2011

Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona, guns and insanity: II

Call it sheer coincidence, but yesterday, following the horrific Arizona shooting, Sarah Palin made a change to her website, removing the chart with the gun sights by the names of 20 Democrats (including Gabrielle Giffords). She then posted on Facebook that her and “Todd’s” thoughts and prayers were with the congresswoman.

These are words. Mere words. As I blogged about a few weeks back, your thoughts and prayers are nice and dandy and well-intentioned, but actions define a person. Hell, I’m sure most Americans are either praying for the victims or at least thinking of the victims. Democrats, Republicans, independents, indifferents—when you hear about people being shot (especially a 9-year-old girl, who happens to be the granddaughter of Dallas Green), you mourn. Naturally.

But actions—actions matter.

Throughout the past few years, I’ve watched with jaw agape as Sarah Palin has gained steam with every apparent misdeed. Whenever she says something that’s utterly moronic or exhibits racist/xenophobic behavior, her backers seem to morph into more backers, and then into more backers.

Well, I want to see what happens now, in the aftermath of Giffords’ shooting; in the aftermath of Palin placing a gun sight by her name. I want to know if she will apologize (she won’t) and if her supporters will finally open their eyes and say, “Is this a person we really want to support? Is this a person worth believing in?”

I know … I know—cliche says tragic times call for an end to political posturing. And, normally, I agree. But not 100 percent. We are heading in the wrong direction in this country, and I don’t mean economically or socially. I mean, well, angrily. There is a palpable anger that has turned dangerous, and it needs to stop, and leadership needs to come from the top. I know little about John Boehner, the new speaker of the house, but he seems like an emotional man with some sound sense. I am hoping that he uses this event to help better the process; to ease up on the vitriol and help all of us take a deep breath and relax.

I hope this horrible event winds up helping the process.

Alas, I have little hope.

PS: This, from a Palin spokesperson, who said the gun sights were not actually gun sights: “I don’t understand how anybody could be held responsible for somebody who is completely mentally unstable like this. Where I come from the person that is actually shooting is the one that’s culpable,” she said, before intimating that the suspect, Jared Loughner, is actually a liberal. “It seems that he people that knew him said that he was left-wing and very liberal—but that is not to say that I am blaming the left. I never went out and blamed Al Gore or any environmentalist for the crazy insane person who went to shoot up the Discovery Channel,” she said.

Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona, guns and insanity

Before today, I had never heard of Gabrielle Giffords.

Her name meant nothing to me, and even if someone had told me she’s a congresswoman from Arizona, well, I probably would have nodded and moved on.

Tonight, however, Gabrielle Giffords means everything to me.

In case you just woke up from a 20-hour nap, Giffords, 40, had a bullet shot into her head this afternoon. It entered one side of her skull, burrowed through her brain and exited through the other side. As we speak, she is clinging to life at the University Medical Center in Tucson. I know nothing about neurosurgery. If she survives, however, I have a hard time imagining she’ll ever be the same.

Giffords was one of 18 people shot today at a Tucson supermarket. As of this entry, six are dead, including a United States District Court judge named John Roll. Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with her constituents (known as “Congress on Your Corner”), when a gunman, identified as 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, started shooting away. One of the dead was Christina Taylor Green, a third grader. She was 9.

She was 9.

Although Loughner’s motives remain officially unknown, few people in Arizona doubt that the murderous spree was related to the state’s heated debate on immigration, and Gov. Jan Brewer’s xenophobic proposals on the best way to round up illegals. Giffords was an outspoken critic of the anti-illegal movement, and as a result had faced past death threats and the smashing of her office windows. Giffords’ district office was evacuated late Saturday after a suspicious package was found.

As always happens when something like this takes place, in the ensuing days and weeks we will hear gun opponents bemoan the myriad opportunities to easily obtain weapons in this country. We will hear the NRA fight back with spewings like, “Just because one person misuses a gun doesn’t mean …”

Enough.

This is not one person, and this has never been one person. Simply put, I am sick and tired and tired and sick of having gun-rights advocates scream and yell about the need for handguns, then being forced to watch as yet another horrible murder/crime/whatever takes place, then sitting through the maddening guns-don’t-hurt-people-people-hurt-people follow-up. I get hunting. I even get the desire for self-protection. But when are we going to wake up to the craziness of allowing people like Jared Lee Loughner a gun? When are we going to make it hard—and nearly impossible—for people to acquire weapons that kill? I hear all the arguments about “You need to be ready in case an intruder enters your home,” and I want to scream. Wanna know something—I don’t want a gun if an intruder enters my home. Because if I have a gun, and he has a gun, there’s shooting and someone (likely me or my family members) die. I’d much rather take the chance that he just wants money and goods, and will leave. Am I a coward? No, I’m sane, and I’m reasonable, and I’m not filled with the machismo bullshit that makes idiots puff out their chests as they purchase bullets by the crate.

Furthermore, we need to change the political climate in this country—now. Debate is wonderful. Wrestling with ideas is fantastic. But something dark has come upon us, and it is beyond troubling. Giffords won a very tight race in November against a Tea Party candidate named Jesse Kelly. During the campaign, his campaign featured the line: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” In March, Sarah Palin released a map, featuring the words IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND, with 20 gun sights, one for each of the Democrats targeted by her political action committee SarahPAC. Literally, Palin placed a gun sight by Giffords’ name. Unspeakably terrible taste. (Giffords responded at the time: “I’ve never seen anything like it. The thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.”)

But this is where we are, who we are, and if we don’t change—soon—it’s not going to improve.

Alas, I digress. I feel so horrible for the families of the wounded and deceased, and I hope, somehow, we can honor what they’ve been through by doing something righteous for a change.

PS: Predictably, Palin released a statement, via friggin’ Facebook, saying her thoughts and prayers go out to the family. I beg of her—and others of her ilk—to use this to go through some serious introspection about the power of words and symbolism.

PPS: Here is a piece from the New York Times’ wedding section when Giffords married astronaut Mark Kelly.

PPPS: There’s nothing offensive about this image, right?


Shoveling

We missed the winter’s first huge blizzard two weeks back, so today was my first go at shoveling. Wasn’t so bad, but as I was going up and down the driveway I had a thought: Metal.

I want a metal driveway. With heated springs beneath. When the driveway is covered in snow and/or ice, you flick on the switch to, oh, 80 degrees and watch the sludge melt into water. You install a drain, so the runoff all heads down a slope and out into the ocean …

This surely exists. And I imagine 80 degrees would be a major fire hazard.

But, dammit, I hate shoveling.

PS: Amazing. One Google search—and here it is.

Donald Trump for President

So there’s some rumors going around that Donald Trump might run for president in 2012.

Two words: No. Way.

Not all that long ago, Mike Ditka was gaining momentum as a potential Senate candidate out of Illinois. The GOP wanted him, the media was hopeful, etc. Ditka, however, never ran. I’ve been told this was with good reason—too many skeletons. Not necessarily anything horrible, but when you live a life like Ditka has, especially in the world of sports, there are things you don’t want others to discuss. His proximity to steroids, to gambling … stuff like that.

Trump is in the same exact position. Sure, it’s fun—the speculation and all. But this is a man—whose career has been largely in real estate—who DOES NOT want his life’s inner-workings released. No way in hell. I don’t know much about the man, but he alone ruined the USFL with greed and arrogance. And that was a mere sliver.

Trump for President? Not gonna happen.

Baruch College—terrible or understandable?

My sister-in-law is a junior at Baruch College. She took four courses last semester, including Accounting.

On the day of the Accounting final, she called our house in a panic. “I’m really sick,” she said. “I’ve been throwing up all morning. Should I go? Shouldn’t I go?”

She went.

In the middle of taking the exam, she began vomiting in the classroom. Let me repeat: Vomiting in the classroom.

She went home and didn’t complete the test. A few days later she called her teacher to ask if she can take a makeup.

“You have to wait until the end of next semester,” she was told.

What?

“No exceptions.”

My sister-in-law called the dean, various other offices, etc. All said the same—she’d have to wait.

Maybe I’m naive, but a student has to wait six months, well after the material has left her brain … because she vomited and had to leave the classroom? Where’s the compassion? The decency?

Sickens me.

A final steroid thought*

Today I received this e-mail from a reader:

Isn’t going on your suspicions like a juror in a murder trial thinking: “well, there’s no evidence this guy is guilty, but several of his friends are proven thugs, he looks like he might be a thug, so he must be guilty, so I’m voting ‘guilty.'”?

This was my response:
Mark, I strongly disagree. I’d equate this more to a murder trial where the accused, and those working on behalf of the accused, hid the bloody knife, the gun and the severed head beforehand so nobody could find them—then argued, “No evidence.”

That’s what this is.

Tell me why I’m wrong. The players union did EVERYTHING to cover this problem up, and it worked. Now they’re allowed to say, “No evidence”? Why?

•••
Honestly, I wish I’d just written that from Day One and moved on. Because that is exactly how I feel, and I don’t see how anyone can really argue the point. Baseball hid everything, then turns around and says, “Hey, there’s no evidence!” Well, of course there’s no evidence …
By the way, I’m sitting in a Manhattan Starbucks. When I lived in the city I loved sitting in its myriad coffee shops. Now, I’ll take the suburbs any day. This place is disgusting. The floor—disgusting. The smell—disgusting. The bathrooms—d-i-s-g-u-s-t-i-n-g.

Steve Buckley, my friend

My cell phone rang earlier this evening, but I didn’t recognize the 617 area code, and I was getting my kids out of the car, and … I didn’t pick it up.

Only an hour or so later, when I had time, did I listen to the message: Hey Jeff, Steve Buckley up in Boston. Give me a call if you have a chance.

For those of you who haven’t had the fortune of reading him, Buckley is a Boston Herald sports columnists and, for my money, one of the best in the business. I can also speak personally of the character of the man: Fifteen years ago, when I was a junior at the University of Delaware looking for summer internships, I applied to Boston Magazine, where Steve worked at the time. One day, in a sea of rejection form letters, I received a large manila envelope. It was from Boston Magazine and, specifically, Buckley. He typed a four-page letter, critiquing each of my 12 or so clips. At the end, he wrote a sentence that had me floating above the carpet: “I’ve got a hunch you’re gonna be a player in his game.”

Wow!

Anyhow, Steve also included a couple of his stories. One was a profile of a long-deceased soldier named Stanley Teevin. All these years later, I still consider it the best thing I’ve ever read, and even spent a class this past semester going over it graph by graph with my Manhattanville College students.

So, yeah. Through the years Steve and I have kept on-and-off contact. I’ve seen him once or twice at events, talked via phone or e-mail every so often. He’s always been a great guy—someone I genuinely have only good things to say of.

I digress. I called Steve back tonight, expecting him to ask something about the Hall of Fame or New York blah … blah … blah. “Well, Jeff,” he said. “I’m calling about 30 or so people in the business who mean something to me. I want to let you know that the Herald is running a column tomorrow where I say that I’m gay.”

Here’s a link to the piece. Which, like everything he writes, is terrific.

I’m not sure what Steve expected me to say. Or whether he was nervous. But I hope my reaction mirrored everyone else’s: Congratulations!

To say I am proud of Steve Buckley is to wallow in terrible understatement. I am, frankly, thrilled for him. for the sense of relief. For the liberation. For finally feeling comfortable enough to step up. Even though we live in increasingly accepting times, this wasn’t an easy thing to do. It took courage and self confidence and—most of all, I’m guessing—support.

I support Steve Buckley 100 percent.

I hope you do, too.

Why is Lawrence O’Donnell acting like this?

Was watching MSNBC at the gym tonight when Lawrence O’Donnell‘s show came on.

Now, as a left, left, left Democrat, you’d think I love Lawrence O’Donnell, a longtime party operative who worked with Bill Clinton and later was involved in the TV series, The West Wing. Yet, to me, O’Donnell is the liberal Sean Hannity. And I hate Sean Hannity. All the man does is yell. And demean. And scorn. He’s especially terrible when a Republican is dumb enough to appear as a guest. Tonight’s show featured Congressman Allen West, a freshman GOP congressman and a person who recently called President Obama “the dumbest person walking around right now.” Now, West is—relatively speaking—small potatoes. He’s a far-right fringe candidate who won on the strength of the Tea Party. He’s a small fish. A guppie. He also deserved some props for appearing on O’Donnell’s show.

Well, O’Donnell just killed the guy. But not in an intellectual way. He demeaned him repeatedly, mocked him ruthlessly and, in my opinion, disregared the fact that West has a lengthy military career that deserves some respect.

That’s not how you change opinions and it’s not how you gain viewers.

It’s how you marginalize yourself.