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Parsing Parkland: Practical thoughts on guns, mental health and movements

Parsing Parkland: Practical thoughts on guns, mental health and movements

Note: We’re going to talk about guns, gun rights and gun control; mental health, health care and privacy; and political movements and political parties. Before you get outraged, fucking read it. This is researched, thought-out and edited. I’m happy to listen to differing opinions based in fact – I might even change my mind (I’ve certainly evolved on some of the issues here) – but this is not a platform for your instant outrage. This is my website. I spew my own damn bullshit. If you want to spew yours, get your own damn website. If you need help doing so, get in touch and we’ll talk.

In brief, what happened

Here is full coverage from the local paper, but in case you missed it, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz (allegedly) walked into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, from which he had been previously expelled, pulled a fire alarm and fatally shot 17 people and injured a dozen others with an AR-15.

Cruz had been an outcast who had a history of police visits to his home. Children and Family Services paid him a visit after he cut himself on Snapchat and said he wanted to buy a gun. The FBI didn’t act on a tip that he might be dangerous.

There were warnings, then, despite the fact that the couple he was living with following his mother’s death said there were no warning signs he might do something like that. But we’ll talk about privacy and such.


Some gun and gun law basics, and what we need to do

Let’s start off with some definitions, particularly of the type of weapon used. We in the media have been terrible about this, so a brief explainer is definitely necessary for many of us. I’m gathering most of this information from this more in-depth summary and this look at automatic weapons laws.

You can also read this non-gun owners guide to guns.

First, the media often mention “assault weapons” or “assault-style weapons.” We’re not going to use that term here, since an assault weapon has the ability to switch between automatic and semiautomatic settings. The AR-15 used in Parkland and in other high-profile mass shootings does not have this feature.

If you’re yelling about gun control – particularly if you’re talking about banning certain weapons – you should also learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Very few people are licensed to own (never mind carry) automatic weapons. Lots of people are licensed to own and carry semiautomatic weapons.

An automatic weapon discharges multiple rounds (bullets) with a single trigger pull (so, you pull the trigger, the weapon starts to fire, and it stops when you release the trigger).

A semiautomatic weapon discharges one round with a single trigger pull, and then, assuming there is more ammunition available, chambers the next round. This covers most weapons on the market, from the AR-15 (allegedly) used by Cruz to an everyday pistol, the kind most of us not-gun-types typically see used on television.

Then there are manual weapons, which you have to either reload after each shot (think old-style rifles you see in Civil War movies), or you have to manually chamber the next round (think six-shooters you see in old Westerns).

There is hardware available to make some semiautomatic weapons behave like automatic weapons. It’s either illegal or on its way there in most states. Stephen Paddock used what’s commonly called a “bump stock” to do this when he managed to discharge over 1,100 rounds from his hotel room in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding some 850 others.

If you want a breakdown of gun laws by state, Wikipedia has you covered.

Most states have separate rules for purchasing guns and carrying guns, and also have separate rules for long guns (like a hunting rifle) and handguns. You might not need a license to buy a weapon (though you might need to submit to a criminal background check and a waiting period), but you probably need a license to carry a weapon with you in public, and of course states differ widely on whether you need to demonstrate proficiency, take a safety course or register your individual weapons.

Some states also have “red flag laws,” which allow some people – teachers or family members, for example – to report to authorities that maybe you’re dangerous and you shouldn’t be allowed to buy a weapon.

Florida does not have a red flag law, though one is currently hung up in the legislature.

***

What qualifies as a mass shooting varies by definition and can be really confusing if we don’t pick a definition to agree upon.

If you saw the piece about a school shooting every 2.5 days this year, you were probably shocked. That’s because it takes a very wide definition of school shootings, some which even the most slanted among us must admit are not school shootings – things like accidental discharge of a firearm in the parking lot of a school that had been closed for seven months.

Let’s go forth with this explanation from Politifact, shall we? The current federal definition of a mass shooting is three or more shooting victims (excluding the shooter) in one or more locations in a single event. And can we agree that a school shooting is a shooting that takes place on or about school grounds when students and/or teachers are present? [“On or about” because if someone trying to escape crosses the property line and is then shot, it’s still a school shooting.]

***

Now that we have some facts behind us, here’s what I think.

First, stop whining. I don’t want all your guns. By all means, if you are a demonstrably safe gun owner – i.e., you have no violent crime in your past, you take a safety course, you show some proficiency, you don’t carry while intoxicated and you get your vision checked every time your carry permit renews (like a drivers license) – own weapons for protection and hunting. If you are one of these people that owns a gun legally and responsibly, you may be interested in looking at some tactical gear that could help you out when it comes to protection. This gear could also be useful for you if you happen to be hunting, hiking or backpacking, for example.

If you have kids, I want you to be willing to submit to random home visits from Children & Family Services to make sure you’re storing the weapons safely; we have way too many accidental shootings involving toddlers finding weapons.

You should also receive, during the permitting process, a psychological evaluation. It doesn’t have to be invasive. If you’re on medication (that you could go off of whenever you felt like it – or stopped being able to afford it) that’s probably stopping you from killing yourself or someone else, sorry, you probably shouldn’t have access to a firearm. It’s not that you’re definitely going to kill someone eventually, it’s just that the probability is too high to risk.

Go read this piece by a veteran who enjoyed shooting an M-4 while in the Army and enjoys shooting an AR-15 as a civilian. She says, look, they’re fun. But Formula One cars are fun to drive and you can’t take those for a 150-mph joyride on the highway.

The AR-15 is modeled on military weapons that are designed to kill people. They have no other purpose. It’s the weapon that legally obtained and used in Parkland and in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Las Vegas (though the shooter modified his to fully automatic using a “bump stock” there).

If you are of the opinion that we need AR-15s and similar weapons for protection in case the government ever turns the US military loose on its people, we can keep them locked up in a civilian armory – hey, how about at private gun ranges? But let me point out that you can’t go out and buy a working tank or a lot of other items the military has. Civilians are not equipped to fight against the US military. We never will be. And we never should be.


Some thoughts on school safety

People have offered up some ideas for keeping schools more secure; I have yet to hear one that won’t detract further from education (and we could go on for long time how public education has been suffering from high-pressure standardized tests and fewer resources over the past couple of decades, but we won’t).

More armed officers in schools. Parkland had an armed officer, but of course most schools have large enough campuses that if an officer is in one place and an active shooter is in another, it could be four or five minutes before an the officer can reach the same area. An AR-15 is limited in the number of rounds it can discharge by two factors: the number of rounds available and the ability of the shooter to pull the trigger. If you’ve ever performed a repetitive motion for several minutes, you know fatigue can set in, but let’s assume a 19-year-old male with lots of adrenaline flowing can average somewhere around a shot per second for five minutes; that’s around 300 shots fired if it takes an officer five minutes to get across campus.

So, what if there were more officers in the school? Well, now we’re running into a resource problem, right? Teachers are already buying materials for their classes (and they’re not paid for the time they put in outside of school hours, creating lesson plans, correcting papers, submitting grades, etc.), textbooks are outdated, some classrooms have upwards of 30 or more students, and budgets are dropping. Adding two more officers might mean cutting three or four more teachers. And how many officers can you station in a school before students feel like they’re in a prison?

Arm teachers. It’s hard enough to find good teachers. Are we going to make it a job requirement that teachers be proficient enough with a weapon to fire it accurately in a small room full of students with an active shooter? Or are we just going to give teachers basic firearms training and then ask them to act in a high-pressure situation with a high likelihood of accidentally shooting students who are not the shooter?

Neither of those sounds like a good idea to me. There are things that can improve school safety, such as bulletproof shields and room partitions (see more here), which will protect staff and children, but they don’t actually solve the issue. I don’t have a great solution, but it seems taking care of this on the weapons side (see above) is the best way to go.


What we need to do on the health care and privacy side

Two personal stories about health care, to start. Congress and the president touted its tax reform as a big give-back to the middle class, and gutted funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, also known as Romneycare (oh, you mean you forgot this is the same plan that Massachusetts’ Republican governor instituted?). It’s also the plan that Congress and the president have. When they largely gutted the program, they wrote themselves an exception. That tells you that Romneycare/Obamacare/ACA is so good the people who don’t want to pay for it for us commoners want it for themselves.

I have insurance through my company; it covers my wife and I, and my employer pays most of it. I made a $14/month change to health care options this year, but my biweekly paycheck is down $74, which means almost $2,000 out of my pocket this year. If you’re doing the math on my health care change, I paid $1,924 for $168 of increased benefits.

My sister is not so lucky. When she moved, she had to work a part-time job before finding a temp-to-hire job that. The company decided to buy her out early, which means she’s a full-time employee after 2 months of temping instead of 3 months, but they still have a 90-day probationary period before they have to offer her health care. She has a two-year-old daughter, who, oddly enough, is not working full time.

In order to get her daughter health care, my sister joined the ACA exchange, which is partially funded by Medicaid. Funding for the exchanges has been gutted by the administration, and no one’s required to take it.

So it seems very few do.

One day recently, my sister called me to say her daughter had a tick on her head and she needed to be picked up from preschool. I went to pick up my niece while my sister called the exchange to find out which urgent care facilities near me would take the insurance. She found one, and after I arrived and filled out paperwork, when the insurance card arrived via email, they said, “oh, we don’t take the Medicaid version of this.”

They referred us to another urgent care center 20 minutes away.

I’m no fool, so I called ahead. No, they didn’t take it, but another center 30 minutes away did. I called them, and they also didn’t take the Medicaid version of the exchange.

We’re lucky enough that we could just come out of pocket for both insurance (which apparently doesn’t cover much) and getting a tick removed from my niece’s head. We’re also lucky that we don’t have a lot of Lyme disease here, so that’s the end of it.

And yes, you can remove a tick at home by yourself. But good luck if your kid gets an infection on her scalp. At best you’re talking about staying home for work for a while until they let her back at school. At worst you’re talking about brain damage or death.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: health care may not be a right, but we’re certainly better when as many people as possible can get help.

What does this have to do with what’s going on?

The same way it’s very difficult to find someone to take a tick out of my niece’s head and check her out to see if she might need some antibiotics, even if she’s covered by insurance, it’s very difficult to find mental health care, affordable or not.

It’s also hard for some who needs mental health care to recognize that they need mental health care, and it’s even harder to compel them to get it – they have to be a proven risk to themselves or others. Even then, someone has to care enough to get them to help and check them in.

Nikolas Cruz had some mental health treatment a while back. He checked himself out, because he’s allowed to.

Health care providers are not allowed to talk to anyone without a patient’s permission. I have to sign forms if I want my doctor to be able to talk to my wife.

So when Cruz was investigated briefly after cutting himself and talking about guns on Snapchat, no one was allowed to tell law enforcement that he had undergone mental health treatment, so he wasn’t on a list of people who couldn’t have guns for mental health reasons.

That’s why I want a basic mental health evaluation when you register for your permit. And your mental health history is absolutely relevant when purchasing a firearm.


Voices of Parkland

This is what students and faculty from the school are staying. Again, a plea against your outrage: Many of these voices are those of minors who have just lost 17 of their friends way before their time. If you’re reading this, statistically speaking you’re probably an adult who wasn’t directly affected by the event. It’s up to you, but if you’re going on the attack, you’re attacking teenagers. Pick your lane.


Movements, parties and American politics

Over the past several years, we’ve started to see more of what we’d call movements in the US.

The Civil Rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s were really the last time we had mass movements in this country. Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s I saw the Million Man March, AIDS awareness, and the revival of the yellow ribbon campaign during the first Iraq War, but these were small in comparison.

Now we have Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the Women’s March, and now, as you’ll see in the Twitter names of some of the students quoted above, we have #NeverAgain.

There is plenty of splintering within some of these movements. There is no overall organization, though some pockets are organizing and we may see national NGOs start to pop up.

Anyway.

Movements are not parties, but sometimes they become parties.

We have two main political parties in the US: Republicans and Democrats. Right now, they wear their respective jerseys and, by and large, follow other people with the same jersey. I’m not convinced the majority of jersey-wearers elected to national office are concerned with thinking for themselves. Each party agrees among its members upon some talking points, and members who don’t stick to the party line are set aside as pariahs, unworthy of funding.

Every time we try to take money out of national politics, we write in loopholes, which are easily exploited because the people who need them wrote them in.

We’re basically living in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Or maybe Vonnegut wrote how he wrote because he had two eyes and a brain.

Ho hum, as it were.

Presidents have term limits, but senators and congressmen do not. It’s time to set those. Five or six terms for members of Congress and two terms for senators – that will guarantee that anyone serving out the maximum number of terms works alongside at least two presidents.


What’s next?

Here’s where I hit you with a shocker: we wait six months, and we do this all again. Because our system doesn’t want change; only those of us governed by the system do, and believe it or not, we don’t have that kind of power.

Sometimes I think I should run for office, or volunteer for someone I agree with. Most of the time, though, I’m too cynical to think it matters.

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Parsing the 2016 US presidential election

Parsing the 2016 US presidential election

#vote or shut yer trap. #election2016

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

As of noon or so on the 20th of January, 2017, Trump will take the oath of office and he will be the president of all Americans.

All Americans. Even me, one of the Jewish journalists his supporters want dead.

I’m not gonna lie: A large number of Trump’s supporters scare me shitless. I’m going to spend much of the next four years glancing over my shoulder.

Some newspapers around the world went with “Oh My God” on the front page. At home, they went with “you’re hired,” you know, because he’s a reality TV star and editors think they’re clever.

Where Hillary Clinton and the Democrats went wrong

So many places.

Clinton wasn’t the right person in 2008. She wouldn’t have been the right person in 2012. It was only a small echo chamber who thought she was the right person this year. Nobody actually listened to the majority of actual voters.

The party elite forgot that Bernie Sanders supporters entered the primaries as Sanders-or-Trump folks. They forgot that those weren’t dyed-in-the-wool Democrats — that they were independent thinkers. Having Sanders ask his primaries supporters to vote for Clinton wasn’t going to work — they were going to vote for whom they thought would be the best candidate, not follow the guy who dropped out.

After the convention, Clinton ignored Wisconsin altogether. She sent surrogates to Michigan. She banked on Pennsylvania. She lost them all, to the tune of 46 electoral votes that would have swung the election.

She spent the last week posting Twitter ads asking for money, when she hadn’t even shored up our votes.

Clinton spent the election season sounding entitled to the office.

Where Trump went right

Trump went for the heart. He’s a smile-and-shake hands kind of guy. Some of us find that kind of slimy, but most of us go for it anyway. It’s the kind of thing that sells millions of cars, houses, boats and insurance policies across the country every year. It’s big business.

He didn’t need facts. He got a lot of stuff wrong. Nobody cared. He knew that.

What Trump’s first 100 days look like

Trump’s going to have a difficult first 100 days, I think. His cabinet will sail through, he’ll get someone appointed to the Supreme Court. All the Washington stuff will go easy. He has a Republican House and Senate. Expect a lot of rubber stamps for two years.

But the work is going to be intrinsically hard. He’s a figure head. He runs companies, shmoozes, shakes hands and entertains. He’s going to have to get his hands a little dirtier than he’s used to.

He’s going to earn in a year what some of his businesses earn in hours — he’s going to take a pay cut to the tune of four or five zeroes. He’s not going to be able to run his businesses. His assets are going to be caught up in a blind trust.

All that’s going to be tough for a control freak.

What the next four years look like

Differently than you think.

That wall? Homeland Security says a wall is basically useless. We’ve had a border fence for five years. People go over it, under it and around it.

Built with Mexicans’ money? They say they’d get that money by intercepting money sent back to Mexico by workers. That means they’re going to be opening mail. If there’s cash in an envelope, it might just go to the wall (or some other project). Do grandmothers still put $3 in Valentine’s Day cards for four-year-olds? Yeah, that’s all going to the wall now. Because the federal government will be opening our mail.

Trump says he’s going to force Apple to build iPhones in the US? He’s not. First, because he’s not going to move his own manufacturing to the US (his hats, shirts, suits and ties are made overseas), but also because Apple’s not going to pay the millions it would take to create the fabricating equipment, and you’ll probably balk at whatever the iPhone costs after manufacturing costs go up $100, or about a third.

A lot of the campaign promises Trump made (let’s make this clear — most presidents fail at most of their campaign promises) are big government promises. Dictating where companies make products. Checking mail for cash. Getting the federal government involved in local law enforcement. He’s now at the top of the small-government party. The legislature is not going to go for most of that.

What you can do as a Trump supporter

Have some empathy and don’t be an asshole. No, really. Your “team” won. There are people who are actually scared for their lives, their livelihoods and their liberty. These people are your neighbors, your coworkers and your customers. Some of them are people you hire for jobs you don’t want to do. You don’t have to agree with them. But you have to live them.

This isn’t football. You don’t get a good ribbing in this week and then get back together next week for pizza, beer and the game again.

The future of third parties, and other US election issues

If you were hoping for Clinton to win, don’t blame her loss on third-party voters. Most Gary Johnson supporters were not going to vote for Clinton. He was a Republican governor and had a Republican governor as his running mate. Jill Stein wasn’t even on the ballot in most states.

It’s not up to voters to vote for people they don’t want to win. It’s up to candidates to rally passion in voters.

I’ve begrudgingly voted for people before, but never as strongly as I did when I voted for Clinton yesterday. She was never the right candidate for me, and I still didn’t know when I walked into the room whether I was going to click that box for her.

We’re going to see more third-party candidates coming out of the woodwork if we keep seeing first-wave baby boomers running as major-party candidates. They’re just out of touch with most of us.

Polling is going to change. We can’t keep relying on people answering landlines or hanging up cell phones as an information collection method.

We need to get big money out of politics. We say it every election cycle, but until we have an election cycle that allows people to run without requiring many millions of dollars, we’re going to keep having rich, entitled people with little actual empathy (despite what their ads show) running for president.

Finally, we need to put term limits on the House and Senate. Make it 10 or 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate — that way if you’re awesome, you’re serving under at least two presidents. But career politicians who get rubber-stamped into office need to get out of the way and let fresh blood help move the country forward.

The back-and-forth we have right now isn’t working. We’re behind in education, in manufacturing and in social issues (seriously, stop pointing at the Bible and saying being gay is wrong if you’ve spoken back to your parents since you were 13 or can’t name a price to sell your daughter into slavery).

We need ways to get fresh brains into office, and term limits and curbing campaign spending would go a long way.

What you can do because you’re scared after the election

Organize. Love. Hell, organize love.

Yes, Trump will be your president, too. If you feel like he’s not going to do a good job, you can run away or you can work toward making things better. Do the latter. If you run off to Canada or Australia or wherever you have dual citizenship, consider whether your patriotism is fairweather and maybe consider staying there when someone you like better is elected.

Revolutions aren’t built by majorities. They’re built by a passionate 10 percent. Get a couple of revolutions together, and you have a coalition. Pretty soon you have a plurality. Good for you. That’s what you need.

Build great stuff in your neighborhood, in your city and your state. Share it. It will grow.

Finally, don’t bury your head and disappear. This election (and any other) isn’t about you. It’s about us. Americans. We were built on collaboration and peaceful transfer of power. Our system was built to survive its government. Buck. The fuck. Up. Do something great. Do it from love, not from fear.

I posted this at 2:30 a.m., right about the time AP and CNN called the election:

Here are a few things that I learned tonight:
– We are bitter winners
– We are bitter losers
– We are full of anger
– We are full of hate
– We are full of love
– We are full of fear
– We really don’t understand one another as much as we thought we did
– We have a lot less empathy as a whole than we thought we did
– We have a de facto system that is broken in a lot of ways

Here are a few things things I’ll be thinking about going forward:

– Revolutions aren’t built on majorities, they’re built on a dedicated 10%
– No one is entitled to the presidency. We need to stop treating the office as though party elites get to dictate who “should” wind up in the chair
– As a Jewish journalist, I’ll spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. I don’t trust a lot of people right now.
– We need to get money out of politics. Until that happens, elections are out of the hands of the majority.

I really wish we could hear from George Carlin this election season.

Waking up Wednesday morning, these were my first thoughts:

Some things you can do to move forward:

(1) importantly, remember it’s still OUR America and no one tells US how to live
(2) there are some groups of people who might seem Truly Fucked, but there are organizations that help almost all of them. Volunteer. Donate. Don’t leave your friends, neighbors and loved ones stranded.
(3) be physically and mentally strong. You may get less help than you hope for. That doesn’t mean you’re helpless.
(4) love.

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Mind dump: Parsing Ferguson

Mind dump: Parsing Ferguson


[credit]

For the second time this year, I was glued last night to live streams from on the ground in Ferguson. I have a lot to parse and process for myself, and I thought I’d mind dump here. Maybe it will spark some conversation.


Here are the filters I’m viewing this through.

I am white. I am middle class. I have an admiration for those who have it in them to act on their own radicalism. I have a strong preference for information presented through as few filters as possible (a camera on the ground will show you what the camera holder wants you to see, but that’s infinitely better than a reporter in a studio talking about what s/he sees through a drone lens). The only “conflict” I’ve ever had with a police officer was as a journalist when there was some small-town squabbling between the chief and an elected official. I have a healthy respect for authority that comes with a healthy dose of skepticism regarding that authority (read: I respect an officer’s authority to enforce laws, but I’m willing to question the law being enforced and to ask respectfully about my rights and responsibilities).

I also understand as a Freemason I have taken an extra obligation to adhere to the laws of the places I venture, but I also understand the context that a bunch of Freemasons were involved in founding the U.S., in direct violation of the obligations they took when being raised under the laws of Britain.


While I watched the actual announcement of the grand jury decision on whatever TV station was on in the house, I spent most of the night watching Bassem Masri’s Ustream channel, with occasional checks on Argus’s livestream clips.

I largely followed reaction on Twitter.

I didn’t catch any of the news of the bridges being blocked in New York City until this morning. While I certainly understand people demonstrating in other areas, I feel like it was more important for people to express themselves in Ferguson directly.


Here are some facts I can’t be blind to.

The announcement was scheduled for a bad time. The announcement came in prime time. Most people were out of work. Many people were glued to the television. People were available to demonstrate, and people were available to watch. If you want to minimize both, have it at 11 a.m., before the East Coast heads to lunch and as the West Coast hops in cars to commute to work.

Demonstrators were organized, and were prepared for both peace and violence. This was certainly an organized demonstration. People with bullhorns had access to benches or other structures to stand on and be seen. People with cameras and strong social media presences were allowed to be close to those people. Leaders called for 4 minutes, 30 seconds of silence after the announcement. While a lot of people were clearly prepared for smoke/gas, I saw a lot of hands up and I didn’t see any weapons.

Police were also organized, but only appeared prepared for violence. I understand you prepare for the worst-case scenario, not the best, but if you don’t appear ready for the best-case, you’re never going to get it. This photo made the rounds last night. I have no way to verify this is from Ferguson, and I have no way to verify it’s from last night, as opposed to the night in August when things blew up. But it’s an accurate representation of what I saw. Nothing in this photo says, “We’re ready for people to just hang out and hold signs.”


A couple of things to consider. These are things we can easily make changes on with policy, rather than trying to change attitudes or train people.

The grand jury system needs some help. From data blog Five Thirty-eight:

U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Tech entrepreneur Chris Sacca has this to say about that statistic: “Failure to indict only happens when the prosecutor wants that to be the result.”

Call it a conspiracy if you like, but a system with with two possible outcomes that comes out one way 99.993% of the time is only working in one direction.

Body cameras for police officers could help. For the past three and a half months, Michael Brown’s family has been succinct in their reactions in the press. They haven’t asked for riots, they haven’t asked for money (although I think the system should allow them to file a wrongful death suit, and I certainly would in this case, given the option), and they haven’t asked violent demonstrators to do their bidding.

But they are asking for some reforms that could avoid the hearsay reports in this case. Only two people for sure know what happened the day Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, and one of them is dead.

Vox breaks down some of the pros and cons of body cameras (including things like, if an officer enters a home and the video is public domain because it’s a police officer, is it a violation of privacy if there’s nothing illegal going on?).


Some things I remember from watching on-the-ground video.

• Some protestors were certainly peaceful. They stood around with signs, chanted, took photos and tweeted.

• Some protestors were certainly not peaceful. They threw rocks and other objects, broke things, and some stores were looted, while others were burned.

• Some protestors were not violent, but were belligerent, taunting officers, who I thought showed good restraint under the circumstances.

• Officers used some strategies that were clearly aimed at creating arrests, like boxing in protestors and then telling them to disperse, without leaving them a route to do so.


Todd’s a good friend of mine, and I didn’t want to address this in 140 characters, but I think it’s important and it’s going to be a common question.

There’s a larger context here. Last night didn’t go from “No indictment” to “burn down Ferguson” in one step. It went from demonstrators on edge to a militarized police unit on hand to tear gas to cars on fire to stores being looted and burned. And, if Five Thirty-eight’s data are correct, there was probably some institutional meddling in the grand jury’s decision-making, and if businesses are seen as institutional, they’re not “innocent.” But remember, the steps along the way are important. If everything remains peaceful, or if violence is quelled early instead of perpetuated by a back-and-forth, it probably never gets that far.

I’m not so naive as to think nobody went out to burn stores and steal stuff. But I think that was an opportunistic byproduct of the night, not a goal of demonstrators.


Chris Kluwe is back at it, and I’m glad to see it.

You might remember that the NFL player once told a legislator that if gay people were allowed to get married, the legislator would not turn into a lustful cockmonster.

Kluwe posted more photos and such on his Twitter feed as well.

Two things stand out to me very quickly. In the sports photos, almost everyone’s white. Also in the sports photos, I see very few police officers.

Also note that in the Seattle and San Francisco photos, these people are happy that their team won. Holy crap.


And finally, at least for now, some links, photos, etc. that I think are, or could be, of importance.

• Here is what the Post-Dispatch looked like this morning, and here’s what I think should be media’s responsibility in the coming days and weeks.

This photo is not-so-vaguely reminiscent of Tiananmen. A slideshow of photos from The New York Times starts with an even scarier view.

10 powerful minimalist pictures that beautifully challenge police brutality in America

• Far away from Ferguson, protestors shut down bridges in New York City.

Where people were tweeting about #Ferguson last night

• This isn’t just a police brutality or racial divide case. It’s a human issue, and this is a good truth:

I’d love to collect some of your thoughts and hear about some other angles I should consider. I probably haven’t thought of a lot of things.

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Parsing the election: Equality edition

Parsing the election: Equality edition

In case you missed it, the U.S. elected Barack Obama to the office of the presidency on Tuesday.

It didn’t really surprise anybody. Even Karl Rove predicted he would win in a landslide.

Obama is African-American, and if you’re not up on your U.S. history, please leave right now, go to the library, and educate yourself.

During the primary season, it became clear that the Democratic Party was going to make some history. It was either going to put a woman at the top of the ticket, or it was going to put an African-American at the top of the ticket.

Some people – including some close to me – said that they would vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary because they were worried there were people in the country who would vote for the Republican candidate (we later found out that would be John McCain) solely because they wouldn’t vote for Obama because of his race.

My response? These people wouldn’t vote for Clinton because of her sex. Also, they would probably vote Republican even if John McCain were the Democratic candidate.

Once Obama and McCain were nominated by their respective parties, race became all but a non-issue. McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, certainly couldn’t use race as an issue, at least not overtly. Same for the mainstream media, even if they were to endorse McCain/Palin (which very few of them did).

But once Obama got elected, people all over the world – including in the U.S. – started reacting positively at the fact we had elected a black man to the presidency.

Black voters interviewed by members of the press – particularly older ones, who had lived through depression-era segregation all the way up through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s – celebrated. Some said they feel at home for the first time.

McCain, in his concession speech, brought race into the picture.

Media pundits declared the Bradley effect dead.

It feels like this election was never about race, but the reason for that is we have an economic crisis and two wars on our hands. Mitch reminds us that Obama’s victory doesn’t mean racism’s dead in the U.S. He’s right, of course. It just means race wasn’t the top issue in this campaign.

There’s still a lot of work to do, and it’s not only racism that needs eradicating in the U.S.

Several states added constitutional amendments making gay marriage illegal. One state added an amendment – presumably aimed at gay couples – making it illegal for unmarried couples to adopt children.

Women still make less money than men for equal work – I’ve seen numbers that say women’s salaries come in about 75% to 84% of men’s salaries.

Some reading for you:

» The Housewife of the Revolution asks, “What are you doing to eliminate inequality?” Me: Doing the best I can to not use the privilege that comes with being a straight, white male.

» Keep it Trill wants to know how people in California could say Yes We Can to Obama, but No You Can’t by passing Proposition 8.

» Here’s one I found most illuminating, though: Jasmyne Cannick, a black lesbian, was out campaigning in force in California, but didn’t feel the need to talk about Prop 8 at all, feeling a struggle she felt personally had been co-opted by a primarily white No On 8 movement.

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Vote

Vote

On Jan. 20, 2017, as my wife, our pup and I piled into the van to head up to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with him — at a place without a television, because he didn’t want to have to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration — my wife made a joke. I didn’t respond. I was very uneasy about a Trump presidency, what it meant for Americans, and, importantly for me, what it meant for Jewish Americans, and for American journalists.

I told her I might be uneasy for the next four years.

Donald Trump’s America has not been great for me. Before our collective quarantine, for the first time in my life, weekly services at my house of worship were strictly guarded. Armed police officer at the front door, which would open no more than 30 minutes before services, and 15 minutes after the scheduled start time, the front doors would be locked and the armed officer would move to the side door, where you need to go in.

I’d only ever seen that for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the Jewish equivalent, from an importance standpoint, of Christmas and Easter for people of Christian, Catholic and adjacent faiths — when a large portion of the community might be at worship at the same time.

Meanwhile, while the world is getting safer for journalists, the U.S. isn’t even among the top 40 nations for press freedoms, despite that freedom being expressly designated in the Constitution. Hundreds of journalists have been attacked, arrested and had equipment damaged this year. Reporters Without Borders blames the Trump administration for this:

Much of that ire has come from President Trump and his associates in the federal government, who have demonstrated the United States is no longer a champion of press freedom at home or abroad. This dangerous anti-press sentiment has trickled down to local governments, institutions and the American public.

People ask, what about the tax break? Our accountant predicted the tax legislation would save us $200. We don’t have a good assessment, though, since we had a child and bought a house the same years the legislation kicked in.

We do know the gutting of the Affordable Care Act cost us a bunch of money; our family went from two people to three, and our health insurance costs tripled while our deductible doubled (which means not only were we spending three times as much for our insurance, we had to pay twice as much out of pocket before insurance started to pick up a significant portion of the bill).

I can unequivocally say that, in the few ways government can affect my everyday life, I’m worse off during Trump’s presidency than I was before it.


Before I sat down to write this post, I went back and read some of the stuff I wrote before and after the 2016 election.

I wrote about the two major party candidates being in the same America of the “Two Americas.” While Joe Biden is certainly not in the same category of wealthy as Donald Trump — and not even in the ballpark with Hillary Clinton, it’s still true that both major party candidates are not in the America that is worried about paying its bills.

I wrote that I was concerned about civility. In our speech, on social media, and, importantly, in our streets, it’s become much worse. It’s clear we still understand nothing about context. I wrote a long post about nuance and facts and culture and a bunch of other stuff we can just toss out the window, since we’re ignoring them, outside of a few communities that actually value conversation.

I made some predictions in the days after the election. Some of them were correct — there’s no border wall of the sort promised and Mexico did not pay for whats there; he still doesn’t seem to enjoy the work; Apple’s not making iPhones in the U.S.

I didn’t see many traditions being broken. Trump didn’t place his assets in a blind trust, and luckily for him, the courts didn’t have the balls to cause a constitutional crisis by letting emoluments lawsuits get very far. He sent federal law enforcement in to bolster local law enforcement agencies, and the “small government” Republicans looked the other way, just as they did as the national debt skyrocketed (also surprising to me, though I didn’t make a prediction on it).


Normally when I post about voting, whether it’s on the blog, Twitter, Instagram, wherever, I tell you I don’t care which candidate you vote for, so long as you vote.

But this time I care.

I asked early for my absentee ballot, and sent it in early.

I’ve been tired of our two-party system for a long time. George Washington warned us of the problems of such a system.

I’m mostly behind what Unity has been up to, and while things got started too late to make much of a difference this election cycle (they asked supporters to vote their consciences instead of the Unity ticket this time around), I hope they keep up their efforts, which include:

• Drafting a center-right and a center-left candidate to run for executive office, flipping the ticket every four years. For example, let’s say in 2024 their members want to see Andrew Yang and Jocko Willink run. They randomize the ticket (let’s say, flip a coin) and, let’s say Yang would be the presidential candidate and Willink the vice presidential candidate. In 2028, the ticket flips, even if they win in 2024.

• Rank-choice voting. Instead of tossing all your vote power in, say, the Trump basket and getting stuck with Biden if Trump loses, you rank order your vote, expressing your second, third, fourth, etc., preference. Maybe you’d really like Trump but would prefer to have the Libertarian Party candidate or the Conservative Party candidate in office ahead of Biden. If you’re in a swing state, you have the opportunity to really make a difference with rank-choice.

• Electronic voting. This isn’t in Unity’s stated goals, but they had only a small tech hiccup on their primary day, which caused them to extend voting by a few hours, with over 8,000 votes coming in across time zones and the rank-choice winners announced the next day. Obviously there are some shortcomings, but if we were to start building systems now for 2022 or 2024, we could go beyond only being able to vote via iPhone or Android. And obviously for those without internet access we’d have to come up with an in-person voting space, like a library.


The last two Democrats to win Georgia were Bill Clinton in 1992, with a big boost from Ross Perot, and Jimmy Carter in 1976, a Georgia native. We’re not exactly a swing state. But I really feel the safety of my family could be on the line with another Trump presidency. If we can’t worship safely and my profession becomes more perilous, it’s increasingly clear that this isn’t the America the founders intended, and it’s time to find a way to fix the system.

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George Floyd and COVID-19: Land of the …

George Floyd and COVID-19: Land of the …

Note: It takes a while to get there, but this is a post about the death of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations across the U.S. A week after his death, I can’t for the life of me find a story that notes why he was in police custody at the time of his death, but it’s clear that Floyd didn’t need to die and, given the context of being a white police officer with a black man in custody, the officer charged in Floyd’s death (I’m making it a point to not give the officer notoriety by naming him), the officer and his compatriots should have made a conscious effort to keep him alive.

This post includes a lot of facts. It includes context. It includes nuance. I believe you can be angry at Floyd’s unnecessary death and also support and appreciate the hard work and dedication of our 800,000 law enforcement officers. I believe you can feel frustrated and disenfranchised and also express those feelings nonviolently. I believe our current state of things comes down to two things: selfishness and a lack of leadership. You can’t keep a nation going if you only take care of certain segments of its populace. There’s a lot of good leadership out there, but there are pockets of bad leadership in protest organizers, police forces, cities, states and in segments of the federal government.

When you’re willing to use military and law enforcement violence against a citizenry, you have to expect the citizenry to fight back. Those are exactly the circumstances that led to the founding of our great country.


On June 4, 1982, my baby sister was born.

She’s the youngest of the three of us, but was the first to marry, the first to have a child.

I remember for the couple of days our parents were in the hospital surrounding her birth, my brother and I stayed with some family friends — Donna and Bill, and their kids Maura, DeDe and Chris. They had two Siamese cats.

As we were growing up, we had a cat named Bluffy. She was a runt; probably a week old or so when DeDe found her abandoned and they brought her by. I wanted to call her “Blue” for her eyes; my siblings wanted to call her “Fluffy.” We compromised.

Bluffy used to sit on my sister’s chair at the dinner table, next to her, and eat off her plate. She — the cat — would take a two-week vacation from us every summer.


On my sister’s seventh birthday, two extraordinary things happened.

Poland held a legislative election, the first free elections in Eastern Europe since the aftermath of World War II.

And, earlier in the day, China set its military on its citizens in Tiananmen Square, an event highlighted by the Tank Man photo, maybe the most iconic protest photo since the Burning Monk 36 years earlier.

I was 12 years old, studying for my bar mitzvah, which took place in the days after the Berlin Wall came down.

I know, I write about this with some frequency. They’re some of the events that shaped my life.


It’s hard to not catch any news these days. Even if you don’t read, watch or listen to any news source, and you’re managing to stay off social media, you’d also have to not talk to another adult to know we have two things going on in the U.S. right now:

(1) We’re over 10 weeks into some form of stay-at-home order across almost all of the nation due to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes a disease called COVID-19. People are out of work. Businesses and schools are closed. We’re going to address this first, because it explains why tensions were already high, and it didn’t take much for .

(2) George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minn. This is the latest case of a black man being killed by a white police officer. The officer who killed Floyd was charged in his murder, while that same officer and three who were with him at the time of Floyd’s death have been fired. There have been violent protests across the country. We’ll get to that in a moment.


I spoke a couple of months ago with Peter Serafine about the loss of liberties tied to the quarantine. What we didn’t talk about then — because it wasn’t evident yet — is that we’re having in a lot of places, if you’ll excuse the crude phrase, a dick measuring contest.

There are some people — and don’t you go about putting names in my mouth because I think you’ll make some incorrect assumptions — who are saying and doing some things just to push some power around.

Here’s a more elegant way to state an overarching problem with politics in this country right now: we’re insistent on playing a zero-sum game inside an infinite game.

An example of a zero-sum game is a football game: someone has to win and someone has to lose. There’s a plus-one (win) and a minus-one (loss), and added together, they total zero. Republicans win, Democrats lose, or vice-versa.

An infinite game is one in which we keep tweaking the rules with the goal of simply keeping the game going. In this case, the idea is to keep America existing in perpetuity.

We probably can’t have both, at least not in our current form.

Businesses are clamoring, in some states, for their “right to open.” But anyone who needs a license to operate can have a license pulled at any time. People are talking about their rights to work, but even in “right-to-work” states, you don’t have a right to a job.

There are protests in a lot of places demanding politicians either listen to or ignore health experts. But no one’s lighting themselves on fire for it. No one’s standing in front of a tank after hundreds of citizens were killed by the military. Nobody’s overtaking forces to knock down a wall. Because we don’t have to.

We consider ourselves the land of the free, and, while we certainly have a lot more freedoms than most other nations, freedom doesn’t come without responsibility.

A big part of the American Dream, as it were, is the ability to fail without disastrous consequences. So maybe what we need is a better support net.


And so to the late George Floyd, and more specifically the protests across the country. The list of black men and women killed by white police officers (or while in the custody of white police officers) in the past few years keeps growing. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Keith Lamont Scott. Breonna Taylor. And more. I’m not even including Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old with an air rifle shot by police at a public park in Cleveland.

In Tiananmen, there was tank man. In Ferguson, we saw something similar: a militarized police force with armored vehicles rolling into town to stop protesters while someone stood face-to-face with the front vehicle. That night it was not just protest. There was violence and looting. It was a testament to the frustration a community was feeling, and that frustration is both growing and spreading. Like things were after Rodney King. And Watts. And Miami, Cincinnati, Newark, Detroit and lots of others.

And it hasn’t been helped by the quarantine, which, as I mentioned, is costing jobs, closing businesses, and generally has people’s nerves up.

So the protests started in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed. And then they spread to Louisville, where Breonna Taylor, a black first responder on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, was killed by white narcotics officers who knocked down the door of the wrong home while the suspect they were actually looking for was already in custody.

And then they went national. The trend was, in many cities, a peaceful protest in the afternoon, and, when the sun went down, things got violent. Curfews were put in place. This happened in dozens, if not hundreds of cities, from Syracuse to Portland, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Denver, Cleveland, Newark and a host of other places.


Here’s what I know about being a police officer: not much. I do know that it’s high-stress. Every time an officer stops someone, whether in a car or on the street, it’s potentially (a) a life-threatening moment and (b) a public-relations disaster.

I did a ride-along with a an officer in Holyoke, Mass., in the early 2000s, before cell phones had cameras and before most of us had high-speed internet access. The officer told me it would probably be a quiet Monday of parking and walking around to check in on business owners, maybe hanging by the train tracks to watch for people with expired vehicle registrations (the road was in rough enough shape that cars had to slow down enough for the officer to see).

Instead, we weren’t out five minutes before we were called back to get a sketch of a suspect, and then we weren’t out another five minutes before we pulled over and the officer chased that suspect down on foot, and I got to watch a booking before 8 a.m.

The officer then asked a couple of kids in a double-parked SUV to move along, and a half-hour later we were in a high-speed chase with that same SUV — the kids were shooting air guns, blowing out tires. When we pulled them over, one of the kids told the officer the gun was real. Looking back, that could have been a big problem for that kid — of course, they probably wouldn’t have put a reporter in a car with an officer for whom that was likely to be an issue.

As the day wrapped up, the officer was called to an accident in which a sedan ran a stop sign and went under an SUV, rolling the bigger vehicle, and killing a teenager who in the course of the rollover slid under the shoulder restraint and out the window, with the SUV landing on him.

That sounds like a rough day at work, particularly for someone who thought it was going to be a quiet day. And he did it all while dealing with a reporter in his mid-20s sitting in his car.

***

There are some 800,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S. The vast majority of them are awesome. It is a really hard job. What made that Holyoke police officer put a black teenager who claimed an air gun was real in the back of a patrol car but a Cleveland police officer fatally shoot a 12-year-old black boy on a playground with an air gun? It’s a split-second decision, and, in some cases, it’s a whole lot of split-second decisions.

Consider the George Floyd case. The now-former officer had to decide to detain him, restrain him, put a knee on his neck and leave it there, and he had to make that decision over and over for a while, with three other officers nearby, keeping their safety and his own under consideration.

It’s widely believed (and, deferring to the experts on this, I’ll have to agree) that somewhere along the way the decisions were the wrong ones. He and his three colleagues were fired. In this case, it was probably racism. The now-former police officer charged in his death was known to go a little overboard on “African American nights” at the club where both Floyd and the officer worked security. Would the officer have made the same split-second decisions if Floyd had been white? We have no way to know, and every situation needs to be addressed as it comes.

Split-second decisions also depend on things like how much sleep someone got, what they ate for breakfast, how their relationship is with their spouses and kids, whether they got cut off in traffic on the way to work, and a host of other seemingly insignificant factors that pile up during the day. We also get what’s called “decision fatigue” — we make thousands of tiny choices during the day (what to eat, which route to take to work, which coffee mug to use, which sock to put on first), and for that reason, we tend to make more thoughtfully considered decisions in the morning (or in the few hours after we first wake up, for those people who sleep during the day and work evenings).

There are no statistics on how many interactions police have. It’s probably in the hundreds of millions a year. One site says police killed 1,099 people in 2019. Medical errors account for way more than that. And doctors, like police, are expected to protect us. But they don’t have the public, armed presence police have.

We don’t have good numbers on how many of those police-involved killings were of unarmed suspects; the same site says that, in 2015, police killed at least 104 unarmed black people across the country.

Not awesome, but is it a mark of systemic, racist violence? We do know that black men, especially, are detained, jailed and killed disproportionately to their population, which may point to something at least somewhat systemic. Comedian John Mulaney may have been going for a laugh in one of his specials when he declared that middle class white kids weren’t going to jail for marijuana while implying that black kids might, but let’s face it, it’s true.

The city of Cleveland — with the Tamir Rice killing in its history — is considering declaring racism a public health crisis. The city of Flint, Michigan — where even getting clean water has been a problem for years — has made a similar declaration.

I know I’ve been tossing around a lot of research. Let me make a couple of things clear: I believe racism is bad. I believe George Floyd’s death was avoidable. I believe George Floyd’s death was at least partially driven by racism. I’ll follow the experts on this one and say I believe George Floyd’s death was a homicide. But …


But it’s no excuse for rioting and looting. That’s not what the First Amendment is designed for. We have the right to peaceably assemble. We can do so loudly and forcibly. We don’t need to burn down businesses in our community and steal from them.

A tale of two cities:

In Charleston, South Carolina, on Sunday, the mayor set an early curfew — 6 p.m. — and told people to behave. There were 35 people arrested.

In Savannah, Georgia, on Sunday, the mayor joined an afternoon protest, set an 8:30 p.m. curfew, and told people to be safe. There were no arrests.

If you want people to behave like adults, treat them that way. Lead by example. We can do this in our communities. All of them.

I get that violence is born of desperation. But we can be better.


Back to that support net I mentioned 1,700 words or so ago, when we were discussing our quarantine situation, with lots of people on edge at home, out of work and missing human contact.

All nations are backed up by threats of violence. In some instances it’s more clear than in others. In some places you “disappear” for disagreeing with the head of state. In Singapore, you might get caned for petit theft. In the U.S., a traffic ticket is backed up, eventually — if you fail to pay, miss enough court dates and continue to drive and get caught — with jail.

We call ourselves the land of the free, but obviously freedom has limits. When the government tightens those limits, and then the people we trust to protect us cross lines, killing citizens, and redress becomes impossible, tensions will rise, violence is possible, and right now it’s happening.

You can’t sell the notion of a peaceful nation-state to citizens who feel like they’re losing their rights and their livelihoods, and who fear they are in danger of losing their lives.

We need our leaders — our governments, our police, our community organizers, our NGOs, our pro- and anti-organizations — to work together. We can’t do it with our current attitudes. And I really think it’s our attitudes we need to change. We are not each other’s enemies. There are enough resources for all of us. Let’s be responsible stewards of our society. Onward.

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Are there simply too many of us? Or could we maybe just take care of each other a littler better?

Are there simply too many of us? Or could we maybe just take care of each other a littler better?

While I was being prepped for my recent procedure, we started with some small talk. But you know, that escalates quickly. I know what the nurses do for work, but when they ask me what I do for work, well…

We got to talking very quickly about the fatal shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville, which was still very recent in the public consciousness.

“Why does this happen?” one of the nurses asked.

“There are just too many of us, I think,” I replied.

I know. I was undergoing a procedure to help alleviate a fertility issue so I can actively pursue making more of us. The comment here would commonly be, “so shoot me,” but don’t. People seem to be taking that literally these days.

When I was doing my thought experiment a couple of months ago, rolling back 50 years at a time to see how much we’ve advanced, one thing I found was that just 200 years ago, the population of the United States was about the size of New York City today.

That’s crazy talk. Yes. There were “only” 20 states in 1818. But still, the total population of those 20 states was the same as are crammed into a single city in the nation’s northeast today.

I wonder if one of the reasons we see shootings like Nashville and Parkland and others is that we’re just not meant to deal with so many people around us.

Have you ever waited in Home Depot to get keys made? I’m not talking about showing up on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and having to wait for someone to figure out who’s in the store at that hour with keys to the machine. I mean waited on a Saturday at noon when seven people are in line at checkout and five people want to have keys made and there’s no room to form a line so everyone just crowds around and you crank it up to eight figuring if just one of these people dares to say they were here before you, you might just lose it?

Now imagine that you have no self-control. And maybe you have a firearm. How many of those people are dead, just because there are too many people waiting for keys? Too many people around, too much traffic on your way to the store…there are a lot of us.

I’m not suggesting you go out and start eliminating people, thinning the crowd, as it were. I’m really looking for us all to take responsibility for each other. It’s really hard when there are so many of us. It’s a lot to be responsible for.

But we have to do it.

I was born in 1976. At that time the world’s population was 4.1 billion. Today, it’s 7.6 billion. That’s an 85 percent increase in 42 years. The “good news” is, annual growth is slowing down. The bad news is that the earth might only be able to hold 10 billion of us (actually, that’s the high end of the estimate) If we think the slowing population growth will plateau at about 1 percent annually (it was 1.7 and 1.8 percent through the second half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s), we hit critical mass in less than 30 years.

Just about everybody who might read this can expect to live another 30 years, so that should scare the hell out of you. If you can’t expect to live another 30 years, you for sure love someone who does expect to live another 30 years.

Holy. Shit.

This might not be a call to be better stewards of our environment, or think about what we’re eating. I for sure need to spend some time looking in the mirror on these and other things. I don’t have answers there, but this little bit of research that I just did will certainly spur some looking around and reflection.

But it is a call to say, hey, you’re gonna have less elbow room. People are going to continue to want to stay alive. People are going to keep having sex. We’re going to have to be nicer to each other.

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What’s the way out? Research in media, racism and lobotomies

What’s the way out? Research in media, racism and lobotomies

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“Are you a cop, too?”

“No, I’m just a reporter,” I said, grabbing my notebook and recorder, climbing out of the front seat of the cruiser. I didn’t know how to talk to a 16-year-old who’d just been placed in the back of a police car.

Several hours earlier, we had pulled over next to a double-parked SUV and told them to move. Here it was now, mid-afternoon, and we went on a high-speed chase across Holyoke, Massachusetts, because the teenagers in that car had been driving around with an air gun, telling people it was real.

When the cop pulled the SUV over, he waited a few moments for backup and then approached the car. The kids had stashed the gun under the back seat, but told the police when they saw it that it was real.

This was the sort of thing that got 12-year-old Tamir Rice killed by police in Cleveland.

Maybe these folks were better cops, maybe the kids were just lucky. All that happened was they got arrested.

I was on a ride-along that day. I showed up at the police station around 7 a.m., signed a waiver, met the officer I’d be riding with, and climbed in his cruiser. He said that Mondays were typically slow, that we would more than likely park near the railroad tracks and ticket a couple of drivers with expired registrations, maybe get out of the car and talk to some of the merchants.

He couldn’t have been more wrong about how the day went.

There was a foot chase, there was a car chase, there was a fatal accident.

It took me two whole days to go over my notes and my tapes and get a succinct (OK, maybe that’s not a good word for it) 120-column inch article (about 4,000 words — the equivalent of a 16-page paper).

This was years ago, before we were putting our stories online; only some news outlets were moving their stories from the paper to the web, and they certainly weren’t writing with the intent of getting their stuff out there fast.

Twitter wasn’t even Odeo yet. Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. The World Trade towers were still standing.

There were no immediate public reactions unless you were physically in someone’s presence. There was no YouTube.

It’s not a time I’m nostalgic for. I’m just trying to paint a picture of the world we lived in. Most of you remember that time, but you might not really remember how different day-to-day life was. You might not remember what news consumption was like. You might not remember what our interactions were like.

Nobody immediately sprung into reflexive reaction like we did in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in Baton Rouge, in Charleston, in Minneapolis, in Charlotte. Nobody got on Twitter to shout. Police departments didn’t get body camera footage out to the world in a single swoop.

We relied on storytellers to gather information and tell it to us.

***

Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “Zombies,” part of his 2015 collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, about kids who are too smart to ever be happy, so they start a trend of self-lobotomizing using AED kits from schools and gyms and airports.

It reminded me of our hero in the film Pi, Max Cohen, played by Sean Gullette. Exhausted from trying to find a pattern in pi, overwrought by migraines and hounded by both Hasidic Jews and Wall Street firms, Max lobotomizes himself with a drill.

When asked how they made the scene look so realistic, director Darren Aranofsky is fond of saying, “We did one take then rushed Sean to the hospital.”

***

Who are we now?

We are all journalists, inasmuch as a journalist is one who journals. We’re all doing it in public, too.

We are not all reporters, however. We react, but we don’t necessarily report what’s happening. We let someone else do that, then we journal a link to it.

One of the things that I learned while I was a reporter was not just to tell the story, but to give it some context. Not just why did it happen, but why is it important? What are the implications for us as a community? As a species?

We’re supposed to have some perspective on things, but in a world that demands everything now, now, now, it’s difficult to do enough research to make it worthwhile. A lot of elder statesmen are getting out of Dodge before it becomes entirely impossible to have a reasoned, researched discussion.

So far it’s difficult, but yet impossible.

***

We need an exit strategy.

I’m not talking about anything drastic — not death or explosions or anything.

Hopefully not lobotomies.

We need to take a step back, to slow down, to give things time. To allow ourselves the opportunity for reflection, for observation, for discussion.

In just two weeks, the US has an election. It’s an important one: It’s between (primarily) two candidates who are not particularly well-liked among the general populace. They are very likely the last people of their generation who will run for president.

There’s a half-generation — the one President Obama belongs to — that will be prominent for a few election cycles.

The next younger half-generation, the one I belong to, is called Generation X. We’re famously derided for not giving a crap about anything.

Some of that comes from the apathy toward community our parents showed. While Baby Boomers drastically changed the world we live in, they also stayed away from religious groups, recreational sports leagues and social and professional groups like Rotary and Toastmasters clubs, among others. A Harvard professor did a giant study on it.

Gen Xers may or may not get into politics, and if not, we’re going to see those Obama’s age in politics for about 20 more years and then Millennials will take office. That’s the generation that grew up with mobile phones and ubiquitous high-speed internet; the generation coming out of college to have job titles that didn’t exist a few years ago.

We have no idea what the world will look like in another couple of presidential cycles. But if it keeps speeding up the way it is, we might need to worry about exit velocity.

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Thoughts on Charlotte, #BLM vs. #ALM and implementing movements

Thoughts on Charlotte, #BLM vs. #ALM and implementing movements

Demonstrations last week in Charlotte in the wake of the shooting of a black man by a police officer were not unexpected. Our memories are short, but not that short. We haven’t forgotten what happened in Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or Minneapolis. Or New York. Or Baton Rouge.

The details of this shooting are a little different, if I understand correctly.

The police officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott is black. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a racist. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just different.

Scott may have been armed, too. Initial reports were that he was. That doesn’t mean he was illegally armed. It doesn’t mean he was threatening. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t. It’s just different.

Different from Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Philando Castile and maybe a little more like Alton Sterling.

While the demonstrations aren’t surprising, I’m starting to view them differently. In a get out your tin-foil hats sort of way.

Before we get any farther, I think we should look at #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMater, because this is important, and it’s not evident to everyone.

I’ve seen the difference best described in this analogous situation. It’s not mine. It made the rounds on Facebook and I have no idea where I saw it. If you know, please comment so I can give the originator some credit.

The short version is this: Missing from the hashtag is an implied “too”. Now, the long version.

Imagine a family with eight children. You probably know one. Dinner time’s a little chaotic. Mom, Dad and eight kids. Imagine you’re the six-year-old. Mom’s dishing out food, but skips over you, giving everyone else an equal amount.

You start to complain, obviously. Dad gets angry.

“But, Dad, I deserve my fair share,” you say.

“That’s selfish,” he replies. “Everyone deserves their fair share.”

You didn’t mean other people shouldn’t have their fair share, that only you should have your fair share. From where you’re sitting, watching everyone eat, everyone already has their fair share, and you want yours, too.

You didn’t say, “I deserve my fair share, too,” you just assumed that Dad recognized everyone already had theirs, since they’re eating and you’re not.

That’s the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The #BLM movement looks around and sees that everyone else’s life appears to matter, every life except black lives. The movement doesn’t believe that only black lives matter. It believes that it’s apparent other lives matter, and that black lives matter, too.

Now, let’s move on. At its heart, #BLM is looking for institutional change — or at least it appears that’s the goal. There doesn’t seem to be any unity of vision around that goal, but it’s still a young movement.

Example: Early in the campaign, demonstrators broke up a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. For all the lip service everyone else paid the black community, Sanders is the only one seen in photographs marching with Martin Luther King Jr. He’s the only person who was running for president this time out who has actually demonstrated for black lives, and demonstrators sent him home, too.

If you want to make waves in an oligarchic republic, you basically have two moves: Make friends in high places or burn everything down and start over. This was a guy who was demonstrably on their side and in a position to help, and demonstrators took to a bully pulpit.

That feels a lot like burning a bridge. He could have spent months backing them on the election trail; he could still do something for the movement as a Senator with an increased profile.

Now go get your tin-foil hats, because there was some weird stuff going on Wednesday night in Charlotte.

Things got a little out of hand during the evening. I watched, on CNN, as demonstrators injured a cameraman and broke windows on businesses. Someone said protesters were beating up patrons at a hotel who came to the lobby to look on, since they couldn’t leave.

When I got back from my break, about 1:30 a.m. (Thursday morning, technically), there were five types of people left on the streets of Charlotte: (1) Police; (2) Journalists; (3) Dude-bros in shorts and hoodies taking cell phone photos and videos of the destruction; (4) Drunk people smiling and waving at the cameras as last call approached and (5) Peaceful demonstrators (seriously peaceful and organized; if you didn’t know any better they would have looked like a Zumba class on the sidewalk).

I’m guessing police didn’t manage to round up and arrest the entirety of the aggressive bunch, and I’m guessing they didn’t all look at their watches and say, “It’s almost midnight; I’d better get home.”

I’m not saying the government bussed in a bunch of agitators to make everybody look bad and then bussed them back out when viewership declined on the east coast, but that’s starting to sound more and more plausible every time something happens.

And what about police behavior? With people breaking windows and throwing bricks and tossing tear gas canisters at police, the only person who was shot Wednesday night appears to have been shot by a civilian, not an officer, which means that there were guns in the crowd amidst the chaos.

As a CNN commentator noted, police can handle riots without shooting anybody but they can’t pull a Taser instead of a gun when confronting someone on the street? I don’t know. It’s high-stress all around and I’ve never been in the situation from either side, but it seems strange that when you turn on the cameras and show us basically a militarized zone for the night, nobody gets hurt, but put an officer in an “everyday” situation (for a police officer, I guess), and it keeps ending badly, it feels like something more conspiratorial is going on.

The US Military requires more documentation of escalation that leads to foreign combatants’ deaths (including proof that the deceased was properly identified as a combatant before engagement) than many of our cities require of police. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Now here’s the hard part.

#BLM clearly wants institutional change. I have a general understanding of what the result of that looks like, but I have no understanding of the steps between demonstrating visibly on the streets instituting change where it can make a difference.

I do know that it has to be through some combination of emotion and numbers, and there doesn’t appear to much overlap. Yes, the majority of people killed by police are still white. But yes, 26 percent of people killed by police are black men, while black men only make up 6 percent of the general population. But black men are also disproportionately in prisons — and are disproportionately poor, under-educated and under-employed. These things are related.

If you want to hear the problem we have mixing the two, listen to a very drunk Hannibal Burress (a black comedian who was drinking on a comedy podcast and then got roped into a political discussion by dint of still being in the room) talk about #BLM with a sober Sam Harris (a white neuroscientist and moral philosopher) in episode 52 of #WTPLive [iTunesGoogle Play]. It’s sloppy and a little embarrassing at times, but it makes the point that this requires both logical thinking and empathy, and this movement may be too young to allow the two to meet.

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