Monday, July 23, 2012

Fragile: Handle With Care

I  was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end.  

-- Jessica Redfield, who avoided a mall shooting in June
only to die Friday morning in the Dark Knight massacre

This week everybody was talking about the Dark Knight shooting

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about it, so I won’t rehash it all.

if you know a jumble of contradictory “facts” about the shooting in Aurora, straighten your picture out by reading its Wikipedia article. That’s totally not how we were taught to use encyclopedias, but it makes sense. The news media tends to

  • sensationalize
  • try so hard to be first that they don’t get the details right
  • speculate
  • over-emphasize the newest detail
  • under-emphasize corrections of what they got wrong

But a constantly updated encyclopedia article tells the story as we currently understand it.

A shocking event naturally generates a whole series of secondary stories as people react. Two common reactions are worth paying attention to:

Gun control. The shooter’s equipment included an assault rifle, which is not hunting gear or home-defense weaponry. So one natural question is “Why do we let people buy this stuff?”

Bill Moyers presents the simple answer: The NRA is one of the world’s most effective lobbying organizations. In its absolutist view, reserving military weaponry for the military is just the first step down a slippery slope towards completely disarming the public in preparation for tyranny.

Unfortunately, we’re not going to have a serious gun control discussion in this election cycle. President Obama doesn’t want to talk about it at all, for fear of losing gun-owner votes in swing states like Virginia and Pennsylvania, and Mitt Romney doesn’t want to either embrace or defy the extreme pro-gun position.

Arizona politician Russell Pearce, for example, wishes that there had been more guns in the theater. Had the audience “been able to fire on their attacker, lives could have been saved”. The Washington Times agrees.

This point comes up every time there’s a major shooting, and pro-gun extremists will keep making it until the scene plays out in reality and we see what a nightmare it is. Imagine: One movie-goer notices the first shots, pulls out his gun and shoots back, hitting either a bystander or the shooter’s armor. More people see his muzzle-flash in the dark, think he’s the shooter, and start shooting at him. Result: chain reaction until everybody is shooting at everybody.

Religious right response. To folks like Congressman Louis Gohmert, the shooting was caused by separation of church and state. If we were the kind of Christian nation we used to be, God would protect us from stuff like this. Gohmert specifically faulted taking prayers out of high school graduations.

This is Jerry Falwell blaming 9–11 on the ACLU all over again. I feel stupid for not seeing it coming.

And finally, race makes a difference:

... which made the political back-and-forth seem trivial

This week the pressure built on Romney to release more of his tax returns, which he still refuses to do. The buzz has gone from “Why doesn’t he just get this over with?” to “What is he hiding?Even Republicans are asking.

Meanwhile, President Obama made this common-sense statement:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

which became a “gaffe” when Republicans cut it down to “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” – as if that referred to business rather than roads, bridges, and this unbelievable American system.

I’m going to give Ann Romney a pass on her “you people” remark. She didn’t fully enunciate “you”, so some are claiming she didn’t really say it. It’s too stupid a point to argue about.

Going overboard sometimes backfires, so here’s my rhetorical advice for Democrats: Laugh at Ann, but don’t vilify her. Keep asking what Mitt is hiding, but don’t speculate too much. If you don’t know, you don’t know.

But I wrote about Peak Oil and contraception

  • Peak Oil? Maybe not. The difficult thing about living in the reality-based community is that you have to change your opinion when the world changes. Now it looks like peak oil isn’t happening – world oil extraction has headed back up. What’s that mean for the economy and the environment?
  • Reading Humanae Vitae. It’s Natural Family Planning Awareness Week in the Catholic Church, when the bishops warn their flock about the dangers of birth control that actually works. I think it’s a good time to go back and read Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that the Church’s birth-control policy hangs on.

and you might also find this interesting

Grist’s David Roberts highlights the latest Romney betrayal-of-everything-he-once-stood-for: He now opposes an EPA rule limiting the amount of mercury power plants can release into the air. A Romney spokeswoman said:
President Obama cannot claim to support clean coal while imposing regulations that his EPA admits would prevent another coal plant from ever being built.

To which Roberts replied:
To paraphrase: “Obama cannot claim to support clean coal while passing rules saying coal has to be clean.” Uh … sure he can. In fact that seems exactly like what someone who supports clean coal would do: prohibit dirty coal!

After two years of study, the Boy Scouts announced will continue to ban gays from scouting. You can tell they’re ashamed of themselves, because their announcement explains nothing, does not say who studied the issue, and does not mention gays at all.  It just announces “no change” in its “longstanding membership standards”.

To Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, this decision betrays the Scout Law he learned as a boy.

If only Scout leaders had acted with bravery and courage, and told the world that our principles are universal and sacred — and open to every single boy who wants to try to live up to them. Instead, they caved to bigotry and zealotry.

I still owe you a LIBOR-scandal-for-Dummies article, but this post from the NYT DealBook blog explains a lot about how a few bankers could manipulate key interest-rate benchmarks.

Mortgage rates are based on the 1-year LIBOR – supposedly the rate at which banks make 1-year loans to each other. The problem? These days, banks hardly ever loan each other money for more than a month. So the 1-year LIBOR is “largely guesswork”. And because the mortgage market is so huge, even tiny manipulations produce big profits.

Sara Robinson raises an important point: If a committee of bureaucrats decides what you can buy, how much does it matter whether they meet in a government office or a corporate office?

With tongue only somewhat in cheek, here are a few ways in which Americans are now becoming a new lumpenproletariat, subject to the whims and diktats of our new Soviet-style corporate overlords.

Recent Sift articles did well on Daily Kos. A week ago yesterday, The Economics of Leviticus made the recommended list, and What Shaving Taught Me About Capitalism did the same the next day.

Meet the kids the DREAM Act is about.

And finally, an idea just wacky enough to work: What if local government uses its eminent domain power to buy up underwater mortgages at fair market value, i.e., much less than the home-owners owe? Then the mortgages can be refinanced at the actual value of the houses.

The beauty of the idea is that it doesn’t require any action from gridlocked Washington. Local government just starts using an existing power in a new way.

No comments: