Profanity and racism: an example of how not to lead

This has to stop somewhere and somehow. I know I haven’t been the most active in writing about this flimsy excuse for an administration, but this simply cannot be ignored. This post will have profanity in it, but only because I’m quoting our supposed “leader” here in the US.

Continue reading Profanity and racism: an example of how not to lead

In re Charlottesville, and related events of the past few days

Hopefully this didn’t take too long; as I’m putting the finishing touches on this post, the Charlottesville protests are about a week ago. For reasons that should be obvious, this post is one of my more difficult posts to write. It’s about many “hot” topics. I am using the Wikipedia article on the events as my main source for an account of the event. As with all things on Wikipedia, it may have been changed by the time you read this.

We have reached a point in our history where the symbols of the Confederacy are starting to be seen for what they are: symbols of hate, symbols of racism, and perhaps more importantly, symbols of defeat and failure. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the town of Charlottesville voted to take town a statue of the Confederate war figure Robert E. Lee.

I have no issues with peaceful, nonviolent protests. However, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, even if it started as a nonviolent protest, was not going to remain such owing to several factors. One, racism and anti-Semitism is a hot-button issue. Waving of Confederate flags and chants such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” definitely approaches the line of so-called “fighting words” (as defined by Justice Frank Murphy, “those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”). Some have argued that the Confederate and Nazi flags and symbols stand for, respectively, the enslavement and extermination of large masses of people, and based on that alone would run afoul of the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment.

The counterprotesters chanted slogans such as “Kill all Nazis” and “punch a Nazi in the mouth.” There is no question these phrases definitely cross the line of “fighting words.” In addition, both the protesters and counter-protesters were carrying firearms, including semi-automatic weapons. It is difficult to say with certainty that the armed protesters and counter-protesters intended this to be a non-violent protest.

Given this, on one hand it’s a good thing that there was no shootout. On the other hand, there were deaths related to the aborted rally: two were from a Virginia State Police helicopter crash, and one was of course Heather Heyer from an auto-pedestrian crash that also non-fatally injured 19 other counter-protesters. Heather’s death in particular was tragic, senseless, and completely unnecessary. This does not imply the deaths of Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates were not tragic–they were, though we do not have the full accident reports from the NTSB yet to better understand how their deaths happened.

As a rule, I condemn violence in protests of this sort. This is definitely not a case where I feel I can make an exception; we are intelligent creatures, not jungle animals, and protests like this are more the sort of thing that jungle animals do.

I can’t keep talking about this without talking about the campaign that elected our current president, who I will only refer to by his initials, DJT. DJT built his campaign on divisiveness and hate, and was elected by a popular minority of the people due to the way the Electoral College is set up. Those of us who voted otherwise watched in horror as the ballots were totalled up. It’s a bit off-topic, so I’m not going to devote pages to this, but to say the least I think DJT winning is the strongest indictment of the Electoral College system to date.

At least the other presidents to win elections despite not winning a popular majority were at least somewhat qualified. Wikipedia’s list of presidents of the US by experience shows DJT as the fifth president to have never held office before being elected president, after Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Taylor won a plurality but not a majority of the popular vote in his first election; Grant, Hoover, and Eisenhower all won the popular vote in their respective first elections. That leaves DJT alone as a president elected with a minority of the popular vote and without holding office before.

While the disaster in Charlottesville was not directly the result of DJT winning the election, I find it difficult to believe it would have happened with anyone else as president, whether that was Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or Daffy Duck. (Yes, I think a cartoon character would be more fit for the office than DJT, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant I’ll have to post later.) It even took a while for DJT to find the right words after Charlottesville; at first he condemned both sides, those protesting against the monuments being taken down who wanted them to remain up, and those counter-protesting against those who wanted the monuments to remain up.

Again, George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” comes into play. At first glance, DJT clearly doesn’t remember World War II and what happened to Nazi Germany as led by Adolf Hitler. Alternatively, he does remember and just flat out doesn’t care. That in many ways is far worse if it’s true. Either way it’s inexcusable for the leader of a world superpower to fail to immediately and decisively condemn racist, discriminatory, and violent conduct.

DJT needs to accept that part of the blame for the events in Charlottesville falls directly on him and his campaign. At numerous times during the campaign, DJT was compared to none other than Adolf Hitler. I was derided for sharing the comparisons among my Facebook friends, but unfortunately the accuracy of those comparisons is now starting to show. I will more directly address this in a later post.

Over the line: Bill Maher’s racist gaffe on “Real Time”


As CW39.com (among many other outlets, I’m sure) reported recently, viewers of Bill Maher’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” show on HBO heard him use an almost universally offensive racial slur in a joking manner in an interview with Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who was on the show to promote his book.

From the story:

The two were discussing teenagers and maturity when Maher mentioned that adults dress up for Halloween in California. He then asked Sasse if people do that in Nebraska.

“It’s frowned upon. We don’t do that quite as much,” Sasse said.

“I’ve got to get to Nebraska more,” Maher replied.

“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us,” the senator added.

“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n****r,” Maher said.

Some audience members groaned while others laughed. Sasse briefly kept quiet.

“No, it’s a joke,” Maher said, breaking the silence.

The story goes on to mention the predictable outrage on Twitter, calling for Mr. Maher’s firing.

Senator Sasse, to his credit, apologized for just cringing and not speaking up in a series of tweets about the incident:

I totally get just being at a loss for words in the heat of the moment. It happens to the best of us, live TV or not. Nevertheless it does take a bit of courage to come out and say “this is what I should have said instead of just cringing” and I applaud Senator Sasse for his candor and courage in making these tweets.

Bill Maher has maintained full radio silence on Twitter, but CBS News, among other outlets, report Maher issued an apology. In that same story, HBO says they will remove the remark from subsequent airings of the show (presumably by blanking out the audio of at least the most offensive word).

So it looks like Mr. Maher keeps his show, despite making a rather grave mistake. And I’m okay with that, I’m not mad at HBO at all for choosing to keep Mr. Maher on the air for now. I think the apology addresses the issue, and as long as he doesn’t use a similar slur again going forward, I consider the issue resolved. There’s no need for him to lose his show over this, and for people to pressure HBO to take Real Time off the air smacks of overreach. If HBO management feels they need to edit out the offending word from reruns of the episode, that’s fine by me as well; in this particular instance, I would rather they avoid offending a potentially large section of their viewing audience yet again, than re-air the segment as is “just because.” (For the record, I am currently not a paying HBO subscriber; I do not even have my TV hooked up to cable at the moment.)

Oddly enough, I consider this latest gaffe much worse than the comments that essentially resulted in the cancellation or non-renewal of Politically Incorrect, Mr. Maher’s previous show on ABC. For those that don’t remember, it was on his 2001 September 17 show, six days after the terrorist attacks on NYC and the Pentagon, and a good seven years before I even started this blog. Quoting the CBS News article linked previously:

“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly,” Maher said. “Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”

While I can see how some people (in particular those in the military) would take offense at that, the worst thing about those remarks was the timing. If Mr. Maher had waited until at least early 2002 to say that, any offense would have been far more limited. I realize it’s much easier to say this in distant hindsight, when the emotions of the nation have long since dissipated. ABC may well have made the right decision for them given the political climate of the time, but it should be noted the person/people in charge at ABC didn’t even cancel the show right after the offending episode, but waited until the contract was up the following May (and it didn’t exactly work in Mr. Maher’s favor that ratings had been declining for a while, which I might add, is something that is much less of an issue with HBO).

A prom gone wrong

This post on Wine & Marble (hannahettinger.com) (warning: coarse language) and the followup post made soon thereafter chronicle the very unfortunate tale of a young woman named Clare in Richmond, VA, who wanted to put the cap on her time in high school with a good time at the prom. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Quoting the first post:

The only dress code specified on the registration form was that “Ladies, please keep your dresses fingertip length or longer.” Like a good little homeschooler, I made sure that the dress was fingertip length on me; I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure. It was fingertip length, I was ecstatic, and I laid down several weeks worth of tip money I had been saving up to buy it.

And you know what happened? I got kicked out of prom because of it.

The post goes on to explain a sequence of events that I, as an adult, find mind-boggling, which I will summarize here (the original post is linked if you want to read it in full). On the night of the prom, one of the prom organizers tells Clare her dress is too short, she shows that it is fingertip length, and the organizer says “make sure it stays pulled down, it’s too short.” And then, fast forward to a few moments later, when this same organizer gestures Clare off the dance floor and accuses her of dancing inappropriately. To make a long story short, Clare is kicked out of the prom for her dress being too short (which it was not, she made sure it was long enough before buying it, and at a considerable expense at that) as well as “inappropriate dancing.”

Clare at least gets her ticket refunded. The rest of Clare’s group is verbally promised a refund (they came to prom together and if Clare is forced to leave, the rest of the group has to leave with her). However, when they walk up front to leave with Clare, only Clare gets her refund. A parent of someone else in Clare’s group calls the prom organizers to ask about the refund, and is told “We aren’t going to do refunds.”

The crux of the problem seems to be the dads on the balcony who were in charge of chaperoning the event. Clare, in the conclusion of the post, says she felt “felt violated by the sheer number of male parents that were assigned to do nothing for five hours other then watch girls in short dresses and heels dance to upbeat music.” I would agree that it is a bit over the top to have a majority of the adult chaperones be male and there is no good reason for it.

Yes, it was a prom for a Christian homeschool (and I’ve discussed religious schools before). The profanity in Clare’s post shows just how frustrated she is. I don’t blame her for “breaking the swear barrier.” I would too, and in fact I have before in similar situations. I don’t see what is so wholesome about giving dads old enough to have teenage daughters five hours’ worth of unrestricted girl watching. I don’t see why half as many couples (mother and father) couldn’t do just as an effective job of chaperoning; the intent behind having couples being to reduce the blatant perverted gazing (by both genders). It’s just not appropriate to have an excess of one gender chaperoning an event like this–men or women.

Back to inappropriate dancing for a moment. According to one of Clare’s friends, there was some truly inappropriate “dirty dancing” going on later in the evening, and nobody else was kicked out for it. Nobody besides Clare, who if she is being truthful (and I have no reason to believe she isn’t), barely moved to the music.

These are high school students, who we are expecting to become adults and act like adults in anywhere from a little over three years after this dance to possibly a few short months. It is shameful that the organizers of this prom and the parents who chaperoned it are showing an incredible lack of maturity in their uneven enforcement of the rules, as well as treating these students as significantly younger and less mature than they are.

Finally, a commenter named Mila may have found the reason (edited for grammar):

I’m a black girl and I would give you MY view. I really don’t think it was because they were ogling at you in that dress… you are pretty, but nothing to ogle over. I think it was because your date is BLACK and they felt very uncomfortable watching you grinding on him… sad but TRUE. You are a very tall blonde white girl with a short (but appropriate) dress dancing on a black guy. They noticed! I doubt they would have kicked you out if your date were a white guy or better yet if YOU were a black girl. This is way worse, and you AND your boyfriend deserve an apology!

I hope Mila’s wrong. I really do. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this happened barely a couple of weeks after the incident involving LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling which I just blogged about. I had really hoped by now we as a society have moved beyond flagrant racism. I don’t expect the prom organizers to acknowledge that this was racially motivated if it was (quite the opposite in fact). It certainly looks damn suspicious, but I would need to know how much of that “dirty dancing” involved couples of obviously different ethnicities to know for sure. That’s an observation that, unfortunately, was probably just not made at the time.

A little over a month ago marked 46 years that the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was brutally ended long before it should have. His final speech stated, in part:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Have we gotten any closer to the promised land of a world without bigotry in 46 years? I hope so. But when instances of racism come to light, I have to wonder for a moment just how far we’ve truly come.

The story of an egregious racist: in re Donald Sterling

I’m assuming everyone, even non-basketball fans, has heard of the incident involving Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In case you missed it, or if you need to review them, here are the links which cover not only the most recent development, but further insight into Mr. Sterling’s history:

Mr. Sterling’s history as a businessman, both as an NBA team owner and otherwise, has been peppered with several “black mark” incidents of discrimination. Perhaps the most egregious of them was what he said to Rollie Massimino way back in 1983: “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.” To truly understand this quote, though, it should be seen in context. From the Jeff Pearlman article:

Anyhow, according to [Paul] Phipps [the LA Clippers’ GM at the time], Massimino boarded the jet, and when he landed in Los Angeles he exited the walkway and spotted Sterling. “They met,” said Phipps, “and between 3 and 4 in the morning my phone rings.” It was an irate Massimino. “I’m sorry,” he told Phipps, “but I’d never work for that son of a bitch. Ever.” “Here’s this guy,” Massimino said, “and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.’” Massimino told Phipps he began screaming at Sterling and swore he’d rather die than become coach of the Clippers. “That,” said Phipps, “was life with Donald Sterling.”

Unfortunately, as state previously, this was in 1983, so it would have been much more difficult for Rollie to have recorded this conversation than it would be today even if he had had the foresight to do so. However, I honestly don’t think either Paul or Rollie have any reason to wantonly defame Mr. Sterling in a tortious manner (i.e. tell a complete lie, especially one which could easily result in a lawsuit). So I’m going to assume the story is more or less true the way it was told. The reason almost nobody heard about it is that no media outlet would report this without running a very real risk of getting sued and the almost unending stream of problems (bad PR, losing advertisers, otherwise great employees quitting) that comes with such a high-profile lawsuit. It’s all hearsay, and it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

That said, especially in light of things that have happened since, I believe it. In 2002, Mr. Sterling’s comments to the manager of an apartment included this rather nasty line, regarding a female tenant by the name of Kandynce Jones: “I am not going to do that [reimburse a female tenant for damage caused by a defective refrigerator]. Just evict the bitch.” Mr. Sterling also asked regarding Kandynce: “Is she one of those black people that stink?”

This is consistent with statements Mr. Sterling made to the same manager when he was buying the property previously: “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean, [a]nd it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. So we have to get them out of here.” And it’s also consistent with this prejudicial statement Mr. Sterling made to another property manager: “I like Korean employees and I like Korean tenants… I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent…so I’m going to keep buying in Koreatown.” In fact at one point, Mr. Sterling even changed the name of a complex to “Korean World Towers” and had a banner printed entirely in Korean hung on the building. He also had Korean-born armed guards who were ordered to be hostile to people not of Korean origin. But it gets even worse, per this tidbit from the ESPN: The Magazine article:

When it comes to female subordinates in his real estate business, Sterling shows a distinct racial preference. In 2003 he had 74 white employees, four Latinos, zero blacks and 30 Asians, 26 of them women, according to his Equal Employment Opportunity filings with the state of California. (The numbers are similar for the other years in which Sterling has been charged with racial discrimination.)

Fast forward to 2006 August. The US Department of Justice sued Mr. Sterling for housing discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Despite attempts to obstruct the legal process  (which were noticed and commented on by Judge Dale S. Fischer during the settlement) Mr. Sterling eventually settled the suit for a fine of $2.73 million, plus attorney’s fees and costs in the total of $4,923,554.75. In 2009, Mr. Sterling was sued by Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination, noting that “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22 million contract” while Elgin’s salary was frozen at $350,000 since 2003. In the lawsuit, Elgin claims Mr. Sterling said he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.”

And Mr. Sterling’s conduct goes beyond racism, to just plain anti-social conduct in general. At one point, disclosed in a New York Post interview from 2012, Baron Davis talks about when he played for the Clippers (between 2008 and 2011) and was heckled by Mr. Sterling during practice. Mr. Sterling would “cuss at [Baron] and call him an idiot.” Do any other NBA owners do lame crap to their players like this? I doubt it.

And now, fast forward to 2014 April. Mr. Sterling is caught on tape telling his mistress not to bring “black people to his games.” This comment, and other comments like it in the audio TMZ published, got him a lifetime ban from NBA professional basketball and a $2.5 million fine as announced this past Tuesday. It also got several corporate sponsors of LA Clippers to drop the team like a hot potato.

Officially, according to the press conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only banning Mr. Sterling due to the most recent incident. In fact the commissioner specifically said “I cannot speak to past actions” regarding the fact that little, if anything, was done during the tenure of David Stern as NBA commissioner. Unofficially, though, it’s quite possible that Mr. Sterling’s checkered past regarding discrimination incidents played at least a supporting role.

I don’t see the logic in Mr. Sterling continuing to own and make money off of a team in a league where the majority of players are men of color and which is a rather large part of hip-hop culture, when clearly he has a problem with both people of color and Latinos (the two groups which started hip-hop culture in the 1970s). Who in their right mind just drops the N-bomb like that, “tanked” or not, when talking to a stranger? Just how hypocritical is it to say “blacks… smell [and] are not clean” on one hand, and make money hand over fist off of the efforts of black people on the other?

I have been a basketball fan on and off over the past decade or so (both NBA and WNBA; I still miss the Houston Comets). I recognize the NBA is connected strongly to hip-hop culture, more so than any other sport or even other basketball leagues such as the WNBA. While I’m not a fan of hip-hop culture, I am tolerant of it and realize that it is what it is; I can accept that hip-hop culture is a part of the NBA fan culture (much like country music and the NASCAR fan culture). I’m also much more impressed by successful three-point shots (which are quite capable of changing a game’s outcome) than I am impressed by a slam dunk (which will only ever score two points, just like any other basket made inside the arc). I’m not a typical NBA fan by any means, but I have always been against discrimination, particularly flagrant and persistent racism of the variety seen here.

Mr. Sterling, quite honestly, you are the one who stinks with your downright putrid and vile racism. You may be in Los Angeles, but I can smell it all the way over here in Houston, Texas, and I’m sure others can smell it as far away as New York City or for that matter, just about anywhere in the world. Honestly, I think it is a damn shame that under the NBA constitution and bylaws, Commissioner Silver could only fine you $2.5 million, because you’re getting off way too easy given the trivial portion of your wealth that $2.5 million represents. You actually deserve to be fined the entire value of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise–actually more than that, you deserve to lose all the profit you’ve made from them since the day in 1983 when you crossed the line and referred to your players using the most offensive slur possible for people of color. Indeed, the absolutely demonic racism and bigotry you expressed in a conversation you knew was being recorded has actually harmed your business interests as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Given this, it defies any sense of logic that you would want to continue to hang on to an asset that you yourself have devalued, and which will only continue to decline in value as long as you own it. Not only will it decline in value as long as you own it, it will decline in value specifically because you, Donald Sterling, own it. In marketing we call this “negative brand equity,” a concept you would have done well to familiarize yourself with at least before buying the Clippers, if not before getting into real estate (unfortunately, I think it’s too late now). Not only do you have no business owning or being associated with an NBA team, you have no business owning or being associated with a professional sports franchise in any sport. And honestly, I dare say you don’t have any business working in real estate either given your past violations of the Fair Housing Act, the “Korean World Towers” incident, and your absolutely horrible treatment of Kandynce Jones. Unfortunately for the rest of us, you are a walking, talking illustration of the phrase “more money than sense.” And dare I say it, I would be happy if someone truthfully told me you died broke, and I doubt I’m the only one.

To the other professional sports organizations, specifically (but not limited to) the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and NASCAR: You really shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad of an idea it is to allow Mr. Sterling to be an owner of a team or franchise in your respective organizations. But, for the record: as a fan of many specific sports, as well as a fan of sports in general and a fan of good morals and egalitarianism (equal treatment without regard to attributes such as race and gender), I will be severely disappointed should I find out Mr. Sterling is now associated with a team or franchise in any of your respective organizations, and I am positive I will not be the only one.

To the other 29 owners in the NBA: Edmund Burke is quoted as saying “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I believe you are all good men (and women). You will soon have an opportunity to do something about an egregious racist among your ranks who makes the entire NBA, your basketball league, look bad. Your commissioner did the right thing, but it’s up to you to finish the job. Please make the most of your opportunity.

To Adam Silver: To say the least, I think it is unfortunate that you were faced with this crisis so early in your tenure as commissioner of the NBA. However, you handled it extremely well and for that you deserve to be applauded. I realize there are people who will say something should have been done about Mr. Sterling a long time ago; in response to them, you may wish to quote the Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” It is my sincere hope that this is the beginning, not the end, of a quest to rid the NBA of discrimination. It is also my sincere hope that this is the only such sanction you have to impose during your tenure as NBA commissioner.

And finally, to all the NBA fans out there (fans of any of the 30 teams): There’s no better time to support your team than now. The commissioner of our beloved NBA has shown, just over two into his tenure, that he can make the right decision when the situation calls for it, and that he will not tolerate racism during his tenure. That’s a good reason to remain a fan or to come back if you have left within the tumultous events of the past few days.