Dave Gilson

Dave Gilson

Senior editor

Senior editor at Mother Jones. Obsessive generalist, word wrangler, data cruncher, pun maker.

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Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Read more of his stories, follow him on Twitter, or contact him.

The Tyranny of Dumb Book Titles

| Wed May 2, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Hey, is that a cli-CHÉ Guevara t-shirt?  In his newly released book, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Jonah Goldberg argues that liberals craftily use innocuous-sounding yet hackneyed phrases such as "social justice" and "diversity" to obscure their nefarious intentions. Never mind that issue-framing is nothing new in American politics and that conservatives are pretty darn good at it. And never mind that Goldberg's last book, Liberal Fascism, indulged in the very argument-by-sloganeering that he now decries.

Let's focus on the book's title, a call to arms against trite reductionism—which just happens to echo the title of no fewer than 52 previously published books, including:

The Tyranny of the Majority

The Tyranny of the Minority

The Tyranny of the Two-Party System

The Tyranny of The Status Quo

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas

The Tyranny of Liberalism

The Tyranny of Socialism

The Tyranny of Corporations

The Tyranny of The Market

The Tyranny of The Bottom Line

The Tyranny of Poverty

The Tyranny of Work

The Tyranny of Words

The Tyranny of Numbers

The Tyranny of Mathematics

The Tyranny of Data

The Tyranny of Values

The Tyranny of Elegance

The Tyranny of History

The Tyranny of Choice

The Tyranny of Ambiguity

The Tyranny of Health

The Tyranny of Slenderness

The Tyranny of Food

The Tyranny of Taste

The Tyranny of Pleasure

The Tyranny of Sex

The Tyranny of Guilt

The Tyranny of Noise

The Tyranny of Change

The Tyranny of The Urgent

The Tyranny of Unintended Consequences

The Tyranny of Magical Thinking

The Tyranny of Kindness

The Tyranny of Nice

The Tyranny of Malice

The Tyranny of Science

The Tyranny of Experts

The Tyranny of Shams

The Tyranny of Judges

The Tyranny of Reason

The Tyranny of Relativism

The Tyranny of Opinion

The Tyranny of Tolerance

The Tyranny of E-Mail

The Tyranny of Gun Control

The Tyranny of Time

The Tyranny of Heaven

The Tyranny of God

The Tyranny of Love

The Tyranny of Hate

The Tyranny of Irony 

Book titles via Library of Congress

Front page image by Tom Newby Photography/Flickr

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Charts: The Real Cost of Killing Bin Laden

| Tue May 1, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

In a message released in November 2004, Osama bin Laden declared, "We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy." The United States' reaction to the September 11 attacks, he reasoned, proved that terrorism's power lay not simply in its potential for carnage but in its ability to prod a superpower to incur costly, crippling financial expenses in its pursuit of security. "The real loser," he concluded, would be "the American people and their economy."

Bin Laden was killed a year ago, ending what was arguably the most costly manhunt in history. However, his death did not mark the end of the massive expenses racked up during the decade following September 11, many of which will be with us for the forseable future. A quick look at the numbers:

Estimated amount Al Qaeda spent on the September 11 attacks:
$400,000 to $500,000
Estimated homeland security spending, 2002-2011:
$690 billion
Estimated costs of airport delays due to security screening, 2002-2011:
$100 billion
Estimated economic impact of the September 11 attacks on New York City:
$82.8 billion


Freedom Isn’t Free
Homeland security expenditures and opportunity costs (in billions of 2010 dollars)

Share of federal terrorism cases since September 11
that did not involve any terrorism-related charges:
Estimated cost of US military operations in Afghanistan, 2001-2011:
$443.5 billion
Estimated annual cost per soldier of US operations in Afghanistan in 2011:
US soldiers killed in action by hostile forces in Afghanistan, 2001-2012:
US soldiers wounded in action in Afghanistan, 2001-2012:

Outspending the Cold War
Pentagon spending including supplemental funding and overseas operations after 2002 (actual and projected, in billions of 2011 dollars)

Reported US drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2004-2012:
Estimated share of drone casualties who were not militants:
Civilians killed in Afghanistan, 2006-2011:
Death toll on September 11:

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Apr. 20, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

CU Later? Vermont legislators passed a resolution calling on Congress to draft a constitutional amendment that would undo the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. (New Mexico and Hawaii have passed similar measures.) On Wednesday, Democratic senators held a rally where they expressed their support for such an amendment. New York Sen. Charles Schumer said the 2010 ruling was "the worst decision since Plessy v. Ferguson." He also suggested that bitter rivals Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Hamilton would have agreed on taking down Citizens United: "They’d say, 'Go forward, right on, because our democracy is being ruined by these decisions.'"

The price of a White House visit: The New York Times reports that major donors have been made welcome at the White House. Around 75 percent of donors who gave $100,000 to Obama and the Democratic party have visited, and approximately two-thirds of the president's top 2008 fundraisers have visited. Many of the visitors showed up with the Washington equivalent of a bottle of wine for the hosts—a lobbyist.

New York TimesNew York TimesAttack ads on Antiques Roadshow? Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a longstanding ban on political advertising on public TV. So what does the ruling really mean? Short answer: PBS stations can accept (or turn down) political ads—assuming that candidates would even want to advertise there in the first place.

Rove's $100 million money machine: Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC and Crossroads GPS 501(c)4 are expected to announce that they've raised nearly $100 million in this election cycle, Politico reports. Of the $28.4 million brought in by Crossroads GPS, $10 million, or 35 percent of its haul, has come from one person or corporation. Who that megadonor might be is a mystery, since GPS doesn't have to disclose the identity of its donors.  

The sleeper super-PACs: Big national-level super-PACs like Crossroads have been getting a lot of attention, but the Sunlight Foundation reports that smaller groups are already having an impact on the state level.

Energy ad war heats up: The American Energy Alliance, a Koch-funded pro-oil advocacy group, has been taking to the airwaves in swing states with the ad below, which slams Obama's "failing energy policies." It's just one of several groups that have spent nearly $17 million attacking the president's energy record. Meanwhile, the Obama's campaign and super-PAC have spent just one-tenth that touting his record on one of the campaign's most contentious issues.  

Then: Booze, Oysters, and "Gilded Vice." Now: Mother Jones

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

If you happened to be in downtown San Francisco on the eve of the 1906 earthquake and were in the mood for booze, seafood, and other vices, you couldn't do much better than coming to the future home of Mother Jones. Today, our building on Sutter Street houses other respectable outfits including an upscale bakery, Loehmann's, and Craigslist. But back before the great fire obliterated it exactly 106 years ago, this spot epitomized the city's old, seamy ways.

In 1877, a couple of Canadian brothers, Frank and Jesse Gobey, opened Gobey's Saloon in the Rose Building at 228 Sutter Street. When Frank Gobey died suddenly at age 56 in 1895, the Chronicle stated that his bar and restaurant was "a notable gathering place for the inhabitants of the 'tenderloin,' but as it was always conducted in a quiet and orderly manner it was never the scene of any trouble." Whether the reporter did not wish to speak ill of the dead or was being sarcastic isn't clear, but it seems that Gobey's was anything but staid.

Future home of Mother Jones: Gobey's Saloon is the door on the left.  : San Francisco Public LibraryMen could enter Gobey's Saloon via the door on the far left. Women and their chaperones had to sneak in the back. San Francisco Public LibraryJust a year before Frank Gobey's death, the saloon was the site of a celebrated incident following the annual "big game" between Stanford and UC Berkeley. As football fans packed the bar, a young swell shot and wounded Stanford player Louis "Brick" Whitehouse and another patron. When the reporters arrived, Gobey was heard telling his staff to "say nothing to no one" about the shooting, much to the chagrin of the police. In 1895, Gobey's was found to be serving counterfeit champagne, though only the distributor was charged. In 1897, Jesse Gobey was accused of running a nickel slot machine, but was let off.

Other unsavory goings-on at Gobey's were hinted at in the press. "There are upper and rear rooms at Gobey's that could make strange and starting revelations if gifted with speech," The San Francisco Call winked.

In a July 1893 article titled "Pitfalls for Women. Scenes of Gilded Vice and Squalid Sin," Call correspondent Marie Evelyn recounted a tour of saloons with a male colleague identified only as "Mr. Y." At the time, the city's many drinking establishments were considered off-limits to proper women, yet female companions could enter by way of the "ladies entrances" usually hidden in plain sight. Once inside, patrons could retreat to private, locked booths where men might lead women down "the flowery paths of vice," as Evelyn put it. "Small wonder if a weak woman's moral sense grows confused when such perversions are allowed by law," she wrote.

Evelyn's descent into the intemperate underworld concluded at Gobey's: 

"What a change from those wretched bars," I could not help saying with a sigh of relief; "this is quite respectable by contrast."

"Yes?" replied Mr. Y in a tone of mild interrogation, "you make a distinction between gilded vice and squalid sin? Those rooms have not doors with bolts. If you look through the curtain you will see what nice women are passing in and out to rooms at the back that have doors."…

"These dens look rather like the staterooms of a first-class steamer," said Mr. Y. "Don't you think we should be about right in calling this a cabin passage to the lower regions, and the squalid saloons a steerage one?"

Ladies: San Francisco Call"Nice women are passing in and out to rooms at the back that have doors." San Francisco CallHer account is echoed in Clarence E. Edwords' Bohemian San Francisco: "Gobey ran one of those places which was not in good repute, consequently when ladies went there they were usually veiled and slipped in through an alley." At a police commission meeting in 1900, Gobey's lawyer "contended that the best people of the town, men with their families and all who wanted a little privacy, patronized these places." Perhaps he wasn't entirely exaggerating; as Edwords adds, "the enticement of Gobey's crab stew was too much for conventionality and his little private rooms were always full."

Gobey's was also credited as the source of the oyster loaf (sorry, New Orleans*)—a thick hunk of crusty bread hollowed out and stuffed with breaded and fried oysters. Noting that San Franciscans who had emigrated from the Atlantic seaboard had a "hankering for succulent and enormous bivalves," a 1926 article in The San Franciscan explained that "after a night with the boys, they felt the urge to placate the lady of their heart with a tid-bit and the Chinaman at Gobey's saloon thought up a oyster loaf." (The dish was also rumored to be an ideal "peacemaker" for delinquent husbands to offer to annoyed wives: "The deliciously flavored steam ascends like sweet incense until it reaches her rigid nostrils, and then her stern features relax into something like a smile.")

The ladies' entrance to Gobey's likely opened onto Mary Lane, one of several alleys behind the Rose Building. One of them, the serendipitously named Clara Lane, may have been an even more colorful (and tragic) site than the saloon:

May 1867: The owner of a building on the corner of Sutter and Clara Lane writes the Daily Alta California to clarify that an illegal liquor still had not been found on his property, but in an adjacent building. He insisted that the alleged distiller claimed to be setting up a "vinegar factory." 

August 1884: Eleven-year-old Philomena Fry falls into Clara Lane while trying to pick some flowers from a window box three stories above.

April 1886: An item in The Call reports that "Wallace McCreary, an old-time opera singer, allowed his feelings to overcome him about 8 o'clock yesterday morning and took a tumble from a second-story window in the rear of the building occupied by Sam Sample's saloon, on Kearney street. McCreary landed on the stone pavement of Clara lane and sustained a severe contusion on the back of his bead, but nothing of a serious nature."

January 1887: A man who absconded with another's five-gallon can of gasoline is apprehended in the alley and positively identified as "Smoothy, the cocaine fiend." The same month, one Clara Mason of Clara Lane is admitted to the hospital for "an overdose of strychnine self-administered."

Clara Lane: David Rumsey Map Collection Cocaine fiends, falling bodies, and stabbings: Just another day in Clara Lane David Rumsey Map Collection

April 1887: Sixteen-year-old George Murphy survives being shot at after a quarrel with some men leaving the Fern Leaf Saloon. The suspect makes his escape down Clara Lane to Sutter Street.

November 1887: The Call briefly recounts the tale of Celso Garcia, a bootblack who said he'd been cut on the nose when "Arvilo Venartiar, a tamale peddler, had entered his house at 6 Clara lane and started in to carve him and his wife Maria up because Venartiar's attentions to Garcia's daughter did not meet the parental approbation."

January 1888: Carrie (Clara?) Mason of Clara Lane is reported to have been hospitalized "suffering from a dose of chloral hydrate." The Call notes, "This is the second time within a few months that the woman has attempted to solve the problem of how much chloral it would take to kill her. Abusive treatment on the part of her husband is stated to be the cause of her attempted suicide."

September 1904: A newspaperman is attacked while walking down Clara Lane late at night. The Call reports: "He was cut over the left eye, across the bridge of the nose and over the right ear. The wounds were apparently inflicted by a dull instrument."

The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed 490 square blocks of the city, including this stretch of Sutter Street. Gobey's reopened nearby, but was said to be a shadow of its former self. Clara Lane became Claude Lane; Mary Lane is now Mark Lane. Smoothy the coke fiend and trigger-happy football fans have been replaced by 9-to-5ers and shivering tourists. But the MoJo building still has a rear door, possibly in the same spot where the ladies' entrance to Gobey's once welcomed anyone looking for a drink, a date, or a bite of oyster loaf.

* The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Brett Anderson convincingly counters this crusty claim: "There is proof New Orleanians were eating sandwiches called oyster loaves and peacemakers before Gobey’s ever hosted its first scene of gilded vice and squalid sin.

The NRA Wants the Law Protecting Trayvon Martin's Killer in All 50 States

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 6:27 PM EDT

The National Rifle Association continues to press more states to adopt Florida-style "stand your ground" laws like the one that's made it difficult to prosecute George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in late February. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense despite the fact that Martin was unarmed. Since "stand your ground" laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force—even if they have an opportunity, as Zimmerman did, to safely avoid a confrontation—Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged. (If you haven't heard about the Martin case, get the full rundown in our explainer.)

The proliferation of these laws is part of a deliberate lobbying campaign by the NRA. In 2005, at the NRA's urging, Florida became the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law. Before that, most states required you to retreat from a confrontation unless you were inside your own home. Now 25 states have these "stand your ground" laws, which critics call "shoot first" laws (Gawker's pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko" calls the laws "a great, legally roving murder bubble") because they authorize citizens to use deadly force even if the person who makes them feel threatened is, like Martin, unarmed. Here's a map of the current situation:

Prosecutors hate "stand your ground" laws because they make it much harder to successfully prosecute people who claim self-defense. In Florida, a defendant doesn't have to actually prove he acted in self-defense—the prosecution has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he didn't do so, a very high bar to clear. The upshot? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Times reported that "justifiable homicides"—i.e., killings that were deemed legitimate—have skyrocketed in Florida over several years since the "stand your ground" law went into effect:

That's how you end up with stories with headlines like "How to Get Away With Murder." But the NRA continues to forge ahead, pushing to expand the legislation to even more states.

On March 1, just days after Martin was killed, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action posted a blog post urging Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to sign a bill bringing a Florida-style law to his state. Dayton vetoed the bill, noting that law enforcement officials had complained it would make it harder for them to do their jobs. Over at Media Matters, Matt Gertz notes several other examples of the NRA pushing these laws in recent weeks:

  • On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on "NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement." According to NRA-ILA, the bill would "remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present." The group urged supporters to contact state senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they "left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills" on February 29.
  • On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed "important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be." NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5March 8, and February 29

The Massachusetts legislature's joint committee on the judiciary held a hearing on yet another similar law in February.

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