Stories on Kings’ support for coach Karl as muddled as his status

Will George Karl coach the Kings through the end of this losing season?

I thought the answer was “yes” after seeing a front-page teaser headline this morning in the Sacramento Bee that said: “Karl Staying Put.” That impression was reinforced – make that pounded home — in the Bee’s main sports story, two columns and even an editorial.

“We are not firing George,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac told the Bee’s Jason Jones, who covers the Kings on a daily basis. “We have to sit down, work together and figure out how to turn this around.”

The Bee’s editorial board, sports columnist Ailene Voisin and local columnist Marcos Breton all echoed the view that the Kings were sticking with Karl a day after rumors swirled that the team was about to fire its coach.

But then, persistent reader that I am, I came across this line buried in the penultimate paragraph of Jones’ lengthy sports story: “Divac didn’t say if Karl would remain the coach for the rest of the season.”

From what I can tell, no one on the Bee team pressed Divac on how long his support for Karl might last, nor did any of them see fit to pose hard questions to the three people most involved in this dispiriting tale: the guy at the top, Vivek Ranadive, Karl himself and his nemesis, DeMarcus Cousins.

Think about that for a minute. A day after the city’s only daily newspaper ran a big story that the Kings were about to fire Karl, a story attributed only to “league sources,” it does an about-face  and says Karl is staying – for now – and bases that solely on what Divac has to say. No one seems to have gone directly to Ranadive, Karl or Cousins for their comments on the possible firing or related subjects.

Columnist Voisin, long an ardent supporter of troublemaker Cousins, praises Divac for preventing the franchise from spinning out of control and for taking “the car keys from DeMarcus Cousins.” What the heck does that mean? And did she ask Cousins how he feels about the purported putdown? Nope.

Breton writes that “the mercurial managing general partner of the Kings ownership group is the one person who has had a hand in every questionable decision fueling the losing, a carousel of coaches, team discord and muddled messages emanating from Sleep Train Arena.”  Does Breton ask Ranadive to explain his actions or clarify his muddled messages?  Nope. The intrepid columnist merely suggests that Ranadive should get the boot.

Breton also claims that the Kings didn’t leak the report on Karl’s imminent firing, but gives no support for that contention. He blasts social media for “burning up with news that your coach is being fired while the coach is still employed.” Social media? The Bee itself ran Jones’ story Monday, based on “league sources.” If this information didn’t come from the Kings, what credibility would it have and why would the Bee have relied on it?

Questions, questions, questions. I wish the Bee would start asking some hard ones on what’s really going on with the Kings.




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Time for humor amid political correctness

A little humor goes a long way in the cultural sensitivity wars.

“The Daily Show” struck a refreshing note in its spoof on DeMarcus  Cousins’ objection to Year of the Monkey T-shirts that were to be distributed at Sleep Train Arena last week. Cousins complained (as he does on so many subjects) that the promotion came at the start of Black History Month, when players would be wearing shirts to commemorate that event. The dueling shirts might generate unpleasant stereotypes, Cousins suggested.

“We all need a lesson in sensitivity,” Kings president Chris Granger said about the decision to collect all the shirts before the arena doors opened. “In an effort to celebrate Chinese New Year, we had some concerns about the T-shirt giveaway, so we pulled them all before the doors opened. Certainly we don’t want to offend anybody, and we acted as soon as we heard the concern.”

Well, maybe some humor is what we need in this time of overreaction to perceived racial and ethnic slights. That’s what “The Daily Show” provided with host Trevor Noah playing straight man to fake correspondent Ronny Chieng.

“I know Black History month is really important to you guys, but we started naming years after animals, like, 5,000 years ago,” said Chieng. “It’s a set pattern. Every year is a different animal.”

Chieng also swung freely at Cousins, who, as a Bee story noted, has a reputation for complaining.

“We are really going to listen to DeMarcus Cousins?” asked Chieng. “He’s been a leader in technical fouls for like five seasons in a row, now. The biggest crybaby in the NBA.”

As a former copy editor at the Bee, I can empathize with Granger’s predicament. He’s running a business and doesn’t want to alienate fans. I spent more than 30 years looking for anything in stories that might needlessly give offense and motivate readers to cancel their subscriptions. The Bee saw itself as a family newspaper, “a guest in readers’ homes.” In addition to checking spelling, grammar and style, I judiciously excised questionable nuances, double entendres and puns while taking abuse from reporters who saw their creativity being stifled.

I felt far too censorious for my otherwise liberal nature but told myself I was helping to uphold the standards of the English language. One issue that undercut that role arose in the 1990s. It involved an aggrieved politician representing a predominantly black area of Sacramento and a white city councilman who used the word “niggardly” in a debate. He used it correctly to mean “stingy,” but his opponent labeled him a racist and blasted the Bee for using the word in the newspaper.

After an in-house debate on the English language, etymology, language skills, effete intellectuals and ignoramuses, high executives issued a stern warning to keep the word “niggardly” out of the paper in almost all circumstances. While acknowledging “niggardly” had a different origin and different meaning from the N-word, the executives decided it was too inflammatory to appear in a family newspaper.

Whether by design or coincidence, similar “niggardly” controversies erupted around the country in the following years, and the word became too hot to handle for most newspapers. My New Oxford American Dictionary, Third Edition, published in 2010, carries a warning that the word is widely avoided in the United States because it can cause offense.

What can I say? Maybe DeMarcus Cousins, who can’t lead the Kings to the playoffs, may prove to be a leader in political correctness.

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Donald Trump, Amy Schumer and public decency

Before drawing an unflattering connection between Donald Trump, comedian Amy Schumer and life in the gutter, let me step back to an era when the American public could find common ground in a penetrating question about public decency.

The question was asked of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954 during a televised Senate inquiry into McCarthy’s allegation that the Army was soft on Communism. During the height of the Cold War, McCarthy had become a powerful political figure by hurling reckless accusations of Communist connections at a wide variety of people and institutions.

At one point in the hearings, McCarthy attempted to slander an associate of the Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Welch. Welch fixed McCarthy with a steady glare and declared evenly, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…  Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? ”

The audience exploded into cheers and applause, which reflected a growing national consensus that the Communist witch hunt had run amuck. McCarthy was censured by the Senate later that year and his political career declined rapidly.

I grew up in this era and evidently absorbed the idea that society is better off when a modicum of civility and decency prevails. I rarely see any good coming from being dragged down into the muck. This means I have no use for Donald Trump, who sees political value in exploiting fears, resentment and hostility toward Muslims, immigrants and women. He promotes bigotry as some kind of public service and crude putdowns as straight talk. Equally bad are the echoes of Trumpisms I hear bandied about at my athletic club while I’m seeking relaxation in the hot tub.

While I feel no societal optimism in Trump and his supporters, I thought Amy Schumer might be a refreshing difference. The 34-year-old comedian has been billed as an ardent feminist and an emerging public intellectual who uses her comedy to address serious social issues like rape, sexism and inequality. I had seen some snippets of her comedy and enjoyed her performance in the film “Trainwreck.”

The other night, I sat down to watch an HBO special titled “Amy Schumer: Live at the Apollo.” I can’t say her humor on sexual mechanics or her foul-mouth style did much for me, but I didn’t get offended until she went into a crude riff on oral sex. What got me was her need to use First Lady Michelle Obama and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to push the boundaries of her outrageousness. It was as though she wanted to pull these respected women off their pedestals and down into the muck of her own creation.  I turned off the television and felt dispirited with this voice of a younger generation.

My question to her is this: Have you no sense of decency, Amy Schumer?

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The variable price of law enforcement in Sacramento

When I saw the letter from the Sacramento Police Department, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for a whack in the wallet. The last go-round with local law enforcement had cost us about $600.

I say “us” because, as a married man, I share the good times and bad times with my wife, Carol. Last year, Carol made a turn on red at 16th and W streets at 4:30 a.m. and immediately saw the flash of an automated camera. The burst of light served as a reminder that a turn on red isn’t allowed at a three-way intersection. She had to pay close to $600 for the fine, added fees and the cost of traffic school. She was outraged. This was the first time she had received a moving violation in her life. (My feminist wife acknowledges that a fetching smile in her younger days might have spared her a ticket or two.)

This time around, Carol and I stumbled together into trouble. She had gone to bed early because she had a rowing workout early the next morning. I stayed up to watch a rerun of “Law and Order.” I find it soothing to see the cops and courts restore order and justice to a troubled world before I retire for the night. The presence of intense and attractive Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael, played by a young Angie Harmon, made this episode particularly appealing.

Lost in this drama, I was slow to hear the beeping of our home-alarm system. When I did, my heart raced for a minute before I realized Carol had probably inadvertently hit the alarm panic button on a nightstand next to the bed. When I checked, she said she had been reaching for something on the nightstand and must have hit the alarm.

I went into the kitchen, expecting a call from the alarm dispatch center. When the phone didn’t ring, I assumed I had caught the alarm in time. I returned to the living room and the pleasures of “Law and Order.”

Suddenly, there was a pounding on the front door. I knew it had to be the Sacramento police. I felt like an idiot. I should have called the alarm company right away to avoid this late-night encounter. I opened the door and saw the stern face of a cop who looked as though he played tackle for the Raiders.

“Everything all right here?” he asked.

I apologized at once and explained what had happened. He sized me up in my sweat suit and slippers and probably figured I wasn’t a Land Park killer. He spared me a lecture on false alarms. As soon as I closed the door, I started wondering what the fine would be.

Surprise, surprise! The letter from the Police Department’s False Alarm Reduction Unit said no fine would be assessed because this was our first confirmed false alarm in the past 12 months. A second offense for a panic-alarm call would cost $120. A false burglary alarm would be a mere $60. Subsequent offenses would generate higher fines, but nowhere near the ridiculous cost for Carol’s first vehicle moving violation.

Why would the Police Department handle these things so differently? Well, it turns out the county Sheriff’s Department administers the red light enforcement program in conjunction with the city and the CHP. More important, fees added to the cost of traffic fines have become a convenient tool for local governments to raise money for criminal justice purposes. This gouging of the public places an especially onerous burden on low-income people who live paycheck to paycheck, the Sacramento Bee noted in an editorial last year.

Right now, I’m feeling good about the Sacramento Police Department because of its reasonable false-alarm policy and the professionalism of the officer who showed up on our doorstep. I feel more cynical about the agencies exploiting the public through excessive traffic fines. I’m also irked to see vehicles making turns on red at 16th and W streets and no indication of a camera going off. Does it function only on a deserted intersection at 4:30 a.m.?

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There must be a better way to handle a pitch for money

When I left my athletic club in downtown Sacramento last Sunday, I saw a middle-aged black woman standing across the street. I didn’t immediately take her for a street person.

“Are you from Sacramento?” she asked as I approached.

I said I was.

“Do you know where the VA is?”

Before I could respond, she announced that she was from Massachusetts and couldn’t get any help at all in California. She waved a sheaf of papers. “I’m 49 years old, I served my country and nobody cares. I’ve got two kids, and where am I supposed to put them up tonight?”

I had no answer on this sunny afternoon on quiet Eighth Street. I thought of ending the conversation and walking away.

“They wouldn’t do nothing for us up at the shelter,” she said. “I tried and they said we couldn’t stay there.

”And where are you kids?” I asked, thinking unkindly that the presence of innocent children by her side would have added a lot to her pitch.

“I left them at the church in midtown. But they said we couldn’t stay there. This is pedophiles night.”

She shook her head, seeming disgusted with a house of worship that would give priority to pedophiles over little children.

I smiled slightly at the increasing inventiveness of her story. She took the opportunity to show me an address on a sheet of paper and $23.19 written next to it.

“That’s what it would cost for us to say there tonight,” she said. “I don’t have that kind of money. The damn VA won’t do nothing for us. That ain’t right. I served my country.”

So there I was at decision time. Do I fork over $25 on the remote chance she is telling the truth? Do I curtly brush her off and get into my shiny black Mustang in the nearby parking lot? I was 99 percent sure she was fabricating a tale, and I resented it. Why couldn’t she just appeal to my good will and maybe the two of us could emerge as winners.

I took out my wallet and extracted a $5 bill.

“I’m giving you this in case you’re telling the truth,” I said. “You’ll have to find a few others to buy into your story.”

She took the $5 and my patronizing comment in stride. A few minutes later, I saw her approach a man waiting at the light-rail station. I wondered whether she would spin the same tale.

I still feel irritated with the encounter. I tell myself I should have given her money with a touch of kindness or looked her in the eye and given a polite “no.” A superficial show of respect might have been better than a half-baked effort to confront a probable con game.

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