The Gun Thing

Now that we’ve had a number of high profile mass shootings in the US, it looks like there may finally be the political will to address the idea of gun control. For years it’s been a one-sided argument by NRA-type folks that use the bogeyman of socialists taking over the government and confiscating guns in order to raise money around election times. Democrats have mostly given the issue a pass since there’s such a huge entrenched interest defending gun rights that regulation has been a local thing in large cities and urban states. Increased controls on firearms hasn’t been addressed by Congress since the 90s.

So, we’ve had a couple of decades of increasingly hyperbolic warnings from conservatives about the dangers of gun control and not a whole lot from the other side. That’s now become a little weird.

Since gun rights advocates have been ginning themselves up into a righteous snit for years now against a non-existent opposition, the die hard positions that they’ve adopted seem a little nonsensical. We’re at the point now where the best defense against an armed attacker is to blow him away. The only way to protect your home against intruders is to blow them away. Gun lobbyists have managed to get those concepts enshrined as law in states around the country with Stand Your Ground and Make My Day statutes. The same instincts are now causing gun advocates to call for increased gun ownership and for things like armed teachers in schools to combat mass shootings. Finally, public opinion is seeing that kind of stupidity for what it is.

The thing I think is weirdest about gun rights advocates is that I don’t think they know how guns work or alternately they don’t know how people work. I grew up around guns. There were guns in the house and my relatives went hunting. We knew what guns were for– putting a hole in something that you pointed it at. The assumption was always that you didn’t point a gun at anything you didn’t want to kill, including whatever might be behind what you’re aiming at. As far as anyone in the house was concerned, every gun everywhere was loaded and had the safety off and should be treated that way. These are the basics that they teach in every hunter safety course. My dad and grandpa followed the basics up with what they learned in the military– never carry a gun unless you’re prepared to use it without hesitation. Because they were not on a battlefield or lived in some post-apocalyptic wasteland, neither one of them ever carried a gun or had any interest in getting a concealed and carry permit. My dad actually refused to go hunting unless he knew that he wouldn’t be surrounded by armed morons.

The dipsticks that are out at gun rallies don’t seem to understand any of that stuff. The first week of the legislative session, a bunch of people decided to rally outside the capitol in Denver with their guns. Just the other day, a couple of guys went for a walk in Portland Oregon, carrying their AR-15s in order to “educate people” about gun rights. Naturally, people ran like hell and called the cops. These are just the visible examples of the people that think that carrying a loaded gun around in a city is a good idea on the off-chance that some scary thing will happen and they can wave their bullet-spitting magic wands to solve the problem.

For some reason, gun advocates tend not to put much emphasis on hunting. That’s probably because handguns aren’t particularly accurate and hunters that find it necessary to riddle the landscape with the contents of their extended mag assault rifle are just kind of pussies. The money shot for the gun nuts is self-defense.

So what about self-defense? In the past decade or so, there has been a big expansion of what you can do with a gun in the name of self-defense. Stand Your Ground laws are all about self-defense. If you’re out on the town and feel threatened and you’re in a Stand Your Ground state, then you can start blasting away without worrying about the consequences. The NRA gives the impression that these laws are necessary for people to protect themselves. The thing is that people could already protect themselves (with a firearm even) since it’s absolutely legal for anybody to use force to defend themselves and others when given no other alternative. Of course, if it turned out that you weren’t in danger after all then you used to have to face the music for shooting somebody. Stand Your Ground laws are pretty much an excuse for stupid paranoid folks to shoot people and get away with it.

Make My Day and other castle doctrine laws are the same concept as applied to your premises. They operate off of the paranoia that we’re all potentially going to be raped and murdered in our beds or robbed at gunpoint at work. Home defense has been the big go-to for gun advocates for a long time since everyone can identify with a fear of someone breaking into his or her home. The same issues apply though. The law has always allowed the reasonable use of force to defend your property. Shooting an intruder hasn’t been against the law since ever. With Make My Day type laws, shooting a scary looking dude on your porch, the neighbor kid climbing into your yard, or the wannabe burglar who’s running away are all now just fine as well. Again, stupid paranoid people get an opportunity to shoot first and not worry about consequences.

Even without the terrible laws that make shooting people the consequence-free solution for interpersonal problems, using a gun for self-defense is almost always a stupid idea. If you live and work in an isolated, rural area, then carrying a gun or keeping one handy in the car or house can occasionally come in handy. For example, we had a rabid skunk one time that we had to shoot. Tweakers trying to break into a shed can probably be warned off with a gunshot when you live half an hour away from any police presence. As soon as you’re near other people, your gun isn’t going to do the thing you think it is anymore.

To begin with, the latest threats that guns are going to solve are these mass shootings in public places. The NRA story is that an armed dude, locked and loaded at the Aurora Cinemark could’ve stopped the violence in its tracks. Ideally, from their standpoint, several armed dudes would’ve taken charge. That’s bullshit. Outside of the fact that a shooting like that usually plays out in seconds as the shooter sprays the crowd and then either runs or shoots himself, even under ideal conditions an armed civilian in the crowd would have to be prepared to react instantly, identify the correct target, have a clear shot, aim accurately, and somehow identify himself to police and other people during and after the exchange of gunfire. Without all of those things, then the carnage is just worse as people are caught in the crossfire. It gets even worse if you multiply the number of guns in the space.

How about a less crowded environment? The assault in a dark alley scenario would seem like the ideal opportunity to use your boomstick on some evildoers. That’s assuming that you have the presence of mind and the training to keep your gun if you get jumped. That’s also assuming that you shoot first at the right person because the story isn’t any good unless you’re up against an armed assailant and you’ve already made this a gunfight rather than a robbery. Finally, you don’t miss and hit someone else on the street, across the street, or on the other side of a wall. So, with specialized training and in very specific circumstances your gun is just about as effective at protecting you without unacceptable collateral damage as a number of other non-lethal alternatives.

The non-disastrous home defense scenario is even narrower. If you’re home, aware that an intruder has broken in, and have your gun accessible, then perhaps you stand a chance of using your mighty weapon to protect your property and your life without dire consequences. That’s assuming that you’re absolutely aware of where everyone else is in the house, that you are an expert marksman or don’t have any neighbors, and that you didn’t give a house key to your drunken brother-in-law.

In essence, you have to live in an action movie in order to be in a position to effectively defend yourself with a gun and not fuck things up further. That’s not even taking into account the vast majority of the time when your gun is just a big liability. Your easily accessible gun is an invitation for accidents. Arguments can much more easily escalate into deadly violence. Depression far too easily becomes suicide with a gun at hand. An inaccessible handgun is useless for defense, so why even have it since it’s a prime target for theft. The rare legitimate use for a gun in self-defense is far outweighed by risk to an individual gun owner, and to society. Even the nebulous idea that the knowledge that they’re operating in an armed society will deter criminals falls apart faced with the fact that mass shootings commonly end with the killer shooting himself and that murder/suicides are a typical scenario for domestic shootings. Rationality and criminality rarely go together well enough that dudes willing to commit a violent crime will sit down and weigh the risks. Further, violent crime has been falling throughout the US and in other countries no matter how well-armed the locals happen to be.

Most of the people that the NRA is advocating for don’t have any particular training. They don’t live far enough away from other people to not pose a hazard, and they don’t have to rely on themselves in the absence of neighbors and police. They’re just paranoid and willing to be stupid in order to grasp some false sense of safety. That’s a danger to everyone.

So— wacky gun owners who shit themselves and stock up on ammo ever time anybody mentions gun control, shut the fuck up and settle down. Quit carrying your piece around like a moron and get some training in how to actually use it. Work with us to figure out how to have a society that isn’t ok with lead flying through the air and lodging in people as a routine thing.


Vast Amounts of Campaign Cash

I read an article after the election that made an effort to reassure people that the money pouring into the 2012 elections wasn’t really that big a deal. Granted, the article was written on Cracked.com so it really isn’t that authoritative but I’ve heard similar ideas elsewhere. Their argument is that compared to the money spent on marketing in other industries, elections spend a small amount. The NY Times estimates total spending on the 2012 election to be around $6 billion with $2 billion of that from the presidential candidates. Just the automotive industry spends around $13 billion a year on advertising and L’Oreal drops over $1 billion a year selling makeup.

Fuck that. Businesses cram part of their profits into marketing from sales to customers in order to gain more customers. In a sense, the company’s success in serving their customers should gain them more customers and more money. Ideally, a political campaign is funded the same way by supporters, voters. The usual spin is that small donors represent this ideal as regular people chip in a bit at a time in order to fund the campaigns that they feel will better serve them. That any modern large-scale campaign can do that is bullshit. Even Obama’s vaunted small donor program pulled in less than half of his funds. Even if small donations represented most of the incoming cash, the ability of a candidate to return some sort of loyalty and service is necessarily pretty nebulous when their constituency is that big. It’s relatively easy to express gratitude to a campaign’s largest donors and PAC funders. When you can put a group of donors into a room that represents more than a fifth of your war chest, it’s not that hard to circulate through the crowd and find out what they want.

So, it’s true that political money is vastly dwarfed by the money spent in most other industries for marketing but that’s grabbing the wrong end of the stick. All the money spent in an election is to reach and hopefully sway a vast audience of voters. All the money donated is essentially to sway the opinion of just one person- the candidate.

Whether a candidate wins or loses, they represent a good investment for any organization looking to push an agenda. Obviously, winning the loyalty of a sitting elected official is the best outcome but support for losing candidate gains points with that person’s party and contacts. Hell, I’ve had Lipton Iced Tea send me free samples of some shitty drink mix based on my status as an “influencer”. Somebody with the pull to gain a major party’s nomination is worth dropping a few bucks on.


Quick note on bullshit conservative hysteria

Two issues have floated to the surface of political discourse this election season. They’re both incredibly stupid.

1) Non-citizens will commit voter fraud– and we need to tighten election laws to STOP IT!
Umm… have these people never voted? Even before throwing up roadblocks to eligible voters, voting is kind of a shitty process. You have to stand in line, possibly a very long line. There’s frequently an enormous ballot full of crap that you haven’t really thought about. School bonds, commissioner seats, water conservation district??

Then, after working through the equivalent of a day at the DMV, you’re left with no tangible result except an I Voted sticker.
If you think that immigrants are going to commit a felony, endanger themselves, and risk deportation for that- fuck you.

2) Women are willing to claim that they’ve been raped in order to obtain an abortion

Ok
Seriously?
First of all, conservatives already take as a given that all abortions are immoral and should be illegal. The absolute bright line on limiting abortion rights that has been untouched since Roe v Wade has been the idea that women should extra doubly especially not be denied an abortion in cases where the life of the mother is at stake or in cases of rape or incest.

Now, conservatives are pretty sure that rape thing is hooey because ladies would totally lie about that.
Women would say that they’ve been raped in order to undergo an expensive medical procedure? Is rape a frequent go-to excuse for these people? Has Rep. Todd Akin ever been told by a female staffer, “Hey, I’m going to be late today. I got so raped last night”?
This is not something that happens.

Voting and legitimate rapes. Making up bullshit constantly in order to avoid talking about the things that might actually be important to people. There seems to be some economic difficulty. There’s an ongoing war. Climate change seems to be a thing as well as floods, droughts, and other extreme weather that might very well be related.

Nope. Fear that brown people and the uteruses… uteri?


New Adventures in Casual Privacy Violations

Today I went to the grocery store and the nice guy at the door showed me the cool new thing that my loyalty card can do. Apparently, I can now log into the store website and browse through all of the coupons on offer and choose the ones that I would normally clip in order to have it automagically apply at the checkout when I use my store loyalty card. Neat?

Here’s the thing- I know that store loyalty cards are about marketing and data collection. The fact that I buy certain products, combined with my basic demographics and location are valuable to all kinds of people. This is sort of creepy, but discounted food is worth something to me and even if I’m getting ripped compared to the value of my data at least I’m getting something. There was a bit of a pact when first signed up for a loyalty card. I would use it and let them build up their data profile and it would at least free me from the inconvenience of worrying about what coupons to take to the store (not that I ever bothered). The idea was that all of the discounted stuff would be marked, using my card would take care of the paperwork. No more fucking coupons!

That state of affairs lasted for a few years. I got really good at browsing the shelves for marked-down food. “2 for 1 with card” was a selling point for me if the math worked out. Then coupons came back. People with obsessive compulsive disorders could now combine loyalty card discounts AND coupons. My refrigerator again started sprouting bits of clipped advertisements that I would set aside in the hope the I would actually plan ahead to buy cat food instead of randomly picking some up on the way home from the bar. This was one of those low-grade indignities that you deal with like when they put advertising back on cable tv.

Now, the grocery store wants even more information (my email? that won’t be spammed of course) as well as making me actively choose what discounts I want before I get to the store rather than letting me pick stuff off the shelf based on price. Not only is that a significant addition to their marketing data, but they also get the bonus of me forgetting which brand of canned tomatoes was on sale by the time I’m staring at the shelf.

Seriously, fuck those guys.

p.s. There’s another freaky feature that I found. I’ll have more once I’ve figured out how it works


Anonymity

I’ve read quite a bit about how the anonymous hordes of internet assholes are destroying public discourse. Google tried to enforce a “real name” policy on their new social network and Facebook’s terms of use require you to use your real name in your profile. Lots of news websites require a real name if you want to comment on a story. The idea is that people don’t say awful shit as much when they can’t hide their identity. Awesome! Except that it turns out that simply requiring people to adopt a persistent identity of some sort accomplishes the same goal. Also, the combination of all of the legitimate reasons why someone might want to remain anonymous and the impossibility of developing a system that accommodates all of the permutations of real names means that anonymity online is never going away. This is a good thing.

Internet anonymity is kind of a new animal in Western society. Sure, anonymous publication goes all the way back in the US to the Founding Fathers propagandizing against the British and the Federalist Papers publicly hashing out our form of government. The thing about the internet is that it makes the process of publication infinitely more trivial. That means that one’s message can potentially be more widespread, but it also means that the barriers that used to require a certain amount of motivation have also disappeared. It’s just as easy to write “Bieber sux cock” in an internationally available form as it is to publish a treatise on economic theory, possibly by the same person. Combine that with the fact that every aspect of a person’s life is potentially published online, and the need for anonymity becomes much more urgent. Our politics are already streaked through with non-compartmentalized scandal as people’s family lives, lifestyle choices, professional work, and published work all get intermingled. As ordinary people start to find themselves having to reconcile previously separate spheres of their lives, it makes sense to allow them to maintain different personas in different arenas.

So, anonymity online is at least a necessary evil. I would go further and say that it is actually a good thing. Publishing online outside of a few niche venues means that the average person is pretty much anonymous anyway. The advantage of “standing behind your work” with your name attached is largely negated by nobody knowing who the hell you are. One of the major arguments establishment journalists level against bloggers and online commentary in general is that the largely anonymous authors don’t have to stand behind what they write. I could go along with that reasoning if it weren’t for the fact that most of the time when I read a newspaper I’m asked to trust the credibility of “staff” or AP Newswire. Supposedly, the reputation of the publication stands in for the ability to trust in a specific author. I would say that this transference of reputation from a specific individual to a publication is similar to what makes being anonymous online work. My persona as The Howling Pig has nearly nothing to do with my daytime identity, but the publication history of THP speaks for itself in that my political biases and social views are well-documented as is the reliability of my presentation of facts and opinions.

That’s where I find that online anonymity represents a new thing entirely. The vast majority of the time online being anonymous isn’t so much a complete lack of identity as the adoption of a persona. Usernames, email addresses, and IM handles all tend to be persistent. It’s not impossible to make up a new username, but people tend to become parts of communities and become known as the personas that they’ve adopted. Even better, these persistent identities (not necessarily connected with one’s offline life) develop their own reputations based entirely on their contributions. It’s now possible for a tax accountant to become a respected authority on needlework in an online forum, a sought-after gaming companion in role-playing game, a fiery partisan in a political bulletin board, and never have any of these roles effect each other. Of course, it’s also possible to be an unmitigated asshole, but that’s always been possible and most people both don’t participate in that way and are learning to ignore it.

How cool is that, really?


Fun and Excitement Watching the Crazies in Greeley

Today, I got to go to my very first right-wing rally. Luckily, I got to hang out with the rather cooler people that organized a response to the Americans For Prosperity travelling circus show that set up in the park downtown. It was a weird experience. There were a number of speakers, but the only two that I knew were locals– talk show host Amy Oliver, and county commissioner Sean Conway. The speakers actually addressed themselves largely to the protesters since the crowd of supporters wasn’t very big. For the most part, it was a call and response sort of thing with protesters shouting out derisive commentary as the speakers rambled on about the importance of fossil fuels and the waste of government funding for alternatives.

Boy howdy, I was floored at the internal inconsistency from these people. Obviously, the whole point was to fire people up to oppose the evil government and Obama specifically. Their hook was that government regulations, policies, taxes, and waste were responsible for high gas prices. This led somehow to a defense of natural gas fracking, the Keystone pipeline, and an attack on alternative energy. No mention was made that Americans For Prosperity are largely funded by oil and gas companies, with the oil baron Koch brothers chipping in a significant amount of the organization’s cash. On the other hand, the speakers made a point to say that the Obama administration was rife with conflicts of interest, apparently funneling vast amounts of research money to campaign supporters. Since I’ve been a supporter, I assume the check is on the way.

One major point that I noticed- most of the arguments were cast in terms of either ending oil and gas production entirely at the hands of draconian government regulations and taxation, or stopping the waste of taxpayer money on alternatives and setting the industry free to innovate without government interference.
Seriously, what the hell?
Even the hardest core environmentalists don’t want to end fossil fuel production immediately, and there sure as hell weren’t any hardcore greens hanging out there. Transitioning to alternatives is just a smart idea. Even if one believes in a fairy tale of infinite fossil fuel reserves that are somehow available at a reasonable cost, and completely discounts the concept of climate change, anything to reduce fossil fuel use is kind of an unvarnished good thing… unless you’re in the business of selling oil. Reducing the mess from production, reducing the need to intervene in volatile regions of the planet, reducing the shit belched into the air, and of course reducing the price all seem like good arguments for alternatives. Beyond that, Weld County people don’t really seem the type to want to end oil and gas production entirely, but we’re a bit suspicious of any methods that seem prone to poisoning our water and reducing our air quality.

Pretty much everything else was a recap of a generic Fox News broadcast– scandal and insinuation heavy, but light on discussion. There was some gesture toward backing up points with numbers, but I noticed that the units didn’t match up. One speaker that was introduced as a scientist tried to show that fracking used less water than watering golf courses– but she used acre-feet in one example and gallons in the other. I wasn’t in a position to take notes, but a little bit of mental estimation gave me the impression that her numbers said the opposite of what she said, but she was relying on one number being bigger than the other. Tricky. Also, who’s opposing the massive water use of hydraulic fracking because they’re avid golfers? Is there a Lorax that speaks for the back nine?

It was an interesting exercise in propaganda, but I don’t know that anybody who isn’t in on the scam would be convinced by the over-the-top rhetoric. Conservatives dug it because the crazy people on their team were saying wacky things– hooray! It was a hockey match and their side threw a few hard elbows. Kind of a waste of time and money. I kind of resent the fact that these assholes get to be stupid and shitty in public in such a way that those of us that oppose that sort of crap have to waste our time responding.

In short, the gents and ladies that feel the need travel around puking up a bunch of disingenuous red meat to some gullible conservatives can just fuck the fuck off.


A good news day, encapsulated

twitter capture announcing civil rights advances


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.