Heard about the bird?

Flipping off cops is still not recommended

It’s called “the bird,” “the bone,” “the one-fingered salute.” Some of you kindergartners know it as “tall man.” Whatever you call it, the U.S. Court of Appeals just ruled that the police have no right to stop you for giving them the finger.

The case involved 62-year-old John Swartz of New York, riding shotgun while his wife drove. He noticed that an officer was tracking their car with a radar gun, and he didn’t appreciate it. He shot Johnny Law the bird and was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct.

According to law professor Ira P. Robbins, the gesture originated with the Greeks, but was really embraced by the Romans, who called it digitus impudicus. It’s first documented use in the United States was in 1886 (same year as the Haymarket riots and the invention of Coca-Cola) when a pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters flipped off the camera during a joint team picture with the New York Giants.

(“Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law,” is also the title of Robbins’ history of flipping people off, published in the in the UC Davis Law Review back in 2008. Very much worth a read.)

Robbins noted that the courts have consistently held that flipping off cops is protected by the First Amendment (an all-American expression of disdain toward a government official), but police keep locking people up for it. One day, perhaps, legal precedent will mean the bird may fly freely in the face of the man. For now, you may wind up a jailbird.

“A f------ train wreck.” That’s how podcaster and journalist Roman Mars described the rollout of University of California’s new logo. Bites didn’t want to pile on Logogate, but do check out Mars’ “The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo,” part of his 99% Invisible series of podcasts at http://99percentinvisible.org.

Other than having the best byline ever, Mars has been doing some incredible things in radio: 99% Invisible is all about design and architecture, which you may not think you are not interested in, but you really, really are. It’s about the old pneumatic tube system in Paris and China’s Kowloon Walled City and the art of staging political events and the best beer in the world and why dollars are green and lots of other cool stuff.

It’s not usually California-centric, so the UC logo episode is a good excuse to plug the show in this column. Mars and reporter Cyrus Farivar dive in to what the UC design team were really after—not a replacement of the old logo, but an additional “brand identity” to complement the existing UC seal—and explore how the media helped confuse, rather than clarify, the issue.

Bites doesn’t like the logo—once someone points out its resemblance to a toilet, that’s kind of hard to unsee—but the way Mars and company tell it, the story is a much more nuanced and interesting account than the collective freak-out may have led you to believe.

Speaking of fucking train wrecks: Just before Christmas, the Sacramento City Unified School District board of trustees went ahead and appointed lobbyist Jay Hansen to fill the vacancy created when board member Ellyn Bell followed her bliss to Marin.

Hansen is by all accounts a smart and competent guy. And Bites has no doubt he will bring a needed portion of coherence to trustee Area 1. Still, what an ugly and overtly political process.

The board says it was worried about spending the $137,000 that a special election to fill the seat would have cost, though that’s the kind of money that the board routinely spends on pricey contracts with education consultants. Hansen is a lobbyist for the California Medical Association and a co-founder of the influential Stonewall Democratic Club of Greater Sacramento—an important bestower of political endorsements.

Judging by the answers given at the community forum at California Middle School, Hansen was also the least knowledgeable and least connected to Sac city schools.

His labor background—he was also a lobbyist for the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California—may be enough to ease concerns of some school-employee unions who earlier demanded a special election. The unions may also figure they dodged a bullet, considering the other candidates—Bites can’t say any more on that score without Jay Schenirer pitching a hissy fit.

The board decision was coincidentally timed in such a way that the only way to challenge the board appointment would be for teachers to spend winter break gathering a couple thousand signatures to force an election onto the ballot. Funny how that all worked out.