Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

The Victim Right seems to believe you can't say "Merry Christmas" any more. Brad Paisley, who I normally like, has the stupidest country and Western record out, where they bleep the word Christmas as if it were censored, even though every country station in the USA plays nothing but Christmas music at this time of year. Facebook is full of stupid things suggesting that telling someone "Merry Christmas" is an act of rebellion against the dark forces of political correctness.

A person who has grown up celebrating the Christmas holiday remembers sleepless childhood nights waiting for the sound of hooves on the roof, family dinners, gifts and carols, the smell of the tree, and probably has the best intention in greeting the friend or stranger with a hearty "Merry Christmas." On the other hand, there may be a communication issue; the salutation may not mean what you think it means to someone who does not celebrate that particular religious holiday. If you are a business you might not want to alienate clients of different faiths by seeming to impose your beliefs on them, and if you want to make your non-Christian colleague feel the warmth of the season you might give a more carefully chosen greeting, a generic "Happy holidays!" or something tailored to the other person's tradition. And if you are a government you will not express the sentiments of a particular religion at all, in deference to the higher principle of freedom for all.

The native people of Europe and lands around the Mediterranean celebrated the winter solstice as a time of awe and rebirth, and a conquering church came in and imposed its alien terminology on the annual festivities. Now the reborn sun-god will be called "Jesus," and we will associate him with the rabbi quoted in the Gospels. Some of the symbols of Christmas are mentioned in the Bible, though there is no Biblical suggestion that Jesus was born at the winter solstice. The decorated tree, the lights, gift-giving, reindeer, elves, the gathering of family, feasting, and other symbols of Christmas celebration are not even given a religious coating, they are purely pagan customs continued under a new rationale. Christmas as it is practiced in America is Yule under a different dogmatic regime.

The history of it may be sketchy, but at the same time, what holiday is better? Christmas is about the excitement of children, it's about hope and imagination and love, the message of peace on earth and good will to men is not a liberal talking-point but a central feature of this beautiful celebration. I'm for it.

It was beautiful to get some snowfall yesterday. In the best way, regardless of religion, I hope that our readers are snuggled in warmly with family and good food, and that we are all healthy and prosperous in the coming year. To all, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Couldn't Help Myself

Too good.

NRA: Duh, There Aren't Enough Guns in Schools

This won't be news to anyone but I might as well follow up on that last post, where the National Rifle Association said, in response to the Newtown killings, "The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

They announced a press conference for today. I speculated that "they almost certainly have to pass the blame, soothe the public, divert our attention ... something." Once again, I was overly optimistic.

They want more guns in schools.

From the Washington Post:
In his first extensive public remarks since last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut school, the head of the National Rifle Association called Friday for lawmakers to take action to put police officers in all schools in an effort to curb such violence.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a news conference in Washington. Put ‘armed police officers’ in every school, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre says
I have already talked about reasons not to have more guns in schools. Maybe sometimes a good guy with a gun will shoot a bad guy with a gun. Much more often there will be accidents, lapses of judgment, mistakes, jokes gone bad. More guns in schools is the prototypical, the ultimate Bad Idea.

This blog is not about guns. But now and then the country lines up on two sides and you look across the gap in disbelief.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Controlling Guns

A gun uses a contained explosion to propel a chunk of metal through a tube that aims the projectile. The point of it all is for the chunk of metal to cause destruction at the point of impact. Inanimate targets may be used for practice but the function of a gun is to kill some living thing or person. The bullet rips flesh, and may cause bleeding and death, or may destroy one or more vital organs and kill the victim, or it may simply mutilate part of the body, causing permanent disability but not death.

Guns are primitive. It is the same as throwing rocks, but harder than an arm can propel it. A bullet is a superhuman fist.

There is no plus side to it. A gun only breaks things, it does not fix them.

A gun is useful for killing animals to eat, and for killing dangerous animals and people. It makes a loud noise that some people think is fun, and it can be entertaining to shoot cans and bottles and other targets. And some people shoot them into the air on New Years Eve, which sometimes kills people but mostly just makes a lot of noise. Firecrackers are better for this.

Guns have been called "the great equalizer" because they magnify the physical power of an individual, which can be good if you are a little person threatened by a big person or one who is armed, or an individual threatened by a group. In most situations, though, the gun is a great un-equalizer. Last week, when a mentally ill person had a gun and classrooms of schoolchildren did not, equality was not attained.

A gun does not correct a moral imbalance, it only amplifies it in a biased way. A gun makes a bad person worse but it does not make a good person better, because all a bullet does is destroy stuff. There is no way to use a bullet to promote kindness, you can't heal anyone or make them feel better with a gun, but you can use it to take power or money or possessions from an unarmed person -- or an armed person who did not reach for his or her weapon quickly enough -- you can kill an unarmed person or use the threat of death to rape or kidnap them. You could theoretically do good by shooting a bad person, but that doesn't happen very often, and there is something inherently loathsome about impulsively-delivered capital punishment.

There is an argument that if everyone had a gun on them at all times, then everybody would have equal physical power, and nobody could overpower anyone else. There are a few problems with this argument. One we saw last week, some people cannot be trusted with the power of a firearm, they don't make good judgments about using that life-taking power. The other thing is that guns are what my mother used to call "an accident waiting to happen." People fumble, people leave them where children can get them, people drink, people get emotional, people see or hear something and misinterpret, there are a million ways that the power of a firearm amplifies a mistake or bad judgment. And a gun mistake never has a positive result. And by the way, I have seen expert gun users put holes through walls; training and experience are important but mistakes still happen.

The National Rifle Association, our nation's preeminent pro-gun lobbying organization, sort of went dark online after the killings last week in Connecticut. But yesterday they finally issued a statement:
"The National Rifle Association of America is made up of 4 million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.

"Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.

"The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.

"The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, D.C., area on Friday, December 21."
We'll see what they have planned for their news conference. I don't know what they can say. It's too late to apologize. They represent companies that sell guns, they almost certainly have to pass the blame, soothe the public, divert our attention ... something. But we'll see.

"...to help make sure this never happens again." What do you think?

Down in Virginia, the governor thinks there ought to be more guns in schools.
“If someone had been armed, there would have been a possibility to stop the person from coming into the school,” McDonnell said on Washington’s WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” monthly program responding to a caller’s question. “I know there is a knee-jerk reaction against that, but I think we should have a discussion about it.”

He continued: “If a person [like Sandy Hook’s principal Dawn Hochsprung] was armed and trained, could they have stopped the carnage? Perhaps.” Bob McDonnell: Consider guns for school officials
I suppose he is not joking, and I suppose there are other people who think like this, so let's go through the exercise of thinking about this for half a minute. Let's imagine that every school principal and teacher had a holstered gun on them. How many mass murders could they have prevented? Maybe one. How many times would a gun be left on a table where a kid could find it, or would a student grab a gun out of a teacher's holster, how many times would guns be dropped in a classroom and fire randomly, how many times would teachers freak out over classroom misbehavior or someone they don't recognize in the hall and kill somebody? These things would happen every day.

More guns in schools is a Bad Idea.

Guns have their place. They are good for hunting, and for protection. Some people believe they need to be armed to resist a tyrannical government, okay, whatever, if it makes them happy. Because they kill people, guns can be used to threaten, rob, rape, and murder, and so there needs to be some control over them. It's a tricky balance but we can't let this keep happening.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Quick Comment on Guns

When I am in a foreign country, people often ask me some variation on the question, "What is the deal with the guns?" All I can say is, that's how it is, it's never going to change, Americans think they need to have guns. I try to explain that it goes back to Revolutionary times, when people needed to be able to defend themselves from tyranny, and I usually lose them there.

For my own part, I had a gun when I was a kid, a .22, my dad and I went out shooting, I have fired pistols and shotguns but I would not have a gun in our house with kids. A neighbor had a tragedy too terrible to talk about, kids playing with dad's gun.

I understand that there are some rightwing conspiracy theorists who believe that President Obama is arranging all these mass shootings so that he can make a move to take everyone's guns away from them, and then, I guess, seize dictatorial power, I don't know why he is supposed to want that or how it could possibly succeed in his lifetime.

Today, the day of the Connecticut slaughter, there is another headline out there: China stabbing spree hurts 22 schoolchildren. When I was in China, we drove through a shady-looking neighborhood and I asked the translator if it was safe. He said you have to watch out for pickpockets but guns are illegal, and nobody has one. It wasn't even a matter of "only outlaws will have guns." Instead, even outlaws didn't have them.

For comparison's sake:
A Guangshan county hospital administrator said the man first attacked an elderly woman, then students, before being subdued by security guards who have been posted across China following a spate of school attacks in recent years. He said there were no deaths among the nine students admitted, although two badly injured children had been transferred to better-equipped hospitals outside the county.
They've got crazy people, same as us, but nobody died.

Too many people are killed by guns in the United States. Too many were killed today, never mind last week and last month and last year. The conversation needs to start there. It's too easy to get a gun, crazy and bad-intentioned people acquire them legally and easily. Nobody knows who has guns, or how many they have, you could never find them now to get rid of them, it is out of control.

It's a religion in this country. There are beliefs about the value of guns, faith in guns, with no reasonable justification but people are devoted to them. There is no sense to it, nobody needs to be armed to the teeth. The government is not going to come to your house to take your freedom away, that argument is absolutely absurd. A cooler argument could be made, that people need some protection from intruders, and hunting is a legitimate use of a rifle, it is not that guns are inherently evil, the problem is that our country is up to here in them, and crazy people are getting them and doing terrible things.

Discuss among yourselves. I have a gig.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Those Zebra Shoes

Huffington Post has this cool story this week. Seems a little boy who is known as "Sam" picked out a pair of pink shoes to wear to his first day of preschool. His mother posted a picture of him on Facebook. His sister reposted it on a Facebook group called "Have a Gay Day" and said:
"Yesterday my mom posted a picture on Facebook of my 5-year-old brother Sam wearing a pair of shoes he picked out for his first day of preschool. She explained to him in the store that they were really made for girls. Sam then told her that he didn’t care and that 'ninjas can wear pink shoes too.'

However, my mom received about 20 comments on the photo from various family members saying how 'wrong' it is and how 'things like this will affect him socially' and, put most eloquently by my great aunt, 'that sh*t will turn him gay.'" Photograph Of Little Boy Wearing Pink Shoes To Preschool Sparks Heated Blogosphere Debate
It's interesting that there was no problem at his preschool. The other kids didn't care.

Here's the picture.

That is one happy kid!

Huffpo goes on:
The user goes on to explain that Sam liked the shoes because they were "made out of zebras," as zebras are his favorite animal: "What does it say about society when a group of adults could stand to take a lesson in humanity from a class of preschoolers?"

The photograph has since drawn over 120,000 likes and has been shared over 19,000 times.
So in the long run it turns out that the kid didn't even care that his shoes were pink. He didn't care that they were made for girls. He liked them because they had stripes, like a zebra, his favorite animal.

Pause here and think about that.

The Huffington Post goes on to quote a blog that argues that the mom should not have sent her boy to school in pink shoes -- not because it will turn him gay but because bullies will pick on him.

Everybody makes concessions to the tyranny of the mob, that's just how it is. You dress the way you have to, you watch what you say -- if everybody makes some concessions then life can be orderly, it is not inherently evil to sacrifice some of your personal self-expression for the greater good. We have freedom to do whatever we want but do not have freedom from the consequences of our behavior, and the result of that is that we obey social norms, in part, as a way to arrange for more positive consequences for ourselves.

The wise individual negotiates with the public that surrounds him or her and finds ways to experience life fully, to participate in a satisfying way, to communicate honestly and completely. It can be done. Everybody wants to be happy, and generally people will support one another's quests for happiness.

A coward gives the crowd control over his or her own personal satisfaction, deprives the self out of fear of consequences administered by the other. This kid wore his zebra shoes to school and his picture has been posted on the Internet 19,000 times, as of the writing of the Huffpo piece. Everybody loves that picture, they love that happy kid -- they love the shoes.

What kind of person would actually advise that this is wrong, because some other kids might not approve?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fox Nation

Sometimes you just gotta laugh ...

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Extry, Extry, ACORN Steals Election for Obama!!!

Somebody pointed this out in the comments of the last post, it is such a weird result that I wanted to feature it.

You can imagine that after the elections the polling industry sort of takes a break. Well, Public Policy Polling is plugging along, asking people questions and publishing the answers. Of course the party that lost the election is unhappy, but the way they are taking it demonstrates why the people voted against them in the first place: they live in a dream world.
PPP's first post election national poll finds that Republicans are taking the results pretty hard...and also declining in numbers.

49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn't exist anymore. Republicans not handling election results well
ACORN was an organization that advocated for lower and middle income families, including registering poor people to vote, which was not good for Republicans, who made the organization a big boogeyman. After a rightwing video hoax portrayed ACORN negatively in 2009, they lost their funding and went out of business.

I am sympathetic with the Republicans' depression. You should have seen me in November, 2004, when the American people elected George W. Bush for the second time. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Senseless war, torture, cronyism, ignorance, the winner stood for all the worst things about our society, and the people around me had voted to put him back into office. I couldn't believe he won a majority of the vote, but there it was. At least something good came out of that -- December of 2004 was when TTF got together and this blog started up.

There is an important transition going on here and we might as well say it out loud. White people are not the majority any more, and where they are their edge is shrinking. As the recent election showed, playing to the fears of white people is not a winning strategy for a politician. Those people who "want their country back" have a point: the generation before mine lived in a world where white people ran everything, the generation after mine does not. They are not going to get their country back, they have to learn to live in reality. And so far they are resisting that.

PPP has a few other interesting findings, too. I kind of liked this one:
Grover Norquist is largely unknown nationally, and among voters who are familiar with him he is generally disliked. Only 15% have a favorable opinion of him to 37% with a negative one, with 48% not holding an opinion one way or the other. Even among Republicans just 18% see him positively, while 23% have an unfavorable view. Only 23% of voters think it's important for politicians to follow Norquist's tax pledge to 39% who think it's not important and 38% who don't have an opinion.
I saw Grover on CNN last night. What a slimeball, that's all I can say.

More survey results were published HERE. For instance, this:
30% of respondents indicated they thought Democrats engaged in voter fraud. 33% of Hispanics, the same percentage as of white voters, believe that Democrats engaged in voter fraud, to only 15% of African Americans.
I can imagine coming from some violent, corrupt Central American country and assuming that voting is fraudulent here, but otherwise I am not sure how to interpret that result. Is there a Spanish equivalent to Fox, by any chance?

Another tidbit (although with screwed-up spelling).
18% of respondents said they would support their state seceding from the union due to Obama’s reelection, to 68% who would oppose the measure. 27% of Hispanics would support secession, compared to 19% of white voters and 12% of African American voters. Young voters were also more likely to support succession. 29% of 18-29 year olds would support succession, while only 14% of voters age 46-65 and only 16% of voters age 65+ would support it.
I am pretty sure that "succession" is supposed to be "secession." But isn't that interesting that more than a fourth of Hispanics would want their state to secede from the union? I would love to see some interviews and learn what is behind that thinking. (There would be some beautiful justice in a future where Texas was a state in Mexico...)

I have been in countries where everyone belongs to the same ethnic group, and the USA is simply not like that, never has been. We are currently experiencing waves of migration from Asia and Latin America, and Caucasians of European descent are losing their stronghold on American leadership. I think it will be good to loosen up that sense of privilege, this is a change that has been a long time coming. You can expect desperate struggles as panicked white Republicans try to hold their place but I don't see any way it will happen. The minorities who are advancing into power will not want revenge, I do not foresee a time when white people are the victims of discrimination, but they have already lost their grip on ownership of the society, and now they will need to adapt.