Social media and mass murder

The mass shooting at Umpqua Community College was about more than guns. America has been flooded with guns for a long time.  What has changed to account for such massacres occurring with greater frequency?

I recently wrote:

One change may be the growth of social media, creating an online community to ease the loneliness of these mentally ill time bombs — and perhaps endorse their perverse fantasies. The community lets the killers know that after the deed, which usually includes their death, they will have lots of people following them.

That said, the access to deadly weapons by the mentally disturbed still plays a part.

Incredibly, guns have been turned into tools of therapy for the very people who shouldn’t get near them.

The bizarre parallel between the Umpqua and Newtown Elementary School mass killers is that both their mothers took them out shooting as some sort of crackpot bonding experience.  Both filled their homes with unsecured firearms.

And in both cases, the fathers were long out of the picture in the boys’ lives.

The boys were crazy, the mothers were crazy, and the culture is crazy.




Speaker wanted: Must smite Democrats

Aiming at Democrats, hitting us all
Aiming at Democrats, hitting us all

Some of it is political, of course, but the leading candidates have sold themselves as political warriors, the national interest be damned.

Jason Chaffetz:

We’re just not going to unilaterally raise the debt limit.

Ah, so putting America through another debt-ceiling fiasco is again on the table.

Kevin McCarthy:

Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?

I see, dragging America again and again through the details of that tragedy was mainly a campaign tactic.

Wonder what the conservatives’ new candidate, Daniel Webster, has in mind for us.





Bernie Sanders is perfect on gun control


Actually, Dems should follow Bernie Sanders on gun control
Actually, Democrats should follow Sanders on gun control

I quote Sanders from today’s New York Times:

you got a whole lot of states in this country where people want virtually no gun control at all. And if we are going to have some success, we are going to have to start talking to each other.”


Sanders is from Vermont, a hunting state with little gun crime. He now wisely supports closing the gun show loophole and banning assault weapons. And that’s about it.

The gun issue is complicated, as he says.   Democrats often err in alienating ordinary gun owners, leaving them in the hands of the National Rifle Association.

Hunters and anglers tend to be environmentalists. Many could be won over by Democrats, were it not for some liberals’ reflexive hostility toward gun ownership.

I recently spoke to some thoughtful journalists from the “hooks and bullets” press, in Bozeman, Montana. Some told me that they dislike the NRA and will not belong to it. But they also felt misunderstood by the outside, largely urban, media.

I’m not always Bernie’s No. 1 fan, but he’s right on this issue.





The New York Times ought to get out of New York more often

There are indeed gaps between the richest and poorest residents of New York City, and looking at both extremes, that gap is big.   But that’s by American standards.

The Pope is visiting East Harlem today to meet with the city’s Hispanic poor, but East Harlem is hardly a third world slum.  It is a bustling neighborhood filled with upwardly mobile, working-class people.

East Harlem
East Harlem

City-data shows that by several measures, East Harlem is only a little poorer than the rest of the city.  By some (education), it’s doing better.

So it seemed odd to read this passage in today’s New York Times:

Francis has often spoken about the dangers of unbridled capitalism, and throughout his tour of Manhattan, he will be confronted by the often head-snapping extremes of wealth and poverty that can be found across New York.

As Francis undoubtedly knows, this is extreme poverty:


This grinding poverty is what has driven so many Guatemalans and other Central Americans to New York City. Overwhelmingly hard-working, they will be part of the city’s next middle class.




Are Remote Bosses Too Cushioned to Care?

A reason for rising economic inequality that’s not exactly economic:

Factory owners and Main Street merchants used to live in the same town as the workers. Thus, there was a social price for treating employees shabbily.

Dodsworth looking at (and living near) the factory bearing his name (from the 1936 movie).
Dodsworth looking at (and living near) the factory bearing his name (from the 1936 movie).


In the gig (Uber) economy, the bosses don’t even set eyes on the people who work for them. In retailing, half a million workers are having their pay and benefits treated like any other economic input (electricity rates, borrowing costs) from Wal-Mart’s office park in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Uber world headquarters in San Francisco.

Former MIT economist Frank Levy says that in the decades after World War II, social pressures on the captains of industry account led to a golden age for the American worker. That’s gone.

The bosses are now living in enclaves with other bosses who measure excellence in terms of personal net worth.



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The best plants in life are free

I want to thank all of you who took the initiative to grow by yourselves.

Every summer I’m on my hands and knees begging some of your fancier friends to flourish. You, however, sprout, leaf, flower and fruit without making demands on me.

Roll call, please:

Moonflower rises over the tomatoes
Moonflower rises over the tomatoes

Moonflower, take a curtsy.  I bought you, you gorgeous white flower, years ago, but every summer you come back and multiply.  This year you outdid yourself, appearing behind one of the tomato plants.

I have no idea how you got there.





A tomato plant with initiative



Let’s light up the “applause” sign for tomato volunteer.  I think you’re a Cherokee purple.  In any case, every spring some of you guys (seeded by a fruit that splattered the previous fall) turn up and produce without my asking.

I thank you.


A clematis that gives and gives
A clematis that gives and gives

All hail, Clematis paniculata. I planted you about 15 years ago, and every September you bloom with abundance without my prompting.  You smell good, too.


Some weeds are welcome
Some weeds are welcome





Finally, welcome to my world,  yellow weed.  I have no idea who you are.  You …

Liberals should rethink their love for Bernie Sanders

There are good reasons not to love Bernie Sanders

Barack Obama has one of the finest progressive records of any president in modern history. He pulled America out of a Wall Street-induced economic coma, pushed through universal health coverage and rolled back Bush tax cuts favoring the rich. And he did he did this against a solid wall of Republican opposition.

But even if my opinion of Obama were not so high, I’d still be scandalized at the nasty racial attacks launched against him by Bernie Sanders’ stage mate, Professor Cornel West. I don’t care that West is himself African-American.

West called Obama

a Rockefeller Republican in blackface.

a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs

a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.

Sanders’ campaign manager defended West as “a forceful voice for understanding the intersection of racial justice and economic justice.”

Good lord.  And they wonder why Bernie isn’t connecting with black voters.

Sanders is so cocooned in movement politics that he has little concept of what others outside his narrow ideological bandwidth are hearing.

His self-righteousness turned him into a marginal and ineffectual figure in the Senate.  Even Democrats couldn’t work with him. No less a liberal than Barney Frank bemoaned Sanders’ “holier-than-thou attitude.”

Bernie’s ardent fans ought to take another look.

Here’s my column:


Replace parents with gadgets at the dinner table?

Honestly, I didn’t intend to lower the boom on Yumit with so much passion.  But this to-be-launched device for enticing the little ones to eat their vegetables pushed one button too many.

As reported on, Yumit is basically a system for rewarding children who eat their vegetables with video games.  It’s basically a place setting perched on a scale that registers when food has been removed from the plate. At a certain point light-emitting diodes placed around the plate turn from white to green indicating that the kid has won more screen time.

From the promotion:

Eating alone, while feeding a database
Eating alone, while feeding a database


This basically replaces the parental instruction on proper eating — the sort of thing best learned at the family dinner table.  The last thing kids need is more time staring at screens. The second to last thing they need is the added distraction of flashing lights during dinner.

My full thoughts: