On and On

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

—   Robert Kennedy (1968), two months before his assassination,

Among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet.

Abraham Lincoln (1863), quoted by Kennedy in the same speech

This week, we had another shooting

I hope the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin doesn’t turn out to be the hate crime it looks like. And even more, I hope it isn’t a hate crime by somebody who thought that Sikhs are Muslims because they wear turbans. It’s bad enough to die for your religion, but it would be even worse to die because somebody mistook you for some other religion.

I’m a Unitarian Universalist, so of course this incident reminds me of the Knoxville shooting at a UU church.

Until then, everybody was talking about the Olympics

Watching this Olympics is frustrating for sports fans, because we’re not NBC’s target audience. They’re covering the Olympics as a phenomenon that just happens to include athletes, and the target audience watches because that’s what you do in August of a leap year.

So an hour of coverage contains maybe 10-15 minutes of actual competition. The rest consists of athletes’ backstories, retrospectives of past Olympics, interviews with people who aren’t competing, features on English culture, post-event bouncing and hugging, medal award ceremonies, and so on.

Yes, NBC, Gabby Douglas does have a great smile. I noticed that the other 12 times you mentioned it. But there’s a Russian girl who’s actually doing something right now. Could we maybe get a look at her?

When NBC does get around to the competitions, sportscasting is an afterthought. Announcers tell the story before the fact, and if the event turns out some other way it’s as if reality screwed up by failing to fulfill their predictions. (Sunday night, the other vaulters were covered as if they were just the opening act for McKayla Maroney. What in reality was an exciting upset by the Romanian was presented as a mystifying glitch.) A long race is just a visual backdrop for a chat about the American runner. (Uh, guys, some African is coming up strong on the outside. Can you tell us who he is? Are you watching?)  And I frequently find myself yelling at the TV: “Fascinating anecdote, but what’s the score? TELL ME THE SCORE!”

Oh well, why should they care what I think when the ratings are this good?

… and about Mitt Romney’s taxes

because he still refuses to release tax returns before 2010. This week’s episode centered on Harry Reid quoting an anonymous source who told him Romney “hasn’t paid taxes for ten years.” Romney countered that he “paid a lot of taxes” every year, and challenged Reid to “put up or shut up” by naming his source. But Romney will not put up anything to support his own claims.

This exchange continues the long tradition of August as silly season. Romney and Reid are arguing about what they could prove if they wanted to, but neither is actually proving anything.

Why are we talking about this? The tax-return issue only matters if it crystalizes a pattern. Two possibilities: First, a character pattern in which Romney is not just rich, but arrogant. He has decided what voters need to know about him, and that’s that.

Second, a pattern of vagueness and shiftiness. This non-disclosure reminds voters that Romney also hasn’t released the details of his tax plan, or his budget plan, or his health care plan, or anything else. Plus he still has at least two positions on culture-war issues like abortion and contraception.

Ezra Klein makes the second link:

If [Romney’s people] thought releasing more details would make the [tax] plan look better rather than worse, they would have released them rather than letting outside organizations fill in the blanks. It’s essentially the same theory as refusing to release the tax returns.

… and jobs.

The July jobs report was a dog that didn’t bark. After a dismal June (only 64,000 new jobs), July could have signaled the onset of a new recession. But instead the economy added 163,000 jobs. That’s not enough to keep the unemployment rate from ticking up to 8.3%, but this bumpy not-quite-recovery muddles along.

Naturally, the commentary focused on how the report affects the stock market (up), and Obama’s re-election chances (also up). But shouldn’t it be about the people who either got or didn’t get jobs?

Meanwhile, I wrote about insecure software

And you might also find this stuff interesting

Courtesy of George Takei (whose service on the Enterprise must give him an in with the space program), we get the first photos from the Curiosity probe that has landed on Mars:

I spent the week in Illinois, close enough to Missouri to hear the political ads in the last week before the primary. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman has gone all-in with Sarah Palin. You’d think Palin was the candidate. She has become the face and voice of the Steelman campaign.

The NYT’s “Your Money” column addressed an interesting question: Suppose you’ve come to the conclusion that the for-profit financial services industry is rigged against you, but you haven’t taken a vow of poverty and you still want to save and invest for your retirement. What do you do?

Your first move is obvious: bank at a credit union. For IRA and/or brokerage services, use

Vanguard, USAA or TIAA-CREF, all of which are member-owned or use profits to pay dividends to customers and lower their fees.

The column offers a number of investment ideas, from municipal bonds to direct investments in real estate properties or person-to-person loans to the “slow money” movement that loans money to co-ops, organic farms, and other socially conscious ventures.

Here’s a nice clear answer to the question: Is Climate Change to Blame for the Current U.S. Drought? Basically, climate change makes droughts more frequent and more extreme, even though you can’t say a particular drought couldn’t have happened otherwise.

I was going to use the metaphor of a weighted coin or a loaded die, but I discovered James Hansen did it long ago:

Twenty-four years ago, I introduced the concept of “climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability. … But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.

No single roll proves the dice are loaded, but eventually …

it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

Disillusioned GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren has a new book out: The Party is Over. An excerpt, “Religion Destroyed My Party“, is up at Salon.

Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war. … The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs.

So long, Gore Vidal. My favorite Vidal novels are the ancient-history ones: Creation and Julian.

It’s easy to forget (and people under 50 probably never knew) just how famous Vidal was in his prime. Lily Tomlin could count on everyone recognizing his mispronounced name when she made him one of the first victims of her Ernestine the Operator character on Laugh In.

Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was a huge success. You’ve got to wonder if this means the Fox News model will spread to fast food and you’ll only be able to eat with people who share your politics. What if the CEO of Carl’s Jr. is thinking: “Wait a minute. I’m just as bigoted and reactionary as Dan Cathy. Why can’t I get an appreciation day?”

From a marketing POV, it makes sense: Fast-food chains don’t need a majority. If you could just get the most extreme 10% of the country to identify with you, you’d make billions.

I was looking for a striking image to end with. Is this one good enough? It’s a nighttime electrical storm over an erupting volcano in Iceland.

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  • ianbrettcooper  On August 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    “It’s bad enough to die for your religion, but it would be even worse to die because somebody mistook you for some other religion.”

    I think the two are equally bad. Does it really matter to the folks who are dying whether the nutcase with a gun has his facts about their religion straight? The important thing is, he’s a nutter and he’s shooting folks.

    The nutcase’s thought processes are bound to be just as screwed-up if he was shooting muslims who he thought were muslims, as they would be if he was shooting sikhs who he thought were muslims. The victims are just as innocent – it’s just that the shooter is incompetent.

    I find this idea that ‘competent’ insanity is somehow better than incompetent insanity somewhat disturbing.

    • weeklysift  On August 7, 2012 at 8:17 am

      I think it does matter to the people who are dying, and it would likely matter even more to their survivors. I don’t know much about the teachings of Sikhs, but many religions have a martyr tradition that makes such a death honorable. Many people have prepared themselves for the possibility of being killed for their religion; they have consciously taken that risk.

      To make a secular comparison, dying by fire is always bad. But dying as a fireman who ran into the building to save others is better than dying because you wake up in a burning room.

      • Ian Brett Cooper  On August 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

        I disagree. The people who died in this case were not doing something heroic. They were just attending church. There is no similarity to the fireman. Nor is there any evidence that these people were killed for their religion. All evidence seems to point to the killings being racially motivated. These people were probably killed because they were, in the shooter’s mind, the wrong color.

        And that illustrates the point I’m trying to make: would it be worse for the victims and the victims’ families if they were white and the shooter mistook them for being non-white? Surely not. The idea that it’s better to die ‘defending’ one’s religion is just as nonsensical as the idea that it’s ‘better’ to die defending one’s racial characteristics.

        Being killed is always bad. There is no ‘reason’ that makes it better. All the reasons are excuses – all the ways to make it seem better are false palliatives.

      • ianbrettcooper  On August 7, 2012 at 9:06 am

        In ascribing a ‘reason’ to make the victims of a competent killer feel better, you would be, in effect, making that competent killer’s motivation seem that much more justified.

        There is no justification for this kind of thing, so there can be no ‘better reason’ for anyone’s death at the hands of a nutcase. The moment we start finding better reasons for someone to die is the moment we start justifying the killer’s actions. Surely you see that.

      • ianbrettcooper  On August 7, 2012 at 9:14 am

        Wilfred Owen probably put it best:

        “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
        Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
        And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
        His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
        If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
        Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
        Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
        Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
        My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
        To children ardent for some desperate glory,
        The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
        Pro patria mori.”

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