Browsing the blog archives for March, 2013.


The White Guy Problem

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Obama Administration

Researchers Charlotte and Harriet Childress write in WaPo that “White men have much to discuss about mass shootings.”

When white men try to divert attention from gun control by talking about mental health issues, many people buy into the idea that the United States has a national mental health problem, or flawed systems with which to address those problems, and they think that is what produces mass shootings.

But women and girls with mental health issues are not picking up semiautomatic weapons and shooting schoolchildren. Immigrants with mental health issues are not committing mass shootings in malls and movie theaters. Latinos with mental health issues are not continually killing groups of strangers.

Each of us is programmed from childhood to believe that the top group of our hierarchies — and in the U.S. culture, that’s white men — represents everyone, so it can feel awkward, even ridiculous, when we try to call attention to those people as a distinct group and hold them accountable.

I understand serial killers are nearly always white men, too. Yes, gun violence is perpetrated by other racial groups in the U.S. But in the U.S., the particular phenomena of mass and serial killings are disproportionately carried out by white men, even though non-whites are disproportionately responsible for homicides overall. See, for example:

Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder

Erika Christakis, The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide

David Sirota makes the point that with all the calls to profile this or that group to prevent terrorism, the one group not allowed to be profiled is white men.

I agree with the researchers that it’s high time we all acknowledge this. I disagree with them that the perspectives of white men themselves are not credible —

Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years — not just Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine — have been committed by white men and boys. Yet when the National Rifle Association (NRA), led by white men, held a news conference after the Newtown massacre to advise Americans on how to reduce gun violence, its leaders’ opinions were widely discussed.

The NRA lacks credibility because it has a vested interest in stopping gun control legislation, not because their leadership is mostly white men. Since most white men are not mass/serial killers, I welcome their insight into this phenomenon, especially into the question asked by the researchers, “What facets of white male culture create so many mass shootings?” I have my own ideas, but not being a man I might be missing something.

Update: Steve M, who I know for a fact is a white guy, has an interesting perspective:

… mass shooters, for the most part, aren’t the alpha males within their own culture, even though most come from America’s alpha race.

And maybe that’s the problem. If you’re white and male (and middle- or upper-middle-class), the culture tells you that you can have it all. If you’re white, male, and developing paranoid schizophrenia, or having profound difficulties with socialization, you’re falling short of very, very high expectations. Why aren’t you thriving? You’re a person who’s supposed to be thriving! Everyone in your demographic category can thrive!

Young American males of other ethnicities are conditioned to expect disappointment in life. White suburban males are led to believe that the world is their oyster. Maybe it’s falling short of these high cultural expectations that attracts a certain percentage of socially struggling white males to fantasies of violent revenge. They want to kill because they’re expected to dominate, and this is the only way they know how.

That makes sense to me.

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For Your Consideration

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A libertarian organization connected to the Koch brothers has named North Dakota the “most free” state. North Dakota also recently passed the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S. I guess libertarians want to be free to keep the womenfolk barefoot and pregnant.

Along the same lines — men with loaded rifles crashed a pro-gun control rally of Moms Demand Action.

A member of Moms Demand Action said that she felt unsettled by their presence and said that the organizers would have to think twice before holding another event, particularly one where children could be present.

Because freedom, that’s why.

Ann Friedman of Columbia Journalism Review talks to Chris Hayes about the way he and his producers use a quota system to be sure the guests aren’t all white men. Sorta kinda related — here’s an essay about why gifted children from rural poor families don’t apply to elite colleges. And it’s not just about money.

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Is DOMA Dead?

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This has been Same-Sex Marriage Week at the Supreme Court, and reports are that the Defense of Marriage Act was absolutely clobbered yesterday. Of course, such predictions have been wrong before, but Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog reports that Kennedy the Swing Justice appears to be on the side of the four liberals on this one.

See also Irin Carmon:

It didn’t take long for the empty truth about the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act to be exposed Wednesday, and there was little equality opponents could do. At the Supreme Court hearing, Elena Kagan, the newest justice, went to the House Report from Congress when it passed the law in 1996, and summarized DOMA’s entire legal underpinning: “Congress decided to reflect and honor a collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.” According to people in the room, there were gasps and laughter at the so-called “gotcha moment.”

It was a duh moment, but a necessary one. Yes, DOMA’s about discrimination. That disapproval of gay people, not tradition or government uniformity, is at the root of the act is blatantly obvious both to anyone who observed it at the time and to everyone who has changed their Facebook profile photo this week. But it needed to be set out on a national stage, a few feet away from rainbow-festooned children asking what the big deal was. This week, both sides put forward their best cases and it quickly became clear the opposition to equality is based not on law or reason, but bigotry.

See also Defense Of Marriage Act Takes A Beating At Supreme Court and “Elena Kagan’s DOMA ‘gotcha’ moment.”

Religious bigots have been quick to claim martyrdom — Christians are now more scorned than homosexuals — and denounce legal gay marriage as a denial to their religious freedom, never mind that nobody is asking anybody to get “gay married” against his will. In the twisted minds of the bigots, “freedom” means the freedom to oppress others.

Paul Wildman writes

Here’s Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun (“it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage”). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are … strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It’s awful, I tell ya.

The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.

But I call particular attention to Erick Erickson’s screed, ‘Gay Marriage’ and Religious Freedom Are Not Compatible.

Erickson begins by acknowledging the libertarian argument that government should stay out of marriage. But, he argues, “the left” will never allow that to happen.

The left cannot take marriage out of government because for so long it has been government through which marriages were legitimized to the public and the left must also use government to silence those, particularly the religious, who refuse to play along.

Oh, that crown of thorns you wear must be digging into your brain, EE. But let’s continue … Erickson’s argument against legal same-sex marriage is entirely religious. He quotes the Bible, even, and says,

As long as there are still Christians who actually follow Christ and uphold his word, a vast amount of people around the world — never mind Islam — will never ever see gay marriage as anything other than a legal encroachment of God’s intent.

Erickson has several blind spots, one of which is that DOMA was/is a blatant attempt to use government to thwart those who disagree with his point of view. “Using government” is only bad when liberals do it, apparently.

Erickson’s biggest blind spot is, of course, the establishment clause. The 1st Amendment specifically strips Congress of the power to create law based on religious consideration. Even if God Herself were to pop into Washington DC and ask that such-and-such a bill be passed, it would be unconstitutional for Congress to do so, unless there is also a compelling non-religious reason for the law.

And, of course, nobody is forcing anybody to “gay marry.” Further, as Paul Wildman continued,

One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding. And as for the florist who refuses to sell flowers to a gay couple, what he’s asking for is not a right but a privilege, the privilege to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It’s no different than if he refused to sell flowers to an interracial couple. But somehow, if he finds justification for that discriminatory practice in his faith, that’s supposed to make it a fundamental right.

What they can’t permit themselves to see is that they are not asking for freedom for people to live according to their own religious beliefs, which is what religious liberty is about. They are intent on using government to force everyone to live according to their religious beliefs. When Christianist whiner David Brody asks,

So here’s a question that may be a bit rhetorical in nature: Is it not the responsibility of the homosexual activist leaders to become much more vocal and preach tolerance and acceptance of the views from Bible-believing evangelicals? If they want tolerance and respect, shouldn’t they preach the same thing toward evangelicals?

… he’s asking for homosexuals to be “tolerant” of his oppression of them, whereas nobody is denying him the right to marry a woman. It’s not exactly equal.

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Conservative Eschatology

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The rhetorical question of the day is, “Do Conservatives Want to Win?” Joe Gandelman points out that in recent years the Republican Party has reacted to voter rejection of their whackjob agenda by doubling down on their whackjob agenda.

Whether conservatives even want to win is a serious question in light of the reaction to the Republican National Committee’s brutally honest “autopsy” on why the party lost the 2012 presidential election. The RNC concluded that the party should change such things as the number of primaries, its image among minority voters, its positions on immigration reform, its ground game — and become less “scary” to voters. It all amounts to this: At least look more moderate. But “moderate” remains one of the filthiest words in the Republican Party, and the feeling is kinda mutual: Moderates voted for Obama in droves.

Indeed, many conservatives are rejecting the RNC’s tough-love report faster than Michele Bachmann running away from a reporter. And it makes you wonder: What are they thinking?

The GOP is divided into two factions symbolized by what New York’s Dan Amira calls “the world’s worst investor, Karl Rove, and the world’s worst vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.” Rove, an establishment figure and Bush family stalwart, wants to win. Palin, darling of the Tea Party, the grassroots, and talk-show fans, wants purity — which she believes will bring victory.

I agree with Ed Kilgore that the baggers are not so much indifferent to winning as they are to playing the long game.

But if your goal is something a bit more ambitious than winning the next election, other calculations come into play. Suppose you want to impose so total a degree of domination of a major political party that you destroy your intraparty enemies and plow and salt the ground upon which they once trod. You go RINO-hunting, whether or not you think that may contribute to short-term success in general elections. Or suppose you are pursuing a “big-inning” strategy in which is less important to you to “score” in each election than it is to produce big results—e.g., enactment of the Ryan Budget, game-changing judicial appointments—then that, too, might indicate a willingness to undergo some strategic defeats.

They’re thinking may be less strategic than eschatological, however. I’m not talking about literal Christian eschatology, or belief in the End Times. It’s more like a habit of mind — cultivated by messianic religious thinking — that sees humanity growing toward some ultimate, foreordained end. I think the true believers among the baggers truly believe they are somehow working toward America’s, if not humanity’s, ultimate destiny — a place where white supremacy and paternalism rule. So, keeping the faith is more important than winning elections, at least in the short term.

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Children, Guns and Crazy

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Joe Nocera in the New York Times continues to bring the reality of gun violence in America to light, especially the violence involving children.

For nearly two months, my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I have been publishing a daily blog in which we aggregate articles about shootings from the previous day. Of all the stories we link to, the ones I find hardest to read are those about young children who accidentally shoot themselves or another child. They just break my heart. Yet Jennifer and I find new examples almost every day.

Nocera goes on to wonder how anyone could be so stupid/careless as to leave a loaded firearm somewhere where a child can reach it. But the world is full of stupidity and carelessness. So how about childproofing guns?

And it turns out there is biometric technology available already that would render a gun unusable to anyone but it’s owner, by responding only when the gun “recognizes” the owners’ hand.

Why aren’t these lifesaving technologies in widespread use? No surprise here, either: The usual irrational opposition from the National Rifle Association and gun absolutists, who claim, absurdly, that a gun that only can be fired by its owner somehow violates the Second Amendment. Pro-gun bloggers were furious when they saw James Bond, in “Skyfall,” proudly showing off his new biometrically protected weapon. They were convinced it was a Hollywood plot to undermine their rights.

Nocera goes on to say that there are efforts to market and promote these technologies, but he is skeptical it will make much difference unless such safety features are legally mandatory. But the problem is, these efforts are mostly coming from do-gooder liberal gun control types. I agree with Steve M — “As far as I can tell, the gun community doesn’t want safety and doesn’t want to be responsible — not if we gun-grabbing liberals are the ones who seem to be defining safety and responsibility.”

So, yeah, if libruhls are fer it, they’re agin it. Having four-year-olds blow their heads off on a weekly basis is the price of freedom.

In other gun craziness news — earlier this week there was a New York Times story about the reluctance of courts to take guns away from those who have threatened to shoot current and ex intimate partners. The story includes a horrific example of a woman who got an order of protection against an ex-husband who had threatened to put a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger.

The judge’s order prohibited Mr. Holten from going within two blocks of his former wife’s home and imposed a number of other restrictions. What it did not require him to do was surrender his guns.

About 12 hours after he was served with the order, Mr. Holten was lying in wait when his former wife returned home from a date with their two children in tow. Armed with a small semiautomatic rifle bought several months before, he stepped out of his car and thrust the muzzle into her chest. He directed her inside the house, yelling that he was going to kill her.

“I remember thinking, ‘Cops, I need the cops,’ ” she later wrote in a statement to the police. “He’s going to kill me in my own house. I’m going to die!”

Ms. Holten, however, managed to dial 911 on her cellphone and slip it under a blanket on the couch. The dispatcher heard Ms. Holten begging for her life and quickly directed officers to the scene. As they mounted the stairs with their guns drawn, Mr. Holten surrendered. They found Ms. Holten cowering, hysterical, on the floor.

You’ve got to be pretty twisted to think Mr. Holten’s right to own firearms trumps his ex-wife’s right to not be terrorized by Mr. Holten. Yes, the gun rights absolutists are sick and twisted. And armed.

See also:

The N.R.A.’s blind defense of individuals’ gun rights has left a catastrophic toll. Stricter laws could help stem killings in domestic-violence cases. But legislatures would have to place prudent safety measures over Second Amendment absolutism. There is evidence that it would work: a study in the journal Injury Prevention in 2010 examined so-called intimate-partner homicides in 46 of the country’s largest cities from 1979 to 2003 and found that where state laws restricted gun access to people under domestic-violence restraining orders, the risk of such killings was reduced by 19 percent.

I’m wondering if there are any statistics showing that domestic violence perps tend to be gun absolutists, and vice versa?

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Stuff to Read

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Two retrospectives on the start of the Iraq War, to read together — Behold the Hatred, Resentment, and Mockery Aimed at Anti-Iraq War Protesters and What Needless, Xenophobic Panic Looks Like. See also Freddie DeBoer.

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Capitalist Parasites

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Be sure to read “Private Sector Parasites” by Michael Lind at Salon. He writes that the real “takers” are not the poor receiving benefits, but “the rent-extracting, unproductive rich.”

The term “rent” in this context refers to more than payments to your landlords. As Mike Konczal and many others have argued, profits should be distinguished from rents. “Profits” from the sale of goods or services in a free market are different from “rents” extracted from the public by monopolists in various kinds. Unlike profits, rents tend to be based on recurrent fees rather than sales to ever-changing consumers. While productive capitalists — “industrialists,” to use the old-fashioned term — need to be active and entrepreneurial in order to keep ahead of the competition, “rentiers” (the term for people whose income comes from rents, rather than profits) can enjoy a perpetual stream of income even if they are completely passive.

Do read the whole post.

Update: Kinda related, if you think about it — Charles Pierce, “The Silent Majorities

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Feeling Sorry

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As there’s still a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of feeling sorry for the boys recently convicted in Steubenville, I want to call your attention to On Rape, Cages, and the Steubenville Verdict by Mia McKenzie. McKenzie is in about the same place I am. I’m sorry that we have a culture in which young men are capable of such behavior. I’m sorry they were enabled and not guided. I’m sorry the criminal justice system will probably turn them into worse brutes than they already are. It’s all a terrible shame.

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Ten Years

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We’ve passed the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. I have little to add to what Paul Krugman wrote already. For example:

The really striking thing, during the run-up to the war, was the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that “everyone” thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents — but they were out of the mainstream.

The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. This was true in political circles; it was equally true of much of the press, which effectively took sides and joined the war party.

A lot of us saw clearly that the nation was being bamboozled into a stupid, unnecessary war. There were massive protests on the streets of New York that got no press coverage. One March just before the war jammed the streets from Times Square to Washington Square, and all along the route people were waving and hanging anti-war signs from their windows. Those New Yorkers understood that the stampede to war was not really about 9/11, an event still raw and smoldering in New Yorkers’ hearts. Why didn’t the press see it?

Krugman points out that we are still living with a false consensus, this time about economic policy. Eric Boehlert asks if Twitter could have stopped the war; I doubt it, any more than it’s stopping the phony idea about a “debt crisis.”

That there were, in fact, educated and knowledgeable people who opposed the invasion of Iraq for good and well-informed reasons, and not because of a lack of patriotism or a forgetting of 9/11, amounted to what Mark Twain called the “silent assertion lie.” This was first published in the New York World in 1899 —

For instance. It would not be possible for a humane and intelligent person to invent a rational excuse for slavery; yet you will remember that in the early days of the emancipation agitation in the North the agitators got but small help or countenance from any one. Argue and plead and pray as they might, they could not break the universal stillness that reigned, from pulpit and press all the way down to the bottom of society–the clammy stillness created and maintained by the lie of silent assertion–the silent assertion that there wasn’t anything going on in which humane and intelligent people were interested.

From the beginning of the Dreyfus case to the end of it all France, except a couple of dozen moral paladins, lay under the smother of the silent-assertion lie that no wrong was being done to a persecuted and unoffending man. The like smother was over England lately, a good half of the population silently letting on that they were not aware that Mr. Chamberlain was trying to manufacture a war in South Africa and was willing to pay fancy prices for the materials.

That last bit was about Joseph Chamberlain, father of Neville Chamberlain, who was an important figure in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, which was about control of South African gold mines. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

It is a bit heartening to see what has changed since then. Rachel Maddow on MSNBC would have been unimaginable ten years ago, for example. The once-invincible Vast Right-Wing-Conspiracy is in chaos. But there’s room for improvement.

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Steubenville: The Enablers Fight Back

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By now you’ve heard there have been convictions in the Steubenville case, and that a Grand Jury will investigate whether others should be charged with taking part in the assaults or, at least, failing to stop them.

My understanding is that most of the evidence presented at trial was in the form of texts and videos of the incident, and were it not for social media the assaults possibly would not have come to light at all. Further, it’s widely believed that local authorities were dragging their feet about charging anyone until the hacker group Anonymous got involved, drawing the attention of national media.

Naturally, there are some who are angry about this. For example: Although they don’t come straight out and say the two defendants should not have been convicted. Robert Stacey McCain and Lee Stranahan of Breitbart, for example, both are outraged at the “lynch mob” and “media malpractice” surrounding the case.

Media malpractice? Both bloggers accuse media of getting facts wrong, although what facts they got wrong are not explained. Media did report on accusations of foot-dragging because of small-town “jock” culture. Whether the fact the boys were stars of the football team is central to the foot-dragging I do not know. I do know that there is a nearly universal tendency to exonerate well-liked boys and blame the victim for what was done to her. People want to believe that rapists are sinister sorts with the word EVIL carved into their foreheads, not popular guys who everyone in town knows and who are perfectly “normal” fellows in most contexts. Faced with the reality of a victim, and evidence, however, there is a nearly universal tendency to want to believe the victim is at fault.

There’s been a lot of criticism aimed at CNN, and Candy Crowley in particular, for expressing sorrow that the convicted young men will have those convictions hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives. I agree with Steve M that CNN wanted to use its dramatic video of remorse theater, and Crowley was merely creating a context. But I also think sympathy with the convicted boys is based on the fact that neither appear to be the personification of evil that a rapist is supposed to be, at least in the public’s imagination.

Because most real-world rapes don’t fit people’s ideas of what rape is supposed to be, the number of arrests, much less convictions, remains shockingly small. What made the Steubenville case unusual was that so much evidence was uploaded to social media for all to see, which got Anonymous involved.

Breitbart’s Stranahan reports that many people in Steubenville were terrorized by people in Guy Fawkes masks. If that did happen it was unfortunate. There’s no question that Anonymous executed a public shaming of Steubenville and the accused rapists, and that’s a dangerous thing to do.

On the other hand, McCain and Stranahan both are in denial about the enabling culture that protects rapists. The convicted boys did what they did in the belief they would get away with it Text messages sent by one said that one of his coaches would “take care of” any blame for the incident. There were witnesses who could have stopped the assaults, but did not. And there’s been plenty of victim shaming. Which is, apparently, OK with some people. It’s just the perpetrator shaming that’s not allowed.

Of course, if the victim had been armed as Wayne LaPierre says she should be, and she had shot and killed the assailants — she’d be facing murder charges now. And the poor unfortunate boys would be dead. There are worse things than shaming.

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