Friday, May 31, 2013

New Posts & Preliminary Queries: An Interesting Follow-Up Discussion

Earlier this week I posted about my desire to examine the definition of the word “terrorism” (New Posts and Preliminary Queries) and I invited readers to chime in and offer their thoughts. In response to that post, a friend offered some thoughts on my Facebook page, another friend joined in, and an interesting discussion developed.

Because those comments were left on my Facebook page and not on this public blog, I’m not going to use the names of the friends who posted comments. I’ll simply refer to them as “Felix” and “Oscar”. I’ve also cleaned up typos and made some fixes for readability.


My definition of terrorism = the use of violence by a state-independent agent (but which may act on behalf of a state) directed at a group of civilians, with the intent of forcing a political agenda or “pain” on the larger society.


So by that definition, a suicide bomber that attacks a military base has not committed terrorism.


Perhaps not. More likely, a freedom fighter, revolutionary, or enemy combatant. The crime might be treason or an act of rebellion.


Is a mass murder, think Columbine or Aurora, a terrorist act? What about Maj. Nidal Hassan’s attack at Fort Hood?


How would define a KKK cross burning in someone’s yard? Is not the KKK a group of domestic terrorists? The FBI lists them as such…


The acts of the Klan fits my definition.

Cross burning is an act of psychological violence


The problem there is that many crimes, in particular “hate crimes” would also qualify.


I think there are fuzzy-linguistic laymanish definitions and strict legal definitions.

Mass murder with an ideological motivation directed at civilians would be terrorism, but not all mass murders are terrorism.


In my book, terrorism is a near meaningless term as it’s the umbrella under which too many things may be categorized.

Last year there was that crazy Amish guy who ordered his kin and a few others to go after other Amish and forcibly cut their beards off. He said it was a personal matter. The government called it a hate crime. Why isn’t he a terrorist?


But that’s what I’m trying to work out: A definition that excludes acts that ought to be excluded but includes those that should, even if not currently included in the default definitions.


One may also want to ask … who is using the term and why are they using the term. What’s the purpose of the label?


Good questions. It goes back both to the “one man's terrorist…” and to the reason for certain governmental action (or inaction).


Islam is the new Communism. Some segments of society have an interest in feeding fear. Conservatives went all ape-shit because the believed Obama didn’t label the Benghazi attacks as terrorism (when in fact he did.)

Fuzzy logic (classifying or categorizing the degree to which something belongs to a set) is helpful for building a definition for studying phenomenon but difficult when dealing with our legal system.

Similar to fuzzy logic is a index or scale. Instead of arriving at a binary yes/no decision, the incident is given a score … 90% on index (pretty much safe in saying its terrorism), 50% (marginal), 20% (not likely but some might say it is). The point is one can arbitrarily say 70% is a cut off between calling an incident an act of terror or not, but since this is a continuum, an incident that is rated 71% is pretty similar to an incident that is rated 69%. To construct an index, a set of criteria would be chosen and each characteristic would be given a value. The values are then fed into some formula, and out pops out a rating. The art of classification depends on the person or people who constructed the index to begin with. Once some rating exists … one can decide what to do with the information. It might be useful to have an index, if taking action on the numbers correlates well to some desired outcome.


Interesting concept. I’ve thought of the issue in terms of a continuum, bit not a scored ranking. Hmm.


When you construct one, you can name it the Wallack Index.

In addition, knowing that most readers probably don’t bother reading the comments to my posts, I thought I’d post the one comment that New Posts & Preliminary Queries did receive here on the blog from erk:

I’ve certainly not thought through all of the implications, but my brief definition of terrorism is “violence, or the threat of violence, employed to achieve political change.” I wonder whether revolutions like ours, or others we’d regard as legitimate, fall under such a definition. As I said, this is just a rule of thumb.

Murder of an abortion doctor? That would count, as it’s almost certainly a statement on the legality of abortion.

Cyberattack on a business? Maybe, if the attack is to change behavior based on the business’s actions. If it’s to put them out of business for financial reasons, it wouldn’t fit “terrorism.” On a government entity, unless it was for theft or some other reason, it would.

Drone strikes? Probably not, unless they’re being used to cow the civilian population.

Anyway, I thought that this was a thought-provoking discussion (and comment) and is just the sort of discussion that I was hoping to have on the issue. Please join in the discussion!

(Of course, it’s also the sort of discussion that I’ve hoped to have in the comments section on many of my posts… Sigh.)

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It’s Getting Scary Out There

Any regular reader of this blog will probably be aware that a recurring theme and caution of my posts is the fear that the lack of civility, overall tone, and nature of our current political debates seemed to be heading down a slippery slope toward the sort of political violence that we see across the globe but which has mostly spared America. Unfortunately, we really do appear to be sliding down that slope. And with one party losing touch with reality more and more frequently and showing a complete unwillingness or inability to tamp down on the craziest, fringe voices, I’m not really sure how we step back from the brink.

What prompts this newest expression of concern?

Well, there’s this:

Letters Threatening Mayor Tested Positive for Ricin

Two letters that contained threats to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — one addressed to him, the other to a lobbyist who works on his gun control campaign — have tested positive for the deadly poison ricin, the authorities said on Wednesday.

The first letter was opened at a New York City mail center in Lower Manhattan on Friday, the police said. Although staff members at the mail center do not appear to have become ill, several police officers who came into contact with the letter’s contents “indicated some mild symptoms the next day, including diarrhea,” and they are being treated in hospitals, the New York Police Department’s spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said on Wednesday afternoon. “They’re being checked out as a precaution.”

The second letter, which was opened on Sunday in Washington, was addressed to Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group Mr. Bloomberg helps run and finances, officials said. Mr. Glaze opened the letter, an official said. No injuries were reported, Mr. Browne said.

Both letters were identical in content, bore references to the debate over gun regulation and contained written threats to Mayor Bloomberg, Mr. Browne said. “It’s threatening, and it’s very clearly about one issue,” one official said of the letters.

A similar letter was also addressed to President Obama.

Or there’s this:

Radio Host Frequented By Gun Activists Calls For Shooting of Bush Family & Obama, Sexual Violence Against Hillary Clinton

How about Hillary Clinton? That frickin’ assbag has not only been involved in drug trafficking out of Mena, Arkansas, okay? Not only that; and all these people try to have this plausible deniability thing, yeah sure, they’re removed, they’re just a bunch of politicians. Well, guess where they got all of the money to acquire the power that they have?

This ‘C U Next Tuesday,’ Hillary Clinton, has been involved in the killings of American troops.  Namely, the mysterious suicide of the emotionally unstable Navy SEAL commander who just so happened to be involved in all of her dealings in the Middle East, okay. And he just mysteriously got suicided along with everyone else associated with the Clinton family. Miss Hillary Clinton needs to be convicted, she needs to be tried, convicted and shot in the vagina. I wanna pull the trigger. That ‘C U Next Tuesday’ has killed human beings that are in our ranks of our service.

I want to remind you that in Benghazi, Miss Hillary ‘the fricken’ biggest vagina on the face of the planet’ told troops to stand down and to not go in and interfere with the operation that they set up because they're moving arms; Barack Obama is moving drugs through the CIA out of Afghanistan and Barack Obama needs to be tried, convicted, and shot for crimes against the United States of America. And if anybody has a problem with that, then you are an enemy of our state.

I want to shoot [Clinton] right in the vagina and I don't want her to die right away; I want her to feel the pain and I want to look her in the eyes and I want to say ‘on behalf of all Americans that you’ve killed, on behalf of the Navy SEALS,’ … the families of Navy SEAL Team Six who were involved in the fake hunt down of this Obama bin Laden thing, that whole fake scenario — because these Navy SEALS know the truth, they killed them all — on behalf of all of those people, I’m supporting our troops by saying we need to try, convict, and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.

And most disturbingly, this (emphasis added):

Press Release: Adam Kokesh Calls on American Revolutionary Army to March on 50 State Capitols

“When a government has repeatedly and deliberately failed to follow its own laws, violated the fundamental human rights of its citizens, threatened the sanctity of a free press, created institutions intended to eliminate privacy of communication, waged war at the behest of special interest that threatens the public safety, killed hundreds of children with drone strikes, imprisoned and destroyed the lives of countless individuals for victimless crimes, stifled economic opportunity to maintain the dominance of the financial elite, stolen from the people through an absurd system of taxation and inflation, sold future generations into debt slavery, and abused its power to suppress political opposition, it is unfit to exist and it becomes the duty of the people to alter or abolish that government by whatever means necessary to secure liberty and ensure peace.

“A new American revolution is long overdue. This revolution has been brewing in the hearts and minds of the people for many years, but this Independence Day, it shall take a new form as the American Revolutionary Army will march on each state capital to demand that the governors of these 50 states immediately initiate the process of an orderly dissolution of the federal government through secession and reclamation of federally held property. Should one whole year from this July 4th pass while the crimes of this government are allowed to continue, we may have passed the point at which non-violent revolution becomes impossible.

“The time to sit idly by has passed. To remain neutral is to be complicit, just doing your job is not an excuse, and the line in the sand has been drawn between the people, and the criminals in Washington, D.C. While some timid souls will say that it is too early, that we can solve this problem through democratic means provided by government, that current levels of taxation are reasonable for the services provided, and that the crimes of this government are merely a tolerable nuisance, it may already be too late.

“While there is risk in drastic action, the greater danger lies in allowing this government to continue unchallenged. So if you are content with the status quo, stay home, get fat, watch the fireworks from a safe distance, and allow this Independence Day to pass like any other. But if you see as we see, and feel as we feel, we will see you on the front lines of freedom on July 4th, 2013 for this, The Final American Revolution.”

It’s worth noting that Kokesh had previously called for an armed march on Washington, D.C., and he received over 5,000 “RSVPs” via his Facebook page.

We’re seeing threats of violence against politicians and public servants, we’re seeing poison mailings, and we’re seeing calls for secession which, if not heeded, could be followed by violent revolt. And we’re seeing these sorts of things with ever greater frequency. Most disturbingly, we’re not hearing outright condemnations immediately from those on the same side of the philosophical divide. You know, when a Muslim commits a terrorist act, many people expect every moderate Muslim (and, in particular, moderate Muslim leaders and organizations) to immediately denounce the violence. Yet when the violence or threat of violence comes from the far right, we don’t usually hear every moderate (let alone far right) Republican denouncing the violence or threat. Why not? If a Muslim Brotherhood related organization issued a press release that it was calling for an armed march on Washington, we would expect every Muslim imam and Muslim organization to denounce the plan (not to mention what we would do to stop that march from happening; I mean, people are willing to stop Muslims from building mosques, so I don’t suppose stopping an armed march would take much convincing). But when a far right libertarian does the same thing, we get mostly silence. We’re ready to trample Muslim freedom of religion but people will barely raise their voices to call out insane gun rhetoric.

If we expect Muslim organizations to take a stand against Muslim extremists, then shouldn’t we expect the NRA or pro-gun legislators to take a stand against the sort of violence and rhetoric that we’re seeing?

If our political leaders cannot call out and denounce totally inappropriate conduct from the fringes of their own political movements, then that silence will begin to be seen as tacit approval. And a little tacit approval may go a long, long way.

We have to encourage — demand — that our political leaders speak up and talk to those on their side of the philosophical divide to tell them that, no matter how valid their concern or how important the issue, violence or the threat of violence is unacceptable. Wholly unacceptable. It is un-American. It is treasonous. We have to recapture the ability to discuss our differing opinions, not just threaten or attack those holding opposing views. Violent rhetoric is bad enough; outright violence is something else entirely. Something dangerous.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Posts & Preliminary Queries

I’ve begun work on a two separate posts that I hope to publish sooner rather than later (but who knows…). Both posts focus on how we define two common words. Unfortunately, those definitions are often murky and both over-and under-inclusive. I want to try to examine those definitions and “tease out” what should and shouldn’t be included. And I want to get your input.

One of these posts is an attempt to find a working definition of “terrorism”. There are quite a few definitions available, but none really seem to cover everything that we think of as terrorism and, perhaps, include some things that maybe shouldn’t fall within that definition. Relying on the pornography formulation (“I know it when I see it”) doesn’t seem to me to be an acceptable way to determine what is and is not terrorism.

So, I’m curious: How would you define terrorism. Leave me a comment with your definition. But be sure to think through the permutations of your definition and any omissions or overbroad inclusions. The suicide bomber on the airplane is easy. I’m more interested in the harder questions. For example: Does the murder of an abortion doctor count as terrorism? Does a cyberattack on a business or governmental entity count as terrorism? Do drone strikes that kill civilians count as terrorism? Think about those scenarios.

I’m also working on a new post (well, maybe a series of posts) about modern anti-Semitism. I see this as a growing (rapidly, I’m afraid) problem. However, all too often, the charge of anti-Semitism is deflected by arguments about what is and is not anti-Semitism rather than by an examination of the conduct giving rise to the charge. Thus, my interest in how anti-Semitism is defined. (For example, a common, though idiotic, defense to a charge of Arab anti-Semitism is that Arabs are Semites and therefore cannot be anti-Semitic.)

The European Forum on Antisemitism came up with its own “working definition” several years ago:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Unfortunately, very few people are aware of this working definition and I’m not sure that the working definition really gets to the core of the controversy over what is and isn’t anti-Semitism (though some of the additional commentary for the working definition helps).

Anyway, as part of my discussion of the rise in anti-Semitism, I want to look at the definition itself. So, once again, I’m asking you how you would define anti-Semitism. Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

One final point with regard to anti-Semitism that I want to make perfectly clear: Criticism of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic. I criticize Israel all the time. However, when criticism is leveled against Israel but not against other countries engaged in similar (or worse) conduct, when Israel is held to a different standard than other countries, or when Israel is reduced from being a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse country to just “the Jews”, then one cannot but wonder if the criticism or treatment of Israel is something more than just a good faith policy difference and is, instead, anti-Semitic.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Boy Scouts Decide to (Sorta) End Discrimination … and Conservatives Freak Out

Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay children to be members of the Boy Scouts. I salute them for making this decision (though I’m dismayed at the decision to continue to ban gay scout leaders or to, in essence, kick out a gay scout once he turns 18). However, reaction on the conservative side of the political spectrum has been … well … less enthusiastic.

Before I offer a sampling of those conservative reactions, it’s worth pointing out that the decision of the Boy Scouts of America doesn’t require Boy Scouts to be gay or to even approve of homosexuality. Gay sex won’t be a requirement for an Eagle Scout badge. Rather, the decision simply means that this organization will no longer engage in an organized, regimented form of discrimination.

So, on to some of the reactions from conservatives on Twitter (thanks, in part, to Think Progress for compiling most of these):

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry: “Saddened the BSA bends to the whims of political correctness.”

Because, you know, it’s just terribly sad that some people think that everyone should be treated fairly or view discrimination as a bad thing. It’s kinda like how sad it was when people bent to the whims of political correctness and adopted the 13th amendment to outlaw slavery. That was sure a sad day.

  • Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma): “If the Left were truly tolerant, they would tolerate the Boy Scouts being who they have always been.”

That’s, right, the measure of tolerance is whether you allow others to discriminate. I suppose, then, that we should also tolerate the KKK and Nazis and maybe even al-Qaeda and allow them to “who they have always been”.

  • Tony Perkins (President of Family Research Council): “Boy Scouts’ Decision Another Casualty of Moral Compromise”.

Because morality is all about discrimination, isn’t it? Is the moral compass of the Boy Scouts to teach that it’s OK to discriminate? But then I forgot that the current view on the far right is that “compromise” is a bad word.

  • Matt Barber (Liberty Counsel): “Boy Scouts of America: Born February 8, 1910. Died, May 23, 2013”.

Yep, allowing gay kids to be scouts will clearly kill the scouts. Just like allowing gays killed the military. Or schools. Or marriage in the 10 states that now allow it.

  • Dana Loesch (former CNN contributor; current talk radio host): “I’d rather start my own group rather than bitch and moan about what a private group does and launch a suit to force them to comply.”

Yeah, maybe we should have separate groups for straights and gays. And blacks and whites. Jews and Christians. Excellent plan. Oh, wait. We’ve tried that already. It was called “the past”.

  • (a group founded to oppose acceptance of gays in the Boy Scouts: “Today’s vote teaches our kids that you should not stand up for what is right instead - stand up for what is popular”.

Yep. Discrimination is “right” and tolerance is merely popular. Think about that one for a minute. This group really wants to teach our kids to stand up and discriminate instead of finding the means to be inclusive and tolerant. Are those the sort of kids with whom you want your kids to associate?

  • Peter LaBarbera (founder of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality): “Sad day for the Boy Scouts. Sad day for America: formerly ‘morally straight’ organization votes to allow openly homosexual members”.

It’s so, so sad, when organizations decide that they want to live in the reality of a tolerant 21st Century.

  • Bryan Fischer (Director of Issue Analysis, American Family Association): “BSA now stands for Boy Sodomizers of America, because that’s what will happen. Mark my words.”

Ah, yes, the old “your gay kid will make my kid gay” canard. Bryan Fischer is, perhaps, on of the most hateful people in the country; he’s one of the very few who might be able to compete with Westboro Baptist Church for most hateful. Oh, and he refuses to talk about his own gay impulses.

And perhaps my “favorite” comes from a man I’ve heaped criticism on before for his repeated hate speech:

  • Erick Erickson (Editor-in-Chief of, former CNN contributor, current Fox contributor, and NPR’s voice of choice for the conservative viewpoint): “I honestly have no problem with the Scouts deciding that way, but I honestly cannot see me now enrolling my son in the scouts as a result.” And “Yes, Christ is love, but he is also wrath, vengeance, and redemption. The modern emo Christ is a fiction. Christ could throw a punch.”

Christ is “wrath” and “vengeance”? Really? Well, then, perhaps that does explain things like the Inquisition and slaughters of Jews (and others) over the preceding two millennia (though you’d think that, by now, we’d have a Michael Bay movie about Jesus throwing some punches and taking out a legion or two of Romans). Moreover, just think about what Erickson is saying in the first tweet: He’d rather keep his son out of scouting than possibly expose him to a gay kid. Oooh, shudder. He might catch “teh gay”.

That’s just a brief tour of comments from the conservative movement about a decision for tolerance and against discrimination. It’s sickening.

If you’re interested in reading more of what some of these kind-hearted folks have had to say about homosexuality or any of a host of other issues, it might be worth your time to prowl around over at RightWingWatch (click on the People tab).


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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Umbrella-gate. No, Seriously

Last week, President Obama hosted Turkey’s Prime Minister at the White House. As is common in these sorts of affairs, following their meeting, they two held a brief press conference. And it started to rain. So President Obama asked two Marines to bring some umbrellas.

No big deal, right? Well, not to most of the world. But I wonder what the right-wing might think of this?

Let’s look at the article Obama breaches Marine protocol from the Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller website:

The commander in chief of the American armed forces today forced a violation of Marine Corps regulations, so he wouldn’t get wet.

According to Marine Corps regulation MCO P1020.34F of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations chapter 3, a male Marine is not allowed to carry an umbrella while in uniform. There is no provision in the Marine Corps uniform regulation guidelines that allows a male Marine to carry an umbrella.

Nevertheless, during a press conference under a light drizzle with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this morning, President Obama allowed the First Head to be protected from the elements by an umbrella held by a male Marine corporal.

The relevant portion of the regulation reads, “3035. UMBRELLAS (Female Marines). Female Marines may carry an all-black, plain standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms. It will be carried in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered. Umbrellas may not be used/carried in formation nor will they be carried with the utility uniform.”

Items not expressly delineated as authorized components of the Marine Corps uniform are prohibited. Male Marines are informed never to carry an umbrella from the earliest phases of training.

Not even the President of the United States can request a Marine to carry an umbrella without the express consent of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, according to the Marine Corps Manual.

The Marine Corps Manual, the guidebook that defines protocol for officers and enlisted Marines, in section 2806 paragraph 2, specifically states: “The Marine Corps Uniform Regulations, published by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, shall be binding on all Marines. No officer or official shall issue instructions which conflict with, alter, or amend any provision without the approval of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Daily Caller is criticizing President Obama for making two Marines violate Marine Corps regulations by holding umbrellas. Daily Caller even suggests that the President doesn’t have the authority to request that a Marine carry an umbrella. Seriously. This is what passes for journalism in the far right echo chamber.

Out of curiosity, what do you suppose the purpose of that regulation is? Was the regulation adopted to prohibit Marines from ever carrying an umbrella or from carrying an umbrella to protect themselves? Note that in the rule pertaining to female Marines, the regulation requires that the umbrella be held in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered.

Anyway, you know what’s coming, don’t you?

First, “[s]eeing a Marine with this particular accessory is ‘extremely rare,’ Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Greg Wolf explained, but because the president’s the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, if he says ‘hold my umbrella,’ it’s permissible.”

Second, I wonder why The Daily Caller included the above-quoted portion of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations but didn’t bother to include the following:

Articles that are not authorized for wear as a part of a regulation uniform will not be worn exposed with the uniform unless otherwise authorized by the Commandant or higher authority.

It would seem to me that the Commander-in-Chief qualifies as a “higher authority” wouldn’t you?

More importantly, why do you suppose that people are noting that President Obama asked Marines to hold umbrellas in the first place? Is it because they’re that worked up over a highly technical interpretation of Marine rules? How worked up are these same people when our military desecrates enemy corpses, engages in torture, or kills civilians?

So, might something else be involved? Hmm. I know. Let’s look at some of the comments posted at Daily Caller in response to the article (helpfully compiled at Little Green Footballs):

I thought afro-sheen was waterproof?


Just another occasion where Obama shows his “superiority” to any and everyone around him. Shameful.


Just another example of the illegitimate Kenyan illegal alien’s arrogance, ignorance, and contempt for the military - and the Marine Corps in particular.


Next they’ll be carrying shopping bags for Michelle as she strolls ‘Miracle Mile’ looking for a bargain.


I would roll that umbrella up and shove it where the sun don’t shine. Kenyan Fraud. III%




Too funny! The first black man given the opportunity to run the most powerful country on earth and he turns out to be no different than all the other two bit corrupt black dictators around the world. For all the world to see no less. Way to go BO!


Someone…please throw some shoes at this Kenyan clown!!

Those are a few days old now. There are more. Many, many more. An no, not every comment at Daily Caller reads like these; there are even some that defend President Obama. But to say that the vast majority of comments are both unfriendly and disrespectful would be an understatement. You can also find comments advocating virtually every anti-Obama conspiracy you can contemplate (from disbarment to forged absentee voting records and so on); some even refer to President Obama as a traitor.

Even Sarah “My Head Is Stuck So Far Up a Polar Bear’s Ass That I Can’t See Russia Anymore” Palin chimed in on Facebook, telling President Obama that “most Americans hold their own umbrellas.” Like this:

No, not a Marine; just a campaign aid. This is, of course, in contrast to President Obama who would never hold his own umbrella when walking down the steps of an airplane.


But certainly other Presidents haven’t had to rely on others to hold their umbrellas, right?

By the way: See those photos of both Presidents Bush under umbrellas being held by members of the Army? Hmm. I wonder why the right wing didn’t go ballistic when those “transgressions” occurred? After all, the Army’s uniform regulations are substantially similar to those of the Marines:

Females may carry and use an umbrella, only during inclement weather, when wearing the service (class A and B), dress, and mess uniforms. Umbrellas are not authorized in formations or when wearing field or utility uniforms.

Seriously, how do people rationalize criticizing President Obama for asking the Marines to hold umbrellas but aren’t critical of Presidents Bush for allowing members of the Army to do so?

Oh, and as long as we’re talking about Presidents and umbrellas, I couldn’t resist this photo:

George W. Bush

I will resist the urge to make any comment. Nope. Lips are sealed. Not gonna happen.

So why do you think that there is such outrage (feigned or otherwise) over President Obama asking the Marines to hold up umbrellas for he and the Turkish Prime Minister?

With incidents like this, it gets harder and harder not to attribute the right wing’s animus toward President Obama, at least in part, to racism.

Perhaps we need to add a verse to the Marine Corps Hymn:

From the Halls of Montezuma

To the shores of Tripoli

If you hold the President’s umbrella

The rage of the right you’ll see.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Two Christian Pastors Share Their Diametrically Opposed Views on Gay Marriage

I want to compare two letters to the editor that were printed in The Indianapolis Star on May 14, 2013, and May 20, 2013, respectively. Both letters concerned the story Former WNBA player Tully Bevilaqua commits to her partner from the May 14, 2013, edition of The Indianapolis Star. And both letters were written by Christian clergy.

Story about Tully Bevilaqua's marriage was repulsive

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but that does not mean that I want to read and or see stories about subjects that I find repulsive and the May 14 story, “Celebrating a couple’s love” about former Indiana Fever player Tully Bevilaqua getting married was repulsive to me. Is The Star so depleted of newsworthy articles that it has to run such stories? If you must run them, please relegate them to the opinion section, where they should be, not on the first page of one of my favorite sections of The Star.

Pastor David Vaughn
Ban on same-sex marriage is truly repulsive

Like Pastor David Vaughn of Martinsville, I was repulsed by The Star’s article about Tully Bevilaqua and the celebration of her commitment to her lesbian partner.

I am repulsed because these two Hoosier women, a credit to our city and state, do not have the legal freedom to marry one another because of their sexual orientation.

I am repulsed that so many people of faith speak in hallowed tones of marriage, elevate it as the central relationship in their own lives, then selfishly deny that same blessing to others.

I am repulsed that as other states are committing to marriage equality, Indiana’s political leaders are hard at work making sure a group caring for gay and lesbian youth can’t support its noble efforts with a license plate.

And I will be repulsed until our state, and indeed our nation, takes seriously its constitutional promise of liberty and justice for all.

Philip Gulley
Quaker pastor

I don’t know about you, but the attitudes expressed in one of those letters sound much more like what I expect to hear when I think of “clergy” or “pastor”. So what I’d like to hear from my Christian friends, is how they think Jesus would have reacted to these letters. Which letter would have made him smile and nod in agreement; which would have made him scowl? Which author’s ideas embody what Christianity (or Judaism, for that matter) is really supposed to stand for?

Anyway, these two letters do a nice job of summing up an entire aspect of the debate over gay marriage.


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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Benghazi as an Excuse for Impeachment Shenanigans

Remember the late ’90s and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton? After spending years looking into his financial dealings (Whitewater), the “murder” of Vince Foster, and anything else that they thought might stick, Republicans eventually impeached President Clinton for lying about getting a blowjob. Now, they’re at it again, but this time their ire is focused on both President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It seems that Republicans have actually been trying to find a basis to impeach President Obama since about the time that he was initially inaugurated. But I guess that someone with a functioning brain in the GOP suggested that passing popular legislation probably didn’t quality as a high crime or misdemeanor. And then Benghazi.

I’ve tried to avoid writing much (if anything about Benghazi), and I still don’t really want to get bogged down in the facts as, frankly, I’m not sure that I know all of the facts (not that Republicans have let facts or a lack thereof deter their conspiracy-mongering). Rather, I want to focus on the Republican need to find a scandal that they can use to tarnish President Obama or even use as the basis of impeachment. And that scandal seems to be Benghazi.*

Unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think that Republicans are actually blaming President Obama for the attack on the compound in Benghazi (though I suspect that it wouldn’t take too much searching to find some who are making that allegation … after all, some on the far right conspiracy fringe have recently accused President Obama of secretly being the worldwide head of al-Qaeda). Instead, the allegation seems to be that President Obama didn’t send proper reinforcements to try to stop the attack (notwithstanding that the military says that there was nothing that could have been done) and/or that his administration edited talking points to try to cover up that it was a terrorist attack (even though he said it was an “act of terror”).

That appears to be the extent and gist of the allegation. I think. (I must admit that I have some degree of difficulty fully understanding right-wing conspiracy theories; after all, they make little logical sense and there are just so damn many of them.) Apparently, from what I’ve been able to glean, it appears that the “conspiracy” was maybe to let the Americans die in order to … er, well … actually, I haven’t figured that part out yet. But then the conspiracy was to deny that the attack was a terrorist attack (you know, by calling it an act of terror, instead) because if it was a terrorist attack, it would prove that President Obama wasn’t doing a good job against terrorists and he would have therefore lost the 2012 election. Or something. And this conspiracy lasted for a whole week. Or three days. Or something. And it involved withholding emails from Congress that were actually given to Congress or refusing to brief Congress except for the briefings that were given to Congress. Or something.

Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), tried to clarify when he helpfully noted, as part of his explanation of what it is that President Obama did wrong, that “an act of terror is different than a terrorist attack”. Yep. Read that one again, folks.

But Republicans really seem to think that this is a big deal. Some have been talking about impeachment recently. Some have suggested that this is such a big deal that they don’t think that President Obama will be able to serve out his full term. Others have compared the “conspiracy” to Watergate (but, of course, Benghazi is worse and will “make Watergate look like kindergarten”) and even to 9/11 but found that President Obama’s actions and “Benghazi” were much, much worse. Seriously. Benghazi is worse than Watergate and worse than 9/11 because … um … because, yeah. Some Republicans in Congress want a “select committee” to investigate the whole mess.

So do you know what I find odd about all of this? Think back to the 8 years of the Bush administration. I know you don’t want to; I know you’ve tried to block it from your mind. But work with me here, people. Think back to those long, dark years and remember all of the Republican outrage, committee hearings, select committees, and impeachment talk after the following:

  • January 22, 2002. Calcutta, India. Gunmen associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami attack the U.S. Consulate. Five people are killed.
  • June 14, 2002. Karachi, Pakistan. Suicide bomber connected with al Qaeda attacks the U.S. Consulate, killing 12 and injuring 51.
  • October 12, 2002. Denpasar, Indonesia. U.S. diplomatic offices bombed as part of a string of “Bali Bombings.” No fatalities.
  • February 28, 2003. Islamabad, Pakistan. Several gunmen fire upon the U.S. Embassy. Two people are killed.
  • May 12, 2003. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Armed al Qaeda terrorists storm the diplomatic compound, killing 36 people including nine Americans. The assailants committed suicide by detonating a truck bomb.
  • July 30, 2004. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A suicide bomber from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacks the U.S. Embassy, killing two people.
  • December 6, 2004. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda terrorists storm the U.S. Consulate and occupy the perimeter wall. Nine people are killed.
  • March 2, 2006. Karachi, Pakistan again. Suicide bomber attacks the U.S. Consulate killing four people, including U.S. diplomat David Foy who was directly targeted by the attackers.
  • September 12, 2006. Damascus, Syria. Four armed gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar” storm the U.S. Embassy using grenades, automatic weapons, a car bomb and a truck bomb. Four people are killed, 13 are wounded.
  • January 12, 2007. Athens, Greece. Members of a Greek terrorist group called the Revolutionary Struggle fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy. No fatalities.
  • March 18, 2008. Sana’a, Yemen. Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire a mortar at the U.S. Embassy. The shot misses the embassy, but hits nearby school killing two.
  • July 9, 2008. Istanbul, Turkey. Four armed terrorists attack the U.S. Consulate. Six people are killed.
  • September 17, 2008. Sana’a, Yemen. Terrorists dressed as military officials attack the U.S. Embassy with an arsenal of weapons including RPGs and detonate two car bombs. Sixteen people are killed, including an American student and her husband.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall the committee hearings or select committees, let alone the outrage, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and talk of impeachment.

And think about what isn’t included in the foregoing list. First of all, that list doesn’t include anything from Afghanistan or Iraq including multiple attacks on our diplomatic compounds in those countries. More importantly, I don’t recall hearing Republicans calling for hearings or impeachment of President Bush for using lies as the basis for invading Iraq in the first place. Or for “outing” covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Or for authorizing torture, warrantless wiretaps, and indefinite detention without access to counsel (you know, good ol’ Amurican values). As we learn more about the AP subpoena scandal, we should recall how angry Republicans were about warrantless wiretaps during the Bush administration. Oh, wait.

Hmm. It seems that there was something else that happened during the Bush administration for which there were hearings but not talk of impeachment. What am I missing? Think. Think.

Oh, yeah. I seem to recall this little incident in which 3,000 people were killed in the largest terrorist attack of all time and for which President Bush had been given a warning that al-Qaeda intended to strike inside the US and might use airplanes to do so. But Benghazi was worse.

So you see, to Republicans, there isn’t much (if anything) that a Republican President can do wrong. He can lie us into a war that costs thousands of American lives (not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives). He can allow Americans to be killed. He can approve torture and permit a covert CIA operative to be outed. All of that is fine. But if a Democratic President lies, about something as innocuous as a blowjob or why a particular terrorist attack occurred … well, then, stop the presses and start the impeachment process. “Mission Accomplished”? Bah, who cares. Not putting out every known fact, even as evidence was still coming in, on why an attack occurred? Watergate! 9/11! Impeach!

You know, I really hope that the Republicans keep pushing on this. I do. I hope that the House GOP decides to start impeachment proceedings. Because maybe, just maybe, under those circumstances, the American electorate will come to realize that the GOP really doesn’t care about right or wrong or even the best interests of America. Perhaps the electorate will finally learn that facts and truth are anathema to the GOP. Nope. What the GOP cares about is damaging Democratic Presidents with whatever flimsy excuse they can find in order to have a better chance of exercising power themselves.

Maybe I’m crazy; maybe I’m just too cynical. But it seems clear to me that when far more egregious, far more deadly conduct is ignored, but less serious conduct amounting (if proven…) to little more than a lie, is subject to extreme levels of scrutiny, rhetoric, and calls for punishment, not to mention comparisons to things that are far more serious, then what we have is nothing more than political posturing dressed up in hyperbolic hypocrisy.

The comparison between these sorts of events is, I believe, damaging to the process and to our governmental system. Just as every bad person ought not to be compared to Hitler, not everything done wrong by a Democratic President is automatically and immediately comparable to Watergate or 9/11. The comparison of virtually everything to those things that truly were the pinnacle of scandal or evil means that we’ve lost all perspective. And without perspective, there is no way to understand, approach, or resolve important questions, issues, or problems.

*Well, at least it was Benghazi until the Obama administration handed Republicans two new scandals to chase with the IRS’ allegedly targeting Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications and the Department of Justice subpoenaing the phone records of some reporters for Associated Press.


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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Abercrombie & Fitch: Unattractive Kids “Can’t Belong”

This graphic has been making the rounds on Facebook and the Web over the last few days:

I don’t know about you, but I’m troubled by the exclusionary attitude expressed by Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries.* “A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong.” Seriously? A&F is only going after the “cool kids” and the “attractive all-American kid”? And just what does that mean?

Let’s imagine that, instead of talking about “cool kids” or “all-American kids”, Jeffries spoke instead of “white kids”. Would you be troubled then? Or if his quotation had been that “black people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong”… Would that trouble you? Of course it would. So query just what an “attractive all-American kid” is? Is that sort of like Sarah Palin’s “real America” where certain categories of people are excluded?

When I do a Google image search for Abercrombie Fitch Models (models are what the retailer calls their in-store employees), I don’t see many African Americans, Latinos, or Asians. But I do see a lot of white guys and girls. Is that what Jeffries means when he talks about an “attractive all-American kid”? Just look at the plastic surgery that he’s had; the “ideal” into which he’s tried to transform himself…

And even if he’s not talking race or ethnicity, he is talking weight and appearance. Can an unattractive kid also be “all-American” or is that reserved for the attractive kids? Perhaps even more importantly, can someone who isn’t a muscle-bound guy or a size 2 girl be considered attractive? Or, in the Abercrombie & Fitch world, do a few extra pounds or the type of body that isn’t found outside the pages of a fashion magazine disqualify someone from being “attractive” or “all-American”?

Now, I do recognize that one aspect of this argument can break down if taken too far. For example, I don’t think that we would be dismayed by a sporting goods retailer saying that they were targeting athletes; then again, I don’t think a store like Dick’s Sporting Goods would say that non-athletes “can’t belong”. Rather, I suspect that a store like Dick’s would welcome to opportunity to help transform a non-athlete into an athlete.

I guess the real problem that I have here is that we know that we live in a society that is overly image conscious. And who is most impacted by that? I’d guess teens — the very clientele attracted to Abercrombie, some of who are being told that they “can’t belong”. Should a girl with a few extra pounds develop an eating disorder in order to dress like the “cool kids”? Or should a boy who is more of an academic and less of a jock, perhaps with a little teen acne, just resolve to live a life where he knows that he “can’t belong” because he can’t press 250 pounds?

Are those the sorts of messages that we want to send to our kids?

It’s bad enough that Abercrombie & Fitch’s adds are almost soft core porn. But when you add to the images of those bare-chested models the suggestion that only people who look like those models are “worthy” of shopping at the store, then we’ve crossed over a line into something … well, dangerous to our kids.

It’s not just bullying that leads teens to depression and suicide. Being on “the outside” can be devastating to a teen’s developing persona. And here we have a multi-billion dollar company not just perpetuating body image stereotypes but going further and saying that those who can’t meet certain standards “can’t belong”. If you’re fat, go to Dress Barn and live your life as an unpopular cow. If you’re not “cool”, go shop at Walmart or Goodwill. Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t think that you’re a part of the “all-American” society.

I don’t think that a boycott of Abercrombie will do much good. Their marketing is tied directly to their products and business plan. So what can people do? Well, I suppose that “ugly” people who might not match the “all-American” ideal could start hanging out in Abercrombie stores or “proudly” wearing Abercrombie apparel in an effort to make it “not cool”. But that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. But I think that I have a three-step idea that just might put some pressure on the company:

  • When you see an Abercrombie & Fitch add in a newspaper or magazine, write to the editor and suggest that they not accept ads from Abercrombie & Fitch anymore. Ask the editor if they’d accept advertising from a company that espoused open racism or sexism and suggest that advertising from a company that says that certain people “can’t belong” is equally damaging to our society.
  • Shop at other stores … but do something else, too. When you buy something at one of those other stores, be sure to tell the employees that you’ve purposefully made the decision to shop at that store instead of Abercrombie because of its exclusionary worldview. If stores start to hear that inclusion is valuable it will become something to strive for and Abercrombie will be left out.
  • Finally, ask the owners of the malls in which Abercrombie’s stores are located why they continue to permit that sort of company in their buildings. Again, would they allow a store that espoused racism or some other form of bigotry? Tell the mall owners that you might choose to boycott, not Abercrombie, but the mall itself. Or, if you’re feeling particularly confrontational, get some of your unattractive non-all-American friends together and try picketing on the outside of the mall. Those sorts of activities will make the mall owners very uncomfortable.

If you do find yourself at an Abercrombie & Fitch store, don’t remain silent. Tell the “models” what you think of their CEO’s exclusionary comments. Be sure that they know that it’s not acceptable. Be polite. But be firm. And leave. Without spending your money.

We can’t make everyone feel good about themselves. But we don’t need to tolerate a business that chooses to succeed by making some people feel bad about themselves, especially teens and especially teens who may already have low self-confidence or image issues.

We strive to live by the notion that “all men are created equal”; so do we really want to reward a store that thinks only “attractive all-American” kids belong?

*And yes, I know that at least part of this quotation was from back in 2006, but that it's just now gone viral.


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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

B’nai Mitzvah

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook are no doubt aware that this past weekend our family celebrated the bar mitzvah of our son and bat mitzvah of our daughter (collectively referred to as a b’nai mitzvah). The b’nai mitzvah was non-traditional. We held the service at a country club instead of a synagogue and we weren’t led by a rabbi or cantor.* Instead, we designed the service to incorporate family members (and friends) as much as possible. And I think that the service was very meaningful to our children and to those who attended.

We were all very, very proud of the the hard work that our children put into preparing for the big day and they both did a wonderful job as they were called to the Torah.

The Wallack FamilyFor the service, I prepared a booklet with the prayers and readings. I received a number of compliments on the book and I’ve had quite a few requests by people who couldn’t attend the ceremony for a copy of the book. So I’ve attached a .pdf version of below. I’ve corrected a few errors that were pointed out to me after the service, including changing the word “peach” to “peace” even though it was really cute when my daughter just read the line as written: “peach and happiness”.

B'nai Mitzvah Prayer Book (final) - cover page

The English readings in the book were adapted from several sources on the web and, where possible, I’ve included the identity of the original author.

In preparing this book, I had several goals. First, I (obviously) wanted to be sure that I included those elements of a Shabbat and b’nai mitzvah service that were essential to it being a true Shabbat and b’nai mitzvah service. Second, I wanted to include Hebrew, transliteration, and English translation for all of the Hebrew prayers so that our participants and guests could follow along and understand the meanings. When we made the final decision to make this a family service instead of a clergy-led service, I realized that I needed to find readings (in English!) that would be appropriate for our family members. I wanted to find readings that felt both meaningful and authentic to those who were asked to read. Knowing that we would have many guests who were not Jewish and who may have never attended a bar or bat mitzvah previously, I wanted to try to offer some explanation for some of the prayers and proceedings. Finally, I wanted this to be a Jewish service, but I also wanted to avoid making anyone who wasn’t Jewish uncomfortable.

I don’t know if I succeeded in all of those goals, but I feel good about the final product.

I’ve also been asked to reprint the toast that I made at the party Saturday night.

Your mother and I want you to know how very proud we both are of the two of you. You’ve each worked very hard to make today’s accomplishments a reality. The extra effort of having to do so much in such a short period time was understandably difficult but you both handled it very well. Well, with a few exceptions that is. But we’ll keep that a secret. Oops.

You may not realize it but your cousin Connor’s bar mitzvah was on my birthday and your B’nai mitzvah is on your aunt Wendy and uncle Gavin’s anniversary. We should congratulate them for that.

What I find truly remarkable about today though is what it says about who we are as a family and as a people. Ian like your father, like your grandfathers, like your great grandfathers and like countless generations before them, today you were called to the Torah. Lily, your mother did not become bat mitzvah, your grandmothers did not become bat mitzvah, none of your aunts or ancestors did. You were the first.

So today, in one moment, the two of you standing side-by-side renewed an ancient tradition and, at the same time and with the same breath began a new tradition; the old and the new together reflecting ancient tradition and modern sensibilities. With our service we combined the traditional with the modern. And you learned to recite ancient texts by the time-honored tradition of using Skype.

I hope as you go forward in your lives you can continue to incorporate those ideals and values core to who we are as a community, people, and family, and adapt those to our ever-changing modern lives. L’chaim.

Thanks again to all who helped make the b’nai mitzvah weekend a special and memorable weekend for our family.

I also want to take a brief moment to give special thanks to Cantor Janine Starr for her work with our children to help them prepare for their b’nai mitzvah. Cantor Starr has a relatively new bar mitzvah tutoring business (new website coming soon!). If you’re looking for private tutoring for your children, please contact Cantor Starr (she tutors via the time-honored tradition of Skype).

I also want to thank Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) and Rabbi Mark Covitz for allowing us the use of a Torah for the ceremony.

*I may write more about our decision to have a non-traditional b’nai mitzvah another time. But not today.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Guns in America: “Just One of Those Crazy Accidents” (update)

In last week’s post Guns in America: “Just One of Those Crazy Accidents” I wrote about 12 children who were either killed or wounded by “accidental” gunfire and/or who were responsible for killing or wounding someone else with accidental gunfire all in the month of April 2013. None of these children was even a teenager yet. Unfortunately, my compilation of these tragic stories was incomplete.

KTUU (Alaska’s NBC affiliate) (April 30, 2013)

Mountain Village Girl, 5, Fatally Shot by Brother

A 5-year-old Mountain Village girl died Monday afternoon in a shooting by her older brother, according to Alaska State Troopers.

A Tuesday AST dispatch says troopers from St. Mary's responded at about 2:20 p.m. Monday to the shooting.

“Investigation revealed that an 8-year-old boy was playing with a Ruger 10/22 (rifle) that he had used the day before to go hunting, when he shot his 5-year-old sister, killing her,” troopers wrote.

AST spokesperson Megan Peters says troopers can’t or won’t release many details about the shooting, which remains under investigation. She says the boy was unsupervised at the time of the incident.

“The boy was home, his 5-year-old sister came home and within the span of 15 minutes she was dead,” Peters said.

While troopers have notified the state Office of Children’s Services and the district attorney’s office, there isn’t any immediate word on actions taken by those agencies.

“It's too early to know whether charges are warranted against anybody,” Peters said.

Peters emphasizes that much of what troopers know about the shooting is preliminary, and asks the public not to rush to judgment on the case.

“There's no easy answer to it, and obviously no one thinks it's going to happen,” Peters said. “It's a very good opportunity to realize how much can go wrong in a very short time.”

The girl’s body will undergo an autopsy at the state medical examiner’s office.

So, by my count, that makes at least 14 children, aged 12 and under, killed or wounded by accidental gunfire or who were responsible for killing or wounding someone with accidental gunfire within the span of one month. That number omits children killed in criminal violence and in murder-suicides. It is “just” those killed, wounded, or involved in “accidental” shootings.

By comparison, during that same month of April 2013, guess how many Americans were killed in Afghanistan. Go ahead. Guess. The answer? 14.

I don’t know about you, but I think we should be ashamed that the number of Americans killed in a war zone could even possibly be comparable to the number of American children involved in accidental shootings.

But, nooooo, we don’t have a problem with guns, do we? We need more guns on our streets! We need guns in our schools! Maybe we need to be sure that all of our children, toddlers included, are armed or at least wearing protective body armor.

Query whether I, as a parent, am being irresponsible if I allow my kids to go play (er, I guess now that they’re teenagers, they “hang out” instead of “play”) at a friend’s house without first inquiring as to the presence of guns in that house? You see, I don’t want to put my child’s life at risk because you are irresponsible with how you store your gun or because your child has access to that gun. Talk about freedom and tyranny and self-defense all you want; my kids’ lives are more important.

I also wanted to note that the website for Crickett Rifles (the type of rifle marketed to children and which was involved in the shooting of a 2-year-old by her 5-year-old brother), has been taken offline. But before the website vanished, Business Insider had a chance to capture a few images from the “Kids Corner” portion of the website:

Crickett 2 630

Or perhaps this video advertisement for Crickett rifles is a better example:

And you know how gun rights folks are always talking about “gun safety” and “trigger protocol” or whatever the fuck it is that they think makes it OK for a kid to have a gun? Well, take a look at this screen shot that Business Insider took from the Crickett commercial:


That’s right, mom. Focus so much on daughter that you don’t realize that you’re pointing your rifle at your son’s head! Thankfully, her finger isn’t on the trigger…

Ah, but don’t worry. Because if you still want to get your kid a gun, just go to the website for the other gun manufacturer making “quality firearms for America’s youth”: Chipmunk Rifles. Hmm. Now why does that tagline sound so familiar? For that matter, why does Chipmunk’s webpage look so familiar? Oh, right. Chipmunk Rifles is also owned by Keystone Sporting Arms, the same company that owns Crickett Rifles. So, no, they haven’t stopped marketing rifles for children; they’ve just removed one of the brand names that is getting a bad rap just because some careless Kentucky 5-year-old used his prized Crickett rifle to kill his 2-year-old sister.


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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Guns in America: “Just One of Those Crazy Accidents”

I’m going to post several stories from news sources across the country. I’ll withhold comment until after the stories.

1) Lexington Herald-Leader (April 30, 2013)

5-year-old boy accidentally shoots, kills 2-year-old sister in Cumberland County

A 5-year-old boy who was playing with a .22-caliber rifle accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister in Cumberland County on Tuesday afternoon, according to a news release from the state police.

The shooting happened just after 1 p.m. at a home on Lawson’s Bottom Road.

The 2-year-old was taken to Cumberland County Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. An autopsy has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Cumberland County Coroner Gary White identified the girl as Caroline Starks.

He said the children’s mother was at home when the shooting occurred, and the gun was a gift the boy received last year.

“It’s a Crickett,” he said. “It’s a little rifle for a kid. … The little boy’s used to shooting the little gun.”

White said the gun was kept in a corner, and the family did not realize a shell had been left in it.

He said the shooting will be ruled accidental.

“Just one of those crazy accidents,” White said.

2) Tennessean (April 8, 2013)

Wife of deputy shot, killed in Wilson County accident

A 4-year-old gained access to a gun at family gathering

The wife of a Wilson County Sheriff’s Office deputy was shot to death Saturday at their Lebanon home by a 4-year-old who gained access to a gun at a family cookout, police said.

Josephine G. Fanning, 48, was pronounced dead at the home at 6710 S.E. Tater Peeler Road, according to the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office.

The shooting occurred while Wilson County Deputy Daniel Fanning, 51, was with another relative looking at guns in a bedroom of the home, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The 4-year-old and Josephine Fanning walked into the bedroom where a loaded weapon was on top of the bed, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said. The child picked up the gun and fired one round, which killed Josephine Fanning.

Alcohol was present at the gathering, Helm said. Daniel Fanning was not on duty at the time of the shooting.

The gun fired by the 4-year-old was Fanning’s personal weapon and not a police gun, Helm said. The 4-year-old was a relative of Daniel and Josephine Fanning, police said.

The TBI will continue investigating and turn over its findings to the district attorney’s office, Helm said. Charges aren’t pending.

“(It) appears accidental at this time,” Helm said.

Daniel Fanning was hired by former longtime Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe, who resigned last year to become executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association.

3) WBBJ (ABC affiliate in Western Tennessee) (April 8, 2013)

Woman Reportedly Shot by her 2-Year-Old

CARROLL COUNTY, Tenn.- Carroll County Sheriff Deputies are investigating after a new mother was hospitalized for a gunshot wound to her stomach, Sunday.

Carroll County Sheriff Andy Dickson told WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News that the mother Rekia Kid, 22, was shot in the stomach by her 2-year-old son at her Lavinia home, Sunday. Investigators said the mother was sleeping with her three-week-old baby and toddler at the time of the shooting. Dickson said they believe the toddler accidentally shot his mother after finding a Glock 9 mm stored underneath Kid’s pillow.

“I’ve been with the Sheriffs Department for 20 years and never seen an accidental discharge like this. I have seen several accidental discharges but never one like this,” said Sheriff Dickson. “I would love to encourage any firearm owner to treat their weapon with respect, to keep it to where children can not get a hold of it.”

Neighbor Michael Jeter said somehow Kid was able to make it down her steps,across their yard to his front porch where his four year old son found her.

“She was laying on my porch bleeding and she was screaming that her 2 year old found their gun and shot her,” said Jeter. “It was horrible, I’ve never seen anything like that, I actually thought she was going to die right there on the porch.”

Neighbors banded together, Jeter said some held pressure onto the gunshot wound while others called 911.

“All I could think was the kid was still over there with the gun so I ran into her house, i didn’t know if he still had the gun or not,” said Jeter.

Jeter carefully went back into the house, and grabbed the toddler to safety. Then his wife then ran in to get the newborn baby out of the bed.

“She just kept screaming that she didn't think she was going to make it, she didn't think she was going to make it and to please please take care of my children,” said Jeter.

After hearing that it would take a while for an ambulance, neighbors formed a plan and helped carry her to a car. Jeter said a neighbor drove her at least 30 minutes to the nearest hospital in Milan. Sheriff Dickson said the neighborhood’s quick reaction to get Kid to a hospital saved her life.

“She lives in a remote area of the county and it would have taken a long time for an ambulance to get there,” said Dickson. “So I think she made a wise decision to put her in a private vehicle and carry her on.”

Deputies said Kid was airlifted to the MED, Regional Medical Center at Memphis, where she is currently listed in serious but stable condition. Authorities said Kid’s spouse was away at guard training in Trenton when the shooting happened. Neighbors said she was left with the children at home without a phone.

“If it wouldn’t have been for everybody out here coming together I don’t know that we would have got her took care of, it was completely scary,” said Jeter.

Dickson said per protocol they've notified the Department of Child Protective Services to investigate.

4) Toms River Patch (April 9, 2013)

UPDATE: Toms River 6-Year-Old, Shot By 4-Year-Old, Dies

“There were other weapons,” chief says as police continue to investigate scene of Monday night tragedy

JERSEY SHORE– A Toms River 6-year-old who was shot in the head by a 4-year-old died Tuesday, according to Toms River police.

Brandon Holt died almost a day after he was shot in the McCormick Drive yard of the 4-year-old.

Other weapons were found at the scene of the Monday night shooting, according to Toms River Chief of Police Michael Mastronardy.

Mastronardy said that the boy obtained a .22 caliber rifle from inside the residence. The state Division of Youth and Family Services were also called to the scene because there were three other children in the home.

The parents were “nearby” when the incident occurred, the chief said. The mother of the 4-year-old called 911.

The 6-year-old was flown to Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune with a head injury and was in serious condition until around 5 p.m. Tuesday, the chief said.

The shooting occurred in the Cedar Grove area of the township, according to Toms River schools Assistant Superintendent James Hauenstein, who received the news during a New Jersey School Boards Association meeting Monday night.

The children were outside the home when the 4-year-old boy went inside to get the rifle, and then shot the 6-year-old about 15 yards away, the chief said. Mastronardy did not say if the 4-year-old pulled the trigger, or if the rifle accidentally discharged.

The 4-year-old’s parents were home at the time, but no names have been released.

Authorities were on scene at a McCormick Drive home Monday night and had the yard cordoned off with yellow tape. Toms River police and county vehicles remained on the scene.

Hauenstein said that the victim is a student at Saint Joseph’s Grade School. He said that Toms River schools officials will be available to provide counseling services to students at Cedar Grove Elementary and Saint Joseph’s.

Like a bad late night infomercial, there’s more.

5) WSYX (ABC affiliate in central Ohio) (April 26, 2013)

10 YO Accidentally Shot & Killed in Marengo

MARENGO — The Morrow County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a 10-year-old boy in Marengo.

Sheriff’s deputies got a call from the home at 2957 County Road 107 just after 6 p.m. Thursday saying the boy had been shot.

When they got to the home, they searched it and questioned the people inside at the time of the shooting.

Sheriff’s detectives are not releasing any other details about what they have gathered from the scene, but they say it appears the shooting was an accident.

No word on how many people were inside the home, or how the gun was fired.

Deputies are also not releasing any names associated with this shooting.

6) KATU (Oregon) (April 22, 2013)

Boy, 4, dies of gunshot wound in Donald, Ore.

DONALD, Ore. — A four-year-old boy died of a gunshot wound in his home Saturday, investigators said.

It happened in Donald in the 10000 block of Main Street NE at around 5:30 p.m.

Cody R. Hall died from a single gunshot wound, Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Don Thomson said. Investigators on Saturday said the shooting appeared to be an accident. They are not looking for any suspects in connection with Hall’s death.

The medical examiner’s office said an autopsy is scheduled for Monday. Investigators have not released any details about how the boy was shot.

Word of the tragedy spread fast in the town of 1,000 people where crime scene tape is almost unheard of.

Neighbor Art Wiles knows Hall’s family well. He said the boy’s father and uncle returned from a fishing trip Saturday evening. The shooting occurred while they were unloading their gear.

“They hadn’t been home for five minutes, and they were unloading their fishing gear, when somehow it happened,” Wiles said. “Very loving family with their kids. Very careful with their kids.”

Chuck Baker also lives nearby. He said he’d see Hall every week.

“I’d see the kid in the window, he’d wave at me and I’d wave back. Big ol’ smile and everything,” Baker said.

Saturday, he saw the boy’s mother in a panic.

“She came out of the house and she was hysterical. Shaking and crying and all that,” he said. “Really heartbreaking.”

Neighbors left flowers and candles near the home Saturday night.

Hall’s death is the second accidental shooting death of a young child in our area in the last week. On April 14, nine-year-old Shayla Shonneker was shot and killed in her back yard by a stray bullet in Oregon City. Her mother’s boyfriend was inside the home practicing drawing a gun when it fired, investigators said. He does not face charges at this time.

7) The Oregonian (April 15, 2013)

Oregon City police identify 9-year-old girl, shooter in Sunday's accidental shooting death

Oregon City police have identified the 9-year-girl accidentally shot and killed Sunday as Shayla May Schonneker, a fourth-grader in the Gladstone School District.

Police also identified the shooter as Joseph Wade Wolters, 32, the live-in boyfriend of Shayla’s mother.

Lt. Jim Band, Oregon City police spokesman, said investigators plan to search the home Monday and have not yet finished interviewing all the witnesses. He said the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office would determine whether to file charges against Wolters.

Band said Shayla was playing out in the backyard of her home near 12th and Division streets around 5 p.m. Meanwhile, Wolters was practicing holstering and unholstering a loaded handgun, in preparation for his new job as an armed security guard with an armored transport company.

The gun accidentally discharged, shooting through the wall of the house and striking Shayla in the face, Band said. She was about 50 yards away from the house.

Shayla was rushed by helicopter ambulance to OHSU Hospital, where she died shortly after arrival.

Shayla was a student at John Wetten Elementary School, which was rocked by grief Monday. Gladstone School District Superintendent Bob Stewart said the district has activated its crisis-response team and has established a safe room for both adults and students.

“Many people on our staff were highly impacted by the news because of the close relationships they establish with the students,” Stewart said. “We have made counselors available for anyone who wants to talk this over.”

Stewart said Shayla was a student at John Wetten since kindergarten.

Band said Wolters was arrested in 2007, after going absent without leave from the U.S. Army. However, Wolters, a decorated Iraq War veteran who already had been honorably discharged, was released as soon as the mix-up was discovered.

Wolters received about 10 medals during his three years of Army service. He currently is a member of the military reserve.

8) KSN (Kansas) (April 15, 2013)

Salina boy dies after shooting accident with family

SALINA, Kansas  – A 7-year-old Salina boy died Saturday night after accidentally shooting himself Friday afternoon.

Gavin Brummett was shot in the head while handling a handgun with his dad and brother on their rural property near Salina.

Saline County Sheriff’s officials said that’s when Brummett’s father heard two shots and saw that Gavin had shot himself. He was rushed to Salina Regional Health Center, and then airlifted to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where he died.

Deputies say the incident highlights the importance of extreme caution with firearms–especially around children.

“Just the basic firearm safety,” Rick Heinrich of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office said. “Where the parents are with the child and supervising very closely watching what they do and working with them and having that close parental supervision right there with them.”

Sheriff’s investigators are awaiting the results of an autopsy on Monday and will be holding a briefing then with more information.

Family friends have set up a memorial page where people can donate to a fund for the Brummett family to cover funeral expenses and other incidental costs.

9) WLTX (Columbia, South Carolina)

Coroner Identifies 3-Year-Old Shooting Victim

Sumter, SC (WLTX) - The Sumter County Coroner has identified the three-year-old boy who was shot and killed Tuesday.

Harvin Bullock says the boy was Qui’ontrez Moss of Georgia.

Moss was visiting the Magnolia Manor Apartments on Pike Road when the incident took place.

A preliminary investigation determined the child found a gun and shot himself. Police are still investgating [sic] what led up to the incident.

No charges have been filed in the case.

10) The Dispatch (North Carolina) (May 1, 2013)

Sheriff: No charges to be filed in accidental shooting

No charges will be filed in the accidental shooting that landed a 10-year-old in the hospital Friday afternoon, Davidson County Sheriff David Grice said Wednesday morning.

The sheriff said a neighbor who lives about 1,200 feet away from the residence of the child, Zack Reno, was performing maintenance to his weapon when the accident occurred. Deputies were dispatched to the shooting that occurred in a field in the 1000 block of Clark Road about 4 p.m. Friday.

“We located the individual who did the shooting,” Grice said. “He was shooting from his front porch. He fired one round after cleaning his gun in what he thought was a safe direction and hit that kid.”

The sheriff said deputies have reviewed the case with representatives from the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office and do not believe charges are warranted. The man’s name will not be released, the sheriff said.

The sheriff previously said it appeared the boy and another juvenile were showing their uncle a hole in a field when all of a sudden Zack felt a sting. The bullet, the sheriff said, entered and exited the boy’s hip before traveling through his arm, where it stopped. The boy was treated and released at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

There is a strip of woods between the field where the boy was shot and from where the man fired, Grice said.

“He was unlucky that he got hit, but he was lucky he got hit the way he did,” the sheriff said of Zack.

So that makes 10 children, under the age of 12, who were either killed in accidental shootings and/or who shot someone accidentally (well, I guess, the number is really 12 because two stories involved two kids each, one being the shooter and one being the victim) all in the month of April 2013. Plus a bonus accidental gunshot victim of survived.

But no, we don’t have a problem with guns in America, do we?

Before reading the story about the Kentucky boy who shot his sister, I’d never heard of a Crickett Rifle. They tout themselves as “quality firearms for America’s youth”. Because that’s just what America’s youth need: Guns. Oh, and when I went to read a little bit about Crickett firearms, imagine my surprise (not) to find that they even make a cute pink rifle.

crickett-22lr-pink-synthetic-rifle-552x165 And apparently people actually buy these sorts of pink rifles for their children (and, yes, I noticed that the gun in the picture below is not the same model picture above; and, no, I don’t really give a shit):

After posting the above photo, I came across this even crazier image (and the caption indicates that the child has been using her M4 carbine since she was 9):

pink6005 Yeesh. But I do like the fancy dress with the pink assault rifle.

Oh, and this image too:

color1483 What do you think? Is that gun going to keep her safe … or is it going to put her and her family at greater risk? Hey, I’m going through the moodiness of a teenage daughter right now. I can’t fathom what that would be like if she was armed with an assault rifle!

So anyway, back to the main point. Children are finding guns. And wounding or killing other people, including other innocent children. And some adults, people who should know better, are “accidentally” shooting children. Apparently, the boy in the field was simply “unlucky” that some idiot with a gun fired off a round into the wilderness without first making sure that, you know, there weren’t any people in the direction he was aiming. Unlucky.

I recognize that enhanced background checks wouldn’t have stopped these tragic events (probably). Nor would a ban on assault rifles or high capacity magazines or any of the host of other gun control laws that are being discussed. On the other hand, it also doesn’t appear that restrictions on violent video games or better mental health screening would have stopped these events either. The only things that might have prevented these tragedies would have been parents who took better care of their guns or fewer guns in the first place. The NRA may say that it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun; but what does it take to stop an innocent toddler with a gun?

For every Sandy Hook there are many, many more incidents of “accidental” shootings involving children. Think about how many times you’ve heard or read about children finding a gun and “playing” with it with an outcome of one child being wounded or killed. It happens far, far too often in our country. According to a study by

Every two hours, someone’s child is killed with a gun, ei­ther in a homicide, a suicide, or as a result of an unintentional injury. In addition, an unknown but large number of children are seriously injured — of­ten irreversibly disabled — by guns but survive. Major urban trauma centers are reporting an increase of 300 percent in the number of children treated for gunshot wounds; in fact, one in every twenty-five admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the United States is due to gunshot wounds.

Parents should realize that a gun in the home is forty-three times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than a burglar or other criminal. To compound this problem, depressed preteenagers and teenagers commit suicide with guns more frequently than by any other means.

Read that one statistic again: “one in every twenty-five admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the United States is due to gunshot wounds.” (Emphasis added.)

If children were being wounded or dying this frequently in car accidents, we’d probably consider mandating special safety seats for them to sit in. If they were being injured in bike accidents, we’d probably consider doing something to encourage them to wear helmets. If their toys were choking them or injuring them in some other way, I have no doubt that we’d find ways to reduce or eliminate those injuries, too.

Apparently, though, as long as the injury is caused by a gun … well, then it’s an “accident” and that’s just too fucking bad because “tyranny” and “freedom” and shit, right? It seems clear that we value the rights of adults over the lives of children. I don’t know about you, but I’m more than willing to inconvenience and adult here and there if it would help prevent more kids from, you know, dying.

Update (May 7, 2013): I just posted Guns in America: “Just One of Those Crazy Accidents” (update) which (sadly) includes another child killed in an accidental shooting in April 2013 (a 5-year-old girl killed by her 8-year-old brother) as well as some information about Crickett Rifles taking down their website (but leaving up the companion Chipmunk Rifles website which also markets to children).

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