GUEST BLOG: Hey Facebook, this should be on everyone’s mind

Guest blog by Jerry Casagrande, an environmentalist, writer and screenwriter working in Washington, D.C., area.

Guest blog by Jerry Casagrande, an environmentalist, writer and screenwriter working in the Washington, D.C., area.


Facebook asked me “What’s on my mind?” So here goes:

.02 percent of guns in the US are used in self-defense each year. Not 2%, but 2 one-hundredths of 1 percent. Some guns are used for hunting of course. How are the rest of guns used? I think mostly as toys and “crutches.” They are taken to the range to shoot at targets or taken into the backyard to shoot at targets or up into the air or at a can on a fence or shown to a friend the way my ten year old shows his friends his pokemon cards or some other toy. 99.98 % are not used in self-defense. They are toys.

Or, they are a sort of crutch held in safes or in basements or under beds by those who feel unsafe. Folks who fantasize that one day the bad guy will come in the window and they will whip out their glock and pick him off. Maybe get their picture in the paper for being a vigilante. But 99.98% of guns will never be used this way. The “I need a gun for self-defense” argument is just not true. You don’t need one. A better remedy for the person who feels they need a gun for safety would be to see a therapist to overcome their feelings of un-safety.

However, for every gun used in self-defense, 4 more guns are stolen each year. And there are 32,000+ deaths by gun every year, including murder, suicide, and accident. It is just not true that if there were fewer guns there would not be fewer deaths. Take mass murders like the one in Orlando, without the semi-automatic weapon, he would have in fact killed fewer people. Imagine for a minute with a slower shooting gun, he killed half as many people–there would be 24 or 25 families grieving now instead of 49. Every life counts. Take suicides–for the troubled person considering suicide, imagine that gun is just a bit harder to get; so they turn to means less effective than a gun and wind up in the hospital rather than the morgue. Accidents? No gun, no accident.

I tire of gun-control advocates being so damn respectful of the right to bear arms. There is little reason to believe the founding fathers thought this was a fundamental right. Rather, they believed it was a right derived from the need for the new United States to be defended by state militias, the members of which would need a rifle. The right to bear arms is not as fundamental as the right to say what one wants, the right to believe what one wants, the right to associate with whom one wants. How can it be? It is about owning a particular product not about one’s core identity. One certainly has a right to self-defense but that does not automatically mean that one has a right to defend oneself with a gun.

We don’t just need common-sense gun laws. We need many fewer guns. We have one gun per person–essentially handing them out in the hospital nursery. How the actual reduction in number of guns–from 300,000,000 to some much smaller number should happen–I don’t know. Buy back programs. Ban on the sale or transfer of guns such that when a person dies, his or her guns are disposed of.

Let hunters hunt. Let police officers keep the public safe. Let soldiers have their weapons. Other than that, folks can have guns in very special circumstances where an overwhelming need can be proved.

Does that sound radical? The other side suggests arming kindergarten teachers…

The Ideal Speech? Obama’s Extraordinary Opportunity

Jerry Casagrande is a writer focusing on issues about the environment and poverty. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and three children.

GUEST COLUMN by Jerry Casagrande

President Obama has an enormous decision to make regarding our country’s response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons that killed 1429 innocent citizens on August 21. I hope President Obama will have the courage to break from our militaristic past and forge a new future. With public opinion polls and Congressional opinions moving against any form of strike, this may be an excellent opportunity for genuine change.

Although the evidence is still being debated, the Obama Administration says that more than 1400 Syrians died painfully at the hands of what one could only call a war criminal, if the claim is true. And yet, around the world that same number of children die every four hours from malnutrition.

Even in our politically divided country, we can all agree that these deaths — from hunger and from chemical weaponry — are tragic and unnecessary. So here is what I ask President Obama to say in his speech this week:

My fellow Americans, I have looked at the options presented to me by my advisors on how to deal with the Syrian tragedy. I have determined two things:


First, that we have very little power to reduce violence in Syria without fully involving ourselves in a war there. And, of course, involving ourselves in a war will greatly increase the violence before it reduces it.


Second, as have others before me, I have reached the conclusion that violence simply begets more violence. Imagine if you will that we attack Syria in retaliation for its chemical weapons attack. We will kill men and women who are working at weapons warehouses or factories. These men and women will have children who we will orphan. If our missiles go astray, we may kill children, or the elderly. We will not kill President Bashar Assad, who I believe is most responsible for the 1429 deaths. And, he will use our attack to instigate his own people against us. There will inevitably be more violence and more deaths as a result of our actions. I have no doubt of this.


And, so I am embarking our country on a new path. In honor of the 1429 innocents who died on August 21 in Syria, we will spend the same amount of money that a retaliatory attack would cost — let’s call it $50 million — to save thousands, or tens of thousands, elsewhere. We will meet President Assad’s violence with an equal or greater measure of compassion towards the world’s least advantaged people.


Children are hungry and dying because of malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa, in India and Bangladesh, in Mongolia. In places that are at peace and where we can save lives without endangering American lives or creating a backlash of further violence.


What will Assad do in response? I don’t know. He might attack people with chemical weapons. In which case, we will mourn their deaths and respond with equal strength to save even more of the world’s poorest from a premature death. Each attack Assad makes, we will respond with kindness to the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

Or he may, eventually, be embarrassed and pressured into reducing his own violence. He might, like the South Africans who dismantled Apartheid after years of the world’s disdain, relent and rejoin the world community of peaceful nations.


I don’t know. But I do know this: Our action will save destitute children from death from malnutrition and it will lift up the name and reputation of these great United States as not just the most powerful country on earth, but also the most compassionate.

Tonight, I am directing my staff to prepare a list of sites where we can provide immediate assistance — to improve water access, improve agricultural yields, improve long-term access to food — to save the lives of thousands of children.


President Assad, the people you have killed have not died in vain. The United States honors their deaths by reaching out to save others from the death sentence of poverty and hunger. 

Some may say that this approach has us turning our backs on the Syrians. But, both an attack on Syria and a non-response to Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use has us turning our backs on the children dying of hunger. We live in a world of limited resources. Let us use our resources where we can to peacefully save lives rather than to violently act out in ways that may only increase the death toll.

Others with a practical bent will argue that this approach can’t happen because it requires us to turn our backs on the military-industrial-political complex, that lives off the teat of the Pentagon and that pays dividends to America’s wealthiest and most influential.

But, what if that complex can be co-opted ? What if there are profits and jobs to be had doing the good work of saving lives rather than the work of taking lives in the name of peace? What if contracts for building hospitals, providing farm equipment, building wells and cisterns, are open to the likes of Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglass, or a host of other defense industry corporations?

And, what if our good men and women of the service are sent to build rather than to destroy? Sent to do so in places that are already peaceful? They would not lose a paycheck. And one wonders, would they return from those places with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Or would they return feeling fulfilled?

America does not want another war. And, we really do not even want an attack for fear of the war it may lead to. Now is the time to do real good in the face of extraordinary violence.

I hope the President is wise enough to see his opportunity and brave enough to take advantage of it.

Avery’s Run to Freedom (or Our White Noise of Modern-day Warfare)

NOTE: Avery Bargar, age 23, delivered the scripture reading before I spoke on Sunday, March 10th at First Baptist Church in Newton (MA), eight miles southwest of the Boston Marathon finish line. Five weeks later he was near that finish line at about 2:50 p.m. when he felt two explosions. He sent me this essay. The insight he shares about the “techno-media echo chamber” is especially valuable. Please read to the finish. And please circulate. 

Guest Blogger Avery Bargar

Maybe World War III wasn’t nuclear; maybe it came and went, and Americans watched it on TV. The Long War could be World War IV, better hidden, though not for much longer, in the internet age. Rather than World Wars becoming increasingly obvious in their destruction, perhaps they’ve become more psychological, because they’re tied to our entertainment. We did not get a new World War, instead we got The Real World: War.

By Avery Bargar

BOSTON— On the morning of the 117th Boston Marathon, I opened the Lindt Chocolate Store in the Lenox Hotel in Copley Square, right at the intersection of Boylston and Exeter Street. There were thousands of people lining both sides of Boylston as I squeezed my way through the crowd to work. In the store, our view of the race could hardly have been better — we were a hundred yards or so from the finish line — so as the front runners of the women’s and men’s races took the title, we watched. My coworker and I both marveled at the feat of will, determination, and faith that it must take to make it to the front of the Boston Marathon.

I left work at 2:40 to jam with someone at Boston Conservatory. Outside of the store, I found myself instantly amidst an enormous crowd. I had to walk slowly away from the finish line, bumping my backpack filled with sheet music into everybody on either side of me. I laughed a bit at the pomp of this whole event—thousands of people; cameras and corporate advertising everywhere—New Balance having cleverly co-opted the themes of social upheaval of the last two years into several historical, Boston-related slogans, including “Run to Freedom”—and in the middle of it all, runners streaming by, pumping their fists in the air. Ten minutes later I had barely made it a few hundred feet from Lindt when I heard a massive BOOM.

Instantly the tone of the crowd changed. Cheering stopped. I turned to face the street, confused, noticing bewilderment and disorientation on a thousand faces. I saw a large plume of white smoke rising a couple hundred feet down the street. As soon as this registered, there was another explosion, and people began to scream. The shock tore us away as fast as possible. Let me make this clear— I was not one of the extremely brave people who ran into the heart of the attack to help the wounded. I was a couple hundred yards from the explosions, amid an enormous terrified throng. We ran south, fast. I alerted other pedestrians and drivers along the way, lent out my cell phone, donated blood an hour later, and I tried to call my coworkers, but I did not double back into the heart of the carnage to help. I did not notice that as a possibility, and I am in awe of those who did. There was intense confusion from the start; the immediate experience of it was obscured by this odd emerging technological phenomenon that is both a web and a barrier; connecting yet dividing us.

A week later, this is one of the hardest things for me to unpack about my experience of these attacks— the use of what I’ll call the “post-9/11 techno-media echo chamber” as a political medium. We carry it with us everywhere, even if we don’t have a smartphone.
As I ran away from Boylston Street with thousands of other frightened Bostonians and tourists, I noticed the waves of communication unfold. The first was with the emerging reality— we all witnessed two violent explosions.

“Get away, fast. There could be more.”

The second wave was with the other people in the area.

“Are you ok? Let’s go, keep running.”

I saw a mother and two boys weeping in fear. I lent my phone to a woman much closer to the blasts than I was— right at the finish line when they went off. She was traumatized from what she had seen, which has already been repeated in what will probably be weeks of reports. Which brings me to the third wave, brought through digital devices— calls and texts with family and friends. I tried to call my coworkers to see that they got out.

And in the fourth wave, we distanced ourselves just a bit from the immediate moment, those around us, and our friends and family, and focused on information. We wanted the facts. As we wandered away from the blasts, the sounds of police and ambulance sirens screaming through Back Bay, we became the second hand consumers of our own experience. We turned to our electronic media to help us interpret our confusion and terror, and joined the intended audience of these attacks. Because the key to the post-9/11 techno-media echo chamber is this: the attacked and the witnesses are not the intended audience; we were simply players, acting out the role thrust on us. The real audience is you, out there, watching on your now unavoidable screen— which has followed you from your local cinema into your living room, then into your businesses and restaurants, your lap, and now your pocket.

But how did this echo chamber come to be?

I walked through Boston and into Cambridge, then took a cab to Medford. Stopping at a pizza shop, I saw coverage on the TV of what I’d just seen firsthand three hours earlier. One thing nearly as traumatic as escaping bombs is having them follow you on screens for hours. Here I was in Medford, tired, shaken, hungry, confronted with four new angles of the blasts I’d just run from.

“And look, there’s a scared crowd running for their lives; how awful!”

Within a matter of hours, I’d gone from running for my life to watching my performance on screen, playing a young man running for his life from the danger and bewilderment of a Postmodern Nightmare. Except it’s a nightmare within a nightmare, because the techno-media echo chamber follows us everywhere we go. And this brings me back to that first point— the use of the post-9/11 techno-media echo chamber as a political tactic. Indulge the digression, please. It is relevant.

The assumption I learned in high school history was that World War II was the last World War due to the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction. World War III could only be nuclear, and since there has been no nuclear war, we’re not there yet. YET! Which is why we took out Saddam! And bin Laden! And Gaddafi! And are looking out for Ahmadinejad! And Kim Jong-Un!

But what about the “Cold War?” Where was it cold? The US, USSR, UK and Western Europe, all sites of World War II. Where was it hot? South America, South East Asia, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, ending with the disintegration of the USSR, and resulting in regime changes the world over. The difference here is that the media learned to bring the spectacle from American cinemas on news reels into American living rooms on TVs, with spin. A hot war in a cool package. Could this be a candidate for the title of World War III?

But what about the “War on Terror,” or the “Long War?” This one has been pretty well hidden, and yet, “terrorist attacks” and American invasions and interventions made the evening news, the papers, and online news sites; there’s leaked video on Youtube and Vimeo— Twitter, Facebook, and the blogospohere offer platforms for sharing information and perspectives unavailable from the mainstream media. The justifications for this war crumbled under international scrutiny years ago, and yet the drones fly forward, largely un-examined by the mainstream. Could this be another candidate for the title?

Maybe World War III wasn’t nuclear; maybe it came and went, and Americans watched it on TV. The Long War could be World War IV, better hidden, though not for much longer, in the internet age. Rather than World Wars becoming increasingly obvious in their destruction, perhaps they’ve become more psychological, because they’re tied to our entertainment. We did not get a new World War, instead we got The Real World: War.


The normalization of violence through movies, video games, TV, and the news is part of this war, and the techno-media echo chamber, which evolved again on 9/11, has been essential to this process. And further, since five years ago, we carry it with us everywhere! At all times we can access a wealth of perspectives and contacts, yes, but the echo chamber has one main message: DANGER, AROUND THE CORNER— Stay Tuned! From the very format of the Hot Leading Story — “Now to you Tom, at the scene of the blast”— the media feed us the same formats again and again. Tragedy is our New York Times Bestseller, America’s Greatest National Export. And the antidote? “Security.”

In other words, the techno-media echo chamber co-evolved with a culture of international violence, and in shaping our perception of that violence it became a political medium. But it is a battleground only because it insists on being simplistic. It refuses to ask hard questions. And since World War II it has so succeeded in branding and re-branding war, and has amplified itself so absurdly, that we now carry it in our pockets. As a friend told me, “It’s like there’s a town crier at every corner.”

People have learned how to use it against us, and this has only gotten worse since 9/11. It is a crucial tool in modern warfare— whose home front is not a nuclear battle ground or worse, if possible; it is simply a battle against consciousness, against possibility.

As I ran away from this attack, I was in shock, jolted totally awake, and in that state, I was not surprised, to be honest. This is what happens when we live in ignorance. The victims are not at fault. “At fault” is not the right term. “Collateral damage” is closer. I don’t know why this happened, but my main point is that civic dialogue, a practice of open discussion and patient engagement, has gradually been lobotomized. The spaces where it happens are few and far between, increasingly de-funded, or expensive. The intended audience of these attacks is all of us caught in the din of this post-9/11 techno-media echo chamber.

I bring up the “Cold War” and the “War on Terror” and “Terrorists” because they are misleading labels, propagated via the echo chamber, that reduce a few perspectives into “facts” to be memorized and regurgitated,and  then sold in textbooks and on TV, erasing other more nuanced interpretations, and concealing violence.

“Cowards ruined a great event.”

“A tragedy in Boston’s fine history.”

“Increased security will of course be necessary.”

We have to step back and ask the question: WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? We have to ask! “Random, senseless violence” is insufficient.

Further, I’d like to know more about all of this military equipment local and state police forces have rolled out. How much did it cost? Where else could that money have gone? Now that a precedent has been set to use hundreds, if not thousands of high-tech weapons to catch one man, what limits will be put in place for future use?

We have been unconscious as this behemoth has grown.. It has lured us into its den. It spins half-truths and lies, and coins terms that force their way into our language, cannibalizing many more specific terms. It demands that we watch.

My sympathies to the victims and their families. I won’t be forgetting what I saw and heard at the Marathon, and how totally it fit with the logic of Postmodern America.