Thursday, December 27, 2012

How the Gun Makers Arm Psychos & Crooks

Look at it from the gun maker's point of view. A sale of a gun to someone who's criminally insane or a criminal nets the gun maker just as much as a sale to a responsible NRA member who only uses his firearms legally.

Actually, in some ways it's better (assuming your sense of obligation as a gun maker is, as Milton Friedman said, only to profit), since it lets you argue for people buying guns to defend themselves from the people you've sold guns to.

Every time there's a massacre, the gun makers' lobby (AKA the NRA) and its political servants (AKA the GOP) first say it's political opportunism and an insult to the dead to take up gun control "at this time." Then, a week or so later, after they've lined up their ducks in those good old smoke-filled back rooms, they make a public statement that the problem of gun massacres is everything but guns, and the solution is always "more guns" along with measures that will supposedly keep the gun out of the hands of criminals and psychos, because "guns don't kill. People kill."

Well, people kill with the connivance of the NRA. Because the gun makers and their shills have successfully ensured virtually free access to guns by crooks and nuts. And by "guns" I mean assault weapons above all, because they are the most profitable segment of the gun market by far. 

Here's how the gun makers make getting guns a snap without discriminating on the basis of race, creed, criminal record, or psychiatric record:

1. "Felons Finding It Easy to Regain Gun Rights: Decades of lobbying have loosened laws, allowing felons to regain gun rights often with little or no review."

2. "Some With Histories of Mental Illness Petition to Get Their Gun Rights Back: States are increasingly allowing people who lost their firearm rights because of mental health issues to appeal to have them restored."

3. "States Struggle to Disarm People Who’ve Lost Right to Own Guns: There is serious vulnerability when it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable and others."

4. "N.R.A. Stymies Firearms Research, Scientists Say: Researchers who study guns and violence say the influence of the group has all but choked off funds."

5: "Guns in Public, and Out of Sight: As states ease concealed weapon laws, some of the permits are ending up in the wrong hands."

6. The NRA sponsors/endorses bogus "research" supporting more guns/fewer controls.

7. "Over 62,000 guns unaccounted for in U.S. since 2008...weak federal gun laws and irresponsible gun dealers allow tens of thousands of firearms to leave gun shops without background checks or a record of sale"
8. "NRA-led gun lobby's powerful influenceThe NRA-led gun lobby has consistently outmaneuvered and hemmed in the ATF, using political muscle to erect barriers to tougher gun laws."

9. Book: "Ricochet--Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist"
--shows how the NRA, among other things, works behind the scenes to weaken gun laws that would otherwise protect civilians from guns being wielded by psychos and crooks. The book is aimed at NRA members; its central thesis is that the NRA exploits its members with phony 2nd Amendment scares but really just works for its top management (the best-paid of any nonprofit organization in America) and the gun makers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What wrong with the NRA's "Arm everyone!" pitch

It is emotionally very, very satisfying to see the intended victim turn the tables on the attacker. That's the essence of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actually. I hate the fact that nearly all the time it turns out the other way. And with us already the most gun-toting society on Earth, it's very likely that more guns would only make it worse.

I saw a cop give an account of how she killed a mass murderer who'd invaded the church she attended. She wasn't just armed. She had the spine to shoot a bad guy--to pull that trigger--and the training needed to know how to protect herself while shooting him. Training reinforced by being a beat cop day in, day out.

I took an intro flight recently. Got to take the plane off myself after an hour of ground school and do various mild maneuvers up in the air. I'd love to fly, but I realized that no one is safe being a pilot unless they can fly frequently and keep up with their skills practices in various aspects.

You need training to be able to hunt wild game safely. But that's a patch on what you need to be prepared for armed combat. And I bet most ex-military personnel from the combat arms would agree with me. A civilian who buys a gun, gets a few hours' training on the practice range, and keeps it in her purse would be like me, a scuba diver, having a knife strapped to my leg in case a shark attacks. Most of the time once a shark is coming at you in full attack mode and gets close enough for a knife to reach the shark he's going, like 30mph or more. And you might just as well be waving a toothpick for all the chance you have of that knife helping.

Unless you get special training in shark attacks and practice that training every weekend.

Now if we were like Sparta and every single young male--and, this being America, every single young female--got military combat training, and it was with the firearm they'd have thereafter in civilian life, and trained in firearms and other combat every weekend for many hours...that would be one thing.

But that's not realistic. The gun was once called the "great equalizer," but that concept has very real limits in the real world.

And in my experience some people couldn't handle armed combat no matter how much training you gave them.

The cop was in the right place at the right time and though off duty was armed. She is a genuine hero. But we can't possibly have enough trained cops watching out at every single place people gather in groups. It's not practical. And one guard per crowd scene wouldn't be remotely enough for most situations.

Sorry, but the only realistic solution is fewer guns overall, and the ones that are in private hands all registered and the owner licensed in a way that reflects the deadly capabilities of a firearm.

I'm not trying to be hard on gun owners. Some of my best friends etc. Well, that's a lie. I only know one guy who owns a gun, and he's a veteran cop in Sacramento. Oh, and the guy at church who's in the California Highway Patrol. But he's moving to Reno. And I didn't really know him. Oh, and one of my wife's nephews who's in Homeland Security.

I haven't seen combat myself--just boot camp. But even there I remember how different being on maneuvers was from the firing range. So many things to remember about the operation of your firearm. Easy to recall if you practice frequently. But easy to lose that edge, get a little stale.

You can't arm the multitude and expect it to come out well, any more than if I hung scuba gear on everyone, gave them a few hours' instruction, and tossed them in the drink. I've been on over 650 open ocean dives and I still consider myself a beginner because each annual dive trip is like starting over at first.

Training, training, training. And I shouldn't have to mention that a human silhouette on a target flipping up on a firing range is not a guy with crazy eyes aiming an assault weapon at you, about to fire in less than a second.
The NRA's "arm everyone" pitch is great for the gun makers, but it's peddling a fantasy that fails the Real Life test.

Monday, December 24, 2012

on's forums

I've been active on the forums run by

These are large, active, and remarkably hard to find if you don't know where to look.

But if you post anything on an forum a window appears towards the upper-right corner of the page, showing the forums you've posted on recently.

Here's the main page for the Politics forum, which has many, many threads.

And I have many entries hither and thither--mainly, lately, on gun control.

As is true of most public forums that deal with politics in any way, the ones throng with angry, suspicious right wingers who are contemptuous of All Things Liberal and hate President Obama so intensely that Nathan Bedford Forrest would approve of what they say.

Here are some threads I've started and defended against all comers:

Don't ask "Why ban assault weapons?" Ask "Why permit them?"

NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre is right--violent video games ARE dangerous

The mutually respectful thread on gun regulation. I hope.

Free advice for NRA members

A baker's dozen of reasonable gun control measures we should adopt nationally

President Obama is a Republican

The Republicans are attacking Susan Rice to get Scott Brown a Republican Senate seat.

Who should Clinton's running mate be in 2016? I say Charlie Christ.

The new GOP prime directive: Stop Clinton in 2016!

Let's follow India's lead and set up a national biometric ID database

On the Religion forum:

American Christians & other religious people have a religious duty to urge their legislator to support reasonable gun regulations

Favorite Christmas CDs to get from a religious perspective

Enduring tragedy without the consolation of religion

Why do some theists care about atheists & empiricists?

America's first Evangelical President harmed Christianity more than any other

On the Science forum:

Global warming effects more severe than previous estimates

Gun use is not being studied scientifically in America because the NRA banned it

Scientifically-minded people should celebrate Christmas

Bad as the Right is about science, the Left has serious problems with science too

Ocean acidification from human C02 output sparks crisis for Washington State shellfish industry

Global warming is making North American winters harsher

The Republican Party's war on science jeapordizes America's democracy

A vote for Romney is a vote against science

Turns out Ebeneezer Scrooge was a devout Christian

U.S. Should Adopt Higher Standards for Science Education

Proposed: intelligent, technology-using aliens look pretty much like us due to evolutionary convergence

How's this for a moral principle to guide scientists?

Evolution is no longer effectively taught in a majority of American high schools

Both the Left and the Right include many science deniers

Is the constant posting of climate change denialist threads here being financed by polluters like Exxon and the Koch Bros.?

The torrent of global warming denialist postings on this and other forums is being directed and financed by fossil fuel-related firms

Instant cosmology--Brian Green on the air today

Abortion and Christianity

What's moral in an abundant, empty land overflowing with trees and streams and plains is different from what's moral in a lifeboat.

Christianity enshrines the human race's instinctive urges to "be fruitful and multiply." Those urges made sense until the abundant land that Earth once was turned into a lifeboat with no rescue in sight and more people on the boat than supplies to sustain them.

Today it would take at least two planet Earths to sustain even the people we now have in the circumstances they now live in, yet we only have 1.0 Earths, and humanity's numbers are currently swelling at the rate of 140 more people total every single minute. 

For example, within this century the world's coral reefs will be extinct, along with the rich ecosystem that depends on them, thus denying the main protein source for many millions of people who live in the tropics. This is because the oceans are becoming acidic, due to all the C02 humans are producing. With the coral reefs all the oceans' shellfish will also go extinct from the same cauise, denying us another important food source. And there's almost certainly nothing we can do to reverse this process at this point. 

Already many millions of people don't have access to potable water. They drink filthy water and get terrible diseases as a consequence. China is running out of water, pumping its wells dry, and so it will dam the Mekong River that today sustains Vietnam. This will turn much of Vietnam into something close to a desert. Futurists predict that the next major wars will be over water, since so many rivers flow from one country into another. We already did that to Mexico when we dammed the Colorado and destroyed Mexican agriculture in the Colorado delta. 

The price of staple foods is soaring all around the world. Anyone who shops for their family has noticed it, but we can absorb the price jumps. In the third world many can't, and consequently more and more people are moving into the "food-insecure" category.

The world had a billion people in 1804. It has 7 billion now, and that is double what it was just a few decades ago. 

The agricultural production revolution of the 1970s moved the cliff farther away, but humanity didn't use the respite to mend its ways. Now the cliff is getting nearer and nearer, and there won't be another tech revolution to save us this time, wishful thinking notwithstanding.

So talk about abortion must take place in the lifeboat, not in the Eden, and what was moral and even desirable in Eden is a very different matter in the lifeboat.

Christianity thus far has totally refused to face this. Understandably. Because it entails agonizing choices that go directly against instincts honed over millions of years. But it is intellectual and spiritual cowardice not to face things as they are.

Christianity thus far is acting like someone who's been told they have cancer. You know the drill: denial, rage, bargaining, grieving, acceptance. 

Christianity is still at "denial." (along with every other major religion of course)

The moral decline of America...or moral ascent?

Never before in the history of our country has life here gotten so close to the ideals expressed in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

When in our past have women had a better shot at "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" ? Or any of our minorities and ethnicities? At our inception only white male property owners could vote. My own white ancestors were here for a long time--perhaps centuries--but they were poor tenant farmers, so, like so many white male Americans, they could no more vote than could slaves or women. Even after slavery ended, the South set up a system of near-serfdom and vote denial that kept blacks in bondage until the 1970s. 

Cripples and blind people only gained the right to access public buildings without help recently. 

It's not remotely rosy, of course. Many older people remember when they didn't have to lock their doors. Racial tensions continue in many places. We imprison more people per capita than any other rich country and most other poorer countries, partially as a system to emasculate black men and prevent them from voting. Too many immigrants from Mexico and their offspring continue to regard themselves as Mexican even when they have American ciizenship. Not since the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons have the richest people moved such a large proportion of the nation's wealth from everyone else's pockets and into their own. Over half of America's public school students graduate (or just leave) with no idea how to do critical thinking, making them the pawns of slick demagogues. A third of the nation are theocrats who believe, like the Muslim Brotherhood, that God gave them the right and the obligation to impose their narrow view of morality on the majority--which is deeply immoral. 

Still, when my wife & I come back from abroad (we've been in a dozen countries together), we always click our heels and say "there's no place like home; there's no place like home; there's no place like home."

Americans who haven't traveled extensively can't know that the deepest morality of America rests on its citizens desire to obey the law voluntarily. A few years ago all the power went our in my town for 24 hours. No street lights, and not nearly enough cops to man the intersections. Yet people obeyed the law and moved through intersections fairly quicl;ly, because we all knew that if we all obeyed the law we'd all get where we were going more safely and quickly. 

Foreigners are often flabbergasted at how law-abiding we are. Go to YouTube and search on "Russian drivers." The resulting videos are absolutely terrifying. Now I know why my Russian friends are so happy to be here. I wouldn't drive on Russian highways unless I was in a HumVee with a roof gunner.

We queue for movie tickets and pretty much everything else. Line jumpers are rare and seriously frowned upon. Again, we're not ideal, but compared to most other countries we are an amazing civilization. 

And among all the nations of Earth, of how many of them is the image of one of its citizens limited to one image of one kind of person or at most a narrow range? Here it could be someone who looks like anyone from any other country.

Something the rest of the world should heed, since so many places are mired in tribal conflicts.

This is a center right country...really?

How many times have you heard Republican pundits say this?

There are a few problems with this statement, though.

Polls show that more Americans do identify themselves as conservative than liberal--35% to 25%. But 41% say they're "moderate"--neither conservative nor liberal.

That does fit the statement that this is a center-right country.

But in the last election, a solid majority of Americans voted for President Obama.

And that, my friends, says pretty clearly that we are at this moment a center-left country.

The trick is the plurality of moderates. They aren't exactly in the middle. Most tip one way or the other, since they have to choose between a Republican and a Democratic candidate.

Obviously more chose the Democratic one.

Another reason to think this is a center-left country is what changed between 2004 and 2012. The % of "conservatives" went up 1%; the % of moderates went down 4%; and the % of "liberals" went up 4%. This combined with the actual vote shows America trending leftward.

Another factor is the fact that while no "liberals" are Republicans, some "conservatives" are not Republicans. There's the slice of the "Old" part of the GOP who are moderate-to-liberal Republicans who have been driven out of the Republican Party by its extremism. These people still think of themselves as conservatives--but they don't think of the GOP as conservative. They consider it a radical, theocratic, corporatist organization that has lost the right to call itself "conservative."

Hence people like Colin Powell, who endorsed the President. The fact that Republicans responding by accusing Powell of racism instead of answering his carefully thought-out reasoning just shows how far off the edge the GOP has gone.

They would respond by saying the Democrats have gone as far left as the GOP has gone to the right. This is true-ish. The Democrats do lean more leftward than they used to. But I think this is a center-left country, and if the Democrats were as extreme as the Republicans are, President Obama wouldn't have won re-election.

So the next time someone tells you "this is a center-right country" ask them who won the last election...

Friday, December 21, 2012

The gun debate under the hood

The National Rifle Association used to be a national club for hunters and target shooters, with a dash of home defense thrown in.

But in the 1980s the percentage of gun owners in the population started declining and is still declining.

This is probably due to young people generally preferring to play first person shooter video games instead of going out at 3am on a weekend morning and sitting in a duck blind for hours, or hiking through cold muddy woods looking for deer that you may or may not see.

Then the gun industry discovered something: military weapons sell. The look of a battlefield weapon, all black and beautifully ugly and menacing--think Daniel Craig, the latest 007--turned out to be irresistible to existing gun owners--generally older men. So the gun industry too battlefield weapons and tinkered with them to make them street legal, and started a sales boom going on to this day, albeit muchly consisting of sales to folks who already own guns.

And it discovered something else: the NRA would make a splendid vehicle to use to sell these guns. It's hard for any enthusiast association to resist monied attention from an associated industry, and it didn't. Besides which the hard core of NRA members--the 29% who oppose closing the gun show loophole that means 40% of American gun sales are done without background checks.

The gun makers discovered that these gun owners will go to rallies, pepper congressmen with phone calls and emails, and generally work as diligent unpaid shills for the gun makers. Sweet.

One problem: military weapons aren't great for hunting or for home defense. Hunting rifles are good for hunting, shotguns are ideal for home defense. Assault weapons are good for killing people en masse. They're generally not aimed closely but instead used to lay down fire into a crowd of people--ostensibly a platoon of charging Taliban fighters. But kindergartners are even more killable, so if your main purpose is revenge against society through a high body count of its most precious members...well, an AR-15 will do the job beautifully.

So consequently the very essence of an assault weapon is a high rate of fire (plus a new generation of rounds that have vastly more killing power than older rounds of similar diameter). The law bans machine guns, but that's easy to get around. The gun makers redesigned their assault weapons to not be able to be fired automatically, but it doesn't matter because in semiautomatic mode an AR-15 with a 100 round extended cartridge can empty that cartridge into a crowd in a minute or less.

You can't keep up that rate of fire--the gun will start to jam and get "cook off" rounds--but if your goal is to quickly kill a lot of people before the cops arrive and then kill yourself, the AR-15's rated sustainable fire rate of 15 rounds a minute is irrelevant.

So while assault rifles and pistols--all semiautomatics designed to accept giant clips or even drum cartridges--are thrilling to own by ordinary gun enthusiasts--and by golly you look incredibly manly cradling a gun that looks like what Navy SEALs use--their real purpose is massacres, and the guns don't discriminate between Taliban fighters and a first grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

This creates a public image issue for the NRA and the gun makers who control it completely at this point.

So when a massacre happens, the NRA says they're sad. Then a few days later they say we mustn't discuss gun policy now because it's a time for mourning. But the gun policy discussion never happens. Instead they lobby Congress to loosen gun laws instead of tightening them.

If challenged, NRA spokesmen say it's not the gun's fault. It's the psycho's. It's violent video games. (But now do you see why they're always trying to get violent videogames restricted?)
It's liberal atheists taking God out of the schools. And sure, all the other rich countries have vastly lower murder rates but they're just as violent. People use knives if they can't get guns.

Well duh. That's why they have a much lower murder rate a third the number of school massacres.

Finally they spend millions to defeat any politician who tries to restrict gun ownership in any way whatsoever.

In the last election they focused on seven Congressmen and the President. They lost four of the seven congressional race and lost even bigger on the President.

Seems like their mythic reputation of being able to crush any politician who opposes them is just that: a myth.

So that's the drill. We managed to ban assault weapons in 1994 but it didn't work because they grandfathered in all the existing assault weapons and added so many loopholes it wasn't hard to work around them, selling assault weapons with one or two features omitted but never the crucial one: the capacity to accept extended cartridges (cartridges designed for the new rounds with higher killing power).

No other rich country permits assault weapons, and that's the main reason why the average massacre happens here.

So even banning assault rifles isn't enough. We won't get anywhere unless we ban all guns--rifles and pistols--designed to accept extended cartridges, and don't grandfather in the existing ones. They'd have to be confiscated (and a fair market price paid for them, unfortunately), along with their extended cartridges.

The NRA's hardcore 29% would go berserk, naturally. These are the kind of people who believe that the Constitution gives them the right to own any kind of firearm without having to so much as register it. They're disdainful of the Supreme Court saying that guns can be regulated. They harbor dark fantasies of another Civil War, and though they'd never say it in public, the civil war they envision is whites against the rest. They read about home invasion by gangs of thugs, and even though they may live thousands of miles away from such events, they spend a lot of time thinking about personal and national disaster scenarios.

Some belong to private militias, or are survivalists. Some don't. All hate Obama with a fiery passion--it has to be seen to be believed. And they seriously dislike Liberals, and speak to and of them with contempt. To be fair, Liberals speak of them as "gun nuts" and are equally contemptuous, but they aren't armed...

And of course the NRA (=the gun makers' lobby) stokes these apocalyptic fires assiduously--not in what they say to the world at large but in what they say to the faithful.

So much so that if you dare to question their assumptions some will tell you you're stupid and should deal with something you know about. Not very persuasive, but they're used to getting their way through intimidation, so it's a familiar modus operandum.

They'll also blame the psychos and our inability to lock 'em up until after they've killed someone. They're right about this. The average "homeless" person is mentally ill. A third of prison inmates are mentally ill. Both should be in insane asylums, which back in the 1970s both liberals and conservatives wanted to close, and close them they did.

Now it's nearly impossible to institutionalize a crazy person, no matter how crazy they act, unless they commit a major crime.

Coming up with a better policy on psychos won't stop them all. Confiscating assault weapons won't stop all gun homicides. But we have to do both, not one or the other.

As for violent videogames--I don't play them myself, but even though they cut into gunmaker profits I don't find that sufficient cause to ban them. Their contribution to violent behavior is unclear. Killers play them before killing, but non-killers play them too.

Assault weapon owners say they shouldn't be punished for the crimes of a few, just as violent videogame players would say. But while the games may lead to violence, you can't shoot a real person with a videogame. You can with an assault weapon.

And they wouldn't be being punished. The problem is that they seem to have nearly rejected the social compact--you know, where we surrender a measure of personal freedom for the benefits of living in a society. They talk about the social compact like a five year old boy being told to behave himself.

The irony is that liberals seem to have just as much trouble with the social compact, focusing on the rights of crazy people without considering the right of the rest of us not to be killed by crazy people.

Talking giving something up "for the greater good" is anathema to hardcore NRA types, but seriously--they'd still have their hunting rifles, their shotguns, their revolvers. They just wouldn't have military weaponry. They already know they can't have M-239s or shoulder-mounted Stingers. They just don't realize that the AR-15 shouldn't be in private hands.

And the only way to ensure that crooks and crazies don't have them is to ensure that nobody has them. Sorry, but nothing else will work.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

To NRA members

If you look around and see which way the tide is flowing, there's going to be gun control legislation, and it's going to pass, and the President is going to sign it.

It will in all likelihood reinstate the assault weapons ban, along with banning extended magazines. The questions are about what will be defined as an assault weapon, how many rounds will define an extended clip, which handguns will fall under the assault weapon provisions--and, possibly most important of all, how they will close the gun show loophole that 71% of NRA membership wants to close, not to mention everyone else. 

So all the talk you see on online forums stoutly defending against any and all gun controls is spitting in the wind. If you want to do something constructive for gun owners, tell the NRA leadership to stop working as the gun manufacturers' lobby and start acting as an advocate for gun owners. And contribute to the specifics of what the inevitable upcoming gun control legislation should do.

The gun industry has successfully defeated all legislation for decades. If you think that's still true, you need to get out more. Keep it up and you'll just be contributing to the destruction of the NRA as a player in Washington. Because it's becoming toxic to be associated with the NRA. You can only stop it by acting like responsible citizens and parents as well as gun enthusiasts. And that's the only way you can avoid the upcoming gun regulations from being even harsher than they're going to be.

The train is pulling out of the station. You don't want to be galloping down the tracks after it, watching it disappear over the horizon

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A baker's dozen of reasonable gun control measures

1. national biometric ID database modeled after India's, with every gun serial number attached to someone's ID

2. mandated national background check for all gun sales, private and public along with 2 week wait on all purchases

3. maximum 1 gun/month purchase for any individual

4. assault rifles banned

5. extended magazines banned

6. munition sizes over .38 caliber banned for private ownership

7. national firearms user license modeled after driver's license, with written and live firing tests

8. munitions toxic to scavenging wildlife banned

9. kits for converting semiautomatic weapons to full automatic operation banned

10. mental health standards adopted that prohibit gun ownership to people with certain mental issues that limit judgment and empathy (no, I don't think this would ban Republicans from owning guns :) )

11. Those who fail to report sales or theft of guns they own are held liable for crimes committed with those guns as accessories to those crimes 

12. Gun ownership limited to a dozen guns per individual; additional guns only allowed if they are permanently disabled

13. Personal firearms forbidden in schools, national parks, government buildings

Any responses to this list comprising a wholesale denunciation of any and all gun ownership controls will reveal the poster to be someone who lacks the mental equipment needed to be a constructive part of this conversation.

We license the ownership and use of cars because cars in the wrong hands are extremely dangerous machines. We should regulate firearms ownership for the same reasons.

Enduring tragedy without the consolation of religion

As with every other news outlet, NPR this morning was mainly about the mass murder in Connecticut. A rabbi was interviewed. He said how he consoled the parent of one of the twenty children who died. He told her that he believed souls were eternal and that she would see her child again someday.

Which is fine if you share that belief. But if you're sure your child is gone forever--erased by a vicious madman--stuff like that just rips the scab off.

People who are grieving don't want to get into theological disputes, so they rarely say something to their well-meaning religious friends who are trying to comfort them the way they'd want to be comforted. Such reticence fails to hold the tongues of some well-meaning religionists who apparently believe your loss is their opportunity to bring you into the fold if they know you're not religious.

I shouldn't have to tell you how unlikely that is to have the intended effect. Instead it may feel to the bereaved atheist as if you're being callously opportunistic. Of course with America at least 80% professed Christian, they have statistics on their side if they assume you're religious.

As it happens, in last night's episode of the sitcom Malibu Country, the daughter tells Reba McIntyre's character's mother that she doesn't believe in God any more because before the parents' divorce she'd prayed every night for God to keep them together and He didn't so she didn't believe in God now.

Mom says "Faith doesn't keep bad things from happening. Faith is what helps us get through bad things when they do happen."

Which is the right thing to say if you have faith--and if that's the daughter's only reason to lose faith it's the wrong reason.

If the shoe is on the other foot, I seriously doubt that any atheist would try to share their religious unbeliefs with the bereaved. Odds are they'd even go through the motions of praying with the bereaved person if they asked.

And what gets us through tragedy if we don't believe we'll ever see our child again? The short answer is, nothing. Just the passage of time, and the chance to care for other people.

Grief is not a theological argument either way.

Bottom line: what most grieving people want is your empathy, not a lecture. If they really have faith, they don't need you to remind them of it. If they don't, they don't need you to share your bliss with them at that moment.

The best comfort is silent support--whether the bereaved is religious or not. Just keeping them company in their time of grief. They'll ask you if they want you to say something.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Victory lyrics

(to the tune of Maria! from West Side Story)

Obama! We just re-elected Obama!
And suddenly the Right thinks that the blackest night
Has dawned

Obama! We just re-elected Obama!
And suddenly we see their cheating failed to seize the day

Obama! say it loud and there's donkeys braying
Say it soft and the Right is wailing

Obama...we just re-elected Obama...

It's the loveliest sound I've ever heard...


--apologies to Sondheim & Bernstein

Romney, Romney, he just can't get a break
Lying, cheating were all he thought it would take
He didn't write a concession
Now he's in a depression
He knew the Right had so much might
But Obama blindsided him.

--apologies to whoever wrote "Bicycle built for two"

GOP at a crossroads: stay radical and cheat or get more moderate and win centrists

President Obama winning re-election in the middles of troubled times with a weak economy rocked the Republican Party. Many, many Republicans, from their candidate on down, thought they had it locked. Even Karl Rove literally didn't believe Romney had lost when GOP TV (AKA Fox News Channel) predicted Obama's win.

Now the Party is at a crossroads. In this election it tried a level of lying unprecedented in modern times, according to the factchecking organizations. It tried voter suppression in the name of a phony "war on voter fraud." It tried outspending the Democrats by $100 million. It tried even more ruthless gerrymandering than the Democrats--no strangers to gerrymandering--had tried. So much so that even states that went solidly for Obama still elected GOP state legislature majorities, due to dirty redistricting tricks like "packing and cracking," resulting in minority rule of the legislature in many states.

As Richard III said (to paraphrase Shakespeare): "Could I do all this, and cannot gain the Crown? Tut, 'twere it further off, I'd pluck it down."

But they got all plucked up instead.

And they failed to get a U.S. Senate majority that would have been theirs (from all these dirty tricks) if they hadn't run people for the Senate in a number of conservative-majority states that even conservative voters thought were loons.

Worse yet, the younger the voter, the fewer wanted to vote for Republicans. Ditto women. Ditto in spades anyone who wasn't white Anglo. Meaning the GOP is slowly running out of angry old white men who didn't graduate from college (and their wives).

All this happened because the GOP has gotten much farther to the Right than the Democrats have gotten to the Left. This is a Center-Center country, really. The bulk of Americans are uncomfortable with the Crazy Eyes people, Left or Right. And the GOP has a bumper crop of Crazy Eyes politicians.

Basically, apart from cheating, there are two ways to win an election: fire up your extremist base or forge a centrist coalition. The GOP has gotten more and more focused on the former, while the Democrats under centrists like Clinton, Obama, and in 2016, another Clinton, have hung onto broad centrist appeal.

This is completely invisible to the Republicans who get all their news from right wing outlets--another reason why the Obama win took so many Republicans by surprise. It happened outside the sealed bubble they live in.

Thus far the Republicans have reacted to their loss by doubling down on their extremism and cheating, the latest being Pearl Harboring the labor unions in Michigan (along with changing the law on referendums, making it harder to overturn unpopular laws). But demographics and time are against such tactics working.

The amazingly speedy change in public opinion about same-sex marriage is a bellwether of this. Thundering about Gay Marriage doesn't get you elected any more except in the South.

To maintain its national viability over the next decade or so the Republican Party needs to go RINO. If it doesn't it becomes the Party of Southern/Midwestern Aging Undereducated White Men + Their Wives. That doesn't describe a party that can elect a president.

But the GOP is like a meth addict. He knows the Angry Old White High School Grad vote is destroying him...yet it feels so good it's hard to let go. Not to mention the fact that everyone but those Angry Old White Men + their wives have gotten so dismayed at the GOP's assault on the basic workings of democracy that it'll take a long time to win back the trust of people who are naturally inclined to vote Republican.

I understand Chrysler Corp. is building cars much better these days, but the last Chrysler product I owned--a Plymouth Volare station wagon--was built so badly I swore I'd never buy another Chrysler product, and Consumer Reports reliability statistics for decades have borne out my aversion.

So even if every Chrysler product is now a great, reliable car, it will take a decade of good stats before I even think of buying one again.

That's the situation the GOP faces today. It's trapped between first and second base, with the pitcher ready to hurl the ball to whichever base he lunges towards.

Reminds me of a punk rock song

"Should I stay or should I go?"

Should I stay or should I go?

If I stay there will be trouble.

If I go there will be double.

What I really wanna know is--

Should I stay or should I go..."

Likewise the GOP's billionaire patrons threw their entire financial weight into trying to get their guy elected. Now Obama's back in the White House, and he owes them...nothing. The billionaires put all their chips on Red, and the ball landed on Blue.


Plus the public is starting to get the picture that the self-styled Job Creators are really the Pickpockets Preying on the Middle Class. Double ooops.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Right to Shirk laws: GOP;s plan to destroy Democrats' $$$ sources

Michigan's lame duck GOP legislators' putsch against the unions reveals the GOP notions of the Workers' Paradise: a land without unions, where states compete not in quality of work or productivity or training...but in a simple race to the bottom, competing with Chinese factory slaves in hopes that our minimum wage equals Chinese factory wages plus the cost of shipping their products here.

This Workers' Paradise, GOP style, is in that Christmas classic "It's a wonderful life," when Jimmy Stewart's character's guardian angel sends him to Potterville, the town his home town would have become if he'd never lived and the rich old skinflint who owned the town's biggest bank got to run the show--a town where $$$ and nothing else determine everything.

If you aren't familiar with the movie, just read Dickens' novels about life in the soot-blackened factory towns of 19th century England, where the factory owners lived like kings and everyone else lived like Oliver Twist. 

What a wonderful "Bah! Humbug!" gift to the citizens of Michigan.

I suppose it's sheer coincidence that the Democrats' main source of funding is unions. 

Naw, that can't be it. 

BTW, notice how whenever Republicans talk about FREEDOM it turns out to actually mean taking freedom from us and handing it to the 1%?

Monday, December 3, 2012

The GOP's Prime Directive now: Stop Clinton!

They know if she runs no Obama nuevo will show up in the Democratic Party to end-run her, and no GOP possible can beat her. Even Chris Christie, who'd likeable but will probably be murdered by Krispy Kreme before 2016.

So they're desperate. Yet they also know she's so popular they can't attack her directly--not yet.

The first step, then, is to delegitimize the State Department she heads.

Hence the phony scandal called Benghazigate. It's not about Susan Rice--she's just a stand-in for the one they're really after.

Especially since the GOP depends on being able to fool Americans into believing that Democrats are always timid and inept internationally--especially in war--despite Obama being demonstrably superior in these regards to the strutting mediocrity who was the last Republican president (making Ike spin in his grave).