Should We Show the Results of Shooting Deaths?

Brian BeutlerBrian Beutler wrote a very interesting article, but because of the headline, I let it sit in my RSS queue for a while, Republicans Accept Mass Killings. That's Why Gun Control Advocates Must Get Graphic. I knew at least part of what he was getting at. Ben Carson recently made a statement that he had treated many gunshot wounds, "I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away." And I was afraid that Beutler might be calling for the gun control community to do what the anti-choice people do and show graphic, disgusting images. And that is more or less his argument, but it isn't as bad as it sounds.

Before getting into it, let me counter what Carson said. His framing is wrong — I would say disingenuous, but he's a seriously clueless guy. On the issue of guns, conservatives have gone far past the idea of a slippery slop and gone to a frictionless cliff. Implicit in what Carson is saying is that if we close the gun show loophole, private ownership of guns will be gone from the United States. It's not surprising that he thinks this. The NRA has spent the last couple of decades arguing against any restrictions for this reason. If flamethrowers were legal, people would now be against doing anything to regulate them.

"I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away." —Ben Carson

What Beutler pointed out is that there is another hidden assumption in Carson's claims or the less obviously nutty claims of Jeb Bush. They look at the roughly 10,000 gun homicides and roughly 20,000 gun suicides each year. And they think that they are nothing. They are a minor issue that we should do absolutely nothing about because any measure to strengthen gun regulations is a much greater threat to us. It's a curious argument, because pretty much every other peer country has far greater firearm regulation and they haven't lost their liberty.

So Beutler thinks that we need to make this argument plain. He's not suggesting that we march around with gruesome images of gun fatalities like the anti-choice groups do with large fake photos of abortion. But he is suggesting that we not hide the results of gun violence in reporting on it. When the results are not shown, just like in our wars since Vietnam, it has a propagandistic effect. It sanitizes it and makes it all about statistics. Note that in Ben Carson's case, he was not treating people who had their heads exploded by a bullet; in the vast majority of cases, he was working on people who were wounded and not killed by bullets.

I'm not sure that I agree with Beutler that this would make any difference, however. The truth is that gun rights advocates will say the same thing that abortion rights advocates say: we all know the reality. Of course, look how different this is. In the case of abortion rights, we are talking about real people being negatively affected — in the case of late term abortions, we are talking about a matter of life and death. In the case of gun rights, we are talking about the idea that we can't place any limits on gun ownership because (big assumption number one) it will lead to gun confiscation, which will lead to (big assumption number two) the end of liberty in America.

But maybe Americans do need to be reminded of the terror of a mass shooting. Beutler provided the following image from New York Daily News from the murder of television reporter Alison Parker. It isn't graphic in the sense of showing blood and intestines. But I think it is quite graphic in the sense of showing the terror and pain caused by these shootings. Maybe such images would cause people who would normally stay at home to trudge down to the polling place and vote for reasonable gun control. It's worth a try.

Murder of Alison Parker

Image of Alison Parker's murder used under Fair Use.

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Morning Music: Leo Kottke at the Bottom Line

Leo KottkeWell, it is the end of our Leo Kottke week. A week of music is very different for you than it is for me. I end up listening to far more music than I post. In this case, pretty much all of his first 12 albums. It's kind of hard to believe, although his albums don't tend to be that long. Regardless, it was very enjoyable. There are a lot of great technicians — especially on the guitar — who lose sight of making their music enjoyable. But that never happens to Kottke. He always makes really enjoyable music.

The following is a performance of his at the Bottom Line. It revisits a couple of tunes, and moves into some of his later work. It is well worth listening to. And then after you are done, check out the second part.

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Anniversary Post: Double Tenth Incident

TortureOn this day in 1943 was the Double Tenth incident. This was during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. On 26 September 1943, an Australian military unit had carried out Operation Jaywick. It resulted in the sinking of seven ships. The Japanese were understandably not pleased. So on 10 October 1943, the Japanese Military Police arrested and tortured 57 Singapore civilians for taking part in the attack. Of course, none of them had anything to do with it — Operation Jaywick was a total outside job. Fifteen of the arrested civilians died in jail.

I'm pretty fond of the Japanese. But it all shows how any group of people can be just awful. It's hard to imagine the Japanese doing that sort of thing any time in the next century. They've so internalized the lessons of World War II. But who can we image torturing again? The United States. That's because we've never dealt with our past wrongs. We've treated our past the way we always have: by ignoring it like a dysfunctional family with a history of addiction and child abuse.

It is only through admission of our wrongs that we can grow. This is one of the big reasons that the United States is a dying empire.

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New Publishing Schedule at Frankly Curious

Knight on Horseback - Don QuixoteI'm very fond of the current Frankly Curious publishing schedule. Unfortunately, it's kind of intense, even if I weren't doing anything else. But thankfully, I am doing other things, and they are taking a lot of time. The problem isn't even the writing of articles; it just takes an enormous amount of time reading to come up with six things to post each day. So I've decided to change the publishing schedule.

It had occurred to me that I could start posting shorter articles. But when I tried, it seemed that I ended up writing more. Regardless, at this point, there just is a certain level of depth that I expect in an article here: not too short and not too long. Basically, it is the level of depth that I prefer when reading other blogs. If I'm really into a subject, I want the articles to go on and on. But that's rarely the case for me or anyone else. What's more, since I'm likely to write about the same thing over time, it makes more sense for me to write a number of short articles rather than one long article.

The point is that I'm not really changing Frankly Curious — just cutting down on the amount of work that I do on it. It will also free me up to throw in non-scheduled articles, which I rarely do anymore. And that will especially be true regarding the first scheduled article I'm killing: the 2:05 pm quotations post. This is something I really like. And under the right conditions, it takes almost no work. But I often find myself flailing around looking for something to use. These are best when they are spontaneous.

As you may have noticed if you have a nose for systems and structures, in addition to the quotations post, there is an anniversary post (5:05 am), a morning music (7:05 am), and three "features" (9:05 am, 11:05 am, and 5:05 pm). The anniversary and music posts have to stay. People tend to comment a fair amount on the anniversary posts, and as best as I can tell, they enjoy the music posts. I've come to see them as the very core of Frankly Curious. And even though they can be a bit of work, they are fun to do.

So the obvious place to attack is on the "features." I'm going to cut them down to just two. Hopefully, this will allow me to expand the breadth of what I write about. It seems I often get bogged down in politics and economics — ranting about things I've already ranted about. I'd like to do one post on politics and one on something else. But we will see. It's generally easier to find things to talk about regarding politics. We'll see how it goes. I don't expect it to be a catastrophe, but you never know. One of the rules that guides my life is: all change is for the worse. While not always true, it is a good first approximation.

So here is the new schedule:

5:05 am — Anniversary Post
8:05 am — Morning Music
11:05 am — Feature (Probably Politics)
4:05 pm — Feature (Hopefully Not Politics)

But otherwise, you can expect the same whatever level of insight and entertainment that you've come to depend upon here at Frankly Curious. I'm consistent at whatever level I operate.


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ISIS Isn't Medieval

John TerryISIS is not re-enacting the seventh-century Arab conquests, even though some among its ranks may think they are. They're nostalgic for a make-believe past, and those among them who know plenty about Islam's first decades have conveniently revised medieval history to fit modern ideological needs...

Islam's early spread focused on expanding the number of believers without wholesale destruction of existing social structures. In contrast, ISIS's determined lack of capacity for negotiation is what sets it apart from the early Islamic conquests.

Given this context, ISIS's insistence on an all-or-nothing caliphate isn't "medieval" at all. It is a thoroughly modern group.

—John Terry
Why ISIS Isn't Medieval


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Are You Ready for Economic Collapse, America?!

Kevin McCarthyI was strangely concerned yesterday morning when I read that Kevin McCarthy had removed himself from consideration as Speaker of the House. It's not like he would have been great, but he didn't seem to be totally insane. And all we are really asking of the Republicans in the House is that they not destroy the world economy for the sake of making a "statement." So who's it gonna be now? Currently, we only know of Daniel Webster and Jason Chaffetz — two freaks. Is this what we have to look forward to?

The conventional wisdom — which I have generally followed along with — is that with power goes responsibility. Boehner acted the way he did because he — like all the Republicans — knows (or thinks) that blowing up the economy would be bad for them. Therefore, anyone in the job would be responsible. But that's a questionable assumption, not a compelling conclusion. This really hit home to me when I heard Ben Carson interviewed on Marketplace. It was clear that Carson didn't understand what the debt ceiling was all about. And I suspect that this is also true of many, if not most, of the Republicans in the House.

I'm starting to have these visions of Donald Trump in the White House with a General trying to explain to him that bombing Moscow would be a bad idea. Such a large part of the Republican Party has been completely cut off from the real world for such a long time. Their delusions now dictate their policies. And we've most definitely seen this with regard to the debt ceiling, where many Republicans have tried to make the case that breaching it would be no big deal. So what happens if such a person becomes Speaker of the House? Or are we going to get what the freaks always claim with a government shutdown: if only they just hung on another day, week, month that they would have "won"? It's madness, but sadly all too possible.

According to Think Progress, Kevin McCarthy Suggests House Republicans Are Ungovernable, May Need To "Hit Rock Bottom." It is hard to construe that in any way that isn't terrifying. When drunks "hit rock bottom" they destroy their lives. The GOP hitting rock bottom could well destroy the world economy.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog wrote a really angry, and I think accurate, article yesterday, First They Came for the GOP Moderates... It isn't even directly about the crazies in the Republican Party; it's about the likes of Colin Powell, Christie Todd Whitman, and William Weld. He noted, "The party in recent years has made its right-centrists... increasingly unwelcome. And they did nothing to fight back, except occasionally stamp an ineffectual foot..."

I'm angry too. The Republican Party didn't just wake up this way one morning. And it isn't just the Republican "moderates," either. (It's really kind of a joke. Whitman withheld clean syringes from drug users because facts don't matter to her any more than they do Louie Gohmert.) It's also the fault of the Democratic Party -- most especially the New Democrats. And it is the fault of the American people for not caring enough to distinguish because a moderate party and proto-fascist radicals.

But perhaps McCarthy is right: sometimes you need to hit rock bottom. But that's not a statement about the GOP, but the world. Maybe this is what it will take for us all to realize that we can't allow any country to have the kind of power that the US has. All it takes is a handful of talk radio created lunatics and a disinterested electorate and the economy is destroyed. It's truly amazing.


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Another Debt Ceiling Crisis

Debt Ceiling NegotiationsIs it already that time of year again? Another chance for the Republican Party to destroy the world economy with a debt ceiling standoff? Oh yes! Christmas comes but once a year, but the impending disaster of a US government default is something that pays benefits all the time. And we are but one month from another deadline when all reasonable Americans ask, "Are the Republicans really this reckless?!" The answer to that is: yes. They are like teens left along to monkey with the control room of a nuclear power plant. They don't want anything to go terribly wrong, but they aren't wise enough to know what they don't know.

Back in 2003, the Republican Party raised the debt ceiling on the very same day that they passed a budget busting tax cut that did almost no good for the economy because it targeted the very rich. Imagine that: the Republican Party of 2003 was the careful one. If they manage to control Washington in 2017, I suspect we are looking at things that will make the Iraq War look like a wise and considered decision. I'm thinking: a war with Iran that devolves into a global nuclear war with Russia. I'll bet Kevin McCarthy is fantasizing about it right now.

There was talk that Boehner might resolve this and various other issues before he stepped down as Speaker of the House. He did say, "I don't want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there." But we haven't heard anything from him recently. And even if he does raise it, is will most likely be a temporary measure — the same kind of thing he did for the government shutdown. Let's never fix anything! Let's just push the confrontation ahead a month or two!

Michael Hiltzik has pointed out that the whole idea of the debt ceiling was originally created in 1917 to give the Treasury Department more latitude to deal with the federal budget — not less. It was created so that Congress didn't have to vote on every little thing. "The debt limit became a fiscal pitfall only after 2010 when talk of holding it hostage for political ends became commonplace." The only previous time there was anything like this was under Newt Gingrich in 1995. And think about that for a moment. I have lots of policies that I prefer. But the idea of risking default for the sake of winning a political battle should be seen as treasonous.

I know what people say: the Republicans wouldn't really cause the country to default! But I see no reason to think otherwise. The truth is that it might well benefit them politically. It would send our economy into a tailspin and the American people, in their wisdom, might reward the malefactors with complete control of the federal government. Or it would destroy the Republican Party. I am convinced it is the uncertainty about that which stops the Republicans from doing it. Regardless, the debt ceiling issue will come back, because it never goes away. Not as long as the Republican Party exists in its current form — as a failed party.

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Morning Music: Up Tempo

Leo KottkeYou will have to forgive me for spending a second day on Leo Kottke. This is the end of the week, except for tomorrow when I plan to post a whole set by Kottke. And I realized that I hadn't made it very far through his career. But at this point, he starts to mix it up more — singing, using a band, and also not being on YouTube. So I figured we would stop on this album and it would make a good overview of his early music.

Today we listen to a very nice slide guitar number, "Up Tempo." It's a beautiful tune — managing to be both upbeat and sad at the same time. Also, kind of funny.

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Anniversary Post: Kepler's Supernova

Kepler's SupernovaOn this day in 1604, Kepler's Supernova was first observed. It wouldn't be noticed by Johannes Kepler until a week later, but he observed it for a year and published a book about it. It's an important event because it was the last time a supernova was observed in our galaxy. (We observe them in other galaxies.) And that's really interesting if you consider that just 32 years earlier, Kepler's colleague Tycho Brahe had observed another supernova. So two supernovas in a small span of time, and then nothing for over 400 years. But that's the way random events are.

In general, a supernova would have to be closer than 100 light-years from the Earth to have an effect on us. Statistically, we should have one within 33 light-years every 250 million years. That's one of the things about us being out here on the edge of the galaxy: it's kind of boring. But it is probably also necessary for the development of advanced life. Further in, life on the Earth would have likely been destroyed before it got too far.

Kepler's Supernova is thought to have been something on the order of 20,000 light years away. The one Brahe observed was less than half that distance. Still, these supernovas were far, far away -- where they belong.

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Our Dysfunctional Press Brought Us Marco Rubio

Marco RubioOn Tuesday at Vox, Ezra Klein wrote, Why Marco Rubio Is Insisting That His Massive Tax Cuts Will Pay for Themselves, Explained. Of course, you don't need to read the article to know the answer. Anyone around here knows the claim: his tax cuts will unleash the economy and cause such an increase in tax revenues, that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. This is literally the idea of every major Republican politician since at least late 1980. This is especially funny considering that Rubio pushes this image of himself as the hip-hop loving young guy with the new ideas.

What's really bothersome is that Rubio now has one of these fake think tanks that spit out "studies" that prove that conservative policy would be just awesome. In this case, it is the Tax Foundation, which Klein stated charitably, "It produces research, churns out charts and tables, and scores tax plans, but it's motivated by an anti-tax agenda." Not that it is any worse than the Cato Institute, but let's be clear: it is an organization that will only ever produce ideologically appropriate studies. In other words, it isn't in the truth business; it is in the dogma justification business.

Ezra KleinSo now Rubio can go on television and not worry. Anytime someone questions him about his ludicrous tax plan, he can say, "The Tax Foundation has scored my budget and finds that it will create surpluses. Also: ponies for all good boys and girls!" The Tax Foundation even describes itself as "nonpartisan." That, of course, means nothing at all, other than that they don't specifically align themselves with the Republican Party. Of the three people on their board of directors that I can find out information about, all are Republicans. Conservative hack Glenn Hubbard used to be on its board. It's a conservative group with a very big ax to grind.

This wouldn't be a problem if we have an actual free and independent press that took its job seriously. But instead, when we get a discussion of it at all, it will be of the typical form, "The Tax Policy Center says Rubio's plan will create a huge budget deficit — just like all the previous similar plans have; but the Tax Foundation says it will create surpluses and ponies; who can say which is right?!" And it is this kind of reporting that allows Republicans to continue to claim that their tax cuts pay for themselves after decades of false promises to do so.

You have to give the Republican Party credit. They were the first to see that we live in a postmodern world. They saw that you could just lie and the press would frame at opinion. Global Warming isn't a matter of science, but rather a matter of opinion. Is Planned Parenthood extracting viable fetuses from mothers and then extracting their brains while they are alive? It's a matter of opinion! I've long thought that we get the government we deserve. But I'm beginning to think that's wrong. We get a truly dysfunctional government because our news outlets have decided that their job is to entertain rather than inform. Marco Rubio is the creation of our media system.


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Results of Our Bombing War: Innocents Killed

Max FisherBut regardless of any human error, there is a deeper and not-at-all accidental cause to blame, and it is the same thing that has contributed to the American bombing of so many wedding parties and innocent villages before: this is how a bombing war works. This is what a bombing war does. It is the war we've chosen in Afghanistan, the war we've chosen in Syria and Iraq, and the war that, if history is any guide, the United States will continue to choose over and over. When we treat it as mainly an accident or an aberration, we obfuscate that fact and ignore what makes this incident truly terrible.

—Max Fisher
Bombing a Hospital in Afghanistan Is the Modern American Way of War

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Wells Fargo Cheats and Gets Praised for It

Wells FargoMatt Taibbi wrote a really interesting article last week, Wells Fargo's Master Spin Job. It's about this program that Wells Fargo has started, HomeLIFT. In it, qualified homeowners will be given $15,000 for a down payment on a house. So in the Detroit area, Wells Fargo is putting $5.25 million dollars toward this program. Why such an exact figure? It turns out that this is the amount that the bank is required to give to the area. The money it is paying is punishment for wrongdoing, but politicians and reporters all over the nation are presenting it like it is a great act of kindness.

This is all about the robo-signing scandal of the last several years. "People all over the country found themselves booted out of their homes thanks to bogus affidavits signed by 'vice presidents' and 'regional managers,' who were often scraggly kids just out of college blindly signing hundreds of documents a day, if not more." Wells Fargo was one of many banks caught doing this and was part of a $25 billion settlement. There are various parts to the settlement, and Wells Fargo figured out this great way to spin their punishment to make it look like they are the good guys.

Matt TaibbiTaibbi documented how in most cities, the press has just gone along with Well Fargo's framing of the issue. KMOX wrote, "Local Companies Join Forces For Home Ownership." That was about the HomeLIFT program in St Louis that was putting in $4.75 million, "Again, this was exactly the amount specified in the court settlement." The same thing in Fresno, "The $7.5 million Fresno program was, again, exactly the amount mandated by the Westland settlement." And when Taibbi confronted Wells Fargo, they said it was just an extension of its CityLIFT program. But then it turns out that CityLIFT was just another court mandated program because of Wells Fargo's discriminatory loan practices.

But I was wondering about what this would all mean if Wells Fargo were doing this voluntarily. It wouldn't make me feel good about it. It's kind of like the guy who beats up his wife and then brings her flowers the next day. Sure, the flowers are nice, but they hardly make up for the beating. And it is only too clear that the flowers are a kind of bribe, "Forgive me because the most recent thing I did is nice." It's certain that the guy is going to beat up his wife again. And he knows that the flowers work just fine — and if they fail, perhaps some jewelry.

This program is not going to make up for all the people who were wrongly thrown out of their homes. It is just a marketing campaign. But that's the really sick part of this whole thing: this part of the settlement was explicitly meant to be marketing, "The terms mandated that the bank spend $67 million on a series of measures to repair its reputation in communities hit the hardest by foreclosures and robo-signing." Our "justice" system is making sure that people continue to trust the banks that it wouldn't allow to fail back in 2008. It's disgusting.


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