Sunday, February 18, 2018

What might an honest letter from the NRA to America's school children and teens look like?



Today, I wondered what an honest National Rifle Association response to the high-school shooting in Florida would  look like, given the tepid (at best) responses from the gun lobby giant and its minions--e.g. tRump and Floridians like Sen. Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott.  Let's be honest, if the safety of children (especially at school) were really of concern, things would look a lot different.  Dr. Jay Livingston, Montclair State University's sociology department chair, asked whether schools in Europe have the same rate of shootings as the US does and did a quick, informal study on the question which he posted on his department's blog (I have linked to a reposting of the blog on The Society Page, a general sociology blog). The answer was pretty depressing, frankly:

Image from The Society Pages
So, between 1980 and 2014, when Dr. Livingston wrote his post, there were almost ten times as many school shootings in the US than Europe even though we have 60% of the population.  The difference?  Not the kids.

Sculpture by Penny Byrne
The US has a civilian gun ownership rate of 88.8 per 100 people, meaning that there are more guns in America than adults; the next highest rate belongs to Yemen at 54.8--yes, that Yemen...the basically-failed state embroiled in civil war and one of the poorest countries in the Middle East.  Therefore, it should not be surprising that the US also has the highest homicide rate involving firearms, about four times higher than our nearest "competitor" in the developed world.

Image from the article linked to in the previous paragraph.
So, with that as a backdrop, here is what an honest open letter from the NRA to America's school children and teens might read like:


Dear Children and Teens of America,

Like many of you, we are saddened by the recent shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in which fourteen of you were gunned down by one of your former peers (possibly more given the number of wounded).  It was easily the most traumatic of the 127 acts of gun violence reported that day.  We are, in fact, deeply saddened by the fact that 451 of you have already been shot to death in the 49 days of 2018, a death rate of 9.2 of you per day.  We are saddened by each of the other 238 school shootings since the tragic December 2012 incident at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which have resulted in 138 dead and 300 wounded.  If we assume a 9-month school year, that works out to 4.98 shootings and 2.88 killings per month.  According to our analysis, though, that is quite a negligible risk. 

The fact is we cannot support stricter gun laws because of our organizational culture and mythos that relies on fear.  Many of our members and supporters believe that our federal government poses a greater threat than their fellow citizens.  A great enough threat, in fact, that they feel they need to arm themselves with assault weapons similar to the ones used in national militaries and paramilitary groups the world over in which AK-47s are so popular.  Some even feel so threatened that they sometimes carry them in grocery and convenience stores (a simple Google image search will provide visual evidence of this); additionally, thousands and thousands of concealed weapons are carried on a daily basis in the same areas. We appreciate that we need to appear as if we find it prudent to oppose such excess, which we occasionally do, but the fact is that our existence relies on such hysteria.  For years we have perpetuated the myth that a “good guy with a gun” can prevent such tragedies as mass shooting, even though research opposes our claim.  Incidentally, this is one reason we have pushed so hard and successfully for suppressing federal funding for research into gun violence.  

We feel it important that, during this time of national mourning, we come clean and admit that your lives are of secondary importance to us.  Perpetuating the mythos of overwhelming danger, especially in the form of some vague threat from the federal government, and providing access to deadlier fire arms and accessories such as silencers and bump stocks is and must remain our priority.  Others claim that you are at greater risk in schools than your counterparts in other developed nations, which some of us might admit, but protecting you is not the aim of our organization and so cannot be a  priority, hence our policies of opposition and foot-dragging. 

We are sorry for your trauma and fear and our thoughts and prayers are with you, but please be assured we will continue to support policies that will increasingly put you in harms way and will continue to contribute millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians who will either do nothing to protect you or will suggest solutions like arming teachers which will result in greater numbers of fatalities.

Yours truly,

The National Rifle Association


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dead Prezes Tweet tRump

Amazing what you can find when you dig around in Twitter!  Turns out some of tRump's dead colleagues are pretty skeptical about the Tantrumer-in-Chief...

Would it be safe to say that Lincoln still has more cred with African Americans that Lord Cheeto?

Damn...#ReaganRoastsIt...

Of course, looks like Taft may be a bit friendlier...but...#SarcasmHappens...



Friday, January 26, 2018

Today's Word: Vorbild

Image by @markheybo from Flckr, CC BY
A German word I'm fond of is Vorbild, a word that can be translated as "example," "model," "role model," or "archetype."  When we break the word into its parts though, the interesting aspects of the word really pop out; vor means (roughly) "in front of" or "before," the ancestor to the English prefix, fore.  The second part of the word, Bild, can be translated as "picture" or "image."  So, on the level of literal translation, a Vorbild is an image we carry in front of ourselves and to which we aspire or to which we are drawn.  In this sense, Obi Wan Kenobi is a Vorbild for Luke Skywalker.

Images from https://medium.com/@davidnett_89374/the-jedi-problem-f9c7aa2b7284 and https://www.businessinsider.com.au/star-wars-episode-viii-wrap-date-2016-7  
This matter of having Vorbilder (the plural form) is a rather significant part of being human and...yes, can lead us to the Dark Side.

This week, I have had an interesting and disturbing epiphany about a potential Vorbild for Stephen Miller:

Images from http://time.com/3880669/goebbels-in-geneva-1933-behind-a-classic-alfred-eisenstaedt-photo/ and https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/08/stephen-miller-contender-communications-director-jim-acosta 
A month before the infamous Wansseekonferenz in which the Nazis hashed out the Endloesung (the Final Solution), the annihilation of European Jews--before that, they were apparently only in second gear?--there was another meeting of high-level Nazis that Josef Goebbels (Nazi propaganda minister) attended and wrote about in his diary:
With respect of the Jewish Question, the F├╝hrer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they again brought about a world war, they would live to see their annihilation in it. That wasn’t just a catchword… If the German people have now again sacrificed 160,000 dead on the eastern front, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay with their lives.
To me, this passage is chilling when we consider the combative nature of Stephen Miller, one of the last remaining "original" advisers to tRump and the junkyard dog of immigration in the Pennsylvania Ave. circus.  Miller is a staunch nativist and a belligerent player in the current debate on immigration and the future of the Dreamers.  He attended the meeting where tRump called Haiti and African nations "shithole" countries and was part of the sloppy clean up efforts afterwards.



Miller has been so intransigent about immigration policy and his desire to make America white again, that long-time Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham (SC), who has never been accused of being too liberal, basically called him an obstructionist.




Goebbels hated Jews.  Miller hates immigrants.  Is Miller psychotic and evil as Goebbels?  Hopefully not, but we have to remember, that Luke was also young and naive...and look where he ended up.



Now, I realize that Miller could actually find this comparison to Goebbels flattering, which should be of concern to Americans...as opposed to Amerikans.  Hopefully, though, he can keep in mind the fact that Hitler's main talking head ended up in a bad way--poisoned his children, double suicide with his wife, and then partially burned.  


Image from http://markfelton.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Goebbels-Corpse-300x188.jpg
I don't believe violence offers lasting solutions and the re-emergence of the open politics of hate reinforces this notion.  If we want the Stephen Millers to fail, we need to be part of the marching and yelling against him and others of his subspecies.  And hopefully Miller can end up repentant like Darth Vader.


Image from: http://weknowmemes.com/generator/uploads/generated/g1421242900248402193.jpg





Thursday, January 18, 2018

Today's word: Gaslighting

Image from: https://themindsjournal.com/10-things-ive-learned-about-gaslighting-as-an-abuse-tactic/

Oh, geez, where to start with this one!  If you haven’t seen the 1944 film Gaslight, you need to.  It’s an amazingly frustrating foreshadowing of the tRump administration…except that it’s a story that ends after 114 minutes, whereas the tRump circus just goes on and on and on. 


Image from pxhere.com, CC 0

Rebecca Lee, in a PsychCentral post on gaslighting, wrote that gaslighting is “an extreme form of emotional manipulation” that seeks to “[control] the way someone sees themselves and their reality” and “destabilize a person from the outside in” through “tactics such as denial, lying, and contradiction.”  Other writers add deflection, story changing, blame shifting, and emotional/psychological/verbal abuse to the mix of gaslighting behaviors.  In most cases, the abuser has a personality disorder, like narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc.

Image from https://qzprod.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/donald-trump-black-bg-e1516025231890.jpg?quality=80&strip=all&w=3464
Unfortunately, gaslighting also describes very well the tRump White House’s modus operandi in dealing with the public and true to form, this past week has seen several attempts at gaslighting from the big cheeseball himself and his cadre.  Let’s look at the “shithole” debacle for a moment.   Last Thursday in a meeting with legislators, tRump complained about having to take in immigrants from “shithole countries” like El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries.  First off, tRump’s comment was a kind of contradiction to the apparent goodwill performance at the bipartisan immigration meeting he hosted at the White House just two days before…so there’s one symptom.  

Then there was this fecal nugget from the White House staff:
The President's "shithole" remark is being received much differently inside of the White House than it is outside of it. Though this might enrage Washington, staffers predict the comment will resonate with his base, much like his attacks on NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem did not alienate it. (From the CNN article in the previous link)
Yup, the White House is counting on support for tRump’s racist, xenophobic remark, expecting that his devotees will not just accept his abusive speech, but prefer and defend it.  A second symptom.   

Since tRump's oral diarrhea, pundits have tried pass off the comment as simple “bar talk,” a kind of deflection in that they have tried to steer attention away from the White House resident and towards some amorphous group of drunk everymen and everywomen.  Symptom three.  


Image from Max Pixel, CC 0
Next Rand Paul jumped in, trying to say that calling attention to tRump’s racism is an obstruction to immigration policy discussions: "You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody’s out there calling the president a racist...They’re actually destroying the setting ... in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration.”  Shifting blame, a fourth symptom.

For a fifth symptom, we have denial on several different fronts.  First of all, tRump himself denies having said it, Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen swore under oath that she did not hear the comment, Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue deny that the comments were made, and there have been efforts to say the Adolescent-in-Chief said "shithouse" instead of "shithole"...as if that makes any difference.  All these claims and claims of absence run the gamut from obfuscation to outright denial.  Actually, they could also be considered a sixth symptom, story changing.

Lastly, symptom seven: lying.  On Sunday tRump said in a quick interview that he is not a racist:



“The least racist person”?  Whatever he was trying to say with that that little scatmint is hollow as his own head in light of the many instances of racism in his ridiculous history from unfair housing practices, to advocating for the death penalty for the Central Park 5 (who were exonerated in court, but the Donald still maintains they did it), to leading the birther crapgumbo, and on.  If you need a refresher, this opinion piece in the New York Times could help out. 

Oh, and there was this verbal defecation from Sarah Huckabee Sanders:



I'm not sure how to classify this unmitigated stupidity.  Her claim that tRump having a show on NBC shows he's not racist is mindbogglingly asinine.  What, TV shows are immune to racists and racism?  No.  As a matter of fact they are full of institutional and cultural racism...better now than in the past, more racism-lite than racism-free.  I guess sheer idiocy must be a new symptom.  Number eight. 

Given tRump's horrid diet, his gas stinks.  Just stinks.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Eyes of the World Are Watching Now

It's been too long since I have written...and there are unfortunate reasons for this.  But I cannot be quiet about the events of this past week.  What happened in Charlottesville, VA was horrendous!  The actions of the white supremacists, the neo nazis, and the kkk--I am refusing to capitalize these names in an effort to diminish them--were shameful in any and every respect. They are terrorists, just like members/supporters of isis, al qaeda, boko haram, al-shabaab, and other groups and they are hypocrites when they claim they stand for Christianity and freedom.  No!  They stand for death and oppression.  Unfortunately, tRump has shown his true colors this week in showing himself as an ally to the voices of American hate--even the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner has had a hard time explaining tRump's weak reaction to the events.

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


TODAY, THOUGH, I WANT TO EXPRESS GRATITUDE AND HOPE.

Saint Paul, MN

In reading about and seeing images and video clips of what happened last weekend and in the days following, I cannot help but be grateful that there were more counter protestors than racists on Saturday, that spontaneous vigils sprang up all over the country, that protesters disrupted and shut down one of the racist organizer's follow up press conference, and that business leaders and other public figures are denouncing tRump in force for his flaccid response to these hate groups. I grieve for all the injured and for the death of Heather Heyer, but I applaud her mother's prophesy that Alex Fields's cowardly running her down with his car will indeed magnify her commitment to social justice and compassion for the marginalized in our country.

I have been preparing to facilitate a book group this coming fall semester at Saint Martin's University, where I work, where we will read Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,and today I have been pulling together some resources for the group, including materials on the South African victory over Apartheid and their continuing struggle against hate.  I can never consider that history without thinking of Peter Gabriel's amazing tribute to Steven Biko, the courageous anti-Apartheid activist who was beaten to death while in police custody.

Steven Biko

 Below is a goose-bump inspiring performance of "Biko" in South Africa.


On June 18, 2011, I had the pleasure of attending Gabirel's concert at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City with my daughter and when he played this song at the end of the first set, I doubt there was one dry eye in the place.  I was so pleased to share that moment with my daughter and I was proud (I don't use that phrase too often) that she knew all the words and sang with the rest of us.

There are moments in "Biko" when any person with a conscience should get goosebumps and/or teary eyes, not least of which are when he sings the lines:
You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will only blow them higher
In South Africa, Biko's death along with the massacres at Sharpsville and Soweto were moments when the fire started.  In the US, incidents like the arrest of Rosa Parks, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Children's March in Alabama, the Selma Bridge, and later on the election of Shirley Chisholm, the beating of Rodney King, the election of Barak Obama, the terrible high-profile instances of police brutality, and other instances have all started fires.  Time will tell whether Charlottesville is a candle or a fire.  I hope it's an inferno.


San Diego, CA

The plight of persons of color in the US is a long dark history of brutality, violence, and exploitation.  We still have a long, long path before we see real social justice and equity in our country, but I think it's important to take a moment to acknowledge that the reaction to Charlottesville has offered hope.

Another important moment in Gabriel's song, though, comes at the end:
And they eyes of the world
Are watching now
Watching now
Gabriel has traditionally walked off the stage before this song ends, a gesture meant to remind us, the audience members, that it is our responsibility to fan the flames of equity and justice, to help burn down the houses of hate in our society and culture.

The eyes of the world really are watching.  Let's all grab a metaphorical torches and do a better job.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shadows of Doubt

[Please excuse my absence last week...a death in the family occurred and we had to address that.]

In court cases, jurors are instructed to convict the defendant if they are convinced "beyond a shadow of doubt" of their guilt.  In the film (made from a play) 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda's character has a shadow of a doubt and faces the wrath of the other eleven jurors, but convinces them through patience and logic to pass a verdict of "not guilty" on the young defendant being tried for murder.

Still from 12 Angry Men
Well, the jury is out on tRump's latest romp with his toys the other night when he ordered a missile attack on a Syrian military base in reaction to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.  He said it was carried out both in the interest of national security and in defense of international treaties that ban using the chemical weapons that caused the horrible deaths of "beautiful babies"--the same one he refuses to let enter the country.


The Syrian government's use of chemical weapons, of course, is unconscionable and grossly immoral, but was tRump's reaction justified?


US politicians on both sides of the proverbial aisle seemed to trip over themselves to endorse the strike, including Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said the attack "in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the [Assad] regime’s use of chemical weapons,”  but added this caution: “If the President intends to escalate the U.S. military’s involvement in Syria, he must come to Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force, which is tailored to meet the threat and prevent another open-ended war in the Middle East.”  Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded unequivocally, “I think the president had the authority to do what he he did. And I’m glad he did it.”  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) also supported the action.  Laura Barron Lopez and Michael McAuliff, with the Huffington Post, reported that while legislators seem to approve of the action, they cannot seem to articulate the legal grounds for it.  Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said he will  "let the international lawyers look at the details of how they view it,” while Senator Jon Testor (D-MT) was a bit more hesitant, “It can be argued on both sides...I think we need an [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] that actually addresses this issue. We don’t have one right now.”

This question of whether tRump's action was actually legal is also being contested in legal circles.  Harold Koh, a former State Department legal adviser and current Yale University law professor, seems to feel it was legally grounded, arguing that one key function of international law is to protect human rights, which were clearly violated in Assad's chemical attack.  Additionally, the attack does not imply that we are at war with Syria, “If this is a one-and-done, Congress isn’t going to challenge it.”  Others have argued that tRump's claim that the attack was carried out in the interest of national security rests on such a vague notion of the concept that it may be possible to justify almost any action taken for that stated reason as legal and constitutional.  Alex Emmons, with The Intercept, reported that the legal community is divided about the legality of the attack, with Constitutional, human rights, and international lawyers saying the attack had no legal basis.  Jack Goldsmith at the Harvard Law School claimed the attack “exceeds all prior precedents under domestic and international law.”  Louis Fisher with the Constitution Project concurred, “President Trump has no constitutional authority to unilaterally commit the nation to war against Syria.”  Hina Shamsi with the ACLU tweeted that the strike had “no legit[imate] domestic or international law basis.”  And Fionnuala Ni Aolain from the University of Minnesota Law School observed that the attack was “a slide into self-justificatory unilateralism by the United States [that] should not be celebrated nor validated.”

In looking at this incident, what emerges is several shadows of doubt surrounding this attack and tRump's actions have done nothing to ameliorate concerns about the right wing's self-stylized image of Amerika as "legal enforcer," which comes off as brash vigilantism to many others in the rest of the world.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay, public domain