Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Austin's "Humor" Columnist at Work


The Austin American-Statesman carries the brainwaves of one John Kelso, the paper's alleged humor columnist. In a recent column, "Hey old man, step away from the camera," Kelso pokes fun at an incident in which a 71-year old amateur photographer and Austin resident was questioned by police for photographing the city's tallest building, the Frost Bank Tower. Here's some of what passes for "humor" in Kelso's mind:
Something tells me Bill W... wouldn't have gotten off so easy if he'd been wearing Arab garb and hollering "God is great" out the car window when he took photos of the Frost Bank Tower.

"I just hope Congress doesn't pass a law making it illegal to own a camera," the Austin retiree wrote in an e-mail about the situation. But he adds that the Austin cop who questioned him to see if he was a terrorist taking pictures of the Austin skyline was nice about it.

Bill looks at the situation as a sign of our unreasonably edgy times.

"He was very polite, and I think he was kind of embarrassed," said Bill, 71, an amateur photographer who lives in Northwest Austin. "I didn't fault him at all 'cause I know they have to respond to any calls that they get along those lines. I guess it's just an indication of the public mind-set, to see a terrorist behind every shadow."

[H]e decided to try out his new toy — a set of Meade binoculars equipped with a built-in digital camera.

"That Frost Bank Tower is a real challenge to take a picture of. It dominates the skyline."...

Bill's stepson had told him about a great place to shoot a photo of the Austin skyline — on the northbound frontage road of Interstate 35, a block or two south of Riverside Drive. So that's where Bill headed. He parked in an office building parking lot. Then he got out the binoculars/camera, rolled down the driver's side window, and started shooting out the window.

Moments later, here came the law. He'd only had time to fire off four or five shots before the cop pulled up and started asking questions.

"What he told me was that somebody had called in and reported somebody was taking pictures of downtown, and he wanted to know if that was what I was doing," Bill recalled. "And I was very cooperative, and said yes."

I figure if Bill had been an architect and had had a set of building plans on the front seat, he'd be in an orange jumpsuit.

"He saw that I was a senior citizen, and I didn't fit the profile of a young, suicidal terrorist or anything like that." But he says the cop did take down some information on him, including his driver's license number.

"I'm probably on some database, don't you think?" Bill asked.

Yes, Bill, you'll be taking off your shoes at the airport for the rest of your life.

Kevin Buchman, an Austin police spokesman, says there's no set policy on dealing with people taking photos of such things as the Frost Bank Tower. But he says the cops are glad to get calls from folks when they see suspicious activity.

"We encourage that from the community," he said. "They're our eyes and ears."

Then again, what's suspicious? I'll betcha right now tourists from, say, Abilene, are taking snapshots of the Capitol. I wonder if I should turn them in?
Questions I asked myself when I finished reading Kelso's "humor" column: (1) Funny, right? (2) Shouldn't citizens ignore stuff like that, what's suspicious about it? (3) Shouldn't cops refuse to respond? (4) Shouldn't cops take notes about stuff they respond to? (5) Isn't it stupid to be edgy about terrorists?

Answers: (1) Not funny...just lame...too stupid to laugh at...didn't even crack a smile. (2) Someone who parks on a frontage road a good distance from a building seems furtive, unlike a group of tourists from Abilene who stand in front of a building when they they photograph it. Citizens should "ignore" furtive activity the same way the passengers on United flight 93 "ignored" the hijackers and forced them to fly the plane into the ground. (3) Cops should respond to stuff like that because you never know when it's the real thing. Who's to know it's a self-important 71-year old who thinks that cops are supposed to know that he's not a terrorist even before they've laid eyes on him? (4) And, as a matter of prudence, it's just as well to let him know that his presence has been noted. (5) Taking note of suspicious activity isn't being edgy, it's being prudent, and it doesn't mean that everyone is walking around all day with a case of nerves. A lot of us can walk, chew gum, tell a joke, and keep our eyes open all at the same time. But maybe all of that's too hard for Kelso.

Bonus observation: Kelso obviously dislikes profiling; check his lede. But if he dislikes profiling why should he object when the furtive behavior of a 71-year old white man is questioned? Oh, I forgot, in the liberal mindset terrorists aren't a threat until they've actually struck. But you can bet that Kelso would be on the Austin cops' case in a heartbeat if they had questioned and turned loose a suspicious character who then drove a truck bomb into the lobby of the Frost Bank Tower.

Kelso's most recent column displays his knee-jerk dislike of Austin's once-dominant high-tech types:
It must be rutting season for the species Yuppius North Austintatious. Like a mother bear separated from her cubs, these critters become upset by waits in the doughnut drive-through line.

Though rarely known to lock horns, the males, when even slightly inconvenienced, are known to screech like a peacock and stamp their tasseled loafers....

The trouble started when a guy driving a silver sedan got his Dockers in a wad because a guy in front of him in a white Jeep Cherokee was taking too much time ordering his doughnuts. "I could have sworn I heard the guy order, then change his mind, then order something again, then change his mind and then ask for a recommendation," Christy [a tipster] recalled....

"They're both out of the car, but they never leave the opening of the car on the driver's side," Christy said. "So they're pointing at each other. But they don't even take a step towards each other. They're pretty chicken."

The squabble ended with the guy in the silver sedan, still in full huff, getting in his car, slamming the door and peeling out — still with no doughnuts. "He's still yelling while he's sitting," Christy said. She figures the whole thing occurred because the two males were members of a subspecies known as Internetus downsizerooni.

"It's those crazy high-tech people — introverted, full of rage," she theorized. "They're angry that their stock options are under water."
Wasn't that another uproariously funny column?

I'm not crazy about yuppies myself -- but what I don't like about them is the way they drive. How much they make and how they make it is their business. And I don't gloat at their misfortune. But then I'm not into class warfare like old John Kelso, who's sort of a watered-down Michael Moore:

Say goodbye to the nice folks, John. I'm not going to bore them with any more of your carping crap -- unless it's especially outrageous.