Friday, December 27, 2013

Mouth, Meet Foot. Foot, Mouth.

"I can't be fired for things I say while intoxicated, can I?"

Of course you can.  It all depends on how you say them, to whom you say them, or in what venue.  Sometimes, what really matters is all of the above.

Justine Sacco is was a public relations professional with the large media company IAC, which includes such presences on the web as, Vimeo, and news sources like The Daily Beast.  Apparently Sacco is now trying to blame at least part of her amazingly bad judgment on "unfamiliarity with Twitter," but according to other sources she has had been using Twitter for years and simply hadn't completely grasped some of its "nuances."

Being boorish, racist and paralytically obtuse vis-a-vis likely public reaction to such things, while being a supposed expert on exactly such things, is a paradigm almost beyond belief.  Were it played before me on a stage I would deny it as an unlikely fiction.

Justine fired off this tweet right before she got on a plane to her native South Africa:
Take note of that destination: South Africa.  Clearly Mandela didn't get through to everyone.  Clearly some prejudices remain.  And since she was on a plane from New York City, she was in the air for 12 hours, incommunicado, while easily- (and in this case very rightly) offended and even thicker skinned individuals read it, gasped in disgust, and raised their arms in uproar.

Uproar indeed.  Take note how I've carefully edited out the tenses that describe Sacco's state of employment.  She was.  Now she is not.

If you take this tweet at its face value, that of a tasteless joke, it is merely inflammatory.  You can easily find worse than this on the twitterverse and if you went looking, you probably wouldn't have to look far to find it.  But the real rub here is who Sacco is.

Sorry, my bad: was.

Public relations director for IAC.  Holy catfish.  Even if you have made something of a reputation for yourself as a loose cannon on Twitter, you still can't go around making fun of an entire population suffering the slings and arrows of runaway HIV, and then toss off the even more insulting statement that you'll be safe because you're white.  You just can't.  The only kind of people who can get away with saying things like that are Adolf Hitler and David Dukes, and the only reason they get away with it at all is because it's expected of them, because they are Towering Monstrous Assholes.

And when you align yourself with people like that, suddenly you become the kind of person no one wants around: not as an employee, not as a representative, not at all.  Even if your statements are strictly your own and do not reflect philosophies or views of your employer, so what?  You are associated with your employer.  You can be fired any day for any legitimate reason, and in at-will states for no reason at all.  Every day is another performance review.  Just because you're on private time doesn't mean what you do, how you behave, is also private.  If you take your thoughts and actions public - like I'm doing right now - you can and will be judged.  Sometimes that judgment comes from the boss.

In Related News:

Phil Robertson's suspension from his own show has already been reversed.  I was surprised they dared to do it in the first place.  He went over the line into topics on which he isn't supposed to speak, which he has done before...and not been punished for it before.  Well, I guess they had to step up and be serious about their restrictions eventually.  But like a parent disciplining a child, consistency is key.  Don't waffle back and forth.  Either you mean it or you don't.

In More Related News:

Jesse Jackson, who was once respectable but has since descended to the level of "race hustler," has jumped onto the lurid coattails of Robertson's loose lips to build himself a little podium.  Read his diatribe if you like, but it'll sound like a lot of other stuff Jackson has said in the past.  The bit about "without cover of the law" is a little weird.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Phil Robertson vs A&E. Who erred and how?

Phil Robertson has somehow run afoul of the the A&E cable channel.

Actually, there is no "somehow" in this.  How it happened is pretty clear.  Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson family that is part and parcel of the Duck Commander brand and erstwhile star of the Duck Dynasty "reality" TV series, gave an interview to GQ magazine, an interview in which he spoke openly about his views on civil rights-era blacks and gays in general.

How dare he.

There are certain finer points that we don't know.  We don't know whether Robertson's contract speaks to what kind of topics he may not comment upon when giving interviews.  We DO know that Robertson and his family laid out some unassailable rules on their side of the contract, as reported by GQ: "their faith" (exactly what about the faith is not disclosed in the interview), there would be no betrayal of family members, and duck season was off limits.  Other shows might go on hiatus in the summer, but Duck Dynasty takes a break when duck season opens.

You can read the entire interview here.  The language is often coarse and frankly far below the content threshold I had expected from GQ.  Apparently its standards have fallen quite far since I last opened it.  That's a subscription I won't be signing up for anytime soon.  But in the interview Robertson gives his views on such things as gays - the sex doesn't compute for him - and civil rights.  He cites his own recollection in a time before the civil rights movement, working in fields alongside the black workers who were "singing and happy."  He says he never saw the mistreatment of a black person, possibly because as far out in the sticks as they were in Louisiana at the time, everyone was already equal: dirt poor.  To mistreat anyone would be to mistreat someone in just as lousy a condition as yourself.

I might be projecting a little, there.

But Robertson cited some Bible verses to support his stance on gays, and that's good.  It means he's not coming from prejudice or hatred, but doctrine.  He's living as he's learned.  Good and well.  Unfortunately he probably doesn't read Greek or he could have read the original text and decided whether it had been translated correctly.  There's a good chance that verse was actually a disavowal of pederasts.

A&E generally edits out the Robertsons' use of the phrase "in Jesus' name" at the end of their mealtime prayers, ostensibly so they don't offend any Muslims watching the show.  I find it very funny that both I and Phil Robertson asked the exact same question: "How many Muslims are watching the show?"  If A&E actually has a metric for that, I will be surprised.  I will be even more surprised if it is more than 1,000.

1,000 out of an 11,000,000+ audience is a negligible loss.  And to my mind there are entirely too many people, Muslim and otherwise, who are entirely too willing to take offense at stuff.  Chill out, people.  If you're that upset about it, we'll mute all those guerilla fighters screaming "Allahu akhbar" at the tops of their lungs.  You know, equal time.  Or, um, equal silence.

I don't think the problem here is that Robertson has a negative opinion of gays or a narrow personal experience of the civil rights era.  I don't think the problem is that he spoke his mind.  These are rights that cannot be legally curtailed in this country, thank goodness.  No, what he did was worse.

He didn't ask permission first.  As a TV personality, Robertson has network executives who are constantly watching the bottom line, the metrics, the audience reaction.  Those things are the butter on their bread, and anything that might impact them negatively must be anticipated, spun, handled.  Except Robertson is already independently wealthy, not dependent upon the network at all, and as anyone who watches the show already knows, not one to hold back on speaking his mind.  So he just says what he thinks and A&E edits out that which offends them and those few Muslims and the world keeps spinning...unless Robertson's comments get major play in some other large venue, like a premium magazine.  Oops.  Didn't see that one coming.

For their own part, completely in character with their own stated rule of no betrayal of family members, the Robertsons have released their own statement about Phil's unfiltered comments.

I just discovered that A&E have had to take Phil behind the woodshed once or twice for stepping beyond the bounds of no-go topics as described in their contracts.  So I was right about that much, there are rules in place and he broke them.  This isn't the first time and as evidenced by an A&E executive responding to the "crisis," he wasn't surprised.  "Disappointed," but not surprised.

I also understand the LGBT groups and GLAAD are upset.  Get over it.  Some people hate gingers for no reason, at least here you have a lifetime of conservative dogma informing his current stance.  It isn't hatred, it's just disavowal.  Listen up people: IT ISN'T HATRED.  Read the quote carefully and see if you see any hate there.  It isn't.

So who erred here?  That's the meat of the meal, isn't it?  Who screwed up, who has to clean up the mess.

Who screwed up first: this is a chicken-and-the-egg question.  Did Robertson screw up with his off the cuff remarks, or did A&E screw up when they signed him on?  A&E brass already knew Robertson has a history of speaking his mind on these very topics, and exactly which way he leaned when he spoke.

I say Robertson screwed up.  He opened his big mouth, knowing it was big and knowing it had gotten him in trouble before.  But considering the relatively benign nature of the comments - go read them, they're not as inflammatory as you might think - he could have done a lot worse.

Then A&E screwed up by allowing things to blow the hell up.  And then they screwed up even farther by suspending Robertson from his own show.  I mean, guys, really.

So who has to clean up the mess?  A&E.  They have the most skin to lose in this game.  Robertson, meanwhile, is riding high on a wave of public support and A&E, GLAAD notwithstanding, look like the bad guys in the public eye.

Bummer.   Try to hold the guy to the terms of a contract he signed and you get smacked for it.  Damn, that bites.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stop "Stop and Frisk" Everywhere

Watch this:

I am not a law enforcement expert but I can see what's wrong.  "Stop and frisk" laws are passed by politicians who represent them as "proactive policing," a dodgy phrase that makes it look like bad guys can be sorted out of the general population and caught before they do something illegal.

A few facts: out of the 4,000,000 (that's four MILLION) stops since 2002 when stop-and-frisk laws took effect in New York City, 90% were doing nothing illegal nor carrying any contraband of any kind.

While we're on the subject of percentages, the ratio of female-to-male stops is about 1 in 10.  With the ratio of white vs. other skin color stops also being about 1 in 10, if you're a white woman in NYC you stand a fair chance of never being stopped.  So if you're a white female criminal mastermind, head to NYC immediately, it is your playground.

A little quick math tells us that 10% of four million is 400,000 bad guys hauled off the streets.  How bad are they?  Let's take a quick peek at why some of these folks got stopped and how I, an ostensibly normal and generally law-abiding white man, compare:

My random sample is the 005 Precinct, 3rd quarter of 2011.  Here's a few gems:

  - "Wearing clothes commonly used in a crime"  - 7 males.  I tend to wear pants to all functions, criminal or otherwise.  Hoodies and hats keep my bald head warm, and gloves keep my bald hands warm.
  - "Proximity to scene of offense" - 138 males, 11 females.  Wrong place at the wrong time.  Move along, folks.  That's like searching my car because the guy in the next lane had a trunk full of Mexicans.

While we're on the topic of Mexicans, Latinos are heavily represented in the stop-frisk-search profile, too, 20-30% of the total as opposed to the mere 10% of whites.

  - "Evasive response to questioning" - 109 males, 6 females.  'Where you headed with that big knapsack?' 'None of your effing business.'  That is a valid response and believe it or not it is defensible.  You'd have a lousy, hard day in court defending it and maybe no love from the judge in New York, but in most other parts of the country it's solid.
  - "Suspicious bulge" - 7 males.  I saw a video where a cop was searching a man for reasons unknown, grabbing something and saying, "What the hell is that?"  And the suspect, bless him, said, "That's my penis."  Can't fault the guy for that, mine goes with me wherever I go, too.

What I'm really looking for is something to quantify the badness of these 400,000 bad guys.  First of all in this 10-year period we're looking at, you know a fair portion of that is going to be repeats.  Even so, digging through the NYCLU's website I'm finding some other bits: frisked young black and Latino men are less likely to be found with a weapon than white men, even though young black and Latino men get frisked about four times more often.  Another report indicates that as the stop and frisk rate drops, so too does the crime rate.  You can look at that two ways: either fewer people are doing bad things or the fewer stop-frisks are instigating fewer criminal reactions to the stop-frisks themselves.

A complete stranger stopping you on your way from A to B would be, at best, irritating.  That same stranger grabbing you and pawing at your clothing would likely get a faceful of knuckles on most American streets.  The protection afforded the police by the stop-question-frisk law means they get to physically assault "suspects," AKA random American citizens, for no more reason than the individual watched the cops driving by, and didn't look away.

As I recall, William Tell refused to be cowed by a display of oppressive force, and the bad guy in that story wound up with Tell's arrow in his eye.  Never mind that he was the ostensible governmental representation, like a cop - he was a jerk and had it coming.

My ultimate point is that while the stop-question-frisk procedure may have some legitimacy as a crimefighting practice, it is woefully subject to abuse by its practitioners.  Allegations of racial profiling - and the NYPD's own statistics read like a racial profiling manual - are rife.  Allegations of abuse like the one cited in the first hotlink are also plentiful.  What it is is the very worst elements of a police state with insufficient oversight and restraint.

Vote now, vote loudly, vote often.  Don't let your freedoms be curtailed by a desire for "security," a security that is, itself, cause for fear.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Take: Man Of Steel

I don't go to movies when they're on the big screen.  I don't want to risk that much money on what might be a stinker.

Man of Steel (Warner Bros 2013) starts well and builds beautifully...and then plummets to earth like a Kryptonian baby rocket.

The first hour or so follows a full-grown but still searching Clark Kent, old enough to be out of college, out on his own, and yet still not fully informed of what he really is.  Through a series of flashbacks we're introduced to Clark's discovery of his origin, to his small scale but highly tangible heroics, to the source of his angst.

Some superhero films take the hero through an "awakening" process.  Spider-Man (Columbia 2002) depicts Peter Parker's exploration of his powers culminating in one crazy, sticky night of web-shooting followed by a kind of post-"first time" buoyancy and general bon vivance.  In case you aren't sure, it's really equating Peter Parker's becoming Spider-Man with puberty.  You might think I'm making a gross comparison but it is in fact the literal metaphor intended by the director.  The Incredible Hulk (Universal 2003), on the other hand, acts and reacts like an adult would to situations, except all actions are colored by blinding rage and affected by superhuman strength.  There is no awakening, it is just the id unleashed, given full and unfettered rein.  Fortunately the lust-oriented parts of the id don't get much play in this paradigm.  Compare that to the nearly lifelong training and honing of skills and talents that make Batman (Warner Bros 1989 (origin depicted much better in Batman Begins Legendary/Syncopy 2005)) into what he is, a darker and more driven individual.

And to contrast against those, we have Kal El of Krypton, AKA Clark Kent of Earth.  Literally a man of two worlds, Clark is the truer identity of these two.  He may be Kryptonian in his genes, but his upbringing is 100% American farmboy.  He's not entirely satisfied with life on the farm.  His father's careful, measured approach to how Clark should reveal himself to the world frustrates his young instincts.  And in one heartbreaking moment, when Jonathan Kent sacrifices his own life so Clark need not reveal himself in the wrong way, Clark discovers just how important a life can be.  Not just that having one, but the quality of that life, is of such high value that its protection is worth such a price.

This is the kind of thing we see in the first half of Man of Steel.  Clark's search for meaning both within and without himself is fascinating to watch, and seeing him slowly putting the building blocks together is pleasant viewing.  After a little while we're introduced to Lois Lane, who is also pleasant to watch.  I'm not saying this as a sexist pig (although Amy Adams, the actress, is very attractive), Lane's clever, methodical running down of the trail of rumor, of legend brings her all the way back to Clark's Smallville roots.  Without any help, she figures out who Superman really is.

Of course, they aren't calling him "Superman" at this point.  At this point of the movie, they haven't been calling him anything.

And at about this point, everything just goes to hell.  The movie runs wildly off its psychological exploration rails, the only path that digs deeply into the one place where Superman really has any vulnerability, and the rest of the writing is done by 12-year-olds.  From this point on the action is nonstop, the explosions are huge, and the quality is abysmal.  It's Transformers: Dark of the Moon except with no cool organo-mechanical sound effects.  Metropolis gets halfway destroyed, Superm - sorry, Clark - gets the stuffing beat out of him and his Kryptonian baby rocket gets turned into a black hole bomb.  Countless thousands of people get pounded into wet hamburger but that's glossed over.  Several skyscrapers get toppled over.  An Air Force Colonel converts American and Kryptonian flying machines into a gravitational singularity.  And finally, at the center of the smoking Ground Zero of a battered Metropolis, Lois and Clark share a kiss and a super-cheesy joke.  The only thing missing is the laugh track.

Watch the first hour.  Then take the DVD out and throw it away.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: The Least Important Thing He Ever Did

Nelson Mandela has died at the end of his long life.  It is the most unimportant aspect of his story, that it now has a final chapter.

Mandela's death is the beginning of a transitional state, one in which he rises from an inspiring living figure to an inspiring historical one.  A peaceful struggler against South Africa's systemic racist apartheid government, Mandela managed to craft a mostly peaceful shift from the old racial injustices to a more-or-less equal government for all South Africans.  It still isn't perfect of course, but let's be real: he spent 30 years as a political prisoner incarcerated for his protests.  In that time, the apartheid government continued in its path and its philosophies gained more traction simply as the status quo.  Once status becomes quo, it's pretty hard to dislodge.

So now we have a Nelson Mandela who cannot screw up in the future.  Past misdoings may come to light, but past heroism may too.  His well-known and much respected public speaking, his unprecedented presidency of a formerly white-dominated South Africa, his unswerving exhortation for peaceful change all continue unabated into the future, a call for the betterment of both South Africa and mankind.  With a legacy like this that stands in his stead now that his body has died, what possible impact can his death have on the world?

None at all.  Barack Obama said "Nelson Mandela belongs to the ages now," but he was woefully late to the announcement.  Mandela has belonged to the ages for decades.  His influence will affect human society for decades.  The only difference his death makes is that whatever future changes come, Mandela himself won't be here to see them.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Drone Attacks on Civilians, on Civilization

American drone warfare policy is terrifying stuff.

In their earliest incarnations, drones were targets.  They were pilotless aircraft that could be safely fired upon by actual soldiers and pilots, a moving, challenging target that would be harder to hit than some plywood cutout propped up on a hillside or sliding along a wire across a valley.  Very early drones were sometimes even harder to hit than the real thing, being very small and fast for their size.  Their entire raison d'etre was to make actual fighters more effective.

But that isn't even the thrust of this post.

Now Jeff Bezos, multi-gazillionaire founder of Amazon and honest-to-goodness techie, wants to put drones in the air, delivering Amazon purchases to customers.  It's a brilliant concept on the face of it, and a strong testament to the technological developments that make such a thing possible.  But I think this is an  incredibly bad idea.  Here are a few reasons why:

Even unarmed drones can kill you.  Just because it's small doesn't mean Amazon's flying robopostman is safe.  Maybe it isn't big enough to take off the top of your head - I bet it's big enough to take off some of your fingers...or your child's.  How badly do you want that brand new multifunction universal remote control to risk that?  Wait a day while an actual delivery person conveys it to you.

Tech is vulnerable.  Yet another electronic gadget - in this case, one that you aren't even allowed to play with, only watch and admire as it brings you your amazing new multifunction universal remote control - is yet another opportunity for hackers to break in, take control, and wreak some damage.  It's bad enough when hackers can get into your computer and do stuff with your personal credit ratings.  How much worse will it be when the technobastards can actually wreck stuff with a flying lawnmower?  And let me point out that the linked article is two years old.  You can bet they've developed more tools for breaking into vehicle systems.  And just imagine if an enemy entity decided to take over a slew of Amazon drones, load them with their very own, and likely rather dangerous, payloads and send them to new destinations?  Is it necessary to make it that easy for the bad guys to hurt us?

 It isn't just vulnerable to hackers:

The drones as envisioned aren't especially fast and fly in straight lines.  I'm a pretty good shot at near- to medium-range and could easily take out a delivery drone with nothing more lethal than a pellet gun.  Your multifunctional universal remote control is now mine. 

It isn't pretty.
I'd rather watch starlings flying than see one of these flitting through my neighborhood.  And to put that in perspective, I effing hate starlings and blast them when I see them at my bird feeders.  With a pellet gun.

While we're on the subject of birds, how much would you like to bet one of these will occasionally be attacked and brought down by a bird?  Many species are aggressively territorial and will go after an invader.  And not only will the load go down, the whirling blades will almost certainly injure the bird, too.  Everybody, including you, loses.  Your multifunctional universal remote control is lost behind enemy lines.

Lastly, it aggravates an already-growing trend of self-importance in American society.  I mean, it's just a remote control.  It's just a book.  It's just a necklace, a memory card for your computer, it's just a thing.  You can afford to wait for it, whatever it is.  You don't need it.  You need air, water, food, shelter.  You need support of people around you and governmental representation you can trust.  You don't need another thing delivered that much more quickly.  Instant gratification is a terrible letdown in the long run.  It trains you to be unable to appreciate delayed gratification, and in the larger scheme of the entire world, gratification is more often delayed than it is instant.

Nothing is so important that we need to pollute the view with ugly flying boxes conveying yet more optional stuff.  Let's step back and take another look at whether this idea is a good one.