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An Another Day, Another Mass Murder

America has a longstanding problem with troubled people committing mass murder, as you’ve probably noticed, and every time it happens there’s always plenty of political finger-pointing. This week alone featured the 17th school shooting of the year, as well as an accused serial bomber blowing himself up as the police attempted to arrest him, and both incidents provided plenty of fodder for partisans.
It’s not at all clear if the shootings Tuesday morning at Maryland’s Great Mills High School were intended to be another mass murder, as the first victim had an unhappy personal relationship with the shooter and the second victim  might well have been collateral damage, and the situation quickly ended when an armed security guard shot and killed the perpetrator. Neither of the first two shooting victims died, thank God, and although they suffered serious injuries they didn’t get the same notice as the victims of more record-setting shootings. The carnage was too relatively limited by recent standards to get a lot of national attention, but the obvious political implications provoked much comment on the right.
A tragic situation that might well have been far worse was halted by a good guy with a gun, and that does undeniably score a few points for the right in the ongoing debate about America’s every month or so problem with school shootings. The left’s position is that guns are the problem, the right’s response is that guns can be the solution, and in this case latter of the two seems to have the better argument. The idea of pistol-packing kindergarten teachers is as ridiculous as ever, but the right’s broader proposal to protect schools with the same armed attention as banks and sports arenas and other big businesses seems all the more reasonable.
The suspected serial-bomber who blew himself up down in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday provides better fodder for the left. He’s a fresh-faced 23-year-old white guy, and although he seems to have been tormented by peculiarly personal demons he had published opinions on the internet about ethnic and religious minorities and homosexuals that are by now associated with the right. All of his bombs were mailed to black or hispanic neighborhoods, too.
That guy who shot up the Republican softball practice last year was a self-proclaimed leftist Democrat, most mass shootings were apparently motivated by purely personal and nonpartisan reasons, and neither side of the political divide is immune to these once every month or so mass shootings America endures. Several mass shootings have been halted by good guys with guns, but in such record-setting circumstances as the Las Vegas massacre they were of no possible avail. In the case of that headline-grabbing mass shooting down in Florida, even the good guys with guns came up short.
Both the “Black Lives Matter” left and the Trumpian right have their unique complains with America’s law enforcement at the moment, for complicated reasons. So far the coppers are faring at least as well than we’d expect t0, though, and we think the problem lies somewhere in the peculiarly personal demons of the American soul. There must be some solution, be we don’t expect to find it on neither the right nor the left.

— Bud Norman

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Honesty, Courtesy, and Political Correctness

There’s much talk these days of “political correctness,” and although everyone seems to agree that it’s a problem no one seems to agree on it what it means. We first heard the term way back in the mid-’70s, when the exceedingly well-educated and exquisitely bien pensant College Hill kids that we were hanging out with on the local high school debate circuit used it to chide one another for any opinions that were a wee bit too doctrinaire even for their tastes, but apparently it was previously used in less jocular ways by Mao’s Red Guards and even earlier by Leon Trotsky. By now it’s generally understood to mean to any attempt to enforce respectable opinion by means of public shaming, but these days respectable opinion is ever harder to define.
Some of Donald Trump’s supporters will defend his mocking of a reporter’s physical handicap on the grounds that he’s bravely defying the stultifying constraints of political correctness, but even some Trump supporters acknowledge that it’s more a breach of common decency. Most of the entertainment industry still prides itself on a similarly courageous stance as it sinks ever further into the depths of depravity, but the only price they pay is in glowing reviews and Academy Awards and big bucks contracts. Only the likes of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seem truly sympathetic victims of the problem, and they tend to get the least attention.
In case you were distracted by Trump’s latest “tweet” or the news about Leonardo DiCaprio being raped by a bear in a soon-to-be-released Hollywood blockbuster, Scalia brought down the wrath of the respectable press by a couple of questions he asked during oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin. It’s yet another affirmative action case, which we first heard of way back in the mid-’70s when we were messengers at at the Supreme Court as it deliberated the the Bakke v. University of Texas-Austin case, so some sort of racial imbroglio was inevitable. Scalia dared to ask one of the defendant’s lawyers about “mismatch,” which is what several notable social scientists call the phenomenon of minority students being admitted to universities despite having lower grades and test scores that are reliably predictive of academic performance, and the sad result of those students faring less well than they likely would have at other schools with more similarly prepared student bodies. Scalia was careless enough to pose the question of if “it does not benefit African-Americans into the University of Texas, where they do not well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a lower-track school where they do well.” This formulation allowed the Huffington Post to report that “Justice Scalia thinks black students belong in ‘slower-track’ schools,” and The Hill to sniff “Scalia: Maybe black students belong at ‘less-advanced’ schools,” and Yahoo to write that “Scalia suggested that black students benefit from a ‘slower track’ at less prestigious universities.”
Of course Scalia had nothing to say against those many black students who would qualify for entry at even the most advanced and fast-track and prestigious universities by any color-blind standard, such as Dr. Ben Carson or Justice Clarence Thomas, but not necessarily President Barack Obama, and his genuine concern for the black students ill-served by defendant’s condescending and ill-considered policies is apparent, but the pull-out quotes are sufficient to tar him as a stone-cold racist. Support for affirmative action policies is “politically correct” by any definition, and even the most reasonable and well-intentioned questions that might be asked about it is therefore proof of some anti-black animus, even if blacks wind up worse off as a result of those unquestionable policies. The same boundaries of polite discussion are enforced in the related matter of the “Black Lives Matter Movement,” which is mainly concerned with the matter of black lives lost to police enforcement and not the far greater number of black lives lost to a lack of police enforcement, and which will not allow any discussion of how the undeniably higher rates of crime in inner-black black neighborhoods are at the root of all of it.
The public discourse is also constrained by political correctness on the pressing issues of radical Islamic terrorism, which even the most politically correct politicians and press organs are trying to come up with a more polite term to describe, and the related issue of unfettered immigration from the Third World to the west, with all its worries that the unwashed know-nothing nativists of west will selfishly insist on their way of life, and we suppose that even in this age of transgendered triumphalism that are still one or relics of Victorian morality that impede a frank discussion about something or another. These boundaries must always be challenged, and the campus crusades against free speech and the Senate Democrats’ proposed changes to the First Amendment and all that open talk about criminal charges against anyone who has doubts about all that global warming nonsense should be resisted by all means, but we’d like to think some things are still beyond the pale.
Once upon a time campus crusades against free speech and officially introduced changes to the First Amendment and open talk about criminal charges against skeptical scientists on a disputed scientific issue would have been proscribed by public opinion, and so would a presidential candidate’s mocking of reporter’s handicap or a rival’s face, and so would have been a self-described socialist, and we think that by and large the debates were better resolved. Times like these call for frankness, even bluntness, and an unflinching acknowledgement of harsh realities, but we think it will also benefit from some civility and common courtesy and a sense of what matters most.

— Bud Norman

Lowering the Stars and Bars

The Confederate battle flag will likely no longer fly over the South Carolina capitol, which is fine by us. As far as we’re concerned the Confederacy was a horrible idea, its “peculiar institution” of slavery was a moral outrage that could only be atoned by our nation’s bloodiest conflict, and its successful secession from The Union would have been one of history’s greatest calamities, so its flag has no reason to fly over the public grounds of any of the United States of America.
Having said that, we also admit to some annoyance with all the attention the matter has lately received. The long-overdue decision to furl the Confederate battle flag followed the horrific shootings by a deranged white racist of nine black Americans as they worshipped in an historic Charleston church, which is a matter of far greater importance and probably had nothing at all to do with the piece of cloth that had been flying for the past many decades over the state capitol, and the tragedy is being used for political purposes that make even less sense.
The recent opposition to the flag’s presence on the capitol grounds has been led by the state’s Indian-American and Republican governor, its white and Republican Senator, and another black and Republican Senator, and yet the usual media are predictably pressing all of the Republican presidential candidates with the usual accusatory tone about their stand on what was until the past week a state matter of  minor significance to the nation at large. Meanwhile, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, which was the party of the Confederacy and the party that dominated South Carolina’s politics when it re-started flying the Confederate battle flag in 1961 to signal its defiance of the civil rights legislation that most Republican legislators were supporting, and whose past failed presidential campaign featured the symbol on its buttons down south, and whose husband’s successful presidential campaigns did the same, is meanwhile being praised in the nation’s most prestigious newspaper for her “courage” in jumping on the latest bandwagon.
The unavoidable implication is that the Republican Party, the party that was founded on its opposition to slavery and led the defeat of the Confederacy and provided the most votes for that civil rights legislation, is as irredeemably racist at the nutcase who killed those nine worshippers. There are more substantive arguments to be made for this assertion, given the current Republican party’s opposition to affirmative action and longstanding resistance to social programs and usual support for aggressive law enforcement, but it’s no wonder that much of the media would prefer to seize the opportunity of a flag that the Republicans had nothing to do with. Affirmative action assumes blacks can’t compete on meritocratic terms with whites, and most Republicans do not, the past half-century of social programs have caused two-parent black families to become a rarity, and only Republicans seem willing to acknowledge this fact much less talk about solutions to its dire social and economic consequences, a retreat from aggressive law enforcement has resulted in far more murders than any deranged white racist could ever effect, and only Republicans seem to believe that these black lives also matter. That constant conversation about race that the Democrats are always urging but never participating in will continue long after the Confederate battle flag has been permanently lowered from the South Carolina capitol grounds, mostly because of a fashionably diverse coalition of Republicans from that much-criticized state, which has been handling its racial controversies with greater calm and careful deliberation and Christian love than has followed similarly contentious incidents in states generally considered more enlightened, and we can readily understand why those harping on about the defeated and disgraced battle flag of a long-gone Democratic cause would prefer not to talk about the rest of it.
There are also the predictable efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from everywhere else, as well, and these are more problematic. It is one thing for a state government to collectively decide it will no longer honor this symbol on the public’s grounds, and another to decide that individual citizens can’t display it on their pickup trucks or baseball caps or southern rock album covers. The efforts seem to be succeeding, with almighty Wal-Mart declaring it will no longer sell any merchandise bearing the symbol and nearly-as-powerful E-Bay declaring the same policy, which is apparently making it hard for political memorabilia collectors to buy and sell those old Clinton-Gore and Hillary Clinton badges, and will eventually prevent someone from buying or selling an old “Dukes of Hazzard” lunchbox with its depiction of the stars-and-bars-adorned muscle car the titular yokels drove around in, and it now seems likely that freedom of speech will suffer yet another slight contraction.
It’s not that we’re sympathetic to Confederate battle flag-wearing folks, just that it’s still important to acknowledge a right to disagree. We’re here in Kansas, which even before the Civil War endured the days of “Bleeding Kansas” to become a loyal member of the indivisible Union as a Free State, so on the rare occasions you see the Confederate battle flag around here it’s usually adorned to some redneck or his pickup truck. “Redneck” is one of those ambiguous terms, as it is sometimes affectionately used to describe a hard-working and fun-loving and charmingly unpretentious good ol’ boy, but more commonly to imply a violent and racist and determinedly ignorant problem, and in this case we intend the latter definition. Still, we’re willing to assume that further into the south you’ll find the former variety of redneck displaying the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of all the many more admirable qualities of his southern culture, which has for a while now been luring many blacks away from their up-north and Democratic jurisdictions back to their ancestral homeland, and we note that the Hillary button with the symbol even added the usual explanatory phrase “heritage not hate,” so we don’t want to deny them the expression of that pride.
We’ll let the worst sorts of rednecks wave that flag as a symbol of their race hatred and ongoing defiance of the Union, as well, because their hatred and their chosen representation of it are probably better ignored than banned. Those biker gangs that have been such a problem in Waco, Texas, and other places for the past decades wear old Nazi symbols on their uniforms not because they have an intellectual affinity for the tenants of Nationalist Socialism, or because such anti-authorian types have any desire to live under such a strictly authoritarian system of government, but because they know those symbols are deeply offensive to the society they rebel against. If the hammer-and-sickle of the old Soviet Union were just as universally reviled, which it should be, you’d see that on those leather jackets as well. When you can’t buy something at either Wal-Mart or on E-Bay its supply is greatly restricted, an increased demand is sure to follow, and the value of even the most odious product will therefore increase.
The controversy will soon be forgotten, of course. We hope the tragedy that caused it will long be remembered, but we don’t expect that the bigger issues will soon get their due attention.

— Bud Norman

Tanks for Nothing

Several months before all the furor in Ferguson, Missouri, we were chatting with an old friend about the many police forces around the country which were lately acquiring such surplus military equipment as tanks and armed aircraft. Our friend is a conservative of the old-fashioned law-and-order variety and couldn’t understand the controversy that had briefly boiled up about it in right-wing circles, even if it was a result of an Obama administration program, but he had to admit we had a point when we wondered if the President and his Attorney General intended that the equipment would be used to put down a race riot. The notion that the government was gearing up to put down broader dissent against some planned outrage would have once seemed paranoid to both our friend and us, but we agreed that these days it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The conversation came to mind when the most recent race riot broke out in Ferguson, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white a white police officer for the shooting of an unarmed teenager when irrefutable evidence showed that it was a case of self-defense, and the President and his Attorney General warned against excessive police force and a governor of the same party waited until much of the town had been burned and looted before deploying the National Guard. Our most dire fears have not yet been realized, but our suspicion that all that surplus military equipment sold to police forces was not intended to put down a race riot seemed clearly confirmed. Further confirmation came Monday when the President announced yet another of those executive orders he’s so fond of, this one ordering that the various agencies selling the equipment keep careful track of it and review any “significant” incidents in which it is used.
Seen in the broader context of the president’s efforts to assure the rioters that he understands their rage about police officers defending themselves against deadly threats, it appears likely that those reviews will find fault with any use of the equipment for such routine law enforcement responsibilities as putting down race riots. A generous interpretation would be that he’s merely trying to keep the story alive for a few more days to distract attention from his executive order legalizing five million or so illegal immigrants and thus inviting millions more in to enjoy the blessings of post-racial America, and that the executive order was merely meant to distract attention from the eight trillion or so of national debt that has already been added during his administration, or any of the scandals at the Internal Revenue Service or the National Security Administration or Department of Justice that make the more paranoid theories seem not at all far-fetched, but we still can’t help wondering how all the surplus military equipment is intended to be used.

— Bud Norman