Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Public Works or Public Art?

Seen last week on a sidewalk near Civic Center in San Francisco:

It's strangely captivating, the short pieces of blue tape on the boarder of the plywood playing against the long strips of red tape around the chairs. The union of these two discreet chairs mirroring the union of the two pieces of wood below. Indeed one of the most intriguing things about this plywood/chair/tape piece is that it effectively distracts passer-bys from the expensive and ornate display in the store window behind. Is this a comment on the power of context in our consumer society? The assemblage of junk on the sidewalk, a strange and unusual occurrence that is free to appreciate, upstages the traditional consumer display of expensive nick-knacks.

The only clue as to the true intentions of this "piece" is the tag on one of the folding chairs:

Pardon the blurriness, it was a low-light situation. The sticker says, "Keep Upright. Do not topple." The rest is illegible from the picture, I don't recall the sticker mentioning either the origin or the purpose of this piece of public works and/or art installation.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tasers are the new Twinkies.

When it comes to West Coast criminal defense tazers are the new twinkies.

(image from the brochure of the X26 Taser advertising "fewer lethal force escalations" for police departments using the product, click for clearer image or read the whole thing here.)

"[Dr.] Blinder testified that a junk food diet of Twinkies and Coca-Cola contributed to White’s erratic behavior, and White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, partly on the basis of Blinder’s testimony."

--ABC News report on Dr. Blinder who infamously testified as a witness for Dan White, Harvey Milk And George Moscones' assassin, claiming that White was not responsbile for his actions as demonstrated for his appetite for ding-dongs, twinkies, and other gay sounding junk food.

"Lehman's testimony deepened the central debate in the case, with defense attorney Michael Rains trying to use him to show that Mehserle had been afflicted by the "Taser confusion" discussed during his training."

--SF Gate on Mehserle's defense that he meant to shoot Oscar grant (an unarmed African American 22 year old rider on the BART) with a taser, but instead pulled out and fired his gun which killed Grant.

Meyer said it would have been appropriate for officers to punch, kick, use pepper spray, or wield a baton to subdue Grant, though he said using a Taser would be preferred over any of those alternatives because it would be less likely to “inflame the passions” of bystanders.

-- LAPD Captain, and defense witness Greg Meyer's testimony during the Mehserle trial as reported by Uwire

You know our criminal justice system has a problem when the expert way for the police to subdue a citizen who is wriggling on the ground during arrest is to hit him with 50,000 volts of electricity in order to cuff him. Also this is the least "inflaming" of methods available.

Just to back up on this for a second, the Taser in question, the Taser officer Mehserle says he was trying to use, the TASER® X26c delivers 50,000 volts of electricty via two "small probes" that can penetrate up to "2 inches of clothing". Just how much is 50,000 volts? Watch this clip below:

Also here is a picture of the BARBED METAL "small probes" that the X26 shoots out

This is how bad the Defendant's case is, he's arguing instead of shooting a man to death he only meant to shoot two barbed metal bullets into him in order to administer the kind of shock one might expect from LIVE POWER LINES.

And just to be clear, this is not some tragically designed Taser that looks like a gun.

Here's a picture of the taser officer Mehserle claims he meant to use:

And the gun that was used:

In 1979 Dan White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, the twinkie defense, the argument that he was not in control of his actions as a result of depression and junk food sparing him a murder conviction. Mehserle managed to use his Taser defense to accomplish one better, involuntary manslaughter. Even for a state that has a history of ludicrous verdicts, this one takes the snack cake.

How anyone can watch the youtube video below and come away with anything other than murder is a testament to how far gone we are as a society when it comes to applying the law to those that enforce it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The latest victim of the Flotilla is...Helen Thomas

"I’m a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal till the day I die. "
Helen Thomas on her personal politics in 2004.

"Hearst should’ve retired her a couple of years ago, honestly, but she occupies some weird place between history and “the liberal bloggers love her for saying what every liberal blog commenters loves to type.”

This week the seemingly indestructible Helen Thomas met her match. She survived an all-male press corps, she survived the McCarthy period, she survived several international trips with Nixon, a power grab by the Moonies, and a notoriously combative relationship with both Bush administrations. Anyone who shrugs off her de-facto forced retirement should marvel that she's still standing today after several shockingly frank interactions with the second Bush administration, like this one, in which she basically tells Ari Fleisher point blank that Dubya is an illegitimate President:

THOMAS: Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?

FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make certain that American lives are not lost.

THOMAS: And he thinks they are a threat to us?

FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

THOMAS: The Iraqi people?

FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi --

THOMAS: So they will be vulnerable?

FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has not dispute with the people of Iraq. That's why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq --

THOMAS: That's a decision for them to make, isn't it? It's their country.

FLEISCHER: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that has been what history has shown.

MS. THOMAS: I think many countries don't have -- people don't have the decision -- including us.
Then, on May 27th while attending a Jewish Heritage Festival at the White House, she reiterated her widely known feelings about Israel (no doubt with increased fervor following Israel's most recent aggression). Here's the exchange:

Suggesting ALL Jews in Israel go back to their country of origin goes far beyond even my Anti-Zionist sentiments, it's a provocative opinion too be sure. And "opinion writer" is the official position Thomas has occupied since she left UPI as a reporter back in 2000 following the Moonie invasion.

Opinion writers say many things, many of them objectionable, and only rarely it seems to they actually loose their jobs. Charles Krauthammer remarked last week that, "What exactly was the humanitarian crisis the flotilla was addressing? There is none. There's no one starving in Gaza." Other than a well-deserved roasting from the Daily Show he seems to have made that beautifully insane and offensive remark with little to no fall out. But then again, his position was well aligned with hard-line Zionism.

Thomas issued an apology on June 4th, the same day as the footage of her comments was put on youtube, stressing her comments, "do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

It's true, her comments do not reflect a mindset of mutual respect and tolerance. But it seems incredibly clear that her opinion is more in line with a historical disagreement over territorial rights to land in the Middle East than to any distaste with the Jewish people. After all Thomas didn't say Jews should be kicked out of Israel and shipped back to the lands they immigrated from (as many commentators claim). Rather Thomas said Jews should leave because "They can go home." Not just to Poland and Germany but, "America and everywhere else." Her concern seems less anti-Semitic and more Pro-Palestinian as she concludes "Why push people out who have lived there for centuries? See?"

As her career is eulogized and appraised many have said it was about time, that Thomas' glory days are behind her. Anyone who would call Thomas a dottering fossil well served by this unfortunate "gaffe" into a much needed retirement should recall her comments a year ago when she decried the Obama Administration as being the most controlling Presidency when it came to handling the Press. In fact she said the Obama administration was worse than the Nixon administration in this regard. Many commentators rolled their eyes and emitted the same boilerplate cynisim they're espousing now: an old reporter, out of touch, etc. etc. Today the New York Times' revealed that "in 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often in public fights with the press."

In the end, it was not Obama or Bush that vanquished Helen Thomas, it was a knee-jerk reaction by Left and Right alike that conflated a heated anti-Zionist comment into an anti-Semitic incident. Or at least, that's as much as I can figure. It's too painful to imagine that a difference of geo-political opinion alone could oust one of the most respected journalists of several generations. Because if that's the case, the Press is in a lot more trouble than even Helen Thomas could ever have predicted

Also, check out this great post on Talking Points Memo about how many Israelis are all ready taking Helen Thomas' advice.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Performance Art or Science?

Somewhere Sartre is watching smugly...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A rumor I heard...

So I heard this rumor, that BMW or some dealership thereof, normally has a bunch of cars in the SF Pride Parade but this year they will not. I heard from a BMW employee that this year the event's organizers had the gall to demand $10,000 (or some five number figure) for their cars' registration in the parade. Well, I was told by the BMW employee, that's absurd so there will be no BMW gay pride cars in the pride parade this year!

This BMW employee is a very nice guy, he's not a company stooge, he's totally genuine. But honestly I say Good, make BMW pay through their fucking nose to be in the parade! It would be insane not to.

Here's why.
BMW is rolling in dough, they make ROLLS ROYCES. If a company like that wants to pledge their support for gay causes by way of some primo target marketing I see no reason why they shouldn't pay for the privilege. Someone's got to pay for all the leather daddy, AIDS Awareness, and Unitarian church groups who can't afford to contribute high registration fees. Hell times are tough all over. I'd understand if this was Ford, but BMW?!? The fact that this is a deal breaker for BMW borders on the offensive! An implicit component of their refusal is the gay's aren't worth their money. Hell if I had a major company I'd pay $20,000 to have my product featured at the event that is bound to be the highest concentration of single white men with discriminating tastes in the Unite States at any one time.

Also I'm glad, hell I'm elated that there will be no BMW car section of the parade, I'll be even more pleased if there's no BMW section at all with employees marching on foot. Money and pride are a toxic combination (ever been on a date with a Harvard graduate?) BMW is not pride, Starbucks is not pride, Target is not Pride. Pride is about total self acceptance and comfort to the point of fearless self-expression. It's about a throng of social outcasts coming together to claim one day in 364 as their own. Ours. Money, of course is neccessary to fund Pride, fabulousness alone cannot rent a major sound system, event organizer, or temporary stage. But the ethos of the day should be unfettered from blatant capitalism. The focus should be more copulation and less corporation, because while Pride is about love with sex coming in a close second.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Is the current Cannabis boom a replay of the 30's?

It was the best of rhymes it was the worst of rhymes....

Remember Jessica Rabbitts entrance in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" where she's sing that sultry song? The song in question is "Why Don't you Do Right?" by Kansas Joe McCoy.

The lyrics are plaintive but banal:

I fell for your jivin' and I took you in
Now all you got to offer me's a drink of gin
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Like some other men do.

However the song was originally written in 1936 at the height of the depression and was titled "Weed Smoker's Dream." The refrain of the song's original narrator was smart, simple, and far from ordinary:

Sittin’ on a million
Sittin’ on it every day
Can’t make no money givin’ your stuff away
Why don’t you do now
Like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

The message is clear: if Wall Street can plunge the nation into chaos as a result of its vicious and unstable business practices, shouldn't we be able to make some cash selling grass too? It's a question that's been getting a lot of media coverage these days and not without good reason. Everything old is new again including economic meltdowns.

Stoners have been around forever and the most creative of modern American taste-makers often paid homage to their green muse. In the 20's and 30's weed heavily influenced the creation of Jazz and popular music. Smokers were known as "vipers" and countless songs were written about pot's effect, commerce, and attendant culture. Most famously Fats Waller wrote and sang "If You're a Viper" otherwise known as "The Reefer Song" in which he pines:

Say I dreamed about a reefer five feet long,
A Mighty Mezz but not too strong
You'll be high but not for long
If you're a viper.

These songs from the 30's lovingly payed tribute not just to the high cannabis elicits, but also to Marijuana's power to act as an escape from personal hardships and the economic devastation that was sweeping the country at the time.

In perhaps the sweetest ode to marijuana of it's age, "Smoking Reefers," Buck Washington croons what could almost be a torch song to Cannabis:

Old weed cigarette that we must all depend on
Old weed once begin it and you're sure to end on
It's the kind of stuff that dreams are made of
It's the stuff that White folks are afraid of

Up in Harlem we go on
A Marijuana jag
Smoking reefers to get beyond the misery
Go away you misery
Go away go away
Smoking reefers to get beyond the worrying
Go away you worrying
go away go away

Must wake up to work in the morning
I must get by the broodin' at night
Aw, You can't change this world you were born in
But I declare
You can be walking on air
By smoking a reefer
You'll have the angels sing away
Helping you to fling away
You worries, your troubles, your cares

The same sentiment flows through Chick Webb's "When I Get Low I Get High"

My fur got stole
but, lord ain't it cold
But I'm not gonna holler
cause I still got a dollar
And when I get low
Oooo I get high

Buck Washington's catchy "Save the Last Roach for Me" begs

Folks say that I'm lonesome
Say I'm as blue as I can be
Well if you're smoking that Jive
When I pass by
Then save the roach for me.

In our current economic crisis that approaches the Depression in its scale and social upheaval weed once again has become a favorite of those hoping to avoid feeling the squeeze. These days there's no shortage of low people trying to get high. Perhaps no one explains the appeal of weed in these situations better than Kat Williams:

If you ain't got no job and you not smoking weed I don't know what fuck you are doing with your life, I really don't...I'm just saying is if your life is fucked up you need weed... There's a chemical in weed that's called "fuck it," and if you can just get that in your system it could change your life...some of y''all be crying about bills you can't pay...just hit the blunt one time and see if it don't change your perception of what's important in your life.

Unlike the Great Depression though, our Great Recession has bolstered the legitimacy of cannabis. The 1930 saw the creation of "The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN)" and the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Another classic marijuana song from 40's laments "The G-man Got the T-Man." This Fall a "legalize and tax" cannabis initiative will appear on the ballot of the most populated state in the nation, California. So far polling is looking good, and even if the measure doesn't pass the cannabis industry opreating under Medical Cannabis laws is flourishing. In Northern California it's known as "the Industry."

Which brings me back to "Weed Smoker's Dream" the last verse goes

May's a good-lookin’ frail
She lives down by the jail
On her back though she got
hot stuff for sale
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

May's starving and feet from jail anyway, but she's ok, because she's found a way to make money. As California edges closer to economic collapse this seems to be one of the predominant talking points in favor of cannabis legalization. Whatever voter's have to say at the ballot box, they've spoken with their wallets. California has put its stuff on the market and everyone wants a share.

Crawling Back

I've had the blogging itch lately, which is not a good sign.
I get the blogging itch whenever I become hopelessly bored with my real life. Some people supplement their existential boredom over cyber-space by posting anonymous encounter ads on Craig's List. By contrast my cyber supplement entails reveling in the unearned smug satisfaction of putting my half assed opinions onto a global medium.

I should say that currently I am working (and working and working and working some more) at a medical cannabis dispensary which is NEVER boring. But the routine of work has become old hat and my free time to explore has shriveled. So expect more frequent updates on Wander Blog.