January 2013
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

A wish

May your year be full of love, opportunities, fullfillments, and beauty.


Michigan is the latest Republican-dominated state to pass a stealth anti-union law, added to some existing bills with no notice to anyone, and then to spin it, of course, protecting the very people it is intended to destroy. The arrogance and dishonesty of the approach, is of course, both appalling and typically Republican. Union members came out in force, and a teacher outside the state house told a reporter that the Republicans had just given the state away in the 2014 elections. I hope she's right.

The Republicans have self-identified as the party trying to ensure that the middle class has no jobs, mortgages, health insurance or Social Security. If honestly presented this would be terrible enough; but the chutzpah of calling a stealth attempt to break the unions a "right to work" law is amazing. It is a-right-to-work-for minimum-wage-and-no-benefits-or- job-security law. Which is what the Texas miracle, by the way, has been: a way of increasing low wage employment and poverty at the same time--in pursuit of a basically medieval conception, a return to a world of barons and serfs.


The Times for December 12 has a really heart-breaking article, profiling five prisoners serving life under draconian Reagan-era federal drug laws. They each have one thing in common: the judges who sentenced them, who were left no discretion whatever, went on record as saying that they thought the sentences they were forced to impose were grossly unfair. Some of those judges have since campaigned for clemency for the defendants, some of whom have now been in prison for decades. One is a woman whose crack dealer boyfriend hid a box of drugs in a crawlspace she didn't even know existed, then testified against her in return for a lighter sentence; another was a gentle, harmless Grateful Dead fan who received life only because the blotter acid he sold exceeded certain weight limits because of the weight of the paper.

In Europe, life sentences without parole, are reserved for egregious crimes, and only a few thousand people are serving them. Here, there are 41,000, some of them people who were sentenced on a first conviction, and had no history of violence whatever.


Americans such as Madelyn Allbright who are heros to the Kosovans for their Clinton-era intervention against the murderous Serbs are now cashing in big time. Allbright runs a hedge fund which has a bid in to purchase a Kosovan telcom company. Its shameful, and tends to confirm that America and its politicians never do anything out of actual altruism.

Susan Rice

I feel bad for her. She worked so hard for a lifetime, and so intelligently and faithfully, for presidents Clinton and Obama, and then, when the big reward was in sight, the Secretary of State job, she gets savaged by Republican attack dogs holding her unfairly responsible for repeating the CIA briefing points which she believed the day after the Libyan embassy attack. Sheesh.

Here's another irony, which nobody seems to be raising: Senator Kerry's nomination for the post will sail through the "gentlemanly" (sic much of the coverage) Senate, receiving approval from the same Republicans who joined or countenanced the disgusting and reprehensible "Swift Boat" attacks on him in the 2004 campaign. If he was a liar and cheat who didn't deserve his medals then, what makes him fit to be Secretary of State now? Seems like an admission by every Republican who votes to confirm him that "Swift Boat" was a pack of lies.

Connecticut school shooting

There's almost nothing to say after each new mass shooting incident--they come only weeks apart anyway. This one was closer to me than most (sixty miles outside NYC), larger than most (28 people) and was mostly children (20).

Here again is the 2012 Republican platform, promulgated just weeks after the Aurora movie theater shooting: "We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines...."

The widely promulgated view of the Murder Lobby, which we inevitably hear whenever there is a mass shooting because there is nothing else they could say, is that more guns would make the system safer: if the victims had been armed, they could have shot back. In the real world, more guns equal more disorder, more entropy. In the murder-brains of the Murder Lobby, Mrs. Lanza the first victim, could have shot her son and prevented a massacre; but in the real world, he killed his mom with her own gun, then used a semi-automatic rifle of which she was very proud to kill twenty children and seven other adults.

So if the schoolteachers had all been armed....But the supposition still doesn't work, because you still can't make guns equal less entropy. He had a weapon that could spray bullets, but anybody shooting back with one would hit as many children as he did. The only person who could have killed only him would have been a damn good single shot marksman, and there wasn't one among the schoolteachers; there never is. And a schoolteacher who was packing would possibly have been inclined not to draw anyway, as that's a pretty good way to get shot by a gunman who is already firing a semi-automatic weapon. Which is why guns don't really fight entropy, as entropy tends to side with the crazy, chaotic shooter with the semiautomatic weapon and, ahem, the extended magazine.

So the only solution that would fight entropy would be to keep those guns out of the hands of the crazy and chaotic. Which offends the Murder Lobby.

Later--Nancy Lanza is pretty high up in the annals of failed parenting. She taught her sociopathic son to love guns, and how to shoot them, and bought the scary, spiky, powerful semiautomatic weapons he used to shoot her and 27 other people including 20 children under 10 whom he shot over and over. But she wasn't a meth head raising him on the criminal margins; they lived in a large Connecticut home with a pool, and she was an ex-stockbroker, essentially the Murder Lobby's poster mom. In the reversed polarities of Murder Lobby brains, Nancy Lanza and the community she lived in should have been much safer because she owned that Bushmaster rifle, that Sig Sauer, that Glock.

Unpaid employees

An account in the Times about people in Spain who continue working for companies which don't pay them for months at a time was very unsettling. I remember news stories over the years interviewing government officials in very poor places in the Third World, which would containm the throw-away line, "Mr. Okunage said he has not received a paycheck in two years." But Spain? Undoubtedly someone is still getting paid: the CEO, the general counsel, the vendors. The article covered the phenomenon as though it was an unaccountable side effect of nature, like thunder and lightning; but it smells like exploitation, by executives and owners who know that even unpaid employees can't safely leave, because they will never get another job and this one at least has a chance of future pay.

Guns and money

From the December 18 Times:

The .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that was used on Friday by Adam Lanza to massacre 20 schoolchildren was manufactured by the Freedom Group, a gun behemoth controlled by Cerberus Capital Management...

The article goes on to list other gun and accessory firms owned in whole or part by hedge funds and investment firms. Cerberus announced a plan to divest Freedom a day later.

I suggest that this is the real story, rarely covered: guns are wildly profitable, and behind every gun manufacturer is a billionaire. The Second Amendment stuff is a cover, enfilading fire to protect the sale of product. The people atop the NRA are knaves, and the ground troops of Second Amendment freedom are tools, aspiring to be knaves.

Fun conversation starter

Next time you are hanging out with your favorite Second Amement fanatic, try the following thought provoking intro to an enjoyable discussion. Hold a book open in front of you, and, as if you are reacting to something in it say, "Wow. Bob Guccione, Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt.... never realized the extent to which those porn billionaires used the First Amendment as a cover to sell product." He will likely answer, "Of course they did"....if he's a socially conservative Republican with a disgusted expression, or, if he's a libertarian with an appreciative smirk. Wait a beat, and say, "So I guess those gun billionaires also use the Second Amendment as a cover, right....?" Likely he will sputter, trip over his tongue, and insist that the Second Amendment types are extraordinarily virtuous and pure of heart....

The NRA solution

"Put a good guy with a gun in every school." It is perfect political theater: The Murder Lobby can now pat itself on the back for having been "sensitive" to the distress caused by the Newtown shootings, while proposing a "solution" which will sell more guns.

Let's put aside moral and political issues for a moment, and consider the practicality of this approach.

Imagine that every school in America now has someone armed with a Glock patrolling the hallways. As a common sense matter, this is a great retired cop job, so it is almost inevitable that a large percentage of these hallway guards will be older people with somewhat slower reflexes. Also, they cannot be everywhere at once, so an attacker might shoot a lot of people before the guard even gets to him.

The hallway cop will be wearing a vest, right? Yes, but it probably will be a level II vest, and .223 rounds like the ones Adam Lanza used will go right through it. I know this because the web is full of sites on which people want to know if their .223 rounds will pierce other people's body armor. These have names like AR15.com and USmilitia.com. The Murder Lobby has opposed legislation banning armor-piercing ammunition, arguing (as always) that it was too broad and vague.

Also, vests only cover the upper body. Cops with Level III vests still die when someone gets off a head shot, or the bullet enters through the arm holes on the side. In many cases, even a deflected shot would knock the cop down and incapacitate him for a while, making him an easier target.

According to the Glock web site, the law enforcement models have a 10 to 17 round capacity. The .223 Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza used is a civilian version of the M16 U.S. military rifle, and it had at least a 30 round magazine. Lanza reloaded many times, firing hundreds of rounds, 11 into a single unidentified victim.

The Bushmaster in semi-automatic mode is capable of firing 45 rounds a minute. While our putative hallway cop can also fire his entire magazine in under a minute, he has several limitations: unlike the sociopathic attacker, he is trying not to shoot children, and he has fewer bullets. Also, he is trying to live, while the attacker is planning to die during the attack. As a matter of simple entropy, of physics, of the way the universe slants, the attacker wins most of these encounters.

Placing cops in the hallways will not deter a suicidal sociopath, who will simply add a feature to his plans: shoot the cop first. In some number of cases, the cop will die without firing a single round. In others, the Wild West shoot-out scenario, the cop will expend his entire magazine against a hidden attacker who will have the capacity, when the cop empties his magazine, of firing 15 to 83 additional rounds while the cop is reloading.

In Murder World, life is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, violent and short.

Later--the president of the Murder Lobby has a son serving ten years in prison for shooting at another driver in a road rage incident. What an elegant proof that the world of the Murder Lobby's imagination, in which guns make us all safer, barely overlaps the entropic world in which guns allow our impulses to become more deadly, faster.


In my book, Michael Bloomberg is a villain, a billionaire who decided to be mayor of New York as a hobby, who has often been out of town at his island compounds during major New York events when you would expect the mayor to be here, like blizzards. As billionaires do, he used his money to bend the rules, eliminating term limits because he wanted a third term. And he has been an absolute bully where Occupy Wall Street is concerned, ordering or permitting the NYPD to chill free speech through thousands of baseless arrests of people whose cases are dismissed later (like mine) or who easily win acquittal at trial.

One thing he has done which I like, however, has been ceaselessly to crusade and litigate against the Murder Lobby, and post-Newtown, he is turning up the volume. In the world of "Citizen's United", he is pledging unlimited Super-PAC money to support candidates who dare to oppose the NRA. So in this uncertain, Schrodingerian world, the villain can have flickering moments of heroism.

Or maybe its like the final scene of one of those movies where the monsters fight one another.


Years ago, when Kevorkian was killing people, I thought he was possibly a sociopath who had found what he thought was the perfect dodge, a way to kill without consequences. His own death of natural causes, though not of course definitive, supports my suspicion. If suicide is a merciful release from decline and pain, why wasn't it for him?

I am not at all against ending one's life to avoid suffering and loss of dignity, as a calm decision ("Es hat kein sinn mehr," Freud said: this makes no more sense). But there are moments in life when you have to live in the fuzzy logic, outside the rules. How do you legislate for euthanasia without creating the risk of people being hounded into it, killed with apparent or presumed, but not at all authentic consent? Many of the people Kevorkian "helped" were physically capable of doing it on their own. Someone who induces her own death is pretty certain of what she is doing (even if impulsive, or persuaded by false reasoning); someone who accepts the assistance of another may not be. Kevorkian, for his own suspect reasons, tried to make public and rule-oriented a decision which is personal and extremely private.

The fiscal cliff "solution"

The Republican party has painted itself into an unpatriotic corner. What is badly needed now is a grand bargain, solving big problems. Boehner, even in his weakened condition, could accomplish that by bringing just enough moderate Republicans to the table to join the Democrats in passing legislation. But he won't, because the Republicans, in order to trick the middle class into voting against its own jobs, health care and houses, has spent the last twenty years deligitimizing and demonizing the Democrats. Once you portray the opposition as evil enemies, the end of the American system, how do you work with them to pass legislation?

A last thought

Alts drait zich arum broit un toit: Everything revolves around bread and death.