February 26, 2014

Good Guys With Guns

Mass shootings are clearly good for the NRA and the gun manufacturers they are beholden to.  The more that happen, in fact, the better they do.  Why else do you think they deliberately choose to have gun shows in towns with mass shootings, sometimes scheduled for the very anniversary?  Because they've long ago given up on any shred of decency or humanity in exchange for the increased sales such a controversial date might bring in?

Well, yes.

There are gun advocate rallies that target (so to speak) any assemblies or anniversaries that might promote the idea that some modicum of control should be put in place, counting on repeated cries of "FREEDOOOMMMM!!!11!!" drowning out all other conversation that might be happening at the time.  Though granted some times, on extra special occasions, even their stone ears will hear outrage enough to bump special occasions forward one day.

But why it works for them is the more interesting point: by causing controversy, they can control some of the message.  How it works is simple:

Someone in the media notices the event happening - often through a helpful email from the group itself - and the media asks the quite reasonable question "What are you assholes doing?"  Instant forum!  And that lets them spread their favourite talking point over the past couple years:

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

This coming from Wayne LaPierre, chief bottle washer of the NRA (in case you couldn't tell).  He's the same person who opposes even the most basic safeguards (background checks) being put in place, despite the NRA membership - and gun owners in general - tending to be in favour of them.

Though to be fair, there was a group of pro-gun lobbyists who were in favour of background checks, saying this:

"We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."

That would be the NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre, 25 years ago.

Between then and now, the NRA has spent more time with, and gotten more money from, gun manufacturers than its total US membership, so you can guess who's calling the shots.  Which brings us back to the NRA's new tactic, "Sloganeer until they go deaf".  Still, I suppose that is better than "Stalk our opponents with high-powered weaponry".

You'll occasionally see a pro-gun lobby group bragging about over 2,100 people being "saved by guns" every day, which is a badly stretched truth latched onto from criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck, who in turn got his information from a 1981 poll that asked 1,228 Americans if they had used a handgun for protection of themselves or their property. The Kleck report was looked at in Time back in 2001, and even Kleck himself thought the extrapolation was unsound, the biggest problem being a classic for anyone trying to track statistics: proving a negative.  Surveys about crime prevention are relying on respondents for the simple reason that if a crime is prevented, then there is little likelihood of there being a paper trail - it is far more likely to go unreported, so the proof isn't there.  Unfortunately, it also means that anyone who decided to flash a gun could be under the impression that they "prevented a crime".

And so to "good guys with guns".

My principal problem with this statement is that it implies the speaker is fine with a few deaths.  They're okay with "bad guys" getting guns, so long as "good guys" get to kill them.  After all, it's not like someone's going to kill these gunmen until they show themselves to be gunmen, right?  Of course, there's the idea of making fake guns brightly coloured or otherwise as unrealistic as possible (which again the NRA opposes because they wouldn't sell as well).  A good idea, if only gun manufacturers hadn't done the same thing in the name of fashion.

In the movies of their minds, said Bad Guy bursts into a cinema/school/local brothel and starts killing off women and children with malicious glee, ogling a nearby starlet/cheerleader/prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold while salivating copious amounts of drool running off an unshaved chin.  But, BEHOLD!  Buckeye Boomstick appears, striding confidently into the room with his manly piece in hand (named Agnes, after his dear departed mother).  He gazes coolly at the snarling mendicant (who is outraged that the swooning starlet/cheerleader/prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold suddenly has eyes for no one but the newly arrived Adonis) and slowly brings his gun level with the fiend's eyes.  Bullets spray around him as the panicked madman fires wildly, but one shot with clean precision from Our Hero empties his foe's skull of strangely odourless brains.

What they are not interested in is preventing the "bad guy" from getting a gun in the first place: after all, why would the starlet/cheerleader/prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold fall in love with them if they didn't kill the Bad Guy, and why would they kill the Bad Guy if he wasn't shooting people?

Why indeed.

You could ask Michael Dunn, the man who held a gun to the temples of two seperate 'mail order' brides while threatening them with exrtadition, who fired into an SUV because the kids in there were playing music too loudly, and continued to fire as it drove away.  Is he a "good guy with a gun" or a "bad guy with a gun"?

There's the (currently) most famous shooter, of course.  You know, the one who saw a hoodie and decided to do something about it, then drew his gun and fired when he got scared.  Is he a "good guy with a gun" or a "bad guy with a gun"?

Or Curtis Reeves, shooting a fellow movie goer because he threw popcorn at him?  Is he a "good guy with a gun" or a "bad guy with a gun"?

Willie Noble, the dad who decided his property was being attacked, so defended it by shooting at the kids who were pranking his son?   Good or bad?

How about Brian Cloninger, who opened fire on an eight year old boy playing tag? Is he a "good guy with a gun" or a "bad guy with a gun"?

Hey, what about Issac Alveres, shot with his own rifle by a four year old?  Is the four year old a "good guy with a gun"?  Or is Alveres a "bad guy with a gun"?

Or the other extreme - a 107 year old man who decided to shoot through his door when police knocked?  No reason for him not to be armed, so he must be a "good guy with a gun", right?

Or you could just type in "Child shot sibling" into Google and see what happens.  Those kids good or bad?

These are deaths the NRA is fine with.  Impulse control - exacerbated by the insanity of the "Stand Your Ground" laws, which, as is pointed out, takes the Castle Doctrine (defending your home with lethal force) and lets you take your castle with you wherever you go.  In the cases of Dunn, Zimmerman, and Reeves (and who knows how many more) the shooter instigated the confrontation that led to the shooting.  They undoubtedly was themselves asthe "good guys", Dunn going so far as comparing himself with a rape victim.

But it's not just these deaths the NRA can live with.  The odds of a suicide happening in a home increase by 500% if that home has a gun in it.  As with the impulse killings, a gun allows lethal force to be applied instantaneously.  Wanting to kill for five minutes - yourself or someone else - is simply less likely to be acted on if the means aren't at hand, removing if not the temptation then at least the ability to apply a premanent solution to what is most likely a temporary problem.

None of these actually help the NRA out, so they stay pretty much in the background: there aren't enough opportunities for their fanatics to fantasize about saving the day; which is why the next time you hear from the NRA and Wayne LaPierre it will mean there's been another good, wholesome massacre.

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posted by Unknown at 4:32 pm 0 comments

February 14, 2014

Three Songs

The Significant Other and I have a marvelous relationship, a hearty mix of reality, mild sarcasm, and unapologetic schmaltz.  These three songs are what I picked to exemplify our relationship.  You?

Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris, "I Don't Love You Much, Do I?"

Tim Minchin, "If I Didn't Have You"

Tom Waits, "I Can't Wait to Get Off Work"


posted by Unknown at 4:10 pm 0 comments

February 13, 2014

Well, Really...

...Which one would you rather have?


posted by Unknown at 11:49 am 0 comments

February 11, 2014

Well, That's Scary

So after (literally) months of back-and-forth with the game service Steam, we have finally figured out how to play Bioshock: Infinite on my 'puter.

It's been a frustrating amount of time, though certainly not something I was working solidly on: we'd exchange letters over a few days, then I'd get busy on life, then a couple weeks later realize I spent a fair chunk of money on a few games I couldn't play for some undiagnosed reason, so I'd re-open the file and we'd try again, get the same unsatisfying results, etc.

Long story short, there was an issue with forcing the program to accept that I was the administrator that got fixed by opening files and inserting a couple lines of code.  I'm not sure how I wasn't  the administrator, as nobody else uses my computer, but there it is.

But I could play!  And a delightful game it is, with possibly my favourite part being the unintentional repetition by some opponents of the Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare") showing up in Jeramiah Fink's propaganda.  You know, those people who are saying that basic health care will cause poor people to quit their jobs and laze about in front of their televisions eating bon-bons, what with idle hands being the Devil's work and all.  That's because those folks are entitled idiots who have no fucking clue what poverty actually is.

(Er, spoilers all over that video, naturally; so don't watch if you haven't played yet.)

But beside that, the big draw is (once again) story.  The gameplay is okay, if occasionally frustrating, but the I'm loving the plot as much as in the first two games.

Alas, it also meant I ended up playing nearly twelve hours in my opening stretch.  There was a break in there to walk the dogs and to (reluctantly) eat dinner, but other than those, yeah...  It's a bit addictive.  Again.

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posted by Unknown at 4:59 pm 0 comments

February 08, 2014

How Dare You Try Helping!

The Winter Olympics are underway.  There was some question as to whether it would ever happen, between the terrorist threats (seriously, hosting the Olympics 250 miles from Chechnya on the 150th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing there, one hundred years after Russa invaded, and less than twenty years after TWO wars of independence?  Hm.) and, of course, the Russian domestic policy of 'Gays Don't Really Exist, And If They Do Shut The Hell Up'.

For the folks who are complaining that things aren't great in the US for queer people "so there!", I'd like to point out that this, exactly THIS, is something that's going to help.

First off, boycotts of the Olympis do nothing but help the medal counts of the nations people are complaining about.  Think of the 1936 Games: what is the primary story you know about them?  I'll bet 90% of you thought of the rather non-aryan Jesse Owens.  Now picture the total number of medals Nazi Germany would have won had the Allied nations boycotted.  Bear in mind, this was at a time when Owens wasn't allowed in the same places in the US; but now he could be a powerful image of how ridiculous that idea (segregation) was...

Basically, who is a more effective spokesperson for queer rights in Russia: a very good athlete - a world champion, even - who didn't take part in the Olympics, or a gold medal winner who says 'this law is ridiculous'?

Likewise, the "Western" nations racked up the wins in Los Angeles because Russia and their allies didn't bother to show up (much to McDonald's dismay) in retaliation for those same "Western" nations boycotting the 1980 Games in Moscow - which led to huge medal counts for the "Eastern Bloc" countries.  All that either of the boycotts did was increase medal counts for the host nations and nothing else.

Showing that the US as a whole - the image they are putting forward into the world - is going to be one of tolerace toward queer people IS going to encourage the same response domestically.  The image a nation has of itself - the stories we tell of us - is key in directing the future.  It's a message that is overly simplistic, certainly, but that's what's most likely to sink in to the folks who are still aggressively opposed to it.

"Hey!  Don't you pick on those gay folk!  They're OUR gay folk to pick on!" is an eye-rolling statement to hear, but even that little bit of progress is an improvement.  Lots of people who have limited their vision to only include homophobic and xenophobic views are going to be exposed to this debate if they watch ANY of the Olympics.  Or, for that matter, use the largest search engine in the world (by FAR) to check out the opening ceremony.

And, yeah, using jingoism to get a wedge in against homophobia seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul, but at least jingoism has less effect domestically because the people afflicted with that aren't likely to be huge into international relations any way.

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posted by Unknown at 12:52 pm 0 comments

February 07, 2014

Reality vs. Truth

Okay, I finally got around to the odd "Ham and Nye Sandwich" debate.  Historically speaking, debates have been a regular part of philosophy and science just as much as they have been a part of politics.  Famous debates resonate through the ages, from ancient Greece through to modern times; but the best of these debates has always been those within their own circles: conflicts of faith between different aspects of that faith (ie. Sunni vs. Shia, or Catholic against Protestant) and ones in science debated among those who work in the same field (cosmologists debating 'Big Bang' or 'Steady State' views of the universe).

That changed in the 20th century, with debates moving from live confrontations to published ones as communications became easier around the world.  Not that the arguments didn't happen because long-distance disagreements could carry on almost instantaneously; telephones are lovely that way, but most debates happened in magazines and journals rather than town halls or schools.  No, it was less about the speed with which views could be exchanged as is was about finding more people to argue with.

It was easier to bump shoulders in a smaller world, so bump they did!

The most obvious reason why this was such a cool thing is that instead of having local (mostly) smart guys hash out their differences, people from all over the world could chime in with their own views, pointing out things that might have never occurred to the original few.  That's good.

Push that to modern times, and it's gotten a bit noisy: currently, millions of people can pop up any opinion they want at pretty much any time, being just as anonymous as they'd like.  Which is, I think, a great thing.  Sure, this means people of all intelligence levels can spout whatever they like; but those same people can also be easily exposed to counter-arguments, proofs, and, well, reality.  Those folks who do eventually grow beyond the smaller world they live in to see the larger that surrounds them will have every opportunity to reach facts and philosophies that challenge what they know.  That exposure changes people: whether they accept what they see is essentially irrelevant.

Which brings us to lunch.

Some folks in the scientific community, especially in the United States, believe that scientists shouldn't engage in debates of this nature ie. against young-Earth creationists like Ken Ham.  The thinking there is that debate "legitimizes" believers, giving them an unearned platform to reinforce demonstrably false ideas with debate tactics rather than factual research.

I both agree and disagree with this view.  I agree that Ham would treat the debate as a forum for "point scoring" with the friendly audience rather than effectively rebut most of the issues brought up by Nye (he got a solid point in I'll mention).  But I disagree in that the debate would be viewed by people who had only heard about evolution from creationists or those who were otherwise opposed to evolution - as could be shown by the interesting social experiment one attendee did.

My primary concern with this debate, and why I didn't watch as it was livestreamed, was the audience itself.  Not the people  in the audience, mind you (it was held in the hilarious Creation Museum); but the fact that there was one.  There is absolutely no reason for any serious argument to have an audience.  It is actually a pet peeve of mine when it comes to this kind of thing - even in politics, I think Presidential/Prime Ministerial debates should be either with a single moderator or done entirely in writing.  Then the transcript can be released to the wolves to work over as they will; but at least there wouldn't be any "knowing winks to a cheering throng" silliness.

That being said, what are the takeaways from the debate?  Most of it was straightforward stuff that we've seen from each of these participants before: Nye arguing that science is essential to understanding the world, and Ham insisting there's nothing to understand because the Bible has told humans everything they need to know.  (As an aside, I wonder how many young Earth supporters knew Ham was in favour of vaccines, given the general overlap?)

First, Nye made a mistake insisting that someone who believed in a young Earth was a denier who couldn't be a productive member of the scientific community: this provided an opening of Ham to show people who had contributed very successfully to research and engineering despite their beliefs.  Someone can be utterly wrong in certain parts of their lives, but if those don't conflict with daily interactions, what do they matter?   I know someone who literally thinks the Queen of England can't leave the country or else she'll get arrested on genocide charges: this doesn't change his ability to be a sales clerk.

Second, there's some very special definitions of "science" required for Ham's cosmology (and biology, geology, physics...) to work: the idea that there are two seperate branches of somehow parallel science, "observational" and "historical", is one of the most bizarre things I've ever heard.  Science - all science - is based on what can be observed, and that means what's in the present.  That also means the conclusions reached are continuously changing as new information becomes available, but that's to be expected.  One of my favourite sayings is "intelligent life which ceases to change ceases to be intelligent".  One of Ken Ham's favourite sayings is "were you there?"  He uses that as a defense against geological and biological evidence of an Earth older than he wants: the science could have been difference then, because you weren't there to watch it happen.

It's an argument that reminds me of infant non-permanence, and I'm a bit confused how it convinces anyone of anything.  But then I encounter this in the Answers in Genisis Statement of Faith:

"By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information." 


Third, there was one question after the presentation from CNN's Tom Foreman, during the questions from the audience segment, that caught my eye.  It perhaps should have been the very first question asked, and is the most important one from the entire two hours. (Bold text mine.)

Q: What, if anything, would ever change your mind? 

Ham: “Well, the answer to that question is, I’m a Christian. And as a Christian I can not prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly, through his word, and shown himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the word of God. I admit that is where I start from. I can challenge people, that you can go and test that. You can make predictions against that. You can check the prophecies. You can check the statements in Genesis. You can check that. And I did a little bit of that tonight. And I can’t ultimately prove that to you. All I can do is to say to someone, look, if the Bible really is what it claims to be, if it really is the word of God and that is what it claims, then check it out. Now the Bible says if you come to God believing that he is, he’ll reveal himself to you. And you will know. As Christians we can say we know.  And so as far as the word of God is concerned, no, no one is ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true.”

Nye: “We would just need one piece of evidence. We would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another. We would need evidence that the universe is not expanding. We would need evidence that the stars appear to be far away but they are not. We would need evidence that rock layers can somehow form in just 4,000 years, instead of the extraordinary amount. We would need evidence that somehow you can reset atomic clocks and keep neutrons from becoming protons. Bring on any of those things, and you would change me immediately. The question I have for you though, fundamentally, and for everybody watching. Mr Ham, what can you prove? What you have done tonight, is spent most of, all of the time, coming up with explanations about the past. What can you really predict? What can you really prove, in a conventional scientific, or, in a conventional, I have an idea that makes a prediction and it comes out the way I see it? This is very troubling to me.”

Intelligent life which ceases to change ceases to be intelligent.

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posted by Unknown at 3:08 pm 0 comments