initiated by one driver attempting to move from the high side to the low side, in the process being clipped by another car, causing it to turn sideways. That second car went over the first car and both drove into the “safe” wall, which is supposed have “give” on impact. A third car high on the track became another victim, but the accident might have been limited to them had not two other cars, attempting to avoid flying debris, slid sideways, causing subsequent cars to slam into them. 15 of the 34 cars were immediately knocked out of the race; Patrick, who had eased on the throttle before the pile-up, managed to slide by the initial contact. The race commentators noted that there was fear that such a mishap would occur, with too many cars on a relatively small but fast track, wide enough to allow four cars to run side by side; drivers also complained that the track was too “easy” for bad drivers to keep-up with good drivers, encouraging dangerous “pack” driving. And experienced drivers complained that inexperienced drivers were too impatient--a recipe for disaster for open-wheeled cars without driver-protective canopies on a track where there are only inches to spare for error.

Despite the obvious mayhem on the track, there was no immediate indication that anyone had been seriously injured. But while the commentators talked about their concerns about the variables that were responsible for what had just transpired, ongoing events on the track seemed to indicate that something was seriously amiss. At least a half dozen track rescue workers surrounded one car in the middle of the track—whose condition was so battered it looked like half of it was missing—with one man excitedly waving his arms, apparently trying to get someone’s attention about the severity of the situation; soon an ambulance arrived, and while emergency medical workers tried to aid the driver, an yellow tarp was used to keep the scene out of view from drivers and spectators. The driver turned out to be Wheldon. Shortly afterward, an unconscious Wheldon, head heavily bandaged, was taken by helicopter to University Medical Hospital. Soon thereafter, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernhard announced his death to the shocked attendees of the race. More details came out; after hitting the catch fence, Wheldon’s upside down car hit the edge of the wall; the car’s roll bar or hoop buckled, leaving Wheldon’s head exposed to the wall, causing blunt head trauma. The race was officially called, and drivers who still had running cars then did a solemn five-lap tribute to Wheldon.

But besides the track conditions, the number of cars and the fear that such an accident might happen, this tragedy might not have occurred save for a chain of events that no one could have foreseen. Racing on the IRL circuit, despite the presence of a publicity vehicle like Patrick, has taken a back seat to NASCAR. In order to improve anemic ratings and drum-up interest among racing fans for the season finale, Berhnard had concocted an “event” called the GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge Bonus. Originally this was supposed to entice non-IRL drivers the chance at $5 million dollars if they won the race. But because of lack of interest (Kasey Kahne was a possibility, but his demand to drive only for Team Penske ended his potential involvement) the “challenge” was reduced to offering a chance for IRL drivers who had not run enough races to qualify for in the overall points standing to win some big money. The stipulation was that the drivers had to start at the bottom of the pack, and the winner had to split the money with a lucky fan. Some retired big-name drivers considered the offer but decided they were too old to risk the Las Vegas track; Wheldon, who hadn’t raced since the Indy 500 in May, was the only driver to accept the challenge, to start in the 34th and last spot. Wheldon admitted the difficulty of his task. "When you look at the depth of the field in the Izod IndyCar Series right now, it's full of talent. So it's certainly going to be harder to come to the front than in recent years. When you consider the talent level of the grid, I think quite honestly, it far outweighs NASCAR."

Although Wheldon was disappointed in his car’s performance in a tune-up race in Kentucky, on his USA Today blog he expressed some confidence in his chances. "This is going to be an amazing show. The two championship contenders, Dario Franchitti and Will Power, are starting right next to each other in the middle of the grid. Honestly, if I can be fast enough early in the race to be able to get up there and latch onto those two, it will be pure entertainment. It's going to be a pack race, and you never know how that's going to turn out...As long as I can find some speed and keep up with the pack, I'll do everything I can to put on a show."

The irony is that a “pack” mishap that Wheldon may have hoped would change the odds in his favor did happen—except that it was of such a horrific scale that it engulfed him with deadly consequences. His move from last to 24th early in the race was impressive, but he was too close behind the main pack when the accident was initiated, and it was impossible for him to avoid a collision at speeds of 100 yards per second. Yet had he been able to slide by the wreckage, with perhaps only a half-dozen cars ahead of him, anything was possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The world I live in

According to news reports, there are three major cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, dealing with the new health care reform law, racial profiling and other assaults on civil rights in the guise of illegal immigration enforcement, and affirmative action in colleges and universities. All of these cases have at least one thing in common: they either wholly or disproportionately affect racial minorities. We live in a country where majority rules—that is to say, white people—although there are laws on the books meant to mitigate against the potential for prejudice and discrimination to intervene in public and private actions. Yet it would be disingenuous to deny that conscious and unconscious attitudes about race often informs public policy. I’ve referenced a 2000 study commissioned by the Brookings Institute that suggested that the reason why the U.S. has not adopted the kind of social welfare programs found in Europe (including universal health care) was because a plurality of whites are loath to support programs that they see chiefly benefitting minorities, who are more likely than whites to be poor, undereducated, unemployed or lacking health insurance.

Ironically—given the fact that this social and economic imbalance may in part be explained by the “preferences” and “privileges” that the majority demographic bestows upon itself, and by this “law,” winners and losers within society are to a great extent presupposed—the blind allegiance to prejudice by much of the electorate and their political representatives swallows up many of their own “kind” in its wake; yet even poor whites have a poor record of recognizing the reality that their condition is a by-product of the lack of support in many elements of society for the structures and institutions that maintain a civil society. Some of this can be seen in the so-called “affirmative action” problem that the current Supreme Court has been slowly, but steadily, eating away at. The reality is that blacks and Latinos are far less a “threat” to whites than the massive cuts in state education spending (due to foolish anti-tax attitudes), the increasing reliance on foreign students who pay high tuition fees (to ease budget shortfalls), and the fact that white students are apparently less adept at rote memorization than Asian students, whose representation in higher education tends to be double their population footprint (although their public profile continues to be near invisible). Anti-affirmative action rulings will not help white students looking for someone to blame for their own (and their voting parents’) failure of vision. It is ludicrous for 5,000 white applicants who were not granted admittance to their favorite college to blame it on 150 black and Latino freshmen, as was the case at the University of Washington, where an over-represented white female student provided the face for the previous anti-affirmative action court ruling. There would still be 4,850 white students who would not granted admittance, and nothing at all was gained by petty racial prejudice except ending the potential for a handful of the under-represented demographic. Feel good about yourself—I mean, about being a small-minded bigot?

While some may observe that the current right-wing majority in the U.S. Supreme Court does not represent the views of the country as a whole, I beg to differ, at least in certain respects. Hank Williams Jr.’s racist tirade on “Fox and Friends” was, he admitted, composed of views shared by “everyone” he knew, which is a scary—but not unexpected—thought. Such are the people making the decisions that affect minorities’ lives. The state of Washington is allegedly a blue state, yet it also voted for—in landslide fashion—an anti-affirmative action initiative, despite the fact there was no evidence that it was unduly beneficial to minorities, save in the minds of people looking for scapegoats. My suspicion is that even “liberal” whites do not have any particular problem with the Supreme Court handing down decisions that don’t require them to unduly burden themselves with the problem of racial imbalances even within their own spheres, social or institutional: The Court is just doing the “dirty work” they just pretend to oppose. The views of the majority of minorities is granted, but is essentially weak in the face of what the majority of the majority wants—and too often this amounts to disparagement and disregard.


At a Cupertino, California cement quarry, workers complained that one of the truck drivers—Shareef Allman—was a one-man safety hazard after a series of driving mishaps. Finally, after flipping over his truck, his union shop steward informed him that he was no longer going to represent him before management to defend his numerous safety violations. "No one has ever had so many accidents in the company like you have" Mike Ambrosio said he told Allman. According to a story in the San Jose Mercury News, “Ambrosio set up a meeting Monday morning with management, telling officials that Allman's safety record was so bad, his driving so reckless, that ‘the workers weren't safe.’" Company officials were loath to discipline Allman, only suggesting that Ambrosio encourage “his fellow drivers to document any further problems.” Ambrosio suspected that word of this meeting reached Allman, because for a day his work improved.

According to the Mercury News, Allman “arrived for his 4 a.m. shift Wednesday at the quarry a few minutes late, said good morning to the guys, and like he always did, poured himself a cup of coffee and punched the time clock. But this time, after listening to the small talk of a morning meeting, which included a discussion about rescheduling a farewell party for another employee. Allman piped up, ‘If we ain't gonna have no party, give me my $10 back.’ Then Allman pulled out the gun and started (shooting). ‘You guys want to (expletive) with me? You want to (expletive) with me?’" Ten people were shot, including Ambrosio, and three—all Latinos—died of their wounds.

What grievance did Allman nurse that led him to such extreme action? "He's had so many accidents and always said that because he's African American, the company was after him," Ambrosio told the News. In other words, Allman believed that racism was behind the complaints about his driving safety record. Others might argue that the matter of race, rather than being used to oppress him, actually protected him. Company managers, conscious of diversity issues, likely overlooked complaints so long as no one was injured on the job.

However, the UK’s Daily Mail found the alleged racism angle sufficiently newsworthy to interest British readers. It focused on the shooter rather than the victims, who were not named. Interestingly, the Mail reported that Allman was “disgruntled” not in regard to complaints about his work habits, but for “having been switched from day shifts to night shifts.” He blamed this on racism, according to a friend. “‘As far as I know he was the only African-American truck driver,' he said. 'He told me the company was racist.'” The Mail quoted Allman’s friends as saying “something terrible” must have happened for him to snap. To humanize him, the Mail also posted a flattering link to a YouTube video showing Allman interviewing Jesse Jackson, and it was noted that he was known to appear on public access television stations sermonizing on “peaceful conflict resolution.”

But another portrait of Allman was provided by the Mercury News: Not one of “a spiritual, peace-loving man” as described by friends, but “a coldblooded killer who sheriff's officials said kept a handgun at home hidden in the cutout pages of a Bible.” It was also revealed that “Allman used a rope and piece of plywood to jam shut a door and trap about a dozen co-workers” inside the trailer before he started shooting. “While on the run a little more than an hour later, Allman made a walkie-talkie call back to the terrified survivors. His message: He was coming back to finish them off.” In an attempted carjacking, Allman shot a 60-year-old woman, before being tracked down hiding between two cars in a Hewlett-Packard campus parking lot, where Allman was shot after he threatened to go down shooting.

What made him snap was likely an extreme sense of “victimization,” that he was being targeted because he was black. Being the only black in his shop, everyone else was his “enemy.” Although he preached “peace,” Allman only meant this on his terms, based on his and his community’s own racial grievances. That most of the people he targeted were Latino might make mock of his claim of “racism,” but given the popular media and political mantra that Latinos are taking jobs from “everyone,” apparently, Allman found it easy to focus his rage on them rather than his own faults.

But knowing this is no consolation for the victims and those who grieve for them."We may spend the rest of our time on this earth trying to make sense of this madness," said Luz Brown, the aunt of one of dead.


It was is being described as a “bizarre” case—not merely because the right is running wild with its “implications”—an Iranian-American in Texas named Manssor Arbabsiar was recently arrested in New York and charged with conspiring with an Iranian national to hire a “purported member” of the Los Zetas drug cartel to assassinate a Saudi Arabian diplomat. The “evidence” to support this charge consists of claims made by a DEA-paid informant, and testimony from the man’s neighbors who thought he was “strange” and noted that he spoke a “foreign” language. A friend, David Tomscha, found it hard to believe that this “likeable,” but “lazy” man could dream-up an assassination plot. It is unknown why Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir was the alleged target, except perhaps to put a damper on U.S.-Saudi relations; of course if that was the case, the nationality of who the alleged conspirators being revealed before the alleged assassination took place obviously has the opposite effect.

What makes this case even more bizarre is the allegation that a Mexican drug cartel, no matter how violent or greedy, would be foolish enough to become involved in a high profile assassination scheme in the heart of the U.S.—which in turn would only persuade the U.S. to put more resources against them in a drug war that has become only more violent since the Bush administration started supplying military equipment to Mexico in 2006. The fact is that despite mainly right-wing media and “expert” opinion, there only “evidence” suggesting a link between Muslim terrorists and Mexicans was the arrest of a purported member of Hezbollah in Tijuana, and tattoos on prison inmates that allegedly show “alignment” with the Lebanon-based group.
The Washington Post has noted that “a favorite chestnut of some activists and politicians keen to tighten immigration” was the charge that terrorists are infiltrating the Mexican border. The reality is that “terrorists have rarely crossed into the United States from Mexico. In a recent Nixon Center study of 373 Islamist terrorists, Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke concluded: ‘Despite widespread alarms raised over terrorist infiltration from Mexico, we found no terrorist presence in Mexico and no terrorists who entered the U.S. from Mexico.’” The study also concluded that "a sizeable terrorist presence in Canada and a number of Canadian-based terrorists who have entered the U.S."—not surprising considering how lightly patrolled the Canadian border is.

A more recent story on a website dealing with national security issues, National Security Zone, quoted a Department of Justice criminal division official who claimed that the department had no substantive evidence that Hezbollah was operating in Mexico (besides that single arrest), and if Hezbollah was in Latin America at all, is was for funding reasons. The story quoted a “global intelligence” expert named Scott Stewart suggesting that although the Iranian-backed Hezbollah was more dangerous than Al-Qaida, it was “unlikely” to tempt a “swift and harsh” response by launching a terrorist attack against the U.S.; “The Hezbollah leadership may be radical, but it is not irrational.”

Of course, this won’t stop the usual paranoid propaganda being instigated by Republican politicians and the right-wing press (that includes CNN). The sad, pathetic truth is that Americans are “suffering” far less than billions of people on this planet, and that includes the vast majority of people in Mexico. Thanks to U.S. drug war propaganda that places sole blame on drug suppliers rather than face its own failed domestic “war” against consumption, the U.S. is helping to instigate even more disruption and chaos supplying weapons (both legal and illegal) and “know-how” which is only being used to kill tens of thousands of people—and Americans have the audacity to point fingers in self-righteous fear. Few Americans (white, anyways) are affected—directly or indirectly—by the turbulence beyond their isolated lives, yet they continuously seek scapegoats and demonize not just the violent elements but the vast majority of vulnerable “foreigners” just trying to survive. This latest alleged foiled terrorist attack is just another point on the graph to chart this pre-determined course.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sports notes

The NBA and its buffoon commissioner David Stern seem to believe that people can’t live without NBA basketball (don’t get me started with the WNBA). I suspect that a majority sports fans might note a temporary “hole” in the professional sports schedule, but otherwise after a year or two will go on to other things. Professional basketball has been gone from Seattle for several years now, and given the lack of public support for replacing Key Arena, I think that most people couldn’t have cared less if the Sonics stayed or not. Some people (whites mostly) have this idea that the NBA has become a “thug” league, with players they can’t identify with, and question why they should pay them billions in guaranteed money. If people need a basketball “fix,” the college game more than satisfies; the NCAA Tournament has a built-in drama that the NBA playoffs can’t match.

So at first I find the current NBA lockout difficult to fathom from the owners’ standpoint. The players want to maintain a 50-50 split in the revenues, and the owners won’t talk unless players agree to this. Now, the players’ have a point, although I doubt they see what it is. As in all sports, but the NBA in particular, the product is the players. The players are the goods and services being sold. Owners are paying players to entertain the masses, and they get a profit on the side. Of course it isn’t that simple; the cost of uniforms can’t be as exorbitant as say football, but establishing the framework in which players operate costs a lot of money, like leases on playing venues, training, travel and medical costs, although frankly I find it hard to believe that the total cost exceeds that of a team’s highest paid player. The only explanation for the owners stand is if revenues cannot keep-up with player salaries, which seems to be the case; thus the players stance suggests that they want to keep the split in flux, and make the revenue issue the owners’ problem, not their problem.

But it is the players’ problem as well, if they lose the “casual” fan who views an NBA game as a social event with a high ticket price. Seattle proved it can live without professional basketball (that includes the WNBA’s Storm, which the Sonics new owners cast off for their own lack of interest), and it would be a mistake to assume that other communities—once they experience the lack of activity—will find they are missing something vital.


When I was growing up in Wisconsin, major league baseball was the sport I derived the most pleasure from a fan’s perspective. When I was in school in would go straight to the library to the get a hold of the morning newspaper first, so that I could pore over box scores. Sunday was my favorite day during baseball season, because that was the day the sports page printed the complete team and individual statistical lists. But I really became a fan at in bed when I was supposed to be sleeping. I would turn on my transistor radio, low enough that only I could hear it, listening to the Milwaukee Brewer broadcasts. Bob Uecker and Merle Harmon were my best “friends.” Back in the day, especially when the Brewers were third division, Uecker would make the game interesting by occasionally interjecting humorous anecdotes from his brief playing days. One that still sticks in my memory concerned the Milwaukee Braves’ Hall of Fame slugger Eddie Mathews and his cherished bats, and how a practical joke that went awry ended with Mathews looking at his charred bats in a hotel fireplace. Uecker related this story over several innings, and after awhile you were more interested in how this “cliffhanger” would end than in the game.

Beginning in 1978, with the addition of Paul Molitor, and power hitters like Cecil Cooper and Gorman Thomas, the Brewers started to score runs and win games, although there pitching was always suspect. The fabled 1982 World Series team had four players with at least 100 RBIs, and former St. Louis All-Star catcher Ted Simmons was three short of becoming the fifth. But the Brewers suffered a blow late in the season that would come back to haunt them in the Series against the Cardinals: Relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, the Cy Young Award winner the previous year, was injured and did not return for the playoffs. The Brewers continued to play competitive ball until 1992, when the team made a late run for the division title, falling four games short.

But my interest in football supplanted that of baseball. Back then, players tended to stay on the same team throughout most of their careers, especially the best players. You could keep track of how they grew and developed, and if they were really good, it was a joy to see a Hall of Fame career develop on your team, especially if it wasn’t one of the perennial powerhouses. In 1974, an 18-year-old shortstop phenom named Robin Yount was called up, and the rest was “history.” Although initially light-hitting and never a true homerun threat, he eventually developed into the most consistent hitter the team ever had up top that point, and he was the first twenty-year presence on the team. A “franchise” baseball player like Yount was is like a franchise quarterback on an NFL team: He is the “face” of the team that fans can find some vicarious connection to, part of your life with its ups and downs—he is a constant in an uncertain world, and his consistency is reassuring in a game where players shine brightly for a few years, only to flame-out.

The Brewers did not develop a “franchise” player after Yount retired, and I gradually lost interest in the team with its subsequent downward spiral. Every time a player seemed promising, the Brewers would trade or let him off on the free agent market because they didn’t want to pay him. That may be changing, however. The Brewers recently saw fit to sign homegrown talent Ryan Braun to five-year, $105 million extension through 2020 with an option for 2021, which would be 15 years with the team. Braun has said he wants to spend his entire career in Milwaukee, and he certainly has the credibility to be the “face” of the team; he has put-up impressive numbers since his rookie season, the kind that make it fascinating to note his statistical progression. Amazingly, Yount’s 258 career homeruns continues to be a team record, but Braun should easily pass that mark in a few years. If the Brewers can keep a core nucleus of productive players (like the Yount-Molitor-Gantner triumvirate which lasted 15 years), the team could be competitive for many years. I would also like to note that I despise St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa, so I’m hoping that the Brewers can take care of business in the NLCS.


Having grown-up a Packer fan, and having memories of the bad old days, I continue to be irritated by Brett Favre-haters. Favre recently received some heat for comments he made to an Atlanta radio station in regard to Aaron Rodgers, in which he pointed out that Rodgers stepped into an ideal situation, and given all the hype Rodgers received, Favre was rightly “baffled” why he took a 13-3 team that was supposedly a non-Favre quarterback from the Super Bowl to a 6-10 record. Favre, on the other hand, was traded to a team that he didn’t want to go to, and whose system he knew nothing about, and had he not injured his shoulder, would have led the Jets to at least a division title. We know what happened in Minnesota in 2009, and Rodgers was still the second banana in the division, on a team that was tailor-made for his superior talents. After three seasons, Rodgers was still a less than elite 27-20 in the regular season, and had the Packers not squeaked into the playoffs and played against—let’s be honest—over-hyped NFC opponents, Rodger’s only memorable playoff moment would be that shocking fumble on the first play of overtime against Arizona. What people still be calling Rodgers the greatest quarterback in the present universe?

I have to admit that I was impressed by Rodgers’ recent two-score comeback against the Falcons—but I’m only being ironic. The Falcons failed to score after the 12:30 mark of the second quarter, and if the Packers couldn’t score at least 15 points in three quarters (let alone a whole game), then the Rodgers-hype is exposed for what it is; the fact is that Rodgers doesn’t have a single fourth quarter comeback to his credit, which explains why his regular season won/loss record coming into this season is so “modest.” I’ve also been greatly amused by the fact that some commentators have pointed out that Rodgers was a Super Bowl MVP and Favre wasn’t, so that “proves” he is “better.” The fact is that Favre, who threw TD passes of 52 and 81 yards, and ran for a third, should have been the MVP of his Super Bowl win, except that some people thought it would be “cool” to select the first and likely only special teams player.

It disturbs me that Favre-haters force me to engage in fault-finding in regard to Rodgers, but all this man-crush stuff makes me ill. I think Favre is such a lightning rod of emotion, that everything he did (or does) was magnified to umpteenth degree; the highs were very high, the lows very low. Rodgers certainly doesn’t excite that kind of emotion, which makes it easy for him to be a vessel to rationalize Favre-hate, which explains why Fox puts up graphics comparing Rodgers to Favre that puts the former in a more positive light. Frankly, I think it is an unfair comparison because Rodgers is benefiting from new pass-friendly rules that Favre never knew until he was too old to take advantage of them. Everyone talks about Favre’s INTs. Sure his INT percentage of 3.3 is higher than Rodgers 1.9 (for now), it was in line with other players of his era; Aikman, Marino, Bledsoe and Elway all had INT percentages of 3 or higher. The further you go back in time, the higher the INT percentage. Sammy Baugh, the “founder” of the passing game, had an INT pct. of 6.8; Y.A. Tittle’s was 5.6, and Johnny Unitas—the greatest quarterback through his time—had 4.9 career INT pct., while Bart Starr’s was 4.4. Other quarterbacks: Joe Namath, 5.8; Bob Griese, 5.0; Terry Bradshaw, 5.4; Jim Zorn, 4.5; Dan Fouts, 4.3; Fran Tarkenton; 4.1; Roger Staubach, and Jim Kelly, 3.7. According to Pro Football Reference, eight of the top 12 lowest INT percentages are by quarterbacks who have played their entire careers in the 2000—and it also shows that having a low INT pct does not necessarily equate to “greatness.” Only Joe Montana and Steve Young, with INT pcts of 2.6, can be said to have bucked the historical trend for quarterbacks with enough pass attempts to justify a comparison, although combined they did not throw as many passes as Favre.

Well, Eli Manning can be said to buck the “trend” as well; his INT pct of 3.4 is higher than Favre’s.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I was once a Mac fanatic

With the much too soon passing of Steve Jobs, I suppose I can pause to reflect on my early infatuation with Apple products, and muse about what might have been if Jobs had not been ousted from Apple during that entire period. The college computer labs were stocked with the fabled Macintosh, a product which Jobs had directed before he was fired in 1985. The all-in-one Mac, introduced in 1984, didn’t change much in ten-year existence. My first computer was a Macintosh Classic II, and it was also my first major credit card purchase. I kept that Mac for all of two weeks, because two days after I bought it, Apple released the Color Classic. This was something that would frustrate me throughout my Apple period. Apple always kept information about its new products secret. I didn’t know if this was a trade issue with its competitors, or its just wanted sell all the “old” stuff before anyone who could make informed decisions on their purchases. I took my “old” computer back to the store for a swap, and ended-up paying an additional $500 for the Color Classic. Unfortunately, the Color Classic had major “issues.” One was that it had a smaller screen; another was that its 640 x 400 pixel screen was non-standard. Most third-party games and programs that required a 640 x 480 screen, and if you tried to install this software, you’d often find you couldn’t use them because if the menus were on the bottom of the screen, they’d be cut off and you couldn’t access them. So I sold my Color Classic at a used PC store and purchased a Quadra 800. I also splurged on a Powerbook 140, with its 8.9 inch passive screen. It was terribly expensive (although I hardly noticed when they scanned another credit card), and its “cool” factor was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Windows laptops had noticeably larger 10-inch screens.

From there I cooled my heals with a Performa while I waited for the much-anticipated Power PC line; because the 68x series processors could not multitask, Apple had to find an alternative in order to take advantage of the internet. My first Power Mac was the 6100/60, the bottom-feeder of the line with a 60 MHz processor (most processors today are at least 2 GHz); I recall that the power supply unit died within a week, and an Apple technician made a house call to replace it. The initial problem with the Power PC was that because it had an entirely different structure than the 68x series processors, there were few software programs able to run to natively on the Power PC, and at least initially few software companies were willing to write programs in the native Power PC code. Thus there was little improvement in speed, because non-native programs had to run in emulation mode. My last Apple computer was the Power PC 6300 in the old Quadra 630 case, using a Power PC 603 processor, allegedly running at twice the megahertz of the 601. It still had the same problems as the 6100, but I have to admit that this was my favorite Mac, since it was an all-in-one entertainment machine, with a built-in TV tuner.

But by then I had about seven credit cards maxed-out, and I had to cure myself of my Apple addition. It was partly Apple’s fault: The Motorola processors could never compete with Intel’s chips, and it was much easier to judge Intel chip’s relative merits. Windows 95—although hardly comparable to the Mac’s operating system, began the process of blurring the lines. And as I’ve mentioned before, Apple is selling its computers almost exclusively on the merits of its operating system; its computers continue to lag behind PCs in hardware, especially in hard drive capacity and the failure to adopt Blu-ray drives, the inclusion of which would force it to improve its hardware capacity.

It was a fascinating ride while it lasted. These days, Apple is the computer of choice in Hollywood, and I am surprised by the number of people I see with Intel-powered Apple laptops. Back in the day, I was worried about hitching my wagon to Apple because during the 1990s its sales were declining because of the confusion caused by the myriad number of products whose relative merits were difficult to quantify. Jobs, who was fired in 1985 because he was viewed as a loose cannon, was tentatively reinstated in 1996, and since then saved the brand by abandoning the Motorola processor and taking advantage of the hand-held device market. Back in the early 1980s, Jobs was viewed as a man who had too many crackpot ideas and wouldn’t let anyone get in his way; in retrospect, his brainchild—the Mac—was the product that made Apple relevant in the early days, and his later foray into products outside “the box” saved the company and re-established its relevance.

Racial propaganda has price, but only at the bottom of the page

I was listening to NPR make the claim that states were “taking the lead” on immigration “reform,” noting that in Alabama, the law that criminalizes the children of one particular group has led to a noticeable decrease in the number of that particular group. NPR—which the right accuses of being “liberal”—seems to find this laudable. Low-level racism always seems to bring together the various political factions (just ask Progressive Number One Thom Hartmann). The fact is that laws that target children like Alabama’s does has a fatal flaw that apparently even “liberal” NPR finds acceptable: Laws that everyone knows is meant to discomfit one group and doesn’t intend to require all to be treated in the same manner is a violation of civil rights. The only way it could not be is if every child is required to show their “papers.” Alabama school officials will not do this, because they know many white and black children—especially from the poorer neighborhoods—may not have the birth certificates or social security numbers.

Another irony, as I’ve pointed out before, is that as many as one-in-nine Asian residents are illegal; Seattle’s “Chinatown”—practically an independent entity within the city—probably has hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal immigrants. But will NPR do a story about why the Asian illegal immigrant passes unnoticed? No, because it agrees with Alabama’s cynical use of Latino immigrants as a race-baiting tool for political purposes, just as Southern politicians did in the 1940s and 1950s to feed the paranoia of white voters in the face of the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Some economists have had the courage to cite the “lump of labor fallacy,” which claims that there is a fixed amount of work to be done, and thus only a certain amount of workers. This argument was used when automation threatened to “take” jobs; now, of course, it is Latinos who are “taking” jobs. The economists point out that the “fallacy” comes in when the argument that if we kick-out all the illegals, these jobs will be filled by the unemployed natives. But the reality is that illegal aliens would not be here in the first place if those jobs had been filled in first place, and there is no reason to believe that they will be if they leave. Economists have argued that history has demonstrated that a growing employed labor pool can expand the size of the economy, leading to job creation. Reducing the number of people who are employed would only decrease economic activity—and reduce the demand for labor. All Alabama (and other states like it) have done is get rid of a flexible, productive labor force, and replaced it with decreased economic activity. All for the sake of racial politics.

There are other ways in which society can “frame” an issue in a way that inspires hate for one group and allows stereotype get in the way of facts. A few months ago there was a “low-rider” convention in a parking lot in Kent. A newspaper story reported that “Mexican” music was playing. An argument started and shooting followed; no one was killed, but a handful were injured. A couple days later, the Seattle Times was reporting that South King County was going to receive an infusion of funds to fight Latino gangs. Confirmation of a stereotype, right? A week ago, it was reported that six males had been arrested in connection with the shootings; four of them were white.

I’ve written many times, both from experience and observation, that the sum of the media, political and law enforcement propaganda is to stigmatize an entire group based solely on their “color,” and rationalize any and all prejudice, and make a mock of civil rights. People are treated like or referred to as pests and vermin, and moved around like cattle. The Seattle Times, as I’ve mentioned before, frequently puts stories on the front page designed to inflame anti-Latino bigotry. What is the cost of this? Last week, the Times, for some reason, felt compelled to print a few paragraphs on page B3 about an “alleged” hate crime against a Latino of “unknown” legal status. Behind a restaurant in Kent, a white man and a Latino who was an employee were in the rear of the building drinking, when an argument erupted after the white man started with the racial slurs. The intoxicated white man was told to leave the premises, whereupon “he confronted the Latino man and accused him of being ‘an illegal immigrant.’ He then punched “the (victim) repeatedly in the face until he fell to the ground, then straddling the man and slamming his head into some rocks, the (charging) papers say.” The white man continued should slurs, upon the which the Latino man got up and advanced toward him; the white man then swung a bicycle lock suspended on a chain at him, striking him on the head.

The perpetrator then “repeatedly asked the victim for his ‘papers,’ leading the investigating detective to believe that “the alleged victim's race and citizenship status was a factor.” The victim “suffered significant facial injuries, including a fractured orbital bone.” The reporter saw fit to note, of course, that the charging papers did not indicate the victims legal status, which naturally leading some people on the online comment section to focus on that issue, as if the perpetrator was “justified” somehow in what he had done.

Frankly, knowing the Times usual modus operandi, I don’t know why they even bothered, because it was placed where people were unlikely to notice it, and ask the question of what culpability does the media have in inciting this kind of behavior to begin with.

Breast cancer research fundraising: gender politics for sale?

I was waiting in line at a Safeway grocery store. In front of me was a shriveled-up old man. At the counter was a poster beseeching customers to donate $3 of their change for breast cancer research. I found this a rather exorbitant amount; $1, OK. $3, not OK. Was Safeway competing with other stores to see who could raise the most money? When the old man reached the cashier, she asked him if he wanted to donate “just” $3 in a “There’s something seriously wrong with you if you don’t want to”—or a misogynist, or whatever I can say to make you feel as guilty as hell way. The old man, who barely spoke above a whisper, said that he had prostate cancer and he didn’t understand why some people thought that breast cancer was the only kind of cancer. The cashier, whose manner suggested to me she was the gender issues type, was taken aback, and searching for a response, seemed to recall that Safeway had a “Prostate Cancer” month, in May, maybe. She turned to another cashier and asked “Don’t we have Prostate Cancer month in May?”—the response to which was humming and hawing and a “I think so.” I’m not sure this convinced the old man to give up his change, but I got him off the hook by observing that I thought it odd that there would be a Prostate Cancer month in May, since Mother’s Day was in May, and why do we want to spoil the occasion with a reminder that men, like women, also suffer diseases specific to them, like testicular cancer. That really soured the atmosphere, and I was glad I didn’t have enough change left after my purchase to cover the $3.

But the old man had a point; breast cancer has been politicized to the detriment of other illnesses. In the early years of the Clinton administration, TIME magazine opined that “The demands of breast-cancer lobbyists are growing even though the disease receives more government funds than other forms of malignancy, including lung cancer, which kills more women each year. One justification is that while the causes of lung cancer (chiefly smoking) are well understood, the causes of breast cancer (diet, genetic makeup or exposure to pollutants?) are still mysterious. Even so, no one can guarantee that more money will bring a quicker cure. ‘People say that the money will save lives, but that's not necessarily true,’ says Ann Flood, a sociologist at Dartmouth Medical School. ‘It's not like we are close to brand-new information that would benefit from such funds.’" Heart disease, in fact, continues to be the number one killer of both men and women. According to CDC, seven percent of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes. Out of these, there is a 90 to 95 percent “cure” rate if the cancer is detected early, and is typically a disease that afflicts those 65 or over. Since breast cancer is not always caught early, the actual “cure” rate is closer to 80 percent. The National Cancer Institute states that the risk of breast cancer is low. "A typical 50-year-old woman has a five-year breast cancer risk of about 3 percent. If her risk jumps by 30 percent, her individual risk is still only about 4 percent." Women have a 10 to 12 times greater chance of dying from heart disease than from breast cancer.

According to 2008 New York Times story, breast cancer research in 2006 received approximately $560 million in funding. Prostate cancer, which has slightly higher incident rate in raw numbers than breast cancer, saw research funding of $310 million. This was followed by lung cancer ($265 million), colon cancer ($252 million) and pancreatic cancer ($75 million, and whose recent victims included actor Patrick Swayze and Apple icon Steve Jobs). Funding for lung, colon and pancreatic cancer barely equals that for breast cancer alone, although it is worth noting that the two gender specific cancers receive an inordinate amount of attention.

At any rate, “events,” fundraisers and marketing campaigns targeting breast cancer research seem to be ubiquitous. Why is this? There is of course the cosmetic issue; a woman’s breasts have always been a measure of their attraction. But my impression is that this is the kind of gender specific issue that feminists and gender activists can claim as an example that women do not receive the health care attention they deserve (which is hogwash) and use it as a weapon batter insensitive men with; look at the NFL—players beat themselves to pulp every Sunday to entertain the masses, and yet they must show their “sensitive” side by wearing something pink.

Innocent? Maybe

The local media and Amanda Knox fans were out in force on the return of their heroine, following the tossing out of her conviction for the murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy. It kind of reminded me of the warm welcome home that the Lockerbie bomber received when he was released from prison for medical reasons. I was talking to the proprietor at the coffee shop I spend a lot of time at (because of the Wi-Fi) about the Amanda Knox case, and it was his opinion that Knox would not have received such applause if she was not young, white and female—and I think people know my views on such matters. Frankly, I see Knox as your typical privileged youth, irresponsible and narcissistic. I don’t feel sorry for her. Is she innocent of the crime she was originally convicted of? I would probably err on the side of innocence, but just barely, and I suspect that there is more to this story than her supporters want known.

Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was found dead, her throat slashed, on November 2, 2007. She and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were detained for questioning three days later. Why? Because their “alibi”—that they were at Sollecito’s home at the time of the murder—was suspect. Strangely, Sollecito’s computer allegedly had been turned off, as well as their cell phones, and thus only they could “corroborate” their own stories. It also came out that Kercher and Knox were not exactly friends; according to those who knew her, Kercher apparently was “irritated” by Knox’s “exhibitionist” behavior and being unhelpful with housework. According to the police, Knox confessed to be home when Kercher was killed and hearing her scream, claiming that her employer, Patrick Lumumba, was the killer. Lumumba was detained, but released after two weeks after his alibi was confirmed; Lumumba later successfully sued Knox for libel, and was awarded a $50,000 award. Of course, Knox subsequently claimed that she had been coerced into this “confession,” although she never explained why she fingered Lumumba.

A “friend” of Knox’s, Rudy Guede, was arrested in Germany. Guede’s DNA was found in a vaginal swab taken from Kercher; he claimed that he did have sex with Kercher, but was in the bathroom when another man killed her. Maybe, or not. After Knox, Sollecito and Guede were charged with murder, the latter was granted a separate trial, after claiming that he believed that Knox and Sollecito were conspiring against him. "In recent weeks a lot of poison has been spread by the (other) defense teams, and we feel the necessity to find some form of serenity in a separate hearing" said his attorney.

So why was Knox and her boyfriend charged. Partly because their alibi was questionable, because a bloody shoe print was allegedly made by Sollecito, Knox’s DNA was allegedly found mixed with Kercher’s blood in the bathroom sink, and the only apparent murder weapon allegedly had Kercher’s DNA on the blade—and Knox’s DNA on the handle—was found in Sollecito’s appartment. In his separate trial, Guede was convicted and sentence to what reduced to a 16-year sentence. Knox and Sollecito were convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 and 25 years in prison, rather less than they might have expected in the U.S.. Their appeals concentrated on fingering Guede, although neither claimed to have been there, questioning the handling of evidence and the veracity of the DNA evidence. Guede claimed during the subsequent appeal that he believed that Knox and Sollecito killed Kercher, although this may have been a case of revenge; in any case, the defense said that Guede’s claim was based on a “feeling,” and that he had not actually witnessed such an event. Knox claimed to be “shocked” at Guede’s claims—although probably no more so than was Lumumba at Knox’s initial accusation to police.

Fortunately for Knox and her (ex) boyfriend, it would seem that after the initial publicity over the crime, “cooler” heads prevailed. It was probably easier for an Italian jury to allow Guede, an African, to pay for the crime by himself. But while the Knox family and their supporters rejoiced, the Kercher family was “incensed” at the “ludicrous” decision to free the two. The Italian appeals process, unlike that in U.S., leans heavily in favor of the convicted (many Italians cynically blame this on oft-indicted prime minister Berlusconi, who has tried to pass laws favorable to his various predicaments). The truth may be that Guede is solely responsible--or it may be that Knox has secrets she wishes no one to know. Photos of Knox upon her return remind me of a scared little girl who is relieved she got away with something.