Monday, June 27, 2016

George Will comes to his senses

"Make sure he loses.” — George Will

MANY OF you may have already heard about conservative mainstay George Will bailing from the Republican Party

What took you so long, George

From NBC News:

Conservative Columnist George Will Leaves Republican Party Over Trump

By Elisha Fieldstadt
June 25, 2016

Conservative columnist George Will says he's changed his party affiliation, and during a speech urged Republicans not to vote for presumptive party nominee Donald Trump.

"This is not my party," Will reportedly said Friday during a luncheon held by the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian organization.

Will, a longtime Washington Post columnist, Fox News contributor and former Ronald Reagan campaign worker, said House Speaker Paul Ryan's endorsement of Trump was one reason he decided to leave the GOP according to PJ Media, a conservative website.

In an interview after the event in Washington, D.C., Will told PJ Media's Nicholas Ballasy that he had recently registered as an unaffiliated voter in Maryland.

He said Republicans should refrain from supporting the real estate mogul.

"Make sure he loses," Will said, acknowledging that he thinks it's too late for the GOP to come up with another candidate but they can "grit their teeth for four years, and then win the White House."

NBC News reached out to Will for further comment.

In his most recent column, Will similarly wrote that Republicans "can save their party by not aiding its nominee."

"Trump's campaign has less cash ($1.3 million) than some congressional candidates have, so Republican donors have never been more important than they are at this moment," he wrote.

Will has been critical of Trump since the early days of his campaign, and Trump has responded on Twitter by calling the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist "boring" and "biased." He also called him a "major loser" on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in May.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Officially, the cutest kitten there ever was

“A kitten is, in the animal world, what a rosebud is in the garden.” ― Robert Sowthey

SO MUCH going on in the world. Can't wait to write about Brexit, and I've never finished telling you about Memphis.

But tonight, it's the cutest kitten in the whole wide world. The video is below the still shot. (FYI: I always put a picture in because if I don't, when I share this on Facebook, you end up with a picture of me.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Let's all move to Hawaii

“Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.” — Paul Theroux, American travel writer and novelist

SERIOUSLY, let's move to Hawaii. It's a tropical paradise to begin with, and now all gun owners in Hawaii are to be entered into an FBI database. I know!!!

And . . . wait for it . . . persons convicted of stalking or sexual assault are banned from possessing guns or ammunition. I'm not even kidding!! Be still my heart!!

If you can't move there, let's reward the state by spending our tourist dollars there.

At minimum, Governor David Ige deserves to be commended for being humane, rational and politically courageous. 

Below the short, Associated Press article from NBC News, I've added a link to contact Governor Ige, and I've included the email addresses of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Let's tell them that as attractive as the beautiful Hawaiian Islands already were, they're even more so now. 

Hawaii Governor Signs Bill Putting Gun Owners in Database

By The Associated Press

June 23, 2016 

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (EE'-gay) is signing a bill that makes the state the first to enter gun owners into an FBI database that will automatically notify police if an island resident is arrested anywhere else in the country.

Ige said in a statement Thursday the legislation is about community safety and responsible gun ownership. He says it will help law enforcement agencies protect Hawaii residents and visitors.

State Sen. Will Espero, who introduced the bill, and the Honolulu Police Department say the measure could serve as a model for other states. 

Ige also signed legislation that disqualifies perpetrators of stalking or sex assault from owning or possessing a gun or ammunition.

Contact Governor Davi Ige

Email the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

Email the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Who's doing the killing and where

"Moments ago, the US Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence — nothing at all. Over two years, when i was shot point-blank in the head, the US Senate chose to do nothing. Four months ago, 20 first-graders lost their lives in a brutal attack on their school, and US Senate chose to do nothing. It's clear to me that if members of the US Senate refuse to change the laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the US Senate." — Gabby Giffords

MY POST from two days ago demonstrates the correlation between the federal assault weapon ban from September 13, 1994 to September 13, 2004 and a reduced frequency of mass shooting incidents and a dramatically reduced body count.

Here's a review of the numbers:

In the 12 years from when our tally of mass shooting begins in August 1982 prior to the Assault Weapon Ban in September 1994, there were 19 mass killings with 161 people killed and 185 wounded for a total of 346

In the ten years the ban was in place there were 15 mass shooting with 97 people killed and 197 wounded for a total of 294.

in the 12 years since the ban was removed in 2004, there have been 47 mass shootings with 411 killed and 361 wounded for a total of 772

Where are these mass killings taking place, you may wonder. In almost every state of the union. Red states are where a mass shooting has taken place. Unless noted with a higher number, there was one mass murder.

By race, who's doing the killing?

60% were white 

15% were black
7.5% were Asian
7.5% were other
6.25% were Latinos
3.75% were Native American

And what can we conclude? The Assault Weapon Ban worked — and it's not Mexican murderers you gotta watch out for, Donald you racist idiot; it's white people. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Orlando and the assault weapon ban

“Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets.” Gabrielle Giffords, former US Representative from Arizona and survivor of a mass shooting

I'VE BEEN what must seem uncharacteristically silent since (and about) the bloodbath in Orlando.

In addition to expressing heartfelt condolences, I don't know what to say that I haven't already said about the insane availability of guns, especially assault weapons, in the United States. I've blogged about it 37 times.

I was watching national news (as we all were, I'm sure), and the newscaster mentioned that when the BBC covered the Santa Barbara mass shooting in May of 2014, the BBC caster said, "Just another day in the USA."

I had already headlined a Hey Look post (click on the link to read it) with exactly that title four months prior to that.

Paul and I attended a gathering June 14 sponsored by One Iowa and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America called ’Love is Love is Love’: A Gathering to Remember, to mourn the victims and rally for stricter gun laws. Afterwards Paul said, "I'm tired of hearing about peace, love, and unity. I want to know what people are going to DO. I bet if every single person here today called and wrote their senator and congressperson twice a week, every week, we'd get their attention."

One of the speakers was a minister. The sound system was insufficient, so I didn't hear her name, but she identified herself as a lesbian (Lutheran or Methodist) minister. I  applauded her . . . literally . . . for having the courage to say that churches and religious organizations of many faiths and denominations need to accept some degree of culpability for inciting hatred. When someone who is viewed as having moral authority proselytizes about the sinfulness of a particular group of people, painting them as evil and the nature of their love as an abomination, of course it ramps up animus and contempt. How could it do otherwise? That can be the last impetus needed to push an already-angry, unstable individual over the edge to unthinkable acts.

Most of all, though, I blame Congress

Above is a meme that's been making the rounds. (
Actually the Assault Weapon Ban expired September 13, 2004, not 2005.)

Here's a quick overview from Wikipedia. "The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (officially, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act) was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms it defined as assault weapons, as well as certain ammunition magazines it defined as 'large capacity.'

The ten-year ban was passed by the U.S. Congress on September 13, 1994, and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment, and it expired on September 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision."

Below is a list I've compiled from Mother Jones and Wikipedia of all the mass killings since the assault weapon ban expired.

December 8, 2004    Damageplan show shooting    Columbus, OH

Nathan Gale, 25, possibly upset about the breakup of Pantera, gunned down former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell and three others at a Damageplan show before a police officer fatally shot Gale.  Racial category: White    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun    5 killed    7 wounded

March 12, 2005     Living Church of God shooting    Brookfield, WI  

Living Church of God member Terry Michael Ratzmann, 44, opened fire at a church meeting at a Sheraton hotel before committing suicide.  Racial category: White    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun       7 killed    4 wounded    

March 21, 2005    Red Lake massacre    Red Lake, MN

Jeffrey Weise, 16, murdered his grandfather, who was a police officer, and his grandfather's girlfriend. Weise then drove his grandfather's squad car to Red Lake Senior High School and opened fire on the reservation campus, killing seven more people before committing suicide.  Racial category: White    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun        10 killed             5 wounded killed

January 30, 2006    Goleta postal shootings    Goleta, CA

Former postal worker Jennifer Sanmarco, 44, shot dead a former neighbor then drove to the mail processing plant where she used to work. Inside, she opened fire, killing seven employees before committing suicide.  Racial category: White  Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun    8 killed    0 wounded

March 25, 2006    Capitol Hill massacre    Seattle, WA

Kyle Aaron Huff, 28, opened fire at a rave afterparty in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle before committing suicide. Racial category: White    Weapons: Two semiautomatic handguns, one rifle (assault), one shotgun     7 killed     2 wounded

October, 2, 2006    Amish school shooting    Lancaster County, PA

Charles Carl Roberts, 32, shot 10 young girls in a one-room schoolhouse in Bart Township, killing 5, before taking his own life.  Racial category: White    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun    6 killed    5 wounded

February 12, 2007    Trolley Square shooting    Salt Lake City, UT 

Sulejman Talović‡, 18, rampaged through the shopping center until he was shot dead by police.  Racial category: White   Weapons: One revolver, one shotgun    6 killed    4 wounded

April 16, 2007    Virginia Tech massacre    Blacksburg, VA 

Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, 23, opened fire on his school's campus before committing suicide.  Racial category: Asian    Weapons: Two semiautomatic handguns     33 killed    23 wounded

October 7, 2007    Crandon shooting    Crandon, WI 

Off-duty sheriff's deputy Tyler Peterson, 20, opened fire inside an apartment after an argument at a homecoming party. He fled the scene and later committed suicide.  Racial category: White    WeaponsOne rifle (assault)    6 killed       1 wounded

December 5, 2007    Westroads Mall shooting    Omaha, NE

Robert A. Hawkins, 19, opened fire inside Westroads Mall before committing suicide.  Racial category: White   WeaponsOne rifle (assault)    9 killed    4 wounded

February 7, 2008    Kirkwood City Council shooting    Kirkwood, MO

Charles "Cookie" Lee Thornton, 52, went on a rampage at the city hall before being shot and killed by police.  Racial category: Black  WeaponsOne semiautomatic handgun, one revolver    6 killed    2 wounded

February 14, 2008    Northern Illinois University shooting    DeKalb, IL

Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall, then shot and killed himself before police arrived.  Racial category: White     WeaponsThree semiautomatic handguns, one shotgun    6 killed    21 wounded

June 25, 2008    Atlantis Plastics shooting    Henderson, KY

Disgruntled employee Wesley Higdon, 25, shot up an Atlantis Plastics factory after he was escorted out of his workplace for an argument with a supervisor. Higdon shot the supervisor outside the factory before opening fire on coworkers inside. He then committed suicide.  Racial category: White    WeaponsOne semiautomatic handgun       6 killed             1 wounded 

March 29, 2009    Carthage nursing home shooting    Carthage, NC Robert Stewart, 45, opened fire at a nursing home where his estranged wife worked 

before he was shot and arrested by a police officer.  Racial category: White    WeaponsOne revolver, one shotgun   8 killed    3 wounded

April 3, 2009    Binghamton shootings    Binghamton, NY

Jiverly Wong, 41, opened fire at an American Civic Association center for immigrants before committing suicide. Racial category: Asian    WeaponsTwo semiautomatic handguns    14 killed    4 wounded

November 5, 2009    Fort Hood massacre    Fort Hood, TX

Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, opened fire on an Army base in an attack linked to Islamist extremism. Hasan was injured during the attack and later arrested.  Racial category: Other    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun   13 killed    30 wounded

November 29, 2009    Coffee shop police killings    Parkland, WA

Maurice Clemmons, 37, a felon who was out on bail for child-rape charges, entered a coffee shop on a Sunday morning and shot four police officers who had gone there to use their laptops before their shifts. Clemmons, who was wounded fleeing the scene, was later shot dead by a police officer in Seattle after a two-day manhunt.  Racial category: Black   WeaponsOne semiautomatic handgun     4 killed    1 wounded

August 3, 2010    Hartford Beer Distributor shooting    Manchester, CT

Omar S. Thornton, 34, shot up his Hartford Beer Distributor workplace after facing disciplinary issues, then committed suicide.  Racial category: Black    WeaponsTwo semiautomatic handguns    9 killed    2 wounded

January 8, 2011    Tucson shooting    Tucson, AZ

Jared Loughner, 22, opened fire outside a Safeway during a constituent meeting with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) before he was subdued by bystanders and arrested.  Racial category: White    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun    6 killed    13 wounded

September 6, 2011    IHOP shooting    Carson City, NV

Eduardo Sencion, 32, opened fire at an International House of Pancakes restaurant and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Racial category: Latino    Weapons: Two rifles (both assault), one revolver      5 killed             7 wounded

October 14, 2011    Seal Beach shooting    Seal Beach, CA

Scott Evans Dekraai, 42, opened fire inside a hair salon and was later arrested.  Racial category: White   Weapons: Two semiautomatic handguns, one revolver    8 killed    1 wounded

February 22, 2012    Su Jung Health Sauna shooting    Norcross, GA

Jeong Soo Paek, 59, returned to a Korean spa from which he'd been kicked out after an altercation. He gunned down two of his sisters and their husbands before committing suicide.  Racial category: Asian    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun    5 killed    0 wounded

April 2, 2012    Oikos University killings    Oakland, CA

One L. Goh, 43, a former student, opened fire in a nursing classroom. He fled the scene by car and was arrested nearby a few hours later. Racial category: Asian    Weapons: One semiautomatic handgun    7 killed    3 wounded

May 20, 2012    Seattle cafe shooting    Seattle, WA

Ian Stawicki, 40, gunned down four patrons at a cafe, and another person during a carjacking nearby, then shot himself as police closed in. He died later that day in a Seattle hospital.  Racial category: White    WeaponsTwo semiautomatic handguns    6 killed    1 wounded

July 20, 2012    Aurora theater shooting    Aurora, CO

James Holmes, 24, opened fire in a movie theater during the opening night of "The Dark Night Rises" and was later arrested outside.  Racial category: White    WeaponsTwo semiautomatic handguns, one rifle (assault), one shotgun           12 killed    58 wounded

August 5, 2012    Sikh temple shooting    Oak Creek, WI

U.S. Army veteran Wade Michael Page, 40, opened fire in a Sikh gurdwara before he died from a self-inflicted gunshot would during a shootout with police.  Racial category: White    WeaponsOne semiautomatic handgun    7 killed         3 wounded

September 27, 2012    Accent Signage Systems shooting    Minneapolis, MN Andrew Engeldinger, 36, upon learning he was being fired, went on a shooting rampage, killing the business owner, three fellow employees, and a UPS driver. He then killed himself.  Racial category: White  WeaponsOne semiautomatic handgun    7 killed     1 wounded

December 14, 2012    Newtown school shooting    Newtown, CT

Adam Lanza, 20, shot his mother dead at their home then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary school. He forced his way inside and opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before committing suicide.  Racial category: White   WeaponsTwo semiautomatic handguns, one rifle (assault), one shotgun (assault)    28 killed    2 wounded

March 13, 2013    Mohawk Valley shootings    Herkimer County, NY 

Kurt Myers, 64, shot six people in neighboring towns, killing two in a barbershop and two at a car care business, before being killed by officers in a shootout after a nearly 19-hour standoff.  Racial category: White   Weapons: Shotgun     5 killed    2 wounded

April 21, 2013    Pinewood Village Apartment shooting    Federal Way, WA 

Dennis Clark III, 27, shot and killed his girlfriend in their shared apartment, and then shot two witnesses in the building's parking lot and a third victim in another apartment, before being killed by police.  Racial category: Black  WeaponsSemiautomatic handgun, shotgun    5 killed    0 wounded

June 7, 2013    Santa Monica rampage    Santa Monica, CA

John Zawahri, 23, armed with a homemade assault rifle and high-capacity magazines, killed his brother and father at home and then headed to Santa Monica College, where he was eventually killed by police.  Racial category: White   WeaponsAssault rifle, high capacity magazines, antique handgun    6 killed    3 wounded

July 26, 2013    Hialeah apartment shooting    Hialeah, FL

Pedro Vargas, 42, set fire to his apartment, killed six people in the complex, and held another two hostages at gunpoint before a SWAT team stormed the building and fatally shot him.  Racial category: Latino    Weapons9mm semi-automatic handgun    7 killed   0 wounded

September, 16, 2013    Washington Navy Yard shooting    Washington, D.C.

Aaron Alexis, 34, a military veteran and contractor from Texas, opened fire in the Navy installation, killing 12 people and wounding 8 before being shot dead by police.  Racial category: Latino    WeaponsSawed-off shotgun, 2 boxes of shells; also a .45-caliber handgun taken from a security guard he shot at the scene    12 killed   8 wounded

February 20, 2014    Alturas tribal shooting    Alturas, CA

Cherie Lash Rhoades, 44, opened fire at the Cedarville Rancheria Tribal Office and Community Center, killing four and wounding two. After running out of ammunition, Rhoades grabbed a butcher knife and stabbed another person.  Racial category: Native American    WeaponsTwo handguns and a butcher knife    4 killed   2 wounded

April 3, 2014    Fort Hood shooting 2    Fort Hood, TX

Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, 34, opened fire at the Fort Hood Army Post in Texas, killing three and wounding at least 12 others before shooting himself in the head after engaging with military police. Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley told reporters that Lopez "had behavioral health and mental health" issues.  Racial category: Latino    WeaponsHandgun   3 killed 12 wounded

May 23, 2014    Isla Vista mass murder    Santa Barbara, CA

Elliot Rodger, 22, shot three people to death in the college town of Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara. He also shot others as he drove around town, and injured others by striking them with is vehicle. He committed suicide by shooting himself in his car as police closed in. Prior to the rampage, Rodger stabbed three people to death at his apartment.  Racial category: White    WeaponsThree semi-automatic handguns and two hunting knives   6 killed 13 wounded

October 24, 2015    Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting    Marysville, WA

Jaylen Fryberg, 15, using a .40-caliber Berretta, shot five students at Marysville High School, including two of his cousins and three friends, killing all but one. Fryberg arranged to meet them for lunch in the school cafeteria by text. Fryberg was reportedly well-liked at the school and there was not believed to be any ill-will between him and his victims. He committed suicide at the scene.  Racial category: Native American    WeaponsHandgun   5 killed   1 wounded 

June 11, 2015    Trestle Trail bridge shooting    Menasha, WI

Sergio Valencia del Toro, 27, in what officials say was a random act, shot and killed three people including an 11-year-old girl before turning the gun on himself.  Racial category: Latino    WeaponsTwo handguns     3 killed               1 wounded 

June 17, 2015    Charleston Church Shooting    Charleston, SC

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, shot and killed 9 people after opening fire at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. According to a roommate, he had allegedly been “planning something like that for six months."  Racial category: White    WeaponsHandgun   9 killed    1 wounded

July 16, 2015    Chattanooga military recruitment center    Chattanooga, TN

Kuwaiti-born Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, a naturalized US citizen, opened fire at a Naval reserve center, and then drove to a military recruitment office where he shot and killed four Marines and a Navy service member, and wounded a police officer and another military service member. He was then fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers responding to the attack.  Racial category: Other    WeaponsTwo assault rifles; semiautomatic handgun 5 killed    2 wounded

October 1, 2015    Umpqua Community College shooting    Roseburg, OR

26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer opened fire at Umpqua Community College in southwest Oregon. The gunman shot himself to death after being wounded in a shootout with police.  Racial category: Other    WeaponsFive pistols, one rifle, five magazines of ammunition   9 killed    9 wounded

October 31, 2015    Colorado Springs rampage    Colorado Springs, CO

Noah Harpham, 33, shot three people before dead in Colorado Springs before police killed him in a shootout.  Racial category: White    WeaponsTwo handguns and a rifle   3 killed    0 wounded

November 27, 2015    Planned Parenthood clinic    Colorado Springs, CO

Robert Lewis Dear, 57, shot and killed a police officer and two citizens when he opened fire at a Planned Parenthood health clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Nine others were wounded. Dear was arrested after an hours-long standoff with police. Racial category: White    WeaponsLong gun   3 killed    9 wounded

December 2, 2015    San Bernardino mass shooting    San Bernardino, CA

Syed Rizwan Farook left a Christmas party held at Inland Regional Center, later returning with Tashfeen Malik and the two opened fire, killing 14 and wounding 21, ten critically. The two were later killed by police as they fled in an SUV.  Racial category: Other    WeaponsTwo assault rifles and two semi-automatic pistols were used in the attack. Police found a remote controlled explosive device at the scene of the crime. At the home were 12 pipe bombs, 2,500 rounds for the AR-15 variants, 2,000 rounds for the pistols, and several hundred for a .22 calibre rifle. In the suspects' car were an additional 1,400 rounds for the rifles and 200 for the handguns.   14 killed    21 wounded

February 20, 2016    Kalamazoo shooting spree    Kalamazoo County, MI

Jason B. Dalton, a driver for Uber, apparently selected his victims randomly as he went on a rampage over several hours in three different locations, including five people he shot in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. He was "arrested without incident" at a downtown Kalamazoo bar about six hours after the rampage began.  Racial category: White   WeaponsSemiautomatic handgun   6 killed    2 wounded

February 25, 2016    Excel Industries mass shooting    Hesston, KS

Cedric L. Ford, who worked as a painter at a manufacturing company, shot victims from his car and at his workplace before being killed by police at the scene. Shortly before the rampage he had been served with a restraining order.  Racial category: Black    WeaponsSemiautomatic rifle, semiautomatic handgun   3 killed    14 wounded

June 12, 2016    Orlando nightclub massacre    Orlando, FL

Omar Mateen, 29, attacked the Pulse nighclub in Orlando in the early morning hours of June 12.  Racial category: Other WeaponsSemiautomatic rifle, semiautomatic handgun   49 killed    53 wounded 

Long list, is it not?

So what do these numbers tell us?

Since the The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 expired on September 13, 2004, there have been 411 people killed and 361 wounded in mass shootings, many, if not most, killed by assault weapons — 772 human beings dead or maimed. When you consider the parents, children, husbands, wives, extended families and friends of those 772 individuals, thousands of people's lives have been forever altered and traumatized.

In case you think the ban didn't make a difference, while it was in place there were 96 people killed and 101 wounded for a total of 197.

Ah, but wait. The length of time since the ban expired is longer by two years than the ban, so it's not apples to apples. 

Well then, let's make it apples to apples: In ten years since the ban expired there were 289 people killed in mass shootings and 221 wounded three times the number as there were while the ban was in place and a little more than twice as many wounded.

So yes, the ban made a difference.

Next time: Who is doing the killing and where. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Billy Crystal channels Ali and Cosell

“He was so much more than a fighter. He made all of our lives a little bit better than they were. He taught us that life is best when you build bridges between us, not walls. He is gone, but he will never die. He was my big brother." — Billy Crystal

IN FURTHER recognition of the death of Muhammad Ali, here's a video of Billy Crystal (below the still shot) called 15 Rounds. Worth viewing — especially Ali's face as he takes in Billy's performance.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

“Cassius Clay is a name that white people gave to my slave master. Now that I am free, that I don't belong anymore to anyone, that I'm not a slave anymore, I gave back their white name, and I chose a beautiful African one.” —  Muhammad Ali

I'M NOT a boxing fan. A sport based on trying to knock each other (literally) senseless, as you might suspect, isn't something I condone, and certainly it isn't a domain I've paid any attention to over the course of my life. Thus I've never really known much about Muhammad Ali other than the barest outline of his place in history. 

I'm sure I once knew that he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. When I hear it mentioned, an indistict recollection flutters in my brain, but I wouldn't have been able to pencil that in on the outline, and I definitely never knew about his refusal to comply with the draft. I had a sense that he was gracious and beloved, but I didn't know that he'd been vilified. I knew he suffered from Parkinson's disease. 

And so I've been fascinated to read and learn about who this man was. 

Below are two op-ed pieces from The New York Times written to mark his passage. I get it now . . . about him, I mean.

Muhammad Ali: Never the White Man’s Negro

By Joyce Carol Oates

June 6, 2016

CASSIUS CLAY, born in 1942, was the grandson of a slave; in the United States of his boyhood and young manhood, the role of the black athlete, particularly the black boxer, was a forced self-effacement.

White male anxieties were, evidently, greatly roiled by the spectacle of the strong black man, and had to be assuaged. The greater the black boxer (Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles), the more urgent that he assume a public role of caution and restraint. Kindly white men who advised their black charges to be a “credit to their race” were not speaking ironically.

And yet, the young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali refused to play this emasculating role. He would not be the “white man’s Negro” — he would not be anything of the white man’s at all. Converting to the Nation of Islam at the age of 22, immediately after winning the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston, he denounced his “slave name” (Cassius Marcellus Clay, which was also his father’s name) and the Christian religion; in refusing to serve in the Army he made his political reasons clear: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

An enormous backlash followed: where the young boxer had been cheered, now he was booed. Denunciations rained upon his head. Respected publications, including The New York Times, continued to print the “slave name” Cassius Clay for years. Sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for his refusal to comply with the draft, Ali stood his ground; he did not serve time, but was fined $10,000 and his boxing license was revoked so that he could not continue his professional career, in the very prime of that career. In a gesture of sheer pettiness the State Department took away his passport so that he couldn’t fight outside the country. After he was reinstated as a professional boxer three and a half years later, he had lost much of his youthful agility. Yet he’d never given in.

The heart of the champion is this: One never repudiates one’s deepest values, one never gives in.

Though Ali had risen to dizzying heights of fame in the 1960s, it was in the 1970s that his greatness was established. Who could have imagined that, being reinstated as a boxer after a lengthy suspension, Ali would expand the dimensions of the sport yet again; that, past his prime, his legs slowed, his breath shorter, out of an ingenuity borne of desperation he would reinvent himself as an athlete on whose unyielding body younger boxers might punch themselves out. He could no longer “float like a butterfly” but he could lie back against the ropes, like a living heavy bag, and allow an opponent like the hapless George Foreman to exhaust himself trying to knock him out.

What is the infamous Rope-a-Dope stratagem of 1974 but a brilliantly pragmatic stoicism in which the end (winning) justifies the means (irreversible damage to body, brain). The spectator is appalled to realize that a single blow of Foreman’s delivered to a non-boxer might well be fatal; how many dozens of these blows Ali absorbed, as in a fairy tale in which the drama is one of reversed expectations. In this way, with terrible cost to come in terms of Ali’s health, he won back the heavyweight title at the age of 32, defeating the 25–year-old Foreman.

Great as Ali-Foreman was, it can’t compare to the trilogy of fights between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971, 1974 and 1975; Frazier won the first on points, Ali the second and third on points and a TKO. These were monumental fights, displays of human stamina, courage and “heart” virtually unparalleled in the history of boxing. In the first, Ali experienced the worst battering of his life, yet he did not give up; in the second and third, Ali won against an exhausted Frazier, at what cost to his health we can only guess — “The closest thing to dying,” Ali said of the last fight. Yet, incredibly, unconscionably, Ali was exploited by managers and promoters who should have protected him; his doomed career continued until 1981 with a devastating final loss, to the much-younger Trevor Berbick. Ali then retired, belatedly, after 61 fights, with 56 wins.

What does it mean to say that a fighter has “heart”? By “heart” we don’t mean technical skill, nor even unusual strength and stamina and ambition; by “heart” we mean something like spiritual character.

The mystery of Muhammad Ali is this spiritual greatness, that seemed to have emerged out of a far more ordinary, even callow personality. With the passage of time, the rebel who’d been reviled by many Americans would be transformed into an American hero, especially amid general disenchantment with the Vietnam War. The young man who’d been denounced as a traitor was transformed into the iconic figure of our time, a compassionate figure who seems to transcend race. A warm, sepia light irradiates the past, glossing out jarring details.

Ali had long ago transcended his own origins and his own specific identity. As he’d once said: “Boxing was nothing. It wasn’t important at all. Boxing was just meant as a way to introduce me to the world.”

Muhammad Ali: Worshiped. Misunderstood. Exploited.

By Ishmael Reed

June 4, 2016

Oakland, Calif. — MUHAMMAD ALI, who died Friday at the age of 74, was the greatest boxer of all time, but he was also deeply human, as full of frailty and foibles as anyone. He was physically vulnerable: Early on, doctors warned him and his camp followers that he was getting hit too much while training for his fights. He wouldn’t listen, and no one around him tried to persuade him otherwise.

Many would agree with the boxing trainer Emanuel Steward that Ali should have quit after his triumph over George Foreman in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), in 1974. Instead, he boxed for another seven years, and paid for it in the subsequent decades of physical and mental frailty. His trainer, Angelo Dundee, said that he was already suffering from brain damage when he fought his last two fights.

It seemed like the more people watched Ali, the less they understood him. Many of the writers who worshiped him — those I call the Ali Scribes — cast him as a member of the 1960s counterculture for his 1967 refusal to serve in Vietnam. In fact, he was simply following the nonviolence policy of the Nation of Islam, which he had joined a few years earlier.

Ali’s relationship with the Nation was always more complicated than the Ali Scribes realized, or wanted to admit. They saw him as a victim, saying that the Nation stole money from him. Unlike them, who dismiss Ali’s mentor and the head of the Nation, Elijah Muhammad, as a “cult racketeer” or worse, I actually interviewed some of the Nation members. They said that it was the other way around: According to Khalilah Ali, whose father was a captain in the Nation and whom I interviewed on a cold winter day in Chicago, the organization — and her father personally — gave him much more money than he gave in return. Some members of the Nation are still bitter.

Even so, Ali was generous, more perhaps than was good for him. Howard Moore Jr., a lawyer and a frequent houseguest, said that Ali’s phone would ring all day. Callers were asking him to pay their rent or loan them money, and more often than not he did, no questions asked. According to the documentary “The Don King Story,” after Ali was nearly killed in the ring by Larry Holmes in 1980, Mr. King, the promoter of the fight, cheated him out of all but $50,000 of an $8 million purse (Mr. King denies the charge).

Ali eschewed the promoters and agents who spoke for other boxers, but he had his own traveling circus of parasites and hangers on who encouraged him to fight, no matter the damage to his body. He took such a beating from Earnie Shavers in 1977 that Teddy Brenner, the matchmaker at Madison Square Garden, refused to book him to fight there again. After another fight, Ferdie Pacheco, a fight doctor, warned those who were close to Ali that he was urinating blood; he got no response.

Ali sometimes fell in with the wrong crowd, including his friend Major Coxson, a politician and gangster in Cherry Hill, N.J., who was killed in a 1973 mob hit. One of his managers, Richard M. Hirschfeld, was a criminal who hanged himself in jail. Harold Smith, the one-time chairman of Muhammad Ali Professional Sports Inc., used the champion’s name to steal $21.3 million from Wells Fargo, one of the largest embezzlement cases in history.

Ali’s career will make you cry. Long after he retired, he remained a symbol of rock-solid strength, but even during his career he was in decline. Here was this young, self-described “pretty” boxer who could dazzle you with his raps, who was always bubbling over with confidence. But his three years away from the ring, from 1967 to 1970, were damaging. The boxer Ron Lyle said that before Ali’s absence, you couldn’t touch him — but after he returned to the ring it was easy enough.

Ali was a pugilist, but also a poet — literally. The first time I saw him was in 1963, when he came to read his poetry at a cafe in New York’s Greenwich Village called the Bitter End.

The last time I saw him was in 2005, when I attended the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. He looked drawn and weary. The loud mouth that rattled the nation had been shut. The Louisville Lip had been stitched.

Was he in fact the greatest boxer of all time? Some say that Joe Louis was greater. Louis in turn called Sonny Liston the greatest heavyweight champion in history. And indeed, Liston busted a whole bunch of people on the way up, and a whole bunch on the way down.

But then I think of a story that one of Ali’s friends and former managers, Gene Kilroy, once told me. A child was dying of cancer. Ali visited the hospital and told the boy that he was going to defeat Sonny Liston and that he, the kid, was going to defeat cancer. “No,” the boy said. “I’m going to God, and I’m going to tell God that I know you.”