Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “Questioning the Struggle” Mr. Blow says to say that there are inconsistencies between George Zimmerman’s re-enactment and his verbal and written testimony elsewhere is to be charitable.  Mr. Kristof may be back from book leave, since he’s back this morning.  In “How Could We Blow This One?” he says on security issues, Americans need a rebalancing. Starting with guns.  Ms. Collins has a “Fourth of July Quiz” for us.  She says the year is now half over, people! So it’s time to see how closely you’ve been following all the political news of 2013 so far. No cheating!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the most riveting moments in the George Zimmerman trial this week was the playing of a police tape that showed Zimmerman re-enacting what he said happened the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

To say that there are inconsistencies between that re-enactment and Zimmerman’s verbal and written testimony elsewhere is to be charitable.

For instance, in an interview Zimmerman gave to the police the night of the shooting, he says of Martin: “I was walking back through to where my car was, and he jumped out from the bushes.

However, in the video re-enactment, which took place a day after the murder, it’s clear not only that there are no bushes near the sidewalk but also that Zimmerman never mentions Martin’s jumping out from anywhere.

But what I find most interesting is the moment in Zimmerman’s police interview that night in which Zimmerman claims that after Martin asked if he had a problem, “I got my cellphone out to call 911 this time.”

Pay attention to that statement about his cellphone, because it’ll be important to my line of questioning.

Aside from all the other inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s accounts of the scuffle, the basic physics of the fight as he describes it are hard to make jibe.

In the re-enactment, Zimmerman says that after a verbal encounter, “I went to go grab my cellphone,” Martin punched him in the face, Zimmerman stumbled or was pushed to the ground by Martin, and Martin got on top of him. Zimmerman then says that he started screaming for help and tried to sit up, and that Martin then grabbed his head and slapped it on the cement. “He just kept slamming it and slamming it,” Zimmerman said.

It is interesting here, in the video, to watch Zimmerman’s hands. He demonstrates the slamming twice and both times he does so with clenched hands, as if Martin was holding something on the sides of his head — like his ears. But, as has been mentioned in the trial, there was none of Zimmerman’s blood or DNA under Martin’s fingernails and there were no injuries documented on or near Zimmerman’s ears. How could this be?

And if Martin “grabbed” Zimmerman’s head some other way, what way was that? His hair was buzzed short and it was raining that night, so presumably his head was wet. When Zimmerman was asked in a follow-up interview how Martin grabbed his head, he said he did not recall.

Furthermore, Dr. Valerie Rao, a medical examiner who reviewed Zimmerman’s injuries, testified Tuesday that the injuries on the back of Zimmerman’s head were consistent with just one strike against a concrete surface, not multiple ones. Rao went on to call Zimmerman’s injuries “insignificant” and “not life threatening,” and said, “If you look at the injuries, they are so minor they are not consistent with grave force.” She continued, “If somebody’s head is banged with grave force I would expect a lot of injuries. I don’t see that.”

If you believe Rao, the struggle simply couldn’t have happened as Zimmerman described it.

In the re-enactment, Zimmerman says that he tried to squirm his head off the concrete, and then he says:

“That’s when my jacket moved up, and I had my firearm on my right side hip. And, he saw it, I feel like he saw it, he looked at it.”

Zimmerman says it is at that point that Martin told him that he was going to die that night. Then Zimmerman says:

“He reached for it, but he reached, like I felt his arm going down to my side and I grab it, and I just grabbed my firearm, and I shot him. One time.”

This fight scene leaves me particularly incredulous, partly because of what Zimmerman is saying, partly because of the forensics and testimony and partly because of what Zimmerman demonstrates in the video — the idea that Martin, while straddling Zimmerman, would be able to see a gun that was presumably behind him, and the idea that Zimmerman would feel Martin’s hand snake across his body, pinch that hand underneath his arm and then reach for and retrieve the gun himself.

If Zimmerman’s hand was free enough for such a maneuver, were his hands not also free enough to try to push Martin off, or force Martin to release his head and not bang it against the concrete, or to hit Martin back (which he never says he does during the entire encounter)? Did Zimmerman’s mixed martial arts training provide him no defensive options whatsoever?

Something about this just doesn’t sound right. And, by the way, how was Zimmerman able to get around Martin’s leg, retrieve the gun and aim it at Martin’s chest so easily?

This is what happens when you try to make the fight fit Zimmerman’s telling. Things don’t make sense.

But what if we back up to the cellphone moment, before any physical encounter occurred, when Zimmerman and Martin had their first verbal exchange. What if we dispense with Zimmerman’s version, revisit the order of things and ask a different set of questions?

In the video Zimmerman looks to his right front pocket when he says he’s looking for the phone. That’s the same area as the gun, which he says he has on his right hip.

Is it possible that Zimmerman didn’t go for his phone but for his gun? And even if he doesn’t retrieve it, is it possible that he exposed it? (In the video, Zimmerman demonstrates that he can expose the weapon without even using his hands to lift his jacket.)

Is it possible that Martin first saw the gun when they were standing and talking? Is it possible that the physical struggle was about the presence of a weapon: between a man trying to retrieve it and an unarmed teenager who had seen it? In that scenario, is it possible that Martin could be on top of Zimmerman and still yelling for help? Is it possible that Zimmerman wasn’t using his hands to fend off Martin because he was using them to go for, control, or aim a weapon?

And, what happened to the “cellphone” Zimmerman said he got out just before a prolonged struggle? He makes no mention of putting it away. His key and flashlights were photographed in the grass, as was Martin’s cellphone. They didn’t hold on to those things. What about Zimmerman’s phone? Where was it when the police arrived?

(By the way, the night of the shooting Zimmerman says he got the cellphone out. The next day, during the re-enactment he changes that part of his story, saying: “I went to go get my cellphone, but my, I left it in a different pocket. I looked down at my pant pocket, and he said ‘you got a problem now,’ and then he was here, and he punched me in the face.”)

These are interesting questions to ponder, the answers to which might make what followed make more sense. But of the two people able to answer those questions, one will never take another breath and the other may never take the stand.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

I just finished a five-month leave from this column, writing a book with my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and what struck me while away from the daily fray is a paradox that doesn’t seem quite patriotic enough for July Fourth.

But I’ll share it anyway: On security issues, we Americans need a rebalancing. We appear willing to bear any burden, pay any price, to confound the kind of terrorists who shout “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and plant bombs, while unwilling to take the slightest step to curb a different kind of terrorism — mundane gun violence in classrooms, cinemas and inner cities that claims 1,200 times as many American lives.

When I began my book leave, it seemed likely that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut would impel Congress to approve universal background checks for gun purchases. It looked as if we might follow Australia, which responded to a 1996 gun massacre by imposing restrictions that have resulted in not a single mass shooting there since.

Alas, I was naïve. Despite 91 percent support from voters polled in late March and early April, Congress rejected background checks. Political momentum to reduce gun killings has now faded — until the next such slaughter.

Meanwhile, our national leaders have been in a tizzy over Edward Snowden and his leaks about National Security Agency surveillance of — of, well, just about everything. The public reaction has been a shrug: Most people don’t like surveillance, but they seem willing to accept it and much more as the price of suppressing terrorism.

Our response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and international terrorism has been remarkable, including an intelligence apparatus in which some 1.4 million people (including, until recently, Snowden) hold “top secret” clearances.

That’s more than twice the population of the District of Columbia. The Washington Post has reported that since 9/11, the United States has built new intelligence complexes equivalent in office space to 22 United States Capitol buildings.

All told, since 9/11, the United States has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security, according to the National Priorities Project, a research group that works for budget transparency. That’s nearly $70,000 per American household.

Some of that money probably helped avert other terrorist attacks (although some of it spent in Iraq and Afghanistan may have increased risks). We need a robust military and intelligence network, for these threats are real. An Al Qaeda attack is an assault on the political system in a way that an ordinary murder is not. And overseas terrorists do aspire to commit mass murder again, perhaps with chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, and our government is right to work hard to prevent such a cataclysm.

But there are trade-offs, including other ways to protect the public, and our entire focus seems to be on national security rather than on more practical ways of assuring our safety.

The imbalance in our priorities is particularly striking because since 2005, terrorism has taken an average of 23 American lives annually, mostly overseas — and the number has been falling.

More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism. Twice as many Americans die of bee or wasp stings annually. And 15 times as many die by falling off ladders.

Most striking, more than 30,000 people die annually from firearms injuries, including suicides, murders and accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. American children are 13 times as likely to be killed by guns as in other industrialized countries.

Doesn’t it seem odd that we’re willing to spend trillions of dollars, and intercept metadata from just about every phone call in the country, to deal with a threat that, for now, kills but a few Americans annually — while we’re too paralyzed to introduce a rudimentary step like universal background checks to reduce gun violence that kills tens of thousands?

Wasn’t what happened at Sandy Hook a variant of terrorism? And isn’t what happens in troubled gang-plagued neighborhoods of Chicago just as traumatic for schoolchildren, leaving them suffering a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder?

I don’t see any glib solutions here, just a need for a careful balancing of risks and benefits. I’d say that in auto safety, we get it about right. We give most adults access to cars, but we regulate them with licenses, insurance requirements and mandatory seat belts. In the case of national security and terrorism, I wonder if we haven’t overdeployed resources.

In the case of guns, we don’t do enough. Baby steps, consistent with the Second Amendment, would include requiring universal background checks, boosting research to understand gun violence and investing in smarter guns. A debit card requires a code to work, a car requires a key — and a gun, nothing at all.

And now we get to Ms. Collins’ quiz:

Happy Independence Day, everybody! Halfway through 2013! Now President Obama only has 3.5 more years of his second term. If you think that sounds like a long time, imagine how it must feel to Barack Obama.

Take this quiz to see how much you’ve been paying attention to the political news over the last six months. Warning: There is one trick question. What can I tell you? Having independence doesn’t mean life is always fair.

1. Just before leaving town for its holiday break, the House of Representatives finished up work on:

a) The farm bill.

b) Fixing the Voting Rights Act.

c) Naming a Mississippi River bridge after Stan Musial.


2. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently revealed an achievement that Justice Antonin Scalia said “she could have done in my driveway.” It was:

a) Writing a decision on property owners’ right to road access.

b) Learning to parallel park.

c) Killing a deer.


3. Asked by reporters about the chances of passing immigration reform, House Speaker John Boehner said:

a) “Absolutely. I’m getting tired of your negativity.”

b) “The House will work its will. Don’t ask me how, because if I knew I’d certainly tell you, but the House is going to work its will.”

c) “Hahahahaha”


4. Representative Michele Bachmann made news when she announced she would not run for re-election. Which of the following was not among her career highlights:

a) Mixed up actor John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

b) Said the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in New Hampshire.

c) Said that a nonseasonal blizzard in Minnesota was God’s warning to politicians to reduce the size of government.


5. The House recently passed a ban on abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. In a committee meeting, Representative Michael Burgess, a Republican of Texas, supported the bill by claiming:

a) A 15-week-old fetus can masturbate.

b) Pregnant women have to be protected from their hormone-induced bad judgment.

c) The Republican majority’s work expanding health care, nutrition and education for poor children makes abortion unnecessary.


6. Mississippi has a new law:

a) Banning localities from requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on menus.

b) Establishing the nation’s first “Take Your Weapon to Work Day.”

c) Renaming a large parking facility in Biloxi the Trent Lott Lot.


7. In New York, a Democratic state senator was indicted on charges of trying to bribe political officials into putting him on the ballot for mayor. Prosecutors said he was aided by:

a) Agents of the Canadian government.

b) A leader of a tribe of Theodish pagans.

c) An undercover investigator disguised as Michael Bloomberg.


8. Which of the following is not true about the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia?

a) Believes yoga is an invitation to Satanic possession.

b) Drank 14 Big Gulps in an hour to demonstrate his opposition to government restrictions on sugary drinks.

c) Said pro-gay rights liberals have done “more to kill black folks” than slavery or the Ku Klux Klan.


9. Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York City mayor made news on its opening week when its Web site:

a) Included Weiner’s 100-point plan for a better New York.

b) Accidentally posted a staffer’s memo on “Successful American Politicians Who Did Stuff Way Worse Than the Texting Thing.”

c) Featured a picture of the New York skyline that was actually Pittsburgh.


10. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate, recently urged Congress to pass immigration reform because immigrants are:

a) More patriotic.

b) More fertile.

c) More likely to vote Republican.


11. Who recently said: “Everybody tells me: ‘Please run for President?’ ”

a) Hillary Clinton.

b) Donald Trump.

c) Mitt Romney after a Romney family reunion.

ANSWERS: 1-C, 2-C, 3-B, 4-C (Bachmann said Hurricane Irene was God’s warning to politicians to reduce the size of government), 5-A, 6-A, 7-B, 8-B, 9-C, 10-B, 11-B.

Oh, dear…  I got all the answers right.  I must be paying way, way, way too much attention to wingnuts.  And I was actually rather sure that a few of the answers I chose were wrong because, well, just too nuts…


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