Today’s Lesson—Some Violence Is Worse Than Other

Like their leader, and Fox “News”, conservatives have repeatedly complained about radical left wing violence in places like Portland and Seattle.

Today we’ve learned a private militia planned to kidnap Michigan’s Governor and overthrow the government.

And funny thing, I haven’t heard anyone on the right condemn it at all, let alone with similar fervor. Granted, kidnapping and overthrowing the government don’t rise to the level of throwing cans of tuna, breaking windows, and graffiti*, but still, I’d expect some conservative somewhere to condemn the right wing extremists.

My naivety is one of my more endearing qualities.

*that’s satire

American Exceptionalism

Our passivity towards gun violence is exceptional. Especially among developed nations.

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker on Tarantino’s current film “Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood”:

“. . . two things alone freaked me out. One was the sudden, insane burst of brutality that is inflicted by men upon women. And the other was the reaction of the people around me in the auditorium to that monstrosity. They laughed and clapped.”

One night in 1994, knowing it wouldn’t be the Good Wife’s cup of tea, I went to see “Pulp Fiction” by myself in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the film there were a few insane bursts of brutality inflicted by men upon men. Point blank shootings that prompted the crowd to spontaneously erupt in prolonged applause. That was deeply unsettling.

Twenty five years later I fear we’re even more desensitized to wanton gun violence.

Where does it end?

Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Seal Beach, Aurora, Newtown

The National Rifle Association has gone silent, hoping that we conclude there’s an inevitability to gun violence, call it an unfortunate cost of Second Amendment rights to gun ownership. That’s the exact reason we can’t become desensitized to the steady stream of incomprehensible violence.

We have to spend the next few months insisting that our Congressional representatives take the actions that Michael Bloomberg and Diane Feinstein described on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

We have to learn to think about mental illnesses like physical illnesses and advocate for more accessible and affordable care for the mentally ill.

We have to insist on people’s rights. To go to school, to go shopping, and to go to a movie without fear.

We have to resist the urge to arm more people. On the same Meet the Press, Bill Bennett (pundits should be like yogurt and have expiration dates) said we should probably have an armed security guard in every school. I thought of that when I walked into my YMCA Sunday afternoon to workout. The doors open for anyone and the membership check-in is about 30 to 40 feet inside the building. I passed 20+ people before having to show my membership card. Sometimes when the line is long, I just slide in behind it and head to the locker or weightroom. So unless we’re going to install TSA-like security at every YMCA, mall, and theater, I don’t see armed school guards as a solution. I recommend Jim Fallows position on this and his most recent Atlantic piece on the shootings (and Goldberg’s which he references).

We have to ask why, according to Mother Jones, since 1982, males are responsible for 61 out of 62 mass murders with firearms across the country. What does the fact that some young men more than young women want to physically injure and/or kill others say about our parenting of boys, our schools, and our culture? What changes in our parenting, schools, and culture are needed?

Lastly, an impassioned debate among two female writers—I am Adam Lanza’s Mother and Don’t Compare Your Son to Adam Lanza.



Groundhog Day: Surprised Again By A Star Athlete’s Flaws

Jeff Pearlman’s book, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, was released yesterday. Payton played professional football for da’ Bears from 1975-1987. The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is given annually by the NFL honoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field. Prior to 1999, it was called simply the NFL Man of the Year Award. Shortly after Payton died from cancer in 1999 the award was renamed to honor his legacy as both a great player and a humanitarian.

A humanitarian who, according to Pearlman, was in a long-standing close relationship with another woman besides his wife (who insisted not only on attending his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but sitting in the front row), was addicted to pain pills, and seriously contemplated suicide. Apparently Pearlman spends twenty to thirty of the four hundred pages on the unseemly underside of Payton’s private life.

Payton’s coach, Mike Ditka, is leading a backlash against Pearlman’s book. “I’d spit on him,” he said recently. “I have no respect for him.”

In which case I have no respect for Ditka who needs a primer on the first amendment.

Dan Patrick, my favorite sports media person, recently discussed the controversy engendered by the book. His question was, “Do you the fan want to know the truth about the athletes you follow?” Patrick said he did. Others on his show said they did not. Patrick went on to say the fans don’t realize athletes are human beings. Ordinary human beings, a mix of good and bad, like all of us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were more like us. If we limit the discussion to professional basketball and football players (versus professional marathoners, swimmers, or amateur athletes for instance) from the last decade or two, there’s ample legal evidence that their behavior, on average, is far worse than the ordinary human beings that pay to watch them play.

Why? Some possibilities:

1) If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the same is probably true for money. I suspect, especially in cases where someone grows up without any, mad money blows those teetering on the fence of adhering to society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side.

2) Public adulation is another wind blowing those teetering on the fence of society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side. The star professional athlete’s classic line when pulled over, “Don’t you know who I am?”

3) In the case of football at least, the more violent the player is on the field, the more successful. Maybe it’s hard, when the stadium and television lights are turned off, to throw the non-violent switch.

4A) Some athletes blow through their money while playing short careers, don’t have enough of an education to fall back on after retiring, and turn to the “informal” economy to get by. See Lenny Dykstra. 4B) Some suffer from public adulation withdrawal. The Dennis Rodman effect. They’re committed to staying in the public’s conscience even if they have to repeatedly get arrested to do so.

5) Sociology. You are the company you keep. Middle school students aren’t the only ones susceptible to negative peer pressure. Locker rooms no doubt have tipping points.

Of all people, Ditka should know that every athlete is a one-person public relations firm. There are lots of faithful, law-abiding professional athletes making worthwhile contributions to society off the field. Just not as large a percentage of the readers of this blog.

Oklahoma City and Oslo

We must learn very specific lessons from this tragedy to prevent similar ones in the future. First though we need to read and reflect on the horrific accounts, look at the heartbreaking pictures, empathize with the victims and their families, and grieve. The word “tragedy” isn’t sufficient.

We learned from Norwegian friends’ Facebook accounts that two of the dead are from Hamar where we lived for a semester a few years ago. Our closest Norwegian friend’s 19 year-old daughter lives in an Oslo flat. My email generated an automatic reply, because like most Norwegians, she’s on vacation.

There’s no way to eliminate xenophobia, hatred, or evil, but we can monitor fertilizer sales, restrict gun ownership and ammunition sales, and tighten security so that one can’t fake being a police officer.

In starting to problem solve, I’m not heeding my own advice. There will be plenty of time to discuss the lessons and debate how best to limit such colossal acts of violence.

Now is the time to sit in still, sad, solidarity with Norwegians near and mostly far.