Category Archives: Guns

Guns Are About Fear and Fear Is About Race

Someone pointed me at this thread and I can’t believe I missed it amongst the steaming piles of garbage flying around last year: 

After accounting for all explanatory variables, logistic regressions found that for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50% increase in the odds of having a gun at home. After also accounting for having a gun in the home, there was still a 28% increase in support for permits to carry concealed handguns, for each one point increase in symbolic racism. The relationship between symbolic racism and opposition to banning handguns in the home (OR1.27 CI 1.03,1.58) was reduced to non-significant after accounting for having a gun in the home (OR1.17 CI.94,1.46), which likely represents self-interest in retaining property (guns).

Why does everything have to be about race, I can hear you asking, and BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS ABOUT RACE. People don’t fear Chicago because it’s full of guns, they fear Chicago because it’s full of guns in the hands of young black and Hispanic men.

I can’t tell you the number of people who think I’m about to be raped and murdered every time I step out my door because my neighborhood is like 60-40, black-white, and that’s a signifier of violence. Never mind I live in Mayberry, the presence of non-white people is presumed to be a threat to white people. Which I can tell you until the cows come home is bullshit, but there’s a whole media-gun-industrial-complex devoted to making people askeered of the terrible brown threat coming for your white women.

Which is why I keep harping on the media disparity. Right now we’re having lots of hearings and all kinds of angst about Facebook and Google and Twitter bots and if they’re really Russians and all of that is fine but none of it matters if every podiatrist’s office in the Midwest is blaring Fox News and a CNN panel of five Republicans is debating which Democrat is the biggest pussy.

Fix that or all our worries about Bernie vs. Hillary vs. Keith vs. Tom vs. Whoever The Fuck don’t matter.

A.

What’s in a name and how many lives is it worth?

When we discuss the idea of “fame” as a newsvalue in my journalism classes, I make a point that famous people can actually be infamous.

“How many of you have heard the name Jeffrey Dahmer?” I ask.

Every hand goes up, even though he committed his crimes and died in prison before most of them were born.

Dahmer is a name that remains as prominent now as it was in the early 1990s. A mass murder with an eating disorder, a TV show once quipped.

I thought about the man, the name and the crime this week when I heard about the Las Vegas attack that left 58 dead and more than 500 injured. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant with an arsenal at his disposal, hunkered down in a hotel room and fired round after round after round into a crowded concert venue.

Researchers and experts note this was the deadliest shooting on U.S. soil in modern history (whatever that means… It reminds me of “recently” which we used to define as “reporter lost the press release with the actual date.”). They also noted that in most cases the shooters wanted to make a mark, make a statement and make a name for themselves. As one expert lamented in discussing this topic, “Records are made to be broken.”

It was true for the Aurora, Colorado shooter James Holmes, who told a prison psychologist he wanted to be remembered as considered each death part of a score or tally. Holmes shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others on July 20, 2012, when he opened fire on in a movie theater during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

It was true of Robert Hawkins, a 19-year-old man who killed eight people in an Omaha, Nebraska mall in 2007. His suicide note explained: “I just want to take a few pieces of shit with me… just think tho, I’m gonna be fuckin famous.”

It was true for Adam Lanza, who wanted people to understand what he saw as unrelenting pain. When a forensic scientist examined the case for a reason Lanza murdered 26 children and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the man said Lanza had a simple message: “I carry profound hurt — I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.”

It was certainly true for Seung-Hui Cho, who held the “record” for the deadliest shooting carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history. This Virginia Tech student killed 32 of his campus colleagues and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007. In his rambling manifesto, he noted: “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.”

Know me. Fear me. Revile me. But always, always remember me.

What’s strange is that I don’t remember ANY of them by name. Perhaps the last two names I remember were the Columbine killers: Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold, who killed 13 people in their high school in 1999 and wounded 21 others. Even as other ratcheted up the body count to an almost incomprehensible level, these two appear to be the last of the “names” when it comes to this violent ticket to fame.

Before them, it seemed we all could remember the names of people who killed and killed.

Dahmer.

John Wayne Gacy

Theodore Bundy

David Berkowitz

Charles Manson

Charles Whitman

The names were cultural touchstones. Maybe it was because we all got news from the same places or maybe it was because we used to repeat the names so often, we couldn’t forget them. Maybe it was because there were fewer of them or they had such weird shit associated with them (A cannibal, a clown, a “sex symbol,” a dog whisperer, a lunatic and a sharpshooter).

Or maybe it’s just a sad truism that our social attention span is so limited, we’re never going to commit these new names to memory unless we take the “Arya Stark Hooked on Phonics” approach to it.

Our goal is to always forget. We have to get past it. We have to press on. We have to get back into life. Clear the mechanism.

For them, it’s a desire to force us to remember them, like they’re heavily armed Heisenbergs just begging us to hold fast to their pathetic outburst. Rest assured, people do remember them. Some will never forget, like the families of the dead, the scores of wounded and the rest of us who wonder why yet get no answer.

They are in our minds, even if their names aren’t on the tips of our tongues. Constantly at first, until life presses them and their actions to a back corner of our consciousness so we can move on and forget and live again.

Until the next time.

Stop Fighting To Win. Fight to Fight.

I’ve been seeing this stupid quote everywhere and it never fails to make me want to put my fist through something:

No. No no no no no. Just no. Stop it. Stop that sickness.

I woke up same as you all yesterday morning, just as I woke up in November and again in January, crushed and tired and sick in my soul at the preventable tragedy that strikes on a daily basis around this country due to a curdling fear too deep to name.

And in response to passionate entreaties to change, I saw this stupid goddamn monstrous tweet all over the place.

You think that’s some kind of profound statement? You think that makes you sound wise? You think that makes it okay to go to brunch, or turn off the news, or go numb? Fuck all the way off with that ironic detachment and smarter-than-thou condescension and laziness dressed up as superior knowledge.

What is wrong with you? Killing children is not acceptable. Not at Sandy Hook. Not the next neighborhood over. Not with guns and not with knives and not with economics. It’s not acceptable to me and it never will be so nothing’s over, not now and not ever.

But but Republicans, and the NRA, and money, and guns, and the culture, and the laws, and the political climate and the red-blue maps and the gerrymandering and it’s all too goddamn much, right? From a practical standpoint there’s no way any other vision of America at this point can come to pass.

How many times a day do we hear this from others? How many goddamn times do we hear it from ourselves? Roy Moore is gonna be the next senator from Alabama and Democrats are going to be crushed everywhere for all time and the Supreme Court is lost for a generation and Donald Trump might actually get re-elected and fake news and Russian bots and drone bombings and nuclear war and and and and STOP. Just stop.

It’s tempting, when you’ve spent your life fighting for something that is so vital, to hunger for victory. To want, just once, to strut across the finish line. To feel you’ve accomplished something, to feel you have something to show. To put an end point on something that’s neverending. You want to say, “I did this” and know your time was well spent.

You want to avoid getting your heart broken, too. You want to create some scenario in which losing is not a devastation, so you spout this cynical crap and you think it’s wisdom.

But you aren’t going to get what you want, not now and not ever. Every single magnificent thing that has ever happened here has been called impossible. Every single unlikely victory in the face of insurmountable odds has been unlikely because the odds were insurmountable. And you will not feel one iota better by pretending to be smarter than everyone else in the room, you goddamn narcissists. I swear, if the parents who lost children at Sandy Hook can get up to fight, how dare we say anything’s over?

 

 

I re-read Trinity every year, almost, and I went back to it last evening, thinking about Doug Jones and that infuriating tweet and how every day brings some new piece of bullshit to the surface, because I needed this:

All we can ever hope for is a glorious defeat. A defeat that may somehow stir the dormant ashes of our people into a series of more glorious defeats. Every man in the Brotherhood must defy, scream, kick, die hard, bloody, shake consciences. You see, the true job of the Brotherhood is not to expand to win but to sharpen its teeth to die hard. 

Call your reps. Vote every Republican out, every one, from the township on up to the capital, and shout and protest and donate and raise your damn voice every second you can. What you think should be enough might not be, shameful though that is. But to say it’s over because we haven’t won is more shameful still.

You reading this?

You looking at the world, you’re not happy, you want different?

You breathing? You alive?

Then it’s not over. Not for gun control, not for the courts, not for Puerto Rico, not for lead, not for police killings, not for war, not for poverty, not for anything you give a shit about. Not for you and yours. Not for the wide world. This country is drowning, fighting, bleeding, dying, and being reborn every second and there’s no way out of this that doesn’t kill you, so in the meantime, keep fighting like there’s nothing but the fight.

A.

Still Comfortably Numb Revisited

It’s happened again; another atrocity. This time it’s a mass shooting in Las Vegas by a wealthy retired accountant of all people. The depressing mass shooting ritual continues with a new president* who mindlessly parrots the platitudes that his party utters after each horrific mass murder. I have my own personal mass shooting ritual: revisiting a post I wrote after the San Bernardino shootings in December, 2015 because we’re Still Comfortably Numb: 

In my first month at First Draft in 2009, I revisited  a post I wrote for my eponymous blog on July 13, 2006. It was one of my rare lucid moments as a blogger as I compared post-K New Orleans to the grand finale of Great Expectations. I borrowed the title from Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb. It struck me this morning that this theme was eerily applicable to the seemingly endless string of mass shootings we’ve had this year. Here’s a sample of the 2006 post:

Syd Barrett’s death got me thinking in Pink Floyd song titles. A scary concept, I know. Careful With That Axe, Eugene didn’t fit the situation here in NOLA but one title nailed it: Comfortably Numb from The Wall. Comfortably numb describes the state of our political, judicial and socio-economic systems here pre-K. We were muddling through at all levels but as long as we were comfortable, we were numb.

Then came Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent federal flood, which, by analogy, was to New Orleans what the last part of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was to Pip the hero of the novel. Pip had always thought that the bitter recluse Miss Havisham had been his financial benefactor. He was wrong. His real patron was Magwich, an escaped convict turned magnate whom Pip had helped while a child.

<snip>

How does this apply to NOLA? Miss Havisham is a perfect symbol of the city. For years, we allowed our city to rot and decay and instead of trying to do something about it, we turned to drama, drugs, booze, food and apathy. If I had a hundred dollar bill for every time I’ve heard “you can’t change fill in the blank it’s New Orleans,” I’d be as rich as Pip’s portly solicitor, Mr. Jaggers. I’ve heard that line applied to government, litter, crime, you name it; it’s the catchall excuse. The city and its people were all comfortably numb.

That’s where we find ourselves in regard to mass shootings in our country: we’re comfortably numb. They happen so often that they’ve become routine. President Obama urges us to not treat them as such, and he’s right as a matter of policy, but it’s human nature to seek a safe haven.  Being comfortably numb helps ease the horror of events like the San Bernardino massacre.

One worrisome thing that happens after each of these dreadful event is the ritualistic response of various segments of society. As Athenae so eloquently pointed out last night, Republican politicians make a ritual of calling for prayers for the victims. The NRA, and the people who value the abstraction that is the Second Amendment, talk about mental illness and how much safer the world would be if all the good guys were armed to the teeth. Right thinking people who *want* to do something to stop the carnage advocate new gun control measures, which are automatically rejected by the Second Amendment purists and nothing happens. This post-massacre ritual/routine is the clearest indication that we’re still comfortably numb.

Another worrisome thing is how easy it is to divide mass shootings into genres as if they were movies. The slaughter in Southern California *could* be slotted into the workplace massacre genre also known as “going postal.” Since the perpetrators were Muslims with Arab names, the flying banshees of the Right *assume* that it’s Daesh/ISIL/Al-Qaeda related terrorism. We simply do not know the motives of the shooters at this point. We *do* know that it doesn’t fit into the following mass shooting genres: schools, health care clinics, shopping malls, fast food eateries; the variations seem to be horrifically endless. It’s no wonder that people want to crawl in bed and hide under the covers. It’s why we remain either comfortably or uncomfortably numb after each of these attacks.

I’m like everybody else: I just want the slaughter to stop. It’s clearly ridiculous for civilians to have military-style assault weapons, but in a country where a police union has advocated armed football fans such a reasonable goal seems unobtainable. One thing that would help the national discourse on this subject is for us to stop reacting ritualistically and stop slotting the shootings into genres. No wonder we’re comfortably numb: we can pigeonhole the latest atrocity and move on.

David Chase used a Roger Waters-Van Morrison version of Comfortably Numb as the soundtrack for the worst thing Tony ever did on The Sopranos: using a car wreck as an excuse to murder Christopher Moltisanti. Christopher popped the soundtrack of Scorsese’s The Departed into the CD player, which triggered the accident and Tony’s actions. After killing Christopher, Tony resorted to a string of rationalizations as to why it was the right gangster thing to do. He was never quite the same thereafter: becoming an even darker and more ruthless character as well as-you guessed it-comfortably numb. Let’s hope that life doesn’t imitate The Sopranos in this instance and we can move past our numbness in a constructive manner. I am, however, not optimistic. We’re all still comfortably numb.

Your Fondest Wish Comes True. THEN WHAT?

So let’s say that tomorrow Trump is indicted, impeached, frog-marched out of the White House, and his entire team including Pence and Ryan are in prison and Orrin Hatch is president.

Let’s say this happens (not a quarter of it is going to happen) and we all watch it on TV.

Then what? I mean it, then what? Like the next day what happens? We pop the champagne and assume it’s all over?

I think a lot of my fellow pale-faced liberal types are underthinking the amount of violence people of color, young people, and women are already facing because of Trump, and that’s after a VICTORY. Their whole angry worldview was validated in a national election and it’s just made them MORE angry. I didn’t think they could get more angry but they are.

These are the people arming and prepping themselves for the apocalypse, who bought an extra AR-15 just to piss those libtards off and have been stockpiling ammo since the days of that draft-dodger Bill Clinton. We all had a good time clowning on Meal Team Six back when they seized a frickin’ bird sanctuary, but put one of those assholes in a crowded room and he could mow down a movement.

Ninety percent of Trump supporters? If he’s thrown out of office they’ll be fine as long as whatever comes after him immediately gives them jobs. They’ll go to work and they’ll have less time to be pissed off. I don’t have an answer for that other 10 percent but I think we’re downplaying the threat they represent to people already feeling marginalized and targeted.

So if I seem less openly enthusiastic about the idea of impeachment or criminal proceedings against the Trump Syndicate, it isn’t because I think they’re innocent of anything. It’s because even if they’re found guilty, they won’t suffer a fraction as much as those with so much more to lose already.

A.

The Scalise Shooting

This one hit close to home for me. Steve Scalise represents the district next to mine. I don’t like his politics, but I want him taken out peacefully at the ballot box, not violently in a park.

I wrote about the good part of social media earlier today. We’re seeing the dark side of it now. This time around, it’s bipartisan malakatude since the shooter was a Sanders volunteer. To his credit, the Senator has already taken to the Senate floor to denounce the shooter. It’s not about him, it’s not about right or left, it’s about fundamental human decency.

Not everything is a political issue to be instantly batted about by social media trolls and keyboard warriors. That’s too abstract for my taste, it shows a fatal lack of empathy; a quality we need now more than ever. This is how I summed it up on my Facebook timeline:

Things were already terrible and this will only make it worse. Today, I don’t care that the shooter was a Berner. Today, I don’t care that Scalise has horrible views on everything under the sun. He does. I’ve even made him malaka of the week. But this is not how we *should* do things in America. Unfortunately, violence is as American as apple pie. Our reaction to this event should not be colored by our personal politics. We need to try to be better than that. There’s plenty of time to discuss gun violence and health care. This sort of event doesn’t lend itself to instant analysis. A deep breath is called for.

I told a funny story earlier today,  it’s time for a more serious one. I was a high school freshman when George Wallace was shot. I was a young McGovernite. It was the first time I volunteered in a campaign. As horrible as it sounds, I was in the mood to celebrate when I arrived at my Poli Sci class. My teacher was just as liberal as I was: we stuffed envelopes together at McGovern HQ both before and after the shooting. She informed me that gun violence is wrong regardless of the target. She reminded me that the main reason we both supported George McGovern was to end the war in Vietnam. I realized she was right and felt ashamed for trying to score political points over the Wallace shooting. If it had been George McGovern, I would have cold cocked a kid who was celebrating. She said something that has always stuck with me: “There’s a fatal lack of empathy in the world and that’s what we need.”

It’s true to this very day. The world needs not only love but empathy. Today’s social media discourse reminds me of Adrastos’ first two rules of satire:

  1. Always kick up, never down.
  2. Violence, especially gun violence, is only funny if its slapstick. It’s never funny when it’s real and life threatening.

I learned the second part the hard way when I wanted to tell Wallace jokes way back in 1972. I’m glad I had a teacher who straightened me out. I learned that what the world needs more than anything else is empathy.

I realize some of you won’t agree with parts of this post. So it goes. There will be a time when this is grist for the political mill. I think it’s a good idea to let the dust settle and know what we’re talking about. I prefer the clarity of facts to the fog of social media.

Make sure you read Athenae’s post on the shooting, You Never Thought. She comes at it from an entirely different angle. It’s good stuff.

Welcome Back To Dizneylandrieu

Dizneylandrieu

It’s the time of year when I turn my attention to the zany, madcap antics of the satirical parade Krewe du Vieux. KdV is an umbrella organization made up of sub-krewes who design and execute our own floats and costumes. You may recall that I belong to the Krewe of Spank. In 2014, Spank’s theme was Welcome to Dizneylandrieu. It was our masterpiece wherein we mocked our pompous Mayor for encouraging the gentrification sweeping New Orleans post-Katrina. We called him Mitchey Mayor and marched as Mitchketeers. It’s a small fucking world, after all. Long before our take on the Gentrified Kingdom, locals bridled at attempts to transform the French Quarter-indeed the city itself-into Disneyland on the Bayou. Here we go again.

This time the theme is “security” in response to sporadic violent crimes in the tourist belt. Mayor Landrieu has announced a sweeping plan that could transform parts of the city into a 21st surveillance state:

An unprecedented number of electronic eyes will soon be deployed throughout New Orleans, watching over 20 different neighborhoods, tracking vehicles to assist police as they search for suspects and scanning French Quarter revelers to look for hidden weapons.

The massive security deployment, part of a $40 million crime-prevention plan unveiled Monday, includes pumping public and private video feeds into a centralized New Orleans Police Department command center that will be monitored around the clock.

“Here’s the first thing I want everyone to know: When you go on Bourbon Street now, everything you do will be seen,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

The proposal, drafted in the wake of a shooting on Bourbon Street on Thanksgiving weekend that left one person dead and nine wounded, also calls for efforts to tamp down on the atmosphere of street partying and entertainment that often overtakes areas of the Quarter into the early morning hours.

While no closing times will be imposed, bars across the city will be required to keep their doors closed after 3 a.m. to discourage patrons from spilling outside, and an early morning spraying of Bourbon Street will further discourage revelry there.

Here we go again. This scheme is an overreaction to bad press every time some jerk with a gun and no impulse control loses their shit after getting shitfaced drunk. That’s almost always the nature of crime in the Quarter.  It’s the hardest type of crime to predict, deter, or prevent. In lieu of any meaningful attempts to deal with gun violence, there will be 24-hour surveillance of people getting hammered and doing stupid shit on Bourbon Street.

There’s so much drunken malakatude on Bourbon Street that separating the dangerous assholes from garden variety assholes is a job best performed by foot patrols. The city is already full of “crime cameras” that do not work, why are we to believe that this will be any different? It’s called throwing money at a problem to counter bad publicity. $40 million is a lot of scratch, y’all.

The Mayor attempted to defuse criticism of this misbegotten scheme by extending the surveillance net to other “hot spots” around the city. That’s unlikely to work. Plans like this come down the pike every so often, and city government is all talk and no enforcement. It’s another in a long series of publicity stunts aimed at making white people feel safe in a majority African-American city. Short-term solutions rarely solve long-term problems, but what really matters is that tourists feel safer. #Sarcasm. In short, it’s an expensive PR stunt as opposed to a serious crime prevention proposal.

For many locals, the most controversial part of the plan is the bit about bars having to shut their doors at 3 AM. There are several bars within a 2 block radius of Adrastos World HQ, they keep their doors open all night, and we hear nary a peep. 24-hour bars may sound odd to some of you, but it’s part of the city’s culture. The only reason they should have to shut their doors is if they’re bothering the neighbors. Besides, there’s no longer smoking in bars (something I support) so smokers are going to spill on to the sidewalk in any event. Is the city planning to send inspectors out in the wee hours to enforce this scheme? I am dubious.

Here’s the deal: I’m not much of a bar person nowadays. I have poor hearing so I have difficulty following conversation in a loud barroom. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the vibrant bar culture of New Orleans. The Mayor apparently does not. He’s beginning to remind me of H.L. Mencken’s line about puritanism: “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

You cannot save a city by denying its very essence and turning it into a sanitized version of itself. Welcome back to Mitchey Mayor’s Gentrified Kingdom:

Gentrified Kingdom

 

Malaka Of The Week: Betsy DeVos

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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are going out of business later this year. I’m one of those who is sorry that they’re going, but once they put the elephants out to pasture it was over. The good news is that there’s another circus going on right now: the Trump misadministration confirmation hearings. The Senate is learning first hand that the Insult Comedian is surrounding himself with clowns and unqualified mediocrities. There is at least one animal act: HELP committee hearings on the nomination of a billionaire biblebanger from the state of Michigan. And that is why Betsy DeVos is malaka of the week.

Betsy DeVos is a voucherizing, privatizing enemy of public education. She’s hoping to bring the same chaos to the nation’s schools that she’s brought to the Wolverine State. Malaka DeVos has strong opinions but seems to have precious little knowledge to support her views. She’s ignorant but proud; as she proved under questioning from Democratic Senators. A few examples follow courtesy of Margaret Hartmann of NYMAG.com:

Privatizing Public Schools

Senator Patty Murray asked DeVos if she would promise not to privatize public schools or cut funding from public education. DeVos said, “Not all schools are working for the students,” and she hopes to work with Murray to find ways to “empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

“I take that as not be willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education,” Murray responded.

DeVos wants to slap a voucher on everything, which is privatization by stealth. Public education makes the droogs uppity, after all.

Education Policy

When Senator Al Franken asked DeVos to give her opinion on whether schools should be judged by students’ proficiency or growth, DeVos seemed unfamiliar with the terms. Franken explained that the question of which metric should be used in federal education policy has been a subject of debate for years. “It surprises me you don’t know this issue,” Franken said.

I bet Al was tempted to call her a big fat idiot but only two of those things are true: big and idiot. Now that I think of it, Malaka DeVos has a fat wallet and *is* a fathead. I wonder if she knows who Fats Waller or Minnesota Fats were. Probably not. That’s not on the test and everything must be on the test.

Speaking of teaching the test, my favorite “testy moment” came when DeVos was asked about firearms in schools:

Guns in Schools

DeVos told Senator Christopher Murphy — who represents Newtown, Connecticut — that she thinks the issue of whether guns should be allowed in schools “is best left to locales and states to decide.” Referencing an earlier remark from Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi about a school in his state that is threatened by bear attacks, DeVos said, “There’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Potential grizzlies? Why does one need to shoot potential grizzlies? I think that guns in schools are a terrible idea even if you’re obliged to shoot real grizzlies. They do, however, get rather ornery when they’re drinking beer like the ones pictured in the Snap Wyatt sideshow banner at the top of the post. A drunk bear is a frightening sight to behold, much like the Insult Comedian as he tweets out lies.

This is another example of how the right is DeVosed (divorced) from reality on this issue, but one would hope they’d have a better reason than roving critters. Perhaps the states need to register the pestiferous animals they want to keep away from their schools with guns. Florida has a gator problem, Arizona has a rattlesnake problem, and Michigan apparently has a polecat problem since they let a wealthy stinker like Betsy DeVos meddle with their education system.

The incoming administration is full of rich dilettantes who think they know best because they have money. Betsy DeVos isn’t the only one who has brought the circus to Washington City but, other than the nutria pelt Trump wears atop his head, she’s the only animal act in town. And that is why Betsy DeVos is malaka of the week.

I’ll give Randy Newman the last word. I wonder if the Trumpers have tried to hire the act below for the inauguration?

 

 

Hayes/Smith: Only Victims

The most publicized criminal trial in New Orleans for at least 20 years ended with Cardell Hayes being found gulity of manslaughter. The whole mishigas was the result of a road rage encounter with former New Orleans Saints defensive captain Will Smith. Race was not an issue as both Hayes and Smith are African-American. Hayes was charged with second degree murder, so the reduced charge seems to be the result of a jury compromise. It means they were able to see through the smoke blown by both sides during the 7 day trial.

I’ve been sympathetic to Cardell Hayes. I have an elderly around the corner neighbor lady who knows him. She’s one of those people whose name I used to know but forgot. I’m now too embarrassed to ask since we’ve been chatting for 15 years. We had this conversation last week:

NL: You been following the Cardell thing?

A: Yes, m’am. What do you think about it?

NL: I been knowin’ Cardell and his people for 30 years. A nice man. What you call a gentle giant.

A:  What do you think happened?

NL: I believe Cardell. I think he scared that night. His auntie told me he broken up. Wishes he didn’t have that gun in his car. I liked it better when men settled their bullshit with their fists.

There it is in a nutshell. Despite being a very large man (6’6″ 300 lbs) Cardell Hayes had a gun. He got into it with another very large man with a gun in his glove box. No guns, no death. Cardell wasn’t cruising around looking for trouble. But he found it. Big time.

The crucial moment in this tragedy was when Will Smith’s car kissed bumpers with Cardell’s vehicle on Magazine Street. If Smith had gotten out the car, introduced himself, and inspected their bumpers, no road rage episode. There might not have even been a fight. Instead, Smith was driving shit-faced drunk and kept going. It was the prelude to this tragedy.

After Hayes caught up with Smith’s party, one of his cronies Richard Hernandez started screaming at Hayes and ripped his shirt off as if in a bad action movie. Another witness, former Saints star Pierre Thomas, said that in his neighborhood, when a guy rips his shirt off he’s ready to fight. Yeah, you right, Frenchy. It’s stupid in your hood and it was lethal in the Lower Garden District.

This is a tragic case. Nobody behaved particularly well at the scene with the exception of Raquel Smith who tried to defuse things. This was one situation where mentioning one’s celebrity status might have helped instead of coming off as pompous. Cardell Hayes did not know the identity of the large drunk screaming at him in the dark. He only learned that it was one of his favorite NFL players after the fact. He broke down in tears when he learned he had shot Will Smith. That’s the thing about football: the players aren’t always recognizable because of helmets and face masks. It helps them stay safe on the field, but it was perilous on that April night in New Orleans.

Speaking of bad behavior, the lawyers in this case traded barbs and insults from the moment John Fuller was hired to defend Cardell Hayes. Their petty bickering even came up during closing arguments. I’m appalled by this unprofessional behavior: nobody cares if they dislike one another. The trial isn’t about them, it’s about the defendant and his victim. Of course, the lead prosecutor is the District Attorney’s kid and Mr. Cannizzarro is not exactly warm and fuzzy. Like father, like daughter.

In the end, I think the jury reached a fair verdict. Second degree murder was an overcharge. What really happened out there remains murky but one thing is certain: if these men were not armed, Will Smith would be alive and Cardell Hayes would not be facing a long prison sentence. I hope that the Judge will be merciful. She has considerable discretion in sentencing since it’s manslaughter. I wish I could say that the Hayes/Smith tragedy will serve as a cautionary tale that it’s a terrible idea to go about armed but I know better. So it goes.

There were no winners in this case, only victims.

Campaign 2016 Odds & Sods

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I’m blogging hurt this morning. I’ve had a hellacious head cold the last few days. It’s best described as a chest cold. It feels like I’m carrying Oscar around in a Baby Bjorn. And he’s a big boy. There’s a krewe meeting tonight that I hope to attend, but I don’t want to spread this thing around: as far as I know, they’re all Hillary voters.

Having requested a mulligan even though I do not golf, let’s skip the foreplay and get down to it. Do I hear inane snickering? Is it Billy Bush? I must be hallucinating; told you I was under the weather.

The Hispanic/Latino Wave: I’m feeling wishy-washy so I’m going to alternate the terms. Whatever the label, Latino voters have arrived in 2016. It should not surprise anyone that a group that has been consistently denigrated by one candidate is supporting  his opponent. It has, however, surprised the inside the beltway punditocracy. I suspect that’s because, like  Trump, they think of them only as “the help.” They’re more than just cooks, dishwashers, yard men, housekeepers, construction workers, and fruit pickers. They’re human beings who are saying no to those who demean and degrade them in the best way possible: at the ballot box.

The reports of Hispanic turn out for early voting in Nevada and Florida has me confident that they will be colored blue on Tuesday. Trump needs to win both states to take the election. He’s toast. I don’t care if it’s close or not. He’s toast and marmalade for tea.

The other wonderful thing about the Latino Wave is that it reduces the importance of Iowa and Ohio. Hillary can lose both those states and still win.

A personal story. There are two Mexican guys doing some work next door. Like most of the migrant workers I’ve met over the years, they’re polite and cordial. I was outside and one of them pointed at my Clinton-Kaine sign and said, “My new hero. Hillary.”

Roll Latino wave, roll. Roll Hispanic wave, roll.

You say Latino, I say Hispanic. Let’s call the whole thing off. Now that I’ve quoted Ira Gershwin for the gazillionth time let’s move on,

Fear Is The Key: I was on Twitter Saturday during the LSU-Alabama game, which my Tigers lost 10-0. Our defense was magnificent and I think Nick Saban had poopy pants several times during the game, which is most gratifying.

Anyway, I was online when Team Trump’ did some epic conclusion jumping:

I guess that makes HRC a pussy but they didn’t go there. This was retweeted by all the Top Trumpers and they’ve made it into a thing even after the truth came out.

As everybody with a brain now knows, the incident involved a Never Trump Republican, Austyn Crites, a sign, and a fear-crazed crowd: 

“I had a sign that said ‘Republicans against Trump.’ It is a sign that you can just print off online.”

Initially, there was the expected reaction of people around him booing, he said. “And then all of a sudden people next to me are starting to get violent; they’re grabbing at my arm, trying to rip the sign out of my hand,” he said.

He said he could not be sure but “it looked like” Trump was pointing at him, and may have been “instigating something”. Either way, the crowd piled on him, he said, kicking, punching, holding him on the ground and grabbing his testicles.

He said he was a wrestler in his youth and used his training to turn his head to the side to maintain an airway open as he was being choked by one man who had him in a headlock. “But there were people wrenching on my neck they could have strangled me to death,” he added.

Crites said when he was on the ground he heard someone yell “something about a gun” and he kept telling those on top of him that he had merely been holding a sign.

Notice that the Trumpers *assumed* without any evidence that Crites was packing heat. It’s yet another sign of how fearful and paranoid they are.  It’s a good thing that there were metal detectors at the Reno event otherwise it might have been a bloodbath. It would have been blood red instead of silver and gold:

We’ve become so used to Team Trump lying that it’s not shocking that they continue to describe this incident as an assassination attempt. It’s what they do on a daily basis as described in a must-read piece by Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, Donald Trump: The unauthorized data base of false things. Dale found over 500 outright falsehoods. Believe me. Don’t believe the Insult Comedian.

Since this is Odds & Sods, there has to be a Who song involved, amirite? It’s one by John Entwistle called Dangerous that closes with the refrain, “fear is the key to your soul.”

Docudrama Of The Week: Let me pose a quick question: What do Justice Robert Jackson and Donald Trump have in common? They were both played by Alec Baldwin. I just re-watched Baldwin’s fine performance as Jackson in the 2000 mini-series ,Nuremberg. It was a good way for this history nerd to pass a few hours whilst sick.

It’s on the YouTube if you’re interested. There’s also a clip of Baldwin as Jackson’s closing argument. The writers had the good sense to use Jackson’s own words:

I give Nuremberg 3 1/2 stars, an Adrastos grade of B+ and a rousing Siskelian thumbs up. End of this oddball but salient variation on a regular Saturday post feature.

Let’s finish things up with a discussion of the most disturbing thing about Campaign 2016: the awakening of dormant anti-Semitism. Thanks, B3 Brownshirts.

The Ugly Underneath Revisited: On October 13th, Donald Trump gave an ominous speech jam-packed with anti-Semitic code words. Here’s how I concluded a post entitled The Ugly Underneath:

I think it’s important for those of us who know history to take a firm stand against Trumpism. That’s why I’ve started comparing him to Hitler at his least disciplined. Hitler had the good sense to *keep* the ugly underneath until he had enough support to enact his racist program. Trump has no self-control but he is every bit as ugly, which is why he needs to lose in a landslide. Some of us are worried that he’ll refuse to concede on election eve, whip his supporters into a frenzy, and provoke a sort of American Kristalnacht. The good news is that most Trumpers are, well, pussies and are unlikely to riot if it’s a blow-out. Let’s hope so.

The B3 Brownshirts have adapted excerpts from that speech into a “populist,” rabble rousing “closing argument” teevee spot:

Railing against “elites” whatever that means is fashionable now. Three of the so-called criminal economic elitists shown in the ad, Janet Yellen, George Soros, and Lloyd Blankfein have one thing in common: they’re Jewish. Here’s what Senator Al Franken has to say about this noxious ad:

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Franken told host Jake Tapper the advert was acting as a “dog whistle to a certain group in the United States”. He called the political commercial “an appeal to some of the worse elements in our society in the closing argument” of the election.

“I’m Jewish, so maybe I’m sensitive to it. But it clearly had an Elders of Zion feel to it, the international banking crisis conspiracy.”

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a fabricated text first published in 1903 that circulated around Europe disseminating a vicious conspiracy about a Jewish plot for world domination over the economy and culture.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Al Franken?

Team Trump continually uses anti-Semitic rhetoric, code words, and dog whistles. Their defense is that the Insult Comedian’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is Jewish and Ivanka is a convert. You know, the old “some of my best friends are…” dodge.  Josh Marshall sums up my feelings about where Trump himself stands quite nicely:

… my general belief is that Trump believes in various anti-Semitic stereotypes, probably largely drawn from his upbringing – time and place. But I don’t think he holds or did hold any particular animus toward Jews. Indeed, we have pretty reliable accounts of his thinking in anti-Semitic stereotypes in a way that people often interpret as philo-semitism. Like he wants Jews with yarmulkes as his accountants and money managers and not blacks. A former Trump executive claimed he said: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

That’s Archie Bunker-style anti-Semitism. He only wanted Jewish doctors and described his preferred law firm as “Seven Savage Jews.” I wonder if the Donald calls Jared meathead?

Here’s Josh’s closer:

So is Trump himself an anti-Semite? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s running an anti-Semitic campaign. That’s all that matters.

I’ve long thought that anti-Semitism is a “canary in a coal mine” form of bigotry. It’s somewhat easier to cloak in pseudo-populist dog whistles than other forms of racism. When anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, there’s more bigotry to come. As Josh said, I have no idea if Trump is personally anti-Semitic, but Stephen Bannon is, and he’s running an anti-Semitic campaign on behalf of Trump who’s clearly a textbook anti-African American racist. Thanks, B3 Brownshirts.

When I wrote the original Ugly Underneath post, I had a lively discussion on Social Media with some fellow music lovers as to whether that was the right XTC song to use as the post title. I remain convinced it was: anti-Semitism is the hate that can be cloaked in seemingly benign populist language. That’s why it’s the Ugly Underneath. One friend suggested the more overtly political song, The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead. It does feature an asssassination and since Team Trump has been on about a fake one, I’ll give Andy Partridge and XTC the last word:

I fibbed about the last word thing again. I couldn’t resist posting my lovely election picks map again:

2016

My worst case scenario is still pretty darn good: Clinton 324, Trump 214 and a 50-50 Senate. I stand by my earlier forecast, but cannot believe I forgot to mention Arab American and Muslim voters in Michigan as one reason Trump will not be the first Republican nominee to carry Michigan since 1988.

That is all.

 

Saturday Odds & Sods: Blues In The Night

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Harlequin and Pierrot by Andre Derain, 1924.

Let’s get something out of the way. It’s still hotter than it should be in New Orleans. Fall has fallen with a thud as it may end up as the warmest October in recorded history. End of black market weather report.

In this week’s spirit of deja vu all over again (thanks, Yogi) I promised an update on beleaguered Jefferson Parish President, Mike Yenni. The sexting bastid is still in office after telling the public that it was “in my best interests” to stay. That inspired a scathing teevee commentary by the man with one of the best names in punditry, Clancy DuBos. The video won’t embed but the text rocks:

When Mike Yenni couldn’t avoid facing reporters yesterday, here’s what he said about his decision not to resign:

“It’s in my best interest to do what I was elected to do,” he said Monday.

Think about that statement, folks. He’s saying that his interests are more important than those of Jefferson Parish and its people. His interests.

This is a good time to remember the original Mike Yenni — the real Mike Yenni — and his father, Joe Yenni. They are revered because, as parish presidents, they always put the parish’s and the people’s interests ahead of their own.

This guy, who was born Mike Maunoir but changed his name to Yenni, now makes it clear through his actions and his words that he is not worthy of the Yenni name.

For the sake of the parish, he should resign.

Ouch. I think Yenni is hanging on in order to have something to trade with prosecutors if charges loom. A poll was taken showing that 79% of JP voters want his name changing ass gone. Double ouch. I wonder if there will be a Downfall video any time soon.

The only recourse Jeffersonians have is a recall election. It will be tough but a Metry lawyer, whose father used to be one of the bosses of that parish who was tried but acquitted of corruption charges in 1995, is pledging $100K of his own moolah. You cannot make this shit up, y’all.

That concludes this episode of “As Jefferson Parish Turns.” Cue the Hammond B-3 organ. No, not B3 that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

My mama done tole me to move on to this week’s theme song. Blues In The Night was written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer as the title song of a mediocre 1941 movie. The tune has become a classic thanks to all the fabulous versions out there. We have three versions for your enjoyment today. Let’s kick it off with a jazzy rendition by Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson.

Here’s Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle’s torch song interpretation.

Finally, a 21st Century version from the late, great neo-chanteuse Amy Winehouse.

My Mama done tole me to go to the break before we send in the scary clowns.

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Saturday Odds & Sods: Let’s Stick Together

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The cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The Star Trek theme continues. As you surely know, Thursday was the 50th Anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek. I was one of many Trekkies, Trekkers whatever the hell you want to call them who first saw the show in re-runs. Even as a kid, I knew that there were some hokey things about the original show: the sets were cheesy, Shatner was hammy and an unlikely intergalactic babe magnet. But there was so much right about it: the cast chemistry and the writing. In many ways, Star Trek was a parable of New Frontier/Great Society era America. I’ve always liked the optimistic, inclusive message of the franchise and the way it got better over the years. I admit to skepticism when The Next Generation first aired but I was hooked and wound up liking both it and Deep Space Nine more than the original series. It’s hard to beat Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard even when he wore his shorty pajamas. Make it so or is that make it short? This post sure isn’t…

This week’s theme song was written and recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1962 as Let’s Stick Together. It’s also been done as Let’s Work Together but I decided to stick with stick instead of working it out. I have three versions for your listening pleasure. First, the original recording. Second, Bryan Ferry’s first whack at a song that he made his own. It’s still a staple in his live sets. Finally, Canned Heat who cut it as Let’s Work Together with vocals by Bob “Bear” Hite. Both the singer and his band had awesome names.

Now that we’ve worked that sticky wicket out, it’s time to take a brief break from my incessant punning, But first an animated Star Trek GIF that was suggested by one of the Stephanies:

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And Then Sometimes Nothing Keeps You Down But You

The Boston Globe, which looked at Holy Mother Church and said they’ve got two millennia on us and we still think we can take ’em, has used its institutional voice to call for leveling the status quo and people are losing their damn minds:

Why? As media becomes more about activism, myopia takes over. Mrs. Clinton made this about gun control from Sunday on, and as a result, those without microphones and bylines are going to pound the gun narrative into the ground regardless of whether the Orlando terrorist used an AR-15 or not. The perception has already become reality. You can ask ten people on the street right now if gun violence has increased to the point of being out of control in this country, and they’ll say yes… except it’s been quite the opposite.

“As media becomes more about activism …” The shit does that mean? A community’s dominant media voice needs to be a FIERCE advocate for the betterment of that community and that means starting conversations people don’t want started and talking about things people don’t want talked about, and it means doing that until shit is solved to the media voice’s satisfaction.

That means if the Boston Globe has decided as an institution that it is time for gun control, it is the Boston Globe’s job to say, over and over as loud as it can, that it is time for gun control. And you can bellyache all day about “activist journalism” but guess what? THERE ARE NO FUCKING RULES.

Nobody in the government or the Commission for the Ethics of the Journalist-Scholar is going to come and take the Boston Globe’s Cracker Jack badge away for publishing a front-page editorial and news package. There is no Journalism Police. There are accepted ways of doing things, accepted ways of sitting down and being quiet and not making any noise and not moving at all and not upsetting anybody and let’s have a look at the past 30 years of that, shall we? Let’s look at where that got us.

In the past 30 years in this trade we have come to prize bloodlessness and the appearance of impartiality over the trust of the public. People don’t trust news organizations when they droningly report views from two equal and opposing sides of an argument. They don’t trust news organizations when they gloss over a reality people can see right in front of them to describe a scene out of a very boring children’s book.

They trust news organizations that say big things, true things. That fight big fights, unpopular fights, fights that need fighting when they need fighting, at the top of their lungs and with the passion those fights deserve.

Nothing is holding back America’s news organizations from making a hundred statements like the Boston Globe’s in support of a hundred things in those news organizations’ communities that those news organizations have determined are important. Nothing but fear. And fuck the fear, okay? Shove the fear up your ass, because oooh, people will say mean things about us online if we say what we know to be true in a way that will make everyone listen?

Last night on the floor of the U.S. Senate a guy most people had never heard of got sick of sitting down and being quiet and watching time pass with nothing being done. So he said screw it, you’re gonna give us a vote on some very simple things to help stop the gun violence and I’m not leaving the floor until you do.

And lo and behold, most of the Senate Democrats, even ones I generally think are douchecanoes, showed up to help him out.

I saw a lot of talking online after the Orlando shooting about “why even bother getting outraged, Congress is in the NRA’s pocket” and that thing about how somehow in the wake of Newtown “we” decided killing children was “acceptable.” I think I may have retweeted that thing in the past. I wish I hadn’t, but I’m not immune to sin.

Despair is a sin, because it’s selfish. It gives us a pass to do nothing, because who will care? Who will listen? I read this after the Boston Globe lit the Internet up: Who will this convince? What’s the goal of a filibuster for a neutered, weak gun law that will probably be overturned by the courts? Isn’t all of this just pointless?

Not to the next classroom of dead toddlers, it isn’t.

So yell with the voice you’ve got. Hold the floor all night if you have to. Run a month’s worth of front-page editorials and graphics and tell anyone who wants to jaw on about advocacy journalism to shut up. If you’ve got the ability to fight then you fight what you want to fight.

A.

 

Still Comfortably Numb Revisited

It’s happened again; another atrocity. This time it’s a hate crime with a terrorist gloss. The depressing mass shooting ritual continues. That means it’s time to revisit a post I wrote after the San Bernardino shootings last December because we’re Still Comfortably Numb: 

In my first month at First Draft in 2009, I revisited a post I wrote for my eponymous blog on July 13, 2006. It was one of my rare lucid moments as a blogger as I compared post-K New Orleans to the grand finale of Great Expectations. I borrowed the title from Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb. It struck me this morning that this theme was eerily applicable to the seemingly endless string of mass shootings we’ve had this year. Here’s a sample of the 2006 post:

Syd Barrett’s death got me thinking in Pink Floyd song titles. A scary concept, I know. Careful With That Axe, Eugene didn’t fit the situation here in NOLA but one title nailed it: Comfortably Numb from The Wall. Comfortably numb describes the state of our political, judicial and socio-economic systems here pre-K. We were muddling through at all levels but as long as we were comfortable, we were numb.

Then came Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent federal flood, which, by analogy, was to New Orleans what the last part of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was to Pip the hero of the novel. Pip had always thought that the bitter recluse Miss Havisham had been his financial benefactor. He was wrong. His real patron was Magwich, an escaped convict turned magnate whom Pip had helped while a child.

<snip>

How does this apply to NOLA? Miss Havisham is a perfect symbol of the city. For years, we allowed our city to rot and decay and instead of trying to do something about it, we turned to drama, drugs, booze, food and apathy. If I had a hundred dollar bill for every time I’ve heard “you can’t change fill in the blank it’s New Orleans,” I’d be as rich as Pip’s portly solicitor, Mr. Jaggers. I’ve heard that line applied to government, litter, crime, you name it; it’s the catchall excuse. The city and its people were all comfortably numb.

That’s where we find ourselves in regard to mass shootings in our country: we’re comfortably numb. They happen so often that they’ve become routine. President Obama urges us to not treat them as such, and he’s right as a matter of policy, but it’s human nature to seek a safe haven.  Being comfortably numb helps ease the horror of events like the San Bernardino massacre.

One worrisome thing that happens after each of these dreadful event is the ritualistic response of various segments of society. As Athenae so eloquently pointed out last night, Republican politicians make a ritual of calling for prayers for the victims. The NRA, and the people who value the abstraction that is the Second Amendment, talk about mental illness and how much safer the world would be if all the good guys were armed to the teeth. Right thinking people who *want* to do something to stop the carnage advocate new gun control measures, which are automatically rejected by the Second Amendment purists and nothing happens. This post-massacre ritual/routine is the clearest indication that we’re still comfortably numb.

Another worrisome thing is how easy it is to divide mass shootings into genres as if they were movies. The slaughter in Southern California *could* be slotted into the workplace massacre genre also known as “going postal.” Since the perpetrators were Muslims with Arab names, the flying banshees of the Right *assume* that it’s Daesh/ISIL/Al-Qaeda related terrorism. We simply do not know the motives of the shooters at this point. We *do* know that it doesn’t fit into the following mass shooting genres: schools, health care clinics, shopping malls, fast food eateries; the variations seem to be horrifically endless. It’s no wonder that people want to crawl in bed and hide under the covers. It’s why we remain either comfortably or uncomfortably numb after each of these attacks.

I’m like everybody else: I just want the slaughter to stop. It’s clearly ridiculous for civilians to have military-style assault weapons, but in a country where a police union has advocated armed football fans such a reasonable goal seems unobtainable. One thing that would help the national discourse on this subject is for us to stop reacting ritualistically and stop slotting the shootings into genres. No wonder we’re comfortably numb: we can pigeonhole the latest atrocity and move on.

David Chase used a Roger Waters-Van Morrison version of Comfortably Numb as the soundtrack for the worst thing Tony ever did on The Sopranos: using a car wreck as an excuse to murder Christopher Moltisanti. Christopher popped the soundtrack of Scorsese’s The Departed into the CD player, which triggered the accident and Tony’s actions. After killing Christopher, Tony resorted to a string of rationalizations as to why it was the right gangster thing to do. He was never quite the same thereafter: becoming an even darker and more ruthless character as well as-you guessed it-comfortably numb. Let’s hope that life doesn’t imitate The Sopranos in this instance and we can move past our numbness in a constructive manner. I am, however, not optimistic. We’re all still comfortably numb.

To Live and Die in (UC)LA

I spent the majority of my undergraduate career in the communication building at my alma mater. It was a giant, ugly concrete monstrosity that looked like it was put together by Willy Wonka’s emo cousin. Entrances and exits were on multiple floors, there were giant open spaces on top of the second and third floors. Rumors swirled that there was a helipad on top of the roof.

On the inside, the halls were never linear, in that there was at least four ways of getting anywhere. Concrete columns jutted into the hallways, making easy for anyone not paying attention to walk directly into them. The building had two floors below grade, thus you couldn’t have a window in your office of any value even if you were on the second floor.

The legend of the building, constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was that this was constructed specifically to keep the student demonstrators of that era from being able to take it over. The entrances and exits gave law-enforcement officials multiple access points. The halls made it difficult to pin down force that was trying to take the building back from the students. Even those columns were there to provide safety for SWAT teams who needed to advance in standard cover formation. It might have been true or it might have been a fantastical story, but that didn’t make the building any homier.

I thought about that building Thursday as I watched the CNN footage of a virtual military force descending upon the UCLA campus after police received a call of an active shooter. Once police had cleared the scene and learned this was a murder-suicide, I thought of the building I currently occupy and what it says about this era in which we live.

I work in the newest academic building on campus. The eco-friendly garden roof complete with solar panels helps take in energy for campus use. The auto shades and lights go on and off based on the light needed or the heat required in the building. Giant “solar daisies” are in the parking lot, following the sun’s every movement and capturing its energy-saving rays. Every aspect is meant to make the building a LEEDs dream.

The rounded edifice of the structure gives it that newer feel, although etchings in old Roman text and red brick facings give it that classic look. Almost every office has a giant window that overlooks one of the many fine aspects of campus. Mine oversees a river.

Under this utopian skin lies the harsh reality of our time.

My office has a tiny window in the door so that I can see out without providing access to someone who might do me harm. I always thought this was ridiculous, so I stuffed baseball cards in the hole so at least the people stopping by had something to look at.

The furniture and office set up is placed in such a way that I can hide in the case of an active shooter. On rare occasion, I’ve changed clothes in the office, using that “hiding space” to prevent me from being seen.

The classrooms have a digital card-key access and they are unable to ever be fully unlocked. One of the more ridiculous parts of my job comes when students leave to use the bathroom, only to be locked out upon their return.

The clocks our building were part of the bigger “let’s go digital” paradigm that differentiated this new place from those other analog spots throughout campus. Eventually everyone got digital clocks and it turned out that this was because the clocks could be used to send out warnings and alerts in the case of an attack of some kind. I always thought it was stupid because the one thing they were meant to (show the time) was the one thing they rarely did right.

 

 

When I started teaching so many years ago in that dim, shitty building I described above, I got “the warning lecture” from the faculty member who was overseeing my TA job.

“Don’t be alone in a room with a student,” I was told. “Keep the door open and speak loudly enough that you can be heard in the hall.”

This was particularly important when it came to female students, he explained, because the worst thing that can happen to you is to be accused of sexual misconduct. If you are giving a kid a bad grade, that kid might be out to ruin you.

This lecture went on and on for what seemed like hours:

“Don’t make jokes that people might take as sexual advances.”

“Don’t make physical contact with students.”

“Don’t sit on the same side of the desk as a student.”

“Don’t… Don’t… Don’t… Don’t…”

This made me paranoid beyond all belief because I was, at the time, an unmarried 22-year-old and I was fresh fish, just waiting to be shanked in the yard.

My first boss at Mizzou was much more blunt: “If I catch you fucking a student, I’m firing your ass.”

I laughed. She didn’t.

Of all the things I worried about, the kind of thing that happened at UCLA wasn’t anywhere close to that. I’d had students who cried over failing something and I’d had students who called me all manner of names in evals and even to my face.

The only thing close to this was a newsroom legend of a kid who heard his story was being changed. He grabbed a large cylindrical trashcan and flung it at a copy editor and then charged at the guy. An editor, who was once an offensive lineman in college, grabbed the scrawny student and hung on for dear life. Steve later told me the kid’s strength was beyond his ability to comprehend.

It was truly bizarre.

The next year, the student who had done all this damage returned to the newsroom. He introduced himself by name, always adding “I’m on medication, so I’m better now.”

 

Kids get angry all the time over perceived slights, inflated sense of self-importance and grade issues. I usually get angry emails that demand this and that. My answer always is, “Come to my office and let’s talk about it.” Most of them don’t. They won’t take that step to really lay it on the line.

Even those who do, I never really think they have it in them to really make their beef a huge problem.

That’s why this line gave me a chill:

Both instructors were aware that Sarkar had issues with them. “But I don’t think that is cause for somebody to believe that they were going to be a homicide target,” the chief said.

 

The discussion of the “why” and the “how” and the “what now” of this shooting will likely follow the same pattern of previous incidents like this.

My wife and I were discussing this today: I talked about guns, she talked about mental health. Around and around and around we went.

If two people who essentially agree on most things, including gun violence and mental health, can’t find a common answer on this, what chances do we as a fractured society have?

People will point to how UCLA was a “gun-free zone” and that didn’t stop anything, so what’s wrong with a right to carry on campus? Others will say stopping “the crazies” needs to happen right away, ignoring the fact that most mentally ill people aren’t violent and there’s no outright clarity now regarding the mental status of this shooter.

For the Wayne La Pierre’s of our society, the answer is more guns.

Arm the professors.

Arm the secretary

Arm the students.

A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.

For me, I don’t know if it’s better or worse to have a moment in which I get shot in my office or having shot someone in my office. I don’t know how I would live with either.

However, there have been 186 school shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012, according to the L.A. Times. That comes out to about one per week.

And this doesn’t seem to be stopping.

 

 

UCLA professor William Klug was about my age and had a family somewhat similar to mine. However, what hit me hard was that he was killed in his office while a colleague survived because he (or she) was not. (And I am apparently not the only one thinking like this…) The “kill list” Mainak Sarkar constructed included two professors and his wife. He killed her and then got Klug. The third, unnamed person survived because Sarkar couldn’t locate this person, who was apparently off campus that day.

For as long as I have been teaching, I made a promise to myself and to students that I wouldn’t be “that professor” when it came to access. Instead of having only a few specific office hours, I always keep my door open when I’m there. The goal is to solicit people to show up and engage me. It could be a question about a test or a bit of feedback on a paper. It might be they had time to kill between classes and they figured time with me would be more productive than their 353rd attempt at Candy Crush Level 93. Maybe they needed career advice or they needed a “buck up li’l camper” speech I was so good at giving.

The rule was simple: If I’m in the office, I’m going to have my door open. If the door is open, whatever you need as a student is more important than whatever it is I’m doing, so c’mon in.

Whenever I need to write, I go to my office.

Whenever I need to research, I go to my office.

Whenever I need to think or work or anything else, I go to my office.

My office is a tiny box that I’ve decorated with idiosyncratic crap I’ve collected over the years from bobbleheads to baseball cards. It’s a home away from home where work tends to get done.

My wife jokes that I practically live there.

I never once thought about what it would be like to die there.

Until now.

Saturday Odds & Sods: All The Things You Are

Spectators

Spectators by Jim Flora.

We’re knee-deep in the El Nino season of 2015-16. I have a love-hate relationship with it: I love El Nino during hurricane season and hate it during the winter. The New Orleans metro area had a hellacious storm front last Tuesday. The city wasn’t impacted directly but there were nine confirmed tornadoes in the area that wreaked havoc in the outlying communities of Convent and LaPlace. It was like being an Okie for the day only without Jim Inhofe as your Senator. Of course, I have a whore monger and an empty suit as my Senators. so who am I to judge?

Before being uprooted for six weeks in 2005, the weather wasn’t a frequent topic of conversation in my house. For obvious reasons, I am now obsessed with the weather; so much so that I had twinges of PSTD when the wind was howling outside my door. Unlike Della and Oscar, I can’t hide under the bed when the weather sucks. I wouldn’t fit. Time for a brief meteorological musical interlude from the Brothers Finn:

I don’t really have a dog in the hunt in this year’s Oscar races. I suspect that wearing a beard and looking dirty and smelly will win Leonardo Decaprio his first Oscar. Handsome leading men have to ugly themselves up to be taken seriously viz George Clooney in Syriana. It’s a pity that Leo’s star turns in The Great Gatsby or The Aviator weren’t Oscarworthy but his duel with a bear in Revenant is. Of course, tangling with a bear did wonders for Daniel Boone’s career. Oh well, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Paul Newman won their Oscars for the wrong movies too. It’s a funny old world, y’all.

This week’s theme song, All The Things You Are, was composed in 1939 by Jerome Kern and features lyrics by his Show Boat writing partner, Oscar Hammerstein. It was long a favorite of Jazz musicians because of its melodic and harmonic complexity. Here are four distinctive takes on the song from some Jazz greats:

Now that I’ve provided you with a Kernel of substance, it’s time for the break after which I plan to Hammerstein it up some more.

Continue reading

The Oregon Siege

Every once and awhile I like to deliver a history lecture with a contrarian slant. This is one of those times. The Hole in the Head Gang’s seizure of a building in a Federal wildlife preserve in Oregon has conjured up dueling narratives. One slice of Conventional Wisdom on the Right is that the Feds were asking for it because they didn’t come down hard enough on the Bundy ranch shenanigans in 2014. The CW on the Left is that if these had been black folks there would have been instant repression. There is some truth to both perceptions but the fundamental difference is that this involves Federal law enforcement, not state and local. The Black Lives Matters movement was inspired by local police tactics in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere. The Feds have a different approach for some very good reasons.

The best thing I’ve seen written about the Oregon siege comes from Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:

If there’s a broad issue to come out of the Oregon standoff, it’s around the use of force. As with Cliven Bundy, local and federal law enforcement has taken a wait-and-see approach to Ammon Bundy and his militia supporters. The FBI has called for a “peaceful resolution” to the confrontation, and announced its concern for the safety of “both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved.”

To observers on Twitter, this caution was galling, especially after a year of highly visible police violence against unarmed black Americans and political fear-mongering over Muslim refugees to the United States. “Let’s be clear,” said columnist Cenk Uygur, “If Muslims had seized a federal building, they’d all be dead by now #whiteprivilege #OregonUnderAttack.” Likewise, thousands of people retweeted an image of an armed militiaman captioned “150 armed white men take over a federal building and threaten violence if removed—Not a single shot is fired at them” followed by a photo of Tamir Rice with the caption, “12-year-old black boy plays with a toy gun—is gunned down in less than two seconds without as much as a warning.”

It’s easy to see why both tweets struck a chord. But it’s also worth noting the extent to which the Rice shooting—and many others—are fundamentally different from that of a standoff between armed fanatics and federal law enforcement. It’s not just that these are different organizations—local and city police forces versus the FBI and other federal agencies—and different kinds of confrontations with different procedures, but that there’s also a different history involved. Confrontations at Ruby Ridge and in Waco, Texas ended with scores of dead (white) civilians, and inspired the Oklahoma City bombing—the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Law enforcement has been willing to use lethal violence against armed white protesters and the results were catastrophic. It’s no surprise federal agents are cautious; they walk with the hard-learned lessons of the 1990s. Even if the Bundys are paper tigers, no one wants to relive the past. In that, law enforcement officials are correct.

I don’t usually use such epic quotes, but Jamelle nails this to the wall, so why re-do it? I recall watching with appalled fascination as the Feds assaulted the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in 1993. It was an epic fail and was cited by Timothy McVeigh as his reason for bombing the Federal building in OKC. I, for one, am glad that the Feds learned their lesson from misusing force in the early ’90’s. I have no sympathy for the ill-prepared bozos who seized that obscure Federal facility, BUT I don’t want a bloodbath either.

Another example of the “wait ’em out” strategy was the long siege when some Native American activists occupied Alcatraz in 1969. The Feds played the long game and the standoff ended in 19 months. The oddest thing about the Alcatraz episode is that one of our most trigger-happy Presidents, Richard Nixon, was in power at that time. Tricky Dick disliked minorities, and hated radical leftists, but the Federal agencies in charge of the situation quite rightly did not want a bloodbath. The odds of this standoff lasting that long are nil: they didn’t bring enough ramen noodles to survive…

I am at something of a loss as to why people who decry police brutality and oppose military intervention abroad are so eager to see Cliven Bundy’s idiot sons gunned down. It may be understandable as an initial, visceral reaction but why give the Alex Jones’ and Glenn Becks of the world what they want? They want dead martyrs instead of live oath swearing buffoons. Patience is clearly a virtue in this instance unless the Hole in the Head gang starts shooting and then all bets are off. That seems unlikely to me: these fake cowboys are all hat and no cattle.

The Feds are in the process of tightening the screws on these cretins. It won’t be hard since they don’t seem to be adequately supplied for an extended standoff. I’m hoping for a peaceful resolution and some sort of felony charges to be brought against the Hole in the Head Gang. It will be easier to prosecute the Bundy Bunch this time since, unlike their idiot racist father, they are NOT on their own land but have seized a Federal facility.

The Twitteratti have been busy cracking wise about what I’m calling the Hole in the Head Gang. My nickname is inspired by the Hole in the Wall Gang but Ammon Bundy is no Butch Cassidy. I think comparing these bozos to Al Qaeda and ISIS, even comically, elevates them above their pay grade. These boobs in the woods are common garden variety burglars as far as I’m concerned. I’m uncertain, however, which of them is Porky and which is Daffy:

Boobs_in_the_Woods_Title

Finally, there’s been a lot of wingnut posturing about Oregon being a blue state, which supposedly gives this minor insurrection some deeper meaning. It is today but Oregon was founded as a so-called white man’s paradise:

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.”

It’s the kind of scene from the 1950s that’s so hard for many Americans to imagine happening outside of the Jim Crow South. How could a progressive, northern city like Portland have allowed a restaurant to exclude non-white patrons? This had to be an anomaly, right? In reality it was far too common in Oregon, a state that was explicitly founded as a kind of white utopia.

A friend of a friend posted a link to Matt Novak’s Gizmodo post on Facebook the other day. It’s a great read and makes me proud to be a blogger.

That concludes today’s attempt to defog history. Class dismissed.

Shorter Obama: I’m Coming for Your Guns

HAHAHA I WISH: 

One key action will require more gun sellers to be federally licensed and perform a background check for every attempted purchase. Tens of thousands of dealers already follow these rules, but many others are able to evade them by relying on vague language in the law. While they are a small fraction of all unlicensed sellers, these dealers account for an outsized percentage of guns sold, according to a study by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. For obvious reasons, they are also more likely to appeal to criminals and others trying to hide from the authorities.

The law will be clarified to consider not only how many guns these dealers sell, but also how quickly they resell them after purchasing them, whether they sell them in their original packaging and how much they profit.

The president is also taking steps to improve the functioning of the federal background-check database, a critically important tool that has stopped millions of sales of weapons to prohibited people since 1998. Among other things, the F.B.I. will work to notify state and local authorities whenever a prohibited person tries to buy a gun and is rejected. This is a sensible and proven approach to reducing gun crime. In Virginia, follow-up investigations of those denied a gun because of a background check have led to more than 14,000 arrests.

Other presidential actions include delivering a budget proposal with money for 200 new agents and investigators for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help enforce existing gun laws; requiring dealers to notify authorities when guns are lost or stolen in transit; increasing law enforcement access to mental-health records; and providing funding for research into gun-safety technology.

None of the actions will make a big dent in America’s gun-violence epidemic, but that’s because Mr. Obama can do only so much on his own. Congress could pass far more expansive and effective legislation, such as universal background checks, which have been associated with large declines in gun deaths in the 18 states that have implemented them.

But OMG CAN ANYONE STAND UP TO THE GUN LOBBY: 

Bloomberg has pumped millions of dollars into gun-control advocacy efforts, including donations to candidates who support more restrictive measures. An organization founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was badly wounded in a 2011 shooting, also has raised millions to promote gun control measures.

“There’s more organization, there’s more capacity, there’s more money,” said Kristin Goss, a public policy professor at Duke University who has studied gun-control advocacy groups. But asked whether the new organizations can succeed in matching the energy and organizational power of the NRA in a general election, Goss said, “That’s an open question.”

Surveys have shown that gun-control supporters lag those who favor fewer restrictions on most measures of political activism. During the failed legislative efforts in 2013, the NRA mobilized its members to flood Capitol Hill with phone calls and letters urging lawmakers to oppose the White House-backed measures.

THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY HAVE TO LISTEN! Jesus God, I’m sorry for yelling, but the ability to raise money and the ability to make phone calls does not dictate SHIT unless elected officials decide to be scared and stupid and small. Let’s not act like Republicans, or NRA-friendly Democrats for that matter, are helpless victims here. They’re not powerless. They just listen to too many people telling them they are.

They could, at any time, answer Wayne LaPierre’s phone call with a recorded message saying BE FUCKED, and if he tried to call back, they could say something like, “Look, asshole, you may want to pay my bills in this life but someday I will have to answer for what I’ve done to the God whose leg I spend every speech humping, so take your money, fold it four ways, and shove it up Rush Limbaugh’s ass. Get a shot first. I mean, I do care about your well-being.”

Schmucks.

A.

Tamir Rice, the Power of the State, and What We Think is Reasonable

Shorter John Kasich: At least we’re no longer using fire hoses on you people.

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So there he is, John Kasich, the moderate Republican, the sane one in the race, the one I’ve heard many not openly insane acquaintances lament is too “reasonable” to win next year’s primaries. There he is, saying basically look, we are only tacitly approving of giving the state the power to execute people on the street, and only some people anyway, so what is everybody so pissed off about?

I mean, we let you drink from our water fountains now!

I really don’t know what to do now that this is what we’re defining as the sensible center. This is the “reasonable” position, that if they shoot your 12-year-old kid who has taken his COMPLETELY LEGAL toy gun to the park to COMPLETELY LEGALLY PLAY WITH IT, you should be grateful America has moved past lynchings and Jim Crow. And you should not get riled up. Because all they did was shoot your 12-year-old. In the park. With a toy.

If this is reasonable in our politics, then reasonable is the enemy. If “reasonable” is now defined as kicking back because we’ve mostly eliminated WHITES ONLY signs, then reasonable can get fucked. This is why I have no patience for the civility argument, for the idea that if everyone just sat down and took it … I don’t know when we decided that peace was passivity, that stability was acquiescence, and that nothing in the world was so bad as some comfortably situated people being inconvenienced. Nothing in the world is so bad as that, not even a 12-year-old. Being shot in the park. BY THE STATE.

Because you can jaw on all you want about black-on-black crime and “why don’t those people protest when INSERT NAME OF CAUSE” and “this one time a black guy cut me off in traffic and he was a piece of shit.” You can dig up dirt on every young man killed by the cops, on everybody who was on drugs or had a baseball bat or lived in That Neighborhood or deserved it somehow. What you can’t get past, what I can’t believe we’re not talking about, is that giving cops carte blanche to shoot black people is giving the state a license to kill.

Which it already has, in the forms of economics, capital punishment, environmental degradation and not-so-benign neglect, I suppose, but stay with me here.

This is not about who wasn’t an angel and who shouldn’t have been there and who thought they saw something they didn’t see. This is about what you empower the state to do. Full stop. These men wear our uniforms and they act in our name and if they do this without any consequences then they do this with our sanction.

None of these Republicans who like to jaw on about the overreaching power of the government seem to mind it executing minors without trial. Even that asshole Rand Paul, who gets awfully shirty about drone-bombing wedding parties overseas and spying on American citizens, is fundraising and making fun of Marco Rubio and saying absolutely nothing about state-sponsored killings in this case.

 

If your cause, if your concern, if the fundamental operating principle of your entire approach to governing is the limit of state power, and you don’t care about police killings, you’re a fool and a fraud and I don’t even want to hear it anymore.

If your response, your genuinely reasonable and moderate and centrist and God-Almighty-am-I-sick-of-hearing-this SANE response to the state-sanctioned execution of a 12-year-old boy in a park with a toy is that hey, things are not as bad as they used to be, you do not get to stand on a debate stage and talk about the way your party used to stand for something.

A.

‘multiple family members said they think police shot through the door’

Police respond to a 911 call, shoot the subject of that call, and wind up killing an innocent grandmother: 

Bettie Jones, a mother of five and grandmother of six, had worked full-time at the Alpha Baking bread factory before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer earlier this year, according to her brother, Robin Andrews. After a successful surgery, Andrews said, Jones was looking for an all-clear from her doctor so she could get back to work.

“She was the kind of person who would come home after a 16-hour shift and then ask you if you needed anything,” Andrews said. “She was always trying to help, sharing whatever little food she had in her fridge. She was one of a kind like that.”

Jones’ other brother, James Reynolds, said he was furious with the way police had handled the 911 call.

“We’re talking about a kid here with a baseball bat. How are you then justified in coming in here, raining down bullets like it’s the wild west?” Reynolds said. “This is about discipline — when you go to a job, you’ve got to do the job right. They didn’t, and now a life has been lost.”

For chrissakes. Yes, we should be talking about racism and we should be talking about over-militarization of police and we should be talking about the response to people with mental illness in general but can we also talk about apparently these people are seriously lousy shots, trained by Dirty Harry movies and their own paranoid imaginations?

You want to get all amped up at me about BLUE LIVES MATTER and how the cops are our last line of defense of the rights of property against the mob or whatever we’re on about now? You need to grant they really ought to be able to take out “the bad guy” without spraying the whole damn place with bullets. Otherwise it’s a toss-up if people should take their chances with the criminals, who don’t seem to have much worse aim.

A.