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Member since: Sat Nov 29, 2008, 02:55 PM
Number of posts: 17,671

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As I understand the controversy...

the NSA is collecting third party information without collecting content. They are tracking who you contact via phone email etc. without knowing what you say or write. Unfortunately, this sort of data mining can reveal a wealth of information about you even if they don't have access to the content of the communications. Plus, merely maintaining data on the movements and communications of people without probable cause is an outrage against a citizen's right to privacy.

So for a firearms registry to work, you would have to document chain of custody. That means an item with a unique serial number is attached to you and whoever you transfer that item to or from. Now, that data says nothing about why the transfer was made or what those involved intend to with the item being transferred but it does tell the NSA (ATF) a great deal about the people making the transfer nevertheless. In fact, it reveals much more about them than data mining simple communications since the subject of the transfer is an object with a particular function. That function is the content of the communication.

I find it fascinating that so much outrage is expressed about NSA data mining but a gun registry, and the required chain of custody documentation, is a good idea. They're the same thing. The only difference to some is that guns are transferred by other people. You know, NRA Teabagger right wing conservative Republican crazy militia assholes that need to be watched because they're untrustworthy.

When it comes to questions of a citizens constitutional rights we should always remember that they are us.

I was born and raised in that state

and take it from me, nothing on this earth will keep some redneck from going home, getting a gun, and hunting you down with it. Whatever the law says and however it is interpreted will make no difference whatsoever. Even if they make it double secret illegal there will be guns in cars on employers parking lots.

The AG may or may not be full of shit, but they'll figure it out eventually. And the NRA will be there to litigate it with money they hoover out of people's pockets because of all the confusion.

I'll say it again: Your employer doesn't have the right to tell you what to have stored in your own property no matter where you park it. It may be legal to do so, but that doesn't make it right. I'm arguing the principle, not the law. The banksters didn't have the right to run the economy of the entire planet off a cliff either, but we wound up paying them to do it. This is a conflict of property rights issue. Can your employer tell what you can and cannot have in your car? Since you need a job, it's not right for them to use their power over your financial welfare to tell you what you can store on your own property. To do so is using the power of their property to trump your property rights and make you pay for it by compromising your time and security. Money wins again.

Here's an interesting book -

An eye-opening look at the phenomenon of school and workplace shootings in America, Going Postal explores the rage-murder phenomenon that has plagued ó and baffled ó America for the last three decades, and offers some provocative answers to the oft-asked question, "Why?" By juxtaposing the historical place of rage in America with the social climate that has existed since the 1980s ó when Reaganomics began to widen the gap between executive and average-worker earnings ó the author crafts a convincing argument that these schoolyard and office massacres can be seen as modern-day slave rebellions. He presents many fascinating and unexpected cases in detail. Like slave rebellions, these massacres are doomed, gory, sometimes even inadvertently comic, and grossly misunderstood. Taking up where Bowling for Columbine left off, this book seeks to set these murders in their proper context and thereby reveal their meaning.

When some guy loses his shit and shoots up his office, there will be a million reasons for his actions, not one of which alone would cause him to snap. But the accumulated injustices, slights, insults, dirty deals, manipulations, and all around fucking over by the 1% causes a tiny percent of people to go apeshit and do something violent and bloody. And when it happens everybody asks why and in response entire industries make money providing easy answers to complex problems that do nothing but tell people what they want to hear. And those industries are owned by the 1% as well.

There are also many kinds of infuriation.

The usual kind are obvious. Nobody appreciates arrogance or condescension. But there is one type of infuriation that I don't think gets much of a mention. I don't like people feeding off of me.

It's not fair to use others as a foil to indulge in one's own feelings. If someone believes something, that's fine. If it's a good thing, so much the better. Faith offers an opportunity to inspire others. It's not faith that makes societies work, it's relationships borne of inspiration. Feeding off that basic human need is a pernicious evil and wrecks interpersonal relationships as well as entire cultures. And that's infuriating.

That's true.

But there are severe penalties for dealing and using cocaine at all. And generally speaking, those that deal cocaine are not upstanding citizens. The relationship between dealer and user is considered in this country, and for all I know most every other country in the world, to be inimical to the common good.

Should we consider the relationship between those who transfer a firearm to be universally corrosive to the public good as well?

Analogies regarding firearms are always hampered by the nature of the object itself. Every aspect of any gun facilitates its use for great harm or great good, depending on which way it's pointed, who's doing the pointing and why. So anti gunners frequently compare guns to prohibited substances and pro gunners compare them to safety equipment. The gun is the same, but the relationship between "pointer" and "pointee" is an endlessly fluctuating thing that defies easy definition. The same holds true for transfers of guns. The gun doesn't change, but the relationship between transferees depends on near uncounted factors that are beyond the control of those wishing to regulate them.

That's why exceptions are already understood for close family members and the Manchin/Toomey legislation focused on gun shows and internet sales. The underlying criteria was the nature of the relationship of transferees. If people know each other well enough to know whether or not one of them should have a gun, then it's none of the governments business what they transfer between themselves. But if it is just a chance meeting at a public event or an internet hookup, the assumption is that someone is trying to acquire a firearm for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, people who know each other can transfer firearms for nefarious purposes, and people who would never dream of breaking the law can meet and complete a transfer who may have only met for five minutes. The law was trying to posit the potential for misuse based on intimacy without regard for the intent of the transferees, because it's impossible to do that. The issue always goes back to due process.

If the state wants to regulate the transfer of an object that has no universally understood inherent danger to the public good, it has to evaluate that danger using the intent of those possessing the object. That evaluation is very problematic without a previous record of malfeasance and due process to deny the transfer. Given the number of guns in the United States that are never used at all, much less the number of guns that are used for the wrong reasons, the infrastructure required to evaluate the relationships of people who transfer them seems to me to be an unnecessary invasion of privacy with almost non existent remedy for that invasion.

Some thoughts on universal background checks.

Since guns have become a partisan fetish object the legislation is understood to be regulating that object. Actually, the proposed legislation regulates relationships between people.

When you buy a gun from an FFL, it is a commercial relationship between a certain type of buyer and seller. For the seller to be considered legitimate he or she has to be licensed as and FFL with all the rights and responsibilities thereto. The FFL has to keep a "bound book" of every transaction and firearm bought and sold and make his or her inventory and records available to the government for inspection. There are severe penalties for non compliance. For someone to be a "gun buyer" he or she has to verify that they are an upstanding citizen by filling out a 4473 and passing a background check, also with severe penalties for non compliance. If these conditions are not met, the sale cannot be completed and the relationship between buyer and seller will not exist. That's how the regulation of that kind of relationship is done.

Heretofore, transfer of firearms between friends, family, associates or acquaintances were exactly that. It's the same gun, but the relationships between the people are different. Universal background checks will require the redefinition of the relationships between people surrounding the transfer of the gun. That's why exceptions are made for family in the current proposed legislation.

A gun is considered a much more personal object than say, a car or a house. A gun, generally understood to be a handgun, is small enough to carried in one's clothing so is understood in the same context as a wallet or a ring and is considered an extension of one's body as opposed to other personal property like a lawn mower. Also, a gun is understood to be important for the protection of one's person, so it's importance as a safety device is much greater than almost any other thing someone may own. The circumstances under which a gun is designed to be used surround issues of life and death and loom very large in the minds of those who own or transfer them to others.

The problem with a background check requirement for private sales is that it will require us to redefine our relationships with others to transfer the gun. While two people may have any number of uncounted types of human relationships between them from godparent to causal acquaintance, at the point of transfer the relationship has to become one between an FFL and a qualified buyer. Any background check system has to employ chain of custody documentation, penalties for non compliance and a means of prosecuting violators or it will be useless. That system is already in place for FFL's and the law as proposed will use the same verification infrastructure for private sales as for commercial sales. Hence the controversy surrounding "keeping records" and "gun registry" etc.

So the problem with the implementation of universal background checks is that no matter what relationship two people may have, when the firearm is transferred the relationship of "sanctioned buyer and seller" becomes paramount. While that relationship can begin and end between two anonymous individuals in a store, it will not supplant whatever relationship two people may have prior to the transfer. Thus, the regulation requirement becomes intrusive into the private lives of individuals.

Such an intrusion is not, in itself, a bad thing if it results in an improvement in the lives of all. The sociocultural cost benefit analysis of that benefit is done through the political process. Resistance to further firearms regulation from the political right will be near universal, and the intrusion into the private lives of citizens by "big government" will make that resistance particularly intense. Support from the political left will not match the resistance from the right because firearms ownership is not divided along partisan lines and the implications of the legislation will be a factor in liberal gun owning support of the law. Support from the political center will be particularly soft depending on how people feel about the implications of the legislation.

The issue is a difficult one for the political left in light of other important signature policy initiatives we champion. Liberal defense of personal relationships have been a lynchpin of any number of policy initiatives from marriage equality to reproductive rights. Support of regulating relationships between people surrounding the transfer of firearms opens the left to accusations of ideological hypocrisy. Such accusations, whether true or not, will have an impact on the support for the overall Democratic agenda. The question to ask is will universal background checks result in sufficient societal improvement to refute accusations of ideological hypocrisy and deliver a perceptible improvement in people's lives to merit the intrusion into their interpersonal relationships?

Since only a tiny fraction of the firearms in existence are used improperly a universal background check requirement will have a negligible impact on the further reduction of their improper use. The negative impact on the private lives of people who otherwise would do no harm far outweighs whatever benefit it might deliver in the reduction of crime with firearms. Furthermore, the political liabilities of such a requirement may well result in much greater damage because of the damage to much more important and effective aspects of the Democratic agenda that will be impeded because of support for this law.

The subject of this subthread was the unfortunate attitude of the OP

who has found it prudent to vacate the premises.

I am in favor of gun regulations that will help reduce gun violence

Here's a quick thought experiment:

1. If you got rid of all the violent people, would people do violent things?

2. If you got rid of all the guns, would people do violent things?

So why do some people do violence? Are some of us just no good, bad from birth, defective and beyond hope of redemption? Fine conservative concepts those. Or maybe we could fix it so people were less violent. We could do stuff like see to it they had a living wage and time to think about something other than how to gin up a profit for some corporation. greed We could educate them and make them aware that there is something more to life than rabid consumerism. gluttony We could foster compassion so that they won't view others as a foil for the fulfillment of their own desires. lust We could reform our financial system so that people's efforts will be rewarded with security in their old age. sloth We could make government work for all the people so that we become citizens with a shared interest rather than alienated consumers. pride We could reform our tax laws to make the most fortunate among us pay their fair share for the bounty they enjoy. envy And we could give people proper health care, including mental health care, to help them deal with the darker demons of the human soul. wrath

Liberal ideology has some pretty good answers for the seven deadly sins in our culture. And that list of sins significantly predates the development of the Bushmaster AR15.

But you want to "push back" against the NRA. Good for you. But you aren't pushing back against the NRA. You aren't pushing back at all. In fact, you're helping them along. I'm sure you've heard people, you would call them gun worshipers, refer to firearms as tools instead of the much more colorful "death spewing killing machines" or whatever. What you don't seem to understand is that you are just as much a gun worshiper as those you claim to oppose.

A gun is, before anything else it might be, an object. People spontaneously anthropomorphize objects. Sometimes our feelings about an object can become so intense we fetishize it. Religious icons fall into this category. In today's modern culture, any number of consumer products also become icons either to be desired or despised. There is a multi billion dollar advertising industry designed to turn things like rocks into fetish objects of our desire. And we are so inured to the notion of having objects presented to us for our devotion, we no longer notice it. We are consumers by default, and the political process has reduced candidates and issues to mere products for our consumption.

So when you fetishize a gun, you give it power as a totem. When you assail the totem of a competing group, you galvanize their support for their totem and unify them to action. And they, consumers that they are, trundle out and pay for an ideology that defends their totem and confirms their feelings toward it. That's how the NRA makes all that money. And organizations like the Brady center do exactly the same thing by demonizing the totem of the opposing group for the consumption of fine consumers like you. You get what you pay for.

The problem of course is that over-consumption and commercialism are the root causes of most of the social ills we experience today. Everything from our environmental problems, social malaise, and corrupt economic and political systems are the result of people behaving like consumers instead of citizens and responsible human beings. So when you buy into the idea of "pushing back" against a consumer object instead of actually helping people you aren't furthering liberal ideology but enriching our political enemies. And that's how they win.

Not really...

It is frequently noted here that the crime rate is falling from a peak after the sixties or so. That would indicate to me that people are not generally more callous or unfeeling. And violent media cannot be blamed for the callous behavior of the population in a climate of falling crime rates. Certainly people were more callous and brutal in Medieval Europe when public torture, execution and cat burning were forms of public entertainment.

I think the callousness that you perceive is not necessarily callousness, but anomie. I think it is a desensitization to the reality of people in favor of ideologies that are consumed as products in modern culture. You can see it play out right here every day surrounding the gun debate. Anti gunners bemoan the NRA and cite statistics that treat people as fungible assets to support an ideology promulgated by anti gun organizations. Their attitude is a response to the NRA and other organizations that produce and sell an ideology like a product designed to develop brand loyalty rather than an awareness of the reality of people's lives. These organizations command loyalty and fear from their adherents not unlike any religion and get rich doing it. And at the center of the debate is an actual object which becomes a totem for both factions - the gun.

While the gun is certainly an important factor in violence and our cultural response to it, it is hardly the only factor. It seems that while we can focus on specific causes for violence in society, as we do so we find there is increasing uncertainty in the actual effect of each one of those causes.

Here are a couple of books I have found very interesting:

Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West

Argues that the rationalist political and social experiments of the Enlightenment have degenerated into societies dominated by technology and a crude code of managerial efficiency. These are societies enslaved by manufactured fashions and artificial heroes, divorced from natural human instinct.

A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought

Kern identifies five shifts in thinking about causality, shifts toward increasing specificity, multiplicity, complexity, probability, and uncertainty. He argues that the more researchers learned about the causes of human behavior, the more they realized how much more there was to know and how little they knew about what they thought they knew. The book closes by considering the revolutionary impact of quantum theory, which, though it influenced novelists only marginally, shattered the model of causal understanding that had dominated Western thought since the seventeenth century.

On Finding God (Part 1)

A note on format. This one ran a little long. Iíve never posted more than one OP at a time, so I will do my best to keep up with responses. I donít think it will be a problem since my OPís donít usually draw that much traffic anyway.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

There seems to be a lot of interest in locating God. For some, finding the location of God is a way to understand the nature of God. I guess they think if they can figure out where The Almighty hangs his halo they have a chance of understanding the nature of God by understanding the nature of his celestial Barcalounger.

For others the location of God represents a sort of destination, like the last stop on a train line. That way, they can imagine all sorts and kinds of benefits from joining him there. Sometimes God can even be in a roundhouse where the train gets turned around to make the trip again and again with, I assume, a better dining car. There is also the added bonus of being able to claim to know which station platform will get you where the air conditioning is working properly.

I donít find any of these conceptualizations of the divine satisfying. It seems that for most people God is over there somewhere and unless you can somehow figure out a way to get over there, youíre screwed. An ocean of blood has been spilled and a fuck ton of money stolen by herding people onto the right conceptual bus. It seems that no matter where we park his Almighty Ass there will always be a bunch of bloodthirsty crooks looking to punch your ticket to get you there.

At this point in human history, we seem to have been able to put God at both ends of the physical universe. His Holy Mobility could be found beyond the farthest reaches of the sky or in the most miniscule confines of subatomic particles and everywhere in between. And every time they decide where God is, it seems that all too frequently there has to be a boatload of expensive construction designed to either transport us to him or him to us.

So if the concept of God is so culturally toxic, why not just shitcan the whole idea altogether? Well truth to tell the concept of God has given us uncounted acts of kindness, courage and generosity, breathtaking works of art, magnificent architecture, and not to mention a lodestone in a moral compass that has helped the human race survive and, gasp, flourish to populate the entire planet. Even Cleveland. Somehow people canít seem to keep from looking for God and therein finding a use for his Holy Utility.

Now, there is a technical problem with having God out there somewhere. We live in an age where we have observed and measured stuff so large and far away it makes no sense, and stuff so small that donít make any sense either. So no matter where you put God nowadays, some wise ass will always be there to ask you to prove it smartypants. And they probably wonít even get burned alive for it.

So how do we reconcile this lack of a place to put God that will conform to our rational existence in the real world, and the need to have a God that we invariably have to park somewhere and feed the meter? I think perhaps people are calling something ďGodĒ that actually exists. It seems to me that if we allow people to do that and accept the possibility that when they name this ubiquitous thing ďGodĒ they are actually creating a narrative around it that doesnít necessarily have to conform to the rational requirements of the scientific method or a special hat.

On Finding God (Part 2)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

So for the two or three of you out there who arenít already way ahead of me, since the thing people call God cannot be located anywhere in the universe around us our Heavenly Waldo has to be hiding inside us somewhere. And he ainít in Joeís pancreas.

As luck would have it, I have actually been able to run a sort of informal experiment regarding the location of God inside my own skull. You see, I have spent most of my life living with the joys of depression. As maladies go it could be a lot worse. All my appendages work. In fact, from the neck down Iím damn near indestructible. I have an immune system that can kick King Kongís ass. I can digest anything I can catch and chew up. I can see well enough to navigate doors and corners. But itís like the Master half of Masterblaster constantly wants to say, ďFuck it, I give up, you can have the pig shit.Ē

For most people who suffer depression, it runs on a circadian cycle. At some point in the course of the day there occurs a change in oneís mental state when cognition and energy seem to increase. The time and degree of that change may depend on a host of factors inside and outside your head, but whenever it does the ďlights come onĒ and you feel human again. So when proselytizers ask me if I believe in God, I tell them that I create him every day and kill him again every night. Itís almost as much fun as telling them youíre a Zen Baptist.

There are some misconceptions about depression that might shed some light on this whole God thing. Remember this image?

All five of these figures are identical. None of them is clinically depressed because they are all walking. You see, the experience of depression is not really sadness. Sadness is one of the results of depression because you canít get anything done. You canít move. You canít go.

It seems to me that movement or transition from one place to another, either physically or conceptually, is the most fundamental part of our identity as a species. It defines us more than any other concept. We walked upright out of Africa and we havenít stopped moving since. Examples of the importance of movement in culture are legion. We want to know where relationships, careers, and markets are going. We chart cultural trends, write music in movements, read novels with a narrative arc, and generally dance around all over the place as if nobody was the wiser (if weíre doing it right).

One of the best descriptions of depression I have seen lately is from Rollo May who said, ďDepression is the inability to construct a future.Ē So in the end, for those of you who are already ahead of me on the path of morbidity so I will go there with you, people who suffer from the most extreme depression sometimes end their lives with the feeling that they ďcannot go onĒ.

Movement seems to be the underpinning of both parts of the human experience. So in the case of existing in the world around us, a scientific hypothesis is a prediction about what we will know. And if we make a prediction about the specific gravity of water, the speed of light, or the effect of sugar on our fat asses we get a white coat and a Bunsen burner or whatever and set about proving our hypothesis. The process of establishing proof, which includes verification by others, gives us intellectual predictability. We can agree on the properties of the physical world and proceed forward in time and space accordingly. So the practice of science gives us the benefit of air conditioning and ice in our scotch.

So what of the other part of the human experience? Thatís all that squishy introspective emotional stuff, and faith is what we use to project that part of the human condition into the future. If a scientific hypothesis is a prediction about what we will know, faith is a prediction about how we will feel. And the practice of religion gives groups of people emotional predictability. They all feel more or less the same way about something. So now we can all agree that some certain kind of heaven is a cool place, those people whose heads we need to chop off will never make it there, and that volcano is just generally pretty fucking scary.

For tens of thousands of years we have had at our disposal all sorts and kinds of tools for the quantification of emotion that actually work exceptionally well to predict emotional trajectory, or faith. They are called ďthe ArtsĒ. And the arts are what we make to describe that which is inside us that cannot get out and be examined any other way.

On Finding God (Part 3)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Contrary to popular belief, conceptions of God through religion are not the only game in town. People that follow various religions are referring to something in their skulls as God, but that doesnít mean their description of his Almighty Marketshare is necessarily better or worse than anybody elseís. There are any number of ways to express oneís narrative in the real world that donít involve a lot of baroque architecture and stilted music. And in fact, there are lots ways to measure the quality of somebodyís God narrative, and they donít involve a Bunsen burner.

The arts and religion have been at odds for quite a while because the truth is they are both in the same business. Art and religion are both designed to create a narrative to provide context for our experience in the world. That narrative is, by necessity, fiction. Since it depends on all that squishy stuff that goes on inside peopleís heads that cannot be verified empirically, it cannot in any way, shape or form be considered science. It cannot be used to prove anything except the presence of the squishy stuff in our heads.

Every work of art ever made has two basic components: form and content. Form is anything you can point at Ė line, shape, color, edge, surface etc. Content is what it means or why it is made. Each of those parts informs and defines the other. The measure of the quality of the work is the measure of the relationship between form and content.

Look this painting over:

Wassily Kandinsky
Improvisation #28

Now think back. As you examined the painting, what path did your eyes take when you were doing so? If youíre like everyone else (and you actually examined it), your gaze wandered from here to there to take in the image. So while the image is presented in a gestalt, you still had to follow a sort of path between the various parts to try to make sense of it. That movement was not an accident Ė itís 2D design 101. The artist has led your eyes through the image. The movement of the viewerís focus of attention is just one of a whole boatload of devices used to make a painting. And as far as I know all of the arts use some variation of conceptual or physical mobility to carry you along. It donít mean a thing if it ainít got that swing.

Now, youíre obviously free to look at it any way you want, but if you want to understand what the artist is trying to say, you will have to suspend disbelief to cooperate with her at least a little bit. And your cooperation will be much easier to solicit if the image is interesting to begin with. That interest is an offer of somewhere to go and a way to get there. And if she can inspire you follow her, it will become a shared experience between you and the artist and you will find within yourself some relationship to whatever prompted her to produce the work.

Thereís not much difference between an artist and a shaman. Some donít think there is difference any at all.

So the relationship between that thing that some people call God, the kind of narrative they create to illuminate and focus their response to that thing, and the actions that are prompted and defined by that narrative are not exclusive to any established religion. Nor are they confined to the arts. Hell, they arenít confined anywhere. Each one of us creates (or acquires) a narrative and uses it in our own way. You know, self awareness. And the vast majority of us live our lives somewhere between the navel gazing contemplation of our own curiosity and the projection of our ego into the void.

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