The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Thursday afternoon round-up

A lot has happened in the past day or so:

Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!

My houseguest has departed

After four nights, five puddles, four solid gifts, and so much barking that the neighbors down the block left a note on my door, Sophie finally went home this afternoon. I also worked until 11:30 last night, but that had nothing to do with her. It did cause a backup in my reading, though:

Finally, army dude-bros in several countries have gotten into arguments over online tank games and, to win those arguments, have posted classified information about real tanks. The defense authorities in the US, UK, France, and China are investigating.

Friday, already?

Today I learned about the Zoot Suit Riots that began 79 years ago today in Los Angeles. Wow, humans suck.

In other revelations:

Finally, it's 22°C and sunny outside, which mitigates against me staying in my office much longer...

Criticizing the police response hides the real issue

David Graham argues that emphasizing the bungled police response in Uvalde "risks eclipsing the bigger picture, which is that the gravest failures happened before the gunman arrived at the school and opened fire":

The fundamental problem, of course, is that semiautomatic weapons are easily available to nearly anyone in the United States with relatively little trouble. Some reporting indicates that the Uvalde shooter was a victim of bullying, and though this may have played a role in his psychology, bullying is universal and timeless; readily accessible assault rifles are not. Gun-rights advocates used to try to sidestep this argument, arguing that prospective killers would find other ways to kill if guns were harder to find, but these days, with their position ascendant in the legal system, they hardly bother, instead pointing out that courts are interpreting the Constitution to block most gun laws. They are correct, but that doesn’t negate the simple fact that easy access to guns is what makes this country different. The guns and ammunition used in Uvalde were legally purchased, and no police officer could do anything about them until the shooter began committing crimes—by which point even an effective police response would have merely limited, not stopped, the slaughter, given how much death a shooter armed with an AR-15 can inflict, and how quickly.

So-called red-flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily seize guns from people if they might be a danger to themselves or others, may indeed be a commonsense measure, but there’s precious little evidence that they are useful in stopping mass shootings. (They seem to work better for preventing suicides.)

Armed guards at schools, better preparation, fortifying schools—all of these have been proposed as good solutions, but few of them seem to work all that well in practice. Schools in Texas had already been “hardened,” but that didn’t prevent the horror in Uvalde. The school district had drilled for a mass-shooting event. No armed officer was stationed at the school when the gunman struck. (In Buffalo, a retired police officer serving as a security guard engaged and fired at the shooter, and authorities say he saved lives by buying time; despite this apparent heroism, 10 people died.)

We have solid evidence from the US and from around the world about what works and doesn't work to prevent mass shootings. Banning assault weapons works; hiding under desks doesn't. As Graham concludes:

[D]emanding that police respond more swiftly and courageously once the slaughter of schoolchildren has already begun is itself the mark of a broken society, which no longer seems able to ask that we prevent such killings in the first place.

Regulate crypto! And guns, too

Even though it seems the entire world has paused to honor HRH The Queen on the 70th anniversary of her accession, the world in fact kept spinning:

Blogger Moxie Marlinspike wrote about their first impressions of web3 back in January. I just got around to reading it, and you should too.

Oh, and plastic recycling doesn't work, and probably can't.

And here, a propos of nothing, is a photo of St Boniface Cemetery I took this morning:

The price of too many guns

We're still grappling with the horror of last week's mass murder in Uvalde, Texas. Nick Meyer, a retired lawyer who grew up there, shares our horror but not our surprise:

First, you would be challenged to find a more heavily armed place in the United States than Uvalde. It’s a town where the love of guns overwhelms any notion of common-sense regulations, and the minority White ruling class places its right-wing Republican ideology above the safety of its most vulnerable citizens — its impoverished and its children, most of whom are Hispanic.

I wasn’t surprised to see the Republican panel of politicians at a news conference the day after the shooting, almost all White and in top positions of power in the community and the state, taking the lead. In Uvalde, the custodians of order — the chief of police, the sheriff, the head of the school district police — are Hispanic, but here they were largely silent. Unsurprisingly, they now bear the primary blame for the disastrous response at the school.

Bloomberg asks how that total police failure happened when fully 40% of the town's budget goes to police:

But determining what may have gone wrong during the police’s response to the attack will take more than scrutinizing city budgets. In fact, Uvalde’s police spending is not such an aberration. 

Policing is one of the few services smaller cities are set up to provide. For Uvalde, which has roughly 16,000 residents, the $4 million police budget is the biggest expense in the city budget this year, funded at a proportion that’s higher than some peers but far from abnormal. An analysis of a sampling of 15 other cities with populations between 15,000 and 20,000 in 10 states, some dominated by Republicans and others by Democrats, show that on average, policing accounted for 32% of their general-fund budgets in 2022. The average level in big cities is also around 30%, with cities like Milwaukee, Oakland and Phoenix spending closer to 40%.

In a way, these high percentages can be deceiving, because some small towns and cities aren’t set up to provide many other services, such as health care, social services or the expensive items that dominate most big-city budgets. Those expenditures are instead left to school districts, counties, states and larger entities with more resources to run those programs efficiently, according to Richard Auxier, a senior policy associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. That’s why policing makes up such a huge share of spending.

Retired FBI Special Agent Katharine Scweit, who created and ran the FBI's active-shooter training program, worries about training:

In the first few years after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the F.B.I. spent more than $30 million to send agents to police departments around the country. The goal was to train local officers how to handle active shooters so they would know how to go after a shooter with confidence and neutralize the threat.

Current protocol and best practices say officers must persistently pursue efforts to neutralize a shooter when a shooting is underway. This is true even if only one officer is present. This is without question the right approach.

We need to understand why that protocol was not followed in Uvalde. I am still confident the F.B.I.’s focus on training to this standard was right, but I’m less confident in its execution. The officers who responded may have been unprepared for conflict, which can lead to fatal results. Law enforcement officers need to be mentally prepared before they arrive on the scene, so they can respond immediately.

After Sandy Hook the federal government adopted the run, hide, fight model, which instructs students and teachers to run first if they can, then hide if they must and, finally, fight to survive.

I remember telling my children that if someone approached them in a car while they were walking, they should run as fast and as far as possible. Yet in many school settings we have mistakenly discouraged students from trying their best to simply stay alive.

Journalist Susie Linfield grapples with the "Emmett Till" moment:

The question of how much violence we should see, and to what end, is almost as old as photography itself. But the question gains urgency in our age of unfiltered immediacy — of the 24-hour news cycle, of Instagram and Twitter, of jihadi beheading videos, of fake news and conspiracy theorists and of repellent sites like BestGore, which revel in sadistic carnage. What responsibilities does the act of seeing entail? Is the viewing of violence an indefensible form of collaboration with it? Is the refusal to view violence an indefensible form of denial?

In the case of Uvalde, a serious case can be made — indeed, I agree with it — that the nation should see exactly how an assault rifle pulverizes the body of a 10-year-old, just as we needed to see (but rarely did) the injuries to our troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A violent society ought, at the very least, to regard its handiwork, however ugly, whether it be the toll on the men and women who fight in our name, on ordinary crime victims killed or wounded by guns or on children whose right to grow up has been sacrificed to the right to bear arms.

Despite the very real dangers of exploitation and misuse that disclosure of the Uvalde photographs would pose, I myself would like politicians to view them: to look — really look — at the shattered face of what was previously a child and to then contemplate the bewildered terror of her last moments on earth. But that would not mean that the jig is up. People, not photographs, create political change, which is slow, difficult and unpredictable. Don’t ask images to think, or to act, for you.

Uvalde may be the worst mass shooting in May, but it wasn't the only one. The US had 14 more over the weekend. I'm so glad we have Wayne LaPierre's thoughts and prayers to help us. And don't even get me started on the new "mental health" misdirection coming from the Republican Party.

Chicago's great sports teams

Chicago's two baseball teams gave up a combined 36 runs yesterday, with the Cubs losing to the Reds 20-5 and the Sox losing to the Red Sox 16-7. Perhaps the bullpens could use a little work, hmm?

In other news:

Finally, astronomers have produced a photo of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and were surprised to see it looks nothing like Ted Cruz's head.

We know how to prevent mass murder

Australia, Canada, and the UK managed to prevent mass shootings in the aftermath of horrible crimes. And as The Onion reminded people again this week—for the 21st time since 2014—the United States is the only place where this happens.

You know how they do it? How other free, English-speaking democracies keep their citizens alive? How every other civilized country in the world does? They ban the fucking guns.

Civilians do not need assault rifles. They do not need large-capacity magazines. They do not need guns of any kind before they prove they're capable of using them properly.

By civilians, I'm including civilian police forces in most places, who only think they need them right now because other civilians have them.

To be clear: I don't want to ban all guns. In the dense urban core of Chicago where I live, no one needs a gun. But at my colleague's father-in-law's place in Montana, 50 kilometers from the nearest town, you'd be stupid not to leave the cabin without a high-powered hunting rifle at hand. The Chicago Police Department has a response time of around 30 seconds to my neighborhood. No one will save you from a bear in rural Montana.

For fuck's sake, what kind of societal insanity does a country have when you can buy a military-grade weapon easier than you can adopt a dog?

Commonsense rules already exist to mitigate the worst risks: limit magazine sizes, raise the minimum age to own a gun, close the gun-show loophole, license gun owners and guns, and end the product-liability protections for gun manufacturers.

So why haven't we adopted these rules? After 27 mass shootings this year alone? Because we can't get 50 US Senators to retrieve their testicles from the NRA.

The next time a Republican politician offers "thoughts and prayers" for the families of murdered children while voting against even the least intrusive gun regulation, I hope someone punches him in the head. My thoughts and prayers will follow.

American exceptionalism in the worst way

Three reactions to this week's school shooting, the 27th of the year (despite this being only week 22 on the calendar). First, from Josh Marshall:

The “good guy with a gun” theory was always absurd. These events make that all the more clear. But this is a bit more than that. In both these incidents armed police officers or security guards exchanged gunfire with the perpetrator. But they were outgunned. The assailants had more powerful weapons and they had body armor that allowed them to absorb gun shots and return fire. These aren’t cases with a mythical armed good samaritan. The cops are there, armed and on the scene, and they’re losing in fire fights with the assailants.

When you combine high powered rifles and body armor, these guys are close to unstoppable, at least at first. That’s not their only advantage. These shooters have all accepted that they’re likely going to die within minutes. They also, by definition, have the element of surprise. Unless police have a decisive advantage in firepower and defensive equipment, the shooter is always going to have a big advantage in those engagements.

Second, from James Fallows:

The “originalist” conceit that Americans’ birthright is to be armed with AR-15s is lethal bullshit. You don’t have to have been around at the time of the Founders to know that. You only need to have been a working reporter, or sentient human being, as recently as the 1980s, when I happened to have done a hugely long Atlantic article on how the AR-15 was designed.

You can read the article here. Its central argument is that the AR-15 is an even more effective weapon-of-death than the U.S. military’s M-16, which was derived from the AR-15 and first put to serious use in Vietnam. Don’t believe it? Read the article, and the Congressional hearings it cites. Or check the footnotes in this recent post.

Gun control hasn’t ‘failed.’ Specific people have blocked it.

Many people have played their part. But none has mattered more than Mitch McConnell. I made the case in detail here, after the Parkland gun massacre.

The children and teachers of Uvalde are the latest who deserve a vote. As do the families of Buffalo, and of hundreds of other places.

Will they get it? Mitch McConnell is still there, with 50 members of his bloc, to say No.

“When in God’s name?” Joe Biden asked this evening. When in God’s name.

Third, from the governors of Texas and Illinois, when the former tried to smear my city to deflect blame from his own party's actions:

Taking the stage at a press conference today flanked by U.S. senators, law enforcement and other officials, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was asked about gun laws in other states. “I hate to say it,” Abbott said, “but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, was quick to respond to Abbott’s remarks with an extended Twitter thread.

So we'll get "thoughts and prayers" from the Republican Party, then the National Rifle Association will go dark for a couple of days, then nothing will change. Because a large minority of people in this country fantasize about armed conflict and don't want the deaths of a thousand children to keep them from their guns.

This happens in no other country

More children died from gunshot wounds in the US in 2020 than from any other cause, according to new statistics from the New England Journal of Medicine:

Guns became the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020, killing more people ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. than vehicle crashes, drugs overdoses or cancer.

More than 4,300 died of firearm-related injuries that year — a 29 percent increase from 2019 — according to a research letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter analyzed decades of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

study published in February found that gun ownership increased during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more than 5 million children under 18 became newly exposed to guns in their households from January 2019 to April 2021.

A 2021 study, meanwhile, also reported a rise in firearm acquisitions after the pandemic started; that was correlated with higher rates of fatal and nonfatal gun injuries both suffered by young children and inflicted by them. The authors suggested that school closings and a resulting lack of adult supervision may have played a role in the trend.

Over four thousand children got shot to death in one year. Compare this to the total number of gun deaths in the European Union (which has 30% more people than the US) in the same period (6,700) and think for a moment whether we need a more realistic approach to the Second Amendment.