Obama Banning Guns!

Police Shooting Missouri Why Ferguson

Or not really. But Gawker is running an article titled “Obama to Ban Military-Style Assault Weapons For Local Police Forces”. I’ve seen it floating around a little this morning, and mostly from anti-gun folks who seem to think Second Amendment types will be upset about it.

I would think most Second Amendment folks would get behind this, myself very much included. Although there’s some confusion among anti-gun folks, most of the rest of us understand that the Second Amendment is not there to protect the right for cops to bear arms. In fact, it’s kind of exactly the other way around.

It being Gawker, though, they screw it up right from the title of their piece. They’re drawing from an NBC article titled “Obama to Crack Down on Military-Style Equipment for Police”. which is accurate. The Gawker title, however, implies that this will cover assault weapons, which it doesn’t.

Assault weapon is a political term for rifles that are cosmetically similar to real assault rifles, but without the actual capability. Meaning, they are semi-automatic only rifles, where you pull the trigger once and only one round is fired. The primary defining characteristic of a real assault rifle is that is selective fire, meaning it has the ability to be fired in fully automatic or burst fire mode. Usually what assault weapon means is a small caliber .223 rifle that fires in semi-automatic mode — like many other rifles and almost all handguns — but looks kind of scary.

Which the NBC article tells us aren’t even on the table:

In previewing the president’s trip, the White House said that effective immediately, the federal government will no longer fund or provide armored vehicles that run on a tracked system instead of wheels, weaponized aircraft or vehicles, firearms or ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets or camouflage uniforms. The federal government also is exploring ways to recall prohibited equipment already distributed.

The way I read that, even real assault rifles are still allowed. Hell, armored police vehicles aren’t even disallowed, unless they’re full-on tanks. In fact, in the picture that Gawker ran with their article — and I posted above — the only thing those cops are using that would actually be affected are the cops’ pants.

Nor, contrary to the Gawker headline, is Obama actually banning anything. He’s just not allowing federal funds to be used to purchase them. So if a police department still wants to buy a .50 caliber rifle or a pair of camouflage BDUs, they’ll just have to perform an asset seizure or up the ticket quota.

In my opinion, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. But, hey, it’s a very small step in the right direction.

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From Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus. The first paragraph, in fact.

In other words I am three. One man stands forever in the middle, unconcerned, unmoved, watching, waiting to be allowed to express what he sees to the other two. The second man is like a frightened animal that attacks for fear of being attacked. Then there’s an over-loving gentle person who lets people into the uttermost sacred temple of his being and he’ll take insults and be trusting and sign contracts without reading them and get talked down to working cheap or for nothing, and when he realizes what’s been done to him he feels like killing and destroying everything around him including himself for being so stupid. But he can’t — he goes back inside himself. Which one is real? They’re all real.

Probably everybody has come across that quote at some point. But it’s stuck in my head this morning

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Riots Work

I talked a lot about police violence during my recent book gig in France. Enough that I think they thought I was a little crazy. But it was on my mind, because of where my most recent book comes from. And it was one of the questions interviewers kept asking me about over and over again. I remember one interviewer, a war correspondent, saying that from their country it looks like our police just shoot black people whenever they want, like sport. To which I said, Yep, they do. The only caveat being that it ain’t only black people: It’s poor people. (Which is not to diminish that black people absolutely experience the worst of it, just to point out that it’s not entirely exclusive.)

Then I would go into some of the reasons for that. The socioeconomic conditions that keep people in grinding poverty, with the police acting like an occupying force. The complete lack of mental health care for poor people in our country such that our way of dealing with mentally ill is to shoot ‘em or put ‘em in prison. The militarization of the police that began with SWAT in the 1960s. The fact that we’ve got more people in prison than any country in the history of the world. The usage of asset seizures and fines to augment municipal funding. I could go on and on.

But I would end by noting that everything you saw in Ferguson, you will see again. And you won’t stop seeing it. Because it’s a natural reaction to a whole host of systemic problems.

So, needless to say, I wasn’t surprised to see a new killing and new riots within a couple weeks of returning to the US. And now that the dust has settled, I’d like to point you to this article from CNN, detailing the charges against the six officers who murdered Freddy Gray and make this one point:

People riot because riots work.

It’s that simple. If you live in a community where police brutality and harassment is endemic, and you riot, people will pay attention. There will be Justice Department investigations, resignations, reforms, and actual dialogue. It was that way in Ferguson, in Cincinnati, in Los Angeles, and it runs back through every single police riot I can think of.

So next month, when there’s another police killing and another riot, and one of your friends says something like “I don’t see what they’re trying to accomplish! They’re hurting the cause! Why are they destroying their own neighborhood?” I want you to calmly smack them upside the head and say . . . “Because riots work.”

And in 99 out of 100 cases, nothing else does.

See, that’s the ugly flipside of this: Riots are usually the only things that work. As the Justice Department report about Ferguson showed, the problems in Ferguson were endemic and stretched back decades. People had been talking about the police there for a very long time. But there was literally no movement at all until . . . riots.

So maybe, if you dislike riots, if you think they’re a bad idea, you should work on establishing an alternative to riots. Another way, say, that a community’s legitimate grievances with the police might be addressed.

But until that happens, people are gonna keep rioting. Because it works.

I should end by cautioning you not to get too excited about the charges against these six officers, though. Just like I should note that it might be an education in itself to see how much good that Justice Department report on Ferguson does in, say, five years.

Because I’ve seen this cycle a few times, and I’m skeptical. Riots work, but only up to point.

But, hey, baby steps, right? And anyway, rioting may not be perfect, but it’s the only tool in the toolbox right now.

Maybe someday there will be other options that work even better.

But until then, I’d expect to see a lot more riots.

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On Comics and Comic Book Movies

DC-Super-Hero-Girls

It came out a little bit ago that DC comics is making an action figure line and all kinds of stuff aimed at girls and I’ve been following the reaction to it on social media a little bit. I just thought I’d point this out: My eleven-year-old daughter had a grin on her face you couldn’t wipe off with a chainsaw when she heard about it. She’s so excited she can’t sit still. And not just a little. This is a girl I’ve been taking to comic book stores since she was a baby, and it’s like a whole new world opened up for her. As she tells me over and over again, there’s nobody really even trying to talk to her in that world.

For me, that’s the end of the story. I get the problems with it. Yeah, it’s aimed at girls, and that kind of gender separation is a problem. But my girl is smart enough to know that almost all comics are aimed at boys, no matter what anybody says. She tells me all the time how sick she is of all the sexist costumes and weak female characters.

Likewise, I get that these characters are mostly derivations of male characters, and that’s a problem too. But this is a girl who understands exactly what’s going on. And so does my son, for that matter, and he’s almost as excited about this as she is. If I’ve done my job, they both know when they’re being pandered to and excluded. That is one of my jobs, after all: To make them smart media consumers. But my daughter loves comic books and the movies — in fact, we’re going to see the new Avengers movie this weekend — and she’s always felt left out.

And sidenote: For the record, I hope to fucking God she has hasn’t seen that footage of Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner calling Black Widow a slut and a whore. I’m not saying these guys should get raked over the coals for it — I developed an amount of sympathy for sticking your foot in the mouth during recent interviews, and my books say a hellofa lot worse — but I just hope she didn’t see it. Because she knows what those words mean. Hell, she’s allowed to swear in my house, as is my son — as I tell ‘em, I get paid good money to write those words — but those are two they’re not allowed to use. She loves Black Widow for not wearing a sexy outfit and for kicking ass, and that would break her heart. (My only problem with Black Widow is that she carries baby Glocks in drop holsters, and that makes NO sense to me — c’mon.)

I guess all I’m saying is that, yeah, I get that adults have a heavy investment in comics these days. I can understand that. But for me, comic books and movies are one way for me talk to my kids, and I’ll take every way I can get. It’s sorta like that Batman vs. Superman trailer that everybody hates. I can see the problems with it too. But my nine-year-old boy can’t wait for it, just as my eleven-year-old daughter is on tenterhooks to see Wonder Woman not wearing panties. And it looks like it’ll be a venue for me to talk about ethics and personal responsibility, which I’m always for. For me every superhero movie and every comic only has that question behind it: Can I use this to talk to my kids? I don’t particularly care what folks my age have to say on the subject.

Take Jared Leto’s Joker:

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Do I think it’s silly? Hell yes. But my son loves it, and is it really sillier than the new Daredevil costume from the show everybody loves? (And yes, we love that too.)

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My point being, man, who cares what I think? If my kids like it, and we get a chance to use it to open the doors to other conversations, that’s all I’m in it for. It’s like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter or Divergent or the Magic Treehouse books. Would I read or watch those without my kids to talk to about them? Hell no. But I’m glad we have them to talk about.

Anyways, that’s all I got. DC came up with a dedicated girls’ line of heroes, and I’m for it. Because I got a little girl who feels like nobody in mainstream comics has EVER tried to talk to her, and now they are.  So good on them.

Now if only we can get a female Dr. Who . . .

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Actually two. The two things Flannery O’Connor says that I’ve memorized for when I can no longer, no matter how hard I try, dodge those questions about why the books I like and write tend to be violent and dark — whatever that means. I offer them freely to you, to memorize for when you get those same questions. They’re the smartest things ever said on the subject, and truer now than they’ve ever been. Both are from my favorite book about writing, her Mystery and Manners. (And, yes, I know, sooner or later I should write a long post about how wonderful France was, and I will, but today I’m thinking about Flannery.)

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.

And.

There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his senses tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.

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Gone to France

I’m out of here until sometime in early-mid April. Off to France for book stuff and Quais du Polar, and gonna spend as much time as I can with my children before and after. Meaning, you won’t see me much on any social media. There’s no part of this trip that I ain’t excited about, but I think my favorite thing on the program is that I get to present a screening of Lonely are the Brave, the 1962 Dalton Trumbo penned flick based on the Ed Abbey novel The Brave Cowboy.

If you’re missing me, I will be on Instagram (see the sidebar), where I’ll be taking lots of pictures for my kids. Also, don’t forget to enter the new Cry Father Goodreads giveaway here. And I’ll be kicking off a new Lighthouse noir session on April 6, and talking about Bad Guys with Big Hearts for the Northern Colorado Writers on April 11.

If you’re in France, I hope to see you around. If you ain’t, I’ll catch you in April. In the meantime, I’ll tell you a secret. When I have to talk to people I don’t know and fake being a real writer — which I will be doing a lot of — I have one simple trick: I pretend I’m Kris Kristofferson in a Sam Peckinpah flick. (A far homelier version, but still.) It’s my if-it-were-up-to-me-I’d-stand-in-the-corner-and-watch-y’all-do-all-the-talking hack. Sometimes it even works.

So this:

Wish me luck.

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Blanca Peak

Was poking around and found a picture I took of Blanca Peak, which features largely in Cry Father. I took it during one of my camping trips down to the San Luis Valley when writing the first draft of the novel.

It’s straight up ahead down the highway, and off to the right is the mesa where Patterson Wells lives.

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Blood Meridian and Madame Bovary

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I spend way too much time tracking down Blood Meridian‘s references. Usually that means the lyrics to outlaw country music songs or nineteenth Indian-hating books (because those are the only two things I really know anything about), but a little while back a Lighthouse student found this quote from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when we were reading that final scene with the judge and the dancing bear and the big speech. And my scalp crawled down the back of my neck.

Because lascivious or venal lips had murmured the same words to him, he now had little belief in their sincerity when he heard them from Emma; they should be taken with a grain of salt, he thought, because the most exaggerated speeches usually hid the weakest feelings – as though the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow into the emptiest phrases, since no one can ever express the exact measure of his needs, his conceptions, or his sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked pot on which we beat out rhythms for bears to dance to when we are striving to make music that will wring tears from the stars.

I think that might be my favorite passage from any book, ever.

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Slim Cessna’s Auto Club

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Sometimes I get to do really cool shit, just because. Like recently I was asked to write a new bio for my favorite band, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. So I did. You can find it on their brand new website. Or below, but you should go to their brand new website anyways. (Photo above by Gary Isaacs.)

There comes a moment in every Slim Cessna’s Auto Club show when you realize you’re seeing something you’ll never see anywhere else. It’s Slim Cessna in a white cowboy hat and beard, the lights haloing his ungainly frame, horn-rimmed glasses flashing through the smoke. He’s trading lyrics and insults with Munly Munly, gaunt and strange, dressed in a shade of black particular to preachers and burnt down barns. Their voices rise and converge in the kind of exquisite harmony usually found in Sacred Harp congregations, and then the band cuts loose, the best live band in the world, and the two men are doing battle, playing out some cathartic war between good and evil on stage. Or trading dance steps. You can’t tell.

I said the best live band in the world, and I ain’t the only one. No Depression and Spin Magazine have said the same. This is a band that’s held its own onstage with everybody from Johnny Cash to the Dresden Dolls. But you listen to the recording of “That Fierce Cow is Common Sense in a Country Dress,” and it’ll take you just about four minutes before you realize you’re listening to the best band in the world, period. It’s Lord Dwight Pentacost leading the lunatic rapture on his Jesus and Mary double-necked guitar; Rebecca Vera playing pedal steel so sublimely that I swear to God you can see the ghost of Ralph Mooney circling the stage; and, holding down the rhythm section like they have with each other since seventh grade, The Peeler on drums and Danny Pants on the doghouse bass, driving the band, making you lose your damn mind.

They’ve been making music for over twenty years, and there is, quite simply, nothing else like it. It’s gospel music, is what I’ve decided. Gospel music for a blasted world. A world straining and bursting in constant pain, but one that can’t help but overspill with joy – even knowing better. And the songs, Jesus. Songs about Colorado Indian hater John Chivington, alien abductions, patricide, a man born without a spine. This is the wild, bloody and weird America of Harry Crews, the only America worth a damn. It’s what Flannery O’Connor was trying to say when she wrote of dark romances and the grotesque. If you’ve got a heart, these songs’ll break it, and if you’ve got any laughter left in you, they’ll beat it out of you until you cry.

I probably can’t improve on what Jello Biafra said about Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, that they’re “the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world.” But I like to think that as long as they’re around, they can still save us from that end. Or at least from what currently passes as country music.

– Benjamin Whitmer, author of Pike and Cry Father, and co-author with Charlie Louvin of Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers

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