active shooter

We don’t know very much. His name, we know that. Robert Lewis Dear. Fifty-seven years old, six-four, about 250 pounds. Beard. We know he was armed with some variation of the AK-47. We know he used it to kill three people and wound nine others. We know this took place in and around a Planned Parenthood facility.

REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing

REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing

Beyond that, we can only speculate. Make informed guesses. Form conjectures. Assign blame. Most people, hearing about the shooting, assume it was an attack on Planned Parenthood. It’s a pretty safe assumption. It may turn out to be wrong, but there’s plenty of support for that assumption.

PP clinics are routinely vandalized. They’ve been the target of arson attacks and a variety of homemade bombs. PP employees are frequently harassed, often threatened, sometimes assaulted. occasionally killed. In recent months PP as an organization has been falsely accused of crimes through widely distributed, highly edited, agenda-driven videos. The organization has been widely demonized by Republican presidential candidates. So is anybody really surprised to hear a mass shooting is taking place at a Planned Parenthood clinic? Is anybody really surprised to turn on their television and see police officers in military gear establishing a perimeter around an active shooter barricaded inside the clinic?

planned parenthood attack

This morning, still less than 24 since the shooting began, we don’t know that this was a deliberate attack on Planned Parenthood. But as assumptions go, this is a pretty solid and completely logical one.

Unless you’re an extreme conservative. Unless you’re a regular on FreeRepublic. In that case, you assume the active shooter at a Planned Parenthood clinic is a Muslim terrorist. While the shooting was underway, I followed the FreeRepublic discussion thread. Here’s a sampling of what I saw:

– Colorado Springs was one of the cities ISIS listed it wanted to attack…
– Quite likely a case of Islamic Terrorism at the Planned Parenthood Clinic, despite Obama promises that America was safe over the Thanksgiving Holiday.
– Hope that the injured recover quickly. From a politics standpoint – it does not matter. Now the message will be that all terrorists come from all part of the world. There will be no way to stop the Islo terrors.

But if it wasn’t Muslims, then it was probably a ‘false flag’ event — a covert operation designed to deceive the public and disguise who actually planned and executed it in an effort to further an undisclosed agenda. Almost certainly not a decent white Christian conservative man.

– I suspect false flag. Left wing nut cases doing this.
– If they are a shooter, it is a false flag operation.
– Too many benefits for the left for it NOT to be a flase flag. 1. Equate white Christians with Muslim terrorists 2. Gun control. 3. Counterbalance the memory of the videos 4. Damage pro-lifers.
– I’m more than willing to find out what happened later, because I know oboma needs a major sized false flag right now. He seriously has to draw attention away from his ISIS boys and Syrian imports and make their innocent victims the new boogie man instead. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.
– I think it is a staged by the left event in order to get pro-lifers placed on official terrorist lists, all to help Hillary and the Democrats in general.

Who would plan and execute a false flag assault on Planned Parenthood? And what would be the ‘real’ purpose of the attack? President Obama, of course, and his left-wing minions who want to disarm innocent white male Christians.

– They hope it is “Christian terrorism,” which, incidentally, does not exist. Until we know for sure, it could be a false flag operation, or something else.
– Hold onto your guns. This will absolutely result in major, major anti-gun maneuvering by Obama. You can’t assault the ultimate feminist sacrament of all time without paying on hell of a high price.

But if it wasn’t Muslims and it wasn’t a false flag event, then it was almost certainly the work of liberals or ‘leftists’ who are clearly insane. Conservatives would never do such a thing.

– A leftist looney with a gun…who would’ve thought. BO cannot say this was a right wing idiot!! Not this time!!
– Odds are it’s a leftist or retard. It’s a thin line.
– Those of us against abortion and planned murderhood are not the types that blow up and shoot up people and places.
– The media will get quiet pretty quickly when they dig into the suspect’s background and find out he was an ardent Leftist.

But even if the shooter was NOT a liberal or leftist, you can be sure those hippie types (and all those Planned Parenthood billionaires) are delighted about the shooting.

– This is where there loony lefties start equating perceived right wing terrorism with islamic terrorism. RIght wing terrorism doesn’t exist, at least in the US, but they are looking for any reason at all to show us that the Muslims really aren’t all that bad after all.
– Distraction to make pro-lifers look bad and counterbalance the videos? These people have the same moral code as the Nazis or the Communists — so it wouldn’t surprise me if this is for show. As much as the Planned Parenthood billionaires love to play the victim, the fact that even the (friendly) media is being kept away seems suspicious to me.
– The left is rubbing their hands with glee over this, I assume.
– they so want this to be tea party type trying to shoot up PP…but it may be a bank robbery gone bad.
– Leftists are all over this as “Christian terrorism” before the body is even cold.
— You would think leftists would be cheering, an officer is dead
– Know why liberals don’t like Christmas? Because it’s about a birth, not an abortion.

We don’t know very much. Maybe the Freepers are right. Maybe Robert Lewis Dear is a Muslim. Maybe he’s involved in a sinister false flag operation designed by the Obama administration to give them an excuse to seize everybody’s firearms. Maybe Dear is a leftist looney, or maybe he’s in the hire of Planned Parenthood billionaires who need to be entertained.

Robert Lewis Dear

Robert Lewis Dear

But if it turns out he’s NOT a Muslim or a leftist, if we discover the shooting was NOT a false flag operation, if Robert Lewis Dear happens to be a white male conservative Christian who was deliberately attacking the Planned Parenthood clinic — well, then that’s okay.

– And how many active killings going on inside the building?
– Only in a fallen, lawless America: A mass shooting in which more innocent lives are likely saved today than are lost, and in which a number of the innocents who were saved today will be brought back tomorrow to be murdered, with police standing guard for the murderers.
– At least the baby killers got the holy crap scared out of them. Maybe some will repent. unlikely.
– At least some lives were saved today!
– Won’t it be wonderful if some who didn’t get abortions today decide not.
– I do not care. IF someone kills members of Planned Parenthood, I simply do not care. If i’m on a jury, i’ll acquit. What they do at Planned Parenthood should never have been tolerated in the first place.

We’ll know more about Robert Lewis Dear before the day is out. We’ll be more informed about his motivations. Eventually we’ll know more about the weapon he used to kill three and wound nine other innocent people; we’ll know whether he bought it legally or not. We’ll know more. But we won’t be any smarter.

The ugly truth is that whatever we learn about this guy and why he did what he did, it won’t change anything. The United States has become a culture ruled by fear, a culture in which politics are dominated by anger and bluster, a culture in which opinion and belief overrule rationality and science. We’ve become a culture in which the expression ‘active shooter’ has become commonplace.

the politics of stupid fear

History will remember those who bullied and those who had the political courage to open our doors.

No, it won’t. Sorry.

The Modesto Bee published an excellent editorial yesterday. It’s a solid analytical piece, carefully sourced, full of links to supporting material, compassionate and intelligent. But their last line claiming history will remember the names of those who opposed helping Syrian refugees was, sadly, delusional.

I’d love to believe it was true, but it’s not. History — specifically political history, and even more specifically, political history in the United States — has the memory of an epileptic gnat. The Bene Gesserit were right (are right?); fear is the mind killer. Fear drives away reason and logic, and any sense of history disappears with it.

Does anybody remember last year? No? No, of course not. Thirteen months ago all those Republicans now running for president claimed Americans were all going to die from Ebola. Remember? They wanted to stop all flights from Africa. They wanted to prevent anybody who’d recently been IN Africa from returning to the United States. They talked about building camps to quarantine anybody who’d passed through Africa. Governors (mostly Republican) began issuing mandatory quarantine policies. It was the end of the world, remember?

ebola fears

How many cases of Ebola were there in the United States? Eleven. How many of those died? Two. Remember?

Here’s a true thing: Republicans have based their politics on fear for so long, they’re no longer able to distinguish between real threats, potential threats, and imagined threats. Could an Islamic terrorist group use the refugee program to infiltrate a terrorist into the United States? Sure, but why would they? The refugee process is long and slow and full of obstacles. There are easier and quicker ways for a terrorist to get into the U.S.

Remember, refugees are applying for resettlement. They’re not asking to visit; they’re asking to live in the United States. That’s a complicated process. They first have to submit an application at a U.S. embassy. If that application is considered viable, the applicants are screened by the nearest State Department outpost. We take their photographs and their fingerprints, and while those are being examined and compared against terrorist watch lists by the FBI, State Department operatives are checking their backgrounds. If they pass those investigations, their applications are turned over for further investigation by the National Counter-Terrorism Center. After that they have to go through in-person interviews with folks in Homeland Security. If they haven’t been excluded (or given up hope) by that point, there are medical and psychiatric examinations. The whole process takes two or three years.

It would be easier and probably more successful for a terrorist organization to obtain a false passport and a visitor’s visa, and let their terrorist fly in like a tourist from Bermuda. Or hell, just sneak across the border in Canada or Mexico.


No, this fear of Syrian refugees isn’t grounded in any sort of reality. It’s just plain, stupid fear and the politics of stupid fear. The fact is, you’re more likely to die from Ebola than you are to be killed by a terrorist posing as a Syrian refugee.

Next year there’ll be a different apocalyptic crisis, and Republicans (along with timid Democrats) will once again piss their pants and advocate radical policies, and we’ll have forgotten about the Syrian terrorist-refugees. Hell, we’ll probably forget about them by the end of the year. It’s convenient to forget about refugees. Unless you are one.

this guy, seriously

I declare, I simply cannot afford the amount of alcohol that would be required to look at this week’s news without becoming a model for an Edvard Munch painting. But here are the highlights.

This guy wants to keep Syrian refugees out of Texas because it would be too easy for them to buy guns and commit acts of terrorism. I can’t even count how many things are wrong in that statement. On the other hand, we’re talking about Texas state politics. You know, the place Saint Molly Ivins called ‘America’s laboratory of bad government.’

This guy, Tony Dale of Texas.

This guy, Tony Dale of Texas.

This next guy? He’s one of two Marksville, Louisiana deputies who killed a five-year-old boy in an ongoing feud between a city court judge and the city’s mayor. The mayor, a mechanic who also own an auto parts shop, wanted to tighten the city’s budget — which meant, in part, reducing the judge’s salary and the court’s operating budget (which is funded in some measure through issuing traffic tickets). The city’s marshal then hired some part-time deputies to issue more traffic tickets to bolster the courthouse budget. One of those deputies was this guy — Derrick Stafford, who before becoming a deputy was charged twice with aggravated rape. Stafford’s defense lawyer in those cases was the man who is now the Marksville city judge. As a deputy, Stafford has racked up five excessive force lawsuits.

It would require some combination of a Southern Gothic flowchart and a Chinese abacus to understand the arcane connection between the mayor, the judge, the deputies, the six-year-old victim’s father, and the victim himself. But lawdy, this guy.

This guy, Deputy Marshal Derrick Stafford.

This guy, Deputy Marshal Derrick Stafford.

And there’s this guy, who is unaccountably running for President of the United States. He recently accused the actual president of not wanting to defend the United States against terrorism, but is now offended that President Obama criticized those who wanted to close the borders to Syrian refugees. Obama said, “That’s not American, it’s not who we are.” Despite the fact that Obama mentioned no names, this guy whines that the president “just called me offensive the day before he called me un-American.” He then went on to say this (and I’m not making this up):

“Mr. President. You want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries, but I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face.”

I hope Obama comes back (he’s in Paris at the moment) and insults him to his face, which this guy so richly deserves.

This fuckin' guy, Ted Cruz

This fuckin’ guy, Ted Cruz.

And speaking of presidential candidates, there’s this guy, who is opposed to the idea of a free college education. He argued that free education was insidious and dangerous. Well, let’s let this guy explain the risks his ownself:

“It’s like the crabs in the, you know, whatever—the crabs in the boiling water.”

“Frogs,” an audience member shouted out.

“The frogs. You think it’s warm, and it feels pretty good and then it feels like you’re in a whirlpool—you know, a Jacuzzi or something. And then you’re dead. That’s how this works.”

That’s how free college education works, according to this guy. Lawdy.

This guy, the 'smart' Bush brother.

This guy, the ‘smart’ Bush brother.

By this point I’m just bemoaning my impoverished state on account of I want to steadily drink the rest of this year away. But…there was this guy.

This guy? He’s a football player. Football players are not known for their sensitivity to race. Or ethnicity. Or gender or sexual orientation. Or any fucking thing at all, really. But this guy? Before Sunday’s football game the stadium held a moment of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks–and some fuckwitted Packers fan used that moment to shout out some anti-Muslim bullshit. And after the Packers lost (for which I blame that fan), this guy had a few words to say about the Moment of Silence and the fan who fucked it up.

Listen to this guy. Put the bottle down and listen to this guy. This guy is worth all the others combined.

Oh, and also that little kid. You know, the little French-Asian kid and his charming daddy? In Paris? The one who talked about the bad men with guns, and the flowers and candles? Yeah, that one. Listen to him too.

let’s not be stupid

It’s a pretty good visual. Marco Rubio sitting in leather chair, speaking calmly and using simple declarative sentences, explaining the reasons behind the attacks in Paris. If you don’t take the time to think about what he actually says, you might find  him persuasive.

But let’s not be stupid. Because if you do take a moment to consider his comments, it becomes pretty clear he doesn’t have a fucking clue.

“This is not a geopolitical issue where they want to conquer territory, and it’s two countries fighting against each other.”

Yeah, it kinda is about conquering territory. ISIL devotes the vast majority of its time and money — not to mention its personnel — on conquering and holding territory in Syria and Iraq. Rubio is sorta kinda right that it’s not two countries fighting against each other; it’s a whole bunch of countries. He’s apparently ignorant of the fact that ISIL is attempting to carve out its own state — and is fighting a ground war against Iraq and Syria and free Kurdistan (as much as one exists). They’re also engaged in combat against Russian and Western forces in the region. There’s a reason they call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Let’s not be stupid, okay?

“They literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical Sunni Islamic view of the future.”

Literally. C’mon. Does ISIL have an air force? No, they do not. Do they have a navy? Again, no. And despite their military success in Iraq and Syria, they don’t really have much of an army. What they have is a moderately disorganized horde of highly enthusiastic but mostly amateur troops. They may want to overthrow the U.S. and the rest of the world (they’ve said as much), but let me just say this: they literally can’t. Hell, there are armed groups in Texas and Wyoming and Montana that have a better shot at taking down the U.S. government — and they have no shot at all. Let’s not be so stupid.

“This is not a grievance-based conflict. This is a clash of civilizations.”

Yes, it IS grievance-based. And no, it’s not a clash of civilizations. The folks who control ISIL are Salafists, and their grievance is that the world — and  especially ‘heretic’ Muslims in the Middle East — haven’t submitted to the will of Allah (as they interpret it). Sure, at least 99% of the world (including Muslims) doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of their grievance, but it’s a grievance all the same. You don’t try to form an entirely new State unless you have a pretty significant grievance.

You can't get from the Iraq-Syrian border to the U.S. in a Toyota pickup.

You can’t get from the Iraq-Syrian border to the U.S. in a Toyota pickup.

Also? ISIL isn’t a civilization. It’s not even a stable State. It’s a constantly shifting, armed collective committing mass murder under the direction of religious extremists. Civilizations take time to become established; they require a civil society, contributions to science, a contemporaneously advanced industry (advanced in comparison to other cultures in that time period), and stable form of government.

None of those things apply to ISIL. Seriously, let’s not be completely fucking stupid.

“They do not hate us because we have military assets in the Middle East — they hate us because of our values. They hate us because young girls here go to school. They hate us because women drive. They hate us because we have freedom of speech, because we have diversity in our religious beliefs. They hate us because we’re a tolerant society.”

Lawdy, where to start? Okay, yeah, ISIL isn’t tolerant. And yeah, they don’t want girls to go to school or women to drive. And yeah, they’re not interested in free speech. They probably DO hate those things, and maybe they hate any literal civilization that promotes those ideas. But dude c’mon, they didn’t send suicide bombers to Paris because French girls go to school; they didn’t bring down a Russian passenger jet because Vladimir Putin is committed to free speech. They attacked French and Russian citizens because both France and Russia recently increased military actions against ISIL-controlled territory, and because it’s effective recruitment advertising.

Which means yeah, they really do hate us (and France and Russia) because we have military assets in the Middle East. Let’s not be that stupid.

“And either they win, or we win.”

Seriously? Okay, go ahead; be that stupid. Go ahead and try to make this into High Noon at the ISIL Corral. Be that determinedly stupid.

But here’s a true thing: ISIL can’t win. Not in any traditional sense. They can’t win militarily, they can’t win culturally, they can’t win politically, and they can’t even win religiously. The very best ISIL can hope for is to maintain control over a chunk of territory along the Syria-Iraq border for a while. Maybe a long while.

Stop selling ISIL Toyotas, and you stop ISIL.

Stop selling ISIL Toyotas, and you stop ISIL.

But this is the 21st century. Governments can no longer exist in isolation. ISIL doesn’t have a time machine; they can’t go back to the glory of the 9th century. Even if they could, they’d almost certainly murder Harun al-Rashid — in the same way modern Republicans would kick Ronald Reagan’s bony ass out of the GOP. The most isolationist government on Earth is North Korea, and North Korea would collapse as a nation if not for its trade agreements with China and a handful of other nations. On top of that, there’s the InterTubes — and anywhere people have internet access there’ll be people hungering for information. And porn. Both of which are inherently subversive.

ISIL can’t succeed in the modern world — not for long. They’re dangerous, no mistake. They’ve proven themselves to be brutes and sadists, and they’ll continue to pull crazy shit like the Paris attacks. If Western nations allow themselves to get drawn into the ground war in Iraq and Syria, ISIL will thrive for a while. But in the long run, the reason for its existence will also be the reason for its extinction. Hatred and intolerance are only effective in the short term.

One thing has me curious, though. Where are they getting all those Toyota pickups? Oh, and Marco Rubio? He’s stupid.

been thinking all day

People tell me I think too much, and they’re probably right. But that’s my tool. Thinking about stuff doesn’t allow me to impose any order on the world (not that I’d want to), but it makes the disorder tolerable and often amusing. Thinking is what I do to keep from becoming discouraged, or depressed, or angry. And what happened in Paris is enough to discourage anybody, to make anybody depressed, to make anybody completely fucking furious.

Consider the astonishing cruelty of this attack. Targeting regular folks out having fun for an evening, and doing it deliberately and without pity — that’s the very definition of cruelty. The thing is, I don’t believe these terrorists were lacking in compassion and humanity; I believe they purposely rejected compassion and humanity. Which is infinitely worse.

It’s damned hard not to give in to rage, because at times like this rage is so very attractive and seductive. There is, in most of us I suspect, at least a small kernel of burning cold fury. There’s the desire to make somebody suffer. It would cathartic to be able to lash out, to make some sumbitch somewhere pay.

paris attack 1

The best way for me, personally, to get around all that is to think. To try to comprehend why this happened. It’s not easy. Hell, it’s damned hard to care enough about the motivations of the terrorists to ask why it happened. The massacre of so many innocent people feels like it must exist outside of any possible why. I mean, is there any answer to why that could possibly make sense to anybody?

And yet, if we ever want to stop this sort of shit from happening (or at least reduce it), then why is a question that has to be asked and desperately needs to be answered.

We won’t find the answers in ISIL’s claim of responsibility. It didn’t happen because Paris is “the capital of prostitution and obscenity, the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe.” It wasn’t because of “hundreds of apostates…gathered in a profligate prostitution party.” You could, I suppose, debate whether or not it had anything to do with “the cause of Allah, in support of His religion and His Prophet.” The vast majority of Muslims would disagree with that view of Islam, of course — but it can’t be denied that a twisted version of Islam is at the center of ISIL’s worldview.

But there’s something about ISIL that almost everybody seems to overlook. We’re used to seeing Islamic terrorism through the lens of al Qaeda. But here’s a true thing: al Qaeda was all about religious ideology. Sure, they talked about some day creating a new Caliphate, but mostly they were (and mostly still are) interested in changing the way Muslims think and see the world around them. Al Qaeda was stateless, a shadowy extremist presence that existed largely outside of borders.

ISIL, on the other hand, is about seizing territory to establish an actual geographic Caliphate — an Islamic state with cities and towns and fields and a population. Where al Qaeda had widespread terrorist cells, ISIL has a fucking army. Al Qaeda’s war was a terrorist propaganda war. ISIL is primarily focused on fighting a ground war.

For the most part, ISIL has fought a conventional Middle East guerrilla war. Not much different, really, from the one fought by Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottoman Turks. Highly mobile forces that require the enemy to stretch out its defenses. Surprise attacks using classic swarming tactics that overwhelm towns and villages. Aside from the shift from camels to Toyotas, the biggest difference in ISIL’s approach and Lawrence’s is the now common use of suicide tactics. Suicide bombers create confusion and chaos, and in turn that makes it easier for more conventional military tactics to succeed.

Suicide tactics may be effective in this sort of limited ground war, but they use up people. Even in a highly motivated religious army like ISIL, there are a limited number of folks willing to blow themselves up. Because of that, ISIL has to continuously recruit potential ‘martyrs’. How do you do that?

Advertising. High publicity events. Theatrical events.

paris attack 3

In Syria or Iraq you can send eight suicide bombers to create enough chaos to allow your forces to assault a small village or town and seize control. But as a result, your army is now somewhat depleted in numbers AND you possess a small village that somebody has to defend. That small military success doesn’t do much to help you gain new recruits. And if your goal is to control territory, you must have an influx of new fighters.

However, if you send those same eight suicide bombers to Paris, you get the entire world’s attention. More importantly, you get the attention of young, disaffected Muslims in France, and Germany, and England, and Spain, and the United States, and Russia. Young disaffected Muslims who see a small band of dedicated Islamic warriors taking on the great nations of the world — attacking their cities, bringing down their planes (let’s not forget ISIL is also almost certainly responsible for the recent bombing of the Russian airliner). These are young, disaffected Muslims who’ve been living in Western media-driven cultures, where they’ve seen who knows how many movies celebrating the heroic adventures of fighters facing overwhelming odds — and either winning or dying gloriously.

That’s seductive for young folks. How many young men (and yeah, it’s mostly young men) have joined the U.S. military because they’ve been seduced by movie versions of war and combat? It’s no different for young Muslim men.

There are other reasons for the attacks in Paris, of course, but they all come down to recruitment. There’s the intent to spark a harsh response against Muslims by the people and/or the government of France, which would radicalize the Muslim population, which would lead to — that’s right — more recruits. There’s the ‘we can strike you anywhere’ braggadocio, which is classic Evil James Bond Empire stuff — which also draws recruits.

But we have to remember that attacking Paris and bringing down passenger planes is secondary (or even tertiary) to ISIL’s goal of establishing a physical, geographical Caliphate in the Middle East. The only way to defeat a ground army is on the ground. And if Western nations send their armies to fight a Muslim army in the Middle East, that will create still more recruits for ISIL.

Which means the Western world is largely fucked until some sort of Arab coalition steps up and takes on ISIL. Which isn’t impossible, but not very likely in the foreseeable future. And that brings me right back to being discouraged, or depressed, or angry.

Yeah, maybe people are right. Maybe I do think too much.

But I also think this. Most people are decent. Most people are fundamentally good. And no matter how many ISILs and White Supremacists and hateful fanatics there are in the world, they’ll always be vastly outnumbered by decent people. That’s another thing that keeps me from being discouraged, or depressed, or angry.

a dream

I have a dream.

Okay, it’s not as good as the Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream. His was a most excellent dream. It’s really difficult for any dream to compete with one in which the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners are all sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. That’s some seriously fine dreaming, right there. It remains only a dream, of course, but nobody can deny the quality of the dreaming involved.

My dream is less ambitious than Dr. King’s, though it’s equally unlikely to come to pass. Almost everybody will say they support Dr. King’s dream — even if they don’t. Very few would support my dream. Still, I think it’s a perfectly fine dream and I like it.

Here’s my dream: reinstate the draft.

WPA - painting figures for museum dioramas.

WPA – painting figures for museum dioramas.

No, seriously, that’s my dream. Conscription. Not military conscription, but conscription for national service. I would like for every citizen in the United States to perform two years of mandatory national service.

That’s right, mandatory. All those folks who talk about how great this nation is, I’d like them to actually put some skin in the game. Talk is cheap and all that. And all those folks who talk about how lousy this nation is, I want to give them an opportunity to improve it. It’s easy to complain. Actually fixing stuff is inconvenient.

WPA - collecting fossils in Texas.

WPA – collecting fossils in Texas.

Two years of service. I don’t care what sort of service they engage in. I don’t care if they spend a couple of years working in the national parks, or helping old folks, or rebuilding roads and bridges and dams, or assisting in archaeological digs, or researching a cure for breast cancer, or documenting historic buildings, or restoring native prairie grasses, or updating and upgrading FBI computer systems, or responding to natural disasters, or painting murals in post offices, or cleaning beaches befouled with pollution, or gathering oral histories of the people who built the Alaskan Highway, or earthquake-proofing old structures, or teaching and promoting traditional rural arts and crafts, or cataloging beetles at the Smithsonian, or yeah — carrying a weapon and walking a post in Afghanistan.

WPA - sculpture workshop.

WPA – sculpture workshop.

Two years of service, right out of high school. Would it fuck up the career plans of some folks? Yeah, sure it would. But mostly it would fuck up the career plans of the privileged classes — and let’s face it, their privilege would survive and they’d still have lots of advantages over ordinary folks. Giving up a couple of years to improve the nation that gave them their privilege isn’t asking too much.

Two years of service, without exception (aside for extreme physical, psychological, or emotional disability). Two years, no deferments and damned few exemptions. College can wait. Only child of disabled parents? There’s bound to be some sort of national service that can be served locally. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or what your situation is, there’s stuff you can do to improve and support the nation.

WPA - relocating beaver.

WPA – relocating beaver.

The photographs here illustrate projects sponsored by the Work Projects Administration back in the 1930s and 40s. It was essentially an employment project, and over its lifetime it employed millions of people to engage in all manner of public works. Most of the work back then involved unskilled labor — building roads and all that. But they also employed artists and musicians and writers and actors to create and perform and document works of art for public consumption. People did things that were worthwhile.

The people employed by the WPA were just looking for work, of course. They needed a job. My dream would simply shift the motivation behind the work. It would be less about needing to make a buck and put food on the table, and more about providing a national service.

That’s it, that’s my dream. Two years of service. Two years serving other folks, serving something larger than personal interests, serving the nation. It’s not too much to ask; it may be too much to expect.

Which is why it’s a dream.


Among the many things the modern Republican party gets wrong is this: the notion that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. In other words, there’s another Republican presidential candidate debate tonight.

Tonight’s debate is about the economy. Now you may be thinking Wasn’t the last debate about the economy? Yes, it was. But nobody tunes in to watch these GOP candidates debate. They tune in to 1) see the candidates bark at Hillary and 2) to see them bark at each other. People tune in for the same reason they watch NASCAR races on television; they want to see the accidents.

The notion that’s there no such thing as bad publicity has been around for a while. Oscar Wilde, who knew a thing or two about publicity, said “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” But it was the brilliant and gloriously intoxicated, Brendan Behan who said “There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

Vote for Oscar Wilde

Vote for Oscar Wilde

But ask yourself this question: Why did Wilde and Behan make that claim? Actually, you needn’t bother to ask yourself that question, on account of I’m going to tell you why. This is why: Wilde and Behan actually had something intellectually substantial to say.

If either of those guys did or said something scandalous, it would draw people to look at their work. And that was a good thing for this reason: their work was serious. They might have been entertaining and said outrageous shit, but they were serious when it came to doing their work. Their work had substance and weight.

No, not this guy

No, not this guy

That’s just not true of the people who’ll be on the debate stage tonight. The candidates who are actually leading in the polls are the ones who are completely lacking in serious work. Ben Carson and Donald Trump aren’t just political lightweights, they’re totally weightless. Policy gravity has no effect on them. Carson, for example, wants the U.S. to give weapons to the Ukraine in order to keep Putin “on the run.” And Trump? He wants to build an actual, physical wall along the Mexican border. These aren’t policies; they’re the plot lines of bad movies.

The GOP candidates who actually have policies — folks like Rand Paul or John Kasich or even the Jeb! — are tanking in the polls, hovering in the low single digits. Admittedly, the policies they promote are bad policies, but they’re actual policies. But the reason their poll numbers are so wretched isn’t because they have bad policies; they’re tanking because they’re wasting their time coming up with policies at all. The modern GOP just isn’t about policies or governance.

Not this guy either.

Not this guy either.

Over the last couple of decades the Republican party has devolved into three groups. There are the folks who are filled with frustration and fear and rage, and all they want to do is howl at the moon. Trump voters, in other words. And there are the folks who want to shut their eyes, shut their minds, shut their borders, and hope Jeebus will save them. Carson’s folks. And finally, there are those Republicans who are actually interested in running a government based on conservative economic and social principles. There are probably some of them left, but nobody pays them any attention.

So tonight will be more bad publicity for Republicans. And even though there will be some discussion of who won and who scored points and who pissed the bed, it won’t really matter. In the end, it’s just noise.

The only hope any of those fuckwits have in next year’s election lies in promoting apathy among the voters and suppressing the votes of those who care enough to go to the polls.

Vote for Brendan Behan

Vote for Brendan Behan

Me, I’d rather vote for Oscar Wilde or Brendan Behan. Even though they’re dead.