About greg

Just another bozo on the bus.

joni’s got a gun

Next Tuesday Barack Obama, President of These United States, will deliver the annual State of the Union address. Traditionally, following the SOTU speech, the opposition party is given the opportunity to respond. This year the Republican response will be given by Senator Joni Ernst.

Who, you are asking, the hell is Joni Ernst? Let me answer that. She’s the newly elected Senator from Iowa. Seriously, she was just sworn into office a few days ago. But who IS she? She’s Sarah Palin Lite. She’s Palin without Palin’s intellect and gravitas. She’s Palin, corn-fed and less coherent. She’s Palin on mood stabilizers. She’s Palin castrating swine instead of shooting at elk. And yeah, that castrating swine bit? I’m not even joking. That’s actually how she got elected..

This was probably the most effective advert run by a Republican in the last election cycle. It put Joni Ernst on the map, and got the attention of the Old White Guys with Deep Pockets. They bought her a bunch of political advisers and media consultants, who managed to tone down her Crazy Quotient enough to get her elected. (And dude, Ernst scores HIGH on the Crazy Quotient — which I’ll get back to in just a bit.)  Once the OWGwDP began to groom her, Joni stopped talking about policy and focused her campaign on the fact that she was an Iowa country mom who wore a uniform, rode a motorcycle, loved guns, and spent her childhood lopping the balls off pigs.

After she was elected, Senator Lindsey Graham gave her a plaque with a pig castration tool mounted on it, inscribed Make ‘Em Squeal, Joni.

ernst make them squeal

Ernst’s other major claim to legitimacy is her military service. She’s a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, the commander of the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. That’s the one thing I really truly actually respect about Ernst. She put on the uniform and she served. And don’t knock the logistics folks; a military unit is only as good as its equipment and supplies.

But Joni doesn’t get a free pass just because of her military service — for a couple of reasons. First, her media handlers often refer to her as a ‘combat veteran’ because her unit served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004. Which sounds cool. Except that her support unit was stationed in Kuwait, and while her unit did run convoys into southern Iraq, I feel safe in suggesting that as the company commander, Joni never got behind the wheel of one of those convoy vehicles. She isn’t a combat veteran.

ernst in uniform

Second, despite her long military career, Joni seems unaware of Article 88 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

That’s right, it’s a court martial offense insult the president. But just a year ago, Joni said “He (Obama) has become a dictator.” She’s also flirted with violations of UCMJ Article 94, which states that anybody subject to the UCMJ who advocates “revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority” is guilty of sedition. In a speech to the NRA, she said:

“I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from a government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

When she joined the Iowa National Guard, Joni swore an oath that she would “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of the State.” Which, you know, actually IS the government she’s toting a handgun to defend herself from. So she can either be a good soldier or she can be somebody who is arming herself against her own government — but she can’t be both.

But wait…that’s the low end of Joni Ernst’s score on the Crazy Quotient. At the high end? Agenda 21. She believes this is some United Nations conspiracy to usurp democracy in order to deprive US citizens of their property rights in order to…well, that bit isn’t clear. But dammit, foreigners want to kill family farms and take away our golf courses. At a candidate forum, Joni claimed United Nations agents have begun

“moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers and then telling them that you don’t have property rights anymore.”

Joni is also an advocate of nullification — the completely discredited notion that state rights can trump federal law. In a candidate questionnaire she said as a Senator she’d support:

“…legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement (it).”

That’s right — Joni not only believes in a crackpot legal theory, she also thinks it’s okay to arrest and prosecute Federal personnel who are following Federal law. I suppose we should be grateful she doesn’t advocate castrating them.

jodi-ernst-castrate-pigs-coddl

 

And let me remind you once again — this woman is a Senator in the United States Congress. Elected right here in Iowa, the heartland and all that (and really, I apologize for all of Iowa). And even though she’s only been in office for less than two weeks, she’s the person chosen to give the Republican Party’s official response to the president’s State of the Union address.

My country, I love it dearly…but we are so fucked.

excited to actively announce and all

Jeb Bush. The ‘smart’ one. Seriously, they actually call him that in news articles. The smart brother in the Bush family. He’s running to be the President of These United States. Sort of.

I am excited to announce that I will actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States.

That single sentence by itself should be enough to disqualify Jeb Bush from ever becoming president. No human being wrote that sentence. It could have been produced by an Announcement Generator app. More likely, though, it was sweated over by a cadre of highly paid public relation monkeys who’d been instructed to come up with something that would convey the aura of enthusiasm without actually committing Jeb Bush to follow through on the announcement. You know, in case it turns out absolutely nobody on the fucking planet actually wants him to be the President of These United States of America. It’s a pissy-pants statement if I’ve ever heard one (and I have).

Let’s unpack this turd burrito, shall we?

I am excited to announce…

Excited, right. C’mon Jeb, you’d probably be more excited looking in the refrigerator late at night and finding there’s still some lasagna leftover. You’re not really excited by this, and neither is anybody else. This isn’t even a real announcement. An announcement is a public notice that somebody is doing something — getting married, having a baby, starting a new job. Nobody ever announced they were exploring the possibility of looking for a different job. “Dear friends, I’m excited to announce I’m actively exploring the possibility of seeking employment.” Jeebus in the freezer, really?

…that I will actively explore the possibility…

See, one of the first things they teach you in the Acme Writing Academy is to avoid passive language. It’s important to use words that suggest excitement and activity. Words like ‘excited’ and ‘actively’. But what this really means is you’re going to have your staff start calling the guys with deep pockets. You’re going to try to find out if any of them might be willing piss away some of their big bucks in an attempt to insert another member of the Bush family into a political position from which he can help the guys with deep pockets get deeper pockets. There’s no ‘exploration’ here; you’re just going back to the well.

…of running for president of the United States.

Yeah, That sounds much nicer than the subtext — which is this: who else are the guys with deep pockets gonna turn to? Mitt Romney, the human blancmange, again? C’mon. Chris Christie? Sure, he’s the guy you’d call if you want to close the bridge from Newark to Tel Aviv, but nobody takes him seriously. Who else have the Republicans got? Jindal, that pencil-necked geek from Louisiana? Rick ‘Oops’ Perry? Ted Fucking Cruz?

I have had it up to HERE with your bullshit -- it's MY turn, dammit.

I have had it up to HERE with your bullshit — it’s MY turn, dammit.

What Jeb Bush is actually saying is this:

Get on board, bitches — it’s my turn. You ran my brother (who, can I just say this, is so goddamn stupid he couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the bottom); you ran crazy ass John McCain, whose only accomplishment was to get shot down in Vietnam; and then you ran Romney. Mitt Dancing Horses Romney, for fuck’s sake. It’s my turn and I’m probably the least embarrassing rich white guy you got (and yeah, we all know it’s going to be a rich white guy, so shut up).

Oh, the 2016 election is most certainly going to be the stupidest election ever. I can hardly wait.

what did they expect?

“What did they expect?” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this comment made about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. “What the fuck did they expect?

The implication is that since the editors and cartoonists knew that images of the Prophet Mohammed offended Muslim extremists, they should have expected a violent reaction from them. Because they knew Muslim extremists were capable of massive acts of immoderate and irrational violence, they should have expected to be firebombed or stabbed or shot. Because they knew something like this might happen, they shouldn’t publish cartoons of the Prophet.

In other words, Charlie Hebdo should let extremists decide what they ought to publish.

But let me actually answer the question. What did the editors and cartoonists and support staff of Charlie Hebdo expect? They expected people who were offended by their magazine would choose not to read their magazine. It’s that simple.

If you’re offended by rap music, don’t listen to rap music. If you’re offended by South Park, don’t watch South Park. If you’re offended by Sarah Palin, don’t listen to Sarah Palin. If you’re offended by photographs of naked people, don’t go to exhibits that show photos of naked people. If you’re offended by Charlie Hebdo, don’t buy or read Charlie Hebdo.

So let’s turn that question to the Muslim extremists? What the fuck did they expect? If they knew Charlie Hebdo published outrageous cartoons of the Prophet, they should have expected to be offended. So let’s consider their options.

Option 1 — Don’t buy or read Charlie Hebdo.

Option 2 — Gear up and slaughter as many people who work at Charlie Hebdo as they possibly can.

This is not a difficult decision. I don’t think it was unreasonable for the staff of Charlie Hebdo to expect folks to choose Option 1.

je suis toujours charlie

First, let me make a request. If you have something to say about anything I’ve written here, I’d prefer you say it in the comments rather than send me an email. That way your point of view will be most accurately represented.

I received some email (well, a few emails…okay, three…I received three emails) that I think deserve a response. Two of them essentially suggested Stéphane Charbonnier and his compatriots at Charlie Hebdo were at least marginally complicit in their own murders. Neither writer actually said that directly, but it seemed implicit. I should also say both writers were firm in stating that there was absolutely no justification for the murder of the twelve people killed in the attack. Both were explicit in stating they were passionate supporters of free expression. However, both took the “don’t poke a stick at a mad dog” approach.

Charbonnier was an egotistical narcissist. He knew he was provoking a group who responded to insults with violence, yet he insisted on doing it — and now there are twelve families who’ve lost loved one. All because Charb wanted to be a bad boy.

And this:

They knew those offensive cartoons of Muhommed [sic] would be insulting, they didn’t have to publish them, but they did anyways. What did they expect? That the terrorists would write a strongly-worded letter to the editor?

Were the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo being reckless? Yeah, probably. But that’s the thing about free expression, isn’t it. If you limit it to ‘reasonable’ speech, then it’s no longer free expression. If free expression doesn’t protect the extremes, then it’s worthless.

"I am the Prophet, fool."

“I am the Prophet, fool!”

The third email misinterpreted my point entirely. Or maybe I simply wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped to be. Here’s the meat of his email:

It’s long past time people started saying fuck you to Muslim terrorists. They should republish every comic that insults Mohammed.

I wasn’t saying ‘fuck you’ to Muslim terrorists. Well, yeah, okay, I was saying that, but not JUST to Muslim terrorists. I was saying ‘fuck you’ to ALL extremists who think violence is an acceptable way to express disagreement or to silence those who disagree with them. That same ‘fuck you’ applies to Christians who shoot abortion providers, to Sovereign Citizens who shoot law enforcement officers, to environmentalists who set traps that hurt or kill loggers, even to that woman in Vancouver who put logs and rocks on mountain bike trails.

Let me also say this: if anybody is using the attack on Charlie Hebdo to justify their hatred of Islam, then that ‘fuck you’ applies to them too.

Little Jesus

Little Jesus

Finally, there’s this — a comment addressed to me on Facebook that was unfortunately removed before I could respond:

Greg, respectfully, if someone firebombs Westboro Baptist Church, are you going to change your avatar to ‘Je Suis GodHatesFags” by the same rationale? They operate under the same freedoms and would have been attacked by the same type of motives.

It’s a tragedy that this all happened; to pretend it was an attack on free speech is naive. It was an attack by twisted people against deliberate antagonism and provocation. I’m not excusing anything; the murderers were wrong in the worst of ways. But nobody gains anything by cartoons showing Muslim women with burkas shoved up their asses, or someone else’s prophet being born out of a man’s asshole, or posing in a pornographic film, or whatever, unless bigotry and dehumanizing people for the sake of doing so is your thing. It’s not for me.

That’s a perfectly valid response, and those are valid opinions. Would I change my avatar to Je suis GodHatesFags? No, of course not. But I would defend (and have defended) the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to express their ugly opinions. Here’s the difference between the WBS and Charlie Hebdo: the WBC is claiming only one viewpoint (theirs, of course) is valid and deserving of respect, whereas Charlie Hebdo has been saying no viewpoint is deserving of unqualified respect.

Nobody gains anything from the Charlie Hebdo cartoons? I disagree. Yes, many of them are offensive. Deliberately offensive. Intended to offend. But Charlie Hebdo has been an equal opportunity offender; they offended everybody with equal enthusiasm. I’d argue that society at large gains from that approach, if only because it expands the range of acceptable opinions.

hebdo offensive4

Is this offensive? Yes, totally.

 

Here’s a true thing: the writers and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo did nothing to elevate the marketplace of ideas. But they certainly contributed to it. They actively participated in the marketplace of ideas. They took the position that nothing is so important that it can’t be mocked. They said the more important a person or an idea is, the more that person or idea needs to be mocked. Nothing is sacred.

Yes, a lot of their cartoons are offensive and childish and mocking and unfair — and bless them for it. Are some of their cartoons racist? Yes…and no. They certainly used racial and ethnic stereotypes, but from what I’ve seen they used them to mock racial and ethnic stereotypes (which, by the way, is the same approach used by R. Crumb). Are some of the cartoons cruel? Yes. Do they make a point? Yes. We may not all agree with their point or the way they make it, but it’s hard to argue that the cartoons are…well, pointless.

Is THIS racist? Well, yeah, it is.

Is THIS racist? Well, yeah, it is.

One way to look at Charlie Hebdo is through the lens of that Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Charlie Hebdo is the crude, irritating, badly-behaved child along the parade route who makes farting noises and points and laughs and makes fun of the Emperor’s bare ass.

Are there better ways to point out the Emperor’s bare ass? Yes, absolutely. But if we’re to protect free expression, we have to defend the right of publications like Charlie Hebdo to be offensive. It’s not necessary to approve of Charlie Hebdo. But it is important to support them — especially now.

 

 

je suis charlie

I’m only vaguely familiar with Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine — and I’m only familiar with it at all because it’s so often been involved in controversy. I became aware of the magazine in 2011 when the magazine’s office was firebombed for publishing an edition with this cover:

charia_hebdo

100 lashes if you are not dying of laughter.

It’s a cheezy cartoon, but a great line. One hundred lashes if you’re not dying of laughter.

Today at least twelve people died — were killed, to be exact — in another attack on the magazine, Three more were wounded and are in critical condition. Two of the dead are police officers — one who was detailed to protect the magazine office, and another who apparently responded to the scene on a bicycle. The rest of the dead were employees of the magazine — the editor, cartoonists, writers, support staff.

They were killed by two or three masked men armed with Kalashnikov rifles. Killed for publishing cartoons and articles that offended some Muslim extremists. The operative term there is extremists. It’s always the fucking extremists who engage in this sort of cowardly bullshit. And it IS cowardly, and it IS bullshit.

Stéphane Charbonnier, one of today's dead, outside the firebombed office of Charlie Hebdo in 2011.

Stéphane Charbonnier, one of today’s dead, outside the firebombed office of Charlie Hebdo in 2011.

It’s cowardly because this is the act of people who are afraid. If you’re confident in your faith, then an insult to it can’t hurt you. Be offended by the insult, certainly, but to silence the people who made the insult — to silence them by killing them, to hope to silence others by the killing — is effectively saying your faith and your religion are too weak to withstand mockery. And it’s bullshit because all this does is heap more scorn and loathing on the religion these jackasses are trying to ‘protect’.

Charlie Hebdo attackers killing a police officer as he's defenseless on the ground.

Charlie Hebdo attackers killing a police officer as he’s defenseless on the ground.

People will talk about finding an ‘appropriate’ response to this attack. There IS NO APPROPRIATE RESPONSE to extremists killing people over cartoons and caricatures. There is only a range of inappropriate responses. Here’s my personal inappropriate response:

Fuck you.

Fuck you, if you think this is going to help your cause. Fuck you for being so stupid and hateful and afraid. Fuck you if you think this will stop people from mocking Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. Fuck you, because I’m going to buy a subscription to Charlie Hebdo, even though I don’t read French. Fuck you with a passion for thinking you can silence people who disagree with you. Fuck you for thinking you have the right to shut people up. Fuck you and your pathetic guns, and fuck you and your stupid masks, and fuck you for shitting on Paris and on France and on the world. Fuck you, you gutless jerkwads, you deserve any ridicule that’s directed at you. Fuck you in the neck.

jesuischarlie

You think you did something brave? You think you struck a blow for Islam? Well, fuck you. You made Charlie Hebdo famous. You made people all over the world stand up and say “Je suis Charlie.”

And when I say “I am Charlie” what I’m really saying is this: fuck you. I hope you and every other extremist in every cause and in every religion is listening. Fuck you. All of you. Fuck. You.

oblique nouveau-neo-new topographics

Twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve been asked about my ‘photographic style.’ The first time I basically said “Dunno, never thought about it.” I mean, who thinks about stuff like that? The second time I said “New Topo, laid on its side, and turned 45 degrees to the left.” I said it as a joke, but after I said it, I sorta kinda became the type of person who thinks about stuff like that. And hey, it turned out to be sorta kinda true.

Back in 1975 a guy named William Jenkins curated an exhibition of a new school of landscape photography: the New Topographics movement. Landscape photography to that point in time had generally followed the path of landscape painting, which for the most part consisted of romantic depictions of ‘undisturbed’ nature. We either had the Ansel Adams approach (epic vistas photographed on a grand scale in black and white) or the Eliot Porter approach (intimate color images of a few trees or a handful of leaves scattered on a pond). Nothing wrong with either approach, but that was basically it.

Traditional New Topo approach

Traditional New Topo approach

Then along came Jenkins and his New Topo crew. His exhibition consisted of 168 black-and-white prints of warehouses, industrial sites, suburban tract housing, filling stations. The idea behind the exhibition was to present the modern landscape as it actually existed rather than in an idealized way. Most art photographers used the camera as a device for self-expression. The New Topographics photographers reduced the camera to its most basic function.

The camera, after all, is a tool that records everything in front of the lens. Every goddamned thing, not just the pretty stuff or the majestic stuff. And it records it all with the same precision. It records with a detached, unemotional, deadpan eye. That’s all a camera does. With that idea in mind, New Topo photographers deliberately attempted to remove any notion of ‘artistry’ from the act of photography. Their intent was to depict the objects in front of the lens in a way that merely mapped their surface. In other words, to reduce the subject of the photograph to an essentially topographic state.

Neo-New Topo

Neo-New Topo

The exhibition garnered a lot of attention. Not all of it was positive. Hell, relatively little of it was positive. Most folks thought the photographs were bland, uninteresting, boring, even ugly. And hey, those folks were right. I tend to agree. In my opinion, a lot of those photos really were butt-ugly. But they were interesting.

People who thought about photography as an art — not just viewed it, but consciously and deliberately thought about what photography was and could be — those folks found the exhibition fascinating. Why? In part because they realized the emotionally detached camera opened up a visual world in which people could see the stuff that had previously been filtered out. The ugly stuff. The old tires, the broken sidewalks, the trash cans, the old telephone wires, the litter. All the crap photographers normally worked hard to exclude from their photographs.

Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

But there was a problem. Humankind has spent something like twelve thousand years unconsciously building the foundation of aesthetics. It’s really difficult to just toss all that aside. It’s hard NOT to look for beauty, hard NOT to try to include that beauty in a photograph. That’s a lot of human nature to overcome.

So a sort of Neo-New Topographics style emerged fairly quickly (and yeah, I just made that name up). It’s a style in which photographers still photographed the same anonymous human-shaped landscapes, and continued to objectively map the surfaces of whatever is in front of the lens — but with the recognition that even industrial sites and warehouses can be beautiful. And after that, a Nouveau-Neo-New Topo approach, in which photographers actively sought out what beauty can be found through surface mapping.

Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo

That idea has become a big chunk of my photographic patch. Over the last few years I’ve been working in a sort of Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo style. Surface mapping at a slant. New Topo, laid on its side, and turned 45 degrees. Because I prefer my surface to have depth. I like a surface that extends itself. A surface that sort of falls away.

ONNNT (which is also the sound a Canada Goose makes when landing in icy water)

ONNNT (which is also the sound a Canada Goose makes when landing in icy water)

I can’t really say that’s my ‘style’ since I shoot all sorts of crap. But when I’m deliberately looking and seeing photographically, that’s pretty much my default approach. Find an interesting surface — then either photograph it straight or find an angle that allows the eye to shift off into the distance. Oblique Nouveau-Neo-New Topo. Takes longer to say than to shoot.

But hey, at least now I have a response the next time somebody asks me about my photographic style. ONNNT.

The photo that sparked the question the second time.

The photo that sparked the question the second time.

a tragedy

Okay, yeah…it’s a tragedy. The two-year-old who accidentally shot and killed his momma in a Hayden, Idaho Walmart. The toddler who managed to find his momma’s handgun in her specially-designed-to-carry-a-handgun purse, then squeeze off a single round that hit his momma in the head. It’s a complete, horrific, total tragedy.

It’s a tragedy that poor kid will have to relive over and over. As he grows up he’ll want to know how his momma died. As he gets to know new people — at school, at college, at work — they’ll ask about his family. He’ll have to tell — or think about telling — the story of how he accidentally and inadvertently killed his own momma thousands of times. It’s unspeakably tragic.

And not at all surprising. This shit happens all the time, kids accidentally shooting people. Parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends, strangers, pets. It happens all the damned time, all across These United States. It happens for obvious reasons.

walmart logo

It happens because kids are curious. They play with things. They want to handle new things. It’s what kids are supposed to do. They see things, they pick them up, they explore them. Toys, guns, fruit, dog turds, cell phones, staplers, doesn’t matter — kids will pick them up and mess around with them.

It happens because kids learn really early about how to hold and shoot a handgun. They may not understand exactly what a handgun does, but by the time they’re toddlers they’ve seen tens of thousands of images on television and in movies of people holding guns. Kids learn by imitation. Of course they’re going to play with a gun if they find it.

It happens because that’s what guns are designed to do. Kill things. Firearms really are an incredibly efficient technology. Masterpieces of design. Their only function — and let me repeat that; their only function — is to explosively propel a missile at high speed toward a target.

Unbeatable prices! Save money! Live better!

Unbeatable prices! Save money! Live better!

It happens all the goddamned time at big box stores like Walmart because big box stores are essentially fixed point attractors. People congregate there. It happened in Columbus, Indiana; it happened in Phoenix, Arizona; it happened in Antioch, Callifornia; it happened in Jasper, Indiana. Hell, there’s a website devoted to nothing but shootings at Walmart.

It happens because here in These United States we have a gun fetish problem. We have a culture that romanticizes firearms, and celebrates the people who use them. We have a culture that places a higher priority on firearm ownership than on health and safety. We’ve created a culture of fear and suspicion that’s so pervasive, some folks actually believe it’s necessary to be armed to visit Walmart.

Happy Walmart customers

Happy Walmart customers

So yeah, it’s tragic that a two-year-old boy accidentally shot his momma in the head while they were shopping at Walmart. But that shit happens all the time. And nothing will change because of it. And that, of course, is the deeper tragedy.

Editorial note: You can buy a large assortment of firearms and ammunition at Walmart; their prices are unbeatable.