What Could Possibly Go Wrong

Posted January 21, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Decline and Fall, Guns, Stupidity, The Way We Live Now

Tags: ,

When self selected vigilantes assaulting armed strangers in public spaces?

Consider this incident:

According to the Hillsborough  Sheriff’s Office, [African-American] 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was entering Walmart with his legally concealed firearm to buy coffee creamer on Tuesday when he was spotted by 43-year-old vigilante Michael Foster.

Foster, who is white, had observed Daniels conceal the weapon under his coat before he came into the store. When Daniels crossed the threshold, Foster tackled him and placed him in a chokehold…

Florida, Jake…but at least the worst outcomes were avoided:

He’s got a gun!” Foster reportedly exclaimed.

“I have a permit!” Daniels repeatedly shouted back.

After a struggle, the men were separated. Deputies later arrived and Foster was charged with battery.

V0017125 Head of a man, composed of nude figures. Oil painting.

So:  no one died.  Good.

A couple of thoughts, though:  (a) what kind of asshole do you have to be to decide that you want to walk around looking for folks to bash based on whether they look hinky to you?  B)  if it’s really all about guns, then what’s going to keep you from going all George Zimmerman at any point in the drama?  That this ended with neither the victim nor the self-appointed asshole on a gurney is just a signal that FSM was dangling its noodly appendage down Hillsborough way that day, nothing more.

The most obvious take away is, of course, that this couldn’t possibly be about race because (nods to Charlie Pierce) it’s never about race.  Except…

Again, I see it as a near miracle that the legal gun owner who happened to be black is still alive right now.  The white vigilante is lucky too, certainly — jumping a guy with a gun is not a long-term health strategy — but we’ve seen too much lately of what even the merest hint that an African American man or kid! might be armed does to their odds.

But I want to point out the essential current here, the unifying thread that runs through all of these incidents, the tragedies and the bathetic ones alike.  That’s fear, brought on by the worship of the gun.  How on earth is vigilante-ism even a thing in 2015 America?  It’s because the toxic combination of racial and class politics and unlimited arsenals produce terror and rage in equal and toxic admixture.

Worst of all is then how normal this all seems to those in the midst of it.  Consider this advice:

“The Sheriff’s Office recommends that vigilante-inclined citizens refrain from taking matters into their own hands, especially when an incident is gun-related,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

McKinnon said that vigilantes should “make sure there’s a good reason” before tackling gun owners.

Ya think?

In the end the fact that actual bad guys do not in fact carry neon signs to identify them  (no Poor Impulse Control tattoos yet) means that, well, it’s a target rich environment.

“Unfortunately he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,” McKinnon noted. “We understand it’s alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders.”

In other words:  be careful out there.  Someone, soon, is going to get killed in one of these stunts.  And once again the tree of liberty will be watered with the blood of someone just going about their business, or a kid who happens to be in the next aisle when the stray shot comes home or…

Not to mention, except I will, again:  the racial element here.  White guys chasing black guys they fear is an old trope in American life.  It’s with us still.  Video at eleven.

PS:  I’m totally with Bryant Gumbel here.

Image: F. Balbi, The head of a man composed of writhing nude figuresposs. 1868.

Annals of Gobsmackery

Posted January 19, 2015 by Tom
Categories: bad behavior, ridicule, Two Parties -- Not the Same

Tags: ,

Admittedly, he’s just trolling, but Dinesh D’Souza is a good troll.  I mean really:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 6.24.41 PM

 

If there is the slightest chance he actually believes he merits comparison to Dr. King, all I can say is wow, dude,  That’s some fine delusions of grandeur you got there.

If in fact he is doing what I’m 99% sure he is, just acting like an asshole (i.e., naturally) and poking those who find in King an actual hero of social and racial justice, then what is there to say.

First, I guess, that living inside D’Souza’s head must be its own, truly horrible punishment.  And second — as stated above — that’s some world class classlessness all in less than 140 characters.  Good job, mate.

Guess The Complexion Of The Shooter

Posted January 18, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Guns, Race

Tags: , ,

Here’s all you need to know:

A Sentinel, Okla., man on Thursday shot the town’s police chief four times and was then released from custody after questioning.

All lives matter and I’m glad no one was killed in this bit of 2nd Amendment insanity — but if after Martin and Brown and Rice and Crawford you still somehow wondered if white privilege were a thing, just give it up.

Graveyard_in_the_Tyrol_1914-1915_JS_Sargent

More detail:

Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross was shot in the chest three times and once in the arm Thursday morning after breaking down the front door and entering a house at 205 S 4, Sentinel Mayor Sam Dlugonski said.

The chief was wearing a bulletproof vest that was loaned to him by a sheriff’s deputy minutes before the raid on the home. He survived the shooting, and authorities said the vest saved his life.

Dlugonski and a neighbor on S 4 both said the man detained in the shooting was Dallas Horton, who lives at 205 S 4. Investigating authorities did not release the man’s name.

Agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said the man who shot the chief was released after hours of questioning when they determined they didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him.

“Facts surrounding the case lead agents to believe the man was unaware it was officers who made entry,” OSBI wrote in a news release.

Well, yes.  But then there’s this:

Chief Ross said Washita County 911 received two calls from a man who identified himself as Dallas Horton, and claimed to have a bomb inside the head start school….

Chief Ross told News 9 he called for county back up before entering Horton’s home.

Up to this point, Horton claimed he never knew any officers were in his home.

“Don’t know what he heard or didn’t hear screaming from five officers of the law announcing our presence, requesting to see hands,” said Chief Ross.

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and state (a) it’s amazing, just flat out gobsmacking, that anyone could shot a cop four times and not face a gazillion bullets coming the other way; and (b) that I simply cannot imagine the circumstances in which a non-white cop-shooter who did survive the initial event would be back on the street the same day.

That conclusion could just reflect my biases.  It certainly involves an inference beyond the facts known to me as I write this.  Still, American history and our recent past seem to tell a pretty consistent story to me:  African Americans, and especially black men, face the threat of violence under the cover of law to a degree that a middle class white guy like me cannot begin to fathom.  So I’m prepared to make the leap that the color of the shooter here made a difference in his treatment by law enforcement.  I certainly could be wrong:  any individual case can be an outlier in any direction.  But if I had to bet…

Again, I want to repeat something really important:  it’s a great thing that neither the police chief nor the suspect are dead.  That’s what we would want to see come out of moments of crisis in law enforcement.

I’m just noting here that I want that outcome for all those confronting the sudden presence of armed cops:  toy wielding shoppers, kids on a playground, young men walking, anyone.   Such happy endings shouldn’t be reserved only for a gun nut who can be distinguished from those less fortunate individuals by — among other things I’m sure — the fact that he happens to be white.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Graveyard in the Tyrol, 1914-1915.

 

A Sunday Nerd Humor Break

Posted January 18, 2015 by Tom
Categories: random humor, Science

Tags: ,

Via the indomitable xkcd: Have to admit that it was…

beat…

beat…

beat…

before I snorted.

Damn that Heisenberg fella, always dodging about.

Got any good nerd/science jokes in your repertory? Put it in the comments, please.

We Are (Mostly) Star Dust

Posted January 17, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Cool Video, good public communication of science, Science, science writing, Talks, TED

Tags:

Have some brain-food-fun this a.m., courtesy of a friend of mine, Ben Lillie, recovering physicist and the man behind the lovely Story Collider effort.  Here he gives a TEDx talk on element number 3, lithium, an audio essay ranging from Evanescence (the band, not the property) to the universe and back to human nature.  Enjoy:

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Don’t know about you, but every now and then I need a complete break from the not-funny comedy that is current US politics.  This worked a treat for me.
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Any great science popular media among your favorites?  That’s what comments are for.
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Offense, Speech, Redress

Posted January 7, 2015 by Tom
Categories: rare sincerity, The Way We Live Now, Things that actually matter

Tags: , , ,

In the thread below yesterday’s post on the shootings in Paris in its Balloon Juice version, a … lively … discussion broke out around various forms of the question of provocation.  No one, I think, suggested that the murders were anything but grotesque, an expression of evil.  But several people noted that they weren’t surprised that the atrocity occurred, given the known impact of the sort of satire in which Charlie Hebdu traded.

That evoked discussion — and sharp disagreement — about the duty of respect, especially to minority views or senses of identity.  (I’m paraphrasing and drastically shrinking the discussion here.  Feel free to correct, demur, dismiss in the comments.)

My view is pretty simple.  The price to pay for living in an open society is suffering the existence and the independence of those who drive you crazy.  Sort of like being the parent of a teenager.

But I digress.

Bluntly:  the appropriate response to speech that pisses you off is speech.  Nothing else.  I am a cultural relativist in my daily work. (What is a historian, even or especially a popular historian like myself, but someone who tries to grasp that foreign country, the past, in its own terms as well as in our own time’s?)

But that relativism has limits.  It commands empathy, sympathy, the effort to understand; it does not require, or even permit any veto on thought or behavior based on the cultural demands of one group over another.

That’s why anti-abortion groups become terrorists when they shoot clinic workers.  That’s why those who provide public accommodations — bakers, for example — no more get to choose to deny a gay couple a wedding cake than they would an African American one.  And so on.

So, no.  I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the contextualization of the murder of foul mouthed, blasphemous satirists as an extreme (and — everyone agreed on this — utterly unacceptable) extension of genuine grievances.  Even if it is true that France treats its former-colonial Muslim population culpably wretchedly.  Speech is speech.  Murder is murder.  The former never ameliorates, much less excuses guilt for the latter.  It doesn’t, really, even make it comprehensible.  Those who kill over cartoons (or use a cartoon as a pretext for a killing for other ends) are neither sembables or frères

That thought is what, earlier today, led me back to one of the monuments of 2oth century American jurisprudence.  It’s only surprising that the William Rehnquist wrote the opinion in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell in light of the current debasement of the Supreme Court.  I can actually remember when the party identification of the appointing President was not a wholly reliable guide to where opinions would land.

The issue in dispute in Hustler v. Falwell was whether or not the egregious preacher was entitled to damages for emotional suffering imposed by Hustler’s publication of a mock advertisement that showed a drunken Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse.

As Rehnquist wrote,

There is no doubt that the caricature of respondent and his mother published in Hustler is at best a distant cousin of the political cartoons described above [works by Thomas Nast and others], and a rather poor relation at that.

Boss_Tweed,_Nast

Nonetheless, crappy, nasty, or downright mean political speech is still vital, Rehnquist and a unanimous Supreme Court (Fat Tony included!) agreed, to the point that the no-doubt sincerely pissed off Falwell had to suck it up:

If it were possible by laying down a principled standard to separate the one from the other, public discourse would probably suffer little or no harm. But we doubt that there is any such standard, and we are quite sure that the pejorative description “outrageous” does not supply one. “Outrageousness” in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression. An “outrageousness” standard thus runs afoul of our longstanding refusal to allow damages to be awarded because the speech in question may have an adverse emotional impact on the audience.

Rehnquist was hardly my beau-ideal of a jurist.  But he was always strong on the first amendment.  And in this  opinion, he nailed the essence of what freedom of speech means and requires from a society that values and trusts itself:

France isn’t the US.  I can imagine a different view of what might constitute shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater if one were in Lebanon, say, rather than the Bronx — or the Marais.  But the underlying theme in the Hustler v. Falwell opinion talllies with the way I believe free societies would choose to live.

It remains vital to have enough sympathy to be able to recognize genuine pain evoked carelessly or deliberately by speech.  It’s an important part of living well to model the best definition I’ve heard for what it means to be a gentleman:  someone who never insults another person unintentionally.

But granting the reality of grievance in the face of either deliberate or ignorant disdain, still Rehnquist had it right:

 

“[T]he fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection.

Amen and amen.

The full text of the opinion follows below the jump.

Image:  Thomas Nast, Boss Tweed, before 1871.

Read the rest of this post »

Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Posted January 7, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Evil, rare sincerity, Things that actually matter

Tags: , , ,

By now I’m assuming everyone’s heard about the dreadful attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebo:

Masked gunmen burst into the Paris offices of a French satirical newspaper on Wednesday and killed 12 people, including top journalists and two police officers, before fleeing in a car. The gunmen were still at large at dusk, as an extensive police dragnet spread across a traumatized city.

Among the dead were four prominent cartoonists who have repeatedly lampooned Islamic terrorists and the Prophet Muhammad, leading to speculation that the attack on the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was the work of Islamic militants acting alone or in concert with extremist groups.

The gunmen — reports suggest there were three — are still at large, and, according to Times coverage, it remains unknown what group, if any, organized the attack.

Salman Rushdie knows something about words and art and the threat of deadly violence aimed at suppressing it.  He’s one of many who have responded to the attack.  The statement was apparently up at PEN’s site, but that’s down now, and (via a Neil Gaiman tweet) I found it at the Wall St. Journal.  Here it is:

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”  –Salman Rushdie

Bad times, sad times.  My thoughts and deepest sympathy to all the families and friends of the murdered.


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