Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A rare victory for "Whitey"

In a 5-4 split decision the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the firefighters in a reverse discrimination suit, where a majority of the justices ruled that the city of New Haven, CT, improperly threw out the results of promotional exams that officials said left too few minorities qualified. The high court was being asked to decide whether there was a continued need for special treatment for minorities, or whether enough progress has been made to make existing laws obsolete, especially in a political atmosphere in which an African-American occupies the White House.

Being a white male myself perhaps I’m not qualified to have an opinion on this topic. That being said I strongly believe that affirmative action is an out-of-date concept which has no place in today’s society. Hopefully the Supreme Court’s decision in this case is a positive step in the right direction towards the complete elimination of all affirmative action policies from both the public and private sectors.

At the center of the case were the promotional exams taken by key plaintiff Frank Ricci and other firefighters in 2003 for lieutenant and captain positions that had become available in New Haven. Or more specifically it was the scores achieved on those exams. The top 10 exam scorers (in the competition for eight positions) were all white. The top African-American candidate scored 14th, and the top Hispanic candidate scored 27th. When the results came back, city attorneys expressed concern about the results, and the New Haven corporation counsel -- after several public hearings -- refused to certify the test, and no promotions were given.

I can only imagine how those conversations must have gone:

City Council Asshat #1: “Why would we possibly want to reward the diligent firefighters who busted their asses studying for this exam and subsequently achieved the highest scores? That totally wasn’t the point of the exam at all.”

City Council Asshat #2: “I couldn’t agree with you more. The point of the exam was not to identify the most qualified candidates for promotion but instead to create an ethnically diverse group of firefighters to promote."

City Council Asshat #3: “Shit, we were careful as hell to ensure broad racial participation in the design and administration of the test. How were we supposed to know 8 white dudes would get the top 8 scores?"

All together in City Council Asshat harmony: “Fuck it – let’s just throw out the test results and pretend it never happened.” (followed by a hearty round of laughter)

Head City Council Asshat in Charge (after a brief pause to try and stop laughing): “Then it’s settled. We’re all in agreement to put a hold on the promotions until we can figure out a more “fair” way to select a culturally diverse group of captains and lieutenants. Now on to the next order of business.”

At issue in the case was whether the city intentionally discriminated -- in violation of both federal law and the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. "The city rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. "Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions."

Thank you Justice Kennedy. Thank you for cutting through all the bullshit, innuendo, and misperception in this case, and for being the voice of reason on the “highest” court in the land. You haven’t allowed your judgment to be clouded by misguided public opinion or partisan political posturing or pressure from the special interest groups, and for that I commend you. A level head like yours is exactly what the Supreme Court needs during these pragmatic times that our country currently faces.

In a dissent read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned the fairness of the test, which was 60 percent written and 40 percent oral. "Relying so heavily on pencil-and-paper exams to select firefighters is a dubious practice," Ginsburg said, calling the majority ruling "troubling." "Congress endeavored to promote equal opportunity in fact, and not simply in form. The damage today's decision does to that objective is untold," she said.

Relying on pencil-and-paper exams to select fire captains is a dubious and troubling practice? Seriously, Ruth? Are you somehow suggesting that intelligence should not be an important criteria in the selection of a fire captain? What about the situations where captains are forced to make split seconds decision that could literally mean life or death for their men and the people they’re attempting to rescue? Would it not be a benefit to have the smartest men on the squad making these types of decisions? If you really believe the answer to this question is no then you’re just plain stupid. You go on to say that the ruling will damage the promotion of equal opportunity. Hmm, that’ s interesting. I’d say rewarding those who put forth the greatest performance, regardless of their ethnic background, is the very definition of equal opportunity. But then I’m not a Supreme Court justice so what do I know, right Ruth?

The city said that under a federal civil rights law known as Title VII, employers must ban actions such as promotion tests that would have a "disparate impact" on a protected class, such as a specified race or gender. Kennedy argued that "the process was open [and] fair" and that the city officials "were careful to ensure broad racial participation in the design of the test itself and its administration." He added that "race-based action like the city's in this case is impermissible under Title VII unless the employer can demonstrate a strong basis in evidence that, had it not taken the action, it would have been liable" under the law dealing with "disparate impact." Kennedy said the city had not met that threshold.

In short Title VII does not apply to this case, so quit trying to manipulate a 45-year-old policy to defend your indefensible actions, city of New Haven.

The case has received added attention because high court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor was on the appellate court that dismissed the appeal. Sotomayor was part of a three-judge panel that ruled in February 2008 to uphold a lower court decision supporting New Haven's move to throw out the results. In June 2008, Sotomayor was part of a 7-6 majority that denied a rehearing of the case by the full court.

It’s a good thing Sotomayor hasn’t already been fully approved for the Supreme Court or she certainly would have squashed this case again, and then the unfortunate white firefighters from New Haven, CT, would have been screwed for a third time. America - meet your newest Supreme Court Justice.

What really jumps out at me in this case is not so much that the Supreme Court got the decision right but more so the slim margin by which they got it right. The firefighters won the ruling by a 5-4 vote which means 4 out of 9 justices actually agreed with the city of New Haven’s discriminatory actions. Think about that. 4 out of 9 Supreme Court justices support blatant racism, albeit reverse racism, but racism all the same. Can you imagine what would have happened if the top 8 exam scorers happened to be African-American or Hispanic firefighters, and the city of New Haven refused to certify those test scores because they were hoping to promote white candidates instead?

If affirmative action really is the answer how about we make it apply in both directions? Here’s a ridiculous example to illustrate how this might work. I’m a huge fan of the NFL but I can’t help but notice how few white players there are in the league. Perhaps the NFL should institute a quota system to fix this disparity? Sure the talent level in the NFL would go way down and many more qualified and deserving black athletes would be unfairly left off the rosters but oh well at least affirmative action will have done its job in promoting diversity and equal opportunity, right? There was clearly a time when affirmative action was a necessity to level the playing field in an unbalanced society, but that time has passed. Let’s follow the lead of the 5 justices on the Supreme Court who’ve already embraced this reality and put an end to ALL discrimination once and for all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Observations on the recent fan riots in LA

“True” L.A. Lakers fans celebrated their NBA championship victory on Sunday night (June 14) by rioting outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Eyewitness reports said that the police officers at the scene were being belted with rocks and bottles. There were also reports of fans starting fires, including a report that at least one police vehicle was set on fire. Live footage at 9:15pm local time from a local television station clearly showed rioters attacking signs and shop fronts. Police control of the area appeared to be limited, with vehicle traffic having to turn away as they approached the rioters. The following updates appeared on a news internet site for the next two hours (see my comments in parenthesis):

9:30pm PDT Update: Twitter users near the scene are warning people to stay away from the Staples Center Riot area and surrounding streets, describing the scene as chaos. More reports of fires being lit. (If you’re white, male, and gainfully employed aka “the man” you better get the fuck out of there.)

9:33pm PDT: Just grabbed a shot from a live video feed showing rioters attacking a taxi. Immediately after the shot was taken, other vehicles were surrounded and attacked. (There were probably Celtics fans in those cars in which case they totally had it coming.)

9:38pm PDT: Strong police presence now outside the center, but rioters are in other streets. More passing cars being attacked. (We would have dispatched more police officers to the surrounding areas but we couldn’t afford it cuz Arnold spent all our money on booze and hookers.)

9:40pm PDT: Unconfirmed report that the Staples Center is on fire. There were fire brigade vehicles earlier, perhaps confirming the report. (Scratch that, Staples Center isn’t on fire, it’s the Forum that’s on fire – and who really cares? That place is a festering pit.)

9:42pm PDT: Reports that police have declared the riot an “unlawful gathering.” TV footage shows rioters dispersing. Some attacks now happening west of the Harbor (110) Freeway. (Unlawful gathering? Come on coppers – what’s wrong with a few friends getting together to celebrate their team’s championship? Do you think it’s easy to win an NBA championship?)

9:47pm PDT: Fires still being lit. (Duh, what’s a riot without fires?)

9:50pm PDT: Reports of two arrests, police claim to have the area under control. Live helicopter footage still shows people in the area though. (It’s cool – they got the two dudes they really wanted – everyone else can proceed rioting.)

9:55pm PDT: Shots from a live feed show that the situation is definitely not under control. (Ya think?)

10pm PDT: The “under control” crowd is currently trashing a bus under the 110. (That bus probably gave a ride to a Celtics fan at some point. What choice did those fans have?)

10:05pm PDT: Rioters have moved past the 110 and are attacking more vehicles, including a TV van. (What better way to get on TV than to attack a TV van? Those rioters are really smart.)

10:35pm PDT: Less rioters on the ground, but attacks continuing, including a Robeks Juice outlet. (Rioting makes you thirsty, hello.)

10:40pm PDT: AP, some local outlets now calling it a riot (many local sites called this “celebrating.”) We know that two police vehicles have been damaged, no reports of injuries yet. (What’s the difference between a riot and a celebration? True fans riot, pussies celebrate.)

10:45pm PDT: Live video is following a number of people who don’t seem to be doing much. (Wow, this was a great update – umm, thanks for nothing.)

10:50pm PDT: Still a few scattered groups, although they seem to be more behaved…least they aren’t stopping traffic. (All this rioting sure has made me tired – time to go home and beat my wife.)

11:02 pm PDT: Riot police spotted, and a mass of police cars in the area….. now they’re charging down the street, not sure at what though. (Phew – the rioters are gone – time to walk down the street in our riot gear looking tough so people think we know what we’re doing.)

11:10pm PDT: A shot from Twitter shows a shoe store completely trashed by the rioters. (How’s a brother supposed to represent when Kobe high-tops cost like $150 bucks, man? Besides, it’s not really stealing if you can’t afford it – you know the whole Robin Hood thing.)

11:25pm PDT: Lost our live video feeds. Twitter updates from the area have dropped off. It may not be completely over, but we’re probably going to call it a night for updates. (Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright… sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.)

Following the riots I spent some time surfing around the net reading people’s reactions and I came across the following gem from “Joe” who was responding to a San Antonio Spurs fan who claimed that Lakers fans have no class:

San Antonio is a very different environment from LA i know because I've lived in both. Texas is more family oriented but in LA you have to deal with ridiculous laws, crooked cops, never ending taxes, etc etc...and people are tired of it and the Lakers winning is the only way to get everyone together show that we the people have the power and are not afraid of our government and wont let them control us and what we want to do. Your lucky you have it easy in Texas the homes are cheaper and nicer. You don't have to deal with ridiculous taxes. If your born out here your almost guaranteed a hard life. and Lakers are the best so stop all your hating just because your team hasnt won so many championships

Wow, Joe, I’m speechless. First off you’re clearly a subject matter expert since you’ve lived in both LA and San Antonio, so thanks for providing that qualification. Secondly you say that LA is full of “ridiculous laws, crooked cops, and never ending taxes, etc. etc.” If you think that burning other people’s cars, destroying city buses, and looting retail stores should be legal then you’re absolutely right – LA is full of ridiculous laws. What the hell are those idiotic law makers thinking? With regard to the crooked cops, you might actually have a point there, so I’ll leave that one alone. As for the never ending taxes, let’s think about that one for a minute. Based on your comments above (and I don’t mean to generalize here) I’m guessing that at the very most you make about $20,000 a year, am I right? This would mean that your CA tax rate is 4% and your total state taxes are $800 a year. Dude – you could barely take your family to a single Lakers game for $800. Pull your head out of your ass, Joe. The never ending taxes argument only applies to people who actually make a lot of money, which is clearly not you. You go on to say that “the Lakers winning is the only way to get everyone together to show that we the people have the power and are not afraid of our government and won’t let them control us”. Whoa, slow down chief. What about when Marquette Frye was arrested for drunk driving in 1965, or when the LAPD went piƱata on Rodney King in 1992? There were some pretty memorable riots that ensued following those events if I remember correctly. The truth is, Joe, people like you are just looking for a reason to riot. You’re unhappy with your life, you’re too lazy to do anything about it, and it’s just easier to play the role of the victim. And don’t give me the whole disaffected youth who feels left out of the process excuse. Take a look in the White House, Joe. That shit doesn’t fly anymore. You go on to prove my point completely when you say “if you’re born here you’re almost guaranteed a hard life” (I fixed up your grammar a bit to make it comprehensible for us educated folks). Yeah Joe, like there’s no opportunity for advancement in Los Angeles, CA, one of the world's epicenters for business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, fashion, science, technology, and education, and one of the most substantial economic engines within the United States. Are you fuckin serious, Joe?

I don’t mean to single Joe out but people like Joe represent exactly what’s wrong with America today. Stop blaming the government for your problems, people. They’re not out to get you and they’re not trying to keep you down. But they’re also not going to hand you a big bag full of knowledge, wealth, and happiness. Being successful in life is pretty simple as I see it. Set goals for yourself, work towards achieving those goals like your life depends on it, and chances are you’ll be happy with the outcome. If you fail, and the reality is some people (Joe included) will, go complain to Charles Darwin.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"The Whore, The Whore..."

I was recently going through some boxes stashed away in my parents’ attic and I came across some old papers I wrote in high school. Why I saved anything I wrote in high school I do not know. But it got me thinking of one of my more embarrassing (and unfortunately not uncommon) academic moments from high school. I will now share this embarrassment for your enjoyment.

It was my junior year I think, Mrs. Weiss’ Honors English Lit class (I know – back then they let anyone with a pulse into the honors program). We were reading Joseph Conrad’s epic novella “Heart of Darkness”, a book widely regarded as a significant work of English literature and part of the Western canon. Wait, let me back up a step and provide some background information for context. Academically speaking I was a miserably lazy fuck in high school. I was too busy chasing girls who wanted nothing to do with me, playing sports I wasn’t suited for, and killing as many brain cells as possible to trouble myself with school work. So the last thing I wanted to do was spend my time reading any of the lengthy books that were assigned to me. (Memo to all of my patient and extremely understanding teachers from high school – after I grew up and gained an appreciation for literature I went back and read all of the classics I neglected to read while in high school – and you were right, they were all great) Honestly, if not for Cliff’s Notes there’s no possible way I would have passed any of my literature courses.

Now back to the story. About a month after we were assigned “Heart of Darkness” I cruised out to the nearest B Dalton Bookstore (Borders didn’t even exist back then – I know, crazy huh) to buy the Cliff’s Notes. What was the rush? I didn’t really need to know what happened in the book until we were tested at the end of the assignment anyway. Small problem – the first bookstore I visited was all out of “Heart of Darkness” Cliff’s Notes (apparently I wasn’t the only miserably lazy fuck in town). Big problem – so was every other bookstore in the greater San Diego area - panic time. Keep in mind this is 1991 we’re talking about, well before Al Gore invented the internet and made it possible to simply google “Heart of Darkness” and get all of the information I needed (and then some) at wire speed. Test day soon arrived and I can tell you first hand that the phrase “ignorance is bliss” does not apply to academics. The multiple choice quiz came first and was a hurdle easily overcome – I cheated off the dude next to me (hey don’t judge me, you don’t know me, you didn’t have to go through high school being me, you can’t possibly understand the issues and challenges I faced every single day – you buying this shit?).

Next came the essay portion of the exam. Houston, we have a problem. Our assignment (gulp) was to write a two page analysis on the dying words of the book’s enigmatic central figure, Kurtz. I had to act quickly – without hesitating I immediately whispered to the guy next to me, “Dude, what were his last words?” He reluctantly responded in an irritated tone, “the horror, horror,” then turned away and vigorously began to write his own essay. Okay, take a deep breath - I got this, I told myself. From the bits and pieces I’d gathered in class (in between naps) “Heart of Darkness” was a fairly deep and symbolic book. Therefore all I needed to do was speak philosophically and use a few metaphors, and she might actually buy it. I began…

"The Whore, The Whore..." I wrote at the top of the first page.

Yeah I know – I’m a complete ass hat – you don’t have to remind me. I actually thought the dying words of Kurtz were “the whore, the whore” instead of what he actually said: “the horror, horror”. Maybe it was the tremendous amount of hormones surging through my pathetically underdeveloped body, or perhaps it was the hushed tone of my annoyed neighbor which led me astray. Whatever the case may have been I proceeded to write two pages analyzing what Kurtz meant when he uttered “the whore, the whore...” just before dying. And mind you I hadn’t read one single page of “Heart of Darkness” going into this test.

I should have started the essay by explaining that “Heart of Darkness” is a metaphor for a journey into one’s inner self, about how it’s an exploration of identity, and how it’s focused on the outside world’s impact on one’s inner ideals and morals. Instead I wrote some bullshit about it being about a metaphor for how life and how life’s full of disappointments.

I then should have explained how Kurtz is not so much a fully realized individual but a series of images constructed by others for their own use. I should have pointed out how in his essential emptiness, Kurtz becomes a cipher upon which other things can be projected, although this emptiness should not be interpreted as benign, just as Kurtz’s eloquence and charisma should not be allowed to overshadow his malice and aptitude for evil. Instead I wrote some bullshit about how Kurtz is a symbol for all men and for how flawed and vulnerable men are as a species.

When analyzing Kurtz’s final words before death I should have explained how they were a holistic reflection on the events of his troubled life, about how they provided a chilling exclamation point to the inevitable fall of an evil genius. Or I could have gone in the direction that Kurtz was referring to the horrors that lie within one’s self, the horrors one cannot escape. Then I could have summed it all up with a poignant statement about how darkness is all around us and within us, and that even the most incorruptible and faithful of individuals is not immune to its lure. Instead I wrote some bullshit about how Kurtz must have found out that the woman he loved had betrayed him, which led to his downward spiral, and that even in death he could not forgive the cheating bitch.

I must admit that after I turned in my essay and walked out of the classroom I felt pretty good about myself and was thinking, nailed it. Then at lunch I asked one of my classmates what they had written about in their essay. They explained how they had written a psychological dissertation on the horrors (yes – the horrors) of Kurtz’s existence in the jungle and how they had negatively affected his mental well-being. It was a sobering moment of clarity and reality. Kurtz’s final words weren’t “the whore, the whore” but were instead “the horror, horror”. Of course they were. What the hell was I thinking? I literally had to avoid making eye contact with Mrs. Weiss for the entire next week. Each day in class I expected her to confront me about my fraudulent, nonsensical excuse for an essay. But surprisingly she did not. The day we received the graded tests finally arrived and I was certain the jig was up. I figured she had probably waited to confront me so she could announce my gaffe to the entire class and make an example out of me. I braced myself as she made her way down the alphabet. My name was finally called and I took the long walk to the front of the classroom. Here it comes, I thought to myself, blood pressure rising. To my pleasant surprise she handed me the test without saying a word. I gingerly walked back to my desk, sat down, and slowly began to turn through the pages of the exam. On the multiple choice section I had scored an 80% (B-). Not great but also not too bad given the circumstances. I quickly flipped to the essay portion of the exam and braced myself again. I fully expected a note from Mrs. Weiss instructing me to see her after class. But to my complete shock and utter surprise I found a grade of B at the end of my essay with the following comments: “Interesting, well written analysis. Very original take on Kurtz and his final words.” What the fuck? How was this even possible, I asked myself? After much thought and introspection I concluded that a) Mrs. Weiss flat out didn’t read any of my essay at all, graded it based upon my past performance only (which is something I think teachers do often), and simply inserted a generic comment at the end, or b) Mrs. Weiss smoked a huge doobie before reading my essay and in her impaired state actually thought I was trying to be original or clever. Either way thanks a bunch Mrs. Weiss – I really dodged a bullet on that one.