19 dead so far this year in school shootings

Including the murderer and the murdered at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, OR yesterday, 19 grade school and colleges students have died in what we now so casually call “school shootings” in 2014.

It’s barely June.  19 people.

Stay with me, this isn’t going where you think it’s going.

A lot of people are going to say that guns are the problem. The majority of guns used in these incidents have been legally-obtained weapons, either purchased legally by the shooter (such as the shotgun-toting Aaron Ybarra & stabber/shooter Elliot Rodger) or taken without permission from people who bought them legally.

Saying the problem is guns is easy, but it’s only part of the problem. There are so many guns in the United States that they’re simply everywhere. If you don’t own a gun yourself, you know somebody that has one – at least one. Depending on where you are right now, you might be sitting next to somebody who has a gun on them right now. The vast majority of guns are owned by law-abiding citizens that could never imagine using them in any capacity other than to defend themselves, their family or their property.

The only way to make guns NOT a part of this problem is to remove them from the equation. ALL of them.  Nobody but the military & the police have guns and that becomes the new reality of the United States of America.

That isn’t going to happen. Period.  It’s time, therefore, to stop talking about guns as being the problem.  Gun ownership laws (aka gun control laws) aren’t going to change enough to remove guns from the hands of the vast majority of citizens of the USA.

What else can we point to?  Bullying?

Maybe.  Maybe bullying is a problem.  That cowardly little asshole Elliot Rodger felt bullied by other kids and rejected by women.  Those kids that shot up Columbine High School felt bullied and mistreated.  Bullying has been going on since school started and while it’s always been a shitty thing, millions of people have dealt with it in other ways than shooting up their classmates. Are we not teaching coping strategies to our children?  Are we telling our children, “Oh, well, if that football player picks on you, it’s OK to shoot him in the face, then empty your gun into the pep rally attendees in the gymnasium.”

Of course we’re not.  Bullying, then, isn’t the problem.  (Don’t get me wrong – it’s A problem, but blaming these school shootings on bullying is what I’m talking about.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here, then, and say that guns and bullies aren’t causing these school shootings.

The media is at fault.

NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, even NPR – they are the reason we’re seeing an increase in the frequency of these school shootings.

Every time one of these cowardly little assholes takes an assault rifle into an elementary school and blows away a bunch of kids, these “reporters” and “anchors” and “experts” spend unimaginably countless hours on TV and radio dissecting every aspect of his personality, digging down into his psyche, his motivations, his difficult childhood – any aspect of the shooter’s life that gets them a little more air time, a few more ratings points.

What it turns into is a fetish, a cult that worships these little fucking assholes who think shooting their classmates is going to get them attention. Why do they think this? BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.

It used to be for the average American to get on TV, they had to streak across the 50-yard line during a nationally-televised college football game.  That was a one-and-done event, a laugh on the news that night.  Now you too can get talked about on TV for endless hours simply by buying a gun (legally) and using it to attract the media.  If you shoot up a school – you don’t even have to kill anybody – then the talking heads on TV and radio will discuss your life in minute detail for days, weeks, even months.  They’ll talk about you now. They’ll talk about you when your trial comes up.  They’ll talk about you in a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years.

(Think they’ll forget about it in 20 years?  Guess what – it’s the 20th anniversary of the murders OJ Simpson was acquitted for. Guess what they’re talking about on TV this week?)

Shooting up a school has become the newest, best way to achieve immortality in our corrupted culture. There is no more sure way to achieve the goal of people paying attention to you than to shoot up a school, movie theater, fast-food restaurant, etc. You’ll be on the “news” and achieve immortality.

The problem, then, is us.  That’s right – you and me and every other American. Not the guns, not the bullying, not the misogyny alone – but all of it.  USA! USA! USA! We’ve done this to ourselves by creating a culture that glorifies “media,” that thrives on TV shows like America’s Got Talent and American Idol.  Our society, our empire, is crumbling around us every day and we’re so oblivious to it that the only way to get any attention now is to get on TV – and what surer way to get on TV is there than to kill classmates?  It’s a guaranteed way to get your picture into every American household, to make your name a household conversation piece, to get you mentioned on every channel, station and newspaper in the country.

The solution, then, is for the media to simply stop talking about these events in such morbid depth.

Like eliminating the guns, though, that’s never going to happen.  As a society, we have no self-control, and we simply won’t be able to do it.  Ever.

We live in the country we’ve built, and we deserve exactly what we’ve created for ourselves.


pondering the use of “tragic” in re: the death of philip seymour hoffman


Though his autopsy hasn’t been completed as of this writing, everyone from his family to police officials in New York City are saying Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose.  He was 46 years old when this happened – yesterday, 2 Feb 2014.

I’ve been a fan of PSH for quite some time. He’s a good actor, perhaps even crossing that line into great. He’s an everyman, but a true everyman that can submerge, subordinate his own personality to the role. His acting career encompassed everything from bumbling dunderheads to over-the-top villains, and the most excellent thing about him is that you believed him in every single role. You committed to his character as much as he did.

When I first heard of his death, then heard it was most likely due to a heroin overdose, I have to say the only thing that surprised me was that he was dead – not the method of his demise.  Even though it’s not really cool to OD on heroin in 2014, ODing on heroin seems like a completely appropriate way for PSH to check out. The quotes “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” as gurgled by Kurgan in Highlander, and “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly,” uttered by Tyrell in Blade Runner immediately popped into my mind.  PSH is one of those people that burned very, very brightly and I believe he died at his peak – a burnout if ever there was one.

I cannot, however, bring myself to call his death “tragic.”

I didn’t really have a problem with PSH ODing on heroin when I first heard about it.  Later, I heard that he had three kids.

Now I have a problem with it.

What’s tragic is that three children lost their father for no good reason. There is no good reason, absolutely none, to continue doing heroin after you become responsible for other human beings. Yes, I know, people get addicted. You beat those addictions because your children are more important than heroin.

Those of you who know me know that I do not ascribe to the fetishization of children, the idea that children are the ONLY and MOST important thing EVER in the history of anything, so I do not utter the statement that children are more important than something lightly.

PSH’s death, while untimely, was entirely avoidable – and therefore, not tragic.  Sad? Absolutely.  Tragic? Nope.  Same with Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, or any other celebrity that chose drugs or alcohol over their children.

You know whose death was tragic? Stevie Ray Vaughn’s. There was a supremely talented guy who was just riding in a helicopter when – boom, crash – he’s dead. THAT is tragic.

None of this means I’m not saddened by his death and won’t lament a bit for the roles he’d have brought to us in the future. It does mean, however, that I’m sadder for his children and that they’ve got to live their lives without him, knowing that his passing could have easily been prevented.

notable deaths in 2013

3e8154f3d0164fb9c74d9212c54db126I hope I’m not jinxing this post by throwing it up more than 24 hours before the end of the year, but the death (yesterday) of Wojciech Kilar reminded me that I meant to do this.  I won’t comment on any of these folks except to note what they were most known as – musician includes singers, by the way!

I have friends who lost people special to them, including some close friends, and I went to a few funerals myself this year. It’s never a pleasant experience, but that kind of closure is important to us and how we deal with death and our families. My sympathies to anybody who lost somebody this year, and I hope your memories buoy you.

Notable deaths in 2013

  • Wojciech Kilar, composer
  • Kazuyoshi Kino, Buddhist scholar
  • Paul Blair, baseball player
  • Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor/engineer
  • Yusef Lateef, musician
  • Ricky Lawson, musician
  • Lord Infamous, musician
  • David Richards, music producer
  • Al Goldstein, pornographer
  • Hideo Kanaya, motorcycle racer
  • Ray Price, musician
  • Joan Fontaine, actress
  • Peter O’Toole, actor
  • Jang Sung-taek, politician – executed
  • Tom Laughlin, actor
  • Mac McGarry, quiz show host (It’s Academic!)
  • Nelson Mandela, politician & activist
  • Charles Grigg, cartoonist
  • Bill Lawrence, musician & guitar/bass pickup designer
  • Jim Hall, musician
  • Eleanor Parker, actress
  • Paul Walker, actor
  • Sylvia Brown, psychic
  • Frederick Sanger, scientist
  • Doris Lessing, author
  • John Tavener, musician & composer
  • Charlie Trotter, chef
  • Lou Reed, musician
  • Marcia Wallace, actress
  • Jovanka Broz, widow of Josip Broz
  • Ed Lauter, actor
  • Phil Chevron, musician
  • Vo Nguyen Giap, general
  • Tom Clancy, author
  • Hiroshi Yamauchi, video game legend
  • Ray Dolby, engineer
  • Frederick Pohl, author
  • Julie Harris, actress
  • Marian McPartland, musician
  • Elmore Leonard, author
  • Lee Thompson Young, actor
  • Lisa Robin Kelly, actress
  • Jack Germond, author/journalist
  • Jon Brookes, musician
  • Eydie Gorme, musician
  • Karen Black, actress
  • George Duke, musician
  • Michael Ansara, actor
  • Harry Byrd, Jr, politician
  • Eileen Brennan, actress
  • JJ Cale, musician
  • Virginia Johnson, scientist
  • Dennis Farina, actor
  • Helen Thomas, journalist
  • Cory Monteith, actor
  • Bernadette Nolan, musician
  • Jim Kelly, martial artist & actor
  • Alan Myers, musician
  • Douglas Engelbart, nerd (invented the computer mouse)
  • Bobby “Blue” Bland, musician
  • James Gandolfini, actor
  • Slim Whitman, musician
  • Chico Hamilton, musician
  • Wanda Coleman, poet
  • Doris Lessing, feminist
  • Todd Christensen, football player
  • Hal Needham, stunt man & film director
  • Scott Carpenter, astronaut
  • Ken Norton, Sr, boxer
  • Eiji Toyoda, auto executive
  • David Frost, journalist
  • Seamus Heaney, poet
  • Ruth Asawa, artist
  • Michael Hastings, journalist
  • Richard Ramirez, serial killer
  • David “Deacon” Jones, football player
  • Jean Stapleton, actress
  • Ed Shaughnessy, musician
  • Ray Manzarek, musician
  • Joyce Brothers, psychologist
  • Ray Harryhausen, film special effects wizard
  • Deanna Durbin, musician/actress
  • George Jones, musician
  • Richie Havens, musician
  • Pat Summerall, broadcaster
  • Frank Bank, actor
  • Maria Tallchief, dancer
  • Jonathan Winters, comedian & actor
  • Margaret Thatcher, politician
  • Annette Funicello, actress
  • Roger Ebert, film critic
  • Jack Pardee, football player
  • Phil Ramone, record producer
  • Richard Griffiths, actor
  • Rise Stevens, musician
  • Harry Reems, actor
  • Alvin Lee, musician
  • Hugo Chavez, politician
  • Bonnie Franklin, actress
  • Van Cliburn, musician
  • Roy Brown, automotive engineer/designer
  • C Everett Koop, physician
  • George Aratani, electronics executive
  • Mindy McCready, musician
  • Stuart Freeborn, film makeup/costuming legend
  • Andre Cassagnes, electrician & inventor
  • Ed Koch, politician
  • Patty Andrews, musician
  • Stan “The Man” Musial, baseball player
  • Earl Weaver, baseball player/manager
  • Gussy Moran, tennis player
  • Pauline “Dear Abby” Phillips, author
  • Aaron Swartz, nerd
  • Evan Connell, author & historian
  • Patti Page, musician
  • Kurt Caselli, motorcycle racer

día de los muertos

sugarskullThe death rituals of human societies are fascinating, and they’re all geared towards one thing: helping us remember those that came before us and touched our lives.

Día de los Muertos is the Mexican remembrance and it happens around the same time as Halloween. There are parades, people get dressed up, kind of like a Mexican version of Halloween, I guess, but a little (a lot?) more up front about death than the American tradition of wandering from house to house and promising mischief if you’re not bought off with a little something yummy.

I’d like to take this opportunity, then, to remember some of my friends and family that have passed ahead of me.

Rob Finch, my friend of many years, who smoked too much pot on occasion but was always there no matter what. My trusted guitar tech on many long (and loud) nights, he could always be counted on to lift spirits and drive fast.

Beth Jenkins, my cousin, and an English teacher to boot. Taken by ALS, she never gave up on anything – certainly not life.

Brian Williamson, a dear friend from my days at SHAPE, was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work one night in the summer of 1991. We had seen each other the previous summer and had plans to get together again, but it never happened.

Tom Henry, who left us at just 44 years old after too many years of drinking and drug use. I knew him in his easier (mostly clean) days, and our 10 years together in bands are ones that I will never forget. Those of us who knew him will understand this quote:  “Do I have something on my face?”

Paul Mihalka, the most with-it motorcyclist I ever knew, taken by cancer after a long life filled with adventure.

My father, Tom Fleming, and his parents, Harley Joe & Patricia. My father was very much the kind of father HJ had been – distant, detached and hard just because he didn’t know what else to do. Grandma Pat was a peach, though, and just always a wonderful person to be around.

Mary Jenkins, my maternal grandmother, who insulted pretty much anybody every chance she got, including my wife-to-be on our wedding day. She was a hard woman to be around – racist and vicious – but I’ve always said you can learn life lessons from anybody.

Michael Hedges, who used to call me at 2 or 3 in the morning to talk about geography and history; he never really got a grip on the whole time difference thing between the east & west coast. For both of us being guitarists (he immensely more talented than I), it’s amazing that we never talked about music. Simultaneously the weirdest and most down-to-earth cat I knew, to have such an amazing musician taken from us in a car crash seems patently unfair.  I’ll never forget sitting backstage with him at the Birchmere – we got to talking about … something … and he forgot it was just intermission.

Jean Smith, whom I always had a crush on, and her son Jim, who was simply one of the most present people I ever had the pleasure to know. Taken from us together by a coward, their deaths remind me both of the joy of life and the unfairness of it all.

It saddens me that this list gets longer with time, but I can’t help but thing of the things my friends and family have taught me over the years.

get in there and hurt somebody

I was just looking through a list of wars the US has been actively involved in, dating back to the 1st shots of the American Revolution in 1774. In those 239 years, we’ve been at war somewhere here or there for 176 years, including dozens of wars against native American Indian tribes throughout most of the 1800s. Even during the devastating Civil War, the US Army kept fighting the Indians.

I wonder what the stats are for other countries in their 1st 240 years of existence, or even the last 240 years of their existence.

Looking at the wars fought by the Roman Republic in the 239 years between 351*-112 BC, Rome was at war for a total of 99 years. In the last 239 years of the Roman Empire (155-394** AD), Rome was in an active state of war (or civil war) for 115 years. I think we can all agree that Rome certainly meddled in the affairs of the nations/tribes surrounding it, so, like the USA, there was certainly military action going on in other years, but I’m talking about active, publicly declared wars of some sort.

To recap: USA is 239 years old & has been at war for 176 of them. The beginning & ending 239 years of the Roman Republic/Empire, Rome was at war for 99/115 years respectively.

I suppose you can balance that out by looking at Napoleon, who reigned for 19 years (1796-1815, 1st as a member of the Directory & later as Emperor) & was only not at war during 1803, 1810-11 & during his exile on Elba from May 1814 to February 1815 – let’s call that 1 year. During 19 years of rule, then, Napoleon was actively at war with somebody for 15 years. That’s a mighty percentage.

What, exactly, is my point?  I don’t know, exactly, except to say that for the first time in a long time, I think it’s time that the US stop dropping bombs on the people of some other nation simply because we don’t like what they do to their own people. Yes, if it did indeed happen, it is reprehensible that Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, used sarin gas on the rebels that have risen against him.

It was less than 100 years ago that many of the major civilized nations of the west – England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia and the United States – were using chemical weapons against each other with enthusiasm. Oh, it started innocently enough with tear gas, which police forces & militaries around the world continue to use to pacify crowds. It went on from there, though, to xylyl bromide, chlorine (produced by the German company BASF, which is still in manufacturing today), phosgene (invented by French scientists & responsible for most of the gas-related deaths in the war), a nifty blend of chlorine AND phosgene, and, of course, mustard gas, which wasn’t really meant to kill many people (and didn’t) but rather as a way to make the battlefield (or at least the enemy’s trenches) uninhabitable.

Chemical weapons, though universally recognized as horrific, remained in vogue in military circles worldwide throughout the 1920s, but haven’t really been used in large-scale combat since 1925, when most WW1 combatants (not the US, though) signed the first treaty banning the use of such weapons. The US didn’t sign the Geneva Protocol until the 1970s. Note that the GC only bans the USE of chemical weapons – not the creation or stockpiling of such weapons.  The last country to use chemical weapons during a war in a big way was Iraq, which used mustard & other gasses to kill or wound about 100,000 of Iran’s forces.

In between, of course, was Germany again, using Zyklon B to gas into oblivion millions of European Jews during WW2, but I think we can all agree that doesn’t really count as combat.

The USA is still the only nation in the world to have used the entire suite of NBC weapons – nuclear, biological & chemical – to kill its enemies. While our leaders have promised not to use chemical or biological weapons in the future, that doesn’t stop them from continuing to manufacture and stockpile them.  It takes a pretty sturdy soap box to support you in condemning any government from using chemical weapons when you yourself produce tons of them every year.

None of this makes it right for Assad to attack his own people with chemical weapons (if, indeed, he did) – but is it any more right for the US to drop bombs on Syria as “punishment” for his having done so?  My mother always told me that “two wrongs don’t make a right” (even though three lefts do), so I’m having a hard time reconciling that the USA is making plans to spank Syria for gassing its own people.

As many people have pointed out, the revolution in Syria has cost at least 100,000 lives so far. Why is the most recent 1,000 of them, though killed by sarin gas, the ones that finally “demand” action from anywhere else in the world?

I think it’s time for the US to stop acting like the world’s police force and stick to fixing things in its own back yard.  With an active war going on in Afghanistan (because, you know, previous wars involving Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Mughals, the British & the Soviet Union all turned out so spectacularly) and another one in Iraq mostly winding down, is the US just so bored that it’s time to start another war that’s going to cost billions of dollars & possibly thousands of lives?  They SAY “no boots on the ground” now, but things hardly ever stay that way.

Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our health care costs are out of control. Our education system is in shambles.  Our leaders are corrupt.  Our businesses are robbing us blind.  Our borders are porous.  Our atmosphere is disintegrating.  Our power grid is being pushed to capacity.  We have 100s of 1000s of people in this country that are unemployed, hungry or homeless. How about instead of throwing expensive weapons at another nation, we dump some of that money into fixing problems here in the United States?

I think the underlying reason we don’t pay more attention to our own problems is because it’s easier to point the self-righteous finger of judgment at the actions and ideas of others than it is to examine the gaping holes in our own system.

* 351 BC saw the end of the war between the Roman Republic & the Tarquinii, Falerii & Caere – while it’s debatable as to when the Roman Republic can first be considered an empire, there is NO DOUBT that after 351 BC (the end of this 8-year war), the Romans were the dominant power in the region.

** 394 AD wasn’t the end-end of the Roman Empire, but with the end of the last of the real Roman Civil Wars in this year, it can easily be identified as a clear end-point for the Romans despite another 100+ years of the barbarian tribes of Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East & Northern Africa picking apart the remnants of the empire.