Saturday, August 16, 2014

Joe Walsh Is Wrong

So I’m sitting on a lawn chair at the gym, with time to spare before my son’s basketball game is set to start, and my phone starts vibrating furiously. I look at it, and it tells me that there are a bunch of tweets. I look at Twitter, and see that Governor Nixon has declared a curfew in Ferguson, Missouri. Among the responses to his tweet is a sarcastic riposte from somebody named Joe Walsh. Looking at his avatar, I can see that in his dark suit and tie—with a business haircut—he isn’t Joe Walsh, the guitarist from The Eagles. ************************************************************** Well, whoever he is, I think his response is dumb, and probably racist. In effect, what he’s really saying is this: "There should be no curfew in Ferguson. Just let the Negroes carry on their self-destruction.” Not knowing—or caring—who Joe Walsh is, I tweeted back to him that his tweet was oversimplified, unsophisticated, and rude. He, in turn, responded that it is no oversimplification when people are rioting and looting. For a precise record of the conversation, go to my Twitter page. So, why is Joe Walsh wrong? The answer to that is long and complicated; something that right-wingers don’t want to deal with. They like to reduce the big questions of life to slogans and aphorisms. ************************************************************** 1. Ferguson, Missouri is a town with a large African American population, and one of the questions that aren’t getting covered enough is what the percentage of white vs. minority police officers is there. In and of itself, this is a valid line of enquiry, but there is a deeper problem here that goes hand-in-hand with race: social class. It looks like Ferguson has a large number of lower-class black people. So, if you practice due diligence by going to primary sources of information like the US Census Bureau, you’ll find a town where African Americans get arrested more often than white residents—by a largely white police department (the number I have heard is 3 black cops out of 53 in the department. If somebody could confirm or refute this, I’d appreciate it). A good starting point is the article at ************************************************************** 2. There is no getting around the fact that the Ferguson Police Department—if you’ll pardon the expression—shot itself in the foot with its heavy-handed, militaristic response. This is a growing problem in general in the U.S. (see: I work with special police units on a regular basis, but in their case the distribution of used military hardware & equipment makes perfect sense. That said, the same isn't true on a mass scale e.g. in the case of street cops ), but it was perfectly the wrong way to deal with the situation in Ferguson. I live in L.A., and I don’t know where Joe Walsh lives, but neither one of us knows the whole story of what happened this week, when Michael Brown was shot. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. Even if it does turn out in the end that Michael Brown carried out a “strong arm robbery” (a tricky phrase that many will willingly misinterpret as armed robbery. It isn’t. Strong arm robbery means you pushed or grabbed somebody, then stole their stuff), enough black people in the U.S. have had their face rearranged by white cops, or had cops lie under oath, that there is a generalized mistrust of the white political power establishment. Collectively, African Americans have had such a bad experience with the police, that they automatically disbelieve anything the police say—even when it’s true. ************************************************************** 3. A nice counter-argument to this would be to say something along the lines of, “Well, maybe if black people didn’t steal, sell drugs, etc.” The problem with that argument is that blacks get disproportionately arrested, tried, and jailed in this country—not because they have a higher tendency towards criminality, but because they have a higher tendency towards not being able to afford a competent lawyer. ************************************************************** 4. Yes, but why are all these black people burning and looting; and destroying their own neighborhood? That gets a two-part answer. First, this is a straw-man argument that assumes that the same people who are protesting about the Michael Brown case are the same ones gifting themselves a brand new color TV from the display window of a neighborhood store. Second, the person asking this question sets up the straw man argument that rational people don’t vandalize and loot. This assumes that the rioters are rational actors. By definition, they are not. The source of the irrationality of choices made by rioters and looters stems from decades of poverty, lack of jobs, lack of job opportunities, and a perceived sense of a bleak future. If you have a bunch of people in second-rate schools, they don’t have good jobs, or a decent neighborhood, and they don’t trust the police and/or city hall, then don’t expect them to act rationally. Traumatized people do not act rationally. I have a friend who was sexually molested when he was a kid. For a guy with a science degree, he makes all kinds of irrational decisions. With my science degree in hand, I find myself looking at him, and scratching my head. It took me 10 years to understand that his experience of the world is so different from mine, that I cannot hold him to my standards. ************************************************************** 5. There is a widespread—yet unspoken belief among the Joe Walshes of the world that if only black people would pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they could catch up with the rest of us. This type of thinking ignores 500 years of history—from the moment that Europeans starting shipping slaves here in chains from Africa, whipping and raping them, and breaking up their families.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


I’m going to reveal a secret about half the people on Planet Earth: men constantly measure their “manliness”, and compare themselves to other men. It’s crazy. Last weekend I went on a training mission with members of a famous, elite military unit, and members of a famous, elite law enforcement unit. The men from both groups were in awe of each other. The civilians were looking at the military guys and muttering, “They’re those famous guys they make movies about.” The military guys were looking at the civilians and muttering, “They’re those famous cops that Hollywood makes TV shows about.” To make matters worse, there were guys impressed with me, the fat, middle-aged balding guy with crooked teeth, because I was the radiation physics guy; so they decided that I’m some kind of nuclear genius who can do math (Compared to all of them? Yes. Compared to the people that I look up to[Yes, Dave Wesley, I’m referring to you], I’m an idiot). A poser. A fraud. Great. When we got home at 03:00 a.m., I know that the cops went back to their regular routine, where they’re jealous of the firemen (because women looooovvve firemen, and think they’re sexy), while the firemen are jealous of the cops. I could write a 2 page list of who thinks “those other guys” are more manly than they are (the ER docs are jealous of the firemen, who are jealous of the doctors, etc. etc. etc.). On the one hand, it’s a complete waste of time. On the other, it’s why the pyramids of Giza, the Eiffel Tower, and Hoover Dam were built. It’s why we have been to the moon, and the bottom of the ocean. This weekend, I rode a horse for the first time in my life. How was it? It was okay. Now I can say, “Been there, done that.” Actually, I took to it fairly quickly. Within 5 minutes I realized that as long as I had the right attitude, the horse would do what I said. The others in my party went wandering all over the fields, while their horses ignored their pleas, and did whatever they wanted. I think my horse realized that I’m Hungarian (my ancestors invaded Europe on horseback a thousand years ago), and got with the program. To my surprise, I was very confident while on this horse in a short amount of time. The reason that I was surprised is that that are things that I won’t do, because they scare the crap out of me. The long and the short of it is that I don’t like heights. I can’t ride a bicycle or motorcycle unless it is low-slung, and my feet can land flat on the ground. I realize that putting your foot flat onto the ground while you are going 20 or 60 miles an hour is dangerous, but I need that feeling. Want me to take an x-ray of somebody whose abdomen has been cut wide open by the surgeon? No problem. Want me to start an I.V. on a guy with HIV? No problem. Like a bunch of you guys reading this, I’ve had that weekend where I have gotten home from work, looked down, and wondered whose blood that was on my pants or tennis shoes. But don’t ask me to climb a ladder, or ride a zip line. Hell no, I won’t go. The rational part of me knows that zip line is 100% safe, and that I will fly from here, across the canyon, and land safely, over there without a scratch. I don’t care. It’s scary. Here’s the thing: the fact that I won’t bungee jump, go skydiving, or climb up a ladder makes me feel like I’m not a real man. I am a wimp. A chicken. A wus. I am not a real man. But then again, a bunch of the cops on the boat Sunday night got seasick, while the military guys and I stared at them in wonder. The water was pretty smooth, as far as we were concerned. So, if you’re a birder who goes out looking for shearwaters, take a minute to pat yourself on the shoulder: you’re tougher than those famous cops they make TV shows about.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No Love for Will Smith

Okay, Mary Pols, listen up: "AFTER EARTH", THE MOVIE STARRING WILL SMITH AND HIS SON, JADEN, WAS AN EXCELLENT MOVIE. Got it, Mary? You're wrong. Before I returned it to the video store, I watched it a second time. If I wanted to, I could write a film review using the lingo that art critics use, and expound ad nauseum about why After Earth is a good movie, but I won't torture my readers with the pretentious, artsy-fartsy gobbledygook (Sorry: vocabulary) that you people use. Instead, I am going to take the low road, and accuse you of being a man-hating female who-to misquote the 1988 classic-just don't understand. Yours isn't the only review to pan the movie, but the criticism is always the same: Oh, it's so stupid. It's about a father who pushes his son around. Blah blah blah. Clearly, you critics who hate this movie are either: (a) women, or (b) men who had a shitty relationship with your fathers. Well, that's just too effing bad. Not my problem. Well, it is my problem, because your inability to understand the power and importance of the father-son relationship has so biased you dingdongs against this movie, because you hate what you don't understand. Any father with a son who is 5 years old, 15 years old, or 25 years old, will love this movie. I undertsood it, despite my love-hate relationship with my step-father. My brother, who never had a mature relationship with his father (we had the same mom) would have thought that the movie was dumb. Of course, he would. Okay, now I'm going to indulge myself, and do a little bit of the artsy-fartsy film critic thing: After Earth is a universal story of the father-son relationship, in which the son struggles with the contradiction of asserting his own identity, breaking free free of his father, while earning his father's love and respect. It is a coming-of-age story with all of the elements of The Hero's Journey. Joseph Campbell would be proud of Will Smith. So, why didn't the movie make billions of dollars? Probably because : (a) most dads like me are raising children, on a budget, and rent movies more often than we go to the movie theater (b) teenagers, who are supposed to be the big spenders (of their parents'money) in movie theaters aren't going to be interested in a story like this, because they are too busy texting and tweeting each other (during the movie, while sitting next to each other) about how stupid their parents are. Well, duh.