All Today’s Victims

Boston Marathon BombI always have a strange and some would say heartless view of tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing. It is not that I am not engaged by such events. Rather, it is that I feel that it is wrong to elevate such events above the tragedy that we allow day after day. If this is like most days, 25 people were murdered throughout the country. Countless others were badly injured because of violent acts. I don’t think any of these are more or less tragic, although obviously I would if any of them directly affected me. If there is anything good about such events, it is that it reminds me (at least) of all the people harmed every day. Unfortunately, especially after Sandy Hook, I have come to think that as a nation, our only response will be to make matters worse.

Of course, I am interested in what is going on. One or more people went to great lengths to kill three people and injure at least 140 more. And unlike most murders, which are crimes of overwrought passions, a crime such as this is not only premeditated, but carefully calculated. It is hard to imagine it being the result of anything but that bizarre ability that people have to place ideology (politics, religion, whatever) above human life. I think such people must justify it by thinking that they are willing to die for their “cause” so it is all right to kill for it. Of course, such people never die for their causes willingly. That’s why people like Thich Quang Duc are so remarkable: because they are so rare.

But I don’t know, of course. The whole thing could just be the result of some disaffected teens who thought that detonating some bombs and killing some people would be cool. That’s just the point: other than the perpetrators, no one knows at this point. But that didn’t stop the news of the day after 3:00 pm from being made up almost exclusively with much wringing of hands by reporters and pundits. I managed to see one press conference which explained in great detail that the authorities don’t know anything and can’t comment on all the things they don’t know.

As I write this, I’m interested why someone would do such a thing. But when it is finally sorted out, I doubt it will be very edifying. I suspect that it will come down to some group of people who were mad about something that had nothing to do with the Boston Marathon, much less any of the people who were harmed. There never is a good reason why we kill each other. It’s always some variation on, “She slept with my husband.” It’s all just a big property rights conflict. But there is something about the wringing of hands and looking for simple reasons for pointless acts that strikes me as unsavory.

I think it gets much easier on the TV news staff to have such tragedies. It is 12 hours after the bombing, and other than a better casualty count, we don’t know any more. Yet cable news has been jawing away that whole time. And I suppose I find the parts where they say that their hearts go out to the victims the hardest to stomach. I just don’t buy it—not any more than if they said their hearts went out to all the other victims today.

Let’s Eat Grandma

Let's Eat GrandmaWill sent me a link to this t-shirt vendor that has a shirt that reads, “Let’s eat grandma. Let’s eat, grandma. Punctuation saves lives.” This, of course, is very much in keeping with Lynne Truss’ fun book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. But as much as I find these kinds of grammar jokes wonderful, I am, as always, a grammar liberal.

So here’s the thing: meaning is contextual. If you are watching a horror film about some very naughty grandchildren, then sure: we’re talking about eating the grandmother. (Let me point out that meat from an old human is bound to taste gamy.) That might also be the case if you were in an airplane that crashed in the Andes. But in all other contexts, it means you are entreating grandma to enjoy a pleasant repast—comma or no.

And that’s the thing about English (or any other language): there are times when it is vague. And this is the basis for just about all of those little grammar jokes that pedants like me love. For example, “The dog caught the ball as it flew through the air.” To which your high school English teacher would add, “I sure hope the dog didn’t hurt itself when it landed.” And yes, I delight in such word play. But it is wrong to think that it is important. No one but a pedant would for a moment think that the dog was flying through the air rather than the ball.

Good writing is not about rules; it is about clarity. As a result, I try not to create constructions like, “The dog caught the ball as it flew through the air.” That’s because they are unclear. And sometimes, that requires ugly rewrites like, “The dog caught the ball as the ball few through the air.” (Much better: “As the ball flew through the air, the dog caught it.” Although a pedant might ask, “Caught the air?”) But it makes me wonder if teachers who highlight such problems are very good teachers.

The truth is that almost any sentence is a mush of vagueness. I so wanted to use “vagaries.”) And that makes me wonder if we truly communicate with words. Maybe I’m just fooling myself by thinking that I can get anything but the most basic ideas across to a reader. But then I’m something of a solipsist, so I’m not even sure you exist—much less that I can communicate with you.

Hope Alone is Not Audacious

Obama Question MarkWhat is audacious about hope? In general, I think the answer is nothing. There could be something. If you combine hope with a strong will and commitment, then it can be audacious indeed. But I’ve never gotten the idea that Obama means this. Instead, he seems to offer nothing more than the hope that we will all come together and sing Kumbayah. Sure, his perfect world is likely very similar to mine. But is he willing to fight for it? No.

In most ways, what the last four years have shown is that Obama goes along to get along. That is nowhere more clear than in his continued prosecution of the supposed war on terror. Glenn Greedwald wrote an article that documents the many ways that Obama is primarily responsible for the injustice that is the Guantanamo prison. To start off, he notes that Obama never wanted to close it; he only wanted to move it to Illinois. And an Obama task force that looked into the prisoners decided that “48 detainees were determined to be too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.” In other words: people we will never release. I don’t even understand this. It seems to me that most of the evidence that has been used to convict these people in the past is pretty bad. If they don’t even have evidence that is that good, how can they possibly believe that these detainees are dangerous? This just sounds like, “I don’t like the cut of your jib so I’m never letting you out.”

By far the biggest sin that Obama continues to commit is his ban on releasing any detainees to Yemen. More than half of the detainees are from Yemen. Most of these have been cleared for release—many, long ago. And yet they sit in prison because Obama freaked out about a terror attack. I guess that he is hoping that there will never again be any terrorism so that he will be free to release people who are even innocent by the “cut of your jib” standard.

This last bit is totally on Obama. I think there are two ways to see Obama when it comes matters like these. Either he is committed to the same world view as Dick Cheney or he is a coward. I tend to think it is a mix of both. Certainly we know that Obama has no iconoclastic tendencies. The installed power structure has been very, very good for him. But the bigger issue is that he is afraid. And that’s nothing short of evil. Placing your own political power above the very lives of innocents is evil. It is also the very basis of United States foreign policy.

And I have no hope at all that it will change.

Glocks for Tots

Armed ToddlerSteve Stockman is a funny guy, but I am still compelled to go all pedant on his ass. A “fetus” with a gun could shoot it’s way out. After which it would be taken to a lab where it would be studied, very carefully.

However, Stockman’s droll theory is inaccurate. A baby with a gun can’t abort an abortion any more than it could use it to protect the right to have a gun fetish – a constitutional right that, despite mass paranoia, is in no danger of being taken away from (hardly) anyone.

On the other hand, a child with a gun can accomplish a lot. Accidental suicide and murder for example. Children have an uncanny ability to shoot people right in the head. They’re like freakin’ Navy Seals.

Of course not everyone has access to weaponry at such a young age, so by the time they can get their hands on a gun they often turn to semi-automatics. When lacking the skill for accuracy, go for quantity.

So if you can’t legally abort a fetus, just wait until it’s a toddler and then leave a gun lying around. You’ll have a 50/50 chance that the kid will self-deport himself, but if he misses and shoots someone else, he’ll be taken off your hands before you can say, “I only looked away for a minute”.

Leonardo and the Fetus

Leonardo da Vinci's study of a fetus in the wombOn this day in 1707, one of the greatest mathematicians ever, Leonhard Euler was born. The great novelist Henry James was born 1843. Muralist Thomas Hart Benton was born in 1889. Nikita Khrushchev and Bessie Smith were born in 1894. The iconoclastic psychologist Thomas Szasz was born in 1920. And Elizabeth Montgomery was born in 1933.

Conductor Neville Marriner is 89 today. Roy Clark is 80. And Emma Thompson is 54.

But the day belongs to Leonardo da Vinci who was born on this day in 1452. Truly, I would have liked to give the day to Euler, but really, it’s da Vinci. Just look at that image above: in addition to everything else, he studied fetus development. What could I do?

Happy birthday Leonardo da Vinci!

Gun Bill Could Be Worse Than Nothing

No NRAHave you seen the opening to this weekend’s Saturday Night Live? The skit makes fun of what I wrote about last week: The Great Liberal Gun Policy Victory. In the end, I argued, what we would get is a law that is almost useless. I’m never one to avoid accountability, so let me lay it on the line: I was wrong.

The law will be worse than useless.

Karen Tumulty and Ed O’Keefe reported at the Washington Post, Gun Debate in Senate Likely to Feature Amendments to Weaken or Strengthen Laws. They pointed out that the gun lobby and their pals “are working on a series of amendments that could have the opposite effect—loosening many of the restrictions that exist in current law.”

What kind of amendments? Things that far outweigh anything positive in the bill:

Most worrisome to those who advocate new gun limits is an expected amendment that would achieve one of the National Rifle Association’s biggest goals: a “national reciprocity” arrangement, in which a gun owner who receives a permit to carry a concealed weapon in any one state would then be allowed to do that anywhere in the country. Other pro-gun proposals would make it easier for dealers to sell their merchandise between states or let certain people who had been treated for mental illness regain the right to buy weapons.

You may be wondering, what are those amendments that could “strengthen” the law that the title of the article refers to. Well, in the article, they only mentioned one: the assault weapons ban. And they noted that it has effectively no chance of passing. But that concealed carry reciprocity? Last time the Senate voted on it, it got 58 votes.

Things are not quite as bad as it seems, however. Everyone thinks that if these amendments get passed, it will just kill the bill. And maybe that is for the best. As Jonathan Chait noted this morning, “Any real effort to address the plague of mass gun violence will require not a catalyzing event, or even a string of them, but years of organizing and effort.” I would only add that the liberals have to stop meeting conservatives 90% of the way. The worse case scenario, as we see with concealed carry reciprocity, is much worse than 100% failure. Wouldn’t it be sad if our response to Sandy Hook was to make such tragedies more likely.