Friday, June 29, 2018

Slaughter at the Annapolis Capital: A Tragedy Hits Close to Home

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 1:18 PM

The Cover of today's The Capital Newspaper - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • The Cover of today's The Capital Newspaper

A man with an apparent grievance and loads of ammunition ambushed my former newsroom on Thursday, June 28.

The 38-year-old gunman shot through, then entered the glass-encased front door of the newsroom I once called home, gunning down anyone daring to escape out the back.

The gunman was a well-known figure in the Annapolis Capital newsroom, airing incomprehensible grievances against the paper’s staff, dating back to when I interned there in the summer of 2013.
His murderous intentions became crystalized on a muggy Maryland afternoon, when he indiscriminately slaughtered five of the men and women I once called colleagues.

The assassination was more than an egregious attempt to silence a deranged man’s perceived enemies. It was an attack on the very principles that my industry is founded upon.

It was an attack on the airing of truths, like the 2011 column the Capital wrote about the gunman after he allegedly stalked and threatened a woman online.

It was an attack on a brotherhood of underpaid, overworked servants of truth—who still managed to turn out a damn fine paper after a fourth of its staff were slain.

Five years ago, I sat down with longtime reporter and editor John McNamara in the paper’s dingy old newsroom. McNamara, who was my go-to source for contact info and bits of color for the sports stories I filed that summer, was slain alongside colleagues Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

This quintet of talented people did nothing wrong. That day they gathered their materials, got in their cars and drove to their nondescript multistory office complex across the street from the Annapolis Mall.

They were fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters to many, and are the latest in an all-too-long list of Americans that found themselves on the wrong end of a loaded barrel.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Age of "WTF?!"

Posted By on Wed, Jan 3, 2018 at 4:10 PM

  • from a BigStock image
The 17th and 18th centuries in Europe are often referred to as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The early 20th century in the U.S. is known as the Gilded Age, a term recently dusted off and reclaimed for use in our own period of growing income inequality.

I suggest the period beginning June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his candidacy for president, should be referred to as the Age of "What The Fuck?!"

Thirty-plus years of teaching in a high school classroom trained me to keep it clean, in public anyway. Though my private conversations are laced with profanity, I watch my language when I'm in the public square. I broke with my normal decorum when I used "bullshit" in a post last March, but I made sure to give the word academic respectability by referring to the book, On Bullshit, by American philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

Today I'm throwing away my decades-old restraint. Nearly every night as I watch cable news, I yell, "What The Fuck?!" at the latest Trump outrage. Mornings, I growl the phrase as I pore over the paper and check the latest on the web.

Prior to the advent of Trump, I was often angered by what goes on in our political world. More than angered. Outraged. Incensed. Horrified. But I was rarely this astonished before The Donald descended the Trump Tower escalator and walked onto the political stage. I find myself doing mental double and triple takes at the unbelievable, frightening absurdity of our president's actions and utterances. Political humor on Saturday Night Live is meant to be satire. Lately it feels more like reportage.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

In Defense of the Summer Blockbuster

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 2:50 PM

What is there to say about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales that has not already been said? New York Times critic A. O. Scott called the flick “the perfect opposite of entertainment.” Ouch.

The movie is, technically, awful. The plot is—most definitely—garbage. And yet I found myself enjoying the film, despite the ridiculously over-long runtime of two-and-a-half hours.

To counter the opinion of Scott (or Mr. Scott in the style of the Times), I would contend movies in the vein of Pirates are meant to be enjoyed much like their theme park inspirations: with bells and whistles and in the company of family and friends.

Let me explain.

I attended a showing of Pirates on Memorial Day with my mom and her friend in Chandler, Arizona. Since I was visiting from out-of-town, my mother suggested we visit a new theater, Alamo Drafthouse.

It’s similar, I’m told, to RoadHouse Cinemas here in town.

Alamo is known for pioneering the “fork and screen” style cinema experience, where patrons can order a brew and some food to help with enjoying a rom-com or summer blockbuster.

The seats also recline, making for a viewing experience more akin to your home den than Harkins 10. Just like rides at Disneyland are similar-but-totally-superior to rides at the Pima County Fair, a movie at Alamo has the distinct feel of first class versus coach.

So maybe it was the good food. Maybe it was the three beers (more likely). But even after reading every legitimate movie critic skewer this Johnny Depp-paycheck machine, I came away thoroughly entertained.

This isn’t to say that Pirates or any other movie can’t be enjoyed at the local megaplex or the small-town cinema. There is definitely more to the equation than decent chicken wings.

After all, recliners and booze can only go so far. It wasn’t until a few hours later, after my buzz wore off, that I thought about why I enjoyed the experience so much. Admittedly, big, dumb blockbusters with no depth are not my idea of a good time.

Yet, I still laughed with my mom at all the dumb “horologist” jokes in the movie. We still marveled at the impressive action sequences.

I probably wouldn’t have done that had I attended by my lonesome. Sure the beer assisted in the enjoyment, but being with family brought out even more of my silly side.

What’s often lost by movie reviewers, who attend most screenings by themselves or with other critics, is the ability of movies to bring families and friends together for fun.

Who really cares if Depp mailed a performance in if you’re enjoying the experience with those whose company you value?

Far from being the opposite of entertainment, Pirates and movies like it offer the opportunity for families and friends to create real, lasting memories. That’s why as bad as it’s a small world is as a ride, you can’t stop talking about it.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Recall On Something That Could Have Saved Me—Or Did It Already?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 5:00 PM

As the spring semester started to roll in, I figured a good way to stay sane through the 14 weeks of stress and pulling my hair out would be to purchase a Himalayan salt lamp.

I’ve heard from my peers that salt lamps have many natural benefits to staying calm, cool, and somewhat collected.

According to Natural Living Ideas' "10 Reasons To Have A Himalayan Salt Lamp In Every Room Of Your Home," the environmentally friendly lamps cleanse and deodorize the air, reduce allergy and asthma symptoms, ease coughing, increase energy, neutralize electromagnetic radiation, give you a better sleep, improve your mood, and treat seasonal affective disorder. What more could a student ask for?

Ever since I was in high school, I’ve felt anxious for no reason at all. When I entered college, the anxiety got worse with the build up on my daily responsibilities and stress, which in turn lead to sleepless night, never being able to clear my mind, and feeling I couldn’t breathe.

I know I’m not the only one whose had this never-ending feeling, so I did some research on ways to help me keep my head above the water. I’ve resorted to yoga, aromatherapy, and currently have an obsession with candles. I know it sounds a bit odd, but I personally feel like these changes in my life have helped my anxiety, lifted my mood and has lead to better performance in my everyday studies.

Just as I was scrolling through my daily Tasty cooking videos on Facebook, I came across a video advertising these lamps. It told me everything I wanted to hear.

I looked into some lamps on the cheaper side of the cost spectrum, only to find out that there was a recall on the product reported this month.

According to USAToday, Michael’s recalled 80,000 lamps because customers complained the dimmer switch and outlet plug overheated.

80,000? That is a lot of lamps that clearly didn’t work for customers and enough to let me know the purchase isn’t worth it. Also, environmentally friendly? Sure, the base of the lamps are made of wood, but I think causing fires in people’s homes cancels that out. I’ll be sure to check that off my list of products not to buy.

Now that I’m thinking about the lamps as a whole, how would I really know if this lamp is working and how would I know if it’s just a placebo effect? If I think it’s working, then it’s working, but if I’m still extremely stressed and have reckless sleeping nights, my poor bank account will haunt me forever.

So, thank you U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for keeping me safe and saving me from wasting about $50.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Fake News Frenzy

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 10:50 AM

  • BigStock

The most recent presidential campaign has reignited many Americans' Facebook rants about "journalism these days," and how it's all turned into a biased, money-centered propaganda machine. No one could log into Facebook during the run up to the election without reading one or more lofty diatribes on why the candidate they support will be the next Messiah and how "the media" has a merciless vendetta against him or her.

Yes, news organizations all across the country missed an important mark while covering the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by writing that Trump's victory was a "shock." I'd bet good money that many hard-core Trump supporters didn't share that same sentiment, so why was it spreading like wildfire in election night coverage?

Regardless, a generalized hatred for media coverage is unjustified. After all, journalists are the ones who maintain your Fourth Estate and are ultimately the glue that keep your democracy intact. I recently saw a tweet by Sarah Jeong, a contributing editor to the online publication Motherboard, that said, "Audiences say 'journalism' when they liked it and 'media' when they don't," which in my experience so far could not be more accurate. Journalists are undoubtedly a public pain in the derriere, but we're also an undoubtedly necessary one.
As a budding journalist myself, I have seen these rants by my own peers and have taken them personally at times—even if it was aimed at a national outlet. While my youthful idealism is still somewhat intact (but diminishes a little more with every passing semester), I am not naive enough to deny that poorly-written and completely false reporting is still out there. It's out there more often than it should be.

The most recent outrage over the unvetted Russian dossier is a particularly painful controversy for those of us trying to save the reputation of reliable reporting. However, the overwhelming majority of news and journalism in the world is still fair and truthful, and it's a shame that the hysteria over fake news gets more spotlight time than the incredible, breakthrough work that reporters kill themselves for and sacrifice personal time and sleep for every single day.

For all the readers out there, I humbly ask you to hear my takeaway plea: keep an open mind about journalism and the news industry. Sure, it has flaws, but every other industry does too. How can the world expect improvements in our field if you don't even give us up-and-comers a chance to prove you wrong?

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Save Our Guns

Posted By on Tue, Dec 27, 2016 at 10:41 AM

You may recall a few years ago the City held a oddly named “Gun Buyback” event, oddly named since the City of Tucson did not sell the guns in the first place. During the one-day event, people were encouraged to trade any firearm for a $50 Safeway gift card with “no questions asked.” It was a strange activity for the city since it was providing a service that is already available in the private sector; anyone can take a gun to a gunshop and sell it to the licensed dealer. Unlike the licensed dealer, however, the “no questions asked” caveat made clear that the city was willing to act as a fence for stolen property.

Currently there are no plans for more “buyback” events, but a related controversy has arisen. The City of Tucson is having most firearms it acquires destroyed. There is apparently no good reason for this beyond the propaganda value of generally vilifying weapons. Some say that “putting them back on the street” makes Tucson a more dangerous place; or, to put a finer point on the same idea, some of these guns have been used in crimes and if they were set free would no doubt continue their criminal rampage.

Let’s ignore the kind of creepy superstitious thinking behind this policy and look at the reality of the situation. These guns are consumer items that are sold every day all over Tucson. There are around 200 licensed firearms dealers in greater Tucson. The number of guns in Tucson will be determined by the local market, not by how many are destroyed by the City of Tucson.

Regarding the bad “crime guns,” perhaps with a little counseling, these “crime guns” might be willing to sign a contract agreeing to practice lawful behavior in the future and then they could be released to the streets.

I hope that the Tucson City Council does not decide that it dislikes other items that come its way. I would hate to see them stop auctioning off recovered bicycles and chop them up instead. Or do an Auric Goldfinger number on “crime cars.” Yikes!

I mentioned that Tucson is having most of the guns destroyed. The City apparently likes rifles and shotguns that are not semi-automatic; those it will sell. It’s those nasty handguns and semi-autos that need to be destroyed. It is trendy today to view bolt action and pump action rifles and shotguns as good guns, while handguns and anything semi-automatic are the bad guns. This is based on fashion more than fact. Is a .22LR target pistol mare effective in combat than a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun? The correct answer is that it depends on who is on the trigger, not some aspects of the firearm's functioning.

By the way, If you want to get a libertarian to see red, tell him that the scary guns can be picked up by law enforcement, if it wants them, but must be destroyed rather than end up in the hands of a citizen. Yes, such is the case with the city’s destruction program. If the police are the good guys, and it’s alright for them to use the bad guns, how bad can those guns really be? If the law abiding citizenry and the police are on the same side and in partnership, then they can have the same tools.

So now the Attorney General of Arizona is seeking a clarification from the court on whether the City’s program is legal. Along with ten other states, Arizona has passed into law legislation that discourages this sort of wasteful and destructive behavior. If Tucson continues to destroy guns, then the state will withhold a heap big chunk of state shared revenue. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake. Tucson believes the law to be invalid and has taken the state to court as well.

There are a few interesting legal questions. Is the program a strictly local issue and therefore under the authority of the cities? Do charter cities (Tucson is one) have authority in this area while others do not? Is it an issue of firearm regulation for which the state has preemptive authority? We may find out the hard way. Let’s hope that members of the Tucson City Council experience a few lucid moments and not go to war with the state on this. There has been more than enough stupidity already in this regard.

Jonathan Hoffman is the Weekly's libertarian columnist.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Over, Under, Around, and Through LOVE

Posted By on Mon, Nov 14, 2016 at 11:00 AM

As life would have it,  on election night I celebrated my first wedding anniversary with my husband, a white Jewish man whose mother lost much of her family in the Holocaust. My husband, because he loves me, refused to let me look at any news websites or social media that night. Instead, we gorged ourselves on mediocre pasta and fell asleep watching Shaun The Sheep. For that night, we felt safe in our lives, safe in our homes, and safe in our love. We also had faith that that feeling would still be present come morning.

We were wrong.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, we woke to an America that had elected Donald J. Trump to be our leader. A man who ran on a platform of "otherness," racism, bigotry, misogyny, and the sloughing off of sexual assault. Many have said that he ran on this platform because it spoke to the "forgotten people" of rural America, and he knew if he could win them, he could win the country. Honestly, at this point, it is not important why he ran on that platform, but rather, what do we do about it now. Because the Rooster is in the Henhouse, and the chickens have come home.

Throughout the course of this election, we have seen the absolute WORST of this country come out—on BOTH sides, and from every walk of life. We've seen some people come out and say how much they hate niggers and spics and how glad they'll be when Trump sends us all back to Africa and Mexico, and we've seen Brock Turner get three months in prison for raping an unconscious woman, while Corey Batey received five years for the same exact crime (only he didn't commit it). We saw some people talking about "Kill All White People," and we saw Ben Carson (the question is, did he see us? Because I mean really, he looked like he was asleep the entire time, but I digress). Everywhere we turned there was anger—and rightfully so. If I felt like my president had forgotten about me, I'd be angry too. In fact, I've been angry most of my voting, adult life for that very reason, so I get it.

What I don't get is the blanket of hate that hasn't been casually tossed over our country by this election, but rather draped and slung across shoulders as if we are Jesus marching to our own death. I don't understand the violence that has been used against Muslim Americans, and Muslims from other countries. I can't wrap my brain around children being told "today you sit at the back of the bus" by their peers, same-sex couples being told to return their wedding dresses because "that shit ain't happening," or children with profound differences in abilities now being mocked, when they were once hugged. I don't understand it. My brain is completely unable to comprehend this behavior. Anger yes, I get that. I am pissed to high hell. But ACTIONS AGAINST OTHERS fueled by anger—no, that I do not get. But, let's not pretend that EVERYONE that voted for Trump is going out there saying vile things or committing heinous acts against others. I call these people the "cosigning racists." They will never say a racist thing to your face, or maybe even behind your back. They may genuinely feel that Black Lives Do Matter and that not all undocumented citizens (because I am so damn tired of the word "immigrants"...they are PEOPLE) are rapists and murderers. But because they have a beef with Obamacare, or taxes, or have a hatred for Hillary (which even that I won't hold against them because let's face it, it's easy to view her as problematic), they have cosigned the platform of hatred and unkeepable promises that Donald Trump ran on. It's kind of like when your friend asks you to lie to their spouse after you've caught them cheating. You know they're wrong, and you know their actions, and the fallout from their actions will cause an incredible amount of harm to his family, but you do it anyway because one day he'll return the favor (he promised), and besides, you're not in that family, so it doesn't affect you. So you do it. You cosign on the lie because it doesn't hurt you any, and one day, it might actually help you.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Smearing of Mark Stegeman, TUSD Board Candidate

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2016 at 10:20 AM

The Quest for Power

Eight years ago, Mark Stegeman was elected to the Tucson Unified School District board. Before he had any experience there, he was tagged with the “power hungry” label. That was supposed to be his motivation. This go-round, he is again labeled as power hungry, a thoroughly groundless accusation.

Interestingly, any critical article on Mark Stegeman will contain some form of the “power hungry” accusation. It is as if a committee was formed to decide the best way to attack him and decided that the “quest for power” angle was sufficient to turn people off, and was non-specific enough to require a Devil’s Proof to defend against it. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Let’s say you knew nothing of Mark Stegeman or the TUSD board, and you were walking down the street with a friend who pointed out someone in the crowd and said, “See that guy there? He’s an associate professor at the Eller School of Business. He has a doctorate in economics from MIT. He’s on a quest for power. I know that because he ran for school board—get it?” You might then shake your head up and down in a display of agreement thinking that your friend must have forgotten to take his medication again.

The Quest for Good Schools

One thing that is true about Mark Stegeman is that he enjoys speaking with people. He actually likes going door to door as part of his campaign. When he is not campaigning, he visits a different TUSD school each week and spends three or more hours there. One of the ways he engages with the public is by appearing regularly on the Wake Up Tucson drive time radio talk show hosted by Chris DeSimone where he is interviewed and takes questions from listeners. I feel I should point out that Steve Farley is also a regular guest on the show, in case you were developing assumptions. He even spoke with me at length on two separate occasions!

After speaking in person with Mark Stegeman, and listening to more radio interviews with him than I can count (even if I take my shoes off), I am convinced that he, as Chris DeSimone put it, “is someone who wants to do the right things for all the right reasons.”

Mark Stegeman is also the least political person seeking elective office I have met. Even after speaking with him at length (on two separate occasions), I had to ask him about his party affiliation (Democrat). He seems to be preoccupied with helping TUSD become a great school district, he believes it has that potential. Unfortunately for him, the board majority has other priorities.

The Magic of Three

On governing boards composed of five members, whether they oversee school districts or county governments, can be commandeered if you own three or more of the members. Such is the case at TUSD where Adelita Grijalva, Kristol Foster, and Cam Juarez tend to vote as a block. These triumviri are often openly hostile to Stegeman and Michael Hicks, the other two board members. Hicks and Grijalva are not up for election, while Stegeman, Kristol Foster, and Cam Juarez, are—hence, the smearing of Mark Stegeman.

Full Disclosure: I support Mark Stegeman’s candidacy, and have made a monetary donation to his campaign. I am (along with Steve Farley) also a regular guest on the “Wake Up Tucson” radio program.

Jonathan Hoffman is the Weekly's libertarian columnist.

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