i got your parable right here

A number of folks, after the recent mass murder at a Baptist church in Texas (which took place during the service), questioned the efficacy of thoughts and prayers as a defense against multiple rounds of .223 caliber bullets. This, naturally, upset some Christian conservatives.

[S]ome prominent left-wing voices have taken the opportunity to politicize the incident. Some on the left have used the shooting to mock the concept of prayer and Christianity.

In an effort to be transparent, I should probably repeat the fact that I’m not a Christian and I don’t believe in a supreme being. I don’t object to the notion of prayer, and I’d never mock folks who resort to it. But I have to say I don’t think it’s a good substitute for action. I do, however, enjoy a good parable.

Here’s one you’ve almost certainly heard before. Devout Christian hears a weather forecast warning of heavy rains and flooding. He stays in his house by the river. The river rises, the man’s house begins to flood, he prays. Sheriff comes by, suggests he evacuate the area. Guy says God will protect him. Flooding continues, the guy climbs on his roof. Rescuer in a boat comes by, offers to take him to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Waters rise, guy is stranded. Helicopter arrives, offers to airlift the guy to safety. Guy says God will protect him. Guy drowns. Shows up at the gate to heaven, asks God why he didn’t answer his prayers. God says he did — sent a warning, sent a messenger, sent a boat, sent a helo — but the guy just didn’t listen.

What? Naw, this is fine.

The parable stops at that point, and most folks seems content with that. Me, I find myself wondering what else God told the guy. I mean, does God say “Dude, you are too stupid and stubborn to enter heaven”? Or “Dude, you ignored every sign I sent you, but hey I’m feeling generous, come on in anyway”? Or what?

Still, as parables go, that one is pretty sweet. Maybe religious folk should take it to heart. If there’s a God, maybe he/she/it is saying “Dude, seriously? I let them shoot up a McDonalds. I let them shoot up a college campus. I even let them shoot up a bunch of six-year-old kids. Then I let them shoot up a church. Why aren’t you paying attention?”

Maybe? Possibly? What do I know? I don’t understand this ‘moves in a mysterious way’ business. But IF there’s some supernatural agent at work here leaving a coded message to his followers, the code really doesn’t seem that difficult to break.

NOTE: That ‘mysterious way’ business? It ain’t from the Bible. It’s from a hymn written by William Cowper in the late 18th century. Not long after he wrote that hymn, Cowper attempted suicide. By drowning. Just saying.

Advertisements

what it’s come to

The deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. That’s how the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas was described last night on the evening news. We’ve reached the point at which we find it necessary to categorize our mass shootings.

The deadliest mass shooting at a college campus, the deadliest mass shooting at a shopping mall, the deadliest mass shooting at a festival, the deadliest mass shooting at a public school, the deadliest mass shooting at a place of employment.

We’ve had two of these deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history within the last 35 days. In the 309 days of 2017 we’ve had 307 mass shootings (remember, not all mass shootings are mass murders). We’ve made mass shooting ridiculously easy to commit. Semi-auto weapons are readily available, high-capacity magazines can be found without any fuss, bump-stocks that permit even more rapid firing have become somewhat scarce because people bought them up after the Las Vegas massacre, bulletproof tactical gear — vests, helmets, masks, gloves, trousers — can be purchased online or very likely at some local shop. If you have an active credit card, you too equip yourself in the latest mass murderer style.

Ruger AR-556

And we don’t much care who can buy all that gear. Devin Patrick Kelley had no trouble buying a complete mass murder outfit, even though he’d been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and child, did a year in military detention, and got his ass kicked out of the Air Force. He also apparently had a misdemeanor conviction for cruelty to animals. Didn’t slow him down at all when it came to buying a semi-auto rifle. We make it easy because, you know, a man has to be able to protect his family in case some nut decides to start shooting up a church.

And hey, it’s just as easy to mourn the dead. A few thoughts, a few prayers, that’s all it takes. Oh, and the promise to remember the dead. Comrade Trump his ownself said this about the victims:

“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families — we will never ever leave their side.”

Except that, yeah, we’ll absolutely leave their side. Of course, we will — just as soon as the next ‘deadliest mass shooting at a location to be determined’ takes place. Trump is always saying pointless shit like that. We “will never ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us.” That was the eight people killed a few days ago as they rode bicycles down a bike path in Manhattan. And this: “We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting.” The hashtag, of course, because this was TwitterTrump. And again: “We mourn them, we honor them and we pledge to never, ever forget their names.” The victims and first responders who died on 9/11. And this: “So wonderful to be in Las Vegas yesterday and meet with people, from police to doctors to the victims themselves, who I will never forget.” Yeah, so fucking wonderful, I’m sure that’s what the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting thought. And also this: “We will never forget the 241 American service members killed by Hizballah.” Sure, Donald.

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas

Does anybody really believe Donald J. Trump remembers the names of any of the Pulse nightclub murders, or the names of the cyclists in Manhattan, or the names of any of the Marines who were killed in Beirut? Does anybody really think Trump was even aware of the Marines killed in Beirut in 1983 until a speechwriter coughed up that fact for a speech on terrorism?

We will always forget their names. Always. We will always leave their sides. Always. As a nation we will never remember for very long, because there’s always a brand new horror ready to crowd out the old one. The nine men and women slaughtered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015? Now they’re just victims of the second deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship. Nobody remembers who came in second.

I am sincerely sorry for the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre. I’m gutted with hopelessness over their tragic, pointless deaths — just as I’ve been for so many other victims of so many other mass murders. I’m genuinely sorry, but I’m also disgusted. I suspect many (or most) of that Texas congregation voted for politicians who believe that this sort of routine shedding of innocent blood is the price we have to pay for our national firearm fetish. And you know what it says in the Bible. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’

That’s a pretty grim, tough approach. The apostle Paul wasn’t a very forgiving guy. You broke it, you bought it. Me, I’m more inclined to take the Socratic tack; I prefer the gospel according to e e cummings.

and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

fuckwits and cowards

We are a nation ruled by fuckwits and cowards. There are people in this nation who truly believe a continuing cascade of mass shootings is a reasonable price to pay for the freedom to…to what? To own a lot of guns? And there are politicians who know there are practical ways to reduce that body count, but are too afraid of losing their job to actually do anything about it. Fuckwits and cowards.

We can talk about honoring the first responders, but it’s all bullshit if we’re not going to even attempt to reduce the horrors they’re responding to. We can talk about honoring the dead, but fuck them — they’re dead and they can’t vote, and even if the families of the dead make a fuss they can’t outspend the National Rifle Association. We can talk about honoring the Constitution, but it’s just a head fake — we routinely shit on chunks of the other amendments. We can talk, but don’t for a minute believe talk will result in anything. It won’t. Not as long as we’re a nation ruled by fuckwits and cowards.

Here’s a sad thing: I can no longer sustain any outrage about the butcher’s bill. 20 second-graders dead, 32 college students dead, 50 gay folks dead, maybe more than 60 country music fans dead. They’re becoming meaningless numbers. Meaningless deaths. Because we all know we’re not going to do anything about it beyond muttering something about thoughts and prayers. They’re good at that, the fuckwits and cowards; they have a never-ending font of thoughts and prayers.

It’s not just the mass shootings, of course. Every day about a hundred people die by the gun. They’re not all murders; some of them are suicides, some of them are accidental, some of them are a result of negligence. The fuckwits believe those deaths are inevitable, which means the world is a dangerous place, which means they’re afraid all the time, and because they’re fuckwits they believe the only way to protect themselves from people with guns is to have guns themselves. The cowards know better, but they encourage that circular thinking because it helps them stay in power.

Fuckwits and cowards. And the rest of us? The rest of us are worn out. You can’t win an argument with a fuckwit because they’re fuckwitted. You can’t win an argument with a coward because cowards lie. Making arguments you know you can’t win is just fucking exhausting. And discouraging. And disheartening.

But damn it, we still have to do it. Call your members of Congress today. It won’t matter, but do it anyway. Why? Because there are a bunch of dead country music fans to go along with our dead gay folks and our dead college students and our dead second-graders and all the dead spouses and girlfriends and co-workers and children and neighbors and siblings and no matter how fucking tired we are, we can’t just stay quiet.

If we stay quiet, then we’re also fuckwits and cowards.

clenched, so very clenched

You guys! Do you have enough guns yet? Let me answer that for you. No, you do not have enough guns yet. Go buy more guns because without guns they are going to attack us with “movie stars, and singers, and comedy shows, and award shows”!

No, seriously, they really are! Also? They are going to use their schools to “teach children that the president is another Hitler”! Another Hitler, you guys. Also too? They are going to use their media (they have their very own media!) to assassinate real news! Real news, totally dead on the deck, you guys. Unless you buy all the guns you really need (which, hint, is ALL the guns).

Wait, that’s not all! They are going to use their ex-president (you know, that Negro one? The one from Kenya, with the funny ears?) to “endorse the resistance”! That guy, he doesn’t even have a birth certificate thing, and they are going to use him for endorsing! Probably on an award show! Where he’ll be given an award for assassinating the real news to death! And an actor — or maybe even a singer — will give him the award!

Is that what you want? Do you want your children to grow up in a country where singers give awards to ex-presidents for assassinating real news? Then you’d better go out RIGHT NOW and buy as many guns as Jesus wants you to buy. If you think I’m kidding (I’m totally NOT kidding…would I kid about this?), just listen to what this extremely angry woman has to say.

 

See? I don’t know who this woman is, but she’s really intense and totally fucking furious about what they are doing. Or going to do. Or are thinking about maybe doing. Go buy some guns, you guys, or this already livid woman will become completely incensed. Seriously, she’s this close to having a damned seizure, she’s so pissed off at them. Buy some guns and send them to her. Maybe that’ll calm her down. I’m really worried about her right now.

Also plus? It’s not just about the welfare of this seething, choleric woman. You guys, it’s also about saving our country! Plus our freedom!. And according to this frightfully rancorous woman, the ONLY WAY to do that (and by ‘that’ I mean saving the country and our freedom), is to “fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth”!

That’s right! The violence of lies, you guys. It has to be fought with a clenched fist. Well, a clenched fist and more guns. We’re talking the National Rifle Association after all, not the National Clenched Fist Association. If you don’t have more guns, then you might could possibly become — NO, you WOULD become — a victim of their violence. You know, the violence of their lies. Only a clenched fist and more guns will protect you from them.

Oh, and if you’re wondering who they are, then you’re them. That’s how you can tell.

this is not somebody that would have been prohibited from having a gun

So this guy walks into…wait, let me start over. This guy who has military experience walks into the FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, and tells them…wait, let me start over again. This guy, who served in Iraq but received a general discharge from the military after having gone AWOL a few times, walks into the FBI office…wait. Let’s try that again. This guy who’d served in Iraq and was basically kicked out of the military, and who was facing domestic abuse charges for having hit and strangled his girlfriend, walks into the Anchorage office of the FBI and tells them he’s hearing voices. They send him…wait, damn it, let me start over again.

This guy, Esteban Santiago, who’d served in Iraq, who’d gone AWOL often enough that he’d been given a general discharge from the military for ‘unsatisfactory performance’, who was being prosecuted for punching and strangling his girlfriend AND who’d been arrested for violating the subsequent restraining order forbidding him to go near her home, walks into the Anchorage office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and tells them he’s suffering from auditory command hallucinations directed by the CIA requiring him to watch violent propaganda videos released by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which sparks the FBI into contacting Anchorage law enforcement, who subsequently seize Santiago’s Walther 9mm pistol and transport him to an area psychiatric facility for four days of evaluation, which determined Santiago wasn’t mentally ill.

So the Anchorage police gave him back his handgun.

esteban-santiago1

I shit you not, they returned Esteban Santiago’s gun to him. Why? Because, according to U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler,

“As far as I know, this is not somebody that would have been prohibited (from having a gun) based on the information they had.”

What bits of information did they have? Let’s enumerate them, shall we?

  1. He was awaiting trial for assaulting his girlfriend. During an argument, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and called the police. Before the police arrived, Santiago (allegedly) kicked in the bathroom door, struck her, throttled her, then fled.
  2. He was also awaiting trial for violating the restraining order keeping him away from the woman who was now his ex-girlfriend.
  3. He presented himself to the FBI, confessed to having auditory hallucinations, and stated he’d been watching violent videos put out by militant Islamist terrorists.
  4. He was given an evaluation that determined he didn’t meet the criteria for being legally considered mentally ill.

Let’s look at that last issue first. Can a person who suffers from auditory command hallucinations NOT be mentally ill? Sure. In Alaska, mental illness is defined as having “an organic, mental, or emotional impairment that has substantial adverse effects on an individual’s ability to exercise conscious control of the individual’s actions or ability to perceive reality or to reason or understand.”

This sort of nonsense really happens. I once had a client who suffered from auditory command hallucinations. My client believed he had Go-Bots (these were transforming robot toys similar to Transformers) sitting on his shoulder. The Go-bots would identify gay men, then tell him to shoot those men the kneecap. (Spoiler: Go-Bots have shitty gaydar; none of the men he kneecapped were actually gay — not that it matters.) My client wasn’t considered medically ill because he knew shooting people in the kneecap was wrong and because he felt he could refuse to obey the Go-Bots if he’d really wanted to (he just didn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t trust the Go-Bots).

If Santiago was able to “exercise conscious control” of his actions, then legally he wasn’t mentally ill. By going to the FBI and informing them he was being controlled by the CIA, he was demonstrating that conscious control. Seriously — by reporting that he was hearing voices to the FBI he was proving that he wasn’t legally mentally ill.

estebansantiagomugshot

Now, you’re probably saying ‘Dude, the guy STILL assaulted his girlfriend! Shouldn’t that disqualify him from toting around a firearm? WTF? Allow me to respond. Dude, this is Alaska. In some other states, Santiago’s firearm would have been confiscated. But Alaska? They don’t even stop folks who are convicted of domestic abuse from buying and carrying firearms — and Santiago hadn’t even been tried yet.

So hey, let’s give him back his gun. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s let him transport that handgun from Alaska to the Gun Nut Mecca of Florida. Sure, we’ll make him transport it in checked luggage (not carry-on luggage, because that would be crazy), but let’s give him access to it once he lands. I mean, we don’t want to make it difficult for Esteban Santiago to protect himself once he lands in Fort Lauderdale, do we.

Because as T. Jefferson said, the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. And unsuspecting passengers idling around waiting for their baggage to arrive. Freedom isn’t free, right?

totally fucking worthless

I’m hoping at some point today I’ll get angry. Anger might be nice. Right now all I can muster up is a sort of deep, abiding melancholy.

Today there’ll be the standard offering of thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families, which are totally fucking worthless. As usual, there’ll be a pointless search for ‘answers’ — why and how ‘something like this’ can happen here. But whatever answers there are to be found will be totally fucking worthless, because we won’t actually do anything. There’ll be the predictable calls for effective gun legislation, which will be totally fucking worthless — and of course gun sales in Florida will skyrocket for a week or so, also totally fucking worthless.

There’ll be tearful memorial services, and people will leave flowers and notes and teddy bears outside the nightclub, and some newspaper or magazine will print photographs of all twenty twenty-nine fifty (the butcher’s bill keeps changing) of the fatally wounded victims. And it’ll all be totally fucking worthless, because we’ve done all that before and we all know that we’ll be doing it again.

Waiting for the dead and wounded.

Waiting for the dead and wounded.

For the next few days we’ll be reading the tweets sent by folks in the nightclub, we’ll be seeing chaotic smartphone videos and facebook posts. We’ll be hearing accounts from those who escaped, and the memories of family and friends of the dead (“He was a good boy, never bothered anybody, always willing to help, loved animals”), and we’ll tell ourselves what a tragic event this was and lamenting how many young, innocent lives were cut short. But all that will be totally fucking worthless because absolutely nothing will change. Not one goddamn thing.


I’m back. I had to step away for a while. Because you know what else is totally fucking worthless? Another blog post on another mass shooting.

I’d probably have just deleted all this and got on with my day had I not had a short chat with a friend. Here’s the reason it was a short chat — he said “Bernie would have found a way to get gun control passed if the election hadn’t been stolen from him.” And that anger I’d been searching for, it started to perk up. I held it in, though, and said if the Democrats can re-take Congress, maybe Hillary can get something passed. Which is when he said something like “I’ll never vote for Hillary, I’m done voting for the lesser of two evils, I’ll vote for the Green Party, I don’t care if Trump wins.”

Here’s yet another thing that’s totally fucking worthless: that guy’s opinion. But it helped me find that anger.

If there any chance at all — even a remote chance — of passing even the weakest and most tepid gun safety legislation, Democrats need to keep the White House and win both houses of Congress. Trump sure as hell isn’t going to do anything about guns.

Don’t tell me you want to stop mass shootings but aren’t willing to vote for Clinton because your candidate lost the primary. I don’t care if you think Clinton and Donald Trump are both the spawn of Satan — only one spawn of Satan has professed any interest in passing some responsible gun laws. I don’t care if the Green Party candidate has a plan to seize and melt every goddamn gun in the US and turn them all into orthodontic braces for poor kids — the Green Party isn’t going to win; they can only suck votes away from Clinton. I don’t care if the notion of voting for Clinton actually makes you physically ill — vomit, then vote Democratic and start pushing for gun safety legislation.

You don’t have to like Clinton. You don’t even have to trust her. All you have to do is ask yourself which of the two candidates — which of the two major political parties — is most likely to press for reasonable gun safety laws. And if you loathe Hillary Clinton more than you loathe mass shootings, then as far as I’m concerned you’re also totally fucking worthless.

 

sometimes accidents happen

At some point in your life, you’ve almost certainly had a bad neighbor. The guy in the next apartment who plays Motörhead through the Ages at full volume — every night. Or the fastidious neighbor who starts to mow the lawn at seven o’clock in the goddamn morning on a Sunday. Or the lady next door who owns half a dozen yappy little dogs that shit all over your yard. Or the family across the hall whose laissez-faire approach to garbage day is an open invitation to Buick-sized cockroaches.

But I’m going to guess that unless you live in Collier County, Florida — or more specifically, the city of Naples — or even more specifically, the suburb of Golden Gate Estates — your bad neighbor wasn’t all that bad. Because your neighbor wasn’t Herold Lanham. This is Herold Lanham:

Herold Lanham - dedicated to improving his skill.

Herold Lanham – dedicated to improving his skill.

Herold likes his guns. He likes shooting his guns. He likes shooting them in his backyard, where he’s set up a practice shooting range, with a three-foot berm to stop the bullets. He really likes shooting his guns — but he’s not very good at it. Herold was trying to get better at shooting his guns when he fired a round into the home of his neighbors, the Ledesma family. They, very reasonably, notified the police.

The police probably told Herold to be more careful.

Herold wasn’t discouraged by his astonishingly shitty marksmanship. No sir, practice, that’s what he needed. Practice and persistence. Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed sæpe cadendo, as they say in Collier County — the drop hollows out the stone not by strength, but by constant falling. He just needed to keep at it.

And he did. Herold soon returned to his backyard gun range. And hey, he shot the Ledesma house again. And put a round into the living room of the Zuferri family. The police were called again. They probably told him to be more careful. Again.

This unfortunate turn of events would cause most people to ask “Is target shooting right for me? Should I perhaps consider some other form of outdoor exercise? I hear badminton is fun.” But Herold Lanham is NOT most people. Was he disheartened? Was he dismayed by a few errant rounds? No sir, not at all.

More practice. Earnest practice. By perseverance the snail reached the ark, as they say in Collier County. Numquam dedite — never surrender. Quitters never win and winners never quit. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And all that.

Herold was determined. Resolute, even. Dedicated to improving his skill. He plucked up his courage, picked up his gun, and returned once again to his backyard target range. Where he shot 14-year-old Deborah Ledesma, who had the misfortune to be…well, in her home. The round shattered a window, sending fragments of glass in the young woman’s face, and lodged in her left hand, breaking a few bones and rupturing a tendon.

Deborah Ledesma, 14. Accidents sometimes happen.

Deborah Ledesma, 14. Accidents sometimes happen.

The police were called again, along with an ambulance. This time Herold was arrested and charged with discharging a firearm in public. But hey, this is Florida, where it’s perfectly legal to shoot guns in the privacy of your own back yard.

That’s right. Section 790.15 of the Florida Statutes says you can’t “discharge a firearm in any public place“, but a backyard is NOT a public place. It says you can’t discharge a firearm “on the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street” but a backyard shooting range isn’t a road. It says you can’t discharge a firearm “over the right-of-way of any paved public road, highway, or street or over any occupied premises“, but there wasn’t any road between the backyard of the Lanham house and the backyard of the Ledesma house. And hey, Herold’s shot didn’t pass OVER any occupied premises. It smacked right into them. The law also states you can’t discharge a firearm on private property if it’s done “recklessly or negligently.” But our boy Herold, he’d built a three-foot berm to stop the bullets. He wasn’t being reckless; there was plenty of reck involved. As for negligence, he’d built a three-foot berm to stop bullets. What more could they expect?

So that charge had to be dropped. Instead, Herold was charged with shooting a missile into a building, and he was released on bond. His attorney acknowledges that the incident was unfortunate.

“There’s no doubt this was a tragedy. But I’m sorry, sometimes accidents happen, and that doesn’t mean somebody’s committed a crime simply because there’s a tragic outcome.”

By the way, in Florida there are no zoning requirements or building codes when it comes to adding a backyard firing range. Anybody can do it, and they can do it in any way they choose. Had Lanham wanted to build an addition to his home, or install a swimming pool, he’d have to have the plans approved and meet construction codes.

And that, my friends, is why the Second Amendment is the best amendment. Because accidents sometimes happen, and you can’t be held responsible for an accident. If it involves a firearm.