Archive for February 2012

Oy. (Guns Are Not Toys/Every Gun Is Always Loaded, Folks Dept.)

February 14, 2012

I know that I’ve been even more than usually AWOL around here lately — and that’s not going to change very much for the next while, given the awesome comprehensiveness of the ass-kicking my day job is giving me these days.  It’s hard, really, because the more or less total collapse of the GOP primary field is turning some of my favorite media star-hacks into clattering, gibbering, addled parodies of what were pretty much cartoons to begin with.  What we might call a target-rich environment. (A singularly poor choice of image, as you will read in a moment.)

But there you go. Astonishingly, those who pay me daily expect me to respond daily.  The nerve!

And thus it is that I drop in just to offer up this, which isn’t funny at all.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Authorities say the daughter of a pastor was accidentally shot in the head at a church in St. Petersburg.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was called to the Grace Connection Church Sunday at about 12:24 p.m. Sunday.

Investigators say Moises Zambrana was showing his gun in a small closet to another church member – the victim’s boyfriend, according to CBS affiliate WTSP – who was interested in buying a firearm. Zambrana reportedly took out the magazine of the Reuger 9mm weapon but did not know there was a bullet in the chamber.

The gun went off and fired through a wall, striking 20-year-old Hannah Kelley. She was transported to Bayfront Medical Center to undergo surgery and remained in critical condition late Sunday.

“There is a big level of concern ’cause she may or may not survive. But we’re all praying for her and, right now, I guess that’s the best we can do,” church member Tony Diehl told WTSP.

Deputies said Zambrana has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

No charges have been filed. [CBS/AP via th]

Y’all may recall that  I’m no fan of guns — I think a gun is a damn stupid thing to have around the house, and I especially disdain the notion that a more heavily armed society is safer than one less well strapped…

….Still, I wouldn’t say that no one should have a gun.

I’ve shot at targets before and enjoyed it, and I come from a couple of generations of career gunners in the Royal Artillery, so it would be hypocritical (as well as insufficiently filial) to  suggest otherwise.

But I do think we are lax in the demand of absolute responsibility of those who choose to own guns.  I’m a strict liability kind of guy in this area.  If  you decide to own a gun, you own all of it.  It’s your job to secure it — if someone steals it and uses it to cause harm, that’s at least in part your problem. You fail as utterly Mr. Zambrana did, you should have criminal and civil liability to deal with…and so on.  A gun is a tool that is designed to apply deadly force at a distance.  Owning such a tool should carry the most rigorous obligations with it.  Anything less is disrespectful of the machine itself.

Your mileage may vary.   Have at it (and me).

Image: Antonia de Pereda y Salgado, Allegory, c. 1654

Because You Can’t/Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing

February 5, 2012

I have to admit that I laughed at this from Gail Collins’ Friday column:

Everybody hates cancer and everybody likes breasts — infants, adults, women, men. Really, it’s America’s most popular body part.

Collins is actually making the same point as DougJ’s in this post — though, as befits a proper New York Timeswoman, (or perhaps because she must, to remain such) she does so a bit more obliquely that one finds in the fearless Balloon Juice mothership.  And I’d guess that it’s at least within the bounds of possibility that some Americans may not be all that enamoured of women’s chests…

…but I quibble.

Really, the whole point of this post is to have a little Sunday giggle with the help of a quick trip down memory lane (please applaud my punner’s restraint there.  Too obvious anyhow.)  Embedding is verboten on this clip, but who among us of a certain age would not make the connection between “America’s most popular body part” and this scene. (Warning: actual Woody Allen sighting at that link.)


Titian, The Worship of Venus, before 1576.

None Dare Call It Murder

February 1, 2012

I’ve got just one quick note to add to the discussion of the Komen Foundation’s surrender to Greater Wingnuttia and the Global War on Women.

That would be that this decision is not just about the dollars.  It’s genuinely a matter of life and death  — of murder, really, with only the anonymity of the victims to obscure the the connection between act and consequence.*

Y’all may recall that I wrote along these lines about eight months ago in connection with Mitch Daniels’ decision to defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana.  (Yup, that Daniels — the hack our friends in literate Wingnutistan see as the great hope of the GOP).  Now we’re back again to run the numbers on what the removal of the services Planned Parenthood provides to women seeking preventative care for breast cancer will do.**

Here are the basic figures:  over the last five years, the Komen Foundation provided Planned Parenthood with sufficient support to pay for 170,000 breast exams and 6,700 referrals for mammography. The question of how frequent and how early a mammography program should be has been, shall we say, vigorously debated, but the issue gained some clarity last year with the publication of a large scale longitudinal study by Swedish researcher in which over 133,000 women were followed for a total of 29 years.

The results of this study provide low-end estimates for the lives saved by screening:  for every 414 or 519 women screened*** for seven years running, one breast cancer death would be prevented.  What’s more, the researchers emphasized that this is a conservative conclusion:

Evaluation of the full impact of screening, in particular estimates of absolute benefit and number needed to screen, requires follow-up times exceeding 20 years because the observed number of breast cancer deaths prevented increases with increasing time of follow-up.

I’m being deliberately dry in this telling, and I’m sure you can guess why:  I do not wish the conclusion to lose any of its force to misplaced snark.  The bald facts are grim enough.

How grim?  Take the most modest number from this study —519 women screened for each life saved.  That’s on the order of 13 women from the 6,700 screened with Komen Foundation money who get to live.****

Or:  that’s 13 women who will die for lack of those funds.

As I wrote about cervical cancer screening in Indiana:  we won’t know who those women are.  We will never know their names; who loved them; how many kids they will leave behind.  But if the total funds for screening in the system drop with the withdrawal of Komen Foundation support, they’ll be dead all the same.

Caveats, before I drop this “just the facts, Ma’am” tone:  this is a blunt, back of the envelope bit of arithmetic.  There are all kinds of factors that a real epidemiologist would consider before making any such bold claim.  Some of the obvious ones push the conclusion to a higher likely total of preventable deaths:  these women are being referred for screening, which suggests that someone had an inkling that they might be at risk.  Planned Parenthood sees a clientele that is likely to lack more health care services than the general population.  And there are the general points the original researchers made to suggest that the total of lives saved through screening would be greater than their baseline number.  There are probably factors that weigh in the other direction as well — one could imagine, for example, that the preliminary examinations turned up more aggressive cancers, which may have outcomes that mammographic detection does not much alter.  You get the point.  The reality of public health, medicine, and the basic biology of cancer is such that precise predictions are always wrong.

That said, the broader claim still stands:  there is a significant and growing body of evidence that regular mammographic breast cancer screening saves lives.  The converse follows:  withholding that screening means real people will suffer.

And here I’ll drop the pretense of dispassion.  The Komen Foundation’s decision links directly to illness, to death and loss and dreadful sorrow left behind.

Those losses can’t be called manslaughter either, not as I see it.  Preventable deaths that flow from lack of access to the standard of care are wholly predictable, even if the individual victims are not identifiable.  Those blocking access through want of funds know — or should — what will happen.  There’s nothing accidental about these outcomes.w

Which means that this isn’t just another salvo in the culture war.  This is nothing to be clever about in 850 word columns on the back pages of the Grey Lady.  This is not a bit of clever gamesmanship to rev up a base for whom just the name Planned Parenthood conjures up all their horrors of female agency.

This is real life, and real lives lost…and, once again, this is why this election matters so much.

*Yup.  Still working the refs for that Moore Award.

**Just to be clear:  for what follows, I’m assuming that these services are withdrawn, that the withholding of resources from the Komen Foundation doesn’t get made up somewhere else.

*** The spread is down to the details of data collection and analysis in the Swedish study.

****The weasel is about the difference in the five year span of screening Komen funds are said to cover, and the seven year screening sequence identified in the Swedish study.  I lack both the data and the skill to do more than waffle a bit here.

Image:  Artemisia Gentileschi, Jael and Sisera, 1620

An Exaltation of Larks, A Surfeit of Targets

February 1, 2012

Maybe it really is too late.

Classical empires lasted centuries:  the Han Dynasty held sway for 400 years, barring that brief unpleasantness with Wang Mang.  The Romans had a similar run, depending on how you choose to bracket the rise and fall.  The Mongols were a little less permanent, but for all their brutal kin-slaughter approach to succession, they still managed to dominate Eurasia for a century and a half.  That empire on which the sun never set rose twice, in the eighteenth century, with British imperial ambition centered on North America, and then again in South Asia, the Pacific, and Africa from the latter half of the 1700s onwards, for quite a run.

The American Imperium?  Well if you count the continental expansion from Plymouth Rock and the Chesapeake west to San Francisco and the northwest rain belt — that’ll stick around for a while, I’m sure.  But our 100 years as the global power?  I’ve got no good feelings there.

That may not be so terrible.  Empires are not what you’d call friendly institutions.  But what depresses me even from within the comfort of my luxe corner of Faux America is the way the Wormtongues of our modern media village are working so hard to persuade us just to give up, to accept a world in which Mitt Romney is plausibly a President.

Others here and amongst our friends have written about just about everything that’s caught my horror-and-despair sensor in just the last 24 hours.  Brooks’ call for the running dogs of liberalism to take their turn growing turnips in the camps.  A breast cancer advocacy group choosing to kill women (welcome back ABL!) rather than suffer the taint of some of their dollars rubbing shoulders with other dollars that might pay for an abortion.  Theocrats with bully pulpits screaming victimhood unless the rest of us keep giving them tax breaks to discriminate.*  I’m exhausted by the very existence of Mitt Romney, and the fact that his whole candidacy is premised on the relentless repetition of the whatever distortion of the fabric of reality seems to play best at the moment.

But, as I say, the good folks that write this blog have been on the case — which is great, as it leaves me for now with just this little bit to add.

That would be that for all the willed and conscious bad faith that folks like Brooks sling so readily and so constantly; for all the sense that there was indeed something of an American promise, now betrayed by the figures celebrated and defended by our Village idiots; for all the three a.m. night-terrors at the thought of the world my son may inherit…for all of that, the real world of fact and reasoning can still rise up to bite the bozos in the ass.

Recall that Brooks called Murray’s book an account of “the most important trends in American society.”

And yet, strangely, that society for Murray, and hence for Brooks, includes only White Americans.  Which vision, if you are trying to study trends of significance for the next few decades, poses just a wee difficulty.  As I’m sure readers of this blog know, the numbers about these matters ain’t what they used to be, demographically speaking.

Via the US Census Bureau, we find that right now, the White non-Hispanic fraction of the US population comes in at roughly two thirds of the total.  You’d think that number counts as a datum in an important trend given that the proportion was around 88% in 1900, and remained as high as 75% in 1990.  Already, California is majority-minority, as are Texas, Hawaii and New Mexico — and most important, the entire nation will achieve that status sometime between 2040 and 2050.  And behind those blunt numbers lies a wealth of particular ways in which different people have figured out how to make it through each day; to take pleasure in life; to cook this or that flavor that would never have made it across the border when I was my son’s age; to make cultures that we may, if we’re far luckier than we seem at present to deserve, continue to weave into what we call American culture.

All of which is to say that daily, we live in a different country.  That’s more or less how I think of the current election:  either we try to work with that country as it continuously rearranges itself — or we live with the delusions of folks like Brooks who want to pretend that the last 50 years didn’t happen and the next 50 won’t.

In my better moments, I can see past the bluster and the facile assertions of this or that immutable trend — and smell the fear lies behind every word.  I have no idea what the United States of my dotage will be like; I do know that it will not resemble whatever fantasy tthat Brooks uses to sent himself off to sleep each night.

Which, amidst all the mounds of steaming horsesh*t that we mush navigate each day, still gives me hope.  And schadenfreude.

*Why yes.  I am trawling for a Moore Award.  Why do you ask?

Image:  Albrecht Dürer, Emperor Maximillian I, 1519