Archive for June, 2011

Congressman Anthony Weiner is in a real pickle. One week ago, an image of a man’s underwear-covered crotch was sent to several women via Twitter, and the New York democrat’s account was proven to be the source. At first, he denied sending the picture — he blamed insensitive pranksters, the kind that had been tormenting “the Weiner kid” his whole life. However, he didn’t inspire much trust in his constituents, largely because he refused to deny that it was his penis being tweeted. Then, last weekend brought the day we had all long awaited — Weiner’s tearful admission and apology to the beloved family he had so deeply hurt.

Since Monday, his Democratic colleagues have been whispering amongst themselves. Everybody wants Weiner out of the party, but no one — not even Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid — want to step up and give him the boot themselves. Perhaps it has to do with the man’s gift for tenacity; his spirited, often loud admonishment of his political rivals has, in recent years, qualified him as something of a bulldog. It may also have to do with Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, and reports that she is now pregnant with his child. Whether fellow party members like Weiner or not, ousting an expectant father from his job may seem unjustly cold-hearted — 2012 is an election year, after all. One thing is for sure — this Weiner won’t go quietly. He has reiterated his intentions to remain in office several times in the last two days, and since he has technically broken no laws there may be no grounds to remove him from power.

Arguably the most astonishing aspect of this sordid saga is the fact that someone as stupid as Weiner could have gotten himself elected in the first place. How many politicians have to get busted before the rest of them learn not to act like perverts? Perhaps Weiner’s forgot to grab a paper on the days that Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D-NY), Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) or Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) confessed to their own respective forms of inappropriate behavior (and these are just the ones in recent years). Or it could be that, once a certain level of authority has been attained, the illusion of invincibility begins to overtake these mens’ sensibilities. Politics is a funny thing — our votes enable these officials to hold sway over the legislative and judicial aspects of our government, yet we are shocked when those we elect find ways to circumvent the law. Well, we seem shocked, anyway.

"Read my lips:"

Still though, Weiner surely remembers Rep. Chris Lee — he was a fellow Congressman from New York, for crying out loud. Lee got himself in a bit of trouble last February, after it was revealed that this family-values Republican had sent shirtless photos to an anonymous woman on Craigslist. As a result of his bare-chested misconduct, Lee’s career was derailed and he resigned shortly thereafter. Again, this happened four months ago, and it’s quite possible that Lee and Weiner — given the nature of politics — have attended literally hundreds of meetings together. Yet, Weiner was completely unfazed by the consequences faced by his colleague — in fact, the nature of his crotch-emblazoned Tweets almost seems like an attempt to upstage a rival. If New York voters thought they were offended by a man without his shirt, then they clearly underestimated the power of Weiner.

When will politicians, celebrities and other individuals in the public eye learn that their actions — even the insignificant ones — are constantly being recorded, documented and filed away for later? Perhaps the Washington of old was a tighter town, and a politician could involve himself in whatever affair he desired without serious repercussions — or even his wife finding out, for that matter. Well, the times have changed — and given these ubiquitous technological implements whose aim is to generate a sense of omnipresence in all of our lives, Weiner must have known he would be caught. Is it even a remote possibility that he didn’t know? Well, whether he’s fundamentally stupid or too sick to control his compulsory deviance — he’s probably unfit for office in either case. He should save himself the trouble of having to be dragged from his desk — and if he’s not thinking of himself, he should stop and consider his pregnant wife’s fragile state.

In the end, I’d like to hope that this is nothing more than the story-of-the-week. The unfortunately-named politician will step down, New Yorkers will steady themselves and the world will continue to spin and swirl, all in spite of Weinergate’s massive impact on our civilization. If anything, this young man’s misfortune can serve as a lesson for green politicians throughout our country — misbehave, and it will be your undoing. I know, it’s been said before, but it just has to stick one of these times. All valuable lessons do, eventually.

This past Saturday, more than 2000 men and women marched in the first annual Slutwalk demonstrations in Chicago and Los Angeles, following an inaugural event of the same name that took place in Toronto two months ago. The concept for the rally dates back to January, when a Toronto police officer told a group of university students that, if women avoid dressing like ‘sluts,’ they would prevent being raped. Naturally, an outcry from the feminist community occurred. This reaction culminated in last weekend’s dual marches, in which most of the participants clad themselves in revealing attire and took to the streets. More Slutwalks are in the works, including one in London planned for this coming weekend.

This sort of empowerment is long overdue. In the United States alone, more than 200,000 women are sexually assaulted, raped or otherwise violated on an annual basis — that’s an endemic rate, by most standards. That the aforementioned police officer — and countless others, no doubt — have chosen to approach the problem in such an ignorant manner is unfortunate, to say the least. After all, many victims of this sort of violence would most likely have been attacked regardless of their dress at the time. Predators need little more than the uncontrollable urges that brew inside them to commit their particular brand of terror, and to accuse their quarry of wrongdoing is not just disrespectful — it’s downright misogynistic.

However, I’m not so sure that the Slutwalk is the proper response to the problem. There was probably a good deal of uplift generated throughout the festivities, but it seems a bit dangerous to flaunt the female body in such a provocative fashion just to prove a point about feminine independence. There’s a lot of sick puppies out there who slink through bars, night clubs and other nighttime venues solely to seek out their prey — and the vulnerability implied by revealing garb often plays a role in determining who is selected. Again, this is not an indictment of the victim — in a perfect world, women could wear whatever attire they preferred without negative consequence to themselves. However, a direct correlation between liberally-dressed females and sexual violence exists — and thus, the matter becomes one of mitigating risk.

If someone is swimming in shark-infested waters and they happen to get chomped on, no one in their right mind would assign any blame to the victim — but they might ask why this person displayed risky behavior in such a dangerous environment. If they had mitigated the hazards and never put themselves in such a precarious position, nothing bad would have occurred. It’s a matter of pragmatism. Or, in keeping with the spirit of analogy, let’s say I’m out drinking with some friends. I run out of money, so I decide to leave the safety of an indoor bar and walk to an ATM. After withdrawing a large amount, I begin the hazy journey back to the bar — and am mugged by an individual who was tracking me the entire time (and whose presence was undetected by my own drunken self). Did I deserve to get assaulted in such a way? No, probably not — but there were many things I could have done to prevent the attack from ever occurring (starting with just calling it a night after a strong buzz had been obtained and my wallet had been emptied). My point is that law enforcement officers, counselors and — to an extent — previous victims should take the opportunity to inform young women how to not expose themselves to dodgy situations. It would definitely reduce the number of violent incidences, were all women to practice an extra measure of tactical caution — and isn’t that the desired end result?

Is it wrong of me to think about sexual assault in these terms? Some will probably accuse me of the same ignorance displayed by the policeman that inspired Slutwalk in the first place. They might even cite my gender as reason to disqualify me from even having an opinion. That’s fine, I suppose — but I believe that the correct approach to this issue (and any other that involves an attacker and a victim) should be one of education, not antagonism. Was Slutwalk that much more effective in dispelling this hackneyed notion than an ordinary demonstration, one which involved thousands of marchers who chose to wear normal clothing as they spread this much-needed message? Perhaps it was, but whatever was accomplished by these rallies will be lost on the monsters that troll the bar scene in search of whomever they perceive as weak and defenseless. The words of these demonstrators have been heard, but the fundamental problem still persists — and eradicating it probably warrants a much different rally.

Still, I suppose more good than harm was generated by Slutwalk. Once again, our country saw throngs of people in multiple cities, coming together to support those who have been victimized and violated by the worst of our species. Americans (not to mention Canadians and Brits, in this case) may not be perfect, but we know how to rally around a cause and shout until our voices fail us. I just hope that not too many women walked away from Slutwalk thinking, “I’m gonna wear whatever I want and no one can stop me”  — simply because there are many sick, twisted men in the world who are counting on this sort of reaction. I’d hate to see a woman suffer at the hands of a rapist, simply because she was trying to prove a point about her feminine independence.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian died, unassisted, last Friday at the age of 83, following complications from pneumonia and kidney problems. Though he managed to keep out of the headlines for the final decade of his life, anyone that lived through the 90s undoubtedly remembers ‘Dr Death’ and his crusade to legalize euthanasia for patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Kevorkian ‘helped’ 130 patients die using his infamous ‘death machine’ —  a hand-built contraption that fed poisonous substances into their bodies using either an IV or a gas-mask. Beginning in 1999, he spent  more than eight years in prison for second-degree manslaughter — and was only paroled after his health began to fail and he promised to never assist another suicide again. He stayed true to his word, even in the case of his own passing.

To say Kevorkian’s position was controversial is a gross understatement. The topic of assisted suicide is a little underplayed nowadays, but 20 years ago it spawned just as much debate as abortion or the death penalty does currently. This man singlehandedly brought the issue to the forefront of American social politics — and inspired laws around the country that expressly prohibited the work he pioneered. As a result, the neo-conservative contingent of the 1990s vilified him as a murderer and a monster. He had his backers — many of them fellow physicians — but not nearly enough to save him from the morbid eponym that came to define his career in medicine.

If anything, Kevorkian’s rise to fame showcased the ludicrous consideration given to suicide in our country. “Dying is not a crime,” he claimed all too often — perhaps forgetting that, in the United States, there is one form that is highly illegal. How weird it is, though, that only those who are unsuccessful at committing suicide are prosecuted — while those who actually perpetrate the crime are allowed to go free (in a manner of speaking). Certainly we should all have the ultimate say when and how our own existence comes to a close, but alas — the legislative branch of the US government has forbade us from being too proactive about it. Kevorkian’s work was a direct attack on this traditional way of thinking — traditional in the sense that it is deeply entrenched in Catholicism. Well, maybe the world wasn’t ready for Dr. Death in the 90s — but we’ve certainly learned a lot throughout the past two decades, and three states (Washington, Oregon and Montana) have even passed laws that permit certain forms of assisted suicide. Yesterday’s cardinal sin is today’s standard — though Kevorkian’s policy is far from accepted in much of our nation (let alone the rest of the world).

In recent years, the doctor made some interesting statements about his trade — words that revealed a character of vast complexity. During an interview with Anderson Cooper last year, he was asked how it felt to take a human life. “I didn’t do it to end a life,” he said. “I did it to end the suffering the patient’s going through. The patient’s obviously suffering – what’s a doctor supposed to do, turn his back?” That same year, he went a step further with Sanjay Gupta. “What difference does it make if someone’s terminal?” he inquired. “We are all terminal.” The implication here was that illness did not need to be present in order to justify the taking of one’s own life — mere suffering was perfectly sufficient.

Yet, for all the pain this doctor eased, was he right? Even in cases of debilitating sickness, should suicide be the only option? I’ve never been dying — and I doubt most of you ever have, either — so it’s a hard concept to gauge. At the very least, there should be a number of options available to terminal patients — assisted death being the last resort. Kevorkian was never shy about his preoccupation with death, and it may have been an inherent quality. After all, his parents were Armenian immigrants who fled to America during the 1915 genocide in their homeland. It’s quite possible his childhood was imbued with a sense of pragmatic curiosity toward the afterlife — and this detachment might have enabled him to unfairly influence others at their most vulnerable. Certainly, if one wishes to end their own life, their counsel on the matter ought to assign grave importance to the finality of death. Having never met Kevorkian, it’s hard to tell exactly where he stood — but his side careers as a painter of corpses and composer of macabre instrumental jazz tunes indicate that death was not just his profession, but something of a hobby as well.

Well, now Dr. Death has met his own end and, once again, brought this issue to the table. I’m not a religious man, but admittedly — I am a little curious about what occurs at the end of our lives. We’ll never know what truly awaits us until our time arrives, and when it does — I, for one, would like to hope that I go out on my own terms. I’d also like to think I won’t need any assistance, but we’ll see what the coming years have in store for me. In the worst case scenario, though, I’ll be able to rely on a physician to help me take my journey into the great beyond — and for that, I (and we all) have Kevorkian to thank.

In 2001, a brilliant documentary named Dogtown and the Z-Boys was released. Narrated by Sean Penn, it chronicled the rise of skateboarding culture in Venice, California during the 1970s. In particular, the Zephyr skating team was profiled — a ragtag crew of amateur kids who pioneered the advent of trick riding when most of the other guys thought they were cool for just doing ollies. Under the tutelage of skate shop owner Skip Engblom, the innovators of this movement cut their teeth — and would eventually inspire what we now know as ‘extreme sports.’ Arguably the most notable of these young men were Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Bob Biniak — so notable, in fact, that they got their own movie four years later.

That movie was Lords of Dogtown, and I can’t really blame anyone if they haven’t seen it. The film didn’t get much promotion surrounding its release, and was largely passed over by audiences. There is also an issue with the director, Katherine Hardwicke; she went on to direct Twilight and it’s sequels, so perhaps many non-fans of the series have avoided the other entries in her filmography. Maybe that’s what makes this one so good — the allure of obscurity. Or it could be that it’s first-rate entertainment, propelled by solid performances, a well-crafted screenplay and some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in a sports film. Either way, six years later — this movie deserves the audience it never had, if only because Peralta himself penned the screenplay.

The first Dogtown movie was too busy showcasing the talent and character of the whole 1970s scene to really delve into the stormy relationship between the three Zephyr wunderkinds, so the second fields those questions by presenting their dynamic in an honest light. Peralta was the dreamer — clearly the most talented skater, even though he was initially shunned from the team. Alva had skills as well, but he also had an ego — and a temper that prevented him from ever being seen as a likable star. Biniak was clearly the rebellious one — a bright young man who deeply loved his mother (even after she sold him out), but eventually turned to drugs and mischief as a way of expressing himself. Though they were all united by their love of skating, it’s no wonder this trio had some interpersonal issues. Luckily, they had a spirited ringleader in Engblom, played by the late Heath Ledger — whose performance here ranks as yet another fine example of his chameleonic acting ability.

The story and the acting are both top-notch, but what really allows Lords of Dogtown to stand out is its depiction of the pastime central to its theme. The film is confident enough in itself to allow for long, silent stretches with nothing but young men gliding on their decks through SoCal’s grungy back alleys and side streets. The best scene comes at the end of the film, where all three men reunite after years of estrangement to visit a sick mutual friend — and they cheer him up by skating around in his drained backyard pool. For all the grunginess and alternative lifestyle choices associated with the skate subculture, this scene — and really, the whole movie — demonstrates how it all began with a hobby that requires a good deal of dexterity and gracefulness.

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but Lords of Dogtown accomplishes a lot of movie with a little inspiration. By most estimations, the Dogtown days are far from a significant moment in history (outside of California, anyway), but Peralta’s screenplay weaves in elements of friendship, rivalry, lost youth and changing times to give the story a timeless quality. Throw in an expertly-picked soundtrack and you’ve got a highly watchable slice of entertainment. Not too shabby — for a movie that no one noticed at the time of its release, or has bothered to watch since.

[Lords of Dogtown; 107 Minutes; English; 2005]

Remember this name: Ronald Clarke Mattson. If you don’t hail from the Pacific Northwest, you may not know anything about this man — but he has been on the lips of Seattle residents for the past week. We have all been speculating amongst ourselves as to why a 63-year old attorney felt compelled to key three automobiles in the Columbia Center parking lot on two separate days in March. Of course, we shouldn’t speculate too hard — after all, he explained his actions rather directly in notes he left on the three victimized cars’ windshields. “Take some parking lessons you idiot!” he told one, and asked another, “Where did you learn to park Dweeb?” See, each motorist apparently double-parked their vehicle in the oft-crowded garage, and this deeply offended the veteran lawyer to the point of malicious mischief in the second degree, the crime for which he has now been charged. He might never have been caught, but he became overzealous in his pursuits and scratched an undercover security sedan purposefully double-parked to ensnare the phantom vandal — and security cameras were rolling.

This might seem like nothing more than a local news blurb, unworthy of further attention — but I’m sufficiently intrigued by Mattson’s actions. Sure, no one likes double parkers — but is it possible that Mattson was annoyed to the brink of insanity? I mean, he’d have to be crazy to willfully perform an action that would have such a detrimental effect on his being. So far, he has paid for the repairs to each vehicle — totaling just over $6000 — and he could face up to 60 days in prison if convicted. His law practice will certainly suffer for this infraction, as well — I, for one, wouldn’t seek legal counsel from a man found guilty of petty vandalism. Presumably, he’ll be barred from the Columbia Center garage, and any Seattle city dweller knows how hard it is to find good parking downtown. The man has thrown so much away, all to make an anonymous point about vehicular etiquette. Like I said, crazy.

Crazy like a saint, that is. See, we all stop and take notice when one of our fellow men (or women) commits an act of supreme bravery, but are quick to forget that the world is ably pushed along by small deeds of selfless sacrifice. Sure, many of these are performed by doctors, nurses, teachers, firemen, philanthropists and the like — but, by the same token, let’s not cast aside the principled rebel just yet. Mattson saw a wrong being performed on a regular basis — a small one, but a wrong nonetheless — and he decided to do something about it. Plus, by embellishing each car with his own trademark insignia, he deserves comparison with another fabled rabblerouser.

Don Diego de la Vega was, too, a rich man — a successful nobleman, living in 19th century California. Yet, for all the riches he amassed and the honorable reputation he rightly earned, this dude could not abide by the Spanish tyrants that raped his land and abused his fellow citizens. So, under cover of night, he donned a mask and cape, snuck between the shadows and emblazoned his oppressors with a ‘Z’ — the Mark of Zorro. His legend grew among the denizens of his homeland and inspired them to rise against the ruling class — much to the consternation of Captain Ramon and his cronies. Mirroring history, de la Vega — as Zorro — eventually led his people to oust the Spanish from California for good. In reality, of course, it was the Mexican-American War and the Gold Rush that displaced the Spaniards. Still, I’d like to think that at least one real-life Zorro played a crucial role in the Californian independence.

In similar fashion, perhaps Mattson will lead the charge for a reformation in the way we position our automobiles in crowded parking zones. There is no excuse for taking up more than one space, and to do so in a jam-packed lot is a sign of unforgivable arrogance. One of the ‘victims,’ a Ms. Wassell (also a lawyer), could rightly be called the main villain — the Captain Ramon to Mattson’s Zorro, if you will. “Obviously [it was] very upsetting,” she told reporters. “It was a brand-new vehicle and had signifcant damage to the right side of the vehicle. It definitely had an impact on me personally, professionally, psychologically.” Not only does she consider herself to be above the tenets of garage propriety — but now, she is claims that the incident led to a period of severe mental anguish. Well, even if she’s not exaggerating, I highly doubt Wassell will ever double park again — so, in a sense, Mattson’s mission has yielded fruitful results.

At the end of the day, we are all imperfect — and whether we admit it or not, we rely on individuals like Mattson to keep us in check. True, the improvement of the world in this case does not extend beyond the Columbia Center, but it’s a step in the right direction. In the spirit of rebellion, I applaud Mattson’s courageous, self-effacing display of insurgence. I’ll even go so far as to call him a revolutionary — and if you’ve ever undergone the ordeal of parking your car in downtown Seattle, I have a feeling you’ll agree with me.

A storm has been brewing in Alameda County, California, where a man drowned in San Francisco Bay on Tuesday. 57-year old Raymond Zack was pronounced dead after voluntarily walking into the ocean from nearby Crown Beach — reportedly, to take his own life. A response team of police and fire department personnel arrived at the scene, but did nothing to save the man. Not because they were unable, but simply because they were prohibited to do so by the City of Alameda — and have been since 2009. That year, the fire department put an end to all water-based rescues, following a massive budgetary overhaul that included the discontinuation of training programs meant to prepare these men for such procedures. It was policy, not cowardice, that forced these men to stand by while Zack flailed around in the water he had willfully entered on his own.

Yet, given the public outcry against the firemen in the wake of this incident (no pun intended), you’d think they held Zack’s head underwater. “Everyone should be fired,” wrote one web commentator. “All the firefighters and police…everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves and feel like less of a man.” Another asked, “What part of the human aspect left these idiots bodies?” Perhaps one of the harsher criticisms came from a Pericles01. “This is indicative of how government regularly fails the populace,” she (?) noted. “When policy get’s in the way of common sense, government ceases serving the people and becomes self-serving.” It should go without saying that these quotes have been directly transcribed, so any grammatical errors are intentional. I know, this seems petty — but I work as an editor and I have to keep my credibility intact.

It seems I am in the vast minority when I say, “good for them,” but I can live with that. The bandwagon for this case, onto which everyone else seems to be jumping, is apparently populated by individuals that know nothing about search and rescue protocol. Were these men expected to throw themselves at the mercy of the current — lacking proper instruction for such an endeavor — to save a man that selfishly put himself in peril? It has long been the policy of emergency workers to stand fast if crew member lives will be greatly risked during the execution of a rescue effort. It’s not spinelessness — it’s common sense. Besides, it’s not like the victim in this case was a small child that had been pulled out by a sneaker wave, or a couple whose sailing vessel had capsized. Zack had given up on his life, and chose to end it by submerging himself in the bay. Those who are decrying the City of Alameda Fire Department are assigning a tragic quality to this man’s death that simply shouldn’t exist. I’m not saying that Zack deserved to die, but I will go so far as to suggest that he didn’t deserve to be saved, either.

Of course, were the city coffers overflowing with taxpayer monies — and water rescue programs were fully funded — this unfortunate case would be a non-issue. You probably know where I’m going with this, but I’ll spell it out anyway. The old adage, ‘you get what you pay for,’ has never been more applicable. If constituents are unable to fork over the cash needed to ready their civil servants for the worst-case scenario, then they have no business slandering these people when disaster strikes and no one is able to act. I imagine there’s a lot of armchair bravery being proclaimed by the residents of Alameda tonight. We’ll see how noble they are come voting season.

Well, the good news is that the City of Alameda water rescue program will be reinstated, effective immediately. It’s too bad that such an unpleasant set of circumstances led to its return, but this is good news for the suicidal members of the community. Or is it bad news? Either way, the next time someone decides to surrender themselves to the waves of San Francisco Bay, the local fire department will put themselves in harm’s way to bring them back to dry land. Now, aren’t we all better off?