Mike Kueber's Blog

May 7, 2015

Garland

Filed under: Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 3:37 am
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The liberal New York Times Editorial Board today joined conservative Bill O’Reilly in criticizing Pamela Geller for holding a provocative Muhammed Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland.  These fine folks point out that the contest wasn’t about free speech, but rather it was about hatred and bigotry.  To them I ask, does the First Amendment only protect fair and reasonable people?

The editorial board and Bill O’Reilly seem to think that America is giving its imprimatur on Geller by protecting her contest.  I say America is not approving the substance of the contest, but it is approving her right to have it.

In all this hubbub, I haven’t heard a single commentator refer to that traditional description of free speech – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

May 6, 2015

Gentrification

Filed under: Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:26 pm
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The city of San Antonio has a “Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic & Diverse Neighborhoods.”  According to Texas Public Radio, the task force recently completed a year-long study and recommended creating a housing commission, creating a displacement assistance fund, and further study on how city programs affect gentrification.  But the question remains, “How does the city encourage mixed-income neighborhoods while continuing to encourage growth?”

My first recollection of the term “gentrification” was its use in Manhattan, where the white-collar jobs have been squeezing out the working class for decades.  But according to Urban Dictionary, the term actually originated by sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964 in the land of the original gentry class:

  • “One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle-classes—upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages—two rooms up and two down—have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences …. Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”

Based on this insight, I sent the following comment to the TPR reporter:

  • The term “gentrification,” which has a snobbish British origin, has become so demonized, just as “welfare” was, that it should be replaced by something that reflects its true meaning – i.e., the revitalization of deteriorated urban areas. I think we used to call it “urban renewal.”

Yes, urban renewal involves displacement.  As Wikipedia noted, “Gentrification is any facet of urban renewal that inevitably leads to displacement of the occupying demographic.”  But why does that require the involvement of government?  In our dynamic economy, residences and businesses are all subject to movement, and each can individually deal with that concern.  No one should expect to stay in the same place forever and we don’t need a government nanny to manage the move.

Saturday Night at the Movies #148 – Wild

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:17 am
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I previously blogged about the 2012 book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and found it to be excellent.  The story of her physical and mental trek on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was fascinating.   The 2014 movie based on the book, not so good.  In fact, I found it to be horrible.

Perhaps the problem is the movie’s star, Reese Witherspoon.  While Cheryl Strayed was likeable, or even lovable, Cheryl Strayed as played by Reese Witherspoon is not.  Cheryl Strayed in the book may have been surprised by the challenges presented by the PCT, but she was not the unprepared ditz that Legally Blonde’s Reese Witherspoon was.  And Cheryl Strayed in the book had serious pre-trek issues (drugs & sex), but the reader is drawn to her and roots for her; Reese Witherspoon not so much.  Of course, I didn’t enjoy Witherspoon in Legally Blonde or Walk the Line, either.  And I like her boyfriend, Thomas Sadoski, from Newsroom even less.

Witherspoon received an Oscar nomination for her acting, as did her mother Laura Dern.  And 90% of the Rotten Tomato critics like it, and 78% of its audience.  I, however, only give it one star out of four.

May 5, 2015

Baltimore

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 2:29 am
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The Baltimore story, like the Ferguson story, seems to be fading.  But because nothing has been resolved, the story will be back, and this might be a good time to consider what the story is.

The story seemed to start with Trayvon Martin being killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch guy.  The victim was an unarmed young black guy and the assailant was an armed white guy.  Technically, Zimmerman was Hispanic, but the media called him a white Hispanic.  President Obama immediately empathized with Martin – “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” and even after Zimmerman was acquitted, the president waxed nostalgic, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Actually, the story might have started even earlier with Henry Gates, the black Harvard professor who got into an argument with a white Cambridge policeman James Crowley, who suspected Gates of breaking into his own home.  President Obama immediately took sides by saying:

  • I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”

Eventually, as more facts were learned, President Obama backed off his position and called this a “teaching moment,” followed by a Beer Summit with Gates and Crowley in the Rose Garden.

Between the Harvard and Baltimore incidents, there have been several famous incidents involving young black men and usually white authority figures:

  • John Crawford (Dayton man shot by a white policeman while brandishing a bb/pellet gun in a Walmart)
  • Eric Garner (Staten Island, choke hold while resisting arrest)
  • Tamir Rice (12-year-old boy with a replica pistol in Cleveland)
  • Walter Scott (Charleston man shot while running away from a white policeman)
  • Akai Gurley (Brooklyn man killed when an Asian policeman accidentally discharged his weapon and a bullet ricocheted off a wall into Gurley)
  • Michael Brown (Ferguson man shot while charging a white policeman.)

The recent incident in Baltimore involving Freddy Gray prompted a lengthy article this weekend in the NY Times magazine titled, “Our demand is to stop killing us.”  The article profiles a couple of activists who have been working since Ferguson to drum up support on social media for their issue.  After reading the article, I read dozens of the comments and was surprised that many of them suggested that the activists were misguided – i.e., that inner-city blacks have more to worry about from black criminals than they do from white police.  One writer suggested that inner-city blacks wouldn’t be in danger from the police if they didn’t commit crimes and didn’t resist arrest.  That reflected my thinking because most of my knowledge related to the Brown (Ferguson) and Garner (Staten Island) incidents.  Another commenter point out that Tamir Rice and John Crawford hadn’t committed crimes and weren’t resisting arrest, and he could have added Akai Gurley to the list.

Rice, Crawford, and Gurley are possibly victims of profiling, but who can blame a policeman for being edgy when dealing with young black males in high-crime areas.  Just today, the NY Times reported on the death of a young white policeman in Queens, Brian Moore, who noticed a suspicious young black male fidgeting with his waistband, and when he tried to question the man, the man suddenly pulled the gun and shot the policeman in the head.  Incidents like this are bound to produce hair triggers.

The NYPD had already suffered a targeted killing of two policemen (Hispanic and Asian) by a black man in December by a man who linked his actions to protests over the Ferguson and Staten Island incidents.

So what is the story?  The simplistic narrative is that white policemen are killing black men.  Going a little deeper, the argument is that the killings are inadequately unpunished by the judicial system because black lives are not valued.  And ultimately, there is a rationalization that inner-city youths are frustrated with lives that have no hope.  There was an article in the NY Times yesterday about a federal program that enabled families through vouchers to move into better neighborhoods, and that seemed to be an immense help to the kids in the family, especially if the move occurred before the kids were 12-years old.  That sounds promising, just like school vouchers.

On an a brighter note for our policemen, yesterday a Texas policeman with a pistol engaged two Muslim extremists with assault weapons and body armor intent on crashing into a cartoon show that was making fun of Mohammed.  Although details have not been reported, the policeman was able to kill both extremists without being injured.  Sounds like a Clint Eastwood moment.

May 2, 2015

Sunday Book Review #157 – The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:55 am
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The Train to Crystal City is subtitled, “FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.”  Crystal City is a small city 120 miles southwest of San Antonio, but this local connection with FDR’s infamous Japanese internment is not what makes the book especially popular in San Antonio.  Rather, that popularity is due to the local connection with the author.  Jan Jarboe Russell, who has written for Texas Monthly magazine for years and happens to be a Facebook friend of mine, hails from San Antonio and is quite connected with the city’s cultured society.

The biggest surprise revealed by The Train to Crystal City is that FDR’s WWII internment was not limited to Japanese people in America, but extended to people from America’s two other WWII enemies – Germans and Italians.  The difference was that the Japanese on the West Coast were rounded up en masse and sent to “relocation centers” away from this so-called War Zone, while Germans and Italians throughout the nation were hand-picked based on FBI- collected evidence of a security risk – e.g., active connections with their homeland or membership in nationalistic clubs.  Because of this different selection criteria, more than 100,000 Japanese were rounded up, while the German contingent was closer to 10,000, and the Italians even less.

Although there were around 20 internment camps throughout America, including one in North Dakota at Fort Lincoln, author Russell focuses on Crystal City because it was the only one that interned entire families of the security risks in separate housing units.  Ironically, interning an entire family may seem harsh because of the harm inflicted on innocent wives and children (husbands were almost always the identified security risk), and this harm provided much of the dramatic focus of the book.  But the family internment camp was created by sympathetic figures in the Roosevelt administration who wanted to ease the pain of being interned and help preserve the family unit.  Several thousand were interned in Crystal City, and the book follows in particular detail one Japanese family from California and a German family from Ohio.

The next biggest surprise from the book is revealed by the first phrase in the subtitle, “FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program.”  During the war, FDR shipped several thousand of the internees to Japan and Germany in exchange for Americans being held by those nations.  This so-called “repatriation” included children at Crystal City who were American citizens.  Suffice to say that sending American children into a war zone was not in their best interest, and many struggled to return to America after the war.

After the war, German and Italian Americans seemed disposed to let the internment camps fade into history, but not the Japanese.  Their contrary disposition is probably based on the vastly different numbers of people involved, plus the Japanese internment was more racial and less security risk.  After many years of lobbying by Japanese-Americans for redress, Congress during the Reagan administration passed a law that admitted the Japanese internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” and awarded $20,000 each to 82,219 Japanese who had been interned (or their heirs).  Germans have filed for similar reparations, but have been denied because their detention was based, not on race, but on being security risks.

I think Congress got it right.  Even an existential war against Japan and Germany doesn’t justify rounding up all persons with those ancestries.  But it does justify the internment of those deemed security risks, even with something significantly less than the full recourse of peacetime due process.

As indicated above, I was surprised to learn of the internment of German-Americans during WWII.  I have German ancestry and my hometown in North Dakota is mostly German or Norwegian.  Further, my adopted hometown of San Antonio was, according to author Russell about one-sixth German during WWII.  Yet, I have never heard or read about this piece of history.

Since reading the book, I have asked several of my elders about this subject, and they are similarly unaware.  My German aunt explained that she had never met someone who came from Germany, so it appears that my ancestors and those in my hometown had immigrated generations earlier and were already assimilated. One friend who grew up in another part of North Dakota with more recent immigrants said that those folks had been stressed during the war, but not interned.

As a final note on the book, the author describes Crystal City as the only “family” internment camp operated during WWII.  Yet, 30,000 Japanese children were interned in relocation centers throughout America.  It seems that their stress would have been greater than those in Crystal City except for not having to face potential repatriation to their homeland.

April 12, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies #147 – 21 Grams and Fury

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:26 am
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21 Grams (2003) is a nonlinear movie – i.e., events are not presented in chronological order – about the lives of three individuals (Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Bernicio del Toro) before and after a horrible car-pedestrian accident. This artsy movie was directed by artsy Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who recently won an Oscar for Birdman.  Although I almost gave up on the movie early on, I stuck with it and ended up finding it very satisfying.  All three lead actors did a good job, and two of them – Watts and del Toro – received Oscar nominations.  The Rotten Tomatoes scored the movie at 80% and the audience liked it even better at 86%.  I’m not that generous and give it three stars out of four.  Incidentally, the title of the movie comes from the scientific theory that a body loses 21 grams when it dies, and some have suggested that this is the weight of a soul leaving the body.  Interesting.

Fury (2014) is a violent WWII movie about a group of guys in a tank trying to survive the last few weeks of the war.  The Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

  • Overall, Fury is a well-acted, suitably raw depiction of the horrors of war that offers visceral battle scenes but doesn’t quite live up to its larger ambitions.”

I’m not sure what those “larger ambitions” are.  The acting is good (Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal), and so is the production, but none of the characters is worth caring about.  The Rotten Tomato scores are almost as good as 21 Grams, with 77% from the critics and 85% from the audience, but I give it only two stars out of four.

Grumpy, old men

Filed under: Retirement — Mike Kueber @ 1:22 am
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I have a die-hard conservative friend on Social Security who is majorly depressed to see the American government drift toward Europe’s level of social welfare.  Like Romney, he is concerned that the looters have taken control of our democracy and will continue on their merry way until they run out of other people’s money to spend.  America’s landing, he fears, will be hard.  On bad days he says he hopes he isn’t around to see the ugly ending, but on his good days he says he is looking forward to see the looters get their just deserts.  Let’s call him a grumpy, old man.

A couple of days ago, I had a long conversation with another old friend who is approaching Social Security.  He started by complaining about the management of large corporations, with their focus on selfish objectives instead of the general good.  From that complaint, he pivoted toward young people and their disdain for the Protestant work ethic and old-fashioned integrity.  On each of the subjects, I cut off the discussion by noting that since my retirement six years ago, I have almost no exposure to the management practices of large corporations or the work ethic or integrity of young people, and therefore am poorly qualified to have an opinion.  And even more relevant to our conversation, I didn’t care about the answer.  What difference does it make whether the values that I have are becoming more or less prevalent?

As I thought about my position of apathy, I wondered if I had become the grumpy old man described in the first paragraph above or perhaps my philosophy has become more like the Serenity Prayer:

  • God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

While pondering that question, I recalled that when I ran for Congress and the SA City Council since retiring, I ran against a couple of whippersnappers (in their early 30s) whom I criticized severely for running for office at such a young age.  But then it occurred to me that I ran for my hometown school board when I was still in college and for the Minot City Counsel when I was in my early 30s, and it never occurred to me then that I was too young to be running for those offices.

Grumpy, old man, indeed.

April 9, 2015

The Walter Scott killing in SC

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 6:50 pm
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I had a Muslim friend who, whenever she heard of a terrorist incident, first hoped that the terrorists weren’t Muslim.  I confess to feeling the same way when hearing a report that a policeman killed an unarmed person – i.e., I hope the policeman wasn’t white and the deceased wasn’t black.  Well, this week in South Carolina, the policeman Michael Slager was white and the deceased Walter Scott was black.

Based on those facts, the New York Times was prepared to immediately jump to conclusions.  According to its editorial board:

  • The case underscores two problems that have become increasingly clear since the civic discord that erupted last year after the police killed black citizens in New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. The first, most pressing problem is that poorly trained and poorly supervised officers often use deadly force unnecessarily, particularly against minority citizens. The second is that the police get away with unjustly maiming or killing people by lying about the circumstances that prompted them to use force.  The shooting death of Walter Scott on Saturday would have passed into the annals of history unremarked upon had a bystander not used a cellphone to document what happened after Mr. Scott encountered the police officer, Michael Slager, after a routine traffic stop.”

Let me count the ways the editorial board in incorrect:

  1. The shooting in SC is dramatically different than the deaths in NY, Cleveland, and Ferguson, and the prompt criminal charges in SC reflect that.
  2. Poor training and poor supervision have nothing to do with the SC cop shooting a fleeing man.
  3. Police lying, just like any other variety of lying, must be exposed by conflicting evidence.
  4. The killing in Ferguson didn’t “pass into the annals of history unremarked” even though there was no video evidence, so why would the Times suggest that the Walter Scott shooting would?

As I read some of the hundreds of comments to the editorial, most readers scoffed at the suggestion that the shooting resulted from poor training and poor supervision.  Then the next day, NY Times columnist Charles Blow shied away from the training and supervision issue, but joined the growing consensus that this issue of white-cop/black-victim was systemic and would have escaped detection without the video:

  • This case is yet another in a horrifyingly familiar succession of cases that have elevated the issue of use of force, particularly deadly force, by officers against people of color and inflamed the conversation that surrounds it.
  • What would have happened if video of this incident had not surfaced? Would the officer’s version of events have stood? How many such cases must there be where there is no video?
  • But I would argue that the issue we are facing in these cases is not one of equipment, or even policy, but culture.

I suggest that the editorial board and columnist Blow should keep their powder dry until two unreported facts are developed:

  1. Resisting Arrest. The incidents in NY and Ferguson involved victims who resisted arrest, and one of the Lessons Learned that was noted in passing was that it is never a good idea to resist arrest.  In SC, we have been told that the incident was a routine traffic stop, and then the video picks up with a fleeing victim.  Apparently, a witness saw the cop and the victim fighting on the ground.  This missing link seems like an important component of the story for me, but the media seems to have minimal interest.
  2. Racial animus.  After the cop in Ferguson, Darren Wilson, was cleared by state authorities, the feds attempted to prove a civil-rights claim by checking the cop’s history for any evidence of racial animus.  The same thing should be done here before concluding that this was a race-based shooting in SC.

Incidentally, the Charles Blow column included some interesting information about the Ferguson shooting that I was not aware of:

  • One of the most disturbing features of the Department of Justice’s report on the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson was the number of witnesses who said that they were afraid to come forward because their version of events contradicted what they saw as community consensus.”

April 8, 2015

John Saunders is rooting for the home team

Filed under: Culture,Media,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 9:41 pm
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This week on The Sports Reporters, John Saunders’s “Parting Shot” consisted of his lament that there were no black coaches in the Final Four and only one in the Sweet Sixteen. According to Saunders, this development is not a mere aberration. Rather, it is a reflection of a disturbing trend in college basketball – i.e., the return of racial discrimination. How else would you explain that during the last decade, the percentage of black coaches decreased from 25% to 22%? (Maybe the fact that blacks comprise on 13% of America has something to do with that.) How else would you explain that twelve black coaches had been fired this year alone? (Maybe they didn’t win enough games.)

I don’t begrudge a black man for rooting for black coaches. I was rooting for Wisconsin because it started four white guys while the other three teams had none, and I wanted the Wisconsin players to show that white men could play winning basketball. I considered the Wisconsin players to be underdogs, and I suppose Saunders continues to think of black coaches as underdogs, too, even though they have had and continue to have plenty of opportunity to prove their merit.

If I were famous, however, I suspect that my rooting for the white team would be challenged by many as racist, whereas Saunders’s statement sailed by without any concern.

Of course, Saunders has a history of this. A few months ago, he was euphoric over a Chicago little-league team, Jackie Robinson West, winning a national championship because it was all-black. Again, this is rooting for the underdog. Unfortunately, the team was stripped of the title a few months later because of illegal recruiting.

No one will accuse Saunders of being politically correct, but, of course, he is.

April 6, 2015

Real men don’t get offended

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 2:36 am
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Unfortunately, the big news following Wisconsin’s upset of Kentucky last night hasn’t been the game, but rather the post-game conduct of the Kentucky players and fans. Although post-game riots are usually the province of the winning team’s fan, in this case it was the sore-loser fans in Lexington.

But the Kentucky players were even worse sore losers. Three of the players walked off the floor without the traditional handshake and one of them during a press conference responded to a question about Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky by uttering under his breath, “Fuck that niga.”

Not surprisingly, the utterance did not result in a media firestorm. Instead the media quickly moved past the incident and pivoted first to Andrew Harrison’s apology and next to Kaminsky easy acceptance of the apology.

Kudos to Kaminsky. As argued in a column that my brother Kelly recently posted on Facebook, real men don’t get offended.

As for any consequences to Harrison, Kentucky coach Calipari was asked if that were being considered and he responded with, “Nah.”

And when a Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel pondered the incident, he quickly concluded that this was a racist incident:

  • “Harrison’s comment, while a racial slur, likely wasn’t rooted in racial anger anyway. This was immaturity and embarrassment. He wasn’t creative enough to put Kaminsky down any other way, so he fell to the lowest rung on the ladder, a rather absurd one too since, as noted, Kaminsky is white.  Still, apologies should count, so let that one. If Kaminsky said he’s good with it – not that the victim here usually has much choice – then so be it. Turning Harrison into a piñata for varying forces on acceptable racial language doesn’t seem reasonable either. This really wasn’t about race.”

It seems that a black person won’t be accused of racism unless there is compelling, direct evidence, but a white person, like the Ferguson cop, will be exonerated of racism only after a comprehensive investigation of his life history fails to discover any utterance or action of a racist nature.

I understand the double standard regarding the use of the word “niga,” but I don’t think there needs to be a double standard for judging someone a racist.

 

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