The Great Game

“Put me in coach. I’m ready to play today. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today. Look at me. I can be centerfield.” — John Fogerty

A few of you may know that this used to be a baseball blog. After all, one can’t hardly look at The Hall of Fame Index as a web handle and immediately think politics and culture. For much of my adult life and kid life, baseball and politics have been two of my biggest passions outside of work and family.

Today marks a special day in American lore. It’s Opening Day. Opening day represents so many things for so many people. For some it is a signal of the beginning of spring. For others it is the renewal of hope that this year will be the year that everything goes right. Still others consider the routine of seeing box scores in the newspaper (or online) and a game on the tube (or radio) every single night. For many of us it is all of those things.

I’ve written four books about baseball and half of those have been related to the Hall of Fame. Independent of my love for the Astros or any other specific player there is the love for the game. Opening day should be a national holiday. When done right, nearly every team is opening their season on the same day. Fans can go into a collective coma with copious amounts of beer, peanuts, and other tasty treats seated in front of the television watching a triple header on ESPN.

I’ve spent all of those books talking about the history of the game and settling arguments within it, but I’ve rarely talked about why I love the game so much. For me, it brings order to disorder. There is a symbiotic relationship between cold, hard facts and the thrill of not quite knowing what will happen on any given day.

My cousin (an avid gambler) once asked me how you handicap baseball. I told him you don’t. You can look at pitching matchups, hitting lineups, career averages, and all kinds of numbers and lose every time. Yet, over a long enough timeline the numbers begin to level out and everything begins to make sense. That’s the paradox that brings you back every time.

Numbers fluctuate in every sport and yet the numbers in baseball have a magic all their own. The .300 batting average always means something. 100 runs and RBI always mean something. 20 wins, a 3.00 ERA, and 200 strikeouts always means something. Of course, those meanings become magnified when they turn into career sums. Then it becomes 3000 hits, 300 wins, 500 home runs, and so forth.

In no other sport are the numbers that magical. Running backs and receivers may gain 1000 yards and quarterbacks may throw for 4000 yards, but those numbers have waned in their importance over time. Offenses change and evolve. A yard just isn’t a yard anymore.

Similarly, in basketball scoring has changed dramatically as offenses have changed. The irony is that all three sports have embraced advanced analytics and the analytics have driven the strategy. Where did analytics get its start? You guessed it. Baseball.

I suppose it would be natural for a history buff to love baseball. The game goes back to the American Civil War. Football and basketball can’t possibly compete with that. No one really cares about soccer in the United States and few south of the Mason-Dixon line care about hockey. So, baseball was the best opportunity to marry a love of statistics, history, and symmetry.

Today is a day to take a break from Matt Gaetz, Joe Biden, voter suppression, gun violence and anything else we might care about just about every day around here. It is a day to feverishly check the scores to see how my fantasy teams did. It is a day to marvel at individual performances that might or might not be a predictor of things to come. It is a day to hope that my team will be perfect for at least one day. It is a day to allow all of that other stuff to go far far away. It will all be here when we get back.

Degrees of Depravity

“I took her love at seventeen
A little late these days it seems
But they said heaven is well worth waiting for.”– Robert Plant/Jimmy Page

Those of you that have been paying attention to the news have undoubtedly heard about the controversy surrounding Matt Gaetz. The embattled Florida congressman always seems to find himself in the center of some controversy. A lot of this is self-inflicted. The details are a bit circumspect at this point, but I’ll do the best I can.

At the center of it all is a report that he had a sexual encounter with a 17 year old girl (thus the Led Zeppelin reference). Gaetz is currently in his late thirties, but I’m not sure when this sexual encounter supposedly happened. On the other hand, unless it happened when he was 18, he is in the same hot water politically. Legally, it might be a whole other matter.

Meanwhile, Gaetz is spinning yarns about a blackmail scheme that is at the heart of it all. He is defending himself of charges that haven’t even been levied. I’m sure the psychologists among us will opine about what that fact means. I have had some psychology training, but I’m going to leave that nugget to the professionals among us.

Oddly enough, I find all of this to be a huge Rorschach test. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to those nebulous ink blots that we are supposed to interpret for the therapist. Supposedly, our answers say a whole lot about us. In this case, I think they say more about our particular feelings for these individuals than it does about us specifically.

Gaetz is a polarizing figure. Conservatives love him and everyone else seems to hate him. So, it makes perfect sense that those particular groups would handle these allegations differently. When I look at Matt Gaetz I see a jackass. So, it isn’t that difficult for me to imagine him doing anything like this. The fact that he is awkwardly defending himself tends to be icing on the cake. Still, there is always the possibility that everything he is saying is true.

We can see no greater contrast than looking at the situation Andrew Cuomo is in right now. We could throw in the likes of Al Franken as well. The level of sympathy we feel for any of these guys is directly proportional to the level of animus we felt for them before their controversies. In plain English, if we like them we tend to believe them. If we hate them we already see them as guilty.

This is usually when I remind myself of the guy from my dorm that I talked about earlier. He was accused of rape and ended up being cleared of all accusations. See, most of the guys in the dorm thought he was an asshole. My only interaction with him was memorable to say the least. So, when he was accused of assault it didn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to imagine him doing it. Sexual assault and harassment seem to be one of those crimes. If there are no witnesses then physical evidence gives way to which party is more believable. Assholes automatically are at a disadvantage here.

Make no mistake. Matt Gaetz is an asshole. I’m sure in a proud moment he would admit to that. He might not use those exact words, but he has made his bones acting in an obnoxious fashion. Maybe he would call himself spirited or a gadfly. Then again, he might not be smart enough to get the gadfly reference. Either way, he already has one foot in the jail cell for many Americans. It will be hard to resist the temptation to push him in. However, we must do it if we ever expect anyone we like to be given the same consideration.

Cue the Bond Villain

“They need water
Good, good water
We need water
And I’m sure there ain’t one of us here
Who’d say, “No, ” to somebody’s daughter.” — Pete Townsend

It’s often funny how phrases get started. If you looked up “jump the shark” in the urban dictionary I’m sure it would tell you that it is a reference to when something ceases to be cool. Funny but it derives from a real reference. In one of the later episodes of “Happy Days”, The Fonzie actually leaps over a shark. You can almost draw a direct line from his former coolness to what he has since become.

He certainly isn’t the only one. Matthew Broderick went from being Ferris Bueller to being a geek as well. He’s been well compensated for his trouble, so I’m sure he doesn’t mind. I certainly wouldn’t mind trading places with him just for a few moments.

One of our personal indulgences around the house is the James Bond series. I think we have almost all of the them on DVD and we’ve seen each one at least once. Most we have seen numerous times. The formula in those films always includes an over the top Bond villain. Simply killing his or her enemy isn’t enough. It has to be done in an elaborate and dramatic way. That always proves to be their undoing in the end.

At this point, you are probably wondering what this has to do with anything. The Georgia legislature and governor have jumped the shark and have gone from being mean-spirited people into Bond villain territory. You can see their evil wheels spinning as they plot their revenge against the Democratic party.

We start by making it more difficult to vote. We do that by requiring IDs and then limiting the ability to obtain an ID. We continue down that road when we limit the number of polling places in certain neighborhoods. So, if you aren’t deterred by the hassle of getting registered to vote then maybe you will be deterred by the long lines.

Sadly, this wasn’t enough for the state legislature and governor. Now, they have made it illegal to pass out food and water to citizens waiting in line to vote. I’m not sure if a goblin dressed up like the hamburglar will be dispatched to collect any food and water people bring themselves. I guess we will have to read the fine print in the bill.

Certainly, we can all see the dangers of allowing people waiting in long lines to have water. Water is a gateway drug. Give someone water and they might stay hydrated and think clearly. We simply can’t have that. If you want to pull the lever for the Democratic party or simply have the audacity to vote at a precinct where the majority support Democrats then you need to suffer. You need to wait in long lines and you will get nothing. And like it.

The cold, hard reality is that this law has already been challenged in court. I can’t imagine the courts allowing this portion of the law to stand. There’s no constitutional basis for it. Hell, there’s no human basis for it. Thus, we see the true core of the modern Republican party. Humanity is optional. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

In a scant twenty years, the Republican party has gone from compassionate conservatism to being the heir to the throne of Goldfinger. In one of the scenes, Bond asks him if he expects him to talk. Goldfinger responds by saying, “No, I expect you to die.” Thus, we have seen the soul of the Republican party if there ever really was one. It is a black one indeed.

Layers of Mendacity

“‘Cause you gotta be hangin’ tough
Hangin’ tough, hangin’ tough,
We’re rough.” — New Kids on the Block

My usual course is to attribute song lyrics to the individual or individuals that wrote the song and not the group. In the case of this song, it isn’t even the group that wrote it, but it’s just too embarrassing to saddle this on the person that actually wrote it. There’s nothing quite as ridiculous as watching five suburban white teens dancing in unison and telling us how tough they are.

These songs sold millions of records (I’m dating myself with that term) so I guess it fooled someone. It’s just hard to say if it was anyone over the age of fourteen. They certainly weren’t fooling any teenage boys or any adults. It’s one of those songs that inspires laughter today. It almost makes you feel sorry for those five boys. Almost.

The problem comes with the illusion of masculinity. We saw that again when Lindsay Graham tried to defend gun rights in the only way he can. He asserted that he owns an AR-15 and he would use it to hunt down gangs. Yup, I can see him now just mowing down street hard gangsters. Sure, and the New Kids were rough.

The trouble with a topic like this is that it exists in layers. The first layer is that we know Graham isn’t exactly the pretty picture of stereotypical masculinity. There have been nasty rumors about his sexuality since he’s not married and seems effeminate to some. So, the picture of Graham with his big gun is laughable at best.

Of course, then there is the immediate second layer. What exactly is the definition of a man? I certainly am not handy around the house. I don’t lift heavy things, shoot wild animals bent on attacking us, and I certainly don’t think the average masculine male writes his own blog about his feelings. I’m one of two males in an all female English department. If we are going by strict appearances then I’m not the picture of a stereotypical masculine man either.

Then, we get the question of whether any of this really matters. What if Lindsay Graham is gay? What if he doesn’t really participate in stereotypical alpha male activities. Should any of that really matter? Certainly, it is a little rich for progressives to trumpet the rights of LGTBQ+ individuals and then turn around and whisper about Graham. If you are going to support some people on that journey you need to support all people on that journey.

Of course, this doesn’t mean anything about Graham. I’m not speculating one way or the other. I honestly don’t care. What I care about is how people portray themselves and portray masculinity as a whole. The insinuation is that men own guns and bigger men own bigger guns. In my younger days, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said, “If you own a gun you are a citizen. If you don’t you are a subject.” I certainly didn’t realize that the right to own a gun had turned into the duty to own a gun.

I don’t own a gun and I’m pretty confident in saying that I never will. I guess when you add that up to my inability to fix things, lack of physical strength, and increased sensitivity then you would surmise that I’m not really a man. Would I become more of a man if I somehow lied about any of those things? Maybe I could say I own a gun. Maybe I could say that I can lift 200 pounds. Maybe I could brag about a would be enormous porn collection. Maybe then I would be a man.

All of this goes back to marketing. The NKOTB were mass marketed as a group of tough teens that could also sing and dance. Graham is mass marketing himself as the man’s man there to protect us from the big bad government. Meanwhile, we can’t help but wonder what this is all saying about manhood and what it means to be a man. Obviously, these notions inspire more laughter than anything else and yet we can’t be blind to the overall effect that it has on us as men and on culture in general.

Men as a whole are struggling. Some of us are struggling since we aren’t going as far in our careers as we thought we should. Not being the breadwinner in a family can be a blow to the male ego. Some men are struggling with the “Me Too” movement and how to navigate the workplace and society at large with women. Some men struggle with the concept of male identity as it pertains to their own sexuality and how they are perceived in the world. All of these things get jumbled up when we are bombarded by the images of false bravado.

Self-awareness is a freeing thing. I don’t have to worry about how manly anyone thinks I am. I don’t have to worry whether I have advanced far enough in my career. I don’t have to worry about whether I can fix stuff or how society thinks I should act around the opposite sex. I get to do what I think is right and live with my own perceptions of what I should be. So, it isn’t so much to poke fun at NKOTB or Lindsay Graham for what they are. It is about poking fun at who they were trying to convince us they were.

The death of a party

“An empty face reflects extinction
Ugly scars divide the nation
Desecrate the population
There will be no exaltation.” — Cy Currin

This is hard. I don’t know how to say this without coming off as offensive. So, I have to come right out and say it. The Republican party is dying. They may not realize it yet. With the way that institutional rules and fund raising advantages exist, the representation in state legislatures and Congress may not reveal this reality for decades.

Furthermore, there is the separation between conservatives and Republicans. I know conservatives. There are some I respect and some I think reflect the opinions and values of the dying brand. Making inflammatory statements like this often causes many to bypass any notion of nuance. It is the Republican party that is dying and not conservatism.

I’ve said this before and my opinion really has not changed much. I had originally postulated that the Republican party simply needed a shift. They had a shift in 1980 when Ronald Reagan became the central figure of the party. He managed to marry the business class with the religious right to form a powerful coalition. Some of this was inevitable, but I imagine that he would not recognize his own party today.

I suppose it is still possible for the GOP to pivot, but I just don’t see them doing it. Every time someone steps up to suggest it, it seems like the powers that be lurch in the opposite direction. Following the 2012 loss, members of the party wanted to find ways to become more inclusive and reach out to women and people of color. The collective response was Donald Trump.

I still cannot imagine a figure more antithetical to women and people of color than him. He lost both popular elections and lost the last one fairly convincingly. Yet, the party seems determined to kiss his ring and continue going down that same road. Now, they seem to be either embracing the Q conspiracy or failing to loudly denounce it.

Consider the legislative agenda for the GOP. They seem to be in favor of doing three things. First, they want to roll back voting rights so they can eat around the margins and disenfranchise people that would likely vote against them. They want to curtail women’s rights by making abortion either illegal outright or limiting it to the point where it virtually is illegal. They want to give more money to the rich in the form of tax cuts and cut entitlement programs to pay for it.

It’s difficult to imagine that agenda being a winning one moving forward. The country is becoming more diverse with each passing year. Young people are generally more tolerant than we were, so winning on social wedge issues also seems like a loser. Moreover, younger people are typically more progressive and eventually they will get energized by ideas like free tuition and universal health care.

The sad thing is that many conservatives aren’t monsters. They aren’t bad people. They are decent people with real concerns and genuine opposition to strong centralized government. The sad thing is that the Republican party doesn’t really represent them anymore. It’s hard to pinpoint who they actually represent these days. When you don’t have anyone representing you it is easy to become increasingly frustrated. Where do you go from there? I can appreciate the dilemma. Whatever their decision, they need to realize that the GOP as it currently exists is rotting from the inside.

A solution in search of a problem

“The band is just fantastic that is really what I think. Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?”– Roger Waters

The Texas legislature has revealed it’s legislative agenda. The agenda is a window into the soul of what legislatures are most concerned about. You would normally think they would want to establish new regulations for the energy grid. Maybe they would want to look at how COVID has impacted the state and how its long-term ramifications could impact the state. You’d be wrong.

Maybe they would look at the rash of mass shooter events that have occurred throughout the country and in the state and rethink some of their open carry laws that promote this kind of activity. At the very least maybe we could establish universal background checks before Jethro is allowed to lug his AR-15 into the Starbuck’s and Chili’s. Again, you’d be wrong.

If you had voter fraud on your legislative bingo card you’d be the winner. This was following an election that saw two documented cases of voter fraud state wide. However, don’t take my word for it. The Heritage Foundation has documented voter fraud cases coming up to the 2020 election. So, here are the breakdowns from the last several major election cycles in the state of Texas.

2018– 8

2016– 2

2014– 4

2012– 8

2010– 11

The Heritage Foundation is not exactly a liberal stronghold. Most observers consider them to be one of the more conservative thinktanks in the country. So, let’s do some quick math. If we total the number of cases of fraud in the last decade (counting the two from this year) we get 35 cases.

Texas currently has close to 30 million residents. If we assume that half of eligible voters vote during presidential elections (2012, 2016, 2020) and that a third vote during the off-year elections (2010, 2014, 2018) then we’d surmise that about 20 million voted in the presidential elections and maybe 10 million voted in the off year elections. So, that’s roughly 35 fraud cases in 30,000,000 votes casts.

For those that have a quick calculator at the ready, that means that fraud impacted .000116 percent of the ballot. Stop the presses and lets get to work people. Voter fraud is threatening to ruin this fragile experiment called democracy. At that rate, voter fraud had exactly zero impact on any of the races. I didn’t include the off-year elections when you had local races like mayor, city councils, and school boards. We might have had closer to 40,0000,000 ballots cast since 2010 and maybe a similar percentage of cases.

In other words, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant to combat fraud. It also doesn’t mean that maybe more people committed fraud and got away with it. What it means is that the measure you go to to combat the problem needs to be commensurate with the threat. The threat is ridiculously low. So, why are we busting out the big guns to secure our elections when they are overwhelmingly secure in the first place?

Well, the answer is that when you have difficulty with voters choosing your candidate then we want the candidates to choose their own voters. It should be telling that the Texas GOP is overwhelmingly questioning the validity of elections throughout the country and yet they said that the elections in Texas were perfectly valid. Is it because rates of fraud were so much lower in Texas? I may be spitballing here, but I think it might have more to do with the fact that the GOP dominated elections in Texas yet again.

However, let’s take their assertions at face value. Texas ran a clean, secure, and accurate election in the 2020 cycle. If that’s the case then why are we rolling back early voting, mail in voting, and drive by voting that had become so popular in the last election? How does that make our voting more secure? Stronger ID laws could certainly do that. Maybe we could go from .000116 percent to .000058 percent. In exchange for that largesse we get to disenfranchise thousands of Texans. The fact that the majority of those Texans are likely Democratic voters is a happy accident I’m sure.

This is simple. The GOP know that their days are numbered. Their days are numbered unless they can rig the system to keep themselves in office. Normally I would suggest coming up with a message that is more palatable to more voters, but it appears as if the GOP is incapable of doing that. If you can’t guarantee that you are the best choice for voters you guarantee that you get only the voters you want.

What exactly is utility?

“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” — Janis Joplin

Today’s post will be a little more brief than most. One of the concepts we mentioned yesterday was the concept of utility. It seems that I might have skipped a few steps when making assumptions on the issue of gun control. The primary step came in the assumption that everyone understood the concept of utility.

In its simplest terms, utility refers to what a product or device is most known or used for. It is the one factor that often gets overlooked in situations like the ones in Colorado and Georgia. The utility of the gun is something completely different than the utility of any other item.

One of the conservative’s favorite arguments is that just about anything could be converted into a weapon. Sure, we’ve all played “Clue”. If you haven’t played it you’ve seen the movie. A hammer, wrench, or rope can be used as a weapon. They can also be used as a hammer, wrench, or rope. When you look at those items the first thing that comes to mind is a tool. That’s utility.

Utility is simply the thing that a particular item is known for doing. We discussed fertilizer yesterday. Fertilizer is a lawn tool that can be used to make homemade explosives. Any number of items can be used for nefarious deeds if given the proper training and imagination. So, we literally can go nuts if we try to regulate every possible bad intention with every last potentially dangerous item. The question is whether danger is a part of the primary utility.

This brings us to assault weapons. One of the favorite tricks on the right is to get into a semantic argument over how we define an assault weapon. I will fully acknowledge that I am not a munitions expert. So, my definition might not be the most accurate. This is one of those deals where we know it when we see it. Certainly, an AR-15 qualifies for the simple reason that assault is part of the name. However, the tricks of the trade is to get into a long-winded argument over the definition until we finally all just give up.

This is a question of utility. What is the item’s primary purpose? In terms of the standard rifle, handgun, or shotgun you could assert that the primary purpose is self-protection, hunting, or target shooting. I personally do not own a gun and will not allow one in my house. I probably have never put my foot down on any other issue.

Statistics show that you more than thirty times more likely to see someone in your home injured or killed from a gunshot then to use that gun to ward off an intruder. However, that kind of information goes to outcomes and not to utility. Millions own smaller firearms or rifles for self-protection and do so safely. So, the utility is still relatively positive.

Assault weapons are designed to kill a bunch of people and to do so in a short period of time. They are weapons of war. In that arena they have a positive utility. They have no positive utility in civilian life. There are few if any scenarios where I can envision a need to kill that many people in order to protect yourself. Maybe if you are a mafia boss you could use that sort of thing, but you would be admitting to some sort of criminal activity on the outset.

Someone that owns one is not doing it to hunt. They aren’t doing it to target shoot. They may say they are doing it to protect themselves, but that’s not really the reason. They are doing it either to intimidate others or they want to kill multiple people. Maybe it’s just a sick fantasy that they want to indulge in their perverted imaginations. Maybe that kind of weaponry gives them a release on those feelings. This is particularly true for those that live in open carry states.

The downside is that you end up with situations like Jacob Rittenhouse. He was the teen that carried an AR-15 and ended up killing four people. We opened that debate up this past summer and people argued that he acted in self-defense. The counterargument to that is simple. What’s the utility of an AR-15? Having such a tool gives one the illusion of self-control. That event shows the danger of what can happen when fantasy and reality meet.

So, the question of regulation is a fairly simple one. What is the utility of the item? Is it primarily used for legal activities or is it primarily used for illegal activities? Some may be both and therefore require some regulation. Some might be primarily good or primarily bad. It’s really a simple question and in the case of assault weapons a pretty easy answer.

Same Old Song and Dance

“Seasons change and our love went cold
Feed the flame ’cause we can’t let it go
Run away, but we’re running in circles
Run away, run away.” — Louis Bell / Adam King Feeney / William Walsh / Austin Post / Kaan Gunesberk

As most people have already seen, we had another mass shooting yesterday in Boulder, Colorado. Ten people perished including a police officer who responded to shots fired. This is the seventh such mass shooting nationwide in the last seven days. If we follow the same playbook we will hear the same responses after each one.

We will look at each one of these responses one by one and break them down so we can debunk them later on. You can predict them almost as clearly as seeing the white male shooter in almost every one of these. There is a maddening pattern to this whole thing.

We can’t afford to politicize this shooting (AKA, it’s too soon to talk about it)

I get this on a number of levels. Emotions are raw after every one of these. They are more raw the closer you get to the event. I know at home my wife was worried because she knows people in Boulder. You want to make sure nothing happened to someone you care about. Emotional responses usually don’t make for the best of decisions.

As a percentage of homicides, mass shooting victims make up a small percentage of victims. Most victims of homicides die at the hands of handguns. So, I can see the point of focusing on assault style weapons as a mistake in tackling the homicide problem overall. We will get to that point later.

All that being said though, these things usually require some positive momentum. Systemic change doesn’t occur in a vacuum and legislation needs popular support to get passed. People consistently favor background checks and a ban on assault weapons, but those sentiments are always stronger after one of these events. So, the notion of it being too soon is merely an effort to divert people’s attention away from pushing through something they already support.

Banning Assault Weapons won’t prevent all murders

This is essentially the all or nothing defense. This usually gets couched any number of ways. You can hear it as a statistical argument or through the refrain that someone that wants to kill will find a way to kill. This is technically true and all of these arguments are often effective because they have kernels of truth to them.

It ignores two overwhelming points. First, when you remove the gun, mass murder becomes more difficult. It’s not impossible. Timothy McVeigh used homemade explosives when he bombed a federal building. Still, it’s hard to imagine ten people perishing at the business end of a knife unless it’s a ridiculous martial arts movie with dubbed subtitles.

The other salient point is that the enemy of good is perfect. There is no perfect solution to violence. Violence will continue to occur regardless of what you do. The question is whether any particular solution will make it better. Banning assault weapons will not eliminate murder. Background checks will not eliminate murder. However, we know those solutions will be effective in some cases. The fact that they wouldn’t have prevented a particular event does not mean it’s not worthwhile. Those measures would prevent some.

It also doesn’t preclude a multifaceted approach. Voting for a gun control measure does not preclude me from suggesting or supporting common sense changes to the way we handle mentally ill people. This is not an either or game. Either or has a funny way of turning into neither nor. Something tells me that’s by design.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

There is unassailable logic there. This usually gets folded over into the argument that people that want to kill will find ways to kill. I agree completely. However, like all logical points, that only goes so far. This is a question of utility more than anything. The question is what is the utility of the item in question. In other words, what’s it’s primary purpose?

McVeigh can use fertilizer to build a bomb. We didn’t ban fertilizer. When you see someone at the store with fertilizer in their cart your first thought doesn’t go to a bomb. Of course, if you saw a cart with just fertilizer in it you might be tempted to move your thoughts there. It is similar with most knives. The primary purpose is not to kill people. Just about anything can be Mcgyvered into a weapon. It doesn’t mean it was designed to be a weapon.

I could say the same thing about rifles and handguns. They are primarily designed for hunting, target shooting, and protection. Handguns begin to get into a gray area, but I think we all get the idea. What is the positive utility for an assault weapon? What’s it designed to do? If it is designed to kill a number of people in a short time then what is the positive utility of having private citizens own them?

I have the right to bear arms.

Admittedly, most people are not constitutional scholars. So, they can be forgiven if they don’t understand the intricacies of each of the amendments. Suffice it to say, each amendment was written in legalese. Words matter and the order of words matter. Every right was designed to have common sense limitations that the courts could apply.

The first amendment has logical limitations. The second amendment does too. The government can pass common sense regulations and that has been upheld by the courts on numerous occasions. We recognize that private citizens cannot own bazookas, missile launchers, or missiles themselves. The question then becomes how much regulation is warranted. Those uttering the words above really aren’t coming to the discussion in good faith.

Their red-headed bastard cousins are the folks that use the slippery slope argument that the president is coming after their guns. Banning assault weapons doesn’t mean we want your handgun or rifle. It doesn’t mean we want a national registry. All fights should be fought on the merits of the case and not what people think the motives are.

Now, if I propose a gun ban or a repeal of the second amendment you are free to then confront me on that plane. However, if I haven’t said that then it is disingenuous at best to treat my argument like an all out assault on the second amendment. Taking on straw men is not going to solve this issue.

Thoughts and Prayers.

I’m not going to turn down a heartfelt prayer. God is all powerful, all knowing, and filled with an infinite capacity to love. God has also made it abundantly clear that he/she will not intervene unless absolutely necessary. God has given us free will to take our own path. I would surmise that God always hopes for the best and hopes we will choose his or her path. God has empowered us to make our own choices and solve our own problems with his or her guidance,

I say all this to say that most of us are tired of thoughts and prayers. They are certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. but we would prefer some action. We know these events will continue to happen if we do nothing and we know the stereotypes don’t work. There was a good guy there with a gun. It didn’t help.

So, arming everyone is not the answer. Installing more security may help some, but they typically don’t prevent these mass shooter events. Training people in what to do during a mass shooter event is also helpful, but again we aren’t addressing the main issue. It’s hard to pull off a mass shooter event without a weapon capable of mass shooting.

The price of indifference

“Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue?”– Elie Wiesel

Famously, people often chalk up love and hate as polar opposites. The summer of love in 1967 was somehow equaled by the summer of hate in 1976. We are also somehow equally fascinated by stories of deep love alongside stories of horrific hate. Romantic comedies have always been popular along with stories about serial killers and mass murderers.

In many instances we are fascinated by both. It isn’t so much that we are romantically drawn to the immense wreckage that someone brings with a mass murder event or serial killing rampage. It is the simple fact that we often wonder how those people could get to a place where they could do such a thing.

We have been told that indifference is in fact the opposite of love. It is the absence of feeling one way or another. If one were to take a healthy point of view they would simply acknowledge that each of us has a capacity to love or hate and that capacity is not infinite. We each has to decide what and who we choose to care about.

We say all of this to sit as a backdrop against the mass shooting that happened in Georgia last week. The question is obviously why that individual chose to do that. Most assume it was an anti-Asian hate crime and want to proceed accordingly. Of course, that begs the question of why you would want to differentiate between hate crimes and good old-fashioned regular crimes.

One could credibly argue that any crime is a hate crime. In particular, if someone opens fire in a crowded room when all of those victims are unarmed it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than someone motivated by hate, rage, or both. I suppose it won’t change the outcomes for that shooter, but categorizing crimes gives law enforcement insight into which communities might be the most vulnerable.

According to worldwide crime statistics, the United States is fourth in the rate of homicides per 100,000 people. All of the countries eclipsing them come from Central and South America. They all have major drug and gang issues that can explain the problem. Venezuela, Honduras, and El Salvador are the only countries that eclipse the United States.

This is where we get into a heated and long-winded discussion over why that is. Many will point to the disproportionate amount of those deaths that can be connected to guns. I certainly have pointed that out numerous times before in articles I have written over the years. Simply put, there are more guns per capita in the United States than any other country in the world.

The first rule in all social science is to avoid attributing causation where it does not exist. Any endeavor involving human behavior can have correlations and not causation. Gun activists are correct when they assert that people kill people and not guns. The gun is simply a tool. However, it is a bit rich to assume that all homicides would have occurred anyway. The relative ease of obtaining a gun is a factor in that homicide rate, but it is not the only factor.

A large part of it comes down to who we are as a nation. Centuries of independence on multiple levels have hardwired are collective DNA. We are much more individualistic in nature. We care about ourselves and our family. We rarely see a great deal of caring outside of that. It seems counterintuitive to suggest that indifference leads to a lot of crimes, but I would have to think it is more difficult to kill someone I have an emotional attachment to. That’s even if it is someone I actively dislike.

When we consider what serial killers have in common it is that they don’t form emotional connections with those they kill. The emotional attachment comes in the ritual they go through. It goes in the act itself and not who they are doing the act to. Give the killer an attachment to the person and they might not be able to kill.

So, the cries for gun control and improved mental health treatment are certainly valid. All endeavors in social science have multiple factors that have to be considered. Maybe we need to delve into the hardwiring to see if we can foster some additional feeling of affinity for our neighbors. I’m not one to talk. We may have talked to our neighbors a few times total in the last few years since they moved in.

So, I’m not sure how to get there, but we know what it looks like. I’m reminded of a committee I was on at my church where the pastor suggested forming another committee to determine how we could be more welcoming. I made the off the wall suggestion that maybe we should just be more welcoming without the extra committee.

Generally speaking, we treat people we care about better than the ones we don’t. So, maybe the road is more simple than we think. Maybe we just need to find ways to expand the group of people we care about to include more people. The aforementioned Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survival who spoke in front of Congress at the end of the 20th century. He suggested that indifference was never a virtue. In point of fact, it is the only way that something like the Holocaust could ever happen again. Yes we need to pass common sense gun control legislation. Yes, we need to find better ways to treat mentally ill people and treat more of them. Yes, we need to continue be on the lookout for people committing bias crimes against targeted groups. These things are all true. However, maybe more important of all, we need to find ways that each of us can care a little more.

Look a gift horse in the mouth

Money for nothing and my chicks for free.” — Mark Knopfier/Gordon Sumner

Every once in awhile it feels good to worry about small stuff. We can only handle death, pestulance, and destruction for so long. Governing is about the big stuff, but the big stuff doesn’t happen that often. In between you you have the small stuff. Governing is more about the small stuff than the big stuff. We nickel and dime are way through life.

The measure of whether someone is a good legislator or not is not made by what we see in public. Good legislators handle numerous items for their constituents on a daily basis. The bad ones can’t be bothered. Unfortunately, we don’t see this part of the job broadcast for everyone to see.

State representative Jacey Jetton has introduced a small bill before the state legislature to make school supplies tax exempt for teachers. This would mark a savings of 8.25 percent in most locations. I always loved how people would go nuts over the tax free weekend. Most stores offer steeper discounts for an Assistant Manager’s Day sale.

All that being said, we can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Every little bit helps. Still, it probably should go without saying that we should look at the history of this issue to get a handle on how we should proceed from here. The federal income tax code used to give teachers a 250 dollar tax rebate on their expenditures for the classroom. It usually wouldn’t cover everything, but it put a nice dent into it. That rebate went away.

Meanwhile, the costs of doing business continues to go up. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at your bill for outfitting your kids every fall. Inflation has something to do with it, but we noticed something else the past few years. Suddenly, most of what we were spending wasn’t going to our daughter. It was going to the teacher and other students in the class.

This becomes a vicious ccyle. Fewer and fewer families can afford the $100 plus bill that comes with school supplies. So, they ask parents that can afford it to buy extra for the other families. This includes pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, backpacks, and items you normally wouldn’t associate with learning like kleenex, antibacterial sprays and dispensers, and dry erase markers. Some of that is for the other students and some is for the teacher.

Otherwise, the teacher buys those supplies. They buy those markers, cleaning supplies, extra paper, pens, notebooks and other supplies. They also buy stuff for bulletin boards like posters, borders, and other decorative items. The pandemic obviously has added to this. When students can’t afford their own supplies they pick up the slack.

The solution is not all that simple. Schools could offer more money for supplies, but that money often gets tied up into budget bullshit land where you have umpteen million accounting rules you have to follow. Departments have to agree on exactly what they are going to buy. They have to buy it from specific vendors. Then, they wait for their requests to eek through the wheels of accounting as supplies needed now might get here by next fall. Most teachers obviously bypass this process and just get it themselves. After all, little Johnny needs that notebook today, not next fall.

So, offering teachers tax exempt status on items they personally buy may seem small, but it’s something. Returning the 250 dollar tax rebate would also be nice. Spending more on PPE would also be nice. The biggest positive of the last year is that schools have been forced to enter the 21st century. As much as old heads like me might decry technology, it might be the best thing that has happened to education.

Instead of spending money on paper, pens, and pencils, students get issued a laptop where they do their work. Yes, there is an obvious learning curve involved there, but going paperless is a lot more affordable for families. It’s a lot more affordable for teachers too. Naturally, that involves some upfront costs for districts and schools. They have to buy the computers. They have to update their networks to increase capacity. They have train teachers and students on how to use these computers. It’s not easy.

Some people will poke fun at Mr. Jetton for contributing pennies on the dollar. Pennies are better than nothing. As long as everyone acknowledges that more needs to be done then I’m fine with the measure. Unfortunately, in situations like this, we find that legislatures usually pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on a job well done.