Saturday, December 15, 2012

If the Shooting of Kids doesn't Cause Change, Nothing Will

This time it's much different. We've had mass shootings many times over the past few years and all of them were tragic. But this time most of the victims were innocent little kids - and a lot of them. This time something has to be done, and everybody knows what that something is.

There are those who say we have a culture of violence in this country and that is what contributes to these tragedies. I can't argue against that hypothesis because violence in video games, on TV, and certainly in rap music is ubiquitous. Who knows how much desensitizing the culture of violence has produced. But regardless of how much the culture of violence contributes, it couldn't contribute to any shootings if nobody had access to guns.

Some say it is because we have expelled God from our schools and if we only could bring prayer back into the classroom, the violence would surely stop. This hypothesis is irrational, naive and, frankly, incredibly stupid. For one thing, God has never been expelled, nor has prayer. Kids can pray all they want in school. So can teachers and administrators. The only thing they can't do is to organize a formal prayer in school and on school time. Secondly, I challenge anyone to provide me with any empirical evidence that prayer solves anything at all, other than perhaps making the believer feel better about himself or herself. It's a way to convince yourself that you're doing something without actually doing anything. Prayer is simply lazy. And if God could have prevented such tragedies but did not only because somebody didn't pray enough or pray from the right spot then what kind of evil god is he? No matter how much or little anyone prays in school, the only thing that would have prevented the shooting is if the perpetrator had no access to guns.

Some people say we need to stop stigmatizing the mentally ill so that they will find it easier to seek professional help. Maybe there are some people who are in denial about needing help, but is this what we're going to blame gun violence on? No matter how deluded or mentally challenged a person is, he is harmless to others if he doesn't have access to guns.

What we need to do is stop beating around the bush and place the blame squarely where it belongs. We have a gun culture and it is far too easy for almost anyone to get guns. Nobody needs a gun except the hunter who actually hunts to supply food for the table. If that is a lifestyle choice then maybe these people do need a shotgun or hunting rifle. But that's it. There is no reason whatsoever for anyone to own a handgun or any kind of automatic or semiautomatic weapon.

In my opinion, the Supreme Court misinterpreted the Second Amendment when it decided that states could not ban the purchase of guns. The phrase is clearly present for all to see: "...a well-regulated militia...." We no longer depend on a well-regulated militia to defend this country, and without that dependency, there is no necessity to own a gun. And if that's how SCOTUS is going to interpret it then what we really need to do is completely repeal the Second Amendment. We've repealed amendments before (the nineteenth, for example), so it is not without historical precedent. It needs to happen quickly and decisively.

I'm not naive enough to actually believe a repeal of the Second Amendment is at all likely. But it is what it will take, or something very close, to prevent mass shootings in the future.

Maybe we do have a culture of violence in this country, but without easy access to guns, a culture of violence kills no one. Maybe we should look more closely at helping those who are mentally ill to seek help. But without guns, the mentally ill can't shoot anybody can they? And without easy access to guns, those buffoons like Mike Huckabee would have less opportunity to spew their ridiculous notions about blaming lack of prayer in schools for all of society's ills.

Obama made it clear that something needs to be done, even if it is not politically expedient. I sincerely hope he has the guts to push for gun control legislation during his second term in office. Maybe he needs to draw a line in the sand now and make the midterm election a single-issue poll: Do Americans want uncontrolled gun access or do we want to grow up and decide that ownership of most types of guns is not necessary nor advisable.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If I Made the Laws

It's time for a little bit of fantasizing about a country that is guided by the laws that I would put into place and those that are in place now that I would repeal. Here we go....

1. In a land filled with my laws, no citizen would be allowed to own any hand gun or assault weapon of any kind. You could own rifles and shotguns meant for hunting. If you are a collector, you can get a collector's permit to own other kinds of guns but you cannot use them. The Second Amendment would be repealed.

2. Gays and lesbians would be allowed to marry with full benefits thereof.

3. Anyone could marry as many wives or husbands as they wish.

4. Marijuana would be legal to grow and purchase and it would be highly taxed and regulated.

5. All laws based purely on biblical morality would be repealed. This includes so-called blue laws that still exist in many states.

6. Prostitution would be legal and it would be taxed and regulated.

7. All churches and religious institutions would be taxed.

8. No public funds would be used to support a religious institution, including the use of vouchers to pay for private education at a church school.

9. No laws would be passed making it illegal to perform any activity that does not have a victim.

10. Finally, an overarching law would be passed that would make any activity legal except those that would infringe the rights of others, with the lone exception of gun ownership.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

If I were a TV News Producer

I get almost 100 percent of my news from two sources: Television and the Internet. But I am continually annoyed at some of the stuff they put on TV news these days - stuff that really isn't news at all. So sometimes I think I would make a much better news producer than the professionals they have in charge now.

Here is the way a decent local newscast should look:

The emphasis would be on positive stories about new things happening in town, such as what new businesses and restaurants are opening, if there are any new features being promoted by the city or state, and what activities are there that might be of interest to a large number of local residents.

Next most important topics would be breaking news (which, in some cases, might be the headline story, of course). But the emphasis here would be on merely reporting the facts of the story. If what is happening is visual, such as a fire or storm damage, then show a video of it. But I don't need to see a video of a reporter talking endlessly about what happened with shots of road signs or raindrops splashing in a puddle.

If a crime is involved I don't need to hear an interview with someone who is the next door neighbor of the suspect, telling us how unexpected it is to find out his neighbor's a criminal. I don't need to see a maudlin interview with a tearful victim; we all know the state of mind a tragedy can invoke. Simply stick to the facts of the story and move on.

A good local TV news program would have human interest stories that center on things that might affect a large number of viewers. I don't need to see any tearful reunions of a soldier coming home unexpectedly; that only affects his friends and family, not me. Instead, show stories about positive community events or people doing things that might affect the city as a whole or a large part of it.

I like to see stories about how new technology is being introduced or how people are using it. I would like to see more stories about science, nutrition, and health matters.

I also think that political news is important. However, one thing that both local and network news departments do is try to force a balance on both sides of an issue when there really is no balance. If Republicans are acting crazy, call them out on it and stop trying to present it as simply politics in general where both sides are doing the same thing. If Democrats are acting crazy, report it as such, but don't try to dig up something crazy about Democrats just because a Republican did something that is in-your-face crazy just for the sake of balanced reporting. Everybody understands the fact that the Republican Party these days includes a bat-shit-crazy element so there is no need to try to balance that out.

One example of this is the faux debate about the age of the earth. There is no debate. Instead, there are religious nuts and right-wing crazies who believe the world is a few thousand years old vs. the truth. Don't report it as "scientists say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old." Simply report it as "the earth is, indeed, 4.5 billion years old." Report factual news as factual. If there is a building burning it would not be reported as, "the fire department claims a building is burning." Show the same respect for scientific facts.

At the same time, however, if there is a single scientific study indicating something new or controversial, report it as such, not as a fact. A single study does not a fact make. Once the study has been peer reviewed and verified by other studies, then it can be reported as a valid theory or even as factual if enough evidence backs it up. But giving too much credence to single studies only makes people not trust science if and when that study is shown later to have been wrong.

There, that's the way a newscast should look as I see it. Cut down on all the maudlin human interest stuff. Report facts as facts. Don't interview people to get their feelings or opinion; only interview them if they have facts to reveal. Don't try to force balance on a story where no real balance exists. And get the science right.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rubio Still Doesn't Quite Get It

Last week, Florida Senator Marco Rubio told GQ Magazine in an interview that he didn't know how old the earth was. "I'm not a scientist," he said. "I can tell you what the bible says." He went on to say it is "one the of great mysteries."

Well, no it isn't. We know, and he should know, how old the earth is. I've known it since my 7th grade science class. It's 4.5 billion years old. Every school child should be able to answer that question better than Rubio did.

He, apparently, finally understood that when a few days later he clarified his response. He now says that there is no scientific debate over the age of the earth and that it has been established, by science, that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old. So why didn't he say that in the first place?

Rubio is a Roman Catholic, which, by the way, accepts scientific discoveries about the age of the earth and about evolution. But he also is a Republican, so he has to keep the wacko wing of his party in mind when he speaks, because wackos tend to vote. So he said, although he accepts that there is no scientific debate and that the earth's age has been established, he said there remains a theological debate and that people of faith must be free to make up their own minds about whether they believe or not what scientists say about the age of the earth.

Well, that's true. But if I have made up my mind that the moon is actually made of green cheese does that make it a reality that the moon is actually made of green cheese? By the same token, if people of faith make up their minds that the age of the earth is only about 6000 years old does that make it so? The age of the earth is what it is, not what you believe it is, not what you wish it were. Scientists do not say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old because that is what they believe in or because that is what they hope for. They started from scratch, not knowing. Many even assumed, at the beginning, that the earth was only a few thousand years old, because most earth scientists were Christians, like almost everyone in Europe back then.

But unlike religion, science uses empirical methods to get at the truth, and if those methods reveal something different from what was believed, scientists must reluctantly accept that evidence, especially if it is verified over and over again.

So, Rubio may have been right when he said there is still a theological debate over the age of the earth. He may have been right when he said everyone must make up his or her own mind about what they believe. But what was wrong about even his second, clarified answer to the question was that he still insists that the dichotomy between what scientists have proven and what the faithful believe is a legitimate one, deserving of equal attention in the public square. There certainly is a dichotomy of thought, but it is not equal. One side is the Mississippi River, the other side is Cripple Creek. If you want to know what really happens in nature, ask a scientist. If you want to be comforted in your own beliefs, ask an evangelical Christian. But the two answers you get are not equally valid if it's the truth you seek.