Following post-Newtown massacre items #1, #2, #3, and #4.
1) Maybe this time is different. It's not simply Obama's speech last night, which moved from the standard Presidential post-massacre "we all mourn together" tone to a new "this cannot go on" emphasis. The more significant indicator may be this morning's statement from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Who is Joe Manchin and where does he stand with the gun lobby? Consider the way he conveyed his opposition (from a coal state) to cap-and-trade legislation two years ago:
Here he was today, on Morning Joe.
I think this is a quite profound difference, and very promising. As robust a "gun rights" defender as exists in the Senate is weighing in about incremental, practical, reasonable steps to reduce danger and increase safety, and is sounding open-minded rather than line-drawing and absolutist about it. In a part of the interview not included in the clip above he talks about the senselessness of AR-15-type rifles and very high-capacity magazines for normal gun-users' purposes. Good for him.
Joe Scarborough himself also had an eloquent "everything has changed" statement on today's show.
2) Are more guns the answer? Yesterday I hinted at, rather than fully laid out, one of the reasons I am skeptical of the idea that if more Americans carried guns, fewer Americans would die from gun violence. That reason is the likelihood of well-meaning civilians adding to rather than reducing the body count if they tried to "take out" a psychopathic shooter. A reader gives an example from the first of the four mass-shooting events that prompted a commemorative visit by President Obama, the rampage in Tucson early last year that nearly killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and did kill six other people:
During the chaos immediately after Giffords was shot, a well-meaning and armed citizen bystander unholstered his pistol and almost shot an undercover cop from close range (story from the Denver post here).
This is an example of what I think is the biggest single reason for stronger gun control--that making lethal decisions "under fire" is a very hard and complicated thing to do. It's hard for our police and military to get the decision right every time, as we sometimes sadly see in the paper, and they are highly trained forces who do this for a living.
Similarly from another reader:
People who believe the only way of halting gun violence is to equip every American adult with a weapon may be well meaning. But they envision a United States populated by Jack Reachers. I think we'd get a United States populated by Barney Fifes.
That's how I see it too.
3) What about the "knowledge gap?" Plus some action plans. I have received a slew of messages on whether gun-safety advocates "know enough" about firearms to make sensible proposals, plus a lot of step-by-step action plans for making a difference. I'll try to wade through them and put them into groups. For now, two samples, starting with one on the knowledge gap:
Regarding the comments by a reader at a university who is also a gun owner. I know next to nothing about firearms. If, as your reader says, too many proposed gun laws have been drafted by people who don't know enough about firearms, then that's a problem that needs to be addressed.
However, I'd ask your reader: during this and other gun debates, we often hear complaints about knee-jerk liberal anti-gun bias and ignorance. But what have thoughtful gun owners done to address gun violence? Have they pushed for legislation they could support? Have they voted for candidates who supported such legislation? In practical terms, how have they separated themselves from the knee-jerk pro-gun insanity represented by the NRA? And more to the point, what are they willing to do now to craft and pass into law effective gun legislation they can support?
That is where comments like Manchin's can be important. To wrap it up for now, here is a combined knowledge-gap, "more guns," and action-plan dispatch from a reader in Virginia:
I do have a sense that there is at least a sliver of possibility that "this time will be different" with regard to gun safety in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. If nothing else, the emergence of reporting on the hard life of gun rights advocates (for example this piece in the Post today ) and their increasingly strident advocacy of a "more guns will make us safer" policy seems to be driven by concern that a shift in the political possible has occured.
I wanted to offer a response to your reader from last night regarding why those in favor of greater restrictions appear to have limited knowledge of fire arms.
First, to establish my gun-totting bonafides (which seems to have become requirement for one's opinion to matter in this debate), I grew up in rural New England in a household that hunted and target shot. My brothers and I learned to shoot rifles and shotguns when we were in elementary school. Handguns were a big taboo for us, as my father felt they served no practical purpose for a sportsman (there was quite a scandal in my family when my uncle bought a pistol because he was going to try bear hunting and was told he should have one in case he ran into a bear and his rifle wasn't enough to take it down). I've since moved to Virginia, and live down the road from NRA headquarters. My wife and I do not have any guns, but go to one of the local ranges to shoot for fun at least a couple times a year.
Your reader is right that there are a limited number of people with serious gun knowledge heard advocating for stricter gun regulation. But the reason isn't because Michael Bloomberg or any snooty liberals are excluding them. It is because the "reasonable" gun owners like your reader have chosen to withold their voices from this conversation. When they do arrive it is to cast a pox on both houses and then recede into the background. And the best they ever have to offer, after whining about how of course they don't think anyone should be able to buy a rocket launcher, is "let's look at magazine size" when that is already the most heavily regulated aspect of guns (alongside the full auto ban).
As the father of a young daughter, I for one do not want her growing up in a world where she is told she has to carry a gun to be safe. The reason why - because it is a recipe for violence. While gun rights activists are happy to talk about the potential for a fellow citizen to live out a Hollywood sequence, they are mute on the thousands who die from gun-related accidents. There is an incredible parallel to those who reacted to 9/11 by advocating people drive more, even though the odds of dying in a car wreck are orders of magnitude higher than dying in a terrorist attack on a plane.
There is another reason against the "more guns at school" argument. My personal lesson from the tragic Trayvon Martin case earlier this year is a reminder of the danger of an armed citizenry that thinks they are empowered to exercise the state's monopoly on violence. My brother is a police officer back in New England, and they go through hundreds of hours of training before they get close to that responsibility. The reason isn't because it is hard to shoot straight or learn how to cuff someone, it is because it is really hard to tell whether someone is about to commit a crime and what is the appropriate level of force and approach to minimize danger for the officer, suspect, and surrounding community.
If someone were to propose giving concealed carry permit holders a 500 hour course with continuing education requirements before they walk into my child's classroom, I will think about it. But even that is the pragmatist in me. If people really think cowboys and posses are the key to public safety try taking a trip to Iraq or the Congo and ask their citizens how that is working out.
Here is a serious proposal for gun safety:
- Privately owned handguns should be limited to revolvers. If you can't defend your home or persons with 6 well placed rounds, squeezing off a dozen in rapid succession isn't going to save you.
- Rifles should be limited to bolt and lever action. Rifles have no place other than hunting or target shooting. If you can't take the kick - and frankly anyone who is properly trained can shoot just about any rifle or shotgun short of a .50 caliber - get something smaller.
- A mandatory safety training course specific to the class of weapon and provided by a state-licensed provider should be required before someone can purchase a gun. Feds should allow portability across State lines, but online courses should be banned. Instructors should receive training in spotting and reporting a high risk student.
- State and federal firearm laws should be fully extended to gun show sales. Seriously, have you ever been to a gun show in the South? I've literally seen a grenade launcher (for $25k!) at one with the seller noting "honey, if you buy this gun we make sure you never have to worry about finding ammo."
Taken together these have the effect of limiting the availability of more dangerous weapons as measured by the number of bullets some one can squeeze out in a minute. That is the real enabler of mass shootings.
I also want to push back on you and many others fatalism that since we already have 300m guns we can never reduce the number. Through out Africa and Asia in a lot of post conflict societies a critical piece of the DDR process is reducing the supply of weapons. How is it done? It is a simple, free market solution. The government offers to buy back anything that is no longer legal to manufacture and sell new post-ban. An AR-15 can be bought for about $1k these days. Offer $2k a piece and they will dry up fast, and the price of one on the resale market will go way up. This also has the added benefit of making them less accessible to unemployed 20 year olds suffering from mental illness. If no one takes the offer - which I doubt, arbitrage is a powerful force - then you take a step back and think about the implications and adjust course.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
This morning I went on Democracy Now to discuss my critique of “class-first” policy as a way of ameliorating the effects of racism. In the midst of that discussion I made the point that one can maintain a critique of a candidate—in this case Bernie Sanders—and still feel that that candidate is deserving of your vote. Amy Goodman, being an excellent journalist, did exactly what she should have done—she asked if I were going to vote for Senator Sanders.
I, with some trepidation, answered in the affirmative. I did so because I’ve spent my career trying to get people to answer uncomfortable questions. Indeed, the entire reason I was on the show was to try to push liberals into directly addressing an uncomfortable issue that threatens their coalition. It seemed wrong, somehow, to ask others to step into their uncomfortable space and not do so myself. So I answered.
After a pair of poor showings in New Hampshire, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina drop out of the race.
The Republican race is headed to South Carolina with two fewer candidates. The day after finishing sixth and seventh in the New Hampshire primaries, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced on Wednesday that they were suspending their campaigns.
Fiorina was always a long shot—she was practically a political newcomer, having only run one unsuccessful Senate campaign. And while her record at HP was vulnerable to attack, Republican figures saw in her both private-sector experience and a woman who could counter Hillary Clinton’s monopoly on a “historic” woman’s candidacy. While many political professionals sniffed at Fiorina’s candidacy, remembering that 2010 Senate race, she broke out after a commanding performance in the undercard to the first Republican debate. That earned her a promotion to the main stage at the next debate, where she scored another victory. But it was all downhill from there. Dogged by questions of honesty and unable to earn media attention, her campaign faded quickly.
Issued last summer, the rules are the centerpiece of the White House’s climate-change-fighting agenda, and they play a big part in the recent, tepid optimism about global warming. Without the proposal of the plan, the United States couldn’t have secured the Paris Agreement, the first international treaty to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, last December. And without the adoption of the plan, the United States almost certainly won’t be able to comply with that document. If the world were to lose the Paris Agreement—which was not a total solution to the climate crisis, but meant to be a first, provisional step—years could be lost in the diplomatic fight to reduce climate-change’s dangers.
For decades, some psychologists have claimed that bilinguals have better mental control. Their work is now being called into question.
In one of his sketches, comedian Eddie Izzard talks about how English speakers see bilingualism: “Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed! Good lord, man. You’re asking the impossible,” he says. This satirical view used to be a serious one. People believed that if children grew up with two languages rattling around their heads, they would become so confused that their “intellectual and spiritual growth would not thereby be doubled, but halved,” wrote one professor in 1890. “The use of a foreign language in the home is one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation,” said another in 1926.
A century on, things are very different. Since the 1960s, several studies have shown that bilingualism leads to many advantages, beyond the obvious social benefits of being able to speak to more people. It also supposedly improves executive function—a catch-all term for advanced mental abilities that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, such as focusing on a goal, ignoring distractions, switching attention, and planning for the future.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
Why Donald Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric was enough for movement conservatives to forgive his history of liberalism.
Last summer, Donald Trump described Mexican immigrants as “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” In December, he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Many commentators claim that this wild rhetoric helps Trump suck up media oxygen or appear like a straight-talking political outsider. But the most important benefit of the anti-immigrant language is that it inoculates Trump against the charge of being a closet liberal.
Trump has a seemingly fatal vulnerability in the Republican primary: His past support for a host of moderate and liberal positions. In recent years, Trump said he would “press for universal health care,” claimed that he was “pro-choice in every respect,” remarked that “I hate the concept of guns,” stated that Hillary Clinton would “do a good job” in negotiating with Iran, asserted that the GOP was “just too crazy right,” and even said, “In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.”
Everything that was supposed to be silenced is suddenly being said.
The tight grip of oligarchy upon the American political system slipped a little last night in New Hampshire.
On the Democratic side, voters cast their ballots for one of the most implausible candidates in modern presidential history—less because his rhetoric was so mesmerizing or his program so inspiring than as a protest against an expected winner perceived as a lavishly compensated servitor of organized wealth.
In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton boasted of her small donors. More than 70 percent had given less than $100, she claimed: “I know that doesn’t fit with the narrative.” As Ken Vogel of Politico immediately tweeted, the claim also distorts the facts. Clinton may have a lot of donors, but the bulk of the value of her donations—85 percent—has come from the biggest givers. And her family’s personal wealth, and its foundation’s assets, can also be seen as built on the largesse of banks, corporations, and foreign governments.
The Warriors star is the embodiment of basketball’s analytics revolution.
The Golden State Warriors are now some 15 months in to their turn as one of the best teams in basketball history. Last season, they won 67 games, the most in the NBA in eight years, and secured a championship in June against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season’s Warriors make last season’s Warriors look like a team that hadn’t yet gotten loose. They started the year winning their first 24 games in a row, a record opening, and as of now have won 46 of 50.
Golden State’s brilliance is more than just statistical. The Warriors are a basketball idyll, a paradise of skill and collaboration. Their offense runs on nifty ballhandling, willing passing, and sublime shooting, with their point guard and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player acting as ringleader. A slim 6’3” and 185 pounds, with a bouncy jog and a barely post-pubescent tuft of beard at his chin, Stephen Curry dribbles with the intentional abandon of a card hustler, flings one-handed passes to all sectors of the court, and shoots better than anyone ever has.