All posts by Mike Zonta

“Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says” (

A former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class said he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once asked him out.

Officials say Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning.

Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says photo

Photo by Allen Eyestone.  Sidiqque Mir Mateen, father of Omar Mateen, speaks about his son at his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida on June 13, 2016. Omar Mateen who is believed to have killed 50 people in Orlando nightclub shooting. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

 The classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates would hang out, sometimes going to gay nightclubs, after classes at the Indian River Community College police academy. He said Mateen asked him out romantically.
Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says photo

“We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the former classmate said. He asked that his name not be used.

He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him.

Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says photo

“The Morality of Prosperity” by Darrin M. McMahon (

Grinding poverty was the norm for humanity until 1800. It changed with the rise of values like tolerance and respect for individual liberty.

What accounts for the wealth and prosperity of the developed nations of the world? How did we get so rich, and how might others join the fold? Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished economist and historian, has a clarion answer: ideas. It was ideas, she insists—about commerce, innovation and the virtues that support them—that account for the “Great Enrichment” that has transformed much of the world since 1800.

Whatever Bernie Sanders might say, the Great Enrichment is a fact, an astonishing departure from the grinding poverty that was once the norm for our ancestors in every society of the world. Conditions of widespread impoverishment began to change around 1800, when a dramatic takeoff began—first in Western Europe and North America, more recently in India and China.

There are different ways to quantify the takeoff. But the upshot is that income in the 34 countries that constitute the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has risen since 1800 on the order of 2,900%. All told, Ms. McCloskey concludes, the Great Enrichment is “the most important secular event” since the Agricultural Revolution that began in the 10th century B.C., and it has pulled millions and millions of people out of poverty and destitution.

How to explain this startling transformation? Economists and social theorists have put forward a number of explanations, from capital accumulation to property rights and the rule of law. Left-wing critics of capitalism, for their part, have either denied the Great Enrichment altogether or argued that the West’s wealth was extracted, zero-sum, from the colonized and oppressed.



By Deirdre Nansen McCloskey
Chicago, 787 pages, $45

Ms. McCloskey convincingly dismisses each one of these explanations. The Chinese, after all, long had a thriving mercantile culture and good “institutions.” But the Great Enrichment didn’t begin there. Italian bankers accumulated vast sums of capital in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. But by the 18th century, their leading cities languished in faded grandeur. And the “economic effect of imperialism on ordinary Europeans” was, for all its horrors, “nil or negative.” One can’t explain the Great Enrichment by theft.

No, this monumental achievement was caused by a change in values, Ms. McCloskey says—the rise of what she calls, in a mocking nod to Marx, a “bourgeois ideology.” It was far from an apology for greed, however. Anglo-Dutch in origin, the new ideology presented a deeply moral vision of the world that vaunted the value of work and innovation, earthly happiness and prosperity, and the liberty, dignity and equality of ordinary people. Preaching tolerance of difference and respect for the individual, it applauded those who sought to improve their lives (and the lives of others) through material betterment, scientific and technological inquiry, self-improvement, and honest work. Suspicious of hierarchy and stasis, proponents of bourgeois values attacked monopoly and privilege and extolled free trade and free lives while setting great store by prudence, enterprise, decency and hope.

Such values were best expressed, Ms. McCloskey maintains, in the writings of Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin. But they found their way into a whole range of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century productions, from novels and sermons to newspaper columns and works of art. Collectively, they constituted a striking shift in rhetoric that justified new values for a world in which improvement and innovation were not just tolerated but esteemed.

Ms. McCloskey clearly relishes a good argument, and there is plenty of material in the book to argue about. One might take issue, for example, with the coherence of categories like “bourgeois” or “bourgeoisie,” which seem to be ever-rising in influence but are difficult to situate on the ground. She is also somewhat vague about why bourgeois ideology emerged when and where it did. Was it an effect of the Protestant Reformation? (Somewhat, she suggests.) A product of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment? (Not entirely, it seems.) Finally, it is not clear why an event as complex as the Great Enrichment needs to be reduced to a single cause—ideas—in the first place. Most historical events of this magnitude are multi-causal and over-determined.

And yet, even when it is not entirely convincing, “Bourgeois Equality” is always learned, provocative and smart. It is, in fact, a rarity: a work of economic history that is engaging (and often funny) on nearly every page. There can be little doubt, moreover, that it succeeds in its overall aim, serving as a bracing reminder that ideas do matter and that they have played an essential part in forging the world’s prosperity.

That is a vital lesson for the present and the future as well. For Ms. McCloskey’s book is ultimately a call to extend the wonders of the Great Enrichment to those parts of the world that it has yet to touch. We can end dire poverty once and for all, she believes, while continuing the trend of reducing inequality between nations, even if inequality rises within them.

To leave markets free to do their work, and ordinary people empowered to innovate and improve, is an achievable goal. But as Ms. McCloskey warns, a “clerisy” of naysayers has assailed bourgeois values from the start, dismissing capitalism as unjust and decrying its freedoms as illusory. Those voices are still strong, and growing stronger, on both the left and the right, urging retrenchment and retreat. As “Bourgeois Equality” reminds us: If we hope to leave a better world to our children, this is not a time to be building walls.

Mr. McMahon, a professor of history at Dartmouth College, is currently writing a history of equality.

Contributed to the BB by Melissa Goodnight-Derfler.

Book recommendation: “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman


The good news is that most soldiers are loath to kill. But armies have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. And contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army’s conditioning techniques, and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young.

Upon its initial publication, ON KILLING was hailed as a landmark study of the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, of how killing affects soldiers, and of the societal implications of escalating violence. Now, Grossman has updated this classic work to include information on 21st-century military conflicts, recent trends in crime, suicide bombings, school shootings, and more. The result is a work certain to be relevant and important for decades to come.  (

“Shooting hits Orlando in the heart” by Willoughby Mariano (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Orlando I know best was shot through the heart Sunday morning. This may sound like a cliché, but I believe it is true.

I lived there for nine years, mostly in the gay neighborhoods near downtown. If I could pull the city close and lay my ear on its chest, the streets near the scene of the massacre at Pulse nightclub are where I would hear its beating heart.

It is hard to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in America, and Orlando is no different. But if your parents turned their backs on you because you are gay, if you felt that you had nowhere to go, you could find a home in these sleepy streets, 20 miles north of the fantasy worlds of Walt Disney.

This solidarity is not strictly the kind that brings together any embattled group. It is a choice of the city’s political and civic leadership. Downtown Orlando was revived in the 1990s and early 2000s by gay homeowners and transformed by gay developers, many of them drawn to the city for jobs as Disney artists and entertainers. These neighborhoods elected Central Florida’s first openly gay official—a city councilwoman who was voted into office 16 years ago and still serves to this day.

In the years before gay marriage became legal, they fought for and won a gay rights ordinance, domestic partner benefits for city employees, and a domestic partner registry. Even when Central Florida politics was dominated by forces that were lukewarm to gay rights, Orlando supported it.

Now gayness is celebrated and protected by the city’s Democratic political elite. When the editor of Watermark, the region’s gay newspaper, got married last year, a U.S. Congressman, the city’s mayor, the county’s elected tax collector, a former police chief and a host of other politicos crowded into rows of folding chairs alongside chronic club goers, artists and liberal activists.

I was a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel from 2001 to 2010, mostly covering crime and criminal justice. For five of those years, I lived within walking distance of Pulse. As a straight married homebody, exhausted from long hours as a police reporter, I never went dancing there and never knew the gay club scene.

Instead, I came to know and love Orlando best through two of my neighbors who were gay and lived in cramped apartments behind a house I used to rent with my husband. When one was too broke to buy HIV medication, they would share it.

One was Brian, an Orlando native whose family lived less than two miles away but never visited. He manned the counter at a gay-owned optometrist office a mile or so north of Pulse on the same street.

Brian felt shunned by his family, of course. But also by the gay elite who he felt treated those with HIV as outcasts. When he was feeling mischievous, he’d shout at our wealthier gay neighbors through their fence: “Arrogant fags.”

I was driving home from an assignment when one of his friends called to tell me that Brian had died of a heart attack. The service was at a storefront funeral home that did services for cheap. Rumor was that his family planned to show up out of spite, just to peer into the windows to see how lonely they had made him.

But Brian was never abandoned by Orlando. Latecomers to the service had to stand, and the crowd spilled out the door into the heat. Programs that featured a faded picture of him dressed as a court jester ran out.

Midway through the service, I saw a relative peak her head in the door and stomp away. Brian won.

I thought of Brian’s funeral early Sunday when I watched Orlando police on television, piling the wounded into the back of a pickup truck they used as a makeshift ambulance. Hours later, when footage showed at least hundreds of people, if not more than a thousand, lining up to give blood, I thought of him again.

The Orlando I love best was shot through the heart early Sunday, yet somehow, it is still alive. I like to think that it, like Brian, will win.

Contributed by Michael Kelly.

“Please don’t stop the music” by Richard Kim (


The Orlando shooter violated a sanctuary, but his desecration will not defeat us.

My first gay bar was Crowbar. Like all great gay bars, Crowbar was a dump: dark, low-ceilinged, shitty sound system. It was off Tompkins Square Park and Avenue B, when Tompkins Square Park was still a place you’d go to to buy drugs. It smelled like mildew, urine, cheap vodka, and Designer Imposters body spray. It’s long gone—made extinct like too many wonders by gentrification and Giuliani—but for a hot moment in the ’90s, it was the single most fabulous place in the galaxy. Dance moves were invented there. People went in, and when they came out, they weren’t just drunk—they were different people. That’s how powerful its juju was.

Before the ’80s were hijacked by hipsters in tiny jackets, Crowbar had a theme night called 1984, which was ridiculously fun. But because I was underage and stupid and felt the need to piss on fun things, I once said something catty there like: “Isn’t it kinda pathetic and weird that all these gays are nostalgic for a decade that ended 10 seconds ago?” And some guy I knew, who I considered ancient but was probably all of 32 at the time, snapped back at me: “Listen, you little piece of shit, we didn’t get to dance to this music the first time. We were burying each other. So take your bad vibes and get the fuck out of here. I need this more than you need to suck!” before twirling, fabulously, away from me and my toxic aura.

That was my first lesson that gay bars are more than just licensed establishments where homosexuals pay to drink. Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.

I’ve never been to Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub where Omar Mateen killed 50 people and wounded another 53. But I know that for some queer people there it was their utopia. Or, as Daniel Leon-Davis movingly recollects, a “safe haven,” the place “where I learned to love myself as a gay man,” and the place “where I learned to love my community.” Or as President Obama put it, “a place of solidarity and empowerment.” Last night, this place was violated.

We may never know how much homophobia drove Mateen to do what he did, or what other springs of madness and extremism he drank from. But we can definitely say this: Just as Dylann Roof preyed upon the specific openness and hospitality of the Mother Emanuel Church, Omar Mateen exploited the specific things that make gay bars magic. He took the dark, the loudness, the density, the chaos of the dance floor—and he made them his accomplices in what is the largest mass shooting in this nation’s history.

But he does not own these things, and his desecration cannot defeat us. This next week is going to suck hard—but we must remember that our joy is its own purpose; it is a higher calling.

To all the bartenders and bar-backs and bouncers and gogo boys and drag queens and club kids and freaks who make the nightlife—I love you. Stay strong.

Maggie Nelson at Radar Reading Series

Maggie Nelson is the author of five books of nonfiction and four books of poetry. Her most recent book is The Argonauts, a work of “autotheory” about gender, sexuality, sodomitical maternity, queer family, and the limitations and possibilities of language, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in May 2015. Her 2011 book of art and cultural criticism, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (W. W. Norton), was featured on the front cover of the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times, as well as named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Editors’ Choice. Her other nonfiction books include the cult hit Bluets (2009); a critical study of poetry and painting titled Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (2007), and an autobiographical book about sexual violence and media spectacle titled The Red Parts: A Memoir (2007). Her poetry books include Something Bright, Then Holes (2007); Jane: A Murder (2005; finalist, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of Memoir), The Latest Winter (2003), and Shiner (2001). She has taught literature and writing at Wesleyan University, Pratt Institute of Art, and the New School Graduate Writing Program; in 2005 she joined the faculty of the School of Critical Studies at CalArts, where she now teaches. Recent awards include a 2007 Arts Writers Grant from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation, a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction, a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and a 2013 Literature grant from Creative Capital. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

“Universe Expanding Faster Than Expected” by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy UGC 9391, one of the galaxies in the new survey. (NASA, ESA, and A. Riess [STScI/JHU])

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy UGC 9391, one of the galaxies in the new survey. (NASA, ESA, and A. Riess [STScI/JHU])

June 9, 2016 (from The Epoch Times)

Astronomers have obtained the most precise measurement yet of how fast the universe is expanding, and it doesn’t agree with predictions based on other data and our current understanding of the physics of the cosmos.

The discrepancy—the universe is now expanding 9 percent faster than expected—means either that measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation are wrong or that some unknown physical phenomenon is speeding up the expansion of space, the astronomers say.

“If you really believe our number—and we have shed blood, sweat, and tears to get our measurement right and to accurately understand the uncertainties—then it leads to the conclusion that there is a problem with predictions based on measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the leftover glow from the Big Bang,” said Alex Filippenko, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of astronomy and co-author of a paper announcing the discovery.

“Maybe the universe is tricking us, or our understanding of the universe isn’t complete,” he added.

The cause could be the existence of another, unknown particle—perhaps an often-hypothesized fourth flavor of neutrino—or that the influence of dark energy (which accelerates the expansion of the universe) has increased over the 13.8 billion-year history of the universe. Or perhaps Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the basis for the Standard Model, is slightly wrong.

“This surprising finding may be an important clue to understanding those mysterious parts of the universe that make up 95 percent of everything and don’t emit light, such as dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation,” said the leader of the study, Nobel laureate Adam Riess, of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore. Riess is a former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow who worked with Filippenko.

The results, using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck I telescope in Hawaii, will appear in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

A few years ago, the European Space Agency’s Planck observatory—now out of commission—measured fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation to document the universe’s early history. Planck’s measurements, combined with the current Standard Model of physics, predicted an expansion rate today of 66.53 (plus or minus 0.62) kilometers per second per megaparsec. A megaparsec equals 3.26 million light-years.

Previous direct measurements of galaxies pegged the current expansion rate, or Hubble constant, between 70 and 75 km/sec/Mpc, give or take about 5−10 percent—a result that is not definitely in conflict with the Planck predictions. But the new direct measurements yield a rate of 73.24 (±1.74) km/sec/Mpc, an uncertainty of only 2.4 percent, clearly incompatible with the Planck predictions, Filippenko said.

The team, several of whom were part of the High-z Supernova Search Team that co-discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe in 1998, refined the universe’s current expansion rate by developing innovative techniques that improved the precision of distance measurements to faraway galaxies.

The team looked for galaxies containing both a type of variable star called a Cepheid and Type Ia supernovae. Cepheid stars pulsate at rates that correspond to their true brightness (power), which can be compared with their apparent brightness as seen from Earth to accurately determine their distance and thus the distance of the galaxy.

Type Ia supernovae, another commonly used cosmic yardstick, are exploding stars that flare with the same intrinsic brightness and are brilliant enough to be seen from much longer distances.

By measuring about 2,400 Cepheid stars in 19 nearby galaxies and comparing the apparent brightness of both types of stars, the researchers accurately determined the true brightness of the Type Ia supernovae. They then used this calibration to calculate distances to roughly 300 Type Ia supernovae in far-flung galaxies.

“We needed both the nearby Cepheid distances for galaxies hosting Type Ia supernovae and the distances to the 300 more-distant Type Ia supernovae to determine the Hubble constant,” Filippenko said. “The paper focuses on the 19 galaxies and getting their distances really, really well, with small uncertainties, and thoroughly understanding those uncertainties.”

Calibrating Cepheid Variable Stars

Using the Keck I 10-meter telescope in Hawaii, Filippenko’s group measured the chemical abundances of gases near the locations of Cepheid variable stars in the nearby galaxies hosting Type Ia supernovae. This allowed them to improve the accuracy of the derived distances of these galaxies, and thus to more accurately calibrate the peak luminosities of their Type Ia supernovae.

“We’ve done the world’s best job of decreasing the uncertainty in the measured rate of universal expansion and of accurately assessing the size of this uncertainty,” said Filippenko, “yet we find that our measured rate of expansion is probably incompatible with the rate expected from observations of the young universe, suggesting that there’s something important missing in our physical understanding of the universe.”

“If we know the initial amounts of stuff in the universe, such as dark energy and dark matter, and we have the physics correct, then you can go from a measurement at the time shortly after the Big Bang and use that understanding to predict how fast the universe should be expanding today,” said Riess. “However, if this discrepancy holds up, it appears we may not have the right understanding, and it changes how big the Hubble constant should be today.”

Aside from an increase in the strength with which dark energy is pushing the universe apart, and the existence of a new fundamental subatomic particle–a nearly speed-of-light particle called ‘dark radiation’–another possible explanation is that dark matter possesses some weird, unexpected characteristics.
Aside from an increase in the strength with which dark energy is pushing the universe apart, and the existence of a new fundamental subatomic particle—a nearly speed-of-light particle called “dark radiation”—another possible explanation is that dark matter possesses some weird, unexpected characteristics. Dark matter is the backbone of the universe upon which galaxies built themselves into the large-scale structures seen today.

The Hubble observations were made with Hubble’s sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), and were conducted by the Supernova H0 for the Equation of State (SHOES) team, which works to refine the accuracy of the Hubble constant to a precision that allows for a better understanding of the universe’s behavior.

The SHOES Team is still using Hubble to reduce the uncertainty in the Hubble constant even more, with a goal to reach an accuracy of 1 percent. Telescopes such as the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, and future telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), an infrared observatory, and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), also could help astronomers make better measurements of the expansion rate.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C. The W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

Filippenko’s research was supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation, the TABASGO Foundation, Gary and Cynthia Bendier, and the Christopher R. Redlich Fund.

Originally published by Berkeley News.