you’re looking in the wrong direction

You know what’s fucked up? Well, okay — a lot of things are fucked up. But one of the fucked uppedest things is network news reporting.

Yesterday evening I watched NBC Nightly News attempt to cover the recent report on law enforcement fatalities. The coverage resembled an actual news broadcast: great graphics, dramatic and energetic voices, engaging video, concerned frowns on the earnest faces of the reporters. But basically the report was a shit sandwich. The ‘reporting’ was accurate, but misleading. Here are some of the claims made:

“…an enormous jump from last year in the number of police killed in shooting incidents.”

“…a 56% increase in the number of police officers killed by gunfire in the last year.”

“…a growing anti-government sentiment may be triggering the attacks.”

Following that last comment, the report shifted to video of the recent protests over the number of police shooting incidents involving unarmed black men. The suggestion was pretty clear: anger at the police in the African-American community was responsible for the increase in police officer fatalities.

And right there, that’s the shit in the shit sandwich.

Combination image shows mourning bands placed over different police badges at the funeral of slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos at Christ Tabernacle Church in the Queens borough of New York

126 law enforcement officers died while on duty in 2014

First, let me point out that the anti-police protests really aren’t anti-police protests; they’re anti-police-shooting-unarmed-black-folks protests. I think that needs to be stated pretty clearly. You can support the police and still be pissed off at them for killing folks who aren’t a threat.

Now, the meat of the story. Yesterday the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released its preliminary annual report on officer fatalities. The data are reliable. One hundred twenty-six LEOs were killed while on duty this year. Fifty of them were killed by gunfire this year. That’s not in dispute.

But is that an ‘enormous jump’, as the news report claims? Well, yes and no. Last year 32 officers were killed by gunfire. So yeah — fifty is a big jump compared to thirty-two. But guess what. The average number of LEO deaths by gunfire over the last ten years is fifty-three. So no, it’s not really an enormous jump at all. It’s actually a wee bit below average. That got left out. So the news ‘report’ was accurate, but misleading.

The news ‘report’ also stressed that fifteen of the fifty LEOs who died by gunfire were killed in ‘ambush attacks.’ Although the term isn’t actually defined in the report, it appears they’re talking about incidents in which LEOs are murdered 1) simply because they’re law enforcement officers and 2) shot while they were unaware they were being targeted. And yeah, that’s pretty fucking alarming.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley - cop killer

Ismaaiyl Brinsley – fuckwit, cop killer

But here’s the problem: the ‘news’ account conflates ambush attacks with the protests against police violence. Why? On account of Ismaaiyl Brinsley. He’s the jackass who gut-shot his girlfriend in Baltimore, stole her cellphone, hopped on a bus to NYC, where he shot and killed two NYPD officers. Brinsley left messages on social media saying he was going to ‘put wings on pigs’ as some sort of idiotic revenge for the deaths of two unarmed black men killed by police officers in two different states. Yeah, maybe — but it seems more likely Brinsley just wanted to do something ‘big’ before he killed himself (he’d attempted suicide at least once before).

But based on that one ambush attack, the ‘news report’ hinted that anti-police anger is responsible for all fifteen officers who were killed in ambush attacks. That suggestion is absolute bullshit.

The reporters got one thing right, though. They cited the reports concern that “a growing anti-government sentiment may be triggering the attacks.” And that, folks, is a fact. Yes, it surely is.

Eric Frein - cop killer

Eric Frein – sovereign citizen, cop killer

But the ‘news report’ focused on black anti-government anger. The biggest threat to LEOs today doesn’t come from young black men who are pissed off because so many young black men are killed by police. The real threat to LEOs comes from white, well-armed, angry, right-wing, anti-government, sovereign citizen extremists who are pissed off because — well, they have a lot of irrational reasons for being pissed off. Something to do with the 14th Amendment, banking, taxes, and (I swear I’m not making this up) an amendment to the US Constitution proposed in 1810 dealing with (seriously, NOT making this up) titles of nobility.

I’m talking about people like Eric Frein, who set up an ambush outside a Pennsylvania State Police barracks, then murdered Cpl. Bryon Dickson as he walked out the door. He also seriously wounded another Trooper and fired on others as they tried to rescue Dickson. I’m talking about Curtis Holley, who set fire to the house he was renting, waited for the first responders to arrive, then opened fire. He killed Deputy Christopher L. Smith of the Leon County, Florida Sheriff’s Department. I’m talking about Jared and Amanda Miller. These two fuckwits actually strolled around the city of Las Vegas with a shopping cart full of weapons without drawing any police attention — at least not until they ambushed and killed two LVPD officers who were having lunch. Then they entered a nearby Wal-Mart and waited for more police to arrive.

Curtis Wade Holley - cop killer

Curtis Wade Holley – sovereign citizen, cop killer

And it’s not just ambush attacks. These sovereign citizens are also the biggest threat when it comes to traffic stops (eight of 2014’s line-of-duty fatalities occurred during traffic stops). Because they don’t believe they’re required to have license tags on their vehicles, sovereign citizens get stopped a lot. And because they also believe they have an absolute right to carry a firearm at all times, they’re generally well-armed — and know how to use their weapons. And because sovereign citizens are almost exclusively white, they’re less likely to be confronted for openly carrying weapons.

These guys are a serious threat. That’s not me talking; that’s the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. In their 2014 report they identified sovereign citizens as “law enforcement’s top concern.” Islamic extremists? Number two. In fact, four of the five top concerns were occupied by right-wing extremist groups. The FBI has labeled sovereign citizens as a domestic terror group.

Jared and Amanda Miller - cop killers

Jared and Amanda Miller – sovereign citizens, cop killers

So when you read or hear news reports about how anti-police protesters are a threat to the police, ignore that shit. When you read or hear news reports claiming anti-police protesters are stirring up anti-government sentiment, look at the people who are actively attacking the government. When you read or hear news reports how anti-police protesters have blood on their hands, look at who owns the guns and who’s doing the shooting.

The black kid playing with a toy gun in the park isn’t a threat. The black guy selling loose cigarettes on the street isn’t a threat. That white guy driving a pick-up without a proper license tag and a gun rack in the back? He’s the threat.

a fucking outrage

“It’s a fucking outrage, is what it is.”
       “It is. Fucking outrage.”
“Shot and killed for no reason.”
       “No reason at all, at all.”
“You can’t just go shooting and killing people because they belong to some group you don’t like.”
       “Can’t do that. Fucking outrage.”
“Flat out murder, is what it was.”
       “Can’t argue with that. Murder, flat out.
“What the fuck was he thinking?”
       “Got no idea. None. Not sure he was thinking. Just started shooting.”
“Opened fire, then went off and killed himself.”
       “He killed himself? I didn’t know that. Jeeze.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what he did. Killed himself.”
       “I guess he felt guilty.”
“My ass.”
       “You don’t think he felt guilty?”
“Not a bit.”
       “I dunno, man. Then why’d he kill himself?”
“How the fuck should I know. And now everybody’s making it a race thing.”
       “Maybe because it was a race thing.”
“You crazy? Race had nothing to do with it.”
       “Bullshit, race had everything to do with it.”
“Something to do with it, maybe. Shooter was black, but that’s…”
       “No he wasn’t. He was white.”
“He was black. That’s why killed those cops.”
       “Who killed cops? The fuck you talking about?”
“The fuck YOU talking about?”
       “About that kid in Ohio. Cops pulled up, shot the black kid dead in, like, two seconds. Kid was like twelve years old.”
“I’m talking about those two cops got shot and killed in New York City.”
       “They wouldn’t have shot that kid…”
“He wouldn’t have shot those cops…”
       “…if he was white.
“…if they were black.”
       “It’s a fucking outrage.”
“A fucking outrage, is what it is.”

Tamir Rice

Tamir Rice

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu

i received a note from a friend

Ten days ago, as I was packing to go house-sit for my brother, I received a note from a friend.

That sounds so simple, so mundane. I received a note from a friend. But it wasn’t just a note. It was a hand-written note. Hand-written in ink. Written in ink with a lovely, idiosyncratic fist. Written in ink on fine paper — paper thoughtfully chosen, with a graphic that holds a personal meaning to me. Written in ink and posted in an envelope with a delightful and eccentric selection of postage stamps

Hand-written in ink. Think about that. When putting ink to paper, the writer has only one chance. There’s no possibility to correct a mistake in ink, so the writing must be exact. But perfect exactitude in writing usually feels mechanical — pretty, perhaps, but without any true sense of personality. So in order to write fluidly and expressively in ink, the writer must be relaxed but deliberate.

There’s a concept in Buddhism called mushin, which is generally translated as ‘no mind.’ Basically, that means emptying the mind of crap-baggage like ego and expectation and fear. The idea is that letting go of any concern about the end product allows you to be focused on what you’re doing with a level of intensity that wouldn’t be possible to achieve if you were consciously thinking about it. Mushin in writing is to write unencumbered by expectations, free of the burden of perfection, embracing imperfection, accepting the perfect beauty of the imperfect.

note and pear

I received a note from a friend. But he’s not a traditional friend. I’ve never met Fernando. I’d very much like to — but if I never do meet him, that’s perfectly okay. The internet, after all, has completely redefined the concept of friendship. It’s no longer limited by physical proximity; instead it’s grounded in shared interests. I ‘get’ Fernando. I may not always understand him, but I ‘get’ him. So yes, even though I’ve never met him, he’s definitely a friend. A friend made possible only through of the existence of the internet.

So ten days ago I received a note from a friend while I was packing to go house-sit. I read the note. Read it again. Knew I wanted to write about it, and set it on a table so I’d remember to take it with me. It was still there on the table when I got back home last night.

Here are the last two lines of the note:

There are just too few people one crosses paths in life that one can stop and make an effort to appreciate. (Their [something] is to be punished by trying to figure out my handwriting).

Fernando’s handwriting is…let’s say it’s free of the burden of perfection. And that makes it absolutely perfect.

without unnecessary conversation

Over the last couple of days I’ve been looking over the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s ‘Detention and Interrogation Program’. It’s pretty appalling. It’s hard to single out the most reprehensible fact, but this certainly comes pretty close:

According to CIA records, interrogators began using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques at DETENTION SITE COBALT a “few minutes” after the questioning of KSM began. KSM was subjected to facial and abdominal slaps, the facial grab, stress positions, standing sleep deprivation (with his hands at or above head level), nudity, and water dousing.” Chief of Interrogations [name redacted] also ordered the rectal rehydration of KSM without a determination of medical need, a procedure that the chief of interrogations would later characterize as illustrative of the interrogator’s “total control over the detainee.”

KSM is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And rectal rehydration — what, exactly, is that?

[T]he medical officer who subjected KSM to rectal rehydration, the officer wrote that, “w]hat I infer is that you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag – let gravity do the work… [W]e used the largest Ewal [sic] tube we had.” The “lunch tray” consisted of “hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins” which was pureed and “rectally infused.”

Again, there was no medical reason for this. It was simply used as part of the program to break Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. At least five detainees were subjected to rectal rehydration. Other detainees were subjected to rectal exams that, according to the report, were conducted with “excessive force.” Still more were threatened with rectal rehydration.

Some CIA defenders have suggested the rectal rehydration was medically necessary as a response to a hunger strike. That’s bullshit. Hunger strikes have certainly taken place (and, I believe, continue to take place) in Guantanamo, but there are ways of dealing with them that don’t require jamming a large-bore plastic tube up some guy’s ass. The Senate report describes how medical personnel “implemented various techniques to provide fluids and nutrients, including the use of a nasogastric tube and the provision of intravenous fluids” to insure hunger strikers received nourishment. In fact, one hunger striker, Majid Khan, even cooperated with that practice.

CIA records indicate that Majid Khan cooperated with the feedings and was permitted to infuse the fluids and nutrients himself. After approximately three weeks, the CIA developed a more aggressive treatment regimen “without unnecessary conversation.” Majid Khan was then subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration.

Without unnecessary conversation. Lawdy. Then again, I suppose if you’ve decided to torture and sexually humiliate somebody, what’s the point of chatting about it first?

But here’s the thing — under most state laws, what the CIA called ‘rectal rehydration’ would be considered rape. Federal law at the time these horrors took place still defined rape as “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Under federal law, it was impossible to rape a man. Since then, the Department of Justice has changed the law to include men is victims. The law now includes the following in the definition of rape:

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. (emphasis added)

These men were raped. These men, while in U.S. custody, were deliberately raped as part of a program designed to break their spirit. They were raped by U.S. operatives in a conscious effort to sexually humiliate them. They were raped purely as a means to assert control over them, to demonstrate the ability of the United States to do whatever the hell we wanted, to impose our will on them in any way we wanted.

Rape, of course, is a crime. Systematic rape as a tactic in war is included by the International Criminal Court as a crime against humanity. The authorization of systematic rape is also a war crime.

And the Bush administration’s justification for this? We were afraid. The U.S. had been attacked on 9/11/2001 and we were afraid. We were afraid, so we tortured people and sexually humiliated them. We were — and still are — so afraid of terrorists that we allowed them to terrorize us into betraying ourselves.

A year and a half ago I said we’d become a nation of fear-biters. Not much has changed.

but… but… what if…?

That ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario? Total bullshit. There’s absolute no evidence that such a scenario has ever taken place. No evidence at all. Yet it keeps coming up in almost every discussion about torture.

“But what if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that this guy has detailed knowledge of a bomb that’s going to detonate, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that it would detonate in a couple of hours, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that hundreds or thousands of innocent people would die — and what if this guy totally refused to talk. Would you still say torture was wrong in that situation?”

Well, yeah. It would still be wrong. The exigency of the situation doesn’t magically turn a wrong thing into a right thing.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, coward.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, coward.

“But what if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that the victims included your family or friends? What if some of those victims were people you loved? Would you still say torture was wrong?”

Yeah, it’s still wrong. The identities of the potential victims aren’t materially relevant to whether or not it’s wrong to torture people. If it’s not okay to torture somebody to save a stranger, why would it be okay to torture somebody to save a person you know? Besides, there’s no way to be certain the torture would elicit reliable intelligence.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney, coward.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney, coward.

“But what if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that torture did work, and that by using it we’d be able to save thousands of lives. Would you still be opposed to torture?”

Yeah. Torture would still be wrong. It’s not a question of effectiveness. It’s a question of national morality. It’s a question of who we are as a nation.

“So let me get this straight. You’re saying that if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that torture worked, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that using torture would provide information that would save thousands of lives — if we knew all that, are you saying you wouldn’t use torture against one person to save the lives of thousands?”

No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying first and foremost that torture is inherently wrong and should be punishable as a crime. I’m saying torture doesn’t really work, that it isn’t an effective way to get information. But if I knew with absolute and perfect certainty that I could save a thousand lives by torturing one person, I’d do it. I’d torture the hell out of him. And I’d expect to go to prison for doing it. I’d be okay with serving a long prison sentence — or even a life sentence, or possibly a death sentence — in exchange for saving thousands of innocent lives.

Former President of the United States George W. Bush, coward.

Former President of the United States George W. Bush, coward.

What these jackasses in the CIA and in the Bush administration want is the power to torture suspects without any consequence. Fuck that, and fuck them. If they believe so strongly that torture is necessary, then let them pay the price for doing it. We see soldiers and police officers and firefighters routinely risk their lives to save people. We see ordinary folks all over the world risking injury or possible death by protesting against policies they believe are wrong. They know the risks and they’re willing to suffer the consequences of their actions.

If the CIA and members of the Bush administration really believed torture worked, if they really thought it was effective, if they truly thought it saved lives, then they should also be willing to accept the consequences. I don’t care if their intentions were good. If they’re not willing to own up to what they did and pay the price, then they’re just fucking cowards.

okay, yeah, that’s pretty weird

Let’s just acknowledge that everybody’s life is weird. They’re all weird in different ways, sure — but the weirdness is there. It’s built into the system; you can’t get around it. Most of the time we don’t even notice the weirdness of our own lives. It’s so much easier to see the weirdness of other folks.

Today, though, some of the weirdness of my life bled through. First off, it’s my birthday. That’s not a big deal and there’s nothing weird about it. Everybody has a birthday. The only thing weird about mine is that I happen to be house-sitting for my brother (who is larking about on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta), so I’m sitting here alone in a strange house that’s decorated with about a thousand snowmen. Not actual snowmen (nor those creepy-cool snowmen from Doctor Who), just holiday decoration snowmen.

me in the mirror

It’s also a little weird to get a lot of birthday greetings. The greetings themselves aren’t particularly weird (well, some of them are a tad weird), but as I read through them all I’m reminded that I have a pretty odd range of friends and acquaintances. Lots of writers, lots of artists, lots of librarians, some lawyers, some regular working folks, a few gun nuts, a few scientists and mathematicians, a former nun, lots of tech-related people, some folks who work as advocates for mostly lefty causes. There are more women than men, more liberals than conservatives, more straight folks than gay, more folks from the US than any other place, but all in all it’s a pretty eclectic group.

Most folks just say ‘Happy birthday’ and leave it at that, which is nice and simple and direct. I’m a big fan of simple. One person wants me to use the occasion of my birthday to ‘reflect on your life and this past year, and consider what it’s all meant.’ This person hopes I ‘gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be you’ and wants me to ‘examine what you’re feeling today and why you’re feeling it’. It’s very sincere and earnest and I appreciate this person’s concern — but at the same time I’m thinking ‘Don’t you fucking know me at all?’

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I felt the need to try to understand what I’m feeling. I figure if I’m feeling it, that’s good enough. And a deeper understanding of what it means to be me? I don’t even know what that means. Don’t get me wrong; it’s sweet that somebody is concerned about my spiritual growth. If that’s what the concern is. But lawdy, I’ve been me my entire life — there’s not much new to learn, and frankly that makes thinking about myself as a person pretty dull. It’s more fun to think about other folks. I’m used to my own patch of weird; I’m a lot more interested in the weirdness of others.

That said, my patch of weird expanded a little today. I discovered that a few days ago I was featured on a website called Nail Art Design. I swear, I am NOT making this up. There’s actually a website about nail art, and there’s actually a photo of me wearing red nail polish and holding a snow shovel.

Let me just repeat that. There’s a photograph of me wearing red nail polish and holding a snow shovel on Nail Art Design.

Even I have to admit that’s a little weird.