We Will Miss You Amanda Bynes!

I opened up the internet yesterday and was flooded with news about Amanda Bynes who, via twitter no less, announced her retirement from acting.

Amanda Bynes… Who the hell was that again? 

Was that the chirpy kind of cute girl who was almost pretty but something about her was just a little off to be an A-list hollywood actress without talent on that half-baked What I like about you show?  Amanda Bynes seems like the girl who, left to her own devices, is more comfortable at 130 than the 100 pounds she is now.  Her face just seems a little bigger than the rest of her body.  It’s like her face was squeezed out from below, like a tube of toothpaste.

I quickly did a wikipedia search and saw a whole listing of, well, and I’m speaking honestly here, the crap stuff she’s been in since entering into the mix with Nickelodeon’s Figure it Out and All That.  It made me realize that there a lot of people who “make it” into the t.v. and film acting industry, but don’t actually succeed in it.  More power to these actors like Amanda Bynes that they got their foot in the door.  A lot of people have tried to get their foot in the door but end up waiting tables in New York City or L.A. and their big story when they get older is how they met Jack Nicholson on set while being an extra. 

But, really, Amanda Bynes, don’t go crying on Twitter that you’re “retiring”  because “it’s not fun anymore.”

Sure, I guess it’s not fun when everything you do is frankly mediocre.  I guess it’s a good idea to take a break from it all of the mediocreness that you’ve been involved in and come back ten years from now in some indie movie with an aging A-list actor and maybe then, just maybe, your career can then actually take off and it will be “fun” again. 

In the meantime, hang out at the library or take some acting lessons when you’re not eating oatmeal and wheatgrass juice at your parent’s house.


Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Really Good For You?

Over the last few days, I’ve noticed more and more of these ads from the “Corn Refiners Association” (CRA) alleging that high fructose corn syrup, when eaten in moderation, is no worse for you than sugar.  It made me start examining my own assumed belief that high fructose corn syrup is bad.

High fructose corn syrup is bad . . . I’m not sure why but that’s what I’ve been told by the health food stores and health magazines and Oprah, too.

But in the end, it appears that the CRA is using a deflective argument tactic.  In a vacuum, the difference between CRA and sugar is probably nothing extremely significant, as the ads suggest.  However, we don’t live in a vacuum of “high fructose corn syrup vs. sugar,” and the CRA ads are making it seem like we do.

What our diets need less of is highly processed foods, most of which have low nutritional value.  These foods are often found in the center of our grocery stores.  And, you got it, the majority of the foods found in the center of our  grocery stores contain high fructose corn syrup or other added sweeteners, because of their ability to ‘stay fresher’ on food aisles for months on end.

In that regard, any discussion about high fructose corn syrup vs. sugar should not center on the merits of their chemical composition, but rather how sweeteners (whether sugar or high fructose corn syrup) have pervaded many of our food products and has caused an obesity epidemic because, in addition to lack of exercise, people are eating empty calories.  Not surprisingly, the processed food people eat nowadays doesn’t provide the proper energy blocks for people to do exercise, and a tragic cycle of getting fat without exercising continues.  If you’re in New York City, visit any subway car and you’ll see what I mean.

The issue of  high fructose corn syrup vs. sugar is a non-issue that obfuscates the real problem.  The real problem is that the use of any of these sweeteners is a symptom of our food policy that has moved away from affordable organic and natural foods to highly processed food products with limited nutritional value.

New York County Criminal Court Clerks: Overpaid, Incompetent, and Unprofessional

Over the past several months, I have received reports from prosecutors and defense attorneys (as well as some judges), and have seen it in action with my own eyes, of the complete incompetence and unprofessional behavior of New York County Criminal Court Clerks, whose office is situated next to arraignments (AR-3) on 100 Centre Street. In my years as a reporter, I have always tried to avoid sweeping generalizations about a class of people, because often sweeping generalizations neglect the achievements of certain individuals that seemingly fall into the targeted class by mere presence only. But, in the case of New York County (Manhattan) criminal court clerks inside the office next to arraignments, the “sweeping generalization” that they are overpaid, incompetent, and completely unprofessional holds true to every single one of them.

The phenomenon is quite interesting. I have spoken and seen in action other criminal court clerks in other parts. This post certainly does not apply to them at all. Before I get any hate mail or calls for a retraction, please note that this post applies specifically to the criminal court clerks working inside AR-3 and who are located in the office next to AR-3.

From what has been reported to me and what I have seen, AR-3 clerks are allergic to any semblance of work. Even when judges ask them a question — much less a prosecutor or a defense attorney — they respond with disgust with such amazing and reliable consistency. These criminal court clerks, while they read the newspaper on their desks in AR-3, enjoy making jokes about defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges with such volume that you can hear it in the audience, even without having to strain. Apparently, and what seems hard to understand, is that the majority of defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges just give these clerks an annoyed look, in much the same way you would look at a roach or an ant in your kitchen. It’s likely because of the attorneys’ acquiescence that these AR-3 clerks are continuing with their completely unprofessional behavior.

To top that off, it appears from my observations and from reports from members of the bar, that their work day seems to end at around 1:30 p.m. Any questions, inquiries, or requests for work after this time are met with animosity and shakes of the head. For a City that is encountering some budget issues, I would suggest that they are paid from 9:30-1:30 only, because that is the only time they will even consider doing substantive work that doesn’t interfere with their reading of the NY Post or Daily News.

As a reporter trying to get information about cases, you can then only imagine the animosity I receive. Last week, at about 4:00, in AR-3, when I asked a clerk (he wore glasses, had slightly receding brownish hair, and a round face) about when a particular defendant would be arraigned, I was met with these words, “Why don’t you go outside, go on google, and find out for yourself. Don’t waste my time. You are inconsiderate. You have no sense of time.” He then looked at the clock, sauntered to his empty desk, and continued reading his paper. Fortunately, a court officer provided me with the information I was looking for, before stating, “Don’t worry about that guy. They’re ALL like that.”

Are AR-3 clerks’ job that horrible? Indeed, the justice system often functions at the lowest common denominator. Clerks, who work for the court and for the judge to ensure that paperwork is docketed and processed correctly, are unfortunately AR-3’s lowest common denominator.

They all should be removed and replaced with professional clerks who have some semblance of respect for other people.

Making a getaway in a three-piece suit

You may have read the article in the New York times today about the man who escaped his holding cell by simply walking out of the 100 Centre Street criminal courthouse wearing a three-piece suit.  robert tackman, image taken from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/01/nyregion/01escape.html?_r=1&ref=nyregionRonald Tackman, who has been in and out of prison most of his life and has had numerous brushes with the law, was in New York Supreme Court from Riker’s Island on a felony robbery charge.  He was dressed in a three-piece suit while in his holding cell and a correction officer mistakenly let him out of his cell, believing that Ronald Tackman was an attorney.  More specifically, the corrections officer saw Tackman, assumed he was an attorney, and asked Taskman, in sum and substance, “What are you doing in the cell, counselor?”

Interestingly, according to the above-described New York Times article, “[t]he escape [ ] left correction officials scratching their heads for answers as to how a man who had been listed in the department’s files as an escape risk was essentially able to walk out the door to freedom.”

The answer is pretty simple:  Ronald Tackman was white. 

If Mr. Tackman was anything other than white, the likelihood of this event happening would certainly be next to nil.

For anyone who hasn’t been to 100 Centre Street in New York City, I suggest you go and see the dynamic going on.  Go to AR-3, which is the felony arraignment part, Part N or Part F, which are Criminal Court parts before a case heads to Supreme Court, or any of the Supreme Court Parts, like Part 22 or Part 23.  You’ll immediately notice that the majority, if not all, of the defendants are minorities.  Further, you will also immediately notice that the majority, if not all, of the attorneys representing these defendants are white.  And, add to that, the majority, if not all of the Corrections Officers, are white as well.  And, one final thing if it already isn’t obvious:  the majority if not all of the judges are white.

Is it any wonder, then, that a hapless Department of Corrections Officer “mistakenly” believed that an older white gentleman in a three-piece suit standing alone in a holding cell was actually an attorney?

The Department of Corrections will undoubtedly claim, after a “thorough investigation,” that the Officer actions were outside of “protocol” — suggesting that the error by the officer was merely an aberrant act, as opposed to the product of a deep rooted institutional racism.

Roman Polanski should be sentenced

Roman Polanski should be sentenced.  Plain and simple. 

Although some countries have attempted to identify Polanski as the “victim,” not to mention Whoopi Goldberg’s outlandish statement that Polanski’s actions with the 13-year-old girl did not constitute “rape rape,” let’s not forget the facts of Polanski’s case, for which he knowingly and voluntarily pled guilty to.  He drugged a 13-year-old girl and had vaginal and anal sex with her, against her will.   And, “against her will” has two meanings here:  1) she told him “no” multiple times and 2) a 13 year old girl under the law now and under the law then does not have the capacity to legally consent to sex with an adult. 

His actions were heinous.  His actions were despicable.  His actions constituted a sex crime.  And the description of his intentional actions against this young girl indicates in no uncertain terms that this was not some sort of aberrant act in the heat of passion and drugs.  Instead, it shows both a course of conduct and a belief by Polanski that he is above the law.

That sentiment of putting his own interest above that of society is underscored by the fact that shortly after he pled guilty to the felony charge, he knowingly skipped town to avoid justice.  It is one thing to argue that the judge in that case was hell bent on sending him to jail for a very long time.  It is a completely different thing for a criminal defendant to take the law into his own hands and leave the country to avoid the prosecution.  That is not how a system based on the rule of law works.  Imagine if every defendant after pleading guilty or being convicted after a trial skipped the country because, well, he or she did not think he would be treated fairly.  That’s why we have an appellate process.  That’s why we have the law.

I am not going to end my post here advocating that Polanski should be shot or sent to jail for the rest of his life like some others out there.  Serious questions need to be raised about why it took so long for Polanski to be reigned in.  To Polanski and others, their sentiment is, “If the crime were so serious to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, why didn’t they come after me sooner?”  

But those questions are completely separate and apart from whether Polanski should be sentenced and formally convicted (you are “convicted” once you are sentenced, not when you plead guilty).  Those are two separate inquiries that his lawyers and the French government are trying to meld together as one.  Put another way, they are saying because it took so long for the D.A.’s office to “get” Polanski, it means that the charges should be dismissed.  Those type of arguments usually carry more weight when the defendant skipped town before a trial.  With a trial, memories of witnesses fade, evidence is lost, etc.  Here, defendant pled guilty and there is no suggestion that his plea was taken unknowingly and involuntarily.  The minutes tell no lie.  It is irrelevant now that the victim of the sex crime has publically forgiven him. 

His actions of flagrantly skipping town negates any mitigating factor that his guilty plea should be vacated.  Hopefully, the Swiss court should use its good judgment in not releasing Polanski pending the extradition hearing.  And, when all is said and done, the LA County District Attorney’s Office should fashion a sentence that is fair and in proportion to the crime he pled guilty to, and not seek a sentence out of vengeance.

Honduras moves towards total isolation

Since the removal of President Manuel Zelaya in June, the provisional government has steadily and predictably isolated Honduras, both from the international community and, most importantly, from the most basic tenets of democracy.  roberto michelettiIn true Orwellian fashion, the provisional government has justified everything it has done — from removing President Zelaya without the due process required by its own constitution it is purportedly defending to suspending basic civil liberties — in the name of “democracy.”  I am not sure what planet Roberto Micheletti and his provisional government cronies are from, but they are singlehandedly facilitating the tortured history and doublespeak that represented what we all thought was a Honduras goverment of the past.  

If you think Honduras is headed towards a breaking point, you are wrong.  Wake up.  Honduras is already there.

As you probably all know by now, the provisional government shut down Channel 36 and Radio Globo, because they were broadcasting telephone calls from President Zelaya.  “Yeah, we can’t have that,” says Michelletti.  “He has to be out of sight, out of mind!  Let’s sweep it all under the rug and maybe the Honduran people in all their idiocy will forget that we roused him in the middle of the night and forcibly removed him from the country.  Shhhh!  If we don’t talk about it, then it’ll go away!” 

Whether you agree with Zelaya or not is not the issue; the provisional government circumvented democracy when it removed Zelaya and now is trying to tack legitimacy to its actions after the fact.  It doesn’t work that way.  That’s political science 101.  Is it me or is Micheletti trying to become yet another case study in how yet another Latin American government brings down its iron fist in the name of democracy?  What’s in the water over there?

And, to add insult to injury, the provisional government has threatened to shut down the Brazilian embassy within the next 10 days and yesterday expelled four diplomats from the Organization of American States.  The diplomats were apparently members of an advance team trying to negotiate an end to the crisis.  To his defense, I guess Micheletti, who clearly is living in some bubble world on his family finca and is taking massive doses of reality-altering medications, surely sees no need to end a crisis that doesn’t exist in the first place. 

What I find further infuriating is the fact that the United States and many news outlets here have described the “situation” or “crisis” in Honduras as a “political one.”  This label is doublespeak.  To be sure, while the forcible removal of a sitting president is, by definition, a “political situation,” is it also a mere “political situation” when the civil rights of its citizenry, guaranteed by its own constitution, is abrogated for no legitimate reason?  That to me is more than just a “political situation,” but a tragedy that tears the social and civil fabric of Honduras at its roots.  For the United States and other countries to sit idly behind the scenes as Honduras falls deeper and deeper into isolation — against the will of its people — is unacceptable. 

Only by fortune so far, and certainly not because of the actions of the provisional or de facto government of Honduras, has widespread violence not broken out.  But what has broken out is the widespread violence the de facto government of Honduras has lashed against its own citizenry, in the name of some twisted version of democracy.

Alberto Contador has a lot to learn

Without question, Alberto Contador has achieved great success as a cyclist, winning the TDF (twice), the Giro, and the Vuelta.  He sits with a very small class of riders that can achieve this.  And, he’s been able to achieve this at a tender age of 26, after almost dying of an aneurism in 2004.  http://images.theage.com.au/ftage/ffximage/2009/07/20/svCONTADOR_narrowweb__300x458,0.jpgThis article is not a comment about his achievements nor is it a critique of his skill as a climber or time trialist.  Clearly, his record speaks for itself of Contador’s obvious talent.

That said, Contador still has a lot to learn as a rider, or more particularly, the politics of being a rider.  Contador reminds me of Lance Armstrong prior to his cancer when he was an outspoken, unapologetic, overconfident prick.  To Contador, it seems perfectly reasonable for everyone to bend under his will and to be visibly and pissed if anyone crosses him.  After all, at least to Contador, he is the undisputed champion of the world.

But cycling is not like boxing.  There is a politics to it, because in many ways more than boxing, it’s an old boys network.  Contador really put his foot in his mouth for unapologetically telling Armstrong off in public that he never respected Armstrong and never will.  Contador also put his foot in the mouth when he attacked in one of the first few stages (if a rider attacks, a person on the same team is not supposed to follow).  Contador is certainly entitled to his opinion but that is where politics comes in.  You definitely don’t say that to the hand that in large part feeds the sport and not to expect some consequences. 

Armstrong is an institution, which means he frankly doesn’t need to get into a war of words with Contador to prove his point.  Like a powerful politician, Armstrong, unlike Contador (who is a great rider but not yet an institution), has the money and influence to make Contador’s life a living hell.

The main way he is doing that is to ensure that Contador remains at Astana for the 2010 season.  Other members of the team were allowed to break their contract.  To Contador and his brother Fran, it seemed like he was entitled to do the same.  But, surprise, surprise, a reality check for Contador:  he had neither the money nor influence on Astana.  And, let’s not forget that Armstrong has a financial interest in Astana, enough so that no team in their right mind be able to afford a buy out of Contador’s contract. 

And, is it any surprise that all the good riders are getting signed by other teams, particularly Radioshack?  That is not happening by accident.  Armstrong may be a prick, he may be overconfident, and he may be an arrogant son of a bitch.  But, unlike Contador, he can express it in more subtle ways. 

Who do you think is laughing the hardest at Contador’s apparently inability to get out of his Astana contract?  Who do you think is laughing the hardest when one great rider after another is getting signed by other teams?  Who do you think is laughing the hardest that Vino is back at Astana?  The UCI is still getting all the paperwork to from Astana to ensure they get a pro license . . . but do you really think there is any doubt they will not have the bank guarantees?  They have it already.  Armstrong and his influence will make damn sure that Astana will not be omitted from UCI races because of a technicality.

Armstrong wants to win the TDF ’10.  He’s being coy about it, by saying things like, “I’ll try,” or “Contador will be tough to beat!” — but he’s been coy since coming back from cancer when he clearly realized to play the cycling game, you have to play the political game.  Armstrong is one of the masters at that game. 

Contador will certainly be tough to beat on a stacked team such as Quickstep or Garmin.  But beating Contador will at least be manageable if he’s not on a great team (i.e., Astana) such as these.  This is no accident but a racing strategy.  It’s not necessarily race fixing as it is race dealing, and everyone knows in cycling there is quite a bit of quid pro quo.  You mess with that and you get screwed.  That’s what’s happening to poor old Contador now. 

Maybe this young champion will learn his lesson.  Maybe not.