Archive for July 2012

Don’t (Diss) Party Like It’s 1999….

July 31, 2012

The other day I posted on Mann and Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. I’m just about through that book, and I’ll do a direct follow-up in a day or so.  But here I want to take issue for a moment with a really powerful work that I finished reading on Saturday, Chris Hedges’ and  Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.

That’s a riveting book, an important one, and I commend it to you all.  You can’t read it without being radicalized, in a good way.  Hedges and Sacco travel to the most destroyed, exploited, misery-infused places in the United States and document both wrecked lives and those lived in opposition to the various arrangements of power that have extracted the last scrap of cash out of their communities.  If ever there were a document that drove home the need for a true transformation in the relationship of our government to private capital, this is it.

There’s a corollary to the stories Hedges and Sacco deliver:  in their telling it becomes clear that the government we have is complicit with the particular individuals and/or corporations that have wrought and continue to wreak havoc on the people they encounter.  And so, near the end of his text, Hedges writes this:

We must stop being afraid.  We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for President. All the public disputes between candidates in the election cycle are a carnival act.  On the issues that matter there is no disagreement among the Republicans and the Democrats.

Bullshit.  Pure and deadly dangerous nonsense.

Tell that to Caleb Medley.  The status quo will most likely — and the Republican health care plan would definitely leave him, his wife and his newborn daughter in debt peonage for the rest of their lives. Obamacare, though it leaves much yet to be done, would not.  That matters deeply at least to the ~30 million Americans who now lack health coverage, but will get it, if and only if Obama wins re-election

Tell that to any woman who believes that they have agency over their own bodies (and all the men who agree with them, of course), who have to confront rulings like this one.  This matters really to all Americans, I would say, but surely at least to that (slightly) larger half that possess two Xs.

Tell it to all those who got stiffed by their credit card company, and actually are going to get some payback, thank you very much — thanks to something only a Democratic President and Congress would have approved, and the GOP is still actively trying to kill.  That one case alone translates into stolen money returned to two million Americans, which is nothing to sneeze at, and which would not occur under a Republican regime.

And there’s more, of course, all issues that matter in for-real, tangible ways to lots and lots of people.  No arbitrarily begun and ended list of accomplishments or crucial acts of opposition can capture the full impact of the choice to be made here.

Sure, it’s true, monied interests buy stakes in both parties.  But it is also true that not all those with resources are the same, and a party that depends on the Kochs and the Adelson’s of the world is demonstrably worse than one that doesn’t.  What’s more: one that is capable of appointing judges who, for example, know that Citizens United was a crock — not to mention health care reform and all the other quite remarkable list of Obama legislative victories — is not the lesser of two evils but is rather an unequivocal (if not unmixed) good.

And anyway — if we are in our defiant moral certainty must reject the Democrats as being insufficiently less evil than the GOP, what do Hedges and Sacco think we should do to advance the cause of of all those who so clearly need real change?  Hedges again:

We have to defy all formal systems of power.  We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficient that will allow us to survive.

I’ve not edited either of the two passages quoted above.  In the text, they form a single paragraph, running from the bottom of page 266 through the top of 267.  So really that’s it:  in the face of all the ills of the American present he and Sacco have so powerfully documented, and facing the potential catastrophes of its near-future, Hedges would have us head for the hills, pace our cloisters and tend our gardens, secure in the purity of a life lived in seclusion, day following day according to whatever rule to which we submit.

To hell with society; to hell with the very fellow citizens whose awful circumstances Hedges and Sacco have spent 260 pages making real for their readers.  Let it all go down while we seek a “survival” that seems to me to be merely acquiescing in loss.

Don’t get me wrong.  Almost all the way through Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a hugely courageous book, and I have no doubt of the bravery, moral and physical, of its two authors — in excess of mine, I have no doubt.  In fact, most of the last thoughts of the book belie what Hedges has written here. For example, he sees in the Occupy movement a real possibility for useful action.

But here, this call to inaction is to me worse than an error.  This election counts.  The differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are real.  There are consequential differences in the America and the world my son will inhabit that will come down to what happens on November 6 — and of course, what happens after, what we do to inside and outside the conventional power apparatus to force the change whose necessity Hedges and Sacco make crystal clear.

Do not party, or Party, as if it were 1999.  It’s 2012, and there is a decision to be made.

Images:  Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the lobby to the main reading room, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Bldg. 1896.

Edmund Körner, In the Convent Library, c. 1910

Friends Can’t Let Friends Vote Republican

July 29, 2012

I believe I mentioned before that I’m celebrating my release from academic administration by trying to read a library.  I’ve been focusing on recent books, and I’m on a mini-run of political books.  In that context I’ve recently finished Chris Hayes Twilight of the Elites — I have some nitpicks, but much more admiration, and I hope to blog about it soon; Christopher Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt — again some disagreement, but a must read nontheless.

Along the way I’ve been looking at some books calculated to raise my blood pressure in other ways — Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion — which I found to be not really worth bothering to argue with (such an embarassing display of poor historiography)! I’ve also  been dipping into Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, which combines an insight he shares with Hayes and a commitment to a prior conclusion that drives his core argument spectacularly off target.*  Still, it’s useful to get some sense of how the other side thinks and argues.

I do hope — I’d say plan, but I’ve learned how regularly day job stuff rises to intervene — to blog about at least some of these down the road. But I’ve just started the next book in the programme, Thomas E. Man and Norman J. Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. 

Right away — in the introduction — I came across a paragraph that sums up, in the most economical form yet, what’s really at stake 100 days from now.  So let me turn this post over to them, and let y’all draw the obvious inference about what to do between now and November 6:

The second [of two sources of dysfunction in current American politics] is the fact that, however awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy  of its political opposition.  When one party moves this far from the center of American politics, it is extremely difficult to enact policies responsive to the country’s most pressing challenges.

I’d quibble with only a couple of words there.

I’d say the party has moved fromright of American politics over the last decade.  It took off from  the center in 1980 or so.  And “extremely difficult?”  Try, on the evidence that Mann and Ornstein go on to present in their first chapter (as far as I’ve gotten), “impossible.”

As I say.  Quibbles.  As a matter of sense, this is right on — made the more potent given who writes it: not a DFH like yours truly, but truly seasoned, deeply centrist, long term observers of the institutions of American politics.

More to the point:  there is no such thing as a good Republican candidate anymore, at any level.  Your city councilmember, your state rep., your congressional representative as individuals could be reasonable, smart, caring, trying to reform this failed party from within.  Mitt Romney himself may seem to the more credulous among our media elite to be a more thoughtful and moderate man than he is a candidate. (If you are truly credulous, or simply a hack, you may even bet on Romney’s “secret plan” to fix the economy.)

None of that matters.  “Good” Republicans are mere useful idiots, providing scraps of cover for the radical authoritarians wielding the real power.  The party is committed to public policy stance that is destructive, both of American prospects and those of folks all around the world.  They must be driven so far from the political arena as to be destroyed, until whatever emerges from its wreckage, even if it persists in operating under the label “Republican” is utterly transformed from the catastrophic clown show we now watch in horror.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Oh — and one last thing.   There are, I know, lots of flaws one can point to in the Obama administration.  There are plenty of warts on the Congressional Democratic caucus.  But the two parties are not the same and the consequences of getting it wrong this time are simply huge.  The politics of purity may be satisfying, but this time around such delicate sensibilities are a luxury we simply cannot afford.

And a very cheerful Sunday to you too.

*That would be — in cartoon form — his understanding of the way elites and the rest of (white) us now exist in geographical and social isolation, joined to his libertarian mandated conclusion that the obstacle to lower class advance is a cultural rather than a political or economic issue.  And while from within the assumptions of his project I can follow his argument as to why he focuses solely on white America, reading of Hedges and Sacco, for one example, makes it clear how doing is part of what allows Murray to ignore the ways in which can’t account for the economic and social outcomes he seeks to explain

Image: Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire: Desolation, 1836.

The Real Problem: England Is Not The Right Height.

July 26, 2012

Thanks to Joshua Keating, posting over at Foreign Policy, we learn what Romney really, truly thinks of his current hosts (h/t Atrios):

England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth’s land and a quarter of the earth’s population.

That’s from his increasingly ironically titled book, No Apology.

Well, (a), Suck On This, Mr. Mitt:

Top that with some steroidally swollen MacMansion in Malibu, you unctuous, climbing, nouveau slime-doggy*

And (b): Mitt shouldn’t worry about apologizing to foreigners for America; if what we’ve seen just in a few hours is any guide, he’ll have a months long (at least) backlog of personal sorries to deliver by next Tuesday.

Oddly, I think I’ve got to start reading Mitt’s golden prose soon.  I’ll tell you all why after I’m done with it….

Bonus Romney allegorical image:

*”Slime-doggy” is an insult directed at Arnie in some otherwise long forgotten episode of L.A. Law. I have for years longed to fling it at just the right target.  I feel….satisfied.

Update:  Via the Guardian’s live blog of Mitt gaffes I learn (first) that John Podhoretz, of all people, has started to pile on:

Romney in London. Come on. We needed this. It’s a little comic relief. Kind of like Mr. Bean, only he’s an American.

As the Guardian has it that would be would-be-President Bean to you proles…not exactly the image sought at the first dance of a candidate’s foreign policy debutantant ball.

And then there’s the genially oafish Tory Boris Johnson at the torch lighting ceremony, taking the piss out of Mitt in front of a live audience of zillions and a broadcast viewership of gazillions:

I hear there’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready?

Some guy.

That’s gotta hurt.

Images:  Jones’ Views of the Seats, Mansions, Castles Etc. of Noblemen and Gentlemen, View of Blenheim Palace, 1829.

Jan Prost, Death and the Miser, before 1529.

Some Advice For Mr. Romney

July 25, 2012

Because we are a full service blog, and more, because we are a generous and giving community, it seems only fitting to offer our cyborg brother W. M. Romney some useful counsel on his travels abroad.

Because we are snark-filled sacks of vitriolic sloth, we outsource this task to Oliver Burkman over at the Grauniad‘s shop:

First things first: the statistical probability is that any given member of the public you meet while in Britain will be British. This should make things considerably easier when it comes to your penchant for guessing randomly, and frequently wrongly, the nationalities of people you encounter. (“His favourite guess for nationality is French-Canadian.”) At the Olympic Games opening ceremony, by contrast, you’re likely to encounter many more non-British people. Small-talk topics to avoid with them include: a) whether or not they share an Anglo-Saxon heritage; and b) claiming to be familiar with the culture of their small island nation because you have several hundred million dollars in a bank account there.

There’s more at the link.  Enjoy.

Oh — and I suppose this qualifies for what all you perhaps insufficiently Anglo-Saxon types would call an open thread.

Toodle-oo.

Update: A bonus video to help our  Mitt as attempts to penetrate the mysteries of Anglitude:

Image:  Zhang Lu,  A Traveler Contemplates a Waterfall, between 1500 and 1525.

Q: Iz Tom Friedman Learning?

July 25, 2012

A:  No.

When last we checked in on the moustache of wisdom, we learned the real reason we should start a war with Iraq.

One would have thought that would be the end of Tom Friedman as someone anyone could take seriously.  Hell, it should have been the start of the time people spat on the sidewalk as he passed them by.

But, of course, because we have been so well and benevolently led by our elites, Tom of the Married Fortune and Unmerited Influence continues to opine about the sacrifice and loss others should undertake in the service of his worldview.

Exhibit A:

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again. But Iraq is relevant here. The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics. My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

 

A little fisking seems in order.

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again.

You don’t.  We do.  Why? 

Because adults (and lots of children, in fact) understand that the best way to avoid repeating colossal f*ck ups is to try to understand what went wrong.  You know, talk about how we got into that war (lookin’ at you, little Tommie) how we planned for the post-combat phase (lookin’ at you George W. Bush and all your feckless minions) understanding the full weight of the losses incurred both by the US and the Iraqis we sought to liberate from oppression (in the best but certainly not an exclusive reading of our mission).  It would be useful to have some real inquiry into what fighting that war on those justifications did to the US, both in terms of human and material loss, and in terms of the damage done to our polity and society.  We used to be able to say that torture was everywhere and always illegal. Not anymore, bro…..Hell you get the idea.

Tom Friedman has an obvious motive to cry silence on the Iraq war; otherwise, his unblemished record of wrong — and of abject moral failure — would continue to get trotted out for a look-see.  As here.

The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops.

Counterfactual not in evidence. “The only reason?”  Could sanctions have worked?  Could a Libya style involvement have been possible.  What about creating an independent Kurdistan in the north and starting from there?  I’m not saying any of these things would work, or even were plausibly good ideas at the time — but the “only reason” trope exists only to crush the possibility of argument over a claim that can’t be tested.  Gutless reasoning in other words.

And then there is the carefully worded phrase “any chance for a decent outcome.”

Begs the question, don’t it? How much of a chance do you need for a war of choice to have been justified on any interest calculation?  And what are those chances anyway?  From Friedman’s own employer:

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out one of the most coordinated and baldly sectarian series of attacks in years on Monday, aiming for Shiite targets with car bombs, checkpoint ambushes, and assaults on a military base and police officers in their homes in an offensive that its leadership appeared to equate with the Sunni-led uprising in neighboring Syria.

The offensive, coming in the early days of Ramadan, the monthlong religious rite of fasting by day and feasting by night, was without precedent over the past few years, at least in the sheer number of attacks, spread over so many locations in a third of Iraq’s 18 provinces, from north to south.

It raised new concerns about the government’s ability to contain the violence, six months after the last American troops left the country following more than eight years of occupation and civil war that upended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led minority power base and empowered Iraq’s long-repressed Shiite majority.

“I think Al Qaeda in Iraq made a big joke of the government and the Iraqi security forces,” said Khalid Fadel, a military analyst and former instructor at the Iraqi Military College. “They were so clear that they were going to launch attacks during Ramadan, and the government said that they have information of about 30 terrorist groups entering the country, but still the security forces are unable to prevent the attacks.”

Look.  Maybe Friedman is right for once, though nothing in past performance suggests that I should count on anything but the triumph of hope over experience.  It would indeed be great if all that price paid in Iraq by all parties did create a foundation for peaceful social and public life in that country. (Though again, it’s important to remember Friedman’s classic mission creep.  Success is here defined not as t meeting our own pre-conflict objectives, the ambition to assert a Pax Americana in the Middle East and in the prevention of terrorist attacks, but rather by our i serving some grand missionary role to bring democracy to the great unwashed.)  But  in the face of the ongoing civil strife In Iraq, it’s simple counterfactual folly to argue that the US intervention in Iraq can be held up as successful.

Onwards!…and a little detour.

Check out this phrase:

America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife

It’s possible to be a bad writer and a good thinker, though that’s a trick that’s harder than it looks.  But it continues to amaze me just how brutal an abuser of the English language is Tom Friedman.  Think of  all the richness of imagery and allusion of which the language is capable, and wonder at the epithet “that well armed midwife.”  It’s going to take some time before I can get the image of the US as a woman bending over the baby Jesus’s birthing table (see above), M-16 at her hip.  Shakespeare wept!

Wait! There’s more.  Friedman characterizes the US in Iraq as

reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides

WTF?  Were we ever trusted by any side?  This is just wishful rewriting of the actual skein of conflict in Iraq.  Pure nonsense.  This is Friedman telling himself what he wants — really has — to believe in  order not to see an imbecile with blood on his hands everytime he looks in a mirror.

And now to Fisk’s end:

My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

Your gut?  Your F*cking Gut! Jesus, Mary and the mule, dude, only connect the dots for once in your life!

Your gut…

…is the least reliable organ of sense since Tatiana beheld Bottom.

No one — and I mean absolutely no human being with a capacity for reason above that of a ficus — cares about your indigestion.  If you don’t have anything better to base your opinion on, Shut. The. Hell. Up.

To be fair to a man who still sports the least convincing porn ‘stache in public life, Friedman in this column does admit that American intervention in Syria isn’t going to happen.  He concees, several paragraphs below the one dissected above that Iraq is not IRL a satisfactorily emerging democracy.  And he even recognizes that the situation in Syria is beyond our control, and unlikely to meet our desires.

But such moments of hungover clarity don’t count for much with me in a column so soaked with nostalgia for the time when the Friedmans of our governing class could tell the world to “suck on this,” and the US would send in the troops  in the service of middle-aged men’s fantasies.

Channeling my inner Brad DeLong:  why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

Image:  Lorenzo Lotto, The Birth of Jesus, 1527-28.

Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer, 1617.

 

 

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie…

July 23, 2012

Within less than a day of the Aurora shootings, a BJ reader sent me word of the absolutely predictable gun-nut push to claim that guns prevent more crime/save more lives than gun-use takes.

We’ve seen plenty of that in the days since, with the blame-the-victim, where-are-our-John-Waynes trope getting its usual airing, as it always does after such tragedies.

I wrote on this topic after the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy referencing some of the actual research that shows, over and over again that more guns = more gun tragedy.  Go check it out if you want to be further depressed by the American gun-fetish eternal return of the same pathology.

Here I just want to deal with one zombie lie — the one my BJ correspondent passed on to me:

Guns used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year — or about 6,850 times a day. This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives.

That’s from a “factsheet” produced by Gun Owners of America.  GOA helpfully footnotes the two sentences above, claiming independent scholarly support for the claim, which, they assert, is backed up by official federal government research:

Even the Clinton Justice Department (through the National Institute of Justice) found there were as many as 1.5 million defensive users of firearms every year. See National Institute of Justice, “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” Research in Brief (May 1997).

And your guns shall set you free, I guess.

But wait just a minute.

One of the things we do at the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing in which I have the honor to teach is to make sure that our students develop a nose for funny numbers.  Your olfactory neurons should be firing pretty hard right now.  2.5 million instances of gun defense? 1 for every 12 120 or so US citizens, infants at the breast, gaffers spooning their soup and all and sundry in between?Almost 7,000 a day, and nary a mention on the nightly news? No blog of “Real American Heroes” or some such?

But what the hell.  It’s documented, right?

Right – by a study from 1994, confirmed, allegedly, by a US government-sponsored analysis in 1997.  So let’s do something radical. Let’s read the referenced material.  Here’s the relevant passage from “Guns in America…[pdf]:”

Private citizens sometimes use their guns to scare off trespassers and fend off assaults. Such defensive gun uses (DGUs) are sometimes invoked as a measure of the public benefits of private gun ownership. On the basis of National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data, one would conclude that defensive uses are rare indeed, about 108,000 per year. But other surveys yield far higher estimates of the number of DGUs. Most notable has been a much publicized estimate of 2.5 million DGUs, based on data from a 1994 telephone survey conducted by Florida State University professors Gary Kleck and Mark Gertz. [the study the GOA "factsheet" references in its claim]  The 2.5 million figure has been picked up by the press and now appears regularly in newspaper articles, letters to the editor, editorials, and even Congressional Research Service briefs for public policymakers.

The NSPOF survey is quite similar to the Kleck and Gertz instrument and provides a basis for replicating their estimate. Each of the respondents in the NSPOF was asked the question, “Within the past 12 months, have you yourself used a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or someone else, or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere?” Answers in the affirmative were followed with “How many different times did you use a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or property in the past 12 months?” Negative answers to the first DGU question were followed by “Have you ever used a gun to defend yourself or someone else?” (emphasis in original). Each respondent who answered yes to either of these DGU questions was asked a sequence of 30 additional questions concerning the most recent defensive gun use in which the respondent was involved, including the respondent’s actions with the gun, the location and other circumstances of the incident, and the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator.

Forty-five respondents reported a defensive gun use in 1994 against a person (exhibit 7). Given the sampling weights, these respondents constitute 1.6 percent of the sample and represent 3.1 million adults. Almost half of these respondents reported multiple DGUs during 1994, which provides the basis for estimating the 1994 DGU incidence at 23 million. This surprising figure is caused in part by a few respondents reporting large numbers of defensive gun uses during the year; for example, one woman reported 52! [That's once a week, for those of you keeping score at  home. Even if you're living in a truly bad neighborhood, that's impressively bad luck as far as being targetted by crime goes.--ed.]

A somewhat more conservative NSPOF estimate is shown in the column of exhibit 7 that reflects the application of the criteria used by Kleck and Gertz to identify “genuine” defensive gun uses. Respondents were excluded on the basis of the most recent DGU description for any of the following reasons: the respondent did not see a perpetrator; the respondent could not state a specific crime that was involved in the incident; or the respondent did not actually display the gun or mention it to the perpetrator.

Applying those restrictions leaves 19 NSPOF respondents (0.8 percent of the sample), representing 1.5 million defensive users. This estimate is directly comparable to the well-known estimate of Kleck and Gertz, shown in the last column of exhibit 7. While the NSPOF estimate is smaller, it is statistically plausible that the difference is due to sampling error. Inclusion of multiple DGUs reported by half of the 19 NSPOF respondents increases the estimate to 4.7 million DGUs.

Some troubling comparisons. If the DGU numbers are in the right ballpark, millions of attempted assaults, thefts, and break-ins were foiled by armed citizens during the 12- month period. According to these results, guns are used far more often to defend against crime than to perpetrate crime. (Firearms were used by perpetrators in 1.07 million incidents of violent crime in 1994, according to NCVS data.)

Thus, it is of considerable interest and importance to check the reasonableness of the NSPOF estimates before embracing them. Because respondents were asked to describe only their most recent defensive gun use, our comparisons are conservative, as they assume only one defensive gun use per defender. The results still suggest that DGU estimates are far too high.

For example, in only a small fraction of rape and robbery attempts do victims use guns in self-defense. It does not make sense, then, that the NSPOF estimate of the number of rapes in which a woman defended herself with a gun was more than the total number of rapes estimated from NCVS (exhibit 8). For other crimes listed in exhibit 8, the results are almost as absurd: the NSPOF estimate of DGU robberies is 36 percent of all NCVS-estimated robberies, while the NSPOF estimate of DGU assaults is 19 percent of all aggravated assaults. If those percentages were close to accurate, crime would be a risky business indeed!

NSPOF estimates also suggest that 130,000 criminals are wounded or killed by civilian gun defenders. That number also appears completely out of line with other, more reliable statistics on the number of gunshot cases.

The evidence of bias in the DGU estimates is even stronger when one recalls that the DGU estimates are calculated using only the most recently reported DGU incidents of NSPOF respondents; as noted, about half of the respondents who reported a DGU indicated two or more in the preceding year. Although there are no details on the circumstances of those additional DGUs, presumably they are similar to the most recent case and provide evidence for additional millions of violent crimes foiled and perpetrators shot.

…..

The key explanation for the difference between the 108,000 NCVS estimate for the annual number of DGUs and the several million from the surveys discussed earlier is that NCVS avoids the false-positive problem by limiting DGU questions to persons who first reported that they were crime victims. Most NCVS respondents never have a chance to answer the DGU question, falsely or otherwise.

[All bold emphases added by yours truly.]

Sorry for such a long block quote, but there is method to my tl;dr madness.  There is a figure out there that has been enshrined as “fact.” Guns prevent crimes — and in such great numbers as to outweigh any tragedy.  13 dead and 48 wounded?  Sad, but merely sacrifices to the greater good of an armed society…

Except, of course, it isn’t true.  The lie persists because the liars rely (soundly, it appears) on the certainty that almost no one will go back through the literature and see if anything they say is actually, you know, true.  The very piece of government research GOA cites as support explicitly and at length debunks the core claim.  But no matter. Who reads fifteen year old reports anyway?

You do, if you’ve stuck it this far.  Lots of other folks — including media makers — have not, at least as suggested by the persistence of this zombie lit.

And so we permit zombies to continue to suck our brains out, as such lies become public policy fact.  Such failure — the failure of folks within the gun community to speak honestly, and the disastrous failure of the media to report the story clearly and accurately — costs lives.  People die.  Kids die, old folks die, time and again real people, not mere tallies on a false record of those lost against those saved…ripped from their families, their loved ones, their own selves.  We can do better, but we choose not to.

Just to drive that last claim home  let me point you to one study from those cited in my Giffords post referenced above:

PHILADELPHIA – In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

I’m not a gun-ownership absolutist.  I don’t think we could (politically) or should remove guns from every hand and every home.  But, as Bernard wrote this morning, there’s a lot of room between such a ban and where we are now — and I’d move a long way through that space of possibility.

Which we can’t, as long as the media permit the gun nuts to lie with impunity. I’ve written before about imposing a strict insurance scheme on gun ownership, and I still think that’s a step that could be made possible over time.  But not that nor any other useful idea while we permit the argument to be hijacked by stuff its partisans know to be so, but isn’t.

Images:  Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Francisco de Goya, Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off, 1806

Annals of Stupidity (Sex in America Edition)

July 22, 2012

Via the Guardian, we learn of the latest act of stupidity in America’s war on sex:

The International Aids conference, held in the US for the first time in 22 years next week, is a chance for the country to celebrate its contribution to HIV and Aids prevention. Yet in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, state police forces are stopping, searching and arresting sex workers – and using condoms found on them as evidence to support prostitution charges, undermining decades of HIV and Aids harm reduction work in the process.

Via the Human Rights Watch report that forms the basis of the Guardian piece we learn this:

Police use of condoms as evidence of prostitution has the same effect everywhere: despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

Carrying guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition around town? No problem.  A couple of dozen condoms? Call out the guards!

File this under WASF.

PS:  If you want to read a clear-headed account of sex-work, HIV, and appropriate public health responses, see my friend Elizabeth Pisani’s excellent The Wisdom of Whores. (Go to the right hand column of the website.)  As Elizabeth regularly notes, condoms are hardly a perfect barrier to STD infection, HIV in particular, not least because in real life it turns out to be hard to persuade oneself/one’s partner to use them as needed every time they are needed. That said, condoms from an essential component of a sex-worker’s ability to take direct action on her or his own behalf as she or he goes about a working day (or night).  Creating barriers to their use is both stupid as a public health measure and an unacceptable — I would say, un-American — infringement on an individual’s right and duty to take care of oneself.

Bonus: Video via Elizabeth’s site from condom maker DKT’s home video collection:

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(Translation of the caption at the end:  “With a year’s supply of free condoms, any place is the right place.”)

Image:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The ladies in the brothel dining-room, 1893


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