Unintended consequences


Cleveland Browns football team president Carmen Policy made a good case for apathy on Sunday. That’s my take on his statement anyway.

After an unpopular decision by officials at a game between the Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans began throwing beer bottles (and other things) onto the field. American professional football players are big, brawny men, covered in padding and wearing helmets. Nevertheless, Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith said, “We feared for our lives. It was like dodging bullets. We were just trying to dodge as many beer bottles as we could. It felt like I was starring in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or something.” I’m willing to believe he was scared.

Browns coach Butch Davis reacted as one might expect. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “I know the fans were upset, but our guys were getting hit along with the Jaguars and the officials. It’s an unfortunate situation.” President Policy, however, said on Sunday, “I don’t think this is an example of life and limb being at risk. I like the fact that our fans care.” If that’s an example of caring, I’ll take apathy any day.

Of course, people sometimes say things they don’t really mean. I’ve certainly done it myself — once in front of a very big audience.

In 1978, I appeared on the technology-oriented television series “Fast Forward.” I was trying to convey the wonders of the system behind color television. I wanted to point out that it could even display non-spectral colors (colors that don’t appear in a rainbow). What came out of my mouth was, “It can even transmit purple, which doesn’t exist in real life.” Oops.

Then there was Jim McKechnie, president of the condominium board of the John Hancock tower in Chicago, which has the tallest residential floors on our planet. “We live in the safest building in the world now,” he said after September 11. “We have security, we have plainclothes security, we have marked cars, we have unmarked cars. It’s like the Pentagon. Okay, bad analogy.” That was an instant correction.

Cleveland Browns president Policy apologized Monday for his statement on Sunday. “I did not set a proper tone. I realize I had to set the record straight. In no way do we approve of that [violence].”

In New Orleans on Monday, where there was a similar bottle-throwing incident, 13 people were arrested, and another 15 were ejected from the stadium. No one praised their violent response — except, perhaps, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which cited “Stop the violence; stop the hate” as one of 116 examples of anti-American, unpatriotic speech they found on college campuses.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, who ran for Vice President last year, co-founded ACTA with Lynne Cheney, spouse of the current Vice President. He has, in the past, criticized the entertainment industry for offering too much violence. Last week he criticized the Justice Department decision to try Zacarias Moussaoui in an open civilian court instead of a secret military commission.

“It’s wrong not to have consulted the Department of Defense,” Lieberman said, “because we’re at war.” As best I am aware, the Congress of which Lieberman is a member has yet to declare war on anyone. Moussaoui was also never in military possession; he was arrested in the United States before September 11. Lieberman fears that a civilian court will allow Moussaoui, whom Lieberman has decided is guilty, to “get away,” even though civilian courts had no trouble convicting those terrorists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who were brought to trial.

It may be difficult to determine from the Lieberman and ACTA statements whether either would like to retract anything. There seems to be no doubt, however, about Geraldo Rivera’s intentions.

He has, on numerous occasions, said that he would personally like to kill Osama bin Laden. He has made no secret of the fact that he is carrying a loaded gun in Afghanistan. An editorial in this week’s Broadcasting and Cable magazine quotes Rivera on his personal plans for bin Laden. “Kick his head in, then bring it home and bronze it.”

The magazine doesn’t approve of that statement. It’s not because of their politics or their feelings about violence. It’s because, in their opinion, he is endangering the lives of other journalists.

If journalists are allowed safe passage through war zones, it is only because they are viewed as non-combatants. If they carry arms and vow to kill, they are no longer non-combatants. There is a reason ambulances don’t carry weapons.

I don’t think it is Geraldo Rivera’s intention to endanger journalists. It’s an unintended consequence. There have been many lately.

New York has decided to pay fire-department and police supervisors for the hundreds of hours of overtime they worked on and after September 11, despite the fact that such supervisors normally don’t get overtime pay. Unfortunately, because their pensions are calculated based on what they receive in their last year on the job, the overtime pay provides a powerful incentive for those supervisors to retire soon. Already, New York police officers are retiring at about double last year’s rate; 2,559 have left this year through the end of November.

Airport security has increased. So have complaints by female travelers and flight attendants of physical abuse by screeners. When one flight attendant requested a female screener to perform a pat-down search, she was reportedly threatened with arrest by a National Guard soldier.

Birds need not pass through airport security to fly. Two calliope hummingbirds have chosen to visit Manhattan. They are the first ever seen in New York State.

They consume half their body weight in food daily. That’s not a lot (they are the smallest, lightest hummingbirds), but there will not be enough for them to eat once our vegetation realizes it’s now past the middle of December.

There has been a great debate in New York over what to do about those two birds. Should they be captured and taken to a safe environment, such as one of our climate-controlled aviaries? Should that be a permanent relocation or just for the winter? Should they be flown to their normal winter feeding range? Should feeders be placed in the park they’re in? What happens if the nectar substitute freezes? Would feeders encourage other birds that need to fly to warmer climes to dally in New York? Should nature simply be allowed to take its course?

It’s nice that all of the possible consequences of action to be taken on behalf of two tiny birds are being considered. Would that the consequences of other actions receive even half as much consideration.

TTFN, Mark