Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Day of Good News

In case no one noticed (but how could you not?), Tuesday (June 30) was a day of exceptionally good news – especially for these “troubled times”. In fact, I would venture to say that the good news on that day outweighed the bad – a truly exceptional development. Of course, the economy is still headed toward Armageddon, but that's no longer “news”; it's more or less taken for granted, as if everyone on the Titanic knew about the looming iceberg but decided, well, what's to be done? Pour another drink and let's dance. But in any case, allow me to cite, in a tone of encouragement and consolation, some of the more outstanding stories from a mere two days ago.

Play that Funky Fire Hose, White Boy

The Supremes returned an anxiously-awaited verdict on a case of reverse discrimination – or actually non-discrimination, i.e. between better-qualified applicants and less-qualified applicants in the New Haven firefighter case. Here was another instance where the dead, moldering hand of affirmative action is still corrupting public life, especially on the local level where authoritarianism and rigidity tend to dominate. And the issue at hand was, perhaps, not totally obvious. There is a long history of lawsuits and policy changes based on what is called “adverse impact”, which refers to selection processes that systematically disfavor minorities (blacks, in 99.99% of the cases) – for either perfectly good, or bad, reasons. I don't know if the history of this dreary issue has yet been written, but it would certainly have to include the following major phases: First, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, among other things. Then, following hot on its heels, affirmative action, which re-introduced “race awareness” into deliberations about hiring policy, followed by quotas, which re-introduced racial discrimination. Once the high water mark of quotas had passed (one of the few examples of a social policy dying from sheer absurdity), and it was allowable to, once again, select people for jobs based on merit, the concept of “adverse impact” was introduced. This happens when a selection procedure, while not designed with racial prejudice in mind, nonetheless winds up yielding up an unacceptably low number of minority, i.e. black, applicants for promotion. And for a while, in some quarters, any selection procedure that was found to have adverse impact was declared null and void, and forbidden to be used... which usually meant that, for want of a better alternative, employers went back to the quota system, which at least would not land them in court – at least not at that point. But the story is not yet over. Eventually, the concept of adverse impact was modified to the extent that even if a selection procedure statistically favored non-minorities – i.e. whites – it could be retained if it could be firmly established that the procedure was, nonetheless, directly relevant to the job in question and highly predictive of performance in that job. And this is the point at which the New Haven authorities found themselves back in 2003. If they hired people who had done less well on the test, that would be a direct reflection of quotas, which are out of favor. If they hired whites, they would have to argue that the adverse impact was justified. Plus, they saw images of lawsuits, and of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton motoring up from the Big Apple to lead mass protests. So their answer – not totally surprising under the circumstances – was to promote nobody. They didn't, as far as I know, declare the test invalid; they just said they were unhappy with the results. Well, that didn't sit well with the white firefighters and that's why their cause wound up in the Supreme Court. But while it found in their favor, the Court did fall short of making a blanket prohibition of high-jinks such as this, so we can expect to see plenty more cases before it's over. But aside from that, the verdict does strike a heavy blow against one of the most insane and destructive pieces of social policy ever to afflict this country.

Max Madoff

Another long-awaited legal outcome was the sentencing of Bernie Madoff to 150 years in jail (with maybe a few weeks off for good behavior) for his Mount Rushmore-sized Ponzi scheme. Of course, as I've said before, the Madoff scam is only a large tip of an even larger iceberg... and can one really claim that the antics of scores of other stockbrokers, securities traders, currency speculators, bankers, and mortgage lenders were any less destructive? Not to mention the actions (or lack thereof) of their facilitators in Congress and in the White House. But hey, get one of them off the street and it might at least put a bit of the fear in the others – and fear, while not as good as repentance, is a lot better than nothing. Of course, the myth persists that Madoff acted alone... in which case, what were all those people who worked for him doing all that time? Didn't they ever compare notes? Didn't anyone ever figure out that no one in the entire organization had ever bought or sold a single share of stock? I thought it was only in the government that an entire organization can be made up of “administration” types, with no one actually serving the customer. I really thought those New York types were smarter than that... or maybe they're just better at denial.

Just Enough for the Cities

OK... given that we're going to be in Iraq forever, unless they kick us out bodily, it was still a red-letter day when our actual uniformed combat troops (vs. “advisors”, “trainers”, “liaisons”, “contractors”, etc.) beat feet out of the cities to set up camp in the relatively peaceful (but just you wait) countryside. The Iraqis called it “National Sovereignty Day”, which is a bit strange considering that we've maintained, all along, that our invasion and occupation of their country had not hampered their sovereignty one iota. But apparently they didn't see it that way, so there was great celebration and dancing in the streets when we left. (Gee, if it's that easy to make people happy, maybe we should invade more countries more often!) Of course, if the warring parties in the Iraqi civil war were smart, they would immediately cease hostilities in all of their cities, in order to demonstrate that all of the strife was, in fact, a product of the American invasion and occupation. But I'm afraid they're not quite that subtle in their thinking. In fact, they might be foolish enough to give us an excuse to move back in to the cities... in which case, we'll be right back where we started.

Saving His Skin

And not to neglect the local front – Pittsburgh, being a rough-and-tumble kind of place, is fortunate in that its juries typically have their “bullshit detectors” turned way up, especially when confronted by a lame-assed excuse for an otherwise inexcusable crime. In this case, it was that a guy who stabbed his girlfriend to death had been turned into a killer by... acne medicine! This is the kind of fantasy that might have actually carried the day on the East or West Coasts... or in some of the more mush-headed towns around the Great Lakes. But here in Steeltown, people generally know crap when they see it, and this little turd wound up with a life sentence for his trouble. But at least – to paraphrase an old borscht circuit joke – “look how nice his skin is”.

You'll Never Take Me, Coppers!

And speaking of wrongos, it's amazing how often a “suspect” in this area does himself in before he can be arrested... or, if already arrested, before he can be tried. Pittsburgh seems to be the nation's capital of jailhouse suicides for some reason – and I would be the last to try to imply that there was anything suspicious about this, except that it seems to me there ought to be some recognition, at least, for the fact that each time this happens the taxpayers are saved hundreds of thousands or even millions in court and incarceration costs. Maybe some sort of medal could be struck, I don't know. But surely their unselfish act should not be allowed to pass by unnoticed.

The Thriller is Gone

And back to the national – or international, or galactic, or cosmic – scene, it's somewhat amusing that Al Sharpton has made an appearance at the site of Michael Jackson's demise... but for what reason? He usually only appears when there is a racial “issue” involved, hoping to cover himself in glory as he did in the Tawana Brawley case. So why jump on the Jackson bandwagon, when everyone involved is black, including his doctor – with the possible exception of Jackson's kids, who are blatantly white, and I guess this will revive the old Lamarckian notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Maybe Al is afraid some court will remove the kids from the Jackson family circle on grounds that black families are not suitable for rearing white kids – which Al fully agrees with, except in reverse. Or, maybe the real problem is that the ascent of Obama has thoroughly taken the wind out of the sails of old-time race hustlers like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Consider the logic – if the only thing holding blacks back was the chronic occupation of the White House by a white man, then they no longer have any excuse... and the likes of Al and Jesse will soon be retiring and moving into the Old Race Hustlers Home. So one can understand it when they seem to be branching out into new territory – even though the Jackson family more properly belongs in Neverland than anyplace real.

A Grave Error

And speaking of the charms of American race paranoia, the grave of a recently-slain black police officer in Pittsburgh was supposedly vandalized last week – and I'm sure Al Sharpton would have been here in no time except for his previous engagement at Chez Michael. So the tide of indignation started to rise – until it was determined that no one other than the officer's mother had seen any evidence of vandalization – and that, if there had been any disturbance at the grave site, it was most likely the work of... deer. But of course, you can't blame the poor woman for immediately suspecting white racists, since that is the meme that has been drilled into her head, and that of every other black American, since childhood. And whenever something goes wrong – or appears to – it's “the system” with its “racial oppression” that is to blame. As Rush Limbaugh once put it, imagined “hate crimes” are things that “didn't happen, but should have”, according to the meme or commonly-shared narrative. How can race relations in this country ever be normalized as long as so many people subscribe to a shared delusional system?

And thus, the “good news” for one single day (and maybe a few added items from other days just to meet my quota) – a brief silver lining to the looming cloud of disaster that has overtaken us, and possibly an omen that life might just go on after the present catastrophes are concluded. Small consolation, maybe... but what else do we have?

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