Tournament of Rock IV: Eric Clapton vs. AC/DC

In our second quarter-final match up we had the makings of a blowout, as Aerosmith surged to a huge early lead. Then Meat Loaf’s fans weighed in, as it were, and the biggest solo artist in all of Hard Rock blew past the boys from Boston like, well, a bat out of hell, I guess, logging nearly 60% of the vote. Aerosmith, the tribe has spoken.

We turn now to a couple of acts that have both made their livings slinging an axe, although in doing so they have proven that great tools can often be used in very different ways.

We begin with Slowhand, singing about meeting the devil at the crossroads

And here’s AC/DC. They’re on the highway to meet the devil. Because the world moves a lot faster these days.

Click to vote.

Here’s the up-to-date bracket.

Uganda Journal: Into my Heart of Darkness

In the morning, I leave for Africa.

Specifically, I’m heading to Uganda for twelve days, for reasons that still remain vague to me beyond “I’m going to write about being in Africa.” That’s all the reason I really need, though: Africa has been a bucket-lister for me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve written about my fascination with the Dark Continent before (here, here, and here, for instance): Heart of Darkness, Stanley and Livingstone, the mokele-mbembe, the great white sharks off Cape Town, the lions of Tsavo, the gorillas in the mist, Tarzan of the Apes, Solomon Kane, the Zulu wars of the 19th century and the Congo wars of the 20th, Roland the Thompson Gunner, the last King of Scotland, the Rwandan genocide. (Sara Maurer’s recent series here at S&R has been wonderful, too.)

The stories, oh, the stories.

The trip is a present to myself for completing my doctorate. I thought, at first, that I’d go back to China. Then I considered Oxford. Then I heard that my boss, the dean of the School of Journalism, was going to Uganda. She’s been deeply involved for years with a project there sponsored by our student chapter of SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise), and she was planning a January trip related to that. I asked to tag along. “Sure,” she said.

Two other women whom I don’t know are also going on the trip. One of them is collecting data for her own Ph.D. project. Another has a grant to teach women how to make their own feminine napkins. I’ll be learning about the SIFE project, and I’ll also be doing some consulting for a fellow who’s planning to set up an eco-tourism company.

While I’ve wanted to go to Uganda for as long as we’ve had a SIFE program there, I never thought I’d actually get the chance to go. “Someday,” I mused. The trip took on renewed interest for me last year, though, because of the woman I was dating. She’d gone on a mission trip to Uganda with her church back in college, and the experience affected her deeply. I thought that by going to Uganda myself, I’d be able to better understand the profound impact of that experience. I wanted to get me some of that. I thought I’d be able to take her with me, too, but alas, back in September, life took us in different directions. And so I go to Uganda to better understand a woman I am no longer with—and as a way, too, to forget her.

Life has been exceptionally good to me over the past four months, I can’t deny, but the central narrative thread—the organizing principle—has had the unreal feel of a bad dream. I keep hoping I’ll wake up and it’ll all be over and I can start things afresh.

And suddenly here I stand, on the cusp of 2013, with that chance before me.

Africa is my chance to wake up.

Ironic, since Africa is a dream of its own with tributaries, like the Congo River, that wind from well back in my childhood. Yes, the Nile might be longer, but the Congo has always been, for me, more mysterious.

“You will either love Africa or you will hate it,” a friend told me, “but Africa does not allow indifference.”

I’ll see for myself soon enough. My goal is to soak up as much of Uganda as I can and then write about it. I’ll post as often as I can, although I’m told my internet access will be sporadic. One does not need wireless, apparently, to travel into the heart of darkness—or to escape the darkness that has troubled one’s heart.

Adventure awaits!

Netflix streaming movies: the 18 horror of 2012

Scream maskAs if to say, “oh, the horror.”

Oops, did I miss a word?  Shouldn’t that be “the best of horror 2012?” No.  If I did a Top 18 list for 2012 releases available via Netflix streaming, that would be all of them.  This really is just the horror of 2012. That’s right, and this is that list.  Netflix has a whopping eighteen horror releases from 2012.  Of them, I’ve seen five seven (when I started this post, now it’s many), and given most of those 3 stars out of 5.

Mind you, I tend to pick by Highest Rated not Year Released anyway. The last movie I’d watched as of when I started this article, the 1971 Murders in the Rue Morgue starring Jason Robards with Gordon Hessler as director…was a yawner.  david-697 hits the nail on the head in their review at  Where any facts may be in error, it’s truthy and that’s good enough.  That reviewer still managed to give it 7 stars out of 10, which I tend to think of as 3.5 out of 5 even though I’m sure I’m probably wrong in doing that somehow.  That would put it safely  in the “liked it quite a bit, needs help” range for me, so that’s far too generous.  I gave it 2 out of 5. Continue reading

GOP senators vote against Sandy relief: Screw these guys

Here’s a list of the estimable members of the US Senate who voted against disaster relief for New Jersey, Connecticut and New York yesterday. There are 32 of them. They’re all Republicans, of course. They mostly come from Red States. One is a former Presidential candidate, and several others have run for the presidency. Not only that, they mostly come from taker states–states that get back more in federal money than they pay in US taxes.

We’ve discussed this issue before, but this type of vote highlights these differences in an interesting and unfortunate way. These guys really hate us. Booman has the right idea–the next time Marco Rubio or Jeff Sessions asks for federal disaster assistance for some whopping hurricane that has wiped out half his state, or the idiot Blunt expects disaster assistance for some pack of tornadoes that has taken out dozens of trailer parks, we tell them to go away and take care of themselves. Since they don’t want to fund themselves, or the rest of us, let’s just tell these guys to go screw themselves. It’s time for actions like these to have consequences.

Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Lee (R-UT)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Moran (R-KS)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Sessions (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Toomey (R-PA)

Review: Django Unchained

DjangoI am not a movie guy, but this weekend I saw a movie so spectacular, so breathtaking that I feel compelled to attempt a review. The movie is Django Unchained, and I went to see it, I admit, because I just wrote a book that also features a black gunman. I was afraid that coincidence might be labeled plagiarism. Luckily for me, the movie and my book share few similarities—not time, not place, not plot, not tone. Had I not had another motive, I might well have missed this fine movie.

Django Unchained is the story of a slave freed by a German bounty hunter and their quest to free the ex-slave’s wife, now owned by an evil plantation owner. Tarantino calls it a “Southern,” because it takes place mainly in the South, but it has all the trappings of the classic Spaghetti Westerns. And I do mean all the trappings, from huge blood red title scripts to guitar-heavy soundtrack to melodramatic back-lit poses of the hero puffing a cigarillo to a cameo by Franco Nero, to incongruous scenery. Yes, in this movie, parts of Tennessee and Mississippi look just like California, just as in the originals the American West looked just like Italy. Even the name is homage—there were over 30 Italian westerns with Django as the hero, although only the first starred Sr. Nero.

Tarantino’s movie works at three levels. At one level, it is entertainment, pure and simple. It works from the classic story of a knight rescuing a princess, in this case Siegfried und Brunhilde. Indeed, in case you miss the fact that it is a classic story, one of the characters patiently explains the legend of Siegfried und Brunhilde to Django while sitting around a campfire. And what entertainment it is! Well paced, well told, and well-acted, it is entertainment in its purest form.

The characters are complex and interesting, and the acting is spectacular. Jamie Foxx is excellent, and his work nuanced and elegant. However, Django is an authentic western hero, phlegmatic and unemotional, and there’s only so much room to work. Foxx is bound by his character. Christoph Waltz, the gleefully psychopathic Nazi from Inglourious Basterds, plays King Schulz, an assassin with a conscience, and almost steals the show. He doesn’t only because there’s a lot of scene stealing going on here. Don Johnson plays plantation owner Big Daddy, whose plan to lead a Klan-like group to attack Django and Schulz is thwarted in part by masks that have eyeholes cut in the wrong places. Samuel L. Jackson plays the Uncle Tom character, switching effortlessly from buffoon to sycophant to Machiavellian monster. (Samuel L. Jackson can do more than just shout and act angry. Who knew!)

But the greatest act of theft goes to Leonardo di Caprio, who plays Calvin Candie, possibly the creepiest character I’ve ever seen. Since di Caprio tends to eschew mugging for a camera like many of the more renowned leading men, it’s easy to forget what a good actor he can be. He is at his very best in this.

But Tarantino has never been satisfied to entertain. In Django, he returns to a theme from Inglourious Basterds. That is, evil is evil. Over time, the good in good and the evil in evil tend to blur in our memories, and historians and writers feel compelled to show us the frailties of heroes and the redeeming characteristics of villains. Churchill let Coventry be bombed. Hitler loved his dogs. And there is a school of Southern revisionist history that has tried to water down the evil that was the antebellum south. That school holds that (a) the war wasn’t really about slavery, (b) the leaders of the Confederacy were fine and noble men compelled to their cause by a sense of duty and (c) some even have argued slavery wasn’t that bad, especially for those slaves owned by a “kind master,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.
The truth is slavery was horrible, almost more horrible than we can imagine, and the leaders of the south were a bunch of treasonous scoundrels who fought for the right to keep men in chains and rape their women because it was economically advantageous and funded their lavish lifestyle. Period.

There is no redemption for Nazis. Or slave owners. (And that includes my slave-owning great, great grandfather, William O. Gibbs.)
The brutality of slavery in this movie is so horrible, so over the top, that Tarantino slips it in between scenes of violence that are almost cartoon-like. In a sense, he uses death and mayhem to inoculate us, because in truth I don’t think any of us could have stood seeing the truth without that inoculation. And as it was, I had to look away from the screen more than once.

In taking on a theme in which huge segments of the population are still in denial and in doing it in such an over-the-top way, Tarantino has taken a huge risk. This may be a “Southern,” but it’s hard to imagine that white audiences in the south are going to flock to this movie. The Washington Times has already screamed reverse racism. It may also offend some blacks, as well. Career blacks Tavis Smiley and Spike Lee have already slammed it. Lee called it “disrespectful” although he has not and has no plans to see it. (It’s not clear where Lee is coming from—the prissiness that accompanies advancing age, rejection of a black movie made by a white guy [yes, that is reverse racism] or simply envy because Tarantino is a better filmmaker. Whatever it is, Spike should shut up. It’s embarrassing and small-minded to slam a movie you haven’t even seen.)

There are reasons to dislike this movie. Tarantino is not particularly fussed about history, and some of his language is unlikely (like the excessive amount of cursing). And to our modern ear, the frequent use of the word “nigger” is grating. (Having said that, read Huckleberry Finn.) And the blood-spurting gets old fast.

But still, the greatest achievement of this movie may be at third level, as an homage to the B movie genres of Spaghetti Westerns and blaxploitation movies. Tarantino loves B movies, and has celebrated many of those genres before—pulp detectives, martial arts, war. It is simply a miracle how he manages to keep all of the cringe-worth flaws of these tropes while elevating his work to something beyond what they ever dreamt of being.

In short, this is not a good movie, this is a great movie. It is brilliant, entertaining, and above all: Courageous.

The Tech Curmudgeon – Wunderlist jumps the shark

Jump the shark

Jump the shark

Smartphones are great organizational tools, what with their calendars, note taking apps, and the ability to download to-do list apps like Astrid, Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages, and since different people want different GUIs and features, that’s all fine. Apparently, though, one of the disadvantages with Wunderlist, the to-do list app that the Tech Curmudgeon used to use, is that they like to do major software updates three days before Christmas.

Who in their right mind does a major software update on an organizational app three days before Christmas? Even if there are no problems with the update and everything goes perfectly, the update process alone could result in cranky users. Just imagine for a moment that you’re using Wunderlist to, oh, the Tech Curmudgeon doesn’t know, keep track of your Christmas shopping. How much would you like discovering that you have to update your app when you’re standing in line trying to check off the items you’re about to pay for? The Tech Curmudgeon knows he’d be a tad… annoyed.

Wunderlist’s update process didn’t actually update as such, it added. As in when the Tech Curmudgeon downloaded the new Wunderlist app, it didn’t replace the old one and automatically import all his settings like any properly designed app will do, it simply installed the new version of the app alongside the old one. Oh, and the icons were nearly identical, making figuring out which version was the correct version a guessing game the first times the Tech Curmudgeon used it.

Then the Tech Curmudgeon discovered that the new app had crashed Wunderlist’s server, so he couldn’t sync his to-do list with his wife’s. And when the servers came back a day or two later (yes, that would be Christmas Eve – the Tech Curmudgeon lost track of when they actually came back, since by then he’d largely abandoned the useless app in favor of pencil and paper), there was an undocumented feature bug that prevented the app on one smartphone (an iPhone) from syncing with the app on another smartphone (a Samsung Android phone). So much for the Tech Curmudgeon’s wife being able to check things off on one phone and having them show up as complete on his.

The Wunderlist desktop apps were just as screwed up as the smartphone apps, since they didn’t sync correctly either. Oh, and the Tech Curmudgeon had to download and install a second app instead of simply running an update for the original. Oh, and let us not forget that there wasn’t even an iPad app at all when Wunderlist released the so-called “update.”

And the problems didn’t end there. The original Wunderlist hid your completed items so that they didn’t clutter up your entire screen with useless junk. But the new-and-improved Wunderlist GUI made them all visible but faded. And if you happened to like the original GUI as the Tech Curmudgeon did, you were probably delighted to discover that there wasn’t even an option to hide the completed items anymore. The Tech Curmudgeon personally adores visually distracting GUIs – don’t you?

And while it never mattered in the original Wunderlist, if you wanted to clear away all that screen clutter, you had to delete each task. One. At. A. Time. No bulk delete option. No ability to select multiple tasks and delete all selected. Nada. If you’re like the Tech Curmudgeon, and you used Wunderlist for your grocery list, then you probably had hundreds of entries under the Grocery folder that you would have to delete. One. At. A. Time.

You know, if Wunderlist was made in a part of the world where Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, the Tech Curmudgeon could probably forgive the abysmally poor timing of the update. But Wunderlist is produced by a company in Germany, and last the Tech Curmudgeon heard they celebrate Christmas there too.

What the Tech Curmudgeon can’t forgive, however, is the combination of rock-stupid timing, releasing an update before all the platforms were ready, forcing him to install an entirely new app and uninstall the old one, failing to anticipate the server load, busting the sync for several days, and turning a clean GUI into pure screen clutter without even providing an option to revert to the old interface.

Sure, the app’s free, but so are most of Wunderlist’s major competitors like Remember The Milk and Astrid. And even if Wunderlist had paid upgrades like its competitors do, after this debacle the Tech Curmudgeon wouldn’t trust Wunderlist’s makers with someone else’s money, never mind his own. The sheer lack of customer awareness – no, make that basic consciousness – exhibited by Wunderlist’s makers demonstrates that any paid upgrades would certainly be a waste of money.

Bye bye, Wunderlist. And by all means let the door launch you onto the sidewalk on the way out.

Telling History vs. Making Art: Fictions and Histories

Final part of a series

“[H]istory and historical fiction,” says historian Paul Ashdown, “are alternate ways of telling stories about the past.” In that context, Ulysses S. Grant spoke more truth than he realized when he said “Wars produce many stories of fiction.”

Aside from yarn-spun anecdotes about apple-tree surrenders and lemon-sucking generals, war also produces “stories of fiction” in a literal way as a source of inspiration: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” The Red Badge of Courage, Gone with the Wind, Shiloh, The Killer Angels. Both kinds of stories present themselves as true, and both may even be based on facts. “Fact and fiction comingle, reminding us that history, like news, is only a part of the story.” Art, too, offers another part of the story.

Ashdown points specifically at Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain, which is based very loosely on the real story of William Pinkney Inman, an ancestor of Frazier’s. Facts on Inman were scarce. All Frazier knew for certain about him “could be written on the back of a postcard.” “‘Facts’ could not begin to tell the real story,” Frazier wrote in the book, “and you could tell such things on and on and yet no more get to the full truth of the war than you could get to the full truth of an old sow bear’s life by following her sign through the woods.”

Starting with those few scant facts, though, and then tapping into other resources, Frazier began inventing a story. “By making use of folklore, yarn, legend, myth, and what we can know of history, Frazier shows that although we can never know all that happened, or why it happened, we can at least obliquely participate in a continuing story,” Ashdown says.

Frazier’s story grew beyond the facts, which he was willing to sacrifice in service to the larger truth. For instance, he chose to drop Inman’s first and middle names. “The use of the last name throughout the book suggests…a mythic universalism,” says Ashdown. “The point is not so much to detach Inman from the past as it is to detach him from William P. Inman and historicity.”

Coal Black Horse, about a 14-year-old boy’s journey to manhood as he travels from western Virginia to get his father from the battlefield at Gettysburg, does something similar. Because author Robert Olmstead avoids almost all mention of specific places, his protagonist, Robey, travels across a mythic landscape, which suits the novel well because of the slightly surreal quality of the characters. Facts would ground the world too much. Olmstead doesn’t even mention Gettysburg by name until page 145—two-thirds of the way through the book’s 218 pages—well after Robey has arrived on site and well after the battle.

Conversely, a writer can deluge a reader with facts, as Paulette Jiles does in Enemy Women, a novel about the Civil War’s guerilla conflict in Missouri. Jiles quotes extensively from Inside War: The Guerilla Conflict in Missouri, 1861-1865 by Michael J. Fellman, which she includes as epigrams before each chapter as a way to provide background information and context. While those facts allow her to avoid exposition of her own, they still disrupt the flow of her narrative and interfere with her authorial voice. Facts, at least as Jiles uses them, can become too much.

As a historical story gets further from the facts, the harder it is to take the work seriously as history, but the easier it is to accept purely in terms of entertainment value. Nowhere is this more evident in the burgeoning science fiction subgenre of “alternative history.” Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South, for instance, which pays meticulous attention to accuracy with its discussion of firearms and aspects of daily life, is clearly “alternative history” because of time travelers who bring A-K 47s to Robert E. Lee’s army from Apartheid-era South Africa. I know historians who think the premise is ludicrous, but they never accuse the book of trying to dress itself up as history, either.

Other alternative histories of the war typically hinge on “what ifs” less outlandish: in Turtledove’s How Few Remain, the Federal army never finds the “Lost Order” that outlines Lee’s plans for invasion into Pennsylvania; in Newt Gingrich and William Forestchen’s Gettysburg, Lee takes Longstreet’s advice and swings southward to better ground after the first day of fighting in Gettysburg; Peter Tsouras’s Gettysburg gives the battle a full reimagining while Douglas Gibboney’s Stonewall Jackson at Gettysburg puts the legendary General in the thick of it; Kevin Wilmott’s biting satiric film C.S.A.explores modern America if the entire country, not just the South, had legalized slavery. An author with no less prestige than MacKinlay Kantor, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his Civil War prison novel Andersonville, imagined If the South Had Won the Civil War, basing his plot twist on a horseback riding accident that kills Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

Gingrich calls alternative history “a way of breathing life back into the adventure, to reopen the book on page one,” but he insists that in order for them to be of any value beyond mere escapism, “internal logic, consistency, and a rigid adherence to reality must still be maintained. Otherwise, we fall off the track and it becomes an exercise in fantasy.” For instance, he says an aggressive George McClellan would’ve probably won Antietam, but McClellan was “driven far more by his fear of failure than by the dream of success.” To write his character any other way “is a denial of everything we know about him and becomes an exercise in fantasy.” Likewise, the “magic bullet” scenario—Grant dying in a horseback riding accident, Jackson surviving Chancellorsville, Lincoln’s mother not dying of the milk sickness—is little more than an exercise in fantasy.

I mention these alternate histories only as a way of probing the outer boundaries of history and fiction, where art clearly stands as art and facts are clearly false. At the other end, I could likewise cite James McPherson’s Pulitzer-winning Battle Cry of Freedom or Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering as examples that clearly stand in the realm of history and where facts are clearly true. One pole privileges story over fact, the other fact over story. Somewhere in between rest the examples I’ve discussed in this series. All of them, fiction and nonfiction alike, strive to strike a balance between fact and story in the service of a particular truth.

“People interested in the Civil War become obsessed with facts and don’t have much patience with fiction,” Ashdown says. They criticize art for being “unfactual” (just as artists criticize history for being “boring”). Before they insist on sacrificing art on the altar of fact, though, they’d do well to keep in mind the lesson Grant knew well: facts themselves are hard things to hold on to and can be interpreted into all sorts of happy and unhappy truths. His favored view of the war’s meaning, the Union Cause, faded from collective memory. The Reconciliation Cause subsumed the Emancipation Clause even as it itself was co-opted by the Lost Cause. Truths compete with truths.

“Today, professional historians call truth ‘Interpretation,’” historian Joan Waugh says—but what interpretations are true? What kinds of interpretations lead to the best kinds of truth? What truths are true?

What to do with facts and how to interpret those facts into truths are central issues for storytellers of all sorts, whether historians or novelists, documentarians or feature filmmakers. “Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory,” Robert Penn Warren said, “for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.”

Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more

Logan and our Charlie Brown Christmas TreeMaybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This is the third consecutive year that my family members have chosen not to exchange Christmas gifts. In 2010, we shifted away from this material side of the holiday in an effort to refocus on what we considered more important: spending time with and appreciating family and friends.

The year of 2012 marks another present-less Christmas, but also the first where none of my siblings made it home to our parents in New York. I stayed in New Orleans, Louisiana with my sister, Julie, while my brother continued his world adventures in Christchurch, New Zealand. Continue reading

After protest, NRA advocates for speech control

by Christopher Griesedieck

(WASHINGTON, DC) “In the wake of this great national tragedy, the National Rifle Association mourns with the victims,” announced NRA President Buck Donalds at a press conference today following yet another massive protest in favor of tougher legislation on firearms.

“We certainly want the community to have space and time to mourn, and are sympathetic to calls to avoid ‘politicizing the issue’ too soon. However, the NRA feels that now is the time for action. Now is the time for conversation about serious speech control legislation to curtail irresponsible use of these oral weapons that can only serve to harm the gun-owners of America.”

Donalds noted that the Supreme Court, while it has long recognized Congress’ ability to restrict 1st Amendment speech rights with regards to time, place, and manner, has generally banned speech controls based on subject matter or content.

“It is time for the President of the United States to stand up, and close the gaping ‘subject matter’ loophole that subjects millions of gun-owners to violence every day in this country. Well, metaphorical violence.”

Donalds expressed frustration that neither candidate in the recent presidential election indicated any will to stop the rampant speech culture that threatens America’s firearms enthusiasts. He went on to address Constitutional concerns of speech advocates.

“We are fully cognizant of the Constitution’s general protection of the right to arm oneself with words in order to protect against tyranny, but our country’s founders could never have foreseen the prevalence of vitriolic anti-gun speech that we have today.

“When protesters this week pronounced that, both in the United States and across high-income nations, gun availability increases the risk of homicide, or that guns are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense…I mean, what more evidence do you need that things have gotten out of hand?”

Donalds concluded his remarks by announcing that a free handgun was underneath the seats of everyone present at the meeting.

Please note: the foregoing passage was satirical, and not in any sense a real news report. If you did not catch that, please pause and reflect on the many ways in which you have let yourself down.


Chris Griesedieck is currently in his first year at the Georgetown University Law Center. He graduated from Boston College in 2011.

Libertarians and engineers should embrace industrial climate disruption, not deny it

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3Part Five of a series

Industrial climate disruption presents challenges to libertarians and engineers. As we saw in Part Three of this series, the likely policy responses to industrial climate disruption represent a threat to libertarian values, specifically the moral ideal of “negative” liberty. And we saw in Part Four that many engineers consider industrial climate disruption a threat to their jobs and to their employers, and industrial climate disruption runs counter to many engineer’s psychological need for certainty (as discussed in Part Two). And we saw how cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning can lead both libertarians and engineers to deny the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting industrial climate disruption.

But not all libertarians or all engineers are industrial climate disruption deniers. Many have reviewed the evidence and concluded that greenhouse gases emissions by industry is the best explanation for all the facts related to climate disruption. Some have simply chosen to trust the experts. And others have concluded that it’s simply good personal and professional policy to plan for the worst – at least that way you’re prepared for whatever comes your way and any surprises are good surprises.

But these aren’t the only good reasons why libertarians and engineers, both as groups and as individuals, should embrace industrial climate disruption. Denying the reality of industrial climate disruption won’t get either group a seat at the negotiating table, but engagement might. There’s also a lot of money to be made adapting to industrial climate disruption and mitigating its causes. And the sooner we start working on the problem, the cheaper it will be in the long run.

Libertarians: fight, not flight

When something that you hold dear is threatened, there are essentially only two responses. You can stand and fight, or you can flee. Industrial climate disruption threatens the values and livelihoods of many libertarians, and many have chosen to flee to the perceived safety of denial. But that safety is illusory, as the crazy weather of 2012 (the increased incidence of extreme weather phenomena has been projected by climate models for years now) and the ongoing global temperature record demonstrate.

While the the threat to libertarian values could reasonably justify the denial of industrial climate disruption by a significant majority of libertarians, the best way to ensure that your values are protected is not to flee, but rather to confront the threat. Denial won’t prevent the enactment of policies that are a threat to the “negative” liberty valued by libertarians, but engagement might. At a minimum, engagement with liberals and conservatives who also accept the reality of industrial climate disruption will ensure that libertarians have a seat at the negotiating table, something that flat-out denial is unlikely to provide. After all, libertarians are only about 10% of the U.S. population – if the other 90% came to an agreement on their own, libertarians could find themselves, and their values, steamrolled.

There are all sorts of policies that are presently being considered as ways to adapt to and to mitigate the causes of industrial climate disruption. Most of them are potential threats to economic liberty, defined as the right of a person to spend his wealth however he sees fit. The Environmental Protection Agency has already put in place regulations to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the regulations have survived review by the DC Court of Appeals (and are likely to survive Supreme Court review as well). California has implemented a cap-and-trade scheme, and some economists and scientists are calling for outright carbon taxes. The cap-and-trade scheme is the least disruptive to libertarian values, but the other two have their proponents and both are more disruptive to people’s economic liberty. If more libertarians were involved in the process, a cap-and-trade system that minimizes economic disruption would become more likely than highly disruptive carbon taxes or regulations and the associated fees and fines.

With respect to being able to live your life however you see fit (lifestyle liberty), the costs of addressing industrial climate disruption will also have an impact. Any method that prices CO2 will necessarily increase energy prices. This will increase the costs of products, especially those manufactured overseas and/or trucked long distances as the price of marine bunker fuel and diesel increase. People will probably travel less for vacations as well. And the cost of living wherever you choose will also go up, as insurance rates skyrocket (or insurance simply goes away) for property near sea level, on floodplains, or in wildfire prone areas.

Industrial climate disruption will continue to threaten libertarian values so long as it threatens human welfare and the global economy. If libertarians want their ideology to survive the crucible of industrial climate disruption, they’ll have to engage. And the sooner that engagement happens, the less damage the libertarian ideology will suffer.

Captain Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS)

Captain Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS)

Engineers: engage

Engagement is also the best approach for engineers, and those engineers who are not also libertarians will probably find engaging easier than most libertarians will. Partly this is because engineering is a professional discipline rather than an ideology, but it’s also partly a result of the corporate environment in which engineers work and that inculcates them with many of its values.

Corporations value short-term profits more than anything else, with one notable exception – staying in business. If it’s a question between either providing dividends this quarter or investing in the company so that it’s still in business several years from now, smart companies always choose to invest in themselves. That’s part of why engineers are asked to design new products – markets change, and corporations who fail to provide what the new market demands risk going out of business.

Engineers working in product development are expected to adapt to new market realities all the time. Often the adaptation is as simple as updating a prior design to a new set of requirements – different temperature ranges, different operating voltages, different types of materials, etc. Occasionally adapting requires doing something completely new, and many engineers live for that kind of intellectually stimulating challenge. Most engineers will find engaging with industrial climate disruption no more difficult than updating their requirements and initial assumptions. Once that’s done, the engineers will pick up the new changes and run with them. The challenge will be convincing engineers that their experience and expertise may no longer be applicable (depending on the industry and engineer) and that they may have to change career paths in order to adapt professionally to a new, climate disrupted reality.

Ultimately, though, engineers respond to challenges, and just as industrial climate disruption is perhaps the most important issue that modern humanity has ever faced, so too is it one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Engineers who can move beyond denial and engage with the creation of solutions will likely find the process remarkably rewarding.

Mining profits from industrial climate disruption

Beyond needing to fight for their values or rising to meet new technical challenges, both libertarians and engineers should engage with industrial climate disruption because there is a huge amount of money to be made in the process.

Many libertarians are economic or financial types who make their money trading stocks, commodities, etc. Assuming that a cap-and-trade market system is implemented nationally or globally instead of carbon taxes or direct regulations, that market is going to be largely the same as any other commodity market. As such libertarians will be able to buy and sell carbon credits, creating carbon liquidity much as traders create financial liquidity in the financial markets today. But this opportunity only materializes if a cap-and-trade market is created instead of carbon taxes or direct emission regulations.

For those libertarians who work in other fields, the all-encompassing nature of industrial climate disruption will create opportunities for anyone who has the courage to grab them. Libertarians working in construction can make money insulating homes and installing solar panels on rooftops. Libertarian farmers can make money figuring out how to grow crops using less water and fertilizer and then marketing those methods to fellow farmers nationwide. Libertarians working in the energy industry can make money by financing new power lines to transport renewable electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. And libertarians in transportation can make money by providing new, low carbon emitting cars, trucks, tractors, aircraft, and ships to carry people and goods from one place to another. But each of these opportunities requires that the individual libertarians working in these industries stop denying the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Engineers have at least as great an opportunity to make money as libertarians do. After all, who do you think is going to design all those products for all those industries listed above? Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to get PCs to consume even less power than they already do. Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to turn small-scale carbon capture demonstration projects into full-scale installations at coal and natural gas power plants. Engineers are going to be the ones figuring out how to boost the efficiencies of solar panels by combining photovoltaic panels with passive solar water heating and at a price point that consumers can afford. And so on.

Engineers excel when given a problem to solve and a set of parameters within which to solve it. And the engineers who are the best at it will make a great deal of money in the process. But to do so, they have to move beyond denying industrial climate disruption. After all, just because an engineer will to work on a project he doesn’t believe in, that doesn’t mean he’ll be motivated to do his best work that way. But give an engineer a project that makes him think “this is going to be totally awesome” and he’ll figure out a way to move Heaven and Earth for you.

Pay now, or pay a lot more later

Not everyone can be lured by wealth and a good, high paying job with good job satisfaction into changing their mind about denying the reality of industrial climate disruption. For some, avoiding the anticipated economic costs of industrial climate disruption is a greater motivator. Economists have been saying for years now that it will cost less to mitigating industrial climate disruption than the damage done to the global economy by doing nothing (or delaying action for decades). Essentially, most economists believe that the cost of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable (and possibly nuclear) sources of energy is much lower than the cost of sea level rise on property values, rebuilding communities built in floodplains, losses to crops due to drought and pests, and the disruption of the global economy due to tens or hundreds of millions of migrating climate refugees, among others.

There are fundamental disagreements among economists about the “correct” way to account for multi-generational issues like industrial climate disruption, with some economists (Nordhaus for one) approaching the problem strictly from a utilitarian perspective while others approach the problem from a “minimal regret” perspective. The utilitarians tend to weigh the economic status of people who are alive today much higher than they weigh the economic status of unknown future generations. This can result in a situation where you could mathematically argue that it would be OK for humanity to go extinct ten generations from now so long as the people alive today aren’t inconvenienced by having to pay more for gasoline. It’s not a coincidence that libertarians tend find themselves among the utilitarians, given that Iyer et al found that libertarians are utilitarian and also value themselves more highly than they do “generic others” like hypothetical great, great, great grandchildren.

The “minimal regret” economists, on the other hand, tend to approach the problem more holistically, applying value not just to a standard of living, but also to the quality of that standard of living. They also tend to apply different discount rates to different aspects of human goods and experience, and they try to incorporate the needs of human survival and health into their economic models. But at the extreme end of this end of the spectrum, “minimal regret” economics can mathematically conclude that destroying the global economy today is acceptable to ensure that at least some of humanity survives ten generations hence. The inclusive nature of the “minimal regret” economic models makes their conclusions more likely to be robust than utilitarian models, and it’s the models of the “minimal regret” school of thought that indicate the costs of doing nothing are much higher than the costs of mitigating industrial climate disruption.

(Scott Ambler)

(Scott Ambler)

But even if you reject the economic models and instead ascribe to utilitarian economics, there is a business concept that makes the same basic argument. In business, the costs of making changes to a project is very low early in the project’s lifecycle. But as the project moves through its various stages, it becomes more and more expensive to make changes until, finally, making changes simply isn’t possible at any price.

Businesspeople and engineers who work in product development tend to understand this idea almost instinctively. During requirement definition, the cost of making a change is maybe a few hours to updated a few documents. Once the design is complete the cost of making a change includes a few hours for several people to update a lot more documents. Once something physical is created, the cost increases even more to include changing hardware, possibly even throwing out the original design and starting from scratch. And if a change is needed after the product has been delivered, it may need to be recalled or it may not even be possible to implement the change at all.

We can look at adapting to and mitigating the causes of industrial climate disruption as a set of projects not too different from any other. As an example, adapting New York City to rising sea level may require sea walls around the harbor, major filling of land and reconstruction of buildings on the newly raised ground, or even the partial abandonment of low-lying areas such as those that were most affected by Superstorm Sandy. The sooner this process starts, the cheaper it will be to implement. First, inflation means that the longer a major construction project takes, the more the construction materials will cost. Second, the longer the process takes, the more likely it becomes that another another storm like Sandy sweeps into New York City and does tens or hundreds of billions more dollars in direct and indirect damage – damage that could have been dramatically reduced had the adaptation strategy been in place.

On a smaller scale, this same business axiom explains part of why you shop around for the right solar panels to put on your roof. Not only are you looking for a good deal, but you’re also making sure that you won’t want to change your mind later. After all, if the wrong panels are already on your roof when you discover they’re wrong, you’ll be lucky to get away with only having to pay someone to come out to remove the wrong panels and then pay to have the right panels put back up.

According to national polls, about 84% of all libertarians deny the reality of industrial climate disruption, and while there’s no data about the number of engineers who are similarly in denial, there are a lot of people who identify themselves as engineers on major denial websites. While it makes sense that both groups would feel threatened by industrial climate disruption, albeit for different reasons, both groups should embrace the overwhelming science and data and work toward solutions instead of denying the problem. There will probably never be a greater challenge to solve, or a greater opportunity to make money from creative solutions, than the challenges and opportunities posed by industrial climate disruption. And the sooner the solutions kick in, the less damage will be done to libertarian values, business, and the global economy.

Over the last few weeks, we have in investigated why there are so many libertarians and engineers among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers. We’ve looked at the values and personalities of both groups and we’ve looked at how those values and personalities lead so many libertarians and engineers to deny the reality of industrial climate disruption. And we’ve looked at why, as a matter of pragmatism, both groups should embrace industrial climate disruption instead of denying it.

There are some known areas of contention in climate science, such as the effects of clouds on global climate. But those few remaining areas of contention are very unlikely to change the scientific conclusion – human industry is emitting greenhouse gases and those gases are and will be largely responsible for disrupting the Earth’s climate. However understandable it might be for a libertarian or engineer to hunt for and cling to the few scraps of data that confirm their existing biases, doing so is no longer rational. There are just too many other fields of scientific endeavor that would have to be largely incorrect for the conclusions of industrial climate disruption to be wrong.

Deconstructing the NRA response to Sandy Hook

Every good recipe for deception begins with an ounce of truth.

Whoever is managing the current public relations crisis facing the National Rifle Association clearly understands this fundamental principle. In the days since the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the NRA has offered a textbook execution of the crisis communication playbook, employing everything from ducking out of sight for a few days to clever messaging strategy to an attempt to throttle the public profile of media coverage through timing tactics that are as cynical as they are traditional. My former colleague Patrick Veccio, who spent a lot of years in the newsroom watching how PR firms attempted to play the press, explains that last part:

Public relations professionals, press agents and political spokespersons try to avoid announcing bad news until late afternoon Fridays. They hope the bad news will be less apt to get attention or generate discussion over the weekend. They hope by Monday, the story will be running out of legs because the weekend has defused it.

After a week of silence, LaPierre and the NRA knew they had to say something before gun control advocates took ownership of the discussion about preventing another Sandy Hook slaughter. No matter when the NRA brass crawled out of their spider hole, they were going to have to face the blinding media light.

Obviously, the “quiet until late Friday” trick was doomed. The delay in answering questions until Monday, though, is a deliberate move. Monday is Christmas Eve. Tuesday is Christmas. LaPierre and Keene hope the weekend and the holidays will give them time to regroup and mitigate the damage from LaPierre’s ranting.

The NRA obviously hoped that by the time America surfaced from its extended holiday food- and gift-fest the edge would be off its outrage over Sandy Hook. They also probably hoped you didn’t notice the Christmas Eve ambush of a suburban NY firefighting crew at all.

A gunman ambushed firefighters responding to a house fire in the Rochester suburb of Webster, N.Y., early Monday, killing two firemen and injuring two others.

The shooter was later found dead of gunshot wounds near the scene, according to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering.

Pickering, choking up frequently as he spoke to reporters, said all four firefighters who responded to the call at 5:35 a.m. ET came under fire when they drove up.

The dead are Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, a volunteer firefighter and the Webster Police Department’s public information officer, and Tomasz Kaczowka.

“It is a very difficult situation,” Pickering said, his voice quavering.

“People get up in the middle of the night to fight fires,” he said. “They don’t expect to be shot and killed.”

It isn’t yet clear how successful the NRA strategy has been or will be. For sure, they find themselves in the crosshairs of mainstream media coverage of the Sandy Hook aftermath and they’ve taken a serious whipping in the online/social media world.

Twitter’s reaction to Friday’s press conference was swift and almost universally negative. A search for the #NRA hashtag yielded thousands of tweets criticizing LaPierre for his proposals for a database of people with mental illness and to put armed guards in schools.

Though a handful of NRA supporters and conservatives using the #tcot hashtag offered completely positive comments, others criticized the organization.

“This press conference [is the] best Christmas present the White House and the Democrats could get!” wrote Twitterer R. Saddler.

Many who tweeted about the conference remarked about the surreal atmosphere of the press conference itself, in which two protesters shouted at LaPierre and were quickly escorted out. Syndicated columnist Tina Dupay called it a perfect example of a “tone deaf” press conference, and Matt Seaton of The Guardian said it should make year-end lists as the worst speech of 2012.

Twitterer Tom Sauer perhaps put it most succinctly:

“Well that was a train wreck.”

It probably seems obvious to say that whatever the nation and its elected leaders decide to do or not do about firearms, that decision should be a result of thoughtful, informed consideration of the issue, not the efficacy of the NRA’s spin job. Still, we live in a media-driven culture with a frightfully brief attention span. Our ability to lose focus, especially in the presence of artful misdirection, isn’t to be underestimated. It’s therefore important for us to cast as much light as possible on said misdirection.

On December 20, Michael Sebastien at PR Daily published their Top 10 PR disasters of 2012. He probably wishes he’d held fire for a few days. While the Komen affair, Romney’s 47% gaffe, Todd Akin, Lance Armstrong and Chik-Fil-A kept industry observers marveling at just how much foot one mouth will hold, the NRA’s performance since Sandy Hook would certainly rank them in the top three if we were compiling the list today.

That said, this rumble has barely begun and in the final analysis, Wayne LaPierre’s abject cluelessness may wind up not mattering in the least.

Rohit Bhargava does a wonderful job of explaining how the NRA made use of the three biggest PR crisis response tricks in the book.

Strategy: Elevate the issue. If the issue being debated is easy access to deadly weapons, then the NRA will lose. If the issue, instead, becomes that our schools are not safe enough … then the NRA has a chance. So we saw over and over again throughout the press conference that NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre talked about the ways that our schools aren’t safe enough, and called on the government to spend whatever would be necessary to better protect schools.

Strategy: Play offense instead of defense. When it comes to defending anyone’s right to have guns, the NRA would have a difficult argument because anyone can point to mentally unstable people like the shooter* as reasons for why gun access should not be so free. Instead, the NRA laid out plans to introduce a comprehensive “school shield program” led by independent experts. Introducing such a program lets the NRA flip the issue to go on the offense to solve what they have already positioned as the biggest issue – school safety.

Strategy: Change the bad guy. A topic that has not been getting nearly enough attention is how violent video games and “blood soaked films” are creating a desensitized culture of violence. The last mass shooting was at the opening of a very violent Batman film. In his short talk, Lapierre called this a “race to the bottom” and likened it to pornography. Add to that the media’s coverage of the shooter and how they have turned him into something of a celebrity, and the argument that the real bad guy is media and entertainment (and not guns) is complete.

As I said above, textbook. But closer analysis reveals that these techniques were merely the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes there’s somebody who’s as deft with messaging as LaPierre is ham-fisted and alienating at the podium. Deft and borderline sociopathic.

Let me repeat what I said at the outset: Every good recipe for deception begins with an ounce of truth. When we speak truthfully, when we connect the words coming out of our mouths with the reality of the world as the audience perceives it, we establish common ground. We sow credibility. We demonstrate that we’re acquainted with the facts. Saying something overtly true greases the skids for whatever we say next.

LaPierre’s speech, for all its flaws, is a master class in using truth or shared values as a jumping off point for statements that range from deflective to outright dishonesty. I want to walk through some of the key passages, highlighting misdirections and deceptions as I go, and paying special attention to the places where fact goes in service of a lie.

The tone is established in the third paragraph:

How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?

All we care about is children, he asserts, and he sets up what is to come as being solely concerned with efficacy and efficacy.

How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses — even sports stadiums — are all protected by armed security.

We care about the President, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by armed Capitol Police officers.

Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!

This is clever. A lot of us think our priorities are out of order (although we might disagree vehemently about the specifics). We do care about money. We do protect these other venues with armed security. We do keep the president under heavy guard. And we do love children. So what’s to argue with?

In what is perhaps this performance’s finest moment, a subtle linkage is established between caring and guns. If you care about something, you protect it. And best way of protecting is to surround it with guns. We have a blatantly emotional appeal masquerading as pure reason, and if you weren’t paying attention LaPierre might, at this juncture, be sounding pretty reasonable.

The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?

A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?

It’s true – we don’t know how many. And there is every reason, given our history, to assume that there are madmen out there doing precisely what he says. But we would know if we’d … wait, if we’d do what?! There’s so much wrong with the national database idea it’s hard to know where to start, but here are three things to think about:

  • Any number of past perpetrators have been in the system and it hasn’t stopped them in the end. Heck, the guy who killed those firefighters in Rochester had been in prison.
  • Right now, people with mental issues are encouraged to seek help and they know they can do so with the assurance of confidentiality, which is certainly important if you ever hope to have another job. So once you realize that something as simple as seeking relief from depression might ruin your life for good, what are the chances that you take that risk?
  • Finally, LaPierre’s suggestion works fine unless you recall that the 2nd Amendment isn’t the only thing in the Bill of Rights. His idea represents such a radical breach of individual liberty it’s hard to imagine what Constitution he thinks might be left to defend.

Next we get this:

Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.

Assuming this is accurate, what am I being asked to conclude? That the Feds don’t want to stamp out gun violence? Or are there other reasons? Like enforcement has had an effect and there are fewer guns out there? That what has been rounded up represents the low-hanging fruit? That more resources are now required? That the NRA has done all it can to hamstring the authorities at every turn? Good questions. I’d like to know more, but LaPierre wants me to draw a misdirected conclusion and move on. In cases like this, it’s usually safe to assume that what you aren’t being told works against whomever is talking, because if they could tell you more, they would.

So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.

Violent crime is increasing? I know you want me to buy that this is about a “refusal to prosecute,” but by “violent crime” are you referring to crime committed with guns?

Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it? Then there’s the blood-soaked slasher films like “American Psycho” and “Natural Born Killers” that are aired like propaganda loops on “Splatterdays” and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it “entertainment.”


In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.

A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And throughout it all, too many in our national media … their corporate owners … and their stockholders … act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators. Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.

Very true. No doubt. Anybody with a critical bone in his or her body is sympathetic to the idea that we’re overrun with violence in this society. I’m even willing to accept, for a moment, the idea that this is all desensitizing. So, the problem is games and media, right? Well, they have the same games and media in other countries, countries with gun violence rates that are a fraction of ours. What’s the key variable, then?

The goal in this whole sequence is simple and it leverages one of the most powerful instincts in the American mind: either/or. It’s black or white. You can’t have it both ways. You’re with us or against us. The problem is that it simply isn’t true. Sometimes – most times, really – effects do not stem from a single cause, they result from a complex melange of factors. Is it possible that our rash of high-profile gun violence is due, in some measure, to other mediated factors like violent movies and games? Certainly. Would cleaning up those industries help reduce violence? Maybe. But let’s be clear: none of that diminishes the roll played by the wide availability of firearms. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

The media call semi-automatic firearms “machine guns” — they claim these civilian semi-automatic firearms are used by the military, and they tell us that the .223 round is one of the most powerful rifle calibers … when all of these claims are factually untrue. They don’t know what they’re talking about!

Which can only mean that a .223 caliber round isn’t sufficient to kill an unarmored child or teacher, right?

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away … or a minute away?

Beautiful false dichotomy here. It asks me to assume that the bad guy has a gun (which is certainly a safe assumption in a world where the NRA is allowed to buy and bully its way to such overwhelming legislative influence, I guess). Now, would you rather be able to defend yourself or not? Well, sure, if I buy your assumption. The problem is that I don’t. The real dichotomy is this: which would you rather face: a bad guy with a gun or a bad guy without a gun?

As for the second part of the equation, are you suggesting that the alternative to addressing our gun problem is a police station within a minute of every home? You understand what is meant by the term “police state,” right?

You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy. But what if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he had been confronted by qualified, armed security?

You mean like the armed security guard at Columbine? Also, Virginia Tech had a well-armed police force – are you saying we need armed police in every classroom now?

Is the press and political class here in Washington so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and America’s gun owners that you’re willing to accept a world where real resistance to evil monsters is a lone, unarmed school principal left to surrender her life to shield the children in her care? No one — regardless of personal political prejudice — has the right to impose that sacrifice.

There’s so much manipulative misdirection in this little paragraph that’s it’s almost hard to untangle. First, misdirection: those kids were killed by the press and political class in Washington, certainly easy enough targets. Battle between good guns and evil monsters. And if you don’t agree with me, you’re imposing sacrifice on the innocent. My professional compliments to the sociopath who wrote this.

But do know this President zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget, and scrapped “Secure Our Schools” policing grants in next year’s budget.

Of course, legislators vote on budgets. I wonder what would happen if I tabbed how Congressional reps voted on these items and then cross-referenced those results with their NRA ratings? Hmmm.

Now, the National Rifle Association knows that there are millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America’s schools safer — relying on the brave men and women of America’s police force.

Part true, part problematic. Not only an unsubstantiated emotional appeal to our reverence for police, military, firefighters and other “patriotic” and brave citizens (because if you disagree, you aren’t a patriot), but also the invocation of one of the NRA’s favorite words: “trained.” They can’t say hello without helping you understand that a gun is perfectly safe in the hands of a trained citizen (they use some form of the word ten times in this speech alone). There’s no arguing that training is good, of course. Then again, a few months back some highly trained police officers opened fire on a suspect outside the Empire State Building. When the smoke cleared, nine civilians had been hit – all by police fire. LaPierre wants you to believe that a police officer at Sandy Hook would have meant no dead children. Possibly. Or possibly many more.

Our training programs are the most advanced in the world. That expertise must be brought to bear to protect our schools and our children now. We did it for the nation’s defense industries and military installations during World War II, and we’ll do it for our schools today.

LaPierre is now so far over the top that it’s almost impossible not to snark. That armed guard in Mrs. Snodgrass’s class is going to save the day when the Japanese bomb Pleasant Grove Junior High.

If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained — armed — good guy.

“Cherish our children more than our celebrities”? Wait – did I miss where there’s an armed guard on every movie set? Also, again – guns = good guys.

There’ll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action.

We can’t wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work. We mustn’t allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us. We must act now.

First, we establish that debate is bad. So when Congress takes up gun reform, you’ll know. There is an element of truth to the idea that one doesn’t stand around hemming and hawing in the face of a clear and present danger, and he hopes to insinuate that assumption into your thinking. Second, we must act now! He’s trying to turn the urgency around and, as Bhargava explains above, go on the attack. Bad guys are coming right now and every second we refuse to put more guns out there we risk our children, whom we love almost as much as we do Cameron Diaz. I do wonder, though. Several days elapsed between the sandy Hook killings and this press conference. If every second is that critical, why did they wait, in the process risking the lives of countless innocent citizens?

So, how effective was the NRA’s response? Too soon to tell. On the one hand, we just witnessed an absolute case study in how to manage crisis. Whoever crafted the strategy knows his/her stuff, and as my analysis of the LaPierre speech suggests, is willing to pull every switch on the control panel in pursuit of a goal. Whoever is behind this is either a true believer or as malignant a prostitute as the PR industry has ever spawned.

On the other hand, the speech overreached significantly in places, and in doing so threatened to descend into self-parody. Put another way, our evil genius needs to lay off the mustard. Also working against them was LaPierre himself, a walking, talking caricature of a bright-eyed fanatic. It’s bad enough that he simply doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend why people would see guns as part of the problem. What’s worse are his performative skills – anytime you’re in an organizational crisis and you have to put a buffoon up in front of the cameras, you’re in deep trouble no matter how brilliant the script.

In the end, the NRA has been hit, but the extent of the wound remains to be seen. Recent events have been, in some respects, a dog and pony show. Ultimately, my opinion doesn’t matter, nor does yours. The ones that matter are those of our legislators, and they get a good bit of money from pro-gun interests. There are a thousand ways for Congress to put on a concerned face and look very intent about getting something done, only to emerge later, fingers pointing in all directions, bemoaning that as hard as they tried, this was the best they could do. The best, of course, then becomes one more ineffectual, “compromised” gun law that the NRA can one day point to, saying “see, gun laws don’t work.” It’s quite the entertaining bit of kabuki when you think about it.

If you’re hoping to see meaningful action taken, you do have one important thing on your side: As much as they hate it, the National Rifle Association has now become the spokesman of record for mass murder in America. If you need proof, this very press conference was it. Madman kills a bunch of children and teachers. NRA forced to call a press conference defending itself.

Sandy Hook may or may not prove to be the tipping point (my money says not), but when you work in PR you accept that sometimes there’s not much you can do. The architect of last week’s response did about all that could have been hoped for, but when push came to shove, was simply outgunned.

Tournament of Rock IV: Meat Loaf vs. Aerosmith

Wow. #4 seed REO Speedwagon vs. #5 Bon Jovi turned out to the be the nailbiter we’ve been waiting for. Each band held significant leads at one point or another, and in the end it came down to a photo-finish: by a mere two votes, your winner is…REO Speedwagon. Congratulations to both bands on a great showing, and we’ll see REO in the semi-finals.

Up next, another match of top seeds: #2 Aerosmith and #10 Meat Loaf. Frankly, here are two artists we’d kill to see collaborating. Maybe they could do a medley of “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and “Big Ten Inch Record.” I smell a hit, yo.

Let’s see here. How about we start with my favorite Embaerosmith tune in the last 20 years.

Since we’re focusing on high spots, let’s now see the greatest moment of Meat Loaf’s career.

Click to vote.

Here’s the up-to-date bracket.

Raw materials: how often are guns used in self defense?

3 men shooting handguns at a range

At home on the range

One challenge of stepping hip-deep into an issue about which one wishes to be as objective as possible is that of not believing one’s own PR. I might like cliches, but I hate drinking the Kool-Aid, even my own special brew.

To that end, fact-checking is indispensable. As a starting reference, I’ll be using the Gun Control Fact Sheet 2004 from Gun Owners of America. I’ve searched their website and am unfamiliar with any more recent version at this time. However, I should throw out a caveat or three. Continue reading

More evidence for the war on Christmas

Update: The image that was originally included with this post has been removed at the copyright owner’s request.

Before moving to London fifteen years ago, we lived in several different states—Massachusetts for seven years, New Jersey for seven years before that, Rhode Island twice. There were other places too, but mostly the suburban northeast, where Christmas decorations, for most of my life, were taken seriously. Both Mrs W and I grew up on Long Island, where dueling outdoor decorations were a given. Not that the actual towns we lived in were characterized by over the top decorating—Hingham, Massachusetts, is much too tasteful, and Highland Park, New Jersey, much too intellectual. But Hingham has Weymouth and Quincy right next door, and from Highland Park we could always just zip over to a couple of well-known streets in Edison. And Providence? You can just imagine.

Boy, did these places have houses with decorations. The whole shebang—Santa and his reindeer on the roof, usually fully lit with spotlights, and lots of figures on the lawn, including penguins, snowmen, angels, Snoopy, sometimes even Garfield, and, lots of inanimate Christmas items such as candles, large inflated ornaments, North Poles, whatever. These were usually internally lit, but a real practitioner would make sure these were spotlit as well. And, of course, thousands and thousands of outdoor Christmas lights—along the roofline and eaves, around the garden, up the walkway and around the front door, in the trees, the shrubs, in some cases even around the boat on the trailer in the driveway. This was serious lighting. We knew streets in Weymouth, or Edison, where I imagine the grid was being stressed all night because of the lights. It was, it must be said, splendid. Urban light pollution? You bet.

So this evening, on our second Christmas in the US since we moved away, we went looking. Jeez, what happened? It’s all, well, how to put this? Boring. Not that the decorations have changed. Santa and his reindeer, including Rudolph, are still up there on the roof. The lawns are still covered with Snoopys and penguins and Frostys. But it’s not the same. What happened? Everyone seems to have gotten rid of those large outdoor incandescent lights, the ones that consumed a tanker of oil each night, and replaced them with those little itty bitty white lights. Italian lights, we used to call them, although I don’t imagine we call them that any more. But there they are, everywhere, looking, well, nice. People go whole-hog to make sure there isn’t an inch of unoccupied space on the roof and the lawn, and then they illuminate it all with these little itty bitty lights? Or lites, which seems the more appropriate spelling. What is this?

They say there’s a war on Christmas. Well, maybe there is. It’s a war to replace tasteless over the top deranged drop-dead astonishing outdoor Christmas extravaganzas with something that looks designed by Martha Stewart. What is the world coming to? Honestly, if this great nation can’t muster the courage to blow a couple of power stations at Christmas any more, what hope is there?

Gun control advocacy: let’s talk about blood on hands, shall we?

Salem witch trial engraving

Salem witch trial engraving

Just three days before Christmas, The Journal News, a Gannett company, decided that there might not be enough red in our holidays.

Map: Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood?

The map indicates the addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Each dot represents an individual permit holder licensed to own a handgun — a pistol or revolver. The data does not include owners of long guns — rifles or shotguns — which can be purchased without a permit. Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so.

Data for all permit categories, unrestricted carry, premises, business, employment, target and hunting, is included, but permit information is not available on an individual basis.

To create the map, The Journal News submitted Freedom of Information requests for the names and addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam. By state law, the information is public record.

The level level of journalist malfeasance in this action just staggers the mind.  Regardless of one’s sentiments pertaining to gun control and Second Amendment rights, it should be clear to anyone that this is worse than a mere witchhunt, intended to stigmatize individuals, even entire locales.

“Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so.”

Tongue-in-cheek caveat be damned.  The Journal News has created a treasure map for evil-doers.  The lion’s share of an arms-minded burglar’s casing has been done for them.  They know where the goods are likely to be.  It would be no difficult challenge to scope out an address until assured that nobody is home.  After all, home defense only works when the domicile is occupied, right?

If so much as one person, one child, should die from a gunshot wound sustained from a round discharged from a weapon permitted to an owner identified by name and address on these maps that, subsequent to December 22, 2012, goes missing, the blood is on the hands of whatever brain trust at The Journal News decided that this was a good idea.

For those that think this kind of authorized invasion of privacy in the so-called public interest is a fine idea, I might suggest a word:  complicity.

The NRA is on the ropes

by Patrick Vecchio

The cynicism of Wayne LaPierre’s press conference Friday becomes clearer every day. LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s chief executive, desperately tried an obvious media spin trick. The national media should call him out and keep hammering him. It will further show how deranged the NRA’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre is.

You’ll recall the first ground rule for the press conference was established by NRA President David Keene before he introduced LaPierre: The NRA was going to ignore reporters’ questions until Monday. The words “until Monday” are key.

Public relations professionals, press agents and political spokespersons try to avoid announcing bad news until late afternoon Fridays. They hope the bad news will be less apt to get attention or generate discussion over the weekend. They hope by Monday, the story will be running out of legs because the weekend has defused it.

After a week of silence, LaPierre and the NRA knew they had to say something before gun control advocates took ownership of the discussion about preventing another Sandy Hook slaughter. No matter when the NRA brass crawled out of their spider hole, they were going to have to face the blinding media light.

Obviously, the “quiet until late Friday” trick was doomed. The delay in answering questions until Monday, though, is a deliberate move. Monday is Christmas Eve. Tuesday is Christmas. LaPierre and Keene hope the weekend and the holidays will give them time to regroup and mitigate the damage from LaPierre’s ranting.

After LaPierre’s rant blamed anything but guns for Sandy Hook, he composed himself enough to say Congress should pay for an armed guard at every one of America’s 99,000 public schools. Such a program would cost billions of dollars a year and do next to nothing to keep schools safer. An armed guard can’t cover every point of entry to a school building. An armed guard would be a killer’s first target. Killers would bring more firepower to neutralize the guard. A dead guard would put another weapon in the killer’s hands.

If a more bizarre public policy plan surfaced in 2012, I can’t remember it.

As those points and others are being discussed by millions of people who have never discussed these points before, people have been reminded the supposedly all-powerful NRA has only 4 million members in a nation of 315 million people. A coalition of other interest groups could easily neutralize the NRA. The bumper sticker “I’m the NRA and I vote” would be countered by “I’m not the NRA, and we outnumber you.”

This, of course, assumes elected officials have the decency and courage to act in the interests of millions of constituents who are saying to do something to regulate gun ownership. But the NRA doesn’t exist for gun owners. It exists to make sure the firearms industry continues to profit from the sale of bullets and guns. Those industries funnel millions of dollars into the right politicians’ pockets to sway their votes. Are Americans ready to get together and outspend the industries? Are Americans willing to call out those politicians as spineless MRA cronies?

Sandy Hook has changed the stereotyped dynamic of the NRA vs. everyone else. There’s no way to measure this, but it’s safe to say not every NRA member marches to the beat of the demented drummer LaPierre. How many of those 4 million members are ready to say enough is enough? This number is much higher than LaPierre thinks—or perhaps he sees a substantial number of members turning away from the organization’s dogma and has no response plan in place.

It’s ironic that NRA members who line up to the political right might support a government program that would increase public spending by billions of dollars a year. Haven’t they been saying for years that “big government” is our nation’s biggest problem?

As for people who own arsenals so they can fight against government tyranny, do they really think that when the black helicopters land and the black tanks rumble through the country, a tyrant’s sheer firepower won’t crush them like bugs?

The NRA’s political power is on the ropes. Americans must move in for the knockout.

Wuf’s books of the year, 2012

Every year I read about 70 or 80 books. I do most of this while commuting—an hour and a half a day, five days a week, gets a lot done. This year so far it’s been 82, and it looks like there will be a couple more before year end. Here are some of the books that stood out, for one reason or another, this past year. Not all were published in 2012, although a number were—in fact, several were published a century ago. In no particular order, other than the order I remember them in, which may or may not be meaningful:

1. Cees Nooteboom—Roads to Berlin (2012). Nooteboom, a Dutch writer who is one of those few writers who is relentlessly European, has spent a fair amount of time in Berlin. In fact, he was living in Berlin in that interesting period of 1989-1990, and has returned a number of times since then. This is a chronological compilation of his writings from that period, and since. Berlin is the most interesting city in the most interesting country in Europe, and Nooteboom captures the many levels of simultaneous jubilation and dismay that accompanied the fall of the Wall and the reunification of what by 1989 had become two very different countries, each with a fair amount of opposition to reunification. As always with Nooteboom, there is a significant amount of cultural context accompanying his political observations. Nooteboom is probably Europe’s most able and lucid cultural critic, and has views on, well, pretty much everything, almost always views worth pondering. What he mainly is concerned with is the range and breadth of disappointments that have accompanied reunification. This disappointment emanates from both east and west, for a variety of reasons, and even today neither the city, nor the country, has healed completely. Underlying the whole enterprise is Nooteboom’s obvious love for, and occasional bafflement surrounding, the entire German ethos, personified by, of course, Goethe. Nooteboom’s reflections are interwoven with observations on German history, culture, art, travel, and even an inspired paean, of sorts, to the East Berlin zoo. For those too young to remember, Nooteboom reminds us of a time when “border crossings’ in much of Europe could be, and often was, a lethal experience. And his description of the actual collapse of East Germany and the wall are inspiring.

2. Lawrence Norfolk—John Saturnall’s Feast (2012). Whenever someone mentions to me that they don’t write books the way they used to, I usually refer them to Norfolk’s first novel, Lempiere’s Dictionary, a book of magnificent scope and imagination. JSF is simpler in its conception, following the life of John Saturnall, whose mother imparts to him the wisdom of the forest and the feast, with the imprecation that the Feast belongs to all. Set in the English Civil War, we witness John’s coming of age, and coming to master his art (cooking), and his love for the lady of the manor. We also witness his trials and triumphs against several foes, a crazy Christian preacher being the most prominent. Norfolk handles the swings of political mood well, and we’re horrified, justifiably, by how much the role of caprice plays in the daily lives of people. And the star-crossed lovers? You’ll just have to read the book to find out. And looming over all is the tension between pagan and Christian England, one that has persisted even, in some milder forms, to this day—but at the time Norfolk is writing about, was still a very real issue, especially concerning the question of witchcraft. A book of good wisdom, told simply and well. And John Saturnall’s observations on food are themselves worth the price of the book.

3. Catherynne M. Valente—The Folded World (2011). The second in Valente’s planned trilogy about the legendary Kingdom of Prester John. Valente is a wonderful writer—some of the sentences in this series are stunning. But it’s the conception that’s the winning dynamic here—Prester John is, of course, the successor to Thomas, Jesus’s disciple who went to India. John followed, and founded a legendary Christian Kingdom in the East full of improbable, indeed miraculous, animals and people. Valente’s conceit here is to take these tales literally, and to build several improbable but moving love stories around them, both in the Kingdom and several centuries later. In this volume, the West, in the form of the Crusades, is beginning to make its presence felt. Volume three comes out in sometime in 2013. I can’t wait.

4. Ken Macleod—Intrusion (2012). Suppose the government decided to take preventive action against potential health hazards? Well, it already does that, doesn’t it? But then expand the range of areas where the government believes it has the right, indeed the obligation, to act preemptively. That’s the underlying issue in Macleod’s excellent novel, a genuine novel of ideas—we follow the lives of young marrieds Hugh and Hope Morrison in a dystopian near-future London, where Hope refuses to take “the fix”—the drug that will cure potential genetic defects. Why? She just doesn’t want to. That’s her business. This gets her noticed, unsurprisingly, and travails and adventures ensue, many of them unpleasant. Macleod is brilliant at this sort of stuff. Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber had a thoughtful discussion of the book and some of its implications. And let’s consider this thought experiment just in passing—if there were a drug that would render the Adam Lanzas and Jared Loughners of the world harmless, but you couldn’t tell who they were beforehand—should we make everyone take it anyway?

5. Ford Madox Ford—England and the English (1905-1907). This volume actually incorporates three of Ford’s books about London and England—The Soul of London, Heart of the Country, and Spirit of the People. Ford writes generously about the English, and their wonderful gift for accommodating each other. Ford was a great and seminal writer, and was responsible, if anyone was, for Pound, Joyce and the revolution in 20th century literature. And he loved England, although he spent much of his later life in the United States. Here he tells us why. Ford had an amazing range of interests—he would talk about anything to just about anyone, and he does so here, wandering the streets of London, or the back roads of rural England. Ford’s greatest gift was that he actually listened to people. Ford is back in fashion again, at least in Britain, based on the BBC adaptation of Parade’s End. It was pretty good if you didn’t mind that they softened Sylvia up to make her “sympathetic,” and made Tietjens a wuss with no sense of irony whatsoever. Aside from that, it wasn’t bad.

6. Eric Kandel—The Age of Insight (2012). Kandel won a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for his work on the molecular basis of memory. He was also born in Vienna, and his family left, as many did, in the 1939, following Kristalnacht. So there’s a personal issue here, although this surfaces only rarely—but it’s there. There is also an obvious love for the fin-de-siecle period at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries when Vienna defined not only modern, but the terms of debate for the following century. Kandel focuses on several figures that defined that period, and what followed—Freud, the painters Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele, and the playwright Artur Schnitzler, all united by a desire to explore the unconscious, particularly the sexual unconscious. This is an engaging discussion of the roots of modernism, interwoven with Kandel’s discussion about what modern neuroscience tells us about not just the unconscious, but also how we see. How we see art, for example—there are a number of fascinating discussions of Klimt, for example in terms of how the visual system processes what Klimt puts on the canvas. These painters were able, as Kandel points out, to take advantage of the fact that people are geared to process faces, and Klimt, who attended medical lectures, actively attempted to incorporate biological, even evolutionary, thinking into his paintings. Kandel has a deeper purpose, though—Vienna was also, since the middle of the 19th century, the center for advances in medicine in Europe, and this provided a medical foundation for not only the observations of Freud, but also for how Klimt and others viewed the world. These people all hung out in the same coffee houses, after all, and attended the same salons. Much of the roots of modernism, it turns out, derive from the pioneering medical efforts of Carl von Rokitansky, who led the Vienna Medical School in the second half of the 19th century. A fascination intellectual, artistic and scientific history.

7. Libuse Monikova—The Façade (1991). Monikova was a Czech writer and essayist who left what was then Czechoslovakia after the failure of the Prague Spring and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by its neighbors, and relocated to Germany, where she lived until her death in 1998. I picked this up on remainder a couple of years ago on a whim, and finally got to it this year, and am now kicking myself for not reading it earlier. The Façade—there literally was a façade, part of a castle that the four protagonists are restoring when the book opens and closes—becomes a grounding for a set of adventures and frustrations that approach an eastern bloc equivalent to magic realism, as the four, who find themselves invited to Japan, attempt to get there. The bulk of the book is a narrative of their adventures in attempting to complete that trip, and it becomes a glorious metaphor for life under Soviet rule. The have scrapes, some with authorities, others with people who report them to authorities, some with…well, just people. Monikova was an erudite and accomplished judge of humanity, and this is an amazing book, a romp on the one hand, and an incisive look at the bizarreness of life in Eastern Europe under Soviet rule. No longer in print, but you can still track down copies online. Get this book back in print! Sadly, it appears to be the only book of hers that has been translated into English, but if you read German, I suspect you’re in for a treat.

Happy reading! What were your favorites?

Tournament of Rock IV: Bon Jovi vs. REO Speedwagon

The last match in the Sweet 16 goes off without a great deal of drama, despite the fact that it was technically an upset: AC/DC, purveyor of ballsy hard rock and affordable Shiraz, handles Phil Collins easily and takes another step down the highway to CorpRock hell.

And now we arrive in the quarterfinals. Eight bands left, and only one crown. We’ll tell you who they are, show you a video, and the rest is up to you. Without further ado, then, our first matchup – an inter-regional affair pitting New Jersey against the Heartland. In the spirit of the season, here’s Bruce Springsteen Bon Jovi.

I can’t find any video of REO Speedwagon doing Christmas songs. So the next best thing is this, featuring them channeling The Shirelles.

Click to vote.

Here’s the up-to-date bracket.

The Shortest Day

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

–Susan Cooper