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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

The SIG MCX, a.k.a. the “Black Mamba.” That’s the assault weapon Omar Mateen used to commit his massacre. And which he, of course, purchased legally. Over the counter. As just about any person may in the state of Florida, as in much of the United States, even if he is a hate-spewing psychopath—as Mateen manifestly was—and/or has expressed an affinity with radical Islamist groups. To see what this rifle is about, watch the videos here. Anyone who can defend the freedom to acquire such weapons over the counter is not one with whom I can have any sort of dialogue. Repeating for the umpteenth time, what happened in Orlando is a uniquely American tragedy. Israeli journalist Anshei Pfeffer argued as much in the JDF, observing that though there are similarities between Islamic State-inspired or organized terrorist attacks in the US and those in Europe, these similarities end when it comes to the availability of weapons of war to civilians, which, he asserted

is inconceivable to outsiders. Not just the ease with which a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle can be bought over the counter, but the possibility of loading it with customized magazines holding 100 bullets, more than three times the number even armies use. The potential for bloodshed by one isolated and individual attacker is so much greater.

This availability of weapons enables isolated American Muslims with anger management problems—the Muslim population in America otherwise being well-to-do and thoroughly integrated—to express their rage in freelance bloodbaths such as the one yesterday in Orlando, whereas such is much more difficult in Europe, where Muslim populations contain larger numbers of extremists but who necessitate mobilization into cells of transnational terrorist organizations in order to commit mayhem, as in Paris and Brussels. If the US had stricter gun legislation, it would face no domestic jihadist terrorist threat.

On “lone wolf” terrorists, see Isaac Chotiner’s must-read interview in Slate with political scientist Jeffrey D. Simon, author of the 2013 book Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.

Academic blogger Juan Cole has an instant analysis, “Omar Mateen and rightwing homophobia: Hate crime or domestic terrorism?” See also sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer’s blog post, “Orlando massacre: ISIS inspired or homophobic attack?”

France 24 reporter-blogger and friend Leela Jacinto, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan over the years, has been looking into the curious case of the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, “Sins of the father do not apply to the Orlando nightclub attacker.” Money quote

By all accounts Mateen Senior is bombastic, delusional, prolix and probably dyslexic. In some crazy phase of his prolific, self-made media career, he proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan. That’s how batty he is.

But like many parents of kids who have jumped on the Daesh/Islamic State (IS) group killing train, he has never advocated killing people who disagree with him.

This is consistent with the generational break we are witnessing between immigrant parents who have left their native lands and their children who have a limited, at best, grasp of their parents’ countries of birth.

Leela quotes Barnett Rubin of Columbia University, the world’s leading political science authority on Afghanistan, who has also been on the Omar Mateen père story

As Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, tweeted, “Orlando shooter’s dad Seddique Mateen doesn’t support Taliban or anything but himself. No wonder his son was unstable. Look at his FB page.”

After examining what he deliciously called Mateen’s “logorrhean FB page,” Rubin not surprisingly concludes, “He is a nut”.

Not nearly as much as his son, alas.

As for the fallout on the US presidential campaign, there will be none, except perhaps to reinforce Hillary and make the specter of Trump in the White House that much more alarming. If terrorism becomes an issue in the fall campaign, Hillary can only benefit. More on this another time.

UPDATE: See the powerful “Reflections on Orlando” by New York LGBT blogger Michael Bouldin.

2nd UPDATE: On the matter of guns, Huff Post foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg has a piece explaining “what happened when a terrorist attacked LGBT people in a country with strict gun laws.” The country in question is Israel. The lede: “There’s no right to bear arms in Israel, and the death count in recent terror attacks is much lower than in terror-inspired U.S. mass murders.” Right-wing Americans who adhere the NRA (and AIPAC) viewpoint are invited to read this and, if they care to do so, respond to it.

3rd UPDATE: Watch Vox’s extraordinary seven-minute video, “America’s gun problem, explained.”

4th UPDATE: WaPo reporters Kevin Sullivan and William Wan have a must-read portrait (June 17th) of Omar Mateen, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter.” It wasn’t sympathy for the Islamic State which drove him to commit mass murder, that’s for sure.

Also see the report (June 18th) by TDB’s Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny, and Katie Zavadski, “The unhinged home that raised Orlando killer Omar Mateen.” Talk about a dysfunctional family, and for whom religion was clearly not central.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, in an Orlando-related piece (June 22nd), “The Islamization of radicalism,” interviews Olivier Roy “on the misunderstood connection between terror and religion.”

New York Daily News_June 13 2016

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Muhammad Ali, R.I.P.

When We Were Kings

My social media timeline was covered with tributes when he died a week ago. I didn’t put up anything myself, as I was off the blog for two weeks and with limited Internet access—on a voyage that I will write about soon—but also as I didn’t have anything of interest to say about him. But as today is his funeral, and with a part of America honoring his memory, I will add my 1¢ here, namely to say that he was one of those public personalities whom I knew, as it were, for most of my life, notwithstanding my zero interest in boxing. Muhammad Ali was a character whom one found amusing and interesting, not least for his political views, such as expressed here and here in regard to the Vietnam war. And his Chicago mansion—on the 4900 block of S.Woodlawn—being in my neighborhood in the 1980s, I would make a point to show it to visiting out-of-town friends (though Muhammad Ali didn’t actually spend much time there; pour l’info, Barack & Michelle Obama’s Chicago home—where they no longer spend much time either—is nearby, on the 5000 block of S.Greenwood). And he was certainly one of the better known Americans abroad, at least in Muslim countries in the 1960s and ’70s; I have memories of his name coming up with people when I lived in Turkey back then. And then there was the Rumble in the Jungle, which was the subject of the excellent documentary, When We Were Kings (see here and here). I think I’ll watch it again.

Slate has passages of “The best stories ever written about Muhammad Ali.” The full text of Murray Kempton’s is here.

UPDATE: President Obama has an exceptional tribute to Muhammad Ali, posted on the White House website. Watch Valerie Jarrett read it at the funeral here.

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Yale, Mizzou, and free speech

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[update below] [2nd update below]

I’ve been following the brouhahas at Yale and the U. of Missouri like most others who have some link to US academia and, like other right-thinking people, was appalled by the behavior of the students—and, at Mizzou, members of the faculty—who sought to thwart the free speech rights of others and/or acted in an unacceptable manner. As I had lengthy exchanges on the subject yesterday on social media—with most of the participating (left-of-center) friends agreeing with me—I will not repeat them here. But I do want to link to some of the better analyses and commentaries I’ve come across, which have (naturally) buttressed my position.

On the Yale incident, this was the video—of the student screaming at the professor about ‘safe spaces’—that teed me off. Whatever the grievance, it is totally, utterly unacceptable for a student to address a professor or campus administrator in this manner. Period.

These are good, informative commentaries:

Yale’s big fight over sensitivity and free speech, explained,” in Vox.

James Kirchick in Tablet, “Growing up at Yale: A recent controversy over potentially offensive Halloween costumes at the Ivy League campus makes me ask: Where are the adults?”

Mark Oppenheimer in Tablet, “Person up, Yale students: The problem with the protests isn’t that they’re radical, but that they’re not radical enough.”

Daniel Drezner in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “A clash between administrators and students at Yale went viral. Why that is unfortunate for all concerned.”

On the University of Missouri business, the first piece I saw—and which got me all worked up (watch the video)—was by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, “Campus activists weaponize ‘safe space’: A journalist at the University of Missouri is mobbed by a crowd insisting he is the aggressor.” And then there’s this one in the NYT.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait had a spot on riposte, “Can we start taking political correctness seriously now?”

More than one friend posted on social media a response to Chait by Salon’s Amanda Marcotte, “Quit with the ‘PC’ hysteria: College kids are not trying to steal your freedom of speech.” Marcotte is a good analyst of US partisan politics—I tweet her often—but she’s way off base on this one.

Todd Gitlin, writing in Quartz, explained why “Mizzou protesters are safer with a free press than without one.”

If one didn’t see it, the communications “professor at [the] center of [the] Missouri university protest video“—who actively tried to block student photographer/journalist Tim Tai from doing his job—has offered her “sincere apologies” for her behavior. Of course she did. As an assistant professor who likely does not have tenure, profusely apologizing was sort of the obvious thing for her to do.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an important commentary by Bruce Joshua Miller and Ned Stuckey-French, which provides critical context for understanding what happened at Mizzou: “In Missouri, the downfall of a business-minded president.” In short, private sector operators—who know nothing about higher education—took control of a public university, and were backed by a political party whose name need not be mentioned. And Mizzou is hardly alone here. Whatever the transgressions of college students and a few professors, the takeover of universities by MBAs and their world-view is the real problem in American higher education today.

UPDATE: TDB reporter Emily Shire has a must-read piece, “Inside Yale’s ‘whites-only’ panic.” The lede: “A professor is screamed at by a student, while claim and counterclaim surround an alleged ‘white girls only’ party—what has led the Ivy League university to the race precipice?” I have, in fact, been skeptical of the veracity of the accounts—all unsubstantiated so far—of black students being turned away from supposedly “whites only” fraternity/sorority parties, and other alleged incidents of racism on campus. Not that overt racism doesn’t exist among college students—e.g. the University of Oklahoma incident earlier this year—but its frequency is no doubt overblown. This reminds me of the racial/identity politics at my liberal arts college in the 1970s, where black students could and did make accusations of racism toward the institution—which were bullshit—and never be frontally challenged (no one dared). Honestly, there was a lot of crap uttered by militant black students back then—who were coddled and indulged by the college in all sorts of ways (and given an uncritical free pass by bleeding heart leftist whites). And there was social pressure from black students on fellow black students who had white friends not to continue with those friendships (I knew this for a fact). There was pressure for conformity and to fall into line (Emily Shire in her article mentions one such incident at Yale). It was likewise with the radical feminists and gays (some of them). My detestation of identity politics—which I’ve never considered to be a marker of leftism—dates from this period.

2nd UPDATE: Vox’s Max Fisher has an equally must-read post, based on his personal experience from a decade ago, “When the campus PC police are conservative: why media ignored the free speech meltdown at William & Mary.” Comment: If the general climate on university campuses suddenly became as right-wing as it is left today—with, e.g., College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom the center of ideological gravity, and with the faculty correspondingly conservative—there would no doubt be even greater intolerance toward deviating (here, leftist) political views.

U. of Missouri Communications prof Melissa Click, November 9th

U. of Missouri Communications prof Melissa Click, November 9th

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America’s immigrants

Algerian man, Ellis Island, circa 1907 (photo: Augustus Sherman)

Algerian man, Ellis Island, circa 1907 (photo: Augustus Sherman)

WaPo’s Wonkblog has a great post, dated October 24th, on “What America’s immigrants looked like when they arrived on Ellis Island,” with amazing photos taken between 1892 and 1907 by amateur photographer Augustus Sherman, who worked as the chief registry clerk on Ellis Island. Check it out. I’d be curious to know what happened to the immigrants one sees in Sherman’s photos and their successive generations (and particularly the Algerian, who was possibly the first immigrant from that land to set foot in America). A great country America is, to have absorbed, and then integrated/assimilated, so many people from so many cultures—and which, pace Donald Trump and others in his party, continues apace today.

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Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana (photo credit: Lori Waselchuk & TMN)

Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana (photo credit: Lori Waselchuk & TMN)

This is the title of the excellent, first-rate, must-read lead article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the October 2015 issue of The Atlantic. The lede: “American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they’ve failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report ‘The Negro Family’ tragically helped create this system, it’s time to reclaim his original intent.” Coates emphasizes that “this system”—of mass incarceration of Afro-Americans—has been a bipartisan endeavor, with liberal Democratic politicians every bit as culpable as their Republican counterparts (entre autres, in the unlikely event that Martin O’Malley is the Democratic party presidential nominee next year, I will have a tough time supporting him; and if Joe Biden enters the race—and one hopes he will—he will have some explaining to do and profuse mea culpas to issue).

Coates’s article is the most important I’ve read on the general subject in a long time. It’s lengthy—some 19,000 words—but should be read off the screen and not printed out, in view of the embedded footnotes and videos. It is thankfully divided into chapters (nine), to facilitate the task for those who won’t get through it in one shot.

Coates ends his piece with a link to his lengthy 2014 essay on reparations, which I have yet to read. I will in the coming days sans faute.

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My People, Black & White

(Illustration by Michael Hogue)

(Illustration by Michael Hogue)

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in New Orleans, I’m linking to the cover article of the September-October issue of The American Conservative, “My People, Black & White: How I came to see my country through African-American eyes,” by TAC senior editor Rod Dreher. The subject of Dreher’s article is his collaboration with actor Wendell Pierce—best known for his role as Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire—in the writing of Pierce’s memoir, The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken, which will be published on September 8th by Penguin. Pierce, who was born and raised in middle class black New Orleans, sought out Dreher’s collaboration after having read the latter’s 2013 memoir of growing up in a small town north of Baton Rouge. The collaboration seemed unlikely but as they were both native Louisianans—with cultural commonalities spanning the racial divide—and of the same generation—both born in the mid 1960s—it worked.

I thought this was a very interesting article. Dreher thus writes

The centerpiece of [Pierce’s] book would be the unparalleled devastation that Hurricane Katrina wreaked upon the city in 2005 and how that catastrophe galvanized him to help rebuild his hometown. Wendell starred in a nationally celebrated production of “Waiting for Godot,” staged in the ruins of the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly neighborhood. In his book, he wanted to write about the power of art to move and to heal a people.

All of that sounded great to me and was something I confidently thought I could help with. There was a part of it that made me feel extremely uncomfortable, however: racism.

I was born in 1967 and went to integrated public schools in my small Louisiana town. Nobody talked about what things were like under segregation. Looking back, it’s bizarre how we kids—we white kids, anyway—were raised with near-total ignorance of the world into which we were born, a world that was passing away even then. We knew that segregation had happened, of course, but we only heard about Jim Crow and civil rights on television, and it was easy to believe all that was a long time ago and far away.

My memory of my hometown did not include Klansmen, racial terror, or any of the things that were common throughout the Deep South. So you can imagine my shock when, shortly after I returned to my hometown in 2011, a white friend passed on to me an Ebony article from 1964 that described the scene outside of the West Feliciana Parish courthouse on October 17, 1963, when the Rev. Joseph Carter became the first black parish resident to register to vote in 61 years.

It was ugly, and that night ended with Klan terror. The sheriff and the registrar of voters quoted in the story speaking with racist gruffness to the old black preacher are now long dead, but they were men whose names I grew up respecting. The courthouse where a white mob cursed the blacks was on the other side of my backyard fence. (…)

And further down

With the digital recorder running, Wendell reminisced at length about growing up in Pontchartrain Park in the 1960s. He talked about the sports leagues, the church fairs, the adventures he and his pals had on the golf course. “Every home had a mother and a father in it, and you knew that everybody’s mother and father was like your own,” he said.

It was a close-knit community that inculcated a culture of hard work and perseverance. Pontchartrain Park became an incubator of the rising black middle class in New Orleans. Ernest Morial, who in 1978 would become the city’s first black mayor, lived in the neighborhood and raised his kids there—including son Marc, who would also be a New Orleans mayor. Lisa Jackson, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama, grew up in Pontchartrain Park, as did jazz legend Terence Blanchard.

Pontchartrain Park may have been founded as a way for the white power structure to bleed off black restlessness, said Wendell, but it became a haven for African-Americans in a heartless Jim Crow world. Inside the neighborhood, black children found peace, order, and love, which fortified them to meet racial hostility and other obstacles with resilient determination. Wendell cited the judgment of Herman Plunkett, a longtime resident of Pontchartrain Park: “It came out of something ugly, but it turned out to be something beautiful.” And it was this beautiful community—the one that had nurtured him but had been wiped out by Katrina—that the actor was determined to restore.

On the long drive back to the hills, I thought about how I had never heard of Pontchartrain Park, indeed how none of us outside the city ever heard about its black middle class. When race is in the news, it’s almost always about poor black people and their problems. African-Americans who live middle-class lives are all but invisible to many in white America.

Just as many of us who came up outside of New Orleans had our opinions formed largely by media reports of its violence, the history of the city’s black middle class was hidden by its simple success. People who go to work day in and day out, coach softball in their neighborhoods, and raise their kids without drama never make the news. (…)

Dreher’s writing about having known nothing of New Orleans’ black middle class neighborhoods brought back a memory of mine. In 1987, when I was living in Chicago, four friends from the east coast came to town—precisely over Memorial Day weekend—for the wedding of a couple with whom we were all friends. As it was the first time in Chicago for all four, I took them on a driving tour of the city. Showing them the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park, I then headed south, to the black neighborhoods of South Shore and Avalon Park, just to show my friends black middle class Chicago, where people live in single family homes (that they own), mow their lawns, maintain their property, etc. (pour l’info, this is the part of town Michelle Obama is from). My friends—all well-educated liberals—were surprised by what they saw. One called it an “eye-opener”: like Rod Dreher, she had no idea. Like almost all white people—and across the political spectrum—my friends’ image of black neighborhoods was the ghetto, of slums and housing projects where one risked physical aggression, if not violent death, if ventured into. As white people never see black neighborhoods unless they make a wrong turn in the car, their stereotypical images are not surprising. (It’s likewise in France with the cités in the banlieues, BTW).

Reassuring his ideological kindred spirits, Dreher offers this

I did not become a liberal Democrat from this experience. In fact, conservatives who read the book—The Wind in the Reeds—may be astonished by how culturally conservative the Pierce and Edwards family ethic is. The well-ordered Pontchartrain Park world Wendell grew up in, and is trying today to re-create, is one that nearly every social conservative longs for. Few will read of the religious devotion and the fierce patriotism of the actor’s clan without shedding tears. (…)

I’d be curious to know if TAC founder Patrick Buchanan’s views on race have evolved, as he was an ardent defender of apartheid South Africa and whose attitudes toward blacks were comparable to his well-known ones toward Jews. People’s world-views can change, even late in life.

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#BlackLivesMatter

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Van Jones, the founder/president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream—and President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009—has an important commentary on the CNN website on the Black Lives Matter movement and the “5 lessons” Democrats should draw from the recent disruptions of Bernie Sanders’s rallies. Now I had a negative reaction to the spectacle of the two BLM women disrupting Bernie’s Seattle event last Saturday—I hate hecklers and in almost all circumstances, as I wrote some four years ago—though Van Jones specifies that BLM is a decentralized, unstructured movement and that not all actions of those claiming its name—who may, in fact, have nothing to do with BLM—are to be defended. Regardless of what happened in Seattle, though, there are primordial issues for Black Americans—specific ills that require specific remedies—that are not being adequately addressed by liberal Democrats and their progressive economic agenda—issues that national Democrats would prefer not to dwell on, as these have to do with the police and the functioning of the criminal justice system. But, as Jones writes, “[i]n case anyone missed the memo after Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston, here it is: the Obama era of black silence on issues that matter to us is over.” And the Dems must address these issues head on.

One issue, e.g., is the subject of an article by Mother Jones contributing writer Jack Hitt in the September-October 2015 issue, “Police shootings won’t stop unless we also stop shaking down black people,” on the dependence of many municipalities with poor populations—and thus a low local tax base—on fines in order to finance city government—and particularly police departments—thus turning the police into predatory extortion rackets.

A case in point is Ferguson MO, which criminology professors Richard Wright and Richard Rosenfeld—respectively of Georgia State U. and the U. of Missouri-St. Louis—explain in a piece (August 11th) on “Why Ferguson erupts,” on the website/blog The Conversation: Academic Rigor, Journalistic Flair. Money quote

Today, many of these [poor] municipalities [in St. Louis county] rely heavily on traffic fines and court fees to stay afloat.

This patchwork of speed traps is a bad joke among more affluent inhabitants of St Louis County.

But it is no joke for those who accumulate traffic fines they cannot afford to pay, miss court dates and are jailed on outstanding arrest warrants. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko has documented, that is an all-too-frequent experience for the county’s disadvantaged black residents, convinced they are harassed by the police and abused by uncaring white prosecutors.

Another issue is the subject of an article by freelance journalist Nick Pinto, “The bail trap,” in the latest NYT Magazine. The lede: “Every year, thousands of innocent people [in their great majority black and brown] are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.”

Van Jones, in his article, reminds the Democrats that their presidential candidate will need 90 to 95% of the black vote in order to win next year. But not only will blacks need to vote in this percentage range for the Democrat—which is near certain—but, more importantly, they’ll need to vote in the same proportion as whites, which they did for the first time ever in 2008, and then again in 2012. If black turnout drops next year and relative to that of whites, the Dems will have a tougher road to victory. For this reason alone, it is essential that the Democrats address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, elaborate concrete policy responses, and pledge to act on them.

BTW, on The Conversation blog is an interesting comment (August 10th) by U. of Washington political science professors Christopher Parker and Megan Ming Francis, “Why the silence of moderate conservatives is dangerous for race relations.”

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