So many great Saturday mornings were spent listening to this man spar verbally with his brother. And I didn’t own a car until I turned 27.
Originally posted on Longreads Blog:
Tom Magliozzi, the popular co-host of the public radio show Car Talk, passed away today at the age of 77. In 1999, Tom and his brother Ray gave a commencement address at MIT. Tom talked to the graduating class of engineers about a Latin mantra, non impediti ratione cogitatonis, which means “unencumbered by the thought process.”
TOM: I was once trapped by the scientific, logic, left brain life. I graduated from here and I went to work as an engineer. And I will tell you about my defining moment. I was driving — I lived in Cambridge at the time — I was driving from Cambridge to my job in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and I was driving in a little MG. It weighed about 50 pounds and on Route 128 I was cut off by a semi and I almost, as they say, bought the farm. And as I…
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Ray Rice had his contract with the Baltimore Ravens terminated and was suspended indefinitely as a result of the release of video details the domestic violence incident that left his fiancee – now wife – unconscious. The video shows him striking her in the face and knocking her into the wall of the elevator — it is amazing she was not hurt more. After knocking her unconscious, in possibly the most disturbing part of the video, Rice dragged her out the elevator.
It is a harsh, though deserved punishment. A question arises, of course, as to why the NFL had to go through this twice. It doesn’t take much imagination to surmise what must have happened in the elevator as reports of Mrs. Rice being knocked unconscious were well known. If they thought the act merited serious punishment, they should have done it initially, not after this video surfaced; even if the concern was the public relations, they should have meted out strong punishment at first with the option of walking it back later when things were a little less hot, so to speak.
Instead, they have made a mess of it. Their actions in response to this video make them seem less concerned for Janay Rice than for the NFL. Many of its formal and informal spokespeople are outraged — now. Rather than making a point, they reinforced the cynical opinion of them that they only care about profits and image. Probably because it’s true.
The Chicago Tribune featured a story this morning about a Chicago police commander relieved of his duties pending indictments for aggravated battery and official misconduct. The commander, Glenn Evans, is accused of placing his gun in a suspect’s mouth during an interrogation.
While certainly unwelcome news for the CPD and its constituents, the case highlights why focusing solely on the incidence of interracial police brutality and excessive force cases misses the point. Excessive force and brutality by police is not a “white officer” problem; changing the composition of police forces in the absence of changing the underlying culture is unlikely to reduce the incidence of such claims. Police brutality is a law enforcement problem. While it is true that it often occurs in racialized settings, this fact is partly driven by the composition of the police force and the spatial concentration of enforcement. Rough treatment is not reserved solely for blacks and Hispanics. Recall, for example, the “don’t tase me bro” and University of California protest incidents in recent years. These incidents, ostensibly not about race, reflect something that appears endemic among police forces: a belief that people that do not adhere perfectly prescribed behavior should be punished.
In my experience, as a black male, I have been involved as many negative situations with black policemen as I have had with white. In fact, the worst situation: where a police officer forced my cousin and me to place our hands on the hot hood of his car while stood behind us with gun drawn instructing us that “if you move your hands off the f*cking car, I’ll blow your head off” involved a black police officer. What prompted this little brouhaha? He felt we didn’t give him “sufficient respect” when he rode by our perch on my cousin’s stoop; we were apparently supposed to signal our subordination by looking away or down when he passed. It ended ok, of course; neither my cousin nor I had warrants or criminal records so we were able to continue our visit — within the house.
If not only race, what then? First, policing is a very difficult. My uncle, who happens to be a retired policemen, has also suggested that (A) the set of people for whom policing is attractive has changed in recent years and (B) their is a lot more latent fear and stress that becomes aggression in frustrating situations. The latter wouldn’t be surprising to me. As the rewards and barriers to talent have changed, who actually signs for this potentially hard, dangerous, and relatively low paying job should change. We could fix this by raising pay and imposing stronger screening mechanisms. The latter, however, seems to be a bit more intractable as it is unclear what is driving these fears. On-the-job deaths and injuries among policemen have apparently dropped over the years. Violent crime, in general, has fallen as well.
What is clear, however, is that we need to figure it out before more tragedies like those seen in Ferguson, NYC, and Oakland occur.
In response to the apparent shooting of an unarmed (black) person, some residents of the St. Louis suburb decided to stage a riot last evening. As such things go, civil disobedience devolved into looting; a number of news agencies captured footage of young black males running from stores with wine and various other items they did not purchase. It ‘s reprehensible, but rather than focusing on yet another incident where a member of the police shot an ostensibly unarmed citizen, the media and bystanders focus on the behavior of a small number of bad actors.
There is malfeasance on all sides. Certainly the use of deadly force in the course of an interaction with an unarmed individual, despite whatever is ruled by police board and grand juries, must constitute a failure of training or judgement. But for some reason much of the attention is placed upon looters. I’ve heard some people suggest that, perversely, these episodes justify the quick triggers of the police. Absurd. Of course, thieves should be admonished, caught, and punished. Such people are opportunists, typical of many crises where there arises substantial human pain and suffering. Nevertheless, the constant refrain whereby people focus on looting takes away from the real tragedy: another young man has been killed I think the former will be taken care of, once we deal with whatever ails the police – citizen interactions that often yield these awful outcomes.
The end is near; summer, that is. In two weeks, the semester begins and another summer is in the book. Of course, I was nowhere near productive as I initially planned. But, it has been an eventful one.
A quick recap of some eventful things :
- Lebron is going back to Cleveland: Talk about an exercise in swallowing one’s pride. After Dan Gilbert’s infamous ad hominem letter, it was really amazing to see Lebron decide to accept a paycheck from him when he could have gone anywhere. But he wanted to go home. And he probably has the long game in mind. If he makes Cleveland a winner, he will be a lifelong here. And will probably become a billionaire at some point in the process.
- Gaza and Israel are at war again: A serious war in which Israel sought to neutralize the tunnels Hamas has dug all over Gaza. This particular conflict will be memorable in part because Israel took the gloves off and eschewed bombings and targeted killings that typically characterized their earlier fights. Lots of people died: soldiers, militants, and civilians. Moreover, the infrastructure damage in Gaza was catastrophic. Although they are currently under a ceasefire and negotiating a more permanent end to the hostilities, I think that the political implications of this recent war will be felt for a long time coming.
- Ebola is running rampant: This recent outbreak is quite scary. Unlike the past, the outbreak has emerged from isolated areas of Congo and has made it as far as the major cities in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. We even have Americans infected in Atlanta. If Ebola ever got loose in a major American city, all hell would break loose.
I named this post as such not in reference to some personal feeling. Instead I’m referring to the political climate that I’ve had at least some passing interest in since I was young.
The tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has intensified the once sporadic tough talk about Russia that has been ongoing since the Russian annexation of Crimea. Coupled with discussions of potential future Russian aggression in other Soviet Republics and the spy games apparently going on in Germany, I feel like I’m being transported to the late 80’s. Remember The Cold War? It was a scary time for a preteen.
Why should we be on edge? A quick perusal of history justifies our fear. At risk of being overly reductive, WWI began with an assassination on the landscape of alliances and latent resentment. The US was drawn into the war despite its isolationist intentions because public opinion shifted in response to the sinking of Lusitania in which roughly 100 – 150 Americans were killed. Similarly, the stage for WWII was set when Hitler’s Germany began annexing various parts of Europe it believed belonged to them because its people lived there. In present day, we have a mix of the two situations.
Of course, the likelihood of a WWIII scenario is quite low. First, none of the major Western powers nor the Russians want to return to living under the specter of nuclear annihilation. Second, war interferes with commerce and money rules the world. Most economies are so intertwined that the consequences would be devastating.
Nevertheless, I still worry. All it takes is one mistake and the whole world is on fire. With the recent incidents, the kindling is set.
Five vials of smallpox were found in a storage room at the National Institutes of Health, apparently misplaced for decades. This finding is ironic in that earlier this year there was intense discussion concerning whether the last “known” samples of smallpox ostensibly located under heavy guard elsewhere in the US and in Russia should be destroyed. I’m not sure what was decided then, but surely this discovery should add new color to these discussions.
As this discovery, the nuclear accident in Japan, or the historical mishaps with respect to nuclear weapons show, there is no 100 percent safety. Even if we currently have tip-top procedures, past mistakes can undermine that security. While we may believe that we have dangerous chemical and biological agents under control, a random misplacement could cause catastrophe. Imagine, for example, if the vials had been broken and they had not been properly labeled. We could have had a small epidemic on our hands that almost certainly would have killed thousands of people. This is even more likely as most doctors trained today, as we are learning with respect to measles, are unfamiliar with many of the diseases supposedly eradicated in the 20th century.
More troubling, of course, is considering if these vials were discovered by someone with more nefarious intentions. Since they are completely off the grid, there are no structures in place to ensure that such an individual could have walked off with it.
Such scenarios are plausible anywhere and much more likely in places where security is not nearly as tight as the US and could facilitate an attack that our security state, with its focus on electronic surveillance and conventional weapons detection, may not be entirely able to handle. I’m reminded of the backstory in the movie 12 Monkeys starring Bruce Willis. In this film, the virus, taken from the lab by a research scientist, was actually released during an airport security check and transported worldwide via the airline networks.
Hopefully this episode places our security officials on notice to avoid these nightmare scenarios.
Update: The CDC has admitted its laxity with respect to security and practice at its labs. The nightmare is probably more likely than I believed.