Suicide and Guns–AFSP Tells Gun Safety Groups to Get Lost

 

“Suicide Prevention Walk Organizers Tell Gun Control Advocates to Keep Away”

That’s a headline from this past Friday’s “Voice of San Diego” News Organization website.  It forced me to do a triple-take because I was saddened and angry.

I know more about guns and suicide than most people–more than I ever wished I’d known.  My son Kelsey died by suicide in March 2010 using a gun he’d bought at Academy Sports on his 21st birthday a couple months earlier.  From infancy Kelsey had real issues with judgement, anger, and motivation.  He’d been to shrinks, doctors, homeopaths, acupuncturists, . . . you name it, in my attempts to help him out.  He had problems at school and was well known with the neighborhood cops. He was smart as hell but seemed to find trouble, and trouble found him just as easily.  And he was fascinated with guns, and living in Texas . . . the most gun-loving dystopia in America.

Gun-Violence-Graphic_043730516219

Suicides by Guns

Each year in America (and the numbers are rising) there are about 44,000 suicides, and half of those involve a gun.  Each year in America, there are about 33,600 deaths caused by gun, and about 22,000–a full two-thirds–involve a gun.  Just to make a comparison, there are about 36,000 auto-accident deaths per year (a huge decline from a peak of around 55,000 in the early 1970s).  As the crisis of auto safety grew, manufacturers and lawmakers developed and regulated new safe devices, and cars soon had better seat belts and air bags . . . and today, car advertisements regularly emphasize their safety features.

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Motor Vehicle Deaths

Guns . . . ?   Ha!  Due to the power of the NRA, the many legislatures it has bought, and the inaction of allegedly friendly politicians (especially Democrats and President Barack Obama), the problem worsens (thought Obama was moving when he gave his frequent crocodile-tear-laden talks at memorial services).

But this . . . a suicide prevention event that has banned Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and the Brady Campaign–probably the two leading groups trying to address the rampage of gun violence in America–is downright chilling, and disgusting, and utterly craven.

And, from a personal standpoint, it’s painful because I’ve been involved with the group doing the banning, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention  since Kelsey died.  I’ve attended their “Walk Out of Darkness” fundraisers both in the Houston communist and on the University of Houston campus.  I’ve donated, and encouraged and pushed people to donate–probably several thousands of dollars over the years.  And when asked to speak about Kelsey’s story–I always, 100 percent of the time–talked about the needs to do something about guns.

The problem of suicide in America is the problem of guns in America (and vice-versa)!  The more guns you have, the more likely the suicide rate is to rise.  Access-to-guns-and-risk-of-suicide-chartIt’s quite simple, really.

But according the regional director of the AFSP in Seattle, Jessica van der Stad,  the legistative goals of Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign, “related to guns is inconsistent with our efforts . . . As a suicide prevention organization, we are not in the business of saying who can and cannot own firearms. We are in the business of saving lives.

Prior to the walk, a representative from the Brady campaign told the AFSP people in San Diego that “We are planning on wearing our standard t-shirts that say Brady Campaign and ‘gun violence prevention saves lives.’”  One of the Brady goals “is to educate and put measures in place to prevent firearm suicides – is this an appropriate place to spread that word by wearing our t-shirts?”

However, the chair of the AFSP San Diego chapter, you know, the ones “in the business of saving lives,” replied: “Upon consulting with our National leadership we still are unable to have the Brady Campaign / Moms Demand Action promote itself at our community events. We value the work you are doing to create awareness around the effects of firearms in our communities as it relates to suicide means. And you rightly point to the possibility of our walker guests being negatively affected by any depiction of guns, printed word, etc.”

And then, the money quote, the nadir of cowardice and political ignorance:

“AFSP has formed a partnership with National Sports Shooting Foundation, and has developed a new educational program and materials emphasizing Firearm Safety. Acknowledging that firearms are a primary means of suicide, this effort is a vital component of AFSP’s goal to achieve 20% reduction in suicide by the year 2025.”

The AFSP, a group that exists in largest measure because people kill themselves with guns every damned day,  is working with the National Sports Shooting Foundation, a group that exists to promote gun purchase and gun use.  The AFSP had to work with a gun group to develop “a new educational program and materials emphasizing Firearm Safety?”   It even acknowledged the rule of firearms as a primary means of suicide, yet paired up with a Shooting group?  Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign have had such programs for years and would gladly have worked with AFSP, but were told to stay home.

I told you above about my son Kelsey and his death by suicide using a gun.  His death, though one of thousands, stands out–not just because it affected me personally.  When Kelsey was born, when he was a toddler, his mom worked for what was at the time Handgun Control Inc., a groups started by Sarah Brady, the wife of Jim Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary who was shot and nearly killed by John Hinckley in the assassination attempt on Reagan.  Kelsey grew up with daily epistles about the dangers of guns.  I wouldn’t even buy him a toy gun.  But mental illnesses and living in desolate Texas can undo the best lessons, and that’s what happened.  For those of us who are “suicide survivors,” all we can really do is try to help people who are in crisis, and that means making it a lot harder for people to obtain the most likely tool used to kill themselves–a gun.

In the AFSP’s Orwellian world, suicide will become less frequent by giving shooting clubs access to their membership, people who’ve already lost loved ones by guns, instead of allowing Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign simply to appear and leaflet a rally–a simple act of free expression.

Personally, I’m done with the AFSP, and I would ask it to return all the money I’ve donated and raised (they keep good records so it would be easy to figure out) so I can give it to groups working on gun violence, and also return the money of people I’ve connected with through their “Out of the Darkness Walks” because I think we all donated to an organization based on the now-fraudulent idea that it was serious about preventing suicides . . . and if you’re going to prevent suicides you have to prevent people from getting guns so easily.

I will discourage anyone I know from working with or donating to the AFSP.

I would implore the AFSP to rethink its relationship with gun groups while excluding gun safety groups.

In the meantime, you can contact AFSP and tell them how disappointed you are in their decision to give priority to gun rights over the right to life.  By making league with gun groups–who exist in some large measure to enhance the sales of guns and make profits for gun manufacturers–they’re ensuring that the suicide rate will continue to go up.  And for the AFSP that means more business, built on more self-inflicted death.

Info on the AFSP is below.

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HouChron Op-Ed on VN, Afghanistan

What can Vietnam War teach us about Afghanistan, North Korea?

Prompted by documentary, historian examines parallels to current conflict in Afghanistan

By Robert Buzzanco

September 30, 2017 Updated: October 1, 2017 9:10am

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/What-can-Vietnam-War-teach-us-about-Afghanistan-12243521.phphttp://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/What-can-Vietnam-War-teach-us-about-Afghanistan-12243521.php

On Wednesday, Taliban forces fired rockets at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, shortly after Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit. Though Mattis was the target, he had left before the attack and was not harmed.
The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years – a long, tragic and ironic conflict. In the 1980s, the U.S. government funded and armed various mujahedeen groups fighting against the Soviet-backed government. In that era, many of the same people now trying to attack American officials like Mattis were hailed as “freedom fighters.”

In the 1960s, as millions of Americans have been reminded by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary “The Vietnam War,” the U.S. also was supporting other “freedom fighters” in the southern part of Vietnam with huge amounts of money and weapons.

Just as Mattis was a target in Kabul, then–National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy was visiting Vietnam in February 1965 when enemy Viet Cong forces attacked a U.S. airbase at Pleiku, in the Central Highlands. Even in “friendly” territory, American officials were at risk.

The Viet Cong were never recipients of U.S. aid nor American support, unlike many of the Afghan fighters who later joined the Taliban, but both attacks illustrate the peril of intervening in the internal conflicts of another country.

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Hugh Hefner, Cultural Rebel

Hef was as much a cultural revolutionary as America could produce at mid-century. Began Playboy right after the Kinsey studies were published, while McCarthyism was in full swing. Got called a “Communist” for undermining American morals, “weakening” American society against the threat of godless Communism. Insisted sex should was essential and should be enjoyable for all. Gave a lot of great journalists their starts. If you got Playboy “just for the articles” you read about Civil Rights, Ban the Bomb, Vietnam, and homosexuality there probably before anywhere else. He was a good liberal when the term meant something.  Time, Newsweek, or The Saturday Evening Post never gave a long, free-wheeling interview to Martin Luther King.

Gave tons of money to progressive causes. Had a late night show featuring not just celebs, but writers, political figures, philosophers, etc. Today he most assuredly would have Colin Kaepernick as a guest. Loved jazz and created the idea of the Playboy Man, who didn’t just love women but believed in seeing the world, reading, treating people with respect. Trump is the antithesis of the Playboy image. As the best minds of that generation were “destroyed by madness,” Hef offered refuge.

I know he wasn’t a 3d Wave feminist, and Playboy Bunnies worked in often difficulty-if-not-hostil environments,  but few have made American culture more tolerant and created a space for marginalized people in the media and told Americans the truth about power more than Hugh Hefner did.

Media today is in crisis.  So many people read 140 character tweets rather than reasoned articles.  The corporate media is a powerful wing of the ruling class.  Social media spreads contrived information via memes.  But Playboy still  writes about class, poverty, inequality, war, justice, and other issues that are no longer sexy.

Hef’s death reminded me of something a friend said to me about Bob Dylan years ago, “he’s a genius, not a saint.”

 

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Ken Burns’s War Stories

[Original version at History News Network, 21 September 2017]

I began my first book on Vietnam (Masters of War) with a poem, Adrian Mitchell’s “To Whom It May Concern”:

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out.

You take the human being and you twist it all about

So scrub my skin with women

Chain my tongue with whisky

Stuff my nose with garlic

Coat my eyes with butter

Fill my ears with silver

Stick my legs in plaster

Tell me lies about Vietnam.

When written in 1968, Americans were finally realizing and tiring of the lies they had been told about Vietnam. And the point of the poem was that, against that flood of lies, was some kind of truth, one that a majority of Americans began to understand as they opposed the American war on Vietnam.

“Triangulating” (or Teaching?) the War

Now, a half-century later, America’s best-known documentarians and teachers of popular history, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have produced an 18-hour examination of the war for PBS (a “masterpiece” according to George Will, with sponsorship and promotion from the Koch Brothers, Bank of America, and Pentagon, inter alia) which is getting a huge amount of attention already. Like their documentary on the Civil War, The Vietnam War will surely become a major work of public history and be ingrained in our national consciousness. But what do Burns and Novick do, is it anything new, and what consequences will their work have?hochiminh

Burns and Novick, in their public relations blitz for the show (which debuted Sunday night, September 17th) have stressed that this documentary is different than the studies of Vietnam that have preceded it because they focused on the people who were involved in the war and especially representatives of the enemy (the “North Vietnamese” in their parlance, not the “revolutionaries” or “the NLF”). Their goal was to “triangulate” the telling of the war—speak to people from North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the United States. Their main purpose is to “honor the courage, heroism and sacrifice of those who served,” and “we have tried to do this by listening to their stories.” They add that they conveyed the tragedy of the war through “good storytelling.”

In addition to telling the stories of Americans who fought in Vietnam, Burns and Novick talk to partisans from the enemy, who talk of battles and tactics and their simultaneous respect and hatred of the Americans they fought. In fact, the documentarians seem to suggest that the Vietnamese were unaware of much about the war until educated by Americans. In Vietnam, Novick was surprised to see “a willingness, an openness” to talk about the war in a way “they never speak about it in Vietnam, which is the human story . . . . The war there is sort of a grand sort of victorious narrative without people in it.” And the people to whom Novick spoke “want the next generation to know how terrible it was, how difficult it was.” (Emphases mine).

diem on timeI haven’t been to Vietnam, so maybe they’re right. But I’m pretty certain the Vietnamese talk about the war and know how terrible and difficult it was . . . I’ve talked to a lot of Vietnamese about the war, in depth . . . the war fought for decades in their country. They lost 2-3 million people in the American phase of their long struggle, which means that virtually every family had an immediate member die. There are cemeteries and memorials all over, constant reminders of the war. There are museums to honor battles fought and soldiers and civilians killed. There is a museum dedicated to the dead at My Lai. A close friend who spent 3 months traveling in the area told me that remembering the war in general and its victims is “one of the most significant parts of their identity, more so than here.” There are tributes to the dead. There is a replica of the Washington D.C. Vietnam “Wall.” And if they’re somehow not aware of how terrible the war was, the continued loss of life, perhaps as many as 50,000 people after hostilities ended, from unexploded bombs, and the continued impact of Agent Orange in high cancer rates and countless deformed babies, would help them remember. Did the Vietnamese really need two Americans, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, to finally teach them about the bloodshed and devastation their own land suffered because of the Americans?

And therein lies the core flaw of the entire project—it’s a series of stories, but not really a history of the war. That’s the Burns-Novick trademark and it’s worked for a long time, making them famous and I suspect wealthy. But it substitutes vignettes for ideas, personal anecdotes for larger structural factors, bathos for analysis. And it ends up providing a misguided view of the war, one that has politically conservative consequences (ironic because Burns himself is openly liberal) by shifting attention away from the historical, material reasons for American intervention and focusing on 79 people interviewed who were directly involved in Vietnam. Instead of an exposé of aggressive militarism, they give us sentimental stories of survival and perseverance.

Burns and Novick, despite their claims of originality, provide a pretty boilerplate liberal examination of the war. It “was begun in good faith, by decent people.” The people of South Vietnam created a state, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), which was invaded by “North Vietnam” and precipitated the war because of the American mission to prevent Communists from taking over “free” countries. After the partition of Vietnam at Geneva, the conflict became a “civil war” in which the U.S. became involved to save the “free” southern half of Vietnam according to Cold War logic. Americans made anguished decisions to invade and then escalate the war, they kept blundering further along and then couldn’t get out, there were decisive battles at places like Ap Bac and Ia Drang, Americans turned on the war, it was a tragedy, there are only victims, and so on . . . It’s not a bad history, but in no way original and in its pursuit of “all sides” it creates a false equivalency. The intervention into Vietnam was a war crime, and PBS isn’t going to fund a documentary saying that, and Burns and Novick don’t go beyond the liberal consensus to think about it.33 B52-vietnam

More Reconciliation and Healing

Burns and Novick talk a lot about reconciliation and healing, sort of a Vietnam War version of Dr. Phil and Oprah. “For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester,” they claim. “ . . . alienation, resentment and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions . . . so many of these seeds were sown during the Vietnam War.” The war wracked American society, pitting generation against generation, even family against family. These are troubling issues to be sure, and Burns and Novick seem to easily pin them on Vietnam. But their explanation is facile and self-serving. Continue reading

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Vietnam: The Commodity

(Talk given at Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, for The Propeller Group exhibit, 13 September 2017)

I’m not an artist nor an art historian, yet art is necessary to any reasonable and meaningful examination of the past. The way people view and represent their past—culture, struggles, social relations, work, wars—is an essential part of understanding where the world has been and maybe where it’s going.ak47m16

I’ve also spent a lot of time studying the American war on Vietnam, which began after World War II and continued into the early 1970s. I know a good deal about the historical episode that we call “The Vietnam War,” but this exhibit isn’t about that . . . except when it is.

The Propeller Group [TPG]—an art collective-cum-ad agency—has created an exhibit that tells us something about the Vietnam War, something about Vietnamese culture, and a lot about the way ideas and indeed the past itself becomes contested and commodified. And that’s the immanent lesson I’ve taken from this collection of art, performance, and video.

At first look, I saw/experienced a recreation of a conversation between a Fedex worker and one of the collective members.

Fedex: The staging of history is happening around us all the time. We basically live in a staged version of the past . . . As if the past was a mall where you could pick and choose a lifestyle as easily as choosing a new wardrobe.

 Tung: I’m not sure . . . I don’t even care much about authenticity.

 Fedex: That’s exactly my point! You should care. Stop being so ironic and use something real for your show.

As soon as I read this exchange, a lot of thoughts came to me, ideas I’ve used in my classes and in my own writing. I thought of Guernica and Confederate statues, of internet memes that today constitute a large part of our public education. Of Antonio Gramsci and bourgeois cultural hegemony.  And I thought a lot about the intersection of art, politics, history, and revolutions and wars. What we call “The Vietnam War” was in the first instance “The Vietnamese Revolution,” in which nationalist/communist forces led by the Viet Minh (later Viet Cong) fought against the occupation of French and Japanese forces, and then fought a long war of revolution and liberation against the most powerful nation on the globe, the United States. The Propeller Group leaves this unsaid, and lets us see what the war brought—not why it happened or why it was fought. It’s up to us to fill in all those spaces.

I thought of Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik revolutionary, who in Revolution Betrayed wrote that “. . . a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.” Or the Dada idea of upsetting the bourgeois world created by affluent and artistic Europeans, and making us question the very point of art and what artists do, most relevantly in the case of TPG by incorporating everyday objects (like the Honda Dream) and happenstance into their work, making a mockery of the established hegemonic culture as a way of resisting it. Or Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapping the Reichstag or Pont-Neuf Bridge . . .

It especially made me think of the idea of the spectacle.   In all that I read about and by TPG, their videos and manifestos, they never made reference to the society of the spectacle, but they had to have been thinking about it. The Marxist philosopher Guy Debord, writing amid the global uproar sparked by decolonization but especially the massive resistance to the Vietnam War as well as the careening consumerism that had grasped control of postwar Western culture, developed the idea of “the spectacle,” his encompassing term for the way postwar capitalism created the cultural devices—advertising, television, film, celebrity, media, scandal, and others—to foster, and yet conceal, “the autocratic reign of the market.” The spectacle shifts our attention and soothes us from the reality of consumption, struggle, wars and so on.  Debord himself was a founder of the Situationist International, a collective of artists and others who opposed postwar capitalism and played a prominent role in the 1968 May uprising in Paris, where their motto, “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible” summed up their vision of the world they wished to create (and also helped create the Sex Pistols via Malcolm McLaren).

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Cuba, Race, and African Liberation

 

Twenty-six years ago, on May 25th, 1991, the last Cuban troops left Angola.  Beginning in 1975-76, Cuban forces (eventually numbering around 350,000) entered Angola in support of the the ANC’s struggle against apartheid and, more specifically, to support the Angola Revolution and help create an independent state in Namibia.  Today, as Cuban relations with the U.S. are  in a period of transition and the global Left in a far weaker position than it was in the latter 20th Century, the legacy of Cuban, and 3d World, global solidarity is worth remembering.

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Mandela and Castro

For Fidel Castro, race played an important role in his analysis of Empire and Capitalism and South Africa’s apartheid government was perhaps the most visible example and symbol of the intersection of race, power, and global capitalism-cum-imperialism (though surely not the only one–Castro and the Cubans spoke in support of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, and Black Lives Matters and at the U.N. helped sponsor a resolution equating Zionism with Racism). Castro and Nelson Mandela and the ANC had a long relationship, and he often cited the significance of Castro’s 1959 victory —“I read the report of Blas Roca, the general Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, about their years as an illegal organization during the Batista regime . . . I read works by and about Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro. . . .”

Cuba’s most important support came not inside South Africa, however, but in Angola, a Portugese colony when, in 1961, the Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) began a war of national liberation, which resulted in independence in 1975. The South Africans, supported by various U.S. governments and agencies, did not go away gently, however, and intervened with army, naval, and air force units, with arms provided by Washington, D.C. and other western governments as well as mercenaries funded by the CIA. The new Angolan government asked Cuba for help.

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Rope-a-Dope Trump (Don’t Get Rid of Him)

If you’re a fan of the Sweet Science, ali foremanor were alive in the 1970s, or even just heard of Muhammad Ali, then you’re familiar with “The Rumble in the Jungle,” his epic bout against then-Heavyweight Champ George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire in October 1974.  Ali may have been “The Greatest,” but he  stepped into the ring as a 3:1 underdog (not exactly Tyson-Douglas [42:1] or even the first Ali-Liston [8:1] odds but a risky wager by any means).  Ali was 32 at the time and had lost three prime years when he was suspended for resisting the draft, while Foreman, a big puncher, was 25 and undefeated in 40 fights, with 37 knockouts.

Ali, however, surprised, if not stunned, the boxing world by dispatching Foreman in 8 rounds (here).  Ali knew better than to wear himself down trying to outpunch Foreman, so he employed a much different strategy, known to the world today as the Rope-a-Dope.  Ali fought passively, often retreating to the ropes where Foreman would unleash a barrage of body blows that Ali, and the ropes, were able to catch and brush off.  By the middle rounds, Foreman was spent and Ali was able to finish him off and regain his Heavyweight belt.

So what’s that have to do with Donald J. Trump?  Well, right now there’s blood in the water, the sharks are circling, the vultures are overhead, the clock’s about to strike midnight, A Hard Rains’ A-Gonna Fall . . . well, you get the point–Trump is in trouble.  A series of almost-daily scandals, the most important which revolve around his relationships with Russian government officials, have set off a frenzy of political opposition unseen in modern times (yes, even the Clinton Impeachment ordeal wasn’t as intense as this).  It’s like Guy Debord’s society of spectacle, the use of commodities and information to maintain social control, has reached full maturation.  The United States, hell, most of the world, is transfixed by Trump.  This has led to calls in the media and among political rivals, particularly Democrats and Liberals, for his ouster, perhaps by DACDnzOXUAAoWRUImpeachment.  Indeed, Slate, something of a Better Homes and Gardens for the liberal elite, has even spared Congress the effort of writing up the terms of impeachment by doing it ahead of time for it.   Impeachment odds on PredictIt, a gambling book based in New Zealand, have soared in the past few days to over 30 percent, a four-fold bump in barely a week.

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