Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

Bill Watterson

Unfortunately, the above bit from Calvin and Hobbes does not apply to me.  I am not perfect, and so I set myself a few goals in the form of New Year's resolutions each year.

My estimate is that I succeed through the month of March on about one out of 10 such pledges.

Not a good record.  Perseverance is a fine quality but, alas, a challenging one.  At least for me.

This year I am sharing my resolutions in the hope that friends will nudge me, nicely, when I fall down on the job.


1.  At least one time in 2015, I will try a new recipe that is not labeled "Fast" or "Easy."

2.  I will avoid using curse words except in cases of extreme provocation by malicious or
     indifferent bureaucrats.

3.  I will try again to finish reading Moby Dick.

4.  I will be  more selective in my entertainment choices:
        I will not go to movies featuring Adam Sandler or Keanu Reeves.  If I attend a movie
        starring Keira Knightley or Russell Brand, I will keep my opinions to myself at least
        until the final credits begin to roll.

        I will not attend any Broadway shows that are musical revivals, remakes of old
        television programs or stagings of tales from the Disney vault.

        I will watch no more than one English costume drama series on PBS.

5.  Four words:  More vegetables, less candy.

6.  I will turn on my cellphone more regularly.  Possibly four or five times a week.

7.  I will be a kinder person, a better friend and a more careful listener.


This has been a good year for me, and I hope for you.  Happy 2015.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

You Say Yuan, I Say Renminbi

(This is a post I had fun writing last March.  I still have trouble keeping these things straight.)

For years I had heard two terms for Chinese money -- renminbi and yuan -- and never understood the difference between the two.  So today I looked it up.

Here's the short explanation:

      The Chinese currency system is the renminbi.  The US currency system is the US dollar.

      The Chinese yuan is the equivalent of the US dollar.

Got it? I didn't think so.

Let's try again.

Here in the US, the government has been issuing dollars for hundreds of years.  People exchange dollars for hamburgers at McDonald's.  "Dollar" means a unit of currency.

In China, the government has been issuing yuan for hundreds of years.  People exchange yuan for pork dumplings at Shanghai restaurants. "Yuan" means a unit of currency.

The term "renminbi" refers to the entire Chinese currency system.  It means "the people's currency." The term was adopted in 1949 by the new Communist leadership, possibly as a sly trick to confuse Western capitalists.

If you were a currency trader, you could refer to the RMB (renminbi) or CNY (Chinese Yuan) in your transactions.  In this setting, it appears that RMB is the preferred term.

But, if you were in China, you would not offer 25 renminbi for a trinket being hawked by a street vender.   It might be all right to offer 25 renminbi yuan.  That is, assuming the vendor spoke pretty good English and you had done a lot of hard bargaining beforehand.

But you still could  have a problem, as an Asian-based BBC writer, Stephen Mulvey, tried to explain several years ago.

"As it happens," he wrote, "Chinese people rarely talk about renminbi or yuan.  The word they use is 'kuai,' which literally means 'piece', and is the word used historically for coins made of silver or copper.  Also common is '10 kuai qian,' literally '10 pieces of money'."

The yuan/kuai, like the dollar, breaks down into smaller units.  It takes 10 jiao (the equivalent of, say, dimes) to make one yuan.  But most Chinese don't use the word jiao; their term is 'mao,' which is NOT a reference to Mao Zedong.  Go figure.

It takes 10 fen (think pennies) to make one jiao/mao.

It also is important not to confuse the Chinese yuan with other currencies, like Taiwan's yuan, for instance. Or the 'mei yuan' or 'ri yuan,' the Chinese names for the US dollar and Japanese yen, respectively.

I'm going to stop now.  My head is beginning to hurt.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The "Shut Up" Approach to Free Speech

Above is a picture of a much-sought fashion item this season.  It quotes the last words Eric Garner uttered before he lost consciousness and died in a police chokehold in New York last summer.

Some versions of the shirt also have words on the back -- "thanks to the NYPD."

The words on the shirts are a form of speech, a reflection of the wearers' point of view.  They have inspired various reactions, and led a whole lot of people to try to make other people shut up.  

High School Players

The most recent shutter-uppers are the administrators at a high school in Northern California that is sponsoring a basketball tournament.  They do not want participants to wear "I can't breathe" warmup shirts -- not uniforms, just warmup shirts -- before the games.  

One school district was knocked out of the tournament because its student players refused to accede to the requirement.  

Naturally, the sponsoring school said it was shutting up players for their own good.  Here's a statement it released:  "To protect the safety and well-being of all tournament participants it is necessary to ensure that all political statements and or protests are kept away from this tournament."

Got that?  Words on t-shirts could threaten the safety of high school students.  I don't get it either.


A police officer in Indiana decided to put his own response to the "I can't breathe" message on t-shirts and has sold thousands of them, working on his own time.  Below is a sample.
The second line of the message is "Don't break the law." The policeman/designer's point, he has explained, is that people can be confident that police will protect them.

For this, several members of the city council in his town want him to shut up.  They released a statement saying he needs to shut up because the message on his shirts "damages the goal of unity and further divides our community."

I haven't read the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution in several years and so I may be missing something here, but I don't recall either saying anything about a "goal of unity."  Maybe it's just an Indiana thing.

Back in New York, city policemen are angry at the way they have been portrayed, and now more than 100 cops have purchased their own shirt expressing this view.  Many wore the shirts in a recent demonstration titled "Blue Lives Matter," a response to demonstrations titled "Black Lives Matter."  One of the shirts is below.

The second line of the message on this shirt is "because I obey and respect the law." Another version has "thanks to the NYPD" as its second line -- a direct response to the message of the shirt at the top of this article.

Many members of the NYPD believe the mayor's response to the Eric Garner situation encouraged a crazed man to shoot two officers dead last week.  On several occasions, policemen have turned their backs on the mayor as he walks by.  This too is a form of speech, and of course city officials want the cops to stop it -- effectively, to shut up. 

Free Speech

For years, our leaders have told us that we need to have "a conversation" about policing and racial justice, but in fact the leaders themselves talked in vague platitudes and expected the rest of us to keep any dissonant thoughts to ourselves.  The message was that we needed to keep our mouths shut.

Finally, the dam has burst.  We're having the long-delayed conversation in t-shirt messages and demonstrations.  It's contentious and many people are offended, but it may be the only way forward.  


Saturday, December 27, 2014

What's a Superintendent Worth?

Several years ago, in tight economic times, New Jersey's governor set salary limits for school superintendents.  The range was set at between $125,000 and $175,000, based on student enrollment up to 10,000 students.

New Jersey residents favored the plan by two-to-one.  New Jersey schools are funded largely by property taxes.  New Jersey property taxes are the highest in the nation.  Controlling costs seemed like a good idea.

Meanwhile, the governor of New York considered a similar action but did not move forward with it.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

In my suburban district, the 50-year-old superintendent is leaving after five years on the job.  His contract had delayed implementation of the new limit, although it did freeze his salary for four years. This year he is being paid $219,000; next year he would take a 24 percent pay cut and work for $167,500.  He's moving to a town in Pennsylvania to work for $215,000 plus some sort of 5 percent annuity program that I don't understand.

In the next town over, another well-regarded superintendent is retiring early, at age 59.  He had been paid $208,000 annually and was looking at a $177,500 salary in 2014-15.  So he's taking the helm at a school district in a New York suburb for $248,000; in addition he will collect a $123,000 pension from the state of New Jersey.

A number of other districts are losing superintendents to New York and Pennsylvania.

And, in another perverse result of the program, some school districts are paying assistant superintendents more than the men and women in the top jobs.

It is very difficult to manage school district costs in the best of times.  The major driver, 70 percent or more of the total budget, is employee pay, particularly teacher pay.

Teachers' contracts generally allow step increases for additional years on the job and post-graduate coursework.  To my knowledge, neither of these has been shown -- anywhere, ever -- to correlate with improvements in student achievement.

New Jersey's legislature has set a two-percent cap on school district funding increases each year.  School boards wishing to spend more must get voter approval.  This is squeezing schools, but, again, with the highest property taxes in the country (and perhaps the world), getting voters to agree to pay even more is a real challenge.

In fact, salaries for superintendents and school principals are a small part of district budgets. Paying good ones well is not a bad idea.  The best ones, like the best teachers, really do make a difference.

The salary cap lasts until 2016.  No one knows what will happen at that point, but until then, the talent drain is likely to continue.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014: The Year in Selfies

The selfie below, taken at the Academy Awards ceremony last March, is by popular acclaim the most famous selfie of the year, and may turn out to be the most famous selfie of all time.

It is interesting in a way.  It features a bunch of actors whom we are accustomed to seeing on television or in movies.  They are the faces of the performing arts, but they are not the real power brokers in the world of images.  Those people -- the studio directors, producers, broadcast executives, playwrights and so on -- don't seem particularly interested in sharing their mugs with us.  And, if they were interested, nobody much would care.

That's the deal with selfies.  The can be revealing on occasion, but but generally they are superficial.

Prominent people have learned that posing for selfies is part of their job description.  Below we see the Queen of England being included in a young person's selfie.  She's probably as old-fashioned and starchy as a person can be, but she understands that she must roll with the new reality.

Think about it:  If Richard III were the king of England today, do you think he'd agree to be the background element in some kid's selfie?


Serious things happened this year.  There were wars, revolutions and elections. An Ebola epidemic ravaged several African countries.  Two commercial airliners fell out of the sky.

Some of these things are grist for selfies.  Here are a few I found while scrolling around the internet.


Several Russian soldiers posted selfies from eastern Ukraine, giving the lie to their country's assertions that its military had nothing to do with the fighting there.

Then, on Ukraine's Independence Day in August, thousands of western Ukrainians massed, many in native costumes, to assert that they liked their country the way it was.

Hong Kong 

Hong Kong students gathered by the thousands, for months, to oppose China's failure to live up to its pledge to grant truly open elections.  These actions caught the imagination of the world and, perhaps more important, of other Chinese citizens who realized that they, too might prefer full-on democracy.


The Islamic State used selfies, among other social media, to recruit volunteers to their merry band.  This was effective with at least some credulous young people


Last winter, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Russia, and a sour-faced Vladimir Putin made himself available for several selfies, including one with a Canadian speed skater.

Later in the year, the oil price dropped and the Russian economy dropped like a stone.  Putin did not pose for selfies.

Pope Francis

The latest Catholic Pope made himself available, humbly, for occasional selfies.  Off camera, he tended to executive matters, taking out after Vatican grandees and careerists.

The New Yorker

This essential magazine carried a cover illustration last summer that was a commentary on how people's absorption with selfies -- with themselves -- causes them to miss what's happening around them.

That's the hazard with these things.  Maybe we'll get over ourselves in 2015.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Truce

Below is a Christmas ad by a British grocery company commemorating an unofficial Christmas truce celebrated 100 years ago by German and British soldiers during the first year of World War I.

According to the lore, the Pope proposed a Christmas truce early that December, but leaders of the warring countries refused even to consider it.  Each believed, or a least said he believed, that God was on his country's side.

On the night of Christmas Eve, in trench battlefields across France, German soldiers began singing Christmas carols.  English soldiers took up the songs in their own language.

As the sun rose on Christmas Day, it is believed that a German messenger proposed an impromptu truce by climbing out of his trench, unarmed, and walking across the no-man's-land that separated his fortification from a British one.  The British soldiers watched, amazed, and then stepped warily out of their trenches.

The soldiers, enemies, shook hands.  Greetings were exchanged, as well as small gifts of cigarettes and chocolates.  Both sides made use of the occasion to bury their dead countrymen.   And, implausibly, a soccer game broke out on one battlefield in Flanders.

At the end of the day, the soldiers returned to their battle stations.  All of them, German and English, could have been have been charged with treason for their behavior.  In fact, a few were shot for participating in the truce, and a number of German troops were transferred to the even more uncomfortable trenches along the war's eastern front.

Fighting resumed on December 26.  The Christmas truce was a one-off, never repeated during the other years of World War I or, indeed, any other war.

What the truce demonstrated was the confusion, at every level of the German and British societies, about why the war was being fought in the first place.  Historians still struggle to account for the bloody carnage.

The soldiers -- the people who were fighting and dying -- seemed to understand the incomprehensibility best of all.  They respected each other and wished each other well, at least for a single day.

Glory to God in the highest, and

on earth, peace, good will toward men.

                                                                 Luke 2:14

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Merry Little Christmas

Below is the first recording of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as seen in the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, which was released in November 1944.

The bittersweet song was an enormous hit, perhaps because it struck a chord with a county weary after almost three years of war.  More than 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II; almost 300,000 died in combat, and more than 30,000 went missing.

The movie was a saddish one, and the song went through several revisions over the years.

In its first draft, the composers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote this verse:

      "No good times like the olden days,
        Happy golden days of yore,
        Faithful friends who were dear to us
        Will be near to us no more."

This was too depressing for the film's producers, and by the time Judy Garland sang it, the words went like this:

        "Once again as in olden days,
         Happy golden days of yore,
         Faithful friends who are dear to us
         Will be near to us once more."

There were other changes.  Here is what Judy Garland sang:

          "Someday soon we all will be together if the Fates allow,
          Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."

Years later, when Frank Sinatra recorded his 1957 Christmas album, he wanted a more upbeat tone.  The "faithful friends" line became this:

           "Faithful friends who are dear to us
           Gather near to us once more."

And the "Someday soon" line was revised thusly:

            "Someday soon we all will be together if the Fates allow,
             Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."

The Sinatra version has survived, and just about every prominent singer has recorded it with the Sinatra lyrics.

But that wasn't the end.  Composer Martin, a religious man, rewrote the song as "Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas" in 2001, when he was 86 years old.  Its final stanza is this:

            "Sing hosannas, hymns and hallelujahs
            As to Him we bow
            Make the music mighty as the heavens allow
             And have yourself a blessed little Christmas now."

Martin died in 2011 at the age of 96.  The song, whatever its lyrics, lives on.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mobsters and the Christmas Spirit

Three New Jersey men pleaded guilty in a Newark federal court last week to shaking down longshoremen for Christmas "tributes" and then turning the money over to the Genovese crime family.

Two had been officers of the longshoremen union chapters.  The third was described as a Genovese soldier in charge of the New Jersey waterfront.

Longshoremen in New Jersey receive Christmas bonuses based on port traffic levels.  Prosecutors said the longshoremen were expected to hand over the bonuses or face threats, and sometimes the reality, of violence.  It's pretty creepy when a union's officers facilitate the extortion of money from its members.

The practice apparently dated to the early 1980s.

Three other of the union's leaders pleaded guilty a week earlier to the same racketeering charges and were sentenced to 18, 20 and 22 months in prison respectively.

Seems pretty light to me, even if the three agreed to become witnesses in federal prosecutions.  Who knows?


  We all remember The Sopranos, a much heralded television series about mafia members in the state of New Jersey.  It ran from 1999 to 2007, and that was the end of it.

But not the end of made men in the state.   The plea deals above are among the results of a 2011 federal indictment alleging 103 Genovese crimes ranging from murder to theft to a variety of extortion schemes over many years.

Sometimes life does imitate art.  A famous movie that I have never seen, On the Waterfront, was set against the background of port corruption in New Jersey in 1954.

Friday, December 19, 2014

"The Interview" -- Never Mind

Sony Pictures has pulled its Christmas movie, The Interview, from all circulation, capitulating to threats from a nasty little country.

After a massive hack traced to North Korea and further threats to moviegoers who might buy tickets to the film, theater companies refused to show the movie.  The New York premier was cancelled last week.  Then Sony took the final step, announcing it would not release the movie even to video on demand.

(Interestingly, The Interview movie may be a stinker whose best bits are in its trailer.  Joe Morgenstern's review in today's Wall Street Journal savaged the movie, not for its message but as a piece of filmmaking -- "a buddy comedy with a slob aesthetic." He concluded with this: "In the real world, a debate has been raging over what does and doesn't constitute torture.  In the movie world, there's no debate: watching The Interview is torture from almost start to finish.")

But back to the point.  A huge corporation that professes to release artistic works and a bunch of large theater operators pulled out of a project because of potential liability.  The hack of virtually all of Sony's computer records has left the company and its employees vulnerable to losses of personal information and professional embarrassment.  The threats of violence in theaters, if fulfilled, raise potential for expensive liability lawsuits.

In short, big companies are unwilling to take risks, even on fundamental principles.  This has happened before.

Muhammed Cartoons

In 2005, a Danish newspaper printed 12 cartoons featuring pictures of Muhammed.  Some Islamic groups opposed representations of the prophet.  Other Islamic groups believed that no one should have the freedom to make jokes about their religion.  

One of the cartoons is below.

Months later, hostile and opportunistic Islamists circulated the cartoons to whip crowds into anti-Western frenzies.  Massive angry demonstrations were staged worldwide, and an estimated 200 people died in the turmoil.

Here's a picture, one of many, that were deemed acceptable for publication in major press outlets.

Of about 1,450 daily newspapers in the United States, only five published even one of the cartoons.  Of those, only one, The Philadelphia Inquirer, was among the country's top 25 papers by circulation.

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General at the time, urged editors not to publish the cartoons.  His logic: "It is insensitive.  It is offensive.  It is provocative, and they should see what has happened around the world."

The protest photo is, if anything, more insensitive, offensive and provocative than the satirical cartoon.  But nobody, including Annan, wanted to make that point.

About the same time, the makers of South Park, an edgy and humorous television show, put together an episode that parodied the situation.  They included an ostensible Muhammed picture covered by a "CENSORED" graphic.  When the network got hold of the show, it censored it some more, bleeping out various phrases and excising a final speech about "intimidation and fear" that didn't even refer to Islam or Muhammed.  Then the network cut back access to rebroadcasts of the episode.
       ( Five years later, the South Park creators launched a smash hit Broadway musical called The Book of Mormon that satirized the Latter Day Saints religion.  Interestingly, nobody complained, even the Mormons, demonstrating again that media leaders are willing to kowtow to certain religions but not others.) 

In 2009, the Yale University Press published a book about the Muhammed cartoons -- The Cartoons That Shook the World -- but not until after it had pulled the cartoon images and all other illustrations out of the manuscript.  Even academic freedom took second place to expediency.

Who Stood Up

In fact, a number of small papers -- college publications, and small independent weeklies mostly -- published at least one and, in manys cases, all 12 of the Muhammed cartoons.  

Among American magazines, only left-wing Harper's published the 12 cartoons.   The magazine is supported by a nonprofit foundation, which perhaps made it easier for its editors to take the decision to publish.  For doing so, the edition was pulled from a number of bookstores. 

It is unfortunate that the most powerful media companies let themselves be cowed by violent extremists and leave the smallest publications to defend the basic principle of free speech. 

The Future

Since Sony pulled its picture, two other planned films have been scrubbed, one with a North Korean theme and another with just a North Korean scene. 

It is not difficult to see where this will lead.  Can you imagine a future film that pits American forces against Islamic terrorists or well-organized drug cartels or nasty street gangs or malevolent hackers from dodgy countries?  A documentary?  Will American writers or publishers think twice about articles that explain the workings of such groups?


Shortly after I posted these comments, President Obama spoke out about the situation,  He said Sony's capitulation was wrong, that the United States cannot allow extortionists to shut down speech  they oppose and that there would be consequences for North Korea.  Good for the president.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Yet Another Casino Update

Yesterday I noted that Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino/hotel was facing imminent closure as Carl Icahn and its union battled in a Delaware bankruptcy court.

Last night came a break in the case when Icahn, the company's senior creditor and presumptive new owner, agreed to just about all the union's demands.  He pledged to roll another $100 million in to keep the joint running, and, as I write, the New Jersey legislature is considering whether to grant tax breaks or something called payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS), or something else, that will give the Taj Mahal $150 million.

New Jersey's political leadership is desperate for Atlantic City to be transformed into something other than a failed set of seaside casino/resorts with an even more failed city starting one block over.  It seems likely that similar accommodations will be expected by the seven remaining casinos of the 12 that were in business just one year ago.  So far there has been no plan put forward to revitalize the rest of that sad city.

For his efforts, Icahn also will get the other asset in Trump Entertainment Resorts -- the Trump Plaza, a 39-story casino/hotel that fell into disrepair over several years, lost $7.4 million in the first six months of 2014 and closed in September.  A recent photo is below.

(Donald Trump, by the way, owns nine or 10 percent of the "equity" in Trump Entertainment Resorts, whose value is now approximately zero.  He petitioned in August to have "Trump" excised from the company name.
        (Maybe the business could be renamed Icahn Entertainment Resorts and merged with the Tropicana casino/resort, which Icahn already owns in Atlantic City.
        (Of course, Icahn may just be a modest guy.  He never renamed TWA, the airline he bought in 1985, for instance, and then stripped of its assets and loaded up with debt.  Maybe he didn't have time; TWA was absorbed by AMR, the operator of American Airlines in 2001.)

Much of Atlantic City's commercial hopes are pinned now on the scheduled opening next year of a Bass Pro Shops outlet not far from the Plaza, and it has been speculated that Icahn will "repurpose" the hotel to mesh with the new installation.

Maybe the business plan for the Plaza includes a Venn diagram that shows an overlap between the populations of outdoorsmen and gamblers.  Who knows?

Another Gambling City

A relative of mine who travels the world on business points out that Singapore has adopted gambling in recent years, but with an interesting twist.  Recently, on a visit to that paternalistic but successful country, he found that, as a tourist, he was able to enter casinos for no charge.  Singaporeans, on the other hand, were required to pay $100 to get in the door.

Such an approach would be impossible here, of course.  For one thing, it would invalidate almost every state's participation in Mega Millions, Lotto and scratch-off games.  While these games are lucrative for public entities, they collect a lot of money that individuals (virtually all of them losers) could put to better use in their family budgets.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More Fun in Atlantic City

This has been a tough year for Atlantic City, New Jersey's gambling center.  Four of its 12 casinos have closed.  One, a two-year-old $2.4 billion casino/resort, is being sold out of bankruptcy for about $100 million, and its viability is questionable even at that price.

The latest casino whose survival is imperiled is the Trump Taj Mahal.

The Taj opened 24 years ago with 160,000 square feet of gambling space and more than 2,000 guest rooms, plus other amusements.

Donald Trump has been largely out of the picture since 2009, when the majority of the Taj stock was bought by a big global investment firm.  All this year, the owners and debt holders have threatened repeatedly to close the place.

To nobody's surprise, the Taj Mahal is now the subject of a bankruptcy battle.

On one side is the union representing 1,000 of the 3,000 Taj Mahal employees.  They want to keep their $10,000 health insurance policies, their pension holdings in a broke multi-employer fund and their casino-provided half-hour paid lunches.

Across the table is "activist investor" (and former "corporate raider") Carl Icahn, who over some years bought the majority of the Taj Mahal's senior secured debt at what now looks like the laughable price of more than 90 cents on the dollar.  He wants not to have to write down his $286 million investment and, more, to take over the casino and make some money by reviving it.

This existential game of chicken is being played out against the forcible downsizing of Atlantic City's gambling space to accommodate a dwindling number of blackjack and slot-machine gamblers.

Bankruptcy Back and Forth

In September, the Taj owners threatened to close the casino on October 3 if the bankruptcy judge did not void the union contract.

In October, the casino limped along and Icahn revealed his strategy.  He wanted to trade his debt for equity, to get the Taj property tax bill lowered by 80 percent and to get $25 million in state tax credits.  Then Icahn decided he'd rather have $175 million in state development and urban revitalization grants.  He said would spend $100 million upgrading the casino which, arguably, might make the Taj more attractive to gamblers and less likely to be the next domino to fall.

A November 13 closing date was bandied about, and the judge voided the union contract.  The threatened closing date then was pushed to the end of the year.

Later in November, the union appealed the judge's cancellation of its contract.  The New Jersey state senate president, himself an officer of the ironworker's union, told Icahn there would be no state grants until he made peace with the union.

The judge threatened to change the bankruptcy from a Chapter 11 reorganization to a Chapter 7 liquidation.  The value of the property, if liquidated, would be very low because Atlantic City already has more casino space than it can support.  Also, liquidation would wipe out 3,000 job.

This seemed to concentrate the opponents' minds.  Now Icahn is talking about restoring some health benefits.  The union may be receptive.

But the prospects for massive state aid seem dim.  New Jersey is broke in almost every conceivable way, and if it commits money to salvage one casino in Atlantic City, it almost certainly will be petitioned for similar help by the city's other seven gambling meccas.

Other Jersey Gambling Plans

As I mentioned recently, many state leaders are pushing to legalize sports gambling in New Jersey.  Presumably they believe this will "make the pie bigger," but this seems unlikely. Once such a decision is taken, Delaware and Pennsylvania could be expected also to legalize sports betting and collect their own slices of the hoped-for bigger pie.

Still, the prospect of gambling revenues beguiles politicians.  Casinos have been proposed in two Northern New Jersey locations -- Jersey City and in the Meadowlands near MetLife Stadium.

And, just two weeks ago, the Essex County executive suggested a casino in Newark, which has an unemployment rate of almost 12 percent.  He acknowledged, however, that he had received no expressions of interest from any private casino operators.

Hope springs eternal, I guess.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Red Light Cameras

At the end of today, New Jersey will become the 17th state to get out of the red-light camera business.

You may have seen such installations, like the one pictured on the right, near intersections in your town.

What they do is photograph cars moving through intersections or making turns after a traffic light has turned red.  The captured images are used to generate citations that are mailed to the owners of offending vehicles.

Five years ago Jersey adopted a tryout of the cameras in 73 locations statewide.  That tryout ends today.   At its adoption, local and state politicos extolled the cameras as promoting safe, more careful driving.

Do They Work?

This is the big question, and nobody knows the answer.  Some officials are convinced that the cameras reduced the number of traffic accidents, but many, many drivers love to hate them.

Here are the two main points people make when discussing this technology:

     -- Pro:  A few red light cameras in a given town cause a "spillover effect," motivating more cautious driving at all intersections in the same municipality.  Many police officers believe this is so.  They may be right.

     -- Con: Drivers fearing red light citations tend to brake suddenly at traffic signals, causing increased numbers of rear-end collisions.  This is demonstrably true.

Many opponents of red light cameras say that adding a second or two to yellow-light periods would achieve the same effect as using the cameras.  Who knows?

Yesterday I looked at reader comments following a local newspaper article on the subject.  Here are two that I found interesting.

     -- Con: "The vast majority of these cameras generate the equivalent of getting cited for going 36 mph in a 35 mph zone."

     -- Pro:  "I must say that this state is filled with some of the worst drivers I have ever seen.  It amazes me that people who are running the red lights have the gall to state that it is a money grab.  Of course it is, but you are breaking the law."
     I am personally agnostic on the red-light camera issue, but this second commenter makes two good points.  First, many New Jersey drivers are either blithering idiots or simply unwilling to drive by the rules of the road. (I go back and forth on which it is.)  And, second, red-light cameras generate good revenue for industry and government.

The Profit Motive

A red-light citation in New Jersey costs $80 to $85.  Companies that operate the cameras typically collect a portion -- as high as 50% -- of all citation money collected.

This is an incentive for companies in the industry to court business aggressively.

Chicago may have more red-light cameras -- 380 at 190 intersections -- than any other city in the country.  Just this month, a representative of one of the camera companies pleaded guilty to paying $2 million in bribes to a city traffic official in an effort to steer the Windy City's contract to his firm.

Another ex-employee of the same company claimed earlier that bribes were paid to traffic bureaucrats in 12 other states, including New Jersey.

Local officials also are suspected of liking the cameras mostly because they generate money automatically -- requiring no police time to write up the violations.


One claim that nobody seems to make is that New Jersey's red-light camera administration has been well run.

Several years ago, a state judge ordered one of the red-light camera operators to refund $4.2 million in fines collected on 500,000 violations because the yellow-light period at the affected lights was not set to state standards.  Each citation was reported to yield a $6 refund, which, if my calculations are correct, left another $1.2 million for the gallant trial lawyers who represented the aggrieved drivers.

Later, officials in three cities shut down their red-light cameras after concluding that the net effect had been an increase in automobile collisions.

In another unfortunate case, 17,000 red-light citations were ordered to be tossed because they had not been sent out within 90 days of the offenses.  Ninety days!

A few Essex County politicos are talking of reviving the red-light-camera experiment, but nobody else seems to have the heart for it.

And so New Jersey will be joining 16 other states that have concluded that red-light cameras are a safety idea whose time has passed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

South Korean Elites

"Let me tell you about the rich. They are different from you and me. . . .
They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better 
than we are because we had to discover the compensations
and refuges of life for ourselves."
F. Scott Fitzgerald              

This quote came to mind last week when a titled -- and apparently entitled -- South Korean
airline executive threw a hissy fit as a jet taxied toward a runway at Kennedy Airport.

The incident might be funny if it didn't betray her sneering and condescending view of her countrymen.

The woman, an executive vice president of Korean Air, was in first class on a flight bound for Seoul.  As the plane taxied from the terminal to the runway, a flight steward served her a package of macadamia nuts.  Apparently the nuts should have been unpackaged and presented on a dish.  (I don't travel first class often, so I'don't know much about these procedures.)

This error in protocol -- about nut presentation -- enraged the woman, who summoned the head steward, called him names, hit him with a file of papers and then demanded that he kneel before her and apologize.  Then the woman called the pilot and demanded that he taxi the jet back to an airport gate, where the head steward was ordered off the flight.

Perhaps because the woman's father is the chairman of the conglomerate that owns Korea Air, the pilot did as he was told.

South Korea in Recent History

During the time of the Korean war, most South Koreans did not have even high school diplomas.  After that, the country devoted itself to better educating its citizens to further the goal of growing its national economy.

These days education is extremely competitive in South Korea.  It is not uncommon for students to study 12 hours daily, over many years, to prepare for college admission exams.  There are three top universities in the country, and only students with top scores are admitted to them.

In an Al Jazeera article last year, a student explained the situation.  "To get admitted there (to a top school) decides what you can do in life and who you can marry.  It determines your future."

This is not so true for really rich South Koreans' children.


Chaebol are South Korean business conglomerates, usually family held.  The country's government for many years encouraged these businesses and helped fund them in the interest of enlarging the country's economy.  

One of these chaebol, the Hanjin Group, has been chaired since 2003 by the father of the woman who made the scene on the Korean Air jet in New York.  One of the group's businesses, Hanjin Shipping, is run by the widow of the chairman's younger brother.  

The chairman's three children all attended college at the University of Southern California, a good school but one that presumably isn't as competitive about admissions for very rich South Korean children as the their country's colleges.  Two of the three chairman's children became executive vice presidents of Korean Air, another Hanjin property.  (I do not know what the third child does.)  They were the third generation of Hanjin owners to be given top jobs in the chaebol.


After last week's scene on the Kennedy taxiway, South Korean newspapers went ballistic in condemning the woman's behavior.  Her dad fired her and confessed, "I failed to raise her properly." 

There were demonstrations, especially by the offending woman, of the sackcloth-and-ashes variety, but South Koreans still seem to resent that their own children must compete so intensely while the children of the entitled rich glide to high offices.  Hard to blame them.  


Japan has a similar set of industrial conglomerates, called Keiretsu, groups of companies with interlocking directorates.  These replaced pre-World War II privately owned conglomerates that seemed to be more similar to South Korean chaebol.  Japanese keiretsu do not have top-down management of each business entity.  The businesses operate with a great deal of autonomy, and their leaders are drawn from the ranks of proven professional managers.  

Maybe South Korea should look into this keiretsu thing.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Interview and North Korea

The tabloid papers have been having a lot of fun releasing previously private email comments that do not show Sony film executives in a favorable light.

Their comments -- and much more data from Sony Pictures Entertainment -- were released after a massive hack that is being credited to North Korea, or more likely outsourced by North Korea.  (My impression is that North Koreans are too busy scrounging for edible tree bark to do much computer work.)

Not so much is being said about why the Norks would have such a grudge against Sony.  It seems to trace to Sony's production of a movie scheduled for release this Christmas.  The trailer is below.

As you can see, it's a high-concept film, and it is easy to imagine what inspired the screenwriters.  That would be Dennis Rodman, the retired basketball clown who has become good friends with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who is apparently an NBA fan.

Here's a photo of the two of them yukking it up.

Recently Rodman sat for an interview recently with a reporter from  Here is one of the things he said:

        "He's (Kim is) for the people.  . . .  people here want to know, 'Is he a tyrant?' 'Does he
         kill people?'  I've been around him and his compound and his vacation spots.  If I would
         have seen something negative about him, I probably would have come back and said so."

Let's just say that Rodman's next career move probably won't involve a desk at the State Department.

Anyway, Rodman's relationship with Kim was so wacky that it was easy to envision the pudgy despot taking a liking to a low-rent U.S. news show and inviting its star and producer to North Korea.  Then, to move the plot forward, the screenwriter or writers brought in the CIA to recruit the two to assassinate Kim Jong Un.

This seems to have irritated Kim, who set hackers to work to embarrass Sony.  I suppose it could have been worse -- Kim could have launched a nuclear bomb to take out Sony Global's headquarters in Tokyo, or he could have had a passenger jet shot down.  He is known to be a touchy guy, and living in North Korea no doubt has distorted his view of reality by more than a little.

Sony has reacted by saying that Australia and New Zealand are the only two Asian-area countries where The Interview will be released.

I don't have a problem with a zany movie that pokes fun at North Korea.  The Marx Brothers did a good job of taking it to Hitler in 1933 with Duck Soup, after all.

The only sad thing is that there probably will be no more films about that weird and isolated country.   What we know of the place will continue to come from books.  The most recent release, Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim, describes her work teaching the children of high apparatchiks in North Korea.  Also this year, Victor Cha published The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, a well-regarded history.  And two reporters, Barbara Demick and Blaine Harden, interviewed people who were able to get out North Korea in Nothing to Envy and Escape from Camp 14, respectively.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Boyhood:" Overpraised?

The early award season for 2014 movies has begun, and Boyhood seems to be running away with the honors.

So far the movie has been voted the best picture of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, New York Film Critics Online and the Boston Society of Film Critics.

Boyhood's director, Richard Linklater, has been hailed as best director by the same groups.

Last night, it won best movie, and Patricia Arquette best actress at the Golden Globes awards.

At this point, Boyhood seems sure to win Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director next year.


Am I the only one who didn't think this was the bestest film of the year, or possibly the most wonderful movie of all time?

The idea behind Boyhood -- a longitudinal look over 12 years as a boy grows up -- appealed instantly to film audiences. What parent wouldn't want annual video scenes of his child's developing years?  Who among us would not like an observation of his own journey from childhood to maturity?

Richard Linklater certainly deserves a lot of credit for originating this idea and making it into a movie.  I was very eager to see Boyhood and went as soon as it showed up in my neighborhood.

Afterward, though, I had a nagging sense of disappointment with the piece, which I have been turning over in my mind ever since.

Here are some of my reservations about the film.

     -- The boy in Boyhood is cute and winsome, but he doesn't DO anything.  The first time his family moves out of their home, he watches, passively, as his best friend bicycles behind the car, frantically waving goodby.  He remains passive pretty much throughout the film.  The only exception I recall is when the boy learns that his father has sold a car that the boy hoped would be passed to him.  Even in the movie's last scenes, when the boy goes to college, he falls in with his roommate and the roommates' friends;  it is clear that the he has found his people, but, again, he just follows along with what the others do.
     This is not so strange in real life.  Many children are quiet and more observant than active.  Unfortunately, this is not the stuff of drama.

     -- The title character's passivity requires the other cast members to dance around frantically,  creating situations that wash over the boy.  The mother moves her children from place to place many times, trains for and takes up a teaching job and marries two unsuitable husbands.  The boy's father, a Peter Pan figure, drops in and out their lives, acting like the prankish, fun parent who isn't particularly reliable.

     -- The boy's sister (played with much more interest by the director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater) acts out, pouts, whines and is more involved in moving the plot than the title character.  Why couldn't Linklater have trained the camera on her and called the film "Girlhood?"  Why is she the child in the background?

     -- The boy's father's trajectory strikes me as plain unbelievable.  At the start of the movie, he is a hip, irresponsible divorced father with a classic muscle car.  Over the course of the movie, he goes back to school, becomes an actuary (Ethan Hawke an actuary? really?), marries a woman from a strait-laced religious background, has another child and buys a minivan.  It's true that even adults grow up and change, but this transformation is so extreme that it strains credulity.

I really, really wanted to like Boyhood.  I was drawn to the idea of seeing a child grow into his adult body and develop his adult persona.  With this film, we got the first but not the second.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Charles Dickens Lives

Charles Dickens was the most popular author of England's Victorian period, possibly England's most popular author ever.

His first book, The Pickwick Papers, a comedy, was released in 1836 he was 24 years old.  It came out in magazine installments, like most of his works, and established his reputation for life.  He died at 70, leaving his final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.

All Dickens' books are still available in print, which is remarkable in itself.  But what I find most interesting is how often dramatizations of his stories crop up on television and film (and in theatrical productions if you count his story, "A Christmas Carol.")

One way to measure this is to look at the many BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) mountings of Dickens novels over the years.  Below is a listing I assembled in a quick canvass of Dickens titles and the years when versions were aired by the BBC.

A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens' take on the French Revolution began with the line "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and ended with Sydney Carton saying, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. . . ."  This may be history's most popular novel, and the BBC released versions in 1957, 1965 and 1980, and also a joint British-French staging in 1984.

Great Expectations, the story of Pip, Abel Magwitch, Estella and Miss Havisham, was released at least three times --

First in 1981

Then in 1999

And, most recently, in 2012
 The Old Curiosity Shop, 1979 and 1995.

Nicholas Nickleby, 1968, 1977, 2010 and 2012.

Dombey and Son, 1969, 1983.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 2012

Martin Chuzzlewit, 1999.

David Copperfield, 1974, 1986, 1999.

The Pickwick Papers, 1985.

Oliver Twist, 1962, 1985, 1999, 2007.

Our Mutual Friend, 1998.

Hard Times, 1994.

Barnaby Rudge, 1960.

Granted, Dickens wrote many books.  But so have other authors, and I cannot think of one whose works have been been staged with such regularity.

I believe there are several reasons for this.

First, Dickens was deeply committed to exposing the class divisions in England --  the debtors' prisons, the easy lives of the rich and landed gentry and the obstacles poor people faced just to survive.  These themes have resonated, worldwide, ever since.

Second, Dickens' characters -- from Fagin to Mrs. Jellyby to Ebenezer Scrooge to Madame Defarge are vividly drawn. Actors loves such roles, and memorable characters make for appealing drama.

Third, most of the Dickens literary output was published in magazine installments.  In his day, there was not much to do after dark except to read by candlelight, and so his audience enjoyed long, descriptive passages that in modern presentations can be collapsed into shorter dramatic bits and presented in multi-part series.

Fourth, Dickens wrote in English, and English versions of his stories appeal to the ever-broadening population of native English speakers.  I imagine that BBC productions of his stories are popular in Canada, Australia and other countries where most people speak English.  As for other languages, I can only speak of my American experience -- I  cannot think of any dubbed or subtitled television series that has been popular in the United States.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Campus Rape -- Some Last Observations

Several days ago I posted a story accepting as accurate a Rolling Stone report on a gang rape of a UVA coed by a number of fraternity members in 2012.  I regret my gullibility.

Journalists have a way of falling in love with the narratives in their heads and affiliating themselves with other journalists whose point of view mirrors their own.  This appears to have happened at Rolling Stone.  Fraternity men were assumed to be bad and assumed to be guilty after a woman asserted she was raped multiple times in a dark upstairs room while lying on the shards of a broken glass table.  It fit the narrative.

The reporter of the article talked to the woman and other women who believed her.  At the request of the woman, the reporter did not contact the main rapist or, indeed, any of those implicated.  The reporter did not match details the woman gave of the lead rapist's identity to learn whether those details fit any of the members of the fraternity house.  She did not ascertain whether there was, as claimed, a raucous party of new pledges at the house on the night in question.

This is crap journalism, and the worst thing about it is that none of the magazine editors who worked on the article demanded a more rigorous investigation of the woman's complaints.  When the magazine's lawyers concluded that none of the alleged rapists could be identified and therefore have standing to pursue a libel suit (by now, this too is open to question), the last barrier to publication fell and the magazine ran a story that disgraced it.

Campus Rape

In 2007, the Justice Department released the results of a study of coeds at two large, unnamed public universities that concluded 20 percent of campus women were sexually assaulted or raped during their baccalaureate years.

People who challenged the methodology were dismissed as being in denial.  When critics would say, "I know there are not that many rapes at X college," the answer was -- that's because women are afraid to report assaults and X college needs to reach out to coeds so that the full one in five who are assaulted can be encouraged to speak up.

If this report's conclusion rang true with parents, I think we'd have seen many, many more young women opting to attend commuter colleges and live at their family homes.  That hasn't happened.

Nobody knows how often rapes occur on campuses.  Women students complain that when they report sex assaults they are shushed up by college officials concerned about scandal.  Men complain that, when charged, they are not give due process rights by college officials.  I can see how either of these complaints could be true, depending on the campus.

And not everybody tells the truth.  Three years ago, a woman student at a mid-sized private college came forward to say that she had been tied up and raped by a number of men students in a men's bathroom.  She got a lot of sympathy until, of course, a cellphone video of the incident emerged that showed she was a willing participant in an event that did not show her or the men students in a particularly good light.

Men lie too, of course.

What Colleges Should Do

I can think of several things colleges could do to prevent, or at least cut down on the incidence of campus rapes.

     -- Alcohol could be removed from campus events.  (Just joking; we can't have that.) Alternatively, consumption could be limited to two drinks per student per party with hand stamps of indelible ink to keep track.

     -- Campus events could be chaperoned by responsible adults, comparable to the eagle-eyed parent and faculty chaperones at high school dances.

     -- Affirmative consent could be established by setting up notary public stations at several campus locations each night, perhaps with Breathalyzer tests available on site.  Students planning to have sex could affirm this in writing beforehand, thus protecting themselves at least somewhat from a partner's regret the next morning.

These will never happen, of course.  Such actions would imply that college students are immature and irresponsible in their behavior.  In fact, many students lack self-control, but no one wants to say so.

What most likely will happen is that each college will establish yet another campus bureaucracy, staffed by "rape activist" women and perhaps a few token men, who will over time develop their own narratives, just as Rolling Stone did, and get way more involved in students' personal lives than anyone should want to be.  I hope I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am.

The End

Sexual activity is adult activity, and people having sex need to behave themselves as honest and careful adults, even if they are adolescents in college.

Sex assaults are violent crimes; they should be handled by police departments, which (unlike college bureaucracies) have experience with these matters and presumably no axes to grind.  The consequences for rapists or false accusers should not be limited to suspension or expulsion from a college.  The consequences should include prison.

I'm tired of writing about this awful, distressing subject.  I hope I don't feel the need to do so again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting into the Season

I joined friends yesterday for a tour of homes decorated for the holidays.  One house was particularly impressive.  Some photos are below.

Here is the front door, beautifully done up with various plants and fruits.

The dining room mantel, below, was a tour de force for some talented floral arranger.  Look at the various flowers and greens, the overall design, sustained across a width of almost five feet.

The tree below, one of several, sat on a stairway landing.

Even the kitchen table got its own arrangement, plus a garland swag (one of several) across the window looking out on the back yard.

A sideboard had candles, a small dried arrangement on the upper shelf and an orchid in PERFECT bloom that with some special treatment is guaranteed to last the season.  Just wow.

The living rom fireplace mantel got its own treatment in traditional greens with white flowers (amaryllis?) to add vertical interest.

I know what you all are thinking (or at least those who do not know me well): Could this be the Idiosyncratist's home?  

Alas, no.  It is to laugh.  More talented people than I, many of them, assembled these impressive displays.  Much as I enjoy beholding such lovely projects, my holiday decor is more simple, my ambitions more humble.

Maybe next year.

Friday, December 5, 2014

This Year's Color

A couple days ago, Pantone Corp., the international arbiter of color fashions announced the 2015 Color of the Year.  It is Marsala, and a sample swatch is pictured below.

The announcement of the new color was covered in the fashion rags, advertising publications, even USA Today.

According to Pantone's executive director, "This earthy red has wine and a very warm brown underneath.  It has a richness that lends sophistication.  When you wear it, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy -- you'll find you get positive reaction from others and it builds up your confidence."

I have been looking around the internet at various Marsala samples, and the above tone may not be fully true to the concept, especially given that computer renderings of colors can vary.  The range seems to run from magenta-y to middling or even dark brown.

Reactions have been mixed.  Some fashionistas find the shade quite wearable and appropriate even for summer clothes while others disapprove and go so far as to liken Marsala to the color of poop.

You will be seeing Marsala in clothes, makeup, dishware, curtains and wall paint.  Personally, I like the color.  There may be a Marsala sweater in my future.


This company is an interesting one.  It is located in Carlstadt, NJ, which is not a fashion center but is not far from Manhattan, which many people do regard as a fashion center.  I spend part of the year in New Jersey and go into New York fairly often, and as near as I can tell, most people in both places look pretty shlubby.

But Pantone has tentacles out connecting with stylish people in major cities around the world.  I actually met one of these people, a well-dressed young European man who lived in San Francisco and was on retainer to send regular reports to organizations like Pantone.

For many years, Pantone has been issuing dispatches on trending colors and, starting around 2000, has announced an annual Color of the Year.  My favoring of Marsala may be a reflection of my disappointment with the previous two years' fave colors.

2014 -- Radiant Orchid

Here is the current year's top color, which makes me happy that we only have a few more weeks left to endure it.

This is a difficult color to make work.  I cannot see it on walls or upholstery.  It inspired a number of unflattering lipsticks and nail polishes -- no wonder all the girls started getting black manicures last spring.  I do not think most men could incorporate it into their wardrobes, although younger fellows might be willing to try it out in a necktie, a pair of socks or, if they are especially bold, a shirt.

Mostly, to me, it looks like the ideal color for a mother-of-the-groom dress, particularly if the groom's fiancee is not fond of his family.  It also might make a nice Easter bonnet.

Pantone described it as "an enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones.  Radiant Orchid inspires confidence and emanates great joy, love and health.  It is a captivating purple, one that draws you in with its beguiling charm."

2013 -- Emerald

The Pantone description was this:  "Lively.  Radiant.  Lush . . . A color of elegance and beauty that enhances our sense of well-being, balance and harmony."

This isn't a bad color.  It would make a beautiful satin evening gown or a V-neck sweater for a fashion-forward man.  Maybe a nice bowl or vase.  There are limits, however.

I confess that I actually bought a pair of Emerald colored pants.  I wore them exactly once and then gave them away.  No doubt I was more influenced by the public hype than my own convictions about the colors that are appropriate for me.

There's one born every day.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Eric Garner and the NYPD

I was surprised to learn this morning that a Staten Island grand jury declined to charge a policeman in the death of Eric Garner.   Garner was pulled to the ground by the neck and held down, choking, as he protested that he could not breathe.   Surrounded by officers, he passed out, and no one attempted to resuscitate him.  An ambulance took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Now the Justice Department is talking about pursuing a civil rights case of race-based policing, but I'm not sure that could prevail.  I would make two points.

      1) The NYPD is perfectly capable of putting a chokehold on a white or Hispanic man who
     gets angry and talks back to police officers. Probably not a woman, though.

      2) The bias here might be with the grand jury.   Many New York City cops live on Staten
     Island, where there may be a predisposition in favor of the police.

It seems pretty clear that the police overreacted.  Nobody should be wrestled to the ground -- let alone die -- for selling looseys (cigarettes by ones or twos), the offense Garner was said to have committed when the police took him down.

The police officer who administered the choke hold told the grand jury that he did not intend to kill Garner.  I'm sure that is true, but there is a charge called involuntary manslaughter that would seem to be appropriate in this case.

Think about it:  If a 20-year-old guy in a hoodie pulled someone to the ground, choked him as he protested and watched with his friends as the person expired, would there be no charges?  What's different if the police administer the same treatment to an unarmed civilian?


My family and I, law-abiding all, haven't had many dealings with the police, but in general the experiences have been neither helpful nor satisfying.  I will not go into detail, but the stories are bad, some very bad.

 As a result, I don't particularly like the police.  And if I see things this way, I can only imagine the rage young minority men must harbor toward cops.

It seems sometimes that we have a police force that is devoted first to protecting each other and second to the welfare of all the rest of us.

I like the idea of outfitting police officers with cameras to keep track of their interactions with the public.  I imagine many good officers would welcome such cameras.

I also think we should suggest to police that they treat people with simple respect.  If an officer believes it is necessary to stop a young man for questioning, why couldn't he approach politely, explain his concerns and, if finding no cause for further action, apologize to the young man for taking his time and wish him well?  Would this be so difficult?

It's really true:  You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Why do I have to explain these things?