Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Parent of child killed by a semi-automatic weapon wishes killer had an automatic weapon instead?!

Parents Of Massacre Victims United In Grief, Divided On Gun Control -

James Mattioli
James Mattioli, 6. 
Mattioli, one of the Sandy Hook parents, said he thinks the political left has tried to make the public believe that the semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle used in the killings was a fully automatic machine gun, which puts out a spray of bullets when the trigger is pulled once and held. "I'll tell you, I wish it had been, because it would be quick and over and I wouldn't have to deal with the nightmare of what it actually probably was," Mattioli said.
I don't know what to make of this. James Mattioli was one of the kids killed in the massacre. His father has testified that "the left" has tried to make the public think the Bushmaster is a fully automatic weapon ... something I have never seen in my reading of the coverage ... and wishes the killer actually had used a fully automatic weapon?!  So his son could have been shot more? So more kids could have been shot even quicker.

I can't imagine the grief of those parents. That said, I can't imagine wishing the killer had a fully automatic instead, no matter how much faster (and therefore more mercifully?) it would have enabled him to kill my child.

I don't understand. I want to empathize. I want to understand. We have to be able to to talk to each other to solve the problems we face as a society, but that statement ... It makes me want to cry, not talk.

Don't even get me started on the peanut gallery that cried out "Shall not infringe!" when asked by another parent why they needed semi-automatic weapons with high capacity clips. "Shall not infringe!" does not answer the question. Lawrence O'Donnell explains.

[Update: Thanks to +Ben Hibben for being willing to take up the discussion, and for making some elucidating comments, over on G+]

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Aztecs - "If human sacrifice is essential here, their tradition, then let them get on with it."

The Aztecs (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 1, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #6) | Previous - Next | Index

These Hartnell-era stories are almost like archeology -- not just when they're about ancient civilizations. I can't properly imagine what it must be like to watch the old ones for teenagers whose first Doctor wasn't even Eccleston, but came to Who with Tennant or Smith. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the black and white, the stage-y production style, and the famously severe restrictions of technology further hampered by shoe-string budgets, made these so inaccessible that only the most open-minded and patient of the younger fans could abide them. Those of us old enough to have watched lots of black and white TV in the years before cable must have a greater tolerance for the antiquated presentation.

via Doctor Who Gifs
The Doctor and Cameca sip cocoa, are engaged.
While there's an undeniable distance, even for me, there's also the satisfaction finding connections to what came later in the performances of Hartnell's successors in the role. The Aztecs aired on the BBC six years before I was born and was never part of the PBS rotation (we only ever saw the Pertwee shows and forward) so I didn't see it for the first time until it came out on DVD, and even then not until it had been out for a while. But we're seeing now, with the Great Intelligence being referenced in "The Snowmen," and the concept of fixed points in time being as troubling to Donna at Vesuvius as to Barbara and Ian faced with the practice of human sacrifice, that the old stories contain threads the current writers keep picking up and weaving in to the modern stories.

"The Aztecs," for me, highlights a strength of the older version of the series. Under Moffat and Davies, the stories too often involve the fate of the universe or all of reality itself. If we care about the Doctor, the companions, and the characters they interact with, well-written stories can generate all the drama and suspense the show needs to succeed. Often, the enormous stakes and drastic solutions look like the desperation of writers as lazy as they are clever. Even in modern historicals, we are shown there are aliens at work behind the scenes so the fate of the Earth is in the balance: giant lava monsters in Mount Vesuvius, witches in Shakespeare's time, the Gelth in Dickensian London, and the list goes on and on. Now, that's not to say it's only the new Who that indulges in this, where certainly we saw the same all the way back to the Hartnell-era as well, but at least in the classic series there were variations in the scale of the threat. Whether it's The Meddling Monk, or a lone Sontaran in medieval England, there were aliens causing trouble, but here we have a story with no aliens, no threat to anyone but our travelers and the characters they encounter -- human scale drama.

Barbara as Yataxa via Geek Girl

Barbara, trying to end the practice of human sacrifice faces real ethical dilemmas. The Doctor charms a widow in the Garden of Peace, accidentally getting engaged and he nearly getting Ian killed while trying to get information he needs. It's fun to have the Doctor and the companions step out of the TARDIS and into a story where they have advantages and disadvantages relative to their adversaries, where they don't save the world, but they face perils and gain perspective from the adversity they face, where they learn and grow and that's enough. "The Aztecs" makes me wish for a season of Doctor Who without a grand story arc.

Stray Thoughts:

For all the banging on the old Who we do for the cheapness of the sets and f/x, this one really doesn't look all that bad. Sure, it's obvious those buildings meant to look off in the distance are clearly painted on mattes only a few feet behind the actors, but aren't terrible mattes, and the costumes look quite good. (Bear in mind, I'm not expert on Aztec textiles and fashions, so whether they look authentic or not may be an entirely different matter.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Yo La Tengo, Cat's Cradle, 1/23/2013

Yesterday I promisethreatened pictures from the Yo La Tengo show. Never let it be said I'm a guy who doesn't keepcarryout promisethreats.

As you know, I'm no CB Lindsey and I don't pretend to be. Just a schlub with smartphone and insufficient shame.

Blurry, hmmm. Those are trees in the background. Maybe it will capture better in B&W ...

Nope, maybe if I try again ... 

Yeah, nope. Color blur was from the early part of the show, the B&W smudges are from later; the first of those I'm pretty sure is Georgia crooning My Little Corner of the World during the encore.

Don't let my hack photography dissuade you from checking out Yo La Tengo on this tour if they come to your area. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show. The quiet acoustic set showed of Georgia's (and James's) vocals, not that there's anything wrong with Ira's, but I'm all for Georgia getting plenty of time at the mic. They played Ohm both ways, quiet and delicate (and it was beautiful) to start the show and a louder, shredalicious version later. Ira really worked the guitars in the second set. My wife will roll her eyes and say she's glad she missed that part, but I love the jams. The first set would've been more her speed. They both worked for me.

Both versions of Ohm were highlights for me, the encores (Nuclear War and My Little Corner of the World), Stockholm Syndrome, Is That Enough, I'll Be Around, Tom Courtenay (acoustic), Our Way to Fall, Decora ... look, I need someone who took notes (I think someone who was stood in front of me so I'm going to watch for updates) to post the setlist and then I can just read it off because, for me, it really did roll from one highlight to the next. I'm glad they played every song they did and I don't know what I would've swapped out to hear Cherry Chapstick or The Evil That Men Do, or Somebody's Baby ...

[Update: here's that setlist ...]

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hazards of packing while half-awake: wrong t-shirt for tonight's @TheRealYLT show

Went rummaging through my closet this past weekend to dig out old Yo La Tengo T-shirts in preparation for tonight's show at Cat's Cradle; had semi-decided on the purple Painful-era shirt and put it on a stack of shirts on the top shelf of my closet. However, when I was getting dressed for work, throwing jeans and all that in a bag, I wasn't paying attention and grabbed the first T-shirt handy, which happened to be one from the Olympic ping-pong trials in Cary. (Super-irritated I can't find the first one I picked up, the green/blue double silk-screened one of a what I remember as just random/abstract paintbrush strokes. How can I be a proper geek hoarder if I can't keep track of my geek hoard!) Sadly, it's probably for the best that I grabbed a shirt that fits a little better than those old shirts from back when one X in the size was enough ...

On a related note, my daughter noticed the bunny T and has decided it will be hers as soon as she grows enough that it doesn't fall off her.  

Pictures tomorrow. They can't come out any worse than last time ... 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Punning: to flay on words? ("Where's that hammer?")

Straight puns point to the facile cleverness of headline writers and embarrassing uncles. Elsewhere, they tend to be deployed sparingly, and with a dose of irony.
How did the pun acquire such a dubious reputation?
Moe on punsters ...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My (Imagined) Dialogue with Sam Harris About Regulating Firearms Continues ...

FAQ on Violence : Sam Harris

I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives, and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident in declaiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there is general rule of cognition we might all agree on: It would be surprising, indeed, if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it.
As I did with his first article on gun control, I'd like to walk through his response to critics where they are germane to my disagreements with him. Much of the criticism he received, apparently, came along some different and dubious lines, so I'll not go looking to try to figure those out.

My chief beef with his first article was his lack of reference to policies in Australia, Britain, and Japan that, based on what I've seen, have resulted in far fewer shooting deaths per capita. He addresses that concern but I want to start first with the quoted bit above. As someone who's never been threatened at gunpoint, I feel like there's a chance my thoughts on the matter might be conflated with someone who thinks that because they never have means they never will.

While I have not been mugged at gunpoint, I have lived in a home that was broken in to and robbed. I came home from school (8th or 9th grade, I think) and found our front door kicked in, the door frame splintered, and our house ransacked. When I walked in, I didn't know if someone might still be inside, hiding in wait, or had just left ...

I was a skinny kid from a working-class neighborhood right next to "the projects." Many of my friends lived in subsidized housing and we all knew about food stamps and the taste of government cheese. I was hassled by bigger, tougher kids a few times, but mostly was able to avoid problems. I saw drug deals, and knew to stay well away from the grungy motel a few blocks away.

Never, not then, and not now, do I think I would have been better off if I, or my mom, had a gun in the house. This is not a matter of my saying "violence only happens to the inattentive, the unlucky, the foolish, and those who put themselves at risk." I know full well that just like my home was robbed when I was a kid, it could happen in this neighborhood.

I have never owned a gun myself. But I've held them, fired them, and -- as a kid, a few years younger than when we were broken into -- lived in house with them. My stepdad was a hunter. He hunted deer and participated in turkey shoots. He kept a muzzle-loader, a compound bow, and a crossbow in the house, mounted to the wall. I fired the muzzle loader and shot a bolt from the crossbow under his supervision. It didn't happen often, maybe only once or twice?, but I also fired rifles with friends of the family in rural New Hampshire. Those guys were serious about their guns. They were also serious about their PBR. I never saw anyone get hurt, and I know there's a certain thrill in firing a gun. But even as a kid, I knew those guys weren't particularly wise.

All this is just to say that I come by my opposition to civilian keeping firearms from a place of less than complete ignorance. I couldn't field strip, clean, and reassemble a firearm but I've seen it done. I've felt the recoil of a shot gun -- damned near knocked my rail-thin 11-year-old self over. I've even shot icicles off a gutter with an air rifle, with "adult supervision."  But I didn't need any of those experiences, neither being robbed nor target shooting, to have a valid opinion. Just because I choose not to own a firearm doesn't mean I'm any less entitled to an opinion about gun ownership, nor does it mean my opinion is any less valid.

So let's talk about whether owning guns makes you more safe, assuming you a responsible gun owner, or at least not a reckless one. Sure, a gun can protect you from the danger that presents itself in front of you and allows you time, even if only seconds, to get at your firearm and fire it. However, it can't protect you from the guy who sneaks up and jumps you from behind. And any criminal who's any good at being a criminal knows that; so, that is how it's going to happen to you. And, when that happens, if you've got a gun on you while you're lying there stunned, bleeding, blurry-eyed, maybe even unconscious, then when that guy takes if off you, you might as well have used it on yourself, or on the person the guy who just stole that gun from you used it on. You can't, you simply can't, secure a gun on your person. If you think you can, that is the first sign you don't have sufficient judgment to be carrying a firearm.

If I thought all, or even most, criminals were idiots who announced their presence, who approached their intended victims slowly, who, as a rule, allowed someone time to get their gun and point it at them, and I could guarantee that my gun could only be fired by me (due to biometrics, and with a fail safe that I couldn't be forced to pull the trigger by accident in tussle) and that it would never result in a miss that injured a bystander, and the bullet would never pass through my attacker and go through a window of a house across the street, and if there were statistics that showed gun owners are safer than non-gun owners -- which there are not -- then I would consider a firearm for self-defense purposes. Why not? If we could be confident we weren't going to accidentally arm a criminal who didn't already have a gun, or enough guns, and if we knew gun accidents were rare, then it would be a considerably easier decision.

But we know accidents aren't rare. You saw what happened on Gun Appreciation Day, right? (See my last post, if not.)

There's a story coming out of Albuquerque this morning that may be illustrative. As I'm writing this, there are virtually no details apart from a teenager killed a family in their home, a home which had guns in it.. Don't know the relationship of the teenager to the the people he killed, don't know if the guns were brought into the home by the killer or were the property of the family that was killed. Either way, it seems those guns didn't make anybody safer. I'm assuming the kid who did the shooting wasn't victimized by that family and ending some terrible nightmare of abuse, but whether he was or not, he had other options besides two adults and three children.

With rare exceptions, murders don't happen like they do on TV procedurals. Strangers don't generally roam around invading homes, sticking people up, and shooting them. Sure, it happens, but it is far more common that the murders with firearms happen within families. The murderer almost always knows the victim. Drugs, alcohol, a history of physical or emotional abuse ... some of these things are almost always involved. Adding guns to the mix of anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, or whatever is going on in the head of someone who gets mad or sick enough to kill, sort of obviously doesn't make sense. Does it?

Mr. Harris dismisses the findings of studies about violence in Britain, Australia, and Japan because, apparently, not all violence stopped. He looks at the data and finds that while fewer people are murdered with firearms, there are still high levels of assault. He makes a valid point about assault being pretty traumatic for the victims, a point well-taken, and sees a reality about violence that he concludes means the regulations in those countries weren't worth it. Look, I get that violence is inevitable in society. I'm just not persuaded guns make people safer. I don't deny the reality that sometimes people do defend themselves with a firearm, and have prevented harm to themselves or others, but I don't see this as reason to ignore the larger public health perspective, where those rare. isolated incidences are drowned in sea of murder, suicide, and accidental death and injury.

Finally, the last germane point Harris makes is those countries that banned firearms didn't have the history of firearm ownership we have here. We are awash in a sea of guns; there are something 300,000,000 firearms owned by private citizens of U.S., I read somewhere recently. Harris doesn't see any way to undo that.  He asks if he is a defeatist: "Am I simply guilty of a failure of imagination?"

Well, not to put to fine a point on it, yes. If you can't imagine a successful campaign collect and dispose of nearly all the firearms in circulation, then you're not trying hard enough. Will there still be bad guys with guns, no matter what? Yes. But there will be fewer of them. That is indisputable. We don't need a perfect elimination of firearms to have a success, we just need to get rid of most. The police, the FBI, the ATF, I'm not suggesting we disarm and disband those agencies. Let them deal with the bad guys with guns. Citizen vigilantes, on the whole, suck at it.

We used to have slavery in this country. It was Constitutional to enslave other human beings. Let that thought rattle around your mind for a moment. Think hard about what that meant. Now remember: we ended that.  Was it a perfect end? No. But did we do the almost inconceivable and fix that? Yes. It was bloody, and it nearly tore the nation apart, but we did it and it was worth it. Would the Confederacy have eventually ended slavery on its own as the rest of the modern world left it behind? Maybe.

But maybe not.

I'm not suggesting gun ownership is an evil of the same magnitude as slavery, but look up how many American civilians have died of gunshot wounds since the founding of our nation vs. how many Americans have been killed in all the wars we've fought combined. You might be surprised. It's a problem worth doing something about. And, just as gun ownership isn't the same same as slavery, neither is the solution to the gun problem in this country as messy as the solution to the problem of the Confederacy was. Despite the big talk and aggressive posturing of the gun lobby and a few wackjobs, disarming the nation would not require another Civil War.

So, to bring it back to Mr. Harris. Would it be unjust to ban civilian ownership of firearms and force him to relinquish his guns, putting himself and his family at increased risk from the the theist extremist who make death threats against him?  I don't believe it would be.

Here's why: the FBI and the police have an obligation to give him special attention because of the nature of the threats he has received.  The risk to himself and his family can be mitigated by society. If one of the extremists who has made threats against his life could get a hold of a sniper rifle and assassinate him from a distance, none of his firearms would protect him. He would be more protected by a ban on sniper rifles in civilian hands than he currently is with his handguns and rifles. I don't dispute there are very specific circumstances under which he could defend himself with a firearm; I maintain he, and society, would be better off if no civilian were allowed to have firearms.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gun shows might be a problem that takes care of itself at this rate ...

Private sales at gun show on hold after three hurt in accidental shooting ::

image via

RALEIGH, N.C. — Officials said the Dixie Gun and Knife Show will continue Sunday without private gun sales after three people, including a retired sheriff's deputy, were injured Saturday when a gun brought in by a patron who planned to sell it accidentally discharged.
See also: Medina County Gun Show

See also: Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Show

Good luck at the gun show, you guys.

NTS: don't do a google image search for "accidental discharge" again.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Terraforming Earth, one way or the other ...

For the rest of history, we will be required to work at repairing the damage we've already done to the biosphere. Geoengineering, then, has become our ongoing responsibility to life on this planet, including all human generations to come. All of which leads to the question: can we actually design and accomplish any geoengineering projects that would mitigate or reverse climate change? Putting aside issues of political capability, are any of these projects physically possible?
The answer appears to be: yes, some of them are. Maybe.
Reading this, I remembered a haunting passage from Robinson's The Gold Coast where -- after describing life in Orange County in the early 1800's, he writes:
And so all that -- the cattle roaming the open land, the horsemen rounding them up, the adobe homes, the huge ranchos, and the archaic, provincial dignity of the lives of the people on them -- all that went away. 
My fear: our children's children, the ones that study history at least, will know what it was like before the climate changed irreversibly. They'll say, "All that went away ... and we can never get it back."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Ongoing Food Truck Rodeo Continues @TheHumblePig

The Humble Pig Food Truck

Until our new caf opens here at work, we've got two food trucks coming each day. For all the BBQ I've had lately, I probably ought to have mixed things up and tried Hibachi Express, but I was thinking about a big ol' mess of Texas Cheese Fries off the Humble Pig's menu.

I was too early though, they weren't serving the Cheese Fries yet, so I went with the pulled pork sandwich plate instead. Sandwich was great, even the roll was tasty and fresh, but the baked beans are what really won me over.

World class. So good.

I don't know if they're *really* baked beans? I might have called them a tangy yet lightly sweet, bean-dense chili? Regardless, they were awesome and I want a bucket more.

You may be thinking, "Wait a second, has there ever been a food truck this guy didn't like?" and I guess I can't blame you since I do seem to have enjoyed all the ones I've tried recently. I'm chalking that up to my employer only contracting with the best and there being a big pool of trucks to choose to from in the Triangle.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock

Amazon Kindle: Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock

Also, I've got a mini-review up on librarything, check it out if you're interested. TL;DR version of the review is: "Read the book, Yo La Tengo fan. Give some thought to reading the book if you're not a fan, but are interested in indie music in general."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dubious Cocktails & Genre Movie Night™ | Looper and Monster-n-Pearry Vodka

Brick is one of those movies I love but recommend sparingly because it feels very ... specific. When I learned Looper was directed by Rian Johnson, my first thought was, "Why didn't they plaster 'From the Director of Brick' all over the promos?" Quickly followed by, "Oh, right." 

I don't know if Brick made lots of folks eager to see this, more likely it would've been Bruce Willis (can't help but think of 12 Monkeys when 'Bruce Willis' and 'time travel' appear near each other -- and that's a good thing) or the omnipresent Joseph Gordon-Levitt (I didn't even recognize him from 3rd Rock when I saw Brick) coming off Inception, but even the tempering effect of The Brothers Bloom on my expectations couldn't keep the geeked up factor down.

"Pearry" vodka and Monster
Some observations, things that flashed through my mind and I don't want to forget to mention:

  • I wonder if Johnson has been reading his Kim Stanley Robinson? The eye drop drugs struck me as being straight from the pages of _The Gold Coast_; he called it "dropping" instead of "lidding," and it may just be coincidence, but anything that compares favorably with a KSR novel is a good thing, and this does.
  • Bruce Willis still does action effectively, but in a few scenes his face had a touch of haggard gauntness that made him look closer to 70 than 50-years-old. He was very good here. 
  • The scene were Joe the Loop (Willis) makes his way into Abe's office reminded me a lot of _Brick_ in the way the camera moved and where it was pointed ... can't quite put my finger on it, but he's got style and handled the action sequences here well. They felt very much like story, not "action sequences." Probably not saying this well, but the action is well integrated in the overall experience of the movie. 
  • Whatever they did to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look Bruce Willis-y in terms of makeup, it was very well done. Subtle and effective. The only time it ever niggled at my mind they they look a little too different to be the same guy at different ages was just for a second in the diner scene where we see them both in profile long enough to notice the shapes of their foreheads don't really line up. The flesh of the face changes over time so we accept some variation, but unless you're Barry Bonds, your entire skull doesn't change shape during your adult years.  
It sounds like Rian Johnson has a couple more sci-fi concepts kicking around the ol' noodle and that's good news for sci-fi fans. If he keeps making movies with this kind of creative storytelling, strong dialogue, and compelling characters, we've got some great films to look forward to.

Were you thinking I was going to map out the timelines and sort out the whole story? I thought about it, but Canavan has already got that pretty much covered ... though I've got a nagging feeling he's mistaken about the timelines in a way that makes it more complicated than it needs to be to explain it. But I'm too tired to take it on so I'll let you chew on his explanation if you're so inclined. But if you haven't seen the movie yet, don't be put off by it! It reads as more complex than it is while you're watching it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Riddle Me This: A Response to Sam Harris's Thoughtful Piece on Gun Ownership in America

The Riddle of the Gun : Sam Harris
Fantasists and zealots can be found on both sides of the debate over guns in America. On the one hand, many gun-rights advocates reject even the most sensible restrictions on the sale of weapons to the public. On the other, proponents of stricter gun laws often seem unable to understand why a good person would ever want ready access to a loaded firearm. Between these two extremes we must find grounds for a rational discussion about the problem of gun violence.
Anyone who's visited this blog before has certainly noticed my decidedly pro-gun control position over the years. In all the time I've been railing against "gun nuts," "cowards," and "fools," I don't think I've seen one article, and certainly not a comment here (most certainly not on facebook, where the comments against gun control, at least in my circle of acquaintances, have been of the hysterical "Obama wants to take our civil liberties away!" or willfully ignorant "It's not the gun's fault, we should just pray for the victims, anything else is knee-jerk, bleeding-heart, reactionary nonsense!") that made a good faith effort by a gun owner to understand the concerns of those of us who choose not to carry or own guns, or to deal honestly with the facts we have about gun violence and the efficacy of gun control legislation in other countries ... until now. I feel obliged to respond to +Sam Harris in the same spirit of openness to opposing opinions, and consideration of the evidence presented for his position.

Walking through his essay, I'm willing to grant the assumptions and position of the opening paragraph, quoted above. If I'm a fantasist about stricter gun laws, I want to get to the bottom of my erroneous assumptions. I do understand why a good person would want to have ready access to a loaded firearm for defense of their home and family, and I think many of the same stripe and inclination as myself understand it as well. If I were a young lady living alone, I would certainly consider getting trained to use, purchasing, and keeping a handgun secure in my home -- biometric safe under the bed, something along those lines.

Mr. Harris's observation that America's powerful gun lobby and the primacy of guns in American culture must look like a form of collective psychosis appears uncontroversial to me, though I expect it will to the members of our collective with psychotic tendencies. Is that too harsh?  Let's not call people "psychotics" then only because they don't see our national obsession with guns as psychotic. Whether we call them "rugged individualists," "survivalists," or "libertarians," I think we need to make something of their collective indifference to moral reasoning of the majority of the world, if only to point out that we're probably not going to get anywhere trying to reason with people who don't think there's a problem. It would seem to me, a necessary precondition for taking part in the debate and being a voice worth listening to, that you must agree the current situation with regard to regulation of guns is unsustainable, and immoral, because of the tremendous harm people with guns are doing to themselves and other people, purposefully and negligently, in the absence of common sense reforms.

It should be no surprise that the first place I take issue with Mr. Harris comes with this statement:
I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I consider myself an "otherwise intelligent" person (college educated, generally well-read, scored high on standardized tests, performs to an employer's satisfaction in a demanding job requiring analytic skills, attention to detail, creative problem solving, negotiation, cross-cultural coordination of efforts, etc.) who has considered the pros and cons, in a manner I have determined to be a sane approach, and had vindicated as such by other members of society who are also not suspected of being insane. I arrived at the conclusion myself and my family are sufficiently safe from violence without needing to buy a gun. From my determination, I extrapolate to the larger population that many (not all) in roughly the same circumstances, ought to reach the same conclusion. I live in a modest suburban subdivision, near low-income housing (a few minutes walk), a few miles from a police station, in an area where there have been break-ins. I acknowledge that, especially by world standards, this is a pretty privileged position, but I suspect we'd be labelled something like lower middle class. This background is to give context to my analysis. Yes, there is some crime in my neighborhood, the odd break in or car vandalized, but not much. (I'm more worried about the possibility of stray bullet from the nearby shooting range than I am someone deliberately shooting at or in my house.)

So, what's my beef with his statement? I think the beliefs of people who have concluded most sane people don't need a gun are grossly distorted in the Straw Man construction he presents. It would be more accurate to say we believe that for most sane people the ability to install a home security system, call 911, count on the vigilance of neighbors, and be a vigilant neighbor who reports suspicious vehicles, unknown persons skulking about in the yards of neighbors, etc., are sufficient protection against violence. We, at least I, don't think people living in "bad" neighborhoods should have the same expectations; we recognize that there are folks more vulnerable than ourselves, with a greater expectation of danger, who legitimately feel more threatened. We are open to the idea there is a need in some cases for greater self-defense capabilities.  However, we are extremely suspicious of the idea an AR 15 with a high capacity magazine (I hope I'm not getting my self in trouble here with unfamiliar terminology and weapons capabilities, but we'll come to that shortly) is the appropriate self-defense mechanism ... for any civilian. Ever.

To be fair, I think Harris is correct to point out that there are many of us on the increased regulation side of the argument who support a complete ban on firearms, but it's not clear if Harris is saying he's surrounded by folks who support a ban vs. heightened regulation, so I think he's doing his argument a disservice by implying everyone, even if intelligent in other matters, is dumb when it comes to gun control.

Perhaps that's a minor quibble where I could be less sensitive, so let's move on. Harris says a little later:
But, unlike my friends, I own several guns and train with them regularly. Every month or two, I spend a full day shooting with a highly qualified instructor. This is an expensive and time-consuming habit, but I view it as part of my responsibility as a gun owner.
That sounds great, but am I a cynic for imagining almost nobody trains with as highly-qualified instructors, goes to the same expense, and spends that much time getting training in not only how to point and shoot, but simulating crisis situations where's there's darkness, unknown number of hostile intruders, having been woken from a sound sleep, or other "real world" type scenarios one might face in the extremely unlikely event they ever actually need and can get to their weapon? Harris here is describing how we'd like all gun owners to treat the responsibility of owning a firearm, but which of us is a fantasist when it comes to how the majority of gun owners treat their responsibility?

Skipping ahead, Harris says:
However, it seems to me that there is nothing irrational about judging oneself to be psychologically stable and fully committed to the safe handling and ethical use of firearms—if, indeed, one is.
Well, it seems to me, the folks who are stockpiling weapons after a massacre are not in a position to be judging for themselves whether they are psychologically stable and fully committed to the safe handling and ethical use of firearms -- because running out to buy more guns after a massacre is perhaps the surest sign you are an unstable, ethically challenged, fool.

My (nearest) local gun shop. Always busy.
A daily reminder that my side of the argument is has already lost.
Again, I feel like a bit of a quibbler, because I think Harris and I arrive at the same conclusion: it makes sense and is in the purview of society to say, "In order to own a gun, you must be registered, you must be trained, and you should lose your right to own a weapon if you are irresponsible with it." We suspend drivers' licenses all the time, irresponsible gun owners should be held to no less stringent a standard. If you're going to start throwing around labels like "fantasist" though, I think you need to be conscious of when you look like one. (And, it goes without saying, if the vast majority of gun owners do take the time and expense to stay trained by qualified instructors and are subject to testing in order to keep their registered weapons, then I need to take my lumps and admit if I'm wrong. But show me, with facts and credible data that I'm wrong, don't just tell me what highly trained marksmen all the gun owners you know are.)

So, now we come to a really thorny ethical question:
Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want. It is a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene.
Did your Straw Man Detector just go off again? Mine did. Again, pro-regulation arguments here are being presented as reducing to "ban all the guns." Even though I personally support a ban on firearm ownership for all civilians, I would be quite happy to just see regulation, registration of all guns, certification of all gun owners, insurance requirements, and accountability for gun owners whose guns are lost or stolen and then used in a crime. I could live with just some, not all of those. We can agree that violence is a fact of life and the "good guys" need a way to stop the "bad guys" from running roughshod over the rest of us, good, bad, and in between, without needing to imagine a world without guns.

Here's the extension of that argument that I have trouble with. I support the manufacture of guns for the military and for law enforcement, but this means I can't raise a militia to oppose my government and the police if I need to overthrow tyrannical rule. You guys have me dead to rights on that one. Here's my answer, take it for what it's worth: that ship has sailed. We ceded the ability to oppose unjust rule by force a long time ago. We could all have houses full of guns and still be defenseless because we can't get the drones, tanks, missiles and all the other weapons the federal government could use against us. Mr. Harris and I are in agreement here, it would seem. He writes:
 ... the idea that a few pistols and an AR 15 in every home constitutes a necessary bulwark against totalitarianism is fairly ridiculous. If you believe that the armed forces of the United States might one day come for you—and you think your cache of small arms will suffice to defend you if they do—I’ve got a black helicopter to sell you.
Perhaps the more practical concern should be whether we need to be protected from the police. (Let's ask Ice Cube?) There I'm at a bit more of a disadvantage and I admit it. A corrupt, criminal police force could trample my rights, unjustly persecute, jail, and do all manner of horrible things to me, or to any of us if we couldn't fire back.

So how do we protect ourselves from the tyranny of the federal government and those (minority of) police as bad as the criminals they are supposed to protect us from?  We could arm to the teeth and fight it out. Or, we could be responsible citizens and vote in local and national elections based on informed opinions garnered from a free and independent press. I've said it before and I'll say it again, our best defense against tyranny is the rule of law and an open, accountable political class.

At the national, state, county, city and town level, we need to have the information we need to make informed decisions about who to elect to public office to protect our interests. The greatest threats to our liberty are corrupt, beholden elected officials -- and I'll be blunt here, I mean virtually all Republicans and far too many Democrats. Not giving another inch to oligarchs out to bust unions and subsidize profitable industries is where we should be drawing the line. A gun will not protect you from a politician who wants to tax you to subsidize an industry that wants to move jobs overseas. But a vote can do that. Our ability to speak freely and associate freely is only hampered in an armed society -- Tea Partiers threatening to, and actually bringing guns to political events, anybody?  Those freedoms, along with a quality secular education and free press are our greatest protections. A gun might, just might, protect you from a burglar, but it is not going to do you a lick of good against an entire political party out to destroy the social safety net or practice willful denial about climate change.

But let's go back to the perceived danger of a world with too few guns. Harris presents several facts about guns, gun safety, and the relative dangers of things like swimming pools and the improperly washed hands of doctors and nurses. I've seen the statistics before and I don't take issue with them. We're looking at the same data, but arriving at different conclusions. There are facts about guns and regulation that I was extremely surprised to not see reference to in the essay though. I did a control-F search for Japan, Australian, and variations on the UK, Britain, England to make sure I didn't miss them and those countries which have enacted strict regulations and seen a dramatic decrease in gun violence without (as you might surmise reading about the rash of knife attacks in China which Harris does helpfully allude to) a corresponding increase in knife, bayonet, sword, nunchuck, toaster-in-the-bathtub type violence we might expect to fill the void left by the ready availability of guns in those countries. To not address those facts about guns and regulations is striking. I can't help but wonder if it was just fatalism, the belief that our society is too gun crazy, too bristling with weapons already, for those sorts of regulations to work here?

Because I can never resist a reference to The Maltese Falcon, I'll do my best Sam Spade voice and wonder aloud why we let these cheap gunsels hang about in the lobby, heaters bulging in their pockets? The Wilmers of the world can have their coats pulled down around their elbows, and their guns taken away from them. We might need armed police to do finish the job if we can't just trick them in to walking in front of us, but I bet it could be done.

Harris makes a strong argument for handguns being as much, if not more of a public safety issue than "assault rifles" and the like. I'm perfectly happy to let him be persuasive in that regard. An outright ban, which he argues couldn't work, I'd argue would never be perfect, but could do a lot of good -- as it has done in other countries. If there is evidence to contradict the relative merits of the policies enacted in the UK, Australia, and Japan, I am interested in seeing it. Arguments that highlight the dangers of handguns are not something I'm motivated to dismiss.

There's some further  discussion in his essay of light vs. heavy bullets, fast-loading revolvers and high capacity clips, hunting rifles being as good for killing people as any other kind of gun that support the argument against simply trying to control what are perceived to be the most deadly types of gun, partly because of their demonstrated efficacy in killing schoolchildren. Whether those arguments actually support an all out ban as opposed to half-measures, or whether they support trying to be more creative in regulating ammunition and the types of controls we might  put in place on the manufacture, sale, registration, and ownership of guns is largely irrelevant. Either way is fine with me.

Where Harris makes a damning point about liberal criticism, and there's no dodging it, no getting around the fact I'm as guilty as any liberal on this front, is we seem to barely know what we're talking about when we call things by the wrong name, use the correct terminology in the wrong manner, and generally sound like ignoramuses on the topic upon which are pontificating. From reporters on down to lowly bloggers, we all have a responsibility to do our homework and get our facts straight. Credibility matters.

As an aside, I remember being scorned for using the word "gun," instead of "rifle" by an acquaintance who had been through basic training. "This is my rifle, this [grabbing crotch] is my gun," I was informed. The former is for shooting, the latter is for fun, he went on to clarify. Duly noted.

While I'm copping to weaknesses in my presentation, I need to face this criticism head-on as well:
Needless to say, it is easy to see how things can go badly when anyone draws a firearm defensively. But when an armed man enters an office building, restaurant, or school for the purpose of murdering everyone in sight, things are going very badly already. Imagine being one of the people in the Houston video trapped in the office with no recourse but to hide under a desk. Would you really be relieved to know that up until that moment, your workplace had been an impeccably gun-free environment and that no one, not even your friend who did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be armed? If you found yourself trapped with others in a conference room, preparing to attack the shooter with pencils and chairs, can you imagine thinking, “I’m so glad no one else has a gun, because I wouldn’t want to get caught in any crossfire”?
After Aurora, I immediately thought of a darkened cinema and what might have happened if a couple of movie-goers had been armed. Is it crazy to think that in the heat of the moment, one might mistake the other for an accomplice of the shooter and kill someone who was only trying to help, or be shot themselves? Perhaps I did take an excessively pessimistic point of view when thinking about the likely outcomes. Harris makes the case in a way I hadn't considered, or had reflexively dismissed. I admit the scenario of the conference room Harris imagined gives me a pause. However, on a day to day basis, if you knew you had a co-worker who had served multiple tours of duty and seen combat, how would you feel about going to work everyday and sitting in a conference room with that person knowing they had a gun on them all the time? A lot would depend on how well you knew them and how that person carried himself. Sure, in the million to one scenario where a lunatic comes in and starts shooting, it'd be good to have him there ready to return fire ... but isn't it more likely you'd be concerned by the holster under his suit jacket day in and day out, that you'd feel uncomfortable if he lost his temper? If he served multiple tours and and saw combat, maybe lost friends, experienced horrors a civilian (outside of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virgina Tech, etc.) could imagine, would you be comfortable asking how he coped with the stress of those memories? Would you want to know? Would it never occur to you he might be the guy loses it one day and shoots up the office? Who the hell brings a gun to a conference room full of project managers, developers, and analysts anyways?! You work for financial firm, not a Colombian cartel!

Recently, one of the buildings leased by the company I work for was shot at. It's not a building I've ever been in, but it's just down the road. A disgruntled employee who had just been let go flipped out at work and, while it hasn't been proven that person did the shooting, it was that same night that a few rounds were fired into the office. It was after hours and nobody was injured, but think about it for a minute. Do you have someone in your office who's a little off? Not someone you fear, necessarily, but someone who just throws that vibe? Imagine that person with a handgun in her purse at her cubicle, or imagine he's got one in his car and just got disciplined by his manager, maybe unfairly. Still think it's a good idea for your co-workers to be armed?

There's a car in the parking at work with a Confederate flag vanity plate. I don't whose car that is, but I sure as hell hope that asshole doesn't have a firearm.

After all that, it seems I've ended up in generally the same ballpark as Mr. Harris. I bristle at some of his characterizations, but recognize I make others bristle as well. In fact, my main area of disagreement boils down to my understanding of the effectiveness of the sorts of gun controls enacted in other countries that Mr. Harris finds impossible to consider here. He seems to think liberal proponents of gun controls are fantasists. I think he's seriously underestimated the depth and breadth of the majority of gun owners irresponsibility, probably based on his own considerable willingness to be a responsible gun owner.

[Update 1/8/2013: Harris responds to critics, including the chief beef I had with his argument. Will take up the counter arguments as they apply to me in a follow-up post.]

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: The Year We Inspired the Next Generation of Teachers (To Not Be Teachers)

Daily Kos: The year in review, part two

See the whole 'toon at Daily Kos

The Doctor's Daughter: "Make the foundation of this society a man who never would."

The Doctor's Daughter (TV story) - TARDIS Index File, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 4, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #193) | Previous - Next | Index

Some ideas just smell bad. You can't take a character like the Doctor and just whizz bang slap a full grown daughter on him (and then whisk her away to boot) in one episode. The viewer knows they are getting cheated going in because there's no way (no way invented yet, anyways) to accomplish this without cheating the audience.

Martha, Jenny, Donna, and the Doctor at the Source.
There are things about this episode I like, not the least of which is the Doctor, having just laid his daughter's corpse (unresurrected) down picking up a gun and threatening the man who shot her but immediately explaining he "never would." If it stopped there, it would have been OK, but he takes that moment to turn to the two warring factions and tells them to make that the foundation of their new society; he shows them how to be a man that never would shoot another man. It's a powerful scene and it's exactly right. That moment, for me, redeems the gimmickry of the episode. Tennant, like Tom Baker before him, has a charisma that simply never fails, even in the service of a suspect story, he brings the intensity and the levity as they are needed.

Here's the ongoing problem, this episode can only lose value over time as Jenny (resurrected) doesn't come back. She's gone off to have adventures, unbeknownst to her father, and the longer we go without him knowing it, or seeing any indication of what she's getting up to, the more it cheapens episode in retrospect. All that, just to throw the character away. Bah.

Jenny, we hardly knew ye. You came back and we still don't what you're up to.
If it were up to me to fix the episode, there are two ways I might go about it: first and preferred method, I'd have gotten rid of the Jenny character and ordered the scriptwriter to give the Doctor a character to befriend, one that looked like a possible companion in the making, and have that character be the sacrificial lamb at the end; alternately, I would have insisted the Doctor learn either at the end of the episode that Jenny, his female clone, survived after all, or at least learned later when the character was brought back in a future episode. The latter, of course, can still be done. And it should be. The longer that thread dangles, the more it recedes into hazy memory until its baked in as inexcusable sloppiness on the part of the show-runner.

Oh, and too much Christian allegory noodling ... an immaculate conception, the deity/Doctor's child dies and in so doing saves the peace of the world, then is resurrected ... gimme a break. Corny.

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