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November 13, 2023


"Yes, Donald, I know there are other wars going on. "

Lately it would be more apt for someone to say that to me, that there are other wars going on, rather than have me say it--in the last month I've focused mostly on Gaza and secondarily on Ukraine. (with not much to say about the latter except that it is deeply depressing.)

Otherwise, yes, in total agreement. The love of guns is a bizarre and deeply ugly thing about America and ties in, I suspect, to some other ugly attitudes.

The love of guns is a bizarre and deeply ugly thing about America and ties in, I suspect, to some other ugly attitudes.


Someday (if it hasn't happened already) there will be an in depth analysis of how we got here. Because I'm old enough to remember first hand that it didn't used to be this way. Indeed, when the National Rifle Association formally and vigorously supported and advocated for gun control.

My sense is that it is a deliberately created madness. If so, learning who and how will be the first step towards preventing it from recurring, whether with guns or some other form of madness.

My sense is that it is a deliberately created madness. If so, learning who and how will be the first step towards preventing it from recurring, whether with guns or some other form of madness.

This is related to one of the two or three most fundamental strands of how I'm thinking about the world these days. I was just commenting to a friend this morning, re: Clickbait's use of the word "vermin" and his and his minions' threats about what they'll do if he gets elected again.

It sent me into a mental dark alley wondering: what kind of person wakes up in the morning (morning after morning) and says: "I want to be the next Hitler, but I'll do the job right this time" ???

Collectively, most of us here grew up in the aftermath of WWII, when such a thought would have been scorchingly unthinkable (I mean that anyone would want to lead the world back into what had happened over the previous 25 years or so). Personally, I was raised to be very innocent of the notion that some people actively wish to be "evil" -- what I consider evil, anyhow. Greedy, murderous, hate-filled, ready to kill other human beings by the dozens, thousands, or millions.

Above my pay grade to figure it out, but I don't want to hide under a rock, either.

As for guns specifically -- maybe more on that as time goes by. That issue too goes back to one of my fundamental principles: It's my world too. Previously I tended to say that only in gay rights contexts, but it also applies to the presence of guns in our shared public spaces. The "too" is important, implying as it does (to me) that we all have a right to a say in what kind of world we want to live in, which leads to theories of governance.... (Thinking of pollo de muerte's fist aphorism, and the response to that.)

TBC, probably, until this blog or I come to and end.

PS: a post about my own grief in relation to a collective tragedy comes from several directions:

1) navel-gazing

2) the relative isolation I am still practicing because of covid

3) the urge to bear witness to, and find words for, the extent of the trauma inflicted upon a community where people can be massacred while out bowling

most of us here grew up in the aftermath of WWII, when such a thought would have been scorchingly unthinkable

What is particularly appalling is that TIFG grew up then, too. Yet has no trouble at all thinking it.

But perhaps his family (specifically his father) was among the Hitler-loving remnants from the 1930s. They kept their heads down in public, but some never changed their views.

wj -- yes, that's one of my strands: it's all still there, even if it has gone underground for a while, or in a certain place.

My sense is that it is a deliberately created madness

Cherchez l'argent

Every day I wake up and am astounded, again, at the state of the nation, and the world. It's overwhelming.

My sense is that it is a deliberately created madness

Cherchez l'argent

Tobacco, opioids, guns, big oil.....

Coupled with keeping people in a ferment of blame (aimed at the wrong people)...

"Merchants of Doubt" -- bought the book because I heard one of the authors interviewed. But then, as happens, couldn't bring myself to actually read it and get angrier. Maybe that's a way of shirking my duty (?) to push back.... Bandwidth is finite, that's part of the challenge.

How did the modern NRA happen?

Revolt in Cincinnati; Columbine; Obama; Sandy Hook.

Some reading on this:

Cincinnati - https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-nras-true-believers-converted-a-marksmanship-group-into-a-mighty-gun-lobby/2013/01/12/51c62288-59b9-11e2-88d0-c4cf65c3ad15_story.html

How it was reported at the time - https://www.nytimes.com/1977/05/23/archives/rifle-group-ousts-most-leaders-in-move-to-bolster-stand-on-guns.html

And a bit of insider history for the rest - https://mountainjournal.org/ryan-busse-has-written-one-of-most-important-books-about-guns-in-america

Busse's book is worth a read.

My instincts on that 1977 inflection point would lay it at the feet of the dual pressures of losing the Vietnam War and backlash against the Civil Rights Movement. Those two things left a pretty big crater in the patriarchal nationalist psyche.

What is particularly appalling is that TIFG grew up then, too. Yet has no trouble at all thinking it.

I think he is a true narcissist, so that other people literally have no reality for him, they are just counters to be moved around for his greater gain.

I'm so sorry you are suffering so much from this, Janie. But, I guess for all the reasons you (and Snarki) posit, it's not surprising. I was thinking of you yesterday with reference to the middle east and to your often-quoted "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts", and realised that I just cannot do this. I cannot even really imagine being able to do this. Clearly, I am not a bodhisattva - but seriously, I wonder whether temperamentally some people are actually incapable of it, or else that it takes years of spiritual practice to be able to do it.

The gun situation: nothing new to say. Incomprehensible.

GftNC: I am a long way from actually living out that aphorism from Wendell Berry. But part of what it means to me is to not, in nous's terms, live all the time inside my outrage and grief. A mystery author that I've enjoyed, Louise Penny, was married to a much older man who died in 2017. This is one of the things she said/wrote about him after he died:

“Michael had the worst job in the world. Imagine having to try to cure children of cancer and not always doing it. Yet he’s the happiest man because he understands that for these children who don’t get to live, what a betrayal it would be for those of us who do get to live, and don’t live life with joy and happiness and gratitude. He believes that, he lives that, and so does Gamache.”

(Gamache being the main character in her novels.)

The gratitude is especially important. My life has had its ups and downs, but in this era, and at the age that I am, as I see people's lives being ended or shredded in places like Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, and yes, Lewiston, I keep trying to at least be grateful for my own life, and to use my good forture well, and not (too) selfishly. What good would it do anyone, for instance, if I took my outrage and pessimism along when I went to play with my grandkids? (Those people of the future ... who are still far too young to realize that there even is such a thing.)

That a plain, ordinary, unremarkable life like mine, enjoying my family and friends and the occasional nice sunset, is "good fortune" -- I will go to my grave wondering why such a thing isn't everyone's birthright. Acknowledging that there's unpreventable ill luck: disease, natural disaster -- I still can't quite take in that our fellow human beings are apparently one of the most enduring and reliably recurring natural disasters.

I get the serious impression that parts of the Right still have not gotten over FDR spoiling their dreams of a fascist US and now see a second chance almost exactly a century later to finallly catch up. And the confederacy never died to begin with.
But, as I have said repeatedly, the model of fascism the US right intends to aemulate is not Nazism (too much social mobility) or even Italian fascism (too modernist and too much investment in public infrastructure) but Austrofascism.

Btw, "vermin" is just too euphonious. They better learn to pronounce the original German "Ungeziefer" (the "z" is pronounced as a sharp "ts" and the "g" is guttural not as in "genius" but a bit harder than in "Greek").

"My sense is that it is a deliberately created madness."

I tend to blame everything on Republicans, but they are the party that made the deliberate decision years ago-to polarize America in order to create a base of voters who believed that only the Republicans could save them from an existential threat to their lives and values--this being the only way the party of oligarchs who don't give a shit about anyone could win elections. (The decision to rig elections started during the Bush admin). The Republicans set out to create wedge issues to create that polarized base. THEY ARE COMING FOR YOUR GUNS is one of the wedge issues. Yes, a madness created.

I don’t know what Austrian fascism would be, but I have enough pride in my country to think we can create our own unique brand of fascism, thank you very much.

I think it is based some combination of the worst traits of two of the subcultures in “Albion’s Seed”— there were the Virginian slave owning aristocrats and the misnamed Scots- Irish. As I recall, both put a lot of stock in freedom, but they meant their own freedom. I don’t have the book, but Fischer seemed to think you could see clear echoes of these earlier subcultures in our modern politics. Of course he presumably wrote the book with that in mind and might have subconsciously slanted the descriptions in a way to support his thesis, but those two groups sounded like the modern Republican Party, though with Trump the Scots Irish tendency has won out over the aristocrats. Not that they necessarily care so long as the stock market goes up.

Huh. Decades since German in college, and I still get the consonant pronunciations right in a noun whose meaning I would never guess.

I was thinking about this post while I did some errands, and I want to add that my own grief wasn't really the point of it -- I offer it mostly as a data point or benchmark for how such an event affects people far beyond those immediately involved.

There are obviously hundreds of people more directly affected than I was -- the victims (meaning everyone who was there), obviously, but also their families, friends, coworkers, and schoolmates. Not to mention the first responders and health care workers who were called upon to deal with the immediate requirements of the situation, and their families, friends, etc.

Then there are the thousands of people in the neighborhoods and towns where the events took place, and the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people like me, who feel that this happened in something like our own neighborhood. I don't know if this dynamic would be different in a bigger state, or a much bigger city, but Maine is a small and tight-knit state.

I know it was publicized, but it's worth repeating that there was a kids' bowling night going on, and the fact that only one child was killed, and not more, is partly due to the heroism of one man (quoting because there's a paywall blocking the article):

Thomas Giberti was not supposed to be working at Lewiston’s Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley Wednesday night when a gunman walked in and opened fire. But because he was there, he was able to help children escape the building safely even as he was shot multiple times in the legs.

Giberti is currently recovering in a central Maine hospital and was scheduled for what was hoped to be his last surgery on Saturday to repair the damage from being shot seven times.

He is being hailed as a hero by the bowling community that spans the globe, in addition to people across Maine, and his family and his friends, said Samantha Juray, co-owner of the bowling alley and eyewitness to the largest mass shooting in modern history in Maine.

In the chaos of the shootings, Juray saw Giberti put himself in the line of fire to save children.

“He was out back and in the machines and was coming back out and saw what was going on and just grabbed kids and started herding them out the back,” Juray said. “They were having youth [bowling] practice that night.”

Juray estimated Giberti saved the lives of at least eight, and possibly as many as a dozen, youth bowlers between the ages of 5 and 18 years old.

Also volunteering with the youth bowlers that night — as he did every Wednesday night — was Bob Violette, said Justin Juray, the bowling alley co-owner.

Violette, Giberti’s friend, coached the youth league. He was shot and killed alongside his wife, Lucy Violette.

I've just discovered the originally Japanese idea of a wind phone. I'll visit one when I can to talk to my wife about our children.

The idea of the wind phone is a beautiful one. I have to say, though, I talk to my husband quite often without one.

Here is the NHK piece on the wind phone


I have noticed that in trying to cope with having put my wife in memory care, I have become numb to a lot of tragic things happening elsewhere.

Micheal, I can understand that. A person can get overload. sometimes we need to focus on those close to us and on ourselves to get by.

What wonkie said.

"Numb" has a pejorative edge to it, but it seems like there's a sort of conservation of emotional energy that you have to accept in order to deal with any of it in a healthy/helpful way. And it takes time.

Driving around again today, the flags at half staff made me realize: they're not just about the grief, they're about the fact that it's a shared grief -- a whole community's worth.

Injured teenager gets to go home, with a smile.

Michael: what wonkie and Janie said, particularly about the conservation of emotional energy. Numbness of that sort can be a blessing - sometimes the human mind (and heart) has to protect itself. There have always been, and will always be, tragic things happening elsewhere.

"Numb" has a pejorative edge to it

This piqued my interest. While there is the phrase 'numbnuts'
I wouldn't have pegged numb as being pejorative. The Oxford site also lists nearby entries and while numbnuts dates from the (19)70's, the other entries are much earlier.

Trying to understand why numb might be perjorative, it might be taking the option of choosing not to feel. Yet, when surrounded by all the current news, it reminds me of a quote that google tells me is from Thomas Szasz "Insanity is the only sane response to an insane world". Checking out his wikipedia bio might be interesting, it was for me.


lj -- sorry, I wasn't clear. I didn't mean the word all on its own was pejorative, I was taking it in the context in which Michael used it. It seemed like he was maybe being hard on himself for not being able to feel anything much about more distant tragedies right now.

In Marine boot camp in 1969, "numbnuts" was in prolific use.

pejorative: "expressing contempt or disapproval." (Google result "Definitions from Oxford Languages")

"Disapproval" is exactly what I was reading into what Michael wrote, that he thought the numbness he mentioned wasn't a laudable thing, although I understand that that might not be what he actually meant.


numb: "deprived of the power of sensation" (from the same source)

If that isn't something to be pejorative about (or at least somewhat negative somehow or other), you and I have very different notions about things. Including the meaning of words. ;-)

Gotta go with lj on this one. Numb is precisely what you need to be to deal with extreme pain. Getting numb in the face of physical pain is precisely why we create anesthetics. And for emotional pain, something similar seems not just laudable but necessary.

We're talking past each other, so I'm stopping.

Not stopping quite yet, because I don't like murky confusion *or* being misinterpreted, both of which seem to be running through this last set of comments.

Michael used the word "numb." I said it had a pejorative edge to it. I thought (but wasn't sure) that he might be being a bit hard on himself, and wonkie, GftNC, and I all said that there are times when it's okay, or even necessary, to focus your emotional energy on what's closest to you, i.e. it's okay to be "numb" to other things; we only have so much bandwidth.

lj said "numb" isn't pejorative.

I suggest putting "is it bad to be numb" in a search box and see what you come up with. My top result, from some outfit called "Newport Institute," starts this way:

What does it mean when a person is numb? Feeling emotionally numb is associated with a number of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder....

(I do not interpret this as contradicting what wonkie, GftNC, and I said ... it's complicated.)

There are many similar search results. Here's an interesting one.

So -- whatever the "true meaning" of the word "numb" might be, or the desirability of achieving that state at any given time, I am not alone in thinking that it can have a negative edge to it.

Numbness is normal, I think. I live near NYC and was here during 9/11 — not in the city itself and after a few days found out I hadn’t lost anyone I knew. That was what all the conversations were about. Do you know anyone who died? It was a weird period, like living in a bad movie. The skyline had changed. We were all paranoid for awhile. Security guards near water towers in the suburbs, silly in retrospect, National Guardsmen at Grand Central with rifles ( I wondered what they would do with them if something happened.) I would walk fast through it on the theory that this was a good target for a suicide bomber.

But it faded. I forget when. I know a friend called the first night after it happened who had lived in nyc and then moved back to Ohio and it was weird, because she clearly wasn’t feeling the shock, but I realized it was normal to feel that way from hundreds of miles away.

Sorry to have started this, but just to be clear I wasn't arguing whether it _was_ pejorative or not. I just said that it didn't strike me in that way, so was wondering why I was thinking differently. No judgement on any other take.

Try substituting “desensitized,” or “insensitive,“ or “unfeeling” for “numb” to get a sense of why it can be taken with a degree of disapproval. I agree that pain management is a necessary thing, but the language associated with it does carry a sense of moral judgment.

I'd say “desensitized”, “insensitive“ and “unfeeling” without context have a strong negative vibe that would only disappear, if put into a particular context (e,g. of antiallergic therapy in the case of "desensitized"). The other two - to me - instantly sound like synonyms for "tactless" and "heartless". "Numb" I'd see as primarily a neutral description of state ("my thumb is numb") in a way the physical equivalent to "dumbfounded". Not a 'positive' word but not an automatically pejorative one either.

I'd also say that "numb" is a passive term. "Desensitized" is caused by active external influence while "insensitive" and "unfeeling" - to me - come from the inside and are thus at least partially active. But this may by because I mentally tend to automatically add an "act" to those two. "To unfeel" sounds like something from newspeak though*. To me "unfeeling" has a vibe of malice while "insensitive" (in the area of meaning containing "tactless") also encompasses the possibility of innocent mistake or of speaking rashly without thought.

*to rid oneself of the milk of human kindness
(a prerequisite for a successful career as a vulture capitalist and/or fringe politician)

The word (in the vein being discussed) that always gets me mixed up is "enervated".

Flags at half-mast for a mass shooting makes me wonder what should be done as the mass-shootings get more frequent.

NOT "quarter-mast", "eighth-mast", etc, as satisfying as that might be for a math-nerd.

My proposal, which is mine, is:

FIRST mass shooting, flags at half mast.

SECOND mass shooting, flags at half mast UPSIDE DOWN.

THIRD mass shooting, summary execution of the NRA.

Following Snarki...the NRA is just the front man. So to speak.

Gun sales are more frequent since 2012, with an additional increase following both mass shootings and legislative changes enacted in response to these shootings.

From here. Also anecdata at second-hand, locally.

What should the penalties be for those who promote and sell death for profit? (Smells of tobacco and opioids, doesn't it?)

(Not forgetting war machines, but given the evidence of other countries, it seems at least theoretically possible to stop the endless stream of massacres in grocery stores and schools, whereas stopping war is ... above my pay grade.)

Perhaps my failing to perceive "numb" as negative comes from this. I have a problem with the macho, just tough it out, approach to pain and grief. (NOT that I'm accusing anyone here of trying to act macho!) But that's my reflexive reaction when I hear "Don't get/be numb. That's wrong."

Apologies for failing to grasp where others were coming from.

What should the penalties be for those who promote and sell death for profit? (Smells of tobacco and opioids, doesn't it?)

Very much like. And the purveyors obviously know it. That's why they went to the trouble (and, most likely, expense) of getting a law past to explicitly make them not liable for what their products do. No other product; just guns.

My take would be to start with straight up "wrongful death" liability. The kind which get employers hit with million dollar settlements. Per case. With triple damages for cases involving guns with no sports use (e.g. AK-47s). Plus criminal penalties, including prison time,** if there is no immediate product recall -- specifically for the executives, directors, and entire sales staff of the manufacturer. (Still thinking about penalties for retailers and wholesalers.) Make it up close and personal for them.

** And not some white collar prison either. Hard time with the kind of people who use their products to commit crimes.

I have a problem with the macho, just tough it out, approach to pain and grief.

So do I. I've probably mentioned this, but when that very same Jared Golden who needed the deaths of eighteen neighbors to change his tune on gun control laws first ran for Congress, I donated what for me was a good chunk of $ to his campaign. I sent it along with a letter letting him know that I wasn't impressed (to put it mildly) with his campaign video, in which he wore a t-shirt that said, "Pain is weakness leaving the body."

As someone with a family member who suffers from apparently undiagnosable, much less curable, chronic pain, I saw that message as the worst kind of destructive macho bullshit. (I was politer about it to Jared, but I never got any acknowledgment of the message regardless.)

(Broken record PS: Golden's district went heavily for Clickbait both times, so Golden toes a fine line getting elected at all in that district. Which is now mine because of redistricting, although I'm certainly on the bluer edge of it.)

Oh God. You all probably knew this:

As the NRA fades, a more zealous US pro-gun group rises as a lobbying power.
Gun Owners of America, formed in belief NRA was ‘too liberal’, spent $3.3m lobbying against gun control and boasts 2m members


ps We don't use "numbnuts" over here. We do use numbskull, however, and that is indubitably pejorative!

The GOA is not actually a newcomer. They complain about the NRA being too liberal for many years now.
Pratt seems to serve the same spiritual function there as LaPierre used to in the NRA: the ugly public face that always finds a way to top the previous low. And from what I get, Pratt is either an actually insane true believer or a perfect imitation of one - as opposed to the died-in-the-wool fraud LaPierre who is as fake as a modern televangelist of the Kenneth Copeland type.

This conversation about grief and loss has me revisiting what I wrote about in my dissertation, and returning to Martha Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness. At the heart of it is her framing of the disconnect between Aristotle and Plato over the nature of happiness. She argues, via Aristotle, that the happiness we derive from relationships exists in part in the person we love, and is not just a state of the individual's soul that remains untouched by mortality and contingency. Loss of the person we love is, to Aristotle, a real loss, and no amount of living in the memory or in the goodness of the soul can replace that loss. We can form new relationships and remap our paths to things we enjoyed jointly with our loved one, but the loss is real. I find this convincing.

On the subject of numbness being viewed negatively, I keep coming back to how these attitudes figure into our systems of justice. I'm reminded of how in Camus' The Stranger, Meursault is sentenced to death not because he killed the Arab, but because he did not cry at his mother's funeral. Likewise, in questions of sexual violence we see a lot of attention paid to how the person who suffered the alleged violence react emotionally to it, and reacting with less affect is seen as cause for suspicion. This is something for which we are starting to see some necessary pushback, but it is still very much a narrative that makes it hard for survivors of actual violence when their natural defensive measures are weaponized against them to cast doubt on the situation.

I hope this is clear and not rambling. I'm trying to piece it together in between student visits during Zoom office hours.

the loss is real. I find this convincing.

Me too.

it is still very much a narrative that makes it hard for survivors of actual violence when their natural defensive measures are weaponized against them to cast doubt on the situation.

Yes. And the idea that there is a "correct", or "normal" way to react to things, is such a limited way to view human beings and their emotional range. Doesn't mean that one can't sense something off in someone's reactions, but one should always be prepared to accept that one's intuition is wrong.

I think numbness in the face of overwhelming grief or terror is understandable and possibly a survival mechanism.
There's also the numbness that comes from over exposure, especially for people who are struggling to get their own needs met. FOr example, I support a dog rescue in Puerto Rico. There's a lot of numbness there to starving, injured dogs because starving, injured dogs are everywhere and people are focused on their own survival.
The really bad kind of numbness in my opinion is kind of numbness that is either a trained response or an aspect of character: the numbness that sees tragedy and thinks, "Not my problem." Granted we can't all care about everything! We HAVE to prioritize and that means making the choice to skim past the ad for the Humane Society or not dig for change for a panhandler or feel sorry about the starving people in the Sudan while moving on to read a news story about some other topic. But the numbness I'm talking about is habitual and generalized toward nearly everyone except the numb person. That person just doesn't feel the sadness that the rest of us feel. Such people do exist, and I think they are fairly common.

Serendipitously, this piece on Paul Auster in today's Grauniad touches on grief and the loss of a loved one, as well as US gun stuff, as well as Biden's record and the coming election. Custom made for ObWi.


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