Gun owner on gun control

Former(?) critic of gun control legislation James McMurtry discusses, in his article More Than Just A Tall Order, some ways in which the Sandy Hook shooting has made him rethink some of his former positions.  I like a lot of what he says, and want to post some of what I think are the more important bits, here.

Another aspect of the Clinton Crime Bill that I used to think was silly was its restriction of a firearm's magazine capacity to ten rounds. I didn't see what good such a restriction would do. If we assume, however dubiously, that the shooter abides by the law and only carries legal magazines of the proper capacity, what's to stop him from carrying a satchel full of extra mags with which he can shoot all day? Nothing's to stop him, of course, but he will have to re-load more often, and here is where that silly old gun bill might finally have a practical application due to the evolution of police tactics. [...] If a school shooter is not extremely well trained and has to change magazines under duress, he's out of the fight for a second or two, and the highway patrolman, or the deputy sheriff, or the city constable who just happened to be there will have a second or two to fire at the shooter without risking return fire. If I were any kind of a cop in that situation, I would sure appreciate those seconds. The tragedy would still have happened, but the body count might be lower.

It's nice to see a gun owner admit that small steps that might help a little bit are important, that when it comes to killing, less killing is a change worth making -- it doesn't have to be all the killing or none of it.

If we are to call ourselves a society, we will have to behave as a society. We will have to pass laws and make deals, and none of us are likely to be satisfied at the end of the day. This is a symptom of a condition known as Democracy.

I wish that this were a bigger part of the national dialogue.  Nobody getting their whole way is a lot better than the inability to deal with anything at all that the US currently has to settle for.

The thread that runs through Tim McVeigh, Adam Lanza and Charles Whitman is not just mental instability, but rage, pure unfathomable rage. And we are an angry people these days. I don't know why. I suspect that our world is changing faster than we are capable of changing. Some of us feel left out; some of us feel outnumbered; so we're fearful and angry. Our societal anger needs to be acknowledged and addressed, perhaps diagnosed and treated, as do our individual angers.

I don't like the "It's a mental health issue" argument.  I mean, I'm not unhappy about the added attention, funding, and efforts at de-stigmatization that come out of these debates.  But I don't think it's going to help much with the US's gun violence problem -- because our gun violence problem isn't about individual mental illness, it's about an attitude at the societal level, that when your back is against the wall, killing a whole bunch of people is a good response.

I disagree with McMurtry that America's anger comes from rapid change.  I think it's the same cultural anger that fueled the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, McCarthyism, religious radicals, Wall Street, the Tea Party, and the NRA.  It's anger fueled by entitlement -- the idea that, in America, a small group of people with strong feelings about something are allowed to do whatever they want to try and get their way.

I'm not sure anything good has ever come of that anger.  But it's part of our national character, and I'm not sure that America can change that while staying America.  We'd need a new set of myths, a more civil origin story, a less hyperbolically defensive constitution.  And maybe we'll get the chance -- maybe the gridlock in Congress will push America off the cliff, and out of necessity we'll have to accept the aid of the rest of the industrialized world to get us back on our feet.  Maybe then we could have a cultural narrative of humility and gratitude.

Amanda Hess: "Brats Come in All Ages"

There's an awesome article up at Slate, called Stop Internet Shaming "Ungrateful" Teens:  Brats Come in All Ages.  Amanda Hess makes the points I want to make every time I hear someone whining about Generation Y:

Plenty of adults say racist things, revert into ungrateful brats during the holidays, and demonstrate a tenuous grasp on world history. And yet these public shaming exercises tend to focus exclusively on teenagers. That’s partly because we see teenagers as redeemable, and adults as beyond help[, ...]  But we also criticize teens because we feel that we can control them, either by sending them to the principal’s office or just asserting our generational superiority over them. As one BuzzFeed commenter wrote, “Thank you Generation Y for making me grateful I have dogs and not an ungrateful brat!” When adults shame teenagers on the Internet, we feel like we can separate ourselves from American racism and consumerism by pinning the problem on this new, amoral generation. We all got out fine, but these kids? Worse than dogs.

This impulse to mock and distrust teenagers is so strong that some journalists don’t even bother to investigate whether their assumptions are correct before forever branding teens as spoiled jerks. And so adults have reflexively shamed an “ungrateful brat” who actually shares our distaste for ungrateful brats.

(Emphasis mine.)

It pisses me off to see the way people on the internet see behavior they don't like, and organize active hate campaigns to bottle all those people up into a convenient out-group that they can just collectively hate -- even if it's their own generation.  This article doesn't dwell on it, but there's no shortage of teenagers and twentysomethings who whine about their own generation, begging for approval by the grown-ups and an exclusion from the people who happen to be born around the same time as them.

General disappointment

I'm more than usually annoyed at civilization's failures today. According to, the average American spends 25.2 minutes a day commuting.  That's 2 hours a week.  probably enough time to keep up with an online class.  (Especially a class organized for commuters.)  If we had comprehensive public transportation, people could spend the time going to and from work on buses and trains, with their laptops or tablets, learning.

Or they could keep up with another reality TV show.  Or they could get in a nap.  Or they could listen to music and meditate.

Commutes would probably be longer in this paradigm, but that's fine.  That's more free time.  Time blocked out cleanly in everyone's day.

(I mean, ideally our cities would be built in a way that placed everyone close enough to their workplace that their commutes wouldn't take that long.)

I'm sure there are enough people willing to drive for a living to overcome the sudden absence of hundreds of thousands of amateur drivers.  It would reduce carbon emissions.  It would make the roads safer -- by reducing the number of cars, and by having only professional drivers on the road.

And, obviously, when I remember about this particular civilizational failure, I'm reminded of many of the other ones:  the continued existence of the penny, the horrible structure of student loans, the failures of education systems worldwide, the DMCA, American internet speeds, the war on drugs, etc.

We're suffering, in the United States, from a failure to optimize several societal institutions, because the optimization reduces the number of people who can profit from a reformed system.  Our internet isn't being reformed because our ISPs can charge us enough as it is.  Our entertainment industry is fighting against freedom of expression because it maximizes their ability to make billion-dollar, broad-appeal action movies.  Our education system is nearly a method for converting optimistic young adults into revenue streams for loan companies.  Our drug policies primarily benefit private prison owners farming nonviolent offenders for government money.

And our transportation systems are fatally crippled because all the obvious solutions would result in fewer people driving, fewer people buying gas, fewer people living in suburbs and fewer people owning cars.

There are two separate intersections on my commute to school where, no matter how wide a gap I wait for, I'm always terrified that someone is going to crash into me.  Part of it is that the roads are poorly designed, but a bigger part is that the roads are crowded with people who have no place operating a motor vehicle -- including me.  The fact that we expect everyone to do it means we've lowered our standards for who should be allowed to drive.  It's incredibly dangerous, and you really should have to be a lot better at it before they let you do it every day, whenever you want.

I'm pissed about this, because (a.) my life is daily put at needless risk because I happen to live in a country with a fetish for motor vehicles, (b.) I have to pay for this privilege because despite an infrastructure that makes them a necessity our society doesn't treat access to cars as a right, and (c.) it means I start and end every day with stress.  I spend about an hour every day being made anxious and irritated, time I could spend studying, or working, or napping, or listening to fracking music.  Really, anything other than being the person operating the vehicle would be awesome.

SourceFed's awesome party histories

Today, SourceFed posted a video of Elliott Morgan explaining the history of the Democratic Party.  It's a tie-in with their live coverage of the Democratic National Convention, coming this week, and with their previous video on the history of the Republican Party, which coincided with their coverage of the Republican National Convention. Here's the Democratic Party history:

And here's the Republican Party history:

These videos have a lot of the same kinds of problems that show up in most of America's political discourse (and political discourse everywhere, forever, to varying degrees) including, especially, equivocation and vague terms.

Equivocation is hard to deal with in political discourse, and in a pair of three minute videos it's hard to fault them -- though, I don't find it too difficult to imagine them fitting in a three second "Click here to explore this issue further" link.  Basically, while it's true to say "Both parties have corruption," and "Both parties contain good and bad people," it's an incomplete characterization, and while it dodges the "My party is fantastic and your party is evil" error, it leads straight into the "All the parties are the same, why even bother?"  error.

Vague terms include "Democrats believe in a progressive government," and a dichotomy that showed up in both videos: Ethics vs. Morals.  Democrats, apparently, support ethics, not morals, and Republicans support morals, not ethics.

Those terms have some weak connotations setting them apart, but they don't really mean much.  In most cases, they can basically be used interchangeably, and they're not particularly useful for parsing out the difference between two sets of views.

I'm not sure, exactly, what Elliott was getting at when he said that Republicans believe in morals and Democrats believe in Ethics.  But as best I can guess, that characterization is going to lead less towards a reasoned understanding, and more towards a bias based on the individual listener's gut sense of what those words might imply.

Still, these videos' coverage is better than pretty much any other media I've seen on the topic.

What the hell, Mississippi

(via ThinkProgress) I'm glad that there's news coming out of Mississippi, because it's one of like five states whose names I can spell correctly the first time.  (Connecticut has 3 C's in it.  Seriously.)  I am not, however, at all happy about what the news is.

Mississippi schools are sending students -- mostly who are black or disabled -- to prison. These kids aren't selling heroin or stealing chemicals from the science classroom.  It's not even stuff like getting in fights.  ABC News writes:

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has released investigative findings determining that children in predominantly black Meridian, Miss. have had their constitutional rights violated by the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department, and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services in what civil rights investigators allege is a school to prison pipeline with even dress code violations resulting in incarceration.


“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” The Justice Department findings letter noted.

The worst part is, this isn't a new thing.  The ACLU has a name for it -- it's called "The school-to-prison pipeline," and they say it's a national trend.

"Zero-tolerance" policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools' overall test scores. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.

At about 1% of the population, America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Imprisoned Americans are about a quarter of the imprisoned people on Earth -- and some of them are kids, in jail for breaking the dress code.

So, y'know, Live Free or Die and stuff.

New Illdoc video -- "Mitt Romney Scares The Crap Out Of Me"


In the hypothetical debates about the Republican primaries last semester at school, I supported Romney.  My argument was, basically, he's probably harmless compared to the other candidates.  Jay Smooth nails it in this video when he explains that Mitt Romney is scary, not because he's got radical, strongly held opinions, but because he's got no strongly held opinions, and will just let the politics of those around him filter through him and into policy.

The thing that worries me most about this is that we do seem to have reached a point, in our governmental dialogue, when one party needs to use Trojan Horse tactics to get its policies past the general populace.  Mitt Romney is that Trojan Horse, and there are a whole bunch of Greek warriors waiting inside him to kill us in our sleep.[1. I am very tired.  I am not confident that metaphor works.]

The solution I'd love to see:  Dramatic changes to our democratic system.  I'm not saying we should do away with Democracy[2. I'm not in love with it, but I don't think anyone's come up with a better system yet.] but the mechanisms by which we run our Democratic Republic are several hundred years outdated.

For a start, here's a CGPGrey video about Alternative Voting, which would do a great deal towards dissolving the two-party dichotomy problem we have: