Frustration, Anger, Rage
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Frustration, Anger, Rage
AUG. 17, 2014
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages
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
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
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,
in California Water War
April 23, 2012
The New York Times
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
and FELICITY BARRINGER
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
in Protest Against a Prayer
January 26, 2012
The New York Times
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?,
After Tucson, Is the Anger
January 15, 2011
The New York Times
By MATT BAI
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
“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
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
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
By PAUL KRUGMAN
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
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
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
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
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
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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