Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Guns... Lots of Guns
For the past few weeks I've been going, on occasion, to a shooting range with the Physics Correspondant,. Before this summer, I had never fired a gun; in fact, it was only this past spring break that I even held a gun (unloaded, at a Bass Pro Shop, just so I could say that I had, indeed, held a gun in response to hypothetical rightwingers). But I'm proud to report that I have, as of this writing, fired a couple of .22 pistols, a vintage .22 rifle (with a sweet scope on top), a .358 revolver (rather a bit unbalanced), a .40 Glock (with quite a lot of kick), and even a 20-gauge shotgun (once, hitting nothing and partially subluxating my shoulder). That being said, I have no desire to own a gun, aside from the "oh isn't it cute" factor I sometimes experience when looking at itty-bitty derringers of the style ladies used in the nineteenth century. I really don't have the temperment to carry something around that could kill somebody.

Anyways. This is not what I've termed (somewhat derogatively, I must admit) an "emo-blog"; that is, one of those personal blogs focused almost exclusively on the writer's daily life. (See also: LiveJournal). I'm writing about my own personal experiences with guns to shed light on what I'm beginning to suspect is a greater trend:

Liberals of my generation are more comfortable with guns, or at least the concept thereof, than their predecessors.

The traditional left-wing anti-gun bias is well-established in contemporary political lore; at the abovementioned shooting range the clerk, a young woman of about my age, noticed my "Kerry: The Real Deal" button and joked, "he's going to take all our guns away." I noted that Kerry wouldn't be able to pass anything noticeably more restrictive than the Brady Law through a Republican-dominated Congress or even a mildly Democratic Congress (no Senator from Michigan or Vermont is ever going to pass a far-reaching ban), and further noted that Kerry had some guns, and was a Vietnam veteran. We joked around some more, and I received an NRA pamphlet (she noted that the store and range get tons of literature from them) detailing how Kerry was bad for gun owners.

Later, I glanced through the pamphlet, and gathered that the main points against Kerry were that he had supported the Brady Bill, he wanted background checks at gun shows, and he bashed the NRA. Somehow I don't think Thomas Jefferson is too concerened. I mean, Saint Reagan supported the Brady Bill--and the ban itself, according to Matthew Yglesias, is pretty damn pointless, as you can just mod out a banned weapon and make it legal. As for background checks at gun shows--you mean you want felons and the mentally ill to buy guns at gun shows? I'm sure the police would be happy to do all those checks for free; police departments were quite enthusiastic about handing out trigger locks in the aftermath of Columbine.

As for bashing the NRA, I have this to say to Wayne LaPierre: Grow up. Stop supporting a president who's about to sell nine-tenths of the Bill of Rights down the river just because he pays lip service to the one-tenth his opponent isn't too enthusiastic about. If your organization were really serious about supporting the Second Amendment, it would be fighting the handgun bans in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.--but then, it doesn't seem like there are many Bush supporters in those cities, so maybe you don't care about their right to bear arms. I mean, I don't want people to be walking around the streets of Chicago packing heat (due to the high probability that someone trying to defend themselves would hit an innocent bystander) but even I feel Dan Drezner should be able to have a trigger-locked 9mm in his locked nightstand drawer in the event Hyde Park is invaded.

Speaking of Chicago...

Last spring the College Republicans of the University of Chicago held a trip to a shooting range in Kentucky. Four students went, only two of them Republicans. One of the non-Republicans was a vegan from the New York metropolitan area. I've seen her pictures from the trip, and it looked like she was having a fine old time.

So I'd like to conclude by reassuring my gun-owning friends: Based on what I've heard from the Left of my generation, we really don't want to take away your guns--hell, some of us own guns. We just don't want criminals and kids to have access to them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
God help us.

A Native Oak Ridger Examines the Bush Appearance
Not being an employee of Oak Ridge National Laboratory or any of its affiliates, I could not enter the auditorium where Bush was speaking yesterday. After watching the speech on TV, however, I do have some comments:

1. Bush picked absolutely the worst place in the Southeast to mispronounce "nuclear". There are people around these parts who, if you're not fortunate enough to be surrounded by Secret Service agents, will start whalin' on you screaming "IT'S "NU-KLEE-ER", NOT "NU-CULE-LER", DAMMIT!"

2. Regarding those "weapons of murder": Who do you think makes 'em? That's right, some of the people in your audience do. I bet they felt real swell about you calling their work "weapons of murder", especially when the only nuclear weapons that have actually been used were partially built at ORNL. In short, you're calling the staff of the nuclear weapons programs at Y-12 murderers. Good way to get votes.

3. Bush's recitation of the speech was only slightly more inflected than a sixth grader's oral report on tree frogs. Does this indicate my personal biases for those who can speak well? Yes. Are these biases partially due to my high-end education, which has made me less and less tolerant of bad prose? Probably. Is Bush being a bad speechmaker on purpose, as a way to de-emphasize his Yale and Harvard education, or is he naturally not a talented speaker in a way highly educated people respond to? I'm not sure.

4. Was Hussein's regime in Iraq really "the worst government in the Middle East"? Personally, I'd nominate Saudi Arabia for that dishonor, but I don't really get the feeling Bush cares very much about women's issues or humane treatment of criminals--as long as the Texas tea keeps flowing.

5. Bush really doesn't react to criticism well. While he admitted that we haven't found weapons caches in Iraq, he insisted that "we were right to go into Iraq" because Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and an enemy of the United States. Well, Osama bin Laden is actively at war with the United States. Maybe we should concentrate on finding him first.

6. The infrastructure at Oak Ridge reveals that it's very difficult to find and enrich fissionable material. It took two and a half years to make enough U-238 and plutonium to create Fat Man and Little Boy--with three cities built especially for the project, hundreds of thousands of people working at these sites (almost all of them having no clue what exactly they were building), and billions of dollars from the United States government. Admittedly, this was using 1940s technology--but considering the embargo on Iraq, they probably couldn't have had state-of-the-art uranium refining plants. Good luck working with that yellowcake and not having any of our satellites pick up on your new gaseous diffusion plants.

The other option--obtaining already enriched uranium--is, as discussed by Matthew Yglesias in his The American Prospect article, a joke. Remember the great line from Back to the Future, where Doc Brown comments on plutonium being available at drugstores? You try finding a courier who's willing to transport U-238 to Iraq--I'm sorry, but androids aren't that sophisticated yet.

Thursday, July 08, 2004
The Ethics of "Second Choice" Marriages
WARNING: Massive spoiler for "Spider-Man 2" ahead. Since I don't have any of that fancy hide-the-post stuff here, please skip over the stuff in the next few paragraphs if you haven't seen the movie and are planning on doing so.

In response to the last few scenes of "Spider-Man 2", Will Baude ponders whether it is more deeply unagreeable to be left standing at the altar or to be unilaterally divorced within, say, two days of the ceremony. My response:

Why the hell did Mary Jane wait until the ceremony?

To that question, many would respond that she hadn't made up her mind about whether to continue with her engagement to Hunky Astronaut Boy or to hook up with the man she truly loves, Peter Parker. But what does it say about a character who would even consider marriage to person A when she truly loves person B, even if she "knows" that there's no way she and person B could ever be together?

Maybe I'm being horribly naive here, but for those of us who are less preoccupied with genitalia than are the Family Research Council and Senator Rick Santorum, marriage is about the union of two souls. The priest about to preside over the "Spider-Man 2" wedding was wearing a Roman collar, so it is safe to say that his views of marriage are similar* to those of the Catholic Church**, e.g. love is necessary for the spiritual bond of marriage--the sacrament to occur. But there were two impediments to this sacrament from taking place. The first one I consider to be a "passive" impediment--Mary Jane's lack of love for her future husband. I consider this to be a passive, and perhaps temporary, impediment because theoretically, Mary Jane could eventually fall in love with her husband, thus finalizing the sacrament several years after the ceremony.*** But there is a second impediment that prevents Mary Jane from ever truly loving The Astronaut****--her love for Peter Parker. The mere existence of Peter blocks Mary Jane's ability to fall in love with another man, meaning that her hypothetical marriage to Space Boy would never be a real, as in union-of-souls-real, marriage.

Not only is this hypothetical marriage destructive to Mary Jane, as it means she must live a lie, it is also destructive to her husband, who unknowingly loves a woman who does not love him back. He will not experience reciprocal love, and he is bound to not pursue reciprocal love. Of course, the fact that he doesn't know he's not experiencing reciprocal love may be an even greater spiritual loss--like Plato's shadows on the cave wall, he is mistaking the shadows of love for the reality.

So, yeah. Congratulations for Mary Jane finally getting the guts to break off the engagement. But boo to her for taking until the wedding itself.

A final thought: She totally should have left the engagement ring with the note. I mean, come on.

*Do Episcopal priests wear collars of the same style?
**Even though they, too, have certain below-the-belt prerequisites.
***Or something.
****Whose name, it seems, no one can remember--indicating that the gentleman in question is three-dimensional set dressing.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Music of the Day
Sudeep Agarwala has named a bunch of great Hyde Park bands--which all happen to be represented in "Going All the Way", the third Mr. Hyde Records complilation. For classical tastes, I would suggest the eighth track, The Soft Addictions's "Our Introduction".

(I am not in any way affiliated with Mr. Hyde Records, but I know one of the violinists in The Soft Addictions as well as the bassist for Spooning with Nora)

Monday, July 05, 2004
Bless me, for I have sinned
I confess to having gone to the Evil Empire (read: Wal-Mart) of my own free will on Friday, and buying beads, a plastic dresser, and some crochet pattern books. And there, I realized something--the current Wal-Mart bashing is very much a classist exercise because there are people who have benefited from Wal-Mart--those who couldn't have afforded decent stuff without a tenacle-like multinational that exploits their labor force in order to give really really low prices to the greatest number.

So if we're really serious about killing the Evil Empire, we need to offer a good alternative to it. We need to be serious about fostering small businesses in our inner cities and our almost-abandoned small towns. We need to figure out a way to minimize prices, maximize wages, and still make decent profits--a formula which Costco has apparently discovered in the fake-wholesale sector, but which needs to be replicated for the mass discount sector. Finally, we need to enforce existing labor laws to the fullest extent, increasing penalties to the point where it no longer becomes feasible to keep breaking the law and still exceed expectations for third-quarter earnings. We have a Department of Labor which is supposed to be in charge of enforcing these laws, but they're underused and underfunded. Let's change that.

Otherwise we're all just a bunch of blathering bourgeois bohemian-wannabe weenies. And while it's cool to be genuinely bohemian, it's not cool to want to be bohemian so you can be cool. It is far better to be boring and bourgeois in dress and manner and actually change the world rather than shock everyone with your bohemian style and make no bigger impact.

(Yes, fauxhemians piss me off. I think it's a class thing.)

Victory is Mine!
"And so is this cake, sweetie"

I'm now officially not a teenager today.

Happy birthday to me....

Thursday, July 01, 2004
For One Shining Moment...
as I saw Clarence Thomas swear John Danforth in, without knowing what he was being sworn in for, I thought "Yes! We're getting a new president ahead of schedule!"

But alas. He is only the new UN ambassador.

Well, he'd be harder to beat than Bush is, anyway.

I Rule!
Go and check out PresidentElect.Org's Electoral Map Quiz: What year does this map show? (hint: The Republican states are blue on this map.)

(Via Volokh)