Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mass Murder in Binghamton

Fourteen people are dead in Binghamton, NY as a result of another mass murder. With the recession, the mass murders are building up as the Binghamton killing follow hard on the murders in Alabama and Oakland.

I'm originally from a little town less than 40 miles west of Binghamton on Rt 17 (now I-86 I think) and know the area well.

As Fingerlakeswanderer says in the Open Salon blog, Binghamton is an industrial town that's lost most of its industry. According to the elementary school social studies books I read as a kid, Binghamton was supposed to be an up and coming city during the sixties.

But it never took off.

Binghamton was a crossroads city on the interstate highway system but never developed much in the way of restaurants, malls, or even gas stations around the highways.

IBM was big in the Binghamton area but it never seemed to get any bigger and none of the other computer/techn0logy companies located to the area. Then IBM got a lot smaller.

Binghamton University is a great university but the city hasn't been able to build on that in the same ways as other college towns.

I remember going to downtown Binghamton while I was in high school and wondering where the downtown was. It was just kind of a faceless place. My friends and I didn't even think enough of Binghamton to stigmatize it as the "armpit of the universe" like we stigmatized Utica and Rome (places none of us had ever been).

It also seems like the whole Southern Tier of upstate NY has become more "country" and impoverished over the last 20 years. I hear stuff on and off about Klan organizations, survivalists, and guys abandoning civilization for the woods. There's also a lot more NASCAR symbolism around my home town and I've even seen a confederate flag on the NY/PA border. Today's my mother's birthday and she talked a lot about how more attention needed to be paid to poor people who needed help but weren't eligible for government assistance.

The area didn't use to be that poor.

What's this have to do with the shootings?

Probably nothing.

All over the U. S., there's just an extremely volatile mix of rage, guns, and role models of mass murderers. Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have become cult figures among the copycat killers at Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, and other places. Watching the Dark Knight, I wondered if the Joker's blowing up the hospital wasn't modeled after Harris and Klebold's plans for Columbine High. Guns are ubiquitous and accumulating one's own little personal arsenal is a cultural style in places like Eastern KY.

Likewise, the mostly male rage has so many sources in popular culture (video games, porn, music, movies, cop shows, sports, the broad condemnation of any kind of failure, etc., etc.,) that it's almost useless to point to any one source of the problem.

That whole mix of rage, guns, and mass murder models has come under a great deal of pressure as a result of the recession and I think that what's happening is that there have been a lot of little murder explosions like the one in Binghamton. To give folks an idea of the volatility, my 14 year old daughter told me today about three boys talking about ways to torture people during her geometry class and that's WITH the counseling the school is providing for them. I disagree with Fingerlakeswanderer about gun control being the answer. I think limits on gun possession are a good idea, but the murder problem is so broadly cultural at this point and that eliminating the mass murders would have to involve major adjustments in American values and popular culture as well as gun policy.

Given that I don't see that happening, I just hope the recession eases so there's fewer triggers on the rage.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Republicans May Be The Third Party Newt's Waiting For

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich came out with a warning that the Republican Party may be facing a challenge from a third party in 2012.

“If the Republicans can’t break out of being the right wing party of big government, then I think you would see a third party movement in 2012,” Gingrich said Wednesday during a speech at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, the local television station KY3 reported.
I imagine Gingrich might be right. Perhaps there will be some alliance of the religious right, small government idealists, and neo-conservatives that no longer views the Republican Party as a suitable vehicle for their ambitions.

Maybe there's a younger, more credible version of Gingrich himself ready to take charge of a new kind of conservative coalition.

But I don't think so.

The bottom line is that the Republican Party is moving farther to the right grows as the right grows less popular. If anything, there's less chance of a new conservative party emerging now than there was in 2008 when conservatives thought John McCain was a dangerous liberal.

But that doesn't mean there won't be a third party in America's future. Actually, that third party might be the Republicans.

Despite the hesitations and hedging of the Obama administration, the Democrats have charted a much more liberal course on a multi-lateral foreign policy, universal health care, a green economy, and dramatically expanded education.

And I'm happy to see it.

But the fact that the Dems have shifted to the left and the Republicans have moved right means that there's a lot of ideological space in the mushy middle for another political party.

One of these days, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bloomberg, Charlie Crist, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter might realize they have more in common with each other than they have with either of the current major parties.

They might also find a charismatic presidential candidate who occupies the middle ground in a compelling manner, sparks some new party organization, and wins lots of converts among current office holders.

I don't particularly like moderate politicians or moderate voters. But "moderation" could be the next big thing in American politics. It's easy to see a moderate political party replacing the Republicans as the leading opposition party and becoming competitive with the Democrats in New England, New York, the middle Atlantic states, large sections of the Midwest, and the West Coast.

The situation of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania is a good example of the potential of a moderate party. Specter might not be viable in either a Republican or Democratic primary, but he would be the initial favorite in any three-candidate race.

It's not beyond the realm of imagination to see a moderate party replacing the Dems as the leading opposition party in states like South Carolina or Utah either.

That kind of development could mean that a moderate party would be a threat to the status of the Republicans as the "second party" in American politics.

The opportunity for a "moderate moment" has been there in the past.

Colin Powell could have seized it in 1996 when he was polling almost 30% versus Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. John McCain was the most popular politician in America in 2000 and might have won as an independent over Gore and Bush.

Barack Obama has proven to be extremely adept at occupying both the middle and the left. So, there might not be a realistic opportunity for a moderate political party in 2012.

But that doesn't mean that the opportunity won't open up again after Obama leaves the scene. Gingrich might get his wish for a third party. It's just that the third party might end up being the Republicans.

Is Newt Still a Christian?

So, Newt Gingrich has converted to Catholicism and joins Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Sam Brownback, and a bunch of other prominent Republican converts to the Catholic faith.

There have even been reports about a possible George W. conversion.

That's fine with me. I'm an atheist who's married to a Catholic woman. My Irish Catholic in-laws are the nicest people in the world and my two daughters count themselves as Catholic.

And I have to admit, they're really nice kids.

So, I'm about as down with Catholicism as someone can be who's horrified by the whole Judeo-Christian thing of a god who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, angrily destroyed the whole world in a flood, and then sent forth his own son to be killed for mankind's sins.

Living out here in Eastern Kentucky though, it's impossible not to notice that many Protestants who deny that Catholics are Christians and would therefore deny that Newt Gingrich is still a Christian just as much as they would deny that Mitt Romney is a Christian.

And it's kind of a pain to the little Catholic congregation in Morehead, KY.

I've known for years that many of my college students don't view Catholics as Christians. Also, the local "Bible Baptists" have picketed the Catholic Church after Mass seeking their own converts to "Christianity" from "popery."

But it struck home when a social studies teacher announced to my daughter's class that Catholics weren't Christians.

That bothered us enough as parents that we complained and got the teacher to stop.

Gingrich has been traveling in elite circles for a long time. So, he might have forgotten the extent to which the Protestant evangelical tradition denies the Christianity of Catholicism and condemns Catholics to damnation.

But it's something that's out there.

Monday, March 30, 2009

John Calipari--From Specter To Coach

Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty smart in focusing on John Calipari as a UK coaching candidate even before the hapless Billy Gillispie got fired.

It looks like the University of Kentucky is in for a new era of recruiting crime.