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Category Archives: Those Government Morons are at it Again – Politics

The Near-Juror

The Near-Juror

I’m not an anarchist, but I’m damn near. My problems with the idea of overly large and restrictive governments and unregulated corporations (which I consider nothing but governments with money) started with the law when Bush Junior made a national fiasco out of arresting a group of my friends and then turning them into case point A for why Iraq needed FREEDOM! I’m not sure if we can safely say that the legal system in the United States itself is a given. What IS a given is the fact that everyone thinks it’s totally fucked up. The precise WAY in which it’s fucked up depends entirely on who you ask, but it’s a given mess. The strange thing is that for all the complaining people like to do about it, no one seems to want to have any part of trying to clean it all up. I’m not going to haughtily declare myself above the knaves right now and go around shaming everyone. I am, in fact, not that much different. After returning from my holiday visit to my family in California, I wasn’t exactly enthused when I saw a jury summons from the district court of Lynnwood sitting on my bed.

My first thought was the same as everyone else’s when they get summoned for jury duty: Whoever’s on trial, I will see them fucking hang!!! My second thought was also the same as everyone else’s: What excuse to get out of this gives me the perfect balance between plausibility and inarguability? Finally, the rational part of my brain managed to break through. It reminded me of something: If anything, I was getting a chance to be an insider in this system I was always griping about. If I wasn’t able to get out of it, why not embrace the opportunity as a chance to keep a wrong from possibly happening?

And I did want to get out of it. Missing two days of work was going to force me to delay a trip overseas I’ve been dying to make as it was, and if that wasn’t enough, I had also just started looking for a new place to live. (The circumstances surrounding this situation were very unique, and will probably show up here sooner or later.) Yes, the courts promise compensation for jurors, but that compensation is rightfully regarded as a joke. It’s about $20 a day. In other words, it’s lunch money for whatever nice cafe or teriyaki joint happens to be across the street. When weighed against my travel plans and the money I was losing, that just wouldn’t do. So I made a couple of cursory calls to the local justice department, only to find out that I had called the wrong number. I was looking for the city court, not the county court, and I had lost the city court’s number. So, having informed my supervisor – who made sure to photocopy my summons – I sucked it up and went in to Lynnwood court.

Going into the court, I first filled out my information. Then I was hauled into the back, where I was placed in a room with about 17 other people. Looking around, I started mentally practicing my Henry Fonda juror speech as I sat there doing nothing else. I think the court wanted to make sure the jury was free of possible outside influence, because there weren’t even any courtesy magazines. Me and all the others waited for what felt like an eternity, and I tried to ebb the flow of self-doubt questions going through my head: Would I be able to do the right thing if I thought everybody else was wrong? Would I tell a few inadvertent lies when questioned in order to make a last ditch effort to get out of it? Id I really want to involve myself in a case for someone I never knew existed, and would never see again?

When it was time to do the movie and television show thing where we all answered whether or not we had the stuff to be a juror, everyone was taken into the courtroom at the same time. The case was explained to us, and the folks who invented this system clearly weren’t idiots; they’re not going to ask us why we think we’d be good jurors, because probably a few too many people regaled them with that handy line about being able to tell if someone is guilty just by looking at them. So what they did was give us the skinny on the situation and ask the entire group questions at the same time. Answers were a few words, tops. The Judge seemed to be a pretty cool guy. He had a sense of humor about his field, explaining that we weren’t jurors just yet. We were merely members of the veneer, and six jurors would be chosen depending on the way we answered the questions they asked. “Leave it to lawyers to invent a fancy French term for a phrase,” he said. The lawyers weren’t quite as endearing, and I got the feeling that one of them was trying to make his entire case right on the spot.

After the little getting-to-know-you/questioning session, we were all placed into the back room again, and I sat there and soaked up the scenery. The most incredible thing was how prevalent the people who wanted to escape were, and how open they were about wanting to get the hell out. During my second visit to Lynnwood court, there was an old guy there who was griping about the fact that he was asked to show up at all. All the times he had been summoned to the court, and he had never been needed before because all the cases he had been summoned for were settled out of court. There was another, slightly younger than me, who was bragging about the subtle missteps he had taken on purpose in order to get everyone to see him as an unfit juror. He didn’t seem satisfied that they would let him off for sure.

We spent between 30 and 45 minutes sitting there, in all our awkwardness, thinking about whether or not we’d be picked to be on the jury. There wasn’t any discussion about who did what, or any discussion of the case at all, although we did take points away from one of the lawyers for trying to make the case for his client right during the selection process. During my second visit, one of the other possible jurors talked about his experience being a juror previously. It hadn’t been so bad, he said. The entire case was settled in maybe and hour and a half. Of course, a short resolution was expected in a small civil court like Lynnwood’s. The first case I was summoned for was a case of reckless driving. The second was driving while intoxicated. The first was civil, the second criminal. But it didn’t change the fact that no one was going to be acting as a so-called peer in a major murder trial.

After being taken back out into the courtroom, the Judge started making his announcements: Six people were called forward and told to take their seats in the jury’s section. I missed out both times. One of the jurors called the second time was a man who said he had been called up once before, and he ended up serving on both juries. I was waiting with some form of anticipation during the second trial, as I thought I gave an answer which would have shooed me right in, but my name was never called, and I was free to head out. That was really the part of the entire adventure that everyone was dreading the most. I didn’t spot or speak to a single person who was interested in being a part of the jury, and most of them took offense to the fact that they had even been required to show up in the first place.

The look on the old man’s face during my second visit to the courtroom was one I’ll never forget. He had gotten called up as a juror, and lord, did he look pissed.



The Hijacking of Political Incorrectness

The Hijacking of Political Incorrectness

This is the reason I hate trying to attach labels to myself which sum up my belief systems in one word: Every label I’ve ever used has been sullied in some way. I don’t think there’s a political party out there I haven’t identified with and left in disgust. I consider myself an atheist, but have one or two churches in Chicago that I consider spiritual homes. I was a Christian at one time, Muslim another time. I’m a tree hugger, free trader who believes in local capitalism, pacifist who supports the military, health nut and organic food supporter who believes people should have the right to eat whatever junk they please, and professional sports buff who thinks all teams in all sports leagues should be forced to pay for their own goddamned playing fields while the cities are freed of exorbitant league entry fees.

It looks now like I’m soon going to be forced to remove myself of a long-lasting label I’ve always worn with pride: Politically incorrect. Somehow, political incorrectness has been hijacked by the very people who forced me to wear it in the first place: A bunch of tradition-thumping rednecks who grabbed on and clung for dear life as politically incorrect and first amendment rights became the automatic rallying cries for people upset over the fact society at large isn’t letting them be bigots anymore.

If you’ve been paying any kind of attention over the last week, you know the name Donald Sterling is now cause celebre among even people who take pride in not following professional sports. Sterling is a bigot who happens to have a ton of money which he poured into the NBA team he owned until last week, the Los Angeles Clippers. Sterling sounding off about black people is no surprise to those with any knowledge about the NBA. Even when he took over the team back in the 80’s, the other owners tried to vote him out. Unfortunately, they appear to have gave up that fight after 1982 because money talks and the Clippers were rolling in it, in spite of being the poster boys of bad basketball for almost all of Sterling’s tenure. Sterling was finally caught on tape reaming out a woman who may or may not be his mistress because he hated the idea of her hanging out with black people. The fans and players in the league rebelled, and commissioner Adam Silver acted decisively by throwing Sterling out of the league. It was the right move.

Where political correctness enters into the equation is with the people who are terrible enough to come to Sterling’s defense. They’re trying to turn Sterling into a martyr on some kind of misguided first amendment principle, and bitching about the girl recording the conversation. The common argument is being made everywhere on the internet – big shock, I know – and, pathetically, in print. The basic idea is that Sterling got slammed for his political incorrectness, and that he should fight the NBA and be granted his team back. It’s coming mainly from the people who do the most griping about personal responsibility, but then again, those who complain about personal responsibility the most these days don’t seem to believe in it a whole lot themselves, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, though, it’s a direct failure of the personal responsibility people to show they’re not just a bunch of stodgy old coots clinging to old-timey beliefs about other races which are as far-flung as they are far-off.

What the hell happened to the political incorrectness that I came to know and embrace? Political incorrectness as I know it doesn’t excuse anyone from being a fucking idiot; in fact, political incorrectness doesn’t work at all if you’re an idiot. If you’re going to go against the romanticized fable forever being coughed up by a group of people with abiding faith in a particularly narrow set of ideals, you damn well better know exactly what you’re talking about. Being politically incorrect is not a buffer against stupidity or being wrong about something. If you do turn out to be wrong about something, you need to take the opportunity to learn a little bit more and acknowledge your mistake, whether or not your stance on the issue at hand needs to be waived.

Political incorrectness, to me, is only the right and ability to question a set of ideals. It doesn’t matter what those ideals are – being politically incorrect is being able to poke holes in a blanket cover of values, forcing the people who abide by those values to go on the defensive. It’s a way of checking reasoning and making sure a group knows exactly what it is they’re trying to get the rest of the world into. In short, it’s the “what if” to the regular “what” of the politically correct.

If political correctness wants something to happen, political incorrectness is there to make sure all possible scenarios are accounted for. Political incorrectness isn’t there to excuse your bigotry or stupidity and free you of the consequences. It was never meant to be a rally for people too dumb to understand science, political science, international relations, or basically anything contradicting what they learned in Milktoastville Public School or the Church of Cowboy Jesus.

Letting Go of the Buffalo Bills

100 years ago, the city of Buffalo, New York was a shining beacon to the entire world. It hosted an enormous festival showcasing its position as a leader in trade, manufacturing, and economics. Buffalo was set to become the New World’s response to none other than Paris, the capitol of France and legendary City of Light. By virtue of the fact that it was the first city in the world to ever be lit up by electrical power, Buffalo was also nicknamed the City of Light. A heavy industrial base and traders moving in and out of the Erie Canal had placed a steady stream of currency through the city, making it one of the richest cities in the world, and as a result Buffalo was home to more millionaires than any other city in the United States. Much of the old architecture still stands, and walking among the beautiful homes dominating areas in the city can really give one a sense of how important Buffalo used to be. Millionaire’s Row on Delaware Avenue still has the giant mansions, though most of them have been turned into offices.

50 years ago, Buffalo reached its peak as an industrial giant. It also reached its peak population of about 580,000 souls. The steel industry was still going strong, and the postwar generation was still creating plenty of wealth and plenty of able bodies were able to come to the city to earn a comfortable living.

20 years ago, Buffalo’s decline had become evident. The largest steel plant in the world, Bethlehem Steel, closed down and the city still hasn’t quite recovered. The population trickle which began upon the end of the local steel industry had turned into a steady stream, the local government was in an eternal stalemate about every possible issue including what they should have for lunch, and city service cutbacks got severe. Yet, Buffalo retained enough people at the time to still be larger than Las Vegas.

Professional football in Buffalo made sense in either of the first two eras. By the third, the Bills were firmly entrenched as a known Buffalo institution and at their apex as a team, in the middle of a record-setting series of Super Bowl runs. Right now, Buffalo, in decline for a half-century, is in a metamorphosis phase: Realizing the death of its usefulness as a world-class city or an industrial giant, the city appears to be trying remake itself once again. The newest phase is an unexpected one considering the rampant poverty and a high school graduation rate of a pathetic 47 percent, but here it is: Between the Nickel City’s unexpected status as an atheist hotbed – the Center For Inquiry, a highly-regarded think tank of atheism known and pushed by some of the most prominent atheists in the world – the sudden emergence of the University of Buffalo Bulls as a power in college basketball, and the growing number of cyclists, bicycle trails, and public bicycle racks, Buffalo apparently has its heart set on becoming a young hip intellectual hub like Austin, Madison, or Louisville. But to help complete this transformation, the city has to come to terms with an idea the staunch old guard finds as unthinkable: The expulsion of the city’s beloved NFL team, the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills, an original AFL team and winner of two titles during the pre-Super Bowl era, are close to the city’s soul. It’s easy to understand why, too: The NFL is the biggest league in the country’s most popular sport, and having an NFL team is a shout-out to the world that your home is a big-time, major metropolis on the national scene. While Buffalo isn’t making it as that anymore, you don’t have to look very far to see how important Buffalo used to be. And this is where the Bills come in; they’re the final, loosely hanging strand connecting the city to its glorious past. Letting them go is understandably upsetting to the old guard, because the walkout of the Bills means the prideful city’s official death as a meaningful place with a known national name.

There’s no more avoiding it. The Buffalo Bills are ready for their stage right exit and everybody knows it, even if they don’t care to acknowledge it. The majority of football fans in the Buffalo area are trying to reassure themselves using a series of poorly constructed – and just as easily destructed – arguments about other small metro areas with football teams. They like to use the examples of Green Bay, Jacksonville, and New Orleans the most, which I don’t get. It’s mostly reassurance, as the arguments revolving around those three cities show a convenient ignorance of football economics. First of all, Jacksonville is in no way a small market. It is a city in which the county government has consolidated into the city government, and so what the so-called experts refer to as a small market is one of the largest cities in the country by population – Jacksonville’s population of over 800,000 is larger than that of popular culture centers like Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle by a considerable margin – and its area makes it the largest city in the country by size; Jacksonville is even larger than Los Angeles. A city like that can’t even approach small.

New Orleans gets mentioned a lot too, but no one ever mentions the fact that the Crescent City still had about twice as many people as Buffalo before Hurricane Katrina blew it away. It’s true that a very large chunk of the population, upon the destruction of their homes, found jobs and places to live during their impromptu moves and stayed in those places. But New Orleans has around 343,000 people right now, which is over 100,000 less than what it was before. But more to the point, New Orleans is a center of unique culture with a strong base in tourism and it’s also home to one of the largest and busiest seaports in the world. A lot of people move through the city and put money into the local economy.

Green Bay is legitimately small. It’s is the smallest market in the NFL and the smallest market on the entire continent with a professional sports team. When the Packers were formed in 1919, Green Bay’s population was around 30,000, and the team has stayed with the very small growth of the little burg in northern Wisconsin. Green Bay’s population didn’t hit six digits until the 2000 census. People make the Green Bay argument by pointing out the team’s ownership by collective, but there are between-the-lines details which need to be chewed on: First of all, the NFL reserves the right strictly for Green Bay and is famously unbending for its rules. Buffalo probably won’t receive collective ownership rights; while the NFL did bend enough to give the Super Bowl to New York City, it also runs its main base in New York City, and New York City has the money. The Packers are supported by fans who buy stock in the team when the team holds stock sales. What no one mentions is that shares of stock are offered for $250 apiece; there are currently 112,015 people – more than the population of Green Bay – who hold close to 1.5 million ownership shares with the Packers. No fan is allowed to hold over 200 shares, and while the shares guarantee voting rights, the redemption price is minimal, no dividends are ever paid, the stock can’t appreciate in value even though private sales frequently exceed the stock’s face value, and stock owners don’t get special ticket benefits. They have to wait in line like everyone else.

Furthermore, the Packers are one of the oldest and most storied and successful teams in the NFL. They are also one of the most popular. Their history includes 13 titles, more than any other team in the league and a solid four more than their closest runner-ups, the Chicago Bears. The Super Bowl trophy was named after one of their coaches, for god’s sake! Over 20 Hall of Famers have been Packers. They have a waiting list of 86,000 names waiting for a chance to go to Lambeau Field to see their idols play in person. The waiting list is said to be over 30 years long, but the team estimates that only 90 tickets a year are turned over and so the actual wait is estimated to exceed a whopping 955 years, so Packers tickets become heirlooms. Every Packers game has been sold out since 1960, an important fact because the Packers endured a long period of sustained horridness on the gridiron between Vince Lombardi’s death and Brett Favre’s years. The Bills just crossed their half-century mark in their existence. To show for it, they have two pre-Super Bowl era titles (1964 and 1965), four straight AFC Titles from the early 90’s, and extended periods as doormats complimented by occasional playoff years and a single period of sustained gridiron excellence from about 1988 to 2000. They sell out a lot, but owner Ralph Wilson has frequently found himself buying out the unsold tickets in order to get the games on local TV stations. Their first real superstar is now publicly seen as a murderer whose lawyer got him off by playing the race card. There’s no way the Bills would ever sell enough stock for a fan ownership collective to work. The mass appeal just isn’t there, and Buffalo natives couldn’t afford it, which kills both the firsthand and secondhand fans of the team as Bills stockholders.

The Bills are killing Buffalo’s future because of the way they dominate the old guard’s mindset. One thing about sports teams is that they tend to cost a lot of money, which is on the backs of taxpayers even though the teams themselves are private organizations. Teams don’t build stadiums themselves anymore, and the home of the Bills, Ralph Wilson Stadium, will cost $100 million in renovations. To even get a team in the NFL, a franchise fee has to be paid, which these days numbers in hundreds of millions of dollars. The newest team in the NFL, the Houston Texans, came with a franchise fee of $700 million. Numbers like that aren’t small, and they’re not prices Buffalo can pay. Yet, the old guard is still lining up to suck off the NFL’s proverbial pecker, ready to do anything it can to keep the Bills playing in Buffalo. That means they’ll try to excuse any method of payment possible to try to keep a team in a location the league doesn’t want it in. They’ll argue economics and job creation, music to the ears of Buffalo but ignoring the fact that the city’s entire decline has happened since the Bills appeared. There’s probably not a connection between the two, but it doesn’t bode well for a group trying to argue that Buffalo should hand over more money it doesn’t have. The existence of the Bills hasn’t created jobs or pumped money into the economy.

Even if the argument by economics did work, it would do little to alleviate the fact that the Bills are the NFL’s current dead team walking. Although the city is trying to emerge from its death pattern, it still has a nasty reputation to deal with. Buffalo is known for three things nationally: Snow, chicken wings, and bad football. Willis McGahee and Terrell Owens, who have both played stints with the Bills, weren’t impressed. Rob Johnson exploded in an interview. Free agency has wreaked havoc on the Bills because of the city’s image, and about the only real draw for a player coming in is the team’s potential to be a winner. Without that, Buffalo is a forlorn football outpost because the team isn’t known for taking chances on bad-boy players. Terrell Owens was an aberration, but then again, Terrell Owens isn’t exactly a bad boy, either. He’s excitable and has frequently been seen as a detriment to locker room chemistry, but as a human being, he’s clean.

The Bills aren’t even the number one team on Buffalo’s sports radar anymore. Buffalo is great in its football devotion, but even better in its devotion to niche sports. Hockey, and the Buffalo Sabres, have supplanted the Bills as the most popular team and sport. This makes sense because the Bills have been a terrible team for the vast majority of their existence. The Sabres haven’t been real contenders all that often, but they’ve been a very good team for the most part, and they’ve made the playoffs in 29 of their 42 years, winning their conference three times and the regular season championship once. The city is also immensely devoted to its Triple-A baseball team, the Bisons, ten-time winners of their league, and in 1992 Buffalo was introduced to the awesome sport of lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League in the form of the Buffalo Bandits. The Bandits have since won four titles and thousands of devout fans who scream their lungs out at games. They share their home, First Niagara Center, with the Sabres and sell out consistently. Opposing lacrosse players have frequently talked about how impressed they are with Buffalo’s fanbase; in a league where a team considers a large crowd a sparse 5000, the Bandits fill their building with 18,000 screaming psychos every game. One of the team’s newer players told The Buffalo News that it’s the kind of atmosphere professional lacrosse players dream of. Buffalo is known in the NHL as the top hockey-watching region in the United States. The city has embraced quirky niche sports ignored by large swaths of the country. (Yes, hockey counts. It’s too unpopular south of the dixie line.)

Buffalo as an NFL market makes the least amount of sense possible, and the league knows it. The city’s fallen socioeconomic status has destroyed the team’s future. The city itself can turn into an important place again, but it will do so without the help of the Bills. Looking to the future can often mean cutting off a link to the past because without that link, there’s nothing holding one back. The Bills are our link to the past, and they’re holding Buffalo back. It’s wise to begin detachment now so it doesn’t seem impossible later, and those who will miss the Bills most can take satisfaction in the fact that they’ll definitely fail in Toronto and will most likely fail in Los Angeles before they find a home that loves them in San Antonio. In the meantime, we can all decide which directions our loyalties will shift in. I personally have the New York Giants ready and waiting for the call-up to fill the Bills’ void. Although next season, I am hoping the Bills manage to pull themselves together and make an improbable run to the Super Bowl, because it would be a hell of a way for my fandom to end.

SOPA/PIPA – My Letter to the Government

Dear Senator,

I guess it would be redundant to ask for the release of the monetary figures it took to get this bill a foothold in Congress. Exchanges for bills like that tend to happen only under the table. Perhaps that’s part of SOPA’s appeal – stopping The Smoking Gun from blowing the lid off ny more Congressional scandals which the public should know about.

You’ll have to forgive me for automatically assuming corporate payoffs were involved in getting SOPA and PIPA so much as a mention uttered under one Congressman’s breath. We have a particular law in this country stating, in these exact words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Congress shall make no law… Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. What part of that clause is so difficult to understand?

Understand that as a writer who has created a name for himsef online, I believe that the First Amendment – and the issues of free speech and free press in particular – might be kind of, sort of important. As I tend to frequently employ harsh language, I am seeing a future of a thousand tickets, at the very least, which I couldn’t possibly afford.

As one who has a masterful command of the English language, I can also see a whole lot of wiggle room in the vague, technology-deficient, broad language. Interpretations tend to vary quite a bit, and the desires of the Attorney General and organizations like the MPAA and RIAA will probably bend and flex according to whatever interpretation suits their momentary needs. The RIAA in particular stands to be abusive on a level which rivals the Kim family in North Korea. Lest we not forget, the RIAA is an organization which has never quite come to terms with the very existence of the internet, and they have a ridiculous history of trying to sentence ten-year-olds to years in jail for downloading three songs which cost a collective total of about 15 cents.

Furthermore, it has been claimed that SOPA and PIPA will create thousands of new jobs. I’m well-read on the basic mechanics of a free-market economy, and I can safely say this claim is just bunk thrown out by SOPA and PIPA supporters attempting to parlay the needs of the American publc into support so they can keep their profits and hopefully get some fresh new lawsuit cash from the aforementioned flexible interpretations. As SOPA and PIPA would effectively close down the less-moneyed websites that can’t aford lawyers, costing thousands more jobs. This is something that even the staunchest supporters of a centralized economy have pointed out!

I have looked at the list of supporters for these bills and have noticed that nearly all 142 of them are enormous corporations who would be the only ones to benefit from SOPA/PIPA enforcement. The NFL is on the list, and they have a monopoly which is not only legal, but recognized and enforced by the United States government! Makeup giants Revlon and L’Oreal, printing giant Random House, several television giants, MasterCard and Visa, Marvel, Disney Publishing Worldwide, Time Warner, MCA, and Sony are all supporting it. I can’t say the presence of any of them is surprising.

This country is not the United States of China or North Korea. It is not the United Soviet States of America. It was built on a foundation guaranteeing every individual protection from infringement of their freedom of expression. That goes for everyone in the country – as a private citizen, the government has no right to make a law silencing me, either on behalf of its own desires or on behalf of some other private individual or organization. No matter how much money it’s waving in front of Congressman Du Jour’s face.

Please vote no on SOPA and PIPA. Then if possible, burn it and never speak of it again.

Nicholas Croston