Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gun nut delusions: three against one

In James Bond movies, hundreds of men with machine guns shoot thousands of bullets at Bond and his girlfriend and every one misses them. Usually Bond defends himself by throwing a handy empty barrel at several of the closest assailants, but when things get a bit hectic, he squeezes off a round from his Walther PPK and, although he is diving and rolling, his bullet finds its mark.

That is the kind of infantile delusion that animates concealed carry advocates. Real life is different.

Not much detail has been released about this robbery and gunfight at a Rhode Island gun shop -- the kind of place, the gun nuts tell us, nobody ever tries to rob. But the event is common enough that we can run through the possible scenarios.

In the one that is most conformable to gun nut delusions, the robbers intended to kill every possible witness, and the shop owner saved himself (unless he dies, which seems possible still) by using his gun and wounding two of the robbers.

Unluckily, there were three robbers and one of them also shot him, and he was later found bleeding by the mail lady.

This is possible, although nowadays with cameras everywhere shooting witnesses is not as productive a strategy as it used to be.

In most robberies (including other robberies of gun shops, videos of which have been linked here at RtO), the robbers do not plan to shoot anybody, instead using their guns to intimidate witnesses into stillness and compliance. I have talked with several people who have been robbed at gunpoint in gun shops, and they all say they did everything they could to show they were complying.

A typical robbery lasts a minute or less, so the advantage is all with the robber or robbers. Surprise plus intimidation is usually enough to prevent resistance.

But one way to change a robber's mind about shooting is to pull a gun on him.  In an example a couple of months ago in Houston, the robbers charged in shooting, and the owner shot back, killing one of them.

What happened in Providence is yet unknown. It may have been like the Houston holdup (without the car crashes that may have alerted the pawnbroker to get his gun ready).

More likely, the robbers would have left the Providence man unhurt had he not decided to shoot it out.

There are 300,000,000 guns in America. Maybe sometimes a good man with a gun can defeat a bad man with a gun, but there's nothing to stop the bad man from bringing along his bad friends, like in the scene in "Jurassic Park" when the human hunter is ambushed by the velociraptor's friends..

What happened to the Providence businessman is regrettable. It would be even worse if it happened because (primary cause) bad men have unlimited access to firearms and (secondary cause) the storekeeper bought in to gun nut fantasies.

Friday, October 23, 2015

It had to happen in Florida

RtO has pointed to many squirrely gun stories but this is the squirreliest.

Don't bring a BB gun to a gun fight.

This appears to count a a +1/2 in the good guns/bad guns balance of effects. The bad guy was certainly looking for trouble but it is not so clear what kind. Presumably he wasn't going to shoot his ex-wife and kids to death with BBs.

It is not so clear that the only way to resolve this incident was with gunfire, but it was Florida, so the shootee could not complain on that count.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review 355: Air

AIR: The Restless Shaper of the World, by William Bryant Logan. 398 pages, illustrated. Norton paperback, $16.95

I wouldn’t have thought you could write 350 pages  about “Air” without mentioning what gases make up Earth’s air and in what proportions, but William Logan has done it.

On the other hand, I’d have thought you could write 350 pages about “Air” without scatology, but William Logan hasn’t done that.

This is a very strange book in which we learn more about the untouristy places William Logan has visited than we do about trace gases in the atmosphere. When he does refer to the physical characteristics of air, he doesn’t always get them right; notably when he writes that the mass of the air is 500 trillion tons. That’s only one-eleventh of the accepted value.

Perhaps if he had spent less time on the vaporings of Maritain and Merton and more with reference books, he’d have gotten it right.

“Air” is not without its moments. Though he cannot be bothered to discuss the gaseous constituents of air, he is eloquent about the particles that the air supports, like fungus spores. He writes interestingly about learning to fly an airplane and sail in a hang glider; about weather; and about smells.

He also spends way more pages writing about the sonata form in western music than you’d expect —I’d have expected nothing — but what that has to do with air is not stated. He does point out that the sounds of music travel through air, but they travel also through water and steel.

The failure to discuss the constituents of air and their relative proportions is a very serious thing. Though Logan makes less of a fuss about climate change than I’d have expected, it is clear that he is among those who believe that the air’s share of carbon dioxide is titrated so delicately at three parts per 10,000 that it is ideal for humans, but that 4 parts per 10,000 would be a disaster.

The closest he gets to discussing proportions of gases comes in a discussion of oxygen levels (which, typically, he sets too low), which today are around 21%. He mentions they were very low before the evolution of photosynthesis, but there’s no hint that they seem later to have been very high — perhaps 50% above current levels.

You’d think that a discussion about why they dropped back and have settled, for quite a long time, at a lower level would have been part of a book about “Air.” But, again, you’d be wrong.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ben Carson: lunatic or moron?

Can we vote both?

Not only does he hold unorthodox views about the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum -- I kid you not -- he appears to disbelieve in what philosophers call the arrow of time: Does time flow in one direction and, if so, why?

Now that Carson seems to be firming up his status as a Republican leader, reporters are examining his entrails and they're finding some weird stuff.

Not his young earth creationism. Plenty of other GOP presidential candidates, like Jindal, share that; although few would essay a 45-minute lecture on the topic the way he did.

That is where he reveals his odd views on angular momentum, not usually a topic that people even have opinions about.

Now The Progressive delves into a written statement Carson made claiming that American children in the 1830s were better educated than today. The Washington Post reprints the article, which explains how Carson cited six questions from a 6th-grade test of that era and wondered how many students today could get them correct.

Never mind that it wasn't a 6th-grade test and that whatever it was, reporter Jud Lounsbury determined that most children failed it. But get a gander at one of the questions:

Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.

Is this like one of those annoying Facebook posts that asks you how many triangles you see?

It is!

Reader timsn274 asked:

"Did anyone else notice that Dr. Carson claims that the test is from the 1830's, yet contains questions about historical events in 1849 and 1865?"
Well, as Lounsbury reports, not only did Ben Carson, a man with an overweening vanity about his intelligence, not notice it, the Internet screed where Carson picked it up has been making the rounds on rightwing sites for over 15 years, and it appears that none of them noticed it either.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Gun nut delusions: a polite society

One of the gun nuts' favorite delusional slogans was lifted from a Robert Heinlein science fiction novel. I guess they don't notice that it's called science fiction, not science fact:

A typical real world example occurred in Memphis this week:
Authorities said Lorenzo Clark, 36, got into an argument Sunday with his neighbor, Terence Olridge, 31, who was headed into work. The altercation in the normally quiet Memphis suburb of Cordova escalated into an exchange of gunfire, and Olridge was shot multiple times and died at a hospital, authorities said.
 And what work was Olridge headed for? He was a police officer.

So this one is a twofer for us gun grabbers. Not only can we mock the "polite society" dimwits, we can also note that the NRA mantra that "the only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun" didn't work so well this time: Clark was, if not a provably "bad man" at least a felon with a firearm.

Even in my home state of Tennessee this is against the law.

Tennessee is full of guns, but it is not especially polite. For example, yesterday in my hometown:
Eight hours after a gunman opened fire on students waiting at a school bus stop in Alton Park on Tuesday morning, parents watched the yellow school buses rumble back to the same spot after school and recounted how their children managed to avoid the bullets.
 They did not seem to be confident that Tennessee's virtual absence of controls on firearms was making them safe:
 Both asked not to be identified because they fear for their safety.

UPDATE Oct. 16

UPDATE Oct. 17

Liven up your shopping experience with irresponsible gunplay. your daily serving of delusional gun nut fail.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gun nut delusions: seeing is disbelieving

One of the favorite claims by gun nuts is that "nobody robs a gun store." In the real world -- the one gun owners refuse to inhabit -- it happens every day.

Today, f'instance. Note the gun shop workers on the floor as the armed robbers take their ugly-looking assault rifles, and ammunition to make them work.

This was in gun crazy -- and I do mean crazy -- Colorado. The linked story doesn't say so, but other reports note that two schools nearby were locked down while peolice hunted for the robbers, who, unaccountably, were not subdued by the gun shop workers despite their access to plenty of guns.

Of course, they could have rushed the robbers, like lunatic Republican presidential candidate -- but I repeat myself -- Ben Carson suggests school children should do. Or they could have rushed one of them, although perhaps then one of the other robbers would have shot them.

Who can say? 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Speaker for Animal House

I don't know why the Republicans are having such a hard time finding a Speaker for the House of Representatives. There is an obvious candidate: Sarah Palin.

She handles her liquor as well as John Boehner, she's as eloquent as Kevin McCarthy and she doesn't have any skeletons in her closet -- they're out brawling on the lawn. And since she shut down her teevee channel, which was occupying her for up to 6 minutes a week, she's available.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Carly's Mitt moment

OK, Fiorina did not herself say this, but she didn't bother to pay the people who worked on her Senate campaign either. It is her numbskull operations director saying it:

“People are just upset and angry and throwing her under the bus,” said Jon Cross, Fiorina’s operations director for her Senate campaign. “If we didn’t win, why do you deserve to get paid? If you don’t succeed in business, you shouldn’t be the first one to step up and complain about getting paid.”
I dunno, Jon. If my business invests in advertising to increase sales, but sales don't increase, why should I have to pay the newspapers and radio stations that ran my ads? If I buy diet yogurt so I can lose weight but I don't lose, can I get my money back?

It would be hard to believe anybody could be that dumb, but Cross's boss watches imaginary videos, so maybe it's an example of incompetent fools hiring idiots. Maybe so everyone will feel comfortable in the executive lounge. 

Who knows?

In the latest Pew poll, Jeb Bush, the only GOP contender  besides Trump who doesn't have to worry too much about money, is polling 4% among Republicans. Had enough? as the GOP said in 1948.

I am beginning to think that my prediction -- made half in jest -- that Trump will knock out a candidate a week and bring us to early January with Donald as the Republican standard bearer without any Republican having had an opportunity to cast a vote has a good chance of coming true.

A failed foreign policy

RtO spends a lot of time making fun of rightwingers, because they are evil, stupid and harmful to our polity. But the left or liberals have their failures as well.

They are just not as funny.

It is true that President Obama's foreign policy has failed, at least where he has tried to use military force. He has had numerous successes in the political sphere.

Part of his failure results from having an incompetent military. He inherited that but he hasn't tried to fix it.

But a big part has been his misunderstanding of the situation. RtO has consistently called him out on this, starting in 2009 and continuing off and on since. I have concentrated on asking for support for a free and independent Great Kurdistan.

This is not because Kurdistan is the most pressing issue of international politics but because it is the most clearly justified. If America stands for democracy and self-determination -- it hasn't since 1945 but it did once, sort of -- then freedom for the largest ethnic, historical, linguistic population without a nation of its own ought to be a self-evident policy.

If we cannot understand that, how can we expect ourselves to understand more complicated situations?

The Kurds have acted to the limits of their military capacity to set up a homeland. From the New York Times story cited above, it looks as if the Iraqi Shia are prepared to accept that:

The reality is that Iraq’s Shiite majority seems to be settling in to a divided Iraq and increasingly questioning whether it is worth shedding Shiite blood in areas like Anbar Province or Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which the Islamic State captured in June 2014.

Waving the white flag at the new caliphate is a stupid position to take, and the Shia will come to regret that; but no one can say the Iraqi Shia have ever demonstrated any political sense. However, a recognition that the artificial borders of Iraq are not worth preserving and that something like a return to the three provinces of the Ottoman era could be made to work is something.

To make a Great Kurdistan, four old states will have to be broken up. Two already have been: Iraq and Syria.

In Syria, as in Iraq, Obama seems devoted to preservation of borders that go back only a century or so and were drawn to suit European empires, not the people who live there. Obama is no wiser than Kissinger in this respect.

Certainly, the questions call for skillful manipulation, and it can hardly be true that every trouble spot will be best served with a cookie-cutter response. The United States is on firm ground in supporting the independence of Ukraine, but it was silly to balk at the defection/seizure of Crimea, never historically Little Russian and only written into the borders of a fake "autonomous" republic of Ukraine as a result of cynical imperial maneuvering in the 1950s.

Foreign ministries almost always favor stable borders. It makes their life easier, at least so they think. Obama appears to have deferred to the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy too much, and neither of his secretaries of state has shown any vision or understanding of the aspirations of foreigners.

It cannot be a surprise that people will not willingly die for antidemocratic, antisocial, kleptocratic regimes. They won't always decide to die to get rid of them, but they will never choose to die for them.


Supply Side Jesus and the long-term bond

It's been a bad 24 hours or so for rightwing Christians.

First, Bill Maher absolutely nailed rightwing Christian economic preaching with his rap on Supply Side Jesus.

"Give all the fish to the 1% and let the fish trickle down."

Then "Pope Francis opened a divisive meeting of the world's bishops on family issues Sunday by forcefully asserting that marriage is an indissoluble bond between man and woman." So, like RtO has pointed out more than once, rightwing marriage heroine Kim Davis is living in sin wih a man not her husband.

Other reports say the pope is going to can the sleazeball archbishop who slipped Davis into the receiving line at the embassy, allowing Davis's attorney to float -- for a couple of days before reporters blew it to pieces -- a story claiming that il papa had praised Davis's courage.

I don't know if I believe the firing report; none of the sources repeating it is known to me; and I never did believe the report about the pope praising Davis, since I know Catholic theology -- 14 years, straight A's every report card.

So, is it time for Restating the Obvious to state an obvious fact, even though no one else seems to be noticing it? It is!

It's this: When god handed down the 10 rules for going to hell, he did not rank them. You get there just as surely by coveting your neighbor's ox as by disrespecting your parents. Or by lying.

Thou shalt not bear false witness. He went to the trouble to engrave it in stone, even.

Mat Staver, the prating Christian lawyer who retold the lies about Davis and the pope, ought to meditate on that one for a while. Mat Staver is going to hell.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review 354: Tweakerville

TWEAKERVILLE: Life and Death in Hawaii’s Ice World, by Alexei Melnick. 262 pages. Mutual paperback, $15.95

It is uncommon for a didactic novel to also be a good novel, but Alexei Melnick has done it with “Tweakerville,” which can be read from several points of view and works in all of them.

We know it is didactic because Melnick ends the book with a Q & A about why he wrote it and how the characters can be critiqued and understood. I generally avoid didactic novels and also novels set in Hawaii with drugs as the theme. In the first case, I hate sermons; and in the second, the plots and authors are usually lame and lazy.

I read this one because of a positive blurb by Chris McKinney, who wrote a fine novel about Hawaii’s underclass, “The Tattoo.”

“Tweakerville” can be read as a tragedy in the sense that Aristotle defined it: a character makes a decision that is blameless in itself but brings disaster to everyone around him.

In this case, Jesse, a runner for a crystal meth dealer, answers a ringing cell phone. It is an automatic, thoughtless gesture; but the phone belonged to a young girl who overdosed at a party the night before. Jesse has just dug a hole to dispose of her body.

(One of the many threads of contrast in the novel is the honest dealer vs. the dishonest dealer. Apparently the dead girl had bought low-quality ice (batu, clear) from the dishonest dealer. However, honest dealers like Jesse and his mentor Robby don’t do any better than the bad ones.)

Or “Tweakerville” can be read as a noir crime novel. Jesse is the young acolyte -- 17 when we meet him -- aiming to gain respect and money by serving an established hoodlum.

 In this reading, the novel is as pitiless and violent as, say, Hubert Selby Jr.’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn.”

The best reading is as a coming of age novel. If “Tweakerville” has a long life among readers, I suspect it will be as a young adult novel, although it was not written as one. Its profanity would have precluded its publication even for adults two generations ago, but young adults read sterner stuff these days.

In addition to Jesse’s quest for adulthood, there is a love story, with Kapika, also 17 when we meet her. She is from a somewhat more privileged social class than Jesse (but only somewhat), but this is no Gatsby yearning for Daisy romance. Jesse and Kapika are among the more cynical young romantics of literature.

(I have little to criticize in this book, but for a novel meant to be realistic, there is a serious goof in the meeting scene of Jesse and Kapika. Jesse is trying to buy beer [unusually for him; he usually boosts it] and Kapika the clerk demands identification. The problem is that in Hawaii, the seller as well as the buyer has to be of age; 17-year-old Kapika would not be allowed to sell beer.)

Many betrayals and murders later, the novel ends back at the dead girl’s grave. Going clean, as dealer Robby does, does not preserve you. Being a loving family guy, like Vili, Jesse’s most admired friend, does not preserve you. Being a stand-up guy, as Jesse is, does not preserve you.

Smokable meth -- or as Jesse calls it, clear -- dominates all. “Next thing you know had seven cop cars up the road. All for one tweaked out love sick butchie.  Clear is like that for some guys. No fear or pain, no tomorrow, just love and rage right now.”

Melnick has chosen to write the novel in the first person. Jesse speaks what I call Bamboo Ridge creole (because it originated in the literary magazine Bamboo Ridge), a printed form of pidgen that is not like any pidgen you hear but is serviceable enough. Kapika’s language is slightly less pidgen-y, and her tone is also slightly less effective.

Melnick is a born-and-raised, and his local color touches are authentic and nuanced, which is something outsiders writing fiction set in Hawaii never achieve. Locals will understand why Jesse’s last name is Gomes: Potagees (Portuguese) are stereotyped in the islands as loquacious, but the stereotype is valid often enough; only a Potagee would have told this long story. The other locals are, typically, economical of speech.

Once or twice, Melnick oversells the contrasts. Jesse is a dropout; he has an older sister who did well in school. That her school was Punahou (Barack Obama’s high school) is not impossible for a Potagee family headed by a tugboat captain but slightly surprising.

Gun nut delusions exposed

Gun nuts are all pretty much psychotics, in the definition that says a psychotic is someone who is not able to distinguish his fantasies from reality. Here we have a clear statement that exposes their key delusions.

One, which has been disproven so often that we can only conclude that anyone still shopping it is either a deliberate liar or crazy, is that killers aiming at a big score choose "gun-free zones."

However, the Umpqua school is not free of guns. How many persons on the campus were armed is hard to say, but the number was not zero and, according to the statement linked above, was considerable. They did not ride to the sound of the guns. They sheltered in place, just like wimpy unarmed liberals.

For good reason:
“Luckily we made the choice not to get involved,” he explained. “We were quite a distance away from the building where this was happening. And we could have opened ourselves up to be potential targets ourselves, and not knowing where SWAT was, their response time, they wouldn’t know who we were. And if we had our guns ready to shoot, they could think that we were bad guys.”
That is the very most optimistic view of it. Had they intervened, they'd just as likely have shot a student as a gunman, as happened in gun-happy Houston last week. Even more likely, they'd have lost the shootout with the already armed and prepped killer.

Three million Americans have been shot to death in the past century. The number who were criminals plugged by a conveniently placed gun nut is very small, and possibly (even probably) smaller than the number of innocents shot by mistake.