Category Archives: Favorite Posts

Mocking Misery

Offense of the Month, December 2018
How do you get to be an offender of the month? If you’re in the right place at the right time — or maybe make that the wrong place at the wrong time — it’s pretty easy. You can do it in just three simple steps: (1) Take insensitive photos making light of and even mocking a disaster that killed scores of people. (2) Affix stupid captions that traffic in others’ grief. (3) Post your artwork to Facebook. Then just sit back and wait for it all to be discovered.

That’s how it was for Rob Freestone, December’s offender of the month.

Until about two weeks ago, Freestone was a crane operator employed by Bigge Crane and Rigging, a company hired to begin recovery efforts in Paradise, California, the worst hit of the many towns in Butte County, where the horrific Camp Fire killed at least eighty-five people and destroyed more than fourteen thousand homes in the space of seventeen days in November. The company’s job was to check and trim trees that posed an acute danger to returnees, rescue workers, and others.

Nosing about the ravaged properties, Freestone took a number of photos — a charred cat, a wrecked structure, a mailbox tricked out as a fire truck. Appended to each was Freestone’s idea of a funny caption — e.g., on the wrecked structure, showing two people appearing to be in the ruins of a vehicle beneath the legend: “They’re off on a fun filled vacation to unknown destinations in their new RV.”

The uproar wasn’t instantaneous. It took victims and others a month or so to discover and focus on the photos. But when they were posted to the Town of Paradise website in mid-December, the aggrieved lit up a public information recovery clearinghouse website with denunciations. Condemning Freestone’s “unacceptable and reprehensible behavior,” the Paradise town manager made it clear that Freestone and two co-workers “will no longer be working in our Town.” Bigge Crane didn’t hesitate. It fired the three within hours, proclaiming it had “identified the three participants in this abhorrent event and their employment has been terminated.” Continue reading

Megyn Kelly Flames Out

Offense of the Month, October 2018
Trump and his coven aside (it would be hard, nay, probably impossible, for anyone else to compete), the October 2018 offense-of-the-month designee, hands down, is Megyn Kelly, partly for her actual offensiveness—that is, her racial insensitivity—but mostly for her obtusely loopy dopey stupidity or, as the British might better put it, for being several sandwiches short of a picnic. Not sure I can be any plainer.

Everyone who has looked at a paper, or been online, or watched the news, now knows (but may well forget a month or so from now), that on Tuesday, October 23, Kelly let loose on her NBC show, “Megyn Kelly Today,” about blackface Halloween costumes. She was commenting on a report she may have misread about the “costume police” at the University of Kent in Great Britain. Kelly seemed to think that certain costumes were about to be banned. News accounts are sketchy, and it may be that the student union there was considering a recommendation that students avoid wearing, rather than on outright ban on, “fancy dress” that caricatures cowboys, Nazis, and Harvey Weinstein, among others.

Kelly wondered “what is racist?” Speaking of children today and her own childhood, Kelly, 47, said: “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was OK just as long as you were dressing as a character.” Continue reading

Meek Disinherited

Offense of the Month, September 2018
In this time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, there are many candidates in the contest for offender of the month. For example, Rep. Ralph Norman (R.-SC), who distinguished himself opening an election-related debate at a Kiwanis Club in Rock Hill, South Carolina with this doozy: “Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news on the Kavanaugh hearings? . . . Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.” And there’s Sarah Jeong, the young tech writer who joined the editorial board of The New York Times despite a plethora of sketchy anti-white tweets, but that controversy exploded in August, and besides, I’ll soon post a longer piece on the problem tweets like hers pose (for her and for the rest of us).

So I’m anointing Ed Meek, a less well-known offender, who likely blundered into his moment of infamy, despite a background that should have kept this honor at bay. Continue reading

Turtles, but not all the way down

Offense of the Month July 2018
Probably not the most offensive display this month, probably not even by a longshot, but it’s the quirkiest that has come to my attention. To be sure, it’s the dog days, so I’ve been slacking off. But now right to it.

The honors (that is, as offender of the month) go to a herpetologist (your basic reptile and amphibian specialist), name of Richard C. Vogt. If you webble him Continue reading

Gingrich Gets Giddy

Offense of the Month: July 2016
I never supposed a top Republican could outdo Candidate-Presumptive Donald Trump in offending American citizens with political rhetoric, but I’m willing to name Newt Gingrich as just that man, and declare him to have delivered the Offense of the Month in calling for a national test of “every person” in America “who is of a Muslim background,” to be deported if “they believe in Sharia.”

On the face of it, this repulsive call, issued on Fox News on Bastille Day, is unconscionable and unconstitutional in equal measures, and across the board. It’s unconscionable in inciting hatred of innocent people — and on the basis of fuzzy religious criteria. It’s unconstitutional, by violating five major provisions: Continue reading

Donald Trump, Olympian Offender

Offense of the Month: June 2016
He’s back — well, at least in my columns. He’s been daily on your other screens, I know, though we can pray that two or three years from now today’s junior high school students will wonder who he was. But at least for this month he’s back, having taken the art of offending to Olympic proportions.

The offense: explicitly asserting that a federal judge cannot be trusted to rule impartially because of his ancestry.

If you’re reading this years after the event, you can be pardoned for not remembering what is vivid to any American reading the newspapers or watching the evening news in June 2016. The Donald, we learned, doesn’t like Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is handling two civil class actions brought against him by former “students” of “Trump University,” an unaccredited institute of lower learning that granted no degrees. Continue reading

Less Majesty, More Speech in Germany

Offense of the Month: May 2016
Have you heard the one about the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan? No, that’s not an insult; that’s his name. But just about anything else said of him can land you in hot water in Turkey, where it’s a crime to insult the Turkish nation or government institutions. Erdogan has used the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code more than 1,800 times to prosecute critics for insulting him. Sometimes not even critics — he went after a TV news network for running a headline “‘Dictator’ under Investigation” about name calling by an opposition leader (the news program put the word “dictator” in quotation marks to indicate it was simply reporting a statement made by somebody else). Made no never mind to Erdogan.

In early May he sought a preliminary injunction in Germany against the release of an open letter from the CEO of Axel Springer, one of the country’s leading media firms. The letter, written by Mathias Döpfner, supported the right of a comedian to ridicule Erdogan. The comic, Jan Böhmermann, mocked Erdogan in a long, sexually crude poem. Döpfner’s letter repeated some of Böhermann’s language. Erdogan’s lawyers pointed to an archaic provision of German law, paragraph 103 of its penal code, prohibiting insults to foreign leaders, a remnant of the old crime of lèse-majesté, once widespread, that counted as treason offending the dignity of the ruler. Continue reading

Meow

Offense of the Month: April 2016
Richard Emery, chairman of New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which oversees actions of the police department, stepped down (“resigned abruptly,” as the New York Times labeled the move) on April 13, a day after the board’s executive director sued him for gender bias, specifically for uttering a misogynistic phrase.

The squeamish Times did not report the language, but the more colorful New York Post trumpeted the line cited in the lawsuit: “I don’t know why everyone is acting like a bunch of pussies.” (The New York Daily News managed to point to the offensive word, rendering it as “p—y.”)

Executive director Mina Malik claimed Emery’s plaintive cry was aimed at her and a female staff attorney in a conference call last September, during a heated discussion about disciplining two police officers for punching a man on a gurney. Emery insisted that the line had nothing to do with the women; it was, rather, aimed at police department officials who were on the call. That seems the logical explanation. And one wonders what would have happened had he had the discernment to call the department folks “dick heads.” But the entire brouhaha is an example of taking someone down for what he’s said rather than for what he’s done. Continue reading

Wanted: Zombies without a Past

Offense of the Month: March 2016
Whatever you do, don’t do it. At least if you’re a retailer that, let’s say, sells bathing suits, polo shirts, mittens, and whatnot.

Lands’ End thought to boost sales by touting in its catalog legendary people who would smile on the brand in return for a nod to their causes. Nothing really controversial. Feel good stuff that large numbers of potential customers would appreciate. Sure.

The first such Legend (and now probably the last) was Gloria Steinem, who talked very briefly about working on behalf of women’s equality. Not a word in the published interview about abortion rights. Nevertheless, customers complained that Steinem was an inappropriate designee because of her pro-choice stance over the years. In late February, to quell what she feared was growing outrage, Lands’ End CEO Federica Marchionni apologized, disavowing any intent “to raise a divisive political or religious issue.” But when she erased all digital traces of the interview, the company was flooded with even more angry messages from shoppers who vowed to buy their clothing elsewhere. Said one: “I don’t intend to teach my children that anyone should do business with a company that is ashamed to even talk about feminism.” Continue reading