People are People

Transgender people are people, representative, and deserve to be treated as such by this body too.

Justin Pearson

This week’s featured post is “Reflections on driving across America“. My time in the wilderness gave me a vision I’d like to get out of my head.

This week everybody was talking about bizarre shootings

By now, we’ve almost gotten used to mass shootings, even school shootings: Somebody goes crazy in a way that makes them want to see a lot of people dead. Even though it doesn’t make sense in any rational way, we’ve learned how to tell a story about it. You say, “There was a school shooting in Nashville” and people more-or-less know what you mean.

But the last two weeks have been marked by shootings that made the whole country go “Huh? What was that about?”

It started with the shooting of Ralph Yarl on April 13. Ralph is 16 years old, Black, and (still) lives in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother sent him to bring his younger brothers home from a friend’s house. But he got the address wrong, so he rang the doorbell of Andrew Lester, who is 84 years old and White. Lester told police he was “scared to death” to see a young man “approximately six feet tall”, so he shot him through the glass door, hitting him in the head and arm. (Yarl is actually 5’8″ and weighs about 140.) Police believe there was a “racial component” to the incident.

Yarl is home now and talking, so at least there’s that.

Two days later Kaylin Gillis, a 20-year-old White woman, was in a car full of young people who turned down the wrong driveway in Hebron, New York, a rural community near Vermont. As the car was backing out, Kevin Monahan reportedly came out of his house and fired two shotgun blasts at the car, killing Gillis.

Three days after that, just past midnight on Tuesday, four cheerleaders were in a supermarket parking lot in Elgin, Texas, regrouping after they had car-pooled to a practice session. Heather Roth got into the wrong car and saw Pedro Rodriguez Jr. in the passenger seat. She realized her mistake and returned to her friend’s car. Rodriguez allegedly got out of his car and began shooting, grazing Roth and seriously wounding her friend Payton Washington.

Also on Tuesday, a basketball rolled into Robert Singletary’s yard, and he yelled at the kids who came to retrieve it. When one of the kids’ fathers came to Singletary’s door to protest the language he had used, Singletary reportedly opened fire, wounding the father and his six-year-old daughter.

Hardly anybody even mentions the Instacart drivers who got shot at for being at the wrong address on Saturday. Nobody was hurt and they were in Florida, so local police didn’t think shooting at them broke any laws.

In each of these cases, someone got rattled or annoyed for a somewhat understandable reason — a stranger getting into your car, kids who won’t respect your property line — and then opted to shoot rather than talk or just walk away. For both Gillis and the cheerleaders, the situation was already resolving itself: the car was backing out the driveway, Roth got out on her own. If the shooter just does nothing, everyone goes home unharmed.

The NRA likes to say that “an armed society is a polite society” (a quote Psychology Today critiqued last year). But these incidents make the opposite point: In an armed society, misunderstandings and trivial conflicts easily become life-threatening. In each of these cases, someone is dead or badly wounded because there was a gun involved. In each case, we can be thankful that no “good guy with a gun” was ready to shoot back. Who knows what the body count would have been?

The more accurate slogan is: more guns, more deaths.

I have to apply this principle to the suggestion that we can solve school shootings by arming teachers. First off, until she retired, my sister was an elementary school teacher. I don’t like the image either of her feeling obligated to shoot it out with somebody wielding an AR-15, or of a gun being one more thing to keep track of in a normal day in her classroom. (I just talked to her; she doesn’t like it either.)

But second, I have to wonder how long it will be before some teacher is the shooter. Kids can be annoying. Parents can be annoying. There are arguments in teacher lounges. Teachers often feel mistreated or unfairly judged by their principals. How long before one of these situations leads to gunfire?

And finally, I am absolutely certain that armed teachers will have a higher suicide rate. Like policing, teaching is an emotionally stressful profession, full of ups and downs and occasional feelings of pointlessness or failure. As a Stanford study noted, access to a gun is a major risk factor for suicide:

Suicide attempts are often impulsive acts, driven by transient life crises. Most attempts are not fatal, and most people who attempt suicide do not go on to die in a future suicide. Whether a suicide attempt is fatal depends heavily on the lethality of the method used — and firearms are extremely lethal.

Give teachers guns, and more of them will wind up dead. More guns, more deaths.

The shootings mentioned above make another point: The sheer number of guns is only part of America’s problem. Another part is the exaggerated level of fear that gun manufacturers use to sell more guns, and that right-wing media uses to argue against sensible gun laws.

Andrew Lester’s problem wasn’t just that he had a gun. It’s that his mind so quickly jumped from seeing a Black teen at his door to stories of deadly home invasions, which are actually quite rare. And what if you need to fend off multiple home invaders? Then you don’t just need a gun, you need the kind of high-capacity magazines that anti-Second-Amendment types want to ban.

Your goal is to protect yourself and your family. Having 15 to 30 rounds in your weapon at a time will exponentially increase your ability to defend your family. You can be the greatest shot in the world, but 10 rounds runs out faster than 15 to 30. Period.

Besides, what if your attackers are equipped with high-capacity magazines themselves? In a situation where you are defending yourself and your family, you do not want to be outgunned. Having high-capacity magazines is a responsibility you can take to ensure that you won’t be outgunned

What if? What if? Our culture trains our minds to jump to the most horrifying possibilities, no matter how unlikely they are. And right-wing politicians stoke fear. As Donald Trump likes to tell his rallies: “They’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you. I’m just in the way.”

They? Who the hell are they?

Paul Waldman quotes NRA President Wayne LaPierre: “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered”. Lately, though, it looks like the bigger danger is scared people with guns. If you want to feel less afraid, don’t buy a gun. Just turn off Fox News, especially when they cover Trump or LaPierre.

David French, a gun owner who was considered a staunch conservative not so long ago, describes the current right-wing attitude towards guns as “idolatry”. (French also wrote the foreward for a book discussing right-wing idolatry of another type: Christian nationalism.)

He mentions the shootings I just discussed, and connects them with people who take their guns and go looking for violent encounters: Kyle Rittenhouse and Daniel Perry, just to name two. Both are revered as heroes by a certain segment of the Right.

Whoever that guy was who said “Blessed are the peacemakers”, he has been long forgotten.

and medication abortion

Friday, the Supreme Court put a stay on Judge Kacsmaryk’s order taking the abortion drug mifepristone off the market. So the drug remains available for now.

The back-and-forth here is a little confusing, so let’s review.

  • Anti-abortion organizations filed a federal lawsuit in Amarillo, where they were guaranteed a hearing before Kacsmaryk, who is a well-know culture warrior likely to agree with them. The suit asked the court to reverse the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, which has been available for 23 years and is used in over half of all abortions.
  • Ignoring a number of clear deficiencies in the case, Kacsmaryk gave the plaintiffs what they wanted: a court order removing mifepristone from the market.
  • He put a stay on his ruling for a week to give the FDA time to appeal.
  • The FDA did appeal to the court above Kacsmaryk’s, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which might be the most conservative appellate court in the country. (Plaintiffs also knew that when they filed the suit.) The Fifth Circuit will hear arguments on the merits of the case on May 17.
  • In the meantime, the FDA asked the Fifth Circuit to stay Kacsmaryk’s ruling until it decided the appeal. But the court only suspended part of the ruling, leaving mifepristone on the market, but less available than it had been: Under their ruling, the drug couldn’t be mailed, and could only be used by women less than seven weeks pregnant rather than ten.
  • The FDA asked the Supreme Court to stay the whole ruling, pending the Fifth Circuit’s decision. Friday, the Court granted that request.

So: the temporary situation is unchanged from the time before Kacsmaryk’s ruling. The long-term situation will be decided by the Fifth Circuit sometime this summer. Given the commentary in its ruling on the stay, the Fifth Circuit is likely to impose at least some restrictions on mifepristone, which the FDA will then appeal to the Supreme Court. The ultimate decision, then, is probably at least a year away.

A few comments: The Supreme Court is unlikely to go along with Kacsmaryk when the case reaches it next year, but not because it cares about women’s health or respects their bodily autonomy. Agreeing with Kacsmaryk, though, would profoundly disrupt the pharmaceutical industry, because FDA approval could never again be taken as final. This case would establish a precedent allowing just about anybody to ask a court to remove just about any drug from the market.

By granting the stay, the Supreme Court refused to play the game many of us feared: They could have denied the lawsuit ultimately (protecting the pharmaceutical industry), while allowing mifepristone to stay off the market for more than a year as the legal machinery churned.

The two dissenters — Alito and Thomas — wanted to play that game.

and the Fox Dominion settlement

Ever since this case was filed, I’ve believed that Fox had to settle, because the damage it threatened went far beyond the money. Rupert Murdoch or Tucker Carlson answering questions under threat of perjury simply could not be tolerated.

What’s more, Dominion was always bound to accept a settlement. Settlements are zero-sum; what one party loses the other gains. But the trial would negative-sum. Beyond some point, the damage to Fox’ reputation would not be balanced by any gain to Dominion.

When parties are in a negative-sum game, the rational thing to do is get out of it. And that’s what Fox and Dominion did this week when they agreed to a $787.5 million settlement.

Now, lots of us were hoping to see that trial, where big-name Fox hosts would have to admit that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, and that they knowingly lied when they told their viewers anything else. That would have been a great thing for American democracy and for our political discourse as a whole. But Dominion’s lawyers represent the corporation and its shareholders, not American democracy. So that didn’t happen.

Will this settlement cause Fox to lose credibility with its viewers? It ought to, but it probably won’t. For comparison, think about Trump’s $25 million settlement with the people Trump University defrauded. The money was a tacit admission of fraud, just as the $787.5 million is a tacit admission that Fox lies to its viewers. But Trump’s followers didn’t want to look at it that way, so they haven’t.

I had just written a note criticizing Fox for the fact that no heads were rolling, when I noticed that Tucker Carlson is leaving the network in a blameless parting of ways. If CNN or MSNBC faced a similar scandal, Hannity and Ingraham would also be out the door. But we’ll see.

Undoubtedly Tucker has a plan, and will take his pro-Trump pro-Russia White-supremacist program somewhere else.

and the debt ceiling

So we’re now probably less than two months from a true debt ceiling crisis, one that would force the government to default on at least some of its obligations. Kevin McCarthy has the hostage, but he’s still working on his ransom letter. Maybe he’ll be able to pass a laundry list of Republican demands, or maybe his caucus can’t even get to “yes” when no Democrats are in the room. (One provision that is in all the rumored demands I’ve seen: Biden has to give back all the progress he’s made towards fighting climate change.)

I’ve previously written about why the debt ceiling shouldn’t exist at all and how we got $32 trillion in debt. I’ve promised an article on whether (or to what extent) the debt actually is a problem, and I will come through on that before the country defaults.

and you also might be interested in …

The Texas Senate has passed one bill mandating every public-school classroom display the Ten Commandments, and another allowing public and charter schools to set aside time each day for students to read the Bible or pray. The Ten-Commandments bill still has to pass the House, while the Bible-reading bill just needs the governor’s signature.

Proponents believe these are “wins for religious freedom in Texas”, and that the Supreme Court’s decision in the praying-coach case indicates these bills will pass legal muster. In the ten years since I wrote “Religious Freedom means Christian Passive-Aggressive Domination“, they just keep proving my point.

DeSantis’ war on Disney is getting increasingly hard to explain.

The WaPo has a frightening story about Ottawa County, Michigan, where anti-government MAGA types have now become the government themselves.

We have the Tennessee GOP to thank for calling national attention to Justin Pearson, who is amazing. Here, he schools a legislator pushing an anti-trans bill about American traditions.

Transgender people are people, representative, and deserve to be treated as such by this body too.

Monica Potts goes back to her Arkansas home town to try to figure out why rural and small-town women are dying young.

In 2012, a team of population-health experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that white women who did not graduate from high school were dying about five years younger than such women had a generation before—at about 73 years instead of 78. Their white male counterparts were dying three years younger. From 2014 to 2017, the decline in life expectancy in the U.S., driven largely by the drop among the least-educated Americans, was the longest and most sustained in 100 years.

Several red states have been changing laws to allow more child labor. The push is coming from the Foundation for Government Accountability, an organization funded by several large conservative donors.

Back when Mike Lindell was claiming he had irrefutable proof the 2020 election was stolen, he announced a $5 million challenge for anyone to disprove his data. When Robert Zeidman claimed the prize, Lindell welched. This week an arbitration panel found that Lindell owes Zeidman the $5 million.

Meanwhile, Lindell is furious that Fox News settled with Dominion Voting Systems, which is the villain in Lindell’s delusional theories. Dominion is also suing Lindell, who says he won’t settle even if Dominion pays him.

Suicide rates went down during Covid. It turns out that this is typical: When the world is trying to kill you, the desire to kill yourself diminishes.

and let’s close with something anthropomorphic

Do you ever find yourself talking to inanimate objects? Urging your car to keep going as you watch the gas gauge drop? Scolding a shoelace that keeps untying itself for no good reason? Asking your lost keys where they’re hiding this time?

Well, Ian Chillag talks to a lot of inanimate objects. In his podcast Everything is Alive, he interviews items most of us are unable to converse with: a can of off-brand cola growing old in the refrigerator, a newspaper, a baguette, a song that gets stuck in your head.

The conversations are clever and imaginative. Having just returned from a cross-country driving trip, I can testify that they passed the time while keeping me alert.

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  • TimBo  On April 24, 2023 at 1:48 pm

    A few years ago Jim Wright, a veteran and gun instructor, wrote an really good article about arming teachers. Well worth reading.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On April 24, 2023 at 6:52 pm

    So if “a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun,” how was Ralph Yarl supposed to stop Andrew Lester – by shooting him first? Is every encounter between strangers supposed to be a quick-draw contest?

  • Dan  On April 25, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    I’m of an age where I didn’t own a cell phone until I was in my 30’s. Like everyone else, I drove to work, or the store, with no way to contact anyone immediately if I had a problem; and I was fine with that. Now, like most people, if I leave the house and realize I forgot my phone, I panic, and assume something bad is going to happen. I’m guessing gun owners feel the same way when they don’t have immediate access to their guns.

  • Michel S.  On April 25, 2023 at 5:16 pm

    > The NRA likes to say that “an armed society is a polite society” (a quote Psychology Today critiqued last year). But these incidents make the opposite point: In an armed society, misunderstandings and trivial conflicts easily become life-threatening

    I’m currently reading Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and while it’s enjoyable – his libertarian bent is disturbing, and this quote really reminds me of the society described in the book (which I would consider highly unrealistic)

  • Deborah Mueller  On April 27, 2023 at 9:09 pm

    my friend would like to receive your newsletters

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