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On Las Vegas

Words feel pretty useless at a time like this. On Sunday, October 1st, one man with an arsenal of weapons shot hundreds of concert goers in Las Vegas.

A few thoughts:

1) The gunman shot people attending a Jason Aldean concert. That makes me question . While most folks on the coasts probably aren’t familiar with Aldean, he is immensely popular amongst those in the “Flyover States” (which is also the name of a major Aldean hit on country radio). It seems an odd demographic to shoot up if the gunman was simply a conservative “angry white male” striking out at the modern world. There’s something else going on here, which brings me to #2.

2) Look hard at the gunman’s finances. He’s supposed to have been rich, but he really liked to gamble.  A lot.  Maybe he lost a lot more money than those around him realized, and was angry about it.

3) ISIS has claimed credit.  On the one hand, ISIS tends not to claim credit for attacks that aren’t there’s, so it’s worth checking this claim more deeply.  On the other hand, the facts as released so far don’t appear to bear their claim out.  Perhaps ISIS, whose land under control is down to just a sliver along the Iraqi-Syrian border, is trying to change the narrative by claiming this shooting.  But still … worth checking.

4) My guess is that a week ago, most folks had never heard of bump stocks; I know I didn’t.  Fully automatic weapons are for all intents and purposes illegal.  So should be something that operates as a workaround to turn a semi-automatic weapon (which is legal) into a fully automatic one (which is not). I support the Second Amendment fairly broadly, but I think reasonable people across the spectrum ought to agree in the narrow area of bump stocks and another workaround, trigger cranks.

5) He shot from the 32nd floor, making it virtually impossible for anyone to return fire. It’s a scenario I hadn’t considered before. Those of us who are Second Amendment supporters need to think how we address that situation. The shooter has opened a terrifying window. Does anyone think terrorists haven’t noticed? In the short term, perhaps large city police forces may have a sniper on standby or stationed at a high perch over large assemblies. But in the long term, we really need to consider how we are to deal with the high altitude shooter. A bump stock and trigger crank ban is a good start, but don’t expect the bad guys to actually follow the rule. How do we deal with the next one? The idea that we simply accept it as the “cost of freedom” isn’t the right answer. Scrapping the Second Amendment isn’t the right answer either. We’ve got to come up with a better one.

– 1TF

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Yesterday, former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell resigned his position at Harvard to protest the school’s Institute of Politics’ fellowship offer to former Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning, who as PFC Bradley Manning, was troubled by actions of military personnel in Afghanistan and thus passed along secret military information to WikiLeaks.  Late word has come down that Harvard has rescinded that disputed fellowship offer.  I think the school  belatedly made the right decision.

If Harvard is looking to have a transgender fellow for its Institute of Politics, surely the number of transgender individuals is such that Harvard can look a little harder and do better than to hire someone who gave confidential military information to WikiLeaks.  If Harvard is looking to have a Fellow with ground-level knowledge of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are literally thousands of former Marine and Army squad leaders who led troops and interacted with the native population in both peace and war – black, white, male, female, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, etc.  It’s a population large enough that if Harvard looks hard enough, it can pretty much find exactly what it wants ideologically without resorting to someone who gave away secrets.   Plus, they could offer a more granular level of knowledge of what it’s like to be front-line soldier.  Former Private First Class Manning manned a computer at an operations center; it’s relevant, but it’s not front-line knowledge.

I understand PFC Manning’s deep concerns about some ways in which the war was being conducted.  But that’s why there’s an Inspector General in each Army division.  There was a legal way to raise a red flag and it would have been well within PFC Manning’s rights and responsibility to do so.  But PFC Manning chose a path that was illegal and potentially dangerous for fellow American servicemembers.  And that’s just not okay with Director Morrell and the vast majority of American soldiers.

-1TF

 

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Cross in the Roman Catholic Church. This got me to thinking – when, one steps away and looks at it from a distance, the veneration of the cross is a strange thing. Victims of the Holocaust remember the crematoriums, but they certainly don’t venerate them. People may respect the patriots Crispus Attucks and Nathan Hale, but they don’t venerate the rifles or rope which ended them. Thomas More fans don’t venerate the ax.

So why this veneration of the implement of execution?  It may be the idea of displacement.  This has been seen done by the homosexual community appropriating the words gay and queer, and by doing so, turning them from pejorative terms four decades ago into mere descriptions these days.  More recently, “deplorables” and “nasty woman” were terms uttered by presidential candidates that were then gleefully used by their opponents to describe themselves.  In each of these cases, the objects of scorn turned the use of a term back on itself.

The cross on which Jesus was crucified may have been more in the shape of a capital “T” then in the form we think of now.  It appears this, not the current symbol was what early Christians used, taking its place with the fish, lamb and an X that supposedly represented Christ.   This implement of torture and death has been turned back on itself.  The practice has been largely eliminated; the church and its symbol go on.

So why the cross?  It’s not clear, but I propose on possibility:  it might just be smart politics.  While the fish was a way to say Christ would provide, the cross could be a way to say either “Christ loved us enough to die for us” or in the alternative “I am willing to take up my cross, and not even death will stop us.”  That can be a useful symbol of power and affirmation in a church that consisted of the poor and powerless for its first three centuries.  If nothing else, it didn’t appear to hurt.  By the time of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in 315 A.D., Christians were regularly making the sign of the cross (although “crucifixes” or crosses with Christ on them wouldn’t appear for another 200 years.)

This implement of torture and death has been turned back on itself.  The practice has been largely eliminated; the church and its symbol go on.

` 1TF

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the nominations of two candidates for positions on the Federal bench. One of them, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett, was grilled by Democratic members Diane Feinstein and Richard Durbin for being a faithful Catholic. Feinstein, in her best Obi-Wan Kenobi imitation, declared, “the dogma lives loudly in you.” Feinstein, whom I normally respect, displayed a disappointing narrow-mindedness regarding faithful Catholics. She continued, “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I think she’s referring to abortion and forced contraception funding. Perhaps if Barrett had been another, more “in vogue” religion, this line of questioning would be called out on the left. But Barrett’s a Catholic, so she just gracefully had to endure it.

Richard Durbin chimed in asking, “Are you an orthodox Catholic?” Sen. Durbin himself apparently attends Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, a liberal parish in Chicago, and frequently votes at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He acted confused, saying he hadn’t heard the term “orthodox Catholic” before. That surprised me, because I’ve heard it a fair amount. I suspect he’s heard it, too. He appeared to be feeling out just how conservative Barrett was. She parried his jab by praising Pope Francis, which Durbin appreciated. She also did her best to explain, as if it were necessary, that while she is a faithful to her religion, she is also faithful to the Constitution.

The bottom line is that progressive members of the Senate see Professor Barrett as a threat. She has served as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and may (or may not) be a pro-life judge. Scalia tended to hire one liberal clerk per term, thinking it sharpened his thinking. Barrett was quoted in a 2013 Notre Dame Magazine article as saying scholars on both side of debate had criticized Roe v. Wade for unecessarily igniting a political firestorm, but she also said she found it very unlikely the core finding of Roe would ever be overturned.

Even if Barrett were pro-life, as a federal circuit judge she would be obliged to follow the precedent set down in Roe. But I suspect the deep concerns and probable opposition of Feinstein, Durbin and other progressives isn’t really about Seventh Circuit. Some readers may recall the campaign to destroy Miguel Estrada’s chances of serving on the federal bench. That was because Democrats were afraid the conservative Estrada would later be nominated to the Supreme Court, and they didn’t want to fight against the possible first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee. That time it worked out for them; Estrada was rejected and the honor of being the Court’s first Hispanic justice went to the more progressive Sonia Sotomayor. A similar calculus may be working here, with them trying to avoid opposing a smart and reasonable female Supreme Court nominee by stopping her at the federal level.

-1TF

I read a rather extraordinary piece in the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It is called “Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side'”, and is written by a University of Toronto philosophy professor named Mark Kingwell.

Professor Kingwell writes:

“There is a moral baseline that Nazism is indefensible; we ought likewise to recognize that most people can’t actually be reasoned with.” I was with him about the Nazis, but that is quite a left turn in the next sentence.

More:
“The utopia of a rational public sphere is an illusion, and efforts to unearth it – in the form of core American values, Canadian tolerance or some other political chimera – fool’s errands. What we need, instead, is what social scientists call scaffolding.”

In simple forms, scaffolding means things such as air-traffic control, highway roundabouts, exit signage, and queuing conventions – small mechanisms that allow humans to co-ordinate action when their individual interests might otherwise generate chaos. … Why don’t we acknowledge that political belief is also an aspect of human behaviour in need of external control? ”

Professor Kingwell would do well to re-introduce himself to the recent work of Jonathan Haidt at New York University on Moral Foundations Theory. Haidt theorizes that there are several moral values people share – liberals and conservatives agree that fairness and compassion are important. Conservatives also value loyalty, authority and sanctity. So when a liberal makes an assertion based on fairness or compassion, a conservative often can understand from where the liberal is coming. But when a conservative tries to balance those ideas, liberals can’t understand why those other values even matter.

Mr. Kingwell, rather than make further attempts to understand the other (ie. conservative) side, instead seeks to proscribe certain kinds of speech:
“Curbs on speech and strict rules of engagement – no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points – may be the right answer here. We already, in this country, ban hateful speech. Let’s go farther and insist on discourse rules, limits on public outrage and aggressively regulated social media. We could even ban media panel discussions.”

The sheer impossibility of enforcing such rules makes this suggestion sound silly. What exactly is the penalty for interrupting anyway? There are people on the fringes of each side that don’t listen to reason. But I disagree with Professor Kingwell when he says:
“Classical liberals argue that bad speech should be met with more and better speech, that the marketplace of ideas will short bad stocks and return investment on good ones. Alas, not so.”
On the contrary, I say that most people, given a compelling message and messenger, will take opposing arguments into account. As an anonymous blogger (due to job concerns), I don’t make personal attacks. I think if you do, you should name yourself. I’m sure Professor Kingwell means well, but I found his prescription unconvincing.

He’s not completely wrong, though in that, there are things more than rational arguments sometimes. I have found people are much more receptive to a message if the person making it has led by example. This leads me to another a much more useful Globe and Mail article entitled “I was a neo-Nazi. I know the cure for hate” by Tony McAleer. In short, the answer was compassion. I think Mr. McAleer raises a strong point. He speaks that one of the reasons he joined one of those groups is because it was the first place he felt connected and appreciated by others.  It wasn’t hate that attracted him; it was acceptance.  It mirrored a recent article by a sixty-something Catholic priest in Virginia’s Arlington Diocese speaking with regret of his time with white supremacists in his (pre-seminary) early twenties. It also mirrors the reason a lot of young men of any race join street gangs. One thing I noticed about the Charlottesville marchers – a lot of them were very young. Attack their gross ideology, sure, but don’t write them off as unworthy of salvaging. Many of them are working out personal issues of which hate is a symptom, not a cause. If you want to organize large, peaceful counter-demonstrations, fine.  But I don’t see screaming and violence doing much to help. It is more productive to talk in a manner as to separate the young and impressionable from the hard-core racists. Simply calling those young people – not their actions, but them – “evil” is counterproductive. That isolation and disdain from others is what helped create them in the first place. More isolation and disdain isn’t likely to fix them. Compassion may though.  That’s one of those universal values conservatives and liberals actually agree on.

– 1TF

P.S.  Professor Kingwell raised a point I thought he was dead right on, namely his calling out those who “deliberately misinterpret” what their opponent is saying. I share his exasperation with that, if not his prescription for it.  I hope I have accurately reflected his position on these matters. If not, it’s not deliberate.

 

ESPN & Robert Lee

I’m going to do something I didn’t expect to when I first learned of this story. I’m going to defend ESPN’s decision regarding sportscaster Robert Lee.

For those who aren’t aware, the story goes that sportscaster Robert Lee had been assigned to work September 2nd’s William & Mary at University of Virginia football game. After the recent troubles in Charlottesville, the powers that be called Mr. Lee in and raised the idea of moving him to another game. The reason was because Mr. Lee, an Asian-American, happens to have the same first and last name as Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a decision to take down General Lee’s statue, along with General Stonewall Jackson’s, that was the focus of the protests.

At first glance, the whole thing is ridiculous. It’s highly unlikely anyone would care one way or the other that Mr. Lee, an Asian-American whom no reasonable person would confuse for the general.

But look at it from ESPN’s view for a second. You’ve got a young sportscaster calling a second-rate matchup; it’s probably not that strange to switch young talent from one game to another. You have a very small chance of the sportscaster’s name causing any problem, but last week’s fighting indicates there were at least a few unhinged people hanging around Charlottesville, so the odds are small, but not miniscule. If perchance, lightning strikes and something happens to Mr. Lee, you’ll be blamed and sued. It may seem ludicrous to think anything might happen, but if it does, then everyone will forget how small the odds were and focus only that it happened. If it’s a 1,000 to 1 shot, but it happens, then in retrospect armchair quarterbacks will think it was a far better shot to happen; more importantly, some judge or jury will likely agree. Many of the same people laughing at you for making the switch will then blame you for not having done so.

A more likely scenario is that there is a bit of commentary about some guy named Robert Lee covering a game in Charlottesville shortly after the protests. That’s more innocuous, but it takes away from the game itself.

Finally, the game you’re switching him to, Pittsburgh hosting Bo Pellini’s Youngstown State, is arguably a better game anyway. It’s at least comparable. So there’s little upside to keeping him in Charlottesville, but potentially (highly unlikely, but potentially) a huge downside to keeping him there.

Now, I don’t think they had to move him, or even should have. I think the odds are really, really small of it causing more than a raised eyebrow. But it’s not indefensible. ESPN’s a private business, trying to protect its bottom line; it’s understandable that it would want to reduce its exposure to a distraction or an embarrassing situation or worse.

One postscript – This decision never should have seen the light of day. I’m curious why someone would leak it.

– 1TF

The lion roared again yesterday.  John McCain returned to the Senate eleven days after undergoing brain surgery and receiving what is effectively a death sentence to cast an “Aye” vote on the motion to proceed with debate on the health care bill, and then to gently but firmly scold his colleagues for the way the Senate has been operating for at least the past seven years.

McCain didn’t play holier than thou, saying, “Both sides have let this happen. Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline – either by deliberate actions or neglect. We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly I have.”  In truth, others (Harry Reid prominently among them) have been far more guilty than McCain.

McCain provided a much-needed appeal to the spine of his Republican colleagues: “Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!”  The President’s need for a so-called “win” on this issue does not outweigh the Senate’s duty to debate and pass a responsible bill – not just whatever he’ll sign, but something that would be good policy.

He also provided a correction to the Democratic hagiography of how the Affordable Care Act came to be.  “The Obama administration and congressional Democrats shouldn’t have forced through Congress without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare. And we shouldn’t do the same with ours.”  It was an honest accounting of what really happened, and a warning to Republicans to be better than their opponents.  It is an understandable impulse for Republicans to say, “If the Democrats street fight while we play by the Marquis de Queensbury rules, policy will slide further left than it would in a fair fight”.   But they should remember that the Democrats’ forcing through the ACA cost them the House for the past seven years and the Senate for the last four.  (It would have been eight had the 2010 Republican primaries not been a train wreck.)

Maybe most importantly he implored his colleagues to recognize how privileged they were to be in their position, to realize they are the stewards of a great old tradition and reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body, and to do their part to rescue that reputation from the refuse bin they’ve left it in during the past decade.  His words were far more eloquent than any summary of mine so I’m just including a few passages.  “I have a refreshed appreciation for the protocols and customs of this body, and for the other ninety-nine privileged souls who have been elected to this Senate.”  And … “The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.  That principled mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it, come to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today.” And … “The success of the Senate is important to the continued success of America. This country – this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country – needs us to help it thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interests or political affiliations.”

I’m leaving out other memorable portions.  It was a great speech.  When McCain is eulogized someday, it will be one of the speeches mentioned, along with his 2000 Convention speech and his graceful concession in 2008.  The Twittersphere, predictably, ignored his message, ripping him for his vote on the motion to proceed to debate.  Some even called him a coward – just digest that one for a second.  A lion he is, but a cowardly one he demonstrably is not.  As that flawed but noble lion approaches winter, my hope is that his fellow senators take this latest (and possibly last) eloquent appeal of his to heart.  We need better than we’ve gotten.

1TF