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A Day in Mass American Death

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So let me tell you about my day yesterday.

I am on one of my periodic trips to western Pennsylvania and I chose this day to do some exploring. If you are out here, most of the history is kind of depressing, although I did run across the Edward Abbey historical marker since he is actually from here. Anyway, among my destinations yesterday were the newly opened Flight 93 National Memorial visitor center (very minimalist, not sure what I think about it) and a visit to the the site where the wealthy Pittsburgh-based hunting club’s dam broke causing the Johnstown Flood. These are 2 of the 6 worst disasters in American history by death toll.* So I was feeling pretty great about our history, as you can imagine. Then while I was out, I heard about the shooting at Umpqua Community College. This hits a bit close to home, although not quite as close as in 1998 when my high school Spanish teacher was killed by her son who then went on to shoot up the other high school in town. It’s an hour south of my home town. In fact, in high school I was dragged to a hilariously awful Christian rock show in the auditorium at that school.**

So yesterday was a full embrace of the massive death that happens to the people of this nation. That it has become so common because people love their guns so much is even more depressing. There’s almost nothing to say at this point, except that I would like to see the Second Amendment repealed, the government to invade your homes and take all your guns, and those who resist should serve time in prison for breaking my new anti-gun laws. And yes, I would indeed like a pony.

But I notice that each of these three disasters have a particularly evil person behind them. So it’s time for an LGM readership poll. Who is the most evil? Is it Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11? Henry Clay Frick, the comically evil capitalist who was head of the club that did not maintain the dam that caused the Johnstown Flood? Or Wayne LaPierre, head of an organization that is the U.S. equivalent of the wealthy Saudis who fund terrorism?

Personally, I’d say it’s a tie. Wayne LaPierre and his henchmen are as evil as Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen. And Frick and his fellow Gilded Age capitalists are as evil as the other two. But maybe we can lighten up our morning by discussing who is actually the most evil.

Good times America. Good times.

*In order, it’s the 1900 Galveston hurricane, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1928 Florida hurricane, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Johnstown Flood. Hurricane Katrina is 8th.

** The music was, of course, atrocious. But the real comedy came when the drummer for this band, who, even obvious to my 1990 very unhip self, was not very far in the closet for a Christian rock band, got upset that his electric drum kit was having some problems. He had to switch to real drums. He then told us how he asked God for His forgiveness over his anger and frustration over the electric drums and that it was a lesson for all of us. Truly a classic moment.

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  • Snarki, child of Loki

    “Who is the most evil? Is it Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11? Henry Clay Frick, the comically evil capitalist who was head of the club that did not maintain the dam that caused the Johnstown Flood? Or Wayne LaPierre, head of an organization that is the U.S. equivalent of the wealthy Saudis who fund terrorism?”

    LaPierre is still alive, which can be rectified.

    • Barry Freed

      Is it Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11?

      George Bush did 9/11.

      • Barry Freed

        That was a joke y’all. Everyone knows it was Dick Cheney.

        • I am fairly certain Dick Cheney is significantly more evil than anyone can believe.

          • ThrottleJockey

            You don’t earn the nickname Darth Vader without putting in overtime!

    • cpinva

      “LaPierre is still alive, which can be rectified.”

      slowly and excruciatingly painfully.

    • Derelict

      LaPierre gets my vote, but not because he’s still alive.

      It’s because the NRA under his leadership has been indirectly responsible for the deaths of more Americans than all other national catastrophies combined. The NRA has worked directly to create, maintain, and amplify the paranoiac atmosphere that pervades this nation, and then used that fear to attain its political goals.

      So, yeah–Wayne LaPierre tops my list of most evil.

      • brewmn

        Good point. Plus, western imperialism in the ME is a legitimate source of grievance. The threat LaPierre is promoting gun ownership in response to is wholly made up.

      • ThrottleJockey

        That was the best point about Obama’s speech yesterday. He said, “I’m asking the news stations to tally up all the deaths from terrorism and from gun deaths and show them side by side. The totals aren’t even close. My office isn’t going to release it. But I’m asking you to do it.

    • UserGoogol

      It seems wildly hypocritical to wish death on someone whose primary evil has been making it easier for people to kill people.

  • rea

    [Imagining Laurie Anderson asking] “Quien es mas malo?”

  • MaureenDowdsLudes

    LaPierre. Not even close. Because he’s still alive and he always blames the victims for being unarmed.

  • On topic: LaPierre’s indirect death toll is highest, which is amazing given what scum Frick was. (Note that I blame Bush, Cheney, et al for the Iraq war death toll, not OBL.)

    Off topic: God hates electric drums.

    • sparks

      OT: I believe it now that I’ve seen it happen twice to the same drummer. Different drum sets, too.

    • Lee Rudolph

      God hates electric drums.

      He’s been waiting to be interviewed on that mountaintop above Johnstown for a long time; and when a reporter finally gets there, this is what they ask Him???

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        god was just glad the question wasn’t “why did you make so many terrible human beings?” because even god can’t quite figure that one out

        • “why did you make so many terrible human beings?”

          He got bored making beetles.

          • Warren Terra

            Now, this is just a silly claim. If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that if there is a Creator, that Deity is willing to devote seemingly unlimited time and effort to the creation of yet more and fancier beetles. Obviously what happened is that a Creator preoccupied with beetles half-assed the humans. Thus: the appendix, ear hair, and Jerks.

        • Gary K
    • CaptainBringdown

      The answer to the question of which percussion instrument is most evil is self-evident.

      • Tambourine. Linda McCartney’s presence in Wings justifies everything that the Lennon fans ever said.

        • Woodrowfan

          ugh,, listen to Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss” and then try to tell me how bad Ms. McCartney was.

          • matt w

            Ooh, someone wants to listen to the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band album–the one where she screams for the entire album over feedback-heavy riffs, except for the track with Ornette Coleman playing trumpet.

            (It is an authentically good work of art, though difficult to listen to.)

            • nixnutz

              With the Live Peace in Toronto album I definitely prefer the Yoko side to Lennon & Clapton’s limp blooze on the other side, although I don’t much like either. And it’s not that Yoko’s great, the band seems way more engaged doing Don’t Worry Kyoko than Blue Suede Shoes.

      • Origami Isopod

        No percussion instrument is as evil as the bagpipes.

        • Malaclypse

          Given how very wrong this is, I am forced to assume you have been nymjacked.

          • Derelict

            As a Scottish friend of mine once said as we listened to a group skirling away, “A wee bit goes a long way, aye?”

            • creature

              I remember, every year, at a British & European motorcycle event I regularly attended, a group of pipers wandering around, blurting out the sad and obnoxious wail. I determined that it was the Scot’s revenge on the English, for whatever brutalities and indiscretions they imposed.

              • Snarki, child of Loki

                Fun fact:

                Bagpipes were actually invented by the IRISH.

                They gave them to the Scots, who didn’t get the joke.

                • Scottish Puritans are known for their humor.

          • Origami Isopod

            EVIL.

            • I concur that blowing into a sheep’s stomach is not music.

              When I taught at the College of Wooster, I discovered that bagpiping is a huge thing at the home of the Fighting Scots. So big that a house a few homes up the hill from me was occupied entirely by bagpipe players who played all the time.

              It was a long, cold year.

              • socraticsilence

                It’s the same in central Michigan- Alma College (Mascot: Scotties)

          • Ahuitzotl

            Cleverness is like bagpipes – a hellish screech that only sounds good to the one making it

        • witlesschum

          I presume you mean evil in the positive sense, as in when discussing a Slayer album.

          • Slayer uses bagpipes? I may have to give them a try.

        • ThrottleJockey

          To everyone hating on percussion. Please go re-watch Chapelle’s Show John Mayer vs QuestLove episode. (Don’t ask me why its split into 2 parts).

          • Origami Isopod

            Q: How do you know the stage is level?

            A: The drummer is drooling out of both sides of his mouth.

            • ThrottleJockey

              +1

        • Joseph Slater

          Hey now, as someone who played bagpipes in his youth and still enjoys listening to them played well, I will have to voice a rare but strong disagreement with Origami Isopod.

          • Anna in PDX

            I’ll go one stronger than this and say that three of my favorite instruments are the accordion (the button accordion played in Irish music, but the regular accordion played in German restaurants as well), the bagpipes (both Irish and Scottish varieties, though I agree they’re better outdoors than in) and the banjo (all hail Bela Fleck and Tony Furtado, not to mention the greats like Bill Monroe!).

            Other than these firmly held opinions on music, I agree with a lot of Erik’s more curmudgeonly opinions and I usually agree with everything Origami Isopod says.

            • matt w

              …wasn’t Bill Monroe a mandolin player? Anyway, if you like Old Master banjo, I recommend searching archive.org for Buell Kazee. You are in for, well I wouldn’t say a treat, but a collection of masterpieces that will fill you with pity and terror.

              It has been a remarkable pattern in our household that of all the skronky jazz I listen to, the stuff that makes my partner sit up and say “I actually like this!” is the stuff that features accordions.

              I have not managed to get hugely into bagpipes.

              • It has been a remarkable pattern in our household that of all the skronky jazz I listen to, the stuff that makes my partner sit up and say “I actually like this!” is the stuff that features accordions.

                Guy Klucevsek? Andrea Parkins?

              • Anna in PDX

                D’oh! Probably I was thinking of Earl Scruggs, sigh, my brain is so bad with names.

                I don’t know why but the sound of an accordion just makes me feel happy. This is for example why I like the newish rock band Kongos.

    • Warren Terra

      God hates drums

      I believe this has been documented.

  • mph

    Since I’m a direct descendant of the founder of Johnstown, and drive past said dam site daily, I’m going to have to go with Frick. Hometown bias.

    I hope your visit has been otherwise pleasant, the history and news notwithstanding.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    I think when you factor in the mess the US made of Iraq it almost has to be OBL

    • As I said above, I can’t find it in me to blame anyone but the members of the Bush administration for the Iraq death toll. I’ll put the Afghanistan death toll on OBL, sure, but if we had sane adults in charge of this country, Iraq wouldn’t have happened like that.

      • DrDick

        Yeah. OBL only gave Bush-Cheney an excuse to do what they already wanted to do. While, as you observe, it is a really tough choice, I will join the herd in picking LaPierre as the last man standing. May he personally experience the meaning of live by the sword (or gun in this case), die by the sword.

        • Lee Rudolph

          May he personally experience the meaning of live by the sword (or gun in this case), die by the sword.

          A pike would suffice.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        well, I always understood (possibly wrongly) one of OBL’s goals was to provoke us into doing something just that insanely stupid and yes evil…

        but I don’t know- I do think our politicians (the American voters too I guess) bear a degree of responsibility for La Pierre’s “success” that puts him on a lower level than Frick or OBL

        • I do think our politicians (the American voters too I guess) bear a degree of responsibility for La Pierre’s “success”

          Absolutely.

  • I remember watching a documentary about the Johnstown Flood a few years back.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Slightly OT, but Fallingwater is certainly worth a side trip if you’re in Western Pennsylvania. Definitely not depressing.

    • ploeg

      Yes to that. I recommend the landscape hike if you tour on the weekend. Because there’s so many people who visit the place, the house tour necessarily hustles you through the interior. With the landscape hike, you get a different guide with another point of view, and you cover other aspects of the house and the property. For instance, they show you the place where they quarried the rock that they used. (The house is mainly steel-reinforced concrete, but FLW was big into local materials and used them where possible.)

  • Gregor Sansa

    Killing OBL was justified, but it was not justice. The right thing for any of these three would be for them to stand trial and be convicted, to sit powerless and beg the survivors of their victims to intercede for mercy. The interesting thing is that this kind of justice would naturally hit Frick and LaPierre harder: since they only care about money and respect, you could easily strip them of those things and leave them begging. OBL cared about his religion, twisted as it was by the wars we’d funded; so he would probably have kept a level of dignity, even on trial, that Frick and LaPierre never could have. And honestly, though I don’t think OBL would have deserved even that tattered dignity, I can’t deny that he would have deserved it more than the other two.

    • ThrottleJockey

      The most just thing we could’ve done to OBL would be to let him loose in the middle of Times Square on the anniversary of 9/11 and let him fend for himself. I mean that with every fiber of my heart.

      • Drexciya

        No.

  • wca

    But I notice that each of these three disasters have a particularly evil person behind them. So it’s time for an LGM readership poll. Who is the most evil?

    Christian rock is the most evil, obviously. How could there even be any debate over this?

    • witlesschum

      My high school bad Christian rock experience involved a band that covered Am I Evil? as Metallica had, but changed the chorus to “Am I evil? No I’m not, I’m a man of GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.” They followed that gem up by wholesale lifting a Slayer song called Dead Skin Mask but giving it new lyrics.

    • Murc

      Five Iron Frenzy is pretty good. I’ve got a big soft spot for Quantity is Job 1.

    • wca

      Forgot the link: Objective proof Christian rock is the most evil.

      “We’re gonna rock, rock rock. Rock with the ROCK!”

      • Downpuppy

        Hmmm – Lew Siffer sounds sort of familiar. He’s based on Don Cornelius, ISN’T HE?

      • Charlie S

        Damn, they don’t write good Chick tracts like they used to.

    • The poll is closed, we have a winner!

    • ThrottleJockey

      I love me some gospel, but I have a hard time with Christian Rock. About the only Christian Rock song I could be said to like–and I love it–isn’t really Christian Rock, its the Goo Goo Dolls singing about Christmas. Since I never listen to lyrics it was many, many years before I ever realized it was even about Christmas! I used to crank it up and blast it while I was riding my motorcycle!

      • matt w

        There’s a lot of fantastic Christian rock–Prince, Sufjan Stevens, Run-DMC, your Goo Goo Dolls song would count–and even more fantastic Christian music, like gospel and Duke Ellington and a lot of classic country and folk. But Christian Rock is its own thing, and man, everything I’ve heard is “We’re going to take out all the parts of rock that don’t suck and then talk about Jesus.”

  • Woodrowfan

    so what were #s 7, 9 and 10?? Peshtigo Fire in there??

  • Downpuppy

    Frick got shot in the head, but luckily for him, nowhere vital. Meanwhile, his even more evil friends, Carnegie & Mellon, got a ton a stuff named after them.

    What I’m saying is that Frick was just one of the boys. And I have no idea who was with or behind OBL. So, a vote for LaPierre, & his long, relentless pursuit of death.

    • Bruce Vail

      Agreed. And well said.

  • LWA

    I am just reflecting on Rachel Maddow description of the NRA as the heat shield designed to decoy all the attention away from the gun manufacturers so as to allow them to ply their trade in anonymity.
    Taking a page from the anti abortion/anti tobacco playbook, what if the CEOS of gun companies were publicly named and shamed?
    What if the next time Ruger or Remington held a board meeting there were raucous protests outside? What if pressure was put on hotels not to give them meeting venues pressure on country clubs to exclude them, what if we made them social pariahs?

  • Denverite

    There was this awesome movie house in Denver called the Cinema Grill. It closed a year or two ago. It was on Alameida, just west of 225, right on the Aurora border. It was one of those restaurant-movie places where you sit at a table with waitservice. It was a second run place, so tickets were cheap — like $2. The food was cheap and good. And it served cheap booze. Beers were $3, and you could get a full carafe of wine (chablis or burgundy) for $12. I used to take my daughter there. She saw her first movie (Marley & Me) there. The only problem was they didn’t update their website consistently, so frequently when you showed up, the times were way off, or the movies were different. In those cases, we were already out to Aurora, so we’d just go to the megaplex a mile down the road. My daughter saw her second movie there — Monsters and Aliens.

    That was the Century 16 theater. I vote LaPierre.

    • Bill Murray

      did she prefer the chablis or the burgundy?

  • Socrets

    If we’re sticking with the trifecta in the post, LaPierre because he’s still alive and his actions have probably led to the deaths of more Americans than the other two combined and will continue to do so in the future.

    Off-Topic: I thought this blog would consider ketchup to be more evil than Christian Rock and bagpipes.

  • tsam

    LaPierre by a mile. It’s not even about money with him. There is an undercurrent of giddy sexual(?) thrill out of shooting people with guns. He has cultivated a small army of like minded psychos who commit the acts he fantasizes about.

    It’s one thing when it’s about money, or even a political ideology that started out with marginally noble goals (bin Laden). But when it’s a sick fantasy, that’s true evil. “Some men just want to watch the world burn)

    • Anna in PDX

      The guy before Lapierre, whose name escapes me but who I just read about in the excellent book Arms: The culture and credo of the Gun, (by AJ Somerset) – that guy was a real piece of work as well. He was an actual killer himself, and he was the one under whom the NRA did a 180 on gun control. Wayne LaPierre has just continued that trend.

      • Anna in PDX

        Looked him up, his name was Harlon Carter. What a perfect name for a good ol’ boy. He shot a 15-year-old whom he suspected of auto theft in Laredo, TX in 1931, when he was 17 years old.

  • Yankee

    For some reason your list of American Death Machines left out the Civil War: 620,000. Galveston, at 6-12,000, is well behind even just the battle of Vicksburg (19,000), number 10 among individual battles. It would be a point in your favor, an example of trying to solve a social problem with distributed firearms, on a grand scale.

    Evil person? I hesitate to name names here.

  • Bruce Vail

    I recently read ‘Meet You in Hell’ by Les Standiford, which takes a long hard look at the close, but rarely friendly, relationship between Frick and Carnegie:

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/184483.Meet_You_in_Hell

    It’s a good tonic for anybody who might believe the evil propaganda that Frick was the bad guy and Carnegie was not so bad. Frick was indeed evil, but Carnegie was a dirty son-of-a-bitch of the first order as well.

    ‘Meet you in Hell,’ by the way, was reportedly Frick’s response to Carnegie’s late-in-life invitation to meet and repair their shattered friendship.

    • Yankee

      One of the great things about HBO Deadwood is unveiling the character of George Hearst (season 3). Just how capitalists of a certain status roll, I guess.

      OT, not at all sure how to do a sequel, ‘peers to me they have left the ground trodden flat, plowed up, and sowed with salt. But I ain’t no script-writer.

  • anapestic

    I want to lay everything bad that happened from 2000 on at the feet of Ralph Nader, but I think that’s partly just because I don’t like him.

    I can’t decide between your three candidates, but I suppose that if you’re going to rewrite Inferno with 19th-21st century Americans, any of the three of them could be in Satan’s (or whoever plays Satan these days) mouth, and the other two could be in his claws. Maybe they could rotate. But, you know, there’s an awful lot of competition.

    • Ahuitzotl

      Satan will offshore this work, surely?

  • John Revolta

    Meh. Compared to some of the parties they threw in Europe in the last hundred years, this stuff doesn’t even register. I know comparisons are odious, but your comparisons are more odious than my comparisons.

  • Ronan

    Semi Relatedly to the topic of Pennsylvania , this is actually quite an interesting long article . I’d be interested in any informed (or not informed, as the case may be ; ). )local’s thoughts

    http://www.drb.ie/essays/'them-poor-irish-lads'-in-pennsylvania

    Erik, do you know off the book under review ? If so what do you think of it (my impression is that these, what I’ll loosely call, “ethnic histories” can be a little parochial at times and overstate Their case about the significance of their thesis …. Not that I’m saying that’s the case here )

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