‘Walk on the Wild Side’ ends for rocker Lou Reed, but the song lives on

louFrom Dennis Nealon’s blog

I know a little about Lou Reed, but only a little, really. Enough so that I felt sad about the revolutionary rocker’s passing earlier this month. Nothing like when John Lennon was murdered or when George “All Things Must Pass” Harrison died. But sad, nonetheless. Not a melancholy born of the inevitable passing of the man or the musician, necessarily, but one owed to a sentimental attachment to that smash-hit Reed unleashed on a generation – 1972’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” from Transformer, Reed’s second solo album, which was produced, incidentally, by David Bowie.

Because of “Walk on the Wild Side,” news of Reed’s death at 71 took me back. Such is the power of some songs. You know what they say: Each time you hear certain songs you remember the circumstances around the first few times you listened. “Walk on the Wild Side” is one of those tunes. If there were such a thing as the soundtrack for a teenager’s life in the early 70s, then “Walk” would have to be on it. At least it would be on mine.

Ask me what I knew about Reed prior to his death and I’d say three things: Some band called The Velvet Underground; “Sweet Jane;” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” That’s about it. I have one cassette tape (yeah, a cassette – tells you how much I kept up with his recording career) of Reed’s New York, which has a couple of good, clever songs, including, “Dirty Boulevard,” which caught my ear on the radio one day and lured me to go out and buy the tape.

But “Walk on the Wild Side” is one of those tunes that was seared into my mind when I was just into my teen years and, so, exceedingly vulnerable to the music and cultural moods and influences of those historic times. Never mind that I didn’t realize at first what the song was really about – that its characters and taboo deeds were based on colorful people who hung out with Andy Warhol and Reed; that the song was about a transvestite and oral sex.

When I hear “Walk on the Wild Side” even now I remember the very first time I heard it, sitting on the front steps of my family’s Cape Cod-style home in Massachusetts. There’s a lot going on or soon to be going on. It’s the year that the last ground units are leaving Vietnam. “Pong” introduces the video game craze. The Black September terrorists attack Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Bobby Fischer beats Boris Spassky. The U.S. launches a Christmas bombing campaign against Hanoi.

But this particular day is sunny. It’s mid-morning in the summer, and I am of an age where I am pretty much disinterested in the world at large. What I’m not disinterested in I am disillusioned by. I am full of dread for not having anything much to do. Too young for a job and too old for traditional games, I’m wondering about and pouting over what other kids might be doing and what I could be missing out on.

I want to be older, and fast, so I can drive and leave high school behind. My home and yard aren’t a home and a yard. They are a way station, like an airport terminal that I’m waiting in for a connecting flight to the rest of my life. I don’t understand it, but I’m pretty confused and insecure in general, owing to adolescence, and it seems as if a life, my life, lasts forever and ever, and not necessarily in a good way.

The heat of the day is just getting started. And it’s already too warm and too humid. I’m squinting – hard; the morning is too bright. The windows are fully opened in the house and in the cars speeding by, each with its own passing hint of a DJ talking, or commercial jingling or guitar hook playing. Maybe Bachman–Turner Overdrive.

And then I hear THAT song coming from the radio in my house. The double-bass intro with the electric bass and the upright bass overdubbed: boom, boom-boom, boooooom-boom…boom-boom, boooooom, boom…”Holly came from Miami, F.L.A (boom-boom); hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A…”

If you don’t know all of the lyrics, you know some of them, especially the then-scandalous lines about male prostitution, drugs, oral sex, and “the colored girls” that go, “Doo do doo do doo do do doo…” RCA released the single in the United States using an edited version of the song without the oral sex reference.

And then there’s the other highlight of this infectious song, that delicious, magical sax solo, which sashays and churns, and cuts to the soul, running in and around your brain’s auditory cortex until you feel like you could taste it and hold it.

Reed was as they say, a character. Angry, recalcitrant, feisty and uncertain, he imagined in his body of work a sound that might change or at least shake up the world. It didn’t. And he didn’t. His music never moved the masses. Just because he felt like it, Reed once recorded a double album of feedback and later told an interviewer that even he couldn’t listen to the thing all the way through. He had a following, though, and the history of music will cite his influence on the affectations and poses of a later legion of punk and alternative rockers.

I wonder if Reed was one of those musicians who grew to hate their biggest hit, who are understandably loath to perform that song over and over and over. Does “Walk on the Wild Side” haunt Lou Reed? Who’s to say? What does it matter now?

I remember a day all those years ago when the song rode out of my bedroom window on a soft, warm breeze, on a not so extraordinary morning.

Is it just fatigue? Or are we seeing with Syria a learned resistance to war?


From Dennis Nealon’s blog

Why the reticence is both rational and valid   

Most Americans don’t want a fight with Syria, according to recent opinion polls, and this reticence represents a couple of things. It suggests that the citizenry may be growing more rational and wiser, less willing to shoot and ask questions later. And it hints at a diminishing appetite for fighting in general and deepening disinterest in attacking another little-understood regime abroad.

The polls say that at least six out of 10 Americans oppose military U.S. involvement in Syria, a country of 22 million people that even with its geopolitically significant location is still far removed from the United States (5,884 miles) and overwhelmingly incapable of mounting any direct threat to U.S. national security.

Is this hesitance to respond militarily to the Syrian administration’s alleged use of chemical weapons a collective cry for a much-needed timeout or is it part of a larger, burgeoning evolution in Americans’ attitudes toward war – born of our considerable, post-WWII hangovers, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan?

History will judge that each of those conflicts failed to accomplish our nation’s stated goals and, combined, cost more than 60,000 American lives and trillions of U.S. dollars. And to what end? Together those wars occupied the United States for more than two decades. If we consider that America’s involvement in Vietnam began in earnest in the early 1960s, then this means the United States has been at war in one theater or another for almost half of the 50 years elapsed since. Again, we might ask, to what end? Throw in other assorted engagements like Kosovo and Libya and Grenada and it becomes easier to understand why Americans as a people might be wishing the fighting would just go away and our leaders would focus instead on major national issues, such as jobs, mass shootings in our own country, the multi-trillion-dollar deficit, education and infrastructure.

But suppose there’s more than exhaustion behind this new reluctance with Syria. Then other questions arise. Are Americans finally learning that they have the power to say “no” before Washington leads the country into war? Is the public realizing that it may have acquiesced too easily, too often and for too long? Are Americans becoming hardened and inured not only to war itself but also to our elected leaders’ explanations about why we need to insert our nation into conflicts around the globe?

Our country’s wars since WWII share some factors in common. Each had its trigger point, a rationale for engagement posited by the Pentagon and the White House. With Vietnam we had the second Gulf of Tonkin incident, which historians today agree was an extremely weak and perhaps wholly manufactured motive to begin a massive buildup and march to war in Southeast Asia. With Iraq we had WMD that apparently never existed. Again with Iraq and in Afghanistan we waged the so-called War on Terror. And while the Taliban may have been hobbled and Al Qaeda rocked off balance the results are still uncertain. We must wait to see the consequences of America’s withdrawal from those conflicts and if and how soon any suggested accomplishments vanish and cede to the status quo.

This much is indisputable: in each of these wars the United States has battled uncertain enemies for ambiguous reasons, amid a lack of clarity over who or what we were really trying to defeat. This sounds more than a little like Syria and the way a confrontation there is being set up for the American people.

So there are some commonalities. Nevertheless political scientists are correct to suggest that great care should be taken while comparing our country’s wars and incursions since WWII, because those wars are so dissimilar and rooted in entirely different sets of circumstances culturally and militarily.

It is interesting to note, however, that the initial reluctance on the part of Americans to support American involvement in Syria is not something that we witnessed with Vietnam, with Iraq, or with Afghanistan. At the outset of each of these conflicts, most Americans supported U.S. involvement. It took 18 months after the outset of war in Iraq in 2003 for Americans to brand that effort a “mistake.” With Vietnam, that break in public opinion took three years.

Now Washington has turned the nation’s sites on Syria, a country that is slightly larger than North Dakota, in the middle of a grotesque civil war, in the heart of the cauldron that is the Middle East.

If as the polls suggest Americans are wary of getting the United States involved in that conflict then this wariness seems warranted. It is rational and it is smart, if only because of the U.S.’s history of jumping back and forth on international alliances (Saddam Hussein was a U.S. friend when he was fighting Iraq and the Shah of Iran made more than a few cocktail parties in Washington before his atrocities became public) almost since the birth of the country.

Once again, with Syria, the enemy-to-be is not well known to the American people. People maybe know that Bashar Hafez al-Assad is a dictator whose closest ally is Russia. They sense that he’s a really bad guy, especially in light of the chemical weapons accusations being leveled by Obama. But what else do most Americans know about him? Or about his country? Or about the Free Syrian Army that the United States is supporting? Or about the half dozen or more roving bands of murderers who want to take over the country, some of whom videotaped themselves beheading Assad supporters with a kitchen knife, in public, with women and kids looking on? (Google Syria beheadings for more information). Some have suggested that the United States may inadvertently be supporting factions that are carrying out atrocities, or that a U.S. strike may help to serve their morally corrupt agendas.

The answer to the question, ‘what do we know about Syria’ is that we know what Washington is telling us. We know that we’re supposed to support a “surgical strike” and “limited engagement.” We are supposed to accept that bombing is alright so long as it’s neat and tidy, which it never is.

How little we’re being told about Syria was evident in President Obama’s September 10, 2013 address to the American people. His talk focused exclusively on the reported use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and the deaths of 1,000 Syrians, among them women and children. Calling for righteous international action, the President said nothing of the other atrocities being committed in Syria. He didn’t take the time to mention that Syria seems a country grossly out of control – a situation that the United Nations says cannot be alleviated through force or an infusion of weapons into the country.

Given that UN assessment, perhaps what is needed instead is the greatest criminal investigation ever conducted, on the ground in Syria. Put the country under a microscope and then use all of the technology available today to gather real facts. Explain the situation there in its totality. Before bombs fly or more murders occur, a humanitarian coalition of willing participants should go into Syria, act like a district attorney, as someone described it, and go after the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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Reaching the bottom of the Rabbit Hole

AliceHow our government has lost its way and is failing its people

American voters must get engaged and do what needs to be done democratically to retake their government and bring it back through the looking glass

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

Definition (Urban Dictionary): Go down the Rabbit Hole — An allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. To go “down the rabbit hole” is to enter a period of chaos or confusion.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Welcome to the bottom of the rabbit hole.

Inarguably, this is where we have arrived politically as a nation; where our leaders sworn to protect, preserve and defend us have taken the country. And sequestration, that annoying mother of all government mismanagement, is but one example of a political system that has passed fully through the looking glass, gone completely off the rails, run far past amok.

Hyperbole aside, it can be argued that our government in Washington is in ruins; that we have gone beyond the crisis level insofar as our leadership is concerned. There is plenty of blame to go around; the executive branch under President Barack Obama is supposed to lead. And it is not a leader. The President is too busy playing Cat’s Cradle with House Speaker John Boehner while Team Obama distracts with things like gay marriage and foreign affairs. This is like tinkering with and talking about your roller skates when your car is broken down in the driveway, its engine seized.

Ultimately the responsibility for the gross mismanagement of the country’s affairs and its myriad problems rests with the executive branch. No excuses. Of course it doesn’t help when the nation’s other elected representatives in Washington have taken leave completely of their duties and, one could argue, of their senses. What we have now is a Capitol and White House that deserve their own reality TV show; “Fear Factor” would be a good name but that one is taken. The plot line would read, “Follow along as the country’s elected representatives frighten the hell out of their constituents, refuse to do their jobs and frolic about on the road to Wonderland.”

Cutting federal spending is a good idea, as is worrying about our multi-trillion-dollar deficit. For too long the American public has been forced through ever-increasing taxation to throw good money after bad to sustain a huge bureaucracy that is as wholly unaccountable as it is enigmatic. As taxpayers we don’t know where the money is going or if it is buying any progress whatsoever. It is a good system if you don’t mind paying through the nose while having absolutely no idea what you are paying for. So cutting spending – logically – and trying to actually manage the budget is a good and sound idea. With sequestration, though, we have come to a point where the cutting could be mindless and automatic, drone-like. It is as if our leaders are confessing their ineptitude, throwing up their hands and saying we cannot make cuts intelligently so we’re just switching to automatic pilot; let irrational cleaving take the place of responsible management. A child with just tiny debts to address and a small allowance to apportion could tell us how little sense this makes.

Amid this sequestration lunacy we are witnessing the incredibly sad spectacle of Diane Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, trying to resuscitate the assault weapons ban – the sobbing parents of first-graders murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School by her side. One would think that the simple act of watching this drama would be enough to make Congress turn on itself and demand decisive action over the plague of gun violence that has taken this country hostage. Forget the so-called rights of civilian owners of military-style weapons; damn the gun lobbyists and selfish manufacturers of these killing machines. Instead our elected representatives in Washington, at least most of them, are still talking about the long-outdated Second Amendment and old regulations that have not worked. The response is nauseating. It is surreal. It is bitter cold in its unresponsiveness to the unimaginable despair of the Newtown, Aurora and Tucson victims. And it is not sane.

Adding to our evidence of government that has lost touch with reality is the appearance on the international stage of John Kerry as secretary of state. The first item on his agenda is like the financial and firearms crises. It, too, flies in the face of sanity. The plan is to help prop up the opposition forces in Syria by – get this – adding another 60 million U.S. dollars to the pile. If Secretary Kerry was a citizen walking into a bank for a loan, absolutely broke and trillions of dollars in debt like the United States is, they would have to close for business due to laughter – the howls of bankers who love a good joke, that is. Isn’t anyone asking him how a country so in debt and so in trouble over its own domestic issues could even pretend that it has $60 million to give to Syria? Isn’t anyone telling him that the United States can no longer police the international scene even when dictators afar are determined to kill their own people in the thousands or tens of thousands? The United States has a record in these kinds of foreign policy traps; it is a record of supporting one side one day and the other side the next. And it is something at which our nation has never succeeded.

So what now must we do? For starters, American voters must get engaged and do what must be done democratically to retake their government and bring it back through the looking glass. We don’t like to pay a lot of attention to Washington or our political system. We’d rather it just ran along without us most of the time. We’re too busy with our own lives and families and jobs, our mortgages, cars and appointments, our e-mails and text messages. In this regard, we, too, share some of the responsibility for the serious failures and delinquencies of our elected representatives. We are culpable. The country needs fresh, progressive thinking from its leaders. Voters need to decide they have a deadline under which to force real change. That deadline should be when the Obama administration finishes its last years in office and the terms of other elected officials now holding office expire. The new electoral mandate has to be out with the status quo; no more business as usual, let true democracy and sanity reign.

On the guns issue, time to consult the Ouija board, cross fingers, click heels

OujiaHappiness is a warm gun
(bang bang shoot shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is
(bang bang shoot shoot)

When I hold you in my arms (oh yes)
When I feel my finger on your trigger (oh yes)

I know nobody can do me no harm
Happiness is a warm gun, momma

Happiness is a warm gun
-Yes it is.

Happiness is a warm, yes it is…
Well don’t ya know that happiness is a warm gun, momma? (yeah)

— The Beatles

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

At long last, emanating out of our nation’s Capitol, we have a method for dealing with the gross proliferation of firearms and the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States. And it is this and this alone, apparently – cross our fingers, hold our breath and maybe click our heels three times. Be Dorothy. Just wish really badly that another gun tragedy isn’t being cued up, and that will keep things safe. Or get the Ouija board out and see where it points on gun control.

This is the best we’ve got right now and, sadly, the most we can hope for going forward, too. It is safe to predict that what’s going on in Washington around the issue of gun control won’t take the country an inch closer to resolving the biggest public safety issue of this generation.

House Speaker John Boehner and the Boehner Brotherhood in Congress have decided on the guns issue and many others incidentally (the financial crisis is one) that the Constitution should read, “We the Endlessly Elected Politicians…” and not, “We the People…” The Office of the President is powerless against this mindset, especially when it comes to an issue as polarizing as gun control. And we are living in unprecedented times – historic for the bitterness and divisiveness among our elected representatives and their willingness to abandon their responsibility if that’s what is needed to attack their political enemies.

Here’s the thing – if it ever really got going, then the public contest to determine who might make something change in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre is over already, with Boehner indicating that a vote on the administration’s new gun control proposals will happen when the next asteroid hits Russia and President Barack Obama conceding defeat soon after he laid out ideas ranging from a return to the assault weapons ban to universal background checks. As predicted, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden banged the bully pulpit hard over gun control right after the Sandy Hook tragedy. They laid out a two-pronged agenda consisting of simple lip-stick measures that required no Congressional consent and some with actual teeth that would need approval from the House. It is worth noting that their actions in this regard gave Obama and Biden an out politically; when the dust settles they will have something to point to and say, “see, we tried.” But soon after Obama released his proposals, he blinked hard and caved. He pleaded publicly not for passage of the new legislation but instead beseeched our elected leaders to just please take a vote – any vote at all. This was the surrender flag from the president, and it is what he is accountable for up to this point. He sounded like a leader for a few days. But then he gave up, resigned (easy, John B. and Donald Trump) himself and the American public to defeat on gun control – like an athlete who while tying his cleats for the big game tells everyone within earshot that he knows there is no way he can beat his opponent. Not on this day. So the loss takes on an air of inevitability.

The real losers in all of this, of course, are the millions of Americans who favor new gun control measures. The outcome raises a lot of questions, the biggest of which is, what happened to our representative form or democracy, what President Lincoln at Gettysburg called “government of the people, by the people, for the people…” Has it ‘perished from the earth’? If it hasn’t yet at the national level, then judging from what we’ve seen with the financial crisis and now gun control it has certainly made the endangered list.

Let’s consider just a couple of things that we might be learning from all of this. First, we know that Congress, and especially the Republican Boehner coalition, has no qualms – none whatsoever – about telling all of us that our government belongs not to the people but to the Capitol. Congress is mirroring for the gun control issue what it has done for our financial crisis. That is, never letting the safety or welfare of our citizens (little kids and all) interfere with rank partisanship and a good political fight. Who cares what’s good for the American people, really? This is about us, here in Washington. Secondly, the NRA with its whackier-than-whacky response to Sandy Hook settled for good any doubts about whether its leadership is rational. The most powerful lobby in D.C. can now be viewed as a bedmate and true friend of the Boehner Brotherhood, and vice versa. These two share the same goal of never letting sanity out of the box on the gun issue; together in this regard they have made martial arts of political obfuscation and irresponsibility. They just earned their black belts for that. And flat on its back on the dojo is our democracy.

Asking the fox to help reform the coop

Swift_FoxFrom Dennis Nealon’s blog

It may be that in a country whose history is replete with epic “whys,” this latest exercise in gun safety management or gun control (whichever you prefer) represents the biggest “why” of this generation. How is it that a nation reeling from the murder of innocents – still, and again — is powerless to do anything substantial about its monumental gun crisis?

Asking the NRA and the pro-firearms lobby for input on the nation’s gun crisis is precisely like asking the fox to weigh in on the chicken coop and its effectiveness in warding off danger. It is a somewhat tired analogy – maybe. But in the context of our ongoing, ineffectual, showy debate over the gross proliferation of guns and epidemic of mass shootings in our country, this fox-coop comparison is entirely apt.

For those who haven’t overheard it, here is the just-completed discussion between the fox, in this case the NRA, and the farmer, played by Vice President Joe Biden.

The farmer: “You know, Mr. Fox, we’ve been thinking that we ought to make sure all of the chickens in our coop are as safe as we can possibly make them. We will do whatever it takes, short of banning all foxes, of course. Now, you also know we like you foxes very much; there are a lot of fine foxes out there. Please, we don’t mean to offend you in anyway. It’s the opposite: we’re coming to you with hat in hand, polite as can be. But our chickens are not safe. Out of thin air, seems like, a lot of them have been dying. We’re talking chickens that never did anything to anyone; wholly innocent chickens. We have to do something. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a matter of just going after the foxes that have the most dangerous teeth – those that can bite and kill a whole hell of a lot of chickens in just a couple seconds. First, though, we want to make sure we turn to you for your input. Maybe you can kindly put aside your own interests and help us out? Is the chicken coop strong enough? High enough? Can changes help us to stop the killing?

The Fox (with a Mr. Grinch-like smile and voice): “Now, now, Mr. Farmer, no changes are needed. Coop’s good as is. Some chickens are going to die anyway, and it’s true that it may be the littlest and those just being at school or a movie, say. But that’s just the way it goes. So suck it up. Sure there are some very bad, dangerous foxes out there, but those that are causing all the fuss – they’re suffering from mental illness. That’s what you need to be looking at. Mostly it’s all good. Status quo’s just fine. In fact, let me be clear on behalf of all us foxes, I oppose any coop reforms and warn you that if you try to force changes – try to introduce new coop configurations or bar certain types of foxes from hanging around them – you will face my wrath and that of my associates. Remember, foxes have a lot of clout and we can support or oppose any particular farmer that we want to. Also, you know I will talk about the Second Amendment and farmer interference all day and night – until your cows come home – if necessary. I don’t care if that discussion is relevant or not. It’s always worked; I know a good pivot point when I see one. And, oh, by the way, have you thought about just arming all of the chickens – giving them all semi-automatic guns? Or putting in specially trained, armed chickens in the coop with the other chickens?”

We jest – just a little. But here’s a serious question: where are we more than four weeks after the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut? The little kids have been buried; the media’s left town (mostly); and the community seems to be figuring out what to do with the memorials that sprang up after the Dec. 14 massacre. As a nation we’ve already begun to put this tragedy in the rear view mirror. Just like Aurora and the others. We’re good at that. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are talking semi-tough publicly on the one hand while quietly bathing the NRA and the pro-firearms lobby in oil of obsequiousness with the other.

The administration on Jan. 16, 2013 announced a two-part plan to address gun violence – a plan that is most interesting for the contrast between the president’s softer executive orders that don’t require Congressional approval and much more important actions that won’t go anywhere without Congress’ approval. The administration released a list of 23 executive orders that, however well intended and nice sounding they may be, lack any real teeth and wouldn’t be deemed objectionable by most. These include launching “a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign;” “reviewing safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission);” and “issuing a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.”

In contrast, the President has asked Congress to pass actual laws that would require background checks on all gun sales (not just some); restore a ban on so-called “military-style assault weapons;” ban gun magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds; and toughen penalties on people who sell guns to those who can’t have them. Where are these provisions headed? The answer is: likely nowhere. The NRA has already gone on record as opposing any new gun laws or returning to the assault weapons ban, whose effectiveness as a deterrent to mass shootings has been hotly debated and remains uncertain. Many legislators, even at the moment that the administration’s wish list was being announced, were vowing that they wouldn’t support these new laws. It does not bode well that some Democrats are among these detractors.

And so we are left with some very nice but ineffectual executive orders and a set of proposed laws that if signed might at the very least establish a new beachhead in the battle against gun violence in the country – if, that is, they weren’t going to be DOA when they reach the Capitol.

It may be that in a country whose history is replete with epic “whys,” this exercise in gun safety management or gun control (whichever you prefer) represents the biggest “why” of this generation. How is it that a nation reeling from the murder of innocents – still, and again, — is powerless to do anything substantial about its monumental gun crisis? Is asking the NRA for its solutions or, rather, non-solutions a logical path toward the historic reform that we need? Is offering a broad brush against the mentally ill – a type of prejudice that suggests all mentally ill people are dangerous – progress?

The table is set for no action. It is not a bold prediction to suggest that having lunched with what it considers to be the appropriate stakeholders, the Obama administration will walk away when Congress fails to adopt new laws. “We tried; we really tried,” the White House will say. Our elected representatives in Washington, those with the most power in this conundrum, will not upset the status quo – not at this hour – a moment in time when America needs exactly that: someone bold who will not only rock the boat on this issue but capsize it altogether. Is this a crisis? You bet. It’s the stuff of which marches on Washington are made.

Local control is key in gun monitoring; three ideas for weapons in our communities

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

Let’s think about this: What if someone in Newtown, Connecticut, had told the mother of mass murderer Adam Lanza that her request for permits for semiautomatic weapons was not going to be approved?

We have the technology to track weapons in our cities and towns electronically. Pets have chips implanted in their skin in case the pets go missing. Why not guns?

The ‘Sorry, No’ Rule, Constant Count and Chips for Guns

One of the biggest obstacles to our nation’s ability to enact gun control legislation that suits contemporary America and its status as the runaway heavyweight gun owner of the world is that we overcomplicate and, in some cases, intentionally sabotage the debate. People hyperbolize discussions surrounding the gross proliferation of firearms in our society, and this exacerbates the situation – ties our hands tighter; fuels our apathy at getting anywhere with new gun legislation; adds to the mire and demonstrable danger that we’re in by doing nothing.

Rational pleas for gun control get twisted, turned around and distorted by those who believe that the authorities should not have the option – ever – of blocking and disrupting the proliferation of firearms. All kinds of strange, straw-man arguments arise, like, “cars kill people and no one tells people what kinds of cars they can drive,” or, “if we ban assault weapons or go after their manufacturers then how are we going to arm our servicemen and women?”

Before we can do anything to deal with weapons in our society rationally we must agree to stay in the middle ground of this critical national debate. Wanting to control guns in some manner or fashion does not mean banning all firearms of any kind. Adopting new ways to address proliferation does not represent an attack on the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We need to issue a resounding “settle down” to those who, when it comes to talking about gun control, turn red in the face and shout about their individual liberty. When it comes to deadly combat-style weapons, we’re past that now in this country. And after Newtown, Connecticut, there should be no going back to that mindset.

There are several measures that could be adopted in towns and cities across the country now to perhaps stem the tide of gun violence while we continue to wait for Washington to discover what the President means by “meaningful action” on gun control in the United States. It could be a long wait, too, with the vapid preoccupation over fiscal cliffs and blatant animosity among politicians that so retards our national political system.

We should turn to the states and their legislatures. The answer to avoiding mass murders in the future may depend more on local action and oversight, and less on the federal government and Congress. Local is the key factor when it comes to monitoring the proliferation of guns in our country, and adapting procedures already in place may go a long way toward preventing more mass murders in our schools and on our streets. Let’s think about this: What if someone in Newtown, Connecticut, had told the mother of mass murderer Adam Lanza that her request for permits for semiautomatic weapons was not going to be approved? Maybe she drops her plans to obtain them and her son never gets his hands on them. Then what happens? Does he find some other way to murder 20 little kids in their elementary school? Maybe. What he doesn’t do is walk into the school with his mother’s guns blazing – guns that she obtained legally, with permits, through town officials.

Here, then, are three ideas to explore.

The “Sorry No” rule would work like this, for example: a woman goes into her local police department and asks for an application for a gun permit, hoping to obtain a Firearms Identification Card. Everyone who wants a permit has to do this, by the way. The woman sits down with the police chief or other designated member of the department. After she has filled out the application and it is winding through the system for background checks on criminal activity, then that law enforcement representative should begin a polite but in-depth interrogation of the applicant. This is already part of the approval process, ostensibly, but the process on the local level needs to be more deliberate. The chief has to be really nosy; accepting that whether or not someone has a clean background should only be part of the calculation as to whether the town grants a permit.

Asks the chief: “What do you want a gun for?” “Who lives with you?” “How do you plan to fully secure the weapon or weapons in your home?”

The applicant: “I want an AK-15 assault rifle and I’m hoping to build a collection, so I want a sig sauer pistol and a glock. I love to shoot guns at a local range. I’ve tried it before and I just find it fun and enjoyable.”

Chief: “I see. I understand.”

“So that you understand, too, here is how the new process is going to work,” he adds. “There are several hurdles that your application will have to clear before we can allow additional firearms into the community.”

We will review your application. If you have not been in trouble with the law before, then your application can go on to the next step. Whether you have a record or not is only one thing we’re going to be looking at.”

Once we have vetted your application and looked into your background thoroughly, we still must weigh your desire to own a gun against the safety of everyone in the community.”

We must decide based on common sense if granting you a permit to house assault weapons in the community poses an unreasonable risk to others. We have to assume that these types of weapons in all likelihood will at one point or another come into someone else’s possession.”

Finally, we must reserve the right to tell you or any other applicant that the answer to whether or not you should possess certain types of firearms might be, “sorry, no.”’

And should we say “no” and you procure these weapons through other means and you have them in this community, you will be arrested and prosecuted.”

This community, through its law enforcement representatives, can either grant you a permit or not give you one. Also, this community can decide that you can have a permit for a pistol or rifle to protect yourself or to use for hunting or target shooting. After looking at you and thoroughly investigating your background, and after weighing your request against the safety of its citizens, this community can also tell you that you are not getting a permit for any gun or for any semiautomatic or automatic weapons.”

The town is keeping a list of instances where permits are denied. Sort of like the “no fly” lists that the TSA uses to ban some people from airplanes.”

This is the essence of “Sorry, No”Rule.

It is a vast understatement to say that guns are common place in America today, and so in addition to carefully and deliberately screening requests for firearms at the local level, cities and towns also must account for all of the weapons residing in their communities. This is what I mean by “Constant Count.”

No doubt, local police departments keep records on guns. They have the FID applications and copies of permits. But we can take this accounting process farther. Local municipalities should place someone in charge of setting up a new, state-of-the-art database to account for all guns in the city or town. This would tell us who has the guns, where they reside, what their purpose is, and whether they are semiautomatic or automatic assault weapons. Someone within the local police department should be charged with becoming an expert on who has what weapons where. When instances of domestic violence or just weird behavior by kids or adults get reported to the local police, an immediate inventory check should be made to cross reference that report with the gun inventory. Any matches would require opening a special preventive investigation during which the owners of the guns and their neighbors are interviewed.

Finally, we have the technology to track weapons in our cities and towns electronically. Pets have chips implanted in their skin in case the pets go missing. Why not guns? One can imagine that each new gun that enters a town or community has a chip embedded in it at the end of a successful permit application process. The owner brings the weapon in to have a chip implanted and, presto, it shows up on an actual tracking system that is monitored by local law enforcement officials or a contractor. Far fetched? Perhaps not. Could such a system include an alarm that would sound in the police station if any firearm goes within, say, 1,000 yards of a school or other public building?


The Nation as Hostage

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

Our inability to address the gun crisis is as paralyzing as our grief – again

The United States leads the world in gun ownership…200 million privately owned weapons in the country; 90 guns for every 100 people.

Amid the horror of the latest massacre – the December 14, 2012 shooting of 20 children and 6 adults by a man-child in Newtown, Conn. — it is time to declare a national moratorium on the argument that the right to bear arms, passed as the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791, has any relevance to the prevalence of firearms in our country in 2012.

It is said that you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. And while the National Rifle Association with its four million members isn’t pulling the trigger of our long chain of mass shootings, it isn’t exactly stepping up to delineate a way forward for keeping the guns away from the mentally deranged and out of small town school buildings.

Then again, no one else is either. Why? Because no one knows what to do.

When President Barack Obama stepped to the podium hours after this latest mass shooting in America, he cried – a little. It was a tear shed not just because little children had been shot to death in a Connecticut elementary school two weeks before Christmas. It was – one could argue – an expression of shame and frustration. Our collective shame and his administration’s inability to mount any concerted effort at gun control. It is audacious for the President to stand in front of the cameras after the cold blooded, first degree murder of kids at their school and suggest a solution might lie in “meaningful” discussions about gun control.

Washington has stood by. We in our wholly vulnerable towns and cities have paid lip service to each of the half dozen mass shootings that have occurred in the country in the span of a year. We trot out the grief counselors. We hold vigils. We cry. We wonder and wonder some more. We bury victims and now we will lay to rest little kids who were shot to death for absolutely no reason whatsoever. A few days will go by and we will move on until the next tragedy. We behave like utterly clueless disaster zombies, hapless victims of the proliferation of assault weapons on our streets.

Amid the horror of the latest massacre – the December shooting of 20 children and 6 adults by a man-child in Newtown, Conn. – it is time to declare a national moratorium on the argument that the right to bear arms, passed as the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791, has any relevance to the prevalence of firearms in our country is 2012.

In late 18th century America, flintlock muskets and pistols were state of the art. The newly born United States had turned the United Kingdom away from our shores, sending the British home after convincing the King that war with the colonialists was never going to break in England’s way. Life in the new nation was harsh; a weapon was needed to survive. Men trying to keep their families alive had to shoot game or watch their love ones starve. It is under these circumstances, in this context, that the right to bear arms was born. It was intended to say that weapons could be taken up for our national survival and in the defense of freedom — to help men carve out a tiny spot, a home, in a country whose natural harshness knew no bounds and whose vastness was still incomprehensible.

Today, the United States is the uncontested world leader in gun ownership. The FBI estimates that there are some 200 million privately owned firearms in the country. A Reuter’s news report has said that the United States owns 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms; that we are the “most armed country,” with 90 guns for every 100 people.

Given these statistics, at this space and time, it is criminal to continue to proffer the argument that anyone has the right to bear arms for reasons other than legal hunting and self-preservation. If we must have this argument then let us first roll back the time on the technological advances of weaponry in our country. Let anyone have a gun that wants one. But ban all firearms except flintlock muskets and pistols. At least then the second amendment will live in its proper context, and shooting a gun will require loading powder and a projectile into a barrel – a process that might allow a shooter to get off one or two shots, or maybe three, in a minute.

The 20-year old gunman who shot little kids to death in Connecticut on a clear late fall morning had three guns registered to his mother, according to news reports – a glock and a sig sauer pistol, and a Bushmaster semiautomatic “long gun.” Each represents state of the art weapons technology for 2012. Each is meant for combat, for killing people. Is this the right to bear arms of the 18th century? Certainly, it is not. It does, however, represent the single biggest impingement on the nation’s ability to do anything at all about murder on our streets and in our school buildings.

At the end of the 2012 election season, a crazy idea: Next time ban the campaign ads and give $813 million to charity

Campaign advertising in 2012 is the wind running past our ears; it makes a sound so we know it’s there, but it’s not telling us anything we need to know.

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

No one believes they work. Right?

The campaign ads on television and radio. The cold calls during supper at home. The snail mailed postcards and pamphlets shoved in mailboxes. All manner of mass marketing materials for the election of a U.S. president. It’s all largely ineffectual. We know this.

Most of it is poorly produced, too – badly enough that it leaves us wondering who’s writing the stuff.  Do they really believe we’re buying it? Yet it goes on and on and on, torturous in this election season like campaign elevator music that tucks you in at night and hands you your slippers when you swing your feet out of bed in the morning.

Campaign advertising in 2012 is the wind running past our ears; it makes a sound so we know it’s there, but it’s not telling us anything we need to know.

That the ads we hear and see cost anything at all is hard to believe. I wouldn’t want to pay for them if I was a candidate for something. But they cost, all right – a lot. More than $813 million by Oct. 26, says the Washington Post, excluding some $65 million that other non-profit groups had raised for this presidential election.

All that money. And for what? Who can name one friend or stranger or anyone at all who will tell you that they were voting for Obama but changed their mind when a canned campaign phone pitch interrupted their dinner. “It really made me switch, Buddy. It really, really showed me the light, man. I mean it.” Uh, yeah.

When was the last time someone emailed, tweeted or texted to say they had made their commitment to Romney but were switching because of a cheesy television commercial in these last few days leading up to the Nov. 6 election?

Who’s watching these things? Who’s listening? The answer is everyone and no one. We all hear it; you can’t shut it out completely or close your eyes and will it away. But advertisements don’t drive voting. The people who do vote probably form their opinions through snippets of news reports of the candidates on the stump, from listening to what they have to say in real time or, maybe, during the debates or in coverage after the debates.

But watching and listening to the advertisements, even in passing, makes us realize that the people churning out the copy in the 2012 campaign sausage factories haven’t gotten the memo. They don’t know that they’re using an old, tired model of reaching voters, one whose effectiveness – if there ever was any real measurable impact to be had – peaked before the World Wide Web was born in the early 1990s, when television, newspapers, magazines and radio were the media.

There is one thing that’s harder to fathom than the amount of dollars that are being thrown down the loo for this election, and that’s that no one has thought to tell the candidates to do the right thing when it comes to all this cash. It’s too late for this cycle. But here’s what we tell them for the 2016 horse race: Don’t raise all that cash for advertisements. Don’t let anyone spend it on sophomoric appeals for your re-election or election.

Instead, do this: announce that any person or agency or organization that wants to contribute to a political campaign will instead be giving their money to a charity or charities that actually want to help people. The Red Cross comes to mind. On this very evening, various recording artists are performing on behalf of that venerable agency to raise money for the poor people of the East Coast – those stunned disaster zombies of the (now former) Jersey shore suffering from the frightful rage of Hurricane Sandy.

Imagine what the Red Cross or any one of the outstanding relief agencies out there could do with more than $800 million right now.

The politicians all have Web sites. What else do they or we need? No one needs the ads. Anyone who wants to learn something real about the campaigns and the candidates’ positions on the issues can go online.

Next time, please, let’s just leave it at that.



Shootout at the Empire State Corral

Pondering the absence of an inquisition and the instantaneous, treacherous police response

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

In the wake of the August 24, 2012 Wild-West-like gunfight outside of the Empire State Building, we are left to ponder two interesting factors. First, it appears that the NYPD may not face an inquisition into how nine bystanders were wounded by bullets and fragments of bullets fired by police. Secondly, there is an eyewitness account to the shooting in which a 27-year-old woman from the Bronx told reporters at the scene that police seemed to magically appear just seconds after a women’s accessories designer in broad daylight pulled a .45 semiautomatic from a briefcase and shot to death a former co-worker like it was just something that people do one morning when they feel wronged or outraged enough.

Despite the police heroism that day the assassin and his target died, and more easily could have been killed.

Recent history tells us that our culture is one in which dramatic shootings like this can quickly become public, media-fueled spectacles about police behavior. There are many examples where debate and in some instances criminal prosecution coalesces around how and why so many police bullets were fired; around issues of excessive force and deadly intent on the part of supposed public servants – the good guys who are entrusted to protect us.

Yet in the case of the shootout at the Empire State Corral, there appears to be little or no outrage over the fact that two police officers who had never fired their weapons on duty before opened up on a public street, killing the man who had just shot his business nemesis to death and hitting passersby in the process.

Instead there seems to be near unanimous consensus that the officers had no choice but to draw their service weapons and stop the killer regardless of the immediate consequences. Why? Because of surveillance video from the scene. Like countless Hollywood movies, the footage shows a suspected killer appear to level his weapon even as he is confronted by police officers with guns drawn. If this Manhattan shooting were a film, this particular scene would play out in slow motion for dramatic effect.

Tucked into some of the news reports of the shootout was the quote from the Bronx woman who watched the madness play out as if she were a bystander in some street-fight video game. She told an Associated Press reporter that the police seemed to appear instantly, as if from thin air. Now, if you are with the media relations or public affairs units for the NYPD you may want to take that witness’ words – “seemed to appear in seconds” – to the proverbial bank. Use the phrase over and over. Stay on message. Then put the quote in press releases and pitches for other stories about how brave policemen rushed into a mind-bending shooting fit without any time to plan or think about the danger.

This is solid eyewitness testimony about police instinctively and heroically throwing themselves into a grave situation with no time to plan or weigh the threat to their own or other lives. In the end, the NYPD can say everything worked out given the bizarre circumstances. Something like this: Our officers arrived on scene (it’s worth noting they were nearby already), engaged the suspect, and used deadly force to prevent a worse tragedy. Regrettably a few passersby were also hit. But they will all recover from their wounds.

Looking at the police response from a “what if” vantage point helps to put the outcome of the shooting into perspective. Police either don’t shoot the gunman and instead try to talk him down where he stands. Perhaps he then shoots and kills someone else or himself. Maybe he grabs a hostage. Or let’s say the police arrive in ten minutes or more. The shooter has more time, and melts away, as he clearly intended to do. He would likely be apprehended later because of the obvious connections to and animosity toward his victim. But in the meantime he is loose on the streets, armed, loaded and desperate.

The witness’ quote is also instructive on another level. In its essence we once again can see the hard reality about public shootings like this one, which is distinguished by the fact that is was not a random act of insanity. If someone gets it in his or her head to pull out a gun and start firing there isn’t anything that anyone can do to prevent it. No manner of mandatory purchase-waiting period will stop it. No legislator is going to conceive of a new workable gun control plan to keep handguns away from angry monsters. And even police getting to the scene in seconds, while commendable and good, isn’t going to prevent the madness and pandemonium of shootings on the nation’s streets.

So, then, we must ask: What will?


After Aurora…

From Dennis Nealon’s blog

Should we include mass shootings in the lexicon of risk and randomness with shark attacks, lightning strikes, and plane crashes?

Statistics show these types of attacks declining?

So we are left to muse, to wonder, in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, cinema massacre: what are our chances of being at the wrong place and time — of finding ourselves in the crosshairs of some sociopath’s shooting fit?

We’ve thought about this already; there’s uneasiness in the air. At least anywhere where we find ourselves out in public places like movie theaters, which seemed sacrosanct. Should we be worried?

It’s better than reasonable, rational in fact, to suspect that the next gun tragedy will happen somewhere. The only question is when. And if assault weapons or other firearms – legally procured or not – aren’t involved, then it will be explosives of some kind or another. The devil in our midst has a lot of options. Consider the suspect in the latest Colorado shootings. If he couldn’t do what he did, which was to get guns and ammunition online and through all of the proper approval channels, he still had a good plan to kill. After all, he booby trapped his apartment hoping to slaughter whoever happened to open his door and turn the building into an inferno.

Imagine that mass shootings can now be lumped with shark attacks, lightning strikes and plane crashes for the fact that they DO occur, however random and unpredictable they may be. Maybe you’ve had this conversation with your nervous aunt as your plane is taking off or hits heavy turbulence. “Don’t worry,” you say. “What are the chances of something happening to this plane (you wouldn’t say “crash” aloud, hopefully)?” “You’d have a better chance of being hit by lightning,” you tell her, “or being bitten by a shark.”

Can we now add to the conversation, “and also, you’d have a better chance of being involved in a mass shooting?”

I was wondering about this and went looking online to try and find out a little more.

According to Dr. Grant Duwe, author of “Mass Murder in the United States: A History” and director of research and evaluation for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, mass shootings are actually declining markedly. In a special opinion piece for AOL News (http://www.aolnews.com/2010/03/01/opinion-the-rise-and-decline-of-mass-shootings/) Duwe wrote that data show there were 24 such incidents in the past decade (2000-2010). While that’s still significantly higher than the average of the first eight decades of the 20th century, says Duwe, the 24 incidents in the 2000s mark a significant decline (nearly 50 percent) from the 43 cases in the 1990s.

It’s important to note that Duwe’s article appeared on March 1, 2010 and obviously doesn’t address the Aurora cinema massacre. But it spans the timeframe for all of the other shootings before Aurora, including the Columbine High School killings of April 20, 1999 and the ones at Northern Illinois University (Feb. 14, 2008) and at Virginia Tech (Feb. 12, 2007). Aurora won’t change Duwe’s approach to the subject.

Here are a couple gems straight from the AOL opinion piece, for us to make of them what we will:

“In addition, the recent drop in mass public shootings is also likely due to the fact that we are getting better at recognizing, assessing and managing those who pose a legitimate threat of committing this type of violence.”

“Contrary to the popular perception that these offenders “just snap,” mass shootings are almost invariably preceded by a great deal of planning and deliberation.”

As for the first of these, and with the Aurora shooting now part of the record, we’d have to beg to differ. More than a bit. In classic fashion, no one saw James Holmes’ rampage coming. We really can’t see Satan hiding inside of the neighbor. Not ever. It seems.

But the second excerpt from Duwe’s piece, the one about snapping, is spot on, almost eerily prescient when we think about Aurora.

One thing is certain: there is nothing in place to stop these sorts of attacks and little on the horizon. There’s only waiting for the next time. All of our politicians in Washington, D.C., are petrified of the N.R.A. and aren’t going to wade into the Second Amendment debate. That’s a proven loser. And the assault weapons ban has been repealed. Gun control isn’t proceeding; it’s receding.

We can’t prepare and we can’t prevent. And we don’t know how to change.

So maybe we have to do as we might to avoid shark attacks or lightning strikes. Don’t go swimming off the seal-infested beaches of South Africa’s coastline, and maybe even avoid some of the beaches on Cape Cod (can you believe one newscast already called the summer of 2012 the “summer of the shark”). And don’t hang outside in heavy storms.

But what’s the equivalent for mass shootings? It’s just not that easy to get proactive about avoiding them. Is it? Should we worry? What are the chances that we’ll actually be involved in one anyway?