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Archive for the ‘Jerks’ Category

Losing Our Heads Over Stereotypes

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 17, 2009

Muzzammil Hassan was tired of the post-September 11th stereotypes of Muslims being put into play by the American media, and rightfully so. At a time when it was all too easy to believe that most of the world’s Muslims were a blood thirsty band of maniacs just looking for an American to kill and with American televangelists calling Islam Satan’s religion, Hassan started thinking about a way to make a difference, a way to project Islam in America in a more positive light. Being a media-savvy guy, he had an idea– an English language cable channel featuring positive Islamic stories and Islamic lifestyles. This is America and people believe what they see on TV; why not give them some positive Muslim imagery to combat the dark stereotypes?

Hassan launched the hopefully-named Bridges TV in Orchard Park, NY, home of the Buffalo Bills and not an area renowned for its inclusivity or deep thinking on racial issues. His programming choices were guided by his founding ethos of portraying Muslims in America as they are– your neighbors, your shopkeepers, your friends.

Mr. Hassan’s message of tolerance, inclusivity– really, sameness to every other American– took a slight detour late last week when Mr. Hassan turned himself in to Orchard Park police for the act of ritually beheading his wife– the mother of his four and six year old children– who was in the process of filing for divorce from Hassan. The beheading, which took place in the studios of Bridges TV, was portrayed as an honor killing in Mr. Hassan’s confession. Apparently the beatings that he was delivering his wife in the months before her ritual slaughter– the police had been called to the hosue several times fo domestic violence complaints– were also designed to increase Hassan’s honor.

This abominable behavior isn’t characteristic of the Islamic community in America; the people who engage in this stuff who happen to be Islamic are no less of a lunatic fringe than Christians who blow up abortion clinics and murder doctors “in the name of god” or Jews who become ensnared by the insane teachings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Now if only the guy who was working so hard to get the message of Islamic “sameness” in America out there wasn’t also the same guy who ritually beheaded his wife in an honor killing we’d have a much easier task of convincing the average Christian American that all Islamic Americans aren’t practicing a religion that demands killing pretty much everyone else. That slap you just heard was the entire respectable body of Americans who practice Islam doing a face palm over this thing.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Human Rights, Jerks, Television | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Alomar, Tejada and the Straw

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

We’re talkin’ baseball, but we aren’t talkin’ Willie, Mickey & the Duke. No, it’s time for the newest preseason ritual, not Pitchers & Catchers, the Caribbean Series or claims of fat and disappointing players claiming to be in the best shape of their lives– no instead it’s Preseason Scandal time!

We have a full crop this year, and it’s about to get fuller. ARod we all know about, Tejada has been indicted for lying to Congress (that’s a crime?), and Alomar either has erectile dysfunction, a history of anal rape and full blown AIDS or one very pissed off ex-girlfriend. Next up- Darryl Strawberry, no stranger to scandal he, is cashing in on his preseason controversies with a new book from Harper Collins, Straw: Finding My Way. Ironic title, given how many times the straw found its way up Straw’s nose in the ’80s.

But hey, at least he’s on the right side of his scandals– he’s making money off of them while the others are losing money. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, boys! Just follow the Strawberry Express.

The Alomar thing just has multiple book deals written all over it. Deal one to the girlfriend, who claims she had unprotected sex for three years with Alomar despite thinking that he might have HIV– he became ill and she constantly pressured him to have an HIV test, according to the suit she filed, but she kept having unprotected sex with him because he claimed he couldn’t have AIDS or HIV. For kicks, she included in the filing her uncorroborated claim that Alomar was anally raped by two Mexicans (you have to appreciate how she managed to toss in the ethnicity, to boot) when he was 17 and that Alomar suffers from erectile dysfunction… I’m sure that in her first interview she’ll also claim that Alomar has a two inch penis and that he enjoys wearing high heels and things. Whether or not her suit has merit is for the judge and jury to decide, but this one sounds like it may have, oh, a hole or six in it.

Book deal two is Alomar’s and its thrust could follow many paths. Will it be a book about how his ex-girlfriend tried to shake him down? A tearful recounting of his life with HIV? A Wilt Chamberlain “I screwed 13,000 women and none have any diseases” romp? How about the big kahuna, the Times #1 bestseller in the batch– for years Alomar was rumored to be gay and the infamous spitting incident has been alleged to be about umpire John Hirschbeck calling him “a little fag”… could we have our first potential Hall of Famer coming out in the pages of an “Out of the Locker: My Tortured Life Denying My Sexuality in MLB”, Oprah Book Club shoo-in? Editors are already camping out in front of his house in hopes of that one.

Now, not to distract from the salacious details of a lurid lawsuit filed against a player that people love to hate, but we do have one guy in this stew who may be in danger of a trip to Federal Prison. Miguel Tejada is your general baseball bad actor– an inveterate juicer, an all around schmuck, and now an indicted liar. The Al Capone irony of this one is rich– instead of going down for his own steroid & HGH use or even for lying about his own use, Tejada is screwed over his lying about the steroid usage of ex-prospect, current nobody Adam Piatt. In an interview with Congressional staffers, Tejada denied talking to Piatt about obtaining HGH and steroids, for which he is now being charged with lying to the Congress. Now I know a lot of Congressional staffers and it is true that making them look bad has negative implications for your life if they cacth you at it and can prove you did wrong, but this? Really? Is anybody sending a CEO to prison this month for lying to Congress? How about the entire previous Presidential Administration? How about every Director of Central Intelligence since Wild Bill Donovan? I’m no Tejada fan, but he’s getting reamed out of frustration by a bunch of Congress Critters and a US Attorney who can’t find any other way to cash in on steroid mania. This is just stupid. Maybe he’ll at least get a book deal out of it though, right? I imagine it’ll be published, or at least hyped, in February of, oh, 2011.

That brings us to the book being hyped now for release around Opening Day, Darryl Strawberry’s combination of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Bronx Zoo. According to publicity releases on this one, Straw talks at length about ballplayers in the ’80s using coke and speed, drinking beer to take the edge off of the illegal stimulants, and getting head in the clubhouse during games. New ground there, eh? Just in case that doesn’t hook you, there’s also the promise of details on the nightly three and four ways the Mets engaged in after a night in the bars and clubs… or you could just go out on the net and see the real thing at any porn site. I’m sure this one will fly off the shelves at Barnes & Noble outlets all over Queens and sell, well, less robustly everywhere else.

Maybe it’ll spawn a new book from some of the Strawberry-Alomar overlap women who can write that they gave Straw head in the clubhouse while having unprotected sex with Alomar and don’t have HIV. Coming soon from (extremely)Random House, I suppose.

Posted in Baseball, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Jerks, Publishing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alex Rodriguez Comes Clean

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 9, 2009

So, sometimes the least likely– and most correct– outcome is what comes to pass. Alex Rodriguez has just come clean and admitted not only to using steroids in 2003, the year that he tested positive in supposedly confidential tests, but that he started using in 2001. He relates his use of PEDs to the signing of his $252,000,000 contract with the Texas Rangers, claiming that the pressure to perform at a top level every day combined with the permissive attitude of MLB in 2001 and the stupidity of youth. He also states that he stopped using steroids in

Wonderful.

Yes, Rodriguez gets some credit for at least explicitly coming clean, going beyond what he had to do by admitting that he used not just in 2003, when he was tagged in the test, but also in 2001 and 2002. The easy outs are to say that he only used once and was unlucky enough to get caught in a test or to say that he only used that year. Either one of those would’ve been sufficient and indeed have been used many times by other players; Rodriguez did more. Good for him.

That being said, he is forever tarnished in the eyes of any serious baseball fan. That Rodriguez used steroids in three of his better years– years in which he hit 52, 57, and 47 home runs, respectively– puts question marks on everything else he did, too. Rodriguez claims that he stopped using in 2003– a plausible claim given that he got nailed in a test and apparently was informed as such by Gene Orza of the Player’s Union.

Rodriguez’ numbers were extremely good in 2001 through ’03, his admitted steroid years, but they also weren’t the best of his career. Using one of the more accurate metrics by which statheads can measure offensive performance, OPS+, we can see many better years for Rodriguez. For my readers who aren’t also readers at RotoJunkie.com, OPS+ is broken out as On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage measured against league average, with the league average being represented as 100. During his three Rangers/steroids years, Rodriguez’ OPS+ were 160, 158, & 147– all fantastic, without question. In 1996, his second full year, his OPS+ was also 160. In 2000, his last year in Seattle, it was 162. With the Yankees in 2005 ARod’s OPS+ was 170 and in 2007 his OPS+ was a ludicrous 177.

More interestingly, when you look at Rodriguez’ numbers during his Texas/steroid years, they show something very interesting– a declining trendline.

 Year Ag Tm  Lg  G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG *OPS+  TB
 2001 25 TEX AL 162  632  133  201  34  1  52  135  18  3  75 131  .318  .399  .622  160  393
 2002 26 TEX AL 162  624  125  187  27  2  57  142   9  4  87 122  .300  .392  .623  158  389
 2003 27 TEX AL 161  607  124  181  30  6  47  118  17  3  87 126  .298  .396  .600  147  364 

During those Texas/steroid years, Rodriguez’ OPS+, his value relative to the league, remained very high but fell each year, especially notable as Rodriguez had moved to one of the best parks for hitters in the American League. If you look at these three years as the peak of the steroid era, the last years in which steroid usage wasn’t specifically punishable in the Majors, we can see American League OPS+ leaders Jason Giambi (198 in 2001), Jim Thome (197 in 2002), and Carlos Delgado (161 in 2003) with Barry Bonds going 259/268/231 in those same years to lead the NL. All of these guys have at least been rumored to have been steroid users, as well.

It is similarly acknowledged that the Steroid Era curtailed in the years after 2003, with testing and penalties now becoming mandatory. As you look at these years, something becomes very evident– the yearly OPS+ leaders, the standouts relative to their respective leagues, say within the realm of reality. No longer do you see the insane 200+ numbers of Barry Bonds after 2004, nor do you see the 195+ numbers of Jason Giambi– you see numbers in the 160 – 180 range in the AL and the same in the NL with the exception of Albert Pujols’ super-human (perhaps literally, if you believe the steroid rumors) 190 in 2008. What this tells us is that the disparity between the juicers of the ’90s and early part of this decade has started to disappear as even the standout players aren’t so far above the average players as to make the eyes goggle. In that time, Alex Rodriguez has posted his two best OPS+ years– his 2005 & 2007 seasons in New York– and played them, allegedly and perhaps quite believably, clean. It does lend some credence to his statement today that after using ‘roids for a few years, he realized that he didn’t need them to perform.

I will never be able to look at ARod the same way again, which is particularly painful as I am a die-hard, lifelong Yankee fan and my five year old loves ARod. He cheated, plain and simple, and at the very least I could never bring myself to look at his numbers from 2001-2003 as part of any career tally, which is huge when you consider that barring injury it’s almost a fait accompli that Rodriguez will blow away Barry Bonds’ career home run record. What makes that even more ironic is that Rodriguez is absolutely right– going from the King Dome and Safeco Field, two fields that were a nightmare for hitters to the launching pad that is the Ball Park at Arlington/Ameriquest/Whatever it’s called now, one of the statistically best places for a home run hitter to play– Rodriguez could’ve put up those numbers or ones nearly indistinguishable without steroids. Most players will tell you that the effect steroids have on hitting home runs is that they let you hit the ball further; for a guy with Rodriguez’ natural talent level going into the Texas homerun haven, that boost probably didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. In Seattle, they would’ve upped his numbers. In Texas, the gains would have been marginal. Did I recently write that nothing is ever simple with this guy?

Going forward, Rodriguez should continue to be one of the great players in the league and one of the greatest in the history of the game.

Sadly, he can never be credited accordingly. He doesn’t deserve to be.

Posted in Baseball, Cultural Phenomena, Jerks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Bruce Springsteen and the Cult Of Audio Idiocy

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 2, 2009

Some people have no capacity for sheer enjoyment.

After Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s performance at the Super Bowl last night, I was confronted with one of my least favorite types of music snobs– the one who can’t simply enjoy the music but has to crap all over it out of a sense of superiority. A friend of a friend posted to Facebook that Springsteen once again proved how “awful” he was and opined that everybody who enjoyed him was a “moron”.

Now let’s be honest– I couldn’t care any less for the musical taste of some random bozo with access to Facebook; it’s a free country and you can listen to whatever you want. Finding out that said bozo was the progeny of a Daddy who had an extensive music collection and thus felt he was entitled to pass judgement on the musical taste of others– now that was annoying in the same way that the Holiday Inn Express genius commercials are annoying.

Toss the name Bruce Springsteen out amongst the musically pretentious and you are bound to hit three of these dopes– people who despise whatever is popular by virtue of its popularity. According to these dilettantes, if the unwashed masses find something enjoyable then it can enjoy no merit of its own– if the musical swine like it, it must be slop. These twits always seem to forget that it is swine who also find truffles.

Whether it is Springsteen or the Beatles or the White Stripes, there is always some fatal flaw that these fools must imagine, some obscure band that they and 17 other brother schmucks have heard of from a website that went down for good three days ago that does it far better or from whom the star act stole their material. I imagine it makes them feel good, feel somehow superior to eschew the band or singer that world has recognized as great and instead revere three meth addicts from Tacoma who couldn’t buy a pack of Twinkies with their career earnings- which of course makes them so much the greater as they haven’t sold out, man.

Here’s reality, Facebook Boy– there are so many great acts out there that nobody has ever heard of that you can stop pretending that you’ve uncovered the greatest band of all time but that you’re the only one who can recognize them due to the anarcho-fascist music industry holding down the talent. It doesn’t make you intelligent or make you seem to have fantastic taste– it makes you an overinflated gasbag in need of catastrophic deflation, preferably with a Slayer keyring.

People love Bruce Springsteen– did you see how the stadium reacted to the man last night? That’s because people love his music. Unless you’re endeavoring to mathematically analyze music and identify the track that adheres most seamlessly to the divine ratio, then please shut the hell up and stop telling us that we’re all wrong and you’re the only possible arbiter of musical taste. It’s music– if it is loved, it is doing exactly what music or any artform is supposed to do. It’s eliciting a reaction.

You, on the other hand, are inducing nausea. I’ll try not to throw up all over your father’s record collection while remembering for the hundreth time that proximity to people with taste is no indication of someone actually having any.

Posted in Cultural Phenomena, Events, Jerks, Music | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

The First Running Local Subway Rat Award

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 2, 2009

rat22Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated has always struck me as a whiny sort, quick to complain about the state of the game but slow to write anything that meaningfully explores it. As it turns out, he had a vested interest in not exploring it.

Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts (h/t to River Ave. Blues) has a piece up today revealing a series of interesting coincidences in which Heyman breaks the news of a major signing and crows about his scoop, but all of the players signed are represented by one agent– Scott Boras. Jason Varitek, Mark Teixeira, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, ARod– Boras clients all, all of their signings, opt-outs and trades broken by Heyman.

Sources are great, but something darker is going on here– Heyman is selling Boras his column space in SI. John Heyman is a tool in every sense of the word– a prominent whiner about player salaries working for Scott Boras. Not only does Heyman break these stories, he also spends a good deal of his time pumping out what are now clearly seen as false rumors to stoke the demand for Boras clients. While you and I as fans like to think that the Brian Cashmans and Billy Beanes of the world are hooked into a world of baseball insider information, they are looking at the papers and tubes as much as we are to try to get a read on what’s happening in the marketplace. If Casman reads that Teixeira is moving into the Red Sox orbit, he must up his bid. If Boras wants his client in Los Angeles in July, Heyman starts talking about what a good fit the player is for the Dodgers and then creates a crisis  by reporting that sources have the Giants or the Padres in talks with the current owners of the player for a trade.

Jon Heyman has been corrupted by the very system he likes to exclaim is corrupt. There’s an irony there, but it is drowned out by the cloying odor of Heyman’s duplicity.

Sports Illustrated also takes  a well deserved hit here, quick on the heels of SI scribbler Tom Verducci’s involvement in Joe Torre’s managerial suicide. It seems they may need a new editor overseeing their baseball coverage– but only if they want to enjoy a reputation for integrity. That may well seem an unaffordable luxury to SI these days.

Anyway, to John Heyman I award the first official Running Local Subway Rat. Enjoy the company, Jon.

Posted in Baseball, Jerks, Running Local Subway Rats | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

PETA Goes Viral, STD-Style

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 29, 2009

Oh for the love of…

It never fails to amaze me when some hoary old media plan “gets it” and uses our collective stupidity against us to make their add all the buzz on the tubes. Every year at just about this time the world comes down with a nasty case of air-transmissable advertising plague featuring symptoms such as scantily clad women, FCC toe curling suggestivity, and the worst symptom of all– a desire to be run during the Superbowl.

This year’s GoDaddy.com “ban me” candidate is PETA’s “Screw Me With A Broccoli” campaign. In the flagship ad, recently rejected by NBC for Superbowl airing, a cavalcade of lingerie clad women cavort with asparagus and go down on pumpkins before one very brief shot of a totally nude woman apparently enjoying the nubbly end of a broccoli on bits of her anatomy where nubbly bits of broccoli apparently feel rather good.

So just as GoDaddy.com has used fake ads designed to be rejected by the Superbowl network to generate publicity, so too does PETA. And people still fall for this.

And here I am writing about it. I think Socrates said it best when he said, “Gack”.

Now, just for my friend ITC, here is your much asked for link to scantily clad women…

Posted in Jerks, Just Annoying | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The Special Calculus of Special Elections

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 26, 2009

feingold1Russ Feingold, so often the darling of the Goo-Go set, is either feeling very cynical this week or he’s just not thinking in terms of reality.

Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, is making noises about proposing a Constitutional Amendment to take away a Governor’s ability to make an appointment to fill out a vacated Senate seat and instead mandate that a special election be held. While that sounds like a very good, very “small-d” democratic solution to the problem of filling a vacant elected office, it is not; in fact it’s a boon to every political machine in the country.

Special elections hugely benefit the political machines and corrupt infrastructure that funds them. If money is the lifeblood of elected politics, then it is the actual corporeal structure of a special. By definition a special involves raising the maximum amount of cash in the minimum amount of time and nearly always favors a political incumbent with pre-made name recognition– people don’t come out of nowhere and win specials. Whoever wins the special is totally beholden to the machine that backed him, pretty much guaranteeing that you aren’t going to have some independent-minded free agent in the slot. This isn’t a secret to anyone who has ever spent a year or two in political life.

If a Governor makes an appointment, you get a similar political insider-type who is beholden to the Governor’s political interests. He or she may face stupid, onerous electoral conditions like New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand does, having to run twice in the next four years for a seat that normally runs on a six year electoral cycle; as a result she will be cutting deals like mad to finance those elections and to fend off what may be a developing coordinated challenge to herself and David Patterson from an unholy Bloomberg-Cuomo alliance. They also face a press that may be inherently hostile due to the unelected nature of the office.

So, if there are significant and equal downsides to each system that lead to very similar people gaining the office, then why would I be so shocked to see Russ Feingold, the alleged defender of good government and loud proponent of saving the public’s money from government folly, going to the absurd length of ammending the Constitution over a basically meaningless procedural change? Very simply because special elections are hugely expensive to the people of the state forced to hold them. A local special, to fill out a County or City office, places a huge financial burden on the municipality; a statewide election, as Feingold would mandate, is a financial kick in the shorts to the entire state for no practical gain over the current flawed system, which at least has the virtue of not causing a huge outpouring of taxpayer money to achieve the same result.

Appointment or Special Election; either way you wind up with a political insider who gets to run for re-election using the expensive (to you and me) tools of incumbency. Why would Russ Feingold decide to ding his political integrity over what is, in essence, a cheap press hit for him on the heels of the Caroline/Burris silliness? The simple answer is the cynicism of politics– he knows that people are outraged over the recent Senatorial follies but that they don’t actually know what they should be outraged against. He’s throwing them some red meat to the lions; he just isn’t telling them that the meat was cut from their own bodies.

From Feingold, that’s a shame.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Jerks | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

He Said, He Said

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 25, 2009

p1joetorreIt’s difficult to sell yourself as anything other than an intellectual fraud when you go to press with a story about how some people are primadonnas when in the act of doing so you reveal yourself to be one, as well.

This is the situation which may be confronting ex-New York icon Joe Torre, now manager of the Left Coast Dodgers. In a book set to be released on February 3rd, written by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci with cooperation from Torre, the former Yankee manager allegedly has more than a few unkind things to say about the team that took him from the scrap heap and made him a Hall of Fame shoo-in.

He apparently relates that Alex Rodriguez is obsessed with Derek Jeter. Not exactly a revelation, but still an unneeded unkindness. He also is said to repeat that ARod is less than popular with his teammates, who at times have referred to him as A-Fraud. No news there, but again…why? He calls some of his former players “primadonnas”. Wow, ballplayers who are full of themselves, who feel unduly privileged and expect to be deferred to? Ground breaking stuff, that.

All of these things may speak to a petty vendetta on the part of Torre, they may speak to a publicist trying to generate hype for a book by taking things out of context, they may speak to Tom Verducci needing a hit as a guy with a bit of a rep for being a jerk and a  few turkeys on his rap sheet. The jury is out at least until the book is too, on February 3rd. These stories, all kind of “uh-huh, yeah, we know” things, may be told in exactly that  vein– they could well be integral to the telling of the story because they are simply part of the background against which it plays out. It makes sense that way, and it is in keeping with Torre’s personality, reputation and temperament. If that’s it, there’s no problem.

What is disturbing is that he is attacking Brian Cashman, who had his back for so long and kept Steinbrenner off of him so many times. The allegation that Cashman somehow stabbed him in the back by not backing his play for a multiyear deal at the conclusion of the 2007 season flies in the face of everything that Torre said in public, that Cashman wanted him to be with the team, that Cashman had defended him and promoted his interests, that Cashman was trying to build the team that Torre wanted despite the pressures exerted by the Steinbrenners.

That is the segment that I hope has been taken out of context, that has been exploited by a publicist or a schmuck of a co-author. If it isn’t that will be a direct character statement on a guy who has become an icon to so many of us, a man who represented the proverbial “steady hand at the tiller amidst the storm”. If this is who Torre is– a guy who is willing to lie either in his book or to his public’s face, then it is he who is the unexpected prima donna.

And that would sadden me.

Posted in Baseball, Jerks, Just Annoying | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Silver Nomads in the Purple Tunnel of Doom

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 22, 2009

I understand security needs. I understand logistics. I even understand that when an event is as large as the Inauguration of Barack Obama, there are going to be problems.

What I don’t understand is how Terry Gainer, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate, is being allowed to blatantly lie about the way yesterday’s Inaugural was carried out in the streets surrounding the Capitol.

Terry Gainer is the bad penny of security here in the Capital; he was the number two at the Washington Metropolitan Police, roundly acknowledged as one of the worst major metropolitan police forces in the nation. Later, he became the Cheif of the Capitol Police, the force that polices the Capitol campus and its environs. The reviews for him there were, and I’m being nice, less than stellar. Now, at the Senate in what should be a fairly ceremonial post as the Sergeant at Arms, he’s still flapping his gums authoritatively about things he knows little about and has no control over.

The golden tickets in Washington this week actually came in many colors; amongst them Orange or Blue got you a seat on the Capitol pediment, Purple got you into the standing area closest to the Capitol, Silver got you into standing areas clustered right in front of the Capitol. The purple tickets were handed out to senior staff of the various Obama state organizations and to the guests of Congressmen; silver were the tickets of the folks who had good connections and those who were insanely lucky enough to get a ticket from their local Representative.

For some those tickets of purple and silver were as good as gold; for perhaps as many as 20,000, however, the alchemy of the Secret Service turned them not just to lead but nearly to arsenic. According to Sergeant-at-Arms Gainer, however, there were a few thousand people “inconvenienced”, for reasons that he’s given at various times as “overcrowding”, “counterfeit tickets”, “everybody unexpectedly showing up”, and a few other whoppers.

My party of six all had silver tickets and, in theory, did everything right. We set a 4am alarm here in Alexandria, about 25 minutes from the Capitol by rail. We were on the street in DC by 6.20, better than five hours in advance of the ceremony. We grabbed a cup of coffee at Union Station and set out for what we anticipated to be a semi-chaotic but ultimately rewarding process.

For a while things made sense– there were immense banners and signs color coded to the tickets, clearly illustrating where to go from Union Station. For some reason they petered out at the Purple Gate, leaving the Silver group, by far the largest of the officially ticketed hordes, to wander in search of bafflingly sparse officials to guide them.

The Purples had problems, too. At the corner of First Street and Louisiana Avenue the mob was forming. Unpublicized amongst the official calls to arrive at the Capitol insanely early, the Secret Service had decided to not open any gates until nine o’clock. What needs to be understood is that in addition to preventing access, they also prevented outflow. Streets all over the area were closed by the Secret Service to prevent people from moving freely in the secure zone– they had basically created a very small, steel mesh bag and kept pouring more and more people into it without regard for safety.

That bag’s largest node on the north side of the National Mall was First Street NW between Louisiana Avenue & D Street, a span of roughly a block and a half. By 7am, that area was literally a wall of humanity. As the Purple ticket holders arrived to find the gates still locked, they quickly overmassed the designated holding area and someone– whether it was the Secret Service, the Army, the Metropolitan Police, the DEA, or one of the many other police authorities and agencies out there– decided to have line up on First Street. They filled it in no time flat. The problem was that according not only to the instructions on the back of the tickets and some of the officials on the street, the Silver people were supposed to head up First to D and make a left to reach their access point to the Mall at Third & D.

As we attempted to do as we were instructed with several thousand of our closest friends in tow, we ran into the wall. It appeared to be an impossibility– First Street was literally packed from curb-to-curb and from Louisiana to D with people who couldn’t lift their arms due to overcrowding. We found a uniformed Secret Service agent and asked him what to do– his advice was to head up First as it was our only option. We trusted the positive mood of the day and the good humor of the people and, with a chanted mantra of “Excuse me”, waded into the fray. After nearly 20 minutes that saw us progress about a half block into the one and a half block corridor a river of people were pushing their way back towards Louisiana with the incredible news that D Street was closed by the Secret Service and that people were being told to go back to Louisiana Avenue. After a few moments of disbelief and then finding a low wall to climb and confirm that D was indeed closed, we retreated.

After a twenty minute slog back through the still condensing crowd, we made it back to Louisiana. We could see another line hard against the walls of the Department of Labor at Second Street and, having nowhere else to go we tried again to wade through an increasingly hostile crowd of Purple People to get to it. This time, to cross a span of about 100 feet took fifteeen minutes. Things were getting much worse, and we were becoming the Silver Nomads upon the Purple Sea.

Finally reaching the other side of the Purple line, we headed for the Department of Labor only to find that line was also composed of Purples and that there was no access to Silver portals there, either. A police officer walking 20 feet overhead on the walls of the Department of Labor advised us to head for the tunnel that runs under Labor and out to D Street. We got to its mouth and saw what looked an awful lot like hell. The tunnel stretched off in a straight line far into the distance, with an intersecting tunnel to the left, through which the line stretched in a solid, unmoving wall of people at least a half mile long and ten abreast. Seeing that there was no way we could ever negotiate it, we again retreated. That tunnel, in which thousands of, again, Purple ticket holders were trapped until after the ceremony, has come to be known as the Purple Tunnel of Doom across the blogosphere.

We came back to the area aroudn the labor department and were told by a Secret Service agent to, incredibly, head back up First Street but to stay by the left-hand walls. We debated if he was insane or not and found a police officer who opined that he was… but told us to go back to the tunnel. A Military Police sergeant dressed head to toe in camos told us to do something completely different and impossible– it had become clear that none of the authorities were talking to each other. We headed back into the First Street blender, sticking to the left wall.

Suffice it to say that over the next hour and a half, as we inched forward towards D Street literally through the bushes, shrubs, railings and grates that abutted the walls of the buildings to the left side, our arms pinned to our sides and with no ability to turn our bodies at most times to the left or right no real progress was made. The sheer weight of those behind us caused forward motion not because D Street was open, but because the mass of people was being further and further, almost impossibly, compressed.

At 9.40, the Secret Service succumbed to that inexorable pressure and opened D Street to a single file line of people coming up our left wall. We had seen people injured, we had seen brave medics and doctors– not in an official capacity, mind you, but just members of the mob– fight their way backwards to help them. Finally, after nearly two hours in the blender, we emerged onto D Street and a wide open street. The Army told us to move to Third and D, the marked Silver portal, and head in. It wasn’t to be.

Reaching Third Street, we were confronted with a security cordon manned by the DC Metropolitan Police. An officer helpfully told us to ball up our silver tickets and throw them away– the Secret Service had set up Silver gates in places that they weren’t supposed to causing more chaos, with two of those gates– according to the cop– “exploding”. All Silver portals were closed and we were told to head down Third to reach the general public viewing areas back on the Mall. That advice lasted for all of 100 feet– the Army had put up steel fences across Third Street and declared that only Parade ticket holders could cross there, despite the fact that the parade wasn’t going to happen for five hours and the huge mass who had broken free of First Street was filling the space. We headed back the way we had come only to find the Secret Service telling us to go back again tot he steel fences. The Army told us to go back to the Secret Service and tell them to stop sending them people. Chaos, again, reigned.

We fell back on the DC police strongpoint and they gave us the one decent bit of information we had all day– they were opening the Third Street Tunnel, which runs under the mall, to pedestrians to get to the other side of the city. Heading underground into the massive freeway tunnel that runs beneath the Capitol precincts, we walked about a mile and came out to reassuring signs once again directing us to the Silver portals on that side of town. It was 10.15am, the ceremony started at 11.30, and we were finally going to get in. The energy and laughter of the early morning had returned.

We then turned the corner and saw the Silver line. We walked on, trying to find its end. It changed direction every block, stretching around buildings, up streets, across open spaces. As a longtime DC area resident who has been through his portion of Presidential event security screenings, this line was at least– at least– three hours long. We were finally, inexorably defeated. We grabbed a vantage point at 6th & Maryland along a Jersey wall with a blocked view of the Capitol six blocks away and no chance of hearing anything and sent out a scouting party to figure out how to get onto the Mall in the general area. That was impossible as well– at seventh street the police told us that 14th was the next access, but it was closing as we spoke– 23rd street, on the other side of the Washington monument and with no view of the Capitol over a mile away, was the new access and it would likely last only a few minutes.

Our party splintered shortly thereafter. My wife and I headed for the plaza in front of the Native American museum, which had no speakers but had some view of the Capitol. We waited to see Obama walk out onto the Capitol Platform, took some great pictures of people in trees trying to see, and headed for the subway knowing that if we stayed we’d hear nothing and face equal chaos on the way out of town.

We were frustrated, yes, but we were also exhilarated– we had shared the moments of history in a crowd that was, for the most part, buoyed by the day and that had maintained decorum in what easily could have been a stampede and trampling situation. The people we felt bad for were those who had paid more than the $1.85 we had paid to reach the ceremony– we felt bad for our random Irishman who was denied entry by the poor planning and lack of communication amongst the authorities, whom we were told by a Metropolitan police sergeant were not in radio contact– the Secret Service had denied access to their radio net to the other agencies, even though Secret Service had overall control of the streets. We felt bad for the little old ladies who had waited a lifetime for this, who had made the trek from the Deep South at great cost to see history– and were denied. We felt bad for the disabled people who we were told, again by Metro PD, were literally upended and thrown from their wheelchairs at the Disabled entrance when the crowd broke free and charged the gate. We felt bad for the women hit by a train when she was forced from the platform at Gallery Place by the crowds.

So, Terry Gainer, Sergeant-at-Arms to the Senate, today I call you a liar in addition to being incompetent. To the Secret Service, a group I’ve always admired, I hand the shame and despair of those who wandered through the crowds, who got stuck in the tunnels, who came to experience history, not your ludicrous lack of planning and cooperation.

History was made on Tuesday. Only the good humor of the mob kept tragedy, rather than annoyance, from sharing that stage.

Posted in American History, American Politics, Autobiographical, Events, Jerks, Just Annoying | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hunting Big Game With Senator Sanders

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 14, 2009

As the Bush Administration comes to its closing days, some in our nation look back with anger, some look back with nostalgia for the days before 9-11, some look back with regret that the Conservative Era seems to be coming to a close.

Some look back, however, only long enough to line up a massive kick to the balls.

Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, just put on his size 14 Timberlands and delivered such a blow to the groin of Mr. Bush. Upon getting word that the National Portrait Gallery was preparing to hang the official portrait of the outgoing President, Sanders became interested in just how the documentary caption would read. Suffice it to say he was dismayed with the part that included the phrase, “…the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . .”.

Senator Sanders, as Senator Sanders is known to do, schitzed out.

Putting aside the work piled on his Senatorial Plate by a couple of wars, a crushing financial crisis, huge unemployment in Vermont– where even iconic businesses like Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Cheese are laying off workers– Senator Sanders took pen in hand and set out to rewrite “history”.

In a scathing letter to the Director of the National Gallery, Sanders made it clear that he held a differing opinion and from what I’m told (h/t to a friend on the Hill for this one!) made it equally clear in conversation that if his edits weren’t reflected in the caption then the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, would have an awfully hard time getting what it needed out of the Federal Budget in years to come.

So, thanks to Academician Sanders, we now have perfect clarity of thought in the Bush portrait caption, which is sure to be pored over by what, seven or eight people over the coming 50 years? The caption will now read, “Bush found his two terms in office instead marked by a series of cataclysmic events: the attacks on September 11, 2001; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina; and a financial crisis during his last months in office.”. I admit that it is more accurate… but was it worth it?

Congratulations, Senator– you can now mount President Bush’s nuts over your fireplace. Seems like a small prize to have used your big guns on.

Posted in American Politics, Bush, CongressCritters, History, Jerks | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

On the Nobility of Crustaceans

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 11, 2009

georgedalobsta1Most would say that I’m a pretty liberal person, at least on social issues (on foreign policy those same might say I’m slightly to the right of Atilla). I believe fervently in civil rights for all, that undocumented immigrants are far more scapegoat than problem, that people are inherently good unless they hail from New England and illogically choose to wear their socks on their hat. I believe that many liberal groups are in the right but that the ACLU isn’t of the left but rather a force for neutrality. Hell, I even think that PETA occasionally has a clue and I’m as carnivorous as they come.

This is not one of those occasions.

Apparently someone dropped a dime to the good folks at PETA to let them know of a travesty occurring at City Crab in Manhattan. Now I’ve eaten at City Crab and can personally attest to the fact that several humanitarian tragedies happen there every day, but this isn’t an entry about the quality of the cooking there. No, this is about a very different situation– the plight of George, the 120 Year Old Lobster.

I think that many people harbor some deep seated guilt about lobsters sitting idly in restaurant tanks, rubber bands on their claws and a date with a vessel of water somewhat less commodious than their display aquarium on the horizon. I always chuckle when my kids insist on paying a visit to the lobster tank at our local supermarket to say “Hi” to the lobsters in the same way they want to stop and say “Hi” to the rescue cats up for adoption at the pet store. Many would like to harbor that illusion; we’re societaly uncomfortable with the concept of meeting the meat.

Enter George, all 20 succulent pounds of him sitting on display at City Crab waiting for that special moment in which he can be truly appreciated by some expense account salesman trying to prove to a client that his company isn’t impacted by the economic downturn. George, as I said, is estimated to be 120 years old– he looked up at some point and saw the last of the wooden-hulled schooners pass overhead into New England’s harbors, he saw the WW II convoys form and the days of the passenger liner come to an end. He has struggled mightily to overcome the pollution of his waters, the rapacious overfishing, global warming– but was ultimately betrayed by hunger and was captured by humans, only to be eaten. It’s a tragedy… or would be if George wasn’t an ocean-going cockroach with the awareness of a brick and the brainpower of kelp.

You see, lobsters are alive by all biological tests– they respire, convert energy, reproduce– but so do dandelions, which seem to be a much cannier species as they have developed defenses to chemical warfare that would be the envy of DARPA. Yes, George is a 120 year old lobster… which I guess some think is worthy of respect? We’re not sticking Great Grandma in a tank and then steaming her up, folks– we’re talking about something more closely related to a scorpion than a cow. George can make a bluefish look like Einstein.

PETA, of course, sees things differently– they’d have us revere George and never eat anything that has a face. Upon being informed of the plight of poor old George (informing George of his plight of course being useless), PETA swung into action and talked the owners of City Crab into “liberating” George and then burned fossil fuels enough to drive him back to Maine, ship him offshore, and dump him back into the Atlantic. 10 out of 10 for style, I suppose, but minus several hundred for logically defending the planet’s resources, eh?

So George, venerable George, can now live out his days at the bottom of his Atlantic home chomping on whatever it is that lobsters chomp upon.

At least, in the end, one boon to humanity has resulted from this whole imbroglio– City Crab will screw up one fewer expensive entree. For that, PETA, I thank you.

Posted in Food, Jerks, Just Annoying, Restaurants | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Ironic World of Bobby Rush

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 6, 2009

Bobby Rush had a large tumor cut out of his throat to save him from cancer; the scar from that, however, is 2803066331_3498031398_onothing compared to the one where his nose used to be, the result of self-mutilation in spite of his face.

A founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party and every inch the radical that the GOP failed to portray Barack Obama as during the campaign, Rush has gone from being an effective agent of social change to the stooge that he always railed against. While many only need to read as far into Rush’s biography as the Black Panther tag, Rush took his notoriety and organization and did some amazing things with them back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. From sickle-cell testing and awareness to education reform and nutrition programs, Rush embodied his ethos and moved forward issues and programs badly needed by his community literally by force of will. The “radical organization as social services provider” model that he promulgated has been twisted to more nefarious purposes by many groups since, with Hamas being the one most currently in the public eye.

How sad it is, then, to see what Rush has become, an aging crank who is literally becoming the stooge of the people whom he so virulently railed against throughout his life. Over the past week Rush has forced himself back onto the scene by enlisting in one of the dumbest causes seen of late, the push by Rod Blagojevich to appoint Roland Burris to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Burris is an old line Chicago politician of a similar stripe to Rush, but with one significant difference– Burris knowingly sold out to the Chicago establishment years and years ago, maintaining his Civil Rights status as a thin camouflage for his naked ambition. His appointment by Blagojevich is seen by many as a “screw you” to Barack Obama, whom Blagojevich sees as the proximate cause of his downfall.

Rush’s frenzied support of Burris slips into that “Screw Obama” template quite handily. Rush has long despised the President-Elect as the reflection of everything that Rush saw himself to be in his youth but failed to be as a member of the establishment that he sought to reform. Young Obama, the community organizer on the South Side stomping grounds of Rush, brought a measured and calm approach to helping the community, yes, one part Alinsky but three parts Harvard. Whereas Rush would’ve railed against “the man” and crammed what he needed for the community down “his” throat, Obama worked the system to achieve his goals deftly and with a maximum of resident participation but also a minimum of screaming and stress. When a more mature State Senator Obama sought to move into the national scene, it was the aging dinosaur Rush whom he set his sights upon. Obama primaried Rush in 2000 for his House seat and suffered the only electoral loss of his career to date in a nasty primary that saw Rush frequently resort to harsh personal attacks on Obama, calling him at times a “…Harvard educated fool”, a “puppy”, and, most surprisingly from a civil rights leader like Rush, a “boy”.

This past week has seen Congressman Rush continue his harsh personal attacks on Barack Obama coupled with racial invective totally inappropriate to the situation. Rush has become the token black activist serving at Blagojevich’s behest, forwarding the cynical supposition that the Democratic resistance to Buriss’ appointment is a matter of racism rather than one of propriety and legality. From his hateful use of the lynching hot point to his comparison of the “cause” of Blagojevich & Burris to the Jena Nine, Rush parodies everything he has ever stood for.

He still is a racial firebrand, but his torch is now wielded not by an oppressed minority seeking to burn down their oppressor’s castle but by that cynical and haughty Duke himself in order to set light to the pyre upon which the original cause is burnt.

Rush today is Rush as satire and nothing more. Railing against the manifestation of his dreams, an African-American President drawn from the Community Organizing movement of the South Side of Chicago, for the sake of a guy who is every bit the plantation master would be comical were it not so sad. His is a very modern tragedy.

Posted in American Politics, Jerks | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Barry Bonds– Still Unhip

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 3, 2009

bondsSome people just can’t take a hint. Barry, you’re the all-time HR leader, you were still hitting the hell out of the ball when your contract with San Francisco ran out… and still nobody signed your oft-injected ass last winter despite the numbers you could still put up. Fast forward a year and we have the news that Barry had hip surgery earlier this week to get ready for 2009, as he intends to play in the Majors again.

When they stuck that scalpel in Bonds’ hip they should’ve stuck a fork in his ass. Bonds is done. He has already disgraced himself, granted, but perhaps Barry could try to rekindle some last flicker of dignity by accepting his fate like the man that someone who has injected the incredible amount of testosterone into his body that he has should be.

Posted in Baseball, Jerks | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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