Archive for June, 2008

Speech Kills

Anyone who has ever had a conversation in a bar is familiar with axioms.  A conversation will be going on, and someone will whip out one of these hoary, self-evident truths and the conversation will stop momentarily while everyone else simply nods their heads in agreement.  You know the old standby phrases:  A picture is worth a thousand words; knowledge is power; there’s a thin line between love and hate; defense wins championships; and there are several more.  The problem is that we’ve all heard each of them so many times that they’ve lost their impact; they don’t have that new car smell, if you will.  Therefore, I propose a new axiom for people to toss around at dinner parties:  Speech kills. 

Ok, ok, I realize that my “new” axiom totally rips off another well-known saying.  That was a conscious decision I made to help market my new invention, because if people are already familiar with the pattern, it will be easier for them to remember.  That is also why I used the word “kills” when there isn’t actual death involved.  It’s catchy.  This follows the pattern of the people who sell “Swiss Navy” watches on the streets of New York City.  Also, as far as I know, there isn’t a copyright office for clichés, so I should be on safe ground.  Now for the reason behind my invention: 

It seems that the news that we hear and watch every day is dominated by misstatements.  Essentially: “Did you hear what that person said?  Those other people are incredibly offended!  The horror!”  These issues will sometimes die down quickly, but sometimes they will acquire a life of their own and be the topic of hand-wringing conversations for days at a time.  The ramifications for these actions can range from no punishment at all to a loss of employment; the punishment has a direct relationship with the amount of hand-wringing that occurs. 

Politics is a particular hotbed for this sort of activity.  The most extreme example of this in recent memory was Massachusetts’ own junior Senator, John Kerry, who said, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”  Kerry had a number of other mishaps (like when he ambled into an Ohio store, opened his Ivy League mouth and said, “Can I get me a hunting license here?”), but the quote about voting for and then against the $87 billion could very likely have cost him the presidency. 

The current presidential race has been chock full of these sorts of statements (many of the below were found at politicalhumor.about.com).  Senator Barack Obama has chewed on his own foot a number of times:  He called his own grandmother a “typical white person”; calling female reporters “sweetie” a number of times (they hate that); he said that certain voters “…get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”; and finally, he said, “I’ve now been in 57 states – I think one left to go.” 

Hillary Clinton chimed in with her own recollection that “I remember landing under sniper fire,” when it turned out that there had been none and John McCain asked, “You know that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran?  Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.” 

These statements – which in past days might have been simple slips of the tongue that were forgiven by the press corps – are now blockbuster news stories.  The quotes are repeated so much that they actually come to define the speaker.  After a while, simply due to these quotes, people come to believe that John Kerry is a flip-flopper, Barack Obama is kind of an idiot, Hillary Clinton is a liar, and John McCain is a war monger.  The person is simply defined by their sound-byte and world events are impacted by those slips of the tongue. 

Speech also seems to kill people who discuss sports; particularly when those people attempt to discuss race.  The earliest example I can remember is Howard Cosell, who said, while describing an African-American football player, “Look at that little monkey run!” 

But these types of issues seem to crop up every single day.  Within the past week or so, Don Imus, famously fired for his statements about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, created another flap with his comments about footballer Adam “Pacman” Jones.  Imus’ comments about Jones actually knocked another controversy (involving golf commentator Johnny Miller’s comments about Rocco Mediate) off the air waves.  And then Shaquille O’Neal lost his special deputy badge for performing a freestyle rap song that contained racial references. 

All of these comments were dumb, but I’d like to know how many hours of talk radio and talking head news shows were spent discussing the comments and what those comments might MEAN about the people who uttered them, and whether the person should be PUNISHED for their comments.  It almost seems as if the news companies throw every comment they can find against the wall in the hopes that one will strike a chord with the public and cause people to watch/listen to news programs and call talk shows. 

I find the entire process of weekly controversies tiresome.  To me, news is when something actually happens – like when Dick Cheney shoots a guy – rather than when something dumb is uttered.  Therefore, I would like to propose the following:  When you hear someone talking about something dumb that some famous person said, rather than discussing it in depth, stop for a moment, shake your head and say, “Speech kills.”  Then go buy another round.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 27 Jun 2008 No Comments

Hypocrisy is not a Crime

I do love a hypocrite. Nothing warms my heart as much as someone who constantly adopts an attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do.” These people seem to count on double-standards in their expectation that, while other people should be punished, they themselves should be considered blameless for their actions.

A recent example of this was ESPN.com columnist Jemele Hill from Detroit, who felt moved to write a column about why she hates the (now World Champion) Boston Celtics. In her column on June 14, Ms. Hill wrote that:

“Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan.”

Now, why might she have such antipathy for Celtics fans? In her column she says that:

“Admittedly, to some degree it was about race…Boston was viewed by African-Americans as a racially intolerant city. Boston was the home of the infamous Charles Stuart case — in which a white man murdered his pregnant wife and blamed it on a black suspect who didn’t exist.”

I am not going to argue about the fact that Boston has had its share of race issues in the past; even Bill Russell speaks about the racism he faced during his years in Boston. However, given the problems in Boston, it’s not as if Ms. Hill’s Detroit has always been a shining example of race relations (weren’t there some fairly significant race riots there in the late 1960’s?). I find it interesting that, as proof of Boston’s racism, Ms. Hill would bring up the fact that a white murderer tried to blame his crime on a black man. Has that never happened in Detroit?

What about the evidence of Boston as progressive in terms of race? Was the ESPN columnist not aware that the Boston Celtics were the first team to hire a black coach, or that the Celts were also the first NBA team to choose a black player in the draft, and that the Bruins were the first NHL team to sign a black player? In the racially charged 1960’s, the Celtics had a number of black stars, but because the 1970’s and 80’s teams featured white players like John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale, Boston was suddenly the beacon of racial intolerance? Would Detroit not have wanted those Hall of Fame players simply because they were white? Come on, that would be racist.

Now, ordinarily, I would simply brush off the fact that some ignoramus from ESPN.com made a correlation between Celtics fans and Nazi sympathizers and called the entire city a bastion of racism. Invoking Hitler in that way has pretty much been ruled illegal by the PC Police, but I wouldn’t call for someone’s job because she made a poor decision in their choice of words when trying to express herself. It was a mistake, and the good people at ESPN agreed, suspending her from her writing duties after editing the column to remove the Hitler reference.

Faced with a suspension, Ms. Hill offered an apology for her poor judgment. So, mistakes were made, she’s learned her lesson, and let’s move on…right?

Well, in most cases, I would agree, but Ms. Hill happened to be one of the people to demand that Don Imus be fired for his ridiculous statement that questioned the moral fiber, character, and looks of the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

She wrote about Imus’ comments in her column of April 10, 2007:

“…I’m still boiling because too many people continue to defend Imus behind lame free-speech arguments — remember, speech is free, but consequences are not…”

Despite the fact that Don Imus apologized, she wrote that she could not accept or take his apology seriously and that it was acceptable for him to lose his job if that’s what it took for him to understand that there is no place in society for people who are offensive to people of color and women.

So, after walking point for the PC Police and demanding the job of an ignorant radio host, should the ignorant ESPN.com columnist share Don Imus’ fate and lose her job (then get hired back some months later) for her insensitive statements?

No. She said a dumb thing. That’s it. No one was injured. She didn’t pull a Barnicle and steal material or make things up out of thin air. She merely offered an opinion that is not considered politically correct, which in my view is no crime. Overreaction to stupid statements is something that our society is perfecting, but I don’t hold with it. In fact, as a lifetime Celtics fan – and apparently a Nazi sympathizer in the eyes of Ms. Hill – I believe that she should not have even been suspended, even if her statements bunched some people’s undies. She may be a hypocrite, but she apologized. Apology accepted, let’s move on. Not everyone has to be as unforgiving as Jemele Hill.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 19 Jun 2008 1 Comment

Um, help

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/06/09/triple_digits_loom_as_region_on_alert_for_record_breaker/

Fat guys and heat?  Not so much.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 09 Jun 2008 No Comments

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