Eric Garner

As someone with a degree in media with 10 years in the journalism profession, I’ve often tried to go into everything with a clear head and look for every single angle on things.

Rarely are things cut-and-dry and there is always two sides to every story. Sometimes more. The key is to be open to every possibility.

This Eric Garner case is one I haven’t been able to get my head around. The video evidence is there. The police handbook regulations are out there and available to the press and the public.

What you see on the video is a police office kill an unarmed man using a restraint technique that is banned by the department he works for.

Now, to play Devil’s Advocate on this – and yes, I probably should have studied law and I’m still mad I didn’t – when you’re in a struggle and you’re in a fight, sometimes your training gets overridden by instinct. I’ve been in my fair share of fights, I get that.

However, I don’t think you can argue the life of the officer was in any danger. I don’t think that would pass a “reasonable” doubt test.

We are at a point to where self-defense laws themselves need to go on trial. There appears to be a  lot of leeway with them, and they seem to be impossible to legislate.

For instance, I was reading something about Missouri’s law – which became big in the Ferguson case. If I read it correctly, it said essentially that if there were any possible chance the defendant were acting in self defense, then the case had to be acquitted. I’m not sure if this is why Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted. I wasn’t in the courtroom. But that makes it really hard to get a conviction.

That doubt didn’t appear to be an issue with the case in New York, so I’m confused with this particular outcome.

I’m not a legal expert, though I did do well in all of my law classes in college. I can still cite a few legal precedents in media law – mainly the big, important ones, like Times vs. Sullivan. (BTW, that particular case is fairly relevant based on some recent media cases in the KC area.)

But like most people, I try to stay informed. I try to look at the facts and I try to wait before making up my mind. Again, maybe it’s the former journalist in me, but in cases of law, I try not to be overly reactive, for better or worse.

And what I’m seeing as I try to stay informed is a powder keg that’s about to ignite in this country. Tensions are building, and I hope that all protesting in New York and around the country on this particular case are peaceful.

But we need to find a way to evaluate these laws and we need to find ways to get a dialogue going that will actually help ease racial tensions in this country. Because if we don’t, things are going to get worse well before they get any better.

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Gabba Gabba Hey. RIP Ramones

With the sad passing of the last original Ramone today – drummer Tommy Ramone – it seems fitting to talk about one of the greatest American bands of all time.

What’s that? You don’t have any Ramones albums? You don’t know much about them? Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.

I was always amazed at how much bigger the Ramones were outside of the U.S. then they were in the States. They’d play arenas in South America and large festivals in Europe, then come back to America to play small clubs.

But enough of my ranting. Here’s why the Ramones are important.

During the 1970s, the music scene started moving in a specific direction – spurred on by three bands in particular: The Beatles, Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd.

That direction was progressive. Thanks to the work The Beatles did on their last few albums, even though they ended in 1970, bands like Floyd were inspired to see what they could do in the studio. They wanted to see how much they could do to the music.

Music became advanced. It became more complicated, more intricate. Songs became longer, more sweeping.

Then the Ramones came along.

Yes, there were bands like KISS and New York Dolls already playing just straight forward rock. And yes, the Stones were still around. But none of them did what the Ramones did.

When I say stripped down, I mean, the first Ramones album has 14 songs and is 29 minutes long. They joked the Ramones would do a full set of 25 songs in about 45 minutes.

There were no frills with the Ramones. It was just a wall of angry guitar and bass. When you saw them live, it was always kicked off by bassist Dee Dee Ramone shouting “1-2-3-4” at the top of his lungs.

It caught on. The music hit a mark with young people who were looking for a different avenue of music. It particularly hit in England, where bands like Sex Pistols and The Clash responded with expanding the punk genre even more. Even stateside, bands like Black Flag, The Misfits, Green Day and countless others tried to recreate what the Ramones did.

That punk genre then became part of the influence of bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead and was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The speed and anger of punk music became a huge part of what ended up being thrash metal.

The closest reference I can come up with is this: Ramones was the Nirvana of the 1970s. They came out, created a brand new genre and turned the music world around. They completely changed the New York music scene.

While they never had the commercial success – particularly domestically – as Nirvana, Kurt Cobain himself said his dream was to be in a band like Ramones.

And now all of the Ramones are gone. One of the most important rock bands in the history of this country – at least the four founding members – is gone.

Now it’s up to Marky Ramone, who has been carrying the torch for a while, as Tommy was always a bit more reclusive. In fact, Tommy didn’t even want to be in the band, but when he was teaching people how to drum along with the songs, no one was better than he was. So he stayed on for three albums before moving on to producing a lot of their albums.

RIP Tommy Ramone. Gabba Gabba Hey. Truly, you were “one of us.” And you will definitely be missed.

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Late Night will never be the same

By the headline, one can correctly surmise the inspiration for me blogging for the first time in God knows when is David Letterman’s announced retirement. 

Like many people my age, I loved Letterman. Like many people of many ages, I don’t watch Dave as much as I used to. 

Obviously, Letterman changed how Late Night was done. He added an edge. Even when he went to CBS. 

Man, when Dave first hit CBS, he was ruthless. He was hungry. He had something to prove. It was amazing. 

I remember being in high school and staying up every night for the monologue and top 10 list it was fantastic. 

That was the era of Dave vs. Jay. Clearly, Dave was superior. I don’t think – if you had a real sense of humor – you could watch both shows and come to any other conclusion. 

My sense of humor is pretty simple. There needs to be an edge. There needs to be a darkness to it. It has to come from a mostly real place. And it can’t be for the masses. 

I prefer Community to Big Bang Theory. I prefer Psych to The Mentalist. I prefer pretty much everything to Two and a Half Men. 

Dave was the clear champion – and that’s before figuring out that Johnny Carson was writing jokes for Dave and not Jay. 

But Dave retiring also shows a true shift in late night. It has nothing to do with Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel. But late night television is not the same. 

It has to do with evolution. TV has evolved. Late night TV has grown. 

The reason why Conan “failed” at The Tonight Show had nothing to do with Conan. It had to do with our television watching habits. It had to do with things changing. 

When Carson was at his peak, it was when network TV was at its zenith. You watched Carson. There were no real other choices. It was what you did. 

Cable hadn’t really taken hold – at least, not the way it is now. 

Same thing was true for when Dave and Jay first ignited the Late Night Wars. 

The best shows on television were on network television, not cable. That can’t be said now. 

With shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Sopranos,” etc., things are different now. The amount of people watching the shows on cable – and yes, the examples I gave were Sunday night shows, but bear with me – affect viewership of late night television. 

With less eyes on network prime time television, there are less eyes on the local news. With less eyes on the local news – which, if people will recall, is the main reason Jay came back to the Tonight Show, not because Conan failed, but because local affiliates were revolting against his show because it was killing the numbers going into local news – less eyes are late night television. 

But the main cause of why late night will never be the same – Comedy Central. 

When Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn the rules changed. When Stephen Colbert started The Colbert Report, everyone was put on notice. 

The popularity of those shows – as well as the quality in the writing and the delivery – delivered a huge hit to the traditional late night menu. 

Throw in Jimmy Kimmel’s show on ABC and now Conan’s show on TBS, not to mention a show like Chelsea Lately on E! and the choices are too many. 

If you were to have asked Letterman 20 years ago – or anyone for that matter – what the landscape would be like today in late night, no one could have predicted this. 

But Letterman has one more year. A chance for a lot of retirement jokes, old man jokes, a chance for all of us who were entertained by Letterman, influenced comedically by Letterman to say goodbye. 

But do note one thing. Letterman’s leaving in 2015. Leno left in 2014. He wins. 

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The inherent humor of the HR Derby

Never in my life have I seen an exhibition event that means nothing leave so many piles of panties bunched super tightly. 

But that’s exactly what happened in my home town of Kansas City Monday night. 

And it was glorious.

It started when AL HR Derby captain Robinson Cano – the defending champion who gets to pick the team – apparently made a legally binding obligation to select the 16th best HR hitter in the AL as one of his three choices for the HR Derby. 

Then, he chose three other guys instead – one of the best young sluggers in the AL (who in a season and a half already has half as many HRs as Butler – now in his fifth year), the best HR hitter in the AL two years running and a former HR Derby Champion. 

Cue the butthurt. And no one does butthurt quite like my hometown. Or so I thought. 

Fans decided to boo Cano because, well, he SAID he would pick Billy Butler. But he DIDN’T. See? He SAID. And this is the first moment when the 2012 HR Derby got ridiculous and childish. 

As an aside, I can’t hear the phrase, “but he said” and not hear the voice of a 5-year-old in my head. Grown-ups lie. I lie. You lie. Robinson Cano may have lied. We don’t get pissed when our politicians do, but God forbid a baseball player not do what “he said.”

Anyway, the HR Derby came here and KC fans booed Cano. And he struggled. They cheered every out and he struggled more. Ended up with zero home runs. The cheers and booing were not overly mean spirited. There were no threats made to Cano’s person or family. It was fans jeering sarcastically, good-naturedly even. (I just made up a word. I don’t care.)

But for some reason, once the fans booed, the national media decided to prove to us that there is no length to which they are more out of touch. First it was Chris Berman – who quit being good at his job about the time I hit puberty. (I’m old enough to be president. Do the math). 

Then, the paragon of everything East Coast Peter Gammons couldn’t figure out why fans would boo a player from the mighty Yankees. Then Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, on and on and on. It was as predictable as it was pathetic and it smacked of, “how dare these country yokels boo an East Coast guy. Don’t they know how to treat their betters?”

In essence, the media – not Cano by the way, who apparently got it and was pretty classy about the deal – was collectively telling us to know our role and shut our mouth. (Thank you “The Rock.”)

The funniest thing is: the media overreacted to KC’s initial overreaction. Everyone has to have an opinion. 

Lost in all of it is this. Billy Butler not making the HR Derby was THE BEST thing that could have happened.

First off, the three guys Cano chose kicked ass. Prince Fielder and Jose Bautista were in the finals and Mark Trumbo hit the freaking roof of the Royals HOF. He clearly made the right choice. 

Second, there’s no rule (yet) that says a hometown guy needs to be in the HR Derby. In the last 10 derbies, the only hometown participants were: Albert Pujols (HOFer), Ivan Rodriguez (HOFer), Lance Berkman (good shot at the HOF) and Richie Sexson (pure slugger who hit 119 HRs in three seasons in Milwaukee). Butler doesn’t belong with those guys. He could some day, but his career high for home runs is 21. 

Third, the fan energy was fantastic. Though I was initially against the booing (and still think it was moderately silly) I can’t deny that it absolutely made the derby. The fans were actually PART of the HR Derby, rather than spectators. The ninth contestant was Kansas City. It was awesome. It was memorable. It was everything the HR Derby normally isn’t. 

The 2012 HR Derby is the most entertaining I’ve ever watched – and I’ve seen a lot of them. The fans made it that way. 

And for that they should be applauded, not chided like children. 

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Davies has had enough chances

I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning trying to figure out what in the hell the Royals are thinking right now.

The fact there is even a possibility that Kyle Davies could be brought back to the rotation is bad enough. That they could send rookie Danny Duffy down is even more stupid.

I already said earlier I wanted Vin Mazzaro to stay in the rotation a bit longer after giving up three total runs in his last two starts. Duffy has given up two runs in each of his last three starts – including two in seven innings against the Cubs.

His last two starts – he struck out nine in less than four innings against the Cardinals before leaving early with an injury – have been good. In fact, in only one start this year – one – has Duffy given up more than three runs. Since that start, he has not given up more than two.

Duffy’s not a perfect pitcher. He has had trouble getting calls, opponents are fouling off a lot of pitches and his pitch counts have been ridiculously high. But even still, he’s a rookie. He’s part of the future. He’s already here.

Oh yeah, he’s also clearly outperformed Kyle Davies.

Currently, Duffy’s sitting at a 4.61 ERA. Davies is at 7.46. But before you think “oh, that was just a bad start,” at its lowest point this year, his ERA only dropped as low as 6.23. At no point in this season has he been anywhere close to as good as Duffy.

And at only one point in his career as a Royal has he had an ERA better than Duffy’s 4.61. That was his first full year in KC. Since then, his ERA has gone up every year as a Royal.

Duffy has upside, Davies keeps getting worse.

This decision will show Kansas City all they need to know about Dayton Moore. I hate to put so much on one move, but this is the biggest no-brainer in the history of no-brainers.

Essentially, this comes down to, do you want sprinkles on your ice cream or do you want a horse turd? Duffy may not be sprinkles yet, but he’s clearly not a turd. Davies has been for years.

I’m not sure if Davies has pictures of Moore and other Royals officers in full regalia performing a Satanic black mass or what. But his time in Kansas City needs to have come to an end.

I like Dayton Moore. I want to believe in him. But there is NOTHING to gain in this move. No one’s going to trade for Davies. No one’s going to offer anything for a pitcher with a career ERA of 5.60 – and ERAs over 5.0 each of the last three seasons.

Cut bait, cut your losses and move on. That’s what GOOD franchises do. Losing franchises do exactly what the rumors are that the Royals are going to do.

If Davies returns to this team and Duffy goes back down, then I’m sorry. He needs to lose his job. He can rebuild a minor league system, but if this move happens, it proves he has no idea what to do at the Major League level. And that’s a shame.

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Why I don’t get the NBA

Sometimes, I feel like I’m purely a contrarian. When everyone else starts liking something, I occassionally find flaws with it.

That said, I have never seen The Matrix, Titanic or Avatar. I tend to like things because I like them, not because everyone else does.

When most of the sports fans on my twitter timeline (shameless plug: follow me at @jasontarwater if you don’t already. Clever handle, I know) were tweeting about the NBA Finals, I didn’t really watch a single minute of it.

Yeah, I’d check the scores, but never really watch. And the LeBron issue is a major reason why I don’t like the NBA.

This is a league that pushes its stars more than any other league. It’s an individual driven league and I’m a guy who enjoys more team play. And I feel that “star-driven” attitude led to the train wreck that was “The Decision.”

And while I will admit I dislike LeBron – particularly after his asinine statements following Game 6 and his weak apology two days later – I think the people covering the NBA, particularly ESPN, have no idea what they’re doing. And that takes away from the league.

My main point of confusion comes from the opinions of the Miami Heat, the team LeBron joined to create a super team.

Before the season, all the “pundits” could say was, “this team is too new. It will take them time to figure out the chemistry. They won’t win right away.” And they didn’t. But they came REALLY close. If not for a couple of late game breakdowns, they’d be partying in South Beach right now.

So clearly, the whole thing needs to be blown up. One quasi-prominent columnist says trade one of the big three. It obviously didn’t work. People are saying to get rid of coach Erik Spoelstra, because he CLEARLY doesn’t know what HE’S doing. Bring Pat Riley in. It worked five years ago.

Did people forget what they said nine months ago? Children have been conceived and born in that time. I know it seems like a long time, but it’s really not. “They’re too new. It will take them probably a year.” “Break them up. It obviously failed.”

I will be the first to say that LeBron brought all of this on himself. But saying he’ll never win a title is asinine – especially since they’re the favorite for next year and you have to think that Riley is going to get a better center and figure out the point guard position in his role as team president. If he doesn’t, then it doesn’t matter who’s coaching.

I’m not an NBA fan, but I’m a sports fan. I’ve watched these situations for YEARS. I realize sometimes you see a team look like they’re on their way, then take a step backward. Sometimes, the “best” team doesn’t always win.

I also realize you have to give something more than one freaking year. Anyone who is saying otherwise is doing so for one of two reasons – and two reasons only: 1.) they are idiots and truly don’t know what they’re talking about or 2.) they figure the more they yell about stuff, the more attention they will get as a writer or a commentator.

I have a hard time believing it’s the former and it’s most likely the latter. But regardless, get attention by actually writing things that make sense, not just writing stuff to stand on a mountain and say, “look at me! No seriously, look at me!”

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Pray for Joplin

I know by writing this I’m not going to be telling anyone anything they didn’t already know. Instead, this is more catharsis and therapy than anything for me.

Today is Wednesday, June 8. I decided to head down south and visit Joplin – a town I called home for three summers, while working and living there. My mom still lives in Webb City and this was the first time I had a chance to see her.

It was also the first time I had seen the town in nearly two years. And what I saw broke my heart.

No words I use can describe the destruction that – more than two weeks later – people are still digging out of.

No picture can give you an accurate detail of how wide and far the path of destruction is. For people in KC, picture a tornado that damaged the Westport area and the area around Crown Center. That’s a bit bigger than this path, but the analogy holds. There are areas in completely different parts of town that were completely destroyed – as well as everything in between.

My first thought when driving around was, “how did only 150 or so people lose their lives?” I’m not saying that callously, but in awe. Drive around the town for 20 minutes. Look at all the homes, businesses, schools, that are destroyed. Not damaged, destroyed. It’s going to take an army of volunteers at least two months to get rid of the debris.

Then the rebuilding has to happen.

This may sound like a cliche now, but there were times while driving around – a town I used to know pretty well by the way – where I had no idea where I was. Street names are spray painted on the pavement to give people some idea of where they are. People took plywood and spray-painted their addresses outside of their homes – regardless of whether it was standing.

One sight that about made me break down was seeing signs in front of homes with addresses and “all safe,” ways for people to let friends and family know they were all OK and accounted for in the aftermath of the storm.

I heard stories of people going house to house, climbing over debris, trying to find people. You see the spray-painted X’s on each house, signifying that it’s been searched. Cars are strewn about still, again with the omnipresent X’s or a “K9” showing that a police dog had helped with the search.

Joplin will rebuild. But it will take time. It will take years. In fact, it will take at least two years before the Joplin School District is able to rebuild three buildings that are being completely leveled – including the high school and a middle school that opened less than two years ago.

I have no idea when things will return to “normal” here. I’m not sure if it ever will. I just know that driving around this town will break your heart. Watching the courage and spirit of the Joplin residents and all of the volunteers – driving down one street there were countless areas providing free food and water for those in need and those helping – will raise your spirits.

We talked to a sheriff from Franklin County while picking up some of my mother’s belongings from her school. He said his job is one that normally shows him only the negative side of people, but coming to Joplin showed him how good people can truly be.

My heart is with these people who have lost everything. As I said, Joplin will rebuild. It may take quite a while. I’m just not sure if it will ever be the same.

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