Tag Archives: gun violence

Ease the Day that Brings Me Pain

In this edition: Berserkers and other Norwegians, 2 sides to the Youngbloods, Chicago gun violence, the Chicago Public School system, and if that weren’t enough… Medicare for All!

Darkness, Darkness

Darkness, Darkness
Be my pillow
Take my hand, and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your deep

Darkness, Darkness
Hide my yearning, for the things I cannot be
Keep my mind from constant turning
Toward the things I cannot see now
Things I cannot see now

Darkness, darkness,
Long and lonesome, ease the day that brings me pain.
I have felt the edge of sadness,
I have known the depth of fear.

Darkness, darkness, be my blanket,
Cover me with the endless night,
Take away, take away the pain of knowing,
Fill the emptiness of right now,
Emptiness of right now, now, now  [Repeat verses 1 and 4]

Oh yeah, Oh yeah
Emptiness, emptiness
Oh yeah

Written by Jesse Colin Young (1969)
Performed by The Youngbloods, Jesse Colin Young

I have two versions of “Darkness, Darkness” on my iPod (the first from The Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain album and the second a Jesse Colin Young re-do from The Very Best of Jesse Colin Young released, I believe, in 2005. That “Very Best” album remasters many original Youngbloods songs and re-interprets “Darkness, Darkness” with a harder edge and scorching guitar work from Larry Mitchell.

Young was one of the early 1960’s folk artists working at New York City Greenwich Village clubs (like Dylan, Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary).  The period is explored on this YouTube channel. The next step in his career was the jug band style of the folk music revival along the lines of John Sebastian who went on to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s and Joe McDonald who went on to Country Joe and the Fish. Finally, evolution moved all these bands to the folk rock scene and a few survived the sixties British Invasion including Jesse Colin Young.Young released a couple of folk albums and then joined with Jerry Corbitt, Lowell “Banana” Levinger, and drummer Joe Bauer to form The Youngbloods.

“Darkness, Darkness” was featured on the 1969 album and was produced by Charles E. Daniels. Charles E. (you may know him as Charley) Daniels contributed the violin part. It’s pretty interesting to contrast the 1969 release with the same violin part remastered and used on the 2005 version. You can hear the tone of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on that second version including one bridging riff that is reproduced exactly on the Charlie Daniels’s song.

The Youngbloods’ bigger hit had been “Get Together” with the refrain “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody come together, try to love one another right now.”  That song was written by Dino Valenti (a.k.a. Chet Powers) whose story could be a movie about the California folk rock scene in the sixties. Check his Wiki page.

The contrast between that dreamy epic of fraternal love and the invitation for Darkness to be a pillow or blanket is pretty astounding. It is likely a reference to emotional depression, but it was associated with the darkness of jungle warfare in the Vietnam period and the darkness veterans survived after coming home to a world that no longer could relate to them or their experiences.

Young currently lives on his own coffee plantation in Hawaii and CDs and coffee are available at http://www.jessecolinyoung.com.

And now the segue…

One of the arguments about gun control is that no amount of control will stop the handgun killings in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods. (Of course, that’s not exactly true because if dealers weren’t selling guns in bulk in Virginia and other states to gang members or gang vendors to drive to Chicago then the supply would dry up.) But I’m not sure that knives or worse wouldn’t take the gun’s place. It is a valid point that the problem is the culture of violence not the method of violence. I came to this conclusion, believe it or not, reading a book about the Vikings.

I enjoyed the History Channel series about The Vikings and have always held a little affinity for them (although not a lot of real knowledge). The affinity is based on an e-mail I got 2 decades ago via AOL from someone researching their genealogy. My fraternal grandfather (who hadn’t stuck around–a sperm donor in my father’s words)  was from England. So I attributed that to 25% English ancestry. But apparently the name is originally Norwegian and comes from a specific fjord-littered area in Norway. But the Scandinavians settled in various parts of England and that may explain it. And that’s what put Vikings into my consciousness to this day.

Here’s a quote about violence from the book:

“At any moment, say the sagas, the daily round of farming, herding, and fishing might be torn asunder. A single spark of violence might set off an endless success of duels, ambushes, pitched battles, murders, maimings, and burnings. These blood feuds were pursued with deadly intensity as each fresh killing stoked the hatred.”

The Vikings of the times (around 800 to 1000 AD)  lived in loosely connected enclaves of farms and villages and the first loyalty was to their immediate family.

I find two connections to the killing in Chicago and other cities. First, it reminds us that the behavior is not inhuman in any way, humans have always done this type of thing. Not civilized, maybe, but that’s a different concept and we would find such uncivilized behavior in any state at war. The second, is that disconnection to a larger group interest leads to action that always pivots on personal exchanges. Each local group then controls their own justice. I would suggest that the failures of connection to immediate family, with families in sub-optimal configurations, leads to adoption of gangs as families and that a lack of connection to the mainstream leads to lack of consideration for institutions. Sub-optimal would mean many fathers, no fathers, teen mothers, and households out of control due to drugs, alcohol, or other failures to make it to the mainstream.

If we were smart enough and had sufficient enlightened self-interest, we would be attacking the problem of violence in our cities from a completely different angle, probably with education and opportunity because it is ignorance and lack of opportunity that creates the chasm between life on gang-controlled streets and life for those who are participating members of the U.S. economy. Those of us who live in relative security and even abundance, as well as institutions like government, social welfare, or religion could partner on this.

In addition to the normal fierceness of the Vikings, whose gods mimicked their penchant for feasting and destruction, a sub-group of warriors existed called berserkr, from which our word berserk originates. These fighters wore no armor, just skins or bare skin, and would roll their eyes and bite the edge of their shields as they charged adversaries with no fear for their own lives. While not related to the lines I drew between Viking behavior and the gang-controlled streets of Chicago, it reminds us that extreme behavior is part of our human makeup (as evolution isn’t a thousand-year proposition) and that in war or under stress some people will have the capacity to react with abandon against their enemies.


I don’t like Michael Gerson’s editorial work too much but I think he is a smart guy and thoughtful about his conservative point of view. In a Washington Post article this week, he argues that the right’s perpetual efforts to derail Obamacare is being fought “in a particularly counterproductive way, which discredits responsible opposition and makes a Democratic takeover of the House more likely.” He thinks the Tea Party House members may save Obamacare by marginalizing the GOP as voters come to understand that 40 attempts to derail the healthcare bill is idiocy, not governing. He argues that it will take the same configuration to kill the bill as it took to make the bill, Democratic President, Senate, and House.

He likens Ted Cruz (R-Tx), Marco Rubio (R-Fla), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) as fighters most like General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Tea Party and their supporters may be intoxicated by a certain romance in the notion of the fight against overwhelming odds, but the outcome won’t be the one they are looking for.

In the most recent four Congresses, Democrats controlled the first two House of Representatives and Republicans the second two. The Tea Party ascendance resulted in a loss of 63 seats for Democrats in 2010 (after gaining nearly that many in the last Congress under GW Bush and the first under Obama). Democrats will need to gain 34 seats in 2014 to reach the majority.

From Pope Francis’ speech in a Rio de Janeiro slum, “Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices… The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world…”

Now that’s good Pope-ing.

Highly recommended is the Dick Kay show on the radio at Chicago’s WCPT and online from the same place. Dick Kay and his helpers are generous enough to podcast the shows, and last Saturday’s with Carol Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was eye-opening for me. How much of the city’s budgeting woes are related to killing unions and appeasing the interests that absorb our tax dollars in charter schools? Do we really need to pull schools out of neighborhoods and generally make children’s lives less enriched by killing music and other programs? Look for the July 27th, 2013 MP3 here: http://doogiesplace.com/podcast.html. Lewis is a formidable opponent of those who want to commercialize the schools in Chicago.

The Teacher’s Union Website lays it out this way, “While the policy of neighborhood school closings and charter openings has not moved education in Chicago forward in any significant way, the benefits to charter school operators, private testing companies, real estate interests, and wealthy bankers are growing.”


Lastly, I want to make sure that readers have H.R. 676 on their radar. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is promoting his bill, H.R. 676, “The United States National Health Care Act,” or “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All.” When the ACA health care bill was being debated, part of the discussion was on the idea of opening up Medicare to more people. This would benefit the income and actuarial sides of the equation making Medicare more affordable to the nation.

I heard Congressman Conyers speaking of the various wasted spending and bureaucracy associated with our current system (1/3 of healthcare dollars spent on supporting staff and computers to manage the bills to insurance companies, $350 billion spent on administrative costs, waste, and profits to insurers) and I was impressed.  If the costs of healthcare are making single-payer the only viable solution, this type of thinking gives a shortcut from the “lemon-dropping” and “cherry-picking” of commercial insurers (whose profitability is not driven by efficiency or quality, merely by restricting membership to the healthy) to a system where all Americans could enjoy low-cost treatments, medicines, and even dental work.

Lyndon Johnson, “We can say this of Medicare: By honoring the fundamental humanity, which is the spirit of democracy, it is a triumph of rightness in America.”

All comments other than SPAM are gratefully welcomed.


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How ignorant is Wayne LaPierre and how blind can NRA supporters be?

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, spoke during an NRA news conference (as opposed to a press conference where questions are taken)  in Washington D.C. today, Friday, December 21, just one week after the heartbreaking Newtown, Connecticut school massacre. The world did not end on the 21st as the Mayan calendar suggested, but my faith in it was seriously shaken.

“Think about it,” said LaPierre,  “We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security… Yet when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless. And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.”

So to LaPierre and his soul-mates the way through the crazy chain of gun violence we have been facing is to shoot our way out of it. He blames the entertainment industry, the news media, politicians passing gun-free school zone laws, and a society that hasn’t armed itself against the “monsters” that stalk us. He missed one point though: if these 40 rounds per minute (semiautomatic), 100 round capacity, rapid fire killing machines weren’t available then these monsters would do much less harm.

He suggested the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun at the ready. Despite the ridiculous yippie-ki-yay adolescence of such thinking, we have to ask, would it help? There are cases where armed civilians and off-duty police have stopped shooters, almost always after the shooting has stopped. There are also these cases:

In August 2012 Jeffrey T. Johnson shot a former co-worker by the Empire State building. The police opened fire on him and Johnson was killed. The police also wounded 9 bystanders–struck by bullets or shrapnel from ricochet. With trained policemen stray shots are commonplace; a study based on New York’s annual firearms discharge reports indicated that officers hit their targets on average just 34% of the time, suggesting that the pistol-packing cowboys that are convinced they will save any situation with their concealed weapon would put themselves and others at great risk.

In 2005, an assailant began shooting in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. A civilian named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with a licensed handgun he was carrying. McKown did not stop the attacker, he was shot several times and six others were wounded.  (McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.)

Also in 2005, in Tyler, Texas, a civilian named Mark Wilson fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson—who was a firearms instructor—was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47.

No time, no opportunity

When James Eagan Holmes began his July 20, 2012 shooting spree in the Aurora, Colorado theater he began by releasing tear gas canisters. He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a bullet-proof vest, a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He would have been more than a match for any armed moviegoer and in the chaos of that dark and smoky room the opportunity to have stopped the killing of 12 people and wounding of 58 more seems more like a teen boy’s fantasy than an alternative scenario. In fact, the police arrived within 90 seconds but even that was too late.

The appeals to heroism from LaPierre and gun rights advocates rings hollow. It attempts to obfuscate the simple truth that we are not safe when military-style assault weapons are broadly available. Add that to a lack of education and resources concerning sociopathic behavior (how to identify it, what to do when you suspect it) and a society where many feel powerless and seek remedies in the substitute potency of the “erect” gun barrel and the danger will continue to rise. The people in the Aurora theater, at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, at Fort Hood, at Virginia Tech, at the Wisconsin Sikh temple, at the Gabby Giffords’ meet and greet, and at the other 57 mass shootings in the past 30 years were all just as confident that something like that wouldn’t happen to them as you and I are. Today it’s difficult not to admit that none of us are safe when weapons that feature high-capacity clips, semi-automatic firing, military inspired lethal bullet design, and easy online ordering exist.

Why do they exist? Even if we accept the concept that such guns are fun to fire at ranges does it justify having them available to all? They aren’t good hunting weapons. They aren’t as good for home defense as a shotgun would be. At the very least shouldn’t they have more restrictive licensing then the more mundane weapons used for sport and self-defense?

A not-well-regulated militia

Should we all be worried that a core of liberal-hating idiots, incited by the right-wing propaganda machine, haven’t taken it on themselves to arm for the eventual bloody retaking of America? Does a class of reactionaries, unburdened by information and perspective, prepare for their attempt to regain imagined founding father rights and eliminate the challenge to white supremacy that having a black president represents? Their assertion of freedom means a displacement of the values of the America we’ve built. Yes, this is definitely the far edge of potentialities, but I challenge anyone who would maintain that it’s out of the realm of possibility.

What’s next?

I hope that we can push through the inevitable backlash and follow the matter through to meaningful change. We need comprehensive policies that slow or stop these deadly, mentally confused, insanely well-armed young white men from continuing their massacres of innocents. The president has initiated a task-force for this purpose and we can all demand that it produce meaningful discussion and common-sense action that is supported by all rational Congressmen and women. The irrational minority should be taught that the populace, not the gun industry, the NRA, or the fringe of overly zealous gun-lovers, controls their fate. They need to be part of the solution or they need to find a new home knocking about in the dustbin of history.


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