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.
Escalating tensions between the country and the United States lead toward the threat of a "Juche bird" test in the Pacific.
The schoolyard-level taunting at the UN General Assembly sparked by President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea” if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies was taken up a notch Friday as Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, responded in what is perhaps his first personal reply. The crux of Kim’s response: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
Hyperbolic rhetoric from North Korea about the United States, South Korea, and Japan is not unusual, but Kim’s personal response could indicate the international tensions caused by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are at their highest levels yet. The North Korean leader’s response, which was carried by KCNA, the state-run news agency, came a day after the U.S. tightened financial sanctions on his country, and China, the North’s closest ally, reportedly ordered its banks to stop working with North Korean financial institutions—a move that could have a devastating impact on Kim’s regime.
What J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit still has to offer, 80 years after its publication
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” So began the legendarium that dominated a genre, changed Western literature and the field of linguistics, created a tapestry of characters and mythology that endured four generations, built an anti-war ethos that endured a World War and a Cold War, and spawned a multibillion-dollar media franchise. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is probably best remembered today by the sword-and-sandal epic scale of The Lord of The Rings films, but it started in the quiet, fictionalized English countryside of the Shire. It started, 80 years ago in a hobbit-hole, with Bilbo Baggins.
Although Tolkien created the complicated cosmological sprawl of The Silmarillion and stories like the incestuous saga of Túrin Turambar told in The Children of Húrin, Middle-earth itself is mostly remembered today as something akin to little Bilbo in his Hobbit-hole: quaint, virtuous, and tidy. Nowadays, George R.R. Martin’s got the market cornered on heavily initialed fantasy writers, and his hand guides the field. High and epic fantasy are often expected to dip heavily into the medieval muck of realism, to contain heavy doses of sex and curses, gore and grime, sickness and believable motives and set pieces. Characters like Martin’s mercenary Bronn of the Blackwater are expected to say “fuck.” Modern stories, even when set in lands like A Song of Ice and Fire’s Essos that are filled with competing faiths, tend toward the nihilist, and mostly atheist. Heavenly beings are denuded of potency and purity; while the gods may not be dead, divinity certainly is.
Two new books explore America’s changing romantic landscape.
C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, died of bone cancer on July 13, 1960. The next day, the famous author wrote a letter to Peter Bide, the reverend who had married them, to tell him the news.
“I’d like to meet,” Lewis writes, suggesting the two grab lunch sometime soon. “For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy is to be tied.”
When it comes to romance, Americans are freer than they’ve ever been. Freer to marry, freer to divorce, freer to have sex when and with whom they like with fewer consequences, freer to cohabitate without getting married, freer to remain single, freer to pursue open relationships or polyamory.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
Girls in the Middle East do better than boys in school by a greater margin than almost anywhere else in the world: a case study in motivation, mixed messages, and the condition of boys everywhere.
Jordan has never had a female minister of education, women make up less than a fifth of its workforce, and women hold just 4 percent of board seats at public companies there. But, in school, Jordanian girls are crushing their male peers. The nation’s girls outperform its boys in just about every subject and at every age level. At the University of Jordan, the country’s largest university, women outnumber men by a ratio of two to one—and earn higher grades in math, engineering, computer-information systems, and a range of other subjects.
In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.
Its faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective.
J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.
J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.
His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
In policy, as in military strategy, the first two epistemological categories are acceptable: People either know exactly how a policy will work, or they can make educated guesses based on data parameters they can’t quite know for certain. The unknown unknowns—what we don’t know we don’t know—are the problems, the things that could derail an entire policy and, in the process, ruin lives. Traditionally, the goal in lawmaking has been to eliminate the mystery from legislation so that there are as few unknown unknowns as possible. But, as it turns out, tradition can be easily broken.
A new film details the reason the star postponed her recent tour—and will test cultural attitudes about gender, pain, and pop.
“Pain without a cause is pain we can’t trust,” the author Leslie Jamison wrote in 2014. “We assume it’s been chosen or fabricated.”
Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” unpacked the suffering-woman archetype, which encompasses literature’s broken hearts (Anna Karenina, Miss Havisham) and society’s sad girls—the depressed, the anorexic, and in the 19th century, the tubercular. Wariness about being defined by suffering, she argued, had led many modern women to adopt a new pose. She wrote, “The post-wounded woman conducts herself as if preempting certain accusations: Don’t cry too loud; don’t play victim.” Jamison questioned whether this was an overcorrection. “The possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it,” she wrote. “Pain that gets performed is still pain.”
What feels like information overload reveals how little the public actually knows about the probe's findings.
Robert Mueller has stayed busy with his special-counsel investigation all summer, but the rest of Washington took a vacation. And since most information about Mueller’s actions seems to come from leaks outside the Mueller team, that meant there was a stretch of relative silence.
But the lull is over now. The month of September, and particularly the last week, have seen a torrent of new revelations about Mueller’s investigation. The fresh information gives the most complete view of what Mueller is up to and where he might be focusing, and in particular on the person of Paul Manafort, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign during the summer of 2016. Yet even as they suggest the direction in which the probe is headed at the moment, they don’t offer much insight into the ultimate questions of when Mueller might wrap up and what, if any, charges he might bring or recommend. So where does that leave things?