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.

No state Pokemon

After the recent response to the We The People petition that the government build a Death Star ("The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon."), reports that the White House has pulled a petition to establish State Pokémon for every state, arguing that it violated the site's Terms of Participation. Jessica R

oy of BetaBeat writes,

Though there are some worthwhile petitions on We the People, many Internet users have glommed on to the tool as an act of trolling. [...]

To be fair, the White House hasn’t exactly discouraged this sort of behavior. Last week, the administration released a hilarious response to a petition to build a Death Star which, while absolutely delightful, was probably not the best use of government time?

I have to say, I strongly disagree.

Granted, it's not directly productive for the government to employ pop culture experts to craft amusing refusals to any joke that over 25,000 people want to hear.  But anything that gets people to the website gets people to an environment that might point them towards issues they care about, that do deserve the government's attention.

Furthermore, the Death Star response was interesting and informative, even if it was silly.  The administration took that opportunity to illustrate parallels between the fictional geekyness of Star Wars and the real-world geekyness of the International Space Station.  They also pointed out what kinds of issues the government cares about, and in what ways they categorize those issues, and what kinds of considerations go into making financial decisions on a governmental scale.  And it's a fair bet that that more people read the Death Star response than any other White House response, even for petitions they responded favorably to.

It's a way in, is what I'm saying.  And it's a cheap-as-hell one.  I consider it an outright poor decision to pull the Pokémon petition.  Instead, they could talk about the importance of national symbol making, the American entertainment industry versus that of our foreign allies, and the interrelationship between government and pop culture.

Or they could have assigned the states official Pokémon.  I mean, seriously, why not?

Conclusions of yesterday's Congress Drama

The House of Representatives eventually got around to passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.  According to Wikipedia, as of right now it's not been signed:

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8) was passed by the United States Congress on January 1, 2013, and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Late last night, I remembered hearing somewhere (regrettably I can't remember the source) that it was reasonable to expect that congress would pass the bill at the last second.  The reason is that while no congressperson had anything to gain by passing it (a recession isn't good for anyone, and everyone agreed that's what would happen), it was also true that no congressperson had anything to gain by compromising in advance.

In the video I posted by John Green yesterday, he points out that, due to gerrymandering, the only real competition most congresspeople face is from other members of their own party, who present themselves as more extreme, and therefore more loyal, in their adherence to party dogma.  So congresspeople who hope to keep their careers need to seem as uncooperative as possible, and congresspeople who also want to do their jobs have to walk a fine line, avoiding ever appearing to compromise while actually compromising as much as possible (compromise being the essential function of a smooth-running democratic process).

This all reminds me of the second paragraph of George Orwell's essay, Politics and the English Language:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

I quote it, even though it's not quite as much about politics as it is about language, because Orwell expresses very clearly the point: that the American people have become polarized and unsophisticated, and the United States government has become polarized and unsophisticated.  The reason this has happened is complicated, and it can't be pinned down to one or the other group failing in their responsibility -- and there are other players, as well, including the failure of the media, of the courts, of academics, and so on.

But a polarized populace elects a polarized government, and a polarized government encourages a polarized populace.

But, as Orwell says, the point is that the process is reversible.  It really, honestly, comes down to a number of bad habits, which, when applied every day by every citizen and every politician to every decision, creates and perpetuates a failing state.

I encourage you to read Politics and the English Language, because lazy and ambiguous use of language is one of the bad habits that politicians, journalists, and people are particularly prone.  Read it, and think about words like terrorism, socialism, liberal, conservative, corrupt, and so on.  Here's the link again

Some of the other bad habits:  binary thinking, over-simplified economics, failure to engage with local politics, and  a fatalistic attitude towards large problems.  The biggest bad habit, though, is the attitude that politeness and compromise are forms of hypocrisy, which leads us to choose, frequently, worst-case scenarios over bad-but-not-awful scenarios.  I often see people argue in against any given system because they call it inefficient, or insufficient, or impractical.  Those criticisms are usually true.  But when the alternative is something even more inefficient, insufficient, and impractical, those criticisms are also entirely missing the point.

Hopefully, the next batch of congress we get will be a lot better at doing their goddamn jobs, but we can help by making an effort to be more reasonable and less extremist.

It would also really help if we could redraw the district borders for non-political divisions.