Reflections on Rioting in Missouri

Reflections on the Rioting in Missouri

By Ken K. Gourdin

In light of the recent shooting in Missouri of a black teenager by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb, there is no shortage of pontificating regarding the psychological and sociological roots of this unrest.  But there are two problems with those who blame a vague psychological or sociological, race-based malaise (or one based on some other invidious characteristic) for the impulse to riot: one, they fail to account for the countless law-abiding individuals who might share the grievances of those who engage in rioting, yet who fail to react in the manner predicted by the theories; and two (and more simply), many of those who engage in rioting couldn’t care less about the supposed just cause that started it. 

If the people in the second group really were honest about why they are rioting, they would simply have to say something such as this: “I was simply taking advantage of someone who has a perhaps-legitimate grievance and stages a perhaps-legitimate protest to vent regarding my probably-less-legitimate (and irrelevant-to-THIS-protest) grievance – or simply to create other innocent victims by destroying and stealing their property, and enriching myself in the process.”

As I said regarding the unrest that followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman (another racial minority by the way – what does that fact do to those who want to lay the blame for supposed racial oppression entirely at the feet of white people?) for shooting Trayvon Martin: 

While we might say we believe it’s better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted, too many of us want to have our cake and eat it, too: if a jury reaches a verdict with which we disagree, many of us blame the very system whose protection we would demand if we were falsely accused (or if we believe there is insufficient evidence to convict us). 

 

Many then take to the streets in protest, chanting such slogans as, “No justice, no peace!”  What is justice?  It is what we say it is.  What is peace?  Peace may be achieved by using the system to further whatever ends will keep us from rioting in the streets. 

 

That sounds an awful lot like “rule of men” and not a whole lot like “rule of law” to me.  As much as I understand why those who don’t believe that a just result was achieved in the Zimmerman case are frustrated, that’s not a country in which I think most of us would want to live.1 

In a similar vein during the Los Angeles riots of 1992 after the acquittals of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating, I said, “There is little doubt that justice wasn’t done in this case—and that it is not done in many other cases as well.  So what is to be done?  I don’t know.  I do know, however, that . . . crime—looting, burning, and vandalizing innocent businesses, killing and hurting innocent people—these are not the answers.”2 

On another occasion, regarding the December celebration of African culture and heritage known as Kwanzaa, I wrote this regarding one of the celebration’s values:

 Kuumba, or creativity, is defined like this: “To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.”  There is a far less “creative” solution to community decay, however.  Kwanzaa was an outgrowth of the Watts riots.  Instead of talking about community building, why don’t we talk–to everyone–about community maintenance?  The fact remains that if a community is maintained–and not torn apart, as in the Los Angeles riots of 1965 and 1992, respectively–there is nothing to build or rebuild.

 

And if we truly want to engage in community maintenance, we cannot countenance the behavior which tears down a community by attributing it to a collective race-based rage, by explaining it away with psychosocial mumbo-jumbo, or by vaguely attributing individual lawlessness to “society” when the vast majority of the members of that society are law abiding.3 

END NOTES 

 1.

Ken K. Gourdin (July 30, 2014), “Zimmerman acquittal tests faith in legal system,” The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4.

 2.

Ken K. Gourdin (Date Unknown), “From Brutality to Anarchy: Not the Proper Path to Pursue in LA,” St. George, Utah, Dixie College, The Dixie Sun (Page Unknown), available on line at http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/reflections-on-the-rodney-king-riots-3/, last accessed August 12, 2014. 

 3.

Ken K. Gourdin (December 4, 2014), “Kwanzaa Confusion: Color or Character, Inclusion or Exclusion?” (Blog post) http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/kwanzaa-confusion/, last accessed August 14, 2014.

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Ventura v. Kyle, Legal Wrestling Smackdown

Jesse “The Body” Ventura vs. Chris Kyle: When Winning is Really Losing 

By Ken K. Gourdin 

This comes with the usual caveats.  It is one man’s opinion only.  I am not a lawyer, and this commentary is not intended as legal advice.  A reader should not attempt to apply the analysis given herein to his own legal situation.  If you need legal advice, call an attorney.  Now, with that out of the way . . .

If I felt to do so, I certainly would congratulate former Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura for prevailing in his defamation suit against the estate of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.  However, any such congratulations would have to be greatly tempered.

If my opinion of Governor Ventura were based primarily on his fringe opinions, I would adopt a live-and-let-live, agree-to-disagree, if-two-people-are-of-exactly-the-same-opinion-on-absolutely-everything-one-of-them-is-unnecessary approach to him. 

People are entitled to be wrong; they are entitled to be crazy; they’re even entitled to be wrong and crazy at the same time.  I’ll leave it to my reader to decide for himself which of those descriptors, if any, (or which combination of them) applies to Governor Ventura.

In order to recover damages for defamation against a public figure, a plaintiff is required to prove “actual malice.”  While “malice” in the usual sense means ill will, its meaning in this context is different.   In the defamation context, the U.S. Supreme Court has defined “actual malice” as “Reckless disregard for whether the [allegedly defamatory] statement is true or false.”  Findlaw has helpful background information on defamation.  See here, last accessed today: http://injury.findlaw.com/torts-and-personal-injuries/defamation-law-the-basics.html

Jesse Ventura certainly qualifies as a public figure.  He has been involved in the sports and entertainment industries for decades.  He hosted his own television show.  (It’s difficult to imagine how anyone could defame him when his own affinity for fringe theories seems to have done more damage to his credibility than the defendant in his defamation case ever could have done.)  He has been elected to at least two public offices.  He has written several books.  Whether he seeks out publicity or it seeks him out, he certainly seems willing to talk to anyone who has a microphone and is accompanied by a cameraman, or to anyone who has a notebook, a pen, and/or an audio recorder. 

While I have neither followed the case closely nor have I researched the issue of actual malice exhaustively, it’s difficult for me to understand how a jury could have found actual malice.  I would not be surprised if its verdict were overturned on appeal.  Whatever happens, I think Governor Ventura has further marginalized himself (if that’s possible); and he may have won this defamation battle, but he seems sure to lose the public relations war.  I think The Washington Post’s analysis is spot-on (last accessed today): 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/07/30/jesse-ventura-vs-chris-kyle-a-case-where-no-one-won/

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Mumia vs. King

Mumia and King: Oakland Unified School District’s Effort to Equate Them and Their Respective Causes Sullies the Memory of Dr. King and Gives Mumia Entirely Too Much Credit 

By Ken K. Gourdin

If a reader has followed this blog for any length of time, one need not read very much of it to conclude that, despite his imperfections, I am a great admirer of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. See, for example, the following:

Ken K. Gourdin (August 29, 2013) “In Honor of MLK on the 50th Anniversary of His “I Have A Dream” Speech” (Blog post), available on line at the following address, last accessed July 30, 2014:

https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/mlks-dream/.

Ken K. Gourdin (July 6, 2013) “Living Up to American Ideals” (Blog post), available on line at the following address, last accessed on July 30, 2014: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/living-up-to-american-ideals/.

Ken K. Gourdin (January 29, 2013) “We are all beneficiaries of Dr. King’s vision,” The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4, available on line at the following address and last accessed on July 30, 2014: http://www.etypeservices.com/SWF/LocalUser/Tooele1/Magazine21925/Publication/Magazine21925.pdf.  (This is an entire edition of a newspaper, so it does take quite some time to load.)

Ken K. Gourdin (January 25, 2013) “Reflections for MLK Day: May Our Grasp on Dr. King’s Vision, However Seemingly Tenuous, Not Weaken Further” (Blog post), available on line at the following address and last accessed on July 30, 2014: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/in-honor-of-mlk-jr/.

Ken K. Gourdin (August 8, 2012) “The King Legend Lives On,” The Dixie Sun, St. George, Utah: Dixie College 10, available on line at the following address and last accessed on July 30, 2014: http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/in-praise-of-mlk-jr/.

Conversely, because I am the son of a career law enforcement officer who spent 43 years on the job, one also need not read very much of what I have written to realize that I hold law enforcement in general in high esteem.  Thus, I am not apt to brook the transformation of someone who has been convicted of killing a police officer into a martyr and a hero, as so many have done with Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982.  For more of my thoughts on Mumia’s heinous crime, see the following:

Ken K. Gourdin (March 11, 2014) “Senate was right to reject [Obama] nominee,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A5, available on line at the following address (subscription required) and last accessed on July 30, 2014: http://www.tooeleonline.com/senate-was-right-to-reject-adegbile-nominee/.

Ken K. Gourdin (March 15, 2014) “Adegbile Nomination to Head the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is More Proof That Obama Doesn’t Hold Law Enforcement in High Esteem” (Blog post) available on line at the following address and last accessed July 30, 2014: http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/senate-right-to-reject-adegbile-nomination/.

I rue the fact that militancy of the flavor of Malcolm X won out over the peaceful resistance of Dr. King, but at least the former (along with those who cast their lot with him) saw his tactics as being employed in the service of larger sociopolitical goals.  By contrast, despite the fervent claims of his numerous acolytes to the contrary, however, Mumia is nothing but a mere criminal – a serious criminal (a felon) and a cop killer, to be sure, but nonetheless, nothing more than a mere criminal.

Given my affinity for Dr. King as contrasted with my antipathy toward Mumia, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that I reject out of hand any effort to draw even a rough equivalency between the two, their methods, or the justness of their respective causes.  Yet the Oakland, Calif. Unified School District has attempted to do exactly that.  See, e.g., here, last accessed July 30, 2014:  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/04/14/lesson-plan-asking-students-to-compare-mlk-mumia-abu-jamal-blasted-as-disgrace/.  (Curiously, the link to the lesson plan contained in the article is no longer active, and even going to the site main and searching for the lesson plan yields no results.)

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Dawn of The Planet of the Apes – A Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – A Review, Along With a Brief Reflection on Just What, Precisely, It Might Mean to Be Human 

By Ken K. Gourdin

I recently saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  While this wasn’t my first exposure to the general man-versus-apes storyline, my previous exposure came some time ago.  While the story was being set up, it was hard for me to not conclude, “Oh, great.  Here’s another story about noble animals and their ignoble human counterparts.”  As the film progressed, however, it became harder to dismiss it on that simplistic basis.

I became conflicted: I was gratified by the increasing complexity of the storyline that didn’t allow me to dismiss it as a simplistic treatment, but, at the same time, was disappointed that some of those in both camps – man and apes alike – gave in to their baser instincts.  Still, the fact that they did so added texture to the film and gave me a lot to think about.

One framework for considering the film’s ideas is through the lens of evolution: while I’m not a scientist, I do appreciate the scientific method.  At the same time, I am also a person of faith.  Do I believe in evolution?  Yes, but I also believe that it has its limitations and that there are questions it has not yet answered – “The heart knows reasons that scientific reason knows not of,” to borrow and slightly alter the poet’s phrase.  I also believe the scriptural phrase that God has made man “a little lower than the angels,” with all that such a lofty status (at least potentially) entails.

Since I believe in evolution, does that mean I also believe that humanity ascended (or descended, if you prefer) from apes, or from lower forms of life in general?  This is where it gets somewhat complicated: men I revere as prophets of God have affirmed, repeatedly, the privileged place of humanity among God’s creations.  On the other hand, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility (in fact, it’s even likely) that evolution is one of the tools God uses in the creative process.

What of the differing creation “accounts” offered by science and religion, respectively?  Is there any way to reconcile them?  Is the only way to do so to relegate Christianity’s creation story wholly to the realm of metaphor?  I don’t know.  Frankly, I lack an adequate background in both science and philosophy to be able to provide a coherent answer to that question.

Some have said that science provides the answer to the question “How?”, while religion provides the answer to the question “Why?”  Were Adam and Eve as depicted in the Book of Genesis (not to mention in other accounts that are accepted as scripture in my religious tradition, on par with the Holy Bible) actual people?  Even if one leaves that an open question, it is beyond dispute that what Adam and Eve are reported to have learned in those accounts, as well as how they learned it, is highly relevant to me: it provides a template that I, too, can use.  That template figures prominently, not only in the texts that I accept as sacred, but also in certain religious ceremonies peculiar to my religious tradition.

All of this having been said, however my physical body came about, I adhere to a religious tradition that believes that I am, at my core, a spiritual being, and that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.”  Whatever questions evolution and science can answer, its capacity to answer the ultimate questions of being are limited because those questions, essentially, are spiritual rather than physical in nature.

Another of the film’s themes is that of discord, conflict, and, indeed, of the specter of all-out war as men and sentient, highly-intelligent, verbal apes attempt to navigate the complexities and vagaries of sharing the planet together.  So much of discord, conflict, and war stem from simple misunderstanding magnified to a tragic result.  Contrary to my initial impression, in fact, there proved to be much of both nobility and ignobility in both species: some members of both species attempt to build bridges between each other, while others attempt to widen the chasms between them.

And I cannot deny that various animals (albeit apes excluded) have played a special role in my life and in the lives of other members of my family.  Some of them have even won a special place in my heart.  Whatever cosmic questions remain about our respective roles in the mortal drama, I am the better for having surrendered that place in my heart to them.

The film provides a fertile ground and has set up a sturdy framework for a continuing exploration of just what, precisely, it means to be human – with all that such humanity entails: its capacity for nobility, as well as its capacity for ignobility; its capacity for enmity, and its capacity for amity (both within our own species and between our own species and other species); its capacity for good, and its capacity for evil.

 

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Police-fan confrontation caught on video

“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”  Thoughts on the Denver Police, Captain Joe Black, Alex Buck, The Confrontation Between The Two, and Disorderly Conduct 

By Ken K. Gourdin

Video of the confrontation between Denver Police Captain Joe Black and Alex Buck in the stands at a recent Colorado Rockies game now has gone viral.  While news accounts do not reveal whether Buck was charged with a crime, there’s always that old, faithful, reliable standby catchall, all-purpose statute, Disorderly Conduct.  See, e.g., the following address, last accessed July 25, 2014: 

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26209343/denver-police-investigating-video-cop-shoving-rockies-fan

Full disclosure: I pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct following an incident that occurred in 2003 following a confrontation with officials at the University of Utah’s Center for Disability Services after they declined to intervene in my behalf to request accommodations on an exam.  My guilty plea was held in abeyance for six months, during which time I kept my nose clean, after which the charge was dismissed.  

Disorderly Conduct is the chicken-crap charge leveled when one officer looks at another and asks, “Should we charge him with anything?”  And his partner scratches his head and asks, “Well, we have to charge him with something, don’t we?”  And the first officer replies, “Ah, heck, let’s just charge him with disorderly conduct and be done with it.”  

“Dis-Con,” to use the officer parlance favored by some agencies, is sort of a handy, all-purpose, we’ll-slap-you-on-the-wrist-and-you-won’t-do-it-again kind of deal.  It’s likely that countless suits have been filed over disorderly conduct statutes for being vague and overbroad, but none of them ever has prevailed; such statutes are the Timex watch of criminal charges: They’ve taken a lickin’  . . . and kept on tickin’! 

Granted, it’s not clear what precipitated the confrontation between Captain Black and Buck, the unruly fan.  One of the criticisms of the video taken of the Rodney King beating is that it didn’t tell the whole story.  (May the great philosopher Rodney King, who has now departed for that Great, Philosophical Ivory Tower in the Sky, rest in peace: “Can’t we all just get along?”)  The thing is, once people decide that the part of the story a video clip does tell is bad enough, the fact that the clip doesn’t tell the whole story ceases to matter.  

Also in the interest of full disclosure, since my father spent 43 years on the job, I’m very prone to give police officers the benefit of the doubt.  I’m not often wont to criticize them.  That said, even if what Captain Black did was entirely justified, it’s very likely – because video exists of this incident – that he’ll have won this Dis-Con “Battle,” only for his agency to lose the Public Relations “War.”

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“Return With Honor” A Review

Review – Return With Honor: A Missionary Homecoming

By Ken K. Gourdin 

Dutcher may have set the standard, but this contribution to Mormon cinema and to Mormon missionary sagas isn’t without its redeeming qualities. 

I recently re-watched another drama about Mormon missionary life (this one dealing with its aftermath), the movie Return With Honor: A Missionary Homecoming, whose protagonist (Rowe McDonald, played by Javen Tanner) attempts to navigate his readjustment to “civilian” life while simultaneously dealing with a complicated family life.  Whatever critics in print media and among moviegoers may have thought of the movie, I’m not alone in my affection for it: according to IMDB.com, it won the Best Actor award (Javen Tanner) and the Founder’s Award for Best Feature Film (Michael Amundson) at the 2007 New York Independent Film and Video Festival, as well as the Gold Award at 2007 Worldfest Houston. 

It has its weaknesses.  In some spots, it makes certain points with ham-fisted dialogue when such a heavy touch is neither necessary nor in keeping with the subtleties employed in the rest of the movie.  It also falls prey to certain Mormon stereotypes, such as the girlfriend who faithfully waits the whole two years for her missionary (Alley Benson, played by Joey Jalalian – to her credit, however, she makes every guy wish he were Rowe McDonald).  

The fact that Rowe and Alley pick up right where they left off after Rowe has just spent two years in a situation where coming within a fifty-foot radius of a member of the opposite sex without direct, explicit, prior written permission from the mission president (which has, in turn, been duly notarized by an angel) is forbidden strains credulity, in my book, but what do I know?  I’ve been home from my mission nearly a quarter-century, and women still haven’t gotten the memo: it’s as though they’re not only content, but downright bound and determined to ignore me.  (Maybe I’m simply jealous of Rowe; after all, Alley isn’t bad looking – to say the least!) 

The viewer wants to like the main character.  This desire to like the protagonist is particularly strong, given the fact that an encounter with the Divine following a serious traffic accident shortly before Elder McDonald returns home from his mission in Las Vegas leaves the viewer with the impression that his time remaining in mortality is limited.  To be honest, however, my desire to like Elder (Emeritus!) McDonald notwithstanding, I found myself telling him, vociferously and at regular intervals, to “Quit being such a self-righteous, judgmental little prick!”  (Please pardon my French; I also found myself hoping that any non-Mormon who might see the film wouldn’t be left with the misconception that all [or most] Mormons are so “holier-than-thou.”)  

One of the movie’s strengths, however, is the presence of genuine conflict which it does not attempt to sugarcoat, and Rowe’s failure to “get it” – to recognize what’s most important and what he has been missing in his approach to his relationships with others (especially his mother) – is one of the main sources of that conflict.  In an interesting twist, Rowe’s rebellious, non-church-going, missionary-service-spurning, punk-rocker, bald, tattooed best friend, Corbin (played by Raymond Zeiters) is the one who holds up the mirror that finally enables Rowe to see the role he has been playing in fomenting that conflict. 

The urge to soft-peddle conflict is a weakness to which the creators of various Mormon-themed books, movies, and other media too often fall prey.  Mormons experience the same hardships – conflict with family, friends, and others, financial reversals, job losses, health challenges, sadness and sorrow, and so on – that everyone else does.  The point of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is not to spare us of any of that: in Mormon parlance, “It must needs be, that there must needs be opposition in all things” (see 2 Nephi 2:11 in The Book of Mormon).  Rather, the Gospel aims to give us the tools to better deal with these things, since they are the common lot of humanity. 

Notwithstanding the short time McDonald has been home, Alley wastes no time trying to turn his attention to the next step in the stereotypical storybook progression of Mormon life – marriage.  Alley’s focus on the future, however, is complicated by the conflict created by the fact that Rowe, conversely, believes that planning for a future he will never see is pointless, while his obsessive goal orientation (newly directed toward converting his non-Mormon mother, Trish, played by Tayva Patch) in the brief time he believes he has left strains the already-challenging relationship he has with her, as well. 

Rowe’s laser-focus on goals is illustrated by a conversation he has with his mission president shortly before he returns home.  Asked what he thought the secret to his success as a missionary is, Elder McDonald doesn’t mention his love for the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ (or his love for Jesus Christ, himself, for that matter), or his love for the people he has been teaching.  Rather, he says, the secret to his success was minimizing the valuable time he had as a missionary attempting to teach someone who isn’t ready to accept the message.  Alas, perhaps his next intended convert is the least ready to do that of all.

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Taking the Long View

Taking The Long-View Perspective on an Often-Frustrating, Often-Disappointing Mortal “Second Act” 

By Ken K. Gourdin 

I was deeply touched by this video (link last accessed July 11, 2014), and it sparked the reflections below: 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=655759821182423&set=vb.450084955083245&type=2&theater

There are three states of which we ought to remain aware so as to not lose our perspective in this Second Act: there is what was; we are not the product of accidental chance.  As fascinating as our anatomy and biology are, spiritually speaking, we came from somewhere, where a First Act took place.  Our being – our essence – is more than a mere collection of cells, or the mere result of biological materials and processes.  As Wordsworth put it, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home[.]”1 

This is our Second Act.  We are not mere mortal beings placed on earth simply to have occasional spiritual experiences; rather, we are essentially spiritual beings placed on earth to have a mortal experience.  But there’s no escaping the truth: this mortal experience often is frustrating, disappointing, and unfulfilling.  In mortality, so many things conspire to thwart what otherwise might be – “In the world, ye shall have tribulation.”   The good news is that thwarted hopes and expectations of mortality need not be the end of the story – “[B]ut be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”2 

It’s interesting that we get a glimpse at the beginning and the end of the video, respectively, at the picture of the man and his wife in better (or at least in easier) times: the first is a glimpse of what was (perhaps-better, or at least easier, times past); and the second is a glimpse of what will be (a Third Act: better times to come, through Christ – “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”)  

And of course, we can tell in his face when this man looks at his wife, he doesn’t see his wife as she is, but rather as she was – and as she will be, again.  So he doesn’t “count the cost” of present difficulties: such a cost is a privilege to pay.  As it was and will be for this man and his wife, so it was and will be for us: if we endure well our too-often frustrating, too-often disappointing present, at length, we, too, will “overcome the world,” even with all of its frustrations and disappointments, and God “will exalt [us] on high, and [we shall] triumph over all [our] foes.”3 

END NOTES

1

William Wordsworth (1804) “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” accessed on line at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode:_Intimations_of_Immortality on July 13, 2014.

 2.

The Holy Bible (1611), King James Version, John 16:33, accessed on line at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/john/16.33?lang=eng on July 13, 2014. 

 3.

(2013) The Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Section 121, Verse 8, accessed on line at the following address on  July 13, 2014. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/121?lang=eng

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