WHY ARE WE STILL ARGUING ABOUT GUNS?

This whole dealio that grew out of Newton (and Aurora, and Columbine and Virginian Tech and … and… and) is getting very tiresome. By now, most people who are not crazy are able to conclude that you do not need an assault weapon to kill a deer.  But there are still many who  choose to go along with the PATENTLY WRONG assumption that “guns make us safer”. THEY DON’T!

Okay, let’s create an experiment. The experiment is to find yourself a community that has a bunch of gun owners in it, and also has a lot of non-gun owners in it. Choose equal numbers of each type. Don’t forget: you have to balance for age, race, and gender! So, an even smattering over age, race, and gender, equally divided between gun owners and none-gun owners. So far, so good!

Now, the next part. Follow the evidence to see if a link can be established between gun ownership and getting shot. And there you go! Actual scientifically-derived information regarding the possible correlation between OWNING a gun and getting SHOT by a gun. And, as Nate Silver demonstrated in the last Presidential election, scientifically-derived statistics can be pretty darned accurate. And here’s the best part: SOMEBODY ALREADY DID ALL THIS WORK FOR YOU!

Professor Charles Branas and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania examined this in their 2009 paper investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault. Dr. Branas is a Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Cartographic Modeling Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, so not exactly a mad lefty ACORN Obama-loving 2nd Amendment hater.

Branas and his colleagues compared 677 cases in which people were injured in a shooting incident with 684 people living in the same area that had not suffered a gun injury. The researchers matched these controls for age, race and gender. They found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry.

Um, what? Yes, you heard correctly: they found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry.

But wait! At CPAC, the annual conservative love-fest, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the biggest gun lobby group in the US, defended his call to put armed guards in every school  and declared that the answer to violent crime was to put guns in the hands of more people. Is it possible he doesn’t know about these statistics? Or, could it be … his huge kickback arrangements with gun manufacturers are afflicting his judgement?

One might ask why gun owners are more likely to get shot than none-gun owners, and Dr. Branas addressed that as well. The reasons for this, the authors suggest, are many. “A gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing otherwise tractable conflicts with similarly armed persons. Along the same lines, individuals who are in possession of a gun may increase their risk of gun assault by entering dangerous environments that they would have normally avoided. Alternatively, an individual may bring a gun to an otherwise gun-free conflict only to have that gun wrested away and turned on them.”

So, for stupid, asinine, machismo-ridden, idiotic reasons, you might find yourself the victim of your own weapon. Or, just as likely, pull a Zimmerman and shoot somebody who doesn’t deserve it, or worse yet, shoot somebody who is innocently going about their business when you decide to “clean your gun” or “play Russian roulette” or “kill yourself”. And interestingly, this too has been scientifically investigated: guns have a curious psychological effect on males. A 2006 study by Dr. Jennifer Klinesmith and colleagues  showed men exposed to firearms before an experiment had much higher testosterone levels and were three times more likely to engage in aggressive behavior relative to the subjects not primed with a weapon.

Who could have seen THAT coming? Except probably for every human being who happens to possess lady bits instead of imaginary rhino-sized swinging tackle.

Right on cue, Wayne LaPierre said another crazy thing at CPAC (I know it is hard to keep track of his hoot-owl wall-eyed nutbaggery, but that’s why I’m doing it for you). He said, “The one thing a violent rapist deserves is to face is a good woman with a gun!”

Way to go, Wayne! Guess what! Wrong again!

DO YOU REALIZE, Wayne LaPierre, that the vast majority of rape and murder victims are not harmed by creepy strangers, but by people they know, and often love – friends, family members, lovers? As has been pointed out numerous times, in a variety of publications not from the NRA, a gun in the household is more likely to be used in domestic violence than anything else. And police officers LOVE to intervene in domestic violence episodes when the participants could well be armed with a deadly weapon. And double uh-oh! According to this Johns Hopkins fact sheet – again, scientifically researched and peer-reviewed – women living in a home with one or more guns were three times more likely to be murdered. For women who had been abused by their partner, their risk of being murdered rose fivefold if the partner owned a gun. So ladies, if you own a little pink pistol that you are going to use to “protect yourself”, be very aware that you are more likely to be killed by it than scare anybody else. Sad but true.

Now I think I’ll go shoot a few ducks outta the sky with my F-16 fighter plane, and maybe do some target plinking with my bazooka. And I bet I’d get enough venison for my freezer this year if I nuked the Cascades with my dirty bomb. Hey! Wayne said I could! After all, I have a right to bear arms, according to the 2nd Amendment, that, incidentally, was written in the Flintlock Age and also had a pretty important part in there about a “well-regulated militia”. So there.

 

 

ROB PORTMAN “RETHINKS HIS POSITION”

Well, you can bet that Rob Portman’s recent switcheroo of heart regarding gay marriage has sent a little ripple through the conservative-osphere, seeing as he was one of the original co-sponsors of the Defense of Marriage Act. Of course, that was along with 117 other people – mostly guys, and mostly Republicans (103 out of the 117), so I guess he isn’t THAT special – except for the fact that he CHANGED HIS MIND.

Let’s begin at the beginning. DOMA says, unequivocally, that the “traditional definition of ‘marriage’ is the legal union of one man and one woman.” Bob Barr, the ultra-righty from Georgia, was the original sponsor back in 1996. He was also a big supporter of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the Patriot Act, and the War on Drugs, not to mention the important religious freedom dictum of banning Wicca from the military.  This all indicates what kind of bossypants, creepy-uncle, I-know-what’s-good-for-you type of guy he was. He also had a cameo in Sasha Baron Cohen’s movie “Borat”, which is the one rather unexpected thing that he did, but Allen West was in that movie too. Doubtless Sasha had to search far and wide to find a couple guys that were going to make Borat look positively normal. To his credit, Barr quit the Republicans, became a Libertarian, flipped his position from anti-pot to pro-medicinal marijuana, and even did some work for the ACLU. However, then he became a Republican again and wanted to run in 2012, but didn’t want to move after redistricting, so we have thus far been spared further dizzying flip-flops by this interesting gentleman.

Anyway, the era surrounding 1996 made the days interesting for Republicans, as these were salad times for the conservative social agenda. A big thing for them then was the “judicial activism” red herring, in which conservatives portrayed judges making decisions on constitutional grounds as crazy lefties. So, any judge who dissented from the “man/woman marriage” party line was automatically a deviant and an activist, despite the fact that actual deviancy seemed to occur more often in Republicans than Democrats. Of course, the Republican response to deviancy in the ranks was to make normal behavior deviant – like, normal people NEVER have affairs like Bill Clinton’s! Except, that tons of people DO, like Newt Gingrich at the exact same moment he was reviling Clinton. Jeez, what tangled webs we weave.

So now, Portman turns his back on all that history, all because his son turned out to be gay. How about that! The Senator from Ohio got some ‘splainin’ to do! Suddenly just dropped all that traditional marriage crapola like a hot piece of scrap metal! Damn!

However, this stunning turnaround is likely  the result of a common psychological phenomenon —  the identifiable victim effect. Everybody’s seen it – the puppy tied in the next-door back yard with no food or water is far more personally affecting than thousands of children starving in the Darfur, for example. Direct identification with suffering has the effect of making people more generous. If a friend has a daughter serving relief efforts in Tanzania, you are more likely to contribute to that cause. Personal identification precipitates action.

So who’s surprised that Portman pulled his switcheroo? Evil Dick Cheney did the same thing: despite his abysmal behavior in every other area of government, he managed to support gay rights through it all because his daughter came out as a lesbian, and for no discernible alternate reason. There’s also the troubling thought that this whole Portman thing seems strangely convenient, with him clubbing away at the conservative social-engineering iceberg that has been laboriously created and elaborated upon over lo, these many years. Sometimes even sworn enemies can find congruent interests, though, so it is entirely possible for Portman to be simultaneously sincere and a total Republican tool. Even the most rock-ribbed conservatives see that there’s gonna have to be a change or they can kiss their asses goodbye.

The identifiable victim effect is something conservative people seem much more likely to REQUIRE experience in to change their hearts and minds. Progressives are governmentally progressive because they purposefully try to factor in everybody, not just those who can be plugged into preconceived notions of deservingness, correctness and acceptability. Strictly from personal observation, progressives also require less vivid emotional involvement with situations to motivate them than conservatives do. Why? Who knows? Maybe it has to do with imagination – as in, some people can imagine what’s going on in the Darfur with vividness and emotional impact, where as many cannot, or choose not to. Perhaps it has to do with energy levels – in my experience, progressive people are actively curious and outward-looking, seeking out new experiences and new points of view, whereas conservatives – like my parents – are happily ensconced in their little conservative world, where nary a contrary word is ever heard, at least if you stick to Fox News and Limbaugh. (Of course, this leads to the dreaded “epistemic closure”, which has become such an obvious problem to the Republican Party that they have finally mobilized some belated consideration of its effect on their agenda.)

As some unabashed realist pointed out, maybe Portman also needs somebody in his family to experience a catastrophic medical emergency, or maybe lose his or her home and go bankrupt. Maybe he needs some poor people in his immediate orbit, to kind of get him up on the ball regarding what’s happening to American families as we speak. But what if EVERY conservative has to have some kind of colorful, life-reorienting personal emergency in order to comprehend what’s going on in America? Seems impossible. And there is always the easy option to NOT rethink one’s political position on gays, and instead do what many conservative/religious families have so expediently done – disown your kid! Kick ’em to the curb! Turn ’em loose! Cut your losses!

I guess, in the greater scheme of things, we can thank Rob Portman for his turnabout, because perhaps by his example, other families will choose to do what he did: replace judgement with compassion. It’s progress, of a kind. Does it make him progressive? Gawd, no! But it does make him more balanced – and that is what everyone in every party should strive for.

SOMETIMES …

Sometimes I just get SOOOOO MAD.

Here’s what Paul Ryan just said: “So just because the election didn’t go our way, that means we’re supposed to change our principles? We’re supposed to just go along to get along? We reject that view,” he tells National Review Online in an interview at his Capitol Hill office. “A budget is supposed to be a display of your vision,” he adds. “Our vision is a world without Obamacare.”

YES YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO CHANGE YOUR PRINCIPALS. THIS IS WHY – when voters are asked these questions, for example, HERE’S WHAT THEY SAY:

Charts showing disapproval of Medicare and Medicaid cuts in polling by Washington Post/ABC on the sequester, March 2013.

See, people WANT TO GET SOMETHING from their taxes – like Obamacare! – as opposed to blowing a bunch of money on, let’s say,  military crap that does nothing tangible for them whatsoever. I just spoke to an ex-Air Force guy, recently retired. He told me that the military was buying TONS of obsolete hardware, like tanks, instead of investing money where it would actually do some good, like in cyber-warfare and intelligence. Know why? Because they have to support sweetheart deals with the major arms manufacturers, that’s why. So we are digging ourselves into a deep hole, here, and the military is busy buying us more shovels.  JEEZ THAT AGGRAVATES ME A LOT!

And by the way, Paul – last I heard this was a government OF THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE. So if your principals involved eating puppies and using the bones to build yourself a new playhouse, does that mean THE WHOLE FREAKING NATION has to go along with you on it? Just cuz you have some scatterbrained notion that you’re “right”? I THOUGHT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING FOR US, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!

No wonder American citizens hate Congress more than STD’s, bedbugs, and lice. Poll after poll states that we reject “your vision”. Keep low and middle income people safe, the American public has said over and over again, and tax the wealthy. But you don’t like it, for whatever reason, and it has gotten to the point where I don’t even CARE what your reason is anymore. Supposedly it has something to do with the deficit, but REPUBLICANS DON’T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT THE DEFICIT UNLESS THERE’S A DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT. Remember Reagan? Biggest deficit-creator ON EARTH, not peep one about it from the Repubs. Bush 1 tried, I’ll give him that. But then – Bush 2! Eight long years of that blabber-mouthed meat puppet, and all you Ryans and Boehners and McConnells were tight-lipped as  oysters. Not ONE MENTION of deficits even as Bush rocketed them to new and tottering heights! Even Zombie Republican VP Dick Cheney said PUBLICLY, “Deficits don’t matter”! Don’t you REMEMBER? I sure as hell do!

You know what I think? I think you are totally faking this deficit-abhorrence, much as a $60 prostitute fakes orgasms, and for the same reason. It pays!

So much for your PRINCIPALS. The only Republican principal here is HOW CAN WE STAY IN POWER? How can we stay on that gravy train a little while longer? Paul Ryan, you are a jerk, and you are throwing MY money OUT THE WINDOW!

Oh, and THEN you stage YET ANOTHER stupid theater piece on “repealing Obamacare”, and OF COURSE it goes NOWHERE. You knew it wouldn’t. That’s why it is called PLAY-ACTING. You jump up and down and get a head of steam going, and then, absolutely nothing happens. That’s why you didn’t even bother to rewrite your stupid, error-riddled conservative “budget plan”, which lost you the election in 2012. But you DID manage to WASTE another day of Congressional time. Somebody needs to FIRE this leech on the system. Wisconsonites! Where are your cojones? You need to to VOTE OUT this annoying jackhole STAT.

And now I must stop because I can feel myself getting REALLY angry, and NOBODY wants to be around for THAT because it involves CURSING and BREAKING THINGS. Call me the John Bolton of furiously aggravated bloggers, but I SWEAR. This is RIDICULOUSLY STUPID WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY.

HUGO CHAVEZ, SWITZERLAND, OSCAR PISTORIUS, AND WEALTH INEQUALITY IN AMERICA

And what would any of these topics have to do with one another, one might ask Spokalootalk, and mean it. But first, you must watch this video: Wealth Inequality in America.
It isn’t particularly flamboyant or inflammatory, but it does have a point to make about income inequality in America. I especially like the part where the 1% of American super-wealthy goes so far off the chart he has to make a special, wider space for them to adequately demonstrate how incredibly much more money they have than anyone else in the nation.

And guess what! Venezuela, recently exited by Hugo Chavez, has really, really rich people too! Even though Chavez worked his whole Presidency to create a socialist paradise on Earth, it didn’t work out that great, mainly because all the really rich people in Venezuela just sat on their piles and piles of money, waiting for him to go away. When you are fabulously wealthy, you can find lots of things to keep yourself entertained, no matter how long it takes for someone else to go away, or in Hugo’s situation, get cancer and die.

Meanwhile, back on the streets and in the slums of Venezuela’s urban areas, there are a lot of people from the countryside. They couldn’t eke out a living on farms anymore, so into the cities they came – hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them. And if there is anything we know about human beings, it is that most of them are just like any other animal when it comes to competition: they will fight for resources. So here you have kajillions of the most impoverished people in the nation of Venezuela collecting in a dog-eat-dog mish-mash in Caracas, Valencia, and San Cristobal. For purposes of comparison, Iraq is a country with about the same population as Venezuela. In Iraq, what with ongoing warlord carryings-on, religious mutual antagonism, car bombs, and market massacres, there were 4644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count. In Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000. Venezuela is four times more violent  than Iraq! Seems like having all those extremely poor people squashed into a small footprint with minimal resources breeds violence or something! Especially when the super-rich Venezuelans pack up their toys and go home until somebody they like better can be bought into power, instead of investing in their national infrastructure and creating some jobs, which would be, I must point out, a benevolent form of wealth distribution. I think I can confidently say that most Venezuelans, even though they are an unknown and distant people, would rather have a job than be murdered.

Which brings us to Oscar Pistorius, the South African “blade runner” guy who had these awesome springy blades attached to his femurs (birth defect: born with no fibulas) who could run like the wind. Then he shot his girlfriend. Oops. There are many reasons to wonder why this happened, but the part I was most interested in was the extremely militarized society that the pale-complected Boers of South Africa have fixed up for themselves. And why?  Because so many black people are on the absolute bottom of the income pyramid in South Africa, despite being a huge majority by simple numbers:

Plus, now the Boers have created a national mythology about how many of their white brothers and sisters were scatted out of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and those bad black people, despite the fact that originally they took all the land – every bit of it – from the original black inhabitants. But now it feeds into this concept that  South African whites are under siege, to which the (mostly white) wealthy respond by building huge gated compounds with broken-glass-studded walls and two or three loaded guns in every home, just in case those angry (read as “fantastically poor and unemployed”) black people choose THAT night to go on a rampage. So, whites in South Africa, rather than invest in infrastructure and create jobs, thereby making everybody happier and less likely to run riot, choose to amp themselves up into a stressed-out frenzy, and blame it on poor people. And just like in America, it seems that guns in homes, including South African homes, are infinitely more likely to be used for shooting other family members or oneself than for protection (more about that here). Looks like ol’ Oscar’s temper went ballistic, he used his gun for what a lot of hyper-militarized, freaked out people all over use guns for, and the rest is paparazzi history.

So how does peaceful, pastoral Switzerland figure into all this? Well, just this week,  Swiss voters approved a plan to severely limit executive compensation, not to mention no more bonuses to executives joining or leaving the business, or to executives when their company was taken over (this last being the opposite of  America, where ringyding execs receive mass compensation for plowing companies into the dirt and screwing their employees).

The outcome of the Swiss referendum was a triumph for Thomas Minder, an entrepreneur and member of the Swiss Parliament, who turned a personal fight against the management of Swissair, the flagship airline that collapsed in 2001, into a nationwide referendum against “rip-off merchants.” Almost 68 percent of Swiss voters backed Mr. Minder’s proposals, according to results announced late Sunday.

“I am very proud of the Swiss people who have sent a very strong signal to the establishment,” Mr. Minder told Swiss television. Despite the fact that his referendum had been opposed by Switzerland’s main political parties, Mr. Minder, who is an independent member of the Swiss Parliament, called on all lawmakers to cooperate in swiftly enacting the law.

The US actually made a half-hearted attempt at limiting the supreme hoggishness of American 1-percenters by introducing “nonbinding shareholder votes on executive pay”  in response to the corporate excesses and abuses that fueled the world financial crisis.

Great. Instead of putting “criminals” in “jail”, we ATTEMPT to introduce “non-binding” shareholder votes. Which means those corporate CEO mutual back-scratchers wouldn’t have to do anything about it AT ALL! Wow! THAT took courage! And, of course, despite its utter and complete fanglessness, the proposition was shouted down anyway by big-money interests, who have gotten very good at pushing citizen buttons. (Perhaps certain among us require a repeat viewing of “Wealth Inequality in America” right about now!)

And full circle we come to the place where it all began: “Wealth Inequality in America”. Where it is noticed, first of all, that our wealth inequality arc resembles Venezuela’s and South Africa’s more than Switzerland’s. And we note certain symptoms of this inequality that seem to be universal – violence in the inner cities, for one. Spread of guns in the populace for “protection”, for another. Gated enclaves for the super-wealthy (check out the Wal-mart Walton’s bunker complex here). And the tightwad efficiency of the wealth-owners of the nation holding on to their bucks until that black guy retires from the White House.

Such interesting international parallels. If only we were more like Switzerland than we are like … America.