Saturday, November 29, 2014

Michael Brown and Civility

It was my wedding day, and I made a polite request for people to leave if they were not in the wedding party so we could conduct the rehearsal. Believe it or not, some friends and relatives decided that they didn’t need to comply with my request, and made that known. Also, believe it or not, I lost my temper…much to the consternation of several people present.

Several weeks later, my best man’s wife asked me about the event. I told her that I was upset that I couldn’t make a simple request and have it respected and honored. She suggested that perhaps my expectations were too high, that I didn’t have a right to expect people to act the way I would like.

It’s been several years, and I still remember that conversation…and it still bothers me. The foundations of civil society begin with people making simple requests (that neither pick my pocket nor break my leg, as one of our founding fathers said (was it Franklin or Jefferson?)), and having those requests honored. Imagine asking that someone pass the salt, and you are either ignored or denied. Or move a little to the left. Or any one of countless requests that exist on a continuum from ‘can you wait just a moment’ to ‘can you spare a kidney’.

Our reactions depend on several factors: what is the relationship between the parties? Parent to child, friends, child to parent? How was the request made? Politely, as a demand, or as an order. Is the request timely? Is there urgency? Am I in fact able to complete the request? Is my response fair to other people (a child asking for an increase in allowance, without consideration of other siblings, for instance)? And many more, including some that are purely selfish.

But we provide responses, one way or the other. We pass the salt, don’t increase the allowance, donate the kidney.

Michael Brown was asked to move out of the center of the street. The exact form of the request is muddled, but could be among the following:

Could you please move to the sidewalk?

Get out of the street and onto the sidewalk.

Get the F*** out of the center of the street.

In this case, the request came from a police officer, and Michael Brown and his friend chose not to comply. In fact, the evidence shows that Michael Brown responded with violence, and with tragic consequences.

The tales from Ferguson are that there is great mistrust between the black population and the police department, factors including disproportionate minority hiring, a history of abuse, a disproportionate crime rate, and again, many more.

So I return to my opening story for a comparison. Officer Wilson made a seemingly simple request, although the tone is unknown. The authority relationship is clear. The response is burning history. Civility is drowned.

Instead, we have an unclear vision of the relationship between the police department and the civilian population. Are the police respected? Are they wanted? To what degree? In addition to discriminating between right and wrong, officers are now supposed to account for attitude, and along a non-linear scale. If someone refuses to comply with a request, is the officer supposed to just shrug his shoulders and say ‘oh well’? Or are they expected to react in accordance with their oath and training? Is the presence of a set of rules for police to follow inherently racist because the nature of the logic is based on white man’s culture and history? Are the rules supposed to be different because of the color of the person’s skin?

I can’t remember if it was Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton who said that any interaction between a white police officer and a black person is racist. Or was that any police officer? Or any white person? I’ll say that it doesn’t matter. If any interaction between a person in one category and a black person is inherently racist, then I have no idea how to interact. I have my basic rules of civility. It starts with what I say above. If there is a different set that I need to understand, then I need them clarified.

Instead, I see a society moving in a direction that says right and wrong are what individuals decide they are at this time in these circumstances, based on what they feel (note: feel, not think). Authority and government are expected to identify, recognize, account for, and accommodate those feelings each time, or ‘civil rights may be violated’. Cost, equal protection, uniformity, and for that matter, sanity, are no longer considerations.

Ferguson, and all of us, will lose more than we realize if we don’t have to respect authority, if we can make the rules up as we go along. I’ll go out on a limb and say that a lack of equal protection, perceived or otherwise, also involves thinking that there are two sets of rules.

Several years ago we drove to visit my parents on a holiday weekend. The drive took five hours, twice as long as usual, and my mother was very angry. After dinner we drove to the hotel. It was about 10:30, and I waited behind this other woman to check in. After the basics of checking in, she and the clerk engaged in idle conversation for at least 10 minutes. They both knew I was there, but I waited patiently until she left. For some reason the hotel did not have my reservation and they were booked solid for the night. Also, we had the dog, so our choices were very limited.

As the clerk was trying to locate accommodations nearby, the woman comes back to the front desk. She asked if she could interrupt the clerk to ask him for a cup for coffee. I told her ‘no’.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The AIG scandal, and I do see it as a scandal, seems to be the latest preoccupation with Congress. Yes, I'm outraged as the onion gets peeled back to find the legislative culprits that contributed to it, and am compelled to comment.

First, the scandal exists at a value of $165M, of a total amount pledged to AIG of about $300B, or roughly 0.05%. This is in the face of total TARP funding that appears to be pushing the $2T threshold, or a total fraction for AIG of about 15%. In other words, except for the obvious outrage, it almost seems petty.

Second, I started thinking about the word 'bonus'. From, it is derived from the Latin word for 'good'. Think 'bon bon', or simply 'bon'. Think of a bonus as a kind of tip...a reward for good performance, such as you would give a waitress for bringing the cream with your coffee without being asked, or bringing the check after a quiet nod across the room.

I work for a relatively conservative manufacturing company. Bonuses are typically reserved for those at the director level and above, to include vice presidents and division presidents, and corporate bigwigs. Sometimes they deign to give bonuses to lower level employees, but never as a matter of course, and rarely to the level that they receive them for themselves...that is to say, a serious fraction of their already serious paychecks. Really...don't you consider 50 to 75% of $175K truly excellent coin? But I also don't begrudge them for their wisdom, experience, and hard work that got them to a position of real responsibility, ensuring that the workforce is motivated, focused, and coordinated to deliver product on time and with good quality, often at great sacrifice to their personal lives.

Even then, the amount they receive is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the offerings of the financial institutions: enough money to cause me to think about quitting work and retiring very comfortably on just that one check. The numbers proffered in the AIG case approach this level, so I have to ask exactly what qualifies one for a bonus, and how is the amount determined?

For instance, if I gave my broker $1000 to invest, and after a year he returned $900, losing me money, I'd suggest he didn't really earn a bonus. What if he returned $1100? I consider that to be slightly above expectations, but that's what I pay him for. $1500? That would be extraordinary, and I'd be thinking about offering some kind of tip, or bonus...perhaps 10% of the amount over my expectation.

AIG is stating that the bonuses were offered as part of an employment contract, apparently without any obvious performance goals, with results that have brought the world economy to its knees and possibe ruin. I don't understand. Worse, it's stated that unless AIG is bailed out, things will be worse. In other words, they are blackmailing us to bail them out.

In its simplest terms, this is the equivalent of getting paid for showing up, with no accountability for the poor decisions and the high risks that they took with our money. It's the equivalent of giving A's for effort in class, or trophies and certificates for kid's sports teams for 'participation'. It's the price we're being asked to pay for the dumbing down of everything, where character counts for more than accomplishment...except here I don't see any character worth rewarding.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Thomas Friedman, again. See

I've been a bit busy lately...too busy to keep up with the most of my news gathering is via Google news several times a day. But the pile of old papers grows, and I try to catch up at breakfast and lunch...finally reading Thomas Friedman's post from two weeks ago.

He begins this missive by stating that there are 9 bodies laying unclaimed in the Mumbai morgue since last November...the bodies of 9 sub-humans who indiscriminately murdered 300 innocents because they didn't subscribe to a medieval world view of misogyny, oppression, torture, and death, while we celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday. Friedman states that this is a good thing, and while I agree with him on that point, I think he misses a broader disappointment.

At this writing, we are 7 and a half years from the horror of 9/11, and since 1982, the world has experienced over 30,000 acts of terrorism in the name of islam. The 9 bodies remain unclaimed because the muslim populace of India, the second largest in the world, rejects the claim that they are martyrs, and undeserving of a proper burial. Friedman says this is good because, finally, moderate islam (if there is such a thing) is standing up in at least one way to say that enough is enough.

We could reach back to the slaughter at the 1972 Olympics, an event conducted to unify the world, but let's just call it 27 years of barbarism, and FINALLY one muslim community has reached the consensus that they will take but one small stand, that the perpetrators of atrocity are not entitled to ritual burial. Yes, it's time. Yes, it's a good thing. But I remain disappointed: we've been waiting too long, and the gesture is too small.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Health Insurance Revisited

There seems to be this idea that people without health insurance don't get (or can't afford) medical treatment. Simply put, if I think I will only need, say, $6000 worth of medical coverage for a given year (an estimate of the national per capita cost for doctors, hospitals, and meds), why should I buy a policy costing $6000 (or more likely, from a private insurer, more)? Why not just take that money and put it in the bank, so if, say, I need LESS than $6000 worth of medical treatment, I can pocket the difference. It's MY money, not the insurance company's.

What if I need more? Well, that's why you buy health cover the cost of potentially catastrophic illness. If you snooze, you lose...but more to the point, the average per capita cost of medical treatment is probably less than $6000.

What if I can't AFFORD a $6000 policy or the cost of my coverage? Well, that would be called WELFARE...relying on the good will of others to pay for that which you can't afford.

But the idea that lack of health insurance is somehow keeping people from getting medical treatment is false. You can choose how you spend your money...take your chances, or perhaps die...or beg from others.

t the end of the day, the SAME PEOPLE will be begging or borrowing from others. Having or not having health insurance isn't the issue. The issue is having the education to earn a salary that will allow you to either buy insurance or pay for coverage.

Demanding anything else is now somehow dipping into MY pocket...and it looks like I just don't have a say.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Entreprenurial Racism

It looks like Nadya Suleyman's 15 minutes of fame is finally over, but the US media circus is gearing up for round 12 in the nascent Obama administration. At this rate, we should be at round 576 come 2012, but who's counting? Following the mauling of a woman by a chimpanzee here in CT last week, where the offending chimp was shortly felled by police bullets, the ever high-brow New York Post printed a cartoon showing a felled chimp with the caption 'They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill'.

Ever one to invent a racist event, the Reverend Al Sharpton has called for a boycott of the Post because he saw the depiction of the chimp as a metaphor for President Obama. I'd suggest Jimmy Orr's hilarious column in the Christian Science Monitor, along with the barrage of comments, except CSM has withdrawn the column. My reaction, except for this post, is to do something I've never done in my adult life: seek out and purchase a copy of the NY Post, if only to show my support for them, or closer to the truth, my contempt for Reverend Al. By the third stop I could declare 'mission accomplished'.

I used to love the comments section for Yahoo news stories, until they disabled the feature after the Hezbollah war in 2007...but it's nice to see news sources allow reader comments these days. CSM is one of these sources, and a one 'ssjackson', claiming to be a 32nd cousin of Jesse Jackson, provided me with the title for this entry. He (?) states 'I applaud the Post for calling out Sharpton and all other wannabees whose motives are Entreprenurial Racism, not racial understanding or equality'.

My accomplice in this mission, a fine young black man, told me his father's position on this, based on the events in Jena, TX the other year, when a noose was found hanging from a tree on the high school grounds, resulting in inter-racial fighting between students, and apparently, a disproportionate number of suspensions between the participants. It was good to see a generational perspective on these events. I was told that in previous times, the appearance of a noose, or similar epithet, would result in the offended group rising to the challenge of doing better. Instead, in this Obama-led, post-racism period, we are faced with self-appointed community activists reinforcing the attitude of victimhood, demanding compensation, apologies, and justice.

Maybe it's time to recall the Kings, Rodney and Martin, and ask 'can't we all get along?'.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sticky Buns

Note: allow heated ingredients (milk, butter) to cool before adding to other ingredients to avoid killing yeast or cooking eggs!!!

1. dissolve 1 pack yeast in 1/4 cup warm water

2. add: 1 cup whole wheat flour (sifted after measuring, if desired), 1 cup scalded milk; mix to uniform consistency

3. keep covered in a warm place; allow to rise until dimpled (1 to 3 hours...I start the micro-convection at 100F for a few minutes)

4. mix lightly in a bowl: 2 egg yolks, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 stick melted butter, about 3 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp grated lemon rind (optional)

5. add egg mixture to previous flour mixture; add to this 3 cups white flour (sift after measuring, one cup at a time, if desired); blend to uniform consistency (polite way to say 'beat the s**t out of it); keep covered in a warm place; allow to rise 2 to 8 hours

6. roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick, approximately 16:9 ratio for the widescreen version, or 4:3 for standard (sorry...a little video humor...actually, wider IS better)

7. melt 2 sticks butter; add honey (somewhat optional...probably 4 to 6 tbsp); brush butter/honey over the entire rolled-out dough (try to get the honey from the bottom of the pot; DO NOT USE ALL THE BUTTER...see below); sprinkle cinnamon liberally, and nutmeg_ (nutmeg is optional). cover with raisins (yellow preferred; also any other dried fruit you may like, such as apples, dates).

8. roll the assembly up like a jelly roll; slice into 1 to 1.5 inch segments...about 15 to 18 total

9. back to the butter on the stove: add more honey, sugar_ (white or brown...or add molasses to white sugar) until thick (basically until most of the butter is absorbed and no longer just floating...probably about a cup, but don't just dump it all in at once). pour this mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2 glass pan; place segments orderly into butter mix in pan (think 5 rows of 3 or so...fill in at the ends with the smaller segments); allow to rise until pan is full

10. bake at 325 to 350F for 25 to 30 minutes

11. remove from oven and overturn immediately onto a tray (requires a little strength, dexterity, and speed to avoid making a to place the tray over the glass pan prior to overturning)

Radio Days

Way back when, before I had satellite radio or an iPod, I would listen to broadcast radio. I guess I'm a media and first amendment buff, so I felt the bittersweet emotion of enraged amusement.

I'd leave work between 4:30 and 4:45, and tune to 99.5, WBAI, the flagship Pacifica station, and listen to Eutrice Lied (and eventually some other fop named Hugh after they had their leadership shakedown) do Talk Back, a phone-in show. you can imagine...

A classic example is the caller complaining about the police rousting the homeless from their cardboard boxes on cold nights to force them to shelters. The following week someone would call about the tragedy when a firetrap killed a family, but the city wasn't doing enough to provide the poor with safe if we can ever have it both ways.

I'd reach the edge of the reception range, and tune to 104.9, WIHS, the local Christian station, to catch the 5 pm news (listener supported...and I could never determine if it was kind or cruel to offer a pledge if it would be used to get their lead newsman a tongue transplant...the guy reminds me of William Shawn, the leader of the rat pack in The Princess Bride...both in appearance and voice).

Every day there would be an obscure story about abortion...not really passing an opinion, but planting enough seeds to make it seem it was rampant. All stories about Bush were positive. All stories about Kerry and the Democrats had a negative slant...such as how he might be more accommodating towards gays. There were always stories about Christian persecution somewhere in the world, and occasionally there would be a story about how some other faith was kind. The best I can say about them is that they were routinely pro-Israel.

But the bias from both sides was clear...particularly in the selection and presentation of stories and discussion...and it was a bit entertaining while it lasted.