Category Archives: Insanity

In the News

We’ve been getting the Democrat-Gazette newspaper since we arrived in Arkansas almost five years ago, but have been thinking lately of canceling. My wife, Jen, in fact, rarely reads the paper (she and I get most of our news online), and I most often skim through the front pages. The very conservative political posture of the editors (editorial and opinion pages) pisses me off.

But there is one feature, trivial as it may seem, that entertains and amazes me — that’s the narrow column on the left side of the front page called “In the News.” These are very short summaries, or squibs, of bizarre events, which you might call “What Are People Thinking (if Anything)?”

Today’s column, for example, features these items:

  • Ted Walters, 49, of Elizabethtown, N.C., was arrested on burglary and assault charges after telling police he wanted to teach his 25-year-old son a lesson by shooting him in the leg after a family member said he was stealing hamburger and bacon from his grandmother’s freezer.
  • Kim Jones, a police officer in Atlanta, said a patient bolted from a stopped ambulance and ran across five lanes of traffic before being struck and killed by cars, shutting down early-morning traffic for about two hours on one of metro Atlanta’s busiest interstates.
Elizabethtown, NC
Elizabethtown, NC, in all its junky glory.

Ah, my, my fellow citizens! Where do we begin? “In the News” seems to be a primer on how not to act, how not to raise your children, how not to stay sane. Take the case of Ted Walters, 49, of Elizabethtown, NC (population 3,583, pictured at left in a Google satellite image) who shoots his son for stealing meat. That will teach the son (of a bitch) a lesson, won’t it? Except poor ole redneck Ted forgot to consider that shooting someone, son or not, may be a crime and that he may be prosecuted for the crime. I bet that son of a bitch, Ted’s son, was shown a mighty fine example of mature adult behavior in his father as he was growing up. When the dad (Ted Walters, 49) got mad, he’d shoot someone or something, or smack his target, hard: this might’ve been his wife, his co-workers, his friends, who knows. At any rate, I’m sure that Ted Walters, 49, was a fine example of restrained and channeled manhood for his son, the 25-year-old hamburger thief.

Or take the patient who bolted from an ambulance during rush hour. Clearly, he was nuts from the start. Probably a psycho case being taken to the hospital for the insane to be restrained, cuffed, manhandled, and taught a lesson in mature, adult living — you know, the kind that Ted Walters, 49, of Elizabethtown, NC has pursued his entire life. If you weren’t nuts to start with, why would you flee across rush hour traffic in Atlanta, one of the nation’s biggest and scariest freeway traffic jams? Of course, as I suggest, the patient might have feared — more than the traffic — the prospect of being restrained, and sanitized, by the state.

“In the News” might suggest that we are all in this same crazy, leaky boat together. We laugh at the idiots pictured “In the News,” but once we have our belly laugh, and sit back with another story, say how dictators, terrorists, and ideologues are killing all over the world, can we be so sure we don’t act the same way as these loonies — or don’t know plenty of people who do or, given the drop of a pin, would?

Angry and ignorant

Following up my recent entry about the GOP and the presidential race, which cited Charles Simic’s article “Age of Ignorance,” a friend posted an article by Fred Schaeffer on Facebook that supports and enlarges this view that an illiterate and/or poorly prepared American electorate is open to extremist views like Trump’s.

Trump exists as the likely Republican nominee for two reasons:

First, Neil Postman’s prophetic book Amusing Ourselves to Death has been vindicated. It’s not coincidental that Donald Trump is a reality TV star. He is the face of an illiterate America that  gets its “facts” from TV news and talk radio hosts. He is the result of a celebrity “culture” gone wild.

Second, Donald Trump is the creation of white angry lower and middle-class Americans who have come through our educational system that failed to educate them. … They are not moved by facts, but their energy is fueled by overt racism, hate, xenophobia, isolationism and ignorance.

Wow! These are serious charges, but let’s examine them calmly.

Reality TV? About as far from reality as you can get, but sadly becoming too many people’s ersatz or substitute reality. If you sit in front of the TV and drool for entertainment, then you’ll accept any fool business to lift you out of your torpor, your low sense of self. But here comes my own living room billionaire to hire me and fire me, and tell me who I am!

Racism and xenophobia? I don’t know right-wingers who aren’t fueled by these hateful emotions.

My neighbor A prides himself on being a hard man: he runs and works out and has a lean, toned body. His mind is similarly hard. Because he has made it, he says, on his own, without  much help from his parents or advantages in his roots, anybody can make it. Then he cites a list of numbers about murders and imprisonment — “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” in Mark Twain’s words — that prove that black people are responsible for their own sad plight.

My gym rat buddy Z, whom I’ve mentioned above, doesn’t pass on a chance to revile blacks and Latinos — anyone else who looks a little different from him, as if he were the Great White Hope that would save the race from the mongrel hordes! Of course, he’s a gun nut too, ignorant and paranoid about the real threats to America: the main one not being that someone is going to break into your door and slaughter your family but that you yourself in you family, your house, standing your ground, as they say, will continue to be an ignorant right-wing redneck and live with as much imagination and compassion as a zombie.

Yes, my countrymen, the living dead, awakened by Donald Trump and walking around the landscape with their mouths open and their brains shut.

Wingnuts

Yesterday, at the gym, I deliberately avoided 2-3 people I know. The common denominator? They’re all politically conservatives: one of them quite nice and understated (X, the trainer); one of them big and stupid (Y, the sportsman); and one easy to talk to (he talks a lot) except when you talk politics, when he foams at the mouth (Z).

Usually, I mean, I say hello, at least, to everyone I know, but I saw these three gents standing together talking, and I determined to skirt them and remain silent.

X who’s about 40, well built, prematurely balding, is easy to talk to, a really nice guy, smiling and helpful to all, especially the old ladies, whose blood pulse he takes (and raises, no doubt) and with whom he chats; but he has the habits of the average Joe — common sense and not much reflection. We’ve talked once or twice about racial concerns, and he seems set in his ways against expressions of political protest, as for the Black Lives Matter protesters.

Z, retired like me and maybe 65, is garrulous, talks all the time, and I kid him that he spends more time on the “mandible machine” (jawing) than all the others combined. He can talk about anything — what we did on the weekend, hobbies, women, travel — but when it comes to politics, look out, for he’s a raving wingnut (right-winger). He loudly, proudly supports the NRA (National Rifle Association), a collection of hard-core gun defenders and promoters, and gets very upset if I say something, even mild, against them. When I say something wild (like “Fuck the NRA!”), he goes berserk, and then starts frothing about the coming hard times when I, and fellow liberals, will go to Walmart and find the food shelves empty! Ha ha! I respond. Ha ha ha! And then say, circling my ear with my finger, Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Y is another case altogether — a big former U of A basketball player. He’s probably 6’4” or 6’5” and about as dumb as they come. His sole topic of conversation is guns. Though he works, even at his age (mid-40s) as a clerk in a liquor store, he has a piece of property in the country on which he’s erected a tree stand. There he takes up arms, on the weekends, and blasts any animals that come near — deer or whatever. He has multiple guns available, he tells me, so that he doesn’t run out of ammo or miss a kill because of an ill-suited weapon. Aside from this proclivity for guns, and violence, Y is something of a bully. The inevitable refrain I hear when he sees me is, “Hasn’t that deer run over you yet?” For when I told him last summer that I’d bought a new bike and was taking long bike rides, he got it into his dunderhead that it would be funny to see me brought down by a mad deer. (There are videos available online that show bikers being knocked down by deer or antelope.) “Hasn’t that deer twisted you apart yet?”

At a certain point, it’s neither wise nor practical to talk with certain people. If you know, for example, that your ideas are inalienably opposed to theirs, that there’s very little possibility of your talking amicably about things that matter, why bother? Anything that passes between you would be mere time-of-day chitchat.

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

trump, lapierre
Trump and Lapierre, the faces of  ignorant bloodthirstiness.

Have a right-wing friend, let’s say acquaintance, at the gym I  attend. We get along fine, laughing and japing, until we get into politics.

I’ve made clear to Tommy, let’s call him, that I abhor the NRA and its bloody gun-promotion at any cost policies, but he counters that statistics prove having a gun at home protects people from intruders. (What did Mark Twain say about “lies, damned lies, and statistics”?)

I suggest that paranoia has intruded into his brain, that his fears are “projections,” much like bullets projected from a gun, which he attributes to others but which come from within. His own fears, that is, represent his fears of the unknown alien or other. (Yes, he makes many racist remarks about Latinos and blacks.)

The other day, we got into it in the locker room, both Tommy and I and a big dumb pal of his, about 6’4″, 300 lbs., a former Razorback basketball player who, at the age of 50, works as a clerk at a liquor store and for pleasure keeps a deer stand on which many guns are mounted. I suggested to Mr Razorback that I would give him a fine book of poetry which he could read in his stand, and he’d forget all about his guns. You will merge and commune with nature, I suggested, and your violent impulses will disappear.

But Tommy, entering the room, heard me inveigh against gun violence and the NRA, and shouted, “I’m an NRA member!”

Bad cess for you, Tommy.

Somehow, the argument escalated, and Tom spit out, When the food shelves run out at Walmart, you damned liberals will have nothing to eat.

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo! I intoned, for one and all to hear in the sweaty locker room.

You just wait! Tom roared. You’ll starve to death!

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Apparently, it’s the “elite” who foist such cultural products as clear, logical, intelligent writing on the masses. Therefor, of course, Tom and Razorbelly will not read such stuff, especially if it comes from political pundits of the center and left. How dare others have gifts and insights that we lack? they seem to suggest. Simply because these elitists have a gift, have studied many years, learned a discipline, including logic. The smug superior bastards!

Cuckoo!

 

 

Gun control, 2

Umpqua CC students
Umpqua Community College Students being frisked by police on the day of the massacre that killed ten, including the shooter, 1 October 2015.

A story in today’s Washington Post discusses the possibility that in the wake of the latest horrific gun massacre, in Oregon, President Obama may take executive action on gun control. Obama has asked his team, evidently to determine “what kinds of authorities … we have to enforce the laws that we have in place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

Of course, the far-right gun-rights wingnuts think that Obama is something of a criminal himself for proposing restrictions on gun sales and purchases. What he may be proposing now is simply the licensing of dealers who sell more than 50 weapons per year and background checks on purchasers.

To me, an anti-gun nut, it seems quite obvious that this measure in not enough in itself; and that this measure in itself will not keep guns “out of the hands of criminals.” In using this phrase, Obama simply echoes the simple-minded psychology, the naiveté and disingenuousness of the NRA and too many American citizens.

For any of us, any time, could break through the brittle mask of our civilized selves and become criminals. Haven’t we learned anything from Freud and modern psychology? Haven’t we learned from modernist writers, whether Ibsen, Faulkner, Genet, Hemingway, Sexton? Haven’t we considered how violence pervades contemporary literature and art, whether highbrow or low? Have we been deaf and blind to the daily news, which brings us, as Obama says, a new massacre every week or so?

Any of us could become criminals at any time. All of us are born with an innate capacity if not genius for evil, from childhood on. All of us are criminals, in potentia, if not in fact.

So the deliberate naiveté and falseness of the right misrepresent us at our core. There is no simple gulf between the violent and non-violent, the criminal and the bourgeois, the career hitman and the minister or lawyer. Nor is there any reason why we human beings, with our atrocious record of murdering each other individually and en masse, cannot become more peaceable, more reasonable. If only we can calm down long enough to study and unlock our genius for good.

 

We’re all crazy

crazy-girlTold a friend at the gym yesterday one of the crazy family tales I’ve recounted here (doesn’t matter which one), and he just shook his head, laughing, and said we’re all of us crazy.

Used to be, in the old days, I reflected, we sent the really crazy family members to the far corners of the compound. They could rattle all day in their chains, and still be fed and occasionally humored and talked to.

Nowadays, my friend was suggesting, everybody is crazy, and they’re all loose in the asylum. They’re not confined to the far reaches, either. You can run into them just about any hour of the day, and they’ll be in your face and roaring in your ear.

In Eureka Springs, this last weekend, at our hotel, a man took from the trunk of his black Mercedes an AR-15 and fondled it, caressed it as a lover would his beloved (my son Gabe told me this story). Glad I wasn’t there. I would’ve opened my big, anti-NRA mouth and got in trouble. Let boys be boys, hey, and fondle their automatic weapons.

In Fayetteville, we just had a human rights ordinance pass, designed to protect LGBT rights, and the losing side, religious nuts and allies, sued the city. Not only poor losers, but unwilling and unable to accept the rising secular tide of fairness for all. It’s all about them, of course, and that millennia-old book of perversions and persecutions called the bible.

Also in Northwest Arkansas, a young man  charged with murdering a jogger said he thought that shooting him, as he ran along a path, would make him (the shooter) feel better. Evidently, it did not.

Of course, it’s not just the crazy family members that we love to tell stories about, and keep in their place, if we can, in the far corners of the compound or the mind. It’s every other living, stretching, talking, gawking, fame-seeking human being on the planet.

Don’t tell me the next time someone shoots up the neighborhood that he was always so kind and helpful, always so quiet. Of course he was, the crazy fucker, he was hiding it all so that when he broke out, fearfully and violently, into the open, his insanity would be all the more spectacular and effective.

We live with insanity daily, and some of it is our own.