It’s a Conspiracy!

I been seeing some disturbing things lately under the general heading of conspiracy theories. So, I thought looking at classics might provide me some insight.

JFK – The assassination of President John F Kennedy was planned by the CIA and carried out by a large group of assets. Lee Harvey Oswald was set up to be the fall-guy, then murdered by a Mafia/CIA hitman before he could talk.

UFOs – The existence of UFOs has been known to government agencies for decades but the information has been hidden from the public for fear of widespread panic. Remnants of aliens and their craft are hidden in Area 51, in the desert southwest.

Paul is dead – Paul McCartney of The Beatles died in 1966 and the death was covered up by record companies to avoid a huge crash in sales. Faux Pauls were hired to carry on the charade. The Beatles themselves put coded messages into their records about Paul’s death, so fans would know the truth.

Apollo 11 – The 1969 moon landing was faked in a Los Angeles television studio.

Chemtrails – Chemical and/or biological agents are, without general public knowledge, being spread across the country by high-flying planes to achieve various evil purposes, such as weather modification, psychological manipulation, or population control.

Vaccines – Vaccines are not beneficial, or even benign. They are purposefully spreading disease and/or chronic illness. For example, vaccines were used by the CIA in sub-Saharan Africa to spread AIDS, and are spreading conditions, like autism, in the US.

New World Order and the Illuminati – A secret globalist power elite is conspiring to (or already does) rule the entire world through an authoritarian world government. The United Nations and European Union were harbingers of this secret movement and the process continues through groups such as The World Economic Forum (Davos), the annual Bilderburg meeting, the Bohemian Club, the Trilateral Commission and others.

Mass shootings – The mass shooting events seen in world media are fakes. Actors are hired to portray victims and their families.

9/11 – The terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center was actually conducted by either the US government or Israeli intelligence agencies, in order to create a case for increasing US military and financial support for Israel and increased US militarism in the Middle East.

Global warming/climate change – Climate change events, such as floods and hurricanes are reported inaccurately to either cover for super-normal inflation of energy prices, or to facilitate fundraising for anti-oil scientists and organizations.

Besides the fact that they’re all complete nonsense, what do these conspiracy theories have in common?

First, there are other, more fact-based, simpler and, frankly, better explanations available. There have, in fact, been a great many mass shootings in America, most recently, for example, in El Paso, Gilroy and Dayton. And there have been real victims. Because I work in an urban medical and trauma center, I have seen victims of gun violence and their families firsthand. No crisis actors.

Second, they suppose a world in which chaos is brought to order and the unexplained is explained. But this world does not exist in reality. The evidence of global warming/climate change is plain to see and obvious to markets. There is neither a cover-up, nor the artificial manipulation of prices. There’s no need. Energy prices and the ample profits earned by energy multi-national corporations are the result of very complex market forces, most notably consumer demand, not a backroom cabal of “globalists.”

Third, paying better attention to actual world events can help illuminate underlying forces a lot better than ginned up secret conspiracies only the smart or initiated know. Is there an actual global power elite? Sure as hell, there is. Are they hiding in back rooms or forested compounds? Nope. They’re right out in the open and they have and exercise political and economic power because they have money. You probably even know their names. No mystery in that to solve.

Now, let’s think about other, more contemporary conspiracy theories: Gun control, the deep state/QAnon, and elite pedophile rings.

Guns – Private citizens owning guns is part of America’s deep mythos, not so much its actual history. Some conspiracy theorists think of measures to regulate guns, even quite minor ones, as part of a larger hidden effort to completely disarm civilians in preparation for the world government (or federal government, for the smaller-scale thinkers among conspiracy theorists) takeover of the country and its citizens. Legislative efforts such as universal background checks, assault weapons bans and the regulation of ammunition are met as if they were the next coming of the Cossacks.

Here’s what is true and apparent: The US has many many problems with guns not shared by other developed countries. We openly demonstrate ourselves to be an immature and bloodthirsty people. For one thing, we use guns too often to kill each other, or ourselves. Almost ubiquitous access to guns (In some American cities and towns, you need only go to the local hardware or big-box store.) has made them the go-to tool for getting even and settling scores. I’ve written several pieces about them here, here, here and elsewhere. Historian Garry Wills wrote about guns as the American Moloch here.

Having a firearm in your home makes it very much more likely you’ll kill yourself – either by accident or purposefully – or your kids than that you’ll use it to protect yourself or your family from an intruder, much less government agents. Gun control measures are, in my opinion, reasonable solutions to the unsustainable levels of violence we create and experience in this country, not a path to world government hegemony.

Deep State/QAnon – QAnon is a unique animal. It details an alleged secret plot by the “Deep State” against Donald Trump and his supporters. Evidence cited by QAnon and its legions of “in-the-know” supporters include the tragicomic Pizzagate, a tale of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and a senior Democratic political advisor either running or facilitating a child sex-trafficking ring in the non-existent basement of a DC-area pizza parlor.

Is there a “Deep State?” There may be but there needn’t be. There are, in fact, plenty of people trying to undermine Donald Trump and they have very rational reasons for doing so, hardly any of them oblique or hidden. Trump has amply and publicly proven himself virtually illiterate, an oaf, a racist, a bigot, personally and politically corrupt, ignorant of the workings of his own government, uninformed about the basics of world affairs or even the real lives of his own countrymen, blissfully unaware of his actual job responsibilities, and using his position to enrich himself and his clearly ungifted children. I wrote about him presciently here.

Elite Pedophiles – And, finally, some thought about conspiracy theories supposing the existence of elite rings of pedophiles and their enablers.

American children are kidnapped, trafficked and used for the sexual gratification of sick or evil adults. Are they flown to private islands on private jets for those horrible purposes by global business and political elites? Possibly. But it is much more likely they’ll be abused and exploited by people they know best and trust the most: most likely of all, their own family members, or their teachers, coaches, or parish priests. For every Jeffrey Epstein, there are literally thousands of people who present greater and more proximate threats to children, much closer to home.

Almost every real story of the abuse of children involves numerous bystanders and enablers, many of whom know the child or children involved. And whether because of denial, discomfort, or fear, these individuals do not intervene. Our real history is full of examples. I wrote about this topic here. Why aren’t our biggest and baddest conspiracy theorists taking the big and bold action they call for so loudly in their own cities, much less their own churches, schools and homes?

And if we’re really interested in addressing the wholesale (and wholly preventable) abuse of children within our borders, let’s deal with the fact that 16 million US children are malnourished and 2.5 million are homeless.

And finally, let’s remember the cruel and vile treatment our own government is regularly dishing out to children on our border with Mexico – ripping them away from their parents, caging them, giving them insufficient healthcare, food and water, and physically and emotionally torturing them.

Here’s some tough-to-swallow truth: JFK was killed by Oswald. Vaccines save lives. Guns kill. 

Throughout our history, I believe people have created and believed conspiracy theories, even in light of clear evidence to the contrary, for obvious reasons: reality is too bitter, active engagement is too difficult, looking in the mirror just too harsh.

A Reasonable Thought


Imagine this:

You wake up on a typical Hump Day morning. Get yourself into a quick shower, grab a cup of coffee, maybe some toast. Put on your uniform. Say “See ya,” or something similar to your spouse and kids. You drive into work.

It isn’t a dream job but there is some measure of security and it comes with benefits. And you try to make it decent every day by being friendly with your customers, especially the ones you see most weekdays. There are some nice people on your route and you’ve gotten to know a few really well over the years.

Makes the day go by to share a few words with them as you make your deliveries.

When you get in on this Wednesday, there’s a meeting before you start out. You grab another cup of coffee from the break room. Should have stopped at Peet’s or Starbucks because break room coffee is crap but it would have made you late.

Shoot the breeze with a few co-corkers before the meeting starts. Jim went to the extra-innings Giants game last night and looks a little tired. Manuel’s daughter is having her quinceañera over the weekend. 

That’s a pretty typical start-of-shift scene at a lot of workplaces, right?

Now imagine:

One of your co-workers stands up in that completely routine meeting, pulls a gun out of his coat and starts shooting the people around you, dead.

That very thing happened here last week, at the local UPS facility, just a few short blocks away. And, as typically happens in the wake of incidents of mass violence in San Francisco, the gruesome results were visited upon our hospital.

I stood in a makeshift conference room as an emergency room doctor told the wife of one victim that her husband, who’d a few hours earlier left his home for what they both thought would be just another routine day at work delivering packages, had died.

Those who know me at all know my feelings about gun control. After this latest incident in too  a long string of them I am even more firmly dedicated to my beliefs; as a public safety necessity, we should regulate the civilian ownership of firearms at least as actively as we regulate the operation of motor vehicles.

Just imagine yourself going to work on a Wednesday and never coming home.



Oh, Canada

The Glacier at Lake Louise
The Glacier at Lake Louise

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to revisit the beautiful Canadian Rockies. They were just as I remember them from a visit I took about 25 years ago, with my then-fiancee. (Good story for another time, she and I are now spouses.)

The scenery was, of course, breathtaking. One morning, we rose at 5:00 and boarded canoes to witness the sun rising on the glacier at Lake Louise. It was magical, a spiritual moment of the type you (or, rather, I) can only find in nature.

The Banff National Park has many such places and moments in store for visitors, of whom there are many, from many different lands. Considering the number of visitors we saw, the openness and cleanliness of the park is nothing short of a miracle. Or it would be back home in the United States. In Canada, people take community responsibility seriously. There is scarcely any litter to speak of. People pick it up.  There is little, if any, graffiti on public structures. Canadians who live within the borders of the park take just pride in their place and the condition in which visitors find it.

Can you, my fellow Americans, even imagine?

Of course, this civic pride isn’t just in the national parks. Canadian cities are bright and open, clean and vibrant. There is a public spirit I don’t often find at home.

And there’s more. Canadians are polite and helpful. They act like grownups. They wait in line and take their turns. They ask if they can help. They don’t run red lights and wait for pedestrians. They build community centers and athletic facilities. Canada offers a public health system that guarantees healthcare for all, just by virtue of being there. And, then, there’s the issue of guns.

At dinner one night, our waitperson asked where we were from. When I said San Francisco, he said, “You must feel naked without your gun, eh?” When I asked him what he meant (Because, God knows, I don’t often pack heat.), he said that he assumed all Americans carry guns around. I tried to correct the impression but I suspect he’d seen too much TV and was having none of it.

Imagine living in a clean, polite, safe country like that.

There is much, I believe, about Canada to admire. And every single time I’ve visited, I’m reminded of that.


How, Indeed.


“War, children. It’s just a shot away.”

– Gimme Shelter, Jagger/Richards (1969)

The physical evidence of now-dead civilizations, some civilizations we still consider ‘great’ among them, quite literally circles the globe and populates our kids’ study-sheets and textbooks.

Athens. Rome. Great Zimbabwe. Machu Picchu, Sukhothai.

Ruins. Grand palaces repurposed as stores, stables and shithouses. Formerly powerful imperial cities of gold buried under strata of the refuse of succeeding societies and generations.

Think it won’t happen here? Think it can’t? That we’re too great, too special? American exceptionalism? “Don’t make me laugh,” says history to every civilization since the dawn of time.

Only a fool thinks himself the endpoint of evolution.

If there are any lessons to be learned at all from history, this is its primary lesson.

And yet, we Americans behave as if everlasting world dominion is our rightful inheritance. We project our military power around the globe willy-nilly, with the flimsiest of pretexts. When the pretexts are exposed as wrong-headed, ignorant, or just plain false, we don’t withdraw; we persist.

We extract the earth’s resources as if we had the key to a private, bottomless storeroom.

We have all but abandoned the decades-long compact between citizen and state that had as its foundation a high-quality, robust and universally-accessible system of public education. Go to the schools our tax dollars fund, it said, and become the engine of our economy; you’ll be more affluent and we’ll get better citizens. We’ve underfunded these schools, allowed them to bleed to near-death, made them inaccessible to those with no alternatives and unattractive to those with many.

We murder each other with reckless, yet increasingly efficient, abandon and argue against any attempt to control our unfettered access to the instruments of our very own deaths.

Relying on the mass marketing of deliberately ahistorical fantasies about the American characteristics of self-reliance and individualism, we distribute ever more of our economic wealth to ever fewer people; in so doing, we squeeze the life out of the very middle class that created our society’s wealth and stability to begin with, and inflate the economic and political power of a class with seeming indifference to all that live below it.

The result?

Decaying streets, sewers, roads, bridges, schools. Declining economic opportunity. Increasing concentration of power among the proudly-ignorant. A ratcheting up of violence. And internecine warfare over the scraps.

This is the way all empires die.

There will come a time when the people of this country will look around with slack-jawed wonder and ask how it could have come to this.

As if they didn’t know.


Free Market? Sure, I’m Game.


Finding a national consensus on matters like drug use, abortion and gun control is clearly a fool’s errand. Because we are, as a nation, so diverse and divided on matters of religious beliefs, ethical foundations and personal priorities, we will never – NEVER – come to a stable, lasting, nationwide accord on these issues.

Let’s start with drugs. Several states have decriminalized or even legalized marijuana use. Marijuana use was recently made legal in Washington and Colorado. Its use is not a criminal offense in more than a dozen other states. Others haven’t changed the legal status of marijuana and aren’t likely to.

The government of North Dakota recently passed anti-abortion laws that are considered to be the most restrictive of personal choice in the nation. New Jersey, along with states like Oregon and Nevada, has no active ban on the right of the mother to terminate pregnancy.  There are a number of workplaces (including hospitals) and schools affiliated with, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, which objects to contraception as sinful. Therefore, some of these church-affiliated institutions object to offering contraception as a part of employee or student health insurance. There are plenty of other employers and schools that have no issue whatsoever with offering contraception as a part of employee or student health coverage.

Guns control is an extremely emotional and divisive issue in the United States. This was demonstrated clearly last week when the Senate considered unsuccessfully a moderate proposal to nationally standardize required pre-sale background checks for firearms. Unrestricted private firearm ownership is considered nearly sacred by some of my fellow citizens but considered purely evil by others. In Alaska and Arizona, for example, gun ownership, and even carrying guns in public, is virtually unchecked. It is much more difficult to obtain a firearm in, say Connecticut or California, and nearly impossible to get permission to carry a firearm in public.

Now, we could all spend, like, forever trying to align on the ‘right’ approach to these policies but, in truth, we never will. Even if we rely on the courts to settle the ‘right’ approaches, they will not be settled permanently.

So, instead, let me propose something completely different – a solution driven entirely by free market principles. And it might look something like this.

The federal government tracks and posts accurate conditions reports on each state, listing up-to-date laws governing behavior on these ‘values’ issues. We, as consumers, decide where to live, go to school buy products, etc. based on those particular issues that matter to us.

If we want to smoke marijuana legally, we move to Washington or Colorado.

If we want to own the choices regarding our reproductive health, we don’t live in North Dakota or go to Notre Dame or St. Mary’s Hospital.

If we want to legally carry a firearm to the shopping mall, there’s always Arizona.

Now, the other side of market solutions is, states and employers and schools must be required to fully disclose their positions on these ‘values’ issues. Notre Dame University, for example, must have a statement in its marketing materials (alongside the intensely-focused cello player and the touchdown-scoring halfback) that says:

Dear Prospective Student:

This university is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, which considers contraception a sin. Therefore, our student health service does not and will not offer contraceptive services.

With that information fully disclosed, high school seniors can intelligently choose colleges that best align with their personal beliefs and priorities. Anticipate needing or wanting contraceptive services as part of student health? Notre Dame isn’t for you; go somewhere else.

I can imagine signs at state borders as well:

Welcome to Arizona.

We allow pretty much anyone to buy and carry a gun here.

Enjoy your stay.

If you don’t like being around a lot of people with firearms, you can always vacation in Massachusetts.

This is, of course, not a realistic proposal, for two major reasons.

First, when push comes to shove, institutions (states, businesses, colleges) are loathe to disclose their positions openly if it costs them money, tourists, students, or employees. Notre Dame is unlikely to tell promising high school seniors with non-Catholic values they should just look elsewhere. North Dakota doesn’t want to lose new businesses because of its position on abortion. And Arizona would literally starve to death if tourists stopped going to the Grand Canyon or baseball’s Spring Training because of its gun laws.

And second, so-called ‘values’ conservatives say they like the unfettered free market and personal liberty and all that, but what they really want is to force their agenda down the throats of everyone else. They don’t want Colorado to become a stoner’s paradise, not because they themselves don’t want to live in such a place, but because, according to their own personal values, marijuana is evil and no American should be allowed to partake.

So, for now, we’ll live with this endlessly boring political and judicial wrestle over ‘values’ issues, when what we really should do is just start erecting the new state border signs:

Welcome to Washington.

Flame on!


My Case Against the NRA


This is not a critique of gun owners. I know a great many people who own firearms. Without exception, they know their weapons and how to care for and use them, and are quite serious about safety.

Nor is this a statement about gun control, nor a discussion about the limits of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution. I have previously written at length about both. You can read three previous posts about guns here, here and here.

This post is strictly about the National Rifle Association (NRA), its methods and indefensible positions on matters of public policy.

Here are some of the association’s most venal policy initiatives:

1. In 1994, the NRA opposed legislation to outlaw teflon-coated bullets, called “cop-killers,” because they are specifically designed to penetrate the body armor commonly worn by police.

2. Starting in about 2007, the NRA wrote and pushed for the adoption of legislation in several states that forced the owners of businesses and land to allow their employees and others to carry firearms onto their private property, even if they expressly denied their permission to do so.

3. In 2010, the NRA supported allowing people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list to buy firearms and asserted that preventing them from doing so would infringe on their 2nd Amendment rights.

4. In 2010, and over the strong objections of the nation’s law enforcement community, the NRA introduced federal legislation (through one of their more dependable toads, Rep. Todd Tihart of Kansas) that severely restricted the information the public was allowed to see about the sources of firearms (i.e., the identities of specific dealers) used in crimes.

5. The NRA has consistently opposed requiring background checks on the sale of every firearm in the US, using the back-door mechanism of so-called “private” gun sales (e.g., at gun shows).

6. The recent position of the NRA’s executive director, expressed mere days after another mass murder of innocents, namely putting armed guards in every American public school, is atrocious for its stupidity and cluelessness as well as its venality.

It’s completely clear that the NRA acts as the political agent of death merchants (i.e., arms manufacturers), not to secure and protect the rights of individual gun owners. How my smart, responsible, gun-owning friends can continue to support with their dues the NRA’s filthy work in consistent opposition to public safety is beyond me.


Gun Control: A Modest Proposal


Here’s how I’d characterize the American gun control debate in a nutshell: (1) Gun control advocates say unrestricted ownership of firearms, especially military-style assault weapons, makes us demonstrably less safe. As evidence, witness an unending string of mass shootings. (2) Gun supporters, led by the National Rifle Association and manufacturer industry organizations, say “Tough shit.” The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution gives us the right to own whatever we please.

There are a lot of people – and I’ve heard too many of them on radio, speaking in response to the Newtown massacre – who believe the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment means Americans can own any sort of firearm they feel like without restriction. That’s a position of no little controversy. Looking at the text of the 2nd Amendment (above), I would disagree. I believe it’s plain the Congress wanted to provide some specific context to the 2nd Amendment that gun fanatics conveniently ignore.

Specifically, the amendment opens with this insight into the Congress’ frame of reference:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…”


So, a few things from that. First, the Congress thought of private ownership of firearms as within the framework of a “well regulated militia,” like these guys (see above). I don’t believe they intended gun ownership to be separate from that framework, or they would not have included that specification in the text of the amendment.

Second, think about their frame of reference as to firearms.


Yeah, like the one this guy is holding (above). This is the kind of gun the Congress knew of and had in mind, the kind of gun that’s now romanticized and even fetishized in rallies and collateral for pro-gun organizations. I’ve heard too often these last few days how personal and unregulated gun ownership is all that stands between we citizens and the rise of totalitarian government control.

As if.

Two things pro-gun spokespeople seem to hold sacrosanct: (1) their reverence for the original intent of the writers of the 2nd Amendment, and (2) their belief that the 2nd Amendment guarantees them the unregulated right to own whatever firearms they want.

So, I hereby offer a compromise proposal.

Let American citizens buy as many guns as they want, as long as they look like the guns the founding fathers had in mind when they drafted gun supporters’ most holy 2nd Amendment.


I feel safer already, don’t you?

Shovels and Guns

[Portions of this post were originally written in 2010.]

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; the storyline is likely to be sadly familiar.

A man with big guns and an even bigger grudge walks into a place of business and starts shooting, first at particular people, later indiscriminately, finally to kill himself. The weapons he used were purposefully designed to throw as many bullets as possible in a short amount of time; in other words, they were built to kill lots of people really fast. That is, of course, why he’d purchased them.

In this particular case, the man used two TEC-9s, like the one in this photo (below).

The man in this particular case, Gian Luigi Ferri, was angry at a law firm located in the 101 California Street building in San Francisco. His first bullets were directed at some lawyers from the firm but after his blood lust was stirred, he went to other floors and shot pretty much randomly.

It was on one of these other floors that Ferri shot and killed my friend Mike Merrill. (His first name was actually Donald (see above), but everyone called him Mike.) I’d seen Mike for the final time, as it turned out, a very short while before, at my father’s funeral. After the service, Mike came over to me, fixed me with his bright, intense, crystal-blue eyes and told me what a great guy my dad had been.

Just a few months later, I was at his funeral saying roughly the same thing to his widow.

Following the 101 California Street shootings, and the national media attention it attracted, some gun laws tightened: centralized data bases were established to screen potential buyers, limits were placed on large-capacity magazines, certain models were made unavailable to civilians. None were serious steps, but legislation and regulation were, it seemed, moving in a constructive direction.

In the intervening 20 years, with the passage of time and fading of memory, many of the laws and regulatory schemes created in the wake of this particular tragedy have been loosened or have expired, especially in some states. To some, the problem isn’t the gun but the person using it; regulating gun ownership and use is shooting, as it were, at the wrong target.

I very strongly believe the opposite.

West Churchman, a great mentor of mine, believed that tools were not value-neutral.  You get a shovel to dig with; if you don’t want stuff dug up, you shouldn’t get one.  If the act of digging disturbs what you value – like, for example, a wilderness – then the shovel itself, by virtue of its design and its very reason for being, has an ethical consequence.

West would never have subscribed to the theory that “guns don’t kill people – people kill people.”  Like all other tools, guns were specifically created to perform a certain function, and its particular function has significant moral weight.  In the case of handguns, their purpose is to shoot people, in no way a value-neutral function.  In the case of automatic assault weapons (like Ferri’s MAC-9), their purpose is also to shoot people, but a lot more people and really fast.  Having a handgun or an assault rifle prepares you to kill – purposefully and with designed efficiency.  Not just using one, but also owning one has moral implications.

People have said, if someone wants to kill, a knife works too. True enough, in a single instance. But to kill many people with a knife takes almost unimaginable time, physical strength and proximity. Killing many people with an automatic assault rifle is a physically trivial exercise.

Take away the gun, take away the tool.

%d bloggers like this: