Ferguson Absurdity, Media Edition

The images and news coming out of Ferguson, MO in the wake of Michael Brown’s death more than a week ago have been heartbreaking and maddening. I haven’t had a lot to say about it, because first, I’m not there. Also, frankly, I feel somewhat overwhelmed: what is there to say, after all, when something you read about in history books as something that happened in the past – armed police and national guard battling protesters in the streets of an American city – begins happening again, right before your eyes (or at least your TV and Twitter screens)?

But when things are as heartbreakingly real as they are in Ferguson right now, and as publicly visible, the absurd often takes over to sort of seize the moment and summarize what’s wrong, in a single image or short clip of video or audio. No amount of live footage of actual protesters being kettled, harassed, or threatened by combat-armed police can do as much for telling us what’s wrong and why it’s wrong as brief glimpses like these often can.

Last night, reporting live from the CNN Newsroom, host Rosemary Church had Jake Tapper (who was actually in Ferguson) live on the air. Tapper had already earlier that evening issued a gobsmacked and disgusted rant about the situation (which quickly went viral), because he was actually there and could see how bad things were. But now he was performing correspondent duty, this time discussing with the studio hosts how most of the protesters were peaceful and not looting or causing trouble, but how spraying tear gas is indiscriminate, and punishes all equally. Church’s suggestion for this dilemma? Well, MediaMatters has the video, but here’s the relevant clip:

Water cannons? Seriously? Did a white CNN News anchor – presumably someone who knows current events as well as the history of them better than the average citizen – just unironically urge the Ferguson police use water cannons on the protesters in Ferguson? Because it’s not like that’s ever been problematic in US history, especially as it pertains to the white power structure using excessive force against the black community. Oy. I’d link to the history of water cannon use, but I don’t want to insult your intelligence, so instead, I’ll assume my readers are more clued-in than the average CNN host, apparently. However, here’s what I tweeted to Ms. Church, when I learned of this today:screen cap of tweetscreen cap of tweet

screen cap of tweetscreemcap of tweet

That’s the reason this is happening, in a nutshell – because we’ve forgotten our history, and so we are being condemned to repeat it. Or, rather, I should say, white people appear to have forgotten our history. Black people, who’ve continued to have to face on a regular basis the fact that race in America is not a “solved issue,” probably remember the history fairly well. The actions of Ferguson police chief “Stonewall” Jackson – releasing the convenience store robbery video over the objections of the DoJ (who knew better), setting the tone of obfuscation and heavy-handed tactics – and Rosemary Church’s blithe and oblivious suggestion of the use of water cannons against protesters, are all of a piece. The common thread is either forgetting or refusing to acknowledge both the history and the unsolved present problem of the different treatment of black and white in America, and of poor and rich. Yes, we (desperately) need to demilitarize the police (getting rid of the 1033 program is a good start). But until America as a whole acknowledges these racial and class realities, this shit is gonna keep happening, over and over and over.

In fact, you can see it in one still-frame from the video above. It’s a bit grainy, so I’ll post a clearer image of it here. Get a load of Church’s co-host’s face after hearing her water cannon comment. He knows. Because he’s lived the reality Church has not, which is what allowed her to suggest such a thing where it would never in a million years have even occurred to him to say. But you can see that he sort of thought she knew, too…and is shocked to discover she doesn’t. Just look:

screen cap of CNN Newsroom broadcast

Say WHAT, white lady?

That, right there, is the gap we need to close in America’s minds, before this stuff can stop happening.

The Jim Hoft Gateway To Bullshit

photo of Jim "Gateway Pundit" Hoft

The Dumbest? Or Just A Bullshitter?

Jim Hoft (Gateway Pundit) is often cited as “The Dumbest Man On The Internet.” Not without reason, either. In his role as one of the right wing’s most-loyal attack dogs, Hoft has put forth numerous ludicrously false posts, ranging from claiming that the closed-captioning on an Obama speech was actually instructions to the speech’s audience to laugh, applaud, etc, to being suckered into believing a satire website’s joke-post that a San Diego high school had canceled a speech by the President because the long-form birth certificate he provided to refute the birther’s claim was “a fake.”

Hoft’s since deleted the latter post – a disturbing pattern by him of attempting to elide his own mistakes and re-write anything inconvenient or embarrassing in his own past – so who knows how many other such examples there are that have disappeared down the memory hole? But stupidity could certainly be among the likely reasons why a blogger like Hoft who self-styles as a truth-seeking (and telling) investigative journalist would repeatedly get suckered into posting or repeating such idiocies. But there’s another, even more plausible explanation for Hoft’s role as the Sideshow Bob of right-wing internet punditry, perpetually stepping on the same rhetorical rakes over and over again. Namely, I submit that Hoft is an ideological zealot, and thus is not so much an idiot (though don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly no Einstein) as he is a bullshitter.

In his brief but trenchant paper “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt describes the essence of bullshit as something completely separate from lying. Someone who lies knows – or at least thinks he knows – the truth, and is attempting to deceive others by intentionally spreading falsehood. Someone who is bullshitting, by contrast, does not have either truth or falsehood as their primary goal at all, but instead something else altogether. In the case of partisan zealots like Hoft, that “something else” is quite clearly the advancement of a narrative. In its simplest form, it is: Democrats (and liberals, progressives, etc.): BAD, Republicans (and conservatives, tea-partiers, libertarians): GOOD. This theme runs throughout Hoft’s site, as far back as the archives go; it is his literal raison d’blog: to bash the left and advance the right. Period. He is a zealot and a hack. To those twin ends of bashing the left and cheering the right, Hoft is certainly willing to employ the truth if he thinks doing so will best further his goal, but he is equally at home proffering the worst sorts of smear, innuendo, bigotry and yes, outright falsehood if he thinks that will best advance an anti-left or pro-right agenda.

Of course, getting caught in transparent lies usually does NOT help advance Hoft’s goals, which is why (given how frequently Hoft is thusly ensnared) instead of following the responsible journalistic practice of issuing corrections to mistakes in stories, Hoft simply attempts to erase from the collective memory that he ever said such things. But as long as a statement or post of his is either opinion-based (which requires no evidence) or has at least the thinnest veneer of plausibility (or plausible deniability – for Hoft), he’s quite comfortable putting forth unsubstantiated or even discredited, false evidence to advance his goals. To an ideological bullshitter like Hoft, it does not matter much whether the narrative he’s spinning is true or false. What matters is whether it makes the left look bad and/or the right look good. Hoft’s goal is to get the reader to hate liberalism, vote conservative (Republican or tea-party), and thus advance his cause, NOT to tell the truth OR even to tell lies. Just whatever advances the message best. Read Hoft or listen to him, and that is what you are getting: stories crafted lovingly with whatever bullshit best ensures that you’ll come away with a bad impression of the left or a good impression of the right.

The latest example of Hoft’s bullshit is the furor over the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO. Hoft’s goal here, as always, is to either defend the right from attack or to attack the left, not to oppose tyranny or support human rights or discover truth. However, given how much noise the right has been making ever since the election of Barack Obama about tyranny and government overreach and the police state (Cliven Bundy, etc.), it becomes a bit inconvenient when an actual armed representative of government (a cop) guns down an unarmed man (boy, really) in broad daylight in the middle of the street. Consistency would dictate that if a pundit like Hoft is opposed to government overreach (especially the armed variety), then the execution of a young man should certainly raise at least as much outrage as simply leaning on a rancher for not paying grazing fees. And if local cops or the FBI had shot some of the armed-to-the-teeth protesters at the Bundy ranch, Hoft and the rest of the right-wing commentariat would have been up in arms with cries of tyranny and oppression. But because Michael Brown was a black kid in a poor neighborhood, Hoft understands that his “side” in this is the traditional conservative support for law and order, and he slips effortlessly from sounding like Che Guevara when describing the BLM’s “terrorism” against Bundy, to maligning a dead kid and defending the police in Ferguson.

How does Hoft malign the memory and insult the family of Michael Brown? By claiming, much like the entire right wing did in the Trayvon Martin case, that Brown “was a gangster.” Hoft’s post, as of this writing is entitled “BREAKING: Ferguson’s Michael Brown PICTURED Flashing GANG SIGNS” (but that wasn’t it’s original title, as you’ll see in a moment). The post goes on to show a number of photos where hand signals are being flashed. In two of them Brown is simply flipping the bird, which even Hoft must know is not a gang symbol, so its inclusion in his post must simply be for the shock factor: “ooh, look at that awful delinquent black thug-boy. He probably deserved what he got.” There’s that patented Hoft-brand bullshit at work. In fact, Hoft’s entire post is geared to elicit that reaction: that Michael Brown was probably a thug who deserved what he got. Remember, Hoft is primarily an ideologue, so it doesn’t matter to him if what he’s spewing is true or false…as long as posting false things doesn’t either affect Hoft personally (via a libel suit or similar), or negatively affect his cause (via being discredited as a fraud or liar).

Tellingly, this was not the original title of Hoft’s post. When he first posted it, Hoft entitled the post “BREAKING: Michael Brown Was a GANGSTER – Seen Flashing “BLOODS” Gang Signs.” Quite a difference between that and the title that’s up now. How do we know this was the original title? Not because Hoft helpfully left his readers a note saying the headline had been changed, but because Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs (who’s only too familiar with Hoft’s proclivities when it comes to erasing his past) captured the original version of the post and made it available for reference. Why the change? Who knows? Perhaps Hoft feared a lawsuit, and wanted to keep his nose just clean enough to avoid any serious threat of prosecution for libel. Or maybe Hoft worried that people would realize that just mugging for the camera with gang signs isn’t indicative of actual gang membership, as Doktor Zoom pointed out in a hilarious post at Wonkette that includes this photo. Or maybe Hoft feared ridicule and loss of status from such an overstated histrionic headline. Whatever the reason for the change, thank the quick screen capping work of a couple of bloggers familiar enough with Hoft to think to archive the original that you even know about it. Zoom’s post at Wonkette additionally points out that Hoft also posted up (and later deleted, again without notice) this photo that is racing around the right-wing fever-swamps:

photo of man with gun and money in his mouth

Jodah Cain, NOT Michael Brown

Why’d Hoft delete this one? Because it’s a photo of a boy named Jodah Cain, taken in 2013, NOT Michael Brown. Again, I don’t think this screw-up would matter to Hoft, except for the potential it has to either besmirch his own reputation, or to discredit or harm Hoft’s cause. But the pattern’s the same: Hoft goes into these posts knowing the story he wants to tell, the cause he wants to advance…and so he’s willing to put up anything that he thinks accomplishes that. It’s also why Hoft’s perhaps, ah, not the world’s most stringent fact-checker, shall we say. Hoft is willing to bullshit himself – and certainly all of us – if necessary, in service of his agenda. He’ll tell the truth if it fits his narrative…but if the truth isn’t available to Hoft, that won’t stop him from advancing his point. He’ll say whatever he thinks makes his point best, regardless of its veracity. Doing so runs the risk for Hoft of repeatedly being caught in falsehoods, many of them obvious or coarse, and that can tend to make Hoft look stupid. But although he’s certainly no genius, Hoft’s probably not the stupidest man on the internet, because stupidity isn’t what’s driving him primarily. Zealotry is.

War On Blacks

As sad as Robin Williams’ succumbing to depression made me, the unfolding horror show in Ferguson, MO has made me even sadder – and sick at heart. Less than a week after the backwaters of the internet exploded with a ginned-up fear of a “war on whites” based on Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks’ now-infamous assertion to FOX host Laura Ingraham, yet more evidence of a genuine, continuing war on blacks reared its ugly head in Ferguson. Yet another late-teenage black male, completely unarmed, shot to death – this time by police – as he was running away.

I had already been feeling sick and angry about this most recent senseless killing all on my own, but this is the piece that crystallized it, really brought it home for me. Especially this part:

By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn’t deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It’s to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive. (emphasis mine)

Let that sink in for a moment. Really puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? Everyone was horrified at the Aurora shootings; horror and shock were the natural reactions to such sudden, inexplicable violence. But until just now, I’ll bet few people stopped to ask themselves why Holmes could undertake the actions he did…and walk away from it. That’s not to suggest that the official policy of any police department is to shoot first and ask questions later, even in cases of extreme violence. Police are taught to bring criminals to justice if it’s at all possible.

For example, in 2009, Richard Poplawski, a Stormfront.org regular who feared then-new President Obama was going to take away his rights, engaged in a four-hour shooting battle with Pittsburgh police. After killing three officers, Poplawski was eventually shot in the leg by police…and allowed to surrender. Similarly, in 2010, Byron Williams was so incensed by then FOX News host Glenn Beck’s constant rants against the little-known Tides Foundation that he armed himself heavily and was on the way to San Francisco home of the foundation. He was stopped on a local freeway before he could reach his destination or kill any innocents, after a shootout with police in which he fired at least ten rounds. The police expended a total of 198 rounds, several of which struck Williams…who was then allowed to surrender.

By contrast, Michael Brown tried to run away from the police after being shot once, but stopped 35 feet away from the patrol car after the officer fired a second shot. Then Brown (according to witnesses), shouted “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” Unfortunately, as the world knows by now, Brown – unlike white shooters Holmes, Poplawski and Williams – was not allowed to surrender. The still-unnamed officer shot Brown (who had his arms raised) a second time, killing him.

In light of such a disparity, it is impossible to deny, as Mr. Howard suggests in his piece, that there are reasons that go far beyond random happenstance why Michael Brown or Oscar Grant are dead, while actual criminals Holmes, Poplawski and Williams are in prison. Howard continues:

To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.

Indeed.

There is no greater privilege than knowing deep-down in a place you don’t even have to talk about with other people, that you will likely be given every benefit of the doubt even in the most extreme of situations or when you may be at your worst. And, I’d imagine, there are few fears greater than knowing that you almost certainly will not be given such consideration.

photo of Ferguson, MO protester

Sadly, No. We’re Not. Not Unless We’re Black. (photo credit: UPI)

***UPDATE*** I just learned that Michael Brown is not even the latest young, unarmed black man not given any benefit of the doubt by police in America. There’s even a tumblr now called If They Gunned Me Down…Which Picture Would They Use? Scores of young black people are posting side-by-side photos of themselves, one at their most youthful/rebellious…and one of them at their most mature and professional. Heartbreaking…and maddening.

Oh, and also? Just as the evidence keeps piling up even since Mike Brown’s death about how young black men are treated, there’s similarly no need to go as far back as Poplawski or Holmes to see how differently white men are treated. Here’s an example from this past Monday in Dallas, where a “sovereign citizen” named Douglas LeGuin broke into a gated subdivision, threatened an 8-year old girl and her babysitter, booby-trapped and set fire to the outside of their house, and told a 911 dispatcher that he had “seceded from the country” and was calling from the “independent republic of Doug-e-stan.” Then he set an ambush for the police, and started firing at them when they arrived.

When the SWAT team closed in on him, Mr. Dougie Doug from Doug-E-Stan was allowed to surrender, and is now in custody.

DCCC Is Sounding Desperate Now

photo of man with face in hands

I Can’t Believe We’re Not Gonna Retake The House!

Apparently, the email the DCCC recently sent out that attempted to sound like a collection agency wasn’t enough. Had you asked me, after receiving that one, whether I’d see anything worse from the DCCC in this campaign cycle, I’d have said no.

And I’d have been wrong.

This is Steve Israel’s DCCC, after all, and I suspect that, although they can’t and won’t admit such a thing during a crucial election cycle, even many inside the DCCC itself can see how bad the situation is shaping up to be. With this last email, the DCCC is sounding desperate.  Here’s a copy of the text of the email, with the reply/challenge I sent to them appended afterward [comments in brackets inside DCCC email are mine]:

On Jul 31, 2014, at 9:22 PM, BREAKING@dccc.org <dccc@dccc.org> wrote:

Subject: All Hope Is Lost [oooh, Armageddon-y. Hang on, let me put some apocalypso on the stereo, I'll be right back]

We’re nearly out of time — so we won’t waste any:

News just broke that Boehner shook down his Tea Party Republicans THIS MORNING for last-minute cash. Boehner knows that if he can beat us on tonight’s deadline — after everything that’s happened — then all hope will be lost for us to win a Democratic House.

To be blunt about it: There are just 96 days until the election. If we fall behind now, we can just throw in the towel on a Democratic House for President Obama’s final two years. [usual ALLCAPS appeal for specific dollar amount follows]

My response (race-specific data drawn from the always on-top-of-it Howie Klein of ActBlue and DownWithTyranny!):

No, you idiots, all hope for retaking the House is not lost because John Boehner might out-raise you on small donors by the artificial deadline of last night. All hope for retaking the House was lost some time ago, when Nancy Pelosi decided to re-up the disastrous Steve Israel as Chair of your organization, the DCCC.

Since then, Israel has *COMPLETELY* avoided spending any of the money you ask people like me for on contesting any of the following races:

• NY-02- Peter King (R+1)
• MI-06- Fred Upton (R+1)
• WA-08- Dave Reichert (R+1)
• FL-13- Dave Jolly (R+1)
• FL-27- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R+2)
• WI-08- Reid Ribble (R+2)
• WI-07- Sean Duffy (R+2)
• MN-03- Erik Paulsen (R+2)
• PA-07- Patrick Meehan (R+2)
• PA-15- Charlie Dent (R+2)
• MI-08- Mike Rogers (retiring) (R+2)
• WA-03- Jaime Herrera Beutler (R+2)
• NY-22- Richard Hanna (R+3)
• CA-25- Buck McKeon (retiring) (R+3)
• WI-01- Paul Ryan (R+3)
• OH-10- Michael Turner (R+3)

All of those Republicans are in districts that are WELL within striking range of a solid, well-funded Democratic challenger. But the DCCC is nowhere to be found, in any of them. Instead, Chairman Israel apparently feels he’ll have better success backing the following candidates in districts that are anywhere from R+4 to R+15 (15!!!):

• NE-02- Brad Ashford (R+4)
• MI-01- Jerry Cannon (R+5)
• IN-02- Joe Bock (R+6)
• MT-AL- John Lewis (R+7)
• AR-02- Patrick Henry Hays (R+8)
• OH-06- Jennifer Garrison (R+8)
• KY-06- Elisabeth Jensen (R+9)
• ND-AL- George Sinner (R+10)
• WV-02- Nick Casey (R+11)
• AR-01- Jackie McPherson (R+14)
• WV-01- Glen Gainer (R+14)
• AR-04- James Lee Witt (R+15)

I’ll tell you what. If *ANYONE* reading this (if indeed anyone at ALL reads it at the DCCC) can tell me convincingly which of the above races are MORE winnable than ANY of the ones from the first list, I will donate $100.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Lars Olsson


 

UPDATE: after hitting the send button (which I waited to do until this post was written), this is the (auto)response I received:

Delivery has failed to these recipients. The recipient’s mailbox is full and can’t accept messages now.

Good to know they’re on top of things.

DCCC Sends Out Some Serious Bullshit

I’ve always been a liberal/progressive. That means I’ve given money to the DCCC over the years, when I’ve been able to, and when I thought it was important. So I’ve been on “the list” (hell, many such lists) for quite some time. I also understand how political fundraising works (because I’ve done plenty in my day): most people – the vast majority – simply will not seek you out to send you money, so you have to ask. Often. Repeatedly. You have to be persistent.

Even by those standards, though, the sheer volume of email I receive from Democratic-affiliated groups (which are all in one way or another coordinated by either the DSCC, the DCCC or the DNC) is just excessive. I’ve seriously considered setting up some kind of meta-filter that sends fundraising appeals directly to their own mailbox, just to help retain my sanity and make me not hate the very organizations I’m supposed to be supporting.

Even chalking all that up to persistence, however, one thing you never do when asking someone for money is insult or offend the people you’re asking for money. I suppose it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a fundraising expert to realize this, but apparently they’ve yet to embrace this concept over at the DCCC. I say this because today, I received an email that really took the cake (from the DCCC, of course – click to embiggen if it’s hard to read):

screen-capture of DCCC fundraising email

Pay Up, See? Or Your “Membership” Gets It.

Seriously, DCCC? SERIOUSLY? This is just outright sleazy. Your best attempt to get me to voluntarily chip in to the cause…is to mimic a collection agency? Because that’s exactly what this is. From the FINAL NOTICE in all caps in the subject line to the same words capitalized, bolded and highlighted in the first sentence, to the danger-Will-Robinson red text of my name and the red box (“you owe this amount”), this thing reads like what the power company sends someone just before they turn off the electricity, or the way the collection agency the department store sold your debt to after you forgot to pay the bill addresses you.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the DCCC is currently still being run by the loathsome and counterproductive corporate/conservadem hack Steve Israel (D-NY), who’s giving Democrats throughout the country the likes of Republican-lite candidates like this to vote for…but I still was. So, congratulations, Congressman Israel – I did not think you could do any worse with the fundraising emails than you already were…but you managed to surprise (and repel) even someone as accustomed to and cynical about such things as me.  Also, as someone on Twitter remarked: “what are they going to do, dis-enroll you?”  Aside from being offensive, it’s just a stupid tactic. Congratulations all around.

Democrats ought to be in really great shape, going into the midterms where they’re on the defensive in both the House and Senate with genius like this at the helm.

How To Deal With Guns In Public

Lemme try to put this in language the gun-totin’ all-American tea-party patriots will understand:

Handguns are made for killin’
They ain’t no good for nothin’ else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself

~ Lynyrd Skynyrd, Saturday Night Special

I’ve always been politically-minded, for as long as I can remember. That means I’ve thought and/or written about most political issues repeatedly over the years, including the second amendment debate1. Without opening the whole “well-regulated militia” can of worms, I believe people have the right to own guns. Guns can be legitimately used for hunting, and although the evidence isn’t kind to the notion, if one wants to keep a gun in the house for defense, one has that right, too. According to the Supreme Court and many state legislatures, one also has the right to walk around openly carrying firearms, as well as concealed ones (if one has a permit, in states that require one).

It’s this latter right – the right to walk around armed to the teeth – that is increasingly problematic, by which I mean: dangerous. To prevent a howl of misplaced outrage from the second amendment extremists, I will stipulate that many people who carry weapons in public are perfectly law-abiding citizens who (as one was eager to point out to me recently) have never used their gun in anger or to commit crime or even, in many cases, at all except for target practice. But for years now, as the gun debate has ramped up and become increasingly vitriolic, it’s become harder and harder to tell the “good guys with guns” (to borrow Wayne LaPierre’s phrasing once again) from the “bad guys with guns.” Having argued with many gun partisans on Twitter, my sense of them is that many are deeply paranoid right wing cranks with severe anger issues, much like Jerad and Amanda Miller (the Las Vegas shooters) Richard Poplawski (the Pennsylvania cop-killer) and Byron Williams (the Glenn Beck-inspired would-be destroyer of the Tides Foundation).

Or, if those examples are too old for you, here’s another one from just this week:

On Monday, a 17-year-old neighbor asked Pickering to stop riding his lawn mower through her yard. The girl later told police that in recent weeks Pickering had repeatedly trespassed while riding his lawn mower and carrying a holstered pistol across her property, authorities said.

Later, at about 10 p.m., the teen stepped outside to check on her dog and saw a shadowy figure crouched down by a nearby pine tree. Before she could react, she was shot in her chest, right thigh and left ankle, according to the police report.

[...]

Pickering, according to the criminal complaint, told police he was angry that the teen, whom police say he referred to as a “bitch,” confronted him about riding his lawn mower. He said he went over to her house, hid in her yard and waited for her to emerge.

“I waited, and I waited, and I waited,” Pickering told police, according to the criminal complaint.

In other words, this guy was upset at a minor girl (17), so he simply attempted to execute her for having the temerity to tell him to keep his lawnmower off her lawn. He intentionally lay in wait for her, then (when she finally let her dog outside) he shot her from across the yard, not once, but three times – two after she fell. There’s no question whatsoever Pickering intended to murder this girl (since she’s a minor, the name of the victim is not being released, so for all we know, this could actually be her parents’ house/lawn – she’s potentially still in high school!).

photo of Chad Pickering with a gun

Just Another Good Guy With A Gun?

So what, right? Just a random nut, the exact kind of person that the “good guy with a gun” is there to prevent. No. Pickering’s Facebook page was taken down almost immediately, perhaps because whoever took it down didn’t want any of Pickering’s friends or relatives harassed. Or perhaps it was taken down to prevent journalists and the public from noticing images like the one at left, or pro-gun screeds like this one that Pickering approvingly retweeted, which were both caught just before his Facebook profile was removed.

After George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, I can remember thinking (and saying on Twitter) that although I doubted I’d ever have to make the choice, I would never, ever allow my young children anywhere near Zimmerman. This earned the predictable push-back from gun-rights supporters: Zimmerman was found not guilty, he’s the guy trying to keep people like you safe, etc. But the reality, as displayed by Zimmerman’s subsequent brushes with the law, is that George Zimmerman is a none-too-stable individual with a vigilante complex and a weapon. It’s this latter point – the gun – that made Zimmerman so dangerous to Trayvon Martin and continues to make him dangerous. There are plenty of dissatisfied, angry people out there with chips on their shoulders about everything from taxes to ex-wives to employers to fractional reserve banking. They may be dangerous or they may not, and it’s certainly true that any person who’s bent on harming another person can always find any number of implements available in the surrounding environment with which to inflict harm. But the simple reality of the power of guns is: put a gun in an angry person’s hands, and he becomes orders of magnitude more dangerous. Guns are simply far more dangerous and lethal than virtually anything else one sees in normal daily life. Toddlers finding daddy’s guns can kill one another with ease by mistake, and frequently do. Frail, 80-year old people can slaughter grizzly bears with the right gun. Guns are meant to kill, as simply and efficiently as possible, period – and they’re very good at that one job.

That’s why seeing someone walking around visibly carrying a gun doesn’t fill me with a sense of safety. It fills me with uncertainty and trepdation: how am I to know whether the person who just walked into the restaurant where my children and I are eating lunch is just going about his lawful business while choosing to carry a firearm for protection, or a dangerous right-wing crank, hopped up on specious fantasies of Obama coming to take his guns away and about to start a massacre? Or merely a garden-variety criminal, no longer bothering to conceal the weapon he’s planning to use in the commission of a felony, because the laws now say open carry is just fine, and he knows that until he begins committing his crime, he looks just like any other “good guy with a gun?” Or perhaps this open-carrier has been a “good guy with a gun” for years…but on this particular night, he’s been drinking, or just had a bad breakup, or any number of other issues that simply push him over the edge?

This week, Wonkette flagged a fascinating piece from a philosophy professor from the University of North Dakota named Jack Russell Weinstein. Weinstein’s piece concerns how to deal with guns in public, and is right up the same alley as my own thinking. It also comes at the perfect time to address these open carry extremists:

It is rational to be afraid of someone with a weapon, especially if you know nothing about them…There really is no legitimate way of determining intent. So, what should we do?

My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.

But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just received food from the deli counter that can’t be resold. It doesn’t matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.

As Weinstein notes,

Following this procedure has several advantages. First, it protects people. Second, it forces the businesses to really choose where their loyalties are. If the second amendment is as important as people claim, then people should be willing to pay for it.

Indeed.

Of course, Weinstein’s post went viral almost immediately – or at least, as soon as second amendment extremists got wind of it – and Weinstein was deluged in the comments section of his previously-sleepy little philosophy blog with predictable rage from those very same second-amendment extremists. Which only served to reinforce his point: there is absolutely no reliable way to determine the intent of a person who’d walk into a public place – store, park, restaurant – with a loaded gun. At least, there’s no way to determine their intent until it’s much too late, if they turn out to be violent. A gun rights activist would argue that’s all the more reason for me - and everyone else – to carry a weapon at all times…but that only presents more problems in determining who’s the good guy. Me? I agree with Professor Weinstein: guns are dangerous inherently (casual misuse results in plenty of injuries and even deaths), and guns in the hands of persons of unknown mental stability in public places equals me not wanting to be in – or patronize – those places.


Footnotes:

Show 1 footnote

  1. STANDARD DISCLAIMER, TO PRE-EMPT TYPICAL, TEDIOUS GUN RIGHTS’ PARTISANS’ ARGUMENTS:

    Yes, I have handled guns. I remember going shooting and hunting with my father as a boy. I’ve used a .22 rifle, .38 and .357 pistols, 20 and 12GA shotguns and a bolt-action .30-06, so I’m not at all unfamiliar with guns personally. This often seems to matter a great deal to second amendment extremists, but in my opinion it hardly matters at all. One of the weakest arguments from the gun-rights crowd I hear on Twitter and elsewhere is the “you’ve-never-shot-a-gun-so-your-opinion-is-invalid” line of reasoning. This is just as insane as saying that you can’t oppose starvation unless you’ve personally experienced it: in other words, it is simple nonsense.

    While there are many types of guns with different calibers, “stopping power,” etc, they’re all essentially the same thing: a means of projecting a small chunk or chunks of metal by explosive force through a metal tube rapidly enough to kill humans and most animals from a considerable distance. That’s what guns ARE, and it doesn’t take a PhD or a lifetime of handling them to understand this fact, or to have valid opinions about guns. Attempting to declare someone’s opinion about these simple machines invalid because they don’t know the difference between automatic and semi-automatic or can’t define “carbine” is just inane…not to mention D-grade logic. But yes, gunloons, to preempt one of your silliest objections, I know my way around a gun.

When Does Life Begin?

I ran across something on Twitter I’d never even heard of before, let alone seen in the wild. Maybe that means I need to get out more. On the other hand, if this is representative of what I’ll find, I’m not sure I want to (click to see on Twitter):

GORE-1.png

As you can see, this is someone I follow on Twitter. Someone I usually find myself in agreement with. It was a compelling enough tweet to follow the linked article. The headline read: “14-Year-Old Girl Arrested For Secretly Giving Birth In Bathroom, Killing Son And Throwing Him Away,” and, with a headline like that, the details of the story are every bit as ugly as you expect (from a news report at the time):

The girl, who is a ninth- grader at Kathleen High School, told detectives she went into the bathroom, placed a towel in her mouth and turned on the water to hide any noise she might make during delivery.

At one point, labor pains were so intense she took a pair of scissors to “pry the baby out,” she told detectives. She eventually delivered a 9.5-pound, 20.4-inch baby boy alive.

Goodson told detectives she could feel the baby’s pulse. She then put her hands around the infant’s neck and squeezed for about a minute until he wasn’t moving or breathing, Judd said.

Is this a horrible tragedy for everyone involved (girl, baby, girl’s parent’s and siblings, community)? Unquestionably. Do I feel sympathy for this girl? Heck, yes. Goodson clearly deserves mental help. Does she deserve a medal for being brave enough to bring this baby all the way to term (hiding it from everyone in the process) and then strangling it with her bare hands, but *NOT* bring brave enough to tell her mother or a teacher or counselor or clergy person or other trusted adult months earlier that she was pregnant?

Um, no. Just NOTelling someone she was pregnant: that would have been the truly brave – and difficult – thing to do.

I am staunchly pro choice chiefly because I believe bodily autonomy is paramount: women have (or should have) the right not to be forced to incubate and bear children. No person, fetus, child or adult, has the right to use another’s body in any way without the other person’s consent. It’s why courts don’t compel organ donations even if it would save a life, if the donor doesn’t want to donate. And yes,  the same reasoning forms one of the foundational arguments of the right of women to abortion. Had Goodson told someone or called Planned Parenthood months earlier after she knew she was pregnant but when there was still time to have a safe and legal abortion, she would not now be facing jail time.

But seeing the above type of sentiment makes me want to sincerely ask the people who display such sympathy for the young pregnant girl that they call for awarding her a medal for her actions, while simultaneously not mentioning anything at all (sympathy or otherwise) about the living, breathing life snuffed out intentionally the following question: at what age (of the child) should a woman’s right to choose to end its life without judicial consequence stop? Does one have to still have the child’s umbilical cord attached to one’s own body (as Goodson apparently did) in order to kill a child without facing a manslaughter charge? Or can a woman kill her infant if (s)he is a day old? How about a week old? A month? How about Casey Anthony’s kid’s age?

I am not attempting to get intentionally hyperbolic about this with that last statement, and of course I think everyone agrees Casey Anthony’s two year-old was clearly murder…but I include it because calling for a bravery medal for a child who strangled her own baby to death is so far beyond what I thought were the boundaries of the abortion question that I honestly can’t venture a guess how someone who’d suggest such a thing would answer the question: “when does life begin?” Every country on earth has laws against taking life. The circumstances and punishments vary dramatically, but if the answer to when life begins” isn’t “birth”…then I cannot imagine what other answer someone might give to that question. Unfortunately, I needn’t have waited:

photo of tweet from GeohareeNewborns. That’s not a scientific definition that I’m aware of, so it may be subject to interpretation and therefore misunderstanding or disagreement, but many manufacturers of baby clothes have sizes that go: newborn, 3-6 months, 6-12 months, etc. That yardstick would add on the first three months of a baby’s life to a woman’s right to (I guess retroactive) abortion outlined in the tweet above. If you go by weight, “newborn” is often classified as 5-9lbs by the onesie manufacturers. Heck, by that scale, Goodson’s baby, at 9.5 lbs at birth, already wouldn’t have qualified.

Abortion should be legal, unstigmatized and included as part of basic health plan coverage, including government-provided health care, just as the above tweet says. No woman who wants or needs an abortion should be forced to go without. But calling newborns “not human” until such time as that comes to pass is simply not acceptable. It calls to mind some of the worst of human behavior – which, strangely enough, almost always seems to be in service of a cause, not merely about passion or greed.

Our culture allows a fair degree of flexibility in dealing with even such a serious crime as murder if the perpetrator is demonstrably mentally disturbed (“not guilty by reason of insanity”). Or at least, we used to – and I think we still should. But sentencing someone to a facility instead of hard time is something that happens after the killer has undergone a trial at which their mental issues have been fully determined. No consequence whatsoever – not even a trial – for ending another’s life just isn’t an option. And cheering the intentional killing of someone as an event worthy of a medal of bravery is simply flat-out abhorrent. There’s just no other way to say it.

Judgment Day Coming To Kansas?

photo of roosting chickens

Cluck You, Governor Brownback

Are the chickens going to be coming home to roost in Kansas this fall? A new SurveyUSA poll suggests it’s a strong possibility:

Brownback is fighting for his life. Democratic challengers Paul Davis and Jill Docking today lead the former U.S. Senator and current Governor, 47% to 41%. 1 in 4 registered Republicans today defects and votes for the Davis/Docking Democratic ticket. By contrast, Davis/Docking holds 89% of the Democratic base. Independents break Democratic by 19 points. Brownback’s weakness among men, where he leads Davis by a nominal 1 point, cannot overcome the Democratic ticket’s strength among women, where Davis/Docking leads by 14 points.

Some back-story (and why I think it’s important) after the jump.

Continue reading →

Fire Boehner?

This is the hashtag which has caught suspiciously quick and omnipresent fire on Twitter this evening: #FireBoehner. Fire Boehner? Fine by me…if it can actually be accomplished. Only, it can’t. And it’s the (likely, though unprovable) source of this hashtag that is making me stabby this evening.

Let’s remember: the teabaggers have attempted to “fire Boehner” repeatedly. In fact, it’s a recurring theme. They wanted to in 2011, in 2012, and in 2013. There isn’t much reason to think the tinfoil underpants wing of what remains nominally the GOP has changed in that respect. But it’s not them who’s calling for Boehner’s ouster this evening. No, all the tweets hashtagged with #FireBoehner come from the left side of my Twitter feed. That is, likely the Democrats, or some lame-ass social media group associated with liberals or Democrats, most likely UniteBlue. I’m too lazy to search back to the beginning of the tag to find out which. But clearly The Message Has Been Sent Out, and, by the droves, The Faithful are responding:

FireBoehner, Pat Fuller

 

Eric Wolfson

J Rowe 2014-06-29 at 8.47.08 PM

J Rowe 2014-06-29 at 8.47.08 PM Tinabobeena 2014-06-29 at 8.49.17 PM

ElectHillary 2014-06-29 at 8.50.58 PM

Staaaaahhhhp.

Seriously, stop. You look like leftmmings. All of these tweets are time-stamped within fifteen minutes — and those are just the first few I came across. There’s likely plenty more, all from nominally “lefty” sources. But here’s the thing: John Boehner won’t be “fired” unless the teabagger faction joins with enough Democrats to overrule the establishment Republicans, and even if they do that – which they won’t – the very next question is who becomes Speaker. Do ANY of you Demmings really think enough teabaggers are going to be disgruntled enough with Boehner to re-install Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of a House that is still substantially GOP-controlled? Either you haven’t considered that question, or you’re actually so leadheaded you consider it a possibility. It isn’t. Not even a smidgen. Sure, John Boenher ought to be (as Berke Breathed said of his fictional “Senator Bedfellow” long ago) “dipped in Gravy Train and fed to a pack of crazed poodles”…but he. won’t. be. Not by a GOP-controlled house, no matter how tea-stained it is. So quit acting like idiots. No, not like idiots, like fucking automatons, wound up with the damn thumbscrew in your back and sent into motion by…whomever.