Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's It All About?

A colleague of mine enjoys teasing me because I (a) am married to an ordained United Methodist clergywoman, and (b) do all sorts of things one does not normally associate with what this person calls "being a churchboy", including liking psychedelic music (which this person refers to as "stoner music"). I find it fascinating not only because this person, who neither goes to church nor cares all that much for Church, seems to think it perfectly fine to tease me, with an undercurrent of moral scolding, for not conforming to some notion of what a "real Christian" does. Like, say, not listen to psychedelic music.

In a similar way, one of the recurrent right-wing scolds insists that I, and others, are "immoral". It is different only in degree rather than kind than my colleague's sometimes not-so-subtle scolding. Both charges - real Christians don't listen to all that weird music! Real Christians are MORAL! - hinge upon what is an irrelevant, and actually insidious, understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I was trying to figure out a way to sort through all this when I came across this post by John Meunier.
A holy person does no harm to himself or to others, either by what he does or by what he leaves undone.

A holy person does good to all people she encounters. Her life is one that enriches others in their bodies, their minds, and their souls. And she cares just as much for her own body, mind, and soul because there is great joy in living fully into the goodness of her own life.

A holy person knows where the power source of life can be found, and he is constantly found there. He worships with passion and reverence. He prays without ceasing. He searches the word of God with expectation that it has a word for him. He draws close to God by letting go of the world through fasting. He seeks out brothers and sisters to talk, listen, cry, celebrate, and mourn with because where they gather, God is.
This is a good start, and is very much in line with Wesley's understanding of holy living. All the same, I think there is a bit too much asceticism, a bit too little of the Bible in this. In particular, St. Paul. Paul's vision of what it means to be a Christian, at least in my understanding, begins with, "Christ came so that we have life, and that more abundantly." For me, holiness embraces not only the things John describes. Like St. Paul, and Jesus, it includes going about one's life no longer afraid that, in that living, one might slip and fall so far there will be no getting up. Jesus went about his work not caring for the moral scolds who insisted he hung out with the wrong crowd, or violated the rules set forth by God. St. Paul went about his missionary work even as he was chastised by St. Peter and the rest of the apostles. Why did they do this? Because both understood that, at its heart, being a Christian means being free.

It does not mean being free to do anything one wants to do. Rather, it means free to be as God intended. Living in service to others. Living with the understanding that God's love for us is real not because of what we do, but just because we are.

St. Paul does not speak of holiness directly. Rather he speaks of the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. While he certainly insists that we are to conduct our lives in a manner blameless before other persons and God, it is in these expressions of a full human life that a Christian demonstrates what it means to be fully human as a Christian.

I'm not one to sit around and write about the moral failings of others. This isn't because I am an immoral person. Rather, it is because conventional morality is irrelevant to the Christian life. Again, not because I believe God is immoral or amoral. Rather, the Christian life both embraces and transcends any passing ideas on conventional morality, seeing the Christian life as one lived freely, for others, in love and joy and all the rest. Further, I honestly cannot imagine any circumstance in which God cares what music we might choose to listen to, anymore than I believe God cares whether we wear a suit and tie to church, or shorts and flip-flops (I once raised eyebrows in a eucharist service at Wesley Theological Seminary by showing up in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops; the celebrant, indeed, was "offended").

As long as we focus on non-issues - how we behave in inconsequential matters speaks more about who we are before God - the Church will always run in to trouble. Instead, we need to be living our lives full of joy and laughter, love and patience, with a heart and mind turned out to the sufferings of others, seeking to help them, be a presence in the midst of their pain. That is true holiness. That is what the fruits of the Spirit yield. Whether or not I tell other people they are immoral or bad or evil is immaterial; that we show them God's love through our freely-given love for them - that is what matters.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Atheist Synthesis Of Bible And Theology - Boer On Bloch II

I would much rather that Bloch had allowed his politicised biblical criticism loose on theology. I think of the discernment of myths along class lines, between those that encourage sevility and those that enable human beings to stand up to the power that oppress. Is not this kind of discernment necessary in his readings of theology? These debates might continue, but, in the end, Bloch drops his ideological guard too often, especially in regard to theology and it is precisely here that is is needed. Roland Boer, Criticism of Heaven, p.56
One of the first books I read as a seminarian is Phyllis Bird's The Bible as the Church's Book, a succinct discussion of the history of the formation of the canon. It is indispensable to any understanding of the Bible, to any approach to this much-contested text, to grasp that, in its final form, we have a Bible at all because the Church as a whole, early in its life, determined certain texts to be central to our communal understanding, while others were not.

This does not mean the canon is "closed". On the contrary, one of the most important insights of Hans Frei's monograph on biblical hermeneutics, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, is that interpretation itself keeps the canon open.

All the same, a basic historic fact is the Bible, for all that it presents many faces to many readers, and offers so much to readers less interested in religion and theology, nevertheless is the book of the Church.

Ernst Bloch recognizes this reality, calling the Bible Christianity's "uneasy conscience". A fair description, to say the least; it is in the words of the texts that so many in Christian history have found the resources to protest all sorts of abuses of power and authority. This historical reality, one Bloch notes runs from the Albigensians (one could add the Cathars and Waldensians as well) through the Hussites in Bohemia through Joachim of Fiore and Thomas Munzer and the Peasant Revolt during the early days of the Reformation. Rather than denounce the Bible as nothing but a work designed by those in power to maintain their power, Bloch wants to know how it is possible this collection of writings has offered and continues to offer so many readers resources, strength for the journey from nobody to fully human.

Bloch finds it, as he writes in Atheism in Christianity, within the contested texts of the Bible itself. Using the best available biblical scholarship at the time - in particular that known as "redaction criticism", a fancy name for how the various writings are edited - Bloch espies in the texts abundant evidence not only of stories from above, but of protests from below, stories that tell not only of a people's protest against various authorities here on earth, but also the imposition of a God who supports and even defines and legitimizes that imposition. In other words, within the Bible itself (much as each historical age, according to Marx, contains within itself its own contradiction that will, over time, lead to its destruction and the creation of a higher stage through synthesis) there lies a protest against God, the core of an atheism that elevates trammeled humanity to stand as fully human.

While applauding, in general terms, this hermeneutics of class, Boer wishes, as the quote above indicates, that Bloch had moved from the Scriptures to theology. The Bible has, indeed served as a check on all sorts of theological excesses. Taking the next, somewhat logical, step, and insisting that the Church's adoption of the Bible includes the incomplete revision of a whole series of texts, rooted in an oral tradition "from below", that undermine the very idea of God, falls short for Boer.

I don't think that Boer gives Bloch due credit. While I agree his interpretations of specific texts - for example the Cain/Abel/God story in Genesis 4 - include an attention to editorial detail that demonstrate clearly enough the heavy hand of a redactor somewhere, I believe that Bloch's insistence that this undercurrent of protest a-theology is "hidden" is belied precisely by the history to which Bloch himself appeals. Were it as hidden as he insists, it would not have served as a source for various social and political protests movements in the history of European Christendom, awaiting academic historical criticism to unearth. That this fundamental contradiction within the text of the books themselves exists is obvious enough to a careful reader. That Bloch uses it to construct a vision of Christian thought as anthropocentric, atheistic, synthetic of the questions raised throughout the text as the stories from below and above clash without any clear resolution is a testimony to his respect for both the Bible and Christian theology.

Boer's basic criticism, that the success of Bloch's hermeneutic and use of various historical-critical methods is belied by his theologizing misses, I think, a crucial issue. Bloch's project in Atheism in Christianity is precisely to construct a Biblically-based a-theology, an understanding of human community rooted in the Scriptural narrative that sees no need for hypostasizing "God" in order to make of creation something more. The protest stories, the hermeneutic of suspicion within the Bible to its various triumphalisms, reveal that, at heart, the higher synthesis, without any need for "God", is at the heart of the Biblical testimony itself.

Matters Of Style - Boer On Bloch I

When I first cracked open The Principle of Hope back in 1992, this was the very first section of the very first chapter:
I move. From early on we are searching. All we do is crave, cry out. Do not have what we want.
This rather inauspicious beginning both reveals so much, yet hides so much, about the writing style of Ernst Bloch. Described as expressionistic, Bloch's writing has a distinctive beauty about it, an almost romantic sweep and grandeur that is unlike anything, in any language.

Before delving in to what Bloch has to say, Roland Boer first says what needs to be said about how Bloch says it (pp. 11-12):
For there is an extraordinary charge in reading Bloch. His style has always been a source of delight and consternation, often incomplete, missing the various elements of the more conventional sentences (most notable the verb), declaratory when speaking of the most ephemeral of matters and tentative where the ground is firmer. There are thoughts and ideas thrown forward full of suggestion and promise; the longer sentences in which he juxtaposes two or more ideas or metaphors; and then the impossibly long paragraphs that run on for pages. The style is energetic, allusive. . . More specifically, along with the expressionist presence, there is a prophetic and poetic feel to Bloch's sentences, paragraphs and discourse, one that seeks not only to speak with the urgency of prophetic voices but also the encyclopaedic allusiveness of Goethe's poetry. It seems to me that Bloch sought, by means of style itself, to allow what he called the 'spirit of utopia' to speak, to create a new way of writing through which the utopian would emerge. . . .(emphasis added)

The distinct pleasure in the style, an almost utopian charge in the syntax itself tempts me to apply the comment to Bloch that Terry Eagleton first used for Jameson, namely, that he would have the oppressive pleasure of knowing that his works will be read in some future, postcapitalist society. . . For utopia is not merely hard work but also an extraordinary pleasure, an intense charge of which we can find moments now but not the continuity it should have. This is what Bloch's prose provides - a glimmer of such a perpetual pleasure.(emphasis added)
The seductive power of Bloch's style is canny enough to make criticism more difficult. Like parsing poetry, it would seem an intellectual crime to take the step back necessary and point out where Bloch has erred; who would want to do something so pedestrian, so pedantic, so mundane as take the effusive writings and render them something less?

Boer's comments on Bloch's style are also important because of the very seductive quality of that writing. Because one can fall under its spell, it becomes necessary to make clear its beauty in order to do the difficult work of delving beneath that style to what it is Bloch is saying in this most beautiful way. Boer does this quite well, a point to which we shall turn in the next post.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

By Way Of Introduction

Since the move this past summer, I have felt more focused in certain interests. In particular, reading through my small, incomplete Reinhold Niebuhr library gave me a greater appreciation for just how radical the pre-WWII Niebuhr was, that his critique of Protestant liberalism was from the left, although itself deeply rooted in much of the same set of categories. After Niebuhr, I read Ernst Bloch's most thoroughly theological work, Atheism in Christianity. While dated, particularly his approach to biblical criticism, there is still a wealth of beauty, as is usual in the case of Bloch. His thesis, that the dialectic of Scripture reveals a protest against the royalist vision of YHWH, that Jesus' life and ministry was a protest against just such a vision. Inherent in Bloch's critical work is the idea that, at heart, the Bible is as much a sustained argument against the reigning notions of God as it is a defense of God.

After floundering around quite a bit this fall, I was given a new sense of where I wanted to move in thinking about being a Christian after reading, twice in rapid succession, Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution. I was not just intellectually impressed, I was emotionally moved by much of Eagleton's writing, not least because, as a Marxist, Eagleton's work provided evidence that much of what has passed for "the God debate" over the past few years has been deeply flawed on any number of levels. I turned back to Ernst Bloch, a collection of his writings on aesthetics (The Utopian Function of Art and Literature), and then, taking a hint from a friend on Facebook, just received (after much toil and trouble) Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology by Australian Roland Boer. The book is nothing short of exactly what I'm interested in - a critical engagement of 20th century Marxist thinkers at their deepest engagement with theology. Boer reads Bloch, Walter Benjamin (I guess I never really considered him a Marxist, per se; more a fellow-traveler), Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Antonio Gramsci, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Zizek, and Theodor Adorno. That such a wide array of important figures in 20th century Marxist thought have considered theology important enough to address on its own terms should give any critic who wishes to dismiss it as irrational drivel at least a moment's pause.

So, because I am utterly predictable, expect posts over the next week or two on Boer's work, as I work through what he has to say about each of these men. That this work was suggested to me at the very moment that I was moving toward this very subject - the junction of Marxism and theology, and how to engage with respect two very different intellectual traditions - is proof, to me, of the existence of God.

I Write So Others Can Read Me

I was recently informed that I write too much. Further, by providing links on Facebook, I am advertising my writing, which is apparently wrong somehow.

I'm not sure how and why this is bugging me, but it has really got under my skin. Do I write too much? I started to think I have; moreover, I think it far better to write less, and write it well, than write more, no matter how much rattles around my mostly empty skull. Furthermore, after four years of writing on the Internet, I just knew that, with the rise of a new Republican majority in the House (and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell acting like he's majority leader), there would be plenty of opportunities for me to huff and puff about how truly stupid and horrible and full of crap so much of our public discourse is; yet, this is no less true than when the Democrats were in control of Congress, the fault hardly lies with Republicans. The rhetorical nightmare that has been the national response to the Tucson shootings is evidence enough for me that we are a deeply flawed country, unable to confront an event like this in anything like a sane, contrite manner. Rather than exhaust my outrage button because I would keep hitting it, I am just going to allow the vast majority of the stupid to pass me by.

Furthermore, this site was never intended as a running commentary on our stupid discourse. That I bogged myself down that way far too often is my own fault. My New Year's Resolution to refocus has been aided by my decision to no longer get too upset by the constant flow of crap that is too much of our mainstream social and political commentary. Years of complaining, not just from me but all over the Internet hasn't changed the nature of our discourse one bit. So, far better to lean toward one's strengths, true?

So, sure, I write on the internet. Because I've always wanted to do that, there are topics that interest me; more important, I think they are important, serious topics, and I try best I can to treat them as such without (I hope) ever losing any sense that I am a walk-on, a bit player in so many of the discussions of the topics about which I write. My own preferences are eclectic enough that my guess is most of those who read are left scratching their heads, wondering why I'm wasting my time. That it is my time to waste should be clear enough, I suppose.

Finally, as to posting links on FB, like most writers (J. D. Salinger is the exception that proves the rule), I write so others can read what I've written. While the initial exercise is little more than making clear in my own mind what I might think about this or that topic under consideration, I put this stuff up on the internet to see if what I have to say, and the way I say it, makes any sense. Most of the time, I guess the answer on both counts is "No". All the same, I continue to do it, and to post those links, in the hope that someone, somewhere, finds something in my various typing exercises to make them mad enough, or sad enough, or frustrated enough, to start thinking for themselves. If you find those Facebook links too much, all I can say is, "Don't push that button!"

Finally, as a general response, I have to ask, "Why do you care?"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Will Illinois Join Civilized Society?

Just before leaving office under a cloud that turned in to a hailstorm for him, former Illinois Governor George Ryan not only imposed a moratorium on all death penalties, he commuted the death sentences of all those on the state's death row. He did this after 13 death row inmates were exonerated by DNA evidence, by the combined efforts of students at Northwestern University and The Innocence Project. After the commutation, two more inmates still serving life sentences were shown conclusively to be innocent. The moratorium has remained in place, with subsequent governors Blagojevich and Quinn supporting it until the state legislature rewrote the rules.

Yesterday, they went a step further. The previous week the lower house passed a bill ending the practice of judicial murder. The state senate followed suit. All the bill awaits now is Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. Quinn is dithering, supporting the moratorium while still supporting a more "just" death penalty. In the midst of so much horror and sadness, the news that Gov. Quinn has signed the repeal would be a moment of profound joy.

Fifteen states have ended the practice. A majority of Americans are opposed to it, for the first time in our history. Its deterrent value was long ago proved non-existent. Because of stringent appeal rules set up by the US Supreme Court years pass between the imposition of the penalty and its actual occurrence. In the end, those executed rarely are the same individuals who committed the crimes for which they've been convicted. Its disproportionality in relation to the race and class of the perpetrator have rendered it a joke, a sick, horrid joke. Two decades ago, a long-time supporter on the Supreme Court, Harry Blackmun announced that he no longer supported what he would term "the machinery of death".

I hope and pray that Gov. Quinn does the right thing, the just thing, and signs the bill.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Forgive My Lack Of Sympathy

I suppose I should have more compassion for the people of Tucson, AZ. The events of this past weekend have focused attention on their city in a way no one would want their municipality to suddenly grab the spotlight. Furthermore, mass murder does have a way of making people pause. All the same, I found some parts of this story on Morning Edition from NPR just, well, ludicrous.
Ms. SARAH EVANS: It's kind of like 9/11 for me. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the complexity of all the events that happened.

ROBBINS: The tears are never too far away as she talks. It will be a while before the processing is complete, if it ever is.
If there is any evidence that narcissism, now removed from the psychologist's "Bible", was still prevalent, this short bit should disabuse them of it. See, Ms. Evans, all teary-eyed, considers what happened on Saturday "complex", an inscrutable act like the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, that, for her, have everything to do with Sarah Evans. Her tears are for her inability to "process" (which reporter Robbins helpfully adds, in an aside, may never end).

I'm sorry, but I have very little sympathy for Ms. Evans. A nice woman, I suppose, gathering with a couple hundred fellow Tucson residents to walk and run through the streets of the city, she seems to have little comprehension that events on Saturday have nothing to do with her. They are, by and large, clear and easy enough to understand. There is no "processing" needed. Not really.

All I can get from Ms. Evans statement is she almost no psychical or emotional resources to deal with even the most peripheral tragedy. I consider this a symptom of how far too many Americans can be considered ill-prepared to handle any type of emergency situation. Seriously. This woman is aflutter because of a shooting in her city. Good Lord, what if she sat back and considered the reality that there is, roughly speaking, a hate crime committed once an hour each and every day somewhere in the United States? That there were, on average, 151 violent crimes committed each and every hour in the United States in 2009? Of course, these numbers reflect reported incidents.

What if I were to say to Ms. Evans that 34% of women in the United States were the victims of sexual coercion by a spouse or significant other? Would that leave her teary eyed, unable to leave her home because the situation is so complex?

We are not going to be able to address the reality of violence in the United States as long as close our eyes and ears to its banality. As long as a single shooting incident leaves people so flustered and unable to cope that they cannot leave their homes, and when they do emerge are teary-eyed and barely coherent, I have to wonder how it will be possible to talk about the reality around us without causing a national case of the vapors.

Our moral confusion in the face of the events on Saturday are as much a result of our insulation from the reality far too many of our fellow citizens face as it is a measurable and acceptable emotional response to a public trauma. Far too many Americans understand the reality of violence as just another part of their day to be either surprised or unduly horrified by the mass shooting. It is cheap and easy to point the finger of blame. It gives us an eased conscience to denounce the act, something that costs us nothing, asks nothing of us, and leaves us content in our remove from the human reality around us. I am not saying that the shooting on Saturday is not evil; on the contrary, I am insisting it is an all-too-common evil, something with which we have become too familiar, too accustomed to do more than shake our heads at its "senselessness", without ever grasping the far more disturbing reality that, perhaps, it might just make sense as being part and parcel of living in America.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stupidity Wastes No Time

I must admit I am still frustrated, even angry, with the on-going political commentary concerning Saturday's mass shooting in Arizona. Matt Yglesias, Duncan Black, and Digby, among large-traffic liberal bloggers, have written quite a bit - with digby clearly out in front with the whole "It's the right's fault because they use violent rhetoric!" angle - including stirring defenses of the politicization of this event. The discovery of a similarity between some of Loughner's beliefs, expressed in his YouTube uploads, and those of one David Wynn Miller is adding fuel to the inferno of the whole view that, sure Loughner may be legally insane, but he was insane in a certain way which gives us license to make all sorts of accusations about our political opponents.

Of course, the right has enough evidence to give them tools to shoot back. Loughner's reading list includes The Communist Manifesto, Fahrenheit 451, and other classics of liberal education. It also includes Mein Kampf (full disclosure, I have read the first and last of these, but not the middle). All of which, really, means absolutely nothing.

There is no way to stop the endless flow of stupid crap, sides-taking, pointing fingers. I mean, really, not only is it fun, it doesn't involve any effort, it gives one a sense of moral and political superiority to make clear that a mass murderer is one of The Other. We congratulate ourselves on "proving" that he is One Of Them. It's cheap, it's easy, and like most such things, it is wrong.

To the morally righteous who insist we must denounce violence, I posted yesterday in order to remind readers that ours is a society so soaked in violence we do not even notice it anymore. Taking the opportunity of an event like this to denounce violence may make one feel better. It would be less egregiously hypocritical and shallow if one spent some time, each and every day, denouncing the attrition among the poor, among women and children, a steady-stream of broken bodies and lives we tune out because it is so common.

To the oblivious, who wonder, "What is happening to us?", I can only say, "Nothing new." Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy were successfully assassinated. Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have been targets of high-profile failed assassination attempts (more full disclosure - my grandmother happened to be in Niagara Falls in 1901 when Pres. McKinley was assassinated, a reward from her grandmother for good grades in school). From Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts to the New Orleans police department using the Katrina flood as an excuse to murder African-Americans, our country has seen violence as a legitimate tool for making political and social statements. It's just a fact. Violence is, indeed, as American as cherry pie. Who holds the gun is an important consideration, but at the end of the day, it seems, in America, someone is always holding a gun.

Before we start casting aspersions on our political opponents of whatever stripe, or claiming we are king of moral hill because we can denounce violence, we need to take a good, long look at the country, the state, the city in which we live. We need to hear the cries of the families whose lives are disrupted by violence every day. This event may have a whole cluster of specific markers about it that may, indeed, mark it out as some kind of political statement, fed in part from the poisonous rhetorical atmosphere - when Democrats are denounced as standing for policies that are contrary to American tradition and law; when the President of the United States is denounced as an anti-American foreigner holding political views antithetical to our traditions, is it any wonder there are folks out there willing to pick up a gun and solve our problems this way? - but, right now, I think we need to take a moment and look around us. The bodies lie unburied, the cries of the slain call out just to be noticed. Instead of shouting about how evil are those who don't think like we do, we might all shut up, listen, and maybe do something about the carnage in which we stand, the killing floor that is America and its history.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


What follows are snippets, glosses and illuminations that I offer as revision and extension upon the following comment, via a friend on Facebook: "There is no stopping crazy and no politics to it. But many people want the nation to search it's soul and ask why "America" has changed. All while 49% of every year's averaged murdered are black men. Poverty, education, nutrition, access, rights are all things we as a nation can change. Our shock is cheaply won and immorally numb." Lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, we should remember - ours is a nation that cleanses itself each and every day in the blood of the forgotten.

From Wikipedia:
On April 19, 1989, the slightly-built 28-year-old investment banker was violently assaulted while jogging in New York City's Central Park. She was raped and beaten almost to death. When found about four hours later, she was suffering from severe hypothermia and blood loss from multiple lacerations and internal bleeding, and her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was removed from the socket. The initial medical prognosis was that she would die or, at best, remain in a permanent coma due to her injuries. Remarkably, she largely recovered, with some lingering disabilities related to balance and loss of vision. As a result of the severe trauma, she had no memory of the attack or of any events up to an hour preceding the assault.

The crime, one of 3,254 rapes reported in New York City that year, was unique in the level of public outrage it provoked. New York Governor Mario Cuomo told the New York Post, "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm."

According to a police investigation, the culprits were gangs of teenagers who would assault strangers as part of an activity that became known as "wilding." New York City detectives said the word was used by the suspects themselves to describe their actions to police.[4] This account has been disputed by other journalists, who say that it originated in a police detective's misunderstanding of the suspects' use of the phrase "doing the wild thing", lyrics from Tone Lōc's hit song "Wild Thing".[5][6] April 19 was known to have been a night when such a gang attack occurred, in which the suspects had entered the park in Harlem with over 30 acquaintances. Contrary to normal police procedure, which stipulates that the names of suspects under the age of sixteen are also to be withheld, the names of the juveniles arrested in this case were released to the press before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted, including one 14-year-old who was ultimately not charged.[1] The mainstream media's double-standard — printing the names, photos, and addresses of the juvenile suspects while shielding Meili — was cited by the editors of the City Sun and the Amsterdam News to explain their continued use of Meili's name in their coverage of the story.[7] While many teenage suspects were identified (or identified themselves) as participants in the Central Park assaults that night — although not necessarily in the attack on Meili — only five, known later as the Central Park Five, were brought to trial.


In 2002, another man's confession, plus DNA evidence confirming his crime, led the district attorney's office to recommend vacating the convictions of the teenagers originally accused and sentenced to prison. In 2002, convicted rapist and murderer Matias Reyes, serving a life sentence for other crimes but not, at that point, associated by the police with the attack on Meili, declared that he had committed the assault, and that he had acted alone. The DNA evidence confirmed his participation in the crime and identified him as the sole contributor of the semen found in and on the victim "to a factor of one in 6,000,000,000 people"

A small school of literature arose in the wake of the initial convictions in the Central Park jogger case, questioning the moral education of minority youth that would lead to "wilding".

Wikipedia, again:
The Columbine High School massacre occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, an unincorporated area of Jefferson County, Colorado, United States, near Denver and Littleton. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, embarked on a massacre, killing 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 other students directly, and three people were injured while attempting to escape. The pair then committed suicide. It is the fourth-deadliest school massacre in United States history, after the 1927 Bath School disaster, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and the 1966 University of Texas massacre, and the deadliest for an American high school.

The massacre provoked debate regarding gun control laws, the availability of firearms in the United States, and gun violence involving youths. Much discussion also centered on the nature of high school cliques, subcultures, and bullying, as well as the role of violent movies and video games in American society. The shooting also resulted in an increased emphasis on school security, and a moral panic aimed at goth culture, social outcasts, the gun culture, the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers, violent films and music, teenage internet use,[1] and violent video games.
As with the Central Park jogger, this incident spawned a small industry of social and cultural commentary. Newt Gingrich blamed liberal Democrats. There arose a suspicion of difference, particularly over anyone who participated in Goth culture. A host of myths, each and every one proved false, followed the retelling of the story of Columbine.

Jim Crow was not just a set of laws. It was an entire social and cultural system, enforced by extra-judicial murder, events that took on a form of social and cultural liturgy, reinforcing roles and status. Unlike contemporary executions, done quietly, in secret, these were community events. This photo was turned in to a postcard.

The following are two stories that appear in today's Chicago Tribune, so routine they do not even merit major comment.
Benjamin West was standing in a public housing play lot in University Village when two teenage boys approached, asking him for a lighter.

Moments later, West, 59, lay naked and dying, with his clothes heaped atop him in the cold after the teens robbed him and beat him, Cook County prosecutors said Saturday. West was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital less than an hour after the Tuesday-morning attack.

Chicago police said a dispute over the 99-cent lighter erupted into a fight. The teens — cousins Sharee Musgray, 15, and Angelo Cobbins, 17 — were both charged as adults with first-degree murder and robbery.

A 15-year-old boy who was shooting at several other teens on the street was shot to death Friday afternoon by an off-duty Aurora police officer trying to intervene in the fight, a police spokesman said.

The teen, who has not been identified, refused to drop his revolver after the officer told him to do so and then aimed the gun at the 11-year-veteran who fatally shot the teen, Aurora Police Spokesman Dan Ferrelli said in a press release today.
The teen, whose name has not been released but who is from Aurora, was declared dead about 5:25 p.m. at Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, about two hours after the shooting, according to the release.
Similar stories, from the Los Angeles Times:
A 26-year-old man was fatally shot Saturday at his home in the Central-Alameda neighborhood of South Los Angeles, authorities said.

Eleodoro Gaspar-Tlatelpa was in his living room about 10 p.m. when he was struck by multiple shots fired through his window, according to Los Angeles Police Lt. Samuel Rhone and a coroner’s investigator.

The suspect fled, and police said at this point they had no leads. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

Redlands police have redeployed two-thirds of their 74-officer staff in the wake of a shooting Wednesday night in which a suspected Latino gang member fatally shot two black youths and wounded two others, an incident that the mother of one victim believes was racially motivated.
According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Statistics Report, Preliminary Findings for the first six months of last year, there were 21 murders in the city of Tucson, AZ during that time period, roughly three-and-a-half per month. So, yesterday was an unusual day, but hardly unique.

Former Chicago police officer Jon Burge presided over a reign of terror on the South Side of the city, from 1972-1991, when he is alleged to have tortured as many as 200 criminal defendants. Burge, white, serving in the majority-black south side, was found not-guilty several times, although he was fired by the police department in 1991, and a series of civil suits followed. He was eventually convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice charges, leveled by federal prosecutors in regard to testimony in the series of suits the City of Chicago had to settle.

I could go on, but I think I'll stop for now. When blacks are lynched to enforce white supremacy, it's a party. When blacks for a political party in the city of Oakland that includes wearing army fatigues, and carrying perfectly legal sidearms, much of the nation quivers in fear. One of the people who inspired the Black Panthers, H. Rap Brown, was denounced when he quipped that "violence is as American as cherry pie." Yet, it is Brown, not his critics who are correct. All the hand-wringing over the mass shooting yesterday is a cheap escape from the reality that our history is a river of blood in which we swim.

Who Needs To Soul-Search?

Yesterday's mass shooting in Tuscon, AZ is a test case for our public discourse. Quite apart from the untold human tragedy, our reaction to the event as a people will tell us not so much about who we are, but about those who are the gatekeepers of our national dialogue. So far, color me unimpressed, sad, and amused.

We are so accustomed to the left/right divide, absent any but the slightest evidence whatsoever, there was a rush to answer that most difficult of questions: Why did this happen? Perusing Twitter yesterday, the general sense was there was a need to tie this event to the seeming uptick in violent rhetoric, particularly on the right; to tie Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter, to the Tea Party, to the culture of gun enthusiasm. As Duncan Black said, "Which Team Does This Nut Play For".

The reality of violence, its ubiquity in our social and cultural and political history, its prominence in our popular and high culture, the reality of violence in our homes, our schools, our streets, our prisons, our churches, our places of work all make placing blame in a case such as this virtually impossible. Furthermore, "blame" is for children. It is an escape from responsibility.

There are other ways to escape responsibility, too. Among the statements released yesterday by various elected officials, House Speaker John Boehner's use of the adjective "senseless" can be taken any number of ways. Personally, I take it as meaningless. No act is "senseless". The person who acted had "a sense" as to why the act was performed. Political assassinations, successful or not, are usually done to make a statement, to achieve a particular political goal the person so acting believes cannot be achieved any other way. Even John Hinkley's attempt on the life of Pres. Reagan in 1981 made sense, to him. Obsessively pursuing the actress Jodi Foster, Hinkley decided that, like Robert DeNiro's character, murdering (or at least attempting to murder) a political figure would garner her attention. Calling the act "senseless" divorces it from any possible attempt to understand the act as something real, something human, some part of our national life.

I would like to offer an alternative approach. One that seeks to understand what happened yesterday, given our limited understanding of the event and the facts surrounding it, that nevertheless provides us all an opportunity to take in the enormity of it, the horror of it, the humanity of it.

Shut the hell up.

There are 9 people dead, including a nine-year-old girl. Nine families whose lives have been torn asunder by the persistence of violence in America. Those who survived, including Rep. Giffords, are in for a long road to physical and psychic recovery. The young man who has been placed in custody for the event, from what little evidence we have, seems to show signs of some kind of mental illness; some bit of compassion needs to be extended to him, as well, as someone who might not have been aware of the moral import of his actions.

Rather than rushing to judgment - which team does this nut play for? - in silence, we might discover our own complicity in the prevalence of violence. Politics is, indeed, about struggle, about power, and violence is merely an expression of struggle, a tool for those both in and out of power. In America, however, there is an almost mythic quality to the resort to violence. We read it in declarations concerning our private response to crime. We read it in the celebration, not so much of our military personnel, but of military actions that result in mass death. We see it in homes where far too many women and children find no haven, no respite from the ugliness of the world outside. We fear it at work, wondering if some employee or former employee might decide to take out frustrations or grievances by bringing a gun and opening fire. We read it in our newspapers as various politicians and their supporters declare that violent opposition to whatever prevailing party or ideological rule is not only possible, but morally and politically legitimate.

All of this violence, and we far too often remain silent. All the calls to violence and all too often dismiss it as "mere" rhetoric. In short order, I am quite sure, we will read (if it hasn't been suggested already; I don't peruse the comment threads of right-wing web sites for the sake of my mental hygiene) that, had some person in the crowd had a weapon, the alleged perpetrator might have been stopped (I'm guessing that owning a gun provides psychic powers; such an individual would know who this person was and what he planned, and could stop it before it began). Thus is the cycle of violence heralded, and given force to continue.

Since we remain silent in the midst of the ordinary violence that surrounds us, why is it that when the extraordinarily violent occurs, we suddenly find ourselves moved to speak?

Virtual Tin Cup

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