Monday Reads: Guns Galore and Other News

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." -- C.S. Lewis

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” — C.S. Lewis

Good Morning!!

The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, 34-31. I completely ignored it, so I didn’t see any of the commercials or the game. I did find this review of the commercials at the WaPo. I’m very happy for Ravens fans though–especially Janicen. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s see what else is going on in the news.

I’m sure everyone has heard about the Navy Seal sniper who was shot in by a marine he may have been trying to help. The NYT reports:

From his perch in hide-outs above battle-scarred Iraq, Chris Kyle earned a reputation as one of America’s deadliest military snipers. The Pentagon said his skills with a rifle so terrorized Iraqi insurgents during his four tours of duty that they nicknamed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and put a bounty on his head.

The insurgents never collected, and he returned home to become a best-selling author and a mentor to other veterans, sometimes taking them shooting at a gun range near his Texas home as a kind of therapy to salve battlefield scars, friends said. One such veteran was Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old Marine who had served tours in Iraq and Haiti.

But on Saturday, far from a war zone, Mr. Routh turned on Mr. Kyle, 38, and a second man, Chad Littlefield, 35, shortly after they arrived at an exclusive shooting range near Glen Rose, Tex., about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, law enforcement authorities said Sunday. The officials said that for reasons that were still unclear, Mr. Routh shot and killed both men with a semiautomatic handgun before fleeing in a pickup truck belonging to Mr. Kyle.

“Chad and Chris had taken a veteran out to shoot to try to help him,” said Travis Cox, a friend of Mr. Kyle’s. “And they were killed.”

I’m sorry about these two meaningless murders, but I’m mystified as to why anyone would want to read a book about someone who shot hundreds of people from a distance in Iraq. Supposedly they were “insurgents,” but who really knows? All those innocent people at Gitmo and dead civilians in Pakistan suggest to me that the U.S. military isn’t so great at separating civilians from combatants.

I’m even more mystified as to why taking someone with PTSD from serving in Iraq and Haiti to a gun range for therapy would be a good idea. Anyway, I don’t mean to judge, just my two cents.

According to the Dallas News, Routh became aggressive in jail and was tasered by guards.

After eating dinner, Routh refused to return his food tray to jailers. He became aggressive and tried to attack them when they tried to get it back from him, said Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant.

Jailers tasered Routh and placed him in a restraining chair in his solitary cell. He is on suicide watch, Bryant said….Routh, a former Marine and Iraqi War veteran, is believed to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Investigators say that he shot Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield at point-blank range around 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Please note Routh used a semi-automatic handgun to shoot the Kyle and Littlefield. Wayne LaPierre is outraged that there was no “good guy” with a bigger gun around to protect them. Sorry, I made that up.

Speaking of Crazy Wayne, he was on Fox News Sunday yesterday, and he managed to be so outrageous that Chris Wallace told him he was being “ridiculous.” From Business Insider:

Fox News host Chris Wallace and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre got into a heated exchange on “Fox News Sunday” this morning, as Wallace challenged LaPierre on a controversial ad involving President Barack Obama’s daughters.

Wallace played the clip of the ad, which called Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for sending his children to a school with armed protection while opposing it for other schools. (That ad has actually been proven false.)

Wallace asked LaPierre if he regretted putting up the ad. He avoided the question and said the point of the ad was “not to pick on the President’s kids.”

Here’s the most contentious exchange:

LAPIERRE: The President’s kids are safe, and we’re all thankful for that.
WALLACE: They also face a threat that most people do not face.

LAPIERRE: Tell that to the people in Newtown! Tell that to the people in Newtown.

WALLACE: Do you really think that the President’s children are the same kind of target as every schoolchild in America? I think that’s ridiculous, and you know it, sir.

Here’s the video of the interview:

It seems as if the entire gun safety debate has boiled down to a huge argument over the AR-15 rifle.  What is it about that gun anyway?   The New York Times has a very long read about it headlined The AR-15: The Most Wanted Gun in America.

THE phone rings again at Pasadena Pawn and Gun, and a familiar question comes down the line: “Got any ARs?”

The answer is no. Pasadena Pawn and Gun, a gun retailer and pawnshop 15 miles south of Baltimore, is pretty much sold out of America’s most wanted gun, the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle. Since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, the AR-15, the military-style weapon that the police say was used in the shootings, has been selling fast here and across the nation.

Before Newtown, the rifles sold for about $1,100, on average. Now some retailers charge twice that. At Pasadena Pawn, on the wall behind glass counters of handguns, are three dozen or so AR-15-style rifles. Dangling from nearly every one is a tag that says “Sold.”

hellokitty_ar15assault_2

Is that sick or what? Basically, the gun has become a fashion statement–like an expensive handbag or pair of shoes.

“The AR-15, it’s kind of fashionable,” says Frank Loane Sr., the proprietor. His shop has a revolving waiting list for the rifles, and a handful of people are now on it. “The young generation likes them, the assault-looking guns.”

Sick. I don’t know how else to react to that.

As everyone knows, the White House released a photo of President Obama shooting a gun–supposedly he was skeet shooting at Camp David–in response to demands from wingnuts like Marsha Blackburn.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, expressed doubt about Obama’s skeet shooting.

“You know, if you don’t have the photos, if this is not something that’s a new hobby, then I think he should invite me out to Camp David and I’ll challenge him,” Blackburn said on CNN, according to a transcript.

Read the rest of this entry »


Taking on a Big Question: Why Embrace Plutocracy over Working Class Heroes?

The UK Guardian has always been one of my favorite papers.  One of my high school social science teachers–Steve Wiitala–introduced me to the paper when I was taking an honors world history seminar class.  I’ve been reading it ever sinceJonathan Haidt–a psychology prof–asks a question that I’ve been wondering for years.  Why on earth would any working class person support some one like Ronald Reagan or Mitt Romney?  Why would they even consider voting for reactionaries funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers?  Why would they vote against their own interests?

I’ve always looked to the slave plantation model for answers.  White overseers for rich masters were given just enough special favors and made to feel above the plantations’ slaves that they felt better thinking “well, at least I’m not one of them”. White working class people have a history of indentured servitude and sharecropping.  Why go back to people that really would like to re-institute these things? Haidt says that fear of the collapse of society sends them look for order and anything national greatness.  I wanted to explore his arguments here.  (You can also watch this interview with Haidt by Bill Moyers. ht/ to EcoCatWoman.)

Many commentators on the left have embraced some version of the duping hypothesis: the Republican party dupes people into voting against their economic interests by triggering outrage on cultural issues. “Vote for us and we’ll protect the American flag!” say the Republicans. “We’ll make English the official language of the United States! And most importantly, we’ll prevent gay people from threatening your marriage when they … marry! Along the way we’ll cut taxes on the rich, cut benefits for the poor, and allow industries to dump their waste into your drinking water, but never mind that. Only we can protect you from gay, Spanish-speaking flag-burners!”

One of the most robust findings in socialpsychology is that people find ways to believe whatever they want to believe. And the left really want to believe the duping hypothesis. It absolves them from blame and protects them from the need to look in the mirror or figure out what they stand for in the 21st century.

Here’s a more painful but ultimately constructive diagnosis, from the point of view of moral psychology: politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It’s more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left. In America the Republicans did the hard work of drafting their moral vision in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was their eloquent spokesman. Patriotism, social order, strong families, personal responsibility (not government safety nets) and free enterprise. Those are values, not government programs.

Brain research is beginning to find that folks that tend to call themselves “conservative” tend to be more fearful.  Chris Mooney–Author of The Conservative Brain–explains it like this.

Looking at MRIs of a large sample of young adults last year, researchers at University College London discovered that “greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala” ($$). The amygdala is an ancient brain structure that’s activated during states of fear and anxiety. (The researchers also found that “greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex” – a region in the brain that is believed to help people manage complexity.)

That has implications for our political world. In a recent interview, Chris Mooney, author of The Republican Brain, explained, “The amygdala plays the same role in every species that has an amygdala. It basically takes over to save your life. It does other things too, but in a situation of threat, you cease to process information rationally and you’re moving automatically to protect yourself.”

Haidt says that this kind of thinking has some disturbing impact on people that tend to obsess on fear.  Group loyalty can drive people who want to feel safe. Does this explain the effectiveness of Willie Horton ads and all those Rovian tricks that seem paranoid and some what zombieland-like to us?

But on matters relating to group loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity (treating things as sacred and untouchable, not only in the context of religion), it sometimes seems that liberals lack the moral taste buds, or at least, their moral “cuisine” makes less use of them. For example, according to our data, if you want to hire someone to criticize your nation on a radio show in another nation (loyalty), give the finger to his boss (authority), or sign a piece of paper stating one’s willingness to sell his soul (sanctity), you can save a lot of money by posting a sign: “Conservatives need not apply.”

In America, it is these three moral foundations that underlie most of the “cultural” issues that, according to duping theorists, are used to distract voters from their self-interest. But are voters really voting against their self-interest when they vote for candidates who share their values? Loyalty, respect for authority and some degree of sanctification create a more binding social order that places some limits on individualism and egoism. As marriage rates plummet, and globalization and rising diversity erodes the sense of common heritage within each nation, a lot of voters in many western nations find themselves hungering for conservative moral cuisine.

Does our place in Maslow’s hierarchy really determine our susceptibility, vulnerability, and motivation at the voting booth?  Haidt says yes and sums his thesis up this way.

When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest; they are voting for their moral interest. They are voting for the party that serves to them a more satisfying moral cuisine.

So, these are the same motivators that drive people to guns, bibles, and tribal thinking that demonizes the ‘other’. Is the angry right just a bunch of folks that are scared shitless?  It’s an interesting theses.  Dr. Bostonboomer probably has more information on some of this than me.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts.  What is the appeal of voting for your own servitude?


The State of Our Union

To put it simply – CRAZY!     

I’m beginning to think that there must be something in the drinking water. The Right Wingnuttery has risen to unforeseen heights in the past few weeks. Tracing its beginning isn’t an easy task. I would imagine that, based on our differing ages and our personal experiences that it will be difficult to reach a consensus on exactly what caused the extreme right turn our politics have taken. Let me put forth some of my personal suggestions, not in any particular order:

  • The election of the B movie actor, Ronald Reagan
  • Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority
  • Repeal of the Fairness Doctrine
  • The consolidation of the media
  • The rise of the Mega-Churches
  • Rush Limbaugh and his imitators getting their own bully pulpit on the radio
  • Gingrich’s Contract ON America
  • The stealing of the presidency by George & Jeb Bush & the Supreme Court
  • 9/11
  • The plucking of Sarah Palin from the frontier in Alaska
  • The Fox News Channel
  • The birth of the Tea Party

Some of these may qualify only as fuel for the fire as opposed to being actual triggering events.  Feel free to add to the list.  I’m sure that I’ve forgotten something critical to explaining the mass hysteria that surrounds us.

There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t spend some time trying to understand the mean-spirited, venomous attacks on nearly everything I support.  Those thoughts are often interrupted by being blind-sided by something else coming under attack.  Let me give you just one recent example that left me speechless and more confused than ever.

One of my employees and I were having a discussion about some mail returned by the post office. She began by complaining about the post office, saying that the first thing she would do would be to get rid of the postal union.

Okay, to some that might not be a moment of confusion.  Her position, however, astounded me. I knew already that she is firmly planted in the Right Wingnuttery camp, but her vehement opposition to the postal union surprised me.  Her husband had worked for the phone company which, because of the CWA, provides its employees with good paying jobs, excellent health care coverage and generous retirement benefits.  I knew this because I had once worked for the same phone company as her husband.  He was able to take early retirement with a 6 figure bonus package.  His job permitted them to live more than comfortably for most of their lives.

None of the benefits this family enjoyed would have been possible without the existence of the CWA.  How could my employee not support unions?  Where was the logic and reason?  My conclusion:  she and the rest of the Wingnuttery bunch do not operate on either logic or reason. Apparently, she and the others who vote for Right Wing candidates have swallowed whole the propaganda fed to them by Fox, Rush, the Republican leadership and their preachers.  That’s the only conclusion I’ve been able to come up with.  If you have a clue, please share.

I can only shake my head and live with fear for the future of America and the rest of the world.  While these Right Wingers look forward to The Apocalypse foretold in their sacred book, I fear the inevitable apocalypse their actions and choices are driving us toward.  I’m grateful I’m on the other side of 60 and hope that younger, stronger, reasonable people can hold off this cataclysm for another 10 or 20 years.

I’ll leave you with two things.  The first is a political awareness test given by The Pew Research Center recently.  I urge you to take the quiz and then look at the results, which are shocking.  I don’t know if the majority of the respondents aren’t interested in politics, are terribly misinformed or a combination of both.

Pew Research News IQ Quiz

And then some of the pictures in a recent email from the employee I referenced above.