29 March 2009

Where's My Gun?

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The gun violence in America is seemingly endless. Just this afternoon, as I sat down to write about this issue after two weeks of rumination, the news flashed yet another story of more of the same: “Police: NC nursing home shooting kills 6, hurts 3,” reports the Associated Press. I find nursing homes aggravating and dispiriting, too, but I have no plans to shoot them up.

Here is what is on my mind about this whole subject, prompted by the shooting spree in the towns of Samson and Geneva, Alabama on 11 March 2009: if the National Rifle Association (NRA) claim that an armed populace helps stop crime is so true, how did Michael McLendon manage to kill 10 people before being stopped by the police? That’s the question, and it’s just that simple. And here is some context to help consider this issue.

According to the Violence Policy Center (VPC) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2005 the “Household Gun Ownership” rate in Alabama was 57.2%, while the “Gun Death Rate” was 16.18 per 100,000. Alabama ranks 5th in the VPC’s rankings of per capita gun-related deaths (behind, in descending order, Louisiana, Alaska, Montana, and Tennessee). The VPC’s argument is simply stated: “States in the South and West with weak gun laws and high rates of gun ownership lead the nation in overall firearm death rates,” and the statistics seem to back this up.

At the same time, according to the Alabama Policy Institute's web site, “Firearms are used far more often to stop crimes than to commit them. In spite of this, anti-firearm activists insist that keeping a firearm in the home puts family members at risk, often claiming that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to kill a family member than an intruder.” Of course, to be fair to the Alabama Policy Institute (which thanks visitors to its web site for their “commitment to Alabama's families and Alabama's future”) they are not being super-thoughtful about their gun policy perspectives, and are instead just quoting from “Fables, Myths, and Other Tall Fairy Tales about Gun Laws, Crime, and Constitutional Rights,” by the National Rifle Association, as noted at the bottom of their page on “Gun Control Myths.” Surely the NRA would not lie. Right?

So, again: where were the guns during the Alabama shooting spree, aside from the ones being used by the murderer and, eventually, the police? If 57% of Alabama households have guns, and guns are used more often to stop crimes than to commit them, did Michael McLendon just happen to pick targets within the 43% of non-gun-owning households in Alabama? It was not like he was particularly stealthy or selective: the Reuters article reports that he was “firing at random” as he drove through town, including during an apparent stop at a service station. No one at the service station had a gun? Perhaps they just couldn’t get to it fast enough, or maybe they were too afraid, given that McLendon seemed to be shooting randomly. (That’s not blame: I know that in all likelihood I would be searching for safety in a situation like this.)

I am not blaming the victims of this terrible, terrible tragedy. They didn’t ask to be shot and killed. Among them was the wife and child of a deputy sheriff there, and that too raises further interesting questions, worthy of pursuit and pondering: what is this sheriff’s take on gun control issues? And the rest of the police in Alabama, too: do they also subscribe to the “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” perspective?


In accepting my own contradictions, I’m comfortable calling myself a solid libertarian who nonetheless finds some intellectual appeal in the Thaler / Sunstein approach to laws and decision-making. What does that mean in plain English? Here goes—in four parts.

Part 1. The libertarian in me supports the fundamental Second Amendment right to own guns. This is less because of the United State’s Constitution’s Second Amendment per se, and more because (as a libertarian) I do not like unnecessarily restricting people’s freedoms or blaming an object for its misuse by human idiots. (It is, to my mind, largely true that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and people have been killing each other aggressively since long before the invention of guns.) From cars to cigarettes to people who mix household cleaners containing chlorine and ammonia, we live in a dangerous world. But it’s not the fault of chlorine and ammonia that someone dumped them together.

Part 2. At the same time, the positions of the NRA are generally unsustainable; it is too simplistic by far to say there should be no restrictions on gun ownership at all, period. We agree, as a society, to regulate a broad swathe of things for the common good—from automobiles to zoos—so the idea that guns alone should be exempt from such a regulatory process is absurd.

Part 3. Part of what American society needs is a more honest and open debate about the cost to our society of gun regulation or deregulation. We have never really had a genuine national assessment of the issue—the “issue” here being the cost to our society in human life, not the regulation of guns. I don’t hold out much hope for this, just as I am not holding my breath for health care “reform” or that the Obama administration will push back on AIPAC, but it’s still a worthy goal.

Part 4. In the Thaler / Sunstein mold, we should consider moving away just from broad attempts at regulation or deregulation of guns, and towards a system that incentivizes responsible ownership and citizenship across the board—while imposing harsh penalties for those who abuse their rights.

We cannot simply eliminate guns from our society and our country; to think that we can is as simplistic as the views of the NRA. We can do a better job of trying to learn from tragedies like the one in Alabama, and do a better job of having real discussions about the impact of our choices—while pushing back on the fuzzy-headed thinking about this issue that comes from the extreme right and extreme left of our political spectrum.

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RSS Feed Update

More technology notes: with the migration to a new server last week, and the other problems I was having with Blogger, the Atom & RSS feeds for my sites were not working.

Those problems should now be fixed. If you need to update your feeds, here's the info:
Atom: http://www.thetruthasiseeit.com/atom.xml
RSS: http://www.2rss.com/atom2rss.php?atom=http://www.thetruthasiseeit.com/atom.xml


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22 March 2009

Back Noir

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

I love the city of Buffalo. I have a soft spot for it because it's where I spent many summers, with my paternal grandparents, whom I loved. The city has a beauty and charm that, even in its darkest moments, helped keep it alive. (And I say that not just because I have a Buffalo client, but because from Frederick Law Olmsted to Louis Sullivan to Frank Lloyd Wright to Eliel and Eero Saarinen to a longer list of people and institutions than I can mention here, Buffalo has a lot to offer.)

Therefore, it was with pleasure that I discovered that part of the action in Richard Stark's 1963 novel The Outfit takes place in Buffalo, and that the location Stark gave—798 Delaware Avenue—is, as the story has it, one of the city's glorious old mansions. It turns out that it’s the house right across the street from Temple Beth Zion, my grandparents' synagogue. There’s some kind of serendipity in there.


Much has been written about Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) and his "Parker" series of novels, and with good reason. Forty-six years after The Outfit was written, it still holds up as a tightly constructed and engaging novel of crime and vengeance, with a David and Goliath twist to it.

It was while reading The Outfit, and the earlier Parker story The Man with the Getaway Face, that I started to wonder about the timelessness of certain fiction, and how we, as readers, respond to a story. It strikes me as a challenging intellectual question: is it harder to read not-so-old fiction than very old stories? Are the anachronisms of more than a century ago easier to deal with than the missed technological opportunities of the last couple of decades?

In reading books from the pre-industrial age, the reader can make an easy mental leap to an environment in which characters are just different: bound by conventions of a period that we may or may not understand, but to which we can immediately relate as distant from our reality. On the other hand, reading a story from what we might loosely call the modern age raises a different kind of challenge: can you, the reader, make a very small mental leap backwards?

In these two Parker stories, the anti-hero protagonist maneuvers through a world that is much like ours—cars, electricity, airplanes, beer in a bottle—and yet drastically different. Parker, and his friends, can fly with fake ID with great ease, and even bring a gun on the airplane (given an absence of x-ray scanners at the airport). That’s hard to imagine these days. Conducting a stakeout, Parker has no cell phone with which to contact his friend, and the technology for breaking into the Delaware Avenue mansion is about as basic as possible: some brute force, a gun, and a small flashlight. Perhaps this is less difficult to imagine, given what movies show us about how cell phones and e-mail can be tapped and our general sense of privacy an illusion. But it is also hard to think of the situation as normal, given an absence of security cameras or other of the other electronic devices we take for granted.

In a sense, it becomes one marker of whether a book or a story can withstand the test of time: whether it is written in a way that captures our imaginations and overwhelms our sense of the present reality. Stark's “Parker” novels do just that. The author might never have imagined, back in 1963, that years later I could use my computer to zero in on the Delaware Avenue address he put in his book; perhaps he took it on faith that any reader would assume the detail to be true, and any Buffalo native would have easy confirmation if desired. But the fact that I can Google, and the fact that it exists, does not diminish the story one bit.

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16 March 2009

This is Another Test

The umpteenth test in as many days. (Hence the lack of published content: the system hasn't been working.)

If you're seeing this, that's a good sign World. In which case, more to come soon.

07 March 2009


That stands for So Tired of This. "This" being Blogger and the failure to "publish" properly.


Based on the web traffic, one of the most popular set of posts I've ever written are the three items about my Kenmore 2-Stage Drinking Water Filter, Model #38461.

The issue was that I wanted to buy it - but that no one at Sears was able to tell me what the model numbers were for the replacement cartridges. Eventually, having posted about this publicly, I got a (nice) response from Sears and the information I needed. I bought the filter, had it installed, and have used it happily ever since.

That was about 11 months ago. Since then, I have been pleased with the filter with the noticeable improvement in water quality. We've used the filtered water for everything from baby formula to making rice to just-plain-drinking. Only now, months later, has the quality started to suggest we should change the filter. (The unit comes with a built-in, six-month timer - but at the six month mark, the water quality was fine, so we didn't change anything.)


Like I said, I knew the filter was working. Changing the cartridges gave an additional level of proof. For the last *week* I have wanted to post this item plus a photo of the cartridges I removed from the filter - which showed a terribly dirty, rust-colored sediment cartridge (model #38480) on the left, and a less-visibly dirty "taste and odor" cartridge (model #34373) on the right. Blogger, however, has been having fits and won't actually publish the post correctly - either because of the photo or because of the "labels" - so I am resorting to a more fool-proof method. You can now find that photo here. The "label" for this post? "Shopping."

So, now I can say - with further proof - if you're looking for a good water filter for your sink, this model works well.

1. If you're seeing this post, with the image at the top and the "shopping" label at the bottom, that's a good sign. It means the system really is working for me again.
2. As I said before ... if you're looking to publish a blog, well, Blogger still needs some work. If anyone from Blogger is reading this, I am happy to discuss the problems I have faced for several weeks now - which have been resolved, no thanks to Blogger. More on that to come from me shortly.