Guns in the US

There was an ad before a YouTube video I watched earlier today,  unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to save the link -- I think it's safe to assume that they would have already paid for the advertising, that they didn't (a.) throw up the ad after hearing about the shooting this morning, or (b.) have the ability to pull it from airing for a respectful period of time.  My point isn't that the ad was in poor taste.  Just that it exists. It was an ad for a company in California, that sells kits to assemble guns at home.  The ad featured (in fact, entirely consisted of) a man explaining that it's not illegal to buy the parts of a gun, even if you can't buy the gun itself, how to machine those parts to create the gun they're parts of, and in what ways you can avoid registering the gun.  Apparently, registration has to happen at the point where the gun is sold, at least in California, so if you make it yourself, nobody has to know that you own it.

It's not hard to qualify for a gun in the United States.  But apparently, that's not enough -- there are also companies whose business is helping people who don't qualify get around the law with loopholes, so they can have guns without letting anyone know.

I'm angry.

I'm angry because I know how many times in the next few weeks I'm going to hear people say that this couldn't have been prevented.  And because I know I'm going to hear that, even if guns were substantially more controlled, this kid would have gotten them anyway.  Or that he would have done just as much damage if he had some other weapon.

After the Aurora, CO shooting, PolitiFact responded to Facebook claims that the United States has the most gun violence in the world:

According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, several other countries had more gun homicides than the U.S., and perhaps 17 countries had a higher rate of gun homicides than the U.S. when population is factored in. However, when comparing the U.S. to its most direct equivalents -- affluent nations in Europe and Asia -- the U.S. has far more gun homicides than they do. We rated this one Half True.

Emphasis mine.

So, we have less violence than countries like Somalia.  We're outdone in gun violence per capita by the nation states who are constantly at war with themselves and each other.

And I'm angry that people will say "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."  First of all, because it reduces a complex legislative discussion to all-or-nothing, and secondly, because other developed countries clearly illustrate the reality that more gun control means less gun death.

The UK is widely acknowledged to have some of the strictest gun laws in the world.  Wikipedia has a list of world nations by firearm related death rate.  The United States is twelfth, at 9 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2008-2010).  The UK is sixty-fifth, at 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2009).  That is, eleventh from the bottom of the list.  That is, about 41 times more gun death in the US than the UK.

And to the point about people just finding other ways to kill people, the US rate of murders per 100,000 people is 4.2; the UK's is 1.2.  As for the discrepancy with the numbers, a lot of gun death in America is by suicide.  The American suicide rate per 100,000 annually is 12.  UK; 6.9.

Now, correlation does not prove causation.  But it offers a fracking big hint.  And this correlation absolutely disproves the premise that more gun laws = more gun violence.

Plenty of people will say that we shouldn't make this political.  That it's a tragedy.  That we have to wait a respectful amount of time before we start the argument about gun violence.  They said that after the Aurora shooting.  And the shooting before that.  And the shootings before that.

We didn't ever get around to changing the rules last time.  We won't, this time, either -- if we pretend that gun control legislation is somehow irreverent.  There may not be a sufficiently respectful amount of time after this shooting, before there's another one.

Since (and including) the Columbine shooting in April of 1999, there have been 31 mass shootings in America.  That's close to two and a half per year.

We're over the average so far in 2012, at 3, but there are less than 20 days left this year.  Is that a respectful amount of time?

Shooting at Sikh temple in Milwaukee

I'm just reading now about the shooting that took place in Milwaukee yesterday, an attack on a Sikh temple.  The shooter was killed by the police who arrived on the scene.  Six innocent people were killed, another three wounded.  It's being described as a domestic terrorist attack. The New York Times reports:

In an attack that the police said they were treating as “a domestic terrorist-type incident,” the gunman stalked through the temple around 10:30 a.m. Congregants ran for shelter and barricaded themselves in bathrooms and prayer halls, where they made desperate phone calls and sent anguished texts pleading for help as confusion and fear took hold. Witnesses described a scene of chaos and carnage.

Jatinder Mangat, 40, who was on his way to the temple when he heard reports about the shooting, said he had tried to call his uncle, the temple’s president, but reached the head priest, Gurmail Singh, instead. “He was crying. Everyone was screaming,” Mr. Mangat said. “He said that my uncle was shot and was lying on the floor and asked why you guys are not sending an ambulance and police.”

I know very little about Sikhism but I feel it's important to point out that it's not a branch of Islam -- it's unrelated to any Abrahamic religion.  Sikh men often wear turbans, so they're often mistaken by Americans for Muslims.

“Everyone here is thinking this is a hate crime for sure,” said Manjit Singh, who goes to a different temple in the region. “People think we are Muslims.”

Though violence against Sikhs in Wisconsin was unheard of before the shooting, many in this community said they had sensed a rise in antipathy since the attacks on Sept. 11 and suspected it was because people mistake them for Muslims. Followers of Sikhism, or Gurmat, a monotheistic faith founded in the 15th century in South Asia, typically do not cut their hair, and men often wear colorful turbans and refrain from cutting their beards.

“Most people are so ignorant they don’t know the difference between religions,” said Ravi Chawla, 65, a businesswoman who moved to the region from Pakistan in the 1970s. “Just because they see the turban they think you’re Taliban.”

According to ThinkProgress, the gunman was a white supremacist:

Should law enforcement confirm Page’s ties to white supremacy, and if that proves to be the motive of the attack, it will fit with a growing trend in this country. Hate groups — groups that expressly advocate against a religion, race, or sexual orientation — have been on the rise in the United States, rising steadily since 2000.

ThinkProgress also confirms that the gunman's weapon, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, was obtained legally.

Twitter gun rant from Jason Alexander

[pullquote align="right" textalign="left|center|right" width="40%"][T]here are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. -- Jason Alexander[/pullquote] I'm going to start following Jason Alexander on Twitter, because earlier today, he delivered an amazing rant about the second amendment, and why it doesn't mean what people take it to mean today -- that everyone, everywhere is entitled to as many bullet-firing tubes they want, of whatever kind and configuration.

He tears down the argument brick by brick, first citing opinions of the founding fathers to provide context for the second amendment, like Alexander Hamilton describing what a militia consists of -- a stark contrast to the popular definition in our culture, "Anyone over 18 with a credit card."

He breaks down the problems with the arguments for banning things based on lethality (there's a difference between banning cars and banning guns) and the psychotic argument that individuals are ever going to be genuinely prepared to violently overthrow the US government.

The quote to the right illustrates his criticism of the "No one would get shot if everyone had guns" argument.  The whole rant is awesome, and you can see it compiled on Salon here.  You can find Jason Alexander's Twitter here.

News organization suppressing the news: Cops attacking protesters

(via Wil Wheaton on Tumblr) CBS's KCAL News at 9 recently reported on a case of police brutality against a crowd of protesters, some of whom were children.  They fired either rubber bullets or bean bags into the crowd, and one officer let loose a dog, who attacked a woman carrying her child.

When that news showed up on YouTube, though, CBS had it removed, via a copyright claim.  I can't embed it, but Occupy Iowa's tumblr has a video, linked here, along with this accompanying message:

The YouTube corporation and CBS have now censored the original video of Anaheim cops shooting at children. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MST4RhWdlMQ

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by CBS.”

Spread links to the mirrors. Keep firing.

CBS might have removed the video to protect the police officers.  They might have removed the video to protect their ability to make advertising revenue on their content.  Either way, the decision is unacceptable.  News is news.    If it's not available, it's useless.

The Dark Knight Rises: Initial Thoughts

Okay, so I caved.  I couldn't wait until Tuesday, so I re-arranged my Friday to make room for a matinee showing.  Short version of the review: it's amazing, a brilliant end to an excellent trilogy.  Nolan took the best of the superhero genre, and made it into a set of films that are better than any other superhero films yet produced.[1. I haven't seen the new Spiderman yet.  Just saying.] Everything that follows is going to contain spoilers, below the fold.

I want to talk about the movie in a few different contexts, and I think it's best if I break them up into separate categories.

The political implications

Yes, I am one of those people who think that Nolan's Batman movies can be read as allegory for our times.  Certainly not only as allegory, but I do think the perspective is valid.  Nolan at least used the political and cultural fears of our time to drive the characterization of his villains.

Broadly speaking, the center of Nolan's Batman narrative is: everyone agrees that the world is awful.  Gotham is a scar for the human race. It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  People who live there are not very nice.

The good guys are the guys who believe there's a glimmer of hope among the horror.  They believe that the system works, in theory, and good people can pull it together for the good of humankind.

The bad guys aren't the corrupt, the mobsters and criminals, though.  The bad guys are the people who think things have gone so far bad that everything should be scrapped -- that civilization needs to be wiped clean, and if there's anyone left at all, those people will have the chance -- only a chance -- to build a world that's better.

But everyone's lost faith in the system.  The Dark Knight Rises makes that clear when Gordon takes a stand for lying to the people in order to get farther along, about how the rules can become shackles.  But those transgressions are all made in the hopes of restoring the functionality of the system.

The bad guys of the new film -- Bane and Catwoman -- represent two different levels of desire for collapse.  Catwoman has a fine-tuned sense of injustice, but all she wants is redistribution of wealth, and leniency for the survival-crimes of the poor, rather than our present state -- special increased consequences for them.

Bane, on the other hand, has completely abandoned belief in the existing system.  He wants to tear it down to its very core, a complete wiping clean.

Bane's prison is a vivid metaphor for this kind of belief -- Gotham is the prison, and the glimmer of hope just serves to make it more miserable.  No one has ever gotten out.

Except one child, born in the pit, born of extraordinary parents but orphaned by violence.

That escape, that struggle, represents hope.  Gotham's orphan who crawled out of the pit is an avatar for faith in humanity's decency.

Nolan and the Batman mythos

My favorite Batman book is Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"  -- in it, Neil postulates how the Batman story ends.  If you haven't read it, this section contains spoilers.

The ending Neil imagines is Batman's funeral, and all his friends and villains show up.  Each one tells a different story.  The story of how they were responsible for Batman's death.  In it, the story of Batman is portrayed as dark, warm, campy, psychologically weird, every way Batman's story has been told.

Batman never dies old.  He never retires, never fights cancer or drifts off in his sleep.  Batman only ever dies because if you're Batman, eventually, one night, something goes wrong.  And in "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader," every time, Batman is reborn.  Because the reward for having been Batman is, you get to keep being Batman.  And every time, you get those few years of happiness, growing up with your parents.

That's why I couldn't stop myself crying when Nolan's Batman manually flew a nuclear reactor off the coast to save Gotham from its explosion.

But Nolan didn't end up going that way with it. After a heart-wrenching montage of Bruce Wayne's affairs being wrapped up, inconsistencies start popping up.  And at the end, we see Alfred, looking across the restaurant in a cafe in France, seeing Bruce Wayne. Happy.  No longer haunted.

And he ended up with Catwoman.

The answers Nolan gave at the end of his movies are all the right ones.  They're also answers that he could only give because he refused to leave his series open to continuation.  He told the Batman story he wanted to tell -- a route I hope other Superhero franchises follow, letting the brilliant artists in their fields have their own crack at the whole thing, separate from the great intertwining canon.

A note on the Colorado shootings

I don't know what to say about this, but I feel compelled to.  The story of Nolan's Batman trilogy is a story of faith in humanity rewarded. That faith requires not that everyone be good, but that the good outweigh the bad, and that we let the bad plant the seeds for good.

My deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families, by which I mean everyone in the theater.  I hope that we as a country and as a fan community are able to pull together and honor the memory of those who died, and the humanity of those who still suffer, as best we can.

I trust that humankind is better than the man with the guns last night.  I hope that's what shines through.

Aurora, Colorado: shooting during Dark Knight Rises

As of this writing, the top two hashtags trending on Twitter are #aurora and #theatershooting.  The next trending phrase is "James Holmes," the name of the suspect whom the police have in custody. The broad details of the case are: there was a shooting in one of the theaters airing a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.  The shooter came in through the emergency exit, and threw in a canister of what is believed to have been tear gas before opening fire.  He was wearing a bullet proof vest and a gas mask.  Police are searching James Holmes's apartment, because he claimed to have explosives.

Because I don't know what's going on in Colorado right now, I don't know how certain they are that James Holmes is the right guy -- so I want to stress that the police are holding him as a suspect, he hasn't been convicted of anything.

12-14 people are dead. 38-50 have been injured.

Here are my sources, for further information.

New York Times -- 12 Killed in Shooting at Colorado Theater

9news -- Suspect in custody, 12 dead in Aurora movie theater shooting, suspect named James Holmes