Friday, January 22, 2016

Hands Up, Don't Poison The Water

massively revised and sent to the New Mexican, 2/7/16


"...The newly released emails show that members of Mr. Snyder’s administration consistently mocked and belittled the complaints of Flint residents and the evidence gathered by independent researchers..."--NY Times Editorial

Usually, we hear about acute lead poisoning in the form of bullets when it comes to blacks, minorities, and poor whites and especially with those in our failing cities. Trymaine Lee reminded us of that once again in the weekend New Mexican. As Charles Blow recently told us in the New York Times, over eighty percent of black gun deaths are homicides while almost eighty percent of white gun deaths are suicides. Small wonder we keep dropping the ball on the gun violence problem, since so many in the gun debate are talking past each other, unwilling to help others, or too busy guarding their own turf.

In the case of Flint, Michigan, lead poisoning has been the slow, chronic kind. The City of Flint, MI, under state receivership due to bankruptcy, had been fumbling and bumbling its way towards an ill-advised short term goal: finding nominally cheaper municipal water.  It created a toxic brew of lead-tainted water along the way, which was fed to the public.

Abandoning more expensive Detroit municipal water in favor of a cheaper system of its own led to a project to use Flint River water.  But Flint River water chemistry is corrosive to pipes and other metal surfaces; no one tested or treated the new source of water for its corrosive behavior. That would have cost money. What followed, inevitably, was the water attacking the ancient municipal distribution pipes and leaching out lead. There is a jarring video on the Times site of brown water coming out of a tap. Children now have high blood lead. Such high levels lead to brain damage. Apologies by the Governor and EPA and after the fact fixes will not help those kids.

There are roots to the gun violence in our cities that go beyond guns. The cynical poisoning of Flint residents by an indifferent and incompetent bureaucracy, focused only on the tax burden's short term bottom line, is only one of many examples. Getting guns out of the hands of gang youth and others intent on malevolence may keep people from shooting each other. It will not keep people from being slowly and systematically poisoned by government and societal indifference, incompetence, greed, and racism. Plus, short term savings on the Flint water system will now result in staggering long term costs to fix the infrastructure and cope with human damage. Indeed, the failed or failing cities within the US pose the same risks to our nation as failed states elsewhere.

Until we stop pitting people against each other on hot button issues (including gun control), and ask that we work together to solve each other's problems rather than circle the wagons, we will neither solve the problems nor end the violence. Thinking that gun control will make the US a vastly better place is a tad optimistic--ask the folks in Flint. As far as gun violence, we should make our existing laws more effective; two examples are obtaining state compliance with the Lautenberg Amendment (that disarms those with permanent domestic violence restraining orders) and making background checks universally available when making private sales; there are other examples. But we have to fix what is broken: those problems that drive people to pull the trigger in the first place. That means offering a helping hand rather than a pointed finger.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Its Not About Gun Violence, But Drug, Cultural, and Poverty Caused Violence

 Of Course, Adding Guns To These Other Things Guarantees Carnage...

We are entering another legislative session and at least one gun control bill will be introduced. Such bills will treat the symptoms, gun violence, rather than the diseases. Gun violence is driven by deeper issues, namely our failed wars on drugs and poverty and our addiction to a culture of violence.

As many analysts have told us (e.g., a recent NPR piece) gun control laws are oversold. For example, a tiny fraction of guns traced to crime are purchased at gun shows. Most are trafficked through straw purchases, obtained from acquaintances, or stolen. Often, (e.g., Chicago), penalties for illegal gun possession, itself a precursor to more serious crimes, are minor, hence sending the message that illegal possession is not taken seriously.

Some suggestions are nonetheless worth trying.  The “gun show loophole” bill (by Rep. Miguel Garcia) has a reasonable cost-benefit since gun shows are populated with licensed gun vendors; asking a private seller to work with a licensed one is probably worth the price, considering it may stop some prohibited purchases. I think we should concentrate on making background checks universally available rather than arguing over making them a requirement.

We must ask why there is so much gun crime irrespective of gun laws. Places with high levels of gun crime are highly correlated with poverty and drugs.  A recent study showed that the best predictor of becoming a homicide victim is the actions of one's social network. Meanwhile, areas with lax gun laws often have low gun homicide and  low overall homicide rates because they (Vermont, Wyoming, or closer to home, Los Alamos, NM) are relatively free of serious drug or poverty problems, many of which are connected to mental health problems.  If one has few options other than crime or the drug trade (which we have willfully handed over to organized crime), gun crime is a foreseeable option because there are so few others.

The War on Guns, therefore, is misdirected.  One of its casualties is getting the political left and right to reformulate the way we treat drug offenses (as public health issues), and to directly address the economic and social conditions that have left many cities as poverty and drug infested war zones. Instead of treating both our drug and poverty problems as principally law enforcement issues, we need to treat these as public health and economic growth issues.

Finally, we see an increasing acculturation to violence. Someone created a video showing movie stars demanding an end to gun violence. Interspersed with their pleas were clips of these same people starring in gun violence drenched roles.Many people practice being mass shooters on their computer screens. Given that we have 300 million guns, it is not surprising that some act out in real life. As gun regulators remind the gun industry, one cannot both profit from violence and condemn it.

Rather than fight a war on guns that promises stalemate (2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme), we should be solving the drug, poverty, and systemic violence problems that sustain gun violence.  We should vigorously prosecute and penalize the misuse of guns, including theft, straw purchase, and crimes committed with guns. We should promote gun safety in the home and make purposeful efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands. But let's stop being shocked when there is gun violence in predictable locations, as we have failed to solve the problems that drive the violence in the first place.

Published in the LA Daily Post and the New Mexican 

5 Problems With The Connecticut Study (

Mention "gun politics", and this happens.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Biker Day at the Roundhouse: Saturday, 13 Feb. Save the Date

I'm trying to see if one of the local bike shops will agree to be a staging area for bicyclists. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Catholicism, Gayness, Blind Men, and Elephants


Having neither the expertise nor the interest in engaging either Roy Moore or Rev. Glenn Jones in a discussion of Catholicism vs. Gay Love, I will offer this. The story of the Blind Men and the Elephant.
John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend,

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

My concern, if I have one, is Roy Moore's comment "One of our state congressman is even introducing a law to allow some to hate in the name of religion."

I would dispute that a religious distaste for gayness equals hate. But that is beside the point. Given that any religious belief is largely begging the question, I really could not care less what a specific religion, or all of them, says about gay love. Sex, biologically, is primarily about reproduction, but given Homo sapiens' huge brains, our relationships with each other go beyond the simple need to reproduce and Lord knows, with 7.3 billion people on the planet, we are doing quite well at reproduction. There is no need to worry about taking a few men or women out of the reproductive pool, should it come to that.

So if you don't like what a religion says about the elephant, or for that matter gayness, find another religion. Or make up your own, or forswear all of them. What I insist is that we abide by the First Amendment and make no law respecting a request that any religious belief asks to be made into law, without first translating it into a reasonable, secular rationale worthy of rational discussion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

If the discussion is not reasonable, neither will be the outcome

Sent to Editor, Santa Fe New Mexican (11-6-15)
Published in somewhat edited (by the New Mexican) form, 12-19-15 

If we want buy-in from the gunsport community to reduce gun violence, we need policies drafted with their help. Careless legislation and rhetoric ensure a continued standoff.

We squandered an opportunity to strengthen background checks after Newtown due to New York Sen. Charles Schumer’s poorly drafted legislation. At face value, it would have criminalized honest sportsmen swapping guns while target shooting in the woods and would have created a back-door gun registration system, a poison pill to gun owners. Thus, nothing happened.

A NY Times piece reprinted here in the New Mexican threw out numbers without a context, suggesting concealed weapons (CCW) holders are reckless.  The editorial carefully omitted that if one actually runs the statistics, they show that CCW holders have far lower homicide rates than the general population. CCW holders are, statistically, safe.
If you don't think we have a problem, ask Gabby Giffords
Pic here of Gabby re-learning to shoot pistol
with her non-paralyzed arm

Here are some ideas I think worth discussing:

CCW training in New Mexico includes safety and violence prevention modules.  Reduce its cost and encourage enrollment. Society benefits (less crime, fewer trauma victims from CCW holders) so let’s expand such programs and offer violence prevention and gun safety classes to all gun owners via every law enforcement department, free or with a nominal cost.

Don't just pass a universal background check law and think you solved anything. Instead, make it easy for any private party to obtain a background check when selling a gun to someone they don’t know well. Perhaps, with proper legislation, this can be done on the laptop of the nearest county sheriff’s deputy.

Support the background check bill introduced by Texas Sen. John Cornyn and supported by the NRA that would close some of the reporting gaps that have caused spectacular failures.

The National Shooting Sports Federation’s “Don’t Lie For The Other Guy” program can work alongside Federal prosecution of straw purchasers. Add jail time to straw purchasers whose actions lead to gun crime.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms must clearly define “engaging in the business” of selling firearms,  thus who needs a Federal Firearms license. This provides a level playing field for background checks. The “gun show loophole” is not about gun shows, but resellers who manage to fly below the radar of a Federal firearms (vendor's) license.

Trigger locks should be handed out by police. Gun safes or locking cabinets should be a staple of responsible gun ownership. Theft and accidents can be reduced.

Through counseling, peer awareness, and better mental health programs, divert people from becoming mass shooters.

Eliminate the “revolving door felon program" that is responsible for much violent crime. Add much tougher penalties for using guns in the commission of a crime and for felons in possession. Make it stick.

Defuse a culture that, whether with cars or guns, is ready to elevate any petty dispute into lethal violence and rage. There are reasons New Mexico has higher gun crime than WY or VT and its not because we have more guns. Its a lousy essay, but I had some ideas in this notion of a fire triangle applied to gun crime.

Banning "assault weapons" with millions already sold would penalize millions of honest citizens. But if we cannot prevent rare but catastrophic misuse, we must consider the risk these weapons pose even if it is a rare event.  Perhaps a graded regulatory approach between low capacity semiautomatic and fully automatic weapons (regulated under the 1934 National Firearms Act) can be designed. Keep them out of immature or raging hands.

End the failed War on Drugs and revitalize our urban economies, thus providing options other than crime. As Charles Blow recently wrote in the New York Times, gun crime has less to do with gun availability alone as it does with the linked issues of poverty and race coupled to gun crime in America. Small wonder that white, middle America doesn't see this as their problem:

"...As Richard V. Reeves and Sarah Holmes of the Brookings Institution pointed out last month, 77 percent of white gun deaths are suicides while 82 percent of black gun deaths are homicides....In 1978, poor blacks aged twelve and over were only marginally more likely than affluent blacks to be violent crime victims — around forty-five and thirty-eight per 1000 individuals respectively. However, by 2008, poor blacks were far more likely to be violent crime victims — about seventy-five per 1000 — while affluent blacks were far less likely to be victims of violent crime — about twenty-three per 1000, according to Hochschild and Weaver.” - Charles Blow, NY Times

Mr.. Blow further tells us "...There is now precious little political will to further inhibit the largely white gun-buying population... in order to help reduce the scourge of homicides among poor black people..." but fails to make a link between how inhibiting white folks with guns will keep black folks from dying at the hands of other blacks. Maybe we would make some progress if we honkies attacked black poverty instead of worrying about attacking gun owners.The political right needs to work to make our inner cities something other than war zones in return for the left not constantly attacking honkies who own guns. Indeed, well off people with jobs have better things to do than engage in inner city shootouts. The GOP can't have it both ways--lots of guns and no inhibitions about misuse of them.

There is no magic bullet, but with enough normal ones, some having nothing to do with gun control, we can reduce tragedies and preserve rights.  Rights and responsibilities are different sides of the same coin. Until we meet each other halfway, we will not create reasonable policy, nor will we reduce the level of gun violence.

Further Reading.

 Mother Jones: Our Country's Cartoonish Gun Debate Isn't Just Idiotic. Its Really Damaging.

Mother Jones: No, There Has Not Been a Mass Shooting Every Day This YearThis inflated stat all over the media isn't just misleading—it's stirring undue fear.

Commentary: Just what could lower the body count?

Mass shootings. How many are there?

Factcheck: Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts (2012) 

Ben Peterson: Gun Availability Isn't Gun Culture

(I posted a longer discussion along these lines a couple weeks ago. Click here if you have not had enough already!)

Monday, October 19, 2015

NY Times Sez Justin Trudeau Headed For Victory Over Stephen Harper in PM Race

Lets see how this plays out, but sometimes you just have to restrain from snickering....unsuccessfully, of course...

For a more recent version of the sing-along, just before the election, see below. Original is on the Harperman web site.

I've really not got that much of a dog in this fight over who wins the Canadian PM race (other than my usual center-left tendencies and the fact that I grew up in and around Buffalo, NY, in spitting distance from the Peace Bridge). For me, the big issue is that as a more or less government scientist myself, I found it outrageous that Tony was summarily suspended from his job for what we in the States would consider a 1st Amendment right: singing a protest song about a Federal election. No sooner did word get out about Turner being booted from his job as a Government scientist than the song went viral on every social media and as you can see below, ended up being sung live across Canada. Beware of social media, eh?  I wonder how much of that unexpected landslide to the Liberal Party resulted not from "Harperman" but because of the Harper Administration's ham-handed dealing with Turner, which turned a song into a movement.