March 30, 2018
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Some instances of gun sophistry

The NRA and its fellow travelers have some fairly toxic or sophistical tropes they release into the air after every mass shooting. Most recently, and for years now, is the "mental illness" one, that we will prevent these "regrettable" instances if we get better at identifying people at risk of becoming mass shooters. This begs a critical question of what we are supposed to do about them if we detect them. The Parkland shooter is a case study of a young man who had spoken often about killing people, and even his desire to shoot schoolmates; people in proximity to him had reported him to the police and the FBI a number of times. There is no mental health infrastructure which can seize an individual with outspoken murderous ideation out of our environment and prevent him carrying out his plan: no Bedlam or Guantanamo we can place such a person in preventively, both because it would be too expensive and would infringe civil rights. Second Amendment advocates should know as well as any of us, if not better, that the role of law enforcement anyway is rarely if ever preventive, as opposed to arresting perpetrators after they have killed; the precogs of Minority Report do not exist.

A second sophistry is blaming law enforcement people for not doing more at the scene of a shooting. It is possible that the armed officer in Parkland who stayed outside, on his radio, for minutes while the shooter killed freely was not obeying protocol--but if so, it was a protocol strangely in conflict with the more general rule of policing, that rather than trying to be a lone hero, cops are supposed to call for, and wait for, back up. An officer armed with a handgun might be excused if she waits for the SWAT team to take down a shooter armed with an AR15. More generally, regardless of protocol, an officer might say to society and to her superiors: "If you want me routinely to confront mad mass shooters with AR-15's with my handgun, you need to pay me a beter salary".

The only clearly effective solution is, of course, not to flood the world with AR15's.

Oh, and Donald Trump's statement that, if he had been there, he would have run in himself, even unarmed, to deal with the shooter, fully communicated his frivolity and emptiness.

Xi as President for Life

It does seem that people are giving up on democracy around the world, and flying to despotism. Xi's new cult of personality and presidency for life is a sad backward step for China. Trump's joke in a speech, that maybe he would try the same thing here, went almost unnoticed.

Man in the High Castle and Zyklon-B

I want to write a lead article one day soon arguing that Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle is the Great American Novel. I ended up watching the full two seasons, but I have an ambivalent relationship with the Amazon television show, which does not have much to do with the brilliant novel. A highly disturbing choice early in Season One was the Japanese gassing Frank Frink's sister and her children with Zyklon B. In the novel, the Japanese turn Jews over to the Nazis, they don't kill them themselves, an important lower rung of responsibility which is critical to the world of the book. But I am also unused to Holocaust tropes being used in dramas simply to advance a plot point. There are arguably some stories we should leave alone, so as not to normalize or trivialize them. There has similarly been some discussion about the use of rape in Hollywood movies as a transformative, character-building moment for the heroine. I stopped watching a show called Good Behavior because the interesting, nuanced and amusing heroine hooked up with a hit man, whom, in the first few episodes, she could not prevent from killing two women who did not remotely deserve it. One was a good wife whose evil husband wanted to dispose of her, and the other was the wife of the target, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. The writers even tried to load the scales a bit, by making the first woman overly self-confident and the second one annoying. Hit man comedies, which are a genre, like vampire and serial killer stories, are based on a vision of gross inequality, that the world justly consists of killers and their victims, that "the weak are meat the strong do eat".

Netflix caught a lot of flack for its algorithmcally-written movie Bright, about orc and human police partners. In a movie pretending to be about tolerance, there was reportedly a scene in which Will Smith crushed an annoying sprite while exclaiming, "Fairy lives don't matter!" Think about all the implications of that line and that moment in the movie--it is actually loaded with content more revealing than the supposed theme.

The fact that a story can be told does not mean that it should be.

A thought

While Israel seems to be driving over a cliff, I had the thought the other day that the Jews, my people, are survivors, and that, if necessary, we will outlive Israel too.


I have published several books, one with a famous old mainstream publisher. For almost twenty years, I have written for myself, hardly certain if my lack of desire to deal with publishers was a failure of character. Instead, I am starting to understand that there is a huge difference between the dialog an aspiring author has with a publisher, and the dialog her book might have with the world, if she had written it according to her own lights, and not someone else's. The latter book may be a powerful artifact, while the former represents nothing but an ambition.

In search of lost thoughts

I keep notes for this column by sending myself texts. Every month there are several which I can't interpret; I have no idea what I meant. This month I wrote "posterity" and "presque vue" and "capitalism and democracy synthesis". Like Coleridge dreaming "Kubla Khan" as an epic, until being interrupted by a Person from Porlock and forgetting most of it, I apparently solved the capitalism/democracy problem, but no longer remember my epiphany.

The Flight 93 election

I don't remember if I have already said this, but it should be obvious by now that Michael Anton in his "Flight 93 Election" essay, got his metaphor exactly backwards; he was assisting the hijacker to seize the plane, not preventing it. I have become more petty and spiteful than I ever wanted to be (these times are transformative) but if incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton fires Anton, well, it couldnt happen to a nicer guy.

Facebook is evil

Facebook is evil. I have stopped using it. There is no way to fix it.

Similar to what I said above about stories, the fact that a technology is possible, doesn;t mean that it should be deployed.


To end on an optimistic if mysterious note, the love between the two people in a marriage or enduring couple is like the light reflected back and forth between two mirrors. It doesn't matter where the light began.