Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Whole Lot Of People Need To Get Off My Lawn

I had a funny exchange with my friend Ian on Twitter this afternoon. At least, I hope he thought it was funny, because I sure did.
See, he made this entirely valid, if somewhat negative, observation about one of my people:

To which I responded:
I wrote in all-caps because I’m hard of hearing. Of course.
Anyway, Ian had a point, didn’t he? A fifty year old guy in a skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors? Unless you’re Joey Ramone and it’s 2001, that’s a big dude, naw.
But I feel the guy’s pain, you know? Especially if he has kids.
Because the fact is, when you’re a parent you become a human time capsule. You become frozen in time, and you don’t really realize it until you find yourself making some wildly out-of-date cultural reference in some social setting, when you finally get out of the house and into a social setting, and the whole conversation you’re in the middle of comes to a screeching halt, and in that awkward silence you realize you haven’t bought a current record – see, I call them records – or seen a current movie that wasn’t rated G, or maybe a mild PG, in many, many, many years, and the whole image you created for yourself in your 20s and 30s – that image of you, being witty and upwardly mobile and knowing all the current music and seeing all the latest movies – that image crashes, man. I mean it crashes to the fucking ground.
For me, it went like this: Pearl Jam released Vitalogy, and the next thing I knew Barack Obama was president. And in between, Pixar and Spongebob Squarepants happened.
Boom. You’re old.
So you can fight it, like the dude in the skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors. And lord knows, there’s always a powerful desire to fight it. Not like some 1980s made-for-teevee midlife crisis where you buy a little red sports car and snort cocaine (that’s what people did in the ’80s) and you lose your job and your house and your wife … No, not like that. You can fight it by buying your clothes where the twentysomethings shop and growing a goatee and wearing a porkpie hat; and you can fight it by cleaving scrupulously to whatever cultural trends are happening right now, watching whatever teevee shows everybody’s tweeting about and knowing every internet meme and buying – sorry, downloading – whatever the cool kids are downloading (which is easy, because NPR tells you exactly what the cool kids are listening to, which is all kinds of ironic), and by eating at all the right restaurants and pretending you like the food.
You can do that. Or, you can not fight it. You can let cranky middle age wash over you like, I don’t know, fill in some old-timey movie reference here. From Here To Eternity? Whatever.
You can refuse to fight it and embrace it. Because, let me tell you, there’s nothing quite as liberating as realizing you’ve gotten to the point in your life where you’ve run out of fucks to give. See this barrel that says “Fucks”? Yeah, it’s empty. We’re fresh out.
Seriously, to not have to care what’s hip and trendy; to like the music you liked when you were hip and trendy, and not care that it’s (ahem) classic rock; to look at the Top 40 (or whatever they call it these days) and not recognize a single artist – unless, pathetically, the Rolling Stones have released a new single – and to not care. That’s freedom, baby.
Trust me. I’ve lived it. I’m old and fat and slow. I’m a runner, if you can call it that, not because I think I’m an athlete but because I’m scared of dying. I don’t mean scared of mortality; I accept that. I mean scared of being that guy who dies hunched over at his desk in the middle of the afternoon so they have to take you out by the freight elevator. That kind of dying.
I haven’t bought a record by a current artist since Midnight Oil was current, and I’ve never seen a zombie-themed television show. Ever.
And, yes, I have literally yelled at kids to get off my lawn. But those bastards had it coming.
Look, if you’re a middle aged father, you’ve already become Willy Loman. Your family’s already laughing at you, not with you, and it’s a laugh with a high discomfort-to-mirth ratio. This is what you’ve become.
It’s better to accept it, in my book; to relish it. There’s a lot less pressure and a lot more venting, and I can’t fit into skinny jeans anyways.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Rant …

Yesterday I started to write a post that would have gone like this:
I’ve been writing a lot about gun control lately. Or gun safety, or firearms safety, or what ever term you prefer. Anyway, if you’ve read some of those recent posts, you might be under the impression that I have an abiding dislike of guns (or firearms, if you prefer), people who own guns/firearms, the use of guns/firearms in self-defense, and so on. You might think I hate the Second Amendment, too, and want it repealed. You might think all those things, and I can’t really blame you because I’ve written some fairly scathing pieces on the NRA and other folks who oppose some of the gun control/firearms laws that are under consideration today.
You might think all that, but it’s really not true. In fact, what I’ve tried to do lately is just to, I guess, de-clutter the conversation we’re having about gun/firearms policy. What I’ve tried to do is remove some of the chaff so that we can get at what’s really important here: Making good policy choices within the framework of the Constitution and the recent Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Second Amendment. In fact, if you go back to the beginning, two of my earliest (recent) posts on the subject (here and here) were gentle, or, perhaps, not so gentle, reminders to my liberal friends that the Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago are the law of the land; that the Second Amendment, as the law now stands, did create an individual right to keep and bear certain types of firearms, and that blanket handgun bans like the ones that were on the books in Washington, D.C. and in Chicago are unconstitutional. …
I would have gone on from there to point out that I have many good friends, both on line and in real life, who own firearms, who believe that all law-abiding people should be able to own firearms, and who question whether the proposals now under consideration are good policy. And I would have said that I like and respect those people, and I want to hear what they have to say.
And all of that – every word of it – is true.
But it’s hard to write a post like that when reality keeps fucking intruding.
Reality like this:
With outrage over his daughter’s death spreading from City Hall to the White House, Nathaniel Pendleton made a public plea Wednesday for someone to step forward and bring the 15-year-old’s killer to justice. “They took the light of my life,” Pendleton said at a news conference, where a $11,000 reward was announced for information about Tuesday’s slaying of Hadiya Pendleton. “This guy, whoever he was, the gunman, man, you took the light of my life. Just look at yourself and just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a non-violent person.”

Hadiya, who last week performed at President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities, was killed when a gunman opened fire on a group of students at Harsh Park, just blocks from King College Prep and about a mile from Obama’s home in Kenwood on the South Side [of Chicago].

And like this:
MIDLAND CITY, Alabama (Reuters) - The gunman suspected of fatally shooting an Alabama school bus driver before holing up in an underground bunker with a young child is a Vietnam veteran with anti-government views, authorities and an organization that tracks hate groups said on Wednesday.
Authorities said driver Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was killed after the gunman boarded a bus ferrying more than 20 children home from school on Tuesday.
The suspect demanded the driver let a student off the bus, Alabama media reported. When Poland refused, the man boarded the bus and shot the driver before taking a 6-year-old kindergarten student and fleeing the scene.
On Wednesday, the gunman remained holed up with the boy in the underground bunker on his property down a dirt road. Dale County Coroner Woodrow Hilboldt said the man and child were barricaded in “some kind of a tornado bunker.”
Meanwhile, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre testified before Congress today. You remember Mr. LaPierre. He’s the one who said, after twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
I wonder if Mr. LaPierre – or anyone else who thinks that the best way to protect against gun violence is to arm more people – can answer this question. Could 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton have defended herself with a gun, if she had no way to know she was about to get caught in the crossfire “when a gunman opened fire on a group of students” out of the blue? Could any armed bystander have protected her, if no one knew that random act of violence was coming?
And what about Jimmy Lee Dykes, the alleged shooter/kidnapper in Alabama, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center described as “some kind of anti-government radical and survivalist.” Was he a good guy with a gun, or a bad guy with a gun? Before he murdered a 66 year old school bus driver and took a 6 year old boy hostage, how could you tell?
I still want to write that piece I started yesterday, the one about how I really do respect gun owners and want to hear what they have to say. I want to write a brilliant, perfectly balanced piece, where I lay out my views of gun rights – and I acknowledge there is such a thing – and reasonable safety regulations that respect those rights and protect innocent people from gun violence, and where I encourage my good friends who have different views to share those views, too, openly and in good faith.
Maybe I will write that piece one day. Today, though, is not that day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Other Side Of Roe

A week ago today, the country marked the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Roe, of course, held, “the [constitutional] right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified, and must be considered against important state interests in regulation,” 410 U.S. at 154, thereby unleashing forty years and counting of legal jousting over every conceivable type of regulation that state governments (and occasionally the federal government) could dream up.
But this disturbing piece by my friend Emily Hauser at The Daily Beast should serve as a reminder that the Roe decision involves so much more than abortion:
On Sunday it was reported that Israel has finally admitted to systematically depressing the fertility of the Ethiopian immigrant community (information first reported five years ago) by injecting Ethiopian-Israeli women with the long-acting birth control drug Depo-Provera without informed consent.
In some cases, women were first given the drug while still in transit camps; in other cases, it seems women were regularly injected after arriving in Israel. Some women apparently knew they were being given birth control but were told they wouldn’t be let into Israel if they didn’t agree; others report being told the shots were “inoculations.”
There are aspects to this story that I can’t fully wrap my head around – most obviously, the racism behind it. I am in no position to fully comprehend it, only to point at it and say, Oh, my god! Fortunately, we have Emily Hauser, a woman who is an expatriate Israeli and who knows more about the region than anyone I know. So I urge you to read her piece, along with this post on her blog, Emily L. Hauser – In My Head, on the challenges that have faced Ethiopian immigrants in Israel.
But aside from the horrid racial overtones, what happened in Israel – forcing long-acting birth control on women without their knowledge or their consent – cannot happen here. Not legally, anyway. And the reason it can’t happen here is: Roe v. Wade.
That’s because the Court in Roe did not merely say the Constitution grants women the right to have abortions. Instead, the Court found that the constitutional right to privacy encompassed the decision whether or not to have an abortion. The Court explained the right to privacy this way:
The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. In varying contexts, the Court or individual Justices have, indeed, found at least the roots of that right in the First Amendment, Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969); in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8 -9 (1968), Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 350 (1967), Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), see Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting); in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S., at 484 -485; in the Ninth Amendment, id., at 486 (Goldberg, J., concurring); or in the concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399 (1923). These decisions make it clear that only personal rights that can be deemed “fundamental” or “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937), are included in this guarantee of personal privacy. They also make it clear that the right has some extension to activities relating to marriage, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967); procreation, Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 -542 (1942); contraception, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S., at 453 -454; id., at 460, 463-465 (WHITE, J., concurring in result); family relationships, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944); and child rearing and education, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925), Meyer v. Nebraska, supra.
410 U.S. at 152-152.
Then, turning to abortion, the Court said:
This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent.
410 U.S. at 153 (emphasis supplied).
Two things are apparent from the quoted passages: First that decisions involving conception, pregnancy, child birth, child-rearing and so forth all fall squarely within the constitutional notion of “privacy”; and second, what the right to privacy means, fundamentally, is that the state cannot interfere with those decisions – unless, as Roe teaches, there exist some countervailing “important state interests.” Id. at 154.
As I said at the outset, what is or isn’t an “important state interest” sufficient to override the right of privacy – in this context, the right to make certain decisions about pregnancy – has been the subject of unending controversy, and likely will continue to be. But it’s safe to say that after Roe, the state cannot arbitrarily sterilize or force birth control on women (or men) without their knowledge or consent.
And before you say, Whoa, slow down Dave, that’d never happen in these United States! you may want to familiarize yourself with a couple of pre-Roe Supreme Court decisions that involve … well … precisely that. I’m referring, firstly, to Buck v. Bell, 247 U.S. 200 (1927), in which “the Circuit Court of Amherst County, [Virginia,] [ordered] … the superintendent of the State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded … to perform the operation of salpingectomy upon Carrie Buck,” (whom the Supreme Court described as “a feeble-minded white woman”) “for the purpose of making her sterile.” 247 U.S. at 205. The Honorable Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes thought that ways a-okay, because, after all, “[t]hree generations of imbeciles are enough.” Id. at 207.
No, I’m not kidding. He said that.
And then there was Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), in which the Court considered Oklahoma’s Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act, which allowed the state to seek sterilization of any “person who, having been convicted two or more times for crimes ‘amounting to felonies involving moral turpitude’ either in an Oklahoma court or in a court of any other State, is thereafter convicted of such a felony in Oklahoma and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment in an Oklahoma penal institution.” 316 U.S. at 536. Talk about a three-strikes law. Ouch.
That, apparently, was a bridge too far for the Supreme Court. Skinner struck down the Oklahoma statue on equal protection grounds (although it did not overrule Buck v. Bell), stating:
We are dealing here with legislation which involves one of the basic civil rights of man. Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race. The power to sterilize, if exercised, may have subtle, farreaching and devastating effects. In evil or reckless hands it can cause races or types which are inimical to the dominant group to wither and disappear. There is no redemption for the individual whom the law touches. Any experiment which the State conducts is to his irreparable injury. He is forever deprived of a basic liberty.
316 U.S. at 541.
Ultimately, though, the Court’s decision in Skinner was not based solely on the fact that the statute interfered with “one of the basic civil rights of man,” but that the law was applied in a manner that violated equal protection:
We mention these matters not to reexamine the scope of the police power of the States. We advert to them merely in emphasis of our view that strict scrutiny of the classification which a State makes in a sterilization law is essential, lest unwittingly or otherwise invidious discriminations are made against groups or types of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of just and equal laws. The guaranty of ‘equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws.’ Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369 , 6 S.Ct. 1064, 1070. When the law lays an unequal hand on those who have committed intrinsically the same quality of offense and sterilizes one and not the other, it has made as an invidious a discrimination as if it had selected a particular race or nationality for oppressive treatment. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, supra; Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 , 59 S.Ct. 232.
316 U.S. at 541.
So we have this in our history. This has happened in our country. Our government has attempted to forcibly sterilize those it deemed “feeble-minded” and those it labeled “habitual criminals” – successfully in the former case, unsuccessfully in the latter. But that was before Roe.
No matter how you feel about abortion itself, this aspect of Roe is certainly nothing to scoff at: Roe may protect the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion, but it equally prevents the government from forcing that choice on her. Or from forcibly sterilizing her, because that, too, would take away the very choice protected by the right to privacy.
And guess what, fellas? In that sense, Roe protects you, too. 

[CORRECTION: After discussing the matter further with Emily Hauser last night over Twitter, I realize I that I misstated what happened in Israel. Initially, I characterized it as Israel’s actions as “forcing [Ethiopian Israeli] women to become sterile.” In fact, Israel used Depo-Provera, which is a long-term birth control medication. It rendered them unable to conceive for a period of time, but not sterile. I have corrected the error. This does not affect my analysis of Roe.]

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Madness Of King Mamet

I find myself kind of obsessed with David Mamet’s bizarre diatribe on gun control, published in Newsweek and on Newsweek’s site, The Daily Beast. I wrote about it yesterday, but I just can’t quit it. It’s like a bad lip reading version of constitutional history: comically wrong at every turn, yet compelling precisely because it’s so wrong.
It’s a bottomless pit of wrong. It’s a veritable loaves-and-fishes of wrong. It’s the gift that keeps giving.
So I keep going back to it to find humorously inaccurate things I missed before.
One thing that jumped out at me today was this: Mamet, like so many people who obsess over firearms, telescopes the early phase of American history in an effort to weave the Founder’s justification for armed rebellion into the text of the Constitution itself. “The Constitution’s drafters,” Mamet says, “did not require a wag to teach them that power corrupts: they had experienced it in the person of King George.”  He then goes from quoting the Declaration of Independence –
The American secession was announced by reference to his abuses of power: “He has obstructed the administration of Justice … he has made Judges dependant on his will alone … He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws … He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass out people and to eat out their substance … imposed taxes upon us without our consent… [He has] fundamentally altered the forms of our government.”
To discussing the Constitution itself –
It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.
As if they were essentially one and the same.
Of course, anyone who passed an eighth grade civics class knows that the Declaration of Independence isn’t part of the Constitution. Indeed, the Declaration and the Constitution weren’t even written very close together in time. The Declaration was written in 1776; the federal Constitutional Convention wasn’t convened until 1787, and the Constitution itself wasn’t ratified until 1789. Congress then adopted the Amendments which became known as the Bill of Rights (including the Second Amendment) in 1789, and those Amendments became in effective in 1791 after ratification by the States.
Moreover, although we know who signed the Declaration of Independence – because, of course, they signed it – we do not know precisely who attended the Constitutional Convention. We do know that there were forty men who signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, as compared to fifty-six who signed the Declaration eleven years earlier. Only six men signed both: James Wilson (PA), George Read (DE), Roger Sherman (CT), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Robert Morris (PA), and George Clymer (PA).
More importantly, to whatever extent the Venn diagram of the men we call the Founders, on the one hand, and the drafters of our Constitution, on the other, might have overlapped, what matters, for purposes of constitutional law, is the Constitution. Even if the members of the Second Continental Congress in 1776 were identical – to a man – to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, we’re bound by the Constitution they drafted, not what they said eleven years prior.
And so the question isn’t whether the signatories to the Declaration of Independence thought that an armed populace would keep the government honest, as Mamet seems to suggest when he writes, “They realized that King George was not an individual case, but the inevitable outcome of unfettered power; that any person or group with the power to tax, to form laws, and to enforce them by arms will default to dictatorship, absent the constant unflagging scrutiny of the governed, and their severe untempered insistence upon compliance with law.”
The real question is, how did they feel about it by the time they drafted the Constitution? Unsurprisingly, the Constitution actually provides the answer, right in Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power …
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions …
So it would appear that the drafters of our Constitution were none to keen on the notion that armed insurrection was a good way to keep government honest. Then again, it was Declaration-of-Independence-signing John Adams who, as President in 1798, signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, which, as the Library of Congress explains, “increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered ‘dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States’ and restricted speech critical of the government.” (Emphasis supplied.)
My point is not to diminish the Declaration of Independence as perhaps the greatest political manifesto of all time. My point is that the extent to which the government can regulate firearms is a constitutional question. And the Constitution, as the Supreme Court has acknowledged, does, indeed, permit some regulation of firearms and the ownership of firearms. Romanticizing the issue the way Mamet and so many others do today – imagining themselves to be 21st century Minute Men; the guardians of liberty against some imaginary totalitarian threat – serves only to obscure the really important discussion we need to have about the precise contours of the Second Amendment, as defined by the Supreme Court, and about what the government should or shouldn’t be doing within the scope of what’s constitutionally permissible.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Constitution’s For Closers!

Imagine you’re a playwright whose chief talent is finding creative ways to use the word “fuck.” Imagine, too, that the more you use the word “fuck,” the richer you become. And the richer you become, the further removed you are from reality. Imagine you become richer and richer and further and further removed from reality, till you morph into one of your own characters, hurling invective into the void of cyberspace.
You’ve just become David Mamet.
Mamet, who is, let’s face it, a fucking genius when it comes to saying “fuck,” is considerably less talented when it comes to understanding American history. And when it comes to understanding the U.S. Constitution, well, he’s a fucking idiot. On those topics, he has all the analytical skills of an eleven year old boy obsessed with comic books and superheroes – not altogether unlike the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, who responded to the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School thusly: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Today, Mamet provided a sterling example his pre-adolescent, superhero-worshipping take on our history and our Constitution in an article entitled “Gun Laws And The Fools Of Chelm,” on Newsweek’s Daily Beast website. Mamet’s piece is comical both in terms of it’s razor-thin analysis (“Karl Marx summed up Communism as ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’”) and its desperate attempt to appear intellectual (“This is a chillingly familiar set of grievances; and its recrudescence was foreseen by the Founders”); but its most damnable feature is that it’s utterly devoid of facts. Mamet doesn’t cite or link to a single source anywhere in the piece, even when he quotes the Declaration Of Independence. (See, that wasn’t so hard.)
Although Mamet’s article is supposed to address Pres. Obama’s proposals for gun safety legislation, he doesn’t address a single recommendation the President made. In fact, he barely touches on guns at all until about the last quarter of the piece. The bulk of Mamet’s diatribe focuses on his comic-book understanding of the Constitution, with brilliant, albeit delusional, passages like this:
Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervor, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, willful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties. It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.
Actually, no. The purpose of the Constitution, Dave, was to create and define the powers of each branch of the federal government. Yes, the federal government was intended to be a government of limited powers, but not so for the states; the Constitution as originally drafted imposed very few limitations on the powers of state government. And if you take the time to read Article I, Section 8, you’ll see that even the federal government was granted considerable power. Including, by the way, the power to “call[ ] forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”
(Insert evil laugh here.)
Anyway, when Mamet finally gets to the point of his pseudo-intellectual treatise – you know, that guns = freedom – he mangles the lone factual assertion in the entire piece:
Violence by firearms is most prevalent in big cities with the strictest gun laws. In Chicago and Washington, D.C., for example, it is only the criminals who have guns, the law-abiding populace having been disarmed, and so crime runs riot.
Ah, that old saw. Tough gun laws don’t stop crime, because – Chicago! Only Mamet, unlike most who repeat this trope, hilariously misfires by including Washington, D.C. in the gun-laws-equal-more-crime argument. As it happens, the 2012 murder rate in the nation’s capital was the lowest it’s been since 1963.
But he is correct that the murder rate spiked in Chicago last year. It probably has nothing to do with the city’s “tough” gun laws, though; and, in fact, the opposite may be the case. As I’ve explained before, Chicago had a handgun ban in place until the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 2010. Meanwhile, according to the 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis published by the Chicago Police Department (.pdf file), the city’s murder rate declined more or less steadily from well over 900 murders a year in the early 1990s to around 435 murders per year in 2010 and 2011. 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis, p. 4. So, the facts, Dave, are these: Chicago’s murder rate declined by more than half from the early 1990s to 2010, all while the city’s handgun ban was in effect; but two and a half years after the handgun ban was stricken down, Chicago’s murder rate ticked up by about 17% (from 433 in 2011 to 506 in 2012). Whether or not the recent increase in Chicago’s murders is related to the Court striking down the city’s handgun ban, you simply can’t argue that the opposite is true, because the murder rate plummeted under even tougher gun laws than Chicago has today.
Facts, man. They always get in the way of the narrative.
Anyway, here’s the thing, Dave. The Constitution isn’t for amateurs. It’s not for playwrights who specialize in the use of the word “fuck.” It’s for grown ups who know how to do a little research.
And for closers, of course. The Constitution’s for closers, too.
[Special thanks to the inimitable Lizz Winstead for sharing the link to Mamet’s Daily Beast article.]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Muddy Waters, Chicago Pride, And The History Of Rock ’N Roll

Around here, we like to think of Chicago as the home of the blues. In fact, the blues originated in the Mississippi delta and then moved north to places like Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago. Nonetheless, there is something unique about the electrified sound that came out of Chicago in the 1940s and ’50s. It was rougher, louder, meaner, and whole lot grittier than other flavors of the blues. Chicago was, after all, the musical home of Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Houndog Taylor, and Willie Dixon.
And then there was McKinley Morganfield. You know him as Muddy “Mississippi” Waters, and he might have been the most influential practitioner of art form that made Chicago famous. So influential, the Rolling Stones took their name from one of his songs. So influential, the best known rock music publication of all time followed suit:
“You’re probably wondering what we are trying to do,” founder, editor and publisher Jann Wenner wrote in the first [Rolling Stone] editor’s note [in November 1967]. “It’s hard to say: sort of a magazine and sort of a newspaper. The name of it is Rolling Stone, which comes from an old saying: ‘A Rolling Stone gathers no moss.’ Muddy Waters used the name for a song he wrote; The Rolling Stones took their name from Muddy’s song, and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was the title of Bob Dylan’s first rock and roll record.”
 Growing up in the shadows of the city in the ’60s and ’70s, there wasn’t a lot to be proud of. The Bears won the NFL championship game in 1963, before the advent of the Super Bowl, but it would be 23 years before they won another title. Likewise, it would take the Blackhawks another 49 years to repeat their 1961 Stanley Cup championship.
And as for Chicago baseball. Well. As much as it might sound like the lyric of an old blues standard, it really wasn’t the fault of that black cat:
The Cubs just flat-out collapsed.
We had decades of sports futility. We had the 1968 Democratic National Convention. We had among the most corrupt politicians in the country. Our court system was so dirty, it took a massive federal sting – “Operation Greylord” – to restore any semblance of confidence in it.
But we had Muddy Waters. Muddy Waters was Stan Mikita and Gale Sayers and Ernie Banks rolled into one. He was the guy who gave the biggest rock ’n roll band in the world its name; the guy Mick and Keith came to see when they were in town. He was the guy who influenced a generation of rock musicians (including Led Zeppelin, who got sued for being a little too influenced by Muddy’s “You Need Love”). When our politicians went to jail and our teams choked or dwelled in cellars, there was always Muddy Waters. The source of eternal civic pride for any true Chicagoan.
So it’s painful, to say the least, to read this (via WBEZ):
An historic North Kenwood home where legendary bluesman Muddy Waters once lived — and jammed — is the subject of demolition order now being sought by the city’s buildings department.
The 120-year-old weathered and boarded-up two-flat, 4339 S. Lake Park Ave, has been vacant for years and its owner has been cited about the structure’s condition, Department of Buildings spokesperson Susan Massel said.
Inspectors found the building open last November and the dwelling has been the subject of complaints to the city’s 311 non-emergency number as far back as 2002, she said.
Earlier this week, the city affixed a red “X” to the building’s fa├žade — a signal to first-responders that the home is structurally unsound. Although the building department is seeking a court order to get a permit to demolish the building, Massel said the agency would rather have the owner take better care of the property. A court date has not yet been set.
“We want compliance,: she said. “Demo is not imminent.”
Another factor: The home sits in a landmark district, which would require permission from the city’s landmarks commission to demolish the home if the building department wins in court.
Obviously, it’s too early to tell how this will play out. I can tell you from past experience that the city usually pursues internal administrative remedies to get building owners to bring dilapidated buildings into code compliance, and only goes to court to seek demolition if the administrative process is unsuccessful. Moreover, the story has gotten some attention here in the past week, and not just from our NPR affiliate. The Chicago Tribune reported the story yesterday. So Muddy’s home may yet be saved.
But all that aside, I have to say: If nobody rescues the home and the city ultimately tears it down, many of us who lived through darker times around here will die just a little inside. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Your Friday Clash Song: Everybody Wants What The Next Guy’s Got …

“One Emotion,” recorded during the Give ’Em Enough Rope (1978) sessions but not included on that LP. Instead, it was released for the first time on the box set, Clash On Broadway (1991).
There’s no real subtext here. It’s standard fare for the Clash, lamenting the state of the world in the mid to late ’70s, at the dawn of the Margaret Thatcher era in the UK:
One emotion – moving out loud

Better get your weapon ready walking through the crowd

One emotion – crack of a shot

Everybody wants what the next guy’s got …
This is the theme of most punk rock from that period: Forget about Orwell and Huxley; the dystopia is now I suppose might still be applicable.
I chose it, though, for a different reason. It’s not a song most Clash fans would recognize (unless you happen to own Clash On Broadway) because it wasn’t released when it was recorded. In fact, the Clash wrote and recorded a lot of songs that never made it on to records when the band was still together. They were remarkably prolific, when you consider that they were actually together as a band recording music only for about five years – from the UK version of The Clash in 1977 to Combat Rock in 1982. (The purist in me can’t acknowledge the Mick Jones-less Cut The Crap (1985) as an actual Clash record; perhaps that’ll be the subject of a future Friday post ….)
The point is, everything released thereafter was either a compilation of already-recorded material, or a live recording released after the band’s demise.
And yet, during that five-year period the real Clash – the Strummer/Jones Clash – recorded an incredible amount of music. Not all of it was equally successful. The surviving recording of “One Emotion” is pretty rough; I imagine it would have gotten a fair amount of polish in the studio if it had made it onto Give ’Em Enough Rope or a subsequent LP during the band’s tenure. It’s a pretty decent song just the same, and yet it wasn’t good enough to make it onto any of the five full-length albums or three EPs the band recorded from 1977 to 1982.
To me, that demonstrates just how good each of those records is.
Anyway, there you go. From the rarities file: “One Emotion.”
Turn. It. Up.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What? Shut Up. I Have No Idea What You’re Talking About!

Somebody posted this video on Facebook awhile back, and it made me chuckle for a couple of reasons. Primarily because (ahem) gay men aren’t the only ones who talk to their cats like this. More on that later.
It also made me chuckle because of the weird correlations people see between pets and gender and sexual orientation. And by people, in this context I mean conservatives, who are hilariously sensitive about gender roles. To-wit: Cats are for women; dogs are for men. Except for gay men; gay men have cats, too. Because gay men are really more like women than, you know, men-men. And if you’re a man, you should be insulted by any suggestion that you might be gay. Or, I guess, a woman.
I bring this up because every so often I’m stupid enough to get into political arguments on Twitter, and invariably – I mean, really: invariably – if you’re a liberal of the male persuasion and you get into a Twitter argument with a conservative, especially (but not necessarily) a conservative of the male persuasion, the conservative will: (1) call you gay; (2) insult your physical appearance; and (3) compare you (negatively, apparently, in the conservative’s mind) to a woman. Now, as to point number two, your Freudian-type psychologist might have a field day with the (purportedly straight) male conservative’s propensity to obsess over the male liberal’s physical appearance, but let’s set that aside.
The thing is that even today – in, what is it, 2013? – even today, conservative men think that calling a fellow man gay or comparing him to a woman is an insult. I make it a practice not to respond to those “insults” because they’re not, in fact, insults. I could, in the parlance of my Irish forebears, give a good goddam whether anybody thinks I’m gay. And as for being compared to a woman, let me just tell you: If you’re a middle aged man who’s run a marathon or two, it’s a scientific certainty that you’ve been outrun by more than a few women in your day.
I mean, in a race. Because otherwise that would just be creepy.
But so anyway, the last time I was stupid enough to get into an extended debate with conservatives on Twitter, three or four of them (yes, they tend to swarm like that), reciting the usual litany of conservative insults (you’re gay/ugly/effeminate), added a new wrinkle: Egad, man, you like cats!
If only they’d actually said Egad! That would have been awesome.
In any event, a few of them actually took the time to look through my time line, found pictures that I’d posted of our cats, and, I guess, tried to use that against me. Along the lines of: You must be a gay because – cats! Or something.
So, here’s the thing. In front of God (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) and everyone, let me publicly declare: Yes, I like cats. At least our cats. I kind of adore them, in fact.
There. I said it. I’m out.
If you must know, I grew up a dog person, and I still love dogs. We had dogs when I was growing up, and I always assumed that once I was living on my own I’d have one, too. But my first apartment out of law school was a studio, which was too small for a dog and the lease didn’t allow them any way, and so I got a cat … and thus, my fate was sealed. I have had cats, either on my own or with one spouse or another, for the past twenty-five years.
But it’s more than that. I not only like cats, the fact is, I really don’t trust people who don’t like cats. Dogs are awesome; they’re extremely loyal and affectionate, and there are few beings on the planet who will love you like a dog will. But dogs are completely, utterly dependent on you. Cats are (contrary to popular belief) pretty affectionate too; you can develop a pretty strong human-pet bond with cats if you’re around them enough. Cats, however, are far more independent than dogs. They don’t want you smothering them with attention all the time. They’re okay having a little alone time now and then.
If this bothers you, this independent streak that cats have, then I’d suggest that’s more your problem than theirs. In fact, if you’re bothered by an animal that’s independent and isn’t constantly cloying for your attention, you might be kind of a control freak. And I have an abiding distrust of control freaks.
So I make no apologies for liking cats. I make no apologies for maybe, every so often, talking to them in the doting way humans sometimes talk to pets. Not that I’m putting that on video or anything. Because, shut up.
Don’t worry, though. I still love dogs.
Wait. Does that make me bi?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

First It Was The Gays …

Now it’s the ladies.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has decided to lift a ban that prohibited women from serving in combat, a congressional source tells NPR’s Tom Bowman. The move opens up thousands of front-line positions.
Panetta is expected to announce the decision along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tomorrow.
Citing “senior defense officials,” the AP adds:
“The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.”
The obvious reaction is: It’s about damn time.
Of course, I fully expect the few remaining conservative heads that didn’t explode upon hearing Pres. Obama’s second inaugural address to spontaneously combust now. As my friend Imani says over at Angry Black Lady Chronicles:
Prepare for the incoming jokes about women being issued Hello Kitty uniforms and pink guns, while conservatives wax nostalgic for the days when strapping young men didn’t have to serve in a foxhole with women who bleed every month and refuse to die.
Fortunately for our conservative friends, if your head has a propensity to explode and/or combust spontaneously, that’s a preexisting condition that’s fully covered under ObamaCare.
But here’s the thing. It’s odd to me that we’re still having this discussion in 2013. “This discussion” meaning, of course, whether women who want to serve in combat roles should be permitted to do so; and “we,” of course, meaning anyone who isn’t a woman.
The first time I recall discussing the women-in-combat issue was back in college in the early 1980s, and even then, even as a young jackass of maybe 19 years old, I had precisely two thoughts on the matter, and they occurred in this order: First I thought, Gee, it’s kind of sad to think that more people would be eligible to be used as cannon fodder in the next pointless war started by fat, rich, out of touch politicians with no skin in the game. And then, a few seconds later, I thought, But it’s not up to me, because, you know, I don’t have lady-parts or anything, and if women in the military want to fight alongside men, they should be able to make that decision, because they’re grownups.
End of thought process.
But it’s never that simple, is it. Because in America, it’s always the people in charge – usually men, mostly white, mostly straight, mostly Christian – who get to make decisions for everybody else. And they, the people in charge, talk about the people affected by their decisions – usually women, or people of color, or gay people, or non-Christians – like those people aren’t even in the room. Should we allow women in combat? Should we allow gay people to marry? Is this Black candidate really qualified to be president? What are we going to do about all these Muslims/Jews/Catholics/ Mormons/atheists/agnostics/Buddhist/ Zoroastrians 
It’s always been this way. People who aren’t part of one traditionally disadvantaged group or another making decisions for people who are. And if that doesn’t creep you out a little bit – especially if you’re in the group that usually makes the decisions for others – well, damn, brother. It should.
So, yes, kudos Sec. Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They did the right thing, and better late than never. But it’s still a little creepy, the way these things come about.
[Photo credit: From the Facebook page]