Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

I have always appreciated when excellent word smithing matches up with equally marvelous music. And, the pairing need not come from one person, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin demonstrated time and again.

One of their clever songs came off John’s 1972 “Honky Cat” album. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is John’s matching Taupin’s direct lyrics about a time in New York City, when it was less safe than it is today. The story is Taupin heard a gun shot outside his hotel room and penned a song to reflect his angst. John wrote sad, but reminiscent music which he sings so well.

Here is the middle portion of the song including its famous chorus.

“This Broadway’s got
It’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I’ll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown, in New York City

Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light”

Several references stand out. The commuters of all persuasions not knowing if it is dark or light. While they may have Mona Lisa painted smiles or the hypertension of a Mad Hatter, they do feel safety in numbers or in a cadre of friends who serve as a port in the storm.

The other reference is to Broadway which offers a glitzier image of New York, a polished apple, so to speak. New York has been reborn, but there was a time when the city needed its underbelly to match the hype. It took a lot of effort through leadership and consistency but is once again quite the destination. I am reminded of the story of a paint crew who would paint over graffiti overnight, then do it again. The consistent effort was symbolic revealing more than an attention to detail,

Maybe we should update the song to reflect our Mona Lisa smiles and Mad Hatter hypertension on social media.

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Question for gun owners

Since legislators are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs, I felt the need to pose the issue on better gun governance to gun owners. Doing nothing is obviously not the answer, although that seems to be the course too many advocate. My newspaper was kind enough to print the following letter to the editor, with a few edits. Please feel free to adapt and use if you concur.

“After yet another mass shooting in America (this time in my home town), in addition to three shootings over two days in Charlotte, doing nothing to address this issue is not working. I believe we can still honor 2nd Amendment rights and enact better gun governance. I have shared with legislators the suggestions that have majority support in the country. My question is for gun owners – what do you suggest we do to govern the ownership of a device designed to kill? We govern car ownership to keep the driver, passengers and others safe. Surely we can add better governance to gun ownership.”

Since I wrote this, there was another shooting incident in Charlotte this morning at an elementary school. Fortunately no one was hurt. Our law enforcement do a highly credible job, but stopping gun violence is extremely difficult in America.

We should listen to rational experienced voices

In 2002, Jim Webb penned an op-ed in The Washington Post cautioning the US about going into Iraq. Who is Jim Webb? He is a former Marine, Secretary of the Navy and US Senator from Virginia. He has a law degree from Georgetown and has been a member of both political parties serving under multiple Presidents.

Two paragraphs from his pre-invasion op-ed piece are telling:

“The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world….

Other than the flippant criticisms of our ‘failure’ to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.”

It should be noted we have been in Iraq for  over fifteen years. Maybe, the chest beaters should listen to those who have fought and have experience rather than people who understand less what fighting and occupying a country mean.This was a crossroad moment in our history and we have not been the same since. Many thousands of American and allied troops died, even more Iraqi troops and civilians died, our reputation has suffered and our debt is much higher. Plus, he was right on the money about American influence being impacted around the globe. Lying to allies and others about weapons of mass destruction has that kind of effect, not to mention misunderstanding the landscape.

Right now, almost 200 former military and intelligence officers have penned letters being critical of the US President’s decision to withdraw security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. This follows earlier criticism of the same President on his siding with Russia over his intelligence officials or not heeding the advice of his more experienced folks.

Call me crazy, but maybe we should listen to the more rational and experienced voices? They may be telling us something we need to hear. We owe it to Amercans fighting for our county to take the time to get it right.

From the mouths of those who ardently support the US President

I must confess, I do not expect many pearls of wisdom to come from a Donald Trump pep rally. The purpose is to get a supportive crowd riled up. The use of truth is irrelevant and unimportant. I am certain some truths find there way in, but per The Washington Post, at a rally in Montana, the rate of lying was a whopping 76%. That is actually higher than his recurring rate of 69% as measured by Politifacts.

Many of Trump supporters are fine people. To say otherwise is unfair. But, the blind acceptance of anything the man says does give me pause. The blind acceptance that all criticisms of the man are fake is equally troubling. Then, there are the more strident people. The Guardian interviewed several at last week’s Wilkes-Barre pep rally.

Among several interviewed, who felt the President was doing an “A+” job noting his accomplishments without a lot of context, there was one that stood out. One man, who will remain unnamed is very happy with how Trump is treating the rest of the world. I will leave off an extra pair of quotes and refer to him by (the man), but the next three paragraphs are from the article, with the offensive words modified.

“He said ‘grab ’em by the p***y’. And I get exactly what he meant by that. Grab these countries where they’re weak. Take them down if they want to think we’re weak. Grab ’em by the p***y,” (the man) said.

The Guardian pointed out that Trump was talking about women when he was recorded making those remarks, but (the man) was steadfast.

“Well, they thought so. But I took it in other ways. Grab the whole world that’s against us by the p***y bring them all down if they don’t like us, fight us. Grab them by the p***y. Get them in their weak spot.”

I am greatly offended by this man’s remarks. Like the offensive US President, after being pointed out that he was mixing metaphors, he doubled down on the insulting (and off base) language. I recognize fully this is one man. And, while  he is more offensive than others would or might be, the sentiment is probably widely felt in that audience.

Yet, let me focus on the meaning of the man’s words. Bullying and placing tariffs on our allies does not make America great. It makes America alone. We cannot shrink to greatness, which we will continue to see in the many months ahead, if changes are not made. As I have said before, bullying our friends is far worse  than the actual tariffs, so just fixing the tariffs won’t undo the damage of breaching good faith and trust. So, this metaphor is not only offensive, it is misguided. It causes other leaders and businesses to consider non-US options for customers and suppliers.

But, this metaphor goes beyond the bullying. This man is saying it is OK that Trump can speak of doing this to women. Per twenty women, this type of sexual misconduct is an example of what Trump did to them. One or two accusers is one matter, but twenty is more than a trend. And, he is on record (after denying it repeatedly), that he is aware of at least two payoffs for affairs on his current wife. So, using Trump’s highly offensive “locker room talk,” which I have never heard in any locker room, but especially ones which Trump might frequent, is flat out insulting.

These folks may think Trump can do no wrong. I strongly disagree. He is a daily embarrassment to decorum and the office of the President. He chooses to demean anyone who dares to criticize him, including the press. Then, there are his policies and actions, when reviewed in context, do not paint the same picture as these supporters contend, with or without offensive metaphors.

Let’s fix the larger gun death problems

Mass shootings are very tragic and heart wrenching. Homicides are also tragic. Yet, the biggest gun problem and another tangible and avoidable problem make up between 60% and 70% of annual gun deaths in America. The lion’s share of gun deaths in America are suicides. Last year, over 23,000 of the 38,000 plus gun deaths were suicides. This ratio is not unusual and tracks pretty well year in and year out.

The other much smaller, but more avoidable gun death problem is accidental shootings. And, tragically the ones doing the shooting or getting killed are children who come across a weapon. To lose a child is the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine. But, to lose one because you did not put away your gun, is even more traumatic. The gun owner has to live with the guilt. While accidental shootings are about 2% of gun deaths, they seem to be ones we should be able to avoid irrespective of one’s fervor for the 2nd Amendment.

After each mass shooting, there is concern registered by kids and parents about not letting this happen again. The people for and against more gun control go into camps with some saying now is not the time, while the others asking when is the time. I must give a huge amount of credit to the Parkland kids and others around the country who are forcing action. But, outside of a little lip service in Washington, nothing tangible happens. They may regret inaction come November.

These past few months, the barest of minimum change was done, but there was the President of the United States speaking before the NRA convention last week. He was the one who taunted Congress representatives for not standing up to the NRA. These were obviously just words, which we should be used to by now. With this said, I do give kudos to Florida who acted a little more demonstrably than DC.

To prevent more suicides, background checks on all sales with elongated waiting periods are needed. Doctors must be permitted to ask patients if there is a gun in the house as the propensity for suicide is much higher than one without. All it takes is an impulse and it is over. We must add more psychologists and counselors to schools. The greater gun risk is a depressed student taking his or her life. And, we should expand Medicaid in the remaining 18 states along with its mental health benefits.

As for the accidental shootings, the majority of states require guns to be locked up at home, but why do not all states have such a requirement? I have shared this before, but I asked my father-in-law to lock up his weapon, as I did not want his grandkids around a loaded weapon. He did so. One idea that has merit is requiring a finger printed trigger, where only the owner can use the weapon.

Please note that none of the above speaks of taking weapons away. These steps would help reduce the number of suicides and accidental shootings. Even if the number is only 100, 500 or 1,000, those are lives saved. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

 

 

I am evidence – real sexual assault cases are lagging

One of the longest running shows on American television is “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit” starring Mariska Hargitay and a terrific ensemble cast. The SVU investigates and hopefully solves heinous sex crimes in New York City. Unfortunately, real life SVUs are woefully understaffed, underfunded and behind.

It is not ironic that Hargitay has co-produced with co-director Trish Adlesic a documentary film called “I am evidence,” which focuses on efforts to remedy a US backlog of over 200,000 untested rape kits. That is not a misprint. The film is co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir and focuses on efforts in Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Only eight states require the testing of every rape kit – Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. This boggles my mind as women who have been sexually assaulted and beaten went to great pains to be tested after being raped.

Two of the focal points of the film are Wayne County (Detroit) Prosecutor Kym Worthy and a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland named Rachel Dissell, who each brought attention to the backlogs in their two cities. With a spotlight on these travesties, gained funding and oversight, they are making huge headway in their local problems. But, it is more than local as many of the DNA samples have revealed serial rapists and repeat offenders  across state lines.

Many of these untested kits are ten years and more overdue. It also became clear by not testing these kits, more woman were raped. One rapist was a truck driver who raped many women across the country for years. And, in one chilling example, one serial rapist would abduct, hold, abuse and kill his victims. When arrested, the police found multiple women’s bodies in his home. One of the victims was able to escape an earlier abduction.

Letting the previous paragraph sink in will likely make you ill. The scarcity of resources is appalling. It also led to a prioritization of cases often based on race and notoriety of the victim. Worthy noted rape kits should be tracked, since these victims went to a lot of effort and remained unclean for hours as they were subject to tissue and semen sampling and verbal examination. One women said she was made to feel guilty as she answered questions – why were you there at that time, eg?

Worthy noted “If you can track a package when you order something from Amazon, then certainly you should be able to track a victim’s rape kit through the criminal justice system.” Is that too much to ask?

The good news is the progress that is being made. It is never too late and it goes without saying lives are being saved, some dignity restored to the victims and future rapes can be avoided. Please download “I am evidence,” and watch this important film. We owe it to the current and potential victims. And, as one oversight committee member noted, the success rate on testing the kits made every dime well spent as the DNA data leads to convictions and takes a rapist off the streets.

 

Knife wielding suspect subdued (and lives)

The title gives the climax away, but that is not the whole story. A man wielding two knives was threatening people in the halls of his apartment complex.

Three police officers showed up and told the man they had a taser and asked him to put down the knives. After a lengthy discussion and pleas, one officer moved toward the man who lunged at the officer and was tased. Remarkably, the man kept trying to knife the officer, who was able to avoid getting stabbed. The man was taking away to face a court date and jail time.

There are two other keys to this story. It was in Australia, not the US. In Charlotte last year, a man wielding a knife was shot dead by police with nine shots. I understand police have a difficult job, but the eagerness and frequency in which assailants are shot seems much higher here on the US. Plus, the number of shots stymies me – nine, eleven, sixteen shots are too representative.

The other issue worth noting is the man was white. I often use the story of how a 65 year old white man was disarmed by Detroit police after an hour conversation. Tamir Rice, an adolescent black boy, was killed within two seconds due to the toy gun he was carrying. Why? Why is there such haste to unload a weapon when the alleged perpetrator is black?

We must do better at addressing these issues. The police are doing a hard job, made harder as they don’t know who is packing heat and what firepower such heat has. I believe this adds even more tension to any police encounter where there is uncertainty. And, race plays a huge factor. Another black man was gunned down at a Walmart by police yesterday.

We cannot overtrain police at identifying threats and de-escalating tense situations. And, we must treat every shooting like the pilots investigate crashes. We must be transparent and learn how to avoid poor or hasty decisions. Other western countries do not have our overall and police gun death rates. We must do better.