Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Letter from California-September 27, 2004

I have a confession to make. I really don’t care what your living room looks like. Not even a little. Same goes for the backyard. If you like it, bully for you. If you’re not wild about it and would like the help of experts to turn it into the home of your dreams, well, I still just don’t care.

And it’s not just because I’m busy the day you need me to come over and help with the weeding and trimming. It turns out that I don’t have a burning interest in many of the things you do inside your home. If you’ve got shirts with ring around the collar, I’m not getting involved. If you’re thinking about replacing that old teakwood deck with a redwood terrace, that’s between you, your conscience and the Almighty. And maybe a contractor. Definitely get a contractor. You’re completely hopeless with a hammer, and, by the way, Home Improvement wasn’t really a home improvement show, so you can scratch everything you thought you learned from there.

Why mention all this? It seems pretty obvious that I wouldn’t care about the caulk you’re going to put around the base of your tub this weekend. It seems even more obvious that I wouldn’t be interested in what’s in your closet, what you put on your hair, or whether your nose has always been the shape it is now. Nevertheless, I mention it because the grooming habits and household chores of others are suddenly the subject of half the shows on television.

I need to tell you that this isn’t just another snooty rant against reality television. You can get those anywhere. Just this week, I read a short piece by Seth Godin, massively overrated business writer, in which he said that reality shows are the new dot coms. He recounted how people poured into the Internet biz only to launch lame-brained companies like bakery.com, promising to deliver your morning donut and cup of coffee right to your home or office by UPS or overnight mail (for a $12.50 surcharge). Then there was iBrick, where you could go online and browse a wide range of building bricks from brown to dark red and everything in between. Then, they mailed them to you one at a time, packed in Styrofoam peanuts, by UPS or overnight mail (for a $12.50 surcharge). There’s a company that imports Hello, Kitty merchandise in their building now.

Ok, he’s right. These are dumb ideas that came late to the game. They should have done it Godin’s way and gotten these half-baked, unproven ideas to market much sooner. That way, by the time people got wise, the founders would be sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping a festive beverage of their choice. Or in Godin’s case, sipping a festive beverage and selling business books and marketing strategies to the people in charge of iBrick and bakery.com.

In truth, reality shows can be great. From my youth watching Marlon Perkins hosting Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I’ve always felt that TV shows with a connection to some real-life drama had an electric thrill running through them that Golden Girls or Greatest American Hero just couldn’t match. Hey, the mongoose could easily lose to the cobra, and we’d be here to see the whole thing. We know for sure that nothing’s going to shut its jaws on Bea Arthur’s neck and fill her with fatal poison by the end of the episode. We might wish it, but just wishing it doesn’t make it so.

I read another column this week in the L.A. Times written by Howard Leff. He feels that shows like “What Not to Wear” should be replaced by a more extreme concept like “What Not to Eat,” in which “a registered dietician…literally slaps the leftover pizza right out of your hand…” He also thinks an pet makeover show might be a hit. Something like “Pimp My Poodle.”

Good ideas, but since I don’t care about your car, home or personal hygiene, why would I care about whether your fluffy dog now has an onboard satellite navigation system and a built-in Playstation? Let’s go back to our mongoose-versus-cobra scenario. We’re rooting for the mongoose, but we know the cobra might vote the mongoose off the island with a fang full of venom. Somebody’s going to walk, scurry or slither away with immunity and the other is going to have the host put out his torch for good. Danger and conflict. That’s the recipe. Shakespeare knew it. Marlon Perkins knew it, and Mark Burnett, producer of Survivor and The Apprentice knows it. Not all producers of reality TV seem to, and that must be why Extreme Laundry Challenge just never took off.

So if you’ve got an idea for a reality show, remember this: just because it’s “real” doesn’t mean I’m interested in other people’s housework. I’m barely interested enough in my own to get it done. Sometimes not even that.

But if you’re thinking of a show where the Golden Girls fight deadly cobras once a week for a chance at a million dollars, you might just be on to something.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Letter from California-September 21, 2004

If you’re like me, you’ve done your best to ignore the pointless bickering between the presidential candidates about the ‘outsourcing’ of American jobs to other countries. I’ll go ahead and assume that if Kerry needs another dose of botox, he’ll hire the most gung-ho Yankee Doodle Dandy of a plastic surgeon available. I’m also going to assume that George Bush keeps the White House pantries stocked with pretzels made in Milwaukee or Chicago, or some other All-American city with Germanic overtones rather than from Germany itself. If the Commander-in-Chief is going to kill himself with snack foods, I have no doubt he’ll want to go out contributing to the economic recovery by buying American.
In fact, I don’t think anyone would be talking about outsourcing at all if it weren’t for the whole new breed of telemarketers and customer service agents that have come to dominate the business. I first realized something had changed a few months ago when “Bruce” from American Express called to offer me amazing discounts on an impressive array of magazines. He was a nice guy. In fact, he was a little too nice. He seemed vaguely genuine when he said that he hoped I would enjoy my first complimentary copy of Vishnu Today. As you can imagine, I grew immediately suspicious, so I dug a little further. “When will I receive my first copy?” I asked. “The magazine is published once in a two-month period,” “Bruce” said, “so you should expect to receive the next issue when it is released in about five weeks.” Well, that’s all the evidence I needed. “Bruce” was far too knowledgeable and concerned about my enjoyment of magazines to be an American telemarketer.
“Who are you and what have you done with Bruce?” I asked him. He just chuckled and convinced me to sign up for a year of Curry Connoisseur so I could claim my free bonus of a box of crispy papadums and a jar of mint chutney. You can understand why I signed up immediately.
“Ok ‘Bruce’,” I asked, “level with me. ‘Bruce’ is just your stage name, isn’t it?”
After some persuasion, he told me his name was Deepak and that he was calling me on a cell phone while riding an elephant on the grounds of the Taj Mahal. Or maybe he was calling from an office building next to a bus station in New Delhi. Anyway, “Bruce”/Deepak was doing a fine job of selling magazines. I even bought Indian Telemarketers Journal. “Bruce” said it was great, and I really trust his recommendation.
But some people are not as happy about all this as I am. Some are downright angry that foreigners are taking all our miserable, dead-end jobs like telemarketing while unemployed Americans have nothing to do but sit around all day and clip recipes for Chicken Tikka Masala out of magazines they don’t remember ordering.
That leads me to this week’s big news that the National Hockey League won’t be starting its season on time because of a labor dispute. That’s right, it’s possible there will be no hockey this season.
How are you going to make it through the winter? Oh, wait. I forgot. You don’t care about hockey. You’re not alone. In fact, Americans have a long, proud tradition of looking down on the NHL as the poor, weird, living-up-North cousin of the real professional sports leagues.
There’s even potentially a bright side to all this: if you’re opposed to outsourcing, the NHL strike puts a few hundred foreigners out of work. Remember, these are high-paying union jobs that used to go to Americans. Or at least Canadians.
What’s more, these foreigners aren’t even willing, like my friend “Bruce,” to change their birth names for ones that trip off our tongues more conveniently. I mean, couldn’t the L.A. Kings player Lubomir Visnovsky change his name to something more like “Mikey”? Wouldn’t it be easier to remember Mattias Weinhandl if he called himself “Glenn”? For an average salary of $1.8 million, I’d consider calling myself a lot worse things than that. Engelbert Humperdinck. Dick Butkus. Beavis. As soon as the check cleared, you could take your pick.
Actually, that’s just a small part of the NHL’s problem. Here’s a list of a few others: San Jose, Phoenix, Anaheim, Raleigh, Tampa, Miami, Dallas, and Nashville. These cities have a couple things in common: first, they have a recently added professional hockey team; second, they are all places where nobody gives a rat’s butt about hockey. Yet, for some reason the NHL seems surprised that it hasn’t been successful in getting the locals in these places to shower off the suntan lotion and come see the home team face off against the Ottawa Senators for $60 a seat on a Tuesday night forty times a year.
So in summary, the NHL brings in players we’ve never heard of and feel embarrassed at our stupidity because we can’t pronounce their names. They pay them way, way too much and open lots of teams in places where the word “hockey” is preceded by the word “tonsil” more than half the time. Then, they raise prices because all this unpronounceable talent needs more money to buy courtside seats at the NBA Finals. In the end, the owners all go broke and threaten to call off the season.
All of this leaves the typical American sports fan with one burning question:
“How ‘bout those Red Sox?”

Letter From California-September 12, 2004

It’s still only mid-September, so the kiddies haven’t yet finalized their Halloween costume choices for the year. I don’t exactly remember how I picked mine back in the last century, but I do want to say one thing on behalf of everybody who grew up at approximately the same time I did: those department store superhero costumes with the plastic jump suit and face mask attached by an elastic band were incredibly lame. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that Luke Skywalker does not walk around wearing a one-piece suit that ties around the neck, with a picture of himself on the front and the words “STAR WARS” splashed across the top. The other problem, of course, came from the mask. If you ever picked a character like Skywalker, the mask you got pretty much was the generic blonde-haired white guy. You got the generic dark-haired white guy if you went with Superman. Imagine a kid’s disappointment while he’s running around on Halloween, feeling like the Man of Steel, when some really out-of-touch grown up walks up and compliments him on his Rock Hudson costume.
Not cool. Not cool at all.
Of course, one off-the-rack costume never caused such a case of mistaken identity. No chance anyone would think you were an aging movie legend who turned out to be, well, a little different than people imagined him to be at the time. In fact, there were at least four of these unmistakable costumes; you could take your pick: Gene, Ace, Peter or Paul. That’s right, some of the cooler kids in elementary school went down to the Woolworth and picked themselves out a KISS costume. It meant you were a third grade rocker; it meant you were a little dangerous; it meant maybe you came from a bad home, but that just made you tougher. It meant all the kids would come up to you and say, “Hey, why would Ace Frehley walk around with a picture of himself on his chest and the word “KISS” written above it?” Ok, the costume itself was still lame, but you get the idea. Pretending to be one of the members of the band had cachet; you were bad, in a good way.
There was really only one downside to wearing a KISS costume: eternal damnation.
It’s funny how things look 25 years later. At the time, KISS came to symbolize pure evil. Parents everywhere worried that if their pre-teens listened to KISS, they’d start slaughtering perfectly good goats in the backyard during sleepovers and chasing their bonfire-cooked s’mores with warm mugs of each other’s blood. KISS, they feared, would usher in a new age of devilish behavior. In retrospect, KISS did signal the beginning of some unfortunate trends, but mostly in the area of bad hair and makeup. Their songs, when you listen to them now, seem cute and harmless compared to some of the things you hear now coming over the loudspeaker at, say, a public school.
So I suppose Halloween has always caused great debates of good versus evil, and probably the best place to see that debate this year is at the Hollywood Hell House right here in Southern California. You may have heard of this in the news, and since I am in the entertainment biz, I got invited to the first night and went to take in the scene. For those who missed the story, a group of well-known Hollywood people bought a “Hell House” kit designed for use by churches as a Halloween Haunted House alternative and sold by Pastor Keenan Roberts of Colorado. The idea of the “Hell House” is to show scenes of the suffering caused by a sinful life. As you walk through the House with your demon guide, you witness gory and violent scenes like an abortion gone wrong, a school shooting, and a drug-induced suicide. It makes the 1978 TV movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park” look like the Teletubbies. Eventually, you end up in Hell, face to face with the devil, until Jesus appears and you are saved.
As you might imagine, the Hollywood Hell House is a little different from most. I came face to face with Satan, as played by line-dropping, religion-hating comedian Bill Maher. Our group was saved from the wise-cracking devil by comedian Andy Richter, whose portrayal of Jesus was quite good, though Richter goes about a hundred pounds more than you normally expect Jesus to weigh.
Although the group claims to have produced the show exactly as Pastor Roberts wrote it, their purpose wasn’t exactly saving souls. I’m guessing that doesn’t surprise you. On the other hand, they weren’t just making fun either. They wanted the material to speak for itself and to let people draw their own conclusions, though of course they were expecting most people to think that the Hell House was ridiculous and extreme. A bit like “Fahrenheit 911,” you might say.
Part of the reason I wanted to go on opening night is that I heard that Pastor Roberts was planning to be there, and indeed, the producers had him as a guest of honor. So as I watched hundreds of hip, young, Hollywood people wait hours in line to get in, thinking they were having a laugh at Pastor Roberts’ expense, I saw Pastor Roberts smiling, shaking hands, watching the people, too. These were folks, after all, who regularly visit a coffeehouse, but would stay out of a Hell House like it was an outhouse. Yet, here they were, putting their names on a waiting list, hanging around a parking lot for the chance to go in. I heard the other day that the Hell House is now booked more than a week in advance.
Halloween brings out a lot of funny feelings in people, but I call this the strangest Halloween sight I’ve ever seen. People who disagreed with Pastor Roberts on just about everything were spreading his message to thousands and thousands of people that would never have seen it otherwise. Pastor Roberts allowed his work to be mocked, in a way, but smiled all the way through it.
Pastor Roberts and the Hell House producer cordially spent large chunks of the evening together, posing for pictures and talking to press.
Both were confident their own message was getting through.
I wasn’t so sure.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Letter from California-September 7, 2004

Breaking news on obesity: Californians are porkier than ever. Maybe we still look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers next to the manatees and other water mammals in states like Michigan and Mississippi, but a new report came out this week saying that obesity costs California more in healthcare than smoking or any other preventable condition. “Beautiful people” no more, Golden State residents have made impressive gains in the weight category in recent years. At this point, Californians might not lead the league in broken bathroom scales, but we’ve definitely got a shot at the wild card spot.
Before I begin to make merciless fun of this problem, allow me to pause and say how serious the widespread chunkification of the American public is. You really shouldn’t joke about obesity.
You should let me do it. That way, you can still feel morally superior about the situation and blame me if anyone’s offended.
First, I have to prove my street credibility on this. I’m not laughing AT the obese; I’m laughing WITH the obese. The government uses something called the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine which of four categories its citizens fit into: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. Despite my 4 times a week training for road races or my occasional high speed climb up a steep mountain trail, I reluctantly admit that I fall into the last of those categories. On the other hand, it does give me comfort to know that some Californians, ravaged by the disease of obesity, do manage to live productive, meaningful lives. In fact, a few obese Californians have become prominent figures with both personal success and the respect of the community, without any noticeable prejudice toward them because of their heft.
You may have heard of one or two of them: Arnold Schwarzenegger (or “Governor Fatso” as this authors of this report might call him), who led the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness; Sylvester Stallone, who can probably trace his weight problems to all those raw eggs he drank while making Rocky; Shaquille O’Neal, who won only 3 NBA championships because of the limitations created by his morbid weight. Even San Francisco Giants’ slugger Barry Bonds is just a bowl of Rice-A-Roni away from joining Schwarzenegger, Stallone, O’Neal, and me as victims of this cruel epidemic.
Alright, I admit it. That last example is just a joke: Barry Bonds would never eat Rice-a-Roni. In fact, if Barry Bonds owned a pig farm, Barry Bonds’ pigs wouldn’t eat Rice-a-Roni. But Bonds really is borderline obese, according to this study.
But it’s not just sports and governating that have been affected. The movie and TV business has its share of overweight and obese members, too, and I’m not just talking about the obvious doublewides like Cathyrn Manheim or Michael Moore. I’m talking about the Overweight Hollywood Hunks Club, which includes such fatboys as Harrison Ford, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Some people are cruel and unsympathetic to these heartthrobs, but seeing them in the grips of this horrible health problem makes me sad and angry all at once. After all the entertainment and general dreaminess they’ve given us, it’s just doesn’t seem fair.
The time has come to reach for our standin’-up stick, get out of bed and solve this problem. In the last 20 years, obesity rates in California have soared upward, like officially-overweight Michael Jordan skywalking his way to the basket. Who’s to blame for allowing California to go from being a state full of Dennis Quaids to becoming a place overrun by Randy Quaids? What can we do about it?
I read a separate report this week that advanced an interesting answer to both questions. It seems that some scientists have begun to notice a connection between a decrease in smoking and an increase in obesity. They suggest that when people stop smoking, they feel compelled to reach for any other conveniently placed object and jam it in their mouths. Often enough, that object is food and the next thing you know, you’ve got a nation of Tom and Roseanne Arnolds.
On the surface, the facts seem to match up. From 1985 to 1997, smoking in California decreased by about 8% and obesity increased by about 9%. Coincidence? Just ask anti-smoking, pro-Krispy Kreme (and all around nice guy; don’t get mad at me, Rob!) Rob Reiner.
So if that’s true, we need to make some changes right away. Instead of taxing cigarettes, we should consider a rebate on every pack. In the long run, it could save the state money by helping keep down the costs of treating action heroes and home-run hitters for diabetes. Schwarzenegger could sponsor a program called “Smoke Yourself Skinny,” encouraging overweight children to follow his example and break free of the prison of obesity by lighting up. It might even be the goal of a new ballot initiative, providing easier access to obesity-reducing drugs, including both Menthols and Regular.
That, or we could all just try not to make pigs of ourselves all the time.
Either way.
Letter from California-August 30, 2004

If you ever want to know how much this country has changed in the last thirty years, go down to your local Blockbuster and rent Bad News Bears. It’s now been 28 years since Bicentennial moviegoers forked over their $2.75 by the millions to see a comedy that couldn’t even be made today.
If your memory’s a little hazy, Bad News Bears details the rise of the most wretched group of Little League baseball players ever assembled under the care of an abusive, alcoholic coach. Today, parents practically put crash helmets on their bright-eyed little soccer stars before they’re allowed to clamber into the 3rd row of the Lincoln Navigator. In 1976, by contrast, no one was scandalized by the scene where a tipsy Walter Matthau (as Coach Buttermaker) drives through the Southern California streets with a half-dozen un-seat belted 10 year olds piled into his rust-bucket convertible. Dangerous and despicable, yes, but in 1976, it was very, very funny. Little League movies today tend to focus more on angelic spirits helping the less fortunate children win miraculous victories and teach life lessons; back in 1976, the players all swore at each other and had Chico’s Bail Bonds as a sponsor. Kelly, the league’s star player and juvenile delinquent, arrived at practice on what had to be a stolen motorcycle. He didn’t even wear a helmet! Today, some moms won’t even let the little ones practice unless they’re bubble wrapped from head to toe. One wonders: if Kelly were a real person and not just a fictional character, he’d be 40 now. Would even he have gone soft or would he dust off the old 80 horsepower street bike and point Kelly junior toward the park?
Still Bad News Bears was inspiring in a way. The Bears, despite being foul-mouthed, overweight, asthmatic, juvenile delinquent, obnoxious and hostile, managed to work together as a team, climbing the ranks of the league. In the end, the Bears faced the dreaded Yankees for the championship. The Yankees had it all: talent, nice uniforms, taller, better-looking players, a coach that shaved more often than he drank and a record of winning. In short, everybody hated them. Every team wanted to see the Yankees lose, but none of them actually believed that their own team could do it. In the end, even the Bears lost out. (Sorry if I ruined the ending for you; I mean, you have had 28 years to watch it.)
So if you’re nostalgic for times when drunk driving, alcoholism, grand theft auto, and verbal abuse made perfect fodder for children’s entertainment, don’t despair completely. Teams, people, groups or companies like the Yankees still make people mad, envious, and spiteful. Who didn’t enjoy seeing Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez mildly humiliated in the press for the movie Gigli, for example? Harried homemakers all over the country had a guilty chuckle when Martha Stewart took a fall. The Yankees symbolized all those things that are too successful, too polished, and too happy with themselves.
You could say that the Yankees were the Microsoft of the Bad News Bears league. That may explain why about a dozen cities and counties in California have decided to take the company on in a lawsuit this week, claiming that Microsoft used its success in the computer software market to charge higher prices for its products. The cities and counties, in turn, bought these products and now claim that they should get some of that money back.
Let’s review: Microsoft writes software that people like so much that no one even considers buying from the competition. Check. Microsoft charges a price that customers are willing to pay, though some think it’s high. Check. This goes on for a long time and several potential competitors to Microsoft appear. Cities and counties around California yawn and keep buying Microsoft. Check. Cities and counties sue Microsoft to get a few billion dollars back because Microsoft forced them to buy at prices they didn’t want to pay.
Let’s see. I must have missed a step in there. Where’s the part where Microsoft forced Los Angeles and San Francisco counties to buy all these products? Notice that they’re not going to return the software; after all, their employees all use the products everyday, for just about everything they do. They really, really need the stuff Microsoft makes. In fact, that may be just the problem: Microsoft is so good at what they do, and gets paid so well to do it, that it just makes you want to see them suffer.
You can’t blame them entirely, I suppose. It does seem to be an American tradition since at least 1976. The Yankees had beaten the Bears in the championship after a bitterly fought game. There were hard feelings between the teams, and Yankees, as a group, decided to make a heartfelt apology for any unsportsman-like conduct on their part. The crowd hushed, and the moment was perfect for the Bears to return the generous sentiment.
Angel-faced Tanner finally broke the silence: “Hey, Yankees, you can take your trophy and your apology and shove it…”
There was a little more to that sentence, but this is 2004. We’re not really allowed to talk like that anymore. Not in a kids movie, anyway.
Letter from California-August 23, 2004

I have a vivid memory of a fourth of July festival on Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina sometime in the late 70s, where among other attractions, you could pay $1, as I recall, to swing a sledgehammer at a rusted-out junker car. At that time, a dollar went a long way for me, so I refrained. I couldn’t help but thinking though that if I had unlimited means, I would have taken at least one whack at the old wreck. Maybe 2 or 3.
I’ll leave you to decide which is funnier: my dreaming of a time when I would have enough wealth to spend my Independence Day breaking the tail lights on a ’65 Dodge Dart or the idea that a car-smash was an Air Force-sanctioned feature of the party celebrating our nation’s birth. Perhaps tough-guy shenanigans like this would make sense in the Marines or even the Army, but we’re talking about the Air Force here. In this branch, most people push pencils instead of pumping iron. Airmen generally don’t drop and give anyone 20 unless they’re offering to pay for the next case of beer but can’t get off the floor to go buy it themselves.
Either way, we’re left to contemplate one hard-to-deny fact: people like to damage cars. It’s even become the traditional Super Bowl victory celebration to torch or tip over a car and there’s a message in that: winners have plenty of cars so why not have a little fun with a couple of them?
Without an NFL team in town, Angelenos need to come up with other justifications for this mayhem, but unfortunately, none of them is quite as festive as a July 4th celebration or a Super Bowl triumph. In fact, two of Southern California’s most notorious car vandals both find their way into court and the local news this week in two very different ways, and yet their stories have strange, similar points of overlap.
To recap for those joining us late, Billy Cottrell is accused of torching and vandalizing 133 SUVs at Southern California dealerships last year at this time. Billy is a graduate student at CalTech, one of the most selective and prestigious schools for science and engineering in the world, and so he’s probably got some Lex Luthor-style evil genius potential that we need to keep an eye on. Kerri Dunn…excuse me, Professor Kerri Dunn of the prestigious Pomona Colleges, came to campus as a guest professor and harangued the student body in lectures and rallies about how racist and hateful they all were. As proof, she smashed the windows of her own car, ripped out the tape deck and wrote anti-black and anti-Jewish racist slogans (Dunn is as white as Colonel Sanders, by the way) on her 1990 Honda. When word got out of the “crime,” the students and faculty rallied to her defense, canceling classes for a day and repudiating racism and vowing to defend and support her. A week later, the cops investigating her insurance claim turned up evidence and eyewitnesses that demonstrated the hate crime was entirely self-inflicted. Before the Mystery Machine even made it to town, the police were dragging Professor Dunn away while she muttered, “…and I would have gotten away with it to if it hadn’t been for you meddling eyewitnesses!” Evil she may be, but, genius, certainly not. The court brought back a guilty verdict on Dunn this week for charges related to her brilliant caper.
This week, the police in another part of Los Angeles also announced that they have DNA evidence connecting Cottrell to the Hummer-burning spree of last year. This has caused a shift in his legal strategy. It had been the Gary Coleman defense, consisting of saying “What you talkin’ bout, prosecutor?” and denying everything. Now, the story goes, Cottrell is a high-functioning autistic who was led down the path of SUV destruction by those with stronger minds. Stronger minds? Did a race of super-beings come down in their ships and decide to pick on all the people with 150 IQ or higher? And if they did, why are they so concerned about protecting the earth? Maybe they want to make sure it’s all spiffy and pine-fresh when they launch their planetary takeover in 50 years. Somehow I don’t think that theory is going to survive the harsh light of day in court, so things don’t look promising for Cottrell.
Still, his case has a comforting simplicity about it: overly intelligent nutjob makes dangerous and futile gesture in a fit of childish idealism but ends up ruining his life. At least we get his point. Enjoy the federal Pen, Billy.
Professor Dunn’s story, on the other hand, has an ickiness to it that should give every decent person the heebie jeebies. First, a little good news: “hate crimes” like the one Dunn staged must be almost completely extinct. If hate-peddlers like her actually have to go to the trouble of faking them in order to get people to believe they exist, things must be improving a lot.
The bad news though is the awful power of an accusation like this. Blacks and Jews at the Pomona Colleges must have looked askance at their fellow students for those days following the phony-baloney incident, seething with needless suspicion. So what if this dose of poison into the community turns out to have come from a person who self-righteously preached about the immorality of others? Looking back on the sympathy they poured out to Professor Dunn, the students must feel a resentment and confusion about the whole issue, where before all this, they were, apparently, getting along just fine. Thanks, Professor; you’re really reaching the young people.
Sadly, the police couldn’t charge Dunn with anything worse than filing a fraudulent insurance claim, so she maxes out at 3 and a half years in the joint, whereas Cottrell faces decades. Sure, he burned more cars. In fact, he burned about 40 Super Bowls worth and he’s going to pay for that, which is good and right. Dunn, on the other hand, will probably be freely driving her dented Honda again by the start of next school year, with good behavior.
But I have a feeling that classes won’t be cancelled in her honor at Pomona this time around.