The Morning Jolt

Chicago’s Bloody Christmas

Chicago’s Bloody Christmas

You’ve read a lot of “terrible violence in Chicago” stories, and maybe you’re feeling numb to them. But this Christmas weekend in the city was appalling:

Seventeen people have been wounded in shootings since Monday morning, including a 14-year-old girl in critical condition after a shooting in Gresham.

She was among 61 people shot since Christmas weekend began on Friday afternoon, according to data kept by the Tribune…

Eleven of the 60 people shot over the weekend died from their wounds. More than a dozen others were listed in serious or critical condition. 

The city has seen eight multiple-victim shootings, including two double homicides. One was an attack in the East Chatham neighborhood that left two dead and five others wounded, and an attack in the Austin neighborhood left two dead. 

Much of the violence happened in areas “with historical gang conflicts on the south and west side of Chicago,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. He also referenced the department’s “strategic subject list,” which is generated daily from a computerized algorithm and assigns a score from 1 to 500 based on such factors as a person’s arrests and the activities of his associates. Those people with a score in the upper 200s or higher are considered in danger of being shot or of shooting someone else.

“Ninety percent of those fatally wounded had gang affiliations, criminal histories and were pre-identified by the department’s strategic subject algorithm as being a potential suspect or victim of gun violence,” Guglielmi said Monday.

An algorithm to predict shooting victims and shooters – how innovative, right out of Person of Interest! Of course, it’s hard to ignore that the algorithm hasn’t done much to reduce the rate of shootings. This site with an off-color name counts 785 homicides in Chicago last year, 705 fatally shot, 4,330 people shot. All of them are up considerably from last year: 509 homicides, 447 fatally shot, 2,996 shot.

For all of our complaining, every now and then the national media notices. The New York Times did a lengthy, in-depth piece in June – albeit one that mentioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel exactly once. Maybe there’s a hesitation to spotlight the ugly side of Chicago, or Emanuel’s tenure, or the city’s legendarily heavily Democratic leadership over the past century, or Obama’s hometown. Maybe it’s the glaring evidence that having really strict gun-control laws has had little effect on gang violence. In August, the state passed a law toughening penalties on anyone without a gun-owner identification card who brings a gun into the state of Illinois to sell. So far, there’s not much sign that that new law is having much effect, either.

The problems of Chicago’s violent neighborhoods – poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, family breakdown, drug abuse and addiction – exist to varying degrees in every other big city in America as well. So why is the gang violence in Chicago so much worse?

What We Collectively Remember and What We Collectively Forget

I wondered if the notion of collective false memories was too silly a topic to write about, but then Allahpundit at Hot Air wrote about it…

Over at The New Statesman, Amelia Tait explores the phenomenon of people completely convinced that they saw an early 1990s movie featuring the comedian Sinbad as a genie, a movie that appears to have left no tangible proof of its existence.

On the subreddit, discussions about the film went into great detail. Unlike other false memories on r/MandelaEffect, the issue wasn’t a simple misspelling or logo-change, but an entire film’s disappearance. Many Redditors revealed they had distinct memories of the cover art of the movie. “It said ‘Sinbad’ in big letters that dwarfed the other print,” says Don, who goes by EpicJourneyMan on Reddit, and also remembers how Sinbad posed on the cover – facing left, with his arms crossed and an eyebrow raised. Jessica*, a 27-year-old office worker from Canada, also remembers the cover. “[It had] a purple background, featuring Sinbad dressed as a genie, back to back with a boy who looks about 11 or 12 years old. Sinbad has an annoyed expression on his face,” she says.

At this point I should mention something I have neglected to mention so far. In 1996, the basketball player Shaquille O’Neal played a genie who helped a young boy find his estranged father in a commercially unsuccessful film. The cover art of the film features Shaq with his arms folded, laughing, in front of a purple background. His name, “Shaq”, dominates the top half of the cover. The movie’s name is Kazaam.

Memories of a mythical movie that never existed are part of a phenomenon named the “Mandela effect,” named for the surprisingly high number of people convinced that they remember watching news reports that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. (Small-scale examples of this phenomenon are commonly misremembered movie lines. Humphrey Bogart never says, “Play it again, Sam,” and Darth Vader never says, “Luke, I am your father.”) Many people insist they remember watching the man standing before the tanks in Tiananmen Square get run over; this past year many people insisted they, like Donald Trump, remember watching television coverage of thousands of American Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in cities in New Jersey. (So far, all the evidence points to them mis-remembering footage of Muslims celebrating in East Jerusalem.)

The rational explanation is that true facts get mixed up and misremembered on a widespread scale; a more farfetched theory is that these groups of people remembering different facts are evidence of alternate realities and different historical timelines.

We live in a topsy-turvy world where things that didn’t happen are widely remembered and some consequential events that did happen are largely forgotten.

A blurred line between reality and misremembered history is fun for storytellers.

There is no Agency of Invasive Species in the Department of Agriculture, although there is an inter-agency working group that deals with the topic. There was no cheatgrass infestation in California wine country caused wine prices to increase in 2006.

I’ve got another novel in the works, and in the course of research for the book, I was struck by chapters of not-so-distant American history that were completely unknown to me. Fiction writers don’t have to make up much; look hard enough and you can find a variation of whatever you can imagine — even a series of stunning terror attacks. We live in an era defined by the fear of terrorism on American soil, yet many terrifying incidents are almost completely forgotten by the public at large.

For example, did you know that a terrorist group blew up a LaGuardia Airport terminal in 1975, killing 11 people and injuring 74? It is the deadliest unsolved terror attack in American history. One theory points to a radical Croatian group that was later arrested and jailed over another bomb, one planted in Grand Central Station. In 1980, radical Croatians detonated a bomb in the museum at the base of the Statue of Liberty; thankfully no one was hurt.

In 1982, a man drove a white van up to the entrance of the Washington Monument and threatened to detonate 1,000 pounds of explosives and kill hostages trapped atop the monument unless his demands were made. The surrounding buildings were evacuated, and the man made the demand that banning nuclear weapons be “the first order of business on every agenda of every organization” in the nation. He claimed to have an accomplice who would detonate the bomb if he was slain. The nation was riveted and television networks began live coverage of the crisis. After ten hours, the perpetrator tried to drive away, and he was shot dead by police. It turned out there were no explosives in the van and no accomplice. You can watch the television coverage of the aftermath here.

Large-scale terrorism using biological weapons on American soil? It already happened, in 1984:

In the fall of 1984, members of the Rajneeshee, a Buddhist cult devoted to beauty, love and guiltless sex, brewed a “salsa” of salmonella and sprinkled it on fruits and veggies in the salad bar at Shakey’s Pizza in The Dalles, Ore. They put it in blue-cheese dressing, table-top coffee creamers and potato salads at 10 local restaurants and a supermarket. They poured it into a glass of water and handed it to a judge. They fed it to the district attorney, the doctor, the dentist. Their plan: to seize control of the county government by packing polling booths with imported homeless people while making local residents too sick to vote.

It was the first large-scale bioterrorism attack on American soil, but it didn’t get much attention at the time. Nobody died–although at least 751 people got very sick.

Also in my research, I found the line between the criminally insane and politically powerful has always been a much thinner membrane than we would believe. For a while, California Governor Jerry Brown was a big fan of Jim Jones of Jonestown Kool-Aid fame. The Beach Boys hung out with Charles Manson. William Ayers helped spring Timothy Leary out of prison. This was before Ayers got tenure; within six years, Leary was writing pieces critical of 60s radicalism in (uncomfortable cough) National Review.

Those who do not learn history may not be doomed to repeat it; they may just walk through life remembering fiction as reality.

ADDENDA: Thomas Sowell hangs up his pen/keyboard after a long and illustrious career. Bravo, good sir. At age 86, you’ve earned a little rest. Among his wise words:

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

This week on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I offer our year-end award winners in categories like the most overrated, underrated, and most honest persons of the year.

Thanks to everyone who gave one of these books for Christmas or Hannukah – I understand Amazon has only two copies of The Weed Agency left!


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