"It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubborness of the inorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed." - Albert Einstein

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I aspire to a stubbornly incorrigible nonconformity. The degree to which I have achieved my aspiration I leave in the capable hands of those whose wisdom and humilty exceed my own.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Can't We Just All Get Along

It was today, April 29, in 1992 that rioting erupted in Los Angeles following the acquital of any wrongdoing of the four Los Angeles police officers who savagely beat an unarmed African-American motorist.

On the evening of March 3, 1991, Rodney King was driving his automobile when a California Highway Patrol officer signaled him to pull over. Mr. King, who subsequently admitted that he had been drinking, fled and a high-speed chase ensued. Los Angeles Police eventually pulled Mr. King over. After King got out of his car, four officers—Stacey C. Koon, Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind, and Theodore J. Briseno— kicked King and hit him with their batons more than fifty times while he struggled on the ground.

Likely, nothing more would have been known about this and Rodney King's name would be unfamiliar to everyone, except that an amateur photographer, George Holliday, videotaped eighty-one seconds of the beating. The videotape was shown repeatedly on national television demonstrating the daily reality of police brutality for people of color and almost unknown to the white, priviedged, and/or affluent.

Koon, Powell, Wind, and Briseno were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, excessive use of force, and filing a false police report. The trial was moved to Simi Valley and the jury was seated - ten whites, one Filipion-American, and one Hispanic. On April 29, 1992 the jury found the four police officers not guilty on ten of the eleven counts and could not come to an agreement on the other count.

Understandable outrage and protest turned to violence in South-Central Los Angeles, erupting first at the intersection of Florence Boulevard and Normandie Avenue.

Freeways and surface streets were blocked and random motorists were beaten. A news helicopter filmed truck driver Reginald Denny being dragged from the cab of his truck and savagely beaten almost to death. Business were looted and burned.

Los Angeles police were slow to respond, and then Governor Pete Wilson deployed the national guard at the request of Mayor Tom Bradley. A citywide curfew was declared.

On May 1, President George Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles and by the end of the next day the city was under control.

The three days of disorder killed 55 people, injured almost 2,000, led to 7,000 arrests, and caused nearly $1 billion in property damage, including the burnings of nearly 4,000 buildings.

It was during this period of rioting that Rodney King, being interviewed on television news, posed his now famous question when he tearfully asked, "Can't we just all get along?"

I was living in San Diego at the time managing a shelter for homeless teenagers. I remember that night so vividly because all throughout Southern California sympathetic riots were also erupting. I remember how vigilant and expectant we were that violent protests were likely to begin. I had known for many years how oppressive and abusive San Diego Police were towards people of color and the homeless. Remarkably, it was a quiet night. This was due in large part to the calm, reassuring voices of community leaders, notably African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, calling for restraint and a begin to healing.

That experience left a profound effect on me of the tremendous power of the right words at the right time. Power to provoke violence and the power to provoke healing.

I think that it is good for us to remember this. I think that it is especially good for us to remember this because we have a President, Vice-President, Attorney General of the United States, presidential advisors and cabinet members, many other elected officials, and numerous celebrities who clearly do not understand this. What we say and what we do has a powerful capacity to create or to destroy and to define our world and our place in it.

In the last several years the United States has cultivated significantly more destruction than construction. Our place in the world, in many eyes, has been defined in terms that embarasses and shames me. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, and the administration for which they are responsible, has deliberately and intentionally pursued a path of ego centric nationalism that has caused much destruction. They have not seized opportunities to genuinely pursue a path that is contructive.

And oh, by the way ...

In August 1992 a federal grand jury indicted the four officers for violating King's civil rights. Koon was charged with depriving King of due process of law by failing to restrain the other officers. The other three officers were charged with violating King's right against unreasonable search and seizure because they had used unreasonable force during the arrest.

At the federal trial, which was held in Los Angeles, the jury was more racially diverse than the one at Simi Valley. On April 17, 1993, the jury convicted officers Koon and Powell of violating King's civil rights but acquitted Wind and Briseno. Koon and Powell were sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

King filed a civil lawsuit against the police officers and the city of Los Angeles. After settlement talks broke down, the case went to trial in early 1994. On April 19, 1994, the jury awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages. However, the jury refused to award King punitive damages. In July 1994 the city of Los Angeles struck a deal whereby King agreed to drop any plans to appeal the jury's verdict on punitive damages. In return, the city of Los Angeles agreed to expedite payment of King's compensatory damages.

Friday, April 27, 2007


I have had a slowly evolving malaise over the last few months and I wasn't quite able to identify the cause. I have a lot of stress at work and health problems but it seemed that it was really something else. It just occurred to me this morning.

I am a card carrying member of the News Junkies Anonymous and now I am dreading the news. I am cutting back on how much media I watch or read. And when I do go to the news, I start looking at golf news or the offbeat stuff or the arts calendar. I am avoiding headlines and front page news. I see it, I just don't really see it, or read it.

I remember this.

The landscaping is different, but this is the late 60s and early 70s all over again. When it was never a question of if there had been any horrible news from the war, just how bad was it. Never a question of if any soldiers had died needlessly for some dubious yet unattainable, and largely unidentifiable, goal, just how many. How many young men (almost all men in Viet Nam) had sacrificed their lives for that huge lie that they were serving and protecting their country.

OK, so it's more than just the different foliage. Now young women have also bought the big lie and are dying to protect their country.

I wake every morning knowing in my bones that some of the best and brightest young people in this country have been killed or maimed or otherwise traumatized and that we are so much poorer for their loss. It is never a question of whether or not this has happened, only how much, how bad is it. How much grief and loss is there for my breakfast today?

We sit here going through the motions of work and family lifle, listening to music and voting for our favorites or watching selfish egocentric people conspire against each other on some tropical island, while half a world a way, the future and talent, spirit, energy, and creativity of this country is slowly bleeding away in the sand. How many brilliant future teachers or doctors died in Iraq today? How many gifted artists or musicians are irreprably traumatized today? How many future world shaking inventions have we lost today? What great books will never be written or films never made now?

And when those who are "only traumatized" come home, how many future homeless vets have we created? How many flashbacks and nightmares yet to terrorize are being planted today? How many children became orphans today? How many children might as well be orphans because their parents are emotionally and spiritually incapable of being present?

We have the capacity to create greate things ~ literature and music and inventions and medicines and people. We are choosing the path of destruction ~ blowing things up, knocking things down, and the people, always the people.

That seems like enough to explain my malaise.

But then I think, I always try to think, I aspire, to bring some light into this darkness. I have little influence or capacity to change what happens in Iraq. I can influence what happens here and now, which is the only place and time I actually have anyway. I can ... I do choose to cultivate positive energy, to light a candle, tell a story, read a good book, help a neighbor, make a friend, play some golf, be artistic and creative, make a delicous meal. Its not a cure for my malaise and it won't change our government or Iraq and it won't make me forget or ignore, but a candle lit in the darkness, no matter how dark, is better than a curse.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Blackstone Ratio and Our Commitment to Justice

"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,"
English jurist William Blackstone. The ratio 10:1 has become known as the "Blackstone ratio" and it is a foundational teaching in law school. Beyond the confines of law school, the Blackstone Ratio is commonly understood and accepted by society at large as well.
We also know that in our system of government we are assured that persons convicted of a crime are entitled to the presumption of innoncence. In trials for serious crimes the prosecution bears the heavy burden of establishing proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
And yet ....
O. J. was never convicted and yet DNA has established the innocence of of yet one more man who was in prison for 25 years. He had been convicted of rape, robbery, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery. DNA unequivocally established his innocence.
Lets admit it and stop pretending, in this country there is one system of justice for the rich and famous and another for the poor and obscure. And lets stop pretending that we have a lofty and ethical commitment to truth and justice. The list of persons falsely imprisoned and later exonerataed by the use of DNA is growing. It is now at over 200. If our commitment to truth and justice is in fact so great and noble, we would hardly resist paying any price to reach that burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. Surely the cost and inconvenience of a DNA test would be no obstacle. And yet... it took 25 years in a prison cell for this latest man.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The PGA Gets Some Fresh Faces

The PGA has gotten some much needed, and appreciated, new faces emerging in recent weeks. Zack Johnson won the Masters in a steel eyed face down with Tiger. Not only was it so refreshing to see the young man emerge so confidently and courageously, it was also reassuring to learn that Tiger is, indeed human and fallible and can in fact lose a tournament where he is leading going into the last round.

Then Nick Watney posts his first PGA Tour win at the Zurich Classic in Louisanna.

You gotta love these guys ... and the women too ...

Just a couple of weeks ago, Morgan Pressel, became the youngest winner of an LPGA Major at Kraft Nabisco Championship at the Mission Hills Country Club in Carlsbad, California.

Despite Mr. Twain's observation, one of the beauties of the game of golf is that on any given day, the giants will fall and new heroes will emerge. It is what keeps us going back out onto the links every chance we get.

America Loves Violence ... Surprise, There Are Consequences

America just loves violence. The two movies topping box office attendance during the weekend of Friday April 20 through Sunday April 22, 2007, "Disturbia" and "Fracture", both prominently feature, and depend upon, graphic violence. But this should not be a surprise to anyone who has even a passing interest in American entertainment tastes.

American movies, television, music and music videos, advertising, print media, and video games heavily feature violence.

Regrettably, American fascination with and attraction to violence is not limited to the artistic or theoretical. Alone among first affluent and respected societies, the United States is the last to employ the use of capital punishment for crimes. The United States shares that dubious honor with countries like Iran and North Korea. The United States resorts to virtually all international problems with the use of or threat of the use of violence.

Knowing that children learn more from what their role models do than from what their role models say, it is not surprising that so many children choose to respond to conflicts with violence. It is at least disingenuous, and at worst a cruel lie, to tell children not to resort to violence to solve their problems and conflicts when that is what this country does as a matter of course.

None of this is profound insight or surprising. What is so surprising is that Americans, alone among the world, are apparently unable to make any connection between our fascination with and exploitation of violence within our borders and beyond and our captivity and victimization by violence.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

There is a forgotten victim in the Virginia Tech Shootings

It is probably politically incorrect and may offend some, but there is a forgotten victim in the Virginia Tech shootings, the shooter. By no means do I intend to dismiss the horrible tragedy and the senseless violence that Cho perpetrated. And I have no expectation and it would not be appropriate for those most directly affected by this sad incident to publicly mourn for Cho, at least not yet. But I think somone should ... actually, I think we all should.

What seems conspicuous by its absence is any appreciation for the reality that must be apparrent to any who are even minimally honest with themselves, is that this young man was a person with deep wounds and suffering great pain. It must also be obvious that Cho decided to end his pain in a dramatic and violent manner that was intentionally designed to draw attention to his pain and wounds. Attention that, whether true in fact or not, he felt he never received in life.

While we mourn the students and teachers Cho shot, humanity and compassion calls us to mourn for this young man, in great pain and suffering, who did not receive the help he needed. Amid the other lessons from this tragedy it is my fervent hope that we learn this also, that we are indeed our brothers and sisters keepers and no act of kindness or compassion, and especially listening is ever wasted.