Posts Tagged ‘stupidity’

Carl Strock: Telling It Like It Is

November 7, 2013

thCarl Strock was a local newspaper columnist in Schenectady, NY, whose career ended badly. He then self-published a book reviewing it. The kind of book only relatives and friends would buy, and few would read — you might think.

Well, think again. And go straight to his website and buy the book (From D’burg to Jerusalem). It’s terrific.

Actually, it might be kind of depressing, because Strock presents a parade of stupidity, cupidity, injustice, scandal, hypocrisy, and all-around awfulness — but written with such drollery it’s a joy to read.

Take the Schenectady Police Department — please. In the film, The Place Beyond the Pines, those cops came off pretty badly. The reality was worse, as Strock details. Unknown(Crime rates among police officers are higher than for the general population. Unfortunately, too often police work attracts the wrong sort.)

Strock hates injustice — especially when perpetrated by the justice system itself, again all too often. One target is family court, and child protective services (so-called). images-2While we obsess about the largely imaginary danger of children snatched by strangers, government agencies snatching them is actually common. After some horror stories of children abused while government did nothing, social service people are now so terrified of this they’re quick to take kids away from parents on the slightest suspicion. This means putting them in foster care with strangers — which statistics prove far more likely to result in harm than parental custody. As Strock shows, the system is so screwed up that all this “child protection” hurts more kids than it helps.

Unknown-1Similar story with the “animal welfare” folks. Strock tells of a cat lover finding some abandoned kittens. The SPCA wouldn’t help. Some were already dead, the last two in such bad shape the guy had to put them out of their misery by drowning. Next thing you know he’s prosecuted for animal cruelty; most of his own cats are taken away, to a “shelter” to protect them from this monster — meaning they are killed. Excuse me, “euthanized.” The SPCA defends this as “humane.” Strock notes that meanwhile the state government positively encourages people to go out in the woods and shoot defenseless animals, often left to die agonizing deaths. Humane?

And remember the nationwide witch-hunt some time back about child sex abuse? The “recovered memory” game? All bogus. In the famous McMartin day care case, none of the lurid allegations was true. None. Therapists and police investigators planted all that nonsense in the minds of suggestible young children. But there, and elsewhere, a lot of innocent people had their lives ruined.

One was Jack Carroll, a local case Strock also discusses. The case against him (abusing his step-daughter) was obviously garbage. But an egregious prosecutor, Patricia DeAngelis, got a jury to convict him. When that was overturned on appeal, DeAngelis prosecuted Carroll on new charges, resulting in an even longer prison term.

Similarly disgraceful was the “terrorism” convictions of two local Muslims, Aref and Hossain, which I’ve previously mentioned. Carl does a great job showing how wrong this was.

He also takes on religion. He doesn’t think the idea that non-Christians will (should) burn in Hell reflects “Christian love.” After mercilessly exposing creationist bunk, he got challenged to a public debate on that topic. images-1I went to it — or tried to; we couldn’t get in because a home-schooled fundamentalist army arrived early to monopolize the seats. Strock is candid about his performance — a fiasco. His opponent was Jay Wile, a practiced creationist propagandist. And (as Strock notes) their religion doesn’t keep such people from shamelessly lying. It’s easy to lose a debate to someone who just makes up facts.

But Strock’s book is full of useful facts. Like the Bible instructing (Deuteronomy 13:6-10) that you should kill someone images-3trying to convert you to a different religion.  I’ll have to remember that next time Mormon proselytizers come knocking.

Then there was our very own local divine, Kateri, who died in 1680 but supposedly miraculously healed a child’s flesh-eating bacterial infection in 2006, thus qualifying her for sainthood. Unknown-2In all the fawning press coverage, Strock was apparently the only journalist who thought of calling the hospital to get the facts. Turns out the kid actually was saved by the most intensive of medical efforts; but not without horrible facial disfigurement. Thanks a lot, Saint Kateri (and you too, God).

Throughout, Strock never quailed from naming names. Many are covered with shame. Strock (unlike me!) was never sued for libel. But still, one wonders, how did he get away with it all? Well, in the end, he didn’t:

Strock wrote about his visit to Israel; going with no preconceptions, as a tourist, he was surprised by what he observed. I’ll put it this way: Israel’s relations with the Arabs under its jurisdiction don’t do it proud. Perhaps Carl was (as usual) a bit indelicate (OK, insulting) in some portrayals. But his characterizations of Israeli/Palestinian realities were basically honest reporting. Yet Carl got labeled anti-semitic — a false accusation far more incendiary than anything Carl said about Israel and Jews. It got so bad he was even connected to the stupid “death ray plot” I’ve written about. Anyhow, it seems odd that after all Carl’s remorseless lampooning of Christianity, it was umbrage in Jewish quarters that ultimately ended his career. He wasn’t actually fired, but put in a doghouse so incommodious he felt obliged to quit.

The final lesson? America is not perfect. But a country where a Carl Strock could do what he did for 25 years, at least, is a pretty great country.

Round Lake Library Storm: There is Some Justice

June 29, 2013

As this blog’s title proclaims, I’m an optimist; while being rational requires recognizing how dumb even smart people sometimes can act.

Recently, faced with a bad storm warning, the Round Lake library was closed 40 minutes early by employee Theresa Marchione. The library’s director felt she should have been consulted. So she fired Marchione. Fired her!

FishCartoonMarchione had worked there 24 years and was popular with patrons. (Also happens to be sister-in-law of a state senator.)

Round Lake library board meeting

Round Lake library board meeting

“How stupid can people be?” I said to my wife, showing her the news report – which obviously echoed an episode two decades before, when she worked at an Albany library. During a blizzard some librarians decided to close a branch early. The director took disciplinary action against them, provoking a huge uproar – and turbocharging a union movement among Albany library employees. One thing led to another, and ultimately the director’s firing.

Norman Rockwell, "Freedom of Speech"

Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech”*

In Round Lake, the director (perhaps she had forgotten the Albany affair) was more swiftly fired; indeed, the whole library board was made to resign basically because they didn’t fire her fast enough. Marchione was reinstated.

So, yes, we see that people are capable of stupid and unjust actions. But while life can be thusly unfair, it isn’t always, and as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In Round Lake the arc was short, the denouement actually predictable. And I do believe we are living in a world of increasing justice.

* The library meeting photo reminded me of this, one of my favorite paintings, which captures so eloquently something so good and so important about this country I so love.