The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The definition of "ridiculous"

The best President we have, who got deferments from service during the Vietnam War because of "bone spurs" in his heels, fantasized yesterday about charging into a school shooting unarmed:

Speaking to a meeting of the country’s governors at the White House, Mr. Trump conceded that “you don’t know until you test it.” But he said he believed he would have exhibited bravery “even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”

As Mr. Trump skipped from one possible solution to another, he mused about the “old days,” when potential criminals could be locked in mental hospitals, and he vowed to ban “bump stocks,” an accessory that can make a semiautomatic weapon fire rapidly, more like an automatic rifle. But he dropped any mention of raising the age required to purchase a rifle to 21 from 18, something he said last week he supported, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Obviously no one wants to see another school shooting, and no reasonable person wants to see the President of the United States involved in a gunfight. But someone surrounded by what Aaron Sorkin once called "the best-trained armed guards in the history of the world" probably shouldn't boast about courage he clearly doesn't have. I mean, the man is afraid of stairs; what would he do when confronted with a rifle?

How even 35% of the country could approve of someone this ridiculous holding the office he does without, you know, ridiculing this behavior, is beyond my ken.

The consequences of Parkland

The shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week have galvanized students across the country. Here are three of the more thoughtful reactions.

First, David Kurtz at TPM Prime (sub.req.) thinks these murders might finally, and suddenly, break the NRA's choke-hold on the Republican Party:

The NRA’s power lies in having made anything other than maximal support for gun rights a nearly impossible position for Republican officeholders to sustain. The very definition of Republican is to be lockstep in opposition to gun control. That wasn’t always true. The politicization of the GOP that saw the winnowing of moderate Republicans, especially in the Northeast, accelerated the process of making absolutism on guns a defining feature of the modern GOP, more so even than opposition to abortion.

The challenge for the NRA has been to continue to raise the price of apostasy on guns for Republican officeholders high enough and fast enough that it outpaces the cost of holding the line through the carnage of the last decade. It’s a breathtaking political calculation all the way around. Again, I go back to Newtown. For GOP elected officials, it’s safer to cluck and shake your head over Newtown and do nothing than to break with the NRA and the party. Until that calculation changes, nothing else will.

But when it does change, it will change everything.

WaPo's Paul Waldman explains why the Parkland students have made the pro-gun right wing so angry:

The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people — old enough to be informed and articulate but still children — the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

So right now, conservatives are engaged in a two-pronged attempt to take it back. On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status — and can therefore be ignored.

Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Michael Ian Black argues that part of the problem is how too many boys are "trapped in an outdated model of masculinity"

...where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.

And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.

To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

Are we finally at a point where we can prevent gun murders without adding more guns to the mix? Do we all have to live in fear of angry men with military-grade weapons?

And let's remember one of the best public service announcements on the topic:

We can't even have a conversation

Josh Marshall argues that our inability to discuss gun control in any meaningful way has rendered us collectively impotent to prevent gun massacres:

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough-going to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? Public transportation? It’s a bit of a pain. We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres. It also gives sanction for all the precursor behavior (the gun nut who is stockpiling AR-15s and ammo but never actually kills anyone).

The reforms are critical. And more of them than are even close to the current debate will be required. But the core of the culture of massacre is equally driven by the social sickness of inaction itself. It is the ultimate validation of the power of the gun that is at the heart of the sick social disease. Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

My current Facebook status is, "Have we all forgotten that, at its core, the NRA is a trade association?" And one with questionable sources of funds at that.

I actually agree with Scott Adams about something

In his latest blog post, cartoonist Scott Adams points out the problems with the most common arguments about gun control:

I want to call out the worst arguments I have seen on the issue of banning bump stocks. If you are new to the conversation, a bump stock is a $99 add-on to an AR rifle that turns it into an automatic-like weapon for greater kill power. The Vegas gunman used bump stocks. They are legal, whereas a fully automatic rifle is not.

Many pro-gun people in the debate seem to be confused about the purpose of laws in general. Laws are not designed to eliminate crime. Laws are designed to reduce crime. The most motivated criminals will always find a way, and law-abiding citizens will avoid causing trouble in the first place. Laws are only for the people in the middle who might – under certain situations – commit a crime. Any friction you introduce to that crowd has a statistical chance of making a difference. 

Humans are lazy and stupid, on average. If you make something 20% harder to do, a lot of humans will pass. It doesn’t matter what topic you are discussing; if you introduce friction, fewer people do it. With that in mind, let’s look at the least-rational gun control arguments I am seeing lately.

Generally, his criticisms seem right on point. I might take issue around the margins, but for once, I don't find myself swearing at him while reading his blog.

Update: David Frum has a great piece in the Atlantic discussing dumb pro-gun arguments from another perspective.

Our other national calamity

James Fallows eloquently sums up the worst bits of American culture, in the wake of Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas:

I am an optimist about most aspects of America’s resilience and adaptability, but not about reversing America’s implicit decision to let these killings go on.

Decision? Yes. Other advanced societies have outbreaks of mass-shooting gun violence. Scotland, in 1996. Australia, in 1996 as well. Norway in 2011. But only in the United States do they come again and again and again.

No other society allows the massacres to keep happening. Everyone around the world knows this about the United States. It is the worst aspect of the American national identity.

...

The identity of the shooter doesn’t affect how many people are dead or how grievously their families and communities are wounded. But we know that everything about the news coverage and political response would be different, depending on whether the killer turns out to be “merely” a white American man with a non-immigrant-sounding name.

These people are indeed deranged and angry and disturbed, and the full story of today’s killer is not yet known. It is possible that he will prove to have motives or connections beyond whatever was happening in his own mind (as Graeme Wood explains). But we know that if the killers were other than whites with “normal” names, the responsibility for their crime would not be assigned solely to themselves and their tortured psyches.

I've just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay "The First White President." Combined with Trump's performance today in Puerto Rico, and our inability as a polity to slow—let alone stop—gun violence, makes me despair for my country.

Fun holiday weekend in Chicago

The top story from this past weekend is that Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the state budget the legislature proposed, and within an hour the Illinois Senate had voted to override. We haven't had a state budget in more than two years. The governor is an ideological Republican in a majority-Democratic state. Crain's Greg Hinz explains:

Statements from two of the main antagonists, Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton, underlined just how wide the political and philosophical gap remains.

"The package of legislation fails to address Illinois' fiscal and economic crisis—and in fact, makes it worse in the long run," Rauner said in vetoing the main appropriations bill, a second measure dealing with revenue, and a budget-implementation bill. "It does not balance the budget. It does not make nearly sufficient spending reductions, does not pay down our debt, and holds schools hostage to force a Chicago bailout."

"This is a step in the right direction," countered Cullerton. "There is obviously more work to do. There always is. . . .(But) with today's votes, the Senate approved a balanced budget that funds our schools, supports our universities, honors our commitments to social service agencies, keeps road crews employed and even ensures Lottery winners get paid."

As those statements suggest, a big winner in the apparent budget outcome is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Assuming a House override, he won final approval of a plan to refinance Chicago pension funds covering laborers and white collar workers; the OK to raise the city's 911 tax another $1.10 to $5 per phone line per month to pay those costs; and roughly $300 million more next year for cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools. Chicago and other municipalities also will be protected from losing any money in income tax receipts, even though the state will cut back on the share that goes to them, the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra their normal tax subsidy

A big loser, at least so far, is much of the state's business community, which didn't get the cost-cutting steps it wanted, especially a reduction in workers compensation payments. But other business groups, notably the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, argued it was far more important to restore financial stability to reeling state government.

Well, duh. Almost everyone in the state who isn't a Republican ideologue wants this budget to pass. It's a good compromise and actually gives the Republicans a lot of what they want. But that's the thing: Republicans in general, and Bruce Rauner in specific, refuse to compromise. 

Meanwhile, in Chicago, 100 people were shot over the weekend, which had less to do with the budget but something to do with Republican religion about guns. Maybe someday we'll decide that the plain meaning of the Second Amendment really does allow states and cities to crack down on handguns and military-style rifles. Maybe.

Gun violence in Chicago

Crain's has a 3-part series this week on why Chicago has so much gun violence:

So far in 2017, more than 1,200 people have been shot and 220 killed in Chicago. Shockingly, 30 of those deaths were children 18 or younger. As Memorial Day approaches—historically one of the city's most violent weekends—Crain's examines a facet of the issue that isn't often discussed: the psychological reason so many young men in Chicago are pulling the trigger.

The sobering statistics suggest that the rate of violence in Chicago this year could run apace with the dramatic levels registered in 2016, which saw more than 750 homicides and 3,600 shootings—the highest in 20 years.

The inability to quell the violence is alarming. So is the fact that these numbers exceed the joint total of those documented for New York City and Los Angeles, cities with a combined population nearly four times that of Chicago.

But Chicago's homicide rate cannot be explained simply by demographic characteristics, impoverishment, the ready availability of illegal handguns or alienation from the police in minority neighborhoods. All play a role, but the major factors promoting violence are likely to lie elsewhere.

Based on many years of interactions with young men who were in jail, on probation supervision or in treatment, we believe that "elsewhere" mostly rests at the intersection of Chicago youths' psychological vulnerability and the environments and circumstances that encourage the expression of violent tendencies. This conclusion stems from our varied careers and professional activities, which include regular contact with detainees in the Cook County Jail who are receiving behavioral health care services, as well as the directorship of a youth clinic that served the Near North Side and Cabrini-Green.

The whole series is worth a read.

Maybe the problem is too many guns, huh?

A 2015 theft of a gun shipment from a railroad yard in Chicago continues to plague the city:

The guns had been en route from New Hampshire weapon maker Sturm, Ruger & Co. to Spokane, Washington. Instead, the .45-caliber Ruger revolvers and other firearms spread quickly into surrounding high-crime neighborhoods. Along with two other major gun thefts within three years, the robbery helped fuel a wave of violence on Chicago's streets.

The 2015 heist of the 111 guns, as well as one in 2014 and another last September from the same 63rd Street Rail Yard highlight a tragic confluence. Chicago's biggest rail yards are on the gang- and homicide-plagued South and West sides where most of the city's 762 killings happened last year.

Chicago's leaders regularly blame lax gun laws in Illinois and nearby states that enable a flow of illegal weapons to the city's gangs and criminals. But community leaders and security experts say no one seems to be taking responsibility for train-yard gun thefts.

But the number of guns produced in this country has nothing at all to do with crime, according to the NRA. Right.

For reasons passing understanding...

"...people do not relate guns with gun crime."—The American President

And here in Chicago, where we lost more than one lawsuit over our attempts to get guns off the streets, we've had more murders this year than New York and Los Angeles combined. Thirteen people died this weekend alone:

Thirteen people were shot to death in Chicago over the Labor Day weekend as the city logged its 500th homicide of the year.

Thirty-one of the 65 people shot over the long weekend were wounded between 6 a.m. Monday and 3 a.m. Tuesday. Nine of the fatal shootings occurred over that period.

Early Monday morning, it appeared Chicago had a chance of ending a holiday weekend with fewer than four dozen people shot, which would have made it one of the least violent weekends of the summer.

The uptick in shootings in this weekend's final hours mirrored the end of the Fourth of July. Gunfire in the final hours of that holiday made up half the entire weekend's bloodshed.

Police attributed the 11th-hour surge to retaliatory acts, often involving gangs, after a weekend of parties and tense encounters.

Homicides in Chicago this year have risen to levels not seen since the 1990s, when killings peaked at more than 900 annually. The 90 homicides in August tied for the most the city had seen in a single month since June 1996. In the worst previous month — July 1993 — 99 people were slain.

And what is the police union doing right now? Bitching about how they don't want cops wearing cameras all the time, never mind that bad police shootings have cost the city almost half a billion dollars in the past decade, including $210 million since 2012.

Maybe if there were fewer guns? You know? Like in every other civilized country in the world?

Cocks not Glocks

A University of Texas at Austin student found a pointed protest against concealed-carry on campus:

As she recalls, the pundits on the radio were talking about how there is no conceivable solution to gun violence, that mass shootings are just something that we’re going to have to learn to live with in America.

“I felt like, you know, what a bunch of dildos,” [student Jessica] Jin says. “They were taking the safe route and not wanting to say anything that would piss anybody off or be too divisive. They act like there’s no solution or steps that we can take.”

Jin complained to friends about those dildos she heard on the radio. Speaking of dildos, she remembers telling them, I bet you can’t even brandish a dildo in a classroom in Texas without getting into trouble. “They challenged me to look up the laws,” Jin says. “And so I did. I went to the school rule book, and sure enough, they follow the state obscenity clause.” At the University of Texas at Austin, “it’s a misdemeanor to openly brandish or distribute these objects that portray the human genitalia in turgid form.”

And so Cocks Not Glocks was born: a protest to openly brandish and distribute dildos on August 24, the first day of classes at the University of Texas at Austin. Jin and her fellow activists plan to hand out several thousand phallic objects in order to protest the new campus-carry policy mandated by the state.

It really says something about Texas that they think dildos are worse than firearms in classrooms. I hope Jin's protest gets noticed.