Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, January 31, 2013 8:04 pm

Firearms and neurotransmitters

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:04 pm
Tags: ,

As I’ve said before, I grew up with guns, target shooting with .22 rifles and the odd .410 shotgun. I once carried concealed while covering the Klan in Iredell County almost 30 years ago. I favor the right to gun ownership and even concealed carry. But having spent a lot of time as a cops reporter, I also know that the “responsible American gun owner” is much more of a myth than the NRA, and even regular gun owners, want to let on. The bevy of “accidental” shootings at gun shows across the nation recently is just the tip of the iceberg.

In that light, I know just how high the bullshit level comes to in this essay by Walter Kirn on gun ownership in The New Republic:

Growing up around guns and owning them as an adult affords a person memories and experiences that strangers to guns may have trouble understanding. The divide is phenomenological, not political (or not political until it gets to be), like the gulf between those who’ve had sex and those who haven’t or those who smoke and those who’ve never lit up. Pulling a trigger and being prepared to do so cuts patterns in the self. Depending on the nature of your social life, which time around guns can shape and color in ways that I’ll describe, you might forget that these patterns are even there, because you’re surrounded by people who share them—until someone or some event challenges you to answer for your thinking.

Kirn gives us 3,300 words of anecdata, what-the-hell? analogies and magical thinking, best responded to by two contributors to No More Mr. Nice Blog, Aimai

If you want to make a Second Amendment absolutist argument be my guest — but if you want to make it on the grounds that your hazy memories of feeling safe pulling the trigger with daddy gives your gun ownership primacy over my hazy memories of being able to drop my kindergartners off for school well, [forget]  you.

… and Steve:

I’m tired of gun owners’ demands that I privilege guns’ effect on their neurochemistry over the safety of everyone else in the country — not just the thrill of the shooting but the delicious in-group joy of being part of the He-Man City Slicker Haters’ Club.

I’m not arguing that every gun-rights supporter falls into one of those two categories. Certainly I don’t. But a lot do, and, worse, they seem to expect us to try to make sane, constitutional policy on their basis. No. Sane countries do not allow themselves to be run by people who are not sane. Anyone who wants to argue to the contrary is not, by definition, a responsible American gun owner, no matter whether your people came here on the Mayflower and Miles Standish’s musket hangs over your fireplace mantel.

Thursday, January 24, 2013 8:10 pm

Football and CTE: Beginning of the end?

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:10 pm
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From PBS’s Frontline:

Brain scans performed on five former NFL players revealed images of the protein that causes football-related brain damage — the first time researchers have identified signs of the crippling disease in living players.

Researchers who conducted the pilot study at UCLA described the findings as a significant step toward being able to diagnose the disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in living patients.

“I’ve been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the Holy Grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s not definitive and there’s a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it’s very compelling. It’s a new discovery.”

If it turns out that we can now diagnose CTE in living patients — and that remains to be confirmed, I hasten to add — I think the NFL’s days as America’s Sport are numbered. I don’t think pro football could be either regulated or sued out of existence, but I think it probably would move well away from the center of popular culture toward the fringes. Put another way, well-off and middle-class kids would find other things to do with their time because their well-off and middle-class parents would probably insist on it, and a lot of the NFL’s current audience would find other things to do with its time as well, and so there would go the big advertisers and there would go most of the big money.

And there would still be young people poor and/or desperate enough to play the game for money even in the face of incontrovertible evidence that it was damaging their brains and shortening their lives.

Previously.

Previously.

Previously.

Previously.

 

Friday, January 18, 2013 9:07 pm

Charlie Pierce on Manti Te’o

I do not know, nor do I care, about the Manti Te’o story, inasmuch as the Panthers, about whom I do care somewhat, will, if they are smart, draft a defensive lineman in the first round next April, not a linebacker.

But Charlie Pierce cares about the story both in and of itself and because of what it says not just about sports media but about all news media. In particular, he calls out the elite political loudmouths on the teevee who are using Te’o and coverage thereof as a Shiny Object to distract public attention from its own failings, a game they’ve been playing since even before Mark Hertsgaard published “On Bended Knee” a quarter-century ago. And Charlie knows enough about both sides of this particular game that when he speaks, you should listen:

There also is, or ought to be, a lot of soul-searching going on at the various media outlets that passed along this barrel of bushwah. The fact-checking system at a lot of important places utterly broke down. (Your fact-checker discovers that there’s no record of a person at the college she allegedly attended, and no record at all of the severe automobile accident that is so central to the story, and the response is to  “write around” these inconveniences? This is not good.) But, as someone who’s working both sides of the aisle at the moment, there is something up with which I will not put, and that is snarky comments from the elite political press about what suckers the people who write for The Toy Department  are. Knock it off, foofs. Careers are made in the courtier press by doing deliberately what probably may have happened by slovenly accident in the case of the sportswriters who passed along this tale of highly marketable pathos. What is the significant difference between the actual reality of Manti Te’o’s dead imaginary girlfriend and the actual reality George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford?

In the elite political press, mythmaking —  which the gang at Politico would call “building the narrative” — has become so deeply entrenched as a boon to various careers that hardly anyone notices any more.  Stephen Glass got away with it for longer than Manti Te’o did, and he did so at several different prestigious publications. Almost nine years ago, Sasha Issenberg pretty much tied David Brooks’s entire reportorial credibility up in a sack and dropped it into the Schuykill, and Brooks nonetheless has continued to thrive and will be teaching Yale undergraduates about humility next fall. So let’s not be doing the Superior Dance too vigorously in the faces of the sportswriters who got played in this case, OK, cool kidz?

But it’s not the spectacular cases that are the real problem. It’s the steady, day-to-day mythmaking — the encasement of grubby political transactions in shiny marble, the draping of togas upon unimaginative hacks, the endless who’s-up-and-who’s-down scoreboard watching that passes for analysis. All of these are just as phony as the ongoing farce in South Bend is. Only within this manufactured world are “the American people” worried right now about The Deficit. The creation of bad vaudeville spectaculars for public consumption is the way to the top of the ladder in political  journalism.

Al Gore ran for president and he was beset by a press corps that fashioned its own Al Gore out of nothing more than its own naked animus, and that Al Gore was no more real than Manti Te’o’s dead imaginary girlfriend was. (Alas, Melinda Henneberger, who has dogged the Lizzie Seeberg [link added -- Lex] case, was in the middle of that fiasco back in the day, although she was far from the worst of them.) The grand prize of them all, of course, was the spectacular failure of the political press in the matter of Ronald Reagan, who made up more complete shinola about himself and his life before breakfast than Manti Te’o has in his entire life as a public figure. This particular failure has continued even after Reagan’s death.

Manti Te’o met his dead imaginary girlfriend and they “locked eyes” after a game at Stanford? Ronald Reagan knew a welfare queen in Chicago who was driving a Cadillac.

Manti Te’o hung out with his dead imaginary girlfriend in Hawaii? Ronald Reagan liberated death camps during World War II.

Manti Te’o said that his dead imaginary girlfriend was the love of his life? Ronald Reagan said trees cause air pollution.

Manti Te’o said that his dead imaginary girlfriend would have wanted him to play against Michigan State? Ronald Reagan told a story about an act of military heroism that never actually happened, but that he apparently got from a 1944 war movie called, A Wing And A Prayer and when Reagan’s spokesman was asked about this whopper, he replied, “If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.

So there’s a rough kind of historical symmetry in the fact that Ronald Reagan provided the whitewashed portrayal of the bounder, George Gipp, in the movie that launched the mythology in which the saga of Manti Te’o  and his dead imaginary girlfriend found such a proper and profitable home.

The failure of sports journalism in this case is huge and spectacular but, in its impact, it is nothing compared to the discreet daily fabulism that attends so much of the coverage of politics in this country. “If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.” As anyone who follows elite political journalism in this country will tell you, this is now axiomatic in the field. It’s the way you get ahead. It’s the way you get on television. It is the crude way of saying that perception is reality, which is the fundamental journalistic heresy through which lies become truth simply if they work, and N. Leroy Gingrich becomes a visionary political leader. At least sportswriters still give you an honest account of what happens in the games.

The wealthiest 0.01% are expecting you and me, not them, to fix the deficit even though the deficit is actually well on its way toward fixing itself at the moment and would do so even faster if we worried less about it and more about jobs (particularly here in North Carolina, where the unemployment rate went back up in December). What the wealthiest 0.01% want will, literally, kill tens of thousands of Americans prematurely for lack of job safety and health care. But God forbid we worry about anything more important than a trivial fabrication by a naive/manipulative/closeted-gay (among the many hypotheses I’ve heard) college football player.

 

Thursday, January 17, 2013 9:00 pm

Love women? Then make sure the law protects them.

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 9:00 pm
Tags: ,

But don’t take my word for it. Take my mom’s (from her Facebook page):

We’ve come a long way, baby… or have we?

Last night Jerry Hancock [my stepdad -- Lex] and I watched the movie based on Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Jerry had never seen it and I hadn’t seen it since it came out in 1956. the show has some of the most beautiful music ever written for Broadway.

But when we got to the final scene — which is supposed to be sad and touching and romantic — we nearly jumped out of our chairs. Julie, the heroine, who had been beaten and emotionally abused and abandoned by her deadbeat husband whom she still loves desperately, says dreamily to her 15-year-old daughter, who has just been slapped by this same jerk: “Sometimes you can be hit by someone and never even feel the pain.” OMG. The thing is, when I saw this in 1956, I — like millions of other women at that time — thought the scene was beautiful, poignant, and romantic. But about 25 years after that, I was hit by the person I loved most in the world, and that changed me forever. Let me be clear: You DO feel the pain. Last night I wanted to throw a brick at the TV. 

I used to love the old torch songs — you know, Edith Piaf, Billie Holliday, etc. — singing about the man I love who beat me and left me… I even sang some of them myself in shows: “My Man,”  “St. Louis Blues” … But now when I hear them I hear dangerous co-dependency and criminal domestic violence.

The reason this is important to all of you out there in FB land is that your Congresscritters have failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act, even though: “From its passage in 1994 through 2010, the act helped cut the rate of domestic violence nationwide by 67 percent. It also helped establish a National Domestic Violence hotline, which until last week was responding to over 22,000 calls per month. The act also mandated that victims, no matter their income levels, would not be forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams; strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders; helped communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units for domestic violence; and helped train more than 500,000 police officers, prosecutors, attorneys and judges each year in domestic violence law and counseling.”

Why in heaven’s name, you might ask, would Republicans in the House not want to support legislation that clearly does so much good? Well, here’s why:

“Although the Senate passed a bipartisan version in 2012, it included language for protection of same-sex partners, immigrants regardless of their status, and Native Americans. Some Republicans in the House objected to the new language, preferring to limit protections to only certain groups of women. In short, Congress seeks to establish a means test to receive treatment for rape.”

So, Julie, I’m telling my 7 granddaughters to “hit” the Congresscritters who chose not to re-authorize this bill by calling them to account and booting them out of office. Let’s see if they feel that pain.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is one — VERY strange dude

Filed under: Religion,Weird — Lex @ 8:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Yeah, OK,  I’m mixing my faith references here. Sue me. But I got tickled when my friend, ex-colleague and former boss Teresa Prout, then and now the city editor of the News & Record, posted on Facebook the other day about  getting an email from a man who claims his father is one of four prophets who have been designated by God to carry out His will before the end of the world, which is coming March 11. (Naturally, one of my midterm projects is due March 7. But, noooooo, the world couldn’t end a week earlier.) The prophet in question is in prison for killing his wife and a judge, by the way.

Nobody spends much time in the newspaper bidness without encountering religious zealots, and it can be hard sometimes to distinguish the merely overzealous from the outright insane. But her anecdote reminded me of an incident when I was the N&R’s religion writer (and Teresa was my editor at the time) that led me to write a column that, as it happens, was published 15 years ago last week. Unlike a lot of my older stuff, it actually has held up pretty well:

One busy afternoon just before Christmas, one of our receptionists called to say that a man had come in who wanted to talk to someone immediately about an important religion story.

I walked downstairs to the lobby, where I met a man about my height but heavier, with long, slicked-back, salt-and-pepper hair and a salt-and-pepper beard. He was dressed in black from his jacket and shirt down to the pointed toes of his boots. In fact, he cut such a Mephistophelian figure that I shouldn’t have been surprised when we had sat down in the lobby’s only two chairs and he announced that he was Jesus Christ.

A number of questions began running through my mind, the first one being the question of why there was no guard at our lobby security desk. The second one was: How can I get this man out the front door? The third one was: OK, even if this guy isn’t Jesus, he’s still a human being toward whom, according to Christ’s second great commandment and the dictates of good customer relations, I have some obligations, so how can I meet those obligations gracefully and compassionately?

And — hey, I am a reporter — the fourth one was: What if he’s telling the truth?

“I see,” I said. “Have you always known that you were Jesus?”

“Found out about 10 years ago,” he said.

“And where were you when you found out?”

“I was in prison,” he said.

“No kidding. Where was that?”

“Butner,” he said. Butner, just northeast of Durham on Interstate 85, is the home of a well-known state mental hospital and a lesser-known federal prison and mental facility.

“Why were you there?”

“I beat a man up in Eden pretty bad” — Eden being the Rockingham County town, not the garden, I ascertained.

“But you didn’t yet know you were Jesus when you did that?”

“That’s right,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that now, of course.”

“Well, if you are Jesus, that’s obviously a big story,” I told him. “But see, we’ve got a problem. We’ve got to convince my editors. We can’t just write a story saying that you’re Jesus. We need proof. Now, the Bible says there will be signs and wonders to accompany the return of Christ. Got any of that?”

No, he said. He couldn’t really prove he was Jesus.

“OK, as Jesus Christ, what is it you’re here to do? Anything in particular?”

“Judge the world,” he said, shifting a bit in his chair. As he did, I realized there was some kind of bulge under his jacket near the left armpit, and what had been a mild situation suddenly felt threatening.

Was it a gun? I couldn’t tell. But now, in addition to my obligations to this man, I had other obligations, namely protecting my co-workers — two receptionists were behind the desk nearby, and other people were walking casually through the lobby — and myself.

I gauged the distance between my left hand and the flowerpot on the table between us. I gauged the angle. And I resolved that if his right hand so much as twitched toward his jacket, I was going to smash that flowerpot against his temple as hard as I could.

“Judge the world,” I repeated. “And how are you going to do that?” He looked confused, so I added, “I mean, are you going to judge the world collectively or individually? Everybody at once or one person at a time?”

“Oh, one person at a time,” he said. “That seems fairest.”

“Well, won’t that take a long time?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But I’ve got a long time.”

Whom would he start with? He wasn’t sure. When would he start? He wasn’t sure about that either.

We talked about 10 minutes more, and I kept steering the conversation back to the point that unless we had some kind of objective proof that he was Jesus, the News & Record wouldn’t be doing a story about him. He wasn’t terribly unhappy about that, but he wasn’t taking the hint, either, and there still was no security guard.

Finally, I mentioned that I might entertain the notion of his writing a guest column for the Religion page. That prospect brightened him a bit, and he agreed to consider it. We stood up and shook hands, and he walked out the front door.

No reporter stays long in this business without hearing — usually by mail — from someone claiming to be Jesus. And after almost every one of these contacts, I have speculated upon the exact manner in which Jesus might choose to make himself known if he were to return today. (In my more disgruntled moments, I even draw up an agenda for him.)

The Book of Revelation foretells the manner of Christ’s return, and its account bears little resemblance to the manner of my black-clad visitor. It certainly doesn’t suggest that he might come back as a rough-hewn man of the street with a simple, powerful and disturbing message.

But then, that’s pretty much how he came the first time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:00 pm

Still a few bugs in the system

Filed under: Fun,Geek-related issues — Lex @ 9:00 pm
Tags: , ,

A number of local folks, including the editor of the N&R himself, have written lately about the problems the N&R is having with its new website.

Well, just moments ago, I found, and got a screen shot of, evidence that bad things can happen to anyone:

GoogleInvestorRelations

The outage, if such it was, lasted only a couple of minutes, but it was quite real. I hope this makes everyone feel better.

Two quick thoughts on Aaron Swartz: Lambert Strether’s and mine

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Strether, via Rick Perlstein at The Nation:  “Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz’s [sic] of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal. If Swartz had been Wall Street’s youngest investment banker, he would be alive today.”

Mine: A nation that cannot find places for its Aaron Swartzes is a nation in decline. A nation that persecutes its Aaron Swartzes has turned its face from God and deserves whatever disaster befalls it.

(More on  Swartz by Strether here and here; by Lawrence Lessig here.)

Charlie Pierce, as he so often does, catches the big picture here: Criminal prosecution is the primary means by which powerful government and business interests combine to quash uprising, even of the intellectual variety. Viewed in that sense, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz (for whose removal you can sign a petition here) didn’t screw up and neither did the criminal-justice system. No, they did exactly what they were supposed to do, even though, by any sane measure, ther only two legitimate targets left in this country for the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act are the Roman Catholic Church and Goldman Sachs.

And if even half the wingnuts screaming that the government is coming for all their guns realized that this is the real way the government is coming after them, we’d have fewer mass shootings in particular and a safer, saner country in general.

Thursday, January 10, 2013 7:56 pm

Quote of the Day

From Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog:

… we think we live in a democracy, but mostly we just watch the rich fight. We just get lucky when a few of them fight on our side.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 9:26 pm

What the next generation of maps is telling us that we don’t want to hear

As I think I’ve mentioned a time or three, I’m a map geek. Old, new, paper, digital, real, fictional, silent or talkative, I love ‘em. (I do mute the talkative ones sometimes, but still.)

So I was tickled that James Fallows at The Atlantic did a Q&A with Michael Jones of Google, one of the people who helped create Google Earth (now installed on a billion computers worldwide). And he talked about how mapping apps on smartphones are becoming even more personal because they can use info the phone already has gathered about your locations, likes, and so on to craft maps that not only show how to get from here to there but also tell you potentially interesting things about some of the places you’ll pass along the way, or the places around where you are right now. (One manifestation is Google’s new Android app, Field Trip, coming soon for iOS as well.

Then Fallows asks what I think is both a creative and perceptive question. He points out that some of the first photos of the Earth from space, such as the iconic Christmas Eve 1968 photo shot by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, “created a different kind of environmental consciousness.” (The American nature photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” I was in the third grade at the time, and even now I can recall what that “different kind of environmental consciousness” meant: We — all of us — share one single planet, a planet that amounts to a speck in the vastness of space, and it’s the only planet we’re going to get. I think the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other developments, are attributable in significant part to that photo.)

Could the current mapping revolution, Fallows asks Jones, have the same effect? Jones’s answer was both hopeful and heartbreaking:

My father is in his 80s. He wanted to know more about what I do, so I recently showed him Google’s underwater Street View. [This is an aspect of Google Earth that shows reefs, seamounts, and other underwater features in the oceans.] We dove in the water and we were basically swimming along. We stopped and zoomed in, looked at turtles, looked at fish. We went down under a big reef and we could see a tunnel in there, and there were fish resting in the tunnel.

After a while he said, “Son, this is so beautiful.” He’s never been scuba diving, but he said, “This is so beautiful. I just can’t believe how beautiful this is.” And I said, “Well, Dad, we chose beautiful places because most of the corals near islands around the world are already dead. They look like old concrete. No fish, just dead.”

He almost cried. He stared at me with a “What has the world come to?” kind of look, and we talked for a while about that. And so he was brought to an awareness of the grotesque damage that’s happening worldwide due to the ocean acidification that follows from the externalities of the way we live as a human race right now. It was powerful for him because he could personally experience the ocean in a way that, with his mobility challenges, he’s never going to see by scuba diving. Yet he felt what people who have experienced the sea know to be true and care about.

I believe that only this kind of understanding leads to activism, whether it’s a passive activism of a vote or an active activism of changing your lifestyle to protect the world.

The problem is that although this kind of activism is, as Jones observes, necessary, it is not sufficient. At current prices, there is something like $27 trillion worth of combustible carbon — coal, oil, gas and fuel wood — still in the ground. The industries that extract those resources will not willingly relinquish the opportunity to do so, and they have largely achieved a stranglehold on any other force that could force them to do so.

The way we live is killing the only planet we’ve got. The process has been proceeding even faster than we thought, so fast that my children, now adolescents, may well live to see global disruption and human suffering on a scale worse than that of World War II, with no country, no matter how geographically isolated or politically nonaligned, left unaffected.

No map, no matter how cool, is going to stop that. In fact, I don’t know that anything will.

President tells truth, Senate Republicans only CLAIM he’s giving then hell.

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 4:15 am
Tags: , , ,

image

Senate Republicans have been misbehaving, the president finally calls them out on it, and what do they do? They whine. Pardon me while I refuse to give a damn.

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