Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jaywalking in Los Angeles*

CHILD ADVISORY: Some of the following content may not be suitable for adults!

On October, 3, 2001, controversial cartoonist/essayist/author Ted Rall was in Los Angeles when he was wrongly cited for jaywalking.  This is Crusader's official transcript of what really went down:

OFFICER WILLIE DURR: Hands where I can see them, up against the wall and spread 'em!

(Officer pushes Rall against wall)

TED RALL: Huh?  I'm just on the way back from taping Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.  Why am I being stopped?

DURR: Who is Bill Maher?

RALL: If you don't know who Bill Maher is, I'm really fucked.

DURR: Hey, watch your language, there are two-dozen bystanders watching us; besides, only the cops can cuss, not the civilians.

RALL: Why are you handcuffing me?

DURR: What handcuffs?  I don't see any handcuffs.  I've never ever ever ever handcuffed anyone in my entire career as a cop!

RALL: Yeah, right.

(Officer Durr is whistling Dixie)

FEMALE BYSTANDER 1 (to Durr): Take off his handcuffs, take off his handcuffs, he didn't do anything wrong! 

FEMALE BYSTANDER 2 (to Durr): Don't you have real crimes to fight? You must have a real small willie!

DURR (to Rall): The light was red and you just did whatever you wanted and walked in the crosswalk. That's why I am writing you a ticket.

RALL: But I wasn't jaywalking, officer.

DURR: We'll see what my microcassette tape has to say about that 14 years from now. 

RALL: Are you serious?  Don't you need a warrant to record this?

DURR: Don't start spouting about your constitutional rights, cuz I don't give a shit; remember, I am a proud officer of the LAPD!

(Backup officer arrives)

OFFICER 2 (to bystanders): Nothing to see here, move along folks, nothing to see.

DURR (to Rall): Here's your driver license back, sir. 

(License being thrown in the gutter by Officer Durr)

(Durr whistling Dixie again)

FEMALE BYSTANDER 1: Did you hear that?  What made that sound?

FEMALE BYSTANDER 2: Sounded like a driver license hitting the gutter, wouldn't you say?

FEMALE BYSTANDER 1: Yes, it definitely sounded like a driver license hitting the gutter.  That cop is so rude!

RALL (to Durr): By the way, I'm new in town, do you know a good place to eat?

DURR: Do I look like 411?  Eat ME!

* PARODY - NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY *

The contents of the above parody are strictly a creation from Crusader's mind.  Crusader, who may not be of sound mind, is still solely responsible for the content of this parody.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot, I'm Only Jaywalking!"

Although his bio on the Los Angeles Times website reads like a tombstone epithet ("Freelance editorial cartoonist Ted Rall no longer contributes to the Los Angeles Times"), there is plenty of life left in progressive cartoonist/essayist Ted Rall. 

TheModerateVoicecom
The 50-something-year-old Ted Rall hails from Massachusetts, is a cartoonist, essayist,  and author of several books.

His latest book, a graphic novel entitled "Snowden,"  hits Snowden (2)the shelves later this month and is available in both Kindle and paperback formats for a nominal price on Amazon.com.

He's got awards and award nominations and...well, forget all that crap; I love this cartoonist's chutzpah (but my mom warns me not to even think about marrying him unless he's Jewish).  

I literally haven't been this passionate about writing since my blog post about Justin Bieber in May 2012! 

Important emphasis here: Ted Rall is NOT, repeat NOT a "regular journalist" who writes unbiased articles about breaking news.  He's an opinionator, and that should factor into this entire ordeal.

I am no expert on media ethics, but my understanding is the "standards" for journalists versus columnists/political cartoonists are NOT the same.  I would venture a guess that opinionators are not held to many standards, except maybe decent grammar.

jaywalking iconHere's where the most recent part of the saga begins.
On May 11, 2015, Rall wrote an opinion piece for the Times in which he criticized the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for their campaign to crack down on pedestrian traffic violations such as jaywalking.

In the blog, Rall recounted a 14-year-old confrontation he had with LA's finest regarding a jaywalking ticket.  The LAPD and LA Times didn't like what he had to say.  Someone (presumably from the police union) turned over a so-called tape recording of the incident to the Times to discredit Rall's blog account.  With little if any real investigation, Rall was fired by the Times. Rall has published a detailed chronology of events on his blog.

My contention is that Rall (whom I don't always agree with) was not only wrongly fired by the Los Angeles Times, but publicly humiliated by Editor of the Editorial Pages Nicholas "Nick the Great" Goldberg.  People like me who wrote letters were pushed to the side.  "We simply can't be bothered by our subscribers/readers" I am sure is what they said privately.

In his note to readers published in the physical paper and on the Times website, Goldberg basically wrote "liar, liar pants on fire" and blabbed about the integrity of the newspaper being at stake because of Rall and warned all Times employees and contractors: 

"This is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant about what we publish."  Translated, that means if you cross the Great and Powerful Oz of Smoggy City (Goldberg), you are toast at the Times!

Cassette TapeThe first audiotape (widely available on the Internet) that I listened to is the equivalent of TV in the old days late at night: fuzzing and buzzing!  Most of it is inaudible and doesn't tell us jack!  But that was enough evidence for Goldberg to spout that the tape "proves" Rall lied in his blog.  I say fiddlesticks!

Since the firing, the good folks at aNewDomain.net put together funds to hire audio experts and that produced an audible tape that is very different from the "fuzz and buzz" the Times was supplied with.  Even so, the Times won't budge on its position, won't apologize to Rall and likely won't unfire him.
 
OreillyIronically, many right-wing pundits (Bill O'Reilly, et al.) constantly lambaste the LA Times for being "left- wing loons," but Fox jumped all over the firing with glee when they wrote about Rall (go figure).  The LA Police union also jumped with joy when they heard the news.

I personally encouraged Brian Stelter, of CNN's Reliable Sources (formerly with The New York Times), twice, to book Rall on his program, but as of this writing, that has not happened.  Stelter did reply to me via Twitter, however: "thanks for the recommendation!"

The focus of Reliable Sources is supposed to be on the media, but Rall must be persona non grata not just at the Times.  I'm very disappointed that Stelter, who I have admired over the years, doesn't see the importance of this story.

I asked Rall why the mainstream media, for the most part, is not covering his ordeal. 

"If you're a reporter, or an editor, do you really want to go against a newspaper chain that owns 20 newspapers, knowing that you'll never get to work at one of them?" wrote Ted Rall in an email Q/A with Crusader's Corner.

Luckily, there are plenty of independent journalists, bloggers, and even The Guardian who have written about Rall.  And the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) eventually chimed in and called for "an independent investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s tape of former AAEC president and member Ted Rall's jaywalking stop in 2001."  Full disclosure: Rall is a past president of the organization.

The cartoon association further stated, on its website, "the Los Angeles Times should have demanded a higher standard of proof in this matter, and it is clear that Mr. Rall is owed a full and complete analysis of the 14 year old tape used to make a judgment about his actions."

However, the "Comics Community," in general, has not joined Rall in solidarity, writes cartoonist Mack White on his Facebook page, republished by Rall on his blog on August 21, entitled "Je Suis Ted"

LAT coffee cupWhen asked why none of the diehard journalists at the Times have spoken out publicly to support him, Rall said "Either they don't believe me or they understand that it would be the end of their careers."

For weeks after the firing the Times was silent regarding the matter (to Rall and readers like me). After I submitted a letter to the editor of the Times on the very day that "Nick the Great" told their readers Rall was axed, the Times replied to me via email on July 30:

"Dear Mr. Crusader:
"Thanks so much for writing to The Times.
"We are sharing your comments with our editors; we’ve heard from a number of readers, some pleased and others not.
"We are glad that you have appreciated this and other elements of The Times’ print and online coverage, and we are sorry you are disappointed with the decision.
"As Editor of the Editorial Pages Nicholas Goldberg explained, '… the recording and other evidence provided by the LAPD raise serious questions about the accuracy of Rall's blog post. Based on this, the piece should not have been published.'
"We hope you will continue to read the LA Times.
"Sincerely,
"Los Angeles Times
"Readers' representative"

LawOn August 11, the Times finally broke its silence when one of their attorneys wrote Rall a very short and not-so-sweet letter which might as well have read "The Times is right; you are wrong; we stand by the firing.  Fuck off!"

Then, just recently, the Times wrote a dumb diatribe (online only, no print) about the entire controversy, again stating Rall is wrong, the Times and LAPD are right, bugger off.

twitterI was so sickened by the diatribe, mid-way through reading it I said (to no one in particular), "That is the straw that breaks the camel's back."  I immediately unfollowed 65 LATimers on Twitter, some of whom have covered my activism during the past several decades.

I also deleted all Feedly newsfeeds from the newspaper and will get my California news elsewhere, thank you very much.

I find it fitting to use Nick the Great's words against him, because if the Times can't be a trusted news source because of how they handled this matter, I can't rely on them any longer for my news/commentary (nor should others).  And, if the so-called "investigative journalism" they failed at miserably regarding Rall is how they investigate other stories, we are all in deep doo-doo!

bad appleJust like at the LAPD, a few bad apples have tarnished the Times in my mind and I am proud to stand in solidarity with Ted Rall by no longer reading columns by the likes of Patt Morrison and David Lazarus or excellent articles/newsletter from Shelby Grad.

Crusader's Corner asked Rall if there were any surprises in the recent online Times accounting of the ordeal. 

"Perhaps the biggest one is that they are doubling down on the idea of the LAPD as opposed to the police union as the principal source of the tape," he said. 

"That and the fact that they don't seem to think it's necessary to tell the readers how the tape got from the LAPD or the union over to the LA Times."

He further stated, "Also, it's pretty weird that they had the tape analyzed but not enhanced.  Maybe they did, and they didn't like what they heard because it supports my story?" 

The Times handling of this matter has been so shoddy that journalist Gina Smith recently wrote an intriguing piece for aNewDomain.net "Times Trampled Own Ethics Policy.  Why?"
One of the saddest things to me about this entire mess is that very few in the journalism industry are joining Rall in solidarity. 

Independents probably have nothing or little to lose for taking a stand, but it would be nice for some of the heavy hitters to at least have Rall on their programs so that he can better defend his position against the Times.

Asked whether his firing sets a bad precedent for others who work or contribute to the Times, Rall said:

"It doesn't just set a bad precedent for people who work at the LA Times; police control over editorial policy sends a bad message to every journalist in the United States. I myself have never heard of such a thing before. Certainly, the police have often threatened journalists. But usually, their editors support them and tell the police to go away."

Apparently, LAPD is not the only Southern California law enforcement agency that is trying to pressure publications to stop publishing Rall's cartoons and/or commentary.
In an August 20, 2015, Pasadena Weekly article, Kevin Uhrich writes: "In his latest controversy, Rall suspects police officials told the Times to fire him, which would not be surprising. That same request was made of me many times by Pasadena police and other city officials."

Asked whether any attorneys indicated to him that litigation would be justified against the Times and LAPD on his behalf, Rall said "Yes."

donutI hope that in any litigation Rall may pursue against the Times and LAPD, that the legal complaint states under the Prayer for Relief: "No donuts for the LA Times or LAPD for one year."

In all seriousness, though, Rall doesn't mince words about law enforcement, which is perhaps one of his greatest attributes. 
"Not only do they [cops] want to shoot people and abuse them in the streets, they don't want anyone to know about it.  Do they really think the fact that they are a bunch of abusive thugs is a secret?"

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

LA Times should reinstate Ted Rall cartoonist Petition | GoPetition

Ted Rall Rallblog Page: http://rall.com/

aNewDomain: anewdomain.net

Follow Rall on Twitter: twitter.com/TedRall

Ted Rall Wikipedia entry:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Rall

GoComics: gocomics.com/tedrall

Friday, May 18, 2012

Justin Bieber: Not Just Another Pretty Face!

Bieber PixlrLove him or dislike him, there's much to be said about a kid who sells out Madison Square Garden in 22 minutes before he's even reached the age of majority (18)!

There's also something to be said about a young adult Christian who before age 18 started reciting the Shema (the holiest prayer in Judaism) prior to his performances.  He recites it in Hebrew, and although some may think he's just doing it out of respect for his Jewish staff (including manager/discoverer Scott "Scooter" Braun and music director/guitarist Dan Kanter), Justin Bieber seems sincere about the whole thing.

More info on this later in the article, but I just learned that a national gay newsmagazine in 2011 reported that Justin might be an "emerging ally" for the LGBT community. 

As I write this, the Biebs is in the Number 2 spot on Twitter (according to Twitter Counter), and is just a few thousand followers shy of the Number 1 position, currently held by Lady Gaga.  He has also logged over 15,500 tweets, so he might need a carpal tunnel surgeon before he turns 19 next March.

Even Forbes magazine has taken interest in Bieber and they are featuring him in their June 2012 edition. The photos and a four-minute video of the partial interview are available on Ryan Seacrest’s website.

I also recently learned that he's a huge belieber in the "pay it forward" concept of asking that a good deed be repaid by having it done for others instead.  I never heard about the concept until recently when I stumbled on the 2000 film "Pay It Forward," starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and a very young Haley Joel Osment.  If you haven't seen it, don't miss it!


Not a Brat; Truly Sincere!
I recently posted on Twitter that Justin is a cross between Michael Jackson, Tim Tebow, and Claude M. Bristol (author of "The Magic of Believing," 1948).  He has the talent of Jackson, the faith of Tebow, and the positive thinking concepts of Bristol (whom the late Liberace happened to admire).

Justin thus far doesn't appear to be some type of snot-nosed rich kid.  My months of "research" (all for educational purposes, mind you) has convinced me beyond all reasonable doubt that he's the real deal when it comes to being positive, giving to others, reaching for the stars, and achieving what some of us only dream of.

His sincerity is evident in the "My Worlds Acoustic" (2010) digital booklet, where he thanks his fans.  It reads, in part: "So this album is taking it back to how we started together on YouTube - me and my guitar just singing.  You took a boy from a small town and made dreams he didn’t even know existed real.  So thank you, thank you, thank you.  This one is for you.  And we are just getting started!  Love you - Justin."


"Belieber!" Book is a Great Bieberpedia!
Belieber Book
Before I go any further, it is important to note that this blog article started out as a lengthy e-mail "letter" I spent weeks drafting to Cathleen Falsani, the author of several non-fiction books that deal with religious, spiritual, and cultural issues.

Her tour de force is "Belieber!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber" (2011).  I get no money for this plug, but her book is available from Amazon in paperback, audio CD, Kindle, and Audible formats.  The book is like an encyclopedia for everything Bieber and one will also learn about other musicians and some interesting insight about the author.

It is very important to note that "Belieber!" is not one of those trashy tabloid-type books that are often written about celebrities.  This is a well-written and thoughtful book that should interest every JB fan, no matter their age, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and so on.

My draft correspondence to Falsani was was a very comprehensive account about my evolution in coming to appreciate Justin Bieber (hereinafter "JB"). I concluded it would be more beneficial to share my thoughts and feelings in this article to reach a wider audience (all five of you).  So, with all due respect to Falsani, I scrapped the correspondence to her altogether and instead incorporate much of it herein.

My Journey to Bieberland
justinbieber-with-love-hearts
At 51, I really have little interest in young boys or girls that sing "bubble gum" music so I never really gave much thought when I kept seeing the name "Justin Bieber" in the news.  I rarely watch live television, and he wasn't on any of the political-oriented podcasts I watch/listen to regularly, so I wasn't even sure what he looked like until recently.  I recall laughing out loud after seeing some headlines about his "old and new hairstyle," but now I understand what that is all about.

When he turned 18 on March 1, 2012, that was of interest to me since my birthday is also in March.  I then learned his favourite colour is the same as mine (purple), so that also piqued my interest. 

logo-twitterI then heard a story on an ABC News podcast about him posting a partial phone number (presumably his) on Twitter with the last digit missing, and young girls were dialing the phone number by filling in the missing digit, thinking they would eventually reach JB himself.  At least one elderly lady in Texas was not amused when she received calls from lots of girls asking for Justin.  I thought that was a scream! (JB is quite the prankster, and if you don't believe me, check out the Punk'd episode he hosted on MTV.)

It was probably shortly after BieberPhoneNumbergate that I made a conscious decision to find out what all the fuss is about this kid, so the first thing I did was check out all of his professional music videos that were available at no charge on Vevo via my former Xoom tablet. 

I'm more drawn to rebels such as Eminem and Rise Against, but after watching a few JB videos, I decided that even though it's not my preferred type of music, he definitely is talented and I now appreciate why he is a huge sensation and young girls can't stop screaming when he is in their presence.  In fact, even as an agnostic, I am very drawn to the song (and video) "Pray," which further demonstrates his commitment to changing the world.

What may have impressed me the most from watching the Vevo videos was the range of talent he has teamed up with in his musical numbers, which introduced me to musicians and singers I never even heard of (or rarely listened to in the past).  For example, I learned that actor Will Smith's son Jaden is a very talented young artist.

As a former longtime clarinet player in public school and short-time choir member in my synagogue, I could also appreciate JB's extensive musical history dating back to age 2, the range of his voice, and some of his dance steps remind me of the late and great Michael Jackson (who I later learned JB very much looks up to).

watch-justin-bieber-never-say-never-online_136060892I have viewed the Bieber-sanctioned documentary "Never Say Never" (both versions) and was just mesmerized from beginning to end.  The director's cut does include about 10 minutes of clips not shown in the regular version.  There's also a very cool thing only available in the director's cut involving creative captions of the lyrics while JB performs one of his songs.

My first impressions were, "This is not just another pretty face; this kid is amazing talentwise, personalitywise, you name it."  It was then that I also came to the conclusion that this isn't a talent who is here today, gone tomorrow; he's definitely here for the long haul.

I watched two biebermentaries on iTunes which were informative and then I managed to find a bunch of radio interview podcasts via iTunes (including two with Ryan Seacrest) and those were interesting.  The one with Seacrest is also available in video format on YouTube, as are numerous other interesting radio interviews he has done around the globe throughout the years.
   
It-Gets-Better-ProjectAfter watching the three documentaries, I continued my bieberquest on YouTube where I viewed his "It Gets Better Project" public service announcement and was really really thrilled  to see that.  Evidently, he was bullied as a kid, and to have someone of his caliber involved with that important anti-bullying project is very important.

Justin-Bieber-BookAfter viewing his anti-bullying PSA, YouTube had recommended clips to me of interviews he did with Ellen DeGeneres on her TV program, so I watched those and that was when I believe (oops, I meant belieb) I first learned he wrote a book, since he autographed one for her during the program.
 
"Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story," by Justin Bieber, isn't available at Audible.com (my preferred format), so the next best thing was purchasing a copy from iTunes and using the text-to-speech feature which works okay since it isn't a lengthy book.

I was shocked Audible didn't have the book available and told them as much.  They were kind enough to respond, in part:
"Based on our research [the book] is currently unavailable in a digital audio download. However, I have forwarded your request to our Content Team. While we can’t guarantee a positive result, we are always working hard to expand our catalogue, so your suggestion is very valuable."

More on "Belieber!" Book
It was Audible that lead me to Cathleen Falsani's   book.  When I was looking for JB's book, I simply typed "Bieber" in the search field and her book title appeared in the results.  In fact, it is the only book to appear when using that search term.

When I first saw the words "faith" and "religion" connected to Falsani's book, I thought to myself:  "I don't know.  I want to read it, but as a Jewish gay agnostic, I wonder if I just might not appreciate the author's perspective on JB." (I know that was a close-minded thought, but it was my initial reaction.)
 
In the end, I decided to practice my lifelong mantra of being open-minded (easier said than done), and bought "Belieber!" from Audible and am really glad I did.

I nearly fell out of bed when Falsani starts the book with a quote from the Talmud (her book cites the Talmud at least one other time).  In fact, there is stuff about Judaism in her book I never learned (or at least do not recall learning) in my many years in Hebrew school, so that was a nice nugget. 

Her tidbits about things she learned from two rabbis she befriended, and her statement that Christians would benefit from learning more about Judaism is very cool.

Most important, her "Belieber!" book is clearly written from her heart and soul.  She definitely succeeds in offering a very unique and thorough perspective about the new King of Pop.

While it would have been interesting for Team Bieber to have participated in Falsani's book (they declined her offers), in the end I think it actually may have worked out better without them because it's easy to get influenced one way or the other by personal interaction with celebrities.  Without their direct input, she simply wrote what she observed, researched, and what her heart told her to write.  That is enough authenticity for me!

Falsani is to be commended for being inclusive of many faiths (and various social issues) in her book, which isn't always an easy thing to do.  After listening to the book, I have found that there is no doubt that JB has values that are lacking in many celebrities today, many twice his age or even older. 

I have to admit that when I hear people pray or talk about faith, I often jump to the conclusion they are going to be preachy hateful types (since I was surrounded with that growing up in Orange County in the 1970s).  As a result, it is often very challenging for me to not jump to that conclusion.  Falsani happens to reside in Laguna Beach, California, which is one of my old "stomping grounds."

Bieber an Ally to Lesbitrangay Community?
3527688-rainbow-flag
It's no secret that JB is a belieber in faith and Christianity, but he doesn't shove it in people's faces.  Also, he clearly isn't one of those redneck, right-wing, anti-gay fundamentalist types, or he'd never appear on Ellen, nor would he have participated in the "It Gets Better Project."  He seems to be rather open-minded; probably always has been. 

According to a 2011 report in the national LGBT news magazine, The Advocate, JB has been publicly supportive on LGBT issues.  It's a very interesting article that I just discovered while doing research for this article.

Charity Begins With Bieber
Near the end of "Belieber!," Falsani  lists numerous  organizations (some or all of which JB supports, if I recall correctly).

ProductRedThat list of organizations is very impressive and includes ProductRED, which is fighting AIDS globally.  I first learned about them on Twitter years ago, and as a result purchased a custom-made pair of Converse ProductRED tennis shoes (purple, of course, with my name embroidered on the sides).  It was so cool that I could design my own shoes and help fight AIDS at the same time.

charity-make-a-wish-foundation-justin-bieberJB, who is active with Make-A-Wish Foundation, has visited underprivileged, ill, and dying children during his travels throughout  the globe.

Help-support-Pencils-of-Promise-throughour-Schools-4-All-campaign-justin-bieber-21103178-411-368He's also active with Pencils of Promise (PoP), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.  The organization was founded by Adam Braun, the brother of Scooter Braun (the man who discovered JB and helped put him on the map).

Many clips available on YouTube with JB on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show further demonstrate his commitment to giving back to the world, which he can do in a huge way because of his name recognition and financial success.  Just the same, the little people (like me) might be inspired by him to do our part (financially, or by volunteering, or just spreading the word).

My Make-A-Wish!
jbBatMobile2
After listening to Falsani's book, I learned that JB has a custom-made Cadillac with "Batmobile" emblazoned on the trunk and the Batman bat insignia on the front grill (and the trunk).  A very cool ride, to be sure.  So cool, I challenged JB on Spacebook that if we would give me a ride in the Batmobile, I would be happy to loan him my purple tennis shoes (since I know he's a huge collector of sneakers)!  Short of being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, though, this will be something I will just have to keep dreaming about.  Or maybe I will just need to belieb more?

Official (and Unofficial) JB Websites
Justin Bieber Believe Charity Drive

Justin Bieber Music

The Official Justin Bieber Fan Club (Bieberfever)

Lesbian Who Look Like Justin Bieber