Monday, December 7, 2015


The sky is not falling. The recent killings in San Bernardino are horrific, tragic, and evil, but they should not drive us to generalized worry, much less to gape-mouthed fear, gun-buying panic, or further government degradation of our civil liberties.

Here are the facts: Gun deaths and gun injuries in the U.S. are way, way down over the last 20 years, even taking mass killings into account. Gun deaths are down about 50%; gun injuries are down more than 75%. Liberals don’t like to cite these figures because it undermines their call for greater gun control. Conservatives don’t like to cite these figures because conservatives feed on fear; the more afraid they can make people, the more they can claim that only they can protect us.

All of that annoys me. What absolutely infuriates me is that in the 1990s, the Republican Congress, at the behest of the NRA, defunded any attempt by the federal government to gather and analyze data about gun deaths and injuries. The Centers for Disease Control once tried to look at gun deaths and injuries as a public-health issue. The Republicans wouldn't allow it. The data about gun deaths and injuries thus have to be collected by private organizations like the Pew Research Center.

In any case, there is no need to be too alarmed about what happened in San Bernardino. Viewed against the big picture, the supposed proliferation of so-called "mass" shootings is a relatively small problem. In fact, the definition of a "mass" shooting is so vague that, by one definition, there have been only five such events in the U.S. in the past year; by another definition, there have been at least 350. The fear-mongers, of course, prefer the latter definition. But compared, for example, to the day-to-day shooting deaths in Chicago, "mass" shootings are not the central problem.

Even the killings in Paris should be viewed in perspective. In fact, the world's rate of violence has dropped precipitously and consistently over the past few centuries, and has continued to drop in this century. One week's news does not change that.

When a tragic event like the killings in San Bernardino and Paris happen, yes, it's appropriate to shed tears and shake one's fist at the heavens (or at ISIS). But don't listen to the Chicken Littles. The sky is not falling. The terrorists are not winning. Both liberals and conservatives, encouraged by the bloodthirsty media, are simply overreacting.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Republican Debate, 10/28/15: Untuned Instruments


A metaphor for last night's Republican debate.

Our house smells of skunk this morning. Must be because I watched the whole Republican debate last night. 
      Watching the debate was (to mix my metaphors) like listening to an orchestra of out-of-tune instruments: Almost every note rang false. Occasionally, almost by accident, the hint of an honest melody could be heard (generally from Kasich, Christie, or Bush). 
      The conductors of this orchestra—the CNBC panel of questioners—were even worse. Instead of using a baton, they used a flamethrower. Their questions were biased, loaded, and ill-stated when they weren’t trivial, irrelevant, or goading. They even argued with the candidates—certainly not their role. These people were (to switch metaphors again) the journalistic equivalent of blunt instruments. 
      On to winners and losers: If I were a Republican (which I am decidedly not), I would be most impressed by the performances of Rubio, Cruz, and Christie—all passionate Obama-bashers who know how to abuse the truth with great glibness.* Trump, Carson, and Fiorina will see their stars burn out by March. Kasich and Bush are the only ones I can abide, but Kasich has an awkward speaking style (iguana movements with his mouth) and poor Jeb is leaking protoplasm so fast that I suspect he will soon become invisible.

Jeb Bush as he leaks protoplasm.

      *  Note: The Republicans especially like to fudge the truth without (they believe) quite leaving themselves open to a bald accusation that they lie. But lie they do. For example, Rubio's claim last night that during last week's Benghazi hearings Hillary Clinton was proved to be a liar is based on the Republicans' intentional misreading of a statement she made in the week after the Benghazi attack. In that statement, Hillary said that "some people claim" the attack was a consequence of an anti-Muslim video that had been aired the previous week. In her statement (and this is the part the Republicans intentionally ignore) Hillary then goes on to say that, even if the video were the cause, it did not excuse the attack. The Republicans, in other words, intentionally misconstrue the point of her statement, which never claims the attack was the direct result of the video. Rubio lied.
      Here's another example of Republicans' playing fast and loose with the truth: For years Republicans have claimed, as Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina did last night, that, by many measures, the economy has either deteriorated or stagnated since "the day Obama first took office." That last phrase represents a very clever fudging of facts. During Obama's first eight months in office, the economy was still plummeting because of the Great Recession. More than 4 million jobs, for example, were lost in the first six months Obama was in office. But this was before Obama's economy policies could even take effect! A better measure of Obama's success or failure is to compare today's economic numbers with those of, say, September, 2009, when Obama's stimulus package began to be implemented. Such a comparison shows that, by almost every measure, the American economy is far healthier today than it was then. Do Bush and Fiorina lie? Not exactly. They simply distort the facts.

How to dress like a Republican for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Dems Debate: A Pro Among Amateurs

Bernie (above) reminds me of Doc Brown (below).

Good Dem debate last night. My impressions:

1) Chafee and Webb were not given their fair share of air time, and what little they were given, they wasted. Webb looked as if his head was about to explode because his collar was too tight. Chafee (as my lady noted) looked like Red Skelton in his later, skinny years. Webb blustered, Chaffee dithered. Webb tried to be tough on foreign affairs, but came across as muddled, whiny, and cold-war-ish. Chafee had little to say of substance.

2) O'Malley had some good progressive things to say, and said them well enough, but he harped on the year 2050 (his year for 100% clean energy) far too much. That's hardly a subject on which to ground one's campaign. His posture (staring hard at Hillary when she spoke) and persistent grin made him look like the cocky kid in high school who really doesn't have that much to be cocky about.

3) I share almost all of Bernie Sanders' ideas. He's almost as left-wing as I am. (Not quite.) I love his hair-on-fire passion and the way he articulates his outrage about economic inequality in a capitalist system that still has far too few checks on it. I like his respect for the northern European countries (Denmark, Norway) and their policies. He reminds me of the professor in Back to the Future: wild-eyed, wild-haired, and flaky, but ultimately correct. He wants to upset the apple cart and distribute the apples fairly. I like that. He is, however, unelectable except against a true wild-card of a wilderness Republican (read: Trump, Carson, Fiorina). It didn't help that Bernie ended his final statement with a pitch for money and the promoting of his website, making him sound like the Kickstarter candidate.

4) Hillary was very good: articulate, smart, informed, engaging. She explained her positions clearly and convincingly. She's too moderate and hawkish for my taste, but she came across as the one professional in a room full of amateurs.

Biden, seeing Hillary's fine performance, will probably stay out of the race now.

Martin O'Malley (above) reminds me of Eddie Haskell (below).