Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the Outrage-Industrial Complex

Don’t worry, I’m not defending Roger Goodell or Ray Rice by any stretch of the imagination.

What Ray Rice did is indefensible. He had to go. Roger Goodell, well, he’s doing what Roger Goodell and the NFL have been doing for a long time: the least amount of change that will pass as acceptable to a fickle public that routinely makes demands of well-entrenched institutions and then forgets about them.

Right about now is where I want to reiterate that I’m not defending Roger Goodell. By all accounts, the guy is a piece of shit, and something of a moron from more than one standpoint (not just PR). I’ll certainly shed no tears for the man if he steps down, free then to live out the rest of his days trying to spend the $44 million he made last year. Rough future ahead of that guy.

The thing is, I’ve known this about Roger Goodell for a long time. And you’ve known it. Hell, everybody who pays any sort of attention to football and organized sports at all has probably known that he was a terrible person for years and years, and even somebody with no particular affinity for football has probably heard one or two friends bitch about it enough that they get the general picture.

It’s normal–commendable, even–that the public is outraged over Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in the face and knocking her unconscious. Any man hitting any woman should be met with outrage. But we knew, all of us, that Ray rice had beaten his wife a long time ago. We knew. Don’t pretend like we didn’t. We all knew. And we all knew that Roger Goodell was going to let it go with a slap on the wrist and wash his hands of it and pass the buck to the Ravens organization (who ultimately did the right thing, I suppose, but they didn’t exactly come out of this smelling like roses either), or the US justice system, or anybody else who might take some of the stink off the commissioner of a league that has existed for quite a while now as the new plantation system in America.

Once again, for posterity, I am not defending or excusing or hand-waving any actions undertaken by any NFL player, but the league has been an exploitation factory (acting in conjunction with the NCAA) for a long time. It’s not secret that a majority of the league’s players are men of color, that a disproportionate number of NFL hopefuls flame out before even being considered by a professional team, and that even those who do end up having successful careers in the league often find themselves broke, skill-less, jobless, and with the body of a 78-year-old coal miner in their 30s. Again, we have known this. It is known.

Still, we dutifully rend our clothes and gnash our teeth when the league displays yet another despicable and tacit approval of horrific violence. Still, we are shocked, shocked to find that other players who have terrorized their spouses or girlfriends went on to play in week 1. Still, we are outraged. Time and again. Yet still, we let it slide. Still, we watch.

I don’t excuse myself from any of this. Just this past Sunday I attended a New York Giants game (though the ticket was paid for by somebody else), and I purchased concessions, and I followed the scores of other games with my Fantasy app. I’ve raised my eyebrow at story after story after story about players with guns, players murdering people, players killing themselves, players raping, assaulting, etc, etc, etc, and I’ve hand-waved it all. I suppose that makes me either a massive hypocrite, a terrible person, or possibly both. I could say something here about not looking to these guys for tips on how to live my life, only wanting them to play football, and that their personal lives are none of my business. That might be true (if not a little shortsighted), but it is the business of the league that pays their massive salaries. And time and again, that league, under the reign of Roger Goodell, has given players tacit approval to behave in almost any manner they wish, both on and off the field.

I’m not outraged, though. I’m not surprised. I’m disgusted at the behavior exhibited by Ray Rice, I weirdly expected something close to what (allegedly) happened with Goodell and the elevator tape, but I’m not outraged. Outrage implies that a brazen contempt for civilized standards has taken place, and that’s not what has happened here. This sort of behavior and the associated dodging are now so associated with the NFL that it’s become patently absurd to pretend that we’re outraged.

Furthermore, why are we outraged about Ray Rice beating his girlfriend after the tape surfaced? Are we so bereft of brain cells and human decency that we needed TMZ, an exploitation farm if ever there was one, to be the voice of moral authority? Did we really lack the critical reasoning skills necessary to know that a grown man, and a fiercely powerful professional athlete at that, beating his girlfriend was stomach-churning? I don’t feel outraged, I feel ashamed.

What’s done is done, and after immense pressure and being caught in the latest in a long series of lies and evasive maneuvers, Goodell has been cornered into (sort of, kind of) doing the right thing. The Ravens have cut Rice and he’s been suspended indefinitely by the league. Any talk about Goodell needing to step down is warranted and perhaps commendable, but let’s not forget to temper our outrage, the only feelings that seem to matter in the world of social media anymore, with an appropriate amount of shame.

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A Brief History of Jamaica

Photo: realmystictransportation.com

I rarely engage in this sort of thing, so if you will, indulge me this one #humblebrag: Leigh and I are going to Jamaica.

I’m looking forward to it immensely. I haven’t been out of the country in years, and haven’t ever taken an international vacation with a significant other (though the Caribbean seems like it shouldn’t count, for reasons we’ll get into later), so it’s going to be a real treat, and with the way scheduling worked out, it’ll be a great respite from what’s sure to be another bitter New York winter, followed immediately by a long stay with family in Dallas.

I have, however, been to Jamaica before. As a matter of fact, my grandparents used to own a piece of property in Montego Bay (you can still rent it from the Tryall Beach club if you feel so inclined to visit a place I toddled around in my salad days), though I can’t remember much of those early, early days in the island nation. My immediate family visited again when I was in high school, and it was an exquisite and relaxing time. This is how the country of Jamaica sells itself to potential travelers, as one of a slew of Carribean locales that has built its economy almost entirely around the trade of tourism. As I finalized details of our tropical getaway, I wondered how exactly such a thing happens. How does an entire nation of people become a vacation spot (and little else) to foreign tourists? My hunch is that massive amounts of colonization, financial pressure, racism, and political maneuvering is involved, so let’s jump right in.

A little history: the indigenous peoples of Jamaica, the Arawak and Taino, originated in South America and settled the island sometime between 4000 and 1000 BC. First contact with the West was made in 1494, when Christopher Columbus made his voyages to the Americas, and claimed the land for Spain. Conquistador Juan de Esquivel arrived with troops in 1509 to formally occupy the country, and in doing so, wiped out most of the native population. The Spanish, who at the time were absolutely gold-crazy, were disappointed in the lack of jewels and riches yielded by the island, and used it mainly as a military base for operations in the Americas whilst simultaneously beginning the import of African slaves to the region. During this same period, Jamaica also saw an enormous influx of European Jews, who had fled the continent to escape the wrath of the Spanish Inquisition. These refugees referred to themselves as “Portugals” and practiced their religion in secret. This ethnic enclave would also prove invaluable to the invading British in the mid-17th century, when they were instrumental in forming the strategy of encouraging piracy in the city of Port Royal, a location that allowed bandits to plunder Spanish trading vessels and weaken its armed forces.

A wretched hive of scum and villainy (illustration: piratesinfo.com)

Under British rule, which was formally established in 1655, the island became a haven for pirates and lawlessness. This entire period seems incredibly fascinating, as a number of notorious pirates and sailors all spent time in Jamaica and Port Royal in particular during this period. Upon their defeat at the hands of the British, the Spanish colonists freed their slaves, who dispersed amongst the mountains of Jamaica’s interior and joined up with the Maroons, previously escaped slaves that had formed free cities with the surviving Tainos, who had escaped the earlier Spanish genocide. The Maroons would go on to fight with the British colonists for the better part of the 18th century, battling the empire in two separate wars and winning nominal victories in the name of independence as the UK gradually transformed the island into a slave-dependent, sugar plantation-driven economy. It was during this period that Jamaica shifted to a majority black population, a fact that alarmed British imperialists once the United Kingdom began its gradual abolition of slavery, beginning in the early 19th century. By 1838, slavery in Jamaica had been completely abolished. At that time, former slaves made up nearly 85% of the country’s population.

Jamaica began a slow creep towards independence over the next 100 years, becoming a province of the Federation of the West Indies in 1958, and then gaining complete independence upon leaving the Federation in 1962. Initially, the country enjoyed solid financial growth and economic prosperity, but class disparities (which had been a contentious issue since the early days of British rule) lingered, spurred on by the government’s focus on luring private wealth to the country, most visibly in the form of relaxed regulations surrounding investment in mining and tourism, the country’s two biggest industries. I have to admit that economics is not my strong suit, but there’s a wealth of writing surrounding the subject of Jamaica’s economic downturn and slow recovery.

I’m unable to find a lot of concise and verified information pertaining to Jamaica’s transition to a tourism-based economy, but the country did became a popular draw for traveling Americans and Europeans, especially the British, from the 1950s onward. Celebrities like Errol Flynn promoted the island’s then fledgling tourism trade, and by the time Jamaica gained independence in the early 60s, it only seems logical that the newly formed government would seek to prop up the rather considerable beam of the country’s economy by any means necessary. Again, I’m speaking solely through conjecture, but my gut tells me that this early prosperity and the sudden economic boon for a very young country gave way to widespread corruption at the hands of meddling foreign investors.

Privately-owned resorts and clubs ring the beaches of the island (photo: royalcaribbean.com)

It’s a glum outlook, but it seems that if interventionist foreign powers couldn’t control the island of Jamaica outright, the next best thing would be to grab large portions of wealth and power in the country by means of investment in tourism and mining. Whether the Jamaican government has colluded in these sorts of matters or been taken advantage of by bullying foreign capitalists is a matter for somebody more well versed global economics than I.

I feel like something of a hypocrite writing all of this and then realizing that my vacation may very well be contributing to the wealth disparity in a country that’s been more or less put on fiscal life support by the tourism industry. I’m also rather intrigued by Jamaica’s fascinating history, yet I can’t say with conviction if my six days in paradise will find me traveling very far from my all-inclusive resort. At the very least, I can take a little bit of the guilt off my plate via my own lackluster education, and I can hope that others who are thinking of making a pleasure pit stop in the Caribbean might take a few moments to learn about the place they’ll be a guest of.

SHOOTING BLANKS: “BLADE”

Blade, we hardly knew ye (image: herogohome.com)

Blade (1998)

Directed by Stephen Norrington

Written by David S. Goyer

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson

Blade seems like a movie that should have more of a following. At the time of its release, the dark and pulpy flick enjoyed generally favorable reviews, as well as a respectable box office showing, closing out its lifetime worldwide grosses at $131 million. This was a period when all but the most recognizable comic book adaptations carried something of a stigma in the world of entertainment, and in that light, the marketing for Blade positioned the film more as a vampire action flick that happened to draw on a comic book as its source material. In this vein (pardon the pun) too, Blade was something of a tide-turner, belonging to the select group of pre-2000s vampire movies that weren’t completely mired in schlock (its compatriots being Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview With the Vampire). Still, these days Blade is largely forgotten, and I think there are several reasons why.

While Blade may have helped lead the charge towards the future of respectable comic book movies, as a pioneer, the film was bound to be left behind. In 1998, studios were still trying to wrap their heads around the notion of turning comic books, then viewed as kid’s stuff, into films that were marketable enough to all four quadrants to justify their massive budgets. Development executives seemed to struggle especially with the idea of “adult” comics, insisting on layering adaptations with loads of camp that often resulted in strange, tonally confused Frankensteins, such as Joel Schumacher’s Batman adaptations, and Alex Proyas’ reworking of The Crow. While David S. Goyer may have “only” been a writer on Blade, it’s arguably been his baby from the beginning, and helped firmly establish him as a go-to comics guy in Hollywood. Blade still clings to some of the vestigial camp of its predecessors, but the dark and gritty atmosphere identity that would become synonymous with Goyer’s name is present and accounted for. As Tinseltown began to realize the untapped potential of comic book franchises, new marching orders came down and “dark and gritty” became de rigeur. Goyer would lead the charge, contributing writing to Christopher Nolan’s rebooting of the long-dormant and presumed dead Batman franchise, as well as the Nolan-produced Man of Steel. Oddly, Goyer is at least partly responsible for a tonal shift in comic book films that left Blade looking more than a little quaint.

Goyer also penned two sequels, Blade II and Blade Trinity, both of which tried to fall in line with emerging trends but wound up playing as overcorrected, grim-faced nonsense romps (and the addition of the always-annoying Ryan Reynolds didn’t help). A few bad movies won’t always sink a franchise (Batman), but an emerging property with a lot of x-factors couldn’t really afford the consequences of two back-to-back stumbles. The sequels didn’t do terribly at the box office, but by the time Trinity rolled around in 2004, the comic book races were off and running, and the incredibly violent, R-rated franchise based on a lesser known and less than marketable character was soon put out to pasture. In my opinion, the fun and quirky brutality of Blade has been eclipsed by the eye-rolling tedium of its sequels. As such, it’s been relegated to less-than-prestigious cult status, doomed to live on only in the hearts of fedora-wearing neckbeards and guys who regularly attend anime conventions.

Last but not least, the falling star of Wesley Snipes may have sunk the half-vampire vampire-killer altogether. While the actor’s tax troubles weren’t common knowledge until around 2006, chances are that talk of Snipes’ financial philandering had begun to circulate around Hollywood much earlier: a look at the one-time star’s filmography reveals that he sank into the direct-to-video abyss immediately following Blade Trinity, and did not return to theaters until 2009, with Brooklyn’s Finest. It seems more than likely that Snipes was considered too “complicated” to work with by 2005, and became persona non grata in the world of big budget filmmaking as a result.

If we’re going to speak in massively hyperbolic metaphors, it’s important to remember that those who lead the charge are seldom immortalized as heroes. Rather, they’re the first to die facedown in the mud, their backs trampled by the waves of others coming behind them. Blade may not be a masterpiece, and the story of Blade slipping back into the shadows of the public consciousness may not be a tragedy, but as we wrap up a month that saw the box office dominated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s important to remember that thing weren’t always like this.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, well…that’s for another article.

A Strange History of Souses: the Nation’s Weirdest Drinking Laws

Last night I was doing my manly dinner duties, aka, running to the store to fetch wine and Parmesan cheese. I stopped into a relatively recent addition to the neighborhood, something I would describe as a “hipster grocery store”, for lack of a better term, knowing they would probably have non-canned cheese available. Much to my dismay, they apparently had no license to sell alcohol, as there was no wine or beer to be found.

I walked a few blocks further down Knickerbocker, to the Associated Supermarket, knowing that they sold beer, and thus, would probably sell wine. No dice. After posting a puzzled status update to FaceBook, it was confirmed to me that New York is in fact, one of several states in which the sale of wine in grocery stores is prohibited.

A rifle through the Internet revealed some interesting history. One of the odder tidbits concerns the city’s first open container laws, passed by Ed Koch in 1979. It was originally pitched as a quality of life measure to cut down on the number of derelicts imbibing on city streets and sidewalks, with Councilman Frederick Samuel reassuring constituents that, “We do not recklessly expect the police to give a summons to a Con Ed worker having a beer with his lunch.”

Most relevant, however, is a provision that allows only a single individual living within a few miles of his or her business and holding no other liquor licenses in the state to sell spirits and wine for off-premises consumption. This restriction is unique to New York City, and part of the city’s long-standing but swiftly crumbling opposition to chain businesses. Basically, it means only sole proprietors can sell liquor and wine.

This is a good idea in theory, I suppose. The smokescreen of supporting local business is often invoked by proponents, who say that you’re blessed with a myriad of options from knowledgable wine-slingers rather than subjected to the generic stocks of a soulless entity like CostCo or Whole Foods (or, y’know, a neighborhood chain grocery store). In reality, and especially in neighborhoods like Bushwick that are swiftly becoming gentrified but are still, in certain respects, food deserts, it means that liquor store owners are given permission by the state to not give a shit. The Discount Liquor store I ended up going into was filled with a poorly organized selection of bottles and tended to by a disinterested clerk who clearly made most of his money from the folks who wander in and buy marked-down rotgut whiskey.

For a city with some of the most relaxed liquor laws in the Northeast this is an oddly restrictive practice, but as is the case with many NYC regulatory curiosities, it’s mostly about commerce. It will be interesting to see how this law holds up as the city gentrifies further, and its constituents (presumably) become more vocal about consumer advocacy.

The aforementioned FaceBook comment thread brought the proclamation from my friend Ian that the three weirdest states in terms of alcohol laws and restriction were Utah, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Let’s take a look, shall we?

They’re not messing around

Utah is one of the 18 “control states” in the union, meaning that the state government controls a significant portion of the alcohol sold for retail or wholesale within the state. This means there are spooky state-run liquor stores, which are also the only places that one can purchase beer for off-premises consumption with an ABV% higher than 3.2 (I had a personal experience with this, when my brother and I split a six pack during a road trip and were mystified at our complete lack of buzz). Liquor and stronger beer can be purchased in restaurants and bars or nightclubs that are licensed to sell liquor. The serving cutoff time is 1am. Enforcement has apparently been relaxed in recent years, partly due to complaints from members of the Olympic International Committee during the 2002 Winter games. There have been a lot of inching reforms over the past several years, including a loosening of laws that supposedly prohibited restaurant patrons from drinking alcohol before ordering food, after a series of controversial citations were administered to grown adults who apparently can’t be trusted to follow the state’s archaic religious nanny-state regulations.

An SC Dispensary-issue bottle

Speaking of history, there’s a lot of it to be found in South Carolina’s liquor laws (and probably more than I can adequately explore within the confines of this article). In 1892, a “dispensary system” by which the state completely controlled the wholesale and retail sale of alcohol was established in response to mounting pressure from the state’s growing prohibitionist faction. It’s clear that history repeats itself, as the dispensary system was more or less a brilliant ploy by Governor Ben Tillman to appear to capitulate (at least partly) to the demand for prohibition. In actuality, the dispensary system allowed for rampant corruption by the state politicians who controlled it (they sold political offices and accepted bribes from local distillers, and embezzled untold amounts from the dispensary itself), and helped Tillman secure a seat in the United States Senate, where he would remain until his death in 1918 (a full two years after the dispensary system had been dismantled by the General Assembly).

Today, liquor is available for off-premises consumption only between 9am and 7pm, and banned outright on Sundays. Beer and wine sales vary from county to county, with some allowing sales 24 hours per day, seven days a week, and some bars remaining open until 7 or 8 in the morning, but recent pressures have more or less established a 2am closing time for most, except by special permit (which has a provision against events that “violate the public peace”). The strangest bit of rule-mongering? Until 2006, South Carolina was the last state in the union that mandated cocktails and liquor drinks served in bars to be made with mini-bottles, aka “airplane bottles”. In what might go down as the most dunderheaded move by teetotaler legislators, the impetus behind the law was to standardize the amount of alcohol served in each drink, and to allow for easier taxation. It was somehow overlooked that mini-bottles contain 1.75 oz of liquor, whereas the free-pour drinks sold by bars in every other state contained only 1.2 oz. Basically, the state government forced bars into over-serving. Whoops.

Take your state-approved allocation of spirits and get out, Citizen!

The first sentence of the Wikipedia entry “Alcohol laws of Pennsylvania” reads as follows: “The alcohol laws of Pennsylvania contain many peculiarities not found in other states, and are considered some of the strictest regulations in the United States.” Strap in.

Pennsylvania is another “control state”, and wine and liquor may only be purchased at those same spooky, State-run stores, but there is also a “Limited Winery License” that can be acquired by a winery (in our out of state) that produces less than 200,00 gallons per year. Businesses that hold these licenses can sell their wine in their own shops, to state-run stores, or ship directly to customers. Strangely, there’s also a note indicating the wineries are permitted to sell “wine or liquor scented candles”.

Beer gets confusing. It is available for on-premises consumption at bars, restaurants, and available for off-premises consumption at licensed beer stores and distributors, but they typically only sell in bulk, meaning cases (24 beers) or kegs. However, patrons can purchase six-packs, twelve-packs, and individual 24oz and 40oz bottles directly from bars and restaurants, in quantities not to exceed 192 oz per purchase (!). Stranger still, many grocery stores have begun offering beer for sale at restaurants attached to the store, but only under very strict guidelines (the restaurants must have a clear separation from the rest of the store, a separate cashier, and seating for 30 customers or more). A convenience store called Sheetz in Altoona, PA obtained a liquor license for an attached restaurant, and the ensuing debate went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ultimately decided that Sheetz could only sell liquor for off-premises consumption if it allowed on-premises consumption as well (??).

Bars and restaurants are forced to close at 2am, as is the case in most of the country. However, unlike most states, minors are barred from consuming alcohol under any circumstances, even when provided by a parent or guardian, and even when consumed for religious or medicinal reasons. Minors can also be charged with “constructive possession” by simply being in the general vicinity of alcohol being consumed illegally. Hasn’t anybody told Pennsylvania that the children are our future?

No liquor on Sundays, but this is OK

In the interest of self-examination, I’m going to take a look at the laws of my native state, the finger-wagging but selectively lax Republic of Texas. Like a lot of other states, Texas raised its minimum drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1984, to comply with a federal law that would cut highway funds to the state by as much as 10%. Beer and wine are available at grocery stores and convenience stores between the hours of 7am and midnight Monday through Friday, and between 7am Saturday morning through 1am Sunday morning, and at Noon on Sunday through midnight. The same holds true for alcohol purchased in restaurants (to be consumed on premises only), but on Sundays from 10am to noon, liquor, wine, and beer are only available for purchase when ordering food.

Liquor is only available for off-premises consumption at liquor stores (which are privately owned) from 10am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday. No liquor may be purchased for off-premises consumption on Sunday. Bars and restaurants state-wide may sell beer, wine, and liquor with the same restrictions (save for the Sunday ban). Apparently, a 2am closing time is legal only in counties and cities where such hours are approved, and require a special license. However, from my own personal experience, this encompasses basically any county in Texas where bars are allowed to operate.

There’s also a strange yet seldom enforced rule that I can’t find much documentation on, but that I have seen selectively enforced. As the legend goes, legislators were facing stepped up pressure to restrict serving amounts in order to cut down on drunk driving deaths, and arrived at a limit of two drinks per customer per transaction. The so-called “beer and a shot” rule was put in place so that someone might be able to chase their shot immediately with a beer. Like I said, I can’t find much evidence to support this being a hard and fast law, and its very seldom enforced, as people will often take turns buying rounds, and I have never seen anyone in a bar refused when ordering three, four, or even five drinks at a time. However, there is a bar in Downtown Austin which serves $4.50 pitchers of Lone Star beer during happy hour (5-8pm) on Fridays, and in accordance with the supposed “beer and a shot” rule, the purchase of said pitchers is limited to one per two customers. The employees at this establishment are very proactive about enforcing this rule, supposedly because the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission would put them in serious hot water if they weren’t. Still, I have been served a pitcher of beer while waiting for other friends in different bars before and have never been given a second glance.

Texas is additionally divided by a bizarrely byzantine system of wet and dry counties, and exceptions and special licenses that can be applied. There are 18 “dry” counties, in which all sales of alcohol are illegal, and 47 “wet counties” in which all sales are legal. That means the 189 remaining counties are a strange mix of wet and dry neighborhoods, which can be navigated with the help of the exceedingly odd “Unicard” system. Certain dry areas allow for the limited sale of alcoholic beverages by “private clubs”. The spirit of this exception was (supposedly) to allow organizations like the Freemasons or whatever to have bars in their clubhouses, but in practice, hundreds of restaurants throughout the state simply declare themselves private clubs, which you can join by purchasing a Unicard, which basically serves as your membership ID in these so-called “clubs”, which often charge no fee, or only a nominal one, to join. Essentially, it’s a pass to drink in dry areas. Come to think of it, the Unicard system is little more than an updated, more bureaucratically annoying version of South Carolina’s Dispensary system: it’s a way for the state government to appear to kowtow to the hand-wringing of teetotalers while still making booze readily available to people who want it. History repeats itself, as we’ve learned.

Looking back at this research, I think I’ll have to disagree with Ian and place Pennsylvania as the most bizarrely restricted state in the union (that I know of). Its laws and regulations aren’t just restrictive, they’re flat-out strange and nonsensical in terms of what is and is not allowed. A common theme running throughout all of this: everything is gradually being challenged, and, most likely, slowly changing. Will we one day find ourselves in a country in which every state’s alcohol laws are as libertarian as Louisiana?

My old (and perhaps oldest) friend Ben once recounted a trip to New Orleans, in which he walked into a Crystal Burger at 3am, shirtless, and drinking from a cup filled with Jack Daniels. He described putting his drink down on the counter to order, and the employee behind the counter yawning as he rang up another routine transaction.

“That,” Ben concluded, “is freedom.”

#OccupyBergdorfs: Barbarella’s Mortgage

Welcome to #occupybergdorfs, a weekly ruination of the absolute worst that the world of fashion has to offer. Each week, we’ll bring you a new eyesore, and break down exactly what makes this particular outfit “WTF”-worthy. A partnership between Change Machine (Jen Blair) and Super Roller Disco Monkey Hullabaloo (John Jarzemsky), #occupybergdorfs is dedicated to giving you that extra dose of schadenfreude you so desperately need to get you through the week.

Without further ado, may we present…

Marc Jacobs Wave 3/4 Sleeve Tunic & Flared-Leg Pants

$13,400.00 @ Bergdorf Goodman

Who would wear this?

Jen: London trust-fund socialites. Wannabe London trust-fund socialites. David Bowie.

Best time to wear this?

John: If you were going to a space-themed costume party hosted by snooty rich assholes who would judge you if your outfit didn’t cost almost as much as the down payment on a house.

Worst time to wear this?

Jen: Casual lunches, daytime errand-running, meeting the future in-laws, unless your future in-law is David Bowie.

Who, if anybody, can pull this off?

John:  Someone like Stevie Nicks or Cher, or maybe the ghost of Liberace.

Is it fashionable?

Jen: For better or worse, printed pants are definitely having a moment.

Is it fairly priced?

John:  …No. Women’s clothing, from my understanding, is usually heinously overpriced, especially when compared to men’s, but $13k for one outfit made of something other than baby-skin and diamonds should be cause for outrage.

What do you wear with this?

JenStatement platforms and a ray gun.

What would be a better use for the cash?

John:  Well, $13k would pay the rent on a pretty decent room in Brooklyn for a year or so, but you could also spoil yourself with a slightly used mid-size sedan, or approximately 26,000 tacos from Jack in the Box.

Paul Ryan, Women’s Health, and The Long Con

Paul Ryan didn’t used to scare me.

When Mitt Romney first announced his running mate choice, my initial reaction was “who?” followed by “oh yeah, the guy with the road map”. There followed the usual reactionary blather from both left, right, and right pretending to be middle about how scary Ryan was for the Obama campaign. All of the things that made him so supposedly dangerous for the democrats in 2012 were part of a song and dance we had heard before: he’s good looking, in touch with the common people, etc, etc. It all seemed part of the usual Republican playbook.

It wasn’t long before the blogosphere had started digging up dirt on Ryan, or at lest spreading around the dirt that was already in full view: his views on gay marriage and women’s health (read: abortion and birth control) were correctly identified as liabilities in a political climate that, despite the economic situation in the U.S., is quickly becoming a culture war.

But today, something happened that chilled me to the bone, and made me think, for the first time, that maybe the Ryan-bandwaggoners are onto something. It started, like most horrible things, when I was looking through my facebook news feed, a tried and true method of antagonizing your intellect by bombarding it with poorly researched hyperbole. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless posted a link to a HuffingtonPost (go figure) story that quoted Ryan as referring to rape as a “method of conception”. The woman in question was of course dutifully horrified, as were several other commenters.

I was not. Mainly because nothing anybody on the right side of the aisle said would faze me at this point, but more to the point: Ryan didn’t actually say this. This quote, taken from an interview, began circulating in its appropriate context a few days ago. In the full video of the interview–which dishearteningly enough, HuffPo embedded with the commentary (a move that directly contradicted the site’s own commentary)–a journalist asks Ryan about Todd Akin and his now infamous blather concerning women’s bodies being able to shut down pregnancy resulting from rape.

Ryan reiterates that he and several other party members encouraged Akin to resign, as the comments were so damaging that he felt Akin’s running would do a disservice to the GOP (or something to that effect). The journalist then asks Ryan if he is pro-life, to which Ryan gives an enthusiastically affirmative response. The journalist then asks Ryan how he feels about abortion in instances of pregnancy resulting from rape. Here’s an unedited quote from Ryan’s response:

“I’ve always adopted the idea–the position–that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life. But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney/Ryan ticket, and the President makes policy. And the President, in this case, the future President, Mitt Romney, has exceptions for rape and exceptions for the life of the mother, which is a vast improvement over where we are now.”

So, clearly, what Ryan is saying is that he is pro-life, meaning he believes that life begins at conception, and therefore, in his eyes, a life that begins at conception, regardless of the method of that conception, consensual or forced, is still a life that society has an obligation to protect. Within the framework of the pro-life view, this is a logical stance. Ryan then goes on to emphasize that he is not running for President, and the policy of the Romney White House would be to make exceptions and allow abortions in instances of rape and in order to save the life of the mother.

To clarify: I do NOT agree with Ryan or Romney on this issue, and I am decidedly pro-choice. However, the spin this clip of video has received from the hard-left blogosphere is mind-boggling, with commentators saying Ryan considers rape “just another form of conception” and alleging that the VP nominee makes no distinction between forced and consensual sex.

This is A)terrible journalism B)intellectually dishonest C)ethically reprehensible and, most importanlty, D)counterproductive to the cause of Dems and progressives everywhere.

If you’re going to attack Ryan, and lord knows, the man needs some attacking, on so many issues, attack the viewpoint he actually holds, which is that we can’t let women have control over their own bodies because the Bible says so. Don’t move the goalposts and pretend that he said or implied something that he clearly did not using a view out-of-context quotations.

This kind of move only adds ammunition for the Republican talking point that the mainstream media in this country can’t be trusted on ANYTHING related to radical-right insanity because they will constantly spin the hell out of anything a Republican says. The consequence of ACTUALLY spinning the hell out of something a Republican says is that they get a free pass on that particular quote, and in many ways, that particular issue.

One of the commentators on said facebook post actually said they were unnerved by the “casualness” with which Ryan responded to the question. It has to be said: I’m a registered Democrat, I voted for Kerry in 2004, Obama in 2008, and will vote for Obama again in 2012. However, if the left is going to start trying to play the neo-con-patented, spin-the-news card in order to keep an incumbent in office, they will fail, and miserably. This move never works out for Democrats, mainly because when they do they not only piss off undecided voters and Republicans, they piss off intelligent members of their base who don’t appreciate having bullshit shoved down their throats. Ryan, for all his flaws, has thus far impressed me with his poise and his remarkably articulate responses in interviews. His answer to the question about rape, pregnancy, and abortion was honest, clear, and completely lacking in any fire-and-brimstone rhetoric. I don’t agree with the guts of his argument, but his method of communication is sound.

If the Dems are already running scared and trying to make Ryan into the bogeyman, then we’re clearly in trouble. As far as veeps go, Joe Biden isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, and he’s not too great on the mic either. I still think this race belongs to Obama, and as it comes down to the wire, social issues that used to be radioactive are going to be the final shove over the hill (I’m predicting Obama making a big push on gay rights, women’s rights, and gun control). But please, the-rest-of-the-left: as one of your own, I’m begging you, stop this foolish chicanery and nonsense. Stop stooping to the level of a party that is so bereft of good people they have to ask THEIR OWN SENATORS TO SUSPEND CAMPAIGNS OUT OF EMBARRASSMENT. Facts are important, and becoming even more important in an age where talk is as cheap as it is in the age of non-vetted “news”.

One Great Moment

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this idea in my head, about what I wanted to do with my life. Nothing specific, mind you. I’m not one of those few blessed souls who knew from an early age what they wanted, and in many facets of my life, this has been something of a curse. Recognizing one’s own talents is not the same as recognizing your own passions, unfortunately, and using that passion as fuel for the rigorous process of creation is an altogether different challenge entirely. Since I was about fifteen or so, I knew I wanted to be involved in creating things, and since I was entering college, and the protective shell of adolescence fell away, that desire was whittled down: what I want is to be remembered, for one great moment.

From what I can tell, it’s a common enough sentiment. Everybody, especially those who feel no strong belief in a higher power or afterlife, wants to leave their mark on the world somehow. It may be one of the more selfish motivations for having children. One’s legacy is something that lives on long after you’ve returned to dust, and the firmest way to cement it, in my mind, is to create something that is remembered as being great.

Critics and wannabe-critics alike often judge artists by the bulk of their careers, and while this makes sense from a certain point of view, it also seems unnecessarily nitpicky when it comes to assessing overall greatness. The sports world seems to have a leg up in this regard: nobody in their right mind would ever claim that Michael Jordan’s status as the greatest basketball player (and some would argue, myself included, greatest athlete) of all time was tarnished by his unimpressive stint with the Wizards, or his failed restaurants, or any of his other, post Chicago Bulls accomplishments. All that matters in the world of sports is that at one time, he was the greatest that ever was, and he played with a heart and ferocity that we haven’t seen since.

Last week, Levon Helm, a musician and artist whose talents cannot be overstated, passed away after a battle with cancer. His declining health was only made public by his family a few days before his death. While Helm’s career spans decades, generations, and different groups, I will always remember him for one great moment, that will always live on in my heart: the moment I heard “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” for the first time.

I was at the Hole in the Wall, an old favorite, with several close friends. My buddy Ben, a talented musician himself, fed a few dollars into the jukebox, and tottered back to our table. He informed everybody their in no uncertain terms, that anybody who knew the words had better be ready to sing along. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is one of those songs that passes, by an unequaled measure, my standard for what constitutes a timeless song. If you ever want to know if a song will truly stand the test of time, wait 5-10 years after its initial release, and then find a dive bar with a jukebox, and play that song after midnight on a Friday or Saturday. If more than half the bar sings their way through the entire song, it’s a certifiable classic.

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” may not be as popular a song as “The Weight”, but it holds a special place in the heart of almost everybody I know who grew up in Texas or the South. I was recently discussing Helm’s passing with a friend of mine (who is from Los Angeles, but spent time in Mississippi with her Southern boyfriend), and she very correctly observed that the song is much like a country version of “Oh, Danny Boy”. Depending on my mood and how many whiskeys I’ve had, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” could move grown men to tears, but it’s a song that taps into a special side of humanity: our universal ability to find strength and joy in moments of incredible sadness. It’s a woefully melancholy song, made all the more despondent by Helm’s powerful, insistent twang. While some may balk at the idea of a song that is, all things considered, a requiem for the Confederate South, a close examination of the lyrics reveals a narrator whose sign does not say “The South Will Rise Again”, but only “Farewell”. Virgil Cane is not a slaveowner, and there is no hatred or even anger in his voice, but only beautiful, bittersweet regret. Helm didn’t write the lyrics, but his incredible vocal performance throws the doors open on a soul laid bare, and anybody, no matter their region or political beliefs, should be able to stop for a moment and revel in the majesty of such plainly expressed grief, pride, and acceptance.

I have often wondered if artists like Levon Helm ever look back at a single moment in their careers, a single contribution, and tell themselves “No matter what else I did wrong in my life, what opportunities I missed, I had this shining moment in which I gave something beautiful to the world”. In my mind, Levon goes to rest as a hero to American music and art in general, if for no other reason, than his telling of Virgil Cane’s story. There were countless other achievements in a long and fulfilling life, but for me, none will ever be equal to the creation of short little song that still has the power to move mountains and rattle the soul.

One great moment is all that any of us are really looking for on this earth. Here’s hoping that we all find it.