Friday, February 27, 2015

Curmudgeon Walks His Dog


 

Each morning at six-thirty, rain or shine, I walk my peppy little Shih Tzu around the block in my California neighborhood. Yes, I always carry poop bags. I’ll admit, carrying a droopy poop bag back home for discard isn’t as sexy as carting a bag-o-cash to the bank vault, but I got over the ickiness of it long ago.

On these walks I often pass by kids walking to school, some clomping in a steady beat along the sidewalk on skateboards and others taking the shoe-leather express, much the way I did as a schoolkid. And as often as not I hear them talking, laughing and arguing. Oftener, I cringe at the simpleton rap music blaring from their iPods. (Are you telling me that in fifty years these kids are going to be reminiscently singing the lyrics to these songs? Like MC Hammer’s Pumps and a Bump which goes “I don’t like ’em figgity fat, I like ’em stiggity stacked, you wiffity-wiggity wack if you ain’t got biggity back.”)

. . . Hmm. Enough swaggy tongue, let us get back to English you can’t dance to. Here is what happened on today’s walk. My area was shrouded in a weak fog. Walking about forty yards behind two high school-aged boys, I saw that one was eating Cheetos from a bag – I mean pouring a cascade of them into his wide-open mouth and right down his throat, seemingly without the benefit of having to touch teeth. He finished the bag and uninhibitedly tossed it on the ground in my neighbor’s front yard. Then he saw me, yes, the old curmudgeon and his leashed, wimpy little dog not far behind him. (About then I kind of wished I had had a snarling pit bull instead.) Obviously the kid didn’t know if I lived in the home where he had just dumped his unfriendly trash, so he stepped back and scooped up the Cheetos bag. (It was adroitly done, like the way I sweep up my dog’s crap from the middle of the road.) Then, for good measure, he said loud enough for me to hear: “I’m feeling generous today, there’s a trash can over there.”

In return I snorted a sneer at him, something I’ve gotten pretty good at in my old age, which basically says in guttural shorthand, “You’re a moron!”

Carrying his would-have-been litter, he walked on until he came to the curbside trash receptacle (it was trash pick-up day). Then he turned and made sure I saw him lift the lid and put his garbage gingerly into the trash can, as if to grunt back, “See, old geezer?”

Yes, kid, I see all right – right through you: the guilty actions of a litterbug who’s been caught. If this kid actually thinks that being “generous” is doing the right thing only when you’re caught doing the wrong thing, he’s on the expressway to being institutionalized. Okay, a litterbug doesn’t a criminal make. But it does make a kid and someday, an adult, who has little if any respect for, or sense of, community. And, come on, you know this wasn’t his first time. Such crude habitual actions are an infectious symptom of a coarsened American culture. I call it craping on our community values, without a poop bag.

 R.D. Byron-Smith’s books can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and other online booksellers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ten Times 57 Channels and Nothing On


 
As a California appeals court notes, Bruce Springsteen said it best in “57 Channels (And Nothing On):”

Man came by to hook up my cable TV,

We settled in for the night my baby and me,

We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn,

There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.

You can almost hear the three-part harmony of the judges of a California appellate court as they upheld dismissal of a lawsuit by four subscribers against Time Warner Cable, Inc.:

“We do so keenly aware of how this issue affects millions of our fellow Southern California residents. With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, we appreciate the lament of cable television subscribers who feel that although they now receive 10 times 57 channels or more, mostly nothing’s on that they wish to view. We simply hold that federal pre-emption principles bar application of state consumer protection laws in this case. Thus, consumers must present their complaints to Congress or the Federal Communications Commission.”

In other words, yes, cable television sucks but we’re passing the buck anyways.

The state’s Second District Court of Appeal issued its ruling in the case of Sherry Fischer vs. Time Warner Cable Inc. Other states will likely follow it if they have similar cable TV lawsuits.

Backgrounder: In 2011, Time Warner paid the Los Angeles Lakers $3 billion for rights to televise Lakers games for 20 years. Time Warner’s subscription rates rose by $5 a month as a result of bundling the basketball games into enhanced basic cable. (Given the Lakers lousy last couple of seasons – Kobe injured and out for much of them – Time Warner might be having second-thoughts.) Then in 2013, Time Warner paid the L.A. Dodgers $8 billion to carry their baseball games for 25 years. The deal sent rates for enhanced basic cable up an additional four bucks month.

The $9-a-month hike for enhanced basic will cost subscribers $11 billion over the next 25 years.

Four subscribers cried foul. Neither Lakers nor Dodgers fans, they sued, claiming bundling of games with existing programs violated California laws against unfair competition. Compellingly they argued that 60 percent of the population doesn’t follow basketball and baseball but were being forced to pay for games they didn’t watch. (How about all those TV shopping shows?) They said viewers that want Lakers and Dodgers games should pay separately for them. The whole thing really gagged them, because as it is, Time Warner was slam-dunking an extra $9 charge down their throats. (They didn’t say that but it’s what they meant.)

Miles from the Staples Center basketball court in the real L.A. court, a judge agreed with Time Warner to dump the suit in what’s called a “demurrer,” which is simply an anachronistic legal term, meaning that even if facts in the case are true, the case is insufficient under law to continue. The subscribers appealed, wasting more than $9 a month. (Their lawyers must have been a sporting bunch or just hungry for an easy-grounder fee because the case had about as much chance as another Lakers Three-peat.) On February 23 the appellate court upheld the dismissal, saying federal communications law allows Time Warner to bundle programming like it did with Lakers and Dodgers games, and cited the “supremacy clause” of the federal Constitution, which makes state laws subservient, therefore California’s unfair competition statutes have no force in the case. Adding more punishment, the court ruled Time Warner could go after the litigants for money spent to defend their appeal. (Kind of like letting the winners pelt the losers’ bus with eggs as they leave.)

So, dear L.A. cable TV subscribers, enjoy the Lakers and Dodgers because you’ve paid admission.

Find R.D. Byron-Smith’s books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and all online booksellers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Our Gal Reports From White House Violent Extremist Conference


 (Editor’s Note: Once in a while I like to turn this blog over to a young, aspiring writer. Today Alice Paradee, a California private college sophomore, reports on her attendance at the White House’s “violent extremist” conference in Washington.)

  

By A. Paradee

 I attended all discussion panels put on by the White House and State Department. Sessions were as diverse as Violent Extremists in the Oil & Gas Industries to Violent Extremist Police Officers, which focused on the case of Christopher Dorner, a fired cop who declared “asymmetrical” war on the Los Angeles Police Department in 2013. I’ve got to say, however, that I really liked the session, attended by school kids, called, Violent Extremists in the Kindergarten: Finger-painting, Slapping and Biting in the Classroom.

President Obama gave a speech at the beginning of the conference and said, “Through presentations, panel discussions, and small group interactions, participants will build on local, state, and federal government; community; and international efforts to better understand, identify, and prevent the cycle of radicalization to violence at home in the United States and abroad.” The President also attended sessions and was nice enough to answer questions from participants.

Here’s a couple questions he fielded at the Kindergarten Violence discussion.

President Obama: “I’ll call on the young man in the plaid Parochial School uniform.”

“Mr. President Obama, this is my Catholic School uniform.”

The President: “Son, I don’t want to bring religion into this conference discussion. Now what is your question?”

“My name is Mark and a bully at my parochial school named Luke takes my milk money. Is he a violent extremist?”

The President: “Oh, and one of the first order, Mark. I know from experience about extremist bullies. At my Madrassa there was this bully named Atta-Atta Etcetera and he would take my lunch money. . . .”

Mark: “What’s a Ma, Madrassa?”

The President: “A Muslim school, but . . . .”

Mark: “. . . You went to a Muslim school?”

The President: “Yes, but . . . .”

Mark: “Are you a Muslim?”

The President: “Young man, that question has been sufficiently answered by my friends in the media.”

Mark: “Okay, Mr. President . . . You were telling me about Atta-Atta taking your nickels for milk. . . .”

The President: “Yes. Now I won’t call Atta-Atta a Muslim extremist, that would be, well, just extremely wrong. But your bully Luke and my bully Atta-Atta are examples of playground extremists.”

Mark: “What can I do about my bully?”

The President: “Well, unlike me, you cannot call in a drone. (Laughter in the room.) What you need in this instance is a coalition. A group of students, teachers and administrators to sit and talk about this problem. Hold a conference, in other words.”

Mark: “What if they’re unwilling to attack the problem?”

The President: “What problem? I’ll take another question. The woman in the hijab.”

“President Obama. My name is Anisha . . . .”

The President: “. . . Oh, yes, the ‘deep thinker.’”

Anisha: “Thank you, sir. I want to know why you won’t call Islamic terrorists, Islamic terrorists?”

The President: “As I have said fifty seven thousand, two hundred and ten times previously, it is because there is nothing Islamic about these terrorists. They are violent extremists. That makes it fifty seven thousand, two hundred and eleven. Let’s not get caught up in this Islamophobia of Fox News.”

Anisha: “How can I be Islamophobic? I’m Muslim. I call these savages who cut people’s heads off Islamic terrorists. I am willing to, as a Muslim. You’re not a Muslim and you are unwilling to. It makes no sense to me. I do this because these terrorists are also Islamic. Obviously only a few Muslims are Islamic extremists, but we should still call them what they are. If a man who lives in New York murders another, do we call him a New Yorker or a murderer?”

The President: “You are a clever one, Anisha, but calling them Islamic is like calling the leader of the Inquisition, Tomas de Torquemada, a Catholic.”

Anisha: “He was Catholic, sir.”

The President: “Don’t get on your high horse, with me.”

***

I also attended the session titled, Extremists in Congress: The Threat of the Tea Party and other Teabaggers. (A personal note: House Speaker John Boehner attended, and he looks just as orange in person as he does on TV.) After President Obama announced he was giving a presidential freedom medal to Lois Lerner, the IRS official who allegedly sicced revenuers on the Tea Party, he took questions.

The President: “Over here, the young man in the yarmulke.”

“Mr. President my name is Sidney and I was frankly saddened when I heard your spokesman say the Islamic terrorist in Paris who killed people in the Jewish market chose his target at random. How can you say such a thing?”

The President: “There is no evidence of it, and you know I was a law professor. There is insufficient evidence that he selected this Paris market by any means other than by randomness.”

Sidney: “But, Mr. President, the store is named HyperCacher!”

The President: “So what? It could have been Safeway.”

Sidney: “HyperCacher means Super Kosher, you know like in kosher food for Jews.”

The President: “Hey, I know people in New York City who shop at Jewish delis and they aren’t Jewish.”

Sidney: “Still, sir, with all due respect, it was Super Kosher. Do you honestly believe he would have shot up a store named the Mecca Market?”

The President: “Extremists in the Middle East kill Muslims, too. Just the other day 21 Egyptians were beheaded.”

Sidney: “They were Coptic Christians, Mr. President.”

The President: “Oh, my staff just called them Egyptians. Let’s turn to another questioner. Up here in the front. You – the man dressed like a Republican.”

“Mr. President, Sir, I want to continue on the point of your reluctance to call a spade a spade.”

The President: “Why inject race into this?”

“Mr. President, I didn’t – you did. You and your Attorney General Mr. Holder do that a lot! Besides, the English expression to ‘call a spade, a spade’ comes from classical antiquity’s phrase to ‘call a fig, a fig’ and had nothing to do with race. It was later changed to ‘call a spade a spade,’ referring to a gardening tool and not, I might add, to a deck of playing cards. The phrase has been used race-neutrally by such authors as Dickens and W. Somerset Maugham. It has no ethnicity to it. It means, Mr. President, to tell it like it is.”

The President: “I don’t need a professorial lecture from you. What’s your question?”

“Why won’t you call Islamic terrorists, Islamic terrorists? They are Islamic, like the young woman said at the last panel discussion, and terrorists. What do you call the Muslim gunman who killed those people in Denmark the other day?”

The President: “He was born in Denmark. That makes him a Danish extremist. Do I have to sign an executive order to get you people to understand the concept?”

***

The session on Violent Extremists Who Bomb Government Buildings got sparse attendance, and there was a complete retelling of the 1996 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people, which, it was pointed out, is still the worst case of domestic terrorism in the United States. The session also focused on the Ku Klux Klan and Southern church bombings.

President Obama: “So as we have seen, all faiths have their violent extremists, and many, many, many of them have been homegrown in the United States of America. And let us not forget the Inquisition. For the next question I’ll call on the mother, holding the little cherub.”

“President Obama, I am a devout Christian and mother of four children, and this is my daughter, little Mary. The Islamic terrorist group called ISIS is using the Internet to recruit young minds, and as many as a thousand a month are heading to the Middle East to wage jihad and behead people, just like they do in the video games they play. What can we do about this?”

The President: “Finally, a good question and I have a good answer. I have thought this one through in the Oval Office with my closest advisors. . . . We need to raise the minimum wage. ISIS gets millions in oil money and extortion money and pays its young violent extremists well. We must stay competitive in the global economy. A higher minimum wage will keep our youngsters at home. I have time for one more. Yes, you, to my left. By the way, haven’t I seen you on You Tube? Yes, you’re the lady who collects skins of rattlesnakes in Arizona, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. President, all reptiles shed their skins. It’s called ecdysis. My specialty is the rattlesnake.”

The President: “Anything so venomous gives me the willies. (Shy laughter in the room.) I’d rather just stay away, and let the thing slither off where it wants. What is your name and what is your question?”

“I’m called Valerie the Rattlesnake Lady, and I watched a video of a Jordanian bomber pilot being burned alive by ISIS. Did you see that?”

The President: “To be honest, I averted my eyes.”

Valerie: “Mr. President, I was looking at the program for this conference and I like the titles, like Violent Extremism in George Bush’s Texas; Violent Extremism in the Bible Belt; and Violent Extremism on Wheat Farms in the Pacific Northwest. But I don’t see anything about the violence on our urban streets, such as Chicago, where blacks shoot and murder thousands of blacks. Isn’t that violent extremism, too?”

The President: “Valerie, Valerie, Valerie. This is the second time today somebody has thrust race into this conference. This black-on-black thing is a rightwing canard, and frankly, racist. You don’t hear Jesse Jackson and my buddy Al Sharpton talking about this, do you? The blacks you refer to, well, they are simply squabbling over turf. Whites did it in the Old West; you’ve heard of range wars, haven’t you?”

Valerie: “But, Mr. President, isn’t ISIS fighting over turf?”

The President: “I want to thank everyone for attending today. I have got to go to my last session, Violent Extremism in Rural America’s Work Place.”

***

The discussion group on Workplace Violence was very well attended, indeed, and the President introduced several of his Staff that were there and he thanked them for the conference, which he called “the greatest conference on violent extremism ever held in the modern era.” He also said it only proves that “the meeting is mightier than the sword.” I personally didn’t like the phrase, but I noticed the President wasn’t using a teleprompter at the time, and I figured it was just him talking off the top of his head. Several rural work place violence cases were gone over in minute detail, including one where a Muslim who had photos of Osama bin Laden on his Facebook page had cut off the head of a fellow worker, a woman, ISIS-style at a food factory in Oklahoma. Afterwards President Obama opened it to a few questions. (He made a quip about a golf tee time, which brought chuckles, mostly from his staff.)

“Mr. President, my name is George, and as you can see by my uniform I am a member of the United States military, and proud of it. I know there has been a lot talk here today, but isn’t it time we go over there and kick some ISIS butt?” (Heavy applause followed.)

The President: “It’s lowly corporal, right?”

George: “Yes, sir, and at your command, sir.”

The President: “We have a vast coalition doing that, already. The other day I watched a pick-up truck being blown up by a laser-guided bomb. It’s really cool, there’s this big video screen in the Oval Office. I mean the explosions are really big. We’re kicking serious butt right now, Corporal George. We’ll destroy ISIS one pick-up at a time.”

George: “How many do they have, sir?”

The President: “I haven’t the foggiest. . . . Let me take another question. The man in the lab coat, up front here.”

“President Obama, my name is Dr. Smith, as in Medical Doctor – none of that Ph.D. crap.”

The President: “. . . Or, Juris Doctor, I imagine.”

Dr. Smith, M.D.: “Right. My question is this: During the panel discussion you kept referring to the case of Army psychiatrist, Dr. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in August 2013, as workplace violence.”

The President: “Because that’s what it was!”

Dr. Smith, M.D.: “Sir, I mean no disrespect whatsoever, but even Dr. Hasan admits he was waging jihad.”

The President: “He murdered co-workers. Not on a battlefield. It was workplace violence. Period.” (President looks at his watch.)

Dr. Smith, M.D.: “Okay, whatever. But if Dr. Nidal isn’t an Islamic terrorist, what do you call him?”

The President: “A violent and extreme psychiatrist.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

NCAA's Punt On Secrecy Flops


The secrecy freaks at the NCAA have failed in their ridiculous attempt to foist their Star Chamber rules on the rest of us.

A California appellate court ruled Friday state law requires that documents in the NCAA’s investigation of USC running back Reggie Bush remain unsealed.
 
The ruling came in a defamation lawsuit filed in 2011 by a former University of Southern California assistant football coach against the National Collegiate Athletic Association after the NCAA punished him in its investigation of Bush, who was looked into for allegedly receiving cash and other prohibited benefits while playing college football.

After appealing NCAA sanctions against him, Todd McNair sued the NCAA for defamation. Significantly a trial judge gave him permission to examine the association’s Bush investigation file, about 400 pages. As a result, the NCAA sought to seal the records from the public, and the trial judge refused.

The Los Angeles Superior Court judge who reviewed the records ruled that e-mails between NCAA representatives in the case “tend to show ill will or hatred” and said the conduct was “over the top” and “malicious,” which could certainly be interpreted to help McNair’s legal case.

The NCAA, which represents 1,200 colleges and universities, then asked an appeals court to keep the records secret, saying that NCAA investigations of colleges and student athletes for rules violations are always kept under wraps and not made public. The NCAA found out Friday that its secrecy rules might work fine in a monarchy, but not in the public courts of California.

California’s rules of court provide that judicial records are presumed open to public inspection unless a litigant can show a compelling reason to seal them. In its ruling, a three-judge appellate court said the NCAA had not provided a convincing case for sealing the Bush investigation documents.

The Los Angeles-area justices noted California’s tradition of court openness and cited California Supreme Court rulings codifying it. The NCAA failed to “carry its burden to demonstrate that its interest in the confidentiality of its enforcement proceedings overrides the constitutional right of access and the presumption of openness,” the justices said in the opinion.

In summing up, the justices got around to the real legal issue at stake.

“We are cognizant that the NCAA, whose mission is to promote intercollegiate amateur athletics, provides an important public service,” they wrote in the ruling. “However, our analysis is based on the First Amendment. The constitutional right of public access to, and the presumption of openness of, documents submitted at trial (are) designed to protect the integrity of our judicial system.”
 
In other words, the NCAA obsession with secrecy stops at the courthouse steps.
 

R.D. Byron-Smith’s books are available at all online booksellers.