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July 2016

Stop alerting me, Amber

[This originally ran March 21.]

Not long ago, my assistants were on a long and dark patch of interstate, late at night, when the quiet was interrupted by … an Amber Alert. Cellphones go off. Overhead signs light up. A child’s life might be at risk.

So they laughed.

They laughed because very nearly 100% of these alerts turn out to be false alarms – at best an errant observation by a busybody, at worse a parental custody dispute. Who’s to blame? Start with this guy. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“In moments of uncertainty, it’s best that law enforcement err on the side of caution, said Bob Hoever, director of special programs for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. … “You don’t want to make the wrong decision, because a child’s life is hinging on that decision. That’s a lot of pressure you’re putting on a person. I’d rather take the heat, erring on the side of the child, rather than if a child had gotten hurt on my watch.”

Multiply that attitude by tens of thousands and you see why more discretion is called for. If an Amber Alert is out and everybody laughs, did an Amber Alert appear at all?

Also consider how police officers’ attitudes have changed. From a 2007 report by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno: “We looked at a parental abduction where the dad was located thanks to a citizen tip prompted by an Amber Alert. Law enforcement swooped in there. There was a big standoff, and the guy ultimately killed himself. We coded that case as ‘Amber Alert saved a kid from a dangerous situation.’ But for all we know, the Amber Alert MADE it a dangerous situation.”

Any law named after a child is probably bad public policy, or a good idea that will go awry.

Congratulations, Dr. Savage

Some news that flew under the media radar (as I knew it would): Michael Savage has been voted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Other talk show hosts have larger audiences, but few will venture where Savage does five days a week, with passion (or nastiness, depending on your point of view). His basic un-PC message, heard in more than 200 markets, centers on language, culture and borders. Salon magazine called him “the Godfather of Trumpmania.”

Among other finalists in the Spoken Word On-Air Personality competition was Sean Hannity, who’ll have to wait until next year’s public vote. Hannity and Savage compete head-to-head in several big markets, and Hannity has the advantage of a high-profile cable show on Fox News, so he’ll get in eventually.

Don’t expect to see Savage on TV, because those in the industry haven’t forgotten an incident from 2003, back when the Department of Homeland Security was being organized, Roger Ailes was riding high and MSNBC aired viewpoints not expressly approved by the Democratic National Committee. The weekend show was called “The Savage Nation,” same as the radio show today. From Mediaite:

“Savage concluded his July 5th, 2003, show by taking viewer calls. As he went to an unnamed caller, the host put on sunglasses (because why not?) and listened in as the man rambled a bit.”

It soon became obvious that the caller had outwitted the screeners and the conversation took a turn into accusing Savage of homophobia. The exchange – and his TV hosting career – ended this way:

Savage: “Oh, okay, so you’re one of those sodomists? Are you a sodomite?”

Caller: “Yes, I am.”

Savage: “Oh, so you’re one of those sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. (At this point somebody off-camera said, “Whoa.”) How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig? You got nothing better to do than to put me down, you piece of garbage? You got nothing to do today? Go eat a sausage, and choke on it. Get trichinosis. Okay, do we have another nice caller here who’s busy because he didn’t have a nice night in the bathhouse who’s angry at me today?”

The day after, Savage apologized on his radio program and his website. He survived that flap and a legal battle with his radio syndicator, which kept him off the air for several weeks in 2012. Now comes the call to join the all-time greats, at the age of 74.

I’ll close with some other fun facts. Dr. Savage is sometimes referred to that way because he has a doctorate in nutritional ethnomedicine from the University of California, Berkeley, where presumably few people like or listen to “The Savage Nation.” He is barred from entering the United Kingdom for “fostering hatred.” He is a prolific author, both under his radio name and his real name, Michael Wiener. And as successful as he’s been, his son has outshone him. Russ Weiner invented the Rockstar energy drink and became a multibillionaire.

Successful in S.F.? Pay up

In San Francisco, media outlets recently colluded, trying to put the subject of homelessness on the front burner. But the coverage was incomplete, because smellevision hasn’t been invented. Now there is a new development: Politicians want to further burden tech companies, because, you know, many of them are successful. From CNBC.com:

“Eric Mar, a member of the city’s board of supervisors, announced the proposal last week for a 1.5% payroll tax that would serve as a form of indemnification for what he described as the downside of the technology boom. Tech companies have been ‘a tremendous benefit to the city in many ways,’ Mr. Mar said. ‘But I don’t think they’ve been paying their fair share.”

Ah, there’s that word liberals love – fair. It can be defined any way they want it. More from the article: “The proposal for what has become known as the tech tax would go toward paying for programs for the homeless and the housing ‘affordability crisis,’ Mr. Mar said. Behind the proposal is more than just an effort to raise revenue. The tech tax, the passage of which is consider a long shot, is the latest manifestation of resentment … against the proliferation of high-paid tech workers and the pressures that rising prices have put on residents. Tensions have flared over the notion that tech workers live in a parallel society, in which they are whisked in private buses to work, socialize in their own circles and do not participate in San Francisco’s traditions of social collaboration.”

Social collaboration? That’s interesting. Maybe if I visit I’ll be welcomed in to play fan-tan at an opium den four levels below Chinatown. But probably not.

In the 20th paragraph of the story, CNBC gets around to pointing out the obvious: “Skeptics say it is difficult to define what a tech company is, and they criticize the measure for singling out companies based in the city while the giants of Silicon Valley are not affected – even those thousands of their employees live in the city and have contributed to the income inequality and high housing costs.”

And there’s this from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who opposes this ridiculous tax: “This tax on technology jobs will not help our housing crisis. It won’t make housing less expensive. It won’t reduce the number of homeless people. What it will do is chase away good-paying jobs and erode our tax base.”

It is always fascinating how liberals are eager to tax success and embrace fascism when it suits their purposes, such as limiting the First Amendment. A better approach would be to round up the homeless and encourage them to get help for their drug and alcohol problems. If we’re on the path to fascism, may as well get some better-smelling downtown streets out of it.

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