Sunday, September 22, 2013

Breaking Bad

America may be the home of the free and the land of the brave but it’s also the domain of the discontented.
We offer as evidence the fact that there are currently five secession movements under way in this country, in California, Colorado, Michigan, Texas and Maryland. The aim for many of them is independent statehood.
Most spring from overwhelmingly white, rural, conservative/ libertarian enclaves. Most of the organizers complain their voices are not being heard. Most believe their political opponents, perhaps enemies is a better word, are violating the nation’s founding principles. Most like to throw around words like “tyranny.”
One of the potential 51st states is in western Maryland whose initiative leader, Scott Strzelczyk , told the Washington Post he and his supporters want to “break away from the dominant ruling class.” Interestingly enough, that was a philosophy espoused by Karl Marx. But we digress.
Strzelczyk said he is frustrated with Maryland’s Democratic Party. “If you don’t belong in their party, you’ll never have your views represented,” he said. “If we have more states, we can all go live in states that best represent us, and then we can get along.”
Meaning his idea of Utopia is a state where everyone thinks alike. And if there are dissenters? I guess they start their own secession movement.
Look, let’s call these movements what they are: Exclusionary politics. While they claim they are being ignored, what they really want to do is ignore everyone who doesn’t share their views. This isn’t democracy. It’s a mockery of it.
The supporters of each and every one of these efforts are people who can’t deal with two facts of life: (1) The Democrats have won the White House in the last two elections and (2) their view of America as a never-ending Andy Griffith Show is being challenged by an increasingly diverse and liberal population.
So they want to take their ball and go home. Rather than convince their fellow Americans of the validity of their beliefs, they want to quit the game.
Look at the other secession efforts and you hear the same song over and over:
To the north of us, a movement aspires to start something called the state of Jefferson which would span the contiguous and mostly rural area of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
This is nothing new. In October 1941, the mayor of Port Orford, Oregon announced that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson and Klamath should join with the California counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc to form a new state, later named Jefferson.
On Nov. 27, 1941, a group of young men gained national media attention when, brandishing hunting rifles for dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the state of Jefferson was in “patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon” and would continue to “secede every Thursday until further notice.” The effort ended when Pearl Harbor was bombed 10 days later.
Leaders of the new movement cite their frustration with the Democratic majority in the state legislature. Their complaints include gun control laws, environmental restrictions on the lumber and mining industries, as well as steep fees for fire prevention. Not to mention the political clout of Southern California which is a million miles away in distance and deed.
Or to put it more succinctly, “We have nothing in common with you people down south. Nothing,” Randy Bashaw, manager of the Jefferson State Forest Products lumber mill in the Trinity County hamlet of Hayfork, told a reporter. “The sooner we’re done with all you people, the better.”
The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors agreed, voting 4-1 recently to pursue seceding from California. But it will never fly politically. No Democrat in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. is going to support the formation of a state that would be largely Republican.
In Colorado, residents in the northern part of the state will vote next month on whether to secede after ballot language backed by Tea Party activists was approved.
Activists started pushing for the meetings after this year’s legislative session, when Democrats who control the Colorado legislature passed new laws regulating firearms and oil exploration. Throw in the legalization of same-sex legal unions and you have a secession movement.
“Our very way of life is under attack,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said in an interview.
A proposal to form the state of Superior made up from portions of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and portions of northern Wisconsin has made news.
This oldie but goodie was first proposed in 1858 as the state of Ontonagon and received the support of no less than the New York Times which opined, “Unless Congress should interpose objections, which cannot reasonably be apprehended, we see no cause why the new State of Ontonagon should not speedily take her place as an independent member of the union.”
The current effort is said to be spurred by “cultural differences,” geographic separation, and the belief that the residents’ concerned are being ignored.
Then there is Texas, where they think big. So big in fact the talk down there is of becoming an independent nation. Some 100,000 of its residents signed an online petition this year seeking to secede from the United States.
Secession backers point to a section of the state constitution which claims Texans have the right “to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.” The White House countered with an 1869 Supreme Court ruling that found individual states did not have a right to secede. And politely said “no.”
This, of course, is folly. Would these people really want to sacrifice their American citizenship and all that it represents? Do they really want passports to travel to Oklahoma?
Fortunately, nobody takes Texas seriously but Texans.
All of this would be so much sound and fury signifying nothing if it wasn’t troubling.
These efforts reflect the polarization of our country, a never compromise mentality which dictates that you either crush your opponent or cut and run rather than work to effect change.
No good can come of this no matter which side of the political spectrum you occupy.
The irony, as Kimberly Karnes, a professor of political science and geography at Old Dominion University points out, is that a new state “would still be a part of the United States of America, meaning it answers to and must work within the U.S. system, as it currently operates.”
“For residents who want more personal freedoms and less government intrusion,” Karnes said, “they may find that even in a new state, Uncle Sam is still a frequent visitor in their community.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Do Not Attempt

Warning: This column is written by a professional. Amateurs attempting to re-create the deft use of language contained herein may experience writer’s block, frustration, stress, shameful displays of temper, mood swings, imbibing of alcohol and a permanent state of skepticism.

We live in a world plastered with disclaimers, the price a civilization pays for producing mass armies of lawyers at war with a lawsuit-happy populace.
For example: I was watching TV recently when a beer commercial appeared that showed a gentleman being lifted skyward on the trunk of a huge elephant. “Do not attempt,” it intoned. 
A commercial for Fiat showed their cars driving off a cliff into an azure sea off the Italian coast, then emerging on the beach in America. Again, we were warned “Fictionalization. Do not attempt.” 
In a drug store, I saw a thermometer that advised, “Do not use orally after using rectally.” Instant noodles advise that the product “will be hot after heating” and we are admonished that pencils “may be sharp after sharpened.”
We’ve all puzzled over the disclaimer on a package of Christmas tree lights that state they are “for indoor or outdoor use only.”
A label on an iron tells you, “Never iron clothes while they are being worn;” automotive sunshades come with the warning, “do not drive with sunshade in place.” Baby strollers advise, “Remove child before folding.”
A few years back, a commercial for Saturn automobiles featured testimony from an owner who was involved in an accident with a truck, but “thanks to the superior safety features of his Saturn,” he was able to walk away unscathed. Meanwhile, the Saturn legal department added this sobering disclaimer in the corner of the screen: “Actual crash results may vary.”
An ad for Visa (the credit card) showed a pregnant woman picking out house paint with her husband, trying to get just the right shade of vermilion. When she finally finds the shade she wants, saying “This is going to be perfect,” the scene switches to her in a football stadium screaming “Catch the stinkin’ ball, stinker!” with her face painted in the vermilion and light-blue colors of her team. A disclaimer at the bottom of the screen reads “Do not paint your face with house paint.”
The consensus hall of famer is the warning on a child’s Superman costume: “Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.”
Gee, and I was going to drive a Fiat off a cliff while wearing a Superman costume, my face covered in house paint.  Are we really that stupid?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on when ­disclaimers must be used, according to the website HowStuffWorks. Most times it’s based on what the TV network legal departments demand.
Networks are trying to cover their fannies in case someone decides to “try this at home.” If a child recreates a stunt he or she sees in a commercial and is injured, the network that ran the ad would take the heat.
Other times, the advertising client’s legal department will demand a disclaimer to avoid potential lawsuits. This decision is usually made by the client before the commercial is even in the can.
But before we write off the networks and manufacturers as impossibly paranoid, maybe we should consider the kinds of product liability lawsuits that get filed.
— Richard Overton sued Anheuser-Busch for false and misleading advertising under Michigan State law. The complaint specifically referenced ads involving, among other things, fantasies of beautiful women in tropical settings that came to life for two men driving a Bud Light truck. In addition to two claims of false advertising, Overton included a third claim in his complaint in which he claimed to have suffered emotional distress, mental injury and financial loss in excess of $10,0000 due to the misleading Bud Light ads.
— An Oregon lawyer is suing because his lilies didn’t include a warning label that the flowers are toxic to cats. The flowers, which did have a warning for humans, were eventually eaten by the lawyer’s cat, leading to days of kitty dialysis.
— Brenda Hurff of Washington Township, New Jersey, filed suit for $100,000 in damages after a fire was started in her kitchen by “unattended food.” Apparently, Mrs. Hurff had put a cherry Pop-Tart in her toaster and had forgotten about it, as she left home to take her children to school. When she returned, about 20 minutes later, she found firefighters extinguishing her flaming kitchen. Despite the warning on the Pop-Tart box not to “leave the toaster appliance unattended due to possible risk of fire,” Mrs. Hurff is suing Kellogg’s and Black & Decker, maker of the toaster, for damages.
On the other side of the coin was the famous McDonald’s hot coffee case which to many people was the last word in frivolous litigation.
It seems 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on her lap. She sued and won a settlement of more than $2 million. Outrageous? Not so fast.
It turned out that McDonalds kept their coffee bubbling at a scalding 180-190 degrees, so hot that Ms. Liebeck suffered third-degree burns on six percent of her skin and lesser burns over 16 percent. She remained in the hospital for eight days while she underwent skin grafting. During this period, Liebeck lost 20 pounds (nearly 20 percent of her body weight), reducing her to 83 pounds. Two years of medical treatment followed.
Liebeck sought to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover her actual and anticipated expenses, according to published reports. Her past medical expenses were $10,500; her anticipated future medical expenses were approximately $2,500; and her loss of income was approximately $5,000 for a total of approximately $18,000.  Instead, the company offered only $800. When McDonald’s refused to raise its offer, Liebeck sued. And won.
The moral of the story? It appears we will never have to worry about unemployment in the legal profession.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Right Call

Vincent Edward Scully has been the voice of the Dodgers for 64 years, 55 of them in Los Angeles. During that time, he has been recognized time and again as the greatest sportscaster of all time.
He is the man who brought joy to Mudville, the icon whose popularity has crossed generational, economic and racial lines.
Hyperbole? Hardly. He received the Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and was honored with a Life Achievement Emmy Award for sportscasting and induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.
The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association has named Scully as National Sportscaster of the Year three times (1965, 1978, 1982) and California Sportscaster of the Year 29 times, and inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1991. He was the 1992 Hall of Fame inductee of the American Sportscasters Association, which also named him Sportscaster of the Century (2000) and top sportscaster of all time on its Top 50 list (2009).
And by the way, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But there’s been one significant honor that eluded him. Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade.
It was, in the parlance of baseball, a bad call.
That glaring mistake was corrected Thursday with the announcement that Scully will serve as Grand Marshal on New Year’s Day.
Now, a wrong has been righted. The sun shines brightly on the new mown field. And we celebrate. Here’s why:
When I think of a half-century of Dodger baseball, there is one constant that remains as all the seasons and players begin to blend together in memory.
That is Vin Scully.
Back in the days before every game was televised, Scully was the Dodgers.
His voice on the radio meant spring was here. When Scully called the Dodgers, it was time to get the lawn furniture out, fix a cool drink and listen to the drama unfold as only a master storyteller could describe it.
It is Scully who said, “He (Bob Gibson) pitches as though he’s double-parked.”
It is Scully who described pitcher Tom Glavine as being “like a tailor; a little off here, a little off there and you’re done, take a seat.”
It is Scully who called Stan Musial “good enough to take your breath away.”
It is Scully who said, “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old-timer’s game.”
It is Scully, who, in an eloquent Irish tenor, can call a baseball game and make it sound like a reading of Emerson or Whitman.
Years ago, when I did get to a game at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, it was Scully’s voice that dominated the scene, broadcast over a thousand portable radios clutched by fans throughout the park.
It was as though, even if you saw the action with your own eyes, you needed Scully to validate it before you believed it.
Vin once described his love with broadcasting this way: “I would come home to listen to a football game — there weren’t other sports on — and I would get a pillow and I would crawl under the radio, so that the loudspeaker and the roar of the crowd would wash all over me, and I would just get goose bumps like you can’t believe. And I knew that of all the things in this world that I wanted, I wanted to be that fella saying, whatever, home run, or touchdown. It just really got to me.”
Vin is 85 now, still getting and giving goose bumps. Maybe he should announce the football game at the conclusion of the Rose Parade. After all, as the Irish like to say, “the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.”
Instead, let’s give him the day off and let him enjoy the accolades.
And get busy on erecting his statue at the entrance to Dodger Stadium.