Thursday, December 31, 2015

All Kinds of Wrong

In my not abundant free time I've been trying to wade through the very poorly written and edited 74pg report by the Cuyuhoga County Prosecutor's Office  (scroll down for the report itself) that they say justifies the Grand Jury's no bill in the murder-by-cop of young Tamir Rice.

I didn't see McGinty's show-and-tell at which he apparently went through the report, but it's just as well. I would have been furious, and that's no good for my blood pressure.

The report is filled with so many typos and so much nonsense and outright falsehood that it takes your breath away. And it took more than a year for the "investigation" and the "process" to unfold, no? Why? As many observers have pointed out, there was more than enough evidence to hold both officers for trial, and it was obvious from the start.

In the case of a cop who kills, it's almost impossible to get a conviction, especially when the DA is acting as defense counsel as McGinty was in this case, but there is often no lack of evidence to charge and try the said cop in court. Of course, that almost never happens.

Yes, McGinty is acting as defense counsel for the police whose actions that awful day when Tamir Rice was shot by Timothy Loehmann at the Cudel Recreation Center were supposed to be evaluated by the Grand Jury with regard to whether or not there was sufficient evidence to charge and try them. That's all.

There was more than enough evidence to charge and try them. It doesn't mean there would necessarily be a conviction -- as I say, almost impossible to get -- but a trial in open court was certainly warranted. Instead, a kind of mock trial in which only the defense was present and only the defense was presented to the GJ by the DA was held behind closed doors. This is not justice, not even its shadow. This was farce.

The defense, yes. There was no prosecution, there was no attempt at presenting evidence for a possible prosecution of officers Loehmann and Garmback. The only evidence presented was a defense of their actions.

And then a defense of the DA's office for not presenting a case for prosecution.

How very circular. How very wrong.

There are many obvious falsehoods in this report, falsehoods upon which the DA rests his defense of the officers in the killing of Tamir Rice. The most glaring is the statement by Officer Loehmann himself, a statement which was apparently presented in whole to the Grand Jury, read by Loehmann to the jurors, a statement which he allowed to present without question or cross examination. By itself, this was a highly unusual and bordered on malfeasance. The statement itself was not new. It had been in the press before, and it had been picked apart because it is riddled with falsehood. But the DA chose to accept Loehmann's statement -- and the statements of other officers -- as true facts. They aren't. And if the goal is justice (it wasn't) the statements of police officers, especially of the killers themselves, have to be open to question. They weren't.

Instead, the DA sought evidence to corroborate, not to dispute, the officers' statements. When he believed he had sufficient evidence to do that, he advised the GJ not to indict.

Because the officers only did what they had to do -- based on the erroneous and incomplete information they had from a 911 caller and dispatch and the fear they felt due to the actions of their deceased victim. The officers had a duty and obligation to neutralize the active shooter threat that they believed Tamir Rice represented. And so they did, with lethal force, which is what they are authorized and empowered to do. The officers committed no crime, according to the DA, because in essence, they couldn't. There were many errors all along the way, he claimed, but the outcome -- a dead boy -- was not one of them. Based on the information they had and the actions of the boy, they had no choice but to kill him to save their own lives and protect the safety of others.

This is all kinds of wrong, but the DA in this case doesn't seem to recognize that.

The first thing to recognize -- which the DA doesn't -- is that there was no credible threat at any time to anyone from Tamir Rice that day. The only threat came from the police to Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice was not armed with a weapon, he had a toy gun. It's been called a BB gun or a "replica gun" (the term of choice used by the DA) but it was an Airsoft gun that could at worst cause slight injury if he had ever fired at anyone. So far as the evidence shows, Tamir never shot a plastic pellet from the gun at any time before or during the 911 call nor did he (nor could he) when the police arrived. He may never have shot a pellet at all. But even if he had, it wouldn't have been known to the officers -- because there was no report of his firing.

Nevertheless, the officers approached Tamir as if he were an active shooter and the situation was that of an active shooter causing multiple injuries and death. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. There was simply no call for treating him as an active shooter to be neutralized on sight. None.

Well, except for this: The report that was transmitted to the officers was that a black male was in the park aiming a gun at people. Bingo. That's all it takes in Ohio to justify police who kill them. It's happened repeatedly in Ohio (elsewhere too, but Ohio stands out because it is an open carry state. Well, for whites.)

All it takes to get a black male shot by police on sight is a 911 caller saying that an armed black male is waving his gun around and pointing it at people.

Bam! Or in Tamir's case, "bam-bam." Loehmann proudly says in his statement that he attempted a "tap-tap" by firing twice, but sadly only hit the boy with one bullet. No doubt he'll try to do better next time.

McGinty defends the "active shooter" approach to Tamir by saying that it was actually required of the officers by protocol, training and the law. They had no choice. Even though there were no reports AT ALL of anyone firing any weapon, because there was the potential that Tamir might become an active shooter, he had to be neutralized according to the protocols of the PD and the law in Ohio. They were not to assess; they were to act. And their act of killing Tamir was required of them due to the gravity of the situation.

This is so far from any sane policy, my head is spinning. It is practically the definition of "murder at will" -- because of fear that something might happen. This is almost the same excuse that was used to justify the killing of John Crawford III at that Walmart near Dayton. But there have been many others. All it takes is somebody calling 911 about a black man with a gun and reports of "pointing it at people." True or false, it doesn't matter. The black man will be a dead man (or boy) shortly.

True or false, it doesn't matter.

McGinty essentially says just that. The police are not to assess anything. They are to act on their split-second decision to neutralize (ie: kill) the reported threat. That is all.

Any delay or assessment of the true situation or any failure to shoot first before the victim can shoot at them is potentially deadly to them or others. Ergo, they are justified at law and by training  when they kill reported  "threats."

It doesn't matter whether the report is true or not. In the case of John Crawford III, the 911 caller made indubitably false claims about the actions of Mr. Crawford, and police acted on those false claims (of loading and aiming an automatic weapon at customers), and they were not held criminally liable.

In the case of Tamir Rice, the 911 caller repeatedly tried to clarify that the gun he saw the boy waving around was "probably fake" and the boy himself was "probably a kid." Didn't matter. That information was never passed on to the responding officers, but even if it had been, it wouldn't have made much difference, because they were psyched for an "active shooter" encounter, and because, according to McGinty's video enhancement expert, Tamir reached for the gun in his waistband.

 Talk about all kinds of wrong. The video is grainy and taken from a distance. It does not "indubitably" show Tamir reaching for the gun. McGinty says it is "indubitable" because his expert says so, but the expert is interpreting his own enhancement, not seeing with any sort of clarity what the boy is actually doing.

In my view, it's just as likely that he is taking his hands out of his pockets and attempting to "show his hands" as the police car skids to a stop. There is no sign -- whatever -- that he actually takes the gun from his waistband (as stated in Loehmann's account). McGinty makes the announcement that Loehmann's account is confirmed by this video enhancement, but that's false. That's not what it shows. But even if it did, it wouldn't constitute an actual threat to the officers or anyone else.

McGinty claims that the Airsoft gun "looks real" -- which it does -- but that's irrelevant if, as I suspect, neither officer ever saw the gun until after Tamir was shot.

And so it goes. The report is one falsehood after another, one irrelevancy after another, one wrong after another.

And cops who kill walk once again, because the DA does not prosecute cops who kill, the DA defends them.

America. 2015.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year-End Wrap-Up: The Greek Thing and the Ukranian Thing Are Still Things, The Middle East Chaos Spreads, and Police Killings Have Increased, Not Decreased In 2015. What A World.

Greece and Ukraine have fallen off the media radar so that nowadays all you hear about Greece is that it is the arrival/transit point for the Muslim hordes invading Europe, if you hear even that, never mind that many Greeks live like refugees in their own country.

You don't hear about Ukraine at all except in the by now ritualized denigration and denunciations of Russia and especially that New New Hitler, Putin. Then it's only to yammer on about "Putin's Invasion" of Ukraine that never happened and his support of "separatists" and "rebels" that did.

Both Greece and Ukraine are economic disasters of immense proportions, made deliberately worse by the policies and programs of the very Europe that is supposed to be their salvation. Neither was in good economic shape prior to the impositions of the EU and its financiers, and in the case of Ukraine, prior to the Nazi coup -- which was partially enabled and funded by such luminaries as Pierre Omidyar. But what's been done to them over the past several years, as neo-liberal economic theories and policies have been given free rein, is grotesque in the extreme.

While I'm no fan of The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald's and Pierre Omidyar's special-purpose media outlet, I was quite taken with Paul Mason's four part film examination of the Greek tragedy which is still playing out. The trouble with it is that, like almost all media coverage of Greece in the US, it stops with the September elections which confirmed Syriza's parliamentary majority. It wasn't so much that there was nothing more to say about the Greek Thing at that point as it was that the elections were seen as a full capitulation to the Berlin/Brussels axis, and there could only be more misery in store for the Greeks from then on.

So far as I can tell, more misery is what's happened -- compounded by the flood of refugees from the Middle Eastern Chaos that was triggered by and is maintained at a boil by the United States of America, Inc, LLC. The refugee situation is sometimes blamed on the Greeks -- for not doing enough to stem the tide or something. For cripes sake. As if they could do something about it given the lack of support that Europe has given Greece. It's nonsense, but there you are.

The EU and its financiers make their own reality, it would seem, aided and abetted by the Department of Madmen in the United States of America, Inc. LLC. We live in remarkably Interesting Times, no?

My access to information about what's going on in Ukraine is strictly limited, and so far as I can tell, essentially nothing has changed since the struggle between Kiev and the Donbass was sometimes in the news. The struggle goes on. Kiev's aggression against the people of the Donbass continues, and terms like "genocide" are waved around. The nonexistent invasion by Russia is still bruited as if it were real. The Nazis still control the government in Kiev, and the suffering of the Ukrainian people under their control is profound and increasing. This is all the implementation of policies thought up in Berlin and Brussels and the Department of Madmen in Washington, DC. It's insane on its face, but it is the New Reality being created before our Very Eyes.

The Middle East spirals further and further into utter Mad Max Chaos, as city after city is destroyed and their populations liquidated in pursuit of named and nameless phantoms. The policy is obviously to keep the Chaos in the Middle East boiling and spreading indefinitely, and if there are fleeing refugees, so much the better. Destruction and depopulation seem to be happening for their own sake, and horrors are committed by all sides -- as if there were sides -- with glee and abandon. A charnel house would be less appalling. Meanwhile, our Good Friends the Saudis, ruled by a Madman King, chops off more heads than ISIS (whatever it's called these days) dreams of.

The police in United States have killed more people this year than last year when protests began in earnest and spread nationally against violent and deadly policing. Well. Isn't that something? More killed since the protests began...

As of yesterday, the number of dead at the hands of American police was 1192, a nearly 10% increase over last year. If the protests are intended to reduce the use of lethal force by police, they're not working. In the meantime, the number of police killed by perpetrators in the line of duty has apparently fallen by 14%. These statistics ought to be a clarion call to Americans that something just ain't right, but as I've seen on the internets over and over again, a whole lot of Americans are just fine with more dead at the hands of police. Especially if they're "thugs," black or brown men who have been so demonized for so long it seems that there is now almost no way for rehabilitation in the minds of both the police and the general white population. I knew the situation was dire, but it seems to be worse than I imagined.

There are so many killings by police it's almost impossible to keep up, and the System defends them in an almost comical fashion (though it's not the least bit funny) such as was the case with Cleveland's Own DA McGinty claiming there was no crime, only a sad series of errors, in the shocking summary execution of young Tamir Rice that snowy day last year.

No, there was no crime. There can't be. If police kill be someone in the line of duty, it is by definition "justified," because, as we know, police don't kill without justification. They wouldn't dream of such a thing. Even when they do skirt the rules of engagement or the line between "justified" and "not," they almost always get off because they din't mean to, and besides, they are always, always, always "in fear for their lives and the safety of others", and according to the law, so long as they invoke that phrase, which they are trained to do, there is no criminal intent or act in anything they do. Kill, maim, torture at will. It is not a crime if the police do it.

No one I know of is surprised at McGinty's failure to get a GJ indictment of the officers responsible for Tamir Rice's death. He didn't act at any time as a prosecutor in the case, he acted as their defense attorney. The person indicted would have been Tamir Rice if he had survived his execution. This has happened in so many other instances, in so many other jurisdictions, where prosecutors use the GJ process to essentially defend police and impugn and denigrate their victims that it is obviously a general policy and procedure within the prosecutorial profession to do exactly that. Professional courtesy, I guess. The prosecutor is there not to prosecute cases against police officers but to defend them, no matter what they do.

The law is structured in such a way as to protect the actions of police even in those very rare instances that go to trial. It is so rare that a police officer is convicted of a crime in connection with his/her duties, no matter what s/he does, that it's national news when it happens. This blanket protection is due to court decisions and local and state laws that essentially give police free rein to do anything they think needs doing ("to keep us safe") in the heat of the moment, the legendary "split-second" police and their defenders are always invoking to explain this, that and the next killing or maiming.

The Supreme Court constantly reinforces this near blanket immunity from criminal liability, usually unanimously or on a very lopsided majority. As long as they do, police will be protected whereas civilians are not.

There is no law that protects civilians from police killing them at will -- and getting away with it. None.

Some wag might say it's a wonder then that the police don't kill more than they do. Right.

So what do we do? I've been studying this issue for many a long year, starting with my work against police brutality on behalf of the NAACP in Sacramento in 1996. That effort was a partial success, and the reason why it was even partially successful was that the police chief and the city manager of Sacramento were in agreement with the goals of the project to reduce police brutality. They wanted nearly the same outcome we did.

Police departments are strict hierarchies, and when the top people say "these are the rules," the rank and file either follow them or they are out. In most cities, the police department is under the command of the chief who in turn is accountable to the city manager, not to elected officials. This is something that still mystifies many activists. They think that if they sway elected officials, then the police will follow, and it generally doesn't work that way. Police departments were deliberately insulated from the influence of elected officials in most cities long ago, as part of the Progressive Movement, in order, it was thought, to reduce the level of corruption that police were (and many still are) notorious for.

In theory, the city manager -- a professional, a technocrat -- is accountable to the elected representatives of the people, but city managers are notorious for their defiance and contempt of their supposed bosses. Often, it is almost impossible to fire a city manager, and firing is frequently the only discipline that can be imposed. Because the police chief most often works for the city manager, not the mayor and city council, discipline of the police is just as difficult to accomplish. They too will defy electeds when it suits them, and there is very little the electeds can do about it.

So, what do you do? You convince the people who are actually in charge of the police, the city manager and the police chief, that the rules by which the police operate must change, and this is how the rules must change. This is basically what all those DoJ consent decrees do. They tell the city manager and the police chief that this is how things should be done, and there is a court appointed monitor to ensure compliance.

Had the city manager and police chief not agreed to most of our anti-police brutality reforms in Sacramento, going to the DoJ was the next step. But they did agree and they implemented rule changes which reduced police brutality substantially (police killings had been rare and still are in Sacramento).

In other cities, such as Oakland and Seattle, consent decrees or their equivalent have been defied by police departments, sometimes for many years, and this defiance makes it clear that there is no real enforcement mechanism for these reforms. There's no way the courts can make a defiant department (ie: the police chief and city manager) comply short of taking over the department through receivership. As far as I know, that's never happened.

Thus police reform is a chancy business. It may or may not work. I'm convinced that abolition is the better alternative. Abolish current police forces altogether and start over. They have reached the point where they are beyond reform or salvation.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell, which means the entire criminal justice system needs to be dismantled and reconstructed on a better, more humane, and ultimately more just basis.

I can hardly imagine what it will take to accomplish that, but that's what's necessary.

Maybe next year.

Pray for the victims. And act for a better future.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Insanity Continues -- Three Shot by Police in Chicago This Weekend, Two Dead

American police "fear for their lives and the safety of others" all the goddamned time. ALL the time. And because they are always in such existential fear almost all of their many-many killings are "justified" by definition. If they weren't in fear for their lives and the safety of others, don't you see, they wouldn't have killed. They just wouldn't. Don't you see?

But when they're always in fear for their lives and the safety of others, they kill almost at random. There is a certain arbitrariness in police killings, as if they see themselves in a video game combating phantoms and arbitrarily appearing opponents. It's that mystical "split-second decision" thing.

So this weekend came news that Chicago police shot and killed two people at the same house Christmas overnight. The police had been called to help restrain a young man who was having a mental health crisis (never ever ever ever call police in such a situation, EVER. However, if you do call 911, the police will be dispatched, even if you don't ask for them, so don't call 911 if a loved one is having a mental health crisis unless you want your loved-one dead.) He was shot dead on sight. The other victim, according to some reports, was standing behind him and was shot in the cross fire. Except there was no crossfire. As is so often the case, the only ones armed and firing in this situation were the police.

Since it is a holiday weekend, the story is incomplete, but it seems the young man who was shot and killed was raging about something at some point prior to the arrival of the police and had taken up an aluminum baseball bat which he was pounding here and there in an apartment that belonged to his father. The other person shot and killed by Chicago's Finest was the downstairs neighbor lady who was trying to keep an eye out for the police.

From the somewhat sketchy accounts, the police rolled up, saw the man who "fit the description," and an officer commenced firing -- because they feared for their lives and the safety of others, specifically because they saw the young man standing in the doorway holding a baseball bat. They referred to that as as "confronting a combative subject." That was all they needed to commit yet another summary execution of a black man, armed and dangerous, one of hundreds this year. Trouble is, the neighbor lady also got executed. Oops. That, they say, was a "tragic accident." Accidental killings are big with police this year. Cf: Paradise, CA.

Oh well, if you don't want to die in a hail of police gunfire, just obey, right? Nah. Doesn't work that way. Never did. Whether you get shot or die in a police encounter seems to depend ever less on your behavior than on the mindset of the officer involved. Too often, that mindset is on fearing for his or her life and killing...

It's got to stop, but apparently nobody with the power to stop it wants to, or perhaps they don't know what to do... I don't know.

I know that not all jurisdictions are filled with killer cops. In fact, most seem to be free of the fear-killer mindset that afflicts so many others. In New York City, the rate of police killings plummeted by 90% in a very brief period -- I believe it was two years -- simply by changing the rules under which use of lethal force was authorized and holding police to account every time they drew or used their side-arm.

 In Oakland, the police kill-rate was reduced to zero for a while on the basis of similar rule changes and requirements that police account for their actions.

In Albuquerque, similar rule changes and requirements to report and account for actions also cut the police kill-rate significantly.

It's not rocket science. It can be done. But there has to be a will to do so, and that will has to originate at the top. Police departments are strict hierarchies. Police officers do what they do based on what their commanders expect and require of them. And what they're allowed to get away with.

Throughout the United States, the problem police departments -- the ones where killing seems to be a routine -- are commanded by chiefs (who themselves are often the creatures of city managers) who are authorizing or allowing their officers to kill essentially at will without being held to account.

In too many cases, this results in a death-squad mentality that permeates entire departments. They operate as killers not as protectors.

Many other departments may not be subsumed into a death squad mentality, but they conduct their business with levels of prejudice and violence that is almost as destructive to individuals, families, and communities.

This has to change. The social cost of violent and death-dealing policing is too great. But changing it is hard as activists have come to find out. You think you've made progress in one area only to find something worse is happening in another. Police departments that have adopted a death squad mentality are fiercely resistant to change -- partly because they legitimately fear for their safety and security. If they are held to account for their actions, some are liable to go to jail. Can't have that, oh no.

So they want assurances first that all prior acts will be forgiven.

That can be a problem.

Ultimately, it seems to me, abolition and starting over is the only real solution, and that would have to encompass the entire criminal (in)justice system, top to bottom, an enormous, and indeed revolutionary undertaking.

Americans aren't up to that yet but may be one day.

The whole damn system is rotten and guilty as hell. It has to change or be changed one way or another.

Maintaining the current course is insanity.

Friday, December 25, 2015

On Finding A Cousin After All These Years

I'm old.

I didn't grow up with cousins, aunts, uncles or grandparents. My near relations consisted of my mother, father, sister (half sister, she had a different father) and later included my sister's husband(s) and children. That was it; there were no others.

Except for a couple of years in the 1970s, I never looked for other relations -- though I knew they existed in some quantity, especially on my father's side, he being one of eleven children, nine of whom lived to adulthood.

About a month ago a cousin I didn't know existed contacted me and we've been in furious email communication ever since. She had no idea of my existence nor did I have any knowledge of her existence.

Oh yes, I figured there must be aunts, uncles and cousins in abundance, but I didn't know who they were or where. I'd been told vague stories of "spinster aunties living in San Francisco," so those were the ones I tried to track down when I lived in the City in the 1970s, but I had no success. Turns out the reason why is because they were both dead by the time I tried to look them up. One was not, it turns out, a spinster at all. No, she was married and had three sons. She died the same week as my father did in 1969. But I didn't know that. The other aunt was unmarried, true enough, but she kept company, it would seem, with a gentleman caller for much of her life. They didn't marry, I'm told, because they couldn't. He was married but estranged from his wife. They did not divorce because of the strictures of the Catholic Church. Wouldn't you know. This sort-of spinster aunt died the same year I lived in San Francisco, but I'm pretty sure it was before I got there.

There was another aunt in San Mateo I didn't know about.

There was an uncle in Santa Barbara when I lived in Santa Maria (about 50 miles north of SB), there was another uncle in Los Angeles (somewhere) when I lived in the San Gabriel Valley between 1953 and 1959. Yet another uncle lived in Northern California (not sure exactly where but Susanville has been mentioned.)

There were cousins in fair abundance in the San Francisco Bay (South Bay) area throughout my childhood. Later there were cousins in Rancho Murieta and Roseville, suburbs of Sacramento where I lived and worked for decades.

Descendants of these cousins are mostly still in California, in the Central Valley, South Bay, Los Angeles, and the Sierra foothills.


I was born in Iowa where the family seat once was. Prior to that it had been in Ohio. And prior to that, it was in Ireland on one branch and Germany on the other.

So far as I know, there is no one of the Latin persuasion among my ancestors... but what do I know? Not much, it would seem as I get caught up with this new-found cousin.

My father and two of his sisters stayed in Iowa after 1946 whereas all of his other siblings high-tailed it to California just as soon as they could. I didn't know that, and I didn't know so many of them were so close at various times of my life. I knew one of my father's sisters in Iowa, but his other sister who stayed had died in 1960, and I never knew her.

My father and two of his sisters --and his other son-- stayed in Iowa after 1946.

I keep forgetting his other son, my half-brother, in these accounts. Yes, he was in Iowa, too, living with a couple in town, a couple who took care of him after some unpleasantness in the family which led to the death of his one of his previous caregivers. He was disabled with what is now called autism, but at that time that term was not used. He was called an "idiot savant."

I'm told that he came to see me when I was an infant, but I have no recollection of ever meeting him, though I have vague memories of meeting his caregivers in the early 1960s when I spent two summers with my father in Iowa.

After his caregivers could not longer look after him, he was placed in a Catholic residential care facility in town. I've recently learned the name of it. It's still in operation, so after the new year, I just might see if I can learn anything about what became of my half- brother. I don't know that they would still have records from 50 years ago, but they might...

The newly-found cousin I've been in contact with has an extensive family archive that she received from her mother (my father's sister). Some of what's in it is familiar to me from similar items and stories I received from my father, but much of it is totally new.

Wow. I never knew so many things about this family, so many things.

On the other hand, I know a lot of things she never knew, never had any inkling of. She only knew of the first of my father's three marriages, for example. Well, guess what? I didn't know squat about that marriage -- as no one ever mentioned it to me -- until very recently when I found documentation online. It came as a complete surprise to me. My father was married twice after that first one. News to her. He fathered two sons. She never knew. Etc.

 Apart from her mother's name, I didn't know anything about her. Turns out she was actually the other "spinster auntie in San Francisco" that was vaguely referred to now and again. Seems that she and her actual spinster sister were a team, working for the government in Washington DC and later as public stenographers in their own business in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco during and after WWII. She married in 1947, though, and another aunt came out to California soon thereafter.

My newly-found cousin was born the same year I was. She was born in San Mateo where she grew up. She now lives in the Sierra foothills east of Lodi.

Oh. I didn't know and wouldn't have guessed.

The stories and scans we've been sending back and forth to one another have been illuminating history neither of us knew. We didn't know in part because there were so many things our parents never spoke of. There were so many aspects of their lives, it seems, that were not to be mentioned in front of the children. Or in some cases were not to be mentioned at all.

And yet, the records exist and many of them are now discoverable online, and because of that, stories that never were told before are now being explored and some of them are being told.

My new-found cousin has suggested that since I seem to know quite a bit more about The Family than she ever did, I ought to write a book that tells the story as completely as I can. Well, that would be a challenge to say the least.

There are still so many dark corners and unknown -- possibly unknowable -- aspects of the tale. I've already filled in some of the blanks with fiction and speculative interpretations. But there's still so much I have no knowledge of at all.

The story we've been exploring with one another is a family saga in the classic sense. It's a drama, too, some aspects of which are tragic, others not so much. My father's story is probably one of the most tragic aspects, but it's by no means the only one.

On the other hand, I've done a good deal of exploration of my mother's background and ancestry, something she knew very little about, especially on her father's side. What I've found -- some of which I've posted about here in the past -- is really stunning to me. I had no idea, or only the vaguest idea, before I got into the research in a big way.

I've tagged this series, "Who Are These People?" because I so often really wonder about the people I come from. Who are these people, indeed. It's still so much of a mystery. The more I learn, the more of a mystery it seems to become...

Merry Christmas to all...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

This is Insane. This MUST Stop NOW...

I've been very frustrated with the lack of progress in reducing or ending police violence and killing in this country. Indeed, the rate of police homicide has gone up, not down, since the advent of nationwide protest actions against it after the execution of James Boyd by police snipers in Albuquerque in March of 2015.

Police killed more civilians in 2015 than they did in 2014 and there seems to be no focused effort on curbing the killing.

Protest has not accomplished that goal -- if it even is a goal anymore.

Recently the San Diego DA released video of a police killing that happened there in April. It's yet another shocking indication of police mis-interpreting far too many individuals and actions as threats that MUST be met with lethal force, which in almost every case is defended by their departments and DAs as somehow necessary to the protection and well being of cities and society.

NO! These killings create chaos and destruction, they ruin lives, families and communities. They are doing just the opposite of what so many defenses of police killing and violence claim. They are insane. They MUST STOP.

This defense of the police killing of Fridoon Nehad in San Diego makes no sense at all.

The officer who killed him had no knowledge of the "threat" except that provided by the dispatcher based on erroneous information relayed to 911 by a clerk at a bookstore who thought he saw the victim brandishing a knife. The victim was not armed. He DID NOT HAVE A KNIFE. Even if he had been armed with a knife, HE WAS NOT THREATENING ANYONE,  and even if he had been, doing so IS NOT A DEATH PENALTY OFFENSE.

Repeat: Brandishing and even threatening with a knife IS NOT A DEATH PENALTY OFFENSE.

Furthermore, police are not intended to be judge, jury and executioner whenever they feel afraid.

The officer in this case was so frightened by the mere presence of this man who he believed was the suspect in an ERRONEOUS 911 call and dispatch that he shot him essentially on sight.

This has happened HUNDREDS of times so far this year. And it must STOP.


Happy Holidays...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Who Are These People, Once Again

For the last few days, actually more than a few, I've been in almost continuous online communication with a cousin in California I had not known about until she contacted me because I'd labeled a couple of pictures wrong on She'd seen them, she said, and wanted to make sure I corrected the record.

Her mother was my father's sister.

But I was ignorant of her existence. This was true of a slew of aunts and uncles and cousins in California  I had no or very little knowledge of.

Of course the cousin who contacted me through had no prior knowledge of my existence, either. Though she knew of my father through her mother, she didn't know he'd had any children, and even if she had known, she wouldn't have known their whereabouts -- because nobody ever talked about it.

I wonder how common such things are in American families.

We've spent a lot of time online catching up and comparing notes. That's where I disappeared to. She has much information from her mother that expands what I knew about the family by way more than I expected. I have a good deal of information she knew nothing of, too, so we've been sharing what we both know as quickly and extensively as we can -- before we die, after all! -- and it's been taking up almost all my free time lately.

To me the family saga on our mutual Irish line is filled with drama and pathos, indeed tragedy with regard to some of the characters and circumstances, and she and I both want to ensure it's known and understood by future generations. I was not entirely sure there would be future generations however, because so many of the descendants I found (including my own self) don't have children. I was afraid the line would peter out and go extinct. But thanks to this new-found cousin, I have learned that's not the case. Not even close. There are actually quite a few descendants in her grandchildren's generation, and she wants to make sure the stories are passed on to them.

Well good.

In addition to the Irish in us, we also share German ancestry -- she through her father as well as through the grandmother she and I share -- and the German side has proved much harder to sort out than the Irish side, though I'm convinced much of the story of the Irish side is melarky.

The German side starts with a couple who emigrated from different parts of what would become Germany who met and married in Iowa. They both emigrated in the 1850s, she from Koblenz, Prussia, he from a little village outside of Heidelberg, Baden. They were both very young, just young teenagers, when they made their way across Europe through France, and then to America. I would love to know more, but I've found very little, and my new-found cousin knew practically nothing about them. Again it is because so little was ever talked about within the family.

We're still discovering, and I suspect this phase will continue for a while longer.

Meanwhile, happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Police Reform? Not If It Is Allowed To Be Solely About Race

Stephanie Lopez was arrested by Bernalillo County sheriffs deputies on charges of child abuse and witness intimidation. This is a real thing.

Stephanie Lopez is the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, ie: the APD officers' union. I've seen her in action for some time thanks to my own activism against police violence in Albuquerque and around the country, and compared to many other police union presidents she seems quite sane and even compassionate. She looks out for her officers' interests, but she's also very conscious of the need for police accountability and for the need to reduce police brutality and the number of police involved killings.

She's on administrative leave from the police department and the union while these matters are sorted out in court. Her replacement as union head is Shaun Willoughby who has not typically been as sane. But then, there's been an element of good-cop/bad-cop in their public presentations throughout Albuquerque's police-reform saga (a saga that's still going on.)

Police reform in Albuquerque has meant that APD no longer routinely kills suspects. At least one of the sniper squads has been disbanded, and there has been a real and sustained emphasis on deescalation of force and crisis intervention. Obviously, the word went out from the top to "stop the killing" and it has almost stopped -- at least by APD. There are other police forces at work in the area, including sheriffs, other city's police departments, and state troopers, none of whom seem to have gotten the message, and all of whom have kept on killing.

Since the reforms kicked in last year, an APD officer was killed and a number have been wounded (one by friendly fire that is suspected not to have been friendly at all...). The two APD officers who executed James Boyd as he was surrendering have been charged with murder, but they are out on bond until their trial sometime next year, and the officer who shot and killed Mary Hawks successfully sued to get his job back despite his repeated failure to follow procedures regarding his body cameras and other matters.

Let's say that reform of APD has meant two steps forward and one back, which is progress, yes, but not enough.

In Albuquerque, though there was a racial component in the abuses that were protested and which ultimately led to reform, the focus was not on race. The focus was on failures by the department and the city which led to so much abuse and killing. Failed mental health care and homeless services. Failed crisis intervention. Failed apprehension and custody tactics and so on. All of which led to a constant litany of death and destruction, most of which was avoidable.

Race and class were part of the overall picture of abusive, violent and deadly policing, but they weren't the whole thing, and the reforms did not focus solely on class and race issues.

The reforms seem to be working, but whether they'll become permanent, who knows? The arrest of Stephanie Lopez, however, makes me wonder. There is so far no sign that her arrest was arranged -- shall we say -- to eliminate her relatively conciliatory approach, but that's the upshot. Willoughby is not a conciliator and may prove to be problematic as the reform effort continues. We shall see.

Meanwhile, there is apparently a media push to acknowledge that the "national conversation" about policing has reached a climax of sorts and that "reform" is now the leading topic of discussion. The reforms being discussed by the "nation", however, appear to be almost exclusively focused on race and the disparate level of police violence and killing employed almost universally in this country against communities and people of color.

Wait. No. The problem of violent policing is not and has never been entirely a matter of race, and if the "national conversation" (which is really a matter of the elites talking to one another and has almost nothing to do with what the public wants/needs) devolves the problem into one exclusively of race, then quite simply the problem will not be solved, in fact, it may be made worse.

I've said many times here and elsewhere that police in general see armed people of color, particularly males, whether or not they are actually armed and whether or not they are threatening others, as existential threats to be neutralized with as much firepower as can be brought to bear. We see the videos of such summary executions -- which is what they are -- all the time, practically every day. They are horrible and in almost all cases, they are egregious, unnecessary. In some cases, regardless of "justifications" they are outright murder.

More white folks die at the hands of police, it's true, but the rate of killing by police falls most heavily on black and brown men. Abusive policing in general falls most heavily on black and brown men. Mass incarceration falls most heavily on black and brown men. Mentally ill black and brown men are exterminated at a profoundly disturbing rate. But they are not the only ones.

What seems to have happened during the media-memed "national conversation" about violent policing is that it has been characterized in almost exclusively racial terms. The Black Lives Matter movement has tried to avoid that exclusivity while at the same time focusing attention on the disproportionate levels of violent policing experienced by the black community. That seems to be recognized relatively widely today, and it is acknowledged as a problem even by many police chiefs. Something should be done about it. 

The problem of disproportionate policing is one thing, the problem of police violence and murder is another, and yet they have been conflated by a media which seems to want to keep the focus on policing the Negros, while barely recognizing that police violence is systemic. One has to deal with both the disproportionate policing that has virtually destroyed millions of lives and families and communities, and the violence the police routinely employ against civilians of any color or gender, violence which can and way too often does include summary execution.

If the issue is allowed to be solely about race, there will be little or no reform of police conduct; the killing will not stop. Mass incarceration may pause for a while, but the destruction wrought by violent policing will not be remedied.

If there is to be real and lasting reform of police conduct, it has to be system-wide, top to bottom, and I detect real resistance at the top to engaging in that kind of reform, starting at the very top with the DOJ and the FBI, neither of which even bother to collect let alone analyze statistics of police violence. At the top, the Attorney General and the FBI Director defend police conduct, almost without exception and almost regardless of how egregious. The FBI Director has falsely and repeatedly claimed that something called the Ferguson Effect (ie: scrutiny of police conduct) is responsible for a spike in violent crime, a spike for which there is no statistical evidence. Neither of the recent Attorneys General will hold police accountable for their actions, pretty much no matter what they do. The numerous consent decrees mandating reform of police departments throughout the country are primarily designed to regularize and professionalize police conduct,  not to reduce the killing and the violence police employ but to rationalize it.

Make it consistent. Make it defensible. This can mean an even greater level of violence by police, because there is no real intent to reduce the violence, at least none that I've seen, in the consent decrees.

Some police departments take it upon themselves to ratchet down the levels of violence they have been using against the public, but many do not. Some actually increase the use of violence in the face of protests, and their chiefs show utter contempt for the public in the process.

That internalized contempt is part of the problem of reform, and part of why I'm not convinced the kinds of reforms that are necessary are possible. Abolition may be the only viable way to do it, but there's very little sign that abolition is even conceivable in light of current "conversations."

Of course abolitionists of yore faced the same -- indeed worse -- odds.

James Boyd was executed by two police snipers as he was surrendering in the Sandia foothills in Albuquerque in March of 2014. Those snipers were later charged with murder, and their trials are scheduled for some time next year. I don't expect them to be convicted, but the fact that they were charged and will be tried is "something." Protests against that killing got under way in Albuquerque soon after Boyd was killed, and they triggered protests against police violence and killing much more generally. Those protests have continued relentlessly all over the country ever since, and it's been almost two years now. People are not letting this issue go.

Many police chiefs have recognized there is a problem with violent policing and mass incarceration, and some have taken steps to address the problem, but so far the rate of killing by police has not been reduced, in fact, it has increased since the protests against it went viral.

Control of police violence has to be exercised from the top. The police departments are hierarchies. When the chiefs and their bosses, the mayors and city managers, tell the police to stop killing, they will. So far, that order has only gone out in a very few cities.

Many more police chiefs need to hear the call and issue the stop killing order before the bloodshed will be significantly reduced. But it can be done.

Maybe next year....

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why Do Police Feel It Is Their Job To Kill -- The San Francisco Thing and The San Bernardino Thing and the Paris Thing In Perspective

When I first saw news about the San Bernardino mass killing, the word was that it was at a hospital. Then the word was it was at a clinic. Then it was at a developmental center -- which didn't make any sense, as I didn't know what that was. Much later, the word was that the shootings happened at a conference facility at the Inland Regional Center where the San Bernardino Department of Health was holding a banquet and awards presentation (or a holiday party, it's not entirely clear).

From the first, though, the reports reminded me a lot of what happened in Paris. In other words, a mass shooting where people were gathered for no political purpose at all, intended -- apparently -- to inspire as much fear and dread in as many people as possible.

The authorities have been having a hard time calling it "terrorism" -- and I don't really think that argument matters in the least. The issue is that the actions of the (apparent) shooters did cause panic, fear and dread in a whole city, leading to furious reaction by police, media falling all over itself to get the story (mostly wrong) and commands from on high to OBEY.

Obedience. That's the key element.

Oh yeah, and the alleged shooters were killed by police after a high-speed chase from their home in Redlands and through the streets of San Bernardino, until they were cornered and a shoot-out ensued. Or something. Or so they say. We really don't know what happened, although whatever it was was apparently witnessed by the scrum of helicopter cameras overhead -- though not shown, and possibly not recorded by those self-same cameras. The NBC helicopter, for example, was focused on a vehicle (apparently shot up, not sure) some distance away from the "black SUV" that the (apparent) shooters were driving and in which one died, the other shot down in the street. Much of the coverage I saw that day was deliberate misdirection, "so as not to reveal" something, whether bloody corpses or police storming around town frightening the bejebus out of everyone. But eventually there would be the denouement so everyone could get back to normal.

Ah yes, the killers were killed by police.

Most Americans would say it was justified. No other choice.

In San Francisco, a video was posted on social media of a man being shot and killed by a swarm of police who formed a firing squad on a city street and shot the man in the presence of many witnesses.

The man appears agitated but not in any way threatening to the officers, all of whom appear to have their sidearms drawn and aimed at the man. As the man attempts to sidle away from them, one officer puts himself in the man's path. The man continues to attempt to inch away from the other officers. As he does, the officer in his path appears to open fire. Other officers join in. The man falls mortally wounded on the sidewalk while witnesses shout their outrage.

Police claim the man was armed with a kitchen knife 6"-8" long (not visible in any video of the incident so far released) and had "committed a felony" by stabbing someone previously. He was confronted by police but refused commands to drop the knife, and he appeared to be able to withstand several bean-bag rounds without being subdued sufficiently for apprehension.

Police claim that the witness videos show what happened after he was struck by bean-bag rounds and managed to get up again. Police claim he still had the knife and refused commands to drop it. Police claim he was moving toward an officer when they opened fire -- "fearing for their lives and the safety of others...." Bang, bang.

The "21-foot Rule" and all of that. In other words, whether or not the man was actually threatening officers, he was a threat to them simply because he was armed and so close to them. Never mind that all of the officers on scene were aiming their guns at him, and objectively represented a mortal threat to him. Beside the point, right? The fact that he was trying to inch away, slowly, without in any way threatening the officers, but he was moving toward an officer who had put himself in the man's path, was sufficient to justify opening fire on him -- according to the police.

Oh, and he was black.


Yes, well. This is the US of America, 2015, and in the US of America in 2015, a black man with a weapon, even if only an imaginary weapon, or armed only with his blackness, is considered an existential threat to be neutralized. Terminated if need be.

This is the almost automatic response of police throughout the land when they are informed of an armed black male on the loose. "Training" kicks in, and... they kill.

In this case, the young black man, Mario Woods, was alleged to have stabbed another man who sought treatment a nearby hospital and reported the attack to the police. Police scoured the area and determined that the young man they eventually shot and killed, Mario Woods, had stabbed the man being treated at the hospital (for a non-lethal wound to his shoulder -- apparently).

Mario Woods, apparently, refused to obey police commands to "drop the weapon" and submit to arrest. So far, there are three videos showing portions of the confrontation between Mario Woods and what look to be close to a dozen SFPD officers, guns drawn. There is no "weapon" visible in Mario Woods' hand in any of the videos. In one, it appears that Mario Woods is attempting to show the officers his hands -- to demonstrate he does not have a knife. But as is the way with these videos, the images are too grainy to say for sure.

At any rate, he is not threatening the officers in any way. He appears to be confused and frustrated, agitated but not threatening.

And when he takes a step or two away, toward an officer moving into his path (an officer he might not even have seen) he is subjected to a fusillade of gunfire, more than a dozen shots fired by five officers at close range. Mario Woods did not survive. Intentionally so.

While there were protests at the time he was shot -- distinctly heard on the videos -- and there has been a growing sense of outrage in the Bayview community and San Francisco where this police action took place, media has been intent on demonstrating that Mario Woods "needed killing" because of his criminal past and because of his alleged assault on the man who was treated at the hospital, and most of all for his


Obedience being (almost) the sole criterion of whether one lives or dies in any confrontation with police. "Just comply" say the defenders of these actions, "and you won't be shot and killed." Of course that's not true, especially not true for black and brown males -- who may comply and be shot or brutalized anyway. It's simply a roll of the dice whether the police will kill a black or brown male in a confrontation, no matter what the subject is doing or not doing. Police will almost always get away with it, too, because all that matters at law is the officer's perception at the time of the killing. So long as the office can say the Magic Words, "fearing for my life and the safety of others" he or she will almost always be free of criminal liability for any execution they might commit. This is due to some very strange Supreme Court rulings protecting police action in the course of their duties (mostly having to do with the Drug War) and to cultures and policies of police departments that encourage fatal encounters.

In the case of the San Bernardino Thing (Paris, too) the suspects were... brown. In San Bernardino, it was a matter of a brown married couple of the Muslim persuasion, he an American citizen, she, apparently, a Pakistani. He was an employee of the county health department that was holding the event at the conference facility. The story is that the man had an argument with someone else there and left the facility only to return shortly thereafter with his wife, both of whom were armed with assault rifles and both of whom opened fire into the assembly, killing fourteen and wounding another 20 or so before escaping in that "black SUV."

Motive unknown, but "workplace dispute" seems to be part of it. Stories of the couple's radicalization and devotion to ISIS (whatever it may be at any given time) are circulating, There is both a Pakistani and a Saudi connection of some sort. And of course the internet as a means of communication and radicalization are part of the story too (as is the case with the Paris Thing as well).

The response of the politicians is to forbid Syrian refugee resettlement in this country or in Europe, as the Syrian refugees, who had nothing to do with San Bernardino or Paris, are potential threats to guard against.

The San Bernardino couple (Sayeed Farouk and Tashfeen Malik) had acquired quite an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, all legally, only a tiny portion of which was (apparently) used in their killing rampage and later shoot out with police. The rest was discovered at their townhouse.

The Paris attacks were committed by heavily armed individuals, all or almost all of whom died in shootouts with police.

Few would question the need for killing individuals who are actively engaged in shootouts with police. Though it is reported to have been the case in both San Bernardino and Paris, these shootouts did not necessarily take place at all. Police have been known to declare themselves involved in "shootouts" when only they are firing. This was apparently the case in Watertown during the apprehension of one of the Tsarnayev brothers. Only the police were firing at their quarry who was hiding in a boat under a tarp, but the police claimed falsely that they were engaged in a shootout. This has happened many times.

Whether the couple in San Bernardino were shooting it out with police will probably never be known for certain. Same with the many suspects in the Paris Thing (I've read that there have been thousands of police raids in France and Belgium since the incidents in Paris. Some have involved killing, but how many? Who knows, and can we believe what we're told?)

Meanwhile, France and other parts of Europe are enduring a state of emergency which prohibits public demonstrations among many other normal activities and which requires obedience to authority.

There is a consistent theme through all these instances: one obeys or one suffers the potentially lethal consequences.

Command and obey.

The lesson? Terrorize a city, and the residents of the city shall be made to obey.

Be a black or brown man suspected of having committed a crime or of being armed in any way, and be shot down by police.

And then of course there are the white male mass murderers captured alive and treated with courtesy and respect, granted all the rights and privileges guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

America. 2015.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Interesting Juxtaposition

There was yet another mass-shooting incident in Colorado yesterday -- what a strange place, so full of mass murderers, it seems -- in which a police officer and two civilians were killed and a dozen or so injured by a man firing his weapons at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Note, the perp was taken alive, alive and well, in fact, when he followed the commands of the SWAT team assembled to deal with the situation.

Black folk, understandably, are scratching their heads. Oh. So the police don't have to kill? Wait. Not even when they have a legitimate fear for their lives and the safety of others? Who knew?

A black youth in Chicago walking down the middle of the street is subject to summary execution, and the excuse is that he was a threat of some kind who could only be dealt with by use of lethal force. This happens hundreds of times a year. All over the country. Day in and day out. Someone is summarily executed somewhere in America every single day by police who claim they are scared for their lives and the safety of others, scared by men and women and children, armed or unarmed, complying or not, black, white, other, mentally ill or quite sane, perhaps suicidal, men, women and children who may or may not pose some kind of threat to themselves or to others. Every single day.

And yet, here we have another case of a mass shooter-killer taken into custody alive, not even roughed up, despite the fact that he had just killed a police officer and wounded other officers. In other words he was unquestionably a man who was an active threat to the lives and safety of the police and others, and yet... he lives.

Whereas hundreds of others, many of whom are not objectively threats at all, lie among the dead, killed by police. 

How very interesting.

I've long said that upwards of 90% of police killings are unwarranted and unnecessary, perhaps more, perhaps nearly all of them when you really examine the situation objectively. The latest incident in Colorado Springs (a hotbed of radical christianist fundamentalism) is an example of why that is true. The shooter -- the alleged shooter at any rate -- was taken into custody alive and apparently well; he wasn't even roughed up. Not a bit. The incident was resolved without resorting to lethal force -- or indeed any physical force at all (that we know of) -- against the shooter.

He was -- of course -- white.

Does that make all the difference? No, it doesn't, it's not all that matters, but it does matter enormously. White mass killers are frequently taken into custody without killing or brutalizing them. On the other hand, white domestic abusers and/or drug users are routinely shot dead by police whether or not they pose an objective threat at the time they are killed.

"They deserve it." Typically the rap sheet is trotted out to prove the necessity of killing these people (usually men). On the other hand, a (white) mass killer like Dylann Roof or James Holmes, and now Robert Dear (among others; this is not an exhaustive list) is taken into custody to stand trial the way murderers are supposed to. The way accused criminals in general are supposed to be treated in this country.

But what's supposed to happen is only applied to certain people under certain circumstances (if they're white males accused of mass murder, for example) whereas others never, ever have that benefit. They -- like Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, and so many others -- are shot and killed on sight.

There is not even a hint of doubt in the minds of the officers who kill them, either.

These dead have no rights at all. They are killed wantonly, with utter disregard for their lives and often disregard for the supposed safety of others. And almost always, the killers get away with it.

Yet an accused mass killer, who just killed an officer, is treated with all due courtesy and respect, his rights protected, his trial in a court of law assured.

The way it's supposed to be.

So the question is, why can't police treat every one of the accused they kill with the same courtesy and respect -- without killing them?

Why is a (white) mass murderer given every legal/social right due him whereas a Negro shopper or child playing in a park or walking down the street is executed on sight? What gives police the right to do this and the expectation that they will?

Racism is part of it. The "violence inherent in the system" is part of it. But so is training, so is command authority. So is policy.

Taking a white mass murderer into custody to stand trial, whereas a black shopper who has done nothing wrong and broken no law is shot on sight is a matter of policy, not law. The law protects the officer who does this, but killing is not required by the law. It is the policy of the department that sets up the conditions which lead directly to both the killing of the Negro who has broken no law and the protection of the white mass killer.

The officers who kill so wantonly and get away with it are "just doing their job."

It's what they believe they are expected to do.

Apparently some police chiefs are coming to the realization that it is their instructions and expectations that lead to such carnage. It is their policies driving the death toll. And they can -- and must -- change them.

Rules and policies regarding use of lethal force were changed in New York City for example, and the death toll from police killings was reduced 90%. In other words, it can be done, and relatively quickly, too.

But will it?


I stopped holding my breath a while back when it was clear that the activism and protests were producing sloooooowwww, incremental change from an institutional standpoint. Police killings have actually increased in the nearly two years now since James Boyd was killed in Albuquerque -- executed in the foothills by police snipers as he was surrendering -- which touched off a protest movement that spread nationally. The death rate from police homicide has been radically reduced in Albuquerque, even though officers have been shot and killed. Police are not out in the streets killing at the rate they once did. Same thing happened in Oakland (though there has recently been a change in policy that has led to more deaths by police there). New York reduced its rate of police homicide by a huge percentage, and seems to have stuck to the policies that keep the rate relatively low.

So it can be done. It's a matter of how and when. Maybe or maybe not in my lifetime.

The sooner the better, but the resistance is strong and vocal. Some people -- and some police -- feel it is their right and obligation to kill at will with impunity, otherwise the whole structure of society will collapse. And they are frightened that if policies change to forbid killing suspects, they might be held criminally liable for killings in the past. That's their real fear.

It remains fascinating that a white mass murder suspect can be taken into custody whereas a black shopper who has broken no law and threatened no one can be shot on sight.

As DeRay says, "America."

Friday, November 27, 2015

Godwin-going Apres Thanksgiving -- The Trumpen Proletariat Arise

Apparently the meme -- or is it now a trope ?-- about The Donald is that he is as thorough-going a fascist as there has ever been in American politics. Well, in recent memory, anyway. They're calling him a fascist straight out, no filters, among the Republican chatterati, at least from what I've seen on the intertubes. This is said to be unprecedented, and I suppose it is. The media is always reluctant to call out any Republican candidate, and Republican politicians and commentators generally hold their fire in public, but The Donald has caused something of a dilemma for the Big Boys.

At first, they didn't know what to do when he went off on one of his rightist-populist jags. It couldn't be for real, right? But then it got more and more real, especially as polling showed Trump leading the Republican field, despite the fact that Carson was catching him here and there and now and then (that's interesting) and Rubio was clearly the choice of the cognoscenti. After all, a nice clean Hispanic character should be good for the demographics, right? Especially after That Negro in the White House (eeek!)

The problem being that pesky populist billionaire who keeps surging in the polls, keeps drawing large crowds of rabid fanatics, and keeps getting his ugly mug on the teevee because of something outrageous he's said or one of his goons or one of his fans has done.

A "populist billionaire?" Whut? That's a key to understanding what's going on here as I see it. Trump is a famous personality first and foremost. He's been a character on the teevee for years, and he was in the news constantly before he became a television celebrity. He's known for the character he plays on teevee, and it's a character he's honed and perfected on the stump as a self-funded presidential candidate. The character is obnoxious and outrageous, but it touches a certain segment of the population that feels left out of the economic and social changes that have been going on in the nation for many years now. These people identify with Trump and his own outrageousness and so he's doing very well as he stalks the country for votes.

His populism, however, is more likely a mask for his real intent -- to impose Billionaires' Rule directly by capturing the levers of government power. Well, now. It wouldn't be the first time that billionaires or their equivalent have had control of the government, but it might be the first time a genuine billionaire was put in office or rather bought the office of the Presidency, as if it were a hostile take over.

Other billionaires don't seem to be cottoning to Trump's rising, and that seems to be at the root of the current memes (or is it tropes?) about Trump's fascism...

Is he a fascist? Genuinely? I don't know. He uses a lot of fascist-style rhetoric to appeal to the public, and that has given rise to the charge that he is a fascist along the lines of a Mussolini or a Hitler, which means he's no "conservative" (not that anybody seeking high office ever is these days), but he's been tapping something soul-satisfying to his constituency while he tub-thumps away on his racist and exclusionary policy prescriptions.

His approach is so deep-seated American. What he rants about are the things that so many (largely white) Americans have long held dear and want to see preserved for their progeny. They see the racist, sexist and exclusionary pillars of Real Americanism under attack from within and without, and Trump's rhetoric is a means of fighting back, as is his -- apparent -- fascism. In their lights, no one else is showing the fortitude and balls to do it.

Trump is the one. Some have said he's a stalking horse or not a "serious candidate," and they could be right, but I go back to Reagan, both his two terms as governor of California (he first took office in 1967 -- generations ago). He was thought to be a joke or a stalking horse or not a serious candidate too, and he swept into office over and over again, not so much because anybody cared for his policies, but because he was a personality, famous, and he touched the souls and spirit of so many (largely white) Americans who felt left out of the social and political milieus of the times. Reagan brought back their sense of importance, and he gave them much raw meat to chew on as his policies -- which favored the rich and ruined the lives of millions, throwing many into the streets and nearly destroying public education and tattering the social fabric -- were implemented.

Those policies were recognized as socially destructive and economically unsound from the outset, but there was no political will to oppose them sufficiently to prevent their implementation. What Reagan wanted was what the public wanted, so it was thought, therefore strenuous or active opposition was not considered viable.

And so it didn't happen. Democrats went along with Reagan, even praising him from time to time, because they didn't feel institutionally opposed. Or something.

There was much about his policies that were fascistic or precursors. Certainly authoritarian. His determination to use police power to crush the rising of students and blacks and other minorities was well-known and well-documented. To a surprising degree it was successful, too. His determination to dismantle the Progressive social and political system that had become nearly universal was not as well known, but he proceeded with little opposition, and again he was largely successful.

Trump is tapping into all of that and more, and if he were to be elected, I think it would be seen as the Will of the People and strenuous political opposition would evaporate.

So if he's a fascist, what does that make the System itself? What is the fundamental belief that underlies the American Way? Is it by nature fascist as well?

Has this nation's government and social arrangement always been a fascist construct? It's always been authoritarian and imperial. It becomes more so, not less so, as time goes by. If Trump succeeds, will he actually be doing something not in the nation's character, or will he simply be using the racist and exclusionary underpinnings of the national character to advance his personal and class interests at the expense of everyone else?

And if he is so popular, what is to be done about it?

One thing to recall about the interwar years in Europe and the political/economic situation just prior to the outbreak of WWII is that almost all of Europe had gone fascist or fascist-lite; German war-making and domination didn't necessarily interfere with the deep-rooted fascism of much of Europe at the time. The German goal was to unite Europe under its suzerainty to oppose, fight and ultimately conquer ('godless, communist') Russia. Many powerful Americans believe that the US and its allies were on the wrong side in WWII, and it's taken all this time to start correcting the errors made generations ago by well-meaning (some of them) but misguided (all of them) politicians who threw their lot with the commies and the socialists when they should have been supporting the Nazis and fascists...

So here we are.

The Trumpen proletariat are those who fear they don't have a future in the America that's becoming. They can only secure a future for themselves and their progeny through force of will and will to power. Trump appeals to their deepest fears. But then, despite the torrent of insults that have been flying, so do all the rest of the Republican field, and so... when you examine closely... do the Democratic candidates. Sanders is appealing to the fears of a different constituency, to be sure, but it's the same strategy.

Not to go all doom and gloom, but I don't see any easy way out of this mess. We've been down this path before; there seems to be little or no way to change direction...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ah, the Po-Po, they sooooooo scared....


I listened to this the other day. It is a recording of the aftermath of a police assault on the residence and person of Fay Wells in Santa Monica, an assault that was detailed in a Washington Post piece that has gotten quite a lot of play thanks to Black Lives Matter and the whole "national conversation" about race and policing.

Yes well. What a goon show.

I listened to this the other day while I was doing other things, so I might have missed some aspects of the to and fro between Ms Wells and her police assaulters, but damn. The po-po, they are so damn scared of so damn everything. So scared of so damn everyone. They behave as if they are mindless automata chasing their fears.


I mean, seriously, W. T. F.?

A man, possibly drunk or high, calls up 911 and says, "Hay, I'm watching some people break into a neighbor's apartment. Send someone over." So they do. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen or nineteen officers (counts vary) and a police dog descend on the apartment allegedly being broken into. Chaos ensues.

Ms. Wells, wondering what in the hell is going on after being let into her apartment by the locksmith she had called (because she'd left her keys inside), goes to the window, sees a dog barking its fool head off and someone who doesn't identify himself (so she can understand at any rate) demanding that she come out with her hands up. He's got a gun and he's pointing it at her. What is she to do? Well, she comes out, as demanded, but she demands to know what is going on. Nobody says. Nobody will respond to her questions at all; they just hold their guns on her and order her downstairs, away from her apartment where she has her ID and the locksmith receipt and all of her personal possessions which the police now want to ransack. Because somebody called 911.

Well, now at least she knows they are police. At first, she didn't even know that because they were too scared to tell her, and -- apparently -- "protocol" doesn't require them to tell her until after she, the "subject" or suspect and the scene are "secure."

Well, no. That's not quite the case. They are required to announce themselves, which one of the officers says he did. Only he acknowledges that Ms Wells may not have heard his announcement over the damn fool barking of the police dog they were sending up the stairs first. They are required to announce; they are not required to respond to the suspect/subject.

Or something.

She was trying to find out what was going on. They wouldn't tell her until after they were sure of their safety and the scene was secure to their satisfaction.

In other words, once Ms Wells was identified as a "suspect not in custody" (which I'll try to get to in a minute) she had no rights the police were obligated to respect or acknowledge. They could have beaten or killed her outright and gotten away with it simply by invoking the magic phrase: "Fearing for my life and the safety of others..." because they didn't know who she was or what form of violence she would perpetrate on them.

The count of the dead so far this year at the hands of police is edging ever closer to 1,100 and it will probably surpass it soon if it hasn't already. Many of those killed were unarmed and non threatening, but that doesn't matter when police are trained to be and expected to be scared of their own shadows. How hopped up on adrenaline and fear are they? Leaving steroid and other drug abuse out of the equation for the moment, from the discussion between Ms Wells and several of the officers in the recording, it's clear that Santa Monica PD officers live in constant holy terror every minute they are on duty. Every encounter is seen by them as a potentially deadly encounter -- for them; they really have no concern for civilian casualties -- and overwhelming force is their standard response to these ever-present threats they are in constant fear of.

The terror their actions impose on civilians is neither of interest nor concern to the police. The problem, as they see it, is entirely a matter of compliance -- immediate and complete compliance -- to the commands of police.

The civilian "suspect not in custody" has no rights -- at all. He or she may only obey or suffer the consequences, which can and too often does include summary execution.

Because the police are afraid, and their fright overrides every other consideration at all.

Time after time, her police interlocutors tell Ms Wells that since they didn't brutalize or kill her she should quit her bitchin'. Everything turned out "well," you see. Everyone's safe and no one got hurt.

Right? No.Not right at all. Her question is basically why were they approaching a clearly non-threatening situation as if it were an "active shooter" scenario, and why did they treat her with such disrespect?

Why, in other words, did they terrorize the shit out of her, and why did they not even bother to find out whether she lived there before they assaulted her?

Because what they did was an assault, in this case an armed assault, which, if civilians had done it would have led to serious jail time.

The answer she hears over and over but cannot accept is essentially, "We were scared."

Of what?

They didn't know what was going on, you see, so they had to arrive at the scene in force, because they didn't know anything about the situation except that the caller had said someone was breaking in to a neighboring apartment. There could be hostages! There could be gangs and drugs and who knows what all! They could be armed and ready to shoot it out! There could be anything!!!!!

Never once did it occur to the police (at least not so far as I could tell from the recording) that a resident might have locked herself out of her apartment and called a locksmith to let her back in. That scenario, the correct scenario, did not enter their fevered, fear-filled minds. Not once. Instead it was all about the gangs and their fears and imaginings of hostages and gunfights and all the rest of the action movie or video game they seem to be living in.

Oh, how many times have we seen just this sort of fear-fever lead to tragedy? How many times? And how many more times is it going to happen before someone in a position of authority says, "STOP!"

The police are so riven by fear they cannot even imagine let alone process the notion that someone or some situation is not a threat to them. It's not even conceivable.

This attitude is what leads to so many deaths at the hands of police, just as it led to so many deaths of innocents in our various battlefields overseas. Hundreds and hundreds of Iraqis were killed on the roads and at checkpoints by scared-out-of-their-wits soldiers who saw drivers not in compliance or obedience to orders/commands which the Iraqis in many cases didn't understand -- if they were issued at all -- as terrorists. This happened over and over and over again, and the response of one general was, "Well, maybe if we kill enough of them at checkpoints they'll learn to obey."

Disobedience="terrorist" in the minds of police and soldiers. Oh. Suspects not in custody are by definition mortal threats to police and soldiers, and they are to be neutralized by any means necessary including lethal force.

At one time in Iraq, soldiers were authorized to shoot and kill any Iraqi they saw -- or thought they saw -- with a gun, under any and all circumstances. An armed Iraqi was a mortal threat to be neutralized. The continuing drone killings are justified in every case by reference to the perception of the drone operators -- that those killed fit certain parameters that are judged to be those of suspected militants, regardless of reality.

So it is with police in their constant battle with criminals. Everything and everyone is potentially a mortal threat, and every call to 911 must be responded to with overwhelming force (unless it's not responded to at all, but that's another issue for another time.)

We are dealing with madness.

Ms Wells was terrorized but she was not physically injured or killed, so it's all good, right?

One of the police officers said he wished there were twice as many responding officers as there were -- he was that frightened.

It's insane.

It's all too real. Just watch what's been going on in response to the attacks in Paris. The same sort of insanity that leads police to fear everything and everyone and respond the way they did in the case of Ms Wells and her key problem is being demanded and implemented against any and all "threats" -- even where there are none. Police and security agencies can't afford to find out.

When everything is perceived as threatening and fear rules like it does, what can be done?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pondering the Paris Thing

The attacks in Paris happened while Ms Ché and I were at a literary event which was part of the Fall Open House at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe where she is a student in the Creative Writing program. She was reading her poetry along with a number of other BFA and MFA student writers, and afterwards, we went out to dinner and yakked and had a great time and had no idea that anything untoward had happened in Paris until we got home some hours later and I saw something on the Intertubes about more than 100 dead due to terrorist attacks. I pulled up France24 English service, but the news reports weren't really helpful to understand what had happened, and the visuals showed literally nothing more than dozens of emergency personnel standing or milling around. Over and over again, the same shots of emergency personnel standing around.

Yet over 100 were dead due to explosions and gunfire at six locations throughout Paris. At first, I thought they meant there were attacks in 6 cities in France, but I realized they were all in Paris. One of the explosions happened at a McDonalds across the street from the Stade Francais where Franscois Hollande was attending a soccer game. Oh my. That seemed to be the feature story on the news, and truthfully, I was perplexed by the whole thing.

Most of the dead and injured were at a concert venue. The rest were scattered around in various neighborhoods. France was now "at war." What would France do to retaliate? All or almost all of the perpetrators of the attacks were said to have been killed, either at their own hand (suicide bombs?) or by police gunfire (cf: Charlie Hebdo summary executions), so who exactly was France "at war" with?

Ah, and then there was the matter of the borders and all those Syrian (and Iraqi and Afghani) refugees pouring into France and the rest of Europe as the Middle East descends into yet another level of Hell.

Yes, the answer would be, as it must be, "Keep them out!"

Yes, of course, that's what this was really about, wasn't it? Keeping the refugees (migrants as they are known) out of France, ultimately out of Europe. And of course out of the USofA. This is a clash of civilizations, isn't it? The Crusades redux. Or delayed revenge for the Crusades and centuries of colonial exploitation and oppression.

Or something.

So "we are at war." Again. Or Forever?

In revenge for the attacks in Paris, France launched aerial bombing sorties into Syria. Sounds like a plan, no? Tubthumpers throughout the Western World (once known as The Free World, right?) went through their tried and true xenophobic and vengeance routines, and the masses were induced to yet another level of fear of the Other, yet more outpourings of grief, yet more candles lit in honor of the dead, more lights in tricolor bathing buildings everywhere. "We are all Parisians!" "Vive la France!" "Paris Strong!"

It's become a ritual. Whenever terror strikes candles are lit, masses of people gather to mourn, buildings are bathed in colored lights, vengeance attacks are launched on targets far away, politicians posture, and yet more of what passes for "liberty" is taken away from the masses.

Security becomes the watchword and the most important thing. But security how and for whom? To do what?

The Western government response to terror attacks seems highly ritualized since the aftermath of 9/11, and it seems to be always the same -- domestic political posturing, limitations on or eliminations of liberties and freedoms for ordinary people, police crackdowns at home and vengeance attacks ("war") abroad.  The result is always more terror attacks which kick start the cycle once more.

This ritual cycle seems to be universal. Almost like there's a manual of instructions issued to every Western government that says, "this is what must be done" when there is a terror attack by those swarthy foreigners of Muslim extraction.

But wait. There have been terror attacks in Western countries for as long as I've been alive, and until 9/11, they were not responded to this way. Far from it. Military response was almost unheard of. What a waste of resource, right? Governments did not make "war" against terrorists, the idea would be considered insane. Large scale rebellions -- such as that in Northern Ireland -- might have a quasi-military response. But even then, the idea of "total war" against Irish rebels (for example) would have been seen as madness.

Because it was madness.

And yet, since 9/11, such madness has ruled judgement in Western capitals. A terror attack (by Muslims) must be responded to in a certain ritual fashion and no other. Subsequent terror attacks are guaranteed. In fact, nothing is really done to prevent them. The response seems to always lead to the creation of more instability in Moslem countries, more civil war, and the creation of more terrorists.

The cycle continues in perpetuity.

It's madness.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Virginia -- A **Revised** History

Herself c. 1930
Virginia was born into an Indianapolis matriarchy on November 14, 1911. Her birth took place in her mother's room next to the dining room of a large, rickety 1870s farmhouse on North Sherman Drive, once the farthest eastern edge of Indianapolis. The house had no electricity and only the most rudimentary indoor plumbing; it would burn down in 1914 and would be replaced with a fire station which is still standing.

Virginia's grandmother Ida and Ida's sisters Nora and Lillian attended her birth. The boys -- Ida's 21 year old son Ralph, and Nora's 17 year old boy Harry -- were upstairs in the attic garret they shared. Ida, Nora, and Lillian were widows.

Edna, Virginia's mother, was not a widow, not yet. She was married. At least she said she was. According to her account, she and Larry (or "Riley" as he was known) were married by a Marion County judge in 1907 when Edna was 17. She and Larry (or Riley) never lived together, however, as his situation -- he said -- didn't permit of it, and it's doubtful that Ida, Edna's mother, would have approved in any case even if they were married.

In fact, Ida didn't know her daughter was a married woman until she started showing her pregnancy around April of 1911. Edna had never said.

Finding out who the father was was no easy task for Ida, though she had a suspicion it might be the nice-looking conductor on the streetcar line Edna took into town each day to get to work at the bank where she was a telephone operator.

As it happened, Larry (or Riley) was the conductor and he was Virginia's father. When Edna told him she was pregnant with his child one morning, Larry told her that if it was a boy, he wanted it named Virgil. If a girl, then Virginia, the feminine form of Virgil.

Larry (or Riley) was reading the Aeneid at the time, and he was quite enamored of the saga of the Trojan War and the founding of Rome the Eternal City. Virgil, he thought, was the acme of poets, for whom there was no rival.

Larry's brother George was an accountant and the manager of the bank branch downtown where Edna worked.

Despite his literary bent (or maybe because of it), Larry (or Riley) was the black sheep of the family. His father was a Civil War veteran of the Indiana Volunteers, and he held a minor veteran's pension clerk position with the federal government. In addition, he served as the publisher of the Lebanon (Indiana) Patriot newspaper, the Parliamentarian for the Indiana State House of Representatives and later on as the Indiana State Land Clerk. He was well known and well respected throughout the central Indiana region, and his sons were considered bright and good boys, all six of them.

As soon as the family moved from Lebanon into Indianapolis, however, in about 1890, Larry (or Riley) started getting into trouble, trouble which would dog him the rest of his rather short life. Larry's troubles would also affect Virginia for the rest of her much longer life.

Larry's (or Riley's) mother -- Virginia's grandmother on her father's side -- was a Lawrence descended from the Lawrences of New England, and she had a notorious tendency of putting on airs. Ida, Virginia's other grandmother was no slouch when it came to putting on airs herself for she liked to claim that she was a "direct descendant of Marie Antoinette." Her regal bearing and her widow's weeds should have been proof enough, but Ralph, her son, chose to mock his mother's pretensions to royalty -- until he found out about Princess Snowflower.

Snowflower lived in the 1700s in Cape May, New Jersey, where Ida's people were from. She was the daughter of -- or possibly the granddaughter of, or even maybe the sister of -- Nummi, the chief or "king" of the local Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) tribe. She was baptized Prudence Eldridge and married Benajah Thompson, something of a Cape May grandee and gadabout. They had children, one of whom, Manley, was the father of Rebecca who was Ida's grandmother.

Ralph found this out on his own through the Piersons who lived in town. Ida never mentioned it. She might not have known, truth to tell, for Snowflower was in the male line of her ancestry.

The male line is always problematical in a matriarchy.

Virginia was born into a matriarchy, and Virginia would keep the matriarchy going for generations after her. In fact, so far as I know, it's still going strong. Virginia's daughter had daughters, and Virginia's great granddaughters have daughters of their own who will no doubt have daughters far into the future.

Among the things Virginia didn't know about her father was what he looked like. She may never have seen him at all, but later in life she would say that she only had vague memories of him because he died when she was five years old and she had no photographs of him. She believed her father was killed in a streetcar accident in Indianapolis, but that isn't quite what happened. He left Indianapolis after the streetcar strike of 1913, before Virginia's second birthday. And she never saw him again -- presuming she ever saw him at all.

Larry (or Riley) moved to St. Louis where an older brother was living and working as a printer and Linotype operator for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Larry took work as a switch man at the Chicago Northwestern railroad yards in North St. Louis. He married a 17 year old German girl and in 1914, she had a daughter Helen. He made a new life for himself, and so far as anyone knew, he never returned to Indianapolis.

He was killed in a switching accident at the yards, his body essentially cut in half when a refrigerator car rolled into the freight car he was standing by. He was killed on December 19, 1916, and was buried on December 23, 1916, at the Friedens Cemetery in Bellefontaine Neighbors. Virginia recalled his funeral (though she remembered it as being in Indianapolis), and she remembered meeting his other family at the funeral. She remembered most of all the scandal Larry's other family caused her mother when it was discovered that Larry (or Riley) had married and fathered a child by another woman in St. Louis.

By the following summer, Edna was packing up to move to California with her new beau, an old friend of Larry's (or Riley's) who proposed marriage and a complete change of scene and lifestyle.

Ida was not amused, not a bit, but Edna considered her other options and figured that moving to California with Leo and Virginia was the best available. It would finally make an honest woman of her, a thoroughly honest woman as Leo did not have another wife or family somewhere else, and he made noises about adopting 5 year old Virginia as his own daughter. He never actually adopted her, but he allowed her to use his last name and always referred to her as his daughter.

Virginia did not know about her half-brother Virgil who was also born in 1911, to a woman, or rather a girl of 17, named Julia. Virgil was born in March of 1911, just about the time Virginia was conceived it would seem. Larry (or Riley) made no pretense of marrying Julia as he had with Edna. He was, he said, "already married." Julia and Virgil would have to make the best of it.

Neither did Virginia know that her mother, Edna, had filed for divorce from Larry (or Riley) in August of 1912, a divorce that was not granted -- because it was determined that Edna had never legally been married to Larry (or Riley). The marriage certificate she presented in court was ruled invalid because at the time, Larry (or Riley) was still legally married to his first wife Maud, aka Mary and May, the mother of his first three children, George, Florence and David.

Nevertheless, after Virginia's birth, Edna with Ida's help blared the fact of her marriage to Larry (or Riley) throughout the city with the intent of bringing shame and disrepute on Larry's family. In the end, Edna gave up her crusade against her erstwhile (non)husband's family and left town for California with her soon-to-be new husband Leo and daughter Virginia.

The household on North Sherman Drive broke up soon after Edna's leaving,  perhaps due to the scandal mongering both Edna and Ida had been engaging in. Ida and Ralph moved to Chicago where they lived together, mother and son, until Ida's death in 1941. After Ida died, Ralph married but had no children. Nora moved into a little house on the outskirts of town, living with a family who had befriended her years before. Lillian took rooms in a converted mansion in town, three large rooms where she lived in semi if somewhat tattered splendor till she died in the late '40s.

Edna, Virginia and Leo did well in California, where Leo quickly found work in an auto dealership in a little coastal town. He started as a mechanic in 1917 and became the garage and service manager in due time. They lived well, certainly better than anything they were likely to know had they stayed in Indiana.

Virginia grew up thinking she was Leo's daughter, but when she was a teenager, her mother told her that no, her real father was dead, and explained that Leo was her step-father. Edna explained the funeral that Virginia barely remembered, and she told her the story of her father's other family and the scandals that ensued. Edna didn't tell Virginia everything, but she told her enough to shatter her concept of who she was. From that time onward, Virginia was never entirely sure about her origins because she never knew her biological father, and her step-father, though a kind and generous man, was no substitute for her real father.

There was so much Virginia didn't know about her father. Even though in later life she would meet with one of Larry's sons by Maud named George, and they would talk about their father for hours, she would find out little. The stories were many, but the truth was hard to discover. Larry (or Riley, which is what his son called his father) had left the household when George was just a boy of four or five, and his memories of his father were dim. He wasn't sure of what had happened to his father -- except that he had left and then he died. Virginia's stories about her father's funeral and the other wife and daughter he had were new to him. He had no idea. Some of the things he told her were new to her as well.

Virginia grew up determined to be independent, but she married twice, first to a Texan who had grand dreams of a future in the oil business, dreams which he realized only after she divorced him. Then, after a sojourn in the Women's Army Air Corps, she married an Iowa lawyer for reasons that only she knew. After spending a couple of dismal years in Iowa, Virgina fled back to California where she lived the rest of her life as independently as she could possibly manage.

Virginia was my mother, of course. This **revised** history, written on her 104th birthday is partly creative non-fiction, since I had no way of knowing any of the main characters who were long dead by the time I was born. Until recently, I didn't know many of them existed, and I knew far less than Virginia did about her biological father -- and she knew practically nothing about him. Some of what I've since learned is astonishing -- and much of it isn't included here. But a good deal of what I've learned helps me to understand some of the aspects of my mother's life, beliefs and behavior that never made much sense to me.

I think I may even understand them better than she did.