Gun Owner Liability Insurance

“You cannot insure yourself for arson.” Robert P. Harwig, President of the Insurance Information Institute, NY Times, 2013-02-21

The absurdity of the laws of gun ownership in the United States is never more clear than when you enter into a discussion of insurance policies.

Did you know that the families of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were sued for millions of dollars after the Columbine massacre? Their insurance companies paid the claims.

Wait a minute– there’s a liability there? How can that be?

If it is legal to own guns why should there be any liability when they are used as intended? If they not used “as intended”, why should the parents and the parents’ insurance company be liable but not, say, the company that sold all the weapons to Klebold and Harris?

My question is, why? Why should the insurance companies pay out? They should say, you live in a world in which easy, unimpeded access to firearms is a fundamental right. By voting for the same politicians year after year, you have affirmed your approval of this state of affairs. You accept the risk of Columbine, and there will be many more, as the price to be paid for this access to guns. Why, now, are you unhappy with the result? Why should we pay you?

All right– you object to the word “intended”? You still want to believe that the purpose of a gun is for hunting or self-defense? So the mass murderers are using the guns as “not intended”? But isn’t the insurance policy a test of exactly that idea?

And isn’t the idea that killing a room full of people with a high powered rifle is a capability and potential “not intended” by the manufacturer and seller of the gun absurd? Of course it’s intended to kill! Of course it’s designed to shatter human flesh and bone! Of course it’s intended to paralyze and disfigure! That’s the exact thing that sells guns, the fantasy of invoking it’s power in rage and delight, like in the movies, when Bruce or Clint or Arnold or Sylvester looks satisfied and says something vaguely iconic like “if you’re going to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

Some insurance companies, apparently, will cover you for “self defense”. But such coverage, of course is unnecessary, because you will not have done anything wrong, even if the person you are defending against was merely coming up your driveway to ask you for directions.

Let’s not get confused here: I am not excusing criminal behavior. I have no reason to think that you might have reason to think I am doing that, but some gun nut out there is already muttering it under his breath. Furthermore, did anything I said sound like “let’s lock up law-abiding citizens”?

If the law is that you can’t have a gun, then so be it: you aint “law-abiding” anymore.

There is no way in the world that the U.S. would be able to keep mentally deranged people from owning a gun. Firstly, there are far, far, far more mentally deranged people out there than is commonly imagined. Secondly, the same people in favor of this idea are hysterically averse to taxes, especially the big tax hikes that will be required to even begin warehousing all the potential mass killers out there.

And the same people who believe that only law-abiding citizens will register, if registration is required, have a rather touching belief that locking people up after they commit a crime– for longer periods– will magically prevent them from having committed the crimes in the first place.

I don’t think Klebold said to Harris on the morning of April 20, 1999, “but what if we get caught?”

Harris: “We’ll be in BIG trouble, that’s for sure.”

In March, 1998, a Jefferson County detective, in response to complaints from the parents of a classmate, Brooks Brown, initiated the process of obtaining a warrant to search Eric Harris’ house. This investigator had checked out Harris’ website on which he made public threats and advocated violence and murder. He forgot to finish the task though. But after April 20, the Sherriff remembered to not tell anyone about it until 60 Minutes uncovered the fact two years later.

Christians love to cite the (apparently false) story of a girl who said she believed in God being killed by Harris or Klebold.  They call her a martyr and proof that prayer belongs in the schools.  They don’t like to tell you about Robyn Anderson, a Christian, who purchased three of the guns used for Klebold. She was never charged.  And, yes, thanks to her, many prayers were said in school.

Mark Manes, on the other hand, was sentenced to 9 years(1) for selling his Tec-9 to Klebold. Why the disparity. Did the police like Robyn? She is a cute blonde. She is a Christian. Why on earth did Manes receive 9 years– really, a rather savage sentence, considering the big fat nothing that other people with some responsibility for Columbine received…

If this investigator was liable in some way for what happened, because he was aware of the threat, but did nothing, why isn’t the gun shop merchant who sells a man hundreds or thousands of rounds? “Hunting sparrows, are we?”

The other thing made clear by Klebold and Harris, though, is that no amount of screening for mental illnesses will snag clever, composed psychopaths like Eric Harris, who was very astute at manipulating the criminal justice system (his parole officer thought he was exemplary), and would probably be even more successful at manipulating psychologists.

[Incidentally: Harris was on Fluvoxamine, an SSRI anti-depressant at the time of the shootings. I guess, in the words of General Turgidsen in “Dr. Strangelove”, it might be unfair to condemn the entire program just because of one little slip-up. But let’s get something else out there concerning “myths” of Columbine: Klebold and Harris were, in fact, bullied by other students. At one point, a group of them tossed ketchup-coated tampons at Klebold in the cafeteria, and Harris was regularly mocked for his physique. Both were ridiculed for their poor athletic skills.]


In 2005 Congress passed a law (The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act or “PLCAA”) giving immunity to gun manufacturers and sellers against any liability for how their product is used no matter how defective or just plain stupid they are. Aside from the comical name– “Protection of Lawful Commerce”, as if the law itself is not what makes it “lawful”), this is surely some cruel joke on the families of victims of gun violence.

Let’s go one better: guns are also exempt from The Consumer Product Safety Commission. Why on earth is that? Because they are so safe?

According to the article cited above, at least 250 children aged 14 and younger have been killed by “accident” a a result of a gun being left unprotected in a home or vehicle.

[I can hardly believe one of the stories: a father bought his 3-year-old boy a .22 rifle and tried to teach him how to use it “safely”. He was killed instead. The boy’s mother testified that the boy “knew better” than to do that. As a letter-writer to the Times said, why is a person required to have liability insurance on his or her car, but not on his or her firearm?]

No other industry in the entire United States has this very privileged position. It should be repealed and the legislators who voted for it should be sacked. Not only because sane people don’t want any guns around, but because the law is massively stupid. If a wild-eyed orange -haired gentleman were to enter a gun shop and ask for a semi-automatic gun and 5,000 rounds of ammunition because “somebody’s going to pay”, there should be a legal obligation on the owner of that shop to not arm this man to the teeth. Or, even more ridiculously, if a handgun blows up in someone’s face, he should damn well be able to sue the maker of that defective gun.

And, just to humour Republicans, if a registered NRA member is confronted by a gay immigrant jihadist burglar and his gun fails to go off– well, he should have recourse, don’t you think? The gun was defective. It didn’t kill someone.


Someone Caught up to Me.

In 2004, some families, of victims of the Beltway shootings, sued the manufacturer of the rifle used and received about $2.5 million.  That was brilliant.

The “Harbinger”

That past sorrows and joys have merged into an elegance that permeates her presence, that “something in the air” that indicates class and courage and composure. Though she now rigorously guards her privacy, her free spirit surfaces easily, and her thoughts come crystal clear. A figure of her time, our history, Lee is her own harbinger for an iconic future. Ours, and hers. (From Nicky Haslam, Ny Times Blogs 2013-02-07)

And there you have the answer to the question, how do you flatteringly describe the narcissistic and pointless life of a true celebrity?  Nauseous yet?

Those words were written in reference to Lee Bouvier Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy’s younger sister by five years. (As admired as Jackie Kennedy was, she too was nothing more than a celebrity. If you think that inviting well-known, if serious, poets and singers to the White House or being a book editor later in life means you actually had a real life, think again: a book editor is exactly what you do if you really aren’t up the far more lugubrious task of writing. It’s not like, say, building houses with Jimmy Carter. )

What is a “celebrity”? In the real world, useless people wither and die because they are incapable of producing anything of value in order to sustain an affluent lifestyle. A celebrity is simply someone who gets the lifestyle anyway.

You get why Sofia Coppola, who made “Marie Antoinette” with Kirsten Dunst, (and a better movie, “Lost in Translation”) would be interested in her. “Marie Antoinette” did for the title subject what that paragraph above tries to do for Lee Radziwill: recast the life of a sheltered, uninteresting, unaccomplished but affluent woman into something more dramatic and significant. Next, of course, we find out why these women are victims, in a way, so we can empathize with them, so something will mitigate that feeling of privilege. So we can say they have “overcome” something, like not being born rich.

She tried. Yes, she tried to actually produce something of value and when you can’t really produce anything of value– she couldn’t– but you want to create the illusion of it, you become an actress, or, god help us, a model. She tried acting. She appeared in at least two plays. Both attempts elicited scathing reviews and she gave it up.

She was a hanger-on, with the by then artistically impotent Truman Capote, on the Rolling Stones 1972 tour, for which I don’t think she even earned a mention in Keith Richards’ “Life”. She has received France’s Légion d’honneur which astonishes me. That sounds so meaty and substantial. I’ll have to wiki that one day to find out what exactly it means. Remember– France thinks Jerry Lewis is a brilliant comedian.

The most astounding comment is the reference to a portrait of Radziwill “at the height of her astonishing beauty”.  Have a look.  I could almost let anything else by Haslam pass but it is one thing to ask us to tolerate celebrities coasting among us, parasitical (almost always acquiring wealth through inheritance or marriage), intrusive, boring, but to then insist that we recognize them as beautiful as well goes far beyond the pale. There’s her picture to the right, her coarse face, the ridiculous hair and earrings, and that vacuous sedentary expression in fervent acknowledgement of the wisdom of keeping your mouth shut if you don’t have anything particularly interesting to say.

Unless, of course, you are a “harbinger”.

Here’s an excruciating passage from Haslam’s interview:

“Were you always aware of your beauty?”
“From the word go,” she answers simply and honestly. “But no one else was, then…”

The transmutation of Radziwill’s coarse, rather weird face– Jackie Kennedy had a bit of the same odd arrangement of eyes – nose – mouth– into this “astonishing” beauty is worth a book. How we manufacture illusions.

Given Radziwill’s life and connections and wealth, any face with all of the core elements in it would eventually elicit this “astonishing” tag from a celebrity interviewer some day. Because that is precisely how you describe a woman who is really quite homely if she is rich and famous and a celebrity and obviously not beautiful at all and you have been absolutely dying to meet her and make a big point of describing how she seemed to like you. And then you use her first name. With the money you will have the teeth and the make-up and what passes for hair style, and clothing. Usually the breasts. But no amount of money can fix the flaws in the arrangement of that face. They eyes are too wide set, the nose too long, the forehead like a plateau. And that awful, awful dress.

In 1974 she and Jackie published “One Special Summer,” a memoir of their European trip, written originally as a gift to their parents.

But really, this is so good. So beautiful. This is so amazing! You should publish this! People would love to read about your life. I must insist on sending a copy to my friend over at Harper-Collins… He’s a tough editor. I’m sure he’ll give his real opinion. Let’s see what he thinks. Let’s not tell him who wrote it. No– no! That would be cruel.

And so it goes. Oh my goodness– we were astonished at the demand for our book. Who would have thought it? But after all, I have such good taste. It would surprise no one to know that I can do a bit of it myself.

As for “harbinger for an iconic future”, I don’t even know what Ms. Nicky intended with this preposterous line. I can’t figure it out. How can a future be “iconic”? Does she mean our future will be full of icons? And that Lee Radziwill will astonish young people in the future with her good looks and her savoir faire? Will they want to hear stories of her hanging around the Rolling Stones in 1972 and meeting many interesting people, like, oh Truman Capote, Joe Namath, and Olivia Newton-John?


Is Eva Peron one of these? Not entirely– she was so deeply — and disastrously– involved in the politics of Argentina that she might be more accurately regarded as a dictator rather than a celebrity. She did things– bad things, generally– but she did actually do things.

Though… now that I think about it… isn’t what happened in Argentina under the Perons precisely the kind of thing that happens when you give a celebrity real power? Things go bad. Offences to vanity become treason. The government not only insists that you obey them, but that you also love them.

Amanda Cox Seeks a “Package”

What ABC could and did offer, instead, was an hour in prime time; teases of the interview on “World News”, the newly first -place morning show “Good Morning America”, “nightline,” and ABC’s local TV and radio affiliates.  Within the industry this is called the “package”. NY Times, February 12, 2013

The real package is, of course, Amanda Knox, who will enthrall millions of Americans on April 30 on ABC “News”. This is not news. It’s not journalism. It is the nauseous give and take of exploitation and titillation and scandal marketing. It is the news division committing incest with the entertainment division. The business of this entire process is not information or enlightenment or insight but how to disguise voyeurism as respectable information intercourse. We are all going to do the dance because we are happy to pretend to be appalled or sympathetic or curious or informed while   experiencing the thrill of dirty sex with a sexually vibrant young woman whose room-mate was murdered.

Amanda has a book to sell.

There is no personal experience so tragic or distasteful that the media are not willing to profit from it, nor women like Amanda Knox. But it will be packaged carefully. There will be some higher purpose given for the book, so readers won’t feel like they are expressing a prurient curiosity when picking it up at the bookstore. Let’s see– it’s a cautionary tale for young American women because she just doesn’t want anyone else to go through the ordeal she went through. Or a diatribe against the pernicious Italian justice system. Or let’s go with the Oprahfied version: “I just felt that it was time to tell MY story. There will be something about honoring the memory of her room-mate. There will be talk about who will play her in the movie. HBO or Hollywood? Can she sing? If yes, there’s always dinner theatre.

I do have a feeling she will eventually marry her body guard and go off somewhere and hide. She’s not made for this. The money is too tempting, but she’s not made for this and she may not handle it well.

Oscars 2013

Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars: was this a put on?

I think it was. And I think she will get away with it because she is young and bit dorky and funny. But it could not be helped: she has slimmed down, after complaining, last year, about how Hollywood wants everyone to look anorexic. Yes, they do, and you do. Whether she becomes even more successful depends on lot on how she chooses her next films. She could be the next Sally Field. Or she could be the next Sally Field.

Or the next Amy Adams, who must have the worst luck of any actress in Hollywood: she is one of a handful of really interesting actors around, but hasn’t yet found the break-out role that will define her career.

Poor Anne Hathaway: I doubt she’ll ever again, for sheer artistic interest, match the moment in “Brokeback Mountain” where she told Ennis, on the phone, what had happened to Jack, and made it beautifully ambiguous: did she know what was really up or not?

It’s pretty clear she did know– but it was wonderfully done.

No one gave a better performance in any film this year than Amy Adams did in “Junebug”.  I know for a fact you have never seen it: do so, now.

Mumford and Sons

Roll away your stone,
I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time
For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside
‘Cause you told me that
I wouldn’t find a home
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal
And all the while my character it steals
Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say, “That’s exactly how this grace thing works”
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

I’ve tried and tried but I just can’t bring myself to love “Mumford and Sons”. A lot of people who know my taste in music have recommended them to me and suggested that they are not like most pop bands: they are serious. Their music has substance. They have energy and passion.

The lyrics of “Roll Away Your Stone” (above) give you a pretty good idea of what they’re up to. I think I like what they’re trying to do– inject some substance into popular acoustic based folk-rock– but it always sounds to me a little too self-consciously artsy and definitely pretentious. “I’m afraid of what I’ll discover inside” isn’t very startling, really, and isn’t a very compelling evocation of self-searching or grief or guilt or anything. “Fragile substance of my soul”? “While my character it steals”? As the lines follow each other, they go nowhere. As the images succeed each other in your head you should realize that they don’t have any connection to each other. When exactly did this character-stealing happen? What were you doing at the time? Who were you thinking of? The answer is, “a song”, “a song”, and “a song”.

The answers, in a great song, is something like “one night after I kicked Rosie out my apartment”, “masturbating”, “Lisa”. Or something like “but her reply came from Anchorage”.

There is nothing in the lyrics of “Roll Away Your Stone” that suggests any particular real experience or feeling– just something that sounds like a serious consideration of something that sounds like seriousness.

Oddly– and I mean that– it’s fairly typical of their lyrics. Something that starts off with a generalized image of soulfulness but never really connects to any real idea.

It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The son it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears and all the faults you left behind

And “you forgave and I won’t forget”… what? What did she forgive? What did he do that was forgiven? What was forgotten? I don’t think they think it matters– I think they feel that the idea of forgiveness just floating out there is enough to move you. It doesn’t move me. It invites you to put your own experiences into that generalized statement but that makes it a weak song.  You can get the same idea on poster from “Successories”.

Everything I’ve heard from them is weak in the same way. Vague and unspecific and generalized and rather antiseptic and platitudinous. Compare it to:

Did I disappoint you?
Leave a bad taste in your mouth?  (U2)

The “bad taste in your mouth” is visceral and tart. Or:

I was down at the New Amsterdam
Starin’ at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation
With a black-haired flamenco dancer (Counting Crows)

Specific place– the New Amsterdam–, specific girl– with yellow hair– and then you can go somewhere, the singer’s desperation for girls and success, his urge to throw himself at something and hope it sticks. Or…

There’s a note underneath your front door
That I wrote twenty years ago
Yellow paper and a faded picture
And a secret in an envelope

If Mumford and Sons rewrote the song, it would sound like this:

All your notes are under my doors
All my past thoughts expressed in words
I can hardly remember anything
Except my darkest secrets

So which is more evocative? More powerful? Is there any doubt? The Civil Wars song intrigued me immediately: what was the secret? Why couldn’t he give the message in person? What’s happened 20 years ago?  You don’t need the answers to those questions to be drawn in to the sense of regret, missed opportunities, and sorrow.

And just to rub my nose in it, Mumford and Sons puts out a video of themselves performing at the Red Rock amphitheater in Colorado and the audience is just jumping! Just jumping! Waving their arms and mouthing the words and just so consummately  rapt, in that choreographed fake “look at us whip the crowd into a frenzy” production style that I find more than a little distasteful.

You wonder where they are going with this. What’s the principle at work here– the crowd in a frenzy, interspersed with cuts of the band jumping and gyrating and demonstrating “passion” don’t you know, with the swooping camera work that is almost a sign of desperation: there is nothing on the stage that is interesting enough to obviate the need to make that camera move, to compel you to admit that there is something interesting here. This swooping camera! Why, a static camera just cannot capture the adoration of this bulging crowd of acolytes! Wait– there’s music.

Who’s more interesting than Mumford and Sons:

Bon Ivor
Dandy Warhols
Arcade Fire
Civil Wars
Ryan Adams
Brian Jonestown Massacre

Who’s less interesting:

Taylor Swift
Lady Gaga

Who is Similarly Lyrically Stunted

Tragically Hip

The Sins We Know

“I couldn’t tell if that was you or the radio”. Keith Richards’ mom, shortly after he began learning the guitar.

I’m really not sure who said it first or if it was ever said first but it is no secret that a good strategy for a liar is to admit to the sins everyone already knows you committed, or which you don’t mind them knowing abouit, so that people will believe you when you deny everything else.

You need to remember this when you read “Life”, Keith Richard’s remarkable autobiography. He lavishly admits to everything– that we already know about him. Maybe he even throws in a few sins we’ve haven’t seen in the tabloids yet. He even admits to driving while stoned, risking his own and others’ lives. And he admits to being an asshole at times.

Well, what else is there?

Richards was an incorrigible drug user, of almost everything that was out there in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was arrested numerous times, occasionally prosecuted, but never served a prison term of any length whatsoever. I’m not sure he admits to why he didn’t serve a prison term. Well, yes, actually he does hint at the fact that he knew the right people. That he was privileged, because he was a rich, successful artist. One time, he called the owner of Dole Pineapples, whose daughter had taken a shine to him, to help evade a serious charge in Hawaii. Like magic, charges were dropped, and his stash was even returned, and everything was fine. If there is a problem with this, Richards doesn’t know it.

If he got into an argument with someone about whether he should be driving while stoned, he is always in the position of being able to say “fuck you, I don’t care what you think, if I feel like driving while I’m smashed, I will, and you can’t stop me.” Money is power– enormous power. What are the consequences to him if you don’t like him anymore because he might kill somebody on the road, or because he stole his son, Marlon’s, childhood away from him, or abandoned people, or introduced them to the drugs that later killed them? There’s nuance in everything and when you are Keith Richards, that’s all that matters– it’s enough. In the arc of that nuance, you can justify yourself.

That and the money.



Keith takes more than a few shots at Mick Jagger. One gets the impression that he won’t mind, really, if Jagger takes a few shots of his own when his own inevitable biography appears. You get the feeling that Keith would think, fair enough.

“No One Cares About These People”

Mr. Keane, in his Chronicle article, offered two major reasons the police lie so much. First, because they can. Police officers “know that in a swearing match between a drug defendant and a police officer, the judge always rules in favor of the officer.” At worst, the case will be dismissed, but the officer is free to continue business as usual. Second, criminal defendants are typically poor and uneducated, often belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record. “Police know that no one cares about these people,” Mr. Keane explained (NY Times, 2012-02-03)

And, I suspect, neither do you and I.

If you did, you would speak up, make your voice heard, vote for the progressive reformer, not the tough-on-crime conservative. But we don’t care about those people. Unless they are played by Morgan Freeman or Tim Robbins in a movie. Then we care a whole lot, because we really are good, decent people, and so is Morgan Freeman, and the fact that I just love him shows that I am not biased or bigoted. I judge people by what they actually do, not by which actor they look like.

And if the police lie in order to lock them up for a particular crime, it doesn’t really matter if they didn’t commit that particular crime: the important thing is that someone has been locked up for something.

Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. (NY Times, 2012-02-03)

How small a minority are we now, those who think “these people” do matter? That they have souls and feelings and inner lives? We’re not popular, that’s for sure. We are an affront to the overjoyed multitudes who love punishment because they really feel that that is the only way to keep people from taking our stuff or hurting us. This conversation takes place at one level and they either hurt us or we hurt them and if you help them you are hurting us.

My wife and I are watching “The Wire” right now. It’s a gritty, realistic police drama set in Baltimore. The police in “The Wire” cover all shades of humanity, from the obese thoughtless bureaucrat to the passionate honest street cop. The behavior of the cops on this show– and their physical appearance (as on “Hill Street Blues”, another of a handful of credible police dramas) strikes me as consonant with detailed news stories about crime and justice. Deals are struck. The really bad guys, with smarter lawyers, get the light sentences while the poor loyal schmuck who served them bears the brunt of the criminal justice system. And the police, in “The Wire”, lie. Sometimes for personal gain or to cover up incompetence or corruption. Sometimes in a well-meaning effort to put the bad guys behind bars.


Yes, the police have a tough job. So do criminal lawyers, and farmers and miners and lumberjacks, and doctors and teachers, and those kids who pick through the trash heaps in India. Cry me a river. If you don’t want to be a cop because somebody thinks you should actually be required to obey the law, or control your temper, or risk your life to try to disarm a suicidal homeless man… then get out and do something else.

Anton Newcomb

I have no respect for anyone working for any major label in any capacity whatsoever in the executive. They’re all liars. They’re all mediocre people with no talent. They don’t know talent. They don’t understand music in any way whatsoever.
Genesis P’orridge , Psychic TV

Anton started using heroin heavily…. Dig!

You can learn almost anything important there is to know about the music industry by watching the film “Dig!”, about Anton Newcomb and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, his band, and Courtney Taylor and the Dandy Warhols.

The Dandy Warhols, having deeply impressed the A & R department, was signed by Capitol Records who put up $400,000 to film a video for one of their songs. Their concept for the video was a bit weird and, after spending the $400 K, they didn’t sound too sure they even liked it.

The Video

Is the video about Anton Newcomb? He may have thought so. After the Warhols produced an album called “Not if you Were the Last Junkie on Earth”, Newcomb produced an album called “Not if you Were the last Dandy on Earth”.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre received money to record an album. Anton Newcomb took the money and built a home studio with it instead, so they could do a lot of recording at minimal cost. Then he failed to produce an album because he “started using heroin heavily”.

Anton Newcomb has “issues”. He screams at band-mates during gigs and sometimes assaults them. He informs staff at the record label that he is going to make them a lot of money– a LOT of money. He seems obsessively jealous of any attention given to the Dandy Warhols.

The Warhols sold a song (Bohemian Like You) to cell phone company in Europe which turned the song into a hit which made the Warhols very successful, in Europe. They had some difficulty translating that success into America.