Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No Beetle No Cry

Is the Volkswagen 2013 Superbowl commercial racist? asks  According to their poll the vote of NO is nearly unanimous. 

In it, a while office employee ( who drives a VW of course) tells everyone to be happy, not to worry in a very Jamaican accent.  The implication of course is that Jamaicans know how to be happy despite petty annoyances -- and that you can share in the Caribbean attitude by buying a Volkswagen. Although that may or may not be true, being Jamaican is a matter of citizenship, not heredity or race.  I suspect that many Jamaicans don't own cars at all. I suspect that not all of them walk around singing and bubbling with joy.

Are we hypersensitive to any mention of race, even one so abstract or tangential that it isn't a mention of race?  Maybe it's just CNN trying to create another controversy for profit. 

Of course the poll ( I voted no) didn't ask whether it was a silly, annoying commercial and perhaps more annoying still to actual Jamaicans, but that's OK.  I feel that way about nearly all of them and besides I'm a GM sort of guy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why I support gun control

And what kind.

I do, after all even if it's not what you support or any of the loudest activists.  No I don't share the urge to tilt at the "Weapons of War" windmills provided us by the media and the more gullible gun control advocates who generally use any sad story to go after what they insist is the root of the problem but rarely is.  I do support, at least provisionally, some of what the President is supporting.

• increasing access to mental health services
• lifting restrictions on federally funded research on gun violence
• extending background checks before the purchase of a gun

Yes -- research for one thing, and here's where it's quite appropriate to be angry at the NRA who has opposed all taxpayer funded study of violence with firearms -- because of course any mention of such things; any attempt to find a way to reduce violence is an obvious precursor  to the Liberal plot to grab our guns. President Obama has ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to  begin research on gun violence and its effects. The actualization of course depends on Congress which controls the funds and therein lurks the cold, dead, but still active hand of the NRA.

No, I'm not in the NRA camp. I don't think anyone who likes hunting or shooting or owns a gun for legitimate reasons is the 'sick bastard' or deranged potential murderer any more than I think that anyone who owns a penis is a rapist and child molester and neither does the vast majority of Americans.  I'm not going to waste time arguing with such people. I'm just going to look for solutions that work -- like the vast majority of Americans.

I used to watch a TV series about Florida Law Enforcement and was occasionally amused by talk of finding criminals with "unregistered" guns -- amused because of course Florida doesn't register them and forbids keeping lists of who owns them. I've been amused as well by their showing us how the police could enter a serial number into the computer and find an owner.  Why is it that people who cry for more gun control sometimes think we have more than we do? The same reason that many think we have less, I imagine. At any rate there's an instance of ignorance being less than blissful.

If 72% of gun-related homicides for which we know the kind of gun used are committed with handguns, and only 4% with rifles of all kinds, why are we obsessing about "assault rifles?"  Perhaps it's another instance of a solution in search of a problem as I hinted at above.  Why are we all in a dither about "high capacity" magazines when more concealable, more portable, low capacity magazines can be changed in less than two seconds? Why are we not concentrating on the most frequently used tools? A revolver, usually with five or six shots remains a favorite choice for professional murderers for reasons I won't go into.  See above and note well that those least informed often seek solutions that are bound to fail and are as intransigent in promoting them as they are in ignoring a larger view. 

At first glance I'm not against some system of  being able to trace guns, a paper trail if you will, as we can do with any property that requires a title, with prescription medicine for that matter.  It seems compatible with a constitutional right, but we find strong objections in a country with such a long Libertarian history of  self re-invention and the ability to shed one's past and most of all the desire for independence and self-reliance.  We remember the New Orleans public being disarmed when they most needed a means of self defense. We remember Jim Crow. We remember lots of things and we worry.

I don't necessarily like the idea of  my possessions and movements being on record and more than my e-mails or purchases or telephone calls. Most people don't like it, but we don't seem to care as much about being spied on as having our shotgun under surveillance. Let's say that  a record of who owns what, might help well enough to keep guns from those with no right to own them that I could support some form of  registration if it could be made to work better than any system has  been so far. But neither hit-men nor drug dealers are not going to comply, nor tell the truth. People who want to die taking as many innocents with them as possible? They don't care about punishment or registration or anything else the law can do. Like the Sibyl, they want to die.

Can we, should we disarm 325 million to prevent 5 or 6 people from running amok with a gun legally or illegally obtained?  Good luck selling it and good luck accomplishing it. The only choice is to screen them out, not to register their guns or threaten them with fines or punishment. Better look to better background checks. If we can accept that some people should not, do not have the right to keep and bear arms, how can we not accept that we need to find out who they are?

So how can we manage to get significant compliance with registration?  We can't without screening out the loose canons with effective, mandatory background checks and the observation that States which do require it tend to have gun-related homicides in excess of States that do not, shows that our current efforts aren't always  enough, that off-the-books transfers are far too easy and quite legal in most cases. Making registration work would require that all transfers be done through licensed dealers who must keep records and report to authorities. That's where those background checks come in. Many are surprised that we have them at all, and waiting periods too. Some are surprised that people with no fear of breaking the law by killing aren't afraid to break the law by lying. Make the checks real.

Yes, I advocate background checks and making them more meaningful. As it is, we simply ask people if they're unstable, mentally impaired and under psychiatric care and not surprisingly people who should answer yes, answer no. As intrusive and objectionable as it may sound to make checks more comprehensive, it's necessary if we want to have registration and want it to actually do anything.

It may be hard to prove that such things as we have done so far have indeed made our country safer from gun related violence, but then it's hard to prove to some people that gun-related homicides have declined substantially for 30 years now. Why? Once again, see that solution seeking a problem because when the solution most dearly envisioned is to make all danger disappear at all cost, that cost gets high and people still get killed.
 I do keep in mind however, that while any reduction in the death rate we can accomplish under any circumstances  may not be dramatic and will not be quick to become observable, that reduction is worthwhile.  I also keep in mind that it will not satisfy a great many people. The slow decline of automobile fatalities seems to have pacified us where the slow decline of gun fatalities has not.  Any observation of human tendencies has to include the illogical, irrational nature of humans. We will continue to fear the lone madman more than we fear the drug gangs and robbers and other "traditional" killers even though the latter are predominant when it comes to slaughter and the former far less likely to be deterred by anything short of a straight jacket.

That's why I support research, scientific inquiry and honest, continuing, informed discussion even though the NRA deems it useless and dangerous and even though their organized opposition will see it as an excuse to do nothing.  I support it because there's ill-understood pathology behind the violence we most fear. I fear it won't happen because both sides are afraid of being argued out of their urges to act now or not to act at all. Any effective effort must come from a middle no one is listening to, from a public that doesn't share the pantheon of bogeymen of either extreme and it must recognize an eternal struggle that can't be legislated away. By all means listen to Law Enforcement people. Many of their opinions may surprise you. Listen to mental health people, look at statistics and listen to firearms experts and lets get down to business.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Moral Nation

A lot of people are probably upset that John Kiriakou, a 14 year CIA veteran has been sentenced to only 30 months in prison for naming a covert agent involved in the torture of  alleged terrorist Abu Zubida, waterboarding him at least 83 times.  It could have been 20 years but deals were made. But of course former Vice President Dick Cheney who by his own admission authorized torture and former President George W Bush who said "damn right" when asked if he had personally ordered prisoners to be tortured got off without so much as two seconds in the naughty chair.  Nobody from that infamous administration ever was punished for revealing the identity of CIA operative Valery Plame for revealing one of their scams either, but of course Republicans have special dispensation and even when they don't, they're so adept at manipulating public hysteria and anger over events that they carry some blame in having precipitated that they can pretty much do what the damn well please. 

They're so adept at turning the hysteria and tapping into the American malaise; our racism, our anger our ignorance, that they just simply got away with it.   Who's to blame for these horrors?  The GOP? Sorry, we don't get off so easy. It's our fault. We allowed it. We did nothing.

Yes, people like me and perhaps you bitched and moaned and were called traitors and America-haters for our efforts, but they got away with it while we were complaining about taxes and trembling from the fear of terrorists and gibbering about Muslims instituting Sharia law and creeping socialism.

Our sense of shame was the first victim of the Bush administration, the first casualty of Bush's wars and not only are we unrepentant about the destruction of Iraq, we're still feeling sorry for ourselves and we're still protecting monsters and persecuting those who still bother to care. We're not safe here at home, we tell ourselves and our lives are so hard we cry while the world looks on with loathing and disgust.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Both Sides, Now

No, this isn't about Joni Mitchell and I'm not going to talk about Bows and flows of angel hair,  just about stunning hypocrisy.  How many ice cream castles have been built upon the idea that a fertilized human egg cell is a human being possessed of  human rights?  It would be hypocritical enow that those rights are allowed by Church doctrine to foetuses when they have been so often denied to adults by religious authorities, but that's not what this is about. It's about, as I said, hypocrisy; about arguing both sides when needed to avoid guilt, or at least to avoid prosecution and penalty.

Catholic Health Initiatives, with assets estimated at around 15 billion dollars, operates a chain of hospitals and as a response to a wrongful death suit involving twin foetuses who died before birth, their attorneys argued that in cases of wrongful death, the term “person” only applies to individuals born alive, and not to those who die in utero, says Raw Story today.

Perhaps that will be a precedent that plagues them in future when they try to argue otherwise according to Roman Catholic doctrine regarding abortion and birth control, but looking at this cloudy argument from both sides now is pretty entertaining, don't you think?  And of course we remember all the adages telling us that when they argue principle, what they mean is money.

Feather canyons everywhere, indeed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pleistocene Park?

The resurrection of extinct species is definitely more feasible than interstellar travel and advances in DNA reading and writing technology have advanced a million fold in little more than half a dozen years.  The speed of light is still the speed of light even though the bulk of  Sci Fi writers simply ignore it. We'll certain see such things long before sending a probe to Barnard's star or travel back in time to observe our remote ancestors.

 Harvard professor George Church, pioneer of the Human Genome Project and founder of half a dozen Biotech firms thinks the technology is just about here that enables us to facilitate the "de-extinction" of vanished species -- perhaps not creatures that died out over a million years ago -- you're not going to see a real Jurassic park any time soon unless it contains reverse engineered birds that sort of look like some Dinosaurs, but he thinks we're on the verge of being able to bring back the Neanderthalers.  

He stops short of saying we ought to and of course it's illegal to clone humans in Europe and the US, but he thinks we might learn something important to our own future.  Establishing a group of  our long lost cousins and possible partial ancestors might show us that they were more intelligent, with their bigger brains or perhaps had some talents that we do not and might allow us an increase in human biodiversity.

"it's conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial" said Church to an interviewer from Der Spiegel.

Wayne LaPierre stated yesterday that a study should be initiated to determine the citizenship status of any non-Homo Sapiens clone born in the US or possessions so as to establish a Neanderthaler's right to keep and bear arms other than wooden spears.  Several coaches and athletic associations have expressed interest in any such project, while Tea Party spokesmen have been rather unanimous in objecting to allowing such clones to take 'human' jobs as much as they would welcome them into the party ranks, despite their bigger brains.

Cloning humans, or even almost humans is illegal, sure, but America is waiting.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Baby on Board

If all that I read were the sporting goods catalogs that arrive in the mail I would still know something was up.  There are suddenly pages of drum magazines for sale to fit  everything from non-military versions of  long guns to shotguns to semiautomatic pistols.  Drum magazines, you'll remember seeing them on The Untouchables, great round things holding 75 to 100 rounds mounted on the infamous "Chicago Typewriter."   One catalog even features violin and cello cases fitted out to carry them.  Fedora and Zoot Suit sold separately. What you'd need to carry a Glock pistol with a 75 round drum mounted below the grip, I don't know, but it's next to useless as a concealable or even portable weapon. So why this feeding frenzy?  Why just now?  Is there an invasion coming?

Gun shops are getting very crowded again.  There's a large supermarket style one under construction in my area of coastal Florida.  Prices are rising and they can't seem to keep military-looking fake 'assault rifles' on the shelves.  Another catalog features a kit allowing one to bolt together two Ruger 10/22 rifles - the kind of gun some country gentleman might give his son on his 18th birthday into a two barrel, crank operated .22 rimfire Gattling gun, complete with tripod.  Only $397 but you have to supply your own pair of rifles. Their website bears a headline saying they're up to a week behind on shipping orders because of  massive demand. In barber shops and hardware stores and the Sporting Goods department at the local Wal-Mart, you hear muttering and whispering about "that monkey" and they don't mean Wayne LaPierre.  I heard an octogenarian friend say at dinner the other night "we don't have any freedom any more."  She'd just sold her handgun from the fear that someone would steal it and murder someone and she'd be blamed.  It isn't true of course, but the fear is on the street and in the retirement homes and the mansions and yachts and trailer parks. That monkey is after our guns.

Yes, it's gun control time again with one side arming themselves for war and the other side howling Gun Control like ragged extras in a  Frankenstein movie.  The President has offered a package of measures designed to calm the hysterical on both sides and  it's not likely to do that, or so I think.  It's the "biggest legislative effort in a generation" says the Huffington Post"a bold and potentially historic attempt to stem the increase in mass gun violence."  Lets see what it looks like after passing through the entrails of Congress. Surely some of the proposals were pinned to the coat-tails of  a tragedy like a rider on an unrelated bill: ban the armor piercing ammunition?  Well it's really not that nor are the hollow points we use for hunting "Cop Killer Bullets" either.  How does one argue for meaningful gun control with all that lying going on?

 Really most of these inflammatory lumps of high velocity hyperbole are just that: attempts to emotionalize and to dupe the uninitiated and succeed in polarizing the attempt to do something useful. To me, much of this heated argument  is corrupted by dishonest coinage, invention and the refusal by both sides to examine  the axioms their arguments rely on. GUN CONTROL! and when I ask "what kind?"  The expression I get from either side is the same -- I must be one of them!

Will banning the millions and millions and millions of  guns and accessories now in 150 million private hands  do anything?  By the time anything like another loophole-ridden, designed-to-fail ban hits the streets, the number of these things buried in back yards and hidden behind paneling in basements will have doubled and the ranks of camo-clad, militiamen and survivalists and preppers will have grown further and short of a house to house search of 100 million private residences and storage lockers and bunkers, very little will be done to reduce their numbers.And nice people, ordinary people, educated people, affluent people are buying guns they would have had no interest in -- because Obama's gonna ban them.   The best way to create demand is to ban something.

And if Congress does do it again, and if they suddenly disappear with a wave of the magic wand, will someone still be able to find the hardware to kill a score of innocents?  Could you get drunk in 1929?  Can you get stoned in 2013? Of course.

Have all the miscellaneous and ballyhooed safety regulations done anything?  Mandatory trigger locks, microstamping of firing pins, loaded chamber indicator and magazine disconnect regulations?  No. Has there been an increase in the murder by firearm rate as is being said?  No. It's lower than it was in the 1950's. The fear is oversold.  Much of what is being proposed can be no more effective in protecting school children than those stupid, yellow Baby on Board signs people put on their cars in the '70s.  It's just there for the "I hate guns" people.

I'm still wondering if there has been an increase in mass gun violence or if the handful in the last few years is a statistical blip and the result of the unrelenting "never forget" emotional media coverage  that promotes repeat performances, but that question will never be settled when opinions on both sides are bolstered by selective facts, when the tenets of faith, the proclamations of activists and politicians and lobbyists are taken as axiomatic without question.  

Whatever happens, I doubt my shotgun will be confiscated, nor my Civil War pistols or my Flintlock Rifle. I'm sure I'll still be able to go to the outdoor shooting range and make holes in targets with a .22 pistol  Top Shot will still be on the History Channel and the Biathlon will still be held and Sarah Palin can still hunt for moose. Floridians will still be able to shoot wild hogs and Burmese pythons and out in the bayou, they'll still be able to hunt 'gators with .22 rifles. The fear is oversold.

Whatever happens, much legislation will be designed by people who know dangerously little about firearms and in a state of near hysteria and much will be sabotaged by their opponents terrified of symbolic emasculation and little will change. No one will bother to mention or discuss or factor in the fact that gun violence is still on the decline and that the level of gun control in any particular state or city does not correlate to that decline. It's a battle of preconceived notions and it's all about irrational fear.

Increased penalties and such won't effect anyone bent on committing  suicide and taking a few dozen innocents with him. Banning an auto-loader with a 15 round magazine when Abraham Lincoln's brass bound Henry repeater will fire 16 rounds in 16 seconds will  not make anyone all that much safer and we'll go on banning all kinds of things to "save the children" and setting the stage for a massive Republican victory in 2016.  America loves guns or we wouldn't own 300 million of them. America loves guns the way it loves trucks and football and beer and that's not going to change.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Island

The Dhammapada speaks of creating for oneself -- by virtue of some deep virtue -- an island that no tide or flood can overwhelm. I've longed to be frozen in a  Gauguin paradise,  where summer years and summer women smile forever.  I've never found it to be possible, having been born as a straw in the torrent, having spent my life in a river of human madness, wasting my decades in a rage for calm and tranquility that  I've only momentarily tasted; storing away and fondling such moments in  furtive contemplation, as objects in a private gallery.

Life is not too much with me, the passions of people are: the mad velocity of  man, the fury, the sound, the howling, hurtling seething frenzy. It's hardly a secret that the recent explosion surrounding madmen with guns has dropped me into the hopeless, boiling depths of misanthropy, like a stone tossed in a witch's kettle which none of my toil and trouble can cool, but really that's what human events are, have been, will be like: a ferment, a boiling fed by unexamined fire and stirred by secret spoons to some unknown purpose -- or worse, to no purpose at all. So will it always be and we either simmer in the pot or dip our ladles as our situations have determined. Man is not a rational animal and any urge to be a pair of giant claws is only a latent vision of our essential nature.

 A January morning is gilding the treetops near and far into the infinite distance and the dew still glistens on the patio screens. I take my warm cup of hand picked, hand roasted, hand ground coffee from some remote village in Papua New Guinea outside into the creamy fragrant air to examine my bonsai. Lemons and Oranges hang from the gravid trees like Christmas ornaments, the Poinsettia bushes glare like retreating tail lights, a new day's worth of yellow Hibiscus flowers beckons. The forever forest of  white mangrove, mahogany, Sabal palm and buttonwood stretches to the end of the world.  It's still too early for the sea breeze but the soft roar of surf is always audible at this time of year when the scream of insects and birds is at a minimum. Shall I lounge in the hammock reading? Perhaps it will grow too warm.

86 new e-mails after the spam filter disposes of the worst, a smallish crop.  All kinds of breathless announcements of things Obama, the media, the NRA, the Tea Party or the Liberals don't want me to know. Protect the children, Protect your rights, Ban the Guns, Tax the Rich, buy some guns, weekend Ammo blowout!  Lose 30 pounds by next week with the miracle berry. Contribute NOW! before it's too late! The fiscal apocalypse is coming.  Pssssst -- want a date?

Headlines: 1800 burglaries in this mostly rural county in 2012. 8 in my neighborhood this week, one armed home invasion -- shots were fired. We need to buy guns.  We need to ban guns. We need and need and need and it's their fault and we need it now.

10 miles away, where the country road crosses the Turnpike, the big pickups with the off-road suspension are pushing the Jags and leased Bentlys from their tasks of  snobbing at the KIAs and Hyundaes and the Luxo-Utility egoboxes are trying to intimidate everyone, assaulting rear bumpers like Chrome plated rapists while they stumble over their own tires trying to keep any fast vehicles from passing them before they get to the entrance ramp where their entrance will be blocked by countless angry machines trying to get past each other at 95 on their mad diurnal migration down to Palm Beach or Boca or Lauderdale.

Worn out, sunburned, dented fender, busted window; Peasant, poseur and ponce. Pasted with bumper stickers:
Change You Can Step in , 
Save the Turtles, 
Jesus is Lord.  
The End of an Era
Ron Jon Surf Shop - Coco Beach
Wage earners, payment makers, inflated egos intent on arriving at their appointed places of deflation and cringing conformity -- and before that other son of a bitch -- screaming, screaming, screaming radios cursing the Right and the Left, big rigs cursing the four-wheelers, country boys cursing the yuppies. Rush hour rodents, their tails on fire. Next performance at 4:00 PM.

Out at the St Lucie inlet, the tide is coming in.