Saturday, August 30, 2008

Best Gun Scenes

It occurs to me that someone who professes to be against guns shouldn't like them so much in movies. But I do. It makes me wonder what does it mean. Am I enjoying some sort of forbidden fruit without getting my hands dirty? Am I acting out some fantasy life of violence, enjoying it vicariously? Whatever it is, here are some of my favorites:

Butch is too cool.

From Reservoir Dogs, complete with the analysis of who shot whom.

"AK-47, the very best they is"

I don't think I'm the only one. Millions of us who strive to eschew violence in our personal lives love the movies of Quentin Tarantino. Why do you think that is? Do you think movies like this contribute to the crime problem? They certainly glamorize the criminal and violent lifestyle, but does that seep into the society itself? Does life imitate art in this case?

McCain's Girl

A lot of people were surprised at John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate. CNN Reports that the Alaska governor was not really on anyone's radar screen.

"She's got the grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today," McCain said.

One of the obvious advantages to this choice is that the Republicans might pick up some of those Hillary Clinton supporters who, supposedly quite numerous, were not placated by Hillary's overtures to vote for Obama. But could those women actually bring themselves to vote for a staunchly pro-life ticket?

Gov. Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade.

It's certainly going to be interesting.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Arming the Teachers, That's the Answer (part II)

Today the New York Times reports on the situation in Harrold Texas. As we discussed before, teachers in the north-Texas town are encouraged to carry concealed weapons to class at the local high school. The driving force behind the program is David Thweatt, school superintendent.

The school board in this impoverished rural hamlet in North Texas has drawn national attention with its decision to let some teachers carry concealed weapons, a track no other school in the country has followed. The idea is to ward off a massacre along the lines of what happened at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Even in Texas, with its tradition of lenient gun laws and frontier justice, the idea of teachers’ taking guns to class has rattled some people and sparked a fiery debate.

“I’m not exactly paranoid,” Mr. Thweatt said. “I like to consider myself prepared.”

Some residents and parents, however, think Mr. Thweatt may be overstating the threat. Many say they rarely lock their doors, much less worry about random drifters with pistols running amok at the school. Longtime residents were hard-pressed to recall a single violent incident there.

The title of this post is slightly facetious. "Arming the teachers" is not what the school board is doing. (Thanks Nomen for pointing that out.) What they're doing is giving teachers who are already licensed to carry weapons permission to do so. There are even additional requirements placed upon them, special anti-ricocheting ammunition, special training by a private security company.

The point is that permitting the teachers to be armed, regardless of the probability of an attack, is sending the wrong message. It may work in the short run, but long term it will move us backwards to a time in our history when violence and lawlessness was the order of the day. It brings to mind visions of the old West in cowboy movies we all grew up with. Wasn't the answer to that chaotic period to introduce laws and law enforcement? Wasn't it to encourage education and cooperation? Wasn't it to move away from this very thing, everybody being armed and at the ready for a gunfight? Why would we want to move backwards towards the type of society we struggled to outgrow 150 years ago?

I'm wondering if it really is a macho thing. Anyone who's ever handled a gun, and liked it, can understand that there's a tremendously exhilarating sense of power involved. I say it's wrong to play with that power, to bring it into our daily lives. That's what we have law enforcement people for. We should keep the guns for hunting and target shooting and collecting, if that's what you like. But, bringing them into our everyday lives is only going to exacerbate the crime problem in the long run.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rest in Peace Del Martin

The sad news is reported today that lesbian activist Del Martin, at the forefront of the battle for same-sex marriage in California, died Wednesday in San Francisco. She was 87.

Martin's partner of 55 years, Phyllis Lyon, was by her side at the UCSF hospice, the National Center for Lesbian Rights said.

Martin and Lyon, 84, tied the knot June 16 in a ceremony officiated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

These are courageous people who have struggled to overcome prejudice and misunderstanding. But more importantly, these are people, like George Takei, who have demonstrated the ability to maintain a committed relationship for decades, in the case of Phyllis and Del, for half a century. For me, that's worthy of respect and admiration.

Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion.

Death for Duncan

CNN reports on the sentencing to death of Joseph Edward Duncan III.

I wrote about this before, expressing my sincere condolences to the family of the victims.

Duncan showed no reaction other than smiling as the verdict was passed to the judge.

He took Dylan and the boy's then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, to a remote western Montana campsite where he raped, tortured and threatened them before shooting Dylan in the head and burning his body. Jurors viewed horrifying video Duncan made of him sexually abusing, torturing and hanging Dylan until the boy lost consciousness.

I guess everybody is so outraged at what he did that open-minded discussion about capital punishment is out of the question. I can only repeat what I said before: what I can't accept is the government doing it and dressing it up as something justified and wholesome and legal.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democratic National Convention

I wasn't going to write about this. God knows there's been enough written over the last few days, much of it by true experts. But after finally watching the speeches last night I couldn't resist. If you haven't seen them or would like another listen, please go ahead, courtesy of the New York Times. Kudos to them, by the way, for providing the extremely user-friendly videos and scrolling transcripts.

My impression was that Michelle started out a bit overboard with the family bit, but as the speech went on I became hypnotized by her beauty and poise and credibility. It was while watching her interview with Larry King some months ago that it became clear in my mind that I support Obama for president. She will be the best First Lady since Jackie Kennedy.

Michelle Obama's Speech at the Democratic National Convention

I usually don't find Hillary completely believable. Something in her inflections reminds me of fingernails on a blackboard. Nevertheless, she made a good powerful speech. If there was any envy or bitterness in her mind, it didn't show at all on her face. She was absolutely glowing.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's Speech at the Democratic National Convention

It's impossible for me to see Ted Kennedy without thinking of the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne. I was a teenager at the time. Younger people probably think there was a massive cover-up and the powerful Kennedys blocked due process from taking place. That may be true to some extent, but the fact that in my recollection, the name Kopechne is inseparable from that of the senior senator's, says something. Hers became a household name just like his. I always ask myself, when Ted Kennedy makes public appearances, if all the others have forgotten about the incident. Then I wonder if it really was just a tragic accident; the fact that he hasn't done it again in 40 years must mean something. Isn't that the hallmark of a true criminal: repeat offences? The whole business partially poisons me to anything good he might have to say, such as in this speech supporting Obama. My friend Weer'd Beard certainly doesn't pull any punches.

Edward M. Kennedy's Speech at the Democratic National Convention

While watching these three speeches, I wondered if there might not have been millions of fence-sitters won over by the Convention coverage. I think Michelle Obama could do that.

But, why am I beating around the bush. What I'm really saying is might there not have been millions of WHITE fence-sitters won over by the Convention coverage. That is the real issue, in my opinion, but in these days on political correctness it cannot be spoken. Can the average middle-American white guy or gal really bring themselves to vote for a black man? I have a nightmare vision that on election day, those millions will go to the polls intent on voting for "change," but in the critical moment their hands will waver and they'll end up voting for McCain in an almost involuntary gesture of inertia and fear.

The Gun Lobby Will Go to Any Length

On the site Mother Jones, there's a fascinating article entitled “There’s something about Mary: Unmasking a gun lobby mole,” which was published on July 30, 2008. The authors James Ridgeway, Daniel Schulman, and David Corn have put the spotlight on the "industrial espionage" that goes on between powerful lobbying groups and their antagonists, in this case the NRA and the Brady Campaign. It seems, Mary Sapone is nothing less than a bona fide undercover agent for the gun lobby.

Using her maiden name, McFate, Sapone began posing as a gun control activist in the mid-1990s. Bryan Miller, the executive director of Ceasefire New Jersey, a grassroots gun control group, recalls first meeting her in the summer of 1998. The NRA was holding its annual convention in downtown Philadelphia, and the event drew the usual bevy of protesters. Among them was a middle-aged woman then living in Pennsylvania who made a point of introducing herself to Miller. In the following years, Miller would remember this encounter well, as he watched McFate rise from a street protester to a figure known nationally within his movement.

During Sapone's ascent through the ranks of the gun control movement, she worked for the NRA, according to a business associate.

On the Brady Campaign site a challenge of sorts is proffered in an article called, "The NRA's Dirty Tricks Revealed."

Brady President Paul Helmke wrote in his blog "When the National Rifle Association asks its members for their next contribution, they might want to disclose how much of that money will be spent to spy on gun violence victims and their families."

What occurs to me is another challenge to the pro-gun folks. Let's find a way to reduce the gun violence in America to the point that the gun-control people will get off your back. Instead of encouraging the "us against them" mentality, lets work together to get the guns away from the criminals. Some of you guys are too defensive about your "right to bear arms." The moment we start talking, you think we want to take your guns away. I don't.

Can we all agree there are too many guns in the hands of criminals? From there we can discuss what's to be done.

Arming the Teachers, That's the Answer

The question is, according to Harrold Texas School Superintendent David Thweatt, what are the best school security options. CNN reports on the situation.

...the board approved the policy in an October open meeting that had been publicized. He said the decision was made after nearly two years of researching the best school security options at the school, which is just off a busy highway and 30 minutes away from the sheriff's office.

"When you outlaw guns in a certain area, the only people who follow that are law-abiding citizens, and everybody else ignores it," Thweatt said.

I'm still not convinced by this argument. We've discussed it before. I understand the logic behind it, but somehow it doesn't quite work for me. What's worse is, in this particular statement, which probably fairly reflects the majority, Mr. Thweatt says "everybody else ignores it." Now, I can't believe that. In places where the law says "no guns" the good guys obey and ALL the bad guys don't. No, that must be an exaggeration. I would imagine in these places, schools, hospitals, businesses in Texas that post signs that guns are prohibited, some criminals comply, for one reason or another. I imagine further that more would comply if we cut accessibility to guns in half.

On the other hand, I can't help but agree with the unspoken message in that exaggerated statement by the Superintendent. When the good guys are armed and the bad guys know it, the bad guys are going to behave themselves. That makes sense to me, but do we really need to go that route, and do we really want to. I agree with this:

"As far as I'm concerned, teachers were trained to educate my children -- not carry a gun. Even police officers need years of training in hostage situations," said Traci McKay, whose three children are among the 110 students in the red-brick Harrold school.

Limiting the availability of guns is the answer for me, or at least a big part of it. I don't see why we can't all agree on that, as at least a partial solution, and work towards it, pro-gun folks and the rest of us. Working towards this goal need not diminish anyone's rights to own guns legally. I'm talking about the seemingly endless supply of guns available to criminals and psychopaths. Perhaps stricter controls at the manufacturing level are required. Perhaps stricter controls at the retail level would help. I don't know, but somehow, this is what we need to accomplish.

The other part of the answer is in the education and nurturing of our young people. They've got to get the message that violence is not the answer to every problem. Arming their teachers isn't going to help them learn that. The school in this case is "30 minutes away from the sheriff's office," just like a million other schools. Eventually should we arm all their teachers too? Wouldn't that exacerbate the problem?

Please let us hear your opinion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Best Olympics Ever

Sports Illustrated has a wonderful slide show of the closing ceremony. In many respects it was the best Olympic Games ever. From the world records set to the smooth organization to the sheer spectacle of the opening and closing ceremonies. But what are we to think about the quashing of protesters? Wasn't China a bit heavy handed in dealing with things like that? The absense of even a hint of trouble was proof enough. One can imagine what went on behind the scenes. One of the stories that did surface was this one on CNN. A small group of Americans unfurled a "Free Tibet" banner. The demonstration didn't last long.

Chinese law allows police to hold foreign nationals in jail for up to two weeks before pressing formal charges, but most other foreign protesters that China detained were held for only a few hours before authorities deported them.

Nick Snyder, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was naturally asked to comment on this delicate situation. Mr. Snyder of course, comes from the country which produced the Patriot Act and legalized wire-tapping of its citizens. This is the same country which is considering granting the FBI much more power, to "allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion." That's from the NY Times, via our commenter Thomas. How Mr. Snyder was able to make the following statement with a straight face is beyond me, but I guess he takes his cue from his superiors in the State Department.

"We urge China to take positive steps to address international and domestic concerns about its record on human rights and religious freedom," Snyder said.

Please feel free to share your opinion with us by leaving a comment.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bartering for Sex

CNN reports on the fairly widespread phenomenon of bartering sex for something desired.

A recent study of 475 University of Michigan undergraduates ages 17 to 26 found that 27 percent of the men and 14 percent of the women who weren't in a committed relationship had offered someone favors or gifts -- help prepping for a test, laundry washing, tickets to a college football game -- in exchange for sex. On the flip side, 5 percent of the men surveyed and 9 percent of the women said they'd attempted to trade sex for such freebies.

Now, I realize these types of statistics are the least valuable. In fact, I'm not so sure that description above even makes sense. Nevertheless, it strikes me as credible enough. Do you think it's a sign of age that I shake my head at this and ask what's the world coming to? In these stats, 27% of men and 14% of women have actually done this. Is it the advertising that for decades has been using sex to sell? Is it rock and roll music and MTV? What is it?

Tell us your opinion? Feel free to link this question to the other threads, like, would you trade sex for a gun? Are college kids doing this because they never learned about evolution in high school? Or for you more conservative commenters, should this behavior be severely punished? Is it tantamount to prostitution?

Evolution vs. Creationism

The NY Times has a wonderful story about the difficulty a Biology teacher in Jacksonville FL is having trying to educate his students about evolution. It seems that it actually required the recent passing of legislation requiring evolution to be taught. Nevertheless, problems persist.

But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God’s individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith.

David Campbell is the courageous Biology teacher who is striving to overcome the prejudices of his students, many of whom come from fundamentalist Christian families who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The poor treatment of evolution in some state education standards may reflect the public’s widely held creationist beliefs. In Gallup polls over the last 25 years, nearly half of American adults have consistently said they believe God created all living things in their present form, sometime in the last 10,000 years.

Even within the fundamentalist movement there is reason to hope that reason and common sense will prevail. Last year interviewed Rev. Michael Dowd, former evangelical minister who now works as an itinerant evolution apologist. Rev. Dowd sums it up like this:

There's a difference between flat-earth faith and evolutionary faith. In flat-earth Christianity, the core insights -- sin, salvation, heaven and hell -- are understood in the same way as when people first formulated ideas. I still value the same concepts, but interpret them in a radically different way.

What's your opinion? Although I'm no expert on this business, I tend to think the United States probably cannot afford to impede the education of its young people. I'm hoping for improvement, encouraged by the example of Rev. Dowd.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

McCain vs. Obama/Biden

Thanks to Real Clear Politics for the stats below. It's certainly clear that Obama's lead has shrunk since a little over a month ago when I last published the RCP stats.

Election 2008
RCP National Average45.043.4Obama +1.6
Favorable Ratings+18.3+16.2Obama +2.1
Intrade Market Odds62.136.6-
Electoral CollegeObamaMcCainToss Ups
RCP Electoral Count228174136
No Toss Up States264274-
Battleground StatesObamaMcCainSpread
Ohio44.745.7McCain +1.0
Michigan46.042.0Obama +4.0
Minnesota47.543.0Obama +4.5
Colorado45.345.8McCain +0.5
Virginia45.746.3McCain +0.6
Florida44.847.4McCain +2.6

What I'm curious to see is what effect the selection of Joe Biden will have. Naturally the opinions of experts are mixed. Reid Wilson wrote a nice piece yesterday entitled, "Why Biden is the Perfect Pick."

Clearly, Biden's experience in Washington ensures that he cannot adopt the same outsider mantle Obama owns. But Obama's brand, like McCain's, is so strong on its own that it doesn't need to be augmented by further change. Instead, Obama had weaknesses and gaps to fill, and he chose a candidate who did just that.

CNN reports that in his first public appearance with Obama in Springfield, Senator Biden launched into an attack of McCain, a fairly predictable one I might add.

"John McCain ... served our country with extreme courage, and I know he wants to do right by America," he said of his Senate colleague and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. "But the harsh truth is loud and clear: You can't change America when you supported George Bush's policies 95 percent of the time."

He also seized on a McCain comment from this week when he could not remember how many houses he owns and said McCain was out of touch with the "kitchen-table" issues that working families face.

I'm hoping that the stats produced by Real Clear Politics do not indicate an inexorable slide in Obama's formidable lead. And if they do, that the naming of Senator Joe Biden will mark a rejuvenation of what has been so far a very impressive campaign.