Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston #4

Here's a new fact that adds to Tamerlan's profile.   The parents of his wife's family have released a statement saying that they now know that they "never really knew Tamerlan Tzarinaev."  His wife once filed a domestic violence report, because he hit her.  His family minimizes this as a misunderstanding.  Neighbors describe the wife's family as "kind of Waspish."  One of them says she never met Tamerlin.

A neighbor of the parents says that the daughter (Tamerlan's wife) left for college a few years ago; and when she came back she had begun dressing in the style of Muslim women, including head coverings.  This perhaps suggests a stronger involvement on Tamerlan's part in the Islamic faith, or possibly his wife's acceptance of the faith.  Someone else said that he had begun observing the daily prayers. 

But his involvement seems to have taken on a radical turn.  After he returned from 6 months in Russia in the first half of 2012, he started a web site that contained radical rhetoric.  Did he come to this on his own and through the internet, or did he meet with radicals in Russia?   His father says that he spent most of the 6 months with him, although he did have two male visitors at one time.

Which makes me wonder:   Is the father involved in this?    He came to American as a refugee with his family 10 or so years ago, and reportedly went back about a year ago.   Is he perhaps behind this?   I haven't heard any other suggestions like this;  it just occurred to me now.


Meanwhile . . . some good news

The events in Boston have dominated the news 24/7 for most of this week.   Meanwhile, planet earth has continued to turn, and stuff happened.  Two good news events:

1.  The New Zealand legislature took the final votes that made same-sex marriage legal in their country.   New Zealand becomes the 13th nation to adopt marriage equality.

2.  The Boy Scouts of America issued its long-awaited proposal to allow gay youth to participate in scouting, while continuing the ban on gay adult leaders.    This will be submitted to the 1,400 member national council for  final vote in May.  One step at a time, and this is a significant one.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston #3

Dzhokar Tzarbaev was taken into custody tonight after hiding out in a boat in the back yard of a home in Watertown.

All of the police forces, FBI, SWAT teams, emergency responders, support groups deserve not only the greatest thanks but our highest respect for the extraordinary level of professionalism with which they carried out this operation.  That goes for all the officials from top to local levels, too.

After an initial false step on CNN and Fox, where a premature report was given about the suspects -- I would also say that the news channels I have watched, MSNBC and CNN, have also done a great job.

The people of Boston stand tall and proud.   They have cooperated and endured an incredibly stressful week.

Now we will try to understand how two sons of an intelligent family who came to this country as refugees could have turned against the country that took them in.    It's easier to understand how the older brother, Tameran, might have become radicalized.   He went back to Russia last year and stayed, somewhere, for six months.    There have been some comments to suggest his alienation.  He married and has a small child;  but his wife lives in Rhode Island with her parents.   But they released a statement tonight expressing their grief, saying this is not the Tameran they knew, and asking for privacy.

But nothing we have heard about Dzhokar fits any pattern except a fairly normal, bright kid who spoke without an accent and dressed as a typical American teenager.  Tonight three guys from his high school wrestling team spoke about their memories of him.  He is invariably described as friendly, happy, a good athlete, intelligent, and a nice guy.  Neighbors, who lived in the same building when they were younger and living with their parents in Cambridge, spoke of what a nice family and how helpful the boys were to them.  Not one single person has mentioned anything that suggests a dark side.

So it will be interesting as they interrogate him what we learn.   If they had done this in Russia, to avenge the mistreatment of their father, it would be easier to grasp.  But why the United States?


Boston #2

The unfolding police hunt in the Boston area is high drama that's playing out like a tv crime show -- one that focuses on the police work, sorting clues, and increasingly being dazzled by the high tech ability to gather data.

It's little short of amazing that they were able to scan through thousands of surveillance videos and pick out likely suspects -- who apparently turned out to be the prime suspects.

Taking the risk of putting the pictures out to the public and asking for help in identifying the two young men triggered their panic, further violent behavior, the death of the older one, and the other one still at large.

What is most puzzling is trying to construct a motive out of the little, and contradictory, information about them.   Unlike most situations, several family members are talking freely;  and so are former classmates.

An uncle in Chechnya described Tamerlan, the 26 yr older brother, as "a bad influence" on Dzhokhar, the 19 year old one who got away.   One uncle here in the US described them both as "losers" -- but it isn't clear whether this is only his reaction now, knowing they planted the bombs.

People who knew them in school describes them both in positive terms.   Someone said Tamerlan was "cool."  He was a boxer and a jazz pianist.   Dzhokhar is a wrestler, a quiet and intelligent kid, who wanted to be a doctor.   Everyone who knew them seems to be completely shocked.

Outward appearances so often conceal and deceive.   We just don't know enough yet to construct a coherent picture.

Meanwhile, it is completely unprecedented for a major city to be so locked down as Boston has been since early this morning.   Who knew there were so many police, FBI agents, SWAT teams, and emergency responders in the area?   It's hard to believe we're watching live news and not a police drama tv series.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Picking up another House seat?

When South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint resigned last December to take charge of the Heritage Foundation, Gov. Nicki Haley appointed a member of the S.C. House to replace him, leaving an open House seat to be filled by a special election to be held this spring.

Stephen Colbert's sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, won the Democratic nomination.  Disgraced former Governor Mark Sanford won the Republican nomination, using a campaign that focused on redemption and having a second chance.

Now the Sanford campaign has been hit -- devastatingly it seems -- by the revelation that the Sanford drama continues.   His ex-wife has filed court complaints against him for repeatedly trespassing on her home, against court orders.   A hearing date has been set by the judge in the case.

She counters claims of trying to undo him politically with this charge by pointing out that she filed the complaint back before the primary;  it's coming out now only because the judge has just set the hearing date.   She could have leaked the information earlier.

Now it's reported that the Republican National Congressional Committee is pulling the plug and will make no further contributions to his campaign.   The devastating thing is that this completely undermines his credibility as a "reformed sinner," because it looks like he continues to be irresponsible and unreliable -- the original charge against him when he was governor and caused the original scandal.   It certainly won't help him win back the women voters.

So, even though Ms. Colbert Busch might have won a close election anyway -- at this point it seems highly unlikely that Sanford can survive this.    So we might see a Democrat now representing a very conservative district in South Carolina.   What sweet irony.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Words fail me . . .

The Senate has just failed to get the 60 vote margin required to advance the bipartisan background check bill.   The vote was 54 to 46 -- which means that a majority voted for it, but the 60 vote strangle-hold defeated what 90% of the American people want.

And this was the most likely gun control measure to pass.   Even the weight of the Newtown families lobbying them didn't do it.

The other, stronger gun control measures are certainly doomed.

What can you say . . . ?


Republican and their old tricks -- again

When Republicans see that they can't win on merit, they create a lie that becomes a myth that carries the day -- at least with their uninformed, ultra-conservative, sorta paranoid base.

Now they're at it again to defeat background checks.   An unprecedented 90% of the American people support this;  even a majority of NRA members support it.

But to defeat the expected vote in the Senate today, they've created this false myth that it will lead to a "national gun registry" that could be used to target gun owners in some sort of bad way.

This is completely false.  In fact -- the bipartisan deal worked out by Senator Joe Manchen (D-WV) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) specifically forbids the establishment of a national registry.

That doesn't stop them from making a political wedge issue of it.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) acknowledges that the bill forbids it, but says that he believes "it could lead to the creation of a national gun registry and puts additional burdens on law-abiding citizens."

 At least one senator who was leaning toward voting for the bill now says he will not support it.

This is insane -- and utterly shameful.


Emotions vs reason on gun control

E. J. Dionne's recent column in the AJC helped clarify the current debate -- not about gun control itself, but about how the Newtown families are participating in lobbying Congress.

Opponents to gun control have made snide charges, such as "the families are being used as human shields."     It's true, this is a very emotional issue.  It is also true that the laws being considered to have any hope of passage would not have prevented the tragedy in Newtown.

It is simply a matter that the feelings aroused in the nation by so many innocent children being intentionally killed by a disturbed individual -- using guns legally obtained by his mother and kept in the house he shared with her -- provide a unique opportunity to get people to think about the issues.

Dionne's contribution to this is pointing out that it is not the proponents of gun control, and the families, that are using emotions.   Their genuine, deeply felt loss is the vehicle through which they are getting people to stop and consider the human element.  But it is the reason and the facts that are swaying the argument.

In contrast, it is the gun lobby that is using the emotion of fear as its only weapon.   Fear of what?   For many it seems to be the fear that our government will turn on its own people.   They confuse government regulations and laws and taxation with oppression.   So they insist on an armed citizenry -- with no limits to what arms can be purchased -- as their 2nd amendment rights.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia has written in previous SCOTUS opinions that the 2nd amendment does not guarantee the right to own any and every kind of weapon.

So who trades on emotion?    It's clear that it is those who use fear as a tactic to increase their sales of guns -- the gun industry through it's political arm, the NRA.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013


My friends Paul and John live in downtown Boston, not too far from the marathon route.   I didn't think either of them was running the marathon, but then most of those injured or killed were bystanders, not runners. 

It turns out they were in Ft. Lauderdale waiting to board a plane to come home, and the plane was able to land later in the afternoon.   But Paul said this morning that helicopters are still hovering over the area and emergency vehicle sirens continue.

But they and their friends were not harmed -- except of course the harm to an entire city and its people.

The response of the police and first responders was exemplary.   They were well trained and managed a disaster in massive crowds in a downtown area -- on what was a city holiday, Patriot's Day.   One of the great advance planning details was triage of the wounded, sending them to one of the five Level 1 trauma hospitals, according to the special needs of their particular injury.

The people have opened their hearts and their homes to the injured and those needing a place to stay -- the many thousands who came for the marathon and may have had trouble getting out because of airport closings.

The spirit of Bostonites and the marathon organization has also been inspiring.   One spokesman said that the intent of terrorists is to induce fear, to make people afraid to go out, to participate in public events like this.   Exactly the opposite is the effect.   People are not staying home.  They going out in defiance of the threat.  And they're already predicting that the marathon will be even bigger next year.

Way to go, Boston !!!


Monday, April 15, 2013

"More guns" is NOT the answer

If we needed any further convincing that a more heavily armed society is not the answer to gun violence in America, I offer this anecdote as further evidence.

District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were shot dead in their home in the early morning a few weeks ago.    Just eight weeks earlier, his Assistant DA was also killed by an unknown gunman.   It is not known whether it was the same person who killed them.

What we do know is that, after the first death, DA McLelland called together his staff and warned them all to take extra precautions, because there was the suspicion it could have been a revenge assassination by someone who had been prosecuted by the office.

So the DA and his wife were on high alert themselves, although they did not change their routines.   But it is also known, according to their son, that his father kept between five and six dozen different types of firearms in the house.
"There were guns hidden all over the house. . .   Behind doors, everywhere.   He could have been standing next to a .40-caliber Glock and you would not have known it.  When they said he got shot, it was unbelievable because he was so well-armed and so well-versed in guns."
Not only Mr. McLelland.   His wife had gone through required courses and received her permit to carry a concealed weapon about a year ago.

So here we have a top law-enforcement officer and his wife, both trained and adept at using guns, highly suspicious that they might be attacked, but still murdered in their own home that had multiple guns hidden within easy reach throughout the house.

What would more guns have done to prevent this double murder?

And remember:   statistics show that, when there is a gun in the house, a member of that household is more likely to be killed with that very gun than is an intruder.   Of course, that includes a lot of suicides.   But isn't that part of the reason not to have them around?

Stop and think of this fact:   You think you need a gun for your family's protection, so you buy one.   But your wife, your child, a neighbor child, or even you, are the most likely targets that will die by that gun.   I wrote just last week of the law official who was showing off his gun collection to family members, when his little 6 year old nephew ran into the room, picked up one of the guns and pulled the trigger.   The official's wife was killed in that accident -- even though several adults were standing right there;  it just happened too fast.

A loaded gun, a curious child:   that's all it takes.   And someone beloved is dead.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Aunt Minnie

I fully acknowledge that occasionally here on ShrinkRap I indulge in personal attacks on those I scorn for their political mendacity and stupidity:   think Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Paul Braun.  And there are a few others.

My favorite target lately -- and it's very personal in a way that I would feel ashamed of if it weren't so much fun -- is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.   I delight in calling him "Aunt Minnie," because he looks for all the world, to me, like a little old lady out of a Victorian novel, in a long black dress, sitting in the corner knitting.

I submit the picture below to illustrate.   Just imagine a lacy boudoir cap, tied under those jowly chins.

Progress Kentucky

Favorability stats

We're having a wave of throwing numbers around -- and with good reason.   Many polls have shown that Americans approve of background checks before buying guns by over 90%.   That's almost unprecedented agreement on . . . anything.

For comparison, a HuffPost/Yougov poll shows the approval ratings for some quintessential "American" things:

     apple pie                 81%
     kittens                    71%
     child labor laws        71%
     baseball                  67%

In fact, only one thing was more likeable than  background checks:   ice cream at 93%.

And just for good measure, I have to mention that some time back a similar poll found that the current U. S. Congress had a lower favorable rating than cockroaches.

Wouldn't you think there would be a few more Republicans willing to vote for background checks?    Just shows the power of the gun lobby.