Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 5,515
Number of posts: 5,515
I hear these questions in the media, social and otherwise, and I'm just going to answer them here:
"How come we can lock down an entire major east coast city over a bomber, but cannot get pitifully basic gun regulations through Congress? Why is something like Newtown, or like the New Orleans parade massacre, not treated the same way we treat incidents labeled as 'terrorism'?"
Well, this is an important question. It has a simple but terrifying answer:
Terrorism is a threat to the state. Gun violence, so far--and Republican rhetoric being what it is, we don't know how long this will remain true--is a threat to the citizens. The state, like any other institution, looks out for itself first. The state protects itself far more efficiently than it protects individual citizens.
"Why isn't the New Orleans parade considered a national tragedy on the order of the Boston marathon bombing?"
The Guardian piece that is currently asking this question gives us many useful answers, most of them boiling down to: New Orleans is poor and black and so the white middle-class Americans who are the target audience for media coverage do not care what happens there. I would refine this only slightly:
In general, in the eyes of enfranchised Americans--by which I mean that group of reasonably affluent Americans who are educated and compensated well enough to be full participants in the political system--the heinousness of a crime is not really determined by objective and measurable consequences. Enfranchised Americans divide crime into two categories: crimes committed against enfranchsied Americans, and crimes committed by the disenfranchised against each other. The second category--the disenfranchised attacking each other--is "normal." It can be explained by precisely the things that disenfranchse people: poverty, low educational level, unemployment, the environmental crime infesting low-income neighborhoods, etc. Though nobody acknowledges this openly any more, for many enfranchised Americans race is also one of the things that defines "normal" crime. Crime committed in low-income, depressed, blighted, overwhelmingly non-white areas of a city is 'normal'--even if in terms of individual motives it makes no fricking sense--whereas crime committed in higher-rent districts is extraordinary. This is why Newtown is a national tragedy, and the individual shootings of children that go on every day in Chicago is 'normal.' The kids at Sandy Hook were *supposed to be safe.* Kids on the Chicago south side, well, they are not safe, but that's 'normal.'
I owe this insight partly to the opening of Patricia Cornwell's 1990 novel _Postmortem,_ where her narrator/detective Kay Scarpetta lays this out in unusually blunt language in the opening chapter. Alas I cannot quote the passage from memory. But the passage is part of Scarpetta's explanation for why the murders she's investigating--all of professional women, in their own homes, tied up in an ingeniously sadistic way so that when the murderer rapes them they are strangled at the same time--garner so much attention. Murder in the poor and Black areas of the city, she explains, is normal. But these women, no, they are "somebody's sister, somebody's girlfriend, somebody's mother," etc. I imagine one out of about one thousand readers of that passage maybe stops to wonder what it takes, in this world, to become "somebody," as opposed to the nobodies who are losing their own loved ones to 'normal' crime.
All this contributes to the idea that crime amongst middle-class white people--especially if, as in the case of Newtown, it is also committed by middle-class white people--is somehow worse and more important and more devastating because it is 'crime out of place.' It's crime crossing the borders that are supposed to contain it. When people talk endlessly about the 'senselessness' of such crimes, part of what they are saying is that in the absence of poverty and all its problems (and, depending on who you're talking to, in the absence of brownness or blackness) crime does not 'make sense.'
I find this incredibly frustrating. To me murder never makes sense. Human life is so much more important than any of the reasons people take it, 'rational' or otherwise. To most everyone else in this country, murder is 'rational' (though deplorable) when it is committed for material gain (whether money, security, or power) and irrational otherwise (when committed either out of pleasure or compulsion, or where there is nothing obviously gained by it at all). And so a murderer like Adam Lanza provokes national fear and national curiosity, whereas a child killed by a man with a gun on the south side for equally nonsensical reasons is written off as part of an existing and comfortable narrative about 'normal crime,' such as the ever-popular "gang-related violence."
All crime is extroardinary to the people it happens to. It becomes 'normal' only at a distance. The farther away from you it seems, the more normal it gets.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Thu May 16, 2013, 08:48 AM (1 replies)
So glad this is over. So very glad.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Fri Apr 19, 2013, 09:32 PM (11 replies)
Mrs. Plaidder and I have decided to put some money into the cause. I thought I would consult the collective re the best way to get, as it were, the least bang for our buck.
There is the Brady Campaign, which has a track record. Then there are MoveOn and the other similar organizations from which I get approximately 1000 emails a day asking me to donate money to fight gun violence. However, it appears that the money you give to such organizations is usually fungible--in other words, there is no way to ensure that the money you donate actually goes to the cause you're interested in as opposed to entering the giant donation pool from which the organization draws. Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence is new and it's hard to know how effective they are.
We are working the Google, of course; but if any of you are already working with/supporting an organization dedicated to this issue, I would be interested to hear your opinion of where a donation will do the most good, and no doubt other DUers would too.
Thanks in advance,
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Sat Feb 16, 2013, 04:28 PM (5 replies)
It is depressing how very little he is really proposing, and yet how hard it will be to get even that much done.
I took the unusual step of buying <i>Rolling Stone</i> this week for the sake of their article, "The NRA vs. America." It was so discouraging it took me three tries to get through it. Briefly, what is wrong with our public policy on gun violence is what is wrong with all of American policy: it is dictated, through lobbying and the massive floods of campaign cash that go with it, by the industry owners, with no regard whatsoever to whether it is good for the American people. This fact happens to be more obvious re the NRA because what the gun industry promotes is so obviously and violently harmful to the body politic. But basically, a serious change in policy will require us to solve the problem of corporate ownership of the legislative process--a problem that has resisted most attempts to solve it so far.
But this is also good news, I guess, in that if the country remains highly motivated to deal with the issue of gun violence, then eventually that process will teach us how to cut an industry lobbying group off at the knees. And this would be information that could be usefully applied to other desperately important issues which have been stymied by industry lobbying, such as, I don't know, climate change.
Let's hope the new Congress is more effective than the old one,
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Tue Feb 12, 2013, 11:50 PM (6 replies)
Now tell me what we can do about it.
That is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. Unless your answer is "express outrage in online fora," because I've tried that and there is never any material result.
Also, if your answer is "public protest," I've tried that one too. The number of people in this country that you can get together for a march to prevent an actual, overt, about-to-be-declared war, such as the war in Iraq, is too small to make any political or media impact. The number of people you're going to be able to get together to protest a memo authorizing future abuses of power is going to be even smaller.
Fundamentally, most Americans do not care what we do in the rest of the world. It doesn't matter how atrocious it is. Violence done by our military against other people does not matter to most Americans. Yes, you would think that the knowledge that they can be targeted for death without due process once they leave US soil would make most Americans think that this is an issue that affects them. But they will not. You watch. Most Americans will think, well, I'm not working with Al Qaeda, nobody is going to kill ME in a drone attack. And really, most of them will be right. The purpose of this memo is not to terrorize American tourists. Its purpose is to remove limits on the use of force against people identified by the administration as enemies of the country. Or, naturally, of their administration. And most Americans will not fall into that category, because most Americans are not involved or even very well aware of what their government does overseas.
Yes, I'm angry about the way the Obama administration has betrayed the promises they made about restoring human rights and liberties after the Bush era. I'm very angry about the fact that Guantanamo Bay is still open. I'm angry about the drone strikes in general and angry about this memo too. Plenty of anger over here. What I do not have is faith that anything can be done about this. And another thing I do not believe is that anybody who does NOT fall in line with this foreign policy could ever or will ever become President of the United States.
Belief in the right of the US to be supreme military and economic ruler of the world is a prerequisite for that office. Things like your party affiliation or your race or your gender are much less important, in terms of your ultimate chances, than signing on to this hideously durable version of American exceptionalism.
Yes. It is bad. I do not need to be told that it is bad. I want to know how it is ever going to get any better.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Thu Feb 7, 2013, 02:07 PM (0 replies)
This has been one humdinger of a Christmas season.
I don't know about you all, but I have not felt this far away from "peace on Earth, goodwill toward men" since the beginning of the Iraq war. I still think about Sandy Hook every day; the deaths of those children haunt me every time I look at my own. And now there is this horrible thing in upstate New York.
Here is the only thing that will make Christmas work for me this year: believing that on the other side of it is the beginning of change. That we will in fact come together around gun violence and that maybe this time next year there will be no shootings at malls, no shootings at elementary schools, no snipings at volunteer firefighters. Maybe this time next year it will be harder for people who want to kill other people to get their hands on guns. Maybe that will be this Christmas's gift to next Christmas.
I've been thinking about what I want to have happen in the coming months. What I want, first of all, is to see the power of the gun lobby broken. I would like for accepting campaign money from the gun industry or its advocates to become as politically toxic as accepting campaign money from the KKK. I want all the lobbyists who work for the gun industry to become well-known to the public and I want any politician who is seen having lunch with one or attending one of their cocktail parties to be publicly shamed and electorally punished. I want it to be impossible for the NRA to hold a rally without attracting a massive protest. I want the people who have bought and shaped and rammed through Congress and the individual state legislatures the ruinous policies that have led to an epidemic of gun violence which has been a problem for a long damn time before this Christmas season to be treated the same way we treat other predators who hurt children.
Because I think that is what it will take before we see real reform coming from the politicians. Change doesn't come from them. We make change, and we make the change visible, and we make the change unavoidable, and then they finally follow us.
I believe it can be done. Maybe even by next Christmas. As long as we don't forget what this one was like.
Celebrate what you can, mourn what you have lost, and I'll see you on the other side of Christmas. I will be looking for ways to make this happen. I hope that together we will find them.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Mon Dec 24, 2012, 08:49 PM (4 replies)
So the NRA's solution to school shootings is more guns. Well, that figures. That's the NRA's solution to everything. And that's because the NRA's mission is to sell guns. As many as possible. No matter who it kills.
The idea of arming elementary schools is ridiculous on its face. It is worse than that; it is terrifying. If you cannot send your kid to school without an armed guard, you are living in a failed state. And our state may indeed be failing; but giving the NRA more power and more access to our children is only going to accelerate the decline.
Legislative efforts to control the proliferation of lethal weapons in this country are underway, and we need to support them as much as we can. But while that unavoidably messy process takes place, here's one thing we can do: start calling the NRA out for what it is.
It is an organization that exists in order to sell as many lethal weapons to as many people in this country as possible. It is an organization that has bought large numbers of our politicians, and intimidated a large number of others, in order to make itself more money by selling more lethal weapons. It is an organization that is holding the rest of the country hostage in order to increase its coffers. What the NRA does is create a climate in which ordinary citizens of something which is not SUPPOSED to be a failed state are nevertheless at risk of being gunned down in public places. What the NRA does is buy or intimidate our politicians in order to stifle proposals for common-sense gun control which, if the experience of other industrialized nations is any guide, would lead to fewer people being killed by gun violence in this country. What the NRA does is endanger us for their own profit.
What the NRA does is inimical to the public health and to the well-being of this country and its citizens.
The law cannot destroy the NRA. What is going to destroy it is public opinion. And something we can do--those of us who accept the evidence that suggests that more guns means more violence and not less--is help shift public opinion.
It's already happening. Somehow last Friday was the last straw for a lot of people. We can help it along. At the very least, we can stop being afraid to talk about gun control.
Do not worry about "politicizing the tragedy." This is bullshit thrown at you by the gun lobby, who have a strong interest in preventing people from expressing the outrage, shock, grief, and anger that we all feel when we see one of these mass shootings erupt and are reminded of who is holding us and our children hostage. The idea is to make us feel bad for wanting to actually DO something about this problem, as if taking action to ensure that this horrific thing never happens again is somehow disrespectful to the victims. I personally cannot think of any more useful way of honoring their memory than working to ensure that no other six-year-old ever has to die this way. I believe that the most effective way to accomplish this would be to reduce the number of guns in this country. If the NRA wants to call that "politicizing the tragedy," that's the NRA's prerogative. I would rather help stop the next tragedy from happening than worry about what the NRA thinks of my manners.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Fri Dec 21, 2012, 12:58 PM (58 replies)
and then i will be on my way:
If indeed God exists, then God IS in the schools. What is not in the schools is your church. And that is as it should be.
I don't know if I count as a "person of faith." My belief in the existence of God is day to day. Nevertheless, I was raised Catholic, and go to church, and am having actually a surprising number of conversations with my daughter about God these days, and when I see someone like Mike Huckabee trotting this "God did this to punish us for abandoning Him" bullshit out, all I can say is: to say that God is not in our schools just because public schools do not coerce our children into praying to God in language of which you approve is not only an insult to our children and their teachers, but an insult to God. And when you say that this putative absence of God from our schools is responsible for the mass-murder of 20 children and 6 of their teachers and administrators, that goes way past insulting, offensive, or any of the other terms we normally use to describe an asinine public comment from an asinine elected official.
Because if God exists, then God has to be bigger than your petty political bullshit. If an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent God exists, then God cannot possibly be bound by your tiny-hearted rules or your tunnel vision. If such a God exists, then neither you nor I can tell that God where to be or what to do or who to bless.
If such a God exists, that God would not slaughter twenty children out of some kind of generalized anger or nonsensical logic. That is the kind of thing human beings do.
If God exists, then God is with and in our children and their teachers, whether or not they are saying what you think they should be saying, whether or not they believe what you believe. If God exists, then God is with us at the worst and darkest times of our lives--not to miraculously intervene and save the innocent from evil, because clearly in this world that does not happen, but to love and sustain and bear witness to the suffering of those who are beyond the reach of human help and comfort. If God exists, then God was with and in the children in those classrooms at Sandy Hook, with and in those who lived and with those who died. If God exists, then God was with and in the adults who risked and gave their lives for those children. If God exists, then God is with them all now, the living and the grieving and the dead.
And I really hope right now that God does exist, because there are a lot of people out there who need more help than humans can give.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Wed Dec 19, 2012, 01:15 PM (10 replies)
Dear President Obama,
I am always ready with the critique when the occasion arises, so on this horrible occasion, I want to say: thank you for what you said at the Newtown vigil.
I have been, since Friday, attempting to put something into words about this. I gave up many times because I was too angry, because all I wanted to do whenever I saw one of those 30-year-old pro-gun arguments pop up was to grab the person making it, shake that person, and scream, "HOW MANY MORE PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY HAVE TO DIE FOR YOUR BULLSHIT?!"
I have been trying to understand this horrible thing that keeps happening ever since Jonesboro, ever since Columbine. I have written about it here and there but of course nothing I write makes a difference to anyone.
However, in your eighteen minutes at Newtown, you finally said some things that I have known for a long time and which I honestly thought I was never going to hear from a high-level American politician. Such as:
1) This is not and cannot be acceptable.
2) Something can be done and something is going to be done. I think we can all guess what one of those things is going to be.
3) Periodic mass shootings at schools, movie theaters, malls, and temples are not a price we should be willing to pay for whatever "freedoms" the second amendment is supposedly protecting.
4) Yes, it is a complex problem with many causes. But we can do better than this.
5) Yes, it is impossible to prevent every act of gun violence. But we can do better than this.
6) Yes, politicians have been afraid to touch gun control for fear of the political and, let's face it, the potentially violent consequences of getting on the wrong side of the gun lobby. Colleagues of mine on both sides of the aisle, get your statesman pants on, because we can do better than this.
7) If we can't do better than this we have just failed as a nation, a government, and a society.
8) The lives and saftey of our children are more important than our guns.
All right, so I'm paraphrasing, and making explicit some things that were only implied. Still. Thank you for implying them.
This is leadership. It is something you are uniquely qualified to do. Unlike the rest of us, you can change things by standing up there and saying all of this. So thank you.
There are many "debates" that we don't have any more because the arguments that were on the wrong side have finally become so patently invalid and so obviously unjust that nobody is willing to make them in public any more. We no longer debate, as people in this country once did, for real, seriously, whether slavery is morally justifiable or not. We no longer debate whether women deserve the right to vote. Someday, God willing, we will no longer debate whether climate change is happening or that action needs to be taken to stop it. And what I hope is that your speech is the beginning of the end of the "debate" about whether or not the fact that our country is awash in unimaginably lethal weapons is related to the fact that these unimaginably lethal weapons kill so goddamned many of us and our children.
I have a five year old child. Her world needs to be better than this.
And you are right. Once you have a child, you are connected to all children. Once you have a child, to hear of the death of any other child is suddenly so much more horrible than it was before. Because you feel, it is not an intellectual or ethical thing, you feel the life being sucked out of you as you imagine yourself as that child's parent. Some people very close to me lost an infant a few years ago and I will tell you that just being in the same room as a parent grieving for a child is enough to burn your heart to cinders. I do not know how they lived through it; I do not now how the parents at Sandy Hook are living through it. I do not know how the parents who lose children to gang violence, to drug violence, to all the ways in which poverty becomes danger, live through it.
And the only thing that will make me feel any better is to be able to hope that after this, something will finally be done to ensure that fewer and fewer people in this country have to live through it.
I know there will be people flocking to the comments to tell me how guns are not the problem. I do not care. For me, the 'debate' is already dead. Water is wet, slavery is wrong, women are equal to men, the climate is changing, and the harder it is for people to get their hands on guns in this country, the less often we and our children will be shot to death.
You will be facing much more serious resistance in the coming months. I hope you are ready for it. I am going to try to believe that you will, and that this will make the rest of our elected officials a little stronger than they have been.
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Mon Dec 17, 2012, 12:44 PM (5 replies)
The opening of the annual spending season fills me with extra dread this year.
Over the years I have come to find the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas ever more depressing. It's not because of the demands made on me personally; my family engaged in some crucial talks a few years ago that led to a dramatic reduction in the number of gifts that had to be purchased by each adult member. Basically we do a secret santa with one other person in the family and then buy presents for the kids. It's just the whole climate we enter the day after Thanksgiving--or, now, the evening of--in which it seems like every form of media that exists and every retail outlet on the planet joins forces to compel us all to exhaust ourselves as day after day we trudge to their big boxes to buy their stuff. The rhetoric about "holiday cheer" has gone way past being insincere and hollow to being full-on dystopian. Someone once said of Shostakovich's 5th symphony that it sounds as if someone is telling the orchestra, "You must rejoice, you must go on rejoicing." The animated series Ren & Stimpy had something called a Happy Helmet which, when one of the characters put it on, forced him to emit the most grotesque expressions of coerced glee. I think of both of these things every time I hear someone on the radio or TV orgasming over the "great deal" s/he just got on their holiday shopping.
How did this happen? At what point did the holiday season become a forced march--a test of your ability to endure day after day of compelled consumption? And why is it so difficult for us to refuse to participate? After all, there is no legal penalty for failing to shop. Obviously part of it is the diabolical way in which the act of consumption has been fused with the expression of love and affection. To refuse to buy is to refuse to give and to risk really hurting the people you want to make happy. But since all the people we give to are compelled to do their own buying, surely there is some form of collective action we could take that would liberate us from all this--as my family eventually did when enough members of it decided it was all just getting too crazy.
As a society, however, we are not good at that kind of thing. It's very difficult to pull off a successful boycott, for instance. We are not encouraged to think of our buying power as a political tool, and any attempt to use it that way--even an attempt which is acknowledged as mostly or purely symbolic--typically provokes intense resistance. Back during the BP spill in the Gulf, I posted about boycotting BP, and was unsurprised though still dismayed at the amount of energy people put into explaining why this would be wrong. On the individual level we all make choices about which marketing messages we will resist and to which we will yield. But collectively, it's pretty rare for people to get together and say, as a group, you know what, we're not buying that.
But some kind of resistance is surely called for at this point. Black Friday is now trying to colonize Thanksgiving night; Christmas merchandise begins appearing right after Halloween. The season of compulsory spending seeks to extend itself, chipping away at the time, energy, and money we might otherwise use to actually create the sense of family and community connection that the retail sector promises we can purchase along with holiday door-busting deals.
I know this is all supposed to stimulate the economy. But I guess I am coming around to the idea that this in itself is the problem: the fact that our economic model mandates continuous consumption. It's more obvious during the holiday season because the marketers' appropration of Christmas and its secular penumbra gives it all a weirdly religious aspect; it's as if we're not just servicing the economy, but propitiating some kind of capitalist god. But at all times and everywhere, it's purchase or perish; if we don't buy, nobody gets paid, and if you are not getting paid, there is no place for you in this world any more.
How can it be otherwise, you ask.
I don't know. But I feel like we need to answer this question because the process of turning the planet into crap that can be bought and sold is slowly but surely making the place uninhabitable. If we cannot find the personal and political will necessary to change not just what and how we consume but the structural importance of consumption in our economy, then we cannot address the causes of climate change.
This is a terrifying thing to realize. Conservation and electric cars and solar power and all that are all very important and hopeful; but bottom line, if we want to save ourselves we have to learn how to control what we buy and what we use...and I look around at this time of the year, and I see no evidence that we have the ability or the desire to do this.
See, all y'all who have been asking where I've been for the past 3-4 years? I've been getting less and less sanguine about the possibility of two-party politics enabling us to do the things that we desperately need to do to preserve human life on this planet. Now that we have warded off hte undeniable increase in BAD that would have been a Romney presidency, it's back to this again: winning the horse race doesn't necessarily solve the problems.
Can we talk abotu climate change now? Can we talk about consumption now? Can we push back on commercial control of our lives long enough to find some alternatives? Can we talk about how to make possible the massive changes in human behavior that will be necessary if we are to keep human existence bearable? No? This is impractical? This is not pragmatic? This is idealism and has no place in the world of realpolitik? Well, OK; but then really, what IS the point of politics if we have to give up on getting our representatives to take any of this seriously?
And this is why, now that election season is over, you will probably see less of me. A presidential election you can do something about. But these other things desperately need to be done...and I cannot imagine how they will become possible.
Then again, a lot's become possible in the past 4 years that I would never have expected. So maybe this will change too. Meanwhile I guess I will go dig out all my Christmas music and remind myself that there are some other things that happen at this time of year.
ho ho ho,
The Plaid Adder
Posted by Plaid Adder | Tue Nov 27, 2012, 06:49 PM (2 replies)