Monday, December 23, 2013

Who gets shot?

The Orlando Sentinel has an interesting survey of who gets shot in Florida, based on emergency room visits:

4 in 10 in ER, hospital after being shot are gun-accident victims, Florida data show

As the story goes on to demonstrate, "accident" is hardly the right word. More usually, it is the result of moronic irresponsibility. As the NRA likes to say, guns don't kill people, responsible gun owners kill people.

Sometimes themselves.

(Darwin Award alert; the 2013 winners are out:
Here Is The Glorious Winner:
1. When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.)

The Sentinel's examples are not nearly so edifying. The paper starts with the boy who was playing basketball while his "friend" was "playing" with his .380-caliber pistol.  The boy, now 17, is paralyzed from the ribs down.

There's a cost of an armed society that you will live a loooong time without ever hearing about from the gun nuts.

Well, except this:

Marion Hammer, former president of National Rifle Association and the group's chief lobbyist in Florida, said she was wary of the Florida numbers because gunshot victims sometimes lie about how they were hurt. Data from hospitals, she said, may be unreliable.
While data from Marion Hammer's butt is totally OK.

The Sentinel did not bother to record the number of gunshot victims who were shot by proud Florida gun nuts who were either standing their ground or fighting off Obama's jackbooted thugs because, you know, there aren't any unicorns. Really. There aren't.


From my son-in-law (a military man), two links about guns and gun nuts.The second one raises urgently my earlier question about how one recognizes a responsible gun owner.

Obviously, it cannot be done.


Then there's this:

A 14-year-old Colorado girl was shot and killed by her stepfather early Monday morning after he mistook her for a burglar entering their house.
As commenter Katina Cooper mordantly puts it, "The NRA is getting an early Christmas present."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Truth-squadding Wal-Mart

RtO has been here before, but since it had no effect -- and because I dislike murderous business owners -- we're going back.

According to the NY Times, Bangladesh is prosecuting some factory owners and managers who callously murdered 112 workers. Any rightwingers out there interested in disputing the proposition that without the despised MSM, that would never have happened?

However, that is not the subject of this post, edifying as the change may be (assuming that the prosecution will be honest, which is probably assuming too much).

The Times reports, blandly enough, that

The fire also revealed the poor controls that top retailers had throughout their supply chain, since retailers like Walmart said they were unaware that their apparel was being made in such factories.
It's true that Wal-Mart said that. It isn't true, and no one who knows how Wal-Mart is run would fall for it. Wal-Mart does not even allow its store managers to turn the lights off and on at their stores. The idea that it does not know intimately how its suppliers operate is preposterous.

Wal-Mart just didn't care, as long as no bad publicity was involved.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nutty rightwing remark of the year

So, there's this Palin-huggin', gun-huggin' teevee celebrity, Phil Robertson, and he, like me, grew up in the South, working alongside people with black skin. (In my case, not alongside, exactly, but subordinate, but close enough.)

Phil has some obnoxious opinions and a folksy, obnoxious way of expressing them, but, hey, a rightwing Southern redneck with folksy ways, not news.

Robertson, who is about my age, never noticed any negative feelings about conditions in the South among his dark-skinned co-workers. He has a quaint, folksy way of expressing this:

“Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues,”
A number of white folks sprang to Robertson's defense, including his friend Sarah Palin. So far as the record goes, none of them ever heard any black folks singin' the blues either. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reality-based economics bites

A fundamental belief of Tea Party and similar economic radicals is that inflation is inevitable if government deficits are large. The market does not think so.

I dunno what a market worshiper does when the market refuses to behave in an ideologically pure fashion. Rethink basic premises? Fuhgeddabahtit!

RtO, on the other hand, drawing on the real experience of the Great Depression has warned since its beginning that deflation is the worst thing that can befall an economic system, because no one knows how to control or reverse it. The Republicans forced deflation on us, and the Democrats and the technocrats at the Federal Reserve don't know how to reverse it.

Heaven knows they've tried:

Bond investors are signaling they expect the Federal Reserve to lose its battle against disinflation, even after inundating the U.S. economy with more than $3 trillion in the past five years.
Reality was a long time in getting the market's attention. Gold went up crazily from 2009, just as it was supposed to do according to radical theory if deficits were large and growing. For reasons unclear to RtO, around six months ago, the whole world decided that was a mistake; and gold has crashed.

This coincided with the slowdown (but not reversal) of the rate of growth in US fiscal deficits, but that hardly seems adequate to explain it.

In percentage terms, its fall has been only somewhat less than the stock market's collapse in 2008-9.

 This week was time for legislators to discuss spending. I saw no evidence that any of them -- certainly not the radical right -- was aware of what is going on.

You might suppose, in the abstract, that people who elevate the purported wisdom of the market above all merely human understanding would listen when the market speaks. You would be wrong.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review 307: Coney Island: The People's Playground

CONEY ISLAND: THE PEOPLE’S PLAYGROUND, by Michael Immerso. 198 pages, illustrated. Rutgers

If someone had to write an environmental impact statement for Coney island, the historical section would be Michael Immerso’s book. it starts at the beginning, when the island was a clamming spot for Indians, and covers main events in rather dry style.

For example, one of the strangest “attractions” was pediatrician Martin Couney’s “Infant Incubator,” and it’s here, but the dramatic background to explain why premature infants were nurtured on the Coney Island boardwalk is not.

While other memorials do a better job of capturing the excitement the millions felt when going to Coney, Immerso exceeds them in getting at the fascination the resort had for the intelligentsia. Jose Marti loved it, Maxim Gorki, somewhat surprisingly, hated it.

Immerso somewhat overplays his theme, that the park brought democracy to entertainment for the working people. Fairs had always done that.

He underplays the decorum and orderliness of the crowds. Coney, just over two miles long and about 100 yards wide, drew 46 million people in 1943, about the same number that visit Las Vegas today. There was occasional violence. Both Kid Twists were murdered at Coney Island, but there were few or no examples of the murderous mobs that, for example, occasionally rampaged through English country fairs in the 19th century.

The level of policing was negligible: only about a hundred cops on days when millions crammed in.

Immerso emphasizes the tension between uplifters, who wanted the working masses to be edified; and the masses and the showmen, who wanted fun. Fun won, although the Puritans never left. There was a time when topless men were sentenced to 10 days in jail. 

In the early days, there were whorehouses and gambling hells, but these were eliminated when Luna Park, Steeplechase Park and Dreamland became enclosed, family parks.

Outside, there was a midway with freaks and frauds, but Coney never exhibited the brutality of the English fairs where, for half a crown around 1725, merrymakers could watch an Irishman eat a live chicken, feathers and all.

Immerso blames Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, an uplifter if there ever was one, for putting the kibosh on Coney island, which was already in decline.

I visited Coney Island in 2002, the year Immerso published his book. It was late in October, the last day of the season (which had ended in early September in the park’s best years), and I was shocked to see that the beach was closed. It was too cold for swimming but you couldn’t even walk on the sand.

Not much was left. A few sad rides, Nathan’s Famous and, in a rundown building a good many steps away from the Boardwalk, the last freak show, without freaks but offering a little history lesson along with the sword-swallowing (tame compared to watching a naked woman swallow fluorescent light tubes in Manhattan the night before) and similar old tricks.

Eek the Geek implored the tiny audience to help preserve the tradition of the American sideshow, but a few months later I read an interview in which Eek announced he was matriculating at a law school with a view toward defending the interests of society’s unusual individuals.

And so the gaudiest, brightest, biggest show in our history slipped into darkness.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fahrenheit 451, Release2.0

I have never approved of Google, because its business model is based on theft and the  glorification of thievery. But like crap from China in stores or crooks in stock brokerages, some economic situations are too pervasive to be avoided, however much we should.

Lately I acquired my first e-reader, a Nook Simple Touch. It’s an outdated model, so it was being sold cheap. I prefer printed books, as I discovered years ago after downloading a few volumes from onto a PC.

On the other hand, I fly a lot, usually with 20 pounds of books, coming if not going, because when I land in a new place I look up a bookstore. In order to save weight and, especially, space, it seemed like a good idea to carry my reading in a lightweight, small e-reader.

The Nook is acceptable, barely, as a book. I carry a laptop, too, but I don’t like reading books on a laptop.

Besides buying digital versions of some new books, when I got the Nook I looked through the free library of old books. In theory, this is a wonderful idea for readers. I was able to download four volumes of the Potash & Perlmutter stories written by Montague Marsden Glass a century ago. Printed copies of Potash & Perlmutter are hard to come by.

I also looked for English translations of any of the books of David Friedrich Strauss. These are almost impossible to find and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. No soap, but I did find two volumes of Christian apologetics, contemporary with Strauss’s publications 150 years ago, purporting to refute him. So I downloaded them.

The first one I opened was a translation from French of “An Answer to Dr Strauss‘ Life of Christ” by the Protestant theologian Athanase Coquerel. On each page, it says “Digitized by Google,” part of Google’s effort to commit millions of old books to cyberspace.

A compete hash they made of it, too.  Using a copy from a Harvard University library, some klutz who couldn’t figure out how to get a page onto a scanner produced a weirdly distorted title page. At least it was readable. Not so the text, which was submitted to the indignities of optical character reading.

I used OCR in the newsroom for a while in the late ‘70s, and the accuracy then, not high, was better than what Google achieved in whatever year Coquerel was scanned.

I am not discounting the difficulties of scanning a book from 1845, which was priced at a shilling and slovenly printed on bad paper untreated with titanium dioxide, so that today the contrast between browned page and faded ink is not strong. Still, knowing that to be the situation, someone needed to take responsibility to have a text editor correct the misreadings, especially since I understand that some libraries (with Google’s encouragement) are discarding their paper copies now that Google has done them the favor of preserving the text in the cloud.

Only Google hasn’t done that. I have not bothered to do a precise statistical analysis. The result was so bad it isn’t worth it.

Probably 80-85% of the words in the text were scanned correctly, but no more than half the sentences are free of errors. Some gremlins are irritating but minor, like inserting * or spaces into words.

No more than half the sentences are fully readable, even as the reader supplies emendations. And recall that I have been an editor for half a century. I doubt many readers could supply the gaps and reconstruct the text as well as I could.

In many places (particularly at the original page breaks), some text has simply disappeared. There is no way to tell if it is a line or a paragraph.

Worse, when dealing with proper names, the error rate rises to about 98% (near 100% in the case of Arabic numerals). If the name isn’t obvious from context, and often it isn’t, then it is near impossible to fix it. In endnotes, even if the author and title can be guessed, the trashing of the numerals makes the page reference impossible to guess.

Here is an example, far from the worst, from Note VI:

“NOTE yi.

“Thf loyth^ $aUed Olshauseni be it historical or philosophSca],
embellishes the idea which it contains, by mixing up vith it circum-
 sfcasoes of little importance, dravn ftom the usages and opinions of different nations. (De integritate posterioris Petri EpistoU. Sec part cap. V. $3.)”

I avoided showing the worst because I didn’t want to spend half an hour carefully retyping gibberish.

I cannot say how many thousands, perhaps millions, of volumes Google has vandalized, or whether any of these losses are remediable. It is like going back to a scriptorium of the Dark Ages where sleepy monks introduced inscrutable errors into texts, and whatever information was in the master copy was lost forever as surely as if it had been burned.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bad Santas

The New York Times reports something called SantaCon, an annual flash mob devoted to drinking in Santa suits. Doesn't take much to amuse some people, I guess.

The local cop in Hell's Kitchen is not pleased:

John Cocchi, a New York Police lieutenant in Hell’s Kitchen, where Santas converged last year, sent an open letter to bar owners urging caution when it came to serving Santas. “Having thousands of intoxicated partygoers roam the streets urinating, littering, vomiting and vandalizing will not be tolerated in our neighborhood,” he wrote.
It's about the same size as Fright Night on Front Street at its peak -- 30,000 people -- but the story from Manhattan makes the complaints in Lahaina sound overblown.

I got to Maui too late to experience the Whaler's Spree, so I don't know how bad that was. Pretty bad, apparently.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Regrets, DOH has a few

I guess DOH wishes it hadn't chased Pacific Wings out of Kalaupapa, eh? Now that one of Senator Dan's friend's airplanes killed the director.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why we call them gun nuts, Chapter XXXVII

For cryin' out loud, why is anyone allowed to carry a firearm in this country? And don't give me any crap about responsible gun owners. You can't tell them from the nuts, delusional angry idiots and out-and-out psychos.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Don't feed the men in the gray suits

Shortly after I came to The Maui News in 1987, we had a story about a newlywed couple who stopped on the road to Hana to take pictures at a waterfall. Just like in the Charles Addams cartoon, the husband -- trying not to "cut off his wife's head" -- stepped back and over a cliff.

Details have faded, but as I recall he was killed.

A few weeks later, darned if it didn't happen again with another newlywed couple. This time, as I recall, the groom died and the bride, trying to climb down to him, fell and broke most of her bones but lived.

Does this happen all the time? I asked myself. But from that day to this, it has never happened again.

I bring up this ancient history because there have been two fatal shark attacks around Maui in the last few weeks. But if a tourist asks, does this happen all the time? the answer is no. There hadn't been a fatal shark bite anywhere in Hawaii since 2004.

That there were two, close together in time and space, is just a matter of the Law of Small Numbers. If you have a sample of three events over time X, then for sure at least twice as many will occur in one period as in the other. Or maybe it will be 3:0.

Of such arise panics of cancer clusters, shark attacks, tornadoes and a slew of non-events.

So I was surprised and pleased to read Rep. Kaniela Ing's blog post on sharks. He does not explicitly invoke the Law of Small Numbers but clearly he understands how it works.

While the entire world averages about four shark attack fatalities a year, South Maui has had two in 2013 alone, accounting for both of Hawaii’s only shark attack fatalities since 2004.
The real curiosity is in the menu. Of the first 100 documented shark attacks in Hawaii, not one involved a tourist. Now about half of them do.

Shine on, harvest Moon

I assume anybody gabbing about sexual purity is secretly doin' the nasty off the reservation. It may not be true in every instance, but if you're a betting man you could get rich playing it that way.

Lookin' at you, Tipper Gore.

Guns don't shoot people . . .

RtO has been ignoring a run of really stupid stories about armed idiots -- but I repeat myself -- but some are hard to ignore. Like this one. I cannot recall the last time I went into a public restroom and encountered a situation that could be controlled only by some stranger with a concealed carry permit and a loaded firearm.

That's because there was no last time. Never happened. Not to me. Not to anybody.

On the other hand, there's a non-zero chance of getting plugged by some jasper with a CC permit, a gun and the brains of a chipmunk.

I am 67 years old. The number of days of my life when I wished somebody around me was secretly carrying a loaded weapon continues to be 0, and it will be 0 for as long as I live.

Book Review 306: In the Nazi Era

IN THE NAZI ERA, by Sir Lewis Namier. 204 pages, Macmillan

When Lewis Namier was collecting his third and last volume of journalism about his own times in 1952, he warned that judgments made so soon after events were likely to be revised later. So have his been, but they shouldn’t have. He was right the first time.

Wikipedia says primly that Namier has been “criticized” as a Germanophobe. So he was, but to what sort of mentality is that worthy of criticism? Only those who, unlike Namier, have fallen for the German lie.

The first part of “In the Nazi Era” collects reviews of memoirs of surviving Germans who were concerned to put light between themselves and Hitlerism. Of the ones he treats, the most successful in doing so -- by  current historical opinion -- was Weizsacker. Namier saw through that.

Speaking of former German poohbahs generally and Weizsacker specifically, Namier observes, “German apologias, when read critically, offer surprising admissions.” Few historians were ever more pernickety than Namier, but the current flock seem often not to have read even carefully, much less critically.

I speak here of popular historians, of the Max Hastings variety, who are having more impact on current public opinion about Hitlerism than more academic students. These popularizers write offhandedly about the “German resistance” to Hitler. Namier was right to say it never existed.

At least, not a conservative resistance. There had been a left opposition, of socialists and communists, but they were obliterated (except those communists who fled to Russia) and had no impact after Hitler became chancellor.

Namier is concerned to show that there never was a right opposition to Hitlerism. (He does not mention it, but there was right disdain for Hitler personally, as an upstart foreigner with a hick accent. Had they had the courage to act, the conservatives would have ditched Hitler but kept his policies.) “The ‘good Germans‘ visibly change into Hitler profiteers,” Namier writes in one of his characteristically mordant summaries.

All this remains important for two reasons. First, Namier was right. Second, there is a movement among American rightwingers to redraft Hitler as a leftist. Really. Nobody at the time thought of Hitler as a leftist, because he wasn’t, but there is obviously motive enough to rewrite history to try to clean up the unsavory past that American rightwingers have inherited.

There is no real reason for the worry; American rightwingers have enough to apologize for without being tagged with the crimes of Germans, but public opinion counts and Hitler remains a touchstone. There is “Godwin’s Law” to consider.

In the second part of the book, Namier continues his attack on the men of Munich. He was an active anti-appeaser at the time, so unlike his German subjects he cannot  be accused of changing his garments.

Revisionists have been hard at work here, too, and not only the popularizers. It is now usual to find that Chamberlain was stymied by Britain’s helpless military condition.

It was low enough. The Royal Army (like the US Army in 1938) could hardly field a full division. But as Namier understood and the modern historians have not, neither side was materially or morally prepared for war in 1938. The German generals, Namier says, were terrified of their weakness.

The moral queasiness was beyond remedy. It was nice of Chamberlain to wish never to see Europe’s young men slaughtered again, but unrealistic. But the material situation was not so bad as recent scholars have thought.

France, a failed state, would presumably not have fought in ’38, as it failed to defend itself in 1940. But on a purely military assessment, it is not so obvious that the western powers gained anything by putting off the start of total war by 12 months.

England could not have done anything on the continent, but the Royal Navy was not appreciably stronger in ’39 than ’38. In ’38, the Maginot Line would have had value. It is not often recognized that when the Germans used massed armor to punch through the French defenses, it was to a great extent Czech armor, which was not available to them in ’38.

Last, although Italy had not yet suffered humiliation in Albania in ’38, there seems little reason to think that Mussolini, reluctant to start a fight until he saw Hitler scooping up territory, would have entered the war in a 1938-39 conflict in which Hitler probably wouldn’t have been raking in chips. Had the Mediterranean not been a theater of war, the condition of Britain would have been far happier. And France’s, too.

Namier scolds the men of Munich for not being realists. Modern writers have tended to find that they were realistic. Again, Namier has the better of that question.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Prosecuting small bankers

Small is relative. When speaking of banks, even pipsqueaks can make off with hundreds of millions.

We have been told not only that regulation is bad but that it is impossible. Sure is, if you do not wish to regulate. And most of our federal regulators have not been given strong powers.

(Most banks are chartered by states, and most states assign little in the way of resources to regulation.)

As the Washington Post story shows (and the New Deal had already shown), it is possible to ride herd on banks if you want to. And as commenter mikelemm says, "Regulation doesn't, cost, it pays."

A more precise formulation would be, "Of course regulation has costs, but it has big payoffs."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, racism and rightwingers

The lefties at RightWingWatch commemorate the death of Nelson Mandela by reviewing the pro-apartheid records of some prominent American rightwingers, including Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, Sen. Jeff Flake, Pat Robertson and others. RWW couches the political stance in terms of anticommunism, which is misleading.

The opposition to black political rights was based on race, justified by anticommunism. The white government flooded the South with propaganda depicting South Africa as the last bastion against communism in southern Africa. Probably white agents worked in other sections, but as far as I know, without the success they had in the South, where before the main feature began at the movies we were treated to lengthy propaganda films depicting the South African air force bravely shadowing fishing trawlers that were described as Russian spy ships.

I cannot say how this was received by the audience. I thought it was as comical and sinister as most  rightwing anticommunism as I had learned it from the days of Joe McCarthy. I never heard anyone walk out of the theater saying anything about it. That was not the case in more politically active venues. My Bircher uncles were loud in their denunciation of South African blacks and communism. In newspaper columns and on the stump and in Congress (as RWW relates), praise for apartheid was loud.

It only got louder after South Africa's whitepower regime weakened in the face of international liberal support for democracy for blacks and browns, leaving only Southern Rhodesia as a white-ruled prison camp in Africa. The hysteria from the right -- in those days I was a constituent of the vile racist Jesse Helms so I heard a lot of this -- was ever greater in the interest of saving Rhodesia from communism and majority rule.

The reason alleged was our steel industry's dependence on chromium, which came from only two places -- Rhodesia and the USSR. Unfortunately, while working to save Rhodesia's chrome for Pittsburgh, the rightwingers neglected to save the steel industry for the United States. In fact, they advocated policies that chased steel to other countries.

The one constant in all this political stupidity was black skin. That is why when I hear the same people making the same arguments aimed at a man with black skin in the White House, I believe that the motivation is primarily racist, secondarily whatever non-racist cover story thy are peddling today.

UPDATE: From the invaluable aggregators at Little Green Footballs, two posts that you should read about rightwing racism.

As I noted in a comment to Clovis in the "Thankful for the Second Amendment" post, racist cultures take some curious forms. Today's rightwing racists have learned not to be publicly proud of themselves. Theodore Bilbo is not in style. But they are just as deeply racist for all that they have learned new manners, as the links will prove.

And, while it may not be the most apposite time to bring it up, the racist love for apartheid in the name of anticommunism (still alive today as the Breitbart comments prove) is as clear an example as any you could ask for of how stupid rightwing anticommunists were and are. All any thug had to do was scream "Communism!" and they fell in love with him.

SECOND UPDATE: Then there's this. I don't know that Rick Santorum is racist; not like most in his movement, so far as I have seen. But he is dense. If you're ever kidnapped by Mexican highwaymen who are exposing you to radioactive cobalt-60, try to get Rick Santorum between you and it. You'll be saved. He's better than lead.

THIRD UPDATE: And another example, found by a college friend and posted on Facebook, this one with an extra helping of Jew-hatred.