Marbles for Mulshine: A Community Appeal

March 25, 2007

If you go shopping sometime this week, be sure to buy a nice big bag of marbles and send it to Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine. I don’t know how many marbles he started with when he began his sinecure as Winger-in-Chief of the Ledger op-ed page, but on the basis of this genuinely freaky column he’s definitely running short.

The springboard for Mulshine’s musings is not, I’m relieved to say, something that happened in New Jersey, but could easily happen on the Turnpike or Parkway one of these days. Last month along an interstate highway in Michigan, 39- year-old Bernadette Houghton Headd found herself being tailgated by a lunkhead in a looming Dodge Ram pickup truck while on her way to work. Many of us have found ourselves in similar situations, and our reactions, depending on our nerviness and level of irritation, run the gamut from slowing down and frustrating the oaf to sending a salute up the one-finger flagpole. Ms. Headd chose a different course of action: She hauled out a 9 mm pistol and fired off a round at the road in front of the offending driver’s tire, or so she told police.

So far, so batshit. The other driver flagged down a patrol car and told the officer what had happened. Ms. Headd was quickly pulled over, arrested and clapped into the hoosegow, where she remains in lieu of $50,000 bail. A judge recently refused to reduce her bail, citing the threat she posed to society, which should stand as a rebuke to those who believe judges are too lenient. If you’ll check out this link, you’ll find a picture of Ms. Headd, whose facial expression certainly supports the defense’s contention that she’s been feeling a little stressed out lately. When she was arrested, incidentally, Ms. Headd told police “I’m tired of people tailgating me.” Fortunately, nobody was injured or killed in the incident, otherwise Ms. Headd’s statement would go into the record books alongside that of Brenda Ann Spencer, who shot up a San Diego schoolyard in 1979 and told police she did it because “I don’t like Mondays.”

However, the Star-Ledger’s star columnist doesn’t look at Ms. Headd’s picture and think “Bughouse J. Crazee.” He thinks of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. What’s more, he has company — James W. Ely Jr. of the Federalist Society, “a group of legal experts with a great fondness for the spirit of liberty embraced by the founding fathers.” As the two of them share their thoughts about those wonderful days before police started spoiling everybody’s fun, you can almost smell the Thorazine brewing:

“[In the early days of the republic] all you had was a night watch system that was inherited from English common law,” said Ely. “Their duties were mainly to watch for fires and apprehend people in the middle of breaking into houses.”

Other than that, people mainly took care of their own interests.

“If you were in the middle of a holdup, you didn’t have a phone to call the sheriff,” he said. “It was fairly common for people to go armed. You certainly would have had incidents where people thought they were acting in self-defense.”

So imagine a male driving a horse and carriage who tried to run a woman’s carriage off the road. And imagine she fired a warning shot at him. What would have been the legal implications?

“Probably nothing would have happened because it wouldn’t have been reported,” said Ely. “The man might have found some sense of shame in having been fired on by a woman.”

That’s not the case anymore. The people who buy these trucks like to think of themselves as tough guys — until someone throws a little lead their way. Then they go running to the cops like little boys running to their mommies after picking a fight and losing it.

In the good old days, the sheriff wouldn’t have been so sympathetic, said Ely. If the man had filed charges against the woman, she could have hit back with charges of her own. A grand jury would have sorted it out.

I read this column several times, hoping that Mulshine was actually writing in the Mencken-Lite contrarian style he sometimes uses when making fun of cigarette smokers and SUV pigs.

But no, I’m sorry to say — Mulshine is exhibiting the classic tendency among conservatives to break out the powdered wigs whenever one of their own gets caught commiting a felony. In its most extreme form, it gives us Ronald Reagan calling the Contras “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers,” a comparison that would only make sense if it turned out that George Washington and his men had sailed to England and spent their time running drugs, raping and murdering the locals, and high-tailing it for the woods every time the Redcoats showed up. Come to think of it, Paul Mulshine has spoken very highly of Reagan’s policies in Latin America, so I guess this column is of a piece with that thinking. He also tries to inflate the other driver’s obnoxiousness into a mortal threat by citing Ms. Headd’s relatives, who claim he was trying to drive her off the road.

Packing heat in the glove compartment and squeezing off a couple of shots whenever somebody gives you a dirty look during the morning commute may seem like a prescription for social order to Paul Mulshine. He often writes about his love for surfing, and head injuries from tumbling surfboards during wipeouts are not uncommon.

On the other hand, what are we to make of this:

These days, the cops take sides. They don’t enforce the laws against tailgating, but let a little lady even the odds a bit, and all of a sudden the cops pull out the cuffs.

Call me old-fashioned, call me a traditionalist, but I long for the old days. You come at me with a Ram, I come back at you with a Colt.

That is the spirit of liberty, and if it were still alive in the land today, Bernadette Houghton Headd would be a free woman.

Actually, Paul Mulshine need only walk a few blocks from the Newark headquarters of the Star-Ledger to find this vision of conservative heaven in action. Unfortunately, its practitioners aren’t called founding fathers — they’re called Crips and Bloods, and the law-abiding victims of their spirit of liberty pray every day for help from the police. Maybe instead of praying they should just ask the Federalist Society to hold a fundraiser and send them a truckload of AK-47s.

Meanwhile, if you go to that toy store, buy two bags of marbles. Big ones. Because I know a Star-Ledger columnist who definitely needs them.


6 Responses to “Marbles for Mulshine: A Community Appeal”

  1. Caveat Says:

    ‘Call me old fashioned..’ uh no, that’s not what comes to mind.

    btw That lady should get her thyroid checked, and soon.

  2. reinkefj Says:

    Might we ask the master’s overseers to please enforce the “no tailgating” law? And, btw, I’ve blogged about the state poobahs whizzing by me, or tailgating, obviously hustling to get to somewhere to “serve and protect” me. Argh! The whole thing is wrong. While no responsible gun owner thinks one should be trying to shoot out tires, that can only be done on TV or the movies. (Belongs alongside the fellow getting beaten with a baseball bat and getting up to win.) BUT, big butt here, I can understand the frustration. And, at some point, when one can make out the texture of that Ram’s head, it has to become assault with a deadly weapon. BTW, Florida and NH had had very liberal concealed carry for a long time and, despite the liberal media’s prediction, it hasn’t become OK corral. I think that it’s not the guns that are the problem but the lack of them. As Robert Heinlein said “an armed society is a polite society”. I’d add a “very polite” society.

    Ferdinand John Reinke
    Kendall Park, NJ 08824
    My blog =>

  3. Steven Hart Says:

    I hate tailgaters as much as the next harried driver, but whenever I encounter one I respond with a beatific smile and a slow, cautious foot on the accelerator pedal to increase his aggravation. Early in life, God revealed to me that in the next world, obnoxious drivers will occupya specially-paved circle of hell in which they must fix potholes while being run over by SUVs.

    Florida’s gun laws have been keeping Carl Hiaasen in material for years now. As for New Hampshire, there aren’t enough people living there to start beefs over anything.

    I restate my invitation to any and all libertarians to pay a visit to Camden, Newark, Compton, Detroit, Memphis or the Bronx and test out Robert Heinlein’s theories in a natural setting. I dig “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” but the Moon and the imaginary future remains the most plausible testing ground for a great many of his notions.

  4. […] 27th, 2007 In response to my Sunday post about Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine and his conservative Wild West fantasies about the proper way to deal with one’s frustrations on t… — simply put, he scorns calling the police and favors hauling out a pistol and blasting away, […]

  5. jim bob Says:

    I sent Mr. Mulshine an email yesterday that was critical of his view of this situation, and he replied that he was “just tried of being run off the road by trailer-trash types with no manners,” and that “The lower classes should know their place.” Our exchange continued through out the day, and he kept comeing back to this idea that light truck drivers were from the lower class, and finally he said that he always enjoyed hearing how the “lower orders” think. I think that sounds like something I remember from history class in discussions of slavery and genocide. I guess he is of the “upper class” and thus knows best…

  6. Bob Truckdriver Says:

    I too wrote a response to Mr. Mulshine. Same reply back. Calls me names; low class, cave-dweller, etc. The lady is a poor African-American, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure he doesn’t have time to actually read the emails he gets, just shoots off a reply. Someone could probably agree with him and he would still shoot it down (pun intended) with his reply, being it is likely such a rare thing.

    I didn’t notice her race mentioned in his initial piece? That would have painted images of “In the Heat of the Night” much more clearly. Had I realized this was an attempted hate crime in the first place, I would have understood.

    I live on the other side of the country (thankfully) from this guy. I’d never heard of him. After his email back to me I had to check, and I now see he’s famous for this.

    I think the joke is on us however. Obviously he relishes in the emails and online debate. 15 minutes of fame you know? Anybody can do it. Just call people names, stereotype and entire group of people etc., then just sit back and watch the response. Had I done my homework I wouldn’t have wasted my time.

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