The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 6)

McConathy holds a hunting rifle with a short stock at the Cabela's store in Fort Worth

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

 

In the previous installment, we considered what we have termed The Comparison Gambit, which entails making inappropriate comparisons between the crime and gun statistics of two very different places. In particular, we examined the popular comparison between Chicago (a higher crime city in a state with strict gun laws) and Houston (a supposedly lower crime city in a state with loose gun laws) and explained why the comparison doesn’t work.

It may have occurred to you that these comparisons are not limited to cities. You’ll also see them made between states and entire countries. Here, for example, is another gun meme making the rounds:

 

Capture

 

What’s wrong with this picture? Several things. First, it doesn’t even get its facts straight. Switzerland, though it has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, does not have the lowest — some countries (e.g. Japan, Singapore and Iceland) with stricter gun laws have less crime. Furthermore, Switzerland does not “require” citizens to own firearms. Nor does Honduras prohibit them.

But perhaps more important, it’s absurd to assume that because these two nations have a comparable population, they are comparable in other ways as well. In the words of Politifact:

There’s really no point in comparing the challenges of Honduras, a lower middle-income country in Central America beleaguered by corruption and violence from the drug trade and gangs, to Switzerland, an affluent country nestled in western Europe…

The post ignores a litany of cultural, political and socioeconomic factors that play into gun violence, or a lack thereof. The gross domestic product per capita, to name one, is $2,435 in Honduras and $84,733 in Switzerland, according to the World Bank.

Additionally, it’s an unwarranted assumption that just because a particular country has a high rate of gun ownership, it must have a low rate of gun regulation. One reason there are so many armed Swiss is that men are required to serve in the military. The government issues them guns when they enter the service, and takes them back when they muster out. And in the meantime, those guns are strictly regulated, as are civilian firearms. Switzerland, in short, has stricter gun laws than the U.S. (Who doesn’t?) And in case you don’t know, the U.S. has a hell of a lot of gun violence compared to most other affluent nations.

 

gun urders per 100.000

 

Of course, that graph doesn’t include every country in the world, so chances are you’ll find a few that buck the trend. Still, the inescapable facts are that (a) the U.S. has both an exceptionally high number of guns and exceptionally lax gun laws, and (b) the U.S. has an exceptionally high level of gun violence. Coincidence?

Two other countries the gun culture has zeroed in on are countries with rather strict gun laws: England and Australia. A viral Facebook post that purports to have been written by an Australian police officer claims that since new firearm regulations were enacted in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre, crime down under has been escalating. But the figures given are false and misleading; actual crime figures from Australia give a very different picture.

The same kind of narrative applies to England and Wales. It has become an article of faith among the Second Amendment cult that since England adopted stricter gun laws 20 years ago, it has become a much more violent and crime-infested country. In reality, crime in England has been declining rather steadily since about that time. The discrepancy in statistics occurs because the gun culture is relying on figures compiled by British law enforcement authorities; but those figures have been notoriously and horrendously unreliable.

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A list of the 30 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates includes at last 12 in states with loose gun laws, and at least 5 more in close proximity to such states. It’s hard to draw a solid conclusion from that. Somewhat more definitive, but still not conclusive, is the fact that states with the strictest gun laws have the fewest gun-related deaths.

gun ownership states

 

Nearly two-thirds of these deaths are suicides, and so the gun culture cries foul when they are included in the tally of gun deaths, as if suicides are less dead or less violent than homicides. The thing is, even if we did exclude them, the U.S. would still considerably outstrip most other countries in the world in gun deaths.

Speaking of suicide, and speaking of England, the suicide trend in that country provides an illuminating counterpoint to a common gun culture talking point: the idea that if people didn’t have an easy availability of guns, they’d kill just as much via other means, so you may as well make it easy for them by giving them ready access to the real deal.

But in England, it was once trendy (as it has been in many places) for the suicidally inclined to do their deed by sticking their heads into ovens. Because it was a very effective means of doing yourself in back when ovens were heated with coal gas, which produced a high level of carbon monoxide. Then in the Seventies, the nation finished switching over to natural gas, which is much cleaner. Subsequently, there were no more suicides by gas, and the total suicide count fell by one third.

Now it’s possible that certain motivations for suicide disappeared at the same time as old-fashioned ovens. But it’s more likely that, deprived of a handy and effective means of self-destruction, suicidal individuals delayed their big step indefinitely and ultimately changed their minds altogether. By the same token, it’s probable that those who are inclined to commit murder would be less likely to do so if they had to do it with a lawn chair rather than an Uzi.

But again, we can’t really “prove” that with hard statistics. In fact, it’s very difficult to draw positive causal conclusions about the relationship between guns and crime in general. But if we’re going to make any conclusions about probability, we should do so with the largest possible database rather than with cherry-picked comparisons favored by the NRA.

What may be the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the subject, the study conducted by Santaella-Tenorio et al, actually compared 130 other studies in 10 countries, and concluded that there is a strong correlation between the implementation of stricter gun laws and the reduction in gun-related violence. That may not be the final word, but it’s the best we have at this point. Accordingly, it would be more logical to err on the side of too much “gun control” rather than too little — if indeed it’s even possible to have too much.

 

The 12 Worst Responses to Orlando and Dallas (and Baton Rouge…)

Pulse Shooting Orlando

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

 

This began as a rather belated examination of the reactions to the shootings in Orlando and Dallas, as I also offered for Charleston and Roseburg and others. But right from the beginning, I was thinking that I’d better hurry up and finish it, because given the frequency of such events these days, another one could occur at any moment. And lo and behold. But not to worry, the extremist reactions to all such incidents are fairly standard, with only slight variation. So herewith are the looniest, most hateful, most ignorant, most childish, most bigoted responses to the most recent (at the moment) round of mass murder by firearm.

1. “Muslims and Black Lives Matter”

Since the shooter in Dallas was black and the targets were police officers, it probably shouldn’t surprise you that the reactionaries would seize the opportunity to vilify an organization that draws attention to the disproportionate number of blacks shot by police. After all, they also proclaimed that the lone shooter in Orlando was proof that Muslims were to blame for the violence there. (As comedian Kumail Nanjiani commented, “Must be pretty cool to be white and just represent yourself and not your entire race”).

Following the shooting of the police officers in Dallas, here’s what a perennially pompous and vituperative talk radio personality (let’s not give him any more attention than need be by actually naming him) had to say :

Black Lives Matter was just exactly who they are then as who they are today. They’re a terrorist group. They’re quickly becoming a terrorist group committing hate crimes.

Never mind that there is no indication the gunman was connected with Black Lives Matter — which has solidly condemned the shootings. By drawing attention to police violence against blacks and seeking solutions, so the narrative goes, BLM is encouraging violence against police.

And of course as soon as it became known that the killer in Baton Rouge was black, the reactionaries tried to fit him into the narrative of black thugs killing white cops — never mind that one of the victims was also black, and that there was no indication of racial motivation. Interestingly, they did not try to fit him into a narrative when it came out that he may have been, like the vast majority of homegrown terrorists, associated with a radical right-wing anti-government ideology.

2. “All lives matter”

Before this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Diego, the Canadian quartet known as The Tenors came onto the field and sang the Canadian national anthem. Almost. But unbeknownst to the other three, one of the tenors altered the tenor of the lyrics during the song to say “all lives matter”, thus pissing off two countries at once. His outraged colleagues issued an apology and booted him out of the group.

Disrespectful mangling of a national anthem aside, what exactly is wrong with saying “all lives matter”? After all, all lives clearly do matter.  Well, what’s wrong is that the phrase was coined, or at least co-opted, as a rallying cry for those who want to attack, smear or trivialize Black Lives Matter. It’s a phrase that was uttered, for instance, by a man in Illinois just before he drove his vehicle into a crowd of BLM demonstrators. (No arrests were made.)

3. “Thoughts and prayers”

Once upon a time, it sounded like sincere empathy to say that your thoughts and prayers were with the victims and their families, even though both thought and prayer are notoriously ineffective in healing fatal bullet wounds or preventing future ones. These days, the expression just sounds meaningless and hollow — especially since it’s so often intoned by congresspersons who, being in the pocket of the gun lobby, refuse to take any action on gun violence.

4. “The worst mass shooting in U.S. history”

That was the unanimous verdict of the media about the Orlando massacre. But it wasn’t exactly true. Early in the Twentieth Century, there were mob attacks on African-Americans that left hundreds dead. Some of the victims were lynched or killed by other means, but a great many were shot. (Some people also might count the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee; but while the victims there were civilian, the killers were military personnel — which makes it rather different from what we normally characterize as a mass shooting.) The fact that mass murders of non-whites have slid under the radar of those keeping the tally is a good illustration of the problem — or at least one serious problem.

5. The NRA

If there is any bar of bad taste or poor judgment too low for the National Rifle Association to limbo under, they haven’t stumbled upon it yet. During the week leading up to Independence Day this year, the “gun rights” group aired a political ad (a pro-Trump ad, no less) that used the graves of military personnel as props in a video shot at Arlington National Cemetery without authorization and in clear violation of Arlington’s rules. And every time there is one of those increasingly common mass shootings, you can count on the good ol’ NRA to call for more guns in the streets, and to remind everyone that Obama wants to take away your guns and destroy your freedom (which amount to the same thing, don’t you know) and insist that we shouldn’t “blame the gun” for this carnage because the killers just as easily could have done the same damage using chess pieces or soda straws.

And of course they will blame anything and everything they can for the violence to deflect any share of culpability away from their precious guns. After Orlando, they even pointed the trigger finger at the specter of “political correctness”, whatever that means.

The shooting in Dallas actually prompted a much tamer than usual response from LaPierre and company ; but the promptness of that response was in itself rather incriminating. Why? Because it stands in stark contrast to the group’s glacial pace in commenting on the senseless police killing of civilian Philando Castile.

It’s especially interesting because Castile was a law-abiding licensed gun owner who was armed at the time but fully compliant with police instructions. He was, in short, the exemplary poster boy for so-called “Second Amendment rights” that the NRA normally would rush to defend against government tyranny at breakneck speed. But after Castile’s slaying, they were totally crickets for two days, and even then spoke up in a sanitized, broadly and diplomatically worded statement issued only after they’d been prodded a few times.

Did we mention that Philando Castile was black?

6. Trumpery as usual

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (did I really just type those words, or is it all just a bizarre nightmare?) Tweeted this about Orlando:

Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!

While the rest of the world was reeling with shock and grief, The Donald was engrossed with the one thing that he’s always been most engrossed with: himself, as he patted himself on the back for supposedly being right about Muslims in general being untrustworthy, and for his supposed “toughness and vigilance”.

In other comments about shootings, he has assailed President Obama’s leadership because he “allowed” these shootings to occur, and even nitpicked the president’s “body language”, implying that he wasn’t really sincere enough in his grief or strong enough in his resolve.

Is this the same Donald Trump who commented on the Roseburg shooting spree that “these things happen”, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them? So a self-described “conservative Republican” goes on a rampage, and it’s just a matter of “shit happens”. But closer to an election, our dark-skinned president should have been able to control all the other dark-skinned people, and it’s a sign of weak leadership that he let them slip through the net.

For what it’s worth, the record shows that President Obama, whether you approve of his polices or not, has been an incredibly effective leader — if you really doubt that, Exhibit A is the way he shepherded the passage of the ACA despite seemingly impossible odds and unprecedented obstruction — while Trump himself has a record of ducking responsibility, pointing fingers and refusing to acknowledge mistakes. But the problem here isn’t just a blowhard egomaniac spouting off. Trump and his like are the price Americans pay for the First Amendment. And the problem isn’t even that he repeats blatant lies, including lies promoted by admirers of Hitler.

The real problem is that his reckless and irresponsible rhetoric actually may be aiding and abetting the enemy. He appears to be doing, in other words, exactly what he baselessly accuses Obama of doing. How’s that leadership thing working out for you, Don?

7.  Religious idiocy

If it is indeed fair to judge an entire demographic sector by the actions of a handful, then Christians are in deep, deep doo-doo. Not only are Christian terrorists more common than Islamic terrorists,  but also while American Muslims uniformly denounce violence, a handful of American Christians — a very large handful, actually — celebrate and encourage it. (At least one Christian pundit in denial tried claiming that unlike Muslim terrorists, Christian terrorists don’t try to justify their actions by citing scripture. Really?)

Pat Robertson, who is nominally a Christian minister, seems nonetheless on a hellbent mission to make Christianity (not to mention political conservatism) look as bad as possible. He once suggested, for example, that Hurricane Katrina was caused by God’s wrath over abortion. And he was true to form when it came to Orlando.

The left is having a dilemma of major proportions and I think for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.

Maybe not quite as hateful as usual, but just as loony. Meanwhile, a church pastor in Sacramento addressed his congregation thusly:

I think that’s great. I think that helps society. You know, I think Orlando, Fla., is a little safer tonight…The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!

That was not, mind you, a spur-of-the-moment Tweet. He actually put it into a sermon. And he’s not alone. A pastor in Arizona seems to have received the same memo from his Loving God:

The good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not going to be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.

This particular pastor, by the way, had previously said he would pray that President Obama “dies and goes to hell”, inspiring a member of his faithful flock to show up armed at one of Obama’s appearances. But he probably wouldn’t have been able to cite any Bible verses to justify this move, do you think?

And then there’s always the Westboro Baptist Church. ‘Nuff said.

8. “Civil war”

That was the caption about the Dallas massacre used by a New York rag, and many people took up the cry: It’s cops versus African Americans or their advocates, and ya gotta choose one side or the other. These people presumably flip a coin when they encounter a black cop. And their heads really must explode when they hear about an incident like the one in California when Black Lives Matter activists and police officers shook hands after a demonstration. Or in Wichita when they had a cookout together. Or in Dallas when BLM demonstrators and All Lives Matter demonstrators shook hands, embraced and prayed together.

The Drudge Report ran the headline “Black Lives Kill”. And talk show host and former congressman Joe Walsh Tweeted:

5 cops dead, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after.

When Real America came after Walsh instead, he deleted it and replaced it with this:

10 Cops shot. You did this Obama. You did this liberals. You did this . Time to defend our Cops. Wake up.

Presumably, that version was intended to sound slightly less stupid.

9. Alex Jones

It’s tempting to say that Jones belongs in a category all by himself; but obviously there are many people out there who “think” like he does, or else he wouldn’t still be raking in the bucks year after year. In any case, these shootings have given him the opportunity to go full throttle, denouncing not only a “civil war”, but a “globalist, leftist takeover” involving Obama, Clinton, the United Nations, and Media Matters. And maybe those cricket people from the center of the earth.

10. “Hillary and Obama did it”

You may have noticed a common thread in a great many of the reactionary reactions: the first impulse is to blame the big bad black guy in the formerly White House. Because Obama openly and honestly (and accurately) acknowledges that there is a race problem in this country, and hey, because he’s viewed as a race problem himself, the reactionaries proclaim that he is, somehow, fomenting tension between the races. And Hillary Clinton must be doing so too, because… well, just because.

Even John McCain, who was once considered a sane and respectable statesman before he inflicted Sarah Palin on the world, declared that the president was “directly responsible” for Orlando. (Unlike other sufferers from Obama Derangement Syndrome, McCain at least had the decency to offer a half-assed retraction.) Some people have even suggested that the president literally ordered these attacks; evidently he’s supposed to be an impossibly “weak leader” except when it comes to orchestrating terrorism against his own people.

The two lines of assault are that Obama has (a) enabled terrorists, and (b) scorned police officers. In fact, the president has worked very hard to fight terrorism and to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. If he’s been less than totally effective, it’s in part because he’s had to fight the NRA and the GOP along with ISIS. (See him bitch-slap a “gun rights” advocate who confronts him with the”you’re punishing lawful gun owners” and  “crime is bad in your hometown” narratives.) He’s also been entirely supportive of law enforcement personnel. (See him totally de-pants the lieutenant governor of Texas, who confronts him with the “you don’t care about cops” narrative.)

Here’s an interesting idea for an experiment: let’s take a poll among people who believe Obama was responsible for these shootings, and find out how many of them also believe he is responsible for the death of bin Laden. Chances are the percentage will be a maximum of zero — even though the president verifiably did order that attack.

11. “A middle finger to cops”

Speaking at a memorial service for the fallen officers in Dallas, the president sounded a note of fervent optimism, insisting that “we are not as divided as we seem” despite occasional acts of hatred and racism, and that Americans can and will overcome their differences. But the Obama haters totally ignored the optimism and just zeroed in on the tiny part of his speech where he dared display the honesty and candor to mention the racism at all:

What kind of pathetically self-absorbed asshat hijacks a memorial for cops murdered by a racist to lecture cops on race?

Obama has never stopped being Bill Ayers’ acolyte. He never cared for this nation and never will.

Obama turns into lecture on race – SO DISGUSTING – Probably his MOST OFFENSIVE SPEECH Ever – What a jerk!

Black Lives Matter is a fraud and based on lies. They also promote cop killers. Unreal Obama would credit them at this memorial.

Of course: Divider-in-chief exploits for 5 gunned-down cops to bash police depts. Go home.

 @vadum

At funeral for 5 Dallas cops killed by Obama emphasizes & exaggerates bigotry among police. A middle finger to cops.

12. The Bush dance

 

The Obama Haters were so obsessed with finding something, anything, to smear the president for, that they seem to have overlooked the character a couple of heads to his right. During a rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic, George W. Bush begins swaying and boogieing and having a grand old time as if he’s flashing back to a drunken frat party. First Lady Michelle Obama at first glares at him in disbelief, then forces an indulgent smile, while his wife Laura shoots him a look that suggests he’s going to be taken to the woodshed when he gets home. I’ve heard people try to offer justifications for his behavior, but there’s no excuse for not realizing that in a memorial service for five people you don’t know, there are bound to be some who might consider it inappropriate. His conduct bespeaks the same kind of boy-in-a-bubble cluelessness that characterized his eight long years in Washington.

 

And there you have it, the worst reactions and responses I’m aware of this time around. If there are any I’ve overlooked, by all means bring them to my attention. But I doubt if anyone will bother. Any day now, there will be another mass shooting to steal the focus.

 

 

The Standardized Red Herrings of Homophobia

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If you have gay-hating friends or relatives (and who doesn’t) or if you’ve been exposed to the mindless prattling of media cesspools like Fox “News” (and if there’s any way to avoid it, please let us know), then it’s almost certain that at some time or other (and probably more than once) you’ve heard something very similar to this:

I’m sickandtired of gays ramming their lifestyle down my throat. They’re a small minority, and they’ve chosen to be the way they are. They shouldn’t have any special rights.

This is a very standardized comment, as if those using it had learned it at some kind of special school or seminar. It consists of four separate red herrings, which may be used separately or in combination. Let’s look at each of them.

1. Ramming down my throat

Gay haters are invariably a bit vague about exactly how homosexuality is being rammed down their throats. They can’t seem to cite a single instance of someone trying to force them to marry or even sleep with a person of the same sex. What they really seem to mean by gays ramming their lifestyle down their throats is gays existing in their direction.

But suppose gays indeed were interested in ramming their “lifestyle” down people’s throats. What kind of behavior might that entail? We don’t have to search very far to answer that. There happens to be a superb illustration in the conduct of the very people who so often persecute and malign gays.

Christians have a long history of ramming down throats. Sometimes quite literally — one of the many delightful medieval treatments for “heresy” was to pour hot lead down the heretic’s throat. There, that’ll teach ’em the proper way to love God. (Heresy, by the way, wasn’t unbelief; it was belief in a slightly unapproved fashion.) But things have changed a bit since then, haven’t they? Well, sure. We have laws now against barbaric tortures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that religious fanatics are any nicer. And it certainly doesn’t mean that religion no longer has the world — or the nation — in its grip.

Church membership, or other religious affiliation, is still the default mode, and religion is often presumed to be a yardstick for morality. Ministers perform weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage.  The official (and probably unconstitutional) motto of The United States is “In God We Trust”, which glares at us from our currency every time we make a financial transaction. Officials are sworn into office on a Bible. Witnesses in court place their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth “so help you God”.

The words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge Of Allegiance, which school children are compelled to parrot every day. Christian activists tirelessly spread the blatant lie that prayer was banned from public schools, and work overtime to turn voluntary school prayer back into mandatory school prayer — which we had when I was in school not so very long ago. Religious crusaders stick the so-called Ten Commandments under people’s noses, including on government property when they can get away with it. They also vigorously (and successfully) campaign to get fundamentalist dogma inserted into science textbooks.

Christianity is promoted on billboards, on window signs, in TV spots, in Internet advertising. Proselytizers preach on TV or in the streets in an effort to convert people to the one true faith — namely their own. Sometimes they even go from door to door soul-hunting. There are entire TV networks — quite a few of them — devoted to devotion.

Prayer is injected into as many public and private events as humanly possible. When was the last time you heard of someone asking if anyone objected before praying at the dinner table? When have you ever heard of parents asking their children if they really want to go to church? Children are dragged along because it is supposed to be “good for them”, whether they have any beliefs of their own, or even understand what religion is all about. They are baptized into their parents’ religion as infants.

But enough about religion. We could go on and on, but you get the idea — the Christian culture provides a textbook model of what throat-ramming really looks like. The question is, what exactly about gay culture is any any way, shape or form comparable to any of the above?

The only possible answer is that, just as Christians have churches to assemble in, gays have certain bars. But it’s a very weak parallel. Gay bartenders don’t aggressively recruit new drinkers, telling them they’ll go to hell if they don’t come in and have a stiff belt. And they don’t ring their damn chimes at odd hours when people are trying to sleep.

2. They’re a small minority

Roughly 3 percent of the American population is either gay or bi. That’s certainly a minority, but’s it’s by no means the smallest of minorities. It’s about 6 times the number of American adults who are legally blind, for instance. So if numbers were really what mattered, then gays should be treated with 6 times as much respect as the blind.

But it isn’t really about numbers. It’s about the fact that the wielders of this red herring are confusing (deliberately?) majority rule with majority tyranny.

I happen to be part of a 10-percent minority myself: I’m left-handed. That has resulted in more forms of awkwardness than most right-handers would ever think about. Not only are most baseball gloves, guitars and books designed for right-hand dominance, but so are most pianos, scissors, can openers, and even — no fooling — kitchen knives.  No problem. I understand perfectly that in a world dominated by right-handers, most things are going to be designed for their convenience. I even realize that there is a good reason why in the game of baseball southpaws are totally barred from four positions. I’m okay with it now and I was okay with it even as a kid when I had to contend with right-handed school desks and pencil sharpeners.

What I was not okay with then and am still not okay with now is the way I was relentlessly coerced and badgered into trying to be “normal”. There is a big difference between the majority determining what the norm is and the majority trying to compel everyone to conform to it. The line between the two is not the least bit fine.

3. They chose to be the way they are

This is an all-too-common form of Christian arrogance: the presumption that cherry picking an out-of-context biblical passage that seems to support your prejudices makes you an instant expert, more knowledgeable on a particular topic than people who have studied it professionally for years –even in highly technical fields like biology, climate science and evolution.

Experts say homosexuality is NOT a choice, based on extensive biological and psychological research — though we might have come to that conclusion a lot sooner if more people had been willing to just ask gays themselves. Just about any of them will tell you that they didn’t choose it, and quite a few will tell you that they would have chosen otherwise if they could have. But of course the gay-bashers know better. They know the gays are lying. They know that they absolutely wanted to be rejected by their families, marginalized by society and harassed and beaten, sometimes to death.

Aside from being drastically wrong, the “choice” belief is drastically irrelevant. In a sense, saying that gays choose to be “the way they are” is simply saying the same thing that gays themselves say: they do choose whether or not to acknowledge their predilection, but that doesn’t mean they deliberately created it.

But does it really matter? Suppose it were true that homosexuality is chosen with as much utter volition as deciding what kind of car to drive or what flavor ice cream to eat. Whether you realize it or not, there are factors beyond your control, and probably even beyond your comprehension, that cause you to prefer a red Chevrolet to a black Ford, or strawberry to chocolate. And even if that were not the case, should people who drive red Chevrolets and eat strawberry ice cream have to live in the closet?

4. Special rights

What special rights exactly have they asked for? Do you hear gays demand to be exempt from traffic fines, or be allowed to shop half price at any store, or be allowed to vote twice, or to be bowed down to every Thursday morning?

What they want is to be able to marry whom they choose — like anyone else. They want to enjoy the full legal benefits of such unions — like anyone else. They want to be able to partake of the services of government agencies and private businesses without discrimination — like anyone else. They want to be able to live openly wherever they choose without fear — like anyone else. It is the gay-haters who are special, not the gays themselves.

When I was a child, some adults suggested that I used my left hand in order to stand out and gain attention; in reality, what I wanted was just the opposite. That’s true of most gays as well. They may attend a Pride parade to combat the years of stigma thrust upon them, but at the end of the day they want to be thought of as friends and neighbors rather than oddballs and outcasts.

It’s quite interesting — and more than a little amusing — that at the same time they’ve been insisting that homosexuality is a choice, the gay haters have also tried (successfully) to portray it as a disease, a mental disorder. Is that supposed to mean that people consciously choose their mental illnesses?  But recent research (not to mention an overwhelming weight of anecdotal evidence) strongly suggests that it is in fact homophobia and not homosexuality that is connected to mental dysfunction.

A popular quote on the topic, falsely attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, is a bit more blunt:

I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.

That’s true enough in some cases, but not always. Not all homophobes — and there is indeed a fear factor at work — are candidates for the Westboro Baptist Church. Many are, despite their virulent homophobia and perhaps other forms of bigotry, otherwise decent folks who would make good friends and neighbors to gays and transgenders, as long as they don’t know those people are gays and transgender.

But they are still folks who fall prey to ridiculous knee-jerk soundbites odiferously loaded with red herrings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transgenders and Restrooms: Myths, Ironies and Insanities

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Every now and then — and with increasing frequency these days, it seems — Americans totally lose their minds and make a towering Mount Everest out of the tiniest of molehills. At the moment, the nutcake cause du jour is spreading panic about transgender-friendly restrooms.

A firestorm erupted in the media –and social media — after an announcement from Target stores that it would make its restrooms accessible to transgender persons. This was by no means a radical shift in direction; it was just a reaffirmation of the same policy that Target, and many other retail chains, have followed for years without incident.

But all of a sudden, reactionaries proclaimed that the sky was falling. Facebook exploded with comments like this:

For those unaware: Target will be allowing men in the girls’ restrooms of its stores, and will also allow women in the boys restrooms of its stores — all to support queerism and confusion.

This utterance of righteous indignation was posted by two Ohio men who later were arrested because for the past  year they’d been protecting a girl in their family from “queerism and confusion” by keeping her chained up in the basement. Which is something I’m pretty sure the CEO of Target has never done.

Meanwhile, a man in Illinois was arrested for causing a disturbance when he showed up at a Target store to protest the chain’s supposed lack of family values and its supposed endangerment of children. Two days later, he was arrested again when his wife reported him for being violent toward her and their 8-year-old son. And so on.

Many have made the declaration that Target was caving in to pressure from LGBT activist groups (nope) and even from President Obama (double nope). The president did later issue a letter to school districts nationwide reminding them that discriminatory practices are as unconstitutional in the bathroom as they are elsewhere. This shouldn’t have come as a great shock; it’s sort of included in his job description.

Yet many proclaimed that he was trying to be a dictator, “shredding the constitution”. Evangelist James Dobson flew into a frothy-mouthed, holier-than-thou fury, which he justified by citing (I kid you not) his own mortification as a child when he wandered into the girls’ restroom by mistake:

Who is it that is warping our children? It is Barack Obama, one of the worst presidents in American history, and it is time we stood up and said so!…Obama, acting like a king, is wielding dictatorial powers never envisioned in the law. He is determined to change the way males and females relate to one another, and worse, how children perceive themselves…The president has already maneuvered the courts to undermine a 5,000-year-old definition of marriage, after experiencing his infamous epiphany. Now he is determined to change Western civilization forever. He becomes more reckless and defiant as his second term comes to an end. Never has an American president been so absorbed with the use and abuse of power…The bottom line is that [“feminists and LGBT activists”] want to destroy human sexuality and take with it the foundation of the family. That is their goal, and they have a president in office who is willing to use his executive authority to force this nonsense on us all.

Don’t mince words, James; how do you really feel about the president? Yep, Obama must be the worst president ever if he defends the rights of people you hate. As refreshing as it may be to hear a fundamentalist demagogue rally to the defense of “human sexuality”, Dobson’s  unhinged rant is as irresponsible as it is delusional. Sure Obama wants to destroy the American family; after all, he’s never had one of his own, has he?

While it’s unfortunately not surprising that this issue has been so intensely politicized and polarized — isn’t there an ironclad rule that Americans have to politicize and polarize every frigging little thing to the nth degree?– the reactionaries have gone overboard even by their usual standards. They’ve also been exceptionally errant in assigning blame.

Here’s a popular little Internet meme of the day:

James Woods

 

Aside from the straw man about “men peeing in the ladies’ room” and the absurd implication that a person can fight for only one cause at a time (in fact, people who fight terrorism, starvation and disease are likely to fight social injustice as well), the venerable Mr. Woods misses a crucial little detail: it is by no means Democrats alone, or even primarily, who have pushed this issue center stage.

President Obama, like Target, was responding to drives by the legislatures of several states to pass laws that discriminate in a constitutionally questionable fashion. Foremost among them is North Carolina, which succeeded in enacting such a bill. The legislature of North Carolina is 62 percent Republican. Furthermore, of the 9 states in which such laws have been proposed, the GOP dominates the legislatures in 8. It is they if anyone who are obsessed with regulating who can use what bathroom, and ignoring other pressing issues in the process. (And incidentally, Dobson above seems to be unaware that the Supreme Court decision “redefining” marriage was passed down by a court dominated by right-wingers who defy Obama at every turn.)

Of course, you might counter that North Carolina was (over)reacting to an ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte. But use of restroom facilities within city limits is a perfectly appropriate matter for municipal governments to concern themselves with. The state, however, imposed a heavy-handed edict over restrooms throughout all cities and towns in the state –a law that ultimately can be enforced only by requiring people to show their birth certificates before they can go take a whizz. Did we mention that the GOP prides itself on being the party of “limited government”?

The Dobson/ Woods mentality holds that you are born either male or female and that’s that. Even if that were perfectly true, it wouldn’t begin to account for the malicious campaign of hatred, misinformation, and defamation being waged against transgenders. But it’s not perfectly true.

Some individuals are born with one of a variety of genital anomalies that prevent them from being easily classified as either male or female. So how do they fit into a Dobsonian black-and-white universe? Which bathroom should they use? Should they just cross their legs and wait for their state to deliver a ruling? And if external and internal physiological gender can be so muddled, why is it so hard to accept that psychological gender can too?

The James Dobsons of the world would have you believe that transgenderism is a very recent development, a contemporary subversive plot concocted by the Evil Obama and the rest of them librulz to destroy the family, destroy American society, convert everyone to Islam and leave Americans powerless against an impending invasion by the lizard people from outer space. In fact, there is nothing at all new about transgenders.

Better duck! Here comes a history lesson…

The first sex reassignment surgeries were performed in Europe in the early 1930s. Which is a rather short time ago in the grand scheme of world history. But long before modern surgical advances made such a process possible, there were individuals who made the decision to live as a gender other than the one they had been assigned in early life. This extends back into ancient history. Some Native American tribes, before the arrival of white settlers, recognized transgender or third gender members. Hundreds of female-born persons secretly fought in the Civil War  passing as men, and at least a couple of them continued living as men after the war was over — there were probably many others that have not been documented.

In short,  transgenders have lived among us for ages — probably from the very beginning. In some cases, they have even (shudder) used the same facilities as the rest of us. There is little if any evidence that they have caused problems; at least the family unit and civilization have still survived. But now, because they can live in somewhat less secrecy than previously, we’re supposed to believe that suddenly they’re going to turn violent. We’re supposed to believe that, because James Dobson is as morally confused as an adult as he was directionally confused as a kid, individuals who have struggled long and hard to establish identities as women are suddenly going to develop an interest in molesting little girls in public restrooms.

Sorry, but it just hasn’t happened. What has happened is that transgenders themselves have been the victims of harassment and violence. What has happened is that yahoos have attacked individuals they wrongly suspected of being transgender. What has happened is that transgenders have been falsely blamed for invasive bathroom incidents, even if they do not involve transgenders, children, or transgender-friendly bathrooms. What has happened is that “Christian” agitators have dressed in drag so they could sneak into women’s restrooms. Hey guys, if that’s really how you get your jollies, you don’t need Target’s permission.

Capture

It’s especially ironic and hypocritical that so much of the fear and loathing directed toward transgenders should come from the religious culture. Not just because Christianity (so it is rumored) was intended to be a path of love and compassion rather than bigotry and hate. Nothing new there; Christians (or “Christians”) have been spitting in the face of their own avowed values for centuries. But what makes the pious protestations of concern for the safety of children especially jaw-dropping is that children are more likely to be molested in a church setting than in a public restroom. Far, far, far more likely. Infinitely more likely.

Quick, how many known cases have there been of children being molested by transgenders in a public restroom? Answer: a grand total of zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. And how many known cases have there been (Are you paying attention, Mr. Dobson?) of children being molested by church leaders? Thousands upon thousands. And those are just the known cases, which are surely just the tip of the iceberg; experts agree that this phenomenon is vastly underreported. Nor is it just a matter of Catholic priests abusing choirboys. Churches of all flavors provide a perfect haven for predators, giving them a goody-goody persona and ready access to many vulnerable young lives they can ruin forever, children who look up to them with respect, trust and loyalty.

Meanwhile, many of their fellow congregants (and in some cases the predators themselves) are scrambling to cherry pick biblical passages they can brandish in support of their prejudices and their declaration that because President Obama defends constitutional protections for all citizens, America has surely turned its back on God.

Fueled by this ironic, hypocritical, bigoted Bible-thumping zealotry, state governments are wasting time and resources that could be wasted more entertainingly elsewhere. Even worse, they’re wasting time and resources in pursuit of a problem that doesn’t even exist. Insanity indeed, Mr. Woods.

By all means, let’s protect our children. Which might mean, among other things, that it’s not a good idea to send them unescorted into a public restroom of any kind. But hysteria and scapegoating benefit no one. And when it comes to laws regulating bathroom usage, it would make much more sense to check church affiliation at the privy door than birth certificates.

 

 

The (Poorly) Armed Assault on “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 5)

south park

In previous installments, we’ve examined what we call The Chicago Gambit, which is cherry picking statistics to make the case that stricter gun laws cause a rise in crime, as well as its counterpart, which we call The D.C. Gambit — which is cherry picking data to argue that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime. Now let’s look at a tactic that allows the gun propagandist to do both simultaneously.

3: The Comparison Gambit

Chances are at some point you’ve seen an Internet meme like this one:

 

Since (as the perpetrators of this propaganda would have you believe) there are no major differences between Chicago and Houston besides climate and gun policy, then the latter must be responsible for the difference in crime.

First of all, the figures listed in this chart aren’t exactly accurate. In fact, some of them are way off. Most glaringly, Chicago experienced about 500 homicides in 2012, not 806. And that was an unusually high year; the average since 2004 has been around 450 per year. Furthermore, the city has shown a steady decline in crime overall. By the way, the figures listed in the table vary considerably from version to version of this meme, as if those circulating it just alter them willy-nilly without bothering with even a modicum of research. One version slyly inserts a 1 before the 806, making 1806 homicides in all!

But as incredible as it may sound, statistical inaccuracy is not the main problem of this and other items like it. The main problem is false equivalence. Even if we take the “facts” listed at face value, there are some boldfaced problems.

First, there is a substantial difference in population between these two cities — Chicago has about 25 percent more residents. And those are just the people living within the city limits. Both cities are part of sprawling metropolitan communities that don’t end where city boundaries do. The population of Houston and environs is 5.6 million, while that of Chicagoland is about 10 million — almost double. Furthermore, the Houston metropolitan area is more centrally placed in the state, and surrounded by more sparsely populated communities. Chicagoland is the heart of an urban sprawl extending into 3 states, with great variation in gun policy — including deep-red, gun-totin’ Indiana.

There is, in other words, a big difference in population density. Chicago’s, at about 11,800 inhabitants per square mile, is more than 3 times that of Houston’s at some 3500 per square mile. Could this be a contributing factor? Quite possibly.

And even the above table acknowledges that there are variations in ethnic composition. Chicago, for instance, is listed as 38.9 percent African-American, as opposed to 24 percent for Houston. Does this suggest that blacks are more violent? Not so fast: Chicago is also listed as 38.7 percent Caucasian, as opposed to Houston’s 26 percent. And it also doesn’t do much for gun culture visions of ethnic superiority that the supposedly much safer Houston has a larger percentage of Hispanics. Still, it’s possible that ethnicity — perhaps in conjunction with other factors — does indeed contribute somehow.

The meme even mentions, albeit facetiously, that climate could play a role. No, there’s no reason to believe that cold weather in itself makes people more violent, but it might make a contribution under certain circumstances. In other words, as far-fetched as it might sound, while cold weather in general does not make people more violent, it might do so in Chicago specifically. At least that possibility can’t be ruled out. And that’s just the point: there are a great many factors, known and unknown, that can’t be ruled out; but those who disseminate this chunk of propaganda focus on only those factors that seem to buttress their cause.

The meme also fails to mention that 2012 was an unusually high year for homicides in Chicago; or that violent crime, as well as crime in general, have been steadily declining in the city. Or that the homicide rate for the past dozen years or so has been substantially lower than it was previously. Or that the 2012 spike in homicides occurred two years after a certain Supreme Court ruling that supposedly restored “constitutional gun rights” to Chicagoans.

The moral of the story is that there is more to life than guns. But as long as we’re playing the comparison game, let’s try two more cities, shall we? How about… oh, Boston and New Orleans.

New Orleans has about 380,000 people, while Boston has about 650,000. That’s a difference of about 70 percent. So, all else being equal, we’d expect Boston to have about 70 percent more homicides and 70 percent more crime than New Orleans, right?

But of course, all is not equal. Massachusetts has very strict gun laws, and Louisiana has very lax gun laws. So then if the “more guns, less crime” folks are correct, then Boston should have way, way more violence, right? But that’s, er, not quite how things are.

New Orleans has the seventh highest homicide rate in the nation, with a homicide rate last year of 42.7, compared to Boston’s 6.1. In 2014, Boston’s overall violent crime rate was 725.7, compared to 973.9 in New Orleans. The property crime rate for Boston was 2,638.9 with a burglary rate of 409.5; for New Orleans these figures were 4,231.8 and 893.3.

You can cherry pick statistics to “prove” just about anything. But to get a more accurate picture of an overall trend, you need to examine as broad a spectrum as possible. Comparing a large number of cities is more reliable than comparing just two, and comparing states is more reliable still. And when you d0 a comprehensive comparison of gun laws with gun deaths across the states, you see that stricter gun laws clearly correspond to fewer gun deaths. That doesn’t prove that “gun control” works, but it goes a long way toward discrediting the contrary belief.

 

 

Creationism, Design and the Watchmaker Fallacy

watchmaker

In 1802, British theologian William Paley imagined himself finding a watch on the ground while he was out for a stroll. That imaginary timepiece, though there was nothing intrinsically valuable or distinctive about it, ended up being probably the most celebrated and notorious ticker in the history of theology and philosophy. Because Paley conjured it up to make a point about what he perceived as the inescapable origin of the universe:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. … There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use … Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

It’s hard to believe that an educated and intelligent individual like Paley would ever even fall for, much less contrive, such a silly and self-refuting argument. But it has shown the kind of staying power that all bad ideas have. Even today, it’s often summoned out of its crypt to defend creationism — which its promoters now believe they can sneak under the radar disguised as “intelligent design”.

The “argument from design” has been making the rounds for centuries. (Robert Frost put a sinister and ironic twist on it in his sonnet titled “Design”.) Basically, the argument from design is the belief that the universe is so complex and intricate that it could not have developed without being guided by a supreme power. This seems derived from the premise that a supreme being would be able to design a universe more complex and intricate than any universe that could develop by “chance” (if you want to think of it in those terms).

The latter is in a sense a reasonable conclusion; assuming that there really is a supreme being, then by definition it would be able to perform feats that nothing else can — including “chance”. But even if we grant this to be true, it does not follow that the particular universe we live in would require a designer. We simply have no way of confirming that assumption.

A related argument practiced by creationists is first causeThe reasoning is that since everything in the universe has a cause, then we can trace all the causes back to a First Cause, i.e., God. But the very notion is a self-contradiction: on the one hand, everything has a cause, and yet on the other hand, there is something that presumably doesn’t. The concept of a first cause also posits a naively and drastically oversimplified model of how the universe functions — a linear construct in which A causes B and B causes C and so on. But the real universe does not operate in a straight line; it operates in an unfathomably complex web of mutual influence. To single out a “first cause” is not only impossible but pointless.

The problem with the claim that “God created the universe” isn’t that it’s inaccurate, but that it’s downright meaningless. As we mentioned before, “God” is term subject to a broad range of definition. And how exactly would the universe be “created”, anyway? Many people insist that the universe could not have just developed out of nothing, so it must have been created, somehow, out of… well, nothing. By a Creator who came from… well, nothing.

The creationist/ design/ first cause argument falls prey to a fallacy known as infinite regress; which is to say that if the existence of the universe proves the existence of a creator, then the existence of a creator must prove the existence of a creator of the creator, and so on and on and on. The decision to cut off the chain after the second link, as creationists do, is purely arbitrary.

As for Paley’s notorious watch metaphor, it’s a classic false equivalence. He is juxtaposing a thing that we know to be created with a thing that we don’t know to be created and concluding that because it’s possible to find characteristics they have in common, then both must be created. What he’s overlooking is that their differences are much more significant than their similarities — a problem he even stumped his own toe on by comparing the watch to a rock.

The essential property that is intended to make the analogy work is the property of irreducibility. Remove one of the tiny gears (each of which was specially crafted for a specific, identifiable purpose) from a watch and you significantly impair or terminate its functioning. That certainly is a strong indication that the watch was designed and manufactured rather than “just happened”.

The universe, however, is quite another matter. On every level from the most microcosmic to the most macrocosmic, the universe is in an unending state of flux, with elements constantly growing old, dying out, being replaced, or just being lost altogether. People lose teeth, hair and organs and life goes on. Indeed, not only do we have wisdom teeth, tonsils and appendices removed, but these organs appear to be useless at best. Countless entire species have become extinct. Stars go nova, obliterating everything in the neighborhood.

While each of these events might make a difference at some level, the universe takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Can the same be said for Paley’s watch?

Ultimately, if you choose to believe in creationism, you must do so on the basis of faith alone. There is no line of reasoning that will make it more logical than any alternative(s). This need not be a problem as long as you keep religion in its proper sphere of cognition. It is when we try to substitute dogma for science that we run into problems of cosmic proportions.

It may be okay to say that “God created the universe”, particularly since nobody will even know what that means. But that does not mean it’s okay to teach kids that the earth is 6000 years old. It isn’t, and it isn’t.