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Worst American Birthdays, vol. XI

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

Many amazing people were born on this date: sociologist Emile Durkheim, journalist and labor leader Asa Philip Randolph, the incomparable blues mistress Bessie Smith, and Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci, interestingly enough, once wrote that “the act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions.” Perhaps if the sensuous Omer Lay and the pretty Ruth Reese Lay had taken heed of da Vinci’s nauseated warning in the late summer of 1941, the world might have been spared the birth of Kenneth Lee “Kenny Boy” Lay — a human monster — nine months later.

Ken Lay’s official website remembers him not as a horrid corporate criminal but as a paternalistic, plantation master:

Ken loved Enron, and saw the company as one of limitless possibilities. He often talked of the incredible talent at Enron and believed that the Enron employees were unsurpassed in any industry. Ken believed the real value of Enron was in its people. From the most junior employee to his top executives, Ken treated all with the same dignity and respect they deserved as children of God. Employees often remarked on how he recalled their names, family, and other personal details they shared with him.

Those employees — 20,000 of whom lost their jobs in the greatest corporate collapse in American history — now remember Ken Lay as the man who urged them to sink their pensions into Enron’s company stock. Their retirement nest eggs liquidated by the staggering venality of Lay and Jeff Skilling, many of these people will now have to work until they quite literally drop dead.

If Lay had not devoted his life to plugging his arteries with rich, fatty spunk, he would have turned 65 years old today. Of course he would quite probably have spent his special day in prison, eating pan brownies instead of defrauding the public; instead, like an unwanted gas station hot dog, Ken Lay now rotates slowly and eternally on a greasy, barbed grate in the nether reaches of Hell. Sadly, Kenny Boy’s passing was not the joyous occasion it should by all rights have been. By virtue of an agonizing quirk of law, Lay’s death — because it happened before his federal convictions could be affirmed — vacated all charges against him.


[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

We would be remiss in not observing Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson’s contribution as a pioneer has probably obscured his talent as a ballplayer; between age thirty and thirty-three, he posted four consecutive seasons of a 10+ WARP (Wins Above Replacement). This is an outstanding achievement, and one that would have put him in the Hall of Fame even without the malfeasance of Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the rest of his gang.

Great man, great ballplayer.

…it should be noted also that there is no simple North/South story to tell about the color line. Although white major leaguers may have come disproportionately from the South, the only Southern cities in the majors in 1947 were Washington and St. Louis. Kenesaw Mountain Landis himself was the son of a Union officer who had fought at the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain, during Sherman’s March through Georgia.

Critical Ineptitude

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

Among my numerous intellectual deficits, I’m not a very articulate film-and-TV-talking-guy like Scott, Rob, or DJW. I haven’t watched television since August, and I’ve seen exactly two films in the theater since my daughter was born almost a year ago. Both of those latter excursions (Nacho Libre and 300) were wretched, and both were seen with a colleague who will never be able to speak the words, “I was thinking of going to see [X] this weekend — do you have any interest in–” without being swatted atop his balding pate with the nearest blunt object.

Notwithstanding my bad luck and recent distance from most things cultural, I like to think I have a pretty good sense of what sucks and does not suck, even if my ability to explain why more closely resembles the idiom of Beavis and Butthead than that of my co-bloggers.

Having said that, I hope I’ll not find much disagreement that Glenn Reynolds’ favorite new film blogger must be some sort of clown:

Here’s part of his review of Little Miss Sunshine, a review the Ole Perfesser seems to find insightful in some way:

What is billed as a charming and quirky comedy is actually a painful exercise in “let’s make fun of the dysfunctional family.” If you get the impression I didn’t much like the picture, you may be right.

This one hour and 43 minute study in misery and seat squirming is the story of a truly sad family and their odyssey to make it to the youngest daughter’s “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant. “Sunshine” is actually reminiscent of funnier movies, like National Lampoon’s Vacation, even down to certain plot points that I won’t give away here. But while the latter actually amused, Little Miss Sunshine simply made me want to hide my face in my hands and pray for the end credits.

As the cliche has it, reasonable people can disagree over the merits of LMS. I loved it — nine months after everyone else did, apparently — but could imagine that someone else might not. I happen to enjoy films about people coming to grips with their own limitations.

On the other hand, I don’t think any reasonable person could have this to say about West Wing:

Once every so often, you find a TV show that transcends the standard fare, and that achieves the extraordinary. For me and many others the first four seasons of The West Wing did just that. I remember one commentator being astounded that policy wonk issues could form the basis of a successful hour-long drama. But that observation misses the point. It wasn’t so much the stories that grabbed the viewer, it was the incredible pacing and dialogue. Watching a West Wing episode was not only a pleasure for those who thrive on snappy repartee, it was also a challenge. Creator-writer Aaron Sorkin paces his stories along so fast, you better pay close attention, or you’ll miss something good.

Or this:

The Shawshank Redemption would have been the best movie of the year any year. Except 1994, when it was released. That was also the year of Forrest Gump. Talk about an embarassment of riches!

“Embarrassment” strikes me as the appropriate term, but perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Why I Want to Bang My Head Against a Wall, Part 594292

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

From an email from the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project to the Coalition for Women Prisoners:

In case you have not yet heard, for the first time in almost 30 years,
the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) has suggested changes to the
Minimum Standards, which are the rules governing conditions of
confinement in City jails. Some of the proposals include: increased
crowding, increased lock-in, use of jail uniforms for pre-trial
detainees, removal of the requirement to provide sufficient Spanish
language interpreters, and greater mail and phone restrictions.

Because that’s exactly what people detained in NYC jails, already pretty dismal places, need. Especially at a time when inmates have less power than ever to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Less help understanding the charges against them, less connection with their families, less space to sleep while they wait for hours and hours to see the judge. Having spent time at the court holding pens that the BOC oversees at the Manhattan and Brooklyn courthouses, it’s hard to imagine that people held there would have fewer rights. Already it’s a fight to get adequate food, access to a telephone, and personalized medical care. These new rules would apply both to Rikers Island, the city’s main jail, and other city jail facilities; sometimes, people who have not yet been convicted are held there. How’s that for innocent until proven guilty?

The proposed new minimum standards would, among other things, allow jail staff to listen in to telephone calls and screen inmate mail without a warrant and increase the number of people confined to their cells 23 hours per day.

In the comments to one of my earlier posts, people talked about the lack of political will to change systemic problems in the criminal justice system, like the use of eyewitness IDs or even the death penalty. This is just one small thing. Is the political will lacking even for this? Some days I think it might be.

That’s where the wall comes in.

But you can help prove me wrong. There’s an online petition. Go sign it.

Also at A Bird and a Bottle.

Times Style Section Discovers Fun New Trend: Serial Rape

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

What on earth is a story about a designer who’s been accused of rape by a number of models, some underage, doing in the Style Section? Because the women were models, it’s a trend piece?

A truly fascinating note is the contrast between the headline on the story: “The Designer Who Liked Models,” and the title appearing at the top of the web page: “models-rape-sexual battery-Anand Jon – New York Times.” The web-monkey who came up with the latter title appears to live on the same planet I do; I can’t say the same for the headline writer. (Also at Unfogged.)

The Juice is Running…

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

Hilzoy explains why deficits matter for progressive politics:

Total Spent On Debt Service: 405.9 billion

Yes, that’s right: had we simply paid our bills on time, more or less, we would not only not be running a deficit, we would have $157.9 billion dollars to either refund to taxpayers or spend on some new program. For instance, we could have universal health care coverage for this amount of money. Think of it: we could all have health insurance, without having to pay one cent above what we’re paying today. No more wondering what will happen to your health coverage if you lose your job. No more wishing you could take a different job, which you can’t because the job you want has no health insurance, or because you have a preexisting condition. No more just not having any health insurance at all. All for free — if only we had not run up deficits in previous years.

About one in every six dollars that we pay in taxes goes to pay not for anything useful, like fixing bridges, but for debt service. Stupid, boring, utterly pointless debt service. I wish those anti-tax organization that talk about “Tax Freedom Day”, or whatever they call that day when you’ve earned enough to pay your taxes and get to keep the rest for yourself, would be honest enough to have two days: “taxes for actual government services freedom day”, which would come when we’d paid the taxes that don’t go to debt service, and “taxes we pay only because we were dumb enough to listen to Grover Norquist and the rest of you idiots freedom day”, which would come when we’d finished paying off the rest.

The Origins of A Great Parody

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

If the hypnotic appeal of Sandy Belle won’t be spoiled by some old-fashioned journalism, Garance gets to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, moving on to unintentional parody I should note that the Right Brothers have a new album for your online listening pleasure. I suggest skipping “I’m In Love With Ann Coulter” and move on to the one which literally consists of nothing but listing “liberals we can’t stand.” Which includes Lindsey Graham (to Bush dead-enders, apparently even nominal opposition to torture is unacceptable) and John McCain. Have they been offered a Pajamas Media gig yet? Or at least been hired as writers for the 1/2 Hour News Hour?

April 14, 1865

[ 0 ] April 14, 2007 |

John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, Mary Surratt, and David Herold.

From the "Comment Would be Superfluous" Files

[ 0 ] April 14, 2007 |

[Via Apostropher.]

Crocodile Tears

[ 0 ] April 14, 2007 |

You know what’s funny? Free market theologians complaining about sufferings of “disadvantaged minorities” at the hands of people like . . . uh . . . John Muir. No, really. Because if there’s anything responsible for the deaths of 11 million poor children each year, it’s those racist environmentalists.

Rubble Boy, of course, approves.

Yep, that about sums it up.

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

From Jamie Spencer, Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer:

Judges Can’t Sentence “Drugs” to Prison. Instead, they sentence people to prison. So let’s just be honest about it, and start calling it the ‘War on Drug Users’, OK?”

How right he is. Punishing drug addiction is unconstitutional since addiction is an illness, so we punish behaviors ancillary to drug addiction. But really, the war on drugs is a war on people who use drugs. And, because of the sentencing disparities, mostly on poor people or people of color who use drugs. But to admit that might — gasp! — garner some sympathy for users and antipathy to the government’s approach to them. And we can’t have that.

via Coleslaw; cross-posted at A Bird and a Bottle.

Colfax Massacre

[ 0 ] April 13, 2007 |

Today is the 134th anniversary of the massacre in Colfax, Louisiana, where white and black militias clashed in an Easter Sunday battle that left scores of blacks dead. According to a racist historical marker located at the site of the killings, the white victory “marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.”

The roots of the massacre originated with the disputed elections of 1872, which produced rival claimants to the governorship as well as local offices throughout the state; as conservative whites labored to bring an end to Reconstruction and restore white rule, their candidates struggled for power against black and white Republicans backed by the US Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant. Parallel inaugural ceremonies were conducted on 14 January 1873, as two different governors asserted their authority. Political order throughout the state collapsed, and open, organized violence took its place. In Grant Parish, a newly-created majority black district located in central Louisiana, the contest for local offices of judge and sheriff led initially to the installation of white candidates. These “victors” were soon nudged aside, however, by a federal judge who ruled in favor of their black rivals (who probably won the election in the first place). When the officials took control of the courthouse, hundreds of black residents of the parish, fearing reprisals, took shelter at the courthouse as irregular white forces assembled across the countryside and converged on the town of Colfax.

As the Colfax Chronicle deceptively recounted the events in 1914,

The Negroes took over and rioted, rifled homes, and said they were going to kill all the white men and take their white women and start a new race. The Negroes then carried out rape, robbery and murder. They took white judge Rutland’s deceased son’s casket out of the judge’s home and threw it on the ground.

Alarm over the Negro’s action spread into the surrounding Parishes and 200 white men responded to the call for help. They demanded the Negroes give up the offices and records. The Negroes said no. The Negroes also threw up breastworks from trenches they dug around the courthouse. The whites told the Negroes to remove their women and children, which they did. Some Negroes went home due to the delay in fighting, just a standoff. Several days passed.

After a nearly two-week seige, on Easter 1873 the assembled white mob — led by former Confederate army officers — set fire to the courthouse. When armed blacks fired on the white paramilitary force, a four-hour battle commenced. By the end, three members of the White League had been killed while more than one hundred blacks died. Most of the deaths took place after the fighting had ceased as the White League forces shot, mutilated and dumped the bodies of their victims into the Red River.

Although federal charges were brought against nine Colfax conspirators under the 1870 Enforcement Act, the Supreme Court ruled in Cruikshank (1876) that the 14th Amendment — which the 1870 law was intended to uphold — applied only to state actions and did not apply to individuals.

With the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval, the rout was on. In the wake of the violence at Colfax, white paramilitary forces assembled throughout the state and across the South with the aim of ending “Negro domination” once and for all. In 1874, Louisiana gubernatorial candidate John McEnery insisted that “we shall carry the next election, if we have to ride saddle-deep in blood to do it.” Although his boast was not fulfilled, the violence in Louisiana continued. Republicans held control for three more years until the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877.

(cross-posted at Axis of Evel Knievel)

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