Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 6

The Las Vegas Sun has a witness-by-witness account of the sixth day of the inquest into the death of Erik Scott that is available here.

My own reactions to the sixth (and final) day's proceedings are below.

One of the more interesting aspects of Clark County's coroner's inquest procedure is the inclusion of questions from so-called "interested parties." These people are identified by someone, perhaps the judge, as having a pertinent interest in the inquest (such as being a family member of the victim), and they are given the opportunity to submit questions to witnesses during the inquest. Their questions are submitted in written form during the initial questioning of witnesses by the district attorneys, and the judge decides whether any of these questions are germane enough to be asked of the witness before they leave the stand.

As a kind of control of the judge's discretion (and, I think, to help maintain a complete record of the proceedings), those questions that the judge has deemed inappropriate are then saved and read into the court record at a later time, along with the judge's reasons for not allowing those questions to be asked. This is done outside the presence of the jury.

By the time that witness testimony had ended today, there had been over 1,500 such questions (they are numbered for the record), and it seems to me that the most common reason that the judge has given for disallowing a particular question is that the question has already been asked and answered. Other common reasons are that the question is not pertinent or that the question asks for undue speculation that is outside the knowledge of the witness.

One of the interesting possibilities suggested by numerous questions from "interested parties" is why the police felt the need to confront Erik Scott at the exit of Costco Wholesale instead of letting him move farther out into the parking lot where he could be isolated. Given the number of people still in the store and still crowded around the entrance & exit doors, this seems to be a reasonable question.

But the significance of this speculation is mitigated by the knowledge that, based on the information that they had been given, the police were reacting to a scenario in which they believed that they had an armed suspect who was refusing to leave the store. They did not envision confronting Erik Scott at the exit of Costco Wholesale. The police thought that, after the evacuation, they would have to go in after him.

In today's testimony, Officer Stark said as much. He also reiterated a point that was made in earlier testimony: that people who hold CCW permits in the state of Nevada are taught how to comply with police, and that this education includes explicit instructions to NOT reach for your weapon when initially confronted by police officers. Erik Scott had a CCW permit. Yet he reached for his weapon when confronted by police.

Had Erik Scott just put his hands up and kept them there when he was confronted by Officer Mosher (who couldn't have looked more like a police officer if he tried), then Erik Scott would probably be alive today.

And the absence of testimony from Erik Scott's girlfriend remains a troubling issue. Why did she ignore a subpoena to appear at this inquest? Though others have expressed their suspicions about the lack of direct video surveillance of the shooting of Erik Scott, I myself find the non-appearance of Samantha Sterner even more suspicious. After all, she is an eyewitness to the shooting, and she has direct knowledge of Erik Scott's actions & state-of-mind in the hours preceding his death. I can't help thinking that she has deliberately dodged this coroner's inquest as part of a plot to hide potentially valuable information.

As for the rest of this last day's testimony, it just bolstered my conclusion that Erik Scott's death, though tragic, was largely his own fault.

Now that the jury has rendered their finding that the shooting of Erik Scott was justified, I have to say that this was an unsurprising result. Of course, critics of this process will point out that there was no cross-examination of the witnesses and that there was no advocate for the victim. But, as has been said over & over, this inquest was not a trial.

The trials -- certainly at least one civil suit -- are sure to come.

In the wake of the announcement of the jury's finding, Erik Scott's father and his attorney talked with the media. The Las Vegas Sun published an article summing up this talk, as well as the inquest itself, in an article available here.

As expected, Bill Scott was deeply critical of the coroner's inquest, and he announced that he plans to file lawsuits against both the police department and Costco Wholesale. While I can see a suit against Costco Wholesale going forward and perhaps leading to a substantial settlement, it's hard for me to envision a wrongful death suit against LVMPD being successful.

Of course, I'm no lawyer, and the coming lawsuits may unveil some new information that could radically overturn my agreement with this inquest's finding that the shooting of Erik Scott was justified. I just can't help feeling that any such information would be outweighed by what any such future legal proceeding could wring out of Erik Scott's absent girlfriend, Samantha Sterner.


Monday, September 27, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 5

Once again, the Las Vegas Sun has a witness-by-witness blog of the fifth day of the coroner's inquest into the death of Erik Scott that is available here.

And, once again, my own reactions appear below.

After yet another parade of eyewitnesses, the basic picture of what happened on July 10, 2010, has not changed. When confronted by Officer Mosher just outside the exit of Costco Wholesale, Erik Scott was shot several times after he appeared to pull something from his waistband with his right hand and to raise it towards the police in direct violation of the verbal commands that Officer Mosher was shouting. Tragically, Erik Scott died as a result.

The fifth day's most interesting testimony came from a public defender named Harold Brooks. It isn't surprising that his account of what happened as the police shot Erik Scott differs in detail from other witnesses. There have been lots of disagreements on details. But those differences are minor, such as whether Officer Mosher yelled at Erik Scott to get down on the ground or drop his weapon or both.

And Mr. Brooks's testimony about how his memory conflicts with forensic reports about the bullet wounds that Erik Scott suffered is yet another example of the unreliability of individual eyewitness testimony. Mr. Brooks himself pretty much admitted this when he seemed to shrug off the fact that he never saw Erik Scott get shot in the chest, despite the medical examiner's finding that two bullets struck Erik Scott there. In my opinion, Mr. Brooks tacitly admitted that the forensic evidence effectively trumps his recollection on this point.

But what makes Harold Brooks's testimony so interesting are his reactions to what he saw. Obviously, Mr. Brooks's occupation as a public defender has made him extremely skeptical of law-enforcement, and he made a couple of points that, to me, bear further exploration.

First, the decision to evacuate the building may indeed have been an overreaction. As Mr. Brooks put it, Erik Scott had, at worst, committed "essentially a misdemeanor" at the time that the police decided to tell Costco Wholesale personnel to evacuate their store so that Erik Scott could be confronted as he exited. Up until now, no one has testified that Erik Scott used the weapon (or weapons) in his possession to threaten anyone. Nor did he say anything that was a direct threat.

I am not faulting Costco Wholesale personnel for calling the police. I take at face value their assertions that Erik Scott acted in such a way as to necessitate such a call. Remember, a Costco Wholesale manager testified earlier that Erik Scott made a very provocative gun-like gesture towards this manager's head while they were talking. I am just echoing Mr. Brooks's own conclusion that the police themselves may have needlessly escalated the situation by ordering an evacuation before attempting to interact with Erik Scott inside the store.

Of course, this may just be another instance of hindsight being clearer than forethought, because we have to remember that these police officers were reacting to a limited and troubling set of facts. They had been called to Costco Wholesale to investigate reports of an armed individual who was acting in a "erratic" manner, who was damaging store property, and who had been asked to leave. That it has later come to light that Erik Scott was not actually asked to leave is immaterial on this point. The police had been told otherwise.

But, would it have been so dangerous for the police, after ascertaining that Erik Scott had not made any actual threats to anyone, to enter the store to engage in a conversation with him?

Again, such a question may just be another instance of armchair quarterbacking. After all, the police did not know that Erik Scott was licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Plus, if the reports that Erik was acting as if he were chemically-impaired were credible (as the medical examiner's toxicology reports now show), then Erik was acting in violation of the law by having firearms in his possession while under the influence of narcotics.

In other words, all the police knew when they arrived at Costco Wholesale was that there was an armed man in the store who was possibly drunk or high and who would not leave when asked to leave by management. So their decision to evacuate the store, which they knew was crowded and therefore posed a dangerous complication, may have been perfectly justified.

Mr. Brooks's other point about how many shots were fired is also worth exploring. It is Mr. Brooks's contention that Officer Mosher's shots were enough to clearly incapacitate Erik Scott and that the additional bullets fired by the other police officers were nothing more than "gratuitous violence."

It's important to note that, on the first day of the inquest, the medical examiner testified that Erik Scott had been shot seven times, twice in the front and five times in the back. At first blush, these numbers seem excessive.

However, I'm not sure that there is such thing as a "shoot to incapacitate" policy in law-enforcement. In fact, my understanding is that firearms are only ever used as instruments of "lethal force." So, once the criteria in a particular situation calls for the use of firearms, such as a suspect raising a potential weapon towards the police, then lethality becomes the only logical outcome. In other words, when the circumstances dictate that the police should fire their weapons, they are thereby authorized to kill their target as efficiently and effectively as possible, which is why all of the assembled officers fired their weapons.

So, while Mr. Brooks's reservations about the number of shots that were fired seem reasonable, from a law-enforcement standpoint, such reservations are impractical. As I've said before, this needs to change. The police need better technologies and more effective policies for non-lethal techniques of subduing suspects while still ensuring everyone's safety. As of now, perhaps this means the expanded use of tasers.

The other officers who shot Erik Scott should take the stand tomorrow. I eagerly await their testimonies.

In the meantime, I shall once again express my sympathies for Erik Scott's family. While I have argued that it seems to me that, based on the evidence presented thus far, this inquest will more than likely find that the shooting of Erik Scott by the police was justified (or at least excusable), I do not mean to imply that this means that Erik Scott deserved to die.

If this seems like a paradoxical position to you, I can only assure you that it is.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 4

The Las Vegas Sun's minute-by-minute account of the fourth day of the coroner's inquest into the death of Erik Scott can be found here.

My own reactions appear below.

The fourth day of the inquest began with yet more eyewitness testimony about the shooting of Erik Scott on July 10th, 2010. Again, these accounts contained irregularities, but these differences were what I would deem negligible.

For instance, there have been differing accounts of what Erik Scott did just before he was shot. While all accounts agree that Erik made some sort of gesture with his right hand towards his own side or back, they differ as to what that gesture was. Some witnesses say that Erik Scott pulled out a weapon from his waistband and held it out towards the police. Other witnesses have recounted that Erik Scott merely pulled his shirt up, perhaps as if to show the police that there was a weapon in his waistband.

In any case, it seems clear to me that Erik Scott did not comply with police intentions to surrender & comply with them in a non-threatening manner. Though there has been some disagreement about just exactly what words were used by the police, their intent seems clear. The police wanted Erik Scott to surrender to submit himself to their custody.

Furthermore, the District Attorney addressed the issue of the possibly contradictory commands given by Officer Mosher to Erik Scott (i.e., to either get down on the ground or to drop his weapon). The District Attorney has plausibly contended that Officer Mosher's changing commands were in response to a "dynamic situation" that possibly included Erik Scott first stopping and turning around to face the police and then reaching for his weapon. In such a scenario, it is perfectly reasonable that Officer Mosher changed his commands from "get down on the ground" to "drop it" as heard in the 911 call played on the second day of testimony.

It also seems clear to me that Erik Scott did not respond to police in a way that would be consistent with his own training. Based on the sum of the testimony given, Erik Scott, when confronted by police officers who were pointing their weapons at him, made some sort of movement that could reasonably interpreted as threatening. And this tragic mistake killed him.

I get the feeling that Erik Scott would still be alive today if he had just frozen when he was confronted by the police. If he had made no movement at all (which would still not have complied with Officer Mosher's commands to get down on the ground), Erik Scott would have been safely subdued by the police rather than shot by them. Instead, Erik moved his right arm in such a way that the police felt the need to respond with gunfire.

Now, I am a proponent of gun possession, and I support the rights of those who feel the need to carry handguns on their person. But the reality of an armed populace necessitates that the police approach every situation with the suspicion that gun violence is a possibility. Citizens, especially those who carry firearms, need to realize this and act accordingly. This is why you should keep your hands on the steering wheel when you get pulled over by the police while driving your car. And Erik Scott's own training and experience made him intimately aware of this danger.

I am no apologist for the police. I regard them as a necessary evil, like politicians and dietary fiber. And I wonder why the police do not have a more active policy of using non-lethal methods to subdue suspects, such as using tasers. I'm no expert, and such methods may not be practical or particularly effective. But I can't help feeling that Erik Scott could have been safely detained using a taser in a way that protected everyone's safety and that would not have ended in his death.

Indeed, one of the eyewitnesses, a doctor who testified during today's session of the inquest, expressed exactly this thought. He felt that the police had ample opportunity to subdue Erik Scott using non-lethal means. It's a sad commentary on society that we have more proficient means of killing someone than we have of safely incapacitating them. Mankind has always been most adept at violence.

Now, what if Erik Scott wasn't actually reaching for his weapon, but, like Amadou Diallo in 1991, was merely reaching for his wallet or cellphone? The discrepancies in the witness' testimonies so far leave room for this possibility. And the unfortunate absence of direct video surveillance deprives us of visual proof of what happened. But the fact remains that holding out something towards the police was in direct violation of both the oral commands being shouted at Erik Scott and his own training.

Again, I feel the need to express my sympathy for the aggrieved Scott family. They are caught in the impossible position of defending their deceased son in very public and potentially embarrassing circumstances. They have naturally risen to the defense of their son's character, as his life's story has become inevitably tainted by the events of July 10th, 2010.

But I reject the notion that Erik Scott's life should be defined by the incident that led to his tragic death. I never knew Erik Scott, but it sounds like he was an interesting character, a motivated individual with an accomplished personal history. None of us is perfect, but Erik Scott's father has more than enough reason to be proud of his son.

If, as a result of the public scrutiny that Erik Scott's death has drawn towards police procedures and our county's inquest process, changes are made to improve them, then perhaps his family can be granted some semblance of satisfaction to help with their grief.

I myself would like to see, as I've mentioned before, a better police policy of using non-lethal means to subdue suspects. And I wouldn't mind if the inquest process were expanded to include an attorney (either a public defender or an appointed lawyer with subpoena powers) who would represent the interests of the victim and who would be allowed to cross-examine all witnesses. Of course, this would probably just complicate the inquest process to a hopeless degree, turning every such proceeding into a de-facto trial.

On a more petty note, during the course of today's proceedings, the judge had to admonish the assembled observers that, although he understood that Erik Scott's death is a highly-charged issue that has naturally caused feelings to run high, the judge would not tolerate any violations of decorum anywhere in the courthouse. This admonishment was apparently in response to some sort of altercation that occurred during the morning break.

I agree with the judge that the highly-charged nature of Erik Scott's death is no excuse to violate the sanctity of the courthouse, which is where our society brings its conflicts in order to be adjudicated according to the rule of law. But human nature being what it is, such an altercation is hardly surprising.

The next session of this inquest begins at 10 a.m. on Monday. I wonder if it will bring any surprises or just more evidence to bolster the supposition that this shooting was justified or at least excusable.


Friday, September 24, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 3

As in the past two days, you can find a blow-by-blow account of the third day of testimony in the coroner's inquest into the death of Erik Scott here.

My own reactions appear below.

This third day was a non-stop parade of testimony, from both shoppers and Costco Wholesale employees who were present on July 10, 2010. There were inconsistencies in these accounts, but these were minor. Anyone with any experience in dealing with eyewitnesses knows that there are always inconsistencies. And none of the inconsistencies that came to light today seemed significant or highly contradictory.

Indeed, all of the direct witnesses to the shooting agree on this salient fact: Erik Scott did not comply with the police when they confronted him. And Erik Scott pulled his weapon out and held it out towards the police instead of keeping his hands out and clear in a non-threatening gesture of compliance.

Perhaps the most damning testimony came from an eyewitness who is also a holder of a CCW permit. Not only did this witness offer yet another direct account of the shooting of Erik Scott, he also offered a critique of Scott's actions. The gist of this witness's critique of Erik Scott is this: Erik acted contrary to the training given to all CCW permit holders in that he acted in a way that could be construed as threatening while the police had their own weapons trained on him. In other words, reaching for his weapon was exactly the wrong thing to do when Erik was faced with police officers who had their own weapons drawn. And Erik was surely trained to know this.

In addition, the fact that Erik Scott's girlfriend did not appear at the inquest, even though she had been subpoenaed to appear, is deeply troubling. Sure, her initial audio statement to detectives, which was made on the day of Erik Scott's death, was read into the inquest record. But, in the face of volumes of testimony regarding Erik's apparently impaired demeanor, why would the one person with direct, first-hand knowledge of Erik's state-of-mind choose not to appear?

I can't help thinking that this non-appearance occurred at the advice of the Scott family's attorney, in order to deny the District Attorney's office a chance to delve into her knowledge of Erik Scott's actions or state-of-mind. What does Erik's girlfriend have to hide?

Earlier in today's testimony, a membership clerk said that Erik Scott was clearly impaired and that he was unable to fill out the membership application. Instead, his girlfriend had to fill it out for him, and the membership clerk reported the incident to her supervisor. I wonder why that application wasn't made available as evidence, especially since the clerk mentioned that Erik made illegible marks on it when trying to fill it out himself. Perhaps we'll see it in a later legal proceeding.

Also, until today, I was not aware of just how threatening Erik Scott acted towards Vince Lopez, the manager who initially confronted Erik Scott about his concealed weapon. (Full disclosure: I've known Vince for years, and I consider him a personal friend. But Vince had not disclosed all of the details of this incident to me, for obvious reasons.) Certainly, the fact that Erik Scott was not only verbally belligerent, but also physically threatening to Vince puts Erik himself in a very bad light. It also puts to rest any reservations I had about the decision to call the police in the first place.

I still feel that Erik should have been directly told that the police had been called. But I wonder, if I had still been an employee of Costco Wholesale, would I have acted any differently than Vince or Shai? It's a sobering question.

Will tomorrow's testimony bring any surprises to light? I doubt it. So far, the sum total of the evidence presented puts the blame squarely on Erik Scott for his death at the hands of the police on July 10th, 2010. But I am trying to keep an open mind.

Besides, this inquest will hardly be the final word on the death of Erik Scott. I envision at least one future civil suit. The family of Erik Scott will, as is natural, choose to disbelieve all of the testimony offered in this inquest, alleging that the entire proceeding is the product of a massive cover-up.

And Clark County's inquest process itself may undergo dramatic changes in the near future.

We shall see.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 2

Those who want to read a blow-by-blow account of the second day of testimony in the coroner's inquest into the death of Erik Scott can check out the Las Vegas Sun's blog here. I'm just going to record my reactions below.

The District Attorney's office opened up today's testimony with another attack on Erik Scott's character, this time detailing an altercation that Scott had last March with a neighbor. Apparently, Scott pulled his gun on the neighbor when the neighbor's dog bit him.

I'm not sure what this testimony has to do with what happened on July 10th, except maybe to show that Erik Scott had a propensity to draw his weapon in confrontations. Then again, he had just been bitten by a dog! And one incident does not constitute a propensity.

Next came the first of the day's two most dramatic witnesses.

The Costco Wholesale employee who called the police took the stand. Identifying himself as a "loss prevention supervisor," he then related his entire interaction with Erik Scott on the day Scott died.

Again, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I know Shai Lierley. I worked with him when I worked for Costco Wholesale, although I don't know him personally. In the couple of years I worked with Shai, I found him to be a competent and reliable colleague.

Having said that, I have many misgivings about how the interaction with Erik Scott was handled.

In the testimony thus far, it's been mentioned that Erik Scott was never actually asked to leave the store, and he was never actually told that he had to take his gun out of the store. He was merely told of Costco policy regarding firearms, and then everyone backed off.

Also, no one told Erik Scott that the police had been called.

In my experience, whenever I had to deal with a confrontational customer, backing off was a sign that the encounter with the customer was over (at least to the customer). Instead of leaving the situation like that, I engaged with the customer until they left the store, even if it meant that I ended up shopping with them and ringing them up myself. And in the few times I had to call the police (or at least threaten to) I told the member I was doing so, which usually served to defuse the situation, at least to a point where the threat of violence ended.

Now, I admit that I wasn't there, and thus I don't really know how dangerous and/or volatile Erik Scott appeared to the people who interacted with him. It was obviously a judgment call, and this is armchair quarterbacking. But I do find it odd that no one told Erik Scott that the police were waiting for him.

Of course, the replaying of the 911 call that Lierley made was very dramatic, serving to back up the sequence of events as related by Lierley's testimony.

The next few witnesses gave details relating to the missing Costco Wholesale surveillance video. I'm not going to buy into the conspiracy theories here. The work order to repair the system was made at least a day before Erik Scott ever set foot in Costco Wholesale, and the hard-drive in question clearly had no relevant data on it. Call me a Homer, but those are the facts.

Officer Mosher's testimony has been the most dramatic thus far. It seems clear that Mosher and his fellow officers followed established protocol when approaching a situation involving an armed and potentially dangerous suspect. They were acting on the information they'd been given.

And, if what Officer Mosher says is true, then it's hard to see how this inquest could end in anything other than a finding of justified (or at least excusable). If, as Mosher stated, Erik Scott took out his weapon and raised it towards the assembled officers, then they just followed their training in shooting him.

But who ordered the store evacuation?

Mosher's testimony continues tomorrow, as he answers questions posed by "interested parties" and read to him by the judge.

I have to end by once again mentioning Erik Scott's family. This whole situation is horrible wall-to-wall, but I sympathize with their impossible position. Their loved one died in a very public and questionable way, and they are stuck dealing with both the grief of their loss and the controversy surrounding it.

I'm not sure how well I would be able to handle what they're going through.


The Inquest into Erik Scott's Death - Day 1

I've been watching the coroner's inquest into the shooting death of Erik Scott for the past two days. What follows is my impression of the events of the first day of testimony.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am a former employee of Costco Wholesale, and I used to work at the Summerlin location where Erik Scott was shot to death by police officers on July 10, 2010. However, at the time of Erik Scott's death, I had not worked for Costco Wholesale for over a year, although I personally know many employees who were there that day.

Having admitted this, I have no skin in this particular game, as they say, and my initial impressions of the event were formed by the wildly conflicting second-hand accounts I got via text message in the hours after the shooting. Indeed, for a couple of hours after the shooting, I was under the impression that the person who had been shot might have been an employee of Costco Wholesale!

That Erik Scott had some kind of argument with store employees in Costco Wholesale has been established. That the police were called because Erik Scott had a legally-licensed weapon in his possession is also an established fact. That the store evacuation that led to Erik Scott's confrontation with the police was initiated by the police is also an established fact.

The question is whether the shooting of Erik Scott just outside the entrance of Costco Wholesale was justified, excusable, or criminal. A justified shooting means that the police acted in an appropriate manner, and their shooting of Erik Scott was necessary because of the circumstances of the situation. An excusable shooting means that the police did not act appropriately but that the circumstances of the situation excuse the shooting. A criminal shooting means that the police acted in a completely inappropriate manner that resulted in a needless death and that criminal charges may be forthcoming.

It's important to note that the coroner's inquest is not a trial, and its findings do not constitute a legal verdict. The coroner's inquest is nothing more than a court-administered inquiry into a police-involved shooting that resulted in a death. The resulting report may or may not lead to further legal proceedings or department action, but the purpose of the inquest is to gather information in a legal and organized manner.

The inquest opened with the testimony of the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Erik Scott. She detailed the number and placement of the shots that killed him. Turns out he was shot twice in the front of his body and five times in the back of his body. One bullet even hit him just below a buttock, traveled upward, and lodged itself in his lower chest.

Unlike what we see on television police dramas, the medical examiner expressly stipulated that she could not speculate from this information about what Erik Scott was doing at the time he was shot or what the officers were doing at the moments that they shot him. We got no 3-D, computer-generated simulation of the event, showing the trajectories of the bullets and essentially re-enacting the event. So much for our "CSI"-enhanced expectations.

The medical examiner also detailed the level of pharmaceutical chemicals in Erik Scott's bloodstream at the time of his death. Apparently, Erik Scott had very high levels of morphine and xanax in his system, and the levels of these chemicals and their associated by-products indicated to the medical examiner that Erik Scott had developed a high tolerance for these drugs by ingesting them over a long period of time. She also testified that she would characterize these levels of chemicals in Erik Scott's bloodstream as being enough to impair him.

After her testimony, the district attorneys called three different doctors to the stand. The first was a "concierge" doctor who had not treated Erik Scott in over a year. She testified that Erik Scott had emailed her repeatedly, asking for prescriptions for hydrocodone but refusing to make office visits so she could examine him in person. She also testified that Erik Scott cited "financial reasons" for ceasing to be a patient of hers.

The second doctor was a "pain specialist" who testified that Erik Scott was clearly addicted to pain-killers. This doctor apparently tried to treat Erik Scott's addiction but later ended his treatment of Erik Scott. Interestingly, this doctor admitted, in light of what happened to Erik on July 10th, that he has reservations about having ended his caregiving relationship with the deceased. This doctor admitted that he wonders if he should have done more to directly address what he saw as Erik Scott's continuing addiction to pain medication.

The third doctor also treated Erik Scott for addiction to pain medication. He testified that Scott was responding to his treatment, and this doctor believed that Scott was no longer addicted to medication because they had started a treatment regiment that actually addressed Scott's real pain, which was apparently the result of both an accident during his time in the military and an automobile accident earlier this year.

The day's final testimony came from a "demo lady" named Colleen. She testified that she was an eyewitness to Erik Scott getting shot. She was walking out of the exit when she saw Erik Scott being confronted by a police officer. She said that the police officer told Scott to "get on the ground" but Scott did not comply with these commands. Instead, according to her, Scott at first just stared at the officer. Then Scott reached behind his back and pulled out a firearm and pointed it at the officer. At this point, the officer shot Erik.

Colleen then testified that she didn't see any subsequent shots or actions because the officer dropped something after he fired that first shot, and this object hitting the ground caught Colleen's attention. Then, because of the shot being fired, Colleen turned around and ran back into the warehouse and hid behind the membership desk.

This is blockbuster testimony. Its simplicity and status as eyewitness testimony makes it hard to refute. But it's also incomplete and it lacks context.

It seems clear to me that the District Attorney's office has a strategy at play. They apparently want to paint a background portrait of Erik Scott as an impaired addict who acted irrationally on the day he was shot by the police.

They have strong evidence, and they may in fact be right that Erik Scott's own actions are to blame for his death. The issue isn't whether or not Scott had a right to carry his licensed firearm. In fact, he does have a right to carry his firearm, except that Costco Wholesale is private property and they have the right to restrict the possession of firearms on their property.

But I can't help sympathizing with Erik Scott's father, who has been publicly stating that he feels his son was murdered and that the police are covering up clear evidence of this fact. The absence of direct video footage and the circumstances of that absence would arouse anyone's suspicions, no matter how much evidence Costco Wholesale provides showing that the equipment was faulty beforehand and was in the process of getting repaired.

The strategy of portraying his son as an impaired addict must be infuriating and painful to Bill Scott. The testimony of the doctors and the medical examiner must fill him with rage that they are attacking the character of his son. This is perfectly natural. Erik Scott's death was a tragic mistake.

What remains to be seen is whether or not Erik or the police should shoulder the majority of the blame for his death. My own feeling is that this tragedy is the result of a cascade of bad decisions and mistakes and misunderstandings from all of the parties involved, including Erik Scott himself. I'm just not sure that anything he did was deserving of the use of deadly force.

The issue of whether or not the coroner's inquest process should be changed is still an open question. I see the inquest as a proper first step in the investigation of a police-involved death. But it's important to note that this process is only a first step. It's what happens afterward that matters.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HALO and me

I know. I know. There's something ridiculous about a middle-aged man playing video games. But I'm getting more and more comfortable with my ridiculous side. I'm too old to deny who I am.

And I've been a fan of the HALO franchise since its opening chapter. The first HALO game came with the Xbox console that Brother Juan brought home in late 2001, and its cutting-edge graphics and frantic, first-person gameplay provided us with hours of cooperative fun.

And now comes the fifth iteration of the game: HALO Reach, a kind of prequel to the first 3 chapters of the saga (and their lesser cousin, the much-maligned but still enjoyable HALO 3: ODST release).

The cooperative aspect really enhanced the game for me. I've never really been very good at video games, so having a partner along to help me through the advancing difficulties of HALO was a real bonus. HALO is fun as a game, but it's even more fun as a party.

But what really hooked me on HALO was the storyline. As a boy, I ingested a steady diet of science-fiction, comic books, and action movies, and the saga of the Master Chief's struggles to save humanity from an alien invasion really got my juices flowing. I guess it always helps to feel like what you're doing has a purpose, and the fictive framework of HALO provided it.

And what a story it is: humanity has spread across interstellar space only to encounter an alien confederation that, because of religious fervor, has decided to eradicate us. Outnumbered and outgunned, mankind retreats from yet another defeat in battle only to stumble upon a fantastic relic from an ancient civilization that may hold the key to our salvation -- or to the destruction of all life in the galaxy!

Talk about playing for high stakes!

But seriously, my point is that the storyline of HALO has real depth and intelligence. It isn't a tacked-on excuse for gameplay pyrotechnics. Rather, it has enough heft to contextualize the gameplay, giving it consequence and allowing the player to feel like an active participant in the narrative. In other words, as you play, you begin to feel less like an immature slob gripping a controller and more like a soldier fighting for a cause.

Call it narrative immersion. Call it gameplay-induced hypnosis. Call it delusions of grandeur. Call it what you will. But it's been working for me for almost a decade now, and I'm glad to say that the new HALO Reach has not disappointed me.

Brother Juan brought it home on its release date last week, and I've been playing it daily ever since. I've worked my way through to its final chapter, and, even though I have a low preconception of prequels (just take a look at what George Lucas did with his prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy!), I'm glad to note that the HALO Reach chapter of the story is as dramatic and consequential as the original chapters of the HALO trilogy.

(This is me, sniping aliens in HALO Reach.)

Now, this being the fifth time that a game has been released that is based on the HALO universe, HALO Reach has many elements that will strike us fanboys as being old-hat. Brother Juan, who is less invested in the narrative aspect of the game than I am, has quickly tired of HALO Reach, and he has proclaimed that the game offers him little that is new.

And, to a large extent, he's right. Except for the addition of a couple of new vehicles and weapons and aliens, HALO Reach is largely the same game that HALO 3 was.

This is where my own immersion in the narrative saves me (or dooms me, depending on your perspective).

Sure, HALO Reach has much of the same gameplay as the previous iterations. As you play, you're either attacking or defending aliens in order to obtain or protect something. But, because I am so invested in the overarching story, these repetitious scenarios have context and depth. They are not so much rehashings of previous gameplays as they are chapters in a developing story -- a story that purports to have significant consequences for the future. For me, anyway.

Feeling like part of a story is how most of us establish meaning in our lives. This holds true for religion & politics & family, and our most fervent conflicts come about when one story impinges on another. It also holds true for our entertainments.

And the HALO saga provides at least the illusion of such meaning in the form of an addictive video game. There are worst ways to waste your time, ridiculous or not.

HALO Reach
the fifth installment of the HALO video game saga

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Town - directed by Ben Affleck

The Town - directed by & starring Ben Affleck

Crime stories thrive because of the romantic notion that criminals are rugged individualists, chafing at the shackles of a lawful life and acting in ways that the rest of us would never dare to act.

But, honestly, it takes a certain amount of idiocy to be a criminal. We all know this. To act in a way that incurs the wrath of the state is just plain stupid, unless you're doing it for some higher purpose. Non-violent civil disobedience can be noble, in a way that robbing banks can never be.

Still, there are more entertaining stories about crime than there are about civil disobedience. What this fact says about human nature I'll leave to better philosophers than me.

Ben Affleck's The Town is a credible & entertaining crime story, and it proves that Affleck is clearly developing some chops as a director, along the lines of Clint Eastwood's career. To give his story a little extra true-to-life juice, Affleck sets his movie in the "bank robbery capital of America," making the neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts to serve as a kind of extra character in his cast.

The Charlestown depicted in The Town is a downtrodden, blue-collar neighborhood where loyalty can trump common sense and where everyone's foibles will be exploited.

Affleck himself anchors the story as a criminal with the heart of gold, a man who has gone into what is essentially the family business largely because his peers expected him to. His brother-from-another-mother is played by Jeremy Renner, a hothead whose impulses & motives are transparent to anyone who meets him. He's trouble, as is his sister (played by Blake Lively), an erstwhile girlfriend of Affleck's character. Rebecca Hall plays an assistant bank manager who, in the course of the story, gets victimized by both sides of the law.

But the setting and the surrounding cast are not the real story of The Town. The real story is the cat-and-mouse game between Affleck's character and the hard-nosed, resourceful FBI agent played by Jon Hamm. Affleck's character desperately wants to leave his criminal career and his neighborhood to start fresh somewhere else, but his crew and the FBI have other ideas.

Of course, being the antagonist of Affleck is a largely thankless job, but Hamm carries it off. In fact, his performance is what lifts The Town from the precipice of failure (in the way Richard Gere's performance almost saved Brooklyn's Finest). Hamm's character is written with such intelligence, and Hamm plays him so interestingly, that, when he is on-screen, the story seems to kick into a higher gear.

The plot moves fluidly, with effective pacing, and the story largely avoids the kind of inane posturing that infects lesser entertainments. Thankfully, we get no scenes of our hero-criminals holding forth sanctimoniously. Every conversation is a plot point, and nothing is over-explained. Indeed, the movie is so economical that a couple of members of the four-man criminal crew at its center may as well have been played by extras.

There is little that is groundbreaking in The Town. We've seen these characters before, especially Renner's. And the women in this movie necessarily play minor roles. (Hall acquits herself authentically as a woman who is buffeted by forces she did nothing whatsoever to call forth.) But all of its elements are so well-executed that the end product works.

Of course, Michael Mann's Heat stands as a paragon of the genre, and The Town suffers by comparison. But just because The Town isn't the best crime story ever made doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively

Monday, September 13, 2010

Babies - directed by Thomas Balmes

Babies - directed by Thomas Balmes

As a documentary, Babies has a sweetly simple setup: follow 4 diverse newborns through the first year of their lives.

And the resulting movie seems superficial at first blush. After all, we all know babies. And only the weirdest and most persnickety of us isn't softened by the sight of a smiling cherub. It's built into our genes, and it's what helps keep the greeting card industry afloat.

But Babies accomplishes more than just a catalog of cuteness. By highlighting commonalities amidst such differing circumstances, Babies says more about the human condition than most editorials (or blogs). We are more alike than different, whether we spend our first years in the United States or Japan or Mongolia or Namibia.

In Babies, there's no narration. For a little over an hour, we just move from scene to scene, letting the images and the actions speak for themselves, starting with Ponijao in Namibia, who is raised in a dirt-floor hut amidst nearly prehistoric trappings. Instead of clothing, the tribe to which Ponijao belongs uses a smear of red clay to protect their skin. Overprotective American parents will shudder at these scenes, especially the one highlighting how Ponijao's mom deals with the absence of anything resembling a diaper.

But the opening scene in which Ponijao interacts with a sibling while playing is the very definition of universality. Ponijao needs no words, and we need not understand a syllable of the mother's off-screen exhortations to know exactly what's at play here.

Babies does get a bit graphic at times. Bayar, the Mongolian baby, is shown getting born. And, as would be natural in a documentary about newborns, there are boobs-a-plenty. Yet there is not a tinge of prurience in the whole movie. The bosoms in this flick are purely motherly.

Indeed, except for the babies, the rest of the cast seems curiously disembodied. The mothers get their screen time, but they are never the focus of a shot. Other adults appear as hands reaching in from off-screen or as off-stage voices, and there is one memorable shot of a nurse wrapping newborn Bayar into a tight bundle so his parents can carry him off on their motorcycle across the roadless steppes of Central Asia.

But Babies is about babies, pure and simple.

In watching Babies, I was struck by this fact: the babies in the ultra-modern environments of San Francisco and Tokyo were surrounded by toys and gadgets, while the babies in Mongolia and Namibia were surrounded by people and animals. Which is healthier? It's a reductive question, and it ignores a whole host of complicating contexts. But I honestly believe it's worth asking.

And that urban folklore about the danger of having housecats near your newborns? Well, an early scene with Mari in Tokyo puts that particular myth to rest, especially considering Japan's record of infant mortality puts the United States to shame.

Does Babies have an overt message? Sure it does, but to state it baldly would do a disservice to the experience that Balmes has created. And his choice to forego narration serves to make that message even stronger, allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions about what is shown. It's a master stroke, and I have to recommend this movie.

directed by Thomas Balmes 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Raiders Lose Their Opener

(Note: for those of you who do not care about football or the Oakland Raiders, I suggest you skip this post!)

As a longtime Oakland Raider fan, I have mixed feelings about their opening-game loss today.

First of all, a loss is a loss, as they say, so I am disappointed. But this loss was not unexpected. The Titans were clearly the better team in every aspect, from offense to defense to special teams. Vince Young and Chris Johnson are legitimate superstars. But the lopsided score just hurts.

Now, Jason Campbell looks to give the Raiders a level of competence and leadership that they haven't had since Rich Gannon. After the JaMarcus Russell debacle, Campbell doesn't have to be a superstar. He just has to be reasonably good.

But the play of Oakland's offensive line was a large contributor to today's loss. Campbell was constantly pressured, and our rookie center, the giant Veldheer, made a number of costly gaffes.

Campbell himself wasn't perfect either, but nearly all of his mistakes can be laid at the feet of his supposed protectors. And at no time did I see the kind of bumbling indecision that marked the quarterbacking of the long-gone JaMarcus Russell. However you feel about Campbell's level of talent, he's clearly not clueless.

Now, the number of penalties -- and the sort of penalties they were -- are troubling for citizens of the Raider Nation. It would be one thing if the Raiders were getting called for penalties that showed that they were full of energy and aggressiveness. Then their status as the most-penalized team in the NFL would be a badge of honor. But the number of false-starts is a sign of lack of confidence and preparation.

The fact that Head Coach Tom Cable is a former O-line specialist also fills me with many troubling doubts. Does this mean that the Raiders have an offensive line that is out-performing their apparent lack of ability? Or does it mean that Tom Cable just isn't a very good coach? In other words, is it lack of talent or lack of leadership that is making the offensive line so porous? (Or could it be both?)

Of course, I applaud Al Davis's decision to keep Cable in place this season, especially after several years of turmoil. I think a sense of stability in coaching & management goes a long way. But I'm not sold on Cable being the figurehead of that stability.

And the receiver corp needs to improve immediately. Campbell has the arm and the eye to be a great signal-caller for the Raiders, but what he needs are the time and the targets to complete some passes downfield. Louis Murphy and Zach Miller look to be potentially-good outlets in the long run, and Darren McFadden has also shown flashes of receiving brilliance. But they won't be enough to sustain the offense for the whole season. The Raiders need other receivers to develop into credible scoring threats, as well.

As much as I love the stellar kick/punt duo of Lechler and Janikowski, it's particularly telling that the Raiders' leading scorer is their kicker.

And a respectable running threat would help. But both Michael Bush and Darren McFadden have been too brittle to last an entire season. The brave and selfless Justin Fargas is gone, after failing a physical in the off-season, so any previous semblance of running-back reliability has just evaporated (if it ever existed). And, over the past several seasons, the Raiders have given up too many early leads to make the ground game a viable option.

On the other hand, the Raider defense looked competent. The linemen, led by former Patriot Richard Seymour, were pretty stalwart against the run, and the Raiders were able to somewhat contain the amazing Chris Johnson. But they just don't have enough star-power to make up for an ineffective offense.

And Asomugha, the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, needs help in the secondary. There were numerous blown coverages and mismatches throughout the game. Plus, Vince Young was able to victimize the linebackers repeatedly with his legs, and, even more troubling, the Titans seemed to get more and more comfortable with what looked like a very vanilla Raiders defensive scheme.

As much as I respect Jeff Fisher as the longest-tenured coach in the NFL (and his team did just hand the Raiders a punishing loss), I do wonder what will happen when Cable and his coordinators go up against some of the more devious schemers in the league, like Dick LeBeau's Steeler defense or Bill Belichick's Patriots. I can't help thinking the Raiders are going to be embarrassingly out-schemed, even more so than they were today.

With so many rookies and new faces on the roster, it's hard not to label this season as 'rebuilding year' for the Raiders. And I think that any hopes for a playoff appearance from these Raiders are overblown. I'm just hoping for an 8-8 season, which is something that hasn't happened since my favorite football team's last Super Bowl appearance, way back in 2003.


Oakland Raiders at Tennesse Titans
September 12, 2010
Final Score: Oakland  13, Tennessee 38

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Best Song This Summer (NSFW)

I know, summer hasn't officially ended, but I'm ready to declare the season's best song.

This isn't because I can predict the future. After all, I've read Taleb's The Black Swan, so I know the dangers of prognostication (a danger Taleb himself has pointedly ignored lately!).

It's because this song is SO fresh, SO catchy, and SO mind-bogglingly sing-along-able that I can't imagine another song coming out over the next few weeks that would touch it.

The song is Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" -- the first single from his upcoming album, "The Lady Killer." The YouTube video of the song already has several million hits, as well it should. The viral success of the video has even prompted coverage from the normally profanity-averse NPR.

The times, they are a-changin'. (Then again, when weren't they?)

You remember Cee Lo Green, don't you? He's the vocal sparkplug behind Gnarls Barkley, the super-duo whose hits include "Crazy" and a cover of "Gone Daddy Gone." Point is, this man's got chops.

And I'm sorry if the F-word offends your sensibilities. I'm sorry if its mere presence so bothers you that your entire experience becomes tainted. And I know this song will never hit the mainstream airwaves (without some serious editing, anyway).

But George Carlin was right: it's just a word. People use it, and to deny its place in our cultural lexicon is foolishness.

As I get older, I find myself getting less and less patient with anachronistic priggishness. I believe in descriptive, not proscriptive, linguistics.

And Cee Lo uses the F-word masterfully in a song that expresses all the emotional contradictions of running into a former lover while the wounds are still fresh. He's got a powerful voice and the music pulses with a fresh energy that still manages to pay homage to its Motown roots.

Catch the lyrical video here.

Better yet, buy the mp3 and put it in your morning shower playlist. It's guaranteed to get your blood flowing.

by Cee Lo Green
From the forthcoming  album, "The Lady Killer"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I've been a fan of standup comedy since I was a kid. But I'm not insufferable about it. I can't quote lines from the masters like friends of mine can. And I still have trouble remembering Carlin's infamous "7 Words You Can't Say on Television."

But I am addicted to standup comedy as entertainment. I recently watched every episode (all six seasons) of the great animated series, "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," which stars Jonathan Katz features guest spots from a who's-who of comics. With decidedly low-fi graphics and a wry sensibility, this show is a great setup for comedians to go on verbal riffs.

Of course, like any genre, standup comedy is full of crap. There are more bad comedians than good ones, but this is true of any group of people. This is also true of any category you can come up with, from comedians to coffee beans, from art to automobiles. This is the reason Theodore Sturgeon came up with his Revelation (also known as Sturgeon's Law) that "90% of everything is crud."

(The real Sturgeon's Law is "Nothing is always absolutely so," but that's a subject for another blog post.)

And, with comedy, the ratio of crud may be closer to 92 percent. (Rim shot!)

Be that as it may, my addiction to standup comedy stems from my attraction to a certain mindset: that life is essentially absurd, and that laughter is the proper response to the vicissitudes of existence. Setting aside the great philosophers who are the true progenitors of this viewpoint (from the ancient Greeks to Sartre), my own patron saint of absurdity is the novelist & humanist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who wrote in Palm Sunday that:
Jokes can be noble. Laughs are as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears both are responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterwards.
And the source of laughter in all comedy is truth. Think about it. Every punchline works because of its relationship to a truth that is recognized by the audience.

Take, for instance, this line from the late, great Richard Jeni (taken from episode 1 of the third season of Dr. Katz):
"People say that marriage should be forever. But when they made up that rule, forever wasn't that long. There was just a guy going, 'Yeah, I should get married. I don't want to be 19 and alone!'"
Now, whether or not you agree with Jeni's viewpoint on marriage, you have to recognize the kernels of truth from which it blossomed: that marriage is a cultural construct that our contemporary society has re-defined as a relationship that can be voluntarily ended and that people live longer now than they ever have.

Of course, nothing kills a joke quicker than an explanation. And I don't want the ghost of Richard Jeni haunting me for dismantling his bit -- so let's move on.

My point is this: beyond the laughs, it is standup comedy's relationship to truth that endlessly fascinates me. More than religions or political ideologies, I think standup comedy illustrates truth in clear and unequivocal terms that, because of its insistence on laughter, does so in ways that encourage sympathy and mutual understanding.

A comedian walks onto a stage, tells some jokes, and the crowd laughs. After an hour or so of shared laughter, it's hard to imagine an entertainment that does more to build some community feeling. Sporting events, by their adversarial nature, can do this only to a certain point, because fans of the losing side won't have much fellow feeling for fans of the winning side. And movies are largely a solitary affair, no matter how crowded the theater can get.

Where do I get my standup comedy? Besides taking in live shows whenever I can, I also subscribe to Revision3's ROFL podcast via Itunes. Marc Maron's WTF podcast is especially interesting, as is Kevin Pollak's Chat Show. Louis CK's new show, "Louie," is a must-see. Kevin Allison's "Risk!" podcast, which is more of a storytelling venue, also features some long-form comedy, but it's almost all hilarious, if a bit scatological.

Plus, there are a plethora of comedy specials out there for purchase or rent. I recommend starting with the classics and working your way up to the contemporaries, from Carlin & Cosby to Doug Stanhope & Zach Galifianakis, from Redd Foxx to Margaret Cho to Wanda Sykes.

The laughs are out there. Go and find them. You'll be better for it.


Friday, September 3, 2010

'Bloodsucking Vegas' update

Great news! I just found out that Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir (besides being available from Amazon) is also available in paperback from the Barnes & Noble website (for 10% off, no less!).

I am still trying to get the book onto store shelves (at least locally) in a variety of venues, but its increased online footprint can only be a good thing, right? Brother Juan has a great idea about creating a video promo for the book that we can upload to Youtube. I wish I knew some local actors who would work for free...

Also, Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir has been accepted in the Vegas Valley Book Festival on Sunday, November 6th at the historic Fifth Street School. I have been given a 1-hour time-slot sometime between 10am and 4pm, where I get to set up a table and sign & sell books. Brother Juan says I should get t-shirts made...

In other news, I met an old friend last night and I got to sign their copy of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. I've inscribed dozens of copies now, and it's a thrill every time. As I've said before, signing books and great friendships are two things that just never get old.

But that's not all: I just got invited to sit in on a local creative-writing class to talk about Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. My book isn't exactly what you'd call 'workshop fiction' but I'll do what I can to make the session worthwhile. I'm sure this will be yet another instance of a speaker learning more from the students than vice versa.

And, this afternoon, I got a really nice email from an old friend and mentor who paid Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir some very nice compliments. Coming from him, the kind words and spot-on remarks meant so much, and they really lifted my spirits. I know, it's vain of me to be swayed by compliments from friends. But I take what I can get.



Ever notice when an old white guy is talking about the "good old days" that he's never talking to a black guy?

Whenever I hear about someone waxing nostalgically for some halcyon days of yore, I like to point out all the bad stuff that was happening during the era they're supposedly pining for. Legalized segregation, men-only voting, extreme & widespread poverty, rampant disease & starvation, political & economic monopolies, an unfair & arbitrary justice system, oppressive local theocracies & oligarchies. Yeah, those sure were the days.

Fact is, more people are enjoying a better standard of living now than have ever enjoyed it in the past. That's right: despite the recession and whatever political or cultural Armageddon you want to buy into, humanity as a whole has never had it so good.

Sure, there are pockets of sheer hell, and, frankly, we could do a lot more to raise the standard of the average world citizen (rather than having a few with too much and too many with too little). But, even compared to a couple of decades ago, more of us are living better than ever.

Recently, I read an article written by a professor of English where he lamented the level of discourse on the internet. He likened the blogosphere to Hobbes's Leviathan, and he pined for the past, when learned men engaged each other in lively argument based on commonalities of high culture.

I call shenanigans. The times he harkened for never existed. Sure, the literature of the time is well-mannered and highly-wrought, and it seems that people engaged in oral argument that used classic rhetorical flourishes more than we do now -- but, we're talking about a very slim, select slice of the populace: mainly white men with educations and land. The rest of the unwashed and disenfranchized were too busy working 12-hour days, 6 days-per-week to, you know, memorize Robert's Rules of Order.

So, yeah, I love it when someone starts spouting off about how we should "return" to those great days of the past when everything was so much better. It usually only takes a little digging to figure out that what they really mean is they want to change things so that they have more power (or money or whatever) than they think they do. Most of the time, people who talk about "returning to the great days of the past" do so because they think they deserve more than they have.

And, yeah, I find that it's usually a white guy who who talks like this, but I've heard people of other skin tones and genders say the same thing. And it never takes long to find out that their vision of the past is more nostalgia than fact.

So, instead of taking about how bad things are compared to how they were, why don't we just chuck the rose-colored hindsight and focus on the here-and-now and engage each other in real and practical terms? Like what we're going to buy when it's time to upgrade our smartphones, or when the lease runs out on our SUV?