Jim Brown & Me, The Serious Dangers of AI, UN Critical of US Police Brutality, Gangs in the Sheriffs Dept., Ted Cruz Investigates Beer, Laura Ingraham Won't Apologize, Paul Simon Sings
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
Last week, Jim Brown, my close friend for over 50 years, died. To me, it felt like a sudden power outage when an entire city goes dark and silent. Jim’s lifelong pursuit of civil rights, regardless of the personal and professional costs, not only illuminated the country. He lit a path in my life that I have been following ever since I met him.
Dozens of news stories have recounted his biographical highlights. But I wanted to bring you something more personal. Here is an excerpt from my book, Becoming Kareem, in which I describe attending the Cleveland Summit that Jim had organized. I was only 20 years old then, famous for playing basketball at UCLA, but still in search of how I could use my fame to benefit the community as much as myself.
I felt disconcerted about my fame because I didn’t yet know what to do with it. I had a lot of political opinions and now I had a national platform. But I didn’t just want to ramble on about injustice or I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I would be dismissed as just another whining college kid.
Fortunately, that changed in May when football great Jim Brown, who was now a Hollywood actor, invited me to join a group of black athletes and activists in Cleveland to discuss Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted. At twenty, I would be the youngest person at what would become known as the Cleveland Summit. The meeting was to determine whether or not we would publicly support Ali in his refusal to be drafted. This was by no means a rubber-stamp committee. Several of the participants had been in the military. Brown himself had belonged to the Army ROTC and graduated from Syracuse University as a second lieutenant. Attorney Carl Stokes, who in a few months would become the mayor of Cleveland, making him the first black mayor of a major U.S. city, had served in World War II, just like Coach Wooden.
The summit was not even supposed to happen. It had started as a simple phone call to Brown from Ali’s manager, Herbert Muhammad. Muhammad wanted Brown to help convince Ali to drop his refusal to be drafted to avoid the severe loss of income that could financially wipe Ali out, not to mention the public outcry. Muhammad was torn between his religious convictions, which were the same as Ali’s, and his desire to protect his friend from ruin. Ali was only twenty-five, so two years in the army wouldn’t drastically affect his boxing career. To Muhammad, Brown seemed like a good choice to convince Ali because he had been an outspoken activist for years, so Ali would listen, but Brown also was partners in the company that promoted Ali’s fights, so he had a financial stake in having Ali fighting.
But Brown took his role seriously. He invited me and the rest of the summit members to sit as a jury in assessing Ali’s sincerity and commitment. Every athlete responded by immediately agreeing to come at his own expense. I was excited to finally be part of the political movement in a more direct and active way. I also wanted to help Ali if I could because he made me feel proud to be African-American.
On June 4, 1967, we gathered in the offices of the Negro Industrial Economic Union (NIEU), which soon became the Black Economic Union (BEU). Brown was the co-developer of the BEU and I volunteered at the BEU Los Angeles chapter. Despite our admiration for Ali, we grilled him for hours. Many on the group had come with their minds already made up to persuade Ali to accept his military service. The discussions became pretty heated as questions and answers were fired back and forth. Pretty soon, though, we all realized Ali was not going to change his mind. For two hours he lectured us on Islam and black pride and his religious conviction that the Vietnam War was wrong.
We were all well aware that in the early days of the Vietnam War, kids who could afford to go to college were exempted from the draft, which left poor kids, many of them black, forced to go fight. Ali argued that it was a war against people of color fought by people of color for a country who denied them their basic civil rights.
In the end, he convinced us and we decided to support him. Bill Russell summed it up for all of us, “I envy Muhammad Ali. ... He has something I have never been able to attain and something very few people possess. He has absolute and sincere faith. I'm not worried about Muhammad Ali. He is better equipped than anyone I know to withstand the trials in store for him. What I'm worried about is the rest of us.”
We did our best at that Cleveland Summit to support Ali’s legal fight and to publicize the injustice of the draft, but we knew how powerless we were against those promoting the war. Nevertheless, I was thrilled that I was finally doing something important rather than just complaining. That feeling of wanting be part of a movement to ensure justice and opportunities for all Americans hasn’t left me since. In January of 2017, 50 years after the summit, Jim Brown and I joined several other athletes and activists for a “Words to Action” symposium at San Jose State University’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change. Together we discussed with the audience ways to become more politically active.
Being at that summit and hearing Ali’s articulate defense of his moral beliefs and his willingness to suffer for them reinvigorated my commitment to become even more politically involved.
The great thing about great men is that long after their light has dimmed, their deeds still light our way.
US must tackle police brutality against Black people head-on, UN experts say (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: The US must move beyond piecemeal reform and slogan-making and tackle the ongoing scourge of police brutality and law enforcement’s discrimination against Black people, a United Nations mission has concluded at the end of a historic two-week tour of the country.
UN experts completed their first official visit to the US as part of a system of global inquiries set up by the human rights council after the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020. As they ended their tour on Friday in Washington DC, the experts called for a nationwide commitment to address discrimination suffered by Black Americans in their daily dealings with the law.
“In the US, racial inequity dates back to the very creation of this country and there’ll be no quick fixes,” said Dr Tracie Keesee, one of two independent UN experts who conducted the visit. “To this day, racial discrimination permeates through encounters with law enforcement – from first contact, arrest, detention, sentencing and disenfranchisement.”
MY TAKE: When I read articles like this I always heave a huge sigh of sadness. Law enforcement is such a vital part of our society. Nothing else works if we don’t feel safe—if our children aren’t safe. I think of my father, an NYPD cop who dedicated his life to helping people. Being a police officer is such difficult and dangerous work that I want to think that only the best kind of people with a passion for serving their community would step up to the challenge.
The problem comes with the phrase “their community.” Apparently, some cops believe their community consists only of people who look like them, who share the same religious and political beliefs, or who are cops.
The two areas that need attention in order to turn this dire situation around are in recruiting and in training. The testing and background checks on new recruits needs to be thorough and intensive enough to weed out those with violent and racist tendencies. We also need to prohibit the practice of firing a bad cop only to have him hired by another force. Cops fired for cause need to be placed on a national database which would then make any police department that hires them legally liable for bad behavior in their new job. That liability could be substantial when you realize that just the 25 largest police and sheriff’s departments in the U.S. had to pay out more than $3.2 billion in the past decade to settle 40,000 claims (“The hidden billion-dollar cost of repeated police misconduct”).
The second area of improvement would be in training officers in ways to deal with their biases, some of which may develop or intensify while on the job, and in using non-violent resolutions. This kind of training is not a one-class-and-done situation, but ongoing mandatory training throughout their careers.
This is not about “coddling criminals,” but making sure when cops protect and serve, innocent people do not need to be protected from them.
RELATED: L.A. Sheriff’s Deputies Ordered to Reveal Their Gang Tattoos, Rat Out Other Members (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office finally appears to be cracking down on gangs—not on the streets, but in their own ranks. The Los Angeles Times reported that Sheriff Robert Luna on Thursday ordered 35 deputies suspected of membership in two “deputy gangs” to comply with an order from the county Inspector General, which demands they appear for questioning, reveal any gang-related tattoos, and name names of other gang members. The order comes amid an effort by department higher-ups to crack down on membership in the Banditos and Executioners deputy gangs, whose activities include domineering individual police stations and “rituals that valorize violence,” according to a special counsel report. Banditos members’ tattoos allegedly feature a skeleton wearing a sombrero and bandolier, according to the Times, while the Executioners sport a skull with Nazi iconography and an assault rifle.
MY TAKE: The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has faced so many scandals in the past (“‘The sheriff who went rogue’: Alex Villanueva’s scandal-plagued tenure ends in LA”). This policy of forcing deputies to reveal their gang tattoos is part of a welcome new-broom approach by the current sheriff Robert Luna, voted in six months ago.
Of course, some tattoos might indicate a youthful allegiance that no longer applies. But those who are still actively aligned with gangs need to be fired. Eight deputies filed an $80-million lawsuit alleging they were attacked and harassed by Banditos deputy gang members. However, there is pushback against the investigation within the sheriff’s department from the union.
When there is a legitimate attempt to reform a law enforcement agency, we need to show as much support as possible. For our own safety.
What Exactly Are the Dangers Posed by A.I.? (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: In late March, more than 1,000 technology leaders, researchers and other pundits working in and around artificial intelligence signed an open letter warning that A.I. technologies present “profound risks to society and humanity.”
The group, which included Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and the owner of Twitter, urged A.I. labs to halt development of their most powerful systems for six months so that they could better understand the dangers behind the technology.
…The letter, which now has over 27,000 signatures, was brief. …But the letter represented a growing concern among A.I. experts that the latest systems, most notably GPT-4, the technology introduced by the San Francisco start-up OpenAI, could cause harm to society. They believed future systems will be even more dangerous.
Some of the risks have arrived. Others will not for months or years. Still others are purely hypothetical.
“Our ability to understand what could go wrong with very powerful A.I. systems is very weak,” said Yoshua Bengio, a professor and A.I. researcher at the University of Montreal. “So we need to be very careful.”
MY TAKE: Over the past few months, I’ve been posting stories about AI intrusions into various aspects of our lives: writing essays for students, creating award-winning art, writing news articles. So far, we’ve treated the phenomenon as a humorous curiosity and a high-tech annoyance. Teachers struggle to educate kids on how to think critically, then how to express their thoughts coherently and persuasively—only to have their students turning in AI-written essays. Art experts have been fooled by AIs mimicking the old masters. We were all amused. But those naive days are over. No one’s laughing now.
OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman, whose company created the vastly popular ChatGPT, testified before Congress last week (“OpenAI CEO tells Senate that he fears AI’s potential to manipulate views”) about the dangers of AI in manipulating public opinion. Voices can be duplicated, photographs faked—all the things Michael Crichton warned us about in his 1992 novel Rising Sun. When this many experts in the field are worried, we should take their concerns seriously and get some legal guidelines and regulations on the books to oversee the development of AI. It’s not so much The Terminator’s Skynet and the extinction of humanity we need to worry about (well, maybe a little), but the eradication of truth and facts that allow us to better promote democracy.
We all start out as prisoners of our perceptions, but through being exposed to various other perceptions, studies, research, and experts, we can jailbreak out of our confined ideas. But uncontrolled use of AI to immerse us with disinformation will lock us up again—with no chance for escape.
Kareem’s Video Break
What I like about this video is how the rescuer keeps at it even when the other dog snaps at them. Yes, another metaphor.
I’m doing my part. Now do yours.
This Week in Dumb Stuff Said by Famous People
Ted Cruz Launches Investigation Into Bud Light for Ad Featuring Transgender Influencer, Because No, He Doesn’t Have Anything Better to Do (Vanity Fair)
SUMMARY: On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz announced that he had opened an investigation into “whether Anheuser-Busch’s partnership with influencer Dylan Mulvaney violates the Beer Institute’s guidelines prohibiting marketing to underage individuals.” In a letter sent to Brendan Whitworth, the CEO of Budweiser parent company Anheuser-Busch, Cruz, along with Senator Marsha Blackburn, also demanded Whitworth, as chairman of the Beer Institute, a beer industry trade group open his own investigation “to review Anheuser-Busch’s recent and ongoing marketing partnership with Dylan Mulvaney.” Then, to make it perfectly obvious that this whole thing is a political stunt, the GOP lawmakers said such an investigation could be scrapped if Anheuser-Busch would simply: “publicly sever its relationship with Dylan Mulvaney, publicly apologize to the American people for marketing alcoholic beverages to minors, and direct Dylan Mulvaney to remove any Anheuser-Busch content from his social media platforms.” (Cruz misgenders Mulvaney throughout the letter.)
MY TAKE: Cruz gleefully continues his brash campaign to be the most corrupt and useless man in America. It’s working. Texas has just suffered multiple mass murders, faced ice storms that caused the governor to issue a disaster declaration, and was named last year by CNBC as the second worst state to live in. What’s Cruz focusing on? Investigating a trans influencer, even though he knows it will lead nowhere. Will he also sue TV stations for advertising beer during shows that underage people have access to? What about movies in which movie stars drink alcohol (which is almost every American movie made), thereby influencing underage people to drink? Not a chance. Instead he will bray about a transgender influencer to score points with his base. Instead of a being a leader in his state, he’s adopted the role of a scarecrow.
This Week in Questionable Media
Laura Ingraham Has ‘No Clue’ Why Vets Group Made Up Story Fox Ran Wild With (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Offering up a “little update” on Friday night, Fox News host Laura Ingraham admitted that the story of homeless vets being displaced by migrants was a hoax, adding that she had “no clue” why a group would make up a story her network stoked days of outrage over.
A week after the New York Post reported the sensational tale of 20 “struggling homeless veterans” getting booted from upstate New York hotels to make room for asylum-seeking migrants, the story completely fell apart. In reality, Sharon Toney-Finch, the CEO of a veterans’ advocacy organization, had concocted the tall tale and apparently even recruited men from a homeless shelter to pose as the displaced vets for the media.
Of course, by the time the fraud was exposed, right-wing media had run wild with the story. Fox News led the way, airing dozens of on-air segments raging about Democrats placing the needs of “illegals” over the well-being of “people who served our country and need a little boost.” Ingraham, known for her anti-immigrant rhetoric, helped lead the charge.
“We know what the intention was,” Ingraham fumed on Tuesday night. “Second-class citizens are veterans. Primary, most celebrated citizens who get all of the benefits [are] non-citizens, fraudulent asylees into the United States.”
However, on Friday, it was time to eat a bit of crow after the GOP lawmaker who initially backed Toney-Finch’s claims reversed course and denounced her, claiming he was “devastated and disheartened” to discover she fabricated the whole thing...
After Fox News ran an on-air report giving a “quick update” that they were “now looking” into reports that Toney-Finch “misled lawmakers and media outlets,” Ingraham issued her own mild correction during her primetime program.
“Alright, before we go, a little update on a story we brought you this week about homeless vets being displaced from hotels so that illegals could move in,” she said just before heading to a commercial break.
“Turns out the group behind the claim made it up,” Ingraham added. “We have no clue as to why anyone would do such a thing, but we’ll bring you any updates should they come.”
MY TAKE: One way to distinguish a legitimate news organization from a biased platform for propaganda is that when the legit outlet make a mistake, they instantly correct and take responsibility for the error. In this case, the giddiness that Ingraham felt at being handed this kind of hollow-point ammunition damaged her apology ability. Turns out, she was just as hollow as the ammunition.
Every news outlet makes mistakes, but she deflected her culpability by placing blame elsewhere: “We have no clue as to why anyone would do such a thing…” You might have had a clue had you been a legitimate news organization that actually investigates news. Do you have a clue as to why you ran with a story without fact-checking it? I do.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Paul Simon: “The Boy in the Bubble”
Paul Simon is a legitimate genius—a word I rarely use. His vast variety of blends of different world music is amazing on its own, but then you add in perhaps the most intelligent and poetic lyrics of any songwriter in his lifetime, and it’s clear why he is so revered. I can think of at least a dozen of his songs off the top of my head that leave me stunned with their ingenuity and originality.
Graceland is one of the top five albums ever made, but it has a complicated political history. Simon went to South Africa in 1985 despite a UN cultural boycott meant to pressure politicians to end apartheid. The problem for South African musicians was that the boycott kept them from going out and having their music heard. Simon hired many South African musicians and took them on his world tour to promote the album. As a result, they became famous in their own right and were able to make albums of their own music. Exiled South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela joined Simon’s tour to support him.
I selected “The Boy in the Bubble” because of the African influence of the music, which was co-written by South African Forere Motloheloa, and because of the brilliant lyrics (which you can read here). Simon said of the song, “‘The Boy in the Bubble’ devolved down to hope and dread. That's the way I see the world, a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope.” That seems to be the same balance in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” I just love how each approached that idea differently, yet equally effectively.
Dear Mr Abdul-Jabbar, you state that Ted Cruz has adopted the role of a scarecrow. I believe you could also place him in the roles of The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion as he lacks a heart, a brain and courage.
So glad I subscribe and that I got to know a bit of the man behind “The Sky Hook.”
I always look forward to these e-mails. Thanks. One correction: Carl Stokes became mayor of Cleveland, not Detroit. Ted Cruz and “Dumb Stuff” are synonymous. Laura Ingraham: ugh. One of my favorite YouTube pastimes is watching sports highlights from the 60s-early 80s. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Jim Taylor and Dick Butkus are my NFL-viewing favorites.