20 April 2009

Dave Cullen - Columbine

For those who are not aware, today is—besides International Weed Smoking Day and Hitler's Birthday—the 10th anniversary of the "incident" at Columbine High School. It's an odd trifecta of coinciding anniversaries and, added to the gloomy weather here, unhelpful in distilling any sort of positive vibes from the day. This particular Columbine anniversary also means that it's been ten years since I graduated high school, as I was also a senior when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attempted to "out-mayhem" Tim McVeigh's demolition of Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building.

What? Did you just ask me to define "out-mayhem"? Why didn't I just call it a "school shooting" like so many people have done for the past ten years? Well, I'll leave the nuts and bolts of this to journalist Dave Cullen, whose new, exhaustively researched book, Columbine explains nearly everything you could possibly want to know about this seminal closing event of 20th century America. I say "nearly everything" because there are some things nobody will ever know about this, but Mr. Cullen seems to know all the rest.

Having come of age during a period of media-induced fear and hype over school shootings I'm sure I'm not alone in being a bit morbidly fascinated with them. Combine that with my sociology background and picking up this book was a no-brainer. I had done some minor researching into Columbine a year or so ago and it was Cullen's original stories for Slate that initially caught my attention (though I didn't make the connection when I first picked up the book) and had me thinking differently about the whole ordeal. Columbine wasn't a school shooting perpetrated by some disaffected loners; this was a botched massacre whose plan was hatched by one popular, intelligent—though psychopathic—kid with an intense hatred of mankind and his suicidally unstable friend.

The evidence for this is now overwhelming, but it wasn't easy unearthing it. Though Cullen was there from the beginning, he outlines how the county sheriff mangled the investigation and did a similarly poor job trying to cover up that fact. Many myths
surrounding the shootings that are still taken as gospel are exposed to extreme scrutiny and none of them survive. The mass media—a few local papers excepted—did an incredibly poor job of separating facts from a good storyline and it was those early mistakes faulty judgment that spiraled chaotically into the school shooting narrative familiar today.

Cullen's book is valuable not only as a history of the actual event and a record of all the threads that became knotted this day ten years ago, but also as social reading of mass media and information dissemination. The narrative took on a life of its own that defied clearly contrary evidence and fed back into the ongoing tale of sterile, fearful suburbia. Utilizing the personal effects of the two killers, Cullen revealed the true nature of Eric and Dylan, the psychopath and the seeker who practically dared the folks around them to discover their heinous plot. The two who, because of the faulty profiling of the "school-shooter type", were able to plan their attack because, frankly, most people never suspected them as the loners ready to snap (one mother, whose warnings were ignored, excepted).

Columbine is one of the best non-fiction works I've read in a while and there's little doubt that Cullen poured all his energy into making it a work of art. His portraits of all the involved parties, from the parents to administrators to teachers to fellow students to law enforcement, are sympathetic and caustic in all the right proportion. And while there are clearly parties that are more at fault than others, Cullen never sinks to any immature blame games. The descriptions of psychopathy are engrossingly chilling and the pain of all the affected families and individuals bites the reader no matter how much you try and disengage. A commendable achievement in journalism and a noteworthy work of social history.

19 April 2009

Newcastle United FC - Silver Linings For the Black & White

Earlier today my beloved Newcastle United suffered a 1-0 loss to Spurs that will almost surely see them prepping for life outside the Premiership. For the past few weeks I had been holding out hope that points at Stoke and Spurs would get them out of the red zone, but after picking up just one point in these two crucial games, it's almost certain the Toon are going down.

It's tough to accept such an outcome, but the reality is that the team and organization are a shambles. For too long the club have clutched delusions that they are a "big club" who should be constantly challenging for European places. Refusal to rebuild and owners more interested in milking a religiously loyal fanbase have contributed to the current situation. In fact, Premier League survival could very well be more damaging to the club on the whole than relegation.

Why have I come to this conclusion? First of all, once the emotions cooled and supporters accepted their new position, they (we) could finally embrace that Newcastle United is not the big club so many think it is. We haven't won anything in 40 years and, despite the large fanbase and high-capacity stadium, don't pull much weight or much respect with casual fans. Players with high wage bills end up at St. James' because other, smarter clubs refuse to pay for overpriced vets in the twilight of their careers. Relegation would help shed a lot of this dead weight and make room for the lot of young academy kids who deserve more first team experience.

Of course the club would lose some key performers if they went down, but really, would we miss most of them? The only people who really impressed me this year were Bassong, Gutierrez, Guthrie and Carroll. The latter three would do well to stick around, though it's unclear if they would, while Bassong would almost definitely end up at Arsenal. (As an aside, I think a central partnership of Kolo Touré and Seb Bassong could be a massive step forward for Arsenal and I'd like to see that if Newcastle do go down.) Steven Taylor had a decent season and may stick around for a season just to fight for his home side and get them back to the Prem. Relegation would be a good test to see who sticks with the side and who wants to play mercenary and ship out.

Additionally, the challenge of the League Championship is one that would provide valuable managerial experience for Alan Shearer if he does, in fact, stick around. As opposed to some of the lofty, unreachable goals that the club has set for itself, winning the Championship (or at least securing promotion) is a more than reasonable goal for the club.

As a loyal supporter of the club it most definitely stings to think about relegation. That's for dysfunctional rivals like Mackems or the Smoggies. But that's where we Toon fans find ourselves and we should keep a positive attitude about the positives that relegation could bring. The past few seasons have been a continuous series of failures and a clean slate for some true rebuilding could be the boon this club needs.

15 April 2009

Hammer, Zubaz & Legititude!

Yeah, Yeah, it's been waaaaay to long between posts here, but I've been busy and also (pat on back forthcoming) I got into the New School's creative writing program. Hooray for me! That doesn't justify the non-posting, but I was both excited and not thinking of here.

Anyway, per my usual morning routine I checked out Deadspin this morning to find this post on Hammer's "2 Legit 2 Quit" video. InGameNow put together the lineup of then-stars featured in the video to see how "legit" Hammer's picks were back in 1991. Looks like Hammer was a better judge of ability than of finances (or religious philosophies). As the proud owner of an authentic MC Hammer tshirt (that I wear as regularly as it's washed, which is often) and former youthful owner of several pairs of Zubaz brand pantaloons (apparently they still make these...frightening!), my interest was immediately piqued and my blogmuse (bluse?) beckoned.

What do we find here? Mostly Bay Area athletes and a couple random folks like "Dush" Clemens, Neon Deion and both the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders. Hammer also tossed a bone to us white dudes with the Chris Mullin cameo, an awesome pick since I used to rock Mullin's Golden State #17 jersey through most of middle school (along with various flannels that I still possess).

Watch the vid and go check out the Legitness rankings at InGameNow.