Pot: The Real Culprit In The Arizona Shootings

10 01 2011

Jared Loughner, belligerent stoner-assassin extraordinaire.

As his contribution to the epic blame-game following the Arizona massacre, conservative pundit David Frum has brilliantly pointed out what all of us were thinking, but just not saying: 22-year-old Jared Loughner went on a shooting rampage because he was stoned.

Frum writes:

After horrific shootings, we hear calls for stricter regulation of guns. The Tucson shooting should remind us why we regulate marijuana.

Jared Lee Loughner, the man held as the Tucson shooter, has been described by those who know as a “pot smoking loner.”

He had two encounters with the law, one for possession of drug paraphanalia.

We are also learning that Loughner exhibited signs of severe mental illness, very likely schizophrenia.

The connection between marijuana and schizophrenia is both controversial and complicated. The raw association is strong:

  • Schizophrenics are twice as likely to smoke marijuana as non-schizophrenics.
  • People who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who do not smoke.

But is correlation causation?

Increasingly experts seem to be saying: “Yes.”

Yes, Frum. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t come up with it first.  Despite the fact that guns are currently legal in Arizona and marijuana is not, that Loughner reportedly gave up drugs entirely more than a year before the shootings, and that marijuana is an incredibly, profoundly demotivating drug, I find it extremely likely that Lougher’s past experiences with pot smoking played a larger role in causing him to mass murder people than the fact that he is an anti-semitic, mentally ill white supremacist with easy access to semiautomatic weapons.

In fact, the last time I smoked pot, I distinctly remember thinking to myself: You know what would be hilarious and awesome? If I went and bought a machine gun right now and sprayed bullets into the heads of all the asshole politicians out there.

Then I got up from the couch, walked over to the kitchen, found a half-empty bag of cheese puffs, returned to the couch, ate them, and listened to Dark Side of the Moon in my imagination.

But that’s just me. Jared Loughner, who is being portrayed as a “left-wing pothead” by the right-wing media (because that makes a ton of sense, considering that he violently assassinated one of the only moderately liberal politicians in his wildly conservative state), probably had a very different reaction to that spliff he smoked back in 1999 than anyone else on the planet has ever experienced, and it would be irresponsible of us to misdirect our attention toward the pr0blem of easy-access guns and violent rhetoric while all these belligerent stoner-assassins continue to be allowed to freely roam the Southwest, plucking their musty bounty of chronic from the bushes along the Mexican border.





The Problem of Cultural/Racial Guilt and Accountability

14 07 2010

This is a touchier topic than I normally tackle, so I will try to write about it without offending anyone.

A Jewish friend of mine  moved to Berlin a few years ago, met a German woman and had an adorable baby with her.  He is now officially a German architect and, while he acknowledges that he would like to move back to the U.S. at some point, he has put down roots in Germany, learned the language, and started a business and family there, so he probably won’t be leaving any time soon.

I had dinner with his mother a few weeks ago, and she expressed that it has been hard for her to come to terms with the fact that her son has chosen to build his life in Germany, considering what the Germans did to many of their ancestors.  How can he live there and not constantly be reminded of the Holocaust?

I expressed my thoughts on the subject to her, and I will express them again here.

I am not Jewish, and thus cannot claim to understand what it is like to have relatives that were killed or persecuted in the Holocaust. But I am not sure there are many places on Earth you can live where horrible, large-scale, unspeakable atrocities have not happened, including America.  How can a black man live in Mississippi and not think about slavery or the lynchings and abuse that occurred there at the hands of white plantation owners?  How can a Japanese person live in Pearl Harbor and not be reminded of the atomic bomb that killed his great-grandmother in Hiroshima?  How can a Native American person celebrate Thanksgiving, knowing that that holiday celebrates a time when the English settlers actually murdered many of the natives, spread diseases and stole their food?

I think it’s unfair to associate Germany and all the modern people living in it with the Holocaust, just like I don’t want to be associated with slavery and racism having grown up in Louisiana.  I fully believe that, given the right conglomeration of socioeconomic and political circumstances, what happened in Germany could have happened anywhere.  It could have happened here, or in France, or in Brazil.  But Hitler wasn’t in any of those places; he happened to be in Germany at a time when the country was politically unstable and susceptible to his charisma and bizarre ideas.  It was a perfect storm, and it was devastating and unthinkable, but it should not continue to implicate the people who are living on that random piece of land.

There also seems to be line of thinking (entirely aside from the interesting conversation I had with my friend’s mother, which did not go here) that those who currently belong to an ethno-geographic group that persecuted and oppressed another ethno-geographic group at some point in history should remain accountable for those atrocities in some way or another.  What do today’s white Americans owe to today’s black Americans to atone for centuries of persecution?  What do today’s Germans owe today’s Jews?  Should we carry the guilt or victimization of our ancestors, or should we all be able to start with a clean slate?

For one, I would like to draw a distinction between keeping alive the memory of an atrocity that happened and actually assigning blame to people who had nothing to do with it.  Johann Althausen, the perfectly nice 25-year-old German guy who loves pickles and hates tomatoes and was born in a random hospital in Munich 1984, had nothing to do with the fact that thousands of innocent people were murdered at Auschwitz decades before he was born, even if it was his great-grandfather that ordered those killings.  I believe that he should make an effort to learn about the Holocaust, to understand what happened in his country and why and how horrible it was.  I believe that he should take that knowledge and channel it toward ensuring that he and his future kids live lives entirely devoid of violence and racial and religious prejudice.  But I don’t think that he should spend his life having to apologize or somehow make up for the Holocaust, just because he happens to be German.

I feel the same way about the racial situation in the States.  Yes, we should absolutely acknowledge centuries of racial oppression and persecution and those consequences that still linger and we should continue to teach our children about it so that they can learn from those mistakes.  But should I carry the guilt of my ancestors’ actions just because I’m white, when I have spent my own life in an entirely opposite way?

No, obviously, I shouldn’t.  I will join the fight for equal rights.  If African-Americans are pissed because “nude” or “flesh” colored bandaids are universally the color of white people’s skin, well, shit.  I agree.  “Nude” should come in a range of shades, because people do.

But if you want me to be understanding when the “New Black Panther Party” intimidates voters in Philadelphia because, well, it’s only fair after years of persecution and denying your people suffrage, then no.  Those voters at the poll are not the same people that counted your ancestors as 3/5 of a person and fought to uphold slavery, and they do not deserve your wrath or revenge.  Further, your displays of racism and psychological abuse at the polls makes you no better than those people you’re so angry with, so how can you continue to convince yourself that you are fighting for a good moral cause?

The longer we continue to keep the strife and resentment and anger towards entire ethno-geographical groups alive because of events that happened long before we were born, the more likely it is that similar events will continue to repeat themselves.





Death by Firing Squad: Cool, or So Five Minutes Ago?

18 06 2010

Convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner received the death penalty in 2004.  He was allowed to choose his method of death, and he picked firing squad, because the law hadn’t changed yet in Utah.  So at 12:17 am this morning, he was tied to a chair with a big white target on his chest and shot at by a number of anonymous police officers who had volunteered for the task.

People have been protesting this like crazy.  According to a WSJ article, “The American Civil Liberties Union decried Mr. Gardner’s execution as an example of what it called the U.S. ‘s ‘barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment.'”  And John Knefel wrote in an article for True/Slant, “Now, I’m against all forms of Capital Punishment because I’m not a barbaric sociopath, but even if you’re in favor of Capital Punishment, certainly death by firing squad must strike you as cruel and unusual.”

First of all, how is firing squad more cruel or unusual than lethal injection or electrocution?  People seem to be saying, “Look.  It’s one thing when you strap a man into a chair, stick a bunch of wires to his body and fry the shit out of him with electric currents while people watch through a window, but shooting him in the chest with a bunch of guns is just way over the line.”

…Riiiight.

Second of all, why do all these protesters not also have a problem with us taking our firing squads overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan and shooting random “threats to society” over there?  Just because we don’t have to see it?  Or because these people aren’t American citizens, so ‘cruel and unusual’ doesn’t apply to them?  Or because a random dirt-poor dude with particular political and religious affiliations in Afghanistan is a far more imminent threat to our personal safety than a convicted murderer who’s already on American soil?

All I’m asking for is some consistency here.  Are we fine with shooting people we perceive to be dangerous, or are we not?  If not, end the death penalty and bring home our troops.  If so, then stop being such a hyprocrite and deal with the fact that this is what a firing squad looks like.  We see it once every 20 years in America– Afghani citizens see it every day.





Glenn Beck Hates on Michelle Obama, I Hate on Glenn Beck.

27 05 2010

Too sexy for Glenn Beck!

Glenn Beck–a self-proclaimed bastion of Christian values– has taken it upon himself to critique the First Lady’s fashion choices on his radio show.  Alluding to a Drudge Report picture of Michelle Obama wearing a formal blue dress at a recent state dinner (which Drudge headlined “Sex in the City,” disparagingly), Beck ranted:

“She looks positively like she’s trying to be some Greek statue.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first lady with her, with her– excuse the expression– breasts all smushed up. I mean what is that?…I saw that picture and I was like, what is that?  I mean it’s like a Greek statue.  Just bizarre.”

Now, I am forced to watch Glenn Beck at work every afternoon, and I have trained myself to just tolerate/ignore him instead of pulling my hair out and screaming at the TV like I used to.  He’s a raging idiot, but he’s so crazy that his craziness doesn’t even offend me anymore.  You know that junkie-alcoholic on the corner that preaches about Jesus into his megaphone and tries to hand out Bibles, and everybody just walks by and tries not to make eye contact?  That’s who Glenn Beck is to me.

But when he starts flapping his gums about Michelle Obama not dressing conservatively enough, it really makes me want to find him wherever he is and smack him across the face.  Did he seriously say that her breasts were “all smushed up?”  That is wildly inappropriate, not to mention weird.  Stay out of the First Lady’s breasts, you creepy troll.  She looks fantastic, confident, vibrant, and she backs it up with more intelligence and wit than I’ve ever seen in a First Lady, so more power to her if she wants to channel “Greek goddess” at a state dinner.

I’d say that I’m looking forward to the next time Glenn Beck’s wife steps out in an evening gown, but unfortunately the Obamas have way too much class to make a snide comment in return.





Sex and the Supreme Court

19 05 2010

Justice Scalia and Tom DeLay, just friends.

I am not Elena Kagan’s most enthusiastic fan, but seriously.  What is up with all the lesbian rumors?  It’s like the entire mainstream media is on a gay witch hunt.  Please remind me of how Ms. Kagan’s sexuality has any bearing on her qualifications as a Supreme Court Justice?

I just googled “Kagan lesbian” to see what kinds of headlines would pop up.  The first 5:

1) “Put a Lesbian on the Supreme Court Even If Kagan Isn’t” (BusinessWeek)

2) “Wall Street Journal Claims Ignorance on Kagan-Lesbian-Softball Connection” (Gawker)

3) “Excellent Blog About Elena Kagan and the ‘Lesbian Panic'” (San Francisco Chronicle)

4) “Elena Kagan Lesbian Rumor Smear Neither Smear Nor Rumor” (OutsidetheBeltway.com)

5) “No Lesbian on Supreme Court Shortlist?  Maybe, Maybe Not” (Towleroad.com)

The Wall Street Journal ran a photo of Kagan playing softball on the front page earlier this week under a headline that read: “Court Nominee Comes to Plate,” and suddenly the media and blogs were up in arms about the suggestion that she was a lesbian.  Because… softball = lesbian?  What are you, 12?

Conservatives (particularly the Christian right wing) try to make Kagan’s sexuality relevant by suggesting that, as a SCOTUS Justice, she will be pushing the “lesbian agenda.” I’ve done a lot of serious thinking on the issue, and I honestly can’t imagine what the “lesbian agenda” might be.  Will she push for (gasp!) gender neutral bathrooms?  Well I think that’s a great idea!  Is she gonna support gay rights and gay marriage?  I hope so.  So, forgive me for asking, but what exactly is the problem here?

What really saddens me is that women in politics can’t really win no matter what level of femininity and “normative” sexuality they display.  Women like Kagan and Hilary Clinton get crucified for their pants suits and lack of femininity, but if Kagan looked like Sarah Palin and had 9 children, the media would be up in arms about what a terrible mother she is.  Really, Kagan?  You have time to be on the Supreme Court when you have 9 kids to raise?  Don’t you have a husband to go home and bake for?

You know who does have 9 children?  Justice Scalia.  And I absolutely loved political pundit Michael Kinsley’s cheeky blog post on the subject:

Now that the sex lives of Supreme Court justices have become grist for commentators, we are finally free to discuss a question formerly only whispered about in the shadows: Why does Justice Antonin Scalia, by common consent the leading intellectual force on the Court, have nine children? Is this normal? Or should I say “normal,” as some people choose to define it? Can he represent the views of ordinary Americans when he practices such a minority lifestyle? After all, having nine children is far more unusual in this country than, say, being a lesbian.

Let me be clear: the issue is not the fact that Scalia has chosen to have nine children. That is his personal business. The question is whether he is an extremist advocate of the so-called “Nine Children Agenda.” Can he deal open-mindedly with children’s issues when he has so many himself? Can he persuade his children to recuse themselves when appropriate (or, in the vernacular, “Just shut up, will you? I’m trying to write an opinion here.  Sweetheart, could you please come and take him…stop climbing up my leg…watch it with that glass of water, buddy…no, that’s some condemned prisoner’s brief that daddy has to reject, so don’t …would somebody please take this kid…LOOK OUT for the… Jesus H. Christ, how am I supposed to get any work done”?).

Speculation is already rampant about why Scalia chose nine children over a more conventional lifestyle. Is he a sex maniac? That suspicion naturally arises. But perhaps once he started, he just never got around to stopping. Or maybe he just likes children. In recent days, Scalia’s friends have rushed to his defense, going out of their way to portray him as a model of sexual restraint.  “Every Friday a bunch of us used to go down to this bar to pick up women,” one of his college roommates recalls. “We’d always ask Nino if he wanted to join us, but he always said he was too busy studying. Frankly, we thought he was gay.”

Honestly, the choice to have 9 children worries me a whole lot more than the choice (or, non-choice) to be a lesbian.  Upon consideration, I wonder what this says about Justice Scalia’s logic and responsible decision-making abilities.  If you can’t get it together to use a condom, how are you going to be a wise and reasoned leader of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court?

Food for thought.





Mainstream Media Fail

10 05 2010

I heard last night that Obama was planning on nominating Elena Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law, to replace Justice John Paul Stevens in the Supreme Court. I don’t know much about her, so I decided to do some Googling and see what she was all about.

Instead of finding an objective portrait of Kagan and a reasoned evaluation of her potential as a SCOTUS Justice, as I hoped, I found the most ridiculously obvious display of media bias I’ve ever seen on the web.  Sure, you expect somebody like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh to skew everything to the right, just as you expect Rachel Maddow to view everything through a liberal lens.   But I thought FoxNews.com and ABCNews.com had to at least pretend to deliver unbiased news.

In ABCNews.com’s coverage of Kagan, they use a relatively flattering picture of her.  She’s kind of smiling a half smile, appears well-dressed, and has her hands spread out as if she is Jesus and the world is hungrily lapping up her words.

The headline reads, “Supreme Pick? Elena Kagan Gets Nod as Obama Nominee.”  And the article begins:

President Obama has selected Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his second nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, ABC News has learned.

If her nomination is approved by the Senate, Kagan would fill the seat left open by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens and become the fourth woman ever to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Kagan, 50, is considered one of the finest legal scholars in the country, dazzling both fellow liberal and conservative friends with her intellectual and analytical prowess but also her ability to find consensus among ideological opposites.

“She’s a solid, hard working, intelligent, really smart lawyer, who’s had an extraordinary amount of experience in the law even though she hasn’t been a judge,” said Greg Craig, former White House counsel, on “Good Morning America.” “Politically, I think she’s also as mainstream as they can get.”

We are left with a delicious taste in our mouths.  She’s supreme!  She’s a woman!  She’s dazzling and impressive!

Flip over to FoxNews.com.  Here’s the picture they use:

It’s about as unflattering as a picture can get.  Her skin is pale, her hair looks thin, and it appears as if she just picked a booger and is rolling it around in her left hand as she snaps at somebody off camera.  Directly under this picture on the front page, the teaser reads: “President Obama set to nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to Supreme Court, potentially making her the first justice without judicial experience in 38 years.”

The article reads:

If confirmed by the Senate, the relatively young Kagan– 50 years old– will fill the gap left by the imminent retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens.

The pick is hardly a surprise; as speculation over a handful of choices finally settled on Kagan over the weekend. Liberals and conservatives alike speculatively staked out positions on her nomination. Conservatives have already said Kagan’s confirmation would amount to a rubber stamp of the Obama agenda that many Americans are opposed to.

Hurdles for Kagan in her confirmation process could include the fact that she has never been a judge and her push to oust military recruiters from the Harvard Law School campus when she was dean. Kagan opposes the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Democrats, on the other hand, may like that Kagan is known for her ability to coalesce opposing sides and the fact that when she worked for President Clinton, she successfully negotiated with Republican Senator John McCain (AZ) for federal authority to control the sale of cigarettes.

Zero mention of the fact that she’d be the fourth woman ever to sit on the court, zero mention of her record of achievement, and the only mention of her being dean at Harvard Law is buried in a comment about her “ousting” military recruiters, because that’s sure to rile up Republicans.  The one positive thing they attempt to say about her is that Democrats might like her because she negotiated with McCain to control the sale of cigarettes.  Obviously conservatives are not expected to see this as a positive, but rather another example of her pushing Obama’s socialist agenda.

I mean, maybe I’m just pointing out the obvious here, but isn’t that a little disturbing?  Where can we turn to assure that we get a fair, objective report of political news? Is there even such thing?  What about people like me, who honestly don’t know anything about Elena Kagan and would like someone who is completely free of political agenda to tell me what she’s about, what her nomination means for the future of the court and which way she likely to vote on issues that matter to me?

Fox, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, if you are reading this: I’m pissed.  Please leave the opinionating to the blogs and give it to us straight.





Drill Baby Drill?

6 05 2010

People have been asking me all week why I haven’t written about the oil spill, and my answer was that I just didn’t know what to say.  I don’t have enough command of the issue to joke about it, and while I would love to just take up the popular liberal stance on the issue and write a diatribe about how disgusting offshore drilling is (See?!  See what happens when you don’t listen to us?), I would just be regurgitating other people’s opinions.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone really enjoys the idea of sticking a big machine in the water to pump oil out of the ground, especially after what happened in Alaska.  Obviously, if we didn’t have to do it, that would be preferable.  And I’m not saying we necessarily do have to do it– but I wanted to learn about the economic aspects of offshore drilling before committing my didactic opinion to the web.

At the beginning of this week, I found myself volunteering to write about the spill for HuffPost, only from the perspective of the fishermen and shrimpers who have essentially lost their jobs.  I conducted a bunch of interviews with men in coastal Louisiana whose livelihoods depend on the ability to fish in the Gulf.  I thought maybe it would give me a more balanced and nuanced understanding of the issue, since I’m constantly surrounded by like-minded liberals in D.C.  Here’s the article I ended up writing on the subject:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/05/gulf-coast-fishermen-join_n_564642.html

For those of you who won’t click on it, I wrote about a fisherman and a shrimper, Scott Leger and Rowdy Schouest, who have basically been financially screwed by the oil spill.  They talk about how huge numbers of fish and shrimp are going to die, and the 15,000 boats will all be congregating in one little lake to fish for the remaining bunch that survived.  Both of them have families they’re trying to support, and both of them are really afraid of the consequences this spill will have for the seafood industry and the Gulf Coast environment in general.  But here are the final two paragraphs of the article, which may surprise you:

Despite the huge hit the seafood industry has taken as a result of the oil spill, Schouest says a decision to stop Gulf Coast drilling would be even more detrimental to those who depend on it for a second income.

“We all rely on that oil revenue,” he said. “When there’s a bad season, we go work for the oil field. They were the only ones in this economy that were continuing to build. If it wouldn’t have been for the oil field after Katrina, we wouldn’t have had jobs through that rough winter. If you stop drilling, the oil spill wins.”

“If you stop drilling, the oil spill wins.”  This is obviously a very problematic comment, but the point is, there are some major economic consequences of discontinuing offshore drilling for a whole lot of people, and there’s also the whole “foreign dependence” issue, which I don’t know enough about to elaborate on.

My personal preference would obviously be to stop drilling if we could entirely switch over to clean energy.  But I don’t think the issue is so cut-and-dry.  I think it’s always easy for financially stable people to rail on about how to save the environment, but I want to hear a few suggestions about how to save the environment without canceling out the incomes of millions of struggling people.  Any takers?