Monday, September 30, 2013

When is a crime not a "crime"?

What is the definition of “crime”? “An act or the commission of an act that is forbidden or the omission of a duty that is commanded by a public law and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that all crime is created equal; I recall reading years ago a “police blotter” report, which the weekly The Stranger used to print: Two white “kids” in a gold Cadillac stopped in a parking lot and seemed to be waiting for someone; undercover police watching nearby thought this was “suspicious.” Soon a black youth with a backpack walked up to the Cadillac, and the cops jumped in between the action. The black youth had marijuana in his pack, and while he was arrested by one cop, the other gave the white “kids” in the Cadillac—obviously there to make a “buy” that they had initiated—a “talking to,” and let them go. The writer of this account thought that this demonstrated what was “right” about law enforcement; in my estimation it only proved what is wrong with law enforcement.

Some “crimes,” however, are only so if another party is effected by or objects to the act, which is why those white kids from the high-end neighborhoods tend to get away with delinquent activities, and minority kids get a criminal record. In many cases a “crime” is one only because a person was caught in its perpetration, but if not caught, there would be no evidence that a “crime” was ever committed. Sometimes even when there is evidence that a “crime” was committed, exactly what harm it caused is not always clear. 

Take for instance an incident I observed recently. I was on my way to catch my early AM bus to work when I encountered two young white males on bicycles; one of them dragging along a ladder that had training wheels on it. Given the location, they had obviously travelled a considerable distance without being stopped by police to explain what they were doing hauling a ladder in the middle of the night. They stopped underneath an overpass; I asked them what they were up to, and they seemed to be surprised that there was someone even present at this time, but they had a ready explanation: They were “artists”—meaning graffiti “artists”—and the project on which they were about to embark on was, of course, technically a crime in relation to the property they were going to use as their “canvass.” 

Since I had a few minutes, I observed the process of “artistry.” They brought their ladder up the concrete incline of the overpass, and leaned it up against the concrete extension that provided a platform directly underneath the bridge. They climbed the ladder and mounted the “platform.” There was no light, so they examined the environs with flashlights; one of them asked the other “How is anyone going to see this shit?” The other claimed that another “artist” would come by and “check it out.” While one of them continued to investigate a suitable location to render upon, the other came back down and looked around the peripheries and offered suggestions. The “artist” on the platform eventually took a small can of paint out of a backpack and started brushing over some metal piping and the sides of the platform. And then they were done, hauling themselves and their ladder away in the dark. This “artistic” enterprise took all of 15 minutes.

The next day I stopped by to observe their handiwork. I tell you, these people are only out to impress those of their own clique, because they would be the only people who would understand these incomprehensible, made-up “words” they scrawl. Art? I don’t think so. If there was any “crime” worth bothering about, it is in the commission of such pointless endeavors.

At any rate, is it against the law to deface government property? Yes. But is it really something the law needs to waste its time accosting the perpetrators for, because no one was “hurt”? Probably not; even in Kent, police are more likely to accost homeless people in the area, which of course does hurt people, mainly those accosted. 

There are also “crimes” in which the “victim” is only one because she or he wants to be a “victim.” Take for instance the front page story in Monday’s Seattle Times, which someone decided merited coverage above the cut line. This story speculated on why the SPD wasn’t clamping down on low-level “crime” like skateboarding, smoking a little weed or just hanging out. I was reminded of a scene in the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night, when a bumbling but well-meaning Ringo was spied on by a cop all day before being hauled in. His crimes? "Wandering abroad, malicious intent, acting in a suspicious manner, conduct liable to cause a breach of the peace. You name it, he’s done it.” One wonders if all of these put together even qualifies as one “crime.” 

This is what the Times story was like. I’ve said before that I don’t think Seattle is as much “liberal” or “progressive” as it is populated by a bunch of superstars-in-their-own-mind narcissists, and this story proves that once again. The Times quotes some annoyed (or rather, annoying) person with the Arian-Nordic sounding name of Tova Hornung; she is apparently one of those people who seems to be offended by many things: Other people on crowded buses, or people walking on the same side of the sidewalk—anyone she feels being in the same presence of demeans her personally. There is no thought, of course, of whether she also stimulates a negative response, such as being an insufferably self-obsessed bigot. 

Hornung went so far as to contact the mayor, demanding action against a skateboard gang that had the audacity to force her to walk a few feet out of her way. Her complaint seems to have received the dim view; after all, just because you don’t like the way someone looks or occupies a lower “class” doesn’t give you “right” to make them “disappear” in a free country, no matter how inflated your opinion of yourself is. We don’t need to make the definition of “crime” more expansive to satisfy the tender “sensitivities” of a few people, but to use common sense when determining if an activity causes any actual harm to another person or persons.

Matt Flynn gets his "chance" amidst convoluted "expectations"

The Packers had their by-week early, which probably won’t help them; but Matt Flynn finally got a chance to show his “stuff” in meaningful game, after Terrell Pryor’s concussion symptoms returned Saturday night (Pryor claimed he recalled “nothing” from the loss against Denver last week). On one level his performance was massively disappointing for me. I championed this guy for two years, and in his first starting gig since that fabled Detroit performance he fell short of what I had hoped to see. Not that his stat line was horrible; Flynn completed 21 of 32 passes for 227 yards, with one touchdown and an interception for a QB rating of 83.7. If the Raiders had won the game rather than losing to the previously winless Redskins 24-14, it would have been a more than “passable” performance. 

But Flynn’s interception was costly, and his only scoring drive was on Oakland’s second possession, after which he seemed unable to lead the team past midfield until the fourth quarter. Time and again the Raiders seemed barely able to move the ball forward, unable to generate a running game and relying on Flynn’s “dink and dunk” passing, for which any evidence of forward progress was often negated by sacks. Flynn also started slowly in that Detroit game, but the Packers had one of the best receiving corps in the league, and once he found his footing Flynn exploded for 21-25 passes for 380 yards and five touchdowns. I didn’t expect anything like this in his first Raiders start, but what I did expect was improvement over the course of the game. Unfortunately, the opposite seemed to occur until late when Flynn started to show a little life—but too little and too late.

But I am not going to join Flynn’s many “I told you so” detractors. The loss wasn't all his fault; the Raiders offensive line play was horrible, and one wonders if playing the more mobile Pryor is just an excuse not to fix this problem. The assumption that the Raiders would have won with Pryor is also only that (RG3 has to have a "good" game sometime this season), and we should not lose sight of the fact that Pryor also lost his first start of the season, with passing numbers even less impressive, with two interceptions and a passer rating of only 70.6. Of course he has “improved,” but why shouldn’t that be true of Flynn, likely to a greater extent? It seems that certain quarterbacks in this league are receiving a “free pass” from fans, commentators and teammates more interested in politics than winning.

Case in point is the Jets’ Geno Smith. This guy is shaping up to be an even worse turnover machine than Mark Sanchez ever was, with 3 lost fumbles and 8 interceptions in just 4 games.  His four turnovers against the Tennessee Titans led directly to 28 points. Yet we are repeatedly told that these are “rookie” mistakes, and not that of an “athlete” who tends to act before he thinks. Russell Wilson went through a “growing period” as a rookie, but his mistakes tended to be from a lack of experience in the pro game, not because he made foolish decisions and couldn’t keep his hands on the ball.

Is Smith as competent a quarterback as Wilson was as a rookie? How about Robert Griffin III? Andrew Luck? Certainly he is better than Sanchez? There is no evidence to suggest that at this time, but Smith will be allowed as many excuses as he needs. After the beating the Titans put on the Jets, those who claimed that this was supposed to be a “winnable” game because Smith was “obviously” a better quarterback than even Jake Locker only serves to indicate the degree to which NFL commentators have allowed themselves to be gulled by politics. 

Meanwhile, remember the tag line from the old television show “The Six Million Dollar Man”?

"We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better...stronger...faster.”

Well, that seems to be Peyton Manning after his supposedly debilitating neck surgery, which many of us expected to become undone after the first significant hit he took. He seems to have become the bionic man this season, threatening to make the quarterback rating system obsolete. Something just seems not quite kosher, but maybe that is just an indication of how much I dislike him. However, no matter how opposing fans feel about him, I’m fairly certain that given the choice, they’d happily abandon their love affair with their “running” quarterback and trade him in for an unathletic “traditional” quarterback like Manning (or Brady and Rodgers) any given Sunday.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Real Americans" don't need to know their civics

Recently I was sitting at a bus stop, mulling in my usual vexed way about how Metro had once again decided to trim its budget at my expense by skipping a scheduled bus. In an attempt to keep my mind off this issue, I pulled out my notebook computer and began doing some word-doodling. After a time I observed that I had company; it was an “older” male, although in this case a relative term, since my hair—still mostly dark—causes people mistake my age. My immediate impression was that he was one those insufferable “patriotic,” Anglo-Saxon-Nordic, “real” American types who are never at a loss to tell you are not, especially if you look “ethnic.”  

He didn’t “disappoint” my initial impression. If I had simply been some miserable “other” who didn’t make waves other than merely taking up space, he wouldn’t feel it necessary to use up any effort to put his feathers on display.  But no; since I wasn’t apparently a gang-type who might put him in his place, he decided that it was safe to determine that I didn’t know my “place” and he could show me where that “was.” He puffily informed me he was going sit down there, without regard to my activity. Since he was “wide” and the seat Metro provided was paltry, that meant that in order to comply to this order, I had to vacate and desist my work, and he knew it and that was his intention to do. 

I removed myself from the seat, because I sensed that if I didn’t comply he would try to shove me off the seat, and I didn’t want to get that close to him. However, I told him that I was aware of his intent, his feeling “entitled” to seat for reasons of social distinction. He replied that he been in the military for 21 years, as if this was supposed to confirm his sense of “entitlement.” He asked me how long I was in the military, in a manner that assumed that I was never in the military. I informed him that I was in the Army for seven years, but to underscore the point I wished to make, I told him that what mattered was  that I thought he was just behaving like any person who believed that being “American” and deserving of its “privileges” meant that you had to be 100 percent white.  I also told him people like him didn’t believe in what this country stood for, or chose to hoard it all for themselves. He asked me what that was, and I told him that everyone in this country was entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and it was my experience many people didn’t actually believe this.

Now, there are surveys that suggest that a majority of native-born U.S. citizens could not pass the civics portion of the naturalization test given to immigrants (the other half of the test is English comprehension, which could indicate a problem with our education system if they flunked that too). I’m native-born, but this individual decided to “quiz” me on my civics learning.   He asked me where I had read that line, and I told him that it was in the Declaration of Independence. No it is not, he exclaimed triumphantly, asserting confidently that it was in the Ninth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. I told him he was daft, and there wasn’t even any such line in the entire Constitution. But he asserted that I didn’t know what I was talking about, that it was in the Ninth Amendment. I again told him he was wrong, and he decided to check his “smart” phone's web access to prove he was right. I don’t think he found what he was looking for, because after that he shut-up like a clam.

For the record, the following is found in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Of course there are some people (neo-Nazis, the Heritage Foundation) who still insist that this only applies to white folks, but the 14th Amendment was supposed to remedy this “oversight.” The Ninth Amendment, on the other hand, says something quite different:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

As you can see, there isn’t even the slightest similarity in the prose. There is some debate about what exactly this rather vague amendment actually means, but it seems to most scholars that it has something to do with “rights” not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, particularly in regard to privacy issues.

So it seems that being white and having fourteen more years of military service didn’t make this individual more “American” than I was. But I have no illusions about the world I live in.

While Cordell Jude trial is delayed again, more evidence that some people want it both ways

The latest “update” on the Cordell Jude trial for the murder of Daniel Adkins, according to information director Jerry Cobb: 

The original trial date was vacated and reset to October 9 because

1) the court needed more time to rule on the State's Notice of Intent to Use Defendant's Other Crimes, Wrong or Acts Pursuant to Rule 404(b) and
2) the defense counsel was granted a motion to continue based on having a trial conflict.

One may be forgiven for a feeling of déjà vu, let alone cynicism, in this case. It goes beyond the excessively drawn-out process for justice of Adkins. While the case has largely been treated with indifference by the mainstream media (and by extension, the public), this was of course not the case in regard to George Zimmerman, where the process was expedited with a charge that exceeded the knowable facts. Many whites—especially in the media—have chosen to play both sides of the fence. This was best attested by the following comments by Joe Klein, a columnist for TIME. After the Zimmerman verdict, he wrote:

In 2013 the jury may still be almost all white, but the shooter is Hispanic--and the evidence is cloudy. If I were a member of that jury, operating in the context of Florida's barbaric gun laws, I might have had to vote to acquit. George Zimmerman clearly was guilty of overzealous racial profiling, but there was no definitive evidence of how the scuffle began. It was not beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was overacting in self-defense. Martin's death is an outrage, but it is not Emmett Till or Medgar Evers.

One can observe the various mendacious machinations in this statement. It is a “barbaric” law that allows a person to defend oneself while being beaten. A person seen acting suspicious (check out that 7-Eleven video again) cannot be “followed” by the neighborhood watch captain if he is black. Yet Klein admits that Trayvon Martin was not the civil rights saint that Till and Evers were, and Klein leaves himself and other whites an “out” by implying that they too would want the benefit of self-defense. But Zimmerman is still to be condemned for being “overzealous” at “racial-profiling,” despite the fact that the latter was never at issue at trial; again, white folks want that “out” too. 

In a yet another “postscript” on the case, it seems that Zimmerman was recently in the news again; this time the loving couple of those jailhouse transcripts is no more, as his wife has filed for divorce and gone into vindictive-ex mode on CNN and other media outlets. This apparently occurred after she was convicted of perjury in regard to the bail hearing, which I thought was just more piling-on anyways, due to the inflated charge against Zimmerman not justified by the facts. His wife received no jail time, but was sentenced to 100 days community service; she obviously found being forced to work off some of her excess weight sympathy-worthy, and it seems that her principle complaint—besides blaming Zimmerman for her predicament—is that “George only cares about George.” After all he went through (and probably will for the rest of his life), now it was her turn for pity me, and Zimmerman seemed to be preoccupied about what he was going to do.The cynic, of course, will note that it is in his soon-to-be ex-wife's interest to distance herself from him by attacking him in the media.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara has provided this advice to his former client: “Pay me,” which given the fact that the eminently winnable case gave O’Mara a national platform and even a part-time job on CNN, would seem to be rather “greedy” on his part.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gulling the gullible, or trying to

The past week or two have seen plenty of fodder for bad comedy.  One of these routines was the “House Republicans Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month” video. In it, mostly “Hispanic”—in this case meaning Caucasians with Spanish names—Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives make insipid platitudes that are both condescending and patronizing. All of them were elected in part because of their opposition to immigration reform; in regard to the Hispanic Republican members, their main selling point to be voted into office (if not by traditionally right-wing Cuban-Americans in south Florida), is convincing enough right-wing whites that they are not one of “those” people, and if anything, are even more bigoted than they are.  

For those who actually take this self-serving video seriously, the “joke” is on them. As Alex Altman wrote in TIME that “Yes, a few dozen conservatives are open to a path to citizenship. But House Republicans have vowed not to take up the Senate bill, and an alternative proposal in the House never materialized. It seems unlikely a House Republican majority that has been content to let the issue languish will abruptly shift course — especially now that Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Raul Labrador, two of the Republicans with the credibility to sell an overhaul to their colleagues, have abandoned their roles as pitchmen.”

House Republicans have decided to do nothing on immigration reform, because they want to use the anti-Latino immigrant issue as a political bludgeon and white paranoia tool for at least a few more election cycles; immigration reform would only take that off the table for another decade or so. Thus its “celebration” of Hispanic Heritage Month is only cringe-worthy and embarrassing in its duplicitous attempt to con a few gullible people. Most of us, of course, can only laugh at the pathetic effort to insult our intelligence. 

Then there was the stand-up routines of Russian president Vladimir Putin, formerly a Cold War KGB agent, and Sen. John McCain, who has apparently given himself the title of Assistant Secretary of State. First, Putin’s polemic, which appeared in the New York Times’ editorial page, is fairly predictable anti-US accusations. He also proclaims that Russia upholds and respects the authority of the United Nations, asserts that the whole world opposes intervention in Syria and supports the Assad regime, and claims that “terrorists”—not the Syrian government—are using chemical weapons against innocent people. Syria is not threatened by a brutal regime, but by “terrorists” within. Furthermore, Russia has always advocated “peaceful” dialogue to any and all international disputes. He closes his op-ed with this rather surprising (coming from him) bit of sentimental posturing:

“There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

It would be “nice” if Putin could be taken at his word, and this is entirely sincere without an ulterior motive. Unfortunately, Putin can’t be trusted and this polemic isn’t anything new. In fact, many people in this country, mostly on the left, have voiced similar views. I wouldn’t be the least surprised that he simply re-quoted some things he found on progressive websites. I have no doubt that his op-ed was aimed mainly at those on the left who would be the natural “audience” for “peaceful solutions” to problems. There is a problem with resort to this method, of course, and that is you have to have your own hands clean, and Putin’s certainly has not been so.

For from his hand, this all sounds self-serving and hypocritical. Since Putin became president, Russia is still “finding its way” to democracy, but mainly in the opposite direction; Putin has managed to establish himself perpetual dictator (or perhaps in his mind, Czar) of Russia in opposition to the spirit of democratic government. He and his cronies have stifled, imprisoned and even assassinated political opponents and press. He maliciously intervened in the internal affairs of supposedly independent Ukraine and Georgia, supplying military support to a breakaway province in the latter. Putin’s brutal actions in Chechnya beginning with his election in 1999 have also called into question his belief in “peaceful dialogue.” 

Under Putin’s “leadership,” more innocent civilians have been killed by incompetent Russian security forces than by the supposed terrorists in the country—such as in the 2002 Moscow theatre and 2004 Beslan school hostage crises. Suspicions that the 1999 apartment complex bombings which killed 300 people were in fact planned and carried out by Russian FSB (the successor to the KGB) agents in order to persuade the public to support another war in Chechnya may not have been mere conspiracy fodder. 

But if Putin’s scolding of the United States is worthy only of incredulous laughter, Sen. McCain’s “response” is even more cringe-worthy. The former Communist news organ Pravda accepted the challenge to print it on its website; interestingly, it not only denies its Soviet-era roots, but continues to publish anti-American propaganda as if the Cold War never ended, and is unabashedly pro-Putin. Here are some recent Pravada-ru headlines on its English language website, clearly misfiring in its effort to gain sympathy from its English language audience:

Syria: The shocking truth incriminates the USA
The leader of the free world: Obama or Putin?
Hollywood and America Reek of Nazi Influence
US diabolical design for Syria
Putin works Obama shirks

Frankly, it sounds more like cheap supermarket tabloid fare or hate-talk radio in this country, and I wonder how much of the Russian public actually accepts the veracity of what they are fed by their media. There is no doubt some truth is here and there if one looks real hard, but the overall picture is not one of objectivity or the kind of self-examination that a truly free media engages in. But instead of engaging Putin in a point-by-point analysis that exposes the hypocrisy of both Putin and the groveling sector of the Russian “independent” media, McCain speaks directly to the Russian public in an often achingly patronizing tone, as if they are children in need of civics lessons. While many Russians certainly agree with the sentiment that “President Putin doesn't believe in these values because he doesn't believe in you. He doesn't believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn't believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you,” I wonder how many believe that McCain is being rather audacious in his effort to “school” them on the facts of their daily reality. 

Not that they couldn’t use more information; if Russia Today is any example, Russians learn more about what is alleged to be occurring in foreign countries than what is going in their own country from its media. But instead of asking the Russian public to demand accountability from its ruling class themselves by asking the hard questions, McCain speaks to them as if they have no idea what is going on inside their own country, and comes off as an outside interloper merely making personal attacks—not just on Putin, but the Russian public as well, for electing and then tolerating his rule.

There are right ways and wrongs ways to reach a target audience; one way that is guaranteed to attract the wrong response is to expose oneself as a hypocrite, and another is to be condescending. Taken in isolation, they may seem have some internal virtue; but in context, they can be taken as “amusing” efforts to gull the foolish.