Thursday, December 3, 2015

San Bernadino: This is the new normal

My wife and I exchanged emails early last Wednesday afternoon. At one point I could practically hear the anguish in her voice: “When will it stop!?”

It won’t, of course. Ever. San Bernadino is just another in a long line of multi-death shootings that stretches interminably into the future. This time it wasn’t terrorists or a deranged loner; this one seemed like the garden variety disgruntled fellow employee; more Post Office and Columbine than Century 16 or Sandy Hook.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Welcome to the new normal. Politicians will grimly swear we’re not going to take this any more, and gun sales will spike again (because that somehow makes us feel safer, buying a handgun and then locking it in a safe in the closet) but everyone knows, deep inside, this is the new normal.

And, really, it’s not that bad. Certainly not as bad as the carnage on America’s highways. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some statistics.

First, from the Mass Shooting Tracker, an online tracker that claims to have accurate statistics.  As of Oct. 1, there had been 294 mass shootings, in which 379 people were killed. That’s about 1.3 deaths per shooting, or about 47.375 deaths per month. When you break it down, it’s not so bad! And considering that some of those shootings involved a lot more than 1.3 deaths, that means there are a bunch of them that didn’t kill anybody. In fact, according to the MST, about 42 percent of all mass shootings don’t result in any fatalities at all. That’s Charlie Sheen-style winning!

And the fatality rate for mass shootings is nothing compared the fatality rate of auto accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 30,057 fatal highway crashes in America in 2014, which killed 32,719 people. And I think we’ll agree that seems to be a perfectly acceptable level of tragedy, considering that nobody’s proposing the banning of auto driving. That works out to about 2,726 deaths a month. Compared to that, 47 deaths per month from mass shootings seems like not much to even talk about. Move along, nothing to see here.

Besides, mass shootings, like auto accidents, create jobs for people like helicopter pilots, first responders, and news reporters. And don’t forget all those people employed in the manufacture and sale of guns and ammunition.

So why are we getting so worked up about mass shootings? Oh, I know, it’s tragic when a small life gets snuffed out before it learns to tie its shoes, or when a community is robbed of a brilliant leader, or when just plain people who are loved are suddenly taken from those who rely on them for affection, protection, and guidance. But hey, it happens all the time. Does it matter whether it happens amid the rattle of small arms fire or in the rending of sheet metal? Not really. Certainly not to the people who die.

So keep calm and carry on. People live, people get hurt, people die. It happens. Sometimes it happens to someone you love. Or to you. But nobody really cares enough to do anything because, well 47 deaths a month is pretty much the acceptable body count in America these days.

Remember, this is the new normal.

Monday, November 9, 2015

LUAF offers salvation for embattled landowners

If you believe that government should be held accountable to the people it governs, and that injustice should be redressed, you should write a check to the Landowners United Advocacy Foundation. I’d suggest a nice, round $100. That’s not much, considering its members are being asked for upwards of $500 each.

LUAF is forming in southern Colorado for the purpose of bringing to heel the attack dogs of the Colorado Attorney General. AG Cynthia Coffman’s minions are persecuting and bullying hundreds beleaguered farmers and ranchers across Colorado to help the Department of Revenue collect more than $220 million in revenue the DOR foolishly lost by granting outrageous conservation easement tax credits to its wealthy chums in the Big City. When farm and ranch families tried to use those same tax credits to keep their operations afloat amid one of the worst droughts in history, DOR cried “Foul!” and manufactured cause to deny the tax credits.

Coffman’s office has hounded those families mercilessly (while keeping its mitts off of the tax credits of bigwigs like Gov. John Hickenlooper, but more about that in a moment) to try to get the DOR’s money back. Families have suffered lost farms, shattered marriages, and ill health because of the persecutions, and the AG shows no sign of letting up.

Now the ag families are banding together to fight back on a united front instead of remaining divided. Under the umbrella of LUAF, they are launching a two-phase attack on the state in federal court, first to show that Colorado has broken the law, and then to recover at least most of what the families have lost.

While the DOR is squarely in LUAF’s legal crosshairs, the suit also targets Coffman for illegal prosecution under a legal concept called ex post facto law. That means prosecuting someone for something that was legal when it was done but was later made illegal by a new law. Imagine, for instance, that you legally bought a bottle of gin on Sunday of last week, but are arrested next week for it because a new law makes Sunday liquor sales illegal. The U.S. Constitution expressly prohibits ex post facto prosecution but the AG’s office is going ahead with the actions and basically daring the victims to do something about it.

Now the farmers and ranchers are calling the state’s bluff and you can help them do it. Put your $100 check into an envelope and mail it to Landowners United Advocacy Foundation, 15462 County Lane 1, Olney Springs, CO, 81062. Your contribution is tax deductible because LUAF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Do it today.

Oh, and the $1.1 million in conservation easement tax credits our governor has claimed? That doesn’t seem to come up on AG Coffman’s radar. That’s probably why Hick is tolerating Coffman’s defiance as she drags us into a hopeless crusade against the proposed Clean Power Plan, even though Hickenlooper endorses it. Coffman clearly has higher political ambition and joining the fight against CPP makes her more attractive to GOP hardliners. I’m just spitballing here, but it looks like granting a pass on conservation easement tax credits buys a whole lot of gubernatorial silence.

Friday, October 23, 2015

State has no incentive to license grocers to sell booze with the bagels

The supermarket giants have formally launched their push to put liquor in their stores. The reason is pretty easy to see – they’ll dump some lower-demand products and replace them with much more lucrative liquor sales. It’s not like King Soopers and Safeway are having financial problems; they want to plump up the bottom line the easiest way possible. It’s greed, pure and simple.

There is a fear, however, that this will drive independent liquor stores out of business and, as a side effect, squeeze out the microbreweries Colorado is known for. It’s a legitimate fear. Gov. John Hickenlooper, himself a microbrewer, has used the word "threat" to describe the campaign. Certainly, some of the local liquor store owners are feeling threatened; my occasional foray into town in search of corn-based refreshment almost always includes a new lament about fears the Legislature will "sell out" to the special interests. (Not that liquor store owners aren't themselves a special interest, no, no, no, they're just independent merchants trying to make a living.)

My sympathies in this are with Hick and the local booze purveyors. For the most part I’m a free market kind of guy, but it’s painful to watch big boxes at the edge of town suck commerce and jobs out of a community. It’s as if we sell the town’s soul for a little convenience.  And convenience is at the heart of this latest push. Quoted in The Denver Post, Kelli McGannon, mouthpiece for King Soopers made it clear that immigrants to Colorado value their time over our traditions:

"Our customers value time as much as money and are looking for convenience. Colorado's market has changed — Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and people are moving here from other states where this is something they had."

So there you have it: People coming to Colorado with no investment in that which makes this a great place to live are more than happy to trample our traditions to save themselves a few minutes in their busy, busy lives.

Fuck 'em.

I have no idea whether Wal-Mart wants to put whiskey on its shelves in my little town, and I have no plans to ask. I do know I'm tired of watching big box stores plop themselves down at the edge of town and sucking the life and soul out of the community in exchange for a little convenience. Logic tells us that this would be just another way for giants to fill their pockets while emptying local storefronts.

What I’m really hoping is we'll never find out. My hope is that the Colorado Legislature, as it always has in the past, will balk at the whole idea and resist the intense lobbying its members will suffer from the pro-liquor-in-supermarkets crowd. If the General Assembly blocks the move, the issue will almost certainly go on the 2016 ballot, but even if it passes there, the Legislature can still refuse to act on it; the referendum is only a strong suggestion at best. Laws have to be enacted by the lawmakers, and lawmakers are elected.

I suspect the pro-booze-with-groceries gang is counting on Colorado’s “liberal” bent in matters of recreational substances, vis-à-vis the marijuana vote and subsequent legalization. If so, they miss an important point: The pot is a new tax revenue source. Coloradans know we’re not going to be rid of TABOR any time soon, so we’re looking for ways to increase tax revenue without actually paying higher taxes. Weed returned $70 million in brand new revenue to state coffers in fiscal 2014 and promises to be an even bigger bonanza in years to come.

But liquor is already taxed. Some bump in tax revenue may come at first from impulse purchases, but that bump will fade as liquor sales move from local liquor stores to the grocery stores. The addition of liquor inspectors and staff to handle the surge in license applications, though, will be costly. Regulations will have to be re-written, lawyers hired and lawsuits settled, and all of that costs money. The whole proposition is all cost and no revenue; there is just no financial incentive for the state to rewrite the liquor laws to allow the stuff on Safeway’s shelves.

At the end of the day some of the larger independent liquor stores would survive the change because supermarkets aren’t going to carry the myriad specialty products and micro brews liquor stores sell, but it’s almost certain that small liquor retailers that are living on narrow margins now will close. And that’s the real cost of the proposition. It’s another way a community loses its soul. It’s a price we shouldn’t be willing to pay for a convenience we just don’t need.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Innocents die but freedom is safe

“America is stepping backward,” my wife said.

We were watching the CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley, and Pelley was standing in front of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, where nine black people were murdered in cold blood by a young white man … because they were black.

There are tragic intersections in American life and this was one of them: The racism that is still rampant across American, and the American Culture of Violence.

Oh, I know, there will be calls for gun control, as if controlling the means of murder is even possible. If every gun law in America were strictly enforced it wouldn’t make a dent in the number of people killed by bullets. Meaningful gun control will never happen in the United States of Reloaders.

No, the base cause of this is, again, the American Culture of Violence. Twist any mind enough and it can justify horrendous bloodshed. And why not? Violence is presented daily to Americans – and we Americans hand it off to the world – as the solution to all of our problems.

Case in point: The motion picture “True Lies,” which was on TV one day last week when I was home for lunch, grossed $378,882,411 worldwide. Sure, it was lots of fun watching Roseanne’s ex and the Governator pretend to push a guy off the top of a hydro dam. And Jaime Curtis never looked better than when she … well, she never looked better.

But what was the movie’s subtext? Killing people is a solution to when bad guys kill people. The final body count, according to (yes, there really is a web site like that) is 71. Seventy-one human beings snuffed as if they were nothing. No fewer than 28 fellow humans are blown apart or ripped to shreds in the climactic scene at the end of the movie.

Oh, but it’s just a movie, right? But that movie still sends a powerful message. It says that if you’re on the same side as Arnold Schwarzenegger, a handsome, rich white guy, then you can kill bad dark-skinned people with impunity. And bad people are always dark-skinned, or they talk funny, or they’re otherwise not like we descendants of Europeans. And who better than Schwarzenegger to represent the white European immigrant who pacified North America? So it’s okay to eradicate those non-white bad guys, and a gun is the most efficient way to do that. Or a $30 million airplane loaded with guns, if you’re white, handsome, wealthy European immigrant Arnold.

Spewing death from a gun is offered as a solution on a daily basis, on television and in movies and especially in video games. Killing solves problems. The killer last week said he was tired of blacks “raping our women.” The solution? Kill them. (Side note: I have to wonder how many white women had been raped by those six black women killed in Emanuel Church.)

So, how do we address this culture of violence? Do we try to discourage image-makers from making images of bloodbaths? What part of $300 mil did you not understand?

No, there is only one way to address this kind of violence, and we can take our cue from our friends in Israel. Get used to it. Israelis long ago decided their own delusion about denying Palestinian statehood was more important than the occasional sacrifice of Jewish families. That’s what Americans need to do. Quit whining about it.

We have more freedom than any other nation in the world, including the freedom to own guns we don’t need and the freedom to hate people we know nothing about. That means, every once in awhile, innocent people are going to die. So get used to it. Our lives and our loved ones aren’t safe but, by God, our freedoms sure are.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Gardner makes good on campaign threat

Katie McDonough calls it like she sees it, and last Friday McDonough saw Cory Gardner as a fraud and called him out.

Full disclosure here: McDonough one of my favorite internet writers. She is the political writer for the webzine According to her credit blurb she "(focuses) on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice." If Salon were an 1850s whaling ship, McDonough would be the chief harpooner. And on Friday, she scored herself a white whale.

It seems Gardner is making good on a threat he made during his election campaign. If elected, he threatened, he'd make it harder than ever for poor women to access any kind of birth control. He wasn't shy about how he'd do that, either. First, he'd introduce legislation to make over-the-counter birth control legal. Then, he and his Republican cronies would make sure that the Affordable Care Act wouldn't cover birth control at all.

You may remember that I warned you about this back last fall. Of course, Gardner himself didn't state it quite that way. No, he trumpeted the first part of his plan in his campaign ads, disguised as something good for all women. You remember those campaign ads, don't you? They were the ones he scrambled to pull together to replace the ones about how his family's health care coverage had been cancelled because of "Obamacare." I called bullshit on that one, too, remember?

They were nice ads, too, full of Yuma County Republican women nodding agreeably as Cory laid out his bullshit plan before they all went back to baking cookies or selling insurance or whatever Republican women in Yuma County do when they're not having political smoke blown up their skirts.

And you may remember that I said at the time the plan smelled like what they scoop out of feedlots and spread on crops to make 'em grow faster. You also may remember that, while I warned you about the second part of his plan, Gardner didn't say a word it.

Well, on Friday, Gardner launched the first part of his nefarious scheme, and it didn't take Katie McDonough long to learn about it. Rather than quote extensively from McDonough's piece, I'll urge you to read it yourself. No, really, click on those last three words and read the article. I'll wait.

See what I mean? I won't pretend that Cory Gardner believes that the bill he introduced in the U.S. Senate will really help women. Frankly, Scarlet, I don't think he gives a damn. He wants votes from relatively affluent rural Coloradans (and if you own a $100,000 tractor that Gardner's dad sold you, you're his prime demographic) because they are the ones who vote and poor people aren't. People like Gardner have no clue what it's like to be poor, even in Yuma County.

I do.

I grew up in Yuma. My family's roots there go as deeply as Gardner's, but my family never rubbed shoulders with his. Unlike some of his constituents, Cory Gardner didn't grow up going to bed hungry. He's never known what it's like to have to choose between food and rent. He went to school with poor people every day of his life, and never saw them.

People like the Gardners never do.

But I saw them. Some of them were my friends. They were the kids whose dads trudged up and down Main Street looking for a day's work, starting at Hoch Lumber on the north end and ending with the Gleason Motors on the south end, and constantly being turned away. My family counted itself lucky to be one step ahead of the truly poverty-stricken in Yuma. They were the families who had the most kids, and could least afford them. They couldn't even afford, at 1960s prices, the only form of birth control available at Brownlee's Rexall Drug Store back then.

I won't bore you with a lesson on why some people are stuck perpetually in a cycle of poverty and despair. Usually, they aren't very likeable people, and if you don't know why, I don't have time to teach you. But what they suffer is not their fault, and free birth control under the Affordable Care Act is one of their few hopes of breaking that perpetual cycle.

Cory Gardner wants to deny poor people that hope. Either he's so clueless that he really doesn't understand why poverty exists, or he understands but he's cynical enough to put political ideology before the real needs of human beings. Either way, he's not fit to represent us in the U.S. Senate.

I've told you that before, and now Gardner is proving me right. I promise that I'll keep telling you as long as you keep voting for him.

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Sterling Journal-Advocate Monday, May 25.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

We must 'bring it up' forever

DENVER – One of the proudest moments of any parent’s life is watching one’s robed offspring stride across a stage and accept a college diploma from a beaming administrator. My wife and I enjoyed such a moment this spring as we watched our oldest son – at the tender age of 38 – accept a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Combined with his years of experience as a chef and caterer, his degree positions him to enter the executive ranks in Colorado’s tourism industry.

 But his degree is more than just job skills in a growth industry; he got a good grounding in liberal arts, too, and spent more than a little time taking history classes. If his vocation is inn keeping in all of its permutations, his avocation is military history, specifically World War II and its causes. And his particular area of interest, and one on which he wrote several papers while in college, is the Pacific theater of that war and how the U.S. got dragged into — and then won — a two-front war. What he found wass somewhat unsettling and caused a bit of a heated discussion over that weekend.

 The topic of conversation was James Bradley’s “Flyboys,” the lesser-known but brutally honest follow- up to his bestseller “Flags of Our Fathers.” I’d found the book on my son's bookshelf and he recommended it, so I took the book with me and started reading while waiting for the commencement to begin. I was a little startled by Bradley’s frankness about how the U.S. came to be embroiled in war with Japan.

Bradley starts the book by giving a detailed and unvarnished account of the brutality with which Europeans conquered and exploited the North American continent and compares that conquest with colonization efforts all over the non-European world. He also explains, succinctly but comprehensively, the history of Japan that put it at odds with the United States of the 20th century.
While he gives the Japanese no pass for their narrow-minded and short-sighted pursuit of Pacific dominance, neither does he let Americans off the hook. He makes it clear that, in invading first China and then Korea, Japan was simply instituting its own form of the Monroe Doctrine. If the U.S. could claim suzerainty in the Americas and adjacent islands, Japan felt justified in claiming the same in Asia and the Pacific. Bradley further explains that all Japan wanted was to join the imperial club, to be treated as an equal among nations that could subjugate other peoples in pursuit of wealth and power. And he justifiably accuses Americans of racist hypocrisy in condemning Japan for its rapacious conquests in China and Korea, when Americans modeled that very behavior in conquering … well, America.

None of this was news to me; what was surprising was my son's enthusiastic recommendation of the book in light of his known conservatism. Throughout his adulthood, he's believed that everyone has the same opportunities, that the differences between success and failure lie in the decisions we make, and that the primary reason for long-term unemployment is simply laziness. He also has always believed the fairy tales he was taught in school about how this country was developed. So it occurred to me that, when faced with an authorative accounting of the real history of the United States -- and, in no small part, his own heritage -- he might be willing to talk about the disparity between history as he learned it and history as it really happened.

I was wrong.

Having learned what he has learned, my son now wishes to not discuss it any more and “move on.” He is tired of having white males constantly blamed for every bad thing that ever happened to the rest of the world. “I don’t know why people have to keep bringing it up,” he said.

It took me a while to formulate an answer, but I do have one and it is this: “Bringing it up” is called teaching. If the United States of America is ever to become the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have to start teaching our children an accurate, honest history of our nation’s beginnings, and there is much to be ashamed of in those beginnings. The eradication of the continent's original habitants was a stated government goal from Abraham Lincoln forward. The enslavement of them and later genocide practiced against them wasn't just the result of a few misguided hotheads in the Old West -- it was official government policy. That policy included christianization of all native people, wherever Americans found them, a direct contravention of the nation's foundational law.

Not that there weren't some nice ideals expressed in our nation's founding documents. Equality, justice, and liberty are good policies for any government to pursue, but in the 19th century, the French did a better job of it (at least inside their own borders) than we Americans. There's no doubt that the men and women who founded this nation were enlightened, progressive, liberal, courageous and often brilliant. They were also hypocrites, slave-owners, racists and elitists. The problem is that generations of Americans have lionized these people to the point that we believe they were perfect, or nearly so, and that they actually did create a "more perfect union," which somehow has deteriorated into something less than it once was.

What we need to continuously "bring up," as my son put it, is the imperfection of the people who founded our country. We must be honest about the motivations that created our revolution and admit to the hypocrisy of a people that demanded equality and freedom for its citizens while maintaining millions in the abject misery of slavery. We need to tell our school children that, while Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence, he was also calculating the profits of breeding and selling black people the same way a farmer calculates the profits of breeding and selling livestock. Our goal in educating tomorrow’s leaders should not be to make them like yesterday’s leaders, but better than that. Only by constantly “bringing it up” can we teach our children how to mold the homeland we’ve always wanted but never had.

 I hope, in time, my son will realize that earning his college degree was not the end of his life of learning, but a beginning. I hope that, as he pursues his personal quest for success and fulfillment, he uses the other things he learned in college to care about other people’s quests for success and fulfillment as well. What makes me proudest of him is not just the man he is now, but the man he is becoming and will be.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Teens betray ignorance in rebel flag posts

In case you missed it, high school students have gone stupid over the confederate flag. You'd expect that from North Carolina rubes visiting the Gettysburg Battle memorial, but what's really embarrassing is that it's happening right here in Colorado.

The first group of nincompoop teens to wave the stars & bars this past week was in Parker, an "upscale" suburb southeast of Denver. Kids there are pretty used to their white privilege and some thought it would be cute to pose in their prom gowns and tuxedos with a big confederate flag and a couple of rifles. The photo was posted in social media with the caption "The south shall rise again" or some such shit, and one of the kids even mindlessly tweeted, "I've bought my first slave." Fortunately, in the cold light of public disapproval the tweet was deleted, but the photo remained up as late as Friday.

Clearly, these kids weren't paying attention in Colorado History class, which I took in high school, and where I learned that Colorado Territory actually fought on the Union side, more or less, during the Civil War. Look up Glorieta Pass; it was a battle between Colorado militia, including units organized by Maj. John Chivington (he of Sand Creek Massacre infamy) and ill-equipped confederates out of Texas by way of Arizona. Chivington’s irregulars punished the confederates with an ambush on the first day of the battle, but had little to do with the decisive action on the third day that sent the rebs back south and saved the Colorado silver and gold fields. In any event, the flag flown by the Coloradans back in March of 1862 was the Stars and Stripes.

If they've lived in Colorado as long as I have, the kids might have been confused by the fact that, in the 1920s, a resurgent Ku Klux Klan briefly controlled Colorado politics. Gov. Clarence Morley, Denver Mayor Ben Stapleton, and members of the Legislature, judiciary, and many local councils and boards were members of the KKK. Apologists claim that ignorance ("they thought of it as another Elk's lodge") had more to do with Klan membership in Colorado than real bigotry. Most serious historians are unconvinced. Corruption and civic embarrassment ended the Klan's Colorado reign after about five years, but during that half-decade the KKK terrorized blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics all over the state, including right here in River City.

Frankly, I'm not willing to give the little snots that pass; if you live in Parker now, you water your damn lawn with South Platte River water taken off of Logan County farmland, and you ain't really from Colorado. So fuck you and your confederate goddamn flag.

As far as the North Carolina numbskulls are concerned, the Tarheel teens claimed they were waving the confederate flag to honor the rebel soldiers who were "defending their homes and families" at Gettysburg. This is, of course, pure bullshit. Everybody knows Gettysburg was needlessly fought because a desperate Robert E. Lee had invaded the north hoping to get behind George Mead's Union forces and threaten Washington, D.C. convincingly enough to force a negotiated truce. So it was actually the Union forces, especially those from Pennsylvania, who were defending their homeland.

Clearly, southerners have never learned – or stupidly refuse to admit – that they are on the wrong side of history. The confederate flag is not, and will never be, a symbol of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. It is not and never will be a symbol of a valiant lost cause, of state's rights, or any of the other imagined virtues southerners continue to scrape up. The stars and bars is a symbol of slavery, a crime against humanity. It is the symbol of hopeless rebellion against human rights, a symbol of oppression and bigotry, a symbol of a regressive social order that remains, to this day, a stain on the fabric of American life.

We can never ban or outlaw the flying of the hateful symbol of the confederacy, but we can make sure that those who fly it are identified as hicks, rubes, and hillbillies. We can never let Americans forget that the men and women who secured the real hope of liberty and equality, unrealized though it may yet be, fought under the Stars and Stripes. As antagonists assault us from all sides, this is the true symbol of freedom.

Teach that to your damn kids.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Women’s power is zero-sum

My wife and I agree on very little when it comes to watching television -- she's all "Grey's Anatomy" and "Revenge" and "The Good Wife," while I'm all about "Big Bang Theory" and "The Black List" and "Person of Interest."

There are two shows, however, that we watch together without fail: "Dancing With The Stars" and "Scandal." This column is not about DWTS, although I will say tell you now that Willow Shields will win it because (1) she's almost as good as Rumer Willis and (2) "Hunger Games." [Update: Willow was eliminated on April 27 after a series of disappointing performances. I blame Mark Ballas.]

But our other TV show appointment, "Scandal," has graduated from the realm of guilty pleasure to become serious, issue-driven TV that we all need to watch.

In the most recent episode, Laura Dunham (she of HBO's "Girls" fame) played the writer of a tell-all sexcapade book that threatened to bring down most some of the most powerful men in government. Olivia (Kerry Washington) Pope was hired to dissuade "Dirty Sue" from publishing her book, but the attempt backfired. Sue wanted three mil to be quiet. Problem is, one of her targets was Attorney General David Rosen, who has promised Olivia's associate, Huck, immunity to testify against the B613 covert action group. Are you with me so far?

Turns out, Sue was fired from a government job for which she was eminently qualified because she refused to let her boss screw her. She promptly sank into a miasma of kinky sex with all manner of Washington alpha males, from which experiences she wrote her tell-all book.

 Sue agrees to drop the whole thing when Olivia secures her a decent job doing what she wants so she can reclaim her dignity and her personhood, But when Olivia's associates, Katy and Huck, go to pick up the last copy of the manuscript and all of its notes, Huck summarily assassinates Sue. "She'd tell," he says over and and over. "She knew and she'd tell." Huck, you see, is convinced that Dirty Sue will eventually tell someone about her affair with Rosen, causing Rosen to resign, threatening Huck's immunity and endangering his life. Are you still with me?

The episode was more jam-packed with women's equality issues than the show has ever been, and I don't see it going back on that. One sub-plot involved the White House press secretary, a fetching redhead, who complained that, although she's risen to the very top of the journalism/PR profession, she is constantly identified in the media as the girlfriend of a powerful Washington, D.C. "fixer." She has no identity of her own, she shouts at her paramour. American society identifies her by the man she's sleeping with.

By the way, the show has continued to thump on that theme by making a big deal out of Mellie Grant's bid to follow in Hillary Clinton's footsteps. Mellie is "Scandal's" First Lady and, while her husband is still the president, she runs for the Senate in Virginia. Questions are raised about a conflict of interest if a Virginia senator is sleeping with the president. The show's writers turn that little bit of misogyny on its head by making the bedmates issue a plus for Virginia -- screw the rest of the country, only Virginians will vote for their senator and she's happy to promise them she'll be spreading her legs for POTUS. If Virginia falls for it, is it a win or a loss for women's power and equality?

But back to Sue; she defied Olivia's slut-shaming attempt, telling her the book is "all I have left." She doesn't care if people use the W-word about her because she's done what she wanted with whom she wanted and gotten the pleasure she wanted, and now she's going to enjoy the success she's always wanted. While other women are complaining about being defined by their sex, Sue is reveling in it. Olivia offers her a different kind of validation, one based on her brains instead of her body, and it turns out that’s what Sue really wanted all along.

And then Huck kills her.

Here’s my takeaway from that: Equality is a matter of power, and power is a zero-sum proposition. In order for women to gain power, and thus equality, men have to be willing to share it, or lose it by force. And men need to understand right now that, to paraphrase Emerson, events are in the saddle; women will gain the power they need for true equality, and the only decision we men have is how much or little pain we cause ourselves in the process.

So Huck saw the newly-empowered Sue as a threat. His precipitous assassination of her is a metaphor for the backlash that women suffer even when they gain some of the power they need for equality. I think his action will come back to haunt him in very real and painful way.

Sue meant no harm to Huck and posed no real threat. But like too many men, Huck couldn’t stand a woman having that kind of power. He didn’t trust her with that power. It frightened him.

There isn’t a happy ending here. Every day thousands of women suffer physical and mental harm because the men in their lives -- men they didn't even know were in their lives -- cannot abide women having that much power.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Religious accommodation laws unnecessary

Colorado probably will escape the shitstorm that has engulfed Indiana and Arkansas over religion protection bills. Colorado had one – HB 1171, officially titled the State Freedom of Conscience Protection Act – but it died in committee in March.

When I say it “died in committee,” I mean it was assigned to – of all places – the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs committee, where it was postponed indefinitely. Why a bill meant to sanction bigotry against homosexuality was sent to the committee that is mostly concerned with the National Guard and Colorado reservists, I’ll never know, but it was and now, thanks to whatever god you believe in, it’s dead.

That’s fine because Colorado doesn’t need a law saying that it’s okay to exercise your religious right to not do business with gays or lesbians or Democrats or Elvis impersonators or whoever you think is going to sully your pure white Christian bakery. In fact, we don’t need any state law in any state, and we don’t need the federal law that a Democratic president signed because he was trying to be a “good guy.” If you needed yet another proof of Bill Clinton’s hypocrisy, the fact that the president who used an expensive cigar to masturbate an intern and then left his semen spilled on her dress is the same president who signed a “religious rights” bill into law should be all you need.

We don’t need any of those laws because we have the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment says law and religion have to be kept separate, and it’s not a wide black line that separates them. That line gets really squiggly and hard to see sometimes, especially when the lawyers start messing around in it. But if you’re going to plunge into those legal waters, know that the rash of “religion protection” laws results from a long legal conflict between what Kelly Catherine Chapman calls “the clash between an individual’s right to be free from discrimination and an individual’s right freely to exercise religion.” In a 2012 paper published in The Georgetown Law Journal, Chapman noted that there is no common ground to be had, short of state law, and that when it comes religious freedom clashes with gay rights, it’s a zero-sum situation; for one to win, the other must lose.

That’s a pretty grim assessment and I doubt that even my optimistic appeal for common sense will make anyone bend in the least but I’m going to make it anyway, and I’m going to preface it with my own experience with religious discrimination vis-à-vis unconventional marriage.

When my wife and I decided to make Lohengrin’s trek, we had a religious problem. She was devoutly Roman Catholic, having graduated with honors from the local parochial school; I was a nominally Methodist sensualist who caused the pastor to winch on my rare appearances in his environs. My bride insisted she would be married in the Catholic church in which her parents had raised her; the rector of said Catholic church wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot crucifix. We enlisted the considerably more liberal assistant rector who agreed to do the required pre-marriage "counseling," perform the service, and even allow the Methodist pastor to participate. In return, I had to sign a paper saying our children would be raised "in the Catholic Church." I signed it. The kids were raised Episcopalian.

My wife and I actually broke barriers that day; we were the first mixed-faith couple to ever be married in that church. And if you think that doesn’t compare to what gay couples face today, you didn’t live in Sterling, CO, in 1973. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of the county’s population was Roman Catholic, and of those, eighty percent were only one or two generations away from their European roots.

That experience taught me a few things about religious tolerance. It taught me that religion and religious belief is deeply ingrained in some people’s identities. Take away their religion, take away their church, and they are lost, bereft in a world they cannot navigate. Their religious doctrine, whatever it may be, is the lighthouse they look for when life casts them on a stormy sea. My wife has long since walked away from Vaticanworld and all of its fantastical mythology, but she still clutches her rosary every time she rides an airplane into the skies. I have said, only half-jokingly, that you can take the girl out of the Catholic church, but you can’t take the Catholic church out of the girl.

We overcame religious bigotry by being flexible and by finding people who would accommodate us. Now, of course, the only people who get married in the local Catholic church are Catholic couples because everybody else is getting married in back yards or on ranches or in parks or any of the hundreds of other places where nobody cares what church you go to.

So, I have a couple of suggestions to those who find themselves in the predicament of accommodating the public or faced with sexual bigotry:

First, for gays who want to marry, I’d suggest: Shop around and understand that there are people who cannot wrap their hearts and heads around your love and commitment. You’re asking people to be flexible; show some flexibility of your own. Seriously, do you want someone who openly detests you to have anything to do with what should be the most beautiful day of your life?

Second, for businesses, I’d warn: Be able to accommodate or have deep pockets, because you’re going to court, and rightfully so. Have a list of alternative businesses that can show the happy couple the sensitivity and commitment to service that you seem to lack. Learn some damn diplomacy in guiding a gay couple to someone who will be happy to have their business. Or, if you’re really a savvy business owner, put your pride on the shelf in the back room and take the business. Seriously, can you really afford to turn down business from one of the fastest-growing consumer segments in modern America?

Not that anyone will listen to this advice, of course. No, the Bible thumpers will continue to think they have God on their side, only to find that the Supreme Court thinks otherwise, and gays will continue to martyr themselves for The Cause, ruining their own matrimonial experiences with their disrespect of other people’s religious beliefs.

Kelly Chapman was right that it's a zero-sum situation, but there aren't any winners.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lundberg doesn't get to define 'child'

The misogynist culture warriors keep trying to impose their definitions on a world that wants to think for itself.

Kevin Lundberg is the latest culture warrior who wants to inflict his peculiar brand of fantasy on the rest of us. Lundberg, a state senator from rural Larimer County, is posturing in opposition to a bill that would fund contraception for poverty-stricken teen-agers in Colorado because said contraception would include the use of intra-uterine devices. IUDs are against Lundberg’s personal misinterpretation of a religion, so he wants to impose that interpretation on the rest of us in the form of legislation.

At the heart of the matter is this little fact: IUDs provide contraception with a backup. That is, on the rare occasion that the device fails to prevent sperm from meeting egg, it will probably prevent the zygote from attaching to the wall of the womb.

The problem for Lundberg is he doesn’t know the difference between an inarticulated cluster of cells and a child. Here are Lundberg’s own words:

“The IUD is a mechanical device that makes (the uterus) an impossible environment for a young child to implant in the uterine wall.”

That’s right, in the Neverland that Lundberg wishes existed, a fertilized egg (referred to in medical terms as a “fertilized egg”) is a “child.” Problem is medical science says differently. Mosby’s Medical Dictionary defines a child as “a person of either sex between the time of birth and adolescence.”

Lundberg wants to impose a radical religious definition on a medical condition. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if Christian clergy went to medical school, healed the sick, repaired the injured, researched new ways to cure and prevent diseases, delivered babies, and pronounced us dead. But they don’t. Doctors do. And because doctors are the people most intimately knowledgeable of human life and death, they get to say when life begins. Everybody else is just making shit up.

Lundberg’s defenders would argue that he’s just “voting his conscience” and that his conscience is guided by his religious belief.


Lundberg is among a growing number of middle-aged white men who see their power, and thus their privilege, slipping away. Power, you see, is a zero-sum game. If women and minorities are to gain the social and financial equality that is rightfully theirs, they need power, and that means taking it away from white men like Kevin Lundberg. And that scares the bejesus out of Kevin Lundberg.

His answer, then, is to deny women the power they need to become fully equal to men. The most effective way to do that has always been to identify them primarily by their ability to have children. Every civilization in history has hobbled women with an impossible choice: Subjugate yourself to child-rearing or face the disapproval of all around you.

Some women can afford a support system that allows them to transcend the usual duties of child bearing and thus achieve the equality that is their due. Others want to delay or forgo it altogether. There’s nothing Lundberg and his fellow misogynists can do about the former, so they focus on the latter. That means making up new definitions for, among other things, “child.”

But it's not just your garden variety misogyny that's at work here; it's a particularly cynical form. Lundberg knows as well as anyone that a good legislator keeps his religious beliefs separate from his work in the Legislature. Most of his Republican colleagues under the gold dome support the measure, and it’s sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, a Republican from Colorado’s 58th district. That’s in the southwest corner of the state. My wife and I both have family down there, and with the exception of a few tofu-serving restaurants in Durango, that’s as conservative as it gets in Colorado. Cultural reference: Novelist Olivia Newport, moved her Amish heroine from Colorado Springs to Coram’s southwest corner of Colorado in search of religious and moral purity. That’s how conservative those folks are.

As a social conservative, Kevin Lundberg is a poser. He pretends his “base” elected him to advance a biblical version of modern Colorado. The truth is, the Democrats regularly sacrifice innocents from Loveland in Lundberg’s 58th Senate District so they can hang onto Fort Collins and the 14th Senate District.

So Lundberg has the chance here to do the right thing, but he won’t. He knows the program to prevent teen pregnancy is going to be funded. He’s just trying to look good the folks at his church by defining a fertilized egg as a “child.” That doesn’t make him a good legislator. It makes him a cynic. I just hope Lundberg’s Republican colleagues aren't using the same dictionary.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Answering a son's thoughtful question

Dearest Aaron,

You asked a few days about my opinion on the Edward Snowden situation. What I see is a tragedy for the American people unfolding here, and not in a way you might at first think.

Snowden is your generation’s Daniel Ellsberg, and as I admired Ellsberg a generation ago, so I admire Snowden now. I’ll let you look up the Pentagon Papers (Wikipedia gets it mostly right, and it gave rise to one of the most beloved quotes in modern journalism.) TLDR version: Ellsberg was an analyst for a CIA contractor who compiled and gave to the New York Times and Washington Post several tons of documents proving that the U.S. Government (specifically presidents Johnson and Nixon) lied about almost everything concerning the Vietnam War. To his credit, Ellsberg relied on the common sense and “gatekeeping” of professional journalists to protect the innocent. He was prosecuted and at first the judge did all he could to secure a conviction, but when the extent of government wrongdoing came to light, even the pro-prosecution judge couldn't let the case go forward. Subsequent government attempts to brand Ellsworth a traitor or a nut case fell on deaf ears.

Snowden has done almost the exact same thing, but America today is a lot different than it was back in the 1970s, and that’s where the tragedy lies. He was thoughtful enough to hand the documents over to professional journalists for vetting and, yes, censorship to try to protect the innocent. Glenn Greenwald is, hands down, one of the finest journalists of our time. He has academic and field credentials few other journalists have; he is driven by an overpowering sense of justice, and he has an innate sense of what is fair and right. He will turn out to be one of the greatest journalists America has ever produced.

But three things have happened between 1971 and now that changed things for Snowden. First, of course, was 9/11/2001. For the first time since 1812, the United States of America was actually attacked by an outside force. True, it wasn’t an armed military attack by a recognized state, but it was a coordinated attack aimed at killing as many Americans as possible and, despite my previous protests about mere criminality, for most Americans it was as much an act of war as if al-Qaeda had stormed our beaches.

The second thing that happened is that our government has used that attack to convince the American public that we are constantly under siege (we’re not) thus bloating any number of little kingdoms under the umbrella of (shudder!) Homeland Security. More crimes have been committed by U.S. government workers against humanity in the past 14 years than in the previous 230. One of the worst of these crimes is making the media environment so toxic that Fox News and all of its attendant ass-hats could thrive. American peasants are like peasants anywhere – they have no problem believing that some shapeless, formless evil is responsible for the sad-ass condition of their lives, including their obesity, their shitty jobs, their lazy kids, and their leaky trailer houses. They also believe in God, but no one really knows why.

The third thing was Julius Assange  and WikiLeaks. Assange single-handedly destroyed vast swaths of American human intelligence-gathering (“humint”) capability just to show that he could. I won’t spend a lot of time on this except to say that Assange is in desperate need of the Seal Team Six treatment.

So when Snowden handed Greenwald proof that our government was illegally spying on us, Americans had pretty much had e-fucking-nough. We’d become so inured to government wrongdoing and we were so riven by peasant-pandering, gun-totin’, God-spoutin’, duck call makin’ jacknuts like Phil Robertson that anyone who even looked intelligent must the Antichrist. No longer does the United States represent the ideal that we could be – Americans are, by and large, so incapable of critical thinking that, to them, this greatest nation on earth is fuckin’ perfect, bigawd, and anybody that sez dif’r’nt kin jist GIT THE HELL OUT!! Sadly, I have only to look down the road I live on to see a half-dozen examples of this.

And that’s the tragedy of America. We refuse to believe when someone does something good for us. Ordinarily, I would like to see Snowden come back, face the music with Alan Dershowitz working pro bono to defend him, and show the American people just how deluded they are. But I won’t do that because if that happened, Clint Eastwood would probably try to resurrect Chris Kyle to snipe him. 

And that’s my take.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

'Sniper' tells us we need to get a clue.

“American Sniper” is about the cost of war. As much as “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home” and “Full Metal Jacket” and, yes, even “Saving Private Ryan” are about the cost of war, so Clint Eastwood’s movie is about what a nation spends when it invades another country. Whether that is what Clint Eastwood intended I do not know. Who can tell what goes on in the mind of a privileged Hollywood octogenarian?  Eastwood long ago lost track of the fine line between the characters he portrays and the man he is; it should be no surprise that he cannot tell the difference between the world he creates in a camera and the world the rest of us live in.

I also don't know whether Eastwood intends for his audience to see the Americans as invaders but that's exactly what he does in the film's opening shot. It is of a tank – the symbol of unstoppable military might – creeping down the street of a blasted city, wary infantrymen trailing along behind it. It is exactly like dozens of other shots of German or Russian or Japanese tanks creeping down blown-out city streets; it is the image of military occupation. As a result, while we do care somewhat about what happens to the young American soldiers, we cannot stop remembering that they are invaders and occupiers, and nobody really wants them there.

The action is interrupted for a background interlude in which our main character is raised to be an excellent hunter, a damn good shot with a scope and rifle, and a sheep dog. Other essayists have already pointed out the ridiculousness of the movie's metaphorical "wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs" pretense so I will only comment that it is the kind of simplistic philosophizing that runs through this movie.

After the background interlude we are brought back to the tank and the soldiers, and to the sniper who watches over them. The sniper, whose name happens to be the same as a real man who was in similar situations (let me address that a little later) must make the conscious decision to kill a child and then the child’s mother in order to protect the column of soldiers coming down the street. That is his job, but it is a job wrapped in emotional conflict. And so we begin to see, very early on, what it costs to go to war.

I have not read the book on which Eastwood's movie was based. I have, however, read dozens of reviews of it and long excerpts from it. The movie is not about the guy who wrote the book. Chris Kyle, who wrote the autobiography titled "American Sniper," was a sociopath with no conscience whatsoever. Unlike the character by that name in the movie, Chris Kyle felt no emotion from killing a young mother. He doesn't admit killing any children directly, but does say his first "kill" was of a young woman holding a baby and a grenade; the grenade supposedly went off, and we are left to assume that the baby's mother bears full responsibility for what happened after Kyle pulled the trigger.

So Eastwood lies to us and pretends that his sniper is anguished at having to kill a child and a woman. Later in the movie we see the required scene of an immaculately-uniformed Marine handing a sobbing widow the perfectly folded flag from her husband’s coffin. There are shots of the mangled bodies that will never heal right, the faces of young men and women trying desperately to be “happy to be alive.” These are supposed to be the scenes that show us the cost of war, the cost beyond the lives snuffed out; the lives only half-lived, the lives that will always less than they should have been.

Depending on one's predisposition, these scenes will either inspire the viewer to see the heroism of those who have sacrificed so much -- undoubtedly Eastwood's intention -- or repulse the viewer as an unacceptable burden to be born by volunteers whose service was squandered in a folly of historic proportions. You can guess in which camp I reside.

It’s natural enough to look at the scarred, maimed bodies of the survivors, the carefully folded flags in glass cases, the mothers and wives and children of the fallen, and say, “We shouldn’t have done this. This was all a mistake.” That's what we say to each other, but what do we say to them? How do we tell the man who has lost both legs and an arm to an IED in Iraq that the sacrifice he made willingly was all a horrible mistake? How do we tell a young woman who will never walk again because she drove a truck one day down the wrong street, that we’re not going to bear the cost of finishing the job? One can imagine them asking us, “Well, if we shouldn't have been there in the first place, can I please have my legs back? May I have my future back? Could I get my son back?”

And those are just the American costs. Countless non-Americans are dispatched either at jaw-dropping distances by the main character, or by the firestorms of death that issue from American guns. While long minutes of film are chewed up desperately urging wounded Americans to stay alive, nothing is shown of what happens to casualties on the other side. No one even bothers to ask why a man who was a shopkeeper several weeks ago now drives a rickety car loaded with explosives hell-bent for leather toward an armored U.S. column. Perhaps he is still shocked and awed by the erasure of his family by American bombs; we'll never know because his death is explained in wolf-sheep-sheep dog terms: "He chose the wrong side."

And now our adventurism in the Middle East has spawned a new evil, worse than the Taliban, worse than al Qaeda, worse than anything even Osama bin Laden could have envisioned. Now, in the vacuum of our withdrawal, comes ISIS, a blacker evil than ever has existed in modern memory. Clearly, whatever we intended to accomplish there, we left the job unfinished. But how do we tell the families of the Iraqis and the Afghanis, and now the Jordanians and the Syrians and Egyptians, that, we’re sorry, but we’re tired of war and we no longer want to spend the blood and flesh and bone and human spirit that it costs to eradicate ISIS, or whatever horror it morphs into?

There aren’t any easy answers. If we don’t send infantrymen to destroy ISIS, will the sacrifice have been for nothing? If oppression in the name of a religion is as evil as oppression in the name of Nazism, why are we not making the same commitment now that we made in 1942? And if it isn’t the same, why did we ever go there in the first place?

There is a line in “American Sniper” – and I cannot remember who delivers it, but it’s not important – that goes something like this: “There’s a war going on, and these people are still going to the mall and driving around and talking on their cell phones. They don’t have a clue.” The line isn’t just about the horrors of urban guerilla warfare. It’s about how we came to be in those blasted city streets in the first place.

Whether he intended to or not, Clint Eastwood has clearly told us that we need to get a clue.

Friday, January 16, 2015

We have a right to die with dignity

It didn’t take long for Colorado legislators to kick up controversy in the current session of the General Assembly. Courageous lawmakers are introducing, and show every sign of fighting hard for, a “right to die” law similar to the one Oregon has had since 1997. Washington, Montana, and Vermont have similar laws, and 14 states besides Colorado have bills either before their legislatures or being drafted.

Variously called “assisted suicide,” “right to die,” and “death with dignity,” such laws allow terminally ill people, while still of sound mind, to avoid prolonged agony and the loss of human dignity that usually comes with dying of a ravaging disease.

There is much that is logical about making such a decision possible. Hospice care of a dying patient is incredibly expensive; the idea is to keep the patient as “comfortable as possible” in the final weeks, days, and hours, while nature goes about its sluggish process of killing the patient. That requires massive doses of painkillers while the body struggles to complete its assigned chores, all of which produce various effluents and odors, none pleasant. I’ve watched people die in hospice; it’s an awful way to go, no matter how comforting the word “hospice” sounds.

Fighting to stay alive to the bitter end is also costly and can bankrupt families of modest means. And the victim isn’t the only one who suffers. I can attest that there is no pain worse than that of watching a loved one die slowly, and my experience was mild compared to others who have watched spouses, parents, and even children succumb to creeping death.

A right-to-die law would allow a victim in the final stages of cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or any of the other terminal illnesses to surrender without enduring the pain of the disease’s ultimate victory. The method would essentially be a lethal dose of medication that would stop the heart. I don’t have space here to describe the process; suffice it to say it isn’t easy to get the necessary medical approvals, and tipping back the lethal brew (you don’t just swallow a couple of pills; it take s massive dose of barbiturates) can be a moment of intense self-examination.

Taking one’s own life is not to be done lightly, and Colorado’s bill will have in it all of the safeguards and emergency buttons necessary to make sure no one uses it to escape their rightful worldly obligations. And while I hope no one I know and love now will ever have to use it, I want Coloradans to have the right to die with dignity, should the need arise.

There are those who object, of course. According to the Denver Post, Janet Morana, executive director of the New-York based Priests for Life, made the pro forma religious statement about the proposed bill, “You're taking away their hope, and you're taking away their chance for a miracle or a cure.” Reality calling Janet: I don’t believe in your miracles, and if I’m ever sick enough to consider suicide, all hope of a cure will long since be lost. I don’t want to suffer weeks of agony because of your religion, okay?

I hope, after a thorough airing of opinions and with the necessary safeguards built in, Colorado’s death-with-dignity law becomes a reality. It will be another step toward enlightenment and reason for this greatest of states.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dog's killing solved nothing

Much happened this past week that would enrage an old liberal – Muslim extremists murdered a dozen people in a Paris magazine office because the magazine dared to mock Islam; some pinheaded bigot tried to blow up the NAACP office in Colorado Springs, evoking gut-wrenching images of the Sixties; a Denver couple left their three-year-old sleeping with candles burning in a trailer house while they went down the street to drink and drug, and the child died when the house burned.

But the story that broke my heart this week was the story about Sydney, the good friend and constant companion of a Colorado Springs woman; Sydney was shot to death in a park last week for absolutely no reason.

Details are sparse; the so-far unidentified woman was playing ball with Sydney, an Australian Shepherd, in a park a week ago today. Sydney was off the leash, which isn’t allowed in that particular park. She spotted a so-far unidentified man walking on a sidewalk and, ball still in her mouth, bounded up to greet him. There is no indication Sydney did anything remotely threatening. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows what Sydney wanted; she wanted the man to throw the ball so she could chase it again.

Instead, the man did what he probably figured any red-blooded American man with a gun in his pocket would do – he exercised his Second Amendment right until Sydney was dead.

And then the sonofabitch walked away.

While the wanton, cold-blooded killing of a helpless creature is bad enough, that’s not what really made my blood boil. Well, okay, it did, but my head nearly exploded when I read the possible consequences of the crime. According to a report on the KKTV News website, if police catch the guy, “the suspect could face reckless endangerment charges for illegally firing a gun within city limits.”

As the kids say nowadays: “What the fuck!?”

Reckless endangerment? He didn’t “recklessly endanger” the dog, he killed it! He didn’t just fire the gun up in the air to scare the dog off, he fired bullets into the dog. Several of them.

I understand it’s not the murder of a child but that doesn’t ease the grief Sydney’s owner feels now. Reckless endangerment? What about cruelty to an animal? How about illegally carrying a concealed weapon (because no properly-licensed concealed carry permitee would use his handgun so irresponsibly. No, I’m serious here – he’d have too much to lose.) Good Lord in Heaven, at least tell me they can charge him with destruction of private property!

This kind of thing is what I mean when I talk about the “culture of the gun.” It’s a culture in which a gun is seen as the solution to any number of problems.

I’m going to wildly speculate the worst case here; that the shooter has been carrying around a handgun for some time just waiting for a chance to use it. Maybe he got mugged recently, maybe he’s very angry with his ex-wife’s lawyer, maybe he’s just fed up with a lifetime of being screwed over and figured nobody would mess with a man with a gun. Maybe I’m reading too much into his simple actions.

One thing is for sure, though: This guy’s gun didn’t solve his problem. If anything, it just made his problems worse.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Concealed carry is a lethal decision

Chances are pretty good that when 29-year-old Veronica Rutledge dropped her handgun into her purse last Tuesday morning, she thought she was just a little bit safer.

She was not. Not long after Veronica armed herself, while she was shopping with family members in a Wal-Mart in Idaho, her two-year-old son stuck his hand in that purse and pulled out that gun and killed Veronica.

Veronica Rutledge was not a stupid person. She was a chemical engineer who worked in a nuclear physics laboratory. She was, by all accounts, well-schooled in the handling and use of a handgun. But she died because she had a concealed carry permit. Yes, yes, people who like to carry guns around will squawk that it’s not that simple but, in the end, it really is. If she hadn't had the permit, she wouldn’t have had the gun in that special purse her husband gave her for Christmas, and then her two-year-old child wouldn’t have gotten his hands on it, and it wouldn’t have gone off and killed her. It is the very definition of irony that Rutledge armed herself in order to be safer and ended up dead for it.

We want to place blame, but on whom? Not the two-year-old; he didn’t know any better. Not on the victim; she believed the gun was safe in the special zippered compartment of her purse. Not on her husband, who gave her the purse for Christmas and, no doubt, tutored her on how to use the gun. In the end, officials investigating her death are calling it a “very tragic accident.”

Are we, then, to simply accept the death of a young mother as a condition of our times, as if she’d been killed in an auto accident? With the mushrooming number of people carrying guns on their persons for whatever reason they can think up, are we now to chalk up “accidental” gun deaths to the price of living in this society?

That’s not a price we should have to pay. What if the child had pointed the gun at someone other than his mother? It will come to that, as surely as you are reading these words. It truly frightens me that my wife and I might be shopping in Wal-Mart one day and a gun will go off, quite unintentionally, and one of us will be the victim of a “tragic accident.”

Fans of concealed carry are fond of comparing gun death accidents with other kinds of accidents, yet they know that such comparisons are disingenuous. Guns are not like automobiles, or anything else, for that matter. Guns are designed and built to kill people and animals. Having been raised by a gunsmith, I know well the history of firearms, and they were invented as weapons of war. Their purpose is lethal and they cannot be compared with anything else in life except, perhaps, sabers and poleaxes and other weapons designed to kill people. And yet we treat them as accoutrements to life in an age of unfounded fear. 

If Veronica Rutledge had left her handgun at home that day instead of taking it with her in her new purse made just for a concealed weapon, she wouldn’t have enjoyed the false feeling of safety that came from being armed. She might have denied herself the pleasure of using her new Christmas gift. She may have even disappointed her husband. But she would still be alive.

She should have left the gun at home. We all should leave our guns at home.