Every Man A Groper (Or Worse)

Every day, it’s getting more embarrassing to be a guy.

Every day, it seems, some new revelation comes out about some guy doing something that is just flat out appalling and inexcusable — if not outright criminal.

623-03695485Every day, it seems, some prominent actor, director, or other entertainment figure, or some well-known liberal or conservative politician, or some high-powered business executive, is alleged or shown to have engaged in activities that could easily be characterized as gross sexual imposition, indecent behavior, sexual assault, or outright rape.  The steady drip, drip, drip of allegations makes you wonder whether there is any widely known male public figure who hasn’t grabbed what they shouldn’t have grabbed, or exposed what they shouldn’t have exposed, or tried to grope a young girl, or engaged in some forced sexual activity with someone who was unwilling.   And it’s to the point now where you wake up each day and ask:  Who’s next?  Who else is going to be shown to have done something that is totally, disgustingly inconsistent with their pure-as-the-driven-snow public reputation?

Once, in the past, there was a sense of chivalry and manners, a pride in self-control and behaving like a gentleman, and a Victorian attitude about treating all people with politeness and decency and respect.  I’d like to think that there are still men out there in positions of power who continue to adhere to those concepts.  But the news we’ve heard over the past several weeks, from the Harvey Weinstein disclosures to whoever is the subject of today’s revelations, really makes you wonder how many of those decent people are left.

Men need to start rethinking what it means to be a man, and how we can teach boys a code of conduct that allows them to be proud, upright members of society, rather than evil predators who ruin people’s lives with their depredations.  The problem here seems to run awfully deep.

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Many Americas

Recently I was up in Detroit, gassing up the car at a service station at an exit just off one of the freeways, when I noticed this provocative sign on a tire business across the street.

Commerce doesn’t lie.  The business owner obviously thinks that theft of wheels from parked cars is a sufficiently widespread problem that advertising about the ability to help victims of the thefts will generate additional sales and revenue, and you have to assume that there’s a factual basis for that belief.  I thought:  “Really?  Wheels on cars parked on public streets are being stolen, and police haven’t caught the perpetrators of such brazen criminal activity?”  The sign, and the real message it was sending, made me uneasy.

The sign was just one more bit of tangible evidence that we don’t live in one America any more, if we ever really did.  Instead, there are lots of different Americas, dealing with lots of different issues.  Where I live, we thankfully don’t have to worry about coming out to our car and finding all of the wheels taken by wheel theft gangs.  In this particular neighborhood of Detroit, however, there is obviously a different reality.

This shouldn’t be a revelation, of course.  Read the news and you quickly understand, intellectually, that there are pockets of the country where the heroin epidemic is raging and leaving families devastated, where the local economy has been bottomed out and there are no jobs to be had, and where the relations between police and the local populace has been poisoned, and there are parts of America where people are concerned because housing values are too high, where companies are concerned because they just can’t hire enough high-tech workers, and where people are lining up to spend a thousand dollars on a new cell phone.  And don’t get me started about how different places like Hollywood, or Washington, D.C., seem to be from the rest of the country.

And yet, when you live in your own world, it’s easy to view everything from your own personal experience, and wonder why people could possibly have different perspectives on the issues of the day.  The next time I feel that kind of self-absorbed conceit, I’ll think about that unsettling sign in Detroit and try to remember that there are a lot of people in this country dealing with lots of issues and problems that I’m not even aware of — much less affected by.  America is a diverse place not only in terms of its population and demographics, but also in terms of personal experience.  We shouldn’t forget that.

 

When A Neighbor Assaults A Senator

On Friday, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky who was one of the many candidates who sought the Republican presidential nomination last year, was assaulted by his next-door neighbor.

11113635_10152962902206107_6867868766752394040_n1According to reports, Paul, who lives in a gated community near Bowling Green, Kentucky, had just stepped off his riding lawn mower when Rene Boucher, a retired anesthesiologist, tackled Paul, who was wearing ear guards and didn’t hear Boucher coming.  The assault was so violent that it broke five of Paul’s ribs, bruised his lungs, and left him with cuts on his face.  It’s not clear when Paul will be able to return to his job in the Senate.  Boucher has been charged with misdemeanor assault, and could be charged with a felony given Paul’s injuries.

Putting aside my revulsion at an unfair sneak attack and physical assault — regardless of our political views, I think we can all agree that tackling somebody from behind and breaking their ribs is not appropriate and must be punished — I at first was intrigued by the news that Paul mows his lawn himself.  I’m not in agreement with many of Paul’s positions on the issues, but it’s nice to know that there is still a Senator out there who still willingly experiences some of the basics of life, like cutting the grass.  Sometimes you wonder whether our members of Congress, rich, staffed to the gills, and surrounded by people sucking up to them at all times, have any concept of what it is like to live a normal life in America.  Cutting your own grass is a good start, so I applaud Senator Paul for that.

But the story of this dispute between neighbors seems to now be going deeper.  What would motivate a retired anesthesiologist, who has lived next to Paul for 17 years and once worked in the same hospital with him, to tackle a United States Senator?  Boucher’s lawyer said politics had nothing to do with it, and described the circumstances as a “very regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial.”  Some people in the area say that Senator Paul — who not only cuts his own grass, but also composts and grows pumpkins on his property — doesn’t pay much attention to property regulations in the area and has different views on property rights than his neighbors.  The story linked above cites some anonymous sources as saying that the dispute finally escalated into violence because of things like “stray yard clippings, newly planted saplings and unraked leaves.”  Could something minor like blowing yard debris really have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, propelling one neighbor in a fancy community to assault another?

It just goes to show you that, when it comes to neighbors, the baseline requirements are pretty low.  Living next door to somebody who won’t become enraged and assault you over a leaves, grass, and a compost pile is one of them.

Mechanized Slaughter

The shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas is the worst mass killing in modern American history, with a single gunman killing 59 people and injuring hundreds as he fired shots into a country music festival crowd — but it’s different only in degree, and not really in kind.  Accused gunman Stephen Paddock was a little older than the norm, but he was just another lone gunman who was inexplicably motivated to indiscriminately slaughter random people for no readily apparent reason.  We’ve heard this story before.

reported-shooting-at-mandalay-bay-in-las-vegas-crop-promo-xlarge2Police officials will tell you that there is no viable way to stop “lone wolf” lunatics from launching their deadly attacks if they manage to avoid creating a criminal record, as Paddock did, and that’s the scary thing for the rest of us.  Equally scary is the lethal arsenal that Paddock accumulated and then took to his killing room on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas casino hotel.  Paddock had 23 firearms in his hotel room.  (Paddock had another 19 firearms, and explosives, at his home.)  And while the investigation isn’t concluded yet, indications are that Paddock may have used an automatic weapon and modified other weapons to convert them from semi-automatic to automatic, allowing him to fire more rounds of ammunition in shorter time periods.  The devices found in the hotel room also included a stand and a scope that allowed Paddock improve his aim and better carry out his murderous intentions.

We may never truly know what set Stephen Paddock on the path to cold-blooded mass murder, and we may never be able to identify and thwart the impulses of other lone wolf killers — but it seems like we should be able to do something about the ability of a single person to amass a trove of automatic and semi-automatic weapons that could kill and injure hundreds of innocent people if that person happens to run off the mental rails.  I can understand people wanting a handgun for personal security, and hunters needing a rifle for hunting.  But there is a big difference between owning one or two firearms and owning dozens of guns that could be modified to fire dozens of rounds a minute and allow an unknown 64-year-old to turn himself into a ruthless killing machine.  We’ve got to figure out a way to prevent this kind of mechanized slaughter in the future.

Sentencing Sexting

On Monday former Congressman Anthony Weiner was sentenced to spend 21 months in federal prison for sexting with a minor.  He broke down and cried when the sentence was delivered.  Weiner, who had pleaded guilty to the offense, also was fined $10,000, will have to register as a sex offender, and will be subject to three years of supervised release after his prison term ends.

anthony-weiner-e4a324c0-fc5d-49b2-ac42-0b7f99f8b6e5Weiner’s lawyers had argued that he should receive only probation, contending that the case involved unusual facts and circumstances and that Weiner had made “remarkable progress” through participation in a treatment program for the past year.  After the sentence was announced, the lawyers contended that the punishment was more severe than it had to be.

The federal judge explained her sentence by noting that sexting with a minor is “a serious crime that deserves serious punishment.”  She added that Weiner’s notoriety was an significant part of the sentence — because people have paid attention to his conduct and his case, the sentence provided an opportunity to send a message that could change lives.  And Weiner could have received even more prison time.  The offense to which he pleaded guilty carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, and the sentence imposed by the judge was at the low end of the range suggested by federal prosecutors.

I think the judge got this one exactly right.  Weiner’s record of repetitive misbehavior shows an escalating pattern, and his conduct with the 15-year-old girl was reprehensible.  And it is important to use the sentence to send a message, on several levels — it not only notifies people that sexting with a minor will be sternly punished, but also shows that the politically powerful are subject to justice to the same extent as the rest of us.  In a time when politicians seem increasingly to live in their own secure little bubbles, distant and disconnected from the real world, the message that they will be held accountable for their illegal actions is an especially important one.

Letting The Old Obsessions Go

Yesterday a Nevada parole board voted unanimously to grant parole to O.J. Simpson.  Simpson, who is now 70, has served nine years for robbery and kidnapping offenses stemming from a bizarre incident in Las Vegas.  He could be released from prison by October 1.

170720-oj-simpson-parole-lovelock-ew-311p_fea89e6c6b7d1f50e0397eabec2defd9-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed.  Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same.  Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites.  It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.

At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight.  Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so.  I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.

In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works.  Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go.  I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker.  But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?

When Not Even Early-Morning Baseball Practice Is Safe

Yesterday members of the Republican congressional baseball team met early in the morning for a practice session in advance of an upcoming game against a team of Democrats.  The annual game, which gets played in the stadium where the Nationals play and typically produces lots of money for charity, is one of the handful of remaining vestiges of civility and across-the-aisle cooperation that can still be found in our increasingly polarized national politics.

2017-06-14t131000z1lynxmped5d12artroptp4virginia-shootingBut the world being what it is these days, even an early-morning baseball practice is no longer safe.  A heavily armed gunman, who has been identified as James Hodgkinson, showed up and began firing — apparently with the intention of killing Republicans.  He shot  Congressman Steve Scalise, who remains in critical condition, and others as well before engaging in a firefight with authorities and sustaining fatal injuries.  In view of the fact that the gunman got off dozens of rounds, and the players practicing on the field were described as “sitting ducks,” it’s almost miraculous that more people weren’t killed or seriously injured.  Those who were present say that the heroism and prompt actions of police saved many lives.

The shooter is described as a Bernie Sanders supporter who hated Republicans — but in reality you could just call him a nut, based on what he’s written and posted to social media.  Senator Sanders immediately disavowed what the shooter did, because of course Sanders’ political positions don’t call for his supporters to engage in murderous violence.  And yet there are people out there on the fringes, at both ends of the political spectrum, who can’t simply content themselves with political opposition and have to take the next step, and the next, first into more vitriolic speech and imagery and ultimately into some kind of twisted mindset where going to a baseball practice and shooting whoever is out of the field seems like the right thing to do.

There have always been nuts out there.  What’s discouraging about the modern world is that there seem to be more of them ready to act out their disturbed impulses, heedless of who might get hurt.  And now we’ve reached the point where even a simple baseball practice isn’t safe.

The baseball game is going to be played, by the way.  That’s a good thing, I think, but it’s the only good thing about this whole ugly episode.  And you inevitably wonder:  how many more nuts are lurking out there, thinking the answer to what troubles them is a lot of indiscriminate killing?