Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Can Fly!

My own personal boycott of the airline industry appears to have worked.  Those nasty, useless and costly naked-image scanners are a thing of the past -- at least for now.

The company, which Stephen Colbert has noted is coincidentally called Rapiscan, could not come up with less revealing software in the time Congress had allotted.  Hysterically, the company denies that the contract was cancelled due to a TSA probe of whether the company had faked testing data.  For that matter, they deny that the scanners were dangerous or invasive.  But they did make buckets of money.

And according to the TSA, these radioactive strip-searches were effective, because they "did their job of screening 130 million passengers."  I suppose that would be an accurate assessment, that is if your goal is to screen a lot of passengers.  My impression was the goal was to find terrorists, which by the way they did not.

Meanwhile, back at the airport, if you are willing to give lots of personal information to the Precheck Program, the TSA will let you go through lines faster, like without having to remove your belts and shoes.  Well worth the trade-off, I think, especially if you are a terrorist who doesn't mind telling a lie or two about your personal life to be able to get comfortable before the flight.

And, since I haven't been inside an airport in a couple of years except to pick up a loved one with no sense of personal dignity or willingness to make sacrifices for our freedom, I can only assume nothing else much has changed.

The airlines still have fewer people at check-in because automation may not be safer, but it's certainly cheaper.

Luggage is still going to get carried on and jammed in small spaces at everyone's inconvenience because the airlines need that $25 per bag.  And then, because the planes keep getting smaller, they will let people check bags at boarding, screwing the people who were honest and sensible enough to pay $25 to store their bag in the first place.

And, I know this makes no sense, but it takes lots more stops to get just about anywhere, and longer to get off those teensy-tiny planes as everyone has to wait for the people in front of them to pull those big bags out of those overhead compartments, so it's far more likely that connections will be missed.  But if you're willing to pay full fare, you're likely to get one of those seats that someone is running to catch, because airlines are able to sell a ticket that's already paid for, even if they know the connecting flight has just landed.

And now I'm feeling a bit more pissed off, and the sound of that damned TSA announcement that repeats itself every three minutes is really getting to me, and I'm trying to find someone from the airline that can tell me why my flight isn't being posted anymore, even though it's scheduled to depart in 15 minutes, and...

Well, I'm glad my boycott worked, but I think I'll wait a bit before I book my next flight.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Identifying the Killers

Let's not talk about the stupid stuff, like how Martin Luther King, Jr., would have promoted the freedom to carry guns, and black people would not have been slaves had they had guns.  Or dumb as a hammer Louis Gohmert's contention that more people are murdered by hammers than guns, so if anything gets outlawed it should be hammers.  And let's not visit Wayne LaPierre's fictional neighborhood, where the only defense against bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.

Instead, let's talk about how to identify shooters and keep the guns out of their hands.

Can't be done.

For example, in the most horrific instance of gun violence where twenty six-year-old children were killed, the shooter did not own the guns.  The assault weapons belonged to his mother, who was presumably sane and had not ever assaulted another person.  Had the guns been outlawed, she would not have had them.

Training sights on the mentally ill rather than the ability to obtain assault weapons will not lead to less gun violence.  In fact, our ability to identify those with homicidal tendencies is just plain awful.  The better the psychopath, as with Columbine killer Eric Harris, the better they are at masking their ideation.

The craziest looking people will not ever attempt to assault another human being, although their language may lead us to believe they are dangerous.

And all too often, the most dangerous people are untouchable, with special interest groups like the NRA protecting their right to bear arms.

If we were to attempt to keep guns away from those who appear the most dangerous, this guy would be number one on my list:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When Born Children Are Dying

The pompous idiots at our SC State Legislature have been going at it with gusto again this year.  Liston Barfield of Horry County has introduced H 3324, which would create a commission to study the creation of an "unborn children's monument."  We might consider this an adjunct to the ever popular H3323, Barfield's House version (same as the Senate version) of the Personhood Amendment.

Before we get all paranoid about the expansion of the right-wing-nut arm of the Christian movement, let me explain that these dudes have been offering these amendments every year for some time now.  In fact, in 2009, our own Wendell Gilliard cosponsored the monument bill.  Let's all hope that he has matured and understands the difference between right-wing-nut "freedom" and democratic "freedom."

The personhood bill would guarantee the right to life for all born and "preborn" human beings.  Unlike a "preowned" used car, a "preborn" human being is a fetus without any miles on it.  Basically, it's a ridiculous made up word to try to justify the belief that life is the same before birth as after birth.  Be aware that the only thing this bill promises is the right to life.  Not health care, not a roof over a woman's head while the fetus is growing, not a nutritious diet.  Just "life."

The Post and Courier headline yesterday tells us that in Greater Charleston black infants died at a much higher rate than white infants in 2011, which researchers attribute to poverty and other sociological factors.  The article talks about the number of children that die before their first birthday.  For the state, there are approximately 8 deaths per 1,000 infants under one year of age.

Isn't it appalling that Barfield and the other idiots who brag on their Christianity are wasting so much of their positions of responsibility working to shame women who choose not to bear a child, rather than improve and maybe increase the chances of life among those babies who have been born?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pomp and Chauvinism

Okay, I admit that I got teary watching the Inauguration.  And the Battle Hymn is one hell of a song and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir gave me the chills.

Now allow me to revert back to my true nature.

I was more aware than ever today of how our country drips in the words of Christianity.  Which leaves me, a non-Christian, unimpressed with the rhetoric that pretends to include the rest of us.

I do not take the Pledge of Allegiance.  Have not done so for I don't know how many decades.  I do not take pledges.

I am proud of the fact that I live in a country where, despite what some think, we are not forced to pledge allegiance to the flag.

Our greatest goods and our greatest evils come from the kind of chauvinism that occurs when people pledge to God and country.  We need to unite to perform the greatest good,  but these days, some of the groups that are most united do so in the name of power and greed for the purpose of coercion.

The National Rifle Association will have us all armed presumably to protect ourselves and our property, but in reality to increase profits and corporate power.

Anti-abortion groups have taken the great feminist Susan B. Anthony and sullied her name by forcing their cause on her. Where irony knows no bounds, the narcissistic Paul Ryan who has again co-sponsored the ever-so-ironic "sanctity of human life act" will be keynote speaker for the anti-abortion group which I just learned is called the "Susan B. Anthony List."

In the name of corporate freedom, governors and legislators from states like ours are joining forces with groups like ALEC to make certain that our workers will always work cheap, our taxes will be too low to provide good education and health care to its citizens, and the wealthy will continue to be in charge.

And every one of the people who are responsible for the damage done by their work takes the Pledge of Allegiance, proudly, publicly, and as often as the cameras will allow.

It's good that today we are inaugurating a president who fights for the people of this country.  I am cynical (of course) about just how strong his allegiances are to the 98 percent vs. Wall Street and PhRMA, ExxonMobil, and the others of great wealth and privilege.  I wonder if he has further entrenched the spy and war machines into our lives in the name of security rather than take the riskier path of fighting for our individual freedoms while working to keep us safe.

And yet he has fought for equal rights and equal opportunity in a way we had not seen for eight years.  So for that, when he was sworn in today, I was proud and yes, even shed a tear at the pomp and pageantry, though not the chauvinism.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Our legislature here in South Carolina can't get those personhood bills out fast enough.  They don't much give a damn what happens when a baby gets born, but they stay up nights wondering how they can make a woman keep that fetus under their control for as long as it takes.  And then once that woman has an actual baby, they won't have to worry about keeping her under their control.  All they have to do is make sure she is totally, 100% on her own.

I wish these "personhood" schemes were actually funny.  But they come from unbalanced minds that believe that the word "freedom" means they get to control others, and the word "religion" means theirs.  As with the gun "debate," there really is no debate.  The people who believe in life at conception to the point where they obsess over making laws about it are not willing to share ideas.  Nor are they ever going to share a penny to be sure that a pregnant woman has health care and a healthy diet.

Take, for example, Liston Barfield, who proudly sponsored H 3323, companion to the Senate bill S 83.  To look at his background, you would not come away thinking the man had a whole lot of understanding of biology, but he does know his own religion and he does know how to network.  In fact, he happens to be Secretary on the Board of Directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

If you are wondering where you have heard of ALEC, this is the powerful corporate lobbying group that has its dirty fingerprints not only all over state and federal bills, but all over our politicians.  ALEC works for folks like the Koch brothers, ExxonMobile, and PhRMA, to make sure  that bills get written just the way they like them.

If this sounds like a strange alliance for someone who is concerned with "personhood," it all comes under the heading of power and hypocrisy.

I'd like to be able to at least leave you with a chuckle.  The "word" "preborn" should crack me up the way I used to enjoy the invented word "preowned" when car dealers started substituting it for "used."  Except that "preowned" became an actual part of the vocabulary, and damned if I know what people think it means.  I fear that "preborn" is just about to become another one of those invented words that scare and confuse people.

As distasteful as this whole thing is, though, I believe we need to know about all the corrupt legislators that keep our minds off our pocketbooks by keeping them focused on a woman's vagina.  So maybe I started with "personhood" and ended up with ALEC.  The fact that the whole way our government works is so convoluted is why it doesn't work for us at all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Too Much Moderation

Over the past weeks since the killing of twenty children in Newtown, I have heard crazy people demand and threaten over their right to bear arms.  Talk show host Alex Jones yelled, "1776 will commence again."  While he was raging against attempts to legislate his right to bear arms, he was also organizing a petition to have Piers Morgan deported because he spoke in favor of strict gun control laws.  So apparently freedom to carry weapons trumps freedom of speech.  Unless it's the guy with the guns who's speaking.

Wayne LaPierre, NRA crazy man with the inoffensive name, will brook absolutely no compromise, under any circumstance.  Rather, he proposes armed guards and watch lists of the mentally ill, whose freedom also appears not to matter.  If you drive a car you need a driver's license, but it is an act against freedom to require a gun owner to be licensed and on record.

According to a blistering Daily Show report, in 2007 Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt declared that we don't need any more protection from guns because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was on it 24/7.  That's the Todd Tiahrt who rammed through measures preventing ATF from monitoring or enforcing gun laws.  Oh, and the bill had the stamp of approval from the NRA.

While the anti-gun-control nuts are writhing and screeching, the parents of the murdered children are "urging" discussions about gun safety.

This may seem to be deja vu all over again, what with the right-wing-nuts driving the health care debate, making truly sensible, affordable health care impossible in this country.

And it would be hard not to point out that the side that is screaming about losing the freedom to carry a gun any-damn-where it wants is pretty often the side that feels the need to protect a women's fertilized egg from the women carrying it.

My point is that it is disheartening that the two most powerful components of the gun debate are the monied and the crazy.  With the NRA -- the lobby of the arms industry -- fueling the paranoid, it becomes ever harder for the reasoned and moderate voices to weigh in.  Leaving us with inadequate legislation and enforcement, and more deaths ready to be toted up. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ducks in a Row and Ready to Fire

We are hearing a lot about Vice President Biden's gun control task force, and the President is sounding tough.  But the actual fact is that the crazies are still in charge.  That means the NRA and Congress, with hyped up gun and conspiracy fanatics cheering them on.

Because the wise voters of states like South Carolina have continued the tradition of voting against their own interests, we are stuck once more with a House of Representatives that represents fiscal policies that promise to stop the government.  But on the law and order side, our literal gun-toting House members are determined to continue the fight against women and gun control.  So our VP's plans are more to do with how to do battle with hands tied than about the dramatic changes that need to be legislated.

And don't worry about South Carolina; we continue to be in the forefront of the backwards.  S 85 is the Firearms Freedom Act, and you won't be at all surprised to know that it's purpose is to do for gun control what the South Carolina Freedom of Health Care Implementation Act hopes to do for Obamacare -- kill it.

Basically, what S 85 proposes is that whatever federal laws are enacted for gun control, we don't have to obey them.

As I paid more attention to the evil workings of the SC Legislature (and I am a newbie on this front), I had to wonder if the people who come up with these laws are really as smart as all that.  The answer is, are you kidding?  These creepy laws come from groups like ALEC -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- the right wing big corporation big money group that assists our legislators in drafting bills, just the way their members like them.

ALEC has gotten a bit of airtime thanks to people like Bill Moyers, but the fingerprints on the Firearms Freedom movement are those of The Tenth Amendment Center.  If you like to be scared to death, visit their web site.  And take a look at the progress they are making.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

When Guns Don't Help

Don't buy the nonsense that the NRA is selling.  There were good guys with guns in Tucson, because it was a government rally in which Representative Gabby Giffords was shot.

And that day, despite armed guards, a nine-year-old girl was murdered.

That happened on January 8, 2011.

We let the NRA pay off our legislators, and we allowed ourselves to forget.

Don't let that happen this time.

9-year-old Christina Green

Monday, January 7, 2013

Praying for Good Aim

As I sit on my porch, I hear the gunshots, every second or so, and I imagine that must be a semi-automatic.  If it's a hunter, he must be aiming for hens in a coop, because I can't imagine an animal standing still for a couple of hours waiting for one of those hundreds of shots to hit home.  I don't think there are that many hunters out here in this rural area anymore.  My guess is it's just folk who took advantage of the many gun sales over the holidays.  They like their target practice.

According to Bill Moyers, since twenty children were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, the arms business has been doing just fine thank you.  He also points out that the NRA has been recording its profits in contributions.  Because when children die, where better to put your hard-earned dollars than into the gun lobby.  I imagine those folks in the arms business have been partying like it's New Years Day every day, and spreading their cheer to the people in the NRA who have been opening up whole new markets for them.  After all, if you're going to arm every teacher, you're talking real money.

Now here on Wadmalaw, I am just glad I no longer have children living with me.  I'm not sure I would be comfortable having them playing out in the yard, or walking the path around the pond, with our neighborhood target shooters.

I also figure that, tempting as it is, I won't be putting a pro-gun control bumper sticker on my car.  That would by a bit like setting antlers on my head and going for a walk in the woods.  So I'm feeling a little less free to speak these days.  Maybe it's because I'm only armed with words, while my neighbors have the deadly weapons.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

When It Gets Close to Home

I can get outraged over hearing that Arizona, always first in fearmongering, keeps trying to make more guns legal in more places, including schools, but when I heard that North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey had plans to put police in all the city's elementary schools, I realized that it was not just about guns.

Here in South Carolina we love our guns.  I'm hearing now that banning semi-automatics would cause harm to hunters. I imagine before semi-automatics all those deer and wild turkeys just about thumbed their noses at their stalkers.  And when it comes to our government spending money on its citizens, you can forget about it unless we're talking weaponry.

Because this is the situation:

We have schools where we are unwilling to spend tax dollars to improve curricula, to pay teachers a living wage, to repair buildings.  We have a state that cuts services to residents and cuts taxes to the point where its public employees are unable to earn a living wage and care for their families.  We are at the top of the list of states for unemployment, teen pregnancies, school dropouts.  We gift corporations with tax breaks and cut mental health services to the bone.  Parents work two jobs, fearsome hours, and still struggle to make ends meet, while often unavailable for their children.

Yet our leaders jump at the chance of arming our schools.  Guns is good.  Cost is no problem.

The priorities of our leaders here in South Carolina have led us to where tax dollars go to prisons over schools, and now to school patrols rather than education.

Our elected officials value their weapons over our children, and their futures will reflect that in increased fear and danger.

If you haven't ever lived a life where you felt secure, it's harder to believe in yourself, to take risks, to go out into the world and live a happy, successful life.

And here in South Carolina we're not going to pay for a good school in a safe community where parents are confident they can take care of their children.

But we will pay our police to patrol the halls of your children's schools.

Friday, January 4, 2013

What He Said

While I was taking a much needed break from writing about the tragedy of gun deaths and the comedy of Congress, Douglas Anthony Cooper wrote a much better article than I was planning on writing about the NRA and mental health.

As you know, it took the great minds at the NRA only one week of seclusion to come up with a plan to make gravy out of the blood from the shooting of children in Newtown.  As I write that last sentence I feel dirty, but I am truly trying to reflect what is going on in the evil bastion that is the NRA.

Anyway, what they came up with is a two-pronged approach to the problem of innocents getting murdered by guns:  more guns, and target the mentally ill.

Lest they sound callous, and NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre did indeed take that tone in his first crawling out from under the rock speech one week after the shooting, the NRA wants us to believe that they are simply speaking out of concern for future victims of gun violence.  How can you not agree with the catchy, "...only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  Took him a week to come up with that, it did.

This whole focus on the mentally ill seemed to me such an apparent diversionary technique that I was put off whenever some panel on MSNBC started to talk about the mentally ill. Nice to know that there is a term for this, as per Cooper:

Trolling has become subtle, and one of the more elegant methods of subverting debate is "concern trolling." This is where you pretend to be deeply concerned about something that concerns you not in the slightest, so that you can undermine the conversation, derail it, and ultimately destroy it.

In my past life as a psychologist in a Long Island High School, I worked with a staff that was extremely tuned in to the students, and students who very much trusted the teaching and guidance staff.  So, over three years, I met with the most depressed, anxious, troubled students in the school.  There are some things you need to understand about mental illness:

1.  It is a really obscene catch-all phrase, that actually means nothing.

2.  Most of us, even in 2013, are unnerved by the thought that someone may be "mentally ill" and will do anything possible to avoid admitting that someone they know has a "mental illness."

3.  Especially when it's themselves.

Here's something that that idiot LaPierre may not know:  the more disturbed a person is, the less likely they are to be willing to seek help, the more difficult it is to be helped, and the fewer resources are available.  It also affects the way people will treat you, and your ability to live a productive life, even if you are capable of being totally functional and productive.

There's another part of this "mentally ill" issue.  Those who are depressed, psychotic, anxious, while they may be the ones who might seek help, or be referred for help, are in fact not the ones who are most likely to plot and follow through a massacre.

As Dave Cullen described in his really well-researched book about the Columbine shooting, the actual brains behind the massacre was a psychopath.  Psychopaths don't get better. They are very likely to be well disguised from authorities, and when caught, can seem to respond to treatment, while merely learning how to play the game.  Cullen describes how, when the pair who would commit the shooting were caught in a theft and referred to a treatment program, it was the depressed boy who was deemed to have benefited less from the therapy, while the psychopathic partner played the therapist and was touted as a stunning success.

The book The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, is a fascinating look at attempts to identify and treat psychopaths, with a focus on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist devised by Dr. Robert Hare, who is mentioned in the Cooper article.  Interestingly, a psychopath is more likely to make a killing at Goldman-Sachs than with a semi-automatic.  Or head up the NRA.

So what does all this mean?  It means that we can let Wayne LaPierre lead us around with promises to teach teachers how to use guns in order to be safe, and lull us into believing that all we need to do is find the mentally ill and we won't have a gun problem.  Or we can recognize the reality that identifying and treating the mentally ill will never be something that will be easy or inexpensive, and even though we should  be doing it, it will not solve the problem of gun violence.

The most effective way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of guns -- and to remove assault weapons from circulation altogether.