Sunday, August 17, 2014

Everyone law-abiding benefits when police wear cameras

I had an essay planned about the slaying of an unarmed Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer, the hypermilitarized repression of peaceful protesters by the Ferguson "police department," against peaceful protesters, the apparent Omerta surrounding Brown’s killer and his colleagues and the disgusting character assassination of Brown by that department. But it’s going to take a while to put that essay together and I’m not sure when I’ll have time.
 
Right now, we don’t know what happened. Brown is dead. The Ferguson PD has little credibility left, for reasons which extend far beyond Brown’s killing. Brown himself is not alive to give his side of the story. Brown’s killing is a great illustration of why law enforcement members should wear cameras, at least while on patrol. Then we would know what REALLY happened.
 
Some departments do and their use has been shown to reduce incidents of conflicts between police and citizens, presumably because both know they’re being watched and recorded.
 
It’s a shame that many police and sheriff departments  resist this. It offers a layer of protection to the good cops (which is most of them) and provides video evidence to help ensure anyone who assaults them is convicted. 
 
Unfortunately, the reputation of all cops – including the good ones – is harmed when bad cops get away with crimes. When good cops reflexively oppose accountability for bad ones, it sends a message that they feel their profession is above the law. This tarnishes them all.
 
Any time any Muslim anywhere in the world does something bad, every Muslim in America is expected to immediately stop what they’re doing and immediately denounce it. Anyone who doesn’t – say because they have ordinary lives to live or because they don’t feel that every Muslim acts in the name of all Islam – is automatically denounced as sympathetic to terror, guilty by association. But most Muslims in America went out of their way to denounce the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks as a perversion of Islam.
 
The situation in Ferguson is a pretty significant event. And it’d help their own credibility if police organizations came out in favor of the increased transparency in their own ranks that wearing cameras would bring.

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to talk about suicide

In the wake of Robin Williams' death, suicide hotline interventionist Hollis Easter wrote a really important piece about how to talk to people who may have suicidal thoughts. Please take a few minutes to read it here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Four things you should never say to a non-car owner

Not owning a car is a very non-conformist decision in most of America. Here are four things you shouldn't say to someone who's made that choice.

1) "Have you ever considered getting a car? I can't imagine not having one." 
Seriously? Any licensed driver in the US has spent many years living in this car-obsessed culture whose infrastructure is designed almost exclusively for motor vehicle. They've spent years navigating an infrastructure designed to ignore pedestrians and bicyclists and is, in many places, outright hostile to them. Do you seriously think it hasn't crossed their mind? Is it possible that they do a cost-benefit analysis every so often and conclude that it just doesn't make sense to them? Oh and by the way, you're not the only person in the world. Just because you can't imagine not having a car doesn't mean others can't and don't make it happen. You don't condescend to me about having to biking in the rain once in a while and I won't say anything when you're bitching about how much you spend to fill up your gas tank. Deal?

2) "I'd love to not have a car but (insert 20 reasons why they do)." 

I say this with the deepest respect: No one cares. You don't have to explain your personal decisions to me, so long as you don't expect me to explain mine to you. You obviously feel a little guilty about it or else you wouldn't have felt the need to go out of your way to justify yourself. But unless you want the non-car owner to help you figure out how to change it, don't bother me with it. Not interested. Unless the non-car owner is a priest; then maybe he can absolve you.

3) "Oh you're finally getting a car? Congratulations!"
If a long time non-car owner who finally gets a car, there's a good chance he's doing so reluctantly. Besides, it's silly to congratulate him over something like this. It's not like it's splitting the atom.

4) "Oh you're finally getting a car? Don't do that. It's (20 reasons why it's a bad idea)."
Please see 1) and 3). If he's doing so reluctantly, this comment will make him feel like crap. And again, do you think he hasn't seriously considered the pros and cons?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Uruguay president's comments a slap in the face to the poor

It wouldn't be a soccer World Cup without controversy. This year's tournament in Brazil has been marked by an incident where Uruguayan star Luis Suarez appears to have bitten the Italian Giorgio Chiellini. The international governing body FIFA suspended Suarez for 9 international matches plus 4 months from all soccer activities. It's worth noting that this is the THIRD time Suarez has been charged with biting an opponent since 2010.

Many critics said the punishment was too lenient, for a third time offender. Others in including controversial former Argentine great Diego Maradona, Chiellini himself and, predictably, virtually all Uruguayans felt the sanction was too harsh.

Not surprisingly, Uruguayan president Jose Mujica weighed in. He stated: "We feel that there is an aggression against those who come from poverty. They don't forgive that he didn't go to university. He doesn't have an education."

The leftist Pres. Mujica is internationally known for being the world's poorest president (donating 90% of his salary to charity) and for successfully pushing the legalization of marijuana. I generally have a fairly high regard for him.

But his comments, however understandable in terms of political populism and pandering, are off the mark and his defense of one of the members of The 0.1% does a disservice to those who live in poverty. In most of the world, soccer is the game of the poor and working class. There is no place in the world where biting an opponent isn't considered beyond the pale.

I lived in West Africa and played soccer there as often as I could. I lived in a place where the poverty was far greater than anything you see in Uruguay. In games, I saw people argue, sometimes heatedly. I saw shoving matches and finger pointing and remonstrations. I think I even saw a fist fight. I never saw anything remotely like a person biting another.

In fact, when I lived in West Africa, another famous sports biting incident occurred, that of boxer Evander Holyfield by Mike Tyson. The reaction of poor West African subsistence to this incident was not understanding for Tyson's background or compassion for his poor, misunderstood self but disgust. The universal reaction there was that he was "an animal." And Tyson only did it once.

Pres. Mujica's comments about Suarez, now one of the richest soccer players in the world, are a slap in the face. His contention is that the poor express themselves differently than the rich, that they can't control themselves. His contention is that when poor people get pissed off, it's normal that they express sociopathic behavior like biting. That the poor are teeming rabble who need to be controlled is the message he's sending. Surely without realizing it, he is pandering to, not countering, stereotypes of the poor by the elite. As a real champion of the poor, he can find a better way to defend his country's multimillionaire soccer hero.

Update: Typical of the understated reaction came from Uruguay captain Diego Lugano. He described the suspension of Suarez as "an act of barbarity" and "a breach of human rights."

Friday, June 27, 2014

For Congress: junk food or a healthy option?

The Republican Congressional primary for New York's 21st district was described by a local media pooh-bah as a choice between Coke (a DC political hack) and Pepsi (a Wall Street insider). They were virtually identical on most issues of substance, with main "issue" separating the two seemed to be who was a "real" Northern New Yorker. 

Meanwhile RC Cola (the Democratic candidate, a film maker from Manhattan), who's been virtually invisible since his candidacy launch, made a rare intervention. Though of course it was by press release, as per usual and featured some fairly insignificant ideas, also as per usual.

I realize that bashing Congress is a useful populist strategy for a candidate, especially one as empty as RC Cola. But his proposals, while not objectionable in the least, will have an impact that's virtually nil. Depriving Congressmen of a few luxuries does not actually help the American people in any remotely meaningful way. If this is the best he can offer, he should be ignored.


Anyone interested in a substantive candidate with a serious progressive agenda, should check out Matt Funiciello

Funiciello's candidacy is so significant that even the National Republican Campaign Committee has taken notice. The NRCC claimed that RC Cola's main concern was people not confusing him with Funiciello. 

Funciello's big ideas are single payer health insurance for all Americans and ending corporate control of govenrment. RC Cola's big ideas are getting rid of the Congressional barber shop and gym. The idea that anyone might confuse the two is laughable.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Neutrality is killing journalism

I was watching the public TV show New York Now. They conduct a yes/no poll question on their website during the week. On the show, they show the results of the poll and selected answers. They always show one pro- and one con- or two pro- and two con- answers. They do this whether the poll results were 53-47% or 91-9%. A small thing but illustrative.

One of the three things that is crippling modern journalism is the conflation of the principles of neutrality and objectivity. Most feel journalism's goal should be objectivity; most journalists claim the same if you ask them. Yet in practice, the goal increasingly seems to be neutrality, little more than transcription.

Neutrality is telling the truth. Objectivity is telling the whole truth (or as close to it as resources allow). Objectivity is "Serbs committed an estimated 90% of the atrocities in the Balkans wars and Bosnians 10%." Neutrality is "Both sides committed atrocities." Both statements are factually correct. But the former is clearly a greater reflection of the truth.

I think news organizations have largely abandoned objectivity in favor of neutrality/transcription because activists of all stripes wage relentless campaigns of accusations of bias. If you report anything negative about any group or organization, you will be accused of bias against that group. Neutrality becomes the easy way out, as you can say you were reporting equally on both sides. Unfortunately, this insistence on the lesser truth has devalued journalism to the point where increasingly few numbers of people feel it worth paying for.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Governor One Percent gets most of his money from the One Percent

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

WNYC reports that Governor One Percent Andrew Cuomo gets most of his campaign "donations" from... surprise surprise... the One Percent. 60% of his campaign funds come from "donations" of $10,000 or more.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media keeps reporting the line that Cuomo would be hurt by a potential challenge from his left. Few of these journalists* have bothered to notice that there is an actual candidate to Cuomo's left: Green Party standard bearer Howie Hawkins. It'd be nice if state political reporters would inform themselves so they could stop misinforming the public.

(*-The article linked to in the first sentence is a rare exception, notable in that it came not from the usual Albany press insiders but from the paper in Hawkins' hometown)

The Working Families Party, which is not really a party but a faction of the Democrats, continues the charade that it might not give Cuomo its ballot line. No one seriously believes that they would do such a thing, and risk the loss of their lucrative patronage factory. This charade is designed to dupe the media into portraying it as a party that has any relevance to anything, so they don't notice that they add absolutely nothing to the political system. Naturally, the Albany press corps eagerly carries their water.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

When you control the power, you have all the power

In the mid-1990s, voters in the upstate New York city of Glens Falls rejected a proposal to create a municipal power corporation, of the kind 47 localities in NYS now haveThe then-Niagara Mohawk spent a lot of money propagandizing against the referendum so as to preserve its monopoly. 

When multinational National Grid proposed to buy Niagara Mohawk, it was sold as a good deal for customers, who would allegedly benefit from the larger corporation's resources and economies of scale. Customers have never seen one iota of benefit from this merger, but plenty of pain.

The TOTAL rate for the public electric utility in Massena in northern New York is less than the DELIVERY ONLY rate that National Grid charged this month (even before you pay for the actual electric supply). Assuming the municipal utility's website is correct, residential electric rates in Massena have remained the same since 1997 (around the time GF resident's rejected a similar utility).

Right now, individual towns, villages or cities can form their own municipal power corporation, if they feel like spending millions in legal fees to fight National Grid and its ilk. In 2010, a proposal in the New York state legislature would have allowed smaller municipalities to band together to form regional power corporations. The bill appears to have withered on the vine. I wonder why.