Sunday, January 22, 2017

Election Sin-opsis

After of one of the most controversial elections in United States history, the world watched as the Electoral College gathered to respect the wishes of our forefathers. Voters were ready to close the door on the longest most unpopular campaign ever, despite a contingent of ‘recount reformers’ dragging on the inevitable. Then Bill Clinton added fuel to the fire. After casting his electoral vote, the former president blamed “angry white men” for his wife's defeat. Bill's analysis grabbed headlines while happily elevating Trump supporters from knuckle-draggers and bigots. But in a country as polarized as modern America, can over 60 million voters be slandered so broadly?

When skimming the numbers, one can find many explanations for Trump's victory, including a coalition of “deplorables,” but far more variables influenced the Republican win. To better understand the outcome of the 2016 election, here are some possibilities that cannot be overlooked.

A Landslide?

President Trump is fond of saying he won by Electoral College landslide. looking deeper into the data suggests otherwise. The red swath Across America undoubtedly indicates why Trump won, but the margin of victory is not so large. Without getting too mired in the numbers, Trump's victory was only 36 electoral votes- or two extremely close state races- above the 270 needed to win.

Voting trends in America have been consistent for decades, especially in entrenched states such as California, Texas and New York. One defining characteristic for 2016 was how close many states have become. Eleven states were decided by less than a 5% margin  for this historic upset. Three states (Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin) were decided with less than a 1% differential. Combined, those three states offered 30 electoral college votes. Even Florida's mighty electoral block (29 electoral votes alone!) was only decided by 1.3% of the voting public.

Again, over 50% of the required electoral threshold was decided by roughly 20% of the country (11 states) with less than a 5% margin.

The Russians Are Coming…

There was plenty of nonsense spewed by the two front runners in 2016. Combined, they were the most unlikeable candidates in history. If you believed in their sincerity, then bless your heart.

Of course the Russians hacked Democratic committee emails. We did not need a botched investigation to know this. Of course they hoped to tilt the election outcome, and of course exposing the lies of the campaign may have moved the needle enough for Trump’s victory. Remember, with many pivotal states having less than 1% difference, any small variable can pay big dividends. Now that Trump stopped living in denial about the hacking, he should thank wikileaks then do the right thing and pardon Edward Snowden.

Sounding Presidential

The only antidote to the never-ending dull coverage was Trump’s goofy one-liners. Some feel Trump's statements underscore his biases and use a handful of quotes against him. Others saw his speech akin to that every-man we all know, and found his bombastic manner appealing. Trump's improvisations continue to feed his critics to this day, but those media critics are not supporters of team red. However, how many undecided, angry, and not-so-angry white men were swayed? The greatest democracy on Earth thankfully does not require voters to be merry, just supportive.

Personality Goes A Long Way

Some researchers strongly suggest all the political squabbling is pointless because charisma wins elections and nothing else. Political wonks dispute this theory and believe issues garner votes.

Looking through history, it's hard to pinpoint which theory is correct. The world's largest personality contest could have easily favored Trump’s charisma over Hillary's and nothing else. President Obama has even suggested he might have persuaded more voters than Hillary. Seeing how Obama at 40 years old defeated the seasoned but bland 70 year old John McCain may speak more about Charisma than race. Even George W. Bush, whom many view as the Antichrist to the modern world, dispensed with the charmless opponents of Al Gore and John Kerry to be elected twice.

Looking at prior presidential contests, one can easily see how a candidate’s disposition alone may have influenced voters. here is a recent list.

2016 Trump V. Clinton
2012 Obama V. Mitt Romney
2008 Obama V. McCain
2004 George W. Bush V. John Kerry
2000 George W. Bush V. Al Gore
1996 Bill Clinton V. Bob Dole
1992 Bill Clinton V. George H. Bush


It’s STILL The Economy, Stupid

A robust economy is always the key to a successful campaign. Anyone voting in 2008 will remember Obama’s campaign for change amidst a terrible recession. To be fair, Obama inherited a disastrous economy for many reasons, but after two terms, many Americans did not see their lives improved. Defending banks ‘too-big-to-fail’ and automakers may have been the right move at the time, but in the end, the people needed greater assistance instead of the billion-dollar corporations. Extending unemployment benefits, generous ‘Obama phone’ distributions, and the popular cash for clunkers programs helped Americans in tangible ways that improved Obama’s legacy. But they were not part of Hillary’s agenda. Instead, she promoted tax reform and job creation. In 2016 voters demanded more than the same old sales pitch. Very late in the campaign, Clinton adopted Bernie Sanders’ “free college tuition” platform, but she could not convince the public she either believed in the program or how to adequately fund it.

Don’t Move To Canada, Move To Michigan

Many celebrities have been criticized for not moving to Canada as promised after Trump’s victory. Some believe the celebrity threat was precisely what encouraged people to vote for the Donald in the first place. As a Brooklyn native, this author believes your word is your honor, but here’s a more reasonable proposal...Detroit needs you.

Some say Detroit is the economic heart of America which drives the nation- literally. Others cite rising crime, devastating unemployment, and a failing education system as an acute sign of cardiac arrest. Michigan is also the only state in the nation with a consistent decline in population. She has lost one electoral vote in each of the last four census polls and is bankrupt. Before Trump's victory, Michigan had been a blue state for six presidential elections, and rolled over red by only 3/10 of 1%. A generous celebrity can be the perfect social justice intervention.

The pleasant peninsula desperately needs your tax dollars. Any celebrity migration can boost both morale and spur the economy. Make your future votes count! Don’t give up and leave America. Take a stand like Texans circling the City of Austin.

Canada does not need more Americans sucking off their cleaner, healthier landscape, yet it's only rafting distance away. Please celebrities, if you must compromise your integrity, do it in the name of the American nationalism.

Policy Matters
Beyond the economy, team blue advanced issues that a small amount of pivotal voters did not endorse. Many anti-war Sanders supporters did not endorse a stay-the-course foreign policy agenda. Others were turned off by the email scandal, where others still disapproved of the cover up of the attack in Benghazi, Libya on the anniversary of September 11th.

Many moderate liberals do not endorse the acceptance of undocumentable Middle East refugees within American borders. Others sought to reduce spending and finally address waste and mismanagement in government, something Hillary did not capitalize on.
One evident campaign failure was the intentional lack of the flags present at the Democratic Convention. Few cities are as entrenched in the spirit of American greatness as the city of Philadelphia. That Spirit was a primary reason for choosing the convention location to begin with. After being criticized for a loss of reverence, the Democratic party dug in and maintained the lack of patriotism throughout the event, thereby alienating many within team blue.

The ‘Third Party’ Effect

In a nation historically dismissive of third parties, the outsiders actually affected the outcome in 2016. While being laughed off by the media, the Tea Party, the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates attracted enough disenfranchised voters to swing the election.

Insiders have traditionally characterized third parties as fringe voters, but they have finally earned their place at the table. Two party support is at near historic lows as outsiders have coalesced elsewhere.

The far right views Trump's stance on drug reform and the Middle East too weak, while others find Hillary's take on abortion or gun ownership equally deplorable, so they've found comfort in other political parties. Many believe there's no such thing as a wasted vote in a democracy and view their civic obligation fulfilled on Election Day.

One fact is certain; eight of the eleven states cited earlier had enough third party votes to close the margin. For example, in Pennsylvania, Trump narrowly won twenty electoral votes by 1.2% of the state, yet third party candidates took 3.2% of the vote. Without those defectors, the state may very well have voted in Hillary's favor. Wisconsin's 0.8% voting difference was crushed by 4.7% of voters vying for outsiders. Taken together, the eight closest states had a total of 99 Electoral College delegates up for grabs, which could have changed the outcome in a two party race. Considering Trump was above 36 votes and Hillary 38 votes shy of the required 270, only 1% of independent voters in only two states (say, Florida and Wisconsin) could have changed American history. Stick that in the face of anyone who says voting doesn't matter.

Taken together, there's a basket of reasons why Hillary Clinton did not win the election. People will discuss the upset for decades, wondering which disenfranchised segment of the 99% is to blame. But one fact is certain; despite the perpetuity of the campaign, history will regard the 2016 contest as the most uninspiring election in living memory.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Tale Of Stop And (Not) Frisk

The Manhattan bound train is empty as it lurches forward and begins its midnight journey out of Coney Island. Winter winds whip through the train as passengers slowly board at every elevated station. Most are headed to a night shift job or New York night out. My police radio is dead silent. With only one year on patrol I have yet to learn the best crime fighting efforts do not come from police executives or politicians, but from the tendencies of Mother Nature.

My assignment to late night train patrol was precipitated that winter by a ‘lush worker.’ He was cutting open the pockets of sleeping passengers to remove personal items while they slept. The crime is not atypical for the hour or area, and the eyewitness description of the perpetrator was a black male 18 to 30 years old wearing a black jacket, black jeans, and armed with a box cutter. My platoon had been briefed numerous times about the robbery pattern, and with rookie ambition we certainly generated many stop and frisk reports that winter for the NYPD.

As the train pulled into the Neck Road station, a figure was seen on the opposite platform. He was a tall black man with braided hair, and he wore a full length black jacket and black pants. His hands were in front of him and he was facing the wall while awkwardly pivoting left to right. I could not tell if he was kicking the wall, marking it with paint, or moving back and forth while urinating.

Utilizing the advice of veteran patrol officers, I exited the train and stepped down a few stairs to tactically survey the cloaked figure out of view. Fortunately, his train had also just left and there was ample observation time. His behavior persisted, so I quietly approached for a closer look, but while crossing to his side I made a common rookie mistake.

My radio had began screeching aloud and I quickly muffled it with my hands. The male froze, then looked around. I was surprised he heard the noise from the distance, but Neck Road is an eerily silent place at night. Prior to renovation, the train station was a spawning ground for rats and pigeons, and to this day there is not enough revenue to justify staffing and token booth overnight.

Broad shouldered, the curious figure turned my way and stood silent as I slowly approached. His hands were at his side and his fingers were spread apart. He looked about forty years old from the sporadic gray hairs in his braids. I sensed he was no stranger to being stopped by the police.

“How you doin?” I casually asked, utilizing a common Brooklyn greeting.

“I'm lost,” he said. “I fell asleep on the train.”

Getting closer, I noticed black dress shoes and a black suit beneath the trench coat- not the common attire of a lush worker.

“Must’ve been a good sleep,” I said. “You’ve drooled on yourself.”

He started wiping his coat with a handkerchief, yet he awkwardly looked away and not at the stain as most people would. Then I noticed his walking stick and backpack on the floor next to a garbage pail.

“I know my home station perfectly,” he said gathering his articles, “But I have no idea where I am now. Thank you very much for being here.”

“Just check your belongings, Sir. Unattended items grow legs quickly in Brooklyn” I replied. “These scummers will steal your walking stick if you weren’t looking.”

He smiled, and with that we broke the ice.

We made small talk as we walked toward the Manhattan bound platform. He reminded me to let the blind person grab your arm for better guidance. We exchanged names as I led him to a bench.

“So how long are you on the job?” He asked while using air quotes. I replied, then I enquired if he was born blind or lost his vision over time.

“My sight has diminished in the last decade,” he said, “but I can still see silhouettes.”

“That's very fortunate,” I encouraged.

“Sometimes I wish I never had vision though,” he said, while adjusting his long coat in the thick wooden arm rests of the bench. “I think I'd have less anxiety overall.”

He continued; “Instead of earning my independence as a man in this world, I'm forced to live with my mother and sister for support. I'm blessed that I still have family, but I always dreamed of moving out of the ghetto after college. It's sad enough that I've changed, but I have witnessed myself become a different person to others.

His voice then cracked, ”To the outside world I’ve become a “he,” as in would “he” like a chair or booth, or would “he” like another cup of if “I” never existed. You have no idea what it feels like when I go shopping and I ask the salesman if a shirt is a lighter or darker tone of black, and my response is, “does it really matter?”

“I used to always date hot women,” he said, “and now I'm alone. Heck, I don't even know what the Spice Girls look like.”

The blind man became silent and looked away into the darkness. The rattle of a distant train started vibrating the tracks. We then boarded the train together, arm-in-arm, toward his home station. On our way we discussed our experiences growing up in Brooklyn and how the city was changing. Upon arriving at Newkirk Avenue he softly pushed my arm away.
“I got this,” he said, and he breezed up the stairs and out to street level in no time. I offered to walk him home, but he insisted on walking alone.

“No problem,” I said. “I understand we both have reputations to protect in these parts.” We shook hands and extended that half-a-hug gesture that men do so well.

“Hey Gene,” he said, “thanks again for being there, and more importantly, thank you for treating me like a regular guy.”

He walked away as my radio reverberated off the buildings on Marlborough Road.
Though I do not remember his name, the man’s heartfelt compliment was poignant and lasting. As society now turns its back on modern policing, that richness is rarely experienced on patrol any longer. After two decades in public service, I’ve learned to embrace the lasting value of small deeds. Helping many people in little ways, with empathy and compassion, can be more beneficial to the spirit than helping a few people in big ways. Our positive interactions benefit both the public by breaking down barriers, and our professional selves by promoting positive solutions. As police officers, we’re conditioned to think our careers are defined by newsworthy events, but too often we overlook the touching moments that help us become better cops and better human beings.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Taking A Gamble In Colorado

If you ever visit Denver and arrive after midnight, just curl up in a ball and cry. Don't be swayed to visit the Midwest’s premier city with an $85 airfare from New York either. After arriving late into the vast atrium of Denver International Airport (DIA), one discovers in short order that the fetal position is a decent option. Another option, of course, is taking a cab from the green pastures of DIA, which lies far beyond the city limits, to the city center for over $55.

The thought of enjoying a mountain getaway in the historic mining town of Black Hawk, just 40 minutes uphill from Denver, seemed wonderful from my air conditioned apartment. That is, until arriving after midnight to learn that the car rental center had closed.

Consultation with the airport police confirms that this phenomenon happens nightly to passengers arriving late.The officer then presented the most common options for late arriving travelers. They are as follows:

  1. Stay at the newly built airport hotel and continue the journey during daylight like most travelers of average intelligence.
  2. Run like hell and hope to catch the last commuter train at the opposite end of the airport.
  3. Hop that $55 cab toward the metropolis, only to discover Denver’s vibrant nightlife culture is largely a myth purported by hipsters.
  4. Curl up in a ball.

After midnight, many travelers already know you’re stuck between a rock-hard-floor and a hard place in the mile high city. But for those seeking low-brow culture in the high rockies there is salvation. In the northwest section the sleepy city runs an all-night casino shuttle. The transportation company runs the operation out of a double wide trailer in an unpaved,darkened lot adjacent to a desolate strip mall and acres of nearby modular homes. But every hour of every desolate overnight arrives a beautiful coach bus poised to transport up to fifty degenerate insomniacs up the canyon to the liveliest destination in all of Colorado.

When the bus arrived, a pissed off driver opened the door. Tasked with working the overnight shift, it seems Mr. Happy’s low seniority had forced the young coachman into the blessed fraternity of nocturnals. While laced with prestige in New York City, overnight culture is not so revered in the dark foothills of the Rockies.

Boarding the stretched bus as the only passenger at 2:30 a.m., one wondered if the overnight adventure could be better accomplished with a van- especially since the drive up the two lane winding road seemed complicated in a coach. The steep canyon walls combined with a falling rock zone and an angry, aggressive driver suggests we're a boulder strike or an abrupt turn from a gravity tour of the jagged rapids below. Driving through tunnels cut through the mountains leaves the impression that this huge bus may get wedged any point.

Upon arrival at Black Hawk one’s first impression is, “Why here?”  Seeing the town come into focus around a bend in the road, the huge casinos strangely appear like a glowing special effects green screen built into the steep, canyon.

To create this casino row, engineers squeezed 16 gaming properties, into a passage roughly 150 yards in width, including parking garages. Therefore, all properties in Black Hawk are built long and not wide (Similar to the riverboats seen around the country.) except Black Hawk’s hotels can stretch upwards of thirty stories high.

Because properties are built so close to the canyon, the crisp rocky mountain air flows rapidly through Main Street, making a walk up the strip a pleasure in summer. Alternatively, winter in the historic mining village can whip through the average visitor. Many properties in Black Hawk are linked together with walkways offering minimal exposure during colder months. The casinos also offer a free shuttle service, between Black Hawk properties and the neighboring casino town of Central City.

The shuttle has become an attraction in itself and greatly assists any stranded traveler resourceful enough not to curl up into a ball. The shuttle comes in very handy during the uphill journey into Central City. The higher elevation sister town- though only a mile away- looks distinctly different from the stylized town downstream.

Offering many casino choices of her own, Central City differs from Black Hawk. The row of preserved two story buildings offers parlor type casinos along the historic strip. Also a superb walking village, the majority of day trippers arrive via automobile from Denver or the popular ski towns nearby. Central City- or uptown to any city slicker- has many information kiosks, benches and gazebos to take a break too. Strolling through the postcard-perfect community, one can reflect on the scene after a long day of prospecting. Remnants of smoke and whiskey filled evenings remain, when men sported handlebar moustaches and brothels were a spiral staircase above the saloon. Today, shopping for clothing, crafts, eateries, or just the great views, Central City’s environment is unmatched anywhere in America.

A lot, however, has changed since the heyday of the Colorado Central Railroad. The town’s overhead wooden tresels are long removed, and the quaint railway station has been converted into the pretiest casino in town. Patrons of the Lady Luck casino are treated to a refurbished version of the historic station complete with passenger platforms, an original locomotive, and the friendliest staff in town. For poker players, Lady Luck offers one of the few $2-$10 limit games in the country, and while many no limit players find the limit structure torturous, the game is warm and welcoming.

While awaiting the coach bus back to the big city, the entire room stopped playing to congratulate Brenda, a poker dealer, on her last day before moving. A kind, old woman in seat number eight had baked a cake, and at noon all action stopped to show respect, and everyone ate a thickly  frosted sky blue cake without napkins.

Even though Black Hawk/Central City suffers from the same small town problems seen elsewhere, they just do it better. With a combined population of under one thousand residents, don’t expect amenities like an all night emergency room or auto mechanic. In fact, do not take a shuttle uptown and rely on a ride back late at night either. The free service is exceptional until the witching hour, when one discovers all transportation grinds to a halt. There are no taxis or Uber drivers in the higher elevation. In winter, one can swipe a garbage pail cover and ride the frost downhill. In summer, you can curl up in a ball, or hoof it. Fortunately, most casino’s serve liquor 24/7, so a solo game of bar golf will fight the doldrums. Don't expect to see any fast food franchises, gas stations, or Thai restaurants in the gulch either, but that's why so many drive up route 119 to begin with. If you do venture upward as a solo traveler, pack food, bring extra napkins, and never ever arrive in Denver after midnight.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why Any Police Commissioner Is Doomed To Fail

Commissioner Bill Bratton's sudden departure from the NYPD could not have come at a worse time for the people of New York. Sought by Mayor de Blasio as the most tempered, experienced, and fair minded executive in policing, Bratton seemed a perfect fit for the controversial job. Following on the heels of Raymond Kelly, and twenty years of republican rule in New York City, both the distressed citizens and the demoralized cops in the Big Apple embraced the change. But the New York of today is a vastly different place from when crime and disorder dominated the political landscape. Some critics single handedly blame Bratton for lighting the fuse which led to the dissatisfaction people feel toward the police today. After all, William Bratton popularized the scientific management of policing. By strengthening law enforcement tools like crime mapping and targeted enforcement, Bratton's initiatives modernized how the police interrupt criminal behavior around the world.

As crime rates plummeted under Ray Kelly, the NYPD felt pressure to continue. After September 11th, the main concern of New Yorkers was safety, and Kelly rose to the occasion. Acting in good faith, Kelly greatly expanded the scope of anti-terror intelligence gathering and street level enforcement. Kelly’s advocacy began to compromise relations with federal law enforcement. Sidestepping jurisdiction, the NYPD placed investigators in the Middle East, across America, and around the globe. He increased anti-terror spending in the city, and, to his credit, he thwarted quite a few terror attempts. But Ray Kelly also detained his personnel from the usual ebb and flow of attrition. By refusing to share personnel records with other law enforcement agencies for many years, Kelly blocked his cops' ability to find easier, safer, and better paying employment elsewhere.

Under Kelly, NYPD executives made a determined effort to take CompStat in a worse direction. With newly created "impact zones" and targeted stop-and-frisk initiatives, cops were evaluated and largely rewarded by their enforcement numbers. After a decade of Kelly’s influence, all the thoughtful initiatives put in place by Bill Bratton had morphed into something entirely different. Public outrage started to mount. Sick and tired of being targeted for petty offenses, the citizens of New York began to speak out against acts such as being in a park after sunset, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, or merely occupying more than one seat on the subway.

But the numbers-driven strategy was working. Crime continued to drop despite a populous growing with dissatisfaction, and simmering with the belief that extra enforcement was disproportionately targeted towards minorities. Zero Tolerance enforcement came to a boil when a Staten Island man died struggling with cops, after being stopped for selling loose cigarettes.

Then came federal monitoring. embarrassing to any local police agency, federal oversight was mandated to monitor Kelly’s deeply entrenched strategies within the NYPD. They continue to this day.

Upon Bratton's second coming, a collective sigh occurred with both the cops and civilians of the city. Bratton however, would be faced with his greatest career challenge. Now in his seventies, Bratton had to work double duty to assuage the concerns of both a demoralized police force and a populous with competing demands, while remaining under pressure to keep crime low.  

An intuitive leader, and a cop's cop, Bratton strengthened focus where Kelly was weak. He came to the cops, often face-to-face, and asked what was needed. His transition team embraced technology and created in-depth surveys and listened to feedback from personnel. He began to renovate facilities neglected for decades, and catapulted precincts to Y2K technology and beyond. He even brokered a deal to give every cop a cell phone for investigative follow-up

The fed’s recommendations, with the mayor's support, included many days of in-service training. The training was discussed like adults with a feedback component built into the curriculum- something the Kelly administration never embraced. But change grinds ever so slowly in city government. Like his predecessor, Bill Bratton handles the toughest media in the nation marvelously. His candor, composure and experience blends so well that one often sees the bulbs going off with Chief O'Neill and Mayor de Blasio behind him.

Constant pressure from the public, demands from the unions, and the police commissioner's own sense of personal ethics make the job an undesirable but a necessary evil in America. Sadly, Bratton's most profound change, though still not idealized in the short term, was a withdrawal from intense performance-driven measures for cops on patrol. This metric is key toward reconstructing the trust that the people of New York City deserve, and a key factor that incoming commissioner James O'Neill may not be prepared to grapple with. One fear is that O'Neill learned the ropes under a former regime, and may not be able to adapt well. His tenure, though, may not be long either, as determined by the will of the people and the next mayor of New York.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Zoo Boy Reaches Lifetime Achievement At 3 Years Old

Kids have legs. I've used that exact response hundreds of times to remind adults and bystanders when kids get separated. And, of course, it doesn't always diminish the concern of the erratic parent who has just lost her child. As a cop, I get it, but as a parent, do you?

Fortunately, there are not many celebrated child rescue incidents, so measuring any traumatic long-term effect is difficult. Do you recall the 1987 case of Baby Jessica trapped in the well in Midland, Texas? Like Jessica McClure, most kids happily go about their imperfect lives like we do- listless and struggling with broken homes, financial hardships, and all the attributes that make us, well, average.

Today, Ms. McClure still resides nearby and lives a very average life. Last heard, she has two children of her own and makes ends meet washing cars out of her driveway. But she had nearly a million dollars gifted to her after her incident. In terms of America's cult of celebrity, our curious Cincinnati boy has also probably peaked. The conjecture comes with the understanding that modern American culture loves to embrace viral underachievers. Although his future may be "crowd sourced" and handsomely compensated for some unknown reason, this story of the week is near complete. The final chapter will arrive once the most persuasive attorney convinces the family that they too are not at all to blame for their circumstance, and introduces a lawsuit against the city.

While the debate continues over who should accept blame for the death of Harambe the Gorilla, I'm concerned how the 3 year old boy gets manipulated. How he recovers from the trauma is not a my concern at all. In fact, I'm sure the kid enjoyed the experience despite shrieks from panicked witnesses who caused the catastrophe. To his credit, the kid is resilient. The tumble into that filthy moat would have startled most children, but he took it all in stride. Heck, even Harambe motioned to protect the child once onlookers exacerbated the situation. As an awkward adolescent, I think the 17 year old silverback was doing ok.

We all know that tragedy can, and often does, happen in the blink of an eye. But we, as a society, need to digest most threatening situations, look at them through a prism of reality, and not overreact to hype that exists in your mind alone. If Americans assessed risk accurately, they would know that the beloved family swimming pool is far more lethal to children than a stored firearm in the house. Don't condemn a parent for losing a child in a crowd. And as a parent, don't confuse the issue by thinking every time your precious child escapes your grasp that he was abducted by a stranger. Concern is reasonable when your child plays hide and seek among the clothes racks at the mall, but going into panic mode does nothing to reunite your crying child any faster- and for Christ's sake don't pitch an attitude toward anyone willing to help-professional or otherwise- just because they won't frantically sprint around with you from store to store.

Of course tragedies happen, but the fear of crime enormously outweighs the actuality of the situation. As a law enforcement professional I have dealt with hundreds of situations involving "lost" children. Of course, every parent calls 911 saying their child is feared abducted, but the reality is they were just separated. In all my hundreds of cases, every single child was reunited. Every one. Kids have legs.

We will never know, if handled differently, that the zoo outcome might have ended better, but if this boy's family has an ounce of personal integrity, they will continue taking the high road which they have so far chosen. But greed knows no boundaries in modern America.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Who cares what Beyonce thinks?

Who cares what Beyonce thinks? Yes, she should lend her celebrity to better causes, but who cares? Who cares which drug kingpin Sean Penn endorses, or if Dustin Hoffman has an unfavorable opinion of our legal system? Who cares if someone as socially responsible as Kanye West thinks all cops are dishonest? In fact, should anyone earning millions in the land of ‘make believe’ comment on anything meaningful?

In a universe dumbed down by social media, perhaps one should appreciate the thoughts of others. After all, even a stupid opinion has greater value than a photo of today's brunch. But in a culture that creates gods out of celebrity, perhaps the expectation should be raised. Come to think of it, expectations were raised decades ago when self immolating movie stars began adding publicists to the payroll. Before twitter, profiting from celebrity stupidity was a booming industry. Today, anyone with a pulse can ruin his career before the next commercial break. Heck, even Kramer flamed out while Facebook was in diapers.

Despite repeated warnings to avoid controversy, today's false gods just can't shut up. Our policy makers- who society permits to say lots of stupid shit- are also continually back pedaling out of the muck. Despite being ordained as experts on every matter, our elected representatives often out perform on the stupidity quotient. While politicians aren't usually reckless enough to endorse terrorism at the Super Bowl, their opinions matter. Our elected operate in a system unfairly wedded to corporate influence. So, in politics, a few greased representatives will tilt policy greater than any black beret wearing songstress ever will.

Take, as an overstated example, New York's Billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He spent over $100 million of his own money to “influence” city council members to extend his two terms as mayor ($100 million for a job that pays $225 k per year. Does anyone else smell corruption?) Unfortunately, the third term was a political disaster for Bloomberg’s approval ratings and his legacy. While always a savvy speaker, Bloomberg could not verbally detach himself from bad policy in his final term. Between a failed tax on large beverages, poorly proposed tolls on local bridges, and unwavering support for unpopular criminal justice policies, both he and his police commissioner ended their third term with far lower approval ratings than it began. Had Bloomberg just accepted his two-term blessing, he may have gone down as New York's most favorable mayor. Bloomberg’s legacy is now tarnished, yet his city council representatives- who repeatedly spew irresponsible bias (see Charles Barron, or Melissa Mark-Viverito)- are little known for their acts of shoddy adultmanship. Too many celebrities and politicians use their publicity to promote private gain over the public good, and that’s reprehensible.

But let’s not confuse the issue. While there is significance to having a platform in a media obsessed culture, the fact remains that these people are not role models. Despite idol status, they are flawed human beings -just like us- and, like us, they should be held equally accountable for their mistakes. So when some boob politician gets caught with a prostitute, or when some child heart throb is detained for smuggling drugs onto a plane, don’t be outraged. Be glad that they too are human, and hope there’s accountability for the misstep. There’s no need to boycott an awards show they’re hosting, or to cease support of your favorite cereal or malt liquor. And for Christ’s sake put down the remote control. Though celebrities may be false idols, their talent is well deserved and out of our reach. Don’t think your adult obsessed displacement will ever overcome your child’s multi-million to one odds of making it big. And lastly, If you’re relying on your cable box or some barely literate, college educated sports star to do your job as a parent, then you as a parent are failing. 

...But then again, who cares what I think?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

So I Met This Hooker on a Bus...

It's 4 am on a Tuesday night and I'm waiting for a bus on the heart of the Las Vegas strip. Even though the World Series of Poker is in full swing, there's not a soul walking the boulevard. Three of us are waiting for the northbound double decker. One is a 65 year old gap toothed woman. She's either borderline homeless or a downtown resident with a blue walker and six multi-colored plastic bags tied to the hand brakes. The other is a middle aged cat with greying kinky hair and a fanny pack. He's rockin' an old school sweat suit and blasting music through a cushioned set of head phones. The half-assed bus shelter offers a steel bench intentionally too narrow to sleep on, nor will it adequately shelter anyone from the elements. The greatest elemental challenge, though, is leapfrogging over the tributaries of piss crawling across the sidewalk to the curb. 

Any person of average intelligence might hop into a cab at this sight alone, but my inner voice tells me not to. Intuition suggests the shit-show will improve, plus my people watching vocation has evolved into a treasured pastime. As the bus appears in the distance, our hero with the headphones squeezes behind the bus shelter and some shrubs to add to the current. It's the coolest hour of the day and it's already ninety degrees.

Predominantly a shuttle for tourists, the Las Vegas double-decker called "the deuce" transforms into a rolling performance space for wayward locals after 2 am. When most of the city's visitors turn in, the deuce fleet beckons a hodge-podge of drunks, burn-outs, the borderline insane, and anyone living in a desert too stupid to splurge for air conditioning. When the deuce began in 2005, it was a low cost antidote for walking the long hot strip. Even though it barely outpaces pedestrians, for two bucks, it got you back and forth in air conditioned comfort. Today, for six dollars you can literally be pressed leg to leg into a sweaty and unbathed European..

After assisting the woman on board, I stood behind her waiting for her to budge aside, but she didn't move. Standing quietly, I knew Mr ol' school drunk would blurt out something, and I was not disappointed.

"C'mon now momma, how skinny do you think we is?"

She mumbled something inaudible and stutter stepped to the left. Let the shit-show begin.

Scanning the vacant seats, my choices were slim. I chose to avoid sitting near two guys based on the "stink potential," because as a New Yorker, we've all made that mistake on the subway. Next up was a snoring, drooling man-spreader and I didn't feel like climbing over him. The last and best choice appeared to be a diminutive blondish woman leaning forward and nodding in her seat. I sat across the isle to size her up and keep an eye on her bag while she slept. 

At first, I couldn't tell if the source of the nod was another amateur night out or too much smack. With three months of exposed black roots in her bleached blonde hair and self made holes in her jeans,  I studied to figure out this chick. 

At the circus circus stop, a thirty something bald, drunk Indian man wearing a tattered casino hoodie sat in her cubby and woke her. He then regaled her for ten minutes about his wealth, how lavishly he spends it, and his philosophy of 'living for today.' My guess was that he gave his chauffer the night off.

Now awake and feigning interest, I could see her blue eyes and long eyelashes. She had a narrow face and sharp features. She looked tired, but kept up a polite demeanor. With hands on her knees, she sat tense under the man's gazing stare. Her body language screamed discomfort, and after a 9 hour session playing poker, my reads were on point. Her hospitality suggested she may be from down south, but her accent was elsewhere. He then motioned to get off the bus.

"Boy, am I jealous," I said within earshot of our departing pervert. "I wish that billionaire would've chatted me up."
"Yeah, he might be more your type," She said laughing. 

We made some friendly small talk, and as the bus neared the Fremont stop we both exited. Now walking, the well placed holes in her jeans stood out, and her strut had greater appeal than her push-up b cup bra. I asked about the resurgence of the downtown area  but she didn't seem to know much about it.

"So, do you live nearby?"
"Yeah, I moved here about 9 months ago from Washington state, she said.
"Where abouts?" I asked. "I dig your state, and I'm looking to get back. It beats the shit out of these 115 degree days."
"Clarkston", she said.
"I love that town! Great scenery. I once got stranded overnight in the snake river canyon. I'll tell ya' the story, but you'd have to buy me a drink first." I said as I motioned to an outdoor bar. "I work for drinks" I said, "but I demand air conditioning first."
"I don't own an air conditioner," she said.
"Is that why you ride the deuce overnight?" I asked with a wink. "Here's my number, I'm here till Saturday and I offer a cold, king sized room, great stories, and a swimming pool with a shark tank right here."
"Not bad," she said, then she rubbed her hand softly down the length of my arm. "Are you looking for company?"

"Aw shit" I thought to myself. I knew she was a trailer park exile with working girl potential, but I wasn't positive until now.

"I'm not that guy, sweetie. Trust me, I'd be wasting your time, but my cocktail offer still stands if you're bored.
"I might have other plans" she said as she scanned the empty Fremont pavilion.

It was a semi-bluff. I've gotten plenty of these-in the last few hours alone- but never from a hooker at 4:30 in the morning. At this hour, I knew that I still held the better hand. She isn't accustomed to being home before daylight and nobody was around to keep her busy. Plus, after a short nap, I knew she was up for some laughter in her life.

"Look, if I wanted to pay a woman to pretend to like me I'd be married by now." I said. "It's just not my scene. I'm moving into the air conditioning. I'll be at the bar by the poker room for a little while. Come say hello."

About 30 minutes later I received a text message. "I'm free but I need a donation."
"A cocktail and convo is on the menu, but no happy endings." I replied. 

There's no shortage of working girls in this town, but cracking the facade to learn how and why someone reached that low point is of value. Far greater value than paying for sex and having your wallet stolen as you sleep. For a few bucks at the bar and a demonstrated interest, many women will share their own stories. Truth is, though, the circumstances are often similar. Hearing how and where they were raised, and the life event that sparked the downward spiral is always of interest.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Spirit of Holiday Giving-by Default

Am I a bad New Yorker because I do not trust the red aproned Salvation Army bell tinkerers? Perhaps too many reports of charity frauds have tarnished me. Or  maybe it's because, in general, the solicitors are a disheveled lot, barely capable of completing only a few weeks of labor per year.

I prefer to give directly and avoid any organized group thumping for a handout- and I'm no charitable purist either. If a homeless man decides to buy a squeeze bottle of low grade booze with my money, I'm okay with that. Too often, charities squander finances in far more unethical ways. So, to me, buying a beer for a homeless vet is superior to sponsoring some "not-for-profit" organization's upgrade to penthouse offices

In fact, I'd prefer to buy a deck of heroin for a struggling musician before I give another penny to those adolescent scam artists looking for a free summer sports vacation. What kind of negligent parent would send their kids into a dangerous intersection to solicit for change anyway? At the end of the day it doesn't matter much because my greatest charity comes from me by default- yes, default.

Just last week I was victimized. Nothing of a serious nature mind you, but my donation was not intended as such. The misfortune made me consider certain thefts as a form of direct charity. After all, when somebody steals your comforter from the laundromat it's hard not to think two immediate thoughts.

1. Why couldn't they have saved me time and money and stolen it BEFORE I put it in the dryer?

2. I guess someone needed it more than I did.

Getting nostalgic, I considered the events in my life when I've furnished items of value to those less fortunate against my will. As a bonus, some items were forcibly donated during the holiday season, which helps foster a heightened sense of goodwill toward all.

Growing up in New York City in the 1980's, my earliest charitable memory came from the great bicycle donation program. While the tradition has declined in modern times, the pathology behind the victimization hasn't changed much.

Enter crying kid. More than likely he was distracted from his unattended item, but often he is a do-gooder from the start. Through the tears, the child describes how he lent his bike to another struggling entrepreneur. The greater lesson learned, again, is how parents fail to discuss the simple admissions procedure for the great bicycle donation program.  As a 10 year old I earned my membership into the program. The event was the genesis of many memorable acts of involuntary charity. Prior to Christmas the following year I donated a boombox to a group of underprivileged young men. This time I chased the bequeathed for one block and took note of the license plate on the getaway car. When questioned by a salty detective about the incident, I couldn't accurately describe the make and model of the car from the rear, so the investigation slipped out of grasp easier than the radio did.

Those two events and the degree of awareness that seeps into New Yorkers, almost by osmosis, molded my charitable streak for nearly a decade -which was fine by me. Since the high school/college years are financially difficult, my charitable efforts were spent donating time more than cash. I never gave up, though, on giving by default. Before donating my Oldsmobile in 1993 I only gave in small quantities.

Here is a short list of some non tax deductible donations:

* A psychology textbook removed from the college cafeteria.

 * A gold bracelet from a public restroom in Boston (another Christmas donation).

* A hip pouch and 300 euros on an overnight train through the French Alps.

* Two cases of eggs stashed in the yard for Halloween mischief, that, through an act of adolescent espionage, was donated to neighborhood rivals.

One week after graduating into the great automobile donation program, my cutlass supreme was recovered only 5 blocks from my home. Everything in the car was undisturbed. Even the tires were intact. Amazed, I leaned on the hood of the car wondering if my membership was rejected, and the car rolled backwards. Looking under the hood I found a completely hollow engine compartment. The engine was worth more than the car, so I was blessed with re-gifting the car for scrap metal.

In recent years my charitable giving has shifted focus. With less free time and more financial flexibility, I have given more monetarily but have physically volunteered less. I have also given less by default as well. I renewed my membership in the automobile donation program in 2010. After spotting an old friend walking only fifty feet away, I hurriedly stepped out of my vehicle with a big smile. Once on the sidewalk, I saw the vehicle door swing open and I watched my Jeep speed off to a more charitable place. Adding to the experience, I was able to obtain  surveillance video of the gift. Now I get to relive that precious moment whenever I like in high definition.

Notwithstanding, I still encourage giving to charity, and prefer to continue giving directly. I guess the take away from a vocation of experiencing grief first hand leaves it's mark. Even as the eyes that view the world have acquired skepticism in years, embracing the spirit of good-will has fortunately never diminished.

I know that spirit will never make me a bad New Yorker.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My 'American Pie'

I was born and bred in Brooklyn and with any luck I'll die here too. I say this without reservation because after travelling a decent chunk of the planet, and every corner of America, I know New York City is the best place on earth.

Notwithstanding, there are a few places I would consider living outside of New York. Lake Tahoe is one of them. With mountain crisp air, the snow peaked range surrounds a twenty mile lake, creating a picturesque backdrop for hikers, skiers, fishmongers, and any purveyor of outdoor recreation.  Tahoe’s south shore provides multiple casinos, restaurants and nightlife, providing activities for every traveler. No wonder the Corleone family took a summer residence there. Regardless of the weather, Lake Tahoe is the Garden of Eden.

On my first winter trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains I rented an SUV and thought I was unstoppable. With ten feet of plowed snow on the side of the road, I was cruising like a champ while winding up the incline and along the east shore of the lake. My coat was tossed onto the passenger seat, the music was turned up, and the car's heat was blowing gently on my feet. The late afternoon sun was starting to set over the western range, casting a mirror reflection on the emerald water of America's deepest lake. That's when I encountered the first warning sign on the road.

The exact wording eludes me now, but I bet the bullet riddled sign still hangs up on the trail. Zooming along, like in a winter car commercial listening to 'American Pie' on the radio, the sign said something like 'road closed during inclement weather.' On the Tahoe map, the road went from a marked county road to a steady solid red line. Then a large red and white barrier arm was also seen in an upward position- like an undeployed railroad crossing. Alongside the contraption was a solar powered flashing red light. Singing aloud, I surged by this eyesore in the snow without a care in the world, “…Them good ole’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye…”  I never even noticed that no other drivers were on the road but me.

As the sun motioned over the magnificent range, I safely pulled over. With a disposable camera in hand and the radio still blasting, I stepped out of the SUV and snapped a wonderful photo from the road. Returning to the rental- without another vehicle in sight- Don McClean's melody was still heard from inside the SUV. Crossing back, I pulled on the door handle, and realized my Brooklyn instinct had kicked in. I reflexively locked the door while exiting with the engine running. 

Peering into the rental, the setting sun was shining directly on the coat on the passenger seat. Suddenly the whistling wind through the trees became evident along this recently opened, or recently closed trail. Inside the vehicle the music still played. Turning toward the majestic lake, and standing on the red-lined road, I heard the line “…This’ll be the day that I die…”  Glancing toward the mountains, I shuttered thinking about the fate of the Donner party who were also snowbound in the area before resorting to cannibalism.

The frustration only lasted a moment before I pulled out my cell phone and called 911, but then I stopped. I thought about how embarrassing it might be to call 911 and have to admit that some unprepared dummy from New York City had locked himself out of the car. Looking through the tinted windows of the backseat I saw the road map lying open.  On the bottom of the map was a corner advertisement for a ski rental shop.  Now, walking back and forth across the wind swept road, hand held skyward while searching for a cell signal, I resembled a half-assed statue of liberty. Cellular service was terrible a few years back, and probably still is around the lake.

“…This’ll be the day that I die…”

After many dropped calls, I finally got through to the ski rental shop. A young girl answered.
“Please don’t hang up,” I said, “This is not a prank! I'm trapped up on the eastern side of the mountain.  I'm locked out of my car like a dummy.  Can you please call me a tow truck?”

“Did you pass that big thingee on the road with the flashing light?” She said.
“Yeppers” I said. Then we were disconnected.
 When I called back she told me they called the local tow truck driver and he was en route.
“The tow driver wants to know what kind of vehicle you’re driving?” She said.
“It’s the only vehicle on the road past the thingee with a fat guy with no coat on hugging it SUV for warmth.” I said, then we were disconnected.

Through the entire phone call American Pie was still playing. I hugged the body of the idling truck for warmth, and sung out loud to nobody "The three men I admire most. The Father the Son and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast the day the music died." As the song ended, I wondered if the tow truck would arrive before I froze to death. Then I laughed.

Perhaps it was this ordeal, or one of many others that have shaped my outlook during times of misfortune; but I have adopted the ability to step outside a terrible situation, while it’s happening, and see humor in it. The strategy helps too! Not only does laughter release anxiety, but it makes one analyze when an event is dire, and when it is just an inconvenience. I say all the time during a bad situation “If I'm going to tell this story at a later point and laugh, then might as well laugh as it’s happening!”

Fortunately the tow truck driver arrived in 20 minutes. He literally took one minute to air bag the window and get me back into the truck.  I immediately put my jacket on and thanked him.

He handed me a bill for $75. I gave him a c-note and told him in exchange for his hard labor he would have to take a photo and capture my moment of stupidity on top of the mountain. Sure enough, he obliged. The photo did not come out as well as I hoped, but I still have a warm fuzzy memory every time I hear ‘American Pie’ on the radio.