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Frustration, Anger, Rage





Illustration: Keith Negley


Who Gets to Be Angry?


JUNE 10, 2016

















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Corpus of news articles


Beliefs, Emotions, Feelings, Mindset, Mood >


Frustration, Anger, Rage




Frustration in Ferguson

AUG. 17, 2014

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Columnist

Charles M. Blow


The response to the killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown — whom his family called the “gentle giant” — by the Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson — who was described by his police chief as “a gentle, quiet man” and “a gentleman” — has been anything but genteel.

There have been passionate but peaceful protests to be sure, but there has also been some violence and looting. Police forces in the town responded with an outlandish military-like presence more befitting Baghdad than suburban Missouri.

There were armored vehicles, flash grenades and a seemingly endless supply of tear gas — much of it Pentagon trickle-down. There were even officers perched atop vehicles, in camouflage and body armor, pointing weapons in the direction of peaceful protesters.

Let me be clear here: Pointing a gun at an innocent person is an act of violence and provocation.

Americans were aghast at the images, and condemnation was swift and bipartisan. The governor put the state’s Highway Patrol in charge of security. Tensions seemed to subside, for a day.

But then on Friday, when releasing the name of the officer who did the shooting, the police chief also released details and images of a robbery purporting to show Brown stealing cigars from a local convenience store and pushing a store employee in the process.

The implication seemed to be that Wilson was looking for the person who committed the convenience store crime when he encountered Brown. But, later in the day, the chief said Wilson didn’t know Brown was a robbery suspect when they encountered each other.

Something seemed off. The police chief’s decision to release the details of the robbery and the images — without releasing an image of Wilson — struck many as perfidious. In a strongly worded statement, Brown’s family and attorneys accused the chief of attempting to assassinate the character of the dead teen.

Some also deemed it an attempt at distraction from the central issue: An officer shot an unarmed teenager who witnesses claim had raised his hands in surrender when at least some of the shots were fired, which the family and its attorneys called “a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.”

The Justice Department is even investigating whether Brown’s civil rights were violated. This would include the excessive use of force. As the department makes clear, this “does not require that any racial, religious, or other discriminatory motive existed.”

It’s impossible to truly know the chief’s motives for his decision to release the robbery information at the same time as the officer’s name, but the effect was clear: That night, a fragile peace was shattered. There was more looting, although peaceful protesters struggled heroically to block the violent ones.

On Saturday, the governor issued a midnight curfew for the town. A small band of protesters defied it and some were arrested.

The community is struggling to find its way back to normalcy, but it would behoove us to dig a bit deeper into the underlying frustrations that cause a place like Ferguson to erupt in the first place and explore the untenable nature of our normal.
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story

Yes, there are the disturbingly repetitive and eerily similar circumstances of many cases of unarmed black people being killed by police officers. This reinforces black people’s beliefs — supportable by actual data — that blacks are treated less fairly by the police.

But I submit that this is bigger than that. The frustration we see in Ferguson is about not only the present act of perceived injustice but also the calcifying system of inequity — economic, educational, judicial — drawn largely along racial lines.

In 1951, Langston Hughes began his poem “Harlem” with a question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” Today, I must ask: What happens when one desists from dreaming, when the very exercise feels futile?

The discussion about issues in the black community too often revolves around a false choice: systemic racial bias or poor personal choices. In fact, these factors are interwoven like the fingers of clasped hands. People make choices within the context of their circumstances and those circumstances are affected — sometimes severely — by bias.

These biases do material damage as well as help breed a sense of disenfranchisement and despair, which in turn can have a depressive effect on aspiration and motivation. This all feeds back on itself.

If we want to truly address the root of the unrest in Ferguson, we have to ask ourselves how we can break this cycle.

Otherwise, Hughes’s last words of “Harlem,” referring to the dream deferred, will continue to be prophetic: “does it explode?”

A version of this op-ed appears in print

on August 18, 2014,

on page A19 of the New York edition

with the headline: Frustration in Ferguson.

Frustration in Ferguson,






Fees and Anger Rise

in California Water War


April 23, 2012

The New York Times




SAN DIEGO — There are accusations of conspiracies, illegal secret meetings and double-dealing. Embarrassing documents and e-mails have been posted on an official Web site emblazoned with the words “Fact vs. Fiction.” Animosities have grown so deep that the players have resorted to exchanging lengthy, caustic letters, packed with charges of lying and distortion.

And it is all about water.

Water is a perennial source of conflict and anxiety throughout the arid West, but it has a particular resonance here in the deserts of Southern California. This is a place where major thoroughfares are named after water engineers (Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles) and literary essays (“Holy Water” by Joan Didion, for instance) and films (“Chinatown”) have been devoted to its power and mystique.

Yet in the nearly 80 years since the Arizona National Guard was called out to defend state waters against dam-building Californians, there has been little to rival the feud now under way between San Diego’s water agency and the consortium of municipalities that provides water to 19 million customers in Southern California. This contentious and convoluted battle seems more akin to a tough political campaign than a fight between bureaucrats, albeit one with costly consequences.

At issue is San Diego’s longstanding contention that it has been bullied by a gang of its neighbors in the consortium, able by virtue of their number to force the county to pay exorbitant fees for water. The consortium two weeks ago imposed two back-to-back 5 percent annual water rate increases on San Diego — scaled down, after strong protests, from what were originally set to be back-to-back increases of 7.5 percent a year.

The battle is being fought in the courts — a judge in San Francisco is struggling to untangle a welter of conflicting claims from the two sides — but also on the Internet. San Diego officials have created a sleek Web site to carry their argument to the public, posting 500 pages of documents they obtained through public records requests to discredit the other side.

And they might have struck oil, as it were, unearthing documents and e-mails replete with references to the “anti-San Diego coalition” and “a Secret Society,” and no matter that the purported conspirators contend that they were just being jocular.

“There is a lot of frustration,” said Jerry Sanders, the mayor of San Diego, who has watched from the sidelines as the independent San Diego Water Authority waged its wars. “It’s been building over the years.”

Asked about the tactics, Mr. Sanders demurred. “Whether they are effective or not, I’ll leave that to other people to judge.”

If nothing else, the fight is an entertaining diversion from the kind of bland bureaucratic infighting that usually characterizes these kinds of disputes.

Dennis A. Cushman, the assistant general manager of the San Diego authority, said it posted the documents — and asked a judge to force the disclosure of a ream of other private e-mails and documents — so beleaguered water consumers “could see how the business of water in California is actually done.”

“We had suspicions about what was going on,” Mr. Cushman said. “We were shocked by the depth and scope and the level of sophistication of what was going on.”

“It’s not done in public,” he said. “It’s done out of public view. The meetings aren’t open. They are designed to expressly exclude the agency they are discriminating against.”

Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the regional water consortium, described the charges as “nonsense,” saying that the meetings that Mr. Cushman had deemed illegal did not fall under the state’s open meetings laws. He described the campaign against his organization — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, also known by the acronym M.W.D. — as unlike anything he had seen.

“It sounds like a political campaign, and hiring political consultants to run it for them strikes me as a new level of activity I haven’t seen before in public service,” he said.

“It just seems to me to have a different tenor and tone than before,” he said. “The idea of bandying about secret-society issues, talking about ‘the truth about M.W.D.’ strikes me as unprofessional and does a disservice to the public.”

Kevin P. Hunt, the general manager of the water district of Orange County, said he was taken aback at the suggestion that some kind of plot was afoot. “It would be funny if it hadn’t created such a furor,” he said. “It was a bunch of guys and gals getting together to do their work. It’s all in the spin you put on it — calling it a ‘secret society’ and making it sound like a cabal. I didn’t even know what a cabal was.”

The case ultimately will be determined in a state court in San Francisco. At issue is how much the district should be charging San Diego to use the district’s pipes to transport water the county bought elsewhere. (San Diego officials have made a concerted effort to expand the sources of their water over the years — including a long-contested, substantial transfer of Colorado River water from inland farmers — so they are not as reliant on the district as they once were).

San Diego has four seats on the district’s 37-member board, and there is little incentive for other communities to entertain San Diego’s argument: When San Diego pays less, everyone else pays more.

Mr. Cushman said that the district had come to view San Diego as “its golden egg.”

Still, even supporters of San Diego’s actions suggest that all accusations may ultimately be little more than a sideshow.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” said Lani Lutar, the president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “They are already pursuing the lawsuit. Those are ratepayer dollars being spent and all of the advertising. Is that necessary? The lawsuit is going to resolve the matter. The P.R. stunt has taken it too far.”

San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the country, and this part of California gets 10 inches of rain a year, on average. And this city is at the end of two long water transport systems.

“We’ve always had end-of-pipeline paranoia,” said Lester Snow, the executive director of the California Water Foundation and a former head of both the San Diego and state water agencies. “It is often just physical — the pipeline crosses earthquake faults and anything that happens bad anywhere can affect us.”

The long history has left San Diego with what seems to be a permanent sense of grievance. But Mr. Snow said that this represented a new level of animosity. “The current dispute has gone way beyond a rate-increase dispute,” he said.

Fees and Anger Rise in California Water War,






Student Faces Town’s Wrath

in Protest Against a Prayer


January 26, 2012

The New York Times



CRANSTON, R.I. — She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group. The group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

“I was amazed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which is based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 from support and scholarship funds. “We haven’t seen a case like this in a long time, with this level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing.”

The prayer, eight feet tall, is papered onto the wall in the Cranston West auditorium, near the stage. It has hung there since 1963, when a seventh grader wrote it as a sort of moral guide and that year’s graduating class presented it as a gift. It was a year after a landmark Supreme Court ruling barring organized prayer in public schools.

“Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer begins, “grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful.” It goes on for a few more lines before concluding with “Amen.”

For Jessica, who was baptized in the Catholic Church but said she stopped believing in God at age 10, the prayer was an affront. “It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here,’ ” she said the other night during an interview at a Starbucks here.

Since the ruling, the prayer has been covered with a tarp. The school board has indicated it will announce a decision on an appeal next month.

A friend brought the prayer to Jessica’s attention in 2010, when she was a high school freshman. She said nothing at first, but before long someone else — a parent who remained anonymous — filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union. That led the Cranston school board to hold hearings on whether to remove the prayer, and Jessica spoke at all of them. She also started a Facebook page calling for the prayer’s removal (it now has almost 4,000 members) and began researching Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious freedom.

Last March, at a rancorous meeting that Judge Ronald R. Lagueux of United States District Court in Providence described in his ruling as resembling “a religious revival,” the school board voted 4-3 to keep the prayer. Some members said it was an important piece of the school’s history; others said it reflected secular values they held dear.

The Rhode Island chapter of the A.C.L.U. then asked Jessica if she would serve as a plaintiff in a lawsuit; it was filed the next month.

New England is not the sort of place where battles over the division of church and state tend to crop up. It is the least religious region of the country, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But Rhode Island is an exception: it is the nation’s most Catholic state, and dust-ups over religion are not infrequent. Just last month, several hundred people protested at the Statehouse after Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, lighted what he called a “holiday tree.”

In Cranston, the police said they would investigate some of the threatening comments posted on Twitter against Jessica, some of which came from students at the high school. Pat McAssey, a senior who is president of the student council, said the threats were “completely inexcusable” but added that Jessica had upset some of her classmates by mocking religion online.

“Their frustration kind of came from that,” he said.

Many alumni this week said they did not remember the prayer from their high school days but felt an attachment to it nonetheless.

“I am more of a constitutionalist but find myself strangely on the other side of this,” said Donald Fox, a 1985 graduate of Cranston West. “The prayer banner espouses nothing more than those values which we all hope for our children, no matter what school they attend or which religious background they hail from.”

Brittany Lanni, who graduated from Cranston West in 2009, said that no one had ever been forced to recite the prayer and called Jessica “an idiot.”

“If you don’t believe in that,” she said, “take all the money out of your pocket, because every dollar bill says, ‘In God We Trust.’ ”

Raymond Santilli, whose family owns one of the flower shops that refused to deliver to Jessica, said he declined for safety reasons, knowing the controversy around the case. People from around the world have called to support or attack his decision, which he said he stood by. But of Jessica, he said, “I’ve got a daughter, and I hope my daughter is as strong as she is, O.K.?”

Jessica said she had stopped believing in God when she was in elementary school and her mother fell ill for a time.

“I had always been told that if you pray, God will always be there when you need him,” she said. “And it didn’t happen for me, and I doubted it had happened for anybody else. So yeah, I think that was just like the last step, and after that I just really didn’t believe any of it.”

Does she empathize in any way with members of her community who want the prayer to stay?

“I’ve never been asked this before,” she said. A pause, and then: “It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to. It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too.”


Jen McCaffery contributed reporting.

Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer,






Angry Britain:

why are we becoming so intolerant?

From racist outbursts on public transport
to comedians baiting strikers
and disabled people, there's an ugly mood in the air.
What's making us increasingly cranky
about our fellow citizens?
And is there any cure for this modern malaise?


Tuesday 6 December 2011
20.00 GMT
Hugh Muir
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 20.00 GMT on Tuesday 6 December 2011.
A version appeared on p6 of the G2 section
of the Guardian on Wednesday 7 December 2011.
It was last modified at 00.05 GMT
on Wednesday 7 December 2011.


There is a film that is never discussed when people talk about the classics of Hollywood – and with good reason – but nonetheless, The Crazies provides a brief diversion. The 1973 horror flick, directed by George A Romero, is set in anytown USA, a homogenous, god-fearing, God Bless America kind of place. An American version of Midsomer – minus the murders. And the premise is that things go haywire when someone dastardly puts a little something in the water.

Suddenly, strait-laced types start cursing and fighting. Scores are settled. People who want stuff just start taking it. Repressed attractions spring into public view and, as part of that, there's a fleeting, comic glimpse of horny neighbours humping in the high street. A thin veneer disintegrates. What lies beneath?

Britain in December 2011 feels a bit like that place. Nothing to do with the privatised water companies, I'm sure, but for whatever reason, it does feel as if the safety catch has developed a fault, as if the car is on a slope and someone has disengaged the handbrake.

There is an element of devil-may-care to the way we treat each other. You see it on the streets, in supermarkets, on public transport, hear it on the talk shows, read it on the internet threads. Go on to YouTube: three instances now of apparently ratty women berating fellow passengers on the public transport network. Emma West, from Croydon, south London, faces criminal charges for an alleged racially aggravated public order offence. The matter will now be decided by a court. The two others were posted subsequently, with more scenes of acrid cabaret. Women letting rip with barely concealed indecency, broadcasting to all who failed to tune them out that there are just too many foreigners. If that is not enough for you, read the online comments beneath the videos – note the rancourous tone of those who do battle, both for and against. Disregard the contributions from the far right; no one expects decency from them anyway. It is the aggression from those who might see themselves as middle of the road that is worthy of note.

Consider what we say these days to get a laugh. Jeremy Clarkson knows his audience and it is a large, enduring, loyal one that has made him very rich. What would you do to striking nurses? "I'd shoot them," says the jester for our times, and he is unapologetic until the furore threatens his bottom line and forces an apology. Even then, contrition is only partial. People who kill themselves by jumping under trains play havoc with the schedules, complains Clarkson.

Ricky Gervais is even more successful than the Top Gear presenter, a big wheel in Britain and a feted talent in the US. He sees humour in a phrase associated with Down's syndrome. Many object, but still many are with him. We love the comedian Jimmy Carr; it's a big time for him, with DVDs ready for the Christmas market. He also has top stuff about Down's and zingers about wounded British soldiers.

What do we like on the telly? Reality shows, the louder and coarser the better. Shows highlighting celebrities desperate for cash or attention – or both – and therefore willing to debase themselves.

Think about football. The England captain John Terry, ignominious with his fate in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service amid disputed claims that he called Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers a "black cunt". Football, always a pressure cooker, continually reveals much of what lies beneath. While the judicial authorities ponder Terry's case, the Premier League wonders what to do about Luis Suárez of Liverpool, who may or may not have racially abused Patrice Evra of Manchester United during a high-profile fixture. This despite all the efforts over several years of campaigns such as the anti-racist Kick It Out initiative. The big boys lead by example. Muslim players with beards who turn out in the lower leagues go prepared each week for the likelihood that someone will try to provoke them by calling them "Bin Laden".

Think about schools, where an ebullient, engaging New Zealand-born teacher called Suran Dickson has felt moved to leave her job and launch a charity to try to curb the worrying incidence of homophobic bullying in our schools, where terms such as "gay boy" and "homo" are playground missiles of choice. Where do these attitudes come from, I asked her the other day. Mostly their parents, she said.

If someone hasn't taken the handbrake off – facilitating a slow but steady decline towards grouchiness and intolerance and not a little meanness – it certainly feels like it.

How did we get here? There are many theories from which to take your pick. An obvious one is money. For the past decade we had a lot. Or at least, with plastic prevalent, it felt as if we had an unlimited supply. Now we know better, and we don't like it. The prime minister says we are all in this together, but no one believes him. The immediate landscape looks rocky for most people, and, beyond it, the going looks increasingly impassable. Wages cut, jobs lost, services run down, disillusionment with the establishment and the political class; little wonder people are cross. And, as we know, angry people behave badly.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health and pro vice chancellor at Lancaster University, says we are witnessing "an exercise in civic frustration" – hard times cause fear and insecurity. "People feel financial insecurity, job insecurity," he says. "They don't even trust the health service. They feel social insecurity and project it on to other people. They can't get angry at the government or the bankers or economists or the NHS, so they take it out on others they can get to."

He is surprised to one extent, he says. "I am an American and I have lived here for 30 years but I don't quite understand what is happening. In the US, they blame a lot when things go wrong and go over the top when things go right – so you have Steve Jobs, for example, as a hero for our lifetime. Here one expects something different. What is happening is the opposite of the 'Dunkirk spirit'. There is a lot of blame culture and I think it is rather sad. It's cathartic for people personally, but it doesn't solve the problem; in fact, it makes things worse by creating negativity. Maybe if things do actually get worse, that Dunkirk spirit will kick in."

But there is something else that has less to do with money and more to do with politics. That cannot be blamed on the vagaries of the financial system or voracious brokers selling mortgages to people who cannot afford them. This was not foisted upon us; this was a choice. Two years ago, amid the deafening clamour of complaints about the scourge of "political correctness" – wails and lamentations from a crew diverse enough to include David Cameron, PD James and Cliff Richard – I wrote a piece for the Guardian site Comment is Free pointing out that those who complained of being silenced by political correctness were usually the ones who enjoyed a platform to make politically incorrect pronouncements, much like errant schoolboys hurling stink bombs into public places. I posed the question: "What would they be like without a handbrake?"

The thesis bears repeating. "Political correctness has become the complaint of choice for those who don't like their world; for men who fear their positions are being eroded by women, white people who fear too much attention is being paid to non-white people, minorities jealous of other minorities, non-disabled folk who can't see why buses should have wheelchair ramps, tall people who fear short people. It embraces everything. It means nothing."

Which was true, but that did not mean it was without value. As a concept to be built up by the right and then knocked down, "political correctness" was pretty useful. It gave a disparate battalion of the aggrieved something to rally round. They fought the fight, and any honest evaluation would have to conclude that they have been pretty successful. Anything that smacks of being PC – including moves against racism, sexism, gender discrimination or homophobia – risks being confronted by the right as just another example of the old discredited orthodoxy.

There was a battle of ideas. And, the war itself is not over. But for now, they have won. And the result is a country that is a bit less civil, a bit more selfish, a bit more reckless over the sensitivities of others. This was inevitable. Those who argued against the boundaries they perceived as part and parcel of political correctness and railed against equalities cannot credibly complain about the scratchiness and volatility of life with the handbrake off. They fought long and hard to disengage it. People such as the honourable member for Shipley, Philip Davies, parliamentary mouthpiece for the Campaign Against Political Correctness, who has been seeking to tie up the Equalities Commission with inane questions, the better to make his political point. His puzzlers include: "The Black Police Association. Isn't that racist?"; "Is it OK to black up one's face?"; "Is it racist for a policeman to refer to a BMW as 'black man's wheels'?"

Let's have a shout out for the Tory MP Matthew Hancock, who apologised for the last government's Equalities Act to businessmen at a fringe debate at last year's Conservative party conference – the act was aimed at outlawing discrimination in the workplace. You can rely on us to undermine it, he said. And then there is Peter Davies, father of Philip. He was elected in Doncaster for the English Democrats, pledging to sweep away all vestiges of political correctness. He discovered on the morning after his election that much of what he had promised to do was probably illegal.

All did their bit. For all that, life without the social handbrake and the decency so often denounced as political correctness does not seem to have made them any happier. No one has benefited from it, really.

Linda Bellos, chair of the Institute of Equalities and Diversity Practitioners, says the problem is not a large group of people, but an atmosphere created by a small group of people, which has an impact upon everybody. "They have made it OK. There has been a period in our recent social history in which it was not acceptable to say certain things, but now people feel they have the authority," she says. "We are entitled to think what we like about each other. We have freedom to think. But morally, we do not have unfettered freedom of expression. There are things we can say but don't. People think it is OK to speak ignorance and hatred. They think they have the green light."

The authority, claims Bellos, comes from the top. "If you look at much of the rhetoric about taking back powers from Europe, for example, much of the legislation being described refers to equalities. When ministers speak about it, they are using a kind of code."

We are free societies, with freedom of speech and the right to offend, but all civilised societies need some kind of handbrake. The alternative is Lord of the Flies spanning several continents. Our main brake is the law and the judicial system, but before things reach that stage there is just us, making hundreds of micro-decisions each day about how we view and treat our fellow citizens.

Perhaps, as Cooper suggests, there is a cultural element here. Some societies are known to be faster and louder and brasher and less forgiving than others, as many people find when first they arrive in London, and any Londoner discovers when making the adjustment to life in Manhattan. There is a spectrum embracing, at one end, those countries where the general culture seems relatively gentle and, at the other, those that require a strong nerve and a flak jacket. We had a particular place on the spectrum. One senses that we have moved.

What to do? Well, the first thing to understand is that the handbrake that has been disengaged can be reapplied. There is a sense of right and wrong within the British psyche. The ratty YouTube women may have held centre stage, but it is worth noting that, in each case, their outbursts were challenged. Some may have agreed with the view that the country is overrun with migrants, but one could do that and still feel outrage at the way these people chose to behave.

We bait celebrities and other masochists who volunteer for televised humiliation, but at some point there is always a public row about degradation. We err, we stray, but we know we have a default position and we retain a rough idea of where it is. John Terry holds a high-profile role representing his country, but when the allegations surfaced, he found himself the subject of police inquiries and a candidate for prosecution. One wonders if the captain of a national team would have endured such public criticism for a sin of alleged racism if that nation were Italy or Spain.

And that is a point worth ending on. For even if things do seem to be unravelling a bit, this is a still a small island nation that strives, with some success, to fuse the destinies of people who have been here for hundreds of years with those of people who arrived yesterday. People with all sorts of complexions, all kinds of lifestyles; people with strong religious beliefs, people with none. We live together in cities, not in silos. We tend not to pry, but, if needed, we try to help. We try to live and let live. There are problems – the events of a turbulent summer and all we learned from those who were involved show that. There are serious challenges. But given the potential for division and societal dysfunction, the record is pretty good. It is right to take stock, and hopefully we will return to equilibrium, emerging a little less cranky. Still, the UK with the handbrake off remains a better place to be than many others with the handbrake firmly engaged.

Angry Britain: why are we becoming so intolerant?, G, 6.12.2011,






After Tucson, Is the Anger Gone?


January 15, 2011
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — For anyone who hoped that the tragedy in Tucson might jolt the political class into some new period of civility and reflection, suddenly subduing all the radio ranters and acid bloggers, the days that followed brought a cold reality.

Within hours of the shooting rampage that killed six and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords, liberals were accusing conservatives of inciting the violence, and conservatives were accusing liberals of exploiting the actions of a madman.

In what may have been his most emotional speech since the 2008 campaign, President Obama registered his own disappointment, pleading with all sides for temperance. “What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” the president said in his Tucson eulogy. “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.”

If the shooting didn’t feel like the turning point in the civic life of the nation that some of us had imagined it might become, then it may be because such turning points aren’t always immediately evident. Or maybe it’s because the murder suspect appeared to have no obvious ideology, his crime an imperfect parable for the consequences of political rhetoric.

Perhaps, though, we have to consider another explanation — that the speed and fractiousness of our modern society make it all but impossible now for any one moment to transform the national debate.

Not all historians accept the idea of transformational moments, which, they point out, may seem neater and more definitive in retrospect than they were at the time. But others are inclined to see the American story as a series of crescendos and climaxes, periods of mounting internal strife that are resolved, or at least recast, by crystallizing moments.

Beverly Gage, who teaches 20th-century history at Yale, points to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by union activists in 1910, which provoked a national debate on workers’ rights. In the aftermath, President William Howard Taft created a national commission to investigate tensions in the workplace, and many of its reforms, including the eight-hour workday, were eventually adopted.

Professor Gage also cites the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The South had endured its share of martyrdom before then, but the killing of four young girls in a church basement was more than even casually engaged Americans could stomach. “That actually became a moment when everyone took a step back and asked if there was something wrong in the country that was causing this,” she says.

Not all transformational moments entail violence. John Lewis Gaddis, the pre-eminent cold war scholar and Yale professor, sees a national turning point in 1954, when Senator Joseph McCarthy testified before a Senate subcommittee in what came to be known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

The interrogation of McCarthy by Joseph Welch, an Army lawyer — “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” — resonated throughout a country that was just then discovering the nascent power of television. Years of ruinous disagreement over the threat of internal Communism seemed to dissipate almost overnight.

“The whole McCarthy moment — the air just went out of it altogether,” Professor Gaddis says. “McCarthy was politically dead at that point and physically dead in three years.”

Of course, this kind of shift is probably never so apparent in real time. It may be that in 50 years, historians will look back at the last week and say that a long period of shrill, fear-inducing politics and escalating vituperation, which seemed to paralyze our politics at a time when we could little afford the inaction, began to fade at last as a horrified nation buried a 9-year-old girl and prayed for a congresswoman to wiggle her toes.

There are good reasons to think, though, that such defining moments are simply relics of our past, like air raid drills and loyalty oaths. There was a brief time, after 168 people were killed in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, when it seemed that all the extremism on the right had been deflated. But the impact of the blast receded so quickly from memory that Michael Kazin, a Georgetown historian, says a lot of his students today had never heard of it.

Not even the terrorist attacks of 2001, which surely rank high among the most jarring events in American history, did much to unify the society in any lasting way. The collapse of the World Trade Center towers had immediate and significant consequences for the nation’s foreign policy, but any sense of common purpose had more or less vanished by the next year’s elections, when Republicans slammed their Democratic opponents —including Max Cleland, a man who lost three of his limbs fighting in Vietnam — as insufficiently patriotic.

It may just be that modern society is impervious to brilliant flashes of clarity. A century ago, news traveled slowly enough for Americans to absorb and evaluate it; today’s events are almost instantaneously digested and debated, in a way that makes even the most cataclysmic event feel temporal. The stunning massacre at point-blank range at a Sun Belt strip plaza is at least partially eclipsed, within a few days, by Sarah Palin’s “blood libel” comment and the outrage of Jewish groups. And onward we go.

Unlike Americans in the television age, who shared the common ritual of watching an Ed Sullivan or a Walter Cronkite at the same hour every night, modern Americans increasingly customize their information, picking up radically different perspectives from whichever sources they trust — Fox News or MSNBC, Newsmax or Huffington Post. There is very little shared experience in the nation now; there are only competing versions of the experience, consumed in such a way as to confirm whatever preconceptions you already have, rather than to make you reflect on them.

“You wonder what it would take for a comment like the one Joe Welch made to really sink in in the current environment,” Professor Gaddis says. “Everything that anyone says is immediately spun. And I mean spun in a political sense, but also in the sense of a washing machine, so that the meaning really gets bled out.”

None of which is to argue that the country and its dialogue can’t be reshaped by events. But it may mean updating our theory of fundamental change to rely more on the power of cumulative, smaller revelations, rather than singular, transformational ones. Perhaps the modern society just changes more grudgingly and more gradually than it did before.

By the end of last week, after all, there were some positive signs amid the recrimination. Roger Ailes, the Fox News Channel’s combative president and a pioneer of personally injurious politics, said he had called on his anchors and reporters to “shut up” and “tone it down.” Democrats in the Senate were pushing for a new seating arrangement for the upcoming State of the Union address that would force the two parties to intermingle — a symbolic gesture, to be sure, but one that would present a different kind of visual to a public weary of division.

They were tiny steps in the right direction. And even as the shots in Tucson still echo, that may be all any of us can really expect.

After Tucson, Is the Anger Gone?,






The Angry Rich


September 19, 2010

The New York imes



Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they’re out for revenge.

No, I’m not talking about the Tea Partiers. I’m talking about the rich.

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.

Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts — will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? — the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.

For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.

At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.

Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.

These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don’t really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.

And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.

And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people.

The Angry Rich,






Mom, 2 Kids Hurt

in LA Road Rage Crash


October 11, 2007

Filed at 12:36 a.m. ET

The New York Times



LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A road-rage crash critically injured a mother and her two small children, who were crushed between parked cars, police said Wednesday.

Two men were booked for investigation of attempted murder in connection with the crash Tuesday in the San Fernando Valley.

The drivers of a black Nissan Maxima and a red Chevrolet Camaro got into a dispute shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Van Nuys area and began racing and weaving along city streets at 50 mph to 90 mph, police said.

The cars were ''cutting each other off, they were jockeying for position,'' Detective Bill Butos said. ''They were tapping on the brakes, one of the vehicles was tapping on the brakes, trying to cause the other vehicle to ram into the vehicle.''

In Reseda, the Camaro slammed on its brakes and the Nissan tried to avoid it and hit a parked car, Officer Jason Lee said.

A 31-year-old woman and her two children were smashed between parked cars.

Police did not release their names. However, relatives identified the woman as Syeda Arif.

The woman was in critical condition Wednesday at a hospital.

''She has lost one leg and the other leg is, unfortunately, crushed. They're trying to save that,'' Lee said.

Her 4-year-old son was hospitalized on life support and his 8 1/2-month old sister was hospitalized in critical condition, Lee said.

Witnesses said the younger child was ''launched into the air and slammed against a tree, '' police Capt. Ron Marbrey said.

Arif's husband, Amir Arif, told KCAL-TV that his son had massive brain damage.

''It's a matter of time that doctor will take out his life support ... my son dies,'' he said.

The Nissan driver, Armando Gamboa Ayon, 19, of Pacoima, was arrested at the scene and the Camaro's driver, Brian Barnes, 44, of Northridge, later surrendered at a police station. Both were booked for investigation of attempted murder and held on bail of $1.5 million each, police said.

''That could change if the 4-year-old ends up dying. It would be a murder charge,'' Lee said.

There was no answer at a phone number listed for a Brian Barnes in Northridge Wednesday evening. There was no listing for Gamboa Ayon in Pacoima or the surrounding area.

The crash was ''entirely senseless, entirely the basis of two individuals that got into a contest of wills, if you will, over nothing more than a common traffic dispute ... over nothing more than whose car is on the roadway in front of the other person,'' Deputy Chief Michael Moore said.

Mom, 2 Kids Hurt in LA Road Rage Crash,
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