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October 2nd, 2013

I’ll Take ‘Who Poisoned The Well’ For $1000 Alex…

This, from Der Spiegel this morning…

German Press Review on US Government Shutdown

“What Washington currently offers up is a spectacle, but one in which the spectators feel more like crying,” writes the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.”Because Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, Congress and president could not agree on a stop-gap budget, hundreds of thousands of federal employees were sent on involuntary leave and many agencies were forced to shut down,” continues the editorial. “The main actors in this dispute, which brings together many factors, both ideological and political, took a huge risk and, unhindered, proceeded to validate everyone who ever accused the political establishment in Washington of being rotten to the core — by driving the world power into a budgetary state of emergency. The public is left wondering how things could have been allowed to get to this point and why there is so much poison in the system.

(Emphasis mine…)  Poison in the system…did you ask…?

I became an American citizen only so I could own some U.S. TV stations…

Oh…I dunno…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I’ll Take ‘Who Poisoned The Well’ For $1000 Alex…

June 24th, 2013

Let’s Have A Conversation Past Each Other

A Facebook friend posted this graphic a short while ago…

Some days I think I’m the only person in the world who sees the various factions in the argument over gun control talking past each other so…Devotedly.  Actually, yeah, people do talk about banning the private ownership of guns, usually in the context of saying that it would be impractical at this time or that, like a lot of other idealistic notions it just isn’t practical, so let’s do what we can today.  In other words, gosh wouldn’t it be nice if nobody had guns.  Well, some of us think not so much, and we’re not all Ted Nugent crackpots or Moloch worshipers.  So what some folks insist The Other Side should be paying attention to is “we don’t want to take all your guns away” and the what other folks are paying attention to is that “at this time” or “because it isn’t practical” and so it goes.

Yes we can talk.  We can for sure talk about how wonderful a world where nobody but the government can own a weapon, and no I am not an anti-government crank, I am a liberal FDR democrat and I believe that our best defense against tyranny is the ballot box and if you don’t use that wisely your damn household arsenal will not save you and I don’t care how big it is.  I am a liberal FDR union supporting social safety net defending equality for all Americans democrat and I don’t see how rendering the common man and woman defenseless improves their lives much.  However I Can see how sensible regulation of firearms does.  But of course sensible is in the eye of the beholder.  Convince me.

Yes, we can talk.  We can talk about what sensible gun regulation is.  But to have That conversation it would be helpful to hear some general agreement that the second amendment does in fact confer a right on individual citizens to own guns.  No more of this “what part of ‘well regulated militia don’t you understand’ crap. What part of “the people” don’t You understand. How about: “We agree people have a basic democratic right to own their own firearms. But like a lot of basic democratic rights that isn’t absolute either.  Freedom of speech for example, doesn’t mean you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.  It doesn’t mean you can slander someone without there being consequences.  The right to own a gun isn’t absolute, and especially so where our commonly shared public spaces are involved.  Simply requiring a background check does not infringe on your right to own a gun, it just means that right comes with the responsibility to be peaceful and law abiding.  Everyone has to be that.  Simply restricting the capacity of ammunition clips does not infringe on your right to own a gun, it just means that your gun is for your personal protection not for criminal activity, waging armed rebellion, or terrorism.  Simply restricting weapons fit only for military uses to just the military does not infringe on your right to own a gun, it just means if you want to be a soldier you need to join the Army. But yes, you have a basic second amendment right to own a gun.” Yeah…if only we could have that conversation. But it isn’t just one side of the argument that isn’t interested.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

June 17th, 2013

Couldn’t You At Least Pretend We Have Facts On Our Side?

This comes across my Google news stream this morning…

Study Finds Supportive Tilt to Gay Marriage Coverage

News organizations are far more likely to present a supportive view of same-sex marriage than an antagonistic view, according to a content study by the Pew Research Center to be released on Monday.

Yes, yes… I hear they take a pretty positive stance on the theory that the Earth is round too.

We’ll be hearing all about how this proves the news media is biased against Christians from the kook pews for years to come, but what’s happening is that the Proposition 8 trial pretty much destroyed the idea that the case against same-sex marriage has anything to support it other than animus.  Think back to how completely taken by surprise so much of the press seemed to be after that trial was over, that there wasn’t more to the case against letting same sex couples marry.  Those of us who have been in this struggle for decades knew exactly how empty their rhetoric was, how utterly bogus was their junk science.  For decades they’ve been burying the political debate in bullshit and you have to admire how energetically they went about it.  Their think tanks and research institutes produced tons and tons of deceptive, mendacious, carefully crafted bullshit and the fact that there was just so damn much of it coming out of them seemed to convince even tolerant middle of the road types that there was something to it, that homosexuality was if not an abomination, at least a tragic outcome that ought not to be encouraged if possible.  And then came the trial, and they had to put all of that bullshit on the witness stand…

“In a court of law you’ve got to come in and you’ve got to support those opinions, you’ve got to stand up under oath and cross-examination,” Boies said. “And what we saw at trial is that it’s very easy for the people who want to deprive gay and lesbian citizens…to make all sorts of statements and campaign literature, or in debates where they can’t be cross-examined.

“But when they come into court and they have to support those opinions and they have to defend those opinions under oath and cross-examination, those opinions just melt away. And that’s what happened here. There simply wasn’t any evidence, there weren’t any of those studies. There weren’t any empirical studies. That’s just made up. That’s junk science. It’s easy to say that on television. But a witness stand is a lonely place to lie. And when you come into court you can’t do that.

“That’s what we proved: We put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear and prejudice lost.” -David Boies

There were never any facts.  It was always about prejudice.  It was always about hate.  That’s not trivial.  Hate has motivated the passage and enforcement of laws that persecute homosexuals for generations.  But hate is factual only in the sense that it exists, not that its excuses are themselves factual.

So another way of putting the outcome of that Pew study is that news organizations are likely to give greater weight to the facts than to bullshit, even passionately squawked bullshit.  And that’s because, at least in theory, newspapers are supposed to report the facts.  And there are no facts that support bans on same-sex marriage.   There are only myths, lies and superstitions.  Those are the facts.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Couldn’t You At Least Pretend We Have Facts On Our Side?

June 8th, 2013

In Theory You Could Add A Check…

The EFF as usual, gets it right

In response to the recent news reports about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, President Barack Obama said today, “When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls.” Instead, the government was just “sifting through this so-called metadata.” The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made a similar comment last night: “The program does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber.”

What they are trying to say is that disclosure of metadata—the details about phone calls, without the actual voice—isn’t a big deal, not something for Americans to get upset about if the government knows. Let’s take a closer look at what they are saying:

They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 am and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don’t know what you talked about.

They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.

They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don’t know what was discussed.

“In theory, you could add the check of exposing the system to the light of day, but that means wrecking much of its intelligence value”, they’re saying over at Volokh, exposing to the light of day the usual contempt wingers have for democracy. That would be the Voters you’re talking about there Baker, and why goodness gracious the system Was exposed to the light of day, otherwise known as the Voters, we’re all arguing about it now aren’t we, and if they ever catch the whistleblower who let the voters know what their government was doing to them that person will think Bradley Manning had it easy.

But I am just a computer geek who just happens to be working on a space science program which will itself fling a fucking torrent of data back at planet earth for astronomers to make sense of. Every now and then I get a bit worried when I see the disconnect between my understanding of how electronic information systems work and everyone else’s. Then I see articles like that Forbes Magazine one where they described how Target figured out a teenage girl was pregnant before her parents did and sent her helpful offerings of child care products and I feel a little better. Then I see this. Oh they’re not listening to our phone calls, just capturing the metadata…nothing to worry about citizen.

But never mind the metadata. If the deep secrecy going on here, where not just court orders are secret but the government’s interpretation of the laws its supposed to be following are secret too isn’t scaring the hell out of you then I have to wonder why you even bother following the news or taking the trouble to vote.

I am not an anti-government crank. I am a liberal FDR democrat. I believe in democracy. But for democracy to work you need elections, and for those to work you need voters who know what the fuck is going on. Oliver Willis stupid shit reductio ad absurdums notwithstanding. Nobody is demanding Geraldo Rivera follow CIA agents around with a TV camera while Jerry Springer provides a running commentary. But when oversight itself becomes a state secret, when the governments own interpretations of the laws binding it are kept from the voters, then it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen. I am not an anti-government crank, I am a liberal FDR democrat, and I believe in democratic government. And one reason I believe in democratic government is power corrupts. The light of day is a good thing.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on In Theory You Could Add A Check…

June 7th, 2013

Nothing To See Here…

He created a TV series whose central plot hook was wiretapping…his business is entertainment…which gives him more credibility as to how modern computer networks, data storage and data archiving and mining technologies work than the news media. Yes, Mr. Simon, you may well be right about that.  Sadly.  However…

When the Guardian, or the Washington Post or the New York Times editorial board – which displayed an astonishing ignorance of the realities of modern electronic surveillance in its quick, shallow wade into this non-controversy – are able to cite the misuse of the data for reasons other than the interception of terrorist communication, or to show that Americans actually had their communications monitored without sufficient probable cause and judicial review and approval of that monitoring, then we will have ourselves a nice, workable scandal.

…and then…

And in fairness, having the FISA courts rulings so hidden from citizen review, makes even the discovery of such misuse problematic.

I’d have to say that is eminently fair.

“Frankly, I’m a bit amazed that the NSA and FBI have their shit together enough to be consistently doing what they should be doing with the vast big-data stream of electronic communication.”  I’m sure you are Mr. TV writer sir.  Because like a lot of people you’re focusing on the amount of the data.  Yes, it’s very large isn’t it. Huge even.

I am but a mere computer geek who happens to be working on a space science project that does, in fact, involve capturing a fucking torrent of data, archiving it, and providing tools to researchers to help them make that data make sense.  Before that I did the same as a contract software engineer designing and implementing business systems.  I’ve been working in this world for decades now.  You’re looking at the wrong problem.

Let me tell you something about data Mr. Simon.  Data doesn’t matter.  It’s the connections between the data that matter.   It isn’t what you said, it’s who you talk to and who they talk to and who they talk to, that tells a story about your life, about who you are.  You remember don’t you, all the fuss not very long ago when someone showed Facebook users how much information about their private lives anyone could glean, simply by looking at their friend’s lists?  Remember that Forbes Magazine article about how Target found out a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did?  They didn’t have to read her email or private text messages and it was easy.  All they needed was enough data to make good connections between products and lives.

Do research for your TV shows do you?   A bit surprised that NSA and FBI can do anything with that “…vast big-data stream…” are you?  Hahahahahahahaha.  The bigger the data stream, the more precise your profiles. Sure, if you had to listen in on every goddamn phone conversation in the United States of America, as opposed to just the phone calls of a few drug dealers in Baltimore…

…you’d be swamped.  You couldn’t possibly make sense of it all.  But that’s not what happens.  For their purposes Mr Simon, more is better.   Much, Much better.

Conversations are noise.  It’s the connections that matter.  You’re looking at the wrong problem.  But that’s okay.  That’s where you’re supposed to be looking.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Nothing To See Here…

March 15th, 2013

When The Homosexual Menace Is Your Own Kid

I’m reading these headlines yesterday…

G.O.P.’s Portman, Saying Son Is Gay, Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage

And thinking pretty much what Matthew Yglesias tweeted this morning: “Glad Rob Portman’s for marriage equality, but wish conservatives could muster empathy for problems that don’t directly affect their family.”

On the other hand he didn’t go on a warpath against homosexuality like some conservatives have when they found out they had a gay kid (Hello Phyllis Schlafly…William Knight…Alan Keyes…).  Let me make an educated guess here: Portman thinks love is an integral part of marriage.

How many times have you heard them saying in the kook pews, in the context of arguing against marriage for same-sex couples, that marriage isn’t about love?  How many of those are the sort of people who you would expect to have their eyes opened when a child comes out to them?  At some point you have to conclude that this entire battle has been over the sanctity of love, and nothing else.

All some people seem to be able to see in the trappings of marriage is the authority part.  I now pronounce you… They forget the part about What God has joined… I don’t think you have to be a believer to see the truth in that.  The higher power isn’t in the part played by the clergyman or whoever is officiating at the ceremony.  The ceremony is an act of acknowledgement; a mutual recognition, on the part of everyone concerned, of a fact that has already occurred.  The higher power, the actual presiding authority, has already acted.  Think of the officiator as a conductor for an ancient score.  Public declarations are made, promises sworn between a couple, and between them and their community.  We are here to witness… The higher power is love.  What it has joined, let no one cast asunder.

What sort of person says that love is not the central fact of marriage?  The same sort who throws their gay child out into the streets, that’s who.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When The Homosexual Menace Is Your Own Kid

February 20th, 2013

White History Class

I’m seeing this other hashtag flying across my Twitter feed… #whitehistoryclasses…and it puts me in mind of a story I’ve been meaning to tell for a long time in this space.  Charitably, when some of us white folk assert there is no systematic racism in this country because all the No Coloreds signs have been taken down, we are being merely clueless.  There is more to it than that.  I know from personal experience, and I strongly suspect most of us white folk know it too…or would if we wanted to.  Gather round the campfire boys and girls, and I’ll relate a little White History for you.  A piece of mine anyway.

It was the late 1970s, and I was in my twenties and desperate for work.  But I had a reliable car, a little Ford Pinto sedan that was bought and paid for…bought with so few options (it literally didn’t even have a cigarette lighter, although the wiring for one was there in the dashboard) it was easy to work on myself, and über reliable.  And I loved to drive it.  So one avenue I kept looking at in the Help Wanteds were all the ads for couriers.  If I could combine my love of driving with a job that required me to drive places would be ideal…or so I thought.

Problem was, all those ads listed detailed knowledge of the roads in downtown Washington D.C. as a requirement, and not only did I not know downtown all that well, I absolutely hated driving there.  Traffic was a horrible and parking was a nightmare all day long.  So I kept looking hopefully for a listing from a service that needed someone to work the suburbs instead.  And lo and behold, one day I saw one.  Must know Montgomery County Roads…said the ad.  Well…I was their man!

So I darted out to the address on the ad, supremely confidant that I would ace whatever test they threw at me.  Hello…says I.  I’m your man.  I’ve lived here practically my entire life.  I know Montgomery County roads like I laid the asphalt myself.  Well…says the owner of the courier service, an elderly man who from the look of him could have retired decades ago…we need to test that for ourselves.  And they put me in a small room and gave me a sheet of questions.  Describe how, exactly, you would you get from point A to point B.  This is going to be a piece of cake thinks I as I sat down.

But the first question asked about a route in downtown Washington D.C.  And…I couldn’t answer it.  So I skipped to the next question on the test which was…another question about directions in downtown Washington D.C..  And so was the next.  And the next.  They were all questions about downtown Washington D.C..

So I took the test back to the owner and told him I was sorry, but I could not answer any of it.  No worry, says he.  We’ll put a radio in your car, you will get your jobs from the dispatcher and if you get lost you can call for directions.  I needed the work, so I said well…okay…I can do that.  But…why did you write your ad as through you were looking for people to work in Montgomery County?

And I swear to god he patted my knee like he was my grandfather and said, “Oh, we wrote it that way so we won’t get any of them colored boys out here looking for work.”

Well…god forbid us white kids from the suburbs would have to compete with them colored boys from the city who probably know their streets like the backs of their hands.

So I hemmed and hawed and said I really didn’t want to drive in the city…but if you ever need someone to work out in the county give me a call…and I darted out of there.  I felt dirty in a way I hadn’t since I stood in a line of about twenty or so other guys and bent over and spread them for my pre-induction physical.  Later I sent in an anonymous letter to the county telling them about the ad and the service…but I didn’t actually call the man a racist to his face and walk out on him either.  I just didn’t have that kind of nerve back then.

No, I don’t know what it’s like to be a black guy in America.  But I know what it’s like to be a white guy.  And I know exactly how much was stacked in my favor.  Every one of us does.  Or could, if we really wanted to face facts.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on White History Class

January 18th, 2013

Speaking For Myself

Josh Marshall posts a letter from, as he puts it, the Non-Gun People…

Speaking for My Tribe

I’ve been thinking of writing some version of this post since the days immediately after the Newtown shootings. It overlaps with but is distinct from the division between people who are pro-gun or anti-gun or pro-gun control or anti-gun control. Before you even get to these political positions, you start with a more basic difference of identity and experience: gun people and non-gun people.

So let me introduce myself. I’m a non-gun person. And I think I’m speaking for a lot of people.

It’s customary and very understandable that people often introduce themselves in the gun debate by saying, ‘Let me be clear: I’m a gun owner.’

Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I’m not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren’t gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me…

Go read the whole thing.  This is the kind of conversation I have been wanting this country to have about guns. Marshall recognizes there is a cultural element…a Tribal element…to it, that makes communication among the factions hard. He’s reaching in to examine how that tribalism is making it hard both for him, and for those he lumps into the Gun Culture, to talk to each other.  This is good.  Before you can fix a problem, you need to understand it.  You can’t make policy in a democracy when people can’t talk to each other.  Well…you can…but not good policy.

And here I would like to put down my first marker sign: For all the same reasons I cannot speak for Gay People, though I am a gay man myself, I cannot speak for this Gun Culture he speaks of, though I own guns, though I take pleasure in shooting them, though I believe the second amendment confers a right to the people, not just to well regulated militias.  I suspect he’s talking about a stereotype.  I actually can speak to how that works; there are gay males who outwardly seem to fit perfectly the Hollywood/FRC/NOM flaming swishy limp-wristed lisping girly boy club haunting faggot. But a stereotype like a shade of skin or a religious belief does not tell you anything about the person within, nor does knowing that a person is gay, or Asian, or Muslim, necessarily tell you anything about the person within.  People look to stereotypes for justification, not clarity.  I don’t have a gay lifestyle simply because I am gay any more than I have a gun culture because I own a gun.  I have a life.  But try to tell that to someone who can’t see the people for the homosexuals.  And if by gun culture Marshall means he doesn’t want the lunatic right running roughshod over him…hello…I don’t want them running roughshod over me either.

This is good:

More than this, I come from a culture where guns are not so much feared as alien, as I said. I don’t own one. I don’t think many people I know have one. It would scare me to have one in my home for a lot of reasons…

He goes on to say that in the current climate people seem reluctant to say they think guns are scary and they don’t want to be around them.  That’s one big part of the problem we have talking to each other about guns.  Not the guns are scary part so much though.  Guns are dangerous.  They have to be.  They’re weapons.  It is not completely irrational to be afraid of them.  Point of fact, I would say it’s irrational to be absolutely unafraid.  Some degree of fear that isn’t immobilizing is a good thing if it reminds you to pay attention.  I am afraid of my table saw, I’ve witnessed a table saw nearly slice someone’s hand off.  Every time I step up to mine to do some work I pause and reflect on what can happen if I am not careful.  Will this be the time it happens…? Same thing with my guns.  Every time I lay a hand on one of mine I pause and think.  This thing could kill someone.  And even more so than the table saw…Much more so…the gun is a weapon; it is supposed to be dangerous.  The table saw is dangerous, but that is not its purpose.  The gun’s purpose Is to be dangerous.

There is a completely logical connection between Gun and Dangerous.  They are weapons.  It is not naive to be afraid of guns.  People should not be reluctant to say so in this conversation.  It isn’t naive and it isn’t simplistic.  It’s a completely normal reflex to have about weapons.  If anything it is naive to expect people’s fears not to be a part of this conversation.  Where fear mucks it up is when it gets in the way of knowledge and understanding.  This is the sort of thing that really irritates the hell out of me, and I suppose most people who have experience with firearms:

But remember, handguns especially are designed to kill people. You may want to use it to threaten or deter. You may use it to kill people who should be killed (i.e., in self-defense). But handguns are designed to kill people. They’re not designed to hunt. You may use it to shoot at the range. But they’re designed to kill people quickly and efficiently.

Charitably, this is the sort of rhetoric that comes from “…a culture where guns are not so much feared as alien.”  Uncharitably it is manipulative rhetoric, and the sort of thing that quickly destroys trust that the conversation is being held in good faith.  Handguns are not designed to kill people.  A soldier’s rifle is designed to kill people.  By nature and design a handgun is a defensive weapon.  It has not the range, the accuracy or firepower of a long gun.  It’s useful as a defensive weapon for the person holding it and that’s about it.  The only instance where a handgun can function as an aggressive weapon is where an attacker knows their victims are unarmed and unsuspecting.  But if the complaint about handguns is they’re more easily concealed, which makes it easier for an assailant to get close enough to be dangerous, I have a photograph I took back in the 1970s, a couple days after a period of unrest in Washington D.C., of a group of youths, one of whom was carrying a sawed off shotgun under a very lightweight jacket.  He was holding onto it through a hole in one pocket.  You would never have known he had it on him until he swung it up in your face.  All it takes to make a long gun easily concealable is a hacksaw, and then you have a weapon of much greater force than any handgun.  I own a 30-30 lever action rifle, the bullets it throws bear more force than the ones coming out of Dirty Harry’s 44 magnum, and it is an old cartridge design…the first meant for smokeless powder.  Long arms are aggressive weapons.  Handguns are defensive weapons.  That is their nature.

And here’s where tribalism and the stereotype of the Gun Nut and Gun Culture get in the way of communication.  Just my saying these things makes me a gun nut in some people’s regard and their eyes glaze over.  I know too much about guns to be a normal person.  I must be an NRA goon.  But no…I simply enjoy shooting.  I enjoy it enough that I have become familiar with guns.  I appreciate that some folks simply don’t want anything to do with guns, but a big part of the problem of having this conversation is people talking past each other and loosing trust.  You may not like guns, but when you say a handgun’s only purpose is killing people, those of us with experience with guns hear that as a backdoor argument for banning all guns.

We “gun people” should recognize that “non-gun people” have completely rational reasonable fears and issues with guns in the public spaces, and we should have those same issues actually.  Guns are dangerous.  “Non-gun people” need to get past their Gun Nut stereotypes.  I will admit that given the efforts of the NRA and Ted Nugent, that is very very difficult.  But we are not all of us unreachable on this issue.

I don’t hunt…did it long ago to get it out of my system, to see and understand those ancient passions within me, so they would never take me by surprise.  So…been there, done that.  I don’t shoot because I want to kill anything.  But I went to the range with my brother last month while I was visiting, and enjoyed myself thoroughly all the same.  It isn’t always about blood lust.  In fact, for a lot of us I would imagine, it’s about that eminently human joy in wielding fire.  I enjoy firecrackers and lightning storms and watching Myth Busters blow things up too.  I don’t go out to the range with those human silhouette targets you often see…I hate silhouette targets.  I am not about killing things.  I am precision hurling little slugs of lead at unreasonable velocities with the fire in my hands.  The targets my brother and I practiced on that day were round metallic bulls-eyes of various diameters, placed at various distances.  You could hear it when you hit them, and there were several sets with very small round metal dots you had to hit to flip up, and when you got them all flipped up there was one square one at the end you hit to drop them all back down again.  I was pleased to find that even with guns that were not my own but my brother’s, I was pretty good at hitting things squarely.

I think it’s fun.  Your mileage may vary and that’s fine.  But yes, there is another aspect to all this gun play that is serious and needs to be talked about among us Americans, and that is that guns are weapons, they are dangerous, and while I recognize an obligation to my neighbor’s safety and to the common welfare, I also believe I have a right to defend myself from violent attack, and that means I must also have the right to possess the tools to do that.  I don’t ever want to be put into that position, Atrios’ comment that all gun owners have vigilante dreams is ignorant.  When I think about what I might have to do with one of my guns I think about how to prevent it from getting that far.  I have a household alarm system, we have a neighborhood watch, and this kid who was bullied all through junior high stays alert when he’s out and about because keeping my eyes open for trouble was drilled into me long, long ago.  But there it is…that irreducible bottom line.  I have a life, I’d like to hold onto it a while longer thank you.  I have a right to bear a weapon in self defense.  But I completely agree that right is not unconditional.  There is always that little matter of the common welfare.  Public spaces, convey public obligations.

Arguments about the meaning of the second amendment are not trivial, but there is a point being missed when cardboard revolutionaries yap about private ownership of guns balancing the power of the state against the individual.  No.  The ballot box is our protection, our check against the power of the state. Those who advocate the gun over the ballot box betray the American Dream.  That is the old way of kings and armies and strongmen, not the way of democracy.  But there is another argument to be made here.  If I am not allowed the means to defend myself, if I must instead rely on the state, utterly, to defend me, then I am not so much a citizen, as a subject.  I don’t think you can get many people to buy into that notion, hence the effort to convince people that owning a gun makes them less safe.  Yes, yes…and owning an automobile makes you less safe too if you don’t bother learning to drive.

If you want to argue that police are trained in the use of firearms why shouldn’t anyone who wants to own a gun also have to go through training…I would agree with you.  If you want to argue that you need a license to drive a car, why not also license gun owners…I would agree to a point.  When you take your car onto the public roads, the public has every reasonable right to require you to demonstrate you know how to drive safely before you’re allowed on the highways so that you are not a danger to others.  Public spaces convey public obligations.  No man is an island on I-95.  The same can be said for bearing a gun in the public space.  First prove you know how to handle a gun safely.  First prove you understand the relevant laws.  I could be convinced that training on gun safety, and demonstrating an understanding of it before a purchase is allowed is reasonable.  I think licensing carrying a gun in public the same way we license automobile drivers is completely reasonable.  I agree there are public spaces where guns simply should not be allowed, period.  Like…oh…courthouses…hospitals…Schools.  I get that urban crime argues for carry permits, but I also get (and I think my fellow gun-people need to get) that densely populated zones aren’t swell places for firefights to break out.  It does not greatly bother me that I can’t carry a gun on the streets of New York City.  What I don’t find reasonable is the position that since guns are dangerous nobody should be allowed to have them.  And what I don’t get is why this became a left verses right argument.  The welfare of the common man and woman is not greatly improved by rendering them defenseless.

If Marshall wants to draw a distinction here, I would suggest a more useful one than between non-gun people and gun people, is that between democrats and oligarchs, between those of us who believe in that liberty and justice for all thing and those who think the world would be a fine place if the everyone knew their place.  Yes, yes…free people own guns…but not because they own guns but because they are free.  And free people cast ballots too.  Ask some of the people busy waving their guns around since Sandy Hook if they believe in the right to vote.  Then ask them what they think of all the voter suppression that went on in the last election. There’s your problem.  I saw it driving through Texas last month, on the way to California, in literally dozens and dozens of billboards advertising military style and SWAT firearms.  This business about “assault weapons” is mostly misdirected, but contains an element of common sense: the difference between a six or seven round clip and a hundred round clip is the difference between a weapon of self defense and an weapon of aggression.  In my opinion you can draw a line between them, on the basis that self defense is a right and aggression isn’t.  But there are those who do not accept that aggression is not a right.  Not all of those are criminals in the usual sense.

There’s the problem.  This argument isn’t about guns.  The violence racking our country isn’t about guns.  It’s about “Who is my neighbor?”  It’s about the culture war.  It’s about tribe.  Guns Don’t Matter.  Some nights I fear we are working ourselves up to another civil war.  What matters is that Americans can’t look into each other’s faces, and see a neighbor whose life is precious too. Guns Don’t Matter.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Speaking For Myself

December 20th, 2012

Our Molochs, Ourselves…

Fred Clark, one of the most completely decent people you will ever read online, posts a link to this column by Garry Wills that makes me want to throw up my hands and give up on any chance of reasoned discussion concerning guns, let alone violence, in the land of my birth and my heart…

Our Moloch

Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (for which see Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was of living children consumed in the fires of offering to Moloch. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture…

You just know where this is going…

The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

…and with that I just want to say I’m Done! Done will the lot of you.  Hurl yourselves at each other with your lizard brains rattling at full throttle, I just don’t fucking care anymore.  There will be no rational discussion of guns Or violence in this country in my lifetime obviously.  Or as Wills says without any apparent irony…

The fact that the gun is a reverenced god can be seen in its manifold and apparently resistless powers. How do we worship it? Let us count the ways:

1. It has the power to destroy the reasoning process.

Sure did a number on yours didn’t it Gary.  You could wish those first and second commandments were a tad more exact.  There are no other Gods…Period!  Idolatry is a lie.

Also…I really meant what I said in number nine! But…no.  We always have to take this argument into culture war territory.  Always.

Here’s the thing about idolatry…when you worship an idol you are surrendering what makes you human to a piece of stone. But point your finger at the idol worshiper if you like, attacking that piece of stone as if it were a god-object is the same thing as worshiping it. By tearing it down you are acknowledging it has power.

No. The power is within. The power is always within. Actually Gary, guns Are mere tools, bits of technology, and a political issue we really need to discuss.  But that political issue exists in a context of a culture that is astonishingly violent and discussing the one without the other is as pointless an exercise in generating hot air as I can imagine.  If you could reach around that rattling lizard brain getting all offended at the other tribe’s god to the part that’s capable of reason and empathy you could see that.  But idolatry has made you weak.  You think that if you can just smash the idol it’s power will be gone, but unfortunately Gary it is not Moloch you are dealing with but human beings, and the fault dear Brutus is not in our guns, but in ourselves. Guns. Don’t. Matter.

I posted a wee rant on Facebook the other day, about Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin and his one last swing at gay people before leaving congress.  I wanted people having this argument about “the gun lobby” to please notice something.  Yes, they are part of the problem, but not because they defend the right of citizens to own guns. So long as people keep thinking of them as a gun lobby they are missing it. This man, Todd Akin has their lifetime ‘A’ rating and the NRA supported him in the 2012 elections Even After he began yap, yap yapping about “legitimate rape”.  So women can own guns, but not their own bodies?  No…just, no. That simply isn’t how people who are genuinely concerned about freedom, individual rights, and “big brother government” think.  They are not that.

Can we please stop the idol worship and look at this…really look at it.  They are not a gun lobby, they are a right wing political action committee that pushes people’s buttons about government taking their guns away to get right wing extremists elected.  Guns are to them, as the bible is to the Family Research Council. They are tools the right uses to drive people to the polls and vote against their own interests.  So is abortion.  So is The Homosexual Menace.  So is the Angry Black Man.  So is The Illegal Immigrant.  That is how idolatry works.  That is what it does to otherwise rational human beings.

Why are we such a violent society?  Well…the right certainly has its opinion about that:

Top Conservative Publication: Shooting Occurred Because Women Ran The School

National Review, whose in-house editorial suggested Newtown was the price of the Second Amendment, published a piece on Wednesday from anti-feminist Charlotte Allen suggesting the reason the shooter was able to kill so many students was because Newtown was a “feminized setting”…

Actually, if our culture wasn’t so out of balance when it comes to male verses female leadership it would probably be a whole lot less violent.  Which is almost certainly why the hard right (religious and secular) is so relentlessly against female leadership.  There’s the problem.  Or at least a big part of it.  Men must either dominate women or be emasculated by them. What does this right wing trope accomplish other than making males more aggressive?  Yes, we can and should talk about sensible restrictions on firearms and firearm ownership.  But can we talk about this too?  Because if we can’t nothing, Nothing we attempt to do regarding gun control will do any damn good whatsoever.  Nothing.  And it’ll just be wash-rinse-repeat every time another horrific crime of violence happens.

So long as we are busy fighting a culture war of the right wing’s making, that only the right wing benefits from, discussions about the roots of violence just aren’t going to happen.  It’s a win-win, not for the culture of guns but the culture of hate.  Please…just stop.  And…Think!

A lot of the people you see (I’ve seen and talked to myself) at gun shows are or were once blue collar union workers, who have been systematically cleaved from the democratic party over this one issue by the NRA.  A lot of them, not all of them certainly, but perhaps a critical mass of them, could be won back if democrats would bother talking to them, and not screaming at them that they’re responsible for the deaths of 20 children, let alone that they are Moloch Worshipers.  Those people have children too and they love them very much.

Also…I really meant what I said in number nine! The first person dragged down into the gutter when you lie about your neighbor, is you.

[Edited some for clarity…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Our Molochs, Ourselves…

December 16th, 2012

The Common Welfare

Why I keep feeling so frustrated whenever another horrific act of violence gets my country all wrapped up in another shouting match over guns: this mother’s plight is everyone’s.  Everyone’s.

Thinking the Unthinkable

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

Her son is exceptionally intelligent, and could have probably been diverted into a gifted child school track were it not for his sudden violent fits.

The welfare state isn’t about handing out free money to freeloaders.  It is about Americans recognizing we have a common stake in each other’s welfare.  That includes this child.  That includes his mother and his siblings.  That includes anyone who might become the victim of one of his violent fits, and also everyone who would ever have benefited from his intelligence, and his love, were he given adequate mental health care.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Common Welfare

November 20th, 2012

Lazy Bums On The Government Dole…

This came across my Facebook stream this morning…

This seems like beating on a dead horse…probably everyone knows by now that WalMart pays food stamp wages…but there’s a point here that needs constant hammering on.  If you like WalMart’s Low, Low Prices! fine…except WalMart workers are living on food stamps and probably other public support too, and that’s a large part of how WalMart keeps its prices down (another part is their pressure on companies to manufacture goods in low wage countries abroad, thereby costing American families their livelihoods and decimating this country’s industrial base).  So…the difference between what you paid for your WalMart goods and what they would actually cost if WalMart simply paid its workers a living wage is the part paid for by food stamps.  If you shop at WalMart, you are on the dole too.  Except you could probably afford not to be.

So who’s the lazy bum wanting a government handout here, because it isn’t the WalMart worker.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Lazy Bums On The Government Dole…

November 13th, 2012

You Knew You Lost When You Started Lying To Yourselves

Dan Savage this morning…


“The die is cast on this issue,” said Steve Schmidt, who advised the presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain and George W. Bush and has for years urged Republicans to accept same-sex marriage. “Why should we sign a suicide pact with the National Organization for Marriage?” Mr. Schmidt asked, saying the party should instead endorse the principles of federalism and let the states decide the matter.

Depending on how you slice and dice the electorate, you can make the case that the gay vote was decisive in this election. So what NOM is asking the GOP to do—double, triple, quadruple down on anti-gay hate—really does amount to signing a political suicide pact.

The homophobic pundits and leaders of the anti-gay industrial complex who are saying now that this election does not represent a sudden shift in people’s attitudes about same-sex marriage are right.  There’s nothing sudden about the build up of pressure along a fault line either, just the release of it.  The trend toward acceptance and equality has been obvious for decades now, and the haters have always known it.  Witness the junk science industry they’ve been busy building since the Stonewall Riots and the removal of homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis.  You don’t wage a bitter scorched earth war on the facts if you know the facts are on your side.  The haters have always known that in the end all they had to win on was the passion of their own hate, and that eventually that would not be enough.  And they have always known that marriage was the final threshold, and that it would be crossed when more heterosexuals then not would say to each other, and then at the polls,  Actually, homosexuals do love.

And so it comes to this

The Colorado Independent reports that officials from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) have vowed to make Starbucks (along with other companies that support same-sex marriage) pay a “price” in Middle Eastern countries that are hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The statements were made during a Nov. 8 conference call, scheduled as a discussion of the 2012 elections which saw sweeping marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota, as well as Starbucks’ home state of Washington.

“So for example, in Qatar, in the Middle East, we’ve begun working to make sure that there’s some price to be paid for this,” Brian Brown says in audio recording of the conference call…

And that price will be paid not merely in lost sales, but in the blood of gay people all throughout the middle east, just as they have done in Africa and wherever else they could.  And Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher and Robert George will not shed a single tear over it.  Ours was always a struggle for the right to love and be loved, against an immovable need to hate the heart capable of it and all the wonder and joy of life and existence.  The fight isn’t over, the sweat and tears and bloodshed go on, but the Rhine has been crossed.  Actually, homosexuals do love.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Knew You Lost When You Started Lying To Yourselves

September 28th, 2012

Atlas Stiffed His Waitress…

…of course it was to teach her self sufficiency, not because he wanted a free lunch.  I saw this graphic go flying by on the net yesterday…

And a lot of the time they’re drowning in it because of the greed and avarice of people who like to yap about how there aren’t any free lunches.  Cheap labor, sure.  The cheaper the better.

I know a little about how it is to be working poor.  Not as much as many.  Somehow I never went to bed hungry or without a roof over my head.  And I didn’t have children to support.  But there was a time back when I was in my late thirties that I lived in a friend’s basement and mowed lawns and did Manpower jobs to make ends meet.  This was after the Savings and Loan crisis had cost me the small but steady income I’d had as an architectural model maker. Time was I couldn’t afford a car and sometimes not the bus either.

I had this geeky little mindset for fiddling around with electronic gismos.  Mom always said I got it from her dad, a man who opened one of the first businesses in his area building and servicing radios back before World War II.  But there was never enough money to send me to a nice college and I had to go to work right out of high school.  I had one low wage job after another, mostly stock clerk and warehouse work, and no idea what to do with my life.  I liked to paint and draw, and I had done some photography for a couple local newspapers.  But you need time to pursue a career in either of those and I had to bring money into the household.  Eventually I got a job working for a man who went to the same church mom did, and who ran his own business making architectural models.  It was work that tweaked my artistic side and I loved it, but my new boss was a fundamentalist nutcase who wouldn’t leave his employees alone about religion and he had an explosive temper.  One day right before Christmas I and most of his other employees bolted after one of his outbursts and I was on my own again.

But I liked doing that work and eventually established myself as a freelance model maker with several big customers and one former co-worker who brought me into the shop he’d established.  During that time I bought a Commodore C64.  I had little use for computers before then, not even as video game playing devices, but the price of the Commodore had come drastically down and when I discovered I could write pretty decent job proposals on a word processor and figure out my costs with a spreadsheet I snapped one up.  That little computer turned into a sort of hobby with me as I taught myself how to write programs in its BASIC interpreter and began to tentatively explore the emerging online world of Computer Bulletin Boards, in hopes of finding a gay community I could socialize with there instead of in seedy pickup bars.

Eventually and I was able to build an IBM PC clone from parts I got at a HAM Fest and with its for-its-day vastly greater horsepower and tons of software tools available for it I really started getting pulled into that world.  While my customers for my freelance architectural model making business were going belly up all around me I kept dinking around with my PC clone because computers interested me, and because they had become my social outlet.  But I had no college degree and no money to go get one so I never seriously considered trying to earn a living with it.  Eventually I found a community of fellow gay geeks online and began doing support work on a local gay community BBS system, using what I’d learned dinking around with my own computer.  That eventually led to my getting a few one-off jobs writing software.  One job was for a local gay community organization that wanted a membership database and form letter generator.  I did it in dBase IV, a little Word Perfect macro programming and a little Microsoft Quick Basic.  Then, through that same gay BBS, I got another one-off job.  And another.  And another.  Just at a moment in time when having even any sort of IT experience you could put on a resume meant you could get a job at decent pay and you didn’t need to have the college degree that I didn’t.

The dot com boom lifted me out of poverty almost overnight and I managed to hang onto this new career path after it faded.  Otherwise I have no idea what would have become of me.  I was 38 years old the day I could finally afford to rent my own place, a little one bedroom apartment in a Baltimore suburb.  And it was all because of some really lucky breaks.  Yes, yes…clearly I have the aptitude for the work I do and a good work ethic or otherwise I wouldn’t now be making a six figure salary and working on the James Webb Space Telescope project.  But don’t even start telling me that my income level today is because I am a highly motivated and intelligent person who worked hard to get ahead.  I was all of that when I was living in a friend’s basement and mowing lawns to make ends meet.  I was all of that when I was standing in an unemployment line because I needed that government handout to put food in my mouth.  I had some damn lucky breaks.  And…support…when I needed it badly…from my friends, and from my fellow citizens.  That is why I’m making the living I am now.

So I get a little ticked off whenever I hear some winger yap, yap, yapping that the unemployed are just lazy and unemployment checks amount to freeloading.  There were times in my life I took unemployment and gladly.  And I needed that money not because I was lazy and didn’t want to work, but because my jobs had been yanked out from under me.  Because Wall Street bet on red 25 when they should have bet on black 17.  With other people’s money.  Then they wag their fingers at the unemployed and tell them they’re lazy.

Not everyone gets the break I got.  Poverty does not equal stupidity or laziness.  People who work two grueling minimum wage jobs to make ends meet are not lazy, and particularly if they have children to support.  There is a serious lack of opportunity out there and some of that is deliberately crafted to keep wages low and Wall Street profits high and it is obscene for those financiers and their sock puppets to be wagging their fingers at people they’ve basically trapped in low wage lives and the unemployment line and calling them irresponsible.

You want responsibility Mr. Romney?  How about taking responsibility for costing people their jobs?  How about taking responsibility for trashing the hopes and dreams of all the workers and their families after you Bain raided their companies, and/or shipped their jobs overseas?  How about taking responsibility for the fact that the American Dream is smaller and further out of reach of so many hard working Americans because you needed a car elevator?  All the luxury that surrounds you every day…it could have been a reflection of the wealth you brought into this world, not the wealth you took from it.

Am I better off now then I was four years ago?  No doubt your kind thinks it’s the most important question of all but it’s the wrong question.  It isn’t all about Me, it’s about US.  As in U.S..  We’re electing a president of the United States.  That calls for a different question.  You had wealth, which means you already had power.  Now you want more.  Well of course, lots of people want more power.  And…wealth.  There’s just never enough is there?  The question is, is your country is better off for your having used the power you already had.


[Update…]  Someone else who isn’t biting the hand of the neighbors who helped them when they needed it most

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Atlas Stiffed His Waitress…

August 13th, 2012

The Collateral Damage Of Wedge Politics

Charles Mudede writes:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has done yeoman’s work on tracking violent groups, notes that “Currently, there are 1,018 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. And their numbers are growing.” The Center’s data show that hate groups have increased by 69 percent in the last decade. And the so-called “Patriot” groups have increased nearly 800 percent since Obama became president.

If the news media and political leaders were told there were a thousand violence-prone Muslim groups operating in the United States, can you imagine the reaction? Yet, apart from the glancing attention given incidents like the Sikh temple massacre, the national discourse about terrorism focuses almost exclusively on Muslims.

The same goes if they were white and on the radical left.

I remember immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing, nearly everyone figured Arab terrorists were responsible. Then it turned out a right wing lunatic did it.  Right wing lunatics have continued to kill people in this country ever since and yet when the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a report on anti-government right wing violence it was denounced by the republicans as a political attack.  As if the republican strategy of tearing the country apart for political advantage hasn’t itself been a political attack on the country they keep claiming to patriotically love.

The United States of America is fantastically more violent then any other industrialized nation and the tragedy is every time a domestic terrorist attack happens any hope of talking about why that is so quickly devolves into an argument about guns.  Guns don’t matter.  What matters is how much hatred there is now between Americans.  What matters is one of the two major American political parties has for decades actively sought to incite that hatred for political gain.  They have courted the racist vote.  They have courted the misogynist vote.  They have courted the votes of religious bigots, xenophobes and homophobes.  And that has had consequences.

But we can’t talk about them.  We can talk about how our enemies hate us, but we can’t talk about how we hate each other.  Because that would be a politically motivated attack on the people who have made tearing the country apart in order to get the bigger half their election strategy for decades.  For some reason that is a wrong thing.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Collateral Damage Of Wedge Politics

July 31st, 2012

You Say “Succeed” Like It’s A Good Thing…

Every election cycle the republicans run on deregulation, lower taxes and more jobs. And when they get power then it’s all about the culture war and everything they do seems to cost people jobs and depress the economy more and more. You wonder if they even care about the economy.

Get a clue: a productive economy, technological progress, and general prosperity, are the most destabilizing things for authoritarian cultural norms and religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism and right wing authoritarianism flourish in stagnant or declining economies.

I’m not saying it’s a plan, I’m saying it’s a reflex. They act like they don’t want Americans to prosper because they have an allergic reaction to prosperity anywhere below the top 1 percent. Prosperous happy people don’t obey orders and generally don’t take a lot of crap from authoritarian louts.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Say “Succeed” Like It’s A Good Thing…

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