A Pepper Spray Present

Every year, the nominees for the Oscars get a lavish gift bag with all kinds of special items donated by companies that are looking for a little big of PR.  The bags are not officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but they’ve become a kind of tradition and are loaded with goodies like plane tickets, high-end cosmetics, and new, uber cool gizmos.

So, what’s in this year’s swag bag?

promo343614230Well, among other things there’s a 12-day trip to Tanzania, something called a “24 carat gold facial” — that sounds like it will fit right in with the Hollywood tradition of wretched excess — and a “conflict-free” diamond necklace.  Oh, and multiple kinds of pepper spray, now that the Harvey Weinstein horror story and the exposure of many other producers, directors, agents, and actors have revealed Hollywood to be a place of rampant sexual harassment, gross sexual imposition, and outright rape.

It’s therefore not surprising that this year’s Oscar swag bag has a decided personal safety and security element to it.  It includes at least three different pepper spray options — including a key ring-sized device — two personal body alarms, and a kit that allows you to determine whether your drink has been drugged that no doubt will immediately come in handy at one of those Oscars after-parties.

It tells you something about what it must be like to be a part of the oversexed, overprotected, underinvestigated, and underbrained world of the Hollywood glitterati.  Normally I would object to the idea of Oscar nominees getting thousands of dollars in freebies on “rich get richer” grounds, but this year maybe the swag bags offer some hope and some perspective on what a wretched place Hollywood really is.  Maybe at least one of the nominees will grab their pepper spray and spiked drink kit, don the personal body alarms, sell the “24-karat gold facial” and the “conflict-free” diamond necklace for a little ready cash, jet off to Tanzania for that 12-day holiday — and wisely decide to never come back to the lewd and lecherous land of Oscar.

Advertisements

Federal Bureau Of Incompetence

In the wake of the latest awful school shooting, in which 17 students and teachers were killed in Florida and another 15 people were injured, there has been a lot of talk about guns and gun control.  That debate is entirely warranted, but I hope that there is also room for broad discussion about the performance of law enforcement agencies — from the FBI on down.

Last month, the FBI received a specific, credible warning about the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz.  A person close to Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line on January 5 and described Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill others, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts.  The FBI acknowledged that it received the tip — but did nothing, in violation of its own internal rules.  In a statement, the Bureau said:  “Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.”

Nikolas-Cruz-919429And it certainly appears that, if somebody from the FBI had actually looked into the tip, they would have found a lot of very disturbing information about Cruz, from troubles in school and a recommendation that a “threat assessment” be performed on Cruz, to a self-mutilation post and other troubling activities on social media and a comment on a blog about being a “professional school shooter,” to multiple calls about Cruz and his erratic behavior to the local sheriff’s office.  It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that, if somebody had just followed up on the tip, the massacre might have been avoided.

A statement from Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, about the FBI’s failure to act said:  “We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter, as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public.” He also said:  “It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.”  But in this instance, Americans were vigilant and did report on concerns arising from disturbing behavior — and the FBI totally dropped the ball.

According to its website, about 35,000 people work for the FBI.  The Agency’s annual budget is more than $8 billion.  In short, the FBI has a lot of resources.  Given the number of mass shootings we’ve seen in this country, in schools and otherwise, it’s unfathomable that a credible tip to the FBI about a potential mass killer would be ignored.  If the FBI doesn’t follow up on such tips, what in the world is it doing?  And while it’s nice to know that FBI Director Wray is going to investigate the Bureau’s failure to investigate the tip about Nikolas Cruz, we might want to make sure that the FBI’s conduct is investigated by people who won’t drop the ball this time.

“Celebrating” The Super Bowl

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl last night, and then the city of Philadelphia “celebrated” with a riot.

1226802Journalists listening to calls coming in on the Philadelphia police scanner heard about Christmas trees being set ablaze, drunken people climbing telephone poles, and marauding people roaming highways.  People flipped over cars, pulled down light poles and traffic lights, threw bottles, and destroyed property.  And, of course, people were injured in the melee, either from being assaulted by other rioters or by falling from the places where they shouldn’t have climbed in the first place.  For hours afterward, the victory in a football game turned downtown Philadelphia into a dangerous, violent place where the law and normal rules of behavior went out the window.

It’s an all-too-familiar story, where a sports victory causes a bunch of drunken fans to go crazy.  It’s happened before in Philadelphia, and in other American cities.  It’s not just an American phenomenon, either — it seems to happen with European soccer fans, too.

I can understand the impulse to go outside and be with fellow fans to celebrate your team’s big win, but I don’t get why, in many instances, the celebration suddenly turns violent and destructive.  I guess it’s just the influence of alcohol and drugs and fellow “celebrants” who are really just looking for an excuse to break things up and throw a few bottles, and a few punches.

At times like this I’m happy that Columbus doesn’t have a professional football team.

The Santa Claus Killer

North of border, a grisly story of mass murder is unfolding.  In Toronto, police and shaken residents are dealing with an apparent serial killer who roamed in their midst, an apparently pleasant gardener, landscaper, and flower arranger by day and a violent, allegedly homicidal sadist by night.

15267796_10154189330693528_3900810531768579684_n-e1516319633635The accused, Bruce McArthur, has been charged with the murders of five men.  Police are investigating properties where McArthur evidently buried the dismembered remains of his victims in the planters, lawns, and gardens he tended for unsuspecting clients — a story line that is similar to the plot of Stephen King’s short story The Lawnmower Man.  Police believe that McArthur roamed the gay district in Toronto, looking for submissive men who would help him act out violent sexual fantasies — fantasies that apparently sometimes ended in grisly death.  There is growing concern, too, that the investigation will uncover many more victims.

And by the way, McArthur also once served as the Santa Claus at a Toronto-area mall.  I wonder if the parents who learn of that creepy fact will ever put their kids on the lap of a mall Santa again?

As seems to so often be the case, his neighbors and his clients describe McArthur as a jovial, helpful person who liked to bake and design flower arrangements.  They didn’t suspect his apparent double life or dark side.  It really makes you wonder how many murderous people are out there in the world, acting out their disturbed impulses — and also makes you feel lucky that you haven’t encountered them at the wrong time on a darkened street.

 

Los Angeles Homelessness

Los Angeles has a huge, and growing, problem with homeless residents.  According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, as many as 58,000 people in Los Angeles are living on the streets.

It’s a staggering number.  Even for a city as big as Los Angeles, with a population of about 4 million, 58,000 people is a lot.  To put some Midwestern perspective on that number, those 58,000 homeless people are just a bit below the population of the 10th-largest city in Ohio.

Along some Los Angeles streets, rows of makeshift tents, shelters, and shanties house the homeless.  You can see some of the pictures of the encampments and the homeless here.  And what’s even more astonishing is that the tent cities of the homeless have been there for years, and seem to be spreading and growing — and nothing is being done about it.  The homelessness problem is getting progressively worse.

How can 58,000 people be homeless and living on the streets?  As for the why, there doesn’t seem to be one particular answer:  some are mentally ill, some are addicted, some are simply destitute.  And for that reason, there’s no single answer to the problem, either.  Some of the people need treatment.  Some of the people need a job and a hand up.  But whatever the solution, the notion of tent cities of 58,000 people raises so many obvious problems — health problems, sanitation problems, crime problems, security problems — that it simply can’t be tolerated.  And yet, in Los Angeles, it is.

I don’t know what the answer to LA’s homelessness crisis is, but if I were a voter in that city I would demand that the city government start aggressively dealing with the problem and determining appropriate, humane ways to get those 58,000 people off the streets.  And I would also ask:  why is the state of California spending billions of dollars to build a high-speed rail system in the California desert when there are thousands of people living in tents on the streets of L.A.?

Every Man A Groper (Or Worse)

Every day, it’s getting more embarrassing to be a guy.

Every day, it seems, some new revelation comes out about some guy doing something that is just flat out appalling and inexcusable — if not outright criminal.

623-03695485Every day, it seems, some prominent actor, director, or other entertainment figure, or some well-known liberal or conservative politician, or some high-powered business executive, is alleged or shown to have engaged in activities that could easily be characterized as gross sexual imposition, indecent behavior, sexual assault, or outright rape.  The steady drip, drip, drip of allegations makes you wonder whether there is any widely known male public figure who hasn’t grabbed what they shouldn’t have grabbed, or exposed what they shouldn’t have exposed, or tried to grope a young girl, or engaged in some forced sexual activity with someone who was unwilling.   And it’s to the point now where you wake up each day and ask:  Who’s next?  Who else is going to be shown to have done something that is totally, disgustingly inconsistent with their pure-as-the-driven-snow public reputation?

Once, in the past, there was a sense of chivalry and manners, a pride in self-control and behaving like a gentleman, and a Victorian attitude about treating all people with politeness and decency and respect.  I’d like to think that there are still men out there in positions of power who continue to adhere to those concepts.  But the news we’ve heard over the past several weeks, from the Harvey Weinstein disclosures to whoever is the subject of today’s revelations, really makes you wonder how many of those decent people are left.

Men need to start rethinking what it means to be a man, and how we can teach boys a code of conduct that allows them to be proud, upright members of society, rather than evil predators who ruin people’s lives with their depredations.  The problem here seems to run awfully deep.

Many Americas

Recently I was up in Detroit, gassing up the car at a service station at an exit just off one of the freeways, when I noticed this provocative sign on a tire business across the street.

Commerce doesn’t lie.  The business owner obviously thinks that theft of wheels from parked cars is a sufficiently widespread problem that advertising about the ability to help victims of the thefts will generate additional sales and revenue, and you have to assume that there’s a factual basis for that belief.  I thought:  “Really?  Wheels on cars parked on public streets are being stolen, and police haven’t caught the perpetrators of such brazen criminal activity?”  The sign, and the real message it was sending, made me uneasy.

The sign was just one more bit of tangible evidence that we don’t live in one America any more, if we ever really did.  Instead, there are lots of different Americas, dealing with lots of different issues.  Where I live, we thankfully don’t have to worry about coming out to our car and finding all of the wheels taken by wheel theft gangs.  In this particular neighborhood of Detroit, however, there is obviously a different reality.

This shouldn’t be a revelation, of course.  Read the news and you quickly understand, intellectually, that there are pockets of the country where the heroin epidemic is raging and leaving families devastated, where the local economy has been bottomed out and there are no jobs to be had, and where the relations between police and the local populace has been poisoned, and there are parts of America where people are concerned because housing values are too high, where companies are concerned because they just can’t hire enough high-tech workers, and where people are lining up to spend a thousand dollars on a new cell phone.  And don’t get me started about how different places like Hollywood, or Washington, D.C., seem to be from the rest of the country.

And yet, when you live in your own world, it’s easy to view everything from your own personal experience, and wonder why people could possibly have different perspectives on the issues of the day.  The next time I feel that kind of self-absorbed conceit, I’ll think about that unsettling sign in Detroit and try to remember that there are a lot of people in this country dealing with lots of issues and problems that I’m not even aware of — much less affected by.  America is a diverse place not only in terms of its population and demographics, but also in terms of personal experience.  We shouldn’t forget that.