Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Gangsters of the Hawkeye State

Is there a connection to Ferguson, Missouri, and the Iowa Department of Transportation's order to municipalities to remove a large percentage of the automated traffic cameras currently blanketing the state, including ones that clock traffic on interstate highways through both Des Moines and Cedar Rapids? The state DOT ruled last week that, with only a few exceptions, these cameras have been ticketing far more drivers than they have prevented accidents, and they must be removed by April 17th.

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Justice released a comprehensive report of its investigation into the Ferguson police department, concluding in part that the city's "law enforcement practices are shaped by the City's focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs." Adding, "this emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes."

The strikingly-similar 'taxation by citation' practices of Iowa cities in regards to traffic patrol have not included a racial bias (as far as we know at this time), but doesn't it make at least some sense that the state of Iowa might begin policing its own police with more vigor after our neighbors to the south become the target of the DOJ? My guess is that the state of Iowa knows that its cities' tactics in regards to plundering us on the roadway are legally indefensible, and the Ferguson verdict is a big reason why. Another big one might be Ferguson-related also-- the important-yet-much-maligned public protests that have flared up in that city over the last year because of police misconduct and patterns of unconstitutional traffic stops.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Letterman Tribute #6

Three generations of Elliott (pictured left to right: Abby, Bridey, Bob, Chris)--

Bob Elliott, one-half of the innovative and iconic Bob and Ray comedy team, celebrates his 92nd birthday tomorrow. He made this appearance on Dave with partner Ray Goulding in the early '80s.

Bob's son, Chris, was Letterman's madcap-in-residence throughout the 1980's, making dozens of appearances. Here's a clip that serves as a representative sample and a current favorite.

Abby Elliott, while serving four seasons on Saturday Night Live, guested on the show as well. She's one of two daughters of Chris and former Late Night talent coordinator Paula Niedert.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Paddy's Day, Dummy

St. Patrick's is definitely not my thing, but I could get behind a holiday promoting my favorite Irishman of all-time-- fictional Dennis Duffy of 30 Rock. Liz Lemon's on-and-off-again boyfriend appears in 13 of the series' episodes. He's an entrepreneur. You might have seen his ad on the 7 train. He was the last beeper salesman in Manhattan (he became the "Beeper King" after the original committed suicide), and he invested in a vending machine for coffee in the basement of the Kmart at 38th and 6th ("You just gotta go downstairs, get the key from David-- BOOM-- you plug in the machine"). His latest idea is like Netflix, "but you go to a store and pick out a video from a limited selection." He was almost the love of Lemon's life.

(Dean Winter, as Duffy)

These are my favorite Dennis Duffy quotes...

Regarding his appearance on To Catch a Predator: 
"I knew that girl was eighteen. She told me that her last boyfriend was Asian, and that crap doesn't start until college."

Dennis: "I tried to steal beer from a Duane Reade and some black guy cold-cocked me."
Criss: "Like a security guard?"
Dennis: "I don't know, pal. I don't see people that way."

"Hey, easy with the jacket. It's from Amar'e Stoudamire's evening wear collection."

"Liz, you remember my fiance, Megan Duffy. Maiden name Duffy. Hopefully no relation."

Introducing Liz to his adopted son:
Dennis: "Boom. We got Black Dennis"
Liz: "His name is Black Dennis? That is racist"
Dennis: "Yeah, right Liz. The guy with the black son is racist"

Dennis: "Black Dennis, start the car."

"You think I'm just going to give up now, huh? I'm a Duffy, Liz. And us Duffys, we didn't give up when we got kicked out of Ireland. We didn't give up when America sent us back, and we didn't give up when Ireland then just set us adrift on a log, all right?"

"We were both pretty torn up about Hurricane Katrina. What those people did to the Superdome."

"Hey Criss, there's a lesbo movie on Showtime."
"You missed the end of the movie. The kid goes back to college, and Mark Ruffalo's just going to do his own thing with the restaurant."

After being declared a subway hero by "Mayor Bloomburger.":
"That's the Stanley Cup, sweetheart, it's hockey's highest honor. And me and it are teaming up to fight illiteracy."

On his relationship with Liz:
"I have squatter's rights."

During the 30 Rock gas leak:
"You called me, Liz. Cuz deep down, you still got all kinds of queer feeling for me. That's why someday I knew you'd be vulnerable from a gas leak or a coma or a super period."

"If this is going to work out between you and me, you should know my tarantula sleeps on my face... Gas has no effect on me at all. When I was growing up, my school, Gerry Cooney Elementary, it was right next to a gas works in Queens. It ventilated into the cafeteria. We got a big settlement from the city. Our parents voted to spend it on a boat that the families could share, but then that sank. But you know what, I'm still smart enough to know that I'll never do better than you, Liz Lemon, cuz you're a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen, so I'm going to give you one more shot to admit to me that you keep bringing me back into your life for a reason."

"I can move my stuff in tonight, right? I just have one duffel bag and a sidecar. My motorcycle got impounded for being parked too awesome. I just need you to sign this lease I printed up off the internet."

Dennis' voicemail message:
"Whazzzupppp?! You've reached Dennis' voicemail. How YOU doing? Get out of here, Joey. I'm recording my voicemail message."

Liz: "Whose horse is that?"
Dennis: "That's my cousin Teddy's Great Dane. I told him I'd watch him for a couple weeks cause Teddy broke his ankle running from black guys who pulled a gun on him."
Liz: "Why was it important to tell me that the muggers were black?"
Dennis: "They weren't muggers. They were cops."
Liz: "So why don't you just say he was running from some cops?"
Dennis: "I don't know. I mean, you're a racist for assuming they weren't cops."

And reading from a letter he's written:
"Dear Liz Lemon: While other women have bigger boobs than you, no other woman has as big a heart. When I saw you getting ready to go out and get nailed by a bunch of guys last night, I knew for sure it was over between us, and for the first time since the '86 World Series, I cried... I cried like a big, dumb homo. And if it was up to me, we'd be together forever. But there's a new thing called "women's liberation", which gives you women the right to choose and you have chosen to abort me, and that I must live with. So tonight, when you arrive home, I'll be gone. I officially renounce my squatter's rights."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Rap Albums That Caused Slavery

 The exceedingly-brilliant center-right hosts and panelists on Morning Joe, forced to fill 15 hours a week with mindless jabbering, continued their discussion this morning on how black people are responsible for their own oppression. This particular segment tackled the racist nine-second video of a fraternity function at the University of Oklahoma. Because rap music.

Incidentally, I don't get Morning Joe's point about white people watching Empire. I'm one of the supposed 70 percent of the show's white viewers (Empire is the first series in recorded television history to add more viewers for each of its first nine episodes) and not once have I heard the word in question. Plus, I don't think the two students were expelled because they said a particular word. Capturing that on a viral video is easy enough. But they also loudly vowed that they would never have an African-American member of their fraternity and declared that black people should be strung up by their necks. They didn't get that from a Lil Wayne song.


African-Americans can use the word. Life's just not fair. To borrow a line from Ta-Nehisi Coates over at the Atlantic: I call my wife "Honey." That doesn't mean that you can.


The fraternity brother that starred in the racist video issued a statement saying he's sorry for his behavior. Says Parker Rice, "I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened. I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation. It’s more important to acknowledge what I did and what I didn’t do. I didn’t say no, and I clearly dismissed an important value I learned at my beloved high school, Dallas Jesuit. We were taught to be ‘Men for Others.’ I failed in that regard, and in those moments, I also completely ignored the core values and ethics I learned from my parents and others.”

The good news for a young person like Rice is that he has the rest of his life to prove who he really is.


I do support the man's expulsion from the University of Oklahoma, however. It had to be done. Before he becomes a senator or congressman.


Only six months ago, everybody was sucking up to new NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Now we're on the verge of an NBA labor "war".

When will people realize: A sports commissioner is not an independent arbiter between owners and players. He is an employee of the owners. He serves at their whim.


Justified quote of the day:
Raylan: "I gotta admit, there's a small part of me that's going to miss this when it's over."
Boyd: "Well, don't eulogize the past till the future gets its turn."

Monday, March 09, 2015

Letterman Tribute #5

Dave's longevity, and his status as a television heavy-hitter, means that the retiring comedian once hosted icons of a very early entertainment era on his first late night show.

Three legends, each one of them smoking up a storm...

In this first 5-minute clip, George Burns visits the Late Night studio at Rockefeller Center.

Bette Davis appeared more than once, this time with her goblet.

**Martin Short recalls the first time he met Bette Davis. They were on the Carson show.

In this video from 1985, Sammy Davis Jr. recalls his days in vaudeville. Watching Sam watch himself as a 5-year-old stage performer is priceless.

**Sam returned to Late Night four years later. This performance of the "good ole' goody" "I Can't Get Started" was his last singing performance on television.

Thursday, March 05, 2015


The first spring training games of the year were played in Florida and Arizona yesterday and today-- thankfully still without a pitch clock attached to them. But the end for the untimed Major League game may be closer than you think. You know you've got problems when the people that run the sport are the ones that think it's boring.

Baseball has fallen out of the national conversation. It feels irrelevant today. Baseball's heroes are no longer America's heroes. Expansion turned it into a regional sport. That's how the New York Times assayed it 18 months ago. One of the sport's star players said it best, "Somehow or other, they don’t play ball nowadays as they used to some eight or ten years ago. I don’t mean to say they don’t play it as well. But I mean that they don’t play with the same kind of feelings or for the same objects they used to. It appears that (ballgames) have come to be controlled by different parties and for different purposes."

Actually, that's a statement that goes back quite a bit longer than 18 months. I'm quoting Brooklyn Atlantics' captain Pete O'Brien in 1868. Baseball's obituary has been re-written, and re-published, about a million times since. In 1890, the Omaha World-Herald proclaimed that "the rage for base ball seems to be dying out." That only turned out to be true in 1890 if you were strictly talking about the base ball that's spelled as two words. The sport with the compound name, by contrast, has done pretty great. Dare I say, indeed, that baseball is in better overall health today, and is more relevant, than either the New York Times or the Omaha World-Herald.


So every team in the Little League World Series plays games with eligible players and ineligible players, but the first all-black championship team is the one that gets called out on it? What bullshit. Yes, this is racism rearing its ugly but predictable head. Note to the uninformed: every Little League team is a "regional" team. What are these boundaries for each team exactly? Cities? Counties? Townships? Neighborhoods? On my LL team 30 years ago, about half the players had their choice of which team to play on based on their rural residence. Our best player lived a half hour away with his mother most of the year, but lived with his dad, in our area, in the summer. The teams that make it to Williamsport are each All-Star teams of a certain stripe. That's why the championship game each year, televised on ESPN, is never between a neighborhood and a neighborhood, it's always something like "New Jersey" versus "Taiwan." Jackie Robinson West Little League "cheats" and they lose their national championship trophy. The New England Patriots cheat and they're Super Bowl champions.


Something that doesn't make sense to me: This spring, for the first time since 1997, the Cardinals issued uniform #25 to somebody other than Mark McGwire. That's a demonstration of a desperately short amount of gratitude, if you ask me. The year the Cardinals traded for McGwire, the average annual financial value of each Cardinals player-- 25+ players each a company asset-- was $1,552,695. When McGwire retired, only four years later, that number was $2,849,933. That's nearly a one hundred percent increase in less than half a decade's time. McGwire's exploits at the bat warranted banner headlines, in print and online, around the world. The man was-- and is-- simply the most financially- and culturally-important figure in the Cardinals' entire history.

On the field at Busch Stadium on September 8th, 1998, in front of 50,000 fans and millions watching at home, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. announced that McGwire's number 25 would one day be retired by the club, and be added to those displayed on the outfield wall, such other baseball glitterati as Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, and Ozzie Smith. I heard DeWitt say it. I can play the quote back for you on an MLB-licensed DVD. In less than a year's time in 1998, DeWitt had already sold tens of thousands of t-shirt jerseys with McGwire's name and number stamped on the back. I guess the boss was acutely feeling the moment of history on that particular night because issuing the number to the team's assistant hitting coach 17 years subsequent seems like an act directly counter to this earlier declaration.

Since 1998, the Cardinals have retired the uniform numbers of both Tony LaRussa (McGwire's manager for his entire Cardinals tenure) and Whitey Herzog, two men who each covered up their uniform numbers with nylon windbreakers damn near every time they put their uniforms on, and have sold virtually no replica or t-shirt jerseys between them. And this summer, the New York Yankees will retire Andy Pettitte's uniform number 46. Pettitte, an admitted steroid cheat, will also get a plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Letterman Tribute #4

As the next in a series, here is a full Late Night episode (minus some jump cuts) from 1988. George Bush is now president-elect of the United States, and Dave welcomes then-NBC news reporter Connie Chung to discuss the election. Dave had a special rapport with Chung, but his show has always been a sanctuary for mildly-vapid network news personalities. In these moments with news titans, Dave plays the dummy, but he's always the smartest one of the two on camera.

After Chung follows an episode of "Count Biff-ula," and then Melanie Griffith, promoting her new film Working Girl. These old Griffith interviews on Late Night were referenced by Griffith's daughter, Dakota Johnson, when she made her first appearance with Letterman last week and suggested to Dave that he might be her real father.