Tag Archives: mass shootings

Best Quotes of the Week – February 19, 2022

“So now his accountants have fired him and investigations draw closer to him and right on cue, the noise machine gets turned up.  Fox leads the charge with accusations against me, counting on their audience to fall for it again.  And as an aside, they’re getting awfully close to actual malice.”

Hillary Clinton, in a speech during the New York State Democratic Party convention

Clinton was apparently making a connection between the legal troubles of former President Donald Trump and the FOX News network’s repeatedly negative coverage of her.

“These nine families have shared a single goal from the very beginning: to do whatever they could to help prevent the next Sandy Hook.”

Josh Koskoff, the attorney representing 9 families who sued gun maker Remington over the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting massacre

Adam Lanza had used a Remington firearm to kill 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012.  Koskoff also noted, “It is hard to imagine an outcome that better accomplishes that goal.”  The families went up against the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which made it nearly impossible for gun makers to be held responsible for the use of their products in criminal acts.

Remington Arms will pay the 9 families $73 million to settle the lawsuit.  It is the first time a U.S. gun manufacturer has been held liable in a mass shooting and a legal outcome that could open the door to future lawsuits against gun makers.

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Book Less

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hard-core pornography’], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964

You know the old puzzle: if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?  Using that logic, if a book is published, and no one finds its content offensive, is it obscene?

Obscenity seems to be subjective.  Right-wing extremists certainly feel that way, as they have (once again) assumed the role of moral overseer and decided they have the authority to determine what books are and are not appropriate for others to read.  To we writers and other artists, the term censorship is like holy water to a devil worshiper: it’s terrifying!  Whenever we learn that some people are challenging the presence of certain materials in a public venue, such as a library, we bristle.  But, instead of running and hiding, we’ve been known to stand and fight.

In the latest battle, the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee decided to ban the 1986 Art Spiegelman book “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” from its library.  The illustrated tome is Spiegelman’s recounting of his parents’ experiences as prisoners of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.  It won Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize and, in 1992, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition displaying his original panels for the story“Maus” had been party of the school district’s lessons on the Nazi Holocaust.  The McMinn school board’s complaints about “Maus” are the usual gripes: language and nudity (animal nudity in this case).

It’s worth noting McMinn County, Tennessee is near the location of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, where the concept of evolution became intensely controversial.  In 1925 the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, a bill banning the teaching of evolution in its schools.  Evolution, declared legislators, contradicted the Christian Bible as the single standard of truth in public arenas, such as schools.  The move astonished – and frightened – many across the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded immediately by vowing to support any educator in the U.S. who dared to teach evolution.  A popular young high school teacher in – of all places, Tennessee – named John Scopes offered to be the defendant, if the state decided to make good on its promise.  They did.  On May 7, 1925, Tennessee authorities arrested Scopes and charged him with violating the Butler Act.

The ensuing legal battle made headlines across the country and the world.  The judge in the case showed his deference to the state by opening each session with a prayer and refusing to let Scopes’ defense call any scientific witnesses.  Ultimately Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.  The ACLU hoped the case would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Tennessee State Supreme Court reversed the decision on a technicality.  Still, the repercussions were widespread.  The Butler Act was never enforced in Tennessee again, and similar measures in other parts of the U.S. met with failure.  But progressives realized they could never relax in the face of extremist ideology.

So, here we are in the third decade of the 21st century, where the U.S. has come out of two brutal Middle East wars and is now facing an onslaught of urban violence.  We experienced 36 mass shootings in the month of January, resulting in 101 injuries and 42 deaths.  That’s just in the month of January 2022 alone!

But, as usual, social and religious conservatives are more upset with books.  In October of 2021, Texas State Representative Matt Krause asked the Texas Education Agency for information about 850 books in school libraries.  He wanted to know how many copies of these books were in each library.  It didn’t surprise observers that the majority of the books are by women, non-Whites and/or LGBT authors.  The imperial Krause is concerned that taxpayers are funding the presence of these books in school libraries.  Yet, my tax dollars are wasted if those books are removed because he and other like-minded folks find them unacceptable.

Some disputes have become hostile.  Police in Leander, Texas got involved in a controversy over one book, “Lawn Boy” in 2021.  Author Jonathan Evison says he received death threats because of it.  Texas – where any restrictions on guns is considered anathema – isn’t the only state under siege by moral zealots.  Similar attempts at censorship and assaults on free speech have played out in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“If I had a statement, it would be ‘Read the book or sit down,’” says Evison. “I feel like these people are frightened because they’re losing the culture wars.”

Yeah!  Sit down and read – more than the Bible or the TV guide.

I will concede parents have the right to be concerned by what their children view and read.  But I feel banning books from a school library is just one step away from banning books in any library or elsewhere.  It’s truly not an unrealistic stretch to envision such a scenario.  The world has witnessed such activities in totalitarian societies, and the results are often sanguineous.

Once again, though, what is obscene?

The 1920s was a decade of both progress and excess, particularly for the growing film industry.  Although silent and in black-and-white, movies had begun to show a variety of mature content – mainly heavy alcohol consumption and sexual behavior.  Concern over the material became so intense that, in 1934, Will H. Hays – then head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – introduced his personally developed “Hays Code”, a standard production guide for what is and what is not acceptable content for motion pictures.  The code remained until 1968, when the MPAA introduced its film rating system: G (General Audiences), PG (Parental Guidance recommended), R (Restricted) and X (mainly for sex, but also for violence).

By the 1960s, films were presenting increasingly controversial subject matter – and headaches for the MPAA.  The 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” shocked audiences with its blatant use of foul language and served as one catalyst for the rating system.  The 1968 film “Vixen” became the first movie branded with an X rating.  The following year John Schlesinger released “Midnight Cowboy” with Jon Voight in the titular role.  It, too, was branded with an X rating.  Despite that, it went on to win the 1969 Academy Award for Best Picture – the first and (to date) the only X-rated film to win such an honor.  Viewing both “Vixen” and “Midnight Cowboy” now might make somebody wonder what the fuss was all about.

The film rating system took an odd turn in 1983 when a remake of the classic film “Scarface” came out.  The MPAA initially granted the movie an X rating because of its excessive violence.  Director Brian DePalma reluctantly trimmed some of the footage, and the film was rebranded with an R.  If it had gone out with the X label, “Scarface” would have been the first movie released as such because of violence.

Another X controversy arose six years later with “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”.  The film’s gratuitous sexual content garnered an X rating from the MPAA.  As with DePalma and “Scarface”, director Peter Greenaway reluctantly agreed to edit out a small portion of the sexual matter – small as in some 5 minutes – and the film was upgraded to R.  The fiasco upset many in the entertainment community – not just in the U.S. but across the globe.  If the difference between an R and an X rating is a paltry 5 minutes, then how valid is a film rating system?

What is obscene?

In the 1950s, the Hays Code was applied to a growing new medium: television.  In motion pictures, the code, for example, dictated that people of the opposite sex could not be filmed in bed together, unless one of the duo (usually the man) had at least one foot on the floor.  In TV, however, even married couples couldn’t be shown in the same bed.  The rule went into effect after a 1947 episode of “Mary Kay and Johnny” showed the title characters hopping into the same bed.  But that taboo dissolved completely in 1969 with “The Brady Bunch”.  Bathrooms also were generally off-limits in television.  One exceptional first was a 1957 episode of “Leave It to Beaver”, when the boys tried to hide a pet alligator in the tank of a toilet.  An early episode of “All in the Family” produced another first: the sound of a toilet being flushed.

As mundane as all of these events are today, they each sparked a ruckus at the time.

Personally, I find excessive violence offensive.  I never laughed when I saw men and boys get struck in the groin in slap-stick comedy scenes in films and on television.  I grimace at bloody acts in similar venues, while others react as if nothing more than a sharp wind blew past them.  Conversely, many of these same individuals are horrified by the sight of blatant nudity, especially if the nudeness is that of a male.  It’s difficult to imagine now, but even as recently as the late 1960s words like pregnant and diarrhea were forbidden on television.

The word “bitch” is used frequently on TV today.  But, in 1983, a musical group called Laid Back released a song entitled “White Horse”, which features the line: ‘If you wanna be rich, you got to be a bitch.’  MTV played the video, but bleeped out the term “bitch”.  In 1994, Tom Petty released “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, which contains the line: ‘But let me get to the point, let’s roll another joint.’  Music video networks deemed the ‘roll another joint’ verbiage unacceptable and bleeped it out whenever they played the video.

In 1989, rap group 2 Live Crew released two versions of their song “Me So Horny”: what they dubbed the G-rated version and the R-rated version.  Radio stations played the G-rated version frequently, but the R-rated version generated the most strife.  At the start of 1990 a federal judge in the state of Florida considered the group and their music obscene and in violation of community standards – whatever that’s supposed to mean – and forbid local radio stations from playing any of their music.  Consequently, 2 Live Crew’s reputation and music sales skyrocketed.

I remember the controversy that erupted with the video to Madonna’s 1990 song “Justify My Love”.  Once again, music video networks assumed the role of moral protectorate and either refused to play the video or played it late at night, when children and other fragile souls – such as moral crusaders – were asleep.  Undeterred by the skirmish, Madonna packaged the video and sold it independently.

In 1965, The Rolling Stones made their debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, during which they performed a sanitized version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together”.  Producers convinced the group to sing ‘Let’s spend some time together’ instead.  Lead singer Mick Jagger leered at the camera – in the way only Mick Jagger can – when he spat out the words.

Two years later The Doors were presented with a similar option when they made their appearance on the show and performed their already popular and now seminal hit “Light My Fire”.  Sullivan’s son-in-law, Robert Precht, suggested they alter the line ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much higher’ to ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much better.  The group refused and performed the song as it was.  Their act of defiance resulted in their permanent ban from the show – a move I know upset them to no end.

I’ve noticed social conservatives haven’t raised concerns about inappropriate material in books like “The Anarchist Cookbook” and “The Turner Diaries”.  The latter served as a blueprint for Oklahoma City bomber (domestic terrorist) Timothy McVeigh.  If conservatives really want to ban books with sexual references and violence, they should start with the Christian Bible, which is rife with salacious and unsavory behavior.

Meanwhile, “Maus” has experienced a surge in sales as a result of the squabble surrounding it.  If there’s one way to ensure something’s popularity or success, it’s to try to ban it.  In other words, censorship always backfires.

Yet, censorship will always remain a threat to freedom of speech, expression and the press.  The war will never be won – by either side.  But those of us on the side of true freedom can win individual battles by standing up to self-righteous demagogues.

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Saddest Quote of the Week – May 29, 2021

“There’s a numbness I imagine some of us are feeling, because there’s a sameness to this. Anywhere, USA. It just feels like this happens over and over and over again. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.  It begs the damn question: What the hell is going on in the United States of America?”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, after a mass shooting at a rail yard in San José

The attack – which took 10 lives, including the gunman – is the 232nd mass shooting in the U.S. this year.

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In Memoriam – Connecticut School Shootings

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As of now 20 children and 6 adult are confirmed dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Also dead is the shooter – some mentally-deranged fool who somehow managed to get his hands on a massive firearm.  Amidst this horrific tragedy and the ongoing investigation, people on both sides of the gun debate already are lining up to stake their territory.  This comes less than a week after a shooting rampage at a mall in Portland, Oregon; four months after a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; and five months after a massacre in a theatre in Colorado.  Yes, this is a uniquely American problem; as bad as budget crises and obesity.  Yet, the gun lobby will inadvertently defend the Connecticut shooter by claiming he was a lone wolf who couldn’t be controlled by gun control laws anyway.  Then, they’ll add that, if just one person in that school had a firearm, they might have been able to stop the rampage.  President Obama will probably bow to them anyway, like most Democrats.  But, it’s days like this that I’m glad Charlton Heston is dead and wish Sarah Palin would drop dead, too.

In the meantime, please think of the victims, especially the children who had no idea what hit them.

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Retroacting

In light of yesterday’s massacre in Aurora, Colorado, every media talking head, politician and self-proclaimed expert on psychosis is speaking out.  Folks from CNN and MSNBC rushed to the scene yesterday morning, hoping to corral anyone who was within a mile of the theatre and ask, ‘What did you see?’  Even Nancy Grace – who normally doesn’t care unless an adult White female goes missing or turns up dead – jumped into the fray, so you know this shit is serious.

Meanwhile, idiot extremists on both sides of the gun control debate are already lining up to take – pardon the verbiage – shots at one another.  Gun control advocates say this is once again proof that firearms are too easily accessible in the U.S.  Gun rights supporters – who always seem to think the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution trumps the 1st Amendment – claim that guns don’t kill, people do.  In a way, they’re both right.  I’ll let them engage in their usual vitriolic tangos.

But, I have to wonder; are we now going to have metal detectors in movie theatres?  If we do, it’s yet another example of how the U.S. seems to behave retroactively to whatever crisis of the decade pops up.  Our elected officials and law enforcement don’t always have the foresight to cogitate ahead.  That’s what happens when they’re more concerned with election year politics and budget restraints.

Here are just a few examples of after-the-fact-responses.

In the fall of 1982, seven people in Chicago died after consuming cyanide-laced Tylenol.  The manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, pulled every single Tylenol product off store shelves across the country and almost went bankrupt because of it.  But, they bounced back with an aggressive marketing campaign and reintroducing their products with safety seals.  Other manufacturers followed suit.  I’m old enough to remember when you could buy something and just open it up without worrying if it was a death sentence.  Now, you occasionally have to have pugilistic hands to open a bottle cap.

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a moving truck outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  A few minutes later, the truck exploded and almost completely destroyed the building; killing 168 people.  Now, you can’t just drive into a building; federal or otherwise.  You have to approach a guard post where they check your identification and confirm that you’re really supposed to be there.  You also can’t park outside any building for too long, especially in major cities, unless you want a cop or overweight security guard giving you dirty looks first, before asking what the hell you’re doing.

Law enforcement never took animal abuse seriously until psychologists made the connection between that and serial killers.  Now, anyone caught chaining a dog to a tree is threatened with jail time.

School boards always thought bullying was just kids-being-kids crap until the victims started committing suicide – or homicide.  The 1999 Columbine massacre sort of drove that message home.  So, schools started bullying intervention programs and installed metal detectors.

The best case scenario for an after-the-fact-response is September 11, 2001.  Who would have thought someone would use jet liners as weapons of mass destruction?  Actually, someone had made a concerted effort several years earlier.  In February 1974, Samuel Byck tried to hijack a Delta Airlines plane from Baltimore and crash it into the White House.  He wasn’t really a terrorist; he was a failed businessman with a seething hatred for Richard Nixon and a suicidal death wish.  He was shot to death after a brief standoff with police.  The incident received minimal press coverage because the growing Watergate mess had everyone’s attention.  And, it got lost in the historical shuffle – until 09/11.

For one thing, immigration never thought that people with expired VISAs could pose a threat.  People with past-due VISA bills always got harassed half to death by the banks however.  So, the airlines starting checking people’s identifications more closely.  Then, they started thinking that pilots should be armed and cockpit doors should be fortified with more than duct tape.  Even flight attendants started wondering if they had to start carrying nunchucks instead of extra bags of peanuts.  U.S. airlines could have taken a queue from Israel, which hasn’t experienced a hijacking since 1970.  Their airline pilots are armed and their flight attendants are trained to fight back with whatever they have.  But, over here, airline executives complained such changes wouldn’t be cost-effective, meaning they’d have to take a cut in their million-dollar paychecks.  So, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is content with confiscating bottles of Evian and fondling people in wheelchairs.

In December 2001, Richard Reed tried to set his shoes on fire, while aboard a flight from Paris to Miami.  Now, everyone has to take off their shoes.

In December 2009, Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian-born Al-Qaeda operative, tried to set his explosive-underwear on fire on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  The stuff didn’t ignite, but fellow passengers tackled him anyway, as the plane approached the airport.  People feared they’d now have to tolerate underwear checks, but the TSA amazingly drew the line at that.

So, I ask again – will theatres begin installing metal detectors beside the ticket windows?  All day Friday and into Saturday, theatres around the country employed extra security measures to ward off any copycat incidents – another uniquely American aberration.  Here’s another question – when will we stop reacting to these events and start thinking ahead to the possibility of stuff happening?  It’s not beyond the scope of reality or human intelligence.  It happens all the time in business and science – people think of what could be and what could happen.  Then, they act on it.  It’s not a crystal ball type of mentality.  It’s just being practical.

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