Saturday, December 22, 2012

What will it take before we learn?

This post isn't likely to be funny (I know, I know: Why start now?).  Many of you know I have a kindergartener so the shooting in Newtown, CT earlier this month really affected me.  For days I couldn't read a news article or hear a TV report without tears streaming down my face.  Of course my first thought was that this could only been committed by a monster, someone who looked human but wasn't.  The problem there is once you've created a demon it's easy to blame, easy to hate, and easy to dismiss.  Life doesn't work that way.   Clearly the shooter was ill to the point of needing a new word to describe his illness, but he was still just a person with access to deadly force far beyond what he could handle.

Would an assault weapons ban have prevented Newtown?  Or Columbine?  Or Aurora?  Or Virginia Tech?  It's impossible to know.  But the attack in China on December 14th, where 22 grade school children were stabbed yet all 22 survived, is a pretty good indicator that such a ban would have made the attack far less likely and almost certainly less deadly.  You see China doesn't allow citizens to own guns so all the attacker had was a knife.  Sure, knives can be deadly but as an able bodied adult if someone comes at me wielding one I have a good chance of dodging, fighting back and maybe winning.  And if I don't win the next victim has a better chance if I've weakened the attacker.  A gunman can kill from across the room without giving me a chance.  And he can do it a hell of a lot faster with large clips and semi or fully automatic weapons.

Could Adam Lanza have used a bomb instead?  Maybe.  Would he have blown himself up in the process of making the bomb?  Quite possibly since you can't walk into Walmart and buy a ready-made bomb.  Some assembly is required and extremely dangerous as police statistics (and reason) prove.  But that isn't even the point.  Keeping military-grade weapons away from common citizens means they can't be used to kill which of course is the entire reason they were designed and built.

The debate is strikingly similar to that about climate change.  Did global warming cause Hurricane Sandy?  Or Katrina?  Or Irene?  Probably not.  Did it make them more likely and more destructive?  Obviously.

Want an analogy you can use with your friends?  Assume baseball player X is taking steroids.  Can you point to any individual home run and attribute it to doping?  Of course not, but it does make that kind of massive hit far more likely.  It's the same with climate change's impact on storm frequency and ferocity as well as gun safety/control.    Sandy wasn't caused by global warming any more than Newtown was caused by an AR15.  But they were certainly amplified by them.

So how do we turn down the volume on both?  Clearly the US government can't confiscate all ~300,000,000 guns for a dozen different reasons.  Nor can we completely releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases.  But we can limit and remove the biggest offenders: semi-automatic rifles, large capacity clips, armor piercing bullets; coal power plants, low-grade diesel, leaky natural gas wells.  None of that will happen without government leadership and guidance - and after all isn't that what it's for?  To protect the population from enemies foreign and domestic?

I've heard the arguments against both and they're the same hollow bullshit.  Europe and China have proven that green technology is a net job producer.  Yes, some coal miners will lose their jobs but aren't coal mines usually in the mountains?  Where there's an abundance of wind?  (Oh, yeah - some of the coal companies have leveled those mountains.  Oops.)  How about putting them to work building wind turbines and power lines?  Manufacturing is surging in the US so put a factory in what are now coal mining towns.  They're certainly an abundance of energy and ready labor.  Green is the next economic boom and if we skip it we'll be sitting out the economic surge of the next decade or more.

By the same token, the 2nd amendment guarantees the right to "keep and bear arms" but read all of it and you'll see that it starts off justifying such ownership, stating that a well regulated militia is "necessary to the security of a free state."  A) We have a professional defense force now so a militia is as necessary as the muskets they once carried; and B) it clearly says "well regulated".  Anyone who says the Constitution guarantees the right to own any weapon is either misinformed, has poor reading comprehension, or is lying.  Besides, we already have gun control - I can't buy a grenade launcher or a howitzer or a nuclear warhead.  (Yet, right NRA?) So we're not debating whether to have gun control, we're trying to find the line between "I want to kill deer" and "I want to kill people."

The current course can't continue.  As horrific and soul-searing as Newtown was the best thing we can do to honor the memory of those 20 children and 6 adults is reduce the chance this happens again.  Likewise if we don't start taming climate change then hurricane Sandy will seem like a fond memory and all of the people who lost everything will have done so in vain, never mind the wasted billions.  We need to learn from these situations otherwise we're no better than the bird that keeps flying into your window.  No, wait.  The bird eventually learns. Or dies.

Neither of these challenges can be conquered immediately, or easily, or without sacrifice.   But the survival of our culture and society as we know it depend on it.  One day our grandchildren will look at us and wonder why we didn't start working on climate change or gun violence sooner.  At least I hope they do.  Because if we don't start soon who knows what kind of world they'll inherit or whether we'll have those grandchildren at all.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Murder in the name of political expedience

Hi.  Miss me? I've missed you.  I've missed having a place to express my thoughts since almost no one I know in real life has the passion for politics that I do.  Or that you do.  So before I get to my point I want to thank you for reading.  I sincerely appreciate it.

Tomorrow is election day.  Correction: it's 12:15am so today is election day and, as always Americans are being told they to make the biggest choice of their lifetimes, that no other election has mattered as much as this, that the future of the galaxy teeters on the brink.  Who knows - maybe it's true.  But I doubt it.  Whether or not it's the most important election of our lifetimes, though, I do think it's probably the first time we've had the option to vote for someone who advocates murder, by his own definition.

No, I haven't fallen prey to conspiracy theories a la Vince Foster (look it up.) and I'm not talking about Mitt Romney, at least I don't think I am.  Then again he's taken so many different views who knows what he really believes in his heart of hearts.  If he has one.  I mean a proverbial one - not like Dick Cheney who doesn't have a real one.

In the 112th congress Paul Ryan sponsored HR 212 which declared that human life begins at conception, meaning that killing it any time after that instant is murder.  Ever.  For any reason.  If the mother's life is in danger I can see an ardent anti-abortionist asserting that killing the fetus to save the mother is good old fashioned self defense and, seeing it from their standpoint, I can't really disagree.

But what about allowing exceptions for rape and incest?  Anyone who believes that life begins at conception yet accepts abortion in those instances is advocating murder in response to what they must view as a lesser crime.  The GOP's candidate for Vice President believes that abortion at any stage is murder, yet he allows for the rape and incest exception.  Using his definitions, that are entered into the US Congressional record for all time, he accept murder as does the rest of the hard-core GOP who claim the same faith-based belief.

And this is a person and a party that (hopefully less than) half of the voting public is likely to choose to guide this country for the next four years???

Look, there's some maniacal sense of consistency to those who want to ban abortion in all cases except self defense.  I think it's a consistency born out of an utter lack of understanding of biology, but at least it's consistent.  But the "murder is OK sometimes" crowd?  I don't get them.

I've studied biology, including my own biology so I realize I have absolutely no right to tell a woman what to do with her pregnant body unless I'm the one who made her that way and even then all I can do is drop a note in the suggestion box and hope she takes it.  That's not to say we shouldn't do everything we can to reduce the need for abortion, but banning it treats women like children who aren't capable of running their own lives.  The civilized world put that behind us years ago.

Romney and Ryan are right about one thing:  They really do want to take this country back.  wards.

Look, I grew up in the South.   I've lived the bigoted, sexist past.  It sucks.

I choose a future where the Vice President isn't the kind of person who thinks something is murder yet approves it anyway.  It's a future where Barack Obama's second term sees job growth second only to Bill Clinton's.

Going back-wards is almost as absurd as advocating murder.  Don't drag us with you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Battle of the Bigs?

I live in Manhattan.  It has its ups and downs, but overall it's petty cool.  There's new construction going up everywhere but those tend to be luxury, state-of-the-art, high-falutin places.  IOW: Very expensive.  So the place I live was built roughly 50 years ago and as with any aging infrastructure it needs upkeep.  About two months ago they started repointing the brick facade of my building which normally means replacing the outtermost inch or so of mortar with new mortar to keep water out.  Unfortunately the corner and floor where I live happens to have such severe damage that they're replacing entire swaths (we're talking 50sq ft areas at a time) of brick but the good news is that they're putting a waterproof lining behind the new brick.

Unfortunately that lining requires adhesive and the smell from it is horrific - it's like a vicious cross between paint thinner, nail polish remover and gear oil.  How do I know?  It has intruded into our apartment every day since but it's strongest between 8pm and midnight.  The engineer swears it's not possible, but he's been there several times and he can smell it.  The Superintendent can't figure it out and neither can anyone else.  Worst of all it's strongest in my 20-month old daughter's room and the last thing I want is a toddler's brain subject to random industrial chemicals.  I know, I know - I'm a helicopter Dad.  Sue me.  But every night we have to wheel her crib into a different room, basically chasing the fresh air.  She doesn't sleep as well, we don't sleep as well and who knows what it's doing to her.

We've been after everyone possible to send us the material safety data sheets on what they're using and finally, after six weeks, we got them today.  I spent most of my afternoon reading documents published by the NIH, EPA and other government agencies chartered to protect us from this crap.  Score one for the nanny state.

To add insult to injury the picture you're looking at is a foot of 3/4" steel rebar poking through the wall of my living room.  (Look in the corner and you'll see another hole).   I had two more like it, both of which intruded into my daughter's play area, at about 12" off the ground: RIGHT WHERE SHE SITS AND PLAYS.  The workers "happened to misjudge" the reinforcement point by almost two feet and they drilled into our apartment rather than between floors.  And they did it four times!  I don't even want to think about what would have happened if a child had been sitting against the wall when one of those came through.

Unfortunately no one involved has been able to fix any of this and we've had enough.  We're calling in our uncle.

Uncle Sam.

If the odor comes back tonight we're calling 311 to report chemical fumes and from what a friend tells me about his experience we'll have people in respirators carrying chemical detectors in our apartment within 24 hours.  Even better if the building management can't or won't fix the problem the government will.  "No, not my tax dollars!" I hear you cry.  Be quiet.  They bill the management company.

So on one side we have big business possibly poisoning us, trying to stab us and refusing to fix their mistakes.  And on the other we have the government who requires that companies supply their customers with safety information and who makes tons of details available about those chemicals.  We also potentially have government coming to our rescue to make sure that bad things get fixed and forcing the guilty parties to pay for it.

Tell me again that government can't do anything right and watch me laugh.

Score one for the little guy and for big government.

The whole damned situation is absurd.