Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guns Save Lives...In My (Old) Neighborhood

This is the neighborhood I grew up in:

A suspected armed robber lost a gun battle with a clerk at the Belmont Beverage store at the intersection of East Tillman Road and Lafayette Street on Wednesday afternoon, police said.

The unidentified man lay dead in the middle of East Tillman Road outside the store where police said he was fatally shot about 2:30 p.m.

“The perpetrator was armed with a handgun, which was recovered at the scene,” said police spokesman Officer Michael Joyner.

A store clerk was shot in the leg by the suspect and was in fair condition Wednesday night; he was expected to be released today, according to police.
That's right--robbing a liquor store in broad daylight. If you click to the story and look at the pictures, you'll notice that that particular liquor store's front is clear glass and easily seen from the road. Cops patrol around there, but there is no way they'd respond in time except out of pure luck.

And it isn't as if this is an isolated incident:

Michael Beckman, who said he moved into the neighborhood in May of 2007, also wasn't surprised. He recalled that a clerk fatally shot a would-be robber Sept. 12, 2007, at the nearby VIP Video store at 7504 S. Anthony Blvd., and said the liquor store was robbed twice last summer.
If the Brady Center and their ilk had their way, it could very well be the two clerks that would be dead instead of the two thugs who threatened the lives of people who were just trying earn an honest living.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the Inauguration

Not surprisingly, people have been asking me what I did to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Ok, I'll tell you:

I sat at home, had a couple beers, and watched it on TV.

Exciting stuff, huh?

Invariably, some of my more sentimental friends and family will be terribly disappointed by my perceived lack of enthusiasm for the moment. Indeed, I was surprised at my own muted response as I was watching the ceremony unfold, given my intensely emotional reaction to his victory speech in November.

My decision to stay at my residence in Virginia was due in no small part to the complexities of getting into the District in the first place. All of the bridges from Virginia into D.C. were closed to traffic by order of the Secret Service. After choking off the main arteries into the city, riding the Metro--which was already going to be a hassle--was nearly impossible, not even considering the limited parking spaces at the Metro stations to begin with.

But even had I lived in the city, without a seated view like the one shown below (courtesy of a facebook friend), I doubt I would have braved the crowds and cold:

While I am one to harp on my friends who complain about D.C. cold, given my frigid (yet bearable) upbringing in Northern Indiana winters, I'm not one to stand about in cold if I don't have to. Add to this: my substantial but less-than-phobic antipathy toward large crowds; approximately 15 different channels on which I can watch the entire event from a proximity I couldn't possibly hope to achieve in person; and food, heat, and beer, I couldn't possibly will myself to get up hours before dawn to make it there to stand crammed together with strangers from a vantage point far inferior and infinitely less comfortable than my La-Z-Boy (that, incidentally, required passing through exactly ZERO invasive security checkpoints). After all, I doubt the older generations felt that they had to be on the surface of the Moon to appreciate the accomplishment of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. Going through that much trouble just to see it on outdoor screens just wasn't worth it to me.

But all conditions aside, there was admittedly something quite different about this moment than the one in November. This was a scripted ceremony of precious little drama--as it is meant to be--and of nuanced character, rather than visceral excitement of a historic landslide victory. A moment like this is perhaps best judged from afar--taking in moments like President Obama sending off President Bush on Marine One; seeing the moving skill of Perlman, Ma, and company playing a composition of "Air" and "Simple Gifts", providing an equally beautiful instrumental contrast to Aretha Franklin's passionate My Country 'Tis of Thee; or that moment--that brief moment that is frozen in my memory--before he walked down the steps to take his Oath of Office, when the look on his face was unlike anything America had seen on the campaign trail or even at the victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park: that moment the enormity of what he had accomplished and the undertaking that required, visibly weighed on him.

This was not one of his practiced looks of concern, concentration, or introspection. There was an unmistakable air about him--just for that moment--that radiated an intense determination without a trace of arrogance; and with a stoic sobriety that showed no hint of being overwhelmed. The everpresent veil of the politician had been removed and Barack Obama, the man, was--for an instant--revealed.

I don't know if it was because, at that moment, I saw something sorely lacking these past eight years--but I don't ever remember seeing anything ever so truly dignified during any previous administration, or in any footage or photograph I have ever seen of a public figure. There have been moments of unintended honesty, sure--portraits of Lincoln and LBJ crumbling under the weight of the catastrophes of war; that moment of angry humiliation that flashed in Bill Clinton's eyes under cross-examination on the infamous videotape; or that image of sheer terror when W. was told about the attacks on September 11, 2001. All of these moments gave glimpses into the souls of these men. But Obama's first moment was something different--something Christopher Buckley compared to a statue--and something strangely reassuring.

I don't know if Obama will be a good president, and I don't pretend to read any indication of that from a few seconds of video. His policy preferences are, to me, unfortunate--but he is our president, and I hope he governs his administration well. I wish him nothing but the best for his sake, for the sake of the world, and for the sake of our country.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Civil Rights Day!

Ok, so it isn't "Civil Rights Day,"--but it should be.

With all due respect to Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he and his organizations were able to accomplish, he was just a man, and an imperfect one at that. The idea--that of protected freedoms and rights for all--is what is important to remember today (and every day). Many heroic and capable people preceded King in life and death, in addition to other contemporaries that preached along side him--and, indeed, in opposition to him. These men and women too should be celebrated and remembered--and, of course, their messages should not be lost to history.

It is just barely an overstatement to say that U.S. History texts describe the sum of the struggle for freedom for American blacks as the arrivals of Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, and MLK. This is more a function of poor history texts and the way history is taught in America than any deliberate "whitewashing" of the American tale, but it is problematic nonetheless.

While one would think it would be hard to overstate the accomplishments of such a remarkable man, such is the sorry state of things. The messages of men like Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X-- of personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, and self-improvement free from government interference--have been nearly entirely subsumed into that of King and his followers, in spite of the very great differences in philosophies. King has become the end-all/be-all of Civil Rights heroes and martyrs--now standing for anything and everything that freedom meant, despite the fact that King did not support everything now assigned to him.

So, in the spirit of my Civil Rights Day, I share with you one of my favorite clips of a man I admire, discussing a quote from another man I admire, that I have shared on this blog before: