Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Memento Mori

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” –General George S. Patton

“Someday, perhaps, it will be pleasing to remember these things.” –Virgil

How can anything be worth anything if it lasts forever?

Valar Morghulis. Valar Dohaeris.

My great-grandfather, Arthur, was a fatherless man. He was born black and Irish in the Deep South in the eleventh hour of the 19th Century. He married Elizabeth, an immigrant from the Bahamas, and she bore them 17 children, among whom is my maternal grandfather. Although Arthur died half a dozen years before I was born, I have always been aware of his nearly seven score years of life through the tales his great family still heartily recalls well into the 21st Century. Two ghosts of those tales seem particularly relevant today.

My great-grandfather’s father, the Irishman, died in a now century-old war before his son could ever know him. Arthur did get to know his own sons, however, and one of them was a man named Earl, who went to fight in Vietnam. Not unlike the grandfather he never met, Earl left a young family behind to serve his proud country. And also akin with that late grandfather, Earl never again saw his homeland, or the wife and young daughters he left there.

Today, most of Earl and Arthur’s American family remains in Florida and Georgia, where they have lived for more decades than hardly anybody can remember. The Army brought my parents to the D.C. metro area years ago, and, occasionally, some of our kin will make the long trek up the South Atlantic coast for a visit. When the weather is glorious, or at least tolerable, my parents will take them to the National Mall to stroll through the grandeur of the Capital of the American Republic our forebears built. Although our itinerary may vary, a sense of rooted wonder always carries us to the dark marble wall that commemorates the fallen of Vietnam. We always remember to scratch Earl’s name onto pieces of paper that we bring for this familiar ritual. Granny hates being in photographs, but she always submits to a few still-frames of time on these occasions.

We usually smile.

Growing up in the military, I learned that Veterans Day was meant to celebrate peace and those who returned from service to America and her values of liberty, justice, and honor. This November, I will celebrate my father, mother, sister, and brother for their service.

As a point of distinction, Memorial Day commemorates sacrifice and loss: the ultimate cost of freedom. In reflecting on the passing of warriors like Arthur’s father and son, we remember that all men and women are born to die, and what matters is the how and why of our ineluctable departure. We remember that our free Republic was built upon the ashes of dreamers and is maintained upon the hallowed dust of sacrifices honored. We remember that our lives are never solely ours, and our deaths are no more the bookend of our stories than our loved ones will allow.

For as long as I can remember, funeral days have always nurtured times of celebration in my family. The former homes of those gone to glory become sites where the living gather to eat, drink, and merrily recall halcyon days past and grievances overcome. By celebrating life—and all that has been done so that we might freely enjoy it—we consummate the purpose for which our loved ones lived and died, whether in far-flung wars or quietly at home after untold suffering. It is for this very purpose—the enduring happiness of those whom we shall someday leave—that we now live and remember.

Happy Memorial Day!

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Guns, Taxes, and the Devil

“Washington is often a contact sport.” –Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides

God’s in the SEC. All’s right with the world.

The first few days of 2013 have been eventful.

First, we got a belated deal on the tax side of the fiscal cliff. Democrats declared victory because taxes will go up on “the rich”. Republicans licked their wounds as the coalition inclined to blame the recession on the Bush tax cuts just extended 99% of those cuts into perpetuity. In the meantime, it turns out “the rich”—as defined by those who alone will see higher taxes—constitutes nearly every American worker who receives a paycheck. Nothing like a healthy dose of Hope & Change™ in the wallet! But rest assured, Democrats want more revenue and give us their oh-so-credible word that they are serious about cutting spending. They just don’t want to negotiate on it at a time when they might be forced to follow through. I’m sure that’s somehow the Republicans’ fault.

Whatever your feelings on the coming debt ceiling fight, understand this: lawmakers are exceedingly averse to spending reform. Neither side is particularly innocent here. Without some external—or self-created—pressure compelling them to do so, it would strain credulity to expect President Barack “We Don’t Have a Spending Problem” Obama and this Congress to make the sort of tough, responsible choices we need them to make to rein in the deficit. Washington seems to be defined by failure of leadership and deficiency of character these days. (Mike Shanahan is well in the running for Worst Person of 2013.)

Secondly, a newspaper in suburban New York is taking heat for publishing an interactive (and inaccurate) map with the names and addresses of gun owners (and law enforcement) in several counties. While I certainly don’t approve of this journal’s employees receiving threats or being targets of illegal behavior, we must acknowledge a rather vicious irony in their taking umbrage at having their own names and addresses published in retaliation. There is also the matter of their hiring armed guards (which are supposedly terrible for schools) to protect them from the repercussions of having private information broadcast to the public by hostile media. Karma sleeps with Irony tonight.

For my part, I would recommend that folks stop patronizing this particular paper rather than harass the staff. We should continue to highlight the unintended consequences that most reasonable people foresaw in directing criminals to exact households where they may (try to) steal weapons or more safely target unarmed families with minimal fear of harm:

“Legis. Aron Wieder (D-Spring Valley) called the publication of the list “irresponsible journalism” and said he now fears for his safety because the map broadcast that he does not have a gun license. At the news conference Friday morning, he handed a $150 certified check and a completed pistol permit application to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato.

I never owned a gun but now I have no choice,” Wieder said. “I have been exposed as someone that has no gun. And I’ll do anything, anything to protect my family.”

Piperato, who also serves as president to the New York State County Clerks Association, said all 62 counties in the state are supporting the state legislation to amend the law that makes gun permit holder information public.”

As a broader cautionary tale—or, as the President would say, a teachable moment—gun control enthusiasts should be wary of alienating potential allies in the push to change gun laws.

But enough about politics, we have my fourth-favorite holiday to celebrate: BCS Championship Monday! (It falls right behind the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and SEC Championship Saturday, and just ahead of Super Bowl Sunday and Christmas.) As we all know (especially in South Florida), Nick Saban is the devil. However, devils are occasionally useful (see: Job and the temptations of Christ), and this particular incarnation is charged with securing the seventh straight BCS Championship for the Southeastern Conference.

For those of you not blessed with ties to God’s Country, Jared Freid has some words of wisdom on how you should approach tonight:

“Not only do Notre Dame grads feel their alma mater indicates a different class of people, they also believe that the rest of the country sees it that way, too. They believe they’re not just kings, but also populist heroes… And that’s the kind of delusion I can’t support – that I MUST root against… For this great country was founded on the noble notion of dissidence, in defiance of unaware monarchies and specious dictators. That a man has the right – nay, the RESPONSIBILITY – to call bullshit. To root for Notre Dame is to root for Orwellian propagandist lies (“Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery”). To root for Notre Dame is to root against America.

And so, on January 7th, flag draped on my shoulders and a cold Budweiser at my lips, I’ll utter two words in solemn solidarity with the rest of the freethinking nation: Roll Tide.”

Roll Tide Roll.


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Violence and Its Discontents

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” –Philippians 4:8

“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” –Psalm 130:1

In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, emotions are running high on all sorts of fronts. Families are grieving lost loved ones, parents are terrified for the safety and wellbeing of their children, gun control activists are agitating for more gun control, and many others are wondering about the state of mental health and public safety in this country. Above and beyond all this, many Americans are wondering how on Earth a bunch of elementary school kids—who didn’t even yet exist on 9/11—can be murdered in cold blood by a bafflingly determined madman.

What is wrong with the world?

Allow me to being with a public service announcement: contrary to popular belief, I do not have the answers to all problems. (Take a moment to recover from the shock; I’ll be here.) I do have observations based on experience, research, and input from others. I was raised to understand that people kill people, not guns. Most of my friends from Virginia, the military, and various suburbs and towns across America seem to agree. To this sentiment, many Ivy League, Blue-State, and liberal friends prefer Eddie Izzard’s wry retort: “the gun helps.” Valid points abound.

So yes, I already read the “Twelve Facts” of Ezra Klein. They’re rather interesting and informative. I also read Jeffrey Goldberg’s far more thoughtful and balanced feature in The Atlantic; I highly recommend it to the more open-minded among you. (I assume if you’re still reading anything I write, you are exceedingly open-minded, thoughtfully conservative, liberally masochistic, or else collecting more evidence that gay, black conservatives are ruining America.)

Some levity aside, this is my attempt at a serious discussion, not a sermon. So let’s talk.

America is a very violent country. We are by no means the most dangerous, but we shan’t be winning any public safety awards from Western Europe or Japan. We also have a lot of guns, which correlates with more gun homicide within the U.S. (see: the South vs. the Northeast) and across the world (see: the U.S. vs. anywhere). Nevertheless, Vermont exists, gun-related violent crimes fell sharply as sales rose meteorically in my adoptive Virginia, and overall homicide rates have risen with gun bans but fallen with right-to-carry policy in various jurisdictions. There is also the intriguing debate over the inverse correlation between concealed carry and crime.

As Klein and others have pointed out, the percentage of households with guns had been declining in the last several years. However, gun ownership has lately risen to the highest levels since 1993, thanks mostly to women, Democrats, and people outside the South (and possibly the recession). Guns are used (not necessarily fired) in self-defense at least 108,000 to 498,000 times per year. For women, in particular, handguns have proven vital in protecting their homes, thwarting rape, repelling violent assault, protecting their babies, and defending their children from hostile men. As of last year, nearly half of all American households have some sort of firearm.

While gun presence generally correlates well with gun violence, neither is a reliable indicator of overall violence. Britain, for example, is more violent (though not more murderous) than most of Europe and the U.S., notwithstanding her disarmed citizenry. Relatively gun-loving Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden have lower homicide rates than more restrictive France, Australia, the Netherlands, and, of course, the U.K. In the U.S., 20% of violent crimes had something to do with weapons, of which only one-third (7% overall) were firearms. Put another way, more than 90% of reported violence in America has nothing to do with guns.

Which brings us to mass murders.

These macabre eruptions of evil are more like terrorist attacks than “ordinary” violence. For one, they are aggressively premeditated around the law, with contingency plans. (The Columbine shooters brought bombs; the Aurora shooter booby-trapped his apartment.) Secondly, these tragedies, while increasing, are more societally disruptive than reflective of overall crime trends. Violent crime is at extraordinarily low levels, and more Americans die from lightning than mass shootings. Given that many of these massacres, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, were ultimately murder-suicides, it might be time to talk about mental health policy among our cultural issues. An assault weapon ban won’t stop tragedy. Preventing 1% of suicides would save more lives than were lost to mass-murdering lunatics in this entire deadly year.

Suicides, the majority of gun deaths, increased even as rates of gun homicide declined in the last decade. Waiting periods for gun purchases might prevent some deaths without denying the right to responsible gun-ownership. But such restrictions are, at best, only a marginal solution to a broader problem. Nearly half of suicides—which outnumber all homicides—are committed without guns. (Of the greater casualties from “unintentional injury”, fewer than 1% involve firearms.) It might be worth discerning why, for example, suicides appear concentrated in the West, Florida, Upper South (especially Appalachia), and parts of the Midwest but least prevalent in the Deep South (particularly, the Black Belt), Mid-Atlantic, southern New England, parts of California, South Texas, and other parts of the Midwest. Such an approach could be informative, politically viable, and effective. To be honest, I just don’t know.

The dark and maddening truth of the matter is that there are no simple resolutions to evil. Ignoring the politics, gun control is not a panacea and does not come without cost. More to the point, if long-time trends have been instructive in understanding the evolution of marriage (interracial and gay) and abortion law in America, they are also useful in understanding gun laws. In all likelihood, we’re not getting many more of them, sensible or otherwise, regardless of who is in office.

If I have touched a nerve, feel free to insult me, curse the Red States, and vomit bile on “American barbarism” while clinging to infographics of European statistics like postcards from the island of misfit policies that are not to be. But at the end of the day, the Second Amendment will outlive every futile paean for gun control. I want young, promising people to stop dying for no reason, and I don’t see how that cause will be won in the lost battles of yesteryear. Perhaps we can start by ending the insidious practice of immortalizing monsters.

Now is the time to find lasting solutions to underlying problems in our national culture of violence that go far beyond guns. I don’t know what such solutions will look like, but I hope we’re all open to thoughtful suggestions and humble reflection.