“A ‘Ferguson’ Near You…”

It’s been 11 years, but I can still see the kid’s face: reddish cheeks on a plump, cherubic face with an impish grin. The photo of a dead man.

Michael McKinney was 21 years old the night he mistakenly banged on the door of the wrong person. After a night of heavy drinking, he stumbled back to his friend’s house, as planned, to slip through the back door and pass out, thus avoiding a potential DUI.

Instead, he found a home occupied by a scared woman who called 9-1-1, fearing the banging on her back door was a prowler or worse. A rookie police officer, Robert Duplain, responded to the scene and ended up putting four bullets into the Ball State student.

The next day, as I returned from a convention across the country, I got the call from the editor at my student newspaper. The editor laid out what we had: We don’t know much. The kid is dead. The cop shot him. We don’t know why.

I dropped my suitcase inside the door, kissed my wife hello/goodbye and worked another 12 hours.

The students covered the event incredibly well, given their lack of experience. They asked the right questions, worked with the right people and kept the campus updated as well as (or better than) the local and state papers. They also followed the story for more than a year as officials were investigated, lawsuits were dismissed and memories faded.

The thing that stuck with me over all these years was that first night, as the students vacillated between figuring out the news and coming to grips with the shooting. One of the editors, someone who had lived his whole life in that community, said, “This doesn’t happen here…”

He said in a way that felt like he was partially trying to explain his lifelong home to a new resident and partially trying to reassure himself of something.

That line came back to me as I thought about the Michael Brown shooting and the subsequent escalation of violence in that St. Louis County community. According to crime statistics, the city has barely a handful of murders each year and this year it drifted just above average for overall crime. It compares pretty favorably to Muncie the years I lived there and, believe me, nothing there felt horribly unsafe. The closest thing to “major police action” we got was when the short-lived show “Armed and Famous” filmed it six episode lifespan in our town.

This doesn’t happen HERE…

The thought of giant tactical vehicles rolling down the street with snipers posted on every block would be just as foreign there as it was to the people in Ferguson.

This was probably the thought citizens there had as looters tore through their stores, police gassed protestors and President Obama said their city’s name on TV repeatedly. It was probably the same thought they had when they heard about the shooting itself.

This. Doesn’t. Happen. Here.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., a man who has seen his share of things that don’t happen “here” throughout his life, penned an editorial for USA Today titled “There’s a ‘Ferguson’ near you,” which looked at the way economic disparity, a dying middle class and racial tension have coalesced into a simmering pot of anger and despair. He notes that this isn’t a country mouse/city mouse or white/black or rich/poor issue, but more of a sign of the times. However, I think the incident in Ferguson and the ensuing backlash goes much deeper than economic or racial divisiveness. It cuts to the core of who we are as people.

We are so easily capable of finding ways of dismissing the problems of others as if we could never be in those situations. Police brutality? The people were probably trouble anyway and then resisted arrest. Poverty? They just didn’t want to work or didn’t work as hard as I do to get where I got. Abortion? Sluts couldn’t say no or think to spend a buck on a condom. Drugs? They’re animals anyways, so let them lose their souls.

When Robin Williams committed suicide this week, amid the outpouring of sympathy and sadness came the veins of righteous indignation and self-congratulatory spite. Fox Anchor Shepard Smith called Williams a “coward” for his actions. Others openly mocked his daughter or told family members he was going to hell. The “fuck you anyway” crowd always finds a way to shine in moments of complete anxiety.

I remember this happening to the McKinney family when we reported on Michael’s death. People posted comment after comment on our website. Some were supportive, but a lot of them took the “drunk kid got what he deserved” line and ran with it. I remember his sister taking to the boards and pleading with people to stop. My parents read this stuff and they’re dying inside, she told them. “Fuck you. You’re a shitty family too. You’re probably to blame for this at some level,” was the response.

To these trolls, it was simple. This kind of thing wasn’t happening to THEM. Why would it? This kind of thing just happens to other people in other towns where you have a confluence of bad life, bad people and other shit that just doesn’t happen here.

Whether it is due to poverty or circumstance or life or whatever, Jackson was right about his main point and his headline drove it home: There IS a Ferguson near all of us and it’s just one of many out there.

And whatever happens there, could easily happen here.

Friday Catblogging: Who The Hell Is That Other Cat?

Dr. A caught Della Street staring herself down one morning. She may be easily confused, but she’s still a badass. Oscar, on the other hand is just easily confused:

Della DW-001

No one will hit you and you’ll never learn

So much wrong here: 

KSDK multimedia journalist Casey Nolen said that Tuesday night, the Ferguson Police Department’s public information officer called his station to say the station should alert journalists on the scene that police were going to use tear gas soon. “It was a ‘not for broadcast’ alert that they gave us. KSDK photojournalist Tom Herman captured video of police confronting a protestor. Police spotted Herman, shined a light directly at him, and second later, without warning, fired a beanbag round at him that pinged off his tripod.
It was a “not for broadcast” alert? What is that? Information the police give you that’s special friendly friend info that you can use but not transmit to the people who, you know, you’re supposed to be informing? Was it embargoed information? Off the record? If so, why are you talking about it now? This is the first I’m hearing of a “not for broadcast” alert, and I’ve been watching journalism get stupid for a long damn time now.

Local television journalists from St. Louis covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri tell Poynter.org there is a version of the story unfolding that has not been widely told. These journalists say it’s true that some officers have come at them with weapons drawn but others have shown remarkable restraint.

KTVI photojournalist Dave Sharp was hit in the thigh by a rubber bullet Wednesday night. “It’s no big deal,” the 26-year news veteran said. “Look, the police gave everyone a lot of warning to get out of there.”

The point is that they didn’t have to get out of there. The point is that they had a right to be where they were. And you should be defending that right, not going on about how the cops warned people they were about to violate their rights before they did it.

God Almighty. “Some of the cops don’t suck.” That’s not the story. Of course some of the cops are going to be nice to you, especially if you’re properly deferential:

“There is a lot of tension out there, no doubt,” Smith said, “But honestly what I saw was a lot of restraint. I was all ‘yes sir and no sir’ and the police treated me with respect.”  Smith said he did see many “independent” journalists, bloggers and others with small cameras, not TV cameras working “right up in the SWAT team’s faces.”

Yeah. You were doing what they wanted you to do, so they didn’t have to bust your head. Which, again, is not the point. It is, however, a cousin to the argument that if you weren’t wearing that dress …

And why the hell shouldn’t independent journalists and bloggers and people with small cameras film the SWAT teams? In that situation, it’s not pointless antagonizing. They have that right, and their exercising of it isn’t obnoxious, it’s a goddamn necessity. The satellite trucks for the cable ‘nets got there late and got kicked out early.  In some cases the livestreamers were the only ones getting information out.

You’re a fucking reporter, do I have to explain to you that laws are not just for nice people who wear ties and carry the right kind of camera equipment?

We still hear this far too much, this “if you’d just behave yourself and be professional” bullshit directed from reporter to reporter. It’s so much easier to ally yourself with those in authority and kick down at the unwashed hippies with their tiny little cameras and tiny little web sites, than it is to see them as the same as you, and defend their work as you’d defend your own.

You’re stronger when there are more of you. Why would you make yourself weaker, just to suck up to people who yeah, this time, may not have hit you, but make no mistake: They’re not your friends.


At Least He Didn’t Mention Melons This Time

Incorrigibly racist, xenophobic, teawad Conrgressman Steve King is back at it. This time he’s commenting on Ferguson:

King appeared on Newsmax TV on Wednesday where host J.D. Hayworth asked him about the escalating conflict in Ferguson. When asked about the concerns raised by members of the Congressional Black Caucus about the possibility of racial profiling, King said those were unsubstantiated.

“This idea of no racial profiling,” King said, “I’ve seen the video. It looks to me like you don’t need to bother with that particular factor because they all appear to be of a single, you know, of a single origin, I should say, a continental origin might be the way to phrase that.”

Clever clogs. He didn’t mention calves or canteloupes or honeydews or you know what. As the kids on the Tweeter Tube say: SMH.

Tweet Of The Day: Uplifting PBJ Edition

Remember the Benham brothers? I barely do. Here’s how Dave Weigel described them:

Earlier this year, twins/perfect specimens of humanity David and Jason Benham were supposed to be launching a new TV show. The brothers had been insanely successful in the real estate business, and HGTV was going to make them the stars of Flip It Forward, an inspirational show about the process. But the brothers were done in after People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch dug up video and links of David protesting outside an abortion clinic, decrying the “tyrannical bondage of Islam,” and comparing those who would give up the fight against gay marriage to those umbrella-wavers who appeased Hitler.

It was a micro version of the Duck Dynasty controversy, less well-known because, well, the show never launched. But the brothers were popular speakers at this past weekend’s FAMiLY Leader summit, showing off energy and comic skills that put some of the dour political speakers to shame.

Now that we all know who they are, here is the much ballyhooed tweet:

Well, I always knew PBJ was a lightweight…

That is all

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Key Largo


Key Largo is not really pulp fiction, but I felt like stretching the definition a bit today to honor Betty Bacall. It was based on a 1939 play by Maxwell Anderson and the war in question was the Spanish Civil War but it was also an allegory about Fascism. The adaptation by director John Huston and future director Richard Brooks nails the political aspects as well as how damn spooky tropical systems are.

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You Have The Freedom To Obey

From Album 5

Not much to add to what Adrastos and Athenae have already said, but…goddamn…the Ferguson police have managed to take a horrible situation and make it…even worse.

Like Adrastos said, we’re reaping the results of police being equipped — and trained — as paramilitaries. Not to equate, but in the fairly recent past, demonstrations here in Red Stick — obviously very small and utterly non-violent/minor demonstrations, given our not-exactly-vanguard status, have been met not by bored or bemused police (as they were when I was much younger), but overt threats of arrest and clear intent to intimidate.

It’s almost as if the public space is being turned into…a prison yard. Which probably suits some of the wingy-ier elements of the wingnut crowd just fine, but I don’t want Orange-is-The-New-Black to be a World of Tomorrow … or today.

And…could you imagine if ANY of this had happened in, to put it bluntly, a white neighborhood? No, I can’t either. And yet, what started this — excessive lethal force against a black man — wasn’t even the only such occurrence this week.

To repeat, we’re reaping what’s been sowed…and, as another song says, when justice is gone, there’s always force…

But is that what we really want?

Police Riot

I spent too much time on twitter following the mess in Ferguson this evening. I really thought things would have calmed down by now but the police there have made every mistake in the book. The only way to calm things down is for them to name the officer who shot Michael Brown, interview all the eyeball witnesses and release all the relevant information on the autopsy. You know, all the normal stuff that most other law enforcement agencies would have done by now. The air in Ferguson, MO is thick with both tear gas and stupidity.

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Happening In Ferguson Now



Album Cover Art Wednesday: Striking It Rich

We’re still stuck in the Seventies on this feature, which is appropriate as my copy of Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge arrived yesterday. On time and the UPS man actually knocked me up. I mean that, of course, in the British meaning of the phrase…

Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks were an oddity when they burst on the San Francisco music scene. An acoustic band more influenced by Django Reinhart, Johnny Mercer, and Bob Willis than the Beatles. That’s why it clicked so well. The different rocks even when there’s a fiddler involved.

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Guns Aren’t For Black People

I keep thinking about this, too: 

To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys. Guns aren’t for black people, either.


Betty Bacall, R.I.P.

harry truman lauren bacall music piano postcard 1945 washington dc

I obviously didn’t know the lady personally, but I never cared for her screen first name and nobody who knew her ever called her that, so she’s always been Betty to me. Lauren is kind of a frou frou name and Betty is the name of a tough broad. And what a broad. She died just a few hours ago at the age of 89.

We all loved her voice, legs, and attitude. Howard Hawks always maintained that he was looking for a girl who was just as insolent as Bogart to play opposite him in To Have Or To Have Not. It worked: Betty *was* just as insolent as Bogie and a star was born.

One of my favorite Bacall moments was when she did a cameo on The Sopranos. Christopher and Little Carmine went West to pitch their bad horror flick Cleaver to Ben Kingsley. They met Ms. Bacall at an awards show luxury lounge where the celebs are given all sorts of fabulously expensive swag. Christopher was not amused and at the end of the episode he mugged Betty and stole her swag. Heartless bastard: she could have kicked his ass in her prime. Here’s the clip wherein the legend dropped some F-bombs:

Dr. A and I have all the Bogart-Bacall movies on DVD. In fact, Key Largo is our hurricane season film. We usually only watch it when New Orleans is menaced. It looks like a mercifully slow season this year, but we may have to watch it anyway to honor Ms. Bacall’s passing. She will be missed.

What a dame. What a broad.


Yeah. Heartbreaking.

I am not heartbroken. I am enraged at the senselessness of what is happening, at the sense of fatalistic distance that overcomes us when this happens, at the way it keeps happening, and at the way every single response to this, every single one, could be choreographed in advance because we know already how this is going to go because it’s fucking GONE THAT WAY BEFORE.

A killing. Demonstrations. An overreaction by the police. Riots, destruction, and media coverage that only bears a scant resemblance to reality making everything look worse.

When the fires burn themselves out: Some kind of made-for-TV reconciliation event in a church. Sweep up the glass, solve nothing, and next month or next year, do it all again.

It’s senseless, and it’s always been senseless, because the way we live now is senseless. The way we live is paranoid, and angry, and exhausting. The way we white middle class people negotiate the world, and talk about it, and engage with it, just doesn’t fucking work.

We wall ourselves off in our little neighborhoods and we tell ourselves we’re safe if we just don’t cross that street (we shrug about what happens to people who live across that street, if we think about them at all). We give our police departments great big guns and then tell ourselves we need guns too because however big the cops’ guns are, they’re not big enough. We make sure our kids don’t go to school with those people. We make sure to live where they don’t, where they won’t, where they can’t.

We spend thousands of dollars on security systems and not a damn dime on our souls, and tell ourselves we’re safer when what we are is smaller.

We live mired in fear and anger. We tell ourselves a constant story about poor young black men and what they represent, and we let ourselves off the hook over and over and over and fucking over again for being less than we should be, as if fear is some kind of excuse.

Heartbreaking. Try inevitable, so long as we keep living the way we do. As long as we keep being heartbroken instead of inspired to action. As long as we keep locking our doors and windows and shaking our heads and being sad instead of furious.


The Clean Up Crew

On the set of 'The Dawn Patrol'

There’s a great story in one of David Niven’s Hollywood books (I cannot find them in the clutter of my study, which looks like a particularly slovenly used bookstore; bad me) about attending a Hearst-Davies circus themed costume party with Errol Flynn. The two actors showed up wearing white hats and jackets. They were carrying brooms and shovels with buckets marked IT. That’s right sports fans, they were the guys who clean up Elephant shit.

That’s been the story of the Obama administration: tidying up after the horrendous mess made in Iraq by the Presidents Bush. The reason I throw Poppy’s name into the hopper is the current situation involving the Yazidis and Kurds. The sight of those folks cowering on that mountain evokes images of Kurdish refugees fleeing for their lives after Bush the Elder incited them to rise up against Saddam Hussein. We have a way of talking loud and dropping the stick when things get too, well, sticky.

Iraq continues to be an ungodly mess. The current shit storm can be traced to the last Gulf War but the whole thing goes back to the Treaty of Versailles. That’s right,  all roads lead to the Great War and its botched aftermath. Iraq is simply untenable as a single nation state. If they can fend off the bloodthirsty maniacs of ISIS and stabilize the situation, it may be time to revive then Senator Biden’s sensible partition notion from 2006.

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The Stories We Tell

It’s important to look at what you’ve done: 

The night they received the image, Pledge tells me, editors at the Associated Press’ New York City offices pulled the photo entirely from the wire service, keeping it off the desks of virtually all of America’s newspaper editors. It is unknown precisely how, why, or by whom the AP’s decision was handed down.

Vincent Alabiso, who at the time was the executive photo editor for the AP, later distanced himself from the wire service’s decision. In 2003, he admitted to American Journalism Review that the photograph ought to have gone out on the wire and argued that such a photo would today.

Yet the AP’s reaction was repeated at Time and Life. Both magazines briefly considered the photo, unofficially referred to as “Crispy,” for publication. The photo departments even drew up layout plans. Time, which had sent Jarecke to the Gulf in the first place, planned for the image to accompany a story about the Highway of Death.

“We fought like crazy to get our editors to let us publish that picture,” former photo director Michele Stephenson tells me. As she recalls, Henry Muller, the managing editor, told her, “Time is a family magazine.” And the image was, when it came down to it, just too disturbing for the outlet to publish. It was, to her recollection, the only instance during the Gulf War where the photo department fought but failed to get an image into print.

James Gaines, the managing editor of Life, took responsibility for the ultimate decision not to run Jarecke’s image in his own magazine’s pages, despite photo director Peter Howe’s push to give it a double-page spread. “We thought that this was the stuff of nightmares,” Gaines told Ian Buchanan of the British Journal of Photography in March 1991. “We have a fairly substantial number of children who read Life magazine,” he added. Even so, the photograph was published later that month in one of Life’s special issues devoted to the Gulf War—not typical reading material for the elementary-school set.

Stella Kramer, who worked as a freelance photo editor for Life on four special-edition issues on the Gulf War, tells me that the decision to not publish Jarecke’s photo was less about protecting readers than preserving the dominant narrative of the good, clean war. Flipping through 23-year-old issues, Kramer expresses clear distaste at the editorial quality of what she helped to create. The magazines “were very sanitized,” she says. “So, that’s why these issues are all basically just propaganda.” She points out the picture on the cover of the February 25 issue: a young blond boy dwarfed by the American flag he’s holding. “As far as Americans were concerned,” she remarks, “nobody ever died.”

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Robin Williams, R.I.P.

Just when I thought the news couldn’t get any shittier, it did when I heard about Robin Williams’ death at the age of 63. I should have avoided Twitter afterwards because it was full of  instant expertise about addiction and suicide. Moralizing when one doesn’t have all the facts is unseemly at best and contemptible at worst. Fuck you, you fucking fucks. There, that felt good.

I also learned to my horror that there are people who think that Patch Adams was one of his best films. I am not making this up. He made a lot of films over the years, some good (Moscow On The Hudson, Good Morning Vietnam, The Birdcage, The Fisher King) and a lot of stinkers that I won’t list but Patch Adams was the creme de crap of his career. Even though he was funny on the big screen and a good dramatic actor, I’d rather remember his stand-up and appearances on Carson and Letterman. Riffing was the essence of his comedic genius.

I met Robin once at a party at my friend Roger’s apartment in San Francisco. It was not long before he went to LA to make it in the big time; brighter lights, bigger city. Roger’s pad was in the Haight, a stoner’s throw from the panhandle. The crowd that night was typical: musicians, writers, drunks, students, and an astonishingly hairy guy wearing a tank top. You guessed it: Robin Williams, then a struggling young comedian. He was the friend of a friend of a friend of Roger’s, but despite the tenuous connection I did my best Sherman T. Potter impression and asked him where he got the vicuna coat he was wearing. He didn’t miss a beat and said, “I skinned Klinger, and left him bleeding in the Swamp.”  We riffed awhile, smoked a joint, and then I saw a girl I had a raging crush on, so I made a beeline in her direction. It was a very brief encounter and neither of us was exactly Trevor Howard, and he was too furry to be Celia Johnson. Not long after this, he was cast as Mork.

There have been a lot of Pagliacci references tonight and I guess they’re reasonably accurate. Some of the funniest people I’ve know have been the saddest, and the angriest too. I’m sorry that he couldn’t live with his demons but the world was a brighter and funnier place because of his zany and madcaps antics. He will be missed. Nanu nanu.

Here’s Robin on the Tonight Show in 1991. He always made Johnny laugh; me too.

UPDATE: The best thing I’ve read about Robin Williams’ passing is by comedy writer/sportscaster Ken Levine. He would have also liked my Potter-Klinger joke since he was on the MASH writing staff.

The Fog Of History: Reflections On Tricky Dick



We’re having  a few growing pains here at our new joint and not all our archives are online yet. I was asked about what the hell happened to this post so here’s a re-post of my 8/8/2014 opus:

I woke up this morning thinking about Richard Nixon. Mercifully, I didn’t have devious, delirious dreams of him plotting with Haldeman and Ehrlichman. I just have Tricky Dick on my mind since this is the week it finally went down the terlet for him 40 years ago. He gave his abdication speech on 8/8/1974 and then resigned, gave the weirdest Presidential speech ever, and went off to Elba West. And yes, James Brown endorsed the Trickster in 1972. That papa had a brand new bag of dirty tricks. Good gawd y’all.

I’m not the only one with a Trickster earworm this week. There’s a terrific interview at Salon with John Dean, whistleblower, Nixon historian and witness for the prosecution. Hmm, I make him sound like Marlene Dietrich in the Billy Wilder flick. Anyway, Dean is plugging his new book, The Nixon Defense, but he gave a wide ranging interview to David Daley. Read it and then come back after the break.

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Torches and Pitchforks are Coming

Picture what would happen if this was a bunch of African-American kids in a parking lot, not a bunch of white assholes on boats: 

While it’s not entirely accurate to say lawlessness reigns out on this stretch of water, the magnitude of the Chicago Scene Boat Party and the free flow of people inhibit authorities’ interference, according to a Chicago police officer who used to frequent the Playpen and was hired as security for Boat Scene. “They try and control it, but by the time it gets to that size it’s just so difficult because of the nature of the setup. You have one or two police boats. Everybody’s drinking. What do you enforce? It’s a good party, but how do you control it? It’s really hard.”

Hovering on the outskirts of the Playpen, teams from the Chicago Police Department’s marine unit, the Fire Department’s marine rescue, and the U.S. Coast Guard seem to be playing it cool. If they aren’t exactly looking the other way, they also aren’t making any noticeable effort to break up anyone’s fun. Which is good, because some of these boats are veritable floating pharmacies.

“If you want weed, you can get weed. You want coke, you can get coke. You want Molly, you can get Molly. You can get anything as long as you’re tied to the right line,” says a CPS teacher finishing a crawl down one of the Boat Scene’s many chains.

“There was some guy from Hawaii, and he had all this crazy weed with red tips,” the teacher’s wide-eyed friend gushes. “He handed me a giant bud, like, ‘Here.’ And I don’t even smoke.”

The entire story (and attendant bitchy comments along the lines of UR JUS JELLUS from partiers) just reeks of casus class belli, though to be honest I’m more interested in the idea that law enforcement can’t figure out what to enforce. It’s right there in your name, guys. Pretty sure selling drugs on the open water isn’t, you know, okay.

Or if it is, it’s okay for everybody, and we need to open up a few prison cells and let some guys who weren’t lucky enough to have a yacht under them while holding out into the world again.


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Welcome. Pardon our dust as the renovation continues.



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