Responsibility is not just a word

Tom Levenson responds to yet another gun ‘accident’, in which a pregnant woman was shot in the head by a friend showing off a gun. I think this is a very good take on the issue; no responsible gun owner (and they all are, right?) could possibly disagree with this:

Responsible means that whatever happens with your gun is your fault.  Period.  You accidentally discharge it and no-one gets hurt? How’s this:  big fine, confiscate the weapon involved, lose the right to bear arms for a year for the first incident, forever if you repeat.  Someone gets hurt or dies?  Jail. Civil liability.  Loss of gun rights for life.  That’s responsibility.

But of course, I dream.  That’s not how we roll.  Instead, we’ll just  water the tree of liberty with a newlywed, and celebrate life by burying her fetus — and wait (not long) for the next red harvest.

Being responsible should actually mean something — it’s not just a word you use to escape the consequences of your actions. But that’s how the gun fondlers all seem to use it — they will flaunt their assault rifles, take great risks with their lives and the lives of others, and hide under the NRA-approved label of “responsible gun-owner”.

Real responsible gun owners know that they are deadly tools and would keep them locked up and treat them like they would a stick of dynamite — extreme hazards that warrant extreme precautions.

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

Lenar Whitney, Republican congressional candidate from Louisiana, dared to use that line from Orwell while accusing virtually every climate scientist in the world of lying.

Practically every word in that monolog is a lie, or a product of exceptional ignorance. And the terrifying thing is that she knows it.

… when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

To change the subject, I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”

Unbelievable. But these are the people dominating the Tea Party right now.

By the way, here’s the summary of the recent IPCC report (pdf), if you want to see the data that Whitney pretends doesn’t exist.

I get email

I propose a general rule: the surest way to get someone outraged is to criticize their heroes, whether they’re political, religious, scientific, or atheist. The only solution is to not have any heroes.

It seems that I dared to criticize John C. Wright, and one of his fans wrote to disagree with me.

Mr. Myers,

I was made aware of your blog post by John C. Wright’s mention of it. I suggest you read his opinion of it, it is instructive to say the least.

I have never read anything written by Vox Day. However I have read nearly everything by John C. Wright. I share his opinion that your choice of choice of “damning” passages written by Vox Day could have been better made. Particularly by a biologist.

Because there’s nothing more hilarious than a supposed scientist arguing that fertility in women is a social construct, and the fact that women are the only type of human who can bear children is a political issue.

So really, if that’s the worst thing you could come up with written by Vox Day, you should get yourself another horse to beat. This one’s dead.

I also saw your post, “I’ll be good Mommy…” I’m reminded of a post I wrote a while ago regarding the propaganda tactics being taken up by your fellow travelers in the mainstream press. They seemed distastefully familiar for some reason.

http://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.ca/2012/12/where-have-i-seen-that.html

In case your finger is too tired to click, I’ll sum it up for you. Your behavior in demonizing gun owners is a tactic first used to good effect by Mr. Joseph Goebbels. My father and uncles spent a goodly portion of their late teens and twenties sorting that little issue out. I could go through the whole rest of my life quite happily without seeing that repeated, thanks very much. Sadly, it looks like you aren’t going to let that happen.

The Phantom

“The Phantom”? Really? Was The Shadow too busy to write?

You might be wondering what Wright said about me. Here’s Wright’s comment:

This is an interesting link. It is from a soul who thinks it is immoral to act professionally, that tolerating someone of unpopular, or, rather of rightwing opinions (which are here said both to be poison and to dominate the narrative) is intolerable. You are not supposed to read books and judge them on their merits. Politics is precisely what a professional association of science fiction writers gathered to protect the interest of science fiction should be about.

With utterly unintentional hilariousness, the writer denounces Theodore Beale in words of thunder as a misogynist, and to prove the point quotes a utter bland an uncontroversial statement that women are better off marrying young, when they are at their most fertile and most able, thanks to the energy of youth, to care for their babies. (He has said many more misogynistic things, some of which have indeed offended me; why pick this passage? I can only speculate it is because here Beale puts his finger on what feminists hate most. They hate being women, they hate being wives, they hate being mothers, they hate fertility, and therefore they hate babies with the hatred of Moloch)

For them, everything is politics, and politics is religion, and anyone not on the side of the Leftwing angels is on the side of the Rightwing devils. These are intolerant, zealous, uncivilized fanatics. It is not because of us that there is no middle ground, no quarter, no rules of engagement. This is their life. This is their all.

No sane man would agree to join, pay dues to, or remain a member of a professional organization like that.

Let me break that first letter down into two parts. The first part is this bizarre argument that Vox Day has said many things that are far worse than the one quote I gave — please, Lord, may I never have defenders this incompetent. Then, further, they make the claim that what Day/Beale wrote was “a utter bland an uncontroversial statement” [sic] that I, as a biologist, ought to know was completely true, and that somehow I was “arguing that fertility in women is a social construct”. Say what? It seems the one quote I excerpted was a particularly good one for smoking out people who thought it was innocuous. Here is the post I wrote, and here is that bland and uncontroversial quote from Day/Beale:

Because raising girls with the expectation that their purpose in life is to bear children allows them to pursue marriage at the age of their peak fertility, increase the wage rates of their prospective marital partners, and live in stable, low-crime, homogenous societies that are not demographically dying. It also grants them privileged status, as they alone are able to ensure the continued survival of the society and the species alike. Women are not needed in any profession or occupation except that of child-bearer and child-rearer, and even in the case of the latter, they are only superior, they are not absolutely required.

I guess I need to spell out what is objectionable in that statement to the clueless: it is not that only women are capable of getting pregnant, or that fertility is a social construct. It’s the assertion that the purpose of women’s lives is to bear children. It is the reduction of half of humanity to one biological function, without recognizing that they can have additional abilities and aspirations that give them fulfillment, and that they can contribute to society in a great many ways. It is the assumption that culture is by and for men, and that women’s role is to support them…and that they should be damned grateful for that privilege.

That Wright and “The Phantom” think that statement is uncontroversial shows how deeply the poison has gone.

The second part is the traditional invocation of Godwin’s law. The post he linked to is stupid and vacuous; it was prompted by Rachel Marsden’s response to the Newtown murders, in which she encouraged more background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the “mentally stunted, emotionally disturbed and deeply insecure”. From that beginning, “The Phantom” leapt to the conclusion that Marsden had just called all gun owners “mentally stunted, emotionally disturbed and deeply insecure”, and therefore, she was just like Joseph Goebbels because… insert cartoon of overweight gun owner fondling a gun, followed by unrelated Nazi caricature of overweight Jewish man, therefore liberals equal Nazis.

It’s the flimsiest excuse to compare gun owners to victims of the Holocaust that I’ve yet seen.

Satire done right

Mark Steel praises our new-found tolerance for child murderers.

In recent years most of humanity has become proudly more tolerant of groups who once seemed to be on the margins of society. But until now it’s still been seen as acceptable to be offensive about one minority, which is the child murdering community.

At last it seems the mood is changing, and finally we’re beginning to hear the child murderers’ point of view.

For example one brave soul, prepared to speak out, is spokesman Uri Drome, who explained on Radio 4 yesterday that although the Israeli government bombed a school that several children died in, the deaths are clearly the fault of the people who live in the areas being bombed.

What a refreshing change from that tired old thinking that always blames murder on the murderer.

Oh, so that’s what ethicists do

So OKCupid has been doing psychological experiments on its users. Big deal! Here’s what they think of that.

Alex Goldman: Have you thought about bringing in, say, like an ethicist to, to vet your experiments?

 

Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid: To wring his hands all day for a hundred thousand dollars a year?

Sweet gig. Could they do occasional thumb-twiddling to change it up a bit? Or play Angry Birds on their cell phone?

It’s a fair fight, but it’s hard fought

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar seems to be doing all the right things in congress — I’ll definitely be voting for her again, and also for Al Franken. All of you from states with less progressive representation can’t imagine how good it feels to actually have politicians in office who do good, rather than providing embarrassing soundbites. One of her latest efforts is a bill to close loopholes in background checks for gun sales.

For women, domestic violence is the greatest risk factor associated with guns. According to Everytown, “The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be murdered,” and some Center for Disease Control statistics suggest more than 50 percent of female homicides are attributable to intimate partner violence.

Klobuchar’s bill, the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act, would close gaping holes in background check laws that don’t bar gun ownership by abusive dating partners rather than spouses, and don’t incorporate many stalking crimes.

This is a popular bill — polls show that the electorate, even the responsible gun owning electorate, thinks it’s a good idea to keep guns out of the hands of your local angry bully. But as you might guess, the NRA opposes it, and they’ve got a few politicians in their pocket who’ve also been told to kill the bill, or similar bills in their home states.

And that’s where it gets interesting and uncomfortable. Democrats are fighting back. Not Klobuchar directly, but three states are running an ad right now to highlight the use of guns in domestic abuse — three states with three states with Republican shills for the NRA.

The thing is that the ad they’re running portrays a fairly common domestic abuse scenario, and it is terrifying. It was a punch in the gut for me, and I’m a guy who’s never been in this kind of situation, ever, so I’m warning you: if you’ve ever had a stalker or abuser, this is an extremely potent video.

Maybe this is what we need to do more of — slap people in the face with the horror of what our irresponsible gun policies do to people. My one concern is that there may actually be people who sympathize with the man in this ad, rather than the woman.

More legal fun and games from Kent Hovind!

Kent Hovind wants the property he forfeited in his criminal conviction back! He has filed a lis pendens on the property that was seized. I am not a lawyer, and had to look it up, but apparently it’s an intent to make a legal claim on some real estate. I guess you’re not supposed to do that with properties forfeited to the government in a legal process, and which are under an injunction. But the law won’t step ol’ Kent!

So the court has fired back with a threat to hold him in contempt.

Kent E. Hovind is required to appear before the Court at 8:00 a.m., on September 8, 2014, to show cause why he should not be held in criminal contempt of Court, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 401(3) and Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a). This will be a jury trial and will be held in Courtroom 5, United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, located on One North Palafox Street, Pensacola, Florida 32502.

He has an option to get a court-appointed defense lawyer. I hope he doesn’t, and instead relies on the advice of his wacky right-wing conspiracy theorist buddies, because the shenanigans are always so entertaining. Anyone remember subornation of false muster?

Inhofe is wasting our time

Minnesota’s Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, recently introduced a resolution in the senate that simply stated a clear fact that congress tries to avoid: that climate change is real. James Inhofe (Republican doofus from Oklahoma) got up to insist that he sees nothing, nothing, and that he had a petition from 9,000 cranks that there’s nothing to worry about.

Then Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island rose up to slap him down.

People like Inhofe are a catastrophe for progress and reasonable action on important issues. Could you Oklahomans please stop electing these idiots? We’re getting rid of Bachmann up here in Minnesota, I think it’s only fair that you sacrifice a wingnut, too.

Apparently, stated intent is magic

Sam Harris weighs in on the destruction going on in Gaza. He proceeds very, very carefully, explaining that the situation in Israel is complicated, they’re a largely secular state with a historical justification for their establishment, people with a history of oppression should have a safe haven, wars in any cause all cause casualties, yadda yadda yadda. And I agree emphatically with that. The people of Israel have a secular right to autonomous existence; they have a unique history of persecution (becoming increasingly less unique, unfortunately) and it is morally right to correct an injustice; every war is an evil that has unintended consequences, which is why we should be reluctant to enter them, and only engage when absolutely necessary (and I will also concede that the calculus for determining that is murky). But all that is just a prelude to his justification for Israel’s actions: it’s because their enemies are evil, and deserve it. Somehow, I’m not surprised at that.

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies.

Strangely, he never seems to question the necessity of fighting a war to keep a people oppressed, or considers the possibility that Palestinians see themselves as victims of the Israeli state, ghettoized and kept in a perpetual condition of essential serfdom…and that even that tiny bit of land that they do hold is constantly threatened by settlers and politicians eager to annex the place by one means or another. There is no consideration of alternatives, that maybe war is not the best solution to an extremely complicated (as he knows!) social problem. But to admit that they are committing war crimes, but that it is all the enemy’s fault, is simply disgraceful.

I must emphasize that this is NOT A DEFENSE OF HAMAS. As Harris points out, their goals are indefensible and despicable.

The truth is that there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time, based on Koranic prophesy, when the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood, where the trees and the stones will say “O Muslim, there’s a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.” This is a political document. We are talking about a government that was voted into power by a majority of the Palestinians.

That is an evil statement, and I condemn it whole-heartedly. But condemning one side does not mean I endorse the other — it is possible to see that there is a lot of indefensible and despicable activity on both sides. Also, I’m not saying “a pox upon both houses” — I don’t think the evil Jews deserve to die, any more than I think all those evil Palestinians deserve it. There needs to be a solution to a complicated hatred between both sides, and the simple solution of war until one side is broken does not resolve it. Short of genocide (do I need to argue against that?), it only exacerbates the issues. Does anyone really believe blowing up houses, killing terrorists (and incurring lots of collateral damage), building giant walls, and imposing more and more restrictions on the lives of Palestinians, will actually accommodate themselves to Israeli rule?

Elie Wiesel, in Legends of Our Time, wrote this:

Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set apart a zone of hate — healthy, virile hate — for what the German personifies and for what persists in the German.

Should we use that to argue against the legitimacy of Israel? It’s an example of emphatic hatred directed at a whole people (even though he walks it back in a footnote — he’s decrying racism, not all Germans — and he also visited Germany and felt no desire to kill everyone he met.) Persecution tends to do that to people, to feed the fires of hatred. It’s not an excuse, but when you kill and torture and oppress, normal human beings tend not to reply with love and forgiveness.

Then Harris trots out the most stupid argument ever.

Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done.

I’ve been hearing a lot of this sort of thing, and it’s nonsense. With American gun laws, I could buy an assault rifle, modify it to be fully automatic, get a couple of extra large clips, and march into the local Catholic church and gun down the entire congregation (NO, I would never do such a thing). We have that power. So if I get a rifle and shoot just one Catholic as they were walking down the street (also never going to do that), could I use the excuse that I was exercising commendable restraint? If I did kill 10 innocent people, could I then claim that I was being judged by a different standard, because I could have parked a truck full of fertilizer explosive outside the building and killed hundreds and destroyed the whole church, just like Tim McVeigh?

No. I judge by a consistent moral standard, rather than the relative one Harris is using. Killing people is not a good thing, whether it’s one or a thousand or six million, and the existence of one gigantic moral atrocity, like the Holocaust or the Indian genocide, does not suddenly diminish the significance of numerically smaller crimes. It’s horror all the way around.

There is also a kind of moral blindness at work here. He says the condemnation is out of proportion to what they’ve actually done…so what exactly have they done? Harris comes right out and tells us.

But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.

The “Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation”. Stop right there. What do you mean, we critics are “stuck”? Isn’t that a terrible, awful fact of Middle East history that is being blithely glossed over? Of course it is. Sam Harris apparently does not think it’s that big a deal that the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation, and for someone who wants to claim we have to look at the big picture to see the causes of the conflict, he doesn’t seem to see how that could have led to the hatred expressed by Hamas. Again, not to excuse it…but if you want to address it, you can’t simply call the Palestinians evil bad guys and offer no solutions other than shooting them. Both sides have deep antecedents and a thousand justifications.

See the Elie Wiesel quote above. Many of the Palestinians hate the Israelis, no small wonder. You don’t fix it by shooting their cousin, or dropping a bomb on the local schoolhouse.

But all that matters to Harris is intent.

And this gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies. And this is something I discussed in The End of Faith. To see this moral difference, you have to ask what each side would do if they had the power to do it.

What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted? Well, we know the answer to that question, because they can do more or less anything they want. The Israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow. So what does that mean? Well, it means that, when they drop a bomb on a beach and kill four Palestinian children, as happened last week, this is almost certainly an accident. They’re not targeting children. They could target as many children as they want. Every time a Palestinian child dies, Israel edges ever closer to becoming an international pariah. So the Israelis take great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants. 

Whoa. So the reason we know that Israel would not commit genocide if they could do anything they wanted is because right now they have total power and can do anything they want, and they aren’t committing genocide. But that’s not true! Israel’s military power is strongly dependent on foreign support — maintaining good relations with the United States is a major constraint (well, maybe not that constraining, because so far it looks like Congress rolls over and does whatever Israel asks). Further, in his cautious prelude, Harris emphasized that Israel has a complex society with a very strong secular component — there are Jewish elements who resist the idea of wholesale murder, too. Right now, Israel has external and internal constraints, so it’s silly to argue that they don’t.

Israel has elected a government that is aggressively militant. If that government were released from all restraints, I suspect that they’d push for an even more thorough campaign of extermination. But that’s speculation about intent — I’m more interested in the actual evidence. I look at the casualties, and there sure seem to be a lot of dead Palestinians for an enemy that takes “great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants”. And then there’s the distribution of the deaths.

The United Nations estimates that more than 70% of the Palestinians killed were civilians, including 226 youths and 117 women. More than 150 were members of armed groups, the United Nations says.

UNICEF said Monday that about two-thirds of the children killed were 12 years old or younger.

We’re supposed to believe in reason and evidence. When I see a thousand dead bodies, many of them children, and city blocks reduced to rubble, I tend not to accept the claim that that was reasonable restraint. Likewise, when Hamas launches rockets into Jewish suburbs, I tend not to accept that they are acting under reasonable restraint.

We get another of those hypocritical arguments used by IDF apologists.

The truth is that everything you need to know about the moral imbalance between Israel and her enemies can be understood on the topic of human shields. Who uses human shields? Well, Hamas certainly does. They shoot their rockets from residential neighborhoods, from beside schools, and hospitals, and mosques. Muslims in other recent conflicts, in Iraq and elsewhere, have also used human shields. They have laid their rifles on the shoulders of their own children and shot from behind their bodies.

OK. So we should excuse the deaths of all the civilians caused by the Israeli military because they are a regrettable and unavoidable consequence of fighting in an urban area with a high civilian population density. But we have to blame the Palestinians for fighting in their homes in an urban area with a high civilian population density — they should have found some nice open fields somewhere and deployed an army that could be met by the Israeli army, I guess.

And please, please stop characterizing specific groups with specific issues and causes with global Islamism. I despise that religion myself, but that does not mean you can simply lump Palestinians under the thumb of Israel with Muslims in Iraq or unsourced claims that Muslims use their own children as shields, or complaining about ISIS when talking about the events in Gaza. Let’s start by recognizing that Palestinians have legitimate grievances, as Harris tacitly acknowledges, and not ignoring them under the umbrella of simply declaring them wicked and deserving of all that they get.


Here is an example of Israel’s measured response.

So is that the new plan, Israel?

I’m now even more disgusted. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University made a statement about the ‘realities’ of their conflict.

“You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different. Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

He isn’t actually saying they should start raping Palestinian women, but he just threw it out there as the only way to stop suicide bombers. It’s an actively evil proposition, and it doesn’t even make sense. Would raping their mothers and sisters suddenly reconcile Palestinians to Israeli occupation and oppression? There’s not much knowledge of human behavior there.