Category: General Nonsense

Straight Outta Compton

In the Summer of 1988, I “worked” as a camp counselor for the Danbury Parks and Recreation Department. It was a glorius gig, and damn near criminal. I got paid to hang out with my friends nursing hangovers, playing hoop and listening to hip hop while ostensibly supervising kids. That summer, NWA released “Straight Outta Compton”. From Ice Cube’s opening bars, nothing would ever be the same again. His voice, direct and powerful, like Chuck D, but where Chuck’s lyrics resonated with righteous indignation and were burdened by the weight of progressive, aspirational change, Cube’s were vivid and free of fucks given. I hung on every word, devouring them while questioning if he really said what he just said?

There is a scene early in the movie where Dre has a DJ gig at a club where the owner wants a vintage BET Midnight Love vibe, but during a break, Dre brings Cube on stage. The beat drops and heads bounce. Cube comes in painting pictures with his words and hands raise. He’s got them, just like he had me in the Summer of 1988. For that scene alone the movie is a success to me because it transported me back to that moment in my life when NWA was new and something I couldn’t get my head around fast enough.

I took my daughter Holland and her boyfriend Tre, to see “Straight Outta Compton,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how the movie resonated with them. NWA broke up long before either of them was a spermshot in the womb, and lyrics of comparable violence if usually less art have been pumping through speakers for the entirety of their lives. We could not possibly experience this movie in the same way. Unfortunately, teenagers are not known for the candor of their emotional reflections, and I received little more that “great movie” and having gained “an appreciation” for NWA in response to my queries. I choose to believe there is something in their “appreciation”, and it’s the same thing that is valuable in all efforts to delve into history. The acquisition of context. How did we get to where we are? And have we really traveled all that far?

Relations with law enforcement have been strained to say the least in the past year, and “Fuck the Police” seems more than topical. The movie depicts a number of incidents of racial profiling, cultural ignorance and general insensitivity that occurred to the members of NWA and to Rodney King, which of course resulted in rioting in Los Angeles. Sadly, the incidents are eerily similar to the recent events in Baltimore, with Sandra Bland and so many others. The voice of protest does not have a duty to be kind and polite as it would go unheard. The voice of protest must be true and illuminating to the injustice it protests against. It is in this sense and manner that NWA achieves historical significance.

They are, however, human, and were torn apart by the eternal tormenter of money. Ice Cube did not receive his perceived value and went solo after the first tour. Dre grew to feel undervalued and cheated later leaving as well. Easy E would watch his career wane without the creative juice of Cube and Dre, and would watch his life end with AIDS after only 31 promiscuous years. Ren and Yella representing the mean for their ride on this most tumultuous of glory trains.

Cube and Dre have persevered in the most extraordinary of ways. Cube succeeded as a solo artist and has transitioned into legitimate box office success. Dre has done even better as a music mogal he introduced iconic performers, Snoop and Eminien, and BeatsbyDre has yielded astonishing wealth. Not too shappy for two musically inclined kids from a blighted community called Compton.

Rules of Physical Engagement

DeAndre Johnson will not play football for Florida State because he flipped a jab into the face of a physically aggressive woman in view of a surveilance camera at a bar. It was a jab. He did not turn his hips, roll his shoulder or otherwise transfer weight into the strike, and he moved away from her immediately after the strike without follow up.

As much as I enjoy Florida State Football, I am ok with the dismissal and some modest penalty from the “justice” system.

Actions have consequences.

And for that reason, I am not ok with this chick getting a pass. The video clearly reveals her to be the initial physical aggressor, and there are allegations that she was a verbal aggressor invoking racist rhetoric as well.

What the hell was she doing? Why was she so quick to get in the face of this man and initiate physical aggression? Was she so complacent in the notion that men should not hit women that she felt entitled to push the physical line as far as she could believing she could do so without consequence?

This woman willingly, perhaps with the aid of alchohol, engaged in a bar fight. This is not a woman being battered and intimitated behind closed doors, or randomly brutalized. She faced the same decision of escalation that Johnson did, and only backed down when she got hit.

We do justice a disservice when we only see good and bad. Human actions are various hues of gray, and much injustice arises from our refusal to accept this fact.

I Am Glad You Asked…

Last night at soccer practice, I was asked, “What are your thoughts on Baltimore?”  

Since that question was posed, six law enforcement officers have been indicted in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black male, with a lengthy criminal record predominately littered with drug-related charges. Gray apparently made “eye-contact” with an officer and, for reasons known and buried with him, began to flee. He was pursued by at least three officers and taken into custody. To be charitable, there are conflicting accounts of what happened next, and I have less than zero confidence that the justice system as it were will ever determine exactly what happened. What is inescapable is that Gray suffered a severed spine and died while in the custody of law enforcement. Gray was buried Monday, and the City of Baltimore erupted in protest and rioting, which it must be noted are two distinguishable acts.

These events unfolded in the larger context of Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner and the rancid video of a black man in South Carolina being shot in the back as he ran away from a law enforcement officer. In Ferguson and in Eric Garner, law enforcement were exonorated from criminal culpability. South Carolina and Baltimore are still in the process of making a determination.

Police encounters are fraught with tension on both sides, and this is undoubtedly heightened when the encounter involves a black man and a white officer. This is not right, but it is true a significant percentage of the time. There are precious few black men that have not at some point in their lives been profiled by the color of their skin, and questioned or been otherwise treated in a less than honorable manner by a law enforcement officer, and even fewer that do not know a relative or friend that has as well. There is a line of thought that says, “do what the officer says, and things will work out for everyone”, which is probably a good idea, if you have not already been in a situation where things have not worked out for you, or your friend or your relative in the past. This prior behavior contaminates the encounter because there is no trust that a certain behavior will bring about a certain (safe) outcome. There is uncertainty, fear and an understandable desire for self-preservation on the part of the black man in this unpredictable circumstance.

As to the law enforcement officer, and particularly those that patrol high crime, high violence areas, there is a corresponding uncertainty to the encounter. The officer is often said to live by the credo “just get home tonight”, and this has a tangible impact on behavior. He is armed, and in moments of uncertainty, a show of force (not necessarily actual violence) often seems the safest way to “get home tonight”. The inexperienced officer is burdened by his lack of experience, and desire to prove his worth to more experienced officers, and even the experienced officer is burden by his own experience…moments where he was naive or simply deceived in a dangerous or potentially dangerous encounter.

In this tension-filled environment, mistakes and misjudgment will occur. While there is certainly advice and training that could mitigate and minimize the liklihood that these encounters end violently, we as people are too flawed to eradicate this problem. This is not to excuse the behavior, but to acknowledge its inevitability, and to advocate that when things go wrong, their must be accountability. This is the sting of BLACKLIVESMATTER. Too often in white police, black male encounters, there has been no accountablility for the officer’s contribution to the death, even second degree murder or manslaughter. As the indictments came down today, there exists in many, a festering distrust that actual convictions will follow. This mistrust, at its best leaves a residue of cynicism, and at its worst sucks dry the life blood of hope.

It is important to note that our justice system is not designed to find the truth. It is designed to obscure it. We have an adversarial system. The State prosecutor will fashion a one-sided story pounding its strengths and concealing its weaknesses to convince a jury to convict, while the criminal defense team will do everything possible, as it is their job to do, to cast light upon the weaknesses, explain away the strengths and ultimately create a doubt, reasonable or not. Death cases are particularly difficult where there is any degree of dispute regarding the facts because dead men tell no tales, and but for a few pictures will have little to no presence with the jury. By contrast, the accused will be before the jury everyday, their anxiety palpable, their love and affection with family and supporters tangible and their presence real. This has a way of making things difficult for jurors against the convuluted reasonable doubt standard, and contributes to some incomprehensible verdicts.

I would like to return to the life blood of hope. When the blood of hope flows, there is a sense that the individual and more specifically the actions of the individual matter. It is hope that drives peaceful protest. A hope that by turning up in the street in the wake of crisis, a voice will be heard, and eyes will watch what follows. Peaceful protest says that what is happening now matters, and by protesting, I believe I can positively impact the outcome.

Rioting is the result of hopelessness. My actions do not matter. My voice will not be heard. I will see only what serves me in the immediate moment. Rioting is reprehensible and undeniably wrong. It should be prosecuted and punished. It should also be considered in the societal sense that what has gone wrong in this community that has taken away hope in such great measure.

People are not born racist or born with any concern for the color of one’s skin, and they are not born without hope. Life teaches that color matters, and life takes hope away. It is only through honest reflection, and unbiased analysis that we can recognize the factors, policies and behaviors that contribute most to racism in our society and loss of hope. And as we will unlikely eradicate tragic encounters between law enforcement and black men, we will not eradicate racism and preserve hope for all, but we can behave in ways that mitigate and minimize its impact on our relationships.

Craig Pickering’s Humorous Take on SPEED

This is lifted from Craigpickering.com, and I loved it so much I had to share it unedited beyond my intro.

“I used to be a very highly-strung professional athlete. I took myself and my sport pretty seriously. I once spent 10 minutes arguing furiously with an official at the side of a track because he told me my blocks hadn’t slipped (they had). Once in a fit of rage at being stuck in traffic, I actually bit my steering wheel. I’m a much better person these days; years of pressure management techniques from sports psychologists have calmed me down. I practice mindfulness, meditate, and do yoga. If someone cuts me up on the road, I breathe deeply and carry on. I am, as my girlfriend would say, zen.

However, last night something awoke the beast within me. Something which caused me to use language that would make Malcolm Tucker blush. It was, of course, this article from the Mirror.

“The Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (emphasis mine) the headline exclaimed. I mean, Jesus Christ. I understand that journalists and editors are under time pressure, and often have to write about things they might not fully understand. It’s a hard life, I’m sure. I’m here to help.

The article goes on to explain that Hector Bellerin, the young Arsenal right-back, had recently broken Arsenals 40m sprint record, clocking a time of 4.42 second. It then states that, during his World Record run, Usain Bolt “only” clocked 4.64 seconds to 40m. Therefore, and I quote, “halfway down the track, Bellerin could have been a good few metres in front”. Want another quote? “… there it is in black and white – over 40 metres, Arsenal’s right back would win.”

First of all, let’s examine the logical fallacy of this headline/story. Is it likely that a young footballer, who has to practise a wide range of skills, including actually kicking a football, as well as tactical and other fitness demands, could be faster than someone whose job it is to just focus on covering distances of 200m or less in as short a time as possible? That someone with almost perfect genetics, who spends 6 days per week honing his unbelievable talent, would be beaten over 40m by someone who does a bit of sprint training? That the fastest person by almost a country mile to ever walk this planet is not as good at HIS job as a Spanish under-21 international footballer?

Clearly, it’s stupid.

Then lets examine the facts of the case. “Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (again, emphasis mine). Presumably this is IAAF ratified then? There was a wind gauge? Electronic blocks were used to measure reaction time? The IAAF have sent someone to measure the track? There was an official starter, with gun and electronic timing. Has anyone seen the photo finish to ensure it was accurate?

Of course, one thing that people writing these articles always forget is that, in a 100m race, there is a reaction time component. The gun fires, which starts the clock. The athletes then have to react to the sound of the gun. This can take anywhere between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds, but is usually in the region of 0.15 seconds. In his World Record run, Bolt’s reaction time was 0.164 seconds. Let’s add this on to Bellerin’s time of 4.42, and we get 4.58. Still faster than Bolt, but much less so.

Then let’s consider the starting method. I have no idea how Bellerin was timed, but I would wager it is one of two ways:

  • Hand timed
  • Timing Gates.

If it’s the former, then that is an incredibly inaccurate way to measure sprint speed. Over 100m, it can be as inaccurate as 0.5 seconds, and it is routine to add on 0.24s to any hand-timed performance to convert to electronic timing. If timing gates were used, then did Bellerin have a rolling start? This doesn’t have to be over much distance at all – even a slight backwards lean would give him more forward momentum than Bolt is allowed from the starting blocks, and would skew the time significantly in his favour.

Let’s assume that electronic timing gates were used, and Bellerin went from a standing start. In a sprint race, a photo finish is used to calculate the finish time. The point at which the athletes chest crosses the finish line is where the time is taken from. Using electronic timing gates, once a laser beam is broken, BY ANY PART OF THE BODY, then the time stops. So, for example, an arm could be outstretched to break the beam, which would give a quicker time.

“But Bolt’s a slow starter” I hear you exclaim. In his World Record run, Bolt was winning the World Championships by 0.04s at 40m. At 60m, he clocked what I’m pretty sure is the fastest 60m time ever recorded. So don’t start that with me.

Hopefully you can see that there are some significant problems within this article, and the many others like it. I’m sure Bellerin is fast, but to say he is officially faster than Bolt, whose job it is to be incredibly fast, is, quite frankly, a pot of crap. Please, when reading/writing/editing articles like this, think logically. And if you use the word official, make sure it is official.”

System Failure

“Not Guilty.”

With the exception of poor Mike Tyson, that has been the verdict in damn near every high profile criminal trial in recent memory…OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony and tonight George Zimmerman.   It is no longer surprising, but it is wrong and erodes the authority of government and credibility of judicial process.  A process predicated on the platitude of “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Words that are thrown and twisted about by prosecution and defense alike to dull
-eyed jurors imbued with a false sense of purpose as purported servants of the community.   It is this partisan process that render the results we abhor and won’t change until we do.

Why do we retain jurors with no background beyond holding a driver’s license?  Are these not the same people who stop short in front of us, change lanes and speed whimsically and otherwise impede our motorized progress?  What do they know of legalese?   Supposedly they bring a common sense to their service, but when the case is big enough, we sequester them from family, friends, resources and habits….the very things that make them common.

In this abnormal condition we subject them to dark art of trial advocacy.  Each side constructs a story that bolsters strengths, conceals weakness and convolutes the truth. It is transparent, dishonest,unbecoming and unproductive as it does nothing to seek the truth of the actions purported to be criminal.

Then there is the component of time.  There is a provision in the law for a speedy trial originally conceived in the notion that a trial should occur forthwith so as to clear the name of anyone falsely or wrongly accused of a crime.   In all high profile matters, it is waived ostensibly to prepare a proper defense, in reality to distance the accused from the dead body in their wake.  Dead men don’t talk.  Criminal defendants don’t usually talk, but they certainly start wearing formal clothes, change their hair, comportment and in all manner possible reconstruct themselves as something other than what they were in the moments that brought them to this place.

The final toxic component is the media, who in the moments immediately after Trayvon Martin was killed ran fast and hard with a picture of a pre-pubescent 12 year old in a hooded sweatshirt, instead of a photo of a 6′ 3″ 17 year old.  Then talked the case to a minutiae driven death that obscured the reality that a tall black 17 year old with a hooded sweatshirt was walking through a neighborhood recently subjected to a string of criminal activity while an overzealous and armed wanna-be cop took it upon himself to police his neighborhood in the face of a direct instruction not to proceed.

A physical altercation that never had to happen ensued, and unarmed Trayvon Martin died by gunshot wound.  I am confident that given a second chance hr would have handled the situation differently, but he will not have a second chance, and I am equally assured that if George Zimmerman stayed at his house with his gun locked and let the police handle the matter Trayvon Martin would sti be alive.

George Zimmerman needs to be accountable for his role in the events of that evening, and our society is diminshed by failing to make him so.

Thoughts on Lance and Performance Enhancing Drugs

This post has been festering in my head since the fall of 1988 in the aftermath of Ben Johnson being stripped of his Gold Medal and 100 meter World Record.  Johnson was immediately a villian beyond redemption, but the race was electrifying.  I saw it.  It happened and no executive action could take that away. 

I felt the same way following the Congressional hearings on baseball’s steroid era.  I enjoyed Big Mac and Sammy Sosa’s home run race in 1998, the lethal home run hitting Barry Bonds and the extended run of Roger Clemens.  None of these men were recently inducted into the Hall of Fame despite being the dominate players of the era because all three were connected to performance enhancing drugs.

This week Lance Armstrong ended years of speculation and investigation by admitting his use of PED’s.  In each instance the response is the same there is indignation and outrage, sponsors drop the villian, achievements are vacated or stripped and it happens again.

“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” – Nascar proverb

The primary complaint against the use of PED’s is cheating, specifically that it creates an unfair competitive advantage.  This is contextual.  Seven of the eight finalists in the 1988 100 meter final tested positive at some point in there career including Carl Lewis during the US trials BEFORE the 1988 games.  To the extent they revealed anything, the Congressional hearings on baseball established that PED usage was rampant throughout the league among hitters and pitchers.  As for Armstrong, over half of the Tour De France top ten finishes during his reign have been tainted by a positive test or admission. 

PED’s are generated by medical science.  The same science that we entrust to cure cancer, heart disease and other ailments.  Periodically advancements are made that increase human performance in sports.  This is not sinister.  It’s progress in the same way that weight training, nutrition and improved surgical practices have contributed to improved athletic performance and longevity. 

PED’s do not directly result in increased athletic performance.   They facilitate with rapid recovery and energy stimulation the training necessary to increase the performance.  In the instance of aging athletes like Clemens and Bonds, PED’s enabled them to train longer amd harder diminishing the effects of age.  In that sense, it represents a higher degree of commitment to performance than many athletes are willing to put forth.  Contrast your sentiments of Clemens and Bonds in that light against your feelings for a talented athlete, who routinely appears unfit or smokes marijuana.

The second biggest argument against PED’s is the long term consequences of their use is unknown.  What is known, however, is that competing at the highest level of sport is not good for anyone’s long term health.  Being an elite athlete already comes with a price sometimes as steep as death or severe mental illness and more commonly accelerated degeneration of the spine and joints.  These are consequences that each athlete accepts as they progress up the pyramid in their field, and frequently the reason many athlete’s don’t reach the highest level.

PED’s are a part of sport and should, if not accepted, be viewed in context rather than the constricting narrative of cheating and villian-making.  To do otherwise is a hypocritical betrayal of who we are and what we truly believe of competition.

Is it in You?

“He had an inhuman focus when he dropped in on a ramp, a kind of desperate and almost violent grace.  Watching him skate, I sensed he had more at stake than anyone else.”  – Bret Anthony Johnston

The man is Danny Way.  He is a professional skateboarder.  His specialty is called the MegaRamp.  I had never heard of him until I read Bret Anthony Johnston’s article “Danny Way and the Gift of Fear” last week.  Though I have never cared for skateboarding, dating back to a face plant into the house of my grandma’s neighbor at age nine, I haven’t stopped thinking about him since.  I am afterall a fan of focus, commitment and ultimately greatness.  I am a fan of Danny Way.

Danny’s story strikes many familiar notes.  He comes from a broken home, saw and experienced drunken abuse, endured loss and found a sanctuary on a skateboard.  He displayed early talent, surpassed his older brother and became a professional as a teenager.  He earned money and fame, and at times did his best to lose both with drugs and injury.  There was always redemption with two feet on a skateboard staring down a ramp that few in the world would have the courage to try.

And it isn’t as if the ramp hadn’t bitten him either.  Behind the vertical, long jump and land speed records, even the times he dropped from a helicopter 0r off the Hard Rock guitar in on a ramp or jumped the Great Wall of China, there were crashes, hard crashes with consequences….broken bones, torn ligaments and scars.  Sometimes these crashes were played out in front of crowds, but mostly just practicing….trying something nobody had done yet.

Danny Way’s is a story of talent and toughness, but also of purity.  He does not skate for money or to be a global icon.  He skates because it is what’s in him to do.  Beyond titles and acclaim, he sees in skating possibilities and purpose.  In concluding, I ask you to watch this clip below in it’s entirety and reflect on your own focus and commitment to what you value.

http://youtu.be/K9MJi-o-YMk