Friday, April 23, 2021

Red Flag

 His mother went to the police, explaining that her son became angry, struck her in the arm with a closed fist and told her to "shut up" when she had asked what he was going to do with the shotgun he had just purchased. She went on, telling authorities that her son was planning on pointing his unloaded weapon at police who would shoot him. "This is not the life I want to live, I'll end it my way," he was reported as saying at the time. Hearing this, officers went to the home and placed the young man in handcuffs, at which point he became anxious and asked them "Please just turn the power strip off on my computer. I don't want anyone to see what's on it." What was on the computer was a number of white supremacist web sites, according to one of the officers on the scene.

This information comes to us from an incident report dated March 20, 2020. More than a year a go. The young man who was the focus on this investigation was Brandon Hole. You may be more familiar with the incident report from last week that included eight dead and several more injured when he arrived at his former place of employment, FedEx, with a rifle that was loaded. It was not the gun that officers had been told about a year ago. That one had been confiscated and young Brandon had been placed on immediate psychiatric hold and taken to a hospital for further evaluation. 

When Mister Hole arrived at the FedEx facility, he was carrying two rifles. And a good deal of ammunition. These were purchased in July and September of 2020. Only a few months after his first, unloaded weapon had been seized by police. The rifles he used to shoot and kill eight were taken from the scene by responding officers.

At this point, it would make a tragic ironic point if one of those officers was the one who filed that first report. That was not the case. When police arrived, they were not initially aware of the identity of the gunman. No, it was only after the smoke had cleared and the bodies carted away that hindsight began to kick in. One of those bodes was the now horrifyingly appropriately named Mister Hole, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Apparently he achieved his stated goal from a year ago of ending it his way. The terms had changed a bit over the course of a year, having negotiated the purchase of two new killing sticks. Indiana, the state where Brandon added to the long list of statistics, has a "red flag" law, limiting the purchase of firearms by individuals who display a threat to themselves or others. And wouldn't you know that his particular brand of threat failed to raise that red flag. The rifles were purchased "legally." 

Would it make a better story if one of those responding officers chose to leave the force and become a gun control zealot, campaigning for more common sense limits on the instruments of death that have become a fixture of our American culture? Well, that would be a nice story, wouldn't it? 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Rocket Science

 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration flew a helicopter on Mars the other day. Maybe this doesn't seem like a big deal. After all, the trip to the Red Planet took several months and lasted several months. The helicopter flight lasted thirty-nine seconds and didn't go much of anywhere. Except it took place on another planet. 

Hello? Another planet.

Okay, not impressed? Let's try this one: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Americans are receiving vaccinations at a rate of more than three million doses a day. That means that more than half of the adults in the United States has had at least one of two shots to protect them from COVID-19. That's a pretty Herculean effort considering that just a few months ago those numbers were much smaller. Like way more smaller. Tiny, even. 

Yes, there are more than five hundred million Americans who died before this push for protection became a thing to vaccinate. And the question of wearing a mask can still start an argument. But half the adults in the country have been given at least one shot? 

Be impressed. I am. 

So with all this scientific progress going "Boink" here in these United States, why do you suppose we can't figure out a way to keep its citizens from shooting one another with guns? Why isn't there a force field available to take away the innocent victim factor? Why is it when there is so much energy expended every day trying to preserve life that some angry idjit can end it with a squeeze of a trigger? We can fly a helicopter on a distant planet, but we as a nation seem to be completely flummoxed by what to do with the guns we continue to insist on carrying around "just in case." 

The really sad news here is that since our Founding Fathers first made it part of the Constitution that we needed to bear arms, the technology that accompanied those arms has done nothing but become more sophisticated. And deadly. Not the muzzle-loading musket of the eighteenth century. While we have been working so very hard at figuring out how to fly to other planets and synthesizing antibodies to fight disease we have also discovered new and better ways to kill one another. 

We just haven't applied our big monkey brains to figuring out how to stop killing one another. It cant' be that hard.

It's not rocket science. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

It's An Exhibition, Not A Competition - Please No Wagering

 Okay, so Godzilla versus Kong. Why can't they just get along? Well, if you bother to listen to any of the inane dialogue that hangs on the edges of the next computer generated outburst from the giant ape or the giant lizard, there is some sort of ancient rivalry between the two. They're both titans, after all, and you can't expect titans to go for very long without wanting to clash with one another. 

It's the way of the world. Or the world described by the room full of screenwriters who toiled over the story of this film. Eight of them hammering away for a year in hopes of generating a story that would captivate the audiences who have shown a predilection toward watching giant monsters wreaking havoc in various metropolitan locales. And yet I expect that the guy who did the motion capture for the big ape was still at times stuck on the green screen set, wondering aloud, "What's my motivation?" 

It used to be that all it took to get Kong into the mood to tear up a city was to take his blonde girlfriend away. Now, decades later, we are burdened with some legendary feud that continues on between monsters of a certain size. We know this because of the scientists of various stripes who seem to have made a study of such things. One has gone so far as to make the conjecture that the earth is really hollow and that's where giant lizards and apes came from. And where they should eventually return. 

And if this starts to remind you of some of the nonsense spouted by the scientists in the Pacific Rim films, then you get points for caring that much. But not much else. It's just a way to lavish more money on computer generated backgrounds in which computer generated monsters can romp about. Until it's time to crush a few dozen skyscrapers, at which point it will become necessary for the titular beasts to resurface and destroy (checks notes) Hong Kong. Considering the geopolitical instability of that area currently, having this battle royale in the city limits constitutes overkill, but I'm sure the folks in Tokyo and New York City were just as glad to get a breather on this one. 

I do believe that there is sufficient titan-ish action in this film, judging by the completely extemporaneous appearances of human beings around the edges. The little girl who can speak sign language to Kong. The group of conspiracy chasers who find their way into the lair of the evil genius who has some half-baked plan about controlling Godzilla, and the guy I mentioned earlier who just wants the world to support his belief in a hollow earth. It's all that chatter that ends up getting lost in the roars and spittle of lizard and ape. 

Which is exactly what got my son and I to sit down on the couch on that sunny Saturday afternoon: Godzilla versus Kong. If I told you how it turns out, you'd still want to see it for yourself. If you wanted to see it at all. Just do yourself a favor. Don't bother listening to it. It makes about as much sense as a giant gorilla engaged in some ancient blood feud with a giant radioactive lizard. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

License To Kill

 I have this idea: You can own as many guns as you like, but if you own a gun you have to give up your driver's license. This is my suggestion in the wake of the most recent in a series of mass shootings that have left dozens dead. One of the things that these events have in common was that the shooters all got it into their heads that they needed to drive somewhere to kill others. Some were strangers. Some were co-workers. All of them were perceived as victims. Eight in Atlanta. Ten in Boulder. Eight more in Indianapolis. These were the most high profile cases. Certainly having access to a gun made all of the shooters capable of carrying out their crimes, but without a car their access to target rich environments would have been severely limited. 

Or eliminated. 

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold drove to Columbine High School to carry out their ugly plan. If they had been stuck at home, waiting on a ride, that mess never would have happened. Imagine how different things would be if all these idiots with AR-15s had to take public transportation. Or walk. At the very least, the folks on the receiving end of their murderous impulses would have been much more likely to see them coming. And I'm pretty sure that no self-respecting or self-preserving Uber driver would feel comfortable picking up some loony with his tactical vest and extra ammo strapped to him. Sorry, gun nuts, you're just going to have to pick your targets a little closer to home. And since these guys tend to be "quiet and kept to themselves," maybe it's best that we keep it like that. 

My suggestion is clever in this way: It doesn't ask us to change the Constitution. That can never happen. Instead, we just ask the Department of Motor Vehicles to step in and be the bad cop. Which is fine, since the DMV has never really been known for bringing good news to those they serve. So, instead of having restrictions on your license like corrective lenses, you just get a big red "G" on the middle of your identification, telling the world that you prefer firearms to motor vehicles. I understand that for many this will be a difficult choice, seeing as how the open road and capping off a few rounds go together like a cheeseburger and a large order of fries. 

Sacrifices have to be made. 

And don't you think it's about time that those sacrifices didn't have to be innocent victims?

And yes, I know that this is a very silly suggestion. But in lieu of what we have come to refer to as "common sense" gun laws, I guess I felt like this couldn't hurt. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Thoughts And Prayers

 Hey kids! Remember God's little elf, Pat Robertson? He kind of slipped into the cracks a little while back, which might have something to do with his age, which is ninety-one years young. You may remember him from such hits as threatening Walt Disney World for holding "Gay Days" - “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you … It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.”

Or maybe you remember, “If enough people were praying, (God) would’ve intervened. You could pray. Jesus stilled the storm. You can still storms.” This was in response to the swarm of tornadoes that pummeled the Midwest in 2012.

How about the advice he gave to a woman whose husband cheated on her?  "Like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander."

Yes, these quotes are all a little old, and it could be that time has changed the views of the leader of the 700 Club. Well, just last week, he opened his show by speaking on Minnesota police officer Kim Potter's shooting of Daunte Wright. "If you can't tell the difference in the feel of those things, it's crazy," and Potter "deserves" the consequences of her actions. He was holding both a handgun and a Taser. "You know, I am pro-police, folks. I think we need the police, we need their service, and they do a good job, but if they don't stop this onslaught, they cannot do this." 

"This" would be the killing of innocent civilians. Civilians of color. This spokesperson for the righteous went on: "And the thing that's going on in Minnesota about that Derek Chauvin. I mean, they ought to put him under the jail, he has caused so much trouble by kneeling on the death of George Floyd, I mean on his neck. it's just terrible what's happening."

Okay. This is clear enough for Pat Robertson to see it clearly. 

Pat Robertson. The guy who, ten years ago asked, "What is this "mac and cheese"? Is that a black thing?"

That's the level of sensitivity we're talking about here, and he still gets this one. Pray for the rest of us, Pat. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Over And Over

 How about this: Do-over.

I'm an elementary school teacher. The do-over is an integral part of any day that needs less confrontation. Rather than stand in the middle of a playground, hands on hips and chests thrust out arguing the finer points of four square and your mama. How about we have a do-over, and just move on? 

Easy. Unless there are those who are prone to getting mired in the do-over process so there never is any resolution, just endless do-overs because the solution is never satisfactory to both parties. 

But what if there was a way to go back in time and have a do-over on this whole COVID-19 thing? Last March if there had been a shutdown of the entire country and masks had been worn by everyone for three months, a hundred days, a time period prescribed by science, maybe there wouldn't have been a year of heartache and embarrassment. States were left to fend for themselves and make their own regulations which caused neighbors to look across the border and wonder why they had to wear masks when their friends in Montucky were going without. 

And what if the geniuses who made loud proclamations about the hoax of a pandemic were not amplified by other geniuses who only served as a hollow tube through which sound could be made louder? How many thousands of lives could have been saved? Should have been saved? Instead, we did everything we could to cling to the notion of "normal" even as things turned to abnormal in just a matter of days. If every government official who scoffed at the idea of an extinction type event was required to sit with the families of the victims of this disease, maybe there wouldn't be a need to argue about it. 

Do-over.

Go back to the beginning. Assigning blame was first on the tiny minds of those in charge back then. If that energy had been channeled into protection and cures, we might not be staring at a second, third, or fourth wave. The greedheads who insisted on keeping the economy moving in spite of the human cost could go somewhere and count their money for a few months while the rest of the planet got themselves out of the way of the virus. 

What if schools remained closed until they could be used as something other than experimental daycare stations so that "essential business" could take place? What if nobody had to go out until it was safe? This includes motorcycle rallies and holiday trips to grandma's house. 

It could have been different. 

It should have been different.

I want a do-over. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Look Out 'Cause Here It Comes

Even as we watch the trial of George Floyd's murderer, we are reminded that the problem that made this fodder for twenty-four hour news networks continues. Seemingly unabated. The pepper spraying of a uniformed Army medic by Virginia police hardly had a chance to gain traction before the shooting of Daunte Wright by officers in Minnesota. 

Meanwhile, little time was wasted on finding the irony of connecting schools reopening and school shootings. A student opened fire in a Knoxville high school, wounding a police officer responding to the scene. That young man was subsequently shot and killed. Earlier in the day, Knoxville police responded to a domestic dispute that ended with the shooter killing his estranged wife and her mother before returning to his home and shooting himself. With all that tragedy going on, a local TV station got its footage of  helicopters responding mixed up. The news anchor's response: "I forgot about the other shooting." 

Not really surprising, since every bit of this takes place in front of the mural in which we have been living called COVID-19. Once we passed half a million dead, the next milestone felt like it would be one million. And isn't that just how the math of these things go?

When one person dies, it is a tragedy. When dozens die? When hundreds? Half a million? Eventually you become desensitized to the carnage. In my lifetime, I can remember casualty counts being part of an evening newscast. David Brinkley bringing  you the latest from the war in Vietnam. Maybe that was the origin of the "if it bleeds, it leads" tactic employed by news organizations. Fifty years later, we sit transfixed as the numbers swell. The guy in Kentucky wounded one and was shot himself? How does this count as a mass shooting? As if we were rooting for a body count.

It would be cynical to suggest that a story in which it turned out that everyone got away safe would bring a wave of disappointment across a newsroom. Worse yet if that wave crested in your living room. Every life saved is a win. Every day that goes by without a murderous rampage is a good day. Seldom do we hear about the man or woman who died happily in their sleep, surrounded by family. 

It happens all the time. You might not know it when you live in twenty-first century America. Which I suppose is why we have cat videos. When the world is pushing its daily dose of decimation at you, it's nice to know that you can click on a few minutes of cats trying to squeeze themselves in to spaces far too small for them. It doesn't make the murder go away. But it does offer a pause.

Take it.