Daily Archives: 21 Jan 2015

Accidental Shootings and Bloody Massacres

Accidental ShootingsWill brought my attention to this tragic story, Nine-Month-Old Boy Accidentally Shot by Brother in Elmo, Missouri. That got me doing a little research and I started thinking about the way that we make a big deal out of rare events but don’t pay any attention to common things that are much more likely to kills us.

You may remember a few days ago, I wrote, We Fear Ebola — It Is From a Scary Country. My point in that article was that our fear of Ebola was all about our fear of the manner of death rather than death itself. Ebola, which has been responsible for exactly one death in America, was a big deal, but influenza, which has killed dozens of children just this season, is not. In that case, I think it has a lot to do with notions of purity: influenza is our disease and Ebola is theirs.

Similarly, the nation freaked out when 12 people were murdered in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But even at the time, I had silently compared it to something I care a lot about: a bit more than twice that many pedestrians are killed in traffic accidents each day. I’m not equating these things except in the sense that they both represent unnatural ways to die. It is true that there will always be accidents (although there are many things we could do to make pedestrians safer). But what about accidental gun deaths?

According to research compiled by Smart Gun Laws, from 2005 through 2010, there were 3,800 people in the United States who died as a result of accidental shootings. That’s 633 per year, or a bit less than two per day. So statistically, more people were accidentally killed with guns during the week of the Paris massacre than were killed by the massacre itself. What’s more, we know, “People of all age groups are significantly more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in states with more guns, relative to states with fewer guns.” And certainly, while having one gun in the house might make you safer, having 30 certainly doesn’t — and that’s even true if you believe the black helicopters are coming for you. (I would assume you would want a few guns and lots of ammo.)

The reason I think that American gun owners don’t worry about this is partly due to purity. But the bigger issue is the sense of control. Even if guns might make people less safe, they feel safer with guns because they feel as though they control the situation. This is similar to how people can be afraid of flying in an airplane but not driving in a far less safe car. But I do think it is a delusion. Whenever I talk to gun enthusiasts about gun accidents, they tell me about gun safety classes and all the rules that they follow to keep safe. The problem is that I’m sure all the people involved in those accidents said the same thing before those accidents.

What’s more, I have never been around a gun enthusiast for any length of time without seeing occasional lapses of gun safety rules. They don’t even seem to be aware of it unless I point it out. And when I do point it out, it is usually shrugged off as an unimportant thing. And they are right. None of the rules are important until they are.

I’m not suggesting that people ought to freak out about gun safety or pedestrian safety or anything. I think we all freak out a good deal too much. But it doesn’t help to have delusions of control. I have lots of tips to help pedestrians avoid injury or death — but walking near traffic is still dangerous. There are many things that gun owners can do to minimize risks — but owning a gun is still dangerous, and I think the vast majority of people would be safest without guns. The biggest problem is the delusion that we need to worry about Muslim zealots attacking us at work. And an even bigger delusion among many of us is that we could do anything about it anyway.

Joni Ernst Does Sarah Palin

Joni ErnstIt has long been my belief that the media and the Republican Party learned the same lesson from Sarah Palin’s disastrous interview with Katie Couric. And that lesson was that the Republican Party looks really bad when the media get a good, unrehearsed view of their wingnuts (which now make up over half of the party’s successful politicians). It is because the media would prefer not to go through anything as cringingly embarrassing as that interview that Joni Ernst managed to become a United States Senator while not only crazy but utterly unqualified.

This goes way back to at least the 2008 vice-presidential debate. When Biden countered her on the fact that she didn’t answer the first question, Palin replied, “I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.” And that was how the debate went: she just talked about whatever she wanted in her own peculiar way also. I don’t suppose that there was anything that could have been done about that. But afterward, the media reaction was mostly relief that it didn’t result in anything like this:

So when Jodi Ernst was running for the Senate, the media did not push the way they would have pushed a regular candidate — a Democrat, or a Republican who wasn’t crazy, ignorant, and of average intelligence. But now she’s in the Senate and there is no reason to think that the media will push her any harder than they have pushed her before. (Note: other than comedians, the media went very easy on Sarah Palin after the Couric debacle.) And the Republicans know that. So they have decided to use Ernst as a trained seal — or something like that.

She is, after all, attractive. She is a woman. She’s not a terrible speaker. So why not have her give the response to the State of the Union speech? But they decided to do it right. Just as Sarah Palin wasn’t going to answer questions in her debate, Joni Ernst wasn’t going to give a response to the president:

Tonight though, rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

And thus began the nine minute infomercial, “The Republican Party Is Not Scary.” The whole thing was so over-rehearsed that I’m quite sure Ernst did little more than practice for the last week. But the style reminded me of those dreadful animatronic creatures like they had at Disneyland when I was a kid. But perhaps more accurate would be to say that she seemed like one of The Stepford Wives from the 1970s. I was afraid that she might crack during the speech and we would see the electronics inside.

That would be an improvement, however. As it is, I still kind of think that her conservative colleagues are just reptiles inside a human costume. So maybe they are the reptiles and she is just a robot that must be pre-programmed. Clearly, they’ve worked some of the bugs out since the Sarah Palin model. This model sticks to simple sentences and doesn’t launch into open-ended logorrhea. But it is no more convincing.

“I’m Joni Ernst. As a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa, I am proud to speak with you tonight. I was just going to give you coffee. As a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa, I am proud to speak with you tonight. I’m Joni Ernst. I was just going to give you coffee. As a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa, I am proud to speak with you tonight.”

Conservative Reactions to State of the Union

Fox Not NewsI spent most of the night glued to Fox News. Part of this is just that MSNBC is too predictable. But mostly, I just wanted to know what the conservatives would have to say, given that I knew Obama was going to propose some things that normally would be hugely popular — even among conservatives. And I knew they would hate these proposals. So I thought it might be fun to watch them make their bold stands for the power elite. I wanted to see them explain how they truly cared about the middle class and that is why they were for more tax cuts and subsidies for the rich. Oh: and Juan Williams was there too.

The evening did not start off well. To begin with, there was no SOTU coverage until 9:00. Bill O’Reilly did his usual 8:00 show because, you know, it was only a Democratic president giving the speech — nothing important. Finally, Bret Baier came on and gave his usual biased, but somehow still vanilla introduction. And then came Nina Easton. She’s an editor at Fortune Magazine who is mostly interested in economics, but not last night! She was going on about how Obama was going to ask for approval to attack in Iraq. Fine. But she made it out like it was a big deal and that this was what the headlines would be about tomorrow. In fact, all the discussion before the speech was about ISIS and how important terrorism is and how we should be afraid — very afraid.

This was quite interesting because after the speech, Baier came back on and said that “as predicted” the president spoke little about foreign affairs and instead focusing on domestic issues. I think that was his way of saying, “Since I’m the only halfway reasonable person in this room, I want to make it clear that I always knew that what these other fools were talking about was nonsense.” Of course, in the lead-up to the speech, he didn’t counter any of that nonsense.

At this point, we got to hear from George Will who did nothing but quote a large section of the speech with a mocking tone. He really needs to retire. He is no kind of substitute for Charles Krauthammer — and you know how highly I regard him! After Will, we got Stephen Hayes who scoffed at the president’s attempt to make nice with the Republicans because he had been the most “divisive” president in history. Blah, blah, blah. Somehow, conservatives always forget that Lincoln fought the Civil War. Regardless, Hayes’ examples all came from late in his term — after the Republicans had shunned Obama at every turn. Finally, Nina Easton noted that the TTIP and TPP would grow the economy — something she can’t know because she’s never seen these secret monstrosities.

Fox News went to commercial, so I switched over to MSNBC just in time to see Steve “I’m more conservative every day hoping for a good gig in the 2016 election” Schmidt. He was arguing that ISIS was a far more important issue than public funding of child care. I suspect that’s true — for Steve Schmidt, who probably has a stay-at-home wife, but certainly has enough money to pay for child care. Gratefully, Chris Hayes countered him powerfully, noting that ISIS isn’t some kind of existential threat to the United States. Rachel Maddow, who may be suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, came to Schmidt’s defense. But the kind of fear mongering that Schmidt was doing should be left to Fox News where it belongs.

The only other thing I saw was back over on Fox News after Joni Ernst. Everyone was respectful. They all agreed that at least she didn’t awkwardly grab a bottle of water and guzzle it in the middle of her talk. But it was clear they were shell-shocked. They understand better than anyone. When you have a political movement that is based upon taking away from the poorer classes and giving it to the rich, you need people like Ernst to convince the people that you aren’t really reptiles in human costumes. But really, I think a close watching of an hour and a half of Fox News will make you think that might just be true.

Oh: and Juan Williams was there too.

Obama’s Hope for Clinton 2016

Obama HopeI thought that the first half hour of Obama’s State of the Union speech was really good. It was nice to see him so relaxed with an attitude that the Republicans could bite him if they had a problem. In fact, most of the speech seemed very much like the first speech of the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign. And I’m fine with that. The president offered a number of good ideas. Of course, we know they will all come to nothing so long as Americans continue to stay home for off year elections.

The speech got a bit much at the end when Obama talked about working with the Republicans. This kind of act might have worked in 2008 and 2009, but that was only because Obama truly was naïve and actually believed it. But that’s not true anymore. Obama knows the score. But I know what he was doing. He was trying to shame the Republicans. This is something that I’ve been complaining about for the last six years. I don’t mind that Republicans disagree with me. In fact, I defended them after the 2012 election when centrists everywhere were claiming that the Republicans had to “moderate.” Republicans should do what their supporters want. But sadly, that isn’t what they do.

Hillary Clinton LaughingIdeas they’ve always been in favor of, they suddenly decide are socialism if a Democrat is in the White House. I understand that Obamacare was more liberal than what they wanted. But they weren’t willing to go with anything at all. In fact, the one idea that was absolutely theirs — the individual mandate — they have totally turned their back on. But much more important, they are against any kind of stimulus. They don’t believe in infrastructure spending. They don’t believe in anything that will help — as long as a Democrat is in the White House. And that’s shameful. But no amount of shaming from Obama is going to change the Republicans. They are far beyond shame.

Mixed in with all the good ideas that Obama talked about, was one terribly wrong idea:

Twenty-first century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

This is a reference to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). These are terrible “trade” agreements. We know this because if they were good, they wouldn’t be negotiated in secret with the help of corporate lobbyists and the White House wouldn’t be requesting “fast track” authority so that no one will be able to really see what is inside it before a vote. It will doubtless be filled with sweet provisions for our corporate overlords. And I suspect that it is just a roundabout way for them to get the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) because they couldn’t get it through democratic means.

There are two ways to look at Obama’s push for this. Either he actually believes in it, which means that the soul of the Democratic Party has been destroyed. Or it is that Obama thinks he has to make public pronouncements about this kind of garbage for the sake of keeping corporate funders happy, which mean that the soul of the Democratic Party has been destroyed. It is just a travesty. These treaties (TTIP and TPP) are probably the only things that would make me quit the Democratic Party. And I don’t think I’m alone. If the party embraced this, it would make a lot of people just give up on partisan politics — not that many of us aren’t already very close as it is. (For the record, I’ve felt from the start that Obama has had this attitude towards people like me of, “Who else are you going to vote for?”)

But overall, it was a good speech. I like the idea of paying for junior college. Childcare, paid sick leave, equal pay, and an increased minimum wage are all good ideas. Unfortunately, they are all good ideas that the Republicans hate. So maybe the politics will look better at the beginning of 2017. Ultimately, that’s what it’s going to take: something like we had in 2009 for a very short period of time. I’m hopeful that we will get such a chance. I just doubt it will be in 2017. In fact, I suspect it will take a very bad period of Republican rule before we get there. But it is nice to know where we are headed.

Karl Wallenda

Karl WallendaOn this day in 1905, the amazing high wire artist Karl Wallenda was born. He is best known as the founder of the The Flying Wallendas. Whatever. I hate this kind of stuff. I admire it, but I do wish people wouldn’t do it. Isn’t there enough to worry about? People die just walking down the street, or getting out of bed, or because someone left a loaded gun in a sock. Life doesn’t need to be made more dangerous! Just the same, how can I not admire people who are so foreign to me?

Wallenda was born into the business. He began performing with his family at the age of six. The act appears to have always been pretty much the same: they create human pyramids on the tightrope. And they’ve only made the act more and more dangerous and ridiculous over the years. You can see a video of them doing a seven person pyramid. It’s amazing stuff, but I want to scream, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to open up a nice hot dog stand?!”

Probably the only reason I’m writing about Karl Wallenda today is because of his death. At the age of 73, he performed on a wire stretched between two ten story buildings in Puerto Rico. There were high winds as is often the case when these stunts are performed. And he lost his balance and fell. You can watch on YouTube if you want, but I’m not going to provide a link because it is extremely upsetting. Instead, watch him four years earlier, doing a head stand on a wire — also with high winds and rain:

Happy birthday Karl Wallenda!