Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Home of the free, land of the dumb

By Bob Gaydos
What a dumb-a** effin’ country we live in.
It’s a struggle each week just to keep track of all the stupid s**t that goes on. I even feel obliged to start this column with obscenities because I want to reach all those under-40 readers who, thanks to today’s culture, don’t think you’re angry unless you say you’re p***ed.
Well, I’m p***ed. And I will try vent that anger while trying to refrain from further colorful language in honor of, well, the English language. (And there’s a concept we have stupidly abandoned, but I digress.)
Exhibit Number One, this week and for the past several weeks: In what civilized universe is the field of presidential candidates put forth by the Republican Party considered anything but an insult to the intelligence?
How are such proven intellectual lightweights as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry still considered to be possible presidential timber? Is balsa wood the new oak? Is Rick Santorum fit to play with other children?
Is Herman Cain -- who once ran a pizza company not as many people had previously heard of as he would lead you to believe and who apparently doesn‘t know where Libya is -- to be believed when he denies four allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior and one 13-year-long extra-marital affair? Are the evangelical, family-values voters who wag the GOP tail really OK with that?
And when Cain’s lawyer says, in response to the allegation of an affair: “This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults — a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public,” do the morally superior right-wingers buy it, or do they remember that the same argument did Democratic President Bill Clinton little good when House Republicans impeached him?
And how dumb is this: The man who led the charge against Clinton then is now said to be the leading GOP candidate, largely because of Cain’s mounting personal problems. No one can call Newt Gingrich dumb -- he won’t let you. But how preposterous is it that he rises on the ashes of Cain’s marital problems?
For those too young to remember: Gingrich has been married three times, but it’s not the numbers that count here. He dumped his first wife, who was his former math teacher, for his second wife while the first wife was in the hospital recovering from surgery for uterine cancer. The compassionate Gingrich served the divorce papers on her in her hospital bed. He then dumped his second wife, who was stricken with MS, for a much younger wife. He was having an affair with this woman at the same time he was leading the congressional campaign against Clinton for adultery.
Yet Gingrich gets the bounce from Cain’s fall over morality? Apparently so, because, unlike most of the rest of the filed, Newt knows about Libya and all those other countries and the budget stuff, too. And, although he has good reason to do so, he hasn’t lied about his first name, like Mitt Romney did. The smiling, white bread whatever-you-say-I-agree- with candidate insisted in a debate that “Mitt” is his first name, when it is actually Willard. That is consistent with his lack of credibility on every issue, yet there he is, still the favorite candidate nobody in the GOP wants.
Tell me that’s not dumb. (We’re leaving the not-dumb Ron Paul out of this discussion because the Republicans always do.)
And what about the governor of Kansas? If you do Twitter, you probably heard that a high school senior in Prairie Village, Kansas, was summoned to the principal’s office and told to apologize to Gov. Sam Brownback for comments she made about him after attending a youth conference at which he spoke. The 18-year-old coed tweeted: "Just made mean comments at Gov. Brownback and told him he sucked, in person, #heblowsalot."
See what I mean about language? Anyway, the girl never actually said that to Brownback, just sent it out to her small group of followers, but the governor’s top aide felt it necessary to monitor social media reaction to the governor and felt the comments were not “respectful.” Duh. She called the school and demanded an apology. Dumb and dumber. The girl, no dummy, said no. First Amendment. The governor backed down and apologized to her. Her Twitter following grew from 60 to 8,000 overnight.
You want another one from last week -- the idiot who pepper-sprayed fellow shoppers on Black Friday to get first shot a new X Box. I thought we were stuck in a post-recession economic malaise, but apparently Americans, lacking jobs and losing their homes, felt patriotic and spent billions last week on gadgets and high tech appliances to pump up the economy.
Which bring us back to politics and all those liberals and independents who are giving President Obama so much grief for not being all they think he should be. Have you guys looked at the sorry field of opponents mentioned above? Have you forgotten that, without any help from Republicans in Congress, he passed health care reform, banking reform and tuition reform, repealed don’t ask/don’t tell, got rid of Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi, effectively ended the war in Iraq, and extended billions in aid to Americans who really were suffering from loss of jobs and/or homes?
Do you think any of those guys would have or could have done any of that? Do you think any of them would do anything but serve their rich benefactors -- at the expense of the rest of us -- if elected president? When he is under attack from the narrow-minded, mean-spirited, anti-intelligence forces controlling the GOP today, the president needs help from his friends, not more self-centered criticism. This is not Utopia. This is America 2011.
Dumb a**es.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NBA players more occupied with greed

By Bob Gaydos
Having spent most of five decades tracking, reporting and commenting on the news of the day, I have developed a routine, a defense mechanism actually, for dealing with those days when the news is just too damn depressing. I turn to the sports page.
Of course, in the past couple of decades, sports news has been far from the guaranteed escape from the real world it once was. Some of that is probably due to my evolution as a human being (leaving behind childish things, etc.), but most of it I am sure has to do with the devolution of sports from fun and games to law and order. Hue and cry. Sturm und drang. Sue or be sued. Pick your couplet.
Monday (Nov. 14) was one of those days. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for some reason decided to go Big Brother on the Occupy Wall Street protestors, sending in hundreds of police before dawn to break up the Zuccotti Park encampment while preventing legitimate news media from covering the action and even arresting several reporters. Instead of trying to talk to protestors and resolve complaints about the occupation, the mayor and police used the oldest and lamest of excuses for their illegal actions against the press -- it was for their safety. Right. Just like tossing the protestors belongings into dumpsters was for their health and well-being.
What with police on the West Coast dealing with Occupy movements by beating Iraq War veterans and college students and using tear gas as if they had a quota to meet, I needed a break.
I turned to sports.
Thanks for nothing, NBA players union.
On that very Monday that thousands of Americans across the country, ranging from college students to retirees, union and non-union, encompassing all census classifications -- the truly average Americans -- were being manhandled for protesting against the profound economic inequities that have turned so many of their dreams into nightmares and bullied a once model political system into becoming an obedient servant of wealthy masters, the very talented, privileged and self-absorbed players of the National Basketball Association rejected an offer from team owners to share half the income derived from playing basketball.
That’s a long sentence; let it sink in.
Not only did the players reject the latest offer from the owners, but they also decided to decertify their union and sue the league under anti-trust laws. We can start with how dumb this is by noting that, with no union, the owners say there are no contracts and, thus, no pay checks. For most Americans, this is considered a powerful incentive to work out a deal, but apparently not for pro basketball players.
That may have to do with the fact that the average salary of an NBA player is about $5.5 million a year. That’s an average, which means even the guy who only gets to play when the game is out of hand, is a borderline millionaire.
What the players did not consider, however, was the impact of their decision on all the other people -- the 99% that the Occupiers are demonstrating for -- who will also lose their jobs if there is no NBA season. No games means no need for concessions, no maintenance crew, no security, no ticket sellers, no locker room employees, no trainers, maybe even no office personnel for teams with smaller bankrolls. And of course, no games.
The irony of their action, taking place in Manhattan not far from the OWS crackdown, was lost on these young millionaires, locked in a struggle with billionaires over how to divvy up the loot from their overpriced tickets. I will go out on a limb here and state that probably not one of the NBA players -- multi-millionaires to borderline millionaires -- was part of that 1% of wealthiest Americans before signing a contract to play professional basketball. I don’t ever remember reading a story about some really rich kid deciding to play pro ball. If someone else has, please let me know. No, they were, I feel secure in saying, rock solid members of the 99%. And not long ago, either.
Instead of arguing with the team owners -- who will survive a lost season but who do after all have a right to try to control their product and get a fair return on their considerable investments -- the NBA players could have taken a cue from other labor unions and marched with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Imagine Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James walking with the OWS throng and speaking out for the need to regulate the way large financial institutions deal with other people’s money. Calling for a lessening of the power rich corporations have over politicians. Demanding that those who caused the worldwide economic crisis be prevented from continuing to profit on it while others pay the price in lost jobs and homes.
“Hello 99 per centers! We stand with you! We have been fortunate to become successful and be rewarded financially for God-given talents, but we came from you and we understand your frustration and anger with the inequities in our society. It is time for our elected leaders to work for the benefit of the 99%, as well as for the 1% who finance their campaigns. Indeed, it is time for all of us to set aside selfish demands and begin to work for the common good. We are going back to playing basketball, which is what we do, so that others can go back to doing what they do. And we told the team owners we would take a smaller percentage of the profits if they reduced the price of tickets. Whaddya say, owners?”
Can you imagine the response? The players would be real heroes. Unfortunately, for the players at least, that didn’t happen. They’re still looking for more money and are not playing basketball. Fortunately, for the rest of us in the 99%, the Occupiers understand the situation and are committed to fighting for a larger goal -- a more equitable society for everyone, whether they can dunk a basketball or not.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Legend or no, Joe Pa had to go

By Bob Gaydos
The lead on the Associated Press story Wednesday afternoon was straightforward and shocking at the same time: “STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who preached success with honor for half a century but whose legend was shattered by a child sex abuse scandal, said Wednesday he will retire at the end of this season.”
At the end of the season? Is he kidding? Are they kidding? Are the trustees of Penn State going to let Paterno, living legend or no, get away with that?
Those were my italicized thoughts immediately on reading the AP story, after following nearly 24 hours of non-stop coverage of the Penn State scandal, not only on radio and TV sports talk shows, but on network and cable TV news shows and on the front page of every newspaper in the country.
“Joe Pa,” the 84-year-old face of Penn State was, as usual, setting his own terms for when he would leave his beloved university. Or at least he was trying to. But this time, Standup Joe, as he is also lovingly known around State College, had no leg to stand on. That he was still football coach Wednesday afternoon was an upset in itself. For him to be allowed to coach on the weekend against Nebraska and then stay on to the end of the season would be the most profound insult to the alleged victims of the assaults and their families and would tarnish even more the image of Penn State.
The issue in this case is simple: What legal and moral responsibility did Paterno, as head coach and de facto king of Penn State, have in protecting young boys from sexual assaults from one of his coaches? Again, quoting from the AP story: “Paterno said he was "absolutely devastated" by the case, in which his one-time heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years, including at the Penn State football complex.”
Paterno reported an allegation of such an assault nine years ago to the university’s athletic director after Mike McQueen, a graduate assistant on the football team who said he saw Sandusky in the shower at the university with a 10-year-old boy, reported it to the coach. Legally, McQueen and Paterno apparently feel they did all they had to do.
Maybe so. That’s for the state attorney general to decide. Morally it’s a different matter. And the answer is clear: No, neither man did all that needed to be done. The assistant coach did not try to stop whatever was going on in the shower. Instead, he called his father who told him to leave. They talked about it and told Paterno the next day. Paterno told the AD. Nine years later -- during which time Sandusky continued to operate a foundation to serve underprivileged young boys and continued to be seen around Penn State -- Sandusky was arrested and athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were charged with failing to report the incident to the authorities.
But there was Paterno, several times a target for those who thought he was too old to coach and should retire and now holding the record for most football wins among Division I schools, still on Wednesday afternoon attempting to dictate the terms of his retirement.
It is an arrogance and sense of entitlement that no serious board of trustees can allow to succeed. Paterno made much during his tenure of holding his football players to higher standards, morally, than coaches at other schools. It is part of what created his legend. Failing to notify police authorities for nine years, during which time school officials made it clear they weren’t going to pursue legal action against Curley, was more than a lapse in judgment, it was a profound moral lapse. Or maybe the image Paterno has projected all these years was false.
Whatever the case, Paterno and school officials suggest by their callous disregard for the boys and potential future victims that protecting the reputation of the school comes first and, at Penn State, the football reputation trumps all.
It is sad, it is troubling, it is infuriating. In this day and age, there are still adults who do not recognize that there is a moral obligation to do everything possible to protect the most vulnerable among us from predators -- even when to do so may harm other people and institutions we hold close. Sometimes we are indeed our brothers’ keepers.
Retire at the end of the season? No way. Joe Pa should have retired Wednesday afternoon. He was fired Wednesday night. Finally, the trustees reclaimed control of Penn State.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

In jail with Kayvan Sabeghi

Note: This article was first posted No. 5. An investigation of Sabeghi's treatment by Oakland police is under way.

(A second Iraq War veteran was seriously injured in Oakland after a run-in with police using tear gas and other riot control measures in connection with Occupy Oakland. What follows is a first-hand account of the man’s treatment in an Oakland jail.)

By Max Gaydos
I was arrested on the night of Nov. 2 along with about 100 others from Occupy Oakland, charged with failing to disperse. After being processed and booked and placed in several different holding cells at an Oakland jail, I met Kayvan Sabeghi (photo).
He had been making phone calls, trying to post bail and it seemed like he’d be out soon. They told him his bail would post in four to six hours and he slouched into a sitting/sleeping spot on a bench like the 20 or so others occupying the cell. Some of us were awake and talked with him about what his charges were. He told us he was charged with assault on an officer and how the police actually just beat him
Some time later, I noticed how sweaty and clammy he was, with his arms clenching his stomach. He stumbled to the window and pleaded for medical help. He was disregarded. Those of us in the cell witnessing this naturally wanted to help. How one can ignore such obvious pain and need for help is sickening. One kid banged on the cell door until the on-duty officer came around to tell him to stop making so much noise. Clearly skeptical of the many pleas for medical assistance coming from the cell, the officer opened the door and made it clear he felt we were wasting his time.
By this point, Kayvan had collapsed to the floor at the officer’s feet and was saying things like, “I can’t breathe,” “my whole f…ng stomach,” “Dude, I’m passing out, I’m passing out, I’m just passing out.”
I don’t know if he ever did pass out, but it was enough for the officer to ask him what his name was. Speech was coming with difficultly for Kayvan, but he managed to answer. He then began throwing up what looked like stomach acid. The officer asked for someone to bring over a garbage pail. A nurse did so and asked other rudimentary questions, though Kayvan was still not getting the amount of attention he surely seemed to need.
Lying on the floor, hovering around his puddles of puke, he answered all the questions. Then they shut the cell door and he crawled down the corridor out of sight. A janitor pushing a mop bucket rattled down the hallway.
Later, the officer came back to talk to those in our cell. He told us to let him do his job and to not make it harder for him. He asked if any of us had any kind of medical degree to qualify us to handle or even comment on how he handled the situation. A resounding silence he understood to mean no. But we all had taken Kayvan at his word.
* * *
Here is a link to a report on Kayvan Sabeghi by The Guardian:
Later reports in the San Francisco Chronicle said Sabeghi, 32, “told members of Iraq Veterans Against the War that he was beaten with nightsticks on his hands, shoulders, ribs and back by police or Alameda County sheriff's deputies. He suffered internal injuries, including a lacerated spleen, he told the group. Emily Yates, a member of the group, said Sabeghi was awake and alert when she visited him at the hospital Friday. Sabeghi identified himself as a veteran, Yates said.”

Max Gaydos, a native of Scotchtown, is an art student on leave from SUNY Purchase, currently living in Oakland.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Endings, happy and otherwise

By Bob Gaydos
There is an art to ending things -- careers, relationships, jokes, movies, books, TV shows and yes, even lives.
As a rule, most of us pay too little attention to figuring out how to end something, perhaps because we just don’t like to think about it when we‘re in the middle of whatever it is. The result is most often boring, routine. Hardly artistic.
“Thanks for the 35 years, Joe. Hope your 401k holds up.”
“I, uh, think maybe we should spend a little less time together.”
“He died in his sleep. He was 77.”
In truth, just as we give little thought to how to end our own things, we seldom notice other people’s endings, except when someone gets it unmistakably right (“Casablanca,” Johnny Carson or “The Usual Suspects”), or painfully wrong (“The Sopranos,” Joe Louis or Brett Favre).
Take Kim and Kris Kardashian. I mean, uh, Humphries. Or rather, Kim Kardashian and Kris “What the Heck Happened to My Life” Humphries. After a mere 72 days of marriage, the TV reality star announced her marriage to the pro basketball player was done.
"After careful consideration,” she said in a prepared statement, “I have decided to end my marriage. I hope everyone understands this was not an easy decision. I had hoped this marriage was forever but sometimes things don't work out as planned. We remain friends and wish each other the best."
Careful consideration? Sometimes thing don’t work out? 72 days? That’s quick even for Liz and Zsa Zsa, although well off Britney’s record.
Humphries says he was “blindsided” and found out about it from a TV show. Either this was the worst example of how to end a marriage or the cleverest ploy to juice the ratings for a TV show. Or, as I suspect, both.
Humphries, an oak tree of a rebounder for the New Jersey, soon-to-be-Brooklyn, Nets, comes off looking like a grade A schlemiel in this. He bought her a ring for $2 million, is a free agent in a sport whose owners have locked out the players and he may not see a paycheck for a year, and, well, he apparently never really got the whole Kardashian created-for-TV family empire.
When nothing is too personal, too sensitive or too intimate to share with millions of strangers, then someone is bound to get hurt. Kardashian has had a sex tape posted on the web and had her famous behind X-rayed to prove it was not enhanced. )“Mom, Dad, you know Kim …“) Her stepfather, former Olympic star Bruce Jenner, has had his face remodeled beyond recognition to blend in. The wedding, every bit of it shown on TV, cost $10 million, but some reports say the family made a profit on it from all the media deals.
And, of course, they had a pre-nup.
Kardashian filed for divorce Oct. 31, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Considering that Humphries is two feet taller than her, that should have been obvious from the start. Even so, it would have been nice -- dare I say, decent -- if, before telling the Twitter world about the divorce, Kim had given Kris the news face-to-face (sitting down), without any cameras. But then, that would not have been the Kardashian way.
On the other hand, there is the Tony La Russa way of saying goodbye. Aces all around for the St. Louis Cardinals’ longtime manager, who guided his team through a remarkable end of season comeback that put them in the World Series and saw them winning it thanks to more remarkable comebacks. No sooner had the cheering and champagne ceased in America’s heartland, than La Russa announced he was retiring. Bam! On top. Winner of his third World Series as a manager. Sayonara baseball.
He wasn‘t sticking around to hear any more criticisms of his sometimes odd moves in the series. No more reading about his control freak nature in dealing with pitchers. No more having to put up with reporters who want to ask annoying questions after every game. Pack my bags, I’m bound for Cooperstown.
And so he is and, control freak that he really is, he did it on his own terms. You gotta give him credit for that.
But for sheer genius, the award for the classiest ending in recent weeks has to go to the certified genius who left us far too soon, Steve Jobs. The man behind the Apple empire and all it has spawned, died of cancer last month at 56. In a eulogy delivered during a memorial service, his sister revealed Jobs’ final words: “Wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!"
Move over “Rosebud.” We have a new winner.