About greg

Just another bozo on the bus.

right in the neck

The Athabaskan people who lived near the mountain called it Denali, which meant ‘the high one.’ It’s a pretty name for a mountain. I like it. Another local tribe, the Dina’ena, called it Doleika, which meant ‘big mountain,’ which is less poetic but still pretty accurate. It really is a big mountain.

The Russians moved into the neighborhood in 1783; they called the mountain Bolshaya Gora, which also means ‘big mountain.’ They didn’t really change the name; they just said it in Russian, which is appropriate. But the Russians left in 1867, and I suspect folks in the area just continued to refer to it the ‘big mountain’ in whatever language they happened to have handy at the moment. Because it really IS a big mountain.

denali2

Then in the late 1880s, the white folks in the region decided to call it Densmore’s Peak, after Frank Densmore — a gold prospector who was, apparently, inordinately fond of the mountain. I don’t have any solid evidence to base this on, but I’m going to guess the natives continued to call it Denali or Doleika regardless of what the white folks did. Because what did the white folks know about it? Fuck them in the neck.

Then politics happened. A guy named William Dickey, who’d been prospecting for gold in the Susitna River, returned to the Lower Forty-eight and wrote an article about Alaska for the New York Sun newspaper. This was January of 1897, shortly after Republican William McKinley had been elected President of These United States. McKinley, you see, was a proponent of the gold standard (on which to base U.S. currency) — and Dickey was a Republican who’d been a gold prospector. McKinley’s Democratic opponent in the election, William Jennings Bryan, was in favor of a silver standard rather than a gold standard. Dickey had met a lot of silver prospectors while in Alaska, and they all favored the Democrat. This is all important information because in his article, Dickey made this rather suspect claim:

We named our great peak Mount McKinley, after William McKinley of Ohio, who had been nominated for the Presidency.

Whether that was true or not, it struck a chord for Republicans in Congress, and twenty years later they made the name official: Mount McKinley. They also named the area around the mountain McKinley National Park. Basically, it was Republicans saying ‘fuck you in the neck’ to Democrats (and to all the native folks in Alaska).denali3

It seems nobody in Alaska liked the name, and most folks just continued to call the mountain Denali. Who cared what the people south of Canada called it? In the 1970s, Alaska made the practical decision to officially change the name back to the original Denali. They petitioned the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (yes, there’s actually a government agency that oversees geographic names) to do the same. And hey, the board seemed open to the idea.

Then politics happened again. The Republican Congressman who represented the Ohio district when William McKinley spent most of his life (a complete jackass named Ralph Regula) intervened and basically stopped the process. Basically, he was saying ‘fuck you in the neck’ to the people of Alaska. The people of Alaska sort of shrugged off the whole fuss and in 1975 the Alaska Board of Geographic Names (yes, the state has its own government agency to oversee its geographic names) went ahead and changed the name anyway.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter decided to change the name of the park from McKinley National Park to Denali National Park and Preserve. Basically, he was saying ‘fuck you in the neck back’ to Congressman Regula. But while the president was authorized to change the name of the park, Regula could still prevent him from changing the name of the actual mountain, which officially remained Mount McKinley. Basically, Regula was telling the president ‘re-fuck you in the neck.’Denali1

And that’s how things stayed until Regula retired. At that point Alaska again petitioned the Board on Geographic Names to change the damn name. Then politics happened yet again. Two members of Congress from Ohio — both Democrats — decided to carry on Regula’s profoundly stupid fight to retain the name of Mount McKinley. Basically, it looked like Ohio saying ‘fuck you in the neck’ to Alaska.

But the people of Ohio spoke out and told their members of Congress to grow the fuck up and stop interfering with Alaskan politics. And they did. So today, President Obama is officially authorizing the Board on Geographic Names to recognize what Alaskans have always recognized — that the mountain deserves to be called Denali because it really IS a big, high mountain.

And hey, guess what. Politics are happening. Republicans — and particularly those from Ohio — are rebuking the president’s decision. Speaker of the House John Boehner stated he was “deeply disappointed in this decision.” Senator Rob Portman decried the decision as “yet another example of the President going around Congress.”

And, of course, the proud patriots of FreeRepublic are voicing their considered opinions on the issue.

— Why not call it Glorious Jihad?

— If Hussein cared about what the people of Alaska thought, he would ask Valerie for permission to open up the northern slope for drilling. Alaskans want that, too.

— Obonzo didn’t do jack. He’s going up there to fundraise and kiss some minority @$$ for his ‘RAT comrades up there. Everyone in Alaska already refers to the mountain as Denali. The bastard Kenyan didn’t need to do anything. This is just another one of his “historical” In Yo Face Whitey Moments.

— Mount Barack….in honor of Bareback Mountain

— stupid bammy has to interject himself into normal people’s lives like the narcissist he is

— This is the work of a tyrant.

— I’m surprised it’s not going to be Kilimanjaro to make Zero feel more at home.

— Islam could easily be involved. Pakistan is close. Jihadis are everywhere.

To be fair, not everybody on FreeRepublic is a lunatic. Many of them have pointed out the fact that most Alaskans want the mountain to be called Denali. They don’t necessarily object to renaming the mountain; they just object to President Obama renaming the mountain. Basically, the people of FreeRepublic are saying ‘fuck you in the neck’ to the president.

Barack Obama

But hey, it’s a done deal now. And it’ll be Obama’s smiling face we’ll see standing in front of Denali on the national news tonight. And guess what he’s basically symbolically saying to the folks of FreeRepublic.

Right in the neck.

it seems some mass shootings aren’t mass enough

Sometimes I find myself sitting around and thinking You know, this situation is pretty fucked up. I was thinking that after yesterday’s mass shooting. Which by the most commonly used definition of the term wasn’t actually a mass shooting.

A culture is pretty fucked up when there has to be a debate over how to define ‘mass shooting’. Here’s the most commonly used definition:

Shootings at a public place in which the shooter murdered four or more people, excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence, in a single episode.

There are at least three problems with this definition. Here’s the first and most obvious problem: murdered. This definition only counts bodies. You go to your neighborhood cineplex and wound half a dozen people but only kill a couple of them, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That’s pretty much fucked up, right there.

wdbj_shooter

Not a mass shooter.

Second problem: excluding domestic, gang, and drug violence. I can sort of understand why researchers would choose to exclude gang and drug violence. That sort of violence is incidental to other behaviors — the violence is a consequence of gang/drug activity. You get involved in gangs or the drug trade, you’re voluntarily assuming a certain amount of risk. It’s like BASE jumping in that sense. So if you kill a half-dozen folks when your drug deal goes bad, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That’s fucked up.

But domestic violence? Why exclude that? It’s the most common sort of violence faced by the public. In fact, if you include domestic violence, the number of mass shootings skyrockets — even if you restrict the definition of mass shooting to those that produce multiple corpses. The research is limited, but it all suggests that the vast majority of mass shootings take place in a domestic situation — a house or an apartment.

What we’re talking about here is male violence against women. Almost all mass shooters are men, and the most common type of mass shooting is a man shooting members of his family (or his ex’s family, or his girlfriend’s family, or the family of a woman who rejected him). Most of those victims are women and kids. You get pissed off and kill a bunch of folks you claim to love — folks who aren’t strangers — it doesn’t count as a mass shooting. Maybe they’ll count it if you do it in at the local McDonald’s. Maybe. But otherwise it’s just another domestic murder. You know what that is? It’s fucked up, is what it is.

And here’s the third problem with that definition: in which the shooter murdered. The shooter isn’t included in the butcher’s bill. Now, I understand the emotion behind excluding the shooter. The sumbitch doing the shooting doesn’t deserve to be considered a victim. But it’s still part of the episode; he’s still dead or wounded. And let’s be honest, that’s often just as intentional as the shooting of the other folks. You shuffle over to the local mall and open fire, kill three people, wound half a dozen more, then eat your Glock, it’s not going to count as a mass shooting. That is totally fucked up.

Not mass shooting victims.

Not mass shooting victims.

The shooting yesterday? Not a mass shooting. Not the one in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota in which four people were wounded. Not the one in Chicago, where only one of the four people who were shot actually died. Not the one in West Palm Beach, in which two were wounded and two were killed. And not the one in Virginia — the one that was televised, the one that left three people dead (yes, I’m including the shooter) and one wounded.

That’s six dead and ten wounded. Yesterday. And not one of them is considered a mass shooting. Fucked up, is what it is. We’re talking 33 shooting incidents in August (so far) with 40 dead and 124 wounded — and not one of them is considered a mass shooting. That’s fucked up on so many levels.

What if we broaden the definition of mass shooting?

Shootings in which four or more people are killed or wounded in a single episode.

Makes sense, doesn’t it. There’s actually a crowd-sourced mass shooting tracker that uses that definition. By that definition there have been 248 mass shootings so far in 2015. That’s as of fifteen hours ago. There’ll be more today. You can count on it. And the fact that you can count on another mass shooting today — one that will go uncounted because not enough people died, or because the wrong people died, or because the dead weren’t littering a public place — that’s fucked up beyond all recognition.

And here’s another thing that’s fucked up. The guy who shot the reporter and cameraman in Virginia recorded the non-mass shooting on his phone and posted it to Facebook and Twitter. That’s fucked up in ways beyond the obvious ‘What sort of twisted individual would put that shit on social media?’ way. It’s fucked up because research shows that mass shootings that get publicized tend to be contagious. They spark more mass shootings, often with the same weapons used in the initial mass shooting.

People who, for one reason or another, are fucked up in some way often model their behavior on the behavior of other folks. Some highly publicized behaviors, like teen suicides or hate crimes, establish what social psychologists call a path of action — a complete narrative in which the person can visualize their steps and their effects. And that path of action helps them follow through on the act — whether it’s suicide, bashing trans folks, or shooting a whole bunch of people.

So it’s fairly safe to assume we’ll see more homemade first person shooter videos. This may become a trend. Which brings me back to my original thought. This situation is pretty fucked up.

boom, and they’re gone

This fuckwit is campaigning to be the Republican nominee for President of These United States — and they’re taking him seriously. What’s wrong with these people?

“We have excellent military leaders. We need to employ their expertise because this is a war we are fighting. That’s the bottom line.”

That’s Dr. Ben Carson. And that war we’re fighting? He’s talking — and I swear I am NOT making this up — he’s talking about the border between These United States and Mexico. And he said that in response to a question about whether the US should consider drone strikes on American soil to secure the border.

Dr. Ben Carson doesn't really LOOK crazy, but apparently is.

Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t really LOOK crazy, but apparently is.

Drone strikes. Drone strikes. You know, like we’ve been doing in Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan. This fucking lunatic thinks drone strikes are worth considering to prevent folks from illegally crossing the border to pick the watermelons you’ll be eating at your next picnic. Oh, and did I mention that Carson, as I write this, is in second place among the candidates for the Republican nomination for president? He is. Second. And what makes this even crazier is he’s running second behind Donald Trump (whose border policy, I believe, is to build a giant Wall O’ Trump — it’ll be yoooge, classy — and he’ll hire frat boys to stand guard on top of it, and if they see a brown person approach from the South they’ll shit in their own hand and fling it at the poor bastard).

Drone strikes. You know, because this is a war we’re fighting. If we have to ram a missile up some brown person’s ass, well you can’t make an omelet and all that.

“You look at some of these caves and things out there, one drone strike, boom, and they’re gone.”

Boom! Just like in the Road Runner cartoons. Of course, it costs between US$2,500 and $3,500 per flight hour to run surveillance drones. You want a strike drone — one that can fire missiles; say a Predator or a Reaper — the costs go up dramatically. It takes a team of about 180 people to operate and maintain each of those sumbitches. Also? Each Hellfire missile costs around $60,000 — and you can only use them once, you know.

Watermelon terrorists, for the love of Jeebus, won't somebody DO something?

Watermelon terrorists, for the love of Jeebus, won’t somebody DO something?

It’ll add up pretty quick, drone strikes against illegal immigrants. But hey, war, right? If that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. If we can provide just one decent law-abiding American the opportunity to find a career in the lucrative field of watermelon harvesting, it’ll be worth it.

Second. He’s running second. To Trump. Just saying. It is to weep.

UPDATE: I was joking about the Wall O’ Trump — but this just in (and really, I swear I’m NOT making this up):

Trump waxed on almost poetically about the wall that could bear his name on the Southwest border. “I want it to be so beautiful because maybe someday they’re going to call it the Trump wall,” he said.

Lawdy.

sunday salon, redux

I’ve been noodling around with cameras since I was in my teens. The mechanics of photography — all of that aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, ISO business — have been second nature to me for years; I rarely need to think about them.

But nine years ago I realized I was almost entirely ignorant about the medium itself. I’m talking about photography as history and culture. I was familiar with the names of a few of the photographic big hats — Ansel Adams, Cartier-Bresson, August Sander — and I could recognize some of their more well-known images, but basically I had no understanding at all of what had been done in photography, or who had done it, or what they were thinking when they did it.

I was the Jon Snow of photographic culture. I knew nothing.

New York City #1, 1976 (Joel Sternfeld)

(Joel Sternfeld)

Homer Page? Never heard of him. Ralph Meatyard? No idea. Mike Brodie, Ara Güler? Hadn’t a clue. Tina Barney, Tony Ray Jones, Lewis Baltz? All cyphers. Guy Bourdin, Helen Levitt, Anders Petersen, O. Winston Link, Milt Rogovin? Meant nothing at all to me.

So I set out to correct that. I decided to educate myself. I’d pick a photographer’s name and do some research. I also decided to share what I’d learned (or thought I’d learned) with the members of Utata, a Flickr group of smart, creative, funny, curious people who enjoyed photography and discussion in equal measure. I’d write a short essay on the photographer, include an example or two of the photographer’s work, and we’d chat about it. Or debate it. Or argue about it.

(John Vachon)

(John Vachon)

It was fun. Everything about it was fun — the research, the discussion. At first, I did them every week. I’d publish them on Sunday and we’d discuss them all week. I took a very catholic approach to selecting the subjects. Street photographers, portrait photographers, fine arts photographers, fashion photographers, sports photographers — there was something to learn from all of them. I looked at the usual dead white guy photographers, at little-known contemporary photographers, at cult and niche photographers, at niche photographers, at photographic curiosities. I ran through the alphabet, from Berenice Abbot to Guillaume Zuili.

(Guillaume Zuili)

(Guillaume Zuili)

The salons, I admit, weren’t always well-written. And there have been a few embarrassing mistakes in research. Some of the more controversial salons led to a harsh arguments. But it was fun. At first.

As the discussions became more informed and intelligent, I felt the need to spend more time doing research. The essays became longer, and included more examples of the photographer’s work. The extra research meant I could no longer keep up the once-a-week schedule. I began doing them every other week.

(Lu Guang)

(Lu Guang)

After a few years of this, it became a chore. A pleasant chore, for the most part, but still a chore. I stopped doing them every other week and began publishing the Sunday Salon at irregular intervals. A month might pass between salons. Maybe five or six weeks. I posted fifteen salons in 2010. Only four in 2011. Seven in 2012, and only three in 2013 — and two of them were on the same photographer.

And then I stopped.

I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I continued to read about photographers, but the idea of writing an essay about them was simply too much unpaid work. And I was okay with not writing them anymore.

(Lillian Bassman)

(Lillian Bassman)

Until I re-watched Paris, Texas a couple of weeks ago. Wim Wenders, that man knows how to frame a shot. Then coincidentally, Wenders re-released his photography book Written in the West, with a few new photographs. The photos were mostly shot when Wenders was scouting locations for Paris, Texas. So I started to read about Wenders.

And the Sunday Salons were reborn. It had been two years since I’d written one. I believe I’ll start writing them again, though not on any schedule.

(Wim Wenders)

(Wim Wenders)

So here’s the Sunday Salon on Wim Wenders. And here’s a list of the published Sunday Salons. I don’t know how many there are — somewhere between 150 and 200, I suspect. Some of them — especially the earlier ones — may look a wee bit wonky; Utata shifted publishing platforms a few years back, and not everything translated easily to the new platform. But they’re there if you’re interested.

it’s a fucking miracle, is what it is

When brainstorming about what to do with the area, the idea of a gun range came up.

The area in question is behind the Rocky Mount United Methodist Church in Jemison, Alabama. According to Pastor Philip Guin, the area was a gully “full of kudzu, snakes and other vermin.” Nobody in Jemison like kudzu, or vermin, or snakes. They fucking hate snakes in Jemison. Totally hate those slithering little bastards. So they decided to clear the area and turn it into…something.

Pastor Phillip Guin

Pastor Phillip Guin

We don’t know what other suggestions for the area might have been considered and rejected. A community vegetable garden, maybe. That would have been nice. Or maybe somebody suggested planting a few trees, maybe build a little gazebo — a nice, quiet place for community picnics or concerts given by the Jemison High School Jazz Band. Or hey, how about a couple of basketball hoops? You know, keep the local kids busy and out of trouble. A baseball diamond might work, or a soccer pitch (though that might be seen as unAmerican).

The thing is, there were LOTS of inexpensive, community-oriented options open to the Rocky Mount United Methodist Church. Options that would be in keeping with church doctrine. But no…the idea of a gun range came up.

It just came up! Just like that, out of the blue, completely unexpected. It was like divine inspiration! Like a miracle!

“We had quite a number of church members, some elderly ladies, for example, and some not so elderly women that had purchased guns, but didn’t know how to use them.”

Okay, I’ll admit the thought of a bunch of old folks unfamiliar with firearms having guns in their homes is disconcerting and alarming. But…a question: why the fuck are the elderly women of Jemison, Alabama arming themselves? We’re talking about a town with a population of about 2500 people. Total. There can’t be much crime there. The Jemison Police Department has only eleven full-time officers. Eleven. That includes the park ranger at Minooka Park. Who the hell are these women planning to shoot?

granny with guns

The whole purpose of this range is to provide recreational and gun safety in a warm, loving, Christian environment.

Uhh…well…lawdy. Okay, then. Recreational gunfire in a warm and loving…oh for fuck’s sake, are you insane? We’re talking about a church, here. A building used for religious activities, for worship. I’m not a Christian, but even I understand that there’s a fundamental disjuncture between a structure dedicated to a religious figure called the prince of peace and a goddam gun range. Jeebus on toast, what the fuck is wrong with you people?

“This is an opportunity for us to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ in a setting that is completely unique.”

No. No, it’s not. It’s not even remotely an opportunity to reach out in the name of Jesus. It’s an opportunity to pimp some seriously distorted Jeebus figure into a flag-waving Second Amendment Martyr.

Don’t be blaming this bullshit on the old women of Jemison, Alabama. I’m just guessing here, but I really most sincerely doubt it was an old woman who raised her hand during the discussion of what to do with that overgrown area behind the church and said “Hey gang, let’s make a gun range! You know…for Jeebus!” I’m pretty sure it was a guy who suggested that. I wonder if anybody other than elderly women have a use for a handy firing range.

The range has also become a favorite of the Jemison Police Department

Yeah. Well, there’s a coincidence.

you get trump

[T]he same blustering verbosity that has fueled Trump will inevitably be his downfall.”

No, it won’t. It really won’t. It should be his downfall, but it won’t. It won’t because Donald Trump is precisely the sort of candidate the Republican party has been evolving toward. Trump is the distillation of the modern Republican party perspective.

Donald Trump

If you spend a quarter of a century telling members of your party (and anybody else who’ll listen) that government is always the problem and never the solution, you get Trump. If you convince your party that compromise equals failure, you get Trump. If you keep repeating that government should be run like a business, you get Trump. If you promote bluster and saber-rattling over diplomacy, you get Trump. If you equate financial success with leadership, you get Trump. If you frame personal selfishness as the hallmark of the free market, you get Trump. If you tell your party members that their economic problems are a result of illegal immigrants and lazy minorities, you get Trump. If you dismiss science and expertise in favor of fervent belief and loudly stated opinion, you get Trump. If you consistently stress that the value of a conservative is measured by how much he or she offends liberals, you get Trump.

If you cease to be a political party that’s genuinely interested in governance, you get Trump. And you get Palin. And you get Cruz and Gohmert. You get an entire party firmly grounded in the immediate, reactive gut feelings of Joe the Plumber.

You get what you deserve.

Donald Trump

So no, the ‘blustering verbosity’ of Trump won’t be his downfall. But if we’re very, very lucky, it’ll be the beginning of the downfall of the modern Republican party. If we’re lucky, eight more years of Democratic presidents will force Republicans to evolve back into a party of principled conservatives who are more interested in getting government to work than in posturing.

That’s what the American people deserve.