Secret policeman’s ball

26 02 2014

If you’re an activist and someone pushes you downs a guns & ammo path, you should probably assume that person is cop or spy.

And yes, I’ve mentioned this before: If someone in your group promotes any kind of violence, you should ask, loudly and publicly, Are you a cop?

Even if the person is just an idiot (as opposed to agent provocateur), by calling him or her out you highlight how the police/feds have attempted to short-circuit activist movements by pushing them toward violence, and illegitimacy.

This isn’t paranoia; it’s just good sense.





I want a pistol in my hand

23 04 2013

All day long a post fermenting, only to end up boiling away to nothing.

Is Islam uniquely violent? That Christ died on the cross and Muhammed took up the sword—does that matter in some fundamental way?*

It does, I suppose, if you want it to. If not, then not.

This isn’t a slam against Christianity or Islam or belief (in anything. . . ); it is an observation of the condition of belief.

We construct our beliefs, believe because we want to believe, have to believe, believe how we want to believe. Or not.

We deprecate this and emphasize that, as is our preference, driven by yet other preferences.

I don’t mean to be a lazy relativist, even as this reads as lazy relativism. That is not my preference. No, it is just that beliefs arise from narratives, and the more complicated the narrative, the more beliefs can arise, and the more complicated the beliefs about the beliefs, the greater the likelihood that the beliefs and the beliefs about the beliefs can and will justify anything.

Hitchens said “religion poisons everything.”

Perhaps. But it is not the only source of poison. It is not the primary source. For if, as Hitchens believed, there is no God, and religion a construct of humans, then would it not be more accurate to say that the source of the source is the problem?

I’m tired and my thoughts are fading, and I do not wish to excuse ideologies and religions that celebrate or even excuse violence, but it seems rather too convenient for those who profess belief in Narrative C (of which some streams has in the past celebrated or excused violence) to claim that Narrative I (of which some streams currently celebrates or excuses violence) is inherently violent, while the former, only contingently or mistakenly so.

Shorter version: double-reverse No True Scotsman!

Be glad that my brain is flat, or else I’d ramble on trying to puzzle out if this means we are all Scotsmen or if there are no Scotsmen or how does one come to construct a Scotsman. . . .

*By way of Sullivan and Dreher





Bombs on Boylston Street

15 04 2013

I’ve made no secret of my, ah, lack of love for Boston, but even I would like to run the marathon some day.

Today was that day for thousands, and this, Jesus Christ, this is how it ended:

Nothing justifies this. Nothing.

Jesus.





Give me the gun

21 12 2012

Christ, is it even worth posting this?

I’m tired and crabby and have grading and have to get up early to work the second job tomorrow and do I really want to write—more to the point, do you really want to read what I write—about guns?

What the hell.

My views about guns haven’t much shifted from where I landed a decade or so ago: I’m not crazy about them, don’t hate them, and if I lived out in the boonies I’d have a shotgun, if only to scare off any big critters trying to get at my little critters. And the next time I go back to Wisconsin I’d like to try trap shooting or target shooting with my hunting-rifle-owning brother and brother-in-law.

So, guns: dangerous tools, useful in some circumstances, nothing more.

Except, of course, culturally they are so much more: Totems of freedom, penis-substitutes, toys for the uncivilized, power, markers of Real Americans, manly, gangster, and on and on and on.

That’s a big part of the problem, that instead of treating guns as dangerous tools, we polemicize them into ontological signifiers: To be or not to be, with guns.

Actually, that’s wrong: Most of us probably don’t polemicize them into ontological signifiers; most of us probably seem them as dangerous tools which it is okay to own and use in a properly regulated fashion. Go on and on about guns and you’ll be given the side-eye, but if you hunt or like to target shoot at the range, well, okay. And if you won’t buy your kid a Nerf gun because you think it promotes aggression, you might get an eye-roll, but, well, okay.

Honestly, I’m closer to the gun-control folks than the NRA (no kidding. . . ), but if you want to collect an armory in your basement in preparation for the apocalypse, well, it’s your dime.

There are a few steps you should have to follow, however: Every single person who owns a gun should have a background check, and perhaps should be licensed. Every single gun you own should be registered, and any gun you own which is not registered should be confiscated and you should pay a huge-ass fine for not registering it.

At the time of registration, you should have to take it to a licensed instructor and demonstrate that you know how to load, unload, fire, lock, and safely store the gun. And maybe when you fire the gun, the bullet should be collected and entered into one of the those nifty CSI-type databases.

(And for those, like me, concerned about civil liberties: Make the registration system dual key, i.e., the registrant is assigned a number, and that number is entered into the gun-owning database. In order to access the name behind the number, a search warrant would be required.)

If you sell your gun, you must file a transfer form with the gun registry. The new owner would then be required to file a preliminary registration application before the actual gun could be transferred. A background check would be performed in the interim, and once it comes back clean, the gun may be transferred, at which point the new owner would be required to complete the registration process. A reasonable fee—one which would cover the costs of the registry and the registration process—would be required.

If you sell your gun or give it away and don’t file a transfer form, if you lose it or it’s stole and you don’t inform the police, you would be open to large, large fines, and holds on any future firearms registration. If you are convicted of crimes which, if turned up in a background check would prevent you from owning a gun [for whatever period of time], you either have to surrender your guns to a licensed dealer for the duration of the n0-gun period, or you have to sell them. You’ll retain the right to petition the court for restoration of your gun rights, although further restrictions may be attached to them.

And tough laws for any crimes committed with guns? Yep, as well as laws for negligence, brandishing, and general stupidity. (For the latter I prefer those huge-ass fines, largely because I think we already lock up too many people, but short jail, as opposed to prison, terms might be warranted.)

States and localities will retain the right to impose further restrictions on ownership, and while I think concealed-carry laws are a menace, I don’t know that there’s any constitutional way for the federal government to override them.

The feds can and should ban certain types of weapons—as they already do with automatic weapons—as well as certain types of bullets. They might also retain the right to impose stricter licensing requirements for various types of weaponry.

Oh, and ban large-capacity magazines—anything over 10 bullets.

Others have mentioned insurance requirements for gun-owners, which some states might wish to implement or at least allow insurers to ask before offering home or life-insurance. Let the insurers add their own (reasonable) licensing requirements. Tax the shit out of bullets.

[Edited to add: And that law Congress passed awhile ago shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits? Repeal it.]

The upshot of all of this: Recognize the existence of the [current interpretation of the] Second Amendment which allows for both gun ownership and gun regulation, and go from there. Recognize in law the difference between a bolt-action hunting rifle and a semi-automatic handgun or rifle, and recognize in culture the line between use of guns for one’s own enjoyment and that based on anti-social contempt.

It’s not enough, of course, to stop the gun violence in both our streets and our homes, nor is it enough to stop suicides or, maddeningly and sadly, periodic massacres. I think we’d all be better off if there were fewer guns—especially handguns—in this country, and I’m offended by arguments that we can’t live with one another without guns.

But I also believe if things are to get better—if we’re to kill fewer of us—we need to start where we are, and where we are is in a gun-laden and gun-positive place. We need to start treating guns as dangerous tools, and maybe, just maybe, down the line that’s all they’ll be.

Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll want fewer of them.





This is not a laughing matter

20 09 2012

I am not a fan of violence.

However.

I admit to, mmm, chortling over this report:

An Iranian cleric said he was beaten by a woman in the northern province of Semnan after giving her a warning for being “badly covered,” the state-run Mehr news agency reported.

Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti said he encountered the woman in the street while on his way to the mosque in the town of Shahmirzad, and asked her to cover herself up, to which she replied “you, cover your eyes,” according to Mehr. The cleric repeated his warning, which he said prompted her to insult and push him.

“I fell on my back on the floor,” Beheshti said in the report. “I don’t know what happened after that, all I could feel was the kicks of this woman who was insulting me and attacking me.”

He was hospitalized for three days.

Terrible, terrible for me to, mmm, chortle.

h/t Deeky at Shakesville





Eliminationist rhetoric: bad

16 01 2011

See, this is what I’m talking about:

A few bits from Insurrection Timeline:

  • April 4, 2009—Neo-Nazi Richard Poplawski shoots and kills three police officers responding to a 911 call to his home in Pittsburgh. His friend Edward Perkovic tells reporters that Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on its way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Perkovic also commented that Poplawski carried out the shooting because “if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna’ stand by what his forefathers told him to do.”
  • May 31, 2009—Scott P. Roeder shoots and kills Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The FBI lists Roeder as a member of the Montana Freemen, a radical anti-government group. In April 1996, he had been pulled over in Topeka, Kansas, for driving with a homemade license plate.  Police found a military-style rifle, ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder, and two 9-volt batteries in his car.
  • July 13, 2009—Gilbert Ortez, Jr. kills a police deputy in Chambers County, Texas, with an assault rifle. Police were responding to reports that Ortez or his wife had fired shots at utility workers in the area. Police searching Ortez’s mobile home after a 10-hour standoff find more than 100 explosive devices; Nazi drawings and extremist literature; and several additional firearms.

Go to the website for many many many—sigh—more examples.

Tom Scocca makes direct connections between violent rhetoric and violent acts:

[R]egarding this crazy, evidence-free narrative about how right-wing media incited someone to violence? The one dictated to the leftist media by their bosses at the Democratic National Committee? Here’s what happened a little less than six months ago:

A California man accused in a shootout with California Highway Patrol officers in Oakland early Sunday told officials that he traveled to San Francisco and planned to attack two nonprofit groups there “to start a revolution,” according to a probable cause statement released by police.

Bryon Williams, 45, a convicted felon with two prior bank robbery convictions, targeted workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tides Foundation, said Oakland police Sgt. Michael Weisenberg in court documents.
And where did Williams get the idea that he should load up his mother’s pickup truck with guns and go try to assassinate members of liberal organizations?

Williams watched the news on television and was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items,” his mother said.

Scocca credits a commenter, Andrew Brockover, with mention of this incident:

In July of 2008, unemployed truck driver Jim Adkisson opened fire with a shotgun during a performance of “Annie” at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two people and wounding several others.

Adkisson attacked the church because he identified it as liberal, and he had specifically planned to go out and assassinate liberals. “This was a symbolic killing,” he wrote in a four-page manifesto. “Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate, + House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book. I’d like to kill everyone in the Mainstream Media. But I knew these people were inaccessible to me.”

I don’t blame Bernard Goldberg or the half-guv or various other right-wing bloviators for attacking and killing people. They clearly have not done so.

(And to be fair to Goldberg, I don’t think he’s engaged in eliminationist rhetoric. He’s a conservative critic of what he considers the liberal media, and that’s it.)

They’re not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such, but they can be held responsible, in words, for their words.

~~~

Violent rhetoric and actions are hardly the sole province of rightists. Leftists have their—our—own sordid history of denunciation and assassination, bloviations and bombings, and we have made our own poor excuses for the likes of the Weather Underground.

This isn’t about “balance” and “both sides do it”; it is about history and evidence.

And the evidence today points right.





The way is dark, the light is dim

15 01 2011

So I was going to write something about civility in politics.

Three times, I was going to write something about civility in politics—even had a header for one of ‘em—but then I remembered: Been there, done that.

I think civility is a fine thing, and as mentioned in a very early post, I very much like the idea of going at it hammer and tongs with someone—and then eating pie.

Argument and pie: What could be better?

I still believe that. But I also believe that, in the face of incivility, tut-tutting about the rudeness of the other fellow is of no use; no, the correct response is tit-tatting: if he broke a metaphorical bottle over your head, and if you don’t like having metaphorical bottles broken over your head, then you smash one over his. If he comes back with a verbal fist to the face, then a lexical plank upside the head is appropriate.

Do not let the adversary get away with anything. Make him pay. And when he gets tired of being bloodied—and acts accordingly—then so should you.

The rules of politics are set and enforced by the participants, so if you want civility, you not only have to practice that civility, you have to enforce it—which means you have to punish incivility.

There is no other way.

~~~

It should be obvious that what works in politics does not necessarily work in, say, intimate or even collegial relationships, nor, for that matter, in the practice of science or in the arts or religion. (The truly interesting question is whether these gladiatorial tactics are appropriate to war—but I leave that to the military strategists among you.) My understanding of politics is predicated on conflict; my understanding of friendship is not.

~~~

I don’t think the Tea Partiers are fascists anymore than I thought GW Bush was Hitler, and any such comparisons are as sloppy and mendacious as those linking Obama to Stalin or Osama bin Laden.

“Sloppy and mendacious”: But what if people really are afraid that Obama is a Secret Musselman in thrall to an anti-colonialist anti-American communist conspiracy?

Grow up.

The evidence is lacking, just as evidence that Bush planned the hijackings on Sept 11 is lacking. The sincerity of beliefs matters not one whit if those beliefs are, to quote a couple of automotive philosophers, “unencumbered by the thought process”.

The proper response to such charges is either mockery or a swift linguistic kick in the shins.

~~~

Well, okay, the fists-up response is not always appropriate. One can engage in a kind of political discourse which seeks understanding, and to which nonsense might best be met with questions as to why the interlocutor believes that, or even a polite I disagree.

And, ff course, if one is outnumbered and such verbal disagreement could lead to a physical beatdown, keeping one’s trap shut is also a fine tactic.

~~~

I hate eliminationist talk, and find it stupid and counterproductive, if not potentially dangerous. I don’t  engage in such talk, don’t laugh at jokes about assassination, don’t as a general matter invite the spectre of real violence into the arena of politics.

It’s not because I’m good, but because I’m an Arendtian, and I think politics has a purpose which can be shattered by violence.

(Yes, I have invited public figures to engage in anatomically impossible acts on themselves, and will likely do so again the future. These aren’t my best moments, but I think a not-unreasonable response to the denigration and dehumanization of an entire category of human beings.)

Aristotle and Arendt both thought politics ennobling; a part of me agrees that yes, it offers the possibility of us inhabiting one of the highest kinds of human being.

But, as Machiavelli pointed out, one rarely reaches that pinnacle unscathed.

h/t, and for a completely different set of views, see James Fallows here, here, here, and here





Put down that weapon

10 01 2011

I don’t know Jared Loughner.

I don’t know his politics. I don’t know his mental state. I don’t know his background, his personality, his history of drug or alcohol use, or his genetic profile.

I don’t even know that he killed six people and shot twelve others, although, given the evidence reported thus far, it appears likely.

It appears likely that Jared Loughner is an assassin.

But that’s just one piece of this murderous political puzzle, isn’t it? Some have examined his online postings and concluded that he was widely read or maybe just trying to impress people with works he couldn’t understand; one woman Tweeted that when she knew him he was left-wing; some speculate on the influence of the anti-semitic American Renaissance or conspiracist David Wynn Miller; Andrew Sprung labels him a “sui generis make-your-own reality psychotic”.

Many others have noticed have noticed that this occurred in a poisonous political atmosphere, wherein Senate candidates talk about “Second Amendment remedies” and elected members of Congress call President Obama an “enemy of humanity”.

And the half-guv, of course, has her part to play, both in refudiating any role her noxious metaphors may have contributed to that atmosphere, and to serve as a rally point for those who insist that no one even consider politicizing these killings.

Sticks and stones may break my bones/but words may never hurt me.

What rot, for in what other media do we perform politics but in words? Of course words matter!

You don’t need to delve into the ontological dimensions of the speech-act to grasp that this is the primary way we relate to one another—that our language itself is a marker of our species. We are not only linguistic creatures, but we would not be who we are without language. And we would not have politics without language, without words.

Of course words matter.

That’s not all that matters. Loughner was able to purchase a semi-automatic weapon (which would have been illegal under a law which expired in 2004)  and carry it on his person, concealed, with no permit whatsoever.

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

True—in this case, Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic gun to kill six people.

Don’t suppose we should politicize casual access to deadly weaponry, either.

But Loughner was nuts, right? Suspended from school, scaring the hell out of his college classmates, a sui generis psychotic—can’t blame rhetoric and guns on this crazy man, could we?

I’m not trained in either psychology or psychiatry, and if I were, I hope I’d be disciplined enough not to diagnose someone I only read about in a newspaper. But I do have my own history of mental illness, and I do know how what I once called a “bad brew” of chemistry and history lead to acts of self-destruction great and small. I never tried to hurt anyone else, but it was very important to me that I hurt myself. And no, I didn’t consider myself crazy.

It made sense to me not only that I would kill myself, but that I should kill myself.

This decades-long belief didn’t come from nowhere: it came from the reactions of people around me to my erratic behavior, from romantic notions of the successful suicide, from my own constant intake of movies and books and television shows about depression and suicide, from The Thorn Birds (long story), and, of course, from my own depression and personality.

I was the one making the attempts, and I was the one who worked out the rather elaborate moral justification for my suicide, but I got help from the society around me.

No, society didn’t know it was helping me—I don’t blame society for my troubles—but it gave me the pieces I needed to construct a an overwhelming and destructive narrative of my life. It all made so much sense, then.

I don’t know what, if anything, makes sense to Jared Loughner. All I have are a very few inadequate pieces—violent rhetoric, weapon, possible mental illness—but enough to know that, even if this wasn’t a conspiracy, it certainly wasn’t sui generis, either.

h/t Daily Dish, Huffington Post, New York Times





“While violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it”

8 01 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, was shot at point-blank range today.

She is in critical condition; according to press reports, 18 people were injured and as many as six were killed.

This is very bad news.

Every shooting is very bad news, of course, as is every murder. But political murder in a representative system carries another meaning, one which states that, in effect, the will of the people does not matter.

There’s a lot to criticize in the notion of “the will of the people”, and a lot to question in our version of representative democracy; nonetheless, it’s what we’ve got and it’s how we confer at least a bare legitimacy on our system of governance. We don’t have to like it, of course, and so we bitch and we organize and we try to sway our fellow citizens and our members of Congress to change.

This means we’re always failing: If Dems win, GOPers lose, and vice versa. Those who want change battle those content with the status quo. There may be some win-win or lose-lose situations, but in a pluralist democracy, you don’t always get your way.

To be political is to reconcile oneself to failure—without giving up.

Political assassins will not so reconcile themselves. Whatever their motivations, whatever their goals, they cannot accept that they lose, cannot accept that others may legitimately win. And so they seek to destroy the adversary’s victory, destroy that legitimacy, and, symbolically, to destroy not only those others, but everyone who allowed the victor to take power.

In so doing, the assassin acts against us all: as citizens, as participants in the political process, as those who, whatever our misgivings, in the end accept a flawed and frayed system of governance over the alternatives of purges and violence, who in the end accept the ballot over the bullet.

What we’ve got is not the best, but is what we’ve  got, it is ours—assassins be damned.





Are we not men?

13 09 2010

This is cheap, I know, but Martin Peretz doesn’t deserve the cost of real thought:

On a spring day in May 1631, Count von Tilly celebrated a mass to thank God for his conquest of Magdeburg, the chief city of the Protestant Reformation, boasting that no such victory had occurred since the destruction of Jerusalem. He was only slightly exaggerating—the cathedral in which the mass was held was one of three buildings that had not been burned to the ground. His Catholic League troops had besieged the city since November, living in muddy trenches through the winter snows, enduring the daily jeers and abuse of the Protestant inhabitants of the city. Once they stormed through the gates their zeal, rapacity, and greed knew no bounds. The slaughter was unstoppable. Fires were set throughout the city, children were thrown into the flames, and women were raped before being butchered. Fifty-three women were beheaded in a church where they sought refuge. No one was spared—twenty-five thousand Protestants were massacred or incinerated, and of the five thousand survivors some few were noblemen held for ransom, but all the rest were women who had been carried off to the imperial camp to be raped and sold from soldier to soldier. News of this atrocity quickly spread throughout Europe, hardening the sectarian lines of a conflict that had begun thirteen years before and that would rage on for another seventeen

. . . The slaughter at Magdeburg, for all its horror, was not the first nor the last such event. During the Peasants’ Rebellion in the 1520s, over one hundred thousand German peasants and impoverished townspeople were slaughtered, many of them when they rushed headlong into battle against heavily armed troops, convinced by their leader Thomas Müntzer that true believers were immune to musket balls. In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The Franciscan monks who had preached that killing heretics was the surest way to salvation were pleased, but apparently not as pleased as Pope Gregory XIII, who was so delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box that he had a special medal struck commemorating the event. And finally, lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided, Cromwell’s model army sacked the Irish town of Drogheda in 1649, killing virtually everyone. They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary’s Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold the thirty surviving defenders into slavery. Cromwell, without the least sense of irony, thanked God for giving him the opportunity to destroy such barbarous heretics.

Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity, pp. 129-130.








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