seriously, do something

Remember when all those six year old kids were shot and killed while at school in Connecticut? Remember how that was going to change everything? Remember the outrage and the horror and how finally the government would get its shit in order and do something about gun violence?

And remember how the National Rifle Association said that horror and outrage was just an emotional response to a tragedy and people would quickly forget.\?

The NRA was right. They were right when they said the outrage and horror was an emotional response — because you’re supposed to be fucking emotional when a couple dozen six year old boys and girls are slaughtered. If you don’t have an emotional response to children being shot 150 times in five minutes then you’re some sort of fucking Terminator.

This Tom Latham, my Congressman - I wrote him, I called him

This is Tom Latham, my Congressman – I wrote him, I called him

And the NRA was right when they said people would forget. Congress has basically abandoned the assault-style weapons ban. Admittedly, that legislation wouldn’t do much good — but it would do any harm. Even a little good is better than no harm. Congress is facing a difficult struggle to pass a watered down universal background check, and might not even be able to pass a straw buyer law. Despite the overwhelming support of the public, Congress may just stand around with its thumb up its collective ass. Again.

And you know why? Because Congress is scared of the NRA and they’re not scared of you. Because the NRA is leaning on Congress and you’re not. Because the NRA is speaking directly to the people who’ll vote on the legislation and you’re not.

This is Tom Harkin, one of my Senators - I called him, I wrote him

This is Tom Harkin, one of my Senators – I called him, I wrote him

Oh, you’re answering polls and saying you want effective legislation passed. You’re on Facebook sharing articles on gun violence and ‘liking’ photographs insulting the NRA. But who gives a rat’s ass about that? You’re not calling or writing your Congressional representatives and telling them that your vote in the next election depends on their vote on commonsense gun safety legislation.

Don’t blame Congress if this legislation fails. Blame your ownself. You can have an impact, but only if you’re willing to take a few minutes and do something. And folks, it really only takes a few minutes.

If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can get that information here. The most effective way to reach your representative is write an actual letter. Like on paper. With an inkpen. Put it in an envelope and mail it. Seriously. That shit gets read. And it carries weight. But if writing a letter cuts too deeply into your day, use the telephone. A phone call is the second most effective approach. Email? Not very effective at all. And those mass email petitions are almost totally worthless.

This is what you do: give them your actual name. Tell them your zip code, so they can be sure you live in their district (if you can’t vote for or against them, they’re not going to care what your opinion is). Clearly identify the specific issue you’re contacting them about, let them know you feel strongly, and let them know your vote is on the line.

This is Chuck Grassley, one of my Senators - I wrote him, I called him

This is Chuck Grassley, one of my Senators – I wrote him, I called him

We get the government we deserve, sad to say. So for fuck’s sake, people, do something. Write your legislators. Call their offices. It won’t take long and it won’t cost much money.

Do it even if you don’t think it will do any good. One of my legislators is Chuck Grassley, as big an asshole as you’ll ever meet. He’s opposed to even the most reasonable limits on firearms, and there’s nothing I can say that will change his vote. I wrote him anyway. I called his office anyway. Because if this jerk is purporting to represent me, then I’m damned well going to make my positions clear to him.

My other congressional representatives both support sensible gun safety measures. So I called and wrote telling them how much I appreciate their efforts and they can count on my vote and my support. They like hearing that.

Here’s the thing: we don’t have to get every vote. We just need to get enough votes. We just need to convince a few moderate Democrats and Republicans that they don’t have to kiss the NRA’s ass. But they’re not going to act unless we do.

equal justice under law

I’ve met one Justice of the Supreme Court. Well, two if you’re willing to count Thurgood Marshall — but that was in 1993 and Thurgood Marshall was dead at the time. You can’t really say you’ve ‘met’ somebody just because you looked at his coffin lying in state in the Great Hall of the United States Supreme Court building. I did meet Nina Totenberg that day, sorta kinda; she was interviewing some of the people standing in line to meet Thurgood Marshall’s coffin. She didn’t interview me, but she smiled at me when I said “Hi Nina.” She has a nice smile. When you’re standing in a long line on a cold January morning to look at somebody’s coffin, a nice smile means a lot.

The Supreme Court Justice I did meet was Antonin Scalia. I met him at Heathrow Airport in London. I was arriving to help conduct a summer course in International Justice Systems. I’m not sure why Justice Scalia was in London. Probably wanted to experiment in fucking up a judicial system that’s older than ours.

My colleague spotted Scalia behind us in the airport, and paused a moment in order to meet him. I paused as well, because I’m not a total jerk. My colleague introduced the both of us and told him why we were there. He shook Scalia’s hand. Scalia, to his credit, said something gracious and encouraging, then turned to me.

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

I didn’t extend my hand. Neither did he. It was immediately clear to both of us that we were mortal enemies.

Then he moved on. I’m absolutely convinced he could hear what I was thinking, though. What I was thinking was this: “You, sir, are no Thurgood Marshall.

I do not like Justice Scalia. I’ll grudgingly admit he’s brilliant and articulate jurist, but he’s also a judicial hypocrite. He claims to be a Constitutional originalist and textualist, but he never seems reluctant to treat the U.S. Constitution as a living document when it suits his ideology. For example, Scalia has stated the 14th Amendment (which, among other things, guarantees equal protection under the law) doesn’t necessarily apply to women or gay folks since it was crafted after the Civil War for the purpose of preventing racial discrimination. Yet during the 2000 election crisis, in Bush v. Gore, Scalia used that same 14th Amendment and that same equal protection argument to decide to stop the Florida recount. (Do I need to point out that George W. Bush was not a victim of racial discrimination?)

Justice Marshall was — still is — a hero to me. Not just because he was a civil rights lawyer at a time when that was a dangerous occupation, but because he never lost his compassion for common folks or his zeal for protecting the civil rights of all people. Antonin Scalia used the 14th Amendment to insure George Bush would be elected president; Thurgood Marshall used the 14th Amendment to end racial segregation of public schools.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Thurgood Marshall

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Thurgood Marshall

I was a doctoral student at American University when Marshall died in January of 1993. Three days later, his coffin was lying in state in the Supreme Court building, on the same catafalque that had held Abraham Lincoln’s. Instead of attending class, I joined the long, subdued line of people standing in the cold, waiting to pay their respects. You hear that phrase a lot, paying respect. This was one of those instances when the phrase was entirely accurate.

I don’t know how many people passed by his coffin. Thousands. All kinds of people. People in suits, of course, since this was Washington, D.C. But also people in military uniform, young folks in jeans, old black women who’d dressed in their Sunday outfits that Wednesday. What moved me the most, though, was the number of working folks who showed up. Regular people, standing in long lines, outside in the January air, come to pay their respects to a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

They closed the doors at ten o’clock that night. I’d already gone home by then, but I heard about it. The people still outside waiting got to see Marshall’s coffin carried out of the Great Hall and down the steps. If you’ve never been to the Supreme Court Building, it looks pretty much like any other governmental structure in DC. But above the door, these words are carved: Equal Justice Under Law. Thurgood Marshall believed in those words, and he made a great many other people believe in them as well.

Young Thurgood Marshall on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court

Young Thurgood Marshall on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court

Antonin Scalia is probably smarter than Thurgood Marshall was. He’s maybe more articulate than Marshall was. He’s more forceful on the bench than Marshall was. But on that day in the future when Scalia is laid to rest, how many people will associate his name with Equal Justice Under Law? How many people do you think will be willing to take a day off work and stand for hours outside in the cold in order to pay their respects?

a couple of quick thoughts on marriage equality

First thing this morning I got an email from an acquaintance calling me out for not supporting marriage equality by changing my Facebook profile photo to the equality sign.

“i assumed you supportd marriage equality. but you didn’t change your fb profile pic. whats up with that.”

What’s up with that is pretty simple. I do support marriage equality but I don’t feel like I need to change my Facebook profile photo to prove it. I think it’s extraordinarily cool that so many folks have changed their Facebook profiles. It’s just not me, though.

Same sex marriage has been legal here since 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously there was no legal basis for denying a same sex couple the right to marry. It’s a done deal here. Ain’t nobody been hurt by it — which is no surprise to anybody but bigots. There are still some Republicans who try to pass legislation reversing the court’s ruling, but basically same sex weddings have become routine here. Nobody notices.

Another thing — all those polls saying a majority of the American public approves of same sex marriages. That’s great and all, but really public opinion shouldn’t be the arbiter of whether or not a thing is right. Same sex couples ought to be able to marry whether the public approves of it or not. It’s just the right thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad attitudes are changing. Today and tomorrow are important days in the struggle for marriage equality. But regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, I’m absolutely confident that marriage equality will eventually happen. It’s inevitable. Sooner is better than later, of course, and I’d love to see SCOTUS make a sweeping decision that it’s unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. But if they don’t, then we’ll just have to keep on fighting. Because it’s going to happen.

In the meantime, though, here:


my 188th thursday walk

Every couple of weeks I’ll head downtown, run a few errands, grab a venti white mocha (and a glazed donut) from the Starbucks directly next to the main branch of the public library, then spend a couple of hours noodling around in the stacks. I know a lot of folks consider Starbucks to be the Devil — and they may be right — but its right there, just steps from the library. Besides, I’ve never been known to shun the Devil.

In any event, the library is a good place to begin a Thursday Walk. The Utata group has been walking on Thursdays since April 20, 2006. I don’t always participate in the project, but I try not to let more than a couple of weeks go by without joining in. Last Thursday was the 361st consecutive Utata Thursday Walk. Isn’t that amazing? It was my 188th; I’ve done just over half of the Thursday Walks.

The date is in danger of not being saved

The date is in danger of not being saved

I began by heading back to the Save the Date scene, which was hidden away behind construction equipment on my last visit. It’s still behind a bright orange warning fence, but at least I can see the spot where the message is located. I talked to some of the construction guys — they said the building has been bought by an architectural firm, which will use the ground floor as offices and turn the upper floor into loft-style apartments.

In a way that pleases me. I love to see these old industrial buildings restored and put into use. But it pretty much ruins any hope of learning what I was saving the date for. And in related bad news — I was able to see that my chalked question had been washed off (I presume by rain or snow or ice or some other meteorological eraser).

Smoker's haven

Smoker’s haven

Around the corner there’s a converted garage entrance that’s been turned into a place where smokers can gather and escape the worst of the weather. It’s a weird little place. They open the garage door in the morning and close it at the end of the working day. They’ve made an effort to make it comfortable, and it’s kept surprisingly neat.

I walk by this spot periodically, and occasionally I’ll stop and say hi to the smokers. They’re a camera-shy group. So far none of them has been willing to be photographed. It’s a guy thing. But I’ll keep trying. Maybe some day one of them will relent.

Stacks of yellow crates

Stacks of yellow crates

There’s an alley that runs behind a few bars, a coffee shop, and a somewhat seedy hotel. It’s a nice alley (as alleys go) and there’s usually something there worth photographing. But I rarely shoot anything there because it’s always clogged with cars or delivery vehicles. People seem willing to park anywhere, without any regard at all for photography.

I always glance down the alley as I pass, hoping that one day it’ll be free of parked vehicles. Last week it wasn’t exactly clear, but there was a space between vehicles where I could see some stacks of seriously yellow crates. Even as I walked toward the crates, I could see a transit van entering the other end of the alleyway. So I hustled and managed to shoot one frame just as the van pulled up. I shot a second frame before he honked his horn, and one final frame after the honk, then waved him into the spot.

Riverside bike path

Riverside bike path

I was heading east toward the river. If the weather is nice, I usually head toward the river. In fact, if the weather is less-than-nice, I often head for the river. Oh hell, I’ll head toward the river even if it’s pissing down rain. I’ll head to the river if a hail of scorpions is falling from the sky. I like the river.

Nobody would call the weather nice — it was cloudy and pretty cold — but it wasn’t raining or snowing, and the sky was scorpion-free. So…river.

Under the Court Street bridge

Under the Court Street bridge

There’s a bike path along the river and a fairly new pedestrian walkway, though much of the time the two are merged. There’s also an old river-level walkway down below the balustrade. On windy days the river often laps up over that walkway. Sometimes you’ll find fish — usually small ones — that have leaped out of the water and onto walkway. You’ll also find the occasional old grommet where boats and barges used to tie up back in the day when they were allowed in this stretch of the river.

Dead fish and grommet

Dead fish and grommet

One of the things I like about the riverwalk is that it’s out-of-the-way. There’s absolutely no reason to go there unless you want to be there. I mean, it’s not on the way to anyplace else, and there’s no purpose in walking the river level other than to be walking the river level. You rarely meet people there — but when you do, the people tend to be interesting. Or scary. And sometimes both.

On that day, there was nobody on the river level except me and a few dead fish.

At river level

At river level

Most days I’ll only walk a short stretch of the river. Just far enough to generate some river-calm. You know, that feeling that comes with spending time along a slow-moving body of water. I find it soothing to know the water sliding by me began in Lake Shetek in Minnesota, and 525 miles later it’ll join the Mississippi River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. I like knowing the river is following a course carved out by glacial melt some 13,000 years ago.

It makes me feel small and impermanent. I’m aware some folks are uncomfortable with that feeling, but I find it weirdly comforting. It reminds me that whatever crap is going on in my life — and right now my life is pretty crap-free — isn’t all that important or momentous. That’s a nice thing to remember.

Pedestrian bridge over the Center Street dam

Pedestrian bridge over the Center Street dam

I continued all the way to the end of the riverwalk, just below the Center Street dam. From there I could see the crazy-ass pagoda constructed by the Chinese Cultural Center, and the crazy-ass John Anderson White paddle-wheel riverboat, and even the crazy-ass dome of the Botanical Center. Each of those things is maybe a wee bit weird, but seeing them all in one place always makes me feel like I’m hallucinating. I like that.

Center Street dam

Center Street dam

That dam, by the way, is fifteen feet tall. The water rushing over it makes a hell of a noise. It gives you a real sense of the astonishing power of the river. Even though it’s a fairly slow moving river, it’s a lot of water and it just doesn’t stop. Eleven people have died in the boil below that dam — mostly stupid boaters who got too close despite all the warning signs and the rescue cables.

I’d have kept walking, over the pedestrian bridge, down the riverwalk on the east side of the river, and back again over the lower pedestrian bridge. But by then it was nearly five o’clock and I had to meet a friend, and even though it was only a three and a half mile walk, I was feeling the cold in my knees.

But it was a good walk. They all are. Man, I love Utata for giving me an incentive every week to get out, put a camera in my hand, and walk someplace. And there’s something really special about knowing that other folks all over the globe are out doing the exact same thing for exact same reason. This is going to sound really corny, but I don’t care. These Thursday Walks are like being part of a river. And I’ll leave it at that.

troublemakers are my heroes

I’ve been noodling around with computers for about a million years. Seriously, a million years in tech terms. I bought my first computer in the autumn of 1982. It looked like this:

kayproIt was a Kaypro II. State of the art, motherfucker — portable (only 26 pounds), with a 9-inch monitor (the Osborne only had a puny ass 5-inch monitor), a CP/M operating system, and two (yes 2)  internal disk drives that could handle those sweet 5 1/4 inch floppy disk each of which was capable of holding 195k of data. Arthur C. Clarke had a Kaypro II. It cost me about US$1500. A few months later I bought a Hayes 300 baud modem; I could put the telephone receiver into a coupler and magically connect with a Bulletin Board System in Boston.

That’s what we had. BBS’s. There was no Internet, no World Wide Web, no information superhighway, no cyberspace — just a green phosphorus monitor linked by telephone to a bulletin board.

Back then I was a geek. I took computers apart, fixed them, replaced and upgraded motherboards and disk drives. But along the way I lost interest in the tech and became more intrigued by the culture and the utility of computers.

Now when I need to do something technical — like, say, hook up my laptop to an external monitor — I have to ask somebody how it’s done. Or find a YouTube video to explain it to me. And when I’ve needed that information, this is who I generally turned to:

adria richardsAdria Richards. Smart, funny, relaxed, smart, easy-going, knowledgeable, and smart. She’s all over the tech world. If you haven’t heard of her, it’s because you haven’t paid attention.

Richards recently attended a Python development conference called PyCon (okay, here’s where I have to admit I don’t have a fucking clue what Python is). In one of the sessions, a couple of guys behind her began making jokes about ‘forking’ and ‘big dongles.’ You know, the sort of humor common among fourteen year old boys.

I’m a guy. I was once a fourteen year old boy. I still am, sometimes. I know I’ve made similar jokes in my life — because all guys are capable of being idjits. But somewhere in the growing up process I learned not to make jokes around strangers who might be uncomfortable with them. It’s just good manners, right?

This is what Richards says about the incident in her blog:

I was going to let it go. It had been a long week. A long month. I’d been on the road since mid February attending and speaking at conferences.  PyCon was my 5th and final conference before heading home.

I know it’s important to pick my battles.

And that’s usually what happens, isn’t it. Men say something offensive, women stay quiet about it. They stay quiet because making a fuss will get them labeled as humorless lesbians who hate men. If women say something, they’ll make men feel uncomfortable that they said something that made the woman feel uncomfortable. And the women will then be punished for making the men feel uncomfortable. You know this is true.

So women usually let it go. But this time was different. Richards didn’t let it go. This is what happened:

I saw a photo on main stage of a little girl who had been in the Young Coders workshop.

I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.

Okay, that’s overly dramatic. Those two guys wouldn’t make it impossible for the girl in the photo to learn and love programming. But guys just like the guys behind Richards would certainly make girls just like the girl in the photo feel they didn’t belong in the techno-boy’s club.

So Richards sent a tweet describing the situation and asking the PyCon staff to resolve it. And hey, they did. They escorted the two guys out of the session (and, presumably, told them to grow the fuck up). Richards had stood up for herself and women in tech, the guys had been properly put in their place, and the green grass grows all around, all around.

That should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it). In her tweet Richards had also included a photo of the guys who were making the jokes. As a result, one of the guys was fired from his job. His company issued a statement, including the following:

[A]s a company that is dedicated to gender equality and values honorable behavior, we conducted a thorough investigation. The result of this investigation led to the unfortunate outcome of having to let this employee go.

That seems an over-reaction. I suspect it would have been more appropriate for the CEO of the company to sit the guy down and tell him not to be such a dick in the future. But here’s something to remember: it was the company that fired him — not Adria Richards.

When word of the firing began to spread, Richards became the villain of the story. Her blog was hit with a Denial of Service attack. She received rape and death threats on Twitter (those tweets have been deleted by Twitter). The company she worked for, SendGrid, also became the target of DoS attacks, shutting it down.

So SendGrid fired Adria Richards. They released a statement:

SendGrid supports the right to report inappropriate behavior, whenever and wherever it occurs. What we do not support was how she reported the conduct. Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders—and bystanders—was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.

After Richards was fired, the DoS attack stopped and people could access the SendGrid site again.

There is, of course, a huge furor in the tech world over this. I won’t bother repeating all the arguments and counter-arguments; they’re easy to find, if your interested (and they’re all represented in the comments on Richards’ blog post). I’ll just say this.

Adria Richards over-reacted. And yay for her for doing it. The only way to change culture is for some people to push back and push back hard. They’ll get punished for it, they’ll be called names, they’ll be labeled as troublemakers. But it’s the troublemakers who initiate change. The only way to overcome systemic discrimination and bigotry is to make a huge fuss.

The civil rights marchers and freedom riders of the 1960s were troublemakers. The first wave of feminists were troublemakers. If troublemaking gay men and lesbians hadn’t pushed hard against the boundaries of hetero-culture, same-sex marriage wouldn’t be a reality in some states (and eventually throughout the U.S.).

Adria Richards got fed up and acted. Did she act wisely? Maybe not. I don’t care. She acted and she caused trouble (even if she didn’t mean to). She shook the foundation of tech culture by telling the guys it’s way way way past time to stop being 14 year old boys.

After this, any guy who publicly makes those sort of jokes at a professional conference will be doing it knowingly and deliberately just to be offensive. And that, folks, is how mainstream bigotry gets driven to the fringes.

no defense

Freeze and melt — that’s been the pattern for the last week or so. Snow, melt, freeze, melt. It’s not so bad on the main streets and sidewalks, which are cleared and have enough car and foot traffic to keep things tidy. But it plays merry hell in the alleys.

A couple days ago I decided to wander back to Save the Date Alley to see if I’d gotten a response to my question. It was pretty treacherous footing. In the sunnier parts of the alleyway the ice and snow had partially melted, leaving a layer of water over the ice. There were occasional patches of snow, which gave a bit of traction, and even a few places with clear concrete — but for the most part, walking in the alley took a lot of care.

treacherous footingIt was slick enough that I considered giving up the idea and returning another day. Why risk breaking a bone just to satisfy my idle curiosity? But I could see some sort of construction was taking place down the alley — and it looked suspiciously near the spot where the Save the Date invitation (if it was an invitation) had been left.

I apparently have absolutely no defenses against curiosity, even idle curiosity. I wanted to know what was going on. So I slowly soldiered on.

Until I got distracted by a fire escape.

no parkingWell, not so much the fire escape itself, which isn’t all that interesting, but by the hundreds of icicles that formed beneath it. I think most folks are fascinated by icicles and how they form. And I suspect most folks feel a powerful impulse to touch them. Or knock them down. Or, of course, photograph them.


The fire escape was in a shaded part of the alley. I’d been walking on the bright, sunny side. So I had to cross the alley, which doesn’t sound like much of a feat, but lawdy I’m telling you it was incredibly fucking difficult. It took me maybe three or four minutes to slowly slide across maybe ten feet of icy alley. And then, of course, the light sucked.

But I shot a few photos anyway, and even though they don’t give any real sense of how magnificent the icicles were, I’ve decided to include them here. I mean, if I can risk my aging bones to satisfy my curiosity, you can damned well spare a moment to glance at a couple of uninteresting photographs.

The child in me (and yeah, that’s an awfully big part of me) wanted to knock the icicles loose, just to hear the sound. Or at least I wanted to take off my gloves and maybe pull one loose. But the adult in me insisted the responsible thing to do was leave them untouched so the next idiot to slip-slide down the alley could enjoy them too.

stairciclesSo that’s what I did. I made the adult decision, then another three minutes sliding back to the less hazardous side of the alley (there is, I suppose, some irony to be found in the fact that I’m proud to have made an adult decision while in the midst of an entirely juvenile enterprise). And I was back on my way.

Here’s a true thing about alleys: they can be sort of generic. The alley entrance to a radiator repair shop isn’t very different from the alley entrance to an electronics store or a pet shop. So from a distance, it’s not always easy to tell one section of alleyway from another. But as I got closer, it became apparent that the construction was taking place very near the location where Save the Date and my question were to be found.

In fact, it was the very building.

road closedI got as close as I could. I was able see workmen working, but I couldn’t tell what they were working on. I couldn’t see if they were working on the building or on the alley itself or on something altogether different. I tried shouting to get somebody’s attention, but there was a generator banging away loudly and a small diesel-powered Bobcat idling. Nobody heard me. Of else they just ignored me. Either way, I learned nothing.

I made my way back out to the street and approached the construction site from the other end of the alley. No joy there either.

So there we are. Save the Date suspense and drama. I’ll wait another week or so and return to the alley to see if Save the Date and my question are still there. If so, then I’ll keep going back to see if I get an answer. If not…well, I’ll probably keep going back anyway.

Seriously, I have no defenses against curiosity.


First, a confession. I’d originally planned to write about my ambivalence regarding the ‘assault-style weapons’ ban. I don’t believe banning those weapons would have any real effect — certainly not on crime in general, and probably not on mass killings.

I may be ambivalent about the proposed legislation, but I’m NOT ambivalent about the way it’s been dropped by Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader. If the legislation had been given a vote and failed, I wouldn’t be upset. If it had succeeded, I wouldn’t be upset. But to refuse to even offer it up for a vote? That upsets me.

Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader & Coward

Harry Reid – Senate Majority Leader, Coward

Here, according to, is the reason:

Reid’s decision highlights the tightrope walked by the majority leader in governing the gun control issue. Trapped between the White House and rank-and-file Democrats who support broad gun control legislation following the shootings last December in Newtown, Conn., Reid must also be mindful of red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2014 who favor gun rights.

Why? Why must he be mindful of red-state Democrats up for re-election? Shouldn’t he be mindful of the citizenry they’re supposed to represent? The most recent ABC News–Washington Post poll found 57% of the nation supports the proposed ban. The University of Connecticut–Hartford Courant poll had the very same result. Quinnipiac found 54% supported the ban, and Pew found 56%. Hell, even a recent poll in Texas (which revealed 39% of those polled want to see President Obama impeached) showed 49% support for an assault-style weapons ban.

I’m not suggesting the majority is always correct. Clearly, they’re not. Nor do I believe legislators should always do what the majority of their constituents want. Legislators should vote their own conscience, even if it goes against the will of their constituents. But I am suggesting they should vote on the issues their constituents think are important.

They want a vote on the proposed weapons ban.

Bushmaster .223

Bushmaster .223

Refusing to bring the proposed legislation to the Senate floor for a vote is, in my opinion, an act of cowardice. It’s not about representing the citizenry; it’s about political expediency. It’s about wanting to stay in office. It’s about putting their personal considerations before those of the people they’re supposed to represent.


So, why am I ambivalent about the legislation itself? I wrote something about the topic back in December, so forgive me if I partly repeat myself. Basically, I don’t see any evidence that banning the 157 assault-style weapons listed in the law will have an impact on mass killing.

Since the first assault-style weapons ban was put into place in 1994, there have been 44 mass killings (see the note below). Relatively few of those involved assault-style weapons. I don’t think there’s much doubt that, given a choice, mass killers would prefer to use assault-style weapons — but the sad fact is, folks who are intent on committing mass murder will use whatever weapons they can get their hands on. Mass killers don’t choose assault-style weapons because they’re better at killing people — they’re not. They choose those weapons because they fit in with the Mass Killer Aesthetic. They look scary.

Anders Behring Breivik, poster boy for the Mass Murder Aesthetic

Anders Behring Breivik, poster boy for the Mass Murder Aesthetic

That’s the same reason mass killers (and especially the younger ones) tend to dress in similar ways — camouflage or all-black tactical outfits. These guys plan these crimes in advance, including how they’re going to dress. They make deliberate fashion-based decisions. They know how mass killers are supposed to look. Popular culture has taught us the elements of Mass Killer Fashion. Assault-style weapons are the weapons of choice because they complete the look. But in the end, the most common weapons used by mass killers since 1994 has been the semi-automatic pistol with a high capacity magazine.

You want to pass a law that will have a real and measurable effect on mass killings? Pass the universal background check. Pass the ban on magazines holding more than ten rounds. And give the BATF enough funding and personnel to do its job. That will make a difference.

In any event, when the public wants these measures enacted, the refusal to bring them to the floor of Congress for a vote is an act of political cowardice. Harry Reid should be ashamed of himself. He should have to explain to the families of the victims of the Newtown School murders why he’s failing to put the legislation to a vote.

But I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have the balls to do that either.

Nathan Van Wilkins - not a mass killer

Nathan Van Wilkins – not a mass killer

Editorial note: How do we define a mass killing? It’s generally defined as one in which at least four people unknown to the shooter were killed. This, of course, excludes all those mass killings in which family members or ‘loved ones’ were among those killed. It also excludes failed attempts at mass murder. For example, in January of this year Nathan Van Wilkins opened fire in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama with an AK-47 variant; 17 people were injured, but nobody died, so this incident is only a mass shooting, not a mass killing.

please keep out

So I’m getting ready to shoot a photo and this guy comes up to me — he’s maybe in his mid-to-late 20s, wearing skinny-jeans, a zippered hoodie, and one of those floppy-eared Tibetan-looking knit hats — he comes up and he says, “What is that, a little Leica?”

I tell him it’s a Fuji X10.

He says, “Fuji. Is that, like, Japanese?”

I say yes, it’s a Japanese company.

He says, “The Germans, they make great cameras.”

I take the shot, then agree with him.

He says, “You shouldn’t be shooting into the sun like that.”

I tell him I think it’ll be okay.

He says, “It’ll be over-exposed. Or under-exposed. I forget which. Over-exposed.”

I tell him I’m using spot metering, and take another shot.

He says, “Oh” then tells me he’s been thinking seriously about buying a Leica. “But they cost so much.”

I agree that they’re expensive cameras.

He says, “Spot metering,” then asks if he can see the photo.

please keep out

It’s not a great photo, but I knew that when I was shooting it. I just liked the shadows. And sometimes you just want to see what a camera can do. Anyway, I show him the preview on the LCD.

He nods and repeats himself. “Well. Spot metering. And you shot that right into the glare of the…uh…thing there. And that’s a Fuji?”

I tell him I think they have spot metering on Leicas too.

He nods happily and says, “Cool.”

NOTE: Here’s a thing I’ve observed since I started using the little X10: most often people don’t even notice the camera. But when they DO notice it, they sometimes ask me about it. Nobody ever asked about the Nikon DSLR, which is also a very fine camera. I think that ‘retro’ look confuses and interests people.