Monthly Archives: July 2013

America’s Best City Nicknames

Whew! Looking back over the last few posts on my blog, there’s a pattern: serious national issues. Race and the law in the Trayvon Martin shooting; Supreme Court rulings; poll results; a never-posted draft about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis.

Maybe we should all take a break and talk about something ridiculous. Like how today the AV Club linked to Wikipedia’s List of City Nicknames in the United States, and how I read all of them.

The Top Twenty Best Nicknames for American Cities
As decided by the author

DISHONORABLE MENTION: Most Dishonest Nickname

TIE. Muskegon, MI – “Beer Tent Capital of the World” / Cuba City, WI – “City of Presidents”

I’ve been to Muskegon, and I didn’t see any beer tents. Cuba City is home of, and birthplace to, exactly zero presidents. Apparently it’s called the “City of Presidents” because they have banners with presidents’ pictures on them. Feel the excitement.

Actual Google image search result for “Muskegon Beer Tent”

HONORABLE MENTION: Best Sexual Double-Meaning

Omaha, NE – “The Big O”

No comment.

20. Asbury Park, NJ: “Dark City.” The ideal place for a superhero movie. Evocative, classy, foreboding.

19. Boston, MA: “City of Notions.” Apparently this dates from the 1800s, which is a shame, because we could use more absurdist vague nicknames. What does this even mean?

18. Riverton, WY: “We’ve Got All the Civilization You Need.” So there!

17. Hermantown, MN: “The City of Quality Living.” Somehow they’re the only town to think of this slogan, and somehow it conjures up a really earnest, serious, hardworking mentality, the kind you’d expect from Garrison Keillor characters. Pure class.

16. Owensboro, KY: “Barbecued Mutton Capital of the World.” There are a lot of “Capitals of the World” in America, sometimes even multiples (two different ones for horseradish), but barbecued mutton is probably the most creative of all.

15. Detroit, MI: “Motown.” C’mon. This is a great, great nickname.

14. Russell Springs, KS: “Cow Chip Capital of Kansas.” No, seriously. They’re the cow chip capital. But only of Kansas.

Proof!

“But wait!” I hear you say. “Surely #14 is too low for such a leader in cow chip excellence!” Ah, but Russell Springs isn’t even the nation’s most distinctive purveyor of cow poop. Read on.

13. Villisca, IA: “Living with a Mystery.” This is a pretty intriguing name already, but then you find out that they have that name because of a series of unsolved axe murders in 1912 and it becomes pretty fascinating. And then you find out that the city’s official website is 100% devoted to convincing you to spend a night in the axe murder house, and you feel really sad.

12. Hereford, TX: “The Town Without a Toothache.” These folks have it all figured out.

11. Bozeman, MT: “The Bozone.” Also winner of the Special Jury Prize for Accidentally Insulting Themselves in a Way That Should Have Been Obvious.

10. Washington, DC: “Hollywood for Ugly People.” How can you resist a dig like that? Apparently its first print mention came from strategist Paul Begala, who says he thinks he overheard it in an Austin bar while studying at the University of Texas. Texas pride!

It’s a self-deprecating remark, but Paul Begala is a sexy beast.

9. New Orleans, LA: “The Big Easy.” Man, what a great nickname. “The Big Easy.” Actually, between that, Crescent City, and NOLA, New Orleans has the most great nicknames of any American city (sorry, New York). Really gets the spirit of the place.

8. Jefferson, WI: “The Gemütlichkeit City.” This is another one where I’m gonna have to post a picture as proof.

Gotta admire their gumption.

Quoth Wikipedia, “Gemütlichkeit means a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and unhurry.”

7. Las Vegas, NV: “Sin City.” There was no way Sin City wasn’t making this list. Although maybe I err in ranking it higher than the Big Easy.

6. Champaign-Urbana, IL: “Shampoo-Banana.” There are fewer “sounds like” nicknames than you’d expect, because apparently most cities don’t like mocking their own names by mispronouncing them in crude, preposterous ways. Not so Shampoo-Banana! (Nor Baltimore, Maryland, which in some quarters is known as “Bodymore, Murderland.”)

5. Algona, IA: “Home of the World’s Largest Cheeto.” The Cheeto is “on display inside Emeralds Restaurant,” and was “found in a bag, now enshrined on a velvet cushion under a glass dome.” These are actual quotes. What’s more, the Cheeto was actually purchased from the original owner with the specific intention of attracting tourists. And its status as the world’s largest has never been verified. Poor Algona, Iowa.

But, uh, you’re impressed, right?

4. Sauk Prairie, WI: “Cow Chip Throwing Capital of Wisconsin.” Take that, Cow Chip Capital of Kansas! In Wisconsin, they don’t just have cow chips: they throw them!

Real, actual photograph from the real, actual Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

I think we need another picture of this.

These people are sick.

3. Bellingham, WA: “City of Subdued Excitement.” Now, granted, Indianapolis is famously “Naptown.” And Concord, NH, was apparently once “City in a Coma.” But “City of Subdued Excitement” sounds a lot less disappointed and a lot more, well, proud, almost.

2. Cornucopia, WI: “Wisconsin’s Northernmost Post Office.” Which, when you think about it, is saying the pretty much the same thing Bellingham is.

1. Colma, CA. Okay, this one is going to take a little more explaining, because Colma has a backstory, and it also has both a nickname and a slogan, each of which would be sufficient to win independently.

San Francisco has an earthquake problem. It’s been leveled by them before (if you count the fires), and it runs a severe risk of being leveled again. In fact, in the 1970s a documentary film about San Francisco was called The City That Waits to Die.

Colma is right next door. It was founded and incorporated as, no joke, a giant cemetery. Today, 73% of the land is still cemeteries, and the two thousand residents live surrounded by the graves of folks like Joe DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, William Randolph Hearst, Levi Strauss, and Vince Guaraldi.

Colma’s nickname is “The City That Waits for the City That Waits to Die to Die.”

Its slogan is “It’s great to be alive in Colma!”

My bags are packed.

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The Law’s the Law

Common misconception: legal decisions aren’t about law.

Here are a few examples: when the Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act, liberals freaked out because it showed that America still has racist ways. When it invalidated parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, conservatives (and liberals) thought the nine justices were making a moral statement about human sexuality. And now, with George Zimmerman not guilty of murder in the Trayvon Martin case, well:

Zimmerman’s defense actually didn’t rely on the ‘stand your ground’ law, so you can’t really blame FL law. Just racism!” “im glad i live in a world where lynching an unarmed, unaggressive teenager is legal” “Trayvon Martin was found guilty of being a black man.” “its legal to kill blacks.” “There is no justice. A defenseless teenager was stalked and murdered in cold blood.”

These quotations arrived in my Twitter feed within 30 minutes of the jury reaching a verdict.

Whether you think George Zimmerman was acquitted only because of racism, or you think that gay people can enjoy marriage benefits only because of a trendy political cause, you’re guilty of one bad mental misstep: assuming that legal decisions are made for non-legal reasons.

Yes, interpreting the law is a bit like interpreting the Bible; it’s open to various interpretations and your readings can be influenced by outside factors. But if you read a Supreme Court ruling, you’ll find that no matter how hot the political issue, the rulings are made based on legal precedents and arguments, not moral ones (unless the justice is Antonin Scalia). Take the example of extending federal marriage benefits to gay couples who are married: for most of us, it’s the right thing to do because gay people are equal to straight people. For the law, it’s still the right thing to do, but for a different reason: because the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment affords all of us equal protection under the law.

And now the George Zimmerman trial has reached a verdict. Everyone, from the mass media to most of my circle of friends, has assumed that the trial would work like this:

guilty = racism is dead in America
not guilty = America hates black people

Actually, it worked like this:

guilty = sufficient evidence to prove his guilt
not guilty = reasonable doubt about his guilt

Personally, I think George Zimmerman is a horrible man. I think he was racist. I think he followed Trayvon Martin solely because Martin was black. I think he caused Martin to die for no reason. I think he provoked Martin into the fight which ended in Martin’s death. I think Donna Brazile is right: “I respect the verdict, but I still believe that Zimmerman had the upper hand and chose to profile, follow & later kill an unarmed teenager.”

Could I prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder? No. Could I prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman was the aggressor? No. Could I prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is bullshit? No.

The case is maddening. There are no witnesses, everyone disagrees on everything, most of the important arguments are speculation. We know Zimmerman followed Martin because he was a vigilante wannabe cop who was scared of black people. But what happened next? The only living person who knows is George Zimmerman. It sucks.

Do you see what I mean? This is the law. You can’t say, “Guilty because he’s an asshole.” Or “guilty because he’s racist.” Or “guilty because Trayvon Martin should be alive today.” You can only, ONLY, say, “Guilty because the evidence leaves no reasonable doubt.”

My father sat on a jury once. Attempted murder. He said, “The defendant was probably guilty. But the prosecution didn’t have the evidence they needed to prove it.”

I know it makes for a sucky story. I know Martin’s death is a moral outrage. And I know George Zimmerman’s actions violently destroyed a valuable life. But in the United States a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. I hope you never learn how valuable that principle is first-hand.

Two more thoughts.

1. George Zimmerman’s life is ruined. He will never hold down a decent job again, and certainly will never achieve his dream of being a cop. He won’t even be a mall cop. We can all be thankful for that.

2. You know what this country needs? Gun control laws.

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