NRA Press Conference — More Guns in Schools!

The NRA has finally spoken on the tragedy last week in Connecticut and how I wish they hadn’t.  Not because it isn’t telling to hear how crazy they are, but because it is depressing to know how much they hold sway over the people in the government.  The amount of money they have to push their agenda is obscene.  As is the agenda itself.  As is their unwillingness to take questions after their press conference.  But I digress.

There has been a big push in response to the shootings to tighten gun laws, but the NRA, unsurprisingly, doesn’t think guns are the problem.  In fact, they think guns are the solution.

I have spent much of the last week trying to find good, solid information on gun policy in the US, but I’ve had a lot of difficulty.  Everything has been done by a special interest group or just written in political blogs and forums.  There appear to be no studies of the efficacy of things like the Gun Free School Zones, just arguments that mass shootings happen in Gun Free Zones.

To use a cliché here, the plural of anecdote is not data.  Yes, a lot of public shootings have happened in Gun Free Zones, but that’s partially because so many public places are Gun Free Zones.  Statistically, it’s not surprising.  But if we’re using anecdotes to make points, let’s look at a couple of things that don’t survive the bad things don’t happen if someone armed is in the audience, people don’t shoot there — just from the last few years.

2009 Fort Hood Shooting

If there’s any argument against the idea that trained people with weapons have the ability to stop this sort of thing, it’s the Fort Hood Shooting.  One gunman killed 13 people and wounded another 29 on a military base. Almost everyone he shot was a trained member of the military or police force.  He had a shoot out with police, which he won, and continued to shoot more people.

2011 Tuscon Shooting

Gabby Giffords was shot at a public event in a gun-friendly state and one of the men who helped subdue Loughner was carrying a gun.  You know how they stopped the shooter?  He had to reload, at which point there was an opening for people to tackle him.  He was not shot, he was tackled and held down by several people in the crowd.  If that’s not an argument for smaller clips, I don’t know what is.  And it certainly doesn’t support the evil people hear “gun free zone” as a smorgasbord opportunity.

2012 Empire State Building Shooting

11 people were shot — one by the gunman, one was the gunman himself, and 9 people who were shot by the police trying to get the gunman.  Yes, more guns are clearly the answer to keeping people from being hurt.

And, of course, the mother in the most recent shooting was well-armed and well-trained and she didn’t managed to stop her son from killing her and the kindergarteners.  This is not victim blaming, it’s the reality of the power-differences between someone who is crazy and wants to shoot people and even the most well-trained person who finds themselves suddenly faced with insanity in the middle of their routine day.

And then there are all the other incredibly wrong-headed things that the NRA said, I’ll just put them here for you, but feel free to read the whole thing yourself.

A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?

Yes, I think every person who ever took a Xanax should be in a registry to stigmatize them and make them seem like killers despite the fact that this would be such a huge registry that it would be useless and it would only serve to make sure people who needed mental health care would avoid seeking it out to avoid being on the registry.  GREAT IDEA.

 And the fact is, that wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.

You know what else is at the lowest levels?  Crime.

With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school?

The average police officer makes $50,406, there are 138,925 schools in the US, which makes the budget of doing this just over $7 billion, without including the extra budget of training and oversight or the fact that most schools would probably need more than one officer.  I’m not saying it’s not worth the money to send to education, but is it the best use of the money and is there any way, in this fiscal cliff landscape, that it’s possible to approve an increase in spending of that magnitude?  It’s certainly not such a small number that you can ignore the cost as thought it’s negligible.

There’ll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action.We can’t wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work.

But what is the point of acting before we have any reasonable expectation that it will work?  I don’t understand why they expect us to understand why their legislation will work?  Or why they think questioning that is a bad thing?  Can we lose precious time implementing a program that is expensive and completely ineffective?.

And then there’s the question that the NRA didn’t address, one that is an important one — why are people who aren’t well-trained public servants allowed to get their hands on these weapons when we know even the well-trained people don’t always do a good job with them?

10 Sensible Gun Policy Changes

1. Acknowledge that, in a time of modern weapons, the Second Amendment makes no sense.

Until we are OK with individuals having tanks and nuclear weapons, we have to accept that the ability for the people to overthrow the government is not going to come from individual possession of guns.

430857_544483025579943_1565669591_n

2. Take some lessons from how we treat driving and apply this in ALL states to ALL sales

A citizen who wants a gun and a concealed carry permit should go through exactly the same training and recertification as a cop would… it’s easier to get a gun as a citizen than as a cop.

  • Pass written test that includes safety instruction and horror stories
  • Pass practical test that includes safety test
  • Pass psychological test, screening for violence
  • Punish swiftly and harshly for having a loaded gun on you while being under the influence
  • Require gun insurance
  • Require yearly registration updates
  • Tax

3. Limit magazines to six bullets and don’t let them be detachable

Is there a single legitimate use of firearms that requires more than six rounds of continuous fire? Certainly not hunting. And not any sort of self-defense that’s realistically imaginable, unless you’ve recently antagonized a Mexican drug cartel

4. Code guns so that they can only be used by the person they are registered to

I saw it in Skyfall, it must be possible and Wikipedia confirms!  The technology is imperfect, but if there was a push, it could undoubtedly be effective very soon.  Adapt all guns, except those that are being kept as historical relics, to be adapted so that they can only be shot by the person with matching the fingerprints or biometrics of the person to whom it is registered.  No more easily stealing guns from your mother to mow down kindergarteners.

5. Limit gun purchases to one every thirty days

Ponder, for a second, the fact that I cannot walk into a C.V.S. today and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Sudafed, but I can walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle of the sort that U.S. snipers use in Afghanistan. In fact, I can buy six or ten—there is no limit imposed by law. Should the gun dealer think it fishy that I might want to acquire a weapon capable of downing a small aircraft (much less six of those weapons) he may report the purchase to the A.T.F. But in most states, he’s not required to.

6. Recognize that gun control is about reducing the chance of gun violence and it is impossible to eliminate it entirely

We are never going to eliminate gun deaths, there’s just no way to do that.  In the same way we cannot eliminate all car deaths, but we can make it safer and there are no good reasons not to.  When someone protests that an individual law isn’t going to completely end gun violence it needs to be recognized that this is a useless argument.

7. Recognize that most gun policy is (and should be) about how to prevent the routine daily deaths from gun violence, accidents, and suicides not just how to prevent massacres.

What happened last week was a horrific tragedy, but the number of gun deaths on a daily basis is just as much of a tragedy.  In 2010, 180 children under the age of 11 were killed by guns.  As tragic as 20 children being taken in one incident is, where’s the outrage for the other children?

Sandy Hook reminds us that we have about five times the murder rate of any other advanced country, and that most but not all of the difference is guns, and in particular concealable guns… But Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem.

8. Accept that people love shooting guns that are incredibly dangerous, and keep those guns many of us would like to ban at special gun ranges where they can be stored and taken out onto the range

Here’s an idea: If people really have a need to shoot Glocks and Sig Sauers at a firing range, how about the firing range own them and keep them, and enthusiasts drop in and rent the firearm of their choice for an hour or whatever? I know this violated the capitalist principle of ownership, and yes, it impinges on “freedom,” but it seems to me to slake the thirst in a way that maybe people could get accustomed to over time.

I think it’s important here that people could still own their guns, they just would have to store them in a safe place.  In the same way that Israel requires guns to be left behind by soldiers rather than taken home  – the implementation of that policy reduced soldier suicides dramatically.

9. Teach the actual statistics of gun crimes and gun control

I know this is a difficult and intractable problem of part of the public being resolutely uninformed and denying reality, but to have a real discussion about fixing the problem, people on both sides of the debate need to talk about the actual facts and what has and has not worked in the past.  There have been hundreds of example cases of gun control policies — instead of knee-jerk saying we need to ban guns or that gun control couldn’t possibly work, both sides need to look at the actual facts on the ground.  Let’s recognize that gun control more obviously affects suicide rates than homicide rates and recognized that reducing suicide rates is also a worthy goal, not a reason to ignore policy.

The NRA promotes myths about gun control that need to be countered with actual facts.

10. Let’s stop talking about “bans” and “control” and start talking about “regulation” and “safety”

Gun control is not gun elimination — it is about regulating the use of guns and who can have them.  In the same way the name of the “pro-life” movement has framed the abortion debate, the idea of “bans” and “controls” are language that is used by the NRA and other gun-enthusiasts to frighten people away from sensible ideas that are really gun “regulation” and gun “safety measures”.  Surely if we are OK with drugs being regulated, we can be OK with guns being regulated — and drugs are designed to save lives, not to destroy them!

11. Create ammunition policy as well. License, regulate, and track bullets.

What Prop 8 and DOMA rulings from SCOTUS could mean

Today SCOTUS agreed to hear two of the gay marriage cases that had been submitted to them, and they were the two big ones — Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, and DOMA, a law passed by Congress to prevent the federal government from granting federal benefits to those who are gay married.

The gay marriage court cases are a bit complicated because they are dealing with a few different issues.  I’ve noticed a couple people on Facebook confused about what exactly the court will be ruling on and I thought I would explain it a bit.

It should be noted that I am not a lawyer nor have I been to law school, I’m just really interested in constitutional law and prop 8.  I covered it somewhat obsessively when I lived in California.  I haven’t covered DOMA as obsessively.

PROP 8

Officially known as: HOLLINGSWORTH, DENNIS, ET AL. V. PERRY, KRISTIN M., ET AL.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: Whether petitioners have standing under Article III, §2 of the Constitution in this case.

In 2008, California legalized gay marriage through the court system and began performing gay marriages in the state.  That fall, a constitutional amendment saying marriage was one man and one woman was passed by the general population, making gay marriage illegal again.  Immediately, the state was sued by several gay couples who wanted to be able to get married.

The original ruling, by Judge Vaughn Walker decided that the amendment was unconstitutional for several reasons, some narrow and some quite broad.  He declared gay people to be a population that had been historically discriminated against and deserving of heightened scrutiny when laws applied to them.  What that means is that, if you make a law concerning creating a “separate but equal” status or targeting a minority group in particular, the government must have a compelling interest in doing so that cannot be served by other means.  In this case, civil unions were not the same as marriage — historically we know “separate but equal” is not equal — and any denial of gay marriage was unconstitutional.

The district court issued a much more narrow ruling, saying that none of the broader things mattered to the case, but the fact that California allowed some gay people to get married during a specific period of time and then REVOKED access to that, the very specific case of Prop 8 meant that only California’s anti-gay marriage amendment was unconstitutional, but other states with anti-gay marriage amendments would not be affected by the decision.

As the decision is written, if the Court simply upholds the district court’s decision, gay marriage will become legal in California and nowhere else.  Historically, the court has tended towards narrow decisions, but because of the amount of cases it has been given and the complications of some states allowing gay marriage and others not and the general wave of public opinion it is possible that SCOTUS will write a broader opinion that will legalize gay marriage in general.

The other complication is that there is a suit also to determine whether the people participating in the suit have the right to do so, and if they don’t it can mean that none of the courts had the right to make decisions.  Basically, the government in California was like “I want nothing to do with standing on the wrong side of history, I’m not defending the amendment, it’s toxic” so other people stepped in.  California ruled that this was fine, but it’s still being brought before SCOTUS.  According to the release, SCOTUS is also considering the problem of “standing” so there is also a chance that the case will be more or less thrown out.

THREE POSSIBILITIES

1. Gay marriage is made legal in all states (Broadest ruling)

2. Gay marriage is made legal in California (What I think will happen)

3. The entire case is thrown out and who knows what happens then, it’s complicated, probably gay marriage would be legalized in California but I’m not entirely sure

DOMA

Officially known as: UNITED STATES V. WINDSOR, EDITH S., ET AL.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following questions: Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.

This case is a little more straightforward than Prop 8, if only because it’s not dealing with the minutiae of state law in addition to the question of gay rights.  DOMA states that people who are gay married do not have access to federal marriage benefits.  This has been ruled unconstitutional and, like in Judge Walker’s opinion, gay people have been declared a minority deserving of special consideration.

Like Prop 8, however, SCOTUS has to consider the issue of standing and could decide that the people participating in the suit don’t have the right to do so and could then throw the thing out entirely.

I think it most likely, however, that the court will be unable to find a constitutional justification for treating some marriages granted by states as federally acceptable while others are not.  I also think that, if California will have gay marriage, it will be incredibly difficult to justify not recognizing them federally, simply because California represents such a large portion of the US population.

DOMA is not my area of expertise, though, so I’m happy to hear other feedback.

Racism, homophobia, and how I lost my dad last week

I’m sorry to be doing this over the phone, your father has forbidden me from seeing you in person.  I’m sorry, he just cannot support your lifestyle anymore, he will not be speaking to you again, he asked me to tell you.

That was my stepmother, the day after Thanksgiving, the day after she discovered I was dating someone.  Someone who was not white.  Someone who was black.  Someone who was sitting in the next room and knew what the phone call was going to be about before it even started.

Your father wants you to know that he still loves you.  But you’ve gone too far.

She won’t say the reason.  She won’t acknowledge that it is a race thing.  Like not saying “because he’s black” makes it not racist.

Your lifestyle is just not OK with him, he has bent as much as he will bend.  He has bent so much and you haven’t bent at all.

I insist on clarification, “My lifestyle?”

Yes.  Your father is an old Southern man, he was raised like that, he was raised to believe that races just don’t mix.  It was the final straw.  He loves you, he just doesn’t like you.

“So, this is entirely because he’s black?”

I told him it didn’t matter to you, that all you cared about was that someone didn’t believe in God and nothing else.  But he just can’t bend anymore. You knew this would be his reaction.

I was admittedly worried he’d disapprove, but then he’d meet the boyfriend and like him and it would be fine.  Also, my boyfriend isn’t even atheist.

We’re not telling you what to do.  If you love him, you should be with him.  But I’m going to stand by my husband, just as you some day, if you get married, will stand by yours.  We both love you, he’s just not going to talk to you.  Maybe, in a long time, he might change his mind, but I don’t think so. I think it was too much.

***

I met someone several months ago, our mutual friend introduced us and we hit it off immediately.  It’s long distance, so at first it was just days-long text and video chats, which became weeks-long, which became months-long — we only stop talking when we absolutely have to.  I don’t even know how we’ve filled up the space. And the chats became long weekends and meeting friends and Facebook status changes and negotiating holidays and what will happen when I graduate with my PhD.

He is smart, but more importantly, he is passionate and open and honest to a fault.  He was introduced to me as the “straight male ani difranco”, he makes documentaries and works for non-profits. I play the ukulele, he plays the guitar, and we compete heavily for lead singing duty.  Theoretically we will learn to sing in harmony.

I have been remarkably happy, regardless of other setbacks and challenges and the realities of life and school, I have felt very lucky to have this relationship blossom over the last few months.

He was with me for Thanksgiving, to meet my mom and stepdad and brother and rest of my family.  Except my dad.  My mother, who is much wiser than me and deserves full credit for being right, told me not to tell my dad until she could grease the wheels, but I, who wanted to make the boyfriend part of my family, foolishly overreached and talked to my father thinking that she was underestimating his fundamental human decency.

And now my father has just disowned me.

I suppose I am thankful that he waited until the day after Thanksgiving to do it.  Not that he told me, he made my stepmother his proxy as he was too angry to speak to me directly.  I have been disowned for loving someone my father does not approve of.

To be fair, we weren’t the closest of friends.  He did not approve of my liberal politics, and I didn’t approve of his crush on Sarah Palin, but we were civil and spent birthdays and Christmas together. I loved him very much, and I still do.  For whatever that’s worth. He is extremely conservative, but he’s not super religious.  It’s weird, as I think about it, I can’t think of anyone who was disowned by a non-religious parent.  I am sure I will discover it to be an illustrious club now.

As a gay rights activist, I’ve always struggled with the idea that there are people in society who think it is appropriate to punish someone for being in love.  Love is the most beautiful thing humans can experience, there’s simply no reason to deny it to anyone.  If I was reading this, without knowing the full story, I would just instinctively assume that it was a story about someone being gay, because you still often hear about people being disowned for that.  But no, this was way more 1967 than that.

I was disowned for having a black boyfriend.

Miscegenation is apparently still a problem, at least for my dad.  It’s not that I thought I was living in a world that was post-racial, I’m just unaccustomed to racism being so blatant.  Tacit disapproval, sure, but outright racist comments were, I thought, essentially the purview of Internet trolls and people who apparently exist but no one knows very well personally.

Hopelessly naive, I suppose, to think that some fifty years on people could, with some prodding, be willing to judge someone by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

***

1967, the year the Supreme Court forced every state to recognize interracial marriage in Loving v Virginia, seems like a very long time ago to me.  And 45 years is quite a long time.  But my dad wasn’t so young then, already in his twenties, and it’s not like South Carolina was very happy about it.  It took until 1998, which doesn’t seem that long ago at all, for the state to formally remove the anti-miscegenation laws from the State Constitution.

Things have changed rapidly.  In 2010, 15% of new marriages were interracial, a third of people report being immediately related to an interracial couple, and the overall percentage of marriages that are interracial is now 8.4%.  Among my generation, approval of interracial dating is at 94%, and among my dad’s generation, approval of interracial dating is 84%.  We have a mixed-race president!

Of course, none of that means that the problems of racism are in the past, far from it, but I’ve always felt like so much of the problem was structural and unconscious, not malicious and open.  Racial inequalities in schools, health outcomes, poverty, prison rates, drug rates, and education rates are horrific — at only 16% of the population, black people make up over half of all new HIV cases, 60% of the prison population, and 43% of murder victims in the United States.

It is important for people to acknowledge the deep iniquities in this country that need to be addressed.  It is important for people to acknowledge the depth of racism that has survived the counter-culture that we still must fight every day.  And I do not claim to be perfect on this front, far from it, just as I am not a perfect feminist, but I try.  It is important to try.

***

I keep running through my mind of what I could have done differently.  I could have followed my mother’s advice and not told him, let her try to soften the blow.  My poor mother is devastated for me, that’s worse than what happened with Dad, really — she is the best and I hate making her unhappy.

I could have pointed out all the things that I haven’t done to be a disappointment to him.  I mean, yes, I’m a liberal who supports equality, but I just keep making a list in my head of all these other things I could have done that would have been upsetting to him*:

  • I have never been a drug addict
  • I have never been a drunk or alcoholic
  • I have never killed anyone
  • I have never been arrested
  • I have never been a sex worker
  • I have never gone through a rebellious phase
  • I have never gotten pregnant out of wedlock
  • I have never failed school

I am, in general, pretty much the opposite of a fuck up, and I sit here and wonder… would my father like me better if I’d gotten drunk and run someone over and been sent to jail and dropped out of school… and I think the answer is yes and I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know how one goes about coping with these things.  I have a very supportive family, friends, and boyfriend.  And Dad and I were never super close.  And, perhaps there were things I could have done better, but none of them change the fact that my dad is the kind of person who would disown their only child for dating “out of race”.

And I know some will say that I’m better to be rid of him, and maybe they’re right.  Maybe it’s a relief to just be able to be myself without that particular Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, but he’s my dad.  And I’m his only kid.  Well, not anymore I guess.

I guess it’s sort of like a divorce. I don’t even think I have any insight to add to this other than the following: This still happens in 2012 in the United States.

*things that would upset him, not things that represent anything like justification for disowning someone and most of which aren’t moral crimes at all to my mind

Election: Good News from Around the Country (and some bad)

Same-Sex Marriage:

Maryland and Washington voted to uphold laws that legalized gay marriage, Maine voted by referendum to legalize gay marriage, and Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man, one woman.

California Criminal Law

California failed to end the death penalty, but revised it’s overly harsh and prison-crowding three strikes rule to only apply to serious crime.

Marijuana Legalization

I don’t smoke pot, but boy do I approve of taxing it and ending the war on drugs.  Medical Marijuana was rejected in Arkansas, but approved in Massachusetts and Montana.  Full legalization and taxation was rejected in Oregon, but approved in Colorado and Washington.

Rape Gaffes Kill Campaigns

Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, John Koster, Linda McMahon, and Tom Smith were easily defeated in their races, some of which weren’t even close before their mistakes.  Steve King unfortunately managed to win his race.

Puerto Rico to Become a State?

Currently the vote to become a state is in the lead, and Obama has said he will accept a decision with a clear majority.  The US could have 51 states soon!

Unhappy News:

Bachmann and Paul Ryan won their races.  Pete Stark, the first open atheist in congress, lost his seat.

Happy News

Elizabeth Warren won!  Tammy Baldwin will be our first LGBT senator.  West Virginia elected an LGBT person to their state government.  Kyrsten Sinema, atheist, looks like she’s going to win her election.  Amendment 8 in Florida, which would allow government funded religion, was rejected.  Big Bird is safe.

NATE SILVER IS A WITCH and the rest of the world loves him as much as I did back when he was lowly dude on DailyKos.

No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

I’ve seen several Obama endorsements over the past few days, all of them acknowledging that Obama is flawed, but then making mostly negative cases.  They endorse Obama despite himself because of how much they despise the policies, campaign, and ignorance of the Romney campaign.

JT has the most detailed explanation of why you should vote Obama, Jen McCreight (who I love) has a short and not totally reasonable post against third-party votes, PZ has a detailed argument against third parties, and Andrew Tripp has an argument that we need more George McGoverns and fewer Obamas.

On the issues, I’m actually fairly close to Obama on most fronts.  He’s center-right, I’m left-center — I usually score a bit closer to Jill Stein though she and I have differences — but as candidates who represent your point-of-view, I don’t have any major problems with Obama that are also things I think he can realistically do anything about.  Yes, he is authoritarian in some of his presidential powers, but it is going to take someone truly extraordinary in the job of the presidency to reduce the amount of power of the job — or a strong Congress willing to take responsibility for their actions.  (I highly recommend Drift by Rachel Maddow if you’re interested in this topic).

So, if you love Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson or even, FSM forbid, Gary Johnson or Virgil Goode, what should you do?  According to my internet friends, vote for Obama.

PZ:

I’m not saying that we’re doomed, though, just that the presidential race is the wrong place to effect change.

He’s not totally wrong, but the fact of the matter is that the Green Party is putting up a lot of candidates across the country in many different levels of government.  Having a loss-leader green party candidate to get more attention for local races, and to try to get more matching funds for the party as a whole, makes a lot of sense.  Even I, denizen of a red district in a red state, have the opportunity to throw my vote away to a Green Party candidate other than Jill Stein.

Jen:

If you’re voting third-party, you’re voting for Romney. Stop being an idealist and wake up to the reality of how our system works. I agree we need to have more parties in the dialog – trust me, I’d be way happier voting for someone more liberal like Jill Stein if I had the knowledge my voice would be heard – but that’s not going to happen by throwing your vote away and helping a Republican win.

This needs a huge caveat that this is only true if you live in a state where there’s any question of who is going to win the election.  The reality is that less than 20% of the American population lives somewhere where their vote has the potential to matter in the overall election.  It’s not me in South Carolina, it’s not Jen in Seattle, it’s not PZ in Minnesota, but it is JT in Ohio.  A vote for a third-party isn’t a vote for Romney unless you live in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, or Virginia.

I agree with JT’s conclusion:

Here’s what I suggest.  If you live in a state that is already decided (California, Texas, etc.), vote third-party.  Why?  Because in 1992 Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote as a third-party candidate, and that was not meaningless.  If forced the two dominant parties to realize that the people were pissed off.  That led to bi-partisan efforts that undoubtedly contributed to Bill Clinton’s success.  Even if it’s unrealistic to expect a third-party candidate to win, at least for the time being, I believe sending that message is still important.  Is it a perfect fix?  No, but it’s something to do in the meantime that doesn’t carry the risk of pissed away votes in swing states opening the door for the lesser of the two candidates with a legitimate shot at winning this year.

Now, let’s look at my ballot in South Carolina, so that I can show you why I am really not upset with people who don’t bother to go to the polls on election day.  So, you’re in the 80% of the country that doesn’t matter at all presidentially, surely you matter locally, right?  Not necessarily.  A third of the races in SC are people running unopposed.  Not only is this true for school boards or council seats, it’s true of the state house and senate.  It’s also true of one of our national house races.

The other day I was listening to NPR and a Californian called in to complain that, thanks to a new combined primary format, several places in CA had people of the same party running against each other in the general election, and he was very upset.  I wanted to call and scream because I am going to be given a ballot that says this:

House Representative District 02
Joe Wilson (REP)

The fact that I am de facto supporting Joe “You Lie” Wilson alone makes me not want to show up at the polling place.  Knowing that every single race where I do have a choice is going to go to the Republican doesn’t make me any more eager to waste the hour or so of my time it will take me to go to the polling place.  Of the 12 races I am voting on, 7 are people running unopposed.  The rest are polling strongly against my choices.  I can’t even write-in the presidential race for the amazing Rocky Anderson.

Geography has determined that I will never cast a vote for a winner.  A meaningless protest vote is literally all I have.  So here’s my recommendation: vote, but vote for whoever makes you feel good about voting in the first place.  Because the real work is everything we do to get the right people on the ballots in the first place and trying to convince those already in power to do the right thing.

Unless you live in Ohio.

You just got Biden’d

I should probably start with the fact that I am a huge Joe Biden fan.  Joe is snarky and funny and his “gaffes” are usually just him being too honest rather than anything else.  Plus he destroyed Robert Bork.  Plus he’s really smart.

But Joe Biden knocked it out of the park today.  He was not only fired up in a way that could almost make you forget Obama’s lack of energy last weekend, he consistently called Ryan on his lack of specifics, flip-flops, and lies.  I’ve never heard someone call someone a liar in as many ways as Biden did tonight.  Truly well done.

Martha Raddatz was a superb moderator as well, really pushing for specifics from both candidates — something that will probably be called liberal media bias because Ryan didn’t have any specifics to offer.

Highlights:

“Oh now you’re Jack Kennedy?” – Joe

“Biden leveled the playing field alright, leveled it right through Paul Ryan’s milkshake. Which he then drank.” – Ana Marie Cox

“FACT: Ryan has opposed abortion access for rape victims since 1998 http://thkpr.gs/OXi9fE” – Think Progress

Biden mentioning Bork.

“The CNN panel of floating women voters hated that Ryan answer on abortion. It stayed flat as a pancake” – Guy Adams

“Ryan reiterates that secularism – the distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” – Andrew Sullivan

Stepdad: Well, he’s better than Sarah Palin. #damningwithfaintpraise

“Hello 9 1 1? There s an old man beating a child on my tv” – Bill Maher

Paul Ryan bringing up a car accident story in an attempt to connect on a personal level… to Joe Biden… whose wife and daughter died in a car accident…

Malarkey, Sarah Palin, 47%, Osama Bin Laden… so much things

Let’s look at the — let’s take a look at the facts. Let’s look at where we were when we came to office. The economy was in free fall. We had — the Great Recession hit. Nine million people lost their job, 1.7 — $1.6 trillion in wealth lost in equity in your homes, in retirement accounts from the middle class.

We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that — and when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, no, let Detroit go bankrupt. We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, no, let foreclosures hit the bottom.

But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30% of the American people are takers. These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, not paying any taxes.

I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we’re going to level the playing field. We’re going to give you a fair shot again. We are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the superwealthy.

They’re pushing the continuation of a tax cut that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts to 120,000 families. And they’re holding hostage the middle-class tax cut because they say, we won’t pass — we won’t continue the middle-class tax cut unless you give the tax cut for the superwealthy. It’s about time they take some responsibility.

The Republican spin machine is amazing, they’re already trying to turn this into Joe Biden was condescending because he laughed at Ryan too much.  I think that as soon as the only defense you have is that someone laughed when your man told lies, you’ve confessed that you’re losing on substance.  But Republicans are so much better at staying on target and on topic with these things.  Remember, fact-checking someone when they’re talking is disrespectful.

But the fact remains that Biden’s number one goal is to get the base fired up.  The reality is that if all registered voters were to vote, Democrats would win in a landslide.  And there’s no way to watch the performance he just gave and not be fired up if you agree with him.

Prop 8 Update: on the SCOTUS conference docket

The first SCOTUS conference of the session is today and both DOMA (multiple cases) and Prop 8 are on the docket, meaning the Court will (probably) decide whether to take one or the other up in the next term. The votes of four justices are required for a case to be heard by the Court.

Although they are on the docket, it’s not uncommon for cases to be rescheduled, so it’s possible for the day to end without any information on whether the Supreme Court is planning on hearing the cases.

So what do we want?

Well, because of the extremely narrow ruling in the Prop 8 trial, it would probably be better for the court to decline to hear it. As I understand it, this would make gay marriage legal in California, effective immediately. It would also mean that the court would not be ruling for universal gay marriage, but they are somewhat unlikely to do that off of the Prop 8 decision — again, because of the narrow ruling in previous courts.

DOMA, on the other hand, looks like it could be fully destroyed by the court if it is picked up.

Gay marriage might resume in California very, very soon.  We shall see.

Stalkers: Welcome to life as a girl on the internet

I think people sometimes underestimate the weirdness that one faces by being a semi-public online woman.  The following is a story about extreme creepiness and stalkerdom.  I was asked by another stalkee to publish the stalker’s name — I felt justified in doing so on my own, but probably wouldn’t have, but since she has requested it: his name is Mauricio Martinez, he is from Ontario, and he is a creepy ass liar who uses the internet to try to hurt people.

Prologue: Once upon a time (2 years ago) in Canada, there was a Girl and there was a boy, MM. MM was married, with a pregnant wife. Girl was polite to MM, and so, barely knowing her and right after they met, he asked her out.  Girl was not interested, for many reasons, including because he had a wife and children, and so she said no, thinking that was the end of it.  Very soon after this, MM proposed to Girl.  Girl, unsurprisingly, said no to this as well.

In response to the proposal rejection, MM ragequit his job.  He sent Girl a message and was dismayed to find that she didn’t particularly care.  There were some fleeting attempts at contact, and then Girl blocked him.  And so two years passed without her thinking about him.  Occasionally, the pass one another in same public spaces, but do no interact other than to avoid one another.  She had no idea he still thought of her, and now is afraid because he knows where she lives…

Last winter, Girl and I became Facebook friends because we both enjoyed the same sort of threads and arguments.  We weren’t terribly close or anything, just friendly acquaintances on the internet.

Beginning in April, I got several Facebook messages from this guy, MM.  In the first, he complimented me on my choice of FB picture, but then he followed with some basic questions about atheism.  Basic meaning many paragraphs long about him, but questions like “does calling religion stupid help atheists”, which I answered in a short reply, and he followed with a lengthy essay to which I gave an even shorter reply.

I did not reply to his many further attempts at contact.  I don’t know him, have no friends in common with him, and did not friend him.  He seemed creepy and weird, but hadn’t done anything particularly Alarm worthy.  Just weird messages like this that I didn’t respond to:

I was wandering around the internet (quite innocently) the past few weeks when suddenly someone decided to pull out the fucking ACME Handbook of Online Seduction and Emotional Manipulation (believe me I am familiar with every page of it, don’t get me started) and they clearly also bought the expansion pack with 50 per cent more passive aggression. Being well-versed in its conventions I naturally spotted it and shut it down pretty quickly, but you know, sometimes with a sports team, you like the team but you hate the playbook; sometimes with a movie you like the actor but don’t like the script. And sometimes, with an individual, you can like them just fine but their methods are pretty fucking disgusting. They really followed the handbook with a kind of dogmatic fervor, down to the implied suicide threat.

Doesn’t bother me too much really; it does bring out a ruthlessness in me that I must admit I kind of enjoy. It’s just that a surplus of profit soon brings an embarrassment of riches. It’s funny, kind of, in that I’m sure IRL this person is somewhat of a prize. Wasting their time on bullshit doesn’t seem like a good use of time and resources. But you never know, maybe it’s influences of environment or people they hang out with. Too bad. It’s a game really, with the ending always decided in advance. The game always ends with a block.

Anyway, it’s not the first time it’s happened. If there’s any real annoyance involved it’s that if I really start attracting that many psychos I guess I’m gonna have to take a second look at the cologne I’m wearing.

A couple of weeks ago, I guess he got called out on lurking by somebody when he commented on some post about rape culture, and I got another very long message from him, but this one was significantly weirder.  As far as I can tell, he started stalking me on Facebook so he could convince Girl that he and I were “soul mates”. For unrelated reasons, around the time he started following me, she deleted her FB account and started a new one under a pseudonym, but he interpreted this as a sign of success of his plan to drive her away, despite the fact that he had not been in contact with Girl for years.

I would like to reiterate that I do not know this guy at all.  He has apparently constructed in his mind that his assholery has cost him something with me — like I was interested in him before he sent his confession e-mail rather than someone who ignored the five previous long e-mails he’d sent.  I don’t know, the whole thing is super weird and I don’t know what to make of it.  Other than I feel 1. stalked 2. like someone intentionally tried to make someone hate me for twisted, fucked up reasons and 3. like someone is stalking my internet friend hardcore and trying to transfer his weird stalker obsession onto me.

August 21

Hey,

Sorry for speaking out of turn or whatnot but I felt I had to make that point as I’m really interested in rape culture and this whole harassment situation has really angered me and that anger needed an outlet.

I think your friend there kind of called me out for lurking and rightly so – I have been lurking, for quite some time – and here’s why.

I guess around two years ago now I had an unfortunate entanglement with [Name Redacted] which I ended – to the benefit of me, her, and everyone around us – but which led to close to two years of passive-aggressive trolling from both of us. She was basically tracking every single move I was making on the internet so I kind of cooked up a scheme whereby I would find someone on her f-list and kind of make it look like I was into them. Maybe you didn’t notice. She did. And so.

And it worked! Holy shit. The whole thing lasted for about five minutes but led to – as far as I know – her deleting fucking everything and moving on with her life. Yay! You have no idea of the victory dances that were had with this. Ok. So it should have stopped there. And then…

AND THEN…

That whole TAM thing exploded and it was SO FUCKING INTERESTING. I started lurking lots of people in the skeptical community because every day there was more new drama and it was (sorry for being morbid and prurient here) SUPER FUN. Like, you ever watch Maury and are like *GASP* all the time and you can’t turn away? Yeah. And it continues now, even with the tfoot thing.

So there it is I’m a drama addict and I lurk. I think it’s pretty harmless, but if it makes you uncomfortable obviously let me know and I will try my best to pry myself away. I must admit a highlight for me was the blocking of [Name Redacted] – I really didn’t like that guy – I hated his vulgar Marxism.

On an added note, I do self-identify as an atheist now. I used to say I was just agnostic, but I agree with Penn Jillette that agnosticism and atheism are answers to two separate questions. And since I don’t actively believe in God… yeah

43 minutes ago

Hi.
I keep writing because I keep feeling as if I owe you something, and I think that’s true, and now I guess it’s time to settle up.

I’m sorry for using you as a bit of a chess piece there. Now, I realize I was just going by the surface of things, and there’s a lot that I will never know about the situation, but [Name Redacted] – as she goes by now – really seemed to have this persistent obsession/bitterness that needed to be put to rest, and I hope it is now.

Please believe me, this was a real problem. Sure, for the short time (six fucking weeks) we knew each other emotions ran high but we’d never kissed or even so much as held hands with each other. We’ve never even been out for coffee – and I go out for coffee, even drinks, with women all the time and it’s never been a problem, and we never even got that far. For someone to act as if their life is ruined and that somehow that justifies them owning your ass is seriously fucking dangerous. I’m sorry for venting but she makes me really fucking angry. That said I hope you reconnect, because I’m sure she’s over it by now. And if you don’t, I’m really sorry you lost a friend, especially from this.

So why you, and why did it work (at least, I think, in the long run)? Well, part of this – how shall I call it – ‘determined love’ (oh my. lol) was this idea of soulmates or two people who were so alike that they were perfect for each other. And the fact is on paper – or in the third person, what have you - you fit that description far far far better than she did, or ever will. That was the trump card. And I genuinely thought you were really cool. You are, of course, very crushable and I’m sure you have stockpiles of creepy internet love there in your archive as evidence to support that sentiment. But my intentions are far less than creepy so I’ll decline to elaborate on that here.

To close, I’d just like to reiterate how sorry I am for treating you like an object in some twisted manipulative game. While I can argue that my intentions were good, there was some real damage done and this has resulted in a significant loss – for me. I’ve always liked you and I tend to be careful with people I have reservations about losing. And if I had met you under any other circumstance I would have been far more careful with you.

Welcome to the creepy archive, MM.

He sent Girl the following message as well.  This is creepy 1. because it’s the first contact she’s had from him in years and 2. because he had to seek her out and find her new FB profile which is under a pseudonym:

Thank you for rejecting me those years ago. It was a really good decision and at the time I didn’t realize how important it was. I’m sorry for ending it the way I did and for whatever hurt it caused then or after but I felt so stupid and guilty for messing with you – and the fact is, if you would have taken that chance believe me it would have fucked a lot of people over and would have killed you, and would kill you now if I ever gave you that chance again and you took me up on it. You have no idea how divorce fucks everything and just looking in from the outside I have to say that nobody ever gets what they want but you have what you need, and I will never be able to match that. And I’m not talking about material possessions here, I’m talking about family ties and support networks and just free time, which I won’t have for a about ten more years. I never want you to feel that whatever happened was because you’re not good enough or whatnot. It’s because I can’t fit you in my life and you fit so much better in other places. Better places. Believe me. So please just let it go. There’s nothing for you here. I’m so sorry but you have to let it go. Just let it go.

TL;DR This is incredibly weird and stalking. You do not get to use someone in your ridiculous plots to hurt other people and then complain that YOU have lost something.  You do not get to make up lies about people and expect them to simply go along with it.

Westinghouse > Tesla > Edison

Hired female engineers, paid living wages, and he has that super fine mustache? Come on!

Why, in all this Tesla > Edison stuff, does no one ever mention the late great Westinghouse?!??!?  Don’t get me wrong, Tesla was a super cool dude and being played by David Bowie automatically gives you serious awesome points, but for all of his awesomeness, it wasn’t Tesla that got shit done.  And it definitely wasn’t Tesla who made sure people got treated right.  No, that distinction belongs to this BAMF who always gets left out of *his* story: George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse is why there even *is* a Tesla.  FFS people!!  Y’all should listen up because Westinghouse was a baller for reals.  And by that I mean he ensured that every one of his employees made a living wage and was well-treated, even when the rest of the industry refused to do so.

A brief intro to Westinghouse:

The son of a New York agricultural machinery maker, the 21-year-old inventor came to Pittsburgh in 1868 in search of steel for a new tool he designed to guide derailed train cars back onto the track. Before he died 46 years later, he gave the world safer rail transportation, steam turbines, gas lighting and heating, and, of course, electricity.

Westinghouse didn’t invent alternating current; he acquired the patent rights from two European scientists. He had a knack for spotting good ideas and people and bringing them into his fold. And he knew AC was a good idea.

In his lifetime, he received 361 patents for his inventions, and founded 60 companies.

To critics who questioned his management acumen, George Westinghouse would say: “Look at all these jobs I created. Does that mean I’m a bad manager?”

He paid Tesla an absurd amount of money for Tesla’s design for an A/C motor.  Westinghouse was already running A/C power long-distance and had A/C generators that worked.  In fact, it took them years to make Tesla’s motor work.  Tesla, genius that he was, was not great at practical application.  I’m not saying that to knock Tesla, but to point out that Westinghouse had to put in a lot of work to make that Tesla invention actually work, yet Tesla gets all the credit.

Westinghouse was also just a good guy, for real:

Westinghouse Air Brake, now called Wabtec (WAB), was among the first companies to offer pensions to employees. And when the worker died, the pension went to the employee’s spouse and orphans — an uncommon practice in the 1880s.

Westinghouse was one of the first to hire female engineers. And Saturdays were half-days at his firm when most workers toiled six days a week.

The War of the Currents

Empires of Light Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jones is both a history of the rise of electricity in the US and a character study of three of the men responsible for that rise.  The story is a fascinating one, not least of all because it examines the same forces that still dominate the market today.  Innovation and creating new markets for those innovations are the keys to technological advances in society, but innovations do not always come with the market.  A market without the innovation is not as successful as one with it.  Another key aspect of success seems to be marketing, but marketing cannot change the fundamentals of the economic landscape.  The better product may not win, but the most convenient product probably will.  The final lesson is that losing or winning a battle over one product, however important, does not dictate the future success or failure of the companies or inventors.

The three men who are profiled in the book demonstrate this perfectly and compellingly. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla were a trio of self-made, intelligent, inventive, entrepreneurial, and incredibly hard working men, but their personalities and approach to the market were completely different.  Tesla was a genius immigrant who was meticulous about his fashion and probably autistic; he was not a businessman and had no interest in being one, he simply wanted enough money to do his research.  Edison, like Tesla, had a gift for invention, but his gift came less from theoretical work than from simply trying everything he could think of until a best solution appeared and “borrowing” other people’s ideas and improving them.

Edison also felt that the market side of things was incredibly important and took an active role in creating and running his companies.  His lab was considered the invention of the modern research and development lab.  Westinghouse started as an inventor, but his real gift was in finding other people’s innovations and creating the market for them.  He would buy patents and then find ways to make them commercially viable.  Unlike Edison, he was not personally invested in the inventions, just in their implementation and profits.

It is incredible the role that personality plays in the success of an invention.  Though Tesla was undoubtedly the most visionary and honest of the three men, he was not commercially minded.  This allowed him to be taken advantage of and to fail to be recognized for his many contributions.  Innovation is not enough, someone has to create the market – this is an important lesson, regardless of the century.

Tesla was a bit of a mad genius with no real interest in commercial viability or practicality, he was only a player in the game thanks to Westinghouse buying his patent.  The real useful comparison in terms of market creation and implementation, and the rivalry that was the primary focus of the book, was Westinghouse and Edison.  They were two men with very different ethics and very different goals.

Westinghouse insisted on paying his men high wages and paying people for their inventions.  He was ridiculed for being too generous.  On the other hand, he was incredibly tenacious and litigious, fighting any perceived patent infringement with as much force as he could muster. Edison was much more pragmatic.  He did not pay his men well and refused to negotiate when they had a strike and would not allow a union.  He did not give recognition to those who invented for him and he was also very litigious, even in fights he could not win.  He could afford more lawsuits than any small competitor could.

Edison refused to use other people’s inventions but Westinghouse was very quick to buy patents and rights as soon as something was invented.  Although Edison had created the initial market, he ceased to introduce new, practical innovations.  This allowed Westinghouse to take over the market completely through Tesla’s new generator and the ability to send electricity over long distances.  Edison stubbornly held onto DC even when it was failing, and it would ultimately cost him his electric company.

This brings the second lesson, having a market is not enough, you have to continue to innovate in order to stay competitive.  Had Edison pursued AC power, he would have completely controlled the market.  Tesla came to him first but was mistreated and Edison refused to take any interest in AC power.  Edison was hugely popular and an excellent marketer, which allowed him to stay somewhat competitive for a few years, but his stubborn denial of forward progress lead inevitably to the failure of his company.

The primary difference between AC and DC power is that DC offers much less power and therefore is less dangerous but is also much more difficult to send long distance.  AC power is much more convenient because it can be generated miles from the user and, from one centralized location, it will distribute power to many people.  It was clear almost immediately that AC was the only practical solution, but Edison fought desperately against this.  Edison held demonstrations where animals were electrocuted to death and his company invented the electric chair to execute prisoners in order to make AC power look dangerous.  He lobbied to have the electric chair introduced as a method of state execution in New York.  He made AC power out to be horrific and, because of his fame and fortune and favorable media coverage, it slowed progress of AC, but not for very long.

Westinghouse was just as proactive on the marketing front and took the lead on powering Chicago’s World Fair and the first hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls by bidding lower than Edison for the contracts, knowing that the publicity would be better than any advertising he could buy.  Edison’s company should have easily won those contests, being the only established electrical company at the time, but they acted as though they had a monopoly on power and therefore bid far higher than they needed to.  In both cases, Edison’s was the company that was approached first and, because they gave such outrageous estimates, bidding from other contractors was sought.  Here again we see that having the market does not make you a success when others are able to be more competitive and innovative.

Westinghouse ultimately won the war of the currents and AC is now what powers America.  Edison, because of his obstinacy, lost not only that war but also control over his electric company to J.P. Morgan.  Tesla continued to run experiments, funded by J.P. Morgan.  These immediate fates, however, did not dictate their futures.  Tesla, in particular, soon found himself low on funding and interest from others because he was not pursuing commercial ideas.  He did not even have the money to file a patent lawsuit when Marconi stole his radio design.

As for Westinghouse and Edison’s companies, ultimately Edison ended up winning.  After he took control, J.P. Morgan merged Edison’s company with another electric company to form General Electric, which became the powerhouse in electricity.  Edison lost the war of currents, but the company he started ultimately had market dominance and the money he made from this company would fund his research for the rest of his life.  He left electricity behind and created the motion picture industry with great success.  Westinghouse, on the other hand, ultimately lost control of his business when it went bankrupt and new shareholders, who did not share his vision, ran it for the rest of his life.  The market is constantly moving; a successful innovation depends on companies that move with it, which means either new companies or flexibility from old ones.

PS Help build a goddamn Tesla museum.