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August 29, 2009

A World with More Guns

Guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, Patrick Appel writes (here and here) about the idiocy of people bringing guns to political protests.

I remember how, after the Virginia Tech massacre, anti-gun groups used it as a justification to call for additional restrictions on gun purchases. Pro-gun groups replied by saying, in essence, "if just one other student had been armed, the shooter could have been stopped, so clearly we need more guns."

In an abstract sense, I see both sides' points. Generally speaking, the nations with fewer guns and greater restrictions on purchasing them and owning them have much lower rates of gun violence, so restricting them here might have a beneficial effect. And on the other side of the debate, yes, it's true that one gun-carrying student might have been able to stop the massacre soon after it started -- or even intimidate the shooter into not going through with it in the first place.

But in the real world, both sides' arguments break down.

There are so many guns in this country, so easily purchasable, that it's hard to see how tweaking the system at its edges is going to have any effect at all. If you want a gun, you're going to be able to get a gun. It's that simple. I imagine that gun control advocates are pursuing a policy of incrementalism. They might admit in a private moment that a particular restriction won't have any practical effect on gun violence, but that as part of a gradual progression over many decades, it makes sense. But that's not how it's presented, and I'm not sure that it does make sense in the end. I wonder if, when it comes to the US, the genie is permanently out of the bottle, and in the end there's nothing we can do about it.

It's the gun rights advocates' vision of the world that I ultimately find horrifying, though. Whenever a shooting spree occurs, they remind us of how they've been calling for fewer restrictions on carrying guns, and how if just one person there had been armed, this latest incident wouldn't have had to happen. Have they thought this through to its conclusion? A nation in which a substantial percentage of people walk around carrying guns? Seriously, have they thought this through? Guns at the grocery store? At church? At football games? At political rallies? In hospitals? At business meetings? Can this be the world in which they want to live? Can they believe we'd be safer as a result in this world? Can they believe fewer people would die from guns in such a world?

August 26, 2009

The Stock Market Under Obama

As of yesterday, with a closing mark of 9,539.29, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up:

  • 20.0 percent since Barack Obama's inauguration (7,949.09 on 20 January)
  • 26.3 percent since the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (7,552.60 on 17 February)
  • 45.7 percent since the market's low point this year (6547.05 on 9 March)
Now, compare that to the eight years of the Bush administration. From 19 January 2001 to 20 January 2009, the Dow Jones fell 29.0 percent, from 10,686.00 to 8,279.63.

In case you're curious, by my calculations, the Dow Jones rose 228.2 percent during the eight years of the Clinton administration; rose 45.4 percent during the four years of the first Bush administration; and rose 130.6 percent during the eight years of the Reagan administration.

Am I suggesting that presidents be judged by the performance of the stock market during their terms? No. But I do wonder how it is that Democrats are still seen by many as bad for business. At least one important type of empirical evidence would suggest otherwise.

August 25, 2009

"Degraded, Barbaric, and Depraved"

From Glenn Greenwald's article on the CIA Inspector General's 2004 report on torture:

The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle -- all things that we have always condemend as "torture" and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies ("torture means... the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering...") -- reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives.
I hope that one day -- in my lifetime -- we as a society come to realize just how wrongly we behaved in the years following 9/11. No one I know would support internment camps like those in which we placed Japanese-Americans during World War II. So there is precedent. And hope.

August 23, 2009

Eternity

I loved this postcard from a recent edition of PostSecret:

From PostSecret
It reads:
I am a 55 year old agnostic. If, when I die I find out there is a heaven, I can't be certain which of the many people I have shared my life will be part of the people I share heaven, but I am positive I will spend eternity tossing this dog a Frisbee.

Alaska's Prayer Cards

I've been doing a fair amount of flying on Alaska Airlines this year, and so have seen their "prayer cards" on many occasions. Prayer cards are included with meals and are printed with Biblical quotations, such as:

I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name
O most high.
PSALM 9:2
and:
I will praise God's name in song
and glorify Him with thanksgiving.
PSALM 69:30
Over the years, various people and groups have raised the issue of whether Alaska's prayer cards are appropriate (see here and here). Salon devoted an article to the topic, defending Alaska's right to distribute the cards while taking exception with their official corporate response to complaints, which links "Judeo-Christian beliefs" with the US government.

I generally agree with Salon's analysis, but a couple of points:

First, it seems to me that Alaska is missing an opportunity to draw from a much larger body of religion than simply the Old Testament of the Bible (if they have used verses from the New Testament, I haven't seen them). Other religious texts have words of wisdom, and anything that helps educate people on the broad spectrum of beliefs in the world, hopefully leading to more tolerance, can only be a good thing. For example, this from the Talmud:

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
Or this from the Koran:
God helps those who persevere.
Or this saying attributed to Buddha:
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
Second, assuming that Alaska is going to use only Christian Biblical quotes, why are the two I could find online (I don't save them) all about praising God?

Perhaps this is the agnostic in me, but I've never understood the obsession in some religious texts with singing the praises of one's chosen divine being. (Doing research for this article, it seemed like most of the quotes I found from the Koran were about the importance of prayer.) Contrast this with the quote from Buddha above, encouraging skepticism, including of himself.

In any case, if you're going to choose to draw from the Bible, how about this from 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Or this from Proverbs 12:16:
A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.
Or this from Acts 20:35:
It is more blessed to give than receive.