1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown: February 21-27, 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dear Internet:

So, we know each other a little bit by now.  After all, this is the 16th Issue of Tendown - heck, just Last Week, you learned about my new car and my boyhood crush on Sonny Crockett, and how I'm not as fat yet as Kevin Smith. 

And since we know each other a little bit, probably you're aware of my twin pet peeves: compulsory flag salute and poor public restroom etiquette.  This week saw the return of both.  So that's how we'll start our look back at the cultural happenings of the past 7 days (just last night I thought I should have named this Sundown as opposed to Tendown - cause it's Sunday, it's a countdown, and it marks the end of the cultural week.  Sundown - get it?).  Let's get some Tendown!

First: I Just Ate a Whole Bag of Chips

I think I have Asperger's Syndrome

My lady type friend thinks that eventually I will reveal to her that I've been diagnosed with such - I haven't - but I'm...51/49 in favor that I have it.  I'll probably continue to ignore that conclusion, because I'm 39 and haven't the energy to join the ranks of the differently abled, but I fit the profile pretty solidly. 

I mention that here because, while my brain completely locks up and I'm flooded with terror in social situations, I always enjoyed being with my grandparents when I was a boy; my grandmother would make me graham crackers and milk and fried hamburger patties - and my grandfather would take me to the games - we went to see the Niners (we always won, which was curious given how little that occurred in the late 70s) and the Giants (it seems unlikely that I saw Jim Barr lose both ends of a twi-night doubleheader in '79, but it's in my brain nonethless).  It was at my first Giants game (night game at Candlestick against the Reds in '78) that I was first confronted with the idea of the "other" - that people existed outside of my conception of them; we arrived a little late and were on the concourse getting polish sausage (I can still taste the sesame seeds from the bun and feel the snap of the gulden's mustard on my lips) when Cincinnati got a couple of baserunners in the top of the 1st, "The Reds are runnin!" - a dude excitedly uttered as he made his way from the concession line.  It was in that second that I processed a thought which had never occurred to me - that there were people who weren't Giants fans.  I spent the rest of the game (the part where I wasn't eating or freezing half to death) extrapolating that thought into the rest of my life - I loved the Giants unconditionally, my first gift was a 1970 autographed team ball procured by my mother's sister (subsequently destroyed along with every other damn thing I owned in a house fire in the mid 80s) before I was born, and a world of my creation would not have included any Cincinnati Reds fans. 

But here he was - a Reds fan.  An adult man in a white t-shirt and a Red cap cheering for Joe Morgan.  And against my Giants.  This was not my idea. 

And if that wasn't my idea - that meant that the world was not my own creation - my Cartesian doubt about the existence of a world outside my head was shattered - I was, with, every tangy bite of the sausage, cast into a world larger than my sense of it.  The healthy response, one assumes, is to engage with that reality - I've never really been able to do that - instead retreating as deeply inside as I could go, to a place where only Giants fans are allowed to live.

Even more viscerally startling, if not as existentially significant, was a trip to watch the Harlem Globetrotters at the Cow Palace (I think the Trotters eked that one out - that's the benefit of choosing that as my initial hoops experience rather than going to a Golden St. game) less for the actual game - than for the experience in the men's room.  The Cow Palace, in the late 1970s, did not have individual urinals.  Instead, it had a man trough - a bathtub like structure in the middle of the men's room, in which a group of encircled men would, standing shoulder to shoulder - do their business. 

I was unprepared for such a dong laden halftime. 

My primary takeaway from that evening was a lifelong dislike of public restrooms - not to the point of avoidance, as a life in the workforce which I have chosen makes that impractical - but instead, I've become a signatory of a very simple piece of etiquette with which, in my experience, most men (perhaps who have shared similar experiences to my Globetrotter halftime - say in the military or in a federal penitentiary) concur - that a men's room is an experience that, if it must be shared, should consist of as little talking as an elevator or a Benedictine monastery.  I want you talking to me in a men's room about as much as I want you urinating on my shoes.  Just stare straight ahead and go on about your day.

I've noticed just in the past couple of years, with the increase in hands free phone use - that every now and again a student (as that's who I share most of my public restroom encounters with, students) will appear to be talking to me (or Talking to No One, which is a good title for a book by a guy with Asperger's Syndrome who lectures for a living) but instead be on the phone.  I keep my dislike of this practice to myself.  But I note it and make the appropriate gradebook adjustments (jokes, I tell the jokes).

This week, a particularly brutal week in the most demanding stretch of my professional life, I stood alone at the furthest urinal from the door in the downstairs men's room at my institution - when a student walked in and set up shop three urinals down, a safe and manageable distance. 

We wordlessly continued doing what men do without acknowledging that each other existed, when, without any provocation - in full voice - he said "I just ate a whole bag of chips!"

Yeah, don't do that.

My first dude apologizing for an odor that I am not noticing....

My second thought...oh, yeah, he's on the phone. 

By the time I washed up (that's hygeine, son!) and left he had continued with his conversation, so it was clear what the circumstance was, but that thoroughly out of nowhere, I had the experience of hearing "I just ate a whole bag of chips" in a men's room was the thing that happened this week that had the most impact on me - so that's how we start Tendown.  After the jump - we'll talk about compulsory flag salute and all the rest of the happenings from the past 7 days.
And now - the rest of the Tendown:

1. The Fixed Star in our Constitutional Constellation
A 13 year old got escorted by school police out of a Roberto Clemente middle school classroom for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance

They can't do that.  I've written about it before.  Compulsory flag salute was found unconstitutional in 1943; here's Justice Jackson:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

By "petty" - Justice Jackson is talking about the middle school teachers who would have school police yank a 13 year old out of a classroom for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  That "big government" the right wing decides is extra scary now that Democrats are in charge (remember, universal health care is the bad, scary kind of big government - but the Patriot Act and two trillion dollar middle east wars with all of the requisite defense contracts - that's the very necessary, important, you know, Republican kind of big government) doesn't just come from Presidents and Senators - for most of us, our encounters with government are through the cops and public schools.  For that 13 year old in Maryland - that middle school teacher saying "stand up and say the United States provides liberty and justice for all or I'll have you dragged out of here" is big government in his life in a very real way.  The right doesn't care.  The only reason why, even though compulsory flag salute has been illegal for almost 70 years, this type of thing still happens in schools every few years - is because conservatives love the symbols of America. 

Americans...Americans they don't much care for - like if they're unemployed - Jim Bunning, this week, refusing to break away from a Kentucky basketball game to pass the extension for unemployment benefits, yelling out "tough shit" - when being asked by Democrats to relent.  Or if they've had abortions.  Here's a Virginia assemblyman, this week, saying that disabled children were "God's punishment" to women who have had abortions. Or if they're African-American - here's an Arizona congressman, this week, saying that African-Americans were better off under slavery than in 2010.  Or if they're poor - here's North Carolina Senator, Richard Burr, this week, saying that unemployment benefits are turning Americans into "hobos".  Or if they don't have health insurance - this week, the right wing exploded in laughter over a story about a woman wearing her dead sister's dentures.  Americans in misery.  Hi-lar-i-ous. 

That's just this week.  That's just the past 7 days.  Stay classy, conservatives. 

I don't know when the first time it was that I read about some kid getting kicked out of school for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance, sometime after that Globetrotters game - every time it happens it infuriates me - infuriates me because it's not uncertain law, the Supreme Court has ruled on that exact issue as clearly as possible - and because, look, I've been bullied in my life, not a lot, not really - and I experienced it in a very detached "I'm completely inside my head" Asperger's like way - and a young person who clearly is making a stand based on conscience, a stand certain to be unpopular, a stand that probably is a window into other areas of unpopularity in their lives - to then have the forces of authority wade in on the side of the majority - saying "conform or else - the law does not matter - all that matters is power" just seems so obviously unfair.  So manifestly wrong - not as wrong as yelling out "I just ate a whole bag of chips" in an otherwise quiet men's room, but wrong nonetheless. 

2. Get the Easy Stuff Right
But I don't always stand with students - sometimes, I'm on the side of the machine.  Like with this email from an NYU business professor. Short version - a student showed up an hour into a graduate school seminar during the first class session, the instructor asked the student to leave - the student sent an email in protest, and the professor responded by saying, essentially - come to my class on time, or don't come.  Grow up.  Life's hard - you've got to get the easy stuff (like being on time) right. 

I could not send this email.  I mean, I could - but there would be consequences.  This is to my detriment.  In my world, a student swears at me and returns the following week - in my world a student misses the first half of the term and I get an administrative email asking what steps can be taken to accommodate that student's needs - in my world, student absences need to be responded to with phone calls - phone calls from me - asking if the student wouldn't mind returning to my class.  In my world students are offended if I won't give them pens to use and feel totally unrestricted by any need to arrive at class on time - or with notebooks.  The symphony of disinterest plays from many of them every time I open my mouth.  It is exhausting.

I can't send that email.  But I'm glad someone still can.

3. The Philosophy of Tracy Morgan
This weekend, I took one of my Ethics classes (I'm teaching 8 courses, did I mention?) to see Cop Out.

Yeah, Cop Out sucks.  This should not surprise you because, during the Kevin Smith/Southwest contretemps, that he had a movie about to come out was in no way part of the story - last week I posted his 90 minute podcast about the incident on the plane, and not once did he say "oh, yeah, by the way, I directed this Bruce Willis movie that's coming out in a week, so go see that, mmm'kay?"

But I didn't take my Ethics class to go see Cop Out because I thought it wouldn't suck, I went to see Cop Out for the philosophical value of Cop Out.

I'm guessing this won't appear in too many reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

Okay, one of the important elements of my Ethics course is the difference between viewing morality as categorical (based on absolute rules, like Immanuel Kant) and viewing morality as consequential (based on taking each situation individually, like Jeremy Bentham).  It's maybe the basic distinction in western ethics in the past 500 years and you can see it in every cop movie ever made (and in Cop Out, from the first interrogation scene, to the way they arrest Seann William Scott - to when Bruce Willis lies about what he sees on the teddy bear cam). 

A standard cop movie trope is some desk sergeant, say 3 days from retirement, trying to enforce department rules (he's Kant) and some hot shot detective, with a leather jacket and a mullet, saying "screw your rules, man - I got a little girl to save" (he's Bentham) and then he terrorizes some suspect into confessing, but even though it worked, he has to hand in his gun and badge (it happened in Cop Out - the turn in your badge scene!  Good times). 

Betham's argument is that you should look at morality situationally - for each particular circumstance evaluate what decision will lead to the best possible result.  So, if you have to beat up a suspect to get him to tell you where the kidnapped girl is (or, in Cop Out, the missing Andy Pafko baseball card) that's the right thing to do.  Kant's argument is that it's not - because there are rules - and sure, in this instance, maybe the result is good - but what you're privileging is your own moral decision making, and how can that desk sergeant turn down the next detective who comes in saying "the rules don't apply" - and the guy after than saying "the rules don't apply" - and then soon it's Carrot Top joining the squad, ignoring all the rules, because he thinks this is a good circumstance to call an audible - and instead he winds up losing all of Staten Island to the Latin Kings.  Rules are good to have, Kant says.  They embody our essential equality. 

You can find all that in Cop Out. But you don't want to - 'cause it's terrible - and that's without the older couple sitting behind you debating for 20 minutes if they should leave because of the language - or the guy sitting alone in front of you bringing in all the aromas the streets have to offer.  And why do you want to leave the house anyway - you have Asperger's and other people make you feel like crying basically every single time you're with them. 

4. The New King of Late Night
I don't like his bits (not a euphemism) but the late night show most likely to spontaneously erupt into an actual conversation (which is what I enjoy on my TV) is Craig Ferguson's.  This week, he did an episode without an audience and only one guest - and it was the best thing on TV over the past 7 days. 

5. Drinking While Gay
If you're gay and live in Texas - you'd be better off staying home and watching Craig Ferguson than you would going to a bar - because the public intoxication laws mean that you can be arrested - in that bar - at virtually any time.

6. The (second) Best Wrestler in the World

My favorite wrestler was on the TV this week.

Bryan Danielson is the best wrestler in the Western Hemisphere; he made his WWE debut (as a member of the roster; he had done squash matches previously) this week.  You know how, especially in baseball, people like to say they follow a prospect all the way up through the minor leagues and feel a proprietary interest in how he performs at the big club - and how they maybe lament the loss of that with free agency?

Yeah, I don't care about that.  I just want to win games. 

But the internet and a free flowing market of turn of the 21st century tape trading meant that there's a group of wrestlers who I've been able to follow literally since their very first professional matches ten years ago; the best of these wrestlers is Bryan Danielson.  The difference between wrestling and baseball is in baseball, the major leagues really is where you want that prospect to wind up - in wrestling, WWE puts out a worse product than the smaller organizations from which wrestlers come - so while you're pleased for the wrestler for his chance to make some money, it means the end of most of the reasons you liked that wrestler in the first place.

The first storyline for Danielson began this week - and it was that, while he is beloved by, well, people like me, that nobody who matters has ever heard of him - and he'll be swallowed up by the bigger fish in the WWE.  Which is probably true. 

But it was still Bryan Danielson on my TV - on RAW, on Smackdown - cutting promos on the new Tuesday show, wrestling Chris Jericho.  All of that was good to watch. 

And this week I finally finished my 2009 (up until December, which I'll carry over to 2010) wrestling (that means I've closed the book on my Match of the Year rankings; I've got 42 matches at 4 1/2 stars or better).  I got in the last Danielson in ROH matches (4 1/2 against Davey and a criminally underrated 4 3/4 Eddy/Dean "please don't go" match against Nigel - my sound mix was terrible, but you should still watch the postmatch promo). Also on that show was a 4 1/4 Wolves v. Steen/Generico and a 4 star Bucks/Briscoes; coincidentally, on TV this week was a free 4 star Bucks/Briscoes.  I've designated Friday afternoons as when I fit in my graps.  My brother will be coming over next week; we haven't been able, largely due to my work schedule, to get together to watch puroresu yet this year, after ten+ years of seeing each other once a week to watch wrestling - given that I'm entirely a prisoner of the architecture in my brain, I do not do well when my schedule is changed, so it will be good to get some level of normalcy.  Yes, a fluorescent light tubes match from Big Japan is my idea of calm for my brain.  I own that. 

7. Atheists = Hate Group
Obama apparently will meet with the Secular Coalition of America (I don't know what that is) in his only nod thusfar as President to we non-believers - this is not going over well in some circles who call the group "hate-filled".  Because that's all it takes, apparently, to be a hate group - refusing to believe in the invisible guy in the sky.  We're going to end Don't Ask Don't Tell in the military - but the one group who can't come out of the closet without attack is an atheist group.

When a lack of belief in god is as publically prevalent as belief in a god - then we can talk about the proper role of atheism in public life.  Ain't no atheists killing doctors.  Or flying planes into buildings, for that matter. 

8. Ed O' Bannon's Gonna Take Some of the NCAA's Money.
Interesting lawsuit that, by all reasonable readings, should turn out successfully.  It's this one, by former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon, challenging the NCAA position that it owns athletes likenesses, without compensation, in perpetuity.  It's one thing (although still wrong) to appropriate athlete likeness without paying them, while athletes are in school - but to say a college athlete keeps working for free via use of his image in video games long after he has left school is meritless and I hope O'Bannon cleans their clocks. 

9. Against the Stimulus Before they Were For it, Before they Were Against it, Before they Were...
The thing you want to read, out of the entire Tendown this week, is this piece about the unbelievable ability of Republican lawmakers to campaign about the stimulus package not creating jobs (and being an example of evil Obama socialism) - while writing letters asking for stimulus money in order to "create jobs" - taking that stimulus money and then claiming credit for creating the jobs for which the money was used - and then continuing to publically say that evil socialist Obama is trying to ram big government spending down our throats.  The level of hypocrisy is boundless.

10. A Wholly Owned Subsidiary
I love me some Rush Limbaugh.  This week, he said what health care reform was really about was "reparations." 

Yes, that's what motivates the United States, with the 37th ranked health care system in the world to reform the system.  Reparations.  Wellpoint raised their California premiums 39% despite a 2.7 billion dollar profit in the last quarter of 2009.  In the past year - insurance companies have asked for premium increases of 56% in Michigan, 24% in Connecticut, and 20% in Oregon.  But reparations - that's what it's all about!

From the Center for American Progress, just this week:

Double-digit hikes have been implemented or are pending in at least 11 other states

among the 14 where WellPoint’s Blue Cross Blue Shield companies are active: California,
Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York,
Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In Maine, where WellPoint-owned Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is by far the largest
insurer, the company is seeking to raise individual rates an average of 23 percent this year.
This comes after five consecutive years of double-digit premium increases by the company
on these policies.

In Indiana, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is increasing rates an average of 21 percent this
year, hitting some individuals with hikes of up to 50 percent. In Colorado, the big WellPointowned
insurer is boosting individual premiums by an average of 19.9 percent this year.

And Connecticut state insurance regulators allowed Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to
impose a 20 percent hike last year after the WellPoint-owned insurer sought permission to
hike rates on individual policies by 22 percent to 32 percent.

There are also signs that WellPoint has substantially increased rates on “small group”
policies, which cover small businesses with up to 50 employees. Data wasn’t immediately
available in many states, but in New York WellPoint is increasing premiums on small group
policies by up to 28.6 percent this year. Small group policies in New Hampshire went up
17 percent in 2009.

And that's why - if you've stuck with me for the full Tendown - you get my favorite piece of video this week.

It's New York congressman Anthony Weiner on the house floor, saying first that the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.  A motion was made to have his remarks stricken - they are incendiary after all - and besides, we all know that really health care's about reparations.

Weiner agreed - and then replaced his remarks with the following:

Make no mistake about it, every single Republican I have ever met in my entire life is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.

Which should be your takeaway from this week's Tendown. 

Why are we at war?  Because people are getting rich. 

Why can't we get health care reform?  Because people are getting rich.

It's money that matters.  It's money that always matters.  And ideologies are created out of whole cloth (sometimes, red, white, and blue cloth) to support the ability of those people to get rich. 

Our lives, yours and mine, are irrelevant.  We're fodder.  We should all feel the way I do when I'm in public - a whole country of people with Asperger's, just trying to get out of the men's room - our brains screaming the entire time.

That's Tendown.  I'll be back next time - if there is a next time...

Your pal,



Kirk said...

Every speech I give for the rest of my life is going to end with me exclaiming, "Deal with it," and slamming the microphone onto the podium.

Blog said...

Wow, you are a real-life Elijah Baley!

I probably have Asperger's as well, but I'm convinced that that is just a label for a type of personality trait that we could change if we were so inclined to do so. Somebody is probably making lots of money off of drugs to "treat" that though.

And, congratulations on getting through the Olympics without making a single mention of them. I'm sure that that was a conscious effort on your part, though the reason for doing so is beyond me.

Jim said...; it's not that I'm opposed, it's not that I don't recognize that they're the Olympics - they just don't particularly move me. I know the results before the broadcasts; I don't like snow - it's not a boycott, I just am not invested.

Paul said...

Thank you. I have no recollection at this point of how I stumbled into your blog but, as in other circumstantial, yet remarkable experiences I've had in my life, I enjoyed every moment (word and link -in this case) and hope now to both find my way home, and simultaneously remember how to get back here.

John DeWolfe said...

I've always been interested in how people's childhood memories of baseball morph over the years, so I did some quick research on the Giants '79 season - there were a couple of doubleheaders at home where they lost both games (April 15th vs the Astros and Sept 1st vs the Pirates) but it's unlikely you saw Jim Barr in any of those games, given he played for the Angels that year.

God bless

Mark said...

No love for the Shawn/Undertaker program? I thought it might get a mention this week. That thing's been built beautifully. And that "Running Up That Hill" package was killer.

Blog said...

Jim does not heart Sports Entertainment, and neither Shawn Michaels nor the Undertaker register in his top 100 wrestler list, so the promo was probably a non-event like the Olympics for him.

Jim said...

It's a good program - Mania looks good - I'm in on both Punk/Rey and Jericho/Edge, Taker/Shawn will be good and wildly overly praised, and, you know, Bret. I want to see all of that - MITB is good every year - that's 5 matches I want to see and I can't think of the last Mania with 5 matches I wanted to see. And - the week after Mania is the week between my academic terms - so I'll be able to watch the show in a timely manner (unlike the end of Sunday's Oscars, which I'll be watching at 5 the following morning as I'm getting ready)

Blog said...

Tying my two disperate comments togtether, I've long advocated that professional wrestling should be an Olympic sport. But the two guys in the ring would not be competing against each other, but working together in an ROH match judged in a way similar to figure skating.

It would be interesting to see whether the artistic merit of HBK/Taker would be ranked ahead of the technical prowess of Brian Danielson/Low-Ki

Jim said...

It's not a bad analogy - would depend upon the judges; I'd be pretty foresquarely on one side, and I don't tend to like sports where artistic impression is factored into the scoring - even in combat sports, like boxing, where some element of judicial aesthetic preference exists, I always push for punch stats and some element of adjustment made for power blows. You wouldn't think the NBA would be part of this conversation - but a huge part of why some people still believe Kobe is better than LeBron is because he plays a prettier game, and in baseball, people overlook Jeter's lack of range because they like how he looks when making the plays he gets to - that's a good, broad sweep at much of my sports preference, I pretty firmly discount what other people think of as artistic impression.

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