Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Gun Crime

Americans believe that crime is increasing, out of control. People in the middle of the country believe that the coastal cities are literally on fire, with looting and rioting and robbing and raping going on everywhere you look. They're afraid to come here. Every night the news goes on and on about escalating crime, and people believe it.

But the odd fact is that crime has been declining, even in the cities, for the past couple of decades. The country is safer than it ever was. Of course we can blame the media for this misinformation, and in particular we can blame their habit of going to the police for their facts. Police spokesmen have their own point of view, they want funding for the department and they want job security for officers and you can't blame them for that. But the result is not necessarily an objectively accurate narrative assessment of crime in the US, you might say.

On the other hand, one kind of crime is increasing. If this category gets recognized at all, it is typically called "violent crime." It includes homicides and felony assaults. Like, after a guy shot up the Van Ness neighborhood last week, just across the line from our little county, the Washington Post had this information in their news story:

[D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III] noted that on Friday and Saturday, police responded to a total of 10 shooting incidents with 15 victims, including a shooting of a man in a wheelchair and the shootings of three people in Brightwood Park. Both attacks occurred as police were in the midst of tracking down the sniper, evacuating buildings and securing the area around Van Ness.

Also over that 48-hour period, a construction worker directing traffic was shot by a person on a ride-share bicycle who was upset with delays, and a man was fatally shot and stabbed during an argument at a birthday party. On Monday, as the mayor’s briefing was wrapping up, a person was fatally shot in Northeast Washington.

Police said they have seized 969 illegal guns in the District this year, a 50 percent increase from this point in 2021.

School was in sniper’s ‘crosshairs,’ but link is unclear, D.C. chief says

That's a lot of violent crime. But let's give it a more accurate name: gun crime. These are all incidents where someone shot someone with a gun. These deadly crimes might have been fistfights or shouting matches, except somebody had a gun.

Gun control has become one of those things that politicians can hardly talk about, because the rightwing noise machine will drown them out. Remember, "Obama's gonna take our guns away?" Whatever happened with that? They hated him because he was going to take their guns away, which he never mentioned and never tried to do. He should have, but the issue is simply too controversial to touch, even for a skilled negotiator like President Obama.

If you try to peel away the layers, you conclude that the problem is too complicated to solve. And yet, the Unites States is the only country on the planet that has 1.this kind of belief that guns are sacrosanct, and 2.this kind of murder rate. The problem is not complicated; everybody else has figured it out. Somebody just has to do something.

New York's subways had a mass shooter a couple of weeks ago, guy shot ten people and a bunch more were injured in the crowd scene. Good guys with guns did not prevent the crime, or interrupt it. The subway system is swarming with cops -- last January the mayor announced a plan to have uniformed police on every platform in the whole system. There were cops all over the place when the shooter caused havoc and then got off the train, exited the station, and wandered around the city until he phoned in his own location for them to come arrest him. Police did not stop him or catch him, even though the NYPD's budget is more than ten billion dollars.

In other words, you cannot solve the gun problem by increasing the number of armed policemen. That sort of escalation does not work for one simple reason, which is that the "bad guy with a gun" always has the advantage of surprise. You could have one cop for every citizen, trailing them around, watching their every move, and still a citizen could grab his gun and shoot somebody before the cop could respond. Sorry, but that's the truth. Constant police surveillance is not the solution. Also, I don't know why anybody would even want to live like that.

The solution is to do what every other civilized country does: control access to guns. Yep, take 'em away. Melt 'em down. Use the metal in the supply chain. Nobody needs an AR-15 in their house. Nobody needs magazine clips with unlimited capacity. People with arrest records for violent crimes can do enough damage with their fists, they don't need the power of bullets when they lose their self-control. There ought to be some training for gun owners, some screening, periodic testing. Other countries do it, we can do it.

People around the world look at American gun violence and say, "That is crazy." And any reasonable person has to agree, this is crazy. Guns do not make anyone safer, they only make everyone less safe. And yet there is no serious movement to do anything about the problem.

It's as if there were a religious taboo on this subject, we are not culturally permitted to mention it. The Second Amendment is, for one thing, not grammatically clear, and for another, it was written during a time when "arms" were primitive compared to what Joe Shmoe can get now. Guns have a place, hunting is a worthwhile thing to do, and a pistol might make you feel safer in your house. But ... back to the guy last week at Van Ness, from the same Post piece:

Raymond Spencer had six firearms in the apartment on Van Ness Street, including three fully automatic rifles, the chief said at a news conference Monday. He said police found thousands more rounds of ammunition inside another residence in Fairfax County, Va., and parts to assemble three additional firearms.
Now come on, you know this is crazy. It's time for reasonable people to speak common sense about this topic and solve this uniquely American problem.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The New "Grooming" Lie

This new "grooming" thing is weird and scary. The roots of hypocrisy run insanely deep on this one, and I just hope that ordinary people have some lick o' sense and can tell when the TV personalities, preachers, and politicians have gone too far.

The Washington Post explains, on this morning's front page:

In the charged debate over what and how children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, some mainstream Republicans are tagging those who defend such lessons as “groomers,” claiming that proponents of such teaching want children primed for sexual abuse.

Further, "some mainstream Republicans" are using the same slanderous concept to slime old-school Republicans who do not take the new fascism far enough.

Pizzagate was a conspiracy theory that said that prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and her inner circle of advisors, were conducting some sort of child-trafficking sex ring. It was bizarre theory that saw secret pedophile code-words hidden in emails and secret messages implied in business logos, and somehow it came down to a punk-rock pizza place, just outside our little county, a place with artichoke pizzas and ping-pong tables, a place you took the family, where the team would celebrate a win. These nuts were sure that Hillary and her people had babies in the basement of the pizza place and were killing them and sumpn sumpn sex stuff.

QAnon continued that theory and expanded on it, where Donald Trump was going to secretly lock up all the child-molesting Democrats and purge the world of this cabal of powerful pedophiles. This is crazy stuff, yet conservatives are consumed by fantasies about pedophilia.

I was going to share a list of prominent Republicans arrested for child molesting and child pornography, but the list had almost 300 names on it and was just too much to post here. Oh, one of the names on the list was not a pedophile but was having sex with a mule, which ... how do you get caught doing that? Their latest thing is for Republicans to promote state bills dropping the age requirement for marriage, so adult men can marry children. Real pedophilia is an actual problem for conservatives. Trying to turn the tables on liberals is a little, uh, obvious, and it is hard to tell whether rank-and-file conservatives buy this stuff but history suggests that a lot of them will.

What we today call "conservatism" can almost be defined as the defiance of hypocrisy. Doing what they accuse others of is their calling-card. Liberals are criticized when they are inconsistent; it would be too tiring to treat Republicans the same way.

Now these people have started accusing liberals of "grooming" children for sex, by teaching them about sexual orientation and gender identity in middle-school and high school sex-ed classes.

It is serious to accuse someone of child molesting. It is irresponsible to make those accusations with no evidence, sometimes accusing blanket groups of people of sexually molesting children, again without a grain of substance. This is not a matter of differences of opinion. This kind of lie is intended to make Republican voters despise and hate Democrats, to think of them as devious sexual predators, to see them as legitimate targets of violence.

It is frankly depressing. These people will say anything, they really don't care if it's true or not. There are gay people, for real, and there are transgender people. It may be hard for Republican voters to understand, but it is an objective fact of the real world. Gay and trans people exist, and have since the beginning of time, in all societies. Everybody is not the same, and some of the differences fall on dimensions having to do with romantic attraction and gender.

Teaching students about this does two important things. First, for that minority of students who are becoming aware that their sexual orientation or their gender identity is not the same as most of the other kids, it gives them a way of understanding themselves, and learning they are not alone. They learn what it's called, and they can read and learn more if they want. This is much better than sitting there feeling like the only freak in the universe who has ever felt this way.

The second thing is that it teaches the heterosexual, cisgender majority of students that variations in orientation and identity are a normal kind of diversity. Everybody's different, and some people are different in these ways. It isn't something they chose, it's just how some people are, and they can still make good friends and colleagues, just like everybody else. Making fun of them only makes you look ignorant, like the Congresswoman who said, "[gay Cabinet member] Pete Buttigieg can take his electric vehicles and his bicycle, and he and his husband can stay out of our girls' bathrooms." A small amount of education could have prevented that embarrassment.

The thing is, these are some deluded people. We see them trying to end American democracy, they even tried to disrupt traffic on the Beltway hee-hee-haw-haw-haw. They are obviously not real smart about thinking things through, and they are prone to behaving impulsively on the basis of unfounded rumors.

So when rightwing TV pundits and politicians and preachers start saying that liberals are grooming children, as if we were all child molesters, they are putting innocent people in danger. You don't reason with pedophiles, jail is not good enough for them, when Bubba finds out somebody "likes kids" he feels violence, even murder, is appropriate.

It is important to teach about human sexuality. Our society is sexually twisted into knots, there are so many things -- untested rape kits, blocked investigations, churches moving priests around, pay disparities, this would be another long list -- and a little objective reality can only help. Yes, you learn about sperm and Fallopian tubes, and you learn that your armpits will stink and your pubic hair will grow, and you learn that most teenagers will be attracted to the opposite sex but some will not, and some small number of people have been assigned the wrong sex at birth, and they may need to begin to correct the problem before puberty changes their bodies in permanent ways. It doesn't hurt anybody to take a few days of class time to go over these topics. It does not encourage anybody to turn gay or decide to change their gender. And it has nothing to do with cultivating a generation of sexual victims for perverted liberals. These are just facts about human beings, and we all make better choices when we are better informed.