The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘homicide’ Category

A FAREWELL TO ARMS–AND COOKING

Whether it’s first rate sushi, shabu shabu or teppanyaki style cooking, I really enjoy Japanese cuisine.  Alas, I fear my days of being able to enjoy them in this country may be marked.  That is truly tragic.

If you’ve ever been to a Benihana restaurant then you’ve experienced teppanyaki cooking.  The meal is made at a counter where the master chef, with great flair, prepares your meal on the griddles that are in front of him, placing your food on your plate with a cleaver.  Part of the joy of seeing a teppanyaki meal being prepared is watching your chef throw his knives in the air, juggling them and then catching them as he then applies himself to slicing your shrimp or chicken or filet of beef.

A wonderful teppanyaki meal is both delicious and at the same time you get a show which makes an evening out less expensive and more filling than buying a ticket to see Cirque de Soleil.

Recently our esteemed Attorney General, Eric Holder proposed creating “smart” guns which would only be able to be discharged if the actual owner held and fired the weapon.  Naturally, our government will supply some of the cash to help bring about this technology.  If you’re not in the military and might have to pick up someone else’s gun to defend yourself, on the surface I guess that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.  Naturally, we will have to round up all the thugs and their illegal weapons, retrofit them, and then return them to their owners in order to get this plan to be really effective.

It is understandable that in the wake of multiple shootings, most recently the one that occurred at Ft. Hood in Texas, that once again we turn our attention to the issue of gun violence.  If there were a workable solution to this problem, I would be the first in line to support it.  And although at one point in my life, I pooh-poohed the statement that, “Guns don’t kill people – people kill people,” I have to admit that as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully a bit wiser), I do see the merit of that comment.

Several days ago in Murrysville, PA a high school sophomore came to class, armed with several of his family’s kitchen knives, and then used them to slash or stab twenty of his fellow students and a security guard.  At this point there is no known motive for his behavior.  He is described as a “quiet young man who seemed to get along with his fellow students and teachers.”  That didn’t preclude him from going on a rampage for whatever reason.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities as a result of this attack.  But there might well have been.  After all, knives – even if they are designed simply for preparing meals – can be misused as this episode demonstrates.  Does that mean that Atty. Gen. Holder should proscribe their use in society?

Consider another potential hazzard to society, unveiled and documented for us by Hollywood. In sequel after sequel moviemakers have shown the potential for violence that the useful chainsaw can cause if it falls into the wrong hands.

Or let’s consider another recent event.  In Houston, Ana Trujillo was convicted of killing her boyfriend and today was sentenced to life in prison.  Her weapon of choice was one of her 5-1/2” stiletto heels.  Watch out shoe manufacturers.  Your product might well become the subject of lawsuits since you are apparently foisting on the unsuspecting, fashion conscious, unregistered lethal weapons.

Our world is fraught with danger.  I simply didn’t realize how readily available “weapons of individual destruction” were in our Discount Shoe Warehouses, Home Depots and Sur la Table stores.  But at least one good thing came out of these tragic stories.

Now I understand why, in traditional Japanese restaurants, they ask you to remove your footwear.

CULTURAL BARBARISM

As I was driving Gracie back from the dog park this morning I was listening to the Guarneri String Quartet perform Dvorak’s Op. 96 No. 12 best known as “The American” string quartet.  It happens to be one of those pieces I would take with me were I to be marooned on a desert island, so I was enjoying the experience.

As we waited for the light to change, a late model pickup truck pulled alongside us.  I couldn’t tell you who the “rap artist” was, but the driver had cranked this cacophony up to maximum overdrive.  I am not sure whether this particular piece qualified as “Gangsta Rap” or was an example of the genre in its purer form, “Crap Rap.”  I do know that I rolled up my windows, closed the sun roof and could still feel the beat from the woofers pounding at me.  When the light turned, I purposely waited a few seconds to allow the other vehicle to move down the street ahead of me so that I could escape this noise and go back to enjoying the string quartet.

While I realize that there is no accounting for taste – or lack of it – I can’t help wonder what sort of effect listening to a steady diet of rap with its mostly demeaning lyrics must do to an individual’s psyche.  Or perhaps the psyche is already predisposed to wanting to listen to this type of stuff and is merely finding an expression for its own ideas and feelings.

When we returned home I enjoyed my coffee and some yogurt and Gracie enjoyed her morning treats.  I sat in the back yard watching Charlie the mockingbird, who is a regular visitor, perch on the wall, waiting for his morning treat.  So I went in to the pantry and set out his raw oatmeal which he seems to enjoy more than traditional bird seed.

He and Gracie have reached a sort of détente.  She isn’t quite sure why I tolerate his presence and I suspect he wonders why I tolerate having such a massive canine in the house – but other than staring at each other they have come to an understanding.  Would that humans could do as well in the way of interpersonal relations.  And I went back to thinking about the fourth movement of the Dvorak, my favorite movement in the quartet.

After some time re-playing the music in my mind I decided it was time to start the day as it was already 7:30.  So we went upstairs and I turned the news on the television.  As it happened two stories caught my attention.

The first was that a new video game, “Grand Theft Auto V” had been released and attained sales of $800 Million in a 24 hour period of time.  After I did a little checking I was able to discover that it sells for $60 a copy – so over 13 million people purchased this game.

The game, of course, extols those who have mastered the art of car theft and it does so in an extremely violent manner.  Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why a car is stolen in this country every 44 seconds – and less than 12% of those who are responsible are ever apprehended.

The second item which aired a bit later in the morning was that the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis apparently enjoyed playing video games – sometimes for as long as 15 hours at a time.

As you may recall, on Monday the media leaped all over the shooting.  Virtually every station first reported that the weapon that Mr. Alexis had used was an assault rifle – and most pointed out that it was the same weapon used in Newtown.  They were wrong.  Not only were they incorrect with their “facts,” which seems to be a secondary concern for most of our news sources, but they are wrong as to their underlying assumptions as to the cause of these mass murders.  They insist on citing guns as the cause rather than looking at the persons who are standing behind them and pulling the trigger.

Mr. Alexis was a mentally disturbed man who needed help.  He didn’t get it and as a result 12 innocent people died.  Whether or not his absorption in playing video games contributed to his condition is anyone’s guess.  But I think a reasonable assumption is that it might well have aggravated his mental problems.  Perhaps banning violent video games will be the next thing on the agenda for our liberal friends, though I doubt it.  It doesn’t fall within the purview of their agenda.

Mom used to say, “You are what you eat.”  The same is probably true of how our minds are fed – whether that is with positive or negative nourishment.  So to start your day right, I’ve attached the Dvorak for your enjoyment.  Be well.

AND ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA

It seems that we just start recovering emotionally from one mass shooting and another occurs – this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, D. C.  The latest news is that thirteen, including the alleged shooter are dead and as many more are injured.

If you are a rational person as I believe I am, it must be hard for you to wrap your mind around this senseless violence.  The suspect is described as a Navy veteran with “mental problems”.  That he had some unresolved issues is obvious from his actions today.

The media will spend a significant amount of time over the next few days describing the details of the shooting as things are sorted out.  We will hear about possible motivations on the shooter’s part.  We will learn more details of his life than most of us want to know.  And after all is said and done, twelve victims will still be dead and twelve families will mourn their tragic, untimely passing.

At times like this, I have to turn off my rational self and try to find some solace in what has always been my escape when confronted with chaos.  That something is music.  So I spent a good portion of today listening to music.  That always helps to settle my disturbed thoughts.  I would like to share one of those pieces with you, music by the Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins from his work, “The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace.”

The portion of the Mass that I have selected is the Benedictus – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.”

I hope that peace and safety are with all of you.

GET A LIFE

Perhaps I’m wrong, but the first time I recall hearing the phrase, “Get a life” was back in the ‘70’s.  At that time it meant that an individual was not “living up to potential” (a phrase from the ‘50’s).  In 2013 it has taken on a totally different meaning.

On Friday, August 16, 2013 a twenty-two year old Australian man, Christopher Lane lost his life in Oklahoma as he was out jogging while on a visit to his girl friend and her family. Three teenagers shot him in the back and killed him.

When the oldest of the three assailants who were arrested was asked why they had done this, the 17 year old said, “We were bored and decided to kill somebody – for the fun of it.”

It’s hard to make sense of an accident that results in the loss of life.  It’s simply impossible for me to make sense of something like this.  It’s beyond my understanding to comprehend the kind of a mind that considers another life so trivial that it can be snuffed out to remediate boredom.  This taxes my feelings about civility and charity toward others and giving a person a second chance.  I know that is a failing on my part.

There is no need to foment the issue of racism which has already been brought to the boiling point by the media.  And I know that in this case Al Sharpton and other racists will be totally silent.  Nor is there any need to bring up the “stand your ground” laws and whether those deter or encourage crime.  Chris Lane was white, unarmed and the victim and, like Trayvon Martin, nothing will bring him back to life.

But it is time to ask some serious questions. “Why have the news media barely paid attention to this murder?  Does it not meet their profile of the violent racist agenda that whites have for our black brothers?  Is that the same reason that the incidences of black on black violence are so frequently glossed over by them?”

Until those in the media fulfill their responsibilities of providing news that is even, balanced and complete, we will have more Trayvon Martins and more Chris Lanes.  Perhaps, in some of those cases, the only ones who will mourn them will be their friends and family.  There will be no organized marches to avenge the deaths of those slaughtered.

But if the editors of our papers and those who produce our news programs don’t themselves, “get a life,” we will continue to live in a society where three bored teenagers, just for fun, will continue to take them.

HOW STUPID IS DUMB?

I had begun go write this post (in a slightly different variation) the other day but as things would have it, other news events, notably the Zimmerman trial and its aftermath got in the way.

Then there’s also my effort to clean up my emails when I went on mental sabbatical although I’ve got that down to under 5700 and have set a goal for myself of reading them all by Labor Day.  I’m attacking them in most current date of receipt first – so don’t be surprised if a month or so from now, I comment on a post you put up in March.  This is a challenge as I get 60 – 80 new ones per day and those also need attention.

Well, back to the post.  The reason that it came back to mind was a news story about my former home town of Chicago and a vote of the City council – but we’ll get to that.

A few blocks from my home in Chicago was a wonderful deli, The Flying Lox Box.  Absolutely terrific pastrami and no ambiance anywhere in sight.  Not only was it a favorite of many who lived in the east part of Hyde Park, it was a preferred lunch stop for some of Chicago’s finest who patrolled the area.  Between the University of Chicago police and the CPD, we had a lot of law enforcement patrolling the area.  As a result of all this patrolling, the neighborhood had a reputation as being one of the safest places to live in the city.

Of course, there’s always some ungrateful cretin out there who asks a question like, “If it’s so safe, why do we need all these police?”  There’s simply no pleasing some people.

Over time, some friends and I got to know a number of the police patrons at “The Box” as we affectionately had abbreviated its name.  One of those was a sergeant who had the girth of a Jackie Gleason and the wit of a Robin Williams.  We loved it when Sgt. Adolph (his first name) would regale us with stories of his 28 years on the force.  There was no question that if he hadn’t gone in to law enforcement he could have had a successful career in stand up comedy.

As I was nibbling at my dill pickle and picking at the pastrami that exuded from the overstuffed rye bread, he told me and the friends whom I had met for lunch at the deli about a call to which his car was dispatched when he was early on in his career with the force.  It was a call that he didn’t want to get because it was a matter of domestic violence which had occurred at the Cabrini-Green housing projects.

While Cabrini-Green was not the most violent of Chicago’s ghetto housing projects, (that distinction belonged to Robert Taylor Homes), it was right up there in the top three.  At the outskirts of Cabrini-Green was one of the best rib joints in Chicago – Farmer Brown’s, which was a business owned by a black family.

When you walked into Farmer Brown’s you noticed  there were no tables.  The business was take out only.  And it was hard to miss the foot thick plexi-glass which extended from the top of the counter to the ceiling to prevent armed robbery.  After placing your order, the person who had taken it would push out a long, deep metal tray into which you dropped your money.  They would give you your change in that same tray and a few minutes later your order would be packaged and dropped in the tray as well.

Apparently, the owners deemed this method of doing business prudent after the third time they were robbed and one of their employees shot – though, thankfully, not fatally.

So that was the environment near Cabrini-Green and the monochrome, cheaply constructed buildings housed even worse.  No cop wanted to go there because there was a high probability that answering a call in the projects would result either in a medical leave from the force or a funeral.

But my friend Adolph and his partner responded, as was their duty, to the call.  Ms. Smith had reported that her boy friend was “beatin on her.”

When the two of them got to the Smith apartment, they knocked on the door and identified themselves as CPD, Ms. Smith quickly opened the door and let them in.  They could see that she had indeed been beaten.  The area around her left eye was severely swollen and she had a cut in her skin which she was trying to stop from bleeding with a kitchen towel.

“Ms. Smith, do you know who did this to you,?” Adolph asked.

She said, “I told the oprator it was my boyfriend, Lavell.”

“Do you know where Lavell is now?”

“He in the bedroom.  He drunk an I think he pass out.”

“In order for us to arrest him, it will be necessary for you to come with us down to the police station, give us the details of what happened and to file a complaint against him,” Adolph said.

“You mean you gwyne arrest him?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, no, no, no.  Don’t do dat.  I don’t wan Lavell arrested.”

“Well, ma’am, that’s what we have to do. He obviously beat you.  Has this ever happened before?”

“Cupola times – but not so bad as dis.”

“Well, ma’am, it seems like Lavell is a violent man and is going to keep on beating you if we don’t put him away.  Don’t you see that?”

“Yeah, but he don’t beat me so frequent – mebbe evry cupola months.”

“Ma’am, if you don’t want us to arrest him, why did you call?  What is it that you want us to do?”

Ms. Smith looked at Adolph and his partner.  As he described it, a sheepish grin came over her face and she said, “Mek him say, he love me.”  And she drew out the word love for a few seconds.

As Adolph concluded the story, I think all of us who heard it were stunned that any human being would react the way Ms. Smith did in this situation.  But we were not so shocked when we heard the P. S. to this night in Cabrini-Green.

It appeared that Lavell was not only Ms. Smith’s boyfriend.  He was her pimp.  She was one of twelve young women in his stable.  And a year later, when he tried to expand his business empire into drugs, was found shot dead – a bullet through his head.

I have often thought that in order to understand another person, her thinking, her dreams, her motivations you had to be that person –if only for one day.  When I hear stories like this one, I cannot even begin to fathom how the Ms. Smiths of the world see their lives.  Do they know there is more out there than whoring and being beaten?  Or is their universe so circumscribed and limited because they are merely doing the same thing that everyone around them is doing and experiencing the same thing that everyone whom they know experiences?

There was a very good reason that in the deep South before the Civil War, all states which permitted slavery expressly forbade that a slave be given an education.  An ignorant population was an easily manipulated and controllable population.  If you look at the literacy rates and the number of high school dropouts within our urban black ghettos, not much educational progress has been made since those days.

There is virtually no way out of this cycle of economic and moral depravity for the women who were born there – and for the men the only paths are pro sports, becoming a drug dealer or pimp or having a career as a rap or hip hop star.  So when we hear comments from our pro stars that could well have been uttered by the late Lavell, are we surprised at the sorry truth of the statement, “You can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy?”

What we need to do in this country is forget this nonsense about racism – because it is not racism with which we are dealing.  What we have is a problem in classism and those who have created this problem through their policies (primarily whites) do not want to acknowledge their failure; and for those who are black and middle class. business people and professionals. the pain of realizing but for the Grace of God, they might also be another statistic on the police blotter of one of our major cities is too frightening and so they too ignore the problem.

Though I have no evidence to support this, I doubt that among either the black or white congregants who will amass at the behest of Massa Al Sharpton this weekend, armed with signs and hoodies to protest “American injustice” you will find many who will leave those rallies and return to their hospital, resuming their duties as an ER physician or go to work in their own small business.  I suspect that most of those involved in the rallies have no work to which they could go, (and quite probably have no desire for a change in their unemployment status).

They are the manipulated but they are so undereducated I believe that they honestly feel they are pursuing a God-like and virtuous cause.  As did those who stood in front of the guillotine as the nobility were dispatched from this world one by one.  And they cheered and held up the severed heads and celebrated – until there were no more of the oppressive upper class to murder and so the Angel of Death expanded its grip on the mob and turned on them as their heads fell into the basket.

We live in an “instantaneous gratification” world.  But problems that are deep-rooted in decades of history cannot be resolved with the stroke of a legislative pen – no matter how brilliant or well-meaning the author.  A people that has been in bondage may have their shackles removed, but it will take time for them to understand how to live as free men and women – and to understand what society expects of them.

But if we continue to address the symptoms rather than trying to find a cure for the disease, we merely momentarily assuage the problem – but will never eliminate it.  And that brings me to the City of Chicago’s council meeting today.

“The Chicago city council voted unanimously on Wednesday to toughen its existing ban on assault weapons by adding more types of guns to the banned list and imposing stiffer fines for violations of the law.“

In 2012, Chicago recorded 532 murders – an all time high.  Do you know how many of those were committed with “assault weapons?”  None.  Do you know how many fines were collected for violating the gun ordinances that were on the books?  None.

So a thinking person might reasonably ask, “If a particular form of firearm is not being used in the commission of murders, why would banning other instruments of that same class help reduce the number of homicides that are occurring?  And if the City is not collecting fines for the illegal possession of guns, how will raising the amount of the fines contribute to a better, safer community?”

Unfortunately, this kind of mindless thinking is not limited to Chicago.  It is rife throughout America today.  And while the people who pass these sorts of ordinances are stupid, it is we, the electorate who vote them into office and who keep them there who are truly the dumb ones.

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