Category Archives: Mass killings

I am a feminist

 

OK my cousin, who actually knows what she is talking about, unlike me, says a sex change operation won’t work. I have to face the hard facts.  I plan to do that. So I have cancelled my sex change operation, but I have a plan B.

I herby announce that I am a feminist! Just saying we believe in equality is not enough either. Men who have been the beneficiaries for centuries of a system that rewards males  and are so embedded in that system that we don’t even see our own privilege, have to take a hard look at that system, our place in it, and what we can do about it.  We must renounce that system clearly and unequivocally. It is a noose around our necks, not just our wives, daughters and grand daughters. It is grossly unfair and the first step is to acknowledge that. We men must all do that.

We must also admit that we can never fully experience or appreciate what it is like to be on the pulverizing side of that system of dominance. We can never appreciate how women are often in fear when we think there is nothing to be afraid of.

Last night I watched a powerful film, Polytechnique, that gave me a glimpse into that world of fear, when I saw the faces of the women who had to stay behind in the class room with Marc Lepine holding an automatic rifle at them, as the men slunk off sheepishly, to relative safety. Lepine came after them too later, but none of the men died. 14 women died. The fear is real and it is justified. Women live in a society in which they are vulnerable to attack and weak men will attack them. It happens. Just like weak men take advantage of a system that erodes the opportunities for women in favor of men. That has happened for a long time and it must end.

We men have to speak up. It is not up to women to speak up. We must do it. Each in our own way. If we don’t speak up we acquiesce in a system that is fundamentally unjust and we are stained by our own silence. We are weinees.

Marc Lepine said he hate feminists. He blamed them. So I say, “I am a feminist.”

I am undergoing a Sex Change Operation

 

I have an important announcement to make I am undergoing a sex change operation. I have changed my name to Johanna Erica Neufeld. I’m done. Please call me that the next time you bump into me. I renounce my gender.

Today I went to the Steinbach version of a day to commemorate the death of 14 young women in the Montreal Massacre of December 6, 1989. The killer, Marc Lepine, was a young man, who was in despair over the fact that women had the nerve to apply for positions as Engineering students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. These women, he believed, had ruined his life.  They got the positions he deserved because he was a man. So he went to the class with a rifle, divided the class into 2, women on one side, men on the other. Men were told to leave and then he shot the 9 women, killing 6. Then he went on a rampage through the school killing 8 more women and injuring 10 more along with 4 men, but women were clearly the target. He could not bear giving up his privilege which he had enjoyed for most of his life, though it did not do much for him. On that day, his resentment spilled over into blind irrational rage and he went on a rampage. It was the largest mass murder in Canadian history, I have been told.

I was disappointed at how many men attended this event in Steinbach. I think I counted 5 of us.  We got to see a great film too–Polytechnique. I admit there have been many commemorations of this grisly event in our town over the years, and until today never attended. I guess I did not think it was important. I was profoundly ignorant in other words.  Male dominance over women is a sick and pitiful enterprise that has not died. 11 women in Manitoba have died as a result of violence against them by men in the year since December 6, 2018.

Many men are wieners who can’t stand the thought of women being equal to them. They are like the whites in the US who could not stand the thought of seeing a black family in the White House.

As comedian Jim Jefferies says, “We can do better.” I don’t apologize for my introductory comment. After all this is not a joking matter. I wanted to draw in as many people as possible. More than 5 men need to think about this.

I am a feminist; and that’s no joke.

The US coughs and Canada catches cold

 

Some ask why I talk so much about the United States. “What about Canada?” The fact is that the United States is a very important country. It is not just in economics that the claim “The United States coughs and Canada catches a cold,” is true. It is also, sadly, often true in social matters too. So I will continue to comment on what happens there, but never forgetting that usually Canada is in the same position, though as a junior partner.

Recently, on the August long weekend, 2 mass killings occurred in the United States. One in Dayton Ohio and the other in El Paso Texas. After the killings, Donald Trump uttered some fine words, clearly saying that racism and hatred were unacceptable. His words could not be faulted as in other cases, but were his words adequate for the moment? Democratic rival Cory Booker called them “bullshit soup.”

As Alexander Burns pointed out in the New York Times, “President Trump faced intense new criticism and scrutiny for the plain echoes of his rhetoric in the El Paso gunman’s anti-immigrant manifesto.” According to Burns, “Democratic challengers blamed him explicitly for giving succor to extremists.” The leading Democratic contender at the time, Joe Biden, said Trump was guilty of trying “to encourage and embolden white supremacy.” Another contender, Elizabeth Warren, captured the situation well when she said that Trump had repeatedly been “amplifying these deadly ideologies.

What is clear is that Trump is no innocent bystander here. In recent weeks he has been loudly speaking out at rallies about 4 American Congresswomen of colour that they should go back to the rat infested countries from which they came. This was so even though 3 of them were born in the United States. I am not sure what a trope is or a dog whistle, but it is clear that such statement have made over and over again by blatant racists in the past.  Then at rallies he basked in the glow of hearing his audience loudly chant “Send them back; send them back.” In such circumstances “amplifying these deadly ideologies” is hardly an exaggeration. That is exactly what he has been doing.

In contrast to that, President Obama has been the voice of empathy and dignity. This is what he said, as quoted in the New York Times,  former President Obama wrote, “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments, leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as subhuman, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.” That is exactly what we should do–reject them.

The fact is that Donald Trump is not really the issue. The real issue, I submit, is that the United States, with Canada following right behind, is a country deeply infused with violence. It takes very little to light that fuse. Almost any crackpot can do it. I believe this is the legacy of a racial bias that runs so deep and came so early to that country and to Canada that it  led to genocide against the original inhabitants of this hemisphere and the subsequent enslavement of African people numbering in the millions in the US and less in Canada. Then we added male supremacy and visions of human superiority over all of nature to that already toxic stew is. It is hardly surprising that we are in a lethal mess. It is probably inevitable.

Slaughter by Divine Right

Things have been getting strange. Nearly every day it seems like the crazies are winning.

For a number of years Myanmar has been wracked by murderous attacks against a Muslim minority group of Rohingya people. Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country with a significant Muslim minority. The UN states that the Rohingya people of Myanmar are among the most persecuted people in the world at this time. Myanmar security forces have driven the Rohingya people  off their land, burned down their mosques and committed widespread looting, arson and rape of Rohingya women.

There have been a lot of mass shootings recently involving religious groups from around the world.   We read about a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 where 6 worshippers were shot and killed while 19 more were injured. The lone gunman opened fire just after evening prayers.

In October 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg Pennsylvania 11 people were murdered and 6 more injured by a gunman. This was the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in U.S. history. The massacre was an unprecedented act of violence against American Jews—but it is by no means the first time that anti-Semitism has manifested itself in deadly violence against Jews in the United States.

In March 2019 there were 2 consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch New Zealand during Friday Prayer. The gunman who came all the way from Australia, launched two consecutive attacks that began at one mosque and continued at an Islamic Centre.  This case was also distinguished by the fact that the gunman live-streamed his first attack on Facebook. 50 people were killed and another 50 injured. These were the deadliest mass shootings in the history of New Zealand. The 28 year old gunman was described as a white supremacist and part of the alt-right movement that many Christians in America support. Just before the shooting he played “Serbia Strong” a nationalist song celebrating Radovan Karadžić who was found guilty of genocide against Bosnian Muslims.

In April 2019, on Easter Sunday, 3 Christian churches across Sri Lanka and 3 luxury hotels were targeted by  suicide bombers in series of coordinated suicide bombings. Approximately 253 people were killed and another 500 people injured. This attack was believed to be in retaliation to the shootings in New Zealand. This is the fact caught my eye. Sri Lankan government officials said the attacks were carried out by Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama’ath a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties. The group was  previously known for attacks against Buddhists. The direct linkage between the two attacks was questioned by some experts. Yet these were clearly coordinated slaughters by a group of extremist Muslims apparently in retaliation for the recent attacks of the mosque in Christchurch New Zealand.

Then a couple of days ago, 6 months to the day after the slaughter at the synagogue in Pittsburg, there was another attack near a synagogue in California  where a man shot 4 people and killing one of them.  The suspect who turned himself in posted an 8-page manifesto online in which he boasted about being from “European ancestry” and expressed hatred of Jews.  He even said he had taken inspiration from the New Zealand mosque shooter in March of this year.

What do all of these events have in common? Violence? For sure. But violence of a particular sort. Violence in favor of or against a particular religion.  This is deeply disturbing. Have we entered the era of religious world wars?  They are happening everywhere.  What is happening here?

One of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, seemed to understand it best. As he said in his great poem “The Second Coming” which he wrote nearly exactly 100 years ago:

 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

 

The Second Coming!

Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Although this poem presages a “Second Coming” in the poem it is a nightmare. Just like the Roman World was shocked by the arrival of Christ, Yeats suggests, our world will be shocked and rocked by the new arrival. It will happen he suggest, about 2,000 years after Chris was born. About now in other words. It will be a “rough beast” that slouches toward Bethlehem waiting “to be born.” It will “trouble our sight”.  It will loose another “blood-dimmed tide” and may drown “the ceremony of innocence” once again. As the narrator of the poem seems to fear, it will no doubt wreak havoc and terror.

Is this the terror that is approaching? Is the beast moving its horrifying  “slow thighs?” Things are falling apart and the centre no longer holds. “Mere anarchy” is loosed upon the world. Why “mere” anarchy? The Extremists are taking over. The religious wars are back again. The rest of us are doomed.So it seems.

As I have said elsewhere, when religion leads to hate it is no longer religion. What we have is actually a toxic brew of hate and racism. All of these are inimical to genuine religion, but find fertile ground in the soil of pseudo-religion.

Some people (too many people) seem to believe that they have the divinely granted right to slaughter other people as a result of having been issued a licence to kill by their personal revengeful god. How can this be? Where do we go from here?

My Country tis of thy people you’re dying

 

On the way home from the theatre 2 days ago, we heard reports on the radio about young students from the school in Parkland Florida where 17 students were killed, allegedly by a young man with an AR-15. They had heard President Trump’s assurances that “they were safe” and were “loved” by people who would do “everything” to protect them. Lies in other words. Fake news. They also heard him offer once again his “thoughts and prayers,” but also noticed that in his talk the word “guns” was never spoken. After all it was not for nothing that the NRA had contributed $30 million to his presidential campaign! It appears that was money well spent.

The newspapers had also reported to the students that “their” Florida Senator Marco Rubio and “their” Florida Governor Rick Scott had both scored A+ in the rating released by the National Rifle Association about the quality of politicians from their perspective. A+ ratings are reserved by them for “legislators who have excellent voting records on 2nd Amendment issues and who vigorously fight to promote and defend the right to keep and bear arms.” I wonder how the students would have ranked them? I believe Rubio and Scott each received $3 million for their last election campaigns. Again money well spent from the perspective of the NRA. From the perspective of the students not so much.

In fact after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Governor Scott said, “The second Amendment never killed anybody. Evil did.” So his solution for mass shootings is to allow evil to arm itself to the teeth with automatic rifles? Or is it to allow young people to buy them before they can vote or drive a car.

One of the 17-year old students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, that was interviewed said that Senator Rubio “had blood on his hands.” I concur.

Many of us thought that after the massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut in December 2012, when Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members, something would be done in the United States to control gun violence besides thoughts and prayers. After all what could be worse than that? We were sadly mistaken. Nothing was done except to make gun ownership easier.

The Florida students who have been casting blame on their politicians who have put campaign financing ahead of the safety of school children have got it right. They do have blood on their hands.

We also heard a college professor talking on National Public Radio. He has written previously on this subject. He says that Americans can expect changes in gun control laws in the next year. I was shocked to hear that. But I had not heard it all. He added, “Americans can expect changes to gun control laws that will make it easier to get guns with silencers.”

On the day of the Florida massacre the school Superintendant said “Today we saw the worst of humanity; tomorrow we will see the best as we move forward together.” I strongly disagree. If nothing is done once again, this is not the best of humanity; this is the stupidest.

How can one deny that this country is sick? It reminds me of what Buffy Sainte-Marie sang “My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.”

 

Why are so many children and young people taking guns to school?

 

Chris and I were talking about the latest shooting in the United States on February 14, 2018 in Florida. A young 19 year old former student allegedly walked into his old school, turned on the fire alarm so that students would rush out of building where he was waiting with an AR 15 automatic rifle. At  least 17 students were murdered  and 15 more were injured.

The latest shooting raises many important issues and I want to comment on them later. Today I want to concentrate on one issue? Why are so many young people in America the richest country in the world taking guns to schools to shoot students?

On the 24th of January 2018, I heard on the radio that the United States had experienced its 11th shooting at a school this year. 11 in 24 days! I guess there are just not enough guns in schools yet to deter shooters. In fact, so far in the US there has been a shooting at a school every 60 hours!

This issue is particularly important because of where we are now living for 3 months: Arizona. One of those school shootings occurred here in Arizona. I learned this week that Maricopa County, where we spend a lot of time when we are here, has more guns shops than any county in the United States. A gun shop is a place where guns can be purchased. In fact, Maricopa County has more gun shops than MacDonald’s Restaurants! Added to that,  the United States has more gun shops than there are Starbucks on the planet! So guns are part of the problem and I will discuss that on a later blog.

But what about the uncomfortable fact that so many of these involve school shootings? Yesterday right after we heard about the shooting, we stopped at a pizza restaurant for supper and asked Maya our young waitress who is a high school student what she thought of it. I asked her if she felt safe in school. She said she did. Of course she said, her school had a hired security officer on duty every day. The school in Florida, I was told, also had a security officer. That did not solve the problem. Maya, contrary to arguments of the National Rifle Association, did not think more guns in school were a good idea and would not make her feel more safe. On the contrary, she said, she feared if the security had guns they might be trigger-happy and makes things a lot worse. That was an astute comment. American soldiers for example, are famous for killing their own soldiers or soldiers of their allies in “friendly fire.”  That is because they are trained to be trigger happy.

Chris mentioned something very important. That is the startling extent to which extremism is rampant here. People here can’t talk to people they disagree with politically. Extremism is prevalent everywhere, but in few developed countries if any, more than the United States. Extremism is as American as apple pie. It always has been and as a result perhaps always will be. After all the country was born in an ugly holocaust against the indigenous people and that was quickly followed by centuries of importation of black people from Africa to be enslaved in support of America enterprise. Those were certainly extreme events and as we all know, extremism leads to  extremism.

The Great Divide is not a geological phenomenon; it is a social phenomenon. Liberals/Democrats can’t fathom the idiocy of Conservatives/Republicans. Conservatives and Republicans return the sentiments. They can’t stand each other. The statements about the others are astonishingly  extreme. No the word “extreme” is not extreme enough.

In America, and much of the modern world, but most spectacularly in America, there is a profound gulf between people. Often it seems that opposing sides come from different planets. This became pronounced  during the 2016 American presidential election campaign, in which a blatant extremist—Donald Trump—got elected and half the country loved him and the other half hated him. There was little in between. As Bill Maher said, “each half of society does not want to live with the other half.”

According to a PEW study, “81% of Americans can’t agree with the other side on basic facts.” How is it possible to have rational political debate in such circumstances? And if rational political debate is no longer possible, what is the alternative? Violence is the obvious answer. And America is a very violent society.

In politics people seem to be driven not by support for their own party so much as hatred of the other side. Increasingly they voice that hatred. And guess who is listening? The young people are nourished in that environment of corrosive hatred. Is it surprising that some mentally unbalanced youth resort to violence?

At the Republican National Convention, in 2016 a senior member of Donald Trump’s campaign said that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presumptive nominee at the time, “should be put in a firing squad and shot.” CBC radio went to Virginia to talk to Trump supporters. They were treated to many extreme statements. One said that “Hillary is a murderer and a liar I can’t even see how she is eligible for President.” One said this about Trump, “Donald Trump may be a loose cannon but perhaps that is what the country needs.” Another said that ‘she is the closest we will get to a civil war if she pushes her agenda. Can things get more extreme than this? Trump himself suggested that American gun supporters should take care of her.

Of course Democrats were no  better. They compared Trump to Hitler. Some called him a fascist. Many have called him a pathological liar.

How much more extreme can things get?

Jonathan Haidt was one of the speakers at the Arizona State University’s year long exploration of truth seeking, politics, and freedom of speech that Chris and I have been following. We missed his talk but caught it on TV. He is a social psychologist and had fascinating things to say about the state of America. He pointed out that “the more angry you are the more pleasing it is to encounter fake news. Even if part of you doubts it is true, it just feels so good.” We want it to be true and desire is always the enemy of truth.

Haidt puts the blame on the strong American tendency to make politics religious. American politics is about the sacred. And this polarizes. This creates “our side” where all good resides, while all the bad resides with “the other side.”

As he said, “when you start to think like this, then anyone who disagrees, anyone who challenges, anyone that leaves your group, they are apostate, they are heretics, they are blasphemers and the most satisfying thing to do with them is not to lecture them, or ground them, or spank them, it is to burn them. It just feels so right to burn them at the stake.” Strong words.

Again is it surprising that the children of the partisans, who see the hatred, reflect that same hatred in their disputes with their “enemies”? People can’t talk with those they disagree with, so unsurprisingly they resort to violence. After all when the other side is evil, a refusal to use violence against them seems like a breach of trust, a sacrilege. Hatred breeds monsters and our children are the first victims. Both the children who became killers and the children who are killed.